Tuesday, November 14, 2017

An Elephant in the Dark

Source: A Year with Rumi, Translations by Coleman Barks, p.362

Some Hindus have an elephant to show.
No one here has ever seen an elephant.
They bring it at night to a dark room.

One by one, we go in the dark and come out
saying how we experience the animal.
One of us happens to touch the trunk.
A water-pipe kind of creature.

Another, the ear. A very strong, always moving
back and forth, fan animal. Another, the leg.
I find it still, like a column on a temple.

Another touches the curved back.
A leathery throne. Another, the cleverest,
feels the tusk. A rounded sword made of porcelain.
He is proud of his description.

Each one of us touches one place
And understands the whole in that way.
The palm and the fingers feeling in the dark
are how the senses explore the reality of the elephant.

If each of us held a candle there,
and if we went in together, we could see it.

Turning Back to Winter

by Rachel Kobin

Light, dark
bitter, sweet
bursts of day
push us up
wells of night
pull us in.

Light, dark
bitter, sweet
petals once velvet
crumble to dust.
Touching the life cycle
in this moment,
floating into the next. 

Beauty in darkness

by Tracie Nichols (2015)

the moon
a ripe peach

flare of

to the
violet sky

on the
laced fingers
of distant

Emerging from a deep winter night

by Tracie Nichols (2016)

rich scent of

chickadee glee

yellow leaves

and my heart

all scars and exquisiteness
beguiled by morning

cascades into
all over

Using the winter to connect with our emotions

by Catherine McLaughlin

Winter. A time to turn inward and rest, to slow down and find stillness. But for most of us, the holiday season is in full swing. The stark contrast between the calm of nature and the hustle bustle of the holidays can feel confusing. How do we honor our internal drive, while taking part in the holidays? While we can’t actually hibernate, we can do things that encourage self-sustenance, reflection, and connection. Recognizing that we are all short on time in December, here are some smartphone apps to help you through.

Mood Meter App – Developed by researchers at Yale University, Mood Meter helps you to build your emotional intelligence, become more aware of the nuances of how you’re feeling, and how to stay or shift in a desired emotional direction. Cost is 99 cents, and it is available on Apple and Android.

Insight Timer App – this free app serves as a home base for everything meditation - over 7,000 free guided meditations, connection with a community, discussion groups, and local meet-ups. Cost is Free and it’s available on Apple and Android.

Headspace App - this is an app that teaches people to meditate. Using incredibly simple and accessible language, you’re guided through meditations in short increments. There is the option to purchase more instruction once you’re in app. Cost is Free, and it’s available on Apple and Android.

Catherine McLaughlin, LPC, practices Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP) at the Resiliency Center.  If this therapeutic approach sounds like a good fit for you, please give her a call at 267-800-5073 or email Catherine@cjmcounseling.com for a complimentary consultation.

Turning the Light Around

by Karen Steinbrecher

Twenty-five hundred years ago, Lao Tzu, in China, wrote the “Tao Te Ching”.  For spiritual seekers, the Tao Te Ching is a manual on how to accomplish, within oneself, a higher level of spiritual cultivation.  Simply put, the “tao” is the way, walking the path, going with the flow of life.  Lao Tzu composed 82 verses, teachings, practices, that offer us a way to make our own path, find a personal road map on our own inner journey.  One aspect of my personal path is practicing QiGong, with flowing and healing movements, a tool for me to align my thoughts, heart and my physical body.  As the ground hardens and the air chills, QiGong practice helps me harmonize with the season of winter. In Taoist traditions, winter is the season when you are called to explore what lives below the surface, to pay attention to the internal workings of your intuition.Verse 52 of the “Tao Te Ching” is essentially about “turning the Light around”. A current translation reads, ”Seeing into darkness is clarity. Knowing how to yield is strength. Use your OWN LIGHT and return to the source of light. This is called practicing eternity….In the beginning was the Tao. All things issue from it; all things return to it.” Solala Towler created the following practice that resonates with “Turning the Light Around”:

Focus upon your breath, allowing your breath to become unforced and natural.  Sitting on a cushion or on the edge of a chair, imagine there is a thread coming from the top of your skull, up to the Heavens. Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth and breathe slowly, deeply into your belly. Closing your eyes completely, or open just a little, allow your thoughts to slow down until you can keep one thought.  This means that, instead of letting the wild horse of thought run all over your consciousness, gently guide him onto one path and keep him there.  You only want to tame the horse, quieting your mind.  Turning your sight inward, focus upon your inner self, let go of your outer self.  Allow the “light” of your inward gaze to connect you with your original spirit.  Ever deepen your gaze and relaxation, noticing what arises in your experience.  Spending some time in this state, celebrate your light, feed your soul, your heart, your being.  When you are ready, opening your eyes, sit still for a few moments before reentering the outer world of “doing.” Take your time.  By practicing in this way, you may reach what Taoists call Living Midnight, a state of profound mental stillness; this is the quietude that allows the original, or celestial spirit to come forth.

Karen Steinbrecher leads Qi Gong classes at The Resiliency Center on Tuesday afternoons and Thursday evenings. For more information, contact her at karensteinbrecher@msn.com.

