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!
It’s been quite a start to 2017, hasn’t it? As a country we have waited, and now have, a new president in office; and this brings reactions for most, regardless of the person we voted for in November. The news and social media filled with stories, pictures, editorials, and comments from the public. I can’t look at my personal Facebook page without being inundated with posts pro and con. Whatever else 2017 brings we have a year of change, growth, and living life in the middle of it.
It’s living life in the middle that is what so many of us look for in guidance, support, ideas, and spiritual support. I spent a couple of hours, as I do each Sunday morning, reading and listening to spiritual and psychological leaders. This is my weekly reset time. The burdens of the world, my life, my family’s lives, my clients, and my friends can weigh heavy at times, other times lightly, but I need reset time regardless. I came across an author of whom I’d not previously become acquainted, Frederick Buechner. One of the themes I understand his writing talks about is that of “listening to your life”. I might call it paying attention, or living life in the middle. Essentially, he is saying we have to be aware of what is happening in and around us each day, and by noting these things we learn about ourselves. He also says to listen within to our quiet places, to Spirit within, to memories, reactions, discernment, and guidance we are given.
As I pursued this thought today I also thought about hope. What Buechner was saying, in essence, is that there is always hope if we go within; by doing so we will grow, and that enables us to deal with our faults, life around us, and each other. An unusual source who was talking of hope this morning was Tom Brokaw in an interview with Maria Shriver. He reminded her, and me, that hope also requires action. So while Buechner reminded me to go within and listen, Brokaw reminded me that then I must determine what step I need to take, to choose to be active in my community, country, and world.
Finally, I listened to Henri Nouwen, who in his writing reminded me that both are intertwined. If I go within, in solitude, I strengthen my connection to community. Thus, in going to my center I can connect to others at their centers. This brings deeper connection, but also requires deeper respect, trust, and also requires action where called. An unusual thought came to me as I pondered this. I recalled a conversation with my father when he was 83 or 84. In trying to make a decision on a ballot he asked my thoughts, and shared he had also asked my brother’s opinion. He wasn’t going to follow either of us blindly, but he was attempting to discern what to choose. We had a thoughtful decision on the topic and I never did know what he decided. But his decision required that he go within, then reach out to community, and finally go back within to decide and then act.
I believe in tumultuous times we all need reminders of the basics. This applies to personal upheaval such as a new diagnosis, or death of a loved one, or a job not panning out as hoped; and it applies to business decisions, personal choices; as well it applies to community or national situations such as a police officer killed or lock down at a school due to violence. In the many situations and events we are confronted with weekly we can remain balanced as we go within, go to Spirit, and then reach out. There is nothing earth shaking or new above. But the truth, from writings years ago, discussions 10 years ago, and last week’s interview all came together to remind me to go back to the basics. In doing so I was reminded of my own belief, as Brokaw said, “there is always hope”.
(See Tom Brokaw’s interview, “I am hopeful” with Maria Shriver in The Sunday Paper).
I am imagining that if you are like most people, and like me, you’ve been bombarded with ideas to use as resolutions for 2017, ideas of how to change something you’ve struggled with for quite some time, or even struggling with shame that you haven’t been able to successfully make that change. Perhaps it’s now your New Year’s Resolution for 2017. I’d like you to stop for a minute. Put the resolution down. And consider Parker Palmer’s words:
“There is always something meaningful I can do to honor the gift of life in myself, others, and the world around us.” -Parker Palmer
This reminded me of four-wheeling with a friend and her father years ago. We were in western Colorado, in the Ouray area. Hidden there is a wonderful place called Box Canyon Falls. Wonder how it got its name? Well, aside from being a formal name for a canyon with only one entrance/exit, this is one in which you have to hike or walk down the walkway for a short 500’, but within is a beauty. A real surprise to me as I’d never been there. Down inside, in relative dark, was a 285’ waterfall. The sounds resonated against the “box” sides, and the beauty has never been truly captured in any picture I’ve taken or seen – including the one above. What is so special, I think, is that there is such a gift after walking down. And the pure quiet except for the water gushing is incredible. That remains one of my favorite waterfalls today – although I have to admit I’ve seen other beautiful ones in Hawaii and Alaska. But this one, such a surprise, was a true gift to me.
