Thoughts on fall

This Saturday marks the start of a new, welcome season for me—fall begins. Growing up in the Midwest, apple farms were prevalent and roadside stands with fresh apples, apple cider, and apple cider donuts were among my favorite stops. The leaves changing, the chill in the air in the morning slowly changing from dew to frost on the lawns, the fields being harvested, and the fall décor—cornstalks, hay bales, and pumpkins appearing in lawns everywhere, were all signs of the season.

Apples are one of my favorite fruits. I enjoy them year-round, but I always love the time of year I begin seeing the Honeycrisps show up in the produce sections. Every other year my extended family gathers at our family cabin to harvest apples from our tree and begin the weekend long task of peeling and canning apples and applesauce. It is a weekend full of work, undeniably. It is a weekend where we fill up every inch of the cabin, lots of people under one reasonably small roof. But it is a weekend of laughs, of love, of bonding that I look forward to often months ahead of time. This year the crop is not as plentiful, so we aren’t going to have that time.  But I still found myself thinking of apples and looking at pictures from past years this weekend. Some years the apple harvests are showy with an abundance of fruit, other years the work is happening underground and within the body of the tree. The fruit crop may be less, but the growth cycle is just as important.

applesatcabin

Something similar happens in the cycles of our lives. We have times that our lives feel overflowing, with commitments, with friends, with family. Other times we have more moments of solitude. Those quiet moments, while at times may feel uncomfortable, are just as important. Such as it is for me this year. The end of summer and this fall will be one less harried, more intentional, and with more quiet time for me.  I spent a weekend by myself at the cabin a few weeks ago, enjoying the peace, quiet, and hikes with Murphy. While fall is about letting go, solitude allows me to stop, think, pray, dream, or do some art to sort out where I’ve been and where I’m going. This reflective time allows some of the work to be done internally and spiritually as I consider the next steps for me in life.  And it allows for contemplation of progress made – perhaps to release, as apples ripe for picking; or perhaps it is the season for growth and change, a new bud on the apple tree. So, a time to wait. And to be at peace with waiting. “Solitude is very different from a ’time-out’ from our busy lives. Solitude is the very ground from which community grows. Whenever we pray alone, study, read, write, or simply spend quiet time away from the places where we interact with each other directly, we are potentially opened for a deeper intimacy with each other.” ~ Henri J.M. Nouwen

As the apples are released from their branches, some fall and others are caught, only some make it to the applesauce.  So too with the meaning of fall – let go, release, transition.  F. Scott Fitzgerald:  “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” If you are looking to do some spiritual reflection of your own during this season of harvest, please consider joining me for my upcoming workshop—Spirituality and Psychotherapy: Hope, Courage, and Presence. Spots are limited but I do still have a few seats available, for more details see www.thewholenessinstitute.com/workshops or call us at 602.508.9190.

The apples were harvested, let’s enjoy them one bite at a time.

With hope,

Dr. Beth

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Freedom Within

The 4th of July always brings back warm memories for me. Childhood memories of family, neighbors, being in the Elmhurst 4th of July parade, a huge neighborhood picnic, mama’s potato salad, Mrs. Grosser’s Rice Krispies chicken, watermelon, and a day that ended in a trek by all of the neighborhood to a park for fireworks. According to the Elmhurst History Museum, fireworks commenced at one of several parks during this time period, one of which was Elridge Park.   Elmhurst was my home town, one in which family, friends, and neighbors counted.  Where one felt safe, and where life was measured by the seasons passing from the 4th of July picnic, to fall school and the smell of tar on the road, to winter snow storms, to spring flowers and roller skating.

Eldridge

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Swimming Pool where I learned to swim in the early 1960’s
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Elmhurst 4th of July Parade circa 1960’s

But the 4th of July meant that we were celebrating freedom, something that is more sought after today, and less taken for granted than it seemed to be back in the mid-1960’s. This 4th of July I want to remind you that freedom is at least as much how we own things internally as how life occurs around us.  Too many are feeling less free in this country, and feeling very much compromised, reduced, limited, and forsaken.  I am not going to address any of the politics on either side of this, that’s for other places and times.  But I do want to address how to own one’s independence of spirit.

