The Art of Self-Love (Transcript)
Namaste! I’m delighted that you are joining me today as we drop love nuggets and wisdom bombs. Today’s interview is with Maria Williquette, a genuine love and compassion genius. In this session, we unpack precious gems, and when they are applied to our lives, they can help us achieve deeper satisfaction with daily living. We explore the often tricky subjects and challenges found in self-love, forgiveness, emotional eating, managing stress, when to work with a therapist, and more. This is a very insightful interview, one worthy of listening to at least a couple of times. I hope you’ll share this interview with those that you care about, too.
Maria Williquette works with clients as a registered yoga teacher and a marriage and family therapist in Seattle. Her approach to therapy combines Eastern philosophies and mindfulness practices. In both therapy and yoga, she is constantly looking to unearth ways of moving through life with more richness and joy. Now, since Maria’s gifts are waiting for us to unpack them, let’s go straight to the interview. I hope you like this special session with her, and that you share it with others. Let me know what you think! Here we go!
Frances: Hi Maria, how are you?
Maria: I’m great, Frances, how are you today?
F: I’m great, thank you so much for joining me today, I’m really excited to be able to interview with you.
M: Yeah, my pleasure.
F: And so, I want to give everybody a little bit of a background about who you are, and so, can you give us just a two-minute version about yourself.
M: Yeah, so, my name is Maria Williquette, I grew up in the Mid-west, and I studied for my undergraduate degree, I studied poetry, psychology, and women’s studies, which was kind of an eclectic, interesting mix of things. And, I moved out to Seattle in 2004, with the plan of getting a Master’s degree in creative writing and poetry from the UW, but just as a I was about to start school, I had a change of heart, I felt the strong calling to work with people in more health-related settings, do things that I felt would be able to benefit the whole body, the whole being. And so, I started school for nursing, and was in school for nursing for a while, and that was wonderful and interesting, and I learned a lot about the body, and during that time I also started teaching yoga, which was something I had been into since about, let’s see, 1998. So, after several years in nursing school, I decided that what I really needed then, was more time to be with people, I felt quite rushed, particularly I was working in an emergency room in a hospital, and it’s just so fast, going from one person to the next, to the next, to the next, and I felt really compelled to hear people’s stories, to sit with them, to open my heart, to share, particularly in a time of distress. And so at the point, I made one final career change, and moved towards psychology, so I got a Master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, and I currently run a private practice near Greenlake. And it’s really been a beautiful marriage of yoga and therapy, so I work about half-time in each, and I do a lot of workshops and guest speaking, as well. So, in my yoga classes, I bring to it a lot of the awareness of psychology, of the emotional well-being, and as I work as a therapist, I bring in some body work, some breath work, so I feel like my various trainings have worked well together to help me see the whole person, and, of course, there’s always that little threat of poetry for me, so I’m trying to tap into creativity in whatever I do.
F: Oh, that’s so great, and that’s one of the big reasons that I was attracted to you to do this interview, and also to work with you as a yoga teacher, because you bring so much depth and breadth to your work, and your workshops are really fun. So, for anyone who’s in Seattle, I definitely recommend Maria’s workshops. And, you and I have actually been in yoga for about the same time period, because I started in 1998 as well, or just the end of ’97. That’s great. So today, the topic is the art of self-love, and you know, a lot of people struggle with this because it feels like it’s selfish and it takes away from other people when you worry so much about taking care of yourself, and I think that there’s a subtle thread that we believe that if we take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of others. We have our children who need our attention, we have our bosses who need our attention, we have our spouses who need attention, and, you know, how can we justify our ability to love ourselves and how important that is, and take care of ourselves without neglecting others who we love and respect in our lives?
M: That’s a wonderful question, and, you know, it’s one I’ve thought about a lot. As I mentioned in my biography, I grew up in the mid-west, and I mentioned that for a reason, I think each part of country has a different cultural feeling to it, and I think one piece that is pretty dominant in the mid-west is the sense of just pull yourself up by the bootstraps, be stoic, be strong, keep going, don’t stop, don’t share a lot about our feelings, and there’s this huge piece of put others before you, be humble, don’t worry about your own needs. So, I came out here, I think I was about 24 when I moved to Seattle, and it was really not until I was maybe 28 or 29 and really in my psychology studies that I, the lightbulb started to turn on for me that, “Oh, it’s okay for me to have needs. It’s okay for me to understand my needs. It’s okay for me to meet my own needs, and then, when I’m aware of my own needs and I can meet them, I have so much more to give to others.” So, I think for people who perhaps had different backgrounds, different upbringings, maybe it’s not such a revolutionary idea, but it really was, and continues to be, for me. There’s the old metaphor of when you’re on the airplane, of course, you have to put your own oxygen mask on, before helping anyone else. I think that we can give and give and give and give in a way that depletes us and in a way that doesn’t necessarily serve the people we’re giving to. When we are able to take time to practice self-care, to replenish ourselves, to meet our own needs, when we give to others, we’re giving from a much deeper place, we’re sharing in the connected, sort of, heart-space, soul-space, we’re giving in ways that really feed the soul of the other person as well. When we find ourselves just compulsively giving and doing just because we should, it starts to feel a little hollow, no to you, but to the other person as well. So, I really believe that taking time to know yourself, and to take care of you, gives you so much more to give and share in the world. And I think ultimately, it’s one of the things that gives meaning to us in our lives, what are our talents, what are our strengths, and how can we put them out there in a way that feels fulfilling, that doesn’t feel depleting? And that’s a tough balance, I think we sort of struggle with it, and work with it at different times throughout our life.
