I have openings for video therapy sessions,
and would welcome the opportunity to support you during this challenging time.
Please contact me today to discuss your options.

Ride Every Stride – Mindfulness In Relationships

mindfulnessLike many writers, I often find it difficult to actually write.

During my morning computer time, I am super good at finding multiple and varied (would it be bragging to say creative?) ways of distracting myself from what I came to do. I check email and Facebook. I straighten my desk. I get a drink of water, stare out my window, worry and write something on my to-do list. I bold and italicize my titles, check the clock and stare out my window again. I’m sure I’ve forgotten something here, but you get the idea.

Truth be told, I’m a distraction-creating machine in so many areas.

Riding
As many of you know, I am an amateur horseback rider. Amateur being the operative word here, I am way beyond indebted to the instruction I’ve received from talented riders and trainers over the years.

Nina, one of my early trainers, has collected a quiver of wise riding adages over her years of teaching others to do what she could do in her sleep, and has a knack for bringing out the perfect arrow of wisdom at the perfect time. “Steering is a full-time job.” “The answer to everything is more leg.” “Quit trying so hard to relax.” These were the familiar refrains of my many lessons with Nina.

But the Ninaism I probably heard most often was her exhortation to ride every stride.

To ride every stride is to stay present to each separate moment in the saddle, being fully aware of each trot or canter motion of your horse, the way she moves and breathes, and the way in which your own body communicates with this glorious, powerful animal. Riding every stride is, essentially, about mindfulness.

mindfulnessWhether you are an Olympic level eventer, an amateur dressage enthusiast, or a weekend trail rider, mindfulness is what allows you to communicate wordlessly with your horse. And this silent partnering makes it possible for horse and rider to glide over a 4ft rail in perfect harmony, dance to music in a dressage freestyle routine, or instantly calm each other when a snake slithers across the trail.

The moment you lose your mindfulness and become distracted by the view outside the ring, what to have for dinner that night, or whether your breeches make your butt look big (all of which happens to me with alarming frequency), you lose your connection with your horse and are no longer in a conversation. You are just riding on, not riding with. Your horse knows the difference, and the communication, the partnering, is lost.

Running
In addition to being a writer and a horseback rider, I am also an avid runner. (Okay, I just noticed all of my activities begin with the “R” sound. I should look into a gig on Sesame Street. Or maybe check out rug hooking.)

Warwick, NY, where we lived before our move to Omaha last year, is a quaint village in the Hudson Valley. Its charming streets are bordered by trees, slate sidewalks and renovated Victorian buildings.

Toward the end of one of my afternoon runs there, on one of the aforementioned slate sidewalks, I heard a nearby car honk. Thinking it was a friend, or perhaps an admirer (I did like the way I looked in my new running shorts), I turned my head toward the car. Exactly one second after I realized I was smiling and waving at a total stranger, I noticed that I was lying face down on the sidewalk, feet arced over my head, with my forehead smashed HARD to the ground.

Ouch.

Turns out that while my eyes and mind were otherwise engaged, I had tripped on an uneven seam between the slate sidewalk panels. Sporting an emerging bump over my right eye (that would later develop into a massive shiner), I half-walked, half-wove home, resolving to keep my attention on my feet from there on out.

We miss a lot when we aren’t mindful.

Relationship
I have been in a relationship with my husband for almost thirty years. Sometimes, I’ll admit, when he is telling a story about his day, my mind wanders away from the moment and I let the latest worry, media sound bite or random thought distract me.

It goes something like this:

  • My husband begins, “So, I held my first staff retreat today and . . .”
  • I, in an attentive posture, think, “Staff retreat, huh? . . glad I don’t have to manage staff . . music staff . . wish I could take voice lessons again . . who was that one voice teacher? . . teacher . . my son wants to be a teacher . . wonder if he’s enjoying his first week back at college? I should call or Skype him after my husband finishes . . Oh! Wait!”

(Sweetie, if you’re reading this, know that I am very ashamed of my behavior and that I am really working on it. I’m thinking of joining a 12-step program.)

mindfulnessSo, mindfulness in relationship is about really focusing in on our partner and actively listening to what they are saying (neither of which I was doing in the above example), and then somehow communicating back to them our understanding of what they have said (which I could not have done here, even for a promise of really good money).

When we stop being mindful, we may look like we’re listening, and may be able, through parroting back a few key words, convince our partner that we heard them. We may even think, on some level, that we did hear them. But we are no longer actually in a mutual conversation.

Our partner knows the difference. And, suddenly, the chance for real communication, real partnering, is lost.

And here’s the kicker. This missed communication opportunity can have dire consequences, because offering our partner a huge slice of our attention is the foundation for everything else we do in a relationship. Mutual support, management of conflict, compromise – none of these are possible without first engaging in mindful listening.

Our worried minds and busy lives, our media-hyped day, our tweeting and sound-byte world, our own agendas – all of these things conspire to encourage distraction and discourage mindfulness.

Our partners, children and friends (and our horses, our bodies and our writing projects) want us to stay with them, to hold fast to the moment, to ride every stride.

If we can manage to accomplish this state of mindfulness, even for a moment, the chance is there for us to experience the incredible intimacy and understanding that is born of real, mutual communication, and that makes it possible for us to genuinely support each other when we are down, dance for mutual joy at our successes, and help each other jump the world’s high fences.

_______________________________________________

Tell us about your experiences (successful or otherwise!) with mindfulness. If you’ve lived it, someone will benefit from it.

And if you’re interested in exploring mindfulness in body work, check out this previous guest post from Kendra McCallie, psychotherapist and yoga instructor.

Share
Posted in Mindfulness | 1 Comment

Beyond Brokenness – Living With Disability

 

brokennessRing the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
Leonard Cohen, Anthem

A Boy
Benjamin Snow showed a talent for mimicry at an early age. His parents first noticed this ability when Benjamin began copying the British voice of Ringo Starr in Ringo’s rather bizarre incarnation as the narrator of Benjamin’s favorite childhood show, “Thomas, the Tank Engine.” As he grew, Benjamin’s exploration of his ability led him to seek out new creative endeavors: acting classes, performing on stage, playwriting and, finally, filmmaking.

