I had a talk with Michelle Obama the other day…

Uplift and Mindfulness with Michelle Obama

michelle Obama and mindfulness, inspiration

I had a talk with Michelle Obama the other day… Well, me and about 20,000 other people…

I had the privilege to hear Michelle Obama’s speech the other night. I was in definite need of some uplift after a hard week at work, and being present to some very painful struggles, and experiencing some community tragedies and personal sorrows.

I lacked energy; was de-motivated to keep on keeping on. I didn’t want to have to do anything. It all felt so hard and interminable.

Of course, everything I heard in the news seemed to reaffirm how hard things are right now, for so many. How more and more of the things we’ve counted on or treated as sacred, are being threatened or taken away.

The worst part about this is that it seems that there’s no real reflection, or thoughtfulness or deep consideration going on, by the leaders, as they make these broad and divisive changes.

I am happy to report that indeed Michelle Obama is a thoughtful thinker about herself and about the world we live in. It was so uplifting to hear her share her thoughts, warmth, compassion about our plight. And to hear how hopeful she is. And authentic, and true to herself. And mindful. No surprise there actually. She did not disappoint.

Here is some of the mindful wisdom I got from her, the other night when we were chatting 😊:

1) Be proud of who you are.

I was reminded by her to be proud of who I am. Accept my story; be comfortable with it. Don’t apologize for my background, even if there are things I might have been ashamed of or embarrassed about in my background (inferiority; feeling like I don’t belong; living in a neighborhood not as affluent as my peers’; being different culturally and ethnically; being on “scholarship“ so I could attend a private school, etc.).

She encouraged us to be comfortable in the story that is US, and to be proud of that struggle that helped create us. And to practice and speak that voice from early on, by being authentic.

Owning what we come from is empowering, and helps to give us a seat at the table.

2) High points in life have more to do with experiences with people than with achievements.

Michelle talked about some true highlights she’d had while being the First Lady – all of them had to do with kids and young people, and her experiences with them.

She and Barack tried to bring cultural events to the White House that ordinarily would not have been seen there. At one spoken word event in the White House, a young man showed up, ready to perform his rap about Alexander Hamilton. Her and Barack Obama said “OK“ with slightly raised eyebrows but then once they heard him, they were impressed. They asked what he was going to do next. He said “I’m going to produce a whole Broadway musical about him“. Michelle and Barack were skeptical and raised their eyebrows again and said “OK… Well good luck with that…“ His name was Lin Manuel Miranda! She had been deeply impressed and touched by his enthusiasm, commitment, and determination. This was definitely a highlight in her time at the White House.

Of course, there were some very, very low moments too, while in office, that also had to do with young people. She wept to have to console so many parents and loved ones of children or young people who had been senselessly shot. It was hard enough to be present to Gold Star families who had lost a family member in the military, but to have to console hard-working parents who had simply sent their children off to school that day, only to lose them – was beyond unbearable.

All she could do was to attempt to be there for them. She talked about taking her self out of the equation; not being there for herself, but being there completely for them. Giving a hug and trying to identify with their plight, even though she knew in her heart how impossible that task was.

3) Parenting requires consistency, stability and a lot of love.

Kids are resilient. They can smell out inauthenticity. They need to be taught how to face their struggles, and that life isn’t always fair or easy. She works with kids who are beating the odds every day. They may start out behind, but still have great capacity to thrive.

Parents help raise good kids by having common sense, a hard work ethic, being practical, sharing lessons of how to handle money, not complaining, working hard, being accountable; rather than by doing all the hard work for their kids or not letting them make mistakes, and certainly not by giving them everything. And Parents need lots of support while they raise those kids. She underlined that there is no shame in asking for help.

She repeated several times how many good decent hard-working people there are out there – not being greedy and trying to get rich, but just intent on raising their kids and enjoying their time with them, providing a good family life and caring for family members in the community we live in. She emphasized that THAT is our foundation in America.

4) Sometimes supporting your loved one is more important than doing what you want…

She didn’t want Barack to run for office because she thought it would be too hard on him and on their family, and on her. She grappled with this and decided it was actually better for her and her family, to be a supportive wife rather than resentful that he was doing something she never wanted. (She also really didn’t  think he would win – couldn’t wrap her head around the idea of that – so she imagined she would be able to be a consoling and compassionate wife to him!)

Once he did win, though, she decided to embrace it and was very thoughtful about her and his position – and the position her children were in. She had remembered that knowing her husband, he was exactly the kind of person she would want in office. She looked for opportunities to be of service herself, as a way of making those eight years more tolerable for her. Being of service filled her spirit and brought her much meaningfulness, in a challenging time.

5) The best way to deal with challenge is to know yourself. Embrace your disappointments. Discover your passions.

She reminded us that women are generally very good at taking care of others but may not always do a good job of taking care of ourselves. She emphasized the importance of having a supportive community and the importance especially for professional women (of color) to support each other, so we can bring more like us to the table.

Leaning on others and supporting them, helps one to check deeply inside and know what they need. We need to admit to and live with our vulnerability, in order to build our strength. And to really come to know and appreciate who we are.

6) Be encouraged. Really be encouraged and have hope.

In this dark time, there are many many, everyday and everywhere, good people, who are working hard and speaking up, mindful of their values; taking care of themselves and their families; doing the right thing. These people are making a grand difference in the world and working on making it a better place for us all. Be of service. Be positive energy in someone’s life. Be empathic and have compassion. That’s something we can all do. And that’s something lots of people are doing.

Michelle Obama shared her warm wisdom with a Coliseum full of people. It felt like we were sitting together in my living room, being authentic, sharing stories and giving inspiration. She demonstrated her mindful presence, reflection and thoughtfulness about living life and using her self as a tool to spread kindness and good things in the world.

When we hugged and said goodbye, I felt uplifted. And I was reminded of how much I miss her soul and heart in the White House.

Thank you Michelle, for having a little chat with me – a hopeful and compassionate heart-to-heart. Thank you for all the listening and caring that you do – and for being so mindfully present and real about it all…

If you or someone you care about needs help to find the uplift in life, please contact me for a therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445

When you’re feeling anxious or down…

Try this Video Mindful practice for Anxiety and Depression

Have you been feeling anxious or depressed lately, or maybe even anxious and mindfulness for anxiety and depression; video mindful practice; how to be kind to selfdepressed? Do you find yourself swirling with ruminating thoughts, or ideas you can’t get out of your head? Relentless worries about a change that’s coming up soon? You can’t quite relax or settle down about it – you’re sure something bad will happen or it just won’t work out? Are you so overwhelmed that every time you know you should do something good for yourself you just feel agitated?

Or maybe you feel really low, down in the dumps, hopeless, and feeling like a loser in everything you do. You feel depressed about your life circumstances, and worse, even more depressed about yourself. It’s hard to get motivated about anything; or feel pleasure about stuff you used to be excited about.

Most people who come to see me have some version of anxiety or depression that they’re struggling with. And of course, if you struggle with one of these, you often struggle with both.

It’s just how we are wired.

It’s hard to not feel bad about yourself when you are wrought with anxiety or stress; or don’t think well of yourself; or are tired of always feeling tension or fear or being down in the dumps. It’s hard to not worry when you are feeling depressed or hopeless, or guilty.

The things we tell ourselves, when we are depressed or anxious often make things worse, even though we desperately want to get rid of these heavy uncomfortable feelings. Often times that negative voice takes over. We compare ourselves to everyone else out there who doesn’t seem to be burdened or overwhelmed by spells of depression and overwhelm. We think we shouldn’t feel this way; there’s something wrong with us.

We’re just a ‘hot mess’.

‘Normal’ people get through things much easier or don’t worry so much…

Often our negative thoughts make us feel even more alone. And afraid, and depressed.

