The Meadows Blog

Tuesday, 19 November 2013 11:47

Mental Health for the Holiday Season

The holiday season is a joyous time of the year to spend with family, attend get-togethers and enjoy the wonder of the season. The holiday season can, also, be a difficult time for those in recovery. The holiday season is a time for fun and excitement, yet this time of year can bring financial stresses, more work and anxiety. For some, the holiday time may bring increased anxiety or depression. This article will address how to cope during the holiday season, maintain sobriety and stay on the path of recovery.

One area that people in recovery often experience anxiety about is holiday parties and get-togethers. We might feel obligated to attend parties and get-togethers with family, friends and colleagues. Guess what? You don’t have to do it all! You can cope with this busy time of year by taking care of yourself and following a few suggestions in regards to get-togethers:

  • Set boundaries! You don’t have to go to every party or get-together. Decide which are important to you and be choosy.   Choose parties in which there will be less triggers for you.   Remember, saying “No” is a complete sentence. Put yourself first.

  • Set time limits.   It is not necessary to be the first to arrive and the last to leave. Decide in advance when you will leave. If you are relaxed and comfortable and want to say longer, you can. If you need to leave, stick to the time you chose and leave at the time you promised yourself you would.

  • Have a safe place for every party.   If the person having the party knows and understands your anxiety and/or how important sobriety is to you, you can ask the host if there is a room you can use for quiet time if you need it. If that is not possible, find a place outside for quiet time or leave the party.

  • Bring someone who understands. Bring a friend or family member who is supportive of your recovery.   Choose someone who understands that you may need to leave when you say so. This person should also know your safe place. Having a “safe” person there may make you feel more at ease to enjoy yourself.

  • Relax before you go to the party.   Relax ahead of time; perhaps take a long bath followed by silly dancing to your favorite CD.   Wear your favorite clothes. Get ready by listening to soft, relaxing music , thus setting the tone for the party you will be attending.

  • Remember your coping tools. Relaxation and breathing tools can help in any situation in which we become anxious or triggered. Bring small notes to remind yourself of the steps you need to take. There is nothing wrong with needing a reminder to balance ourselves.

  • Remember why you are celebrating.   You are not going to parties because you have to go. You are going because you want to be with people you care about.   Holiday parties are about sharing friendship and happiness, not about trying to do what you think someone else wants you to do.

  • If you cannot go, then don’t! You can say “No” at any time. It is okay if you can’t go.   This is an act of self-care.

Another area that is easy to get caught up in during the holidays is the high expectations of how the holidays should be. Here are some tips to help you keep your expectations reasonable:

  • Don’t judge the value of the gift you are giving by the price tag. The best gifts come from a desire to bring joy to another person. Giving from the heart means your gift will never be too small!

  • Don’t get caught up in the thought that you have to do everything that is asked of you.   Say “No” if you really do not have the time or energy to do something. It is reasonable to delegate responsibility to others in your household. Setting time management limits can keep you from becoming stressed.

  • Share with someone less fortunate. There are several ways to do this; volunteer at a homeless shelter for a day, volunteer at an animal shelter for a day, send cards to those in the Military who are stationed overseas… (Well-wishers who would like to send Christmas and other seasonal cards to U.S. service members should address those cards as follows: Holiday Mail for Heroes, P.O. Box 5456, Capital Heights, MD 20791.   All cards must be postmarked no later than Friday, 6 December 2013 in order to ensure sufficient time for sorting and distribution before the holidays. You can address the cards to “A U.S. Service Member.”)   If you have children, get your children involved in understanding the joy of giving to someone from the heart through service.   Service men and women love receiving mail from children!

  • Remember, your family is a real family. Thus, there will be arguments and skirmishes among siblings. Family members may act the way they have before. The behavior of others does not have to ruin your holiday.   You are not in control of other people’s actions, yet you can control your reactions.   Remember to work on forgiveness and acceptance.   You can always take a time out and allow yourself the time to come back to balance.