Benjamin is now 25, and has already offered much to the planet during his relatively short time on it. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, is beginning to work toward a Master’s degree, is an award-winning filmmaker, published author, sought-after presenter and advocate, and is active in local politics.

Oh, and Benjamin Snow has cerebral palsy and requires a motorized wheelchair and voice recognition software to function in the world.

A Bird
brokennesI have always maintained backyard bird feeders. Over time, although I have appreciated all of my avian visitors, the cardinals have always been my favorite. I like their wild red plumage, the fact that they travel in pairs, their beautiful song, both ethereal and familiar at the same time, and their persistence in my yard and at my feeder, even in the winter.

One particularly persistent cardinal stands out in my mind today. On a recent morning, as I was enjoying my coffee and paper on the patio, I noticed a female cardinal perched on the tall wooden fence that surrounds my backyard, and saw that she was wobbly, off-balance. Looking closer, I could see she was perched on only one leg, and that the other hung down loosely, and at an odd angle from her body. Clearly, she was . . . well . . . broken. But she was not a young chick, newly out of the nest. She was a full-grown bird with a mate hovering nearby. Moreover, as she later left the fence for my feeder, I saw that she could both fly and forage.

Living With Disability
The challenges posed by severe physical and cognitive disabilities are very real, and the efforts required to overcome them shouldn’t be taken lightly. But it is clear to me from my own experience that we all have disabilities, a brokenness of one kind or another, and not all of our disabilities are as outwardly visible as those of Benjamin Snow or my backyard cardinal.

Many of us have troubling emotional scars from past abuse, persistent social anxiety that limits our physical space, or a low mood that holds us back from being the stunningly wonderful people that we are. I can feel many of you nodding your heads in agreement out there, so I know that you know from direct experience that these disabilities, while not always visible to others, nonetheless have the potential to severely limit our lives.

If we let them.

Regardless of the nature of our own brokenness, I’m convinced that how we choose to think about it affects our experience of it as debilitating or not. We can choose to only notice the limitations imposed by our disability, or we can take stock of both our challenges and our gifts, look for the light coming through the cracks of our brokenness, and follow this light to its productive and creative ends.

Back to my cardinal for a moment. Unburdened by the often-constraining human inclination to label and classify, the natural world is freer to move on from its brokenness, and improvise and create in order to get the job of living done. So my mama cardinal is clearly pretty disabled, but is functioning well anyway, having learned how to balance out the weakness of a kinky leg with the determined use of her very real strengths.

brokennessI have also noticed that some trees, in a kind of slow-motion balancing act, will change the direction of a pre-existing branch, or perhaps create a completely new branch in a place where one was not previously planned, in order to balance out the loss of an important one on the opposite side. A magnificent act of creation, with its origin rooted in a disability.

And, on a farm in New Hampshire, a blind Quarter Horse named Cash has learned how to carry and take directions from a rider, use a zipper and sneak under a fence to eat the grass on the other side. Unaware that other horses have sight, and brought up by people who made the most of his naturally curious and trusting nature, he doesn’t know he’s lacking anything and so lives a full and productive life.

My guess is that Benjamin Snow was also brought up in this fashion. And we know that there are many other brave, creative humans who have moved beyond and through the cracks of a less visible brokenness to both imagine and create a life of amazing accomplishments. You may be familiar with some of them:

  • Agatha Christie suffered from social anxiety and turned to music and writing as a means of expressing herself. Sixty-six novels, 15 short story collections, 14 plays, and 34 film adaptations later, Dame Christie is hailed as the most popular mystery writer of all time.
  • Greg Louganis, winner of 4 Olympic medals, 5 world titles, and 47 national championships, did not let either the emotional scars of childhood abuse or a debilitating injury keep him from being a successful athlete. After the injury ruined his dream of becoming an Olympic gymnast, he recovered, worked hard, and went on to become a world-renowned competitive diver.
  • President Abraham Lincoln, who successfully led his country through the constitutional, military and moral crisis of the Civil War, preserving the Union while ending slavery, and promoting economic and financial modernization, suffered from chronic depression. Historians believe it was precisely his “uncanny melancholic third eye” that gave Lincoln an ability to see the world clearly, and his ability to continually adapt to a changing reality was central to his success as a leader.
  • In Benjamin Snow’s own words in an 8th grade essay, “We must stop believing that disabilities keep a person from doing something. Because that’s not true . . . Having a disability doesn’t stop me from doing anything.”

Well, then. If a young boy and small bird can do it, so can we. We can, following their examples and others from both the natural and human world, move beyond our brokenness, welcome the light that comes through our many cracks, and use it to make our always imperfect, but beautifully creative, offering to the world.

——————————————-
Please consider offering your own stories of moving beyond brokenness by commenting below. And you can read more about Benjamin Snow and the animals at Rolling Dog Farm at these links.

Share
Posted in Self Esteem | 2 Comments

Hurry Up! Then Start Waiting

waitingFor this week’s post, I will actually be redirecting you in a moment to one of my favorite websites, All Things Private Practice, where I recently guest posted on Tamara Suttle’s fabulous blog, Private Practice From the Inside Out.

My post, at Tamara’s suggestion, unpacks the concept of waiting as it applies to opening a private psychotherapy practice, so readers who currently find themselves in this situation (or are considering entering into this situation at any time in the near future) will find it especially relevant.

But the thoughts I explore in the post (waiting involves letting go of control; the importance of staying positive and staying connected to others; how to remain centered and healthy) are really applicable to anyone beginning a challenging new endeavor, whatever its flavor. So I trust everyone will find something in the post that resonates with their experience.

So take a few moments to check out the post, Hurry Up! Then Start Waiting, and then get your own wait on!

