The Darker the Night the Brighter the Light: Five Lessons Learned This Month

Another title might be, From the darkness I brought back gems of wisdom and a soul full sense of peace.

One month ago I suddenly found myself in a very dark place where I felt vulnerable, raw, naked, humble, confused yet seeking to understand the social interaction dynamics that had triggered this journey into a seemingly bottomless pit. It’s been well over 10 years since I’ve been in such a solitary space, feeling alone, unsupported, disconnected from myself and from others.

I slowly began to emerge from the darkness 10 days ago and now I am completely out.

Going into the darkness, I remember telling people I am going through a big shift in my life. It was clear that something significant, transformational was happening. I came back with deeper feelings of connection, and a deeper sense of belonging to something much bigger than myself and a more profound sense of meaning and purpose. One lesson was about a deeper understanding of who I am separate from ego, that is, the identity I was taught and the social conditioning that has so brainwashed my thinking. And I might add the thinking of everyone around me. It’s grip on me is looser.

I feel more separated from “my story”, meaning the story I tell myself, the oppression that’s been internalized. My attachment to the story is crumbling, my ego is being dismantled resulting in a deeper sense of self-acceptance and compassion for myself and for others. It is not like I didn’t have these senses before, they just deepened. They got into my bones, cells, mind and heart more thoroughly.

The second lesson was about letting go completely – to everything, every mental/emotional attachment- so I felt more at peace and more present in the now. I got more clarity on how I live not in the present moment but often in the past, or in the future. Mostly, the past, where I repeat the same stories (this happened!) or make up new ones based on old ones – how things could be better next time, etc. Being in the now, the present moment was a BIG lesson coming out of this particular darkness. I am more aware of what I am experiencing – how I feel in my head, my heart and my body and noticing the emotions and energy of others.

I am not sure the context of my trigger is important but here it is. The biggest trigger for my descent into darkness came when someone I have known and trusted for over 20 years and who is very smart, wise and articulate unexpectedly shared a perception she had of me that completely shocked me – especially coming from her – it brought me to tears as she told me in a flat, harsh tone. I can not imagine her speaking to anyone else the way she had spoken to me, she just doesn’t behave like that. The context of what leads to our darkness may vary but to me the important point is what lessons we learn from it, and how to emerge from it wiser, and more healed. It triggered early trauma around abandonment and distrust but I have been working on those issues for decades. This darkness had a very different quality to it.

Thus, lesson #2 has to do with the quality of my listening and being present. I frequently ask myself, instead of getting defensive, What am I missing? With my heart broken wide open I was taking on her perspective – this is how she saw me. I assume others sometimes see me this way too. This helped to further crack open the old story I tell myself which allowed the deeper recognition of ego (or social mask) that is not really what and who I am. The difference with this particular time of re-evaluation time is that I have time to stay with my experience, to not hurry or stress or be pulled to get out of the darkness. I opened up to being in it and letting my mind, my awareness, my consciousness explore until meaning or a direction emerged. All the while I felt vulnerable, humbled, naked and raw – primed for new learning and experiencing!

I am forgetting some of the details or how to give words to my experience so I checked my journal. Eight days ago I purchased my plane ticket to India which was a big step. It felt emergent, empowering and certainly a contradiction to the darkness – this was only part of the antidote. Seven days ago my sentence for the day stated, “As I awake and ascend my body tingles in new multi-dimensional ways”. (Oh yes, my consciousness was exploring!). Six days ago, “As my egoic mask evaporates my spiritual self awakens”. Five days ago, “My heart is full of love, my spirit is full of belonging, my mind is at peace resting on the pillow of eternity”. Three days ago, “Imagine a world of no separation, how kind each of us would be”. These sentence a day writings come as close as I can come to to articulating this transformative level of listening where I await the emerging future- what is trying to come through. It has led to the deepest feeling of wholeness I have ever experienced that includes a deep sense of belonging on all levels imaginable- including a cosmic level!

Lesson 3: During this dark time. I did a good amount of emotional release work with other people, that is, we shared time listening to each other and facilitating deeper insight and emotional expression. I’ve done this type of emotional expression with other people an average of three times a week for the past 30 years. Without it I would not be the person I am today. Without it I never would’ve taken on leading the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery. That is to say, to a very significant extent my emotional release work with others has given me the empowered, liberated life I have today.

Lesson 4 is about the gift of meditation and being gently guided by an enlightened person. About 5 days ago I began each day listening to a free series of meditations by Depok Chopra. That helped me very significantly come out of the darkness. His words were gems sprinkled around me, easy to follow and take me into an insightful and peaceful place. I’m not plugging Deepak Chopra in particular. I’m just pointing out that there are extraordinary resources all around us and I had the good fortune of tapping into one that has been, for me, nothing short of remarkable. It came at the perfect time- when I was broken wide open and ready for something new.

Lesson 5 is really what prompted writing this blog. It was the thought that if I had never gone into that dark place I would not have had the insight, the healing, the depth of understanding myself and how to go forward in social relationships and in my life in general. If I had been drugged (“medicated”) or locked up or mistreated by society the way that our culture is so good at I would’ve missed out on so much learning and healing. The depth of wisdom that comes from dark or challenging emotional states that with good support and hard work looking at the underlying (and sometimes ancient) dynamics, can lead to enormous wisdom, insights and compassion. That is the new light I live in. It is completely different from who I was 5 weeks ago.

(stuck rrrr

We Lost a Giant Today: A Tribute to Janet Foner

We lost a giant today — a woman who, more than anyone else in my life, taught me what it meant to live a life of courage, integrity, thinking outside the box and how to be genuine while also strategic in building relationships that have had a huge impact on the world. Janet Foner was one of the most remarkable people I have ever had the pleasure to know and to work with.

