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What the caterpillar calls the end of the world…


What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly is a quote from Richard Bach’s wonderful book called Illusions. There are a number of quotes from this book that I use everyday to reorder my thinking positively.  This one speaks to paradigm shifting and perspective.

It’s really brilliant.  It uses something we all understand – metamorphosis – to focus us on a different perspective of endings and beginnings.  For the caterpillar it is the end of life – for the butterfly it is the beginning of life but for that entity it is a change in how life is experienced.

The Death and Tower cards in the Tarot – a form of divination  – are often interpreted in this fashion that an ending is also a beginning.  The death card can be interpreted as an end that leads to a NEW beginning.  The tower card refers to a cataclysmic change that then paves the way for creation of a NEW structure.

In the Chinese language the characters for crisis are two characters together Wei and Ji.  Many have stated that these mean both crisis and opportunity.  But in researching this online it seems to more accurately be interpreted as crisis and then individually Wei – danger + Ji – crucial point.  For our purposes the interpretation that there are two meanings that allow for a paradigm shift is sufficient.

Looking at the concept of change.

Often for change to happen something must be broken down to allow the new thing to be created.  We can see this in many places.  In some circumstances if you’re going to change a structure the old structure must be disassembled to be rebuilt into the new structure.

The definition of change is varied whether you are looking at it as a noun or a verb – here we are looking at it as a verb, an action, and as such it means to alter or modify and furthermore to remove, to replace, or to become different in essence (at a core level).  When we’re thinking of it as a paradigm shift we are considering change in relation or in relationship (perspective).

My friend sent me an email and in it it said if you want something you have never had before, you have to do something you have never done before.

In essence that’s what I’ve been writing about.  With paradigm shifting the perspective is what is changed that allows for increased understanding or compassion or connection.

But in some situations there is actually an unlinking in either thinking and action or in relationship.  In some of these situations this can feel like a loss, or actually result in a loss.  Letting go of expectations and habitual reaction patterns can feel like or actually be losses.  Giving the appropriate attention to the experience of the loss and/or feeling is important before moving on to the creation of the new experience.

See you tomorrow.


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Character building in everyday interactions


I wanted to write about character building from the perspective of victim versus thriving.

I have been thinking about this for many years now, ever since people started to talk about being a survivor.  At first, I loved the term a survivor because it was not feeling like a victim.  But then after a while I started to notice that people who defined themselves as survivors kept having to survive.  What I mean is they seemed to keep finding themselves in situations that required they stand up for themselves and survive.  It was as if they could only feel strong in this specific equation of surviving.

Then I started to look at various terms that were used in this way and I noticed there were six Victim Scenarios:  Protector, Survivor, Martyr, Victim, Perpetrator, and my personal favorite Savior.  Some of these have more negative connotations, but the thing they have in common is to exist they require a victim for definition.  These scenarios of being in the world require victimization  in order to be defined.

Can you see how that works?  Let’s look at the more positive scenarios:  protector, survivor, savior – in order to be these there has to be a victim in the picture either to save or protect or the situation has to be negative and you have to survive it.  So although these are focusing the energy in the correct direction away from the negative and with an increased sense of self-esteem – the scenario is still one of victimhood.

I think the thing that we need to be developing is a thriving mentality.

If we could avoid the feeling of victimization through this increased understanding that I’ve been writing about we could sidestep these victim scenarios and move straight to thriving.

Victim versus thriving:  feeling like a victim decreases strength and self-esteem and yes feeling like a survivor can increase strength and self-esteem but only for that situation.  What seems to happen is that it has to be re-done over and over to continue to feel strong.  The strength and self-esteem are tied to the action of surviving rather than as part of the person.

However as a thriver the sense that whatever comes your way you will learn, grow, and build on it, is a sense of thriving in life  – it is connected directly to the person as a generalized, increased self-esteem.

Moving from a victim scenario to a thriver is a paradigm shift.  You can learn to not react to things that don’t matter, and know what to get angry about and what isn’t an injury.  And you can teach this to your children.  Spend a few minutes if you can, thinking about how you define yourself, what victim scenario you may be using, and what you may want to do to change that perspective of yourself into a thriver.

I’ve been writing about how to do this and I have more to say on this in future blogs.  Stay tuned.

