Decisions…Difficult but Important to Choose and Own

Our current times continue to present challenges in many ways for all of us.  From the smaller decisions of what to purchase at a grocery store and how to do so: online, via delivery, or in-person; whether we’ll follow the guidance to wear masks; to the no-brainers of breathing in and out each day, and to the largest decisions about when to retire and other big life changes.  We can say that some of these decisions are easy, whereas on others we will not reach agreement with everyone.  As Eleanor Roosevelt said “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves.  The process never ends until we die.  And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility”.  There are crucial decisions being made by governors and legislators right now related to COVID-19, the economy and businesses, as well as protecting individuals.  At this time, we are also called upon to make our own choices, and decision-making is often challenging and stressful.

Part of this stress is brought on by hearing multiple conflicting ideas about how to open a country back up, what is too soon, what is too long, how much individual health and lives should be considered versus the economy, and whose guidance should be followed in these areas.  I believe, as Eleanor Roosevelt and others have said, that we are responsible to determine what is in our own or our loved ones’ best interest.  Some of the decisions our leaders make we need to assess and determine what to follow and when, such as the recent ones, and ones to come, about reopening.  So, I thought it was time to review a few basics on decision making.    

First, get yourself in a quiet place, without distractions, and relax yourself.  Hard to do in a Covid-19 world, but perhaps these steps will be taken over a period of a day or two, and that’s fine.  This might be doing some meditation, prayer, deep breathing or yoga, or other ideas you might have.  It’s important to have our brain available, and when we are relaxed, we have more capacity to use our full brain without it being impacted by a fight, flight, or freeze change in brain reaction. 

Second, once you’ve done the above, write down what the decision is that you’re trying to make.  Tie it down to one decision, after all we can’t make more than one decision at a time.  Writing it down helps you to focus.

Third, do the research you need to do.  For decisions about work, going out of the house, deciding whether to go to salons or restaurants, or even just whether to grocery shop versus using pick-up services, I’ve found some sources of information and am providing those here.  These links provide various views so you can consider what the pros and cons are.  But seek out your own sources as well.

  1.  CDC suggestions/plan on how to reopen

**I’m providing several Governors’ plans as it will allow you to see what they are considering and that may help you in making your own decisions.

After reviewing the facts and areas to consider from the above or other information you have, the fourth step is to write down your pros and cons on choosing to take various steps, i.e.:  go out to dinner vs. picking up dinner or having it delivered, going to the hair or nail salon, working in these environments and offices, and the others you’ll be faced with in the next week to months.  Then if it is clear to you what you will do, be clear with yourself how you reached the decision.  We can only make the best decision we can on any one day and with the information available to us.  You’ll want to reassure yourself later why you made a decision if later you question it.  If it is not clear, consider talking it through with your spouse, a significant other, close friend, person you respect, or trusted other.  And then follow the above once your decision is made. 

The fifth step, that will seem familiar to all who have studied science – from junior high forward, is to re-evaluate and make sure the decision still makes sense as you go.  Feel free to change your mind if that makes sense to you later.  For example, as many have suggested from a lot of entities and as we’ve seen in other countries, the numbers are going to go up as we reopen, so you may choose to change your decision if they are going up very rapidly, or begin going back down.

I ran across this in looking for a poem on choice and decision-making.  And in the end, I loved the simplicity of it:

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Source credit: quotesgram.com

Having peace during these times is challenging – but remember that with following all the guidelines we already know from so many sources, continue to:

  1.  Wash your hands often, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  2.  Wear a mask in public.
  3.  Cover your nose with a Kleenex if sneezing anywhere.
  4.  Cover your mouth with a Kleenex if coughing.
  5.  Socially distance keeping 6’ between you and the other person/people.
  6.  Clean and disinfect touched surfaces regularly and throughout the day.
  7.  Do not touch your face or wash your hands after you do.

All of these get tiring to hear about at times – but they will be essential for a long time to come.   And they can provide you with peace within that you are doing all you can to protect yourself and others. 

Finally, remember to take time to relax, enjoy your family around you, reach out to friends in socially distant methods, pray, meditate, and use the tools we and others have provided. 

See our website for general resources.

We also have COVID-19 specific resources as well as blogs on ideas in managing these stressors.

You deserve to take care of yourself, and I encourage you to make your own decisions, and take care in all the ways you need to do so during these challenging days.  We’ll be back to the regular blog again on Sunday, but I wanted you to have these thoughts earlier as things are changing rapidly. 

Take care,

Dr. Beth

“Silence the mind to hear the whisper.”

