Thanksgiving Thoughts 2018

Last weekend I had the privilege of attending a silent retreat in Tucson. The silence was a gift in and of itself, but the time also allowed me to regain perspective in areas including the gifts in my life for which I’m grateful. I’d been keeping a gratitude journal again for awhile, but that has been done in the midst of the busyness and clamor of life.

John O’Donohue wrote about the blessings in our lives for which to be grateful. The simple yet deep areas that were part of what came to me in the silence:

Blessed be the gifts you never notice,

your health, eyes to behold the world,

thoughts to countenance the unknown,

memory to harvest vanished days,

your heart to feel the world’s waves,

your breath to breathe the nourishment

of distance made intimate by earth.

As I recall last weekend, I realize that being in silence allowed me to be aware of things I would normally miss, which in turn  led to a fuller sense of  gratitude. I took the time to notice and watch the hot air balloons and appreciated their colors and the courage of those in them. I took the time and rather than assume only bees were flying around a planter, I looked closer and realized many of what I noticed were actually tiny yellow butterflies flitting about and how happy I felt in watching them. In listening to the retreat director I became so very grateful for my eyes and vision when I found out that she was going rapidly blind but was slowly learning to find gratitude for other things-friends who helped her, her husband’s arm, the ability to still see a sunset, the richness of her relationship with her son and his family, and audiobooks to continue her love of learning, prayer, and faith development through books.

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When in silence I also found I very much appreciated no social media … a separate commitment I’d made to myself for the retreat and which I found I missed not at all. Was that the “nourishment of distance made intimate” for me as I instead focused on nature, reading, and writing? Perhaps, it certainly felt that way.

At Thanksgiving we are taught to be thankful for fun times with family, football, a large dinner, and friends. I wonder what would happen if we each took 30 minutes to be silent. Might we recognize gifts in our lives, large or small, that we otherwise wouldn’t notice? Would we notice our bodies and the health we have, despite what we do not have any longer? Maybe we would take the time in nature to notice yellow butterflies or appreciate clouds slowly moving through above us, and be amazed at the process of movement that happens when we think all is still around us. We might even take the time to read or write and learn more about what is below our own surface. Or recognize through a picture, odor, taste, or sound the memory of a day in the past full of hope and allow it to imbue our hearts with hope again. Just maybe our hearts would feel a movement and allow it to impact us and notice how a similar time also influenced us this year. And in all of this, it’s just possible we would breathe more deeply, fed by the nourishment of life within and around us rather than just by turkey and gravy.

So here’s my challenge to each of you this Thanksgiving. Take 30 minutes and be in silence. Perhaps before you rise in the morning, after your feast while you take a walk alone, or in the evening before bed. Turn off the TV, put down the iPad, silence your phone. And notice what is around you. In you. What you’re grateful for in your life or your children’s or your relationships. Maybe even just see what comes up as you close your eyes and relax for that time, or meditate. Treat yourself to the gifts of silence to see, hear, smell, or increase in awareness of some lost idea re-found. I would bet you will end your day even more grateful than you might otherwise be this Thanksgiving. Then pick up the phone or pad and tell someone for whom you recognize deeper gratefulness. And thank yourself for this gift of time for you. May you in doing so feel even more “blessed by the gifts you never notice”.

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Freedom Within

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

Eldridge

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

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

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

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

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Managing our Emotional and Physical Health through the Holiday Season

Holidays Ahead

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

  1. Keep Calm and Take 3 Deep Breaths

Keep calm and 3 deep breaths

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

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

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

  1. Give Up Perfectionism

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

Perfectionism

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

  1. Adjust how you shop

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

Danielles Christmas gift

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

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

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

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

Murphy Christmas Morn 2015

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

  1. Make some time for feelings. 

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

Acknowledge feelings

From:  http://wantirnawellnesscentre.com

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

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

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

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

12/24

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

12/25
10:00 am  Speaker Meeting

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

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

Load how you carry it

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

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

Blessings warmly sent to you,

Take care,

Dr. Beth

 

 

 

 

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 a Recipe for Personal Peace

It’s an interesting time of year.  Especially this year.  I’m finding that there is more stress in my office – people are struggling with everything from depression to new cancer diagnoses to severe anxiety over the state of the nation to concerns for those in/leaving Aleppo to fears related to Russia and the last election to family issues surrounding get togethers – whether Christmas, Hanukkah, or other family times to concern for the rights of all groups – LBGTQ, Dakota Sioux at the pipeline location, cultures, and ethnicities of all kinds.  I’m finding the issues as numerous as the people listen to and speak with and yet as consistent.  And I’m finding that at the end of this week, many are needing more support than usual.  And this isn’t just clients – it’s also friends and loved ones.  The end of 2016 is heralding more anxiety than I’ve seen in my office in a very long time.

