Dr. Stacee’s Review of ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho

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The AlchemistThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A hero’s journey for our time, this book resonates as the ultimate coming of age story. It held me spellbound and because I couldn’t put it down, I actually elected to read it while running on the treadmill instead of going with an easily digestible episode of Dr. Who or a Mexican soap opera.

That’s commitment for me. Treadmill reading isn’t easy.

Even the book’s publication story is compelling: In its first launch, it was not a commercial success. The author’s commitment to the book and his conviction that this is truly something that readers want and need was part of what attracted me to it; for this is the living spirit of the hero in his book.

The story is of Santiago, a sheepherder boy who notes the herd/follower mentality of his sheep; which is a worthwhile allegory for a human experience in its pre-awakened state. He realizes one day of his sheep, “They trust me, and they’ve forgotten how to rely on their own instincts….” This is Santiago’s burgeoning awareness that there’s something to which he’s instinctually being called to do.

Following a dream of buried treasure in Egypt, Santiago experiences a journey of transformation as he encounters people whose lives we see all around us: the sage Melchizedek whose message Santiago almost misses in becoming too irritated to listen, the shopkeeper who has a dream of going to Mecca that he’ll never fulfill (the person who doesn’t take risks to break free), the Englishman who’s become so invested in pursuing the intellectual qualities of spiritual alchemy that he misses the opportunity to truly transform (the academic who lacks real wisdom).

Santiago experiences plenty of hard knocks. Rather than turning around and going home, which many would do, or going down a road of self-pity and convincing himself that this is all there is for his story, Santiago chooses to learn from the experiences: “…he realized that he had to choose between thinking of himself as a the poor victim…and an adventurer.”

Santiago’s is the story for all of us in our choosing of perception, our commitment to a path that we know is right even if people around us don’t understand it or say it’s wrong.

The book’s theme: “…when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it” becomes Santiago’s living experience as he undertakes the journey. He does so humbly, learning through the experiences and slowly undergoing an alchemy of the soul.

This book did it for me.

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Our Relationship with March? It’s…Complicated

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That reaction we have that’s deeply personal, offended, angry at the weather? In our irrational networks of emotions, we’re reliving every single instant of betrayal we’ve faced in life. Memory networks just know how betrayal feels. In the moment when we’re experiencing it, the weather feels somehow personal.

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March, for much of the U.S. that isn’t Hawaii or South Florida, is a season of dramatic changes. It’s the roller coaster ride between balmy early spring and deep winter cold snaps. In many ways, the dramatic shifts are the story of human emotion. One moment we’re feeling good…make that great! Our disposition is as sunny as that early spring day that requires only a light jacket. Suddenly, the clouds appear. Our mental picture darkens. We’re back in our internal state of darkness and rain, possibly even feeling icy.

The ultimate trickster, March is the Loki of seasons, lulling us into feeling safe and confident that spring is here, then betraying us. We all know about betrayal, whether it was a boss who gave a rosy outlook about our job’s future and then laid us off the next month, a love interest who left us, a friend or sibling who shared a secret of ours. Some of us have deep rooted stories of betrayal that began in childhood and that continue to disrupt our lives today.

How We Recognize Betrayal

Rationally, we understand that Arctic disturbances don’t equate with the anguish and devastation to our lives that interpersonal betrayal represent. We humans don’t always exist in rational spaces though, do we?

We’re not completely rational because it’s not our makeup and we wouldn’t want it to be. We’re designed to experience feelings and memories. Only…in this case, it’s our memories of an emotional reaction getting triggered by something that’s unrelated. We rationally understand that the weather isn’t truly betraying us; but our memories of betrayal are triggered in the moment, causing momentary anguish.

Our brains evolved to make associations, and emotions guide us to respond accordingly. Remember that whole fight or flight thing folks learned about in Psychology 101 or for from know-it-all sister who took the course? That’s what this is.

If I love you, my mental picture of you comes with a lot of warm fuzzy feelings that can remind me of other warm fuzzy feelings which I associate with safety, tenderness, and a sense of freedom. If I then read a poem, or see a beautiful vista on a hike, or witness my neighbor’s tabby affectionately grooming the other cat (they don’t do this because those cats hate each other; but work with me, here), it may make me think of you. You represent an expression of my love, and I therefore associate other loving things with you. If I’m really attuned, I might call you and tell you how the poem, hike, or kitty love made me think of you.

