Host: Welcome to the Lifelong Wellness podcast, where we talk to wellness professionals from around the world to gain their insights into healthier living. I’m your host, Wes Malik. When it comes to living well we can talk about a variety of subjects; our physical well-being, our spiritual well-being, even our emotional well-being. That's what we’re going to focus on today. My guest is a counselor, author, poet, and educator. She works with individuals, couples at-risk, families, and hospice patients, and anyone who wants to experience forgiveness of themselves and others and the profound healing it brings. She’s a frequent speaker on the essential role of forgiveness in various settings, including festivals and seminars and she's also written about forgiveness. In her book, Forgive and Be Free and The Edges Are Friendly. Our guest today is Ana Holub. Let’s welcome her to our show. Ana, welcome to the Lifelong Wellness podcast. How are you doing today?
Ana: Thanks, Wes. Doing well.
Host: All right. When we talk about wellness, there's one aspect that we haven't spoken about and that is our feelings and our emotions. And you are an expert in emotions and many attributes related to controlling emotions or managing emotions. How do, how do emotions contribute to our well-being in our life?
Ana: Well, yes. I would say that, you know, trying to control them can backfire but being very, very aware of our emotions and having tools to help us ride those waves is really important. So if we really accept that we are human beings and we are going to feel things and it's okay. Then that's step one is just to accept, “Yes. I’m a feeling person” and that’s important. And then sometimes we have feelings that are very, very difficult and so we have to make sure that we have tools that help us to take responsibility for our feelings, our thoughts, and our actions so that we don't spray it all over everybody else because that's really where suffering and violence come from.
Host: Is it easy to be in touch with our emotions or is it difficult? Are people mostly aware of what they're feeling?
Ana: Well, I think it depends on the person and a lot also depends on our cultural conditioning. So depending on each individual person whether they are more cerebral. You know, just kind of as their inner personality or more emotive, that’s one thing individually. And there’s also some gender there, layers of, you know, women culturally being more accepted in their emotional self. Whereas men, there are only certain emotions that in certain parts of the society are acceptable. So then men sometimes learn to shut their emotions down except for anger. Anger is acceptable except that that is a problem because underneath anger there are all sorts of other things that are going on. So we need to learn to be attentive to what we’re actually feeling. And I've come to realize that even though I'm pretty emotionally astute as far as what's going on with me, there are times I don't know what's going on with me and I have to really slow down and check it out. And also from working with men for years, just me and a lot of men. This was in San Quentin prison I worked with all men and me for a number of years. And it helped me to understand that a lot of times when I thought as a woman or girl, I thought like, “What’s going on with boys and men? I don’t understand”. Then I started to get a lot more compassion for where some men are at where because of this conditioning, they don’t even know what they're feeling. And I know that's a huge generalization and I don't mean to speak about any individual person because some people are very tuned in and some women are really not tuned in so I get that, too. But I'm just speaking to like an overarching problem, I'd say for all of us in the western industrialized world.
Host: Well, we can’t make general assumptions about population, you know, generally or locally or demographically. We can just, you know, have a conversation based on assumptions. And assuming that, you know, most of the general male population doesn’t acknowledge their emotions or feelings, has a hard time with forgiveness is conditioned in a certain way depending on their cultural background, their family background, or history. How can, how can we get in touch with our emotions or get a better handle on them or manage them better? I'm talking about men in particular.
Ana: Well, I just want to add that lately after years of working with a lot of women in my private practice as a forgiveness counselor and addiction recovery coach, I am seeing a lot more men coming. And I really, really appreciate that and I feel like there's a sea of change that's happening, which is a healthy one where men are starting to realize, “Oh, my gosh. I really need to deal with some of that stuff that's going on inside of me”. So, in answer to your question, how do we then tune in? How do we get in touch with their emotions? A big part of that is to slow down.
Ana: Because a lot of times we’re just kind of rushing around and or distracting ourselves. And so if we’re rushing from this to that the other thing during the day and then at night we just kind of a turn on the TV and space out, there is no time when we actually say, “Oh, I need to check-in. I need to find out how am I doing? What’s going on with me?” And that's why learning some very simple breathing tools and skills and some simple meditations or contemplation techniques are really helpful because they help us slow down and be in this present moment, now. And now is the only time that healing occurs. So we have to know what's going on with ourselves right now. And a lot of times what we’ll come up with is like kind of a blank at first.
