Archive: Balance

Too fond of play, Fooled for clothing



I woke one morning having dreamt that title (might even be too fond of it).  It was after binge-watching Mad Men.  So appropriate, since I felt I was on a bender until it was done.

I’d resisted watching it for years – because I’d lived it – but eventually, curiosity won out.  What I felt was a gradual descent into an old hell, re-awakening the women’s libber in me, bringing back the pain of those times – and also for a brief while, my great dislike of men. I remember talking about the series to a friend, who agreed that it is an incredibly accurate portrayal of those times, and of corporate America.

After WWII, society had, en masse, chosen to give all jobs to the men returning from the war, and re-locate all women to the home and motherhood. Growing up as a female child, I saw so many women end up either drunk most of the time or in psych wards.  When I entered the corporate work force at the age of 17, I watched – spell-bound – as boys my age were speed-walked through the ranks in a few months, while women who had been there for years stayed put. I decided that I would be one of the women who would change that. And I did, only to discover the truth in that old cliché “Be careful what you wish for”.

But like everyone else reaching for that elusive prestigious position that would bestow on me respect and acceptance, I hid myself behind what I thought was acceptable. By whom? Why, by all those other people doing the same thing! And because I hid myself – even from myself  – I became a fool for clothing – for appearance over substance.

I don’t know how many of you reading this experienced something similar; even so many years after WWII, after women’s lib, and after the great leaps in civility we’ve accomplished, we live fearfully. There is so much worry and anxiety that it’s hard not to hide behind the mask of acceptability.

But there is a problem with hiding behind this mask. The problem is that it will never lead to being happy with life. I keep thinking of the 5 main regrets of the dying; one of these regrets was about not doing what they had always wanted to do. Not trying it at least. Not even tasting it.

If you feel you may be hiding, I’m not about to suggest you throw off your cloak and reveal all. If that act doesn’t give you a heart attack on the spot, it might at least put you in real peril.  After all, all your friends and associates are very used to the hidden version of you. Instead, I suggest you find some small thing that gives you a taste.  Then if that feels good to you, take another taste, then another.

Eventually, you might find yourself, one day, in a surprisingly different world; one where everything is color and sound, taste and smell; where you feel more alive than you ever remember feeling.


Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at .

Mon, Dad and the Kids – How our families help us grow


I sit and watch a friend agonizing over something she’s writing, moaning she’s no good at this kind of thing. She does this all the time.  She writes for a living and is really pretty good at it, but that doesn’t stop the moaning and occasional self-doubt.

It may be true that she wasn’t born with a natural talent to put words on paper. I really can’t think of anyone who is. But she’s developed that talent: encouraged by teachers and family, not only to pursue what she wanted to pursue, but also by their own power of example, showing her how to live successfully. Her accomplishment is just as real and “valid” as if she were born with it. She’s worked really hard to get to the level of competence she’s at, and I applaud her.

Seth Godin, in his recent blog titled The Musclebound Baby, reminded me that when we see a person with a lot of muscles, we don’t assume they were born that way.  Instead we assume they worked hard to develop those muscles.

Family traits are way more than what gets handed down through genes.  We all know that. How our parents raise us; how we were nurtured by them; how they modeled being an adult to us; even the family culture – all of these are major influencers in the way we develop.  There’s even some evidence that some traits are picked up at a cellular level, even if not genetically (For instance, we now know that if a mother is malnourished during pregnancy, she will carry that information in her cells to her offspring down the generations).

What I find so cool is knowing that whatever I’ve picked up from my parents, I can use to build up my strength.  Sure, I can also use them to limit myself, but I’d rather see what I can make of them to expand my capabilities and options.

Like my friend, who learnt through dogged effort (which she learned from her Mother) to write well.


NOTE: the photo above is from a BING screenshot.  It’s something you can get, as I did, if you have a Windows Operating System.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at .

