An Exercise for a Time of Adversity

I’ve been working on my thoughts for the blog this weekend – one I promised on growth in adversity. And I’ve written it once, had it edited, and am issuing a fully rewritten one now. Obviously, adversity is hard to go through – and challenging in other ways. The meditation that had hit my inbox on Friday that spoke to me about growth in adversity was from Henri Nouwen in “You Are Beloved.”  And what strikes me today in it is the same and yet different after more meditating and doing a finger labyrinth meditation today.  The quote is: 

“The great conversion in our life is to recognize and believe that the many unexpected events are not just disturbing interruptions in our projects [or lives], but the way in which God molds our hearts[.]…Our great temptations are boredom and bitterness. When our good plans are interrupted by poor weather, our well-organized careers by illness or bad luck, our peace of mind by inner turmoil, our hope for peace by a new war, our desire for a stable government by a constant changing of the guards, and our desire for immortality by real death, we are tempted to give in to a paralyzing boredom or to strike back in destructive bitterness. But when we believe that patience can make our expectations grow, then fate can be converted into a vocation, wounds into a call for deeper understanding, and sadness into a birthplace of joy.” [changes mine]

What my labyrinth walk, a talk with a friend this morning, and the above from Nouwen have all pointed me toward is – – release.  Release is necessary to grow in times in adversity.  In fact, it was just in rereading the quote that I realized that the onus was on God and Spirit to mold – not me to change.  And then release of what?  From what?  To what?  Ahhh – there is the rub at times.  From even knowing that. 

What we often want so much during difficult, really adverse life events or times is to KNOW.  Know what we are to do next.  Know why something happened.  Know how to change it.  Know how to prevent it.  Know how to keep life from changing as it has been comfortable for us. And in the last weeks, months, or even days, we each have had to face down varying levels of demons or challenges in our lives.  Think about it for just a moment – what are you facing right now?  Is it illness?  Is it not understanding your partner or spouse?  Is it not knowing what to do next to help someone?  To help yourself?  Is it financial difficulty?  Go ahead, take a few moments to name the situation for yourself. Write it down if you’re open to doing so before you read on.

Now, what is it that you are trying to control in that situation?  For me, often it is outcome.  I want to be able to create a change or gain an insight in order to grow and move.  Or I want to create that space and hold it for another.  But my goal or method is not the answer; often, it is allowing the answer to unfold.  It is … release.  And yet being with someone or sharing the process with someone without knowing is to walk in darkness alongside them knowing that is enough.  As you are aware of what you are trying to control – perhaps a parent from getting Covid or dying from it alone in an ICU; maybe how you will pay the bills in 3 months when the severance runs out or tomorrow when there is no money; maybe how your employer is responding to changes in life recently; or maybe how you are managing your day-to-day life in the midst of a mild or moderate depression.  Give yourself a moment to pause, and again write down whatever outcome you are trying to control.

Next, I’d like you to find an object that reminds you of that issue.  A penny for a financial one; a rock for a stubborn issue you can’t seem to get around or influence; a Bayer Aspirin bottle for a loved one who is ill; these are some ideas to get your mind going.  If you can and choose to do so, take a few minutes to go find it in your home and return to finish reading. Pause here.

Then take the item you have chosen and hold it in your hand. Gently, as the hand is with the birds in the image above. Consider this item as fragile, even if, at first glance it isn’t. Your emotions about the issue this item symbolizes may be fragile, so treat this item with tender care. As you are meditating, look over the item you’re holding and see what feature you might not have noticed previously.  Release what you think you know, and turn it over and look at it with new eyes.  Consider what it has to show you.  I’ve had a very craggy rock Finley brought in the house that I’m using for my exercise in this.  And as I’m looking at it, I’m seeing an eruption in the top of it that is very sharp and discolored and today am aware of that as the focus – not the rock.  It is helping me to see the pain in something from not a heavy place but from the sensitive, hurting place.  What is different about the item in front of you – what hadn’t you noticed about it previously?  What is the message about the situation from that perspective?  Consider spending a few moments writing about that.  You might think about it in these terms if you get stuck on this part. 

