Loneliness. Solitude. Alone.

Such words often stir feelings deep in our souls and hearts.  As humans we tend to avoid such feelings and experiences.  And yet we have had to often face all three more deeply this year than others.  What do they mean?  Are they the same?  How are they different?  Sometimes we find we want to just brush over the words and feelings that pop up and run to find someone and be busy.  Yet some philosophies, spirituality and philosophy among them, encourage solitude at times.  And in solitude we are alone.   

Depending on the definition, loneliness is either physical isolation or the feeling of sadness over not having people around.  Or, from a philosophical and psychological perspective, it is a feeling of having insufficient relationships or accessibility to others to meet the needs a person has at that time.  It may simply be a need for companionship and with Covid-19 we cannot always get together as we’d like because it competes with need to stay at home more.  

Solitude is defined as the less painful part of not having people available – being alone and enjoying that and finding comfort or relief in the silence, or as Paul Tillich defined it, “the glory of being alone”.   

Alone is simply having no one else present.  It’s a state of being, but not related to feelings.   

Introverts often relish times of solitude and use them to recharge their batteries.  I’m partially introverted, and a quiet evening alone is sheer enjoyment for me.  I am in solitude, not feeling loneliness.  However, an extrovert who recharges with others may face alone time after a busy day as painful and lonely.  That person doesn’t have the others around to recharge with and thus the felt experience of solitude is very different.   

I read a book by a philosopher and psychologist from the 1950’s, Clark Moustakas, that was entitled “Loneliness”.  It was interesting as I read reviews of it on Amazon today – readers talk about it as not being the self-help book of the 2000’s, but rather a warm, inviting book, that asks us to look at what we are experiencing in the way of solitude versus loneliness and helping us to individually tackle the existential loneliness we are feeling at times.  I truly believe the experience of loneliness is not unique to us – but rather something we all experience at times, and based on the situation of it, may feel like solitude is pleasurable or loneliness which is painful.   

I was speaking with a friend who had cancer years ago, and one of the things she mentioned to me was that while she had family and sisters who were there to support her every step, and friends who were available and caring, the essence of her experience was a very lonely one.  She had to go under the radiation with only herself.  And eventually, she had to face her own death in some lonely ways.  Yet she also had times of solitude when she experienced spiritual growth and connection.  During Covid-19 many people are feeling lonely and depressed – others feeling solitude – and both can be in times they are alone or with others.  But it is loneliness that leads to depression.   

Depression is a reaction to longer term loneliness for some, and can leave a person feeling isolated, hopeless, and abandoned.  On a rational level, we may know that we are not abandoned at all, and yet the isolation is hurtful.  I can only imagine how isolating life is for many in senior care facilities or hospitals during this time.  The time we most need connection and love and touch is the very time we are quarantining and not connecting or touching.  And if a person has a limited memory, as many elderly do in senior care facilities, then that must feel like true abandonment.  Thankfully iPads and other devices have allowed some connection for many; but, this is still not the touch and presence that can bring us out of loneliness.  And unfortunately for many living alone and for others isolated in their living without time with friends, this is leading to higher levels of depression that has led to even higher levels of suicide than the past.  This month is National Suicide Awareness month and it’s so important we remain aware that we can turn loneliness to more of an experience of solitude – for growth spiritually and otherwise that can become more positive rather than the intensely painful loneliness that underlies the suicide increases.   

So how does a person make this shift?  Here are a few ideas from multiple sources of both spiritual and psychological literature.  Moustakas would encourage us to look within for what loneliness means to us, and how solitude might help us move out to a more healthy place.  He believed that it comes through introspection and not just trying to change the environment.  So asking yourself questions – what does it mean to you to not have people around as much?  What do you believe that means about you?  How did you come to have that belief?  What are your spiritual beliefs about loneliness?  Is there a way to walk into the loneliness and see what you might learn about yourself?  How is loneliness helpful in your life right now?  What is there for you to learn from it?  Start anywhere in these questions and begin journaling about your own experiences and internal feelings.  I would encourage you to move on to see where this goes and, if you can, look for Moustakas’ book (it’s hard to find but worth it) and take the journey he offers through it.  One of the gifts of loneliness is shifting to solitude through which we find meaning or purpose in this time.  In writing through exercises such as the above I do believe you’ll make your way through the desolation of loneliness to the peace of solitude.  

If depression has you, then first deal with the depression.  If it is significant and/or you have thoughts of self-harm at all – then you need to reach out for help now.  Not later.  There is a suicide hot-line at 1-800-273-8255 that is available 24 hours a day.  If you don’t feel suicidal but the depression is strong, then reach out to your family doctor, gynecologist, therapist, or spiritual director/priest/rabbi and get some help for it.  Only after this is resolved will you be able to move into the above ideas from Moustakas.  