F: Well said. Yeah, I think you’re right, we do struggle with it at different times of our lives. I agree with that, I’ve experienced that for myself, and I also have observed that there’s a difference in self-care between men and women. And, I think a lot of that might biological, but a lot of it is cultural. And, in America, we have really strong cultural beliefs around how men and women should behave, and, so, I’m just curious, what would you say to that, especially around the top issues that you see getting in the way of being able to take care of ourselves and love ourselves?
M: So what things present as obstacles to the self-care process?
F: Yes, and especially for men and women.
M: Yeah, I think that’s a great question, I mean, I’m so blessed, I have an amazing husband who’s pretty open and talks about all of this stuff with me, so, I consult with him, making sure I’m on par, on track with what’s going on for men as well. I think that we live in a time and a place that really stresses doing, do more, do more, do more, all the time. Juggle, juggling a million different things, having so much on our schedules can be challenging to pencil in or take time for ourselves, so I think this effects both men and women. Dual-earning households, both partners are working, and still having to juggle the needs of kids, juggle the needs of family, it can be very hard to find time to just take time for yourself. I think for men, men don’t grow up in a culture always learning to be able to identify that it’s okay to have needs and share them and talk about them and have emotions and share them, so I think that a self-care piece for men that is incredibly important is just taking some time with guy friends, or with other friends, having space for those activities that, you know, can allow just a little bit of unfolding, a little bit of processing. And for women, also, I think, we’re quite worn by, gosh, everything and everyone is depending on me. I have to be here, I have to manage, I have to do all this. And that becomes a heavy burden to carry, I think. So yeah, it looks differently for men and women, but I think that, sort of, at the heart of all of this is being able to put yourself near the top of the list. Being able to say, “I need to have time. I need to have a little bit of space for me, and that’s okay.” I think that piece is really hard, there’s this pressure to always keep giving and keep fulfilling other’s needs. So being able to say, “It is okay for me to take time”. It was sort of convoluted answer, but it’s a tricky question.
F: I actually think that that was a helpful answer. It is a tricky question, and it is individual, isn’t it, for everybody? So, let’s talk about stress, and let’s identify the difference between good and bad stress, I’m hoping you can help us do that. And, because I think a lot of times, we just lump stress as stress, but some stress is good, and if you can just help us recognize the difference between those stressors, maybe with some examples that people can relate to.
M: Yeah, so, in my perspective, anyway, I’m not sure that I would personally break down stress into good stress and bad stress, I think there’s adaptive stress and there’s maladaptive stress. I mean, stress was developed for a reason, right?, like, early humans had to be able to be on guard, they had to be able to flight, fright, freeze, you know, run away, to fight a predator, to take care of themselves, so the stress response is there, so our body can respond appropriately in a situation of panic or danger. So, I think nowadays, things have changed a little bit, and our stress response, albeit it’s not geared towards running away from a saber tooth tiger, or something, of course, but it instead seems to operate as sort of a low-to-medium grade consistent bubbling of stress in our lives, so that’s where I start to think that stress becomes maladapative. And adaptive variation of stress is say, for example, for myself, having this interview today, it’s something I’m excited about, something I look forward to, but, of course, there’s a degree of stress, I want to do well, will I speak eloquently, will I be able to say what I really mean? So that’s natural stress, it’s organic, and I just trust that it will dissipate with the interview, or afterwards. So a maladaptive variation of stress would be for me to worry, and worry, and worry about the interview, so much so that it would interfere with my ability to prepare for it, my ability to be grounded, my ability to be thoughtful. And then, perhaps even after the interview finished, I would then ruminate, “Ah, did I say everything right? What does that mean about me? Oh, I screwed it up!” And have this sort of negative spiraling out of thoughts. The stress prolongs before and after the stressful even finishes, and that’s when we start talking about anxiety, when stress continues to be present, even after the stressful event is not directly in the person’s world, we start to look at, “Oh, we’re having an anxiety response, a prolonged stress response.” And so, why I say that I’m not sure that I would label stress as either good or bad, is that stress is hard on our body. Our adrenals, our hormonal system, has to release cortisol and other hormones that is energetically taxing to produce and to keep flowing through the body. And when cortisol is flowing so heavily, other processes sort of have to back off a little bit, so our digestion doesn’t work as well, even our brain, our thoughtfulness, doesn’t come as easily when our body is very reactive. And I think today, many people experience a constant stress because of our too much, we’re juggling so many things, it becomes hard to organize it, it becomes hard to carry it all. And so, I think that there’s possibility for some reorganization in how we move through our lives. When we practice self-care, as we talked about in the first two questions, we have the opportunity to put the stress down, we have the opportunity to let go a little bit. But when there’s no space for self-care, we just are sort of inundated with stress all the time, and our body learns that it has to keep up the stress response consistently, which leads to a lot of problems, health problems, and mental health problems in the long term.
F: So, do you think that there is a certain degree of stress that’s just, like you said, natural, but also helpful in helping us grow. FOr example, just a physiological example, kids who run and are active, their bones are stronger, and their muscles are stronger, and their hearts are stronger, but we know that when we’re sedentary, our bones are weaker, the body responds to the stress of movement by building up more strength, and so when we’re not moving, we’re, you know, our lungs aren’t as strong, our heart’s not as strong, our muscles become flaccid, all of that. So, it’s, in life, like with say, going to school or something like that, and you’re learning to recite the ABC’s, and you’re learning mathematics, the brain also starts to shape according to the environment in which you’re learning. Do you think any of that is a positive type of stress for the body, like you’re saying, it becomes adaptive, and without that stress it wouldn’t be as healthy?
