Wednesday, December 27, 2023

What Questions Can Support You in Creating Meaningful (and Gentle) New Year's Resolutions

by Elizabeth Venart

You may have a lot of things you want to be different in your life. But overwhelming yourself with unrealistic goals is likely to short-circuit any meaningful change efforts. Rather than enter the New Year by burdening yourself with a list of specific self-improvement changes you need to make, consider creating gentle and compassionate resolutions. First, you will want to thoughtfully reflect on the previous year. What stands out -- the good, bad, boring, inspiring? What did you love about it? What was fun? What worked well? What didn't work? 

Then, give some time to consider your desires for the coming year. When you reach December 31, 2024 and reflect back upon that year, what do you wish to see? How do you wish to feel? What fun do you hope to have? What might inspire you to feel grateful for having lived these 365 days with greater intention? 

As you contemplate more fluid and organic ways of welcoming change, below are some additional questions to guide you. You may want to carve out one big chunk of time to meditate or write -- or it may work better for you to contemplate your answers over several days or weeks. Questions are drawn from friends and from posts by Suleika Jaouad (Isolation Journals) and the Mountain Modern Life blog writer.

  1. What was most memorable?
  2. What did I enjoy most? 
  3. What am I most proud of? 
  4. What could I use more of in my life?
  5. What could I use less of in my life?
  6. What has caused me anxiety or distress?
  7. By the end of the day, currently I feel (fill in the blank). How do I want to feel?
  8. What characteristics would I like to have (or strengthen)?
  9. Where am I saying “yes” when I really want to be saying “no”?
  10. Where am I saying “no” when I really want to be saying “yes”?
  11. What is taking my attention away from what is truly important to me? 
  12. What are my wild and creative ideas for my life?

Can we create New Year's Resolutions that are simple, gentle, and enduring?

by Elizabeth Venart

As one year ends and another begins, it is natural to reflect back on the year’s journey traveled and aspire to create or experience something new in the the twelve months ahead. Social media hype about making this next year “the best one yet” may prompt us to give New Year's Resolutions another try — even if we know ourselves, our track record, and the unlikely possibility that our January 1st promises will last. Typical resolutions focus on how we want to improve (exercise, eat better, get off social media, read, be positive), so when we don’t, we end up feeling worse about ourselves and things being the same. We are in good company. Research has shown that while the follow-through with these kinds of changes may be strong that first week (about 77% of us keep our commitment for seven days), resolve reduces dramatically over the year  — with less than half of us lasting three months and only 19% of people having stuck with their commitment two years later. 

Despite evidence these annual promises are likely to be short-lived, we may still feel drawn to make them. We crave change. We want to be healthy and happy. We want our lives to be meaningful, fun, peaceful, and connected.

Rather than make a list of new habits and schedules we may struggle to follow, perhaps we could experiment with inviting the changes we want in a simpler, gentler way? It is possible. I’ve included several ideas for how in this article. They include selecting a “word” for the year, creating a vision board, making monthly goals rather than yearly ones, writing simple “more” and “less” lists, and themed playlists. 

A Word for the Year

One simpler practice many find meaningful is to select a “word” for the year. This involves narrowing your long list of priorities down to one central theme. You are saying, “This is my focus for the year.” There are endless possibilities, so carving out some time to reflect, meditate, brainstorm possibilities, and journal about it can help you gain clarity. This may take some time. Or it could be very simple and obvious to you. When I explained the idea about New Year’s resolutions to my eight-year-old niece, she shared that she’d like to get better at soccer and gymnastics this year and can see herself practicing more and improving. I asked her the question on the last of five days we spent together in late December. We live a distance apart. After her initial response about growing stronger, she gave me a big smile and a hug, then added, “I also really want to see my family every month.” She knows what she values. I trust you do too. 

Selecting a word for the year can be like a beacon that keeps bringing us home to what matters. Once you select a word, find a way to keep it in your conscious awareness. Maybe you make it your screen saver, put it on a sticky note on your nightstand or next to your computer at work, or set a daily phone alarm labeled with your word. As you revisit it throughout the year, give yourself permission to change it if it no longer feels of central importance to you. Trust yourself to know what is meaningful. 

