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Archive for July, 2012

Sometimes it’s those things that come at us out of left field. 

Sometimes it’s a waiting game in a difficult and precarious situation.

Sometimes it’s tough stuff remaining tough or getting worse.

Sometimes we find ourselves on unexpected shaky ground.

Whatever it is, how do we hang on when we come face-to-face with life’s hard times?

10 things to help us hold on tight:

  1. Close your eyes and breathe.  Be mindful that you have the breath to keep you grounded.  Do this as often as you think of it throughout the day.  Even a few seconds can bring you back from a highly emotional and charged state.
  2. Call that special someone to regurgitate it all out – someone who can listen and hold your pain.  Connecting can be grounding and letting it out is lightening. 
  3. Let the tears flow.  It is not weakening, it is simply a normal and healthy release of emotion.  It gives us room to go on.
  4. Maintain a ritual, whatever that may be for you; something that connects you to life. 
  5.  Do something where you feel in control
  6. Go inward and try to hear your own voice.   It can be a voice of pain and hopelessness.  Listen to it and be gentle with it.  It is you crying out.  Support it as you would with a friend crying out.  It needs acknowledgement to go on. 
  7. Engage in a healthy distraction.  We need shut-out and shut-down periods to come back to the situation at hand. 
  8. Pray.  There is something beyond what we see and feel.  Faith can go a long way. 
  9. Hope is a powerful force.  Miracles do happen.  And if not, there is rebuilding to do and ‘new goods’ to come.
  10. Gratitude – hone in on at least 3 things to be grateful for.

Sometimes hanging on seems like a lot of work and we feel as though we don’t have the strength or ability to go on.  We need to allow ourselves the slump down period and then call out our inner troops.  They’re there.  Dig deep and carry on.

 

What do you find when you dig deep?  Some inner strength you never knew you had??

Thanks for stopping by.

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Last Thursday night I posted a piece on reactions to bad news.  Friday morning we all woke up to hearing the horrific news of the Colorado movie shooting tragedy. 

There is no sense that one can make of such a thing.  These are the times in life where we might go towards asking Why in order to grasp at straws to make sense out of the senseless.   We can come up with an act of an evil person, a mentally ill person, a gun-control issue, being at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Whatever ‘explanation’ one may espouse, it’s all meaningless when dealing with the grief and heart-wrenching sadness at the forefront of it all. 

And so I say, again, it’s how we respond – how we reach out, how we support and help each other, how we allow ourselves to feel deeply so that we become naturally attuned to those in need, how we take time out of our busy days to notice others and give of ourselves each and every day. 

And it’s how we live with the impermanence of life. Every day we’re on this earth is a blessing.  Are we taking advantage of it by living well?  Are we focusing on all that we have as opposed to what we don’t have?  Are we grateful everyday for all the miracles of life, despite our problems?  Are we going through life not on auto-pilot, but rather with awareness and intent?

It’s easy and natural to feel the bad outweigh the good when such atrocities strike.  We may even remain in that place for awhile.  But then the key is to begin to focus on the shifting clouds as bits of sunlight peek through.   

The beauty is in the comfort, the compassion, the service and help, the support that is there. 

The work is in the rebuilding of the lives that remain with permanent holes in their hearts.

First and foremost, we must Feel – feel for others, feel with others, feel connected to others.  For then we will come together to share the pain and beauty of humankind.    

My heart goes out to the parents/family of the murderer.  For from their blood spilled the senseless blood of so many. 

Thank you for reading.  Here’s a piece that really resonated for me.  Perhaps it will for you as well.

Stay tuned for my revised blog site.  It’s being designed by the talented web/techy guy Joshua Denney.  He’s great fun to deal with.   He also happens to be the design guy for the Tiny Buddha site, from which he came highly recommended. 

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I’ve heard a succession of bad stories in the last few weeks.  Some awful things have happened to people I know {of}.   A sudden death of a woman from my safari travel group; a suicide of my close friend’s nephew; a stroke of someone (my age) in my community; a sudden serious illness of a blogging friend’s daughter.  

After feeling the shock and overwhelming sadness, two things come to mind when I hear bad things – compassion and living well.

Our response to suffering must be compassion.  We must be there for each other, both in actions and words.   In this regard I am proud to say that my community exhibits this to the hilt.  When my daughter was critically ill, there were ongoing prayer services and meal deliveries for months while she was hospitalized.  .  This is done for everyone going through a trying time – be it illness, death, job loss. 

Someone even loaned us a car to use for six months to travel up and back to the hospital when our second car had to be junked.  An unusual act of extreme kindness. 

When I recall all the ‘angels’ who were there for us, I get re-charged in my motivation to extend myself and do good. 

