Sunday, September 12, 2021

Travel as a Restorative and Transformative Experience

by Barbra Danin, LMFT

As summer ends and we continue to return to life pre-pandemic, the busy lives we led may feel different to us and some of the effects of lockdown may be more and more apparent.  One aspect of life that changed dramatically was the amount and type of stimulation we experienced.  Most activities, gatherings, and cultural and social events ceased to occur, and we had little opportunity to engage in novel experiences.

The effects of under-stimulation, lack of physical exercise, social interaction and novel experiences have been studied extensively, particularly among inmates from prison populations who have spent time in solitary confinement.  The extreme deprivation can lead to various mental and behavioral challenges, social anxiety, and cognitive impairment.  The effects of less extreme sensory-reduction, however, are less clearly understood, though we do know that for many, boredom and lack of activity can create depression, mood swings, and apathy. 

In May 2021, the New York Times published an article by Adam Grant on “languishing”.  He defined it as having a sense of emptiness and stagnation, a “failure to thrive”…….it feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield.”

In the article, Grant suggested that languishing may be the most widely held experience of 2021, and that many may not be fully aware of this disposition. Of concern is the prediction that individuals who “languish” are at an increased risk for other mental health issues in the future. However, by identifying the feeling and addressing the symptoms, it’s possible to shift our state of mind.  One extremely beneficial strategy is to engage in novel, interesting and stimulating activities. 

As summer ends and we continue to return to life pre-pandemic, the busy lives we led may feel different to us and some of the effects of lockdown may be more and more apparent.  One aspect of life that changed dramatically was the amount and type of stimulation we experienced.  Most activities, gatherings, and cultural and social events ceased to occur, and we had little opportunity to engage in novel experiences.

The effects of under-stimulation, lack of physical exercise, social interaction and novel experiences have been studied extensively, particularly among inmates from prison populations who have spent time in solitary confinement.  The extreme deprivation can lead to various mental and behavioral challenges, social anxiety, and cognitive impairment.  The effects of less extreme sensory-reduction, however, are less clearly understood, though we do know that for many, boredom and lack of activity can create depression, mood swings, and apathy. 

In May 2021, the New York Times published an article by Adam Grant on “languishing”.  He defined it as having a sense of emptiness and stagnation, a “failure to thrive”…….it feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield.”

In the article, Grant suggested that languishing may be the most widely held experience of 2021, and that many may not be fully aware of this disposition. Of concern is the prediction that individuals who “languish” are at an increased risk for other mental health issues in the future. However, by identifying the feeling and addressing the symptoms, it’s possible to shift our state of mind.  One extremely beneficial strategy is to engage in novel, interesting and stimulating activities. 

For many reasons, travel is an activity that has the potential to improve our overall well-being. In her blog for the World Travel & Tourism Council, Tiffany Misrahi cites several ways in which travel can be beneficial:

1.     Travel gives you opportunities to try new things and meet new people, helping you combat monotony. Travel connects people and provides opportunities to learn about new and different cultures, which can help increase your empathy towards others.

2.     Activities, like walking, hiking, and skiing, in scenic areas can help you become more hopeful. A 2020 study found that people who were consciously aware of the vistas and objects around them on a walk reported being more hopeful and upbeat than other walkers.

3.     Travel is great for relieving stress and improving your general outlook on life. According to a 2013 study with people aged 25 to 70+, 80% of respondents said travel improves their general mood and outlook on life with 75% of respondents also saying travel helps them reduce stress.

4.     Travel helps your brain function better and boosts creativity. Immersing yourself in new cultures increases your mind’s ability to move between different ideas, think more deeply, and integrate thoughts. “Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought,” says Adam Galinsky, a professor and author of numerous studies on the connection between creativity and international travel.

5.     Time away from work can increase your energy and productivity at work. A Harvard Business Review study of over 400 travelers found that 94% of respondents had as much or more energy after coming back from a good trip.

6.     A wellness trip can contribute to stronger mental health. On a wellness retreat focused on practices like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness, you can learn skills that you can bring home to help you keep up a regular wellness routine.

7.     Doing something you enjoy makes you happy. Pull out that bucket list and see what you still need to check off. By doing something you enjoy, you perform necessary self-care and contribute to your own happiness.

8.     Traveling with loved ones helps meet your needs for love and belonging. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs identifies love and belonging as key psychological human needs. Sharing your amazing travel adventures with loved ones helps enhance your connection with them while intensifying feelings of love, belonging, and fulfilment.

