March 26, 2009

Finding the best within us…

Posted in Between Us column, Relationships at 3:57 am by dinaheng

 

When the piggy bank is upside down, most of us get stressed out — we can’t sleep, we eat things we shouldn’t, we snap in anger at the slightest slight. We know the signs. We just don’t always know what to do about them.

Judith Orloff, M.D., a psychiatrist and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA, has several suggestions on how to deal with stressful situations in her new book, “Emotional Freedom” (Harmony Books, $24.95), an interesting take on how to turn negative emotions into positive ones.

Orloff, who’s trained in conventional medicine, also practices intuitive healing, using psychic impressions to diagnose and treat patients. Her book looks at the biological, spiritual, energetic, and intuitive aspects of emotions, giving tools to better understand and cope with whatever we’re feeling.

“I wrote the book because the world is in the midst of an emotional meltdown, along with the financial crisis,” Orloff says. “I was taught to prescribe medications in conventional medicine, but wanted to present other options to deal with emotions in addition to medication. 

“In order to understand depression or anxiety, you have to tap into the still, small voice inside. You need to ask, how can this help me grow?”

Now that’s the question we all need to ask whenever we’re upset, because feelings exist to help us grow. Anger tells us when we are judging another. Guilt teaches us we are judging ourselves. Fear shows us the limits of our love.

The challenge of negative emotions is not letting ourselves get stuck in the muck. If a family member always pushes your buttons, taking the time to figure out why will stop the aggravation faster than just avoiding the person. If a boss intimidates you with cutting sarcasm, confronting the behavior calmly may teach your boss something as well.

Whatever we’re feeling radiates out into the universe. Some of us may think we hide our emotions well, but to knowing hearts, the energy we transmit is always felt.

Orloff’s book gives self-tests for discovering your dominant emotional type, which Orloff breaks down into four categories:

* the intellectual, who takes a cerebral approach to feelings;

* the empath, an emotional sponge who tends to take on the emotions of others;

* the gusher, who lets feelings out all the time, and

* the rock, who’s steady and responsible, and lacks fire in emotions.

Once you understand how you process emotions, you can turn the negative ones into positive ones.

“For example, it’s about transforming fear into courage,” Orloff says. “Without fear, we’d never learn how to be courageous.”

It takes courage to explore our emotions, and with stress escalating in the workplace, we all need to learn how to take a deep breath and let it out.

“As a therapist, I’ve never seen so much stress, worry and fear in people,” Orloff says. “People don’t know how to deal with fear. They get mesmerized by it, become addicted to it, focus on it, and feed it. Don’t focus on the fear.

“For example, if you’ve lost a job and are going through depression, stay in the now and focus on solution-oriented steps that set positive change into motion. Focus on what you can do, rather than what you’re afraid of.”

Constantly focusing on fear, Orloff says, decreases serotonin, a natural antidepressant, in the body. 

“You get agitated, don’t sleep well, and it creates a vicious cycle,” she says. “Focus on what you have to be grateful for while you’re trying to solve the problem.”

These may feel like uncertain times, but we don’t have to fixate on the uncertainty. No matter what may give us pause, imagine how different the world would be if we thought of this as being the best time of our lives. 

After all, the best is always inside us. We just don’t always feel it.

March 19, 2009

A matter of life and death…

Posted in Between Us column, Spirituality at 6:24 am by dinaheng

My friend Rashael (pronounced Ruh-shell), who lives in the UK, is staying with me while she does a three-week rotation at the Los Angeles Coroner’s Office. When she’s done here, she’ll spend three weeks with the Baltimore Coroner’s Office.

It’s been interesting hearing an insider’s perspective on what actually happens in a medical examiner’s domain. We’d watch news of a plane crash on the TV one night, and Rashael would end up helping with the autopsies on the crash victims. What is reported as one person’s tragedy becomes an intimate part of another person’s day.

Rashael, a fourth year medical student, is fascinated by forensics and the ability to unravel secrets through science. She talks calmly about the smell of dead bodies, and holding body parts to learn the difference between healthy and diseased organs.

“I’m learning so much here,” she says. “You rarely see gun shot wounds in the UK because even the police aren’t allowed to carry guns.”

