Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A lesson from Yom Kippur, Living A La Carte!


Personal transformation is at the heart of my own inner work and my work with others. Yesterday morning as I contemplated going to the Holiday morning services, I found that I was stuck in a, should-I-go-or shouldn't-I-go tug of war with myself. I remind myself that I am a work in progress. No kids to get ready as they are grown and out of the house, I found it was hard to motivate myself to put on a pair of high heels, knowing that I would have to park the car a distance away from my Temple and walk the rest of the way, wearing uncomfortable shoes in the rain.  My favorite part of the service has always been the sermon because buried in the sermon is the treasure, the seeds of change and renewal. But for the past few years I realized that I just wasn't happy attending holiday services without the kids, When the structure of a family changes due to divorce, death, empty nest, change in financial status, illness or other reasons, new traditions or modifications in the old rituals might have to be established to make a better fit for the new situation.

I hemmed and hawed until the time for departure came and went.  The decision to not go, had been made by default or so it seemed. But the decision to not go at all, had not been made yet. Via text from a friend, I found out that the meditation service being held later in the day was a lovely service and so I made the decision to try something new.  I knew I had to shake things up and try something different because the old script wasn't working for me anymore . I finally gave myself permission to think creatively and made a break from the old thinking. Why hadn't I thought of this before?  I could make my own rules now! So I put my comfortable shoes on and out the door I went.

I was met by an abundance of available parking spaces right in front of the Temple, a few familiar faces greeted me with hugs and smiles and pleasantries. So far so good.  And just as my guard started to dissolve, I instinctually headed for the front of the sanctuary where my father-in-law used to save seats for us.  I think he arrived an hour before everyone else just so he could grab some of the best seats in the house! And in that instant of 'knowing and remembering' my eyes clouded. My in-laws haven't been to services in the last year or two, I think, as they aren't as mobile as they used to be.  I quickly recovered realizing that there were plenty of seats to choose from.  Another clue that I'm on the right track. This gathering was much less stressful than having to navigate myself through the morning throng of families. I found a seat right next to a good friend who was there as well. I took the seat next to her and took a breath. With that breath I found a space within myself that helped me to be there... really be there. My mind and body connected allowing me to be present in the here and now, not thinking about the past or future, only what was in front of me.  Ekart Tolle writes in his book A New Earth, "if in this moment all is well, then all is well".

Making this small change, choosing to attend a service I hadn't even been to before, created a shift for me.  Forcing myself to go to the morning service would have activated that fight or flight response in me and not going would have prevented me from enjoying and benefiting from something beautiful. The service was filled with beautiful music, meditation, and uplifting words that spoke of hope. It was lovely. As I watched people come up to the bimah to read from the Torah, I seemed to be finely tuning in to the supportive smiles and light laughter that passed from the Cantor and Rabbi to the Torah reader, especially if the reader was having a difficult time with the text. The tribute to the temple's custodian for his service of 35 years caused me to well up again. I was overwhelmed not by people's kindnesses, but by my keen awareness of them. I felt like I was in emotional overdrive. My friend just kept handing me tissues! It was kind of funny, but mostly interesting that this small change would have this kind of liberating effect, helping me to be so very present, in this moment, in this place.

This shift in perception helped me to re-experience a holiday that I had associated (in recent years) with feelings of melancholy and turned it into a joyful moment.  As a counselor and a life coach, I know first hand that it can be helpful to lean into the discomfort as difficult as this may be at times and I try to make this a part of my practice when I need to. To lean in, to rest against, to acknowledge the discomfort without judgement as to its goodness or badness was helpful for me.  Interestingly, I was told that the Rabbi's morning sermon was about exactly that, leaning in to the discomfort as our fasting reminds us to do.  And making one small change or modification, made a big difference for me helping me to 'morph' forward. Attending the morning service would have been too much, over stimulating and wouldn't have produced the desired results.  And not going would have given in to the flight response.  So instead of using the bright red crayon, I used a shade of red to bring about the experience I wanted to create for myself.   Sometime you have to through the rule book away and just take what you want. Life, A La Carte!






Monday, October 6, 2014

A Life Coaching Lesson from Yom Kippur!

Personal transformation is at the heart of my own inner work and my work with others. Yesterday morning as I contemplated going to the Holiday morning services, I found that I was stuck in a, should-I-go-or shouldn't-I-go tug of war with myself. I remind myself that I am a work in progress. No kids to get ready as they are grown and out of the house, I found it was hard to motivate myself to put on a pair of high heels, knowing that I would have to park the car a distance away from my Temple and walk the rest of the way, wearing uncomfortable shoes in the rain.  My favorite part of the service has always been the sermon because buried in the sermon is the treasure, the seeds of change and renewal. But for the past few years I realized that I just wasn't happy attending holiday services without the kids, When the structure of a family changes due to divorce, death, empty nest, change in financial status, illness or other reasons, new traditions or modifications in the old rituals might have to be established to make a better fit for the new situation.

I hemmed and hawed until the time for departure came and went.  The decision to not go, had been made by default or so it seemed. But the decision to not go at all, had not been made yet. Via text from a friend, I found out that the meditation service being held later in the day was a lovely service and so I made the decision to try something new.  I knew I had to shake things up and try something different because the old script wasn't working for me anymore . I finally gave myself permission to think creatively and made a break from the old thinking. Why hadn't I thought of this before?  I could make my own rules now! So I put my comfortable shoes on and out the door I went.