This week I offer you a short (about 12 minutes) video where I walk you through a gentle practice you can do when you notice you’re slipping downward in your feelings, or getting too overwhelmed with them…

I take you through seven steps (please forgive my error in the video where I say that there are eight steps) – (I guess the eighth step is to actually watch the video and practice along!) that are about getting quiet and still and into a compassionate place, so you can tend to and befriend these difficult emotional states. Or pause and reflect upon them rather than do the typical fight/flight/freeze reaction that we usually have when we’re clobbered by our own challenging feelings.

You can watch the video here: mindful practice for anxiety and depression  

and/or read about it here..

The steps include the following:

1) Doing a Mindful Check-In

This is a simple checking in with yourself about what’s happening in the moment. Listen to the sounds around you and notice the environment you’re in – what’s surrounding you; what’s the weather like; what position is your body in? A Mindful check in includes then paying attention to what’s going on inside of you at this moment. Observe your internal weather report and describe your feelings, thoughts, body senses. What’s the state of affairs internally?

2) Mindful Breathing

Take a couple of long slow deep breaths in, and then let yourself breathe out, even more slowly. Simply notice where your breath goes and watch as it goes into your nose, mouth, and through your chest to your belly. When you breathe out, let your belly button touch your spine and pause for a bit before you inhale again.

Then breathe normally and be present to each breath. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back and notice the next inhalation, and the next exhalation, and so on.

3) Body scan

Bring your awareness to each part of your body, starting with the soles of your feet and moving upwards, all the way to the top of your head. From the soles of your feet, notice then your heels, ankles, tops of your feet, toes. See how your calves and shins feel, then move onto your knees – back and front; then to your thighs and quads. Have awareness of your pelvis area, your genitals, hips. Notice your whole lower body altogether.

Then pay attention to your belly area; your lower back, chest, shoulder blades and upper back. Observe your torso together with your lower body for a moment. Consider all the internal systems working within you – respiratory, digestive, circulatory, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, nervous, reproductive, immune,… and how they all work together like a fine tuned machine to pump your blood, connect your brain, allow you to breathe, and keep you alive.

Notice whatever feeling or sensation that is in any part of your body and simply let it be. Bring awareness to your shoulders, your neck, your throat, mouth, cheeks, nose, forehead, temples, face all together, brain, ears, scalp and head.

Notice your body as a whole sitting here altogether. Have a moment of appreciation for this body of yours.

4) Mindful Self Inquiry

Now that you’ve gotten pretty aware of your body, it’s time to bring your attention to your feeling state. Notice what emotions are present, and particularly strong. Bring an emotion into your awareness and try to observe it; let it be. Gradually check out the dimensions of it. It’s OK to stay on the edges of it, that anxiety or overwhelm that you’re feeling.

Slowly move into it and around it, like dipping a toe into a pool of water until your body gets acclimated enough to the change in temperature. Practice being with your stress, or anxiousness, irritations, painful memories, difficult emotions and just letting them be.

You don’t have to figure out the why, or analyze them or fix them, or get rid of them. Just gently let them be. Let your feelings show you everything you need to know about them at this moment. You are swimming, floating in a pool of emotions, but you are not defined by those emotions.

Be tender with those feelings, as if you were cleaning up broken glass and don’t want the shards to hurt yourself or someone else. Listen with your heart to the feelings and have compassion.

5) Watch Your Thoughts

With this sense of gentle compassion, watch your thoughts go by. Imagine each thought is on a cloud in the sky, blowing and moving across your horizon. Or imagine your thoughts are each on a leaf, flowing by in a stream you are next to. Sometimes rushing by and fast flowing. Sometimes gathering and piling up; and then at other moments breaking free from the rocks and floating on downstream. Notice that your judgments, plans, worries, come and go; ebb and flow. Let them go by without having to do anything about them.

Remember your thoughts are just thoughts – just mental phenomena, energy, vibrations in your mind, a mental event. Your thoughts do not own you. They’re not the boss of you. They are not you. Watch your thoughts come and go and notice they are ever-changing. When you set your thoughts free, you are freeing yourself.

6) More Mindful Breathing

Again take a few long slow deep breaths in. Pay attention only to your breathing. Notice it and allow it to be as it is. No need to fix it or change it in any way. Notice each inhalation and each exhalation. That’s the only thing you have to have awareness of. Watch your belly rise and fall; slowing down. Stay present to each breath, and if you have wandered away, gently come back to your breath. Kindly.

7) Compassion and Self Compassion

Once again, bring to mind that thing you’ve been feeling so anxious or overwhelmed about. Remember there are a lot of people out there struggling just as you are. Offer well wishes for everyone else out there who has been worried in the same way or felt the same struggle. May they be at peace as they go through this. May they be well. May they feel a sense of compassion and support.

Then offer yourself the same sense of compassion, gentleness, as your face all that’s on your plate. Remember you are a beautiful human being – not defined or limited by any of your thoughts, feelings, body experiences. You have your own unique ideas, emotions, wishes, needs, strengths and vulnerabilities. Take special care to treat yourself in a friendly way. Feel compassion for and honor YOU.

You can experience the practice with me here: 

VIDEO: when you’re feeling anxious or down

You can also break this down and use only one or two of the steps for a couple of minutes a day, to help you deal with your anxiety or depression. Of course, remembering to be mindful is one of the hardest things, so sometimes it’s helpful to just give yourself mini moments of opportunity to bring your attention to the present.

I’d love to hear from you. Just reply back about when you think you might be able to use a practice like this – in it’s entirety or in small doses, to help you get through difficult times.

If you or someone you love is having difficulty with managing your emotions and negative thoughts, please call me for a therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445

How to Face Unpleasant Tasks

Bringing mindfulness to every day suckiness

How to manage with drudgery and frustration.

So you’ve got unpleasant tasks you have to do? Things that you procrastinate about and put off as long as possible?

Maybe it’s grocery shopping; or cleaning out the garage; or writing that report; or having to de-lice your kids’ hair yet again. For me, the current unpleasant task that has to be done is Taxes.

Usually I gripe, gripe, gripe, or sometimes I moan, moan, moan. But always I procrastinate, procrastinate, procrastinate. You know – all not-so-healthy ways of facing the unpleasant that has to be done – spending more time begrudging it and avoiding it than it would actually take to just do it.

Last year, around this time, I wrote a blog article about doing my taxes mindfully, and wisely I had put a reminder in my calendar to read it again in March of this year. (I love how we can set reminders a year ahead on our phones!)

So I did read it again before I got to work on my taxes this year. It reminded me of how to approach it all mindfully, and to have a better experience with it as a result.

I thought I would share it with you again, in case it helps when you’re facing your own taxes (Even taxes can be done mindfully) – or any other unpleasant task you have to do, but have no motivation for or interest in.

Mindfulness is especially helpful for those times when things suck – either, the not fun or unpleasant things that we have to do, or feeling demotivated about them, or they’re uncomfortable and resisted, or we treat ourselves badly because of them.

You know, like dealing with car repair, or unfriendly neighbors, or looking for a job, or broken appliances, major home cleanup, or having to work overtime (not to mention job loss; or medical or car insurance issues; or loss of a loved one and having to clean out their belongings, etc.)

The one thing I love when I do my taxes each year, is the opportunity to review the last year and reflect upon what I went through. This year, when I reviewed my calendar, I was grateful for sharing in a significant life‘s transition ceremony for someone close to me; for family members reconnected; for travel and new experiences, I’d had. I was sad for loved ones lost; for the ongoing terrible political climate and the pain it’s caused many.

