Game, Set, & Match
Tennis is a great and wonderful British Game that is enjoyed throughout many parts of the world. Each year Wimbledon is the sporting highlight of my year. I have to go out and get the strawberries and cream, as Wimbledon is just not Wimbledon without that tradition. We all thrive on traditions.
There is certainly tension and anxiety as play starts, but there would not be play at this level without tenuous dedicated preparation. Even the 250 participating ball girls and boys cannot take their eyes off the court they are taking care of. The mood is one of wanting to win and fair play. There can be no question of failed equipment with the perfectly manufactured balls being regularly changed and spare replacement rackets accompany every player.
The dignity, determination, and sheer dedication of this game draw us to be able to relate to the players. No, this is not a team sport but a stand-alone game. Can you withstand a lengthy volley and sustain the strength to keep going? Can you manage the anxiety enough to keep focused? Do you believe in your inward strength enough to know you will win?
Overcoming disappointments is a great skill and nothing I admire more than when I watch it in tennis. Some of the top seeds in this year’s event have struggled with injuries, but have worked through the rehab and brought themselves back to top strength. These are people that will not throw in the towel.
The grass courts are a different type of surface, but the confidence outweighs the anxiety because the participants know they are well prepared. I love being part of the audience and watch with pleasure at seeing all the different skills, styles, and strategies.
There is no one technique that wins. There are many unique forms that have won the Wimbledon Tournament.
Each of the players knows and believes in themselves. They elevate their strengths and compensate for their weaknesses.
Game, set, and match in your life depends on if you truly know in your own truth and living real.
Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say
Communication is a skill in which many people think they perform well, but in actuality is something many people struggle to do effectively. All species of animals engage in some form of communication, however humans have the unique ability within the animal kingdom of using words to carry out this task. What most people take for granted, however, is that actual verbal communication only comprises roughly ten percent of what message is understood by the receiving person. Nearly ninety percent of inter-human communication is carried out non-verbally. Perhaps this should not be surprising since all animals can communicate and humans are the only species of animal that can use spoken language. For example, when a dog places his tail between his legs, he is communicating fear or anxiety; a cat with dilated pupils and crouched position is communicating preparation for attack.
The imbalance between verbal and non-verbal communication is often what leads to many misunderstandings between people. I have worked with far too many people who report no concerns with communication but verbalize feeling surprised when they are passed up for a job or job promotion even though they “said all the right things.” My reply is typically, “you said all the right things, but how do you feel you communicated?” Any variation of a blank, ‘are you stupid’ expression takes over their face after which I explain that sometimes we may say the correct string of words, however if our nonverbal cues are inconsistent with our spoken words, the result is usually not favorable. Biologically, our brains are pre-wired to take how someone says something more seriously than what they say.
Think about parenting a child, or even look back to when you were parented as a child. How is it that parents always seem to know when their child is telling the truth? When I was a child my mother would often ask me, “did you do that?” My reply of course was always “no, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Her next statement would then typically be, “go to your room until you can tell the truth.” As I would stomp off to my room, I always wondered how she knew I wasn’t telling the truth when I was darn certain she had no hard evidence linking me to the scene of the crime. Now, having been in the reverse role with children, I realize that clearly there is more to what is being said than simply what someone puts into words.
In my career I have to be quite careful to read how people are communicating and correlate it with what they are saying. Often, I have to point out inconsistencies to people in order to elicit words that are closer to the truth. I have also become very mindful when I am communicating that my verbal and nonverbal messages are lining up appropriately so as not to confuse the person with whom I am speaking. People often don’t realize how they know something is not true or why they are confused by what someone is saying but quite simply it boils down to verbal versus nonverbal communication. Most of us dislike lies, empty promises, and ambiguity. My recommendation is if you don’t want to receive these, practice not giving them either. Make sure what you verbally say is what you mean to communicate.
Purpose in the Pain
From virtually the first minute of life, we experience physical pain. As infants, we receive immunizations. As toddlers, we fall and bump our heads or shut our finger in the door. As children and adolescents we may get injured playing sports or getting in a fight. As an adult, we may feel pain related to an underlying illness or disease. In all of these examples, there’s something to gain. Infants have the pain of needles to protect them from illness. Toddlers fall in order to master the art of walking. Children and teenagers experience the pain of a black eye as they learn about boundaries. The pain of illness exists for adults to alert us when something is wrong.
