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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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

Managing News – Rather than Being Managed by News

Given all that is in the right now, it seems remiss to discuss something other than current big news topics. The world is full of happenings that are heart-wrenching and sometimes polarizing, and it can feel like a lot to take in. I have a couple of ideas on how to be a healthy news consumer if you find yourself losing sleep over our nation’s, or our world’s, issues.

Start by limiting your exposure. Such a task can be hard to do—popular media reports all the big, splashy headlines and many of them are horrifying to read. It can be tough to be faced with atrocities on a daily basis, yet you want to stay informed. What to do? Watch news coverage in the morning or mid-day and keep the evenings lighter, with programming that isn’t as heavy hitting.  Watch or read a maximum of an hour (ideally less) of news a day. If you’re viewing a televised news broadcast, once the highlights are over (normally about 15 minutes into the show) much of the content is repeated. Repetitious messages are what tend to turn into brain worms—things you can’t escape. Ever heard a chorus to a popular song and had it stuck in your head for days? That is a great example of how repetition stays with you. This replayed information, whether music, news related, or self-talk, has the same staying power.

Second, consider the sources where you obtain your news. The best place to get your information isn’t always your TV. Your smart phone or other electronic device is a powerful news agent. Use an app that displays the headlines, allowing you can pick and choose which articles to read instead of being offered a producer’s view on what is relevant. One of my favorite apps is called Flipboard. You’re able to pick a number of topics that you are interested in and the feed shows you headlines from each. Mix it up with some heavier hitting news, some entertainment, DIY, gardening, you get the idea—there’s something for everyone. If you choose to try an app, a quick sidenote—keep the “push” notifications turned off. Without that feature activated, you are able to open the app to view the news and allow yourself control of your exposure rather than being inundated by notifications. Another observation I hadn’t considered previously was brought to my attention by Katie Couric on her podcast. She said she still reads a paper version of a newspaper, citing that she gains knowledge on the editorial slant based on where articles are placed upon the page. On an e-reader, that layout is fluid and the editorial bias is not as easy to detect—another important factor in digesting these stories is understanding more about the reporter, the producer, and (more so) the news agency’s views or motivations for the story.

Another idea? Look for an area to take action. What in the news is troubling you most? Refugees? Take a peek at the article linked here, I love the insight it shares–both in how to help AND how to keep perspective on what your personal contribution means to the greater picture. If this touches you, then look for ways you can fit outreach into your life. One person I am aware of makes speeches, another works with her church’s refugee ministry, and another offers counseling time on a pro-bono basis. Is your hot button drinking straws and plastics in the ocean? Make a change, buy stainless steel straws, get yourself a reusable water bottle, and do your best to not buy single serving drinks. Remember, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” ― Mother Teresa

If you are still experiencing looping thoughts, limit your ruminating about the news, talking about it, and worrying about it. Pray if that works for you, do some mindful meditation to center yourself, or simply distract yourself and put your mind on something else. Practice self-care, and allow it to distract you. This may be different for each of you—unwind with a bath, take in a movie, meet up with friends for dinner—whatever makes you feel whole again. It’s important in difficult times to really take charge of what is going into our minds. Be curious. Be considerate. Be open minded. Participate to the extent you are able in order to maintain a balanced life.   And then live in the other zones of your life.

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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.

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).

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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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!

Feeling the heat… already!

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Those of us living in the Phoenix area have truly hit summer … regardless of the fact it’s not “technically” summer yet. Most of this month’s temperatures have already exceeded 105 and this Father’s Day weekend we’re supposed to hit 120!  Most of us who have lived here awhile will tell you that until it exceeds 105 or 110, or fill in the blank, it’s really not bad.   But those who work outdoors – air conditioning and other contractors, delivery folks, mail carriers, etc. will all say that water is key to making it through summer, and plenty of it.

