From the pandemic to social unrest and political divisiveness, there is a lot of outrage in the environment. How do we, in this “age of rage”, build the emotional resilience that keeps us from falling apart? Guest, Ralph De La Rosa, LCSW, a psychotherapist, meditation instructor and author of Don’t Tell Me to Relax, takes a deep dive into this topic. He shares with Adam the rationale and significance of the book and what we can learn from it in the context of everything that is happening around us today. They also share their insights on social unrest, inequality, the need for safety and security, trauma, and other social issues. It looks like these things aren’t going away any sooner, so we might as well learn how to get grounded in spite of it all!
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Unlocking Emotional Resilience In The Age Of Rage With Ralph De La Rosa, LCSW
I’m excited about the conversation that I’m about to have. The gentleman that I am going to interview is somebody that I didn’t know about and hadn’t run across his work until recently. I was immediately struck by it and said, “This is a guy I have to have a conversation with.” You get to be the beneficiaries of it. I get the firsthand joy of it now. Ralph De La Rosa is the gentleman that I’m going to speak with. He is the author of two books including Don’t Tell Me to Relax: Emotional Resilience in the Age of Rage, Feels and Freak-Outs. He’s a psychotherapist in private practice, a seasoned meditation teacher, athlete and musician. Ralph is also a survivor of PTSD, depression and heroin addiction. Ralph, it’s so great to have you on the show. I’m happy you accepted the invitation. Thanks for being here.
I’m equally excited to talk to you as well. Thanks for having me.
What’s one thing that’s not a part of your bio that you would love for people to know about you at the outset?
One thing that comes to mind when you asked that is it’s relevant in these times, especially that a big piece of my career history, not my personal history and my current career status, is that I worked for some time in the clinical foster care system in New York City and in the community mental health system specifically in Harlem. It brought me into contact in a very visceral way with the realities of poverty, racism and many of the factors of oppression that we are having this new conversation about in our society. A lot of the awareness that I hold comes from not only overcoming my own personal challenges but from contending with the challenges that people face and feeling into those challenges that people face in those sorts of vulnerable populations and pretty extreme environments. Seeing that possibility, hope, love, healing and joy, these things can all intermingle together. No matter how down we are, the human spirit has this natural organic capacity to overcome when in the presence of the right conditions.
It’s baked into our DNA. We have the capacity to be ever resilient. We’re going to talk about resilience and define that a little bit or put some language to how we might all look at it and perhaps define it for ourselves. It’s true that each of us have our own way of looking at what that is, how we describe our capacity to come back and do more than bounce back. You and I have something in common. I don’t know if that’s your state of origin but I grew up downstate in this little town outside of New York City. You might have heard of it. It’s called Queens. It’s this cheap joke, but it always gets a yuck. I grew up in a time in the ‘70s where New York was not a friendly place. It might not be considered a friendly place now but it’s a lot friendlier. It’s much more like Disney. It’s been Disneyfied because back then getting on a subway, getting on a bus, being in the wrong neighborhood could go the wrong way.
Poverty and many things were very much on display then out in the open. A lot has been swept under the rug or there’s been attempts to sweep it under the rug. Now that’s what we’re seeing. You can never do that for long. The pressure buildup is great and enormous to have things come to light and for truth to be recognized. It would be like trying to contain a dam with a Band-Aid or with your finger. What we’ve been playing at for a long time is the idea that somehow or another, we are not systemically and endemically perpetuating racism in this country, but we have for so long. It’s interesting that two white guys are going to have this conversation a little bit. I am not hesitant. I want to be respectful of the fact that I can’t know what that’s like.
I can’t know what it’s like to be black. I can know what it’s like to be discriminated against but in a different way. I feel like the economics of it from my vantage point is so much a part of it. I was watching an episode of Bill Maher with Wynton Marsalis, who is one of the icons of jazz, musician extraordinaire. He’s a great human being. I didn’t quite know exactly how deep this guy was until I listened to him talk about race and what’s going on in our world. He talked about the economics of it and how in many ways that’s one of those great places to be looking at.