So, how to manage?  How to find the moments of enjoyment?  To allow peace in at a level that surpasses the heightened emotional state.  I’ll share some of what I find personally helpful. Perhaps some will resonate with you.

About the World:  Choose one issue that you can take action on and then decide what it will be.

Is there an issue calling you more than another?  Some protest, some pray, some accept, some wait to see, some advocate, some chant.  If your choice is pray, then pray daily about that issue at a certain time, and then put it away.  If you advocate, find a group that you can work with on this.  Or go to a vigil of peace.  Donate to a group.  But choose that one thing – we can’t deal with everything – we can’t impact everything – but we can choose one and be one.

Here are some resources:

Aleppo:  Doctors without Borders, International Rescue Committee,                                                              International Committee of the Red Cross

Dakota Pipeline:  Walk a labyrinth to support Standing Rock, consider how                                                 others are doing it through unique ways such as the City of Seattle,                                              or find other creative means.

Fears for America/Russia/Future :  Check out Bend the Arc Jewish Action                                                     PAC, meditate for world peace or bring it down to just the USA, or                                                 consider the meaning in Rumi’s words and decide what step you can                                             take to prosper this idea:

                                                    Out beyond ideas of wrong and right,

                                                                     there is a field.

                                                                  I’ll meet you there.

                                                    When the soul lies down in that grass

                                                         the world is too full to talk about.

Remember to limit all your activity to a specified amount of time so that it doesn’t                 leak out into your entire day and life. Perhaps 10 minutes a day?  Perhaps an hour?                 No more than that – you do need to also live the life you’ve got.

About Family and Friends and Demands:  Well, this seems to always bring challenges during holiday times.  Holidays are wonderful and yet the pain of childhood, difficult interactions with someone in your family, or just managing all the family requests and friend requests can be challenging.  Take charge of it this weekend.

Sit down with your spouse/partner/self and list all the possibilities for the next two weeks.  The parties, services, friends you want to see or those who want to see you, the things you want to do alone, the things you want to do together.  Now – what is realistic?  Cull it down in some fashion.  Perhaps going from:

ALL the requests and hopes

Those you really want to do

Those you really do NOT want to do

Those you need to do – add to the really want to do list

That’s your list – what you’re going to do.

Now take out your calendar and put each of these items into the family calendar.  Add the professional demands as well.  Is there a conflict of items?  If so – decide what to do.  Modify the times, limit the activity, decline an invitation, make a choice not to do one.

See how the final calendar looks.  Then see how you’re feeling about it.  If you are immediately tense, then perhaps something must go.  Look at it again – and breath.  If you are finding the peace doesn’t improve, then take a break, go back to it.

My personal recipe for a better holiday season:

1 cup spiritual time

1 cup exercise

1 cup demands for chores around the house

2 cups relaxation time – read, watch a movie, extra time with Murphy (the dog),                                                                       an extra walk

2 cups family time

2 cups friend/social time (I’m an introvert though, an extrovert may need more,                                                                         adjust to taste)

Add spices to taste (music, candles, cuddly pj’s, a cup of decaf tea, a special book)

Mix with care and then spoon out into daily portions.

Sprinkle liberally with love.

Take only one portion each day!

Ongoing Concerns: This is the depression, new cancer diagnosis, health concern, business challenge(s), etc.  All of this I believe we need to both care for and limit.  There are only so many business days between now and the 31st of December.  Only so many hours at work.  And even if we need the MRI for the dog, the PET scan to evaluate cancer and how it’s spreading – or not, the blood test results for our health concern, or the resolution of our depression – only so much CAN happen in the next 15 days.