I was met by an abundance of available parking spaces right in front of the Temple, a few familiar faces greeted me with hugs and smiles and pleasantries. So far so good.  And just as my guard started to dissolve, I instinctually headed for the front of the sanctuary where my father-in-law used to save seats for us.  I think he arrived an hour before everyone else just so he could grab some of the best seats in the house! And in that instant of 'knowing and remembering' my eyes clouded. My in-laws haven't been to services in the last year or two, I think, as they aren't as mobile as they used to be.  I quickly recovered realizing that there were plenty of seats to choose from.  Another clue that I'm on the right track. This gathering was much less stressful than having to navigate myself through the morning throng of families. I found a seat right next to a good friend who was there as well. I took the seat next to her and took a breath. With that breath I found a space within myself that helped me to be there... really be there. My mind and body connected allowing me to be present in the here and now, not thinking about the past or future, only what was in front of me.  Ekart Tolle writes in his book A New Earth, "if in this moment all is well, then all is well".

Making this small change, choosing to attend a service I hadn't even been to before, created a shift for me.  Forcing myself to go to the morning service would have activated that fight or flight response in me and not going would have prevented me from enjoying and benefiting from something beautiful. The service was filled with beautiful music, meditation, and uplifting words that spoke of hope. It was lovely. As I watched people come up to the bimah to read from the Torah, I seemed to be finely tuning in to the supportive smiles and light laughter that passed from the Cantor and Rabbi to the Torah reader, especially if the reader was having a difficult time with the text. The tribute to the temple's custodian for his service of 35 years caused me to well up again. I was overwhelmed not by people's kindnesses, but by my keen awareness of them. I felt like I was in emotional overdrive. My friend just kept handing me tissues! It was kind of funny, but mostly interesting that this small change would have this kind of liberating effect, helping me to be so very present, in this moment, in this place.

This shift in perception helped me to re-experience a holiday that I had associated (in recent years) with feelings of melancholy and turned it into a joyful moment.  As a counselor and a life coach, I know first hand that it can be helpful to lean into the discomfort as difficult as this may be at times and I try to make this a part of my practice when I need to. To lean in, to rest against, to acknowledge the discomfort without judgement as to its goodness or badness was helpful for me.  Interestingly, I was told that the Rabbi's morning sermon was about exactly that, leaning in to the discomfort as our fasting reminds us to do.  And making one small change or modification, made a big difference for me helping me to 'morph' forward. Attending the morning service would have been too much, over stimulating and wouldn't have produced the desired results.  And not going would have given in to the flight response.  So instead of using the bright red crayon, I used a shade of red to bring about the experience I wanted to create for myself.   Sometime you have to through the rule book away and just take what you want. Life, A La Carte!






Sunday, September 28, 2014

Show Me the Money, Honey!

The inspiration for this post comes from a lively conversation I had with my girlfriends yesterday after a beautiful walk on the beach followed by cold glasses of... well...ice water, but that ice water was sooo aligned with our heart!

What do you want? So many of us are met by failed efforts that we change our goals to meet our current reality. Sometimes, I wonder if we purposely sabotage ourselves. The question, 'what do you want' is a desire seldom given voice, for fear it will evaporate in front of us, a fairy tale for sure, a pleasure ensconced in a Victorian era of our minds. The thought, 'what do I want' hints at a selfishness that we've been taught to supress sometimes by our parents and/or sometimes by our places of worship. But I ask, 'What if we were to re-work the question to mean: What do I want in order to become a better me, a better partner, a better lover, a better parent, a better friend, a better worker, a better neighbor, a more conscious leader? You have to know two things.  You have to know who you are and what you want. Often, those two questions go unanswered, sometimes purposely.

In part, who we are changes with our interactions over time with the world.  So if we are having trouble figuring out who we are or what we want, it is probably because we aren't who we were a decade ago.  In this case, our current reality doesn't match the reality we experienced ten years ago. Those of us who are aware that we feel worried about the future, stuck or unhappy somehow, are constantly struggling to re-brand or repackage ourselves based on our very subjective experiences of the world.  And that struggle is about our lack of experience with our new selves.  At our core we may be the same person we've always been, but the part of us that does grow and change... well, we've never been this person physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually, before.  What new goals can we set without yet knowing if we can achieve them? We have to start with being really honest about where we are right now.  We have to have a personal code of integrity specifically tailored to address the desires our own heart and well being.

So what is the definition of INTEGRITY?  I believe it means, saying what you mean and meaning what you say.  This way there is this 'outer' proof, a commitment to others as well as to yourself that you did what you said you were going to do. Why commit to others? Most of us don't live on an uncharted island by ourselves. We live, work, and interact with others.  Others reflect back to us via their reactions and responses, what we act like. It's the 'Show Me the Money, Honey!' test. Webster's dictionary defines the word as, " an unimpaired condition :  soundness".  Hmmm.  But how do I know if what I believe about myself is sound and coming from an unimpaired condition? We humans like to make up stories about ourselves dependent upon how we have come to see the world through the version of our own experiences. The Free Dictionary defines integrity as, "completeness with nothing wanting".  So, I guess, the definition of integrity comes close to an absoluteness, a superior truth, a 'show me the money'... there is almost a religiosity about it. But as it pertains to humans, it is absoluteness with one caveat: one's truth or integrity originates from a subjective mind. Yeah! There's the loophole, the opt-out clause I've been looking for! I can just say I'm human and that gets me off the hook!  Right? That's true only if you don't mind not getting what you wanted. Some people don't mind and stay in this forever loop of disappointment and they just can't figure it out. Not minding disappointment is easier and less challenging then summoning the courage and clarity to make real changes.

