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.

30Jun

Free to Be True

During a session with a client the other day, she was marveling at the difference a year can make. Brimming with an optimism and a refreshing excitement about her future, she proclaimed, “I am so free.”

Are you free? Or, do you feel trapped in a prison of your own creation? For many of us, we are doing time in State Avoid. We have become “used to” our cell even though we experience excruciating anxiety, doubt, anger and fear. When in a state of avoidance, we lock ourselves out from spontaneity and life experiences. We feel stuck, shut down and powerless. We crouch childlike, hoping no one finds out our “secret”…that we are in a lonely marriage, have out of control kids, drink too much alcohol or live with a loved one who does, feel ashamed about our past, worry incessantly about a weight or health issue, or that we just don’t believe ourselves worthy of a satisfying life.

This is a “shout out” to those committed to breaking free from old burdens or defeating beliefs. Take a moment to consider how you have been breaking out from habits of avoidance through your courageous dedication to personal discovery. Consider how tough it can be to chip away at some of those “emotional life sentences” assigned to us from our past that we now must dedicate heart and soul to overturn.

To tackle what we thought was impossible…to speak about an issue with a family member, to live alone following a long-term relationship, to change jobs, set boundaries and advocate for our own worth…well, that is setting ourselves free.

There is no better season than summer to deeply experience freedom. Thoughts, ideas and inspirations take root during these weeks of lemonade, chlorine, watermelon and giggles. The sun, sand and smooth skies stretch out all around us, serving up plenty of time to digest your achievements and perseverance and dreamingly reflect on your next steps.

21May

Sail On Sailor!

Ships don’t sink because of the water around them; ships sink because of the water that gets in them. Don’t let what’s happening around you get inside you and weigh you down.
—Anonymous

I have dreamed of living at sea, on a statuesque sailboat careening over hypnotic waves as the canvas sails dance with salty foam breezes. In my dreams, I am a sailor, maybe even a pirate! The closest “ship” I captain is my boogie board affectionately named “Betty” where I merge with the wave and rely on her to chaperone me to shore. Mesmerized by the vastness of the ocean’s eternal depths, I am consistently humbled to be a small creature playing on such an immense, vibrant and fluid playground.

Last year, during the pandemic, we sailed our ships through uncharted waters, at times weathering raucous storms and other days reveling in the calm, quiet solitude of staying docked. The social, financial, political and interpersonal conflicts, uncertainty about restoring familiarity of the past as well as what shape the future would take were just some of the anxiety inducing riptides and currents which made for a staggering journey.

Tossed about, perhaps shaky and more weathered, our ships’ wheel may feel wobbly, our compass bent, energy depleted, optimism exhausted, yet the horizon is steady. Our proverbial ship did not capsize!

As the opening quote reads, “Don’t let what’s happening around you get inside you and weigh you down.”

How to keep your ship from springing a leak:

  1. Get outside every day! Gaze at the ocean and if not able to get to the shore, then head to your backyard, patio, neighborhood sidewalk. Remind yourself of nature and how it is unveiled, inviting and constant. Trees and rose bushes don’t wear masks. 😊
  2. Make daily news/media information choices about how much time you will “donate” to absorbing others opinions, frustrations, hostilities and uncertainties. Intentionally decide to not take on the unnecessary “weight” of division which could capsize you.
  3. Keep your ship in good shape! Walk, run, ride, stretch, eat well, “clean up the galley!”
  4. Combine desirable treasures…enjoy a bubble bath while eating popcorn, watch a movie on your iPad wrapped in a blanket on your lawn chair, call up a friend and both of you apply a face mask while catching up.
  5. Dive deep! Specifically flag a few hours to explore an unknown: alternative music, a recipe with “out of the ordinary” ingredients, move furniture, read a different genre of literature, pray, meditate, pick up an instrument!

My favorite Beach Boys tune is “Sail on Sailor.” It contains a very simple inspirational message… sail on. Your ship is strong, capable, determined and has made it through the storm of 2020 and now, with some repairs and polish, your vessel will carry you to calmer waters as we welcome summer. Eye on the horizon! Sail on, sail on, sailor.

04Apr

“Lifted” to the Other Side of Challenge

“Lifted” to the Other Side of Challenge

Definition of “lifted”: To raise from a lower to higher position.

