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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Bullet Journals- for your Mental Health

Guest Blogger: Danielle Counihan

Readers, I asked Danielle to write this as she uses a bullet journal regularly, and has

found it very helpful. Consequently, I thought, who better to write this for us? Enjoy!

Dr. Beth

 

Have you ever had problems picking a planner because it never suited your needs? Then, once you had one, you ended up with a separate planner, to-do list, and journal, and never had the one you needed when you needed it? Fortunately, there is a new system that has been taking the Internet by storm. Bullet journaling is a system of writing that is a combination planner, to-do list and diary all in one; and the best part about it is that it is completely customizable to your individual needs! This makes it an awesome tool for anyone, from students, to housewives, to military personnel, as it can be adjusted to fit anyone’s needs and, because you design it as you go, it can be re-designed every day, week, or month. I use mine primarily as a to-do list, a planner to keep track of obligations such as doctor’s appointments and meals with friends, and a meal planner to stick to my food budget, but it is also a great tool to help with mental health.

 

One of the greatest parts of the bullet journal is that all you really need to start one is a pen or pencil, and a journal (again, whatever kind you like, the “most recommended” is the moleskin dotted journal as it gives you the flexibility to draw your own lines or charts (although I have not tried one yet, I think it might be my next one)). If you look up “bullet journal” on the Internet (or Pinterest), you can find TONS of ideas and ways to make yours beautiful, but frankly the most important thing about it is that it works for you and is real (in other words, don’t get all caught up in trying to make it pretty and forget to make it useful). Just start with an index and a key, then move onto whatever works for you. I put an extended view that shows the whole year (or period of time until a major change), then my logs, which we’ll get to later, then into my monthly, weekly, and occasionally daily views. So how, you ask, can this awesome system of planning help with mental health? Many, many ways!

 

The bullet journal is a great way to track habits. Now, because it is so flexible you can choose to do this on a monthly, weekly, or daily basis. I typically do it on a weekly basis. For me the monthly is just too much room in the journal, and so a little overwhelming to look at, and the daily is too much detail that it can also get a little overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to experiment and see what works for you, my journal now looks very different than the setup I started with six months ago.

 

The main thing about this kind of habit tracker is that you can track everything that Dr. Beth talked about in her September/October Newsletter in order to be in balance (see here http://www.thewholenessinstitute.com/uploads/5/1/1/6/51166175/sept-oct_2015_newsletter.pdf) : physical, mental, contextual, spiritual, interactional, emotional, sensual, nutritional, and intellectual health. By tracking these things, especially if you do decide to do a monthly spread, you can see patterns and so make connections. You can see what kind of exercise, interactions, and meditations help your day be better, and what kinds don’t help as much. From this, you can more easily identify things that weigh you down and set goals to help you. Another great thing about a habit tracker is that you can track your goals. Just be sure to make reasonable goals (don’t be like me and try to start out running 2 miles after not exercising for three years, it’s just not going to happen and will just make you feel bad about yourself, trust me). And don’t get discouraged if you have a bad day, they happen and they don’t have to ruin the goal, they’re just a minor setback.

Here is a fairly simple daily view option.image4.JPG

Here is another daily view option, this one is a little more detailed. I typically use the more detailed one when I have more to keep track of.image5-1.JPG

Here is a monthly tracker. Color coding things is not necessary, but it does help keep track of which categories are going well, versus which cogs are getting stuck and need some more help.image6.JPG

Here are two weekly view options, one a fairly simple one and the other a little more detailed.image3-1.JPGimage2.JPG

Another great thing about the bullet journal is that it can be your to-do list. I used to have little sticky notes floating around everywhere with things I was supposed to do, which only resulted in me losing one and forgetting something. With the bullet journal, you can keep all those little things to remember and things to do in one place. The only thing better than that is that you can give yourself permission to make a “done” list. That means that I will write down and mark off things that I did throughout the day. This is something I shamelessly do, especially on days when I’m tired and want to prove to myself that I actually accomplished something. There is something very uplifting about crossing something off of a list to me, and making a done list helps to give this sense of accomplishment, as well as helping you to know that something is done.

 

The bullet journal is a great place to keep logs as well. Gratitude logs are huge in the bullet journal community for a reason. They help to keep things in perspective, and let you look back on the week and appreciate what is good in your life.

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Keeping a longer-term goal log helps you to see where you have improved and where needs some work. A self-care idea page could be helpful; just fill it in with what you know helps you to start, and as you learn things from tracking all aspects of self care and see what helps, add them. That way if you’re having a bad day you have a go-to list of things you know will help.

