Hope in the Midst of Difficulty

~Beth Sikora, PhD

Love recognizes no barriers.  It jumps hurdles,

Leaps fences, penetrates walls to

Arrive at its destination full of hope.

~Maya Angelou

Someone suggested that I write about hope this week.  I must admit that as I sat down to think about it all I could think of was what the past week or two held:

  • Hurricane Harvey in Texas;
  • Hurricane Irma in Florida, Georgia, and other southeastern states as well as the islands are Barbuda, St. Martin, the Virgin Islands, and others;
  • The memory of 9/11/01;
  • The repeal of DACA and then the actions since hinged to the “wall” between the US and Mexico; and lastly;
  • Suicide prevention week that was from 9/10-9/16 this year;
  • The hacking of Equifax.

Is it any wonder the person suggested hope?  It can feel fleeting and difficult to hold onto, can’t it?

So what is hope, anyway?  Above I shared some pictures that I believe bring and remind us of hope, and perhaps the magic of a picture can speak to weary hearts today.

 

According to Scioli & Biller (2010) HOPE is a combination:

  • Mastery of feeling one can take care of a situation and/or get the help to do so PLUS
  • Attachment or the ability to connect with others PLUS
  • Survival or having the tools to get through tough times PLUS
  • Positive future or looking forward to something in the future PLUS
  • Spirituality of some kind rather than a sense of being rudderless in the sea PLUS
  • Non-spiritual which is the ability to reach out to what is all around and within you.

When we have all of this, we truly have HOPE.  As Emily Dickinson said:  “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.

 

Recommended Reading:  The One-Year Book of Hope by Nancy Guthrie

You’ll Get Through This  by Max Lucado

The Book of Hope by Birgitta Jonsdottir

 

Reference:

Scioli, A. & Biller, H.B.  (2010).  The power of hope.  Deerfield Beach, FL:  Health Communications, Inc.

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Thoughts on love.

Recently I had the opportunity to see a part of the country I’d never seen before, the southeast, more specifically, a part of North Carolina. There was a wedding I had great joy in attending, and had a part of my longing for Ireland assuaged…through the friendliness of the people and the beauty in the deep green foliage.  The wedding was so incredibly beautiful in its simplicity that it allowed the love of the couple and the family to truly be hallmark.  So often the love can be secondary to the pomp; although true love shines through if one looks to see it.  As we flew home I had the quiet time to ponder what I had witnessed. In doing so I realized I’d seen love throughout the trip.

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There are likely thousands of definitions of love. Surprisingly, perhaps, I am using a definition by C.S. Lewis for this article: “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained”.  At weddings we see affection, but when we can really sit back and watch people over time, we are treated, in specially gifted moments, to glimpses of one acting for another’s ultimate good, as Lewis defined love.  That weekend I saw affectionate love, a mother with her near-toddler away from the group so that he could exercise his need to move and explore. A groom gently stroking his bride’s hand during the ceremony. A mother and father watching their daughter lovingly and then searching for reassurance later that she was included and embraced as family and in family when not near them.  All of these both affectionate, for they each were affected by and with the person of their love; but also reflecting Lewis’s definition that love truly seeks and wishes for the other’s overarching best. The health of the child, the peace in the bride, and the true well-being of the daughter.

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Brene Brown, whose work I find challenging in deep ways each time I hear her words or meditate upon a sentence in one of her books, said “Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect”.  I believe she is speaking of the same love Lewis did. And that weekend I saw the same bride able to be silly and later play spoons with the musicians. Even the musicians, all family and friends, though talented, had safety to be themselves and not have to play or sing perfectly. Such a fun evening!  A friend of the couple willingly made childlike faces with his friends, and walked a little girl around umpteen times to explore and quench her thirst for experience. The mother of the groom stepped back in love and then later reached out to her son in true love for him.  Did each lose something? Yes, but they also gained something bigger in sharing their love. In wanting the best for the other, and in doing so imperfectly and courageously.

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How do you love yourself? On a hike to some waterfalls I enjoyed many, many moments of laughter and sharing with our small group of merry middle-aged folk and one young couple brave enough to venture out with us. (And I’m so glad they did! So much fun to see them together as family and enjoying what for them was one more hike, for me the opportunity to revel in the love they share.)  Yet there was another inner part of me aware of less inner judgment of others, of myself.  Yet I still felt challenged to stop any negative chatter about myself, how I walked, looked, even interacted. At one time in my life I recall this inner chatter wearing me down long before the hike did. But this time I found myself probably at my most self-accepting, able to just pace myself, laugh with others, push on another 20 steps up from Triple Falls, and enjoy the people, the views, the majesty of the mountains and falls, the grandeur of the old and so very tall trees, and the love of the couples surrounding me as each helped the other in some way over the course of a couple of hours.