Don’t ignore the spiritual work you may be called to during this time that can soothe the loneliness.  Starting a new practice can be helpful at times when we feel dark around us rather than the light of solitude. At other times hunkering down in a tried and true path is more comfortable.  Regardless, consider which feels right to you and perhaps try walking a handheld or land-based labyrinth, focus on a daily reading, take a mindful walk in the park, reread a special spiritual book or passage in the Bible or your faith’s tradition and take comfort in the words.   

In addition to the personal work, I would also encourage you to consider who else might be available.  Call a friend and ask to do it face-to-face on WhatsApp or Facetime or Zoom or some other modality.  Visual connection helps over only auditory and much more so than text.  I also encourage walks – get out and move and at least see others in your neighborhood as it will give you a mild sense of connection to your community in a safe way.  Other ideas to reaffirm connection can be joining an online class or service where there are regular Zoom or other meetings and you have the opportunity to interact with everyone; planning a weekend camping with a friend or a time at a cabin with friend or family member; volunteering where you feel safe such as walking a dog at a shelter- walking outdoors and cuddling with an animal might meet two needs in one; get a pet after considering what you can handle long-term, it may not be a dog or cat but perhaps a hamster or bird to keep you company.  You get the idea.   

Loneliness is a frequent feeling experienced recently, and may underlie the fatigue many are feeling in following pandemic safety.  There are ways through it, as I’ve shared.  John O’Donohue also writes about solitude and loneliness. May his words bring you encouragement, comfort, and increased solitude over pain.   

With care and best wishes for growth and comfort to your heart,  

Dr. Beth 

Dr. Beth Sikora, PhD, LPC, NCC 

Covid-19: Coping with the Changes 3 Months Later

This week has been again more stressful for many than past weeks as we see the number of Covid-19 numbers going up, hospitals filling, and requirements for masks in Maricopa County and many locations throughout the state.  In addition, this isn’t the first time around – this is into month 4 of dealing with this (although just into it) and I’m hearing tempers flaring, patience waning, and what I’ll term “Covid Fatigue” hitting.  What’s a person to do when this is happening?  And it’s now impacting our relationships, we know people with Covid-19, we’ve lost friends or family to it or they have had a serious case of it, and we haven’t been able to socialize or attend church and/or work in the same ways for quite some time.  And even the possibility of in-school education or dorm life is in flux right now for the fall.  And, to top it off, it’s been at or near 109F. (Good news, though, it may be down to 98F for part of this coming week.)  What a June!
 
Well, we are a resilient people, truly, although the level and speed of it varies by person.  Resiliency is the ability to overcome obstacles and move forward.  Resiliency leads to hope – and so we are to hang in there when things seem desperate.  There is an article I wrote a number of years ago about this and it’s on the website.   So, feel free to go there for more information.  But the essence is that to build hope, we must have people around us, spiritual practices, and be aware of possibility.  I’ve always liked Elizabeth Edwards quote:  “She stood in the storm and when the wind did not knock her down, she adjusted her sails”.   It’s time to adjust our sails a bit.  Here are a few ideas that have come to me lately, some of which I’ve shared here in the past or with clients, some are newer:
 
Realize you are just not accomplishing what you want to do – from something small to large?  Download Apalon’s Productive-Habit Tracker to your phone or tablet and choose just one or two things you want to be sure you do daily or weekly.  Build some success before you add more.  And give yourself a break – it is happening to most people as they live and work at home.
 
Concerned your spiritual life is not where you want it to be?  Commit to one thing a day – maybe a meditative walk; perhaps doing a finger labyrinth; spending some time to do a guided relaxation; say a prayer you relate to – a rosary, a personal talk with God, a psalm, or a pray with others through a compline online, keep a gratitude list, or listen to music that is meaningful to your heart or spirit (you choose!).
 
Fearful about the fall and what it will mean for you?  Teaching at school or via Internet?  Needing to teach your children again or sending them to school?  Sending your young adult to live in a dorm or live at home?  Focus on bringing yourself back to the present.  None of us know what August or September will look like.  So, we must stay in today.  Perhaps using a short affirmation for this will help: “I have only this moment”, “Relax in today”, “I find stillness when I live in the present”, or write your own. 
 
Feeling lonely or alone?  First, find a being in your home with whom you can share a hug, pet them, cuddle, or otherwise connect physically for a bit.  No one there and no pet?  Dr. Peter Levine urges us to hold ourselves.  How?  See Dr. Levine’s methods described and directions for several self-hug and holding exercises.  My favorite is to simply put your left arm across your tummy and with your right reach up and pat your left shoulder.  It will repeat what your mama did to you when she held you – and it is extremely calming.  Then reach out to a friend or family member by Facetime, Zoom, WhatsApp, or another method.  It amazed me again how much closer I felt to a friend last Saturday when we spent time talking by WhatsApp rather than only by phone.  Invite one or two friends over and socially distance in the evening while catching up.  Or do a Zoom breakfast or game night.
 
