Marilyn Marks



Healing Goodbyes

Red Rose In Multiflora Rose BushMany of us were raised to avoid painful endings and goodbyes. Yet the sadness of a “goodbye” is just as important to honor as the joy of a graduation, retirement, or birth. If we can turn toward grief bravely and with compassion, we discover an opportunity for healing the heart and soul.

Many years ago, I served as a team leader and clinical director of a mental health center.  One day while finishing my last note for the day, a distress call came in from a client.

“Marilyn!” Rosa exclaimed.  “My team just said that after my therapist Julie leaves in a month, she and I can’t ever go out together for a coffee! You’re the clinical director—can’t you bend the rules? My parents died in a car crash when I was seven; my boyfriend left me for a cute guy he fell in love with; and I have to have my dog Mitzi put to sleep in a few days. I hate goodbyes and I can’t say goodbye to Julie.”

So many layers of overwhelming, heart-rending loss for Rosa. It would be easy to say “Sure, go out for coffee with Julie and stay connected.”  Snap your fingers; you’re both at Starbucks and voilá—no more suffering.

Yet I also knew there can be hidden gems waiting to be revealed within endings. Quick fixes can short-circuit the opportunity to learn that endings can also be healing.

When we dread goodbyes, we may desperately hold on—pleading, bargaining for more time, or creating a “pretend” ending. A pretend ending is one where we say goodbye but agree to contact each other in the future—a way to soften the sting of loss and create the illusion of ongoing relationship.  It gives us the sense “it’s not REALLY over”.

Like “We’re divorced but she she still comes over for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and I walk her dog.” No real “goodbye” here!

While this kind of ending may temporarily buffer us from pain, it can cause more anguish for ourselves and others down the road. We miss the opportunity to truly let go and learn from death, from a “real” goodbye.

Respect and honor the ending that’s happening right here, right now. Allow it the grace, the truth of being over: with a spouse, sister, parent, child, friend.

If you found a sweet bird, and clutched it tight to your chest, could you see or hear it? Could it even breathe? But if you open and extend your hand outward, ahh—you can see the bird, hear it sing, let it stretch its wings. It may even choose to fly away.

It is a priceless gift to let each other go. And if you can, co-create a healing ending.

With Rosa, I suggested that she and her therapist Julie create a healing goodbye:

—acknowledge the reality and sadness of the impending mutual loss—Julie leaving the agency and Rosa losing her as a therapist.

—allow the emotions to arise and be freely felt—like grief, anger, sadness, and fear.  Befriend sorrow like a crying child you would hold and comfort in your arms.

—share not only heartache but the love, joy and gratitude of having met and traveled for awhile on the sacred path of Life. Talk about what you learned and the gifts you received from each other that you will carry with you after you part.

—create a small ritual together, like painting a mandala, lighting a candle, crafting a beaded necklace or bracelet that you give each other, reading a poem, or sharing food. Ritual infuses the ending with beauty and spirit and honors the relationship.

Every day, everywhere around us, the world is pulsing with endings and new beginnings—the beautiful music of life.   We’re resilient and have survived hundreds of “goodbye’s” in our lifetime; we intrinsically know how to move on.  We can approach the portal of loss with reverence, honoring endings as a doorway to new and often unexpected people, places, and experiences that continuously enrich our “soil”, our soul, and help us to thrive and grow.

In a Funk? Flip It!

Frog Buddha PhotoLife has a habit of throwing us curve balls—unexpected illness, job loss, the ending of a relationship.  We find ourselves spiraling down a deep well of fear, anger, or shame. We feel “done to”, victimized.

Or we might start the day with negative thoughts: my back hurts, oh no it’s raining, the traffic will be bad, there’s no cream for the coffee, I’ll never pass the exam.  We focus on “what’s wrong” in an attempt to feel in control.  This is actually OK—it’s just what the mind does, and it’s human to be triggered.

The good news: it’s possible to transform emotional negativity into a positive state.  Which, through the power of your intention, can have a positive impact on your challenging situation.