*By the way, Tamara is a very active and generous communicator on her blog; if you comment on a post, she will both notice it and comment right back. So don’t hesitate to offer your own thoughts and resources about waiting.

Share
Posted in Guest Posts | Leave a comment

Every Fall Makes You A Better Rider

fallThe whole thing started when I was a 10-year old at the Rough Riders session of Camp Bette Perot, a Girl Scout summer camp outside of Palestine, Texas. Things were just starting to get a bit complicated at that age, but life still made sense when I was trotting around a hot ring in a Western saddle on sweet quarter horses with names like Sunny and Patches. No boys, no parents, no worries. Life was good, and I wanted a pony of my own something bad.

Flash forward to 2007: I am living in upstate New York, now the forty-something parent of two teenagers and the Clinical Social Worker in a large middle school. And I am riding again, this time in an English saddle. Not riding well, or all that often, but riding nonetheless. This was the set-up when a wonderful conflux of social, geographical and financial factors suddenly made it possible for me to achieve my childhood dream and take the plunge into horse ownership. My daughter was also a rider at that time and Nora, a quirky 10-yr-old Thoroughbred mare, was to be our horse to share. My daughter has since stopped riding. I’m still in the saddle.

fallTurns out, horseback riding is an incredibly expensive sport. And it sucks huge swaths of time (2-3 hours per ride) away from other worthy pursuits like cleaning the house, spending time with family or making money. Also, despite years of private lessons and countless miles logged in the saddle, I’m still not really very good at it. But I am, nonetheless, still very hooked, even on those days when my anxious mare scoots at the sight of a barn swallow and nearly runs us both into the wall of the ring. (Really, Nora? A BIRD?)

You can guess the obvious reasons why I stay with the sport. Of course I like horses (even my anxiety-riddled mare). I also really do enjoy the experience of riding, whether working in the ring or relaxing on a trail ride. And, as you might have noticed, the tall boots are really cool (and suddenly very fashion-forward). But there are other, less obvious, factors that keep me in the saddle during a month of steamy hot weather, lessons that seem to go nowhere, and stupid mare shenanigans:

The Relationship
Whether you are a Western rider on a ranch, a professional stadium jumper, or an amateur dressage rider like me, riding is a sport that involves being in a relationship with a living being, and a spectacularly beautiful one at that. Riding offers me a chance to connect with nature on a more or less daily basis through caring for, communicating with, and even accomplishing goals with, a living, breathing creature. And my work with my equine partner is a constant, and much-needed, reminder to this independent Gen-X girl that it’s not all about me.

The Work
I have also found that there is real value in taking on, and staying with, a pursuit that I’m not very good at. Having to work really hard at something has taught me patience and perseverance, and the sometimes unbearably slow progress toward my goals reminds me that life and work can be meaningful even when I’m not producing or improving at something (and for a first-born female of a first-born female, this is reminder I need to have on a playback loop).

The Falls
Perhaps most importantly, horseback riding offers me regular reminders of the value of falling off. Falls from the horse, what those of us in the business refer to as “involuntary dismounts,” while unpleasant and to be avoided at all costs, are inevitable if you ride long enough. One of my favorite trainers used to say, “Every fall makes you a better rider,” and she was dead right.

Falls are humbling. My falls always seem to happen when I am feeling really cocky about my riding and making plans for an Olympic run. Something about suddenly finding myself lying in the dirt with my butt over my ears and my breath knocked clean out of me reminds me that I am not all that. And reminds me that improvement in my riding ability does not mean that I can, even for a minute, ride without clear intent and mindfulness.

Falls also teach me about overcoming fear and accomplishing the impossible. Big wuss that I am, coming back from a fall requires me to reach way down deep inside my little shriveled, First World heart and find a small spot of toughness and courage. Then, after months of tentative riding and weeks of listening to a determined “Cowgirl up!” in my head, when I am finally able to enter the ring without my heart pounding out of my ears and really work with my horse again, the experience teaches me that I am stronger and braver than I thought.

fall

These riding lessons are, of course, also life lessons. Which, in the end, is probably the number one reason why I love the sport. As I learn how to ride, I also learn how to live.

Because in real life, it is always good to be in relationship with nature and remember that it’s not all about us. And there is real, personality-building, value in taking on and staying with challenging pursuits.

But, most importantly, to live a rich, meaningful life is to experience the myriad ways human beings can fall. And these falls, while unpleasant, teach us humility and the importance of mindfulness, and our eventual recovery from them reminds us that we are stronger and braver than we know.

Share
Posted in Self Esteem | 1 Comment

The Change Process – It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better

ChangeAt a recent meeting to discuss a city improvement project affecting our neighborhood, I had the opportunity to request the planting of a new tree on the parking area in front of my home. I was thrilled when my request was granted, and began to envision what my new tree would look like, and how it would enhance the aesthetics and comfort of my property. I think trees are really beautiful.

It was only a few days later that I noticed an ugly web of multi-colored flags and stripes crisscrossing the yard and sidewalk in front of my home (evidence of a call to the Digger’s Hotline). Ick! Not beautiful at all. In fact, quite ugly and messy (and regular readers of this blog will know how I much hate messiness, particularly a messiness of this sort.

So, I hadn’t quite thought this thing through. I had forgotten that in order to plant a new tree in the area in question, not only would the planter have to eventually dig a hole for this tree (duh!), but also someone would first have to dig up the stump of an old maple tree that currently occupied the space. So things were clearly going to get worse before they got better. I continued to dream of my new tree, but with a more guarded enthusiasm.

Now, I was not a fan of this stump and was happy to see it go. Left behind when the city removed the old tree, I felt it was an unsightly remnant that marred an otherwise clean and green lawn. My sister-in-law disagreed with me vehemently on this point. “But it’s the Giving Tree!” she exclaimed one day, referring to the main character of the Shel Silverstein book of the same name, a selfless tree who gives and gives of himself until he is just a stump. This was actually a very sweet reframe, and the memory of it now was a bit poignant as I waited impatiently for the stump’s demise.