See you tomorrow,



Increasing Understanding through Communication


The biggest single issue that I see in my practice is ineffective communication.  Families, couples, small groups, teams, and individuals all struggle with conflicts resulting from ineffective communication.

In my undergraduate program I focused my work on sociology and the interface of sociology, literature, history, and developmental psychology.  I read dozens of books on existentialism and paradigm shifting.  These books had a profound effect on formalizing my attitude toward communication and interaction between people.

One book in particular was transforming in how it addressed the process of attitude and belief change:  Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  In my Master’s in Counseling Program I was trained as a Gestalt therapist and wrote an independent study thesis on Phenomenology.  In my Master’s in Business Administration Program and later in my Master’s in Oriental Medicine program I continued to focus on how to view various paradigms from within their own structure as well as in relation to other structures.

My focus in training has honed my ability to view situations from both a figure and a ground perspective.  Allowing me to view the conflicts and miscommunications in relationships and interactions as just that misunderstandings and disconnects.  Often when I have a couple,  or parent and child, in front of me in my office I find that each is telling the truth about the problems in the situation even though neither is able to see the other’s point of view.  The issue is from what paradigm or perspective they are arguing.  If they are each focusing on different things they feel very assured they are right while unable to understand the other person’s point or communication.

That’s why my first goal in communication skills training is connecting not assessing right/wrong.  Since both are right from their own perspective and wrong from the other perspective the latter focus doesn’t allow for resolution.  Only through a focus on increasing connection or understanding will the two individuals or group find resolution and solutions to their conflicts.

A foundational component to paradigm shifting and Gestalt therapy is the concept of figure/groundFigure focuses on the specific issue, situation, and ground focuses on the background information.  In example, figure is the words and ground is the tone, tenor, and unspoken information.

(I’m going to upload a couple of pictures and talk about how to see the figure and ground in the picture as well as what it may mean about you.  If you are looking at this on your phone you may not be able to see the images.  These are worth viewing.)

Figure ground illusion images:

Figure A.  The ground in Black – two faces

and the figure in white – a wine glass.

In Figure B Is a right/left paradigm shift; right facing  – bunny, left pointing – duck.      

There is a tendency to see either one or the other consistently when you first see the picture then after you learn about the other image in most situations you can go back and forth between the figure and ground.

I recently found a very cool way of looking at the concept of paradigm shifting by looking at a set of words and grouping them.

Let’s do that with this group of words:

axe,        log,        shovel,        saw

Group them into the three words that go together and the one that doesn’t.

If you chose log that doesn’t belong then you are looking at grouping them into tools and non-tool.

If you chose shovel as the one that doesn’t belong then you are looking at the log, saw and axe as connected by their function to each other – the log can be cut by the axe and saw but what can you do to it with the shovel?

It turns out that industrialized country citizens tend to see the first paradigm and individuals from countries like China and Russia tend to group them in the latter fashion.  If you saw that there were two answers right away before I gave you the information you have an affinity for seeing both points of view and are probably great at mediating and conflict resolution.  Seeing the relationships among these words is a paradigm affected by your environment, upbringing,  and your basic nature.

Paradigm shifting, and Gestalt figure/ground as applied to communication, team building and parenting is a way of increasing understanding between and among individuals to increase creativity, connection, and conflict resolution.  Think about how often in a close relationship you or the other person feels misheard or misunderstood because of the part of the communication you or they are focused – figure or ground.

That’s why it’s always so important to question what was heard when you feel you are in a conflict that you didn’t intend.

Hope you had fun with this.

See you tomorrow.


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What is resilience?

It has to do with elasticity, rebounding or springing back.

Resilience is important to character and self-esteem.  It is the basic element in surviving the ups and downs of life.

The thing is that we can’t actually make sure nothing bad happens.  All we can do is teach our children, and ourselves, how to bounce back from the bad things that inevitably do happen.

From an emotional perspective resilience is the behavior that pushes us forward through our fear, anger, pain, frustration, or sadness/depression 

When thinking about the important things we want to encourage in our children, resilience is high on the list.  It’s the ability to take things in stride, to get back on the horse after you’ve been thrown, and to keep trying when you feel you’ve failed. 