In many ways, it’s looking at the cash register is what he said. If you want to find the source of racism, look at the cash registers. See who’s benefiting because it seems like the wrong people are at odds with each other, the disenfranchised and the poor. Poor is not a race. Poor is poor. It’s economic. It’s just as many if not more poor white people as there are poor black people in this country. For them to be at odds with each other and to be the opposing forces seems ridiculous. Do you have any thoughts on any of that?
I agree with Wynton Marsalis. He’s a man who possessed great love. He’s clearly a man who has done his homework in terms of conscious evolution and deep looking. To reference another wonderful interview between David Letterman and Obama on David Letterman’s new Netflix series. Obama nailed it with such clarity when he said that we’re being played. The real problem is we have these two respective streams of information that we are spoon-fed by the internet that is aware of our preferences, our feelings, our behaviors and what have you. There are two different streams of information that progressive versus conservatives are receiving in this country. That accounts for these perceptions and the divisiveness and what have you.
It’s incredibly unfortunate that it’s come to that because we are all in it together. We are all on the same team. We all want the same things. Safety, love, respect, to feel like we matter, to have our children protected, to have a sense of security about the future. We’re all after the same things. We live in a society where we could all have it. There’s no shortage of resources. I have statistic came through to on NPR that Mr. Bezos who owns Amazon could give each of his 600,000-plus employees a six-figure bonus and still be better off than he was before because they have engaged in that much profiteering during this time of enormous crisis. It doesn’t have to be this way.
It’s almost like on some level there’s some conscience gene that seems to be lacking in some places. The planning involved in systematically keeping some people silent or ensuring that certain voices are not heard at the polls or wherever it is that those voices are shut out is calculating and covert. That to me is a product of money and power. There’s obviously prejudice involved, but ultimately the desire is for people to either keep their money, keep the power or more often to gain greater power, greater money and greater wealth. That’s what Wynton was talking about. We’ve got to look to those places. I don’t want to put things in enemy terms because that’s an issue all by itself, but that’s the place we’ve got to create the common focus to look at. That’s where the issue stems from. Poor feels like poor, pain feels like pain. It transcends religion and race. It’s a human condition. If you add up the number of people who share pain, suffering, poverty, hunger and so many other things in this country, it’s a shockingly large number.
We could start tying together some of the threads of the trauma lens, trauma theory, and what’s going on in society here as well. Power, greed, clinging to wealth, shoring up far too many resources when others have far too little, it’s about safety at the psychological level. It’s about the human organic imperative of feeling safe. We don’t understand this as a society. That is a fundamental guiding principle of our being is that we need to feel safe and there is a way in which that can become overwrought. We’re a little more grounded than that. We’re a little more human than that. We all have this need to feel secure in some way. It’s gotten so out of hand where less and less people are shoring up the resources in this overwrought way, thinking it’s going to shield them from pain.
If any people in your life or if you have had the experience of being around people that have had great wealth and even great power, were those people that are without pain? Were those people that are without the scarcity and the insecurity that others face? In my experience, the answer is no. A lot of very wealthy and successful people live in fear. Their fear is a different fear than not being able to feed your kids. It’s clearly a fear of it disappearing and being taken away. There’s this element of fear there and there’s this other element of, “I’m still not there yet. I’m still not loved. I still don’t feel love for myself. I still don’t feel that others truly love me and respect me.” The more money and power don’t necessarily beget more peace. You’re a psychotherapist. Do you find a person that walks in the door that because they have more, they somehow have less of the other emotions that take you into those dark places?The human spirit has a natural, organic capacity to overcome when in the presence of the right conditions. Click To Tweet
When I meet that person, I will refer them to your show. We can find out their formula. No, not yet. To bring it back to the trauma piece, that speaks to wounding. If somebody holds a trauma, either with a lowercase t or a capital T within them, that defensive propensity for security, safety, belonging becomes that much more exaggerated. One thing that we don’t have too much of a sense of in our consumer culture is enoughness. When is it enough? When are we loved enough? When do we feel good enough? When have we done enough with our day? Certainly, when do we have enough resources as well? We just need enough of all of these things.