My first significant memory of her was over 20 years ago during a Re-evaluation Counseling mental health liberation weekend workshop which Janet led. She held a 7am support group for ex-psychiatric inmates and it was my first time ever going to such a group. She took turns “counseling” us one at a time surrounded by everyone else. She knew my mental health story (from previous interactions) yet in my turn she asked me to say “There was never anything wrong with me.” It shocked me and struck me as a completely wild and crazy idea, given that she knew I had been labeled with chronic schizophrenia by more than one psychiatrist and I had been on and off psychopharmaceuticals for many years. I thought her direction to me was absolutely ridiculous, yet, she was a worldwide leader whom I deeply respected and trusted. So what was I to do but to try and say this “There was never anything wrong with me.” Well I said it, in this small and safe group, with affect that was flat as a pancake. Janet said, “Say it like you mean it” and she stayed with me in a loving and supportive way, urging me to take it in, to consider that notion. She never pushed hard. And over the many years that I (and hundreds of others) worked with her within the RC community she always created a safe and respectful space, inviting us to consider new ways of cleaning our perceptual lens and working towards the world we wanted to create.

That giant contradiction Janet gave me; honestly, it was a struggle for me to even try to begin to wrap my mind around it. And who was she to know better than “the experts” — the psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and virtually every mental health professional I had ever known. It was confusing. She was a force to be reckoned with. She was the embodiment of a radical contradiction to everything I had ever been taught about mental health. Might I add that at this time I had a masters degree in psychology and about 15 years of working in the field when she offered me this “There was never anything wrong with me” contradiction? Who do I trust? This wiry-haired mad-looking woman who had radical ideas about capitalism, the pharmaceutical industrial complex and oppression and who offered a vision of the world as inclusive, loving and socially and economically just.

I have worked hard and intentionally on my liberation for the (now) 29 years I have been involved in the RC community. It took me a few years to begin to wrap my mind around her radical concept and a few more years to embody the reality that in fact there was never anything wrong with me. The seed she planted began to bear big, meaningful fruit. I could see my real and genuine self separate from the mental health oppression that had been heaped on me from my earliest memories. I am not the sum of all the patterned ways I was taught to think and feel.

It is only because of the work I did with Janet Foner and other worldwide RC mental health liberation leaders (who, like me, supported Janet’s work, her brilliant mind and counseling skills) over many years that I was able to take a leap of faith and become the director of the National Coalition of Mental Health Recovery (NCMHR). In that role I got to take on — full force — the heaps of oppression that get spewed at every opportunity in the U.S. and the oppressive mindset that most people believe as “truth.” In my role I got to share my story on Capitol Hill and within many programs of the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, of being misunderstood and mistreated, and to educate decision-makers and legislators about NCMHR’s policy priorities in order to create a more helpful, more healing and more inclusive mental health system of care. And I could lead the NCMHR from my heart, with compassion, because I came to understand the social, economic and political dynamics of oppression as well as to see through that dysfunctional lens and lead us towards a path of liberation.

I am and will always continue to be eternally grateful for Janet’s tenacity and courage to bring diverse leaders together and teach many thousands of people around the world about Mental Health Liberation. Many people do not know that Janet helped form the very early Alternatives Conferences in the U.S. and she co-founded MindFreedom International and to this day she continued serving on its board. As she said in a speech she gave at MindFreedom’s Creative Revolution conference in 2007:

I remind David periodically that it is the depth of mental health oppression that is keeping us from moving forward as fast as we originally thought we would. I remind him that many of us have had years of heavy psychiatric drugs, electroshock, seclusion, four point restraint, etc. in the mental health system, and that that has made it more difficult to organize ourselves than some other movements.

But I also want to remind us that they took their best shots at us and failed, they did not get us down, they didn’t stop us, and they can’t, because we know more than they do about recovery. They assume that no one can recover, and we know people can, because we have done it, and helped others do it, too. The system repeats the same old record over and over: you are sick, there is something wrong with you, you will never get better, you can’t make it in society, you will need drugs forever. We know that those old records that play the same song over and over have proved to be useless and non-productive. In contrast, what we do is powerful, and healing. We can think around and outside of the system, and that puts us in a much better position to change things for the better.

We are the pioneers, making a space in the world for our work and our dreams to happen.

Janet Foner

From David Oaks:

Janet Foner: Thanks for Your Lifetime of Mental Health Liberation, and Three Decades of Wonderful Friendship!

This is hard to do. I miss you! I valued our regular Facetimes, with you in Harrisburg, PA and me in Oregon. Recently, I talked about updating and reissuing a poster you created many years ago for MindFreedom International. By far, this was our most popular piece of public education, appearing on walls all over the world:

Title: “The 10 Warning Signs of Normality

Readers of that humorous poster would not know that this was based on part of one of your actual workshops, which I had the pleasure of attending several times, about what is this thing we call “normality” and why do so many in the public believe it exists?

Spoiler alert: Janet talked about so-called normality as the “average of the ruling class’s distress patterns.”

I first met Janet back in 1988 in Portland, Oregon at the biggest conference ever held by the National Association for Rights Protection & Advocacy. I was giving a fun little workshop about playing a game where we each took an identity of an oppressed group, and together created a revolution. Janet asked me why don’t we do this in reality?

I got to know Janet better as we met with more and more other psychiatric survivors and allies, planning a counter-conference to the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting in New York City in May, 1990. I especially recall a moment in the hallway during our event, at the new youth hostel, when Janet affirmed my own leadership in this movement. For years the word “leader” had been suspect in our field, which often substituted the word “elitist.”

Janet, your support and wisdom helped me learn that we all, everyone on Earth, need to have our leadership affirmed for nonviolent planetary revolution for the liberation of all, nature included.

You see, the founders of MindFreedom did not just pick a word that would resonate. Janet believed that with enough empowering support any of us, at any moment, can have a mind free enough to choose liberation.

