Dr. Michael Mongno Blog

Entering in Couples Counseling

March 4, 2024

What is couples therapy and how does it differ from individual therapy:
Individual therapy focuses on one’s experience of oneself intra-personally and interpersonally. It’s meant to assist in discovering who we are and how we may be preventing ourselves from living in the world that is relationally contactful, meaningful, loving, and fulfilling. How we have been wired from our family of origin (including what was modeled by our parents), the things that have happened to us (including traumas we may have experienced) and what we’ve experienced in other relationships is what we bring into our relationship with our partner. It is this that couples therapy works with, in a myriad of ways depending on the modality being utilized.

What are some of the topics that are focused on in couples therapy:
Potential issues that couples can bring in include: a lack of healthy communication and emotional connection or physical affection, religious/cultural differences, difficulties with sexual intimacy and desire, living as ‘roommates,’ parallel emotional relationships or affairs, unresolved betrayal trauma, the loss of a mutual vision for the future, differences in parenting styles, mid-life or existential crises, and a host of other situations where one or both partners feel unseen, misunderstood or critically judged.

How does couples therapy work?
How couples therapy works depends on what is motivating a couple to begin therapy. If they are in crisis, the work takes on an immediacy of triage; if they are working on more typical issues the work unfolds developmentally via a process of discovery, personal reflection and experiencing themselves differently in front of and with each other; if the couple is in a good, connected place, the work would be more strategic and preventative or healthy maintenance.

When might a couple go into couples therapy; does it need to be dire, or can anyone go?
How exactly does one know when it’s time to reach out and find assistance? From my experience, people often wait too long to come into counseling. When Gottman’s ‘Four Horseman’ (criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling) are in place, it becomes much more difficult for couples to find their way back to each other. Each of these speaks of insensitivity, hurt feelings, anger and resentment that have built up for way too long and have become a hardened static within the couple. When things begin to feel consistently off, a couple should begin to talk deeply/seriously about what has been happening and what is actually going on. If this becomes difficult, unproductive or reactionary, it’s definitely time to seek help.

Most know that couples counseling isn’t an overnight fix, but I have found and firmly believe in the power of the work that couples courageously do. It’s been estimated that between 70 and 90 percent of couples find couples therapy beneficial. All that is needed is consistency, an open mind, and both partners committed to healing the relationship. I explain that we were wounded in relationships, so it is only in a relationship where we have the greatest opportunity to heal.

How can you broach the idea of couples therapy with your partner?
Often people can immediately feel defensive when the idea of couples therapy is brought up. This is because it can be difficult to look at oneself honestly and to see the effect (negative impact) we’re having on our partner. The issue should be brought up positively by first affirming the good things between each other and then pointing out how much more can be possible by developing new, healthier skills for relating. If there is any kind of trauma occurring, such as physical, emotional (including stonewalling or gas-lighting) or sexual abuse, the victimized partner must fully explain to one’s partner the extent that this becoming destructive both to each other and to the health of the relationship, and that something needs to dramatically change. This kind of change that is necessary cannot happen within a closed system and that an outside mediator is necessary to break the cycles of negativity or long-term paralysis. This is where an unbiased, seasoned professional can step in to assist in helping each partner make the changes necessary to improve, or even save the relationship.

How to prepare for couples therapy?
Working through a difficult time is incredibly personal, and many tend to keep it all inside. So I advise each to come into the session with a willingness to honestly share what one is feeling, as well as with the desire to learn more about oneself and increasing one’s emotional awareness (EQ). Implicit in couples therapy is the motivation that improving the relationship will be paramount to one’s own personal well-being, health, happiness, and transformation.

How does one find the right fit in a couple therapist?
Finding the right therapist is a critical element to couples therapy success – that is finding one with whom you resonate. While most therapists can tackle common issues, there are many who specialize in everything from infidelity to sobriety to co-parenting and more. Be sure to investigate specific areas which suit your situation, so as to find someone whose background speaks to the kind of issues with which you’re grappling. Sometimes getting a referral from a trusted other can be helpful, even just to the get the ball rolling.

Michael Mongno, MFT, Ph.D., LP, counsels individuals and couples. His office is located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan near Lincoln Center, at 100 W. 67th St., Ste. #2NE. For more information, call 212-799-0001 or visit PresentCenteredTherapies.com.

Could Your Fear of Intimacy be an Avoidant Attachment Style?

February 28, 2024

What are attachment styles:
The way we as human beings attach to each other, the bonds we form and how we interact and interpret relationships is known as attachment. The way we attach is formed early on as a result of how primary caregivers behaved toward meeting their child’s needs. This then creates a template or default of how we can expect to be treated, and importantly shapes nearly all of our relationships, especially romantic ones. The four attachment styles are secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized and represent a person’s internalized subjective experience of how it emotionally feels to be close and connected in relationships.

Avoidant attachment style:
When a child expresses an organismic need for closeness and doesn’t receive it, or is dismissed or even punished, they learn that reaching out for comfort and closeness is dangerous and subconsciously will develop strategies to meet those needs on their own, or worse yet, not to have those needs at all. This becomes what is called an avoidant attachment style and is characterized by the modus operandi of not depending on anyone, or an over-reliance on independence, with little need for social support or approval. This way of engaging in the world results in not being able to allow oneself to get too close or become emotionally vulnerable. Unfortunately this also prevents one from experiencing real intimacy, and gives way to a lonely, isolative and unfulfilled existence.

Recognizable signs of avoidant attachment:
A person with an avoidant attachment style will demonstrate the following behaviors:

  • Both the fear of dependency and the fear of abandonment or feeling independent as well as needy or clingy.
  • Emotional dysregulation with closeness, vulnerability and intimacy.
  • Difficulty in feelings one’s emotions (detachment), attuning to others’ emotions (empathy), feeling close and connected, and the ability to trust others.
  • Feeling stress in setting appropriate boundaries, handling conflict, and maintaining personal space without withdrawing or shutting down.
  • Inability to feel comfortable in one’s skin, e.g. maintaining eye contact, engaging in small talk or conversely going deeper and stating one’s needs as well as expressing affection.

How to recognize avoidant behaviors in oneself:

  • Notice any anxiety you might feel whenever you’re in connecting with another, or when you might start to feel overwhelmed or stressed.
  • Be aware of tendencies to emotionally distance oneself, withdraw, shut down, avert one’s gaze, deflect attention or compliments, interrupt conversations or quickly change subjects especially when they become too emotional.
  • Notice any difficulty in asking for help or support or feeling the necessity to maintain one’s independence.
  • See if you feel uncomfortable in opening up to others, or simply sharing your thoughts and feelings.

In recognizing the above behaviors, a person can challenge oneself to become more emotionally attuned and to notice underlying anxieties or tendencies to distance or put up a wall. Then try to create a new internal dialogue of kindness and compassion towards oneself rather than one of judgment or shame. By recognizing that one’s uncomfortable feelings go way back and were never your fault, but the result of inadequate parenting, mistreatment, emotional neglect or some kind of trauma, one can then begin to feel strength in feeling vulnerable and allow the possibility of letting both people and love in.

To assess how much you might have this style of attachment, there are several good online services that offer information and quizzes such as The Attachment Project and Psychology Today.

Identifying these traits in your partner:
In a loving, conscious relationship a partner ultimately helps to bring out our best and contributes to our feeling happy and good about ourselves. When this isn’t happening on a fairly regular basis it’s a good idea to try to discover why. Identifying your partner’s attachment style is a good way to start, just as learning your partner’s love language can strengthen communication and point to ways of nurturing and expressing love. There is a plethora of information available online today, so it doesn’t take much to begin to connect the dots and begin productive and beneficial conversations that can really make a difference in a relationship.

Potential impact of avoidant behavior in a relationship and long-term happiness:
It’s fairly easy to see that avoiding connection, closeness, and intimacy can be detrimental to a relationship. After all, that is fundamentally what any relationship is built on, especially romantic partnerships. A relationship, like any growing thing, must be handled with loving care and be continually nurtured so that is can fully bloom over time. Happiness can be found at any point along the way if we look to create it and share it with others who are important and meaningful in our lives.

Practical advice for the avoidant in relationships:
A person with an avoidant attachment style will invariably begin to sabotage a relationship. They will create drama as a way of distancing themselves as it often feels uncomfortable to be fully present in the moment. Here are some ways that might occur:

  • picking fights or conversely putting up a wall (stonewalling), pulling away when things start to feel too real,
  • staying on the surface emotionally by not expressing real feelings or needs,
  • demonstrating ambivalence,
  • pulling away in moments of intimacy,
  • saying no automatically instead of being open to saying yes,
  • asking for space so as to slow down feelings of closeness, etc.

Instead, practice being more open and trusting, expressing vulnerability or showing empathy, staying the course in difficult conversations, allowing oneself to go deeper in expressing feelings in the moment, having more patience in working through conflict, and being able to fully process disagreements.

In order to counter the above, the avoidant must first recognize that this internalized template of relating is not “who” they are, but “how” they have been entrained to be. And that it is not healthy, as it prevents fulfilling our need for socialization. connection, nurturing, and feeling love(d). One would try to stay attuned to these urges, as unconscious as they often might be, and try to do the opposite of what has always felt right.

For instance, try to say yes instead of reflexively answering no, try to stay in a disagreement a little longer instead of automatically shutting down or walking away, try to be more attuned to one’s emotions and weather the discomfort of expressing them, try to be more available to intimacy by being more vulnerable and sharing how that feels, try to stay in the moment by breathing deeply and looking at one’s partner to keep the connection going, trust whenever possible, try to become more aware of monitoring one’s feelings by recalling the four basic emotions (mad, sad, glad, and afraid) and tuning into which one fits at the moment and teasing out the emotional nuance that’s more resonant.

Michael Mongno, MFT, Ph.D., LP, counsels individuals and couples. His office is located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan near Lincoln Center, at 100 W. 67th St., Ste. #2NE. For more information, call 212-799-0001 or visit PresentCenteredTherapies.com.

Keep Your Couples Work Going

January 4, 2024

Why might someone want to try couples therapy exercises at home? Why is it important to keep working on communication in your relationship over time, particularly in a long term relationship?

One of the objectives of couples therapy is to help couples discover both themselves and each other in deeper ways and to learn to communicate in different, more effective ways. Those moments of felt awareness of one’s self and behaviors are emotional corrective experiences that can truly be transformational. However, in order for them to stick or become consistent, the means that brought them about must be continued in order to become real change. So what is experienced in the treatment room must be practiced throughout the week in between therapy sessions. New communication techniques need to become the new default in order to be truly effective in times of stress or emotional reactivity.