  • Things will go “wrong.”   Your children will get dirty and make noise. You might forget to buy batteries, thaw the turkey or take the cookies out of the oven. Planes might be delayed and friends or relatives will have other responsibilities. Dogs will jump on you and your clothes with muddy paws. Breathe and face these little setbacks with grace and a sense of humor. You will find yourself having a better holiday with things being “perfectly imperfect” than with everything having turned out “perfect,” because now you embracing your humanity and can relax a bit more.

  • If you cannot see someone special due to military commitments, finances or other reasons, find a creative way to make the holiday time special. Send cookies, a videotaped greeting or gifts to far away relatives. You can arrange another day as your “Christmas,” “Hanukkah” or your designated holiday celebration.   You don’t have to limit yourself to what it says on the calendar.

Last, yet certainly not least, let’s look at ways we can keep the holiday season both sober and joyous! Many people have enjoyed the happiest holidays of their lives sober. Here are some tips for having a joyous holiday season in sobriety:

  • Line up extra 12 Step meetings for the holiday season. You can volunteer to take newcomers to meetings, answer the phone at a clubhouse, be a speaker at a meeting, or help with the dishes.

  • Be the host to AA, NA, CODA….friends, especially newcomers. If you don’t have a place to hold a formal party, take one person to dinner and spend recovery time together.

  • Keep you support lists with you at all times.   If a drinking urge or panic comes, postpone everything until you’ve called your sponsor or someone on your list of supports.

  • Find out about special holiday parties, meetings and celebrations given by support groups in your area and go!

  • Do not attend any drinking occasion you are nervous about.  In your addiction, you were clever about making excuses to drink. Use that talent to come up with reasons not to attend events you are nervous about!   No party is as important as saving your life.

  • “Bookend” parties and events. Call your sponsor before you go and call your sponsor again after the party/event to process how things went for you.

  • Plan to leave parties early if you think there will be more drinking as the night goes on.   Plan your “leave time” and stick to it.

  • Worship in your own way; a way that brings peace and balance to your life during the busy holiday season.

  • Don’t sit around brooding. The holiday time can be a great time to slow down and take “me” time. Catch up on books, museums, walks, emails and letters.

  • Watch those holiday temptations. Remember, “one day at a time.”

  • Enjoy the true beauty of holiday joy and love.   Give from the heart!

My hope is that these tips will re-new your commitment to stay sober and in recovery during the holiday season. Keep in mind that the real reason for the season is spiritual renewal through sharing with others.

*May joy and love be what you remember most for this holiday season*


AA Newsletter – Holiday Issue 2005

Joyce Willis is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is currently a therapist at The Meadows. She earned her Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Akron. After teaching for several years, Joyce earned a Master's degree in counseling from the University of Phoenix. She has been in the counseling profession since 1996 and in that time has worked extensively in the addictions field. Her specialties include treatment for addictions, bereavement, trauma, depression and anxiety. Joyce has a special interest in mindfulness and helping people connect their emotional, spiritual, mindful and physiological selves with compassion and respect.

Published in Blog
Friday, 18 October 2013 09:26


Blue Roan Appaloosa

When looking out on our herd here you will notice many different horses. Some are flashy and really eye catching; others are striking in conformation or personality.  It is a nice remuda of horses and full of some of the most talented therapy horses ever. We however, are going to take a closer look. Past that flash and personality is a dark colored old man standing back outside the herd.  He would be easy to miss if you did not take the time to really notice.

Dude does not have all the flash. Despite being an appaloosa Dude’s color makes him look more dirty than anything else.  He is not the class clown or even a very affectionate horse. He can be agreeable or not depending on the day. He stands in the warm fall breeze and looks like he is asleep. The winds play with his wispy main and tail. His head is down, eyes heavy.  From where we stand it seems like he is disinterested in the daily goings on of the rest of the horses. He comes in to eat but won’t share a feeder. When he is done he goes back to his little hill and there he is…”being” in the sunshine.

He is a horse that would not get your attention right away. He is not physically as appealing as the other horses and makes himself unavailable.  So what makes him such a wonderful therapy horse? It’s in the way that we had to slow down and look past the exterior “noise” to notice Dude. His personality challenges us to look past our initial assumptions and distractions and search for something deeper. He is confident and intentional. He is the head of the herd for certain. Dude has an internal strength and is completely comfortable in his own skin. He spends his day on the hill because he can see what’s going on. When there is a disagreement in his herd he meanders down…deals with it and heads back up again. He can see who leaves to work and makes sure everyone is back at the end of the day. He lives every day in simple confidence. Standing with him is like breathing for the first time. It’s a calming weight of internal strength that not many have felt.