Our fickle memory


True story: a man and his fiancé were going out for the evening.  As it happened, his car was like one that was driven by a man who’d just raped a woman.  He also looked a little like the aggressor.  The police spotted his car and picked him up.  The he was put in a line-up, and the victim noted that he looked “like” the perpetrator.

That was enough for the police and he was charged.  By the time the trial came along 6 months later, the victim was now saying he “was” the same guy.  This man was convicted and sent to jail. He was a fighter and managed to convince an investigative reporter to take up his story – and that reporter found the real criminal.

You might be thinking: Whew! I’m so glad he got off and was completely exonerated.  Well, he did and he was, but he couldn’t let the injustice go. It cost him his job, his fiancé and all his savings. He died in his 30’s of a stress-related heart attack.

This story was told by Elizabeth Loftus, a scientist who studies memory.  Ms. Loftus gives more examples on how our memories are faulty.  More to the point, our memories are most faulty when we are in a stressful situation, like that female victim was. She goes on to show how politicians, ad agencies, and the like, use this fact to manipulate others. What I’d like to focus on, instead, is how we can manipulate ourselves with false memories.

I have a story about my brother and father. My brother has a different story. My sister, who wasn’t actually present but heard about the incident has yet a different one.  Which is true? From my perspective, I was attempting to save a situation; my brother was trying to escape it, and my sister may have been trying to support my brother and father.  We were seeing the event from quite different perspectives, and were focused on different things.  We were all excited and even anxious, and that no doubt leant weight to how we saw it.

Which of the stories is true?  I don’t know. I believe that parts of what I remember are true and objective; so does my brother.

That’s one of my childhood stories.  Here’s another one: As a child, I wanted to get my mother a birthday gift and didn’t have any money.  It was early summer, the lilacs were coming into bloom, and I saw an opportunity.  I visited every yard in my neighborhood and cut a few lilac stems from each yard.  Then I went door to door selling back these lilacs.   At the time, I thought this idea was brilliant (and a little cheeky – my excuse being I was a kid), and I made enough to buy Mom her gift.  I like that memory, and remember it whenever I feel stumped.

I have other childhood memories that aren’t as pleasant, and that can bring up feelings of insecurity and self-doubt.  But if I can change the perspective, even a little, those stories cease to trouble me and get in my way.

Part of who we are, are our stories. Our stories provide a powerful context for how we see ourselves.  So it makes sense that if we change that context, we also change who we are. For instance, let’s say a child was hit by a stranger, and managed to crawl into something the stranger couldn’t reach.  If that child remembered the event with the man as huge and all-powerful, and him – the boy – as small and powerless, that will impact him and his life in one way.  If instead he remembered the event as the man being huge and brutish, and him – the boy – as smart and resourceful, that will impact in a completely different way.

Same story.  Which is true?

We all have childhood stories.  Some are empowering and some aren’t.  We have the power to change our perspective on the disempowering stories, and thereby improve our lives.

You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.

Toni Morrisson, Song of Solomon


Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at .

Mirrors – How to get the most out of life with them

Dear friend,

We all remember those special times when we connected beautifully with someone, even for a brief moment.  When a kind stranger helped us as a child, perhaps, or when we met the person we eventually married; when we had the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time to connect with someone we truly admire.  Those are moments in time that define us, and they are probably as fresh now as when they happened.  They helped to shape who we are today; we remember those times with fondness and often, gratitude.

There are smaller, less significant, yet equally important events that happen daily, that we might not notice as much.  Like when someone lets us in in heavy traffic, or holds the door open for us at closing time, or even gives us a little extra when we go out for lunch.  They are all genuine acts of kindness, where nothing is expected from us in return.  Most if not all of us feel a lift when that happens, and often end up returning that random act of kindness by “paying it forward” to another person we meet.

These instances give us mirrors into our own souls; they are all moments when someone said “I see you”, and reflect back to us through their eyes what we are giving them.