That bad and painful things happen is part of life; no one is immune.  That we be there for one another with empathy, compassion, goodness and service is the beauty in response to the ugly.  It must be there. 

And it shows up tremendously after calamities.  After 9/11, after Hurricane Katrina, people felt a burning need to do something.  A sense of helplessness was deeply felt.  Volunteerism was at a high.  People dug into their half empty pockets because the need to give of oneself was so strong.     

“There but for the grace of God go I.”  At any point in time we know it could be us, but we’ve been spared.  And so we feel and we give of ourselves to those in pain. 

If these tragic halts in life aren’t reminders to live well while we can, then we’re missing out on a most valuable life lesson.   We don’t know when our time is up, what will be tomorrow.  We know all too well that life throws many curve balls way out of left field.  And so while we’re standing healthy and tall we need to live with intention, being consciously aware of how we’re living so we can give it our best.   We must spend our time in ways that are important to us and make decisions based on our priorities and values.   We need to take in the beauty and appreciate when things are going well.  We need to celebrate the good.

At the shiva (visiting the mourners) of my safari friend, her husband said so poignantly, “I can’t complain; I had her for 40 years.  Sure I would’ve wanted more time together but we certainly celebrated life together well.”

 

How are you celebrating your life?   

Thanks for popping by to read this.

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(Peace Art by Kelly Anne Tearney)

En route to our weekend get-a-way at a friend’s house in the Catskill mountains (of New York), we made a spontaneous detour to Woodstock.  That’s right, the hippie concert area of the late 1960’s.  What a great step-back into time.  Tie-dyed colors galore, guitars decorating street posts, smells of incense hitting all our senses as we felt swooned back to ‘those days, guitarists playing on the streets the songs of yesteryear.  Nostalgia at its best.  

What moved me to post about this was what I saw upon entering a really neat coffee house.  This is on the wall as you step into the corridor:    

It’s an earasable fill-in-the blank.  Now if the colors, music and smells weren’t enough to fill me with joy during our brief baby-boomer appreciation walk, seeing this sealed it for me.  Some of you may think, ‘how crazy is that’, but it was ‘so me’ to fall into this. 

I hope you’ll take a stab at filling in your blank to this statement in the comments below.  Before I Die…..

It also just so happened to be totally in place for hubby Alan to be wearing his sneakers here:     

A couple of other cute pix:

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I am thrilled to hear that Wild  just hit #1 on the New York Times Bestseller listAuthor Cheryl Strayed had accepted my request for a blog interview back in MarchSo in her honor today and in my happiness for her I felt it appropos to repost her interview.

And if you haven’t already done so, read this book.  It’s a page-turning adventure story detailing one woman’s journey towards reclaiming her life while out in the wilderness.  It’s a unique story of courage,vulnerability, ‘kookiness’  and inspiration written in captivating prose that brings you up close to each and every event.

 

I am so excited to present this month’s interviewee, Cheryl Strayed.  I am exceptionally happy for Ms. Strayed because her memoir, Wild, which just came out March 20th  has been getting rave reviews and is currently  #7 on the New York Times bestseller list.  And Reese Witherspoon has optioned the movie rights to Wild, in which she will star as Cheryl. 

I am extremely appreciative that in this exciting ‘hoopla’ time for Ms. Strayed, she warmly and graciously agreed to this interview.    Her story is quite unique, to say the least, in how she has rebuilt her life after going through the tragic loss of her mother.  Ms. Strayed found her way back {to life} by embarking on an 1,100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). 

“It seemed like years ago now – as I stood barefoot on that mountain in California – in a different lifetime, really, when I’d make the arguably unreasonable decision to take a long walk alone on the PCT in order to save myself.”

1.       What personal qualities have helped you carry on and move in a positive direction?

One of the last things my mother said to me before she died was that I was a seeker. I didn’t understand at the time how right she was, but now I do. My impulse to reach and dig and get to another emotional or psychological place, to understand a new thing, served me well when I had to rage against my mother’s death at the age of 45 and later, when I had to heal my sorrow and learn how to live without her.

2.       Did you go through a period of self-pity?  If so, what helped lift you out?

One time about two years after my mother died I was with a group of women on Mother’s Day. We’d rented a cabin for the weekend and since none of us were with our mothers we went around in a circle taking turns saying something about our moms by way of honoring them. I was the only one with a dead mother. These women were kind to me, but I remember feeling an unreasonable amount of unexpressed resentment toward them. It felt so unfair that they got to have moms and I didn’t. (And then of course I felt guilty for feeling that way.)

I let go of my self-pity over time, as I grew up and accepted the fact that I would never get my mother back. I also met many people who’d also lost their parents young and they were a great consolation to me. I don’t experience self-pity anymore, but that doesn’t mean I don’t notice what I’ve lost. I’m never with a friend and his or her mother that I am not aware of it. A little    voice in my head always says, lucky you. But it’s a loving voice, and one that understands complexity. There are many orphans whose parents are alive and well.

