Share your Light, Spread the Love

via Pacific MFT Network (cross-post) 

Given the horrific amount of tragedies, violence, and hate polluting our world in present day, we have been thinking a lot about how we can possibly combat this as individuals in our own communities. 

Following the Orlando tragedy [#prayfororlando #prayforhumanity] just a week and a half ago, we posted this moving quote by Martin Luther King Jr...

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that".

Sometimes, it's easy to get caught up in all the darkness around us, only to slowly, tragically, experience the fading light that comes from within ourselves. 

In face of the very real, very scary existence of travesty, terror, and pain - we remind you of the power of that glimmering light inside of you.

Don't let it fade. Spread it!

Tell the person next to you why they are wonderful and worthy of love. Serve in your community. Give to the needy. Help that elderly woman to her car. Help promote a healthier environment. Save a stray and starving dog. Build a loving, humble, safe home for your family...Whatever it means to you, give your time to what's good in our world...and keep loving others...

...because "a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle" - James Keller. 

Rachel Cord, Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern #89397. Pacific MFT Network, © 2016.

This One's For the College Kids and the Yuppies



Some of the best days I ever had were in college (insert shameless plug for the best school ever, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where I got an amazing education and an unforgettable college experience all in one!). I was young, naive, blessed with parents who supported me in many ways, and lucky to meet my life-long best friends within my first terrifying week in the freshman dorms.

I know that not everyone who has the opportunity and resources to go to a university has this same positive experience, but in general, going away to college can be like spending a few years in an imaginary world where you get to live with your best friends, ditch class if you just don't feel like "adult-ing" that day, and going to "the library" could either mean going to study for midterms, or going to happy hour...(mom, if you're reading this, it was always going to study).

Of course I may be looking back through slightly rose-colored glasses, and there are definitely a plethora of life-changing challenges and stressors that come crashing down during this time too. Those 4-5 (or more) college years can be extremely trying, in between trying to balance work, classes, the social pyramid, figuring out an identity for yourself, and not completely disconnecting yourself from your family and friends from home (yeah, you may have to force yourself to call your parents back every week and humor them with your latest updates on life, but it's worth it). College is a huge transitional period, and transitions are naturally extremely difficult, and often trigger some pretty deep psychological and mental health issues.

But I think the biggest and most shell-shocking transition for many, starts to kick in that last semester before graduation...when you wake up one morning and look in the mirror at your youthful yet exhausted face, and suddenly realize that you're supposed to know what you're doing with your life after all of this comes to an end!!? All of a sudden, those feelings of security and invincibility begin to fade.

Life after college isn't as glamorous, freeing, and fun as it may seem...and that can be a very rude awakening. The "entry level jobs" you're qualified for all seem to require 5 years of experience or a masters degree...and you may not get the job you really want for a very long time...or even know what job you want in the first place...and when you do start working - you'll get tired of the day in and day out of the "average adult day" real quick.

Whether a college student/grad or not, we've all experienced this daunting and terrifying question of .... Now what??? during some transitional point in life - because life is full of them.

Change is scary, but the best part about change is that it usually includes having some sort of choice. And the choice here has to do with deciding what your life is going to be...

I beg any college student or recent grad to watch this video, and pay special attention to the words, because I wish that I had heard this speech on my graduation day....But I also encourage anyone under the sun to watch and listen, as it provides a refreshing look on perspective, awareness, and the human choice we have to decide how we are going to think, see, and experience the world...and that, my friends, is true freedom.

This talk by the late David Foster Wallace might just change the way you see the tiny, sometimes annoying, details of life. This was the commencement speech he gave at Kenyon College in 2005. The speech is published in a short book called This is Water.

Making Meaningful Resolutions for a New Year

It's just a few days until we ring in the New Year and start fresh with 2016. I know I'm not the only one with New Years resolutions on the mind...and this year, I want to approach it a little differently.

I am all about embracing new beginnings and setting goals, but it seems to me that these resolutions are oftentimes arbitrary and unrealistic (I speak for my own experiences here too). Every time I see a list of resolutions or hear people talking about it, they seem to be focusing on things like saving x amount of money, losing weight, or cutting some random food group out of their diet. And hey, if these are healthy resolutions that are realistic, purposeful, and important to your personal life context, who am I to discount that?

Whatever your resolutions are, the key is to set yourself up for success, perhaps with baby steps by making your resolutions small and manageable, but still meaningful to you. Don't make unrealistic expectations of yourself that will either discourage you from trying at all, or will cause shame or guilt if you don't reach them.

Remember that sometimes the smallest steps forward are the biggest victories.

Try to think big picture, rather than a "quick fix" to a problem you're having or something you are dissatisfied with in your life. Most importantly, make sure your resolutions align with your values, your wellness, and your long-term goals in life.

What we hope to accomplish and change in the future is relative person to person, but one thing that I believe is very important across the board is not to forget about the year(s) past...

If you are going to take the time and thought to make a new years resolution (or a few), be mindful about it. In the process of making goals and promises to yourself for the year to come, think about the past 12 months and what you have accomplished, learned, and experienced that has molded you to the place you are sitting right now. The past, present, and future are all intricately connected - so whatever your resolutions may be for 2016 - be sure that they honor you, those you love, and the big picture of what is most important to you.