Ana: So if you tune in and you slow down and you go, “What’s happening with me? I’m following the direction okay”, and then you tune in and you go, “Not much”. That would just be the first layer of kind of blankness or numbness that you have to get through. Or you might realize, “Oh, my gosh. I really am kind of upset or depressed or anxious” or whatever. Or you might realize, “Hey, I actually have a lot of gratitude. I'm actually doing pretty well right now”. So it's good to check-in and find out because that's where our emotions are at this moment, not at some other time. There is no other time. This is the only time there is. It’s right now.
Host: You work with individuals, couples at-risk, families, hospice patients. You work extensively with the prison system, people who were incarcerated and you work on one very, very specific thing. I want to talk to you about that, of course. That's what we're here for. I'm very interested to know what Peace Studies are. You hold a Bachelors in Peace Studies. What is that?
Ana: Yes, I do. I have a Bachelor's in Peace Studies and a Masters in Dispute Resolution, which is basically the same same, you know, as long as that would be peace education.
Ana: And so that's all about what can we do individually and as a community of human beings on the earth to become more peaceful, to learn about conflict and violence and… There’s got to be conflict. That’s not the problem. Conflict itself is not the problem.
Ana: It’s how we resort to violence and aggression instead of listening to each other and being intelligent and coming up with good ideas and brainstorming. I mean, there are ways to work through conflict that are part of the peace education umbrella that I work with. And so, there are many, many things like communication skills, like learning to listen to each other, like slowing down and being inside our own experience and letting other people have their experience, too, without needing to jump on them and make them wrong and blame them, you know, and that’s where violence escalates. So we wanted just to be very aware of, “Wait a minute. Pull it back. Take a breath. Be inside of here. Find out what am I actually feeling. What are my values? Where do I stand in the world? Do I stand for peace? Do I stand for respect for all people, not just some people?” Those things are very important to know about ourselves so that when we go into a conversation or a political argument, or whatever, that we can do with some compassion for everybody involved, including ourselves and including the earth.
Host: So you work in forgiveness. Does it stem from your studies in peace and dispute resolution?
Ana: I would say it does. I have an academic background that I talked about but I would say even more important to me and my passion for this work is my own life and the things that happened in my life. My personal story of needing to understand within me, the power of forgiveness to help myself become free. And I talked all about this in my book which is called Forgive and Be Free. So, there’s a longer explanation of the story in the book. But just briefly, I grew up in a family that looked really great from the outside and there were a lot of wonderful things about my family. And also my mother suffered from deepening mental illness and she had manic-depression and she ended up getting worse. And then when I was about 23 and pregnant with my first child, really big pregnant like eight months pregnant, she killed herself. And so it was a very, very tough time for me and my whole family, and then within a couple of weeks, I had the baby. So, I just didn’t really have time to process that. And it took me a long time to get through the fact that my mother had decided that she couldn't be here anymore right when I was becoming a mother myself. And at that time I was a single mom and I would felt really alone and then my mother disappears, you know, abandons the world basically. And it took me quite a while to even begin to unpack that box of grief and devastation because I had just focus on my baby and which I did and she turned out fine. Thank goodness she’s wonderful.
Ana: Yes. And it was a huge, huge soul test and stretch for me to go through that and my whole family, too. And if you’re listening and you’ve gone through that or something similar, I completely understand. It’s such a tender area where we can live for years with the pain and suffering of something like that or something big like that. And most people have gone through something that has really affected them very, very deeply. So when I found out about the work of Colin Tipping, who was my mentor who wrote a book called Radical Forgiveness. And I saw his book and I thought, “Oh, yes. That’s amazing”, you know, I was already into peace education already doing communication skills and mediation and stuff like that. But when I saw this book called Radical Forgiveness, I thought, “Oh, my gosh. That's what I need”. And sure enough, it was what I needed and I was able to really let go of so much of the, you know, the disbelief, the grief, confusion, not only about my mother's death but growing up as a child with a parent who was in and out of reality. It's very difficult and it's very similar to growing up with an addicted parent or parents. And sometimes people grow up with both, you know, parents who are trying to self-medicate their mental illness with alcohol or other drugs. And so growing up as a kid, you know, your parents can be wonderful and loving for a minute or two and then switch and be totally different people and be very scary. And that is kind of hell for a kid. So I know what that's like. And the forgiveness work that I learned and that I now teach really saved me. It saved my sanity, it saved my peace of mind. And now I feel like I've been through the goblet and out the other side to where I feel like my mother, you know, in the extended realm of spirit wherever she is, is really supporting this work. So, we are a team.
