<![CDATA[Austin Mindfulness Center - Blog]]>Fri, 13 Oct 2017 11:56:51 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[Therapist Spotlight: Kathleen Womansong, LPC, LCDC]]>Fri, 13 Oct 2017 18:28:57 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/therapist-spotlight-kathleen-womansong-lpc-lcdc
Kathleen Womansong
Kathleen and her granddaughter Hailey (so cute!)
What made you decide to become a counselor?
Seeing a counselor helped me get through a rough time in my life. She showed me the power of being present with another person and help them embrace themselves in the here and now. Counseling is my life’s passion and I love my work.

If you could teach the world one skill or technique to improve their lives, what would it be?
I would teach self-compassion and self-acceptance. Many of us constantly compare ourselves to others and inwardly demean ourselves and our bodies for falling short. We struggle to please others so that we can feel good about ourselves but later we find that we have lost ourselves in the process. Only by learning to embrace ourselves - flaws and all – we can fill our own well with compassion and give to others freely from the overflow.

What is the most common problem your clients bring to you?
Anxiety. Living in this Information Age is more stressful than we realize. We have forgotten the art of contemplation and self-reflection. Think of the farmer who plowed the fields a hundred years ago. He spent hours walking with his only view the back of the mule. He would spend that time allowing his mind to reflect on all that was important to him with little or no distractions. Today we are constantly bombarded with messages that we need this or that to be enough. Our minds are overwhelmed with processing information and our emotions follow each thought. We are consumed with doing several things at a time and have forgotten the art of being. I love watching children play because they know how to just be. They have not forgotten that now is all there is.

Have you personally been in counseling and if so, what did you learn about yourself?
I find personal counseling extremely helpful. Therapy helps me stay on track and prioritize my own self- care. I have learned that judging myself harshly in the past simply amplified my problems and drained me of the energy I needed to be there for the people I loved. I learned that it is not only okay but necessary to put the oxygen mask on myself first so I could help others.

If you could recommend one book to all your clients, what would it be?
The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner.

What inspires you to help others?
I believe we all deserve to have a sense of well-being and inner contentment. I have the honor and privilege of helping my clients find that for themselves.

Who is your ideal client?
My ideal client is willing to enter the process of healing. Sometimes a client has lost all sense of hope so I can offer that they borrow my hope for them until they can experience it for themselves. Sometimes we begin by dipping a toe in the water and asking for willingness to go farther. There are no rules for how and when readiness comes.

How do you personally practice self-care?
Meditation and morning journaling help set me in an attitude of gratitude to begin my day.  Walking a nature trail or just putting on music and dancing at home is the perfect ending to my day. I see my therapist as needed and do something creative every week. I often write poetry and paint on canvas and get on the floor with my grandchildren and play. 

Kathleen Womansong, LPC, LCDC
Kathleen specializes in working with anxiety and trauma, substance abuse, senior life transition, parenting and blended families.
<![CDATA[Why Can't I Stop These Negative Thoughts?]]>Wed, 04 Oct 2017 17:25:22 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/why-cant-i-stop-these-negative-thoughts
​Are you plagued with negative thoughts that keep coming back no matter what you do to try to stop having them? Do you avoid things, places, or situations that tend to trigger those thoughts? Do you try distracting yourself from them by watching TV, staying busy, drinking? Do you try to tell yourself the opposite to counteract or cancel out the negative thought? Have you noticed that whatever strategy you’ve been using hasn’t really worked in the long run?
A few months ago, I had a heart attack. I’m 42 and in relatively good health. And I meditate! This isn’t supposed to happen to people like me. Well, it did and I’m learning how to be with that fact day by day. Statistically speaking, I will have another heart attack sometime in the next 5 years. Now I have that thought in my head . . . Every. Day. 
​One thing that happens after you have a heart attack is that you’re suddenly very aware of your heartbeat. Every little pain, flutter, or irregularity in your chest feels like a potential threat. It’s scary and the thoughts that accompany that fear create more stress, which is not optimal for a heart patient. In this case, negative thoughts could literally kill me.
Death is one thing I’d like to avoid. But I know from past experience that whatever I do to avoid or struggle with negative thinking seems to have the opposite effect. It’s like falling into quicksand. The more you struggle with it, the more you get sucked in (or so I’ve heard). So how can I remain at ease when the ultimate threat is presenting itself?
Let it go.
If that seems pithy or trite, I don’t blame you. I knew that little nugget of wisdom already. I'd been practicing mindfulness for nine years prior to having this heart attack. But when your life is threatened every day, it’s easy to scoff at. It’s like, “Live in the moment.” OK, yeah. Right. Got it. But this moment sucks.