M: Yeah, I hear that, that’s a good example, and that’s really helpful, so yes, absolutely. I think stress is unavoidable in our life, right? And, what becomes healthy is that when we have a stressful situation, and we move through it, we have this sense of empowerment, like, “Oh, I made it through this tough time, I’ve gotten stronger emotionally” right? It’s just like the example with the body, when you run you put impact on the joints and the body and the muscles, everything gets stronger. So it is with life, when we move through challenging times, it’s like we exercise that muscle of coping, of resilience. I’ve moved through this stressful situation, I’ve learned from it, and I’ve come out the other side. I think an example that I see often in my private practice, I do a lot of work with couples, and one thing that is so deeply stressful is the change process. In a couple relationship, when changes start to happen, the system gets knocked off balance, so a couple develops this system, this dance, that they’re sort of used to being engaged in, even if it doesn’t work well all the time, it’s what’s known. So when you start to come to counseling, and you make some changes to the system, for a time, everything feels off balance, and that feels incredibly stressful, it challenges our need for structure, our need for things to stay the same. But it is in that stress, that stress that you work with, and cope with, and play with in the change process, that the growth comes. And so, yeah, absolutely, stress is inevitable, and particularly around times of change, and when we learn that stress is something we can carry, we can tolerate it, and we can turn it off, then we become quite empowered around this idea of stress.
F: Well said! Well said, okay, so let’s talk about another big stressor, and maybe you can help us sift through some good ideas with managing our to-do list. So, you know, a lot of us, we all have the to-do list, and many of us, I know I’m one of them, the to-do list is longer than what’s achievable most days, and so it becomes easy to tally up the failures in trying to, you know, get through our list, and maybe feel like we’ve failed because we’re not say, for example, people who have a goal to eat better or, you know, lose weight by going to the gym and exercising more, and they don’t make it as many days as they’re trying to, then they feel like this sense of failure. SO, whatever it might be that we’re not getting to, that there’s always going to be more stuff we’re not getting to than we want, I think, for most of us, anyways, how would you say that we can learn to walk the tightrope between becoming our best selves without whipping ourselves to death?
M: Oh, that’s a great question, and to be honest, one I struggle with also. I run my own business, I’m quite ambitious, I always have things going on, so I also have a to-do list constantly. And, in one way, it helps me, I feel like, well at least I’ve written it down on paper, so I no longer have to carry it in my mind, in my emotions, but it never is finished, it is never finished, it is always going, so there’s always a piece of me that is connected with that constant to-do list. You know, so I’ll start there, I’ll validate that way of being in the world for many of us. I’m not necessarily saying it’s healthy or unhealthy, but it is a reality that most of us carry. When we are not able to give ourselves the peace around that, or some compassion when the to-do list doesn’t get all the way done, that’s when we start to run into problems. So, for me I’ve gotten better with, you know, each night I leave the office, and there’s always a number of things that aren’t done, but it’s okay, they’re written down, and my personal mantra is if it’s important, it will get done. If it’s important, it will come into my mind field, and it will come into my world many times. So, I think that sometimes I can speak on these questions, but I think turning to some of the great masters can be helpful too, in answering some of them. When we talk about that sort of, I guess, self-flagellation process that happens, when you, your question, your word was whipping ourselves to death, when we don’t manage everything that we’ve put upon ourself to manage, the Dalai Lama actually has a really interesting thing. He says, “If you feel that your present way of life is unpleasant, or has some difficulties, then don’t look at these negative things. See the positive side. See the potential, and make an effort. I think that there is already at that point, some kind of partial guarantee of success. If we utilize all of our positive human energy or qualities, we can overcome our human problems.” So what I think is key in that passage is: if we look at what is going well, and make an effort to build that, perhaps already, then, we’re making progress. Rather than noticing constantly what is not done, what is not done, well what you don’t feel good about, right, and we all know that feeling in our body of like, “Uhhh, I just don’t feel good about this, and I wanted to get this done, and I didn’t get it done.” Perhaps instead, we can look at, “Ah, this was done well. This is the direction I’m moving in. Here’s where I’m putting my effort towards positive growth.” And that in itself, is perhaps already a step in the right direction. There’s a lot of research looking at how, perhaps, for an example in the field of therapy, a client can come in with a problem and we could spend months and months looking at the problem. What’s the problem here, what’s the issue, what started it, why did it happen, and there’s validity to that as well. But if you look at just success outcomes, there’s another type of therapy, a solution focus, or more positive psychology that looks at what is going well, what do you feel beautiful about, what makes you feel vibrantly alive, and how do we grow that and grow that and grow that. And I think when you look at the outcomes of the two, oftentimes people who are focusing on the positive, have more significant growth in their life, and they sure have more comfortable time in the journey as well. So I’m not advocating, of course, ignoring or avoiding our problems, but I do think there’s more space in our lives for looking at what we’re doing well, rather than whipping ourselves to death over our perceived imperfections.
F: Wow, that’s really well said, thank you. Go ahead!
M: You know, I was going to say, actually it makes me think there’s one more poem that I love by Mary Oliver, and I’m sure you’ve heard it, “Wild Geese”. It starts with, how does it go, she says, “you do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” And then she says, “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile, the world goes on.” I think there is this energy that we have walk through the desert on our knees for a hundred miles repenting, all the time, and perhaps that’s not the way that we go through life that is actually fulfilling and helpful to ourselves and others.
F: That is so beautiful, I’m going to have to look up that poem.
