Have you lost a loved one in the last year and wonder what it will be like this winter holiday season for the first time without them?

In this support group we will share our stories and be held by others in similar circumstances. We will also explore how grief can go unrecognized and that it is an important part of your life experience.

FREE Intro Night: Friday Nov. 9th @ 6 PM
Emergence Healing Arts Studio

4052 18th St. @ Hartford in the Castro
Walk-in’s welcome.

3 alternate Tuesdays @ 7 PM – 8:30 PM
November 13th, 27th & December 11th

Pre-Registration is Required
Fee: $120 EARLY registration received by November 2nd;
$150 November 3rd – November 13th
*All payments are Non-Refundable upon receipt
Register here for Grief & Loss of a Loved One.

Facilitated by Nick Venegoni, MFT

Location: Healing Arts Building
1801 Bush Street @ Octavia
San Francisco, California 94109

I was interviewed on September 9th, 2012, by HiC Luttmers of Firefly Willows LIVE on Blog Talk Radio. I discussed my therapy practice and how I use Hakomi, expressive arts and hypnotherapy with my clients. We also talked about the role of doubt and uncertainty in our lives. Enjoy!

[soundcloud url=”http://soundcloud.com/nicky-pickles/holistic-therapy-sf/s-GnHqZ”]


Or…. How to Wirelessly Sync to Mother Nature

Yesterday I got a smart phone. Not because I wanted to, per se, but because it was necessary. I had a flip phone that was probably four years old and worked great! As a matter of fact, I only charged it about twice a week and it took about twenty minutes to fully charge. It didn’t take pictures or go on the internet, but I didn’t mind. That’s what my lap top is for, right? Well, to my dismay, I have noticed that people don’t really talk on phones anymore – they mostly send texts. (I would call and leave a message, and minutes later I’d get a text. I’d call right back and leave another message. Why can’t you just press TALK?!) And it was getting to a point where I couldn’t read texts I was getting from friends because the technology on my phone was behind the times. But the main reason I got the smart phone was for work, since I don’t have internet access in my office. I’ll stop troubling you with all the details of this wifi puzzle.

Many of the people I work with struggle with a variety of stressors and anxieties in their life. They say their mind spins out of control, their body tenses up with pain in the back, neck and shoulders, or clenching their jaw. And they forget about self care and other supportive plans we have come up with. They ask how to stop or slow this down, and I offer ideas about diet and exercise. But I think one of the best things is to reduce consumption of media and technology. I suggest that people turn off their computers, phones, tablets and TV’s, and get out of the house.

Right now I’m remembering my mom’s voice from when I was a kid, saying, “Why don’t you go outside and play? Go ride your bike and get some fresh air.” I’m sure she wanted some space in the house, but she also knew that moving my body, breathing in fresh oxygen and playing in the dirt was good for me. Which it is!

A new term by Richard Louv, has been coined Nature Deficit Disorder. Essentially saying that as our relationship to nature has dwindled, so has our health and well-being. Hmmm… There is also a new practice/movement called Earthing, which posits that by having direct, physical contact with the Earth we are able to discharge and rebalance the electromagnetic stress we carry in our body. (I imagine the charge increases as we engage more and more with computers and cell phones.) Our bodies, especially our brains, have electrical impulses constantly running through them. Is it a stretch to think that exposure to more electricity affects the electrical current in our bodies? And what is it doing to our brains, thoughts and emotions?

Two weeks ago I attended the Applied EcoPsychology Conference put on by Holos Institute, in Berkeley. The keynote speaker was cultural anthropologist and award-winning author, Angeles Arrien. She spoke about the wisdom of the earth and the people of the lands: the solid and grounded Mountain People; the quiet and introspective Desert People; the flexible and creative Bamboo People, etc.  She also spoke of a counsel of tribal  elders from around the world, who gathered at the turn of the century to discuss what was most important for our planet to focus on in the next fifty years. They noticed the common message they had all been receiving was this: “When the wisdom of the Sky merges with the wisdom of the Earth, and they are braided together through the Human Heart, we will have a Rainbow People.” Arrien proposed that this translated to the weaving together of technology (wisdom of the Sky) with the wisdom of nature in a harmonious way to cultivate the heart of humanity. I can see how this is starting to happen slowly, and I look forward to more. But until that time, I think I’ll take off my shoes and make some mud pies.