So this summer I want to challenge each of you to look and really see what is around you. Particularly the love that wants for the well-being of the other, and sometimes in the special presence of affection as well. Do not look only for the love of affection, but also the tougher to find-that love which, over time, allows for courage to be imperfect.  You must, however, start with the courage to be imperfect yourself.  You don’t have to be a concert pianist, in love playing the spoons is quite enough and more beautiful! You don’t have to climb Everest, sometimes hiking in a group of middle-aged or just inexperienced hikers is plenty because it’s time with family. So I want you to grab a pen and paper and fill in the following three blanks for your summer wholeness:

Today I have the courage to acknowledge this piece of imperfection in myself ___________ (name some part that is hard for you to accept) and I promise myself to share it with someone who loves me enough to want for my well-being as far as it can be attained. This person is _____________ .

Today I took the time to appreciate love and beauty around me when I ______________ (where you were or what you were doing).  And I am grateful to have observed love in _____________ (name the situation).

And today through the above I opened myself to take a step beyond fear, into self-love, out to experience love of other, and I showed love and desire for their ultimate well-being to ____________.

Wow! Look at you now! You are closer, even by a bit, to playing the spoons, making a silly face, and being an example of imperfect, courageous, authenticity and love. As John Lennon said: “Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life”. And I believe that is all right back to what C.S. Lewis said happens when we love through a steady wish, a hope, a strongly and long held wish for the ultimate well-being for the other.

The Lesson of the Prairie Dog with the Orange

“The world you desire can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours.”

—AYN RAND—

Picture credit:  How Stuff Works/Gary Vestal/Getty Images
For a cute video go to:  http://www.desertusa.com/video_pages/du_pdogs1.html

Yesterday I was driving past the greenbelt in my neighborhood when I suddenly found myself laughing out loud at a desert prairie dog running across the way, almost into the street.  For those of you unfamiliar with these little creatures, above there is a picture and a link to a very brief video showing their size, sound, and movement.  They are roughly 3-5” long, including their tail; and they weigh 1½ -3 pounds.  Pretty small little guys and gals.  And yet, the reason I was laughing was the determination this one had.  He did believe, as did Ayn Rand, “The world you desire can be won, …it is real, it is possible, it is yours.”  How do I know this?  I was laughing as he (or she) was running as fast as they could carrying an orange.  An orange!!!!  Fully blocking his face, barely able to carry it, he nonetheless was able to carry it home to the hole.  What a treasure!!!  Admittedly this was no large orange, and frankly if I hadn’t seen it I wouldn’t have believed it, but there she was, all determination and grit to have what she had determined was hers.

What a metaphor for life!  What is it that you want?  Is it peace?  Is it a new car?  Is it a return from depression?  Maybe reconciliation with a friend or loved one?  Or maybe just a quiet day at home reading with no stress.  You can take a step toward it – and then run toward it. I do believe, however, that sometimes what we want is sorely and wholly desired, but we must wait, and so we experience the pain of waiting.  And sometimes we must work extremely hard and for long periods of time to get it.  Remember the last semester of any year of school?  Or the end of your senior year in high school or college?  Or the love who wanted to be near you but wasn’t finding a job in the area? Perhaps it is for the promotion or the raise?  Or the end of a commitment the military or a teacher’s contract?  In so many situations in life we are called to wait, slowly work through each day, one day at a time.  And yet, when we finally reach the end, the goal is so worth the wait that, like childbirth, we forget the pain and are in love with the child we can’t believe is ours, held in our hands, laid on our breast, and we well up in overwhelming love.  The goal is reached.

So, for those waiting, waiting for something to come, or to end, or to begin, here are a few ideas for making it through those days.  First, keep discerning what is best.  A very wise young man posted this to his Facebook page the other day:  “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart,” Jer. 29: 11-13.  When we don’t “get” what we “want”, there is often a reason.  Learning to wait for it, allowing it to become clear over time, is a difficult but important step in moving forward and gaining what it is that is not just what we think we want, but that is designed for our best.  Pema Chodron puts it another way: “Clarity and decisiveness come from the willingness to slow down, to listen to and watch what is happening”.  Don’t you think that prairie dog had to wait for just the right size orange, clear of coyotes and rats and other varmints?  Of course he did! Whether in meditation or prayer, slow down, look, listen, reach out for God or your Higher Power for wisdom.

Second, face your fears.  Years ago, a book did more to motivate women to make changes in their lives than many other books.  It was “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” [link to embed:  https://www.amazon.com/Feel-Fear-Do-Anyway/dp/0345487427 ] by Susan Jeffers.  The context of the book was that we all feel fear.  Every single one of us!  Even that little prairie dog.  But we have to do more than feel it.  We must face it and act in spite of it.  That means we recognize it and move anyway.  I remember reading it at a time I was in the business world and terrified of making decisions that I had to make as a senior underwriter and marketing professional.  Decisions were mine to make, that’s what I was paid for at the time.  In addition, I was in a marriage that wasn’t healthy, and I had to leave that.  And that frightened me.  Despite all the quiet time and prayer and choices that were becoming clear, I still had to act.  I love the title of one of Jeffers’ chapters, “Just nod your head – say yes”.  Obviously, she is not suggesting making a decision that is not thought through, but eventually you must just say yes, or sometimes just say no.  The world will not crumble.  You will not sink into the pavement.  You will get through it.  And generally, it comes out just fine.  Someone I know has just gotten through a major decision – return to work or retire.  After struggling and going back and forth for months she finally just scheduled her first day back…and is fine.  She’s now back for almost a month and doing well.  She grabbed the orange and ran with it!

