Comparisons are the enemy of joy

In a session with a client the other day, she brought up the following quote: “Comparisons are the enemy of joy.” In digesting this wise statement I recognize its truth. Particularly in West Los Angeles but present everywhere, we are constantly tempted and deceived by examples of what we perceive as being something superior to what we possess in our own lives. This evaluation begins at a young age. My six year old tells me her friends have more American Girl dolls than her. My eight year old notices his peers live in bigger houses than himself. My two year old retorts, “I want more! I want more!”

What is it in us that is never satisfied with what we have? Many clients I see in my practice look at other’s relationships, careers and possessions and feel a sense of inferiority as compared to their own. Or they look at others around them and boost their own egos by seeing what they possess, which their friends do not. The Smiths have such a good relationship. Her husband Ben is always showing her so much affection and buying her expensive presents. Why can’t my husband be more like that? My boyfriend Matthew is not half as driven as my friends’ boyfriends. Will he ever have the same passion and zest for life as all of them? Our house is so small and old. Look at the Burtons house – it’s completely remodeled and sustainable. Will we ever have a house like that? It goes on and on.

What happens when we are in the mode of comparing is that we disengage -away from the joy of our own reality and toward a role of yearning for something that does not truly exist. We live out of a place of lack, rather than a place of abundance, giving allegiance and power to other’s perceived realities and turning our backs on our own joy. Our imaginations are powerful – and thus what we experience others having is never accurate. In the meantime, all of the delight and happiness that we could have been beholding is sucked away into a black hole of longing for something entirely impalpable. We become slaves to this imaginary ideal that offers only a fictional respite from out own mundane existences.

However, what we come to find out, though much trial and tribulation is that this ideal is invented in our own minds – it is not real. And thus we chase a ‘final fictional goal’, weighing ourselves up against something that is actually unattainable – simply because it is imagined in our own mind and it does not belong to us.

We must resist this urge to compare. We must find peace and enjoyment in our own lives, blessing those around us to find the same in theirs.

We must fully accept and honor our own reality, rather than dividing our energy by wishing for something that we don’t have.

This is not to say we cannot dream, desire or imagine changes in our lives. Dreaming is different than comparing. Dreaming comes from our desires. Comparing comes from our deficiencies.

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In all disorder lies a secret order…

“In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.”
Carl Jung

What part of your life feels like it’s in disarray? When I listen to clients talk about their issues, it is easy for me to clearly see the unifying themes that run through their confusion and disillusionment. As they struggle through their uncertainty, I strive to help clear a path through the murky waters that surround them. At the end of a session, I sometimes see them find this clarity, even if it only lasts for a moment. These moments turn into gradual insights, slight shifts in behavior until they begin to see a real change in their behavior.

However, in my own life, I am reminded how easy it is to struggle through this murkiness. Having a private practice, striving to be a writer and having three kids with many different needs and schedules clouds and often overwhelms my own ability to see through what is truly important for my own internal growth and external needs. All sense of ‘me’ dissipates as I find myself taking care of everybody else and not myself. Of course in the current of my life, I float in and out of this awareness, that things are never completely in balance, constantly swinging the pendulum from once side back to the the other to find an equilibrium, always feeling like I am on a never ending merry-go-round that never fully slows down or comes to a stop.

Yet, if I stop to notice the patterns beneath the chaos swirling around me, I can begin to find a sense of peace and order. The constant of new and old faces traveling around me in perpetual motion, struggling with their own never-ending thematic issues – quiets as I come to a stop – close the door, say no, set boundaries. I have to continue to remind myself that motion often blocks discovery instead of nurturing it – for it is only when one slows down, that they can see the secret order beneath the chaos.

Dreams provide us with this pertinent information – to discover the secret order. However, we are in such a hurry to wake up, get out of bed and begin our motion through the day, that we forget their vital imagery and deep messages. Part of my vision is slowing down, finding the patterns beneath the chaos, the secret order beneath the disorder – so I can begin to see and understand my life’s true mission and purpose.

