A Conversation About Courage and the Wisdom of Our Hearts
Theresa is a Registered Psychologist, Healer, Radio Talk Show Host, and Author of YUM: Plant-Based Recipes for a Gluten Free Diet. She is also the “World’s nicest badass.”
Find out more about Theresa on her website: TheresaNicassio.com
This is their conversation…
Dusty: Thank you so much for talking with me today Theresa. Before we get started, would you tell our readers a bit about you and what you do for a living?
Theresa: Thank you so much for inviting me! I work as a psychologist and a healer. I believe that psychology is about helping at the soul level, which for me an energetic place. I am more of a light being – carrying this physical body that is manifesting in service associated with love. Who I am, really, is a kindness advocate, working to bring as much joy to those around me as possible.
We all have different perceptions about what it means to be human, and about health and healing. But our Ego can distort our perception and cause us to fee confused. Unfortunately, Ego creates a barrier to being healed and to feeling whole. It’s paradoxical since the soul is so strong, and yet at the same time is also so tender.
What I do in my work is hold space for my clients with as much love as I can to help the wisdom within them and the moment to emerge.
When I was a child I was obsessed with the Holocaust and the plight of those whose ancestors were slaves. The horrific events drew me early in my life. Yet, it wasn’t the terrible suffering that fascinated me, it was being in such awe of the strength of the human spirit that they so courageously exemplified.
I was mesmerized by how that inner power could transcend and move through even the most horrible experiences imaginable. It was the beauty and strength of the human spirit that drew me then and continues to do so today through more than thirty years of doing psychotherapy. I have, in that time, held space and helped many people remember who they truly are, even when the stories of their experiences had been too difficult for many other professionals to hear and help them navigate through.
My gift is that I can see the wholeness in the person even when they feel broken.
Dusty: What is your relationship to Courage?
Theresa: The word Coeur comes from the French word for heart. The heart is what makes it possible for people to face what they fear most – those things that they are afraid will destroy them.
My approach is what I call Heart-Centred Therapy. Our deepest heart, no matter what is done to us, can never be destroyed. Courage for me means coming to an awareness and connecting with the depths and the power within us, even when we’re challenged to face the most unthinkable of things.
My relationship with courage in myself is all about owning the power within me, to be energized and then step beyond my comfort zone in order to help others step up and out – to find within themselves the courage to face the things in their lives that they are afraid could destroy them. I help people learn to pause, connect and then really listen to the wisdom in their heart.
Dusty:Where do you feel courage is most needed today?
Theresa: I think that as a society we are very much lost right now. What we’re seeing, whether in Las Vegas, or the Middle East, or in Washington, DC just points to that sense of being lost.
I believe that we’ve created an autoimmune disease of the heart. Metaphorically, we are turning on ourselves and unintentionally attacking our very being from the inside out. This is also true for the planet. We could end up destroying ourselves unless we reconnect with the wisdom of our deeper heart that just awaits our attention.
When I look around, I see many people having the fear of feeling too much, of being overwhelmed by all that is there to fear. Thus, many are numbing themselves out. What we need to do is simply come home to the truth of what truly matters.
We saw it after 9/11. It was beautiful. We saw people coming together in New York where people previously would ignore and be ignored. Suddenly people were looking into each others’ eyes and going into their hearts, feeling the pain and suffering.
And then, having been brought to their knees in humility and vulnerability, they began connecting with each other. No one had to tell them what to do – they just knew it because they were listening to the wisdom that was so clear in their heart.
Brene Brown’s TED talk about the same thing that you’ve been writing about for years, the courage to be vulnerable, is critically important and offers us a roadmap to the home that we all have deep inside, when we are able to be courageous enough to release the Ego that masks our humility and the fragility in our heart.
Everyone is trying to put up a brave face to the world. When we can stop hiding and come together to connect, to be open–that is our key to healing. It is an antidote to the disease of Ego gone wild.
When I watch what is going on in Washington, DC, it looks like a comic book–an exaggeration that doesn’t even seem real. Then on the other side of the continuum, I see the people who have come through some great tragedy that has brought them to their knees–yet they aren’t broken and there is healing and grace there.
I love the story of the Golden Buddha. A long time ago there were Buddhist monks in Thailand who had a beautiful golden Buddha that they cherished. It was uplifting to them. Then they learned that the Burmese warriors were on their way to invade them and their temple. They thought, “If we can just protect our Golden Buddha, even if we die, our beloved treasure wouldn’t be harmed.”
They covered the 10-ft-tall, Golden Buddha with clay a foot deep to protect it, hoping that no one would imagine the magnificence that was under all that clay. The monks all lost their lives, but because the warriors only saw an ugly clay Buddha, they thought it was worthless, so they left it alone. Hundreds of years later the massive clay Buddha needed to be moved, but through the moving process, it got damaged and began to crack. When the head monk went out in the night to check on the Buddha with a flashlight, he saw a flicker of gold deep inside the crack, so he decided to chisel away the clay and see what was under the cracked clay. What he found was that under all of that clay was a perfect and beautiful five-thousand-pound solid gold Buddha.