Although summer is typically the time for vacationing, it is possible to travel and to engage in novel activities all throughout the year.  Travel can include a day trip to a nearby destination, a weekend getaway, or an extended get away.  Although international travel remains limited, there are numerous destinations throughout the northeast that are easily accessible by car, train or bus.  Numerous websites such as Trip Advisor and the American Auto Club offer information on travel destinations, accommodations, dining options and things to do. 

The possibilities are endless!

Barbra Danin, MA, LMFT, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Clinical Art Therapist, and Certified EMDR Therapist.  She provides individual, couples, and family therapy.  Her specialties include treating children with anxiety, trauma, and behavioral issues – and empowering parents with concrete tools for lasting change. Learn more at https://theresiliencycenter.com/practitioner/barbradanin/ and www.barbradanin.com. Contact her at (314) 477-8585 or barbradanin@barbradanin.com.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

My Mantra for the past 40 years: The Influence of Roethke's The Waking:

by Michael Bridges

I thought I would close these musings on poetry and the journey of life with a poem that I first read when I was nineteen years old and in the very early days of leaving home and trying to find my own inner, guiding voice. When I first came across The Waking, I had no idea what a villanelle was. But I do remember that the repeating rhymes and refrains were both powerful and soothing. And while I was aware from my readings in philosophy and psychology that an awareness of my own mortality was important, exactly why that was important was an abstract concept that eluded me. Still, I was aware even as a young man, that the sleep that Roethke was referring to, was that bigger sleep that waits for all of us at the end of our journey. But without giving too much away, I’ll let you read and experience Roethke’s wonderful work before sharing more about how much The Waking has influenced my life.

 

The Waking

by Theodore Roethke

 

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.  

I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.  

I learn by going where I have to go.

 

We think by feeling. What is there to know?  

I hear my being dance from ear to ear.  

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

 

Of those so close beside me, which are you?  

God bless the Ground!   I shall walk softly there,  

And learn by going where I have to go.

 

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?  

The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;  

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

 

Great Nature has another thing to do  

To you and me; so take the lively air,  

And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

 

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.  

What falls away is always. And is near.  

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.  

I learn by going where I have to go.

My love for The Waking has only deepened over the years and has actually inspired my own poetic attempt at a morning, spiritual practice for several years now. I take Roethke’s advice to “…take my waking slow” literally. I try to always make sure I wake with at least an hour to continue waking slowly. The most hurry I display after I first wake is to get my first cup of coffee. (I’m very sure that Roethke neglected to mention coffee only because it through off the rigid rhyming requirements of the villanelle.) After I fill my cup, I immediately return to my bed where I sit, sip coffee, and give myself time to notice things like fragments of dreams, the way the light comes through my bedroom window, how the light changes with the seasons and the weather. I also notice the way the just waking, “To Do List” managers of my mind start planning our day. But my internal managers and I have reached an understanding, and I remind them this is still the time for poetry and reflection.

As I continue to sip my coffee and take my waking slow, I reach for one of the books or anthologies of poetry that I keep nearby and sometimes scan the table of contents for inspiration, or occasionally just randomly flip through until a particular title or line calls out. Then I read the poem aloud. I’ve noticed over time that certain poems that move me when I read then silently, will bring tears to my eyes when I read them aloud. Occasionally, I will be inspired to pick up my journal and attempt a poem of my own. And, while I am very aware that I lack both the talent and discipline of the poets I’ve shared thus far, I will close with one of my poems that, I hope, in a small way conveys how much poetry has influenced by experience of the journey of my life.

How Did I Get Here? What Have I Learned?

by Michael R. Bridges

 

I’m grateful I’m learning

To look back on all my

Bumbling, misguided failures

And see them as difficult,

Steep, rocky, dark, and

Muddy trails that still

Led me to the same

Spacious vista

I was hoping for.

 

Out of breath,

But each exhale

A silent, ragged

Hallelujah.

 

The Difficult Work of Welcoming Our Painful Emotions

 by Michael Bridges

When I was a young man and first starting my own spiritual and therapeutic journey, I imagined that one day, after I had become enlightened and had successfully uncovered and experienced the catharsis and resolution of all my traumas that, well, it was just going to be smooth sailing the rest of my days. These days I can look back with love and appreciation on the determined young man I was, while also shaking my head with a bit of bemusement at his naiveté. While all the work I’ve done on myself has certainly led to a much calmer, compassionate and good-humored inner landscape than when I started my journey, the tribulations and at times, absolute horrors of the external world, and the occasional resurfacing of desperate and howling parts of my own psyche that I thought had been lain to rest, have  helped me once again realize the wisdom conveyed in the following poem from the great Sufi mystic and poet Rumi, as channeled through this interpretation by Coleman Barks. 