Today, for example, I needed to schedule an MRI for Murphy.  And no matter how much I wanted that done today – I could not control all of those who had to work to make that happen.  So, I had to work to accept, look, I’ve done all I can, it’s either going to be scheduled today, or I’ll see what I can do on Monday.  One last call came and it happened.  Then the printing job came back not exactly as it was expected to look.  I could get upset – or I could realize it looks fine, just not as expected.  So…acceptance was in order.  But each was a choice.  I wish I could say I reacted so well each day, I don’t, I’m not perfect, but thankfully today I was able to work on acceptance one thing at a time. And, in the midst, I kept a priority to be present to my clients – anything else could wait.

So, what am I suggesting?  Again, decide what and how much time to give the items on your agenda.  Today mine were;

  1. Get Murphy to vet
  2. Take action on what vet suggests
  3. See clients
  4. Write blog
  5. Look at report
  6. Handle emails

What helped was the agenda set ahead of time.  And knowing that I could always add more – if I had time.  But otherwise, this was it.  Tonight – that’s different.  I see tea, a good book, and music in my future.  But for now – I’m finishing up the business, then going to do some shopping.

So – let’s all try this – one day at a time.  One agenda item at a time.  And remember the mix – include some spirituality (today it’s music for me) and exercise (walking).

May you find your own recipe for peace today.

cup-of-tea

 

 

 

Be Still: Preparation Within and Around

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Guest Blogger Danielle Counihan with Beth Sikora, PhD

Well, it’s the holiday season, and if your life is anything like mine, everything is at a higher pitch with more demands for time, energy, and thought. Many of Christian faith, me included, prepare through the Advent period preceding Christmas. A time of preparation, going inward to prepare for the birth of Christ remembered, the birth within each of us, and the birth of a new time. What a contrast to the harried preparation for “holidays” – shopping, cooking, wrapping, planning schedules, etc. that both Christians and Jewish prepare for in looking forward to Christmas and Hanukkah. This year I’m following an on-line retreat and the focus is to daily “be still” – stop, quiet, be still.

Given that in the midst of this preparation the stress combined with family interactions and even drama that happens, as well as the overall busyness, this period of time can present a difficult combination for maintaining strong mental health. Fortunately, as we began to learn last month, the bullet journal provides an amazing platform to see trends, set, and track goals, as well as vent frustrations in a healthy way. As we look forward to this new month, and a new year, we also want to start thinking about our new goals, and new ways, better ways of tracking them.

One way we can do this is by visualizing where we are and choosing one or two areas we want to improve when it comes to our balanced mental health. Here is one layout that could be helpful as a monthly check in. This layout focuses on the mandala- a symbol of a balanced life – and is a great way to see how in balance one’s life is. This balance is what can help bring us peace this holiday season.

mandala

This layout focuses on the mandala -on a balanced life. (I’ve written more about this mandala ). On the left page, we have the mandala with each area of mental health in a different color. I did the shading by going through each area and self-evaluating on a scale of 1 to 10 how I felt I was doing in each area, with a 10 being that I’m doing really well in that area and 1 being very poorly. This is a great way to see how out of balance our lives can become if we do not make balance our focus. It also enables us to see easily where we need the most improvement.

left-side-pic

On the right hand page, I wrote out each area and gave myself ideas for goals. This next month, as I’m walking through my Advent, I’m going to focus on the three areas that are in the lower range- intellectual, spiritual, and emotional- and work on the goals respective to those areas. Then, at the end of the month, I will re-evaluate and see if I have improved and make new goals for January and the New Year.

right-side-pic

Now, the question is, how does this help us prepare for the holidays? I know for myself, being in balance, that is, knowing that I am striving toward good health in all areas of my life, helps me to deal with stress with a much more peaceful attitude. When I know that I am at peace with myself, I am better able to be at peace with others and things out of my control. As we prepare for these holidays, we can strive to balance our lives, thus bringing peace to our lives and enabling us to truly enter into the holidays fully. Preparing for Hanukkah and Christmas give us wonderful opportunities to evaluate our lives and see what we have that we can be thankful for, how we have grown over the past year, and prepare to set new goals to take into the new year. As I don’t always do this as well on my own, I also am doing a program for the Advent and post-Christmas period. As I mentioned, the focus on Be Still each day. So for the spiritual piece of my pie I am spending time each day in readings and praying, and even listening to outside sources of music. One piece I enjoy that is short and yet slows my heart and pace is Be Still by The Fray. You can listen to it on Be Still. So get creative a bit, even the 5 minutes to search out a new idea to implement will slow you down.