I saw the _________________________ as representing _________________.

What I’d never noticed about the ___________ was ___________________________.

I’m aware now that it is possible that ________________________________.

As you finish the above exercise, what is the takeaway for you?  What have you learned by simply looking for the small factor you hadn’t considered or known about or been aware of as clearly?  Does that allow your view of the adversity you experiencing to shift?  And what does that mean to you about moving forward? Take some time to think about this and make some notes about it before moving on. Pause here.

Going back to Henri Nouwen’s writing – adversity, change, growth, understanding, and finally, joy are the stages of movement when moving through adversity and emerging in a new place.  What we must do is release ourselves from having to understand and know — and then, only then, we can begin moving towards the change, growth, understanding and finally joy that comes from that release.  The baby bird in the above picture wasn’t born with the ability to fly, it needed tending to and nurturing until ready to be released from the nest in flight. Only then, after time, after growth, came the release. I hope you can find your way to it through the above exercise too. 

Peace and calm be yours this week.

Take care,

Dr. Beth

Covid-19: Coping with the Changes 3 Months Later

This week has been again more stressful for many than past weeks as we see the number of Covid-19 numbers going up, hospitals filling, and requirements for masks in Maricopa County and many locations throughout the state.  In addition, this isn’t the first time around – this is into month 4 of dealing with this (although just into it) and I’m hearing tempers flaring, patience waning, and what I’ll term “Covid Fatigue” hitting.  What’s a person to do when this is happening?  And it’s now impacting our relationships, we know people with Covid-19, we’ve lost friends or family to it or they have had a serious case of it, and we haven’t been able to socialize or attend church and/or work in the same ways for quite some time.  And even the possibility of in-school education or dorm life is in flux right now for the fall.  And, to top it off, it’s been at or near 109F. (Good news, though, it may be down to 98F for part of this coming week.)  What a June!
 
Well, we are a resilient people, truly, although the level and speed of it varies by person.  Resiliency is the ability to overcome obstacles and move forward.  Resiliency leads to hope – and so we are to hang in there when things seem desperate.  There is an article I wrote a number of years ago about this and it’s on the website.   So, feel free to go there for more information.  But the essence is that to build hope, we must have people around us, spiritual practices, and be aware of possibility.  I’ve always liked Elizabeth Edwards quote:  “She stood in the storm and when the wind did not knock her down, she adjusted her sails”.   It’s time to adjust our sails a bit.  Here are a few ideas that have come to me lately, some of which I’ve shared here in the past or with clients, some are newer:
 
Realize you are just not accomplishing what you want to do – from something small to large?  Download Apalon’s Productive-Habit Tracker to your phone or tablet and choose just one or two things you want to be sure you do daily or weekly.  Build some success before you add more.  And give yourself a break – it is happening to most people as they live and work at home.
 
Concerned your spiritual life is not where you want it to be?  Commit to one thing a day – maybe a meditative walk; perhaps doing a finger labyrinth; spending some time to do a guided relaxation; say a prayer you relate to – a rosary, a personal talk with God, a psalm, or a pray with others through a compline online, keep a gratitude list, or listen to music that is meaningful to your heart or spirit (you choose!).
 
Fearful about the fall and what it will mean for you?  Teaching at school or via Internet?  Needing to teach your children again or sending them to school?  Sending your young adult to live in a dorm or live at home?  Focus on bringing yourself back to the present.  None of us know what August or September will look like.  So, we must stay in today.  Perhaps using a short affirmation for this will help: “I have only this moment”, “Relax in today”, “I find stillness when I live in the present”, or write your own. 
 
