Caring for Yourself in Times of Fear and Illness

This week has been a stressful one for many people.  The combination of the coronavirus, the stock market, the grey skies and rain, school and college closures, and the world news each day has been very hard.  But . . . in all of this, did you catch any of the good news?  It’s a bit hard to find, I learned, as I went to locate some for you to try to balance the week.  I did finally find a couple of pieces: 

            The La La Land Kindness Café in Dallas has hired 9 foster kids who aged out of the foster care system and were having trouble locating jobs.

            How about the House and the President agreeing, within just a couple of days, to relief legislation for victims of the coronavirus? 

            The Dow started a rebound today – that’s very good news for most!

            All of the fast action employers and schools/universities are taking to protect their employees and students – it seems unprecedented to me, although it may not be.  From Amazon in Washington to ASU to Ford to many others many are limiting exposure by providing employees with laptops and having them work and study virtually.  

All of these are truly ideas that are very positive news – and get covered in the anxiety so many are feeling, and the care for family that is often at the root of this.  Just tonight I learned one of my sisters-in-law may have been exposed to it, and her father likely has it.  Yet of the 16 members of my family nearby, she is the only one, which is good news thus far. (Edit 3/15/20: Good news! Her father’s test results reflected negative results.) See how we can flip it?  In psychology it’s called reframing the bad or difficult situations by looking at life a bit differently, without denying the hard does exist as well.

We sent out notices about Covid-19 procedures for our office this week.  Now it’s time to also offer some concrete help along with the above reframe tool.  The American Psychological Association and the National Association for the Mentally Ill are the two sources I’m using for the ideas that follow.  I wanted you to have some resources to print or click for the coming weeks.  What I know from 911 and other events is that when we are faced with being bombarded on social media and news media with information that is difficult, we tend to seek out more information and stay focused on the difficult situation.  This merely drives fear and anxiety up further.  We do need to know what we can do to try to protect ourselves; but once we know, i.e.:  wash hands to count of 20, do not shake hands and stay a further distance from others, and isolating someone with clear symptoms including fever, cough, and shortness of breath, we need to also look at how we care for our family and selves in a way that minimizes the fear and focuses on good things in life.  And, in the situation we have right now, we also need to know how we can cope with isolation whether from working at home, not going out for social events, not being able to travel to family or friends on trips we have had to cancel, or other reasons.  And we must have a method to deal with the uncertainty, fear, loneliness, depression, resentment, and challenges we face trying to secure things we may need.  So, here goes!

  1.  Make sure you have some games to play that are age appropriate for you and your family, and especially if you have children.  If isolated, the family will need ways to entertain themselves, laugh, enjoy each other’s company, and get through the days together.  We know that closeness breeds irritation, so have some things that can break up the days and draw you together, not apart.
  2. Have a plan with your doctor.  My physician sent out a text announcement to all of his patients tonight just letting us know he’s there, where to go for trustworthy medical information on the virus, and what to do if we are having symptoms.  Reach out to your pediatrician, cardiologist, pulmonologist, or primary care to know ahead what to do and how their office is managing this.
  3. Use the tools that help your mental health on a regular basis.  So…do:
  4. Keep up your physical activity – there are some great YouTubes on how to do yoga, walk along with you to keep your steps up (I like Leslie Sansome’s https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9yI2LGZRE0), and many others depending on what you prefer to do.
  5. Make sure you have enough medication or supplements like Rescue Remedy, Vitamin C and B, and other things around to keep you feeling better and less anxious. 
  6. Stay on a schedule.  We can get very loosey-goosey when at home too long or too much.  So make sure you keep an agenda to normalize your life and not fall into the doldrums too much.
  7. Make sure you can connect with Messenger, FaceTime, and the others available.  It helps for you to actually see friends, not just text.  We’re learning that the more texting that is done, the lonelier people are becoming.  So, in this time of increased stress – reach out even more and if you can’t touch one another, at least see one another.  I know someone who was separated from a loved one for quite some time, and they would watch a favorite show while connected on Facetime.  Another dad who was away who would play checkers with his children.  Get creative in your connection!
  8. I know you get tired of it – but remember to breathe when anxious.  Or start a mindfulness app during this time.  The website has a number of these on the Links page, and this is a great time to learn to do it and practice.
  9. Listen to music that uplifts you – for me that might be one thing – but what is it for you?  Listen!  Music does a lot to impact our moods.
  10.  Keep some numbers available if you need to reach out to a warm line, i.e.:  you’re not suicidal but you are feeling isolated and need to connect.  See SAMSHA’s line for disasters at 1-800-985-5990 or locally at 602-347-1100.  And remember AA, Al-Anon, and many other groups have online and phone meetings.  Take care of your sobriety as well! 
  11.  Pay attention to your spiritual practices.  I love labyrinths and downloaded the Mount Mojo Labyrinth Journey app to my cell phone quite some time ago.  I can walk it by finger on the phone even if I have only 5 minutes and can’t get to one locally.  Or, call a friend to pray.  Watch a Joel O’Steen, Beth Moore, or even your own pastor or rabbi may have something online to watch or even just listen to. 
  12. Humor, humor, humor!  You have to laugh!  I go to Bob Newhart videos, Carol Burnett, or Tim Conway as well as Friends and Frazier.  My mom loved SpongeBob Square Pants (I did not ever figure that one out!)  How about funny movies often free on Amazon Prime, Netflix, and other places you may have membership. 

