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“I think achievement is great, but it isn’t sufficient to wholeness and well-being.” with Rev. Connie L. Habash, MA, LMFT and Sasza Lohery

I think achievement is great, but it isn’t sufficient to wholeness and well-being. Taking time just to be, to enjoy a sunrise or a hummingbird, to sit together on the porch with your kid and talk, to take a walk down the street and smell rosemary and collect leaves, to listen to a dear friend […]


I think achievement is great, but it isn’t sufficient to wholeness and well-being. Taking time just to be, to enjoy a sunrise or a hummingbird, to sit together on the porch with your kid and talk, to take a walk down the street and smell rosemary and collect leaves, to listen to a dear friend playing music. These are the moments that actually fill us. They’re simple and precious. When we’re filled like that, we transcend whether or not we love ourselves, and we’re just in a space of love and appreciation. We are being, not in that thinking mind that compares and criticizes, and we naturally feel more love within.

As a part of my series about “Connecting With Yourself To Live With Better Relationships” I had the pleasure to interview Rev. Connie L. Habash, MA, LMFT, has helped hundreds of students and clients overcome their anxiety and spiritually awaken for the last 25 years. Her experience as a Yoga teacher, psychotherapist, and Interfaith minister create a transformative synergy of body, mind, heart, and spirit. Her forthcoming book, Awakening from Anxiety: A Spiritual Guide to Living a More Calm, Confident, Courageous Life synthesizes her diverse skills into a simple, accessible, yet profound process to release stress and anxiety and return to your True Self. Find out about her workshops, retreats, counseling practice, and Awakening from Anxiety programs on her website: www.AwakeningSelf.com


Thank you so much for joining us! Let’s Get Intimate! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.

Like many other therapists and healers, it was my desire to help others and understand and heal myself that initiated me on this unexpected journey. I didn’t anticipate becoming a psychotherapist when I was a kid or even in high school, and yoga wasn’t yet on my radar in college. The one thing that was consistently with me from a young age, and the thread through which everything has been woven, has been my connection to God or what I call the Divine or Spirit.

It was that faith and trust in my connection to Spirit that helped me through my own challenges with depression and anxiety, and that connection still guides me today, in both my own life and my work with my clients and students.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?

My current project is my new book — Awakening from Anxiety: A Spiritual Guide to Living a More Calm, Confident, Courageous Life — to be released sometime this summer. It’s the culmination of work I’ve done with my clients and students over the last 25 years to overcome and transform stress, worry, overwhelm, and fear, and use anxiety as a path to personal and spiritual growth. It’s also my own personal story of how I have healed and continue to work with anxiety in my life. My intent is to bring ease and inspiration to so many of us that are struggling with anxiety and stress right now, with everything happening in the world let alone in our own lives. Anxiety is a normal emotion that sometimes gets out of control, and with the keys in the book, I hope to assist many people in reclaiming their confidence and joy, so that anxiety isn’t running their lives anymore.

Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self acceptance?

There have been a number of challenges and transformations through my life that awakened and deepened that sense of self-acceptance and an inner well-spring of love and self-compassion.
 
 The biggest shift happened when I turned 30 years old. I had been dating a guy for about a month — one of those relationships that start out very intense and deep, but in hindsight you recognize we were projecting the ideal on each other and not really seeing and accepting one another as we were. We were even talking about the possibility of marriage, yet hardly knowing each other.

A couple weeks before my birthday, I came down with chicken pox, believe it or not! Two weeks of misery, but he was kind and supportive — he even brought me a cake on that day with little pink dots all over it. So after I recovered, we went out for our first date since the illness — with his daughter and step son from his previous marriage. We were having a lovely time and his 4 year old daughter smiled and innocently said, “Are you going to get married?” I returned her smile and said, “Maybe — we’ll see.” In that moment, he completely changed. The next day he called, said he wasn’t ready for a relationship, and broke up with me.
 
 To say I was devastated was putting it mildly. I spun down into an overwhelming depression and was overcome with anxiety. I wanted to drive by his house at night. I couldn’t understand what had happened, why it had all shifted in an instant. My self-esteem was at an all-time low and I cried constantly. I began to feel suicidal.
 
