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.

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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)

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.

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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

 

 

Every Voice Deserves to be Heard

 

A couple of weeks ago I wanted to see a movie that would be uplifting. Although Sully might have been inspirational, I needed something that might make me smile or laugh. So my choice was to see one of my favorite actresses, Meryl Streep, in Florence Foster Jenkins. Most of us probably don’t even note the sub-title: “Every Voice Deserves to be Heard”. I fell in love with this story – and it was inspirational and humorous for me that Sunday. I’m going to hit a couple of the main points, and try not to spoil it for those who haven’t ventured out to see it yet.

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I’d not heard of Florence Foster Jenkins previously. Thus at the beginning I was unsure whether to laugh when Ms. Streep sang or not. Ms. Jenkins suffered from syphilis, which she contracted from her first husband, before there was any treatment. For those who don’t know, it causes a progressive deterioration of the central nervous system. This can mean problems with breathing, muscle tone, dementias, and other significant health deterioration. Back when she was treated, it was often with mercury and arsenic, and the side effects of these can be hearing loss. While I didn’t understand the impact of the syphilis when I saw the movie, other than as it was mildly alluded to, later it helped make even more sense of what was occurring. She’d been a beautiful pianist earlier in life and lost that due to an arm injury. To say that she had a few setbacks in life to overcome is an understatement! And yet with courage, and joy, she moved forward.

Ms. Jenkins with the help of her second husband developed not just musical clubs, called tableaux vivants back then, but then also starred in them, designing lavish costumes and singing. All well and good, except that her singing was less than on pitch or rhythmic, and often one had difficulty understanding her. Still, her trusted pianist—a character I find endearing—grew over time to recognize perfection was less important than joy, that a spirit of sharing is more important than a faultless performance, and that commitment to another is more meaningful than an unqualified successful duo. Through the movie we experience Ms. Jenkins’ great love of music and performance, her second husband Bayfield’s great love of her and protection for her, and Mr. Cosmo McMoon’s piano accompaniment with which even greater success was had. The result in her life was shame overcome, love expressed in so many moments, and an important message given to all: Every voice deserves to be heard.

I suppose the other side of the coin is that she might have been narcissistic, and yet her great joy in providing what she heard as beautiful music for others would have been lost. Others would have had less opportunity to experience her love to them through performances, which even those such as Cole Porter and Enrico Caruso attended. And yet, she might have been in on the truth— that her singing was less than perfect. We see this when she mentioned to a friend, “People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing”. Her shame exposed and thus able to live a life of truth and joy.

Ms. Jenkin’s life has given me some courage – to try my hand at some creative endeavors I’ve been considering, like painting. I don’t register thinking, “I can’t paint”, and yet, perhaps I can. Not perfectly, not with exact style and technique, but I can try. And I can experience joy in doing so. And perhaps one other person may enjoy the joy I experience as I share my attempt. One can only hope to have a Bayfield’s love and acceptance, a McMoon’s willingness to work with the imperfection, and courage and joy embraced by Ms. Jenkins. I’ll be that support for you. Go try something new this fall – take a risk. Don’t worry about perfection, technique, knowing how to do it ahead of time, just take the risk and try. Confront your shame and conquer it in this moment. Let me know how it goes for you – and I’ll report back on mine as well!