Paced Out?

Paced Out?

My guide sent me out with a friend, but we parted company some hours ago, as she was attracted to the crest of a hill, and I was attracted to the womb of the valley. We had been instructed to vocalize loudly once we honed our location - to help us release what needed to be released.

I found the most private area I could, nestled in the valley with trees around me, in a little gully. I decided to start slowly with just a little air reverberating through my vocal chords, and then gradually allowed myself to grow louder. To my surprise, the louder I got the better it felt until I was really belting with my mouth wide open. After some time, the vocalizing faded as tears came, offering their own gifts about where I had left my self. With the tears came an understanding that I had been leaving MY pace over and over again in ways that I moved internally in my own being and externally in relationship to the world.

Where does our pacing come from? – not the pacing that has been conditioned, but our pacing that connects us to ourselves and to our world organically and in ways that sync us.

I learned a lot about myself that day. I understood that in pushing and not listening to regular visceral calls back to my center, it had the capacity to effect small things, like a lovely meal, or large things, like missing a job opportunity, a relationship, a treasured project, or even my sense of feeling safe and loved by ME. And it seems somewhat cumulative – the more my pacing is off each moment, the more it dominoes. For when my pacing is off, my connection to myself is also off.

Coming back to myself and where I was internally long ago…in the womb, before the womb. Where does our pacing come from? – not the pacing that has been conditioned, but our pacing that connects us to ourselves and to our world organically and in ways that sync us. And how does our pace work to harmonize with all the other paces and rhythms we encounter, like a river that flows fast at times, and meanders slowly at other times, even catching in stillness in moments maybe near the shore or in a shallow pool between rocks?

Like most of us, I imagine, when we lose our pacing, we lose so much more. Staying with my body, it seems to know more even than my mind…about how to bring me back. Our bodies are wired to find their way back when we get help with how to connect to their wisdom, how to read the signals we are being given. In a fast paced, often disorienting world, our organic pace may be one of our greatest strengths, greatest friends, and very welcomed ally to those around us.


Michelle Levy, PhD, is a Registered Psychological Assistant #PSB94024010 working under the supervision of Gabrielle Taylor, PhD. Dr. Levy’s clinical interests focus on parenting practices, attachment, child mental health and developmental concerns, as well as the effects of trauma on youth, families and communities. 

Slowness

Slowness

Slowness to me is the quality of pausing from deep within.

This poetic piece is about the author's experience at a yoga and reiki sound bath. Its structure and tone is intended to parallel the sense of slowness that she is describing.

Slowness to me is the quality of pausing from deep within.

The slowness in my life comes from deep breathing, grounding and connecting to my senses through smell, sound, touch and feeling my thoughts float away as I move through postures and become enveloped in the reverberation from the singing bowls.

As my instructor leads us through a meditative practice, I find a kind voice within myself that honors the stillness in my busy day, and I begin to feel a sense of belonging and connectedness to the universe.

As sage fills the air and my feet hit the mat, I take a deep breath. I let go of the day's struggles and release the tightness in my body. I notice the heat in the air and the smells in the room as more and more tension is released. I have a sense of slowing down and oneness. When my instructor guides us through a chant of gratitude, my heart swells and my feet feel firmly planted once again.

Yoga,

sound,

and meditation

bring slowness to my being. 


Maria Elena Marquez, MA, is a bilingual Spanish-English Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, IMF #103470, working under the supervision of Michelle Harwell, PsyD, LMFT.  As an art therapist, Maria is passionate about helping clients unravel complex cultural beliefs and family pressures through the use of expressive art.

Granny Joy

Granny Joy

When thinking about what I would write on the topic of joy, my mind immediately landed on my paternal grandmother. Her name is Simcha, which means Joy in Hebrew. I used to call her “Granny Joy.” She would have been 100 years old this past year if she were still here in physical form.

[Joy] seems like an internal state that comes from our being, and it seems tied to being able to feel present in the moment.