The Guest House

by Rumi

 

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

 

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

 

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

 

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.

meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

 

Be grateful for whatever comes.

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

 

The Difficult Work of Recovering Love for One’s Self After Love Has Ended

by Michael Bridges

One of the more common and heartbreaking reasons that many people decide to enter therapy is due to the end of a marriage or a romantic relationship. This is particularly true when someone starts to realize some version of, “I just lost myself in this relationship. I can’t seem to remember who I was before. I’m not even sure I can find that person again. Maybe I’ve lost them forever.”

Derrek Walcott, who has the distinction of being the only Nobel Prize winner from the Caribbean, in the following poem provides the necessary hope that the pain and heartbreak will eventually recede while also providing the powerful reminder that love does not only come from others. Even if that other person was the one we thought, and perhaps vowed, we would be with for the rest of our life. Indeed, being able to consistently love and support to our “self” is often an important antidote to those of us who have been preoccupied with finding our emotional salvation and redemption through romantic love.

Love After Love

by Derrek Walcott

 

The time will come

when, with elation

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror

and each will smile at the other's welcome,

 

and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

 

all your life, whom you ignored

for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

 

the photographs, the desperate notes,

peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit. Feast on your life.

 

 

The Difficult Work of Love

by Michael Bridges

When I first see couples who are struggling in their relationship, I sometimes share this line from the poet Rilke “For one human being to love another; that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.” I share this quote from Rilke to both validate their sense of struggle and effort while providing hope that their hard work is ultimately worth it.

A few years ago, I was asked to be one of the keynote speakers at the annual conference of The Pennsylvania Association for Marriage and Family Therapists. In my opening remarks I said, only partially joking, that I had become so frustrated with how useless the DSM (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association) was in conducting therapy, particularly couples therapy, that I had returned to my first inspiration, poetry, for guidance. I then shared the following poem. The number of couples therapists who emailed me for a copy of this poem afterwards suggested I had hit a nerve, so I decided to share it here.

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

by William Stafford

 

If you don't know the kind of person I am

and I don't know the kind of person you are

a pattern that others made may prevail in the world

and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

 

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,

a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break

sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood

storming out to play through the broken dike.

 

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,

but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,

I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty

to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

 

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,

a remote important region in all who talk:

though we could fool each other, we should consider—

lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

 

For it is important that awake people be awake,

or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;

the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —

should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

 

Stafford’s poem offers a darker and more somber vision of the repetitious cycles and legacy burdens that can be passed on from childhood, or even previous generations, that can get triggered in our intimate relationships as adults and end up, “sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood storming out to play through the broken dike.” However, I still think his poem harkens to and encourages us to engage in the same “difficult work” that Rilke reminds us is, “…the work for which all other work is but preparation.”

 

 

Leaving Home and Learning to Listen to Your Own Voice

by Michael Bridges

Leaving home and starting to separate and individuate from our families is one of the first, most difficult, and exciting of tasks we all face on the road of life. This task is made even more difficult if the families we are trying to separate from give mixed messages, saddle us with guilt, or, worse, involve more abuse, neglect or trauma than love, safety and support. The great poet Mary Oliver, who has been very honest that she had to flee her own family at an early age because of the abuse she was experiencing, offers a beautiful, evocative and ultimately inspiring hymn to the need to take this difficult journey out into the world and in so doing, to discover one’s true self. While this poem speaks strongly to adolescents and young adults that are struggling to leave home and discover who they are, I’ve also found it a very helpful poem to share with clients who have decided that they need to leave an abusive or co-dependent relationship.       

 

The Journey

by Mary Oliver

 

One day you finally knew

What you had to do, and began,

Though the voices around you

Kept shouting

Their bad advice‚

Though the whole house

Began to tremble

And you felt the old tug

At your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

Each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

Though the wind pried

With its stiff fingers

At the very foundations‚

Though their melancholy

Was terrible.

It was already late

Enough, and a wild night,

And the road full of fallen

Branches and stones.

But little by little,

As you left their voices behind,

The stars began to burn

Through the sheets of clouds,

And there was a new voice,

Which you slowly

Recognized as your own,

That kept you company

As you strode deeper and deeper

Into the world,

Determined to do

The only thing you could do‚

Determined to save

The only life you could save.

 

How Did I Get Here? What Have I Learned?

by Michael R. Bridges

 

I’m grateful I’m learning

To look back on all my

Bumbling, misguided failures

And see them as difficult,

Steep, rocky, dark, and

Muddy trails that still

Led me to the same

Spacious vista

I was hoping for.

 

Out of breath,

But each exhale

A silent, ragged

Hallelujah.