During this last winter my friend and I decided to explore the elements in a freeform, guided meditation. When we meditated on fire we both came up with similar ideas and imagery. For us fire was about change and transformation, but also about warmth, sustenance and community. Many images came of communities gathering around a fire circle for a ritual or the hearth of a home, and even around the stove in a kitchen. How many parties have you been to where the little kitchen is full of people and the spacious living room is empty? Humans are drawn to community, connection and contact. By our nature, we are not solitary beings. Science has shown that without contact with others our physical and mental health suffers greatly.

Community and connection is paramount to our well being, and not just any community, but our sangha. Sangha is a Buddhist term, which refers to our community of kindred spirits, like-minded friends or our spiritual community. Your sangha is the community where you can be yourself, relax and find support. For some this is at work or school, for others it’s in your own family or even at the local watering hole.
There are many people who may feel isolated from that sense of community. They may feel like outsiders because of their beliefs or a particular disability. I want to acknowledge that it can be a struggle to find a sangha for some. To those people, I would encourage your to not give up and keep looking. I also offer two other options, the first being the internet. In this day of social networking we can meet people from all around the world, and we are bound to find other kindred spirits out there. The second possibility is the internal sangha, for those with a spiritual practice or believe system. In prayer and meditation we can find a multitude of support networks through a pantheon of gods and goddesses, angels, spirit guides or mythical figures. Even our imagination can create a rich center of support, perhaps by reading uplifting stories or sagas of great heroes who have discovered strength in their wounding.

We seek out these communities when we feel good and want to connect, but also when we want to take refuge from our struggles and difficulties. And even though our community may not have the answers or solutions, we feel better simply because we can rest in that connection with our people.

– Nick Venegoni, MA

This time of year people usually start to make plans for what they want to make of their time in the coming months and begin to muse on how to go about making that manifest. But for some reason the concept of endings has consistently been pushing its way into my awareness recently, so I feel the call to reflect upon it.

It has come to my attention more significantly, how our culture has a difficult time with endings. We seem to rush through them, if not bypassing them altogether, as if we are in a hurry to begin the next “item on our list.” However I believe that it is the thoughts and feelings, which accompany endings that we might be avoiding. With the ending of relationships we frequently experience grief, disappointment, heartache, and perhaps judgment that we failed. Yes, these thoughts and feelings can be unpleasant, but they are a part of the human experience. They make us who we are, as beings with minds, bodies and hearts.

All of these experiences are important to look at, for they show us more about who we are, where we are now and the direction we are heading. By consciously moving through an ending without avoiding any aspect of it, we can bring more resolution to the experience and our life as a whole.

In my practice I work with couples and individuals who struggle in their relationships, and come looking for help and support. It is important for me to let them know that I am not here to save their relationship, but to help them find their own way to resolution; and sometimes that resolution means ending the relationship. When that is the case, bringing more consciousness to the couple through the dissolution of their relationship can allow more healing for each of them. Many people end relationships in anger and pain, and dwell on that suffering for quite a while, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

It takes courage to truly look at oneself through the process of any kind of ending. Moving through these processes consciously can bring a greater understanding of yourself and help you bring clarity to what is on your horizon.

– Nick Venegoni, MFT

And so ends another turning of the Wheel of the Year with Yule (meaning “wheel” in Norse). The sun is now at the farthest point south, making it the darkest night of the year in the north. With that dark comes contemplation of the inner mysteries. What resides in the darkest center of our hearts and minds? Will we return if we plunge deeper?

The rising of the sun after the longest night is a celebration, proving that all things return and cycle of life continues to maintain balance. Many people celebrate by lighting candles or a Yule Log to keep vigil through the night and eagerly await the rising sun, singing its praises upon first glimmer. A sign that the snow will melt and crops will grow, life returning again in the spring. What will you leave behind in the dark? What do you anxiously await for in the new year? Light a candle and contemplate this tonight.

Wishing you a blessed Yuletide!