Third, Melodie Beattie has it right on so many things in life and I want to quote her here: “Gratitude unlocks the fulness of life.  It turns what we have into enough, and more.  It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity…Gratitude makes sense of our past; brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”  So, gratitude helps us to move forward even further.  As that little prairie dog reached her home, her hole underground in the greenbelt, she must have given gratitude for making it across the street safely, managing to get that little orange all the way home with no interruptions by cars or coyotes, and gratefully had food for her family…and delicious food at that!  She was at peace.  And this built a memory of success that could fuel a vision for the next hunting trip.

Melodie Beattie Gratitue

So be your own prairie dog hero this weekend.  It’s a long weekend, so take some time to spend in quiet alone and with God or your Higher Power.  Ask for direction.  Gain some clarity.  Face your fear and do it anyway.  And be grateful for what you have, what you learn.  And be at peace.

Take care,

Dr. Beth

PS:  This Memorial Day a huge thank you to the members of our service, all branches, past, present, and future, who gave and continue to give their time, effort, and commitment to our country.  Today I’d like to recognize a few from my own family:  George and Julia Petritz (posthumously), Robert Petritz, William Petritz, Tracie Allen, William Fulton (posthumously), Robert Fulton (posthumously), Bert Fulton (posthumously), Greg Frey, Ladd Chojnacki (posthumously), Andrew Chojnacki, Chester Sikora (posthumously), Christopher Counihan as well as all of their spouses and children who have given to us as families who were disrupted many times due to moves, reassignments, and deployments.

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Embracing Ourselves

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It’s been a busy few months and I got distracted from this blog; however, it’s been on my mind, and my visit to the Frida and Diego art exhibit yesterday has given me the inspiration needed to pick it up. It was a wonderful visit with some friends, and as I wandered through it I became aware of Frida’s growth over the years. Some of her paintings and dresses were on exhibit as well as photographs by others of her. And while I’m focusing on her, Diego’s work and pictures were exhibited as well.
Frida and Diego were known for their art, relationship, and their politics in Mexico. While I do not believe her lifestyle was necessarily healthy, i.e.: affairs, I do believe her art matured and grew as she did. There are many ways to approach this, but as I considered Frida, her movement from one mastered by Diego and using his art as teacher and model shifted to her own technique and self as more independent of him, while still showing and experiencing love for and from him. One view that struck me at the exhibit, and that shows her dependency was captured by my friend, Dr. Mark Arcuri and was posted above. Here the focus of her quote is on Diego, and all he meant to her. Where is her sense of self, one might ask? While she certainly captures her mother’s background in her clothing, and wears it brilliantly,
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she does still rely on Diego and mother and cultural background to define her. How many of us do that? Truly there is nothing wrong with this…as long as it is defining part, not all of who we are. I am Irish in my mind first culturally, second Polish, and lastly Scottish. I celebrate some holidays in ways that capture these parts of my genetic and cultural background my parents shared with me. I enjoy the many friends that I have, and what time with each means to me, to the fullness of my life, and to what they do in encouraging my growth as a person. And I take hope from my faith and live it through my spiritual walk. So my life and identity follow Frida’s life pattern as most, if not all of us, do.
And yet, I was most struck by a picture of hers from 1949, The Love Embrace of the Universe. The exhibitors describe it as her assimilation of her spiritual beliefs and the embrace similar to that of Mary embracing Christ and simultaneously showing Frida’s minimization of Diego and his influence over her life. This was only 5-6 years before her death, and many years into her relationship. Further, it was during her recovery from a major surgery and is followed by a few years when her art was accepted some on its own merit, not secondarily from Diego’s.
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What this made me reflect on again, was how when we are not relying on others for definition, then we become our own person, and are capable of interdependent relationships. We are able to be held and hold others, as she was in this final picture I shared. And we are experienced and accepted on our merit and being, not as someone’s spouse, sibling, parent, or child. Not that those roles aren’t important, but again, they are but part of the whole package of who we are.
So as I end today, I urge you to consider who you define yourself as, whose life you are following, and what your faith and spirituality do to influence this? Ask yourself, where do I need further definition? Where are my shadows that need light and color to be made a part of the whole of me? And let the last days of spring encourage your growth as sunflowers popping up, being and embracing their being-ness boldly, fully, completely.
Blessings on your journey.
(PS: Interested in the Frida and Diego exhibit? It is at the Heard Museum in Phoenix through August 20, 2017, see http://heard.org/exhibits/frida-kahlo-diego-rivera/ or for other locations see http://www.fridakahlo.it/en/eventi.php)

