Monday, September 10, 2018

I Worried


by Mary Oliver

“I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.”

-->

For One Who Is Exhausted, a Blessing


by John O’Donohue

When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight.

The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.

Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.

The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.

You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken in the race of days.

At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.

You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.

Letting go of Anxiety with Qigong


by Karen Steinbrecher

Qigong is a tool to transform emotional energy, anxiety, and stress into positive energy.  Life today demands a seemingly endless amount of energy and all too often we are left feeling drained and exhausted, stressed, perhaps anxious. Qigong is a way to help.  Everyone needs more energy, but some of us have forgotten how to access it.  These slow, flowing and meditative,  healing movements help us to let go, unlock, move on from stressful, anxiety-producing emotions. Qi is vitality, and Gong means practice. Thus, this practice helps us to empower ourselves and place more inspirational and positive energy into our mind, body, our emotions. You can learn more about this five thousand year old practice in Karen Steinbrecher's Tuesday and Thursday classes. 

Try this You Tube demonstration with Lee Holden called “An evening practice”.  It can be practiced at any time to help us release emotions we do not want in our life:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybffyTvgTzA. To experience Qi Gong at the Resiliency Center or learn more, check out Karen's class schedule on out Resiliency Center calendar or contact her at karensteinbrecher@msn.com or 215-836-7184.

Learning to Let Go of Anxiety and be Fully Present to your Life

by Heather Hill, MSS, LCSW

In my therapy practice and through personal observation, I’ve noticed that anxiety seems to be on the rise.  Anxiety can be a normal response to stress.  It’s a feeling of nervousness or unease, about an imminent event or a situation with an uncertain outcome.  It’s the alarm system in our brains that tells us danger is approaching and prepares us to fight, flee, or freeze.  However, anxiety can turn on us when our alarm system is sensitive or faulty, setting off emergency sirens all the time.  When our alarm system isn’t working properly, excess anxiety creeps in and interferes with our ability to be present, enjoy ourselves, and take risks to achieve meaningful goals.  Our lives become smaller and smaller and we feel worse about ourselves.  Anxiety can be persistent, like a weed; and if it’s not tended to, it can choke out the healthy life around it.  Fortunately, anxiety can be kept in check if you learn, and more importantly practice, the art of letting go.

Why Anxiety is on the Rise
Adults and teenagers are suffering from anxiety more now than in the past.  The American Psychiatric Association found that Americans are more anxious than they were a year ago on five measures: health, finances, safety, relationships and politics.  While it’s hard to draw any definitive conclusions about why this is so, many researchers suspect that the political climate, 24/7 news cycle, environmental degradation, and social media create a vicious cycle of fear and powerlessness. This article shares more: https://www.psychiatry.org/newsroom/news-releases/americans-say-they-are-more-anxious-than-a-year-ago-baby-boomers-report-greatest-increase-in-anxiety

Teenagers are also suffering from greater anxiety and depression. Researchers like Jean Twenge who wrote the book IGen point to a shocking increase in teen mental health problems with the advent of the Iphone. This article shares more: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/11/magazine/why-are-more-american-teenagers-than-ever-suffering-from-severe-anxiety.html]

Strategies for Letting Go of Anxiety:

1. Connect to Nature

Many people feel less anxiety after spending time in nature.  Outside in a natural setting, our senses can be more engaged and we are less distracted by our minds.  In addition, we are most likely exercising when outside.  A Stanford study found that walking for 90 minutes in nature vs walking in an urban setting had an effect on the prefrontal cortex in the brain that is responsible for rumination. Read more about the study here:  https://news.stanford.edu/2015/06/30/hiking-mental-health-063015/ 

You don’t have to be close to a forest or a beach to reap the healing properties of nature.  A picture or a view of nature has been shown to relieve stress and anxiety. “Nature, whether you’re in the woods far away from it all, in a city park, or simply walking down a tree-lined street, has the power to make people feel new again. Studies have shown that a simple walk in nature can reduce anxiety, keep your spirits high, and even improve memory. Even just looking at photographs of greenery for less than a minute can give you a mood boost. Spending time in nature reduces stress and helps people feel energetic and more alive, according to scientists at the University of Rochester (Brown and Ryan, 2003). A recent study used mobile EEG devices to monitor participants’ emotions during a walk in nature. Researchers also found that people were more likely to experience meditative-like brain waves and exhibit less frustration if they were walking in a green space, compared to a bustling shopping street or a busy business area (Aspinall et al., 2013).”  Read more at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6085576/