Let’s consider this in light of the new year and Palmer’s quote. Perhaps, even in a small canyon we can make progress in owning a part of ourselves as a gift, and seeing the gifts around us. Initially I questioned how a waterfall could even exist in the bottom of a canyon, with no sight of the sky above. Obviously, we can find water underground, but there was something quite special in the fact all of this – water, the fall, and beauty around was protected within the canyon. How about the strength you might have? Perhaps by owning that strength, that beauty, you can enjoy 2017 more than you’re thinking a few days in, and perhaps even wavering on the resolution made, or the fact the resolution has been broken already. Well, on that walk down I had a resolution to do the walk – despite my fear of walking on bridges, and I was so grateful. In finding my courage, I was able to see even more beauty around me.
So does that mean no resolution? Well, I think we might be better to consider it recreating, or reconfiguring, or redesigning. Frankly we could take the “re” off and decide to create, configure, design our life as we go into 2017. That would also mean there’s not something we need to undo, but something new for which to aim or even simply allow to unfold. In other words, and from the concepts of Eckhart Tolle in “The Power of Now” when he says, “The only place where you can experience the flow of life is in the Now, so to surrender is to accept the present moment unconditionally and without reservation”; to those of St. Paul in Philippians 3:13 when he says, “No, dear brothers [and sisters], I am still not all I should be, but I am bringing all of my energies to bear on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead” (The Way,1972), our goal needs to be present focused or future focused. And in that, as they say and as Palmer says above, we are going to be amazed with the results and what we find in beauty and meaning.
Going back to Box Canyon, guess what else I found, as I had no expectations? I found a beautiful creek within as well.
So as we look at moving forward, accepting what we see and working on creating new experiences, behaviors, or life we also will find special facets of something we aren’t expecting. While there is a time to look at the past to move forward, in the case of change of behavior, it is often the moving forward and change that is more important. While I walked down the stairs, it was important to stay in the moment in this beautiful place and open myself to what was in front of me. It was fun to walk around the edges of this water and feel the sense of calm there, but also the sense of quiet amidst the pounding of the falls I’d just seen outside this small area.
I invite you to make a new climb this year. Not “out of” where you were, or are; but “up into” a new life experience and so also experience the special uniqueness within; the beauty of what is around you in other people as well as in the geography; and recognize what is meaningful in your life, self, others, and world.
It’s an interesting time of year. Especially this year. I’m finding that there is more stress in my office – people are struggling with everything from depression to new cancer diagnoses to severe anxiety over the state of the nation to concerns for those in/leaving Aleppo to fears related to Russia and the last election to family issues surrounding get togethers – whether Christmas, Hanukkah, or other family times to concern for the rights of all groups – LBGTQ, Dakota Sioux at the pipeline location, cultures, and ethnicities of all kinds. I’m finding the issues as numerous as the people listen to and speak with and yet as consistent. And I’m finding that at the end of this week, many are needing more support than usual. And this isn’t just clients – it’s also friends and loved ones. The end of 2016 is heralding more anxiety than I’ve seen in my office in a very long time.
So, how to manage? How to find the moments of enjoyment? To allow peace in at a level that surpasses the heightened emotional state. I’ll share some of what I find personally helpful. Perhaps some will resonate with you.
About the World: Choose one issue that you can take action on and then decide what it will be.
Is there an issue calling you more than another? Some protest, some pray, some accept, some wait to see, some advocate, some chant. If your choice is pray, then pray daily about that issue at a certain time, and then put it away. If you advocate, find a group that you can work with on this. Or go to a vigil of peace. Donate to a group. But choose that one thing – we can’t deal with everything – we can’t impact everything – but we can choose one and be one.
Here are some resources:
Fears for America/Russia/Future : Check out Bend the Arc Jewish Action PAC, meditate for world peace or bring it down to just the USA, or consider the meaning in Rumi’s words and decide what step you can take to prosper this idea:
Out beyond ideas of wrong and right,
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.
Remember to limit all your activity to a specified amount of time so that it doesn’t leak out into your entire day and life. Perhaps 10 minutes a day? Perhaps an hour? No more than that – you do need to also live the life you’ve got.
About Family and Friends and Demands: Well, this seems to always bring challenges during holiday times. Holidays are wonderful and yet the pain of childhood, difficult interactions with someone in your family, or just managing all the family requests and friend requests can be challenging. Take charge of it this weekend.