Uncertain or afraid of vacationing and feeling housebound?  Get your family together to brainstorm.  Two people have told me that they are doing camping trips and/or using RV’s to get time away with family.  Brainstorm a stay-home vacation – and here are a few ideas to get you going – https://www.realsimple.com/work-life/life-strategies/staycation?  The larger hotel chains have information out there on what they are doing, National Parks and Recreation has information on traveling to the parks and AAA has some information.   
 
My spouse is driving me nuts!  How do I cope?  We’ve heard about this on TV, in the news, and from our friends, right?  So how do we cope when we are living and working together full-time?  First, communication is essential.  And that is very hard when we’re stressed and misinterpreting the intention of others as well as struggling to find a little alone space.  Or perhaps just tired of the way they work as it’s different than ours or conflicts with our methods. CNN had a few ideas worth looking at. I’m most impressed with the couple who, in a 576 square foot apartment found ways to compromise and parent children.  What bothered you 3 months ago will now be driving you around the corner.  So, take a deep breathe, do something to relax yourself, get away from your spouse or partner, and talk to a friend before you try to talk to your partner. 
 
Feeling bored at home?  Listen to a new podcast (or two), review some of the art galleries we put on our website under Covid-19 resources awhile ago, go swimming, or put some music on and dance.  I’m very much enjoying the “Poetry Unbound” podcast each morning (under 10 minutes usually) and playing in the water with the puppy.  Both are new for me – and take me in different places that open my brain and heart. 
 
Ok, there are a few ideas.  Next Sunday I’m hoping to finish the article on growing in times of adversity.  But for now – I’m hoping these ideas help you just get through the tough moments in life.  I commit to acting on the alone and spirituality ideas above – so what is your choice?  I hope you do it even for 5 minutes. 
 
Take care and be well,
 
Dr. Beth
Beth Sikora, PhD, LPC, NCC

Unfolding: From Shame to Praise

I’ve been sitting here looking at a blank piece of paper, interspersed with time searching for ideas of what to write about for this blog released to be released on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent for Christians.  I’ve had a few thoughts pass through my head:

  • The childhood years of eggs and noodles for Friday dinner and tuna fish for lunch – no meat on Fridays was required. 
  • Grade school years of giving up chocolate, candy, cookies, or something else and putting a penny in the missions’ box to collect money for those in need.
  • Junior year religion class when we were challenged to show love to someone each day instead of forgoing a favorite treat (a la Fr. Martin’s blog last year – Be Kind at https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2019/03/01/fr-james-martin-sj-be-kind-lent
  • Looking out the window this morning and wondering at the cloudy sky and my cold feet while considering how to make this day into something growth-inspired.  This afternoon revealed a bright blue sky, clean and shiny leaves from yesterday’s rain, and beautiful pink and purple flowering shrubs. And this evening it is followed by dark clouds.  Such a metaphor of life – constant evolution.
  • Finley’s facial expression, as I showed in an Instagram post and below – full of joy and expectation.  Which brought me to thoughts of C.S. Lewis via a blog by Dawn Klinge where she talks about  Lewis’s view of joy.  (You can check it out here https://www.dawnklinge.com/abovethewaves/7-thoughts-on-joy-from-cs-lewis).
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  • Searching and finding a book recommended for Lenten journeys by one of my favorite authors related to growth spiritually, Sue Monk Kidd.  She recommended Gifts from Within, written by a group in Texas at Brigid’s Place.  Interestingly, this is also tied back to my ancestral motherland of Ireland. 

What is the common thread in all the musings I’ve had?  I believe it to be there is no perfect way through Lent, or preparation for Easter or Passover.  In reality, no perfect way to reach and experience joy, resurrected hope, true presence in our own lives of and with God.  But it does take preparation, time, energy, and choices daily. 

So, whether it is by 1) sacrifice, i.e.: fasting or giving up something; or giving something like love and kindness; or 2) reading the thoughts of others as shared in Gifts from Within; or 3) reading for my Jewish friends Kurshan in her first person article in The New York Jewish Week, “Preparing for Passover Physically and Spiritually” that reminds us that the history of Passover “begins with shame and ends with praise”  (see https://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/preparing-for-passover-physically-and-spiritually/); or 4) stretching and committing to really look at something around you (or within) each day like the change in the day from dreary to spring-like to stormy; or 5) watching the joy around you that comes from hope and expectation – they all count.  Each one can take you farther along your spiritual path.  And your psychological healing.  And isn’t this really unfolding – opening up to more of what you want to be, hope to be, are within; but perhaps are unaware of because of something blocking you?  Moving from shame to joy.  So, start thinking – has one of the above ideas struck you as one to use?  I’m using the book recommended by Sue Monk Kidd and a daily thought prompt from another group.  One person I know is using a specific book with a goal of reading the complete book by Easter.  Another person is writing her prayers daily.  And another is just working on breathing – with reminders to himself in his calendar to work on decreasing his anxiety. 

