Use your greatest pain as your greatest opportunity

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Dr. Valerie Baker holds a PHD in Transpersonal Psychology from The Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University. She has found business success with a new method of healing called Heart Talk Yoga® which is a holistic, continuously expanding compilation of technologies for consciousness transformation sourced from yoga, psychology, and spirituality, and organized into a comprehensive system. This system is based on my research on transformation, my personal experience, and my privilege of helping thousands of people transform common unhappiness into uncommon happiness by breaking through the old level of consciousness that created their problems.
This article has been re-blogged from her website blog


What do you do when you hit the wall, when the rug is pulled out from under you, when the bottom falls out? I see this happen again and again.

Brilliant women stopped dead in their tracks to greatness by a challenging life event. And I just wanna scream: Keep going, love! This is NOT a sign to stop! This is a sign to push through and give birth to the next level of YOU, reveal your greater GREATNESS, tap into your more powerful POWER you didn’t know you had — until this challenge showed up in your way.

So today I show you how you can USE YOUR GREATEST PAIN as your greatest opportunity. I tell a story of my most powerful lesson in this… And share something we can learn from Wonder Woman.



My 6 1/2-year-old and I finally went to see Wonder Woman and I did some obsessive research beforehand to make sure it was age appropriate. You know that I’m obsessive from the previous blog post when we had a power reclamation party. I encourage you to view this blog and leave a comment what’s wrong with you and we’ll use these as gateways of reclamation.

Today, the gateway we’ll use has to do with Wonder Woman. When Wonder Woman is a child, her trainer keeps telling her, “You’re not using your whole power. You’re much more powerful than you know.” Wonder Woman thinks that she is doing her best though. She rejects her trainer’s statements. Years later, she’s facing her arch nemesis at last. She falls down and she’s wrapped in this piece of metal and it looks like she’s not going to be able to get out of it.

Her nemesis laughs at her and asks, “What did you think you were?” She’s forgetting who she is or maybe she never knew truly deeply her power which I think is true for all of us. So she’s lying there and she’s giving up. There is no hope. Then she sees this plane in the sky and she knows this is her partner, the only man she’s known and we assume loved.

The plane blows up in the sky and she feels this deep pain the likes of which she’s never felt before, and she roars. She liberates herself from whatever was holding back her power. She rises and she taps into the power which she did not know she had.


Heart Talk Yoga


I hope you go to see Wonder Woman. It is incredible. As I watched it, I kept checking in with my daughter during the battle scenes. I’d check in with her and ask, “Is this scary?” And she would whisper back to me, “No. This is amazing.”

Amazing it was. It was amazing to see that reclamation. When we watch a movie like Wonder Woman, we get it, right? It takes this extreme circumstance, this extreme pain to tap into the power that she didn’t know she had. That makes sense, right? That’s a very common story arc of a hero’s or heroine’s journey.


But what happens when it happens in our own life? In our own life, we’re very conditioned to retreat from pain. I’m going to tell you a story of my own learning of how conditioned I was to retreat from pain. It also has to do with my daughter. A lot of cool stories have to do with her.

This was one when I was giving birth to her, and I had a wonderful doula (thank God for her) who was coaching me through. I was pushing and feeling this excruciating pain and at some point the nurse turned around to me and said, “You’re not pushing.” What? I think I am. I feel like I am. I’m feel like I’m about to explode.

Then my doula leans in to me and she said, “Well, you’re moving away from the pain. This is not like labor. This is giving birth, so your only way out of the pain is through the pain, so the more it hurts, that’s where you need to go. You need to go into the pain to get out of the pain.”

Because I was completely delirious out of my mind, so much in pain, I guess I had no resistance left in me and so I decided to take her word for it and just go. I went and I went and I went into the pain and into the pain, and at some point the pain became just a sensation which was irrelevant to what was going on. My glorious daughter emerged, all almost 10 pounds of her, and so that was my very visceral learning of how conditioned I was not to go into the pain.

It changed the way I live my life. It really did. Now, when I see the opportunity created by pain, I try to go right in. If I don’t, guess what? Life has its own curriculum. Life is not going to let you get away with not tapping into the fullness of your power. Life creates these circumstances, these painful circumstances for you to go in and reclaim your power fully.


Heart Talk Yoga


What happens is just like on a hero’s or heroine’s journey. When you declare yourself, when you declare, “I’m going to step into my power. I’m going on a journey,” the shit hits the fan. The bottom falls out. The journey actually begins.

So this is inspired by a wonderful, powerful woman I had a conversation with a few days ago. We tapped into her power. We tapped into her vision and we decided how we’re going to move into that vision. Then just a few days later, she sends me a message saying that her life has brought this extreme circumstance, a lot of pain, and that she’s not going to continue through with implementing her vision.

This pains me very deeply because those exact circumstances, this is like giving birth to yourself, right? It’s moving into the pain. Her life has created a perfect opportunity for her power reclamation. It’s perfect. It’s painful. It hurts but by leaning into that opportunity, she stands to reclaim so much of who she truly is and fully deliver her vision, fully deliver on her divine assignment in the world.

So at every point the pain comes up, we have two choices. We can move away just like I was doing when I was not pushing apparently, or we can move right in. Life gives us these opportunities to give birth to ourselves very often. Small pains or big ruptures, when the bottom falls out, and if you’ve been following me for some time, you know that I’ve been dealing with one of those in my own life. If you don’t know what I’m talking about you can find it on my blog at

This has been a dance all to leading me leaning away from it and leaning into it, but by leaning into the pain what has been happening is really stepping up in a bigger way, really reaching for bigger things and playing bigger than I had ever thought possible. Because why does life create these excruciating circumstances for us? Why? Is this God punishing us? No, life is very compassionate but life knows that given a place to hide, we will hide. Given a place to hide, we will die.

So life creates these circumstances where hiding is no longer an option such as in my own life with my husband’s illness, it became not an option for me to lean back and say, “Well, it’s okay. If I don’t earn enough money, it’s okay. If I don’t make this work, it’s okay because he’s a guy and we’re married and he’s supposed to be the breadwinner.”