Then there are other kinds of mirrors we like less; those that can be opportunities for growth.  These can be instances when we are triggered by someone – someone who reminds us of others or other past instances that still make us angry, judgmental, embarrassed, protective – and produces in us a compulsion to armor and defend ourselves.  These are the interesting ones because they are the hardest to deal with. They also bring with them the potential for greatest spiritual growth.

Life will always provide these mirrors, and they will keep returning in our lives until we do deal with them.  Here’s a personal example: I have a teacher, who I admire and who also is very demanding.  At times when I’m not prepared, she will comment on something she’s noticed that she thinks I need to look at, and at times I find myself triggered into anger.  My inner dialogue sounds something like this: She’s judging me again! She doesn’t seem to understand I’ve done this before and don’t need this kind of thing.  I feel completely unseen by her! I wish she’d see me and stop judging me!

Byron Katie talks about this kind of mirror in her book Loving What Is. In fact, the entire book is about turning these times around where we find ourselves defensive and judging others.  She calls this process The Work. This isn’t the place to go into how it works; I simply want to demonstrate what I learned about myself when I applied it to the above.

I first asked myself if “She’s judging me again” was true.  On the surface, with no inquiry on my part, it seemed true; there was a certain comfort for me in thinking it was true.  But actually I had no idea whether or not it was true.  In one sense it was true; after all she is my teacher and it’s her job to judge me. In another sense – in the sense that she was triggering me – I had no idea. Then I asked: how do I react when I believe it’s true?  How I react is with anger.  On the other hand, who would I be without thinking she was judging me personally?  The answer: I’d be fine, and able to take in her comments without rancor.  Finally, what happens when I turn this statement around?  For instance, “I’m judging her again”, or ”I’m judging me again”, or even “She isn’t judging me again” – are these at least as true as the initial statement?  In this case, the first two turnaround statements are definitely true, and give me the mirror I need to see – that it’s me who’s judging personally – both me and her. The last statement, if true, would be devastating; after all, if she isn’t judging me, what is our relationship really about?

What I’ve just demonstrated is a very simplified version of what Katie goes through in her book. It’s a powerful tool that helps us see the reflection that someone else is ultimately gifting us.

The point? Every moment that impacts us is a mirror moment, a moment when the universe is giving us a reflection of ourselves.  Without these moments, we’d never grow and learn. And life would be a lot less interesting.

Now I’d love to hear from you about your own experiences, knowledge, opinions.  In the comments below, share one thing that you experienced as a mirror moment that changed your day, or even your life.

This newsletter is in three parts: the first part is my contribution; the second is a video I’ve found that relates to the topic in part 1; the third is a quote. I hope you enjoy the richness this brings to the topic of the week with all three parts.

Byron Katie – The Work Explained

Quote of the Week
If you want to find the real competition, just look in the mirror. After awhile you’ll see your rivals scrambling for second place.
― Criss Jami, Killosophy


At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website or contact me directly at

The power of adversity


I grew up in chaos.  My mother contracted MS early on, then miraculously went into remission, leaving only numb fingers for some years.  Later on, the nerve damage was more impactful, but most of the time growing up, her MS had only one major impact on the rest of us.  That’s right, chaos.

You see, as she was lying on her bed, day after day, unable to move or see, she would contemplate many things; and the biggest thing was: what was truly important to her.  As a result, when the miracle happened, she no longer considered things like housework and order to be all that important.  Creativity, on the other hand, was vastly important, but only a certain kind of creativity – creativity that led to practical solutions, and that bettered our lot in what she considered a meaningful way every day.  So, art was out, but sewing and designing clothing was in; ballet was out, but working in clay creating pots and dinner-wear was in; writing was out but cooking well definitely was in.  One other thing that happened is that us kids were expected to take up the slack in housekeeping, and even though I won’t go into what that looked like, I will suggest you take a few creative moments imagining what 4 kids might do with it.

