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.

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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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Why? Why Not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How often, O, how often,

In the days that had gone by,

I had stood on that bridge at midnight

And gazed on that wave and sky!

For my heart was hot and restless,

And my life was full of care,

And the burden laid upon me

Seemed greater than I could bear.

But now it has fallen from me,

It is buried in the sea.

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

 

 

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.

Thoughts on love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

Love is Everywhere

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

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

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

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

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

Living Life Within and In Community

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

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

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

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

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

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