Love is Everywhere

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Valentine’s Day is an interesting holiday. Although originally the focus was on fertility, it later centered on a religious figure, St. Valentine, who was martyred for marrying couples. So although the origin is related to marriage and reproduction, today the focus is more on balloons, chocolate, flowers, and expensive meals out with a loved one. And yet, if we look at the roots, it was as much about love as loneliness. Loneliness is at the roots of couples unable to have children, couples unable to marry due to a decree, and today perhaps an individual who doesn’t fit the advertising world’s view of love in purchases deemed suitable for Valentine’s Day.

What? How can I say that?  Think about the infertile couple who long for children to love. Or, the couple lonely within their relationship. Or, the single of any age who might feel ostracized on a holiday clearly focused on what they are not- a couple. Or the divorcee or recently separated from a partner who misses being in the relationship, or still loves his ex, but instead is alone. What about the person married for 1 or 70 years whose beloved died and long for just one more hug? Or even the person is generally happy and content, but the holiday leaves them feeling something is missing? When you do think of it you realize that when we consider all these people there are a lot who may feel a bit down this week, or a lot down. Perhaps you’re one of them.

I’ve been reading the book, “A Man Called Ove;” he is a man who is feeling desperately alone for many reasons, and we know that clearly people don’t gravitate toward this kind of curmudgeon. And though it’s set in Sweden, where I don’t even know if they celebrate Valentine’s Day; I’m sure he would not have felt very uplifted on this day at many points in his life. I’m not going to give the story away, but suffice it to say he learns, as the back of the book says, “that life is sweeter when it is shared with other people.” And this is the saving grace for many who face a day of loneliness each year…or many lonely days after the loss of a love.

On this day of love—reach out for some philia love, friendship. Call a friend and tell them how important they are to you. Give them a Valentine’s card for friends. Remember the exchanges in elementary school? When they weren’t unhealthy competitions, they were about sharing good thoughts with each other. Do that as an adult. Have nieces and nephews? Do they know you care about them? Tell them on this day. Write one to yourself-remind yourself of your good points. Cuddle your pet-give them an extra treat on this day. Plant a small houseplant to celebrate life. Put it in a red or pink pot to remind yourself of your friends all year.

All of the ideas will focus you on the love you do have. And love is everywhere … even when we don’t feel it … Just look around. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Living Life Within and In Community

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It’s been quite a start to 2017, hasn’t it? As a country we have waited, and now have, a new president in office; and this brings reactions for most, regardless of the person we voted for in November. The news and social media filled with stories, pictures, editorials, and comments from the public. I can’t look at my personal Facebook page without being inundated with posts pro and con. Whatever else 2017 brings we have a year of change, growth, and living life in the middle of it.

It’s living life in the middle that is what so many of us look for in guidance, support, ideas, and spiritual support.  I spent a couple of hours, as I do each Sunday morning, reading and listening to spiritual and psychological leaders. This is my weekly reset time. The burdens of the world, my life, my family’s lives, my clients, and my friends can weigh heavy at times, other times lightly, but I need reset time regardless. I came across an author of whom I’d not previously become acquainted, Frederick Buechner. One of the themes I understand his writing talks about is that of “listening to your life”. I might call it paying attention, or living life in the middle. Essentially, he is saying we have to be aware of what is happening in and around us each day, and by noting these things we learn about ourselves. He also says to listen within to our quiet places, to Spirit within, to memories, reactions, discernment, and guidance we are given.

As I pursued this thought today I also thought about hope. What Buechner was saying, in essence, is that there is always hope if we go within; by doing so we will grow, and that enables us to deal with our faults, life around us, and each other. An unusual source who was talking of hope this morning was Tom Brokaw in an interview with Maria Shriver. He reminded her, and me, that hope also requires action. So while Buechner reminded me to go within and listen, Brokaw reminded me that then I must determine what step I need to take, to choose to be active in my community, country, and world.

Finally, I listened to Henri Nouwen, who in his writing reminded me that both are intertwined. If I go within, in solitude, I strengthen my connection to community. Thus, in going to my center I can connect to others at their centers. This brings deeper connection, but also requires deeper respect, trust, and also requires action where called. An unusual thought came to me as I pondered this. I recalled a conversation with my father when he was 83 or 84. In trying to make a decision on a ballot he asked my thoughts, and shared he had also asked my brother’s opinion. He wasn’t going to follow either of us blindly, but he was attempting to discern what to choose. We had a thoughtful decision on the topic and I never did know what he decided. But his decision required that he go within, then reach out to community, and finally go back within to decide and then act.

