Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Trauma, Pt. III ~ Mastering It

In the last two articles on trauma we talked about how wrenching experiences affect us all, in big ways and small, and how not dealing with them impacts present and future mental health as much as past emotional wellbeing. But we’ve only covered trauma in general terms. To really understand how trauma affects you personally, it’s important to be familiar with the actual process, from event to reaction, response, and long-term effects.

Depending on your level of sensitivity, past traumas, and openness to dealing with the resulting shock and grief, what actually triggers the trauma response varies from person to person. The death of a loved one, near-death experience or severe accident for instance, are likely to be intensely trying for just about anyone. But for many of us, even more insignificant-seeming incidents can compromise us emotionally. And because those cuts and bruises can’t actually be seen, they usually aren’t properly cared for.

The stages of trauma, grieving or bereavement are: Flight, Fight, Freeze, Forget, and Fabrication.

In FLIGHT, we attempt to bypass or escape from the assaulting event.
In FIGHT, we stay and wrestle with the problem or antagonist.
With FREEZE, we remain still, hoping the trouble will pass us by or that we won’t be seen.
With FORGET, we try to disassociate and not remember, or repress it in order to not become attached to the event.
And with FABRICATION, we reframe the event or our part in it by telling a story about it.

If we are “successful” in any of these stages – fleeing from the trauma without major injury, winning the fight, avoiding trouble, gaining a healthy distance from it, or creating a higher story or self, we avoid becoming traumatized, and thus return to a healthier state of functioning. As well, we don’t have to go through all the stages for the best outcome. Often, finding some healthy resolution within one of the stages is enough for us to not get “stuck” in the trauma. Getting stuck means the pattern repeats without a positive resolution, making thriving an ever-elusive entity.

While we call them the five stages of trauma, they can happen when we’re simply overwhelmed. And this is what so many of us miss. If past traumas aren’t worked through constructively, “lesser” situations can trigger the 5-Fs response. And with today’s hectic, overwhelming lifestyles, there seem to be a lot more landmines out there. So if you continue to feel like you have to flee, fight, freeze, forget or fabricate through something in life, then you’re likely stuck in one or more stages of the trauma-response process.

For instance, it’s common for people to become stuck in the last stage, telling a false story about not just the event, but who they are. They may blame themselves for the occurrence happening in the first place and/or shape their identity around it, believing that they are inferior or unworthy. But there’s real freedom in allowing the process and getting through it constructively, thereby integrating the experience into your life as part of your growth.

There’s a common misperception, however, that we have to “let go” of hurtful experiences. But we can’t really rid of them in the sense that we have full control. There’s no magic process, spell or pill that will extract them altogether from the sum of our life experiences. And if they do go away, it’s more likely that they somehow and mysteriously let us go.

Not becoming stuck requires “digesting” the painful experience as an active process of integration. Meaning, it’s a part of you but it doesn’t define you, nor does it control your future responses and reactions. In attempting to learn from it, to gain wisdom and greater compassion for yourself and others, the trauma then doesn’t become an obstruction to your emotions or healthy engagement with life.

Letting the impressionable experience and your reaction to it move through you – while observing, learning, and exercising self-care – is a healthy, constructive way to deal with what threatens your peace of mind. And the more you learn to do this, the easier and faster it becomes, as you hone the craft of dealing with life’s turbulences.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Trauma II: Spring Cleaning

Traumas happen to all of us throughout our lives, from so small that we hardly notice them to so large that they affect our every interaction with the world around us. And there’s a lot in between as well. But how many of us are actually aware of how the trauma response operates and where we are emotionally in the process?

Traumas can be physical, as in injury to the body, but there is also always an accompanying mental component. Most traumas, however, are strictly emotional, which makes them even harder to detect and heal. While none of us is immune to trauma, the question is how – and if – we deal with it. Learning to identify traumatic experiences and understanding how the internal process works is one giant step in the direction of self-healing and empowerment.

