|Posted on August 1, 2014 at 11:15 AM|
What does your soul call out for?
Moments of clarity sometimes arrive quite unexpectedly. This was the case last week as I was on my morning walk. Darwin, my dog, and I try to do 3 miles a day, although, sometimes he chooses to flop over to play with a bug or chew some tender shoots of grass. About one mile into our stroll, I guess he found something really good, because he stopped in mid step, rolled over on his back and proceeded to revel in the moment. I looked around us, estimating how far we had come. I found myself standing between the elementary school my children attended and the swimming pool we once belonged to when the kids were younger. I stood still for a moment and watched the mothers dropping their children off for swim practice, moms fussing with sun screen and the jumble of towels and swimming paraphernalia. There were splashing sounds, laughter, and the voice of a coach attempting to put the chaos into some order. The smell of chlorine, fresh mowed grass, and warm black top, all called me back to another place in time.
I thought to myself, “I was thirty-something once, with young kids. We swam at this pool. I drove up to the school door a countless number of times.” I was washed with nostalgia, bittersweet. Now my children are grown and both launched (at least for now). Tears welled, a few trickled down my cheeks, then the processing began. Often times a phrase or word comes to mind when I begin to look a little deeper into my inner world. What came to me was, “What does your soul call out for?” I’m thinking I read this at one point in a book about Edgar Cayce. Anyway, I asked myself that question several times. Each time I asked, I viewed it from a slightly different perspective: my children as they were, my children as they are now, the energy and exuberance of my youth, the desire to be in the moment, peace, beauty, a grateful heart…..
What does your soul call out for today?
|Posted on July 16, 2014 at 11:25 PM|
Through my experiences as a psychotherapist I have begun to recognize that the opportunity for change can many times be traced back to brief, intense, meaningful sets of moments. Call them synchronicities, meaningful coincidence, or dumb luck: they all lead to opportunities to view the ruts and holes in our lives from a more constructive perspective. These experiences can be seen as doors, windows, peepholes or even cracks in the walls, but they all have the capacity to allow the light into our field of inner and outer vision. They are truly blessings whether or not we recognize them as such at the time they present themselves. It is akin to the idea that, tomorrow morning when you leave your front door you go to the left instead of going your usual right. Although the decision and the action occur in an instant the effects can take you to a completely different place.
Jubal came into my life on a chilly, crisp blue sky October morning in 2003. I had no warning, no idea that this little deer mouse could have the power to change the course of my life in such a quietly radical way. A whisper of brown fur new to this earth, Jubal became a wise teacher of patience, strength and love. During the five days that I cared for him I began to just “do”. There was, to my surprise, no trepidation, no fear, but rather a deep trust in the unfolding of this very precious and intense experience. This newfound patience and openness led the way to the inner freedom to reflect and then to more “doing” and reflecting, then ultimately to this book you are reading right now. The timing appears to be the crucial factor here, for if Jubal had showed up years earlier, months earlier, I would probably not have taken the opportunity to experience.
So how could a mouse change my life? He began by catching me by surprise. Fortunately for me, though, it wasn’t in the kitchen or in my bed at night. Instead, he came to me via a client (we will call her Jane) who carried a small box, a baby bottle, and a can of powdered infant formula into my office. Jubal had gotten separated from his mother after a skirmish with a cat and my client found him on her garage floor the morning of our appointment. Knowing he would die if she allowed him to remain on the cold concrete, she scooped him up and brought him along, hoping she would figure out the rest later. She knew that she could not care for him because she was also presently caring for a young parakeet that was new to her home.
Let me say that I have always been fond and felt compassion for all living things, whether they be two legged, four legged, winged, or of the leafy green variety. However, until the moment that I held Jubal in the hollow of my hand, I never realized how selective I had been regarding acceptance of all living things. He had a tail; a long tail. And he was a rodent. I must tell you that the combination of fear and repulsion swelled and gripped rather strongly at our first point of physical contact. The entire repetoire of judgments zipped through my memory and the idea that rodents are “bad”, dirty, and carry dreadful diseases was flashing like garish neon at the forefront of my brain. Forty four years of what I thought was my true self, the “enlightened and therapeutic” one, vanished in a blink. Jane recognized my panic and gently took the mouse back into her hand, smiling and soothing him with her calm voice.
