Musings

Breaking Through

Posted by on July 19, 2013 in Musings, Skills Building | 3 comments

Breaking Through

If you’re going through hell, keep going. – Winston Churchill

The past year has been extremely painful. The most painful of my life. I lost a friend, who is family to me, and experienced a grief like I have never known.

As a counselor who has walked through grief of various sorts with innumerable  clients, I know that’s exactly what it takes – walking through it.

I also know it comes in waves. And I spent the last year in the undertow.

A few weeks ago, over lunch with a dear friend, she said “I have a sense you are on the verge of a breakthrough.” The word break echoed in my mind. I responded, “Indeed, I am broken.”

It’s not my nature to be sad. I’m one of those people who could  always imagine the silver lining, without being Pollyanna. The past year has been uncharted territory for me. I’ve been unable to see another side – an end to the suffering.

Yet over the past two weeks, since that lunch with my friend, I’ve begun to realize I am breaking through.  Like a seedling, breaking through the earth, I can see a glimmer of light. I can feel its warmth embrace me, as if welcoming me home.

The love, the loss, the grief, they will always remain. Nevertheless, I am breaking through. I can see a silver lining – that I can be released from the undertow, the grief can occupy a different place in my life, and that this experience can benefit my work with clients for years to come. I can break through. I will break through. I am breaking through.

If you are going through your own version of hell, remember to keep going! You will break through, too.

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Considering Wiring

Posted by on July 8, 2013 in Musings, Skills Building | 0 comments

Considering Wiring

I have been considering wiring lately. Not of the electrical sort, but of our personalities. Specifically, I’ve been wondering to what degree are we able to modify the ways in which we’re wired.

We all have a default manner through which we experience the world. Let’s call these thinking, feeling, behaving/body (I know some folks will cringe at my combining those two. I’m doing so here for simplicity.), and observing. The first three are a bent toward noticing what’s going on with you. The last – observing – is a tendency to be more aware of what is going on in one’s environment.  Input from each of these areas provides useful information. In my work with counseling clients, I help them investigate those typically outside of their awareness, in order to gather more information and thus possibly gain a better understanding.

Here’s an example. I have worked with many folks who are keenly aware of what is going on in their surroundings. They can recall in great detail all the “he said’s” and “she said’s” of a conversation. Listening to their account is like being a fly on the wall. And just like fly, I can “see” (imagine) the conversation that took place, but I have no clear idea what’s going on inside my client. All I can do is assume, guess, or ask. So I’ll ask my client such questions as, “What did you think when they said that?” “What (emotion) did you feel?” I’ll admit, I’m not as good about asking what was going on with their body at the time. Was their body relaxed or tense? Were they clenching their jaw, rolling their eyes, or kindly looking directly at the other person?

Again, while we all have a tendency to notice one of these areas more than others, each provides its own unique information. Thus, we can benefit from practicing increasing our awareness in these other areas, even if it’s after the fact.

Another example. I have worked with numerous folks for whom anger is an issue. Some have described it as being “red hot” or “explosive.” They feel like they’re going to burst and at times cannot contain the intensity. The best way to manage anger is to catch it when it’s small. A “cub” instead of a “lion.” We may start by identifying a recent situation in which they experienced intense anger.  I’ll walk them back through the events – very slowly – seeking to identify as many “links” as possible in the “chain” through which the anger developed.  I’ll ask them to identify thoughts, feelings, behaviors, as well as people present, their words and behaviors, and other contributing factors in the environment. Through this process, clients learn about their early, middle, and late warning signs, which they can use as cues that they need to disengage the anger-building process. Again, the sooner the better.

It takes intentional effort over time to develop greater awareness of the information provided through these other perspectives. It will take practice. It’s a worthy endeavor.

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Celebrating Independence

Posted by on July 4, 2013 in Musings, Skills Building | 0 comments

Celebrating Independence

As we celebrate the independence of our nation, I’m also reminded of those who are celebrating independence from addictions and destructive behavior patterns. Today, I celebrate and give thanks for their courage to leave abusive relationships, say No, that does not work for me, extend forgiveness and grace to ones who have caused them pain, decide just for today not to drink or get high, no longer procrastinate self-care via dietary changes and physical activity, risk saying “I love you” even when unsure how it will be received.