Pema Chodron said, “Nothing goes away until it teaches us what we need to know”.  Carolyn Myss said it a bit differently, “Always go with the choice that scares you the most, because that’s the one that is going to help you grow”.  Lent and preparation for Passover are times for such growth for all.  So…choose wisely this year.

Take care,

Dr. Beth   

Deepening: Thoughts to Consider

Deepening…the word for 2020 that we are using at The Wholeness Institute.  Angie and I spent a good deal of time on brainstorming and planning what we want to accomplish in 2020, and deepening resonated with our goals and, hopefully, with yours.  Deepening has many meanings…

            ~To become more profound

            ~To enhance

            ~To strengthen

            ~Powering up

            ~Living more deeply into something – a relationship, spirituality, one’s inner self

            ~Living with purpose

            ~Leaning into experience

            ~Result of transformation.

When I think of it in terms of my counseling practice, I think of it as being present to others as they grow, as they go within themselves more to the discover who they are. Witnessing each person transform parts of him or herself that may no longer fit or has caused pain.  It’s being privileged to be with a person as they are leaning into their gifts, owning them, allowing themselves to become better acquainted and experience life more deeply as well as broadly.  Broadly alone isn’t enough, though, if we want to feel connected with others, with those most special to us, to ourselves.  This isn’t so new, if you go back to the Quakers, the mindfulness writers, those who are Jungian in thought, there are many books and articles written.  We hope that at the end of 2020, the first year of our new decade, you feel that you have received direction or ideas from me that have resulted in deepening your life and experiences more completely. 

Toward that we are restarting, adjusting, and adding some offerings, and welcome you to ask questions, reach out as you are called to deepen in during this year, or share with me how we can help you in your process throughout the year.  We are still working with many of the same populations and with similar issues, but with a slightly revised focus as we walk into 2020.  Rather than just teaching, or counseling, I hope to experience a deepening of my practice, and Angie’s work here, so that you are able to find a deeper sense of who you are and perhaps how things have moved forward in your life. So, we will be working in the next month to begin adjusting things in the following ways:

~ We will offer two blogs a month – one about a change or addition to your knowledge or understanding of what the field of psychology and spirituality are understanding today.  So perhaps an update on how yoga is used; a new treatment method for brain injury or depression; or even just a new idea to try to keep life balanced. The second will offer deeper content such as journaling exercises, ways to make your growth more experiential, and allow you the opportunity to move a tiny or larger step forward.

~As some of you know I have a new puppy – Finley.  We are going to add Instagram back with a focus on Finley’s Corner, lessons he is learning, that we also can learn from.  As an example, a lesson he learned after Christmas family celebrations? We all need rest after a long day. Look for an Instagram link soon!

~More days of retreat and mornings of information.  There are two we are looking at now, in addition to two in conjunction with others we have been invited to or are co-offering.

March 7 – Unfolding to Yourself:  Understanding Self and Spirit

May 16 – Professionals with Brain Injury:  Couples Facing Change

~Watch for the addition of concierge counseling services soon both for brain injury and personal growth clients – with special information pages, some case management built-in for no additional charge, consults with other professionals on your behalf, priority scheduling to meet your schedule, and other tips or help.

~More teletherapy appointments available to you.

So, as you are beginning your new year, here’s a deepening question for you to consider and write about:  What do I need to do to lean into my own life more fully? Write for 10 minutes and stop. Step away from the writing for a few moments.  Reread it and write down one action step to take or new awareness you have.  It might be set a reminder to write tonight before retiring for 10 minutes.  It might be to spend 5 minutes of your walk in silence, not talking with anyone with you, but taking in what you are seeing.  It might be saying a prayer or writing a prayer to your Higher Power tonight at bedtime.  Then go – live your life as it is unfolds today (including football and friends).  Begin each day with this – and just watch your life transform and deepen this year.

With care and encouragement to dare to dive more deeply into who you are,

Dr. Beth

In my own deepening understanding of myself
find my capacity to serve others is deepened as well.
The 
better I am at selfcare
the more 
genuinely nurturing of others I am able to be.
– 
Mary Anne Radmacher

Delving Deeper Into My Spirituality and God

Lenten season is upon us once again and as we have begun, I’ve noticed a similar theme crop up in a couple of places and it’s had me thinking, how is my relationship with God at the moment? Am I letting Him in, and growing? Or am I going through my busy life with time only for church on Sunday and prayers for sick ones, people I’m concerned for, guidance for myself? That type of superficial relationship is not what fills me up the best. Am I listening to Him? Are you?