This molded certain ways I operated into adulthood.  For instance, I would witness friends and associates struggling with whether or not to do what their parents were against, and would get that, in this way, I was fortunate.  I remember thinking more than once as an adult making my own way:  Wow!  This would have been a lot harder if I hadn’t grown up with chaos! We were a pretty independent bunch, and that gave me something very precious: personal power.

Yes, there were many ways in which I didn’t have this power and had to learn to regain it, but not when it came to my own independence. I had that in spades, and all because of the adversity I met in childhood.

Research and scholarly wisdom has thus far focused on the detrimental effects of childhood abuse and/or adversity. Willem Frankenhuis and Carolina de Weerth in their research paper Does Early-Life Exposure to Stress Shape or Impare Cognigion?  discuss evidence showing that, in addition to the detrimental impact of childhood abuse, there are some positives.  This doesn’t negate the negative impacts of such abuse, which can be severe, far reaching, and difficult to correct.  What it does show is that adults who experienced childhood abuse or adversity have, compared to safely nurtured children, better skills that help them deal with potential threats.  These people are better at detection, learning, and memory on tasks that protect them from these possible dangers.

One often-sited example is the study where children are given the option of delayed or immediate gratification, knowing they will receive a larger treat if they delay than if they don’t delay.  Children raised in an emotionally safe environment will opt for delayed gratification; those raised in a stressed unsafe one will opt for the “fast” immediate option, strategizing that something is better than nothing.  These children can never count on a stable environment and so they take what is offered in the moment rather than wait for what might never happen. Both strategies make sense, considering the two different environments.

Another example is the ability to shift focus in unpredictable environments.  Adults from adverse childhood backgrounds are, on the whole, better at shifting focus without loss of accuracy than their peers from stable childhood backgrounds. In other words, flexibility in times of instability is easier for the first set of adults, which is an asset in unsafe times.

The big learning for me from this study is this: no matter what our background is, children take whatever situation they end up with and adapt as best they can.  In Gestalt Therapy, this is called Creative Adjustment. It’s wonderful to know that we have this capacity in us; it’s something some of us can truly appreciate as a strength that is well-earned.


Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at .

Is It Depression or Something Else?


Many celebrities are talking about the positive mental health movement. They want to take away the stigma of mental health challenges and encourage everyone to be more proactive. While I was thinking about today’s post, I came across a story on a popular TV show that dealt with depression…. only the lady didn’t have depression. In fact, she had pancreatic cancer! Her psychiatrist was seeing her for other reasons, noticed the change, and encouraged a follow-up with her doctor.

Depression is serious on its own, but sometimes there are underlining medical issues that need to be considered (or ruled out) before anyone starts treatment for depression. We tend not to think about underlining medical causes for depression because, well – we tend to be busy people with varied stressors within our lives. Depression can happen or we can be hiding it for years, or we don’t want to deal with the stigma of seeing a mental health professional and then we decide to simply “live with it”.

I’m here to tell you, today, that simply “living with it” isn’t a good option because you deserve to address your happiness – or, in rare cases, an underlining medical condition!

I am GIVING AWAY online therapy consultations. I can help you discover what the online therapy benefits are and you get to test-drive my services and see if we are a good match. To learn more about me, my programs, and read my free blog- please click here:

Patience, one of the 7 pillars of mindfulness


There are 7 pillars of mindfulness that are contemplated as part of a Buddhist practice.  Cultivating patience is one of these.

It’s said that with patience, we understand and accept that sometimes things must unfold in their own time.  In this way, patience is a form of wisdom – it reminds us that we, along with every thing in existence is in process, and that this process can’t be hurried.  Try forcing a square peg into a round hole: if you persist, the peg will likely break and the hole will become deformed.  The same happens with every process we attempt to force.

So often, it’s us we try to force, becoming impatient with our own process. We loose weight too slowly (then gain it back too quickly); we keep stumbling over mistakes while learning, ignoring or forgetting that stumbling is a necessary part of learning; we want it all – NOW – knowing in the back of our minds that anything worthwhile takes time.