Please share at least 3 exercises that couples can try at home to improve communication and/or intimacy. For each exercise you share, please be as detailed as possible in your instructions about how to try it at home. Also briefly explain how or why this exercise might benefit a relationship.

Authentic dialogue or active listening is a technique to insure the effectiveness of communication. It is comprised of Mirroring, Validation, and Empathy and works as follows:

Reflect or mirror back to the speaker what has just been said.
Try to use the speaker’s own words as much as possible which will create an emotional resonance and a feeling of being met,
Stop the speaker when you feel that too much is being said to accurately reflect back, and ask to repeat if necessary.

Alert the speaker if you have become distracted, drifted away or become too emotionally triggered to accurately capture what’s being said; respectfully ask to have the speaker start again from what you last remember hearing,
Summarize what’s been said.

It’s important for the speaker to know that what they are saying has merit, is important and meaningful, and is understandable. Thus the listener would want to do their best to validate whatever concerns are being brought up. So they would start off by saying something like, “So it makes sense to me that…..” Basically the listener is attempting to convey that they understand where the speaker is coming from, whether they happen to agree with what’s being conveyed or not;

Empathy is the ability to emotionally relate to, imagine, and share what another person is thinking and feeling. It is probably the most important of the three components. When done with intentionality, the speaker will feel emotionally met, understood and cared about. The sentence stem would be something like “So I imagine that you might be feeling….” and then the listener would share a number of feelings that the speaker might be having. At any time during the listener’s feedback, the speaker can offer more information, correct or even highlight what is being said.

After the speaker feels heard, validated and emphasized with, the listener now has the opportunity to respond with the same protocol.

At some point after covering the main content of what it’s important, either partner can make a request of the other for a behavioral change, which the partner would consider, agree upon or offer an alternative.

Eye Gazing:
Set aside some time to sit quietly with each other in a place with no distractions. Set a timer for 5 minutes and sit across from each other and begin looking into each other’s eyes. Do not speak or touch each other, just simply sit and behold each other. Notice what this feels like: are you nervous, anxious, jittery, defensive, numb, peaceful, calm, contained, interested etc? Also, be aware of what it feels like to be really looked at, and to be directly seen. Just keep sitting and looking and allowing oneself to be open to this experience, all the while paying attention to your subjective experience. At the end of the 5 minutes (which can seem very long for some), pause and then take turns sharing what your experience was like: how it felt to be seen, what thoughts you had or what feelings came up.

This can be a very intimate time of truly beholding your partner and can lead to other such moments of openness and vulnerability.

Tell your life story:
Set aside 3 hours at one time to share the story of your life. The speaker will speak for the whole duration of the time, other than a short break if needed. The listener only listens and doesn’t speak except for small affirmations that he/she is fully taking in and registering what’s being said. Here is an opportunity to really share intimate details of one’s life, things that have been formative, traumatic, or life changing. After the 3 hours, the listener can then ask questions, make comments or observations (not judgments or analysis), share empathy or whatever feelings that have surfaced in listening. They will then decide when to reverse roles and have the other speak, whether it’s later that day or another day soon after. This can be very intimate and transforming as we get to know the depth and vulnerability of our partner and what has brought them to this place in our life.

Michael Mongno, MFT, Ph.D., LP, counsels individuals and couples. His office is located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan near Lincoln Center, at 100 W. 67th St., Ste. #2NE. For more information, call 212-799-0001 or visit PresentCenteredTherapies.com.

The Importance of Feeling Like a Priority to Your Partner

November 4, 2023

When we first meet someone who seems different than others, who feels special, someone who we feel might represent a future, we naturally give them priority above other parts of our lives. We want to carve out priority time in getting to know them, we take an interest in finding out all about them and we create quality moments of connective experiences. This becomes part of the emotional fabric of our romance that becomes the foundation upon which to build a solid, healthy relationship and hopefully a future together. As we get to know each other better and begin feeling a deep love, our desire for our partner’s well-being becomes naturally more and more important. We want to give to them and care for them and do things that bring them happiness and joy. We are, in essence, prioritizing them, often even above our own self-interest.

As we grow into a more formal relationship, built on being a priority, we expect this to continue. So it can be quite disconcerting and even painful when we feel this dissipating. It’s antagonistic to our very being and causes great anxiety when we experience our partner not thinking of us the same way, or not treating us with the focus or respect or care that they used to. Over time these feelings can turn into feelings of doubt about oneself as well as uncertainty about the future of the relationship, And this hurt often turns into anger and resentment since we’re not being loved as we once had. It’s best to begin expressing this when it occurs, before it turns into a rancor that can be difficult to overcome. There are of course times when our not being prioritized can be reasonably understood, and if it’s spoken about with care and reassurance when circumstances change, the focus of being of primary importance can return.

Couples talk about going through life together, but what does this actually imply? It just doesn’t mean when things are good, or circumstances are favorable, happily proceeding arm in arm. It also means that when things are stressful, or difficult or even if tragic things happen, that we remain an important and meaningful fixture in the mind of the other; that no matter what, our partner is included in our thinking and as best we can, prioritized so as to still feel like a meaningful and important part of our lives.

This can be difficult especially when there are children involved. As we all know, when a child is born, he or she absolutely needs to be the focus for a while. But then gradually the attention can be refocused in a conscious and caring way, so that both parents can receive the love and nurturing that they need. This can be quite a balancing act at times, but when it’s spoken about in an honest and transparent way, where each other’s feeling and sensitivities are taken seriously, the ups and downs of partner-prioritized parenting can gradually even out to an acceptable equilibrium.

There are things that we partners can do though, along the way, to make the other feel important, both intra-personally and interpersonally. The first is keeping one’s partner top of mind, so to speak, meaning that the other is being thought of throughout the day in a positive, warm, and loving light. This will help keep the emotional connection going, especially if things get difficult during the course of a day or over several days. This thinking of the other should be mutual, so that we think of our partner as someone we naturally care for but also as a source of emotional support when we need it most.

Here are just a few things to demonstrate the practice of prioritizing your partner (PPP):

  • In making a decision about something that would have mutual effect, be sure to include them and get their input;
  • If you know your partner has preferences in something you’ll be doing, try to give them priority, especially if it doesn’t matter as much as to you.
  • We all have sensitivities to things that have hurt us, so try to be aware of them, and act with care and understanding for those parts of your beloved.
  • Try to be attentive to what you know brings joy to your partner and attempt to set the conditions for those feeling to arise.
  • As much as you can, try to be attuned to what your partner is feeling or going through emotionally and express care and compassion for what that might be.
  • Perform little acts of kindness that you know would please your partner, such as picking up their favorite food or a treat on your way home, or taking something off their plate or to do list that you know could make a difference.
  • Try to remember the love you have even though in the moment you might not be really feeling it.
  • Remember the 3 Cs in how you communicate with your partner: with care, consideration, and compassion.
  • It you feel less of a preference about something, let your partner make the first choice.
  • When having a difficult conversation or disagreement, ask yourself, is it better to right, or to be happy, and act accordingly.
  • Try not to let old hurts or resentments cloud how your partner is being with you right now; i.e. try to be in the present moment with how your partner is presently being with you.
  • Try to show affection in little ways such as an unexpected kiss, a real hug, or cuddling together before going to sleep.
  • Really listen in the conversation your partner is having with you – practice the skill of active listening: reflecting, validating and empathizing.

Michael Mongno, MFT, Ph.D., LP, counsels individuals and couples. His office is located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan near Lincoln Center, at 100 W. 67th St., Ste. #2NE. For more information, call 212-799-0001 or visit PresentCenteredTherapies.com.

Dating Tips for Introverts

September 4, 2023

Introverts are naturally more internally focused and need time to process their experience and then thoughtfully put it into words. They might need to explain this to their date or partner and at times ask for patience. On first dates introverts would typically want to be in familiar, comfortable surroundings so that they can feel settled (not anxious) and feel ready to engage, which means coming out of their shell. Since they can hold their own for only so long with superficial chit-chat, it would be beneficial to come prepared with a few topics to discuss in more depth. Often this can occur naturally, and the introvert will feel more in their element and can begin to shine. Let’s not forget though that all of this requires real effort for the introvert, so meeting for short periods can be more advantageous. When things are going well, they can engage a little longer before needing to withdraw to recharge their batteries. This is especially true and important when socializing in groups. The introvert can become overwhelmed with too much activity, noise, mindless chatter, and talking before needing to disengage and find some one-on-one time with someone. Here they can catch their breath, come back to themselves and reenergize before entering back into the group.

Can an introvert date an extrovert?

Introverts can be very good dating partners and life partners for extroverts. Here “viva la difference” is essentially the attitude of affirming the dichotomy and thereby bringing out the best in each other. This approach also provides a safe space to bring forth and share aspects of the self that are often buried and remain hidden out of discomfort or fear of rejection. For the introvert, going deep is easy, so their challenge can be staying present in the moment if the interaction seems superficial, one dimensional, or perhaps trite. The extrovert thrives within this kind of light social engaging or conviviality, so they need someone to help them delve under the surface to plumb their depths and discover what they may be really feeling in the moment. This meeting each other outside one’s own comfort zones can offer great rewards. Experiencing one’s authentic self, and emotional depth while attuning to one’s true needs in the presence of the trusted other is the beginning of real intimacy and can transfer to all aspects of one’s life.

Michael Mongno, MFT, Ph.D., LP, counsels individuals and couples. His office is located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan near Lincoln Center, at 100 W. 67th St., Ste. #2NE. For more information, call 212-799-0001 or visit PresentCenteredTherapies.com.

Mindfulness - A Discussion with Michael Mongno

June 30, 2023

How would you describe mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the cultivation of attending to only the present moment, by being solely focused on and aware of only what is happening now, moment by moment. This is a conscious awareness of our thoughts and feelings, our sense sensations and tuning into our environment without any evaluation or judgement--a complete and compassionate acceptance of whatever is happening now.

Why can mindfulness be so helpful for people with mental health conditions like anxiety and depression?

Focusing only on what is happening now can be very beneficial to people struggling with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Since depression and anxiety are about the future (depression feels like the future will always be the same, and anxiety is the fear that the past will repeat itself or some new fearful experience will arise), mindfulness forces the mind into the present moment which is always fresh and new and where there are no evaluative judgements and antecedent or future wanderings. Mindfulness has a calming energy, by simply acknowledging 'what is' in a gentle and nurturing way.

Could you briefly explain how mindfulness can change the brain and body and why that's significant?

Practicing mindfulness meditation consistently over time has been shown to produce pronounced changes in the brain's grey matter and connections within its various regions that positively affects one's brain chemistry and therefore one's mood. This calming of the sympathetic nervous system allows for an energizing response that strengthens parts of the brain responsible for attention and learning, thus creating a positive feedback loop for increased self-awareness. There are cognitive gains as well, in that mindfulness meditation decreases rumination by disengaging from perseverative cognitive activities thus increasing one's attention through expanded working memory. This offers one of the greatest benefits to the individual, that being the self-regulation of one's emotions and states.