He will show you how to slow down and be mindful. He teaches us how to recognize problems before they reach crisis as well as how to be comfortable with yourself. There is a wonderful calm knowing in Dude.  His personality is not one that will just give it away, but the simple act of asking to share space with him will open a door to an old horse that can change your perspective from that moment forward.

Published in Equine Therapy

The Meadows is a sponsor and presenter at the Addiction and Recovery: Gender Matters Conference on October 10-12, 2013 at the Doubletree Hotel in Greenwood, Colo.  The Meadows Psychiatrist, Dr. Jon Caldwell, will present “Relational Trauma and the Search for Security: Women and the Role of Mindfulness in Healing Attachment-Related Wounds” on Thursday, Oct. 10.

Jon Caldwell, DO, PhD, is a board certified psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of adults with relational trauma histories and addictive behaviors. In November 2012, Dr. Caldwell was the recipient of a research grant from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) for his research proposal entitled “A Wait-List Controlled Study of a Mindfulness-Based Workshop for Promoting Attachment Security.”  

A keynote speaker for the conference is Brene Brown, PhD, LMSW, a noted speaker and author of “Daring Greatly” and “Gifts of Imperfection.” She is a research professor at the Houston Graduate School of Social Work and a “Top 10 TED Talks Presenter” and featured regularly on PBS, NPR, and CNN.

For more information regarding the conference, visit

The Meadows is an industry leader in treating trauma and addiction through its inpatient and workshop programs. To learn more about The Meadows’ work with trauma and addiction contact an intake coordinator at (866) 856-1279 or visit

Published in Blog

By: Joyce Willis, MC, LPC

Have you ever driven someplace in your car and then couldn't remember the entire drive or what you passed along the way? That's an example of not being mindful that many people can experience daily. It's the same routine and you place yourself on auto-pilot, not noticing what you are doing or what is going on around you. In this article, we will explore the art of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the art of paying attention to what you are doing and what is going on around you.  Mindfulness is about living with openness and experiencing possibilities by paying attention to the present moment. When we practice mindfulness, we can reduce stress and function in a more balanced way. Practicing mindfulness helps us to gain insight into ourselves and the environment around us. Practicing mindfulness helps us treat our relationships with patience, respect, and kindness.

How do we start to develop mindfulness? There are many qualities to incorporate in our lives to live in mindfulness. We will consider 4 of the most important qualities of mindfulness. These are

  • Non-conceptual - Mindfulness is awareness without being tied into the thought process - just being aware and noticing. You might be aware of your own body and how you are feeling.  You might be aware of the environment around you. Is the sun shining? Is there a breeze in the air? What noises do you hear in the present moment?
  • Present-Centered - Mindfulness is always about being in the present moment. Ask yourself: Am I in the present right this moment? Am I present when I am eating, talking, listening, driving...?
  • Non-judgmental - Mindfulness means being aware and observing without judging. Can I accept things as they are in the present moment?
  • Intentional - Intention is one of the most important elements of mindfulness. Mindfulness always includes an intention. What is my intention in the present moment?

There are many benefits of Mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness has been found to decrease medical conditions and psychological issues. Much research has been done to show that being mindful and using mindfulness decreases psoriasis, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, headaches, insomnia, high blood pressure and asthma. Psychological benefits of practicing mindfulness include:

  • Decreased depression and anxiety
  • Decreased panic
  • Increased self-awareness and acceptance

One of the most important benefits of practicing mindfulness is decreasing stress. When we decrease stress, we can decrease medical and psychological issues and increase our general well-being. There are five steps to a mindful approach to life which can be applied to every aspect of life.   These steps are:

  1. STOP - Take a step back.

  2. BREATHE - Take a deep breath in and out and reconnect with the present moment.

  3. PAY ATTENTION - Be aware of what is going on with you and your environment, so you can see clearly.

  4. Consciously RESPOND - Use an intention for how you want to respond in a way that shows respect for yourself and for others.