On the Restorative Nature Walk held here at The Resiliency Center every Monday, you can practice many of the suggestions listed here to identify, accept, and let go of your anxiety.  During the walk, we don’t try to achieve a certain amount of steps; but walk mindfully and slowly, stopping when a butterfly or bird delights us.  We strive to be present to ourselves, each other and the natural world and by the end of the hour, we all feel slightly less anxious.   

2. Return to the Body
According to Deepak Chopra (Read More at http://www.oprah.com/spirit/deepak-chopra-breaking-the-cycle-of-anxiety ), anxiety gets stuck when it stays in the mind.  If we recognize the energy we are devoting to thinking and overthinking, and tune in to the way our bodies are feeling, we can return to a natural state of calm.  Chopra advises that if we break down anxiety into each bodily sensation, we address one sensation at a time and gradually calm the entire body.  For example, if anxiety makes your breathing shallow, concentrate on taking slow deep breaths.  In addition to this practice, exercising, gentle stretching or yoga will help regulate our nervous system and help restore balance. Elsewhere in this newsletter, Karen Steinbrecher offers a Qigong practice for connecting with the body to release anxiety. 

3. Surrender the Ego
We may feel like we have to shoulder the burden of our fears alone because we don’t want to appear “weak”.  Or, as a defense against uncertainty, we paradoxically try to control more, not let less.  Acting counter to that instinct, by admitting your human limitations and practicing humility could yield greater connection to self and others.  Sometimes telling one other supportive and trusted person how we feel can be the most powerful step in reducing the negative impact of our fears.      

4. Start Meditating
When anxiety threatens to overwhelm your capacity to cope, it is a great time to begin a meditation practice.  One unique way to start meditating that incorporates nature is to find a “Sit Spot”, or a place you are drawn to in nature that you visit regularly for your meditation practice.  Find more information about it in this article: http://inmynature.life/ideal-sit-spot/

5. Turn off the Phone
Social media and technology magnify worry by making us feel like we are missing out on news, social events or the latest trends.  We blur the boundaries of work and home life when we have access to emails right in our pockets.  We have a minute to check social media and we find ourselves suddenly feeling angry about something not “liked” or a tweet.  Try an experiment and turn off the social media for one month. 

6. Add in Gratitude  
In the tunnel vision of anxiety, we are probably not aware of gratitude.  At any time, no matter what is going on, one can always find something to be grateful for, especially by looking around in the natural world.  Start a Gratitude Journal, to capture moments or observations in your day that you’re thankful for. Sometimes, this practice helps us develop the mental flexibility to change channels or expand awareness and therefore dilute the anxious thoughts.

Heather Hill, MSS, LCSW has been a psychotherapist for over 10 years. She specializes in helping teenage girls and women who struggle with anxiety and depression. Heather is passionate about using nature and ecotherapuetic approaches to overcome mental health challenges . She can be reached at Heatherhilltherapy@gmail.com  or 215-485-7205.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Mending Wall - by Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbours."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbours? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down." I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbours.”

Source: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/mending-wall

Protecting Your Creative Spirit

by Rachel Kobin

Just as setting up healthy interpersonal boundaries is an important part of taking care of yourself, so is having clarity around how you want to share your creative output. Writing is my area of expertise, so I’ll focus there, but the issues I’ll briefly discuss are equally applicable to the visual arts.

First, let’s illustrate the distinction between making art and performance: making art can be purely personal, such as journaling, while as with a performative art, an audience is invited to hear the work read aloud or it is read on the page. Understandably, sharing new work makes writers (and artists) feel vulnerable—they’ve just poured a part of themselves onto a piece of paper. This is why, if a writer chooses to invite someone to read their work, they need to be clear about what kind of feedback they need and want to receive.