All of these are tools – now you just need to use them.  As I said in my letter to current clients, I’m here and I am available.  Feel free to call and schedule an in-person or video therapy session.  The teletherapy appointment is on an encrypted service that meets HIPAA standards, we don’t use FaceTime or other things that might seem easier – but don’t offer the privacy.  So, if you can’t come – we’ll walk you through how to set it up. 

May you find these ideas helpful – and know there is a hand to reach out to.  And keep reaching out to friends as well.  Do you have other ideas?  Let us know and we can share those on our Facebook page. The disasters end.  The illnesses come to an end in such large proportions.  The blue skies come out again.  Something my mama told me growing up is that “it’s always darkest before the dawn”.  Obvious, right?  But it kind of normalizes problems and difficult times.  And reassures us – that “Joy will come in the morning!” (Psalms 30:5).  And so it will!

Take good care of yourself!

Dr. Beth

Yoga and Your Brain

Yoga. It can feel like an intimidating word for the uninitiated, can’t it? Visions of perfectly chiseled bodies in spandex holding positions that look impossibly difficult. But yoga is so much more than that. I’ll leave it to the countless experts who explain that the physical movements of yoga are only a tiny part of the whole practice (google will lead you to lots of resources if you’re interested). But the physical piece which ties into the mental component and so many other benefits is a great way to move forward and “deepen” your healing.

After an accident or an acquired brain injury the sheer volume of appointments of follow up care can feel like a full-time job. But yoga is a practice that can be added at any time in the recovery process and shows great promise at helping those who have sustained a brain injury with balance, balance confidence, range of motion, pain control, strength and mobility. Studies have shown the practice to improve balance by 36%, balance confidence by 39%, lower extremity strength by 100%, and endurance by 105%. Those statistics speak volumes for the benefits of such a gentle exercise and practice. In addition, it can be helpful to so many who suffer from anxiety related to post-traumatic stress disorder after an injury or even a car accident without injuries. One study done at two centers involving a Canadian location and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in conjunction with Harvard University found a 10% reduction in PTSD anxiety symptoms following only an 8-session program of Kundalini Yoga.  Another study through Boston University and the Trauma Center found significant reduction in PTSD symptoms after 5 weeks of yoga, and individuals held an improvement for at least another 5 weeks.  So, it seems that we should be thinking about yoga much more frequently in the field of PTSD and brain injury!

There are studios throughout the country which offer yoga classes geared toward those with brain injury through the Love Your Brain Foundation and rehab centers. You can find some resources online at https://www.loveyourbrain.com/yoga though if you do a search right now you’ll find that in AZ, classes are not yet available (check back soon as a provider training is happening in April and is already full—so we should see some offerings coming!) The other place to check is the outpatient rehabilitation program through your local TBI hospital. In the Phoenix area, Barrow has some yoga classes with details found here. Although they have no specific yoga offerings at this time, Ability 360 is also a great resource for those with brain injuries and changes. A recent search of google for trauma and yoga in Phoenix brought up several studios with classes specifically for traumatic stress or PTSD. So, there appear to be some options, but take caution with these studios, doing homework to ensure their credentials are what you’re looking for and are the best choice for you.

