Children and Mental Health: They Need Us

cheerLast week, I attended a conference called CHMACY at the Asilomar conference grounds in Pacific Grove, California. A group known as United Advocates for Children and Youth gave me a scholarship so I went to learn more about who they are and what they do.

United Advocates for Children and Families (UACF) is a non profit organization with a mission to improve the quality of life for all children and youth with mental, emotional, and behavioral challenges and to eliminate institutional discrimination and social stigma. They empower parents, caregivers, children, and youth through education, training, and technical assistance programs and services to ensure families are present at every level of decision making. They keep families informed on important news and events by providing monthly opportunities for networking and collaboration and extensive communications and outreach efforts . UACF also operates a direct services program for and by families in various counties of the state. It is free to belong.

There were many interesting moving parts to this CHMACY conference. As a mental health advocate and teacher in this area for many years now, I couldn’t figure out why I’d never heard of them. Their goal is to collect information from the various counties throughout California and be a voice for children and families in Sacramento. They track closely what’s happening with legislation, if current legislators are friends and allies (or not), and lobby for mental health needs on behalf of the marginalized voices of the youngest Californians.

I met some amazing people. They were county employees, parent advocates, social workers, and so forth. They worked in schools and in agencies and for the government. My favorites, though, were youth advocates. I met and spoke with young heroes in a group called Youth in Mind who were activists, consultants, and advocates. Many were 20 somethings (barely) who had “lived experiences.” That means quite likely they had run away from abusive home scenarios (foster or otherwise) or had been kicked out of their homes for various reasons. Many had lived homeless for different periods of time. They had figured out a way to take their experiences and help others, and they had amazing stories and hutzpa.

After a day or so of listening to stories, I realized I was not familiar with these groups or with this conference because unless a person is in the foster system or goes to prison, they do not have access to many of these services. Sometimes, even then it’s hard to figure out how to access them.  That didn’t make much sense to me. Shouldn’t there be a group out there trying to intervene two steps BEFORE prison and foster care and make the services easy to navigate?

No question that ALL families with children experiencing mental health issues could use a helping hand. Many times, they don’t speak up for fear of being stigmatized. They may not have the resources where they live or even if they do have resources, they might not be able to pay for them. They may not know where to start. Schools often dodge the issue for fear they may have to pay for them. Churches say to pray harder and are often not equipped with the right tools for desperate families. I’ve heard many people tell me churches kicked them out and they were devastated. When they need spiritual strength most, they are abandoned. (Bad churches. Shame on you.) Meanwhile, the kids don’t miraculously get better because the adults can’t figure out a plan. They get worse.

So here’s what I’m going to do. There is this model called Parent Cafes (evidence-based and successful!) where parents of children experiencing mental health challenges can come and discuss what they need. I’m going to start one in Shasta County. Parents brainstorm and network and chat. Discuss what’s working and not working in their counties. (By the way, Shasta/Tehama/and all surrounding counties have NO REPRESENTATION and I believe the worse drug issues in the country last time I looked. Obviously, that correlates to more prevalent mental health problems.) After the cafes, notes are sent to Sacramento for a voice so they can at least not claim ignorance as to what’s happening in the north part of the state with the kiddos and their families. And parents feel supported in their darkest days.

Parents and families are the crux of our societies. It is vital we take care of our children and their needs. It won’t be long before they’re running the show. When I look at the inspiring stories of the young adults I met at this conference, I have so much hope. Thanks, UACF, for giving me this vision into what’s happening in California. I know, without question, we can make a difference.

Posted in healthy living, mental health, mental health and children | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Law of Reciprocity

reciprocal2I’m studying Thomas Troward’s Edinburgh and Dore Lectures right now. He’s one wordy dude from beyond the pond in the 1870ish time period. I’ve had a bit of resistance to him because (1) he was an English judge and has that annoying superiority thing going on a bit, and (2) he writes sentences that go on for miles with words that require three cross-references. It’s tiring. However, he does make some great points, and his Law of Reciprocity is one of those I’ve been pondering on all week.

I looked up synonyms for reciprocal, and none of them quite cut it. The way I think about the Law of Reciprocity is much in the same way I think of the Law of Cause and Effect. When you make a particular choice (cause), different results will happen (effect). The distinction with reciprocity, though, is that the effect will match the cause, and in this way each of us is completely effecting our own reality.

There is no better place to see this then at the grocery store check out stand. This is true at any time, but right this moment, I’m thinking of an incident that happened to my oldest son last week at his neighborhood Tucson Safeway (ironic when you break down the name because it certainly didn’t feel safe.)