The irony is, she’s also a very spiritual person who believes that life continues after the body dies. She’s seen the apparition of a school girl dressed in Victorian era clothes and once heard what she thought was her dog panting  in the dark in her bedroom, but when she turned the light on, there was nothing there. Yes, she is terrified of ghosts.

I’ve never seen a ghost, but I believe that Life exists in numerous dimensions. When I was a teenager, I had a brush with death that has shaped my view of life.

I had just started to drive, and one stormy morning on the way to school, the car in front of me braked suddenly.  I crashed headlong into the car, and at the moment of impact, felt myself rise out of my body. I looked down at myself and a voice said to me, “It’s not time to go yet. You still have things to do.”

Then I was jerked back into my body. I’ll never forget the sudden sensation of being encased in flesh again as I “woke” to find myself covered with blood.  The driver of the car I had hit was my science teacher, and he later said, “When I opened your car door, I thought you were dead.”

That out-of-body experience made me realize there’s so much more to life than we see on the surface.  It helped me understand that the essence of who we are cannot be found through the mind and body alone, but requires a foray into spirit.  The spirit of Love.

Love, after all, is what gives life meaning. We each have a story of love that is ongoing, and ever-changing.  But when we open our hearts, and share those stories with another, we reach the place where separateness falls away, and there is only One of us.

Few people are comfortable talking about death. We put off talking to our parents about their funeral arrangements, not wanting to invite death to come sooner. We put off thinking about our own mortality, not wanting to face the unknown future that lies ahead.

But the future in all aspects of our lives is unknown. We don’t know what lies ahead in terms of health, wealth, or happiness. All we can do is live each day, trusting that good things are still to come.

That’s how I look at death. I don’t know what will happen, but I trust that it will be good. Life and death are but two sides of the same coin. One cannot exist without the other.

After a couple of weeks in the coroner’s office, Rashael has changed her mind about going into forensics. “I’ve decided I want to work with living patients,” she says. “I have tremendous respect for the doctors here. They’re the voices for the dead.

“But I’ve decided I don’t want to go home, day after day, seeing the worst of what people can do to each other and become pessimistic about life. It’s much more rewarding helping someone who’s hurt to get better. Or if they’re going to die, to help them and their families through what has to be one of the hardest times in life.”

Death certainly has a way of teaching us to appreciate life.

March 12, 2009

Divine Timing at work…

Posted in Between Us column, Spirituality, Women at 2:46 am by dinaheng

Whenever I visit my sister Linda’s house, I never trust the time on her clocks.

The one in the living room is set seven minutes ahead. The one in her bedroom is set five minutes ahead. The one in the bathroom is three minutes fast.  The clock in her car?

“It’s pretty close to on time,” Linda says, ”maybe two minutes ahead.”

Can you see the countdown to the front door? I tease my sister about her sense of timing, but in actuality, a lot of people try to fool themselves by setting the clock ahead to ensure that they’ll get somewhere on time. Life, however, doesn’t always cooperate with our plans.

Many of us who saved regularly, investing for the day we retire, have lost a lot of those savings in the current economic downturn. Several of my friends who are the most frightened are talented people who have earned good incomes and never had to worry about whether they could afford to pay the mortgage.

One of my downstairs neighbors, who owns a travel  agency, told me yesterday that his business has tanked. He’s moved in with his family and is selling his condo.

My dear friend Lynne, who’s in her 80s, was living in an assisted care home. She’s now  moved in with her daughter and son-in-law to make sure there’s enough money to last the rest of her life.

When money becomes scarce, people become the safety net. This, I think, is the real blessing of this wretched economy. Losing the material things in our lives is forcing us to turn to each other for support, and to realize that there’s nothing more important in life than the people we love.

Diminished resources at work are forcing silos to fall in the workplace. Partnerships that people once avoided are now required for survival. Barriers to innovation and change are slowly being dismantled. I don’t think these things would be happening as fast as they are without this recession.

Most of the time, we treat others as if there’s all the time in the world. We procrastinate getting together with friends because there’s work to be done. We put off apologies because we’d rather hold onto anger than forgive. We network to meet people, but don’t take the time to form true relationships.

