Your Rainforest Mind

Support For The Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive


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When Perfectionism, Anxiety, and Giftedness Go To College

photo courtesy jeshoots, unsplash

Ellen was a fast talking, deep feeling, super insightful 20 year old. She’d been a high achiever throughout her public school years. The work was easy. She could listen to one teacher while she did her homework for another. She was conscientious and energetic. Curious and imaginative.

She was also anxious. Her active rainforest mind came up with so many worries and then worried about her worrying. She was also a perfectionist. She had an innate desire to create beauty, harmony, justice, and precision. What I call intrinsic (healthy) perfectionism. And she also experienced the extrinsic (unhealthy) variety of perfectionism. She questioned her worth as a human being if she didn’t perform at the top of the pack at all times.

Throughout public school, Ellen had managed her anxiety and perfectionism. She had loving parents who didn’t pressure her to achieve and she didn’t run into much that she couldn’t figure out quickly. But she put plenty of pressure on herself. Excelling in school was intricately linked to Ellen’s sense of self. She was not particularly athletic and often had trouble maintaining friendships. She would be frustrated when other kids didn’t respond well to her complicated play. She didn’t have the same interests as her peers.

Because her early schooling was not intellectually challenging, Ellen came to believe that all learning ought to come quickly and easily. She thought that she ought to “know it before I learn it.” She didn’t learn how to struggle with a concept or how to study for an exam. Ellen also didn’t learn how to manage her time. She never had to. Ellen wanted to be the best. Always get A’s. Be as thorough as possible in all things. And she was successful.

Until college.

Suddenly, Ellen was on her own. Not only dealing with coursework that was more difficult but also planning her schedule, choosing classes, and managing: study time/homework, new friends, dorm life, exercise, sleep, meals, fun activities, laundry, and all those other daily decisions that you can’t predict. Not to mention, she still wanted to excel in all of her classes. She said that she didn’t know how to do it any other way. If she didn’t give 100%, she felt lazy. Or, she thought, maybe she wasn’t so smart after all. Her identity would teeter on the edge. Anxiety overload. Perfectionism paralysis.

What did I suggest to Ellen?

What insights will help the anxious college-attending perfectionists in your life?

~ An extremely active, thinking, analytical, imaginative mind mixed with multiple sensitivities and extraordinary empathy will most assuredly create anxiety. How could it not?

~ Intrinsic perfectionism comes naturally to rainforest minds. High standards and expectations along with an appreciation for beauty, harmony, justice, and precision are inborn. You need to appreciate this about yourself and then find ways to prioritize assignments so that you can manage your workload. What is truly important? Does your chemistry lab report have to be beautiful? Do you need to rewrite your lit paper yet again because you didn’t research every single related subtopic that you thought of? Will your professors still appreciate you if you get an A-?

~ Will giving less than 100% on occasion make you a lazy slacker or is it a realistic way to make time to rest and to feed your soul, which will ultimately allow you to be more productive and kinder to others and yourself?

~ There are some good apps for reducing anxiety: Insight Timer, Calm, and Headspace. There are many other suggestions for calming your worries in this post.

~ Get to know what it means to have a rainforest mind. Read more posts from this blog!

~ Chapter 3 in my book goes into depth about the types of perfectionism and provides guidance and resources. Read it!

~ It’s possible that your anxiety might be affected by particular foods or hormone imbalances. Meet with a doctor or naturopath to explore this. Acupuncture, exercise, or neurofeedback can help. If your anxiety is frequently intense and overwhelming, medication might be an option. It can provide enough temporary relief so that you can put some relaxation techniques in place and feel the results.

After a while, Ellen began to speak more confidently about her rainforest mind. She had a greater understanding of her anxiety and perfectionism and was developing ways to manage them.

She explained: “I’m listening more to the calming voice within me. The self-critical voice isn’t quite as loud. I’m learning that I need to be more patient with myself…I can’t do everything. Things take time. Be gentle with myself.”

Be gentle with yourself. Listen to the calming voice within. And be sure to feed your fast talking, deep feeling, super insightful soul.

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Thank you to the clients and readers who inspired this post.