As we end and you continue your walk this December, think about how you need to balance your life to enhance your peace within and without this year. How can the mandala help you find peace and balance? Set one or two goals from this, make them realistic, and be still as you prepare for the holidays.

be-still

Freedom – Finding it Within!

When I was a child I grew up in Elmhurst, IL. Think small town at the time, not more than 10,000 when I grew up, so not a city but not as small as Mayberry! I was a Girl Scout and on the 4th of July I walked the town parade, and supper that night was a neighborhood get together with Rice Krispies chicken, potato salad, and fireworks at Glen Ellyn Park, a  park that was close by. I felt free at the time, and each year the feelings from those 4th celebrations fill my heart with peace and joy and my face is wreathed with smiles.

fireworks
Today, as I think about the 4th of July on Monday, I am thinking about it and considering – how do I hold myself back from freedom, peace, and joy in my daily life? Why is it that we so often experience joy at celebrations, but not so often throughout our day? And how can I release myself for more freedom?
First, as I think about it, I realize that we get bogged down in life by responsibilities. On a holiday we are better able to release ourselves from those and let ourselves be more present to the joys. We may get busy prepping, but then when we relax and sit back and watch the fireworks, sit by the pool with friends or family, or bite into the hotdog or watermelon. All of these activities touch our senses and create memories. Given this, is there a way to bring this into our day-to-day life? Well, what about taking the time to slow down and enjoy a piece of watermelon? Savor a moment of a beautiful moon on your walk in the evening? Or, flip through some photos of family from your youth rather than playing a game of Candy Crush? Perhaps those moments would bring a sensory memory of a time when it was less hectic, and we can use the sensory memory to slow down our heart beat, release the tension in our shoulders, or let a smile replace the furrowed brow tightening our faces. Taking time to relax, despite the responsibilities, is a potential first step.

pool
Second, I realize that on a daily basis I am running from meeting to meeting, email to text, or phone call to answering a physical call from someone. The pace is slower generally on the 4th of July, thus allowing all of us to relax. Today we know that stress is a physiological and neurological response – as well as an emotional response. If we are consistently stressed, our body begins treating all stress as fight/flight/freeze and we change the way our adrenals function – sometimes burning them out. The amygdala begins to discharge fear reactions in our neurochemistry and we trigger an adrenal response we don’t actually need. So if we want to prevent that, and enjoy life more despite it being a work day, we have to put some things in place. Some ideas are to watch your scheduling – try to keep your workday within a reasonable number of hours (see the January-March newsletter at http://www.thewholenessinstitute.com/newsletters.html for more on this); reduce your perfectionism – it can be ok to live with places that are in the “good enough” category; notice and love what you have. All of these can actually slow our pace and brains down – in a good way – and allow us to experience less stress.
Third, plan fun time! That’s really a big one on the 4th of July. We plan to barbeque, or go to the lake, or hit the pool with friends. And we enjoy our time together. When is the last time you planned an enjoyable time with your spouse or a friend in the middle of the week? Maybe that would help to break your week up and put some enjoyment into it rather than “waiting for the weekend” to come, or a holiday to come. Answer the call from the pool during these summer evenings!
Fourth and last, take some time to really enjoy the people and animals around you. Breathing in love, touch, and companionship can do much to relax us and help us stay in touch with the joy and love around us. For women, we actually increase the hormone oxytocin, a hormone that helps us to relax and release love. We first experience it when being with our mothers, and throughout life when we are sharing our love and feelings with another. Virginia Satir once said, “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” Wow – not many of us get that many, particularly when we live alone. So we need to improvise – pet or hug your dog; reach out to your friend with a hug; give a warm handshake to an acquaintance – right hand to hand, left hand on top; or get a massage. Skin to skin contact actually is healing so we can heal our stress by not being so afraid of appropriate touch.
So, what are you going to be doing this 4th of July? And perhaps even more important to your mental health and brain, what are you doing on the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th ….? Let your freedom from stress ring!