Vision Boards

Another way to keep your word, theme or vision alive throughout the year is to create a vision board. Vision boards can be very specific and tailored to an area of your life where you’d like to focus (e.g. relationships, career, health), but they can also be more conceptual (e.g. conveying a feeling of calm, a sense of adventure, or a focus on beauty). Whether you create a physical board or a virtual one, keep it somewhere easy to see. Let the continual visual reminder support you in remembering.

Creating a Playlist

Music speaks to our hearts. Selecting specific songs for a custom playlist is another way to remind yourself of your word, theme, and positive intentions. Let the music encourage and support you. If you want more courage, create a playlist that inspires you to feel brave. If you want to feel peaceful, curate a calming collection of music. If you seek more playfulness, find songs that make you dance, play, and even laugh. 

Choose a Monthly Focus or Goal (Not a Yearly One)

Another way to simplify is to create a goal or focus one month at a time. Maybe it will be a word.  Maybe it will be a new habit you’d like to try (30 days of yoga, for example). Maybe it is a way you’d like to stretch yourself, invite more self-compassion, or practice courage during a month when you especially need it. When the next month arrives, you could choose to repeat the focus or to find something new. The important thing is that you are checking in with yourself each month to see what feels right. You aren’t burdening yourself with a giant 365-day commitment in January that may feel irrelevant as you enter June or face September; rather, you have a chance to play every thirty days with something new.

Even Simpler 

Can our approach to the New Year be even easier? It can. You could draw a line down a sheet of paper and write two lists — one column labeled “more” and one labeled “less.” This idea was shared in an article on The Cut, referencing Julia Rothman’s Instagram feed where she shared her two lists. Keep it simple. We can even take this a step further. My colleague Rachel Kobin (Founder and Director of the Philadelphia Writers Workshop) has the gentlest, simplest approach I’ve seen yet. In 2023, her New Year’s Resolution was to “see what happens.” She shared that deciding to “see what happens” definitely set her up for less disappointment. It also helped her feel grateful for all the good things she experienced. As for 2024? She smiled: “I’m planning on making the same resolution this year.”

Wishing you beautiful simplicity in the New Year, self-acceptance in the process, and ease in navigating life’s ups, downs, and unexpected turns.

Elizabeth Venart, LPC, is the Founder and Director of The Resiliency Center of Greater Philadelphia. She specializes in supporting Highly Sensitive People (including other therapists, teachers, and healers) to embrace their gifts and develop deeper self-trust. A Certified EMDR Therapist, Certified IFS Therapist, and EMDRIA-Approved Consultant, she leads trainings through the Syzygy Institute on the powerful integration of IFS and EMDR therapies for trauma resolution. She loves spiritual and nature-based poetry (Rumi, Hafiz, Mary Oliver, Joy Harjo, John O’Donohue) and leads a free monthly poetry evening. She also leads a weekly laughter yoga class, to encourage more joy and connection. To learn more, visit her website at

Monday, November 20, 2023

Reflections on Impermanence

by Elizabeth Venart

The only constant in life is change. It is a well-known saying — and undeniably true.

As the last of the crimson and yellow leaves cling to their branches, awaiting descent and decay, I find myself reflecting on the universal experience of impermanence. It seems we are always in the midst of one season or cycle transitioning into the next. 

We know the yearly rhythm, how we move in a predictable path through the seasons of heat and cold, light and darkness. At the same time, on a given day or week, the change may surprise us. It may feel sudden or abrupt to us, no matter the date on the calendar. While every year has the same number of days, sometimes we experience time — and the shifting of the seasons — as if it is racing by. Summer flew by so fast! How is it already September? Or . . .  Didn’t the school year start yesterday? December came so fast! We may lament the end of a season, wishing it could last. Personally, I feel this way every autumn. I adore the fall foliage, the brilliant yellow, red, bronze, and orange, the tapestry of color in forests and hillsides. While I know the season itself will come again, I never know exactly how it will be — or how I will be or life will be— when it does. 

Known as the first principle in Buddhist philosophy, the Law of Impermanence teaches that all of life is perpetually in flux. Our sensory experiences (all we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell) convince us that everything is solid, steady, and reliable. As a result, our minds create a worldview that assumes permanence. However, the fundamental truth about nature is that everything is undergoing constant change. Our attachment to the illusion of permanence is seen as a primary cause of distress and suffering.