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Clarity through meditation

Recently I began attending a meditation class. Although it has been challenging to sit still and simply allow myself to focus ONLY on my breath (my mind is constantly darting back and forth like a caged tiger full of its own intentions), it has been ultimately freeing to know that at any time, no matter where I am or who I’m with, I can always return to my breath. This knowledge of RETURN to my body, without my mind constantly, urgently driving and controlling its outer shell, is like a wonderful sinking into a natural, relaxing inner hot spring. Deep inside myself lies a pool of insight, softly flowing and bubbling to the surface, now more often than before I became a mom with three kids.

I have experienced this pool of insight before, during my Ph.D. program in depth psychology and during my time spent in psychotherapy where I felt fully focused on my dream life, journaling and remembering every detail of my dreams, constantly analyzing these beautiful and strange images against my conscious life. Having many epiphanies about my past I was able to merge these epiphanies into my present – mainly through dream images that helped me understand my unconscious and allowed me to begin reshaping archetypes or complexes that kept me previously stuck. Soon, I began to gain clarity about my identity and purpose, moving forward in my life, being guided by my inner dream life.

Having children brought me further away from this inner life into a hectic, bustling outer life filled with the huge responsibilities of caring for three young lives. The clarity I once new was overtaken with crying babies, running after toddlers, driving kids back and forth to school, etc. Yet, the inner voices still tugged at me, urging me to continue to listen to my dream images, which now were interrupted versions of the once long, drawn out dream stories I remembered before kids. Catching a glimpse here and there of what my yearnings and desires were through my dreams, I knew that I needed to re-clarify and redesign my identity. I knew that part of this reshaping meant shedding some of my identification with being a psychotherapist and turning toward the more creative part of myself that needed to be seen and heard. I finished the novel I started during my Ph.D. program about a feather who falls from an angel’s wings, finding herself in the hands of a conflicted psychologist.

As I turned back toward this project and toward other creative endeavors, part of me felt blocked with excuses. “I have no time” “I have no artists studio” “I need to practice psychology in order to make money” What the meditation class has assisted me with is an understanding and recognizing that although I don’t have adequate time or the proper space or perhaps the money to hold these creations, my own breath, my own body remains the vehicle to completely contain whatever it is that I need. Money translates into good energy coming toward you when you are doing something you ultimately love. The good energy and intentions surrounding them will bring an enormous return and reward.

My training as a depth psychologist, my own psychotherapy and many years that I have spent helping others in my practice, coupled with the meditation class have helped me gain a sense of clarity about myself and my vision for my future. If I am to take what I have learned in my practice as a psychotherapist and translate that into either writing, art (or both combined) I need to be fully present with myself, my children, my partner, my clients and the stories that I endeavor to write and create. Having clarity of mind is the key to moving toward ones visions and having ones dreams come to fruition.

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the holi-days

What is a holiday? Stemming from the word Holy Day it implies a day set aside for special religious observance – as we’ve come to know them ‘non-working days’ or brief periods of exemption or relief. Only on certain times of the year do we allow ourselves this respite, viewing all other days as ‘work days’ -days devoid of holiness, mindfulness godliness.

My aim this coming year is to make every day include a moment of holiness, however brief or perhaps however extended? Whatever form this daily practice takes; a few minutes of meditation accompanied by some simple breaths, a recording of my night dreams allowing me to connect more deeply to my unconscious, a beautiful meal I prepare and share with my family, taking the time to smell the scent of a blooming rose or listening to the fleeting laughter of my growing children.

The intention is to become fully present throughout my day, to take a holi-day from the grind of being human. Becoming present always involves going inward and finally coming out feeling more connected to oneself and to others. Just like one needs a massage when their muscles get overworked, or a carwash when their car is dirty – we all need daily respites to keep us in tough with our intentions, so we don’t become off center, allowing our negative emotions to overpower our true feelings, which are often buried inside, yearning to come forth.