  5. OBSERVE consequences - The consequences may be positive or negative. The consequences will be a benefit in choosing how you want to approach similar situations as they arise.

One way to practice mindfulness is through mindfulness meditation. A quote from Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk and a renowned Zen master, sums up how meditation and mindfulness go hand in hand: "Meditation is not to escape from society, but to come back to ourselves and see what is going on. Once there is seeing, there must be acting. With mindfulness, we know what to do and what not to do."

John Kabat-Zinn states that mindfulness is about attention and awareness in anything we are doing. The practice of mindfulness includes not only mindfulness meditation, yet the actions we take in every day life. Kabat Zinn warns us that mindfulness is not a cure-all or magical solution to life's problems. It is up to us to choose our path and chart our course.  Mindfulness provides a simple, yet powerful path for getting us in touch with our wisdom and vitality. When we follow this path, we can improve our lives and our relationships.

Like the title of this article states, mindfulness can be a part of everyday life; eating, talking, driving, spending and living. Let's consider each of these areas of everyday life.

  • Eating - How many times have you eaten your lunch quickly to get back to work? Have you ever just eaten and then minutes later not even realized what you ate? Mindfulness reminds you to pay attention to what you put in our mouth - the texture, the smell, the taste of the tiny morsels as they hit your tongue. Ask yourself: "Am I eating nutritious food?"
  • Talking - Can you think of a time that you said something and then regretted it seconds later? Have you ever spoken to someone and seen a look of confusion on the listener's face? When you are talking, are you paying attention to the words you are using and to who your audience is? What does your tone of voice and body language say? Mindfulness reminds us to speak in a respectful way, sharing to be known in a way that the listener can respond in a respectful way.
  • Driving - The example at the beginning of this article speaks to mindful driving. I know that I have often driven on auto-pilot and been surprised when I arrived at my destination, wondering how I got there! When you are driving have you removed distractions in order to be present-centered and enjoy the drive? These distractions can be the cell phone, the radio, conversations with other people in the car... For different people, different radio stations will lead to distractions. For me, it is a sports radio station. If the sportscasters are speaking about something I strongly disagree with or strongly agree with, I can get excited and forget to pay attention to my driving. What radio station is it for you?

  • Shopping - Think about a shopping trip you have gone on; a time you decided to treat yourself to a shopping spree. After the shopping spree, did you have buyer's guilt? This happens when we are not mindful in our spending. When you go on shopping trip, are you mindful of your budget? An idea is to leave your credit cards at home and just take the cash you are allowing yourself to spend. This is tough for most people, yet the benefits are that you will be able to treat yourself and not have "buyer's guilt" later!

  • Living mindfully - All this leads to mindful living. When we pay attention patiently and with the concept of acceptance, we can lead a more peaceful, stress-free life. Mindfulness helps us to live our lives more fully, moment by moment. How will you be mindful today?

Let's explore how mindfulness relates to recovery. Mindfulness is an integral part of recovery. Addiction, depression, and anxiety can all be looked at as dis-eases; they all are a suffering. Incorporating the Four Insights, by Terese Jacobs-Stewart into our recovery process can be a source of comfort and relief.

The First Insight - Suffering: Suffering is an intrinsic part of life. Life serves up one form or another. It is not anyone's fault; it just is. We face the truth of the First Step of the Twelve Steps by admitting we are powerless and that by continuing to deny and try to manage our addictions, depression, anxiety... makes our lives unmanageable. For addicts, addiction and codependency are the First Insight. For others, the First Insight may have to do with change, depression, anxiety, illness, loss or death.

The Second Insight - Our response to suffering: The second reality that we have in internal response to the suffering we encounter. For every external event, we have an internal reaction. Our responses may compound the suffering that already exists when we numb with drugs or alcohol, when we blame, when we try to manage and control our addiction or depression. We may choose to become rigorously honest and use mindfulness to develop greater self-awareness and self-control.

The Third Insight - Transforming our response: We are not doomed to be stuck! We do not have to keep suffering. We can change our internal responses to the things we cannot control. An ongoing practice of mindfulness and meditation can change our brain chemistry. We must be willing to deeply engage in mindfulness, spirituality and to welcome change.

