I grew up in New York and I lived in New York City before moving West in my twenties. As a child I was literally taught how to glare at people to let them know that they couldn’t take advantage of me. My family called it the “evil eye.” I was taught that if I smiled at someone they would see that smile as a sign of weakness and then I would be seen as a target. I was also taught to hurry so no one could follow me. As a result of these teachings I was always looking at others as perpetrators and looking at myself from the outside for any sign of weakness. Essentially, I learned not only to give the evil eye to others, but I gave it to myself. I was critical of others and I was also critical of everything I did. If anything “bad” happened, I was to blame. Judgment of others and judgment of the self go hand in hand. You can imagine what happened when I found myself living in San Francisco. I would push past people on the street and glare at them as they smiled at me, refusing to let them take advantage of me. I lived there for a year before it occurred to me that people were smiling at me to be nice and they were walking slowly because they were enjoying their day. One day I was in line at a bank when I glared at an older gentleman who was looking at me. He approached me anyway to tell me to have a nice day, and then he walked out of the bank without trying to touch me or rob me or bother me…he was just being nice. I was stunned and my mind flooded with all of the potential perpetrators that I had seen in the last year who weren’t perpetrators at all. I realized all of the ways I had piled on my armor to protect myself when I didn’t need that protection. Holy world-changing event! That’s when I started to dismantle my evil eye. I stopped using it on others and I slowly started to smile and even talk or joke around with strangers.
I look back and realize that it took much longer for me to notice that I was still using the evil eye on myself. I was still being critical of my every move, every word, and every bit of my appearance. Over the years I have practiced self-compassion and I have worked hard on letting go of judgments towards myself and towards others. Part of the joy I have as a therapist is that I get to see people and love them for who they authentically are. I encourage my clients to remove their armor when we work together and I am always touched by the love I feel for them and their struggle. My joy as a therapist is to help my clients uncover their own authentic selves and to love themselves for who they are. This has helped me to love myself and to stop being so critical and judgmental of how I should be so that I can be me.
The practice of self-love that I use is to pay attention to my heart. When something is asked of me or when I ask something of myself, I check in with my heart before I do it. Do I feel inspired or obligated? Do I feel light or heavy? This doesn’t mean that I never do something out of a feeling of obligation, but it means I consciously know and choose my path. My goal is to spend the vast majority of my energy with people and activities that I love. I make a distinction between how my heart feels ABOUT my life and how my heart feels IN my life. I have worked hard to make the components of my life the ones that make my heart sing. I consciously choose to stay married to my magnificent husband. I consciously choose to work hard to stay connected to my kids and parent them as a conversation rather than as an expectation. I consciously choose my friends and the people with whom I spend my precious life energy. I consciously choose where and how I live. I consciously choose how I work and with whom I work. This has taken years of fine-tuning because what makes our heart sing one year might start to feel heavy the next, which is our cue that we have outgrown something or that our spirit is ready for a change. I like to think that this is our life’s work. If we pay attention to our hearts and use them as our compass, we will always be led to create a life that fits us better and better.
So what happens when we run into something big in our life that is stuck and no longer causes our heart to sing? Sometimes along the way we have to dismantle things that we previously created in order to move on to something that fits us even better. This is the case in divorce, career changes, moving, letting go of friendships, launching our children, or losing someone to death. There are so many transitions that cause us pain and suffering when they are happening. If we pay attention during those times (or at least in hindsight) we can learn from the pain. Going through hard times teaches us a lot. If we incorporate the lessons we learn then our next moves can be full of wisdom, leading our hearts to feel good ABOUT our lives.
I think it’s good to remember that even when we feel good ABOUT our lives, we can still feel a variety of emotions IN our lives. Even when components of our lives fit us well, it doesn’t mean we are never going to have a crappy day. Being a human being is an intense rollercoaster. We are affected by so many events, people, and physical realities that smooth sailing through our days can feel rare. Even if you feel good about your life and there is nothing big to dismantle, paying attention to your heart and how you feel IN your life can lead you to fine-tune small things that you would miss if you weren’t paying attention. When you make a small change and then add the tincture of time, you end up in a completely different and better-fitting place in your life than if you didn’t take the time for self-attunement.