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If you have a hard time thinking of things to journal about, a go-to journal prompt page is a great idea.

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Or, if you are an artist at heart and doodling helps you clear your mind, make a doodle page or section in your weekly/daily view (you can see that I added one in one of the weekly options).

 

It’s not called a bullet journal for nothing! The bujo is a great place to be able to journal what you’re feeling and thinking. Rant boxes can be a great way to release the tension of the day and let go of any anger or hard feelings. Just be careful not to overdo it and let the rant turn into just harmful rumination. And if you’re still upset but see that it’s about to turn into obsessing, turn it around and ask yourself “what can I do to help address this?” Even if the answer is “just let it go”, writing it down will help you to accept that that is the best way to address it and move on.

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The bullet journal is just for you, not anyone else, and as such can be a great asset in helping to process therapy sessions. Here is a template for a therapy debrief.

This is a great way to be able to reflect later on what you talked about in therapy and so helps you work through it on your own time between sessions. It also gives you space to write down things to bring up in the next session, and could even be modified for any other doctor’s appointments.

 

A bullet journal is a useful and helpful system of planning that can be incredibly helpful when it comes to mental health. I’ve given you some tools to get started both with general bullet journaling, as well as customizing it for use to help with mental health. Happy journaling!

 

I want to thank Danielle for her efforts in providing us some great templates to begin tracking what might help in your daily life, as well as what might be useful in tracking moods, therapy ideas, and feelings. Give it a try – for those who don’t like to “journal” because it takes so long, this is a helpful, short chunk idea for journaling, although certainly you could add your own pages to write further or have a separate journal for that. As this busy holiday season begins I hope you’ll use this as a way to help you get through it more peacefully. Take care, all, Dr. Beth

 

 

May–A Time for Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

4/10/16 A Sunday Afternoon’s Thoughts about Life

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It’s been an interesting Sunday thus far – especially for Phoenix in mid-April. We’ve had a wonderful day of cloudy skies, rain, a little thunder, mixed with a slight breeze all resulting in the perfect setting for a lazy day of relaxation. I don’t find I do that often enough – so often I’m on to the next thing, and like all of us, there is always something. But I’ve enjoyed today and want to share some of the musings I’ve had as I’ve rambled through my day.

First, I took the time to actually look around – see what was happening in the window next to me, take a walk outside and see what the yard was like, look after a potting project I’m in the middle of, and generally enjoy what was around me and how the rain was changing the hues, tone, and feeling of the environment. It was peacefully quiet, yet with the patter of some rain drops, and the freshness of the cleansed air and space.

 

After puttering I found my mind then called to travel through possible travel plans, what might I want to see? What rivers to cruise? How to see Ireland through a new lens on the next trip? What is available? And what is my soul searching for in the trip. It was a few hours of looking at many different ways to new parts of the world, life, and my inside longings for what this could be. Where would you go? Would you peruse Ireland? Or might it be Yosemite? Or climbing over rocks and ice as a friend did to reach a new summit on her birthday last weekend? She literally scaled new heights for her and the pictures are astonishingly beautiful. Then I considered a trip I hope to make to Colorado this summer. A small weekend venture – but what could that trip be in addition to a wonderful time with a family member? So while my world was first around what was happening around me, the day moved into the world at large – what more do I want to see, learn, do, and experience? We don’t often think about these things and then take time to get more specific and even specific enough to look at the actual ventures available. The wanderings the Internet allows make this so easy – and enjoyable for quiet days.

That brought me to considering my own inner life and where my thoughts were going so often lately, that of what brings purpose and meaning to life as we age? That’s a question popping up around me so often lately, and as I ponder it with others, I also ponder it within. I tend to turn to a few of my favorites for thoughts to provoke me when I want to go deeper and so I spent an hour or two looking at Brene` Brown’s thoughts and watching some TED talks. I also was brought to the thoughts of John O’Donohue not by my own process but through a friend who had posted something to me via message at Facebook and which I just opened today. So I wanted to share some for you if you are wondering about aging, what holds us back, and why in the world we think we must be all such perfect creatures. I would encourage you to view one or more of these sites:

Maria Shriver’s website on which she posts a chapter from a book I’m ordering next today on the prime of our lives. This is a chapter written by Brene`, and the photos by the editor and photographer of the book are incredible: http://mariashriver.com/blog/2016/04/prime-book-brene-brown-courage-vulnerability-peter-freed/?utm_source=Current+Users&utm_campaign=6c8a4c7de2-April_8_Send_Out_4_8_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_53bf79976c-6c8a4c7de2-36077549&mc_cid=6c8a4c7de2&mc_eid=255d798934

