The Lighter Side of Transformation

with Lisa Wessan, LICSW

How to Find a Clutter Buddy and be a Victorious “Clutter Buddy Duo”

As part of my Let Go & Lighten Up programs (for voluntary simplicity and decluttering), I strongly suggest participants find a safe person with whom to work in between groups or individual sessions.

Here is a short list of requirements and tips that I have found useful for successfully working with a Clutter Buddy  (“CB”):

1. The CB has a clutter or hoarding challenge, too,  and is willing to take turns every other week, rotating the role of being the CB or “the client.” This is a free, non-professional, peer-to-peer  service for mutual aid. Thus we have the makings of a dynamic CB Duo!

2. The CB lives or works nearby, so there is no “travel resistance” due to excessive gas mileage expenses or travel time.

3. The CB is unconditionally accepting and kind. That is to say, if your client is holding up an old vest with holes in it and ragged edges, the CB would NOT say, “What are you crazy? Throw that rag out!  It’s disgusting!” Nay, nay, this is a toxic candidate, which may rule out best friends, relatives, spouses and well-meaning peers. Sometimes an acquaintance or  pleasant stranger you meet in a group might be best, or a neighbor who you like and trust but don’t know that well.  I always invite attendees at my groups to try to find a CB in the group. It’s a safe place to meet a local acquaintance who shares the same issue.

4. The CB needs to be willing to follow the format, and stick with the Four Questions (which I will discuss in a few paragraphs). The CB should be able to maintain silence except when the client asks a question, or to offer one of the Four Questions, and be aware that this time is for the client.  If the CB is loquacious and insists on having a running commentary on everything and everyone, this will be stressful and painfully distracting for the client.

Most important, the CB needs to respect that the client is struggling with Clutter Blindness (1),  and can’t even see the absurdity of his hoard. As the late, great comedian George Carlin once observed, “Did you ever notice how your crap is stuff, and every else’s stuff is crap?”

5. The CB is not there to offer a cleaning  or hauling service. In fact, the CB is required to sit still and help the client stay focused. It’s acceptable for the CB to do needlework, read a book, or write notes on paper. No eating or drinking during the session, except during the breaks.  No electronics, tablets, headsets,  smart phone games or checking email. The CB is allowed to accept a quick call, but optimally the phone is on vibrate. The CB  needs to be able to keep one eye on the client and make sure they are staying on task.  They are also ready to be emotionally supportive if the client reaches an impasse, expresses unresolved grief,  and needs to talk about the feelings coming up in a safe milieu.

Without giving CBs formal clinical training in reflective listening, I explain how that works and encourage the CB Duo to practice reflective listening with each other. No advice, no fixing, no rescuing here. Just passive listening and kindness.  It’s not hard to learn, but it is difficult to practice.

6. The CB must respect the planned “Flake Breaks,” whether they are five or fifteen minutes long. I think it’s healthy to call these Flake Breaks, borrowing from psychologist Martha Becks’ recent discussion of coping with flakiness (2). The mirth and lightness of the term helps to dissolve some of the shame related to  this activity.

Prior to each session, the client and CB will discuss how many and at what time the breaks will occur.  For most clients, they can usually work consistently for one hour before needing a 10-15 minute break. As each ideal session is two hours long, this would be one break per session.

If the client has Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or any processing impairment,  it would be better to work with smaller segments, and then allow for more Flake Breaks.  But those breaks need to be timed. For example, if the client can sustain 15 minutes of decluttering, the break is just five minutes.

Loading up on sugar, caffeine or alcohol is not a good idea for a break. I suggest that all CB Duos integrate laughter therapy into the work, so that it helps release some of the stress of the work.  Being intentional about this means perhaps bringing funny cards, humorous cartoons, books with jokes (available for free from the library) which all help to make that Flake Break more valuable.

The Four Questions

The Four Questions for decluttering your home or office are most useful when you are decluttering your non-paper collection or hoard. The client or the CB can ask these questions for each item, to be used for clothes, jewelry, accessories, bric-à-brac, attics, basements, appliances,  stuffed closets and drawers.