The wheels of city improvements grind slowly, so the ugly flags and stripes stuck around for quite a while. So long, in fact, that the 5-year-old twins next door decided to relocate the flags to their front yard in order to incorporate them into an impromptu war game. Concerned the stump removers would inadvertently blow something up (like maybe my house) without the information these flags imparted, I stole them back. My young neighbors did the same, and then it was my turn again, and thus we engaged in a clandestine game of Capture the Flag, with the boys repeatedly absconding with the flags for their creative purposes and me fetching them back to my yard for my beautification ones.

Finally (and, fortunately, at a time when the flags were safely in their assigned spots), a large arborist truck pulled up in front of my home and began the work of removing the stump. For those of you who’ve never lived through this experience, it is not a pleasant one. It consists of a half-day of bulky machinery, unbearable noise, teeth-chattering vibrations and a cascade of flying debris. And when it’s all over, when the trucks have all gone and the sawdust has mostly cleared, the stump is still well . . . there . . . but just mulched up into a lot of little pieces in a big hole. Still not very pretty. Hmmmm . . . I was beginning to regret initiating this whole project.

changeFunny. In my experience, this is what it’s like to enter therapy. We want to change, to grow, to experience improvement and renewal, and so we enter the experience with enthusiasm and thoughts of a better life. But when the therapeutic process first gets a little messy, as it so often does, we sometimes regret initiating the self-improvement project.

There are, of course, numerous benefits associated with psychotherapy. It offers us the opportunity to talk about issues in a confidential, supportive environment, and this experience can lead to new levels of self-awareness and self-acceptance, improved relationships and enhanced coping skills. Depression may lift. Feelings of anger, anxiety, guilt or loneliness may subside. The process really does offer the potential for great growth and change.

But engagement in psychotherapy can also sometimes lead to the emergence of unpleasant feelings or upsetting memories, so we may feel worse before we feel better. We may also experience real distress caused by decisions we make as a result of our participation in the process, distress that can bother us in multiple areas of our life, like at work or in school, or in important relationships. And let’s face it. Our tendency as human beings is often to avoid discomfort, even within a change process we choose to undertake.

So. How do we push through?

changeI think the idea of reframing, thinking about something in a different way in order to change our perception of it, is key here. We don’t have to look far for great examples of this process at work. My sister-in-law gave an unsightly old stump new life as the self-sacrificing hero of one of my favorite children’s stories. My young neighbors took unsightly construction materials, called them war banners, and built a game around them. Brilliant, really. And all of us can use this idea of reframing to help us through the hard, ugly parts of change. Because with a reframe, every stage along the way, no matter how difficult, can be seen not only as an important step in our journey toward growth and renewal, but also as an honorable and meaningful entity in its own right.

So newly expressed anger can become the impetus for much-needed change, profound emptiness felt during a significant loss can serve as fertile ground for new growth, and increased confusion can lead to a willingness to be open to new ideas and interpretations. Like that.

As I near the end of this post, there are still multi-colored painted lines and a large, mulch-filled hole in my parking area. And I’m still waiting for my tree. But I no longer regret starting this project. As I have previously observed, change is not easy, and you don’t arrive at transformation, renewal and healing without making your way through some discomfort, upheaval and mess first.

In the end, every step of the change process, perhaps most especially the inevitable ugly one, offers us a chance to see things in a new light, a light that can illuminate our next step more clearly. Moreover, any success we achieve at the end of the process turns out to be all the sweeter when we’ve gotten a little messy along the way. And, sometimes, like when an old stump reminds us of a childhood hero, or when bits of wire and colored plastic give us a window into the magical world of a five-year-old, we even miss the messy steps just a bit.

Share
Posted in The Change Process | 1 Comment

Yoga for Healing, Mind and Body

This week’s blog is a guest post from my friend and fellow psychotherapist, Kendra McCallie, LIMHP, LLC. Her thoughtful writing about the benefits of yoga for healing both our minds and our bodies is compelling. Enjoy her fresh voice, and then check her out on her website below.

YogaI went to Denver to visit, and help, my parents last week. Dad has Alzheimer’s and Mom has her share of medical issues. Overall, however, my mom is in pretty good health, and she keeps this way partly by participating in the “Golden Sneakers” senior exercise class at the local fitness center. I went to one class with her while I was there, and was struck by how much yoga was involved. Many of the exercises we were doing were actually yoga postures. After the class I approached the teacher and thanked her for making me feel welcome. I also mentioned how ‘yogic’ the class was. She winked at me and admitted that she is a yoga teacher but that the fitness center directors don’t like her to use the word “yoga” for this specific class, so as not to scare anyone off. Hmmmm . . .

“You’re kidding me, right?” I said. “Nope. They do have a yoga class on the schedule but they don’t feel the seniors would feel comfortable with yoga so . . .”

Wow.

I went home to Mom and Dad and told them about the interaction. Now, as I stated before, my dad has Alzheimer’s. He is in a moderate stage of decline, and so asks me often why I teach exercises when I am already a “doctor” and have a job. I have to remind him often that I am not a doctor but a clinical social worker (psychotherapist) and, it turns out, a yoga teacher. I talk to him about how beautifully yoga and mental health fit together to improve healing. I have shown him chair postures he can do, and I have shown him how his breath can assist in relaxation and help him with some of his chronic pain and daily worries. When we’re done he tells me how much he likes it and how much it helps. He remembers, for a short time, why yoga is so powerful. Then we start over again.

Since my dad regularly forgets I’m not a doctor and tells everyone in his social circle that I am, I’m going to go with it. Here is the “doctor” explanation of why yoga heals both the body and the mind (and hundreds of sound research studies support this theory): it all comes down to the neuroplasticity of the brain, the ability of the brain to rewire itself.

When most people think of yoga, they probably think of just the poses or movement involved. Yet yoga is posture, breath and meditation. Each of these elements is yoga, and each works with the other to help rewire the brain and heal the body.