If I am trying to loose weight or stop smoking or exercise more because either I want to look better or I want to live longer, and something goes awry with my efforts one day or one week or the year of 2014 (!)... I can just shrug my shoulders and say, 'hey, I tried, I'm older, so what, this is the way it is, love me or leave me, I can't do any better, (and my personal favorite) I love me just the way I am'. And this is the internal dialogue of rationalization. This is the story we tell ourselves to provide comfort to our weary minds and bodies.  And believe me, this blogger is not standing in judgement of anyone, because I also am a work in progress as I wrestle with many of my own habits of mind.

But what I have come to learn over the years as have many of us, is that when my goal is aligned with my heart, it is easier to take the action steps that I need to take and I've learned, even recently, that in many situations I can find the strength to go the distance. Remember that scene from the Wizard of Oz, at the end of the movie, where the good witch Glinda reminds Dorothy that she's always known the way home?  All she had to do was click the heels of her ruby red shoes and she would find her way. A beautiful metaphor for listening to your heart.

Rick Carson, in his book, A Master Class In Gremlin-Taming, says that the gremlin is a whisper in your ear: "Life isn't a bowl of cherries, settle for what you have" it will tell you.  'But Carson writes that our TRUTH lies within us, it's "right behind our breathe". The key is listening for what your truth is.  What does your heart want? Click your ruby red shoes and write down what you want, write a statement of desire without an opt-out clause. Read your statement quietly to yourself and feel it, feel the truth of it in your body. As a friend said yesterday, 'I know when I am on to something... I get that tingly feeling in my chest'.

If this blog post resonated with you, reflect on and write down your heart's desires. I am a life coach and counselor with years of experience in collaborating with people who want to identify goals and action plans that move them forward in their lives. Find me at http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/205531 or www.elleoncoaching.com.  My email is elleoncoaching@gmail.com. My work has been centered around adolescents/young adults as well as individuals at midlife. These two age groups, the young and the 'older' actually have more in common then what meets the eye; they are both standing at the threshold of something new. I see people individually as well as in groups. My rates are very reasonable and can be based on individual circumstances. Lets talk!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Change is possible... Ode to the motivators!








The famous businessman, Zig Ziglar also said: "If you want something you've never had, then you've got to do something you've never done".  

Let me say that again: "If you want something you've never had, then you've got to do something you've never done".  We trade what we want most for what we want right now because we are afraid to do something we've never done before. It might take too much hard work to produce the results we want or it is too hard to break a habit or too scary to break free from an addiction... and of course...what will people think of us if we try on that new look? It's also really lonely when we break away from old patterns and people.  Famous Athlete and motivator, Roger Staubach wrote: "There are no traffic jams on the extra mile". Not everybody is rushing out there to improve themselves except lonely you! Yeah YOU!

What do YOU want? What are YOUR goals? Will doing things the same way over and over again, produce different results? Albert Einstein thought not. Think creatively and use some elbow grease in your work and be patient with yourself. Change takes time. Repeating behaviors that you know are not bringing you closer to your goal is a prescription for failure. But we get into patterns of behavior sometimes because we look for the familiar; things, people and routines that are inside our comfort zone. But what if those things, people and routines don't serve us?

In order to have what you want most, you have to break out of your need for the familiar. Start doing things, start meeting people and engaging in routines that are outside your comfort zone. Produce new results, do things you've never done before, achieve a small goal you promised yourself you would achieve.  Do the the things, meet the people and engage in activities that serve and support your higher and long term goals. Become the person you dream of becoming.

Need help with making a change?  Email me at Elleoncoaching@gmail.com or visit my website: www.elleoncoaching.com.  

New Saturday group beginning: Career Coaching for 18 to 24 year olds who are having a hard time kick starting their next move (4 seats still available).  

Sunday, September 7, 2014

High School Seniors: Step by step, mindful planning will get you through

Step by Step, mindful planning is the most important ingredient in creating a successful launch from high school to college.  In exactly one year from now you will be walking through the doors of the college of your choice with your pillow, microwave popcorn and toothbrush if you keep your focus and your eye on the prize. You'll bring a few comforts from home, new sneakers, and a list of supplies you'll need to buy at the college book store. More importantly, you will bring your best self.

Yes, there will be students who will seem to pull off that 'it's no big deal' look... Just don't lose your sense of 'wow' when you meet them. But so what. The world is big and a college campus is made up of all kinds of people including those who are from legacy families to hippies and geeks and to students who are first generation college-goers as well as other types. There is room for everyone who is willing to grow.

 Walking through the gates of your college is a big deal. It's huge. It's even (I think) magical.  And I promise you, it will be tough.  It should be tough, so don't think that the hard work is over. Nothing worth having is ever won easily. The hard work is just beginning and it will change you, I hope, for the better.  If you are fearless enough to be different than you are right now, college will change your world view, your self view, it will ignite new passions, will push you intellectually, and it will challenge you culturally. How can it not?  Simply, education is about human transformation.