It’s not my conscious thinking, believe me, but that’s the subconscious conditioning that keeps us playing small. This is what Wonder Woman was falling back into when she was lying down on the ground, helpless because she hadn’t yet tapped into her power.

So what rupture are you going through in your life right now? What’s the invitation? What can you reclaim when you lean into it? Does it have to be painful? Well, no. In her wonderful book “Eat, Pray, Love” Elizabeth Gilbert told the story told to her by Ketut, her mentor, and he said that he’s traveled up to Heaven and down to Hell in a beautiful metaphor and he said to her question, “What’s the difference between Heaven and Hell?”

He said, “Heaven, you go up, through seven happy places. Hell, you go down, through seven sad places. This is why it better for you to go up, Liss… Same in end, so better to be happy in journey.”

Life presents opportunities for us to go up and be happy on the journey every day. Every day we can step up and play bigger, every day, but if there is a place to hide, we will hide. That’s why sometimes life has to pull the rug from under us. Sometimes the bottom has to fall out. It’s done compassionately. It’s not done to punish us. It’s done to help us like Wonder Woman reclaim her deepest power.


ITP-logo_smallAbout The Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University

Since 1975, the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University has continued to be an international leader and pioneer, moving humanity forward in the areas of transpersonal research and transpersonal education. training clinicians, spiritual guides, wellness caregivers, and consultants who apply transpersonal principles and values in a variety of settings.  The Sofia educational model offers students not only a solid intellectual foundation, but an extraordinary opportunity for deep transformational growth and personal experience of the subject matter. How does Sofia University accomplish this? The university builds upon its strong, whole-person psychological foundation to give students a greater understanding of the human condition.

Learn more about our programs.


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How Screen Addiction is Damaging Kid’s Brains

“I’ve worked with hundreds of heroin addicts and crystal meth addicts, and what I can say is that it’s easier to treat a heroin addict than a true screen addict,” says Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, author of ‘Glow Kids.’

Nicholas Kardaras

Alumnus Dr. Nicholas Kardaras received his PhD in Clinical Psychology from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University. He currently works at The Dunes in East Hampton New York. His research has led him to focus on addiction and more recently on screen addiction in children. His book, “Glow Kids”, is a plunge into the phenomenon of screen addiction in children. Nicholas was interviewed by We have re-posted the article here.

Thumbnail image via Flickr user Sleeping TV Man





In the 80s, Graham Nash from Crosby Stills & Nash appeared on MTV for an interview. The popular band had refused to make music videos, and Nash said the reason why was that he didn’t want to provide the images that people would see when they hear his music. Instead, he said that they should instead create their own internal and unique mental visuals to accompany the track. Today, as a consequence of our constant bombardment with screen-based media, some experts believe that kids may have a harder time doing that.

A new book out on August 9 called Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids by Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, one of the country’s top addiction experts, details how compulsive technology usage and reliance on screens can neurologically damage the developing brain of a child the same way that drug addiction can. Through extensive research, clinical trials with diagnosed screen addicts, and experience treating a variety of other types of addicts, the author explores the alarming reality of how children could be “stunting their own creative abilities” by constantly turning on and tuning in.

Dr. Kardaras, who grew up playing Asteroids and loved Ms. PacMan, discusses how game developers use tests to measure dopamine and adrenaline levels in order to make video games as addicting as possible. He also explains how technology might stagnate frontal cortex development. With Glow Kids, Kardaras seeks to push the thesis that we should let children’s “brains fully develop first before we expose them to these digital drugs.” VICE chatted with the author to learn more about his research, why kids are both boring and bored today, and why social media is an illusion of real connection.

VICE: In the beginning of your book, you quote the song that the Oompa-Loompas sing in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory featuring the lyrics, “It rots the senses dead/It kills the imagination dead.” How relevant is this to what is going on today with kids and screens?

Dr. Nicholas Kardaras: I think that Roald Dahl lyric is extremely relevant and prescient. I’ve worked clinically with over 1,000 teens over the past decade plus and one of the most amazing things that I observed was that kids raised from an early age on a high-tech/high-screen diet suffered from what seemed to be a digital malaise. They were, almost universally, what I like to call “uninterested and uninteresting.” Bored and boring, they lacked a natural curiosity and a sense of wonder and imagination that non-screen kids seemed to have. They didn’t know—or care to know—about what was happening around them in the world. All that seemed to drive them was a perpetual need to be stimulated and entertained by their digital devices.

Kids’ brains develop during key developmental windows when they engage their active imagination in such things as creative play. These windows are when the body builds the most neuronal connections. Kids who are just passively stimulated by a glowing screen don’t have to do the neural heavy lifting to create those images. The images are provided for them, thus stunting their own creative abilities.

I grew up in the 1970s and started playing Atari around middle school. I was enthralled with the video games, but still remained active. What’s the difference between how young people engaged with gaming back then compared to today?
The real key difference with that generation of video games and today’s generation of video games is a qualitative one. Games today are more immersive, interactive, and realistic. And that’s just the two-dimensional games. Don’t get me started on immersive 3D and augmented reality holographic games. As my friend Dr. Andrew Doan, the Head of Addiction Research for the Pentagon and US Navy who has extensively researched video games, likes to say, today’s games are a multi-billion dollar industry that employ the best neuroscientists and behavioral psychologists to make them as addicting as possible.

The developers strap beta-testing teens with galvanic skin responses, EKG, and blood pressure gauges. If the game doesn’t spike their blood pressure to 180 over 140, they go back and tweak the game to make it have more of an adrenaline-rush effect. The problem is that adrenaline rush affects what’s called the H-P-A Axis (Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal Axis) and creates the fight-or-flight adrenal response. But that fight-or-flight response in nature is a fairly brief event—you get chased by a dog, your heart races, and your adrenaline surges, but then you calm down when the threat is gone.

With video games, however, the kid sits and plays for hours of adrenal-elevated fight-or-flight. This is not a good thing. Research has shown that this latest generation of games significantly raises dopamine levels, the key neurotransmitter associated with our pleasure/reward pathways and the key neurotransmitter in addiction dynamics. One study showed that video games raise dopamine to the same degree that sex does, and almost as much as cocaine does. So this combo of adrenaline and dopamine are a potent one-two punch with regards to addiction.