Host: That’s amazing. I’m sure it took you a period of time to unpack all the events in your life because they did become a catalyst to what you do today with helping other people, but I'm sure it didn't happen immediately. I'm assuming it took years.
Ana: Well, you know, I would say that the process for myself and, for just everybody I know, is that it does take… It’s an art project. That's how I look at it. Our lives are our art project and we’re taking off these bells of heaviness and we take them off one by one, but as we do it, it would just feel better and better and lighter and lighter and freer. So yes, for me personally it did take years, and yet every time that I find something from my past because my mother's death was, an illness was not the only thing. You know, there’s been other stuff, too. So, there's a lot to let go of for every single one of us. And so, as I find these things and I let them go in my own life and I feel better and better, at that moment that doesn't take time. That takes soul willingness. So when we’re ready to forgive and deeply let go on the soul level, that can happen in a matter of a few minutes. Because there's this way of letting go that I have learned and developed from working with Colin Tipping, but also my studies and of course in miracles, which is a spiritual text. And all the peace education and all my life experience that I have distilled this down into something that is very simple, actually. And it's a way that people can learn to feel what it feels like to do the steep letting go. And when you learn it, you can realize, “Oh, this actually doesn't take a long time”. The actual letting goes itself just takes a matter of, you know, a few minutes maybe. And then there's a time after that, where it's very important to be very, very aware of receiving. Because as soon as we make room inside of ourselves then we receive the intuitive wisdom, we receive the healing flow, we receive the vitality of life itself. So that's the second part of the forgiveness process. It’s all this goodness that comes to us.
Host: Does it come automatically? Immediately?
Ana: Yes, it does. And it helps to be very aware of it and welcome it.
Host: And that impacts our wellness overall?
Ana: Oh, my gosh! It impacts our wellness on every single level of our being. It helps us to be healthier physically because the body isn't holding all this tension and fear anymore. It helps us emotionally because we’re not walking around with all this heaviness, it's dragging us down, you know, memories of the past of resentments. And also self-loathing because a lot of the forgiveness is forgiving ourselves for the things we’re not so proud of. And so when you start this process and you just start letting go and taking off these bells, your mind also becomes free and you don’t loop these thoughts anymore. And there’s a lot more room for our mind to receive intuitive wisdom. So we start being in the right place and the right time. Now, we start being in the flow. Then life starts getting a lot more fun and a lot more interactive with the oneness that gives us life. I call it the Holy One or some people call it the universe. I call it spirit sometimes. You can call it whatever you want but the oneness starts this interplay and it’s almost like a friendship. It is a friendship and there are some jokes in it. So it’s like these little things will happen that are kind of funny.
Host: Right. Like an inside joke.
Ana: Let you know your own task and then you start feeling like, “Oh, okay. So now that I’m not so depressed and anxious and miserable anymore, I can make room for my actual purpose of what’s the goodness that I want to share here with the world”. So, all of those things are connected to our wellness on so many levels. And that's why I am so passionate about this, this forgiveness because it's a doorway.
Ana: It’s a doorway from our suffering into our emancipation and liberation and joy.
Host: I think I can learn something from you today and so can our listeners and I like to ask you very specific questions about forgiveness.