Can we accept and make peace with the inevitability of change and impermanence? The average person in our country will have three to seven careers in their lifetime — and twelve different jobs. Our work often evolves over time, sometimes surprising us with what pulls our attention and where we lose interest. Relationships change, with people growing closer or drawing further apart. Children grow older, leave the nest, embark on adventures, create their own meaning for their lives. As older generations pass, the next generation steps forward into the role of elder. Even our bodies are in a constant state of flux, beyond the obvious ways like injury, pregnancy, illness, and aging — but in all the tiniest ways; our bodies contain over 30 trillion cells, and about 330 billion cells replace themselves every day. In 80-100 days, 30 trillion cells are replenished.

Amidst all this change, we may long for the constant, the stable, the predictable, and the known. However, our attachment to things remaining the same is often the source of our discomfort, distress, and heartbreak. If, instead, we can accept impermanence — deeply understanding the transient nature of thoughts, feelings, experiences, and life itself — then we can fully appreciate the beauty of the present moment.

Knowing that nothing lasts can help us appreciate our time with those we love, moments of laughter and joy, awe, authenticity, connection. It can wake us from the dream of “always and forever” that may drive a mindless preoccupation with thoughts and things, achievement and reward. It can awaken us to the mystery, the ever-unfolding dance of being alive. When we don’t need things to be a certain way, we can open to things as they are. The beauty of a sunset, surrendering daylight into darkness. Sunrise in the morning, welcoming light’s return. The radiant smiles of couple exchanging vows. The tenderness of steadfast love at the bedside of the dying. Life is unpredictable. Open and present, here and now, unattached to how things should be, we may begin to experience a greater sense of calm with the unknown that awaits. 

As we enter the season of winter, perhaps we can welcome this time of darkness and quiet to contemplate the teachings on impermanence. Rather than racing to the finish line of another calendar year completed, we can be present. We can slow down, build a fire or light a candle, prioritize connection and coziness, savor the sweetness of a starlit night, and appreciate the gift of being alive.

Elizabeth Venart, LPC, is the Founder and Director of The Resiliency Center of Greater Philadelphia. She specializes in supporting Highly Sensitive People (including other therapists and healers) to embrace their gifts and develop deeper self-trust. A Certified EMDR Therapist, Certified IFS Therapist, and EMDRIA-Approved Consultant, she leads trainings through the Syzygy Institute on the powerful integration of IFS and EMDR therapies for trauma resolution. She loves spiritual and nature-based poetry (Rumi, Hafiz, Mary Oliver, Joy Harjo, John O’Donohue) and leads a free monthly poetry evening. She also leads a weekly laughter yoga class, to encourage more joy and connection. To learn more, visit her website.

Poetry on Impermanence

Thank you to Michael Bridges and Stan Kozakowski for sharing the following poems from their guided hike in November 2023. The theme of their program was impermanence.

Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Gratitude by David Whyte in Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words

Gratitude is not a passive response to something we have been given, gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us. Gratitude is not necessarily something that is shown after the event, it is the deep, a priori state of attention that shows we understand and are equal to the gifted nature of life.

Gratitude is the understanding that many millions of things come together and live together and mesh together and breathe together in order for us to take even one more breath of air, that the underlying gift of life and incarnation as a living, participating human being is a privilege; that we are miraculously part of something, rather than nothing. Even if that something is temporarily pain or despair, we inhabit a living world, with real faces, real voices, laughter, the color blue, the green of the fields, the freshness of a cold wind, or the tawny hue of a winter landscape.

To see the full miraculous essentiality of the color blue is to be grateful with no necessity for a word of thanks. To see fully, the beauty of a daughter’s face is to be fully grateful without having to seek a God to thank him. To sit among friends and strangers, hearing many voices, strange opinions; to intuit inner lives beneath surface lives, to inhabit many worlds at once in this world, to be a someone amongst all other someones, and therefore to make a conversation without saying a word, is to deepen our sense of presence and therefore our natural sense of thankfulness that everything happens both with us and without us, that we are participants and witnesses all at once.

Thankfulness finds its full measure in generosity of presence, both through participation and witness. We sit at the table as part of every other person’s world while making our own world without will or effort, this is what is extraordinary and gifted, this is the essence of gratefulness, seeing to the heart of privilege. Thanksgiving happens when our sense of presence meets all other presences. Being unappreciative might mean we are simply not paying attention.