It works like this. Focusing our awareness inward (meditating) on our breathing, or where we are placing our foot on the yoga matt, requires mindfulness, living in the present moment. And studies show that being in a mindful state calms our nervous systems down, allowing our Gamma brain waves (the waves in charge of compassion and intellectual functioning) to increase. The more we are able to be mindful, the more these Gamma waves increase, and the more our brain changes, becoming better at tasks like showing compassion and thinking. And guess what happens when our brains expand in their ability to grow compassion and create (positive) thoughts? We get better in both mind and body.

Moreover, when we do yoga over and over again, the brain can actually make lasting changes, because the more a neuro-pathway (path) in the brain is used, the more ingrained it becomes.

I became a yoga teacher because yoga has helped me so much personally. For example, I have always tended to be a bit of a worrier. What I have observed over time as I have worked on my own yoga practice is that I am not such a worrier any more.

As a psychotherapist in private practice, I want my clients to have the opportunity to benefit as I have from the healing power of yoga, so I integrate some yoga practices in my work with clients. I also teach a yoga class at the Omaha Yoga and Body Work Center called Yoga for Mental Wellness. Happily, the students in my class have told me that the work they do with me helps them feel calmer, not only during the class, but also throughout the week, which just underscores how yoga helps us long after we are “off the matt.”

If I lived closer to my parents I could do yoga with my dad more often. I can only hope he remembers some of the yoga we’ve done together so he can worry less and relax more. I’m thrilled that my mom has a yoga, I mean “Golden Sneakers,” class she attends a few times a week, because I know it can be stressful taking care of my dad. They may call it a senior fitness class, but I know my mom is getting the mind and body benefits of breathing, moving and mindfulness.

Call it what you will. I know yoga heals, mind and body.

——————————-

Kendra McCallie LIMHP, LLC is a licensed psychotherapist and a certified yoga teacher in Omaha, Nebraska. She practices both of her disciplines at the Omaha Yoga and Body Work Center, a holistic wellness center offering certified yoga instruction, psychotherapy, massage therapy, nutrition services and Bowenwork. You can find out more about Kendra, her philosophy and her work by visiting her web site at www.kendramccallie.com.

Share
Posted in Mindfulness | 1 Comment

Weebles Wobble – Thoughts About Balance In Life

balanceMany of you who were young in the 70’s will remember playing with Weebles, those delightfully wobbly egg-shaped toys that came in a variety of characters and figures. My small set was comprised primarily of people-shaped Weebles, but the stores also sold animal and storybook character versions, among others.

Regardless of the appearance of the egg-shaped doll, its main attraction was that, despite its tendency to careen wildly out of balance when you pushed it, it was impossible to actually push the thing all the way over. Hence, the Playskool marketing slogan above.

Didn’t you always wonder what kept those little guys balanced, and allowed them to pop back up whenever you tried to tip them over? It turns out Weebles were designed specifically to be able to repeatedly achieve something called “mechanical equilibrium” (which is engineer-speak for “Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down”). They can never permanently lose their balance.

Loss of balance. We’ve all been there: times and places when we have had too much of one thing, and not enough of another. Maybe we have had too much work and not enough play (and here I see “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” typed over and over on reams of paper – creepy!). Or maybe we have taken in too much food or drink, and haven’t exercised enough. Perhaps our days have contained too much technology and not enough contact with the natural world. Or we have had too much social activity in our schedule and not enough quiet, alone time.

In a previous post I told the story of my family’s recent geographical move and the way in which it both disrupted and enriched my life. One of the things I learned about myself in the midst of all that change was how out of balance my world had been before the move. Don’t get me wrong. I loved my life during our New York years. I had two very fulfilling jobs, several artistic and athletic hobbies, and the care of two wonderful, if challenging, adolescents, each with their own set of varied and interesting pursuits.

If someone had suggested to me at the time that my life was out of balance, I would have fervently disagreed. Sure, my dance card was pretty full, but everything I was doing was important to me and fed me on some level. I would have been hard-pressed to name a pursuit I was willing to give up. Plus, one of my biggest personal strengths, if I do say so myself, is that I am a great organizer, and so I was able to juggle all of these responsibilities and still keep my sanity. Or so I thought.

Our move, not surprisingly, afforded me some perspective. I realized soon after the transition that the aforementioned life, although full and rich, was also wildly out of balance.

balanceWhile in the middle of things, I had told myself I was coping well with all my responsibilities, and could point to a series of daily, weekly and even yearly accomplishments as evidence of this. But the real truth, that I could finally see through the more objective lens of some physical and emotional distance, was that I was exhausted much of the time, exasperated and short with people, didn’t sleep well, and had mini anxiety attacks on almost a daily basis.

I know, right? It seems like I should have noticed something was off. The problem was, I was so IN my life at the time that I couldn’t see the pathology of it. I needed time and distance from my day-to-day responsibilities to help me see what was really happening to me in the midst of them. Once I could see, even feel, the truth of things, I realized I had the ability to course correct, and I begin to make a few changes.

“We can be sure that the greatest hope for maintaining equilibrium in the face of any situation rests within ourselves.”
Francis J. Braceland

Back in those New York days, when my son and daughter were about 10 and 12, respectively, we went as a family to see the movie Spy Kids 3D. This was the first 3D movie experience for most of us, my son included. The movie was a good family flick, fun and fast moving, if not too intellectually challenging, and the 3D experience (dorky glasses included) heightened our enjoyment of the story. But as we were leaving the theater, it was clear my son wasn’t feeling well.

He said he felt dizzy and sick to his stomach. Thinking he had eaten too much popcorn (he was 10, after all), we comforted him as best we could and headed home. This is where things got a little scary. As we made our way home, my son became more and more altered, still off balance and nauseous, but now alternately unresponsive and slurring his words. We changed course and headed for the emergency room.