Janet’s friendship and support became, I discovered, a bedrock that could never, ever be diminished. I learned that Janet wrote her Master’s dissertation on building a humane alternative to mental health. I enjoyed seeing the complex and beautiful quilts this artist created. I got to know and love Janet’s family, her two sons and beloved husband Mayer.

While my connection with Janet was mainly through MFI and our close friendship, her MFI work was actually only part of her “mental health system survivor” liberation leadership, as she called it. Janet kept this very separate from MFI, but she treasured her decades of close work with Re-evaluation Counseling, a peer-based support organization created in the 1950’s. Janet felt that RC saved her life, and she was an international leader in that other nonprofit. While not my cup of tea, I met many warm and wise people involved in RC, and valued and respected much that they offer liberation groups in the “Wide World” as movements such as ours are known in RC.

After my injury and profound disability, you made several trips here to visit and always knew how to have fun, as well as offer healing words.

Janet, you have been one of my closest and deepest friends in my life. Your amazing wisdom, no-nonsense strength, vision of Earth as we could be, decades of leadership on the MFI board, and so much more will be missed.

As never before, may your life call to others to find their leadership for nonviolent planetary revolution. Now!

Janet, you loved movies with a smart message and humor. During one of our last Facetime talks, you recommended a documentary with a title that readers of this brief tribute — and there will be more — will probably appreciate:

If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast”


Pathways to Enhance Well-Being and the backstory

This week we e-release this new free booklet, Pathways to Enhance Well-Being, https://wp.me/a3I81E-41. The evolving story provides an example of how we can follow the life pulse that moves through us – in this case – it moved through the three co-authors and manifests something new that we hope will be helpful for many people. My co-creators and I, and seemingly the stars too, were aligned on this project. For each of us, our life story has in large part been about finding pathways to enhance our own well-being and to assist others in doing the same. We came together with heart-based and soul-based intention to share some of the practices that have transformed our lives, opening our bodies and minds which allowed joy and passion to flow through us. We don’t write about our transformative process in the booklet but make no mistake – this is the energy that flowed through us and we hope that you, the reader, can feel in yourself as you expand or deepen your use of body/mind/spirit practices.

Our work, and our lives, give us many opportunities to recalibrate our steps to remain aligned with our deepest intentions. It is delightful to share with you one of the first responses to releasing the booklet. A senior manager in a large behavioral health organization stated, “Right now I am envisioning it (the booklet) being used in our Recovery Education Centers. I am going to present it to the team leaders and have them develop a class around it. Once this is done we will facilitate a class (usually 12 weeks long) in each center.”

The pre-birth of the booklet began with Linda sharing with me some of the barriers she experienced as she moved towards bringing alternative approaches (eg, meditation, breath practices, etc.) into state psychiatric institutions. Perhaps, in part, it was because she was a peer, a person with lived experience of a labeled mental health condition, she and her “techniques” were not taken seriously. Knowing that Linda had for some years been successful in bringing these approaches into the peer community I suggested we ask Peggy to look at the research on the effectiveness of these approaches on people labeled with a mental health condition. Perhaps, if there was hard data Linda could present that to the “professional” clinical staff it would help her make inroads to bringing these practices to a resistent institutional culture.

Peggy did a thorough review of the research literature on 13 different alternative approaches. Six approaches had the most significant data. We created one-pagers that shared the data. Linda’s Advisory Board said they wanted a back page to have a specific example of each approach. All this was done, edited, printed and we were finished – at least we thought so.

Some months later we came up with the idea of putting the 6 one-pagers into a booklet. Now around this time one of the state psychiatric institutions, where Linda had been trying to expand Toivo’s Healing From Within program, very suddenly fired and/or put on administrative leave 50 of their staff due to very public allegations of abuse and neglect. Understandably this increased the stress level of both people working in and incarcerated in the institution. Linda continued reaching out to them to allow more people (patients as well as staff) to participate in the alternative approach healing sessions that she offered (at no cost) weekly on-site. This lead to them contracting with Toivo, Linda’s employer, to offer Healing From Within groups on their inpatient units to both people receiving services as well as staff.

On a separate note, over 600 state mental health workers have been trained in Toivo’s Healing From Within alternative approaches to wellness.

Over some months the co-authors continued editing, making formatting and graphic decisions. Peggy brought in Patricia Nemec to put it all together into the booklet format you see.

Human Connection is the Antidote to a Culture of Isolation

Human Connection is the Antidote to a Culture of Isolation

By Lauren Spiro

December 21, 2017

When the U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, was asked what the biggest disease in America was, he stated: “It’s not cancer, it’s not heart disease, it is the pronounced isolation that so many people are experiencing that is the great pathology of our lives today.”1 Thomas L. Friedman, Pulitzer prize-winning author and journalist with The New York Times, stated: “How ironic, we are the most technologically connected generation in human history, and yet more people feel more isolated than ever. The connections that matter most and that are most in short supply today are the human-to-human ones.”

I want to offer some thoughts and some hope about a process I think we are all undergoing. On the one hand, we see disruption all around us. Unsustainable systems are collapsing, resulting in an acceleration of the breakdown of our community, social, economic and political infrastructure; which, for some, leads to a fear-based amplification of prejudice and fear and a clinging to isolation and silo or wall-building.

On the other hand, however, increasingly people feel a deep sense of purpose that is activating our greatest gifts. We sense that something new, hopeful and empowering is in the process of emerging. Apparently, we need to burn through some darkness before we collectively see the light. The light is a palpable shift toward reaching for human connection; toward opening our hearts and our minds and intentionally focusing on the positive future that wants to emerge. We engage our curiosity, compassion, and courage and reconnect with our shared humanity. People are stepping up, sharing their vulnerability and wisdom and embodying a renewed sense of empowered, cooperative leadership. This is the elevation of our shared humanity.