Betrayal works in the same way.

Each time we’re betrayed, we feel it deeply. It shakes our trust in not only betrayers, but in situations that resemble those in which we were betrayed previously. If you were betrayed in a prior relationship, you probably entered your current one with more caution. Alternatively, you may avoid relationships all together due to past experiences of betrayal that result in present day fear of being betrayed again.

Why We Take March Personally

With its fickle patterns and untrustworthy ways, March is the ultimate betrayer. We develop a lot of reactive emotions to stories like these:

Texas gardener Janice was delighted to see her redbud trees and mountain laurels explode into color. She’d done everything right to protect her trees through the winter and had waited patiently for the reward of spring. That grape soda fragrance of mountain laurel trees was intoxicating, and she smiled as she sipped her Hill Country wine while gazing into her backyard. Then a deep freeze set in and kill all of the beautiful blossoms.

Father of two Daniel had traveled to Kansas City from his home in Rhode Island for business. He’d promised his daughter that he’d be home for her Friday night basketball game of the season. When a Saskatchewan Screamer so severe that the Weather Channel gave it a name (we’ll call it ‘Ophelia’ for our purposes) blew into Chicago, Daniel’s flight through O’Hare was cancelled until the following Sunday.

Who among us doesn’t feel rage at the unfairness to Janice and Daniel, helpless victims to the betrayal of March weather?

The Cycle of Our March Weather Response

That reaction we have that’s deeply personal, offended, angry at the weather? In our irrational networks of emotions, we’re reliving every single instant of betrayal we’ve faced in life. Memory networks just know how betrayal feels. In the moment when we’re experiencing it, the weather feels somehow personal. We may follow a cycle that goes something like this:

Phase 1- We get mad at ourselves for becoming upset about the weather.

Phase 2- We feel ashamed and sad because we don’t just shake it.

Phase 3- We make a concerted effort to not allow our moods to be affected by weather.

Phase 4- We see the weather report that another storm is on the heels of the one that just killed our plants or dumped a foot of snow on us.

Phase 5- We scream expletives or begin weeping uncontrollably. Anger has moved to a sense of helplessness.

Sounds like reactions to other forms of betrayal to me.

Whereas the perfect fix would be to spend March in a warmer clime, that’s not always the option. Obviously, weather passes. Blooms that are killed by freezes are sad; particularly for the gardeners who patiently tend the plants and trees on which they grow. Moms and dads make it home and make it up to their kids. Heavy snow is an inconvenience to everyone outside of the ski resorts and snow removal industry; but not usually much else.

Yet, a season for transition is upon us in March. Much is shifting and awakening as the longer days warm the earth and air. I’ll be tracking the spring from my home in New England, writing of things that the changing spirit of the season moves in me.

Hope April Fool’s Day doesn’t bring another blizzard like we had in ’97.

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Dr. Stacee’s Book Review: “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle

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Perhaps the best reason to read this book is that it just seems to make life easier, more peaceful, more loving. It gets me out of the drama of my own head and helps me appreciate the wonder that’s now. I can see myself heading into negative head spaces and stop myself. I’m a nicer, more radiant person as a result…lovable and loving.

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A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's PurposeA New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It says a lot about the power of a book that I’m still talking about it weeks after I finished it. This is how much “A New Earth” influenced me as a counselor, an educator, a thinker, a writer, and at the end of the day, a gal who’s trying to live fully and in peace.

The message of recognizing and somehow transcending the attachment to an ego form, our false sense of ourselves as “I am,” is especially meaningful…particularly as Tolle helps us to see how this really keeps us kicking around in our misery. Because kicking around generally means kicking each other from these notions of me vs. not me, casting the person who is different in the role of Other, we perpetuate war and violence, famine and scarcity, and other human ills that reflect what he calls “collective dysfunction.”

What really works for me in A New Earth is the method for seeing myself as the chief architect in my own chaos, my own conflict. I get attached to a notion of who I am and how things are supposed to be. I ascribe a lot of meaning to this, get all up in my feelings with it, and am blown about in my own thoughts and mood. When I can instead take the time to re-center, to recognize that the suffering I’m undergoing in any moment is really something I can transcend and therefore transform…well, baby. Drop the mic.