Here’s the story. My oldest son, Abe, is half black and half white and often experiences the world differently than I do as a white person. His partner, Kelly, is a white girl from the Midwest. They shop in this store 3-5 times per week, dropping a good deal of their very limited dollars as both are PhD students on a tight budget. When Abe is with Kelly, none of the undercover shop watchers follow them around. When Abe is alone, it happens almost every time.

Last week, it was more overt than  usual. A tall guy followed Abe around the store in a very obvious undercover watch. I’m guessing Abe carried his cloth bag (because he’s environmentally conscious that way) and was putting items in it like they always do. After searching the store, he couldn’t find miso paste, so headed up front to customer service to ask. The undercover man practically lunged right into him. Abe turned to look at the man and stared him down, now angry because he’s being racially profiled. The man turned and went to the back of the store and through the door.

I’d like to think we have evolved somewhat as a collective when it comes to racial profiling, Abe’s reality in the Safeway (and at the airport, or pretty much anywhere he goes) proves otherwise. Here he is, just having passed his PhD orals that day, feeling proud and preparing to make a celebratory dinner. In this moment of joy, this man is stalking him because of the color of his skin. As he checked out of the store, the man came back out from where he had disappeared earlier and stood by the front door. “Nice shopping with you today,” Abe directed at the man, I’m guessing sarcastically.

The man followed him out into the parking lot and said, “Do you know you can be arrested for outing an undercover officer in the store?”

Abe said, “Do you know that this now constitutes harassment and that I am going to call the real police if you don’t leave me alone?”

This whole incident was upsetting for everyone involved. The attitudes and prejudices of the security guard brought out the fight side of Abe (who is normally very friendly, fun and lighthearted in such settings as he loves to cook and collect ingredients). Both people left feeling very bad about humanity. I can’t help but think that whole thing could have been avoided if the man did not make it so obvious he was undercover, or minimally, backed off once he realized he was offensive. Bigger than that, I dream of a world where we don’t assume somebody is going to steal miso paste because he happens to have a certain color skin.

Now let’s take another incident at the checkout stand. The clerk says, “How are you doing today?” and you say, “I’m great, Pam (or whatever the name says). How are you?” The fact you paid just that little extra attention to notice their name and use it can change someone’s whole day. Then, the next person that approaches will get the reciprocal effect of your good will. Just one person connecting with another and passing it on.
reciprocal
To me, this seems like such a good use of time and energy. This is especially well spent at times when people annoy us. For example, what would have happened if Abe said to the guy in a very friendly way, “Do you happen to know where the miso paste is?” or otherwise engaged him in conversation. Would he have been as aggressively obnoxious? Not according to the Law of Reciprocity.

These times are the best opportunities to practice this law. Try it just for fun. When someone is nasty, shift the energy, and see what comes back at you. Hey, maybe I’ll practice on Troward…

Changing the world, one interaction at a time.

Posted in co-creating, conscious living, healthy living, metaphysical, positive attitude | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

List-zen, says the Universe

frogWhen is the last time you really felt heard on a physical, emotional and spiritual level? When is the last time you’ve listened that way?

In order to listen that way, you can’t be doing two things at once. You can’t ask someone a question, then pop up mid-answer to go do something you forgot to do while they attempt to answer. You can’t drive in a car, or do the dishes, or be planning the next thing you’re going to say. That’s not really listening or even hearing, for that matter.

This is such a challenge for me, especially the car thing.  I love talking on the phone in the car. But I’m aware of the difference of the calls I make from home when I’m sitting in my chair just listening. I’m so much more present to hear the person on all planes when I’m not dividing my attention. And I want to be that person that really hears, that listens to the words, the heart, the subtext of what the person is saying. I just tell myself this myth which says I must multitask to get the list done.

My favorite time on earth is to sit with a very good listener who doesn’t interrupt, but who really tunes into the same frequency. That’s where communication happens. And I think about what kind of world this could be if more people communicated this way. What kind of discoveries we would make.

But the more stimulation that comes from the constant barrage of technology and access to things, the less that seems likely without conscious movement in that direction. We wear our busyness like first place prize ribbons and pretend we don’t actually create it all ourselves. We see ourselves as so indispensable. It all depends on us.

The busyness has a clear secondary gain. We don’t have to get quiet and really ask ourselves what the hell we are doing here on this earth and why. We can’t. We’re too busy. We’ll stick that on tomorrow’s list when we retire.

Through my many years of practicing Martial Arts, yoga, meditation and writing, I have come to see that quiet time as my life line to listening, both to the Universe at large and to each other. On the Universe side for example, I have been seeing the numbers 11:11 for the past four months. I told my husband, “Why everytime I look at the clock does it say 11:11? What’s it mean?”