I’d like to distinguish the mindful quality of patience from a natural energetic that some of us have that’s called impatience.  Some of us naturally move fast, think fast, walk fast.  If you’re like this, it’s as natural for you to be this way as it is for someone else to saunter.  Trying to force yourself to slow down wouldn’t work any better than trying to force a slow person to speed up, and may indicate an impatience to achieve some kind of imagined perfection that actually goes against what you are naturally.  It’s a kind of lack of acceptance and tollerance that I’ll cover in a few weeks.

Patience brings self-compassion to our awareness, helping us acknowledge and accept our own process. This kind of compassion melts away all inner resistance, allowing us to be open to each moment as it happens – without judgment – trusting that the process is unfolding perfectly as it is.

The next time you find yourself getting impatient with something you’re doing – even meditating (many of us believe there is a “right” way to meditate, for instance) – take some time to be with the feeling, and with the sensations this creates in your body.  Let is simply be, taking an interest in your natural, organic process of being with these feelings and sensations.

I first read of the 7 pillars of mindfulness in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book on mindfulness Full Catastrophe Living. These pillars are Buddhist principles that help us be present and mindful in our everyday living. The 7 meditations I offer to anyone who signs up on my website are based on these, and I use them in my own meditation practice.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at .

How being depressed is hopeful

Dr. Peter Breggin is a rare bird – a psychiatrist who does not believe in drugs.  He has been a psychotherapist (and psychiatrist) for over 45 years.

He never gives psychiatric drugs to people who are depressed – there are too many warnings on these drugs, and could very well make them feel worse.

He believes, as I do, that depression is a total loss of hope. When we have hope, we think we have a future, love, companionship and connection.  Hopelessness is a loss of all this.  The loss of hope may have begun in childhood or later in life, but the one measure that can predict recovery from depression is hopefulness.

Yes, there is likely a chemical imbalance in the brain, but that is not the cause – just another result of the loss of hopefulness.  Therefore, the most fundamental thing to help someone – and to help yourself if you’re depressed – is to build a hopeful relationship. A loving and supportive relationship with another. If possible, discover where you lost hope, and then seek help to unravel that time in your life, re-adding hopefulness into your life and re-taking charge.

There is a truism that once we realize it, we realize we’ve always known it: that we can only get what we seek; and so this means that if we want to enjoy life, we must seek what we love to do. It’s something we need to take charge of, not something that will necessarily come our way otherwise.

Being depressed can actually be a hopeful sign, because it means you still have feelings: that you hate where you’re at means that you know where you want to be. Your feelings mean you have a passion and a huge capacity for life that has been thwarted and inhibited by life circumstances.

If you’re depressed, then see if you can find the passion that’s been buried under pain and disappointment, and find the help you need to unearth and revive it. Rediscover what you’re missing, what you’ve lost, what blocks it. It’s in each of our hands to discover how we want to live and then to do just that.

Mona Lisa of the Dust Bowl


Quote of the Day
We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.


At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us.  As a registered psychotherapist and stress coach, I offer individual one-on-one consultations. For more information, visit my or contact me directly


Hanging in there – the difference between success and failure

When I researched this topic, most the material I read focused on the success or failure of a particular business venture. What we do is part of our lives and failure in that arena can feel like failure in life.  But I was really thinking about life in general because many people who don’t have great success in their jobs have amazingly successful lives: their happy, healthy, active, and connected with their world.

I believe that’s what most of us want, and why we try so hard to be successful in what we do.  A flaw in this thinking is that once we achieve success, we often find we aren’t any happier than before. Success is more a feeling than a condition – feeling happy supports and even enhances health; and both health and happiness inspire us to be active in our world.

Wayne Dyer  believes that feeling successful depends on a single truth: Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change.

In other words, when we have a positive view of ourselves, our lives and our world, what we see is what is positive and beneficial to life and to ourselves.  The world hasn’t changed, only our own focus. We still see the negative, but our focus isn’t on that part of life.

