Thursday, November 8, 2018

How to Impact the Terrain of Political Strife

In this era of political devise, polarization on so many fronts, hatefulness, lack of tolerance and violence, it seems we need some ways to contribute to the good of all. It can feel like a hopeless cause as we don’t feel as if we have any impact in the drama unfolding each day. It is certainly easy to get caught up in all of this and become obsessed with the daily happenings yet that can leave us feeling anxious, angry and fearful.

I do feel like we can contribute and make a difference in this unsettled terrain we currently live in. It would start with what our “internal terrain” looks like. Is there unsettledness, anxiety, anger and hatefulness within our own self? Can we work to maintain a peace-filled environment that becomes symbolic of what we want to see in the world we live?

It seems clear that our real work, regardless of which side of the issue we land, is to “be the change we want to see” – as Ghandi so wisely put it. We can use this to be the beacon of light to guide us and remind us how not to get caught up in the rhetoric so much, but instead to always make choices in how we respond. We make these deliberate and conscious responses by remembering our values and how we want to live.
Let’s face it. How we choose to live internally needs to be symbolic of the community, state and nation that we want to see. To me this means we have to choose to be the peace, love, kindness and compassion within our self so that this can reflect out into the rest of the world.
It is exceptionally difficult because the outside rhetoric can keep us upset, worked up and anxious. This is why I continue to practice mindfulness and extend the course opportunity to others. I feel like this tool, practicing mindfulness is needed more than ever right now. It teaches how to recognize that you are having a stress reaction within yourself and then gives the tools needed to make choices to respond in a way that is not reactive.

Let’s imagine that how you feel internally actually does impact your environment, whether at home, work and within your community. If you react to everything that comes across your path in a day, it impacts your internal space. If you begin to catch yourself going into a reactive state and make choices that align with your values and what you want to see in the world, you are contributing to making the state of affairs better. So be the peace you want to see. Start with yourself. Let your desire for peace within be your moral compass for what you extend out.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Ding, Double Click, Dopamine Dump

Ding. Chime. Notification received.  Perhaps we continue through our moment.  But our brains caught it, received it and responded. We were alerted. The dopamine was dumped. Conditionally we learn to respond to our phones through the notifications we receive.  

Ding.  Dopamine dump.  Respond.  Ding.  Dopamine dump.  Respond.  No ding. Quiet. Pick up the phone and check. What did I miss?  Precisely the moment you are living in real life, right now. Here. The moments not in the phone world, or social media front. The living breathing moment in your life now.

Chemically, we are reinforced to be engaged on our phones and technology which is a concerning piece of information. A dopamine dump happens in response to the alerts that come in from your phone and other devices. Dopamine use to be thought of as the “pleasure giving” chemical released in your brain.  Research has found that this is actually the opioid system that gives us pleasure. The dopamine system motivates you with “pleasure seeking” behaviors. Pleasure seeking behaviors include searching, seeking out, desiring more.  Dopamine effects your general level of arousal and goal directed behaviors which when you think about it, are critical to our daily life. The dopamine process sets you up to do basic things and elevates you to be creative and curious, developing new things. (Weinschenk & Wise, 2012)

There needs to be a balance between the two systems (dopamine and opioid) between “wanting” and “liking” that chemically keeps us going. With our technology, we are amping up the "pleasure-seeking" behaviors. We are continually searching, seeking out and desiring more - double clicking.  We need to shut off the dopamine process – or put it on pause – in order to allow the opioid system to reward us and give us pleasure. With the quick response to our texts, twitters, we have immediate gratification and are quickly moving back into the behavior-searching mode. If you don’t put this process on pause, you begin to do a looping through the dopamine system.  It is a matter of seeking constantly, getting rewarded, and seeking again. The constant stimulation of the dopamine dump can be exhausting and addictive.

We need to be aware. More and more we are required through our work, etc. to be on technology.  We leave work and come home to be on it. Our children are surrounded with it. We need to take steps to make sure we are not setting ourselves up for looping and developing an addiction to our technology.  Here are some ideas for managing the technology world.

First, you can turn off your notifications.  Although these notifications can be a nice feature, they often prevent us from staying focused and centered on our task at hand.  Even when we aren’t checking in after being notified, we are still getting the dopamine response and being distracted. Turn off all visual and auditory cues. Check your phone and computer less often. Be deliberate. Set it aside waiting the deliberate time you establish for checking emails (maybe twice a day). When you are with real live people, put the phone away. Reply later, maybe hours later. Set your boundaries and stick to them.

Have technology-free zones such as when you are eating or when you are in bed.  Turn off your phone when you are driving, in meetings or spending time with your children. Fill in time when you are bored with other activities such as reading, meditating, working out or putting a puzzle together. Remove social media apps from your phone so you can only access it on the computer.  (Smith, Robinson, & and Segal, 2016).  We can gain a lot from our technology world.  However, we have to manage it, just like anything else or it can be a set up for losing ourselves and what we have in our real world.  Take the necessary steps to keep things in order so they are enjoyable not consuming your life.