We’ve been programmed in many ways. We’re always being programmed. That’s the part of the human condition from the beginning of time through lots of different sources, religion, media and everything else. We’ve been programmed to be consumers. Whereas hundreds of years ago, we were not programmed to be as much consumers as to be creators. You needed to create something in order to live and survive. There is this insatiable appetite to consume that ultimately becomes a riddle in everyone’s life. No matter how many houses I buy, it’s a great rush for a minute and then I’m aggravated at the architect, at the designer, and at the person that manufactured that $10,000 couch I had to buy.
Where’s the piece, the contentment, and the unconditional acceptance and love for self? Those are things that don’t come out of that pursuits. I don’t mind nice things. I’ve been after them like everybody else has at times and more at times than others. You and I are both in nice places now. At the same time, it’s a question I raise for myself. It’s a great question for us all to raise for ourselves. What represents enough? Is there someplace where you just go, “I have enough. I don’t have to hoard, protect or defend my stuff.” It enables you to have ease, freedom, peace, the ability to give and to be able to be generous with others of your things, most importantly your time.
Ironically, a huge contribution to an inner sense of enoughness is when we’re generous, when we’re giving, when we have that openness of heart. It’s quite paradoxical. When we’re generous, it puts us in touch with how much we have, and that we do have enough. The connection involved in giving is worth more than anything we could hold in our two hands. There are this bait and switch that happens when we hoard it. It does lead to this increased sense of insecurity because it’s failed to address the hole in our hearts that so many of us carry from childhood into adult life.
I read a book some years ago, which was a very important book in my own development related to the topic of childhood trauma. It’s called The Presence Process. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it. Michael Brown is the author. He’s a South African author. It’s interesting enough that he didn’t have the desire to see it everywhere or whatever. Book launches and selling a book is not an easy thing. For a book to become a thing that everybody knows about, it’s a mysterious thing. It has to do a lot with celebrity and influence. If Oprah picks up your book and says it’s on her list, people are going to find it. The Power of Now being one good example, and The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer is another great book. Those are great examples, but The Presence Process is not so much.
I want to talk about your book which has got this killer title. I’m an author and I work with people often about building their own brands, and books have a lot to do with that. Don’t Tell Me to Relax: Emotional Resilience in the Age of Rage, Feels and Freak-Outs. I want to find out about the book and I want to start with the title. I had said to you right before we started here that the word feels in the middle of that, I didn’t get it. I have a sense of it, but what does the word feels doing in the middle there. Unpack the title and subtitle for us a little bit.
Starting with the title as a whole, my publisher approached me and wanted a book that spoke to the impending crisis of the election, not knowing that we would have this dogpile of crises ahead of that. We collaborated heavily on the whole book and on the title as well. We wanted a book that spoke to emotional intelligence, resilience, meditation, conscious living that wasn’t about passive mindfulness, that wasn’t about reducing the stress, but actual real things that speak to the systemic situation. Don’t Tell Me to Relax is a little bit intense of a title for a book on meditation of all faith. It’s a lot more than meditation but that’s primarily the audience.
It’s about the validity of our feelings. I say in the introduction, the book could have easily been titled Don’t Tell Me How to Feel because many times when we’re upset about the harm and atrocities that are going on, people will look at us and be like, “Could you let that go? Could you feel a different way? Could you relax about that?” I was like, “Could you pay attention to what I’m upset about because that’s important?” It’s interesting in between the time we wrote that title and the book coming out, there’s a documentary about the white nationalist movement that has that title, Age of Rage. “Feels” is a modern vernacular, maybe a little bit obscure, but it’s pointing to the abundance of different emotions that we are having simultaneously. At the same moment, we can be grateful for our good fortune that maybe we haven’t lost our job and things are okay for us, sad for our friends that are less fortunate than us, angry about the sociopolitical situation and everything that’s going on.