The solution?  FLIP IT!

How?  First, simply allow the negative thoughts and emotions. This is self-love.  You’re taking time, on the fly, to listen to yourself without judgement.

The next step is to FLIP IT.  Take one negative thought or expectation and turn it around, using language that sounds like the positive outcome has already happened.

Three examples:

Negative thought:  “This meeting I have to go to is going to be awful.”  Flip it: “That meeting was fun, easy, successful and everyone felt heard.”

Negative thought:  “I hate this rush-hour traffic I’m so bored”.  Flip it: “I got out and danced like crazy on the hood of my car like those dancers in “La La Land”—ha wouldn’t that be amazing but probably outside your comfort zone!  How about “I relaxed and enjoyed listening to good music during the traffic jam.”

Negative thought:  “I’m freaked out about going to the dentist—it’s going to hurt and my blood pressure will be through the roof.”  Flip it: “I’m relieved the dental trip was so fast, relaxing, and pain-free.”

It’s really quite simple.  Next time you’re in a funk, FLIP IT!  Expect the best. Like the frog Buddha up there at the top of the page.  Clearly it’s the poster child for “Flipping It”:  stuck up to its neck in snow and ice, sappy smile, contentedly expecting the onset of spring.

The Circle of Life

Closeup Of A Singing Bowl Placed In Nature With The River In The Background

When beginning a session with clients in my psychotherapy practice, I like to ring a hammered, brass Tibetan bowl I was gifted.  I’m not quite sure why I’m moved to do this.  Perhaps it symbolically marks the beginning of something sacred, a revealing of the heart and soul.

As I slowly press and circle the suede-covered stick around  the edge of the bowl, there’s initially only silence.  From the ethers, a faint sound arises.  The bowl has begun to sing.  With each swirl of the striking stick, sound builds and swells into a rich, reverberant tone, then peaks and fades away, like the haunting doppler sound of a train.

There is a lifetime in each ring of this bowl.

Sound emerging from silence, building in energy and form, fading back into stillness.  A birth, a death; a coming, a going.  Like the vibrancy and color of spring and summer inevitably fading into fall and the deep silence of winter.  We experience births and deaths every day; like breathing, it is the natural rhythm of life.

We celebrate with great joy and fanfare the various “births”—-a new baby, home, or promotion.  Thousands of dollars and months of planning are spent on celebrating holidays, marriages or batmitzvahs.

But where is the honoring of death, the necessary life endings and return to stillness?  The fading of a rose or a relationship, the sad or scary life transitions, the loss and letting go that mark the end of an identity or an era?

We are an extroverted culture addicted to action and progress.  We’re given months to plan for and celebrate a new job or home addition and only moments to grieve what’s been lost: a majestic tree cut down, a friend who moved away, a cancer diagnosis, the closing of a favorite local business.

When loss strikes close to home and the heart is aching, be kind.  Be gentle.  Honor the loss, even if it seems pitifully small.  Allow the sorrow, anger, tears.  Ring a bell.  Light a candle.  Call a friend.  Take a warm bath with soft lighting and music.  Write, sing, or dance your pain.  Notice the shock of “here one moment, gone the next” and the fear of silence or emptiness.

Perhaps you will notice moments of peace that come and go between grief waves, and a resting place within the emptiness of loss.  Perhaps you will discover that death, and life, are dance partners, folding into the sacred heart of the other, continuously blossoming and unraveling, inviting us into deeper connection with our soul.

Honor Your Tears

Mount Laurel 2

In the last week, I’ve been moved by the many forms of grief expressed by my therapy clients:

–loss of a beloved animal companion

–sadness over ongoing wars in the world

–grief over being abused or abandoned as a child

–missing a friend, spouse, grandparent who has passed on

–sorrow and helplessness over climate change

During these heartrending, challenging times, our cup of grief may be overflowing; the heart is grieving what matters deeply to the soul. While it’s tempting to “be strong” or “move on”, pushing these feelings away dishonors ourselves as well as the beloved being we have lost. After all, we grieve because we care. Because this majestic tree, this dog, this sister mattered to us so much. “Grief is praise, it is the natural way the heart honors what it misses.” (Martin Prechtel).

