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24 Nov

The Grief Path: Mourning the Love of Your Life

by Barbara Abercrombie, author of The Language of Loss:
Poetry and Prose for Grieving and Celebrating the Love of Your Life

I thought I knew about grief. I had been through the death of my parents. I certainly knew how much grief could hurt, how it could knock you flat like a wave sneaking up behind you. The difference is that when you’re an adult and a parent dies, you go back to your own life. When your spouse or partner dies you can’t do this, he or she was your life.

There’s no way to prepare for this kind of grief.  There’s no way to imagine what it’s like when the person you’ve loved and shared your life with vanishes. No way to comprehend the long journey ahead of you. How do you find a path for it? Can there even be a path through grief? And where can it lead?

With the first step into this new, unwanted future, I discovered the busyness of the newly bereaved – the necessity of things to be done. Decisions for a service and burial, an obituary to write, miles of paperwork, juggling a stepfamily, my own family, and friends. Then the service was over, family went home, many friends went back into couples, thank you notes were written, the paper work got done, and I felt more alone than I’ve ever been in my whole life. There was no path, only getting through it day by day, sometimes hour by hour.

One of my daughters thought I should join a grief group, which sounded like an oxymoron. My grief felt too singular, too deranged for a group. A stepdaughter wanted me to move out of the house so it could be sold. Blended families can add another layer of grief.

Reading and writing have always been my way through bad times. In the echoing silence of the months after my husband died, I looked to poetry and stories for solace. I wanted company –  poets and writers who had lost the love of their life and could put the chaos into words for me. “Help me. Remind me why I’m here,” is the final line of a poem by Kim Addonizio that I read over and over during those first few months I was a widow. This poem said exactly what I was feeling but couldn’t say to anyone, and though I wept every time I read it, I felt I wasn’t alone. The writer of this poem knew exactly what I was going through. That was comfort.

Mark Doty wrote in his memoir that while grieving for his partner he learned that “Being in grief, it turns out, is not unlike being in love.” I wrote pages and pages in my journal about my husband, us, our life – lovestruck as well as griefstruck. I started writing a memoir about his final year. I talked to him, not only on paper and in my head but also out loud. I would go into his closet and touch his shirts; his shoes made me cry. I couldn’t stand silence, yet music – whether country or opera – was too emotional to listen to, so I kept talk radio on day and night. When I was writing and I heard someone say on the radio the same word I had just written, I thought my husband was trying to reach me in code.  Hope. Voice. Time. Self. Paper. I made lists of the words and tried to turn them into poems.

Jack Gilbert wrote a poem about his belief that his wife came back as the neighbor’s Dalmation.  Jan Richardson wrote in her memoir that the sudden appearance of sparrows signaled her dead husband was sending her a sign. Doriannne Laux ended a poem with a plea: “Give me a sign if you can see me./I’m the only one here on my knees.”  Reading these poets and writers made me feel less crazy for thinking my dead husband was sending me messages in code via the radio. 

How do we get through this time, with or without signs from our beloveds?  What we can’t see in the beginning is that there is indeed a path – most likely twisted and full of sharp turns and potholes, but one that takes us forward.  Sometimes my path was a sidewalk; I walked my dog for hours every day covering the same territory. I went through the motions of living my life – yoga classes and inviting friends over for potlucks, going back to teaching, but I wasn’t myself and it didn’t feel like my life.

I realized that time was pushing my husband into the past, further and further away, but I wasn’t ready to let him go. I kept writing, I kept reading. I wasn’t ready to let go of my grief; it kept me connected to him. Writing about him kept him in the room. I continued looking for poetry and memoir for solace, and also to justify feeling narcissistic in my grief, because the writers and poets I found were just as grief obsessed as I was, and grief after all is about the griever.

I found company in Hafiz who wrote “Don’t surrender your loneliness/So quickly ….”  And in Kevin Young who wrote, “what’s worse, the forgetting/or the thing/ you can’t forget.”  When I read, I felt part of a world that made meaning out of pain. 

After two years I began to realize that the tears, the pages of memories that I wrote, the miles I walked with my dog, the hours on a yoga mat, the time with students in my classroom, the potlucks in my kitchen, the volumes of poetry and memoir that I read – all of it was a path into the future. A path I had walked without knowing it was leading somewhere.

Finally, and this happened only gradually, I found myself remembering grief. Grief as something that I had felt in the past, no longer the wave that used to flatten me, no longer feeling grief in every bone and muscle of my body but thinking about how it had felt in the past. I still missed my husband deeply, but missing isn’t grief. Missing is a feeling that can go on forever while you begin a new life. Whatever shape that new life takes, there’s the possibility of joy again, even love. In the space hollowed out by grief there is room for your heart to expand, to open to the world, to grow and to give thanks for the love you once had. At the end of my path I was amazed by gratitude.

