January can be a tough month. Many of us are dealing with debt or emotional overload from the holiday season; where I live it is cloudy and dull – usually snowy and cold, but this January gray and rainy; and we are in the midst of a transition of leadership. Whatever your politics, this has been a difficult and polarizing election and inauguration season in which it seems difficult for civility and clarity to be the rule.
Often when we are troubled, we hang on to things, or we ruminate about the same thing over and over, or we seem to get all tangled and confused in a variety of thoughts and feelings. I’ve had several messages in the last two days about “letting go.” These messages struck me as brilliant sanity in the midst of the cloudiness of January. So here they are:
Message #1: Touch and Go – I’d had a difficult session with a client the other day, and I was struggling with feelings of self doubt, shame and anger. I remembered reading something several years ago in a great book for helpers by Karen Kissel Wegela, “How to Be a Help Instead of a Nuisance: Practical Approaches to Giving Support, Service & Encouragement to Others”. When I got home that night, I looked through the book and found a number of helpful ideas, but especially “touch and go”. She explains it much better than I can, so I highly recommend you checking out Karen Kissel Wegela’s Web page for more information. But here’s the short version: When a feeling or sensation arises within us, we can touch it completely – feel it, fully experience it, move toward it – and then, let it go. This allows us to learn what we are really feeling or experiencing without getting fixated on it or it having hold of us. She mentions the distinction of “touch and go” from both “go and go” (trying to ignore the feeling) and “touch and grab” (getting stuck in the feeling). I have been practicing touch and go the last two days. When the feelings about this session come back up, I touch them (for example, I “touched” long enough to do some journaling and to talk with a trusted colleague about my feelings and experiences in the session and had some good personal insights about what was going on with me in the session) and then let them go. If they come back, I touch them briefly again and then let them go. “Letting go” for me generally means literally visualizing the feelings floating away or draining out of my body and focusing on what is happening in the present moment, or being mindful. Yesterday, this practice helped me have enough self compassion that I also experienced a strong sensation of compassion for my client and that client’s own experiences. I also shared “touch and go” with another client in a session, and together we came up with the visual image of a “touch and go” landing sometimes used in pilot training, where the pilot touches down briefly and then immediately goes back up in the air. This seemed useful to both of us in remembering the concept.
Message #2: A poem by e.e. cummings that appeared in my email inbox this morning:
let it go – the
smashed word broken
open vow or
the oath cracked length
wise – let it go it
was sworn to
let them go – the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the both and
neithers – you must let them go they
let all go – the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things – let all go
so comes love
And then it struck me that perhaps love is the space where we let it all go and then all things become possible. May it be so this gray January Thursday! Be well.
*Update on my “New Year’s Revolutions” Blog: More days than not I have held to eating between the hours of 9 am – 7 pm. I have had a couple late night eating episodes, but perfection is not required here. Also, all but 2 days so far in January, I have done 10 minutes of sitting meditation. I am finding recently that the time goes very fast, and that I feel I’m FINALLY really meditating and focusing on my breath (rather than a bunch of thoughts) right before the timer goes off – a bit frustrating but where it is right now. And I have said “ouch” a few times, and have taught several clients about this strategy as well. So – a good start to my revolution.
I’m borrowing the title from a year-old set of New Year’s Revolutions written by author Parker Palmer, who says his title term “revolution” instead of “resolution” came from a typo that then seemed appropriate. The same day I came across Parker Palmer’s post, I also read one called “A New Year’s Blessing” by Karen Maezen Miller that reinforced the concept of revolution. She discusses the time of transitioning from the old year to the new year as a way to examine our practice and progress – through no effort of our own – but simply because of the turning of the calendar in the West. We recognize what we haven’t accomplished in the old year. But we have an opportunity in this moment of recognition. Miller states: “This recognition is a rare and momentous blessing, and one to be used. Recognition is all any of us needs to make a change. . . It only takes a moment to transform your life. A moment of undefiled, nonjudgmental awareness.”
So I’m committing to several revolutions this year in 2017. Not to set rigid goals, or to judge myself, but to use my recognition and awareness of the need for some changes. I am focusing in my own personal practice, as well as in my counseling practice, on wellness – using four basic components: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. (If you are interested in attending Wellness Workshops on Thursday evenings in January and February, please give me a call!)
2017 Revolution #1: Ten minutes of meditation each day – to learn to be more still and to quiet my mind from anxious thoughts; to become more physically able to calm and still my body. This is a very modest goal, but to commit to a daily practice has always been a challenge for me. I am working on all four areas of wellness here, but especially mental wellness and learning to quiet the mind, and to find the discipline and persistence to maintain a daily practice. I will note my accomplishment on my calendar each day, and will not judge myself for missed days, but use each morning as a new moment to recommit to the practice.