Grieving has gravitas; it is weighty business. It brings us to our knees as we bravely face the power of our love and loss: rocking, wailing, sinking down to mother earth and offering her the nourishment of our tears.

As in birth, the grief process is holy ground. It is wet, messy, painful, yet sacred as a mysterious, intelligent force of life pours through our broken heart. We become frightened of the pain, wonder if we will survive, not realizing that “grief work offers us a trail leading back to the vitality that is our birthright.” (Francis Weller)

To follow our healing trail, we allow and breathe with the painful grief contractions as they arise. We write, cry, share, and dance our sorrow. Slowly but surely, the waters of loss carve us into deeper, wiser human beings, and glimmers of joy and gratitude begin to shine forth.

When my mother was dying, and my father and I were caring for her, it was Dad, surprisingly, who taught me how to “go with the flow” of tears.

I was in the kitchen, contentedly peeling carrots and chopping onions for soup, and he was vacuuming the stairs that led up to the bedrooms on the second floor. Suddenly I heard the canyon-splitting sound of sobbing, dropped the carrot peeler, and ran to see if Dad was OK.

There he was, sitting on a stair, head in his hands, bawling like his heart was cleaved in two. As sorrow shook this mighty man from head to toe, I felt deeply moved to see my Dad so open, so willing to feel his pain. He didn’t shove it away with apologies or embarrassment. It was raw and real, and he didn’t give a hoot who heard him. He was losing his soulmate, the woman he had been with for 60 years. His grief was great, an ache so deep his tears rang out like a love sonnet to his beloved.

After the storm of tears passed, the vacuum roared back to life, and Dad was back on his feet, sucking dog hair and dust off the carpeted stairs.

Like deja vu this scene repeated throughout the day. I’d hear distant sobbing, pause what I was doing, close my eyes, and hold space with empathy and compassion as he wept his way through the rooms of memory and a life shared.

Like the surfer who’s learned to flow with rather than fight the power of water, my father allowed the cleansing waves of sadness to come and go. After a wave passed through, he’d be up and tending to the endless caregiving tasks at hand.

He was bereft, and also “fine”—he could function, while simultaneously in the throes of inconsolable sorrow. He was vulnerable, and also resilient and strong.

Unbeknownst to me, my father would unexpectedly succumb to life-threatening illness nine years later. As I was tending to his end-of-life needs, waves of grief rolled in at the most inopportune times, catching me off guard.

When my first instinct was to dismiss or hide my feelings, there it was in living color—the image of Dad on those stairs nine years prior, vacuum blaring, head in his hands, bawling, honoring his tears and his love for my mother. Going with the flow.

So day after day, following his example, I took a deep breath, gathered courage, and with both hands, extended my heart to grief. Invited her to come in, to wash over me and like holy water, slowly baptize and transform me into a being of more maturity, depth and compassion for my loved ones and this astonishing, shimmering world.

Kindness Everywhere

Hands With HeartDespite the negativity we see in the media, the goodness in people far outweighs the anger and division. Uplifting acts of love and kindness are offered by ordinary people, everywhere, every day. Here are just a few stories that have recently crossed my path:

  • Someone leaving a note on a car, letting the driver know their tire was dangerously low.
  • Paying for the movie ticket of the person behind them.
  • Paying the tolls of drivers behind them.
  • Leaving a note for a loved one, expressing appreciation for something they said or did.
  • Leaving flower bouquet gifts on benches or the windshields of random strangers.
  • Neighbors walking the dog of a friend who was ill or snow blowing the heavy slush at the end of their driveway.
  • Paying for the groceries of the person standing behind them in line—just because.
  • Leaving a hefty tip for the cook at a diner.
  • Patients bringing gifts to a doctor to say thank you.
  • Secretly paying off a lay-away item for a complete stranger.
  • Simply saying hello to someone on the street who looks like a bit of kindness will do them well.