Feeling lonely or alone?  First, find a being in your home with whom you can share a hug, pet them, cuddle, or otherwise connect physically for a bit.  No one there and no pet?  Dr. Peter Levine urges us to hold ourselves.  How?  See Dr. Levine’s methods described and directions for several self-hug and holding exercises.  My favorite is to simply put your left arm across your tummy and with your right reach up and pat your left shoulder.  It will repeat what your mama did to you when she held you – and it is extremely calming.  Then reach out to a friend or family member by Facetime, Zoom, WhatsApp, or another method.  It amazed me again how much closer I felt to a friend last Saturday when we spent time talking by WhatsApp rather than only by phone.  Invite one or two friends over and socially distance in the evening while catching up.  Or do a Zoom breakfast or game night.
 
Uncertain or afraid of vacationing and feeling housebound?  Get your family together to brainstorm.  Two people have told me that they are doing camping trips and/or using RV’s to get time away with family.  Brainstorm a stay-home vacation – and here are a few ideas to get you going – https://www.realsimple.com/work-life/life-strategies/staycation?  The larger hotel chains have information out there on what they are doing, National Parks and Recreation has information on traveling to the parks and AAA has some information.   
 
My spouse is driving me nuts!  How do I cope?  We’ve heard about this on TV, in the news, and from our friends, right?  So how do we cope when we are living and working together full-time?  First, communication is essential.  And that is very hard when we’re stressed and misinterpreting the intention of others as well as struggling to find a little alone space.  Or perhaps just tired of the way they work as it’s different than ours or conflicts with our methods. CNN had a few ideas worth looking at. I’m most impressed with the couple who, in a 576 square foot apartment found ways to compromise and parent children.  What bothered you 3 months ago will now be driving you around the corner.  So, take a deep breathe, do something to relax yourself, get away from your spouse or partner, and talk to a friend before you try to talk to your partner. 
 
Feeling bored at home?  Listen to a new podcast (or two), review some of the art galleries we put on our website under Covid-19 resources awhile ago, go swimming, or put some music on and dance.  I’m very much enjoying the “Poetry Unbound” podcast each morning (under 10 minutes usually) and playing in the water with the puppy.  Both are new for me – and take me in different places that open my brain and heart. 
 
Ok, there are a few ideas.  Next Sunday I’m hoping to finish the article on growing in times of adversity.  But for now – I’m hoping these ideas help you just get through the tough moments in life.  I commit to acting on the alone and spirituality ideas above – so what is your choice?  I hope you do it even for 5 minutes. 
 
Take care and be well,
 
Dr. Beth
Beth Sikora, PhD, LPC, NCC

Decisions…Difficult but Important to Choose and Own

Our current times continue to present challenges in many ways for all of us.  From the smaller decisions of what to purchase at a grocery store and how to do so: online, via delivery, or in-person; whether we’ll follow the guidance to wear masks; to the no-brainers of breathing in and out each day, and to the largest decisions about when to retire and other big life changes.  We can say that some of these decisions are easy, whereas on others we will not reach agreement with everyone.  As Eleanor Roosevelt said “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves.  The process never ends until we die.  And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility”.  There are crucial decisions being made by governors and legislators right now related to COVID-19, the economy and businesses, as well as protecting individuals.  At this time, we are also called upon to make our own choices, and decision-making is often challenging and stressful.

Part of this stress is brought on by hearing multiple conflicting ideas about how to open a country back up, what is too soon, what is too long, how much individual health and lives should be considered versus the economy, and whose guidance should be followed in these areas.  I believe, as Eleanor Roosevelt and others have said, that we are responsible to determine what is in our own or our loved ones’ best interest.  Some of the decisions our leaders make we need to assess and determine what to follow and when, such as the recent ones, and ones to come, about reopening.  So, I thought it was time to review a few basics on decision making.    

