For Lillian As You Leave

Lillian Michalsky is an extra-ordinary person and someone I’ve been privileged to know if only for a short time. I met her over a month ago at a women’s retreat at Feathered Pipe Ranch. Although she was not teaching the class, her wisdom and insight made an impression as she sat in her lounge chair in our circle, living with pancreatic cancer. Her life is a legacy for the strength of human spirit which I know will continue in the hearts and souls of those she’s touched long after she dies.

In truth, I don’t know much about Lillian’s past. I know that when she was in her early 20’s she came out to Montana on a mission trip, got “adopted” by one of the Native American tribes who live there, and became a medicine woman because of their trust in her. Until then, this tribe’s language had only been spoken, and they were afraid of losing their stories which they wanted to impart to their children and others. Together, she helped them develop a written alphabet and translate their stories so they could be preserved. Remarkable indeed.

I was fortunate enough to be in a prayer circle she led at Feathered Pipe at the conclusion of our retreat. As we shared our prayers with Lillian and India and prayed for each other, we created a sacred space which lovingly held our souls. It was the most meaningful, spirit-filled ceremony I’ve ever been in and a beautiful way to end our time together. For this, I am forever grateful. I am likewise grateful for the generosity and compassion of all my sister goddesses in the circle.

Saturday, I learned that her physical strength is dwindling and her time here may be drawing to a close. In celebration of Lillian, I am asking that this week each of you meditate on a song which is one of her favorites, “Give Yourself to Love” by Kate Wolf. It is a good reminder for all us. Here are some of the lyrics:

“Kind friends all gathered ’round, there’s something I would say:
That what brings us together here has blessed us all today.
Love has made a circle that holds us all inside;
Where strangers are as family, loneliness can’t hide.

You must give yourself to love if love is what you’re after;

Open up your hearts to the tears and laughter,
And give yourself to love, give yourself to love.”

You can listen to the song  by clicking here.

With much love, Lillian. Namaste.

Mind, Body and Spirit Comfort to Ease Perinatal Loss

Losing someone you love is always challenging but losing a child through miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal loss often feels unbearable. When a baby dies during pregnancy, delivery or early postpartum, there are multiple losses which include the loss of the hopes and dreams you had for this child, hopes and dreams for you as their parent, and postpartum hormonal and birth-related changes without a baby to hold in your arms to feel that it’s  still worthwhile.

Here are some suggestions to help ease your mind, body and spirit. Remember, none of these tips will take away your grief but perhaps allow you to have a little more physical energy, mental ability, and spiritual comfort to deal with your loss.

  1. Try to eat at regular intervals to keep your body fueled. Substitute more frequent snacking if that’s all you feel like and choose whatever sounds good. Stay well-hydrated. Take a multi-vitamin. Let others bring you food or pick up ready-made healthy meals.
  2. Take breaks which allow your body and mind to rest. Don’t push yourself to resume your “normal” schedule if you have the flexibility to slow down. Strike a balance between distracting yourself and always having something to do. Grief takes a toll on us body, mind and spirit, and it takes time to heal.
  3. Nourish yourself with pleasant experiences and sensations. Go for a walk in nature. Listen to soothing music. Light a candle. Take a warm bath or shower. Do some gentle exercise or yoga. If you have other children, play or spend time with them. You are not betraying your baby by choosing to participate in life.
  4. Be-friend yourself. Imagine what you would say to a good friend or loved one whose baby died. Would you judge them for their feelings? Would you tell them to stop having a tough time or be done with their grieving? Chances are “no.” Don’t treat yourself that way either.
  5. Don’t tell yourself that because your partner isn’t grieving in the same way you are, they don’t care. Men and women grieve differently. Women are generally more open with their feelings and men seem less emotional. Again, don’t judge or be critical. Acknowledge that grief is expressed by each person in his/her own way.
  6. When other people make comments which seem uncaring, don’t take it personally. Our culture is fairly unskilled at dealing with death. Often. we think we need to say something to make the grieving person feel better instead of listening. Comments like “it’s probably for the best or now they’re with God” may provoke anger when intended to be comforting.
  7. Seek out people who do understand and bring you comfort. Although friends and family my worry about you and want to stop by to talk, it is up to you who you want to see and when. Steer clear of people who aren’t helpful and trigger bad feelings. Also, you may not want to see pregnant relatives and friends or participate in baby-related activities (showers, first birthdays, etc). Give yourself a break and don’t go.
  8. Be grateful. This is especially challenging after losing your child. However, if we let ourselves, we may find something in the midst of our sorrow which helps us feel supported and loved. Although you may feel alone in the darkness, the light of a new day will dawn. It is the nature of life.