I’m feeling great because things are lining up for me. I feel like I’m doing good work in the world and that’s satisfying. I’m making the contribution to clean up at least my end of the universe. We have these layers of emotions. Emotions are one of the things that mystify us the most in life. What they are, why they are, how they dynamically interact. To have so many of them at once is difficult to process. That’s one thing that I wanted to place and put down as a centerpiece in that work for people to help start sifting through all of our reactions and discerning what’s what. More importantly, how do we relate to what’s present for us? How do we meet it, work with it, resolve it, and move forward with it?
It’s a lot to discern. The range of emotions in a typical day for most people is very varied. I know for myself it is. There’s a lot more that’s even triggering more extreme emotions now than I’ve seen in a long while. The word resilience has a particular importance to me, not just because of the work that I do. I speak to audiences of all kinds, but a lot of times its corporate audiences that bring me in to help their workforce become more resilient and learn about what is resilience. Is it a soft skill? Is it a necessary skill? Is it something you can learn at the age that you’re at and start to make some changes to be able to be more resilient moving forward?
This is hardly the last crisis that we’re going to face. This is one in a series of things that didn’t last for years. You can go from 9/11 and move forward. We’ve had lots of things that have been major disruptions and even crises on many scales, environmentally, economically, politically, socially, you name it. Given the fact that it’s not likely that the pandemic is the last challenge we face, how do you define resilience? Do you think it’s something that we’re all born with? Is that it? We’ve got this little thimble full or a 5-gallon container full of resilience. Somebody’s got one size, somebody’s got another size and that’s it for their resilience capacity for their lives. Is it something that you can learn and develop with awareness and training?
We are born with a natural capacity for it. Not only do we all have that capacity, but it’s how self-actualization is achieved. It’s through meeting with difficulty, getting knocked down ten times, but getting up eleven times. It’s learning and growing from that process, developing the confidence after going through hell and difficult circumstances. It’s finding the resourcefulness that that puts you in touch with, and then when we’re backed into a corner, we’ve got to get out of the box creative. If you do that enough times and overcome those challenges, you stop being so afraid of life and difficulty. I have a slight addiction to finding new challenges now or taking on big things as a result of having been through so much. Here I am. I’m not only still in the ring, but I’m also still swinging.
Speak to that a little bit. I’m curious now and being selfish because the book that we’re incubating is a book about leveraging the power of uncertainty. That’s what you’re talking about. In the midst of the chaos and the uncertainty, you’re finding that you’re resourced well enough to find yourself rooted and still reaching like a tree toward the sky that only makes you go, “What else might help me grow?” What do you mean by what you were saying earlier? I don’t want to put words in your mouth.The connection involved in giving is worth more than anything we could hold in our two hands. Click To Tweet
To use an example that most of us can relate to is the final season in college. I did twelve of those back to back over the course of six years. It started to dawn on me. The most valuable I got from all that schooling was the experience of the end of semester. I’m supporting myself through it. I’ve got my spiritual life, my social life, my creative life. I have grad school and this insurmountable to-do list of papers and things to study for and tend to. Every final, I would cry and freak out. I would smoke cigarettes and become despondent. The reaction to that level of stress and feel it’s impossible, “How am I going to get this all done by Wednesday?” Wednesday would come, then maybe there would be an extension to Thursday or Friday but that’s part of it. You get resourceful and you figure it out.
You figure out, “I can wake up at 4:00 in the morning and finish that paper,” even though it seemed like hell when I realize that that’s what I was going to do. It’s impossible right up until it’s done and then you’re on the other side of it going, “That impossible feeling was exactly that. It’s a feeling.” It’s an experiential lesson that happened through the process of if I sit my ass down and chip away at this stone, and even if it feels awful or I don’t believe in myself the whole time or it’s painful, if I just keep going, one day you do look up and you are being handed a Master’s degree. You have a book out in the world. Your traumatic experience is fully healed. Your relationship is progressing. We can apply this to any arena of our lives. I want to underline that piece around, you don’t have to believe in yourself. You don’t have to wait until you’re not afraid. You don’t have to wait until it doesn’t hurt or it’s not difficult. You put your head down, get to it and keep going.