Then, last week I was waiting at the dentist for my hygenist to be ready and decided to stack up some podcasts in my Podcast box. I went to a new category: religion and spirituality. There it was: 11:11 Talk Radio. Not even kidding. Turns out people all over the world are seeing these numbers. According to this site, it signifies opening consciousness. There’s even 11:11 jewelry! I followed the trail and loved where it took me.

On an individual side, I can pick up much more information about what’s really going on in somebody’s soul when I’m sitting one-on-one and focusing only on them. I’m making a very conscious effort to make the time to do this more and more, starting with settling my own mind down, which always thinks it needs the floor.

One step I took to work on this settling thing was to do a “Spring Cleaning” meditation retreat last week with a guide from Mt. Shasta. For five hours, we sat in silence and meditated in a group of 10. We did a combination of sitting and walking meditations in nature, including in a labyrinthe. The most interesting thing happened. In my second walking meditation, I walked through a forest down to a creek. The tall green grasses of spring were speckled with blue dickies and yellow wild flowers. I had taken this same trail on the first walking meditation, but this time I went intentionally very slow (painfully slow), very consciously moving breath in and out.

The result was fascinating. I saw more. The colors were brighter. My heart filled with joy and peace as I smiled at the simplicity of it all, and the mind-boggling majesty of the whole scene. The whole Universe was singing to me and and I was list-zenning. My rewards were far greater than any I ever get on social media.

On a podcast I listened to yesterday, a woman–who was touting the importance of really listening to each other–said that in her work with serial killers, many of whom were sociopaths, she asked them what they got out of killing 10, 30, 50 people. She said across the board they said that the only time in their entire lives they ever felt heard was right before they killed somebody.

That made me sad. If somebody listened, maybe their paths could have taken a different turn. Everybody deserves to be heard regularly. Everybody deserves to know how to listen well. My dream for humanity is that when asked the questions when have you really listened and when have you really listened to someone else the answer will be just now.

Posted in co-creating, conscious living, healthy living, Inspiration, meditation, spiritual, Synchronicity, yoga | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Vagina Dialogues: Testing the Waters and Beyond

brande1I’ve been putting this off for several reasons. Let’s face it. The vagina is something we whisper about with friends we know well, right? But as this blog spot does have a health bend, it would be unfair to keep this from you. After all, it could make a huge difference in your life (or in the life of a vagina you love) and in that way I find the following intel applies across gender. Even if you don’t have a vagina, you probably know one. (This is kind of feeling like a drinking game where you have to drink every time I say vagina. Are you getting that?)

It all started when my mom and my mother-in-law started having prolapsed bladder issues in their 70s/80s. Now that seems very far off, but then 51 seemed very far off 10 years ago, and, well–here we are. As my mom likes to say, “Be here before we know it.” Their subsequent surgeries, and especially my mom’s who I was there for, got me thinking about this process. As I would talk to young people that worked in the offices, they’d all had “procedures” done. The hospital staff had seen tons of these surgeries in women. Was this just something you had to do as you aged? That seemed off.

When I started thinking about it, I realized that I had become a little more drippy in the past five years. (Sorry. Gross. I know.) But it wasn’t enough to really catch my attention as the shift was gradual. At least, until I started talking to people.

“Oh, yeah. Definitely. That happens. You probably need medication or a procedure,” was the tribal cry.

I’m all about proactive health so I decided to make an appointment with my mom’s doctor. Part of the reason for that was I wanted to get an explanation about something that I felt was off post surgery with her, and partly to test the waters of any steps I should be taking so that come 70, I didn’t need to have bladder surgery. (Note to self: figure out how to keep bladder from falling out.)

I showed up at the appointment eager to get a plan in place. I was given a bunch of homework, including measuring what went in and out for 72 hours. (That was a pain!) But I tried to be diligent and accurate and took my papers back to my next appointment. When I arrived, I was taken to a back room. That’s where I got my own little 50 shades experience.

The room looked like a torture chamber. There was a chair covered in pads and all sorts of machinery going every which way. The nice lady tells me to undress from the waist down and we’re going to run a battery of tests which involves catheters going in various places (simultaneously? I can’t remember–I’ve blacked it out) and that this was a necessary step to determine what we needed to do about my “condition.”

