A Search for Gratitude

As I’ve been pondering this blog the last few days I’ve found myself wondering about how to approach it-spiritually, psychologically, mentally?  Speak about the family perspective of Thanksgiving? Or something more related to gratitude. I’ve always thought of both thankfulness and gratitude as the same thing. But GK Chesterton’s proposition was that “thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” That very much spoke to me, the balance of thought and feeling.

So often at Thanksgiving we are celebrating food, football, and family. In that combination we are actually often only engaged in the thought of being thankful, occasionally feeling some happiness; but, how often is that thankfulness actually imbued with wonder? Wonder generally comes from something beautiful, unexpected, or inexplicable.  This is the key to much of why we likely experience actual changes in our brain when we have a gratitude journal.  Our thoughts of what we are thankful for, combined with the emotion of gratitude, is what causes both sides of our brain to process the experiences. As we cross the corpus callosum of our brain, we are changed.  Try an experiment, think of the most recent experience of a beautiful sunset, a puppy playing, or a special message of love from your best friend.  As you recall this, do you feel joy, relaxed or peaceful, or warmth deep in your heart? Then, as you consider that view, do you begin to think about how lucky you are to have that pup or thankful to have found your anam cara (see an article on anam cara here) friend? There you have it, thought and feeling, building in intensity as you allow the feelings to bubble up and impact you.  The life-changing moment of gratitude.

This Thanksgiving, enjoy the festivities and folks around you, whether solo awareness of others who are in your life or at a larger get together. But in addition to enjoying the day, I challenge you to not simply go through the motions. Instead, take some time to really consider what you are grateful for in life. Use the barometer of feeling gratitude to the point of an emotional reaction of joy, wonder, or amazement. For me it will include true joy in my experience of my new puppy Finley; deep peace that comes from memories of moments with my best friend; and heartfelt love for my dear sisters with whom I am spending this holiday. I want to cherish these thoughts and feelings along with the memories that triggered them. I choose to do as Brene Brown suggests: “[not chasing] extraordinary moments to find happiness, but paying attention and practicing gratitude” in its’ deepest sense.

Take care, and may the wonder of this holiday be yours.

Dr Beth

The Grip of Anxiety: How to Find Relief

The room is too hot. I’m worried. I just need to go back to sleep. But I’m so anxious. Is that the sun peeking up already? I feel like I’m a ball of nerves. My pillow needs fluffing, my neck is sore. Should I just get up and try to be productive? But I’m so tired, and my mind won’t stop. Is the air working? It’s really quiet in here. Mind, why won’t you let me sleep? I’ll roll over and see if that helps…. Maybe I should paint my bedroom. But what color? Shhh brain, tomorrow. Let’s sleep tonight.

It can be a battle, can’t it? You enter your bedroom and catch sight of your bed and instead of seeing it as an inviting place you can’t wait to retire to, it looms large in your mind, knowing that with nightfall your worries invade the space that needs peace and rest. Something small can become large in the darkness of night; causing you worry and angst that in the light of day you realize is manageable and not something worth the cycle of sleeplessness.

“My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes, most of which have never happened.”

-Mark Twain

Sleep is one of the biggest areas affected by anxiety, but it can wreak havoc on your whole day, not only because of the exhaustion but other times it takes you by surprise, a simple text, email or phone call is enough to set you spinning. Other times that pit of fear and worry holds you by the hand all day each day. So how to get through it? Read on about a few ways to help regain control of our minds and the way we process perceived trouble or worries.

Breathing. It seems like such an automatic process, that we shouldn’t have to think about it. And we don’t for mere survival, but for optimal health this needs to be step one. But does it really work? Truly, it does, it’s proven. The studies are out there, and they are numerous, a quick google give you plenty of hits, among them is this one if you’d like to read more: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/stress-raising-your-blood-pressure-take-a-deep-breath-201602159168 The breathing exercise I most often recommend is by Dr. Andrew Weil called the Relaxing Breath or 4-7-8 breathing. The process is illustrated here, https://www.drweil.com/videos-features/videos/breathing-exercises-4-7-8-breath/. The idea behind this breathing, and others, is to slow down the heart rate, and reset the body. It also stops the panic and anxiety attacks. If you can’t breathe out as long as 7 or 8, start lower and work your way up. Whatever exercise you choose to follow, the idea is—if the exhale is longer than the inhale, the heart rate slows, and your blood pressure lowers. I encourage you to try this and let me know how it works for you.

