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 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!

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

 

 

Freedom – Finding it Within!

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

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

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

February: A Time for Love & Introspection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

lovedove

Pathway or Highway?

I have heard two definitions of psychotherapy I’d like to consider. The first one was in a newsletter of my friend and colleague, Dr. Robin Dilley: “a journey into one’s self to help facilitate a deeper awareness about one’s self while developing a passion for living”. The second definition was provided by a psychologist working for a very large managed care firm in town: the process whereby change is made in symptoms that can be measured and that is a result of interaction between a therapist and a client. He went on to state that ideally this should be quick and not a journey on a path but rather a trip down a super highway. Hmm.

I suppose that there is truth in both definitions although those who know me can probably guess that I align myself much more along the lines of Dr. Dilley’s definition than that provided through managed care. Do we want to settle with getting rid of the stuffy nose or do we want to live a life that is challenging, health producing, and joyful? Now the truth is that our insurance policies don’t always pay for the second. After all, the insurance contract is not a personal growth policy but rather a contract that agrees to provide services to return a person to their prior level of functioning.

I urge you not to settle for your prior level of functioning. We only go through this life once, and it is our choice how we live it. To live at your prior level of functioning means that you don’t take the opportunity to grow spiritually, emotionally, mentally and psychologically. It means you do choose to stay where you are. If you are on the pathway then you are choosing to see the ground beneath your feet, smell the air and the flowers around you, hear the sounds of the birds and the animals that are scuttling about. If you choose the super highway you get a fast trip with no smells, few sights and the blare of the other vehicles and their horns blowing.

This year, you can choose the pathway. In her book, “The Invitation”, Oriah Mountain Dreamer speaks of the invitation to live, to grow, to experience life. Much of what she suggests is part of the psychotherapy adventure: “I want to know you can live with failure, yours and mine.” — It is as we face our failures and our successes with another that we learn how to live with them. Psychotherapy provides this opportunity. “I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done.” I would add, can you also stay in bed when you truly need to and take care of yourself? So often we take care of others but ignore ourselves.

Psychotherapy provides time and attention for our own needs and it is through taking time for oneself that one becomes available to others in a truly free and honest manner. Thus so, one can be seen in pain and not need to hide.

“I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back” is a superb description of the group experience one can have through psychotherapy. The women’s groups I have had the privilege of facilitating have born out women choosing to stand in the fire with others and bearing testimony to the pain and the growth.

“I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments”. Ah, the most profound and deeply felt successful therapeutic experience will allow you to say “YES” to this experience.

I would invite those of you currently doing your own therapy to examine your journaling, your heart, your soul to see if you are walking on the path or whether you’ve stopped to enjoy a piece of the scenery. Is it time to move on? Take that next step? Then ask your therapist for assistance with this. If you have been considering taking such a hike, I invite you to call and schedule an appointment with me. If you are already walking down this pathway, enjoy the walk and know it will lead you to further peace, further ability to stand in the fire, and deeper, more meaningful life experiences. As Oriah Mountain Dreamer says, “I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.”

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

Reflecting on summer and life-long relationships

While walking on the beach of the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego I had the opportunity to collect and marvel over many beautiful shells. Each shell was unique in color, shape, texture, scent. One in particular reminded me of a part of Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh: “It (the shell) was handed to me by a friend. One does not often come across such a perfect double-sunrise shell. Both halves of this delicate bivalve were exactly matched. Each side, like the wing of a butterfly, was marked with the same patterns; translucent white, except for three rose rays that fanned out from the golden hinge binding the two together… I wonder how the fragile perfection survived the breakers on the beach. Isn’t the same true of our closest relationships, and in particular those with our partners?

When we are in an intimate relationship, be it a friendship or love relationship, that relationship is subject to the crash of the sea waves, the intensity of a summer sun, the weathering of rough winds. And yet, it is not unusual for us to spend less time, effort, and concern in protecting this relationship than we spend taking care of our homes.

In relationships with close friends and lovers we work together, play together, cry together. The seas, however, can crush upon us. Disagreements, dashed plans, separations, disappointments, differing life paths cause the shells of our friendships to be changed as the water and weather change the shells we collect on the sand. The intensity of summer sun also burns us individually and in relationships over the years. The hours working together strain, the illnesses worry, the changes in each bring fear for the survival of the relationship. And, the winds of life whip us. These are times we choose to be present and close for the other as confidante, gentle helper, encourager.

While summer storms do threaten to break our shells Lindbergh reminds us: “it (change) moves us to another phase of growth which one should not dread, but welcome.” This fall, pick up the shells of your relationships and brush them off. Wash the sand off the delicate patterns engraved over the years. Celebrate their beauty and commit again to keep the shell. As Heller quotes 53 year old Roberto in Little Lessons of Love: “love endures because you want it to, not by accident”. That’s the most important thing to remember.