It’s pretty straightforward to see that much of what causes us physical discomfort in life is actually protective in a way. It can be alerting us something is wrong or helping us to learn about our limitations. I thought about this several days ago when I burned my hand trying to remove a dish from the hot oven. If I didn’t have functioning nerves in my fingers alerting me when something was hot, I would likely have no fingers left at this point! So after reflecting on that I began to think about the pain that accompanies mental illness and addiction. What is the purpose of emotional pain? Where does emotional pain come from? For me, and over half of the population of the United States, the answers to these questions are elusive because they are more abstract and abstract concepts are traditionally more difficult to understand.
I understand physical pain because there seems to be a cause and effect, i.e. the dish in the oven was hot, I touched it with bare skin, nerves in my skin sent very rapid messages from my finger up through my arm, to my spinal cord and to my brain, which in turn sent a message back to my finger and caused me to jerk it away, avoiding serious physical damage. Likewise, there are words commonly used that are very descriptive of physical pain; words like sharp, burning, dull, aching. Emotional pain, like most aspects of mental illness, lacks a concrete pathway and is not measurable physiologically. Similarly, there is a paucity of language that exists to describe emotional pain. I can tell you what the quality of the pain in my finger was but for the life of me I can’t find words to tell you how the pain of depression has felt. Despite that, there is no doubt that emotional pain exists.
After grappling with this idea for several days I realize that the pain of mental illness, addiction, or unresolved grief or trauma causes us to behave in certain ways. Typically, the negative thoughts that accompany or even contribute to emotional pain trigger negative behaviors. Thus the foundation of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT); thoughts trigger emotions, which trigger behaviors. Importantly, negative thoughts trigger negative emotions, which spark negative behaviors; so then positive thoughts must trigger positive emotions and positive behaviors. When I feel emotional pain I have the knowledge to examine what I’m thinking that may be contributing to the pain. Moreover, I have the skills to stop negative thought patterns, change them into positive ones and thus significantly reduce emotional pain and elicit positive behaviors.
If that’s the case then emotional pain serves us very much the same way physical pain does. Without having experienced emotional pain, I would never have learned the skills that have so profoundly enhanced my life globally, in addition to reducing my emotional pain. I realize now that emotional pain can serve as a catalyst for change if we become aware of it and break the thought-emotion-behavior cycle of negativity by asserting more positivity. Will life still be painful at times? Yes. You see, pain is an inevitable and necessary part of life. Suffering, however, is optional.
Harnessing the Power of Creativity
When people hear the word creative, many think immediately of the arts. Their minds conjure up all sorts of images of Picasso, Mozart, or even dancers like Mikhail Baryshnikov. These are all incredibly creative people, but creativity comes in many forms. For example, playing “pretend” with a child, changing your hairstyle, or coordinating an outfit are all different ways of applying creativity in everyday situations. We often fail to recognize the creative nature of making decisions throughout the day because we are taught from a young age that participating in activities like dancing, playing a musical instrument, or painting make us more creative and well-rounded. While these activities are important for developing a more inclusive and complex neural network in the brain, there are other ways of cultivating creativity.
If you’re someone who seems to have two left feet, are tone deaf, or can’t seem to draw a stick figure in proper proportion, you’re not alone. Millions of people have difficulties with all of the above tasks. Most people who struggle with these activities think that they are somehow less creative or less “right-brained” than other individuals. The reality is that if you can’t sing or dance you’re no less creative than the next person unless you choose to be. Creativity is more than being artistic or musical; it’s a way of seeing the world. I’m sure most people have heard the expression “use it or lose it.” This is extremely applicable to the flexibility of our brains. Recent research has found that the human brain continues to change and develop throughout a person’s lifetime in response to varied learning experiences. If we choose to limit ourselves to only those endeavors we are already good at, we will soon find that our ability to accomplish other tasks will be diminished. For example, if I avoid creativity because I believe that I am incapable of being creative, I will soon biologically be unable to expand my creativity because the neurons in my brain will remove those areas that aren’t effectively used in order to allow more energy to those areas that are used.
The issue then becomes how to effectively flex our mental muscle. For those people who are skilled in the arts, this is not a very difficult question. The answer lies in ensuring you make time for crafting, cross-stitching, singing, or anything else in which you may be skilled. For those people who struggle to complete a color-by-number picture (like I do), tap into other sources of creativity. Take a walk and collect something of every color of the rainbow, tell a joke, or take a road trip. Chances are you’re probably being more creative day-to-day than you realize.The key is to pay attention, on purpose, to what you’re doing throughout the day and you’ll figure out just how creative you’re being in everyday situations. Paying attention, on purpose; sound familiar? If you’re thinking of mindfulness, you’re right on target. The most fundamental aspect of mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose. Therefore, just being mindful in, and of itself, is a form of creativity.