This automatically takes me to a famous psychiatrist/neurologist named Viktor Frankl who died in Vienna in 1997 but survived four concentration camps in the 1940’s including Auschwitz.  He was a man who knew no freedom for 3 years, and yet in that time he learned mental freedom, psychological freedom, and spiritual freedom.  He developed through these experiences and times a new form of therapy he called logotherapy or existential therapy.  He believed that not only can we survive extreme times, but we do so through the spiritual self that cannot be reduced by circumstances.  I don’t know about you, but I have struggled with this thought at times; and yet, I also know this is how I’ve both enjoyed the wonderful times in Elmhurst, and some extremely difficult times in my life later.  In fact, during high school a dear friend gave me Dr. Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”; and, in reading it I found strength and power to go on.  How?  By finding meaning for my soul and heart, regardless of what might be difficult.  (Note:  I recommend this book highly – see https://amzn.to/2z64yQ8)

At this time when life in our country is rife with difficulty, I believe we must also remember the freedom that Dr. Frankl suggested, particularly when he said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”  So, this 4th of July, let us celebrate this.  And let us also remind ourselves that what we hold most dear in this country, freedom, is what we are celebrating and what some are fighting to retain or regain.  And when the parades begin in your town, or the picnics begin, and even through the last of the fireworks going off, may we remember we hold the deepest freedom within to choose our attitude.  Only then can we be fully empowered to celebrate freedom.  And only then can we begin to make real choices about freedom and take steps to further defend it.  From the child’s heart of freedom within me from the 1960’s, to the child’s heart in you, Happy 4th of July!

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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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Managing our Emotional and Physical Health through the Holiday Season

Holidays Ahead

Is your holiday season different this year?  Maybe you must work and can’t be at events with family or friends.  Perhaps you are feeling depressed and anxious already, and as you are learning to manage it, with holidays upon you, you are feeling you’ll never get hold of the emotions.  It’s possible someone close to you died this year, and the point of holidays seems removed from you.  Or maybe you are struggling with an illness and so the thought of holidays, food, or get-togethers just isn’t as important to you as you deal with the illness.  Whatever may be different this year for you, perhaps we can simplify it a bit and make your holidays seem more possible, more manageable, and doable.

  1. Keep Calm and Take 3 Deep Breaths

Keep calm and 3 deep breaths

So, the idea here is to just stop – slow down – breath.  For those of you who have anxiety, pain, or need to take a bit more time, I love this practice and recommend it regularly.  For the breaths:

  1. Breath in slowly through your nose to the count of 4;
  2. Hold that breath to the count of 7;
  3. Release the breath to the count of 8.

Dr. Weil has a demonstration and discusses it at https://www.drweil.com/videos-features/videos/the-4-7-8-breath-health-benefits-demonstration/.

  1. Give Up Perfectionism

This is one of my weaknesses, if not the one that is most difficult to deal with during the holidays.  I may want to do it all, have all the gifts perfectly wrapped, have the exact right gift for everyone, and then also have the perfectly cleaned home, decorated beautifully and completely, and still get cards out to everyone, plan and prepare meals that I find either new and healthy or older and traditional, be at each of the events I’m invited to, and then also be sure that for each group I am a part of also be at their activities as well.  Well, those who know me know that those things don’t all happen, in fact, over the years I’ve reduced what I aim for and then work on the most important first, then drop what I can’t get done as I keep moving through the holiday season with enjoyment.  Brene Brown’s quote sums up what happens when we are not diligent in evaluating what we can do (healthy striving) and perfectionism:

Perfectionism

So, stay out of paralysis, exhaustion, reduce anxiety and depression, and work toward healthy striving.  One year it may be a minimal holiday season, another more involved.  Either way, the healthier you move through the Thanksgiving through New Year’s holidays, the better and healthier you are on January 2.

  1. Adjust how you shop

This is very important, particularly if you are ill, short on cash and want to be solvent in January, or just don’t have the energy to go out into the shopping malls for Christmas or Hanukkah gifts.  You don’t need to put miles on your car to do so.  What about simply ordering on-line from stores?  What about catalogues?  Or, you could consider ordering gift cards and making a wonderful card to enclose them in.  I love to do this for families, in particular, and get the gift certificate towards a family activity, be it bowling, a pizza night out, a movie, or their local favorite activity like a zoo.  All of this can frequently be done via computer or tablet or phone call.

Danielles Christmas gift

The other thing you can do is share from your heart.  You might consider making their favorite baked good and writing a personal note on it.  Or, write out your most precious memory about your time with them.  One year I bought a calendar and put little notes throughout the year in it of what I appreciated in the person, reminders they are loved, and wishes for important days in their life.  My friend loved it – and felt closer all year although we lived hundreds of miles apart.  And I still have a gift my niece made for me when she was just a little girl:

Finally, you can get creative.  Check out Pinterest for ideas.  Ask your friends for their thoughts or what they’ve done.  The goal here is to keep it simple and low stress whatever you choose to purchase or make.

