“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

In the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,

Bueller cautions us that “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

I agree. This is why I recommend mental health days, weekend getaways and vacations to my clients, including those that they take by themselves.

We are more present when we’re traveling. We are more awake. Our senses are heightened, so we are more connected to our body and less in our head.

As Bueller suggests we don’t want to miss our lives and getting out of our ruts/routines can allow us to see the world with fresh eyes. Traveling can shift our views of reality and what’s possible. Taking a vacation is literally about setting your self free.

Go on Vacation with Yourself

Once or twice a year, go on a vacation by yourself for at least two nights. Pick a destination you feel drawn to.  This is about enjoying unstructured time that you structure as you go. You should be completely free to determine your schedule.

During your vacation, do only what you want to do.

Don’t make any plans before arriving unless they are things you really want to do and that require advance planning. Otherwise, show up first and decide later. Don’t plan on meeting anyone. If you can swing it, limit your contact with loved ones to a “Yes, I’ve arrived” call and no more than daily emails to let people know you’re safe and so you know all’s well on the home front. There will be plenty of time to share when you return.

Get Yourself Out of Routine

The point is to get yourself out of your routine and disconnect you from social approval and social obligations, which will allow you to check in with yourself. This is your time to break free and listen to yourself—a time to tap into your internal compass. During your sojourn, listen to your intuition concerning what to do or not do, when to get up, when to go to sleep, when to eat, what to eat, and how to spend your time.

Bring a journal with you. Reading material is optional. If you do bring something to read, make sure it’s not going to distract you from connecting with yourself. If it’s something contemplative that allows you to go deeper within yourself, that’s perfect. If it’s someone else’s memoir, leave it behind unless it’s related to something you want to do.

Don’t drive unless you have to.

Driving keeps you in your head and out of your body and senses. In fact, many of us tend to go into trance states when we drive.  Take a train or a boat.

Create opportunities for walking so you can slow down and get into your own rhythm.

Walking will keep you more present. Meander, going wherever you feel like going. Give yourself lots of room to roam. Also, make sure there are places you can be out in nature, as well as places you can sit and be still, such as gardens, beaches, boardwalks, hiking trails, park benches, and outdoor cafes.

Get grounded.

The more grounded you are, the more connected you are to earth and your own body, the better.

On my trips to Italy, I wander through the streets to different squares and neighborhoods. Depending on my mood, I might stop at a café, or I might sit by a canal or the ocean, or in a quiet courtyard or garden. I give myself lots of time to just be, with no agenda except to feel the edges of myself and enjoy my own companionship.

We need time to be our own best friend, and we need time to be with this best friend because it creates solidity.

Failing Forward

Did you know that being afraid to FAIL is the # 1 obstacle that keeps people from following their hearts?

We are afraid of social rejection, not having enough money,  looking stupid, getting hurt, not being physically safe, and we are especially afraid of failing!

Even if you fail—you’re failing forward!

Failing forward means that even if you’re not getting the outcome you desire, you are still moving towards your dreams. You are still learning and investing in your growth and mastery.

No one wants to fail. However, if you never try, you’ll never know. Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician to run for office, ran for San Francisco city supervisor three times before finally winning. Each time he ran, his number of supporters grew. Each time, he empowered other LGBT people to come out of the closet. He failed forward.

The same was true with the marriage equality movement. There were multiple losses, but with every loss, as people continued to share their personal stories, the movement gained more and more supporters for marriage equality. Finally, the poll numbers showed that the majority of Americans supported equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.

This is what failing forward looked like for my  client, Andy. Andy was afraid of putting himself back out in the dating world. His failing forward took the form of asking women out on dates and learning how to create meaningful connection. His first attempts were met with rejection. Eventually, he became comfortable asking women out and facing his fear of rejection. He built his confidence and met a woman who became his girlfriend.

Good Fear

We all have automatic physical reactions to threats to our well-being. In moments of perceived danger, the fight, flight, or freeze aspect of our nervous system is activated. For example, when we see a snake on a hiking trail our hearts beat rapidly, our bodies fill with adrenaline and we become hyper-alert. We take action to make sure we are not bitten. This is good fear.