During this autumn, the season of harvest, we begin to reflect back on the year and make stores for the winter. This is a good time to clean out the pantry and collect sustenance for the colder days and the longer nights. Autumn is a great time to do this, even though “spring cleaning” is the more popular time. Letting go and making space is a practice I try to cultivate regularly.

Letting go of that which does not serve us can be difficult. In Buddhism, this is illustrated in the Four Noble Truths. The second Noble Truth says, “The origin of suffering is attachment” —attachment to transient things and the ignorance that follows. (ALL things are transient, nothing is forever.) “Because the objects of our attachment are transient, their loss is inevitable, thus suffering will necessarily follow.”

Someone came to me and asked, “How do I let go of the past? How do I let go of grudges I hold for something from so long ago?” My first thought was, “How do you hold on? What does keeping this collection of grudges do for you? How does this attachment serve you or keep you where you are?” The person wasn’t able to answer these questions right away, but took them in and reflected mindfully upon them.

We frequently want to immediately get rid of something when we notice it is to our detriment; but sometimes that letting go takes time, for it took time to acquire as well. We never take something on without purpose. Looking back on how this thought, belief or behavior served us in the past, and reflecting on how it no longer serves us can help us let it go.

Perhaps you can take time this autumn to clear out that which no longer serves you in order to make space for the new. This is the last harvest time – fill your stores with that which nourishes you.

– Nick Venegoni, MA

Just weeks ago our shadows were beneath our feet, hiding from the sun. Now the sun is slowly starting to fall lower on the horizon and our shadows are beginning to lengthen again. I’ve been considering this as I contemplate how I dance with my shadow.

When I refer to the “shadow,” I mean that part of us that we keep hidden from others and perhaps even our conscious selves. It could be a secret, a fear, pain or trauma, or just something we aren’t comfortable with. Maybe something we’re afraid others might judge if they see it. But in hiding or ignoring our shadow, we cut off a piece of who we truly are. And we cannot heal when we are not whole.

It was scary for me to consider dancing with my shadow, let alone inviting it to confront me. But as with most partner choreography, we are equals learning how not to step on the toes of one another, and hoping to create a beautiful and joyful experience of movement. So I invited it in, slowly and surely, going at my own pace – a prelude to the dance.

Now, how can I dance with my shadow of fear or anger? The only way how: Practice! I practice holding my shadow at arms length, a formal waltz, feeling it’s form. We trip and my anxiety gets to me. We start again, with curiosity about what my shadow has to teach me. These shadows are present to show us that which we may not see as we try to face the sun. But turning slowly around, we see that which is also us, moving exactly in sync.

Every time my shadow appears I try to practice my dance. We’re still on the waltz but I hope we graduate to the tango, grasping each other closer, tighter. Maybe someday we’ll slow dance, heads on shoulders.

by Nick Venegoni, MA

As I have recently started teaching classes on a variety of mindfulness aspects, I realize that I continue to refine my definition of mindfulness. But what is it? I begin to explain it to others, and after ten minutes of discussion I say, “Why don’t we just practice, instead of talk?” Then I lead the group in a body scan. But what is it? I can only tell you of my experience.

The origins of mindfulness come out of Buddhist ideas and practices of awareness and meditation. Through the practice of attentive awareness the individual learns to have a clearer comprehension of their experience and their reality, by slowly clearing the lenses through which they view the world. The goal is to attain a liberating wisdom, which allows the “illusions” of the world to be identified and lifted. As this occurs, life experiences begin to change because of the way they are perceived and interpreted.

Mindfulness became more popular in the realm of psychology in 1979, when Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts, to treat the chronically ill. It soon grew to be used by many people for a variety of reasons.

Over the last century, various forms of mindfulness have evolved in many other psychotherapeutic practices. “Awareness” (though slightly different) has been a keystone of Gestalt therapy since 1940; Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) uses mindfulness as one of the four core skills taught to students and clients; and Hakomi also uses mindfulness as a foundation for increasing awareness through experiential practices. I use mindfulness tools in my practice in all of these ways, and also to teach clients to relax their mind and body to more easily access deeper parts of themselves in hypnotherapy.