Mostly I was reminded of my gratefulness to be able to do the work I do, and with the people I do it with. I am grateful that I can share mindfulness with folks as a meaningful way to deal with life‘s joys and sorrows, and grateful for how mindfulness directly helps me to face the dreadful and unpleasant.

What better way to get through life?

If you could use some reminders about how to get through the sucky stuff with mindful presence, here’s my last year’s blog again…

Even taxes can be done mindfully

Also, when I heard myself complaining and griping again about taxes (like every other year before) I happened to catch Rudy Francisco’s spoken word poetry on TV. I was quite moved by his work titled “The Complainers“ (here’s the link  Complainers ). I realized there’s really no room for the  complaint about taxes in my life. In fact I am so privileged to be able to have taxes to gripe about…

May you be freed from your complaints too, and may being mindful help you to get through unpleasant things a little more gently.

If you or someone you care about needs help to see things more brightly, please contact me for a therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445

Heart-full Moments from March 2018

You never know where you’ll find wisdom and inspiration.


These are the most impactful things I have read or heard this month that give me pause, or uplifted my heart. I am happy to share them with you. You never know where you’ll find some wisdom or inspiration. Take a moment to go through them and maybe highlight a few that speak to you. These are wise words about living life more fully, with compassion, and are reminders about paying attention to what’s really important. Enjoy…

  • “Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding place and let it be free and unashamed.” – William Saroyan
  • “Hope is like a road in the country: there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.” – Lin Yutang
  • “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” – Theodore Roosevelt
  • “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated.” – Maya Angelou
  • Check out spoken word poetry by Rudy Francisco & his book Helium. My favorite is “Complainers” https://youtu.be/2vgICFh-Fq4 with a powerful reminder to be grateful for what we have.
  • ”There is a hard truth to be told: before spring becomes beautiful, it is plug ugly, nothing but mud and muck. I have walked in the early spring through fields that will suck your boots off, a world so wet and woeful it makes you yearn for the return of ice. But in that muddy mess, the conditions for rebirth are being created.” – Parker Palmer
  • “Other peoples’ perception about you ain’t none of your business!” & “l’m not gonna dim my light; I’m just gonna hand you some shades!” – Lisa Nichols
  • “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet.” Stephen Hawking gave this now-famous piece of advice to his three children Lucy, Robert and Tim and related it in an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer in 2010. Included in those words of advice were: “Never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it.” And: “if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.”
  • More from Stephen Hawking:
    • “However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.”
    • “My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit, as well as physically.”
    • “Although I cannot move and I have to speak through a computer, in my mind I am free.”
    • “My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus.”
    • “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”
    • “Science is not only a disciple of reason but, also, one of romance and passion.”
  • ”Art is not simply works of art; it is the spirit that knows beauty, that has music in its soul and the color of sunsets in its handkerchief, that can dance on a flaming world and make the world dance too.” – W.E.B. Dubois “
  • “To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
  • “The most precious inheritance that parents can give their children is their own happiness.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
  • “Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • “We need to arm our teachers. We need to arm our teachers with paper, pens and the money they need to support themselves and their families, and the futures that sit in their classrooms.” – Ryan Deitsch
  • “My grandfather had a dream that his four little children will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but the content of their character. I have a dream, that enough is enough. And that this should be a gun-free world. Period.” – Yolanda Renee King, nine-year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King.

I hope you have enjoyed this month’s Heart Full Moments – wise words that I’ve been stirred by – and that you have read or seen or heard things, in your own life too, that made you pause and breathe in, the wisdom or wonder of that experience.

You might keep your own list of Heart-full or mind-full gems, and re-read them when you need an uplift. Simply to be on the lookout for gems that speak to you is a mindful practice that helps to keep your heart open to all that’s good in the world. To deepen your experience even more, you might use any one of these as a journal prompt, where you add whatever comes to mind about how this applies in your life, and how it makes you feel. Or use any one of these as a conversation starter and see if you can draw someone out to share how these words make them feel. Enjoy sharing Heart full wisdom…

If you or someone you care about needs help to overcome some of life’s struggles, please contact me for a therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445

The Importance Of Getting Your Kids To Cry

How to handle frustration

mindful parenting; handling difficult emotions, how to have more connection with your kids.

If you are a parent, you’re probably familiar with your children’s expression of frustration. Children often get to their frustration point rather easily and let it be known in big out loud ways. Parents often get to their own frustration point in return rather easily when their kids express those super frustrating signs of frustration. Pretty soon the family squabble has erupted, with both, parent and child feeling locked into a power struggle over who’s the most frustrated (or frustrating).

You know – all of that whining, complaining, arguing when they can’t have what they want. Or raising their voice, begging, pleading, negotiating for a certain toy or item to be purchased at the store. Having a meltdown when they can’t go to their friend’s house because they have school work to finish, or a family gathering to attend instead.

Getting angry when you impose a time limit on their screen time. Or when they’re actually off of their screens per your order, but are restless and bored and complain obnoxiously that “There’s nothing to do!!“

Every day frustrations can derail the day, several times a day.

Refusing to do homework and throwing it across the room or hiding it under the bed and not turning it in when it’s too hard. Not getting a good grade and being sarcastic with you, or with the teacher about it, accusing her of hating them. Calling you names or saying that they hate you or that you’re the worst parent ever when you’ve said no to their request (or more likely, to their demand). Rolling their eyes or ignoring you when you make a perfectly reasonable request of them (like to clean up their room, or help with getting dinner on the table) or when you have interrupted their social time.

Often a child’s/tweens‘/Teen’s frustration looks like they are purposefully doing the opposite of what we ask, or defying us; trying to make us mad or manipulate us into losing control. Or needling us, trying to push our buttons.

Kids’ frustration can trigger parents’ frustration

With all the daily eruptions of frustration happening all around us (at work, on the road, in our communities, in the world) it’s easy to see how our own sense of frustration gets triggered when we come home and experience our kids’ (immature) ways of expressing their frustration. We may react in an equally immature way.

…And it’s hard to see that there might actually be a gift present in those frustration outbursts that we work very hard to avoid. Hard to believe that in those moments of our own frustration (anger, overwhelm, irritation) with our kids’ behavior, that the thing most called for is actually crying… No, not you sitting and crying in a puddle in the middle of the kitchen floor because the situation is so difficult and you don’t know what else to do (though that is definitely called for in other moments), but actually helping our children get to the cry that’s underneath their accumulation of frustration.

… WHAT? Help my kids get to the cry when they’re already frustrated and acting a fool with all of their crying and screaming and moaning and basically temper tantrumming?!? WHAAT? How can that be useful? That will just teach them that it’s OK to have a hissy fit for everything… No, I’m not gonna do that…

No, no negative emotions on my watch

Naturally, as busy parents with a million and one stressors and frustrations already on our plate, we make our best effort to block the negative and often unpleasantly emotional reactions from erupting or taking place in our already-not-optimally-functioning homes.

We may give in to our children’s rudeness in order to avoid the big meltdown that we know will occur if we don’t do what they say. Or we try to bury our head in the sand and hope their frustrations go away or work themselves out on their own.

We are tired, stressed, feeling under-appreciated ourselves. We certainly don’t want them to feel hurt from some mean interaction with a school mate; or upset with us when we haven’t been able to be available. We don’t want them to feel damaged in any way, especially by us. We also don’t want them to feel any other “negative“ emotion.

We are overwhelmed that they seem to especially show their less-than-stellar ways of expressing frustration at the most inopportune times  – the end of the day when everyone is exhausted, or when making the transition home or off of screen time, or doing chores; before homework; or in the morning when we have an important meeting to get out the door in a hurry for, or late at night before bed when all we can think of is going to sleep.

