Trapped in the Head and the Doorway to Freedom

When I was 21, I discovered Buddhism and vipassana meditation. I was often anxious and worried, so it wasn’t about seeking enlightenment; it was about finding a way to actually enjoy being a person. In learning how to compassionately witness my over-stimulated nervous system, I didn’t change who I was as much as I became much better at being with myself no matter what was going on inside. 

In the fall of 2000, I traveled to Thailand and Nepal because I wanted to dive deeper into meditation practice closer to its source. I spent 9 days of my first 10 day silent retreat in complete resistance. I wanted to get out of there so badly. I loved the silence. I could have happily lived in silent community for months. But everything hurt. My body loves to move, and sitting still in the half-lotus position was killing me. My mind was also obsessing like crazy. All I could think about was (1) my pain (2) how I could possibly escape early and (3) why coming here was my worst idea ever. These thoughts led, of course, to many other miserable thoughts of past mistakes and future worries. I continued trapped in this mental prison for 9 days without distractions, as we alternated sitting and very slowly walking from 4am to 10pm every day. 

On the 9th day, the teachers announced that we would only be having one meal instead of our usual two. It would be a 24-hour fast, and it would give us more time for sitting. Pushed to the limit, I finally landed at the bottom of all that fierce resistance. What I discovered there was absolute, pure joy. I had fought a losing battle through every dark feeling there was to feel, and when I finally gave up the fight, all that was left was bliss. All the more so because nothing on the outside had actually changed. I still had to sit in this uncomfortable position for 18 hours on and off all day. But I was happy anyway. This was freedom.

Anxiety, worry, and overwhelm can be a doorway, as can all the things we struggle with. When we’re stressed out enough, we are often more open to trying new things. Meditation is, of course, only one of many tools that help. I am profoundly grateful to have been exposed to so many wonderful teachers and practices over the years. I love to share them because I know they’ve helped me. 

These times are full of struggle, and that is why they are also ripe for awakening. Have you experienced your own suffering as a doorway to freedom? What’s helped you? I don’t believe everyone needs to learn how to sit still for hours. That’s not the point. The point is to be willing to experience everything that this human life has to offer. To stay with it all, as it comes. To surrender, one little moment at a time.

What’s the best therapy?

Recently one of my students asked a question that deserves some honest attention: “What kind of therapy works?” There are a lot of modalities out there, and the popularity of each lasts about as long as a fashion style. Most even have their own acronyms: EMDR, SE, IFS, DBT, and so on. Pretty much every modality works for some people and not so well for others. No one wants to talk about this because it seems to devalue the years of education, training, and supervision it takes to enter the counseling professions and become certified in different techniques. But I see it differently. I think it shows just how important the people are to the process. What works in therapy is something much more personal, both simpler and more profound.

Good therapy has to do with presence. How deep is this person’s awareness, how full is their attention. If you’ve ever been around a person who is completely there with you, who sees you as you really are, that’s presence. So if you’re looking for someone to support you through a difficult time in your life, I’d say, look for someone you naturally click with and who can bring their whole being into the room with you. 

As for what modality they practice, what’s most important is that they’ve made it their own. The most influential therapists have been the ones who have developed these tools, after all. Before a technique becomes a model, it is raw intuition and creativity. So whether someone has five credentials or just one, what matters is that they use their particular tools in a way that feels natural and genuine. A lot of different methods work, but beneath all of them is the essence of the person using them. 

And of course, no one can do your work for you, no matter how interesting and complex their process is. There is no magic fix. We heal when we are ready and in our own time; it’s not something someone else does for us. Having someone who sees your strength when you can’t see it can be a missing ingredient, the one that opens up the real possibility of something new emerging. And then, when you’re ready to let go of the old ways, you step into that possibility. There are many wonderful processes that facilitate change, but in the end, you and only you can put those changes into practice day by day.

We all have to take responsibility for our own feelings, our own reactions, and our own choices. But we are not alone here. Just the act of seeking help is a powerful statement of readiness for change. It’s one of the hardest steps, but it opens the way for many more to follow. With clear intention, authentic support, and practice, growth is inevitable!

Hypnosis?

I’ve been talking more about hypnosis lately, and I am getting responses along the lines of, “You make people cluck like chickens, and that’s therapy?” I mean, these days, I’ve heard of stranger things, so maybe that would work! But hypnotherapy has nothing to do with stage performance or making people do things they don’t want to do. (I promise you, that’s not even in my wheelhouse.) I see hypnosis as a natural extension of meditation and a powerful healing tool that has been used in traditional indigenous cultures since the beginning of human time. It’s all about taking some pathway to a deeper state of relaxation similar to lucid dreaming, where the body, mind, and spirit become more open and receptive to change. 

