Forgiveness and healing

Posted May 17, 2022 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Health

Tags: , , , , ,

I made a mistake, and it hurt someone. It had hard consequences on our relationship. I’ve been struggling with guilt and trying to forgive myself.

One evening, I tried neurographic art with some friends. Developed by Russian psychologist Pavel Piskarev, Neurographica® is a calligraphy technique. “In neurographic drawing, we go into the parts of the subconscious that we normally do not go into at all. It is from there that we start to think of possibilities and abilities that we would not even think of in everyday life.”

I wanted to let go of guilt and feel a sense of peace.

Holding this person in my thoughts, I created a neurographic drawing. I fell into a meditative state, rounding all the sharp edges and coloring the interconnected spaces. When it was completed, I felt a sense of release. I was able to transform some of my sadness into something beautiful.

If you’re interested in trying out neurographic art, you can watch an 8-minute “Neurographic Art Tutorial” by art teacher Bethany Thiele.

I make mistakes. We all make mistakes, no matter how hard we try.

Is there a mistake that haunt you? What is your journey of forgiveness?

An 8-year old boy talks with Siri

Posted May 10, 2022 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Humor

Tags: ,

It’s the week after Mother’s Day, and I feel a little nostalgic. My 15-year old son gave me a hug and took a photo with me. I remembered all the things we used to do when he was young.

We don’t do as much together, but we have great conversations now. We talk about TV and movie themes and plots, current events, and sometimes philosophical debates.

Years ago, I overhead this conversation between my 8-year old son and Siri, and I wrote it down. Reading it again makes me smile.

On a lazy Sunday, my 8-year old son was lounging on the couch in his pajamas, his feet against the back of the couch, talking with Siri on the iPad. [Siri is Apple’s virtual assistant that can answer questions and follow voice commands.]

Conversation in progress:

Boy: Do you know everything?
Siri: One can’t know everything, can one?
Boy: Of course not!
Siri: That’s what I thought.
Boy: What if someone doesn’t learn how to do anything?
Siri: Checking my sources.
Boy: What if somebody doesn’t know anything?
Siri: Just doing my job.
Boy: Siri, could you just stop talking? You talk too much!
Siri: Who me?
Boy: Yes, you!
Siri: This is about you, not me.
Boy: Also you!
Siri: Who me?
Boy: Are you okay today?
Siri: We were talking about you, not me.

Later…

Boy: Hello. Can I sing you a song?
Siri: Who me?
Boy: Siri, can I sing you a song?
Siri: Who me?
Boy: Here is a song: Hello, hello, and welcome to my show. Today we’re going to have some fun. We’re going to play hide and seek. Ready? I won’t repeat!
Siri: Searching for ‘going to have some fun…’
Boy: Stop!
Siri: I can’t stop thinking about tomorrow…

What gifts touch your heart? What conversations do you remember with joy?

Reflections on racism and compassion

Posted May 3, 2022 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Community, Family, Health

Tags: , , , ,

Last week, I listened and reflected on discussions at the “Compassion in Therapy Summit,” a five-day online event about mindfulness and compassion-based therapies, neuroscience, and compassion training.

I’m not a therapist, but I work in a mental health counseling office, and I hoped to gain some insight that could help me when I talk with people who call us for help. So after work and on the weekend, I watched one or two of the recorded webinars.

There were some empowering, difficult, and emotional conversations about racial trauma, legacy burdens, and indigenous wisdom. At times, I found it hard to listen, because what they were saying, and the anger they expressed, made me feel uncomfortable.

It should make me feel comfortable.

A little bit of context. I grew up in Hawai’i and was fortunate to attend Kamehameha Schools. In school, pride in our Hawaiian heritage was starting to flourish again, but the focus was on academic and career success. We learned Hawaiian history and a little Hawaiian language, and sang Hawaiian songs, with an emphasis on the positive aspects of Hawaiian culture. I didn’t feel a strong sense of anger or outrage over the legacy of colonialism and Hawai’i’s loss of sovereignty.

So I’d like to share just a small part of the rich conversations that talk about healing on a societal level. Note: Any mistakes or misunderstandings are my own and not the responsibility of the speakers.