What strikes me as significant about my grandmother and JOY, is that she experienced tragedy and struggle in her life, yet, by the time I got to meet her, her joy seemed to be so available regardless. Granted, she had seven children, 16 grandchildren, and twenty-something great grandchildren to feel joyful about, (well, and to worry about), but there was and is something very meaningful and significant to me about my grandmother and joy.

If my grandmother were alive and I asked her what gave her the most joy, outside of her family, she hands down would have said gardening. And why gardening? Because it took her mind off of everything and brought her into the present moment with beauty, with the earth, with the roses, with the poppies, the squash, the green beans, the peach tree, the avocado tree, plum tree, and the fig tree. It brought her hands into the earth – into the soil with the seeds.

My grandmother could laugh, and she did – a lot. She laughed in conversation with others - this joyful laughter that seemed to come when she was in the company of others.

As I mentioned, she experienced loss and heartache and pain, just like the rest of us, yet this didn’t seem to interfere with her ability to feel joy. Yes, during those times of great suffering, I imagine it absolutely interfered. But in her life, in general, there was this ability to find the joy again and again by doing things that spoke to her soul, to her being. Gardening and family were those things for her. She didn’t seem to need to chase the joy, she seemed to connect to what she loved and the joy would start coming through her.

In thinking about my grandmother, how I experience joy, and how my friends have described their experiences with it to me, it seems like an internal state that comes from our being, and it seems tied to being able to feel present in the moment.

The safety, security and feeling of love I feel when I think of my Granny Joy, of Simcha, feels deeply rooted in her love for her family, her ability to nurture us and her own ability to connect to the JOY that she could bring through her. There is something safe and nurturing about joy - something that feels organic, authentic, deeply alive, and available to everyone.


Michelle Levy, PhD, is a Registered Psychological Assistant #PSB94024010 working under the supervision of Gabrielle Taylor, PhD. Dr. Levy’s clinical interests focus on parenting practices, attachment, child mental health and developmental concerns, as well as the effects of trauma on youth, families and communities. 

Inherited Joy

Inherited Joy

For as long as I can remember, I have heard how special it is that I share a middle name with my mother. While I have always felt it to be true, it was only recently that I have embraced the particular significance of sharing our name “Joy." I have realized that in the passing along of the name, my mother also imparted the tools in which to access joy, and that is through play. One of my earliest joys was playing with my mom - running, jumping, laughing, dancing, exploring nature - she never held back with me when it came to having fun and playing hard.

Joy is the feeling of freedom I experience when I reconnect with my more child-like self.

Now, in the juggling of adult responsibilities and everyday stressors, along with overwhelming media stories of the pain and suffering of others in this world, it has become increasingly important to feel connected to that deep, inner child-like joy.  While it’s tempting to chase the most exhilarating, joyous heights, I recognize that finding joy in the mundane is what brings me buoyancy; shielding me against all the things that can mar my fullest perspective on life.

Joy is the feeling of freedom I experience when I reconnect with my more child-like self, often times through play, but sometimes even just in the reminder of things that I loved as a child. These moments are available to me as long as I create the space in my day for them. A great example, and a peek into my silly world, is how I stop to say hello to the squirrels on my daily, on-foot commute around town. I’m well aware this may sound a bit kooky, but I find great joy in connecting with one of my favorite animals and reminding myself of the fun I had chasing and playing with the squirrels in the trees that surrounded my childhood home.  

What’s in a name? So much more than I had recognized before.


Lauren Joy Furutani, MA, LMFT, helps individuals and families of all ethnic and faith backgrounds maneuver through the unexpected turns in life.

Kids Get Real About Joy

Kids Get Real About Joy

 Self-portrait, Rosie, Age 4

Self-portrait, Rosie, Age 4

Snippets from the interview:

Q: When You think of Joy, What's the First Thing that Pops in Your Head?

A: Joyful music and dancing. Those are the things....

 

Q: What does joy look like?

A: Beautiful blue sky. Beautiful with jewels in it.

 

Q: What happens in your body when you feel joy?

A: It wiggles around. 

 

Q: If joy were a color, what WOULD it be?

A: It would be whole rainbow.