  1. Plan first for down time, for a break, for the rest you need.

It seems so vanilla to plan for the rest before you plan for the day or week.  However, the biggest problem we have is with fatigue.  When we are tired, not resting, over-done, we do not deal with the rest of life as well.  According to Mental Health America we need rest not just to regrow our energy reserves, but also regulate some of our hormones, repair muscles, enhance cognitive processes including memory, and help keep depression and headaches at bay.  Have you ever noticed dogs?  They love to go and do and be with us.  However, they also love to sleep.

Murphy Christmas Morn 2015

They are generally better than we are at assuring they get what they need in rest.  I was recently reminded by my dog’s trainer that Murphy needs downtime with me, but I need downtime and rest to best be alpha to him, and so allow him to keep relaxing.  So – for your own sake, please remember to book this first.

  1. Make some time for feelings. 

It’s hard to allow feelings during holidays if we feel that we must be “up”, “happy”, “excited” and instead feel tired, are grieving, or are depressed or anxious.  It’s much easier to move through this time of year if you take the time to acknowledge what you’re feeling on a regular basis.  You can journal, talk with a close friend or loved one, see your therapist, draw a picture, cry, or simply acknowledge to yourself what you are feeling.  When we own what we are feeling it becomes easier to then move forward and make a decision about how we are going to deal with our feelings at the time.  Sometimes just writing it down or saying it aloud to ourselves or another allows the intensity to reduce and lets you move forward to something else.  Remember that when

Acknowledge feelings

From:  http://wantirnawellnesscentre.com

we avoid feelings we just delay experiencing them and the usual result is expressing them in ways or at times we wish they hadn’t come out.  Five minutes of journaling or quietly being still with oneself can do a lot to overcome the feelings back up that often occurs.

  1. Finally, remember to watch your exercise and foods/drinks you consume.

Although we may give ourselves permission to eat and drink more at times during the holidays, do remember that we need to also make the choice to keep up on water, exercise or take a walk if possible, put limitations on sugars and alcohol, and keep the vitamin and self-care rituals we generally use in our days.  We all tend to know these things, and it can be hard to follow through, but remember that even one day that we follow our guidelines the healthier we’ll be the next time we choose to allow ourselves to try the desserts, have a hot toddy, or don’t walk. Obviously if you have an addiction, be sure protect your sobriety.  An extra meeting might be just what you need on a particular day or days.  For Christmas, did you know that many areas have 24 hours of meetings in one location for those struggling on Thanksgiving and Christmas?  If you’re in Phoenix, try this on over Christmas:

Christmas Alcathon:  Marathon meetings every hour Noon – Noon (except during speaker meetings)

12/24

3:00 pm   Old Timers Meeting
8:00 pm   Speaker Meeting

12/25
10:00 am  Speaker Meeting

It is held at American Royal Palace Banquet Hall – 1915 W Thunderbird Rd, Phoenix  85023

You can also always call the 24-hour line for meetings 602-264-1341. 

Load how you carry it

This is a time of year that the above quote is very meaningful – it’s not how much we are dealing with in life during the holidays, it’s how we are carrying it.  And this includes all of the ideas above and others that you may find are even more meaningful to you.  Remember that spirituality goes a long way this time of year.  Reading, meditating, going to church or temple, or otherwise getting in touch with our faith and connection to a higher power is essential.  I need more candles and music this time of year, in addition to being sure that I’m taking time for church and quiet on Sundays.  The sabbath is an essential part of life, as those who are Christian and Jewish learn.  A day of rest, taken away from other activities to allow for focus on one’s relationship with God, Yahweh, Christ, is something that can be adjusted for in any faith walk.  And even without faith, one essentially can choose to take a day apart to rest and refresh.  This is so important through the holiday season.  From Thanksgiving when we may want to take 15 minutes to write a gratitude list, to Christmas and Hanukkah services, to new year’s moments for reflection and thoughtful processing of one’s goals and accomplishments, these moments allow us to be more grounded, fully alive, and connected with our spiritual force.  Be sure not to cut your holidays short by not taking this time regularly.

So, go and enjoy the turkey and cranberries and pie this Thursday on Thanksgiving.  And remember to take the above ideas into consideration if things get hectic during the week.  Then approach each day through December in a similar way, taking care of yourself within what is healthy for you – not as you “should” or “shouldn’t” need to do.  And have a most wonderful 5 weeks!

Blessings warmly sent to you,

Take care,

Dr. Beth

 

 

 

 

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.

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,
IMG_0269.JPGPhoto credit: Dr Mark Arcuri
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)

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).