I’ve worked with hundreds of heroin addicts and crystal meth addicts, and what I can say is that it’s easier to treat a heroin addict than a true screen addict—Dr. Nicholas Kardaras

A friend of mine has two kids, and he takes them everywhere with him, but both kids are always engaged with their tablet and have headphones on. The only time we hear from them is when their battery runs out. What are some long-term effects of this type of behavior?
What you have observed is exactly what I just talked about: Kids who are so habituated to their hyper-stimulating and dopamine-activating immersive screen reality that they choose to stay in the digital Matrix. The reason why this effect is more powerful on children than adults—although we all know of many adults who are screen-addicted—is that children still don’t have a fully-developed frontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls executive functioning, decision making, and impulse control.

Neuropsychologists call the frontal cortex a person’s “brakes,” but that part of the brain doesn’t develop until our early 20s, which is why teens engage in all sorts of risky behavior—from bungee jumping to unprotected sex. They don’t have the impulse control and “consequential thinking” parts of their brains developed. Adding to the problem, research shows that both drug use and excessive screen usage actually stunts the frontal cortex and reduces the grey matter in that part of the brain. So hyper-arousing games create a double whammy. Not only are they addicting, but then addiction perpetuates itself by negatively impacting the part of the brain that can help with impulsivity and good decision making.

Can a screen addiction even compare to a heroin or cocaine addiction? Most people would say no, especially since phones are a necessity in today’s world.
Well, I definitely think that screen addiction meets all diagnostic clinical criteria for addiction. As does the Chinese Health Organization and many other countries throughout the world. The US is a bit late to the dance. We don’t have it as an “official” diagnosis in our DSM, but we do have the topic marked as requiring further study and review. While phones may be a necessity—and I say may because, let’s face, we can live without a phone—they’re definitely not a necessity for an eight, nine, or ten-year-old.

My whole thesis is that we should let the child’s brain fully develop first before we expose them to these digital drugs (which they definitely are). I’ve worked with hundreds of heroin addicts and crystal meth addicts, and what I can say is that it’s easier to treat a heroin addict than a true screen addict, precisely because they’re so ubiquitous in our society that people inevitably have to interact with them on some level. Not so with heroin. In my clinical experience, the key to digital addiction prevention is to be mindful of the potential dangers of screen addiction and limit usage during those key developmental ages before it creeps over into digital addiction, because that’s a real bitch to treat.

How does screen tech affect behavioral disorders like ADHD, anxiety, depression, increased aggression, and psychosis?
Dr. Dimitri Christakis’ research has found that screen exposure increases the probability of getting ADHD, and several peer-reviewed studies have linked internet usage to increased anxiety and depression. I think some of the most shocking research is that which shows how kids can get psychotic-like symptoms from gaming, wherein the game blurs reality for the player. It’s known as “Game Transfer Phenomenon” and has been extensively studied by Dr. Mark Griffith and Dr. Angelica de Gortari in England. Gamers hear and see elements of the game long after they’ve stopped playing; Minecraft players start seeing the real world in the cube-forms of the game. I’ve worked with several teens who’ve had apparent psychotic breaks from their excessive gaming, and two who needed to be psychiatrically hospitalized. It’s scary stuff. We know that children develop their sense of what’s real and what isn’t—what psychologists call “reality testing”—between the ages of three and ten. If they are exposed to reality-blurring imagery during that key developmental stage, it compromises their ability to discern reality. That’s less likely to happen to an adult gamer, but it’s occurred.

Even though we are seemingly more connected than ever with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, it seems there’s a big disconnect in the way people communicate in person because of all the texting and social media. How does the screens play into that?
I like to call social media the illusion of connection. Author Johan Hari calls it a “parody” of genuine connection. We are social animals hardwired for social connection, but that seems to require genuine, in-depth, face-to-face intimacy and connection—not Facebook friends and Twitter followers.

Research has shown that the more Facebook friends one has, the higher the likelihood of depression. That’s been attributed to the “comparison effect”: I get more and more down about my life the more and more idealized images I keep seeing of peoples projected happy lives . Let’s face it, most people don’t post Facebook pics of when they’re struggling. Instead, it’s just, look at how wonderful my vacation is! types of photos. You see enough of those and you can begin to feel pretty crappy, if that’s your only social connection.

Order ‘Glow Kids’ here.

ITP-logo_smallAbout The Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University

Since 1975, the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University has continued to be an international leader and pioneer, moving humanity forward in the areas of transpersonal research and transpersonal education. training clinicians, spiritual guides, wellness caregivers, and consultants who apply transpersonal principles and values in a variety of settings.  The Sofia educational model offers students not only a solid intellectual foundation, but an extraordinary opportunity for deep transformational growth and personal experience of the subject matter. How does Sofia University accomplish this? The university builds upon its strong, whole-person psychological foundation to give students a greater understanding of the human condition.

Learn more about our programs.

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Filed under Alumni features, ITP Academics, Research at Sofia U

8 Ways to Remedy Stress on the Cheap

The Corless Family Fall 2016-29.jpg

About the author: Valerie Abitbol, LMFT, owner of Flow Counseling, PLLC  received her Master of Arts degree in Counseling Psychology from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University. She is a counselor and therapist in Denver, Colorado who specializes in couples and  women dealing with major life transitions. We have re-posted an article from her blog here.

reducing Stress overwhelmed relaxation denver therapist valerie abitbol


Don’t break your piggy bank yet. Here are a few cheap remedies against stress. Start here and now!

Here’s my “prescription”: Practice at least two of the tools below every day to increase your resilience to stress, and get back to feeling more grounded, faster.

1- Don’t be a hamster, breathe!

stress anxiety denver therapist valerie abitbol

Yes. It really is that simple. So basic. But when we’re stressed, we forget about our breath; we tighten it, hold it, or simply have a hard time breathing normally. Having less oxygen circulating in your body and your brain will increase your stress and/or anxiety.

And there you are, the little hamster stuck in the wheel.