It almost seems simple or you might think it was simplistic the advice of keep going and put your head down. Tenacity is a word that I’ve always said was one of my great assets. I’m pretty tenacious. People that know me know that about me. I don’t know if that’s always appreciated by people around me, but it has this tendency to be able to move to a direction. I’m not saying move through things all the time because sometimes you have to go around them. As the old expression goes, you have to go over, under, around or through. It’s that willingness to progress.
That’s an important thing because often in my work with people that have some vision for doing something greater in the world, they want to speak about it, they want to impact people’s lives, the distance between where they are and where they want to be is quite great. It seems like it’s quite great and they don’t know what to do. That’s daunting and overwhelming itself. I always say, “We’re going to start with one thing. Let’s get one done.” That one leads to the next. It’s a domino effect. Dominoes are a great example because the domino example is one that you can see visually. One thing knocks over the other. They’re sequenced and there’s this momentum that’s created.
What often isn’t also part of the domino discussion is how dominoes have a capacity to not only knock over something of equal size, but they can knock over something slightly bigger. The physics of it means that when you’re able to get one thing done, if it’s to write paragraph, you want to write a book. I know it’s very basic. Start with the first word, start with one paragraph. If you wrote a paragraph a day many years ago, you would have several books now.
It’s an Eastern saying that the best time to plant the tree was twenty years ago and the next best time is now. Now is always the time for everything. Look at your circumstances wherever they are and say, “They’re not nearly what I want them to be,” rather than the overwhelm that comes from “Here’s the distance. How do I get from here to there?” It’s as simple as you begin. You can calculate like you do in your car. If you make a mistake with the GPS in your car, with no judgment and sarcasm, that GPS will say, “Recalculating. Redirecting.”
The hardest part is that getting started piece. The surrender involved in that always has a sting to it or as Ron Pass calls it the lions at the gate. You got to pass through. To bring it to physics, the lift-off philosophy. The lift-off velocity of a space ship that is trying to leave the planet will burn 60% to 75% of its fuel just leaving the Earth’s atmosphere. Once they get to space, they’re cruising. It’s that initial push that we have to over, under, scratching, climbing, dancing or by any means necessary to get through.
There are two things I want to track there about what you said. One is surrender because the word surrender for a lot of people has this ring of resignation. I’d love to have your definition of surrender in that context. The other thing will be trauma and we’ll talk a little bit about that after.
The definition of surrender that I love the most is to join the winning team.
Do you recall where you first heard that?
In that twelve-step meeting.
You went through that time in your life.
Surrendering is the same as resignation or giving up. It’s more of an allowing of what is. It’s to stop struggling with what naturally is true, which might seem like resignation. It might seem like giving in at face value, but it’s another one of these important paradoxes of which there are innumerable paradoxes on this path. To allow what is, is to find your sense of empowerment within it. As James Baldwin said, “Nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Another principle is that, “A problem accurately discerned is a problem that’s already been solved.” How can you clearly discern a problem if you’re not allowing its existence in your life? You’re struggling to wall it off, disavow it, medicate it, distract yourself from it, etc. That’s not good. That’s reactive. That’s a disempowered personal situation. To allow what is despite the pain, the fear, some overwhelm is to open the door to being able to meet it, work with it, and grow from it. This is how humans grow.To surrender is to join the winning team. Click To Tweet
You utilize it. It’s like alchemy in that sense.
Nobody gets a stronger sitting on the couch rather than going to the gym. To circle back if I may, the one thing you said about my example of tenacity and grit sounding simple, which it is. We could also make it a little more complex. We can look at some of the research on resilience on some of the robust predictors or factors that tend to bolster somebody’s ability to both withstand difficulty and bounce back, and even thrive as a result of encountering difficulty. One of the most robust predictors of resilience is the level of material privilege that will certainly shield us from difficulty and help us to have the resources to bounce back. If that’s not you, if you identify as a member of a more vulnerable or marginalized population, the ship has not sailed.
