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.

14Jul

If it’s important, you’ll find a way

If it’s important, you’ll find a way.
If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.

I have heard the lament from both clients and friends, “I thought I would get more done during Covid.” Mine was to clean up the pile of college bedding and dorm room items my son deposited in a corner of our garage following a hurried campus exit last March 2020. Guess what?? We never got around to it. And now, as the calendar mockingly reminds me, we have six (6) weeks to dust, sort, toss and repack as he resumes his collegiate adventure!

Cleaning out the garage, doing taxes, starting an uncomfortable conversation, leaving an unfulfilling job, finishing an academic degree, ending alcohol dependency, beginning counseling, pulling weeds, scheduling an overdue dentist appointment. How to find a way rather than find an excuse?

Here’s a suggestion, start at the basics.

  • During Covid, our calendars became unnecessary, every day duplicated the next, we lost the rhythm of planning. Today I felt very efficient as I walked into a Staples and bought a July 2021-2022 18-month calendar. I must say, just purchasing it made me feel a step closer to organization!
  • Next, scribble/brainstorm/data dump those excursions, chores, events, projects, items you would like to, or have to, take care of. Put them on the calendar. Legitimizing the task is a powerful way of mustering up energy, putting the gloves on and digging in… to find a way.

Come on, July is knocking…halfway thru this year, why not shift from “finding excuses” to finding a way!

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.

03Jun

Journey Home with Wisdom, Love, Bravery

Journey Home with Wisdom, Love, Bravery

The Wizard of Oz came to mind the other day and, at the risk of being too simplistic, I believe it to hold the ingredients for emotional healing.

I lived in Africa as a teenager. My father embraced an opportunity for our family to live abroad as well as advance his career in the communication industry. My world was turned upside down as we left our home in Southern California—no beach, friends or Friday night football games? What! I resisted initially and yet the magic of Africa is hard to deny, even as a 16-year-old!

I hold this chapter in my life as an unearthed diamond, a treasure discovered. It became a lens that forever changed my vision of the world. I witnessed the extraordinary magic of African art, music, food, landscapes, traditions, and a cherished people with a resounding depth of tribal legacy. I can smell the rich, red clay dirt roads and envision my favorite market vendor with reams of vibrant material. I also recall being one of a few white faces in this same marketplace and the calm I felt when greeted by curious smiles, conversation and warmth, as well as my stomach anxiously twitching when I heard a few chant “serpent blanc” (white snake) as I walked by. I was mesmerized by the strength, stoic leadership of women, wrapping their infants tight, while carrying baskets laden with food and supplies on their powerful, unfaltering heads. With local friends and guides, we learned about our new territory, gained wisdom, adapted, found our way and felt loved. My parents, sister and I made a home in Bangui, Central African Republic.

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy was on a quest to return home. One man, “the wizard” was sought out to accomplish this mission. Her companions along the journey, Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion were seeking what they believed they lacked; a brain, a heart and courage. They found out, the solution was not with the wizard, it was within each of them to attain what was missing.

In the strife and violence we have witnessed during this past week, our journey to find “home” requires wisdom, love and bravery today. The horror of seeing George Floyd grasp, plead and then lose his last breath is a collective trauma for our nation and the world. The protection which law enforcement represents was severely violated by this evil, dominating act against a Black man. Courage, wisdom, listening, compassion, respect and love are not colors. Now is the time for each of us to look within, find the courage to challenge limiting beliefs, engage in thoughtful reflection, learn more and gain wisdom, share compassionate understanding and employ respect to actively express love for one another.

The iconic Diana Ross played the role of “Dorothy” in the 1978 film “The Wiz.” I encourage you to pause and click on her moving message in the song “Home” from the film.

Brother Iz, truly a gentle giant, sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Enjoy his melodic version of this timeless song.

10Jun

Be the Brave…

What exactly does being brave mean?  As you know, I LOVE to play with words, and the word RAVE exists within the word “brave.”  Well, that got me thinking.  We need to rave about when we are brave.  Doing what we think we cannot do and then DOING it, well that is something to holler from the rooftops and proclaim to the world, “I am BRAVE!”

Exploring being brave means we face what we fear.  I romantically imagine my Irish ancestors as being fearless.  Living through the 16th and 17th centuries, the famine and battles for power and land.  In Irish Gaelic speak, what do you think “nios fearr” means?  Like myself, you probably went to “no fear.”  The Irish are wise, “nios fearr” doesn’t mean “no fear” it is translated as “better off.”  I bet it came from the old Celtic warriors, who took a final swig of their ale and said “Me lads and lassies, we’re better off dead than sitting here like scared ducks.”  And away they went to conquer more hillsides and moors.

The core of most therapeutic work comes down to facing our feelings of being less than capable of doing something.  In other words, being able to be brave enough to take a leap into what we assume we cannot do.  Many women admit they fear being alone, not being loved, being rejected or abandoned and fear not being good enough.  Navigating our way through the rough seas of fear can be terrifying.  Yet, it is not about the absence of feeling fear, it is determining that you will be better off if you do what is best, what is right and true, for you.

Sail away Pirate Sister, and go ahead, RAVE about being BRAVE!