Here are 3 different options depending on the time/place:

Option 1:

Make it a habit to take a deep breath every day when getting up, leaving the house, getting in/out of the car, going to a new place, meeting new people, before eating, and when noticing tension in the chest or the body in general. Think of the breath during transition points, from one activity or place to another.

Option 2:

Inhale on 4 counts – hold the breath two counts- exhale on 8 counts. Repeat until you feel calmer.

Option 3: 

Take a deep inhalation, filling first your belly with air, then moving to your chest. Hold the breath for two counts. Exhale, emptying fully the chest and belly. Repeat 10 times and continue as needed.

2- Flex those muscles

Practice some progressive muscle relaxation:

muscle relaxation stress denver counseling valerie abitbol

First, tense a muscle group in your body, such as your calves, thighs or shoulders.

Hold it for a few seconds.

Next, release the tension and notice how your muscles feel when you relax them.

Repeat with other muscle groups as needed.

For a guided version, you can download my free progressive muscle relaxation audio recording.

Note: Very important! Always check with your doctor before doing anything physical, especially if you have any medical conditions or injuries.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation | Flow Counseling | Denver
Valerie Abitbol MA, LMFT


3- Show your stress the way out

Option 1: When stress starts to go up but is manageable: go for a leisurely walk around the block, focus on the breath and surroundings. Notice the colors around you, the smells, noises, touch some trees. Feel the ground supporting you.

Option 2: When stress becomes more intense: alternate walking one block quickly, with running or walking faster the next. When you start feeling better, slow down and go to option 1.

Include any other physical activities beside walking/running that you enjoy. Go at the speed that feels right for you at that moment. Today may be different from yesterday.

And of course, do what you can based on your physical shape, health situation, and seek medical advice first.

4- Bathe your mind in calm

Bring to mind soothing and calming images of people or pets in your life, things, places and memories. Anything that helps make you feel safe, loved, supported, peaceful, and helps you calm down.

Stay with the image and notice as many details as you can to make the image more vivid.

Notice how it makes you feel in your body, as well as the emotions, and sensations you experience. Let your mind connect freely, from one positive experience to another, and follow the trail.

5- Meditation…

meditation mindfulness  stress denver therapy valerie abitbol

I recommend you use “static” meditation (vs. walking meditation) once you feel a little calmer, to help you maintain and reinforce that state. It can be frustrating at the beginning to try meditating when you feel restless. Use one of the more physical tips above first to release some tension.

If you have a meditation practice, go for it. If not, you can use a guided meditation app. Regular use will provide the most benefits. Here are few free ones I like:

The Mindfulness App for iOS and Android

Headspace for iOS and Android

Stop, Breathe, and Think  for iOS and Android

6- Playful and relaxing activities

Remember when you were a kid?

Wrestle with your partner, your kids or nieces and nephews – have a tickle fight, jump on your bed… bring back the silly and lightness that goes with it.

Take your dog for a walk, play with your pets, or simply give them a long petting session. You’ll both get benefits out of it.

7- Give yourself the spa treatment

Do I even have to mention massage? No matter what kind (back, foot, neck, from partner or professional), get one, or do it yourself.

Get a foam roller similar to this one on Amazon, and start rolling.

Here are a few ways you can use it. How to use a foam roller.

overwhelm stress denver counselor valerie abitbol

Take a warm relaxing bath at end of the day, include essential oils, candles, music… soak in for a  minimum of 10 min.

And if you have more time available, consider making a de-stress trip to some hot springs.

Here’s a list of 30 Hot Springs in Colorado if you’re local.

8- Naps

Short naps can be very beneficial to manage your stress better.

Go for 15-20 min and remember to set a timer. Wash your face with cold water after waking up to feel more energized.

Try at least two of these tips on a regular basis and leave me a comment to let me know how they are working for you.

If none of these hit the spot, consider getting some professional help to get to the root cause and find more customized tools. Just don’t keep letting stress be in charge of your life and relationships.


ITP-logo_smallAbout The Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University

Since 1975, the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University has continued to be an international leader and pioneer, moving humanity forward in the areas of transpersonal research and transpersonal education. training clinicians, spiritual guides, wellness caregivers, and consultants who apply transpersonal principles and values in a variety of settings.  The Sofia educational model offers students not only a solid intellectual foundation, but an extraordinary opportunity for deep transformational growth and personal experience of the subject matter. How does Sofia University accomplish this? The university builds upon its strong, whole-person psychological foundation to give students a greater understanding of the human condition.

Learn more about our programs.

Leave a comment

Filed under Alumni features, Mindfulness and Meditation

3 Principles to Conscious Business and Leading with the Heart First

georgezimmer-750xx954-538-46-19.jpgHow many people can really say that they are conscious entrepreneurs? What does that mean to be a conscious entrepreneur? George Zimmer, Chairman, CEO & Founder at Generation Tux who received his honorary doctorate from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University in 2003 shares his ideas on how conscious business, and in turn conscious capitalism, involves leading from the heart and knowing the significance of serving. George will also be the 2017 Commencement Keynote Speaker for Sofia University.

“Grounding Conscious Capitalism in Shared Servant Leadership”

In business, like in sports, increased energy and loyalty comes from being valued as important members of a team. In this way, it’s been my conviction that conscious business leaders should define success by creating success for others. A conscious business leader can help unleash the synergistic human energy and creativity that comes from motivated, cooperative groups, that are moving forward with a shared intention. This is much like a great coach helps individuals and the team reach high levels of success.

PyramidThinkingSuccess.jpgJohn Wooden, famed basketball coach at UCLA for over 20 years, who died at the ripe old age of 100, understood this well. He also saw the importance of creating a solid foundation on which to build collective success. Nicknamed the “Wizard of Westwood,” he had a program for coaching that he called the “Pyramid of Success.” At the bottom of the Pyramid is all the foundational stuff that makes someone a great player.

He would take the freshmen All-American recruits and explain that there’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything. This includes basic things that one might take for granted, like how you put on your socks and lace up your sneakers. Based in his simple philosophy, his team won ten NCAA national championships in a 12-year period, including an unprecedented seven in a row. To get to the top, you have to set a strong foundation.