So let's come back to the present moment as you are reading this.  It is September of your senior year in high school.  How well you navigate this last year of high school will be a real measure of your GRIT, your mental, intellectual, spiritual and emotional muscle.  It might be helpful to have a college preparation checklist in your phone, ipad or where ever it may be handy.

 The bullet points below are rough guidelines for the 'what and when', essentially, your checklist:

  • Register now for the October SAT or ACT.
  • The College Essay! One of the most important parts of your application: What is your story that might separate you from the rest? Get this done yesterday! Make sure several people proof read it including your English teacher. The essay should highlight your inner strength, your thirst for learning, how you overcame obstacles or how you adapted in spite of the odds.
  • If you are a dual-enrollment student, dually enrolled at your high school and taking a class at a local university, get advice from a professor or mentor at that school. Don't forget to list your dual enrollment course on your resume and college application.
  •  Finalize your college list by October. Which colleges are you going to apply to?
  • Stay on track with grades right up until graduation day!
  • Stay committed to your extracurricular activities (colleges like to see that you can handle multiple things at one time).
  • If you are an athlete, visit the NCAA clearinghouse website to register for eligibility if you plan to play collegiate sports.
  • Get letters of recommendation from teachers who know you, by the end of October.
  • Provide your School Counselor with a list of colleges you plan on applying to, well before Thanksgiving (counselors will send transcripts, score reports, etc to colleges).
  • Start talking to your parents and guardians about finances.  You will need their 2014 tax returns, W-2s and other financial documents to fill out your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) which is used by colleges to determine your financial need.  The application process starts on January 1, 2015.  Don't forget, financial awards are first come, first serve, so submit your FAFSA as early as possible.
  • For extra help, find the college access people in your school such as Gear Up counselors, MAACS mentors, and in some schools, the ECMC consultant who can help with application issues and the FAFSA.
  • Decide if early action or early decision is right for you and know the difference.
  • Submit your college applications before you leave for the December Holiday .
  • Apply to college through the Common App if possible.  Applying through the Common App allows you to apply to many colleges through one application.  However, not every college is listed on the common app.
  • Start looking for Scholarships as soon as possible.  My favorite scholarships are the kind that go directly to the student, as opposed to the ones that go directly to the college, so be on the lookout for those.  Read the fine print carefully.

And there you have it or most of it, at any rate... speak to your Guidance Counselor about any questions you may have.  First semester of senior year will be the most stressful in terms of getting done everything that needs to get done. Make to-do lists, mark deadlines in your calendar and find the people who can help you.  If you are a first generation college-goer, you are not alone and this doesn't have to make you crazy.  Just step by step, mindful planning is all that it usually required and you are home free!  Best wishes to all!

Resources:
  • SAT registration: https://www.collegeboard.org/
  • The College Place-CT, Look for it on facebook.
  • Peterson's Guide on the senior year timeline:    http://www.petersons.com/college-search/planning-list-twelfth-students.aspx
  • Peterson's scholarship search article: http://tinyurl.com/oc8zl8f
  • Need help with your college essay? Go to: https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/get-in/essays/8-tips-for-crafting-your-best-college-essay
  • Money for college-apply for your pin# now:  http://fafsa.gov/
  • Student Athletes who want to play collegiate sports, visit: http://fs.ncaa.org/Docs/eligibility_center/Quick_Reference_Sheet.pdf  or www.eligibilitycenter.org









Monday, September 1, 2014

A tool for happiness...

The tools of the trade usually include hammers and screw drivers, levels and wrenches.  If the project you were working on were to increase happiness, which tool would you use?  Definitely not a vice grip! And don't pick up that hammer either!

There is a part of the brain that through a series of processes, regulates something called Mindset. Mindset can be a tool for us to use, if we know what it is. Through this process, we form our world view and view of ourselves.  Only in quiet reflection can we examine our notions of who we are and what we think we are capable of.  How we view the world, and our place in it, positively or negatively creates our Mindset for better or worse.

Those notions of who we think we are, have been set in our minds via the habit center of our brain fed by repetition. If our experiences in life have been met by mixed reviews, we tend to develop a fixed mindset. We believe our choices are few, and we are stuck with whatever comes our way.  However, if our experiences, or our interpretation of those experiences have been positive, we develop a growth mindset where we learn that anything is possible, sometimes regardless of the obstacles.

In Mastering Your Own Mind, Katherine Ellison (2006) tells us that our brains can be trained to reflect on how we are wired through meditation and then make corrections. So is it possible to go from fixed mindset to growth mindset with some training? YES.  But you have to know what to look for. Ask yourself which adjectives have you been conditioned to use to describe yourself? If those adjectives are less than flattering, you may be wired to see yourself and the world from a fixed mindset.  On the other hand, if you use words and statements that are more realistic and complimentary such as "I don't get it yet, but if I practice, I'll really be good at it", you are probably seeing the world and yourself from the view point of a growth mindset.

Nowhere have I seen this notion of Growth Mindset so clearly and eloquently played out than in the story of Amy Purdy.  If you watch her Ted Talk, you will be quick to guess that her life experiences up until the moment that changed her life were mostly positive.  Amy was strengthened by the strong under-girding of her early life experiences. This is testimony, in my mind, as to what the human brain is capable of when challenged and how we need to train our minds to view the world and ourselves from a growth mindset.