How might mindfulness benefit a person's sexual health and relationships, specifically?

For some expressing oneself sexually can come laden with judgment and conditions wired in from our families or culture. Finding ways to discover our own pleasure and our body's innate erotic potential takes both curiosity as well as courage. By mindfully staying in the present moment, sex can become a mutual discovery of what feels good and satisfying, thus becoming more dynamic and pro-active. Curiosity can replace routine sans the historical, evaluative narrative of how sex should be. By not letting the mind drifty away into various thoughts and distractions, or a laundry list of to-dos, consciously giving and pleasuring each other creates more moments of erotic meeting and an emotional connectedness that can truly deepen a relationship.

Is there anyone who should not practice mindfulness (e.g. people with PTSD perhaps)?

For people who have experienced significant trauma and its aftermath (great anxiety or PTSD), meditation can be difficult. It usually requires sitting with eyes closed, which can bring up uncomfortable emotions or trigger anxiety. The practice of mindfulness can be brought to any situation, as it's an attitude or frame of mind. Choosing to be supremely aware, alert, and accepting of what is simply happening moment by moment takes one's full attention, so that there is little room for worry or regret over the past and no place for anxiety about the future to enter in.

Many people struggle when starting a mindfulness practice, finding that their mind wanders, etc. How would you recommend people overcome this? Any other tips for overcoming common challenges?

In any kind of meditation, the mind is apt to wander, such is the nature of the mind. Our goal is to tether the mind to something other than itself, so that it can become tamer, or more under our conscious control. There are a number of means to help focus the mind (a mantra, chant, or an image,) but the bare-bones method is to simply follow the breath. But not just follow it. One should mindfully focus on the actual experience of breathing, meaning to really "feel" each breath coming in and flowing through the nostrils, the expansion of the lungs and the gentle rising of the chest, then pause.... and release.... and "feel" it all over again in reverse. Of course, what will inevitably happen is that the mind will naturally drift away from this very mindful, visceral experience and begin thinking of an array of things. When this happens, simply, very evenly, say "thinking" and bring one's attention back to the breath. Over time, the thoughts will slow down, and space will begin to develop between the thoughts, and in that space, peace and transcendence lie.

What are 3-5 ways people can practice mindfulness in their daily lives?

One of the basics of mindfulness is to focus on one's senses in any given moment, from moment to moment. So by paying attention and bringing awareness of what we're seeing, hearing, touching, or tasting is to live mindfully. Try this with everyday things such as washing our hands (we're all used to that by now), brushing one's teeth, showering, waiting patiently in line, really chewing, thus savoring the taste of our food (we'll often eat less), and basically slowing down to smell the roses. And one of the most important things to be mindful of is our speech, i.e., not only how we talk to ourselves (our inner dialogue), but also how we speak to others. We would want to be conscious of what we're saying, caring in our delivery, and compassionate in our responses, rather than reactive.

Michael Mongno, MFT, Ph.D., LP, counsels individuals and couples. His office is located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan near Lincoln Center, at 100 W. 67th St., Ste. #2NE. For more information, call 212-799-0001 or visit PresentCenteredTherapies.com.

marriage counseling

The Timing and Purposes of Marriage Counseling and How It Best Succeeds

May 31, 2023

1) What are the most common reasons people seek marriage counseling?

Couples come into marriage counseling for many reasons including: a lack of emotional connection, problems with or the lack of physical affection, sexual intimacy, and desire, difficulties with communication, differences in child-rearing strategies, continuing, heated conflicts about “seemingly” little things (there are no little things), how to move things forward after dating for several years, when to have children, religious and cultural differences, not feeling heard or emotionally met, feeling unfulfilled after years being married, changing or differences in life goals, mid-life crises, feelings of betrayal from affairs or emotionally parallel relationships, a loss of mutual vision for the future and other existential issues, how to deal with various feelings of loss that life inevitably brings, and empty nest syndrome (i.e. who are we now, and what do we do with ourselves).

2) When do you recommend people going to marriage counseling?

From my experience, people often wait too long to come into counseling. When Gottman’s “Four Horseman” (criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling) are in place it becomes much more difficult for couples to find their way back to each other. Each of these bespeak of insensitivity, hurt feelings, anger, and resentment that have built up for way too long. At this point it’s often hard to remember the closeness, love, and deep connection that they once enjoyed which meant so much. I recommend that when things begin to feel consistently off, (e.g., constant bickering, a lack of understanding, empathy, emotional attunement, or intimacy) a couple should begin to talk more deeply (seriously) about what’s been happening and what is going on. If this becomes difficult, unproductive, or reactionary, it’s definitely time to seek help.

3) What should people look for when seeking a therapist?

Finding the right therapist is important, and there are many factors to consider. A couple would want to find someone fully certified and credentialed, as well as someone who has experience in what specific goals a couple might have. Although most couples’ therapists can handle the common issues that arise in relationships, some specialize in certain areas and can delve deeper into those areas. These can include infidelity and affairs, sexual intimacy, sobriety, parenting and co-parenting, gender orientation, open relationships or polyamory, living apart together (LAT), spirituality, dating coaching, career trajectories, etc. What’s most important is to find someone with whom you resonate, someone who you feel really gets you on a deep level, and who can also help you confront difficult issues with both evenness and heart.

4) What are some common hurdles that might interfere with counseling’s “success”?

For couples therapy to work, each partner must be willing to honestly look at the part they’re playing in their co-created dynamic. Often one partner wants the therapist to fix the other, thinking that will make it all better. The only way couples therapy can be successful is if both partners are open and committed to honestly confronting their behavior, to seeing the impact it’s having on the other, as well as fully registering what their partner is saying. They are then better able to see what has happened to create the suffering and hurt, and express that pain, which often takes the form of anger and resentment in an even way so that the partner can fully receive it and be motivated to make some changes. The next crucial step is for the couple to take what is learned and experienced in the treatment room out into their life and fully use it; an hour a week doth not change make.

5) Is there anything else people should know about marriage counseling that they might not yet know?

When a marriage is struggling, it’s important to realize that in order to improve it, and sometime save it, real measures must be taken. This takes commitment and courage, and at times, it’s not for the faint of heart. But there is no better investment than in the discovery and healing of oneself in front of a trusted other (both partner and therapist), and no greater achievement than to find the love that’s been lost and to experience the real transformation of a relationship.

Michael Mongno, MFT, Ph.D., LP, counsels individuals and couples. His office is located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan near Lincoln Center, at 100 W. 67th St., Ste. #2NE. For more information, call 212-799-0001 or visit PresentCenteredTherapies.com.

Integrative Psychotherapy

April 18, 2023

1) What is it?
2) How does it work? What are some examples?
3) What are the core techniques?
4) When is it used?
5) Is it scientifically backed?

1) As humans, our original drive is for fulfillment or wholeness. And so, integrative psychotherapy is an inclusive, unifying form of psychotherapy that effectively cares for the whole Self. It both integrates the various parts of the self (our disowned selves and unresolved aspects of the self) as well as synthesizes multiple therapeutic modalities. This results in a more cohesive personality, now with the energy once bound up in our defense mechanisms, that is allowed the freedom and spontaneity to express in more unlimited ways. This actualized self is then ready to meet new moments and challenges in life with an open mind, fuller heart, and enlivened spirit.

2) Integrative therapy interfaces across various disciplines and theoretical orientations within a dynamic systems frame. This includes such modalities as: Gestalt/experiential (including inner-child work and parts dialogue), cognitive and behavioral (including short-term solution focused), body-oriented and somatic, psychoanalytic and client-centered as well as mindfulness and meditation, and existential and/or spiritual. The therapist is attuned to where a person’s developmental trajectory may have been interrupted or stunted and combines various orientations in a personalized approach specific to each individual in order to facilitate the greatest healing and movement towards wholeness.

3) The core techniques of Integrative Psychotherapy are specific to each particular modality being used and can move fluently from one to another as the therapy unfolds. A client may need experiential work (new self-awareness or an emotionally corrective experience) and then benefit from something cognitive or behavioral. There are also times when a more transcendent framework would be helpful, so an existential or spiritual approach can then be utilized. This could include references to Buddhism for right action or speech, or A Course in Miracles when forgiveness would help to further the healing and move forward.

4) For an integrative therapist, the work is holistic, body-mind-spirit, and is used continually or referred to across the broad spectrum of modalities.

5) The word therapy means “to care for”, so psychotherapy can be understood as meaning “the care of the psyche or soul”. By knowing our authentic self and our own true nature, we bring to the forefront all aspects of ourselves as an empowered and integrated self, able to fully and successfully engage with the world around us. So, although various therapeutic modalities are definitely evidence based, integrative psychotherapy can also be seen as more of an art than a science, and holistic in nature.

Michael Mongno, MFT, Ph.D., LP, counsels individuals and couples. His office is located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan near Lincoln Center, at 100 W. 67th St., Ste. #2NE. For more information, call 212-799-0001 or visit PresentCenteredTherapies.com.

Healing Our Relationships from Within

February 8, 2021

When we stop and think about the nature of our thoughts, we notice that most of our focus is outwards, towards the world outside of ourselves. What we fail to realize is that the much of what we perceive as “the outside world” is actually our inside world, projected outward. Therefore if our inner reality becomes our outer experience of life, it would behoove us to pay more attention to how we think. Our minds are very powerful, and are actually similar to movie projectors that project our thoughts onto a neutral world of matter and form which create a subjective reality–our own seemingly real experience. And based on the thoughts we’re having, we’re in large part shaping the reality that is derived from what’s going on inside of us.

This is the basis of the now-popular phrase, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” This means that if you’re doing and creating what you want to see in the world in your own personal life, the changes you want will begin to appear in the outside world. The same goes for our relationships. If our focus becomes more about how we can be our best self, this will transfer to how we are actually being the best partner we can be.

In my work as a couples therapist, people frequently come in so that I can help their partner change into something more like they would prefer them to be, or often back into how they used to be. This outward focus takes the ownership off of oneself– where it needs to be for any real lasting change to occur. When we come to realize that we have brought our partner into our lives for a reason (e.g. self-reflection and integration), it becomes easier to see the bigger picture, one where our own healing can take center stage.

In our quest for self-help, growth and independence, we often forget that growth and healing cannot happen by ourselves, or in a vacuum. Without reflection, it’s impossible to see ourselves. As children we need for our parents to see, acknowledge and hopefully prize who we are in order to develop a healthy sense of self. As we mature, this is who we’ll take into our relationships and more poignantly, our intimate ones. If our upbringing wasn’t ideal, we don’t develop as fully and healthily as we might and it is this more distorted version of our self that we bring to others.