First, get yourself in a quiet place, without distractions, and relax yourself.  Hard to do in a Covid-19 world, but perhaps these steps will be taken over a period of a day or two, and that’s fine.  This might be doing some meditation, prayer, deep breathing or yoga, or other ideas you might have.  It’s important to have our brain available, and when we are relaxed, we have more capacity to use our full brain without it being impacted by a fight, flight, or freeze change in brain reaction. 

Second, once you’ve done the above, write down what the decision is that you’re trying to make.  Tie it down to one decision, after all we can’t make more than one decision at a time.  Writing it down helps you to focus.

Third, do the research you need to do.  For decisions about work, going out of the house, deciding whether to go to salons or restaurants, or even just whether to grocery shop versus using pick-up services, I’ve found some sources of information and am providing those here.  These links provide various views so you can consider what the pros and cons are.  But seek out your own sources as well.

  1.  CDC suggestions/plan on how to reopen

**I’m providing several Governors’ plans as it will allow you to see what they are considering and that may help you in making your own decisions.

After reviewing the facts and areas to consider from the above or other information you have, the fourth step is to write down your pros and cons on choosing to take various steps, i.e.:  go out to dinner vs. picking up dinner or having it delivered, going to the hair or nail salon, working in these environments and offices, and the others you’ll be faced with in the next week to months.  Then if it is clear to you what you will do, be clear with yourself how you reached the decision.  We can only make the best decision we can on any one day and with the information available to us.  You’ll want to reassure yourself later why you made a decision if later you question it.  If it is not clear, consider talking it through with your spouse, a significant other, close friend, person you respect, or trusted other.  And then follow the above once your decision is made. 

The fifth step, that will seem familiar to all who have studied science – from junior high forward, is to re-evaluate and make sure the decision still makes sense as you go.  Feel free to change your mind if that makes sense to you later.  For example, as many have suggested from a lot of entities and as we’ve seen in other countries, the numbers are going to go up as we reopen, so you may choose to change your decision if they are going up very rapidly, or begin going back down.

I ran across this in looking for a poem on choice and decision-making.  And in the end, I loved the simplicity of it:

A picture containing photo, flower

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Source credit: quotesgram.com

Having peace during these times is challenging – but remember that with following all the guidelines we already know from so many sources, continue to:

  1.  Wash your hands often, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  2.  Wear a mask in public.
  3.  Cover your nose with a Kleenex if sneezing anywhere.
  4.  Cover your mouth with a Kleenex if coughing.
  5.  Socially distance keeping 6’ between you and the other person/people.
  6.  Clean and disinfect touched surfaces regularly and throughout the day.
  7.  Do not touch your face or wash your hands after you do.

All of these get tiring to hear about at times – but they will be essential for a long time to come.   And they can provide you with peace within that you are doing all you can to protect yourself and others. 

Finally, remember to take time to relax, enjoy your family around you, reach out to friends in socially distant methods, pray, meditate, and use the tools we and others have provided. 

See our website for general resources.

We also have COVID-19 specific resources as well as blogs on ideas in managing these stressors.

You deserve to take care of yourself, and I encourage you to make your own decisions, and take care in all the ways you need to do so during these challenging days.  We’ll be back to the regular blog again on Sunday, but I wanted you to have these thoughts earlier as things are changing rapidly. 

Take care,

Dr. Beth

COVID-19, Control, & Compassion: Choosing Our Attitudes and Being Compassionate

We can’t control our world, our family’s lives, even our own life right now, can we?  We can’t know when or where the Coronavirus will hit.  We can’t know if we’ll get it, or our neighbor, or our best friend, or our coworker.  We can’t know if we’ll come through this time financially whole or if the financial condition of the country and world will collapse. And this is scaring many of those I see or those I read about in the news or that I hear from on Facebook or other social media accounts.  And I get it – there is much uncertainty.  This morning, though, I wondered to myself – but can we ever?  Can we truly ever have power and control over all that happens to us?  All that we experience, think, and feel?  All that we so often trudge through life trying to control.  Our boss?  Our job? Our health? Our financial condition?  Or is it possible, just possible, it’s an illusion of control?  And that the truth we are living right now – that we cannot control the spread of COVID-19 more than following the suggestions of medical professionals and mandates of our government is the reality we live each and every day? 