# # #

Barbara Abercrombie has published over fifteen books, including The Language of Loss. Two of her books were listed on Poets & Writers Magazine’s “Best Writing Books of the Year” list. Her personal essays have appeared in many national publications and anthologies. She has received the Outstanding Instructor and Distinguished Instructor Awards from UCLA Extension, where she teaches creative writing. She lives in Pasadena, CA with her rescue dogs Nelson and Nina. Find out more about her work at www.barbaraabercrombie.com. 

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04 Nov

Sleep Quotes and the Wisdom (or Not) Behind Them

Sleep is one thing we all have in common. No matter where you live, how old you are, or what language you speak, if you’re alive, then you sleep. Since we’ve all been doing this sleeping thing our whole lives, we might just have some thoughts to share on the subject. And if you happen to be a celebrity, these thoughts might be shared with the public. Let’s look at some of these famous quotes about sleep, and see if we’re getting good advice.

 

“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”  – Benjamin Franklin

 

Franklin was likely speaking from experience. His routine was that he would sleep from 10 pm to 5 am. Today, that’s the same routine for other successful people, including Jeff Bezos and Arianna Huffington. Ellen DeGeneres gets in her eight hours from 11pm to 7pm. However, Elon Musk and Barack Obama get to bed later, at 1 am, and then sleep until 7 am. So, can we thrive on less sleep?

 

There’s more than comes into play, including how people spend their daytime hours. Are you getting enough exercise and sunshine? Are you eating healthy foods? The quality of sleep you get it also very important. A study at John Hopkins University found that short but uninterrupted sleep is better than long hours of interrupted sleep. This is because interruption doesn’t allow the brain to go through all the sleep stages we need for energy and mental alertness. So, if you are getting that deep, uninterrupted sleep, even for fewer hours, and you are functioning optimally during that day maybe you don’t need as much sleep.

 

Research has shown that a good night’s sleep does make us smarter – or at least perform better on tests. A study at KU Leuven University in Belgium found higher test scores for students who slept seven hours each night during the exam period than those who got less sleep. The research accounted for differences in study habits, health and socioeconomic backgrounds.

 

Work eight hours and sleep eight hours and make sure that they are not the same hours. – T. Boone Pickens

Here’s a successful guy who believed in balance. Work, sleep, and then also live your life. Good advice. If you’re working too much and not giving the mind some downtime to rest before sleep, you’ll have a more difficult time getting to sleep, and probably not sleep as well.

 

I need nine hours of sleep because of all the activity I do. It doesn’t always happen, but I really try. – Ana Ivanovic

 

8 hours sleep is average – the ballpark for most of us. But some people need less, like Elon Musk, apparently! And some of us need more, like pro tennis player Ana Ivanovic. You don’t have to be an athlete, either – expending mental energy also requires a body-mind reset through sleep. If you find yourself yawning in the afternoon, or feeling like you need a nap, you might just need more sleep at night. When you’re getting enough quality nighttime sleep you shouldn’t need to take a nap. Young children and the elderly are exceptions, they usually need a nap in the day.

 

I don’t sleep enough, and it does… what is the opposite of wonders… horrors. It does horrors for my skin. – Kate McKinnon

I think my biggest tip – and I consider it a part of my beauty routine – is getting my sleep, without a doubt. I do a true eight hours. – Tracee Ellis Ross

 

There’s a reason why we call it “Beauty Sleep” and these actresses will tell you! It works both ways. Get good sleep and it shows on your face – your skin, your eyes, your smile. Or stay up too late missing those precious sleep hours and that will show up on your face, too. There’s only so much that make-up can do to hide the signs of lack of sleep. Who better than an actress to confirm this?

 

I drink a ton of water. And I never go to bed too full. – Chrissy Teigen

 

Chrissy Teigen has the right idea when it comes to eating. It’s best not to go to bed on a full stomach, because then your body is busy digesting instead of focusing on getting you into a sleep state. But it’s also not good to go to bed hungry either. Chrissy posts on her Instagram account about her “night eggs” that she swears by for sleep. She eats one lightly seasoned hard-boiled egg before bed, and it give her just enough protein to get her through the night without being hungry. But when it comes to water – it’s great to drink water during the day, but definitely limit your intake after 7 pm or your sleep will be interrupted when you need to get out of bed to visit the bathroom!

 

Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight. – Phyllis Diller

Make sure you never, never argue at night. You just lose a good night’s sleep and you can’t settle anything until morning anyway. -Rose Kennedy

 

I think we’ve all heard this from marriage and relationship experts: “Never go to bed angry.” Worst advice ever! What is the alternative? Like Phyllis Diller says, stay up and fight? I’m sure Phyllis was joking – how can anyone possibly sleep after getting all riled up in a heated argument? I think Rose Kennedy has a better idea. Never argue at night. Table the argument, go to sleep and figure it out in the morning. Chances are, after a good night’s sleep, the argument won’t seem so important anyway. You’ll be able to think more clearly and may even have dreamt up a solution to the problem!