 And that’s when I stopped and took a clear look at myself — how could I allow a guy to make me feel that my life wasn’t worth living? That’s not right! Right then and there, I made a vow that I’d never let anyone else determine how I felt about myself, and that I would do what it took to heal and find my self-love and self-acceptance. Several months later, through counseling, support groups, prayer, journaling, and 2 church services a week, I felt better than ever and moved on to dating guys that appreciated me.

It wasn’t the end of my personal and spiritual growth, but more of an initiation to a much deeper level of my being than before. I still had more work to do to feel whole, joyful, and worthy, but I see that as a life-long journey of expansion into more and more of my authentic, loving, empowered self.

According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?

It probably won’t surprise you that I feel a lot of this dissatisfaction with our appearance comes from the media that surround us in our culture. A recent article on CBSnews.com states that we have gone from exposure to about 500 ads per day in the 1970’s to as many as 5,000 a day today. Yikes! Look at how many focus on our appearance. Look at how many of the actors and models in just about all the commercials look “perfect” according to our cultural standards. Then there are all the movies and shows that reinforce the same impossible ideal. How can we not be affected by that? We compare ourselves to what we’re shown — and that’s not including what friends, family, and neighbors might say or talk about around us. 
 
 It’s so difficult to silence all the noise, but we have to do it. What ends up happening is that we take those images, words, and impressions and then start to tell stories in our minds to ourselves. We begin mentally comparing and competing, and of course feeling that we fall short of impossible standards.
 
 It’s essential that we become aware of what stories we’re telling ourselves in our mind about our attractiveness, our lovability, etc., and begin to tell new stories. New narratives of self-appreciation, self-compassion, self-acceptance, and self-love. To learn to embrace all of who we are, to love our uniqueness, to recognize and redefine our beauty. It’s a simple concept, and as we all know, it’s challenging to implement. But every one of us needs to have the courage to face our own thoughts and change them. It can be done — and not only can we change the stories to more positive ones, but we can learn to let go of stories in our head altogether, and simple enjoy BE-ing who we are. What a relief — to just BE, and enjoy ourselves and our lives.

As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?

I have definitely had clients roll their eyes at me about “loving yourself”! I get it. It’s hard to understand why it matters so much when a lot of us believe we’ll find it out there, and then we think we’ll feel better.

There are a couple problems with looking for love “out there”, in someone else. First is that it’s disempowering. We don’t own it within us; we’re dependent on someone else showing up and “giving” it to us. When that’s gone, we feel like crap. I don’t want to put my power to feel great into someone outside of me.

That brings me to my second issue with out there. The truth about the feeling of love is that it only happens in here. We only experience love inside of ourselves. It’s not like someone comes along, and you see this “love” stuff wafting over to you through the air, and then it lands and now you have love. Nope, love is something that wells up from inside. We believe that it is coming from a relationship or someone else because we allow our heart to open and to feel it in the presence of that “special person”, or maybe an adored pet, or a stunning sunrise over a mountain top. It’s always here within us, but for a variety of reasons we don’t allow ourselves to feel it, or don’t know how to open our heart to experience that infinite love that is our Divine nature.
 
 That takes a shift in awareness, but it is possible to feel not only self-love, but to become Love itself in the unlimited, unconditional sense by learning how to open up within. Once I began experiencing that, I knew that my understanding of relationships and the relationship with myself changed. I can’t say that I’m perfect (I don’t believe in the idea of perfection anymore, even though my mind says otherwise!), but I am experiencing that love-from-within more and more, and it deepens my connection with others and all of life.

Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?

Well, from my experience and what I have seen in my clients is a belief that they can’t do better. An old story they have running in their mind that they aren’t worthy of more, or have to settle for what they can get.

It comes from an even deeper unconscious mindset that 1) we have to be worthy of or earn love and 2) that love and great relationships are in short supply, and you’d better take what you can get. These are both falsehoods that we reinforce by telling ourselves stories in our mind that perpetuate those beliefs. The truth is that we’re all born worthy — just by being here, we are deserving of love. I believe that we come from the source of all love and we come here to express, give, and receive love.

However, we’re not all given the handbook (’cause it doesn’t exist!) of how to truly open ourselves to love, or how to create healthy, loving, lasting relationships. There’s a fair amount to that, but it all starts from uncovering those negative belief systems, recognizing that they are false, and then seeing that loving, healthy relationships are possible. It’s another example of needing to root out the stories that we tell ourselves and change them to ones that support us in living the kind of lives we truly desire.