No good time for stress to hit

Or it seems that the frustrations erupt whenever we have other deadlines and demands to pay attention to. Often we’re in a transition time of our own too, so by definition we’re a little more vulnerable, a little more unsteady and reactionary, and we react in ways that aren’t so helpful and may, in fact, make things worse.

We react not as our best selves. We might start to lecture (that same lecture that we’ve already given 1 billion times); we get critical; we raise our voice; we have that terrible tone in our voice of irritation, escalation, disapproval, intolerance. We feel out of control and start to plead, whine, threaten, be sarcastic, demand or dictate that they don’t show their feelings that way, or disrespect us like that.

Vulnerability lurks underneath the outward expression of frustration

However, underneath all of that external expression of frustration, we feel overwhelmed, sad about the state of affairs; hurt and reminded of times early in our life where we felt ignored, unloved, bad somehow. We feel vulnerable and inadequate and at a loss about what to do. We feel weary; like things have been so hard for so long, or we can never do anything right. So disappointed in them, and then, of course, in ourselves. We feel tender or little ourselves. We do want to sit and cry…

Certainly, our kids don’t have any idea that that’s how we’re feeling on the inside… Just like it’s hard for us to imagine that our kids are feeling something tender and wounded underneath their eruptions of anger or rage or frustration.

What’s the outcome of all of this frustration?

Kids, when they’re frustrated, have a tendency to become aggressive somehow – either toward others (siblings, parents, teachers, classmates) or toward themselves. Parents, like kids, do the same. We are all vulnerable human beings that have less-than-stellar ways of showing our frustration and distress when we are pushed.

So all of this provides a clue about why, when our kids are acting out their frustrations, our job as parents is to help them GET TO THE CRY.

If we can sustain ourselves through their emotional outbursts (and not give in, or run and hide, or engage in some nasty power struggle with them), we can be present to their frustration with kindness, and increase the chances of helping them move through it.

If they get stuck in their frustration, (which can happen when as parents we engage in a battle or power struggle with them) they’ll become aggressive somehow. If they move through it instead, they’ll manage some adaptation and acceptance and be able to make peace with what’s lost.

They need our presence, and acceptance of the disappointment they feel about whatever loss they’ve experienced (independence, connection, affiliation, fun, things not being the way they want, etc.).

Why it’s important to Get to the Cry

When they can GET TO THE CRY, they go through a mini cycle of the stages of grief and this makes them more resilient, more knowing of how to handle difficult experiences, more confident about their own capacity to move through hard things. Getting to the Cry involves connecting with one’s true feelings – which is part of what being emotionally intelligent means.

Haven’t you had the experience of having a good cry about something that you’ve been really upset about or frustrated by and felt so much better afterward? Getting to the Cry allows for release and relief of those feelings that are built up.

Making deeper connections with your kids

Letting your children get to the cry and staying as steady as you can with it actually increases the connection you have with them – which is the singular most important condition that they need, to be able to face all the challenges they will have in life. Getting to the cry keeps frustration from turning into hurtful aggression toward a child herself, or toward others.

So how exactly to do it?

How to help your child Get to the Cry in the middle of their frustration outburst,  and keep your own cool at the same time?

  1. First, take a deep breath. Try to find some space to breathe slowly and bring some calm to your heart. Hard to steady them when you’re unsteady yourself.
  2. Notice how you’re feeling and give a name to it (irritated, annoyed, angry, exhausted… Frustrated…). Sometimes just naming it gives you some space around the feeling, a little more room to breathe. Practicing naming your own feelings helps to be able to name your kids’ feelings as well.
  3. Try not to personalize their bad behavior. Realize they are letting off some steam, and right now this is the best tool they’ve got. Plus, if their meltdowns have “worked“ in the past, they won’t just stop doing it now because you’re ready to help them get to the cry. When you don’t take personally all of the negative stuff they’re saying or acting, you actually empower them to be more resourceful, and aware of how they can impact others. When you don’t take things personally you free yourself and give them freedom as well.
  4. Come alongside your child rather than AT him. Be curious rather than furious about what she feels. Help them talk about what’s underneath their frustration rather than just ineffectively vent and complain.
  5. Be OK with seeing them be sad or mad. Don’t tell them how they should or should not feel. Remember, if you want them to be connected to you, your job is to be compassionate about whatever they feel, not selective about which feelings are acceptable to present. Try to hear all feelings with equanimity and not try to talk them out of their feelings.
  6. Listen. Hear them out. You don’t have to say too much. (In fact, it’s best if you hear yourself debating, bargaining, negotiating, giving advice, lecturing, moralizing, etc., that you try to get quiet instead). See if you can identify their feeling (aggravation, annoyance, pissed, upset, sad, scared, etc.). “I hear how pissed you are that you can’t go to the movies tonight. That must feel pretty rotten. I’d be pretty mad too if I couldn’t do something that was important to me.“
  7. Gently but firmly move to a deeper layer of emotion: “It’s really disappointing, isn’t it, to miss out on something you know will be fun.“ “It hurts when it feels like we are so unfair and like you’re the only kid who can’t go.“ “You probably wish you had different parents right now, huh?“ “You’re so mad right now that you’re afraid you’re going to cry.“

Try to move to the deeper emotion and let your young person know you understand where he’s coming from and why his frustration is so big. It generally never works to get someone to back down by throwing a heavier harder bigger punch, so don’t battle your kids about their frustration.

When they do cry, or fight back tears, or tell you all the other things that happened today that really hurt them and that’s why they’re so mad, accept and love those feelings.

8. Of course, as the parent, you have to know, own and respect your own frustrations and emotions, with kindness too. Check how you act when you’ve had a really frustrating day. Be willing to examine your own expression of emotions. Try to notice how that comes across to and affects the people around you.

Do your own self-care (yoga, exercise, a walk, meditation or mindfulness practices, BREATHING) so you have the resilience to help your kids with their frustrations. Model positive ways of dealing with difficult emotions. GET TO YOUR OWN CRY.

…Your thoughts about helping your kids get to the cry? Reply back and share.

If you or someone you care about needs help Getting to the Cry in your family, please contact me for parenting therapy and support.

Also, don’t miss a FREE parenting series happening NOW about raising children with challenges – that is chock full of ideas and support to help you get through more gracefully this time of parenting. Susan Stiffelman interviews several experts and the talks are free to listen to for 48 hours. Click here to register.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445

Parents Need Support Too

Parents’ Lives Matter

raising children with challenges; positive parenting; mindful parents

So, I believe in the importance of giving parents as much support as possible, while they are raising their children – you know, while raising those young ones who will be taking care of all of us; or leading us; or will be our policy makers a decade or two in the future… but who right now may be challenging us at our core.

I think the way we support parents directly impacts the way they are then able to support their children; which directly impacts the future and quality of our world. Providing parents with emotional and practical support is a powerful way to make the world a better place – and to make it a little kinder, one family at a time.

Parenting is hard work

Parenting is a challenging, difficult, requiring hard work, demanding and often thankless job. It can be exhausting; at times overwhelming; so confusing, to be responsible for all the decisions and care that need to be made. Each stage presents a multitude of developmental challenges for the child; and for the parents of the child. Parenting can be isolating and can lead to doubts and self-judgments, even among busy urban professionals who are successful in many other areas of life.

It is humbling to be the parent of a child who “falls out“ in the crosswalk as you hold his hand to cross the street; or who hits another child at school; or who maintains poor study habits and doesn’t get her work done; or the tween who is so critical of everything you say or do; or the teenager who feels everything to the nth degree and seems overly dramatic in expressing their feelings. Humbling, and painful to have daily battles over homework, screen time, chores, emotions run amuck.

We cringe as parents when our kids are hurtful, or unappreciative to us, especially after we do so much for them. We feel frustration and sometimes the awful resentment when they don’t listen to us, or they embarrass us and make us look bad in front of our peers.