The problem with self-growth is that it’s very difficult to see ourselves from the inside. We simply think, and even say, This is who I am.” And as mentioned, since our thoughts create our world, it’s even harder to realize that the subjective reality that this distorted self creates isn’t absolute. That is, if we’re able to have that self reflected back to us we can then choose to work on changing that self from within while experiencing healthier ways of being. With this reflection from others we’re able to see our blind spots and own our dark shadows. And who better than our intimate partner to help shine that light of awareness for our own recognition?

This is actually a big task, and it takes a supreme amount of self-awareness and patience on the part of our intimates to reflect back with sensitivity, skillful speech and hopefully love so that we can take it in with openness and receptivity. Not everyone is up for this task, or at least not at first. Usually there’s a begrudging coming along as the infatuation stage of the relationship moves into the power struggle stage where reality enters in. Here we see that we’re in for something much bigger than we had imagined. It is here where the rubber meets the road, or our ego is met with resistance and we then have to decide whether we’re in for the ride (of a lifetime) or if it’s time to eject and start the whole process all over with someone else.

Actually either choice is fine, because if we’re going to end up staying in a relationship, no matter which partner we choose, this process will still be the same–it’s just a matter of when. This is usually determined by what’s happening in our lives at the time along with our level of emotional development, and will determine what kind of relationship we’re ready for; i.e. one of convenience, personal pursuit, or life purpose. Sometimes we know this at the outset and the road becomes well defined. At other times, determining this becomes clear as we enter in and stay awhile. No matter which it is, this process of becoming self-aware will no doubt begin to happen on its own simply by being present with and to the other. What can make it a healing relationship is that both partners know that is the goal, which will make the reflection of our difficult parts easier to take in, accept, and coalesce into a healthy, more considerate, patient and loving self.

Michael Mongno, MFT, Ph.D., LP, counsels individuals and couples. His office is located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan near Lincoln Center, at 100 W. 67th St., Ste. #2NE. For more information, call 212-799-0001 or visit PresentCenteredTherapies.com.

Facing Our Challenges Consciously, Together

September 29, 2020

As we find ourselves in a maelstrom unlike anything we’ve seen in recent history, we are being forced to sit up and take notice and begin a conscious awakening of mind and spirit. With the COVID pandemic vastly changing how we live, it’s more evident than ever that our planet’s survival depends on our awareness of this complex ecosystem and our willingness to be its responsible custodians.

It’s no longer a question of our choosing to become conscious of the problem; rather, consciousness is being painfully thrust upon us every day. And the longer global leaders wait to enact real, comprehensive change, the more difficult and even dire the problem becomes for everyone—especially those who are already disenfranchised.

A Level Playing Field

If we want to do our part, we need to take greater responsibility for ourselves, starting with our health. This is where we are being forced to make difficult choices that entail putting the health of others on par with our own. For the many rugged-individualist Americans, whose ego is wired to put self above others, this feels antithetical and extremely uncomfortable.

What the pandemic has made clear by leveling the playing field is that we are all vulnerable, that we all have the same needs, and that no one is different or special when it comes to nature. This virus and the ravages of climate change care nothing about our philosophical beliefs or political affiliations. This is what is decimating America right now, when government leaders are resistant to the stark realities of nature, and proven science plays second fiddle to politics as the West Coast burns out of control.

What is happening is causing unprecedented emotional trauma to so many Americans, and on so many different levels. We are all in this together, yet the current politics of divisiveness, based on who stays in power, is pitting us against one other, against our neighbors and fellow citizens. This is madness, and it’s taking its toll day after day as the deaths from the pandemic reach staggering highs. I say “madness” because so much suffering and so many deaths could have been prevented if simple precautions had been taken from the outset. The problem has been exacerbated by our inability to weed out misinformation and find the truth, so we can take care of ourselves in very basic ways.

Steps for Healing

A helpful first step would be to take a pause from our thoughts, our personal narratives to which we are so wed, and from the news, which keeps us on high alert and stressed out. We must slow down and manage what we allow in, so that we can breathe and find solid ground in the present moment. This can be an antidote to the daily anxiety that so many of us feel.

Another step is to reach out to others for support or consolation. The isolation we’re all enduring has torn away at the fabric of our social well-being, and we’re all feeling the traumatic effects. We need each other because we are each other. By being more aware of our sameness, by being more empathetic and compassionate, we can make a great difference to those around us. When we strive to be conscious and connected, we can tap into our collective potential and intuitive wisdom to create the multidimensional solutions we need to overcome the real obstacles we are all facing.

A Course in Miracles states that there is only one of us here. You might say that the whole of humanity is like a hologram. Every part reflects the sameness of every other part that makes up the whole. If we were to think of others, our brothers, as ourselves, we could more easily look beyond the surface differences of race, religion or culture and treat each other according to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them to do onto you. This shift alone would go a long way in changing how we see each other and make it through the day—with less suffering, based on our sameness rather than difference. It recalls the Buddhist Loving Kindness prayer:

May all beings be free of suffering.
May all beings be safe.
May all beings be healthy.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be at peace.

We face some real challenges, but if we decide to face them together, for each other—not just to further our own agendas—we can create a transformed world, a place where we live in the peace of our sameness while still appreciating the differences that make up the face of humanity.

Michael Mongno, MFT, Ph.D., LP, counsels individuals and couples. His office is located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan near Lincoln Center, at 100 W. 67th St., Ste. #2NE. For more information, call 212-799-0001 or visit PresentCenteredTherapies.com.

The Importance of Mindfulness

June 1, 2020

Simply put, mindfulness is the practice of calmly, patiently noticing what is happening in the present moment—singularly attending to the here and now. What limits our being in the present are the cursory thoughts that can become a constant backdrop, interfering with our ability to engage with anything.

Our minds are prone to distraction and diversion, especially if something in the present moment makes us uncomfortable. When we want something we’re not getting, or when we want to avoid something unpleasant, we create a narrative—a rational story we tell ourselves—that permits us to move out of the present and feel more comfortable.

Usually, however, that narrative actually undermines our peace of mind, because it doesn’t allow new information or insights that might make our life easier. So we don’t actually feel better, just continually lost in thought, psychically drained or even more emotionally triggered.

So how can we control those errant thoughts? That’s where mindfulness comes to the rescue.

Easing Suffering

Mindfulness dates back 2,500 years. It’s rooted in Buddhism, as a way to alleviate suffering. It is an antidote to being swept up in thoughts and feelings, as it forces the mind to focus on only one thing—what’s happening now, in the present, not the past or future.

Most suffering comes from constantly thinking about how we want reality to be different than it is, from evaluating or judging our current situation versus what we want (or think we want). And since reality is always changing, we’re constantly chasing after something that, even when we find it, can only exist temporarily—especially if we don’t stop long enough to really take it in and be nourished by it.

Although it’s hard to control the mind, which is why we meditate, we do have more control over our thoughts than we realize. For the most part our minds are our own, and it’s up to us to create our thoughts as we see fit. For instance, we can create productive thoughts that offer fulfillment, joy and peace, or create negative or fearful thoughts (typically focused on anxiety about the future), which cause us suffering in some way.

Clearing the Mind

Mindfulness meditation is a great tool for clearing, centering and stabilizing the mind. In the sitting aspect of this practice, the breath is often used as a means of focus. The moment-by-moment experience of breathing, with all its nuances, usually escapes our attention. Noticing our breathing means feeling the sensation of the breath passing right inside the nostrils, the flow through the sinuses, the gentle filling of the lungs and rising of the chest, the pausing for a moment and then the easy letting go, following the flow of the breath outward to pause and begin again.

Unfortunately it’s easy to drift from mindfulness to “more or less mindfulness”: the awareness of a parallel stream of thought happening right outside our range of awareness. When that happens, our mind is pulled in two directions and also down into the emotions that accompany most thinking. (The mind tends to go where there’s the most emotional weight.)

This creates an inner tension, a mental loop that must be constantly interrupted to bring our mind back to focus on the present moment. We do this by remembering our intention and redirecting our attention to the breath with a simple internal phrase, like Thinking. If we find ourselves continually lost in thought, the phrase might be more direct, like That can wait for later or Now that’s an interesting thought.

Living Mindfully

Another important use of mindfulness is in our everyday living. When we slow down to truly notice, moment to moment, our being and doing, it’s as though time slows down. We notice where we are, what’s around us and how we’re moving through the world. We might even notice how we’re breathing or what’s going on in our minds.

Most accidents happen from doing something mindlessly, because we get ahead of ourselves and lose our present-moment awareness. We lose our ground, our balance, our hold on the knife, our footing on the last step of the stool. We lose control of how we’re driving or the words we’re using. Simply put, we lose our focus on what we’re actually doing. And if we’re not here and now, it’s as though we’re somewhere else (there and then), which is really nowhere at all.

Ironically, it’s hard to feel true fulfillment or joy unless you’re totally present to take in what you’re doing, to let it register and nourish you or bring you pleasure. When your intention is to be mindful, you find yourself in the flow of life.

Even at this moment you might try it as you take your next breath, or bite, or whatever activity is next in your day. There is power in the present. When you’re free of the tyranny of the past and anxiety about the future, you’re truly open to life and what it’s always offering.

Michael Mongno, PhD, offers present-centered therapies to help individuals and couples communicate better, heal more quickly and achieve a better quality of life. He is available for appointments in person or by phone or Skype. For more information, contact him at 212-799-0101 or visit PresentCenteredTherapies.com.

Mending Relationships Begins Within

December 3, 2019

Left untreated, our own hurt can turn a healthy relationship into a toxic, dysfunctional one.

One of the most common things I see in my work as a couples’ therapist is the struggle many people go through in their relationships with others. And usually the focus is not on themselves, but on the other—what that person is doing wrong, or his or her inadequacies.

What they often fail to see is that they are actually creating the dynamic from hurt inside themselves, and then projecting that hurt outward, onto the other person. By temporarily displacing the pain, they feel better in the moment; however, this becomes a circular process in which both people end up hurting each other, often more than the initial misunderstanding or discomfort.

As this cycle gets repeated, it can harden into a constant, uncomfortable static or, worse, into a deepening resentment that can turn a healthy relationship into a toxic, dysfunctional one. This is when many couples enter my office in hopes of saving what they once had. But even then, what they really want is for me to help their partners change into something they’d like more.

This, of course, is something that I cannot—and should not—do. My job is to reflect both partners back onto themselves, so they can see the part they play in their co-created dynamic and then decide how they might want to change something in themselves.

