30Dec

2023: Manifest Your Dreams—You are Capable!

We spend January 1st walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives… not looking for flaws, but for potential.
—Ellen Goodman

There used to be a stationary store in town which was far too “old school” to have a surveillance camera. Yet if it had, the footage would have documented my annual visit in early December. That’s right, once a year I used to visit this shop to make a solitary purchase; my appointment calendar.

The shop closed, I tracked down my favorite calendar brand (Quo Vadis & Exacompta) and now order online. Today, as I open the delivered package, I find myself tenderly admiring the pristine, fresh pages awaiting the plethora of plans, client schedules, expected and TBA events for a new year. Often I am asked if I keep a Google calendar to which I reply “I am pleasantly ‘old school’ when it comes to pencil and paper scheduling.” I love the tactile satisfaction of my calendar companion accompanying me as we journey another year together.

On this last day of 2022, I place the “old” and “new” planning diaries side by side. One is clearly worn, even a bit scrappy with a wrinkled cover and weathered pages with hundreds of scribbles, names, notations, earmarked corners and plenty of experiences documented in shorthand to commemorate 365 days of work, play, chores, joys and challenges.

The other shines smoothly with its unblemished cover, crisp white pages comprising an eager canvas awaiting the colors, landscapes, characters and story of the next 365 days. One book holds the tale of life lived, the other holds POTENTIAL.

This opening quotation is a meaningful metaphor for counseling.  So often, the focus on psychotherapy is on those “flawed” life situations; betrayal of trust in a marriage, financial distress, our less than perfect bodies and challenges in overcoming often heartbreaking disappointments and scars from childhood experiences.

In taking a peek at the definition of the word “potential” here is its extrapolation: Capable of development into actuality. WOW, what a fantastic New Year’s motto, “I am capable of developing my dream, plan, attitude and ideas into actuality!” This fresh, blank calendar book is anticipating stunning, spectacular potential to fill each page of your life, with capabilities of turning possibilities into actualities.

I am in awe of how the human spirit is CAPABLE of dealing with the “flaws” of life. Hope in the midst of adversity, healing after heartbreak and insight from loss. So many of my clients find the path to restoring confidence and contentment is through identifying their POTENTIAL; the ability to apply courage, determination and inspiration to develop their greatest self.

As you embark on each page of this New Year, find room for your capabilities, strengths and wisdom to manifest your desires and dreams. Make this a year of diminished flaw seeking and monumental potential building!

21Nov

A Thanksgiving Recipe for Gratitude and Contentment

We will be more successful in all our endeavors if we can let go of the habit of running all the time, and take little pauses to relax and re-center ourselves. And we’ll also have a lot more joy in living. 
—Thich Nhat Hanh

I grew up listening to Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Genesis, Journey, Bob Seger and a variety of other iconic 70’s artists. Jackson Browne was a favorite, and one song in particular resonates with Thich Nhat Hanh’s quote. It went something like this, “Running on – running on empty. Running on – running blind, running on – running into the sun, but I’m running behind.”

Here is your Thanksgiving challenge: stop running. Pause. Experience joy, breathe in contentment and exhale gratitude.

As parents we tell our children to “eat slowly,” “take your time on your homework,” and “brush your teeth longer than 5 seconds!” We emphasize slowing down and yet what do we model for them? “Hurry up! We are going to be late!” The conflict between getting things done and slowing down can be an aggravating catch 22.

How we run, and often tumble, from texting to calls to chores to work to kids’ practices to household demands to friends and events; whew, exhausted, we keep running. Can we really live fully when we are hastily shifting from one moment to the next?

Here are a few ingredients for your Thanksgiving recipe:

Take 5 in the car: No, not minutes or the 5 freeway. Deep, flourishing breaths before you turn the motor on. Five deep breaths, eyes closed, to slow down, focus on a solid center. When you begin to drive, perhaps no podcast, radio or news, instead drive in silence, taking in the color of the sky, the passing dwellings where a potpourri of lives are blending as you cruise by.