Stress in the world, in our home and within ourselves can be too much

Of course urban parents have a lot of other stressors going on in their lives at the same time – huge economic pressures if living in places like the Bay Area; work demands that often don’t fit perfectly into a 9-to-5 schedule; illness; marital struggles; exhaustion; your car not starting; or a leak in the roof; relatives who are forever dependent upon your assistance in some way; trying to protect family members from dangers or bullies at work, school or home, or any other pressure that doesn’t go away.

Not to mention the added stress of having had painful struggles with your own parents when you were a kid; or suffering some profound loss or trauma – Then or Now; or generally never feeling quite good enough. We can feel alone in the parenting world, even if we have a partner; or such shame when we see how others only post all of their wonderful family experiences on Facebook; or guilt when we realize we aren’t doing enough, or our work/life balance is out of whack.

We can feel all too often like a Hot Mess of a parent.

…I just read that becoming a mother is considered a high risk factor for developing depression… or as my colleague said, “a child never needs to have a mommy more than when she becomes a mother”!

All of these conditions (and more) can come together and create a perfect storm of stress for the parents and family, often causing angry outbursts or crying spells, ongoing arguments or conflict, or troubled health – in the parent and/ or the child. No one wants to suffer the family disharmony that can easily be ignited. Yet these family struggles are part of everyday parenting and family life.

How to make it better

But getting parenting support can make an enormous difference in a  family’s life. With support parents can feel like they are not alone. They can internalize the wisdom and care that comes from external support and develop a sense and source of calm from within that helps them learn to maintain their balance, even when the kids act out or are disruptive, or have special challenges. Parenting support can strengthen the connection between partners; and between parents and their children.

Receiving parenting support is like securing your own oxygen mask before you secure your kids’ – it’s a way of getting your own security in place so you can truly be attentive and responsive to your kids’ need for security. It’s a way of healing the hole in your own bucket, so you can not drip your own resources away as you nurture them.

Getting support around parenting can create a stronger foundation, so when the blowups or stressors or daily challenges inevitably happen, both parents and kids can have more stability to stand on.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. We know it also takes a village to support a parent. It’s so much easier to go through hard things when you feel like someone has your back and you are not alone.

So what is supportive to a parent? Here are four things that are helpful to the hard work of parenting:

1) Listening

This is actually the number one tool necessary to develop a good and secure attachment with your kids, which ultimately helps them to succeed in life and become positively contributing human beings. When you as a parent are deeply listened to yourself – allowed to feel what you feel, given a chance to express what’s on your mind or in your heart, and caringly understood, you’re in a much better position to offer that to your kids. Parents can create listening partnerships with partners, or friends to share the experiences of hardship and joy of parenting, and develop a supportive network. Take turns to just listen to each other without having to fix or change anything. Notice how when you feel heard, things seem a little easier and more hopeful.

2)  A Chance to Breathe 

Yes, deep breaths, mindful attention, time to be quiet with your own thoughts, daily mindfulness or meditation can be enormously supportive,  helpful and calming to one’s inner parenting distress, so that it doesn’t seep out (in destructive ways) to your everyday life. Fortunately, daily parenting offers many moments to center oneself, take a few slow deep breaths, notice the sounds, feelings or body sensations that are going on inside and around you. Each moment welcomed as it is, creates a more secure foundation for future moments, however, they present themselves, and builds a deeper sense of ease, with which to respond from.

3) Community

You are not alone in this struggle. Do yourself and your family a favor, by engaging with others; looking for parent support groups; mindful mama groups; parenting classes. We all do better when we don’t feel alone and when we can share our burdens and responsibilities. Maybe your biological family is not one you can count on for support; but you can create “family“ with other parents who are struggling just like you.

4) Parenting Tools, Skills and Education

You can work with a therapist like me. I especially like working with urban professionals, people of color, parents who care about diversity – and sharing tools that are all about healing past and current family relationships. I believe that giving attention to the sacred time of parenting – with all of its joys and frustrations – is the most important thing we can do – and the most fruitful – in creating a better world.

You don’t have to be overwhelmed in this struggle in your family as you do this most courageous and personally challenging job. You can benefit from learning some practical skills and concepts that maybe you never have had exposure to before, like mindful parenting, non-violent communication, purposeful pauses, self-compassion, everyday mindfulness, etc.

An excellent resource I would highly recommend that I know will be extremely useful in learning some new ideas and practical skills about how to be the best parent you can be is an online FREE series coming up next week (March 20-22) called “Raising Children with Challenges”, hosted by my respected colleague, Susan Stiffelman. She writes a parenting column for the Huffington Post and has offered other summits for parents that are hugely valuable and down to earth and REAL about parenting without power struggles, or parenting in the digital age. (If you can’t catch the free live presentations, they’ll be available for purchase so you can keep all the talks in your own parenting toolbox library).

So what comes up for you as you reflect on your own parenting struggles and joys? Are you getting enough support? Share your feedback here.

If you or someone you care about is having a hard time managing the parenting struggle and would like some solid heartfelt support, please contact me for a parenting therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445

My simple three step plan for busy moms to find more calm in life even when you can’t meditate

Resisting your resistance to meditation

Building a personal meditation practice without resistance.

Busy moms of teens and tweens in particular, often do not have the time to do the important self care that is essential to living with balance in life. Moms often say they don’t have time to meditate even though they know they should.

Does it seem to you like everyone else is living a perfectly balanced life – managing all the busyness, raising productive kids, going on vacations, doing well at work, communicating well with their partner, and seeming like they have it all together? Everyone except you, that is?

You might be saying to yourself

…I know. I know. I know… Everyone around me says the most important thing to do, to have more control over your emotions and to have more balance in your life is to meditate… But isn’t there an easier way – a way that doesn’t take so much time? I don’t have enough time as it is…

…All those busy moms and all those busy professionals out there can’t possibly be taking 30 to 45 minutes a day to meditate… And yet most of them look like they have it all together. And they’re not freaking out or feeling stressed and overwhelmed all the time. I know I should meditate, but I just don’t do it…

Being busy is stressful

The truth is, today’s world is extremely busy and fast paced. It is really hard to find the time to do the things that would most help one to live with balance and peace of mind. It can be stressful to try to build in a stress-reduction plan into your life. And then there’s that adage that if it’s important to you, you (have to) make the time.

You should sit in meditation 20 minutes a day. Unless you are too busy, then you should sit one hour.” – old Zen saying

But maybe you’ve already accepted that. You know that there are certain good things – healthy self care things – that you have to do for yourself – on a regular basis – or you really will lose your mind in the middle of it all.

Self-care is not optional.

You know you have to eat well and exercise as much as possible, and sleep enough, and maybe do some yoga. You have to express yourself and not wait on others to know what you need. You have to prioritize some self-care time, especially when you have a family, relationship or stressful work life to tend to.

Yes, you get all that. And generally you do a pretty good job of taking care of all of that…

But do I have to meditate too?

But this meditation thing has got you flummoxed. Not only is it nearly impossible to fit it in on a regular basis; but once you do carve out some time for it, you realize how resistant you are to doing it, and can’t seem to get over that hump and actually do it – even for five minutes a day. (…Yes, I know that IF it’s really important to me, I’ll make time or find time for it…).

I certainly understand that and have been there myself. Even as a trained therapist and someone who is educated about the benefits of mindfulness and meditation, it took me several years to get to it on a regular basis. Several years. Definitely more than a couple. (The amount of time I spent haggling with myself about doing it or not could have given me over a thousand hours of meditation!)

Luckily, along the way, I discovered that it is certainly possible to begin to reap the benefits of meditating, even without a regular practice.