When working with your CB, it’s helpful when the CB asks you these questions with kindness and unconditional regard. No judgment allowed!  When your CB asks you these questions, pause, take a deep breath, be as honest as you can be and bravely prepare to go forth and send the items to Good Will, consignment or trash.

If you answer “NO” to questions one through three,  it will be an easier toss.  If you answer “YES” to one of them, you may need to have a brief discussion about the item with your CB  to process and re-evaluate your item.

1. Does it lift my energy when I think about it or look at it?
2. Do I absolutely love it?
3. Is it genuinely useful?
4. DO I WANT THIS? OR DO I WANT FREEDOM?

Question number four is always my favorite — for each cluttering item is sucking away at your freedom and serenity.

You can do this…never give up!

____________________________
Notes:

1. Frost, R.O., Steketee, G. (2013).  Treatment for Hoarding Disorder: Workbook. Oxford University Press: New York, NY.

2. Beck, M. (2014, March). Don’t Blow It. Oprah Magazine,  pp. 41-44.

Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2014. All rights reserved.  www.LisaWessan.com

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Compare and Despair: How free do you want to be?

A few weeks ago I became aware that one of my top-tier, close relatives unfriended me on Facebook…ouch! My first reaction was tightness in my neck and throat, I took a deep breath. Yes, surprisingly, breathing always helps dissolve some of the stress. But then I remembered that she was a teenager, and that it is possible she wanted more privacy in her postings with her friends. I made a choice to believe the best possible reason, and let it go.

This relative is dear to my heart – but I will not ask her, “Why did you unfriend me?” It could only lead to more grief. In the past, when I have asked other relatives “Why?” questions, I was scolded. “Why are you angry?” or “What’s wrong?” can trigger some people who would rather not discuss their feelings. I learned from those times.

The past few weeks, however, when I visited my Facebook page (once or twice during the week), I noticed I had this sad, unresolved grief about being unfriended by this relative. It wasn’t going away, despite my rational emotional response to it.

The good news:

Here is another moment in life when I can actually experience free will – I have a choice: will I let this Facebook event bother me and dwell on it, allowing this teenager to interrupt my thoughts and mental flow, living in my head rent free, causing me to spiral into a possible depression?

Or…will I focus on the strengths of our relationship and trust my first reaction?

I have a history of getting caught up in the toxic realm of negative thinking, which I prefer to call the Compare and Despair syndrome…

What is the Compare and Despair syndrome (“CAD”)? CAD operates on two levels. The first level is when I CAD myself to myself. There is the idealized version of me, and then there is the Lisa du jour; however I happen to be now. How this looks: I tell myself stories about how I could have been better…the classic CAD vernacular is fraught with guilt, self-wounding words and phrases such as I shoulda, woulda and coulda, always, never, and if only. CAD thoughts try to figure out how XYZ could be avoided.. In this case, how to avoid being unfriended on Facebook.

For example, “If only I were more athletic, thinner, richer, my relative wouldn’t have unfriended me…” As if my alleged lack of worth caused this teen to unfriend me. Nay, nay, I say, we don’t go there anymore…

The second level of CAD is when I compare myself to others, which always leads to pain. Practicing CAD with siblings, peers, colleagues and other is always a lose/lose situation; CAD becomes torturous when I read Vogue Magazine or The Week and am triggered by a tsunami of CAD, as I compare my voluptuous body with anorexic models and celebrities. It’s wonderful to read about someone’s success and be inspired – that’s always worthwhile. But to read about someone and feel less than, well, it’s time for some treatment for CAD.

So how can I choose to have a better mental health day? For today, I choose to focus on who loves me, who wants to be with me, who are my real friends, and who does care to connect with me. This is a choice! It’s also a practice –a psychospiritual practice.

From my experience, there is no will power when it comes to transformation. I cannot just make myself think about something – or not think about it — as if I am a programmable robot. No, it takes an army of angels to help me turn around these negative, toxic thoughts. From experience, professional training and years of helping others do this, I have come to understand that we have many kinds of helpers, both fleshly and invisible, who will, for the asking, intervene on our behalf.