A Healing Process

Often people don’t really want to look at themselves, as these realizations can be too painful, dredging up old feelings of worthlessness or shame. However, if they can sit with themselves long enough, and look with compassion at the things inside that prevent them from being truly loving, they can begin a healing process that will transform them from within and positively affect every relationship in their life.

This process can be challenging for many of us who didn’t grow up with parents or caretakers who knew how to give love, show empathy or express compassion. If we didn’t have good models for loving in our early years, it’s something we don’t know how to do very well. So we must learn the skills of loving ourselves, which can take time to put into practice and to master.

But if we choose to take the time to learn—practicing healthy self-dialogue and trying our best to treat ourselves with kindness and care—we can heal the parts of us that have been yearning for attention and love all our lives. Then we’ll project trust and positivity that will impact others and call forth the same from them.

By showing our vulnerability, we can allow others to glimpse our deeper emotional selves, where they too might be touched by the tenderness and humanity that connects us all. Then what becomes recursive is a sensitivity and open heart, which, when shared, can set a new tone for all our relationships—one of compassion and love that contributes to the world around us.

Michael Mongno, PhD, offers present-centered therapies to help individuals and couples communicate better, heal more quickly and achieve a better quality of life. He is available for appointments in person or by phone or Skype. For more information, contact him at 212-799-0101 or visit PresentCenteredTherapies.com.

Life is a Play, Love is the Answer

October 3, 2019

We have heard in various ways, from Shakespeare to A Course in Miracles to Buddhist teaching, that all of life is a play and we’re merely characters acting and playing our various roles at each stage of our lives. Therefore, we create a consensus reality starting with our thoughts on the screens of our minds that we then project outward creating our world. Thus we collectively create the world as we know it. This can be difficult at first to recognize as true, as the world seems so real and distinctly outside of us and something that we could have no possible control over. However, everything comes from thought and then becomes the manifest world. And even though it may seem like we have no or little effect, one only has to look around to see the effect mankind has had over the years on our very planet. Especially today we can see how climate change, very much a product of human hubris, can even effect the planet in ways that we never would have imagined. Recently a funeral service was held for a large glacier that had disappeared in the Alps. This sort of rapid change could have never even been predicted much less comprehended even a decade ago.

So if life is an illusion or a play of consciousness, what is real, and what has purpose beyond our small, ego driven, materialistic agendas? And what can be deeply fulfilling as to give us a sense of being part of a larger experience of ourselves where we can find the peace that surpasses all understanding? The answer is love, which is truly the answer of every circumstance, problem, or emptiness we might face. It is the answer to everything really, and certainly the way out of the inherent struggle and suffering of our dualistic minds and the world. And it is our longing for love that can move us into a transcendent relationship with God or the Supreme or the Creator of the Universe. And it is in the heart where we can start to look and train our vision to see. It is here, in the home of love, that we can direct our minds that often rule out of fear, to seek the companionship of something greater and actually the only thing that will ever create the ultimate fulfillment which is the peace we all seek.

A Course in Miracles states that “The peace of God is everything I want, the peace of God is my one goal; the aim of all my living here, the end I seek, my purpose and function and my life while I abide where I am not at home.” Everything else, though seemingly so fulfilling , is of this materialist world and can only offer temporary, transitory pleasure that only goes so deep. So it is our longing for God that is our true wealth. And it is by living out of our true nature that offers us and this world the only thing that is real, without compare, and that can be passed forward.

Michael Mongno, PhD, offers present-centered therapies to help individuals and couples communicate better, heal more quickly and achieve a better quality of life. He is available for appointments in person or by phone or Skype. For more information, contact him at 212-799-0101 or visit PresentCenteredTherapies.com.

The Healing Power of Unconditional Love

July 11, 2019

“Love, love, love… all you need is,  love, love love” (the Beatles, 1967)

I grew up in a generation that was all about love. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, we see so drastically how much times have changed. As politics across the world become more divisive, the need to give and receive love becomes more and more necessary. This human need is ever present and can be made conscious if one is able to tune in. Yet this can seem overwhelming at times, so that it’s often easy to give up and begin feeling like a victim of the world and everything all around us. However, A Course in Miracles teaches “I am not a victim of the world I see” and that the only decision that we ever have to make is whether to give in to fear or to choose love.

Fear is always related to the ego, which thrives on judgment and the narcissistic need to perpetuate self-aggrandizement. Most of the drama we see is at its essence a deep need for power over others in order to maintain the illusion of our own specialness and separateness from others. We have become too good at dehumanizing others (those of different genders, cultures, religions, politics) and thus turning them into objects. We fail to see that in doing so we too become similar objects to them and feel the need to defend ourselves against their judgments, which perpetuates the cycle of violence.

The only way out of this constant dilemma is to start loving. This may seem a bit naïve at first, unless we’re able to pause and take the time to start with loving ourselves – totally and unconditionally no matter what we’ve been told or even tell ourselves. This can be difficult since it may go against much of what’s gotten wired in psychically at early stages of our development (from our families or cultures). It takes real searching and openness to reflection from others (most poignantly from those closest to us) to become aware of how we’re treating ourselves. Very often this disparaging, negative treatment is what gets projected outward to others, as an unconscious intention to ease our own pain.

Loving ourselves unconditionally means having compassion and empathy for all that we are including our deficits, defensiveness, low self esteem and other areas that could use  improvement. So we try, with real acceptance and loving kindness, to acknowledge that most often we’re actually doing the best we can. If we’re hurting we can learn to take care of ourselves in the moment, instead of projecting our hurt outward onto others; i.e. hurt people hurt other people. Here we have the opportunity to interrupt the cycle of pain by accepting responsibility for how we feel and then taking ownership for what negativity we may be unconsciously putting out into the world.

Loving unconditionally loves without judgment, even when feeling judged or criticized by others and takes discipline and developing the skills to manage our emotions in the moment. It can also be seen as a spiritual practice, where we can learn to practice what in Buddhism is called skillful speech and right action. By staying conscious, we’re called to transcend whatever uncomfortable drama is being created in the moment for the sake of experiencing something bigger and better. And this something bigger is called peace, a peace that indeed surpasses all understanding as it’s greater than what the mind can imagine. It has a feeling of contentment about it that can be felt in the center of our being. And with it, the attendant joy that naturally radiates outward to others that can change the whole energy of a situation. Like our mediation practice, it is something that as we practice, we begin to transform ourselves from the inside out and model what Thich Nhat Hahn calls peace in every step and love with every breath.

Michael Mongno, PhD, offers present-centered therapies to help individuals and couples communicate better, heal more quickly and achieve a better quality of life. He is available for appointments in person or by phone or Skype. For more information, contact him at 212-799-0101 or visit PresentCenteredTherapies.com.

Change your Lens, Change your Life

May 22, 2019

Perhaps you’ve read the Buddhist philosophy that all our suffering comes from disagreeing with our reality—from wanting things to be different than they are. It’s easy for the judging mind to get caught up in all the adjustments we’d like to make to life so it’ll be more to our liking. This applies to most things and circumstances, and very often to our partners. (If they could only be this way or do that, then we’d be happy.) And as we try fruitlessly to change our environments and the people therein, we’re actually increasing our own suffering.

Recently I had an experience that illustrated this philosophy beautifully, although initially it didn’t seem so beautiful. I went to a restaurant at a Caribbean resort and was escorted to a table right near the waiter’s stand, where they put used dishes. Of course that wasn’t where I wanted to sit. I wanted a table by the window with the lovely view.

I didn’t want to call the hostess back and ask for a different table, but I also wasn’t happy with where I was. So I decided that in order to enjoy my meal, I had to do something different. As I sat there pondering, I began to watch the waitresses going about their jobs, and after a few minutes I sort of entered their world. I noticed how hard they worked and how respectful, warm and friendly they were with each other, and it occurred to me that their sole job every evening was to serve me and my fellow guests—a job they all did with a smile.

Struck and a bit humbled by this realization, I felt immense appreciation for the part these servers were playing in my evening, and I began enjoying my meal with a much different and fuller sense of satisfaction. I also experienced real gratitude for the privilege of spending time in such a beautiful place, where all my needs were being met—the sort of privilege relatively few people in the world ever have.

What had I done that made the difference in my evening? I changed the lens through which I viewed my experience. As a result, I felt even more fulfilled by and appreciative of the reality I was in and the dinner I was about to have.

This is a strategy we can use on a daily basis when things aren’t quite to our liking. We can try to change how we see a situation and, more often than not, become more aligned with reality, so that we can be at peace in any given moment and enjoy more of our living.

Michael Mongno, PhD, offers present-centered therapies to help individuals and couples communicate better, heal more quickly and achieve a better quality of life. He is available for appointments in person or by phone or Skype. For more information, contact him at 212-799-0101 or visit PresentCenteredTherapies.com.

Permission to Love

April 25, 2019

What seems so easy to do, and often isn’t, is one of the real truisms of life. Unfortunately, this can be applied to the ability to express love. We grow up with voices in our head that counter what is really the most natural thing in the world–loving ourselves and others. These voices can come from unloved parts of ourselves that exhibit as unworthiness and lack of self esteem. They can also arise from feeling inhibited to authentically express ourselves, from a lack of loving role models growing up or from being loved but only conditionally. This feeling of being locked out of our own hearts can put us in a place of needing permission to love.

So who is it who will give us the permission that we need. Firstly that would be ourselves, however, if any of the family of origin wiring described above is in place, it’s often very hard to love our selves and we must take to time learn how. So as we learn self-compassion, nurturing and love, we can hopefully find a partner who will love us unconditionally as we learn to love ourselves. This is more important than it might seem. Because if we’ve been sold a negative bill of goods about ourselves, it becomes hard to believe that we’re worth the time and maybe the trouble for someone to learn to love us, wounds, warts and all.

Having loving people around us, who can see us, even in our struggle to feel (and act) worthy of love, is one of the most important things to cultivate as we move into adulthood and mature throughout our lives. And in finding a partner, one of things to look for is that person’s ability to love, which will allow us to be vulnerable with our wounded parts as we allow ourselves to grower closer and more intimately connected to our partner. This time, we’re hoping and trusting that rather be judged or shamed and told in so many words that we’re not good enough, we’ll be acknowledged, accepted and loved for our woundedness, which will begin the process of healing. As I’ve said so often in therapy, “We were wounded in relationship, and so it is in relationship where we must heal.”

Michael Mongno, PhD, offers present-centered therapies to help individuals and couples communicate better, heal more quickly and achieve a better quality of life. He is available for appointments in person or by phone or Skype. For more information, contact him at 212-799-0101 or visit PresentCenteredTherapies.com.