Taking holy moments can have the effect of entering a wonderful dream and extending this positive energy outward with whom you come into contact. I recall a client telling me about a subway ride he had when he was a young man, which he will never forget. On that particular day, before he left his house he told himself that he would make the attempt to become fully present with everyone person he met, even if it were a complete stranger. That day, he made connections with each and every person he encountered on the subway. Some passengers he didn’t speak to – he simply smiled, letting the passenger know there existed a human connection between them, replacing the otherwise lonely subway ride. One man told him he had just come from his father’s funeral and this man ended up being his boss for the next ten years. The experience he had that day changed the way he decided to confront his daily life. He is now the CEO of a major company in the United States. He came from an extremely troubled background and made a decision to find holiness in a world that for him had become devoid of connection.

I think about this client often and know that as Einstein said, on any given day I have a choice: to live life as if nothing is a miracle or to live life as if everything is a miracle.

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Growth takes time

Navigating through a series of dead-end relationships, a client asked this week through her tears, “How long does this take?” She was referring to the “process of therapy.”

Living in our fast paced culture, we are accustomed to quick fixes, instant downloads, immediate access to masses of overwhelming information. We are constantly consuming something – food, drinks, clothing, gasoline, electricity. etc. If we are broken, we want to be fixed. If we are sad, we want to be happy. To our dismay, however, we repeatedly learn that it is not that simple. Growth inevitably takes time. Old patterns are repeated until we allow new insights to replace our past, ineffectual blueprints. New insights cannot be forced or intellectualized, they require a deep surrendering to the unconscious, they necessitate an attitude of patience, presence of mind and daily witnessing of one’s actions.

The gestation period for a full term baby is 38 weeks; that’s almost nine months of waiting. And although we are not able to witness the millions of cells transforming into rudimentary organ systems we somehow accept that something magical is happening within the growing womb. It is the same with therapy. Although we are not able to see the internal transformation day-by-day, if we stay with the process long enough, we suddenly notice a radical shift in our perceptions, in our personalities, in our sense of self and in our relationships. The shift is subtle, akin to watching our children every day and failing to notice any signs of growth, yet suddenly realizing their pants are too small, they have outgrown their shoes, they look like a man not a boy.

It is the same with therapy. The gradual shifts toward setting healthy boundaries, being more self-empowered and assertive, toward better communication and tuning into one’s unconscious life – all cannot be noticed until time passes. Then suddenly, we simply feel different, our perceptions are altered and we have changed.

The client that I am seeing will undergo a series of ups and downs – growing pains – until she comes out the other side, walks through the door of change with renewed insight and wonders how on earth she used to view the world the way that she did. Eventually, if she sticks with it, she will meet a man that matches her wants and needs -and marvel at this chance meeting – later making sense of how her life unfolded and ended up they way it did. It is as if as we grow internally, we look back at our former selves as if viewing a young child, innocent of the wisdom we now house and carry within.

As long as we are patient, growth will occur. Yet if we rush our inner transformations, we risk truncating our true potential and cutting off change. We must continue nurturing and watering our inner selves each day until we witness ourselves truly flourishing and thriving.

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The Bee and The Glass Window


I remember a time in my life when I felt particularly stuck. I was in a relationship with a man with whom I was not compatible, living with a roommate I didn’t particularly like, on the brink of leaving an agency and starting my own private practice and looking for a sign of what I should do next. Staring out my large glass windows that lined a wall of my room, I began to notice a bee slamming its tiny black and yellow frame into the glass, desperate to escape into the outside world. The more I stared at the bee and listened to its incessant buzzing, the more I realized that the bee had been sent to me at that moment to teach me something.

I often refer back to that bee, banging against that glass window over and over again, clearly seeing its destination but bewildered as to how to get there. I see the bee buzzing effusively, then after some time, losing its buzz, until dropping to the ground, it’s hum finally fading away into outstretched intervals until I could no longer hear any sound.

What I realized after seeing the bee fall and finally fade was that all along, the sliding glass door next to the window had been wide open. The bee was so focused on getting out of it’s misery through the impenetrable glass that it had completely missed its opportunity to escape and fly free through the open door. With this recognition, I contemplated my own life – how I had become so used to thinking and feeling one way about my relationship, about my work, about my identity (MY impenetrable glass) that I was missing the open door – my OWN choice to change directions, TURN AROUND and fly toward my destination.