When any kind of experience occurs that triggers a traumatic response, the initial - almost instantaneous - reaction may be one of non-judgment. Like witnessing a violent or disturbing scene in slow motion, a part of you knows it’s not going to have a good outcome, but you haven’t yet formed a solid judgment around it or experienced the full flood of resulting emotions.
This means the trauma reaction has not yet kicked in. And for some, it never does kick in (a form of denial). For most people, however, they never get past one of the stages of trauma.

Basically, the trauma response is being impressioned by something that happens and imprisoned by the fight or flight. Our only options are remaining stuck in one or multiple stages… or getting through the process, out of its shackles, and on with our life.
A common reaction to the trauma response is armoring up. But this won’t help us get around the trauma because the trauma will always find a way in. It’s already in, in fact, attached at the core, and this is why it can have such a powerful hold on us if not dealt with.

Getting to the healthy wisdom place amidst trauma involves seeing the big picture, including how it all unfolds inside you – the traumatized part as well as the untraumatized part – and how the balance forms between them. Meaning, what is it inside you that can see both the pain and the logic at the same time? Getting to the place where you can feel the pain or grief while saying it’s ok is a healthy form of acceptance and letting go. The wisdom mind can re-create a place of nonjudgmental awareness and stabilize/embody it anytime.

Trauma is especially common in caregivers, rescuers and the like. But it’s not just the traumatic experiences that cause problems; it’s also our reactions to them. For instance, feeling overwhelmed, trapped, helpless, or like you really screwed up can cause PTSD (which truly is a trauma prison). You may be angry with yourself or someone else, and this is trapping you further, being obsessed with trying to change it or ruminating over it. Some people even let the trauma become their defining identity.

The only way back to a balanced state is getting out of the vicious cycle (which becomes the trauma story you live within). When you can talk about one of life’s battle scars while allowing the feelings to come through and express themselves - without being sucked back into the drama - this is healing. Getting back to positive emotions can break you of the negative cycle because they are constructive and you can use them to better your life rather than break it down.

The good news is that actively working through trauma and adding a spiritual element can lead to a real deep resolution! But… most people aren’t going to go there. Why? Fear and denial. Fear of the intensity of the feelings, fear that the pain will never end, and fear of loss of control. As for denial, it’s a powerful self “protective” mechanism that actually does quite the opposite: It doesn’t allow us to heal, to fully engage in our lives, or reach our potential as human beings.

Hey, we’ve all experienced overwhelming, upsetting or traumatic events. But some of them just might be prohibiting us from accessing all the wisdoms, joys and triumphs in life. The best way to rid of monsters (real or symbolic) is to face them and shed a light on the fears they bring up. The best way to free up sacred healing space is to clean out a closet once in a while, and maybe donate the old bones to science. The stories we live with then can at least be honest, and maybe even helpful for others.
Trauma can be accessed and worked through via talk therapy, writing therapy, hypnotherapy, shamanic healing, or meditation and mindfulness, all of which are offered at Middle Way Health. Want to know more? Watch for part 3 where we’ll get into just what the five stages of trauma are.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Trauma: Bringing it to Light

Traumas are common, possibly as common as sneezes. The problem is that we can’t see them, nor do we have a magic phrase that heals them. Perhaps it is their mysterious nature that makes us so uncomfortable with them. Obviously, their ability to cut so deep, imbed, infiltrate and immobilize adds to our cultural attempts to keep trauma underground.

There are little traumas and there are really big traumas. The big ones can seem so overwhelming that we try everything to deny them. The little ones most often go unnoticed, but can add up overtime and unconsciously affect the present quality of our lives.

I used to think I hadn’t experienced much trauma in my life because there was nothing ‘really big’ shadowing part of my past. But the more I began to learn about the nature of trauma and what makes something traumatic, the more I realized I had plenty. Some were obvious, like the deaths of grandparents and friends, but so many others had gone under the radar for so long (like pets disappearing, mean childhood pranks, the condescension of others, etc.)… And I realized that by not acknowledging them, I was denying a part of my own innocence and delaying part of my own growth.

We’ve all had traumatic experiences, and we’re all affected differently by them. What may be traumatic to one person might roll off another’s back. We can’t judge another’s emotion, pain or turmoil, but we can learn to face and manage our own. All feelings are valid and yet they should be explored so we do not become slave to them. We all have wounded parts. Those wounds should be tended to without over or under-exaggeration to let the healing begin.