In the Tuesday-night workshops I lead, participants learn how to respond to newborn writing without making any negative comments. This is because the writing is done during workshop time, and no one has had a chance to edit their work. Even when writers bring in pages they’ve polished outside of workshop for us to “critique,” we begin by talking about everything we liked about the work, and we point to specific sentences, sections, or events in the piece that we enjoyed. Then, we move into answering questions like “What did we find confusing?” or “Which parts stood out as not as strong as the sections we liked so much?” The members of the workshop are asked again, to be specific, to point out actual examples in the text rather than make sweeping statements like, “I just don’t like romance stories,” because a comment like that will not help the writer of a romance to make their story even better. Most importantly, the discussion concludes by returning to what we liked about the work, again, which allows the writer to go home feeling good about continuing to work on their draft.

Similarly, it’s important to refrain from judging the content. For instance, the writer may hold an entirely different opinion than the reader does about a very controversial topic. The job of the reader providing feedback isn’t to argue with the writer’s perspective, but to help the writer make the most cogent possible argument supporting their point of view.

After eight years of leading workshops, I can testify to the number of times we’ve all laughed about how hard it is to show our work to friends, family, and romantic partners. The truth is that non-writers aren’t as interested, or they may feel they don’t “have what it takes,” to respond, which is why finding a group of other writers is so valuable. However, reassuring the reader that you value their gut reactions may help, and it also helps to give them specific guidelines such as those I outlined above. Timing is important; no one likes being ambushed. If you present your writing, give the other person the time and space they need to read your work and get back to you, but be clear about how and when you’d like to receive the feedback.

Most of all, create as if no one will ever see what you’re making. Decide later how, when and with whom you’d like to share, but if anything or anyone begins to shut you down in any way, step away and find the support you need.

Rachel Kobin is the director of the Philadelphia Writers Workshop. Rachel uses the Amherst Writers & Artists™ method to create a supportive, collaborative setting for writers of all backgrounds. The workshop allows beginners to explore their unique voice, and provides experienced writers a forum where they can further develop their craft. For more information www.phillywriters.com or email rachel@phillywriters.com.

Boundaries Are Essential Self-Care

by Jen Perry, MSEd, MA, LPC

Boundaries are a natural part of life and relationships. There are physical boundaries like our skin and personal space, boundaries on our time, financial boundaries, interpersonal boundaries. Dr. BrenĂ© Brown simply defines boundaries as what’s ok and what’s not ok ~  “Yes” and “No.” Being aware of and becoming skillful at communicating clearly our boundaries is well worth the effort and can save us from much stress and bewilderment in our relationships.

Unfortunately, most of us are not taught to be thoughtful and communicative about our boundaries, nor aware and respectful of others’ boundaries. Boundaries seem to be largely taken for granted, and this is fine when things are going smoothly. There is an underlying assumption that we should know other people’s boundaries and they should know ours (mind-reading, anyone?). However, when an unspoken boundary has been breached, there is usually an emotional flare that alerts us to the need to speak up and assert a boundary. This can be difficult if we are not trained to think of boundaries in this way ~ as something that we need to maintain and make others aware of. Instead, we often get upset that others don’t know our boundaries and don’t observe them. As Dr. Brown says, we believe that “people are sucking on purpose just to piss us off.” There is another way.  What if we assume that people have a low awareness of boundaries in general - and that, therefore, it is up to us to firmly let others know what’s okay and what’s not okay? And what if we also assume that we may not know their boundaries either - not until they tell us. Whew ~ can you feel the generosity of spirit in that? That people, us included, are generally doing the best they can, and a lack of clarity about boundaries (not bad intentions)  may be at the root of much misunderstanding.

The ability to know and state our boundaries clearly is an essential part of taking care of ourselves and lowering our stress levels. Instead of getting all muddled in the emotional fallout and confusion interpersonally, we can assert and observe our stated boundary. It clarifies things, takes away the complicated guessing and shadow-boxing we get ourselves into when things are unclear and bewildering. Essentially, our boundaries take care of us. Being able to clearly and without guilt assert our boundaries can drastically lower our stress levels.