Whether you choose to engage in “artsy” activities or be more mindful about your daily routine, when you take the time to balance your intellectual pursuits and your creative abilities you’ll suddenly discover you have more energy and interest in the humdrum of the day. Your life will be more balanced and feel more complete. You don’t have to be the next great composer or win a prize for your scrapbooking. Make life your canvas. After all, isn’t finding different ways to be creative a form of creativity?
Attitude of Gratitude
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. - Melody Beattie
Memorial Day has already come and gone. Soon the 4th of July, then Labor Day, then summer will have come and gone. Such is the cycle of the universe. And so it goes in our lives as well. We were all children once; now we’re adults. Maybe we have our own children and maybe our children now have children and so the cycle continues. The key point is there’s no amount of kicking and screaming that’s going to stop the inevitable process of change. To be honest, I’m not sure we want the process to stop. Lack of change leads to stagnation, which is typically unhealthy. The challenge? Approach all situations with an attitude of gratitude.
Gratitude goes beyond merely being thankful for something. It completes the cycle of thankfulness. It’s thankfulness to the “nth” degree. It means exemplifying in your actions what your mouth is saying it’s thankful for. Like the above quote alludes to, sometimes the perspective change that accompanies gratitude makes things good enough, and sometimes good enough is good enough.
Gratitude takes time to cultivate, just like the most beautiful of flowers, or the most respectful of children. One of my favorite sources for studying gratitude and its effects is the book “The Letters of Gratitude” by Rob Martin and Jacq Pollock. In it, they describe their own personal journeys to find gratitude and how it helped transform them. They also provide their 30-day writing exercise so you can practice gratitude as well.
Certainly there are alternatives to this one book, but the idea is if all we see are every negative thing in front of us, soon everything looks negative and we find ourselves spiraling down a very long and dark tunnel, possibly into depression. If we take the time to turn the negative into a positive then we are seeing the light and suddenly things don’t seem too unmanageable. Rather, things often seem bearable regardless of the situation. The reality is again, no matter how much we may want things to stay the same or always be “good,” things are always going to change and sometimes we have to use the power of our attitude to make the situation “good.” When we start doing that we start affecting change in our lives and in the lives of those around us.
Here’s some additional thoughts about gratitude from the authors of the book I mentioned http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KRlh5xNzFx0&feature=related. Give gratitude a try. You won’t be disappointed.
Raw Food and You
I adore these gentle, mellow months of abundant fruit when the earth gives up the best of what she has. I can hardly keep up with the abundance everywhere from tomatoes to blackberries; all kinds of leaves, beans, soft fruits, and okra.
Abundance is beautiful and also challenging. We have all heard those sayings, “make hay while the sun shines” and “save up for a rainy day”. The question is do we really do it. Do we really think about what we need today and what we should plan ahead for?
I have just read a wonderful book called "The Art of Raw Living Food" By Doreen Virtue and Jenny Ross. The taco salad is described as tap dancing on your taste buds and this recipe really does.
One thing that is really worth thinking about is that raw food really does lift your mood and give you energy. Eating more raw food can bring about a bigger emotional shift than you might imagine. Somehow a woman becomes more emotionally aware and self-sensitive as a result of a raw cleansing diet.
I have seen so many women who have experienced depression or grief either not eat at all or emotionally eat in ways that have compounded the feelings of hopelessness. I have come to love juicing as so much goodness can be packed into one large glass. I have seen raw juices affect the condition of the skin dramatically.
You could try it maybe once a week to begin with. One of the best gadgets I invested in was a good juicer. It is the Breville Juice Fountain Elite.
You can juice anything you want to. I made up a juice I call 'death juice' which started as a joke. It’s a combination of apples, celery, carrots, celery, beets, and spinach. These were all the things I thought I ought to be eating raw to avoid some of the health issues. Funny thing is every time I have it I feel this burst of energy, and whatever my mood, things seem so much more positive. If you know you have mood swings and times of the month highs or lows, it might be time to try more raw food.
I know I am going to be juicing up all these beautiful Grainger County tomatoes. Delicious.
Giant Stride into the Blue
The ocean is something that doesn’t make me feel serene. The beach is nice. I love to lay and tan while reading a good book and listening to the ocean. However, I don’t enjoy being in the water. I’m terrified that a shark will eat me. I know the chances of this happening are low, but that doesn’t stop the anxiety that builds up while I’m trying to spend time swimming or playing games with family and friends. I refer to myself as a meerkat because I am constantly scanning the water to look for suspected danger. I never truly let myself relax and enjoy the tranquility that the ocean can bring.