To my bloggEEs: Does this sound familiar? How does your perfectionism show up? What have you done to calm your anxiety? Did this happen to you or your kids in college? By the way, not all perfectionists are high achievers. But that’s the topic for a future post. For more posts on perfectionism from parents of gifted kids and from professionals, click on the link.

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Psychotherapy and the Argentine Tango–A Secret to Successful Aging

Yes, that’s me!

I admit it. I’m sixty-something. Hard to believe, because I was thirty-something yesterday. But I know a secret to success in your post-menopausal or geezer-ish years. And I’m going to share it with you.

Two things:

One: Get lots of psychotherapy and then set up your own practice. (if you can’t set up a practice, still get the therapy…)

Two: Learn the Argentine tango.

Let me explain.

First, the psychotherapy. Most of us don’t make it out of childhood unscathed. Even with the best parents, our hearts are broken on many occasions. When we’re little, we’re totally dependent on these parents. This gives them a lot of power: The power to influence how we feel about ourselves and to determine who we think we are. That much power.

If you’ve grown up with neglect or any type of abuse, then, the understanding of who you are will be distorted and inaccurate. This sets up unhealthy patterns that follow you into adulthood. Anxiety. Depression. Difficult relationships. Lack of self-confidence. Instability. Good therapy will help you understand the impact of these experiences and grieve for your many losses. Then, over time, you can release the negative beliefs and the trauma lodged in your body, find your authenticity and your self-love, and live well. Age well. Be your fully compassionate, powerful, influential rainforest-minded self.

I grew up in a typical, middle class, dysfunctional family: Passive aggression, betrayal, unexpressed rage, boundary violations, trust and safety issues, anxiety, fear, and deep misery. In my own therapy, I came to understand that my anxieties, melancholy, and relationship issues were not the result of my terrible inadequacies as a deeply flawed human being. Instead, my fears, sadnesses, and self-deprecation were normal responses to an unsafe, abusive childhood. Therapy has transformed my self-perceptions and healed my broken heart. Given me the confidence to be seen in the larger world and to have an impact.

Becoming a psychotherapist, then, I know the process from the inside out. Working through many of my mental health issues, I come to the profession with more awareness, empathy, and compassion. Not only that. The career itself is perfect for us older souls (especially if you’re an introvert). Think about it. I get to have deep, intense, sweet relationships. One person at a time. I contribute to creating a better world. All that, and: I don’t have to do any heavy lifting or much actual moving. I get better at it as I gain experience, which means that the older I am, the more in demand I become. Is this the perfect career for older souls? You betcha.

But what does this have to do with the Argentine tango, you ask?

Well. I started dancing the tango at 47. It was shocking. I had no idea that I could experience that much pleasure within my own body and with another person. Learning to dance was a therapy, too, of sorts. To dance well, I had to get to know myself intimately as a human with a body. I had to move with assertiveness and ease while my feet were gliding over the dance floor and my heart was beating in tune with my partner and the music. It was transformative. Insight. Expansion. Grace.

My age? No one cared. I was popular. I was attractive. Men and women watched me dancing with admiration and delight. I am not making this up. What mattered was how well I could tune into my partner, how sensitive and intuitive I was, how grounded I was in my bodiness. And all of that therapy? Only increased my capacity for connection. I can still remember the young, blonde, thirty-something Marine. Watching me dance. Smiling in appreciation. I felt elegant, sensual, and captivating. In my 50’s and now my 60’s.

Not a bad way to age. I recommend it.

Psychotherapy and the Argentine tango.

The secret to a successful old soulfulness.

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To my bloggEEs: I wrote a version of this for ThriveGlobal. I’m wanting to infiltrate other venues with the rainforest mind information. If you click on the link, you’ll see my other articles for them.

What are your thoughts about therapy? Aging? Have you tried dancing the tango? What else might help as you move into your older soul years? Let us know your experiences, questions, and feelings. We love hearing from you. Oh, and, here’s what the Argentine tango looks like. Me in 2004 dancing. (to non-tango music). You’ll see what I’m talkin’ about!

Here’s a link on how to find a psychotherapist. Here’s one on what your therapist needs to know about your rainforest mind. My book can help you until you find a therapist, then you can give her/him a copy. And, by the way, I only counsel in Oregon but I consult worldwide on how to love life and your rainforest mind. Contact me! 