Good fear can keep us safe and alive, helping us identify threats in our environments. Good fear can get us to run from an attacker, get out of the way of a speeding car, or protect ourselves from an attacker.

Bad Fear

Unfortunately, human societies are filled with amorphous threats, and some of our reactions to them are counterproductive. For example, fear can get us to engage in behaviors that are unhealthy and selfish. Overeating or using substances to numb our feelings is one way our response to fear can harm us. Fear can get us to push people away or to hoard money or belongings because we are afraid we won’t have enough.

Bad fear can create a sense of competition and greediness and we can become restrictive emotionally and financially not engaging openly with the people around us.

Fear can be used to manipulate us.

Many of our fears are not our own. They are conditioned in us by social, religious, and corporate agendas. You may already be aware that mainstream society is focused on keeping you obsessed with safety and security. For example, car commercials, insurance commercials, cold and flu commercials, all designed to get you to buy products by creating a sense of fear in you. This can be true with the news and political agendas as well.

Fear can create pain in the absence of any real source of pain.

Fear can cause us to project danger on to something that cannot harm us. This is where the acronym False Evidence Appearing Real is apropos. We see a snake. Our hearts race. We sweat. We look for our escape. But what if we discover that the snake is just a twisted stick? We just expended all that energy for an illusion.

Fear can keep us from taking action.

Fear can have a paralyzing effect on us keeping us from pursuing our dreams, making changes in our lives, even leaving a bad situation because we fear the unknown or that we could find ourselves in an even worse situation. Fear can keep us from taking advantage of opportunities for growth and change. Fear can keep us focused on mere survival when we have the ability to thrive and expand.

Where is fear stopping you from taking action?

What causes you fear in your life?

What are your responses to fear?

Is fear triggering you to engage in unhealthy ways of reacting or coping?

In what ways do you feel manipulated to feel fear?

Are you aware of any fear projections you have?

Take some time to put fear into perspective and take your life back.

Forgive us our trespasses

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”—The Lord’s Prayer

One of the biggest obstacles to experiencing ourselves as the loving person we are is our inability to forgive ourselves. We feel guilt and shame for mistakes we’ve made. We beat ourselves up for situations we handled less skillfully than we might have wished. We incriminate ourselves for the people we’ve hurt—whether accidentally, unconsciously, or intentionally. To fully love yourself and unleash your courageous heart, you must be able to forgive yourself.

We also struggle with forgiving others. Perhaps you’ve been betrayed. Maybe someone hurt you, stole from you, lied to you, or was unfaithful to you. It may feel hard to forgive in such a situation. However, not forgiving will rob you of your energy and keep you stuck in the past. You won’t feel good or hopeful about life.

Not everything we approach openheartedly is going to work out as we expect.

Not everyone we open our heart to is going to treat us as we wish.

Most of us will experience disappointment in love, and likely we’ll disappoint others.

However, if we can trust that everything we go through is an opportunity to learn—an opportunity to know ourselves as the loving person we are, and hence to be compassionate to others, forgiving their mistakes and accepting their decisions as we would want them to do with us—then our load will be lighter and our path will be easier to walk.

25 Life Lessons with Davina

Dance like everyone’s watching and they like what they see.

Sing like you’re a top 40 artist. Belt it out and have fun!

Make love and amazing meals.

Cherish your beloved, your friends, family and community.

Lend a hand when you can.

Do the right thing even if it looks wrong to others.

Apologize when you’re wrong.

Dream big and take risks. Don’t be afraid to put your heart out there or to fail.

Love out loud. Say it, don’t hold back.

Be a sappy, romantic, fool sometimes.

Don’t do other people’s work for them.

Let life be easy like slipping into a warm jacuzzi.

Skip, go for walks, be in nature.

Do things that scare you, but don’t be reckless with your life or others.

Forgive, forgive, forgive. Forgive yourself too.

Give people second chances.

Sit under the stars, watch the sunset.

Wake up early and watch the sunrise.

Sit by the fire and remember your Essence.

Remember to smile and say, “good morning.”

