I was so happy to be a part of a great team of people that organized this exhibit at Kehler Liddell Gallery in Westville. The work of Rhinold Ponder was shown for a month and I had the opportunity to facilitate the opening and closing discussions with the artist and community members. It was sponsored by the William Casper Graustein Memorial Fund, organized by Kisha Zullo and included spoken word performances hosted by Hanifa Nia Washington and The Literary Happy Hour.
It was a joy to finish off this experience with a racially and generationally mixed group of community members laughing and sharing their thoughts of healing from the impact of white supremacy and violence. Great opportunities to address the healing needed that lingers behind the n-word.
I was honored to be asked to join a panel of young people and mental health and wellness professionals to discuss issues of mental health concerning black and brown teens. It was hosted by Jay Kemp on WYBC on March 17th. The Link on Facebook is here.
Greetings good people. Here is a record of some great work I did in Haiti/Ayiti between December 27th and January 3rd 2017.
It was super powerful and nourishing being a part of a delegation that engaged in positive community work in partnership with the community itself. So beautiful and enriching!
This morning I was on the Babz Rawls Ivy’s radio show, LoveBabz LoveTalk, on the New Haven Independent’s WNHH Community Radio program. Radio spot on Soundcloud
First, sorry for the HUGE lapse in time from my last post about ancestor work. I am carving out more intentional time to write so hopefully there will be more frequent posts. My challenge now is to communicate the importance and potential resources that we have access to, without it being so heady and dry nor too ethereal and abstract. So we shall see if I can balance this between the heart and head.
In the previous post I acknowledged the difficulty in connecting with our ancestors, especially when there is hurt in our past. It may have been caused by particular individuals that we knew when they were alive; a relative that abused us or those we love, one that suffered from addiction and was emotionally or physically unavailable, or one that expressed views that we abhor. It may have been a relative(s) that suffered as the victim of abuse. This may have been done to that individual enacted or upon a whole generation or generations of your lineage. Regardless of the manner of the pain, many of us living have no desire or intention to wade through it if possible. We have enough suffering and hurts in our present experience.
It is important to know that of the thousands and thousands of ancestors that we have, there are some that have struggled in the regular difficulties of life and been able to love, hope, live fully, care for themselves and others while in the midst of circumstances that were difficult. There are even those that may have experienced tragedies and horrors and still held out hope for their and others lives. At the very least we can draw upon that strength and wisdom to help us to navigate the difficulties of our current life circumstances. This is important, for it is this ability to connect with that which can support and nurture us which will enable us to deal appropriately with the pain, hurts and the desire to avoid who we are and where we come from.
You might be saying, “we just need to move on and forget about the past.” You can certainly do that. However, you are then cutting yourself off from a vast source of support that is 100% relevant to who you are and who you can become. We all come from cultures and peoples that believed and understood that the relationship with our family members does not end when they die. For some, that tradition is recent, for others it is very distant. But it is there all the same and is something we can also mourn as a cost of ‘civilization’. This is not a conceptual issue but a true and heart felt one. Just as we can feel the very real connection with those that we love who are living, yet not physically present, the same very real connection exists with those that have passed.
This may be easier to feel if you had a positive relationship with a family member before they died. If this is the case, then connecting with them and bringing your struggles, questions and concerns to them may be a bit easier. You get to simply talk with them,internally or out loud, about the support you need or the issues in your relationships (even with them) that you want to resolve or work on.
However, in my experience and the experience of others, this same bond exists even with those you did not personally know. This healing and growth work and relationships are not based on having to have known them when they lived. We have more ancestors that we do not know than those we do know. The connection is based on a relationship that simply is, not on having to create it, though we often have to find our way to it. This is because of the cultural norm of disconnection that many of us were raised in. In our current culture, when someone has died many are told that the relationship is over and they are simply “dead and gone.”
There are other views, practices and norms that we can connect with. Just like we can find and connect with a norm of equality instead of adopting the one of disconnection and oppression that we are raised in.
Now, back to the issue of pain in the lineage. Just as you get to decide who comes into your home, room, or into an intimate relationship with you, you get to decide who you invite into your ancestral, emotional and spiritual life. With words or heart felt intention you get to say in one way or another “Those that can come with love and support of my needs and purpose are welcome, those that cannot, are not welcome at this time.”