I was at a meeting recently with a guest speaker, the topic unknown to me prior to attending. On my way, music on in the car, I found myself turning it down so I could let my mind wander, mulling over a few of life’s stressors. Due to some scheduling changes, I was going to be walking into the meeting just before the speaker began, not having my typical time to say hello to everyone and chat before the meeting. I sat down just before she was introduced, and among the first couple of sentences about her, she was quoted, “Silence the mind to hear the whisper.” It felt like such a timely topic for me, a divine intervention of sorts, putting the reminder directly into my stream of consciousness that I had been subconsciously working towards on my drive. The use of such a simple yet powerful sentence by way of introduction –our speaker caught the attention of all of us in the room. The concept of quieting the mind has been around for a long time and while meditation is something I practice routinely, there is always room for learning, improving, changing the practice for oneself and so, I listened, and I learned.

Mindfulness is a topic I’ve been wanting to write to all of you about for some time. The word of the year for the practice is “deepening”, as I’ve shared before. We are working towards that with greater and different offerings from the practice based on the feedback from you, wanting to offer services that are relevant and meaningful to each of you. But also, deepening is creeping into my subconscious and my own life. I want to embrace this time of evaluation and growth and would like to share some reminders with you on how to be a better steward of your mental focus and energy.

Online you’ll find a wealth of meditation resources, several apps you can download with a click, a few of which I’ve even featured under the links tab of my website and in previous blogs. But. Did you know that taking a walk can serve as a meditative experience? Taking a bike ride, being outside, a scenic drive, gardening, laying in the sun or the shade of a tree, a round of golf, going to the batting cage, going to the practice green or driving range are all activities that can promote mindfulness and meditation. It doesn’t take sitting in a pretzel shaped position on a rubber mat to qualify as meditation. It can take place wherever you feel moved to practice as long as it’s in an environment in which you feel you can relax and unwind. The idea is not the act of stillness, it’s about quieting the noise of the demands of life and taking moments of quiet.

Beginning isn’t as hard as you may make it out to be. Set low expectations for yourself, planning to spend 3-5 minutes at your first attempt–you’ll increase your level of focus and lengthen the duration with routine practice. Begin in the space of your choosing, allowing any thoughts that enter your mind to simply move past your attention as if they were a billboard you pass on a highway. Notice the thought and allow it to move on. Practice breathing exercises. Deep inhales, lungs full, holding the breath and a slow, deliberate exhale. There are exercises that guide you to count your way through breathing and those can be helpful but generally, if you exhale for longer than you inhale you are lowering your blood pressure. These breathing exercises alone are a way to calm yourself and even can be used to drift off to sleep.

A drive that previously may have brought stress due to traffic I’m now looking forward to. The forced time alone in the car is a good time for me to quiet my mind. To listen for the whisper—of intuition and my higher power which is such a help to me in times of growth. “Be patient with yourself. Self-growth is tender; it’s holy ground. There’s no greater investment.” – Stephen Covey. As a part of mindfulness and deepening, let these ideas be a start for you. I’ll be sharing more on this topic in blog posts to come as well as in an upcoming workshop. Stay tuned!

PS: Looking for a great way to open relationship discussions and mindfully listen to loved ones? These would be a great way to start: https://www.shopsundaypaper.com/Sunday-Paper-Table-Topics-p/tabletopic.htm

2020: Goals and Goofing Off

I was thinking about the new year and recall recently hearing someone say, instead of resolutions that we often set ourselves up to break, think of the beginning of the year as a time to set one goal. And, while it feels like a blank slate and a good time to start something, I also wondered if we take a moment to pause and renew, would we all be more likely to hold to the new goals we’re trying to form? We go through the holiday season and it’s a blur. How often do we look back and wonder where 30, 60, 90 days or more have gone? We are so busy with the hustle of preparing that starts in October, maybe earlier, that when the new year comes it’s no surprise we’re all feeling ready for a new leaf. But is there room to be more mindful about how we go about all of these new practices? Instead of starting January at the gym doing more than our bodies have in weeks/months/years and going home sore, energy depleted, and looking into a refrigerator stocked in an optimistic moment with all the foods we “should” be eating is it any wonder that by the end of that week or the end of January we already feel we’re failing at what we set out to do? Here’s an idea it’s not too late to start on, the timetable is your own. Let’s bring in this new year with intention and balance.

Happy January, welcome new year, new decade! I’m going to choose my activities and set goals that are achievable, because I don’t need guilt over self-imposed ideas that make me feel a failure. And I’m going to learn to play, alone, with friends, and with my family.  Join me? Here are a few things to get you started but remember this is not an inclusive list, just inspiration:

  • Meal plan and prep on weekends. It sounds simplistic and it is, but this is the way to get the foods I want in the house. This is not the start of a strict diet; this is making healthier choices than I made during the holiday rush.
  • Create set work hours. It’s easy to allow myself to let my work spill into my evenings during times I don’t have plans or distraction, but everyone needs down time to recharge each day. It’s not a luxury, it’s what enhances productivity during the day and if I don’t consciously make this choice, I will let myself stay at my computer longer than I should.
  • Read, listen to audiobooks, listen to podcasts, or watch TV. Getting myself enmeshed in a good book is an escape nearly like a vacation. And for all the bad TV out there, there’s plenty of good to watch as well.
  • Pray or meditate. Quiet time for consideration and reflection is soul enriching and an amazing stress reducer that has been shown many times over to reduce blood pressure and improve brain health.
  • Move my body. This doesn’t mean I have to join a spin class or train for a marathon (though if those things lift you up, wonderful!) this just means a walk with my dog, or yoga at home or in a studio, a bike ride on the greenway. Again, stress reducing, heart and brain healthy, blood pressure reducing, and an aid in depression and anxiety management. 
  • Schedule physicals or check-ups. Annual exams are important to be sure any changes in blood work, blood pressure, vision, mammograms or PSA checks, etc. can be addressed before a possible issue becomes advanced.
  • Call and schedule time for coffee with a friend.  Often, we do not give our friendships the time they need, and we don’t benefit from the recharge that time will give us.  (And moms – I just read today that in order to be the healthiest mom possible you need two girlfriend outings a week.  Two!  So perhaps start with one and work it slowly up to two.)
  • Make an activity list with your family.  Have everyone list what is fun for them.  And then use this to plan your vacations, time together, and year. 

Remember, not every minute of the day is meant to be about productivity.  It’s also meant to include time for relationships, recharging our batteries, learning, and balancing our lives.  So, this year, rather than adding a list of 5 must-do’s to your daily schedule, how about taking care of you – in any of the above ways or another way you might want to embrace and enjoy.  Brene Brown reminds us that “adults goof off”, they play, and defined this as spending time doing things that are not productive but are fun.  Several of the ideas above are not “productive”, but they may be fun for you.  So, my challenge is – go have some fun this year.  Play. Meditate. Spend time with friends.  Read a novel that pulls you in.  After that – perhaps get back to the one or two goals for your year.  But don’t take the “fun” time off your calendar to get the goal met. Instead, balance both in your time.  And have a great 2020! 

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

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

Freedom Within

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

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Swimming Pool where I learned to swim in the early 1960’s

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Elmhurst 4th of July Parade circa 1960’s

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

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

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

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Thoughts on love.

Recently I had the opportunity to see a part of the country I’d never seen before, the southeast, more specifically, a part of North Carolina. There was a wedding I had great joy in attending, and had a part of my longing for Ireland assuaged…through the friendliness of the people and the beauty in the deep green foliage.  The wedding was so incredibly beautiful in its simplicity that it allowed the love of the couple and the family to truly be hallmark.  So often the love can be secondary to the pomp; although true love shines through if one looks to see it.  As we flew home I had the quiet time to ponder what I had witnessed. In doing so I realized I’d seen love throughout the trip.

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There are likely thousands of definitions of love. Surprisingly, perhaps, I am using a definition by C.S. Lewis for this article: “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained”.  At weddings we see affection, but when we can really sit back and watch people over time, we are treated, in specially gifted moments, to glimpses of one acting for another’s ultimate good, as Lewis defined love.  That weekend I saw affectionate love, a mother with her near-toddler away from the group so that he could exercise his need to move and explore. A groom gently stroking his bride’s hand during the ceremony. A mother and father watching their daughter lovingly and then searching for reassurance later that she was included and embraced as family and in family when not near them.  All of these both affectionate, for they each were affected by and with the person of their love; but also reflecting Lewis’s definition that love truly seeks and wishes for the other’s overarching best. The health of the child, the peace in the bride, and the true well-being of the daughter.

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Brene Brown, whose work I find challenging in deep ways each time I hear her words or meditate upon a sentence in one of her books, said “Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect”.  I believe she is speaking of the same love Lewis did. And that weekend I saw the same bride able to be silly and later play spoons with the musicians. Even the musicians, all family and friends, though talented, had safety to be themselves and not have to play or sing perfectly. Such a fun evening!  A friend of the couple willingly made childlike faces with his friends, and walked a little girl around umpteen times to explore and quench her thirst for experience. The mother of the groom stepped back in love and then later reached out to her son in true love for him.  Did each lose something? Yes, but they also gained something bigger in sharing their love. In wanting the best for the other, and in doing so imperfectly and courageously.

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How do you love yourself? On a hike to some waterfalls I enjoyed many, many moments of laughter and sharing with our small group of merry middle-aged folk and one young couple brave enough to venture out with us. (And I’m so glad they did! So much fun to see them together as family and enjoying what for them was one more hike, for me the opportunity to revel in the love they share.)  Yet there was another inner part of me aware of less inner judgment of others, of myself.  Yet I still felt challenged to stop any negative chatter about myself, how I walked, looked, even interacted. At one time in my life I recall this inner chatter wearing me down long before the hike did. But this time I found myself probably at my most self-accepting, able to just pace myself, laugh with others, push on another 20 steps up from Triple Falls, and enjoy the people, the views, the majesty of the mountains and falls, the grandeur of the old and so very tall trees, and the love of the couples surrounding me as each helped the other in some way over the course of a couple of hours.