Make contact: While doing chores at a grocery store, post office or gas station, take a moment to make eye contact with someone. Smile, make a nice comment, and notice. That’s it, a little pause to connect with another human, who most likely is running too.

Sanctuary now: Is there a place you can call “sanctuary” in the house? Sanctuary is a word I love. Its meaning is related to worship yet also means a place of repose, protection, and reflection. Select a small corner in your bedroom or a room not being used, even a deck chair out on the patio, and make it your sanctuary. Adding a candle, a beloved photo, a vase with fresh flowers, a throw blanket or pillow can all accentuate this as your “pause place,” not for being checked out, quite the opposite…for being considerate and remembering to check in with yourself.

Read:  Most of us have a book we thought would be a fun, useful, or inspiring read which has gathered dust on a bedside table. Take it out and keep it close by and pause as you consume a few pages.

In the words of Willie Nelson, “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” Well, what about today if you say, “When I started taking little pauses, my whole attitude turned around.”

This is your cause; pause. Breathe, notice, smile, connect, read, be grateful and repeat. Here’s wishing you a Thanksgiving cornucopia brimming with pleasing, grateful, restorative pauses!

21Sep

Queen Mum

We used to call my mum “Queen Mum” as she adored afternoon tea and scones, bagpipes, British mystery and comedy shows and of course, Queen Elizabeth II. With a lilting Scottish accent, my mum definitely fit her adopted anointed title with grace, tenderness, humor and a quiet respectful wisdom. Most days, I catch a deep breath, release a sigh and grasp a loving memory which floats into my thoughts as it is four years this very week since my mum passed from our world to the next.

My mum loved the Queen who was only seven years her senior as Elizabeth was born in 1925 to my mum’s 1932. Even though my mother’s family was crowded in a small, impoverished flat in Montreal, with seven children, relying on extended family to support a fatherless home, she held an adoring desire to emulate the young queen’s grace, faith and service to others. Sharing bath water on Saturday evenings for the weekly scrub and washing up, my mother would describe a bubbling excitement for the next morning when she would put on her freshly ironed handmade dress to attend church service, followed by a beloved uncle’s visit accompanied by sweet treats for his eager clan of nieces and nephews.

Being filled with loving acceptance, generosity of spirit, believing our human intention needs to embrace and be of service to others were guiding lights that helped guide my mother’s 85 years and I believe, made her a “sister in purpose” to the Queen.

Queen Elizabeth II departed this world just a few weeks ago, a life lived in quite opulent surroundings and circumstance with a global landscape, she embodied and was faithful to her aims and I believe, deeply honored her place on this planet.

September is a month of reflection and a refocusing on how to apply energy, talents and direction to what remains of the year. With the loss of Queen Elizabeth II, and remembering my mum, both now embedded in this calendar month, I am struck by the “call to purpose” their lives represent.

Emotional wellbeing is enhanced by giving, sharing smiles, helping, and embracing every sacred moment. Gratitude defeats despair and connection prevents loneliness.

September will soon conclude as we tumble into the thick of autumn. Consider how you will refocus, redefine or recommit being true to grace and service. Perhaps wave to a neighbor, smile as you cross paths with a stranger in a parking lot, volunteer to a community need, notice those around you and lend help where you can.

And remember, enjoy a “cuppa” tea every chance you get. Cheers 🙂

17Aug

Choosing to ‘Come Around Again’

I know nothing stays the same
But if you’re willing to play the game
It’s coming around again
So don’t mind if I fall apart
There’s more room in a broken heart

—Carly Simon

Carly Simon’s song “Coming Around Again” captures the fading vibrancy of a romantic relationship. The lyrics embrace the demands of parenting and managing mundane tasks that chip away at the early days of heart fluttering newness. Its message is quite practical while inspirational:  be patient, trusting, believe in love, steady on and what we once knew to be true, can come around again.