Since I finished the book, I’ve noticed that I am more conscious of my own thoughts. I tend to operate less from what Tolle calls the “pain body,” the sense of myself as aggrieved, suffering, trapped, etc. Before I go there with getting irritated with someone’s behavior, feeling stressed with traffic or helpless in response to some terrible item in the news; I return to my deep, meditative breath, slow myself down, and ask myself “What is this really about? What really is bothering me?” With this, I glimpse peace…and as I continue to practice these efforts, the glimpses get longer and longer.

It doesn’t mean that I stop caring about things that are important, or that I numb to issues and events that reflect areas of life concern. Rather, I care differently. So instead of thinking of what I don’t have, what I am against, what bothers me; I find myself tuning into what I have and am therefore manifesting, what I am for, what inspires me. I notice the here and now, and really taste my food for example, and notice my body in the rhythm of weight lifting. It fills me with gratitude.

Because my main interest is in Otherness and the experience that being cast in the role of Other and therefore “less than” has on people who’ve faced bullying and ostracization, Tolle’s discussion on the topic was particularly notable. Lines like “It strengthens the sense of separation between yourself and the other, whose “otherness” has become magnified to such an extent that you can no longer feel your common humanity…” really demonstrate this as a phenomenon in which people try to feel superior by creating power over one another.

By contrast, “To love is to recognize yourself in another. The other’s “otherness” then stands revealed as an illusion pertaining to the purely human role” brings the reader to the reconciliation. This is really the promise of the book. It’s a path for transcending the pettiness, the hurt, the floods of feelings and self-righteousness that get in the way of our ability to care about people, to allow them to matter to us.

Perhaps the best reason to read this book is that it just seems to make life easier, more peaceful, more loving. It gets me out of the drama of my own head and helps me appreciate the wonder that’s now. I can see myself heading into negative head spaces and stop myself. I’m a nicer, more radiant person as a result…lovable and loving.

I read the book first thing in the morning for a couple of weeks. It worked well for me, setting the tone for the morning and helping the workday turn into something that was infinitely less stressful. I enjoyed being able to take a concept and chew on for the day…maybe doing some writing of my own as I applied the concepts in my life. I think it’s a great tool for healing, and for promoting healing for people around us.

I just love this book!

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Get Back to your Resolution, Shame-free

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Shame is the enemy of forward momentum, positivity, and light. It sucks us in; and before we know it, we aren’t just avoiding the gym and the keto diet we promised ourselves on Dec. 31. We’re curled up with Netflix, eating pizza and ice cream. Or, we break sobriety. Or, we try to shop our way out of shame through the January clearance sales.

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How’s that New Year’s resolution going? If you’re struggling to maintain it, you’re not alone. What’s more, if your struggle to maintain has become a source of resolution shame, it’s time to re-examine the whole thing and do some necessary shame-purging in order to move forward.

This all came to me during a conversation about resolutions with two women who work at my neighborhood grocery store:

Bagging clerk: My resolution is to drink a glass of milk every night. My doctor told me I need more calcium.

Stacee: So, are you drinking your milk?

Her face could have been the inspiration for that emoticon with a horizontal line for a mouth which conveys disinterest, dissatisfaction, or shame. Well, it’s easy to guess what she was conveying, because no, she hadn’t drunk her nightly milk.

New Year’s resolution shame was at it again.

How Resolution Shame Shows Up

You probably recognize resolution shame from your own lives. Every year at the end of December, we make pledges to change things that bother us about ourselves, or that we otherwise wish to improve. Like a Phoenix arisen from the ashes of what we considered our inactive, underachieving, overspending lives of the last year, we will tell ourselves that We. Will. Change.

Except. We. Don’t.

When we don’t make the changes we envisioned, we fall into shame. Shame’s power is that it doesn’t just come as a brief chastising voice that says ‘tsk tsk’ before sending us back along our path toward change. Not shame! Shame comes roaring into our lives, pointing accusatory fingers while whispering insidious messages that begin with:

“You’ll never be!”

“You’re not…!”

“You don’t deserve…!”

