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.

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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.

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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.

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Go for Your Gold!

Strength Stones

This month is full of various highs and lows. The highs of the Olympic medal winners and the lows of those not moving into the finals. The highs of whomever you support for president having an increase in ratings and lows of whomever you don’t support having a negative press experience. The highs of a child entering kindergarten, and the low of realizing you have no child to see off to their first day of school this year…even though you are proud of their journey to a new state and professional job last spring. And
August brings the high of a new beginning, a new school year that we all somehow respond to in setting goals; and the sharp contrast of a year quickly ending. How does it go so fast, we hear ourselves or others asking. Somewhere amidst all of these we need to find our center, our grounding.

The peaceful person is able to find a way to reach down deep, and stay connected with their inner core of knowing. This is, indeed, how we come to maintain our equilibrium despite changes that swirl all around — both favorable and challenging. I’ve spent a fair amount of time with a friend over the past two weeks. It began with the high of getting a knee replacement (she’d been in a lot of pain, so this was a gift). The surgery and early recovery went fairly well…so favorable change. Then came the fall, broken leg, second
surgery to repair the knee just operated on, and hospitalization that has followed. So the low, the challenge. But I saw a spark in her Friday—one I’d not seen in a long time. Despite the most recent challenge, she was thinking forward, considering changes she needed to make in her life to improve her overall situation. And she was smiling. Was she still in pain? Yes, physically she’s recovering. But there is a soul spark I saw. Hope
for her as she realized she is cared about, she began to care about herself more deeply. She smiled and said, “I guess I needed this wake up call.” So she not only went to her own Olympics, but she is now in the finals, and I’m sure will win the gold.

Olympics

So what did she do, what did Michael Phelps do after a second DUI over a year ago? First, each got honest with themselves, they faced whatever was hurting them at their core. Second, they each accepted hands reaching out to them, whether friends or doctors. Third, they accepted the truth of their situation and realized they needed to change. Fourth, they made a commitment to change. And fifth, they took the steps to follow through. So today, my friend is accepting and looking forward to rehab and 1-2 weeks of more intense assistance. Michael Phelps went into rehab and also read and studied and realized his higher power was still there. She is reaching for a future much brighter, Phelps is married, has a baby, won another gold with his team, and has plans for a future. (See http://www.relevantmagazine.com/slices/michael-phelps-says-rickwarrens-purpose-driven-life-helped-get-his-life-back-track)

Highs and lows. If we face them rather than run from them we can move forward. Fear no longer paralyzes. And within we find the compass to move us in a stronger direction. But we do so from a place of calm, not panic. With courage and hope, not fear. And with support of others and higher power, not alone and abandoned. Honesty, help, acceptance, commitment, action — the 5 things we must have and be willing to take to turn our lows, our challenges, into the truly venerable, respected, August times of our life. Go for your gold!

Change

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Courage: The Cowardly Lion Finds Courage Within

There isn’t one of us who has not, at some point or in some area, needed courage. We’re very much like the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. The big difference is that the cowardly lion may be more honest than most of us. He owned his fear, but he’d been stuck in it for a long time. It’s ironic that it takes the very courage we feel we lack to overcome the fear and panic we have.

This weekend I spent time with family celebrating two of my nieces and one niece’s husband as they graduated with bachelor degrees. All of them are in different fields and facing new challenges ahead. As I listened to them I heard a bit of courage, and also heard the fear underlying their future lives. As we all have to do in our early 20’s, they realized a shift in how they will be moving forward, with much more independence and conversely less funding and sense of security. We face changes throughout life, perhaps a career change; maybe a divorce; a move; a new child’s impending arrival; or, even the changes wrought by transitions in the lives of the people who surround us.

There are no surefire fixes, we learned that early in life. But, what do we do to face our fear when courage is needed? The Wizard of Oz offers insight into this as we watch the lion face his.

Name your fear: The lion did share with Dorothy and others that he felt very much afraid. He didn’t always want to go forward, he wanted to hold back, at one point they literally pulled him along the yellow brook road. But naming it, singing about it, drawing how it feels, sharing with safe others our self-doubts, the power behind the fear decreases which in turn allows for the shame to be reduced and support to be garnered.