We are increasingly engaged and experiencing profound social and personal transformation. We are realizing our essential nature and reaching for human connection within and beyond ourselves and realizing that there is nothing to fight against. We are directly engaging in co-innovating and evolving to a more just humanity and a more sustainable democracy.

Moving from the 40,000 foot perspective to an on-the-ground, personal perspective, what does this mean?

Human beings have been making war for a long time in many cultures, meaning in many minds, because the culture is a reflection of the mind. It is noteworthy to state here that there is clear and compelling historical evidence that when matrifocal societies dominated the planet there was no evidence of war. However, in our current patrifocal societies, there is no escaping the damage of war — whether we are aware of the damage or not.

I am coming to a clearer understanding that when I am not at peace in my own mind, I am waging an internal war and that war is projected onto others whether I am aware of broadcasting this or not.

The war in my head (judgment, wall building) can be framed around a variety of battles — it can be framed around the ancient and false belief that I am not good enough or smart enough, or if that other person would do something correctly or if this condition or that condition were met then all would be worked out and peaceful. I have constructed a story that tints the lens through which I see myself, others, our relationships, and the world.

If I remain unaware of how I have tinted the lens, and I remain stuck in the fear-based story, the conditions for peace will not be met. Peace is revealed in the absence of war — in the absence of isolation, fear, the illusion of separation and judgments.

If we look more deeply, we can see that the source of this war comes from the belief that we are some thing that is separate from others. This lesson that we are taught from an early age, this sense of separation and human disconnection, is so pervasive and integrated into the threads of our culture that it makes it hard to see. This experience of human disconnection, a separation of self from self and self from others, is a fundamental concept in both trauma-informed practice and in Emotional CPR (eCPR). The impact of trauma and human disconnection played out in my own early childhood, for example, by my experiencing such a profound lack of safety that it resulted in my clinging to anyone who offered safety and anything that could numb the pain.

Another result of the belief that we are some thing and this thing is separate from each other is that we get focused on protecting this thing. Whatever the thing is — our territory, our home, our family — we protect it and hold onto fear, anger and revenge, and we wait for someone else to do something differently so that we think we can find peace.

Our tinted lens reinforces the idea that that other person is different — separate from me. And this separation perpetuates conflict and war. It perpetuates the war in my head which perpetuates the war I wage with others. Inner war creates global war.

When I am practicing eCPR or genuine human connecting I am looking not from the lens of ego but from a deeper level. Meaning, I am not judging nor labeling but rather seeing the reality (under the illusion) which is that there is nothing to protect. I focus on perceiving the other person in their full humanity. The distress the person is expressing is a particular patterned way that this person’s internal war has escalated. As a supporter or listener I focus on being with them on a genuine level and assisting them in finding what is true or genuine about themselves — meaning what is deeper than the social mask they have identified as being them but is not the genuine them; it is the learned them, the ego.

I do this by seeing the genuine person underneath her lens, underneath the social conditioning, underneath her story. And when we do this we are perceiving or ‘being’ underneath our own lens. From this place, where peace is revealed in the deep connection of two people, I mirror back the best I see in her, my great hope for her, my belief in her, my knowing that together, in this moment, we will move through this.

For more on this process, see: “When the war in our mind ends, peace emerges.”

We are born and innately wired for human connection. It is a simple process but often it is not easy. If you focus and put your intention on it you will re-find it; it will emerge. Here is a beautifully simple example of a stranger successfully reaching for another person: “When Train Riders Moved Away From Passenger, This Woman Held His Hand.”

I end with two simple and eloquent quotes from Albert Einstein: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” and “The ideals that have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth.”

Club Business International (CBI), October 2017

Finding our way back again, the cure for isolation

Finding our way back again, the cure for isolation and its ills

Massive doses of human connection are needed to counter the alienating influence of technology, disruption of the village and a growing culture of isolation.

I remind myself often how wonderful it is to notice the wealth of resource and intelligence that is all around us. I just left the gym where I watch CNN (while on the treadmill) and I go from the devastation of Puerto Rico to the massacre in Las Vegas and then read an entrepreneurial magazine in the lobby.

Club Business International’s October 2017 publication stated, “When I [the editor of CBI] asked the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murphy what was the biggest disease in America today, without hesitation, he answered, ‘It’s not cancer, It’s not heart disease, It’s isolation.’”

One of the results of the incessant technological assault, observes Murphy, “is the pronounced isolation that so many people are experiencing that is the great pathology of our lives today.” The Editors note continues, “International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Associate Chairperson Derek Gallup counsels, ‘Certainly, continue your search for technological solutions, but, as you do so, remain constantly focused on the all-important human element. In the final analysis, your members, and how they feel about them selves and the team members- those are the critical factors that, ultimately, will determine whether your business grows and thrives… or doesn’t.’”

The Editorial also points out that Thomas L. Friedman, Pulitzer prize-winning author and journalist with The New York Times, states “How ironic, we are the most technologically connected generation in human history- and yet more people feel more isolated than ever. The connections that matter most and that are most in short supply today are the human-to-human ones.”

Personally, I am hopeful. More and more people globally are waking up and re-connecting with our shared humanity and a shared vision of a peaceful and collaborative world. Currently in the U.S. however, a great divide appears to be growing, where we see an acceleration of the breakdown of our social structure and our community infrastructure.

Unsustainable systems are collapsing and something new, hopeful, empowering and global is in the process of emerging. It seems that we need to collectively burn through some darkness before we collectively see the light. Lately, there seems to be a growing isolation and war-like posturing. Let’s shift gears and focus on a hopeful antidote that everyone can apply.

World peace begins with me
Human beings have been making war for a long time in many cultures, meaning in many minds, because the culture is a reflection of the mind.

