Category: mindfulness

Awakenings at the Red Barn

The day was surreal. I was once again driving with my good friend and spiritual guide on another unknown adventure to continue to explore our energy healing selves.  I go blindly with my friend without asking questions because I trust her and am curious about where this journey will take me. But this journey seemed particularly suspicious.  It even had a name. Awakenings at the Red Barn. Awakenings? At a Red Barn? I am imagining horses and hay bales. But I trust that my friend would not steer me wrong and I go along for the ride.

When we get to the Red Barn it is actually a red barn, but not like I thought.  No horses, no hay bales. In fact, it is a barn on a magnificent property rubbing up against one of the most beautiful homes I have ever seen.  A regular home. No voodoo dolls or magic potions. Just a normal, regular home. When we get there my friend and I mingle around for a while and I overhear people discussing their various experiences with energy work and all matters related to healing their souls.  I tend to become very intimidated in these types of situations and revert to what I know best, the role of quiet observer. And in that role, I quietly participate in the days’ activities which included a guided meditation. I follow the instructions of the jin shin jitsu instructor.  I listen intently to the discussion on soothing yoga practices. I am skeptical as I work my way through the sessions trying to immerse myself in the faith and power, but ultimately question why I am even here and when it will be time to go.

Then the Medium approached the front of the room.  Yes, a Medium. I know what you are thinking. Because I was probably thinking the same thing.  A person who has the power to speak to your loved ones on the “other side”? The other side. This can’t be real.  People do not speak to people or get spoken to by people on the other side. It just doesn’t happen. It must be a hoax. 

But it made me start to think.  And being a visual person, I started to wonder what the other side might look like.  Does it have the classic pearly gates? Are there angels floating and waiting to take your hand to approach G-d?  Or is the other side where you walk down the yellow brick road covered in your favorite ice cream flavors and rub elbows with famous people?

Now I don’t know what you think about the “other side”, but as far as I was concerned, I have never had a strong pull towards faith, religion or anything that claims to be mystical.  Probably the reason I need to be on this journey in the first place. So that I can have more faith.

So the Medium approaches the front of the room, takes a few deep breaths and starts to divulge details of the various (shall we call them Ghosts?) as they enter the room.  There is a woman behind me who meets up with her mother-in-law, another whose best friend died suddenly, a third whose death was mysterious but wanted the guest to relay to his family that he was fine.  All very irrational seeming and a little but creepy. I wondered, is this was some kind of setup? Although at the same time I was secretly hoping someone would come talk to me too. I wondered in a peripheral sort of way who that would even be?  My mother-in-law who had passed the year before? Or my grandmother who my own mother says has come to her in the middle of the night and sat on her bed? But I dismissed this as silly, this isn’t real. And no one would want to speak to me anyway.

I wasn’t even really listening when I heard the Medium ask if anyone claimed the “white collar man dressed in a suit doubling over in pain pointing to his abdomen”.  Since, if anyone was going to come to me, I was expecting to hear from the “older woman who always painted her nails to match a special occasion” I didn’t immediately react.  I sat still, stunned and a little bit afraid as she continued to describe his laugh, his intense love for his wife, his specific observations about other relatives. He spoke to the Medium about one he called the handyman, someone who could fix anything and found great pleasure in helping in this way.  He spoke of Army Colonel who was recently diagnosed with a disease and knew that at the time he was stable. This could be for no one else but me. The details were too specific and the descriptions too rich. I sheepishly claimed him as my own raising my hand to say, “I think he may be mine?” The Medium continued reporting that he was safe and happy and well, laughing like he always did, making jokes that only she could hear but that only he would make.  And then the crazy part happened. As if having a dead person speak through a stranger in front of a room filled with strangers isn’t crazy enough the ACTUAL crazy part happened.

The doorbell began to ring.