20178472040_8abd75e3ca_z.jpgThroughout my business career, I’ve always encouraged managers to think with their hearts as well as their heads. As is the case in sports, in business a solid foundation is created when people are able to openly discuss the integration of body, mind, heart and spirit. It’s important to work hard, but also to celebrate success and have fun together. These qualities help to build a strong team. In the process, it’s vital for those in management to understand that leading employees and selling merchandise to customers is as much about authentic caring and building trust as it is about conforming to rules and meeting benchmarks.

Over the decades I have found that this involves three foundational principles: respect; listening and demonstrating understanding; and asking for help in solving problems. It’s important to create an atmosphere in which people aren’t afraid of failing – since this is the way we learn and prosper together. Our goal as leaders is both to inspire and motivate the people that we manage, helping them to become their best and brightest selves – this is fundamentally positive reciprocal altruism.

During my career I’ve sought to develop these principles by becoming a servant leader. This concept was originally introduced by organizational development guru Robert Greenleaf, who started writing about servant leadership almost 50 years ago. For Greenleaf, the best test of leadership is helping those who are being served grow as people, becoming freer, wiser, healthier, more autonomous – and more likely to become servant leaders themselves.

Read more of George’s LinkedIn article

Learn more about conscious leadership and leading from a mindful perspective in Sofia University’s MBA program. 

About George Zimmer

He is Chairman, CEO & Founder at Generation Tux and zTailors as well as Founder and former CEO and Chairman of Men’s Wearhouse. He is a father of four, husband and business Warrior Monk who roots for the underdog.


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Filed under Honorary Doctorates, MBA Academics

Are the Mind and Body Truly Separate? Exploring Mind Body Healing with Dr. Deepak Chopra

There’s a mind. There’s a body. Distinctly different right? Maybe not. Are mind and body the same thing or are they just different modes of conscious experience? How does Cartesian dualism thinking stand up in scientific communities today? Has the idea of non-dualism taken over?

Exploring these concepts becomes clearer once we have defined the understanding of healing and its relation to health and wholeness. Dr. Deepak Chopra, Professor of Consciousness Studies in the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University, discusses these thought provoking topics and more in this video.

If these subjects intrigue and fascinate you, consider taking your studies to the next level with a Master’s degree in Transpersonal Psychology, residential or global, or a residential or global PhD in Transpersonal Psychology.

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Filed under Faculty at Sofia U, The Transpersonal

Remembering Unity, Remembering God. Understanding Sufi Practice by Dr. Robert Frager

Robert Frager, Ph.D., founded the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, now Sofia University, where he directs the Master of Education program in Transformative Education. Ordained a Sufi sheikh in 1985, he is president of the Jerrahi Order of California. His books include Sufi Talks: Teachings of an American Sufi Sheikh (Quest Books, 2012), Love Is the Wine (editor), and Essential Sufism (coeditor).

Sufi Practicebob-frager-222x196

The goal of Sufism is to make us into real dervishes, real Muslims, and real human beings. These three are essentially the same. Our goal is to come closer to God, and that is the same in all religions and all mysticism. The major difference between our practice and the practices of other spiritual traditions is we follow the shariat, the rules and the ways of worship of Islam.

Every tradition has an outer form and an inner meaning. But the outer form means nothing without the inner. Jalaleddin Rumi has become the best-known mystical poet in the West. His Western readers often don’t realize that he was a devout Muslim and also a professor of Islamic law and Qur’anic studies. Rumi wrote that the outer form of Islamic prayer is of no value without inner understanding. Those who follow only the outer form of prayer, which includes frequent kneeling and touching one’s forehead to the ground, are like chickens pecking grain. And the chicken is smarter, because at least it gets something from its efforts.

Remember, these are the words of a deeply devout Muslim. He understood that the outer must be accompanied by the inner. This is our tradition. We follow the outer because we hope it guides us to greater understanding, and we keep working to understand and practice the inner as well.

Remembering God

One of the central practices of Sufism is zikrullah. Zikrullah means remembrance of God. It is remembering what our souls knew before we were born. Zikrullah also means repetition. Much of our practice involves repeating God’s Names, or Attributes. In the Holy Qur’an ninety-nine Names are mentioned, but God cannot be limited to any finite number of Attributes.

The first Attribute we repeat is la ilahe ilallah. This phrase literally means “There are no gods; there is God.” A common mistranslation is “There is no god but Allah.” This came from Christian missionaries, who believed there is no way to salvation except through their own version of religion. They thought that Muslims believed the same way and that we denied the truth of other religions, which is not true at all. In Islam there is acceptance of other prophets and scriptures. In fact we believe God sent down 124,000 prophets, one to every people.

La ilahe ilallah means Unity. Multiplicity is a delusion. There is one God, and God is Unity. This holy phrase means there are no truths, there is Truth; there are different realities, but only one Reality. There is nothing worthy of worship, except for the One who is worthy of worship. ThSudan_sufisese are only a few of the different layers of meaning of la ilahe ilallah.

The first half, la ilahe, “There are no gods,” asserts that all our conceptions of God are limited and distorted. Whatever we can imagine or say of God, God is far more than that. The second half, ilallah, tells us “There is God.” It reminds us God exists and God is beyond our experience and understanding.

In Islam we think of Allah as the most important Name of God. It is considered the “proper name” of God and, more than any other Name, it captures the essential nature of God. It is an essential part of our zikrullah.

We also repeat in zikrullah the Attribute “Hu.” This refers to God without attributes, pointing toward the essential, unnamable nature of God. It is considered by some Sufis to be a universal spiritual sound, similar to Om in the Hindu tradition.

We also chant “Hai,” which means “Life.” God is the essence of Life, and everything in creation vibrates with this Name. If anything ceased chanting “Hai,” it would immediately cease to exist. Every cell in our bodies is constantly chanting Hai. Our breath chants “Hai.” Tugrul Efendi, our head sheikh, commented that although we are all constantly chanting Hai with each breath, we are not aware of what we are doing, and so it is not worth much.