Most healthy people by default are non-invasive and non-interfering with our troubles and thoughts. We need to pick up the phone and ask one of them for help. Sometimes this can be accomplished in a five-minute phone call. Sometimes we need to meet with someone for a longer talk, or seek professional help. Whatever, getting better starts with asking for help. Once we roll that stone away, the Universe can move in and fill us with the wisdom, compassion, unconditional love and the connection that we truly crave.

The good news here is that my little relative did a big favor for me. By unfriending me on Facebook, I was able to deconstruct this painful moment and turn it around into a joyful affirmation of my life.

So it’s true: my joy, my love and my experience of life are not dependent on who is my friend, on Facebook or otherwise. Instead of asking, “Why did she unfriend me?” I can ask “How can I be useful today? How can I make a difference? How can I give support, love and creative energy on this planet today?” Yes, asking the “HOW?” question is uplifting and invigorating. Asking “WHY?” just leads to a dip into negative thinking.

I have a few favorite affirmative prayers that can transform Facebook pain into something better. One of my favorites: “I am an irresistible magnet for God’s Goodness, and I attract the right friends, clients, peers and always get what I need.” I repeat this many times, until the soothing effect feels complete. Each time I say it, I am reminded of how much goodness and love IS in my life…and in my big picture, all is well. I am better, not bitter…

There’s also the old saying, “Man’s rejection is God’s protection.” I can choose to believe that this relative and I are really on very different vibrational planes – maybe even different Universes – so why can’t I accept that she is truly not a close friend to begin with? Let’s face it, trace it and erase it, DONE! (This is a great philosophy for people who are dating. I used to say this whenever a romantic situation wasn’t working out well. ) Whenever I am rejected, it is surely for the best, because everything is working towards my highest and best outcome.

Finally, we all end up at the Cosmic Café…at the end of time, at the beginning of time, forever; our souls are connected to each other in the web of life, in the Oneness of the Universe. There is no way to NOT be connected to this delightful little teenager! She and I are already One…why is my pea brain stressing over being unfriended, while our souls are joined together at the Cosmic Café forever? Indeed, whenever I want to connect with her, I can still pick up the phone, text her, or arrange for a visit. It’s all good.

Facebook is a great test for how lightly I am wearing my life. Am I experiencing my life as a loose garment, comfortable and easy, or is it tight, constrictive, punishing and unbearable?

Our greatest achievements do not show up on our résumé, on television or in the media, or in our bank accounts. There are no cash and prizes for these personal victories. Each day is another day of turning a defeat into a victory, a scar into a star, and the feeling is priceless. I can laugh at it and move on, free of any Facebook baggage. How free do you want to be? That is the question.

Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2011. All rights reserved.

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Defining the Laughgasm (Laughing Orgasm)

As sex educator Dr. Yvonne K. Fulbright has noted, “While I’ve had some out-of-this-world orgasms, I personally think that a good laugh gives orgasm a run for its money. Nothing is more delicious than losing yourself in a side-splitting, seemingly endless crying with laughter session. It’s no wonder that being drunk with laughter has so many benefits. Laughter boosts your immune system, healing and cleansing your mind, body and soul. It increases the level of endorphins and neurotransmitters that are health-enhancing while lowering the level of stress hormones in your body, like cortisol. Laughter provides fantastic physical and emotional release. It gives your body a good workout, exercising the diaphragm, contracting the abdominals and working up your heart rate. It enhances your mood, drawing you away from any negative emotions, like anger, that are consuming you. In being utterly contagious, laughter also connects us. Hmmm, kind of sounds a lot like orgasm.”

I would never say that laughter could replace sex and orgasms, but there are times when a good full-bodied laugh can certainly help you experience the relief, release and feeling of refreshment you might have from an orgasm, plus it can reboot your nervous system, similar to an orgasm…that is, clear the mind, settle the synapses, relax-reboot and all is well…

I met my first laughter meditation teacher when I lived New York City, his name is Laraaji. Besides facilitating a brilliant laughter meditation class, Laraaji is also a powerful musician and peace activist. Laraaji says “Laughing and orgasming are very similar. For me, ejaculatory orgasm is draining. Instead of coming, its more like leaving. I prefer orgasmic laughter, it nourishes my nervous system, keeps my expressional vehicle loose, and puts me in touch with my feelings. As part of my yogic practice each morning, I have a hearty laughgasm.” Watch Laraaji having a LaughGasm here…

Laraaji facilitates a wonderful two-hour laughter meditation program in NYC…definitely worthwhile if you’re in the city and want to have a mind-blowing laughathon. He’s not big on social media, but he does share his beautiful zither music here.

