Tag Archives: emotions

living on purpose, being on purpose

this is a guest post by my friend garfield, for whom i wrote the posts on goal setting a few weeks ago.

thank you isabella for inviting me to write a post on your awesome blog! i am a voracious student of human potential, and personal, spiritual, and professional development. i eagerly consume the teachings and knowledge of people such as: eckhart tolle, marianne williamson, michael losier, t. harv eker, jim rohn, satyen raja, esther hicks, and many others.

i used to feel so lost and confused and angry all the time. “why the hell am i here? this can’t be all life is…can it?”, i would desperately ask the universe, myself, anyone. then one magical day, after nearly two years of diligent and persistent training, seeking, reading, learning, wanting, i suddenly (and i do mean suddenly) after much perturbation, became totally present, realized the truth of who i am, and discovered how to live on purpose.

being ‘present’ has been a key element in joyously discovering how to live on purpose. i once thought that us human beings were given one grand purpose and it was our job to discover it and move toward it. of course, that would mean that our purpose is somehow outside of us, somewhere in ‘the future’…which doesn’t exist! the future will never be here, it will always be now, the present moment.

a truly great bonus to being present is the absence of negativity, fear, suffering, etc. it turns out that pain and suffering cannot survive in my presence. so how do i become present? i just breathe. the moment i observe my breath…in….out…i have become present.

how can it be that i have no pain or suffering or negativity by being present? well i’ve discovered that all worry, doubt, fear, anxiety, stress, guilt, and every other negative emotion exist solely in the past or future, in our minds. so once i thoroughly dismiss ‘psychological time’ and observe the now i realize quite readily that there is nothing wrong with my present moment.

when my mind isn’t plagued with thoughts of the past or fantastic future problems (which rarely, if ever, actually manifest in my life) i can think more clearly, and more importantly i can fully accept what is in the present moment and a feeling of lightness, joy, and purpose permeates my entire being. then the juiciest things come to light, i can feel my vibration rise and i am able to see who i truly am. for me, this is living on purpose. being on purpose is a feeling, a knowing, a vibration.

so if you’re stressed, worried, angry…perhaps try what i do and practice being present. ask yourself ‘what is wrong with this moment right now? what actual problem exists right now? not a week from now or five minutes from now, but now. you’ll discover that you can then respond to life and create what you desire, rather than reacting to life as it happens to you.

how often are you living on purpose?

mental health advice: tell me what you think

the other day i received a phone call from william (not his real name), very distressed. he was in the psych ward, on his third week now. “i gotta get better, i gotta get better!” he kept saying. his hospitalization had been preceded by a good six weeks of progressively worsening mental health. anxiety, depression and borderline personality disorder were only some of the diagnoses that had been with him for many years. when he is healthy, he is funny and quirky, a dedicated stay-at-home dad who enthusiastically shares his two daughters’ passion with field hockey. when he cycles into his illness, his thought patterns quickly become more and more one-dimensional until all that is left is a looming preoccupation with how bad of a father he is and a clinginess that becomes almost unbearable to his partner, especially since it tends to be laced with hurtful sarcasm.

my involvement with william is only at the margins. when things get bad, though, we often spend a lot of time on the phone. he finds our phone calls comforting; i think it’s because i treat him like a normal human being, because i, too, have personal experience with mental illness, and also because i keep pointing out my boundaries, gently but firmly.

when william called and kept saying, “i gotta get better, i gotta get better”, my instinct made me blurt out, “you gotta make a choice here. either force yourself to get better – the old pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps method – or accept that you’re sick right now, and that this could be a slow process. but if you keep going back and forth between the two, it’s going to drive you around the bend.”

in my observation, one of william’s major problem seems to be that he is stuck in a painful, very tight loop of thoughts and feelings, a cage of unrelenting self-talk of self-loathing, control and neediness (“i’m a failure!” “no-one wants to spend time with me!” “jean bought the wrong kind of potatoes again!”) my blurting and telling him what i think he needs to do – not exactly according to the textbook of counselling – was at least partially informed by this observation. perhaps i was trying to say, “get out of your cage!”

over to you, readers. what do you think? was my exclamation to make a choice clumsy, too directive? if you were william, how would you have reacted? would you feel connected because i simply followed my instinct and therefore related on a real level?


does this happen to you, too? once in a while you look at an obvious fact for the 1,285th time and all of a sudden, its profound truth hits you like a ton of bricks.

for the last few days, this profound truth was – well, let me say it this way:

humans are 60-70% water and 98-99% emotion.