Now let me give you some background about the doorbell.  My then 6-year-old was given a toy doorbell by her uncle one holiday.  It was battery operated, hooked up with a single wire with a button you press to make it ring.  Simple, straightforward children’s toy, no fuss, no muss. And it hung outside her door. Only if you rang the bell could you enter the room and those who didn’t were sure to experience her wrath.  Anyway, the doorbell seemed to have a mind of its’ own. It would ring whenever it wanted. While I was cleaning her room. While I was brushing my teeth. While the whole family was downstairs eating dinner nowhere near the doorbell.  Right, you heard me. It would ring when. We. Were. Nowhere. Near. The. Doorbell. We joked, oh hahaha our house must be haunted. Hahaha we have a ghost. Oh hahaha I am ripping that damn doorbell out of the wall and throwing it in the garbage.  Which is what I did. I couldn’t take the random ringing anymore.

Now sitting in the Red Barn my ripping the damn doorbell out of the wall has literally come back to haunt me.  My Medium (as in my mind she has now become mine because we have now established a mysterious and unbreakable bond) tells me he is jangling something.  Could it be keys, she says? Or is it wind chimes, she wonders? In that moment I knew. It was neither keys nor wind chimes and the message to me was perfectly clear.  He was ringing my doorbell all along and letting me know I should let him in.

I learned a lot that day.  I learned to relax my mind in meditation.  I learned to channel my anxiety through jin shin jitsu.  But most importantly I learned about belief and faith. And with a little faith you may find out who is ringing your doorbell from the other side.

Stacie Goldstein, LCSW, is a social worker, psychotherapist, wife and mom of two teenage children.  She has been in private practice in Northern NJ for the past 15 years working primarily with teens and adults around issues including anxiety and depression, life transitions, and parenting concerns.  Stacie has worked in a variety of settings including schools, hospitals, mental health agencies and group practice.  She has also taught Social Work at the Masters level for the University of Southern California as an Adjunct Professor.  Stacie’s professional point of view incorporates a variety of techniques and styles including meditation and mindfulness to help her clients carve a path to living less stressful and more content lives.

Releasing Negative Energy

My first experience with energy work came about 5 years ago.  At the time, a good friend had begun her journey to spiritual awareness and she explained that her Energy Healer would clear my blockages and I would feel happier, lighter, less negative and overwhelmed.  In listening to her I became intrigued by all the feelings she was having, all the wisdom she was gaining and all these cool people she was meeting.  So, when she asked if I wanted to see her Energy Healer, Judy, I jumped at the chance.  But, as usual I didn’t ask many questions, which seems to be my style and allows me to be open in my own way to the process and fully see what happens next.

In my imaginings of what I was to encounter I pictured Judy in a long caftan with a white head scarf, dread locks, playing soft melodic tones in the background and her office smelling slightly of patchouli oil.  I thought her space would be dark and musty, that I would be sitting cross legged on the floor and somehow, she would be chanting oohhmmm over and over. 

I could not have been more wrong.

Judy’s “office” is in fact a light, airy space with lots of windows, painted a soothing baby blue with minimalist furniture, crystals lined along the windowsills, two chairs, some yoga blankets and what looked like a massage table, for the purpose of what I was to shortly find out.  Judy is a perfectly normal looking woman, dressed in everyday normal clothes.  A sweet-faced woman she looks younger than she probably is with a lilting sing songy voice that immediately makes you feel welcome.  She greets me with the biggest hug, as if she has known me for lifetimes.  And in an eerie, incomprehensible way, she does.

I enter the room after taking off my shoes and Judy asks me to sit.  I say okay and take my seat.  I am incredibly uncomfortable.  I don’t know where to look.  I don’t know where to put my hands.   Do I cross my legs?  Is my phone off? Where is my water?  My mouth is getting really dry and I can feel myself starting to sweat.  I hope I put on enough deodorant.  What am I doing?  Why am I here?

And then Judy started to talk.  Ahh, the sound of her voice is like cotton balls, soft and warm covering me with a sense of security and I think, whatever happens in this process it will be alright.  I sink into her Adirondack chair and let her guide me through the process.  First, she explains that upon hearing my name she meditated and connected with my energy in order to get a read on what was going on with me.  I listened carefully trying not to let my cynical, skeptical brain take over.  She explains about energy cords and our irrefutable connection to every person that we contact.  She explained that we can hold on to the energies from other people and when these energies are too overwhelming or negative they can become a part of us and ultimately need to be released.  And by releasing this negative energy we become closer to our higher selves and our spiritual guides.  What. Is. She. Talking. About?  This is a bunch of hoohaa, malarky, silly voodoo.  How can we all be interconnected?  And how by thinking about my name never having met me before can she know me, I mean really know me.  But I will trust the situation.  I will trust that my friend has not wasted my time.  I will trust in the power of Judy.