One look at my son as we entered the emergency room doors and a woman waiting there opened her eyes really wide and (graciously) indicated he could go to the head of the line. Okay, so that was REALLY scary; it’s not a good thing to look so bad that someone thinks you should move to the head of the emergency room line. Finally able to see my son in bright light, I saw why the woman looked so concerned. He looked weak and lethargic, seemed barely to be able to stand, and his face was pale with an icky green cast.

Thankfully, my son was seen fairly quickly and eventually diagnosed with labyrinthitis, an inner ear disorder resulting in a loss of equilibrium, nausea and fainting symptoms. The doctor on duty said his condition was probably a reaction to the 3D movie experience*, and predicted that with time and rest his symptoms would abate. Sure enough, by the time we left the hospital my son was feeling more like his old self. And by the next morning, his body was completely back in balance.

“Be aware of wonder. Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.“
Robert Fulgham

balanceLike Weebles, I think humans are also designed to be able to continually return to a state of equilibrium. In the case of my son’s labrynthitis, time and rest eventually allowed his body to regain its sense of balance. But sometimes it is not enough to wait for our body to take care of things. Sometimes we have to step in and create a space in which we can see and feel the ways in which our lives are uneven or off kilter, and then begin the process of straightening things out.

Now, although it worked for me, I don’t recommend that everyone move half way across the country so you can see the out-of-balance places in your lives more clearly! But I do recommend the habit of occasionally making spaces in your life in which you can hear and respond to that inner voice that tells you things are way off. Some possibilities:

  • Take a short, restful, vacation, during which you are not expected to be active or learn anything.
  • Attend a silent retreat. Be quiet with your own thoughts.
  • Take a weekly yoga class.
  • Start a daily walk or morning meditation habit.
  • Implement a technology-free day or week. Unplug for a while.
  • Practice rebalancing – act “as if” you are making a certain change (shifting a priority, giving up a responsibility or activity, etc.) and see how it feels.

These are just a few ideas. You will, no doubt, come up with your own. Whatever you do, find a way to hit the pause button, breathe and ask the questions:

  • Is my life out of balance?
  • What, exactly, is out of balance here?
  • How can I get my balance back?

And then make the necessary change(s). The process may not be easy. Some people or activities, even important ones, may have to go. But, in the end, the harmony you gain will be worth the loss.

Go on. Get in touch with your inner Weeble. Stop careening back and forth and find your equilibrium.

*Although the connection seemed a little sketchy at the time, it turns out the doctor was on to something. Some studies seem to show that the unnatural eye-movements demanded by 3D can cause the eyes to work harder than usual, and it is possible for some people (children, especially) to experience a physiological response similar to motion sickness after watching a 3D movie, with symptoms such as dizziness, disorientation, nausea and loss of balance. Parents, you are hereby forewarned.

Share
Posted in Balance | 2 Comments

Living Messy

I recently became intrigued with the idea of messiness, and so began to try to write a bit about it.  However, most definitely not being an expert on the subject (more about that later), my musings were – big surprise – rather uninspiring.  After struggling for a while with my own thoughts, I decided to reach out to family and friends for some different perspectives.  Lucky for me (and you), many responded to my request and so helped make this blog post more of a “community effort” rather than merely my own, personal take on things.  Enjoy the result!

————————–

messyWhen my children were very young, some friends and I formed a playgroup that met once a week at alternating homes (we frequently joked we should really call it a mommy group, because over time we found the social opportunities it offered our band of stay-at-home moms far outweighed those it gave our children).  One morning, as we were all observing, and only nominally trying to control, the chaos that is a toddler playgroup, one of the mothers – a woman with two extremely active toddlers – remarked that she would really like to have a few more children, enough to make her life, as she said, “a little messy.”

Full stop.

“You’re kidding, right?” I said.  “You want more of THIS?”  I totally didn’t get it.

You see, I have always spent large chunks of my day trying to keep my life tidy. I’ve organized every closet in my home.  I mean EVERY CLOSET.  And every cabinet.  Multiple times.  The work surfaces of my life – my office and home desks, my kitchen counter, even my tack locker at the barn – are impressively tidy.  I am also a “tweaker:” as I move through the spaces of my home, I am constantly straightening art on the walls, fluffing a pillow or adjusting the position of a knick-knack.  (I would do this at my friends’ homes too if I wasn’t sure they would take offense.)  Even my writing process is neat.  I can’t stand the disorder of a misspelling, a grammar mistake, or a problem with the structure of a sentence, so I edit as I go.  No rough (a.k.a. “messy”) drafts for me.

Come to think of it, even many of my hobbies (jigsaw puzzles, gardening, scrapbooking) are about making order out of a mess.

Okay, so maybe one or two friends have used the term OCD when referring to my organizing compulsions tendencies, but still.  Doesn’t everyone, on some level, prefer a clean and organized home to a messy one?

Maybe not.

In responding to my request for their take on messiness, a surprising number of people wrote in support of the concept.  As sample of their thoughts:

“Wouldn’t feel alive without it . . . Never assume a messy room or situation is without clarity.”. . . “Shows intelligence and perhaps indicates time is best spent not sweating small stuff like over-organization.”. . . “My time is better spent on things I find more important.  I would rather be with people I love than cleaning.”. . .  “I worry more about my neighbors losing their home to an unjust foreclosure than whether there are weeds in the lawn-strip we share.”. . . “When I procrastinate cleaning, it’s because I’ve decided that what I’m doing now is better than the satisfaction of a clean room later. Why clean when you can play?”. . . “Messiness offers the visitor an ‘archeological dig’ of sorts, a window into the lives of the residents of the home.” 

Huh?