This is what it feels like when we resist meditation

The reluctance we feel about doing something we know to be good for us can come up in many different ways. We might be afraid we won’t really do it right, or that we’ll look foolish doing it. Or that “Yeah, it works for everyone else, but my life is different (special somehow or super complicated) so it won’t work for me.”

We continue to put off our time that we’ve already dedicated to meditation, and let ourselves get busy or distracted with anything else (planning next week’s dinner menus; answering emails; seeing where “Black Panther” or “The Shape of Water” is playing; checking Facebook to see what other amazing thing our acquaintance has posted about their life for us to compare ourselves to and to feel shame about).

We resent the shoulds in our life

We think about meditation as another should that we should do, and then we start to fight it internally. We react as if some Super Task Master/Slave Owner/Micro-manager Boss of us is telling us what we have to do, and we respond the same way we do about other things that are put upon us that we don’t choose – with resistance, refusal, procrastination, stubbornness.

We dig our heels in and we don’t get to it. We make excuses about why we can’t do it (I’ve tried it before and my mind just races too much and I can’t sit still long enough to meditate anyways. It would be wasted time on me. Or How can just a few minutes be enough to help anyone? It’s not worth it because it won’t do any good).

Critical voice in our head

Of course, this feels wretched. We start to get annoyed and frustrated with ourselves for not meditating yet again, especially after we’ve been saying “I know I really need to develop a practice for myself. For sure I’ll start tomorrow.”

Deep down we may not feel worthy of giving ourselves that (indulgent) time to be still and we don’t believe we deserve it. Or we think we should be able to do it without meditation.

But our secret shame starts to turn in on itself. We feel bad about ourselves for not doing what we should do; not doing it right; having something wrong with us anyways in the first place that makes meditation be so hard; plus we really don’t understand it or get how it’s supposed to work.

Our inner critic’s voice gets louder and meaner. We’re critical about the part of ourselves that is resisting this thing that is supposed to be good for us. We make no room for our own likes or dislikes. We shame ourselves with recriminations about why don’t we just meditate?… We feel guilty. In short, we feel like a hot mess when it comes to building a meditation practice.

There must be a reason that everyone is talking about meditation

… OK, so if we could actually take those 20 minutes a day to meditate and stay focused, everyone says we will feel better; we’ll have more balance in our lives; we’ll learn how to handle our emotions better; And be able to feel less anxiety.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to welcome meditation easily into our lives, and to feel a sense of peacefulness in our hearts? We’d love to not yell so much at our family and to feel more connected to our partner. We’d love to have better ways to handle our stress and navigate those teen and tween years more smoothly.

Apparently meditation can even be helpful to improving our expression of compassion, and reducing our acts of racism and violence. It would be great to have more confidence and sense of competence; and to just feel more present and engaged with the people around us.

We do long for that sense of calm that we see some moms exude. We’d love to handle life’s ups and down with more grace and ease, and not be such a hot mess all the time.

Maybe we don’t have to fight it

…Maybe this meditation thing is worth pursuing a little more… Maybe we can just make ourselves do it, one day at a time…

Supposedly meditation can help improve concentration and attention. We do know how hard it is to pay attention and resist distractions or interruptions from our kids, our partner, our colleagues at work – or our devices.

Maybe a dose of meditation would be better than a dose of medication, or wine, or any of the other things we typically use to self medicate away from our stress..

In fact, it is possible to build a simple meditation practice into a busy life.

Here is my simple three-step plan for busy moms of teens and tweens, to build more calm in their lives – without having to meditate…

1) First, stop fighting it.

  • Try to stop fighting and resisting the idea that you should meditate. And try to stop fighting the idea that you shouldn’t be resisting meditation. The more you fight it, the more that terrible feeling persists.
  • Accept your own resistance. Acknowledge it without judgment. Let yourself pay attention to parts of yourself that want things to be a certain way – often times the way that they are not. Also let yourself notice when you don’t want something. Pay attention to not wanting to do meditation; or see if it’s not wanting to be told what to do, that really is coming up for you.
  • Remember, other people’s perceptions of what you should be doing is really none of your business. (Lisa Nichols says that) And don’t turn those expectations from others into your own demands or criticisms of yourself.
  •  Trust that when you authentically stop fighting it, there’s a better chance that you’ll just naturally pick it up at the moment that is right for you.

I “resisted” taking up meditation for the longest time. Until one day it just made perfect sense as the next right thing to do, and I fell easily into it. I realized I wasn’t resisting it any more. No fight. Now it’s become a completely natural thing for me to do, and I feel something is missing if I don’t do it.

2) Above all, be kind.

  • Be kind to yourself about meditation; and especially about not doing it every day or for a pre-defined length of time. Be kind to yourself when you feel you are resisting. Let yourself be mindful of what it feels like to be resisting. Notice how that feels in your body.
  • Be kind to yourself in your evaluation of whether you do it right or not. Meditation (or not doing meditation) is not really something you can’t do right. In fact, we all start with a wandering mind. When you notice your mind wanders, and then wanders again and again, that’s exactly the time to notice that you’re actually doing it right.
  • Notice other mindful practices you do, outside the ‘Big Meditation’, that bring a sense of presence, attention, calm. Value those.

3) Easy does it.

  • If you’re not yet ready or maybe feeling a little unwilling to actually meditate, you can still bring a sense of calm to your day by engaging in some simple mindful practices:
    • Count your breaths. See if you can count 10 breaths without distraction. If you lose count, no big deal. Just gently come back and start over.
    • Listen to and count the sounds that you hear. Note if they are coming from outside; in the room you are in; or maybe from within your body. Don’t go looking for the sounds; let them unfold and come to you.
    • Watch a sunset or sunrise from beginning to end. And then watch a little more. Notice everything you notice. Pay attention especially to the subtleties, the small minute changes that take place in the light, color, temperature, sound, etc.
    • Go for a walk mindfully. You can walk at your regular pace or intentionally walk really slowly and focus on each step you take; the movement of your legs and arms as you go from one place to another. Behold all that you experience in each of your senses. Notice how alive the world is around you.
  • These experiences all ‘count’ as meditation and work in the mind and body the same way meditation does, making physical and emotional connections that increase our inner spaciousness. There isn’t just one way to meditate.

You don’t have to be an expert meditator

Remember, the goal is more to live mindfully than to become an expert at meditation. Meditation is just a tool – one of many that are available to assist you in doing this. There are many other ways to be meditative that can be fit into an already busy life.

Meditation of course is a very powerful tool, but it can’t be forced. Yes, it can help you transform your feelings of anxiety and depression to more of ease and acceptance. It can help you build your resilience and self compassion; and learn to handle stressors in a more effective way. But let it come gently.

