Saturday, December 26, 2009

Easier Said Than Done

December 26, 2009

During difficult times we are encouraged to focus on the good. Count your the blessings. Look on the bright side. Remember that time heals all wounds.

As true as these encouragements may be, there are moments when they are of little or no comfort. At these times, the anguish of myriad small realizations intrudes upon us, and we are undone. In these moments, breathing is an accomplishment.

At these times, we must focus on the tiny moment in which we find ourselves...and survive it.

Friday, December 25, 2009

December 25

December 25, 2009

Today might be a special day for some, but for others, it's a very difficult day. Or just a day like any other. Or a day on which to seek oblivion or avoid "the whole thing."

Whatever December 25 means to you, I wish you:
  • one satisfying moment
  • a smile
  • the desire to do one good thing
  • awareness of your worth
  • a moment of gratitude
  • a bite of something delicious
  • a feeling of affection -- current or remembered
Make a great day.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Head + Heart + Hands + Feet = Action

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thousands of studies have shown that childhood abuse in its many forms – sexual, other physical, verbal, emotional, spiritual – often, often contributes to, develops and/or erupts into these results:
  • children and teenagers running away
  • suicide ideation, attempts and success
  • self-harm through cutting and addictions, for example
  • harming others
  • being abused and assaulted in adulthood
  • difficulty learning
  • poverty
  • physical illness
  • incarceration
  • repeated unsuccessful or harmful relationships
  • risk-taking behaviour
  • promiscuity
All this research is useful head work, but when society -- that's you and me -- denies and ignores the truth of these conclusions, more babies get raped, more girls and boys are tormented, more teens cut and burn and drug themselves, more people get beaten, more people commit suicide and commit crimes.

The abuse of children, teens and adults is wrong. Period. You and I can do something. Period. I encourage you to join your head to your heart, hands and feet.

Learn about abuse. Feel something. Do something.
You can, truly, do something to help. Learn in your head, feel in your heart, move your hands and feet; it's not really so hard, and the benefits are immeasurable but real.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Seven Questions

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sometimes life gets so hectic, and then our minds get so hectic, that it's hard to slow down and smell the coffee or the roses or whatever it is we want to smell.

This simple practice can help with that. I call it Seven Questions, and you only need about five minutes to do it. In fact, it takse longer to read this explanation than it takes to do the exercise itself. However, the Seven Questions exercise can refresh you and re-ground you in your own skin.

- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Take a slow, deep breath or two.

- Ask yourself, "What do I see?" Then just name (silently or out loud) a few things your eyes fall upon -- the wall, a window, a lamp, the ceiling, curtains, a picture, whatever. Don't evaluate or judge what you see. Don't move your head around a lot to see more. Just relax and notice a few things.

- Then ask, "What do I hear?" Again, in a calm way, just notice and name what you hear. There may be a lot or a little. Don't strain. Just relax and notice.

- Continue in the same way with, "What do I smell?" This question has the added benefit of encouraging you to breathe in more fully, which is good for smelling and for calming you with fresh oxygen.

- Ask, "What do I taste?" There might not be much here, but notice what you can. Maybe it will be the coffee you just finished drinking or your unbrushed teeth if it's first thing in the morning. Whatever it is, remember not to interpret or assess; just notice.

- Ask yourself about the fifth sense, "What do I feel in my body?" Pay quiet, calm attention to the way your pants feel on your thighs, your chilly bare feet, the tension in your jaw or shoulders, how your glasses feel on your nose, etc. Don't worry about adjusting things or thinking you have to fix any of it right now; just calmly observe.

- Now that you've observed through your five senses, ask yourself two more questions. "What am I feeling emotionally?" and "What am I thinking?" As with the senses questions, ask each one separately and answer them gently and in a light, sort of detached manner. You might feel happy or sad, angry or expectant. You might be thinking you have to call your friend or that this is a boring activity or that you wish you'd been nicer to your spouse this morning. Again, don't judge your feelings and thoughts or try to change them; just notice and accept them as they are.

- Finish by taking another deep breath or two. Then express gratitude for this chance to slow down and be aware of yourself. Express your gratitude to your spiritual source or to the universe or yourself; the main thing is to appreciate these moments and whatever they have brought you.