2017 Revolution #2: Eating between the hours of 9 am – 7 pm whenever possible (my goal: 90% achievement – 9 days out of 10). I have been wrestling with binge eating in the later evening for a number or years. I have determined from learning from my own behavior, and my own emotional challenges, that I know WHAT to eat and generally eat very healthy food during the daytime hours – it’s the after 7 pm time when I tend to eat too much and too many carbohydrates. So I finally realized it may not be a food plan or a diet I need – but a revolution in WHEN I eat. This 10-hour time frame is an adaptation of the 9-hour suggestion from the Buddha’s diet (who was said not to have eaten in the evening). Because I often work late seeing clients, 7 pm is a more reasonable goal for me to stop eating each day. I’m not going to focus on any particular food plan or exercise plan, although I will eat a higher protein/lower carbohydrate, whole food, lots of fruits and vegetables focus. This is a mostly physical goal for me, although adjusting my habits of eating when I feel threatened, tired, frustrated, lonely, sad – or to reward myself for finishing a long day – are also emotional and mental wellness revolutions.
2017 Revolution #3: Addressing hatred, bigotry and prejudice when I encounter it. This is an important spiritual wellness goal for me, to “be the change” I want to see in the world, and to honor myself and my desire to be loving, kind and accepting. When someone in my presence makes a comment denigrating any particular group of people, I intend to say “ouch” or something else similarly brief and then, if possible, say something like, “You are talking about people who I consider my brothers and sisters so your comments are offensive to me.” I also intend to continue to incorporate an inclusive and empowering listening awareness with my clients, family and friends and to commit to addressing my own prejudice and become more conscious of my own biases and therefore more loving.
I invite you to join me in a moment of revolution now – January 1, 2017 – knowing that in any moment during the year, we can have a revolution of awareness and consciousness – to transform ourselves without judgment. Be well.
I recently pulled a small book that is an old favorite from my shelf: The Fall of Freddie the Leaf by Leo Buscaglia. Those of us “of a certain age” remember Leo as a loving figure on public television who promoted humans over things, and always offered hugs to anyone in the audience who wanted one. His “Love 1A” non-credit, non-graded class began when one of his college students died from suicide, and he was trying to understand this loss.
In the book, Freddie is a young leaf who builds a relationship with with his best leaf friend, Daniel. Daniel helps Freddie understand the life and death cycle of leaves and talks with him about what they experience throughout the summer and autumn. One by one, the leaves begin to fall. When Freddie is the last leaf left on his tree in an early snowfall, he eventually lets go and experiences a peaceful fall to the ground. This book is often used to help explain death as a natural part of life to children.
At this time of year, I think our own human cycle, in tune with the natural world, begins to shift toward endings, death, loss, and grief. We are still losing the light; it won’t begin to return until Winter Solstice. We pull out annuals from our gardens and flower beds, thanking them for their beauty. We also begin to pull inside ourselves and hibernate in our homes as the days and nights get colder, with less contact with neighbors. Perhaps not as busy with yard work, outdoor sports or activities, and community events, we may become restless or uncomfortable, as more time and the natural inclination to think about our own losses rises to the forefront. The upcoming holidays also bring thoughts of loved ones who have died and who will not be with us this year. Death is not the only loss we consider; we may have had a decline in our mental or physical health recently, or lost an important relationship, or a job, or any kind of dream we had. I believe the loss of a dream for our lives is often the hardest loss of all.
Experiencing loss is a natural part of life, but we don’t always like it. While grief is a natural process that happens emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually from a loss, we often try to end it prematurely or stuff it somewhere, because, well, sad is a heavy and vulnerable emotion to feel. Our culture does not generally support those grieving to do it openly and as long as they need, or to listen to their stories of loss, or help with rituals that give grief a good place. Many of my clients have experienced the significant loss of a parent or grandparent or another person who loved and supported them, and have not really grieved consciously and completely, and so they often experience depression, anger, physical symptoms, or just a sense of emptiness or incompleteness. Real grieving often involves the overwhelming depths of sobbing deeply, or the heaviness of sinking down low, almost as if we are retreating to our winter roots under the ground. These intense and dark experiences are not always comfortable either, but they can be very healing.
I will revisit the topic of grief and loss again, but for now, I appreciate how re-reading Freddie – and remembering Leo – helped me remember how natural the process of life and death is. All of us reading this are experiencing life, and all of us will experience death. There are parts of our lives where relationships and dreams have grown, and parts where they have ended or changed. They are all part of the same circle. As I watch leaves fall this month, I remember Freddie and Daniel, and I do my best to be present with my own natural cycle. Be well.