I believe in tumultuous times we all need reminders of the basics. This applies to personal upheaval such as a new diagnosis, or death of a loved one, or a job not panning out as hoped; and it applies to business decisions, personal choices; as well it applies to community or national situations such as a police officer killed or lock down at a school due to violence. In the many situations and events we are confronted with weekly we can remain balanced as we go within, go to Spirit, and then reach out. There is nothing earth shaking or new above. But the truth, from writings years ago, discussions 10 years ago, and last week’s interview all came together to remind me to go back to the basics. In doing so I was reminded of my own belief, as Brokaw said, “there is always hope”.

(See Tom Brokaw’s interview, “I am hopeful” with Maria Shriver in The Sunday Paper).

Finding Meaning in 2017

I am imagining that if you are like most people, and like me, you’ve been bombarded with ideas to use as resolutions for 2017, ideas of how to change something you’ve struggled with for quite some time, or even struggling with shame that you haven’t been able to successfully make that change. Perhaps it’s now your New Year’s Resolution for 2017. I’d like you to stop for a minute. Put the resolution down. And consider Parker Palmer’s words:

“There is always something meaningful I can do to honor the gift of life in myself, others, and the world around us.” -Parker Palmer

This reminded me of four-wheeling with a friend and her father years ago. We were in western Colorado, in the Ouray area. Hidden there is a wonderful place called Box Canyon Falls. Wonder how it got its name? Well, aside from being a formal name for a canyon with only one entrance/exit, this is one in which you have to hike or walk down the walkway for a short 500’, but within is a beauty. A real surprise to me as I’d never been there. Down inside, in relative dark, was a 285’ waterfall. The sounds resonated against the “box” sides, and the beauty has never been truly captured in any picture I’ve taken or seen – including the one above. What is so special, I think, is that there is such a gift after walking down. And the pure quiet except for the water gushing is incredible. That remains one of my favorite waterfalls today – although I have to admit I’ve seen other beautiful ones in Hawaii and Alaska. But this one, such a surprise, was a true gift to me.

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Let’s consider this in light of the new year and Palmer’s quote. Perhaps, even in a small canyon we can make progress in owning a part of ourselves as a gift, and seeing the gifts around us. Initially I questioned how a waterfall could even exist in the bottom of a canyon, with no sight of the sky above. Obviously, we can find water underground, but there was something quite special in the fact all of this – water, the fall, and beauty around was protected within the canyon. How about the strength you might have? Perhaps by owning that strength, that beauty, you can enjoy 2017 more than you’re thinking a few days in, and perhaps even wavering on the resolution made, or the fact the resolution has been broken already. Well, on that walk down I had a resolution to do the walk – despite my fear of walking on bridges, and I was so grateful.   In finding my courage, I was able to see even more beauty around me.

So does that mean no resolution? Well, I think we might be better to consider it recreating, or reconfiguring, or redesigning. Frankly we could take the “re” off and decide to create, configure, design our life as we go into 2017. That would also mean there’s not something we need to undo, but something new for which to aim or even simply allow to unfold. In other words, and from the concepts of Eckhart Tolle in “The Power of Now” when he says, “The only place where you can experience the flow of life is in the Now, so to surrender is to accept the present moment unconditionally and without reservation”; to those of St. Paul in Philippians 3:13 when he says, “No, dear brothers [and sisters], I am still not all I should be, but I am bringing all of my energies to bear on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead” (The Way,1972), our goal needs to be present focused or future focused. And in that, as they say and as Palmer says above, we are going to be amazed with the results and what we find in beauty and meaning.

Going back to Box Canyon, guess what else I found, as I had no expectations? I found a beautiful creek within as well.

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So as we look at moving forward, accepting what we see and working on creating new experiences, behaviors, or life we also will find special facets of something we aren’t expecting. While there is a time to look at the past to move forward, in the case of change of behavior, it is often the moving forward and change that is more important. While I walked down the stairs, it was important to stay in the moment in this beautiful place and open myself to what was in front of me. It was fun to walk around the edges of this water and feel the sense of calm there, but also the sense of quiet amidst the pounding of the falls I’d just seen outside this small area.

I invite you to make a new climb this year. Not “out of” where you were, or are; but “up into” a new life experience and so also experience the special uniqueness within; the beauty of what is around you in other people as well as in the geography; and recognize what is meaningful in your life, self, others, and world.

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Finding a Recipe for Personal Peace

It’s an interesting time of year.  Especially this year.  I’m finding that there is more stress in my office – people are struggling with everything from depression to new cancer diagnoses to severe anxiety over the state of the nation to concerns for those in/leaving Aleppo to fears related to Russia and the last election to family issues surrounding get togethers – whether Christmas, Hanukkah, or other family times to concern for the rights of all groups – LBGTQ, Dakota Sioux at the pipeline location, cultures, and ethnicities of all kinds.  I’m finding the issues as numerous as the people listen to and speak with and yet as consistent.  And I’m finding that at the end of this week, many are needing more support than usual.  And this isn’t just clients – it’s also friends and loved ones.  The end of 2016 is heralding more anxiety than I’ve seen in my office in a very long time.