Here is the link to view Amy Purdy's Ted Talk:



Monday, August 25, 2014

Grit

School starts this week and I have a video for you if you are a teacher, counselor, parent or student leader. I love this video.  If you work with students, play it for them.  It is a 'how to' video-manual for the use of your brain. It talks about everything many of us talk to students about so that they can become familiar with how their brain works all encapsulated in this 8 minute film.  It's about the invisible stuff that we tend to take for granted, the stuff that you think of as ... well...'you'. It is the stuff that when dis aggregated, from 'you', you can say, 'oh, I bet if I turn that one aspect of my brain up or down, I could make a change in my life!'. But if we think of our brain as just mystery meat that takes up space inside your head, we can't take the control, or the direction that our desires demand of us.

 Ever since I watched Angela Duckworth in a TED video when she talked about this thing called GRIT, a defining trait found in the lives of people who felt they achieved a level of success. I fell in love with that word. When I talk about GRIT with students, I demonstrate the word, by clenching my teeth, making fists, and talking about walking through walls to get to my goals. It goes along with my other favorite word, MINDSET.

When you watch the video, listen for those words and think about how this information can give you what you need to make changes in your own life and the lives of your students. There are other words used in this film that describe a whole host of character strengths that make this an important film. It is time again, to get gritty, so listen for the word and figure out how it comes about and how it can be used.  Go through this process for each character strength or at least the 7 most important traits spelled out in the video that are necessary for success.

Have a great year!www.letitripple.org/character





Sunday, August 17, 2014

A New School Year of Possibility

I think my parents were more excited about the start of a new school year then we were, as kids.  We'd count the days that were left of summer vacation and, back then, there were way more vacation days then there are now.  Buying a new school bag and supplies with my mother was an experience that definitely ranked up there as a favorite childhood memory and rang in the new year.  My father would say, 'are you ready for school yet?' or 'how many days are left til you start school again?' or better 'want to get a head start and I'll drive you there now?' And then, one year he said, 'You know, (this is the grade) when you learn all about the world'. My Dad was a simple guy that didn't really possess a vast amount of knowledge about the world, but he thought that if his kids simply applied themselves, they would find out. So that one sentence seemed enough for me.

It is now many years later and tomorrow I start my 20 something-th year as a school counselor and there is a part of me that still feels the same way as I did when I was a kid. The unscripted year that lies just ahead is waiting to be written in by possibility, potential, creativity, awareness, insight and courage. This year, I will improve on my skills, reach further than I thought I could, collaborate with greater effectiveness with students to help them realize their goals and purpose. I think it is only in the midst of the struggle, particularly the struggle within myself that I figure out how I will reach, stretch, morph, adjust, expand, transform, grow and keep going. This is the year (as it is every year), that I will learn about the world.

Still hopeful...




Monday, August 11, 2014

Right here. Right now.

As children, we are given routines and rituals, holidays, and celebrations to participate in. We have dinner time rituals, bath time routines and Good Night Moon.  Gathering in the kitchen, singing silly songs in the car and honoring a report card that was hard earned are all occasions to celebrate and we like to experience those events over and over again to provide our lives with a steady rhythm. We are communal beings that have always enjoyed telling stories around the fire. And we pass those stories and customs on to our children for them to take with them on their journeys. We also take great pleasure in spreading them out horizontally to our extended family and friends.

Why? Because we know that those rituals provide us the security that we need to feel safe.   Predictability is what keeps us centered, grounded and calm and in my world it keeps the universe humming. I like things and people I can count on.

But what is it about uncertainty that makes us feel like there is a threat to our survival? For some, that threat is real. For others, it may not be quite as imminent. How do we put both into perspective? I try to hold this uncertainty in my hand and it feels sleeky-metallic and unfamiliar. I don't have any frame of reference for this.  It is too smooth to get a hand hold, it slips from my grasp over and over again. As I try one more time to hold it in my hand I am suddenly aware of my laser focus on this one moment in time. I am not thinking of the past, I am not planning for the future.  I am here, I am right here, right now in this moment.  Ekart Tolle writes that if all is well in this one, singular moment... then all is well, because this one moment is all that we have.

Despite what Tolle wrote, I still prefer predictability over uncertainty, it is my human nature. In fact, according to some neuroscientists, it is encoded into my DNA to search for whatever patterns will ensure my survival. I'm always trying to 'name it' and it can drive me crazy.  But there is one thing that uncertainty forces me to do that might not be such a bad thing, which is at the crux of what Tolle is trying to tell us.  It forces me to forget about time and think about how I am going to spend this one moment. It teaches me to show up and tease out the really important stuff. It teaches me to watch the moment unfold and fold back again into the next moment. And in this way, I am still here. I am still here in all these moments making decision after decision, moment by moment.

Maybe this is the rhythm, the ritual and the magic that we need to stay focused on in order for uncertainty to have less stressful effects on us. Maybe after we control whatever we can, and if we can find our calm in the midst of our chaos (return to the breath) we can focus on the present moment and all the stuff that has ever made us happy. Similar to the metaphor of embracing the dragon that I talked about last week, we may find it surprisingly easier to embrace then to struggle against, the very thing we fear. Very young children who curl our hair around their little finger, who touch our face, whose discoveries we take so much pleasure in can teach us a lot about not-knowing -in- the- present- moment. Just watch them... they aren't fixed on the past, they aren't hell bent on something in the future.  They just are. They are content to feel the splash of the water or the fluff of a dog.  This is what the Buddhists call 'Beginner's Mind'.