The possibilities are endless! Follow your heart and your inspiration—you can make a difference. Energy follows thought: we can literally shape the world around us through a shift in our thinking and intention. We may not be able to stop the war in the Middle East, but in this moment, right here, right now, within this unique situation, we can co-create the positive world we would prefer.

A few weeks ago, I learned this lesson several times over within a five-minute period.

It was just a day—nothing special. Or so I thought. It was a food shopping day (which I enjoy) and my basket was full to overflowing. The cashier rang me up and I headed out, juggling several bags as I opened the glass door with my back. As I completed my pas de deux with the door, I nearly stepped on her—a young homeless woman, sitting outside crosslegged on cardboard and shivering on the frozen ground.

“Hey how are you today!” she exclaimed when our eyes met.

“I’m great—and how are you? Are you hungry? They’ve got really good split pea with ham soup in there today.”

“Oh no thanks I just ate but look at this!” and joyously thrust her hands up toward me. They were encased in thick, cotton-white knit mittens. “A woman just came along and handed these to me, she got them right there, in the same store you just came out of. Brand new mittens! I can feel my fingers again! Here, look—they’re even lined inside.”

She took a mitten off, curled it back, and showed me the life-saving lining—the one that thanks to the kindness of a stranger, will now protect her from frost bite on ten-degree days.

“Awesome! I’m so glad your hands are warm! Where are you sleeping tonight?” I asked, glimpsing the sadness and fatigue beneath her warm, embracing personality.

“Oh that’s another cool thing—this guy who lives a couple blocks down, who owns some local buildings, said he’d let me sleep for free in an old empty warehouse he’s got right around the corner.”

“Oh wow that’s amazing!”

“Yeah I’ve been there a couple weeks now—I’ve got a lamp, a mattress, some blankets, a small heater and a few stray cats I feed that keep me company.” She grins and says “I mean they’re completely feral so it’s not like they keep me warm in bed or anything! I’m going to try to pay the landlord maybe $100 a month for letting me stay there—whaddya think?”

“Sounds good–that’s kind of you. By the way, what’s your name?”


“Hey, my name’s Mari-lyn!”

Amused over the similarity of our names, she quipped “Mari-anne, and Mari-lyn—I guess our meeting was meant to be!”

Suddenly a young man burst on the scene, yelled her name, shouted “It’s you, how are you, what do you need, I love you,” and swept her into a big hug. His mother (?) waited patiently close by as her son, wearing baggy sweatpants and a long pink Superman sweatshirt down below his knees, reunited with his friend.

When mother and son walked away, he wheeled around and yelled “I love you!” to Marianne.

Love, mittens, a safe, warm place to sleep…she was right. Our meeting was meant to be. As we parted ways I shook my head in wonder, grateful for meeting Mari-anne, and for a brief window of time, sharing a warm spot with her at the hearth of human kindness.

Stillness Within the Storm

“Stillness is also inner peace, and that stillness and peace is the essence of your Being. It is inner stillness that will save and transform the world.”   Eckhart Tolle

Winter CabinHave you noticed how many people have been reeling from overwhelming challenges during 2023?  It’s remarkable, the degree of unprecedented change and upheaval people have been going through, including life transitions, unexpected loss of a beloved person or animal companion, a big move, illness, major work changes, and the impact of extreme weather events.

We might feel like we’re standing at the edge of the sea, just getting our footing, when WHAM—another wave topples us over.  How do we regain our footing, our sense of being securely anchored within the storm of life challenges?

How can we down-shift from a frazzled and freaked out human “doing”, to a calmer human “Being”?

I often invite clients to start small—to begin by simply slowing down, stopping, or sitting for a few minutes. Just noticing the light, the objects, the sounds in the room.