Our Words Create Our Worlds

October 25, 2018

Staying conscious in a world such as ours can be very difficult at times. So much of what’s around us can easily drive us back to sleep, or back to living unconsciously. Below is the sleep that the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi speaks of:

For years, copying other people, I tried to know myself.
From within, I couldn’t decide what to do.
Unable to see, I heard my name being called.
Then I walked outside.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

We have a choice at any given moment to stay awake to a bigger world—the one around us as well as a transcendent one. The primary way to accomplish this is through the words we use, since they carry great energy and weight. They can create either health and accomplishment or quite the opposite: depression and divisiveness, both within and without. Our words are the conduits of energy, meaning and emotional resonance.

A Course in Miracles states that there is no world except the one we project. Our inner world of thoughts and feelings is the one we project, like a movie projector projects images on a screen. When we truly see that our inner world creates our outer one, we can become much more conscious of the words we’re using to create our reality every minute of every day. Is it a world that is uplifting, that touches others or makes a contribution to those less fortunate?

We know how good it feels to be in the flow, where everything is just clicking and moving in alignment with what we need or desire. Our positive thoughts help create this flow and come from reflecting on ourselves with the kind of inquiry that Rumi speaks of. Who I am in any given moment is determined not only by how I feel emotionally, but also by the words or labels I use to define myself. We can all try to be more aware of the words we use toward ourselves and others so they bespeak our positivity, love and wholeness, and perhaps even our holiness.

Michael Mongno, PhD, offers present-centered therapies to help individuals and couples communicate better, heal more quickly and achieve a better quality of life. He is available for appointments in person or by phone or Skype. For more information, contact him at 212-799-0101 or visit PresentCenteredTherapies.com.

How to Truly Be in the Present Moment

July 25, 2018

Meditation and mindfulness are now in the current zeitgeist, and for good reason. We have heard of all their benefits, from relieving stress and promoting relaxation to more focused concentration and greater self-awareness. It’s so easy to get caught up in daily activities that propel us into the future that it’s hard to pause and savor this present moment. So what does being in the present moment feel like?

I had an experience recently that brought the idea home.

I was sitting outside and happened to see a small rabbit hopping along. It stopped not too far from me, and so I kept still to see what might happen. The bunny, too, remained motionless, and we sat together for a good many minutes. I wondered what he was doing, and where he might be going, and what his goals for the day might be. Then I remembered that animals don’t actually have any concept of time, and that they don’t have actual goals (other than survival), and that there is no place they’d rather be than where they are. And where they are is right smack-dab in the present moment.

As I sat with the bunny in stillness, simply being with myself and him or her, time seemed to slow down, and I was content in this “being with.” I really got that being in the present moment means that any concept of future doesn’t exist at all, that there is nothing more than this moment, and then this moment, and then the next.

It felt so freeing, not having to know what’s next, because “what’s next” doesn’t really exist—only “what’s now.”

After what seemed like quite a while, but was probably not more than half a dozen minutes (time seems so spacious when it disappears!), the rabbit slowly ambled away after communing with me (my projection, of course) and went about doing what rabbits do from moment to moment.

As for me, I appreciated being with another creature whose mere presence stopped my monkey mind from lurching from one thought to the next in whirly-burly fashion, with no real aim and no real way to stop itself.

This, to me, is the purpose of meditation, which is to slow down our thoughts (it’s impossible to get rid of them completely) so that we can experience the space between them long enough to feel the peace and contentment that this transcendence allows. From this place, we have a better chance at creating our next moments with greater consciousness and awareness.

Michael Mongno, PhD, offers present-centered therapies to help individuals and couples communicate better, heal more quickly and achieve a better quality of life. He is available for appointments in person or by phone or Skype. For more information, contact him at 212-799-0101 or visit .

Authentic Dialogue

May 17, 2018

The key to effective communication is for both parties to feel heard and understood for whatever they might be expressing and feeling. To accomplish this there is a three-step process that if done correctly, will ensure the intended result_ feeling more connected around difficult issues.

The first part is called mirroring and is simply to reflect back what the speaker is saying in as close to their own words as possible. This alone accomplishes much: it assures the speaker of being heard exactly for what they are saying, it eliminates any interpretation by the listener, and it curtails most any emotional reactivity, since mirrors do not react they only reflect. The simple act of mirroring before reflexively responding slows down the process so staying connected is more likely to occur throughout the dialogue.

Equally important is the act of validating what the speaker is saying no matter what one’s personal opinion or perspective might be. It is an attempt to make some logical sense of what’s being said by entering into the speaker’s world as non-judgmentally as possible. This says to the speaker they are being taken seriously for what they are saying and creates the experience of feeling “gotten”, something that is so important for all of us.

The third step in true communication may actually be the most important, as it has the potential to really create change. It’s the act of empathizing, which is to try to feel into and convey to the speaker that you can truly imagine what they must be going through or experiencing. This, “I can imagine that you must be feeling (whatever emotions)…” is in itself connecting and goes a long way to ease emotional hurt or pain and can be a balm to heal old wounds that often keep getting triggered.

This style of communication is powerful because it doesn’t allow for emotionally reflexive responses, interrupting, misinterpreting, drawn out nonproductive looping cycles or never ending explosive fights and dramas to occur. It also keeps a discussion on track by responding only to what is being said specifically in the ‘here and now’ without bringing in the past or getting side tracked by non relevant issues.

One might practice this with a partner or friend around some small issue or even just in sharing what’s going on in one’s life. After all, who wouldn’t want to really feel heard, validated and empathized with?

Michael Mongno, PhD, offers present-centered therapies to help individuals and couples communicate better, heal more quickly and achieve a better quality of life. He is available for appointments in person or by phone or Skype. For more information, contact him at 212-799-0101 or visit PresentCenteredTherapies.com.

Obstacles in Couples’ Communication

March 25, 2018

We communicate to fulfill seven basic needs:  to impart information, to solve a problem,  to express a need or a desire, to relay an opinion or a judgment, to express one’s feelings,  to show or request empathy and to connect through humor or a shared experience.

In order for any of this to happen effectively, the speaker must be clear of the actual need(s) and the listener must actively listen, i.e. really take in and register what’s being said and heard. This is actually a tall order since often the speaker isn’t totally clear about what the need or the listener is not authentically listening.

For instance in a relationship if someone is feeling hurt, rather than tune in to that feeling and express just that, what gets expressed can be a judgment (usually hurtful in itself), or a past unresolved historical reference, or some kind of indirect feeling, which is often passive aggressive. So the listener is on his/her own to figure out what the partner needs, and it would never occur to someone to simply ask. To make matters worse, the listener often gets caught up in a defensive mode of emotional reactivity or alternatively tunes the speaker out completely and begins preparing a rebuttal. What unfolds is a drama of someone being triggered and then lashing out to which the other responds in kind.  This dynamic can actually grow in intensity or the exchange can flatten when one party shuts down and withdraws. This is naturally infuriating of course and results in the speaker feeling even more dismissed or angry because not only is the partner not really listening but they are no longer present or even engaged.

So how can one prevent such psychodramas and escalating tiresome tirades that can continue for hours in never ending loops of hurtful interaction?  The answer is a particular manner of communication called “authentic dialogue” that helps ensure that  both parties engage in effective communication and strategic problem solving.

My next blog post will explore this solution more fully, but in the meantime, you might tune into how this issue resonates with you personally, i.e. how you communicate with a partner or people in your life or if it reminds you of others, your parents, perhaps.

Michael Mongno, PhD, offers present-centered therapies to help individuals and couples communicate better, heal more quickly and achieve a better quality of life. He is available for appointments in person or by phone or Skype. For more information, contact him at 212-799-0101 or visit PresentCenteredTherapies.com.

Make Love Your Priority

February 12, 2018

We all want to experience more love and happiness, yet sometimes we fail to connect the role we ourselves play in its creation and maintenance.  We know it’s best to engage with love in our hearts, but often that’s easy to forget when we’re caught in emotionally challenging situations. Yet at any moment, we can choose once again to love. Begin by first forgiving yourself (for forgetting), then forgiving your partner (for everything) and then start to practice loving actions even in the midst of the tension filled drama.

When we try our best to be considerate of others’ feelings and can extend the benefit of the doubt, we prioritize people differently with our thoughts and actions. By leading with unconditional positive regard it’s natural to follow through with loving actions of kindness.  These actions can include showing physical and emotional affection as well as   demonstrating engaged presence.  This means truly being present in your listening to another as well as consistently responding with empathy and compassion, thus building greater trust. Try being the partner you’d like to meet in the world and watch miracles happen in all of your relationships.

Michael Mongno, PhD, offers present-centered therapies to help individuals and couples communicate better, heal more quickly and achieve a better quality of life. He is available for appointments in person or by phone or Skype. For more information, contact him at 212-799-0101 or visit .

Finding Balance in Our Lives

January 28, 2011

When we think about balance the first thing that occurs in our mind is that it’s equilibrium amongst variables. Our lives are multi-dimensional and they require conscientious effort, especially in times of change. Today perhaps more than ever we are faced with the kind of rapid, uncertain change that makes it hard to maintain proper balance. Although we live in chaotic times we have also been developing over the years more consciousness, self awareness, and personal effectiveness that can assist in finding the balance within so as to create a balanced life out in the world.

Just what are we balancing inside ourselves? Firstly we are comprised of a constellation of selves (sub-personalities) each with separate different needs (i.e. our inner child, rebellious teen, the pusher, critic, etc.). They ideally must act in accordance with the others so as to support our whole self and live together in an integrated fashion so that none ends up overly influencing our behavior and taking us places where we’d rather not go. We have very definite emotional needs in any given moment which create our moods and influence how we experience ourselves in the world. Our physical being needs taking care of so that it can supply the energy for our functioning, creativity and vitality. And of course we have intellectual needs for stimulation, depth and meaning as well as our spiritual need to connect to something greater than ourselves. And lastly and perhaps most importantly, we have the very human need for connection, intimacy and love.

To balance all of the above needs within is no small task, and then we must find the balance without, with the world at large of which we are a part. Here is where we must see our interdependence and recognize that whether we realize it or not we do influence (in some way, shape, or form) everything around us. The world, our world in which we are an integral part, would not be the same without us, as shown so poignantly in the classic film, It’s a Wonderful Life. That being said we would be encouraged to try as best we can to bring our best self forward so as to truly create something beautiful, a Beautiful Life, one that we can be proud of and one that leaves behind the memory of goodness, contribution and love.

Obviously with so much going on, this balancing act can be a little daunting at times. So how or where do we begin? So as not to get overwhelmed, let’s start with where we are right here and now: first with our breath to support our life force energy, next our body and its need for fuel, and then the awareness of our emotions and what we might need to feel integrated and at peace, and finally our mindfulness as to what’s appropriate at any given moment. We can then look outside ourselves to see if our basic survival needs are being met and what more may be required there (especially today) and then on to our commitments and obligations in our various relationships. In doing so we will learn for ourselves in our own way how to prioritize so that each area gets the proper attention, time, and nourishment it needs.