What Resolution Shame Does

Shame is the enemy of forward momentum, positivity, and light. It sucks us in; and before we know it, we aren’t just avoiding the gym and the keto diet we promised ourselves on Dec. 31. We’re curled up with Netflix, eating pizza and ice cream. Or, we break sobriety. Or, we try to shop our way out of shame through the January clearance sales.

This is how we hold shame in place. Whatever we learned at an earlier time in our lives to shield us from shame, whether food, porn, gambling, shopping, heroin, or simply isolating…is precisely what we return to when we re-experience it. The paradox of this is that our resolutions reflect efforts toward what we view as improvements. Even slight setbacks in achieving resolutions create the shame avalanche. Now buried in our shame, we return to the thing we tried to get away from in the first place.

Get how this works?

Returning to your Resolution, Shame-Free

If you truly want to create changes which are reflected in your resolution, the first thing you’ve got to do is remove the shame that holds you locked in place. Here’s how:

  1. Bring to mind your resolution once again and be clear on why you want this. What will it improve for your life? How will things be better as a result? It’s helpful to jot this stuff down in a journal, or to create a vision board with pictures from magazines. This effort will help you have a pictorial representation or written account of your vision. For the milk-drinking bagging clerk at my store, a vision board might include pics of a frothing class of milk, a few athletes, a healthy skeleton, and a gentle old Holstein cow blinking her lashes becomingly at the camera. Fun, huh?
  2. Notice what hinders you as you create this vision. What’s the message you’re noticing that themes around “You’re not…”, “You don’t…”, “This is stupid…”etc.? Nab that slithering monster! That’s your shame right there. What does it look and sound like? Who’s voice is it? Adults who were abused as children may recognize the shaming voice of a parent, coach, teacher, or other adult. Others of us recognize the voice as our own, coming from a particularly wounded time in our lives. Get clear here.
  3. The minute you recognize the shame voice, write down as many qualities about it as you can. Draw its form, if you wish…snakes and slithery things may be a way to represent this for some, a roaring beast may be real for someone else. Just notice shame’s qualities.
  4. Be clear that this is just an old part of you; but it isn’t you. You are not your shame. It’s really just an old collection of thoughts that someone or something tried to insert a long time ago; and that you’ve chosen to accept until now.
  5. Make a determination of what you want to do with shame. If you recognize it for what it is, you can notice it when it comes up, “Oh you! I know who are and what you’re trying to do. No thanks.” You can then consider your present circumstances and clarify what precisely it is that you want to achieve.
  6. Whenever you are less than perfect, which is most of the time for most of us, shame will try to set in. It will keep you believing that you must prove something, and that when you don’t, you’re less than.

Don’t let that shaming voice win. It’s time to put those thoughts to rest.

I’ll give some follow-up shame-busting exercises in future 2019 blogs. Stay tuned!

 

 

Storing Strength for Dark Days Ahead

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Toxic people and negative beliefs, when they show up, bear gifts of sadness, self-doubt, and the nemesis to so many, shame. Like the dead mice that our local stray cat leaves for my gracious neighbors who feed her, these gifts are unwanted and make us grimace when we discover them waiting at our front doors.

It’s here where I’ll teach you to use what’s been gained for those darkest days of the soul.

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In my final blog for the psychological shedding series, I’ll discuss how to go about storing all the strength you identified for your life in Week 4: Harvesting Positive Life Choices. This storing activity will provide you a resource during periods when you most doubt yourself and your worth, as well as all those other mind tricks we humans play on ourselves.

It’s been quite a journey over this series!

I showed you how to identify areas of your life that deserve to be shed in Part 1: A Time for Psychological Shedding.

In Part 2, Letting Go of Rotten Things, we covered how to go about the task of dropping those life areas that don’t belong.

Part 3 (the one with the cool fire picture for the cover) was about clearing things so that they don’t show up and re-contaminate your life. See Clearing Away of Old, Dead Parts of Self.

Part 4 showed you how to begin recognizing and claiming the positive parts of your life.

My hope is that these exercises have felt…fruitful! Of course, it’s easy to feel positive in the middle of cool, fun, artsy self-help work. To this end, I hope you’ll do plenty more of it! Read books, listen to whale songs and pan flutes, watch 35 years’ worth of Oprah shows, and of course continue following my blog.

