Donna Quesada: It is so nice to meet you. I’ve just been reading about your work and it’s inspiring,
and I just want to formally thank you for your time this morning, and for sharing your insights with us.
Megan Larson: Thank you for having me. It’s such a joy to be here and connect with you. I’ve enjoyed all of your interviews on the platform, and I’m just happy to be here.
DONNA: Thank you. Well, I have so much I want to ask you about your work… about reframing therapy because it’s stuff that appeals to me personally, and I think that it’s on point with where we need to go in our culture, but before we start to unravel all of those questions that pertain to your personal work, we have a tradition, and that revolves around the question of what it means to awaken. I’d love to get your input on that. What does it mean to awaken?
MEGAN: I had been contemplating… because I’m remembering from seeing some of the previous interviews, and I love that that’s an opening that’s utilized to engage the conversation. I feel as though to me, awakening means to realize that things are not as they seem, in terms of being solid and fixed, that there’s constant change, and that impermanence is a part of this reality, and tuning into how everything is in constant movement in that way. And then also, this piece of who we are, and this questioning of how we identify ourselves that there’s a truth within us that is beyond comprehension and ability to name. Then the heart… I always think about, like… leading through the heart instead of through the intellect, or through the mind, and allowing that to bring forth intuition as the guide, and trusting that there’s an unfoldment process that’s happening.
And then one other piece… this ability to bear witness, to be present, to hold the joys and the sorrows of life, and to not shy away or close down our heart, but to be able to remain present and to be a witness in the world but not of the world. I always think about that when I think of awaken.
DONNA: With so much there, and it reminds me of a saying in Yoga—and I know that you utilize your own Yogic training in your work as a psychotherapist—that the path to awakening is just a few inches from the heart… and you’re saying that to awaken is to get in touch with that part of us. And I know that I’ve personally experienced that during periods of my life when I’ve been going through challenges; once I drop down into the heart, everything feels a little bit less burdensome.
MEGAN: What do they say? The longest journey is from the head to the heart.
DONNA: It’s true, and it’s so simple that we tend to overlook it. And we look for grandiose explanations about enlightenment and what it is, but in fact, it’s just dropping down a little bit. I love that. Well, you also use language that I recognize as familiar… you’re talking about the recognition of life as impermanent, which of course, is Buddhist language, and I know that you were influenced by the Tibetan tradition, and I was trained in the Japanese Buddhist tradition, but it all revolves around this teaching of impermanence. I’d like to dig down into that a little bit more. How does the recognition, from your point of view as a psychotherapist especially… how does the recognition of life’s impermanence lessen our burden?
MEGAN: That’s a profound question. I don’t know if I have all the answers, but I can certainly try to share from my own experience how it’s impacted me, and when I think about impermanence, it’s that constant change, and that constant knowing that this moment will pass, that has allowed me to find the gratitude and the appreciation in each moment because each moment is sacred. And in Vajrayana (Tibetan Buddhist tradition) everything is sacred. Trying to remind and hold that view that each moment is a gift. And in challenging moments, just to remember… This too shall pass. And that this is an opportunity, and a moment for expansion, or for growing, or to reframe, but also challenge, and how challenges make us stronger. They help us to see elements or aspects that we might have missed.
For me personally, it’s been a reorganization of what’s really important, and that preciousness of being in this human incarnation, and being helpful, like utilizing one’s gifts… to be in service, and helping others. And for me too, like getting out of the me reality, of the “Megan show,” and being able realize that this is a gift, and to utilize time here in a way that benefits.
DONNA: I had this thought… in listening to what you’re saying, it seems like your work… I don’t know if you’ve thought about it this way, but it’s largely about breaking down these “dualisms,” and especially in this context, the dualism between what is sacred and what is ordinary… you’re presenting to us that every moment can be sacred. There’s no distinction between what special and what’s not special, what sacred and what’s ordinary. Every moment is sacred, and it answers both questions. Everything is impermanent. And the good news is, the bad times won’t last forever, but the other news is, whether it’s bad or good, this special precious moment is so precious that we better cherish it because it too will pass. Everything will pass, and it makes everything bittersweet.
Well, along these lines, I was moved by your mission to reframe mental illness, and I don’t even know if you want to call it that. Let’s get into that because I love the idea of reframing mental illness, and I don’t want to be too long-winded about it, but that has often irked me as well. We’re so willing to accept physical challenges… well, actually, we haven’t always been, but we’ve come a long way in that regard, but there’s still this stigma about mental challenges, and it’s your mission to reframe that, and I’m wondering if you can speak to that.
MEGAN: Absolutely. That’s the heart of my work… is to help shift the perception. It’s like when people are coming and seeking support, there’s often a narrative of something severely wrong; I’m not okay, I’m broken, and oftentimes in my work with parents, this comes through very strongly and I think there’s a lot of causes and conditions that contribute to why that happens, but I do think that a lot of it is the societal norms and pressures that we put on children around hitting certain milestones, and trying to fit development into certain boxes. And yes, we can reference development and those who have done amazing research to be able to look for normalcy or guides to see certain markers, which is important, and yet at the same time, it can become a box—almost like a prison because then one feels like, My child isn’t… or, My child is not doing this…
My work… it’s most essential core principle is helping to shift that perception, and to be able to celebrate the gifts of the imperfection—if we want to call it even “an imperfection,” but to realize that it’s not, maybe as its seeming, that there’s wisdom to be understood and revealed, and that oftentimes that child can be a teacher, for maybe parts of the family system that weren’t yet able to be healed with the parents. It’s almost like the mirror to realize that.