 

Q: What’s the opposite of joy?

A: Um…I don’t know.


 Self-portrait, Lucy, Age 5 1/2

Self-portrait, Lucy, Age 5 1/2

Snippets from the interview:

Q: When you think of joy, what's the first thing that pops into your head?

A: Rainbow. 

 

Q: What does joy look like?

A: Love.

 

Q: If joy were a color, what Would it Be?

A: Seagreen.

 

In Love and In Good Humor

In Love and In Good Humor

It wasn’t until the 1680s that the word humor began to refer to something amusing or comic. I learned of this by venturing down an Internet rabbit hole

When we say that we’re looking for a love interest with a sense of humor, I think we’re wondering: Can this person roll with the punches of life? Can they respect their own eccentricities and will they accept and love my eccentricities?

When I realized that humor was the theme marking the conclusion of our Humans of MHT interview series, I was delighted by the linguistic serendipity - humor and humanness. I assumed that the two words were etymologically linked. However, when I did a cursory Google search, I found evidence to the contrary. Humor comes from the Latin words “humere” (to be moist) and “humor” (liquid, moistness). Human, on the other hand, is borrowed from the Latin words “homo” (man, human) and “humanus” (of or belonging to man, human, humane). 

No close historical relation after all. 

But it didn’t matter. I was newly delighted by dangling carrots — and it was all about humor as a word for state of mind or mood, not as a reference to something funny. I had stumbled upon an article about humorism - a system of medicine, adopted by ancient Greek and Roman physicians and philosophers, that attributes particular mental states to an excess or deficiency of four distinct bodily fluids in a person, known as humors. In this system, both mental and physical health are dependent on a balance of four primary humors: bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood, and therefore, a person could have a melancholic, bilious, phlegmatic or sanguine temperament. My initial thought was: Huh — there’s something very apropos about this connection because any comedian worth their salt has a zinger about our most embarrassing human secretions.

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As I dug deeper, I read that language evolved from speaking of temperament (He’s in ill-humor/She’s in good humor) to “humoring” someone’s mood or whim, and then finally referring to something that could alter someone’s mood by making them laugh. In the 17th century, humor then became synonymous with “imbalance" and "eccentricity of character.” I had an aha moment -- that was the key between humor and humanness! No need for these threads to be linked by the same root word. They were already inextricably tied together in my understanding of a lasting partnership, but I didn't have the turn of phrase to more fully articulate it until my eyes landed on eccentricity of character. What clicked was....When I think about someone’s humanness, I reflect on their particularities, foibles, oddities, or difference. The prickly bits and the rough edges are the most human. In relationship, it is the ability to negotiate eccentricities rather than strive for sameness or perfect complementarity that I believe provides sturdiness to weather the storms of life together.

According to eHarmony, “Almost every person has ‘sense of humor’ high on the list of things they want in a partner.” That rings emotionally true — that’s certainly what my people in my personal life value in their significant others. And it’s something that I cherish in my partner. This conviction was also declared in Lauren Ziel's interview with comedy producer Andi Porter, in which Porter stated “I would have a sack of potatoes as a partner as long as they had a great sense of humor.”  When we say that we’re looking for a love interest with a sense of humor, I think we’re wondering: Can this person roll with the punches of life? Can they respect their own eccentricities and will they accept and love my eccentricities? And for me, specifically, can they humor my searching for things equally inane and profound online? 


Taz MorganMA, is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, IMF #99714, working under the supervision of Gabrielle Taylor, PhD. She has trained in Depth-oriented psychotherapy and works with adolescents, adults, and couples. 

Belly Laughs & Blazing Saddles: An Interview with Andi Porter, Comedy Producer

Belly Laughs & Blazing Saddles: An Interview with Andi Porter, Comedy Producer

Andi Humor

Lauren Ziel: When did you first know what funny/comedy/humor was and that you had a knack for it?