as you can guess, this post is be mostly about emotion (i’ll leave the water to my good friend raul) although it is interesting to note that in some traditions, water is intimately connected with emotion – in most pagan traditions, for example, as well as in jungian thought.

freud spoke of the thin veneer of civilization, and boy, is it thin. even when we are rational (for example, in science). or maybe even then. how edgy we get when our thoughts/logic/rational arguments/fill-in-the-blanks are challenged! anger and fear arise, the stomach knots up, blood pressure rises, heartbeat increases and wham! we fight back. if we stay “rational”, our arguments will not be physically violent or replete with swearing; they will be well crafted and most likely laced with sarcasm, knowing we are right, an unwillingness (and inability) to hear the other and a frantic scrambling for hitting the other with more facts that prove our superiority.

the funny thing is that a truly rational response would be to reach out, to soften, to be curious. that is, assuming that one has in mind to have a true exchange between equals, which again would be a rational thing to do. we could define rational behaviour according to psychologist albert ellis as

acting, emoting and thinking in ways that are alternative-seeking, realistic, flexible and most importantly self- and social-helping and functional in helping humans in achieving their personal and social goals and desires

and somehow we find this incredibly difficult. currently i’m reading three books (you always have at least five books on the go, too, right?) that show just how deeply important emotion is to us. one is mark goulston’s just listen who keeps driving home the fact that in order to interact with people rationally, we need to make sure that they can actually hear us, without being prey to the “amygdala hijack”. the amygdala is part of our limbic brain (sometimes referred to as the reptilian brain) and initiates the fight or flight response. it compares incoming information (e.g. facial expressions, tone, body language, smells, etc.) with emotional memories. an amygdala hijack occurs when the amygdala decides that the information it has just processed threatens survival and hence any reaction needs to be fight, flight or freeze – and not be directed by the frontal cortex, which is the part that helps us act rationally (i.e. the amygdala “hijacks” decision making power from the frontal cortex). the amygdala will react similarly to the threat of being eaten threatened by the woolly mammoth and a perceived emotional attack.

the other book is daniel ariely’s predictably irrational. from the jacket cover:

not only do we make astonishingly simple mistakes every day but we make the same types of mistakes … we consistently overpay, underestimate, and procrastinate. we fail to understand the profound effects of our emotions on what we want, and we overvalue what we already own.

fortunately, ariely proposes that

these misguided behaviours are neither random nor senseless. they’re systematic and predictable.

that’s good. it has such a – rational sound to it.

finally, a book i have been gnawing on for months now is made to stick – why some ideas survive and others die, by dan and chip heath. i’m “gnawing” not because it is hard to read – it decidedly is a joy to read – but because there is so much useful information in it. the main idea of the book is that in order to get a message through to an audience – students, for example – the last thing we need to do is inundate them with facts (which is something our rational brain likes to do). ideas that stick are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, contain a story, and appeal to our emotions.

they give an example of an appeal to help starving children in malawi, africa. one appeal provided very informative statistical bullet point to show reasons for giving; the other told of a little girl, and what the money would do to help her educate and provide her with medical care. not only did the story-based appeal result in donations over twice as high but also when potential donors were presented with both the story and the statistics, they still gave significantly less.

as i said, many of the points i made are pretty obvious. but do we really act on them? often, way too often, it seems that some irrational part of our brain tells us to keep hitting people over the head with too much rationality.

does that happen to you? how do you deal with it?

11 things i learned at millionaire mind intensive

clarity: a green chestnut suspended in the aira few months ago i went to one of t. harv eker’s millionaire mind intensive workshops. i didn’t buy any of their courses (i guess becoming a millionaire isn’t high on my list) but got quite a bit out of it otherwise. if you get a chance to go to one of those workshops for free, i highly recommend them. here are my notes – i offer them to you because i’m still not over this silly cold and my brain still doesn’t co-operate enough for a full-blown, original blog post.

let me know what you think of these notes – any of them useful?

