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

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.

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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.