I am a work in progress as I still and may continue to struggle against uncertainty for a while longer, as I come to each crossroad on a highway I thought I was familiar with... I hope you will find me at beginner's mind, finding my calm, controlling only what is in my power to control and finding the courage to allow the moments to unfold.  Okay... big breath and now relax.



Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Gratitude-Happiness Connection


So I wrote about gratitude last week and the benefits of being genuinely thankful.  One of the benefits that was alluded to, but was not directly listed, was happiness.  What do we know about happiness? Is it something that is turned on and off by extrinsic events?  Is it something that we have control over? Is it only noticeable when something really good happens to us, but other little, more subtle stuff gets ignored because for some, the brain hasn't been taught to recognize the loveliness of the 'everyday'?  For some people, the happiness switch isn't turned on and we just can't recognize it against the backdrop of the ordinary. It is only when we are faced by challenges that we start to observe the moments that aren't as challenging and that's when we learn to seek out more and more of those experiences. 

It also isn't a constant.  We aren't always happy, every moment of the day.  An unaware person may find that they are frustrated when the universe did not conspire on their behalf.  We can't wait for someone else to make us happy as I believe that happiness is an 'inside job'   We can't control other people's behavior or feelings and they can't control ours. Even if we could, would you want someone to make you happy because 'you said so'?... someone to love you because you said so?.... someone to admire you because you said so? Someone to take out the garbage because you said so? Well... maybe. I'm leaning toward yes on this one! The opposite is also true.  Would we want to love someone because they told us to? I haven't scientifically proven this or found research to support this notion, but I think the inspiration to make someone else happy comes from the happiness it creates for us. The happiness that comes from gratitude is contagious.

Below is a link to a youtube video on the connection between happiness and gratitude.  Gratitude, especially when it comes over you unrehearsed, is a happiness lever. If you want more happiness, be more grateful. Make eye contact with the waiter and say thank you. Start a conversation with someone who is serving you to make your life pleasant. Let the teller at the bank know that her smile got you through a hard time. My guess, is that most of the people who are inclined to read my blog already know this to be true.

Enjoy the video:
http://www.upworthy.com/scientists-discover-one-of-the-greatest-contributing-factors-to-happiness-youll-thank-me

Monday, July 28, 2014

Gratitude


Over the last decade or so, I have become better acquainted with the notion of gratitude. I have always whispered a 'thank you' to my concept of God after returning from a trip safe and sound, or after reaching my destination after a harried car ride with my child in the driver's seat (!) or when I was anxious about something that went well.  But finding things in the course of my day to be grateful for wasn't a part of my daily practice, until a few years ago when I was learning about myself in a new way. Rather than seeing the deficits, I decided to try feeling grateful for what WAS in my life. This new perspective put things into it's proper place and helped me to cope.

Below are some findings from the website of Professor Robert Emmons, psychology professor at UC Davis on this idea of gratitude.  His studies have shown that grateful people are more:


  • Loving
  • Forgiving
  • Joyful
  • Enthusiastic
  • Have better relationships
  • Take better care of themselves
  • Exercise more
  • Sleep more soundly
  • Recover quickly from illness
  • Have less stress
  • Have higher energy
  • Live longer
  • Earn a higher income
  • Have more friends
Not too shabby a list, considering that the rewards of gratitude make life totally worth the ride!

In the spirit of 'keeping it short' this week, I will end here.  Let me know what you think... or add to the list above.



Saturday, July 19, 2014

More about Mindfulness



So I can't help but notice that there has been a lot of attention recently paid to the subject of mindfulness. Certainly not because of my blog post from last week on mindfulness! But over the years people who study the brain, human behavior, and the psychology of success have been talking and writing about the benefits of being mindful all along.  But I think that in the past, mindfulness has been linked with yoga, spirituality and meditation which did not always fall into areas of general interest for all people, especially the scientific community (until recently).  I think that people's interest and involvement in yoga, spirituality and meditation have been the primary vehicles for mindfulness education, but now has a new ally in neuroscience.  Now that mindfulness has been paired, and rightly so, with neuroscience, westerners including traditional educators and politicians, are paying more attention to it.  And mindfulness isn't being tossed about just in terms of a life review at a milestone birthday, it is being defined as a present moment awareness, because frankly, the present moment is all any of us have.

This past year, I taught developmental guidance lessons to ninth and tenth graders. But just for the record, I have been teaching these lessons since 1986. This past year we used developmental guidance, a social emotional curriculum, in which we introduced students to a new tool: their brain.  With the support of the University of Connecticut, we delivered lessons to students that taught them about the value of mindfulness, mindset, the brain's role in fight-flight-freeze, attitude, perspective, empathy, and other related topics.  When I first started working as a School Counselor in 1986, I think the role we played as counselors was seen as a luxury item.  I knew what I had to offer wasn't math, science, English or history, but just as essential... our content provided the underpinnings for learning, the girding of student success. 