She explains a bunch of other things about past lives, higher selves, master programs.  Nothing that made any sense.  And then she asked me lay down on the table.  A table, she explained, that was similar to a massage table but that she would only be lightly touching me to release my negative energies.  Okay, really?  What is she made of, magic?  How on earth could her “light touches” release all my negative energies?  I think to myself this is going to be hard.  And weird.  And disturbing.  But I will continue to trust in the power that is Judy.

She begins her work.  I hear her taking a deep deep breath, the kind of breath you would imagine a seasoned yogi to take, a breath so deep you can almost hear her lungs expand.  She smells faintly of mint tea.  A sweet pungent smell.  But wait, I am supposed to be concentrating on relaxing, not on what Judy just drank. I take my own deep breath, not as deep as Judy’s as I don’t think I could ever achieve that level of depth.  And. I. Try. To. Relax.  This is hard.  My mind is spinning.  Where are my kids?  Are they having a good day?  What clients am I seeing tonight?  What will I make for dinner?  Did I pick up the dogs’ medicine?  The strain of thoughts keeps coming as I try to stop the flood tide and concentrate on what I am doing.  What am I doing exactly?

And. Then.  It.  Happens.  Judy is at my head.  And all I feel is a searing pain in my forehead, directly over my right eye, a little off center.  A. Searing. Pain.  Almost blinding, except that my eyes are closed.  Do I open my eyes, I think? Is she balancing a tire iron on my head?  Do I tell her to stop?  What am I supposed to do?

And then it stops.  Just as quickly as it started, it was now over. I open my eyes.  Judy tells me to breathe deeply, to continue to relax and to rise from the table when I am ready.  I was ready immediately.  I was also a little scared.  What WAS that?

Judy asked me how I felt and I explained about the searing pain and asked if she had balanced a vile on my head.  And she explained in her calm and loving way that she released my energies at that moment in time and felt all my negativity built up in my head.  She also explained a whole bunch of other stuff.  None of which I can remember now.

And I felt released.  I felt lighter and freer and better able to see.  I also felt drained and confused and curious.  How had she done that?  And where would I go from here?

It was just the first step on my journey to better well-being and an expansion of my internal and external knowledge of the world around me.   It was neither hard, nor weird (well maybe a little weird) or disturbing (well the jury is still out on that one) but I did it and it was fascinating.  If I wasn’t a Judy believer then, I am surely a Judy believer now.  And I want more.

Stacie Goldstein, LCSW, is a social worker, psychotherapist, wife and mom of two teenage children.  She has been in private practice in Northern NJ for the past 15 years working primarily with teens and adults around issues including anxiety and depression, life transitions, and parenting concerns.  Stacie has worked in a variety of settings including schools, hospitals, mental health agencies and group practice.  She has also taught Social Work at the Masters level for the University of Southern California as an Adjunct Professor.  Stacie’s professional point of view incorporates a variety of techniques and styles including meditation and mindfulness to help her clients carve a path to living less stressful and more content lives.

Just Listen

I am asking you to do one thing today to care for you, and those around you, just listen. 

You may be wondering why you should listen to advice from me. Let me introduce myself…I am, like many of you, a mother. I am also a seasoned teacher with a background in psychology and sociology. Of all the titles I have, my favorite comes from my kids. They call me the “Baby Whisperer” and this is a title I wear proudly.