Our own personal healing may be exactly what the world needs now.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Writing a Book, pt. III – Re-creating Our Stories & Creatively Journeying Through Life

The ‘Something So Obvious’ Healing Journey Workshop

Something So Obvious is about how people heal, how they become enlightened, and what they do with that awareness. It’s a lifelong process that we can learn to accept and improve upon as we go. We’re all on a journey of self-discovery as we discover the world around us, and that includes experiencing setbacks and uncovering vulnerabilities. So we must as well heal as we go or else our growth will be limited and true satisfaction fleeting. Seeing our lives as a journey of healing, growth and joy – while overcoming occasional blockages and traumas – is different from pursuing happiness and stopping reluctantly to deal with one crisis after another. Incorporating the challenges into the journey, they become inspirations and catalysts for self and life improvement.

In putting this book together – characters, experiences and growth opportunities - we’re also creating a program for journey work at Middle Way Health. The Something So Obvious storyline mirrors anyone’s story. It represents our struggles and growth. It even exemplifies how we at Middle Way Health lead people through their own healing and growth. Because the only way to talk about and envision the whole journey is via a relatable story or biography which people can identify with. Then we go from healing (feeling safe, comfortable and empathized with) to learning healthier living (a new way of being). We’re not just solving problems but moving beyond them by visualizing and practicing new ways of experiencing life. As well, we re-write our own stories as we choose.

Why is the story so important - becoming aware of our personal stories, or what Stephen sometimes calls our ‘inner screenplay’? It’s important because we will usually stick to our previously-written script whether it’s working for us or not, whether we’re aware of doing this or not. Becoming conscious about the story we’re telling ourselves - the novel where in, the big screen we see ourselves on - allows us to question who really wrote the story, what it’s based on, if it fits us, and whether we believe we can change it.

The kind of “story” we’re talking about involves the assumptions, beliefs and unconscious patterns we developed long ago, the basic building blocks that frame our current actions, reactions and emotions. We get tricked into thinking that if we just keep doing the same thing over and over again, a new outcome will eventually occur. As well, we’ve become so accustomed to our dysfunctional patterns that we choose the broken record over the effort it will take to make a new one.

And yet, sometimes it’s not enough to just write down our story and then reframe it in a positive light. We have to dig deeper and then evaluate who, what and where we actually want to be. Stories stick with us because we haven’t checked them for accuracy or validity. It’s hard to make change at that level because we’re not trained on how to go about doing it. That’s why we need others to help us, a healing team to access the story from different angles. We need help getting out of the crash-and-burn-and-heal habit, and into an engaging, authentic pattern of deep healing and self-actualization.

But uncovering the old story and writing a new story is still not enough. If we lived only in the ethereal dreamland of our new story – not actually acting it out in real life – we’d just be swapping a fairytale for a fantasy. Trying out our new story, and editing and improving it as we go, takes us from just surviving to actually thriving. This is what we call ‘La Dolce Vita’, or the sweet life.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Writing a Book, pt. II – The Philosophical Side of a Creative Project’s Journey

Recently on the Heart & Soul blog we talked about embarking on a long-term project and how it stacks up in the scheme of our lives. While there’s a thrill from the potential of the project and a motivation to keep going, there is at times also a wistful aura around it when interruptions force a temporary separation.

But interruptions aren’t actually separate from our creative life’s journey; they are part of the journey. Like being on a road trip and having to pull over to change a tire… It is simply a detour to a new and unexpected experience. And it should be savored (or at least accepted) rather than viewed as something that’s not supposed to be happening.

So then what exactly does a creative project mean as it relates to our lives? Because there’s always some connection and some grander meaning to our creative endeavors. Using our imaginations to think differently, we are connecting with a deeper part of ourselves and bringing it out into the world. Therefore, any creative or novel activity not only brings about a new facet of reality, it also reflects our private inner journeys.