When we slow down, it’s easier to become mindful and notice symptoms of stress: heart racing, irritability, anxiety, rushing, fear, over-eating…these common symptoms let us know that something is out of balance and calling for our loving attention.

Placing one hand over the heart and one over the belly can also be a wonderful way to slow the heart rate, calm the vagus nerve, and soothe the over-activated nervous system.  It helps ground us in the present moment.

When we take a moment to step out of the relentless river of life and notice our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, we wake up to the peacefulness of “right here, right now”.

Even if our emotions are running high, we can shift to watching them, rather than drowning in them.  We see it’s our negative thinking that is stressing us out, even more than the challenge itself. From this place—on the couch, in the car, or in the heat of a disagreement—we’re slowed down, empowered, at choice.

We can ask “OK what’s going on here?  What do I need right now in this situation?”  A gentle, authentic power within now grounds us in stillness and strength.

Example: It’s 7:30 am, the kids should be on the bus for school, but one has a fever, the other is still dawdling in the bathroom, and the cat just ran out the door.  Your mind goes crazy—“the kids are late for school, I’ll look like a bad parent, OMG does Aaron have COVID, will we all get COVID, I should have gotten them up earlier, where the @#$%*# did the cat go she’ll get hit by a car, I can’t handle this…!!!”  Triggered!  Nervous system completely dysregulated, thoughts spiraling into disaster scenarios.

Perfect time to get mindful, get still, right here, right now.  Anchor the feet to the floor. Breathe slowly, in to a count of five, out to a count of five.  Hand to heart and belly.  Invite  the kids to do this with you.  Or, you can slowly tap your upper arms in the butterfly hug, including the kids.  This will calm the fight/flight response and slow your thinking down.  Mirror neurons can work magic: as you calm and settle, your kids will calm and settle, too.

Now, your prefrontal cortex—the thinking brain—is on line.  First priority is safety.  Kids OK?  Yes.  Look out the door for the cat.  Oh, there’s Checkers, under the forsythia bush. Bring her in.  Next step is also clear—call the school.  One step at a time, from a calmer, more grounded place, you do the next thing that needs to be done.  There is more ease. You’ve found the calm center within the storm.

Have you ever noticed the deep stillness of a lush, fragrant forest?  Or the peacefulness of a twilight snowfall?  That same stillness can be found within; at our core it is the essence of who we are.  Over time, when we practice a form of meditation, mindfulness, or self-calming, our nervous system transforms.  We’re calmer and less triggered.  Courage and self-compassion arise.  Relationships improve.  Insights and glimmers of soul purpose peek though.  And an ineffable sense of Grace, of Presence, begins to shine from the very core of our being, welcoming us home.

Let Everything Breathe

MushroomsAs you sit here reading these words, you are breathing … stop for a moment and notice this breath.

You could control the breath, and make it behave as you like … or you can simply let yourself breathe.

There is peace in just letting your body breathe, without having to do anything about it.

Now imagine letting your hands breathe. Just let them be, without having to control them. Just let them breathe.

Now look around you, and notice what else is in the room with you. See each object, and let it breathe.

If there are any people in the room with you, in your building, or in nearby buildings or houses … see them in your mind and let them breathe.

When you let them breathe, you just let them be, exactly as they are. You don’t need to change them, don’t need to control them, don’t need to improve them. You just let them breathe, in peace, and you accept that. You might even smile at this breathing.

As you go through your day, let everything breathe. Let yourself breathe.

There is no need to do anything. You don’t expect anything from anything or anybody. Just let them come as they come, let them go as they go.

Just appreciate everything and everybody as they are, miracles of existence, breathing in the soft air of the world, and smile at this joyful manifestation of love.

Leo Babauta

The Healing Power of Awe and Wonder

InsectOne day while eating my lunch at a small table on my back porch, an unexpected guest arrived.  This tiny visitor, no longer than a dime is wide, marched along the edge of the table from left to right, past my plate, and stopped to gaze at the Mexican sunflower leaves draping over the table and blocking its path.  When I put my fork down and adjusted my glasses to get a better view, my jaw dropped in surprise and wonder.