Why do they call me the Baby Whisperer? Let me share a story of a recent encounter with the most adorable little boy…

My family and I were enjoying a fun-filled day at an amusement park and it was nearing closing time. We were trying to fit in a few more rides before we all crashed, as we had been there since early that morning. We were getting in line for a ride when we saw a teenager yelling at her younger brother to stop crying, he couldn’t have been more than 3 years old. I felt bad for them because I imagined they were both exhausted. As we were standing in line, the little boy started running towards us with his sister chasing after him. I bent down and started talking to the boy saying he looked so sad. I asked him why he was so sad and he stopped in front of me and just continued crying. When I said the tiger face painting looked so cute on his face, he started wiping it off. I told him that he was taking away the most adorable tiger I have ever seen and he said, “I am just wiping away my cries!” I told him that it was okay and he finished wiping his tears, calmed down, and gave me a big hug.

I put my arms around him, rubbed his back, and said he must feel so tired because it is probably past his bedtime. He nodded his head, calmed down, gave me one last squeeze, and went back to his sister. I think both the boy and his sister were relieved that he stopped crying and my kids were completely amazed that I was able to calm him down so quickly. I told my kids that he just wanted someone to listen and understand him, just like I do with them when they are upset. 

The technique I used seems simple, but it was actually harder than it sounds. It’s called active listening and it has been the subject of studies over the years (see below). Basically you need to listen, and when you comment it needs to be done without judgement. Believe me, I have been practicing listening to other children for years before I had kids with no problems, but the first time I tried it with my own kids, it came out as me sounding disappointed in them. I had to really work at it, but it was worth it.

So when you are feeling frustrated with your toddler, tween, teenager, or even significant other, just remember that sometimes they need someone to listen and understand. Take a deep breath and understand that there are so many rules for them to follow, from you, school, and/or society. Sometimes when things get overwhelming for them, they just want someone to hear them. No lectures or trying to solve their problems…just listen.

And while we are at it…I want you to know that I hear you. I hear the frustration and tiredness in your voice. I hear you crying in the bathroom while you are trying to deal with tantrums or moods. I hear you getting up at night to tend to a cry or nightmare. I hear you and I understand. I am here, listening, wrapping my arms around you, and patting your back. I know it is past your bedtime and you cannot take one more thing while you wipe away your cries. I hear you, and I understand. Once you calm down and take a deep breath, it can be your turn to pay it forward and just listen.

“Active Listening.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, October 2, 2017,

https://www.cdc.gov/parents/essentials/communication/activelistening.html

Shenfield, Tali. “How to Communicate with your Teen Through Active Listening.” Advanced Psychology, Advanced Psychology Services, October 16, 2017. http://www.psy-ed.com/wpblog/communicate-with-teen/

Weger Jr., Harry, Castle Bell, Gina, Minei Elizabeth M., and Robinson, Melissa C. “The Relative Effectiveness of Active Listening in Initial Interactions.” International Journal of Listening, Volume 28, Issue 1, 2014, pp. 13-31, Published online: 08 Jan 2014.

Crissy Blanos has a MA in teaching and a BA in psychology and sociology from Rutgers University, New Jersey. This has lead her to teaching, instructional design, and becoming an overall observer of human patterns. Her current career at Middlesex County College as an instructional designer emerged from over 20 years of teaching, spanning pre-k through college.

Crissy spends her free time improving her knowledge of growth and brain development, mindset and mindfulness, and behavior and habits and how to incorporate them into relationships and life. She is active in her community as Secretary and Trustee on the Board of the Mary Jacobs Memorial Library Foundation.

She is passionate about what she does because it allows her to help others help themselves. Crissy lives by the motto: “Life is a work in progress and so am I.”

One round of sadhana or practice

You start your day on a beautiful note, you are already happy because this is your time and not anyone else’s. Everyone can wait because it is 4.30 in the morning and the whole world around you is asleep. Nobody is likely to wake up, you know that for sure. For a yogi, it is very important that you are on your own, just for some time, so that you can enjoy the time with everyone around you later. You don’t want to be alone all the time!

So what do we do and how does it start? You take the yoga mat and get ready. You stand on the mat and you are thinking, what do I do? Do I do the Surya Namaskar today or a full stretch or do I do my own personal sequence? That confusion is going on in the mind and you are debating and enjoying the debate and finally you decide. And as you are doing it, you are moving your body, you are doing your warm up. Once the warm up is over, the body is naturally flowing into a comfortable rhythm of stretches. The hands automatically go up, the shoulders go up, the feet are firm on the ground and your attention is on your breath, eyes are closed and you decide- today you decide that the plan is to stay in the asanas- so you start with the Surya Namaskar.

