Writing

Three A’s for Now

Three A’s for Now

Awareness, Acknowledge, Action

When I was a nurse in a university medical intensive care unit, a large percentage of patients died, or at least it seemed. My memories of those times, our patients, and the team of brilliantly skillful nurses are colorful and vivid to this day. I remember the young man dying of AIDS during the advent of the disease. I remember his full name, his face, the feeling of gowning up and going into his room. I remember the nurse who chose to be his primary caretaker in the unit. I remember a patient who we kept sedated and medically paralyzed in order for him to recover from tetanus. He walked into our unit months later recovered; a tall smiling man who I instantly recognized, never before seeing him conscious or upright. He was so grateful to all of us. I remember many more moments. I remember my comrades, those super smart, adept RNs who were dogged, tenacious, and present in their moment to moment hands on care. I remember Donna who shared her crackers with me when we were not able to leave the patient’s bedside. I remember the sounds of the ventilators, all the equipment. I remember the magical spirit and effect of teamwork. So last night I cried when reading an article about a nurse in the Bronx, caring for ICU patients during this pandemic. I cried out of empathy, and grief our world is experiencing. This morning I danced to George Harrison’s iconic album All Things Must Pass.

My Three A’s for Now are related to my experience, that I am labeling as empathy; empathy as related to compassion; compassion for self, others’ suffering. Empathy helps us connect with our humanity, our fellow human beings in this predictably unpredictable human life. Empathy is an emotional state to become AWARE of, so that we can ACKNOWLEDGE what we are feeling, and as yoga philosophy says, take right ACTION.

Who are you called to be right now, in this moment? How will you acknowledge and gain awareness of what you are experiencing, whether it be sadness, confusion, joy, anger, comfort, laughter, tears, love? We can only change or shift what we are aware of. Mindfulness, paying attention to your thoughts, emotions, body is acknowledgement…because we are already feeling all those things. Why not note them and take action? Action could be taking a breath. Keep it simple. Look deep into what and who really matters to you, what your strengths are, what you know is good and true about yourself. We are a human circle. We all need each other. We are resilient.

 

 

 

Outdoor Discoveries and Getting Grounded

TOMAH CREEK TRAIL, WISCONSIN

 

One of my favorite delights is finding an unexpected green space. Since I often travel throughout the country, teaching and mentoring health coaches with the Veterans Health Administration, I keep ears and eyes open for places to walk nearby. Last year, my colleagues and I heard about this trail from one of our Tomah coaching course participants. It was a big win for us! Every day after work we’d head out to the trail, only a few miles from our hotel, and walk or run. Most of the winding trail was amid fields of grain, grasses, a few small farms, a creek, and a lake. The insects were magnificent hovering over the fields, birds soaring, the magic of a nature’s sounds. It’s one of the most memorable walking paths I’ve been on during my travels the past two years.

What new outdoor space might you research? The space could be in your hometown, perhaps during a “staycation”, or on a vacation somewhere else. What’s the value of getting outside? How do you “get grounded” and centered in your daily life, recharge?

Another way to get outside and “get grounded” is to go barefoot. Here’s an excellent article from the Washington Post my sister Summer sent me, since she knows how much I go without shoes as does she (we grew up in the country and most of the time, truly, in the summertime, did not wear shoes).

One of the ways I’ve practiced grounding this summer is to walk in the yard after longer periods at the laptop. During the last two months, I’ve completed over 37 hours of continuing education for certifications and licensure. As much as I love learning from different modes online, I noticed my fatigue after listening to even the best of presentations and most interesting material for me. Without speaking to all the reasons why decreased energy may be the case with prolonged proximity to electronics, I simply knew to get outside. So, I’d simply walk around the yard, noticing my feet as they touched the grass, observing any wind, the sun, clouds, garden. What do you notice when you pay attention to the senses?

Managing, sustaining our energetic bodies is crucial to the fullness of life, as well as performance. How do you sustain your energetic body?

Appreciating Opposite Perspectives: Loving Kindness Part Two

Paddle Board or Snow Board?

Recently I experienced some conflict with someone in my community and I was surprised. Surprised at the extent of their suffering, and surprised they had not contacted me to resolve the problem. One of the tools that helps me greatly, especially when I experience all sorts of confusing emotions, is to practice Loving Kindness meditation.

When we are able to wish someone well, in spite of having a different perspective or viewpoint, seeds of empathy are more likely to be planted and grow. Even if the conflict isn’t resolved in a way we would like, we can cultivate a quieter mind, therefore increasing the likelihood we will choose healthier responses. That’s the bottom line for any meditation practice; being in relationship with others, with self.  How are we supposed to live in community when we are are knotted up in a wad of tangled emotions? As a coach with an wholistic approach, one of the things I do best is help clients identify emotions in order that they more easily create goals, make plans, and take action. One of the definers of a healthy life is healthy relationships, along with social support and a sense of belonging and purpose. Therefore any practice we can cultivate that sows ease of mind and body is worthwhile. Check out this article about science behind Loving Kindness. Finally, an article by renowned author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg. I hope you enjoy, and make sure to give yourself a big dose of loving kindness. Self-compassion is an essential element of this practice.