Today is September 22, 2016 – the Autumnal Equinox. This is one day in the year (the other being Spring Equinox in March) when the hours of daylight and the hours of darkness are almost equal. I like to think of this day as a good day to examine balance in my own life, and invite you to consider the same.
1. Darkness and Light – here are a couple ways to look at this issue in our lives: Where am I sinking down into the rich soil (darkness) to be still and germinate seeds of creativity as we move into winter, and where am I stretching up into the still warm sunlight of fall with bright growth? Another way of considering this is to literally look into how much I pay attention to things in my own shadow (as Jung would say) – in the unconscious or unaware parts of myself that are always in the darkness cast by the sunlight? The yin/yang symbol from Chinese philosophy – literally meaning “dark” and “bright” is something to ponder: where is light inside your darkness, and where is darkness inside your light? Do you allow yourself to accept both the darkness and the light currently in your life, without feeling life must be all one or all the other?
2. Work/Life Balance – whether or not you are working in a paid job, or retired, or a student – we all have work we do. It is very countercultural to balance work and life. American culture often encourages people whose scale sinks much more heavily on work to feel good about themselves and to advance in a career. Yet at the end of our lives, most of us will not be considering how hard we worked or how much money we made (or didn’t); we will be focused on those we love and how rich those relationships are, and how much we feel we truly lived our lives. How are you valuing your work? And how are you valuing your relationships, and your life’s purpose? How much authentic attention are you paying to each?
3. Death and Life – while we might literally look at being present with our own death, I’m thinking more of the constant cycle of endings and beginnings in any life. I have a 16-year-old cat who is in his dying process, and the other day I got so angry with him when he hid under the bed instead of coming out to take his pain medicine. Then I realized I was really sad under my disguise of anger, and having difficulty being present with the end of his life, and his own way of dealing with it. I recently ended one career and began focusing full-time on another. That process has not been neat and tidy, and I am still working on literal balance – sometimes I feel dizzy with the balance of these endings and beginnings. I have several clients working through the end of relationships and the beginning of a new life as a single person. Where are you in the cycles of your life? Fall is a time that invites us to pay attention to the falling of the leaves, the dying of our flowers, and the turning within, to a holding or hibernating time. Are you in tune with the death and life of this season?
There are many other types of balance we might discuss, and I hope you add your musings about balance in your life in response to this blog post.
I recently endorsed The Blue Mind Rx: Water is Medicine. In 2014, Dr. Wallace J. Nichols wrote a book, The Blue Mind, that shares lots of information about how healing it is to be in, on, or near water. That also makes it important to preserve our clean water – lakes, streams, rivers, oceans. He and others have started a movement called neuroconservation which emphasizes that exposure to nature shifts us away from stress and toward calmness and compassion.
In The Blue Mind Rx, here is the basic premise:
Neuroscientists and psychologists add that the ocean and wild waterways are a wellspring of happiness and relaxation, sociality and romance, peace and freedom, play and creativity, learning and memory, innovation and insight, elation and nostalgia, confidence and solitude, wonder and awe, empathy and compassion, reverence and beauty — and help manage trauma, anxiety, sleep, autism, addiction, fitness, attention/focus, stress, grief, PTSD, build personal resilience, and much more.
I know that being near the water has been crucial to my wellbeing since I was a child. I spent many summer days and nights at my great aunt and uncle’s cottage on a large lake in the midwest, swimming, sailing, fishing, and just sitting on the pier, dangling my feet in the water underneath the willow tree and watching the sunset. In the water, I played for hours, imagining myself as a synchronized swimmer or simply dreaming about many things. This experiential play and exercise in a peaceful, beautiful, safe place helped balance things in my life in the city that were not so wonderful, such as the anxiety and panic attacks I began to experience at school and and other settings. For a time I was homeschooled due to my level of anxiety. The lake remained a refuge throughout this tumultuous time in my teen years. My great uncle taught me much while we sailed his small Sunfish, including a frequent reminder as speedboats zoomed by that the Earth was spinning and moving through space at a fast rate all the time – so why would we want to do the same? I learned to slow down, to pay attention, and to steer my own ship.
I have the good fortune now to live on the water and am a leader in the Conservation Club on my body of water, attempting to keep it clean and usable for all. Coming home to my view of the water, or kayaking, or jumping in at the end of a long, hot day all help balance the high energy work of counseling and running a business. The Blue Mind Rx reminds me of how important water is to physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. I am adding a water fountain to my counseling office and am considering ways to offer sessions, retreats, or experiential workshops that incorporate the healing power of water to assist individual and community growth.
How has water been healing in your life? How could you incorporate more interaction with water now? It could be as simple as soaking in the tub, playing in the dishwater, swimming in a pool for exercise, going to a nearby lake or stream for relaxation, or planning a vacation or retreat at the water. I look forward to your Blue Mind comments, ideas, and suggestions.