A book, for example, is always somewhat autobiographical, being part of the writer’s own story. And as the story and characters evolve, so do those of us involved. A certain partnership develops not only between those working together on the same project, but between project and creator. And as these relationships strengthen, so does the potential for our lives. For example, the vision for our fiction novel Something So Obvious has expanded along with that of our practice at Middle Way Health. The project itself has become part of our inner vision, part of our personal growth, and part of our professional growth.

Collaborating with others on a long-term project requires a mutual respect and admiration. This then evokes an equality that allows us to inspire one other, be open to new ideas, brainstorm out of blocks, and keep each other on track. We stay grounded by creating a healthy sense of place, which we accomplish by meeting at the office once a week, catching up on personal stuff, and then delving into the deliciousness of letting our minds wander freely.

But it is nonetheless a process, and process implies movement. It’s almost as if we’re all on a pilgrimage together, like we’re traveling in a moving train across landscapes that continually change and yet sometimes repeat without ever being exactly the same. Our lives go on just as the train traverses boundless territory. Meanwhile, we are part of the landscape - not mere observers - affecting it as well as we go. The conversations change as we get older and grow, incorporating our newness into the story and the story’s excitement into our own lives. The settings and characters constantly evolve, just like real life.

And yet, there’s also an odd ‘Alice in Wonderland’-like quality to the journey that can cause us to wonder at times whether we’re really going anywhere or if it’s the landscape that’s actually the thing moving around us. So we pause and ingest the big picture - newness and all – and realize that our project remains a tangible thing, building a framework to which we can take hold and a structure for the relationship that enables a genuine richness to flourish.

Any relationship is unique in itself, but it takes on another dimension when we have a common goal and work through it together. Like traveling companions, our conversations and habits change when embarking on this kind of a journey. There is a familiarity that allows us to share what feels necessary or right, and a focus that then pushes us to get down to the work at hand; Work that takes effort and persistence in bridging inner and outer worlds, but includes plenty of play in the rich realms of imagination.

Creating something, imagining something to life, and working with others on its manifestation can be a dizzying process. It may be moving fast when we want to slow down or it can seem at a standstill when we’d really like to be cruising at a comfortable pace. But here’s where the lesson of the journey is: We’re not in total control of the wheel, the winds, visibility, or other variable factors. They too are our silent partners, whether supporting us, guiding us, inspiring us, or providing necessary detours along the way.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Writing a Book, pt. I – The Practical Side of a Project’s Journey

“How’s the book coming along?,” they ask – spouses, coworkers, friends, loved ones and acquaintances. Sometimes there’s a sense of pure anticipation to the question, as if they can’t wait to see what we’ve been creating all this time. Other times there’s a hint of curiosity about whether it’s really happening or ever going to be finished. And we understand the uncertainty. It’s easy to make plans for our lives, it’s easy to talk about things; but it’s harder to actually do them, to follow through, to finish. And even if we begin an inspired project… well, we all know how that can go.

“Experiencing stops and starts to a project is a lot like life’s journey,” Stephen says. It’s not all one flawless effortless process even though we struggle to make it so. “A book at the end appears seamless,” he adds, contemplating our literary journey. “But of course it isn’t.”

So what’s it like writing a book? And where are we in the process of this particular one?

Writing a book while managing a career or full-time job is a lot like raising a family… While managing a career or full-time job. You’ve got a babe on one hip and another at the table needing breakfast; a phone in one ear, a spouse in the other; one eye on the clock and one eye on what’s cooking in the kettle. The book is a passion of yours – or you wouldn’t be writing it – but it doesn’t always get top-priority status compared to what it takes to keep your life running smoothly and your work keeping you afloat. But it becomes part of that family nonetheless.

With my first book, Portals to the Soul, the Psyche & a More Enchanted Life, I was fortunate enough to be able to devote the entirety of my days to researching, writing, editing and publishing the book. And I worked hard at it. I knew I had a certain window in which to create and get this thing out into the world, and I took full advantage of it. What made it easier is that I had a very clear and strong vision for the project and so I was highly motivated and more disciplined than I’d ever been in my life. But no two creative projects unfold in precisely the same manner, and I’ve personally started (and not finished) maybe 10 books since then ~ Focus faltered, life intervened, and I let it. While I’d rather these projects have been completed, I also trust the ebb and flow of things. Sometimes what gets in the way of a specific success is simply another type of success.