These in-person classes are a great resource and whenever possible, I do recommend that people attend with an instructor present. That hands on advice and adjustment to a position can be very beneficial, but if it can be intimidating to try something new, can’t it? A big barrier to entry for an untried activity is the lack of understanding what the cultural norms are, what’s to be expected, and not wanting to look foolish doing something for the first time. Rest assured, the classes that are geared towards beginners, and specifically for those with brain injury, are not going to include the difficult poses that you see highlighted in yoga articles or images. Everyone in the class will enter with about the same level of expertise, that’s why there are classes for a variety of different audiences. Also, there are modifications that can be made to make this gentle stretching available to anyone, in any condition. If you’d like to see what a class may include, or would like to try something at home without an audience, there are some videos of classes for brain injury you can try at your own risk (check with your physician first to be sure you’re ready for these). Love Your Brain says it best, and I agree with their statement, “I cannot assume responsibility for any exercise and/or subsequent injury you may incur, “Yoga is for everyone. However, when online, it is up to you to assess whether you are ready for the class you have chosen. The techniques and suggestions presented here are not intended to substitute for medical advice. LoveYourBrain assumes no responsibility for injuries experienced while practicing these techniques.” And we cannot assume any responsibility for injuries experienced either through their program or others. That’s why it’s best to check with your doctor or physical therapist first. Classes online are an option for you to try if you cannot find anything available near you and once cleared by your medical health provider. Take a look at https://www.loveyourbrain.com/yoga-videos for some classes geared toward healing from a brain injury.

As we move through 2020 and we continue to explore our word for the year, deepening, I hope you’ll give some of the ideas I propose a try or use these suggestions to look for ways to incorporate new ideas into your life. I will be offering a workshop for you and your partner or spouse in April that will discuss the changes brain injury has on your work and home life. For more information, click here, and together let’s incorporate strategies to help you heal to be the very best you can be.

Unfolding: From Shame to Praise

I’ve been sitting here looking at a blank piece of paper, interspersed with time searching for ideas of what to write about for this blog released to be released on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent for Christians.  I’ve had a few thoughts pass through my head:

  • The childhood years of eggs and noodles for Friday dinner and tuna fish for lunch – no meat on Fridays was required. 
  • Grade school years of giving up chocolate, candy, cookies, or something else and putting a penny in the missions’ box to collect money for those in need.
  • Junior year religion class when we were challenged to show love to someone each day instead of forgoing a favorite treat (a la Fr. Martin’s blog last year – Be Kind at https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2019/03/01/fr-james-martin-sj-be-kind-lent
  • Looking out the window this morning and wondering at the cloudy sky and my cold feet while considering how to make this day into something growth-inspired.  This afternoon revealed a bright blue sky, clean and shiny leaves from yesterday’s rain, and beautiful pink and purple flowering shrubs. And this evening it is followed by dark clouds.  Such a metaphor of life – constant evolution.
  • Finley’s facial expression, as I showed in an Instagram post and below – full of joy and expectation.  Which brought me to thoughts of C.S. Lewis via a blog by Dawn Klinge where she talks about  Lewis’s view of joy.  (You can check it out here https://www.dawnklinge.com/abovethewaves/7-thoughts-on-joy-from-cs-lewis).
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  • Searching and finding a book recommended for Lenten journeys by one of my favorite authors related to growth spiritually, Sue Monk Kidd.  She recommended Gifts from Within, written by a group in Texas at Brigid’s Place.  Interestingly, this is also tied back to my ancestral motherland of Ireland. 

What is the common thread in all the musings I’ve had?  I believe it to be there is no perfect way through Lent, or preparation for Easter or Passover.  In reality, no perfect way to reach and experience joy, resurrected hope, true presence in our own lives of and with God.  But it does take preparation, time, energy, and choices daily. 

So, whether it is by 1) sacrifice, i.e.: fasting or giving up something; or giving something like love and kindness; or 2) reading the thoughts of others as shared in Gifts from Within; or 3) reading for my Jewish friends Kurshan in her first person article in The New York Jewish Week, “Preparing for Passover Physically and Spiritually” that reminds us that the history of Passover “begins with shame and ends with praise”  (see https://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/preparing-for-passover-physically-and-spiritually/); or 4) stretching and committing to really look at something around you (or within) each day like the change in the day from dreary to spring-like to stormy; or 5) watching the joy around you that comes from hope and expectation – they all count.  Each one can take you farther along your spiritual path.  And your psychological healing.  And isn’t this really unfolding – opening up to more of what you want to be, hope to be, are within; but perhaps are unaware of because of something blocking you?  Moving from shame to joy.  So, start thinking – has one of the above ideas struck you as one to use?  I’m using the book recommended by Sue Monk Kidd and a daily thought prompt from another group.  One person I know is using a specific book with a goal of reading the complete book by Easter.  Another person is writing her prayers daily.  And another is just working on breathing – with reminders to himself in his calendar to work on decreasing his anxiety. 