Feralness toward the black/indigenous body

“There is an energy connected to race,” said Resmaa Menakem, LSW, LCSW, SEP, “and as we get closer to race, there is a lot of shaking.” When we feel that shaking, we know that is it a time to pause, to slow down and attend to race, he says during “The Quaking of America: An Embodied Approach to Navigating Our Nation’s Upheaval and Racial Reckoning.” For most of the U.S.’s history, there has been a feral reaction to the black/indigenous body, because the white body is seen as the standard of humanism. This is racism, he declares. Racism is historical, intergenerational, persistent institutional, and personal lived experiences (HIPP). And it is structural. Most white bodies have had bad things happen to them, but not racism – and racism informs everything else.

Protecting ourselves from racial trauma

During “Healing the ‘Legacy Burdens’ of Racism with IFS,” Richard Schwartz, PhD and Deran Young, LCSW explained that “legacy burdens” are extreme beliefs and emotions that come into our system from a generational trauma and attached to us, such as racism and the loss of pride in our culture. Schwartz and Young talked about a therapeutic practice called Internal Family Systems (IFS), which is based on the belief that that our minds are made of parts: Exiles, Managers, and Firefighters. Exiles are the memories and feeling of trauma that have the power to pull us back into those memories and make us feel as bad as we did back then. To protect ourselves, we create Managers to keep those Exiles contained, such as avoiding difficult situations and controlling the outside world; and Firefighters to douse the flames of exiled emotion, such as addiction, anger, and working hard. For healing, we need to address the protective parts of us that are carrying “legacy burdens.”

Indigenous wisdom and interconnectedness

“Everything we do affects seven generations,” said Eduardo Duran, PhD, “and in dream time, time can move forwards and backwards, so we are sitting at the center of fourteen generations.” This is the “soul wound,” the effects of trauma we inherit from past generations and also the effects of trauma that we pass to our descendants. During “Bringing Indigenous Wisdom into Psychotherapy,” Duran reminds us that past and present, self and community, community and nature all connected. In Western psychology, a diagnosis objectifies a person without addressing the continuous movement and interconnectedness of the person in need of healing.

These are difficult thoughts to struggle with. I hope that you can practice compassion for others who may have harmed you and self-compassion on your journey of healing.

How can we have self-compassion as people who have lost rights and freedoms? How can we offer and accept forgiveness for harms done to past generations?

Insights about practicing compassion

Posted April 26, 2022 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Community, Family, Health

Tags: , ,

Over the last week, I’ve been learning more about compassion and self-compassion. I signed up for the “Compassion in Therapy Summit,” a five-day online event about mindfulness and compassion-based therapies, neuroscience, and compassion training.

I’m not a therapist, but I work in a mental health counseling office, and I hoped to gain some insight that could help me when I talk with people who call us for help. So after work and on the weekend, I watched one or two of the recorded webinars.

In “A Fierce Self-Compassion Break,” Kristin Neff, PhD shared that there are three components of self-compassion: mindfulness, which bring us clarity; a sense of common humanity, which offers protection and the knowledge that we are not alone; and kindness, which gives us courage. We can be both loving and at the same time protect ourselves from harm, by acknowledging that “I see what’s going on” or “This is not okay.” Protection is another face of love.

Anyone can practice and strengthen compassion and self-compassion. Here are a few of the things I learned. Note: I don’t endorse any of these practices; any mistakes or misunderstandings are my own and not the responsibility of the speakers.

Compassion with couples

When I listened to Sue Johnson, PhD in her conversation about “The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy,” what stood out for me was the phrase, “Help me understand.” Her talk was from a therapist’s perspective, but anyone in a relationship can try to follow this advice. Johnson said that we can create safety for others by being curious, by asking about their experience, and by validating their emotions. If you disagree which what your partner says, you might say, “Part of me wants to believe you, but part of me wants to protect myself.”

Self-compassion with teens

Adolescence (ages 12-24) is a challenging time, filling with physical, neurophysiological, social, and emotional changes. In “Mindful Self-Compassion with Teens in Psychotherapy,” Lorraine Hobbs, MA and Lisa Shetler spoke about how self-compassion can help teens protect themselves from over-identification, isolation, and self-criticism. Self-compassion can help teens manage their busy lives, connect to others, and befriend themselves.