So there I was, the therapist being helped by her client. All sorts of considerations began bubbling up from the deep, dark place those fears sometimes lurk. Why was I afraid? How was my terror experienced by my client? Should I overcome the fear by taking on the task of caring for this little creature? And, what are the clinical implications of accepting this responsibility from a client? What if the mouse dies? What if I don’t know what to do? And the internal pondering paraded on and on.
Then I began focusing on my breath and found that I was able to be present in the moment and grounded again. The more Jane and I sat with the mouse, the more I felt compelled to offer to care for him. The thoughts would come and go, like “Why are you doing this?” or “Are you slipping back into a rescuer mode and taking on something you really shouldn’t or don’t want to just because this is an old psychological pattern?” But from the place where the fears arose grew a “knowing”, a sense of calm. I could feel my body responding by relaxing and I felt down to my bones that caring for this mouse was something I was meant to do. It felt “right”.
The quote from Helen Keller, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing,” became my mantra for that first day. I kept the mouse warm until noon when I was joining a friend for lunch. There truly are no accidents. This particular friend is a very knowledgeable and gifted animal communicator and Reiki practitioner. She took me down to the pharmacy a few blocks away and we were able to purchase a syringe small enough for this tiny fellow. She went over the fine points of caring for small animals, like keep him warm, feed him frequently – even throughout the night, and keep him away from your cat. She handled the mouse with such gentle confidence that I decided to give it another try. This time I was able to see his total vulnerability and that he was as much a threat to me as a puff of cotton. When she left my office, I felt a sense of focus and grace. At that point I made the commitment to be with the experience as it unfolded, no matter what the outcome was to be.
Research has always been my best ally. If something comes up that I am unsure of, my process is to gather as much information as I can and then see what seems to stick with me. I decided that the baby formula might not give him the nutrients he required, so my daughter, Sarah, and I trekked off to the pet shop to get formula for baby kittens. On our way home Sarah asked what we should call the mouse. We were passing a street sign that said “Jubal Street”. We both saw it at the same time and agreed that Jubal sounded happy and optimistic and also seemed to fit the joy he brought to Sarah. Of course in my fervor to know more, I researched the name “Jubal”. It appears that in the Bible, Jubal was mentioned in the Old Testament as the first musician. The name seemed to fit even more, as I felt a growing sense of harmony in the task of stewarding this young mouse into the world.
|Posted on June 24, 2014 at 8:10 PM|
The Magnitude of Gratitude When We Change Our Minds
My husband and I recently had the very good fortune to attend a conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The materials covered in the conference were helpful and interesting, but we learned far more from reentering an environment we seem to have become immune to. Did you know that there is very little aggressive driving in other parts of the country? You can actually stop at a yellow light without the driver behind you honking or making impolite gestures (and if you have ever attempted to negotiate Saturday traffic in Fredericksburg’s Central Park you most likely know what I am talking about)! Yes, I am afraid it is true; we are more uptight here in the Washington D.C. area.
Some days it is indeed a challenge to look at the world through softer eyes. There are bills to pay, laundry to be done, meals to be cooked, jobs to be attended to, and on and on. Surely it seems as if sometimes every silver lining has a huge, gray cloud surrounding it. Our humanity does bring its unique challenges with it, and this kind of “deficit” thinking can be the result of burn-out or living too close to the edge in stress. Most of us experience this lackluster attitude at some point in our lives. So what do we do? Well, we can deny that such insidious negativity exists within our lives, but that ultimately causes them to boomerang back at us with double the force. Some life situations cannot be easily changed. Some (even though we want them to be over and done with) are actually part of our learning and our life path.
