The Coming Dawn: Paradox of Expectations

It’s been said that the morning comes with expectations and the evening ends with experiences. Have you ever been asked to go on a hike, and wanted to go, but expected the view in the desert to be brown and very hot, and not terribly exciting?  But the hike sounded wonderful?   

As you keep walking the hot, dry desert there are various twists and turns, and you learn new lessons about the desert and what it is like, what you are capable of hiking.  And then there is turn, perhaps around the small mountain to the right, where you will see a whole new view that opens, like this:

The difference reminds me of how my expectations often are short-sighted and only about now.  It can lead to an experience that seems “unfair” or somehow wrong.  As an example, when I got Finley, my one-year-old Australian shepherd, a year ago, I very much enjoyed much of the love the companionship and fun I wanted.  There also were many days of housebreaking and teaching him to walk on a leash and playing with him when I was exhausted.  On one particularly difficult day, he chose to go and dig up a sprinkler line and come in full of mud (and joy) in the middle of an appointment I had with a client.  Not a happy dog-mama at that moment!  But today, all I need to do is call him when I see him out in the yard and suspect he is digging and he runs right in and comes to me.  And it is rare for him to do it.  So I ended up with a well-behaved dog (most of the time) and I’ve learned more patience, but the middle was not always fun and I wasn’t necessarily anticipating some of how I grew in this first year.  😊

Henri Nouwen spoke about this as the paradox of expectation in his writings.  He wrote of many paradoxes, but in this one we may be expecting something wonderful, and yet receive pain, growth, or challenges in the middle, and the gift comes through that experience.  In being open to this potential growth or gifting we can make it through some very painful days more easily.  As Nouwen aid, “those who believe in tomorrow can better live today…those who expect joy to come out of sadness can discover the beginnings of a new life” (Henri Nouwen Society, March 12, 2019 Daily Meditation).  Finley did grow up – and is much better behaved as a one-year-old than he was 9 months ago.  And when I could remember he would mature and grow out of things I had much happier days. 

I have a couple of friends going through very difficult cancer treatments right now.  And you know I see clients who are often going through hard, hard times.  We are all stressed this year by Covid-19 and the changes it has brought to our lives.  When I turn to the expectation paradox, I get through these experiences so much more easily as I truly do believe good will eventually triumph in health, recovery will follow the sickness of chemotherapy, and when a loved one is near the end I truly do believe my loved one will again have a new life.  I also believe that somehow a new normal in living with Covid-19 will come that allows better treatment or vaccine that will allow more contact and connection with others physically as well as through the virtual sources we often use now. 

Am I being a Pollyanna?  Well, I don’t think so.  What I’ve learned over years is that if I expect that eventually things will work out, whatever happens in the middle is just the middle.  It doesn’t mean I don’t grieve if I lose someone in death.  It doesn’t mean I enjoy it when a doctor has a concern.  And it doesn’t mean that I want to offer shallow compassion.  But I do want to help you, and others, to remember this is but one day in our lives, not all of it.  A Jewish proverb I have read is “He that can’t endure will not live to see the good”.   And aren’t we really talking about the essence of hope as expressed on a save to my Pinterest board, “H.O.P.E.:  Hold On Pain Eases”.  So, what to do in the middle?  One part is dealing with what is in the middle.  If there are treatments we must undergo, we do it.  A little over a year ago I needed to have a biopsy in out-patient surgery.  To not address that would have been very unhelpful.  It would have been closing my eyes and ignoring the situation.  That’s not what I’m talking about.  Instead, it was scheduled, and most fortunately, I was able to find out everything was fine quickly.  For others, it’s going through very difficult treatments.  Either way – we come out the other end – pain does, indeed, ease. 

Another thing I recommend includes self-care methods I’ve written about frequently.  But what about just looking for positive things happening in our world right now?  We tend to over-focus on the election, Covid-19, and other concerns that are valid, but when overly focused upon lead to depression and anxiety and constant unrest within.  We cannot ignore those concerns, but we also need to take time to notice what we are grateful for and what is positive around us.  Angie found several things, and I’ll mention three here:

Take a look at “Cook Like a Firefighter”, an event ongoing through October 17 at https://egivesmart.com/events/ibl/.  Quite a few Arizona fire departments are participating in a fundraiser for burn victims.  You’ll find recipes you can make at home and each department has a separate link to a video to watch them prepare the dish!

