Monday, November 21, 2016

Really Be “Home” for the Holidays- Be Mindful.

It’s that time of the year again.  The holidays are upon us and many of us will undoubtedly be saying, “Where did the year go?” or, “I can’t believe it is time for the holidays again.” And as we recount the holidays of the last few years, what do we actually recall? What mattered?

For this holiday season, I am invoking the commitment to spend my time being as present as possible.  That means that I am going to be working on being aware of the moment at hand, observing, and being present, here and now.  It is so easy to get checked in with my thoughts that ultimately lead, one thought to another, and soon I am on the train of thoughts leading down the tracks of a future fear or worry.  These thoughts often lead to an adrenaline dumping response such as, “I have too much to do and not enough time to get it all done” or “I wish I didn’t have to do this.” Or, “How will I get it all done?”  Those thoughts, thoughts of worry and anxiety of the future, take my moments from the here and now and carry me off on a train that leads me down the track of nowhere that will bring peace of mind or peace in the moment. 

Or we might get on the train of the past, thoughts with family gatherings bringing up our old tapes and family dynamics, past family wounds, thought of missing a certain loved one as we remember when they were here. Or it may be the thoughts about how we wish our family unit looked more like others.  We may find ourselves on the train of thoughts playing out the narratives that we imagine will play out and how we plan to respond if Aunt Jo dare say just one more thing about my weight again. But without a doubt, getting on that train, past or future, takes me from my moment here and now.  It takes me away from the present now.   And the present is all I have and it is where peace of mind can be found. So how does one keep themselves present in the here and how?

1st.  Be aware, observing thoughts and feelings and noticing the thoughts and feelings. Start to notice when I get on the train of the past or the future rather than being present right here and right now.  Realize we are not our thoughts.  We are not our feelings.  Nor are our thoughts or our feelings the fact.   They are just thoughts and feelings.

2nd. Go into moments of here and now with no expectations.  Expectations often come from judgments.  If I assume I know what is good or bad, (which is a label and a judgment) then I also want something to be a certain way. If I just notice what is here and now and observe it, but don’t label it as good or bad, I can be in the moment and participate in that moment fully.  Through fully participating we can actually remember what we did during that moment because we weren’t on a train of thoughts around the past or the future.  Nor were we busy rejecting our moment or attaching to a “high” moment because we wanted something to go a certain way.  Just be in the moment, observe it, and neutrally participate in it.  Just as the highs come, so do the lows, but if we cannot be partial to them, we can just let ourselves be in the moment.

3rdTake time during this season to have your own quiet time, your own meditation time, as well as your own self-care.  Keep yourself revive and nourished so you stay energized and able to manage the stress of the holiday season. Self-care is more necessary when time and activities are escalated.  Monitor your sleep, your food intake, your exercise and keep yourself from being vulnerable.  If we are less vulnerable we have the energy and the skills to manage our stress in a much more effective way.
4th.  Each day find something to dwell in gratitude about.  Appreciating what we have, dwelling on our positive things can shift our mood and our perspectives.  Find those little moments that you can enjoy and sit in them, relishing them.

And finally, just be “home” for the holidays in the here and now.  No matter where you are at, be present, observe, notice.  Use your senses to keep you present in your moment - smell the scents, hear the sounds, taste the foods, feel the textures, watch the scenery playing out in front of you.  Make a choice to “really be home” for the holidays and you may find the holidays to be more laid back, easy going, and enjoyable than ever before.  And you might actually remember the season as you walked solidly through each moment. Here’s to your moments this season.  And by the way, when Aunt Jo make the comment about your weight, notice the thoughts you have, notice the feelings you have.  And then let them go, they are just thoughts, they are just feelings.  We don’t have to do anything with them when they arise. Go back to being present in the moment.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Be the Change You Want to See

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As we, one  nation, work to come together and move forward after a difficult political battle, I am grasping for guidance in what comes next.  I see and hear about the polarization, the fears, the wounding in families, the separation that has blanketed our citizens.  And on some level, it feels overwhelming and useless for me, as one being, to make a difference in what appears to be this huge abyss.                                                                                                            
It has been said that the outside world is but a reflection of our inner world.  And to that end, it is scary.  What are we to do with this chaos, this lack of understanding towards each other, this pain that some carry and others disregard?  How do we move forward to make a difference in this process?