One example of something ABOUT my life that changed in the last year is that my family and I moved to the Big Island of Hawai’i. We lived here five years ago after my husband was diagnosed with stage four metastatic cancer. There’s nothing like impending death to cause one to question everything! We moved to Hawai’i to enjoy what we thought was our last year together. But rather than die, he healed! We returned to Santa Cruz and celebrated his health, but we also missed Hawai’i. Over the years the seeds of friendship we had planted when we lived there grew. When COVID hit we began to work from home. As the pandemic wore on we reevaluated our lives, and as a family we decided to move back to the Big Island. After selling our home, the house my daughter was born in, we discovered that the house we were buying in Hawai’i had major issues that could not be fixed. We pulled out of buying it and were suddenly faced with a vast unknown. As we scoured the market for another house in the area we desired, we found nothing that would fit our family. My heart felt like it was breaking but I could still feel that it longed for change. We signed a four-month lease and moved to Kapa’au, not knowing what would happen next. We ended up finding a home that fit us even better than the one before, moving in two weeks before our lease ended. Listening to our hearts helped us navigate this huge change. Although we miss the people we love in Santa Cruz, we are grateful to be settled in our new Hawaiian home. Luckily Zoom and FaceTime make it easy to stay connected. Many of my clients have expressed that they love meeting by video because they no longer need to commute and they can meet with me from anywhere. I now have clients whose locations range from Southern California to Shasta County as well as clients in Hawai’i on Kauai and Maui. I recently led a six week class with clients in California and one woman connected in from her vacation in Mexico. I’m so grateful to remain connected while living in a place that I love and that my heart told me was my new home.
One example of something IN my life that has changed in the last year is that my hair has slowly started to turn gray. While I believe that our appearance is a very individual choice and I don’t have judgment about others’ choices, I prefer to live with radical self-acceptance, which means that I have been working to love my new grays. Since I love silver jewelry, I refer to my grays as the “silver jewelry” in my hair. Yesterday I went to get my hair cut for the first time on this island. I miss Rose, who cut my hair for 17 years, but I was trying to be brave and try someone new. He is a lovely man and he and I were having a great conversation when he said, “When are you going to let me get the tinsel out of your hair, grandma?” At first I was confused. And then I realized that he was teasing me for my gray hair and suggesting that I get rid of it. While there is part of me that misses many aspects of a youthful appearance, my self-critical voice is not the voice that I am trying to strengthen in my life. I work on having a kinder, gentler and more self-accepting voice in my head, so his teasing felt bad to me. I felt my stomach knot up and my heart hurt. I felt self-conscious. But then I took a deep breath and remembered who I am and how I want to live. I took a moment inside of my heart to acknowledge my hurt feelings and then I said, “Why would I cover up the silver jewelry in my hair when I put silver jewelry in my ears, around my neck and on my hands? I think it’s beautiful.” He stopped what he was doing and looked at me. I looked him right in the eyes. He apologized to me. He said, “I make all of my money from color. I’m sorry. Your hair is beautiful.” I thanked him and I could feel my hurt feelings melt away. That insecure part of me is still there, but I spoke up in order to stick up for her and to protect her. I know that the self-critical voice that could be running at her all day long every day is only going to hurt her more. We only accept criticism from someone else if we agree with them on some level. I wasn’t willing to accept his criticism without saying something, even though it felt uncomfortable to challenge his “professional” opinion of my situation. Having been around serious illness in my life I am grateful to be living in a body that is old enough to be graying and changing. I’ll be lucky to be much grayer and wrinklier than I am right now before I leave this earth. I might as well practice self-acceptance now because someday I hope to look back at this current time as the olden days. May it be so.
In my work I love helping my clients to dream big as they reimagine their lives at times of transition so they can feel good ABOUT their lives. I love working with my clients to find their voices and their versions of radical self-acceptance so they can feel good IN their lives. I would like to rename therapy and call it “heart-attunement.” If we can shift our thinking, our circumstances, and our relationships so that they are in tune with our hearts, imagine the beautiful songs that our hearts would sing.
If you would like support in doing this work of tuning into your heart, please schedule a session with me or call me to discuss how working together might help. If you are specifically working on deepening a sacred partnership in your life, please send me an email as I am putting together a class that may interest you.