So, denying or repressing doesn’t work. But living with gratitude and a thankful mind and heart does. Learning to list blessings even in the face of bleak day-to-day can help us cultivate what is right with our lives. The more attention we give to what resonates with goodness shifts our focus from the darkness to the light. If we are too over focused on the unpleasant then our ability to enjoy and appreciate the more gentle and kind aspects of life is muddied. Remember: If you can change your mind, you can change your life. Much of the time, it is all a matter of perception and how we allow our attention to be guided.
Here are some suggestion to try:
You may find it helpful to begin a gratitude journal. This is a place where you can record and explore all those things you find yourself grateful for. You may want to record those small blessings you encounter during the day, like sunsets, the smell of rain, the comfort and warmth of a blanket, a hot shower, an old pair of broken in jeans, the taste of your lunch, the aroma of fresh coffee in the morning. You may also want to explore the bigger things in life, like family or friends and neighbors, yourself, your employer, the gift of sight, the gift of hearing. What things are you grateful for today? How easy or difficult is this exercise for you? What small things come to mind as blessings that you previously hadn’t given much thought to?
Before you go to sleep tonight, choose one thing you are grateful for. Spend some time holding it in your thoughts before you drift off to sleep. Notice how recognizing this blessing makes your heart feel. Does your body feel different when you focus on gratitude? Do this for several consecutive nights. Does this make a difference in your perception during waking hours?
|Posted on May 10, 2014 at 10:50 PM|
Children are naturals at losing themselves in play. As grownups,however, that depth of focus can be more difficult to achieve because we have been oriented so intensely toward our manmade concept of hours, minutes, and seconds. We have bills to pay, deadlines to meet, traffic jams to sit in, and our schedules are so tight they squeak with time famine. But, to be “in theflow” is to be in a right brain place where spontaneity, creativity, and openness abound. It is also to be in a state of total engagement with whatever it is we are choosing to focus on at the moment. Being able to access that state of flow not only assists us in managing life stress, it helps us learn to become receptive to new possibilities. The flow is that magic portal to a new world,one in which we can merge with a natural state that is very expansive,innovative, and powerfully healing.
I like to ask people what role creativity takes on in their lives. More times than not the answer is, “Oh, I’m not really the creative type.” Unfortunately, this vital aspect of our innerselves is far too often ignored or drummed out of us through years of being told (and telling ourselves) that we are incapable or inept . The words play, creativity, and spontaneity lose their sparkle in the realm of our adult reality. I have come to the conclusion through my work as a psychotherapist (as well as traversing my own inner terrain, many times rocky) that actively working with a creative practice not only helps us to be more expressive and less stressed, it allows us to communicate with the deepest parts of who we are. Honoring and listening to our creative voice can meaningfully facilitate the resolution ofold emotional wounds and invite a healing process to commence. The vessel of our own creative energies to besure can pour us into a more fluid, flexible state that flows into the cracks where words just won’t fit.
Think about these questions: Have you ever been so focused on a task or activity that you lose all track of time and place? What do you really, really like to do? Make a list of those activities that help you reach the flow state. How often do you allow yourself to go there? Do you think you need to make more space in your schedule to flow a bit more? Did you ever stop to think that even simple daily tasks could help you begin to access creativity, like cooking a meal,choosing the color of your outfit for the day or how you go about brushing your teeth? Be patient with yourself. After all, this creativity stuff is much like muscle building; you can’t expect to be as beefy as Ah-nold in one visit. Think of accessing creative flow like you would building up muscle tone; the more you work out, the better theresult.
Here are some suggestions to help youget started. Notice how you feel after you experiment. My guess is that you will experience a sense of inner lightness, calm, or exuberance.
*Choose one way to have fun and play each day. You might go down to the local store and pickup some pretty, colorful markers, pens, or paints and brushes and experimen twith doodling, drawing, daubing, splashing or swirling. Let the colors mix and work big. Make a masterpiece or intentionally make a mess.