Image result for be the change you want to seeI can only think that Gandhi had the route spelled out for us, “Be the change you want to see.”  So that means to step up, realize that if I am part of the polarization, I am part of the separation.  Our work is to come together regardless of what side the other is on.  Inciting more hate, more pain, more separation is not going to bring the balm we all yearn for.  If we fear hate, we must respond with love.  There is no other alternative.  It requires us to put our ego away, and “live” our convictions. Be the change we want to see.  Step into it and begin now to do the hard work.  Be loving toward those that you find it difficult.  Care about each person, even those that frustrate you.  Put the judgments away.  Work towards understanding of the other so that they, in turn, may work towards understanding you.  We must start somewhere, so maybe if we each start with our own self, we will, together, begin to bring light into this very difficult time with one encounter at a time.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Grief and Healing Your Broken Heart

Grief is a tough one.  None of us are immune. Sooner or later we will all be hit with loss. Grief is our natural response to loss in our lives. It is the emotional suffering we feel when something or someone we love is no longer with us or has been taken away from us.  Any loss can bring about grief.  Divorce and/or relationship breakups, loss of a job, death of a pet, loss of a friendship, loss of safety after a trauma, and/or the death of someone we love are some of the losses that may bring about grief and the need to work at healing.

Grief is the process by which we adjust to the loss. Grief does not have any short cuts so you need to realize that it is essential to your future mental health to grieve immediately and for as long as it takes.  The more significant the loss, the more intense the emotional response. The loss of someone close may be quite traumatic and bring about raw, overwhelming pain that may make a person wonder if he/she will get through the moment.  Experiencing symptoms with a period of intense sadness, social withdrawal, difficulty concentrating, and other dysphoric affect is normal, often presenting very much like those symptoms seen in Major Depression. 

Let’s face it – losing someone we are close to has a major impact in our lives. If that person played a central role in our lives, then we may have oriented much of our day, our activities, our thoughts and our life around that person.  We were hardwired with that person.  Regrouping and figuring out how to navigate through takes time.  There are no short cuts.  You don’t “get over” death.

There are different schools of thought regarding the stages of grief and how you will move through your grief.  Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross talks about the five stages of grief: denial, anger bargaining, depression and acceptance. (Kubler-Ross, 1969) Dr. Roberta Temes and Geoffrey Gorer talk about three stages: numbness, disorganization and reorganization. (Temes, 1980)  J. William Worden proposed four tasks of grief; accept the reality of the loss, process your grief and pain, adjust to the world without your loved on in it, and find a way to maintain a connection to the person who died while embarking on your own life. (Stang, 2012) Regardless, grief will come to an end when you see some light at the end of the tunnel.  You will still feel the loss, but you will survive the process and get through it.  It will not be easy and it will take some time.  it will not be orderly and predictable. But you will get through it.

The first part of the process of grief is shock and numbness, when you try to reorient yourself to find some semblance that may make some sense.  At this point in your process, the shock and numbness probably give you protection, allowing you to go through the motions of the process without taking in more than you can really handle.  You may find yourself in this stage for several months. You may also be overcome with feelings of disbelief, anger, guilt, sadness, anxiety, depression, relief, dreams and physical symptoms.

One important step is to find support after loss.  This may mean you turn to friends or family members, allowing those who care about you to be there for you.  Do not be afraid to ask for help, or let others attend to you. Tell people what you need. Often people draw comfort from their religious community and the traditions that come from this. Joining a support group may help if you are feeling lonely and will give you a way to share your sorrow with others who are struggling with the similar losses.  Or you may want to talk to a mental health professional or a grief counselor.  This can help you work through intense emotions and overcome obstacles to your grieving.

Because it may look like “depression”, you may consider medication to help you with the symptoms.  Normal grief generally doesn’t warrant the use of antidepressants. Medication may relieve some of the symptoms but it will not treat the cause, which is the loss.  Coupled with the fact that when you numb the pain, you still, eventually, have to work through that pain when you go off the medications and the numbing goes away. 

Grieving is personal and shouldn’t be compared to others.  Your process is your own.  The grieving process takes time and healing happens gradually.  There is no forcing this process and there is no timetable to say what is the normal time for grieving.  So don’t worry about what others say, or what you think you should be doing.  Wherever you are in the process is exactly where you should be.

What we do know is that you need to do your grieving.  You don’t want to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing as this will just make it worse for you and delay your healing process.  Feeling sad and lonely is normal.  Crying is not a sign of weakness.  Let yourself be authentic and real and show your true feelings as this is probably helpful to all who were a part of your loved one’s life.  If you are not a person who cries, that does not mean you aren’t grieving; you may have other ways of showing it.  There is no time table for how long you will feel the intense grief. Allow yourself the process and you will eventually come out on the other side of it.  I will be following up this article with some more tips on managing grief in the next edition.

Works Cited

Kubler-Ross, E. (1969). On Death and Dying. New York: Simon & Schuster/Touchstone.
Stang, D. (2012, July 7). www.alliance of hope. Retrieved from

Temes, R. (1980). Living with an empty chair. New York City: New Horizon Press.