I am coming to a clearer understanding that when I am not at peace in my own mind, I am waging an internal war and that war is projected onto others whether I am aware of it or not.

The war in my head can be framed around a variety of battles – it can be framed around the ancient and false belief that I am not good enough or smart enough, or if that other person would do something well or if this condition or that condition were met – then all would be worked out and peaceful. I have constructed a story that tints the lens through which I see myself, others, our relationships, and the world.

If I remain unaware of how I have tinted the lens, and I remain stuck in the story, the conditions for peace will not be met. Peace is revealed in the absence of war – in the absence of isolation, separation, judgments, and conditions.

If we take another step deeper, we can see that the source of this war comes from the belief that we are some thing that is separate from others. This early learning, this sense of separation and human disconnection, is so pervasive and integrated into the threads of our culture that it makes it hard to see.

This experience of human disconnection, a separation of self from self and self from others, is a fundamental concept in both trauma-informed practice and in Emotional CPR (eCPR), www.emotional-cpr.org. The impact of trauma and human disconnection played out in my own early childhood, for example, by my experiencing such a profound lack of safety that it resulted in my clinging to anyone who offered safety and anything that could numb the pain.

Another result of the belief that we are some thing and this thing is separate from each other is that we get focused on protecting this thing. Whatever the thing is – our territory, our home, our family – we protect it and hold on to fear, and anger and revenge, and we wait for someone else to do something differently so that we think we can find peace.

Our tinted lens reinforces the idea that that other person is different – separate from me. And this separation perpetuates conflict and war. It perpetuates the war in my head which perpetuates the war I wage with others. The inner war creates global war.

When I am practicing eCPR or human connecting I am cleaning the lens. By that I mean, I intentionally focus on letting go of my own judgments and labels; there is nothing to protect. I focus on perceiving the other person in their full humanity. The distress the person is expressing is a particular patterned way that this person’s internal war has escalated.

As a supporter or listener or fellow human being I focus on being with her and assisting her in finding peace. I do this by seeing the genuine person underneath her lens, underneath the social conditioning, underneath her story. And when I do this, I am perceiving or ‘being’ underneath my own lens. From this place, where peace is revealed in the deep connection of two people, I mirror back the best I see in her, my great hope for her, my belief in her, my knowing that together, in this moment, we will move through this. For more on this process, see “When the war in our mind ends, peace emerges” (http://www.mentalhealthexcellence.org/war-mind-ends-peace-emerges/)

Connection as a preventative of violence
Shortly after Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and 17 others were assaulted with a firearm in Tucson, Arizona in 2011 and six people died from their wounds, the mayor of Tucson, Arizona asked for a meeting with the Administrator of the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

I recall being hopeful that some federal action step might be taken to move forward in a collective and positive direction after this tragedy. About 45 of us from around the country met at SAMHSA in Rockville, Maryland, the Tucson mayor and his wife joined us via phone.

There was much talk around what some communities have done in response to similar attacks, how we might be able to prevent such attacks and where we go from here, such as community dialogues, town meetings, etc.

I listened for a long while and then spoke and I would say the same thing today: People don’t act out in desperate acts of rage – be it homicide, massacre or suicide – when they know they are connected and belong to something bigger than themselves – be it family, community or some entity that gives their life meaning and purpose. I don’t believe this behavior occurs when people know that they belong in community, that they have a safety net, a place where they are being well thought of, cared about.

If people have somewhere safe to go when they feel big feelings, whatever those feelings are – anger, rage, isolation, anxiety, sadness, etc., they would not act out so desperately, at least they would be less likely to. The invitation is to think creatively and strategize about how we rebuild our communities so they everyone knows they belong, everyone is valued and has a place.

We can and must do a better job of connecting to our own hearts and to the hearts, minds and spirits of others.

I end with two simple and eloquent quotes from Albert Einstein, “We can not solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” and “The ideals that have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth.

21 June, 2017 12:58

When the war in our mind ends, peace emerges.

When we co-founded Emotional CPR (eCPR), I put my very best thinking into the project as a way of embodying how I envisioned relationships and how every person could learn how to support another person through an emotional crisis. eCPR has evolved over the years and so have I. I have a new insight and an invitation I would like to share.

First, however, I want to briefly review the features of dialogue which are essential to embody if one is to practice eCPR. These features, more elaborated, are in the eCPR workbook. In dialogue: 1) We use our authentic voice, meaning we speak from our heart, our vital center; 2) We listen from a neutral place free from preconceived notions and any resistance, and use curious inquiry to listen for meaning beneath the words; 3a) We practice deeply respecting each person and look forthe richness of their life experience, which feeds their vital center, and know they have something to teach us; 3b) Wesee the value in thoughts and behaviors different from our own; 4) We share our voice so others may understand, and suspend our beliefs as dialogue is neither debate nor an effort to convince anyone of anything; 5) We allow ourselves to feel another person’s emotions and their experience, and share ours to encourage an emotional dialogue; and 6) We understand that we are all equal and every person has something to offer, leaving status, power and privilege outside of the dialogue.

I am on a panel presentation June 22, 2017 (http://bit.ly/2rVYkgE), which has inspired me to ariculate my new learning beyond recovery and outside the ‘mental health’ education-and-advocacy bubble. The title of my presentation is Intentional Wellness, Nurturing the Soul and Conscious Self-Evolution,

A significant part of my intentional wellness journey has been learning to believe completely in myself. This includes, among other beliefs, being grounded in the wisdom and the discoveries of my life’s journey. To that end, I think of the caterpillar’s transformation into a butterfly.

The caterpillar tries to kill what it perceives as “foreign” cells invading the chrysalis, but it can’t. The caterpillar does not know that these foreign entities are the imaginal cells through which the caterpillar metamorphoses into a butterfly.