Learn other languages, especially learn as multiple ways to say, “hello,” “thank you,” “please,” and “good morning.”

Be an ambassador of human kindness.

Meditate, journal, read, learn new things.

Go to the farmers market and give thanks to the people who grow your food.

Take time to be alone and enjoy your own company.

Love yourself.

Follow Your Heart!

One year my inner gypsy awakened and I wanted to learn how to dance the male parts of the flamenco.  I was drawn to the music, to the flair, and to the strong rhythmic beats. While, I didn’t suddenly feel called to put on a bright red polka-dotted dress and wear a flower in my hair—if I had, I would have!

Answering this call of my heart took me to Sevilla, Spain, where I witnessed some of the world’s best Flamenco dancers boldly take the stage, mesmerizing audiences with their sensual moves and fierce foot stomping and stamping.

It was a gruelingly hot summer night in Teatro El Gallo (The Rooster).

The blades of the box fans scattered throughout the theater whirred on high in a futile attempt to cool the patrons. Seated in the front row, I more than once felt the spray of sweat coming off the feverish bodies of Flamenco dancers proudly pounding out bohemian cadences from faraway times.

My heart pounded in my chest, my soul awakened by these ancient rhythms with a deep longing, a nomadic desire to wander, to embrace life’s passion, to savor each moment.

I silently vowed to myself that I would ensure that my life was colorful—that there was life in my life.

The decision to follow my heart to Sevilla helped me make a deeper commitment to myself to be authentic, bold, fully engaged.

The next year I traveled to Venice for three weeks, to begin writing a novel. Let’s just say I didn’t know anyone at that time that would take a three week vacation to Europe to write a novel. Everything about that was audacious in my life at the time.

Authenticity is audacious!

During my visit I had a great time imagining the scenes unfolding in the various campos and canals.

As part of my research, I met with Shaul Bassi, a writer and professor of literature at the University of Venice. I had come across his name on an article and sent him an email.  He agreed to meet with me over cappuccino. Thank goodness, he spoke English. He was only one of three people I was able to converse with during the entire three weeks.

“All our dreams can come true,” said Walt Disney, “if we have the courage to pursue them.”

I had no idea that meeting with Shaul would prove to be a date with destiny. Thanks to him, two years later I was back in Venice on an all-expenses-paid trip to study Italian culture and the Jews of Venice (the topic of my novel).

Following my heart had paid off in spades. I had a month in 2008 to continue writing my novel, as well as to meet new friends and experts on Italian art, Yiddish, the Venetian Jewish Ghetto, and Italian music.

One morning, I walked the labyrinth of cobblestone streets flanked by high walls with cascading trumpet vines, their reddish-orange flowers drinking in the sunshine.

The still waters of the canals, occasionally rippling like a movie’s dream sequence, added to the surreal radiance, mirroring back the beauty of this ancient city.

The echoing voices of an angelic choir flooded my ears as Palestrina’s 16th Century Magnificat Primi Toni played on my iPod.

Seduced by the hauntingly familiar tones, the magnificence of this Renaissance city, and the warm sun on my skin, I breathed in the damp air and my heart wept tears of joy as my soul celebrated.

Emerging from the narrow streets into the middle of the spacious campo, I longed to spin in circles like a whirling dervish taking in the divine opulence of the moment—a complex merger of humanity’s best offering with the exquisite marvels of the divine.

Yes, I was following my heart.

Three years after this, I returned to lead my first Seduce Your Muse™ creative writing retreat.

All  of this unfolded because I followed my heart in the first place.

You never know where your heart will lead you.

When you feel the tug of your heart or hear a call from your soul, follow.

Let the path of your heart unfold!