When Stephen and I began visualizing and writing Something So Obvious, it was a nonfiction book and it had a different title. As we got farther into it, we realized we really had two different, albeit related books. So we then began writing two different but related books - one a nonfiction manual for future workshops, and the other a fiction novel to complement the manual, as well as simply stand alone for general reading audiences.

We’d usually meet once a week for just an hour at a time. It was Stephen’s reprieve from a busy psychotherapy practice and it was a great creative outlet for me. Although the process was rather slow in comparison, it was always rich with imagination, surprise and reward. Thus, the more invested in the book we each became.

But life has a way of getting in the way of your plans at times, and oftentimes, the book has taken a backseat to other projects requiring immediate and prolonged attention. These include visualizing Middle Way Health’s expansion and creating a new website, starting a newsletter and eventually an online magazine, designing brochures and writing a blog, inviting the Dalai Lama to Sacramento and dealing with the politics, moving offices and re-decorating, moving again and creating another website… And on the list goes of things we do in order to grow, evolve and invite greater success into our lives.

Looking back at what we’ve done so far, Something So Obvious encompasses years of hard work and persistence – although this hasn’t been painful because we’ve always enjoyed and believed in what we were doing. But the book also began to take on more life than we’d expected, not only reflecting our personal lives, but affecting our professional ones. Having to dig deep and imagine beyond boundaries opened our minds further to what we wanted from our lives and careers and thus helped shape the evolution of Middle Way Health. Creating a work of fiction – where anything is possible – also began shaping the infrastructure of the practice, which in turn now feeds back into all of our creative projects.

So meanwhile, when we get pulled away from writing the book because we’re working on other components of our success or dealing with our personal lives, she waits patiently for us to return. And yet she lingers always in our minds still with a certain unknowing and an element of ‘What will be’ intrigue. No one knows exactly when or how or what she will become, the process of creation being what it is: a mysterious journey of vision, action, patience and persistence. So instead of fighting the process, we tag along with a sense of humor, a satchel of flexibility, and a sense of gratitude for having so much we’d still like to accomplish.


In the meantime, pick up a copy of our easy-to-read, practical life guide book, Falling in Love with the World Again, in our office or on Amazon.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Home... or Adventure?

When I was a young adult waking to the adult world around me, I had a pretty pastel-colored card taped to my refrigerator. On it was a picture of a little girl standing before a fork in the road. There was a signpost pointed in two different directions - one arrow was labeled ‘Home’, and the other, ‘World’. I had a deep longing for home and comfort, and yet I also understood the pull of adventure.

All of us long for that feeling of home, a place where we are always welcomed, feel safe, loved and free to be exactly who we are. But that doesn’t mean we want to be home 24/7. Most of us as well are called out into the world by beckoning dreams and burgeoning desires, hopeful that our journeys will keep us well and our adventures will deepen our lives. But how many of us actually enhance our lives and equip our spirits with a healthy balance of both Home and World?

Our families are usually a driving force behind creating and maintaining a home stronghold. We need a place in which to rest and rejuvenate, commune and connect, and dance around the living room in our pajamas. We even have an instinctual urge to nest and create a safe haven from the chaos of the world at large. Some of us try to re-create our childhood experiences in the form of home, while others attempt to fashion an entirely new nesting habitat and familial rituals.

But too much home and not enough adventure can leave us stagnant, dull and set in our ways. And too much journeying forgoing a home-front can leave us ungrounded, scattered or anxious. We need a sense of home for psychological, physical and spiritual reasons. Yet while creating a home space might seem easy to some, to be truly satisfying it requires a significant level of awareness, an openness to other people, and a willingness to sustain that feeling of ‘home’.