Just as men and women have and do battle for the freedoms our nation enjoys, making significant, meaningful changes in one’s own life is a battle. To those who take up this fight – I celebrate you today and every day.

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The value of relationship

Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Musings, Skills Building | 0 comments

I got a fresh reminder today of the value of relationship. An early morning email informed me that the amazing woman who has taught me horseback riding lessons for the past 5 months is leaving the barn where I ride.

It hit me hard. Tears kept stinging my eyes. As I write this, again they sting.

Riding horses has been a long-coming but only recently developed hobby. Liz has been there since day 1.

From the ground, to the saddle, to the arena, to the pasture, she has taught me so much. Answered soooo many questions! She was there every week. Even in the rain and cold.

She taught me to ride western – walk, trot, and canter. She’s been teaching me to ride English – walk, jog, trot, lots of posting, and two-points. I’ve been eager to canter again and look forward to jumping, but I have never asked “when?” Instead, I simply follow her lead, knowing she’s preparing me and will let me know when I’m ready. She challenges me, but she also ensures I am safe.

She’s passionate, skilled, dedicated, determined, patient, gives just the right amount of positive reinforcement, and knows how to make hard work fun. I am truly going to miss her. She will still be around. I know we’ll stay in touch. But this season is coming to a close.

Today’s experience has given me a fresh reminder of the value of relationship and of the honor of being a counselor and legacy consultant. It is a sacred privilege to be invited, by individuals, couples, and families, into the intimate details of their life. To teach them, challenge them, and help them be safe. Secure relationships give us a platform from which to stretch, heal, and grow. To past, present, and future clients, I say “thank you” for extending this privilege to me.

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Beets and Blueberries

Posted by on June 10, 2010 in Musings, Skills Building | 0 comments

Earlier this week, I had a snack of beets and blueberries. The blueberries came first, and then I enjoyed a few slices of beet. I felt satisfied but decided to cleanse my palate with a few blueberries. Immediately afterward, I noticed that I felt hungry again. How strange! I can’t tell you exactly why this happened, but I can you I won’t be following beets with blueberries again.

I shared this interesting observation with a friend of mine, and she suggested that “beets and blueberries” sounded like the title of one of my blogs, so as I drove home, I considered what the related message would be.

Fairly quickly, I was reminded that just as it’s important to put healthy foods into our bodies, it’s important to put healthy, life-giving thoughts into our minds.

Too often I observe clients and friends and myself entertaining negative thoughts – as if it’s no big deal.

So what, I called myself a dummy. I do it all the time.

We got stuck in traffic … it was a disaster.

Today’s going to be a long day, I can already tell.

While we are not able to stop all negative thoughts from coming into our minds, we do have a choice in how we respond to them. We can embrace them and hang out like old pals, or we can let them float on by.

Did you know that your brain responds to stimuli similarly – regardless of whether it comes through your optic nerve (i.e., from something tangible that you see) or from your imagination (i.e., something you think)???

Thoughts and mental visualizations cause physical changes in our brains. The more these are repeated, the more the experience is etched into our brains. Our brains will then work to resolve the cognitive dissonance – that is, the difference between where we are now and what we imagine or think.

For example:

where we are now = not a dummy       vs.

what we imagine or think = a dummy

Over time, our brains will work to make our thoughts become a reality.

So, our thoughts do matter. In fact, they matter very much.

What thoughts are you going to let feed your mind today?

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Sunny With a High of 75

Posted by on March 15, 2010 in Musings | 1 comment

There’s a song by Relient K called High of 75. It’s been a favorite of mine ever since it came out a few years ago. I was reminded of this song today as I stepped outside and felt invigorated by the beautiful blue-sky, spring-like weather day.

I like High of 75 for at least two reasons (in addition to its cheerful beat).

1) is because Spring is my absolute favorite season. For me, you just can’t beat blue skies and warm weather. 65-85 is my favorite temperature range. So this song is about my kind of day.

2) is because it speaks to the importance of hope. The chorus starts out “And now I’m sunny with a high of 75 since You took my heavy heart and made it light.”

Hope is priceless. It keeps us pressing on despite present circumstances.

There was a study of hope that involved rats. In the first part, a rat was placed in a tank of water, and the researchers measured how long he would paddle (i.e., how long before he gave up. And yes, the little guy was plucked out at that point.) In the second part, the procedure was the same except that the paddling rat could now witness one of his rat buddies getting rescued from the water in which he was paddling.