The Life of a Day by Tom Hennen

Like people or dogs, each day is unique and has its own personality quirks which can easily be seen if you look closely. But there are so few days as compared to people, not to mention dogs, that it would be surprising if a day were not a hundred times more interesting than most people. But usually they just pass, mostly unnoticed, unless they are wildly nice, like autumn ones full of red maple trees and hazy sunlight, or if they are grimly awful ones in a winter blizzard that kills the lost traveler and bunches of cattle. For some reason we like to see days pass, even though most of us claim we don’t want to reach our one for a long time. We examine each day before us with barely a glance and say, no, this isn’t one I’ve been looking for, and wait in a bored sort of way for the next, when, we are convinced, our lives will start for real. Meanwhile, this day is going by perfectly well-adjusted, as some days are, with the right amounts of sunlight and shade, and a light breeze scented with a perfume made from the mixture of fallen apples, corn stubble, dry oak leaves, and the faint odor of last night’s meandering skunk.

The Guest House by Rumi Translated by Coleman Banks

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’re 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 whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Lost by David Wagoner

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

Found by Michael Bridges

Here we are, standing still,

Having finally arrived

At this place called here.

With every step we’ve taken

The trees & bushes around us

Have been welcoming us here.

Here that started as a powerful stranger

Now here as a powerful friend.

Asking us with each breath

To feel our hand on our heart

As our heart cries out to our busy mind

For permission to be known.

For as we breathe the forest breathes

Know that for a fact.

This place where we stand

This heart we hold

These hearts we are surrounded by

Are no longer lost.

Even as we stand, the forest, Wren & Raven

Bear witness

That in this eternal moment

Impermanent as it is,

We are no longer lost,

We are truly found

The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wanderer’s Nightsong II by Goethe (translated by Robert Bly)

There is a stillness

On the tops of the hills

In the tree tops

You fell

Hardly a breath of air

The small birds fall silent in the trees.
Simply wait: soon 

you too will be silent.

Monday, August 14, 2023

The Healing Power of Art

by Vanessa Mortillo, LPC

Making art is like giving a gift: evidence of your spirit and that you are here. – Patty Mitchel

I have long been fascinated with the ways that visual images offer new pathways of communication and a deeper way to learn about the self.  To give an example, I was recently with a client who was struggling with controlling anger. I prompted him to draw his anger as a creature. The client took to the page readily, intuitively sketching out an anger monster, and surrounding it with images from his life. What I did not expect was how this drawing led to a profound shift in his ability to control anger, and how the image said so much more than he had previously been able to put into words. The insights he gained from seeing it on the page, and the process of art-making itself, offered a new sense of freedom for him.

Making visual art may have helped my client in more ways than one. Art has many therapeutic applications, including art therapy, expressive arts therapy, and even hospital wellness programs.  Below are just a few of the myriad benefits employed by visual arts that can make a world of difference.

Externalizing the problem

Art can help us put our problems outside of ourselves. When we put feelings or thoughts into an image, we get separation from our struggles as well as a sense of perspective.  We start to see that our challenges do not define who we are. We get a bird’s eye view of the issues at hand. For some, drawing scary feelings — contained in the boundaries of a page — can create a manageable way of exploring traumas.


Doodlers and coloring book enthusiasts experience the relaxing qualities of moving pen, pencil, or paint brush across a page and adding calming colors. The process itself has been shown to have calming effects.

Another Way to Process

Art allows us to use metaphor and symbolism rather than words. Expressive Arts therapist Shaun McNiff writes, “The psychotherapeutic use of the arts offers an opportunity to integrate scientific knowledge about the psyche with the more imaginative and spiritual hemisphere of the mind, where the power to heal lies.” Because visual arts engage our sensory system and both sides of our brain, they offer another way to process our feelings and traumas, especially when we struggle to find words to express our emotions. Our artwork can also be a way to bring unconscious materials into the light of awareness. 

Intrigued? Already someone who enjoys creating or perhaps curious to see what you’d discover? I invite you to engage the healing power of visual art-making by exploring some of the activities in the links below or joining me for a new monthly offering of mindful art-making. Let’s create — together. 