My friend Linda recently sent me an article from online magazine, MindBodyGreen on the matter. Below is what stood out for me, as this is the stuff that many of us look for when trying to validate something whose research has yet to enter the mainstream of popular interest.  "How Meditation Changes Your Brain: A Neuroscientist Explains" by Dr. Sarah McKay, February 28, 2014.

"What was startling was that the MRI scans showed that mindfulness groups increased gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus, the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction, and the cerebellum. Brain regions involved in learning and memory, emotion regulation, sense of self, and perspective taking!"

This past week I had the fortune of attending two unrelated events, both on mindfulness.  Two weeks ago, a colleague emailed me about a conference that was being held in nearby Stratford scheduled for the following week and that it wasn't too late to sign up.  I immediately registered since it was completely geared toward social emotional education. It was sponsored by the Jesse Lewis Foundation.  Jesse Lewis, one of the little children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, CT. Jesse's mom, Scarlett organized this event as it has been her dream, since Jesse's death to bring mindfulness to the classroom. 

Among many of the amazing workshops, the first session was presented by the Goldie Hawn Foundation, in which their new educational curriculum was being handed out, called MindUp.  It is a social emotional curriculum that teachers and counselors can bring into the classroom to build and strengthen mindfulness practices among students as young as 5 years old, something school counselors have been doing since at least the 80s, that I know of. The Hawn Foundation pulls it's research from neuroscience, pairing mindfulness and the science of the brain. I guess if counselors can't convince people of the importance of social emotional learning, then maybe a celebrity can get the word out! (Go figure...)

Then on Tuesday of this past week I attended a lecture on mindfulness at the invitation of Dr. Bryan Cradall, from Fairfield University.  Dr. Crandall had been dropping in on my class all year, adding his voice (and wit) to my lessons which was invaluable.  I had the opportunity, via Bryan's summer writing class, to hear Dr. Paula Gill-Lopez talk about "why counselors and English teachers need to be friends... a presentation on mindfulness, counseling and writing". How cool is that!  I learned from both Dr. Crandall and Dr. Gill-Lopez that while English teachers are preparing lessons using the common core state standards regarding writing, reading and literature to guide their lessons, counselors can collaborate with English teachers using another set of state standards (that to my knowledge haven't been approved by the Connecticut State DOE yet) called SEL, or Social Emotional Learning. A common core that includes SEL standards enrich and deepen a lessen, enable collaboration between teacher and counselor, and bring about a more mindful understanding of the human condition and hopefully themselves.

In another on-line magazine, Edsource, there is an article entitled "Social and emotional learning gaining new focus under common core" by Jane Meredith Adams, May 15, 2013.

"Interest in social and emotional learning is burgeoning, fueled by a desire to create positive school environments and prevent bullying, disconnection, and academic underachievement. Most recently, the fatal shootings at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut and teen sexual assaults in California and elsewhere have “triggered an avalanche of interest,” said Libia Gil, vice president at the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), a Chicago-based advocacy organization."

This article discusses how more people than ever before are giving SEL a second look.  Now that the consequences facing society are in everyone's backyard there is a renewed interest in the topic of mindfulness to which School Counselor's can only utter a collective, "Duh!". 

I'd love to read your thoughts and feedback on this post. 












Sunday, July 13, 2014

Just thinking about thinking...


 Mindfulness and Regret

I think about mindfulness quite often. Mindfulness is how we think about thinking. I teach it to my students when I have the opportunity to discuss goal setting, I try (still learning) to practice it on a regular basis and I hope I've taught it to my own kids to the best of my ability. Modeling mindfulness can be difficult especially in moments of indecision, (the times kids secretly want you to make the decision) when you have to think out loud, in order for the process to be evident.  I believe that mindfulness is the state in which I am fully present. And I think for many of us, in this world of anxiety, distraction and fear we pick and choose which situations we are going to 'show up' for.  Hopefully we pick the right things to be mindful of and pay attention to... the people and things that matter most. 

The online edition of Psychology Today says that mindfulness refers to "present moment awareness".   And there you have it from the experts!  But what is the down side to not being mindful of our thoughts, feelings and behavior and how they all connect?  Thinking about this topic, I am reminded of the song, "I know the Truth" from Aida.  It is about regret. Regret, I believe is a consequence of living life without the mindful awareness of how you take up space in this world. Regret is the haunting point of this song. If you will, bring your attention to three important lines in the song, below:

“How did I throw half a lifetime away without any thought at all…” 
·        Being mindful about how we spend our time and appreciating what is in front of us including the people around us is how we build meaningful relationships that make us happy.
“ This should have been my time, it’s over, it never began…”
·         Here I am with nothing to celebrate because I didn't invest my time and energy in the things and people that matter. I wasn't kind and the world is mirroring that back to me.
“I try to blame it on fortune…”
·         I've heard people make excuses for their circumstances by deluding themselves that somehow it was somebody or something else’s fault. This person is not conscious, is not awake, is not mindful of the breathe they take and aren't able to connect the consequences of their actions with their thoughts, feelings and behavior.

When we take little or no responsibility for our life’s journey, we miss important opportunities to mindfully connect with others, make a positive impact on the world as well as to act on our own goals.  To act on our goals... or not... takes us to very different places. When we are too busy planning for the future or reminiscing in the past, we lose touch with the present moment and our life passes without even a backward glance. I don't mean to say that mindful people have never had a mindful-less moment or a moment where they didn't feel very proud of themselves. Conversely, I don't think the opposite is completely true either. It is a question of what we practice on a regular basis. What is it that makes us who we are in the long haul?  Whether we are queens, kings, or working people, I doubt any of us want to look back at their life with regret and disappointment.  