This marvelous, fantastical being had to have been transported to my table from another galaxy!  In my entire life, I had never seen an insect that looked like this.  What world did it come from?  Where is it going?  What cosmological intelligence could have created such a Suess-like, fairy-tale creature, in such a small package?

This unexpected guest made my day.  I was in awe of the great Mystery of life, how a tiny bug could be such a source of curiosity and delight.

In the book Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life, psychologist and author Dacher Keltner describes awe as “the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world“.

Dr. Keltner’s research suggests that awe and wonder are essential to our mental, physical, and emotional health and well-being.  Health benefits include calming of the nervous system and releasing of oxytocin—the “cuddle-chemical” that promotes well-being, social interaction, growth and healing.

Opportunities for awe and delight are everywhere—like the kid I saw unicycling downhill (yeah one wheel, no brakes!) with a humongous bouquet of flowers in his hands, or the “goth” teen who with utmost patience helped an elder who dropped her bag, or my recent discovery at the top of Skinner Mountain—three luminous rainbow shafts streaming down from threatening, gray storm clouds as they drifted over the river and valley floor.  These moments are ephemeral and easily missed, but when we take time to pause and  appreciate them, they can connect us to the transcendent and to a Presence greater than ourselves.

During these unprecedented, challenging times, it’s tempting to sink into negativity and focus on “what’s wrong” with ourselves and the world.  With a small shift in attention, however, we gift ourselves with the joy, awe and wonder that is our birthright.  We come face-to-face with that mysterious paradox of life:  that light and darkness coexist as one.  Rainbows stream down from storm clouds.  Great loss is accompanied by great love.  While war rumbles, a unicyclist is bringing flowers to a beloved, and an elder is helped across the road.

Befriending Your Inner Child

Ferrets From Fajar Andriyanto ReportAs a therapist,  two questions I frequently hear are “Why do I have to connect with my Inner Child and how do I know the child part is there?”  Great questions.

The short answer: Our inner child self is that part of us that is spontaneous, loving, playful, joyful, creative, and innocent.  When we suffer early parental attachment injury, the child learns to shut down these life-affirming qualities and replace them with adaptive responses to trauma: dissociation, fear, somatic symptoms, anxiety, anger, and shame. The wounded child and her authentic self go into exile, where she is safe and protected from perceived danger in her family or in the world.

These unhealed traumas can live on into adulthood, and impact every aspect of our lives: self-esteem, work, health, relationships, creativity, and life purpose.

There’s good news!  We can rediscover, befriend, and heal the inner child, creating over time a profound sense of wholeness, inner security, calm, and self-esteem.  Thanks to brain neuroplasticity we can repair attachment traumas by “rewiring” the brain.  I have found that the five attachment healing models below are helpful in helping clients reconnect with and heal the inner child:

Janina Fisher PhD (Trauma-informed Stabilization Treatment (TIST), teaches mindful awareness of and dialogue with one’s inner traumatized C-PTSD parts, honoring their brilliant survival strategies, and repairing attachment by reconnecting the Wise Adult Self with the Traumatized Child.

Laurel Parnell PhD (Attachment-based EMDR: Healing Relational Trauma), has a protocol for imagining and “tapping in”, through bilateral stimulation, healthy development and attachment—from the in-utero stage, through the birth process, toddlerhood, latency, and into adolescence.

Lucia Capacchione, PhD (Recovery of Your Inner Child), teaches writing and drawing with your non-dominant hand to connect with the Inner Child.

Daniel Brown PhD (Attachment Disturbances: Treatment for Comprehensive Repair), created a guided visualization, whereby one imagines parents who “did all the right things”.  Over time, a positive, stable working map of attachment replaces the old insecure attachment “map”.  This visualization can work well in conjunction with psychotherapy, and is available on YouTube.