Always the dutiful patient, I did as I was told. She came in and we started a series of very uncomfortable tests. About 10 minutes in I think I had what must have been an anxiety attack. (I’ve only once experienced anything like it and that was back in my early 20s when I was working for a bunch of high-maintenance lawyers who gave many people anxiety attacks.) The room started to spin. I couldn’t feel my legs. Part of me was like, “Oh–this is what it feels like when I create characters who have anxiety attacks in my novels.” The other part was saying, “If you don’t stop this right now, you’re (a) going to vomit and (b)  pass out in said vomit with wires coming out every which way.

I told the lady I had to stop. She told me we had much more to do. I told her too bad.

I got dressed and walked out into the hall trying to process all that just went down. After about 5 minutes, I was perfectly fine. I said, “You know. I think I can probably finish.” Face the fear.

She hesitated. “Well, we don’t have much time until the next appointment, but probably I can finish.”

We try it again. At one point she says, “I’m going to need you to pee on my hand.”

What?! That’s not my thing!

The anxiety attack came back full throttle. Again I had to stop. I decided as I was getting dressed my body was clearly trying to tell me there was a better solution.

I headed home and called my family doctor. I needed to find another option, a challenging task in a small town. He referred me to a new doc that assured me they didn’t require hand-peeing and would only need a brief exam.  We did that and it was simple and fast. No anxiety involved.

“You know what I think would really help?” he offered. “Vaginal therapy.”

“They have that?” I asked. “Sounds weird.”

“We have the best person in town for 500 miles. She takes something weird and makes it not weird.”

Enter Brande Moffatt. That’s her up there in the photo. We started sessions and he was totally right. I learned so much. That’s why I feel the need to share this personal insight with you.

Here are a few ahas from VT sessions:

1. Kegels are not good for everybody – as we are all unique, so are our pelvic floors. If your muscles are tight, Kegels can cause problems like incontinence and all sorts of things we don’t want.

2. If you clench or grind your teeth, you most likely have a tight pelvic floor. Everything’s connected. Super important to learn to relax those muscles. Otherwise, it can cause incontinence and other problems down the road even though that’s counterintuitive.

3. We don’t learn the parts as well as we should as we grow up. There’s really a lot to know.

4. Fun fact: Women on the east coast and women on the west coast have different hairstyles or lack thereof. (This came up as side talk after Brande had attended a conference where both were present. The instructor snickered and told her that.)

5. Vaginal Therapy (just like physical therapy for any other body part) is covered by insurance in urban areas. In my case, only via the appeal process and with the right argument because nobody for 500 miles does what she does. Explaining what it is to the male customer service guys is really fun.

6. There are many layers involved in this work: physical, emotional, mindful.

7. Breathing IS HUGELY correlated to correct pelvic floor operation. Brande really has to teach people that first thing and it’s somewhat counterintuitive. Once you get it, though, you’re like, “Ohhhhhhh.”

8. There are special things you should do when you are doing Zumba. You know those hip wiggles you do? You should be holding your pelvic brace  in such a way (like a girdle) that things are staying in place and continue to breathe simultaneously. You thought Zumba required concentration before!

9. Anybody who is considering surgery should try VT first. Best case, you may not need surgery like me. Worse case, you will most likely recover more easily and with less problems when you learn what kind of pelvic floor you have and what you need to make it work its best.

10. The most important take away from VT is knowing how to live life. What do you when you go to Costco? Twist and lift a baby? Sneeze? All those things we do each put pressure on the bladder and while you might not care when you’re 20, you probably will in your late 40s or after you’ve carried a few kids.

BONUS 11: VT addresses a  number of issues. The list is pretty lengthy. See Brande’s website below if you want to see it.

What people like Brande can do is teach women a skill they have probably never been taught. We are taught to bend our knees when we pick something up, but we are not told to “pick up the marble, brace the pelvic floor and breathe simultaneously so you don’t squeeze things out “like a tube of toothpaste.” (She says that a lot.) Knowing this can prevent costly (and unnecessary) surgeries and subsequent issues. Thank God for the second doctor who told me about this and sent me here as an option. I will be forever grateful.

As for me and my VT, I’m wrapping up with about 7 sessions under my belt. Literally. I’ve left my drippy days behind and have learned a whole slew of other skills for taking care of my body as it ages. (Thanks for hanging with me to the end.)

For more info on Brande, go to her site: http://www.brandemoffatt.com/

 

Posted in health, healthy living | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Ego, Go Home!

DSCN5136I spent the past four days pretending I know how to watercolor. I’m exhausted. I may stay in my jammies all day. Just the pure act of locking my ego in a closet while I engage in the creative process without attachment to end product felt much like a full time job. We had lots of conversation, my ego and I, and not all of it friendly.