An important component of resilience is to not be immobilized by a failure, loss, or mistake.  It’s being able to push on in the face of something fearful or difficult, as well as remembering when you were successful in a similar activity and generalizing  that success to the task at hand. 

An example of using past successes to create a new success is to link learning a new skill with the success of having already learned a skill.  Remind your child when he or she previously was able to go through a set of events that were difficult at first and then became easier.  This is especially helpful with new motor and developmental skills like reading, writing, starting a new school, or a new physical activity – “remember when you started gymnastics you were afraid of the balance beam but now after practice you’re very good at it – it will be the same with skiing, you may fall a lot but after practice you will fall less and feel more confident.”  You’re linking the success of the other activity to the new activity and providing the path to success – reminding them they already have the tools to do the task at hand because they have already successfully used those tools.

Having compassion toward yourself and your own mistakes, role modeling how to rebound is the most effective way to teach resilience.  Because children incorporate into their set of behaviors what we say and do, the more we can model resiliency the better their chances are of developing that characteristic in themselves. 

For the next few days observe what you are modeling to your children.  Is it perseverance and resilience or is it something different?  You can use the same technique to remind yourself that you have the tools to get through whatever activity or task that is difficult for you right now.  And if what you are facing is something that you have never faced before, try to break down the components of the task to see if you can make connections to other successes in your life.

See you tomorrow.


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Compassion toward yourself


Having compassion toward yourself is a good thing to keep in mind when trying to get congruent and/or deal with angry feelings.

This is especially applicable for individuals who are perfectionists or insecure and can get immobilized by their own mistakes.

Compassion is a sense of understanding.  Here I am using it as a mindful compassion; seeing the bigger picture of why, how and where things may have gone awry.

Applying compassion in a situation helps the anger or insecurity become less palpable and more easily assuaged.

The stop, look and listen blog  talked about a process to get into the moment and become mindful about what has happened (or is happening) and question whether the feeling of anger fits with the situation.  Using the same process of mindfulness toward yourself can increase your degree of personal compassion.  This doesn’t mean you aren’t going to be accountable for your actions; you are in fact more able to take responsibility for your actions, by having a better understanding of what occurred.

Consider the last time you had a negative interaction with your child or partner.  Just as you might ask what stress process your child might be dealing with consider your own stress level.  Perhaps you’re sleep deprived or overly worried about something or in pain from an injury – you have a lower threshold at which you will feel frustrated or lose your patience.

If you can feel yourself losing a sense of control, compassion toward yourself would allow you to not push yourself beyond your means.  Give yourself permission to be more flexible – perhaps this is not the time to strictly hold the line on a rule that you know you will not be able to enforce.  This is even better if you know in advance that you are going to be stressed; having compassion for yourself is when you say no I can’t do that rather than pushing yourself beyond your means.  And if things have gone awry having compassion toward yourself allows you to recover quickly with renewed strength and resilience.

Knowing when to hold the line and when to be flexible, understanding the positive power of habits and the need for mindfulness, and having compassion toward yourself, these are all forms of balance in action and thought.  Being balanced is a natural state.  The more we practice using the tools of mindfulness the more we can feel when we are out of balance and act to return to balance.

See you tomorrow.


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Building trust


Being mindful allows for congruence in our thinking and actions.

Congruence is something that most people don’t even think about.  However, most of us hold conflicting beliefs.  We just keep moving along in away that is not congruent because it’s a habit.  Mindfulness action causes us to look at these conflicting beliefs and actions and make decisions in the present moment in order to be more congruent.  Congruence is the quality of agreeing or being in harmony, corresponding in character and kind.  Using this concept as a guide to our behavior allows for unified action and thinking.  In other words, as an example of congruent thinking and action, if you say :  we should be fiscally responsible then if you are congruent in your actions and thinking (or saying) then you would not spend money beyond your current means, and you would probably save a large portion of your income.  But that is not what most people do they say one thing and they do another incongruent thing.  Sure we can say it’s because of the culture or other pressures but that doesn’t solve the incongurence issue.

What I’ve noticed is that as adults we repeat verbally what we heard and we repeat actions that we saw.  So when our caregivers’ were incongruent that got passed on.  Often we don’t even see how our actions and beliefs are not congruent.  In review of our actions we can see the inconsistencies.  This is one of the things I have been writing about when I encourage you to question what your emotions are.  I am attempting to get you to look at your own internal inconsistencies in thinking and action and give you an opportunity to evaluate what you think now and what action you want to take in harmony with that thinking in the present moment/situation.