Meditation. It’s regarded as a big word that packs plenty of punch. Often thought of as too ‘out there’, the practice is simply about quieting the mind. And, in an anxious state, quieting the mind is exactly what we are trying to do. The easiest way to start? An app. There are plenty to choose from for your phone or tablet that will walk you through the techniques. My favorite at the moment is called Insight Timer because it is free. There is a membership you can purchase but there are lots of tools that come with the free usage, including a specific ‘coping with anxiety’ section. This is only one of many, to find a few others too consider, take a look at my website under ‘links’ to see them listed.

These are just two ideas to get you going. Other ideas I strongly encourage as they support brain changes are coloring mandalas, walking a labyrinth, or doing a finger labyrinth. There is a simple app for this called Labyrinth Journey by Mount Mojo.  These allow spirituality to enter your processes as well to calm your anxiety. And for a few outside of the box ideas, these suggestions could be fun, and would be an experience you’re unlikely to forget. Cuddling a cow? Who would have guessed? See: Cow cuddling. Or: Cat cafes. Therapy dogs. Hug therapy. And don’t forget the outdoors and how great it is for the mind: Head out on a hike.

The moral of this story? If you’re feeling anxiety, there ARE ways to help yourself. Try one or more of the ideas above, talk to a friend, family member, or therapist.  If none of these ideas work, including therapy, then know that there are also excellent homeopathics and medications with minimal side effects that do help.

Wishing you a restful night’s sleep and anxiety-free days,

Take care,

Dr. Beth

On an aging mind.

I recently opened a drawer and was surprised to see an article of clothing I had no memory of buying. It is a swimsuit. A dreaded article of clothing for me to put on any given day to begin with, I remembered it but I could not remember where I’d gotten it. Was this a memory issue I should take note of? It got me thinking about a recurring theme I’ve had come up in my practice and in my personal life with friends, not only as we ourselves age, but as parents and siblings and other loved ones do too. What IS normal brain aging and what are the signs something more serious is happening and needs attention?

As we age, our brains shrink. Years of studies have shown this to be the case but it’s not always a bad thing. For the vast majority of us, aging only means some forgetfulness—a haziness of past events, not recalling names of old schoolmates (but cueing helps), the need for a grocery list, occasionally forgetting what we walked into a room to get, word finding difficulty at times. You may also find you have less ability to concentrate and pay attention. All of these are typical to the aging brain. Add stress to the mix and the above problems are exacerbated, as is the case when you are only half paying attention to someone because your mind is already on something else.

So when is it time to pay attention and get some cognitive testing done, even as a baseline? I read an article not long ago that had a great list—I’ve pulled from it a few guidelines to follow (for more of the article, see: https://www.verywellhealth.com/is-it-forgetfulness-or-alzheimers-98574). Take a look at the list below and if you see some areas of concern, don’t be frightened about getting testing, the earlier the condition is found, the better we can prepare and treat for it.

  • Recent memory poor, and cueing and context don’t help
  • Can’t remember the order of things and who said what
  • Repetitiveness becomes obvious; memory intrusions occur
  • Unaware that a memory problem exists
  • Day-to-day functioning declines along with memory
  • Frequently demonstrating poor judgment and decision-making
  • Not being able to handle paying bills regularly
  • Often being disoriented to time and place
  • Difficulty with familiar tasks, such as making coffee every day
  • Getting lost on your way home from your daily job

Whether your memory slips are typical and bothering you or something more and you need to do some testing and work with a neurologist, talk to me. I have some things I can recommend that may help. And if you have a brain injury, your process may be a bit different– see our website at: https://www.thewholenessinstitute.com/braininjurytherapy.html for additional information. As I routinely say, there IS hope and I’m happy to help you find your way back to it.

As for me? A couple of cues helped. I knew I must have ordered the swimsuit so I looked at my older emails and found the order—as soon as I saw it I realized I bought it at a time life was extremely chaotic and it was one of many things I was handling at once. I’d been doing too much at one time and as a result, my mind automatically filtered what I needed to retain and what wasn’t important. A relief to me, for certain!

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).