We have a community. It’s one of the biggest ones. Who are you connecting with? How real can you be with them? Where do you go? Where you share language and certain beliefs and assumptions that it’s nurturing for you are huge. Who do you call when you need to say all the wrong things and get it off your chest is big? Your sense of identity or who we are. This is where the race, class and gender piece come in and also beyond those demographic factors as well. Who are you? How do you identify? What do you stand for in this world? What matters to you? It’s being super clear on who you are, and then there’s emotional literacy. How many of us can’t discern or don’t have a lot of language around what we feel?
How many of us are only familiar with anger, frustration and anxiety when it comes to more vulnerable feelings or even the positive ones. There’s not a lot of subtlety for us. It dovetails into emotional intelligence. Not only discerning how you feel but how do you work with it? How do you self-regulate in a moment of anger? How do you hold back from saying that nasty, juicy thing that’s going to end your relationship in the heat of an argument? There’s self-talk. How we’re talking to ourselves? It’s wild that we say things to ourselves that we would never say to another person or that we would never allow the other person to say to us. It’s something to look at.
If you could replay or listen to a recording of your own thoughts about yourself, you’d be like, “Get off my back. What’s wrong with you? What’s your problem? What’s your issue?” I grew up in New York and I’d be like, “Can I help you? You got a problem? Who are you looking at?” It’s like, “You got to be kidding.” If we heard most of what we probably said in a day and had to listen to it again at the end of the day, we’d cringe. We’re all a work in progress. This is not about trying to create any perfection but more like how do you progress? I think about tenacity and about what we said, this progress over perfection. We’ve also looked into this topic. More than anything else that’s stunned me in the resilience research was the idea of one of those robust predictors of resilience were people that had rituals for recovery. They themselves were able to routinely recharge their battery the way we routinely recharge all of our devices. That’s obvious to us. If we don’t plug our phone in, we’re going to do without our Facebook that afternoon or our computer or iPad or whatever. We wouldn’t even think of doing that, but yet we run ourselves on empty habitually.
We then wonder why we’re freaking out.
The coffee isn’t working or the sugar is not working. You’re anxious, angry, reacting to things and screwing up many areas of your life, probably more your relationships than anything else. I want to circle back to your rituals for recovery and resilience. Before we get there, I want to ask about trauma again and try to connect the dots between the resolution of our early childhood trauma and how it is that we are able to continue to move forward. The reason that the suicide rates are as stark and startling as they are, including the fact that in a survey, between the ages of 18 and 24, 1 in 4 had contemplated suicide in the month of June. As a parent, we have four kids that are all between 19 and 28. That is shocking to me. I can’t help but think that a lot of resilience about how we either feel hopeful or hopeless is rooted in things that we experienced when we were children. I love to get your thoughts on that.
We take in such great adversity in the years that we are the most tender, the most vulnerable, the most dependent on others for literally everything we need, every bite of food, every drink of water, every piece of clothing on our back. We are born with incredible joy, curiosity, hunger, appetite for experience and learning. They’re also dependent on people who have been through their own struggles as well. It’s impossible for a human child brought out with something, some adverse experience that they couldn’t or wouldn’t and have the know-how to process and to fully resolve. The research shows that that necessarily has to go somewhere. It goes to our bodies, our nervous systems, our selves, our gut.
I think that is by design because it’s terrible. It hurts a lot. I’m speaking of somebody who experienced adverse violence growing up. It’s awful that anybody should go through it. What’s necessary for us to heal is to use the title of that book, The Presence Process. It’s to cultivate presence, earnestness, and willingness. It’s to look deeply within ourselves and most importantly compassion. When we can be compassionate towards our own struggles and wounds, that’s what moves those stored adverse experiences in us forward. That’s where we moved to clarity and shift to great openness, which allows for increased creativity, courage, connection, and all sorts of capacities that are natural to us. They all increased. In that way, trauma can be a gift and it seems like bad news. The trauma and the repetitive patterns it creates in our lives is an invitation to open our hearts and to go deeper to cultivate a rich and meaningful life.