The journey of self-transformation involves vulnerability, courage, and commitment to embracing our inner child.  In the words of author Elizabeth Gilbert (O Magazine, 2016):

“Many years ago when I was going through a dark season of depression and self-loathing, I taped a sweet photograph of myself at the tender age of 2 on my bathroom mirror. Looking at that photo every day reminded me that I once was this blameless little person, deserving of all tenderness—and that part of me would always be this blameless little person deserving of all tenderness.

Meditating upon a smaller and more innocent version of my face helped me learn to be more compassionate to myself. I was finally able to recognize that any harm I inflicted on me, I was also inflicting on her. And that little kid clearly didn’t deserve to be harmed.

Reconnecting with one’s inner child is a terrific therapeutic practice, whether you have old wounds to heal or simply want to avoid opening up new ones.”


Giraffe Photo From Jan Pelcman Report


Thoughts Are Not Always Our Friends

Sunflower Spirit Copy“Don’t believe everything you think”, the bumper sticker says.  So true!  The thoughts and stories that fill our brain—about ourselves, situations, and other people—are often fictional and leave us exhausted, anxious, or depressed.  Or as Michael Singer (author of The Untethered Soul and Living Untethered) aptly put it, “Ninety-nine percent of your thoughts are a complete waste of time. They do nothing but freak you out.”

Much of our thinking is negative, thanks to our inner Protector part that projects its ancient fight/flight fear out into the world, valiantly anticipating “what’s unsafe” so we can be prepared for threat.  Like a good foot-soldier, it has “telescopic trauma vision”, always alert to “what’s wrong” in any given person or situation.

Problem is, believing our worry thoughts and focusing on “what’s wrong”, doesn’t leave room for “what’s right and beautiful” in ourselves, or the world!  Take my recent trip to the dentist, for example.

A week prior to the visit, I noticed the classic fear response lighting up my limbic system with worry thoughts: “It’s going to hurt, it’ll take too long, I’ll be anxious, what if I need a root canal, have I flossed enough, will I get COVID, just cancel and wait a little longer…”

Fortunately I caught my thinking spiraling down the rabbit hole and recognized it for what it was: an attempt to feel safe and in control. I sat back, relaxed, welcomed the thoughts, and asked myself “Is this the kind of experience I want to have at the dentist?”  No.  “Can I be 100% sure these awful things are going to happen?”  No.

Next question is crucial: “What kind of experience would you prefer to have at the dentist?”  This is where intention comes in—where we can shift from “Victim” (I’m being “done to”) to “Empowered” (I choose my response).

I went for the gold and said “I want the dental experience to be fast, painless, relaxing, and fun!”  And that’s exactly what happened.

It was a cold, cloudy Saturday when I walked into the dental office.  I brought the staff a pot of bright yellow flowers and a cherry pie.  Why?  Why not?  It made us all happier!  Kindness is healing medicine, for both giver and receiver.

During the dental procedure, I practiced relaxation and held my hand to my heart and belly (slows the heart rate and calms the polyvagal fight/flight activation).  When the dental assistant surfaced next to me wearing a huge white space helmet from 2001: A Space Odyssey to protect herself from COVID, I didn’t freak out—I was even calm enough to joke with her about it!  I was so relaxed I almost fell asleep—while a lot of stainless steel was spelunking around in my mouth.  In the end, I had no pain, and we were all delighted with how quickly the procedure went.

Oprah Winfrey has said that her favorite line in Michael Singer’s new book, “Living Untethered”, is

“The moment in front of you is not bothering you. You are bothering yourself about the moment in front of you.”

It was not going to the dentist that was bothering me; it was my fear thoughts about going to the dentist that were bothering me.

Every fear thought I had, did not come true.

When I became mindful and explored these upsetting thoughts and sensations with curiosity and compassion, my nervous system calmed.  I was freed to experience a simpler, larger reality, the here-and-now truth: in this moment, everything is actually OK.  From this place of okay-ness, of Awareness, I am at choice.

Would I rather go to the dentist from a calm, happy place, or an anxiety-ridden place?  I tucked the Protector under my arm and chose happy.