Once I recognized that it was my own buzzing that was keeping me trapped inside the glass room, I began turning around more, listening to a deeper voice from within and exiting into the wide open air. Immediately, I was given feedback from the universe – I moved into a place I loved, began a relationship where I felt a true connection and opened a thriving private practice. Since making the choice not to continue flying into a glass wall, not to repeat the same script in my head, that “I can’t do this” “I am not able to do that” and embrace the idea that the universe ALWAYS offers open doors to those who choose to risk feeling uncomfortable and simply fly through, I have been able to assist and help others in recognizing how it is the negativity of our own inner critique that leads us into a state of immobilization. If our buzzing truly turns into our own unique song and we fly confidently, proudly, turning toward openness, rather than imitating others and shrinking into our fears, we will immediately see the offerings of the universe. We will embrace life in a way that we never thought possible. And our buzzing will one day become beautiful as we soar through the open air of our true calling.

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Vision Boards

work in progress

After a six month hiatus, I am back to blogging again. Time has been ticking away and I am ready to start tackling some of my goals. The kids have settled back into school, my practice is small but all clients are thriving, my baby is almost one years old. I have slowly started to get back into shape. I have begun the slow but necessary rewrite of my novel, which I hope to finish soon. I have made a list room-by-room of all the things that need to be organized – and I have yet to get to most of the things on the list, but at least I have made one.

A friend of mine who is coach has spearheaded a women’s networking group. One of the first things she suggested is everyone in the group make a ‘vision board’ – detailing all of their goals, desires, wishes, etc on the board to make their dreams clear and their visions ‘witnessed’ by others in the group. I am a big believer in naming your goals (if you can name it you can claim it) and also having others witness your process. I have done this before, but for the past few months I have been procrastinating.

I have now decided it is time to lay it all out there. I have been hiding behind being a psychotherapist and a mother for too long. Sitting in a chair, listening to other people’s issues forces you to contemplate your own, yet it does not push you into the active role of taking charge of what truly is important in your own life. Being a mom and a caretaker is one of the most amazing, satisfying jobs in the world, yet if a creative flame is burning within, it doesn’t quell this inner longing.

As I look at all the words and pictures I have begun putting on my board, I feel a sense of clarity forming within. Choosing these images and words is coming fairly easily, yet as I begin to see them all together, it brings a satisfying smile to my face. As I place them on the blank white slate, I watch my vision unfold, becoming more and more clear. I also know that I will soon share this vision with others and thus a witnessing will take place. This witnessing allows the dream to become more and more of a reality as others add input and help shape and form the ideas into something concrete. In my Ph.D program, we held a ‘council’ throughout the three years I was there, involving a sharing and a witnessing of everyone’s process. I believe this was one of the most important parts of the Ph.D. program, giving a voice to all of the doubts, fears and insecurities that were surfacing as people began to take risks and put out their innermost thoughts and feelings.

As you look ahead into your future, what words and images do you imagine and envision on your blank slate? Google some images, cut them from magazines, take some personal images from your photo app – put them all together and start beholding the future that you would like to create. This process may be swimming around in your head, but has yet to find a visual place in your office where you can stare at it each and every day, reminding you that you are on track with your wishes and dreams, even if you are having an ‘off’ day. If you become part of a group, it also helps your wishes find a place in your community, so you can begin to sharing your dreams and not keep them locked up inside your heart.

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mother and child

Most of us, whether we are sons, daughters or mothers have experienced the indescribable bond between mother and child.

From the moment we are born, the union between mother and child is severed – the umbilical cord is cut and we are sent screaming, cold and frightened into an unknown universe.

As babies adjust to their new form and recognize they are separate entities, they begin to experience both the joy and the terrifying frustration of being alive and being completely dependent on their caretaker.

As teenagers (in healthy families) this dependency gradually tapers off as the child begins to recognize her own separate identity and (if she is lucky) her own calling.

In my novel The Gossamer Thread the Angel of Prayer makes the conscious choice to release her daughter, Feather, who makes the difficult choice to detach herself from her mother’s wings and plummet to earth, responding to a rabbi’s prayers.  Although she recognizes the pain her daughter will endure, she knows that she must release her for she cannot prohibit her daughter’s calling.