When we pray and when we practice zikrullah, we attempt to experience at least a taste of who we are meant to be. Rumi wrote that God formed human beings by putting an angel’s wings on a donkey’s tail, in hopes that the angelic part will lift the animal nature to something that is beyond both. It is an image that stays with me as a description of who we are. If we could remember the image, it would probably keep us from becoming too egotistical.

The Role of a Teacher

People often ask if we really need a spiritual teacher. Can’t we do it all ourselves? One answer is that it is very difficult to see ourselves clearly. We can see our trivial faults, for example our tendency to be a little short-tempered or the fact that we eat too much and do not exercise enough. But the deeper problems in our personalities are harder to see. Why don’t I trust more? Why can’t I keep my mind on my prayers?

There is an old Turkish Sufi saying, “You can bandage your own cut, but you can’t take out your own appendix.” The sheikh is there to help you with your appendix, with the major changes you are seeking to make in your life.

You need a spiritual teacher who has the wisdom and ability to guide others through their spiritual challenges. And the greatest challenges generally involve issues that we don’t understand clearly, so we need to trust someone to guide us through them.

Of course trust and authority can be misused. There are power-hungry teachers and naïve, passive followers. That happens in every spiritual tradition. In fact another old Sufi saying refers to this: “Counterfeit coins prove that real coins exist.”

One of the advantages of Sufism is the silsilah, or chain of teachers, of each Sufi order. This is an unbroken chain. Each teacher has been the student of a teacher of the previous generation. Good teachers do not allow their students to become teachers in turn unless the students have developed a certain degree of wisdom, self-control, and ability to guide others. Also, if a teacher begins making serious mistakes, word is likely to get back to other teachers in their order. So there are people who can try and correct that kind of problem. In other traditions, self-proclaimed gurus have done tremendous damage to their students. From our point of view, that is very dangerous.

Authority and power are always potentially dangerous. All spiritual communities are filled with imperfect members. No one here is perfect. Hari Dass Baba, a wonYanbaghi_LiKulli_Nafsinderful yoga teacher once wrote, “The ashram is designed to save you from the world. What will save you from the ashram?”

In our tradition it is much more demanding to be a dervish than to be a sheikh. At one level, a sheikh is only a position, although it is a position with serious responsibilities, and hopefully the sheikh receives divine help in fulfilling these responsibilities. A dervish, by contrast, is someone who always seeks to serve and to remember God. Those are major challenges.

There is a wonderful story about Rumi and his teacher, Shems of Tabriz. The two men are sitting outside having tea. Rumi’s wonderful writings have spread throughout the Islamic world and the number of his followers has increased tremendously. A man comes galloping in on horseback. He jumps off his horse and runs to Rumi. The man bows deeply and says, “The teacher you sent to us has died. Please send us another sheikh.” Rumi laughs and says to Shems, “Aren’t you glad he asked for a sheikh? If he asked me to send them a dervish, either you or I would have had to go.”

As I mentioned earlier, a Sufi order is traditionally referred to as a silsilah, or chain. I prefer the metaphor of a pipeline. Each sheikh is a section of pipe connected to the section before it. What flows through the pipeline is the blessing and the wisdom that flow from the great saints throughout the generations of Sufi teachers, all the way back to the Prophet Muhammad. What flows through the pipeline is not the sheikh’s. It is something that flows through each sheikh. My old Sufi master, Muzaffer Efendi, used to say, “If it comes from me, don’t take what I say too seriously. What comes from me personally is not worth that much. But if it doesn’t come from me but comes through me, then you should listen.”


Mysticism goes back to the dawn of human history. We forget that for thousands of years human beings have experienced and been inspired by the unseen world. The unseen world is not merely what people experience after death. It is here. We get too rational about religion and spirituality. Mysticism is not rational. It is arational, actually outside or beyond reason. Rationality can only take you so far. Years ago Huston Smith wrote that the rational approach is similar to the old anti-aircraft searchlights of World War II. The beam of light could only illuminate a tiny portion of the night sky. It is a very small part of the total. The vast majority of the sky is not illuminated, no matter how bright the beam is. Similarly, Western scientists think that the only reality is what they are illuminating in their rational searchlights, and that all the rest doesn’t exist.

We forget. Most of us have far too much education, and of the wrong kind. Modern education focuses almost completely on the head. It ignores the body, the heart, and the soul. We forget that there is a whole other world filled with different energies, blessings, and wisdom. These things are real.

One of the great blessings of hajj — pilgrimage to Mecca — is seeing other people from different parts of the wTurkish_whirling_dervishes_of_Mevlevi_Order,_bowing_in_unison_during_the_Sema_ceremonyorld, from very different cultures. Many of them had minimal formal education, and when they circle the Kaaba, which is also called “the house of God,” they don’t think that is a metaphor. They are circling the actual house of God. For them God’s presence is real. They are in a powerful spiritual state. Many spend their working days on their feet, herding, hunting, etc. They cut right through the crowds of people around the Kaaba. When I was on hajj, I was a little annoyed at first. I felt they were knocking everyone out of their way, but then I realized they didn’t care. It was not personal. They were in an inspired state, and if others weren’t, they couldn’t keep up. I felt tempted to give up my degrees and fancy education if only I could have the same kind of pure, concrete faith.

It is a balancing act. On the spiritual path we should never throw our rational minds away. God gave us intelligence, and we are supposed to use it on this path. It is an absolute mistake to fail to use discrimination and good judgment. But we should not use a certain kind of limited rationality to dismiss everything that is beyond rationality.

Ram Dass once said we are the closest to God when we are the most confused, because when we are confused, our opinions and theories do not stand between us and divine reality. 


We do have an animal nature, and there is nothing wrong with it. There is nothing wrong with a donkey. It is a wonderful creature, as are all animals. But we are not meant to be donkeys. We were born with other capacities.

We are meant to develop as human beings, especially to come to understand and control our egos. Some Sufi teachers have recommended we train our egos the way the Arab horses were trained. In the West we have a cruel and primitive tradition of “breaking” horses, breaking their spirit to make them docile. The old Western approach to child rearing was similar, symbolized by the phrase “spare the rod and spoil the child.”

