Effort with ease: What to do when you don’t know what to do


When I am quiet and still, my mind is clear. When I move and speak and act with intention, I know what to do. I call this part of my life, effort with ease. I am working, it takes some concentration and exertion, and I am relaxed.

When I have many tasks tugging on my consciousness, clamoring for my attention, demanding completion, I become overwhelmed. I don’t know what to do. I can’t focus. I am foggy and sometimes feel as though I were going around in circles. Does this ever happen to you?

It may seem counterintuitive, but slowing down actually helps us go faster. Here are some suggestions for developing effort with ease:

1. Write down your priorities, because when there are so many things clamoring for your attention, it is easy to forget. Your list might be only what you want to accomplish this morning, or today. Give yourself permission to set the parameters. Seeing the words in a list helps to keep your attention. Plus, it feels good to cross or check off the completed item.

2. Focus on mindfulness. Keep your mind on the task at hand, putting your entire concentration on this project. Train yourself not to think about what to buy your lover for Valentine’s, or that you need to check the balance in your bank account.

3. If you are working on something particularly challenging, or big, set a timer. Decide how long you want to engage your effort with ease and get to work. Take a break (decide in advance how long and set the timer for this, too), then get back to it.

4. If you find your mind wandering, stop. Close your eyes. Take three deep, slow breaths, keeping your attention on the breath, nothing else. Open your eyes and continue with the task.

5. No multitasking here! Recent research on the brain has shown that the human brain does not function well at multiple tasks (Re: texting and driving). One thing at a time.

6. Remember that tomorrow is another day. Rewrite your priorities, or pick up where you left off. AND be kind to yourself if you didn’t accomplish everything on your list.


If you would like to explore mindfulness, priorities or effort with ease, give me a buzz, or shoot me an email. 512-593-0583. melaniesomerville@yahoo.com

Peace, friends.


The mirror


What I react to is a mirror to my own learning. If I pay attention, my reaction gives me the opportunity to see myself.

Ram Dass, a wise spiritual teacher from whose writings I’ve learned so much, tell us, “What you see in another being is a projection of your own reality.” This means I see my impatience, my reactivity, as well as my kindness and compassion reflected in others. This is a heavy idea to grasp. It took me some time. It is easier to identify the positive aspects of myself in those I love. For example, my lover’s tenderness toward me is a reflection of the tenderness I extend to him and others. My mother’s generosity is my own desire to be seen in this way.

Woman Holding Blank Frame

Where I have trouble is in looking at the not so attractive parts of myself. The neighbor who pisses me off because he speaks so cruelly to his dog. The driver who pulls in front of me during rush hour. I am not cruel! I am a conscientious driver! Well, maybe not always.

The incidents I react to are potential lessons about myself. We all have parts of ourselves that we cannot or will not look at. These parts stay in the shadows, often forever. When we have the courage to look at the dark parts of our personalities, we can integrate them into the lighter parts. This may sound paradoxical. Why would I want to look at my negative qualities? Of what benefit is it?


I believe we are more complete and satisfactory humans being when we can integrate, or bring together, all sides of ourselves, including the opposites (Example: my generous self and my stingy self). Another way to look at opposites is to consider nature. We would not know dark without light, day without night, sunlight without rain. It is the contrast that makes each meaningful. When I acknowledge my dark side, it makes my bright side so much more precious. Most of us are socially conditioned not to look at, never mind accept, the dark parts of ourselves. Yet they are parts of us. And as we know ourselves completely, we have the power to change that which does not work. By noticing the dark, we let the light shine brighter.

If you want some guidance looking in the mirror and exploring all the parts of yourself, give me a call or write me an email.

Peace, friends.

Melanie Somerville, MA, LPC

Running from a different place



Recently a colleague made an insightful suggestion about my running practice. She suggested I run to deflect feeling emotional pain. My first instinct was to strongly deny her suggestion. I am a highly trained, self-aware person, familiar with exploring all facets of my personality! Surely, I know myself best!

And then I stopped that movie. Huh. How might I be using something so seemingly healthy as an avoidance tactic? And yet, the more I sat with this uncomfortable feeling, the more I realized she might just be correct. Especially as I looked at how my running has evolved over the years.

Instead of being a runner who wants to improve her pace, I am all about distance and logging the miles. I realized there was a correlation between the emotionally turbulent periods of my life and the number of miles I was running during these times. The greater my emotional distress, the more miles I tended to run. 