With Mother’s Day approaching, let us all honor our mother’s – who from the moment we were born both embraced and released us, knowing that the deepest love is that love, which both teaches and releases.

The following is an excerpt from The Gossamer Thread describing the Feather’s difficult choice to leave her mother:

 

As she caught a glimpse of the angel’s tear-stained eyes, Feather wished that she could make her mother understand all of the powerful emotions that were traveling through her tiny being.  For a brief second, she snuggled close against her mother’s warm skin, feeling the familiar love and security that she always experienced when the angel was near.  Here, it felt safe, uncomplicated and comfortable, a place no evil or harm could ever find her.  Yet the lone voice carried itself throughout her body, drawing her downward with a force over which she no longer control.  And she began to recognize that for whatever reason, the hypnotic prayer had now taken over and any of her own resolve to stay attached to her mother had all but disappeared.

It was then that Feather heard the familiar sound of her mother’s calming voice whispering something over and over again—something that she would never forget.  The words floated above her like the halo that was always suspended above her mother’s head. And almost instantly, the Feather felt a shift in the energy around her.

As her mother whispered she began to pick up speed, flying downward faster and faster.  Feather noticed the blue-green planet getting closer and closer.  Was her mother trying to fly as near to Earth as possible to make her journey less frightening?

A strange sensation entered Feather’s body, a feeling that if she were to let go, she would be able to fly on her own.  She noticed the air becoming thick, like a magical serum that held her as if she were in her mother’s arms. She glanced at the angel one last time, then closed her eyes and told Source, her mother, her brothers and sisters and everyone she knew in the Universe that what she was about to do was meant for the good of the world.  And with this last prayer she took a deep breath, allowing the cosmic wind to rush through her small frame.

A jerk began at the bottom of her spine and journeyed upward through her entire body as she began to shake and cry. She screamed as she felt the warmness of her mother leave her, and she experienced a terrifying chill as she drifted head-first into the shadows, into the Holocaust below, into the hands of the rabbi calling to her from his dark corner of the world.

 

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Fear or Faith

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. “

Albert Einstein

When seeing clients, I used to always refer to the Einstein’s quote above. The simplicity of its message spoke to the two divergent ways we can all choose to view this perplexing world — through the eyes of fear or the eyes of faith.

The other night I awoke in the middle of the night with intense fear. Before I went to bed, I had read an article about a Hiroshima survivor, who spoke about the flashbacks she was having when viewing the nuclear meltdown happening in Japan. She spoke of how the child survivors of Hiroshima became outcasts – they could never marry, have children or be employed. She spoke about what she saw during and after the bombing, how her skin on her face and hands melted like candle wax and how others with radiation poisoning quickly resembled odd colored Dalmations with purple spots covering their deformed bodies, bleeding gums and other terrifying symptoms.  Earlier that day I had followed a Geiger counter that my husband had found on the internet – some man in Santa Monica had posted it live and streaming on the internet, tracking how much radiation was actually entering West Los Angeles from Japan. I stocked up on Potassium Iodine.  I couldn’t stop watching CNN.

I awoke with visions of the Hiroshima survivor, and then visions of all kinds of devastating tragedies occurring in Los Angeles: earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear radiation.  I realized that I hadn’t put together my emergency kits, something that had been eating away at me for the past year. Why hadn’t I done this?

I saw visions of Obama tossing and turning in his White House bed, not able to sleep because of the magnanimous pressure on his shoulders — the pressure of keeping us all from melting, from the purple spots invading our bodies and gums bleeding. His face washed through me as I lay awake worrying about the light fixture above my children’s beds. I need to get that thing removed. Why haven’t I done that yet?

I sat up thinking about, as I have done many times before what it would feel like in the last moments of my life — a sudden panic, pain? the energy sucked out of me, the flashbacks of all the dear moments with my children, my youngest baby girl. Who would take care of her?