The Gifts of Darkness

by Elizabeth Venart

Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light. – Madeleine L’Engle

What does it mean to “know the darkness”? As this month steadily darkens until our shortest day on the Winter Solstice, I sat with this quote, reflecting on our relationship with light and dark. Is darkness something we ignore, avoid, dread, or try to escape? Or is it something we can welcome? I am struck by the dance we often do, the battle with the dark as it approaches, the push to do as much and as fast as always despite the decrease in daylight. While a seeing person may fear the dark or turn on more lights to obscure it, those born blind have a different relationship to the darkness. Although others imagined her inner world as a place of darkness, Helen Keller described it as rich and vibrant, “golden,” and a “God-made world.”

While we may find ourselves bracing in anticipation of the harsher realities of winter – with its cold and its dark, we have another choice. Instead of pushing against the natural rhythm of the season, we could find ways to accept winter for what it is - a time to start over and build to renewal in the spring.  We can seek new and creative ways to connect with the season and move within it, to celebrate the scarcity of light and welcome it into our daily lives with a different perspective.

First, we may find greater peace by simply accepting what is. There is less daylight in the winter months. Winter really calls our attention to the ecosystem in which we live. Instead of walking outside barefoot to get the mail, we must bundle up. Our bodies may tense at the feel of the cold air on our face and hands. Instead of wishing for summer’s light to return, what if we took time to appreciate the gifts of the longer nights ahead? Noticing our reactions and negative expectations, we can practice breathing into what is rather than bracing against, ignoring, or trying to change it. This is a mindfulness practice that helps with physical pain and can also support us in the changing of the seasons.

Accepting the darkness, we may begin opening to the gifts these shorter days can bring. The dark invites us to slow down, to rest and replenish our bodies and minds. Like the bear, our bodies may feel a pull to hibernate. Sleep may come earlier and be more restful in the darkness of the winter light. We may also feel pulled to stay indoors and cuddle up under blankets, make soup, and listen to music in the candlelight. In the quiet of the winter’s night, we have an opportunity to go within and reflect. For some, meditation practice may be deeper. Others may be inspired to write or draw, to create. Sinking into a favorite piece of poetry or prose offers another way to explore our inner world. Allow the rhythm and landscape of its words to sink into your being by reading it silently or aloud three times, underlining or highlighting phrases that ring true.

If you are struggling with the dark, you may want to get curious about what it is, specifically, that you “don’t like” about winter. You can then brainstorm creative solutions to address it.  For example, if you crave more time outside, you could consider getting outside at lunchtime, walking with friends in the early evening wearing headlamps, and stargazing. If, instead, you notice yourself missing time with friends, consider cultivating some new winter traditions for socializing –  invite friends and family for big Sunday dinners, go to the movies or host movie nights, enjoy singing around a piano or playing music by the fire.  If you are less active in the winter, consider joining a gym or sports league, ice skating, skiing, and sledding (not just for the kids!). Winter won’t offer us the summer barbecue, time at the pool, or a weekend at the beach – but it has the ability to be enriching and enjoyable in its own ways.  

Some of the feelings of being “down” in the winter light are connected to an expectations that we keep the same energy, pace, and routines as the rest of the year. However, for those with recurrent depression, the darker days may result in increased symptoms (Seasonal Affective Disorder).  In that case, solutions may include increasing exercise, modifying diet, considering medication, and using special light boxes (which have become much more affordable in recent years).

Finally, winter also offers us creative ways to bring in Light. The longer days and cooler nights invite us to build fires in our fireplaces and wood stoves, sit outside around a firepit, light a candle.  In the darkness of the New Moon of each winter month, we have our best chance to see the full tapestry of stars in the evening sky.  We can also practice laughter and laughter yoga as a way of bringing the energy of summer to our winter days and nights. Research has shown that 15-20 minutes per day of laughter boosts our immune system, improves our mood, brings pain relief, improves our outlook, and strengthens our heart. You need not rely on jokes or comedy – you can simply laugh. Our brains cannot tell the difference between real laughter and fake laughter – so practice fake laughing from your belly to feel better. Learn more [Insert link to: www.laughteryoga.org]

Brene Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection reflected, “Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” In the darkness, we have an opportunity to meet ourselves – without the hums and noises of screens or lights or the sun. With less stimulation to our senses, we can come home to ourselves and our breathing. Sitting in the quiet, with only the faint light of a candle, we can begin to notice and feel our current state, reflecting on the question, “How am I?” with an earnest curiosity that may be challenging under the harsher lights of daytime.

Instead of using our energies to brace against the darkness that is winter, we may find greater satisfaction and peace if we instead embrace this season. May this winter bring you peace and a greater connection with your own inner radiance.

Elizabeth Venart is a Licensed Professional Counselor and the Founder and Director of The Resiliency Center. She is a Certified EMDR Therapist and EMDRIA-Approved Consultant who specializes in providing counseling and mentorship to other therapists and working to empower Highly Sensitive Persons to heal the wounds of the past so that they can embrace their gifts more fully and experience greater joy. Learn more at www.elizabethvenart.com.