A word about guilt in this situation. We desperately need a new word in the English language. For example, let’s say my mother really, really wants me to attend a family reunion. Something happened and communication faltered somewhere and I promised my kids and husband that we would go out of town that same weekend. Someone is going to be let down. There is a space/time/energy/can’t-be-two-places-at-once boundary at play here. Ugh, but I. Feel. So. Guilty. “Guilty” is the word commonly used in this situation. I haven’t done anything wrong. I have not done something for which guilt is appropriate. The word we need is more about the feeling we get when we disappoint someone because we we are constrained by a personal boundary. In this case, I want to follow through on what I promised my kids and I need to let my mom down. If I am afraid to tell my mom (or friend, sister, co-worker, etc) because I feel guilty and am confused about and unskilled at communicating boundaries, it leaves so much room for confusion and stress. If I’m avoiding the situation, my mom will start wondering why I won’t answer her calls, let her know when I’m coming, or tell her if I’ll bring the broccoli salad. She will start to get irritated. I’ll get irritated too: “Doesn’t she know I’m busy and overwhelmed?” No, actually, she isn’t thinking about that. She can’t read my mind, and I’m being sketchy because I’m avoiding feeling guilty and letting her down. Instead, I could offer her empathy and sit in the discomfort of disappointing her. I could let her know my boundary. Accepting that boundaries are a normal and natural part of life relieves us ~ not of our obligation to communicate early and often, but of feeling guilty and confused and bewildered by our own boundaries and others’.

Some thoughts about how to increase your skillfulness around sensing and communicating your boundaries clearly:

Seek your truth so you can speak your truth: Check in with yourself, get a sense moment to moment of what is okay with you and what’s not okay. What does your inner compass say? Yes? No? Remember, many (not all) boundaries are fluid and flexible. Sometimes we need to live our way into answers about our boundaries ~ it is important to continue to ask ourselves what is alive for us in the moment as we are figuring out our boundaries. Ask for time if you need it as you are figuring out what works for you and what doesn’t. Dare to ask yourself, “What do I truly want to do in this situation?”

Assume that the other person is doing the best they can. They most likely have a low awareness of your boundaries and other constraints on your energy and time. Remind yourself that boundaries are a natural and normal part of life and you, too, are doing the best you can. Remember we need a new word ~ it is normal and okay for our boundaries to disappoint others sometimes. We can offer empathy for this without resentment, guilt, or beating ourselves up.

Try your best to separate the boundary from your feelings about it. This can be a little tricky to understand. An emotion, particularly a strong, negative emotion is often a signal, a flare, that a boundary needs to be stated and maintained. Take care of your feelings separately from maintaining and communicating about your boundary. They are two separate things. Accept the fact that in our society humans are pretty confused about boundaries in general, violations will happen, and clear, consistent reminders may be necessary.

Kindly but firmly state your boundaries. Repeat as necessary.

Please keep in mind that this article focused on addressing boundaries between people on the level of preferences and negotiating things like time, energy, and other finite resources that are a part of everyday living - NOT on instances that are abusive or toxic. Boundary violations that are harmful or hurtful need to be dealt with far more strongly to ensure safety. Please reach out if you are experiencing more complex and toxic boundary violations. Your safety is essential.

Jen Perry, MSEd, MA, LPC has been a psychotherapist for over 18 years. She specializes in helping highly sensitive people thrive in love, work, and parenting highly sensitive children. Jen is passionate about using mindfulness and compassion-based approaches to ameliorate human suffering. She can be reached at jen@heartfulnessconsulting.com  or 215-292-5056. Learn more at www.heartfulnessconsulting.com.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Writing to Keep Your Brain Healthy – Not Just for Writers!


by Rachel Kobin

There are many factors that play into keeping the brain healthy, including regular physical and mental exercise, a nutritious diet, positive social engagement, and stress management. The sixth factor is keeping your mind engaged throughout your lifetime. The mental stimulation of activities like reading books and magazines, learning a foreign language, doing crossword puzzles, and writing can play an important role in preventing memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s. The focus of this newsletter is how anyone—writers and non-writers—can use writing for fun and brain health.