Since March 2020, we stumbled through unknown territory with worried anticipation; would what we used to experience ever come around again? Traveling abroad, attending a packed concert hall, meandering through masses of crowds exiting a ballgame, or jumping into an Uber without a mask? Would our joy, spontaneity, courage and willingness to explore come around again? Time is an elusive yet reliable companion. For many, time faded and became no more due to illness and death. Yet, for those of us fortunate to be here to answer the call today, we now greet what was a far distant wished-for tomorrow during these Covid years.

My son and I traveled to Ireland and the UK in June and I returned with an abundance of jet-lag and fulfillment. Awakening each day in Dublin followed by Cornwall, I found myself buzzing with anticipation and emboldened by crisp winds and strong English breakfast tea. Oh how I had missed the joy of discovering uncharted streets, familiarizing myself with new territory, being a contemporary guest on ancestral soil, eager to be seen as a brave newcomer answering the invitation of the faraway wind, Neolithic stones, Gaelic tunes, and the rugged Irish Sea.

I was a child, eager to open every birthday package simultaneously, each gift more spectacularly perfect than the next.  Landscapes deeply rooted with centuries of tales, accents thick in Guinness and an abundance of fish and chips, penetrating folklore melodies of poignant longing and seagulls squawking as if to say “Welcome back! Glad you came around again!”

Make room in your heart, dive into the curiosity pool, wake up to your dreams, venture and dabble in curiosity, share smiles with fellow voyagers and cheers to each of us coming around again.

13May

Build the nest, for the bird of hope needs a place to rest.

Build the nest, for the bird of hope needs a place to rest.

Many arriving on the therapeutic couch are weary travelers, stretched to capacity and fatigued having marched across a risky, unknown terrain for over two years. The pandemic, workplace demands from home, challenged by new dimension of effective parenting, rising costs of supplies and since February, a harrowing war in Ukraine; violence and abject suffering within each click of an iPhone. Mt. Peace and Mt. Harmony are distant summits, barely visible, climbing elevations seemingly, hopelessly out of reach.

What happens when we lose our grasp of hope’s existence? Shaking our heads and wringing our hearts, is the concept of “losing” hope synonymous with denying hope? When we deny that hope exists, our thoughts become an internal “Whack a Mole” game. With every glimmering pop of hope, we grab our hammer of despair and whack it down.

Hope:  a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

Denial:  the action of declaring something to be untrue. 

Perhaps “Hope” thrives when we become more paced, patient with our expectations. Scale back from the quest to reach the peak of global Kumbaya (albeit a righteous aim), try on more “Hope” and wear it for awhile.

With that, an Emily Dickinson poem archived in one of my college literature brain cells, landed in my cerebral inbox.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers
By Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

Dare I be as bold as to challenge Emily, yet I believe “Hope” IS asking something of us. The bird of hope needs to be greeted with a warm, welcoming nest, to find shelter within our hearts, our minds, our souls. “Hope” needs to be fed by our belief in healing, wisdom, learning and striving to be courageous. “Hope” needs to be quenched with the belief we can be kinder, truer and better.

“Hope” exists when it has a nest in you.

19Dec

Rituals of Reassurance

To many people, holidays are not voyages of discovery, but a ritual of reassurance.
Philip Andrew Adams

The other day I found myself singing along to God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen…”O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy. O, tidings of comfort and joy.”

This opening quote may hold the key as it speaks to the holidays as NOT being a time of newness, but rather a time to practice those rituals which bring us reassurance.  And isn’t being reassured a path to comfort?  And if we are comforted, might we be closer to feeling joy?

With flurries of hurried people pouring out of every store corner and lining up  freeway onramps, or when someone heists the parking spot you had set sights on as you are running late for a holiday gathering topped with a dose of prolonged pandemic worry, well it is easy to feel more stress and frustration rather than comfort and joy!