A baby gets to hear his mother’s voice for the first time and let me tell you, it is adorable and reminds me of the miracles in medical science! https://abcnews.go.com/WNT/year-hears-mothers-voice-time-reaction-precious/story?id=73083089

Finally, a story for both dog and cat lovers alike, a local rescue group brings together an unlikely family: https://www.abc15.com/news/state/rescued-dog-who-lost-her-puppies-adopts-trio-of-orphaned-kittens

Where to find such stories and information when you just need a breath of fresh air?  Check out https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org .  This allows us to also alter some of our expectations by reminding us that, as my grandma used to tell me, “It’s always darkest before the dawn” – and dawn will eventually arrive no matter how bad it feels or is today. 

May you each remember the paradox of expectation and focus on the joy that will come, the healing, the peace.  As Nouwen says, your heart will be full of joy again.  We are wishing each of you some time of lightness, peace, and rest so you may take on the next challenges to come your way with a renewed spirit.

Take care,

Dr. Beth & Angie

Beth Sikora, PhD and Angie Read, B.S.

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

“Silence the mind to hear the whisper.”

I was at a meeting recently with a guest speaker, the topic unknown to me prior to attending. On my way, music on in the car, I found myself turning it down so I could let my mind wander, mulling over a few of life’s stressors. Due to some scheduling changes, I was going to be walking into the meeting just before the speaker began, not having my typical time to say hello to everyone and chat before the meeting. I sat down just before she was introduced, and among the first couple of sentences about her, she was quoted, “Silence the mind to hear the whisper.” It felt like such a timely topic for me, a divine intervention of sorts, putting the reminder directly into my stream of consciousness that I had been subconsciously working towards on my drive. The use of such a simple yet powerful sentence by way of introduction –our speaker caught the attention of all of us in the room. The concept of quieting the mind has been around for a long time and while meditation is something I practice routinely, there is always room for learning, improving, changing the practice for oneself and so, I listened, and I learned.

Mindfulness is a topic I’ve been wanting to write to all of you about for some time. The word of the year for the practice is “deepening”, as I’ve shared before. We are working towards that with greater and different offerings from the practice based on the feedback from you, wanting to offer services that are relevant and meaningful to each of you. But also, deepening is creeping into my subconscious and my own life. I want to embrace this time of evaluation and growth and would like to share some reminders with you on how to be a better steward of your mental focus and energy.

Online you’ll find a wealth of meditation resources, several apps you can download with a click, a few of which I’ve even featured under the links tab of my website and in previous blogs. But. Did you know that taking a walk can serve as a meditative experience? Taking a bike ride, being outside, a scenic drive, gardening, laying in the sun or the shade of a tree, a round of golf, going to the batting cage, going to the practice green or driving range are all activities that can promote mindfulness and meditation. It doesn’t take sitting in a pretzel shaped position on a rubber mat to qualify as meditation. It can take place wherever you feel moved to practice as long as it’s in an environment in which you feel you can relax and unwind. The idea is not the act of stillness, it’s about quieting the noise of the demands of life and taking moments of quiet.

Beginning isn’t as hard as you may make it out to be. Set low expectations for yourself, planning to spend 3-5 minutes at your first attempt–you’ll increase your level of focus and lengthen the duration with routine practice. Begin in the space of your choosing, allowing any thoughts that enter your mind to simply move past your attention as if they were a billboard you pass on a highway. Notice the thought and allow it to move on. Practice breathing exercises. Deep inhales, lungs full, holding the breath and a slow, deliberate exhale. There are exercises that guide you to count your way through breathing and those can be helpful but generally, if you exhale for longer than you inhale you are lowering your blood pressure. These breathing exercises alone are a way to calm yourself and even can be used to drift off to sleep.

A drive that previously may have brought stress due to traffic I’m now looking forward to. The forced time alone in the car is a good time for me to quiet my mind. To listen for the whisper—of intuition and my higher power which is such a help to me in times of growth. “Be patient with yourself. Self-growth is tender; it’s holy ground. There’s no greater investment.” – Stephen Covey. As a part of mindfulness and deepening, let these ideas be a start for you. I’ll be sharing more on this topic in blog posts to come as well as in an upcoming workshop. Stay tuned!