The Fourth Insight - A Path to Transformation: The fourth insight is that there truly is a path out of suffering. This path is about continuing practices of mindfulness, meditation and ethical living. The Twelve Steps give us steps to follow that are similar to mindfulness practice.

So, honor yourself by practicing mindfulness. This will help you open a new foundation for building the life you want. With mindfulness, you can face day to day situations with a new vision of who you are. Be gentle with yourself. Cultivating mindfulness takes time and patience. Mindfulness can lead to a realization of your basic nature, your true greatness and your potential.

For further information about Mindfulness, you might consider these books:

Wherever You Go, There You Are -; John Kabat-Zinn

Full Catastrophe Living -; John Kabat Zinn

Cultivating Lasting Happiness: A 7 Step Guide to Mindfulness - Terry Fralich

Peace in Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life; - Thich Nhat Hanh

The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Mindfulness -; Thich Nhat Hanh

Mindfulness and the Twelve Steps - Terese Jacobs-Stewart

Joyce Willis is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is currently a therapist at The Meadows. She earned her Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Akron. After teaching for several years, Joyce earned a Master's degree in counseling from the University of Phoenix. She has been in the counseling profession since 1996 and in that time has worked extensively in the addictions field. Her specialties include treatment for addictions, bereavement, trauma, depression and anxiety. Joyce has a special interest in mindfulness and helping people connect their emotional, spiritual, mindful and physiological selves with compassion and respect.

Published in Blog
Wednesday, 13 March 2013 20:00

Befriending Our True Nature

You wouldn’t know it by looking at me now, but there was a time when I had luscious locks of hair – truly, it was a thing to behold! I used to spend large chunks of my mornings carefully coaxing my hair into perfect shapes with the help of Aqua Net hairspray… (remember that stuff?) My hair was a vital part of my identity – it was synonymous with what I knew of myself. No doubt, I derived some of my personal worth and esteem from my hair.

Then in medical school, my hair began to “thin” (which is a euphemism for “fall out in droves”). During that time, I would wake up in the morning with a sense of dread as I assessed the damage on my pillow. Some mornings it looked like someone had snuck into my room in the middle of the night and rubbed their shedding cat all over my pillow. Absolutely nightmarish.

As you might imagine, this unexpected change of events was troubling for me. After all, I had great expectations for my hair and me – we were going places – we were going to live out our lives together in follicular bliss. I went through the classic stages of grief: denial (for a long time), anger, bargaining, and depression. The final stage, acceptance, eluded me for some time because it required that I look into the void – the hole in my self-worth (and on the top of my head) that was left by my over-identification with my hair.

While it is true that losing one’s hair can be difficult, many of us have lost much more. The experience of change or of losing something dear to us is all the more difficult when it is connected with a sense of who we are… our very identity! When we lose something that is tied to our inner worth, it can be excruciating – like a part of our very being goes away – leaving a terrible feeling of vacancy and emptiness.

Yet, the very nature of this life, this incarnated existence with our imperfect bodies and minds, is that we will experience change! Really, the only thing we can surely count on is impermanence. All of us have experienced change and loss… and we are bound to experience more of it.

So, this begs the question: In this sea of change – this constantly shifting landscape - how do we come to understand our true nature?

Like the sea, I think we often attach our worth and our identity to surface waves. For example, at one time in my life, I attached my self-worth to my hair and I rode that wave for as long as I possibly could. But like all ocean waves, it eventually died out (or in this case, fell out) and I was left facing the uncomfortable emotions that come with the inevitability of impermanence.

Sometimes we hitch our identity and our worth to a particular wave and when it fizzles we quickly hop onto another wave and ride it as long as we can. After all, we are desperately afraid of sinking – of facing the potential emptiness or pain that is left behind by our loss of self. Sometimes the surface waves that are buoying up our sense of worth languish and we are left with no more waves to catch… we find ourselves sinking, heading straight for rock bottom.

But, what if our true nature is not necessarily the transient waves, but is more like the deep blue ocean below the surface! What if we could allow ourselves to drop below the waves and tap into an ocean of beingness that could make enough space for the constantly shifting tides at the surface? What if our worth and our identity didn’t need to ride each surface wave in a desperate attempt to stay afloat, but instead could find peace and calm in a deep awareness of our true nature?

