Speed counseling | Integration Pt. IX

The room buzzed with nervous excitement. Over 100 of us circled up in two rows of chairs that faced each other to engage in a series of counseling sessions in a format we’d never used before. One row would play the role of clients as the row opposite would serve as their counselors for five different six-minute sessions. After the six minutes was up with one counselor, a new one would shift over to resume the session wherever it had left off, and the six-minute clock would start again.

It was just like speed dating...except that all attempts to impress the person opposite us were thrown out the window.

Rehumanizing the "other"

Morning: SoMa, San Francisco

I barely noticed him in my periphery standing at an ATM machine. It was nearing 7am and in my sleepiness I assumed he was getting finances in order before showing up to work a bit earlier than his tech-employed coworkers. I hastened my steps to appease my addiction to caffeine, which I fix daily at a Philz Coffee near Giants stadium.

The streets were surprisingly quiet this morning. On most days there are construction crews already jackhammering slabs of street into rubble and tractors beeping in perpetual reverse. But this morning was different, and I was enjoying the city in an uncharacteristically quiet state when the man from the ATM shouted from just a few feet behind me.

Be Kind to Yourself | Week Three at Stanford's CCARE

Imagine going into your workplace and calling one of your coworkers over for a chat.

You begin to tell them, in a flustered and frantic way, that they have a lot to do today, more than they’ll be able to accomplish even if they were at their most focused and efficient best. You tell them that they probably shouldn’t have managed their time so poorly the day before. And that they should feel ashamed of how they manage their time in general. You tell them that they aren’t carrying their weight, or doing things as well as they could be done. You tell them that, though they may be doing all they can, it’s never enough.

Without waiting for a reply, you end this conversation by giving them a look of disappointment and shooing them off to go redeem themselves by working harder and not messing up.

Loving Kindness Meditation | Week Two at Stanford’s CCARE

I turned left onto a main road and merged into the flow of traffic. Quickly, I realized that I would need to be making a right turn in the not-so-distant future. I signaled to change lanes and, instead of slowing to let me merge, or speeding forward to make space, the man beside me honked his horn and flipped me off. I reflexively called him an asshole.

This all happened during the commute to my second week of Compassion Cultivation Training at Stanford, which was focused on loving kindness meditation. It turns out that I, and other drivers, would greatly benefit from engaging in this meditative practice more often.

We are not Pavlov's dogs | Pt. VII

In many ways, we are all like Pavlov’s dog. And, in many ways, we are not.

If you’re unfamiliar with Pavlov and his dog(s), he was a Russian psychologist from the last century who worked in an area called Classical Conditioning. His test subjects were dogs repetitiously trained to associate the sound of a bell ringing with the availability of food to consume. Eventually, he conditioned the dogs to so thoroughly relate the bell’s sounding with food that they began to salivate at the mere sound of a bell, even when food was taken out of the equation.

This morning, my alarm went off at 7am. I had a meeting with someone on Central Time and was aware that my morning fatigue might be met by a person on the other line who’d already be invigorated by one or two more cups of coffee than me. My alarm signaled that it was time to become conscious. In fact, it was time to be awake, which brings with it all kinds of responsibilities and expectations.

Cultivating Compassion | Week One at Stanford's CCARE

Before leaving bed this morning, I set a timer for 15 minutes and began to listen to myself breathe. As the air came in through my nostrils, I noticed where the oxygen traveled throughout my body, I could feel my stomach expand and the muscles along my neck and back loosen. As the air left my nostrils, I could feel a tingly sensation spread over my scalp. When thoughts arrived, such as those that visit most every morning when my mind becomes conscious, I mostly ignored them and returned to the whereabouts of my breath, as if it was the most worthy recipient of my attention.

This little practice, I’ve been told, is meditation.

What's a question you can't answer? | Pt. VI

Dear Reader, 

What are your unanswerable questions? The ones that play on repeat, inaudibly, throughout every day of your life?

For many of us, they’ve become so embedded within our inner dialogue that we hardly recognize them anymore, as they quietly cause us to wonder: Am I enough? Am I too much? Why do I want to hide? What’s the point? How can I be happy? What does happiness even mean? When will my real life start? (Or, insert any number of your own unanswerable questions. We’ve all got one perfectly tailored to ourselves.)

Don't be so sensitive | Pt. V

Dear Reader, 

The sound of weeping and wailing was rising and falling like waves from the main meeting room, but the volume decreased with each step I took farther away from the group’s emotional activity.

We’d begun 30 minutes earlier with a shortened version of group meditation that involved three 20-minute segments entirely dedicated to laughter, tears, and silence. I was all game for the laughter portion where, ironically, I laughed so hard I cried. But, when it came time to allow myself to give into tears induced by sadness, not even one would fall from my eyes.

Love & Shame | Pt. IV

Dear Reader,

The instructions were simple enough:

“Find someone who you’ve wanted to connect with, but who you’ve felt some kind of resistance toward.”

Once we located our person out of the 160 or so to choose from, we were tasked with sitting with them for about 20 minutes – each person getting 10 minutes of client time — and tell each other what makes us want to avoid them.

Exploring the healing power of aggression | Pt. III

Dear reader,

I pinned her up against the wall and yelled with all my aggression directly into her face. She told me I wasn’t enough, and that I would never get what I wanted.

“You can’t have it,” she mocked. “You never will.”

I pushed harder, my feet sliding out from underneath me, as I could feel her delicate shoulder bones start to give way under my palms.

OK, she said, losing all the intensity we’d developed in the last few moments. Now I want you to push up against the wall behind me, so that you can give it all of your aggression without hurting me.

How...who...what...are You? | Pt. II

“Today, we are going to be concerning ourselves with the nature of reality and how very little we know about it.”

It was Monday – as perfect a day as any to deconstruct existence as we knew it – and our class of 60 counseling students of all ages, vocations, shapes, sexual orientations, and colors were prepared to dive deep, led by our instructor Steve Bearman.

But first, we needed to come to terms with all that we didn’t know. 

Why I'm holding guys' hands now | Pt. I

Dear Reader,

I look intently into his eyes and sense he’s hiding something. He’s blinking more often than what seems reasonable. I stand more firm in front of him, looking up, trying to calm his nerves by offering a stable presence, even though I feel quite small.

He’s nearly a foot taller than me and probably weighs twice as much as I do, but his eyes don’t convey the confidence his body commands. And so, in spite of my smaller stature, I feel like I must be strong for him.

His hands are sweaty; I know this because we are holding each other’s as if we’re about to exchange vows.