Works Cited

Smith, M., Robinson, L., & and Segal, J. (2016, December 31). Retrieved from

Weinschenk, S., & Wise, B. (2012, Sept 11). Retrieved from

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Death – The Shock Stage

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My dad died March 15, 2017 at 3:51 p.m.  By a chance of fate, I was with him when he died.  It seemed that the minute or two leading to his final breath were in slow motion and went on forever, suspended in time, as we approach the finality of his time here. Frozen in that moment, my husband and I stood there by his bedside, holding him. Again, what might have been only seconds gave into a feeling of a long, long pause. The world stopped at 3:51pm. The world we knew. The quiet of the moment quickly left as we “came to” enough to realize we had to communicate with the others who had been holding vigil. Trying to come back into the reality was tough, as we were both numb, shocked. Now what? My husband called my brother to let him know and asked him to go pick up our mother who had not left our dad’s bedside, except only minutes before after being encouraged to go get some rest while we sat with dad.

Image result for grief imagesIn a quiet, surreal place, we sat with dad until mom arrived – time stood still. I wasn’t tracking time or anything, as my mind was “offline”. Even with all the expectation of dad’s impending death, at this moment there was no thinking, or planning or organizing. It was just walking through the motions as we did one task at a time. At one point, as people gathered by my dads bedside, my sister-in-law took my mom’s phone and began calling people as they had planned she would.  I didn’t do anything. I just was there watching the scene, feeling sensory overload, not really in the scene, frozen.

And as we gathered together in dad’s room, others started arriving – dad’s priest, the hospice social worker and nurse and then, finally, the mortuary staff. The vigil continued until dad left and then with nothing more to do, feeling the stark void, we headed to our home place where people were gathering.  It is all a blur.

In my sensory overload state, I couldn’t help but notice as family gathered, the room began to fill. Watching from afar, as I sat there in the midst, I noted the phones going off throughout the room, loud and intrusive. The noise level continued to build with a crescendo as the conversation picked up speed and volume. The calls for each family member, from their own circle of people, were rolling in. As if managing the calls on one phone weren’t enough, people were calling my mom and she would hand me the phone. Holding two phones, I would talk to her caller, but then she would decide she could talk too. The connections in that moment, went way beyond managing it. We just did our best to respond, going through the movements.  At moments, I would retreat. Needing quiet I would take a moment and disappear to the next room, in my mom’s bedroom. Staying there only for a minute or two, or five or ten, I am not sure, before going back out into the family room.

Everyone does grief differently. Everyone experiences death differently.  Of course, this death was my dad.  And even if it was the right order, (He was 84 years old and the first one to die in our family, including extended family on both sides.), and he was, “Now out of pain,” and “Now in a better place.” And “It was for the best.” And “He was out of his suffering.”  And, “He lived a good life.” And all those things people say to you . . . all those things that make some sense, didn’t make sense at this moment. 

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All of this was part of the sensory overload, my shock symptoms.  Too many people, too much noise, too many connections via phone conversations and texts.  No time to sit and be still.  Let’s talk about dad.  Let’s share some memories.  Can we just sit still and talk about dad, our dad, the dad that raised us, taught us so much, shared his values with us, disappointed us at times, made us proud, always supported us?  Whatever the feelings – can we just talk? Everyone does their grief differently.  Some want to talk.  Some want to distract from the raw pain by doing things that don’t matter or doing the things that do matter. Some want to avoid it altogether and leave. Some, like me, want to talk about it with those I am closest to, with those that have the same memories. Some, like me, find they have no energy to take care of anyone else at the moment. They just can’t do it.  They can’t worry about making others feel better. Some experience all of the above at different points. Some have other ways to deal with their pain.  Some aren’t feeling anything right now and going through the motions is the easiest way to get through it.  Most do experience feelings of numbness.  How can we let this in all at once?  It is our protection.

Related imageThere is no right or wrong to the grief process. I do think it is important to be mindful of what you, yourself, are experiencing, and honor it. I was surprised at how I didn’t have the energy to give to anyone. I wasn’t able to answer emails and text messages. I finally sat down to answer text messages a week or two later. I didn’t have it in me to talk to anyone unless talking to that person would give me energy. I had one friend who had a similar story as my dad’s story, text me and I wanted to connect with her.  I wanted to talk to my cousin who had some stories to tell me about my dad. But mostly, I didn’t want to talk to people. I didn’t want to “chat”.  I didn’t have it in me to make people feel more comfortable with the raw pain of death.  So I honored that and took my time.

I thought I had accepted the inevitable and was ready for dad to move on. He had no quality of life with his disease. It wasn’t until his death, that I could really allow myself to grieve; grieve all that was slowly taken away these past two years, grieve the loss of my dad and all he brought to my world during his lifetime; grieve the person that is no longer here.  Of course, in my shock state I have only begun this process.  I hope to be accepting of where I am in the moment, not judging of it, but aware in a mindful way of what stage I might be in, what my needs are in the moment, and give myself permission to be wherever I am at this moment.  After all, in death that is all we really can do.