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

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Swimming Pool where I learned to swim in the early 1960’s
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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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Freedom – Finding it Within!

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

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

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

Feeling the heat… already!

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Those of us living in the Phoenix area have truly hit summer … regardless of the fact it’s not “technically” summer yet. Most of this month’s temperatures have already exceeded 105 and this Father’s Day weekend we’re supposed to hit 120!  Most of us who have lived here awhile will tell you that until it exceeds 105 or 110, or fill in the blank, it’s really not bad.   But those who work outdoors – air conditioning and other contractors, delivery folks, mail carriers, etc. will all say that water is key to making it through summer, and plenty of it.

Last year I wrote about mental health and heat related to seasonal affective disorder. So if you would like more information on that take a look at article in the May/June 2015 newsletter at http://www.thewholenessinstitute.com/newsletters.html. This June, I want to briefly talk about getting through the long, hot days in creative ways. Talk to the native or long-term resident and you’ll learn all kinds of secrets – get out of town every month for one; take a mini-vacation at a spa with a slide for the kids for a weekend says another; get up north as much as you can; get some sunshine either by swimming or by hiking or walking every day – it prevents feeling cooped up for 3-4 months; look for indoor entertainment so you get out on weekends, but remain cool; drink lots of water. That last one comes up very frequently out here in the summer – and everywhere you turn. These are all great ideas – and I’ll list some below for you to consider this summer.

Also remember that summer leads to depression for many – so if you have a seasonal issue watch for it – ask your partner or close friend to help you monitor it, and ask for help early. Dehydration leads to multiple problems, and it actually includes a couple that can appear to be mental health issues: depression and difficulty thinking clearly. Remember the basics – once you begin to feel thirsty you’re already dehydrating. So keep that water bottle full and near you – and remember to sip regularly. If you’re on a mental health medication or any medication there can also be challenges. Being on lithium, for example, which is a salt, increases the likelihood of dehydration when the water and salt levels become out of sync. If you’re in the sun and taking St. John’s Wart, as another example, it’s easier to sunburn. And this can happen even when in the car and driving. So be sure to ask your pharmacist or doctor if any of your medications or supplements can increase sun sensitivity and be aware, being sure to use sunscreen regularly through the day to offset this. Neurotransmitters, which control our mood and functioning in many ways, also are impacted by heat. Further, hormones such as thyroid, prolactin, and others are also impacted and these lead to other mood and functioning difficulties. Thus our increased hospitalization rates for mental health issues as well as the increased rage we see in traffic throughout the summer. All of these are things to remain aware of – and ask someone for assistance if you think you’re struggling or experiencing a reaction to the sun beyond normal sunburn and dehydration.

And, what can you do to just endure the heat and yet enjoy life? There is a reason why the valley clears out so much throughout the summer months beyond that of school vacations – we all want cooler climates! I know for myself getting away for a long weekend, even if only to Payson, can help me make it through the next month in Phoenix. So I’m going to share some activities I found both in Phoenix metro this summer as well as throughout the state. Perhaps you can plan for one with your family or friends.

This is an opportunity to see the Garden from 7pm on and enjoy time outside while doing it in the cooler part of the day. You have to bring your own flashlight and it’s only available after 7 pm on Thursdays and Saturdays, 480-941-1225, http://www.dbg.org

  • Cool Art in the Pines – June 9-June 30 – Coconino Center for the Arts, Flagstaff

An art exhibit that is sponsored by Art 35° North and Coconino Centers for the Arts to present “A New Latitude”, a series of exhibitions, art tours, demonstrations and workshops June through August 2016, http://art35n.org.

You’ve got to love the part that’s free and indoors where it’s cool! There will be a variety of special hands-on, educational programming designed to appeal to visitors of all ages, noon – 5 pm, second Sundays of the month, http://www.PhxArt.org

There will be tram rides until sundown; a walking tour of indoor hangars; hands-on aviation-related activities for kids, 8 pm last admission, http://www.pimaair.org/news-events/event/416-night-wings

24th Annual Family Cornfest, Arts & Crafts Fair – 60 arts & crafts exhibitors, fresh sweet corn, free admission and parking, $9 for lunch, 602-231-0300 or http://www.el-zaribah.org

19th Annual Celtic Festival celebrating all things Celtic: music, piping, athletics, educational workshops, vendors, historical reenactment, clans and societies and a kid’s area, 928-556-3161 or http://www.nachs.info

Ok, you have some ideas for places to try – I plan on checking out a couple of them myself! Keep your energy, water level, mood, and sense of humor in tact by trying new things and watching your mood as it heats up. We’ll make it – one more year!

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Reflecting on summer and life-long relationships

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

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

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

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