M: Yeah, it’s one of my favorites.
F: I really like that, and it actually segues perfectly into my next question which is about forgiveness, and so you’ve touched on that with that poem and your comment. So, forgiveness is something that people struggle with, and do you think that it’s actually harder to forgive yourself or others? And, you know, what can you offer people to maybe learn to love themselves with forgiveness.
M: Okay, so I’m going to warn you before hand, I think I’m going to make it, it’s going to be hard for me to be succinct around this one, it feels like such a big and important issue, so…
F: Go for it, it is an important issue.
M:…feel free to help me, to reign me in. And this is also been something that I have struggled with in my life, and are you still there?
M: Okay, that has felt so meaningful and rich to me as a human being that it has effected my work a lot, too, so it feels like an important issue. I think oftentimes, people confuse the act of forgiving with condoning and action or behavior that doesn’t feel good, so people will refrain from forgiving self or other, because to them, it feels like, “If I forgive, that means that this horrible thing is okay.” So, I like to say that that’s not true. Condoning an action is very different than finding forgiveness. You can forgive someone, but still clearly set a boundary. This behavior was not okay. This hurt me, this did not feel good. And yet, I can see your humanity, and I can see that you mean well in the world, you know, and seeing sort of the complexity and the richness of the situation. So you can set a boundary to not tolerate actions from yourself or others, that don’t feel helpful, that don’t feel that they’re serving the world, but you can still also find forgiveness around this. So for me, in my training in psychology, I look at the world through a systemic lens, so it’s rather than just individuals moving as sort of isolated islands through the world, the individual is the product of their past, they are the product of their current relationships, they’re a product of the society at large, of the world, and so every behavior, every action, has influence from all of these different points, therefore it is so hard to just blame one person, or even blame on culture, when in some way, we’re all connected in this. So oftentimes when I look at a behavior or an action in my life or in a client that has felt unsafe or unhurtful, or destructive, I’ll ask some questions. So, you know, what do I think motivated them, what’s their past history, what are they struggling with today, what has hurt them, so, how has society impacted this? And this is perhaps a rather harsh example, but recently there was a man in Seattle, a police officer, who accidentally left his loaded gun laying around in a place where his children were able to find it, and resulting from that was a bad accident in which one of his children were killed, and so immediately there was a lot of outrage, a lot of anger, “How could this human being have done this? This is irresponsible, this is horrible.” So much blame towards him, which I understand, I do not condone that action, he made a mistake, he made a big mistake, with a lot of repercussions. And yet if you expand that out a little more, another question I might ask is, “Gosh, why do we live in a society where police are carrying guns. There’ s places in the world where the police don’t have guns, and if we lived there, this wouldn’t have been an issue.” So, and I’m not making a statement on gun control or anything, just sort of saying that there are larger ripples to each action. And that is so easy for us to point the finger and narrow the focus so much that we forget to see the bigger picture. And so I think this fits in with the piece of self-love. We can demonize people, we can demonize actions, we can get really black and white in our thinking, people are good or bad, and remembering developmentally, black and white thinking serves children, it serves young people, early adolescence, the world is too complex for them, so they have to start to learn somewhere, we put things in good or bad boxes, black or white. But the hope is that as we mature, our thinking patterns also mature, and we’re able to see shades of grey, we’re able to see complexity. I think this black or white thinking a) impacts us. We have parts of ourself that we thinking of as bad, or shameful, or awful, or behaviors we don’t like, and we don’t forgive them, because they’re in the bad, we don’t condone them. When we have that sense of thinking that parts of us are bad also, we’re much more likely to see the bad in others as well. Sometimes we’re avoid-ant, we don’t want to talk about the parts of ourselves that we think are bad, we don’t even want to see them or acknowledge that they’re there, and so there’s a process called projection or projective identification, where we then are so quick to see the bad in everyone and everything around us, and blame them, it’s a way of disavowing our own feelings. For me, I think that when we really look inside and we look at our shame, we look at our demons, the things we’ve done that we’re not proud of, and we learn to kind of look them in the eyes and sit with them, and so, we realize that we’re inherently lovable, that we’re beautiful beings and we sure mean well in the world, but some of our actions, yeah, were influence by our societies, by our history, we can learn from them, we can take responsibility, but we’re still lovable. The same is true for the other people who have hurt us in the world. It’s very rare that people just out of pure malicious intent do harmful things. Usually there’s a lot of factors that go into it. I was in a supervision group recently, and I’ll finish up here quickly, where my supervisor said, “You know, if we put ten of us in a room for 24 hours, and we all just talked and talked and bonded and shared, by the end of that time, all of us would have shared some of our shameful stories, we all have them. We will connect around them.” When you share shameful things or bad things that you’ve done to another human being, they might say, “Yeah, that was really bad, and I still love you, and you’re still worthwhile.” So when we’re able to share those things that we can’t forgive ourselves for and see that other people understand and tolerate and have their own shame, it offers this great opportunity of release, of being softer for ourselves, and softer for the world around us, and forgiveness starts to come more easily then. And I think the final thing that I’ll say is that it’s pretty compelling to sit in the role of righteous indignation, of being a victim, I’ve been harmed, I’ve been hurt. And I get that, too. And there’s validity there, but if we get stuck in that place, we lose our ability to evolve in our thinking, right, trying to move towards this complex, rich, maturity of thought and emotions in which we can see shades of grey, and we can tolerate that we’re not all perfect, and that forgiveness really is an essential piece of really being able to move on and grow in ones life.