February: A Time for Love & Introspection

February is always an interesting month for me. Valentine’s Day usually comes first, with the focus on love and relationships. And for many Christians, Lent follows. This year there is a reverse to that as Lent began on February 10. Lent is a season of thoughtful awareness of self, sometimes including penance and preparation before the celebration of the memory of Christ’s rising at Easter. So there is a vast discrepancy between the two. Red is known as the color for the passion and love for and from others; and purple a somber reminder for preparation.

I think about our daily lives, our lives over a span of time, our development, and both passion and preparation are so often the woven threads that make up our being. Love, it even begins pre-birth, I think. A family member of mine and her husband have learned in recent months that they are going to have a baby. Talk about love and passion! They are so excited, as is the rest of the family. And that little one is already loved by his/her parents as well as by family. A marriage, when it occurs, brings love and celebration of love for a partnership. A friend of mine got married after many years last year, and the look on both of their faces was pure joy and excitement and love that afternoon! They’ve loved each other for years, but a marriage really solidified it and made a public record of it. I went to help a niece whose apartment had flooded a few weeks ago – again, such love we shared, although a very different kind, as we worked together to sort and make some order in all the movers had left after packing and moving her to a new apartment. Love extends us, it allows us to reach out and help, and it warms our heart. And, when lost, it brings a grief and pain like no other. Consider a woman who loses her husband, a daughter whose mother has died, a man whose fiancé has changed her mind. All of these are so painful and hard to face. And yet, one day a year we also surge with flowers, gifts, ribbons, candy, and red valentines trying to celebrate and mark our love for our closest others.

In Lent we have a different mix of love and pain. The love many have for their God, for the Christ who came to walk among us. And while that celebration comes in 40 days, the Lenten season is meant to help us remember just how blessed we are through the memory of Easter. And yet how painful the road was to that morning of joy. Have you ever dearly wanted to show another how much you love them; and yet they were unable to see that love, experience it, and take it in? Instead they turned away, they denied your relationship, or they chose to minimize the impact you have had on them? (Parents, surely you can identify with that!). Lent is that same experience of recalling denial, minimization, ways in which we fail or need to grow in life. One doesn’t have to be Christian to understand these experiences. Consider the Jewish period of introspection and atonement at Yom Kippur. Or the Islamic fasting that is an experience meant to show one’s vulnerability and neediness. All three also result in spiritual cleansing and joy of community (Korn, 2006). Perhaps by coming together we affirm perfection is not necessary, but growth and insight and love for each other are.

I would like to challenge each of you during this month of love and introspection to both love and grow. Perhaps the person you have the hardest time loving is yourself. If that is the case why not mark your desire to learn to love self by giving yourself a valentine on Sunday? Daily begin noting just how others are showing you they love you and respect you. Nobody shows you that? What about the friend who calls because they trust you to keep their confidence? Or the dog who comes to you and leans in when allowing you to pet them? Or the child who asks you for a hug? Or the elderly parent whose voice softens when they hear your voice on the phone? Or even the cashier who greets you in a friendly manner, recognizing you, and asks how you are doing? Each interaction shows a tiny bit of love coming through. One of my favorite poets is David Whyte. He speaks of love in the following way:

The true signature and perhaps even the miracle of human love is helplessness, and all the more miraculous because it is a helplessness which we wittingly or unwittingly choose; in our love of a child, a partner, a work, or a road we have to take against the odds.”
David Whyte, Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words

In this David speaks of the fact we are choosing vulnerability in love – as we choose to love someone or something by committing to it, we also allow ourselves to be hurt, to be blessed. Either way, we grow.