So I bravely present you with my first portrait/watercolor picture of my youngest son which I actually focused on for a few days. TahDah. Let’s call it “Jordie” (c.2015). Don’t judge. I received a glowing praise from my youngest: “It’s not that bad. LOL.”

My older son, who understands I cry easily, was even more enthusiastic. “It’s really good!!! And, you even made him look chubby!” (Spoiler alert: He’s definitely not chubby and we spend much time trying to make sure he’s eating. Artistic license, I suppose.)

But here’s the thing. These past four days were so not about that. They involved something much deeper than the end product and I feel compelled to share that with you. I tossed around two ideas all four days and experienced different levels of each depending on where I was in the creative process.

One was ego. I have done many things in my life and excelled at many things I’ve tried. Ergo, when I don’t, I feel embarrassed, or incompetent, or fill in the blank. At that point, I have to make a choice. Do I run the other way and never subject myself to that humiliation again? Or, do I decide to develop my humility muscles and let go of attachment to perfection (and all first cousins thereof)?

I say it’s a choice, but it’s really not. I came to this planet to grow and stretch and evolve. If I’m always playing in the sandbox that I’m comfortable in, how do I do that? I find that my own growth takes place so much faster if I step into someone else’s sandbox and learn how to appreciate their toys. The ego, then, needed to take a long Rumplestiltskinny nap and let me play without interfering.

But my ego was like an unruly toddler in the teething phase…

Ego: Don’t put that color there. You’re going to end up with a bright, red raspberry on your son’s left eyebrow! What kind of mother are you?

Me: Shhhhhh. It’s not about raspberries!

Ego: Oh, wow! Look over there. These painters are like REALLY good painters. Real painters. Not like–eh hem–pretend painters.

Me: (Frozen, paintbrush in hand dripping water on my ridiculously expensive French paper which I’m hoping compensates for my lack of skill) I can’t look! I just have to work on my own creative process.

Ego: Fraidy cat. You’re gonna wanna see this.

You get the gist. At one point, my neighbor painter said I was humming. I wasn’t aware. She said that meant I was relaxing into it. I was happy about that. And that leads me to the second point: the collective.

Writers, like artists, require certain skills along the introverted line to become good writers. You have to be able to sit in your own space and imagination to create a story. You have to be able to sustain that over a period of time. To become good, you have to do it very consistently. Then, after you’ve got that under your belt and you publish a novel, you require a whole different set of skills. You must promote. This involves networking, promoting, public speaking, marketing, and so forth. As you progress and become more widely published (or commissioned, or do art shows, or teach lessons, etc. in the art community), you stagger between both sets of skills, joining them together and an ever so delicate dance.

Artists are a super-sensitive lot who I gather may be easily overwhelmed in a mall with all the various sensory aspects and energies. As a group, they are colorful. They often lead colorful lives and see the world in very specific and detailed ways. They talk in what seems code to a newbie. Negative space is a phrase they love to use. They point at a peach face and say “Do you see how there is blue here and red there and a blend with yellows here?”

“Um, no… Looks like peach to me.”

Yet, when you spend a few days in their company, you hear yourself, “That shadow is blue. Oh, and the tip of the nose. Thalo blue plus permanent rose. That’s exactly what that is.”

It’s fascinating, really. After four days of Jeannie Vodden and a class of 17 artists from around the North State, I see things I have never seen. I will never be able to describe a protagonist with just blue eyes because I’ll be thinking, “Are those cobalt blue eyes, with a violet blend on the ring? Where’s the light source at this moment?”

Jeannie, a divinely talented artist from Jackson (the county seat of Amador County, known as The Heart of the Motherlode), was the motherlode herself. Her technique, which I learned was new to all the artists there, was the signature method she developed to create a glowing effect to the often-duller, pasty watercolor look. Her paintings are nothing short of glorious. Check out “Love at First Sight.” (c2014)vodden.1

When you look at this, you’d think she used all sorts of different paint colors. However, one of the unique aspects of this style, I learned, is she uses only three: red, blue and yellow. Sure, they have fancy names and makers, but basically the 3 primaries.  All this effect is created from years of learning to layer those into this luminescent beauty of many colors.

Yeah, that’s not intimidating at all.

We spent four days learning how to layer to create new color using this portrait. Here’s “Elle.” (c2014). After Elle, we could move on to one of our own.

Vodden.3

As mentioned, capturing this light comes from using only three colors over and over. The light comes from layers. I started to think about how people are like that. What makes them beautiful is their unique layers, the shadows and the light, and how they all layer together. I think that’s why I have a really tough time with “ego driven surface talk” where we don’t talk about what’s really important in our lives. We just paint the mask we want the world to see. It confuses me because I feel more meaningful layers shining out from underneath the people I meet.  I want to peel back the layers (perhaps too soon and too deep for many) and look in a person’s soul to see what makes them unique and what their purpose is in the world. The mother in me wants to nurture and encourage that. To pay attention to what really matters.