Just “let it go.” Right.
Usually, when you hear “let it go,” you think that it’s supposed to go away. Like a balloon. So, when it doesn’t go away, you feel dumb. It’s still there. That didn’t work. Remember that anything you do in the service of avoiding or struggling with an unwanted experience only serves to keep it there. So, if your expectation is to rid yourself of that fearful thought, it isn’t going to work. It’s going to backfire.
It’s more like, let go of your grip of it. The problem with thoughts is not their content. It’s how we’re holding them. Imagine if you had to hold a cactus (an unlikely scenario, but just go with it). You wouldn’t grip it tightly, would you? No, it you’d probably hold it as lightly as possible. But that’s what we tend to do when we have scary thoughts. We grip them so tightly that we injure ourselves.

“I’m dying!”
What happens when you grip that thought with all your might? More fear, more stress, maybe an eventual self-fulfilling prophecy. We usually don’t notice that we’re gripping a thought that strongly until we feel the pain of it. That’s a reasonable place to start.
Slowly and deliberately, begin to loosen your grip. Relax your hand and just let that thought sit there in the palm of your open hand. Observe it.
I imagine it’s a different experience watching sharks in a documentary than it is to experience one from an inflatable life raft in the open sea. We have a different relationship with sharks on TV than the ones up close and personal. In the same way a shark is not life threatening when it’s on TV, a thought is not life threatening when you can “see it” rather than gripping it. Even if that thought represents death itself.
The thought “I’m dying” is exactly as life threatening as the thought “The sky is really blue today.” It doesn’t matter what it says. A thought is a thought. It’s information. Data. Sometimes it’s “true.” Death is a fact, in fact. But as a thought, it’s just a thought. “Death” cannot kill me.
The goal isn’t to stop thinking negative thoughts. Ironically, the only way to avoid thoughts of death . . . is to die. If that’s the choice, I’ll take negative thoughts, please. Every time. We don’t know how much time we have left. So it’s better to focus on how we intend to live with negative thoughts, because they’re here now, along with your breath, your heartbeat, your love, your life.
Jiovann Carrasco, LPC
<![CDATA[The Woman Who Was a Child]]>Fri, 08 Sep 2017 18:40:56 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/the-woman-who-was-a-child
​Once upon a time there was a magnificent child who sang and danced wildly under the stars.  She was whole and free.  She never questioned whether she was worthy or beautiful. She did not worry about yesterday or tomorrow because she was rapt with the exquisite now.
She was SPIRIT - An eternal fire of life force.
She was BODY – In tune with the rhythms of the earth.
She was MIND – Attuned to the yearnings of SPIRIT and finding expression through the BODY.
When she was joyous she lit up the heavens and when she felt sorrow her tears filled the rivers.
The child’s BODY grew bigger and MIND developed skills necessary to communicate and share her things and show respect for the other Souls in her world. She learned how to be pleasing to others and discovered the sting of rejection.
Over time BODY began to change and the MIND began to compare it with the bodies of others. The MIND was not pleased. MIND instructed the BODY to avoid smiling widely so others would not notice her crooked front tooth. MIND demanded her BODY muscles to tighten up to hide the roundness of her belly. 
But the MIND was still not satisfied. It no longer noticed the quiet voice of the SPIRIT. The MIND was consumed with thoughts of fear and how to avoid the rejection of others. Eventually the MIND decided to move outside of the BODY altogether. From outside the BODY she could be constantly vigilant to control how BODY looked to others and keep the mouth from saying things that would not be pleasing to others.
SPIRIT felt abandoned. She longed to share her wisdom with the MIND. She had much to tell her about what was really important. The MIND had left a large empty cavern in the BODY and the unfamiliar presence of Shame had creeped into the space and made itself a home. Shame’s home was damp and cold and it blocked the warm breeze from entering the chambers of the Heart. SPIRIT struggled with all its might to keep its flame alive.
By this time, MIND had lost all awareness and had no memory of SPIRIT. Without the anchor of SPIRIT and BODY, MIND had gone into overdrive. Sensing the Shame that now lived inside, MIND was now frantic to maintain control. Thoughts no longer came through one at a time. There were streams of thought and layers of thought – thoughts of what it should have thought and thoughts about what it should have done and myriads of thoughts about horrible things that could happen. The loudest and most menacing thoughts came in the form of her own voice: The voice of self-condemnation.
As MIND became more frantic, BODY worked harder and harder to fight off sickness until it could no longer combat the onslaught of stress created by MIND.
BODY is sick.
MIND is the enemy.
SPIRIT is but one single ember. .
BODY falls in a heap on the hard ground.
MIND has given up. It is finally quiet. There is nothing left to do.
In the distance is the faint sound of a child dancing and singing under the stars.
MIND has a vague feeling that he has heard that voice before.
BODY has a tug at her heart. Then another tug… then another.
In the darkness of night a voice whispers “I have all the courage in the world.”
Emboldened, BODY pulls itself up and takes a wobbly step toward the sound. Then another… Then another.
From the corner of her eye the flame of a Soul is seen approaching her. She nods to the Soul to come near and light her way. And the Soul walks with her.
Soon other flaming Souls circled around the woman and the singular flames merged into a huge ball of fire and one by one the woman released the burdens of her Heart for purification by the fire. 
One by one she released the burdens of yesterday and the worries of tomorrow.
The release of the pain of separation and isolation dissipated into a brown haze.
The release of the burden of a sense of unworthiness shot a deep indigo flame into the night.