F: Wow. That was so beautiful, there was a lot there. And I really, really liked, let’s see, I wrote it down, I really liked the point about being able to just look at our shames and our demons, looking them in the eye and sitting with them, and then we can realize then that we’re still lovable.
F: I think that’s really, really important, and most, at least a lot of people, I think, do not realize, and I know, I didn’t realize that for a long time too, until I was able to sit with it, so, thank you.
M: Right. I think it can be helpful for people to see, Francis, you and I, who are in this professional role, we’re also humans and we also carry our own shame, and we are also working through that. And it’s just such a common part of the experience that’s not talked about, so we assume that others don’t have it, but that’s not the case.
F: Yeah, you’re totally right, and I watched a TED talk on shame and vulnerability, and I can’t remember the name of the woman right off the top of my head, but it was a wildly popular talk, and I did a blog post about it after that because I thought, “Wow this is powerful!” And it’s very much along the lines of what you’re saying, so thank you, I hope that those nuggets are worth it for everybody who’s listening to, you know, I mean, they are transformational, so I’m very pleased with that. And so, moving on to, just switching gears a little bit, do you think that people these days are more isolated, lonely, and overwhelmed, and for those of us who are experiencing that, how do you think we can get ahold of it before it’s out of control and, you know, exaggerated in our lives?
M: Yeah, that’s a good question, gosh, and I’m not totally sure how to answer if I think people are more isolated, overwhelmed, now. My first, kind of glib response, is “Oh yes, of course we are. Look at the role of technology, how people are not connecting person to person so much, and instead are doing it via Facebook and texting, etcetera.” But, I’m not totally sure about that, because I also that there is a sort of new consciousness that has been bubbling up maybe, starting tin the 60’s and going through many evolutions, in which people are starting to really share, to really acknowledge things. I mean, you go looking at the fields of yoga and therapy, they’re quite mainstream. Many, many, many, many, many people go to yoga and therapy and other practices that engage them in self-discovery and in connection with others. You know, I had taught recently a workshop on how to use yoga to reduce stress and anxiety in your life, and I made a joke to Michael, who’s the owner of the studio I work at, I said, “Gosh, Michael, you know, I’m pleased that there are 30 people that are signed up for my workshop, but, gosh, I’m also kind of bummed that 30 people are feeling so stressed and anxious about their life.” And he said, “You know, Maria, people have always been stressed, they’ve always been anxious, but now they’re choosing to find healthier ways of coping with it, such as going to yoga, or going to therapy, or talking about it and sharing.” So, I’m not sure if people are necessarily more isolated and lonely than before, maybe, maybe not. I do think people are more overwhelmed, we are trying to juggle so many different things, but so, the idea of how do we get ahold of this feeling, if you are someone out there who feels lonely, who feels overwhelmed, who feels isolated, what do you do with that? I think so many people inherently, and perhaps unconsciously, are afraid to deeply connect with self and with others, and I get that. Most of us grow up in families in which everyone truly means well. You know, our parents wanted to be the very best parents they could be, I truly believe that in my heart, they just had, sort of, varying degrees of tools and skills to do that, to do that role of parenting. Nowhere in the world in our society, in our culture, are we taught how to be good parents, we just kind of go into it and figure it out as we go along, so of course as children growing up from families, there are things we struggle with, and oftentimes, the ability to connect with other human beings has been somewhat damaged throughout the process of maturation, of growing up in the world. And so there are a lot of people I think that, that brings up a lot for them. And so, for myself, the practice of mindfulness, of being aware of how I feel inside at a given moment, has really helped me with that. So it has first let me know me. Gosh, who am I, what does it feel like to be me inside my skin? Ah, when I’m with this person, I often have this feeling, what’s that all about? Gosh, when this person tries to get really close to me, I, some that comes into my mind about why I should leave them, or break up with them, or whatever. Rather than just following all those thoughts and those feelings, developing a stance of being able to notice them first, and then kind of start to understand them, I feel lonely and isolated, gosh, but look at my thoughts and my behaviors, how are they contributing to that loneliness and isolation? If I don’t feel like I’m really good at connecting with people, how do I learn how to do that? This is a skill that maybe I didn’t learn, where are the places I go to learn that? So I think we get sort of stopped, again, that stuck, developmentally stuck. We feel powerless, we feel overwhelmed, and isolated, and powerless, and don’t know how to change it and therefore we do nothing. But there are resources out there. Get out there and learn how to connect. You know, go to therapy, join groups, push your boundaries, share more about yourself with people than your comfortable doing and just see what happens. And again, the tools of mindfulness, of yoga, things that help you get in your body, that help you connect with yourself, can be really powerful in this journey as well, and they can help to mitigate or reduce those feelings of overwhelmed.
F: Well said. And how do you think that gratitude, well, you talked a little bit about yoga, meditation, but how do you think that these things effect our mental well-being?