DONNA: Interesting point. Do any examples come to mind, where the child is able to wake something up, in terms of the family dynamic or reveal something that needed work in some regard?
MEGAN: Yes. Anxiety is a big one, because anxiety is something that plagues a lot of people on this planet, and that… oftentimes for a parent, if a parent is struggling with their own internal world, in terms of being anxious, and not knowing how to manage it, oftentimes the child will then present with anxious tendencies… because I think about it, and a lot of people that I trained with… I’m so grateful I’ve had so many amazing teachers along the way… have theories around, we borrow our parents’ templates of how to be in this world, How do I work through anxiety, how do I work through depressive moments, how do I be with frustration?
If we didn’t have great modeling, then that can present challenges of “how do I deal with this?” Oftentimes, back to your question, when there’s a lot of anxiety in the system, it can awaken the parents to then turn the mirror to themselves: “This is something I’ve been struggling with for a while.” And then there becomes an acceptance, an opening, where there then can be a normalization of, “and it’s okay, and “I’m going to tend to my inner world and find ways to be with this.” Which then helps the child, of course.
DONNA: What kind of tools do you use when you’re working with anxiety issues in a child… to the point where it affects his ability to be in school, or his ability to be social, in the quote-unquote “normal” way? What tools do you use to start to correct that?
MEGAN: The first is the normalization. The model that I was trained in is brilliant in that it’s all about authenticity. If there’s anxiety in the room, and the child presents with the anxiety, it’s being named and worked with, and even if it’s not being named, if there’s such a high level of anxiety that we actually can’t go there yet, we’re modeling the regulation and the breath. It’s breathing and being with that child in the height of the intensity. Then he or she learns that it’s okay, it’s safe. Then in time as the anxiety is named, it’s normalized.
DONNA: So it’s talking about it like it’s a normal thing? Off the top of my head, sports is so normal… for kids to grow up in sports, when you’re having trouble… if your muscles tighten up, or if you need to work on your pitch, it’s so normal to talk about challenges in our physical world, in our accepted activities that are thought of as “normal,” but this is where the stigma comes in. It’s not “normal” to talk about anxiety, and that presents us with all of the challenges that we have around it. It’s that stigma. Is that what you mean by “normalizing” it? We can talk about it like it’s any old challenge in the world, and feel comfortable to say “Hey, I’m feeling anxious?”
MEGAN: Yes… We’ll, say, “Okay, let’s breathe together…”
DONNA: But we’re not there yet, are we?
MEGAN: In some circles, yes, and others not so much. You’re right, it’s not something that is widely accepted and embraced, and I think about a neuroscientist Daniel Siegel who’s done a lot of amazing work on the science of our brain, and he’s got this great term, “Name it to tame it.” It’s a real thing. Once we’re able to become aware of our experience, it really shifts everything because then we’re present with what is, and we’re not fighting against the reality. In this moment, I’m anxious… let me take a deep breath. I’m noticing I got activation in my heart. Or, Wow, my stomach’s feeling really jumpy, how can I soothe myself?
One analogy that I always give, is a mother with a baby, a newborn. The Mom’s rocking the baby, moving the baby around the room, soothing… We need to learn how to do that for ourselves. It’s that coming home, coming back to the body, and being able to navigate the intensity of the challenging times or events. A lot of the work with the kids is that. It’s just naming it… breath, movement.
DONNA: It loses its power.
MEGAN: It loses its power. And we’re the observer to the experience. We’re not the anxiety. Which… Wow! Thank goodness! And that frees up so much space. There’s a lot of healing that happens in that. On one level it seems small, but on another level it’s tremendous… that delineation to realize, I’m not my anxiety, and so much space that opens up.
DONNA: I think that that stigma exists, even in spiritual circles. There’s this idea that when you start to become spiritual, you will have conquered those things, and that’s been a mission of mine… It’s not that you “conquered” or “fixed” it per se… you just start to develop those tools to use the language that you’ve used, and it certainly lessens it, but you learn to make friends with it, and to live with it in a more amicable relationship, but it doesn’t necessarily get fixed.
MEGAN: Completely. That’s why that’s such an ongoing conversation. The anxiety’s not going to go away, and we’re actually not trying to get it to go away because there’s also wisdom there… when we have anxiety arise, sometimes it’s the intelligence kicking in to let us know, maybe this isn’t a safe situation, or maybe I need to leave. We’re not trying to get rid of anything, it’s just about exactly what you said, shifting the orientation and the relationship to it. It just changes.
Read and Watch Part 2 Here: Awaken Interviews Megan Larson Pt 2 – Maybe It’s Nature Deficit Disorder
Read and Watch Part 3 Here: Awaken Interviews Megan Larson Pt 3 -This Human Realm, Is The Saha Loca and It’s For the Courageous Ones