 

Nothing makes you feel better than when you get into a hotel bed, and the sheets feel so good. Why shouldn’t you wake up like that every day? Spend money on your mattress and bedding because these things make a difference on your sleep and, ultimately, your happiness. -Bobby Berk

 

Bobby Berk is an interior designer and television host. He travels a lot for work, so he knows about staying in hotels. Many people experience a great night’s sleep when they stay in a hotel. And when they come home it’s just not the same. The difference? The mattress. Hotels are really good about getting fresh new mattresses all the time so that their guests are comfortable. So, Bobby is giving us really good advice. A new mattress is an investment in both our health and happiness. And of course, the bedding should feel good when you’re in bed, and look good enough to make you smile when you’re out of bed!

 

 

https://podcasts.hopkinsmedicine.org/2015/12/18/december-24-2015-interrupted-sleep/

 

https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/11/13/the-sleep-habits-of-highly-successful-people-infographic/#1459a7376d7f

 

https://nieuws.kuleuven.be/en/content/2014/for-better-marks-get-a-good-nights-sleep

 

 

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30 Jan

A Bigger Yes

We are the luckiest.An excerpt from We Are the Luckiest by Laura McKowen

Before Laura McKowen got sober, she had a long, successful career in public relations in the Mad Men-esque drinking culture of the advertising industry, where “liquid lunches were frequent and drinking at your desk in the late afternoon was perfectly normal.” In the five years since she stopped drinking, she has become one of the foremost voices in the modern recovery movement.

In her new memoir We Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life (New World Library, January 7, 2020), McKowen flips the script on how we talk about addiction and encourages readers not to ask, “Is this bad enough that I have to change?” but rather, “Is this good enough for me to stay the same?”

We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book.

# # #

For so long, all I could see was what I would be losing by giving up drinking — love being only one representation of many. Despite all the aphorisms and positive thinking and stories I’d heard from other sober people promising me otherwise, all I could feel was the loss. Augusten Burroughs, in his book This Is How, said that what worked for him in getting sober was to find something he loved more than drinking. I understood that intellectually, and it sounded awfully catchy and inspiring, but it just didn’t feel true for me.

Being in that room with Seane, feeling whatever had been sparking up in me — even in the midst of all the emotional angst and discomfort — I started to get it. For the first time, I could imagine chasing something bigger.

# # #

Here’s what is true, for you and for me: the grief and the sadness are real. When you give up something you’ve relied on as heavily as I relied on alcohol, even when that something is actively destroying your life, it is a true loss. You can’t deny that, and more importantly, you don’t have to.

I thought there was something wrong with me for feeling so heartbroken. How could I actively miss a thing that had nearly cost me everything, including Alma?

There was nothing wrong with me, though. Alcohol had been my friend. It had carried me through a lot of pain I might have otherwise not been able to withstand. It had softened experiences that needed to be softened. It had been there for me always, without question. My drinking — and whatever it is you do to feel better — was born of a natural impulse to soothe, to connect, to feel love. And although alcohol hadn’t actually delivered those things, it was absolutely yoked to them in my mind. In my heart and body, too. It was just what I knew.

So of course I was terrified without it. Of course I missed it. The absence of it was terrible. And necessary. Maybe it’s helpful to linger there for a minute, in the terrible and the necessary. To start to see them as the same. Maybe in this way, pain is not such a problem.

When I saw Seane up there, doing what she did, I realized it wasn’t in spite of her pain that she was doing these things but because of it. She knew exactly what it took to walk through the fire. That is what I recognized in her. That was why I believed her.

Because that strength was in me, too.

I had always quashed my pain and cut it off before it could burn all the way through. I drank it away or ate it away or disappeared into another person or work. Being there over those four days, without contact with Jon or Alma or the comforts of home, had given me a taste of what it was like to just let it burn. I felt it. I felt it all over my body. And although it was excruciating most of the time, there were a few moments when I surrendered the fight and simply allowed everything to wash over me. In those moments, I found that right alongside the sharp intensity and unease, there was some small part of me willing to stay, another voice softly saying, I am willing to be here.

Behind all those nos and never-agains is a much bigger yes. It might not seem clear now, but it will be clear soon. Listen to the voice. Listen to your body. This is in you already.

There is a life that is calling you forward, begging you to meet its eye, to glimpse its vision for you. You can get only so far by running away from what you do not want. Eventually you will have to turn toward what you do. You will have to run toward a bigger yes.

# # #

 

Laura McKowen is the author of We Are the Luckiest. She is a former public relations executive who has become recognized as a fresh voice in the recovery movement. Beloved for her soulful and irreverent writing, she leads sold-out yoga-based retreats and other courses that teach people how to say yes to a bigger life. Visit her online at http://www.lauramckowen.com.

Excerpted from the book We Are the Luckiest. Copyright ©2020 by Laura McKowen. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.

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18 Jan

Defining Self Care

“Self-care” has become somewhat of a buzz word lately. So many people are talking about it, especially online. In most of the discussions, self-care is used to describe taking a bath, getting a massage, having some aromatherapy, and the like. It kind of comes off as prioritizing yourself, maybe to the point of being selfish. But let’s really unpack this, and understand what self-care really means.