Start moving: None of the group in the story knows that they will make it to Oz, do they? They are hoping, but they must start to move. Glenda doesn’t start them moving along the path, she merely offers a path – points them in the right direction. Then it is up to each of them to take one step, then another, then another, and keep moving. In fact, though the lion wanted and hoped to gain courage from the Wizard, he didn’t know for sure he could. Often we are also afraid and don’t feel the courage or “enough” courage to bring a new goal or dream to fruition. With each step we take, though, we do bring the possibility closer.

Go to a Higher Power: The cowardly lion and the others were attempting to get to their Higher Power, the Wizard. Glenda was, in a way, a Higher Power, as she knew where to go. One must ask for help – and then wait for the answer. I believe this can be the most difficult step – waiting for an answer and not directing what the answer must be. The lion certainly didn’t expect the answer he got. And often neither do I. But asking and accepting are important steps with our Higher Power.

Get support: Do not do this change alone – reach out to friends, family, support community, coworkers, and/or a spouse. Dorothy, Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Man all needed something and joined forces to find help locating what they sought. Together they were stronger than any one of them could have been alone. So join hands with others, seek out therapy, spiritual direction, or coaching if you need more directed help. There is no shame in that; rather there is wisdom in knowing our limitations.

Courage is not an easy concept and can be a struggle to find within at times. But we generally do survive, grow, and thrive when we face our fears. All it takes is to name our fear, step out with support, and start moving.

May–A Time for Change

May begins tomorrow – and with it come graduations and celebrations of completion from kindergarten, 6th graders moving into middle school, 8th graders moving to high school, high school seniors moving to college or out into the world to work, and college graduates moving onto their own family, career, graduate school or a combination of all three. So many changes, both for the students and the loved ones around them – particularly the parents! I have 3 college graduations to attend and I firmly recall one of the upcoming graduates at 7 years old, competing in horses and another singing beautifully for a Papal visit here. I also had lunch with a step-son from a prior marriage last weekend and he is now in his 40’s – good grief, where did the time go? Certainly he can’t be more than in his 20’s! Life moves all of us forward – whether willingly on our parts or not.

And yet, we do have choices. Take a look at image of the path above – there is an intersection coming up. The walker has the choice – ahead, left, right, or to turn around and go back. So often when faced with these intersections we tie ourselves up in knots – what is THE right step to take? We’re sure this step will set the course of our future. And true, sometimes it does have a strong impact. When I chose not to go right to college from high school it did set a course, but far from a miserable one, it was one in which I gained a much stronger sense of myself, gained confidence, and eventually truly believed I could do what I’d always hoped and go into the field of mental health. As Ernest Hemmingway said, “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end”. The experiences that I had during the next years are what inspired the sureness to go to college and complete the degrees needed and actually begin a practice. So while it seemed like a side road, it truly was a meaningful and important part of my development as a person. And becoming a person we can have faith and respect in is one of the most important lessons in life.

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So I would ask you – what is next on your life journey? What have you completed? What have you thought about doing next? If you know what it is – then the next step is finding the courage to take it. Whether moving to a new state, marrying, having a child (if you are younger), or whether it’s learning to live in a home without children returning for summer as they are off on internships and jobs, or perhaps you are looking at the next 20 years ahead and realizing you better develop a new plan as it’s likely the last 20-30 active years you will have, it’s time to sit down and consider what you want to do. Or, perhaps you’re just divorced and this wasn’t what you wanted, you still are in charge of your future. You may have lost a loved one to cancer, heart disease, another health condition or maybe a sudden accident. Regardless of the intersection you are at, you will need to determine what you need to support you in taking the next step, and then in taking it.

Brene Brown said that we need to “Be willing to let go of who you think you are in order to be who you are”. Is that your next step in some way? Then let’s take it together and learn that there is no wrong path, no wrong way, merely a willingness to take the next road, see where we have gone, adjust as needed, and then move again. But what steps to take? Here are a few ideas:

  1. What do you want to do? Come up with even a small start in the plan for what’s next. What will be on that path? Children? A graduate degree? A new place you can decorate as you want and make a reflection of you versus you and him or her? A new job in a new land? (“Oh Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore!”…but how wonderful and how much Dorothy learned in Oz!) Make one part of your plan specific.
  2. Who can and will support you? Sometimes we need to re-evaluate our support. Perhaps the friend who saw you through the divorce remains bitter and you need to move forward without bitterness. Perhaps your best friend is getting married and you are beginning a new career. Rather than becoming angry and resentful that they “don’t understand” see who else in your network, or those who are now around you, who can and wants to support you.
  3. Explore your new path. Are there new things to learn? New adventures or hobbies or interests to explore? Make a list – or a jar with pretty papers folded with different adventures, hobbies, places to explore on each and then go do one!
  4. Journal – notice what is going on each day. Henri Nouwen said: “One of the most satisfying aspects of writing is that it can open in us deep wells of hidden treasures that are beautiful for us as well as for others to see.” What is changing in you? What do you like, not like, want to change? Keep current with yourself.