As many of you know, I love all things British, especially my friends who live in London. Years ago, while visiting them during a shared holiday in Cornwall, they played Lighthouse Family, a British band comprised of two young “mates” who had met while working at the same pub in the mid 90’s. A fantastic duo, they created magical, easy listening music and gained a dedicated audience.

Whenever I want to transport myself back to a cherished time spent on brisk walks along Cornish seaside cliffs, strolls into the village for afternoon tea or an evening of cheers with a pint at the pub for trivia game night, I play their songs, always beginning with “Lifted.” Although its appearance has spiritual overtones, the band and their music are not representative of a particular religious affiliation, instead this particular song holds a message of coming out of a darkness, beyond the rain, to joyfully experience what is on the other side…timely, eh?

The band separated for many years and reunited last year with a live performance during the Promenade Summer concerts in London. Watching this video will naturally ignite a variety of emotions: Shock, seeing so many people shoulder to shoulder, smiling, dancing, with lots of social closeness, not distance. There may be a longing for “the good ol’ days” when we united with similar crowds to sway together with a love of shared music and festivities. There may be a question of when will you be able to voyage to distant lands again and promenade through foreign parks, and mingle with others who may, like you, be checking off items from their bucket list?

Welcome these thoughts and their adjoining emotions. The pandemic forced us to face the unexpected and with it mounds of uncertainty, anxiety, waiting and wondering. Passover, Easter and Springtime are here and invite us to contemplate gratitude and renewal. Please gift yourself 5 minutes as you watch this video and tap into our shared collective spirit. Focus on hopefulness and envision how as more and more are receiving the vaccine, we are being “lifted” to the other side of this challenge, glimpsing a day when life will be restored, our doors open and we are “lifted” to health and recovery.

02Nov

Ca suffit, reste tranquille

Ca suffit, reste tranquille

During my college summers, I worked as an au pair (nanny) in France. I adored the history, pastries, boutiques, villages, lush countryside, bustle of the Champs-Elysees, Le Metro underground transport and Bateau Mouche rides on the Seine. Yet most of all, I loved, and was mesmerized by, the language.

My adorable charges often spoke, ran and bicycled at speeds I struggled to match, yet one saying I used frequently was … “Ca suffit, reste tranquille.”  Literally translated it is, “That’s enough, stay calm.” It always flowed more as a caution than a reprimand, an invitation not a dictate. When our fears, future anxieties and distress speed up, it may be an opportunity to tell ourselves just this.

As we begin this week, many may be experiencing tensions regarding possible election results. I encourage you to take a moment and close your eyes, inhaling a full, glorious breath and say to yourself (in whatever language you prefer), “That’s enough. Stay calm.”

Music has always reminded me of the heart and soul of our humanity and never fails to bring me joy and optimism. I sincerely hope these selections will do the same for you. Ca suffit, reste tranquille.

 

15Jun

Post “Shelter in Place”—Take Baby Steps When Returning to Life

Post “Shelter in Place”—Take Baby Steps When Returning to Life

Since March, we heeded the red lights; sheltering, distancing and halting our day to day lives in the hopes of keeping the Covid-19 enemy’s toll reduced and at bay. We have arrived at mid-June, and the lights are turning green! In the 1991 film, “What About Bob?” the concept of “baby steps” was comically captured as Bill Murray’s character, Bob, conquered his fears by taking baby steps to overcome a mountain of anxieties. With each challenge, he coaxed himself to make progress. “Baby steps to the elevator. Baby steps to the bus stop!” Here is a fun clip to remind you of this hilarious film and if you have never seen it, perhaps put in on your “to watch” list!

It is natural to have a bit of “Bob” in us as we adjust to post “shelter in place” living. Leaving the house, returning to a workplace, entering a retail store, volunteering, having an in-person therapy appointment or meeting up with a few friends may now be evoking a plethora of nervous anticipation. Assessing risk is a significant component of balanced decision making. For example, you have an important appointment and as you drive, the “low fuel” light is blinking on the dashboard of the car. If you stop for gas, what is the risk of being late for the meeting? If you continue in order to be on time what is the risk of ending up on the side of the road? We are constantly measuring the risk of a decision, or behavior, and its outcome value.

Possessing a mindfulness of health and safety risks is essential to self-care. Thoughtful consideration of “stepping out” goes hand in hand with emotional wellness. It is absolutely OK to say, “Today I will decide on a few baby steps I am willing to take.”