M: So, I think gratitude is probably the most powerful word or concept in our current life, that I can think of. Gratitude, I think, can balance out just about anything. I was teaching a class the other day, and I found this lovely quote about breath, and how breath is not something that should be chased like a wild horse in a field, if you’re trying to catch it, you don’t chase it around, right, that will wear you out, it will scare you, it will certainly scare the horse. Instead, you should stand there with an apple in you hand and let the horse come to you. And so this particular quote was about the breath, breath should not be forced and controlled and structured, instead it should be something we should receive. So even something as simple as our breath, thinking of it in terms of gratitude or as a gift, no matter how chaotic our life is, no matter how overwhelming or isolating it is, we have this ability to receive the gift of breath, maybe six, seven, eight, ten times if you’re stressed out, in a minute. So we have this opportunity for stability, and structure, and breath, and to think of it as a gift, wow, everything else in my life is crazy, but I can breath right now, and what an interesting and cool process that is! The gift of being able to just be held on to the ground by gravity, right, like, everything in my life feels so disorderly and chaotic, yet I can still sit in this chair and not float away into space. So, no matter how crazy things get, there is the ability to find small places to lock in to gratitude, and once you can start in those small places, it gets bigger and bigger and bigger. And you can sit with it in yourself, right, think of the feeling of being anxious, of being stressed, or being overwhelmed, right, we all know what that feels like in the chest, in the belly, the tight shoulders, the tight jaw. And the feeling of gratitude is so different, it’s this calmness, it’s this open-hearted place. It feels so much better to experience gratitude in the body, than it does to experience stress and anxiety and overwhelm. So we don’t realize it often, but I think we have a choice constantly, how am I going to choose to experience this moment, can I look for those tiny bits of gratitude, that I’m not floating off the chair, or will I really go down that path of overwhelm and stress. We have more power than we think in being able to work with and control our emotions and our thoughts.
F: Yes, yes. I absolutely agree, and there’s a saying that you can’t be grateful and complaining at the same time.
M: I love that!
F: And it’s like, oh okay, so, and I think the mind naturally gravitates towards the negative, it’s easy to just find what’s going wrong, and I think that’s because there’s so much that’s going right in our lives, that we just get used to it, and we stop seeing how much is actually working, so when something is wrong and out of place, it’s like we notice it, because it’s so contrast to all the things that are going right, like our car worked, our hot water worked for our shower today, we got up on time, we had breakfast, we’ll have lunch, I still have a job, all these things that are going right, and so, the negative is such a contrast to what’s working, we have to actively seek out what’s working because it’s like we’re just so used to it.
M: You know, Francis, I have never thought about it like that, but that is actually a beautiful point. We perhaps have just become blind to all the things that are working well, because there are so many. If you were to make a list of everything that went okay in a single day, it would be, just enormous, you know, the water boiled for coffee, I was able to eat. So yeah, perhaps you’re right, that we notice those kind of things that stand apart, things that don’t go well. I think psychology would say to you that, you know, we also are wired to have what’s called a negativity bias, and I think that was evolutionarily helpful. It adapted people to be very hyper-aware of what is going wrong so that we’re not sort of lackadaisical and lazy and just, you know, easily killed by a saber tooth tiger, like I was joking before, or not bring food and go hiking all day and die of starvation or dehydration. So the negativity bias was wired in so we would take better care of ourselves, so we would see threats and respond appropriately to them. SO I think in some way we have this sort of evolutionary gift/problem to be aware and to overcome.
F: Well, that is so interesting!
M: Isn’t that? Yeah.
F: That is fascinating, okay, very good. Yeah, well, gratitude is one of my favorite topics, I could talk about that a long time, but thank you for what you shared with that. And so next I want to ask you about just learning to manage our pain, because, you know, that’s part of what’s human is to have pain, and I think we can teeter too far on either side where we hold on to our pain like a badge of honor, and we, you know, we share the story with the world, we show it on our face, we show it on our bodies, it comes out through our language, and then there are other people who, they just seem to never have anything go wrong. So what I want to ask is how can we learn to weave our stories, you know, just being real with ourselves, how can we learn to weave that pain into the fabric of our lives in a way that’s empowering, where we don’t have to hide it and pretend that everything’s perfect, and we don’t have to wear it like the big badge of honor. And I’d just love to hear what you have to say.
M: Yeah, first of all, that concept of weaving your stories into the fabric of your life is a beautiful one, and remembering that we are all made up of many, many, many stories, and oftentimes we overly identify with one or two or three of them, and, like you said, they become like our badge of honor/badge of pain. And we forget about all of the other stories that make us who we are, all of the success stories, all the beautiful things as well. And again, I think of that poem I quoted earlier by Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”, where she says, “Tell me about despair, yours, and I’ll tell you about mine.” And I feel my heart just sort of opening up, even when I hear that line. And I think part of the way that we can weave our stories into our lives is by sharing them through saying them out loud and sharing them with other people, we have the opportunity to develop even more growth, even more learning, more awareness around our own stories, and really there are few things that are more deeply fulfilling and rewarding than touching the heart of another human being. When you can share your despair with someone, and realize that they too have despair, and they can share it with you, for some reason it has this effect of not increasing the despair, but starting to decrease it. There’s an idea of if you name your suffering, it ceases to become suffering. So I think it is tricky, I think, like you said, sometimes we can over identify with a story, this is my story of hardship, and I’m sticking to it. What I’m talking about is a way of sharing your stories with yourself and with the world in a way that allows for growth, in a way that allows for new perspectives to come in, and in a way that allows just some spaciousness to consider new ideas, I mean, forgiveness is big, if we have a very rigid story of victim-perpetrator, it stays stuck. It is until you’re able to humanize all of the perpetrator, the good parts and the bad parts, and humanize the victim, the good parts and the bad parts, you can start to let the story evolve and grow and be woven into the fabric of your life. IN psychology they would talk about, you have this rigid story and it’s like an egg, it’s in it’s own shell. The goal is to integrate it into your being, so it’s just one more part of you. Yeah, so I think the process of sharing can be really meaningful and deeply connecting, I think the process of honestly looking at your story and being able to have input and have ideas can be really rich and really helpful, and of course, you know, humans for much of our lifetime or evolution, have shared through the art and practice of storytelling, it can be a really rich experience.