The researchers found that the rats in the second scenario paddled for a significantly longer period of time. Why, you ask? Because seeing his buddy rat getting rescued gave the little guy hope that the situation wasn’t doomed – that if he persisted, he, too, could be rescued.

Hope is priceless.

So I ask, who are your wet rats??? Who helps encourage you? Who feeds your hope?

No man is an island. We are wired for community.

If you’re in a stuck place, I encourage you to reach out for help. Reconnect with friends. Let them know what’s really going on. Put down the “Everything’s fine” mask.

If you need professional help, get it. But don’t let that substitute for the development of authentic friendships.

I once heard a pastor say that friendships are like bridges – different ones can sustain different levels of weight. It’s great to have “5-ton friendships,” but we need “10-ton” and “20-ton” friendships, too, as life can get heavy at times.

You could get hurt. It’s true. But it’s worth the risk. Who knows, you could connect with another wet rat, who could help feed your hope.

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Taking Out the “Mental Trash” – It’s Better Than a New Knee

Posted by on January 24, 2010 in Financial Therapy, Musings | 0 comments

See if you can top this … My Dad got a new knee for Christmas.

The old one had been bothering him for years. For several years, over-the-counter meds and strengthening exercises helped and enabled him to delay surgery. Then he tried injections of a lubricant gel that is derived from chicken combs. And this, too, provided some relief and delay. But eventually, he could no longer postpone the inevitable. It was time for a knee upgrade – to “Knee 2.0.” Knee 2.0 is a stainless steel replacement that will, after rehabilitation, allow him to walk in comfort for decades to come.

I saw my Dad a few weeks ago, just after the 28 post-operative staples were removed. He was walking with the assistance of one crutch, yet there was a gleam in his eye that said the pain of the process was worth it, and he eagerly anticipates the renewed sense of freedom he will have thanks to the knee pain being vanquished.

This tangible truth is mirrored in the intangible world. Sometimes we carry thought patterns with us long after they have exceeded their useful life.

Once upon a time, they may have worked for us. They may have even helped us survive. But in our present circumstances, they are no longer necessary or desirable.

Let me start with a simplistic example. “Don’t talk to strangers.” Did you hear that one as a child? Indeed, at certain points in life, such directives may have kept us safe. But as an adult, do you still let that shape your daily interactions? Probably not. So why is it that other messages seem to stick, even though they’re just as out-dated?

How about this one – “You will never amount to anything.”

Even as we transition into adulthood, gain more influence over our world and our choices, some messages stay ingrained in us. So much so, that we never stop to question if they are true, accurate, or applicable. They can be like white-noise – stealthfully shaping our day-to-day decisions without even registering at a conscious level.

Sometimes we can get by for a time – despite their presence. But how much freer might we live if we were able to discard these worn-out lies for something more suiting – something true and life-giving?

Just like my Dad’s knee surgery, this is a process, and it may involve pain. But in the end, you can be set free.

The first step is to become aware of your inner dialogue. For some, these thoughts are like Old Faithful. When we get tired, stressed, angry, or lonely, we know what’s going to pop up. Others aren’t as obvious. So become an investigator. When you feel dis-ease whirling around inside of you – take a seat and observe your thoughts. Listen for old worn out messages and write them down.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll walk you through the process of challenging distorted, worn-out, painful thoughts and lies. I hope you’ll join me for the journey.

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Activate Your Christmas Muscle

Posted by on December 12, 2009 in Musings, Readings | 0 comments

Last night, while I was brushing my teeth, a few thoughts that had been spinning around independently in my head bumped into each other, and I had a point of clarity. Let me elaborate …

Thought 1: I’ve recently been reading The Secret Language of Money and Your Money & Your Brain. Each book references research, which found the anticipation of a reward can be more satisfying than receipt of the reward itself. The reason is because once the reward is attained, the chemical process of anticipation is extinguished.

Thought 2: Since my husband, Robbie, has been out of work since February, and I’ve been building up a new private practice while preparing to launch a second company next year, this year’s Christmas budget has been paired back. So that we can continue to give to others, we decided to pass on exchanging gifts ourselves. Robbie asked for reassurance that I would not be disappointed. I assured him that I would not be disappointed but admitted that I may miss having a surprise to enjoy. Inwardly, I was saddened by the thought that I could possibly be disappointed at not receiving something material (which I could definitely live without) to mark the celebration of the day mankind received the one gift it cannot live without – a Savior.

