In the post called the 3 rules of setting healthy boundaries, the first rule was to accept that not everyone in the world is 'nice'. Someone emailed to ask me a really important question: 'How can you know who's really 'nice', and who isn't?'
That's a great question, and not so simple to answer.
Even mass murderers and other evil people have a certain ability to fool at least some of the people, some of the time, that they're 'nice'. If nasty people were instantly recognisable at fifty paces, it would make life a whole lot easier, calmer and plainer sailing.
But they're not.
Part of the problem is that most of us have been programmed from birth to push down our intuitive gut-reactions that something is 'not right' about certain people, in the name of good manners.
Yes, OK, your lecherous neighbour makes your skin crawl, but when he leers over the fence and asks you how you're doing, you feel socially obliged to ignore you're inner dislike and urge to tell him to get stuffed, and start making small talk instead.
Ditto, when the nosy, tactless acquaintance starts milking you for very personal details about the latest drama or trauma in your life: so many of us feel obliged to answer, instead of telling them to mind their own business. Why? That would be rude, of course!
Times these interactions by a few hundred, or a few thousand, and the end result is that you get cut off from your true feelings about people. You've got so used to putting 'good manners' ahead of your gut reactions, you could invite Jack-the-Ripper for supper and not even realize something's 'off' about your guest until he starts sharpening his dagger at the table…
So how can you get more in touch with your innate intuition, which is always trying to give you clues about who's 'nice' (at least, for you) and who isn't? The following tool, called a 'mood map' can help you.
The instructions are simple:
1) Before a social interaction or phone call, rate your mood out of 10, 1 being really bad, and 10 being the best.
2) After your social interaction or phone call, rate your mood again.
If it went up - engaging with that person filled you up, boosted your mood, and made you feel good. There's a strong chance the other person was 'nice'.
If it stayed the same - it was probably a very superficial interaction, and needs further exploration.
If it went down - engaging with that person deflated you somewhat, brought you down, and dissipated your energy. There's a strong possibility that the other person was 'not nice'.
If you pay attention to your mood maps, you'll start to get some profound insights into your relationships that you might otherwise not be aware of. If someone is consistently making your mood drop, consider ways to minimise the time you spend with them.
I know it's not 'good manners', but doing so could save you huge amounts of trouble, heartache and stress.
If you're like most people, as soon as you get sick in someway, you usually instantly react by trying to find a way to get rid of the problem.
If you start sneezing, you'll reach for the cold medication; if your throat hurts, you break out the lozenges; if your head starts to ache, you make a bee-line for the Tylenol bottle, and so on, and so forth.
This is human nature, and everyone has these tendencies. But here's the thing: the more you try to fight against your symptoms and 'take control' of your illness, the worse you can often make it.
Because that illness is not a random event or result of some bad luck, it's been sent to you by God, for a very good reason. Maybe, He sent you the cold to get you to slow down a bit and stop spending so much time at work? Maybe, your throat hurts so you'll start to pay attention to how much time you're spending chatting on your phone, or to what you're actually saying. When it hurts to speak, you suddenly realize how much of what you say is sort of pointless and trivial (at best…)
Point is, there's a message hidden in every single symptom and illness you have. When you shoot the mailman on arrival by zapping it with an aspirin, you missed the whole point.
But God doesn't give up, so what does He do? He sends a bigger, brawnier mailman the next time round, to give you the same message. The cold might morph into pneumonia; the throat infection becomes severe laryngitis; the headache becomes paralysing migraines.
Sure, you can go out and find the next biggest medical weapon to 'fight' against these new symptoms - there's nothing intrinsically wrong with taking care of yourself in that way - but before you do, just first make an effort to find out: what is the message?
When you start to approach your illnesses in this way, it becomes much easier to accept your unpleasant symptoms, and deal with them with more equanimity.
Let's take the cold example: Now that you realized that God wants you to take it easy, and that you've been overdoing it, accepting that underlying message means that you're going to be much calmer about the amount of time you're spending in bed, recuperating.
You got the message, and you're giving your body and soul the time and space it needs to really heal and recuperate. That's how accepting your minor illnesses without automatically trying to medicate them away can truly be the key to healing at every level of your being.
I was recently asked what my working definition of God is, particularly in connection with trying to get other people to relate to Him.
It's a tough question to answer, because as any sincere spiritual seeker can tell you, the more you try to 'know' God, the more you come to understand that God is unknowable.
When you're happy to trot out pat definitions of God, that's usually because you have absolutely no idea about what you're really talking about.