Dr. Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who was put in a prisoner camp in Germany during the time of Adolph Hitler.  A man of Jewish faith and lineage, he was in the group abhorrently victimized and often killed by those under Hitler.  And from him came some of the most profound writing in the area of existential psychology – or the psychology of meaning and experience of life.  He survived the camp, a feat beyond my imagination, and stated, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”.  Ah – here is the kernel of hope we do have, we can always change ourselves, our reactions. He went on to elaborate: “Everything can be taken from a man [person] but one thing:  the last human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way”.  And this is how he survived the experience in Auschwitz.  And helped many others to do so – to choose their attitude to keep trying, one step, one day at a time; and to assist others by noticing them, handing them a crust of their dried bread, or a sip of the tiny bit of water they were given. 

A choice – we, too have choices.  Are we going to share with others compassion and love and a safe place to share what isolation is like?  Or what living at home 24 hours with children and/or spouse is like?  Either can be very challenging.  Are we going to be supportive of the grocery store clerks and employees – or grumble that we didn’t find what we wanted?  It’s a choice, isn’t it?  I will say I can sometimes be tired and grumble when someone doesn’t acknowledge what I’m experiencing – but how would they?  We’re each unique and experiencing this time differently.  So, I need to back up and possibly share it and ask for understanding or at least respect for my experience and apologize for the grumble. 

Kristen Neff talks about self-compassion, and Viktor Frankl about compassion towards others.  But Neff makes an excellent point – if we don’t have it and show it to ourselves first, how will we ever share it with others?  So, as we are facing days that are long, with limited control but room for personal choice in attitude, perhaps a little self-compassion would be a good first step.  Especially through this next week when many who are Jewish cannot celebrate Passover as they are accustomed to and Christians cannot celebrate Easter as they are.  We will need to choose attitude and show compassion. 

Kristen Neff discusses this from a place of self-compassion, Brene Brown from a place of shame and working to change that and let go of that, and Viktor Frankl from a place of making a choice in our experiences about our attitude.  All three, interestingly, have similarities in what to do.

  1. Notice what you’re feeling.  Be with it in the moment.  Be present and mindful so that you are aware and do not act out, hopefully, towards another.  So, for example, when I am feeling lonely facing Easter without the family and traditions we usually share, I need to sit with that.  Feel the pain, the disappointment, the loneliness. 
  2. Being kind to yourself in language is also important.  Rather than the voice that might say, “Oh grow up, it’s one holiday.  You’re fine.  At least you’re not in the hospital and dying of Covid-19”; we need to instead say, “I’m having a hard time. This is something I haven’t experienced so it feels new and lonely.  And it’s a change – I struggle with change in family tradition.  So, I need to be even kinder in planning and deciding how and what I will do Easter Sunday”. 
  3. Name the feeling and share it with some safe person in my life.  It might be in prayer.  It might be in text to my best friend.  It might be a call to a family member to connect at least that way and share and listen to what they are experiencing as we face the next 7 days.  (This is unique to Brene Brown’s idea of coming out of the shame spiral by facing it and sharing it.)
  4. Decide how with what attitude to face the next 7 days and what choices are available.  For example, reaching out to others is something Viktor Frankl recommends as we reach out in love.  Not in guilt or caretaking or shame.  But as he says, “Love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which [we] can aspire”.  This means both the love in self-compassion above, but also the love in reaching out.  Perhaps something special to do with the children over the coming weekend.  Perhaps sending cards of love to family we cannot see. Maybe planning our own special day of ritual and celebration and sharing it in love for the other(s) we might be with – even if that is ourselves.  Nurturing the sense of self-compassion, and care. 