Wholeness

Lately, I’ve heard people expressing that they feel fragmented beyond belief which is an interesting synchronicity since my theme for December is wholeness.
With the fires in Southern California, the devastation from the hurricanes, the unknown with every aspect of our government, the daily news about sexual harassment, and of course good old holiday stress, many people feel scattered or like their life is falling to pieces.
There’s a Jewish phrase,  Tikkun Olam, which means bringing the scattered pieces of life back together, literally repair of the world,  to make ourselves and the world whole.
But you make ask:
How can we be whole with all of this uncertainty?
How can we be whole when our things are in a box ready to evacuate?
How can we be whole when our houses have been blown down or burnt to the ground?
How can we be whole in the midst of medical challenges, relationship endings, family chaos, joblessness, political unrest and upheaval?
Here are 9 helpful tips to help you bring back your scattered pieces. 
1. We can be whole by taking a step back and embracing witness consciousness.
Observe what’s going on around you as if you were watching a drama unfolding on TV or as if the events and people were character’s in a book. This is a way to get perspective. It is not intended to disconnect you from empathy, or for you to deny or repress your feelings. It’s a way for you to look at the bigger picture.
2. We can be whole by finding moments of stillness.
Take time to rest, meditate, and simply sit still.
3. We can be whole by doing less.
How many times do we try to do too much? Take on too much? Say ‘yes’ to too much to make others happy?
4. We can be whole by slowing down.
When we slow down, we give others permission to slow down. We can teach our children to be with what is, rather than feeding their ’empty ghosts’ which are constantly seeking distraction and craving something to fill the empty spaces.
5. We can be whole by refraining from self-negating people pleasing behaviors.
Stop trying to impress everyone and stop trying to please an ego that will find fault no matter what we or others do.
 
6. We can be whole by enjoying simple moments of joy.
Bright lights and greater spurts of adrenaline producing activities are addictive and do nothing to connect us to our authentic selves. Instead of seeking spectacle and bigger productions of entertainment, enjoy simple moments of connection, laughter, a sunset, a good meal.
7. We can be whole by coming back to our breath and our bodies.
Taking slow deep breathes. Feeling our feet firmly on the ground. Lighting a candle
and connecting with the natural elements. Going for a walk in the woods or along the beach. Sitting by a lake, a stream, or a fountain and hearing the soothing sounds of water.
8. We can be whole by taking a time out.
We need time and space to restore ourselves. We need time to bring ourselves back together again. We need to say ‘no’ sometimes to others requests of us and ‘yes’ to our sanity and health.
9. We can be whole by being kind to ourselves and others.
This means speaking more gently to others. This means loving self-talk.
Bring the good cheer this holiday season, by slowing down and being someone who relishes the simple joys, focuses on loving thoughts of yourself and others, and speaks kindly and encouragingly to those you encounter.

 

Sign up now for your FREE GIFT.
Claim your virtual seat at the I AM Symposium.
Join me and 21 other wisdom leaders for a celebration of solstice, bringing back the light and shamanic wisdom. Register now!

 

The Courage to Change The Things We Can

god-grant-me-the“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I carry this prayer in my wallet and sometimes I actually remember to look at it. I was first introduced to this prayer in my teenage years when I chose a clean and sober lifestyle. In twelve step meetings we always prayed out with the Serenity Prayer.

This prayer is a powerful reminder that some aspects of life are out of control and we must surrender and let them be, rather than trying to make them be a certain way. However there are many things in our lives that we do have agency over.

We all have the ability to change our thoughts, our words, and our actions and yes, even our circumstances. We just need to connect to this truth and find the courage to make changes.

How do we find the courage?

What’s helped me tap my courage is to find someone who has done what I want to do or to find others who are in the process of making similar changes in their lives.

When I wanted to get sober I got a sponsor and attended meetings with other people who were choosing a healthier lifestyle.

When I’ve had to muster the courage to take bigger leaps in my own life, I’ve hired my own life coach, therapist and spiritual counselor. I practice what I preach. I believe it’s very important for people who coach or counsel others to also be engaged in their own personal growth work and get support. In fact, I’m sort of suspicious of people who don’t.

I’ve also found that prayer, positive affirmations, and talking with a trusted friend are powerful ways to tap into courage.

My clients often remark that in our work together they are able to move through fear, self-doubt and negative thinking and make important changes in their lives. They say that working with me as their coach has allowed them to “light a fire under their butt” or that working together allowed them to push through blocks that previously stopped them.

I get it. When I wanted to get in shape I joined a gym and attended exercise classes and boot camp. Having a coach or a trainer to encourage and push me kept me going on days when I was tired and I wanted to quit.