(oh, and i lied.  they’re not 11 things but 27.  i just wanted to start a title with “11 things i learned”)

  1. dream big; you’ll never be bigger than your dreams
  2. what’s your money blueprint? (what’s your blueprint for anything?)
  3. look at the results – that’ll tell you. once you know your blueprint, you can change it.
  4. failure often comes from lack of clarity
  5. clarity = power; power = ability to do and act
  6. no clarity like playing basketball without a hoop
  7. getting by is harder than getting rich. also, getting by sucks
  8. simple works, complicated is interesting
  9. we are programmed to be worker bees
  10. most people start doing something new out of irritation. their models tend to be the people who irritated them (e.g. “i’m not going to do what he did!”, “if she can do it, i can do it, too”)
  11. most people run a business that creates struggle. but it should create wealth.
  12. the opportunity is pure, until you come along.
  13. if fear, anger and resentment are at the (tree) root of whatever i do, event when the results are ok, i’ll have a hard time changing what’s above ground, and my fruits will never be quite what i want
  14. destructive words: “i know that” – they close you off
  15. pride and ego: the most expensive things you own
  16. for many people, success is counterintuitive
  17. fix the habit not the problem
  18. if you want a lot of anything, put in energy
  19. in times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists. (eric hoffer)
  20. don’t work hard at something, work hard at yourself
  21. if you show you can handle what you have, you’ll get more
  22. focus on investments (of time, energy, money), don’t focus on expenditures
  23. there are 4 realms: mental, emotional, spiritual, physical. the first three are the roots. the physical is the fruit. if you want better fruit, work on the remaining 75%.
  24. if you have results you probably won’t spend that much time looking for reasons
  25. emotion is like breath – it needs to go in and out
  26. we fear the letting go of emotions but we need it more than anything
  27. who’s choosing the action? you or the feeling?

image by wayne’s world 7

frozen pea friday: “cancer is my kryptonite”

it’s friday and we have a frozen pea friday post to celebrate cancer survivors. today, a guest post by hayley:

hi! i’m hayley and i’m an alcoholic. oh wait, wrong posting day. this is the cancer posting day. let’s try that again!

hi! i’m hayley townley. i’m thrilled to have been asked to be a guest blogger on change therapy. thanks, isabella!

kryptonite, as you may know, was superman’s weakness. cancer in all its forms is my kryptonite. in 1991, i lost my mom to breast cancer. she was 47; i was 25. she had been battling it since she was 37.

in 2002, at age 36, i was diagnosed with stage 3B breast cancer.

it’s now 2008, i am 41 years old, i have a fabulous head of hair, and i am a survivor!

i have always thought of myself as a superhero, minus the cape and the tights. i can handle anything thrown my way. i have always been oblivious to the things that might get other people down.

of course, this could stem from our family motto: “nothing is wrong and we don’t talk about it.”

but when i was diagnosed, it hit me hard”from all angles: mental, physical, emotional. it laid me out and made me realize that, after all, i may be only human.

now that i’ve been free of cancer for over five years, i am stronger and more resilient. i am faster than a speeding bullet. more powerful than a locomotive. able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. but whenever the word cancer comes up, i cringe inside. it’s as if somebody has slipped me a little bit of kryptonite.

i live with the possibility that it will come back. i was never a hypochondriac before the cancer; that tendency is one of the little perks of having had this disease. when i get a headache, i think it’s a brain tumor. when i find a bump on my leg, my heart sinks. before each doctor’s appointment, i lay awake long into the night. i panic inside over each mammogram or blood test. only when the oncology nurse calls to say that i’m good to go, do i relax again. the kryptonite dissipates a little bit more each time i pass a test with flying colors.

a friend recently got a bad diagnosis ” lung cancer, lymphoma, and brain cancer. i visited her in the hospital. kryptonite had reduced this once statuesque, beautifully poised superhero of a woman to lying in a hospital bed with tubes and drains sticking out of her. she was tired but in good spirits, and i know her superhero was still inside of her.

i had a good visit with her. she was on day 13 of her treatment and still had her hair. i had lost my hair on day 13. i brought her two cancer survivor buffs”the superhero headwear of cancer survivors.* i felt powerless in what else i could do for her. i tried to tell her it would be alright.

as i sat there holding her hand, a nurse came in to give her some of the same chemo drugs i had been given. i could sense the metallic taste in my mouth and the hollow place in my gut as i watched her dutifully swallow each horse pill. the kryptonite got stronger and i could feel every nerve ending in my body as i had before, when the situation was reversed.

as i left her bedside, i tried to carry out as much of her kryptonite as i could. i wanted her to be the strong, nothing-ever-fazes-her person i knew. just like me. the cancer tries to chip away at our bodies, but the kryptonite cannot affect our souls.

mary ellen died last month. not i, nor the drugs, nor the doctors could absorb enough kryptonite to return her superhero powers.

it’s crazy that in the 21st century”when we can put a person on the moon, make a computer that weighs only three pounds, and instantly share our thoughts with someone on the other side of the world simply by pressing a button”we still cannot cure cancer. someday, i hope there will be a kryptonite dumpsite where we can dump this disease.