Writing for Non-writers
You don’t have to have any talent, understand grammar, or even have a large vocabulary to write for your brain’s health. Below, I’ve included a few of the many easy ways to expand on writing you may not even realize you’re already doing that could help you continue to experience the joys of what your healthy brain can do.

Using Lists to Write Regularly
Many of us keep to-do lists or shopping lists, but list-making can be a fun way to challenge yourself to do a bit of writing every day. Lists can evolve into journal entries and even become what’s called a “list poem.”

All of these list-making exercises can be done on paper, in a notebook, on your computer or laptop, or on your phone. You can even email yourself while you’re commuting on SEPTA. The “right way” is the one that works for you. Keep in mind that these are exercises for your brain. No one else ever has to read what you write, and you’re not trying to get published or even impress yourself, so withhold judgment and let it rip!

The Gratitude List
Reminding ourselves what is going well is a reliable way to boost your mood at times when money is tight or you’re feeling blue. Every day for one month, write down at least seven things for which you’re grateful. You might feel the only good thing that day is your cup of tea or coffee. That’s okay. Start there and look around. What or who else do you have in your life? If you’re having health problems, you may have to write down the parts of your body that are working rather than the ones that aren’t. What is going right rather than wrong? Keep going beyond seven if you can, and if you find it helpful, keep this up beyond a month. It’s perfectly okay to repeat items from day to day.

The Gratitude Poem
A sub-category of The Gratitude List, The Gratitude Poem uses the same first few words for each line of your list. For each thing you feel grateful, begin the line with “I love the way…” or “I have…” or start with a few words of your choice. Here’s an example (Okay, I’m going to just switch the last word of the last line to give it a tiny bit of pizazz, but I promise, I didn’t dwell on this!):

I love the way the breeze wafts over me.
I love the way my sheets feel after a long day of work.
I love the way my housemate laughs so loud at TV shows.
I love the way the cherries wait at the bottom of my yogurt.
I love the way my glasses make these letters bigger.
I love the way the children laugh on their trampoline.
Today, I love the way the sun shines.

The Daily Life List
Take a three-hour period of your list and jot down a list of what you did with no embellishment. Then, think back, and add details. If the first thing you wrote down was “1. Woke up,” try to remember if you were dreaming before you woke up. Do you remember what the dream was about? What did the room look like when you opened your eyes? Did you feel warm or cold? Could you smell food or coffee from the kitchen or did you have to do the cooking? How were you feeling about the day to come at that point? This can easily become a daily practice. Keep asking yourself to include more and more details about how things sounded, tasted, looked, felt, or smelled, and write down how you felt about as much as you can.

The People List
Keep a list of observations about the people you encounter as you go about your life, perhaps a school crosswalk guard or the supermarket checkout person. What do you notice? What details show up when you start paying more attention to those around you? Does your checkout person have thick glasses or move a bit slowly? Write about what that person’s life might be like because of something you observe. This exercise might even increase our compassion for others.

Writing Letters and E-mails
Another way to incorporate writing into your life is to write yourself a letter or email regularly or every day if you can. What do you want your older self to be able to look back on and remember? What words of kindness do you have for yourself? 

Might there be a friend or loved one who would start an e-mail correspondence with you, one that doesn’t demand an instant response, but would include more of an in-depth interaction than what we get from Facebook, messaging, or texting? Before the advent of e-mail, we wrote letters to our friends and family who lived far away. It was expected that some time would pass between our responses. In fact, enough time elapsed between letters to allow for more to happen in each correspondents’ lives, which allowed for more surprises. You could use e-mail similarly to snail mail and promise not to expect an instant response, or you could even write letters on paper and send them through the mail. Imagine how nice it would be to receive a personal letter rather than a bill!

A Word About Writing Exercises and Prompts
You are in charge of your writing, so never feel penned in, pun intended, by a prompt or writing exercise; change it to suit your needs. You can change the wording or simplify it, using only one part at a time, and if it’s simply not working for you, try freewriting. Freewriting is the act of letting whatever is on your mind spill onto the page. Keep scribbling for as long as you can. In her famous book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron recommends writing like this for three pages by hand on paper, if you are physically able to do so. Writing by hand has been found to free us from criticizing our writing. This form of writing has a long-standing history of helping people get started with their day or get to sleep because it helps to clear our minds. No matter how you choose to integrate writing into your life, have fun with it!