When I talk about self-love and understanding I don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?

One of those tough questions is how am I perpetuating the situation I’m unhappy with by my thoughts, words, and actions? I didn’t want to see, at first, that I was attracting men that couldn’t invest in a long-term, committed relationship. I didn’t believe that I’d be worth staying with, so why would men who wanted a deeper relationship be attracted to me?

So I had to be willing to stay with myself. I had to be willing to acknowledge my less-than-perfect parts of myself and know that they’re OK. To sit with my own pain compassionately. Rather than judging or fearing that pain, it was important to learn that I could feel it and get through it. I had to let go of clinging, needing to be with someone to feel OK, which was certainly a turn-off. I shifted from outsourcing to insourcing: to stop trying to fill my emptiness from outside myself and start finding ways to be fulfilled within. That involved self-care, acting from my integrity, and pursuing what brought me joy and fulfillment in my life. It was a gradual evolution over time, and well-worth the investment.

So many don’t really know how to be alone, or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?

Well, you’re asking an introvert here, so I feel I have to own up to that before answering. I love my alone time. But I didn’t at first. It took me quite some time to realize that being alone wasn’t all about feeling longing and sadness. That’s what it was like for me through most of my 20’s. At the same time, I found being with large groups of people tremendously draining. Until I learned years later how to manage that, I was mainly relying on one-on-one connections with friends and partners, and avoided both the alone time and group time.
 
 Even for extroverts, I feel that alone time is essential for our well-being, especially alone time in nature. We can only truly develop a healthy relationship with ourselves if we give that special time to ourselves, just for us. I remember back in the early 1990’s reading an article about taking yourself out on a date, and then a bit later about the “artist’s date” from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. When I make time for myself, not just at home but going to a park, on a hike, out to dinner, to an art show, or to pet cats at an animal shelter, it fills me. Whether or not I have a partner to come home to. I have the time and space to watch my self-talk, observe and consider what my thoughts are and how they affect me, and make changes. I like to take my journal with me and write down my insights. There’s just not enough time and space when I’m constantly with others or talking to them on the phone.

I absolutely love time when I sit in front of my altar at home, where I meditate, pray, or chant, light candles, write in my journal, burn incense, and take time to connect to God. That’s another essential aspect of alone time. You have the opportunity to consciously connect to the Divine, to something bigger than you, in a meaningful way. I pray, which I see as talking to God, and then I meditate, which is the listening and receiving aspect. I allow myself to be filled with that sacred presence.

Taking time alone allows us to deepen our sense of connection. We tend to believe that we only feel connected when we’re with other people. But that’s because we haven’t developed our sense of connection to what is beyond our relationships with others. I actively cultivate my connection to the land, the waters, the air, the animals, the Divine, and my inner Self. Then, when I’m with those I care about, I have the foundation already built within me and I find my connection with friends and people in my community are deeper.

How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?

By learning to be fully present with myself and what I’m experiencing, without judgment and with self-compassion and self-love, I find that I’m better able to be there with and for others.

Being present with what I experience and feel means letting go of all the thoughts about how upsetting this is, or how scared I am, or how awful that is, and shift to feeling my bodily sensations. If I cry, I cry. If I’m angry, I let the anger come up in my clenched fists, the heat rising my face, and I might even yell into a pillow. But I don’t let myself indulge in all the stories about the anger, sadness, or fear. I just let it run through my body, while compassionately witnessing it. What I found by doing this (and what has worked well with clients) is that the emotion washes through like a wave — I write about this in my book. Emotions have a life-cycle and if we can stay with them and ourselves lovingly, they eventually dissipate.

I used to be so full of unresolved stuff that I just couldn’t tolerate. I didn’t know how to sit with the feelings and let them resolve themselves. So my time with others was often spent exchanging our unresolved emotions. We’d co-miserate. As I began to heal, my relationships gradually shifted. Some of them ended and new ones came in that could meet me more in the present moment. Now, I find that I connect more deeply to others, I’m more present with them, more able to enjoy them in the moment, and I don’t have a lot of stuff that I need to “dump” on them to feel better. I feel good just enjoying simple things together, talking about what matters in our lives, and really listening. I’m a better listener because I’ve learned to listen and be present with myself.