Back to the collective. Sitting with a group of artists, creating, watching the creative process unfold through the layers of each unique being in the room, feeling the support of all those around me expressed in their own unique ways, I really understand much more about what Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his fantastic essay “Self-Reliance.” Emerson says that before we can create evolved societies as a group, we must spend the time allowing our Divine uniqueness to unfold. To copy, or imitate, is suicide. We learn, we sift it through our filter, and we make it our own unique experience. That’s where our power lies.

Now, see, if I let my ego boss me into not taking this class, I would have missed all those gems. I’m so grateful I didn’t.

For more information on artist Jeannie Vodden, visit http://www.jeannievodden.com.

Posted in co-creating, conscious living, creativity, healthy living, hobbies, Inspiration, metaphysical, visual arts | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

SoulCollage #11 – Colors

DSCN5135SoulCollage Card, #11 – original artwork done in alcohol inks by Jamie then collaged

Colors

2/26/15, by Jamie Weil

Emeralds crack open and drip

Sapphire across the field

Evergreens shade

Aquamarine streams as

Diamonds glisten in the sunlight

Dancing waters swirl around Jasper stones

Oh! The Colors!

Beauty too deep to name

Wordless perfection

Refuses to be captured by any other

Than the depths within Itself.

Posted in creativity, Rejuvenation, SoulCollage, SoulTransformation | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Awakened Dreamer

DSCN5131SoulCollage Card #7 – original art in alcohol inks by Jamie collaged with favorite images from special occasion from BFF, Netters

Awakened Dreamer

By Jamie Weil

On white translucent beach, she sleeps

For this is where her Soul awakes

To angels under golden moon

A realm so pure gold falls in flakes.

Ocean plays her golden harp

Vibrations plucking to and fro

She dreams of places high above

A planet she has come to know.

For in this space she finds more peace

That all is Light and Light is One

From whence she came and where she’ll go

When she awakes, and dreaming’s done.

Posted in conscious living, creativity, dreams, Esalen, Inspiration, metaphysical, nature, SoulTransformation, subconscious | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Thoughts on Change

change2I like talking to strangers. Restaurant servers, homeless people, the Starbucks Barista, the Dutch Bro guy who compares sunrise shots with me, the checkout clerk. I find out the most interesting things.

Take today, for example. I’m in Target hunting for 100% cotton yoga pants. Do you know how hard those are to find right now? Everybody wants to contribute 5% spandex. I really want to trade that 5% spandex in for 5% cotton making it 100% cotton. I don’t get why it’s so hard. Anyway, there I am, checking out with my 95% cotton yoga pants and the checkout clerk and I start chatting.

Me: I don’t get why it’s so hard to find 100% yoga pants in this town. They say it allegedly wicks, but I’m pretty sure that’s code for makes you sweat.

Her: Hunh? That’s weird. Well, think of it this way: they’ll help you lose weight, right?

Me: Well I think that depends more on what I eat and drink more than anything. That’s been my experience.

Her: You know, my sister was in prison.

Me (puzzled by the seeming divergence): Hunh? How’d that go? (I mean, what do you say?)

Her: Do you know what they did in there to lose weight?

Me: Nope.

Her: They wore big green trash bags under their jumpsuits.

Me: ??? Wow. You mean the nasty food wasn’t sufficient?

Her: 100% carbs.

Pause……

Me: So is your sister out now and did she keep the weight off?

Her: For about a minute.

Change is hard. We know sometimes it’s the best thing, it’s what we need to do to grow, but we will leave our claw marks in the thing which we know we need to change from nevertheless. With Passover just around the bend, we’re reminded to ask ourselves, “What keeps us in bondage and not the kind starring Dakota Johnson?”

I listened to an interesting sermon on this Sunday morning by David Robinson at the Center for Spiritual Living in Redding. Here’s the homework he passed on to his listeners to help them get in touch with what binds them and subsequently release it:change3

1. Notice where you’re feeling bondage – easier said, because 80% of folks live on autopilot. (I refer you to the checkout clerk who stares at your cloth bag and says, “Paper or plastic?”, that is unless you live in a progressive, no-bag kind of town and then this example is irrelevant–maybe.)

Nevertheless, you can do it. Meditate and ask, “Truthfully, where am I in bondage?” (Damn you, 50 shades. Will I ever be able to use that again without an association?)