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A Gifted Kid’s Conundrum — Part Two — Anxiety and Perfectionism

photo courtesy of Thought Catalog, Unsplash

You may have read about Ben. He’s the gifted teen who said “I have to know it before I learn it.” He learned to read early. No one taught him. Learning was easy. He knew what they were teaching in school before they taught it. He came to believe that all learning happened this way. He didn’t feel particularly smart, though. Doesn’t everyone remember everything that they read? Isn’t everyone fascinated by fractals? Doesn’t everyone want to be an anthropologist-poet-engineer-actor-scuba diver when they grow up? 

It’s assumed that these kids will be fine because they’re so smart.

Not Ben. Not the gifted kids I know.

Anxiety. Perfectionism. Expectations. Pressure.

To the max.

Does this sound like you or your kids?

“I should be good at everything. I feel lost, empty, and helpless when I don’t know something. When I was very little, I was frustrated when adults didn’t respect me. I didn’t have the words to express my intense feelings and I felt powerless and angry. My body couldn’t accomplish what my mind could imagine. I can still feel that helplessness. Probably why I need so much control now.”

“They kept saying that I was so smart so I felt that if I didn’t get high grades, I’d disappoint them. Or worse. They’d see that I wasn’t so smart. And that would be devastating. Who was I if I was average? Or mediocre? I couldn’t even bake a cake without worrying that I’d make a mistake.”

“I feel everything so intensely. That includes frustration. Sadness. Empathy. All of it. No wonder I’m anxious.”

“…I am so afraid of failure. I tend to work on skills privately to protect my self-image. If it’s not ready for prime time, no one sees…”

“Up to a certain point, most things came easily. When I didn’t automatically know what to do, I watched or mimicked a few times and then the information or process was stored for good. But if I didn’t think I’d be successful at something in a short period of time (or at all), I wouldn’t even try…”

“…when you can imagine the ideal creation in greater detail…(or when you can imagine so many more different VERSIONS of perfection) then it’s much harder, emotionally, when you inevitably fall short…The scary thing about actually working to achieve something is that there’s always the possibility that, even if you work hard, the product could be mediocre…” 

“…I’m now in my forties and have multiple advanced degrees, but I still struggle with forgiving myself when learning doesn’t come easily. My daughter exhibits similar behaviors, and as I help her learn about how her brain functions, I’m finding the compassion to help myself…”

What, then, are some ways that you can help yourself and your kids?

• Understand that your perfectionism and anxiety might exist not because of something that you’ve done wrong but because of the nature of growing up gifted. The complications begin at an early age. You have a right to take the time to focus on your self-understanding and growth.

•  Make a list of self-soothing techniques that work for you. Try the different apps that exist such as Calm, Insight Timer, and Headspace. It often helps to create a daily meditation practice or exercise plan. Some people have found morning pages from The Artist’s Way to be useful. Notice if food sensitivities or hormones are a factor. Get help from a smart, sensitive practitioner, such as a bodyworker, acupuncturist, naturopath, or therapist.

• Make a list of calming reminders. Here are some items on one teen client’s list: I’m a fallible human. I make mistakes, like everyone. I’m learning. I’m experimenting. Making a mistake does not make me a bad person. Am I catastrophizing? Do I need to be this upset? My body tends to be anxious, but I’m actually safe. It’s going to be OK. I’m older now and I have more control over my experiences. Now that I’m older, it makes sense that there will be many things that I won’t know. 

The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Bourne is a good resource if you need many specific techniques.

Procrastination by Burka and Yuen is a good resource for perfectionism and procrastination.

•  If you’re a parent, share these ideas with your children. Listen to them as they share their frustrations and fears. Careful listening and reflection often works better than advice giving or rescuing. If they’re very young, give them the specific words for their emotions.

• You have great compassion for others. Let yourself receive some of that sweetness, too. Forgive yourself for not being perfect.

And remember, above all, your kids and you will learn more from your mistakes than from your successes. And your memoir will be much more fascinating because of your failures, your foibles, and even your fears. Where would David Sedaris be today without failures, foibles, and fears?

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To my bloggEEs: You may notice that some of these quotes come from your comments. Thank you so much. What else do you have to say about anxiety and perfectionism? Clearly, sharing your experiences helps us all! And thank you to the client who inspired this post and gave me permission to use some of her words.

