Finding the middle way

Looking at the world today, I am seeing extreme positions. In politics, it’s the Right and the Left, polarized and unyielding regardless of the issue; climate change, gun control, immigration…each side obstinately holding tight to their entrenched belief.

In my office as well, paralleling the political climate, I often hear clients trying to deal with personal, emotional issues from only one side or the other; unwilling to compromise; insisting on all or nothing.  Sadly, with this point of view there is no room for movement toward a satisfactory resolution.

Fortunately there exists an alternative way of ‘thinking,’ literally an approach to how we think!  One of the many brilliant concepts of Kundalini Yoga is that we have three minds: positive, negative and neutral.

It is important not to confuse the capability of the neutral mind with ‘neutrality,’ as in not taking sides.  To the contrary, the neutral, yogic mind absorbs both positions and merges them so as to arrive at a non-inflammatory, middle-ground alternative to extremism on one side or the other.

We need our negative mind to protect us, our positive mind to expand our horizons, and our neutral mind to evaluate the risk/reward of both directions; and to find the middle way.

How do we develop our neutral mind? Followers of Kundalini Yoga have a discipline to guide them, a daily practice of specific meditations.  But all of us can activate our neutral mind and find the forward path that balances right and left.  It requires an exploration of how our personal beliefs were formulated and the release of emotional blocks that keep us irrevocably tied to dogma and ideology. From this exploration the neutral mind – and the middle way – emerges.

I am at your service if you would like to seek insight into the three minds concept – the positive, the negative and the neutral.  Together we can find your own middle way… and the harmony that it brings into your life.


Feelings not found in a Hallmark Mother’s Day Card

Mother’s Day can be a challenge for me. A Hallmark Card’s idyllic view of the mother/child relationship doesn’t match the conflicted feelings I learned to associate with my mother when I was a child. Each May, as I went through the motions associated with the tribute, I found it more difficult to pretend the sentiments of the flowery rhymes of the greeting cards applied. My approach was to submerge my feelings and become numb.

Thankfully, my personal work over the years slowly brought these feelings to the surface and for the most part, they have been resolved. But do the feelings ever go away completely? In my office, over and over again I hear about the difficulties existing between mother and child. The common theme relates to a childhood lacking the abundant nurturing that is needed, the result of which is a bedeviling sense of being unlovable no matter what one may do.

I’ve come to think of “mother” as a verb as well as a noun. That definition doesn’t restrict the opportunities for giving and receiving unconditional love to the birth mother. It acknowledges that the essence of “mothering” can be very much present in teachers, friends and mentors whose compassion and caring natures offered comfort to our inner child and inspired our love.

Mother’s Day pays homage to the most influential woman in our lives, but it should also be a tribute to all the women who cared for us and nurtured us along the way, and love us still. It should remind us as well of the significant roles we play – including women who are single by choice or chance – in the lives of the children of all ages for whom we are the verb and not the noun. In truth, we are all lovable, and capable of offering it in abundance.

Open your understanding of who has mothered you and whom you mother. Be grateful for those who offer unconditional love. And most importantly, give that child within you the heartfelt love it deserves.

P.S. is the link to the posts written by Jenifer Ratner. With a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Development from the Erikson Institute and a decade of child care as a Nanny, she is starting her practice as a parenting consultant. The short reflections on the challenges of raising her daughter bring grins and welcomed support to moms of all ages and experience. (Full disclosure: Jen is my daughter)

Living in a world gone mad

My husband looked up from the newspaper, a mournful, puzzled look suggesting the question he was to ask was more a request for help than information.

“Arlene, the world has gone mad. I’m reading about the deadly explosions in Brussels, Isis suicide bombings in Istanbul and Somalia, poisonous lead in our water, a tragic plane crash in Russia, rockets fired by North Korea, stabbings in Israel, the worst drought in decades in India and South Africa, the life-threatening Zika virus, rampant racism in our cities and 60 million people in the world at risk of malnutrition. What are we to make of this? How do we live normal, decent lives in the midst of such indifference, brutality and carnage?”

I thought about my answer carefully. Because I knew breakfast tables all around the world were confronting similar questions and how I and they responded would determine the future for generations to come.

My choice is to remain optimistic. For humanity, for our planet, there is no other choice.