I love surprising myself and moving past my own fears and perceived limitations and I love to help other people move beyond their fears and find fulfillment they didn’t know was possible.

While some things are truly out of hands, everyday we get to make a choice to be courageous about the things we can change. Will we choose to go after our dreams? Will we choose to live our lives authentically? Will we choose to address our mental blocks and negative thoughts that hold us back? Will we choose to make lifestyle changes that allow us to be healthy, strong, and vibrant? Will we choose to end unhealthy patterns of relating?

Today let us pray for the courage to change the things we can.

Check out my free call 7 Steps to Move Beyond Fear and Courageously Live the Life of Your Dreams

Behind Barbed Eyes- My New Novel and Interview for Out of the Box Podcast

Check out my interview with Rosie Tran and Out of the Box Podcast.

Comedian Rosie Tran (@FunnyRosie) interviews psychologist, author, and life coach, Davina Kotulski (@drkotulski) regarding her new book, “Behind Barbed Eyes”. The novel is based on Dr. Kotulski’s work working with women in prison for many years. Dr. Kotulski discusses the dire need for rehabilitation in the prison system, which is primarily filled with abused, neglected, and underprivileged low income and women of color. Very informative episode with a thoughtful and activist guest!

 

My Time In Prison

Many people don’t know I spent 13 years working as a psychologist in a women’s prison.

During those years I worked tirelessly with women whose lives had been plagued with sexual abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, and crime. More than 50% of the women had been sexually assaulted as children, beaten by parents and partners, they’d turned to drugs, alcohol and bad relationships due to their low self-esteem and for some PTSD. They also committed crimes; some of the crimes they committed were violent and tragic. Even “victimless crimes” left children and families devastated by the loss of a mother or daughter. Some of the women got caught up in a bad relationship and while they weren’t directly involved in the crime they received decades long sentences for conspiracy. One of my former clients is still serving a thirty-year sentence for conspiracy to distribute meth. She was never caught with any drugs.

Every day as a psychologist behind bars I listened to tragic stories of childhood abuse, drug use, beatings, death and loss. Everyday I heard woman talk about how much they missed their children and how they wanted better for them. Everyday I struggled with the complexities and limitation of the prison system in rehabilitating the lives of those who broke society’s rules. I know I wasn’t alone. My co-workers too, people who wanted to give people a second chance, while also protecting the public, struggled with the complexities of human nature and the peculiar world of prison.

I met so many women from all walks of life in prison. Each had a unique personal story, a struggle, and choice they made that broke the social contract and led to her doing time. There are so many stories to tell and so many challenges that I faced as a psychologist striving to see the best in my client and feel the unconditional positive regard that founder of Humanistic Psychology, Carl Rogers, claimed was essential for helping a client heal.

davina-fletc-training
This is me fresh out of graduate school at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia July, 1996.

Being a prison shrink was also challenging because we were considered correctional staff first and I had to learn to balance the empathy of a psychologist with the boundaries required of a correctional officer. No easy feat.

There were times when I was even asked to pat search and handcuff my clients when it was my time to work a correctional post. This was a very weird experience. My clients, which I was really supposed to refer to as inmates, often remarked that I was the most considerate handcuffer. Weird, right? I was always polite with a “please cuff up,” and “thank you.” I know I drove a lot of lieutenants crazy.

Psychologists in prisons are often called “hug-a-thugs” and “inmate lovers.” While I didn’t care for that I understood. Staff members of all departments and years in the system got caught up with inmates and created dangerous circumstances for everyone. Some staff compromised themselves and the prison by bringing in drugs, weapons, cell-phones, etc. and some staff got caught up in sexual relationships with inmates.

In some cases staff were just as predatory as the inmates they guarded, for others their kindness/lack of boundaries was used against them. Either way, staff had a challenge to walk a line that is deeply challenging as evidenced by Stanley Milgram’s –Stanford Prison Study. A person working in the penal system must guard against losing their compassion and having it turned against them.

This is the subject of my first novel, Behind Barbed Eyes. Behind Barbed Eyes will be released next month.