Sometimes, on the other hand, we actually have to leave home in order to appreciate all that it means and gives to us. We need to occasionally journey away in order to get a grander sense of things and a fresh perspective on who we are and how we’re living. Coincidentally, setting out on a journey may seem daunting or we may find ourselves clinging to home at its very onset. Journeys do require a certain amount of courage, flexibility, determination and hope. Even those that seem effortless are deepening our character and our ability to affect our lives for the better.

Our careers might provide us with adventures in the form of travel, or our search for meaning may lead us unto journeys of self discovery. But any journey, really, should lead to some sort of self-awareness or bigger-picture understanding. Then, we can head on home, equipped with an expanded perspective, a deeper wisdom - and most likely - a fresh, sincere appreciation of home.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Seeking Home

The act of moving, when you think about it (whether a town, residence or work space), can bring up a lot of things… Fear of change, a sudden nostalgia for what we’ve got, apprehensiveness about uncertainty... On one hand there’s excitement because you’re looking at the great possibilities for your life. And yet on the other, the unknown -the lack of guarantees or a safety net - can give rise to anxieties and second thoughts. Whether being forced to move, choosing to move or being unable to move, life can turn chaotic when we’re trying to manage our current lives and transition to a new one at the same time.

“It’s very disorienting because of our habits,” Stephen says, “things we’ve gotten used to, routines, and the in between time” in which we rest and renew. Moving also usually “requires getting rid of something, something we spent a lot of time acquiring.” So our priorities are questioned and that can put our whole life up for review.

Pondering a possible move in the near future, my husband and I question what we’re leaving behind that’s not working for us, as well as what we hope to be gaining from the location change. Because it’s not a necessary move, we have to look inward, considering what we’re responsible for and what we’re simply reacting to. For instance, if we changed our perspective and our behavior, would our lives change for the better where we are currently, and would that be enough? What does the move symbolize for us – a fresh start, greater convenience, or a move up to a better life altogether?

“What if you couldn’t move?” Stephen asks as we discuss the reasons behind our desire to changes residences and locales. “Many people can’t.” They’re stuck in the village, stuck with the tribe, stuck in their hut, stuck with their spouse, stuck with the same view day in day out. What happens then when you need a fresh start, more convenience, or to feel you’re moving up in the world? What does one do then?

“I would redecorate,” I say chuckling but in all honesty, because I know the power of revitalizing and re-directing energy. But who couldn’t help feeling somewhat stuck in a situation from which you couldn’t escape? There are those of us who get stuck in our dramas, moving from one crisis to another; that’s what we know and that’s where we’re comfortable. Others are in perpetual search of the perfect life, building intolerance to un-pleasantries and perpetual dissatisfaction with never finding what we seek. Neither manner of living, however, is constructive or truly joy-producing.

I think further about what I would do if I couldn’t literally move when I wanted to. I would try to hold to the new mindset created when one ponders doing something as drastic as moving. I would try to come up with other ways in which to feel “we’re moving up in the world” and attempt to create some of that convenience we were hoping for. Basically, I would not return to the exact same mental space because I know there’s always a powerful symbolic aspect to change.

“If the move is not one of necessity but mere choice, then you’re moving from one psychological, spiritual place to another,” Stephens continues, “to create a different experience and a feeling of home.”

“I guess I have always been trying to create that ideal feeling of home,” I respond.

“People always say to make where you are home,” Stephen says, “but sometimes you have to change things to really feel ok, to create the environment that you want. Sometimes we have to go on a journey – whether literal or metaphorical - to find home.” Nonetheless, even when we’ve found the perfect home for us or have made some move to a better place, there’s still going to be something unresolved about our lives. And our tendency is to question why everything isn’t well and good now. But no amount of change we affect will transform the nature of life. “Unresolved” is just the state of something unfinished, amongst a myriad of other states; it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

So rather than letting this cause us ongoing anxiety, we’d benefit ourselves by realizing it’s good to have things yet to accomplish. We actually need some unresolved things in our lives, something left to desire and work toward. This adds meaning and motivates us to keep reaching for more. When we learn to see it this way, this acceptance then allows us to finally feel the joy we’ve been denying ourselves so long.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Incredible Lightness of Getting Away

Do you need a vacation, or a vacation from your vacation?