The goal of such investigation is not to blame the original situation but rather to increase your own mindfulness action.

So why am I calling this article building trust?  Because in order to build trust we need to act in ways that are consistent with what we say.  And what we say needs to be congruent with what we think and do.  That’s the definition of being trustworthy.

This is a foundational concept in parenting; it’s paramount for relationship building and building character and self-esteem.

Simple idea that’s actually very challenging to incorporate into your being without a focus on mindfulness.  At first, try to do this with something simple.  Listen to what you say and look at what you do and evaluate whether it seems to be consistent.  If it isn’t then figure out what belief and action together are more descriptive of who you are.

Have fun with it!  Use humor/laughter and be kind to yourself as you go through this process.  This is serious but humor makes the learning process more joyful.  In my experience, being able to laugh at yourself is a sign of good self- esteem.

See you tomorrow.


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Befriending anger to increase happiness


If you think of anger as the emotional/sensing alarm system it’s important to assess what boundary is being breached.

It goes off when someone crosses a boundary.  Think of boundaries as falling into three main groups:  physical, emotional and spiritual.  Physical boundaries seem to be the simplest to understand; someone touches you in a way that is inappropriate or hurtful and you get angry.  Emotional boundaries have triggering signals – someone says something that is offensive or hurtful and you get angry.  Spiritual is much less tangible than the other two, often it’s about something that you hold dear to you or a type of energy attack.  Sounds esoteric but it is one of the most common boundary breaches.  All of these breaches lead to anger.

The key to addressing anger in an effective way is to manage the control switch with mindfulness.

The stop, look, and listen process is useful to understand the underlying emotion of your anger – usually it’s hurt or a fear of injury.  Mindfulness is paramount in this process to turn off the anger and take the appropriate action.  Anger by its nature feels instinctive however, in my observations anger is actually a path to action that is often an habitual reaction pattern.  If we feel hurt we have less of the adrenaline and inner strength to take action.  However, by accessing anger we incorporate the fight or flight adrenaline system – now we have all the energy we need to take action.  Brilliant strategy.  Think how this works in divorce cases and in the survivor scenario – being angry rather than hurt creates fighting energy.  That’s great when you need it, very efficient.  The basic underlying emotion is hurt or victim and then the action is to survive.

The problem with this strategy is when it is an habitual reaction pattern of victim to survivor as a mode of action for all injuries.  It’s inappropriate if someone cuts you off in traffic for example; you don’t actually need to survive that but you do need to be able to avoid hitting them or another car.  You need the energy to take action but you don’t need the anger.

Befriending anger to increase happiness means to see the angry emotion as a teacher and an opportunity to strengthen your relationship or situation.

A boundary betrayal in close relationships is the biggest area where this is a malfunctioning use of the adrenaline fight or flight system.  Unless one is in a dangerous relationship in which case then you need to take permanent action to get out of that relationship.  In general it is more common that what is required is an increased understanding of the emotion underlying the anger and the boundary breach.  The stop, look, and listen mindful attention to the situation allows for an understanding of  the miscommunication rather than an exacerbation of the conflict.

You can use the stop, look, and listen exercise whenever you feel a boundary breach or anger.  Try to really question those habitual reaction patterns – does it make sense that someone you love is trying to hurt you?  Probably not so what is really going on?  And what part of it is something that isn’t a part of the current moment interaction.  Unlink the connection so that the past injury remains in the past and the current situation is free to develop along its true path.

More on this and how it helps to engender positive character and self-esteem in future blogs…. stay tuned.

See you tomorrow.



stop, look, listen


My favorite phrase to help me get into the moment is Stop, Look, and Listen.

It’s simple, directive, and unambiguous. Perfect.  When you want to get into the moment to increase mindfulness this phrase works like a charm.  Stop –  multitasking, Look – pay attention, Listen – to your inner voice and what’s happening.  Focusing in on the situation in this way allows for the process of interchange to slow down so that you can make a choice about the best action.  It increases your chance to get into a mindful frame of mind.