3.       Was there a specific moment, thought or epiphany that helped bring you to a better place mentally/psychologically, or did it evolve?

I had many epiphanies that together formed an evolution. The hardest part about losing one’s primary parent in one’s teens or twenties is that you’re still trying to form your identity, to figure out who you’re going to be in the world, and smack dab in the midst of that, you’ve lost the person who’d defined you and against which you’d defined yourself. You’re grieving so hard, but you’re also trying to grow up.

Those things are utterly tangled together for me. I don’t know what was youthful angst and confusion and what was my grief, and I never will. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like if my mother hadn’t died. I’ve learned as much from her in her death as I did in her life. I had to stitch my own stories with the threads of her absence. At a certain point I became willing to do that. I accepted her death as my rebirth, whether I liked it or not. I was on a big journey when this really became clear to me—on an 1100-mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, which I wrote about in my memoir, Wild. The summer I hiked the trail was a time of many epiphanies. My experience on the PCT changed me forever. It was my evolution.

4.       What are/were your day-to-day coping skills that keep you afloat?

I miss my mother every day, but my grief has lessened over time. It doesn’t feel like the great weight that will sink me anymore. When it did feel that way in the four or five years after her death, I found comfort in my friendships, in silence and solitude, in the wilderness, and in my writing. Acceptance was probably the most important coping skill. I found solace in simply sitting with my sorrow. There’s a lot of strength in crying the tears that need to be cried and letting go of what cannot any longer be held.

5.       In general, how have you managed to rebuild your life after your losses?

By moving forward. By searching out love and goodness. By keeping faith with the things that brought me the most inner peace. By mothering my children with the same big love my mother mothered me. By becoming the woman my mother raised me to be, even though she didn’t get to be here to see her.

6.     What advice do you have for someone going through loss in the hope of coming out of the darkness intact?

There are dark days and painfully bright nights in this life. We have the capacity to survive them. We know this because so many others have and are and will. It’s an ancient tale. Trust it.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/books/review/wild-a-hiking-memoir-by-cheryl-strayed.html

Photo credit goes to Joni Kabana for picture of Cheryl Strayed.

Thank you for reading.  Sharing and Comments are always appreciated. 

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Managing Anxiety

I’m staring up at the bird on the ceiling.  I’m on his wings flying off  to Somewhere.  Blue sky and puffy clouds surround him. 

This is all a great visual while I sit in the chair, my jaw hurting as I hold my mouth open as wide as I can during a painless root canal procedure.  Yes, you read it right – it is painless because my endodontist has the gift of golden dental hands.  Having said that, it’s still not the most comfortable half-hour, breathing through a rubber dam while two people are working in my mouth with all kinds of instruments and foul-tasting sprays and medicines being used. 

And so I try hard to defocus on what’s going on in my mouth and concentrate on the beautiful ceiling, clearly designed as a calming factor in a typically anxiety-provoking situation.  Let’s face it, going to the dentist is not a pleasure-producing experience.   

In yoga, we’re told to pick a spot to focus on while doing balancing poses.  It helps keep us grounded and connected.  So while I’m not exactly balancing in my chair, ‘my’ bird is my focal point as I try to maintain a calm flow of breath and stay connected to that rather than to the tightness in my body.  If I’m lucky, I can even lose myself in flight along with Mr. Bird. 

Next week when I begin my visits to my general dentist for the crown work to be done, I will be staring at a plain white ceiling and imagining the beautiful sky and bird as my mind will have to work a bit harder at visualizing my flight to somewhere.   

I manage this specific anxiety through breathing, visualization and a form of meditation.  This generally works for me.

I do the same before I give a presentation.  Deep breathing, then quiet breathing as I close my eyes for a few minutes,  and then an affirmative pep-talk gets me calm, focused and psyched.  I talk to myself en route to the presentation and then allow for 15 minutes in my parked car to do my quiet calming exercises.   

Generalzied anxiety, as my recent interviewee, Priscilla Warner suffers from, is much harder to handle.  She’s worked on it for years and only recently has found more natural ways of managing it, in conjunction with medication.  When anxiety interferes with one’s overall functioning, it can be debilitating.  Where it’s more localized to specific situations, it can be coped with in {even} some fairly creative ways. 

On vacation recently, I met a woman who has tremendous anxiety over flying.  Since she’s  a lover of travel and won’t give that up, besides the knock- out pill-popping solution before getting on a plane,  she has started taking a ship across the Atlantic.  For someone who has the extra time and enjoys cruising, what a great solution.    

