Looking behind, looking ahead.

Looking behind, looking ahead.

The new year explodes with expectation, hope, pain and regret, and wishes for the future- a chance to "erase" the problems of our past year and move on. But without making space for reflection and an honest look at our accomplishments and mistakes, we can become prisoners to our own rigid expectations.

There are ways to remain focused, yet flexible.

You can turn your attention to what you already love about yourself, and want to love more about yourself. This doesn't mean ignoring your pain, but it does mean making room for all of you.

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Intention Setting: Three Journal Prompts

There is something about intention setting and new year reflections that requests a video blog in addition to a written piece. In this video, I talk about getting comfortable with uncomfortable feelings, about reflections, and about creating space within yourself for light, warmth, and manifesting your own creative spirit. Just like in a written blog, these prompts I offer are meant as starting points for a deeper process with your therapist, mentor, community, or spiritual guide to help you understand where your creative self can flourish and how you may be holding yourself back from what’s right for you in your life.

In case you are unable to play the video, here is a synopsis, including the prompts:

Reflections can be done at any significant moment in your life, including the New Year, either solstice, birthdays, or – a very profound experience – on death days. When someone who has been a guide or mentor to you has passed, it can be very meaningful to reflect on your year with that person’s wisdom in mind. They can help you see what you’ve accomplished and where you’re headed, and perhaps offer a redirect for you as well, if that’s something you’re looking for.

For this exercise, get comfortable and give yourself enough space mentally and obligation-wise to focus on journaling. Grab a pillow, blanket, cup of tea—and a candle (if you have one), matches, and a pen and paper. We will be doing a bit of journaling right now.

Light your candle, get situated, and get ready to write!

First prompt: What are 10 events or situations that have been significant to you in the past year? People you’ve met or lost, relationships, events, lessons, anything that stands out to you as a growth point. Whatever comes to your mind is probably what can go on this list, as well as things you remember later on, spurred by this exercise. Give each person/event/experience its own line, and spend time meditating on what was significant about them for you.

Second prompt: What would you like to see manifest in the new year? What wish, vision, and intention is inside of you itching to be set free and come alive? What would you like to create in the coming year? When you find yourself sitting here, this time next year—what goes on that “10 Significant Situations” list?

Third prompt: What limits you? What do you feel is holding you back? What would you be doing if you felt like you were good enough and capable enough? Where can you offer more love, gratitude, patience, and compassion for yourself? What do you need in your life to help you manifest the wishes and dreams that you discovered in the second prompt? **I would add here, which I neglected in the video: In addition to working on offering love, gratitude, and compassion to yourself, where can you offer this to the world and your community? How can you help your community flourish and manifest the visions that benefit us all? This is by no means exclusive of growing, cherishing, and developing yourself. These go hand-in-hand.

Life is full of surprises. We spend so much of our life dealing with what is right in front of us, and it can be challenging to find time for reflection. You have chosen this time, whenever it may be, to reflect and honor where you are and how you got to be here, as well as were you dream to go. In doing so, you are offering something beautiful, loving, and wonderful to yourself that will help you step into the unexpected that this new year will bring with grace and compassion.

To cite this page: Merson, M. (2014) Intention Setting: Three Journal Prompts. Retrieved month/day/year from http://mollymerson.com/2014/12/26/intention-setting-three-journal-prompts/. Please note that this column is not intended to treat, diagnose, or prevent any disease. This post is for entertainment and informational purposes only. I do not purport to offer advice to people whom I do not know and whom I am not currently treating in my practice, and even then, it is not a general practice for me to offer advice to my clients as their decisions are their own to make. If you are in need of mental health support, please seek out a licensed professional to begin ongoing therapeutic treatment.

You Are Enough: Finding Yourself In Nature

going up, up, up... into your ancestral wisdom. "we are all made of starstuff," says Carl Sagan including the trees.

going up, up, up... into your ancestral wisdom. "we are all made of starstuff," says Carl Sagan including the trees.

We already have everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement. All these trips that we lay on ourselves—the heavy-duty fearing that we’re bad and hoping that we’re good, the identities that we so dearly cling to, the rage, the jealousy and the addictions of all kinds—never touch our basic wealth. They are like clouds that temporarily block the sun. But all the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are. We are one blink of an eye away from being fully awake.” ~ Pema Chödrön, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living

When I read this quotation this morning, I thought about how many of the people I see in my practice struggle with how to feel as though they are “enough.” We seem to know that self-love, compassion, and abundance is part of the healing process, but it can hard for many of us to believe that we already have everything we need to live authentically and fully as ourselves. I believe it really is possible to cultivate compassion for ourselves and the people we love, and having contact with nature can help.