 

This is my definition of self-care: Being responsible for your own happiness and well-being. We can’t “get” happiness from any outside source. That means we can’t buy it, and we can’t rely on anyone else to provide it for us, or give it to us. So, if we’re not happy or well, we can’t blame anyone or anything – the buck, so to speak, stops with ourselves. When we can understand that, then we can make more informed choices about what we do, and how we do it.

 

For example, let’s look at the three pillars of health in Ayurveda, and how this relates to self-care.

 

1) Food: Food is anything we “eat” through any of the senses. What do you put in your mouth, what do you smell, what do you touch, what do you watch, what are you listening to? If you’re stressed out, yet continue to watch violent television shows, or listen to argumentative talk shows on the car radio, you need to make different choices. If your digestion is poor, and you’re eating junk food late at night, you need to be doing something different. This is self-care – knowing how to take care of yourself body, mind, and spirit… and actually doing it. No one else can do it for you. You absolutely have control here – so we have to look at our habits, and stop being on auto-pilot.

 

2) Sleep: You’ve heard me talk about sleep for years as the spokesperson for the Better Sleep Council. What could be easier than going to bed at a reasonable time? And yet, we don’t do it! We have every excuse to stay up later than we should. We’re on our screens way too late, we don’t invest in our sleep by making sure we have a new mattress and pillow. It’s like we see sleep as a chore, something more to fit into our busy day. Like a little kid, we don’t want to go to bed because we’re afraid we’ll be missing something! It’s time to change that mind-set and understand how important sleep is in every area of our lives. Self-care means being disciplined about your sleep schedule, and sleep hygiene so that sleep can actually work for you!

 

3) Activity: Activity is everything we do in our lives – work, exercise, relationships, our daily routine and habits. It’s not just what you’re doing, but also what you’re thinking about. Where is your attention focused? Self-care is also knowing our limits. Are you taking on too much? Are you being too active, is life too hectic? Or are you not active enough, is life too slow? There’s a beautiful “Goldilocks” amount of activity that’s unique to each of us, and “just right” for each one of us. Find yours and take care of yourself in this way. You might have to say no when you feel obligated or pressed to say yes, or say yes when you’re a bit uncomfortable jumping into something new. Tune into your intuition and do what is best for you.

 

Take good care!

Lots of love,

Lissa

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20 Nov

Paradigm Shift

Over the past two decades, there has been a quiet revolution in the fields of psychology and neuroscience challenging two fundamental assumptions. The first is that humans are hardwired to experience emotions and that emotions happen automatically. Unless you’re a saint, if you’ve been honked at by a rude driver, you will have seen this firsthand. You will have experienced reacting in a way that feels completely automatic (and likely regrettable). This is certainly what seems to be happening. The proximity between stimulus (the honk) and reaction (anger) is so close that your perception was that you had no choice but to react in a certain way. To make sense of this experience, you likely have attributed this phenomenon to the myth that humans are emotion- ally hardwired.

This is understandable. Early humans who were able to band together effectively increased their likelihood of survival. Evolution favored traits that let people be accepted by and remain part of the clan. In essence, get- ting excluded from the tribe was an almost certain death sentence. As a result, your brain has evolved to recognize threats to your social status and to respond in ways that protect you from risk to your psychological safety. In fact, brain scans show that when you feel excluded or rejected, the part of your brain associated with physical pain—the anterior cingulate cortex—lights up. Hence, as we saw in chapter one, when someone looks at you a certain way or makes a disparaging remark, your amygdala is triggered and institutes a fight/flight/freeze response, releasing the hormone epinephrine and instigating a series of physiological responses. This reaction, known as the amygdala hijack, in turn impairs your most sophisticated mental capabilities—your ability to think rationally, to be creative, to problem solve, to exercise self-control. What started out as an essential survival adaptation—to keep you safe from physical harm or to keep you included in the tribe—has become a major limitation to effectiveness in modern-day life.

So while there may be something to the notion of hardwiring, the truth is far more nuanced and interesting. Your brain is a prediction machine, continuously comparing new stimuli to past experience and making guesses about what action your body should take based

on those comparisons. Beginning in early infancy, your brain begins to construct rules or beliefs for each cate- gory of experience, and they get embedded in your pro- gram. Over time, these rules solidify, and you think it is just the way things are—the way you are wired. Driver honking at you equals someone treating you unfairly, which means you must be angry.