Are you ready? Here we go…take that first step on whichever path you are taking. One step IS a beginning. Blessings on your road…

 

 

 

 

Highlight on Health; The Whole You

As the flu virus spreads throughout our nation and wellness is a goal for many of us, I thought today I’d consider health in a broader sense, and the benefits of some alternative therapies. How is your back feeling? Have those migraines started up again? Did you just have your first hot flash? Or perhaps it’s a pulled ligament from a workout? Seems we all face physical aches and pains at times and often we can’t figure out from whence they came.

One of the guiding principles from which The Wholeness Institute was born was the need to care for a person as a whole–physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. Many of us have gotten a handle on one area of life to find the other areas amiss. It seems a constant struggle to balance all areas.

Philosophers, psychologists, medical doctors, and healers have for centuries argued and theorized about whether the body and mind can and/or should be separated. It seems current research is proving what many have theorized–the body does affect the mind and the mind affects the body. Many, if not most, sexual abuse survivors will tell you of migraines, stomach problems, chronic fatigue and the pain of fibromyalgia. MRI’s are now showing us that early neglect or lack of nurturing prevents neural connections from being made. Chiropractic physicians are able to clear emotions through kinesiological interventions in some cases. Body and mind are intimately connected.

In addition to considering psychological care there are many avenues of care now able to adjunct and even quicken therapeutic results. From optometric to chiropractic to neurological to psychopharmacological to herbs to massage–the possibilities are endless. Here is a brief review of some of the therapies available today.

Chiropractic and Kinesiology can both offer help for not only sore backs but sore minds. Boris Pasternak in Doctor Zhivago so eloquently discussed the body/mind connection years ago:

“The great majority of us are required to live a life of constant, systematic duplicity. Your health is bound to be affected if, day after day, you say the opposite of what you feel, if you grovel before what you dislike and rejoice at what brings you nothing but misfortune. Our nervous system isn’t just a fiction, it’s a part of our physical body, and our soul exists in space and is inside us, like the teeth in our mouth. It can’t be forever violated with impunity.”

Although many of us aren’t able to understand exactly how these sciences work, it is clear that kinesiology is able to bridge between the physical body and the emotions.

Nutrition is an area absolutely essential to our overall state of well-being but is one many find difficult to manage. High fat, low carbohydrate, no sugar, low sugar, no fat, low calorie, gluten free, and vegan are all types of diets most of us have watched cycle through in terms of popularity and nutritional value. It’s important that the person you are working with evaluate your body type, ancestry, and emotional habits to best prescribe an eating plan.

Massage is often thought to be for “special occasions” or pampering. In actuality, it is a wonderful method to treat not only muscular aches but remove toxins, increase energy, and encourage body systems to work more effectively. In addition, the impact on anxiety and stress are profound.

Aromatherapy also offers scents for health! Try some vanilla or lavender candles or oils next time you’re depressed. Lemon and peppermint can increase energy. And rose can increase passion. There is a reason for the recent trend in use of essential oils – consider it next time you’re stressed or not feeling well.

Optometry has therapies such as vision and academic to assist in strengthening not only eye muscles but also address early developmental deficits. Many children, as well as traumatic brain injury survivors, are being found to also have eye coordination problems which can now be identified and treated.

Medicine: We have to remember that many cases of depression are actually due to medical problems such as hormonal imbalances, thyroid disorders, sleep disorders, and neurological impairments. In most cases we consider this in every intake and ask if depression or anxiety have worsened. But it’s important to also recall this when your physician asks questions or wants to evaluate your mood. Working together we can provide better, more integrated, care.