This is especially helpful with anger.  Anger has the ability to really take us out of our body, mind, spirit connection and move us into a fight or flight reactive position.  Anger is like our emotional/sensing alarm system.  A distinctive element to surviving dangerous situations is to have an early warning system that allows you more time to respond.  This is built in to our instinctive patterns of survival.

Like an alarm system in a home that gets triggered and sets off blaring, the human early warning system is loud and gets the individual’s attention.  That’s the purpose of intense fear/anger reaction, the adrenaline mediated fight, flight, or freeze system.  It works well.  It helps us avoid car accidents, catch our child as she falls out of a high chair, and determine our best defense when attacked.  The problem happens when it gets stuck on.  This can occur due to the type of danger or the time it first gets tripped in our lives, or some combination.

Fear is the original driver, and anger is the secondary maintenance.  These get intermixed and hypervigilance, wariness, or increased awareness develop, almost as a second nature in the individual.  And over time this increased awareness may lead to increased subjectivity and increased personalization.  This keeps the warning system going.  Much like the blaring alarm of a home intrusion when no one is there to turn off the alarm, the noise and hyperawareness of the intrusion heightens the response so the police have to come and check on the home to determine safety issues.  At some point someone determines the home is again safe and turns off the alarm.

The way that triggers affect the human psyche is that the alarm doesn’t really get turned off, so the individual is charged to react to attack.  We get angry when we feel some boundary has been crossed, spiritual, physical and/or emotional.  This is what our emotional/sensing alarm system is supposed to be responding to – a breach in our boundary system.  But triggers are not always actual breaches but left over from an original breach that was never cleared on our software.

Anger is like fire, fast and intense.  A way to turn off that alarm is to use stop, look, and listen – much like checking our a house alarm.  First stop, stop going on with the fight, or the situation as it is; then Look at the situation to assess what is causing the alarm – the anger – did that person mean to do/say that….is my child acting like this on purpose to get back at me…really look at the situation to see the focus of the anger.  Then listen – what could be going on here, this is where you might assess some of the basic needs issues – am I, or my child, hungry/sleep deprived…. and listen to your own voice – often we don’t know when we’re yelling just when the other person is.  We can use this technique to get into the moment to assess the situation and manage the control system to our emotional/sensing alarm system.

Stop, look and listen brings one right into the moment; better for parenting, negotiating, communicating, creating goals, and addressing our habitual reaction patterns.  Try using this over the next week whenever you feel anger come up or frustration and see what you learn.

See you tomorrow.


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Day to Day Mindfulness


When I think about the issues of mediating internal needs with social expectations and guiding our children to integrate these, my focus is on being present.

One of the things that really interferes with staying present is a sense of shouldness – I should be able to do something or my situation should be different.  Shoulds and should nots are a function of our unconscious that help us follow rules and laws.  Shoulds and should nots are very important from that point of view.  The problem is that many of us make should and should not rules around things that are unreasonable – like I should be a perfect parent or I should not get mad, ever.

Being present with flexibility allows us to evaluate what is in conflict as well as whether the rules we are following are real or reasonable.  Reading our children’s needs includes knowing them, knowing the expectations of the outside groups, and understanding their developmental stage.  We sometimes have shoulds and should nots about how our children should be behaving that do not incorporate their developmental stage or some of their unique characteristics.  This creates a disconnect for us from our children.  And it makes it more difficult for us to help them manage their internal needs.

There are some great books that you can use as resources to keep in step with the developmental stages of your child.  My favorite series is a set of books by Louise Bates Ames, PhD and Frances Ilg, MD.  They’re based on original work done at the Gesell Institute of Human Development in the 70s.  This work provides fundamental information about the developmental stages of toddlers through age six. And the series continues through age nine.   Ames works with two other authors to present this information for children through age fourteen years old.  The series books through nine are single books per year and they are very useful to use to remain mindful of the developmental challenges for normal development.

Erik Erikson is another theorist that is very useful in reading to understanding some underlying psychological and spiritual issues for various ages through adulthood.  His work is less useful as a daily mindful tool but gives a global description of theses stages.