F: And along those lines, in yoga, there’s, in the yoga sutras, there’s some discussion around not labeling yourself, so when you’re feeling tired or you’re feeling sad, you don’t say, “I’m sad”, “I’m tired”, you say, “I am feeling”, you have to differentiate, you know, I’m not sad the feeling, but right now I’m feeling that emotion. And I think, you know, when I read that and studied that peice, I really tried to apply it because it’s so wise to, you know, stop labeling ourselves as, you know, well, I’m a dietitian and a yoga teacher, well, I’m not just that, I’m also a lot of things that I haven’t discovered yet, you know, I’m a very rich human being with a lot of complexities and colorful experiences, and, you know, there’s so much about myself that I have yet to explore and understand, so, is there anything you want to say about how we can learn to think about our labels differently, whether they’re happy labels or not happy labels.
M: Yeah, you know what I think about as I hear you say that, and that’s a great example of not overly identifying with our feelings or our roles, but acknowledging them. There was a bumper sticker I think I saw that said, “You are not your thoughts. YOu are not your feelings.” ANd that kind of blew my mind for about 6 months. “Wow, but I feel like I am my thoughts and I am my feelings.” But remembering that your thoughts and your feelings are transitory, they will change, so you can’t hold on so tightly to them, because they’ll just keep slipping away, so acknowledging them and then letting them move. I have worked a lot in the past with, I worked with a technique called CBT technique, that was based all about trauma, and working with victims of sexual abuse, in particular.
F: And CBT is cognitive behavioral therapy?
M: Yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s various types of cognitive behavioral therapy, that’s looking at your thoughts and how those impact your behaviors and your feelings. There’s ways that model has been used to work specifically with people who have survived trauma, and specifically sexual abuse, and so I tend to be a little more of a deeper, intrapsychic person in my work as a therapist, but I think the CBT model has some really nice pieces, so in that work, I worked a lot with people over a period of time who would come into therapy with this really strong story of “I’m a victim here. I am a victim.” And I can hear that, and I can resonate with this, and yes you have been violated, absolutely, and my heart just feels that and experiences that with you, but over time, some people were able to allow their story to open and blossom, and each individual story opens and blossoms in whatever way, whatever path is right for them, so I saw people come in with this victim powerless story, and it started to shift into more of a survivor story, this was awful, and somehow I made it through. ANd over time, then suddenly these stories of thriving in the world started to emerge, yeah this was a very hard time, and I made it through, and now look at how amazing my life is. SO if we let our stories evolve with us, oftentimes there’s great meaning and depth and even joy can come from these sort of awful traumatizing things. If we let our stories grow with us, sometimes stories are so traumatic and so hard that that seems impossible and they just get locked in, and so that’s a place where you work with your therapist or a healer to help create some more spaciousness around.
F: That is so wise, that I hadn’t even heard, that a story can evolve with us, and when I think about that, it’s so true, a story changes so much over time. And like you said, it’s because our thoughts and our feelings are all so transitory so that really brings it in to a nice perspective. And along all of these lines, kind of everything that we’ve been talking about, I think our audience would be interested in hearing how all of this might relate to emotional eating.
M: Gosh, that’s a great question, and for me, I guess my perspective on it is that emotional eating can look many different ways, it can be overeating, and it can just the same be under-eating and restricting. When we are in times of stress and distress, particularly when we are being hard on ourselves, our coping mechanism pop up, maybe of our coping mechanisms, as well all know, are not the healthiest, but they’ve got us through in the past. Particularly for women, sometimes for men, too, our coping mechanisms tend to revolve around food. either the putting food in the body, or controlling it and not allowing it in, or only allowing very specific parts, so I think what I’m going to say, responsible to those sides, emotional eating in terms of overeating and under-eating. So, in my estimation of things, food is comforting, I’m from the midwest, food is definitely used as a source of comfort there, and I get that, and I’ve definitely experienced food as being comforting for me, I think I’ve experienced it as comforting in many different ways in my life, however, when I look at it in the big picture, that comfort that I get from eating or perhaps comfort from the temporary feeling of success of having not eaten, is transitory also, it is short-term, it is short-lived, and then the scope of things, overeating or under-eating adds to our shame, even though it soothes us temporarily, it builds up our increasing bank account of shame and bad feeling about self. So what I like to think about in terms of eating is, “Gosh, what other coping mechanisms do we have available to us?” Ultimately, the long term goal is learning how to self-soothe in a way that feels healthy and in a way that feels sustainable, and yoga talks about this really nicely, again you had brought up one of the sutras earlier. One of the, I think one of the core tenets of the yoga philosophy that resonates the most with me, is yoga helps you learn how to find healing and soothing from within. The yoga belief is that we’re very addicted to external sources, external stimuli, I need reassurance from my partner, from my boss, from my parents, I need an abundance of food, of alcohol, of coffee, I need an abundance of stuff, I need to have my ears filled with sounds, my eyes filled with visions, my nose delighted by senses, smells, and I need to have material possessions all over to touch, and all of this external stuff makes me feel bolstered, it makes me feel safe and secure. Ultimately, though, that’s a farce. Ultimately, though, the only thing that truly makes us feel safe and secure in the world is the foundation and scaffolding we’ve built inside of us, and I do not think we live in a culture that teaches children how to build a very strong, secure foundation inside, it can be done, absolutely, and there’s some great families, and parents, and teachings out there about it, but I don’t think it’s the norm. And so ongoing life work for all of us is learning how can I self-soothe in a way that really serves me in the long run? You know, from my perspective, for me, this would be mindfulness practices, it would be meditation, it would be taking time to go for a long walk with my dog, rather than sitting down and eating, you know, a bag of chips, or when I’m tired, I find that I tend to eat a lot more, and I don’t know that that actually helps my energy level in the long run, in the short run it gives me a burst. And I think one last piece I’ll say about this is that a lot of our behaviors with eating come from not wanting to deal directly with our shame, again, it’s that shame piece. Whether we’re avoiding our shame or not looking our demons, or playing directly into our self hatred, our self-loathing, we’re using food as a way to medicate that, and I think we can take out that medication of food, and look directly at that shame, and starting to apply strong, strong doses of self-love, self-compassion, gratitude, to help reduce the shame inside, which will definitely reduce many of our behaviors around food.
