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

Go for Your Gold!

Strength Stones

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.

Olympics

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!

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Freedom – Finding it Within!

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

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

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

Courage: The Cowardly Lion Finds Courage Within

There isn’t one of us who has not, at some point or in some area, needed courage. We’re very much like the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. The big difference is that the cowardly lion may be more honest than most of us. He owned his fear, but he’d been stuck in it for a long time. It’s ironic that it takes the very courage we feel we lack to overcome the fear and panic we have.

This weekend I spent time with family celebrating two of my nieces and one niece’s husband as they graduated with bachelor degrees. All of them are in different fields and facing new challenges ahead. As I listened to them I heard a bit of courage, and also heard the fear underlying their future lives. As we all have to do in our early 20’s, they realized a shift in how they will be moving forward, with much more independence and conversely less funding and sense of security. We face changes throughout life, perhaps a career change; maybe a divorce; a move; a new child’s impending arrival; or, even the changes wrought by transitions in the lives of the people who surround us.

There are no surefire fixes, we learned that early in life. But, what do we do to face our fear when courage is needed? The Wizard of Oz offers insight into this as we watch the lion face his.

Name your fear: The lion did share with Dorothy and others that he felt very much afraid. He didn’t always want to go forward, he wanted to hold back, at one point they literally pulled him along the yellow brook road. But naming it, singing about it, drawing how it feels, sharing with safe others our self-doubts, the power behind the fear decreases which in turn allows for the shame to be reduced and support to be garnered.

Start moving: None of the group in the story knows that they will make it to Oz, do they? They are hoping, but they must start to move. Glenda doesn’t start them moving along the path, she merely offers a path – points them in the right direction. Then it is up to each of them to take one step, then another, then another, and keep moving. In fact, though the lion wanted and hoped to gain courage from the Wizard, he didn’t know for sure he could. Often we are also afraid and don’t feel the courage or “enough” courage to bring a new goal or dream to fruition. With each step we take, though, we do bring the possibility closer.

Go to a Higher Power: The cowardly lion and the others were attempting to get to their Higher Power, the Wizard. Glenda was, in a way, a Higher Power, as she knew where to go. One must ask for help – and then wait for the answer. I believe this can be the most difficult step – waiting for an answer and not directing what the answer must be. The lion certainly didn’t expect the answer he got. And often neither do I. But asking and accepting are important steps with our Higher Power.

Get support: Do not do this change alone – reach out to friends, family, support community, coworkers, and/or a spouse. Dorothy, Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Man all needed something and joined forces to find help locating what they sought. Together they were stronger than any one of them could have been alone. So join hands with others, seek out therapy, spiritual direction, or coaching if you need more directed help. There is no shame in that; rather there is wisdom in knowing our limitations.

Courage is not an easy concept and can be a struggle to find within at times. But we generally do survive, grow, and thrive when we face our fears. All it takes is to name our fear, step out with support, and start moving.

May–A Time for Change

May begins tomorrow – and with it come graduations and celebrations of completion from kindergarten, 6th graders moving into middle school, 8th graders moving to high school, high school seniors moving to college or out into the world to work, and college graduates moving onto their own family, career, graduate school or a combination of all three. So many changes, both for the students and the loved ones around them – particularly the parents! I have 3 college graduations to attend and I firmly recall one of the upcoming graduates at 7 years old, competing in horses and another singing beautifully for a Papal visit here. I also had lunch with a step-son from a prior marriage last weekend and he is now in his 40’s – good grief, where did the time go? Certainly he can’t be more than in his 20’s! Life moves all of us forward – whether willingly on our parts or not.

And yet, we do have choices. Take a look at image of the path above – there is an intersection coming up. The walker has the choice – ahead, left, right, or to turn around and go back. So often when faced with these intersections we tie ourselves up in knots – what is THE right step to take? We’re sure this step will set the course of our future. And true, sometimes it does have a strong impact. When I chose not to go right to college from high school it did set a course, but far from a miserable one, it was one in which I gained a much stronger sense of myself, gained confidence, and eventually truly believed I could do what I’d always hoped and go into the field of mental health. As Ernest Hemmingway said, “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end”. The experiences that I had during the next years are what inspired the sureness to go to college and complete the degrees needed and actually begin a practice. So while it seemed like a side road, it truly was a meaningful and important part of my development as a person. And becoming a person we can have faith and respect in is one of the most important lessons in life.

itsnotthejourney

So I would ask you – what is next on your life journey? What have you completed? What have you thought about doing next? If you know what it is – then the next step is finding the courage to take it. Whether moving to a new state, marrying, having a child (if you are younger), or whether it’s learning to live in a home without children returning for summer as they are off on internships and jobs, or perhaps you are looking at the next 20 years ahead and realizing you better develop a new plan as it’s likely the last 20-30 active years you will have, it’s time to sit down and consider what you want to do. Or, perhaps you’re just divorced and this wasn’t what you wanted, you still are in charge of your future. You may have lost a loved one to cancer, heart disease, another health condition or maybe a sudden accident. Regardless of the intersection you are at, you will need to determine what you need to support you in taking the next step, and then in taking it.