Thought 3: Yesterday I met with a personal trainer to mix up a lower body resistance training regimen, which had become boring. For grins and giggles, he took me through a new core workout first, and then we went through a lower body routine. It included only two new exercises, but these would target a wider range of muscles. During the first new exercise, I was a bit wobbly, so Forrest pulled me aside for an exercise that would activate a specific glute muscle. Sure enough, after that, my form was better. It was amazing.

So last night as I was brushing my teeth, I was experiencing a precursor to the pain I knew I’d feel today, from targeting muscles my previous routine had let rest. As I pondered what insight this lesson in the physical realm could shed on the intangible spiritual realm of life, the above three thoughts collided.

If I want my experience of Christmas to reflect the joy of the gift of Jesus and the joy of giving to others – without being diminished by the distraction of materialism – I need to keep my “Christmas muscle” activated.

How can I (we!) do that? To start, I can let my daily quiet time keep directing me back to the true meaning of Christmas. I can stop adding busyness to my schedule, so that there’s more time to relax, reflect, and enjoy. I can beef up my attitude of gratitude through active reflection on the blessings constantly poured down upon me, and by telling and showing others that they are a blessing to me. I can continue to seek ways to simplify my daily life so that its maintenance is less of a distraction. I can sit and gaze at the Christmas tree, cuddle up to Robbie, and enjoy the soothing purr of kitties on our laps. I can finish setting up our nativity collection – beautiful, visual reminders, of the true gift of Christmas, which never fades or fails – Jesus Christ.

Indeed, each time I sit or stand today, I know that something is different. The simple changes made to my exercise routine have already begun to create a new experience among my muscles.  And I’m encouraged that with a little intentional tweaking – to continually activate my Christmas muscle – this year and this Christmas will continue to be one of the best yet.

What will you do to activate your Christmas muscle?

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Questioning Normal on a Silent Night

Posted by on December 6, 2009 in Musings | 1 comment

My husband and I recently started a media fast. No radio or MP3… No TV or movies… No internet surfing… No newspaper or magazines… You get the picture.

Since music is one of my favorite means of mood-alteration, I knew this part would be challenging. At first, my body seemed to revolt against the quiet in my car. Reflexively, time after time, my hand would rise to turn on some tunes. Even for an introvert like me, it was strange how foreign quietness had become.

TV, newspaper, and web media have not been hard to avoid. I’m not a big fan of TV. We don’t even have cable. And I regularly abstain from the (bad) news in order to promote my mental health.

Today I got a “freebie” at church – worship music – awesome! Then we ran into Starbucks. When we got back into the car, the silence was almost deafening. When did noise and clatter become the norm?

We also went to Costco, and my eyes were drawn to the mesmerizing flicker of the TV screens as we walked in. (Product placement – yes.) At the grocery store, as I awaited check out, I was bombarded by magazines hyping the trials and tribulations of the rich and famous. When did it become normal to be accosted by so much (needless) information?

As I write this, our cat Rutledge is sleeping on my lap; it’s a priceless moment. I hear the gentle breeze of the heat blowing through the house. And I hear my husband thoughtfully laying down pieces to the puzzle we cracked open a few days into the fast.

While giving up Christmas tunes has been a sacrifice, I wouldn’t trade this experience of a media fast for a dozen renditions of O Holy Night. The gift of quiet has been returned to us, and this silent night has caused me to wonder what our new normal will be.

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Buyer Beware

Posted by on November 27, 2009 in Musings | 0 comments

According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, the average American plans to spend $682.74 on holiday-related shopping this year. If the recent past is any indication, the majority will put these purchases on credit cards, and almost half will take up to six months to pay them off.

To help keep this a season to be jolly and not a season for folly, before you do any shopping, do this …

Prepare a Spending Plan. Individually list each expense (such as “Gift for Mom” or “Decorations”) and assign each a dollar limit.

Track every dollar spent and be accountable to your Spending Plan.

Use a cash envelope system to help you stick to your Spending Plan.

Leave credit cards at home.

Research purchases in advance.

Shop only with an Accountability Partner (not a Shopping Buddy).

If you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired – HALT! These can trigger us to overspend or purchase impulsively.

(For more holiday tips, see Consider This.)

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