Take good care. Namaste.

Creating An Epic Life: “Careful the Tale You Tell”

When I was on retreat in June at Feathered Pipe Ranch with Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen, we shared our stories of the different life passages we’d journeyed through and how these experiences shaped our growth and change. Since then, I’ve wanted to discuss how this relates to leading a mindful life but didn’t know what to say until now. The late Carl Sagan remarked in his series, Cosmos,“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

If you believe that we are spiritual beings having a human existence, then you may think that what we do in this lifetime matters, especially when human existence ( and that of all sentient beings and our planet) may not survive if we choose poorly. In one of my favorite stories, “Into the Woods” the witch warns the villagers, “Careful the tale you tell, that is the spell. Children will listen.” Although we may not consciously be aware of our “stories” and how they are affecting us, we can learn.

Mindfulness teaches us that “with awareness we can respond with choice” instead of “reacting on auto-pilot.” The starting point is to become aware of the automatic thoughts, feelings, and sensations which trigger our bodies and minds without us even knowing. After a month of tuning into her “automatic thoughts,” one of my clients “noticed” that she kept having negative thoughts about herself and when she did start to feel good, felt undeserving of it and resumed her self-criticism.

Recently the same client told me,”I was my worst critic. Now I know that I’m the only person who can change my life. I’m in charge of what I choose to tell myself and my destiny.” Because our habitual “stories” like my client’s “I’m no good” keep playing in our heads, they often happen outside our awareness. When we choose to “pay attention,” to our automatic thoughts and “stories,” we free ourselves to experience the moment we’re in, rather than worrying about the future or regretting the past.

This week, pay attention to your self-talk and your “stories.” Practice the mindfulness exercise which follows (yes, it’s here this week) to help “Stay in the Moment.” I you are in STL and want to learn more, I will be teaching my “Mindfulness in 5 Simple Steps: How to Stress Less and Live Better” at my practice, Midwest Mind Body Health Center on Saturday August 29 from 10-12:30 am. Click here to “Like” us on Facebook to find out more about this and upcoming events.

Have a good week. Namaste.

PSI Missouri Supports Moms: Our Turn to Help

Last week, I found out that my first baby and oldest daughter, Jessica, got into residency in general surgery and following much excitement, it made me think back to when she was born 27 years ago this May 18th. When I had Jess, I was already counseling postpartum moms and still decided not to follow my own good advice and got exhausted, emotionally depleted and mildly depressed. What a combo! I was one of the lucky moms though. After 3 months back at work part-time, my depression lifted and I felt myself again but I will never forget the challenge of those first few months.

Long story short, when my younger daughter Rachel was born almost 4 years later, I made my SELF-CARE A PRIORITY and had a great adjustment to new motherhood the second time. Again, I was fortunate and I’ve been a big believer in LIVING SELF-CARE ever since.

Now, it’s my pleasure to give back and raise funding for PSI Missouri and my friend who runs it, Linda Meyer, through “GIRLS NIGHT TO GIVE BACK.” PSI Missouri provides free phone and group support for any mom may be experiencing pregnancy or postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD and other emotional health conditions.  I only wish they would have been around when I had my babies.