So, how to manage?  How to find the moments of enjoyment?  To allow peace in at a level that surpasses the heightened emotional state.  I’ll share some of what I find personally helpful. Perhaps some will resonate with you.

About the World:  Choose one issue that you can take action on and then decide what it will be.

Is there an issue calling you more than another?  Some protest, some pray, some accept, some wait to see, some advocate, some chant.  If your choice is pray, then pray daily about that issue at a certain time, and then put it away.  If you advocate, find a group that you can work with on this.  Or go to a vigil of peace.  Donate to a group.  But choose that one thing – we can’t deal with everything – we can’t impact everything – but we can choose one and be one.

Here are some resources:

Aleppo:  Doctors without Borders, International Rescue Committee,                                                              International Committee of the Red Cross

Dakota Pipeline:  Walk a labyrinth to support Standing Rock, consider how                                                 others are doing it through unique ways such as the City of Seattle,                                              or find other creative means.

Fears for America/Russia/Future :  Check out Bend the Arc Jewish Action                                                     PAC, meditate for world peace or bring it down to just the USA, or                                                 consider the meaning in Rumi’s words and decide what step you can                                             take to prosper this idea:

                                                    Out beyond ideas of wrong and right,

                                                                     there is a field.

                                                                  I’ll meet you there.

                                                    When the soul lies down in that grass

                                                         the world is too full to talk about.

Remember to limit all your activity to a specified amount of time so that it doesn’t                 leak out into your entire day and life. Perhaps 10 minutes a day?  Perhaps an hour?                 No more than that – you do need to also live the life you’ve got.

About Family and Friends and Demands:  Well, this seems to always bring challenges during holiday times.  Holidays are wonderful and yet the pain of childhood, difficult interactions with someone in your family, or just managing all the family requests and friend requests can be challenging.  Take charge of it this weekend.

Sit down with your spouse/partner/self and list all the possibilities for the next two weeks.  The parties, services, friends you want to see or those who want to see you, the things you want to do alone, the things you want to do together.  Now – what is realistic?  Cull it down in some fashion.  Perhaps going from:

ALL the requests and hopes

Those you really want to do

Those you really do NOT want to do

Those you need to do – add to the really want to do list

That’s your list – what you’re going to do.

Now take out your calendar and put each of these items into the family calendar.  Add the professional demands as well.  Is there a conflict of items?  If so – decide what to do.  Modify the times, limit the activity, decline an invitation, make a choice not to do one.

See how the final calendar looks.  Then see how you’re feeling about it.  If you are immediately tense, then perhaps something must go.  Look at it again – and breath.  If you are finding the peace doesn’t improve, then take a break, go back to it.

My personal recipe for a better holiday season:

1 cup spiritual time

1 cup exercise

1 cup demands for chores around the house

2 cups relaxation time – read, watch a movie, extra time with Murphy (the dog),                                                                       an extra walk

2 cups family time

2 cups friend/social time (I’m an introvert though, an extrovert may need more,                                                                         adjust to taste)

Add spices to taste (music, candles, cuddly pj’s, a cup of decaf tea, a special book)

Mix with care and then spoon out into daily portions.

Sprinkle liberally with love.

Take only one portion each day!

Ongoing Concerns: This is the depression, new cancer diagnosis, health concern, business challenge(s), etc.  All of this I believe we need to both care for and limit.  There are only so many business days between now and the 31st of December.  Only so many hours at work.  And even if we need the MRI for the dog, the PET scan to evaluate cancer and how it’s spreading – or not, the blood test results for our health concern, or the resolution of our depression – only so much CAN happen in the next 15 days.

Today, for example, I needed to schedule an MRI for Murphy.  And no matter how much I wanted that done today – I could not control all of those who had to work to make that happen.  So, I had to work to accept, look, I’ve done all I can, it’s either going to be scheduled today, or I’ll see what I can do on Monday.  One last call came and it happened.  Then the printing job came back not exactly as it was expected to look.  I could get upset – or I could realize it looks fine, just not as expected.  So…acceptance was in order.  But each was a choice.  I wish I could say I reacted so well each day, I don’t, I’m not perfect, but thankfully today I was able to work on acceptance one thing at a time. And, in the midst, I kept a priority to be present to my clients – anything else could wait.

So, what am I suggesting?  Again, decide what and how much time to give the items on your agenda.  Today mine were;

  1. Get Murphy to vet
  2. Take action on what vet suggests
  3. See clients
  4. Write blog
  5. Look at report
  6. Handle emails

What helped was the agenda set ahead of time.  And knowing that I could always add more – if I had time.  But otherwise, this was it.  Tonight – that’s different.  I see tea, a good book, and music in my future.  But for now – I’m finishing up the business, then going to do some shopping.

