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!

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!

 

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.”