PS: Looking for a great way to open relationship discussions and mindfully listen to loved ones? These would be a great way to start: https://www.shopsundaypaper.com/Sunday-Paper-Table-Topics-p/tabletopic.htm

Deepening: Thoughts to Consider

Deepening…the word for 2020 that we are using at The Wholeness Institute.  Angie and I spent a good deal of time on brainstorming and planning what we want to accomplish in 2020, and deepening resonated with our goals and, hopefully, with yours.  Deepening has many meanings…

            ~To become more profound

            ~To enhance

            ~To strengthen

            ~Powering up

            ~Living more deeply into something – a relationship, spirituality, one’s inner self

            ~Living with purpose

            ~Leaning into experience

            ~Result of transformation.

When I think of it in terms of my counseling practice, I think of it as being present to others as they grow, as they go within themselves more to the discover who they are. Witnessing each person transform parts of him or herself that may no longer fit or has caused pain.  It’s being privileged to be with a person as they are leaning into their gifts, owning them, allowing themselves to become better acquainted and experience life more deeply as well as broadly.  Broadly alone isn’t enough, though, if we want to feel connected with others, with those most special to us, to ourselves.  This isn’t so new, if you go back to the Quakers, the mindfulness writers, those who are Jungian in thought, there are many books and articles written.  We hope that at the end of 2020, the first year of our new decade, you feel that you have received direction or ideas from me that have resulted in deepening your life and experiences more completely. 

Toward that we are restarting, adjusting, and adding some offerings, and welcome you to ask questions, reach out as you are called to deepen in during this year, or share with me how we can help you in your process throughout the year.  We are still working with many of the same populations and with similar issues, but with a slightly revised focus as we walk into 2020.  Rather than just teaching, or counseling, I hope to experience a deepening of my practice, and Angie’s work here, so that you are able to find a deeper sense of who you are and perhaps how things have moved forward in your life. So, we will be working in the next month to begin adjusting things in the following ways:

~ We will offer two blogs a month – one about a change or addition to your knowledge or understanding of what the field of psychology and spirituality are understanding today.  So perhaps an update on how yoga is used; a new treatment method for brain injury or depression; or even just a new idea to try to keep life balanced. The second will offer deeper content such as journaling exercises, ways to make your growth more experiential, and allow you the opportunity to move a tiny or larger step forward.

~As some of you know I have a new puppy – Finley.  We are going to add Instagram back with a focus on Finley’s Corner, lessons he is learning, that we also can learn from.  As an example, a lesson he learned after Christmas family celebrations? We all need rest after a long day. Look for an Instagram link soon!

~More days of retreat and mornings of information.  There are two we are looking at now, in addition to two in conjunction with others we have been invited to or are co-offering.

March 7 – Unfolding to Yourself:  Understanding Self and Spirit

May 16 – Professionals with Brain Injury:  Couples Facing Change

~Watch for the addition of concierge counseling services soon both for brain injury and personal growth clients – with special information pages, some case management built-in for no additional charge, consults with other professionals on your behalf, priority scheduling to meet your schedule, and other tips or help.

~More teletherapy appointments available to you.

So, as you are beginning your new year, here’s a deepening question for you to consider and write about:  What do I need to do to lean into my own life more fully? Write for 10 minutes and stop. Step away from the writing for a few moments.  Reread it and write down one action step to take or new awareness you have.  It might be set a reminder to write tonight before retiring for 10 minutes.  It might be to spend 5 minutes of your walk in silence, not talking with anyone with you, but taking in what you are seeing.  It might be saying a prayer or writing a prayer to your Higher Power tonight at bedtime.  Then go – live your life as it is unfolds today (including football and friends).  Begin each day with this – and just watch your life transform and deepen this year.

With care and encouragement to dare to dive more deeply into who you are,

Dr. Beth

In my own deepening understanding of myself
find my capacity to serve others is deepened as well.
The 
better I am at selfcare
the more 
genuinely nurturing of others I am able to be.
– 
Mary Anne Radmacher

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