Vanessa Mortillo, LPC, is a Licensed Professional Counselor specializing in play therapy, mindfulness, and the use of art in play. She has worked with adults and children from a variety of backgrounds in home, school, and outpatient settings and is committed to advancing equity and social justice. She can be reached at 267-507-5793 or

Art Activity for Kids: Feelings Heart

by Elizabeth Campbell, MS, LPC, RPT-S

As a play therapist and a mother of two, I am often encouraging children to find ways to express their feelings.  Children’s language is play, so putting things into words can be a challenge.  Acting out a feeling with behavior or play and expressing it with creative arts give their feelings a release valve.  Below is an activity I use both in play therapy and at home to support kids in learning about and expressing their feelings.

Supplies needed:


Crayons, markers, or colored pencils

Scissors (optional)


Draw or cut out a heart.  Encourage the child to draw all of the feelings in their heart today in the heart using a different color for each feeling.  You may want to give examples about feelings in your heart that day (ie. I felt happy when I saw the sun shining, frustrated when I stubbed my toe).  Note that we all have feelings and they are ok.  

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, support for Highly Sensitive adults and children, and EMDR using an integrative, mindful approach to address the whole individual and promote healing.  .If you would like to connect with Elizabeth, reach out at or 610-757-8163 or learn more at

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Conceptual Journey

by Michael Shapiro 

What is taken for granted?

What goes quicker than we thought?

What can be wasted the most?

What is something that is sought?

When younger can seem quite slow 

When older moves way too fast

Never have enough of it

For time isn't made to last

Perhaps taking a time out

Noticing the stars and moon

All the beauty in nature

Lovely scents of spring's first bloom

Spend more time with family

Tell your spouse how much you care

Be present with your children

Enjoy all the love you share

Why put off 'til tomorrow?

As there are no guarantees

Live each day to the fullest

Much joy in each day to seize

Michael Shapiro has been writing for two and a half years following the passing of his wife on December 14, 2020. He writes mainly poetry and has been part of the Philadelphia Writers Workshop for the past two-plus years. He has also self-published a book of poems (One Pen Two Hands One Heart One Soul) on Amazon. His biggest joy is writing as he feels his wife writes with him and they become one through the words.


by Lisa Ben-Shoshan

A warm sweater coat, wrapped around me like my grandmother's arms, flapping in the wind as I walk the streets to work. It's thick and long, and gathers leaves behind me, sweeping them under my booted feet as I hurry. The sleeves are overly long, dangling past my cold fingertips even though they are rolled up twice, for style. There are pockets hanging way down low, too low to be of any real use, for style again. It's all about style, isn't it? How we dress, what we choose to represent ourselves. Why put on a boring article of clothing, why buy it, even, if it isn't going to make you feel that you are in your element? So the long sweater coat, which is really something I would love to curl up with on the sofa at the end of the day, is more than my protection against the elements. It is a reminder of love, of grandma's sweaters she used to knit for me when I was young when she was still here, of the Afghans she knit which I still keep and pull out when I want to feel that sense of remembering, that sense of sorrow. How lucky am I to have these small reminders of what family is, almost like it has been captured in a poem or story. And how lucky am I that I can pass these things on to my children, like letting them read the story, and hopefully have them appreciate it as I do.  


Like my grandmother's arms, my time is a circle, I think, of time and family and love and remembering. Time, moving around the inside of my head marking the passing days and weeks and years, spinning now, spinning even faster as I get older. I hold onto the memories, I hoard the old sweaters and Afghan quilts, I hoard the letters and stories and photos and faces. I keep them in my mind, and I make the dead come to life again, or live still, in my mind. I delve into the memories of family, of my ancestors, searching for links through genealogy, connecting me to my past and theirs. I'm searching for a sense of continuity, of connection, a glimmer in an old photograph, faded and torn, which shows me that I have my great-great grandfather's eyes, that my son looks like my father, that the bits and pieces that make up all of us, our hair, our coloring, our skin and blood and bones, are more than pieces of DNA and dust. The things we remember, the pictures, the pieces of jewelry handed down, hearing my mother say I am just like my father—it is all part of who I am, and who I am is forever connected to the living pieces of everyone who has ever come before me. They live in me, in my mind, and so they never die.

Lisa Mellen Ben-Shoshan wrote and illustrated her first book, entitled “Valentine Wish” when she was in the first grade; the single edition was treasured by her parents. An avid journal keeper for many years, she parlayed her skills into a career in marketing communications. A positive outcome of her encounter with breast cancer set her on a path of investigating her family genealogy where she keeps the memories of everyone who came before her alive.