I often picture this ancestral pain or hurt as a literal wall or barrier. As people look into their ancestry and encounter this pain, the searching may stops. The pain stops them. If this were the totality of the possibilities then it makes sense to not pursue anything more. However, there are other ways to deal with this. So if we look at the reality of the pain we can see a number of options: 1) Avoidance, in regards to stopping all connection with ones ancestors, 2) Healing the ancestral pain, which involves engaging with it in a variety of ways, or 3) Bypassing that particular pain by stepping around the wall of pain and connecting deeper into ones heritage.
The first, well, is self evident and there is no opportunity for anything positive to come through as well. The fear may be too great at this stage. When you want to explore a different way, then your ancestors are always waiting and ready when you are. They are also patient and loving. The second option, is very effective, though requires a lot of healing and support to already be present to engage in that process. Certainly possible, just not a necessarily the best starting place. This third one allows for support and guidance to come through without being trapped by the pain or by believing that the pain is all that your ancestry has to offer you. You are not trapped and your ancestry does have more to offer. And by connecting in a positive way you can eventually find ways, if you want to, to heal the pain itself and resolve the trauma in your lineage.
In my view, healing and wholeness are super important. If I am going to live and be awake, then continuing to do those things that cultivates connecting to my purpose and wholeness are also important. There may be discomfort in this process. Sometimes being with the discomfort while engaged in this process is helpful and restorative. However, if there is too much discomfort and it is causing a reactive or triggering response than it may not actually be helpful or restorative. Its just hurtful.
I will give you this example. I am a cis gendered male therapist. If a client comes in wanting to address an abuse history that was done to them by a similar male as I am then there are some issues to address at the start. If that person is too triggered and reactive to sit with me in the same room due to their fear and trauma history. If they are simply re-experiencing the trauma and are unable to be emotionally, mentally, physically or spiritually present with me then the healing cannot happen.
However, if that person can tolerate it, even if there is discomfort, if they are “comfortable enough” then not only can we address the healing that is needed but there may be additional layers that are resolved. It can be even more restorative than if they engaged in this healing with someone that did not have the identity of those that oppressed and hurt them. This is why sometimes having a therapist match your demographics can be helpful AND why it may not be as necessary as we typically think.
You are the best gauge of the most appropriate ways to engage in these ancestral relationships. Some may be too traumatic to directly address, some may be uncomfortable though will have great benefit to engage in them to resolve them. Some will be easily supportive and can even help with the difficulties of engaging with the ones that are difficult. I have found that as these relationships are cleared out, healed, limited, embraced, depending on your needs, the better. The better for your own healing, journey and wholeness. Being open and able to receive the love, blessings, gifts and support from your lineage is your birthright and is powerful. Protecting ourselves from the hurtful or negative is appropriate. However, shutting ourselves down and away from who we are is self limiting. There is little to be gained from such self limiting, and our lives are too precious to live that way.
Thank you for your interest.
I was interviewed by Tara Lyn Coppola, a nutritionist, personal trainer and life coach to discuss the inter-relatedness of our physical, emotional and spiritual selves and how they interact when we are trying to make healthful decisions. (Unfortunately the link to the podcast is no longer active)
“In this episode of TLC Talks, I talk with Enroue Halfkenny, MSW, about the various things that can effect us as we work towards life changing goals and how to work through them.
This was an amazing interview. I was blown away with the amount of information, Enroue gave to us. We discussed how our past experience and family history affect us while working toward our goals. Enroue explained how our resistance to change can be a deeper internal challenge for us to work through. We also talked about ways to work through these resistances and when to seek help.
Change is not easy and often times we focus on the superficial aspects of change only to yo-yo over and over again. In order to make lasting change in our world, we must take a deeper look into our internal dynamic and embrace all the aspects that make up our multidimensional selves. This interview will give you new insight into yourself and those around you as we walk our path to becoming stronger healthier beings.
Thank you for listening and if you think this information will help others, share it with the links below.
Sign up for the TLC Newsletter and get updates of new interviews and information.
Love and Happiness,
Tara Lyn Coppola”
“We come to this life with deep roots that connect us to those that came before us. Just as there may be much suffering, sadness and pain in our lives and lineages, there is also great beauty, strength and joy. With these roots we can draw sustenance, support, and wisdom from our past to send healing throughout our being in the present.”
On Tuesday, December 8th, from 8:30am-3pm at ConnCAT in New Haven, I will be conducting a workshop on connecting with our ancestors in order to heal in the present and to unfold the beauty of our lives into the future. This is being sponsored by CEIO and is a part of their Deeper Change Forum series. The first part will involve presentation, discussion, reflection and engagement. The second part, after lunch, will be a participatory healing circle facilitated by me.