Many clients lament change. Lots of changes are hoisted on our emotions without our permission, which makes resistance a natural response. Rituals are the opposite of change. They are repeated events, activities and symbolic routines and during this holiday season, they come alive. Finding the frayed and grease stained cookie recipe your grandmother used for sugar cookies, lighting candles and singing “Silent Night” while leaving midnight mass, waiting for the adult “kids” to come home and complete tree decorating, making hot cocoa and late night driving around local neighborhoods to see houses dancing with lights, or reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas” when everyone is in their new pajamas. It is true, comfort greets us when we experience the soothing “ahh” in the predictability of our traditions.

Opening up the dancing hippo ornament you received from a childhood friend brings a chuckle, or the cardboard snowman with your then kindergartener’s beaming face brings a return smile from you, it can also trigger melancholy, as many of the memories we hold dear are associated with the past. We are challenged to go beyond the “what was” and absorb the comfort these loving artifacts represent. Even if your sweet baby boy is now a baritone, deodorant wielding “dude”, or your precious princess is now a moody, mascara wearing teen, as the parent you may question if you should continue to carry the torch for rituals. If you did not put out the traditional colorful ribbon sweets, believe it or not, your offspring WILL look up from their cell phone long enough to ask “Hey, where are those swirly candy things?” Rituals bring reassurance, comfort and yes, joy.

During the last nearly two years, grief and limitations have shadowed much of the joy in our lives and brought unwanted changes. But guess what? Rituals can be your timeless superpower, impervious to Covid. The ultimate antibody to ward off  loss are the traditions stored within our hearts and memories. Open them up, dust them off and embrace their COMFORT and JOY during this cherished season!

 

23Nov

6 Ways to Make Thanksgiving Extra Special

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.
Thornton Wilder

At this Thanksgiving, there are so many pieces of the giving pie to sample! Here are just a few ideas to bake up and top with plenty of gratitude to make for a delightful and heartwarming Thanksgiving!

  1. On the day before Thanksgiving, consider making surprise gratitude calls. As you run around doing last minute chores, baking or traveling, select friends and family members and call them…no texts! What a lovely treat to leave a voicemail or speak directly to another for the express purpose of telling them how special they are, and your well wishes for them. The act of living in “gratitude” can improve your overall mood and happiness.
  2. Thanksgiving brings favorite recipes to life, with plenty of full stomachs and promises to not eat again for a week. If you are making an extra special dish, consider printing up the recipe and bringing it to the gathering. The gift that keeps giving are happy taste buds long after we leave the Thanksgiving feast.
  3. Prepare three (3) note cards with the words “Person” “Place” and “Thing.”  Place them face down the center of the table.  Each guest is invited to take a turn by selecting one of the three cards.  Depending on which card they pick, they will describe the person, place or thing they are grateful for.
  4. Get moving!  After a lovely meal, and before dessert arrives on the table, rally everyone to go for a walk in the neighborhood. This allows for digestion, chatting, laughter and fresh air before returning for round 2! 
  5.  Invite everyone at the table to share a memory from a prior Thanksgiving, especially if there are grandparents assembled.  Directly asking for them to share can reveal hidden treasures and honor their history and experience.
  6. Consider the “Collage” entertainment experience can be fun and memorable. Ask your guests to come prepared to share a favorite inspirational verse, poem, short story or musical selection. This brings an added dimension to the festivities and makes for a shared experience of laughter, thoughtful reflection and memory making.

Wishing you a Thanksgiving filled with treasures and blessings!