In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?

First of all, embrace exactly where you are, right now. The present moment is all there is. So it’s not about “someday, when I…” It’s about seeing yourself right now and acknowledging who you are. We often are so busy criticizing ourselves that we don’t really see ourselves accurately. Each of us has gifts and wonderful qualities. Each of us also has “flaws”, imperfections. I continually work on embracing the things about myself that aren’t perfect. I own up to them. And I don’t make them a big deal.

I think we, as individuals and as a society, could consider the value of being who we are, rather than doing who we think we should be. I know that’s not grammatically correct, but a lot of the time we’re doing who we are rather than being who we are. We aren’t human doings. We’re human beings. All the things we do, achieve, and collect are lovely, but they aren’t what bring meaning and value to life. It’s how present we are in each moment with ourselves, each other, and this amazing planet we’re on.

I live in Silicon Valley: it’s the epitome of human doing all the time here. It’s very competitive. Everyone is rushing around, loading themselves and their kids up with activities, trying to build up impressive resumes and college applications. The thing is, I don’t see anyone actually enjoying their life from all that. I don’t see it significantly contributing to their happiness, and I certainly don’t see it contributing to their self-love. It just perpetuates the idea that we aren’t enough as we are, and we need to keep doing more and more just to be OK (not even to be awesome, just OK!). 
 
 I think achievement is great, but it isn’t sufficient to wholeness and well-being. Taking time just to be, to enjoy a sunrise or a hummingbird, to sit together on the porch with your kid and talk, to take a walk down the street and smell rosemary and collect leaves, to listen to a dear friend playing music. These are the moments that actually fill us. They’re simple and precious. When we’re filled like that, we transcend whether or not we love ourselves, and we’re just in a space of love and appreciation. We are being, not in that thinking mind that compares and criticizes, and we naturally feel more love within.

What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?

1) Presence — This is being fully aware and attentive in the present moment. Take a few minutes to sit down, preferably outside, but anywhere really is fine. Notice what is happening around you — what do you see, hear, etc.? What is happening within you? Can you notice without telling a story about it (i.e., not labeling, evaluating, comparing, complaining, etc.). Be with the bird that you hear, the cat on your lap, the sound of cars driving by, your own breath. What is it like to give yourself permission to simply be? How does your body feel when you do this? What do you notice in your heart?

2) Embodiment — Now, take the practice of presence into being in your body. Touch the skin of your other hand. What does that feel like? Can you feel it from the hand that is touching? Can you feel it from inside, being touched? Sometimes, we’re not really in our bodies, we’re just operating them as if on remote control, from up in our heads. When you walk, what do your feet feel like? Walk on the grass, walk on sand, walk on cement, walk on pebbles (preferably barefoot — if the weather doesn’t permit, walk barefoot inside). What does that feel like? When we were children, we did this. We felt the whole world fully, and explored with our bodies. Notice how it feels to come back into your body in this way, how deeply it connects you to yourself and the world.

3) Self-Compassion — Be there for yourself, like you would for a good friend. In yogic philosophy, there’s a word called maitri. It is the quality of friendliness. Are you friendly towards yourself? Do you treat yourself like you would your best friend? If you’re suffering, be willing to take time for yourself and tell yourself, “Yes, I know you’re hurting right now. It’s a very human thing to be hurting. There are many others on the planet feeling like this. I’m right here for you, right now, in this suffering, and I care about you.” Breathe into it and care for yourself. You’ll build resilience, and the stress, worry, and tension will begin to soften.

4) Feel the Emotions — Like I mentioned earlier, emotions have a life cycle. They’re like a wave. If you become present with them, and feel their sensations in your body with a compassionate attitude, then you can sit with the emotion through the wave. Most people are afraid to feel their emotions, believing that they’ll never go away. But everything changes. You’ll notice that, like a wave on the ocean, there’s a period of time where they build, they become more intense. We usually start telling stories at this point about how awful, how scary, or how intolerable they are. Instead, let go of the stories and watch the wave build. Be present with it. Then, like at the beach, the wave crests and crashes into the shore. After that, it dissolves back into the ocean again. If you stay with it long enough, the emotion will shift.