if you or somebody you know is facing cancer, it’s your kryptonite, too. i survived it. superman survived it. you can survive it. let’s all don our superhero capes and tights and change the world together”one kryptonite diagnosis at a time.

this post is dedicated to my friend maryellen and, of course, to my mom. you will always be superheroes in my book.

bio: hayley lives in san luis obispo with her best friend and husband of 18 years, tim; their two dogs, shelby and lucy; and 14-year-old jazmine the cat.

she and her canadian co-author are writing a book about the lives of 100 women after breast cancer. she is also writing a book full of humor, insight, and warmth on her full cancer experience, along with one specifically for people who have a friend with cancer.

she blogs at http://hayleytownley.blogspot.com and at improg. in addition, she owns the website cancer survivor stuff, which sells headwear for survivors and handmade greeting cards. she is working on another website to tie in with the book AFTER . . . there is life after breast cancer, which she will launch by mid-summer.

*cancer survivor buffs are available from cancer survivor stuff or planet buff (type in “hayley” as a referral code).

mental health and cancer

peas refractedfor today’s “frozen pea friday” post on cancer, and because it’s national mental health week, i’ve interviewed someone on how she deals with the emotional effects of cancer. here’s what she says:

  • i have 100% permission to have all the meltdowns i need to have (i.e. anger, crying spells)
  • have a relationship with a psychotherapist whom i see regularly; that helps me remind me of self-care, putting my family in perspective and making sure i get my meltdowns
  • i have buddies. we’re in a group and i strongly request my buddies corner me four times a week and get me to focus on what i want. they do it and also get me to look at the guilt monsters because guilt is huge for me
  • maintain sleep, exercise and a regular eating schedule
  • i get help with sleep with sleep medication
  • i schedule regular meals and make sure i eat them
  • i manage anxiety by being really practical and taking things that i want seriously and making steps towards them if i can’t actually do them right
  • i very rarely tell myself “absolutely not!” usually it’s, “yes” or “yes, later” or “probably, later”
  • i let myself care about other people, even though right now it’s “me first time”

other info on the connection between mental health and cancer:

sexuality and cancer

this study suggests that people with mental health issues have a larger chance of getting certain types of cancer, and getting it at an earlier age

this site has a large section on the emotional effects of cancer. what i find most helpful about that is that it shows the many effects – seeing this in print, knowing that these feelings are normal and experienced by many can in itself be helpful.

yoga may help with breast cancer

(refracted pea image by fellow canadian ecstaticist, whose blog is here)

commenting is writing, too

once a while i like to share with you which blogs i’m reading and commenting on. sometimes it seems i spend way more time writing comments on others’ blogs than writing my own posts. so here you have a little taste of my blogospheric meanderings in the last few days:

i can’t believe i overlooked the national eating disorders awareness week. geesh! i guess there’s a bit too much happening in my life right now.

eating disorders

fortunately, carrie didn’t overlook it. she’s reviewed a few articles on her blog that perpetuate myths about eating disorders. among other things, i commented on something that often irritates me: the “you have to do A before you can do B” approach that is still taken by a lot of counsellors and therapists. “you have to be 6 months sober before you can look for a job”; “you have to address your depression before getting married”. who says?!?

anger and depression

john’s blog has one of the most striking designs i’ve seen in quite a while. he uses writing to keep his depression at bay. in this post he talks about anger a group therapy experience around his anger turned inward. in my comment, i share my experiences with such groups; actually, it’s an experience during a therapist training workshop i took. owning up to one’s vulnerabilities in such an environment has its particular challenges.

fessing up to our emotions

evan talks about emotional connections. it’s really interesting how we always pretend to be cool, calm and collected when really we’re more emotion than anything else. in my comment, i talk about ways of bringing out more emotion that work for me.

music and emotions

and – oh, wow! i just had to check something on twitter (this being friday, i needed to change my avatar to show that i’m a pea-ple person) and caught an announcement by one of my new twitter friends, amy palko about a blog post featuring three beautiful music videos. talk about emotions!

how social media changes our world

can’t let a little digest like this go without a commentary on another one of my favourite subjects – social media. one of the techie conferences just finished – SXSW, and there were some fascinating occurrences there, one of them the audience’s reception of facebook’s mark zuckerberg’s keynote address. jeremiah owyang summarizes this in an important post about how social media are changing conferences. i think more than that is changing – social media has proven to truly have the potential for a tool for true democracy and participation.