The first quote that resonated with me was posted on social media by a friend:

When I was younger, I thought Lent was about giving up something I liked and that was it.

As I’ve grown older, I pray now, “Jesus, what’s keeping me from you?” Usually, I already know the answer. It’s usually the one thing, action, or thought I don’t want to give up.

But every time I do give something up, or take on something else, allowing and inviting Jesus the time and space to change me, I’ve grown in love and sacrifice. “He loved His own in the world, and He loved them to the end.” -John 13:1

He’s longing to love you this Lent.

He’s longing to lead you deeper this Lent.

He’s longing to call you this Lent.

What’s keeping you from Him?

Her comments really hit home and challenged me to look at my life and how I could improve my relationship with God during this Lenten season. This led me to search a few other books, blogs, and videos highlighting Lent as well as my relationship with God.  I found a wonderful video posted which focused on our relationship and how Lent can re-energize our relationship with God.  You can see it at Lent , but be sure to listen to the entire thing or go to about the last minute and a half.  As I’ve been mulling over these in the last 2 days  another voice popped in from a popular blogger I follow, Emily of Jones Design Company. She writes:

In my lifetime of following Jesus, I can only count a few times when I know I’ve heard God speak to me. There are lots of times when He speaks through scripture, music, dreams, conversations or nature. I adore these special moments of closeness and connection.

This time was different.

It wasn’t a conversation or an affirmation. It wasn’t even in response to something I had been talking with Him about. It was a catch-you-off-guard, clear as day directive.

It’s time to write.

I stopped mid-tread, listened, and agreed.

The first two encounters above made me truly consider what is keeping me from allowing me to be closer to my God.  Not just through my actions showing my belief; but also knowing more about Him/Her and especially trusting and allowing Him to really know me.  Offering up the openness in myself to really allow Him to enrich my life and grow in my spirituality, healing; and, in turn, in my own loving, supporting, and giving to others. When I read Emily’s quote it made me wonder whether I’m spending the time to really listen for God, for His word, or for what I’m to learn through different experiences.  In other words, am I responding to my God when He/She is calling me to love me and be with and in relationship.  The question is really one of whether I am allowing intimacy, or deeper intimacy, with God.

What is intimacy with God?  I believe time spent with and quality of that time together with the other(s) are always signs of intimacy in human relationships.  Is this really any different that with God?  I don’t think so.  And in reviewing what others have said I found these additionally:

  1.  There’s an excellent article titled, “5 Ways to Improve Your Relationship with God“,  and one suggestion is to “Abide and Meditate”.  This means finding some time for silence each day. Set a time in your schedule–while you have your morning coffee, just before you go to sleep, or sometime in between–that you turn off your devices, pick up the word of God and really read it and ponder it. Maybe a verse, maybe a chapter, maybe a book. Meditate on what you’ve read and really internalize the meaning.

2.  One of my favorite authors is Thomas Keating, OCSO, a Franciscan priest who truly           gave us all a gift when he was shared how Centering Prayer can allow us to enter a           more intimate, and deep, relationship with God through Centering Prayer.  As he said:       “As we move from conversation to communion with God’s human and divine nature,         Christ, we experience the divine intimacy. ” (You can read more about this form of             prayer at Centering Prayer).

3.  The closeness so evident that God hears us before we even turn to Him or know                  what we need:  “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will                  hear” (Isaiah 65:24).

So now I believe some are asking, what does faith have to do with my psychological functioning?  I’m going to take a risk here and say, it has everything to do with our functioning in life emotionally.  When I presented a workshop last year the intersection between the two was clear, it allows us to be whole people.

Spirit and Psych Intersection

If we look at this, we notice that the first item is related to intimacy and authenticity in our relationships.  Thus as we have a lived sense of spirituality, and this means a healthy spiritual practice, then we will experience more intimacy with others as well.  In Lent, a major focus is that of developing our relationships with God and others.  Any tradition can borrow from this, and take on a period of 40 days to focus on our Higher Power, our God. Colleen’s post indicated that her deeper question for this period this year is what is keeping her from accepting God’s love and being more deeply in a relationship with God.  My suggestion for each and every one of you is to ask yourself:

  1.  What is keeping me from a deeper relationship in my spiritual life?  Is it laziness, or is it fear, or is it a lack of awareness of relationship and has become more rote practice?  Or, is it _________________________?  Fill in your own blank.
  2.  What is one step that I can take during this time to grow psychologically and spiritually?  Do I need to spend more time with God in a way that is meaningful to me on a regular basis?  I am committing to go to some Taize prayer services (see Taize Prayer for an idea about these services if you’re interested).  For some this will be through nature.  I loved Episcopal Bishop Kirk Smith’s e-Pistle where he recently wrote about nature and God.  In it he was discussing Richard Rohr’s quote:  “Ever since God created the world, God’s everlasting power and deity–however invisible–have been there for the mind to see in the things God has made” as well as Thomas Acquinas’ quote: “Sacred writings are bound in two volumes–that of creation and that of Holy Scripture.”  So perhaps this can be a way to come closer to your Higher Power, your God, this season.  Or, perhaps it needs to be in centering prayer as I mentioned above.  Or, for does it need to be through gratitude?  This is in part the recognition that your Higher Power is at your side even during the times of difficulty. Whether all is well in life at present or you have challenges you’re facing, God’s plan is in place. Thus focusing on recalling the moments where you have been blessed and offer up thanks.  Again, fill in your own blank here:  The step I will take this Lent to inspire my relationship with God is to ____________________________________.
  3. Am I an active participant in my relationship to God or within my spiritual walk?  Many have written about this and how to be more active.  Perhaps read “A Praying Life” by Paul Miller that focuses on how to live in this busy world we have and yet still stay connected with God.  Or, perhaps taking the 7 steps each day that Joyce Rupp talks about, see 7 Steps of Morning .  Maybe it will be watching movies that lead you to deeper awareness of how to be more connected spiritually, like Walking the Camino or The Shack.  Or perhaps looking to music to inspire your spiritual participation with God.  Never tried listening to chants?  Or what about Tibetan bowls?  Or perhaps gospel music is more your speed, but with an Elvis twist:  Lead Me Guide Me  For me, a beautiful classic piece can do it, as can Every Grain of Sand by Bob Dylan and sung by Emmylou Harris at  Every Grain of Sand .Get creative – how can you experience, try new activities to express your feelings or thoughts in relationship with God or in a spiritual manner.  So, answer this question:  I will try a new spiritual practice to become more aware of my participation in relationship to God by ____________________________.

You now have three steps you can take this Lent.  Are you going to use this Lenten season as I am, to delve deeper into your relationship with God? Some focused effort in these coming weeks may really deepen your faith and bring you greater peace. Will you join me?

universe-1044107_1280

 

 

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.

butterfly-3810561_1280

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.

applesatcabin

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.

Eldridge

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

parade
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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Managing our Emotional and Physical Health through the Holiday Season

Holidays Ahead

Is your holiday season different this year?  Maybe you must work and can’t be at events with family or friends.  Perhaps you are feeling depressed and anxious already, and as you are learning to manage it, with holidays upon you, you are feeling you’ll never get hold of the emotions.  It’s possible someone close to you died this year, and the point of holidays seems removed from you.  Or maybe you are struggling with an illness and so the thought of holidays, food, or get-togethers just isn’t as important to you as you deal with the illness.  Whatever may be different this year for you, perhaps we can simplify it a bit and make your holidays seem more possible, more manageable, and doable.

  1. Keep Calm and Take 3 Deep Breaths

Keep calm and 3 deep breaths

So, the idea here is to just stop – slow down – breath.  For those of you who have anxiety, pain, or need to take a bit more time, I love this practice and recommend it regularly.  For the breaths:

  1. Breath in slowly through your nose to the count of 4;
  2. Hold that breath to the count of 7;
  3. Release the breath to the count of 8.

Dr. Weil has a demonstration and discusses it at https://www.drweil.com/videos-features/videos/the-4-7-8-breath-health-benefits-demonstration/.

  1. Give Up Perfectionism

This is one of my weaknesses, if not the one that is most difficult to deal with during the holidays.  I may want to do it all, have all the gifts perfectly wrapped, have the exact right gift for everyone, and then also have the perfectly cleaned home, decorated beautifully and completely, and still get cards out to everyone, plan and prepare meals that I find either new and healthy or older and traditional, be at each of the events I’m invited to, and then also be sure that for each group I am a part of also be at their activities as well.  Well, those who know me know that those things don’t all happen, in fact, over the years I’ve reduced what I aim for and then work on the most important first, then drop what I can’t get done as I keep moving through the holiday season with enjoyment.  Brene Brown’s quote sums up what happens when we are not diligent in evaluating what we can do (healthy striving) and perfectionism:

Perfectionism

So, stay out of paralysis, exhaustion, reduce anxiety and depression, and work toward healthy striving.  One year it may be a minimal holiday season, another more involved.  Either way, the healthier you move through the Thanksgiving through New Year’s holidays, the better and healthier you are on January 2.

  1. Adjust how you shop

This is very important, particularly if you are ill, short on cash and want to be solvent in January, or just don’t have the energy to go out into the shopping malls for Christmas or Hanukkah gifts.  You don’t need to put miles on your car to do so.  What about simply ordering on-line from stores?  What about catalogues?  Or, you could consider ordering gift cards and making a wonderful card to enclose them in.  I love to do this for families, in particular, and get the gift certificate towards a family activity, be it bowling, a pizza night out, a movie, or their local favorite activity like a zoo.  All of this can frequently be done via computer or tablet or phone call.