And the woman who was still a child became aware that she was wrapped in a cloak of shame. She became aware that she had woven it herself from the remnants of unexpressed joy, anger and sorrow. She had swaddled herself tightly in shame rather than risk exposing her own magnificence to the judgement of others. The cloak had been warm and it had felt familiar and even safe. It had sheltered her in her misery and despair.
The woman mustered up all her courage and peeled off her cocoon layer by layer until the warm breeze again filled the chambers of her heart and fanned the tiny remaining ember of SPIRIT.  The shreds of the cloak of shame served as kindling and light poured out of her in every direction. The light changed from red to orange to yellow to green to blue to indigo. From the top of her head purple light broke through to reach the heavens and gave luster to the stars.
From deep within the magnificent woman came a joyful song that poured out like a river and could be heard by the moon. 

And the glow of her life force – BODY, MIND and SPIRIT as ONE – filled the horizon but for a single dark form in the shape of a woman’s body laying in a heap on the hard ground. And the magnificent woman of light was filled with compassion and began to walk to her….
<![CDATA[Therapist Spotlight: Wendy Smith, LCSW]]>Wed, 23 Aug 2017 16:09:45 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/therapist-spotlight-wendy-smith-lcsw
What made you decide to become a counselor?
There were actually a lot of little things over time that made me want to be a counselor, not just one thing. I've always been a good listener and good at understanding people's thoughts and feelings.  I've always been fundamentally curious about other people's experience of the world and the nature of human consciousness. For a long time this was a very intellectual pursuit for me, studying psychology, biology, dance, and comparative religion. I tried my best to stay in school forever! When I realized that I actually wasn't well-suited to be an academic, I was a little bit lost (ok, a LOT lost). I started volunteering and working for different social services agencies, and realized how much I enjoyed working directly with people. And I started noticing that I was good at it! It was and is so rewarding to sit with people in the midst of intense emotions, offering gentle guidance and support, and see change and renewed hope right in front of my eyes. 
Looking back now, I can see that my intellectual pursuits were a little bit of a defense mechanism against looking at my own emotions and processing difficult things I had experienced. Through meditation, dance, and counseling I was able to add in emotional wisdom and somatic understanding to my intellectual pursuits. First by my own experience and then through the experiences of my clients, I have been amazed by the transformations that are possible in the presence of non-judgmental awareness.  It's kind-of magic. So, it's been a long and winding road to become a mindful counselor, but now that I'm here, I can't imagine doing anything else! 
If you could teach the world one skill or technique to improve their lives, what would it be?
The main thing I wish I could teach everyone is “Don't believe every thing that you think!” There are a lot of different techniques that help with this, but my favorite one is probably visualizing thoughts as leaves falling from a tree onto a river and then drifting downstream, out of your awareness.  Watching thoughts come into your consciousness and flow out of your consciousness, without holding onto anything. Not resisting anything or reacting to any thought. I like this meditation because it not only brings a mindful awareness to what you are thinking about, but it also gives you a sense of your observing self, sitting on the bank, watching the flow. I also find it to be very peaceful most of the time.  
What is the most common problem your clients bring to you?
Most of my clients have some symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. One of the commonalities among them is having a very strong inner voice that is judgmental and critical of themselves. I think most of us are way more critical of ourselves than of others, and we don't offer ourselves the same empathy and compassion that we offer others. I believe this critical voice is actually trying to protect a part of us that is more sensitive and vulnerable, but the way it is trying to do so is actually mean, sometimes verging on abusive, which ends up making things worse. What is needed is a more self-compassionate voice that acknowledges how we are actually feeling and offers nurturing and gentle support. Can we treat ourselves with the same tenderness we would treat a child who is scared and sad?       
Have you personally been in counseling and if so, what did you learn about yourself?
I was in counseling in my mid-twenties and am in counseling now and I love it! It has meant different things to me at different times and I have learned a lot of things about myself. I think what has been most useful for me lately is having a place where I can be honest about what I am thinking and feeling, mostly just being honest with myself. It helps to have an outside perspective when I am caught up in my own thoughts, feelings, and interpretation of events. My therapist is great at helping me recognize when I am stuck in patterns that I learned in childhood that no longer serve me.   