Thank you to those of you who’ve read my book. If you could write an imperfect review on Amazon, I’d be so grateful. And if you don’t have my book yet, well, ahem, what are you waitin’ for? And, if you go to my About page, you’ll see I’ve added a podcast and an interview about parenting gifted kids. Sending you all much love.


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Dealing with Anxiety When You Are a Highly Sensitive Overthinker*

photo courtesy of Toa Heftiba, Unsplash

There are so many reasons to be anxious these days. So many reasons. What’s a sensitive, empathetic, intuitive, analytical person to do?

I don’t need to tell you what there is to be anxious about. You are quite aware of the little things and the big things and all of the things in between. You could create a very long list. Your capacity for super-thinking and your vast imagination, enormous empathy, and non-stop brain has already added 14 items to your list since you started reading this post.

And, that’s not even taking into consideration that you might be a parent. A person with children. You can just double and triple and quadruple your list of reasons if you made the choice to bring a little vulnerable being into the world. Not that I’m judging you. But, really. What were you thinking? And you thought you were a worrier before you had kids.

I’ve written about this before here and here because it’s such a real phenomenon for people with finely tuned nervous systems, which you know you have. Not to mention, your capacity to feel the suffering of neighbors, trees, children everywhere, and your lonely Aunt Lucille.

Not only that. If you had to start worrying when you were two years old because your mother was screaming obscenities at you and your father was unreliable and self-absorbed, for example, well then, you likely have developed a remarkable ability to become anxious at a moment’s notice. Or to remain anxious all of the time on all occasions (called hypervigilance**) Just in case. You never know. You need to be prepared for the worst.

So, my darlings, you see?  Stop berating yourself for your worrying ways. Stop pressuring yourself to be cool, calm, and collected because you’re so smart. There are reasons for your extraordinary capacity to worry.

I have a suggestion.

In addition to all of the tools and techniques listed in the many articles out there, here’s another that I’ve recently started to practice more regularly. That I’ve found surprisingly helpful.

Here it is.

You know how fear tends to make you want to freeze or shrink or hide or push it away? Instead, notice it and be with it. Where do you feel it in your body? Hello, anxiety. Then, remember that it’s just a part of you. And you are bigger than it. Imagine yourself expanding. Breathe and expand. As odd as it sounds, welcome the anxiety. Bring it on, baby! And keep expanding. You will begin to feel your higher Self and the Love that is in you and around you. Breathe. You might start to notice that you feel lighter and more peaceful. The fear may still be there but you’ve become so large that it becomes insignificant. Imagine that!

The more you practice this, the easier it will be to get into this more peaceful state. And if you want to take it one step further, turn it into a tonglen practice (from Pema Chodron) where you breathe in all of the anxiety all over the world (Seriously!), and you breathe out Love to everyone, including yourself.

Including yourself.

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To my bloggEEs: I’m breathing Love to you right now, my little chickadees. Tell us about your anxiety and your worries. What do you do that is helpful? If you try this technique, let us know how it goes. There may be other, more concrete things, to try first. Sometimes, you need to address the basics first and get spiritual later. Trust yourself. If you grew up with chainsaws, give yourself time to heal via many paths.

*For the perfectionists among us: Is overthinker one word? Should it be hyphenated? Is it two words? I hyphenated it in another post so  should I be consistent? Am I over-thinking over thinking? Oh, brother.

** If you have an extreme case of anxiety, due to early trauma, medication may be an option as well. Sometimes the bio-chemical help is needed so that you can manage your life enough to be able to benefit from the other techniques.

 

 

 

 


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Gifted and Obsessed

photo courtesy of Kyle Glenn, Unsplash

I’m obsessed.

I admit it.

I spend inordinate amounts of time wondering who I really am and what I’m supposed to do with this little life of mine. To make a difference. To have an impact. To create a better world.

It surprises me that everyone isn’t as obsessed as I am. After all, what could be more important, I ask you?

Isn’t everyone an obsessive, introspective, self-analytical, driven, quirky, over-thinker? Shouldn’t they be? Doesn’t everyone love being in therapy? Diving deep into the abyss of their psyches to wrestle with thorny anxieties, repair ancient wounds, and discover their sparkling Light?