Just the anticipation of an upcoming getaway is sometimes enough to help us get through a little more of what we thought we could no longer bear. We’ll push that much harder just to get through to the long-awaited time off and trip away. We may even be willing to lose sleep to get done what needs to get done, tie up those loose ends, and make our transition back that much (hopefully) easier.

I love the anticipation of vacation, even if it’s months away. I’ll make lists of things to pack, places to go and things to do before I set off on the horizon. When I have enough time in which to do this, I enjoy the planning and slow anticipation of a carefree lifestyle and renewed outlook. But often, this ends up being a luxury I can’t really afford, with time and serenity being somewhere off in the elusive distance.

Ideally, who doesn’t plan at least somewhat for vacation? We have to plan the destination, the getting there, getting around and getting back. We might plan activities ahead of time. Are we swimsuit ready, do we have the right suitcase, who will feed the pets, will we get all our work done at the office, and will we be able to foresee and sidestep any mishaps that may arise?
Even with all of this strategizing, we feel fortunate to be able to get away, don’t we? With our busy, demanding lives, vacation at times and to some can seem just a pipe dream, however. But I will argue that not making some time to ‘get away’ – whatever that means to you – actually hurts us more in the long run.

Whatever ‘high maintenance’ qualities vacation can take on, think about the demands of our daily lives. There’s so much coming and going, preparation and expectation, consequence-handling and reacting. When one problem is solved or dissolved, we move right onto the next one. Many of us feel responsible for everything around us going smoothly while we’re being pulled in multiple directions at one time. We probably don’t feel we have much – if any – of a cushion to fall back on, whether in terms of money, support or sanity. To ‘drop it all’ for a week or so can even bring on more stress and anxiety.

But again, I argue - To question not just how we got here, but why we’re still here (in this frantic pace) is precisely what the subconscious will do while you’re “away”. That part of you that knows what joy and peace and wellbeing feel like will shed its business suit and languish in every moment of free time you allow it. It will frolic, laugh and play, siesta in the afternoon, and buy silly souvenirs. But when you’re not paying attention, it will do some of the most important work - It will evaluate your life, hone in on what matters most, and point to what’s getting in the way.

This dialogue between our frantic self and our serene self is crucial in the balancing of our lives. And since vacation is the serene self’s time to shine, the frantic self (usually willingly) steps aside. Yet it is only by working together – being whole - that we can see the grains of wisdom falling through our butterfly net or out of the vast cosmos. And the easy feelings that vacation eventually brings relaxes us enough to let the clarity and meaning in.

“The best news of all is that we never really lose vacation mind,” Stephen says. It is entirely possible to feel peace in the midst of the anxiety and whatever else is going on; we don’t have to always remove the anxiety first. With vacation, Stephen adds, “You’re rolling to a stop rather than putting on the breaks. You are simply enjoying yourself naturally, rather than trying to force it.”

So have you taken a break from your typical life lately or are you at least planning to?

A new perspective can truly be a blessing, even if we simply replace a fraction of our usual daily routine with a dose of vacation bliss. What can really be so important that we don’t take care of our deepest needs? Whose world are we trying to keep spinning atop those various plates and dancing puppets? And if it’s our most personal, intimate world that’s got us so uptight and anxious, now’s the chance to rethink, re-focus and recreate. Starting someplace exotic.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Creative Community, Helping Hands, Blissful Beings

We just had our second successful ‘La Dolce Vita’ event at Middle Way Health’s Midtown Sacramento location and we’d like to thank those who joined us for an evening of ‘The Sweet Life’!

For people and connections to feel real, we have to actually get together with them - to feel and share energy, chemistry and emotion. It’s the physical presence and awareness (embodiment) that makes a connection, thought or idea real. The intent of our ‘La Dolce Vita’ gatherings is to bring creative people together to sample and discuss what makes up The Sweet Life, to come up with ideas and create a community of like-minded people who want to be happy and make the world a better place.

We all want to live some version of The Sweet Life, and we need others with whom to share the rewards of our efforts. Coming together around a vision causes it to grow and spread, and community is then built up around it. But we’re not just talking about superfluous things; happy people make the best helpers. It may sound corny, but it’s true.