One of the leading researchers in this area, Lisa Feldman Barrett, has arrived at a profound and revolutionary conclusion challenging the myth that humans are hard- wired:

Our emotions aren’t built-in, waiting to be revealed. They are made. By us. We don’t recognize emotions or identify emotions: we construct our own emotional experiences, and our perceptions of others’ emotions, on the spot, as needed, through a complex interplay of systems. Human beings are not at the mercy of mythical emotion circuits buried deep within animalistic parts of our highly evolved brain: we are architects of our own experience.8

The second fundamental assumption being challenged is the view that what you perceive through your senses—primarily sight and sound—dictates the way you feel. In reality, it is mostly the other way around. We touched on this notion in chapter one with the introduction of polyvagal theory—the idea that your central nervous system is constantly scanning your internal state to detect physiological markers that suggest potential threats to your social safety. You continuously experience countless sensations in your body—the result of your glucose levels, breathing rate, lack of sleep, etc. Your brain’s process of registering and integrating changes in

these sensations is known as interoception. Interoception influences what external sensory input you pay attention to. If sleep-deprived and hungry, you will experience the same situation completely differently than you would if well-rested and fed. Again, Barrett does a wonderful job of summarizing this for us:

You construct the environment in which you live. You might think about your environment as existing in the outside world, separate from yourself, but that’s a myth. You (and other creatures) do not simply find yourself in an environment and either adapt or die. You construct your environment—your reality—by virtue of what sensory input from the physical environment your brain selects; it admits some as information and ignores some as noise. And this selection is intimately linked to interoception.9

The implications of this paradigm shift in under- standing human behavior are massive. The sum of your genetics, childhood experiences, culture, neurophysiology (including the anatomy of your brain and, more importantly, your physiological state) all help shape your program and, in turn, how you behave. Your brain uses the rules of your program to make predictions about what actions are most appropriate for any given stimulus. This understanding is revolutionary, and it’s good news. While it is certainly understandable to feel as if certain behaviors are automatic, you nevertheless have the capacity to control every response to every situation. The question now becomes what you can do to master your code (including your physiology) so that the actions you take are more consistent with the choices you would like to make. Since you are truly the architect and author of your experience, you have the possibility (and dare I say responsibility) to create the conditions that will allow you to construct a different way of perceiving and reacting to your circum- stances. The bad news? No more excuses!

 

Darren Gold is a Managing Partner at The Trium Group, where he advises and coaches CEOs and leadership teams at many of the world’s most innovative companies, including Roche, Dropbox, Lululemon, Sephora, Cisco, eBay, Activision, and Warner Bros. He is the author of the new book Master Your Code: The Art, Wisdom, and Science of Leading an Extraordinary LifeLearn more at www.darrenjgold.com.

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19 Nov

Authenticity

BOOKcover-LiveTrue-hiResCHAPTER 21: Authenticity

But above all, in order to be, never try to seem.

—Albert Camus

 

This above all:

To thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.

—Shakespeare

 

Who are you really, if not who you really are? That may sound like some kind of Zen koan, which is a paradox, or a puzzle for Zen Buddhist monks to meditate on to gain enlightenment. Perhaps we won’t reach enlightenment by contemplating that question, but we can certainly find out who we are by knowing who we’re not. If we ask ourselves, “Who am I?” we will automatically answer with our name, or what it is we do for a living, our role, or our persona, such as “I’m a mother,” “I’m a doctor,” “I’m an actor,” “I’m a carpenter,” or even, “I’m an addict.” We may be any one of those things, or a combination of them. But unless we know who we are other than just our “identity,” or what we do, we might not know whether we’re

being true to ourselves, or authentic in whatever identity we’ve taken on. Maybe somewhere in your role as a mother, you’re conflicted about having given up a career to be a parent, or maybe torn about working and leaving your children at home or daycare. Or, maybe if you were/are an addict, you were once on top of the world but lost confidence in yourself at one point in your life, and couldn’t handle failure so you numbed yourself with drugs or alcohol. Or maybe you became a doctor because it was expected of you to be one since you come from generations of physicians, as I spoke about in the previous chapter on honesty. Who we are might not be what we wanted, or intended to be at all, but we’ve been that person for so long, who would we be otherwise? Some people just fall into being who they are, or inherit being who they are, or are told to be who they are. Others knew who they wanted to be when

they spoke their first words. But whether you announced your identity at your first dance recital, or you smiled compliantly when your father announced at your Bar Mitzvah that you were going to be a lawyer just like him, somewhere on the “Who am I?” train, you woke up and realized that you got on the wrong one, became inauthentic to yourself, and don’t know how that happened. There’s a great song by The Talking Heads, called “Once in a Lifetime,” which really sums it up:

 

And you may find yourself

Living in a shotgun shack

And you may find yourself

In another part of the world

And you may find yourself

Behind the wheel of a large automobile

And you may find yourself in a beautiful house

With a beautiful wife

And you may ask yourself, well

How did I get here?