This is a good example of how something can have both positive and negative qualities. We are so conditioned in our Western culture to be dualistic. We think in terms of either/or. Running (insert any other word here) is either good for you or bad for you, depending upon your perspective.


What if we looked at it from a different place? What if the things we think of as all good, or all bad, might actually be a bit of both? My running was good for me at the time, because it provided a healthy outlet for emotions I did not understand, could not, or would not express. Running was perhaps bad also, for precisely that reason. I deflected emotional pain by enduring physical pain. Emotional pain meted out in every pounding, pre-dawn 10-mile run.

 So the next time you want to categorize something as either “bad” or “good,”  think again. Could it be both?

I’d love to hear about your experience of looking at things from a different place. How has this worked (or not) for you? Send me an email or comment below.

Peace, friends.

Say less

sayI have been thinking lately about the words I speak. Do I say too many? Do I say the truth? Do I say enough? Why am I saying this? I also pay attention to the effect my words have on others, and to the outcome I desire when I say my words. Sometimes I don’t know the effect my words have on others, but if I slow down, I can consider my motivation for what I say.


Sometimes I want validation for the feelings I am experiencing. Sometimes I want attention from the person I am speaking to. Sometimes my words ask someone to agree with me. So all of these reasons have an expectation attached to the speaking.

I am experimenting with slowing down, considering my words carefully, and saying less. As I say less, I have time to consider my motivation for the words I speak, and to drop my expectation about the other person’s response.



A few years ago, I took a series of meditation courses in the Shambhala tradition. A wise teacher once asked we students to consider the following about our speech:

Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?

These are the suggestions I am taking on again before I speak. I am interested to know about how you might want to say less. Comment below or send me an email.

Peace, friends.

36 questions to love


zly0fp0p7hlfhoarjdizLast Sunday, in the New York Times, the column Modern Love addressed the issue of falling in love. Is it something that happens to us, or something we choose? I want to write about this, because  the topic captured my interest, and apparently, many other’s as well.

I’ve made clear in previous posts, that I believe love is a choice. And I write from the context of people already in my life, who sometimes challenge my willingness to love them completely. In this sense, love for me, is a choice. I choose love, despite the discomfort and the unknown.


But how does love happen? One aspect of falling in love involves developing interpersonal closeness by revealing deeper and generally less apparent parts of ourselves. This is also known as intimacy. When we feel safe revealing our true self, and that true self is met with compassion and reciprocal revelations (meaning the other person shares their shit too), intimacy and trust can develop.

Psychologist Arthur Aron wanted to know if two strangers could generate interpersonal closeness by answering 36 questions, each designed to reveal more and more about the participant’s innermost feelings. The interest in these questions has been so great, that there is now an app, complete with the 36 questions and directions for conducting your own experiment.

Do you think it’s possible for two strangers to fall in love after answering 36 questions? How much intimacy is there in your own close relationships? Would you be interested in answering the 36 questions with your current or long term partner? I know I am.


I would enjoy hearing about any experimenting you do with the 36 questions. Comment below or shoot me an email.

Peace, friends.


Fear and the Fertile Void


When I was five years old, a neighborhood dog escaped his yard and chased me, jumping up on me, in what was probably a friendly attempt to play. I was traumatized and fearful of dogs for many years after this.

Today, during my early morning run, a dog out of his yard, barked at me and moved in my direction. I looked at him and said, “good morning!” At that moment, his owner called and the dog turned away from me. This incident reminded me of how far I’ve come in my reaction to unknown dogs (and unknown incidents).


Two thoughts came to mind about this. First, early childhood events profoundly affect how we make contact with the world in adulthood. These events are usually buried deep in our subconscious and often do not surface until we intentionally work on self-awareness. Second, that my fear of dogs was a metaphor for many fears. The root of my fear was not the dog itself, but what might happen with the dog.

In Gestalt therapy, we call that place of uncertainty, between the known and unknown, the fertile void. It is the chasm we cross when we leave behind what is certain and safe, but perhaps not always productive. The fertile void is the creative possibility for something different and potentially powerful.


It is the willingness not to know. The dog might bite me, yes. He might be friendly and lick my hand. Crossing the chasm is done with choicefulness and the understanding that risk is involved. I don’t want anyone to be stricken with rabies because they reached out to an unknown dog who bit them!

And, I am advocating a visit to the chasm. To entertain the possibilities of the unknown. To be okay with not knowing.

Peace, friends.

Why worry? Part 2


Worry about the future often involves other people. Think about it. If you are worrying about something, it might be because you want someone to behave in a certain manner. When I worry about my adult children and their wellbeing, I often realize I have this expectation about what they should be doing. Instead of letting go of that expectation, I hold on tight, and worry.