We all want to be happy, healthy and helpful, right? Often, however, we don’t know exactly how we can help others. Our ‘La Dolce Vita’ gatherings have brought together a variety of people and professions - many of whom don’t normally come together in the same place. For instance, we’re connecting artists, writers and musicians who haven’t previously networked with mental health professionals, politicians and community activists, who in return don’t generally mingle with healers, food industry or fashion professionals.

Bringing different aspects of our community together in this way we are building bridges, sharing passions, generating ideas and solving problems. And our events serve as a method to spread various sources of information. For instance, Melanie Noel Light prepared a visual presentation of Dream Life Designing at our last gathering, something we’d like to continue, with a different presenter from the community each time. This is how we grow ourselves and our businesses, and this is how we make a more significant difference.

We all experience stressors in life - often all too often - and we at Middle Way Health believe in alleviating them by dealing with our responsibilities and creating room for the good stuff; the stuff that makes life worth living. This requires a balance between rewarding ourselves (while not leaning toward hedonism) and practicing blissful wisdom (accepting and sharing what we’ve learned).

At Middle Way Health we offer a variety of services to bring about joyful balance in one’s life. But it’s not solely about doing things one-on-on; we also aim to spread the vision of ‘La Dolce Vita’ (a healthy, joyful, balanced life) through workshops, classes and community events.

We believe we can all be healthy and happy at the same time. While maintaining health takes work, it shouldn’t detract from the happiness we want to experience. A happy, healthy person living a balanced life is to us a success - and can make a difference, even if just by example. A group or community of happy, healthy people living in balance and working together, however, can really turn the tides for the better!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

AGING: Healthy Role Models and Mindsets

My husband is only 43 and yet he worries about aging to the extent that it sometimes wakes him in the middle of the night. He worries about losing loved ones, his health failing, and to a lesser but still painful extent, his looks fading. He’s not overly vain; he’s just like the rest of us – honest and searching.

I can relate with much of what he’s experiencing. When you turn that corner from the future being always a distance away to seeing and feeling yourself aging, it is disconcerting. Suddenly, here’s this fact of life (aging) that you never really literally imagined happening to you (getting old), and it’s now happening - to you.

In our youth and beauty-obsessed culture, it’s no wonder that we’re uneasy about our years showing. There are, however, more significant, affecting ways in which we age, including our health failing, mental health suffering, and thoughts tending toward mortality. We develop GI tract issues, stiffening joints, unreliable memories, etc.… and they’re not just superfluous complaints. They’re typical things people who are aging talk about and have a strong desire to mitigate. That’s the medical/psychological side of it all. But what if we look at it from another perspective, with a different outlook and attitude?

When I bring up the topic with Stephen, the first thing that comes to his mind is his grandmother. He says he once asked her how old she felt when she was in her late 80s. She responded that she still felt 17 - and she lived to be 102. “I feel younger in some ways than I have before,” Stephen says at age 60. “I’d say I was more preoccupied with getting older when I was younger.”

Feeling like he’s turned a corner, he seems to have made a certain peace with aging. “Something in us is getting younger… it feels a bit like Merlin. He would get younger as he aged. In other words, the more I age, the more I’m coming closer to my next rebirth.” I realize this is a spiritual perspective, and I wonder if those of us worried about aging just need something to believe in. It’s certainly so much nicer than feeling like a victim of time and gravity with endless physical and cognitive worries.

But how about younger generations; what are they learning with so many role models trying so desperately not to age? I hope enough of us can find a balance between taking care of ourselves and respecting the parts of us that undeniably get older. As for me, I do try to be gentle with my imperfect self and not to worry about inevitable things.

It’s a science, if we think about aging in terms of eating right, staying active, engaging the mind, and challenging old beliefs and stale attitudes. It’s an empowering lifestyle if we focus on how better we can live right now, how well we can wear our years. Yet maybe it’s a religion too – If we find something so great to believe in that we fear no future phantoms and instead lap up the present as if it were the best fountain of youth there is.