I believe in the basic good that exists in all of us. Those who commit the atrocities and acts of monstrous cruelty have taken the space of darkness so we can see and embrace the contrasting light.

We all are products of our particular families, cultures and environments but we have the inner wisdom that guides us to choose our own path. We are facing the eternal questions that our teachers ask each generation of students. Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going?

My answer is, I am consciousness; I came from consciousness; I am going back to consciousness.

Let me elaborate on that somewhat austere sentence. There are questions so vast in scope and deep in meaning we simply cannot answer them on our own. We have to put the answer into ‘Spirit’s’ hands or whatever your visualization is for the undetectable but undeniable presence of our Source.

I often do an exercise with my clients to explore their own heart. I ask them to literally do just that, to visualize going into the heart and telling me what they see, sense and feel. For some there is blocked emotion to work through, but ultimately the description is the same: warm, safe and peaceful. Clearly, within all of us, the heart is the source of unconditional love; the core of who we are.

I choose to live with that belief. To do otherwise would be unbearable.

Perhaps you would be interested in exploring your own heart center. Call me to talk further about the process.

With Love and Light,

Arlene Englander, L.C.S.W.

Replace Rigidity with Compassion and Empathy

As today’s rancorous political climate accentuates, we live in a highly polarized world. The scale reads “Right/Wrong” with acrimony on both ends. This turning of deaf ears to respectful consideration of viewpoints conflicting with our own often spills into our personal lives, influencing the way we make decisions about our relationships and perhaps more detrimental, our own self-worth. When we are rigid about concluding that one side is right and the other side is wrong, the person we adjudge to be right is praised and the person we deem wrong is shamed. In that scenario we must insist on being right because our self esteem demands it.

The danger in needing always to be right is how easily we slide into being self-righteous, which leads to sacrificing love in favor of superiority. In every relationship, be it with loved ones, co-workers, family and friends, at one time or another we will need to make decisions that run counter to another’s point of view. But it is not necessary to justify what we want and need as “Right” or “Wrong.” We do not need to justify taking care of ourselves by condemning other people’s opinions and motives. There is a big difference between setting boundaries and hiding behind being right!

Significantly, what happens when we stop being judgmental and accept others as they are, we allow ourselves to be as we are! What a relief it is to not regard every interaction as a personal challenge; to not feel besieged and guilty if we take a path different than the one they prefer we follow. And most liberating of all, to know we don’t always have to be strong to have true strength of character.

When we don’t see the world as either black or white, being vulnerable does not default to being weak. Quite the contrary; our strength is displayed by our willingness to be exposed; our acknowledgement that yes, there are times when we succumb momentarily to self-doubt and fear. Life is not all one way or the other. Our strength reflects the courage it takes to feel vulnerable when that is the emotion we are experiencing. We are not meant to be superhuman; simply being human will suffice.

Today’s pain can be tomorrow’s joy

No one is immune to hurt feelings.  Girlfriends and boyfriends break up; husbands and wives have disagreements; employees get wrongfully fired; creative work gets criticized and on and on.  Getting hurt is an inevitable part of life in general and relationships in particular. And when the blow to the ego comes, sometimes unfairly and frequently unexpectedly out of the blue, the ache is magnified by feelings of vulnerability and anger.

Typically that’s when we search for justification and flail about in frustration looking for scapegoats to blame in an effort to tamp down and avoid the pain – strategies that can work only temporarily; because as you have heard me say many times, the only way to get through it is to go through it.  We have to surrender to our hurt feelings, not in defeat, but in recognition that they are part of life, not all of life.  When we feel our feelings we allow ourselves to be vulnerable; we allow ourselves to share with trustworthy friends, family and therapists; and we allow the healing process to begin.

Try this new take on how to respond to hurt feelings: listen to them and then surf them away.*  What is it they are telling us about the decisions we made and the actions we took that brought the pain on?  Maybe the ache we feel is telling us we need to set a boundary or accept one that exists or that the direction we’re traveling has taken a wrong turn and it’s time to stop and reassess where we’re heading.  In this context, our pain is simply a symptom of a less than successful choice we made previously.