Sit down with your spouse/partner/self and list all the possibilities for the next two weeks. The parties, services, friends you want to see or those who want to see you, the things you want to do alone, the things you want to do together. Now – what is realistic? Cull it down in some fashion. Perhaps going from:
ALL the requests and hopes
Those you really want to do
Those you really do NOT want to do
Those you need to do – add to the really want to do list
That’s your list – what you’re going to do.
Now take out your calendar and put each of these items into the family calendar. Add the professional demands as well. Is there a conflict of items? If so – decide what to do. Modify the times, limit the activity, decline an invitation, make a choice not to do one.
See how the final calendar looks. Then see how you’re feeling about it. If you are immediately tense, then perhaps something must go. Look at it again – and breath. If you are finding the peace doesn’t improve, then take a break, go back to it.
My personal recipe for a better holiday season:
1 cup spiritual time
1 cup exercise
1 cup demands for chores around the house
2 cups relaxation time – read, watch a movie, extra time with Murphy (the dog), an extra walk
2 cups family time
2 cups friend/social time (I’m an introvert though, an extrovert may need more, adjust to taste)
Add spices to taste (music, candles, cuddly pj’s, a cup of decaf tea, a special book)
Mix with care and then spoon out into daily portions.
Sprinkle liberally with love.
Take only one portion each day!
Ongoing Concerns: This is the depression, new cancer diagnosis, health concern, business challenge(s), etc. All of this I believe we need to both care for and limit. There are only so many business days between now and the 31st of December. Only so many hours at work. And even if we need the MRI for the dog, the PET scan to evaluate cancer and how it’s spreading – or not, the blood test results for our health concern, or the resolution of our depression – only so much CAN happen in the next 15 days.
Today, for example, I needed to schedule an MRI for Murphy. And no matter how much I wanted that done today – I could not control all of those who had to work to make that happen. So, I had to work to accept, look, I’ve done all I can, it’s either going to be scheduled today, or I’ll see what I can do on Monday. One last call came and it happened. Then the printing job came back not exactly as it was expected to look. I could get upset – or I could realize it looks fine, just not as expected. So…acceptance was in order. But each was a choice. I wish I could say I reacted so well each day, I don’t, I’m not perfect, but thankfully today I was able to work on acceptance one thing at a time. And, in the midst, I kept a priority to be present to my clients – anything else could wait.
So, what am I suggesting? Again, decide what and how much time to give the items on your agenda. Today mine were;
- Get Murphy to vet
- Take action on what vet suggests
- See clients
- Write blog
- Look at report
- Handle emails
What helped was the agenda set ahead of time. And knowing that I could always add more – if I had time. But otherwise, this was it. Tonight – that’s different. I see tea, a good book, and music in my future. But for now – I’m finishing up the business, then going to do some shopping.
So – let’s all try this – one day at a time. One agenda item at a time. And remember the mix – include some spirituality (today it’s music for me) and exercise (walking).
May you find your own recipe for peace today.
Guest Blogger Danielle Counihan with Beth Sikora, PhD
Well, it’s the holiday season, and if your life is anything like mine, everything is at a higher pitch with more demands for time, energy, and thought. Many of Christian faith, me included, prepare through the Advent period preceding Christmas. A time of preparation, going inward to prepare for the birth of Christ remembered, the birth within each of us, and the birth of a new time. What a contrast to the harried preparation for “holidays” – shopping, cooking, wrapping, planning schedules, etc. that both Christians and Jewish prepare for in looking forward to Christmas and Hanukkah. This year I’m following an on-line retreat and the focus is to daily “be still” – stop, quiet, be still.
Given that in the midst of this preparation the stress combined with family interactions and even drama that happens, as well as the overall busyness, this period of time can present a difficult combination for maintaining strong mental health. Fortunately, as we began to learn last month, the bullet journal provides an amazing platform to see trends, set, and track goals, as well as vent frustrations in a healthy way. As we look forward to this new month, and a new year, we also want to start thinking about our new goals, and new ways, better ways of tracking them.
One way we can do this is by visualizing where we are and choosing one or two areas we want to improve when it comes to our balanced mental health. Here is one layout that could be helpful as a monthly check in. This layout focuses on the mandala- a symbol of a balanced life – and is a great way to see how in balance one’s life is. This balance is what can help bring us peace this holiday season.