The intelligent and compassionate way to train an animal or raise a child is through love, patience, and understanding — not through brutality and domination. Modern horse whisperers are highly effective because they understand horses. They guide horses rather than beating them. They shape a horse’s behavior by understanding how horses think and by understanding the basic patterns of equine behavior. The problem is usually the owner, not the horse. A well-known “dog whisperer” said, “I’ve never met a problem dog. I work with problem owners.”

We can work with our egos in a similarly patient and compassionate way. We can start by seeking to understand our egos. We were all self-centered as young children. It is a natural phase of human development, and ideally we grow out of it. But sometimes we don’t. Maturity and growth don’t happen automatically. It takes real effort to mature out of our basic narcissism. And, with so many things, we inevitably revert back to old patterns from time to time. Freud was absolutely right when he wrote about regression. At times we do revert to childhood patterns under pressure.

In working with our egos, we can tell ourselves it is OK to let go of some old patterns, patterns that made perfect sense when we were younger. Often we don’t need those patterns when we are older. Educating our egos is an art, and it requires consciousness and compassion.

I don’t believe in hair shirts or other kinds of extreme asceticism. Years ago one of my colleagues was the Jesuit director of novices for Silicon Valley. When he moved into the director’s office, he found several boxes in the closet. One had hair shirts, and another had whips and chains. So we arSyariah-thariqah-hakikah2e not that far from the medieval notion that we grow spiritually by physically torturing ourselves. I am convinced that this kind of asceticism is a gross distortion of healthy self-discipline, and does far more harm than good. In fact I doubt it does any good at all.

One reason to avoid asceticism is that the ego is so clever that we are likely to become proud. We say to ourselves, “I torture myself more than anybody else I know. I’m certainly the most spiritual and the most worthy person here.” Our egos will always appeal to our pride. We can’t educate our egos by this kind of immature behavior.


The great scholar and Sufi teacher Imam al Ghazzali writes about eating as an example of practicing gratitude. We take eating for granted. First of all, we have a hand with five fingers, including an opposable thumb that allows us to use utensils to bring food to our mouths easily. Do we ever reflect on what a blessing this is?

When we put a piece of food in our mouths, we grind it up with our teeth so we can digest it easily. Just as a farmer grinds grain, we grind our food. But grinding alone is not enough. If the food remained dry, we couldn’t swallow it. We would choke. God has also given us saliva, which moistens our food and begins to break it down in our mouths. We are also blessed with a working stomach, an extraordinary organ that digests all kinds of different foods.

Then the circulatory system carries the nourishment that comes from digestion to every cell of our bodies. Our circulatory system is truly extraordinary. It comes within a fraction of a millimeter of every single cell in our bodies. If it did not, those cells would die from lack of nourishment. We can also be grateful that we are healthy enough to digest our food, that we don’t have to take it in intravenously.

Al-Ghazzali also wrote that we should consider how our food gets to us. For example, the farmer plants wheat. The farmer’s work rests on hundreds of thousands of years of human agriculture. For how many centuries have farmers experimented with ways of effective farming? Agriculture does not happen automatically. Our agriculture is based on centuries of trial and error and the work of untold numbers of farmers. Unsung geniuses have figured out effective ways to plant, harvest, and prepare food. Human cultures have kept that wisdom and passed it from generation to generation. Without culture great ideas and inventions would have been forgotten. We take our culture for granted, but it is priceless. It brings us the wisdom of thousands of years and keeps the wisdom of the geniuses who are born every generation.

If the farmer puts the seed into hard clay, it will not germinate. Something has to break up the earth. We have learned to till the soil, preparing the earth to grow seed. This brings us to a whole set of other human achievements, such as the invention of metallurgy and the development of plows. Before that, early farmers learned to use digging sticks to break up the earth so seeds could germinate. Farmers today rely on sophisticated machinery, which developed as a result of the development of whole industries, from mining to electricity to the automotive industry. Then there is harvesting, grinding, and knowing how to prepare the wheat so we can digest it. We can’t eat raw wheat!

These are examples of human effort. Consider also the rain that God brings down. Without water the earth would be an arid desert. We also need the sun. Seeds will not grow in frozen earth.

When we consider what it takes for a seed of wheat to turn into a wheat plant, we see it is not a small thing at all.

Think about how grateful we should be for a piece of bread or a bowl of rice. God’s blessings are in everything we eat, and so are thousands of years of human history. Think of how many people are working today to manufacture the thousands of elements that go into the production of any kind of food.

We don’t worry about our food. We are blessed with abundance of all kinds. We take for granted the security we feel from having so much food in our homes. How many meals do we have at home? Think Roof_hafez_tombof all the food in our refrigerators and freezers, the canned foods and dry foods we have at home. Do we ever think to be grateful for the security this brings?

Most of us have never been truly hungry, except for the little bit of hunger we experience during Ramadan. We think that is a big deal, but during Ramadan we have a big breakfast before dawn and a bigger fast break after sundown. How about those who go days without eating, who worry about how they will get food for their next meal? This was the situation of many people for thousands of years. Even today many are starving, many are constantly worried about obtaining food for their next meal. Imagine the pain of parents who cannot feed their children.

We should also be grateful for our Sufi community. We have many others we care about and who care about us. Recently the dervishes in New York experienced days without power because of a major storm. Some of those without electricity moved in with those with power. Everyone gathered at their center for meals in the evenings, because the center has a gas-powered generator. The New York dervishes fed their neighbors as well, because most of the neighbors had no power. It is a tremendous blessing to be part of a generous and loving community, to have so many others we care about and who care about us. That is real wealth.

Let’s reflect in this way about how much we have to be grateful for. Some Sufi teachers have recommended that we feel gratitude with every breath. Muzaffer Efendi (God rest his soul) used to say that we can practice feeling gratitude three times with every breath — when we breathe in, between the in-breath and out-breath, and when we breathe out. With each breath we have three opportunities for feeling grateful, three opportunities for remembering God.