Click here for more detailed information and registration(there is no cost to attend).
I hope to see you there.
Close your eyes. Think about someone that you love who is not around you right now. Connect with the feelings of love and joy associated with them. Feel the feelings and aliveness of your relationship them within you. Notice the reality of your experience connected to them. Now open your eyes. Is that person with you. No. Is the connection that you feel real? Can you still connect with it and feel it? Yes.
This is part of the same phenomenon that occurs when a person you love dies. They are not physically around you anymore yet the connection is still there, the relationship with them is still there. This is the beginning of an understanding that the relationship that you have with your blood, bones and heart people continue even after they have died. It is just different. Just as the relationship with the person you may have just seen though is not physically near you anymore continues, relationships with your ancestors continue. As a result, it also means that we can continue to address the relationship issues with them that we want to.
Now, just because they are our ancestors does not immediately mean that our relationship with them is healed or healthy. There are plenty of family members that we do not want to invite into the vulnerable, intimate and tender places in our lives. And there are plenty of ancestors that we wouldnt want to be in there either. For many people, there are also traumatic family and cultural histories that lead us to want to avoid connecting with the past(even separate form this countries narrative about letting go of the past to move forward).
However, it is possible to connect with our ancestors and heritage in order to help us in the reality of our lives. Just as a favorite relative just wants whats good for you. Just as you may want a good and simple successful life for a child or grandchild, they want simple success and a good life for you. Traditional cultures actively recognize that these relationships continue and can be accessed in order for us to get the guidance and support from our elders who are now ancestors. It is as important to be able to set limits and boundaries with ones ancestors as you would with those people currently in your life. It is also important to realize that while there may be events or those in your family’s past that bring up too much trauma, to cut your self off from the thousands of others that could be of support is not useful.
Even though there are few explicit practices or theological validations within the Abrahamic traditions to honoring ones ancestors in an ongoing relational manner, many of us practice some form of this already. People have mantles and areas in their homes filled with photos of those that have passed, people light candles on birthdays of those loved ones that have died, there are annual trips to cemeteries, Dia de los muertos and many other ways that people recognize in their hearts and through actions, the connections between those living and those passed. People understand and feel in their hearts that there continues to be connection and relationship.
So how do we do this? How do we deepen this connection with the best parts of our lives and heritage? How do we get support in the present so that we can uncover our gifts, our purpose? How do we access these supports for our own healing in the present? How do we connect to heal past hurts? How do we accept our wholeness and fullness even as there exists in our past hurts and fear.
I wanted to share a mindfulness/meditation practice that has been of benefit for me as well as for the people I work with. While this particular structure came out of my practice I cannot say that I created it. It is very much grounded in the traditions of the Dharma(Buddhism) as a way to stay in the present moment without getting hooked into our various thoughts and feelings that lead to stress and suffering. It seems to be particularly good for those of us that get caught up in certain patterns and ways that we seek validation for our very existence.
The fields of psychotherapy, self help and Buddhism are full of various ways that people can change their relationship to their internal dialogs, thoughts and feelings to reduce suffering (reducing the effects of self judgement, self criticism, worries, fears, sadness, etc.) They encourage noticing thoughts without following, believing, being distracted or even rejecting them. Simply following one’s breath and using it as an anchor or central focus alone is a common and powerful method.
However, beginning this practice with only the breath to focus on can be difficult, especially if there is additional stress associated with being in the present moment without a perceived focus/support/distraction. (Those with significant symptoms of anxiety, depression, grief or trauma for example.) There may also be stress that manifests physically and negative feelings of discomfort can be perceived as overwhelming unless there are additional supports.
Including a mantra, phrase or intention paired with this attention to one’s breath can provide additional support. Sometimes having a phrase/intention to anchor oneself to, while other thoughts are occurring, can help to maintain the desired concentration and focus.
This now brings us to the particular phrase that I wanted to share and discuss: “Nothing to do. No-one to be.”
The beginnings of this phrase first emerged spontaneously while I stood in the woods, reflecting on my experience, after a training of the Internal Family Systems model taught by Dr. Schwartz here in CT. The training was good, thorough, provided good clinical skills and also provided more opportunities for me to be myself, grow as a clinician and to continue to value and develop my own ability to be present while sitting and being a witness to clients’ difficulties.