So – let’s all try this – one day at a time.  One agenda item at a time.  And remember the mix – include some spirituality (today it’s music for me) and exercise (walking).

May you find your own recipe for peace today.

cup-of-tea

 

 

 

Be Still: Preparation Within and Around

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Guest Blogger Danielle Counihan with Beth Sikora, PhD

Well, it’s the holiday season, and if your life is anything like mine, everything is at a higher pitch with more demands for time, energy, and thought. Many of Christian faith, me included, prepare through the Advent period preceding Christmas. A time of preparation, going inward to prepare for the birth of Christ remembered, the birth within each of us, and the birth of a new time. What a contrast to the harried preparation for “holidays” – shopping, cooking, wrapping, planning schedules, etc. that both Christians and Jewish prepare for in looking forward to Christmas and Hanukkah. This year I’m following an on-line retreat and the focus is to daily “be still” – stop, quiet, be still.

Given that in the midst of this preparation the stress combined with family interactions and even drama that happens, as well as the overall busyness, this period of time can present a difficult combination for maintaining strong mental health. Fortunately, as we began to learn last month, the bullet journal provides an amazing platform to see trends, set, and track goals, as well as vent frustrations in a healthy way. As we look forward to this new month, and a new year, we also want to start thinking about our new goals, and new ways, better ways of tracking them.

One way we can do this is by visualizing where we are and choosing one or two areas we want to improve when it comes to our balanced mental health. Here is one layout that could be helpful as a monthly check in. This layout focuses on the mandala- a symbol of a balanced life – and is a great way to see how in balance one’s life is. This balance is what can help bring us peace this holiday season.

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This layout focuses on the mandala -on a balanced life. (I’ve written more about this mandala ). On the left page, we have the mandala with each area of mental health in a different color. I did the shading by going through each area and self-evaluating on a scale of 1 to 10 how I felt I was doing in each area, with a 10 being that I’m doing really well in that area and 1 being very poorly. This is a great way to see how out of balance our lives can become if we do not make balance our focus. It also enables us to see easily where we need the most improvement.

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On the right hand page, I wrote out each area and gave myself ideas for goals. This next month, as I’m walking through my Advent, I’m going to focus on the three areas that are in the lower range- intellectual, spiritual, and emotional- and work on the goals respective to those areas. Then, at the end of the month, I will re-evaluate and see if I have improved and make new goals for January and the New Year.

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Now, the question is, how does this help us prepare for the holidays? I know for myself, being in balance, that is, knowing that I am striving toward good health in all areas of my life, helps me to deal with stress with a much more peaceful attitude. When I know that I am at peace with myself, I am better able to be at peace with others and things out of my control. As we prepare for these holidays, we can strive to balance our lives, thus bringing peace to our lives and enabling us to truly enter into the holidays fully. Preparing for Hanukkah and Christmas give us wonderful opportunities to evaluate our lives and see what we have that we can be thankful for, how we have grown over the past year, and prepare to set new goals to take into the new year. As I don’t always do this as well on my own, I also am doing a program for the Advent and post-Christmas period. As I mentioned, the focus on Be Still each day. So for the spiritual piece of my pie I am spending time each day in readings and praying, and even listening to outside sources of music. One piece I enjoy that is short and yet slows my heart and pace is Be Still by The Fray. You can listen to it on Be Still. So get creative a bit, even the 5 minutes to search out a new idea to implement will slow you down.

As we end and you continue your walk this December, think about how you need to balance your life to enhance your peace within and without this year. How can the mandala help you find peace and balance? Set one or two goals from this, make them realistic, and be still as you prepare for the holidays.

be-still

Bullet Journals- for your Mental Health

Guest Blogger: Danielle Counihan

Readers, I asked Danielle to write this as she uses a bullet journal regularly, and has

found it very helpful. Consequently, I thought, who better to write this for us? Enjoy!

Dr. Beth

 

Have you ever had problems picking a planner because it never suited your needs? Then, once you had one, you ended up with a separate planner, to-do list, and journal, and never had the one you needed when you needed it? Fortunately, there is a new system that has been taking the Internet by storm. Bullet journaling is a system of writing that is a combination planner, to-do list and diary all in one; and the best part about it is that it is completely customizable to your individual needs! This makes it an awesome tool for anyone, from students, to housewives, to military personnel, as it can be adjusted to fit anyone’s needs and, because you design it as you go, it can be re-designed every day, week, or month. I use mine primarily as a to-do list, a planner to keep track of obligations such as doctor’s appointments and meals with friends, and a meal planner to stick to my food budget, but it is also a great tool to help with mental health.

