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Andrea Chilton
Individual and Couples Counseling and Psychotherapy in San Francisco and Berkeley, California
Individual and Couples Counseling and Psychotherapy in San Francisco and Berkeley, California


"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make any sense." ~Rumi

We live in a world where, to create a sense of safety, there is a myth of pure black and pure white, absolute right and wrong. 

When in a conflict, I often find myself joking: "Well the most important thing is that we figure out who is right and who's wrong, who's at fault, and how they need to be punished." I wish this joke was less reflective of how our world operates.

The sad reality is that most of us have been raised being taught these limited dichotomies as truth. Many of us cling to platforms of black and white to stay "safe." Those illusory platforms feel solid and absolute, but in reality they only limit our ability to see the world in all it's wondrous, diverse, variable color. They often set us up to feel we are failing and not good enough when we are unable to achieve the perfection of a non-existent absolute.

There is no perfection. There is no pure black or white. No absolute right or wrong. All is relative, and to recognize the shades of gray that are sometimes frightening to acknowledge, that are relative to each individual's unique perspective and experience in life, can be the most liberating, expansive recognition there is. 

Gray is the ever-changing shade of cooperation. 

Imagine a world where humanity recognized Rumi's wisdom: "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there." 

What a lovely and noble aspiration.
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Seriously folks, it's not just a saying.  :-)
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For anyone who would like to respond to posts: 

I recognize that it may feel uncomfortable to share your personal thoughts or information on a public forum such as this. If you would like to respond to any of my posts or take part in any discussions anonymously, please message me your response with PA (post anonymously) at the end, and I will copy and paste what you have written without your name. Please also feel free to message me privately; any messages send without PA will be considered private.
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As an addendum to my previous post I would like to encourage others to share your own self-care routines. Asking you to show me yours, I will show you a snapshot of mine:

~I do my best to maintain a regular yoga practice which tends to my mind, body and emotional well-being.
~I take my dog for walks after work and enjoy the gardens blossoming in my neighborhood. And seriously, I really do always stop to smell the roses and other lovely blossoms I find along the way. I can't help myself. 
~I limit my TV and fill my later evenings with hot baths and a good book.
~I do my best to honor my commitments to myself.
~I accept disappointing others when accommodating them is a betrayal to myself. I.E., I say "no" when "yes" is an inauthentic, accommodating answer which will eventually lead to resentful feelings toward others and a lack of trust in myself.
~Most importantly, I do all of these imperfectly and work hard to hold compassion for myself when I fall short.

I would love you to participate in sharing ways that you commit, or would like to begin to commit to healthy self care!
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"I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul." ~Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Self care is a frequent topic of conversation and contemplation in my world. 

For many of us it is a challenge to recognize the difference between healthy self-care and "selfishness." Our culture often sends us mixed messages around this: Meeting the criteria of what is outwardly deemed as success requires a kind of narcissistically-driven selfishness in which to avoid feeling beneath someone else we must push them down and feel above. One-upmanship is rampant in our world, and is entirely derived from insecurity. 

At the same time, many of us are taught that to be a "good person" we must always put others before ourselves; this is especially the case with women, but many men are given the same messages. In ways which can seem confusing, this can be it's own covert version of narcissistic one-upmanship: "Because I put others before myself I am a good person, thus better than others who don't." 

Healthy self care, at times, absolutely involves putting ourselves before even our most beloved others. As is stated so eloquently in the above quote, we must be willing to disappoint others at times in order to be true to ourselves, which can be challenging when our sense of self-worth is derived from the positive mirroring we receive from others who feel taken care of and needed by us. This is the underbelly of narcissism most people who are not clinically trained are not aware of; it is derived from the same level of insecurity as the more obvious self-absorbed presentation. It is commonly referred to as co-dependence. And it is almost ALWAYS completely unconsciously driven. We don't know our motives, we are just trying to be "good people."

An analogy I often fall back on when helping others to understand this concept is the repetitive speech we all must sit through as we taxi out of the runway on an airplane. It is reinforced every time that if the cabin loses pressure and air masks drop down, it is vital that you secure your own mask before tending to those who need your help in securing theirs. Implicitly stated is the fact that if you don't take care of yourself first, you might not end up able to care for those who rely on your support.

A less dramatic statement of this: If you always put others before yourself to the detriment of your own self-care, eventually you will come to resent them, ESPECIALLY when they do not give you the positive mirroring you rely on to feel good about yourself and maintain your identification as a "good person." (parent/spouse/friend/therapist, etc.) This is a highly destructive pattern for both ourselves and the others we are taking care of in an unconscious effort to maintain our own sense of self-worth. 

I would love to hear some feedback from others around what I am presenting here. Thoughts, questions, arguments, personal examples, etc. This is a free forum.
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I find myself exploring time and time again with patients (and myself) a poignant, and seemingly counterintuitive dialectic: 
Radically accepting ourselves exactly as we are now often leads to radical evolution toward who we want to be. Accepting and having compassion for our insecurities makes us infinitely more secure over time.
My heart fills to bursting every time I witness this process unfold with those I am honored to work with.
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"The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially." -Ernest Hemingway

Most of us have heard the flowery first sentence of this statement from Hemingway. I find this to be an interesting reflection of a common phenomenon in our culture: We are encouraged, often admonished to embrace the light while denying the shadow side in life and in ourselves.

The light cannot exist without the shadow, so I encourage us to honor both equally. The second and third sentences are just as important as the first. Not everyone has been taught or allowed to surrender to the ways that life breaks us all. Such souls often tear like muscle which can then only heal as scar tissue: fragile, inflexible, and prone toward future tears.

It reminds me of an experience I often share; one of playing in the ocean when the waves we enormous, powerful and unrelenting. As I fought to stay upright and above the water, the strength of the ocean pummeled me and I came to recognize that my fight put me in danger. I was trying to control the uncontrollable. It was when I let go and surrendered to the ocean's will that I found my ability to relax and let the waves do what they would with me. Yes, I hit the ocean floor and it hurt. I was tumbled beneath the water and I felt breathless and frightened. But something deep within me remembered that my body was naturally buoyant, and if I allowed myself to flow will the power around me I would always rise safely to the surface. In between sets I floated on my back and marveled at the lesson I had always known intellectually, but had just grasped for the first time on a visceral, emotional level. As I swam back to the beach and settled in the sand, I found myself appreciating the emerging bruises and sore spots. They were well worth what I had learned that day.
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Welcome, and thank you for visiting my new page! 

I hope to create a forum to exchange thoughts, ideas and feelings relevant to our common experience here as humans: 

How do we relate to our humanity? How do each of us, as animals with both primal instincts and higher consciousness, move through the world and our communities? How do we come to evolve from the ways we have been wounded toward the ways we can heal? How can we use the momentum of that healing to forge strength and wisdom beyond what we imagined possible for ourselves?

These are all big questions; just a taste of what I hope to explore with you over time.

Please feel free to contribute to the dialogue, or read it as it unfolds. Gather what is useful to you and leave behind the rest.

I hope you take good care over the weekend and get what you need out of the time you have.
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