We want them to be strong, have good self-esteem, be resilient, and have the character to tolerate frustration and have perseverance so they can work through things.  Knowing what their developmental issues are really helps to keep yourself mindful, and be more effective in helping them negotiate their world.  It helps to normalize their behavior as well as identify truly problematic behaviors that need to be extinguished.  In addition it’s helpful to understand your own mistaken should and should not expectations.

An exercise to help with this is to review the primary issues you are currently dealing with your children.  Evaluate if there is an unreasonable expectation that is at the core.  Let’s say it is something that you know is not an okay behavior but your attempts to extinguish the behavior  are not effective.  Look at the precursor behavior or event to see if there is an unreasonable expectation that is leading to the maladaptive behavior.    For example if your child is losing control of his temper with some aggressive action, look to see if one of his basic needs are being stressed like hunger or sleep or time with parent – (the unreasonable expectation is that they should be able to be okay even under these stressed situations) then you can also evaluate if there’s a transition issue or other frustration issue (ie:  he is not at a developmental stage where he could transition quickly but the unreasonable expectation is that he should).  If you can both give a logical consequence for the negative behavior and change the preceeding event/schedule issue, then you will be using mindful action to change your child’s environment and create a positive outcome for your child.

You can also apply this mindfulness exercise toward your own belief systems about shoulds and should nots in your own living.  You may find that you have unreasonable expectations for yourself that are interfering with your own success.

See you tomorrow.


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Finding Balance Within


Mindfulness, being present, letting go of habitual reaction patterns, and reframing – all concepts that are meant to get you on a path of Instinctive Health.  And along with flexibility, these tools help to keep you remaining in or returning to balance within – so that your actions can be balanced.

In my blog Create Balance Now I wrote about paying attention to the experience of intuition versus fear or habit reactions and how those experiences sound and feel different in your mind and body.  If you remember, fear or habit reactions are loud and push to the forefront of your brain and feel instantaneous, and intuition is quiet, sort of in the background of your brain and you can easily ignore these latter physical and cognitive experiences.

I suggested that you pay attention to the quiet intuitive experiences making real efforts to focus on these and follow through with them.  And I also suggested that you question the fearful, strong, loud, habit reactions – to try to get yourself into a more balanced perspective of yourself or of a specific situation.

Focusing on these quiet impulses and ignoring the loud habitual reaction patterns opens the possibility of finding balance within.

Balance is a spirit, mind, and body thing.  It’s an intra-relational experience.  I’m using intra – not inter because it’s happening within, not outside of you.  In Chinese Medicine energy follows in a certain way from the most insubstantial to the least insubstantial.  The most insubstantial is Shen or spirit, next is Qi – energy, then Xue or blood.

For our purposes, there is a relationship between spirit, mind, and body that is similar.  It is also intra-relational, there’s a  kind of feedback loop – and they can affect each other.  To find balance or return to balance you can go at this structure in a number of ways.

Medicine in general attends to imbalance predominantly from a physical point of view.  Psychology goes at it from a cognitive, belief system, mind point of view; and religion focuses on spiritual systems and imbalances.  I think they are all important.  Addressing any one of these alone, while useful will not bring about balance within the system.

In order to effect balance within all these must be addressed.

Using mindfulness, being present, flexibility, and letting go of the habitual reaction patterns we can review how we spend our days.  Then we can connect with our instinctive knowing and attraction to health and focus on renewing our physical, cognitive, and spiritual instincts, creating balance within our eating, sleeping, exercising, thinking, relating, working, and rejuvenating, patterns.

To begin to find the balance within, or return to balance, do a review of your own internal systems:  sleep/wake cycles,  nutrition, breath, exercise/rest, work/learn/rejuvenation, prayer/meditation, group/individual time, and creative endeavors.

What are your patterns in each of these areas?  Where do you put most of your energy?  Where is your passion and your responsibilities? Where are you overbundled and where do you feel deficient?   Where do you feel angry, sad, and happy?  Are you expecting of yourself actions that are out of balance or out of sync with your internal character needs?

You can even think to earlier times in your life when you felt more in balance  – what things are different now?  Perhaps you were an athlete but you aren’t allowing that to have a place in your life now – perhaps you were an artist but now you have to focus on making money, so you don’t have time to draw or paint.

Think of it like a treasure hunt – you’re going to get clues that you’ll have to interpret and these will help you move along the path until you find the treasure of balance within.

See you tomorrow.