 

It’s very conceivable that you can wake up one day and ask yourself, “How did I get here?” A good way to avoid that from happening is to ask yourself, “Who am I?” long before

you end up somewhere you really don’t want to be, or flummoxed by how the hell you let yourself get there. Mindfulness helps us not forget who we are. It keeps us present and aware, and if, or when we might feel an impulse to be inauthentic, it reminds us immediately that falseness of any kind feels wrong with every fiber of our being. When we’re mindful, we have heightened awareness, and with heightened awareness, it’s hard to be dishonest with ourselves. It’s like having an inner lie detector, as I’ve spoken of, or truth barometer that goes off inside us, and makes it almost impossible not to pay attention to it. Even if someone is suggesting what we should do, or who we should be, as I mentioned, we get a signal loud and clear that no one can decide who we are, and only we can determine our authenticity.  But whether you decided who your authentic self was long ago, somewhere on the life path you can either forget it, doubt it, turn away from it, give it away, or even make a decision that you dislike or hate who you really are, and deny ever being that person. It’s like an identity swap, only instead of taking on a role that isn’t you because you felt you had to, you gave your authentic self away gladly, and after living so long as someone you’re not, you’re now desperately looking for who you are, like a mother trying to find the baby she gave up for adoption. The good news is you can always find that person you once were, and when

you become reunited with your authentic self, it can be the greatest and most freeing day of your life. it’s not easy living a life trapped in inauthenticity, and it takes work to pretend to be someone we’re not. It can also be very painful to be seen, liked, or even loved for a false self, and terrifying that if, or when you’re found out that you’ve lived dishonestly, not only can you be met with tremendous anger and resentment, but you can also be blamed or accused for harming others in some type of way, be it emotionally or psychologically.

Ora Nadrich is founder and president of the Institute for Transformational Thinking and author of Live True: A Mindfulness Guide to Authenticity. A certified life coach and mindfulness teacher, she specializes in transformational thinking, self-discovery, and mentoring new coaches as they develop their careers. Learn more at theiftt.org and OraNadrich.com.

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21 Oct

“You Are What You Read”

An excerpt by Jodie Jackson from her book, “You Are What You Read”.

In the early stages of my research into the psychological impact of the news, I went to a constructive journalism workshop. At the beginning, the course director asked all the journalists in attendance why they had decided on their chosen career.

My scepticism about the creators of the news was suspended as I heard the participants’ answers: to make the world a better place, to hold power to account, to inspire, to educate, to give a voice to the voiceless, to expose wrongdoing, to stimulate debate, to challenge the status quo. I was in admiration of their intentions.

I later found that these journalists’ answers were incredibly common through research that showed that the journalists interviewed shared a common characteristic: the desire to contribute to the improvement of the human condition and make the world a better place. They then went on to say that they achieved this by reporting suffering as a way to counteract ignorance and stimulate empathy. This strategy can be very effective. But while it’s true that the news of others’ suffering can conjure empathetic concern and can lead to altruistic behaviour, which may reduce that suffering, it can also lead to personal distress. And those who experience such distress will not be concerned with the needs of others. Instead they will seek to reduce their own suffering by withdrawing or avoiding the news.

The initial buzz that had been created by these noble and inspired answers was quickly dulled as I began researching how people feel when they watch or read the news. Their dispirited answers included comments like depressed, paranoid, hopeless, insignificant and scared about our future.

The news is supposed to empower people by enlightening them with information that they otherwise may not have known. It should also help them zoom out of their personal lives and allow them to feel connected to the world around them. But it seems that when some people lift their head above their personal horizon, they immediately want to retreat to the safety of their own surroundings. They may even decide to put their head in the sand and ignore the wider world for the sake of their sanity; deciding to remain unaware of the daily disasters and instead choose the more comforting thought that ‘ignorance is bliss’.

People that avoid the news are often judged because of the enormous social pressure to be well informed. If you don’t know the detail of global policies, domestic issues and the latest corruption, you are often tarnished with the disapproving titles of ill-educated, naïve, lazy, self-involved or shallow. However, having spoken to some wildly intelligent, caring, benevolent and creative individuals who have chosen not to expose themselves to the news regularly, I can say that this is not always the case.

Although it is common for journalists to want to believe the stories they tell make the world a better place, it is more difficult to digest the idea that the news they are creating can actually cause harm. But it is time we publicly acknowledge that good intentions can have unintended consequences, and the stories we are told about in the news do not always have the positive impact that was intended by their writers.

We know that the news predominantly reports the problems of the world, from systemic social issues of poverty and inequality to individual petty crime, with very little to comfort the reader. We accept that these are the types of stories we expect to hear from the news. This expectation has become so entrenched in the news industry that a television news programme can have ‘more images of violence, suffering and death in a half hour than most people would normally view in a lifetime’.

So what effect does all this bad news have on us?

It is important that we ask this because the subtle potency of the news appears largely unquestioned by the very consumers who are affected by its content. Instead of questioning it, many routinely defend its position. But with the average American spending seventy minutes a day absorbing news content, it is important that we ask what are the psychological effects that the news has on us. It is time we, the consumers, turn the investigative lens on the news industry to expose the effects of the negativity bias on our mental health, the health of our democracy and our society. Once people begin to ask questions, it may be that people do not so quickly defend the incessant negativity of the news.