Doing hypnosis in therapy is really just listening to a deeper, more purposeful, and more personalized meditation, all in the service of some change you would like to see. It’s like going on a very relaxing imaginary journey, where you can feel the change you’ve been waiting for. Oftentimes, people have visions and feel a pretty profound shift in mood and energy. Or you can stay closer to the surface and just enjoy a more restful mind. You are always in control of the experience and can come out of it at any moment. It’s very safe and surprisingly effective. 

Beyond the power of the hypnosis experience, the real point is to learn to access that peaceful confidence as often as you can. They call that self-hypnosis. When we relax our minds and enter a more creative sphere, we find new solutions, and, even more importantly, we find peace in situations that are normally stressful. Because in the end, it’s that moment-to-moment okay-ness with what’s happening that makes just about everything a little easier. 

Running, meditation, music, hypnosis—lots of practices can get you in the flow state. The more you go there, the more you remember to go there often. And if you plant seeds there for the changes you are wanting to make, you’ve got some really fertile ground for growth to happen.  

I don’t use hypnosis with everyone I work with because it’s not what everyone needs, and I feel strongly about working with people in the way that feels best to them. But hypnosis is a great tool for those who want to try something new. It’s especially helpful if there’s something particular you want to shift, or if you are needing to learn how to let go of control and relax more. So far, I’ve used it to help people wanting to let go of parenting stress, to shift relationship conflict patterns, and to quit habits that are no longer serving them. If you’re curious or know someone you think might benefit, feel free to take me up on my free assessment call offer. We’ll see what would be most helpful to you, and take it from there. I have 2 ongoing client openings right now, so just reach out when you’re ready!

Wishing you much peace in this moment and in all the ones that come next,

Julia

Support for Change: Willpower and the Power of Being Willing

I love the forward momentum of January. People are making changes and trying new things, taking action on goals that have often been incubating for quite a while. I look around and see motivation and willpower. The new direction can even feel easy at first. We may wonder why it took so long to make these changes that clearly needed to happen. It feels empowering, right? 

The trouble is that willpower is like kindling in a fire: it can flare up fast and bright, but it won’t sustain the flame for long on its own. After an initial period of success with our best intentions, some kind of obstacle shows up. It can be an external obstacle, like a family emergency that throws everything off. Or the inner rebel busts through and says, “hey, why do you have to be so “good” anyway? You don’t really need to be doing all this. You should back off, give yourself a break.” Wherever it comes from, something eventually challenges the will for its power. 

This is why, come February, all those new gym memberships start getting less use, diets are quit, and people start backsliding with exes. So how do we get out of this push forward/pull back dynamic? The whole process of purposeful change longs to be more gentle and natural, rather than aggressive and eventually running out of fuel. 

It has to do with respecting cycles and receiving support. We learn to balance the masculine energy of focus and action with the feminine energy of receptivity and going with the flow. Instead of relying on willpower, we learn to be willing. We can have less control yet be more in sync, and therefore more effective. 

Being proactive about support is key. When we surround ourselves with people and practices that encourage and strengthen us, we will be in much better condition when the obstacles show up. If you’re in Austin, you are welcome to join me at our free Community Wellness Hour every Wednesday at AOMA. It’s a great place to do inner work while in community. I am also offering free assessments to identify what you personally need to move forward in a balanced and sustainable way. We’ll identify next steps to support you, whether we continue to work together or not. I currently have space for 3 individual clients, and in addition to heart-centered counseling, I teach self-hypnosis and other self-healing tools you can use on your own. If you’re interested, email me to set up a call at info@juliaaziz.com or fill out this form.

May you be supported in the changes that serve the highest good within you, and may you find grace in the process as it unfolds.

All my love,

Julia

Writing in the new year

Clarity and Focus, Laughter and Acceptance. These are the words I am feeling so far for 2019.

I would like to write more this year too. Writing has always been one of my favorite ways to synthesize the ideas floating around inside, and I love connecting with you through the exchanges we have. It’s tricky though. It’s not always easy to lead with the heart online, where it feels like a stage full of performers and an audience who didn’t ask to be there. It’s easy for me to get hooked into the old pattern of caring too much about what other people think. It’s really not about performing though. If you are reading this far, it means there is some kind of resonance between us. I would like to connect with you through that resonance, and that means being real and taking the risk of being misunderstood.

The other tricky part has to do with writing in the first person and being a therapist. I have been well-trained since the early age of 22 about the proper use of “self-disclosure” and the “professional use of self.” We are taught to be neutral and compassionate witnesses, only revealing some personal challenge if it is relevant to the client. This makes a lot of sense for one-on-one sessions. People deserve to have a counselor’s whole-hearted attention. But it can become a way of being in all public spheres, and it can create an idealized self-image that no one can actually live up to (find the place where the therapists are letting loose—it’s likely to be pretty private). Here’s the secret that’s not really a secret: people are just people. All sorts of healers, teachers, and leaders have fallen from the pedestals we have put them on this past year. I think it’s about time we drop the pretenses and tell the truth of our individual stories. We’ve all got something to teach, and we’ve all got something to learn. No one needs a pedestal; it’s a long fall from that height. 