In a time of introspection such as a time of fasting or growth or Lenten time, we agree to enter into a time of growth as well. How are you holding yourself back from growing? Is it in being vulnerable and loving? I believe much of where I falter is essentially tied back to love. If I don’t trust, if I withhold, if I don’t take the time to learn, even if I don’t take the time to play, and instead live in fear or shame, I am not loving myself. I am withholding love and thus growing. I am refusing to develop my talents or understandings and thus shutting out potential love and growth. So as I face this Lenten period, my challenge to myself is to allow myself to grow and see through writing and reading the books I can put off as they might bring up growth. And in that pain, but eventually love. You might want to consider this as well, Christian, Jew, or Muslim, and regardless of your choice of spiritual walk. These are the books I plan to use:

The Four Elements by John O’Donohue (http://www.amazon.com/Four-Elements-Reflections-John-ODonohue/dp/0307717607/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1455211647&sr=1-1&keywords=the+four+elements+john+o%27donohue )

Lent and Easter Wisdom from Henri J.M.Nouwen by Judy Bauer (http://www.amazon.com/Lent-Easter-Wisdom-Henri-Nouwen/dp/0764812866/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1455211540&sr=1-1&keywords=lent+and+easter+wisdom )

The Lotus and the Lily: Access the Wisdom of Buddha and Jesus to Nourish Your Beautiful, Abundant Life by Janet Conner. (http://www.amazon.com/The-Lotus-Lily-Beautiful-Abundant/dp/1573245860)

May you find a sense of love for self, experience love from others and allow yourself to take it in, and have moments of introspection that are meaningful to you in the next 30 days.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

lovedove

Post-holiday Blues or Are You Feeling Unattached?

The holidays are over. Lights taken down, decorations packed away, candles blown out. And you’re feeling blue. Many folks experience a case of the “blues” after the six weeks of holiday energy from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. But, feelings of depression, isolation, anxiety or simply “feeling down” that are intense or that last for more than a couple of weeks can be symptoms  of a more serious problem–depression.

Frequently the holidays bring to the surface long avoided feelings of loneliness, discouragement or dissatisfaction with family relationships. You may find you feel disconnected from others, that you don’t count, or that no one cares for you. Often food, music and work are used to push away those feelings. But in bed, late at night, you’re aware of the feelings again.

It is important to determine whether your “blah” feelings are due to a physical cause, are temporary, or are a symptom of depression. If your physician gives you a clean bill of health then it’s time to consider emotional reasons for depression. If left untreated, depression can lead to health, career or family problems. In the most severe cases suicide is also possible.

But, which is it, holiday blues or depression?

Generally the holiday blues will resolve with no extra effort within a few weeks. While you may feel sad, tired or distressed, you are able to handle everyday activities and responsibilities.

Depression is more intense than the “blues”. There are several symptoms of depression and they last two weeks or more and interfere with your daily life. What used to be enjoyable may now feel like a burden. In fact, getting out of bed in the morning may be more than you can handle some days. Other warning signs are:

-Feelings of emptiness, guilt, hopelessness or despair

-Lack of energy–even after eight hours of sleep

-Changes in eating and sleeping patterns

-Feeling irritable and overwhelmed–life seems to be too much

-Difficulty concentrating

-Memory loss

The good news is that depression IS treatable.

Many people are unaware that depression is the number one illness in America. Unfortunately, many of those suffering from it, or close to one who is depressed, are also unaware it is very treatable. Up to 80% of those who finally seek help are helped.

Often we believe we must keep a stiff upper lip and not ask for help for depression. It may be considered a sign of weakness to ask. But the fact is depression is not helped by just ‘thinking positively”. Professional intervention is often necessary. Treatment for depression is multi-faceted.

First, see a therapist for a complete evaluation. We use the Hamilton Depression Inventory to assess the severity of a client’s depression and to plan treatment. Consider help from anti-depressants or herbal treatment as an adjunct to therapy. Recent studies have indicated that therapy along with anti-depressants is more effective than anti-depressants alone. Then, increase physical activity as exercise allows the body to produce more endorphines which increases mood. Minimize the amount of sugar and flour you eat as these foods increase depression. Finally, get adequate but not excessive rest–six to nine hours per night.

If you are experiencing simply the post-holiday blues then following “Blues Busters” shown below may be helpful.

Blues Busters

-Partner with a friend to hold each other accountable to do one thing you’ve avoided. Build on that success.

-Listen to your heart. Do you need time with a friend, a funny movie, or a day with a child?

-Often depression is anger turned inward. Consider forgiving yourself!

-Take care of your physical needs. Set reasonable goals and develop a way to achieve them.

-Plan an outing for March when it’s warmer!

 

Keep up hope.  Help *is* available if you need it!

 

“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune, without the words, and never stops at all”
— Emily Dickinson

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