Behind Barbed Eyes tells the interweaving stories of Dr. Victoria Thomas, an idealistic psychologist who believes everyone deserves a second chance and Bonnie Maldonado a convicted criminal who is incarcerated a third time for driving the getaway car in a bank robbery.

The book addresses the psychology of healing, forgiveness, compassion, self-love, healing from abuse, restorative justice, rehabilitation, spirituality and cultural and class issues. Issues, as you know, I’m committed to.

This is my third book to be published and my first novel. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to the excitement of releasing a book and the nervousness of presenting a creative work that has marinated in my mind for many years.

Whether you read fiction or not, I hope you’ll consider reading Behind Barbed Eyes. I’ll let you know when the book comes out and I hope you’ll share in the excitement with me. I’ll keep you posted about readings and book events.

Thank you for being a part of the Courageous Heart tribe! Like Love Warriors Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Cesar Chavez, Thich Nhat Hahn let’s change the world with love.

Just Keep Swimming!

In September 2000, I attended Tony Robbins’ Life Mastery Workshop in Hawaii. I climbed the 40 foot tall pole, gathered up my courage and my legs and stood straight up on the top of the pole. I had a moment to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the ocean before diving head first toward the swinging trapeze bar which hung six feet in front of me. It was exhilarating to say the least.

I also really wanted swim the half mile across the lagoon with Tony, but I was late and everyone was gone when I arrived. I looked at the murky water, jumped in, and began swimming across the lagoon. Gung ho!

About halfway across, I freaked out. The water was dark, my arms were getting tired and I was alone in the lagoon. The original adrenaline rush I’d had when I plunged in was gone and the shore seemed a long, long way off. I’d never swum this length before and was unprepared for the onslaught of panic that filled me. I began thinking about how people drown, not because they can’t swim, but because they freak out. Here I was in deep waters, freaking out. I had to get control of my mind and start focusing on getting my limbs moving forward. I just kept telling myself “just focus on what’s in front of you.” Little by little, I got myself across the lagoon and on to dry land. What a relief!

Not one to let an experience go by, I began to examine what had happened.

When we begin something new, like Frodo and the others preparing for their journey in Lord of the Ringscourage3, we are excited and optimistic. We may be nervous too, but there’s a sort of bravado and naiveté about what we will meet on the path. In the beginning we are fueled by adrenaline and by the novelty of our new adventure. But once we’ve said goodbye and left the Shire or dry land, and have begun our proverbial journey, we begin to meet with obstacles and adversaries that attempt to thwart, even destroy us, our creative projects/business endeavors/missions.

Sometimes those adversaries are external and come in the form of naysayers, family or friends who deem us foolish, or rejections from agents, publishers, art critics, lending institutions, etc. Sometimes they come in the form of sirens, those people who distract us from our purpose, and sometimes those adversaries are our own inner demons that come out and scare the hell out of us.

Yes, our own inner demons that tell us we’re not going to make it, that we are failures, or that we should just give up. Those internal critics challenge our audacity to think that we could ever be successful musicians, artists, actors, writers, entrepreneurs, healers, parents, etc. Often times these demons come out when we have left the comforts of shore or the shire, when we have made major decisions, and have gone too far to turn back. These inner or outer voices of doom and gloom can absolutely paralyze us, cut us off at our knees, and keep us from moving forward.

This is the time where we’ve got to turn to faith, to trust the process even more, and especially in the absence of proof or evidence. We must muster a deeper inner knowing that we are totally guided and totally supported by this friendly Universe that doesn’t want us to sink. The Universe wants us to continue reaching for our dreams, to continue to move forward. We must trust that we will reach the shore, that we will realize our dreams as long as we keep dreaming them and keep moving towards them.

This is not an easy process! There’s a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous, “Don’t give up five minutes before the miracle.” There’s another saying, “It’s always darkest, before the dawn.”

Don’t lost faith. Don’t give up on your journey of the courageous heart. Trust in the perfect unfolding of your life, knowing that when you choose to follow your heart, to listen to your inner calling, you will step into the divine flow, get your miracle, and the sun will rise and shine on your life again.