Antidotes to Anxiety:

Think out of the boxSeek creative solutions so you can attain your desired goal. 

Conscious breathing.  It really does slow down your whole system. 

Visualize positive outcomes or something you love.

Make friends with your anxiety.  Recognize the signs and then begin the calming strategies.

Talk to yourself.  Positive self-talk goes a long way in flipping the channels of the mind.

For pervasive and generalized anxiety that compromises one’s quality of life, it’s important to understand the underlying root and possible causes.  Working  through the issues with a good therapist can go a long way in bringing someone to the point of then managing it with {the above-mentioned} behavioral steps.   

No one is alone with anxiety.  It is part of the human condition.   The differences lie in degree and ability to manage.

How do you cope with your anxiety?  How big is it in your life?  Share your techniques and ways of dealing with it.  It may help others. 

Thanks for stopping by and reading this.   Hope you’re building in fun this summer season.   Oh and by the way, fun is a great anti-anxiety defense.  In the midst of fun, there’s little room for anxiety to enter. 

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I haven’t had a full-blown panic attack in a couple of years.  Granted, my body is not always an ocean of tranquility.  I still feel lonliness, fear, and what I call the black-and-blues – the sadness I finally allow myself to feel, the sadness that panic covered up for so many years.”

As many of you may know from my {June} interview with Meredith Vieria, I met her at an event in New York City where she interviewed her childhood friend, Priscilla Warner, on her recent book, Learning to Breathe.   That night was a win-win for me as I met two wonderfully warm and engaging women, and they each agreed to do a blog interview. 

So this month, it’s Ms. Warner’s turn.  She is a noted writer, having coauthored a New York Times bestseller, The Faith Club, and now her new memoir.   She takes us on a fascinating journey as she seeks to find ways to heal from her years of suffering from high anxiety and panic attacks. 

Most, if not all of us can relate to anxiety but her condition was oftentimes very debilitating.   Ms. Warner shows us it’s never too late to learn, grow and change or as she says, “An old tiger can learn new tricks.”      

I am so pleased to present Priscilla Warner.

  1. What personal qualities have helped you carry on and move in a positive direction?

My mother, a prolific artist, used to tell me, “People will disappoint you, but your work never will.”  The love I feel for my family and friends is the most powerful positive factor in my life.  But often what sustains me most during tough times, propelling me forward, is my ability to create something from nothing, whether I’m writing or making art and jewelry.

  1. Did you go through a period of self-pity?  If so, what helped lift you out?

I didn’t go through a period of self-pity, but I did feel shame when I suffered from panic attacks.  I felt like I had a defective nervous system, that erupted at will, prohibiting me from functioning like a ‘normal’ person.  What lifted me out of that shame was writing Learning to Breathe, because it sent me on a mission to heal that proved to be astonishingly effective.

  1. Was there a specific moment, thought or epiphany that helped bring you to a better place mentally/psychologically, or did it evolve?

There was not one specific ‘eureka’ moment that turned me from an anxious person into a happy woman.  I take life moment by moment now.  My meditation practice helps me to note the happy, sad, anxious, boring, challenging instructive moments I experience and be grateful as they string themselves together into one long life.  The Thomas Wolfe quote I used for my high school yearbook is still surprisingly relevant!  “Knowledge is finding out something for oneself with pain, with joy, with exultancy, with labor, and with all the little ticking, breathing moments of our lives.”

  1. What are your day-to-day coping skills that keep you afloat?

Meditation is a daily practice that helps me sustain a feeling of being grounded, at peace and in touch with my essence.  I love knowing that all I need to do is observe my breath coming and going in order to feel empowered, healthy and happy.   I also start my day with a short prayer of gratitude, which gets me off to the perfect start, wherever else the day might take me. 

  1. What thoughts propel you forward?

The thought that propels me forward is, “This too shall pass.”  (So try and enjoy this somehow!)

  1. What advice do you have for someone going through internal difficulties that greatly impact the quality of their life?

I’ve discovered that people can heal in ways they never thought possible.  There are many resources out there to help make that possible.  We can all turn pain into understanding and growth.  We can choose the path we take through our suffering.  That path will twist and turn in ways we can never expect.  But if we put one foot in front of the other, and approach life one step at a time, we can move from a painful place to a productive one.  We can accept sadness and feel grace.  We can find teachers, therapists, techniques, experiences and resources that don’t have to cost a fortune, but that can make a huge difference in our lives. 

Hear Ms. Warner speak :

http://www.youtube.com/user/PriscillaWarnerBooks?feature=mhee#p/u

Her articles in Psychology Today:  http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/learning-breathe/201204/how-i-learned-not-take-my-panic-attacks-personally
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/learning-breathe/201201/is-it-selfish-seek-happiness

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