Last year I wrote about mental health and heat related to seasonal affective disorder. So if you would like more information on that take a look at article in the May/June 2015 newsletter at http://www.thewholenessinstitute.com/newsletters.html. This June, I want to briefly talk about getting through the long, hot days in creative ways. Talk to the native or long-term resident and you’ll learn all kinds of secrets – get out of town every month for one; take a mini-vacation at a spa with a slide for the kids for a weekend says another; get up north as much as you can; get some sunshine either by swimming or by hiking or walking every day – it prevents feeling cooped up for 3-4 months; look for indoor entertainment so you get out on weekends, but remain cool; drink lots of water. That last one comes up very frequently out here in the summer – and everywhere you turn. These are all great ideas – and I’ll list some below for you to consider this summer.

Also remember that summer leads to depression for many – so if you have a seasonal issue watch for it – ask your partner or close friend to help you monitor it, and ask for help early. Dehydration leads to multiple problems, and it actually includes a couple that can appear to be mental health issues: depression and difficulty thinking clearly. Remember the basics – once you begin to feel thirsty you’re already dehydrating. So keep that water bottle full and near you – and remember to sip regularly. If you’re on a mental health medication or any medication there can also be challenges. Being on lithium, for example, which is a salt, increases the likelihood of dehydration when the water and salt levels become out of sync. If you’re in the sun and taking St. John’s Wart, as another example, it’s easier to sunburn. And this can happen even when in the car and driving. So be sure to ask your pharmacist or doctor if any of your medications or supplements can increase sun sensitivity and be aware, being sure to use sunscreen regularly through the day to offset this. Neurotransmitters, which control our mood and functioning in many ways, also are impacted by heat. Further, hormones such as thyroid, prolactin, and others are also impacted and these lead to other mood and functioning difficulties. Thus our increased hospitalization rates for mental health issues as well as the increased rage we see in traffic throughout the summer. All of these are things to remain aware of – and ask someone for assistance if you think you’re struggling or experiencing a reaction to the sun beyond normal sunburn and dehydration.

And, what can you do to just endure the heat and yet enjoy life? There is a reason why the valley clears out so much throughout the summer months beyond that of school vacations – we all want cooler climates! I know for myself getting away for a long weekend, even if only to Payson, can help me make it through the next month in Phoenix. So I’m going to share some activities I found both in Phoenix metro this summer as well as throughout the state. Perhaps you can plan for one with your family or friends.

This is an opportunity to see the Garden from 7pm on and enjoy time outside while doing it in the cooler part of the day. You have to bring your own flashlight and it’s only available after 7 pm on Thursdays and Saturdays, 480-941-1225, http://www.dbg.org

  • Cool Art in the Pines – June 9-June 30 – Coconino Center for the Arts, Flagstaff

An art exhibit that is sponsored by Art 35° North and Coconino Centers for the Arts to present “A New Latitude”, a series of exhibitions, art tours, demonstrations and workshops June through August 2016, http://art35n.org.

You’ve got to love the part that’s free and indoors where it’s cool! There will be a variety of special hands-on, educational programming designed to appeal to visitors of all ages, noon – 5 pm, second Sundays of the month, http://www.PhxArt.org

There will be tram rides until sundown; a walking tour of indoor hangars; hands-on aviation-related activities for kids, 8 pm last admission, http://www.pimaair.org/news-events/event/416-night-wings

24th Annual Family Cornfest, Arts & Crafts Fair – 60 arts & crafts exhibitors, fresh sweet corn, free admission and parking, $9 for lunch, 602-231-0300 or http://www.el-zaribah.org

19th Annual Celtic Festival celebrating all things Celtic: music, piping, athletics, educational workshops, vendors, historical reenactment, clans and societies and a kid’s area, 928-556-3161 or http://www.nachs.info

Ok, you have some ideas for places to try – I plan on checking out a couple of them myself! Keep your energy, water level, mood, and sense of humor in tact by trying new things and watching your mood as it heats up. We’ll make it – one more year!

smilingfamily