 

Jodie Jackson is an author, researcher and campaigner. She holds a Master’s Degree in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of East London (UK) where she investigated the psychological impact of the news. As she discovered evidence of the beneficial effects of solutions-focused news on our wellbeing, she grew convinced of the need to spread consumer awareness. She is a regular speaker at media conferences and universities. Her new book is You Are What You Read: Why Changing Your Media Diet Can Change the World(Unbound, September 3, 2019). See more at www.jodiejackson.com, and find her on twitter at @jacksonjodie21

 

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15 Oct

AVOIDING YOUR BEST WORK LEADS TO CREATIVE CONSTIPATION

The following is a modified excerpt from Start Finishing: How to Go from Idea to Done.

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There’s a big difference between what your best work and all the other work you do. Doing your best work is fulfilling while you’re doing it and also creates a bridges the gap between the life you live today and the life your soul yearns to be in. And your best work isn’t just about work you get paid for — it could be playing in your hobby band, raising your kids, being the church secretary, or community volunteer projects.

Your best work is always going to be challenging because it’s the work that matters to you. And because it matters to you, you’re going to be thrashing — that is flailing, having mini identity crises, “researching”, and all the other kinds of meta-work that doesn’t actually push the work forward — along the way. Best work is starting to look suspiciously like hard work, and our natural reaction is to avoid doing hard work and to instead find something easier to do.

When it comes to your best work, not doing it comes with two major costs: (1) you won’t be able to thrive, and (2) you’ll be stricken with creative constipation. Since I’ve already discussed the link between thriving and your best work, let’s talk about creative constipation, or the pain of not doing your best work.

Creative constipation is exactly what it sounds like. We take in ideas and inspiration that get converted into aspirations, goals, and projects, and at a certain point, if we’re not pushing them out in the form of finished projects, they start to back up on us.

And like physical constipation, at a certain point, we get toxic. We don’t want to take in any more ideas. We don’t want to do any more projects. We don’t want to set any more goals or plans. We’re full and fed up.

That inner toxicity becomes the broth that flavors all our stories about ourselves and the world; our head trash gets more pronounced and intense, and what we see in the world goes from bright to dark. Creative constipation leads to behaviors in which we lash out at the world—and sometimes even more intensely at ourselves. We become resentful of others—even people we love—who are doing their best work.

Our ability to feel positive emotional peaks is diminished at the same time that our ability to feel negative emotional troughs is amplified. You’ve no doubt encountered the tortured, depressed soul who’s creatively constipated—and you may have been there yourself.

There’s a reason that nearly every spiritual tradition links creativity and destruction: the same energy that fuels creation also fuels destruction. The Jewish, Christian, and Muslim God creates and destroys; “beating swords into plowshares” works equally in reverse. The Hindu god Shiva is seen as

a destroyer who makes way for creativity. Creativity and destruction are seen as a continual loop in the Taoist concept of yin and yang.

Spiritual insights such as these also show up in our everyday lives. Think about how often you’ve engaged in retail therapy—and thus destroyed your time and resources—because you’re unsatisfied about something in your life. Think about how often you’ve indulged in emotional eating because you’re not creating the change you want to see in your life. Think about how many people blow up their lives in a midlife crisis because the career and life they’ve made haven’t satisfied their deep needs.

Now think about the people you know or have read about who are doing their best work. Notice how they’re healthier, happier, (usually) more financially comfortable, and in good relationships with others? Doing their best work creates meaning for them at the same time that it cocreates who they want to be in the world. And these folks know that doing their work in the world is the wheel of change, meaning, and growth, more so than merely being stuck in their heads.

So at both deep and practical levels, we can choose to channel our energy to do our best work and thrive, or we can choose to leave it unharnessed to gradually destroy ourselves, our relationships, our resources, and the world around us.

Better to do the hard work of creation than the hard work of repairing the destruction we’ve wrought.

 

Charlie Gilkey is an author, entrepreneur, philosopher, Army veteran, and renowned productivity expert. Founder of Productive Flourishing, Gilkey helps professional creatives, leaders, and changemakers take meaningful action on work that matters. His new book is Start Finishing: How to Go from Idea to Done. Learn more at productiveflourishing.com.

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15 Oct

Are You at Risk for Depression?

An excerpt from Beneath the Surface by Kristi Hugstad

Ever since author Kristi Hugstad’s husband, after years of struggling with clinical depression, completed suicide in 2012 by running in front of a train, she has dedicated her life to helping to abolish the stigma of mental illness and suicide.

 

That mission is what inspired her to write Beneath the Surface: A Teen’s Guide to Reaching Out When You or Your Friend Is in Crisis, which speaks candidly to today’s youth — and the parents, teachers, and coaches who love them — about the anxiety, depression, and suicide attempts that far too often accompany the unique challenges that face their generation. We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book.

 

# # #

 

Most children grow up thinking their home, family, and upbringing are “normal,” even when they’re not. Children and teens living in a home where one or both parents are depressed often don’t realize this isn’t the norm — though this situation is more common than you may think.

 

In fact, fifteen million kids in the United States have parents with depression.