When I work with someone in individual counseling, facilitate a group, or teach a class, I give myself some time beforehand to release my personal concerns and come back to my heart. I reassert my intention to be of service, and then I can go out and be fully present to the person or people in front of me, responding to what comes up without an agenda. With writing though, it’s almost like speaking into the dark. I don’t really know who is out there! And this is why it’s such a powerful practice for me as a therapist. It’s a stretch to just express without knowing who is on the receiving end of that expression, after being so conditioned to focus on responding to others’ needs.

So writing is a mixed bag for me, but I am committed to facing the demons of doubt and moving forward. Thank you for being here with me, and I wish you much space in your own life for creative expression, authenticity, and always plenty of laughter!

To Be Whole

Lately, I have been creating some curriculum for my son’s coming of age ceremony that we’ll be hosting in a few months. It has me thinking about what’s important for a young person to consider as they move into the crucible of adolescence. 

One of the first assignments I gave my son is an exercise developed by Maria Nemeth to help clarify your own personal Standards of Integrity. The idea being that what integrity means to me may be different than what it is for you. Rather than following institutionalized morals that tell people how they should behave, it’s about looking at what you personally value and creating your own measurement of wholeness and success.

The exercise involves coming up with names of people you admire and distilling down the qualities they represent for you. I went through this process a couple years ago and made the little integrity card pictured below to keep in my purse. I look at the card every now and then, when I need to. It encourages me to live up to what I believe in, and it reminds me that I get to decide what those things are.

I love the word integrity. It has been a major theme for me this year. I have taken a hard look at the places where I needed to get into better alignment with the truth, and it has required me to let go of quite a few things. Jobs, schooling, relationships, personal patterns, etc. If I was saying one thing and doing another, or receiving clear intuition and ignoring it, I couldn’t hide anymore. While the process has been rocky and emotional, it has made me stronger and more trusting in the long run.

This is what integrity comes down to, for me. If I am being kind, brave, and genuine, I am doing alright. I do my best. I can’t expect perfection; in fact, perfectionism has been one of the first things to go. I care more about forgiveness than getting it right the first time.

I’m asking my son these questions now too. What is important to you? Who do you want to be in this crazy, beautiful, painful, glorious life you’ve been given?

The more there is to do, the slower I need to do it

December is a weird month. Every group, community, class, and workplace is throwing a party, often at the same time. There are showcases, performances, potlucks, and all kinds of holiday gift exchanges. All with an underlying, sometimes not so subtle, pressure to participate.

I like to show up for the people in my life and reconnect with the communities I participate in. But I am not too keen on constant activity. These December days can be quite a whirlwind, moving from one obligatory celebration to another. I am finding this year to be different though. There are just as many events on the calendar, but I don’t feel as overwhelmed. Something in me is different.

I am moving slower. Taking breaks in between for a cup of tea. Saying no to requests that don’t align with my values, especially those that involve buying stuff that feels unnecessary. Letting it be OK if I don’t have anything to say at a party. Spending time just lying down, not watching Netflix, not reading a book, not looking at my phone, not meditating either. The other day, I had about two hours left of work to do, and I was just too tired to do it. So I took a nap, then woke up and got the work done in 30 minutes. It’s amazing how much can get done when my energy is truly recharged.

As a native New Yorker with a walk that has sometimes outpaced my running friends, this slower way of going about life is liberating. I love it. I don’t need to push through or pretend anything. I can just show up. Happily. As I am. 

I  wish this slower pace for all of us this December. To do what feels good to your own heart. To drop the rest, with love. To move at your own pace. To attend events in full agreement to being there, and if you can’t, to go home and take a nap. To enjoy the empty moments as well as the full ones. It’s December, and we are heading into the winter’s den. There is time for everything, and everything has its time. 

The Healing Potential of Difficult Relationships

Do you ever find yourself avoiding difficult conversations just to keep the peace, only to later end up too distant or in an even bigger mess? With courage and an honest look at our own blind spots, we can watch the transformation of judgment into permission and understanding. If you’re in the Austin area and could use a little reflection time out, come join me in this gentle exploration of how we can heal through the relationships that trigger us, freeing up more love for ourselves and others in the process.

Seton Cove, Austin, TX, Tuesday November 27th 12pm-1pm

Thankful for the trash

Today I offer a special thank you for all the life experiences I didn’t want. Thank you to the chronic pain, the people who have hurt me, the ones I have hurt, the disappointments, the despair, the voice in my head that tells me there’s something wrong with me. The shadow has reminded me to go towards the light. The pain has taught me to heal. The heartbreak has allowed me to become whole again.

This is the paradox of what it is to be human. Existence on this earth plane is suffering, and it is joy. What to keep and what to let go of is a choice we get to make. I choose to release resistance and the trash talk in my mind. I choose to follow a beautiful vision of harmony and freedom. And I choose life as is.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all. Many blessings on all your own complexities.

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