Do we as humans have imaginal cells? Do I have a destiny that I am not yet aware of?

The newest chapter in my journey of liberation is nurturing the soul. I am breaking open and letting go of attachments—including old, habitual ways of thinking—so that new learning and wisdom can emerge. All I need to do is go into stillness to find answers or the direction I will walk. I am learning that I make shifts not through my thoughts but through my feelings, my body, my intuition. I am experiencing expanded awareness, which I don’t yet have words to explain. This process, however, allows inner knowing to emerge and opens possibilities for cooperative relationships and creating the emerging future—together.

I have found that as a result of deeply embodying the practice of dialogue with others, our hearts and minds fuse and there is a deepening awareness of the light of our consciousness, which evolves us forward. The grace lifts us to transcend our cultural conditioning.

I have also found that a commitment to my liberation journey means that I recognize that the extent to which I get emotionally hooked on what someone is expressing reflects the extent to which I am not free—that my thinking is stuck on a particular belief or ideology that I have not thoroughly examined and let go. In other words, it is a blind spot—a good indicator of where I have some internal cleaning up to do.

The more deeply I listen, the more I connect to myself and to others and gain a larger understanding of our shared journey. The invitation for everyone is to transcend our social conditioning and see other ways of thinking and being in the world as valid and good—and that means that more possibilities open up. Our heart and mind expand; our perceptual barriers dissolve. We see life more clearly. We co-create a new paradigm, a new way of thinking and being with one another, and we open up to a deeper source of creative intelligence. In this fertile ground of openness, we think more clearly and therefore can more effectively co-create the communities we want. In my mind, that is a peaceful, cooperative society.

Like the caterpillar, the script of my conscious self-evolution is coded within me. To read it I place my attention on the highest frequency of my being and bring my Whole Self into harmony with that frequency. I strive to live my life in such a way that I both lift myself and lift others. My own experiential evolution is the energy that evokes others and flows through me with the fire of the force of life itself. I can feel the metamorphosis taking place (Barbara Marx Hubbard, 2011).

This sounds great but what does it mean more concretely?

I will use eCPR as an example of the process. When two people go together into the deep, dark and vulnerable space led by the person in emotional crisis but with a supporter who embodies the dialogue process mentioned above, a new way of perceiving the unfolding situation or process emerges. New insights and resources are revealed which allows not only a resolution of the crisis but inherently creates an opening for the person, who now perceives reality more clearly, to make changes in her life in order to live more aligned with her deepest values and intentions. When we get underneath what we have been taught to believe about ourselves and our relationship to the world we tap into a deeper level of creative intelligence which in turn allows us to think clearer and behave in ways that move us in the direction of the life we are creating.

One does not need to go through a crisis to find a new way of perceiving challenges and finding innovative solutions. Leading edge work is being done using a model developed by the Presencing Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) which proposes a framework and methodology for understanding and practicing a learning cycle. They state that most learning methodologies focus on learning form the past while they focus on learning from the future as it emerges. In order to do this one must suspend the voices of judgment, cynicism and fear and connect with a sense of appreciation and wonder, opening up a new space of exploration and inquiry. They have a specific protocol for this process which they use to facilitate over 25,000 participants from 161 countries on an experiential learning journey. The phases of the protocol are used by groups of people working on solving a wide variety of community problems.

My intention is to create a group to work on federal mental health policy issues but that is not really part of this blog!

In closing, I submit that a new style of leadership is spreading. It will engage and energize people through taping into innate wisdom, integrity and transparency with high levels of trust and positive energy and embodying mindful listening and other emerging practices. This is a very exciting opportunity to co-create the future together; it is a big invitation.

The more deeply I let go of attachments and explore the unlimited potential of the human mind/body/spirit the more I see peace emerging on the horizon. I am so grateful to be alive today and to be part of this unfolding process.


25 May, 2017 01:33

The Power of One

There are so many Certified Peer Specialists and advocates working to change the mental “illness” system and to support people who have challenges in living the ‘status quo’ life style. I want to take a moment to acknowledge the power of one advocate who inspires me to be a better and more intelligent person – and a more compassionate human being. Her name is Carmella Kudybac. She wrote a powerfully moving blog “I am Not the Next Headline in Tragedy”, May 18, 2017, https://www.madinamerica.com/2017/05/not-next-headline-tragedy/

Carmella is fiercely passionate about human rights and living with dignity in an inclusive community. I am so inspired by this first blog I have ever read of hers. I don’t know if she has written others but I am moved to share some of the main points she eloquently made.

1) The system society has created to help those who are labeled often unawarely causes us great harm, humilitation and makes our difficulty in living even more difficult. Carmela states, “I explained to my team of medical professionals that the psychosis does not subside (with medication), but instead becomes more private. Because I am too tranquilized to physically acknowledge my inner beliefs, voices and persecution, medical professionals subjectively observe me to be more “normal”, and less “disturbed” to witness”. She continues, “Since I am an avid dancer and horseback rider, these side effects are extremely disturbing. Even activities of daily living such as going up and down the stairs with a load of laundry become too painful to endure with the extra weight on my feet. The sedation also limits what I can do in my life. When I last needed 17 hours of sleep each day, I was unable to hold down a job at 10 hours a week, a job that I had maintained at 20 hours a week for the previous 8 years. This was crushing to my self esteem”.

2) That said, the system – and lets not sugar coat it – may be a very dangerous, trauma-inducing and soul-killing place. Carmela states, “I may be psychotic, and I may have upsets, but I realize that I am anything but safe”.

3) Changing the system and society for that matter means we need to stand firmly in our integrity and be courageous. Carmela stated, “While I am aware that I will most likely lose this trial by jury, I intend to take a stand for mental diversity and my right to coexist with others in mainstream reality without being medicated”. She won her historic court case.