5) Listen to You Inner Self — Once you have felt the emotion, you may be able to hear yourself more clearly. What do you truly want? What did the emotion want to communicate to you? What is in your heart that you have overlooked? What brings you joy? You can ask a myriad of questions, but just ask one at a time, and wait. Listen. Be present and notice whatever comes up. Give yourself that time. How often do you really, truly, deeply listen to your innermost self? Most of the time we’re just listening to all the garbage that we’re telling ourselves throughout the day, all the judgments, comparisons, and fears. There’s a deeper level that wants to come through, and that’s usually why the emotions come up. Under all that, the self-love is there, if you go deep enough.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?

I spend most of my free time (and while at the gym!) reading and listening to things that inspire me, heal me, and uplift me. Recently, I’ve enjoyed reading The 12 Conditions of a Miracle by Todd Michael. It offers simple and clear steps to creating the change you want in your life, and it deeply speaks to me. For increasing my self-love as well as my abundance and prosperity, I turn to Morgana Rae. She teaches us that when we focus on love, within ourselves, we’ll more naturally attract prosperity (and anything else we desire). Don Miguel Ruiz’ book, The Voice of Knowledge, clarified for me the fact that we are constantly telling ourselves stories — and how to overcome that tendency. If you’re curious about self-compassion, I love Kristin Neff’s audio series on Self-Compassion, Step by Step. And the teachings of Leonard Jacobson are very dear to me. He’s my main teacher of presence. His book, Journey Into Now, has deeply impacted my life.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…

That’s a big question! I’d love to inspire a movement of deep presence and connection. When we’re present with ourselves, we feel whole. When we’re present with another, we feel love. When we’re present with nature, we feel connected and a part of everything. When we’re present with the Divine, we feel Oneness. I think so many people would heal and feel whole. Self-love and self-acceptance would naturally unfold, and following that, we’d be more accepting and appreciative of each other and the planet.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by? 
 Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?

My clients know that I constantly use the phrase, “Trust the Process.” It’s been a guiding light for me. I trust whatever arises in life. I trust that I can respond to it and work through it. The Divine has a plan and is guiding me through whatever comes my way. Events may be joyful or challenging, but growth always results no matter what, and sometimes blessings come from unexpected sources and situations. If something doesn’t work out, I know that it means that something better is in store, and if I try to force that particular outcome, it may not be for the best.

For example, about 8 years ago, I woke up one morning with a pain in my stomach. It grew throughout the day, until I was doubled over by 3pm and begging my husband to drive me to the emergency room. You have to understand, I feared hospitals. I had not been to an ER since I was 4 years old, and didn’t want to ever have to go there. But there I was, and I had to trust that. Turned out I needed an emergency appendectomy — surgery, another thing I didn’t want!

What I learned through that experience (among many things, actually) was that I could surrender to the process and be OK. I had to accept so many things that I feared: the hospital, the pain killers, the Cipro and other antibiotics, the CT scan, the anesthesia… I could go on. With each one, I felt the fear, and then I just surrendered it up to God. I trusted that through this experience, I’m awakening something new in me. The ability to let go and know I can get through it. Courage. I felt much more resilient after that. All my fears didn’t magically go away, but I recognized that I can make it through something scary and difficult, and it’s OK. I trust the process of that.

I’ve been through difficult times and wonderful times, just like you. And I’ve learned to embrace them all, knowing that everything has a gift, everything is an opportunity to learn, grow, and trust something bigger than me. When I have that attitude, I find myself much more present with what is going on, more open-hearted, and more peaceful. I accept the situation and myself, and because of that perspective, I see life as an amazing journey.

Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!

About the Author:

Sasza Lohrey is the Founder & CEO of BBXX, a digital platform for intimacy and wellbeing. She is also the host of the BBXX podcast, “Let’s Get Intimate!” which hosts provocative and entertaining conversations with experts in order to challenge the way our culture conditions us to talk about sex, intimacy, and healthy relationships. BBXX was created in order to help people better understand themselves, so that they then can form deeper and more fulfilling relationships with others. Sasza is a former D1 athlete with a background in psychology and digital media. She is a member of the Women of Sex Tech collective, the co-mentorship community Dreamers and Doers, and a regular columnist for several online publications. Originally from the Bay Area, Sasza founded BBXX during a Stanford entrepreneurship program in Santiago, Chile. Learn more on our website and listen to more interviews with experts on our top-rated podcast!

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