This layout focuses on the mandala -on a balanced life. (I’ve written more about this mandala ). On the left page, we have the mandala with each area of mental health in a different color. I did the shading by going through each area and self-evaluating on a scale of 1 to 10 how I felt I was doing in each area, with a 10 being that I’m doing really well in that area and 1 being very poorly. This is a great way to see how out of balance our lives can become if we do not make balance our focus. It also enables us to see easily where we need the most improvement.
On the right hand page, I wrote out each area and gave myself ideas for goals. This next month, as I’m walking through my Advent, I’m going to focus on the three areas that are in the lower range- intellectual, spiritual, and emotional- and work on the goals respective to those areas. Then, at the end of the month, I will re-evaluate and see if I have improved and make new goals for January and the New Year.
Now, the question is, how does this help us prepare for the holidays? I know for myself, being in balance, that is, knowing that I am striving toward good health in all areas of my life, helps me to deal with stress with a much more peaceful attitude. When I know that I am at peace with myself, I am better able to be at peace with others and things out of my control. As we prepare for these holidays, we can strive to balance our lives, thus bringing peace to our lives and enabling us to truly enter into the holidays fully. Preparing for Hanukkah and Christmas give us wonderful opportunities to evaluate our lives and see what we have that we can be thankful for, how we have grown over the past year, and prepare to set new goals to take into the new year. As I don’t always do this as well on my own, I also am doing a program for the Advent and post-Christmas period. As I mentioned, the focus on Be Still each day. So for the spiritual piece of my pie I am spending time each day in readings and praying, and even listening to outside sources of music. One piece I enjoy that is short and yet slows my heart and pace is Be Still by The Fray. You can listen to it on Be Still. So get creative a bit, even the 5 minutes to search out a new idea to implement will slow you down.
As we end and you continue your walk this December, think about how you need to balance your life to enhance your peace within and without this year. How can the mandala help you find peace and balance? Set one or two goals from this, make them realistic, and be still as you prepare for the holidays.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Here are two weekly view options, one a fairly simple one and the other a little more detailed.
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.
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.
If you have a hard time thinking of things to journal about, a go-to journal prompt page is a great idea.
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.
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
Adversity happens to every one of us. We have our difficult moments in life, don’t we? And yet, how often do we believe that we shouldn’t have to go through adversity or difficulty? Years ago M. Scott Peck wrote: “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths” in his book “The Road Less Traveled”. And, he says, when we recognize this, when we “get it”, we stop fighting it, we accept it, then the fact it’s difficult no longer matters.
I have a very good friend going through a months long period of adversity. She began with a surgery in July and 3 months and 4 surgeries later she is just beginning a recovery from the final surgery a week ago. It’s been interesting watching and listening to her. I’ve been astounded by her courage at times, and concerned about her fear and whether she had the fortitude for the next step at times. A few weeks ago I saw a real change in her. In talking that day, I asked her about it, and she smiled. She shared that as she was facing this time in her life she decided there must be things she was to learn. There must be a greater reason that she hadn’t yet found in what was happening. And so she began looking for those reasons. As she was beginning to ask these questions she began to see life in a new way.
Peck says that only as we face problems, such as my friend did, that our courage is called forth, that we grow spiritually – or intellectually, that we learn we have more capacity than we had thought we had to solve problems and learn and grow. We learn that we don’t have to give up to get through something, which really doesn’t work; but instead learn something new about ourselves, life, or intellectually learn a new skill to actually implement.
As my friend accepted that her situation was not okay, i.e.: her leg was injured, she began to move forward. It’s not easy to recognize one’s vulnerabilities. Even something as simple as the canoers in this picture. If they were in the middle of a thunderstorm and being tossed around by waves it definitely would NOT be feeling ok. And the situation would not be okay – it would be difficult and even potentially dangerous. To stop and give up means essentially death to the canoer in that situation. But to use all one has learned about canoeing, to call on the courage within one might not have been aware was even there, to reach up in prayer or out to spirit will allow one to get through the situation in a new way. The philosopher Seneca said many, many years ago, “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage”. But courage doesn’t mean we have to do it alone. On the contrary, courage can mean asking for help.