When I worry about asking my boss for a raise, I am worried about her reaction, her possible rejection. I am not worried about my behavior, because I know I deserve that raise. So increasing our awareness of what and who we worry about can ease worry as we recognize we cannot control other people’s behavior, only our own.

When we form an expectation about behavior we are usually attached to outcome. Do you expect your partner, child, friend, whoever, to do something, say something, or behave in a certain way? Can you step back, and realize how invested you are in this expectation? Do you have an attachment to it? Does worry comes up if you think your expectations won’t be met?

To drop worry, let go expectation and attachment to other people’s behavior. Not easy. Try it, just once, to start. Ultimately, each person enacts their own behavior and is responsible for it and the consequences afterward. If we stop to think about it, we really have no control over our partners, our (adult) child, or our friends’ behaviors. Even though we would like to think we do…


I would love to hear your thoughts on worry, expectations, and attachments. Comment below, Facebook me, or shoot me an email.

Peace, friends.

Why worry? Part 1



When I think about worry, I realize two important components; the past and the future. I worry because I might’ve said the wrong thing, or made an incorrect decision, or failed to do something really important. In this worrying moment, the past haunts me. Worry also makes me fearful about the future. Will I make enough money to pay my bills? Will I find love again? Will I ever complete my PhD studies? The future disturbs my present peace of mind.


Does this sound familiar?




When I am present in this moment. I have no worry or fear. Baba Ram Dass reminds us to “be here now.” I have a slender, silver bracelet I wear each day, inscribed with these words.  It reminds me that the present is this moment, and where life is carried out. And in 99% of these moments, I am okay. I can keep doing what I am doing, or decide to do something different. All of my actions contribute to a future I cannot know. It will be here whether I want it to be or not. And then it will be the present. And I will deal with it.

The past is gone. I can do nothing, but learn from it. There is no benefit in worrying what should have or could have or might have been. Think about it. What real good comes from worry?


Peace, friends.


Expand your range


I recently made a change in my vocabulary that has affected my range of experience and how I make choices in this life. I decided to eliminate, as much as possible, using the word “but” in my speech. Example: I want to go to yoga class, but I don’t have time. Or, I want to go on vacation to New Mexico, but I need to work on my writing.


Using the word “but” implies a duality that mirrors much of our culture, where something is either this or that. Often this is played out by the ideas of good or bad, love or hate, beautiful or ugly, work or play.  Although they seem to be, these ideas need not be understood as complete opposites. It is possible to hold two seemingly oppositional ideas in the same space. From my perspective, the word “but” is limiting, the word “and” is inclusive.


So, I want to go to yoga, and I am short on time. Do you see how the meaning of this statement has just greatly expanded? It includes an entire range of activities between the yoga and the time. Framing the statement this way frees me to prioritize my activities. When I allow that both possibilities exist, I also allow myself more choice about what I actually do. I don’t have time for yoga because I choose to do something else, whether it is dishes, laundry, coffee with mom, or writing.


The “and” is the empowering word that allows my choice. My decision to include both sides of the spectrum has helped expand the range of my choices and thus the decisions that go along with them. I am much more at ease when I accept the “and” parts of a situation.

Choice photo

The word “and” also helps expand the range of understanding about a person. People are usually not only good or bad, beautiful or ugly, naughty or nice. They fall somewhere along the continuum of both ends. Allowing both ends acknowledges the range and nuances of human existence and, for me, helps me find compassion in all situations. For example, my partner was very late the other evening, and I learned later about the care and effort he put into a project that contributed to his tardiness. I chose to accept both realities and hold space for them without reacting just to the time element. There are thousands of variations around the “and.” And, some may work for you, and some may not. The key is you may choose. What works for you and what does not?

I believe people are much healthier and ultimately happier when they realize the power there is in being choiceful. And all from a simple substitution of words.

See what happens the next time you substitute the word “and” for “but.” I’d love to hear your comments below.


Peace, friends.


Giving Thanks at Thanksgiving

This week I’m giving thanks for cloudy days and days of brilliant sunshine. for the pain of suffering that I may know the joy of life. yin and yang. for the love I give and love I receive. for darkness that brings the dawn. for the wonder of children. for running. for yoga. for dogs. for chocolate. for family and friends. for silence. for the freedom that comes from accepting myself and the world just the way it is in this moment.

thanksgiving blessings, friends.

thank you