Rachel Kobin has over twenty years of experience writing in a variety of professional settings. This July she attended a twelve-day writers’ conference where she attended a TV writing workshop, panel discussions and lectures about fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and publishing. As the founder and director of The Philadelphia Writers Workshop, she leads creative writing workshops at The Resiliency Center, and works with authors privately as an editor to help them make what’s on the page as brilliant as the ideas originally in their minds. To learn more, visit www.phillywriters.com or email her at Rachel@phillywriters.com.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Seek Your Truth To Speak Your Truth


by Jen Perry

Do you ever notice how some days go smoothly and then very similar days can be so difficult? Sometimes the difference is obvious, like when we are getting through a workday with a cold or some other malady. But often, it is far more subtle. Checking in on ourselves is an important component of daily self-care. We are contextual beings and taking into consideration even just a few of the myriad influences affecting us from day to day can really make the difference in our self-care and self-support throughout the days and weeks. Just asking the question, “How am I?” and seeking your truth ~ the truth of yourself right now ~ with an intention of caring for yourself and taking into consideration the context of your life right now ~ can make a huge difference. We can practice self-compassion and self-care by attending to our needs of the moment instead of ignoring them and expecting ourselves to be a robot that operates the same way under any set of conditions.

How often do we override our basic needs? Push? Fail to take into consideration our stage in life, or the quality of our sleep, or the seasonal affects around us? Weeks filled with the business of end-of-school-year or the pre-event party planning tornado or the post event collapse after vacation ~ all of these may mean that our needs are different. Seeking your truth so that you can speak your truth to yourself and meet your needs is a simple and quick essential form of daily self-care. Find your style and what works for you. Here is an example of the steps I like to take (adapted from Jon Kabat-Zinn and Kristin Neff):

1.     Simply asking, “How am I?” And really listening as you would a good friend or dear one. Perhaps you feel tired, rushed, sore. Or maybe it is a moment that you can celebrate and you feel good, content, happy.
2.     Fully contact this present moment. Mindfully. The sweet spot here is to meet how you are without minimizing or exaggerating your experience. It is happening either way, meeting it with curiosity and kindness for yourself.
3.     Connecting with Universality: Opening up and connecting in your heart and mind with all the other humans around you having a similar moment. Recognizing that no matter what you are experiencing, you’re guaranteed not to be the only one who is enjoying the pleasant weather, was up all night with a new baby, got bad news from a doctor, is thrilled with a new car, has a difficult conversation they need to have with someone, or whatever it may be … it is part of the human experience and you are not alone. Not at all.
4.     A wish for us all to  …. Fill in the the blank here ~ based on the last few steps, what do you wish for yourself and anyone and everyone in your similar situation? May we all take a deep breath and enjoy this moment… May we all find peace … May we all sleep better tonight and be gentle with ourselves today … May we all be safe, happy, at ease.
5.     Based in the step above, is there a need that you can fulfill for yourself? A simple breath, a walk or stretch, a call to a friend. Now that you’ve found your truth, and spoken it to yourself, the answer to how to best support yourself in this moment should be much easier to find.

Jen Perry is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Mindfulness Meditation Teacher, Peaceful Parenting Educator and Coach. Jen’s approach to her client’s mental health and wellbeing focuses on implementing mindful self-care and self-compassion practices. Jen can be reached at jen@heartfulnessconsulting.com or 215-292-5056.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Infinity of Each Moment


by Elizabeth Campbell, LPC

“Wherever you are, be there totally.” – Eckhart Tolle. 

In our culture, there is a lot to pay attention to.  There are the daily happenings of work, family, and relationships in addition to the onslaught of information we are faced with every day in the form of news, tweets, texts, Instagram photos, snap chats, and more. The list is endless.  If we are paying attention to all of this, are we really checking into each and every moment?  Our divided attention may rob us of the depth of experience that each second brings. 

One of my yoga teachers once said that every moment is endless.  At this exact second, there is a ton of sensory information occurring.  You may not notice the hum of your computer or the AC draft coming towards you if you don’t consciously check in.  Physical sensations or feelings may be present.  In addition to your experience, the billions of people in the world are also each having their very own vast encounter as well.  