This may seem a little abstract, so let’s explore some of the typical waves that we seem to ride. Perhaps the clearest example is our tendency to hitch our self-worth and identity to external things, like clothing, cars, homes, neighborhoods, money, family name, heritage, prestige, social status, education, degrees, etc. We can do this in a “one-up” way or a “one-down” way. In other words, we can over-identify with external things in a way that keeps us trapped in a small sense of ourselves (e.g., “If I don’t have a fancy car, I’m not worthwhile”) or in a way that falsely exaggerates our sense of worth (e.g., “Because I live in this neighborhood, I am worthwhile”). Both are false and keep us from experiencing our true nature.

Do these external things bolster our self-worth? Well, at least temporarily they seem to give us a little “esteem hit”, but the effect usually doesn’t last long. If the effect does last, it is often incomplete, like there is a nagging feeling of hollowness or emptiness attached to it. Not only are these waves transient, but when we fearfully cling to them, we miss out on the opportunity to drop below the surface and experience a deeper awareness of ourselves. We miss out on the oceanness of our being and with it we miss out on finding the peace and calm that can accompany this deeper awareness.

Well, if we can’t trust external things to lead us to our true nature, maybe other people can do the job for us? You may be shaking your head “no way” right now… but isn’t it so tempting to ride this surface wave – to tether our worth and our identity to another person? Often, we implicitly ask others to fill in the gaps that we sense within ourselves. We want them to live the unlived parts of our life. At some level, we long for others to fix our own feelings of unworthiness, to make it all better.

Yet, people and relationships are impermanent too. And even if the parent, family member, friend, or romantic partner could fill the void… it would never last – fatigue and resentment would begin to eat at the relationship like a cancer. No one else can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. If we have tethered our worth and identity to another person, it is very likely that we are going to have an intense growing experience!

Well then, in trying to connect with our worth and identity, perhaps we can rely on the opinions and feedback of other people? After all, maybe other people can see us more clearly than we can see ourselves? This is a wave that we commonly ride in an attempt to satiate the emptiness inside ourselves by feeding on compliments and adoration from others. Yet, without having a sense of our own true nature, feeding on compliments from others is like eating Cheetos: the little air-filled puffs bring a moment of yummy goodness, but the pleasure fades quickly and is followed by intense jonesing for another, and another…

And then there are the times when the compliments and the adoration don’t come or worse yet, somebody offers negative feedback or criticism. Without a connection to our own truth, most of us tend to be Teflon for compliments – they just slip right off… and we tend to be Velcro for criticism – they stick real good!

The fact is that other people don’t always have an objective view of us – often they see us through their own filters, which are tainted with various biases, beliefs and unconscious intentions. This doesn’t mean we should disregard all input from others, but we can benefit a great deal from maintaining a strong “internal boundary” – which means that we allow ourselves to hear what others are saying, recognizing that it comes through that person’s own filter, while simultaneously staying connected to our own truth.

If a richer awareness of our true nature doesn’t come from external things or other people, then maybe we can rely on our own senses and the massive power of our highly evolved brain? After all, shouldn’t we be able to form a rational, logical and objectively accurate view of ourselves and make inferences from that information about our own worth? Well, I’m not so sure.

For example, have you ever had one of those “good hair days”? (I don’t have those days anymore, but you know what I mean.) On a good-hair-day you look in the mirror and think, “I am smokin’ hot!” But have you ever had a good-hair-day and then the next day, or maybe even later that same day, you look in the mirror and you think, “All wrong… completely wrong!” Do you really think your appearance changed that dramatically from one time-point to the next? Maybe. Or, maybe your brain interpreted the same information differently.

Sometimes our brains filter and alter incoming data to protect the integrity of the psyche by putting a positive spin on things. For example, when I was in denial about my hair loss – I wasn’t ready to face the reality of my situation. So, when I looked in the mirror, my brain was constantly tweaking the incoming data and was giving me “mental hair plugs”. I remember watching a home video and thinking to myself, “who is that balding guy with his back turned to the camera…. oh crud… that’s me?!” I almost didn’t recognize myself. I saw what I needed to see because I wasn’t ready to see the truth.