How will you look back on your life some day?  Whatever your answer is and no matter how old you are, I think there is time to do more and there is still time to make changes, to produce positive results and to connect with something larger than yourself.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvnhI6dPFbA   From Aida, original soundtrack is a musical with music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice, and book by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls, and David Henry Hwang, and produced by Walt Disney Theatrical.


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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Give Yourself Credit... You know lots of Stuff!



Some people, I don't think, give themselves credit for stuff they already know. However, Wikipedia, in its discussion of Malcolm Gladwell's, Outliers: The Story of Success, would say that you definitely know something if you've practiced it for about 10,000 hours.  After 10,000 hours or 1 year and 51 days to be exact, umm, I think you'd have it down pat.  We refer to the stuff that we know as practical intelligence or common sense.  The problem is for many people... we don't give ourselves credit for what we know because we are so preoccupied with being humble, or we turn a deaf ear to our inner voice, or we've been told that whatever we do know, doesn't matter... and slowly we learn to lower the volume on our value.  

So what do you know, regular old common sense... it's a thing! 

Everyone has a kind of practical intelligence.  I think it's fair to say that most people who live in cities probably know how the transit system works, people who live on farms might know a lot about nature and animals, military families know a lot about other cultures because they have lived in other countries for periods at a time, couples who've been married for a long time know what it takes to make a marriage last. People who live on islands learn how to gut fish, people in Denmark (the happiest country) know how to live together in groups and people who work in hospitals know how to spring into action when crisis hits.  But what about the rest of us?

We shouldn't despair.  There is a way for us to feel good about what we already know.  Once we decide that we already know stuff and trust that we know it, this knowledge can actually sustain us by allowing a transfer of what we know to other situations . We take a little practical intelligence (what we already know) and mix it with a faith in ourselves that we are receptive beings and that we acknowledge in ourselves that we know.  But what if we are taught not to trust ourselves? Or worse, what if we are taught self-shame? Read Brene Brown on shame... she's an amazing psychologist, author, lecurer.  There in lies a huge dilemma.  Sometimes, a family culture will not assign value if you are a girl, if the family system honors humility, if the family struggles to survive. If the people in the following scenarios were taught that they had little or no value, I wonder if they could be successful.
  • Bilingual children who interpret for their parents at the doctor's office or help their parents read a rental agreement and have skills that could transfer to jobs in translation or advocacy or anywhere else multi-linguistic skills are valued.  What would their future look like if they were told they did not serve any purpose?
  •  The woman who has opted to stay home with her children for a number of years and begins to entertain the thought of going back to work...  She could capitalize on the skills she used in running a home to running a business.  She has a practical intelligence that lends itself to transfer.  What would this woman's future look like if everyone in her family told her she was 'not very bright'.
  •  Kids who have sold drugs on the street might be able to sell other things because they have the gift of gab and can persuade others to buy what they have to sell. They could take a misguided activity and adapt it to a more pro-social way of making money. What would their future look like if no caring adult ever told them how smart they were?

 If we can transfer mundane or common place skills to something more lucrative (and hopefully legal), we might be able to realize our goals by using those skills in a different setting. So a student who has had to hold down 2 jobs, take care of their sick mother and get the siblings off to school, while still getting their own school work done has a lot to offer an employer, such as drive, passion and commitment.  As hard as this life is, it will serve this student well in the end, because they will be able to fulfill their own needs with greater ease since they have learned so much about taking care of themselves and others.

What can we learn from this blog post that would help us transfer the skills we already have to an idea or project we've been thinking of giving shape and form to? We need just to acknowledge the stuff we already know, and honor it by using it to breathe life into that project.  I know. And so do you.

Any thoughts?

Friday, July 4, 2014

Generating a LIST is the first step...



I have a list of things I want to do with my house this summer.  Some are possible now, some will have to wait.  Some, I have to call in the pros for, and some I might be able to try my own hand at. If I don't make a list with priority and possibility rankings, I will feel that nothing is possible.  For me, 'the list' is all powerful. It helps me to figure out what I can do now, given my resources at the moment.

Just like with hunger where my body has alerted my brain that I have to find food, something is moving me toward my list of home improvement projects. Taking action, I read the list (a small but wise step). The list fuels my momentum and imagination (as if the list itself is a form of energy!) which revs the motor of my brain that starts to seek images of new flooring, a new and improved kitchen faucet, a new staircase to the backyard, I feel moved to action. That 'moved' feeling is tingly and feels like inspiration. It is actually unexpressed energy. Just as there is a relationship between hunger and finding food, the energy of my thoughts lead to an energy of action, no matter how small the step.  As long as I don't look to the top of the ladder from where I am at the bottom too often, I can take a step at a time and feel happy. But, every now and then I love to walk a few yards away from the ladder to gain a better perspective on what I've accomplished. 

From that first tug of energetic possibility, to envisioning the master piece and then to outwardly express the energetic pull is better than... vacationing in Tahiti! ... well, probably not, but it's high up there, for sure! 

Thoughts?