Well, several people did seem to agree there are different types of messiness, or even note how a healthy messiness could easily morph into something not so healthy:

“What is mess to one person may not be to another.”. . . “There are two kinds of messiness. One has an uncomfortable, overly cluttered feel, and is off-putting. The other feels comfortable, welcoming, and is a reflection of the personalities and passions of the family members that reside there.”. . . “I think messiness can originate from different dynamics and that it can be useful or problematic depending on the particulars.”. . . “There indeed are degrees of messiness. I love the plaque in my office: ‘You can touch the dust, but please don’t write in it.’  We can tolerate a higher degree of mess when it’s just us than when there are others contributing to [it]!”. . . “After packing and getting ready to move, my thoughts are that messiness is a bad habit to be conquered. So it probably depends on where you are in your journey.”. . . “How messy is messy?  I think the guiding line is whether the messiness interferes with functioning. As in most things, I think moderation is the key.”

But, taken in their entirety, the responses in support of messiness definitely outnumbered those cautioning against it.

I think I’m beginning to understand why.

messyLike many people in today’s high-octane world, I live in a fairly constant bubble of low-grade anxiety.  My efforts to organize, straighten and regiment the different areas of my life are, I think, my attempt to ease this worry stream.  Knowing that everything not only has a place, but remains firmly fixed in it, assures me that life is predictable, orderly, known, and in this assurance I can relax, protected (or so I think) from the unexpected, the unpredictable.

The trouble is, sometimes I spend so much time cleaning and straightening that there is no time left to actually do something, to create new things rather than rearrange the ideas and objects I already have.  And, truthfully, I can see how the safety and security of a neat home or office (or life) is, flipped on its head, boring predictability that makes it hard for creativity and spontaneity to get a word in edgewise.

But most importantly, I’m beginning to see that the assurance of predictability I feel when I organize is only an illusion.  Life, at its core, is really unpredictable, and no amount of shoe cataloguing or desk de-cluttering will change that.

So I think I now understand what my playgroup friend meant all those years ago.  By asserting that she wanted her life to get a little messy, I think she was saying that she wanted to get to a place in her parenting, and in her life, where she could no longer be in perfect control, but would instead be open to the spontaneity, surprise and unexpected creativity that can result from a bit of messiness.  For her, the opposite of  “in control” was not “out of control,” but “open to the possibilities.”

Thanks to the input of my contributors, I see now that if I could just manage to allow myself to be a little messier, I might gain:

    • The surprise and delight that can come from allowing the unpredictability of life some wiggle room.
    • A home that reveals more about me than the fact that I am tidy.
    • A chance to create something I couldn’t envision or predict.
    • The blessing of free and unencumbered play.

“But,” my inner OCD voice protests, “Life is too unpredictable to just let it unfold.  Who knows what might happen if we let go of the reins and begin living messy?”

Exactly.

Share
Posted in Balance | 2 Comments

The Change Process – Embracing Emptiness

emptiness“Emptiness, which is conceptually liable to be mistaken for sheer nothingness, is in fact the reservoir of infinite possibilities.”
– D.T. Suzuki

I’ve been thinking a lot about change lately.

This is partly because I encounter change each day in my work as a psychotherapist.  Most of my clients, as you might suspect, enter therapy because they are not content with the way their lives are going now, and want to make a change.  And so a big part of our work together involves envisioning, preparing for, and navigating through transitions and course corrections that will move them closer to who and where they want to be in the world.

But, lately, change has also been on my mind in a more personal way.  Last summer, my husband accepted a new position in his field, a move that, while completely voluntary and potentially life-giving for both of us, led to the immediate and complete upheaval of our personal and professional lives.  Get this – in the course of one month my husband and I both quit good jobs, saw our second and youngest child off to college (and so became empty-nesters), moved to a new home halfway across the country, and initiated new careers and friendships in a radically different community.  Whew!  Makes me tired just thinking about it.

Change comes in many forms. Some changes are small, gentle bends in the road; some are big, major life transitions.  Some changes we choose for ourselves; others are thrust on us by outside forces.  But regardless of the size of or impetus for the change, or even whether we view it as positive or negative, the act of changing is usually . . . well . . . hard.  I can attest to this truth in my own situation, because the fact that my husband and I chose to take on these big transitions did not make them any easier to navigate.

Researchers in a variety of professions have tried to help us out with change by developing models of the change process, each one designed to motivate and guide us through a transition by breaking it down into identifiable, achievable stages.  Though arising out of different professional orientations, most of these models agree on an early stage during which we are not yet changing, but in which we recognize that the old way is not working or is no longer available, and begin to contemplate what will be required of us as we begin to move toward the change we envision.  Prochaska, DiClemente and Norcross (1992) call this early stage “Contemplation,” proposing that a person at this moment in the change process exhibits the following:  awareness (that a problem exists), thoughtfulness (about the possibility of change) and indecisiveness (about whether or not to take the next step).  To this list of mental states I would add one more – emptiness.

Stay with me here.

emptinessWhat I’m thinking is that while we are parked in this early, preparatory stage we are living in an in-between place, with one foot in the old way and one in the new, straddling, but not really in, either place.  We are of both worlds, but also of neither.  And so, if we truly want to move on to the next stage, what I believe is required of us during this liminal time is that we be willing to truly and completely let go of the old, becoming purposefully and totally empty for a time, so that we can, in due course, be filled with the new.

Last summer, the moment after we dropped my eldest child off at her college (we had said our tearful good-byes to our youngest at his school the weekend before), as we were just pointing our Saturn west to start the long drive across the country to our new home, I found that I suddenly felt completely, overwhelmingly, empty.

Our house had been sold and our belongings packed on a truck headed for the Midwest.  I had quit my job, left my kids in their respective colleges, and was about to leave the friends and familiar spaces of the rural village that had been my home for the last nine years.  And, although I cognitively knew that the next thing was there, just over the horizon, I did not feel like it was in my reach just yet.  I felt empty, untethered.

So, another observation – this in-between kind of emptiness can feel downright scary.  In my world, embracing emptiness meant I was giving up both affiliation with familiar assumptions and patterns, and a certain amount of control (which is like oxygen to me, but that’s another blog post).  And in letting go of all of this, I felt naked, insubstantial, and more than a little bereft.