Our brains can distort incoming information in a negative way too, as in the case of eating disorder. Due to a host of very complex psychological and biological factors, individuals with an eating disorder look in the mirror and see something very different from reality. Their brains are distorting the incoming data. While this might be an extreme form of this brain-bending phenomenon, it nevertheless is proof that we may not be able to trust our own perceptions, thoughts and beliefs 100% of the time. In some ways, our own thoughts are merely shifting waves on the surface and can’t be relied on as the definitive source of our true nature.

In fact, when we look in the mirror, I think it might be useful (and at least closer to the truth) to say to ourselves, “Oh, so this is what my brain makes-up about my appearance right now” or “Wow, my brain is generating an interesting representation of reality today.” In this way, we practice awareness of our brain’s biases and we open to the possibility that our true nature may run even deeper than what our brains make-up about us.

So, if we cannot rely on external things, other people or even our own thoughts to ascertain our true nature… what are we to do?

Ironically, I think it has less to do with “doing” and more to do with “being”. In fact, I wonder if it’s the quality of being that matters most – our capacity to bring a wholehearted presence to ourselves, just as we are, right here, right now. As illustrated in the examples above, our true nature isn’t manufactured or created, by us or by anyone else, but under the right conditions we can feel it begin to take root, expand and grow within us. When we are able to make space for the perfectly imperfect life that is right here, our true worth and identity emerges naturally, all on its own.

Dropping beneath the surface waves into a deeper awareness of being involves letting go of what we think we know about ourselves and opening to the mystery and wonder of our true nature. It’s about letting go of rigid expectations of how we should be and coming to accept what is already here, right now. This form of acceptance doesn’t mean long-term resignation, but instead is about, “In this moment, can I be with the way that it is?” Whenever we are fighting with “what is” – we are bound to experience the suffering associated with surface waves. Accepting the isness within us can be frightening, but can also bring incredible peace and joy.

Surrendering to the oceanness of our true nature requires a sincere intention to bring a non-judgmental presence to ourselves, as we are, in this moment. It means exercising compassion for ourselves and for others by letting go of perfectionism and rigid ideals. The capacity to be with ourselves doesn’t come easy – most of us go to great lengths to avoid this quality of presence. We tremble at the thought of facing our inner sea monsters lurking in dark crevices below the ocean’s surface. Yet, when we cling to the transient waves above, we also miss out on the buried treasures below – those flecks of gold glimmering in the still waters of our true nature.

As we more fully honor the sincere intention to bring a non-judgmental and compassionate presence to all parts of ourselves, a profound transformation starts to take place within us. We begin to embrace our vulnerabilities instead of running from them, recognizing that moving into the fear, shame, loneliness, pain, grief, etc. is actually the gateway to our true nature. The once-feared sea monsters from the deep become revered teachers and honored guests in the vast ocean of our being. We begin to recognize that our emerging true nature isn’t hitched to the surface waves of external things, other people or even our thoughts, but instead is a quality of presence that can hold the inevitable impermanence of this life with steadiness and grace.

As we make deeper and more regular contact with the life that is right here, our foibles and shortcomings become gentle reminders of the wondrously unique path we have travelled and they reconnect us with our own humanity and with other beings all around us. Those struggles that at one time kept us clinging to surface waves become the very support we need for resting in a deeper awareness of our unconditional and infinite worth. In time, a quiet confidence begins to unfold from authentic presence. This is the path to befriending our true nature.

Jon G. Caldwell, D.O., is a board certified psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of adults with relational trauma histories and addictive behaviors. Dr. Caldwell currently works full-time as a psychiatrist at The Meadows treatment center in Wickenburg, Arizona. For many years he has been teaching students, interns, residents, and professionals in medicine and mental health about how childhood adversity influences health and wellbeing. His theoretical perspective is heavily influenced by his PhD graduate work at the University of California at Davis where he has been researching how early childhood maltreatment and insecure attachment relationships affect cognitive, emotional, and social functioning later in life. Dr. Caldwell’s clinical approach has become increasingly flavored by the timeless teachings of the contemplative traditions and the practice of mindfulness meditation.

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