You mean some folks really do just want to watch the Super Bowl?

I remember when I first read this in a John Irving novel: “You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed.” I was so relieved. It wasn’t just me. I fell in love with John Irving then and there.

Of course, I hear you. If I’d decided to procreate, I wouldn’t have the time or energy to question and wonder and analyze and imagine like I do. To dive so deeply into my abyss. I made the conscious choice to be childfree. To support my obsessive, introspective, self-analytical, driven, quirky, over-thinking habit. It’s worked out quite well.

I found a career that would enhance these proclivities. I could be a psychotherapist! Get paid for being with other obsessive, introspective, self-analytical, driven, quirky, over-thinkers. ( You know who  you are. )

Holy moly.

And then blogging was invented.

Oh boy.

The perfect vehicle for more obsessing. And, as it turns out, for a little worldwide influence. For a little impact. A bit of better-world making.

So.

I’ll be your John Irving.

I’m here to tell you that being an obsessive, introspective, self-analytical, driven, quirky, over-thinker is exactly who you are meant to be. And even if you decided to procreate, and you are now raising a quirky little over-thinker just like yourself, you can still find your way to make a difference. To have an impact. To create a better world.

Just remember this: You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed. 

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To my bloggEEs: Thank you so much for being here and for supporting my habit. Let us know how you’re obsessed or how you plan to get obsessed.

(Note: It could be that raising that quirky little over-thinker of yours is exactly how you’re creating a better world…)

(Another note: Just to be clear, this is not to be confused with the serious and disabling obsessive compulsive disorder. I’m not suggesting that you get OCD. OK?)

There are a couple of events I want to tell you about. I’ll be speaking with the amazing Linda Silverman in Denver, CO on June 2 at her Gifted Women Symposium. (Sorry fellas!) And I’m a presenter at the SENG conference in San Diego in July 20-22. (Tom Clynes will be a keynote speaker.) I’d love to meet many of you so please think about going and introducing yourselves to me.

 

 

 

 


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Gifted, Sensitive, Curious Children In School — What Can Parents And Teachers Do?

photo courtesy of Les Anderson, Unsplash

You would think that kids who love literature, enjoy mathematical puzzles and scientific enigmas and who are curious beyond measure, would be high achievers in school and a teacher’s dream.

There are times when this is the case: When curriculum is challenging and engaging. When teachers are sensitive, enthusiastic, kind, creative, smart, flexible and organized. When classes are reasonable sizes. When administrators are supportive. When teachers get plenty of massages, dark chocolate, sleep.

And when giftedness is understood and appreciated.

Let me help you with that.

Meet six-year-old Ben. Eager to enter school, he was reading at age 4 and fascinated by the BBC documentaries on Planet Earth. He asked complicated questions about natural disasters, climate change, ancient Egypt and bacteria and told anyone who would listen about his discoveries. Ben cried easily when children or animals were hurt. He was bullied for his sensitivity and empathy. He didn’t understand why he had to practice his addition facts when he was multiplying fractions. Ben dreamed of becoming an astronaut-paleontologist-artist-poet when he grew up. He wanted to be Richard Feynman for Halloween.

Meet Louise. She loved reading and learning but was overwhelmed by middle school. Overcrowded classrooms, buzzing lights, strange odors, disrespectful students who didn’t care about learning, frustrated teachers, mean girls and the pressure to be perfect all triggered her extreme anxiety and her existential depression. She appeared confident and arrogant. She was neither. She refused to go back to school.

Meet Carmen. Even though she was an exceptional writer and former straight-A student, she was failing high school English and math. She’d become discouraged over the years with the repetitive assignments and excessive homework. But she wasn’t turning in her writing for another reason this time. Carmen had very high expectations for herself and spent hours agonizing over particular words and the interconnections within her research. There were so many ideas demanding her attention that a 5 page paper turned into a doctoral thesis. But no one ever knew. She never turned it in.

These are just a few of the gifted children that I’ve known.

What can teachers do?