We worry about the future, hold onto the past, and totally miss the present.

I had coffee today with my friend Robert. He and his partner Douglas adopted a baby girl two years ago, and for the last nine months, have been taking care of Sarah, an infant taken away from her methamphetamine-addicted parents.

The guys want to adopt Sarah, but the social worker thinks the judge will give the baby back to her biological parents because they’ve tested drug-free for six months now. Never mind that neither parent works and the mother is apparently pregnant again.

Waiting for the final outcome is agonizing, especially since it may be months before Sarah’s case is settled. But as Robert put it, “This is teaching me that I have to look for the miracle. No matter how much I want to say to the Universe, ‘Why don’t you leave this one to me,’ I know I can’t. It’s up to Divine Timing now.”

That’s really how it is with everything. Our lives are co-created with others — with people we love, people we dislike, people we don’t even know — and with God. If we focus too much on what may or may not happen along the way, we’ll miss the moment that matters most — here and now.

Just look at my sister’s clocks. It doesn’t really matter what time they’re set at. What matters is that she and I are together… laughing and sharing the moment.

Why Do We Love Who We Love?

Posted in Relationships tagged at 2:38 am by dinaheng

This one or that one? Helen Fisher reveals how we pick our partners.
As told to Dinah Eng

From Reader’s Digest

As a biological anthropologist, I’ve spent 30 years trying to understand human nature—what love is; why we marry, divorce, and remarry; and why we choose the partners that we do.

To read the entire story, click here.

March 5, 2009

What is post-racial America?

Posted in Between Us column, Diversity, Employment at 6:04 am by dinaheng

I’ve been thinking a lot about race lately.

It started with a conversation over lunch with some friends who were debating the meaning of post-racial America in the Age of Obama. Now that we have an African-American president, has it changed the way people think about those of another race?

One friend said, “Of course it does. Just look at what happened on Inauguration Day. Thousands of people gathered in Washington, D.C. and there wasn’t a single scuffle or arrest.”

Another friend said, “Nothing’s changed. People are more polite, but it doesn’t mean they don’t hold the same racist fear in their hearts.”

In my mind, post-racial America isn’t about erasing racial differences and living in a society that no longer sees the color of our skin. It’s about celebrating our differences and finding the commonality in our human experience.

I live in California, and the people I interact with every day come from diverse backgrounds. My next door neighbors are Iranian Americans. My closest friends in town are Anglo, Hispanic and Asian Americans. Dear friends elsewhere are African American.

We rarely talk about race. Instead, we talk about our work, our passions outside work, our families, and our spiritual beliefs. There’s a bond of love between us that’s earned, and a relationship that continues out of choice.

Last week, I met with a group of Asian-American journalists who had gathered to discuss our cultural values and career goals. We took a look at how Asian cultural values could conflict with corporate American values, and how our families viewed race.

In my family, I was never taught to reach out to people of different cultures. I come from a very traditional Chinese-American background, born to a father who always wanted sons, and got seven daughters instead.

My mom, who rarely spoke up when she disagreed with my dad, didn’t find her voice until late in their marriage, scolding Dad for his decision not to attend the wedding of a daughter who chose to marry a Caucasian.

Dad didn’t go to that wedding, but over the years, he’s come to like and respect his first Caucasian son-in-law. When I see how far he’s come, I know there’s hope for the rest of us.

My curiosity about other cultures comes from being a journalist and a sci-fi fan. I absolutely believe there’s intelligent life everywhere in the universe, despite occasional evidence to the contrary on this planet. So when I meet new people, I don’t look at them, so much as I look into them.

As a journalist, I know that everyone has a story, and that at the heart of who we are is the need to love and be loved. Diversity isn’t about race or ethnicity. It’s about how we experience life, how we assign meaning to action, and how willing we are to see ourselves in another.

At the end of the week, I ended up holding a friend as she cried. She was struggling with her own bi-racial identity in a world that all too often doesn’t see the wholeness of who we are.

I couldn’t help but think of some of my nieces and nephews who are also bi-racial. Most are younger than 12 years old, and rarely refer to friends or family by race. For them, post-racial America means defining people as being short, tall, fat, cool, or just plain weird.

Now that’s something worth thinking about.