Andi Porter: My family always thought I was funny. Everyone in my family is hilarious and I just thought every family nucleus was like that until I'd go to my friends' homes and realize how boring and solemn their family dinners were. Why wasn't anyone else trying to burp as loud as they can to get everyone to belly laugh or quoting Mel Brooks movies to get someone to shoot milk out of their nose? Turns out the Mel Brooks quotes didn't go over well in the 2nd grade cafeteria. Apparently not everyone's parents let them watch Blazing Saddles at 7. Losers.

When I was little I was incredibly shy and introverted around others. That was until we moved into the city and I changed schools in the 7th grade. It was an opportunity to be myself and just get weird with it. So I did! It seemed to work out and my friends and their friends thought I was funny. I realized that was my open door into being the wildly extroverted person I am now and I sprinted through that door and never looked back. 

As one of our therapists Monica Green writes in a recent MHT blog post: "[Humor's] fundamental value lies in the way it allows us to approach truth less directly, to come at it sideways but to come at it nonetheless. It’s a way of coping with the things that…need coping with.” How has humor served you at getting at your greater truth?

Humor has allowed me to talk about the way I feel and view the world in a way that's unique to my voice and perspective without it seeming like I'm an informed professional who's psychoanalyzing things. Being raised Catholic taught me to not be an emotional person, so I rarely cry or like to talk about anything serious, but humor allows me to talk about those topics more willingly and freely with my own voice that I ever would have before. And the best part is it's MY voice. It took me a long time to find it, and I realize a lot of people never find theirs so I'm lucky to have it. 

Humor has allowed me to talk about the way I feel and view the world in a way that’s unique to my voice and perspective.

How/or do you use humor to cope with hardships in your life?

It's the only way I know how to cope. If someone is upset or sad my gut reaction is to walk funny, do a dance, use a silly voice, burp, fart, do anything to lift the heavy weight in the room. My entire family is this way. For example: about 3 years ago when my grandpa was admitted to the ER in the middle of the night, the hospital called the family to let us know it was the end and we needed to get down there. For hours my extended family was sitting in the waiting room, about a dozen of us, telling the funniest stories we could think of about our grandpa. We were all taking turns saying our goodbyes, and laughing our asses off at the same time. One other person was in the waiting room and came up to us and said, "I wish my family was like this. You're all having such a good time while getting through a tough time." And that really stuck with me. I felt so lucky to have a family that copes this way, and I can't wait to pass it on to my kids who I WILL be watching Blazing Saddles with as soon as they're old enough. So like, 8 years old. 

What's your favorite bad/dad joke?

What do you call a fish with no eyes? 

Fshhhhh.

How is humor helpful for mental health? (This can be personal or a view of how you see it as useful for mental health in general.) 

For myself, it's so important to laugh and get that serotonin going in my brain. I struggle with anxiety and depression and I refuse to be on prescribed medication. It makes me feel wonky. If I didn't have comedy as a regular part of my routine, I'd be on so much Xanax -- it'd be a mainline situation. I'd probably be trying to smoke it. Working in the world of comedy and having similar types of people around me has helped my mental health in the biggest way possible. 

Comedy can also be viewed as a mental health problem of it's own. There's something to be said about a person who will do ANYTHING for a laugh, and I'm definitely one of those people. It's not about the self-gratification, it's about making everyone in the room happier, which can be a good thing and a bad thing, and sometimes both simultaneously. 

Would you rather have a partner who is super hot, really nice and attentive, great in bed, and majorly successful OR one who has the perfect sense of humor?

I would have a sack of potatoes as a partner as long as they had a great sense of humor. That's my only qualification in a partner. Which is probably why I've dated a loooot of men without jobs and cars. But wouldn't it be nice to have all of the above?!

 

Andi Porter is a producer and actress, known for The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale (2018), The Soup (2004) and Dish Nation (2011).


Lauren Ziel, MSW is a Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker, ASW #76483, working under the supervision of Gabrielle Taylor, PhD. Through the use of movement and mindfulness, Lauren develops specialized treatment for anxiety, depression, eating disorders, challenges in life-stage transitions, relational difficulties, and identity/intrapersonal development.