A few comments about this grounding practice:
  • Ask the five senses questions in any order; that doesn't matter. You might want to change the order once in a while, so you don't get in a rut.
  • You can write in your journal after you're done. Comment on what you noticed or how you felt during and after asking the questions.
  • It's useful to do the Seven Questions exercise just once a day at first, for a week or two, to get the feel for it and see what you think. If you do it too often at first, you might burn out on it and decide it's boring after the "honeymoon" wears off.
  • Once you're familiar with this practice and you find it to be helpful, you can also use a shorter version throughout your day. Ask yourself a question or two during your morning break, when you go to the bathroom, standing in line at the store -- any time you have a moment and want to slow your racing mind.
So, when the rat race is getting to you, or even when it isn't, give yourself a few minutes to slow it all down. Discover or remember that being in your own skin is a good place to be.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Choose Your Attitude

Friday, December 11, 2009

This morning I had a conversation in which I was reminded that no matter what the circumstances, I can choose my attitude toward those circumstances, toward myself and other people.

This business of choosing my attitude is an active one in which I decide, step by step, what I will focus on and what feeling I'll nurture in myself. These choices are all immediate and specific to a given situation, often one in which I want to blame someone or something for what's happening to me.

By trial and error and by getting help from others, I've worked out a process that makes it possible for me to change my attitude in tough situations. I end up feeling better, and things usually work out better than they might have otherwise. Sometimes the process happens quickly, and sometimes it takes a while, but it does help. Here's a brief look at how it works for me:

     * At some point in the situation, hopefully sooner rather than later, I notice what I'm feeling -- anger, resentment, being "right" or sorry for myself, etc.

     * Once I notice my emotions, I stop and acknowledge that I don't like the way I feel. This has nothing to do with what the other person did or what's going on. I just say, sometimes out loud, "I know I don't like how I feel right now." I always get at least a tiny bit of relief after acknowledging this. Even if I still feel justified or whatever, I can acknowledge that it doesn't really feel too good in my gut or my heart.

     * Next I acknowledge that I can choose to feel better if I want to. Usually I'd rather feel calm or happy instead of resentful or justified, but sometimes I do want to roll around in my misery, and I have the choice to do that, too. Remembering this choice offers more relief because I don't have to feel better if I don't want to -- and the little kid in me just doesn't want to sometimes. But consciously remembering that I can choose to feel better at any time generally shortens my "little kid" phase.

     * Whenever I do decide to feel better, I ask myself what I'd like to feel and think instead of anger or blame or whatever.
    • I might remind myself that everybody makes mistakes or has a bad day, so I can stop focussing on their recent action or words.
    • Or I can decide that this matter is important and I need to talk about it or do something to change it. 
    • Sometimes I can't sort it out yet, but I can decide to set the issue aside for the time being and do something useful or enjoyable in the meantime. This is not the same as sweeping it under the rug. I've just set the issue to the side, knowing I will come back to it at a better time or when I have clarity.
     * In all situations, I've learned to ask myself what part I played. Did I add to the problem? Was I implying something or dwelling on negativity or blaming somebody else? I don't always do this right away because it may not feel comfortable to take responsibility for my own actions, but it helps me to ask such questions as soon as I can.

     * Having decided to let go or deal with the situation or let it rest for a while, I consciously choose to get on with my life in a positive way. I do something I enjoy or get a job done. I might make a time to talk about things or acknowledge that it isn't such a big deal. Maybe I'll realize that the same thing didn't bother me last week, so maybe today I'm tired or thirsty or feeling vulnerable for some other reason...and then I drink some water or rest or do whatever I need to.

     * At some point soon I consciously pay attention to the fact that I feel better or the situation has improved or I've learned something. This usually includes expressing gratitude for the improvements or, at least, for my decision and ability to choose a better way. This step is important because it solidifies my learning (for the next time) and helps me live in a more aware way.

Choosing your attitude is not magic, but doing so can bring practical, almost magical results in the form of calmer days and less stressful relationships. I like the advice of a guy named Mike Dooley who says, "Thoughts become things, so choose the good ones."

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Day After

Yesterday was December 6.

Here in Canada, December 6 is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. This day was established in 1991 by the Parliament of Canada to mark the anniversary of the 1989 murders of 14 women at l'École Polytechnique de Montréal. Only women were killed that day, because the killer consciously targetted women.

Since December 6, 1991, women, men and children have gathered in school gyms and community halls and churches across Canada to focus on the grim realities of women and children who live -- and die -- in violence. In my area, we gathered yesterday to listen to the daughter of a local woman who was murdered by her partner and to Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, the president of the Native Women's Association of Canada. We lit candles for the fourteen women murdered in Montreal twenty years ago and for every woman in our area who has died violently. None of this was done to stir or condone hatred of men but, rather, to acknowledge the lives of these women and to remind everyone present that violence against women and children continues.

Hatred is not a solution. For me, it is not an option. It is my hope that every person who attends these gatherings or reads this post or loves another person will transform his or her thoughts, feelings and words into action.