My friend also realized this. As she accepted the difficulty and began looking for the lesson, she also began asking for help. She still has much of the burden of getting through this journey in her life just as we all must own in our own lives. But, she began asking for help for things she didn’t know about or couldn’t do. From asking for emotional support to asking for someone to pick up something for her at her home, to asking for prayers and thanking each person who helps her at the physical rehab facility; she stopped trying to do everything alone and control everything. And I think control is a big issue in this whole concept of life being difficult. Byron Katie said something interesting about our desire or attempt to control our lives: “If you want real control, drop the illusion of control. Let life live you. It does anyway.” So, in my friend’s situation she needed to look at the control she did have – how to choose her attitude and reach out and up. But release the control over what happened in her life, the illusion of control she went in with the day she had her first surgery. This is a tough one for me as well. I want to think if I do x, y, and z nothing bad will happen, or I’ll get a specific outcome. But I’ve learned more and more all I can do is the next right thing to do. I have to then wait and see where life takes me. And then work with what it is.
So this fall, as you’re looking at holidays and how they might not be what you want, or children who don’t bring home the grades you want, or the boss who is demanding something from you that is hard to reach, or the illness suddenly thrust on you that you are overwhelmed by, think about my friend. Think about her road from blaming life or others for a difficult situation to realizing she had something to learn and needed to look at it differently, to reaching out and up for help, to letting go of some specific outcome, and think about what you might learn from her lesson. May you accept adversity in the spirit of Napoleon Hill who said, “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit”.
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.
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!
This month is full of various highs and lows. The highs of the Olympic medal winners and the lows of those not moving into the finals. The highs of whomever you support for president having an increase in ratings and lows of whomever you don’t support having a negative press experience. The highs of a child entering kindergarten, and the low of realizing you have no child to see off to their first day of school this year…even though you are proud of their journey to a new state and professional job last spring. And
August brings the high of a new beginning, a new school year that we all somehow respond to in setting goals; and the sharp contrast of a year quickly ending. How does it go so fast, we hear ourselves or others asking. Somewhere amidst all of these we need to find our center, our grounding.
The peaceful person is able to find a way to reach down deep, and stay connected with their inner core of knowing. This is, indeed, how we come to maintain our equilibrium despite changes that swirl all around — both favorable and challenging. I’ve spent a fair amount of time with a friend over the past two weeks. It began with the high of getting a knee replacement (she’d been in a lot of pain, so this was a gift). The surgery and early recovery went fairly well…so favorable change. Then came the fall, broken leg, second
surgery to repair the knee just operated on, and hospitalization that has followed. So the low, the challenge. But I saw a spark in her Friday—one I’d not seen in a long time. Despite the most recent challenge, she was thinking forward, considering changes she needed to make in her life to improve her overall situation. And she was smiling. Was she still in pain? Yes, physically she’s recovering. But there is a soul spark I saw. Hope
for her as she realized she is cared about, she began to care about herself more deeply. She smiled and said, “I guess I needed this wake up call.” So she not only went to her own Olympics, but she is now in the finals, and I’m sure will win the gold.
So what did she do, what did Michael Phelps do after a second DUI over a year ago? First, each got honest with themselves, they faced whatever was hurting them at their core. Second, they each accepted hands reaching out to them, whether friends or doctors. Third, they accepted the truth of their situation and realized they needed to change. Fourth, they made a commitment to change. And fifth, they took the steps to follow through. So today, my friend is accepting and looking forward to rehab and 1-2 weeks of more intense assistance. Michael Phelps went into rehab and also read and studied and realized his higher power was still there. She is reaching for a future much brighter, Phelps is married, has a baby, won another gold with his team, and has plans for a future. (See http://www.relevantmagazine.com/slices/michael-phelps-says-rickwarrens-purpose-driven-life-helped-get-his-life-back-track)
Highs and lows. If we face them rather than run from them we can move forward. Fear no longer paralyzes. And within we find the compass to move us in a stronger direction. But we do so from a place of calm, not panic. With courage and hope, not fear. And with support of others and higher power, not alone and abandoned. Honesty, help, acceptance, commitment, action — the 5 things we must have and be willing to take to turn our lows, our challenges, into the truly venerable, respected, August times of our life. Go for your gold!