I also believe it’s an invitation to re-examine maybe the most fundamental precept that we live by and that’s our definition of love. That’s one of the great things I got out of that book The Presence Process. It’s this exploration of what love means and how I personally define love. When I learned that definition, where I learned it, under what circumstances, and then the opportunity to define it now from the position I’m in versus living my life based on a very outdated definition, and one that was not accurate to begin with. We see that people define love often in the strangest ways. Somebody who was abused as a child feels that that’s how they experienced love. It’s through abuse or another. No one would ever consciously go, “That’s what love is.” You can’t wrestle that idea away from a child at 6 or 7 years old or something who’s not in their cognitive stage of development.
It’s in the cells of their being that that’s the resonance and the feeling of love. None of this will make sense on one level, and then on another, it makes all the sense in the world to re-examine those things. I’m a big believer in the power of the reframe and that’s a resilience skill. What we’re talking about when we look at this as an invitation to examine, to learn, to explore, to then grow out from here based on that willingness, openness and surrender is positive. It’s the process of life itself, which is not linear and not always pretty even.
It’s more of a spiral than a line. Hopefully, it’s an upward spiral for us who are engaging in this work. That’s beautiful. I love everything that you said. We would call that in the psych world that I dwell reparenting. It’s that mental reframe and reteaching oneself, looking at that process, deconstructing and evolving the definitions of beliefs that we inherited as children. It’s a hopeful thing that’s possible for us to do or never done
It’s eternal vigilance, never get it done and don’t have to. Ralph, we talk about rituals for resilience and recovery. Can you share one of yours with us?Trauma is an invitation to open our hearts and cultivate a rich and meaningful life. Click To Tweet
I’m going to give you the obvious and the core one, which is meditation. There are lots of different ways to meditate, but what’s important about that ritual for me isn’t so much the calming effect of focusing on the breath or the nervous system regulation or whatever. It’s the habit itself of every morning, no matter what’s going on in my life, no matter how I feel, no matter what’s going on in the world, I have a significant moment with myself. Even if that significant moment is complete chaos, I realize that 18 to 20 minutes that I’m meditating is very calm.
The habit of creating a stable base of connection, warmth, and an inner relationship relating to my inner world, and returning to it over and over again no matter what. I find it has offered in many ways directly, but also indirectly so many things that can grow out from having that habit. Many possibilities have opened up, so much cognitive and emotional flexibility, and so much insight. It’s more profound than stress reduction. That’s the big one for me. It’s non-religious like body, earth, breath, mind. I have some rituals and some props. There are some rituals, trappings, and chants these days, but the core of it is an undistracted space to be with yourself and to open to what is. It is deceptively simple.
I love that stable base like a base camp that you make for yourself at the beginning of the day. As my grandmother would probably say, “Starting the day on the right foot.”
It’s the stable base of a good parent too. It’s like the toddler who wanders out to explore the world and come back. Maybe go in the other room but then peek around the corner, “Are you still there? Are you still with me?”
This conversation was just what I expected. It was what I’m thinking would happen. That’s terrific. You’re up in Tahoe. It reminds me that I delivered a TED Talk in Lake Tahoe, which was wonderful. I got to share two things that one you’ll be amused by. I sat down on the stage. I got myself into what would look like the meditative position. I declared out loud what a crappy meditator I am. I call myself out for not being so good at it. I’ve been good at crafting and creating stillness, especially at the beginning of the day. For me, my ritual begins upon waking.
It’s the first thoughts and the first words that come out of my mouth at the beginning of the day. That’s what I shared in that TED Talk, this one process that has become a stable base for me for so many years. The great news about being in the business that I’m in, which is different than being a lawyer, is having to travel around the world to speak on these topics. I’ve been blessed to do that. I’ve got to share this ritual among others with a lot of people. I hear from people on a regular basis and our company hears people all the time that this was a catalytic thing for them. They still do it or they still consider it.