This short list of links is a starting point for those of you who would like more information. Please do something -- today, the day after December 6 -- to become more aware, to change your words and ideas, to act. Every single human being is worth it.

The Montreal Massacre -- coverage in the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) archives
Violence Against Women -- an international journal
YWCA December 6 Fund -- offers interest-free loans to women leaving violent homes
Men for Change -- a pro-feminist organization dedicated to promoting gender equality and ending sexism and violence
Learning and Violence -- a website that explores and explains the impact of violence on learning

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Healing Actions -- an Exercise

Yesterday I posted a journalling exercise about healing attitudes. Today's exercise involves several healing actions you can take. This is not a complete list of helpful actions, just as yesterday's list of attitudes was not complete. These are starter exercises you can use at any time and to any depth you like. It might be helpful to read my post, "Keeping a Journal 101." There's no right or wrong way to keep a journal; just do whatever works for you.

Write or type your response to each of these healing actions:
  • talking with someone you trust
  • writing about what's going on
  • digging inside yourself for questions and answers
  • relaxing
  • listening intuitively
Then, as with the Healing Attitudes exercise, explore one of the healing actions more fully and focus on what you can do about it today. Maintain that focus for one week, then two. If you like, give each of the other healing actions the same treatment after you're done with your first choice.

Date your entries for future encouragement. Smile. Cry. Draw. I invite you to express yourself in these simple and helpful ways.

And just for the record, it doesn't matter if you do the Healing Actions exercise before or after the Healing Attitudes exercise. They can both be helpful, so trust your gut.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Healing Attitudes -- an Exercise

Here is a journalling exercise that can help with your healing or personal growth. The exercise is presented in two parts, in two posts. You can do one or both of them or, of course, neither. The choice is yours.

I invite you to check out my earlier post called "Keeping a Journal 101" to read a short introduction to journalling. As with all journalling exercises I do and recommend, it's fine to either write on paper or type on your computer. I do suggest you date your writings if you plan to keep them; it's helpful and interesting to re-read them later to see how you've grown, what you've learned or what still needs work.

Below is a short list of healing attitudes. Consider and write briefly about how each has been helpful to you or could be helpful to you. Then pick one and write in more detail about what you can and will do today to make use of that healing attitude. And keep it simple, Sweetheart; one change at a time is plenty.
  • willingness
  • honesty
  • acceptance
  • determination
  • creativity
If you'd like, maintain your attention to your chosen healing attitude for a week, then two weeks. Journal about what is changing as a result. Talk with someone trustworthy about what's happening with you.

You could then go on to focus on the other healing attitudes -- one per week -- and see what happens. However you approach this journalling activity, remember to listen to yourself. Take breaks. This is not a marathon. Enjoy yourself and give yourself credit for every effort. Healing and recovery aren't always easy, but they can definitely be satisfying!

In a companion post to this one, I'll offer a similar journalling exercise using healing actions you can take to help yourself.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pushing Through

My mother is a painter, but I didn't inherit her gift. My grandfather was a carpenter, but I didn't get that gift, either. What I do is meander, float and dig around inside myself in search of the exact phrase, the perfect rhythm with which I can articulate ideas and emotions. I use words to express myself.

For the past month, I haven't been able to do much meandering or digging. I've been too stunned and exhausted by the death of our youngest son. Most of my expression has come in the form of tears and weakly returned hugs and an inability to sleep. I've flipped around all over the place -- by turns a zombie or a simmering volcano or a puddle of mush. Several times I sat at the computer, willing myself to write something, anything, but for the most part, it was beyond me to do so.

Then this morning I read an article in the January 2010 issue of Writer's Digest magazine. Titled Inspiration vs. Perspiration, the article discusses the balance required if one intends to write for a living. Author Mary E. DeMuth's words made a great deal of sense to me and, more importantly, urged me to sit the heck down and write something, anything, even if it was schlock. Ms. DeMuth writes, "Understanding the dynamics of each [inspiration and perspiration] and how they relate to our finished written work can help us capitalize on our most inspired times and push through our most difficult moments."

Well, mourning has certainly brought many difficult moments. But I realized as I read that if I am to honour my love of words and my livelihood, I do have to push through. I can focus for short times, so it's important to do that when I can. I can help myself, and maybe somebody else, by getting things "down on paper," as I so often tell my students and clients. And I trust that by doing so, I'll have more inspired moments...and be better able to push through future difficulties. Thank you, Mary DeMuth.

(Check out my Word Wonder post about willingness. I'm pretty sure that writing it helped me grab onto what Ms. DeMuth had to say in her article.)