Perhaps some of you may have read “The Four Agreements,” by Miguel Ruiz.  Its subtitle is ‘A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom,’ and indeed it is an excellent guide to freeing one’s self from the missteps and misunderstandings that lead to hurt feelings.  1. Be impeccable with your word. 2. Don’t take anything personally. 3. Don’t make assumptions. 4. Always do your best.

Understandably, we don’t want to feel any more pain than might await us in the course of our lifetime, but when it does arrive it need not devastate us if we recognize its presence rather than deny it.  We have the capacity to deal with hurt feelings and as the pain evaporates, joy feels the space.


*If you don’t know or remember how to use the Surfing Technique, check out that section of my book, The In-Sourcing Handbook: Where and How to Find the Happiness You Deserve.

Learning from Life’s Disappointments

You meet someone new and love blooms. “This is it,” you exult. But a few months into the relationship, burning ardor has turned to ashes. The job you sought for years finally is yours. But soon after, the friendly boss has turned into a villain and once again your career is at a dead end. You begin the New Year with a list of resolutions and before February arrives, you’ve completely lost steam. When life continually disappoints you it can be helpful to take a long and hard look at the reasons why so we can recognize the recurring themes that crop up over and over again, and avoid them in the future.

While no one answer fits all situations, typically the problem lies with three behaviors that can be isolated, looked at, and seen as the cause of the disappointments that continue to occur in life. By observing them, and detaching from them, you can avoid the disappointing outcomes they produce.

Unfulfilled expectations: all too often we make a decision to do something based on the conviction that a quid pro quo is inherent to the choice and when the result we anticipate in return does not materialize, it’s a distressing blow to our self-worth. We feel undervalued and begin to question our investment in the relationship/job/resolution.  To do: stop being judgmental and give people some leeway before rushing to harsh conclusions. Have expectations that are realistic; they’ll serve you better than rosy hued fantasies.

Thwarted intentions: few things are more frustrating than the imposition of another’s wishes taking precedence over our own or having to accept our own limited capabilities leaving us short of fulfilling the goals we set for ourselves.  To do: When totally committed, ride with the drawbacks and have a Plan B and a Plan C as alternative ways to achieve your goal. Accept reality and acknowledge ‘what is’ as the guide to more reasonable and attainable achievements.

Undelivered communications: we simply can’t assume that our messages are heard because we mouthed them, or texted them or posted them on Facebook. What we meant to say and what people understood us to say can be two very different things!   To do: Make sure you leave time and space for feedback before leaping ahead with your plans and take responsibility for making sure the intentions behind your communications are clearly acknowledged, fully comprehended and affirmed.

Here’s to making 2016 a year of realized resolutions and unlimited possibilities.

The Good Goodbye

Closure. Probably you have heard someone advising it when you told them you recently ended a relationship or a job or made a major change in your life. Indeed, it is important to leave the past behind and I thought I knew just about every good goodbye technique used by therapists until I learned about a product called a Closure Coffin! Seriously, there is such a thing, a coffin six inches long, four inches wide and one and three quarters deep made of “good quality wood and hand crafted” and including a scroll on which to write your feelings and a candle for a symbolic ceremony. Actually the faux funeral is not a bad idea! Without closure before moving on in life you can be torn by nagging thoughts about unresolved endings that grow increasingly insistent and draining. It’s not a good way to start a new phase of your life. Or a new year come January, 2016.

 So before you commit yourself to new directions for 2016, make it a point to have closure with the old beliefs that otherwise are sure to get in the way of fulfilling your commitments. It’s wise to remember that step as you sit down to list your New Year’s intentions.

 You can find a silver lining to each storm cloud that creates chaos in your life if you think of your painful feelings as ‘difficult lessons’ that can help you grow in awareness and acceptance, offering wisdom and protective boundaries in place of imprudence and impulse. Just as physical pain tells you how severe an injury is to your body, emotional pain is also in direct cause and effect, indicating the damage to your psyche. The difference is, you are responsible for your feelings. When a negative emotion persists, you can choose whether to be overwhelmed by it or to view it as simply a form of energy over which you have control.

It is possible to detach from emotional pain; the mere act of “looking” at it rather than being submerged in it can allow you to understand the distinction between the good reason and the real reason. Understanding the “real” reason behind your wounded feelings can lead you to the closure necessary for you to move on. In 2016. And beyond.