4) Be clear about the support we need and/or specific next steps we suggest. Carmella brilliantly stated how we “… can join my fight by doing any of the following” and listed some suggestions. Beautifully model for us!!!

5) One stone can send ripples far and have an impact much greater than the thrower knows. The power of one can lift many higher. Carmela lifts me higher. I will always stand by her and support her. She has taught me a lot in the few years I have known her; we have actually agreed to be in a co-learning relationship. I just left her a phone message telling her among other things that I hope she continues to write blogs.

Thank you Carmella for showing us the power of one.


Lauren’s Emotional CPR March-April Training Calendar: An Invitation to Compassion, Peace and Awakening

Lauren’s Emotional CPR March-April Training Calendar: An Invitation to Compassion, Peace and Awakening

It has been seven years since we began doing eCPR certification trainings. We have dozens of trainers spread around the world. An even higher number of apprentices and facilitators receive individual mentoring on their way to becoming trainers.

eCPR becomes a way of life.

Many people hunger for innovative approaches to support other people through emotional crisis or distress. We know that crisis and distress are not synonymous and that the term ‘crisis’ is a judgement. What one might judge to be a crisis may not at all be defined as such by the person experiencing the emotional state. When we created eCPR, however, it was actually designed to support people through very tumultuous emotional experience, so crisis seemed like the best word to use at the time.

We have come a long way from those days and now know that when eCPR is really understood and the knowledge and skills are applied to every day life – it becomes a way of life. That is what people from all over the world tell us. Their relationships are better because communication is clearer – both receptive and expressive as well as verbal and non-verbal language flows bi-directionally and more lovingly.

Introductory Workshops
We have found that an effective way to introduce eCPR to a new community or constituency is to conduct a workshop which typically varies in length from 90 minutes to a half-day. Workshops have been done with a few people to over 200 people and serve as a way to give people a taste of eCPR – it is a brief introduction.

Often when I find myself in a city where eCPR has not previously been introduced, I offer a free workshop. This is the case in Nevada County, CA on my schedule below.

Sometimes I offer a free workshop in a city where eCPR does have a foothold but I have free time and am able to offer one, as is the case in Oakland, CA, and Seattle, WA, also on the schedule below.

If enough people are interested in a workshop and they contact us, I am happy to deliver. If there is no previously arranged space, we will secure one. We are creative and resourceful. This on-the-fly organic style workshop is perhaps unique to me and the particular March-April 2017 schedule. Typically workshops are scheduled way in advance and advertised. I am open to adventure so I am putting the invitation out to offer these workshops without pre-arranging all the bells and whistles, so to speak.

Certification Training
Trainings are typically financed in two ways, either an entity is bringing us in and has paid for the training or a self-pay method where individual registrations cover all costs and anyone can sign-up. The only self-pay training on my schedule (below) is Portland, OR. All certification trainings and some workshops are listed on the eCPR website. When a training is open to others, a contact person is listed on the eCPR “upcoming trainings” webpage.

eCPR is an embodied practice. That is to say that when one begins to really understand the relational process – a giving and receiving process – and how to listen with the eyes, ears and heart then our essence, our entire being, including our body becomes a tool of healing, compassion and understanding. And at the core, that is how we support people through emotional distress. Anyone can do it if they take the time to learn and are open to the process. It is essential to get out of the head and into the body, particularly into the heart and experience our inherent wisdom and inner knowing. Often we need to re-learn how to listen to our authentic voice within because our culture does not encourage this type of genuine humanness.

eCPR training teams are organized and assembled by the team coordinator and each one is unique. I decided to share my calendar because it is unusual to have one person coordinate and co-facilitate five certification trainings in less than 6 weeks. I wanted to let our cadre of trainers know what I was up to and then thought why not let other people know as well. I am very pleased to see the growth of eCPR; writing this blog is a way to celebrate how far we have come.

Lauren’s eCPR training schedule March & April 2017

All trainings are 2-day eCPR Certifications unless other stated. All training are done with additional members of the training teams

March 9-10, Seattle, WA

March 13, is available for a FREE workshop, Seattle, WA | Contact Lauren

March 15-16, Redmond, WA

March 22-23, Portland, OR | Register Now

March 27 workshop, tentative date, Nevada County, CA | Contact Lauren

April 6-7, Oakland, CA

April 10-11 Oakland, CA

April 12- is available for a FREE workshop in Oakland, CA | Contact Lauren

Emotional CPR Explained
Emotional CPR (eCPR) is a dynamic public health educational training that teaches people to support others through an emotional crisis by Connecting (C)- listening with our eyes, ears, and heart to feel the person’s presence; emPowering (P)- accepting the uncertainty of not knowing what is best, but open to collaborative exploration; and Revitalizing (R)- exploring our vital center – our truth, our authentic self and our genuine voice.

eCPR is recommended by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and CARF, the largest behavioral healthcare accreditation body in the world, and others. Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations referred to eCPR as a “peace-making” process.

Other eCPR training team members include: Reid Smithdeal, Fawn Preston, Kozi Arrington, Dina Tyler, Heather Riemer & Rachel Harris

For information about free workshops (as noted in the cities, above, contact Lauren,laurenspiro1)

For general information seeEmotional-CPR.org

Lauren Spiro’s eCPR training schedule March & April 2017

Lauren Spiro’s eCPR training schedule March & April 2017

All trainings are 2-day eCPR Certifications unless other stated. All training are done with additional members of the training teams

March 9-10, Seattle, WA,

March 13, is available for a FREE workshop, Seattle, WA

March 15-16, Redmond, WA

March 22-23, Portland, OR

March 27 workshop, tentative date, Nevada County Behavioral Health, CA

April 6-7, Oakland, CA

April 10-11 Oakland, CA

April 12- is available for a FREE workshop in Oakland, CA

Emotional CPR (eCPR) is a dynamic public health educational training that teaches people to support others through an emotional crisis by Connecting (C)- listening with our eyes, ears, and heart to feel the person’s presence; empowering (P)- accepting the uncertainty of not knowing what is best, but open to collaborative exploration and Revitalizing (R)- exploring our vital center – our truth, our authentic self and our genuine voice.

eCPR is recommended by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and CARF, the largest behavioral healthcare accreditation body in the world, and others. Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations referred to eCPR as a “peace-making” process.