Often, checking out is a sign that we are overwhelmed.  Scanning through Instagram or Facebook may indicate that we need a break from whatever is bringing us stress.  I invite you to notice if there are certain patterns to phone, television, or social media usage.  The practice of noticing these patterns can help you to build awareness of what you are experiencing in those moments – and begin to check in instead of checking out.

Mindfulness teaches us to pay attention to every moment, whether we are meditating in nature or feeling the deepest pain one can experience.  Obviously, some moments are more pleasant than others!  The ubiquitous distractions available to us make it very easy to check out when we feel uncomfortable, sad, anxious, or angry.  But this also takes away our opportunity to build our self-regulation tools.  If we check in, the feelings don’t build up and overwhelm us.  We find ways to manage those feelings.  Mindfulness is an empirically supported approach to treat a range of medical and emotional issues.  It calms our body as we experience the feelings and stress that comes with life, and this helps us become more able to thrive during stressful times. 

Elizabeth Campbell is a Licensed Profession Counselor who provides empowerment and strength-based support to individuals in personal growth and change.  She specializes in play therapy with children, family therapy, creative counseling for adolescents, and trauma-informed treatment for all ages using an integrative, mindful approach to address the whole individual and promote healing.  If you would like to connect with Elizabeth, reach out at elizabeth@elizabethcampbellcounseling.com or 610-757-8163 or learn more at www.elizabethcampbellcounseling.com.

When Life Throws You a Curveball


by Karen Steinbrecher

We know where we are going and what we want to do.  Then due to forces outside of our control, things don't go as we had planned and life changes – sometimes in the blink of an eye.

After helping my husband heal following a major back operation, I was feeling lighter, breathing deeply in gratitude. Then I found myself facing my own personal health crisis. And the fear returned.

My long-time QiGong practice supported me in that moment, inviting me to take a deep breath and open my mind to a new opportunity – with the knowledge that curve balls are a way of keeping us awake. Sometimes curveballs are even a gift.

Breathing in gratitude in the face of life’s curveballs is not always easy to do! This morning, as thoughts rushed through my mind and my body filled with anxiety, I returned – as I do each day – to the gentle flowing movements of QiGong. And as I began to move, flow, and stretch my body with the many movements that I practice and lead, I began to feel better.

QiGong provides us with an opportunity to release any energy that gets blocked and can stagnate in response to the stressors of life. The flowing movements send a signal to our brain, the body's repair and maintenance manager, to rebuild our joints, muscles, and tendons. QiGong exercises body, mind, and spirit and helps support an internal alchemy of balance and integration, creating our own personal medicine.

Karen Steinbrecher teaches QiGong classes at The Resiliency Center on Tuesdays at 2:30 pm and Thursdays at 6:20 pm. Cost is $10. To RSVP, contact Karen at Karensteinbrecher@msn.com  or 215-836-7184.
-->

Friday, May 11, 2018

Exploring Identity – Through Writing


by Elizabeth Venart

You are a ruby encased in granite. . . . So come, return to the root of the root of your own soul. – Rumi

Who am I?  There are countless ways to answer that question. We may complete the sentence “I am . . .” by describing our roles, jobs, moods, values, personality traits, behaviors, and relationships. There is also a “me” at the center of all of it: The one who reflects on the question – and goes inward for words to follow the ellipses. Who is this one, the constant observer in the sea of our consciousness?  

Writing provides us with a way to connect with ourselves more completely. As we explore our public and private identities, the overlap and separation, our attention may be drawn to those roles with which we are strongly aligned – and then wander to the questions that linger and yearnings that call. What are our dreams? What haunts us? What motivates us? What hidden passions await? Going within to reflect and write can allow us time to unfold the tucked away papers of our identity and explore the complexity and heart of who we are.