Studies have shown that access to greenery and the natural world can expedite illness recovery, improve mental health, and regulate our autonomic nervous system (the system which controls our responses to unsafe and stressful situations). When you are feeling stress, anxiety, sorrow, anger, and other uncomfortable emotions, spending even 20 minutes in nature can help those emotions pass through you. When we pay attention to the natural world and its patterns of abundance, and allow the sounds, smells, textures, and shapes of nature to settle inside of our bodies, we can find reminders that every mood and difficult thought will pass, and something new will take its place.

Most of us who live in cities find our access to natural spaces exists within urban environments. Urban parks and gardens, and perhaps even the old tree in your neighbor’s front yard, can provide healing experiences. In the Bay Area, we have ample access to natural spaces—in the East Bay, we have Wildcat Canyon, Tilden Park, Redwood Regional Park, Chabot—there are so many places where you can find an hour or so of being in the natural world. Depending on what time of day you go, it is even possible to rarely see another human being. Additionally, if your mobility is limited, there is no need to walk: Staying in one natural place for 15-20 minutes can have a profound effect on your nervous system, and can help you find answers to questions you might have on your mind.

Here are more ways to allow nature to heal you:

  1. Start with an intention. In the beginning you may just want to focus on getting to know what happens for you when you are in nature. At first, your intention might be “notice my breathing” or “what colors and smells do I notice today?” Over time, you might bring a question or problem that’s on your mind, and let yourself be open to what the environment shows you along the way. You might often go back to simply “noticing,” because it can allow you to be even more open to the delightful curiosities of critters and landscape that you might otherwise be too focused to see. You might even discover something you could never have expected!
  2. Walk slowly and mindfully. Be aware of your breath, and as you walk, slowly become aware of the sounds, smells, shapes, shadows, sensations of heat and coolness, the texture of the path on your feet, what you notice in front of you and in your peripheral vision. If you wish, stop from time to time and allow sounds other than the crunching of your feet to be heard.
  3. If you find a spot you really feel connected to, stop walking and stay a while. Try not to worry about how much time you have, and about “getting somewhere.” If you find a spot that calls to you, you have already arrived. Stay here, if you can. It can take the natural world a good 20 or 30 minutes to return to how it was before you walked through, so expect new sounds and sensations to unfold the longer you allow yourself to stay.
  4. If you come across a tree that you especially love, touch it with both hands, and take three long and deep breaths with the tree. Try to feel its power, its strength, its longevity. It has probably been here for a very long time, and has seen a lot in those years. It plants its roots firmly while stretching its branches to the sky. There are a lot of metaphors to be found in trees. Perhaps you will notice something in the tree that can help you today.
  5. Look at both the macro and the micro. Notice the distance, the shapes on the horizon, the path ahead. Then, notice the roly-poly bugs, the ants, the pine needles on the ground, the birds and lizards moving through the periphery. Stop a while and notice what the bugs are doing, and how the patterns of the lichen form shapes in their movement and growth up the trees and rocks. Also notice how spectacular your long distance view is. Now: Notice that you, breathing, feeling, and seeing, are between these two places. You can contact both the long view and the short view. Breathe this in, and try to imagine this spaciousness entering into your lungs, your belly, your legs, your feet, your back, and your head.

Allow yourself to be open to being delighted by the unexpected, and to being awakened by the pace and interconnectedness of the natural world. Nature offers a reminder that you are enough, because our bodies are the same bodies we feel in the trees and in the rocks and critters, all held by the same earth. You are enough, and you are connected to something bigger than you.

More on Ecotherapy here: What is Ecotherapy?, Holos Institute, and Ecoutearth. Ecoutearth is a local group in the East Bay that offers monthly meetings at Redwood park to offer ways of listening to the earth and to your own heart. My training in Ecotherapy has come from Jan Stein, who is the Director of the Holos Insitutue and offers courses at CIIS.


I provide therapy in Berkeley, CA to individuals looking to delve into old patterns, explore overwhelming emotions, and find room for self-love and self-care amidst a harsh and unforgiving inner critic.

To cite this page:Merson, M. (2014) You Are Enough: Finding Yourself In Nature. Retrieved month/day/year from http://mollymerson.com/2014/10/30/you-are-enough-finding-yourself-in-nature/. Please note that this column is not intended to treat, diagnose, or prevent any disease. This post is for entertainment and informational purposes only. I do not purport to offer advice to people whom I do not know and whom I am not currently treating in my practice, and even then, it is not a general practice for me to offer advice to my clients as their decisions are their own to make. If you are in need of mental health support, please seek out a licensed professional to begin ongoing therapeutic treatment.

Learning To Love Your Body: A Workshop for Self-Love

Are you wishing you could love yourself in a way that makes you feel strong in your own skin?
Are you craving a loving relationship with yourself and your body?
Are you looking for take-home tools to help shed that inner critic?
Do you want to find resources inside you to help you make authentic and informed choices about your life and your needs?