Yes, 'God is love' - on a very deep level - but try telling that to someone who's experiencing terrible suffering or bereavement. 'God is great' also works, partially, but again, it's like trying to describe an elephant by telling someone it's big. Clearly, there's a lot of the picture missing.
Judaism recognises that God can't really be defined in human terms, which is why it doesn't try to describe God at all; it just describes some of the ways that God manifests Himself in the world.
The Hebrew word Elokim, for example, is describing God when He's acting with strength and judgement. The name YKVK describes God's attribute of unconditional loving kindness and mercy, and so on and so forth. Judaism has loads of different names for God, but even those are only used on the firm understanding that humans can't really grasp, define or understand the Creator of the world.
So where does all this leave me, and my working definition? after some pondering, I decided that the best way that I could even approach a definition of God would be by defining what He is NOT. So here goes:
There's always more to say, because God is infinite and unknowable, but without writing a whole book on the subject, that will probably do for now. What do you think? What's your working definition of God?
One of the things that happens to people when they don't grow up in an environment where their caregivers really 'see' them is that they have no idea how to put what they're feeling into words.
Here's how that comes about: when you're growing up, you'll experience a range of feelings, emotions and reactions. When you have good lines of communication with your adult caregivers, ie:
Then, when you're going through some sort of emotional turmoil or reaction to a situation that just occurred, they'll teach you the words you need to describe what you're feeling verbally.
(At this point, let me just state that if you didn't get this from your caregivers, it's because they also didn't get it from their caregivers, and so on and so forth, all the way back to Adam and Eve. This problem has been around for a LONG time.)
But let's say you have the rare parents that are fully in touch with their own feelings, and able to teach you how to identify and express yours. Here's how that conversation would sound, when little 8 year old Jonny comes home from school obviously in a bad mood:
"Jonny, when you have that feeling that you just want to kill someone, that means you're feeling frustrated; or disappointed; or hurt; or let-down."
Nothing releases pent-up emotions like talking them out.
Now that Jonny has the word to describe the maelstrom he's experiencing internally -'fru-stra-tion' - five minutes later, he's already going to start feeling much better and calmer.
If the parents are super-advanced, at this point they'll maybe share some of the ways they've developed to manage their own feelings of frustration, like taking a shower, writing something down in a journal or simply, talking it out (to God, to a friend, to your spouse).
When you can associate the right word with your feelings, it instantly shrinks those sometimes huge, overwhelming emotions down into something manageable.
But if you haven't got the words for your feelings (which is actually a known condition, called Alexithymia)? Then your feelings can start to get stuck in your system.
If that situation continues for any length of time, it can lead to all sorts of emotional and physical difficulties and problems.
The good news is that with a little bit of time and effort, it's fairly easy to fix this problem. In the next post, I'll tell you how.
In the last post, you learned about Alexithymia, a condition where you don't have the words to describe your feelings.
Now, you might be asking yourself why that's such a big deal? I mean, plenty of people don't always know what they're really feeling, and they're doing just fine. So why am I going on about this so much?
There are a few problems that can occur when people can't identify or describe their feelings:
So now you're hopefully convinced that it's something you need to take seriously, how do you go about fixing the problem?
Psychologist Jonice Webb has written a great book on the subject, called 'Running on Empty'. At the back of the book, she has a huge list of the different words you can use, to identify what emotions you might be feeling.
As your emotional vocabulary expands, you'll start to be much more in touch with your authentic self, you'll be able to express yourself more clearly, and your relationships will develop a new depth and sense of connection. You'll also probably stop feeling so angry, frustrated and 'stressed' all the time (people often use the word 'stressed' when they can't describe what emotion they're actually feeling.)
If you don't want to buy the book, then you can do the following (it takes a bit of time, but it's free):
Make your own 'feeling words' list
Take the following list of words, and head over to thesaurus.com, or somewhere similarly, to make your own list of words. Be sure to check out the 'antonym' suggestions too, to give you more emotional word ideas. You'd be amazed how many terms there are to say 'not happy' - and if you go through and start learning the definitions of the different words on your list, very soon you should be enjoying some first-class emotional literacy.
And if you come across a great word you'd like to learn more about, drop me a line and I'll see what I can do to help you.
Jewishly, this week is all about Tiferet¸ or balance.
Achieving balance in your life is a huge challenge for most people, and reams and reams of stuff has been written on topics like:
'Balance' is also a crucial ingredient of achieving good emotional health. If you don't have healthy, balanced, compassion, kindness and accountability, then you're really asking for trouble, emotions-wise.