If you could recommend one book to all your clients, what would it be?
Harry Potter! Just kidding (or am I?)
Depending on their worldview I would recommend either Living Like You Mean It by Ronald Frederik or A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. Living Like You Mean It has more of a psychological perspective while A New Earth has more of a spiritual perspective. The focus of Living Like You Mean It is what happens when we are afraid of our feelings and try to avoid feeling them. The author walks you through how to feel your emotions, tame your fear, and share your emotions with others when you need. A New Earth is about the freedom and joy we can experience when we live in the present moment. It discusses the many ways we intentionally and unintentionally cut ourselves off from our deepest Being by getting lost in our thoughts, believing in a limited and disconnected ego, and reacting automatically from unprocessed emotional pain.                
What inspires you to help others?
I strongly believe that change is always possible, no matter what the circumstance. I also believe that everyone has within them a still, small voice that seeks healing, safety, and growth. More than anything, my job as a therapist is to connect you to that voice. We have all the wisdom we need within ourselves, it's sometimes we need help finding it. 
Who is your ideal client?
My ideal clients are young adults who are creative, cerebral, or introverted and struggling with their emotions and finding their place in the world.
How do you personally practice self-care?
Probably my biggest form of self-care is watching reality shows about art and the creative process: Project Runway, So You Think You Can Dance, RuPaul's Drag Race, Skin Wars, etc. Watching these shows helps me relax and turn off my brain, but they are also very inspiring to me. I'm not the best sleeper, so making sure I get enough regular, quality sleep is very important. I enjoy listening to music, meditating, dancing and painting. Also, I could watch animal videos on the internet for hours, and have done so.
To schedule an appointment with Wendy online click the Schedule Now button below or call 512-578-8070 and ask for Wendy. Or you can email her at wendy@austinmindfulness.org.
Schedule Now
<![CDATA[On Being Mindfully Mediocre]]>Fri, 11 Aug 2017 18:34:51 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/on-being-mindfully-mediocre
Jiovann Carrasco, LPC
Owner and Psychotherapist at Austin Mindfulness Center
The irony is not lost on me that, as a therapist, what I'm about to tell you seems to run counter to my profession's aim of helping people to improve their lives. What if I told you that self-improvement was a waste of time? 

Wait, wait, wait . . . Hear me out. 

It's no secret that the self-improvement industry, a $9.6 billion a year industry, is having it's day in the sun, and we're all supporting it in one way or another. Do you not have a gym membership, see a therapist, drink kale smoothies, and read, I mean, listen to Brené Brown on Audible? I do. I want to get better, too!

Nothing wrong with any of that by the way. I love smoothies. What concerns me is not the activity itself, but the premise that seems to be driving us in flocks toward a kind of salvation, which incidentally, never arrives. That premise is simple:

You aren't good enough as you currently are.
It sounds like a harsh thing to say to yourself, right? If somebody said that to you, you'd be rightly offended. But when you say it to yourself, it just kinda feels . . . accurate. It seems right, that there are so, so many things wrong with yourself and if only you could lose another 15 pounds, keep up with the latest fashion trends, subscribe to the right podcasts, and have a witty thing to say every single time you speak, maybe then you'd be OK. 

But guess what? That will never happen. That's right. We can never get "there." Even if you did lose the weight and buy that Tesla, somehow the goal post always moves. And that's why we will forever line the pockets of self help gurus and fall victim to the latest health craze. ​We are hopelessly inadequate. Woefully mediocre.

And that's, well . . . OK.