So this summer I want to challenge each of you to look and really see what is around you. Particularly the love that wants for the well-being of the other, and sometimes in the special presence of affection as well. Do not look only for the love of affection, but also the tougher to find-that love which, over time, allows for courage to be imperfect.  You must, however, start with the courage to be imperfect yourself.  You don’t have to be a concert pianist, in love playing the spoons is quite enough and more beautiful! You don’t have to climb Everest, sometimes hiking in a group of middle-aged or just inexperienced hikers is plenty because it’s time with family. So I want you to grab a pen and paper and fill in the following three blanks for your summer wholeness:

Today I have the courage to acknowledge this piece of imperfection in myself ___________ (name some part that is hard for you to accept) and I promise myself to share it with someone who loves me enough to want for my well-being as far as it can be attained. This person is _____________ .

Today I took the time to appreciate love and beauty around me when I ______________ (where you were or what you were doing).  And I am grateful to have observed love in _____________ (name the situation).

And today through the above I opened myself to take a step beyond fear, into self-love, out to experience love of other, and I showed love and desire for their ultimate well-being to ____________.

Wow! Look at you now! You are closer, even by a bit, to playing the spoons, making a silly face, and being an example of imperfect, courageous, authenticity and love. As John Lennon said: “Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life”. And I believe that is all right back to what C.S. Lewis said happens when we love through a steady wish, a hope, a strongly and long held wish for the ultimate well-being for the other.

Embracing Ourselves

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It’s been a busy few months and I got distracted from this blog; however, it’s been on my mind, and my visit to the Frida and Diego art exhibit yesterday has given me the inspiration needed to pick it up. It was a wonderful visit with some friends, and as I wandered through it I became aware of Frida’s growth over the years. Some of her paintings and dresses were on exhibit as well as photographs by others of her. And while I’m focusing on her, Diego’s work and pictures were exhibited as well.
Frida and Diego were known for their art, relationship, and their politics in Mexico. While I do not believe her lifestyle was necessarily healthy, i.e.: affairs, I do believe her art matured and grew as she did. There are many ways to approach this, but as I considered Frida, her movement from one mastered by Diego and using his art as teacher and model shifted to her own technique and self as more independent of him, while still showing and experiencing love for and from him. One view that struck me at the exhibit, and that shows her dependency was captured by my friend, Dr. Mark Arcuri and was posted above. Here the focus of her quote is on Diego, and all he meant to her. Where is her sense of self, one might ask? While she certainly captures her mother’s background in her clothing, and wears it brilliantly,
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she does still rely on Diego and mother and cultural background to define her. How many of us do that? Truly there is nothing wrong with this…as long as it is defining part, not all of who we are. I am Irish in my mind first culturally, second Polish, and lastly Scottish. I celebrate some holidays in ways that capture these parts of my genetic and cultural background my parents shared with me. I enjoy the many friends that I have, and what time with each means to me, to the fullness of my life, and to what they do in encouraging my growth as a person. And I take hope from my faith and live it through my spiritual walk. So my life and identity follow Frida’s life pattern as most, if not all of us, do.
And yet, I was most struck by a picture of hers from 1949, The Love Embrace of the Universe. The exhibitors describe it as her assimilation of her spiritual beliefs and the embrace similar to that of Mary embracing Christ and simultaneously showing Frida’s minimization of Diego and his influence over her life. This was only 5-6 years before her death, and many years into her relationship. Further, it was during her recovery from a major surgery and is followed by a few years when her art was accepted some on its own merit, not secondarily from Diego’s.
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What this made me reflect on again, was how when we are not relying on others for definition, then we become our own person, and are capable of interdependent relationships. We are able to be held and hold others, as she was in this final picture I shared. And we are experienced and accepted on our merit and being, not as someone’s spouse, sibling, parent, or child. Not that those roles aren’t important, but again, they are but part of the whole package of who we are.
So as I end today, I urge you to consider who you define yourself as, whose life you are following, and what your faith and spirituality do to influence this? Ask yourself, where do I need further definition? Where are my shadows that need light and color to be made a part of the whole of me? And let the last days of spring encourage your growth as sunflowers popping up, being and embracing their being-ness boldly, fully, completely.
Blessings on your journey.
(PS: Interested in the Frida and Diego exhibit? It is at the Heard Museum in Phoenix through August 20, 2017, see http://heard.org/exhibits/frida-kahlo-diego-rivera/ or for other locations see http://www.fridakahlo.it/en/eventi.php)

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!