But what does it mean to have 'balanced kindness', or 'balanced compassion'? The following post lays it all out on the line:
The three habits that keep you emotionally healthy
A week before Passover, I came down with a really bad cough. It was so bad, I was up in the night for five days' solid, coughing my guts out, and I started to wonder if I'd developed pneumonia, God-forbid.
It kind of half went away over the week of Passover itself, but then it roared back with a vengeance, and I started to feel really run down and ill again.
Now, one of the main reasons I started JEMI is because I wanted to share all the things I've learned about how your soul and your emotions directly impact your health - and here, God gave me a real-time example.
Whenever I was doing business development stuff, my throat would feel like it was closing up, and I'd start getting the cough, or the proverbial frog-in-the-throat. Whenever I started worrying about paying the rent, my throat would go funny. Whenever I started discussing future plans, the throat would go, and I'd start to feel distinctly unwell.
It took weeks for the penny to drop, that I didn't just have a chest infection: God was trying to send me some important message, here, and if I wanted to start feeling better, I needed to try to work it out.
What's the message?
First, I talked to God about it all, and I got a little bit of clarity - but I could feel that I was still missing some big part of the subconscious picture.
So then, I did a TAT session focussing on the problem that I had a cough, and my throat was hurting.
Ten minutes later, I started to get a load of insights flooding up: the throat is directly connected to your self-expression, and your purpose in life. These are both areas that have been pretty challenging for me recently.
But that wasn't all. The throat is also the bridge between your intellect and your heart. When you're telling yourself that you believe something, or think a certain way, when you don't actually really believe it in your heart, one of the first places that dissonance affects is your throat.
So then I started asking God for a clue to show me: what ideas or beliefs was I paying lip-service to, that was affecting my throat so badly?
The throat is connected to self-expression
A few minutes later, I had an answer: I've been through a very challenging few years recently, including a failed business, massive financial issues that forced the sale of my home, and a move to a completely different city and environment.
Now, I'm picking up the pieces, and trying to move forward again.
I thought I'd dealt with all the massive challenges I'd had, and accepted that they were all for the best. And it's true, I had - but only in my head.
But in my heart?
There was a different vibe going on. In my heart, I was still feeling pretty traumatised, betrayed and distrustful. Somewhere deep, deep down, I realized that I don't trust God to come through for me, and to actually help me turn things around and start to build my life again.
Every time I was working on my new business, or writing my new book, a little internal voice was piping at me: "There's no point. It's just going to end in failure again. You're just wasting your time, doing this."
Mentally, I was trying to shut it up, and not pay any attention to it - which is why it was getting all 'stuck' in my throat.
Remember, your throat is connected to self-expression and sense of purpose.
Wow! Who knew?
Now, the question is what do you do with all that information? How do you resolve the gap between what you want to believe, and what you're actually feeling?
There's one answer, and only one answer: Ask God for help.
In the meantime, as soon as I got the message, my throat started to feel much, much better.
There may be more parts to the message, who knows. But I got the installment I needed to get for now, and also some insight into what they're really talking about, when they say that you need to 'cough things up'.
It's a stressful world out there, in 2015, isn't it? But that doesn't mean you have to become a Tylenol junkie. These three natural remedies can work wonders to banish tension headaches (but don't forget to spend some time figuring out what's making you so stressed in the first place...)
Remedy 1: Aromatherapy
NB: Lavender and tea tree essential oils are the only essential oils that can be routinely applied neat to the skin.
Take one drop of Lavender oil, and apply it to your temples using either a cotton bud or your finger. Rub in gently with your finger-tips, and wait 10 minutes for the sedative action of the lavender oil to dissolve the pain away.
Remedy 2: Energy Medicine
The 'headache points' in traditional Chinese Medicine are the two indents where your neck meets your head. Use the fingers of both hands to gently but firmly massage these points.
Next, massage across the back ridge of your skull, using a circular motion.
Next, use both hands and drag your fingers out to the sides of your neck, using firm pressure.
Repeat the dragging motion, going up a notch on your neck each time, until you reach the top of your neck.
Remedy 3: Acupressure
Firstly, ascertain where the pain in your head is located.
If it's at the temples, you'll find the corresponding 'pain points' on the sides of your fingernail or toenails, depending on whether you choose to work on your hand or foot. (For headaches and other head-related issues, most people choose to work on their finger or big toes.)
If it's at the front of the head, it will be in the top middle of your finger or toe.
If it's at the back of your head, the pain point will be just underneath your nail, in the centre of your finger or toe.
Once you've found the 'pain point(s)' on your finger or toe, use a metal probe, pencil, blunt matchstick, pen, or blunt nail to massage it for between two and five minutes. (You'll know you're in the right place, as it will hurt when you press on it. If it's not at least a little bit tender when you press on it, you're not on the right spot, and you should feel around the area until you find the correct, painful, place.)