That is three steps. It’s to wake up, which I know how profound that is. The waking itself, there’s so much to be appreciative of and to be grateful for. Saying gratitude is powerful at the beginning of the day. Those words that we say to ourselves internally go by so fast like a fast-moving movie. We can’t always keep track of it all, but what is slower is what comes out of our mouth. Even though I speak fast as an ex-New Yorker, the thoughts are so much faster than the words. The words are easier to capture and they’re powerful. We truly speak our lives into being in many ways. We speak a prophecy every moment that we are speaking.
I choose these four words at the beginning of the day, “I love my life.” It’s simple and maybe simplistic on some level too, especially now. What if you’ve loved your life no matter what? That is the question I asked that TED audience. I said, “What if you decided to love your life in the middle of COVID, the chaos, confusion and every other thing that we can talk about that’s happening in people’s lives? With and without COVID, can you love your life no matter what?” That’s the question.
To place conditions on something is not to love it. It’s to make it into a transaction. If you can love it in the messiness, that’s real love.
That’s the gist of it. Thanks for getting that, Ralph. I appreciate you reflecting that back.
It’s a beautiful morning practice. I teach something that’s incredibly similar to it called the 5-3-1-1 that people can look up if they’re interested. It’s all over the net, in SoundCloud and all of that.
As we’re concluding here, there are a couple of requests for our audience and our community. First of all, we’d love to get your comments. Whatever you were thinking and maybe even questions you have for us, you can leave your comments and questions. Subscribe to the show if you like it and love it. If you want to refer it to someone, that’s always greatly appreciated that our community is expanding in diverse ways. If somebody would love to read this conversation and you think would benefit from it, please share this episode with them as well. You can get more information about Dr. Ralph De La Rosa’s work about his book, which I absolutely love. Don’t Tell Me to Relax: Emotional Resilience in the Age, Rage, Feels and Freak-Outs, and meditations and things. You can find that on his website. Thank you again. I appreciate your time and everything you brought to the table.
Thank you as well. You’re a fantastic interviewer. It’s truly a pleasure to have this opportunity to connect with you.
- Don’t Tell Me to Relax: Emotional Resilience in the Age of Rage, Feels and Freak-Outs
- The Presence Process
- The Power of Now
- The Untethered Soul
About Ralph De La Rosa
Ralph De La Rosa is an internationally published author, psychotherapist in private practice, and seasoned meditation teacher.
His new book, Don’t Tell Me to Relax: Emotional Resilience in the Age of Rage, Feels, and Freak Outs (Shambhala Publications) is available for pre-order wherever books are sold.
As a meditation teacher, Ralph’s work has been featured in The New York Post, CNN, GQ, SELF, Women’s Health, and many other publications and podcasts. He’s was named one of Sonima’s “Next Generation of Meditation Teachers to Watch.” Ralph began practicing meditation in 1996 and has taught meditation since 2008. He was a student of Amma’s for 16 years and began studying Buddhism in 2005. Today, he identifies simply as a practitioner and teacher of human spirituality. He regularly offers programs at venues such as Spirit Rock, Omega Institute, and Kripalu. He recently completed an invite-only advanced meditation teacher training with Jack Kornfield.
As a psychotherapist, Ralph is a summa cum laude graduate of Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Services. He trained in multiple modalities of trauma-focused therapy while working in NYC’s clinical foster care system. Today, his work integrates trauma theory, mindfulness, and somatic psychology. He is personally mentored by Richard Schwartz, developer of the Internal Family Systems model of psychotherapy.
Ralph himself is a PTSD, depression, and addiction survivor. His work is inspired by the tremendous transformation he has experienced through meditation, yoga, and therapy.
Ralph is also a musician, storyteller, and outdoor enthusiast. He is currently training to audition for the reality television show American Ninja Warrior.