So, we’re looking for women who want to experience a fun, relaxing and tasty evening on Thursday, April 9 from 5:30-8:30 at Feed Your Vitality, a new cool healthy eating venue at 1821 Cherokee. Click here to go to the e-vite invitation. It promises to be a good time for a good cause and if you can’t join us that night, you can still make a donation to this life-saving group online.

To read more about PPD, click here for Carrie Edelstein’s most excellent article which just came out in St. Louis magazine. To read more about PSI Missouri, click here.

Hope to see you there! Namaste

Living Self-Care: A Mindful Journey

Last week we started a new class Living Self-Care: A Mindful Journey at the Midwest Mind Body Health Center in STL which Stacey and I hope to offer online next month. We talked about our five mindfulness foundation skills, practiced “Simply Breathe,” and discussed how we could take care of “Our Bodies” outside of class.

My students gently reminded me how challenging it is to practice self-care and mindfulness outside of class and how helpful it is to have a group in which we deliberately set aside time to practice and how much they’d missed this. Honestly, I missed it too. Although I make time usually for self-care or mindfulness, I was also more lax since our weekly meetings stopped.

Likewise, because I often teach “formal” skills/exercises in class, I realized I hadn’t said enough about how to practice “informally” throughout the day with the opportunities that naturally occur. For example, today when I was out for a walk, I stopped to look and listen to a passing train until the caboose went by. Or the other day, noticing the passing clouds in the sky instead of rehearsing my to-do list. Or, being in the shower, and paying attention to the smell of the soap, the sound of the water hitting my skin and the way it feels when I open the shower door to grab my towel.

This week, see if you can find a group of like-minded souls to spend some mindful time together or look for ways to add informal practice wherever and whatever you’re doing. For formal practice, check out the “Simply Breathe” video above.

Best to each of you. Namaste.

My George

When I was first in therapy for anxiety and panic attacks, my therapist gave me an exercise: draw the anxiety. It ended up looking a little like E.T. but with a sour disposition. I named it, “George.”

The purpose of naming the anxiety wasn’t to adopt it permanently into my psyche; it was to have something that was NOT me to “blame” for anxious thoughts, feelings, etc. Though I don’t have panic attacks or much anxiety anymore, I still call George out when negative or illogical thoughts come to mind, causing me distress. This is a technique that I have shared with clients, most with success.

Here’s an example:

Jan works in an office with several other people. Because of her upbringing and low self-esteem, Jan believes that people don’t like her very much. In her quest to feel better about herself, Jan started therapy and named those ugly thoughts, “The Hulk,” because they feel angry and green.

On her way out to lunch, Jan passed her co-worker in the hall. Jan smiled, but the co-worker’s face did not change from one that looked a bit angry. “Oh no!” Jan thought. “Sheila is mad at me! What did I do?” Recognizing the angry, green feeling of her “Hulk,” Jan started questioning her thought.

“Have I had any interactions with Sheila that would cause anger on her part? No. I haven’t even spoken to her in a few days. Could there be another explanation for Sheila’s mood? Of course! She could be irritated or frustrated with a number of things that have nothing to do with me.”

As Jan focused on these questions, her “Hulk” turned back into mild-mannered Bruce Banner, who is way more manageable than his alter ego.

If you deal with anxiety, depression or just negative thinking, what does your “George” look like? What color, shape and texture is it? What is its name? By having a third party to “blame” for these thoughts, you are living healthier – for you are NOT your thoughts. And your thoughts do not have to direct your behavior. I have taken away George’s power to control me, and I’m much healthier for it!

Namaste’

 

Summer: A Time of Wonder

By Diane Sanford, PhD

Summer is a wonderful time to reflect on the magnificence of being alive. Enjoy reading Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day” below. This week, see what you can discover in the magic of a summer day and savor each moment. If you need a little help, the hummingbird picture above can be the focus of your contemplation.

Hummingbird photo from Maggie.

“The Summer Day”

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

~~Mary Oliver

Namaste.