So much of our lives are spent trying to understand how we fit in to the environment around us. It’s a survival technique, for sure- but as we grow older, we start to realize how detrimental it can be to keep surviving in that way. If we haven’t learned—or have lost along the way—the ability to check in with our bodies and our hearts to discover what really, truly feeds us, we can rely too heavily on the outside world to make our decisions for us. This can lead to exhaustion, overwhelm, intense stress, and feeling like we can’t go on this way. That’s because we can’t, and shouldn’t! It is possible to discover how to deeply listen to yourself, and do so in a way that makes you feel alive and connected.

This group offers a variety of practices to allow a recalibration of your connection to your body in the service of loving yourself and living the life that’s best for you. It is a time to recognize your body as a sacred space that holds vast information about who you are, what you need, and how to stay present with yourself in deep acceptance.

The group is limited to 7 people, all of whom will be interviewed and asked to complete a survey about their interest in the group. We will meet for five Saturday mornings, including one outdoor session, and one Friday night. This will give us a chance to practice our work at different times of day, so that you can identify how your body feels during the day, evening, and in different environments. We will have check-ins and some process around our explorations, and journaling will be encouraged. Some of the exercises will include: guided visualizations, a meditation guide from Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, collage and vision board creation, and some exercises from the recommended reading, “Embody” by Connie Sobczak. During our outdoor session we will conduct a “walk + write”, where we’ll gather together, state our intentions, and be guided through an ecotherapeutic understanding of connecting with nature. We’ll have the rest of the session to wander through (or stay still within) the natural space and write our sensations in a journal.

The intention of the group is to support a loving and connected relationship to your body. Your body is always with you at every second of your day, and holds great information for you at all times. Developing this connection with your body will help you grow your self-compassion and self-acceptance, which can be a useful ally in your struggles with a cruel and punitive inner critic. Listening to your body can help guide you to what is right for you in your life.

Dates: Saturdays October 18, November 1, 8, 15, 22 from 10:30-12
Friday October 24 from 5:30-7
(One Saturday will be spent outside in a location TBD for a nature-based “walk + write”)

Location: South Berkeley, CA

Cost: $300 for the series plus $25 for the initial in-person interview

This group welcomes people of all genders, sexual orientations, cultural identities, and body sizes and abilities. The group space is not wheelchair-accessible, therefore another space may be arranged if needed.

Call Molly Merson, MFT for more information about participating in this group. 510-594-4035 or therapy@mollymerson.com

Molly Merson, MA, MFT#52483 is a licensed therapist in Berkeley, CA. She does deep process and in-depth therapy with folks struggling with difficult feelings, inner critic, mood fluctuations, feeling like an outsider, and finding satisfying relationships. Find out more about her at www.mollymerson.com or call 510-594-4035 for information about her work and practice.

Getting to Know the Harder Feelings of Depression and Bipolar Disorder

If you are one of the tens of millions of people who experience clinical depression or bipolar disorder, you probably know what it’s like to feel shitty about yourself, irritable about interactions with others, afraid of what people might think about you, and hopeless about being able to do anything about it. You might also feel angry and frustrated – maybe even a sense of being trapped inside your feelings, with no way out. Suddenly, what was pleasurable feels prickly, and people you may have felt connected to feel distant and irritating, like they “just don’t get you.” Maybe this leads to you wanting to retreat, to isolate, to push people away.

These are extremely hard feelings to bear alone, and yet that’s what depression encourages from you: to break healing connection because you feel, on some level, already disconnected and overwhelmed.

If you take pause in your feelings, either while they’re happening or soon thereafter, you may find you’ve been feeling this way for much of your life—perhaps not in any way you could name, exactly, and maybe you feel this way intermittently—but it’s as familiar to you as it is unfamiliar to people who do not have bipolar disorder or clinical depression. There’s no such thing as “normal,” but there are ways you can manage your depression and negotiate its “hooks” in you. Although the feeling is pervasive and often overwhelming, and it colors the way you see yourself and the world around you, it is possible to get to know it, and give yourself and these feelings the attention you both need.

Go into the feeling, and find where it resonates in your body. Spend some time with this exercise when you feel the irritability and sadness coming on:

1. Lie on your back in a quiet spot, and allow your breathing to settle however it wants to. Find the places your breath settles in your body; notice your chest rise, notice your shoulders, notice the muscles in your face and neck. Just notice, don’t try to change. 2. Allow your breath to explore your body, and notice what it finds. Breathe into different parts of your body: Your chest, your shoulders, your belly, your arms and fingertips, your hips, your back, and with each breath allow an exploration of tightness and resistance to happen. 3. When you find places that feel tight, achey, itchy, or uncomfortable, allow your breath to reach in and touch the tightness; on the out-breath, allow your body to let go. We’re not trying to “get rid” of the tightness or pain, just trying to make room to connect to it. You may spend a few breaths on the tighter parts of your body. 4. When you find these tight or resistant areas, in between your in-breath and out-breath, ask them: What do you need right now? 5. Then ask, How can I help you? 6. It may take some time, and quite a few breaths, to sit with the spots you discover and ask these questions. Just allow your breath to move, notice your pain and tightness, and ask for permission to know it. 7. When you are ready, slowly allow some movement back into your body and allow yourself to come back into the room.