Host: I subscribe to a religion whose name is quite literally translated into peace, which I find quite serendipitous. And my daily greetings to anybody when I wake up in the morning is “Peace be unto you”. You know, my brother, my sister, you know, and I talk about peace a lot. And the religion I subscribe to teaches that I have to be peaceful towards others, my brethren, my kin, my neighbor, and all the great things, but I have a hard time with it. I honestly do. It kind of takes a backseat because I don't think I’ve learned or maybe I don't have a conscious method of knowing how to forgive. And when it comes to forgiveness, I wanted to ask you this question. Is there a step-by-step process I can learn? Secondly, is it forgiving people that have done stuff to me, or is it forgiving myself for doing stuff to other people? What is it?
Ana: Yes, okay. So, thank you for asking this question. First, I want to mention that the kind of forgiveness that I teach is not the traditional model that most of us have learned.
Ana: So, it's an expanded model which isn't so much, “Oh, you know, this horrible thing happened and I need to let bygones be bygones. I need to learn how to forgive that person for doing that awful thing to me. And I’m going to do it. Yes, I think I did it. Well, maybe I didn't. Maybe not”.
Host: How do you know? Yes.
Ana: That’s usually where traditional forgiveness goes and we do our best with it and we feel like, “Gosh! This is kind of hard. I really don’t know if it’s working”. So then we get to the expanded forgiveness that I teach and that is all about letting go of anything and everything that is in the way between you and feeling directly the peace of your own connection to spirit.
Ana: So, that includes all the resentments and grieving and revenge thoughts, anger. Whatever it might be towards someone else and towards yourself. So really, I don't make that big of a distinction between… For some people say, “Well, you've got to forgive everyone else, then you get to forgiving yourself”. And then other people say, “No, no, no. You've got to forgive yourself and until you do that, you can’t forgive anyone else”. And I just say, “No, throw all that out” and just say, “Forgiveness itself is deep letting go of pain and learning that it is possible to do this inner work and it’s not hard. You just have to learn how to do it”. A child can do it. Although, a child needs to have the ego development to be able to understand. So it actually takes a little while to developing ego and then to be able to witness ourselves and then to be able to let go of what we choose to let go of. And I want to let you know that you are in the driver seat. You get to decide when and where and how you let go. But you do need to do if you want to be happy. So it is a requirement for deep peace and yes you can learn how to do it.
Host: How do I begin?
Ana: Yes. So, I detailed this in my book, Forgive and Be Free. You can also get it on Audible and you can listen to it or you can contact me on anaholub.com. We can have a private session. So, that’s how to really deeply get into all of the steps. But for right now, I will just tell you that the steps are simple and profound. And I found that the more simple something is if it's real, if it's good, if it’s whole, then the deeper it goes. The more profound, the more simple, the more profound. That's why just learning to breathe and be in this present moment, sounds pretty simple, is one of the most profound things we can do. So the process itself starts with prayer. And if you don't like prayer you can call it intention.
Ana: But it really is a tuning in and a humbling of ourselves and asking for help. It’s a realization, “Okay. I’ve tried up, down and sideways to figure this out with my mind and I’m just not quite happy yet so I need some support. I need help from the wisdom of the wholeness of life”. So that's what the prayer is about where the intention. And then we get very, very honest with what is actually going on, which brings us back to your earlier questions about emotions. So we need to be honest and get through our own, “Oh, that’s not such a big deal”, “Oh, I already did this”, “Oh, I already fixed it so…”, “Oh, I really don’t need to think about that”. Wait a minute, wait a minute. Hold on. Take a breath. What’s really happening? Am I, are you really upset about this? And it’s okay. We can be upset about… In fact, there’s probably a lot of things to be kind of upset about for various reasons. So just getting honest with what the perturbations are. You know, whatever is obscuring our peace. We need to be very honest about it and just sit with it for a bit, not to castigate ourselves, not to flagellate and whip ourselves or someone else. But just to be honest like, “Yes, I’m not at peace in this spot in my life”. Okay, so after the prayer that would be step one to just get really honest and say, “All right. Let me just slow down and say, yes this is bothering me”. And so usually we understand what's bothering us on a kind of shallow level where we just keep repeating the irritation over and over again. So we have to drop down deeper than that. So it takes more awareness, more concentration, more willingness and openness. So then we drop down and say, “All right. So what else do I need to know that I wasn't letting myself in on?”, you know? So, we educate ourselves about what is this thing, this non-grievance that we’ve been holding and carrying. And