That is why this year I decided to take up scuba diving. Scuba was offered as an elective at my school and I figured there wasn’t a better time to take up a new hobby. It was just once a week and all you had to do was take tests over skills and swim around a pool. No big deal. Then came the announcement that to get certified there would be a trip to Key Largo, FL during spring break. This sparked my interest and, since it was my last spring break, I wanted it to be memorable.
After 16 long hours in a car we finally made it to Key Largo! We had to be at the dock by 7:30am and ready to leave shortly after. It sounds like a war story line, but this is what we had trained for. This was the moment everything we had been taught would literally be put to the test. Scuba diving is a fun sport, but done wrong it can be life threatening.
There I was all geared up, terrified of the ocean, and about to take my first giant stride into the blue. SPLASH! I did it! At first we are all above water, able to talk, and waiting for the rest of our group to join us. Once everyone was off the boat and in the water our cue to make our descent was given. I’ve done this in a pool hundreds of times, but as soon as I was on the bottom, the rough current immediately rocked me. It was quiet, I could see my classmates but we weren’t able to communicate. The water was murky and I began to feel the anxiety creep up on me. My breathing became rapid, my heart was beating out of my chest, and all I wanted to do was go back up to the surface.
I imagine what I was feeling could be compared to what a claustrophobic would feel, minus the tiny space since I was in the open ocean. I felt helpless, unable to move. I felt trapped and like shark bait. My dive buddy gave me the thumbs up, a sign to ask if you are ok, and I remember shaking my head no but she flashed the thumbs up again and I began to repeat the mantra, “it’s just like the pool, only bigger” over and over in my head and I was able to give the thumbs up sign after some deep breaths.
After swimming for a while I was able to let all the anxiety that was left in me dissipate into the water and let the overwhelming calmness take over. The reef ended up being beautiful and I got to see a lot of cool fish, massive conch shells, and even a barracuda or two. There was some leg work when dealing with the current but I found scuba diving to be relaxing with the constant sound of my regulator allowing me to breathe and the bubbles passing by my face to find their escape at the surface.
Everyone has a fear that can hold him or her back, but with this adventure I’ve found the best way to overcome something like a fear, addiction or mental health disorder is to just take that giant stride into the blue. Whether this means overcoming a fear or seeking help for something that has taken over your life. Yes, it is scary. Yes, I wanted to run, or rather swim, my way to the surface but I did what I had to do to overcome this fear and what I found was a beautiful, serene adventure that has changed my perspective of the ocean. I now am able to admire its size and beauty and though I may still feel like shark bait, I’m no longer overcome with anxiety. I am able to enjoy myself a little more. If you are struggling with something don’t let it steal your joy of something as wonderful as the ocean. Take the giant step to a better you.
“Don’t Should on Yourself”
One word that we could all use being eliminated from the English language is the word ‘should.’ What purpose does it serve? “I should have treated my husband differently.” “I should have paid more attention.” “I should wash the dishes.” “I should have received a better performance review at work.” Why? ‘Should’ is a word that implies a degree of judgment. A feeling of guilt, shame, hopelessness, or even a sense of entitlement often follows a ‘should’ statement.
Instead of the word ‘should,’ replace it with the word ‘could.’ Could is an inherently more hopeful word. It implies you are acknowledging a present situation and realizing that there are other alternatives. It screams mindfulness. Of the following statements, which one feels more positive or less blaming: “I should have paid more attention,” or “I could have paid more attention?” ‘I should have paid more attention’ suggests that you are at fault for something and the only thing that could have prevented the situation is if you would have been a better person and paid more attention. ‘I could have paid more attention’ shows more perspective. It suggests that while paying more attention could have altered the outcome, perhaps it wasn’t the sole cause of the problem. It inherently acknowledges that there were probably more factors involved than you not paying full attention. At the same time it doesn’t prevent you from taking responsibility for an outcome either.
‘Should’ leads us to condemn ourselves and typically escalates to include further negative self-talk. It allows us to feel frustrated, demoralized, irritated, stressed, and anxious. ‘Should’ almost makes it seem like we have, as human beings, some sort of governing body or moral code through which our behaviors and the behaviors of others are measured. The truth is that we don’t, aside from legal consequences for illegal behaviors.
‘Could’ usually results in an infinitely greater sense of ease and free will, and unburdens us of this invisible standard to which others or we are held. Just because I ‘could’ wash the dishes doesn’t mean I ‘should’ wash the dishes. ‘Could’ gives me much greater latitude and choice in washing the dishes without the accompanying guilt. I could also sweep the floor, read a book, walk the dog; and all are equally as valid. Who defines what I ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t do?’ You don’t and I don’t either. I determine what I ‘could’ do, and then I choose an option from the ‘coulds’ I have identified.