That's usually enough for the headache to subside. If it doesn't go, take whole seeds - whole lentils or whole buckwheat work really well - and stick a seed on each pain point. Leave the seeds on for 6-8 hours, or overnight.
Seeds contain electromagnet energy, which continue to automatically stimulate the pain points, even while you're asleep.
Like many women, I've had what you could call a complicated relationship with food. When I was a child, I had big, black emotional hole that I kept trying to stuff full of food, especially sweets, crisps and Angel Delight. (Angel Delight, for people not from the UK, was a sort of instant pudding mix that came in every disgusting chemically-induced flavour and colour known to man. There were at least 3,000 E-numbers in every serving.)
The only thing that stopped me getting really fat was the fact that I was exercising three hours a day, on average: I was on the school netball team; the school tennis team; the school rounders team. And if that wasn't enough, my Victorian-style school excelled in torturing its students with various forms of enforced exercise. Top of the list of my traumatic gym experiences include being forced to run 5 miles around the whole neighbourhood in a pair of dark blue PE knickers; and having to swim a mile in the school pool.
Point being, the huge amounts of exercise I was doing, voluntarily or otherwise, was off-setting the huge amounts of junk food I was eating. But then, my family moved country when I was 14, and the icecream addiction came with me, but the tennis didn't.
Within a very short time, I ballooned up in weight.
My food was making me fat
It took me two years to come out of denial and to start trying to get on top of my unhealthy eating habits. Once the penny dropped that the food I was eating really was making me fat, I entered the first of my fanatical food stages.
I went vegetarian, and also cut out every source of fat I could (this was back in the fat-free 90s). Diet yogurts became my staple, together with whole wheat pitas, tuna and fruit and veg. I also started biking a couple of hours a day, and playing basketball every chance I got.
I got really skinny.
But somewhere deep down inside, I knew it wasn't so healthy. Now, I think I was probably an exercise bulimic, as every time I felt 'fat', I'd get on my bike and do a 30km ride.
But then? I had no idea that I hadn't solved my food issues, I'd just re-packaged them. I got to university, and thus started my addiction to bagels, baked goods and step aerobics. Mmmmmm, cinnamon buns. Mmmmmmm, hot bagels with cream cheese. I could eat six in one go, and yet again, I was trying to compensate for my bad eating habits by spending hours at the gym.
When I started doing the 'grapevine' on the pavement when I was waiting for a bus, I knew it was getting out of hand. I also got really anaemic, so after 7 years of being vegetarian, I started eating meat again.
The first time I probably got even close to eating normally was after I got married. I started eating fruit and veg more regularly, but without going crazy, and cut out most of the junk.
That lasted a few years, until I hit the Candida diet stage. I'd been feeling really awful for months until I finally went to a natural healer who diagnosed Candida, and told me I had to cut out all yeast, sugar, potatoes and milk products for a month, to give my system a chance to recover.
I did it - and initially, I felt great! I felt so good, that I seriously started considering going sugar-free for good. Just one problem: I'd completely lost the ability to socialize around food. People stopped inviting us for meals, because my weird diet was so restrictive that oat biscuits and carrot sticks were about the only they could offer me.
So I came back to a more 'normal' diet, but switched over to whole wheat, brown sugar and olive oil.
Surely now, I'd fixed my food issues?
Apparently not. When I hit 36, I crashed physically, and the dietician I spoke to told me that I had to start eating a whole bunch more lettuce, and green things. That sparked off my green smoothie stage, where I blenderized everything that moved.
But it still wasn't enough.
Last year, I crashed again, and this time the naturopath I went to put me on a strict macrobiotic diet of cooked veg, cooked grains, no sugar and lots of soy. Once again, the first month I felt great!
But then, I started developing some really bizarre itching and swelling. I had no idea what was going on. But then I read an article about soy allergies, and realized the industrial amounts of miso and shoyu that I was sticking on my cooked kohlrabi was making me ill.
Emotions matter more than food
At that point, I finally got the message: food was important, but it wasn't the only thing that was going to make or break my health. My emotional state and happiness were probably even more important than eating my sprouted spelt bread and drinking my kale shakes.
That revelation completely transformed the way I thought about food. It got me off the 'fanatical food' track, and it got me started down the path of putting far more emphasis on connecting to God, and keeping my emotions healthy.
I still eat brown rice, and I still drink chocolate avocado smoothies. But I also eat my crisps and roast chicken guilt-free, because I finally got that being fanatical about food doesn't automatically equate to good health.