Take out a piece of paper or open up your computer. Answer the question, “I am” over and over again. Maybe 30 times. I am. . . I am. . . . I am. . . . See what you discover. You may surprise yourself to hear from a voice you haven’t heard in some time. Just listen. Write down the shouts – those voices you know well – and also record the whispers – the things that surprise you and may be hard to acknowledge. Stay curious. If you dare, keep writing. Answer “I am . . . . “ 100 times. Be serious or have fun with it – or, better yet, make space for all your beautiful contradictions. Marvel at what comes forward.

Elizabeth Venart is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified EMDR Therapist, and EMDRIA-Approved Consultant. She is the Founder and Director of the Resiliency Center. She specializes in working with Highly Sensitive Persons, other therapists, and those who are creative, intuitive, and empathic. She hosts a monthly poetry gathering to read and discuss the writings of Rumi Hafiz, Rilke, Mary Oliver, and inspired writers. To learn more, contact her at 215-233-2002 or Elizabeth@elizabethvenart.com.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Personal Identity Throughout the Lifespan


by Kim Vargas, LCSW
Merriam Webster defines identity as the “sameness of essential or generic character in different instances.”  Basically, identity is the core of who we are, regardless of time or place. Identity encompasses the narrative we tell ourselves about ourselves, and the values we hold dear.
But what happens when our lives or external circumstances change so dramatically that our old sense of who we are no longer seems to fit in our current world? What pieces of identity can be brought with us across life transitions, and what pieces go by the wayside?
I first started to explore these ideas in my work with new moms. There is little more jarring to an identity than to go from life without kids to new parenthood. The competent corporate executive may be in the board room making million dollar decisions one day, and the next day find herself without the knowledge or skill to feed a newborn infant. The personality traits and skill sets that have helped her succeed in the business world often have little or no bearing on success in quieting a screaming infant or potty-training a defiant toddler. New parents may suddenly feel unmoored as individuals. If part of identity is the constancy of personality traits across time and space, these new parents may begin to question who they are when those traits can no longer manifest as they have in the  past.
As I watch various clients go through their own life cycle transitions, it has become increasingly clear that questioning of one’s personal identity is not limited to new parents. Teenagers moving into college seek a grasp on identity as they shift from dependent child to independent young adult. Parents of newly minted adults struggle to redefine self as they let go of the day-to-day oversight of their children. Retirees look for a new understanding of self -- as they move from workers, with the inherent boundaries, restrictions, rules and external validation of a structured job – to a more unstructured existence. And these are just a few of the many life changes that can contribute to feelings of loss or confusion with respect to roles and identity.
Given the universality of these shifts in identity, I have given a great deal of thought as to how these transitions can feel less like a shift in who we are at our core, and more like positive change and growth. Here are a few of my “identity shift guidelines”:
1.     Think about what makes you “you”. Consider this in terms of personality traits that are not specific to your current stage, but rather define the parts of self of which you are most proud. For example, the high school football star who derived a large piece of his identity from his role as a quarterback might learn that the important personality trait isn’t the football skill itself, but instead his extreme perseverance in working toward goals. This perseverance can persist throughout life transitions.

2.     Think about activities that make you feel happiest and most fulfilled. For example, the new mom who loved to be social in her old life may feel like the combination of work and baby have made her disengage from friendships, losing a core piece of self. For this mom, creating a Saturday playgroup or joining a neighborhood bookclub could hit the mark in returning to the social elements of self.

3.     Allow yourself to let go of old behaviors that are no longer functional in your current life stage. Recognize that adopting new behaviors does not spell the end of an old trait.  The man who derived a sense of self from being the “fix-it” guy as a single person may need to find new ways to feel that same sense of competency and satisfaction when family responsibilities no longer allow for spending an afternoon fixing an appliance. But he may be able to take a leadership role in the local PTA and feel competent and able to “fix” something in his new world.

4.     Explore new ways to identify self. Take a class that sounds interesting but may be out of your comfort zone. Take on a new role at work, at school, or as a volunteer that may highlight pieces of self you want to hone or never even knew existed.

5.     Define yourself according to your values, not your accomplishments. Much of who we are derives from how we see ourselves treating others, including the choices we make with respect to allocation of our time and resources.
The good news is that identity is not a solid, stagnant thing, and it is certainly not set in stone. Sometimes it takes trying on some elements of identity for size before you can determine whether (or not) the fit is appropriate.