After a few years of having an irregular blog, I’ve decided to switch gears and try out a podcast instead.

Introducing the new Queer Spirit podcast – a weekly show where I have conversations with artists, healers & activists who enliven, heal & empower the LGBTQ+ communities.

I’ve just reached my 10th episode after being live for 2 months, and I intend to continue to release new interviews every Monday. You can subscribe on your favorite platform: iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Spotify & YouTube.

You can also join the Queer Spirit Facebook community to connect with other like minded listeners, and further the conversations started on the podcast.

So, thank you for reading my blog until now, and I hope you enjoy the podcast!

In gratitude,
Nick Venegoni

 

 

I have lived in my apartment building for over 10 years now and I still don’t know all my neighbors. My building only has eighteen units. People come and go — some faster than others. The idea of living among strangers in such a small building feels odd to me, but it’s a reality.

City living can be paradoxically lonely. We’re all too busy to attend to every person we encounter, with our heads down, earphones in, desperately trying to escape isolation.

Many people struggle to connect because of anxiety or depression, feeling abandoned and alone. They may have no family, no community, no networks on which to lean. How can they find support? Where can they seek refuge from the cold loneliness?

In Buddhist teachings there is a clear pathway to seek refuge from suffering in the three jewels: the Buddha (the divine within and without), the Dharma (spiritual teachings or life path) and the Sangha (community). For those who struggle to find community and have no particular spiritual path, there is always access to the divine.

What is the divine? I like to keep this concept loose and open to personal definition. The divine can be a god or spirit you believe in, or it can simply be that part of yourself (no matter how small it may seem) that you cherish: your creativity, your caring heart, your wise mind. It is that part of you which, when you are connected to it, the outside world and a sense of time seem to melt away.

There are many ways to connect and practice cultivating with your own personal divinity. Make art, sing, dance, play. See art, listen to music, watch others dance and play. Volunteer, help others, connect with nature and animals. Exercise and feel strength in your body. Exercise your heart through practices appreciation and gratitude. Meditate, connect with spirit. Clean your home, solve math problems, build something. Challenge yourself, explore, grow.

It’s important to remember these parts of yourself, and to cultivate them during challenging times of isolation. By cultivating this connection, those challenging moments will pass more quickly and easily.


If you are a queer person who would like to cultivate a connection to some inner support and guidance, join me next week for a free webinar: Meet Your Queer Spirit Guide. Tuesday, August 22nd @ 6 PM. More info and registration here.

 

There is a common four-letter “F” word that is used a lot and I want to take away its power: FAIL. In our culture there is so much pressure put on us to succeed, that to fail has become the worst thing next to death. Failing has become a dirty secret that no one wants to admit, out of fear of being brandished with a scarlet F.

In a recent interview on Fresh Air, Terry Gross interviewed David Sedaris about his new book in which he discusses many things, including his relationship to addiction and the rise of his success. In discussing his career, Sedaris mentions that he’d dreamed of being the successful author he is today, but he also feared failure. He implied that his father expected him to fail, so it was scary for Sedaris to announce his dreams of fame because if they didn’t come to fruition, then his fathers’ expectations would have. Failure was a dark cloud waiting for him at the end of the road.

With clients, I hear failure mostly in regards to relationships or careers: I got divorced because my marriage was failing. / If this relationship ends, it means I’m a failure! I’ll never have a successful relationship. / I totally bombed my presentation today! Now my boss knows for sure I’m a failure.

What I hear in this these statements is harsh self judgement and criticism, which in turn is a form of dis-empowerment. When we have a harsh inner critic or we continually judge ourselves, wearing down our self-esteem, we are beating ourselves up from the inside out. This behavior only depletes our confidence and inner strength — they are not acts of self-compassion or self-love.

Yes, it’s important and helpful to have self discipline and motivation to help us strive to do better in our lives. But when we do it in a violent way that tears us down, that is not helpful.

What is helpful is to look at each situation and to treat ourselves with fierce compassion. Think about the way a favorite teacher may have helped you – firmly with care they point out your mistake and help you see where to make improvements, without criticizing or discouraging your efforts.

It is important to be mindful of all the ways we speak to ourselves. We can be our own teacher when we make mistakes – firm and caring. Mistakes, errors, and even failures are all learning opportunities. They allow us to see where we need to focus our attention for improvement. The opportunities for growth and improvement in our lives are endless. Take every failure as an chance for evolution, and don’t let the inner critic stop you in your tracks.

Mindfulness in the Electronic Age: Part 1

How many times have you checked your phone today? It seems that we have all become Pavlov’s dog and immediately respond to our phones alert bell, ding, beep, chirp or buzz without hesitation. Our brains salivate with each notification of a text or LIKE or HEART — and it feels good! It’s nice to connect and engage with others around shared interests and beliefs. No big deal, right?

As a therapist, when someone asks me if they are addicted, they tend to see the situation in black or white. But I think the relationship can move along a continuum of interaction. I see addiction on a scale — something like this: use, abuse, dependence, addiction.

Webster defines ADDICTION –

: a strong and harmful need to regularly have something (such as a drug) or do something (such as gamble)

Do you have a strong need for your phone? Well OK, phones aren’t drugs, and Instagram isn’t gambling. Webster continues…

:an unusually great interest in something or a need to do or have something

SO, maybe your interest in your phone might be considered “unusually great”?

I’ve noticed for a few years now, this strong need, this unusually great relationship some people develop with their smart phones. And it’s not really the phone itself that people are obsessed with, but the content and connections their phones provide them. Or the salivation — the chemistry our brains release with each notification and interaction.

Let me say, I find social media to be a great way to gather information and connect with community, especially for those who may be isolated in some way (such as queer teens in small towns, disabled folks, home bound senior citizens, etc). However, I also see how it can generate isolation and degenerate authentic connection and intimacy. By spending such considerable amounts of time engaging with your phone (liking, retweeting, commenting, reviewing, texting, chatting), the technology starts to become an extension of oneself. When someone has lost or broken their phone, I’ve heard many say it feels like withdrawing from a drug or like they’ve lost a limb. In some ways this is true — you do lose a particular ability to communicate, and there are particular chemicals in the brain that cease to be released when one loses this form of communication and connection with others.

So, what do you do about it? Easy — discipline. Moderation. Cut down. But, we Americans tend to have difficulty with moderation since we live in the land of bigger, better, louder, brighter, Super-Size Me! So even though discipline is a challenge, bringing awareness to your relationship with your phone (and other portals to social media and digital communication) is the first step to solving this conundrum.

In the world of mental health and dealing with substance or behavioral abuse (remember the scale? use, abuse, dependence, addiction), there’s the harm reduction model. Harm reduction is a way to evaluate level of use and level of “harm”, and then reducing use to reduce “harm.” An example of the harm reduction model is working with food addiction. Someone addicted to food can’t just stop eating or they’ll eventually die, but they can reduce their intake and change their relationship to food. The same thing can be done with your phone. Consume less time on your phone and use your newly found free time for other things — visiting with friends and loved ones in person, engaging in hobbies and physical activities, or all the other things you’ve been putting off (laundry, dishes, paying bills, etc.). The commodity is time and connection, not the phone.

The important part to remember is to start small. Maybe it means only 30-minutes less a day for a week, and then increasing to one hour, and so on. You want to stretch yourself without stressing yourself. And know that you maybe have cravings and that’s OK.

– Nick Venegoni, MFT