For more support

If you’d like help to develop a meditation practice that works for you and if you’d like to feel better in your world, or if you struggle with emotional overwhelm and would like to feel more balance in your family and work life, Please call me for a therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445


Heart Full Moments February 2018

A monthly feature of Listening with Heart blog


These are the most impactful things I have read or heard this month that gave me pause, or uplifted my heart. I am happy to share them with you. Take a moment to go through them and maybe highlight a few that speak to you. These are wise words about how to live life fully and with compassion. Enjoy…

  • Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” – Steven R.Covey
  • Assertiveness is an open and direct expression of our thoughts and feelings while respecting the right of others to express themselves. It is a form of being kind to ourselves as well as to the other person“. – Sara Fabian
  • Every time your fear is invited up, every time you recognize it and smile at it, your fear will lose some of its strength.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
  • If a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, what single right action can you take right now to move closer to your heart’s desire?” – Alex Katehakis
  • Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness.” – Maya Angelou
  • Insanity is living your life as if there were a better moment than the one you’re in.” – Eckhart Tolle
  • The days pass and the years vanish and we walk sightless among the miracles… Don’t be sightless” – Sabbath prayer, Dani Shapiro
  • Life is so hard, how can we be anything but kind?” – Sylvia Boorstein
  • There’s nothing stronger than gentleness.” – a wise grandmother
  • Love is as Love does…When you love somebody, ask yourself, “What acts of love have I done for him?” – Nicos Hadjicostis
  • It is never too late to give up our prejudices.” – Henry David Thoreau
  • When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” – HH Dalai Lama XIV
  • Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day saying “I’ll try again tomorrow.” – Mary Anne Radmacher
  • There is no pain on earth that doesn’t crave a benevolent witness.” Sarah in The Invention of Wings
  • You are the sky. Clouds are what happens- what comes and goes.” – Eckhart Tolle
  • In a time of destruction, create something: a poem, a parade, a community, a school, a vow, a moral principle; one peaceful moment.” – Maxine Hong Kingston
  • Welcome your feelings like a doorman welcomes a guest to a party…Just don’t follow them into the bathroom!” – a wise meditator
  • Recommended book: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd – a beautiful story about the relationship between a young abolitionist-to-be, and her slave, and how they each grow into different experiences of freedom
  • Remember that imperfections are deliberately woven into Navajo rugs and treasured in the best Japanese pottery. They are part of the art. What a relief to honor your life as it is, in all its beauty and imperfection.” – Jack Kornfield
  • Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” – A. A. Milne
  • You should sit in meditation 20 minutes a day. Unless you are too busy, then you should sit one hour.” – old Zen saying
  • “Not one more. We cannot allow one more child to be shot at school. We cannot allow one more teacher to make a choice to jump in front of a firing assault rifle to save the lives of students. We cannot allow one more family to wait for a call or text that never comes. Our schools are unsafe. Our children and teachers are dying. We must make it our top priority to save these lives.

March For Our Lives is created by, inspired by, and led by students across the country who will no longer risk their lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings that has become all too familiar. In the tragic wake of the seventeen lives brutally cut short in Florida, politicians are telling us that now is not the time to talk about guns. March For Our Lives believes the time is now. 

On March 24, the kids and families of March For Our Lives will take to the streets of Washington, DC to demand that their lives and safety become a priority. The collective voices of the March For Our Lives movement will be heard.

School safety is not a political issue. There cannot be two sides to doing everything in our power to ensure the lives and futures of children who are at risk of dying when they should be learning, playing, and growing. The mission and focus of March For Our Lives is to demand that a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress to address these gun issues. No special interest group, no political agenda is more critical than timely passage of legislation to effectively address the gun violence issues that are rampant in our country.

Every kid in this country now goes to school wondering if this day might be their last. We live in fear.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Change is coming. And it starts now, inspired by and led by the kids who are our hope for the future. Their young voices will be heard.
Stand with us on March 24. Refuse to allow one more needless death.
MARCH FOR OUR LIVES! Mission Statement

  • The lion’s story will never be known, as long as the hunter is the one to tell it.” – African proverb
  • The opposite of poverty is not wealth, but justice.” – Bryan Stevenson
  • A racial literacy involves the ability to read, recast and resolve a racially stressful encounter. Reading involves recognizing when a racial moment happens and noticing our stress reactions to it. Recasting involves taking mindfulness and reducing my tsunami interpretation of this moment and reducing it to a mountain-climbing experience, one that is — from an impossible situation to one that is much more doable and challenging. Resolving a racially stressful encounter involves being able to make a healthy decision that is not an underreaction, where I pretend, “That didn’t bother me,” or an overreaction, where I exaggerate the moment.” – Howard C Stevenson
  • Grateful eyes look at each thing as if they had never seen it before and caress it as if they would never see it again.” – Brother David Steindl-Rast
  • Let Yourself wonder without Googling it.” – Janell Burley Hofmann

I hope you have enjoyed this month’s Heart Full Moments – wise words that I’ve been stirred by – and that you have read or seen or heard things, in your own life too, that made you pause and breathe in, the wisdom or wonder of that experience.

You might keep your own list of Heart-full or mind-full gems, and re-read them when you need an uplift. Simply to be on the lookout for gems that speak to you is a mindful practice that helps to keep your heart open to all that’s good in the world. To deepen your experience even more, you might use any one of these as a journal prompt, where you add whatever comes to mind about how this applies in your life, and how it makes you feel. Or use any one of these as a conversation starter and see if you can draw someone out to share how these words make them feel. Enjoy sharing Heart full wisdom…

If you or someone you care about needs help to overcome some of life’s struggles, please contact me for a therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445

Taming the Tyranny of the To Do List

How to soften (and strengthen) your To Do List

dealing with overwhelm & doing too much, with self compassionMy sister gave me the sweetest “To Do List” pad. It has an image of a woman meditating on it. It gives me the illusion of always being mindful, no matter what I have to do. The more I looked at it though, the more I realized it was mis-named. It says “To Do List” in big letters at the top. It should say “To Be List”…

Here’s a photo of my ideal To Do List. Look at all of that open space, sense of peace, and freedom to breathe…

If you are a busy professional, or parent, or just someone with lots of responsibilities on your plate, or if you care about keeping track of what you need to do, or trying to be organized, or just getting things done, then you probably have kept a To Do list or two. You probably live by your list(s). I know I do.

But you might also be overwhelmed by your lists, or be beholden to them. You might not remember anything if it weren’t for your lists. You might feel confined by their length, their deadlines, their interminability, the way they measure you, never seem to get completed, and then leave you feeling incomplete.

Of course, there are many good things that can come from making or utilizing a To Do List. We might rely on our lists as an extension of ourselves.

Our To Do Lists: 

  • Keep us organized
  • Point us in a direction; act as a guide to what direction we want to go.
  • Remind us of what we have yet to do
  • Keep us accountable
  • Can indicate our wishes, dreams, desires for self
  • Make concrete the ways we show our love for family and people we care about
  • Are a way of marking our ideas – getting them down, making them tangible
  • Help us to not forget. Help us to remember.
  • Help us move forward with our plans
  • Can be a source of creativity
  • Can remind us of all the good in the world we want to do
  • Let us see how much we’ve accomplished
  • Give us a sense and feeling of being productive
  • Break larger tasks down to manageable smaller doable items
  • Let us know we are alive and still have things to do
  • Give us a sense of being in control in our world
  • We feel good when we check off our list

But sometimes our lists get out of balance and become overbearing and restrictive, even tyrannical. We end up having negative limiting beliefs about ourselves when we can’t get through our To Do Lists. We inadvertently let our lists control or define us. We become slaves to the Master List. We forego our pleasures and simple joys, in order to deal with the list. We prioritize having to DO, rather than BEing who we are and trusting we will be loved for that.

Some people feel demoralized when they look at their list and feel there is so much to do. And that they’ll never get it all done.

At these times, our lists:

  • Let us bargain with time and imagine it is endlessly available to us
  • Let us see how busy we are
  • Represent our wish to be immortal or our defense against mortality, limits, endings, disappointments
  • Let us believe we have ultimate control of our lives and what happens to us, if only we can tackle that list
  • Remind us of all the unimportant things we have to do
  • Become a way to measure our value or worth by what we accomplish – or don’t
  • Overwhelm us with demands on our time, energy, focus
  • Can give us a sense of failure and powerlessness just by their presence
  • Become our task master rather than a tool in service of
  • Never end til we die
  • Are always hanging over our head
  • Represent the “shoulds” in our lives that we can be lead to feel shame or inadequacy about when we can’t fulfill them
  • Sometimes drive us rather than letting us drive our own lives
  • Distract us from what it feels like to be present in the moment by always putting us in the future of “To Do”
  • Become ways to procrastinate and never live in the moment because we are always creating lists and planning for perfection
  • Become a marker of our worthiness or sense of value, or more often, a sense of lacking
  • Let us hold on to that idea that one day, when everything on our list is done, we’ll finally be enough, whole, worthy
  • And far too infrequently we create “To Be” lists…

If your To Do List has gotten unwieldy, or you’re feeling more shame and overwhelm about it, you can shift your relationship to your List, to one of kindness, support, mindfulness.