Two fascinating TED talks by individuals who are no more special or gifted than the rest of us – but who truly have a depth of spirit and character many of us neglect to develop. First, Karen Gaffney on why all lives matter at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HwxjoBQdn0s&app=desktop and then Jess Thom’s courageous and challenging talk about what it’s like to have Tourette’s Disorder and what she is trying to change in the world: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jmTlQld2Z8&nohtml5=False What these 3 women have sparked in me today is a commitment to actually push my own limits. I tend to think big and move slowly.

And this leads me to the last part of my day – the poem by O’Donohue that a friend shared entitled “For Longing”. In it he certainly addresses what is true for me, and for so many of us I believe. He speaks of how much our soul is called to – and how challenging it can be to follow the road necessary to reach it. So when I think about my day thus far – and this is frankly true of any day we face – I have to ask myself, what do I need to do today to take a step toward the actions, goals, dreams, and hopes of my own soul?. Did the processes, experiences, and time I took on the activities today move me forward? Or did I stay stuck, and if I’ve felt that, did I enjoy what was in front of me, did I reach out when I needed to, and did I even notice and take time with those around me?

Today? Today I can say yes, from the above to enjoying time with Murphy throughout many of these excursions, I was present in my life, I enjoyed what I did, and I explored areas of thought and the future that will help me move forward. Tomorrow, well that’s a new day! I’ll do my best to do the same in new ways.

Now, how about you? What can you do today toward your future?

 

 

 

Autumn: A Time of Letting Go

As I reflect on my summer, and on what the next 3 months will bring, I want to move through the last quarter of the year peacefully.  There are changes that always come in the fall; although schedules get back to normal in September with all back in school it is quickly followed by holiday time and the schedule that gets even busier than normal.  And yet autumn is my favorite time of year, by far.  I enjoy the hope of spring, the relaxation of summer, the meditation and new beginnings of winter.  But fall is when my heart and being are calmest, the feel of the season flows deeply in my being, and the smells, sounds, and sights are most meaningful and enjoyable to me.  Fall is home, it’s family, it’s love.  Spiritually it’s a time of balancing light and dark, letting go, and deeper understanding that nothing is permanent.  Think about nature:  we are moving to more balance between sun and darkness, the leaves are falling from the trees, and we learn that even what we enjoy in the summer flowers and play must end as we move forward.

As we face the changes in the season (granted, more slowly in Arizona), it’s a time to take stock.  What are you holding onto that might be better let go of in your life?  In speaking of letting go recently with someone I noted that we often think of it as a one-time action, like letting go of a balloon.  While letting go is actually more of a process when it comes to the psychological and spiritual realms.  When a loved one dies, for example, there are twists and turns in letting go of the person as they were here, and adjusting our life patterns accordingly.  Or when we leave a   career, it’s an action of walking out the door the last time, but we still must integrate into our lives the new career or job or retirement.  There is more than the one moment in time.

What are you in the process of letting go of?  How are you being asked to recognize the impermanence of something in life?  Where is balance off in your life?

Here’s a simple journaling exercise to do around this topic:

Consider and write down your answers to the above questions.  Or, if writing isn’t your thing, draw a picture to represent it.

Include in your writing, or picture, words and colors and shapes to represent how you feel about this change or loss.

Next, write or draw a picture to represent the ways in which this release might be beneficial to you.

Find an object to represent this change you are moving through, this period or experience or person or whatever it is that you must let go of in your life.

Finally, put this object in a meaningful place to remind you of the letting go you are in the process of.  Let this encourage you to allow this to happen a moment at a time, a day at a time.  It takes time for a leaf to fall, allow yourself time to let go of the leaf in your life.

I believe if we face this fall with such action, and using our spiritual resources to encourage and help us to take the steps needed in letting go, we will reach winter in December and be ready for the new beginnings of January.  Don’t rush this fall.  Inhale the pumpkin and cinnamon smells, enjoy the early morning or evening walks that are a little cooler,  decorate a part of your home with fall leaves, pumpkins, or corn husks, and spend some time each day breathing in the depth and wisdom in the letting go.  And as you do so, remember:

Autumn . . . makes a double demand.
It asks that we prepare for the future–that we be wise in the ways of garnering and keeping.
But it also asks that we learn to let go–to acknowledge the beauty of sparseness.
by Bonaro Overstreet