Lauren Spiro’svision of social justice and mental health liberation fuels her work of community building, developing our individual and collective capacity for feeling deeply connected, appreciating the vast creative intelligence of the human mind and creating pathways so everyone may come home. Diagnosed and institutionalized with chronic schizophrenia as a teenager, she has emerged as a visionary thinker, artist, and consultant dedicated to embodying inner peace to create global peace. She has an M.A. in Clinical/Community Psychology, has been featured on national media, co-founded Emotional CPR and two non-profit mental health corporations, is the former director of the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery (Laurenspiro1

Other eCPR training team members include: Reid Smithdeal, Fawn Preston, Kozi Arrington, Dina Tyler, Heather Riemer & Rachel Harris

For information about free workshops (as noted in the cities, above, contact Lauren, laurenspiro1)

For general information see www.emotional-cpr.org

Relaxation Practices Like Yoga and Meditation Can Reduce the Need for Medical Care by 43%

​Yo g a T h e r a p y Today | Winter 2016

By Kristine Kaoverii Weber and Brett Sculthorp


Link to full article:​

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#search/pswarbrick%40cspnj.org/15a3550d9f17ac9f?projector=1

Excerpts complied by Lauren Spiro

The MGH Benson-Henry Institute recently released a cohort study1 showing that relaxation practices like yoga postures, breathing practices, and meditation can reduce the need for medical care by 43%. A February 2015 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)2 cited yoga as one of the most commonly utilized complementary and integrative medicines in America.

While a growing number of researchers and federal agencies like the CDC and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) acknowledge the medical benefits of these practices, the question of how to integrate yoga into the healthcare system remains largely unaddressed by these agencies.

Launched in 2007 by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), a nonprofit

focused on testing new models of care, best practices, and effective innovations,

The Triple Aim intends to optimize health system performance by serving three

goals: improving the health of populations, reducing costs, and improving patient

experience of care.

The Triple Aim is now widely looked to as a framework for creating better healthcare,

partly because it was adopted into the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

Yoga is accessible, adaptable, low risk, low cost, and has a broad and growing research base. It has the potential to be integrated into any number of services—for example, a mental health outpatient program at a community mental health center, a weight loss program in a health department, and an employee wellness program at a hospital.

The biopsychosocialspiritual model is considered the gold standard for understanding and treating many diseases.

When human beings are perceived as multilayered and intrinsic to their environments, the viewpoint of the causes of disease begins to shift, as do the approaches to disease treatment and prevention. Health is seen not as a purely biological or personal phenomenon; it is the result of an intricate web of interrelated factors, behaviors, patterns, and interactions. For yoga therapists, it may seem obvious that the benefits of yoga permeate all layers of this model, and research has demonstrated that yoga has numerous structural, physiological, mental health, and social benefits. What may be less obvious to yoga therapists, however, is that these benefits can be scaled to population health through, for example, integrated care strategies that merge mental health and primary care services. If the well-known benefits of yoga—such as improved parasympathetic nervous system function and psychoemotional benefits—are scaled to the community level, we will start to see shifts in population health outcomes. Tremendus potential benefits to society could be realized by approaching yoga therapy through a population health lens.

Health Professional Education

Understanding health through the biopsychosocialspiritual model opens the possi-

bility of a broader agenda for health professional education. How do healthcare professionals need to be educated in order to better understand and address the complex web of health-related factors? How can CIM providers build bridges in thinking and collaboration across what has become a landscape of highly specialized and disciplinary areas of healthcare?

The National Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education has a role in coordinating and documenting new education models, practice competencies, and initiatives across the United States. It has adopted an interdisciplinary mindset and is open to new ideas and new areas of professional engagement. This center and similar organizations can be nodes for CIM integration, where yoga therapy trainers can become a part of implementing whole health pedagogies.

Yoga Therapy Can Reduce Costs

The United States will spend about $10,000 per person on healthcare in 2015 ($3.2 trillion in total), yet our outcomes look more like those of a developing country. Much of the expense can be attributed to (1) high administrative costs (one quarter of all costs); (2) high costs of medications, durable medical equipment, and salaries; and (3) the relatively higher rate of interventions compared to other industrialized countries.

Yoga therapy services, however, can be delivered in ways that are not top heavy in staff or administration, that do not require any expensive equipment, and with minimal interventions that involve props to help with asana practice. When yoga therapy is provided in groups, direct costs (therapist’s fee, equipment, overhead, etc.) are low. From a lifestyle medicine or prevention perspective, these costs become almost negligible. Yoga-based lifestyle change can reverse heart disease and positively impact other chronic illnesses. Many of these illnesses (as well as chronic pain and addiction challenges) respond well to lifestyle therapy, which is starting to be considered best practice in some areas of medicine.

Yoga is unique in providing interventions across the four domains of public

health—treatment, recovery, prevention, and health promotion. The time for yoga

to become a part of the healthcare system is here. The yoga therapy community

should partner with healthcare leaders to initiate both top-down policy-level advoca-

cy and initiatives and bottom-up local-level integrative models. Yoga professionals

can facilitate this shift by becoming more engaged in a broader range of health

and research institutions and by conducting their own small-scale research, as

well as by training the healthcare work-force in the value of including yoga therapy in an integrated healthcare system.