Experiencing Joy When Your Cup is Empty

It is mid-December and we are in the middle of the holidays, also known as the "most wonderful time of the year". A time when we are supposed to be full of joy, surrounded by love, and at peace. But the disheartening truth is that our world is suffering from a lack of such things.

The irony is that right now I should be running a therapy group with 7 middle-schoolers, leading them in an activity intended to encourage reflection around "intangible gift-giving" (such as kindness, hope, gratitude, and trust). Instead, these children are not able to be at school due to threats of violence targeting the LAUSD, resulting in 900 school closures across Los Angeles today. Yes, we have a violence problem, a terrorism problem, a gun problem, but at the root of it all we have a humanity problem.

In these moments I wonder: how do we stay in the holiday spirit (or any kind of positive spirit) when there is such pain, fear, and tragedy happening around and within us?

As I sit at my desk feeling discouraged and saddened, I have to make the conscious choice to see the word "joy" printed on my tea-cup, to smell the "balsam fir" candle burning next to me, and to hear Frank Sinatra's rendition of "I'll be Home for Christmas" playing in the background. Here are a few simple ways to experience joy, even if your "cup of joy" appears to be empty...

1. Get outside. As tempting and cozy as it may be to stay indoors during this "harsh" California winter, getting outside can be the perfect redirection from negative feelings. Whether you take a five minute work break for some fresh air, find a beach to sit on, or go for an hour long walk, getting a taste of nature is a great "pick me up".

2. Snuggle a furry friend. Spend some extra time with your pet. Experiencing unconditional love and affection from a dog (or any animal you share a bond with) is actually an evidence-based way to feel a multitude of renewed uplifting emotions.

3. Tell someone you love them, and tell them why. In my opinion, the first step to feeling joy and combating the negativity in the world, is to open our hearts to others, spread the love, and remind people why they are cherished.

4. Make a list of all the things you are grateful for. Glad you have hot water to take a warm shower with later? Thankful to have someone who loves you despite how weird you really are behind closed doors? Blessed with money to pay for other things you enjoy and/or need? ... Perspective is the key to happiness.

5. Give back to your community or a charity. Because giving feels good. And the world needs our time and money invested in things that actually matter. Every little bit counts.

6. Exercise. What's that? Physical activity is good for the body AND the mind? Yes! exercise = endorphins = happy.

7. Make use of that mistletoe. Speaking of endorphins...if you're looking to self-medicate, kissing is one dopamine-producing drug I'm actually willing to support.

8. Remind yourself that it's okay to be happy, and that you deserve to be. Make a conscious decision to allow yourself to experience joy, however that may be for you. Mindfully living with intent, purpose, and awareness of the positive things, however small, is part of breaking down the walls that can prevent your heart from feeling happy.

There are many ways to experience joy, but sometimes it can seem impossible to find joy in things that normally bring us pleasure. Personal therapy is a good way to rediscover that ability in yourself. If you are interested in considering therapy, I encourage you to contact me to discuss options for therapeutic services.

Gratitude: Even in the Wake of Darkness

"Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow." Melody Beattie

As we approach the cherished and beloved American tradition of Thanksgiving, while simultaneously in the midst of a world tainted with war, devastation, and tragedy, I have been thinking a lot about both grief and gratitude.

During and after the terrifying events that occurred in Paris last Friday, November 13, 2015, I found myself experiencing an overwhelming wave of emotion. Although I was not personally or directly affected by these acts of terror, I have been following the stories and reports and wanting to educate myself more on world politics and news. That day and the days that have followed I found myself experiencing a mix of anger, fear, sadness, hopelessness...helpless determination to make it all stop. I caught myself trying to shake off fearful vigilance of my surroundings, thoughts about how nobody is ever really safe in this our world is doomed and how life is so frail and fleeting.

I know I am not alone in the emotional after-effects of such a tragic and threatening travesty. As the week has gone on, I have been working hard to stay on top of the news, while not letting the constant "depressing" stories take over my entire emotional state. I have been surrounding myself with family and friends, continuing to devote myself to my work and passions, and focusing not only on the darkness of the world, but also on the beauty and the hope that still remains.

Yesterday I was preparing for a Thanksgiving activity to do with a therapy group I am running with middle school students, and I came across an old art project from a therapy session with a client who was struggling with feelings of parental rejection and abandonment. We traced a turkey with the outline of her hand, and she was free to decorate it as she pleased. The prompt was simply "I am grateful for..."

Although I can't share a photo of her art, I can tell you that she decorated her "gratitude turkey" with all sorts of colorful feathers, and fervently wrote a random collection of words and phrases around it. She had no difficulty coming up with at-least 20 blessings that she is thankful for (and they were all non-material things). One of the words on there is hope.

My clients teach me every day.

So, with Thanksgiving and the season of joy upon us, my hope is that we don't lose sight of what what life is all about...that we continue to remain aware of harsh realities and to fight for justice and peace, but also continue to live, give love, and give thanks for the good.

*For a hopeful article by world renowned author and traveler Rick Steves, who offers an enlightening perspective on the terror resulting from the Paris attacks, click here.