Archive for Gratitude

Searching for Happiness: Lessons from Tara the Rescue Dog

I brought home a shelter dog, Tara, in early January. She has been blessing and challenging me in powerful ways since then. All of my core wounds are being brought to the surface in this relationship~ dynamics of responsibility and projection, patience and control, commitment and ambivalence. So much of what I’m learning with Tara seems reflective of the challenges at the center of any relationship- with ourselves, our loved ones, and even with life itself. The powerful lesson here that keeps grabbing my attention is about how the external circumstances of our lives can never guarantee happiness.

These last ten weeks with Tara have been a roller coaster ride with highs of total delight in her sweetness and lows of feeling I’ve made a terrible mistake. When I slow down I notice a kind of obsessive questioning about whether or not she is making me happy. I am reminded of all the times I have had similar thoughts about other life circumstances (relationships, jobs, places to live). It is a kind of “grass is greener” syndrome, an urgency to surround myself only with things that make me happy, and to avoid anything that makes me unhappy. Can you relate? Perhaps this shows up for you in dissatisfaction with yourself or your relationships. Maybe you find yourself daydreaming about a future reality when everything will be better.

Sometimes, especially when there is some form of abuse present, it is essential to find a way to make a change. What I’m talking about is the suffering that comes from endlessly seeking something “out there” to make us happy. Every situation, every relationship, every choice in life comes with a mixed bag of joys and challenges. I find it is so easy for me to forget this, though, because of how much I want to maintain the fantasy of how good I will feel once I get that “thing” I’m seeking. It can become a kind of addiction…thinking about how good we will feel, using that imagined feeling to distract from life-as-it-is. In all that wanting there is often a great deal of suffering, a rejection of ourselves and our lives as we are.

I had quite a fantasy about how my life would be with Tara. Now I see that that’s a lot of pressure to put on another being to fulfill! Ten weeks into our journey, I’ve realized I need to lay that fantasy to rest. If I keep looking to Tara to make me happy (and never make me unhappy) I’m setting myself up for one struggle after another. She’s just a dog. A high energy, super affectionate, and sometimes anxious and reactive dog.

So what am I doing with all of this? I’m giving Tara a break. I’m surrendering a bit more to the choice I’ve made and to the imperfect and blessedly complex journey that will follow. I’m working on letting her be a dog, and I’m discovering a way to be at ease in the process. My hope for us, especially those of us with the conditioning of western culture, is that we can find a new kind of happiness. This happiness is simpler and more humble. It doesn’t demand ecstasy and bliss. It allows life to be more messy. And it finds that just being is enough, just enjoying the simple pleasures of our lives. These days I am finding how really being present can turn the mundane into something quite rich and nourishing. When I meet this moment as it is, whether in a conversation with a stranger or friend, playing with my dog, writing these words, drinking a glass of water, then all the stories about happy and unhappy fall away and just this… is enough.

Cultivating Gratitude: Receiving the Goodness of Life

On this Thanksgiving holiday I want to share my favorite gratitude practice for receiving the goodness of life. Did you know that the human brain is programmed to recognize negative experiences far more than positive ones? Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, PhD writes that a positive experience needs to be held in awareness for 5-20 seconds in order to register in our emotional memory while a negative experience registers instantly. While this is an adaptive function based on physical survival, it can also lead to feeling caught in challenging emotions without being able to access a balance of joy. Luckily we can intentionally choose to notice positive experiences in order to more fully receive the good in our lives.

One of my favorite practices is called “Gratitude Notes.” Connecting with a sense of gratitude is a powerful way of focusing attention on the positive. This practice is so simple yet I have found it to be profoundly supportive in my own life. When I notice that I am feeling down or glum about life, I often resurrect this practice and find that within a few days my outlook on life changes.

All you need to start is a pad of sticky notes and a pen. I find that I enjoy the process more when I have a special pen solely devoted to this purpose.

I write my gratitude notes at the end of day just before bed. It only takes a couple of minutes. I write three gratitudes, one per sticky note. I start each note with the words “I am grateful for…” and then add something specific that I feel good about from that day.

Here are some examples of my recent gratitudes. I keep my gratitude notes on the lamp beside my bed because they stick best there. It is wonderful to wake up and see all of these reminders. I let the notes accumulate for a few days and then take them down and start anew.

So, if you feel you could benefit from a little more awareness of the goodness in your life, I encourage you to give this practice a try. If you do, I’d love to hear how it goes for you!

Lastly, see below for some special Thanksgiving gratitudes about what I feel most grateful for in my life today. How about you? What do you feel most grateful for in your life today?

Thank you for taking the time to read my Thanksgiving thoughts. Thank you for playing a role in the growth and success of my psychotherapy practice. And thank you for all of the large and small ways that your presence brings more goodness into the world.

Reflections on 2013


I am feeling particularly enlivened and inspired as I start this year. This has been such a powerful year for me of CREATION. I finally took the plunge and developed my own business from the ground up. This has allowed me to offer the kind of work that most inspires and nourishes me. It feels amazing to really be offering my full gifts into the world. I just love the creativity and depth I get to bring into my individual work with clients and the classes and workshops I offer. The essence of my work is becoming more and more clear: Radical Acceptance Through Embracing Our Shadows. This phrase includes both Mindfulness and Shadow Work® and really speaks to the connection between the two.  You can check out my Free Talk at Ashland Public Library on February 3rd to hear more about what this phrase really means to me and how it is the essence of my work.

There is so much I am GRATEFUL for from this year. My family and friends have given hours of time and heaps of energy to help me think about my work and bring it out into the world. February 2013 saw the birth of a wonderful partnership with my mother, Zoe Alowan, in offering our newly created PaintDanceSing workshop. Our retreat was so well received that we offered two more within just a few months and are getting ready to offer our 4th retreat at the end of February. Our workshop has a new name- “Creative Acts of Power”- and is now open to all genders. The dates are February 28th-March 2nd. See the flyer below for more details!

I am also very grateful for all my clients this year. I have been so delighted to work with motivated adults who are willing to dive deep and explore their inner landscapes. It is a new experience for me to feel so greatly enlivened by my work. This is in large part due to the quality of the people I get to work with as clients.

I am grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had this year to share my passions with my community and for all of you who showed up to make these events a success.

– Public Talks at both the Ashland Public Library and the Ashland Food Co-op

– Sensuality workshop at Love Revolution

– Stress Management Class for SOU’s Music Department

– Monthly classes on Radical Acceptance and the Four Archetypes of Shadow Work®

– Three PaintDanceSing retreats

– My annual ReWilding the Body retreat


AND, I am so excited for these next steps for 2014:

  • A new website with a Blog
  • An interview in the February issue of the Locals Guide
  • Another Free Public Talk at Ashland Public Library

– The Creative Acts of Power Retreat in late February

– A new series of 1st Monday classes on Radical Acceptance of Our Emotions (Sadness, Joy, Anger, and Fear) starting in March

– 3rd Mondays Mindfulness Groups

– Developing and Facilitating an Online ReWilding the Body Course

– Offering Despair & Empowerment Groups in Joanna Macy’s tradition

– and much much more!