I love being interviewed. So I was happy to participate when longtime reader, Lexie Oneca, invited me to respond to some questions. Lexie blogs at ChicagoNow, where this interview was originally published. And if you have any more questions for me, please feel free to share in the comments.
20 Questions — Soul-Style
1. Who are you?
I’m assuming you mean this in the conventional sense. I’m Gail Brenner, PhD, psychologist, blogger, author.
2. What do you do?
My work offers a bridge between common psychological problems that people experience and true spiritual understanding about the nature of reality. I’m most interested in the ways that people get stuck and helping them to shed false identities so they can know how beautiful they really are. From that foundation, I see people individually, I facilitate a group with the theme of living in truth, and I write. My forthcoming book is, “The Way of Yes: Finding Peace and Happiness Right at the Heart of Your Messy, Scary, Brilliant Life.”
3. Why do you do it?
I find that trying to answer any “why” question brings a contraction to my mind as it searches for an answer. I do what I feel moved to do, what gives me joy. It’s natural.
4. How did you find your way to it?
Psychology has been an interest of mine since the beginning of college. I was always looking for answers to deeper questions and always wanted to figure out how to be truly happy. Traditional therapy didn’t help much. But I was eventually led to teachers and teachings that showed me the way. I was on fire to know the truth about how things are — it was the whole focus of my time and activities.
5. How do you feel when you do it?
Very much in the flow. “I” am out of the way, so there is just the emerging of whatever happens, with no resistance. It’s very spontaneous and light.
6. What is the joy that keeps you up at night?
Simply being, ideas I want to write about, ideas for new projects.
7. What is one thing you still have to practice every day?
There’s nothing I feel I need to practice every day. Sometimes I’ll feel stressed, which is a sign that my mind has left the present and has created an imaginary urgency about what needs to be done. It’s an opportunity to unwind that thought pattern and return to the ordinary peaceful state of being. And when I’m triggered in interactions with my partner, I get to stop and feel the frustration and what’s behind it.
8. What are you always searching for?
I used to search for lasting peace and happiness. In the way I experience things now, I no longer search for anything. There isn’t one thing missing, nothing to add to make this moment better. It’s living in loveliness.
9. What have you found after searching?
Fulfillment, abundance, deep rest, effortless peace, ease of being, joy — all without end or boundary.
10. How do you stay connected to your inner core of peace?
I am not separate from my inner core of peace. I know that who I am is not this person with a name, history, gender and personality. I have discovered that believing that I am this separate individual was the source of unhappiness. When these false ideas fall away, I know that I am spacious, whole, transparent, the life force itself. And, at the heart of it, all forms — me, others, objects — are this as well.
The fundamental fabric of the universe is peace — you can’t get away from it, although your mind can be very good at convincing you otherwise. There is only life experiencing itself everywhere. It may appear that there are distinct forms, but pure reality is undivided. Knowing this is peace itself.
11. What makes you feel led or guided?
I have given up the idea that “I know.” So I surrender all my personal needs and desires. I listen and let myself be led.
12. What do you do when you can’t hear God (or the Universe, or Source, or your intuition) speaking to you?
I stop and find inner silence. I listen with no expectation whatsoever and with a great willingness to act on what I hear.
13. What is the difference between resistance and fear?
Resistance is saying “no” to what is. Usually, people resist because they’re afraid to allow what’s true to be as it is. This is the dynamic behind compulsive thinking and behavior patterns.
14. Where does the idea come from that we are broken, unworthy or undeserving?
It’s conditioned usually from past experiences. If unexamined, it becomes an identity that is so painful for many people. Investigating this identity reveals that it is made up of mental stories, feelings, and physical sensations. It’s learned and temporary — not real or natural — and it actually doesn’t define who you are.
15. How do you move past that to connect with others on a soul level?
There are two ways. One involves a process of investigating these thought/feeling patterns until you realize that they’re false. Unexamined, they have power. When you untangle them, they start to collapse. Like a scientist, you step back from them to see what they’re actually made of — thoughts, feelings, physical sensations — and how they operate. Then you begin to have a choice to not let the pattern control you.
The second is the direct way. You shift your attention away from any thoughts, feelings and sensations, and you realize that these arise from aware presence, simply being. Living here, the idea of a problem or identity doesn’t exist. There’s only peace. Once the pattern loses power, you are available to “others” with nothing in the way.
16. How do you stop and pull back when you notice you’re analyzing or comparing rather than using your “beginner’s mind”?
Sometimes I feel the pain of contraction, fear, or separation that comes from mental activity such as analyzing or comparing. For me, it’s a signal to stop and return attention back to its source.
17. If fear is just the ego talking, an illusion, what is the quickest way to clearing it?
Fear is an illusion, but until you know that directly in your own experience (not just as a mental concept), it’s asking for your attention. Otherwise, you skip over it, which leaves it still powerful and influencing your behavior.
Here’s how to approach it. Abandon the story about it and even the label of fear. Let your attention be one with the energy and physical sensations that you feel. Be completely allowing of the physical sensations with no expectation whatsoever that things will change. The sensations may still be present, but what you call “fear” is seen to be non-existent.
When you meet any emotion as friendly attention meeting physical sensation, the angst around it dissolves. Don’t worry about doing this quickly. It’s not about doing, it’s being, and it happens outside of time.
18. Where is the sweet spot between accepting ourselves as we are and the simultaneous desire to learn and grow?
Acceptance is the most loving starting point. There is a great relief that comes from saying Yes to what is because you give up the fight with your own experience. And when you say yes to things as they are, it becomes clear what needs to change. Then the change comes from a place of love and non-resistance, rather than fear or lack.
Say that you think you’re overweight. If you beat yourself up about it, your weight loss experience will be a struggle. But if you accept the fact that you eat to hide from feelings, and you choose to be more aligned with the wholeness that is your natural state, then change comes with a greater sense of ease.
If you feel moved to learn and grow, then follow that impulse, but always know that the process is about coming home to yourself and realizing that nothing was ever missing.
19. How can I practically start learning to simply be “present” without constantly trying to protect myself at the same time?
If you’re protecting yourself, then fear is your present moment experience. Start there. Meet whatever is showing up in your experience with love and acceptance. This is what being present is. It’s not always rainbows and butterflies. It’s about allowing what is to be as it is, and it’s the most loving way to be.
You get to make a choice: do you want to be ruled by fear, or any other unseen emotion, or do you want to be free?
20. When I start to notice that I’m being defensive, what is the path back to kindness and self love?
Noticing that you’re being defensive is the moment of celebration because you become aware that you’ve been acting on an emotion — fear, guilt, shame, anger. In that moment, open to your experience without judgment, without a story. Notice the feelings and allow them to be. This is kindness and self love. You’ve returned home.
Any more questions—or comments? I’d love to hear…