There are some who actually do that. It is helpful for us to know that this is possible, that a human being can attain that level of spiritual practice. We get lost in the world. We can counter that tendency through remembering la ilahe ilallah, which is to look at all that engages and attracts our attention and realize it is temporary, is not eternal. It goes in the blink of an eye. And then we can remember ilallah, there is that which is eternal, which is truly valuable, that which is beyond price, that which our hearts are all yearning for. We could use this formula to keep reminding ourselves.

There is nothing wrong with the world. Muzaffer Efendi used to comment that many Sufi teachers have said the world is bad, the world is our spiritual enemy and it distracts us from God. My Efendi would laugh and say, “That is not true . . . the world is our spiritual enemy if we put it between ourselves and God. The world does not insert itself in there. We put it in there. The world is our spiritual ally if we use it to remind ourselves of God, and if we use the world as an opportunity to serve. Then the world is an extraordinary spiritual gift.”

We are in the world to serve others and to serve all of God’s creation. Service is the practice of spirituality throughout our daily lives. Every time we speak with someone is an opportunity for service. That includes not o
nly interacting with people but with animals as well, and not only with living beings but with the earth, the air, and the water. It is part of our practice to serve all of creation. Our practice is to remember God as much as possible, in all circumstances, and to serve others, remembering God is in them. God is in everything in creation.

That is our goal — to be in the world and remember God. We are not monastics, and we don’t treat living in the world a s a second-rate spiritual choice. To us being in the world is a wonderfully rich, rewarding, and demanding spiritual practice.

We are different from the angels in that we have the capacity for failure. Angels are structured so that they are always in a state of remembrance; they are always seeking to carry out God’s will. We, on the other hand, can fail. And this makes our successes much more valuable. My teachers have said that a human being who is self-centered and narcissistic is lower than the animals. The animals do love in their own way.

A human being who learns to love God and serve God’s creation is said to rise higher than the angels, because that achievement is done through human effort and choice, as well as through God’s blessing. When we pray and perform zikr (remembrance) we are experiencing ourselves as the people we are meant to be.

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Reaching out beyond the brain: Are we more than physicality? Marilyn Schlitz explains.

Paranormal phenomena. ESP. Quantum aspects of reality. Is there a correlation? Can our awareness reach out beyond the brain and describe something in another location? And is this truly a function of the brain?

Marilyn Schlitz, Professor and Chair of the PhD programs in the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University, shares her research on this topic.

Does this work intrigue you? Are you interested in deepening your curiosity as a researcher? Perhaps a doctoral degree at Sofia University is right for you. Learn more about our residential and global programs.

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Is there scientific data supporting an afterlife? Charles Tart explains

Many people wonder about the after life. Is there such a thing or is this just our unconscious mind connecting to our imaginations? Where do we go to find evidence regarding this question – do we rely on religious conceptualizations or review data from near death experiences and interviews and testing with spiritualist mediums?

Dr. Charles Tart, Professor Emeritus from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University, shares his ideas about the data and what people have really experienced.

Intrigued by these topics? Pursuing research on these topics and more at Sofia University is the place to do so. Learn more about our Residential and Global PhD in Transpersonal Psychology. 

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When Worldviews Clash – 9 Ways Dr. Deepak Chopra Found to Get Beyond the Conflict

diversity-33606_960_720Can’t we all just get along? What keeps us as a society from finding that ability to see each other as humans and resolve conflicts in a peaceful manner?

In a new course at Sofia University with co-teachers Dr. Marilyn Schlitz and Professor of Consciousness Studies Dr. Deepak Chopra, students consider the ways in which worldview literacy can be used to help people transform their behaviors, improve relationships, develop effective communication strategies, and enhance lived experience. By identifying methods for engaging in collaborative dialogues about diverse worldviews and beliefs and applying worldview literacy to transpersonal psychology, these questions and solutions are considered.

According to Dr. Chopra, in order to engage in conflict-free dialogue must begin with seeing the person or group with opposing viewpoints from a place of shared humanity. One method to do so is by using the following 9 principles:

  1. Treat the person holding a different worldview with respect.
  2. Recognize perception of injustice on both sides.
  3. Be ready to forgive because forgiveness brings you peace within.
  4. Refrain from belligerence as as you lose respect.
  5. Use principles of emotional intelligence and speak using feeling words.
  6. Avoid stereotyping based on based on verbal formulas in areas such as race and gender.
  7. Avoid words and statements that prove the other wrong.
  8. Avoid bringing ideologies like religious beliefs into the discussion.
  9. Recognize there is fear on both sides in how the world operates.

Interested in learning more about this course? Click here to read more about the course intentions and outcomes.

Want to watch Dr Chopra share his 9 principles on video? Check out his Facebook live link.

Marilyn Schlitz 2Marilyn Schlitz, Ph.D. is Professor and Program Chair of the doctoral programs at Sofia University. Marilyn Schlitz, Ph.D. is a social anthropologist, researcher, writer, and charismatic public speaker. She is currently the Founder and CEO of Worldview Enterprises. She also serves as President Emeritus and a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Noetic Sciences. Additionally, she is a Senior Scientist at the California Pacific Medical Center, where she focuses on health and healing, and is a board member of Pacifica Graduate Institute.

choprahDEEPAK CHOPRA MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, and is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Endocrinology and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego, Health Sciences. The World Post and The Huffington Post global internet survey ranked Chopra #17 influential thinker in the world and #1 in Medicine.He is currently a professor at Sofia University in the PhD program.

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Math, Consciousness and Artificial Intelligence with Deepak Chopra

Dr. Deepak Chopra speaks on the topic of whether placing consciousness into something that is non – biological material is possible. Chopra explains his interpretation by speaking about mathematical frameworks, Einstein, and the gap of discontinuity.

To learn more about taking a course with Dr. Chopra at Sofia University, try a sample lesson from our course “Death Makes Life Possible.”


About Dr. Deepak Chopra

DEEPAK CHOPRA MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, and is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Endocrinology and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego, Health Sciences. The World Post and The Huffington Post global internet survey ranked Chopra #17 influential thinker in the world and #1 in Medicine.He is currently a professor at Sofia University in the PhD program.


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