It’s harder to stay in the positive when those rotten fruits that you swept away attempt to return. Toxic people and negative beliefs, when they show up, bear gifts of sadness, self-doubt, and the nemesis to so many, shame. Like the dead mice that our local stray cat leaves for my gracious neighbors who feed her, these gifts are unwanted and make us grimace when we discover them waiting at our front doors.

It’s here where I’ll teach you to use what’s been gained for those darkest days of the soul. Onward with our storing activity.

Things you’ll need:

Paper

A writing instrument

Your stacking exercises from Part 4

Take a look once again or otherwise bring to mind the positive, self-affirming parts of yourself that you listed in the naming and stacking of fruits for Part 4.  For each fruit you listed, it’s now time to consider when and how you’ll use this. Try these sentence stems, “When I’m feeling_____/when ________ shows up in my life, here’s how I’ll use ______ (your positive).”

Here are some examples of how that might look for storing:


If You Dropped a Rotten Belief

Maybe you had a belief that was old, rotten, and really creating some sadness and insecurity in your life and relationships. You kicked that from your life in Part 3 with the agility of a French FIFA- winning soccer player. Now you’ll use the positive fruit you identified in Part 4 as a resource.

For example, if a fruit you dropped was in feeling like an outsider in your own family, but you enjoy painting and listed “I make beautiful art” as a positive fruit of your creation, a storing for you might look like:

When I’m feeling like an outsider, here’s how I’ll use “I make beautiful art”: I’ll treat this as an opportunity to make a new color story for my work. I’ll surrender the moment to my love of creation, allowing shapes and textures to come to life. I’ll be with my art until I want to be with people again. I know the hard days come…but my art is there for me when this happens! I’ll trust it as a process of going within so that I can emerge when I’m ready. I get to choose how to take care of me. I’ll remember to eat and get rest so I can fuel my energy. 

[I recommend adding the eat and rest thing if these are problems for you during creative periods. This is an issue for many artistic people. If you take medications, remember to note these as well.]


If You Dropped a Rotted Relationship

Many of you selected to drop a relationship’s hold on you. This may have been a break-up that you’ve grieved for a long time. Note that if you’ve experienced a painful breakup and are acutely aware that the holidays hold particular stress for you, you’ll want to make your storing plan quite soon.

Using a breakup example, perhaps you wrote as a positive fruit, “I have real friends who love me.” In this case your storing of that love can result in something like:

When my grief about Sam shows up in my life, here’s how I’ll use “I have real friends who love me”: I will CALL Sharon, Veronica, Jeff, and Myron! I’ll say yes to the Thanksgiving invite, and in fact, I’ll reach out ahead of time to see if Veronica’s invite still stands (and because she loves me, I already know that it does!) I’ll also ask Jeff for that therapist’s name he said helped his sister through her divorce; and in fact, I’ll try and get an appointment as soon as I can so that I have a therapist during Christmas.

Sounds like a great plan to me for someone moving through the grief of a breakup!


If You Dropped a Behavior

Let’s do one more, here.

If you decided to drop something like “taking everything personally” or “making it all about me,” in life situations, here’s one for ya. Let’s imagine you listed “the house I bought” as a positive fruit for your life, in which case your storing might be:

When taking everything my boss says personally shows up in my life, here’s how I’ll use “the house I bought”: I’ll remind myself that I am a smart and resourceful individual who can be successful in my life. I’ve made a lot of good decisions for myself and will make many, many more. I’ll remind myself that someone else’s problems aren’t about me; and never were. Maybe his life is miserable, maybe he’s had a rough day. Maybe he never learned how to talk to people. I’ll know myself and trust myself so that if matters with my boss get out of hand, I’ll talk to HR, I’ll buff up my resume, and I’ll try to keep in mind that I am already successful. 

That’s a double affirmation of one’s strengths and the ability to make an affirming career choice!


Bringing it all Together

The point of all this storing work is to really help you during periods of doubt, shame, hurt; realizing all of the resources you’ve pulled together for your life and that represent you in all of your ability to create, to love, to be.

I hope you’ve had as much fun and insight with these exercises as I’ve had in crafting them for you! It’s an honor to have people read, share, and respond to my ideas that I cook up like fresh greens and cornbread in my kitchen.

Follow my blog in the next few months, as I discuss topics like seasonal affective disorder, thriving through the Holidays, and more!

Peace to all, and happy shedding!