Brene Brown said that we need to “Be willing to let go of who you think you are in order to be who you are”. Is that your next step in some way? Then let’s take it together and learn that there is no wrong path, no wrong way, merely a willingness to take the next road, see where we have gone, adjust as needed, and then move again. But what steps to take? Here are a few ideas:

  1. What do you want to do? Come up with even a small start in the plan for what’s next. What will be on that path? Children? A graduate degree? A new place you can decorate as you want and make a reflection of you versus you and him or her? A new job in a new land? (“Oh Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore!”…but how wonderful and how much Dorothy learned in Oz!) Make one part of your plan specific.
  2. Who can and will support you? Sometimes we need to re-evaluate our support. Perhaps the friend who saw you through the divorce remains bitter and you need to move forward without bitterness. Perhaps your best friend is getting married and you are beginning a new career. Rather than becoming angry and resentful that they “don’t understand” see who else in your network, or those who are now around you, who can and wants to support you.
  3. Explore your new path. Are there new things to learn? New adventures or hobbies or interests to explore? Make a list – or a jar with pretty papers folded with different adventures, hobbies, places to explore on each and then go do one!
  4. Journal – notice what is going on each day. Henri Nouwen said: “One of the most satisfying aspects of writing is that it can open in us deep wells of hidden treasures that are beautiful for us as well as for others to see.” What is changing in you? What do you like, not like, want to change? Keep current with yourself.

Are you ready? Here we go…take that first step on whichever path you are taking. One step IS a beginning. Blessings on your road…

 

 

 

 

Spring – Time to be Revived

Spring!!!  My two favorite seasons are fall and spring – so I was thrilled to realize spring was so close and we would be soon enjoying the final celebration of Easter (for those who are Christian).  There are always a lot of articles written about spring and Easter and how both bring new life and hope after a time of darkness.  For those of us in the valley we did have shorter days, but very little cooler weather and lots of warm days once we hit the 70’s on February 6 and it’s never cooled down again according to AccuWeather.com.  So, we are moving into spring with hope for longer days and closer to average temperatures here!  If I consider this in my approach to my life it would be for days full of more of what I hope and want to do with people I love; and average work/life balance.
Recently I was struck again when I was reading about people interviewing for jobs.  The fact that many in Gen X will ask about how employees are able to manage work/life balance is notable.  According to Workplacetrends.com employers are trying to respond to this newer demand with more flexible hours and settings.  Still, 20% of employees are still reporting that they are working an average of 20 hours a week at home in addition to their regular hours at work.  Technology appears to be driving this as employees are no longer working “regular hours” but are expected to be available by phone and/or email even on weekends and evenings.  I hear this often when I see people.  While it varies, I’ve seen it limit severely a client’s ability to do anything due to excessive demands placed on her to the point she became ill from working 7am to 10pm most days with weekends requiring 4-6 hours of her time answering her boss’s emails.  I’ve also heard of individuals who are not required to work at all on off hours, although very few when in a professional position.  Most of us may cry for work/life balance, but are now working longer hours and finding our serenity and balance compromised.  Gen X and Gen Y both tend to use the flexibility offered through many companies, i.e.:  days to work at home, 4 day work weeks, vacation time, etc. better than others.  So if you’re not doing that, begin there.  Then after using these employment flexibility tools, what to do?
Plan Activities for Yourself:  Seems like an old idea, right?  Well it’s amazing how many times I hear that people are not planning an activity that they enjoy very often, if at all.  If you have a family, be sure as a family that both a fun activity is planned that you all enjoy (movie night) as well as couple time (walk and coffee, dinner, go out dancing).  Also create planned time for yourself (take a bath and pamper yourself, take a yoga class alone or with a friend, paint some pottery, take a walk with the dog).  Having those activities on your calendar (yes, enter them on your calendar – don’t just keep them in your head) will help you begin to see there are other parts of your life and you’ll maintain awareness.
Make Time for Spirituality:  Whether it’s a church service or daily journaling or prayer or walking the labyrinth once a week, find what fits for you.  I’m always amazed when I talk with one young woman who is finishing college and taking 15 units including her final project, doing 2 internships which each require a full day’s work, volunteering for a group, maintaining an active social life, completing her job search, and yet she also finds the time to journal and pray each night.  At her age (22) she has developed habits that would do all of us quite well regardless of our age.  Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do”.  So to be balanced, and include a dimension other than work and household chores, we must begin including those activities on a regular basis.
Limit Electronics:  This is the toughest for so many people – myself included.  It is the electronics that have brought the end of the 8 or even 10 hour work day.  And also brought much in the way of ease of reading, access to information, and kept us in closer contact with loved ones.  But much is in how we manage them – or they will not manage our lives, but take them over.  I found it interesting that when I did a quick search for limiting electronics all that popped up were sources related to children.  So, we know we need to or we are looking for ways to limit children at times – a good practice, for sure.  I found an excellent article in which the author wrote her goals for limiting her own time, and I loved it because all of the guidelines were also expanding her life!  Melissa Monahan wrote on Global Business Hub at Boston.com ideas like planning half-hour periods during which she will not even look at electronics, taking time during her travel weekly to read a book and not look at her email and phone, and phone a friend rather than text three times a week, etc. (see http://www.boston.com/business/blogs/global-business-hub/2013/09/screen_time_rul.html – it’s worth the read!)  While you may have work related concerns, it’s important to also take time away – even those of us on 24-hour call for crises take breaks and it’s incredibly important to your health and that of your relationships to do so.
If you do some of the above, you’ll actually find you’re bringing some life balance back.  Winter is a time of hibernating and slowing down.  Spring is a time for new adventures and growth.  As Harriet Ann Jacobs said:  “The beautiful spring came; and when Nature resumes her loveliness, the human soul is apt to revive also.”    So go outside and soak in the sensory experiences of walks, bike rides, working in the garden, or having a picnic at a park.   And go within and with family and broaden your experiences each week.  It’s time to bloom!