In my keynote speeches, seminars and consulting work on therapeutic laughter, my audiences often have laughgasms, but I have never labeled them or called them out on it…are we ready? Dare I do it? Should I even consider marketing my work as offering Laughgasms? What do you think?

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Earth laughs in flowers. ~ Emerson

Earth laughs in flowers. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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World Peace Through Laughter? Is this a joke?

When I did my first training for certification in Laughter Yoga, Laughter Meditation and Laughter Therapy, my teacher, Madan Kataria, MD, talked about his vision for world peace through laughter. Some scoffed, but he planted a seed in me during that training…I had a vision of having a large room, or even Madison Square Garden, filled with Muslims and Jews, experiencing extended, massive periods of laughter together. Not laughing at jokes – not that there’s anything wrong with that – but laughing at the absurdities, incongruities and paradoxes that surround the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and that permeate the prejudices in all confused religious conflicts.

Besides all the extraordinary physiological benefits from laughter which you have experienced – the lowering of cortisol levels, muscle relaxation, and improved memory and cognitive functioning – I have seen what laughing together in groups can do. It dissolves anxieties, tensions, prejudices, fears and allows people to feel safe enough to say what they need to say. Laughter is surprisingly disarming, and when we laugh together our walls and facades come down. Laughter is the great equalizer, one of the most profound democratizing energetic forces available for transformation.

Well, it happened this summer…right here 30 miles north of Boston, due to the progressive spiritual leadership of the Qutbi Masjid (mosque) of North Billerica, MA, and Congregation Shalom of North Chelmsford, MA. These two enlightened communities teamed up for a day of healing in the Merrimack Valley. I was invited to be the keynote speaker at this Health and Wellness Fair…what an exciting moment!

My vision for a harmonious Middle East, for more brotherly acceptance and respect (and eventually love) seems to be happening now. My hope and prayer is that this moves from the micro to the macro level, one laugh at a time. Read more about this incredible event in this recent article from THE JEWISH JOURNAL.

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Invitation for centenarians, gerontologists and studio audience participants…

I am currently seeking healthy, alert and oriented centenarians to be interviewed for “The Super Centenarian Series” in 2011, my new my cable television topic. If you know any centenarians in the greater Boston area, please invite them to contact me.

I am also interested in talking with gerontologists and health care professionals who work with the elderly for the caregiver segments.

Also, if you would like to be part of our studio audience, please join us!

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Nothing is impossible…

Nothing is impossible, the word itself says “I’M POSSIBLE!” ~ Audrey Hepburn

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Retirement Readiness and Longevity…are you ready to be a healthy, wealthy Supercentenarian? (that’s over 110 years of age…)

I’m excited to be a guest on Mike Bonacorsi’s radio show tomorrow, Tuesday, November 16, 2010, 12 Noon – 1 PM, broadcast live from Nashua, NH, in the studios of WSMN, 1590 AM on your dial, and globally webcast from WSMN at this link: http://wsmn.wgamthegame.com/archives/138.

Bonacorsi is a certified financial planner, and is well-known in New England as “The Retirement Readiness Expert.” Together we will explore the good, better and best ways to manage money, life and health affecting baby boomers+. Please join us for a fun lunch and learn experience!

Here are some of the questions we will explore:
Last week the oldest person in the world passed away at 114 years-can this be the norm at some point?
Is living to an advanced age 90+ genetic, good living, luck or a curse?
How difficult is it for someone to accept the fact we are getting older, into the advanced years?
Do we accept the fact gracefully, or with resignation?
As a population we are living longer-can we maintain a quality of life as we get to 90 or maybe even 100+ years?
What can we do as we age to maintain the quality of life we want?

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