It's OK. Not great, not terrible. It's fine. 
I know. You want to be better than that. I'm sorry, you're not. You're just . . . you. No better and no worse. If you took away the judgement, what is that like? If it wasn't good or bad, what does it feel like to be you? 

To be mindful is to let go of the judgement.

Don't worry, it's not going anywhere. But for a minute, see if you can release the evaluative commentary and feel into what it's like to be you, right now. If you cannot accept this, you will never be happy or satisfied. No amount of organic goji berries or hot yoga will fill that void. 

You may think, "OK, but if I accept myself like I am, I'll never do anything." Not true. As humans we not only do things because we have to, we can also do things because we want to. If you were perfectly happy with the body you have, it is also possible that you enjoy staying healthy and strong and being outside and drinking mango infused mineral water and wearing these amazing yoga pants. (Who wouldn't, am I right?)

My point is, check your motivation. Start with loving yourself, just the way you are. Then let your actions be in the service of that self love. Self-care, not self-improvement. Mediocrity never felt so good!
<![CDATA[3 Ways to Change Your Partner]]>Mon, 10 Jul 2017 19:42:39 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/3-ways-to-change-your-partner
So you found the ONE!
The person you love to spend your life with. The one that you can grow old with and lean on throughout life's challenges. Congratulations! Now if only you can change them into someone different. Someone who fulfills your needs better, or makes you feel more understood, or remembers to take the trash out.
As a relationship therapist, I often hear clients describe frustrations with partners such as, "I keep telling them what to do differently and they just don't do it" or "if they looked at things from my perspective, they would realize that they were wrong and my way of doing things is the right way." Essentially, people are drawn to someone who is different than them, love these differences, and then once the excitement wears off, we wonder how we can make them more like us.

Often, when these differences create conflict people wonder if they found the right partner. This causes a lot of anxiety. In a reaction to that anxiety a partner might try to change the other partner by nagging, telling them what they can do differently, giving the silent treatment, or use a variety of other behaviors that are targeted towards changing the partner. This is often an unconscious effort to decrease their own anxiety about being vulnerable to someone who is different and to regain a sense of safety and security that most people crave in relationships. 
"So now I have a better idea of why I want to change my partner, but I still want to change their behaviors." That's very normal reaction and I did promise solutions, so here are some suggestions:
1. Get curious
Once the inevitable conflict phase of a relationship takes hold, it's very common to disconnect from our partner on some level. Disconnection can look like taking space and avoiding your partner. Disconnection can also involve pushing away behaviors such as becoming clingier, irritable, demanding, testing your partner, and blaming them for issues in the relationship.
When you are so focused on looking at issues through your own perspective, you lose sight of the full picture. Get curious about what your partner's experiences of the relationship are like. Ask questions about how they are feeling, what they are longing for, and what makes them feel most loved. Rather than making a judgment, get curious about what their experience is like. Some of what they say may trigger more fears and anxiety within you. That is okay and is to be expected. Notice your own reactions and get curious about what those reactions mean for you.
Often a therapist, coach, and sometimes a close friend can help us explore the meaning underneath our own reactions. How does this change my partner you ask? When someone feels that they are being tuned into and heard, it is very common for them to drop their defenses, soften, and connect more. Everyone wants to feel understood and appreciated and by getting curious and listening to your partner, you are creating a climate in which they can receive that from you. Often this changes the tone of the dynamic within the relationship, which makes room for growth. 
2. Conquer Criticism And Master The Compliment Sandwich
It is very easy to identify what other people could be doing differently. In fact the part of our brain that deals with Safety and Security is constantly scanning its environment for threats. Often, we react to perceived threats that are not actually dangerous and one of these reactions to the threat is criticism. Many times, someone hopes that by criticizing or pointing out with their partner is doing wrong, their partner will see the error of their ways and change. Nothing can be farther from the truth.
Criticism is a connection killer. The person being criticized often feels hurt and misunderstood and may even rebel and continue the frustrating behaviors at an increased level. They may become afraid of losing their sense of self within the relationship and reject what is being said. If you think about a time in your life when you have been criticized, try to remember the emotions that came up. Most likely, they were not pleasant. 
Instead of criticizing, what you want to do is use a strategy called the compliment sandwich. The structure of the compliment sandwich is you:
1. Share an appreciation
2. Then share what you would like to change (focusing on your own reactions)
3. Follow it up with something else positive such as an appreciation, validation, or what that change would do for you. 
An example of a compliment sandwich looks like this. 
1. I know you've been working a lot of hours lately and I really appreciate how hard you work to support our family. One of the things I love about you is what a hard worker you are. 
2. I do find that I get very lonely when you're working so many late nights and I find myself missing you. I would love it if one night a week you were able to come home a little earlier so we could spend some quality time together. 
3. I understand that you have a lot of work demands and this might be very hard to do, but if you could, it would really mean a lot to me. Something I really value about a relationship is how we can have fun together and I think that time would really give us the chance to enjoy each other a little bit more. 
Using the compliment sandwich increases your likelihood that your partner will be able to hear you and perhaps even implement something that you're suggesting. It does not work every time and your partner may not actually be able to do what you're asking, however if they are, this helps to create a safe space where your partner will not be put on the defense and may be able to take in what you're saying. 
3. Self Sooth
So here's the tough part. Your partner may not be receptive to making any changes. Or they might change certain behaviors on their own timetable. As long as their behavior is not abusive or dangerous to you, you may be able to work on some patience with the process. People have to take ownership of their own changes so it needs to be on their own terms.
The challenging part is to decrease your own anxiety and soothe yourself to increase patience while waiting for your partner to make changes. Also, soothing yourself can help you gain acceptance if your partner does not plan to make any of your recommended changes. Great ways of soothing yourself involve meditation, reading in fulfilling book, utilizing your support systems, getting a massage, going for a walk, taking in some nature, doing enjoyable activities that feed your soul, finding mind-body activities such as yoga or other forms of exercise to release some of our energy and increase our ability to be calm, etc.