F: That is really well said. And you’ve covered so much with, you know, the last question, and it’s so many of these questions that I think are just so relevant to so many of us, and so, I’m just curious, what would you say about when it might be time for somebody to start looking at working with a therapist to help improve their relationship with themselves, or anything else that maybe we’ve talked about.
M: So that’s a good questions, and I just have to say that I am inherently, deeply, deeply biased here, so I’m speaking from a place of bias. I have found in my own life, therapy has just tremendously, tremendously unlocked my potential as a person, and I’ve gone in times of distress, in times where I’ve been troubled by my behaviors or my relationships to self and others, and I’ve also gone to therapy in times when things are going well, and I want to, I feel strong enough to look at some of my depth, I want to know more, I want to unlock some of my shame so I can experience my life with more joy and it ties back into that, I think it was the very first question you asked, is some people feel like it’s selfish to engage in self-care, from my own, and I’ll just speak very concretely from my own example, in my own life, the more time I have spent on self-care, particularly in things like therapy, and going to yoga, things that really encourage me to look at the depth of who I am, the more time I spent in that, I think that it has doubled our quadrupled or, you know, even more increased my ability to give back to the world. When I moved here in 2004, I had maybe a quarter or a half of the ability to just put back beautiful things out in the world that I do now, and I attribute that to really taking time to explore myself. And through that process, my relationship to my body, my relationship to food, my relationship to other humans has just become a pleasure, whereas it was more of a battleground for most of my life. And so, I do think that therapy can be beneficial for everyone, I think that it is tricky to find a therapist that resonates with you, it’s like any relationship, you have to feel a sense of heart connection, you have to feel understood, and I have for myself interviewed a number of therapists that didn’t end up being right until I found the woman I’m seeing now who is amazing, and I feel like I can relax in her presence and be held by her. So I really recommend it, particularly if what I’m saying about shame, if what I’m saying about emotional eating, some of that stuff resonates with you, do your work now, the longer and longer you wait, the harder it is to change, and even if you’ve been waiting for thirty years, it’s still, the longer you wait, it still gets harder, so do your work. Life is richer, and life is more beautiful than sometimes we think it can be.
F: Seth Godin really emphasizes the point and the importance of emotional labor, and so that’s what, you know, listening to you, that’s what I was hearing and being reminded of. Yes, and thank you, because you actually covered my next question which was how to shop for a therapist because that is tricky. And so it sound like you need to just be able to interview them.
M: Yeah, shop around. I think some therapists, like, I will always do a first session free because I don’t want someone to come to me if it doesn’t feel like the right fit for them, and I don’t want them to have to pay for me if it didn’t feel like the right fit. And not every therapist works that way, and I get that, their time is valuable too, but you could always ask about a free first session, or a free consultation at least, because you want to get a feel for that person, and there’s various things to ask about as well. Perhaps sliding scale might be important to you, availability. And let yourself shop around a little bit if you need to. I think the real key, though, is listen to your intuition. If after three or four sessions, your intuition is saying, “Mmmm, something’s not right here,” do honor that. Your body and your heart will know after a few sessions.
F: Yeah, well said. And so, we’re coming up on time, and we have covered so much. I just really appreciate everything that you put into this interview, to, you know, share so many rich nuggets. This is one that people are going to want to listen to a couple of times. Do you have anything you want to leave us with and also, let us know how we, people who might want to work with you can follow up with you and find you online.
M: Yeah, absolutely, and so, I’ll give you, Francis, to post on your website, of course, links to some of this material, and to some information and my bio and my website. My private practice is called Moving Forward, Staying Present, website movingforwardstayingpresent.com and we work with individuals, couples, families for therapy as well as for yoga, and my own personal belief in the world is that healing should be accessible and affordable to everyone, to every human being out there, no matter what their life is like, so I always try to keep that in my as I set prices and as I set time. I think the last piece that I would really love to leave your listeners with is just the idea of self-compassion, and rather than me talking about that more, I wonder if the listener might take a moment to just think, “Gosh, what does self-compassion mean? How can it show up in my life? Is there space for it, and how might it be meaningful?” So I just want to plant that seed of self-compassion, and I’ll give you some links, Francis, to post. There’s some really wonderful researchers out there that are doing some beautiful, accessible work around self-compassion and making it into something we can practice daily, and it does change one’s life.
F: Oh, well I can’t wait to check out those links! I really like that, I’m glad to know there’s such a science around self-compassion, I could totally dive into that!
M: Yeah, you could, absolutely!
F: Thank you, again, so much, Maria, this is definitely just been, just packed full of information. I’ve taken several pages of notes, and I can’t wait to listen to the interview again, already. So, thank you again for your time, and I look forward to connecting with you again later.
M: Yeah, likewise, such a pleasure, Francis. And it’s so wonderful that you take the time to do this, this is a good service that you put out into the world, so thank you for your efforts.
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