So how will you face your own attitudes this week?  How will you remain mindful of what you are experiencing?  What change can you commit to?  What are the steps you might take to show yourself and others compassion?  I would encourage you to write them down.  Post them, put them in front of you, and lovingly remind yourself of them each day. 

Warmly and with compassion,

Dr. Beth

PS:  Want to learn more about these 3 theorists and clinicians?  I suggest the following books:

Daring Greatly:  How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Self-Compassion:  The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristen Neff

Managing News – Rather than Being Managed by News

Given all that is in the right now, it seems remiss to discuss something other than current big news topics. The world is full of happenings that are heart-wrenching and sometimes polarizing, and it can feel like a lot to take in. I have a couple of ideas on how to be a healthy news consumer if you find yourself losing sleep over our nation’s, or our world’s, issues.

Start by limiting your exposure. Such a task can be hard to do—popular media reports all the big, splashy headlines and many of them are horrifying to read. It can be tough to be faced with atrocities on a daily basis, yet you want to stay informed. What to do? Watch news coverage in the morning or mid-day and keep the evenings lighter, with programming that isn’t as heavy hitting.  Watch or read a maximum of an hour (ideally less) of news a day. If you’re viewing a televised news broadcast, once the highlights are over (normally about 15 minutes into the show) much of the content is repeated. Repetitious messages are what tend to turn into brain worms—things you can’t escape. Ever heard a chorus to a popular song and had it stuck in your head for days? That is a great example of how repetition stays with you. This replayed information, whether music, news related, or self-talk, has the same staying power.

Second, consider the sources where you obtain your news. The best place to get your information isn’t always your TV. Your smart phone or other electronic device is a powerful news agent. Use an app that displays the headlines, allowing you can pick and choose which articles to read instead of being offered a producer’s view on what is relevant. One of my favorite apps is called Flipboard. You’re able to pick a number of topics that you are interested in and the feed shows you headlines from each. Mix it up with some heavier hitting news, some entertainment, DIY, gardening, you get the idea—there’s something for everyone. If you choose to try an app, a quick sidenote—keep the “push” notifications turned off. Without that feature activated, you are able to open the app to view the news and allow yourself control of your exposure rather than being inundated by notifications. Another observation I hadn’t considered previously was brought to my attention by Katie Couric on her podcast. She said she still reads a paper version of a newspaper, citing that she gains knowledge on the editorial slant based on where articles are placed upon the page. On an e-reader, that layout is fluid and the editorial bias is not as easy to detect—another important factor in digesting these stories is understanding more about the reporter, the producer, and (more so) the news agency’s views or motivations for the story.

Another idea? Look for an area to take action. What in the news is troubling you most? Refugees? Take a peek at the article linked here, I love the insight it shares–both in how to help AND how to keep perspective on what your personal contribution means to the greater picture. If this touches you, then look for ways you can fit outreach into your life. One person I am aware of makes speeches, another works with her church’s refugee ministry, and another offers counseling time on a pro-bono basis. Is your hot button drinking straws and plastics in the ocean? Make a change, buy stainless steel straws, get yourself a reusable water bottle, and do your best to not buy single serving drinks. Remember, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” ― Mother Teresa

If you are still experiencing looping thoughts, limit your ruminating about the news, talking about it, and worrying about it. Pray if that works for you, do some mindful meditation to center yourself, or simply distract yourself and put your mind on something else. Practice self-care, and allow it to distract you. This may be different for each of you—unwind with a bath, take in a movie, meet up with friends for dinner—whatever makes you feel whole again. It’s important in difficult times to really take charge of what is going into our minds. Be curious. Be considerate. Be open minded. Participate to the extent you are able in order to maintain a balanced life.   And then live in the other zones of your life.