then we can decide once we really learn about it in depth as best as we can. We can decide, “All right, do I want to keep it? Do I want to let it go?” because we are so free. It's very important to understand how free we are. We can let it go or not. No one can do it for you. You’re going to make the decision in the moment that you do. So, just being in touch with that freedom really helps because then we can decide to let it go, you know, that you’re doing it from your own power of choice. Your own empowered sense of “This is what I want”. And then, once you’re ready then you can give this pain and suffering to the beauty and the vitality of life. So if you have a religion, you can bring that in. If you don't, that's fine as long as you feel there’s something that is greater than you as a personal individual person, something that's greater than bigger than that, much, much vaster than that. That is loving and kind. As long as you feel like there's some place to lay that suffering down, then you can make an offering. Lay it down and I show you how to do that with your breath. It's actually pretty simple. You just need to learn how to open that door. And once we open that door and let that sadness flow out, then make some space inside of ourselves. And that space can then be filled with beauty and grace and that’s where the healing comes from. There’s no one human being that’s going to heal you. There’s no perfect relationship with another human being that's going to fix everything. It’s going to be your own connection from yourself to your creator however you imagine that to be. Opening the door and letting go of the sadness and the pain and saying, “Yes. Please help me. I'm ready for this healing to wash through me and educate me and comfort me”. So when you do that, you’ll feel it. And it feels like the best thing that you've ever done in your whole life, very personal and powerful process that we should all go through at one point in our life.
Host: It’s a very personal and very powerful process that we should all go through at one point in our life and periodically as well.
Ana: Yes. So, I'm glad you brought that up. So, the end of it after all that happens is another prayer or another intention to end the session and that is usually a lot of gratitude and a blessing and compassion for everyone involved. And you’ll know how you’re doing with how much compassion you have. And you’ll have a lot of compassion as long as you allow yourself to get filled up with this beauty and light because then you won’t be looking outside yourself anymore to be healed by the world. You’ll be healed by life itself, which is inside of you. So that’s the ending of it. And yes, it’s a beautiful process that we don't just do once, you know? This is something that most everybody has several things from our past history, plus then there's walking around in the world every day. So it becomes a lifestyle, it becomes a viewpoint of how we walk around. And the more light we have, the more we have to offer the world.
Host: That’s fantastic. I would like to talk about your experience and your work with addiction. And now I've learned through your story that you shared so kindly that you are a personal witness to people who were suffering from addiction and I know that you focus on it. When it comes to working with your own addictions or people with addiction, what are the things we need to know about? Why is breaking an addiction so difficult?
Ana: Well, yes. Addiction is a habit. So the habit goes over and over and addiction is a negative habit. So if you have a habit of getting up in the morning going for a run and you feel great, that’s not an addiction. That’s supporting yourself. But if you have a habit of getting up in the morning and smoking three cigarettes and, you know, not getting any exercise then that's not going to be supportive to you or your lungs or to the air that we all breathe, right? The addiction itself can be a substance connection, you know, where we think there’s something outside of our bodies and some other substance that we need to put in our bodies in order to be happy, which usually after a while we see, “Oh-oh. That wasn't a good idea”.
Host: Right. (laughing)
Ana: Or could be a behavioral addiction like something that we do over and over and over again that we know is not good for us but we can’t seem to stop. Or it could be a subtle addiction and for me personally, I haven't had a substance addiction that was really difficult. I mean, I did smoke cigarettes when I was younger, but I was able to quit pretty easily. So I would say that, that I didn't have a substance abuse problem but I have had for sure subtle addictions of mind which had been a problem, you know? So I'm very interested in how these thoughts loop around and around and I call it recycling and we’re just doing it over, doing it over. And that's why the forgiveness process that I just mentioned really releasing our deepest, deepest, most tender sadness and pain. And letting healing right in and doing that in a very simple and profound and direct way. That is what every addict needs to learn how to do. And I don't know anybody with an ego who doesn't have some addiction problem. You know, even the addiction to thinking of ourselves as an individual unit with no support and no help.
Host: So the definition of addiction is quite large, meaning that it could be not just a physical thing. It could be something else as well.