2. Listen to the voice within to guide you – Trust the journey, knowing that you are loved and supported along the way.

3. Be ruthless with stinkin’ thinkin’ – Watch every thought for you make it friend or foe by your choice of how much attention you give it.

4. Develop consciousness of the promised land (your good) and garner the feeling of what that feels like – This is key. Imagine the feeling you want in the future in the present.  Right now. Pretend time isn’t linear.

I liked this. In this way we can pass over from one consciousness to the next, or at least make movement in that direction. Spring clean our mental house. Emma Curtis Hopkins tells us if you want to change a situation, love where you are right now. Either the people around you will change or you will be lifted out without having to go kicking or screaming.

Hmmmmm. I don’t know. Sounds better than wearing a garbage bag.

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Re-imagining Success

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I’m seeing a movement picking up speed.  People are redefining success. It feels to me like we’re in some evolutionary time machine that’s speeding up. I’m delighted and excited.

Since the Industrialization period, success seems to have donned bright consumeristic and materialistic robes, the more the better. Yet the happiness index has plummeted. A quick Google search or run down the aisle at one of those few book stores still standing shows oodles of work done to procure smiles and bliss while ignoring the underlying state of things. Statistics, for what those are worth, show we’re unhappier than ever as a whole. But even if you don’t buy that, just go to a city mall during the holidays and look at the faces. You’ll get what I mean.

More and more the collective consciousness is realizing we need to level up. Groups are coming together right and left to do this. In Boulder, Colorado great visionaries have gathered at the Success 3.0 Summit in the past days to rethink success. I’ve watched some of these presentations.

John Mackey, Whole Foods CEO, says this at the Summit: “Imagine a business that is born out of a dream about how the world could be and should be.”

Michael Bernard Beckwith of Agape International says he can see a time coming where his grandkids say, “You guys used to get jobs just to get money? How 2015! I can’t even believe the world used to be like that.” What would that look like, a world driven by something higher than the almighty dollar?

All these great minds have gathered to look at higher level works that extend beyond chasing that almighty dollar, or not so mighty Euro, or whatever. They are zeroing in on the idea that each of us has a unique purpose (that’s tied into our passions) and job here to do in the world that often becomes blindsided by the need to earn cash and pay the bills. What would the world look like if each person was actually living out that unique purpose? Would our ecological, political, and economical issues solve themselves? Would our happiness meters shoot off the chart?

In another part of the country, Oprah and Deepak are in the middle of their new free 21 Day Meditation called, “Manifesting True Success.” Each day brings a new focus. I love Day 2’s centering thought: I am here to bring more love into the world. Deepak says, “An important aspect of success is to love and to be loved. A successful life extends to the highest spiritual dimensions, but it also must be practical in the here and now. If you can increase the love in the world, if you love yourself on the road to success and if you identify with love as your deepest personal value, then you have grasped what true success is.” (In other words, get your ass off your meditation pillow and go love the world and yourself–then, get back to the pillow!)

I’ve seen a number of documentaries of Hollywood types with private jets and star-studded friends’ lists come to the conclusion that happiness lies elsewhere. In the case of Tom Shadyac, he gave his gazillions to charity, and traded the private jet for a ten speed and a mobile home near Pepperdine University where he teaches.  There, he says in his documentary “I Am,” his happiness meter sky-rocketed higher than it had ever been.

I’ve experienced a degree of this in my own life. In my personal life, my husband and I lived a much different life in Southern California than we do in Northern California now. There, we ate many fancy dinners, had a way-too-big house (though lovely), went regularly to the family box at the Hollywood Bowl, spent the day at the Opera and had lovely play tickets whenever we wanted them. My husband commuted for hours each day to Santa Monica from the South Bay and wouldn’t get home until traffic “had died down.” At that point, he was stressed and tired and need another hour to unwind once he made it home.  This was the best way he believed he could provide financial security to his family at the time.

Meanwhile, I had quit my teaching job when my youngest son was born and was able to stay home with my baby and my teenager and raise them. I was able to do the mommy and me day classes, have the whole beach for my baby and me during the week, take my kids to all their things and just be with them, while not being distracted by working full time as I had when my oldest son was young and I was a single parent.

To us, this looked like success…until it didn’t.

We moved out of the city and settled in a smaller house (perfect size!) in our rural environment. We quickly re-imagined what success looks like. Now, we are both here when our youngest son gets up, eats breakfast, goes to school, gets home, and goes to sleep. My mom lives less than a mile down the street, and our son’s public high school is a quick five minutes away. My husband and I are able to sit with each other in our jammies in the morning after he leaves, drink coffee and talk about the world—our ideas, our epistemologies, how it’s all tying together, our personal experiences each day. We’re able to go out in the afternoons and walk without worrying about hurrying to the next thing. There are days the cars never leave the garage. And we are both able to do the work we are meant to do on this planet, as well as remain open to what emerging work lays waiting.