poker playing as a frame of mind

a guest post by my husband glenn:

years ago, in a land far, far away i spent a year as a crisis line volunteer. one call that i received was from a girl in senior high school. we talked about her difficulties with her foster family and difficulties socially at school, how she found it disconcerting that sometimes in largish groups of people she found herself mentally removing herself and becoming disassociated with the situation.

at one point she suddenly exclaimed, “why are there no nice guys?” i waited for a bit as this came out of nowhere, but as we talked some more she told me that she had been raped a few years back by a classmate, and that as a child she had been sexually abused by her father. she described how, when her father would come into her room at night, she would mentally float above as if she were watching from above. i pointed out to her that to me this reaction sounded very similar to what she was experiencing now in school. she said that in the childhood situation she used to do it intentionally but these current reactions were not intentional. i suggested that perhaps her mind had learned that disassociation could protect her and that it was a defence mechanism that it was calling up to react in stressful situations in the present.


i’m definitely no expert, but i find the subconscious mind capable of making all kinds of connections for us. for example when i can remember parts my dreams there are often specific emotional contexts that make it memorable. if i separate the emotional reaction or my feelings about a situation that occurred in the dream as separate from the actual people or place in the dream, i often find that i had the same emotion or feeling the day before. my subconscious is working with or reviewing that tension using different colours (i.e. substituting people, places, things).


these days i play a fair amount of poker on-line, and i’ve written about this before. just as anything that we do often affects the rest of our days, poker has it’s effect on those who play regularly. some of the things that can be noticed are better basic math skills, better emotional control (i believe that road rage has a very similar source to poker anger; perhaps a topic for another blog entry), more discipline, as well as perhaps less useful things such as an ability to recognise sunk costs (costs, in terms of dollars/time/effort, that become irrelevant to the later decision that you have to make because you can’t withdraw them) or situational decision making and the decision trees that are implied by them.


the incident that draws these things together was minor but interesting nevertheless. i sometimes take the skytrain to work at clark drive. to get to the station from the bus stop you have to walk down a block and cross a busy street. there is a light and pedestrian crosswalk at the end of the block, but i know from experience that the light takes a while to change after you press the button.

one day as i started to near the crosswalk the light changed. the traffic coming towards me was stopped for the light. going the other direction there was one car stopped and one other slowing down for the light so i cut across the street, angled towards the crosswalk, went between the now stopped two cars and to the corner. as i reached the corner a somewhat roughly dressed guy called out to me, “hey, you’ve got to cross at the crosswalk. i’m talking to you.” i made brief attempts to reason/argue with him but he wasn’t listening. he went on, saying “if you get hit, it’s your fault. i’ve seen three accidents just like that”, and so on.

for those of you who don’t play poker the next bit might not make too much sense but i’ll explain it in basic terms. when you are seated two seats to the left of the dealer you are the “big blind” and you must pay a cost even before you see your cards. if, after the hidden cards are dealt, some of the other players match the big blind cost but don’t raise during this first round of betting, you get to see the first three community cards (called the flop) for no additional cost. after those first community cards come out, another round of betting ensues, but your disadvantage is that you will be either the first or second player that has to decide whether or not to bet. if you do decide to bet, everyone after you that is still in the hand gets to decide whether or not to match your bet in order to keep playing, to fold and quit, or to raise your bet to challenge you.

usually in the situation i’ve described above you get pretty mediocre cards. sometimes the community cards are pretty mediocre as well but you get a little something and decide to bet it. after you’re done so, everyone else gets a chance either to match your bet or to raise it, and sometimes someone will challenge your bet and raise. then you have to decide whether the hand that you’ve been allowed to play cheaply to this point is good enough. their raise claims that they have something too, and they’re claiming that they think it’s better than your something. often the pot at this point is not very big and unless you think that the other person is bluffing or that what you have is pretty good, it’s a better choice just to fold and wait for the next hand.

my reason for explaining all of this is that i became aware that this situation of crossing the road “felt” like the poker situation i described above. i had taken advantage of a situation that presented itself, but someone decided to challenge my move. my subconscious automatically recognised the situation and realized that the “pot” was small. i considered the options that i had, like arguing, trying to reason, name calling, and decided to “fold my hand”. i gave a fake “okay, thanks” and walked away.


i’m sure that there have been other situations where poker has affected my actions and choices more subtly but this one was interesting to me because of 1) the degree to which i was aware of the “poker effect” consciously, and 2) the remoteness of the connection with poker, at least until you look at the underlying emotional/aggression/feeling aspects alone and compare the two situations.