Ana: Right. That's what I meant by the distinction between the substances. Like most of the time, at least in the past, I think this is really changing. But in the past when somebody said, “Oh, that person’s an addict”, there’s a real attitude about that. There was really like a hierarchy of, “Well, I’m better than they are because they must be on the street or something”.
Ana: And I have met so many people who have recovered from intense addictions, who turn out to be the most awesome people on the planet. So I want us to keep in mind that every single one of us has this beauty and innocence and clarity to within us and then it gets covered over. And we get heavy and we get sad and all we need to do then is take those layers off and beauty and innocence will shine once again. So that's why the addiction itself, we can focus on the addiction and have compassion for wherever anyone is at. But the recovery is the place to lean into and just to say, “Yes. This is possible”. And if you are struggling right now with an addiction, I will tell you that there are millions of people who are letting go of their addiction today and you can be one of them. So everyone can let go but you need to learn how. And it's understandable if you've been through some really rough times that you want to self-medicate. But as you decided probably by now, “Oh, well seems good in the beginning but it's not good now. And now I don't know how to get out of it”. And saying to you, letting go of your deepest pain by forgiving yourself and others is your ticket to recovery.
Host: And thank you for starting us off on the steps and how to begin and defining forgiveness much more than the term that we’re actually used to. I appreciate it. There's a lot more I like to ask you, I like to talk about it as well. You’re also a poet. Have you written any poetry lately?
Ana: You know, I am a poet and I have been writing poems, gosh, for most of my adult life and songs. And lately, in the last year or two, I've been writing more songs and I've been writing poems, but to me, it's all the same creative channel. And I will say, too, that the more you let go of your suffering and sadness and fears, the more that creative channel will open up and you’ll find, “Oh! You know, gosh I love photography. I love to play with clay or I love gardening or cooking” or whatever is your joy. It will come out more.
Host: That is fantastic. You have a lot of experience with many people, you proactively go out and help people. People come to you as well. You’re reachable at anaholub.com. That’s A-N-A-H-O-L-U-B dot com. On your website, do you have a blog or do you have videos that you share with people?
Ana: Yes. Funny that you should mention the blog. I just updated my website. The blog is not up there yet.
Ana: I have an immense amount of material and so I will be reconstructing that blog and putting it back together. In the meantime, I have a YouTube channel. There is a lot of video on there and some of my poems are on there when I…Sometimes when I speak, I offer poem or song. So, if you want to see me in action just go to YouTube Ana Holub and some of that stuff comes up. There's also a link…I believe there’s a link to the new site. I got to check that out to make sure. And people can connect with me on Facebook as well. I post some of my videos and things on there. The best place to really learn about my work is my website. And there’s also a free download if you would like it that gives you an overview of this work.
Host: And how can we get that free download?
Ana: Yes. You just go to my website and click the button and it will come to you.
Host: Okay. That easy.
Host: I was mentioning that you proactively meet a lot of people, a lot of people come to you as well. And of course, there's a lot of people listening to you right now. You must have heard a lot of questions and there must be one very common question that you get a lot from people. What is that and what advice do you offer us as parting advice to our listeners.
Ana: Well, I will say that I work with people all over the world. Now we have Zoom and now we have Skype and so you don't have to come to Ashland, Oregon to work with me. I just want to let you know that.
Ana: And as far as the question that comes up, I think one of the deepest questions is that people assume that it's going to be really hard to do this. And I just want to say it's not hard. You just need to learn the simple opening of the door so you can let all your pain out and receive healing in return. So you can do it. You just have to get some help to learn how. And the way that I work with people is not that you need to come back to me over and over again like a normal therapist. You know, it might take years of therapy. I work more on an intensive basis where you can come once and check it out and have a very deep experience. And then you can come back again if you so choose. And so each person might need four sessions or one session or maybe you just get the book and you get inspired. Maybe you listen to it online on the Automobile. You know, there are different ways to tune in to what I have to offer and I try to make it affordable and very accessible.
Host: Ana, thank you so much for being on a Lifelong Wellness podcast today.
Ana: Thank you, Wes. It was a joy.
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