As I stood in the woods, beside a tree, with a thin layer of snow on the ground slowly chilling my feet, I truly felt in that moment that there was nothing else for me to do. Where I was and what I was doing, how I felt and how I wanted to feel were all connected and enough. In that moment, I also realized that there was nowhere else I needed to be. I felt complete(not a typical occurrence I might add).
My sense of well being, peace or connection was not dependent on a particular task being completed or to have to go over there where the grass is always greener. All was good as it was. I was enough, just being there, in that moment. There was nothing to prove, and no-one to prove it to, nowhere else I thought I needed to be that would be better. I wrote this phrase down so that I wouldn’t forget it. It seemed important.
Fast forward a few years later while sitting on my own meditation cushion, I began to observe the pattern of my own thoughts. I had been using a strategy in improving my concentration by labeling thoughts as they emerged and returning to focusing on my breath. Soon, I became curious about my thinking tendencies and began to categorize the thoughts as I became aware of them. Over time, and while trying not to be obsessive about the categories, I began to notice some things. Certain thoughts were particularly good at drawing me away from being present.
The first, had to do with doing. These were thoughts and daydreams revolving around getting things done, worrying about the things that I had to do, organizing things to do, brainstorming, analyzing things I had done to make them better, reflecting on things I hadn’t done, etc. Some of these thoughts appeared positive and towards goals that I thought were important. (Ahh the trap of thinking that my thoughts were so important and right.) Some were negative or self critical connected to doing things wrong, not doing enough. Overall though, there was an undercurrent that the way that I valued or criticized myself was in the things that I did or did not do.
As I recognized this, I remembered the phrase from those moments in the woods. “Ah…so.maybe when I inhale I can focus on ‘there is nothing to do’ and on the exhale it will be ‘there is nowhere to be’.” So I jumped in and began to repeat these phrases with my breath. (Also recognizing that I was again ‘doing something’. However, it soon became clear that the ‘nowhere to be’ was not quite accurate. The thoughts and images appeared more related to roles that I put myself in or imagined I was in that most pulled me away from the present. So I changed it.
In other words, having thoughts about being in some kind of role justified not being in the present moment. That the thoughts were justified if related to improving ways that I was a good….therapist, healer, teacher, father, husband, person, etc. This, I came to understand was a familiar thread in my own sense of self worth. That if I did well as a …(fill in the blank) that it made my life worthwhile and of value to myself and others.
I had been hearing about using phrases to help with focus and decided to use these as ones that I would try out. While it actually took some time to condense the themes down to simple phrases that I could remember and use, when I did, it was startling how effective they were. On the inhale I would say to myself “there is nothing to do” and on the exhale “there is no-one to be.” As soon as I used them I noticed a surge of focused thinking and responses about them. “Of course there are things that need to be done…Well you are doing something by repeating these phrases and focusing on breathing so its not really a true statement…These things are important and its OK to fulfill a role, to be someone that is good and helpful…” and on and on. And I was able to stay with my breath and phrase and notice the thinking swirling around. Without getting hooked into them.
As I continue to notice these thoughts on and off of the meditation cushion, it becomes easier to dismiss the notion that I have to abide by certain standards to feel of value. It also becomes easier to experience the flip side of that as well. That I am enough and of value simply because I am. Just as the Buddha touched the Earth as a witness to his right to inhabit his place as an awakened being, overcoming even self doubt. We also don’t need to prove our worth to inhabit a place of self love, acceptance and wholeness. What are we trying to prove, anyway?
Our inherent worth is actually not bound up in these notions but goes beyond, or rather, is not even attached to them at all. Our “value” is not contingent on anything. And in fact putting value on ourselves and our existence misses the mark on the reality of our life and existence. So…without getting too far into a discourse of what value means, what “I” mean and what this is all about. I want to encourage you to try this strategy for noticing the varied chatter that goes on(certainly in my head, possibly in yours too.) and not getting hooked into its importance, and instead staying present and just sitting(or standing, walking, eating, whatever you are actually doing). Inhale,”there is nothing to do”. For the time you have set aside for this practice there is nothing else to do but to be here, now. Exhale. There is “no one to be”. You don’t have to try and be “….”, anything. Just be, here, now. breathe. Inhale, exhale. notice.
Why do this? Well it is in the present that we make our decisions, where we live. The more present we are, the clearer are our decisions, and the more connected these decisions will be to the life we want (or the life we are in). If we want to encourage change for the better, then we need to be present enough to see where we are and where we want to be. Hope this is helpful.