Get to know all of the faces of giftedness and the ways gifted children might look ungifted. Don’t assume that these kids are lazy or arrogant or immature or ADHD if they’re not achieving. Make the time (I know you don’t have much time. It’ll be worth it.) to talk individually with them. Be curious and listen to what they tell you. Problem solve together. Be flexible with deadlines and curriculum. If you use the multiple intelligences model in your classroom, all students will expect that some assignments might be different for some kids. Reduce the amount of rote learning and repetition for the students who don’t need it. Fight for better funding for schools. Get enough massages, dark chocolate and sleep.

What can parents do?

Get involved at the school and be supportive of staff. Look for the sensitive, flexible teachers and bribe them explain nicely why your child ought to be in their class. Help your older children advocate for themselves by helping them talk directly to teachers about concerns and needs. Access school counselors and former teachers who loved your youngster, so they can be advocates. If you run into lots of roadblocks, there are options. Explore acceleration, charter schools, private schools, micro schools, homeschooling, early graduation, early college, online classes, part-time school, and tutoring. Join an online parent support group. Fight for better funding for schools. Get enough massages, dark chocolate and sleep.

There are more tips for teachers in this post. More suggestions for parents are here.

Gifted children like Ben, Louise and Carmen are extremely curious, eager learners. They can appear to be ungifted when their sensitivities, intensities, divergent thinking and perfectionism are misunderstood. They can appear to be ungifted when they resist certain assignments, suffer from anxiety or depression and stop achieving.

Teachers who understand this and appreciate these children? Teachers who are sensitive, enthusiastic, kind, creative, smart, flexible and organized? Well, they will be a gifted kid’s dream. They will be loved beyond measure.

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To my bloggEEs: Tell us about your experiences with your kids or yourself in school. What challenges did you face? What successes? If you’re a teacher, let us know what it’s like for you. As always, thank you all for being here.


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The Contradictions Of Giftedness

Photo courtesy NASA, Unsplash

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.”     

It appears that Walt Whitman knew something about rainforest minds.

You are large. You contain multitudes.

But how do you live with your multitudinous-ness when other humans find you overwhelming. And when you find you overwhelming. How do you manage the contradictions of your youness? The anxieties that often come with the complexities? Your desire to create a better world?

Well, my darlings, pondering those questions is what this whole blog is about.

But today, in this post, I wonder about this:

You are large. You contain multitudes. But does anyone really see you?

Do you ache to be seen? To be known deeply? To connect with another human to feel that glorious sense of Known-ity?

I’m guessing that you do.

Here’s the rub.

If your capacity for learning and being is vast, then other humans may only be able to understand parts of you. Not that they aren’t trying. They may be trying. They just don’t have the capacity. They aren’t as large. They have fewer multitudes.

For example: You may hunger to study contemporary art, post-modern philosophy, celestial navigation, leathercraft, multiple languages, permaculture, world religions, Argentine tango and rock climbing. Today. In your spare time. For fun.

Large.

You may have sensitivities and intuitions that take you to deeper dimensions. You may see and feel mysterious energies that open you to other realities. You may have an empathy that allows you to know and feel others’ emotions and needs. You may connect with a spirituality that doesn’t fit within the expected parameters.

Multitudes.

How does a person like you get seen? Met? Understood?

Two thoughts.

Thought number one: Find people who can grasp a few of your multitudes. Maybe you rock climb with Cynthia. Read Dostoevsky with Joshua. Discuss post-modern philosophy with Latisha. Tango with Alessandro. This is not ideal because I know that you want that one person who can be your everything. But the more multitudes you have, the harder that will be.

Thought number two: Find someone or something larger than yourself. You heard me. This might be a human. But it might be Nature; as in viewing the night sky or climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro or swimming with dolphins. It might be spiritual guides who speak to you through your writing or in your dreams or via the devas in your garden. It might be energies from an invisible reality or a parallel universe. It might be your very own Higher Self. It might be God.

One more thought.

Stop fighting with your Largess. Relax into your Multiplicity. When you feel like shrinking, don’t. Instead? Expand.

And be sure to contradict yourself. Daily.

Make Walt proud.

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To my bloggEEs:  Have you found ways to be seen and understood? Do you have a spiritual practice that helps you navigate your contradictions and complexities? We would love to hear from you. Many thanks to the clients who inspired this post.

This post is part of a blog hop from hoagiesgifted.org. For more lovely posts on this topic click on the image below.