As the parent of a teenage son, what really struck me was the insight that resistance – such as irritation, activing in a disruptive manner, indifference, or withdrawal – is a self-protective measure. Parents, teachers, coaches, and therapists can honor teens’ resistance, acknowledge that it’s normal and helping teens find other ways to feel safe. Shetler shared a conversation that she started by saying, “You don’t seem like yourself today. I wonder what’s happening.” Asking questions, instead of making accusations.

Self-compassion for caregivers

“Compassion fatigue does not exist,” declared Roshi Joan Halifax, PhD in “G.R.A.C.E.: A Revolutionary Method for Benefiting Others Without Burning Out.” Her research revolves around “edge states,” the shadow side to prosocial qualities. For example, the other side of altruism is pathological altruism, when selfless acts can harm the person or people you serve; and the other side of engagement is burnout, when you can feel exhausted, demoralized, or ineffective.

She shared the G.R.A.C.E. Method, an active and adaptive process of compassion. Gather your attention, letting go of distractions. Recall your intention, why you’re here. Attune to yourself and others. Consider what is really going on in the present moment. Engage, taking compassionate action and End, letting go of the encounter.

You don’t have to be a therapist to practice compassion and self-compassion. If anything resonates with you, I encourage you to read more about mindfulness and compassion practices.

Is there an area in your life that you would like to feel more self-compassionate about? Is there a person you would like to feel more compassionate towards?

Planting a simpler and more fair tax tree

Posted April 19, 2022 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Taxes

Tags: , , ,

Every now and then, I challenge us to think about the way our tax system works. Originally published in 2010 as “We’re growing the wrong tax tree,” I invite you to consider that our tax system is upside-down – and how we might plant a simpler and more fair tax tree.

After a lot stress, we mailed our federal tax returns. I am always struck by how complicated our tax code is, both at the Federal and State levels. Our tax codes desperately need to be simplified.

According to the IRS, “The estimated average time burden for all taxpayers filing a Form 1040 or 1040-SR is 13 hours, with an average cost of $240 per return.” Looking a little more closely, “nonbusiness taxpayers are expected to have an average burden of about 9 hours and $160, while business taxpayers are expected to have an average burden of about 22 hours and $470.”

(I think this number understates the anxiety of understanding and preparing tax forms.)

Beyond its complexity, and the irony of paying money to calculate how much money we owe the government, the foundation of the tax code seems flawed to me.

Our current tax system is like an overgrown banyan tree, with roots extending down and spreading over the whole economy. Banyan trees are beautiful and complex and have a lot of historical and spiritual meaning, but it’s not what we need in a tax system.

The federal government, which is funded by every taxpayer in the United States, has the highest income tax rates – up to 37%.

The state government, which is funded by residents and part-time residents, has income tax rates of up to 11% in Hawai’i (only California has a higher tax bracket of 13.3% in 2021).

(To be fair, state governments have other sources of revenue, such as sales taxes (or general excise taxes in Hawai’i), property taxes, transient accommodations taxes, gasoline taxes, and permit/usage fees.

But state governments must also comply with and fund federal regulations and mandates, which may or may not be funded by the federal government.)

With its broad tax base, the federal government doesn’t spend all of that income tax revenue, so it ends up apportioning it back to state governments as mandatory spending, discretionary spending, and supplementary spending.

Or it ends up duplicating programs that already exist at the state level, programs that are designed and revised according to the needs of the individual states.

I think that we are growing the wrong tax tree.

Instead of a banyan tree, it makes more sense to have a tax system like a strong pine tree, with a slender trunk and a wide canopy.

With a tax system like a pine tree, the federal government (the tree trunk), which has national responsibilities and a larger tax base, would have lower income tax rates. The states (the crown of the tree), which directly care for citizens but have smaller tax bases, would have higher income tax rates and rely less on federal funding.

With a tax system like a pine tree, taxes would increase as we get closer to home, and closer to the local governments that know our needs best.

How much time would you estimate that you spend on tax preparation? How would you improve our tax system? What changes could we make to simplify the tax code in Hawai’i or and the federal level?