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Why? Why Not?

darkest night bridge

In a week like this one, with the deaths and massive injuries in Las Vegas, I hear “why” even more than usual.  But I often hear “why” with those I have the privilege to serve who have and are suffering the impact of severe accidents, those who are so bright and have such positive futures ahead of them and now have head injuries and the recovery is stalled.  I speak with those who have cancer, or whose loved ones have it and are dying.  I speak with people who simply wonder why they haven’t been able to change something they have wanted to so badly.  And truth be told, I also ask myself this at times.

And yet, the truth is, why not me?  What do I think is so special about me, that bad life experiences should not happen?  I remember hearing someone share this very sentiment a few years ago, and wish I could find the source for it.  But I do remember as a younger woman voicing a question of why and someone saying why not you, and I was angered.  It felt like an attack.  I do not mean it in that way at all, and likely that person did not either.  But I do think we need to ask it in the way Eric Church did this week in his sharing and new song “Why Not Me”.  Take the time to listen to him, please, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqCYKFXfRb0 .

As individuals we each need to struggle with this internally and in conversation when the most difficult life events occur around us.  The times we are called upon to rally all of our support and face that most difficult experience in life that we are uncertain we can handle, i.e.:  loss of a loved one, rejection by a spouse or significant other, life threatening illness, end of life, traumatic head injury, life changing event that requires we reconstruct our lives thoroughly, or even an internal life-time struggle that seems impossible to change, each call for specific actions and resources.

Therapeutically we would suggest a person sit with the feelings, see what is really in front and within, and breathe through the feelings.  Journal, draw what is within, in some way allow oneself to face it.  In doing so, we increase awareness rather than run; allow movement of the pain or shame or fear rather that avoid it; and, in the end we are in a new place and not pushed to addiction – money, food, alcohol, work, or drugs; but rather, we regain center.  The same concept is suggested by Pema Chodron in the “no more struggle” meditation.  However, she sticks with breathing and returning, breathing and returning, until the strong feelings are reduced and one is able to face what is going on outside oneself or within and allow it without judgment.  Only then, she says, can the issue or feeling be resolved.  From a Christian perspective, Fr. Thomas Keating would say it is called prayer or centering or contemplative prayer, all with a focus of resting in God.

After we have done this, only after, can we move forward and know how to pick up our feet and keep moving.  Taking the next step ahead in life, but taking it as we move into life, not retreat from it.  A young man mentioned to me something I had hear others say – that a friend instead wanted to retreat and not go out and keep living after the Las Vegas shootings.  After this week his friend had decided to go to no more concerts, events, etc.  His friend, and others I’ve heard say similar things, are not moving through to keep living.  They are stuck in the fear and anger; and have no way to move through into life.  Action is important – freezing and being stuck is not healthy and builds walls, not bridges.

Bridges are very important in life and in moving forward when a huge life event hits us and makes us ask why, or why not, me.  I had never read the poem “The Bridge” by Robert Wadsworth Longfellow until pondering this topic.  I came across it and it is so very rich with metaphor and meaning, but I’m going to take a few stanzas out to focus on in this article.  He says after many years of nights when he went to the bridge when life seemed so difficult and he watched the tide go in and out:

How often, O, how often,

In the days that had gone by,

I had stood on that bridge at midnight

And gazed on that wave and sky!

For my heart was hot and restless,

And my life was full of care,

And the burden laid upon me

Seemed greater than I could bear.

But now it has fallen from me,

It is buried in the sea.

As I read this I thought how often we do have experiences in life that give us pause to think.  We may walk our neighborhoods, much like Mr. Longfellow did when he went to ponder near a bridged waterway.  And if we walk, meditate, ponder, pray, stay with our feelings and thoughts we cross a bridge as we put down our cares.  We no longer carry the feelings of pain, terror, shame, or anxiety.  And so we can move forward into life.  We can move forward despite the fact bad things still happen to good people, life does fall apart at times, cancer ravages bodies, brain injuries can significantly change one’s life direction.  And yet, as author and speaker Jonathan Lockwood Huie says, “The darkest night is often the bridge to the brightest tomorrow”.  Don’t miss your bridge – go seek it out as Mr. Longfellow did, as the young man in my office did, as Eric Church, Pema Chodron, and Fr. Keating have all done.  Calm, serenity, release, God, hope for a new tomorrow are all there once you do.