What to do about your To Do List:


  • Have compassion for yourself living under the tyranny of a To Do List
  • Take a few deep breaths before each task
  • Create a To Be list, or a Joy list, or a Gratitude list, or a Personal Resource list, or a Daily Personal Bucket list, or a Passion list of things you love but may have put aside or neglected
  • Have gratitude to have a full life that allows you to make a list
  • Have gratitude for each item on your list – try to find the hidden gifts of having things to do
  • Prioritize your list with items that give you space, and quiet moments to check in with yourself – Moments where you can BE rather than Do
  • Cushion or book-end each item on your To Do List with three long deep breaths
  • Consider each item on your list to see if it matches your values or intentions
  • DO more of those items that are aligned with meaning in your life
  • Become aware of your body and emotions when you know you still have things to complete on your To Do List
  • When you check off your list, savor the good feeling (or whatever feeling is there) for a few seconds longer
  • Don’t let your To Do List be the boss of you, or define you, or be a source of self-punishment

Like Sylvia Boorstein says, “Don’t just Do something, Sit there.”!

I’d love to hear from you…By reading this post, did you discover anything new about how you use your To Do lists? Is your relationship with them kind, values-driven, thoughtful of you; or in the service of criticism, demand and harshness? Respond to this post and share your ideas.

If you or someone you love is challenged by a critical relationship you have with your lists (or yourself) and would like to feel better, please contact me for a therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445

Your Soulmate is Closer than You Think

How to have more Love in your Relationships Finding love. Learn to give love rather than get love, by being your own Soulmate.

Our deepest desire, as human beings is to be loved. We search (sometimes in all the wrong places) for that partner who will love us, fulfill us, complete us, care for us, take away our pain. Sometimes we search all of our lives, even after we have found someone. We often don’t realize that our true love – or Soulmate – the one who truly makes us whole – is much closer than we realize.

Spoiler Alert: Our true Soulmate is our own self.

Often the partner we seek – whether we are alone or coupled – is that someone who will love us, take care of us, adore us, let us be ourselves. We want to be that other person’s PERSON – first and always thought about; the one they tell everything to; the only one they are intimate with. We want that person to prioritize us; always include us; be romantic with us; communicate; share their inner selves with us. We want someone who desires us, who reads our mind and anticipates what we need. We want someone who unconditionally loves us, accepts us even with our faults.

01-heart.pngSomeone with whom we can be vulnerable and safe, and not be laughed at or rejected, or betrayed by. We want someone who agrees with what we say and who knows we’re right – or someone who likes things just the way we do.

We know what we want in love – someone who desires us; can’t wait to see us and is enthusiastic about us when we’re together. We want someone who loves and lives to please us; anticipate our needs; never makes us or leaves us suffering. Someone who tolerates all our moods without negativity. Someone who makes us feel good, someone who enjoys being around us. Someone who doesn’t ignore us, or de-prioritize us, or disappoint us.

We want someone who is never unkind, or mean, or violent; or appropriately apologizes if they ever are. Someone who makes us feel special, wanted. Someone who always has our back; who always consults or includes us when making plans. Someone who knows when we need closeness or space – and who acts accordingly. Someone who wants to talk when we want to talk or who is comfortable with silence when we need silence.

We want someone to show us they love us by following through with what they promise; not letting us down, or by doing their share (and often more than their share) of household chores or parenting tasks. Someone who doesn’t take advantage of us or take us for granted. We want someone who accepts us totally, unconditionally – someone who gets us. Someone who notices all the little things we do and fully appreciates us. We want someone who loves and cherishes our body and is not judgmental or critical in any way. Someone who comes up with fun and interesting things to do or wants to share in all the things we think are fun and interesting to do.

02-heart.pngWe want to be loved by someone who is trustworthy, who protects us from pain or suffering; someone who doesn’t make us feel angry, or frustrated, or lonely or disappointed. We want love to come in the form of listening to us, understanding and allowing all of who we are. Someone who brings out the best in us – helps us to be the best person we aspire to be all the time.

We want someone who is flexible, but structured enough; independent, but able to be intimate; healthy physically and emotionally; someone who cares about the people and things we care about, with the same intensity.

…That’s a pretty powerful list of what we long for when we wish to be loved. That’s a pretty psychologically evolved human being who can provide even 60% of that! And wouldn’t it be nice if we could think about or treat ourselves in these same ways, even 60% of the time?

Two truths about this expansive list:

  1. A lot of this list comes from how we as human beings desire to GET love. Very little03-heart.png of it is about how we long to GIVE love – which is actually the more important part of any love relationship. We could improve our love relationships – or bring more love into our lives by having the intention to be this kind of Soulmate to our partner…
    If you want to be loved, try loving. Give the love you would like to get. Challenge yourself to continuously, consciously choose to fall in love with your partner. Be the partner you long for. Remember your person is another separate human being, with their own thoughts, feelings, wishes, dreams, needs, experiences; just like you. Look for, love and nurture the beauty and the good in your partner. Remember, the relationship you have with an other is a reflection of the relationship you have with yourself.
  2. Not only are these admirable qualities to one becoming a loving partner (and more admirable to find within yourself then to solely seek and evaluate in your significant other – present or to be), but these are excellent qualities to present and be with your self.
    Be your own Soulmate. Be the partner you long for, to yourself. Look for, love and nourish the beauty and the good within you. Remember, the relationship you have with yourself is the source of the reflection of the relationship you have with another – the love you give to your child, partner, friend.

How to do this you may wonder…

First, become aware. Check in with yourself and see if the ways you want to be loved by another are resonant with the ways you, yourself give love. Do your actions do love the way you’d like to receive it? Make some intentions to put your love into action. Be willing to go first.

Then check in further with yourself and notice how you treat yourself (you know – your real Soulmate).

Make an effort to be:

  • Nonviolent with yourself; non-hurtful or demeaning or critical or judgmental… Don’t finish a negative thought or sentence about yourself.
  • Communicate with yourself kindly; listen to your own feelings without contempt or avoidance. Acknowledge your voice. Don’t yell at or berate or judge yourself.
  • Change curses that you were told as a child, that you couldn’t help but internalize – into blessings or affirmations, about your strengths and resilience.
  • Repair that inner child and heal those old wounds. If you can, forgive those parents. If you can’t, at least forgive yourself.
  • Continuously, compassionately, consciously, caringly choose to fall in love with yourself – see yourself in a loving way. Have your own back.
  • Take yourself on a date – spend some time with you yourself; give yourself uninterrupted time to be with yourself. Enjoy what you discover.
  • Spend time in nature; do meditation; take a break from being digitally connected. It’s here that you can truly listen to your own voice.
  • Do self-compassion practices. (May I be safe. May I be at peace. May I treat myself like I would my best friend. May I be as strong as I am able to be…)
  • Have a heart-to-heart intimate talk with yourself – journal it or write a letter to yourself.
  • Remind yourself to remember the perspective of someone who loves you when you are reflecting internally. Be happy to see yourself.

Be the partner to yourself you long to have in your life. Every day. Listen with Heart. To yourself, and to those you love.

Regular simple efforts and shifts in your thinking and doing build a strong foundation to being able to receive the love you want in your life. And giving it becomes easier too.

If you or someone you love struggles with wanting more, different or better love in your life, please contact me for a therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445