Pema Chodron said, “Nothing goes away until it teaches us what we need to know”.  Carolyn Myss said it a bit differently, “Always go with the choice that scares you the most, because that’s the one that is going to help you grow”.  Lent and preparation for Passover are times for such growth for all.  So…choose wisely this year.

Take care,

Dr. Beth   

2020: Goals and Goofing Off

I was thinking about the new year and recall recently hearing someone say, instead of resolutions that we often set ourselves up to break, think of the beginning of the year as a time to set one goal. And, while it feels like a blank slate and a good time to start something, I also wondered if we take a moment to pause and renew, would we all be more likely to hold to the new goals we’re trying to form? We go through the holiday season and it’s a blur. How often do we look back and wonder where 30, 60, 90 days or more have gone? We are so busy with the hustle of preparing that starts in October, maybe earlier, that when the new year comes it’s no surprise we’re all feeling ready for a new leaf. But is there room to be more mindful about how we go about all of these new practices? Instead of starting January at the gym doing more than our bodies have in weeks/months/years and going home sore, energy depleted, and looking into a refrigerator stocked in an optimistic moment with all the foods we “should” be eating is it any wonder that by the end of that week or the end of January we already feel we’re failing at what we set out to do? Here’s an idea it’s not too late to start on, the timetable is your own. Let’s bring in this new year with intention and balance.

Happy January, welcome new year, new decade! I’m going to choose my activities and set goals that are achievable, because I don’t need guilt over self-imposed ideas that make me feel a failure. And I’m going to learn to play, alone, with friends, and with my family.  Join me? Here are a few things to get you started but remember this is not an inclusive list, just inspiration:

  • Meal plan and prep on weekends. It sounds simplistic and it is, but this is the way to get the foods I want in the house. This is not the start of a strict diet; this is making healthier choices than I made during the holiday rush.
  • Create set work hours. It’s easy to allow myself to let my work spill into my evenings during times I don’t have plans or distraction, but everyone needs down time to recharge each day. It’s not a luxury, it’s what enhances productivity during the day and if I don’t consciously make this choice, I will let myself stay at my computer longer than I should.
  • Read, listen to audiobooks, listen to podcasts, or watch TV. Getting myself enmeshed in a good book is an escape nearly like a vacation. And for all the bad TV out there, there’s plenty of good to watch as well.
  • Pray or meditate. Quiet time for consideration and reflection is soul enriching and an amazing stress reducer that has been shown many times over to reduce blood pressure and improve brain health.
  • Move my body. This doesn’t mean I have to join a spin class or train for a marathon (though if those things lift you up, wonderful!) this just means a walk with my dog, or yoga at home or in a studio, a bike ride on the greenway. Again, stress reducing, heart and brain healthy, blood pressure reducing, and an aid in depression and anxiety management. 
  • Schedule physicals or check-ups. Annual exams are important to be sure any changes in blood work, blood pressure, vision, mammograms or PSA checks, etc. can be addressed before a possible issue becomes advanced.
  • Call and schedule time for coffee with a friend.  Often, we do not give our friendships the time they need, and we don’t benefit from the recharge that time will give us.  (And moms – I just read today that in order to be the healthiest mom possible you need two girlfriend outings a week.  Two!  So perhaps start with one and work it slowly up to two.)
  • Make an activity list with your family.  Have everyone list what is fun for them.  And then use this to plan your vacations, time together, and year. 

Remember, not every minute of the day is meant to be about productivity.  It’s also meant to include time for relationships, recharging our batteries, learning, and balancing our lives.  So, this year, rather than adding a list of 5 must-do’s to your daily schedule, how about taking care of you – in any of the above ways or another way you might want to embrace and enjoy.  Brene Brown reminds us that “adults goof off”, they play, and defined this as spending time doing things that are not productive but are fun.  Several of the ideas above are not “productive”, but they may be fun for you.  So, my challenge is – go have some fun this year.  Play. Meditate. Spend time with friends.  Read a novel that pulls you in.  After that – perhaps get back to the one or two goals for your year.  But don’t take the “fun” time off your calendar to get the goal met. Instead, balance both in your time.  And have a great 2020! 

A Search for Gratitude

As I’ve been pondering this blog the last few days I’ve found myself wondering about how to approach it-spiritually, psychologically, mentally?  Speak about the family perspective of Thanksgiving? Or something more related to gratitude. I’ve always thought of both thankfulness and gratitude as the same thing. But GK Chesterton’s proposition was that “thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” That very much spoke to me, the balance of thought and feeling.