*Play a drum, a recorder, or some other musical instrument. Close your eyes and notice how the sounds and vibrations feel. Imagine colors, shapes, images that express your experience.
*Listen to your favorite CD or try a piece of music thatis new and exotic and spontaneously move to the sounds and rhythms.
* If reading more about this topic seems a good way for you to begin I would highly recommend either Art is a Way of Knowingby Pat B. Allen, or Art as Medicine by Shaun McNiff.
Finally, I would like to leave you with a magic wish. My magic wand broke years ago butI have learned the value of suspending disbelief and I hope you will too. My magic wish is that if you haven’t already,you will reclaim the beauty and power of your inner creative life. If you are already one who actively flows with spontaneity and creativity, then my wish is that you will join me in sustaining the movement!
|Posted on March 3, 2014 at 1:55 PM|
So, what is up with our weather? Today it was 63 degrees and sunny but by tomorrow, we plummet down to the teens with knee deep snow predicted. My parking spot at the office had finally emerged from a huge pile of grayish brown ice and snow....oh well, I guess it is back to being creative about parking my old Volvo (which, by the way is actually my son's car and has almost 300,000 miles on its odometer! I hope I run that well at 300,000!).
When I was in my thirties, I found winter months to be depressing and almost intolerable. I dreaded the shorter days and the cold temps and the layers of coats, scarves and shoes--I am not a shoe person. I prefer bare feet or sandals to shoes any day. My irritable and sleepy self tended to wax and wane, depending on the rise and fall of the mercury. In a nutshell, I do believe I was suffering from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). I was a textbook example of what happens when you feel trapped, powerless and helpless. Yes, I even tried anti-depressants for a short time. I am very sensitive to most medications, however, and although they might initially sort of work, I found the side effects outweighed the benefits.
It was a particularly dreary early February day in 1993 when I realized that I was skilled at giving sound professional advice but I was not so good at walking the walk! It was a “healer, heal thyself” moment. I decided that I needed to make friends with the enemy.....I would have to do a combination of better self-care and accept that I was powerless over winter and all of the cold, dark days.
So...what did I do? I began to utilize my fireplace. I would sit by the fire in the evenings and tend the fire. It provided a source of light and warmth. I also sprinkled candles around living room and lit them with the intention that their soft glow would surround me with gentle light. I began to journal and I tried to draw and paint more often. I brushed off my yoga matt and exercised (I believe that Richard Simmons in Sweating With the Oldies became a close friend). I read inspirational books and listened to energetic or soothing music, depending upon my mood. Gradually, the crocus popped their little purple heads out of the snow, then came the daffodils, then the hyacinth. My world gradually warmed and the light returned. All wasgood. And you know what? Each year, slowly but surely, it has become easier for me to make the transition from Fall to Winter.
I do believe one of the greatest lessons that the universe shared with me at that time was recognizing my need to let go of that over which I have no control. This is a particularly hard one for me because I come from a long line of worriers and ‘what-iffers’. As a matter of fact, this is probably another whole blog—overcoming worry and the need for control. I still struggle at times! Anyway, I was allowing myself to ruminate on what I didn't have and wanted so desperately--warmth and light! Looking back, it seems like it would have been a kind of 'no, duh,' to many folks to realize, but I guess I was stuck somewhere in the process.
The other important understanding comes from memories of something my mother used to say when the wind and snow were ripping outside: "If we didn't have the ice and snow of winter, how would we appreciate the azaleas in spring?" Endings temper our appreciation of beginnings and vice versa. The seasons are a grand circle that reflect our own inner process: time for planting, time for growing, time for harvest, time for endings and preparation for the cycle to begin anew. I find myself using the seasons to time projects in my life. In the winter, I may prepare and plan for what I will bring forth in the spring. Winter is a time for study and reflection that I have grown to be grateful for. Thanks, Mom! I really was listening to you all along.