07Nov

Daylight Awakens

There is an abundance of repeated messaging from clients as to how they WANT to resume the pace they kept BC (Before Covid) yet the “get up and go” muscle has atrophied during the pandemic. Like many, I reduced my hustle bustle believing I would wait it out, you know, like Elvis has left the building…when Covid has left the planet…then, I would resume my go, go, go schedule. 🙂

For over these 20 months, we adapted to reducing the multiplicity of our lives. Our “Yes” responses were slim and our “No’s” were plentiful stemming from health safety concerns, “too much of a hassle” sentiments, or a comfortable complacency of “maybe tomorrow.”  As the world is waking up, we not only have to exercise a flabby “social” muscle, we also need enhancements of patience, optimism and tolerance due to resuming sitting in traffic, short staffing and long waits at restaurants, airport delays and engaging with humans who are coming out of hibernation more like growling hungry bears rather than smiling butterflies. With daylight savings and the first week of November already gobbled up, what a perfect “wake up” call to consider ways to exercise the personal interaction and outreach muscle.

Select one person you have seen little or not at all during Covid. Reach out to this person and ask them to join you in a place you would like to visit;  a favorite shopping area, lunch spot, hiking trail, beach lookout, etc. Set a date and time to meet at this location and relish a wakening!  As I mentioned in an earlier post, poetry is a way of freeing my mind and weaving ideas with words, here is another sampling of what poetry can capture.

A Wakening 

It rolls in, a velvet dew curtain during
early morning stirrings,
eclipsing the night, a stealth invader.
It alters the climate of familiarity;
a chill to be denied, dismissed.
It stirs, an irritating nudge to complacency.

“Wake up” it whispers.
Fear makes heavy the eyelids.
Pull the covers up, hit the snooze button,
lay still, play dead and make its recurrence, illicit, unwanted.

Silence instinct and there will be no bumping into walls,
or tumbling into pits.
Only inevitable wrinkles of blame and what if’s.

We papermache with history and habits;
lumpy layers of loyalty to others, flammable glue.
“Damaged” becomes the label, emotionally inked.

“Wake up” the tone demanding.
Yanking off the covers, painfully exposed, the place from which disappointment breeds.
“WAKE UP” the relentless messenger, the soul’s drill sergeant losing patience!
To linger is to submit to terminal regret.
To sit up, swing legs over the edge, reach into the thick unknown…tapping toes forward, seeking a surface to trust, to grope, breathe, and proceed into the abyss of change…this is to be alive.

19Oct

The “A Void” Dance

What the hell.  You might be right, you might be wrong. But just don’t avoid.
—Katharine Hepburn

I have been absent from these pages as I have been dancing, but not as you might imagine. Twirling around like Stevie Nicks or attempting to get uptown funky like Bruno Mars, I do love to dance. Yet, since August 19th, I have been doing the “a void” dance.

My son moved back to his eagerly awaited life as a college student which had been paused since March 2020 due to Covid.  He was more than ready to leave his bedroom with 6th grade wallpaper, weatherworn stuffed animals, and his mom asking him “How did class go?” when he would descend from his online pre-med classes. I was heartily aware this pause in the construction of his adult life would come to an end.  And when it did, August 19th to be exact, it was perfectly right for him and achingly strange for me.

Only when I took some time off from my listening post as psychotherapist during these past few days, did it hit me as to why I was working like a fast food grill chef, flipping hour after hour of clients, busying myself with laborious emailing clean up, hitting the pillow achy and exhausted. I have been avoiding what this interrupted, secondary “good-bye” really means.

As a college freshman in September 2018, I was as ready as any empty nester mother hen could be…in fact, I had been in training since tearfully bidding him “See you in 4 hours!” on his entry to kindergarten. Yet, the abrupt shelter and lockdown of March 2020 to the August 2021 “restart” was never in the parenting “How to Let Go” handbook.

He was age 20 in March 2020, and he is now halfway into his 21st year and taller, gained a girlfriend, broadened his shoulders, improved his curveball and filled his cup with determination to pour into his life.

I have been keeping myself extremely, and perhaps a bit martyr like, occupied in an attempt to avoid this truth: whether I am ready or not, my baby should not, nor will, be living like a child any longer. His needs are not for me to make pancakes and monitor his homework. The shift from “parent to child” to “adult child to aging parent” has taken place. So now what?  What new dance steps do I need to acquire?