 

As a result, these fifteen million kids are at greater risk of developing depression themselves. But depression can happen to anyone. It can occur after a trauma or during a stressful situation, or it can develop due to someone’s particular brain chemistry. Why someone develops depression is important, particularly if it’s due to situational or lifestyle factors, which can be changed. But more important than the why is the how. As in, how do you deal with depression? That is the real focus of this book because depression can put someone at risk for any number of issues, including suicide. The faster you recognize the symptoms of depression, the faster you can get treatment and reduce the risk of other, even more serious issues. Additionally, the more you know, the better you can help others.

 

Are you at risk for depression? Consider the following questions, all of which may indicate that someone is already depressed or at risk for developing depression. If you find yourself answering affirmatively even to several questions, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re depressed, but you may have an increased risk of becoming so. Later we’ll talk about what you can do if you or someone you love is suffering from depression.

 

Depression Self-Assessment

 

Do you currently live with a family member who suffers from depression?

Studies have shown that living with a mother or father who has depression, whether the cause is environmental or genetic, increases your own risk of developing the condition. You may not know if a parent suffers from depression; if you feel safe asking, do so. If not, consider whether they exhibit the signs described in this book. Further, you don’t have to live with a depressed family member to be at risk.

Does life feel pointless?

Everyone may occasionally feel hopeless as they navigate through school, work, and life. But if a hopeless feeling persists day after day and affects your daily behavior, it could be a sign of depression.

Do you find it impossible to concentrate?

Depression can make it hard to concentrate even when you’re reading or watching something you love.

Have you withdrawn from your friends and family?

It’s important to do your own thing and be independent, but this should be balanced with a healthy amount of socializing and bonding with friends and family. Depression sufferers often turn down opportunities to be with others simply to be alone.

Have you noticed a sudden change in your weight?

Extreme weight loss or gain can be a symptom of depression. If you’ve lost your appetite or find yourself seeking comfort in food, this may be because your brain chemistry is being affected by depression.

Do you have insomnia, or do you sleep too much?

Look, teenagers need their sleep and often don’t get enough. But if you go through long periods of sleeplessness or of sleeping too much, depression may be the reason.

Do you have physical pain that won’t go away?

Depression doesn’t just cause emotional pain. Depression can cause chemical imbalances in your brain that make you perceive pain differently, and it could be the reason for a persistent physical pain that doctors can’t find a reason for.

Have your grades dropped? Have you stopped participating in extracurriculars?

Depression has two best friends: apathy and lack of energy. These can combine to affect your performance in school and your extracurricular activities, and they can sap your passion for activities you once loved.

Have you ever thought of suicide?

If you answer yes, you’re not alone, and suicidal thoughts can be caused by depression. However, if you’re currently thinking about suicide, seek help and treatment. Tell someone. With counseling and, if necessary, proper medication, you will begin to feel better. When you’re suffering from depression, the idea of feeling better might be difficult to imagine. This is the time to practice trust and courage.

 

# # #

 

Kristi HugstadKristi Hugstad is the author of Beneath the Surface: A Teen’s Guide to Reaching Out when You or Your Friend Is in Crisis. Ever since her husband completed suicide in 2012, after years of struggling with clinical depression, by running in front of a train, she has dedicated her life to helping to abolish the stigma of mental illness and suicide. A certified grief recovery specialist, Kristi frequently speaks at high schools. Visit her online at https://www.thegriefgirl.com.

 

Excerpted from the book Beneath the Surface. Copyright ©2019 by Kristi Hugstad. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.

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03 Oct

Practice Self-Compassion

**Excerpted from “Thriving as an Empath: 365 Days of Self-Care for Sensitive People” (Sounds True, Oct. 22, 2019)

Self-compassion means directing loving-kindness inwardly. Instead of beating yourself up, give yourself a break and acknowledge that you did your best in any circumstance. When you become your own champion, you will feel more protected in the world.

Research shows that people who are compassionate toward their own shortcomings experience greater well-being than those who harshly judge themselves. We all make mistakes, but the larger lesson of love is how we treat ourselves at those times.

Still, it’s often easier to have compassion for others than oneself. Over the years, many psychotherapist friends have lamented to me about this issue. Don’t worry. This is an area of growth that loving people must address so they can be more compassionate with their own struggles.

Compassion can be learned. Start by planning at least one act of kindness toward yourself daily. For example, turn off your computer and enjoy a walk or tell yourself, “Good job,” or “I’m happy that I didn’t react nastily to a controlling friend.” My Taoist teacher says, “Beating yourself up a little bit less each day is spiritual progress.”

SET YOUR INTENTION

I will be my own best friend. I am not perfect, nor are any of us. I will not beat myself up. I will treat myself with kindness.

 

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Judith Orloff, M.D., is a New York Times bestselling author, a member of the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty, and has a Facebook Empath Support Community with more than 6,000 members. She has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, and in Oprah Magazine, the New York Times and more. Her new book, Thriving as an Empath: 365 Days of Self-Care for Sensitive People  (Sounds True, Oct. 22, 2019), draws from her own experiences as an empath to share the secret to well-being. Learn more at drjudithorloff.com.

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