This for me is the essence of my work as a psychologist. Most people come to therapy thinking that they are defined by the clay of their symptoms, not realizing that the truth of who they are is magnificent, but has been hidden in order to protect them. My job as their therapist is to help them honor the clay as their protector, while also helping them chisel away this outmoded artifact of their past so that they can discover how wondrous they truly are at their core.
I see this in so many in our society. People busy defining themselves by their beloved and familiar habits and coping strategies. They just don’t realize that there is a perfect golden Buddha inside of them, just waiting to be found.
For society to heal we need to begin chiseling away the mud and the clay, the crap that is there; to step into a higher frequency, which is the gold within us all. Instead of focusing on the problems and getting lost in them, we need to start focusing more on the solutions, on compassion, love, grace and forgiveness. Just doing that will make a big difference.
Here’s a great example: By just putting your hand on someone who is in pain – maybe on the shoulder or their knee–reduces the pain. Dr. John Upledger discovered that by thinking about things you love as you put your hand on someone in pain creates a shift and reduces their discomfort.
If you have a number of people forming a chain of touching while thinking of loving things, he found that this increases the frequency and that healing takes place. It’s amazing.
In some schools where they taught this technique, they found that bullying at those schools plummeted–the self-compassion led to greater other-compassion–all moving to a higher frequency. (Contact the Upledger Institute in Florida for more on this.) The power of the heart shifts the energy in the person and those around them. Physicists have shown that the electromagnetic field of the heart is 10,000 times stronger than that of the brain (Source: HeartMath Institute).
I think that the Act of Courage that we most need today is your sixth act of courage, the Courage to be Vulnerable, while simultaneously requiring the Courage to Act – to be strong within that vulnerability. This means allowing the fire in your heart to really light up and shine out into the larger world. It means having the courage to live in the paradox of vulnerability and of strength at the same time, and not shrinking in the midst of the vulnerability.
Dusty: How do you feel when you exercise courage – when did you most need courage?
Theresa: There have been many times in my life when I have been called to be courageous. The most pronounced one was when I had my daughter.
She was born in 1997. Up to that point in time I had been very physical: dancing, volleyball, hiking, and working as the chief psychologist in a large clinic. After her birth, the gift of health left me.
My whole immune system collapsed. I could no longer fight infection. I had pneumonia, bronchitis, was sick and had no energy for years. It was an autoimmune disorder that was not diagnosed.
I was barely able to breathe, feeling confused and scared. At the same time, I had this beautiful little girl who was such a treasure. I felt totally vulnerable and was literally brought to my knees, barely able to walk a single block. Even though the suffering felt overwhelming and too much to bear, I knew I couldn’t give up and leave her motherless. She gave me the fire in my belly to keep on fighting.
It was 12 years of suffering before we figured out what was going on. The pain and loss was what ultimately helped me find the Golden Buddha at my core. The love for my daughter and the desire to love was what helped me find the courage to continue living – to keep moving forward. That courage helped me discover that I was much bigger than I had ever imagined I was.
My husband also was there through it all. He stood beside me; loved me, was there for me. No matter how I looked on the outside, how sick I was, he saw me underneath all of that crap – he always saw the Golden Buddha in me, even when I couldn’t see it myself.
Dusty: What is the best advice you can give to readers about living from your heart – living with courage?
Theresa: No matter how small you may feel, please know that you are not insignificant. Whenever you feel fear and doubt, you are in danger of being seduced by the belief that you are too small and have no power to make a difference. I want to tell you that that’s a lie.
You, we, all of us have great power within us. Each person is a seed – there is a shell around the seed to protect it – that is its purpose. Don’t try to pretend the fear and doubt aren’t there. Feel it – know that it has a purpose. Don’t deny it and yet also don’t let it consume you.
Sometimes we need to go into the darkness, into the pain in order to gestate – to discover the heart of who we are – the part of us that longingly awaits expression. I urge you to trust that it can be an awesome gift. Think of a walnut seed, so hard, yet the life force breaks through and it then can become a great, beautiful being, a huge tree giving life and abundance. Understand that the shell of fear will become irrelevant over time – it had a purpose at one time and now you are ready to step up and out of your shell to rise fully into the person you are truly meant to be.
One last thought. A word that comes to me is “acceptance.” I’m talking about a radical form of acceptance: to truly accept who you are and where you are in any given moment. Then you will have an opportunity for peace and greater ease. The conditions of our lives do not define us – they are there to help us step up and embrace fully the people we are meant to become.
Like the walnut seed, the seasons nourish and challenge us, making it possible for us to build strength and become the people we are meant to be. Our scarred bark and lost branches don’t mean that we are broken or any less beautiful, but are just reflections of our courage and heroism to persist and carry on.