What about you? Have you been doing the “a void dance” as well?  It’s time to heed Ms. Hepburn’s words, don’t worry about whether taking up pickle ball is “right” or learning to speak French is “wrong”—go for it, do it even if you are not sure of the outcome. Being in the “void” creates isolation, fatigue and emotional paralysis. As our young adult children are eager to sculpt their lives, we still have more time at the potter’s wheel to do the same.  Start spinning, leaping and keep dancing!

02Aug

Use mindfulness to create peace within

Could you risk believing that everything
will unfold just fine if you completely let go
of all concern about everything else,
and simply are here, now – if only for a moment?
—Dmitri Bilgere

As we continue through a mostly mask-free summer, I find myself wanting to make sure to not lose pandemic lessons. June and July turned out to be busy months, with graduation celebrations, reunion gatherings sorely missed for over 15 months, and seizing opportunities to reconnect. This “catch up” is a two sided coin. On the one side, happiness and homecoming relief in being able to join with friends and family in person and good health. On the other side, wow, revving up the energy when for many months, we had only a few items on our “to do” list and living in the moment availed itself more readily. Since I was a child, I enjoy this summer presumption that emotional distress dwindles down to the bottom of a beach bag and drifts away on a paddleboard to only come back to shore in September! Hah, not so. Life’s trials do not go on vacation and there are some seasons which don’t allow for much rest no matter how much we will them to. Therefore, it was during an inauspicious “moment” early morning last weekend, when inspiration seamlessly revealed itself.

As the house slumbered and I savored a wide brimmed cup of PG Tips tea as well as the very welcomed open space of first day “off” in weeks, I heard a “clickety/clack.”  Realizing it was a chirping sound, I walked outside and there was a pesky wee bird, looked to be a bit bigger than a sparrow, flitting around a towering hawk perched stoically on the topmost branch of a tree in the valley behind our house. With every few flutters, this brazen feathered irritant would peck against the back side of the larger winged creature!

Initially, I was mesmerized by the audacity, persistence and sheer buggary of this small bird whose apparent goal was to get the hawk to react, in essence, to get the hawk off balance. I immediately likened this smaller bird with life’s troubles, whether they keep coming back to shove at us or just annoy our reverie; people, situations and emotions can peck at us and certainly throw us off balance. I marveled at how the hawk remained steady, never did it lunge or twitch, seemingly oblivious to the menacing company. Much like the opening quote, the hawk seemed to believe “everything will unfold just fine if you completely let go of all concern about everything else, and simply are here, now.” By slowing down my pace, in that moment, I was able to see how the hawk epitomized the concept we frequently explore in therapy; mindfulness.

As we practice being “mindful” we are focusing on the here and now, a moment at a time, accessing the depth and power of the mind to create peace within.  The hawk symbolized how to remain clear of purpose by standing tall even when life pecks at you, at times relentlessly, bringing challenges we must endure and overcome.

I went to grab my camera and by the time I returned, the small bird had landed on our back fence, defeated in its assault as the unflinching steadfast calm of the hawk had won out. As I moved closer to the edge of the yard, the hawk’s wings stretched, embraced the open sky and effortlessly left its post and began to fly.  I noticed the right wing had a segment indented and missing, perhaps an earlier injury, when maybe an even more menacing encounter had taken its toll. The hawk widened its radius and gathered momentum, extending its distance a bit more the next time around, soaring farther and higher. I found myself smiling at the shear, unexpected victory of mindfulness and how it is possible to maintain balance, even when life pokes at you.

Whether feeling pecked at by life’s demands with employment, finances and decisions or off balance by anxieties, hurts and fears within relationships, we could all learn a lesson from the hawk. If we react, attack and get swayed by the stressor, we will certainly lose balance.  When we are impenetrable, mindful, assured and steadfast, we will certainly find our wings and soar.

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