We all “should on ourselves” from time to time. It’s part of being human. The wonderful thing is that unlike other habits we find ourselves falling into, it’s one of the easiest to correct. Every time I become aware of using the word ‘should,’ I quickly replace it with the word ‘could.’ The benefit is an immediate release of tension and anxiety and a greater sense of clarity. That’s the beauty. It is one of the very few lifestyle adjustments we make where the benefits are instantaneous. Plus there’s the added benefit of being proud you were living in the moment and realized you “should on yourself” but then immediately reached for a thought that felt better.
I challenge you to try it out and post your feedback and opinions on the difference one simple word makes in your thoughts and feelings. And like any other skill, practice makes perfect! Remember, it’s “The Little Engine that Could;” Not “The Little Engine that Should.”
The Allure of the Unhealthy
What is it about human beings? We can be so attached and drawn to old, unhealthy patterns of living that we would rather endure intense suffering than take a stand against that which is harmful to us. Most people know what is healthy and unhealthy for them. Even in the worst throes of addiction, people will often say “I know this isn’t any way to live” or “I’d rather die than keep living like this,” yet the draw to continue using alcohol or their drug of choice seems too great to overcome. For people like me, with mood disorders, there can be an overwhelming urge to isolate, a behavior most people with the disorder know only contributes to worsening depression, yet we do it anyway. Perhaps Andrew Solomon, award-winning author and sufferer of treatment-resistant major depressive disorder, says it best in his book “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression” when he writes, “[e]ven though depressed people seek the oblivion of sleep, it is in that sleep that the depression is maintained and intensified.” My question is this: why is it that we choose to either stay in or return to those behaviors that have kept us sick for so long rather than reach out for treatment or support?
My hypothesis, or what makes sense for me in my life, is comparable to a wagon on a dirt path. Anyone who has ever been around wagons and dirt knows that in the dirt, the wagon wheels will often make nice little ruts where the wagon wheels have driven over so many times. When you take the same path repeatedly, the wagon and the horse pulling the wagon often follow exactly the same path as before until the ground gets worn away and the wagon nestles nicely into the grooves. It becomes comfortable for the horse and for the driver who doesn’t really need to worry about steering because the wagon will automatically stay within its ruts. The catch is that in these ruts is when most of the broken wagon wheels occur. Therefore, even though it’s more comfortable in the ruts, there is some inherent danger. Mental illness can be formed much in the same way, wherein our negative behaviors, when performed repeatedly, will make “ruts” within our brain and those behaviors become comfortable even though they create discomfort. Regardless, it’s often more comfortable to stay in a discomfort zone than to move the proverbial wagon and create a new, less dangerous path.
So how do we make the change toward a more healthy life? Support from others? Practice? Gentleness toward ourselves? Yes. Yes. And yes. For me, the allure of my bed is often so strong, even in times when I am not feeling depressed. It’s often difficult to resist the urge to curl up under the covers and just lay there. At the same time, I know that the bed becomes a trap outside of normal sleeping hours. So for me, I have had to take an active approach to avoiding allowing my bed to be my vice. First, I make my bed every morning when I get out of it because I really hate messing up the covers. Second, I keep my bedroom door closed; if I don’t see my bed, I’m less likely to climb in it. Third, I practice a lot of opposite action. When I feel my bed drawing me toward it, I will leave the house and go for a drive or go over a friend’s house; anything but crawl in the bed. When I do find myself unable to resist the urge, I gently remind myself that being in bed is an unhealthy behavior. It’s me keeping my wagon in the old ruts. This is often gentle enough of a reminder so I don’t make myself feel guilty and can get out of bed, make it, close my door, and practice opposite action. Am I perfect? Nope. But often our moments of imperfection can provide more learning opportunities than our moments of perfection. The key is that we must have a willingness to move our wagons off the beaten path. We have to deal with the discomfort of changing our old patterns that we’ve become so used to in order to become more comfortable living with healthier behaviors. It’s always a work in progress but with patience, support, and gentleness toward ourselves it’s a change that is possible and totally worth it.
Nothing makes me happier than delicious summer snacks that I can eat outside in the garden.
I love to be around the hydrangeas, peonies, and roses as they softly bloom; loyally and faithfully bringing their unique happy beauty each year. The calm swaying in gentle soothing movements is enough to lift the whole day onto higher ground. The bumbling of the bees seems so very restful as intently they mix and match, blooms and pollens, mating and creating in tender servitude. Busy but happy, working hard without pressure, and most impressive of all they produce healing honey, a food that never goes bad!!!!
Recipes for summer snacks