 

Planting Intentions: New Thoughts on Planting For Now

Tilling

 

What’s the difference between what’s in your life now, and what you want to grow? How does setting intentions factor in?  As I review a blog I wrote in 2015, “Planting For Now“, my attention immediately turns to the photo of that particular fig tree, which battled ice storms and heat, was replaced by another tree which now consists of long brown twigs. There are, however, new green leaves sprouting vigorously from the bottom of the plant!

Sometimes our goals are not attained, or not attained in the way we desired. I like the word intention, because it has an action quality and yet has less pressure for some. Many people do not actually like the word goals, and definitely not the term SMART (specific, measurable, attainable/actionable, realistic, timed) goals, which we coaches, educators, and the like use often.

The bottom line for me is that when we are guided by our core values, what really matters to us in our lives, our intentions and goals will fall into line and become clearer. Even if we are super successful in what we intended, or feel like we belly-flopped completely, when we live according to what makes us live our purpose, we can say we planted what was important to us, no matter what the weather. We can also ask ourselves one of the best and most frequently used coaching questions: “What am I learning?”. Isn’t that what growth is all about?

4 Ways To Build Optimism

Lake Erie, January

1. Moving the body.
When you feel “stuck”, then it’s time to embody something different. By this, I mean things like taking a walk, simply standing up, or lifting your arms overhead to stretch. We are built to move, and our bodies need to remain fluid and flexible. Consider small, very small steps to take in this direction and notice the impact on your emotions, outlook. What seems doable, enjoyable, in this moment?
2. Meditation. What if you trusted yourself to know how to do this? It takes practice, yes, and yields great benefits. Even for 5 minutes, consider sitting down and noticing your breath in and out. Or take a walk, and notice your surroundings. Centering prayer, mindfulness, or other traditions provide ways to focus attention, quiet the mind, and cultivate new choices. Ann Cushman says in Moving into Meditation, “But a mindfulness practice is not primarily about getting somewhere else. It’s about opening to where you actually are–to what’s true for your real body, your real life. It’s about entering into the realm of your senses: hearing the rain on the roof and the swish of car tires in the puddles, smelling the soured milk and lemon peel in the garbage disposal.”
3. Go outside. Even if you venture outdoors for 5 minutes to clear your head, you have opened a window of possibility. If it’s raining, why not put on a raincoat, or take an umbrella?
4. Write down your experience. Take 5 minutes and write down what you are experiencing in the moment. Allow yourself to write freely, without concern about punctuation, grammar. Write for your own eyes. Then, if you like, tear it up or keep it. Your choice! Sometimes using the written word to gain clarity is remarkable.

Going Out to Go In: Nature’s Healing Power

Windswept

 

Our son gave me a journal earlier this year, for Mother’s Day. In it, he had copied a quote from a book I brought him back from Portland’s Hoyt Arboretum.

 

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out til sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in”—-John Muir

 

Where do you go when you want to refresh? How does this reset, recharge impact your day?

12 Word Meditation Practice in 6 minutes

 

Fourteen years ago I spent a week in a Boston classroom learning from the dedicated staff of the Benson Henry Institute. Peg Baim, shown here, has continued to inspire me through her foundational audio recordings of meditation practices. Her presence, wisdom, and knowledge provided me grounding and affirmation. Although we briefly met, I have gone back through the years and listened to her recordings over and over. I’ve also shared her work with many clients.

In this video, Ms. Baim demonstrates a twelve-word practice developed by the renowned Buddhist monk, scholar and author Thich Nhat Hanh. The steps are the following:

  1. Sit comfortably.
  2. Each pair of words is practiced with breath, for several rounds each.
  3. Begin the sequence by the following
  4. Breathe in the word “In”, breathe out the word “Out”.
  5. Breathe in the word “Deep”, breathe out the word “Slow”
  6. Breathe in the word “Calm”, breathe out the word “Ease”
  7. Breathe in the word “Smile”, breathe out the word “Release”
  8. Breathe in the word “Present”, breathe out the word “Moment”
  9. Breathe in the word “Wonderful”, breathe out the word “Moment”

Here are the word pairs again:

In, Out

Deep, Slow

Calm, Ease

Smile, Release

Present, Moment

Wonderful, Moment

Clearing Out With Movement, Breath, and Writing

Beloved Item

 

Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up was one of my favorites a couple of years ago. A client and I read it together, as I coached him on clearing out and bringing more in of what he wanted in life. The loving attention that Ms. Kondo gives each article of clothing, or anything else, as she decides whether to keep it or give it away is a mindfulness exercise in itself. She asks herself “Does this bring me joy?” as she touches each object.