And then I sort of stopped. WHAT AM I DOING? I took a deep breath and quieted my mind, reminding myself that I was allowing fear to overtake me. All the news feeds that were trickling into my psyche were causing me to feel paralyzed and overwhelmed. F.E.A.R. represents False Expectations Appearing Real. It contains all of the What If’s running wild in our imagination like swarms of bees attacking each and every part of our bodies, not unlike the radiation seeping out of Japan.

Although “traces” of radiation had showed up in Sacramento, the truth is that they hadn’t hit Southern California. And although I continued received articles telling me that I must stay out of the rain because of the way it interacts with the radioactive particles and I must not drink filtered tap water unless it is boiled and I must not eat eggs, poultry, fish, vegetables, fruit, etc. because they will all be affected by the radiation falling to the earth and sealed in by the rain. Otherwise I’m okay…

What is left to eat, I thought? My kids who are picky eaters to begin with will STARVE!

That’s when I thought…Jenni, you are reacting to this out of fear. That is no way to live your life. You have always lived with faith — faith which fuels the wellspring of goodness and miracles that occur on this planet every second. STOP and look at your baby girl, her eyes gazing out to this topsy-turvey, yet magnificent world.  From where did this perfect creature come? Look at the spiderweb outside your window, spun with the agility of a magician. How does this spindly creature know how to create such a masterpiece? And feel the strength and power of your heart beating, your heart which knows a deeper truth than fear.

And that’s when I remembered the Einstein quote. The one I used to quote to my clients all the time, the one that I would think of when I felt anxious, alone and paranoid. And I realized again, that despite the radiation traveling slowly across the Pacific ocean possibly entering my part of the world, despite the fear teaming and multiplying in every corner, everything is in fact still a miracle.

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Prayers for Japan

As the devastating news and images of the earthquake, tsunami and now nuclear threat circulate the globe, raising panic and fear throughout the world, I think about the important messages contained in my novel, The Gossamer Thread.

In the following passage, the main character Jessica has the following dream about her grandmother, who impels Jessica to open up her ancient trunk:

***

As I tiptoed closer to the trunk she took my hand in hers and whispered, They have nuclear weapons. They must be stopped.

I turned to her and asked, Who?

She said, Now is the time to open it. She slowly unlocked the trunk, releasing a whirlwind of colors into the dream, which transformed into a dazzling rainbow that saturated every part of me with a mysterious new energy.  From the middle of the rainbow gradually emerged a glistening white feather—a paintbrush ready to immerse her shimmering strands into all of these colors?

The feather began swaying back and forth, back and forth like an alluring genie appearing out of Aladdin’s lamp. Slowly her form altered into the curvy and sensual body of a beautiful, otherworldly woman, her feathery skin changing from white to red, to orange, to yellow, to green, to blue, to purple, to brown, to black and then back to white. She swayed there, changing colors for what felt like an eternity.  Staring at this gorgeous transforming creature, I heard my grandmother say, Jessica, I am the feather. You are the feather.  We all contain the gossamer thread in the interstices of our soul. The time to open it is now.

All night long, I couldn’t get this feather woman out of my mind. She stayed with me into the light of morning, as did my grandmother’s statement: The time to open it is now. I know that the trunk is somewhere in my parent’s basement and I have to drive over there to uncover its secrets.

***

With the recent events occurring in Japan and the growing threat of nuclear annihilation, the message in my novel, the time to open it is now must be heard. The secrets contained in this trunk and within the novel, The Gossamer Thread are ultimately ones we all possess deep within, yet we unfortunately forget to behold, embrace and live by. We have survived thousands of years filled with man-made and natural disasters, violence, anger, hatred, prejudice, world wars, etc. however our bruised planet is only able to tolerate so much.

Tonight imagine that within you are the elements to shift what is occurring on our planet. As the grandmother in the novel says, I am the feather. You are the feather. We all contain the gossamer thread in the interstices of our soul. The time to open it is now. Instead of sitting idly by, how can we all help the victims in Japan? What can we pull out of our ancient trunks to remind them that humankind is still human and kind? The victims need basic necessities — food, water, shelter –yet they also need hope and prayers. Tomorrow my kids and I will put together a care package for a few children and families in Japan, sending them the comforts from our home and letting them know that on the other side of the world, they have not been forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers are with them all.

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