The Laugh Machine

The Laugh Machine

While humor can build up or tear down, it’s fundamental value lies in the way it allows us to approach truth less directly, to come at it sideways but to come at it nonetheless. It’s a way of coping with the things that…need coping with. At its best, it unites us as we share a laugh over some aspect of being human.

I remember my mother telling me a story about her younger sister growing up. Her sister was tying various strings to an old bottle and attaching a bunch of different objects to the other end of each string. When asked what she was doing, she explained that she was making a laugh machine. While the family was at first incredulous, simply watching her twirl her odd contraption had them all in stitches in the end. Why? It was so ridiculous! There was an irony in the fact that her prediction came true from those unlikely beginnings. My mother was still giggling 50-some years later.

What makes humor such an important part of our humanity? Fundamentally, all humor centers around truth. In slapstick, we highlight the ridiculous aspects of daily life. In a roast, we exaggerate selected features of a person to create a comic caricature. Wit often shows us a wry perspective on a situation. Sarcasm presents a critical truth mercilessly, Gallows humor transcends what is most grim in our human experience to point out irony or the absurd. Freudian humor, as Taz reminds us, carries the truth of our unconscious desires.

While humor can build up or tear down, it’s fundamental value lies in the way it allows us to approach truth less directly, to come at it sideways but to come at it nonetheless. It’s a way of coping with the things that…need coping with. At its best, it unites us as we share a laugh over some aspect of being human. Its playfulness pulls on a younger part of us. And isn’t it always children that overcome divisions that adults can’t seem to get around, simply by not seeing them in the first place? When we laugh together, we’re in touch with a part of us that can meet others in a place of youthful glee.

Personally, I love the way my kindergarten-age daughter laughs uproariously and uncontrollably when I crack a string of jokes about the inescapable truths of our digestive tracts. She can’t stop. She’s utterly helpless in the waves of laughter shaking her small body. Part of her will never outgrow her love of earthy humor. When she’s 16, perhaps we’ll find it awkward and difficult to connect in the tried and true fashion of adolescence. I’m sure I’ll be googling fart jokes and letting them rip.


Monica Green, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, PSY27391, specializing in depression, anxiety, trauma, relationship issues and psychological aspects of chronic health conditions. She enjoys terrible puns. 

Humans of MHT: An Interview with Abby Wambaugh

Humans of MHT: An Interview with Abby Wambaugh

Maria Elena: Hey Abby—how are you?

Abby: I’m good, how are you?

ME: I’m good. So, I’m interviewing you today….what does humanness mean to you?

Abby: I’ve been thinking about this in anticipation of our talk today, and after hearing what everyone else has said…I just really want to think about what does humanness mean to me specifically. And as I was thinking about it, I saw that it has two meanings for me. One is that it’s a reminder of my own work with perfectionism and that I am a human…with flaws, with things that I’m working on, and with things that I want to do differently. In some ways, it allows me to have self-compassion - to remember my own humanness and come into contact with it. And I was also thinking part of humanness is resiliency for me…that we as humans are capable of handling much more than we think we can. There’s something really beautiful about the fact that we are both flawed and imperfect…and yet sometimes even stronger than we could imagine. So, I think some combination of this self-compassion and this resiliency is what humanness means to me. 

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ME: Wow, thank you so much for sharing. I feel inspired right now. So, you chose humor to represent your humanness. What does humor mean to you?

Abby: Humor has always been a way to connect with people…and in some ways a way to connect with myself. I remember when I was a kid… at the dinner table….I had this impression that I did of one of my teachers at school and my family use to request that I do the impression. And it would make everybody laugh. So, I have these really rich and vivid childhood memories of humor being a way that I could connect with people that I love and a way that I could let go of some of the stress that would carry throughout the day. And as an adult, it still continued to show up for me. I did a comedy standup set one time, and realized that I like to be more in the audience than the one up front, but it was part of this way of me engaging with humor and engaging with how much it takes a weight off of you. I think sometimes about some of the difficult things we talk about in the therapy room…and sometimes you just have to bring some humor in there. Some of the most amazing parts of sessions for me are the ones where you have these really intense moments and you also get to laugh with your client. And so I think that same type of connection and relief that humor brings is not only important to me as a human but it’s also really important to be as a therapist, and it’s something that I try to utilize a lot in the therapy room.