So often at Thanksgiving we are celebrating food, football, and family. In that combination we are actually often only engaged in the thought of being thankful, occasionally feeling some happiness; but, how often is that thankfulness actually imbued with wonder? Wonder generally comes from something beautiful, unexpected, or inexplicable.  This is the key to much of why we likely experience actual changes in our brain when we have a gratitude journal.  Our thoughts of what we are thankful for, combined with the emotion of gratitude, is what causes both sides of our brain to process the experiences. As we cross the corpus callosum of our brain, we are changed.  Try an experiment, think of the most recent experience of a beautiful sunset, a puppy playing, or a special message of love from your best friend.  As you recall this, do you feel joy, relaxed or peaceful, or warmth deep in your heart? Then, as you consider that view, do you begin to think about how lucky you are to have that pup or thankful to have found your anam cara (see an article on anam cara here) friend? There you have it, thought and feeling, building in intensity as you allow the feelings to bubble up and impact you.  The life-changing moment of gratitude.

This Thanksgiving, enjoy the festivities and folks around you, whether solo awareness of others who are in your life or at a larger get together. But in addition to enjoying the day, I challenge you to not simply go through the motions. Instead, take some time to really consider what you are grateful for in life. Use the barometer of feeling gratitude to the point of an emotional reaction of joy, wonder, or amazement. For me it will include true joy in my experience of my new puppy Finley; deep peace that comes from memories of moments with my best friend; and heartfelt love for my dear sisters with whom I am spending this holiday. I want to cherish these thoughts and feelings along with the memories that triggered them. I choose to do as Brene Brown suggests: “[not chasing] extraordinary moments to find happiness, but paying attention and practicing gratitude” in its’ deepest sense.

Take care, and may the wonder of this holiday be yours.

Dr Beth

On an aging mind.

I recently opened a drawer and was surprised to see an article of clothing I had no memory of buying. It is a swimsuit. A dreaded article of clothing for me to put on any given day to begin with, I remembered it but I could not remember where I’d gotten it. Was this a memory issue I should take note of? It got me thinking about a recurring theme I’ve had come up in my practice and in my personal life with friends, not only as we ourselves age, but as parents and siblings and other loved ones do too. What IS normal brain aging and what are the signs something more serious is happening and needs attention?

As we age, our brains shrink. Years of studies have shown this to be the case but it’s not always a bad thing. For the vast majority of us, aging only means some forgetfulness—a haziness of past events, not recalling names of old schoolmates (but cueing helps), the need for a grocery list, occasionally forgetting what we walked into a room to get, word finding difficulty at times. You may also find you have less ability to concentrate and pay attention. All of these are typical to the aging brain. Add stress to the mix and the above problems are exacerbated, as is the case when you are only half paying attention to someone because your mind is already on something else.

So when is it time to pay attention and get some cognitive testing done, even as a baseline? I read an article not long ago that had a great list—I’ve pulled from it a few guidelines to follow (for more of the article, see: https://www.verywellhealth.com/is-it-forgetfulness-or-alzheimers-98574). Take a look at the list below and if you see some areas of concern, don’t be frightened about getting testing, the earlier the condition is found, the better we can prepare and treat for it.

  • Recent memory poor, and cueing and context don’t help
  • Can’t remember the order of things and who said what
  • Repetitiveness becomes obvious; memory intrusions occur
  • Unaware that a memory problem exists
  • Day-to-day functioning declines along with memory
  • Frequently demonstrating poor judgment and decision-making
  • Not being able to handle paying bills regularly
  • Often being disoriented to time and place
  • Difficulty with familiar tasks, such as making coffee every day
  • Getting lost on your way home from your daily job

Whether your memory slips are typical and bothering you or something more and you need to do some testing and work with a neurologist, talk to me. I have some things I can recommend that may help. And if you have a brain injury, your process may be a bit different– see our website at: https://www.thewholenessinstitute.com/braininjurytherapy.html for additional information. As I routinely say, there IS hope and I’m happy to help you find your way back to it.

As for me? A couple of cues helped. I knew I must have ordered the swimsuit so I looked at my older emails and found the order—as soon as I saw it I realized I bought it at a time life was extremely chaotic and it was one of many things I was handling at once. I’d been doing too much at one time and as a result, my mind automatically filtered what I needed to retain and what wasn’t important. A relief to me, for certain!

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

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!

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.

box-falls-2

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.

box-falls-creek

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.

box-falls-main

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”.