And still you might ask, but what is it? My definition of mindfulness is, the practice of quieting the mind, slowing the breath, and focusing your awareness on your internal experience of yourself. The experiences you perceive through interacting with the outside world and your inner world are both equally important. The goal is neither attachment nor detachment to your thoughts or feelings, but to notice. Notice how your mind, body, heart and spirit react. In the noticing and the slowing down, we can choose to respond instead of react, and make a new decision about how we interpret and proceed from that moment.

Many say that mindfulness is about being present in the moment – “be here now.” Choosing to respond to the moment based on what’s happening now, and not based on what happened last week or what may happen tomorrow, can liberate us from pain and suffering. It may sound easier said than done, but that’s why it’s called a practice. We succeed in our practice every time we remember to be aware and notice, what is happening now.

by Nick Venegoni, MA

Need to Relax? Looking for Some Guidance?
Talking with Nick Venegoni about Alternatives to Talk Therapy
by Brent Calderwood

My friend Nick Venegoni has been studying and training in various therapies for several years now, and he’s been working with clients for over four years. His website is full of useful information about the types of therapy he offers, which includes everything from fairly traditional talk therapy to guided meditations, hypnotherapy, art therapy, and other transpersonal and integrative approaches. The site even offers a flavor of his work through a free guided mindfulness relaxation exercise.

Having worked as a counselor in the past, especially around issues of gender and sexuality, I talk to a lot of people who ask me to recommend a good therapist, so I thought I’d find out more about the work Nick does. I hope it’s helpful!

Brent Calderwood: “Mindfulness” is a word that’s used a lot by psychologists these days, notably in the treatment of depression. What exactly does it mean? Why do you think it’s become so “trendy”? How does it show up in the work you do?

Nick Venegoni: Yes, the term mindfulness is a bit trendy these days, but it’s nothing new. I believe that it came out of different kinds of meditation practices, and it engages a person’s awareness to the point of noticing their thoughts and learning that they are not their mind.… It’s also extremely effective in the treatment of depression, stress, anxiety and anger…. I think it is trendy because it is so effective when a person commits to the discipline…. A majority of my clients start each session with a simple mindfulness exercise, and as they internalize the changes and see the benefits, they begin to look forward to it. I encourage them to practice on their own between sessions, and many do.

BC: You have training in several types of therapy, including hypnotherapy. Why might someone seek hypnotherapy, and what happens during a typical session?

NV: People seek hypnotherapy for a variety of reasons, mostly for help breaking addictions, phobias or habitual behaviors. But hypnotherapy can be a quick, powerful and very effective way to get to and heal core issues as well. I practice hypnotherapy in the style of Depth Hypnosis as created by Isa Gucciardi, PhD. The kind of work I prefer to do focuses on the former – to sink into a place deep in the psyche which might not be as accessible in a normal, conscious state. Often healing these deeper wounds results in resolution of habits, addictions or phobias, which were simply symptoms of the wound, not the wound itself.

BC: You have a Masters in Transpersonal/Integral Counseling Psychology. Those first two terms may be new for a lot of people. What exactly do they mean, and how do they show up in the work you do?

NV: Transpersonal means across or through the personal – encompassing everything about a person and beyond. It’s a way of conceiving all parts of an individual, not just the parts that are wounded but the parts that are strong and healthy as well…. Integral in this case means the essential core of a person as well as integrating that which is necessary to become more complete – integrating and synthesizing that which supports our health.

BC: What advice would you give to someone who’s interested in the kinds of therapy you do, but maybe they don’t know how to get started or they don’t know what kind of therapist would be best for them?

NV: I would recommend that they think about what works best for them in therapeutic situations, and do research on a variety of therapists. Most have websites or listings which give a taste about their style and strengths. Then make contact – most therapists are willing to have a 10 to 15 minute phone conversation to see if you’re a good fit. It’s also helpful for the therapist because sometimes the therapist might be able to tell the prospective client they could be better served by a different clinician because of a specialty or skill set, and could give the client referrals. And it’s okay if you go see a therapist and decide it’s not a fit – it’s important to feel safe and comfortable with a therapist.