The point is to do things that help you feel centered, so that you do not project your fears onto your partner. The more calm and centered you're able to approach your partner the less fear you will invoke in them. Relationships have chain reactions, and by managing your own reactions, you are in fact impacting your partner's reactions. 
It is important to remember that you cannot change someone by criticizing or blaming them but by changing your approach and focusing on your own internal process you can change the tone of your relationship. Every action has a reaction, so the change can always start with you. By waiting for a partner to change it brings up feelings of being out of control, however when the change is within you, you have more control.
Often getting some support for this process can be very beneficial and can help us increase our insight. Support can be couples or individual therapy or can involve utilizing support from friends or family who are a friend of the relationship and support each partner equally. We may not be able to control how our partner reacts, but we can create the conditions for growth. 

<![CDATA[How We All Got Here]]>Fri, 24 Feb 2017 20:41:10 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/how-we-all-got-here
​As human beings we all lose our way from time to time along the journey of life. We find ourselves feeling isolated and in pain and nothing that has worked in the past seems to help. I get it. I’ve been in the wilderness too. I am grateful to have found people along the way who have guided me back home to myself. If you found your way to this site you may have summoned up the courage and willingness to seek out a guide of your own.

It is a tremendous honor to serve as a supportive witness to the transformation of another human being. Through my own struggles and as a witness to the journeys of others I have come to understand that our stories are more similar than different.

Here is what I have learned:
​When we were tiny little humans we were aware that we were spectacular. We had no qualms about receiving the love we richly deserved. We lived utterly in the moment. We were free.

As we grew older we learned that some behavior was acceptable and some wasn’t. The job of our parents and teachers was to help us respect ourselves and others by abiding by certain rules and norms. If we were fortunate, these adults taught us by modeling respect for themselves and respect for us as human children.

Many of us, however, were taught by other methods. We were scolded and teased and bullied into submission. We were told outright that we were not spectacular at all and we should be ashamed for thinking that we were. Some of us were exploited and abused by the very people we depended on to meet our basic needs of love and nourishment.
We learned it was not safe for us to show anger or sadness. We turned our anger on ourselves. We repeated hateful messages again and again to ourselves in the secret space of our own minds.

We became DEPRESSED.

We learned that love and nourishment from others was conditional on how we behaved. We channeled our longing to be cherished into a need to be perfect.  We pushed ourselves to achieve and always fell short of our own expectations.

We became ANXIOUS.

We learned that we needed to dress and act a certain way to be appreciated by others. We became chameleons and pushed ourselves mercilessly to be everything for everyone.

We found that suppressing our emotions and trying to be perfect left us with a vast empty space inside and a feeling of restless discontent. Some of us turned to sugar, some to alcohol, some to drugs to fill the void. We discovered that sex, pornography, unhealthy relationships and even excessive work gave us a temporary relief from the emptiness. Once we found what worked for us we “acted out” more and more frequently only to discover that the more we used it, watched it or engaged in it we were left more empty than before.
We became ADDICTED.
We had lost hope. We didn’t know where to turn. We had forgotten what we instinctively knew as tiny humans: Our own WORTHINESS.