Christopher Keyes of  Outside Magazine also enjoyed Kondo’s writing, taking her directives and creating his own 12 ways to simplify.

One of the ways I work with coaching clients is through movement. This sequence energizes and grounds your intention of clearing and simplifying:

  1. Before beginning this exercise, listen to your body, know your body, love your body. Don’t do anything that causes pain.
  2. Stand in Mountain Pose with your feet on the ground, about hip’s width distance apart. Inhale, bring your shoulders to ears. Open mouth and exhale, release shoulders. Notice how your body feels from toe to head and back down again.
  3. Pretend you are 5 years old and start swinging your arms. Let them flop naturally in front and behind you, as you gently turn your torso and hips.
  4. As your arms are flopping in this wind mill fashion, smile! Let your heels come off the floor and be gentle with the knees. Let them follow the movement of your hips.
  5. Invite your 5 year old self to imagine you are clearing out all that no longer serves you, materially, emotionally, physically. Let your arms and hands pretend that they are physically sweeping those things off of a table or desk top. Let yourself get into it!
  6. Allow your arms to come back by your sides. Take a few deep breaths. Close your eyes if you like, or gaze at the floor a few feet in front of you.
  7. Notice now how your body feels. Imagine your breath moving from toes to head, head to toes.
  8. Sit down for 5 minutes. Breathe in and out.
  9. When you’re ready, write down anything that comes to mind about this movement experience. How will clearing out bring your life more in line with your purpose and values?
  10. Invite yourself to consider the first step toward less clutter, more ease. Keep it simple, now! Perhaps fun, and easy. You may want to write this step down, and commit to when you’d like to start. Who will you tell that this is your intention?

 

 

 

Bringing Whole Health Coaching To Veterans And Those Who Serve Them

Road from Tomah to Madison

Since the spring of 2016, I’m on a team bringing Whole Health Coaching to the Veterans Health Administration. To read more about this compelling initiative click here. In short, I travel throughout the U.S. to train and mentor clinical and non clinical staff of the VHA to become health coaches. Many employees of the VHA are themselves Veterans. I love this work! About ten years ago, I wanted to get involved with a growing movement to serve Veterans, however since I was moving in a new direction professionally, I didn’t know yet how I would do that. I set the intention aside, and as my coaching experiences developed over the decade, life unfolded and I was asked to join this amazing group of dedicated people.

During the coaching process, Veterans are asked envisioning questions such as “What really matters to you?” and “What do you want your health for?”. Here’s a video link that illustrates what great things are happening in the VA.

In general, regardless of the model or setting coaches work from, we ask clients and patients what they want to change, without telling the client/patient what to do. We know from behavior change research that folks change when and what they want, and that when they are really listened to, and begin to see the impact of small changes, that a synergistic effect occurs. For example, if someone says they hate to exercise, and their goal is to increase their sense of community, what if, in the process they discover that a new friend wants a walking buddy? When in your own life have you discovered that a welcomed change comes about when you make movement in what seems like a completely different aspect of your life? Change doesn’t go in a straight line. It’s for most of us, a very curved one!

 

Summer of Learning: Knowing and Not Knowing

Spaciousness

From June through mid-August, I experienced three breast biopsies, including one surgery, two mammograms, and two MRIs. That’s the old story. The new story is that I only envision vibrant cells and glowing health. The precancerous cells were removed.  Emotions of shock, fear, anger, sorrow, relief, glee, trust, gratitude ebbed and flowed. I asked myself questions such as, “How could I, with an LDL of 60, have these precancerous cells in my body?”. I also asked other questions that provided meaning to the summer’s experience. What would you ask yourself, given the same scenario? What questions do you ask yourself when confronted with fear…the unknowingness of life? I ask my clients these kinds of questions to help them illuminate meaning to their stories. I hold myself to the same standards.

One of the meanings and deep appreciations I came away with was the import and impact of asking for support, love, check-ins, and communication from others. This is a loving practice to self. Don’t we all need that? I received much unsolicited, loving care. Thank you family, friends, clients, my coach, coaching group members, and colleagues. Thank you for calling me, your cards, your texts, your visits, your symbols of healing and power, your prayers. The care that I received from nurses, technologists, receptionists, my surgeon, and radiologists was profound. After three decades, now almost four, of being a health professional, I am awed by the expertise of those we entrust our care to when we are most vulnerable.

So there’s the knowing and not knowing of life. What practices and skills do we build along the way to surf these waves? What are your foundational ones?