ME: Wow, have there been any shining moments as a clinician where you use your humor since you already said you use it clinically?

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Abby: One moment that comes to mind for me was with a teenager that I used to work with who was particularly resistant to therapy, as most teenagers are (laughs). Who was really having trouble engaging with the things that she wanted to work on and with even what it meant to her to be in therapy. We started…I don’t even really remember how it started…but we started doing voices together. We would start our sessions with accents. We kinda had our “go-to” accents. Mine, because I’m from Texas originally…I like to do a good Southern accent. Sometimes we would switches into British accents. And we would have different accents that we would do. It was a way of breaking ice and way of us connecting at the beginning of the session to remind her that yes, I was her therapist, but I was also somebody sitting with her…wanting to connect with her and care about her and help make what was not going well for her better and help her find healing. That’s one silly thing that I don’t do all the time, but that definitely comes to mind for me when I think about how I’ve used humor in the past with clients.

ME: Wow, I really enjoy your spin on humor and how it helps facilitate hard conversations or even just helps to bring the human in the room. And say like, “Hey, we can laugh together, cry together, and heal together.”

Abby: What’s tricky about humor…I think I even mentioned this to you…is that it can definitely be a form of avoidance. I think we see that a lot as therapists…that someone will come in contact with a hard part of their story and will deflect with humor. I’ve definitely been guilty of that before, too. It’s one of those ways to care for self and to connect. But I’m also aware there’s a shadow side to humor…where you can use it to try to escape moments of intimacy with people. I try not to use humor in that way and I think It’s helpful to even be aware of that because it’s something that we all do sometimes. 

ME: Yeah, yes. It was really great interviewing you. I feel a little more inspired. I feel a little looser to use humor in the room with clients instead of being so serious…us art therapist are just so serious. Just kidding. (laughs).

Abby: Yes, exactly. (Laughs).

ME: Well, thank you.

Abby: Thank you. 


Abigail (Abby) Wambaugh, M.S., is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, IMF #94231, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, Psy.D., MFT 50732. She specializes in treating relationship difficulties, trauma, and sexual issues.


Maria Elena Marquez, MA, is a bilingual Spanish-English Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, IMF #103470, working under the supervision of Michelle Harwell, PsyD, LMFT.  As an art therapist, Maria is passionate about helping clients unravel complex cultural beliefs and family pressures through the use of expressive art.

A New Taste of Home

A New Taste of Home

chicken korma

For me, food holds memories of being grounded and content. Memories of dishes I’ve shared with people I love, dishes I’ve made for people I love, and lingering together with food and wine. These memories are places I come back to time and time again to feel at home.

When I was 18 years old, I moved away from my family and lived in England for a year working as a nanny. It was there that I remember first solidifying food as a grounding memory. The family I worked for regularly made chicken korma and it became a dish of comfort and calm for me. Something about the strong curry scent, basmati rice, and creamy yellow sauce shared with a family I cared about deeply eased my feelings of homesickness.

In doing some research, I found neuroscience affirms my experience of food as grounding. Eating food engages all of our senses, and senses are deeply tied to memories. Researchers have found that smell is often the strongest sense tied to memory, and if you add on the layers of all other senses experienced when eating food our brains are given multiple cues to recall a memory linked to a meal.

In a study done in 2007 by Johan Willander and Maria Larsson, researchers found that memories triggered by smell were also more emotional than those triggered by verbal information alone. This may be why even today, years after my time in England, I find myself ordering chicken korma when I feel a bit lost and alone, and after a few bites I find myself at home again.

For me, food holds memories of being grounded and content...These memories are places I come back to time and time again to feel at home.

Abigail (Abby) Wambaugh, M.S., is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, IMF #94231, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, Psy.D., MFT 50732. She specializes in treating relationship difficulties, trauma, and sexual issues.