Recovery is the process of forging a path back to a place of awareness that we are still spectacular at our core. Nothing we have ever thought or done has changed our essence. We simply forgot our Self.

When we are ready to take the path back to ourselves we may seek out a guide to help us clear out the briars and brush that have kept our path hidden. A useful guide has tools handy that help us stay safe and pace ourselves as we clear our way.

We learn to let go of the past and welcome the challenges of the future. We live in the moment through the practice of MINDFULNESS.

We learn to nurture our own hearts and heal our own wounds through the art of SELF-COMPASSION.

We are no longer driven by fear. We no longer need to please or manipulate others to get our needs met. We view our own imperfections, circumstances and the people around us with ACCEPTANCE.

We discover that we can trust ourselves to make healthy choices. We realize our own WISDOM.
If you recognize yourself in this story you are already on the path to rediscovering your Self. You are already searching for a guide to help you along the way. You already have HOPE.

<![CDATA[The Practicality of Peace]]>Mon, 13 Feb 2017 22:51:31 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/the-practicality-of-peace
"We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves." - Dalai Lama
The state of peace is truly profound - peace is a way of being and a lens for seeing the world. For some, peace may seem like a fantasy, an idealistic dream, and yet, developing inner peace is truly the key to knowing fulfillment.  So how do we do that?
Let’s start by looking at how many of us currently relate to peace:

​Oftentimes, we have a tendency to make our external world responsible for our peace and happiness.  For example: If this job happens, then I will be peaceful. Once I reach retirement, then I can be fulfilled. Once my significant other does exactly what I want them to do, then I will be peaceful. If my child gets into college, then I will be happy. Sound familiar? How successful have you found this strategy to create lasting peace?
​As long as you make your external world responsible for your peace, you will never know true happiness or fulfillment. You might know momentary satisfaction, but then life will happen...the car will break down, our child will get sick. Our state of peace is shaken until the situation is resolved in the way we would like it to be. And, when this expectation goes unmet, there is immense suffering. 
Although you cannot snap your fingers and create a stress-free world, you can practice training a basic life skill that will allow you to know peace, even when those around you are feeling stressed. By developing a daily meditation practice, you can shift your experience of the world and move from stress to peace thereby making your everyday world much more enjoyable and surprisingly peace-filled. Meanwhile, you can provide support for those that you love from a centered and powerful space.
Meditation has been shown to create the ability to step out of stress and into peace, even in the face of uncertain times. When you spend time every day in a meditative practice focusing on breathing a slow rhythmic breath of peace, you are taking your emotional system to the gym for a workout and actually increasing your neurological capacity for peace.  The outcome of such a consistent practice reduces stress and allows you to stay centered even when the world is spinning around you.
Peace is something to be trained. It is a consistent practice for knowing a different reality. There is an inspirational billboard featuring His Holiness The Dalai Lama that captures this principle perfectly. It reads, “The Dalai Lama does not just Pray for Peace, He works for Peace Every Single Day.”
In actuality, practicing peace is one of the most practical things you can do. The only way to spread peace is for each one of us to commit to an inner practice of peace again and again. It is what the world needs now, more than ever. 

Learn more about Conscious Transformation: a six week spiritual mastery course starting February 22 - April 5, 2017 at the Austin Mindfulness Center. 

​Jodi Filleman, ​LPC
​Conscious Transformation Apprentice & Certified Energy Practitioner
<![CDATA[5 Keys to Mindful Love]]>Thu, 09 Feb 2017 04:40:48 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/5-keys-to-mindful-love
Photo by Hernan Sanchez www.stillsbyhernan.com
“We are born with the capacity to dance together but not with the necessary training . . . It is exactly the same in relationships.” -David Richo

In David Richo’s How To Be An Adult in Relationships, he outlines five keys to mindful loving. These five keys are not just “nice to haves,” but are essential components of a healthy, individuated ego. When we do not receive these gifts, it feels as though something is missing, that we are incomplete, unlovable. But practicing these five keys, is what it takes to love and is what makes us lovable.

“My father turned to me as if he’d been waiting all his life to hear my question.”
–J.D. Salinger

What a beautiful expression of what it feels like to be truly heard and valued. There is no judgment in your listening because feelings are neither good or bad, right or wrong. The projections of ego can blur our focus on the other. Openly attending to what is being shared requires neutrality toward our own fearful or reactive states. 