Dyer goes on to say this view is backed by physics: science has discovered that simply viewing a sub-atomic particle will change it. If we extend this to objects made up of these particles – the rest of the universe, including ourselves –  then it’s not that big a stretch to imagine that the way we view our world affects our world.

Given this, how can we begin to change the way we look at things?

  • Failure is essential to success. Success begins with failure, because living is about learning through trial and error.  Without failing first, we couldn’t know or even appreciate our successes.
  • Choose your focus. I deliberately choose a focus for my day, and my year.  This year, it’s physical balance, which means that everything I do has to contribute to that balance. So even on days where I fall short of achieving balance, I feel pretty good, knowing that everything I do – whether it works or not – is aimed at that.
  • Hang in there. It’s often said that the difference between success and failure is whether we stay or go; so stay.
  • Enjoy the benefits of your choice.  Last week I talked about Tolle’s challenge of acting as if we chose whatever is happening to us.  If we have a clear focus of intent that contributes to our success in life, then in a real sense we are choosing everything that happens. So relax, and enjoy the ride.
Deepak Chopra – the 7 Spiritual Laws of Success

Quote of the Day

A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do. -Bob Dylan
At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us.  As a registered psychotherapist and stress coach, I offer individual one-on-one consultations. For more information, visit my or contact me directly

Accepting the moment as if you had chosen it

Accept—then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Eckhart Tolle

Sometimes, a moment will jump out at us, as if we’ve been waiting for it all our lives.  This quote from Eckhart Tolle is one of those moments for me.

How often have I said to myself or out loud “Why me?! How did whatever-it-is happen to me?  What did I do to deserve it?” Seeing myself as a victim of circumstances, perhaps being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As an experiment, what would change or alter for me if I accepted any moment as if I’d chosen it?  Because in a way I have chosen it: I might choose the real possibility of being late if I worked late the night before and drag myself out of bed in the morning, not really physically ready for any issues that might arise; or I might choose to put myself in a new situation where a lot I can’t predict might happen; or alternatively, I might choose to rest and remain home, safe and sound, missing any opportunities for growth that day – except what might happen in my nice, seemingly safe home.

As Tolle points out, the challenge isn’t to assume that the state we are currently in is entirely our doing.    Some things are unavoidable: a big or small misfortune, a long-term disease – some things are simply given to us by Nature.  His challenge for us is to act as if we chose what is, at any moment, part of our lives. I believe it’s really about taking charge of the moment, of altering our perspective from seeing the world as happening to us to really simply being in the world.

So, I challenged myself to live this an entire day. Beginning in the morning, I would take a moment throughout the day to ask myself Tolle’s question – What if I accept this moment as if I’d chosen it? – then journal my response.

Here are a few journal entries:

2am – Can’t sleep; there’s a skunk nearby. Get up, heat some milk, take a few drops of walnut tincture, and go back to bed.  Relax; let the skunk be there at that moment.  I think I needed that wake-up call; I’ve been over-busy lately.
Noon – late for circuit training class; left it as late as possible, getting a last bit of research in.  Could it have waited? Yes, but I’m worried I’ll be late in getting it done.  I wonder what I can do differently that will help me stop worrying.
End of day – This day was really pretty uneventful!  No real worries. No real challenges. Kind of a nice day.  I wonder if I chose the wrong day to experiment with.

In answer to myself, I didn’t chose the wrong day. With a different mindset, this might have been a day of annoyances.  Instead, it became a nice day.

If you find yourself in a day that seems to be going badly, see if you can ask yourself the question:  What if I were to accept this moment as if I chose it?

Eckhart Tolle

Quote of the Day

“What day is it?”
It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
My favorite day,” said Pooh.”
A. A. Milne
At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us.  As a registered psychotherapist and stress coach, I offer individual one-on-one consultations. For more information, visit my website or contact me directly at