Danielles Christmas gift

The other thing you can do is share from your heart.  You might consider making their favorite baked good and writing a personal note on it.  Or, write out your most precious memory about your time with them.  One year I bought a calendar and put little notes throughout the year in it of what I appreciated in the person, reminders they are loved, and wishes for important days in their life.  My friend loved it – and felt closer all year although we lived hundreds of miles apart.  And I still have a gift my niece made for me when she was just a little girl:

Finally, you can get creative.  Check out Pinterest for ideas.  Ask your friends for their thoughts or what they’ve done.  The goal here is to keep it simple and low stress whatever you choose to purchase or make.

  1. Plan first for down time, for a break, for the rest you need.

It seems so vanilla to plan for the rest before you plan for the day or week.  However, the biggest problem we have is with fatigue.  When we are tired, not resting, over-done, we do not deal with the rest of life as well.  According to Mental Health America we need rest not just to regrow our energy reserves, but also regulate some of our hormones, repair muscles, enhance cognitive processes including memory, and help keep depression and headaches at bay.  Have you ever noticed dogs?  They love to go and do and be with us.  However, they also love to sleep.

Murphy Christmas Morn 2015

They are generally better than we are at assuring they get what they need in rest.  I was recently reminded by my dog’s trainer that Murphy needs downtime with me, but I need downtime and rest to best be alpha to him, and so allow him to keep relaxing.  So – for your own sake, please remember to book this first.

  1. Make some time for feelings. 

It’s hard to allow feelings during holidays if we feel that we must be “up”, “happy”, “excited” and instead feel tired, are grieving, or are depressed or anxious.  It’s much easier to move through this time of year if you take the time to acknowledge what you’re feeling on a regular basis.  You can journal, talk with a close friend or loved one, see your therapist, draw a picture, cry, or simply acknowledge to yourself what you are feeling.  When we own what we are feeling it becomes easier to then move forward and make a decision about how we are going to deal with our feelings at the time.  Sometimes just writing it down or saying it aloud to ourselves or another allows the intensity to reduce and lets you move forward to something else.  Remember that when

Acknowledge feelings

From:  http://wantirnawellnesscentre.com

we avoid feelings we just delay experiencing them and the usual result is expressing them in ways or at times we wish they hadn’t come out.  Five minutes of journaling or quietly being still with oneself can do a lot to overcome the feelings back up that often occurs.

  1. Finally, remember to watch your exercise and foods/drinks you consume.

Although we may give ourselves permission to eat and drink more at times during the holidays, do remember that we need to also make the choice to keep up on water, exercise or take a walk if possible, put limitations on sugars and alcohol, and keep the vitamin and self-care rituals we generally use in our days.  We all tend to know these things, and it can be hard to follow through, but remember that even one day that we follow our guidelines the healthier we’ll be the next time we choose to allow ourselves to try the desserts, have a hot toddy, or don’t walk. Obviously if you have an addiction, be sure protect your sobriety.  An extra meeting might be just what you need on a particular day or days.  For Christmas, did you know that many areas have 24 hours of meetings in one location for those struggling on Thanksgiving and Christmas?  If you’re in Phoenix, try this on over Christmas:

Christmas Alcathon:  Marathon meetings every hour Noon – Noon (except during speaker meetings)

12/24

3:00 pm   Old Timers Meeting
8:00 pm   Speaker Meeting

12/25
10:00 am  Speaker Meeting

It is held at American Royal Palace Banquet Hall – 1915 W Thunderbird Rd, Phoenix  85023

You can also always call the 24-hour line for meetings 602-264-1341. 

Load how you carry it

This is a time of year that the above quote is very meaningful – it’s not how much we are dealing with in life during the holidays, it’s how we are carrying it.  And this includes all of the ideas above and others that you may find are even more meaningful to you.  Remember that spirituality goes a long way this time of year.  Reading, meditating, going to church or temple, or otherwise getting in touch with our faith and connection to a higher power is essential.  I need more candles and music this time of year, in addition to being sure that I’m taking time for church and quiet on Sundays.  The sabbath is an essential part of life, as those who are Christian and Jewish learn.  A day of rest, taken away from other activities to allow for focus on one’s relationship with God, Yahweh, Christ, is something that can be adjusted for in any faith walk.  And even without faith, one essentially can choose to take a day apart to rest and refresh.  This is so important through the holiday season.  From Thanksgiving when we may want to take 15 minutes to write a gratitude list, to Christmas and Hanukkah services, to new year’s moments for reflection and thoughtful processing of one’s goals and accomplishments, these moments allow us to be more grounded, fully alive, and connected with our spiritual force.  Be sure not to cut your holidays short by not taking this time regularly.