​When we attend in this way, we elicit a sense of safety and trust in the other. This kind of attention cannot be falsified and must come from a genuine interest and curiosity. As Richo beautifully states, “The real you is an abundant potential, not a list of traits, and intimacy can only happen when you are always expanding in others’ hearts, not pigeonholed in their minds.”
Acceptance is being received respectfully with all our flaws and idiosyncrasies and supported through them, which makes us feel safe. Acceptance is unconditional and extends to choices or lifestyles we do not personally approve of. It is not moralizing. If attending is noticing and listening, acceptance is embracing, trusting, and encouraging the other to be exactly as they are without reservation or critique.

Appreciation builds upon acceptance and engenders encouragement in the other. We need to feel appreciated for what we do and for who we are in relationships. Appreciation also implies gratitude. Expressing this regularly is an essential component in healthy adult relationships. According to John Gottman, Ph.D., the ratio of appreciation to complaint in couples that stay together is five to one.

Affection can take many forms, but they all produce the feeling of being loved.  This can be achieved physically through cuddling, hand holding, or sex as well as emotionally through playfulness, kindness, or thoughtfulness. Affection includes proximity, presence, and reliable availability. Compassion is a form of affection and is a salve for emotional and physical pain. Affection is healing as much as it is reassuring.

Allowing is the opposite of control. A healthy adult relationship provides an environment of freedom and trust, not rules and obligations. In an allowing relationship you feel free to be who you are and are inclined to express yourself openly and without fear of punishment or retribution.

We must allow our partners to develop as a unique individual, separate from ourselves, without reacting to fears of losing them. The need to control for many people is not a conscious decision, but has become an automatic strategy for maintaining fears and insecurities. Ultimately, allowing is letting go, even if that means honoring their choice to leave us. The aim of love has nothing to do with “keeping” the other person, as if we have some possession over them. To love is simply to let be.
Jiovann Carrasco, LPC-S
Owner and Psychotherapist
<![CDATA[5 Ways to Give Yourself More Compassion]]>Mon, 09 Jan 2017 18:40:34 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/5-ways-to-give-yourself-more-compassion
“I am so terrible.”

“I can't believe I screwed that up again.”

“I am so ugly.”

“I am the cause of my own mistakes and unhappiness.”

Are you constantly hard on yourself? Do you find yourself saying negative things to yourself? Does it seem normal? You're not alone.

Underneath so much of our suffering lies our own self criticism and lack of self compassion and self care. So what can you do? Here are 5 simple things that will help you create more self-compassion in your life.
  1. Treat yourself the way you would a friend. I bet you wouldn't say the same harsh things you say to yourself to a dear friend. So the next time you catch yourself  making a mistake, think about what you would say to a dear friend and try saying it to yourself.
  2. Create a self care menu. We all need to take care of ourselves. After all you can't give from an empty cup. So you need to do things to take care of yourself. The problem is that we often can't think of things in the moment and feel stuck. Instead you can sit down over the course a few days and create a self care menu. Here you can put simple items like having a glass of wine, calling a dear friend, making a cup of tea, getting a massage, etc. This way you can choose from these items on a daily basis and learn to take better care of yourself.
  3. Be Present. It is often uncomfortable to make mistakes but instead of thinking through it we can be mindful and just be present with our feelings. Once we are present with our feelings, we can choose to comfort ourselves and choose to move forward by making changes.
  4. Recognize that you are not alone in your imperfections. We all make mistakes. It is part of being human. Sometimes we forget that and hold ourselves up to unachievable standards. We often compare our worst selves to everyone else's best selves. But if we look closely we see that we all make big terrible mistakes and falter because we are human. Being mindful of this can lessen our pain.
  5. Stay away from blame. The human mind loves to problem solve and discharge uncomfortable feelings. That's where blame comes in. Often times when we are being critical of ourselves we are locked in a cycle of whose fault it is. Blame disconnects us from others and creates more pain. Instead we can choose to sit with the uncomfortable feeling of making a mistake, offer ourselves compassion, and move toward honest accountability-which will allow us to change our behavior with kindness.

As I have said to many of my clients before, the world is hard enough on us already, we don't have to be hard on ourselves too. Pick up a daily mindfulness practice filled with self compassion. Better yet, come join my 10 Week Self Compassion Group, which starts January 23, or see me individually for counseling.

​Monti Pal, LPC
Senior Therapist
​Austin Mindfulness Center