When your awareness and attention have come back into the room, I encourage you to write down any sensation and any feelings you may have. Don’t worry about censoring yourself, just write.

This can be a very evocative exercise for people, and you may find a range of feelings. You may also find that nothing happens, which can also be evocative for some of us. If that’s the case, I encourage you to meditate on the “nothing,” because there is information there, too. Sometimes, “nothing” is a way to protect you from a deep sadness or trauma. Processing this experience in therapy can sometimes feel safer than doing it on your own, so I encourage you to bring your feelings about this exercise to your therapist, who can help you sit with things that might feel uncomfortable to do on your own.

For more information about depression or bipolar disorder, and to find community who shares these or similar experiences, take a look at The Neurodiversity Paradigm and The Icarus Project. This post is not meant to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease. To begin therapy with a licensed professional with expertise in many types of mood disorders, give me a call at 510-594-4035 for a free phone consultation. I can point you toward resources that can be helpful to you in this process. It may take at least 24 hours for me to respond to your call, so if you or your loved one are suicidal or in crisis, take it seriously and call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room immediately. If you or your loved one are contemplating suicide, go to http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with someone 24 hours a day.

I provid20140801_Molly-216-CLe therapy in Berkeley, CA to individuals looking to delve into old patterns, explore overwhelming emotions, and find room for self-love and self-care amidst a harsh and unforgiving inner critic.

To cite this page: Merson, M. (2014) Getting to Know the Harder Feelings of Depression and Bipolar Disorder. Retrieved month/day/year from http://mollymerson.com/2014/07/26/getting-to-know-the-harder-feelings/

Need accessible self-care in the East Bay?

Self-care is essential for good health and wellness. As individualistic as our culture is, we all carry a significant amount of shame and resistance around taking care of our own spirits, bodies, and minds. Self-care is an excellent complement to psychotherapy, and can help you integrate what you discover in therapy as well as help you learn ways to regulate between sessions. For those of you who are interested in adding self-care into your life, here is a starter list for inexpensive and accessible ways you can help yourself rest, rejuvenate, and rebuild.

(Please note: I don’t get any kickbacks nor do I endorse or guarantee anything about any of these places. You may try them and not have a good experience, or you may really like them. They are listed for self-help purposes only. That said, I hope you find something here you enjoy.)

At home:

-Take a bath with Epsom salts and some lavender or bay laurel essential oil

-Have a hot cup of tea with honey

-Spend 3-5 minutes lying on your back on the floor, close your eyes, and feel your body sink into the ground. Breathe deeply and listen.

-Set aside 30 minutes to collage, draw, or express yourself creatively however it comes to you.


National Holistic Institute: NHI is a massage school which offers $35 massages two or three times a day. You don’t get to choose the style you receive, but if you’re feeling open to either Shiatsu or Swedish, it’s an excellent deal.


Berkeley Acupuncture Project and Berkeley Community Acupuncture offer community acupuncture from licensed acupuncturists for $15-$40 sliding scale per treatment. Community acupuncture takes place in a room with other people receiving treatment, though you will have your own practitioner and can find a quiet and semi-private spot in the room. In Oakland, you can visit Oakland Acupuncture Project.


East Bay Meditation Center offers free or dana-based meditation, and offers specific meditation nights for LGBTQ and PoC practitioners.


If you don't have an animal at home, you can volunteer to walk dogs or play with cats at any number of the shelters in the Bay Area, including Milo Foundation and Berkeley Humane Society. Calm, relaxing time with animals can help increase oxytocin production, which can help relax you and help you let go of stress.


Rose Gardens in both Oakland and Berkeley are beautiful places to take in nature in the midst of the city.

Lake Merritt for people and goose watching.

For a bit more nature, check out Redwood Regional Park, and the meditation labyrinth at Briones Regional Park.


The stairs at Lake Merritt: Yowch! You’ll often see people running, jumping, and climbing these stairs. Join them!

Yoga at Yoga To The People is a pay-what-you-can model, and no one is turned away for lack of funds.

Hot Tubs!

Piedmont Springs and Spa offers half-hour and hour-long hot tubs for about $15.

Albany Hot Tubs is also a nice option for a similar price.


Any other ideas? What do you like to do to care for yourself between therapy sessions?


To cite this page: Merson, M. (2014) Need Accessible Self-Care in the East Bay? Retrieved month/day/year from http://mollymerson.com/2014/06/14/need-accessible-self-care-in-the-east-bay/