Everyday you can decide to do something. You can do a lot of asanas one day or you decide to focus on the breath or you only move the body slowly. You will decide sometimes that to go deep into the posture or sometimes you may not be well, and have a pain or a catch somewhere and you decide to focus on that for a few minutes, dwell on that and see where it goes. Each day is a new decision on the yoga mat. The unfolding of the mat is a new story and what the body does, the mind helps out- it is far from a rote mechanism.

You start breathing, you start listening to the silent sounds around you. Actually, there are no sounds at this time in the morning, apart from one or two stray vehicles moving on the road. Your practice is going on and it’s almost like 10-15 minutes of asanas, stretches with deepening them and enjoying on the mat.

From far away, you start hearing a familiar sound which says it is that time. It is almost a quarter to five now because the birds wake up at this time. This is your company every morning, these are all familiar people to you, you are aware of these sounds. You are aware of your breath, aware of your body. You take deep breaths and continue into your asanas, continue into the movement. Something makes you continue in the asanas, you recall how you saw this person do this complicated stretch and say let me give it a try. Let me get into this complicated version of the pigeon pose and you try to get into it, you get it right on the right side of the body and not on the left side of the body- it is okay to do that. It probably needs a little more practice- it will happen eventually.

With that in mind, some happiness is swelling over within you already, some peace is turning within you and you are enjoying that. You are enjoying that your breath is becoming easier, body is becoming lighter. Now you want to sit and do the pranayam, the breathing excercises. You sit, absorb the effect of the asanas and allow the body to meditate for a few minutes, maybe 4-5 minutes then start the pranayams. You get into vajrasana, and do the first stage of pranayam with the awareness of the Ujjayi breath, slow and sure. You remind yourself that you will be doing the pranayams like a warrior. The pranayams, one by one, make you more calm and soft in the mind. Now you are done with the pranayam, you do the Sudarshan Kriya. You take a decision that you will do the Kriya like it is the first time you are doing it.

You become aware of the sohums, the in-breaths and the out-breaths. The patterns, the counts and you are lost in them and then you have reached the last round and you close your eyes and just sit. So many thoughts would have been going on all the time, so much planning going on all the time in the mind since the moment you started to climb on the mat. Now it has all vanished, it is just silent. You are aware of the birds chirping but something in the mind is silent. Very silent and calm. You don’t know how much time you spent sitting after the Kriya and meditation, but you know for sure there is no rush, nothing to rush about. There is plenty of time. Everything will be rushed during the day but this cannot be rushed. Slowly you get up, you open your eyes. A chant is forming on the lips- what is that? You say the chants, and again for a minute or two, you absorb the sounds of the chants and feel a burst of energy inside you. As if you can conquer anything, the assurance that nothing is impossible. And that calm is going to see you through the day, is going to see you through many days to come. And that is nothing but the high energy that the pranayam brings, the warm up and yoga brings. You feel the energy- it is a strange feeling but people who do this everyday, feel this. You feel new again. And this is the one round of sadhana or practice.

by Meena Waghray is a yoga teacher but she says, it was not easy to adapt it in her lifestyle. She started out being a pessimist about yoga and has gone on to become a teacher and her journey of fitness in body and mind continues. For her, yoga is not just the daily practice on the mat, rather, the losing and finding of the mind and breath to come back to harmony.

Meena is a lawyer by profession and a mediation expert, trained with the ADR Group London. Mediation according to her is the best way to resolve disputes, even before they reach the courts. Meena loves teaching and has been teaching legal studies for classes 11th and 12th at Army Public School, Bangalore.

She says, “I have two similar goals and similar sounding ones too, separated by a “t”, meditation and mediation. One is spiritual and the other is legal. The end result of both is harmony”. Meena is a volunteer/
faculty with the Art of Living Foundation facilitating Art of Living Yoga and Happiness Programs.