But as scary as it is, emptiness turned on its head is, in reality, a kind of freedom, in that it offers the possibility of a new way.  The problem is, the new thing doesn’t have a place to grow unless we make room for it, provide a quiet, empty space in which it can curl up, settle in and get comfortable.

My own feeling of emptiness, of being in-between, stayed with me for a long time, longer than it took for us to drive to the Midwest, move in our belongings and begin to think about what was next.  So of course I was impatient, uncomfortable with the void, and just itching to either let familiar work and relationship patterns rush back in or, alternately, hurriedly fill the space with a “quick-fix” new thing, a thing that might feel pretty good (because it was something, for heaven’s sake!), but may not, in fact, have be the right thing.

Lucky for me, a wise friend cautioned against moving ahead too quickly, suggesting instead that I be radically patient, staying in this empty, transitional, and slightly scary, space for as long as it took me to do the work, to hear the clear voice of the future.  Although this was initially VERY difficult for me, I eventually found that this posture of waiting could, if I tried really hard, be a counterpoint to the pull of the familiar and the need to act, to DO something.

emptinessI found that in the context of emptiness it was possible for the various voices in my head to have a conversation about what was next.  And what came next for me (this practice and blog, for example!) was new and somewhat unexpected.  And, can I just say, it was totally worth the wait.

So, the next time you are contemplating change (whether of your own volition or someone else’s), don’t be afraid to clear out the old stuff and allow the emptiness to find you.  Embrace the silence, even as you feel called to fill it.  And in this silent, empty place, however small and tentative, you might find that your inner compass has room to point you in an entirely new direction, to create a new and unexpected thing.

And it will be totally worth the wait.

“Become totally empty
Quiet the restlessness of the mind
Only then will you witness everything unfolding from emptiness”
– Lao Tzu

Share
Posted in The Change Process | 3 Comments

Expose Your Ugly

uglyOn a recent morning run down my winding road, I turned a corner and suddenly found myself threading my way through a line of trucks and other equipment owned by a local arborist.  The company had evidently been hired to cut down designated trees in preparation for some additional infrastructure work in my neighborhood, and workers were busy using cranes and cherry pickers to slowly, methodically remove several large trees along the road.

In preparation for this work and the additional work that was to come, the contractors had obviously put in a request with the city’s Digger’s Hotline for the marking of all the underground utilities in the area (to help workers avoid a damaging, perhaps dangerous, collision with them).  I say “obviously” because the result of this request was a conspicuous sloppy grid of multicolored paint lines and flags (yellow for gas, red for electrical, green for sewer, etc.), garish markings that traversed the roads, sidewalks and yards on the street with equal determination and impunity.
ugly
Much like graffiti that defaces a building, this indiscriminate tangle of colored lines and flags was disfiguring to the pretty, orderly block. But, more than that, it exposed the ugly inner workings just below the neighborhood’s tree-lined streets and well-kept homes, a mishmash of pipes, fittings, poisonous gas and unclean sewers that is usually, conveniently, kept underground where we don’t have to see it.

As someone who really appreciates the aesthetic qualities of my area, I was disheartened by the unsightliness of the display.  But I was also aware that I was seeing, for the first time, what is always there, hidden just under the surface – inner workings that are, in fact, essential to both our individual survival and the smooth functioning of our neighborhood.

uglyAnd I also knew that the unattractive markings that revealed these inner workings, while temporarily spoiling the beauty of the street, would eventually assist in the safe repair and renewal of these important systems.

So, what does this have to do with us humans?

Well, if you’re anything like me, you also work hard to assert a beautiful exterior to the world, so that others won’t see your ugly inner workings.  You often claim self-assurance when you’re really confused or uncertain; you sometimes present a happy, pulled-together façade even when you are breaking up inside; and you frequently assert that everything is fine even when it’s actually . . . well . . . not.

Why do we do this?  I think, at our core, we do our best to hide the weaker, less competent, and more confused parts of ourselves because we are afraid that if we expose this “ugly” self – the part of us that worries and despairs, the part that isn’t always sure what to do, the part that is fragile or broken – others might think less of us, perhaps even stop loving us.  They might, in the end, even leave us and move on to a prettier neighborhood.

Our effort to hide our ugly inner workings is a futile one, of course.  The parts of our selves we feel are so unattractive are always with us whether or not we acknowledge them, just like the pipes under the street, and trying to hide them only seems to make them more likely to pop out at unexpected times (like when we suddenly find ourselves sobbing uncontrollably after a Hallmark commercial, or taking out our work frustrations on a major appliance!).

Moreover, this uglier side of ourselves is what makes us fully human. We are all, in the end, complex creatures – both confident and uncertain, both joyous and troubled, both strong and weak.  In trying to hide what we consider to be the negative parts of ourselves we end up withholding a more complicated, but also more whole and authentic, self from the world, and so are often left feeling alone and disconnected, separated from or misunderstood by others.

But most importantly, these human inner workings, like the utilities that snake under our neighborhoods, are essential to both our individual survival and the smooth functioning of our communities.  The revealing of our inner struggles, while often spoiling the more confident façades we usually show the world, eventually assists us in getting the help we need, from others and from ourselves, help that allows us to repair and renew our lives and relationships. Sometimes, like the utility lines that run under our streets, we have to be exposed, fragile and ugly for a while in order to be healed.

So, how about this?  Instead of trying to fool each other with our competent façades, instead of keeping up appearances, let’s each agree to try to embrace our whole self, what Br. Kevin Hacket (of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist) describes as “ . . . the misery and mess of human life, with all of its joy and dignity and all of its tragedy and sorrow.”  Let’s encourage each other to “expose your ugly” and make a habit of revealing both our strengths and our brokenness to each other so that our common stories of both struggle and joy can bring us together as a family, as friends, and as a community, and so that we may all, in due time – like my lovely neighborhood – be repaired and renewed.

 

Share
Posted in Authenticity | 2 Comments