Finally we can draw upon the resources of spirituality, of inspiration, and of the perseverance of the great human spirit that can not only move mountains but have us create lives so much bigger than any one part of us is capable of. In balancing all of the above, if we do it with faith, humility and grace we can create an empowered life capable of contributing to the greater whole and leaving behind a personal legacy of love, having touched those in our lives by demonstrating a life well lived.

Conscious Speaking

May 25, 2011

As social beings we have the need to express and connect with others. Talking fulfills many needs such as imparting information, sharing thoughts and feelings, conveying personal meaning, and revealing important aspects of ourselves, as a way to receive reflection. Most importantly we talk to so as to feel an emotional connection with those around us.

How often do we stop to get a real sense of why we are talking (the underlying need) or how we are speaking to someone? So often in our conversations we end up not feeling the connection we’ve hoped for or having more of a one-side dialogue that lacks mutuality. We’re left feeling misunderstood, unappreciated or sometimes ever worse, judged/attacked for what we’ve said.

We might also be feeling hurt, disappointed or deflated but don’t fully register these feelings and walk away feeling unhappy and drained instead of nurtured and revitalized. What we’re truly seeking is to feel ‘gotten’ at some deep level and to feel that what we say matters. Unfortunately, many of our conversations are surface-oriented and superficial. By having more conscious dialogues we are able to share more of ourselves, our authentic selves, which can be both a rejuvenating and nurturing experience. We have given something real of ourselves and have received a clear sense of ourselves in return.

For our communication to be authentic it must be a mutual exchange so that both parties can benefit. There’s a structure to this kind of conversation that can ensure this mutuality consisting of three very powerful components. The first has the listener reflect back or mirror what we’re saying; it’s important to know that we’ve been heard and even more, that it’s registered. For the listener to convey this, they would say back as much as they can recall or the jist of what they heard, with no personal reaction or commentary/judgment, just as a mirror simply reflects. “What I hear you saying is… or, it sounds like what you’re saying is,,,,is that correct?”

After the speaker is done the listener would then try to validate what was heard. “It makes sense to me that you would see it that way…,” whether or not it totally makes logical sense to the listener. Finally the listener would convey a sense of empathy, an emotional understanding of what the speaker was experiencing, “I imagine that you might be feeling….e.g. disappointed, sad, frustrated, relieved, etc.” This completes the first half of the dialogue. Now it’s time for the listener (who has just mirrored, validated, emphasized) to share his/her reactions to what was said, with the other person performing the three steps in return. This would complete one full round of the dialogue.

This manner of speaking is quite powerful and takes only a little practice. And even though in the beginning it might feel a bit awkward or formal, the result is really what we all want to feel in conversing with another, and especially our partners. We truly want to feel heard and that someone’s really listened to what we’re saying. We also want to know that the person can really understand the way we perceive reality by validating our perceptions/logic in some way. Most importantly we want to feel on an emotional level that someone else really knows how it feels to be in our shoes and can share our feelings in whatever situation we’re expressing and experiencing.

This emotional connection can also provide the safety in which to talk about difficult issues, ones that are often very charged and create great emotional reactivity. These intense dramas happen because we’re not listening completely, not really trying to understand another’s point of view and are not able to empathize. When we practice this kind of authentic communication, which emphasizes staying connected over proving a point, the conversation can deepen into more of a felt sense of what each other truly needs and new solutions often arise. Sometimes several rounds are needed, with each one bringing up different aspects or important nuances that were hard to express. Usually, the deeper one goes the closer one gets to the heart of the matter. What in fact happens is that this connection now feels so much safer, allowing one to risk the vulnerability to truly speak from the heart…its desires and needs, its fears and its love.

The first step is to try to be conscious of how you’re speaking. Know your intent and what you want to communicate. Be aware of the immediate effect you’re having on who you’re talking to and make whatever change to ensure your impact equals your intent. Try to remember to speak from your heart, no matter how your head tries to convince you otherwise. Only then will your conversations convey a greater depth of who you are and foster the kind of emotional connection that’s essential to healthy relationships.

Conscious Living – Conscious Dying – Conscious Loving

March 25, 2011

As we find ourselves in a maelstrom of change such as we’ve seldom seen in recent history, we are now being called to sit up and take notice and begin what we might call a conscious awakening of both mind and spirit. With films like Zeitgist, Home, and the most recent I Am dramatizing the precarious state of human affairs, now more than ever the survival of our planet and perhaps our species appears to be at stake. It is no longer a question of our becoming conscious it now becomes a matter of when. And the longer we wait the more difficult it will be for everyone.

Since the only place we can start is with ourselves, let’s look at what conscious awakening and living looks like. The first step would be to pause and take time to slow down to really be in the present moment. What we’ll find is that we’re really only doing one of two things, either we’re thinking/feeling about the past/future or we’re fully engaged in the moment in a way that all else falls away and our beingness is central. Here is where we’re in “the zone”, the present zone of awareness… of Self and our relationship with those in our lives. By being conscious we then have access to innate potentials, intuitive wisdom, and unused cognitive faculties that are often overridden by our mental muscular effort of getting ahead, of moving forward, and of wanting to make things different (usually bigger, better, more) than the way they are.

This split, this disagreement with reality creates an inner tension that results in the many forms of stress from which we suffer today. Conscious living means choosing to be in the moment, first with the awareness of where we are, what we are doing and what needs to happen next, not just for our own narcissistic needs but also for those in our lives, for the greater good. A Course in Miracles says that “there is only one of us here”, which seems hard to understand. Tom Shadyac’s new movie I Am says it differently: that we recognize ourselves in others–our oneness, because our own mirror neurons can’t help but to feel and react to this organic sameness in others. We’ve been encouraged to “love another like you love yourself” because by loving your neighbor you are honoring and loving the God inside one’s Self who resides in the human heart. And as the film I Am demonstrates so well, it’s the human heart that has the ultimate power to heal all of us as well as our wounded world. Conscious living is truly conscious loving.

Turning to conscious dying, certainly no other tragedy in our modern times strikes us more than what we just saw happen in Japan. It certainly speaks to not only the fragility of human life compared to the absolute power of nature but to the sober fact that our existence as we know it can change at any moment. We tend to live as if there’ll always be a tomorrow, just like the 10,000 Japanese who were simply heading for home after work on that Friday when something unbelievable happened, something that changed or ended life as they knew it. We tend to forget that our life is a gift, a blessing, something that we can never take for granted, however daunting it can seem from day to day. If we were to live today as if it could be our last day, I wonder how different that might be. Perhaps we’d be more appreciative of the little moments of connection and sharing, maybe a little more giving and kinder, and hopefully more unconditionally loving to those around us. The truth is we are all dying a little each day and none of us know when that final day will be. If we become more conscious of the kind of thoughts/words we’re putting out in the world that have their own energy, power and impact, and that the action of love has the potential to save lives and actually give life, our act of conscious dying can become an act of conscious loving. Can we not choose to live and die consciously as a way to consciously love and empower others with the freedom to live, give, and serve as the greatest of mankind did? This is our time, like no other in history. Let’s allow the love in our hearts which is perhaps the most powerful force in the Universe to transform our selves and our planet so as to create what we would all want, a Heaven on Earth.

Awakening Consciousness

December 8, 2010

Over the past decade as things have sped up, we as a culture have slowly begun to pause and become more aware. We now are taking our health and diet more seriously along with its related impact on our environment. We’re beginning to realize how very interdependent our place is in the world. And we’re starting to see what the great spiritual traditions have known for ages: in order for the outer world to change, our inner world must change first. We are in the long-awaited transition of consciousness in the West, as it’s been going on in the East for many, many centuries. But just what does it mean to awaken consciousness; i.e. what are we awakening from and where are we headed?

When we speak about consciousness, we usually mean the level of awareness we have at any given time, both personally and as a culture. And as one changes at the micro level, so does the macro level reflect that same change, too. In our own history, it was only 150 years ago that it was permissible to own slaves and only 50 years ago that that same freedom movement finally began to inspire and then demand racial equality across the land. And of course even a decade ago the idea of an African-American president was unthinkable; i.e. it did not exist in our collective consciousness as even a remote possibility. We’ve expanded our consciousness as a society. It had to first be realized and expressed individually from within so as to then expand to build the critical mass necessary for real change—and it continues to grow and accelerate today.

Spiritually though, raising consciousness means to expand beyond one’s usual, habitual thought system into something more all-encompassing, less exclusive and more global. It means to recognize that there is truly something a lot bigger than all of us, of which we’re all a part. By connecting to that Oneness, we can feel less alone, more connected to each other and experience a kind of peace that exists without the Egoic thoughts of “me, mine, win/lose” and its concomitant anxiety of separation. This transcendent way of thinking exists not only in ancient Eastern thought but also in the great American tradition of transcendentalists which include Emerson, James, Whitman, and Thoreau. Each of these author philosophers spoke of our being connected as integral parts of the tapestry of life, dependent on each other for our very existence as well as each being necessary to share in the expression of the beauty of what it means to be uniquely human.

We are now in a process of awakening from a slumber of unconsciousness, from the social malaise where we as a culture, having been seduced by the instant gratification of our senses, are now addicted to the immediate but short-lived joys of conspicuous consumption. What’s been lost is the love, respect and caring for each other while the Greed is Good of the 80’s has literally overtaken our moral sense and fiscal sensibilities. Where we must start to awaken is within our own thoughts and minds in order to become Self-conscious instead of self-centered. This means moving beyond current social consciousness into an expanded consciousness of the experience of Love, Peace and Wholeness. We can learn to step out of our old habitual ways of thinking, which feel safe and comfortable, but also leave us feeling unsatisfied, unfulfilled and constantly in some low level of anxiety or dread. So how do we raise our level of consciousness and what is that experience like?

First you start with being aware of your own thoughts, feelings, and desires. By taking the time to go within and tune into what you’re really experiencing you’re able to move out of the usual overdrive into a more neutral state of awareness. If you find that your thoughts are usually focused on fulfilling your solipsistic needs, you might try to stop and direct your attention to those around you and notice how you might serve your immediate environment. Look to see who could use something as simple as smile or a kind word or help with a task and how you might also serve in a greater way by volunteering your time and energies. And in so doing try to notice how differently you begin to feel within yourself, how giving can offer great personal reward as we in fact are really giving to Ourselves. Here you’ll have the experience of positively impacting the world, your world, by starting small and expanding outward. And finally we’ll see in this process that our thoughts are tangible things that have positive or negative energy capable of creating both for good and for ill as well as the power to manifest either our desires or our fears.