 

One of the greatest parts of the bullet journal is that all you really need to start one is a pen or pencil, and a journal (again, whatever kind you like, the “most recommended” is the moleskin dotted journal as it gives you the flexibility to draw your own lines or charts (although I have not tried one yet, I think it might be my next one)). If you look up “bullet journal” on the Internet (or Pinterest), you can find TONS of ideas and ways to make yours beautiful, but frankly the most important thing about it is that it works for you and is real (in other words, don’t get all caught up in trying to make it pretty and forget to make it useful). Just start with an index and a key, then move onto whatever works for you. I put an extended view that shows the whole year (or period of time until a major change), then my logs, which we’ll get to later, then into my monthly, weekly, and occasionally daily views. So how, you ask, can this awesome system of planning help with mental health? Many, many ways!

 

The bullet journal is a great way to track habits. Now, because it is so flexible you can choose to do this on a monthly, weekly, or daily basis. I typically do it on a weekly basis. For me the monthly is just too much room in the journal, and so a little overwhelming to look at, and the daily is too much detail that it can also get a little overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to experiment and see what works for you, my journal now looks very different than the setup I started with six months ago.

 

The main thing about this kind of habit tracker is that you can track everything that Dr. Beth talked about in her September/October Newsletter in order to be in balance (see here http://www.thewholenessinstitute.com/uploads/5/1/1/6/51166175/sept-oct_2015_newsletter.pdf) : physical, mental, contextual, spiritual, interactional, emotional, sensual, nutritional, and intellectual health. By tracking these things, especially if you do decide to do a monthly spread, you can see patterns and so make connections. You can see what kind of exercise, interactions, and meditations help your day be better, and what kinds don’t help as much. From this, you can more easily identify things that weigh you down and set goals to help you. Another great thing about a habit tracker is that you can track your goals. Just be sure to make reasonable goals (don’t be like me and try to start out running 2 miles after not exercising for three years, it’s just not going to happen and will just make you feel bad about yourself, trust me). And don’t get discouraged if you have a bad day, they happen and they don’t have to ruin the goal, they’re just a minor setback.

Here is a fairly simple daily view option.image4.JPG

Here is another daily view option, this one is a little more detailed. I typically use the more detailed one when I have more to keep track of.image5-1.JPG

Here is a monthly tracker. Color coding things is not necessary, but it does help keep track of which categories are going well, versus which cogs are getting stuck and need some more help.image6.JPG

Here are two weekly view options, one a fairly simple one and the other a little more detailed.image3-1.JPGimage2.JPG

Another great thing about the bullet journal is that it can be your to-do list. I used to have little sticky notes floating around everywhere with things I was supposed to do, which only resulted in me losing one and forgetting something. With the bullet journal, you can keep all those little things to remember and things to do in one place. The only thing better than that is that you can give yourself permission to make a “done” list. That means that I will write down and mark off things that I did throughout the day. This is something I shamelessly do, especially on days when I’m tired and want to prove to myself that I actually accomplished something. There is something very uplifting about crossing something off of a list to me, and making a done list helps to give this sense of accomplishment, as well as helping you to know that something is done.

 

The bullet journal is a great place to keep logs as well. Gratitude logs are huge in the bullet journal community for a reason. They help to keep things in perspective, and let you look back on the week and appreciate what is good in your life.

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Keeping a longer-term goal log helps you to see where you have improved and where needs some work. A self-care idea page could be helpful; just fill it in with what you know helps you to start, and as you learn things from tracking all aspects of self care and see what helps, add them. That way if you’re having a bad day you have a go-to list of things you know will help.

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If you have a hard time thinking of things to journal about, a go-to journal prompt page is a great idea.

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Or, if you are an artist at heart and doodling helps you clear your mind, make a doodle page or section in your weekly/daily view (you can see that I added one in one of the weekly options).

 

It’s not called a bullet journal for nothing! The bujo is a great place to be able to journal what you’re feeling and thinking. Rant boxes can be a great way to release the tension of the day and let go of any anger or hard feelings. Just be careful not to overdo it and let the rant turn into just harmful rumination. And if you’re still upset but see that it’s about to turn into obsessing, turn it around and ask yourself “what can I do to help address this?” Even if the answer is “just let it go”, writing it down will help you to accept that that is the best way to address it and move on.

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The bullet journal is just for you, not anyone else, and as such can be a great asset in helping to process therapy sessions. Here is a template for a therapy debrief.

This is a great way to be able to reflect later on what you talked about in therapy and so helps you work through it on your own time between sessions. It also gives you space to write down things to bring up in the next session, and could even be modified for any other doctor’s appointments.

 

A bullet journal is a useful and helpful system of planning that can be incredibly helpful when it comes to mental health. I’ve given you some tools to get started both with general bullet journaling, as well as customizing it for use to help with mental health. Happy journaling!

 

I want to thank Danielle for her efforts in providing us some great templates to begin tracking what might help in your daily life, as well as what might be useful in tracking moods, therapy ideas, and feelings. Give it a try – for those who don’t like to “journal” because it takes so long, this is a helpful, short chunk idea for journaling, although certainly you could add your own pages to write further or have a separate journal for that. As this busy holiday season begins I hope you’ll use this as a way to help you get through it more peacefully. Take care, all, Dr. Beth