Integrated health providers are abounding. In fact, in a recent search for concierge doctors I discovered a vast majority of those who came up in the Google search were actually integrated health providers. These individuals, regardless of naturopathic, osteopathic, homeopathic, or traditional medical backgrounds also focused on the methods above as well as herbal treatments, eye color and characteristics, homeopathic treatments, and in some cases even spiritual care. Further evidence that as our health issues increase in the US, as well as the more we understand the head/heart and body/mind connections, the more we are considering balanced care from various methods and sources. These are but a few of the treatments available to you which we’ve found to be powerful adjunctive therapies to psychotherapy. With more awareness and a bit of perseverance we can heal both our body and our mind. Wynona Judd said a few years ago: “I learned again the mind-body-spirit connection has to be in balance”. So, too, must we consider our care providers and methods of treatment.

Grieving the loss of a pet companion

Quite often I work with people who are experiencing grief and loss in their lives. I’ve dealt with the loss of my own parents among other losses, but until this past month I had not had to deal with the death of a beloved dog of mine. True, a year ago a friend who rents a room from me lost her 14-year-old dog, and that hit close to home as I’d come to love that furry friend. And earlier this year a dog for whom I’d been the surrogate mom for a number of years and then become my sister’s loved furry friend died. And that left a hole. But in late October my boy, Punky, died at the age of 13 following a rapid decline from liver cancer. Diagnosed one day, gone the next. And with his death I came directly, shockingly, abruptly, and painfully to the beginning of learning to cope with the loss of my dear companion and co-therapist. When I’ve worked with others who have struggled with coming to terms with the loss of a pet I’ve had compassion for their loss. The symptoms, to many people’s surprise, are much the same as any loss, and often as or more significant than the loss of a friend or family member. Why? Because the pet companion offers a more unconditional love than many of us humans are capable of with each other. A friend put it in this way recently to me, “I don’t think it’s any mistake that dog and God are spelled with the same three letters and are mirror-opposites in spelling.” Also, often the pet, as was true with Punky, was a witness to my life and activities. I was fortunate enough to also work with him for years. So we had a regular routine and joint comings and goings. He could predict nearly my every move. This is true for many pet-lovers of any length of time, there is a sync to our lives and activities and the loss of this is a unique loss to other types of loss. One step in healing is often to memorialize our fur baby in some way. I chose to write a letter to Punky that expressed my feelings about him and our life together. Here are a few snippets from it:

You walked into my life unsought.

You captured my heart in a moment.

So swiftly, surely, unblinkingly.

A little fuzzy pooh with eyes

That warmed, snuggled in, said so confidently,

“You’re mine. Take me home.”

And I did.

You grew, you jumped, you ran.

You, dearest Punky, taught me searching is ok.

Laughter comes from simple actions.

Joy comes with love.

You also taught me, dearest Punky, love means terror for your safety,

Sacrifice at the most inconvenient of times.

Confidence it would all somehow work out.

As my co-therapist you helped me to wait,

To slow down, move carefully.

Sometimes my clients grew not

From my actions or knowledge or words.

But from you. Your unconditional regard.

You often drew them out –

Helped them relax. Then let me work.

Protected.

I miss your gentle, soft kisses, my dear Punky.

Your tongue that licked so gently to say

“I love you” and “Good morning! Let’s go!!!”

You going up from floor to foot stool to couch.

One fluid movement.

Through you, Punky, my ability

To give love goes on.

Dearest boy, run pain free now.

You can see Punky had much influence on me. I hope to use this to urge anyone grieving the loss of a pet to reach out. Talk to a friend. Make a memorial of your own to your pet. Count the ways you’ve been loved and loved and feel the loss. Honor that relationship. Just a dog? A cat? Another pet? No, I think not. Honor your companion and all that means to you. Only through working through your feelings and dealing with all the small and large changes their passing has brought to your life can you be free to love again. If you need help most humane societies, the ASPCA, some hospices (like Hospice of the Valley), and other related places offer grief support materials and groups. It’s ok. As we know, our friend is free to run in health and we will be free to love in health again.

Dr. Beth

(Punky worked side-by-side with Dr. Beth for most of his 13 years. Many clients have also grieved his passing as they have learned of it given the special work he did and love he offered. Dogs and other animals are used in many forms of therapy including psychological, medical support, occupational therapy, and equestrian therapy for special needs as well as emotional healing. If you would like to help non-profits who provide such work check your local area.)

Dr. Sikora comfort hope