Any effective psychotherapy or authentic spiritual practice can help to break through this “unconscious” default pattern of continuing to do what’s always been done despite the limiting or negative consequences, and offer new ways of thinking, being and ultimately loving. Your own intra-psychic transformation will create the kind of interpersonal change that can shift consciousness enough to begin to create a brave new world of the Spiritual Warrior, able to actualize our vast human potential simply by recognizing and affirming our oneness, our sameness, our greatness. Now is the time to really Imagine…it’s the time to Awaken into Consciousness.

Returning to Our Own Vibrancy: Part of a Series on Authentic Relating

July 10, 2010

When a child comes into the world it’s an experience of absolute discovery, both within and without. They discover all the pleasures of their own existence… their bodies, their capabilities, their developing sense of power, and the natural aliveness of incarnate being. As they grow, their curiosity takes them on many adventures as they learn to navigate the world. With good parenting this journey is encouraged and shepherded with allowance, enthusiasm, and support so that the child learns to command his/her own ship while experiencing the richness of being human. What this means of course is that the parents allow the child to get messy, make mistakes, take chances or risk being good all the time, so that this primal energy of life is not diminished or suppressed and is instead allowed to fully expand. However, many of us were not allowed such freedom and our childhoods have ended up truncated and limited by at the minimum dysfunction and at the worst by every kind of trauma imaginable. So unfortunately the splendor of childhood, the wild delight of opening to all that life has to offer instead becomes something to endure and that unbridled desire for life gets diluted or contaminated by growing up in a psychologically toxic environment. The once fluid mind so full of potential and creativity becomes regulated into fixed rigidities in the psyche and the rules and regulations of conventional society become the expressed means of existence.

So what do we do to raise vibrant children? Paradoxically the answer is “nothing”. It’s not what we need to do, it’s what we need to not do. It’s all the overdriven, controlled doingness of our modern parenting that ends up squelching this natural vibrancy thus preventing the inherent curiosity of discovering life and simply allowing a child to be a child.

Pause for a moment to try to remember some of the days of your own childhood, where a day seemed to stretch on forever, where honeysuckle was the most delicious fragrance imaginable, and every jumble of bushes was a fort in which to play or have a tea party. If you were lucky enough, you were able to play all day and when you got home were welcomed with love and excitement for all you discovered that day. If that is something that happened rarely, I believe (along with many current psychologists) there is a child inside yearning to have those adventures still. And this child, this inner child of ours needs to be attended to so that we can become whole and live full and fulfilling lives.

So how do we find this place inside where this young version of ourselves lives? We still ourselves, go out for walk in a park, by a meadow or a stream, and simply listen. We quiet our minds and listen inside to our hearts. It’s there that this child lives… and by now, usually has plenty to say. Often in the beginning he/she speaks of the pain, the misunderstanding, and the needs that were never adequately addressed growing up. But over time if we’re able to compassionately comfort and care for our little one, something begins to shift and change. Our own adult needs and the way we express them seem to take on less charge and become less crucial, over-reactive or out-of-control. We become more integrated within ourselves, more at ease, less defensive and softer, and our own natural aliveness returns. We find ourselves wanting to be more playful, delight in simple things, and are more readily available for new experiences and to others in our lives. Indeed, what we came into this world with, our natural vibrancy, returns as we start to experience the pleasure of our humanness, our own unique being, and the joy of living life again…in a fresh new way…as a child would.

Our True Nature as a Path to Awakening: Part of a Series on Authentic Relating

July 1, 2010

Relationships offer a way to find, explore and express our True Nature and in doing so they can serve the highest in our selves. Our True Nature is our authentic being that exists beyond the intellect and time and is connected to all things. So, by serving the beloved in ourselves and in relationship, we in fact serve the entirety of humanity.

As we know, we become attracted to each other for reasons such as chemistry, common goals and values and even as a way of healing childhood traumas and wounds. We find our way to just the right person for these reasons and stay together for a lifetime, for a while, or for just a season. It is this unconscious desire that then has us enter into the dance of intimacy which later becomes the crucible for transformation. In this encounter, both partners have an opportunity to engage together in deep emotional and spiritual alchemy and come through together somehow changed, more healed and whole.

This process is akin to how Nature initiates life, begins to grow and then matures, and finally offers up a fully ripened but unique reproduction of itself– in the seed exists the vision of the majestic oak and in the cocoon already are tiny wings for flight. And so our own True Nature knows its own depths, the awareness of its purpose and what circumstances are necessary to fully bloom. If we were to simply trust this part of ourselves, we could begin to relax and let go a bit and enjoy the simplicity of life.
The first step is to trust that by simply being aware and present in life is what allows our True Nature to come forth in ways that go far beyond meeting our various needs in the immediate moment. This part of us is in fact a deep knowing that is beyond the mind (and controlling ego) and needs only the space to be and room to unfold.

When we are in a healthy relationship, a trusted Other can mirror back this natural part of who we are so that we can have a deeper, richer experience of our own precious self. Over time this experience becomes a recursive loop for greater depth and being, a fuller and more expansive awareness and richer engaging with life itself. It is this Self that then naturally mirrors back the same to our partner.

This becomes the “greening” of a relationship, in that it allows an organic unfolding of our true selves, our own True Nature, perhaps something even divine. Rather than seek the divine outside of us in a transcendent way, we can begin to have it reflected back right before our very eyes. If this Awareness that exists without judgment, agenda, or control is able to simply be with our Beloved, we then have a chance to grow more fully within ourselves and more organically contribute to the whole, and to every aspect of life. And it can start with where we are right now…by simply taking a breath, being present, letting go of all thought about things and allowing everything to be as it is…in its own True Nature.

Laughter in Relationships as a Path of Awakening: Part of a Series on Relationship Healing

June 3, 2010

Relationships offer the ideal opportunity to heal our family of origin issues as they provide an environment for mirroring, validation and empathy: i.e. the kind of authentic relating that many of us missed growing up. Another tool for transformation that we have all experienced is laughter. As the body’s response to feelings of happiness and joy, laughter raises one’s physical vibrations which create healing in our mind-body system. It can create a shift in how we are experiencing everyday moments, especially those of stress, overwhelm and misunderstanding. Our own suffering is often created in how we view the world and how we choose to perceive reality. So, being able to lighten up can change our perspective from one of doom and gloom to one of a new vision with expanded opportunity.

In our relationships we can also experience shifts in how we see ourselves and our partners if we are able to pause for a moment and allow the imposed cruciality of the moment to dissipate along with our harranging ego and laugh at the drama unfolding before us. When we’re able to laugh at ourselves and our self-righteous importance, that minor shift in perspective can go a long way to halting the impending drama (usually filled with hurt and pain, the reverberations of which can last for days) and allowing enough space in order to re-evaluate the situation. It’s then that we can begin to see both ourselves and what might be occurring on an unconscious level more clearly along with the attendant needs we’ve not been able to express.

Many relationships carry an enduring tension because we don’t feel comfortable confronting our partner with specific needs (the familiar walking on eggshells). Our fear of judgment or disappointment or the fear of escalating the tension into conflict keeps us stuck in an all too serious mode that doesn’t allow us access to the innate energy of life nor give us the space to be who we really are. Having the courage to share what’s on our minds in an authentic way helps to release old patterns and can offer a way to come back to what we naturally do best, something we all did as children, which is to play.

A playful attitude which comes from seeing ourselves as characters in a play of our own creation is something that can move us through times of turmoil with more ease, like putting grease on a joint for better movement and range of motion. Indeed, emotional flexibility, the ability to flow with what’s happening and maintain our emotional equilibrium, is the goal in most personal growth and spiritual literature. It comes as a result of a conscious effort to quit holding on tightly and begin letting go lightly.

One of the hallmarks of emotional health and maturity is the ability to be able to laugh at oneself. What this implies is that we can look at our shortcomings and weaknesses as something that is common to our shared humanity, as well as teaching moments for own personal growth and relationship healing, if we’re willing to look honestly at how our behavior is negatively impacting ourselves and others. We can then make the decision to use that awareness in the future to make different choices. Hopefully, these new choices will use the higher vibration of laughter resulting in feelings of greater connection, appreciation, and love.

Getting in Touch With the Masculine: Part of a Series on Authentic Relating

June 3, 2010

The Yin and Yang, the feminine and masculine, are part of the all of nature. These energies comprise the duality of life on earth plane and can been seen most dearly in our personal relationships. The opposite nature of each is important in forming the whole (or couple) as they offer the potential for full and complete experience, of self and other.

The Yin is the feminine and represents openness, surrender, receptivity, earthiness, and a container to be filled along with the space within. The masculine Yang on other hand is initiatory, aggressive or assertive, penetrating, and fiery. The feminine is more naturally patient, in the moment, more process-oriented, and open ended while the masculine is more linear, problem solving and solution-oriented as well as expeditious.

We all have both aspects of Yin and Yang, but the extent we developed each in our families is almost as influential as gender. It is not uncommon for instance to see women with more developed assertive masculine sides and men with a more passive feminine sides. Oftentimes this difference serves the original purpose from which it derived (childhood survival strategies), however there are many times it doesn’t serve the original purpose and, unfortunately, can impede one’s growth, maturation, or success in life.

We all know men who somehow haven’t developed the kind of male strength or ability to be direct or confront that would have given them what’s necessary to assert themselves powerfully enough to fully succeed in life. A man’s nature is one of penetration, of breaking ground on which to create, and of taking a stand for survival or justice. Over the past couple of decades men lost the role models of the past (albeit archaic or machismo ones) while newer more balanced or developed ones were yet to emerge. Men needed to in a sense reinvent themselves by coming back in touch with their own essence as nature intended. They began to band together with other men so as to more deeply and directly experience themselves, their organic strength and power as well as learn to reflect back to each other the male aspects they never developed in their family or cultural upbringings or perhaps had been lost in relationships with women. Additionally, since most of western civilization has few or no rites of passage for young men to grow into mature manhood, this absence has been filled with numerous kinds of men’s trainings or men’s work so as help men experience themselves more deeply and fully. Here they learn to trust themselves and each other as they journey through the challenging gauntlet of personal self-development and realization in order to emerge more fully Male.

This kind of transformation is healthy and beneficial both for men in accessing and utilizing their own inherently biological life force energy and for women who will then be able to experience a True Man in his fullness able to meet her in her strength and vulnerability where she can safely surrender and offer up the tenderness and beauty of her unique femininity. This is a very transformative process that allows men to really “be all you can be” and thus have a fuller expression of the primal, spontaneous, zany and powerful energies that make a man a man.


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