 

 

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

 

 

 

Adversity

Adversity happens to every one of us. We have our difficult moments in life, don’t we? And yet, how often do we believe that we shouldn’t have to go through adversity or difficulty? Years ago M. Scott Peck wrote: “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths” in his book “The Road Less Traveled”. And, he says, when we recognize this, when we “get it”, we stop fighting it, we accept it, then the fact it’s difficult no longer matters.

I have a very good friend going through a months long period of adversity. She began with a surgery in July and 3 months and 4 surgeries later she is just beginning a recovery from the final surgery a week ago. It’s been interesting watching and listening to her. I’ve been astounded by her courage at times, and concerned about her fear and whether she had the fortitude for the next step at times. A few weeks ago I saw a real change in her. In talking that day, I asked her about it, and she smiled. She shared that as she was facing this time in her life she decided there must be things she was to learn. There must be a greater reason that she hadn’t yet found in what was happening. And so she began looking for those reasons. As she was beginning to ask these questions she began to see life in a new way.

Peck says that only as we face problems, such as my friend did, that our courage is called forth, that we grow spiritually – or intellectually, that we learn we have more capacity than we had thought we had to solve problems and learn and grow. We learn that we don’t have to give up to get through something, which really doesn’t work; but instead learn something new about ourselves, life, or intellectually learn a new skill to actually implement.

As my friend accepted that her situation was not okay, i.e.: her leg was injured, she began to move forward. It’s not easy to recognize one’s vulnerabilities. Even something as simple as the canoers in this picture. dont-give-upIf they were in the middle of a thunderstorm and being tossed around by waves it definitely would NOT be feeling ok. And the situation would not be okay – it would be difficult and even potentially dangerous. To stop and give up means essentially death to the canoer in that situation. But to use all one has learned about canoeing, to call on the courage within one might not have been aware was even there, to reach up in prayer or out to spirit will allow one to get through the situation in a new way. The philosopher Seneca said many, many years ago, “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage”. But courage doesn’t mean we have to do it alone. On the contrary, courage can mean asking for help.

My friend also realized this. As she accepted the difficulty and began looking for the lesson, she also began asking for help. She still has much of the burden of getting through this journey in her life just as we all must own in our own lives. But, she began asking for help for things she didn’t know about or couldn’t do. From asking for emotional support to asking for someone to pick up something for her at her home, to asking for prayers and thanking each person who helps her at the physical rehab facility; she stopped trying to do everything alone and control everything. And I think control is a big issue in this whole concept of life being difficult. Byron Katie said something interesting about our desire or attempt to control our lives: “If you want real control, drop the illusion of control. Let life live you. It does anyway.” So, in my friend’s situation she needed to look at the control she did have – how to choose her attitude and reach out and up. But release the control over what happened in her life, the illusion of control she went in with the day she had her first surgery. This is a tough one for me as well. I want to think if I do x, y, and z nothing bad will happen, or I’ll get a specific outcome. But I’ve learned more and more all I can do is the next right thing to do. I have to then wait and see where life takes me. And then work with what it is.

So this fall, as you’re looking at holidays and how they might not be what you want, or children who don’t bring home the grades you want, or the boss who is demanding something from you that is hard to reach, or the illness suddenly thrust on you that you are overwhelmed by, think about my friend. Think about her road from blaming life or others for a difficult situation to realizing she had something to learn and needed to look at it differently, to reaching out and up for help, to letting go of some specific outcome, and think about what you might learn from her lesson. May you accept adversity in the spirit of Napoleon Hill who said, “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit”.