So, go and enjoy the turkey and cranberries and pie this Thursday on Thanksgiving.  And remember to take the above ideas into consideration if things get hectic during the week.  Then approach each day through December in a similar way, taking care of yourself within what is healthy for you – not as you “should” or “shouldn’t” need to do.  And have a most wonderful 5 weeks!

Blessings warmly sent to you,

Take care,

Dr. Beth

 

 

 

 

Why? Why Not?

darkest night bridge

In a week like this one, with the deaths and massive injuries in Las Vegas, I hear “why” even more than usual.  But I often hear “why” with those I have the privilege to serve who have and are suffering the impact of severe accidents, those who are so bright and have such positive futures ahead of them and now have head injuries and the recovery is stalled.  I speak with those who have cancer, or whose loved ones have it and are dying.  I speak with people who simply wonder why they haven’t been able to change something they have wanted to so badly.  And truth be told, I also ask myself this at times.

And yet, the truth is, why not me?  What do I think is so special about me, that bad life experiences should not happen?  I remember hearing someone share this very sentiment a few years ago, and wish I could find the source for it.  But I do remember as a younger woman voicing a question of why and someone saying why not you, and I was angered.  It felt like an attack.  I do not mean it in that way at all, and likely that person did not either.  But I do think we need to ask it in the way Eric Church did this week in his sharing and new song “Why Not Me”.  Take the time to listen to him, please, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqCYKFXfRb0 .

As individuals we each need to struggle with this internally and in conversation when the most difficult life events occur around us.  The times we are called upon to rally all of our support and face that most difficult experience in life that we are uncertain we can handle, i.e.:  loss of a loved one, rejection by a spouse or significant other, life threatening illness, end of life, traumatic head injury, life changing event that requires we reconstruct our lives thoroughly, or even an internal life-time struggle that seems impossible to change, each call for specific actions and resources.

Therapeutically we would suggest a person sit with the feelings, see what is really in front and within, and breathe through the feelings.  Journal, draw what is within, in some way allow oneself to face it.  In doing so, we increase awareness rather than run; allow movement of the pain or shame or fear rather that avoid it; and, in the end we are in a new place and not pushed to addiction – money, food, alcohol, work, or drugs; but rather, we regain center.  The same concept is suggested by Pema Chodron in the “no more struggle” meditation.  However, she sticks with breathing and returning, breathing and returning, until the strong feelings are reduced and one is able to face what is going on outside oneself or within and allow it without judgment.  Only then, she says, can the issue or feeling be resolved.  From a Christian perspective, Fr. Thomas Keating would say it is called prayer or centering or contemplative prayer, all with a focus of resting in God.

After we have done this, only after, can we move forward and know how to pick up our feet and keep moving.  Taking the next step ahead in life, but taking it as we move into life, not retreat from it.  A young man mentioned to me something I had hear others say – that a friend instead wanted to retreat and not go out and keep living after the Las Vegas shootings.  After this week his friend had decided to go to no more concerts, events, etc.  His friend, and others I’ve heard say similar things, are not moving through to keep living.  They are stuck in the fear and anger; and have no way to move through into life.  Action is important – freezing and being stuck is not healthy and builds walls, not bridges.

Bridges are very important in life and in moving forward when a huge life event hits us and makes us ask why, or why not, me.  I had never read the poem “The Bridge” by Robert Wadsworth Longfellow until pondering this topic.  I came across it and it is so very rich with metaphor and meaning, but I’m going to take a few stanzas out to focus on in this article.  He says after many years of nights when he went to the bridge when life seemed so difficult and he watched the tide go in and out:

How often, O, how often,

In the days that had gone by,

I had stood on that bridge at midnight

And gazed on that wave and sky!

For my heart was hot and restless,

And my life was full of care,

And the burden laid upon me

Seemed greater than I could bear.

But now it has fallen from me,

It is buried in the sea.

As I read this I thought how often we do have experiences in life that give us pause to think.  We may walk our neighborhoods, much like Mr. Longfellow did when he went to ponder near a bridged waterway.  And if we walk, meditate, ponder, pray, stay with our feelings and thoughts we cross a bridge as we put down our cares.  We no longer carry the feelings of pain, terror, shame, or anxiety.  And so we can move forward into life.  We can move forward despite the fact bad things still happen to good people, life does fall apart at times, cancer ravages bodies, brain injuries can significantly change one’s life direction.  And yet, as author and speaker Jonathan Lockwood Huie says, “The darkest night is often the bridge to the brightest tomorrow”.  Don’t miss your bridge – go seek it out as Mr. Longfellow did, as the young man in my office did, as Eric Church, Pema Chodron, and Fr. Keating have all done.  Calm, serenity, release, God, hope for a new tomorrow are all there once you do.