This is my reimagined success today.  It manifested this week in a Lilac bush.paintme2

 

It’s showing off this year like you wouldn’t believe. My mom bought it for my birthday 5 years ago and this year was the first year it really came into its own. The butterflies just love it, and spend most the day darting in and out through lavender puffs. I sat on a bench near the bush a few days ago and just watched. What kept running through my mind was This is all there is and how grateful I was to have this present moment with nature and the Divine that lives there.

The key, in my mind, is staying sensitive to the shifts. Success is not a static thing. As we evolve globally, especially when that speeds up, we may be called in other directions, depending on what the world needs. We must listen, and respond accordingly. It’s not all about us. Our happiness and our world depend on it.

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Gratitude is Good Medicine

DSCN5098I actually started another blog today then had to switch over to this one. Sometimes things just keep pounding on my heart until I get it. I’m grateful I got it.

This past few weeks gratitude has been growing in my life. I always feel grateful in a passive sense, but it has actively been budding out and springing forth like all the red bud, lilacs, oaks and wildflowers around our house.

This springing forth started taking form in my journal. I’ve always been an erratic journaler, but as I’m taking a class that has a daily journaling component, I’ve become a daily long hand writer over the past 6 weeks. The prompting starts with readings from Emma Curtis Hopkins, but mine has evolved into several sections over the course of the past month and a half. One of those sections has become a part I love which I’ve named Gre-attitudes. In this, I name ten specific things from that day I’m grateful for and really try and make them specific. It could be a butterfly I watched on the lilac, or the snotty store clerk who gave me an opportunity to practice kindness on a not-so-easy crowd.

To be clear, this wasn’t part of the original journal assignment. It just evolved naturally. After the first few weeks, I talked about in class. I told my fellow classmates how I’d started to notice that the more I paid attention and named what I was grateful for, the more grateful I was.  I’m a happy person in general (my teen says it’s annoying I’m so happy), but I noticed this amped up far beyond normal.

Liking that, I started adding more techniques. One of these was my top ten thoughts at the end of the day. As I lay in my bed having turned the light off and snuggling into my ridiculously comfy bed, I’d come up with ten things from the day (different from the morning Gre-attitude List) and take those with me to Dreamland. (I usually fall asleep around # 7.)

So there I was, enjoying my Gratitude Party, and liking being in the world like this. Then, as if to cement it in, today I heard a podcast interview of Robert Emmons discussing his book Gratitude Works! Here’s a description of that book:

Recent dramatic advances in our understanding of gratitude have changed the question from “does gratitude work?” to “how do we get more of it?” This book explores evidence-based practices in a compelling and accessible way and provides a step-by-step guide to cultivating gratitude in their lives. Gratitude Works! also shows how religious, philosophical, and spiritual traditions validate the greatest insights of science about gratitude.

Ha! How about that? In a funny anecdote, Emmons said the way he ended up choosing that topic to write on was because nobody wanted it. He went to a conference where everybody had to become an expert on a subject. He didn’t get to choose until last and the only thing left was gratitude. Little did he know how awesome his pick would turn out to be.

In the interview (and in the book), Emmons talks about how biomarkers have been correlated with gratitude in recent scientific studies. For example, a control group practicing gratitude (starting with keeping a gratitude journal) showed participants exercised better, ate better, were healthier and happier across the board. He uses the acronym AIM to remember to (1) draw Attention to what you are grateful for, (2) create Intention around that and (3) put it in Memory. By thinking about it intentionally and writing it down, we impress our conscious and subconscious minds.  (I think of it like those hand prints we used to make in the patio when our parents poured the cement!)

Emmons does warn about becoming a Gratitude perfectionist (uh-oh) and getting “Gratitude Fatigue.” His practical advice is to keep it fresh. Don’t feel like a gratitude failure if you miss a day in your journal. Write a letter to someone detailing what about them makes you grateful, then make a date with them to share time and read it to them. Find an app. Record gratitude thoughts. Or, just let your own process evolve organically like mine did. Once you open up to the Universe on a topic, it brings you all sorts of intel en masse if you listen.

I predict gratitude will be the next sweetheart of the Positive Psychology movement, knocking “mindfulness” down to second chair. Or, maybe they’ll tie. They are after all inexorably tied, and for that, I’m grateful.

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