Archive for March 2017

An Ode to the Garden of Home || Dorothy Wallis

An Ode to the Garden of Home

By Dorothy Wallis

     Sunbeams, blue sky and daily temperatures rising into the high 70’s beckon me into the garden.  Sweet birdsong from robins, finches and doves lighten my mood.  The bright blue jacketed jays distinctly stand out as they sit in tree branches just beginning to bud out.  I feel drawn to the mystery taking place under the dry leaves.  Finding my garden gloves and wielding one lawn rake, one shrub rake, my favorite Felco pruners, and garden shears, I venture into the orchard.  It feels so good to stretch my arms and limbs in the rhythmic motion of raking the leaves and shriveled stems off of the candytuft.  Luscious green mounds appear to float above the ground.  In just weeks these mounds will be covered in a cloud of tiny white blossoms.  Each motion of my rake uncovers more jewels of lime green shoots popping up out of the orchard bed.  Blooms of purple, yellow and white crocus and early yellow and white daffodils show their sunny faces.  Is it a trick of my eyes or am I actually seeing the wild strawberry plants dotting the sides of the stone pathways unfurling their leaves and reaching towards the light?

     The birds are very busy steadfastly scouting locations for their nests and building them.  They are not bothered by my presence nor by my cat as she stalks a vole under the low boughs of the Colorado Spruce.  The sap is rising; the buds are swelling and life is returning to the tips of the apple and pear trees.  The ruby red calyxes dripping off every twig crown the ‘Red Sunset’ maples with a regal garment of majesty.

     I trim last years stalks down to the base of the peonies and discover plump burgundy sprouts waiting to make their run to the sky.  Once released from the dark womb of creation the sovereign Paeonia surges growth of incomparable speed as it must burst its beauteous explosion of voluptuous bounty for all to see.  My heart expands with the joy of the promise of its magnificently rich buxom blossoms. 

     Another aristocrat is already showing off her pristine stellated tutu of white.  Lucky for her, Royal Star Stellata Magnolia, may actually get to pirouette and dance an entire month to entice the bees before a notorious Colorado spring snow deflates her.  She is offering a very special gift this year, as I cannot remember a year when she has so enthusiastically displayed such a flourishing abundance of bloom.  I feel her thankfulness for the years of appreciation of her splendor and for tending to her needs.

     It is a bittersweet pang of nostalgia and gratitude I feel for every being in this garden that has taught me and nurtured my growth.  In a few short months, I will be leaving this garden and moving on. 

     When I first came to this land, it was barren of trees and shrubs.  Sloping down to the south, a split rail fence fringed the property line before sharply falling to an open space meadow filled with cattails and grasses skirting a wending farmers canal.  Delicate native Prickly White Poppy wove and wildly interlaced itself between lush grasses.  It was glorious in its natural state and I could envision the home I had designed snugly nestled into it.  Purchasing and inhabiting the land began a new adventure. 

     One day while our home was being built, my three-year-old daughter and her dad went for a walk in our established Denver neighborhood and gathered maple wing seeds.  They put them in pots and placed them safely under the immense spread of the canopy of the old lilac shrub.  Early settlers brought this old fashioned variety from the mid west to the region; its fragrance and lavender color are legendary.  The maple seeds sprouted and grew into long thin stems.  We were amazed to discover that lilacs had also seeded themselves into the pots.  They grew full and lush as the months passed.  Finally, it was time to transport them to their new home.  Gently teasing the roots apart, the maples and lilacs became the first plants to settle into the new land. 

     Plans and visions emerged.  “What a gift; here is land that I get to touch with the joy and beauty I envision.”  Tedious hours spent tilling, shaping the land, building beds, amending the soil with compost, planting, cultivating and tending bestow an ever changing harmony of creation.  The land is impressed with the memory of each creature, plant and being that dwells and dies here.  What unfolds is more than a place for my artistic expression.  Nature has her own desires.  Plants grow, some thrive, some die, some become sentinels sheltering newbies and providing rich humus for wild vagabonds to join the community.  One of the beloved seed grown maples grows into a glorious beauty stretching her arms out and shading the dining room window through many summers.  An infamous spring storm dashes through bringing heavy wet snow breaking her main trunk.  We mourn her passing not only for her greatness but also for the loss of not realizing the future legacy of seeing her grow into old age, which was the sacred intention of the child and father that planted those seeds.  Yet, surprisingly the thin weak looking straggly maple at the back of the yard from those same seeds takes on the job of being the sole survivor and grows into the tallest tree on the property.  He slowly and patiently rises straight and tall before opening his arms outward as if a germ of wisdom calculated the angle and thickness of branches needed to bear the weight of wet snow in order to minimize the risk.  He still stands…for now. 

     Another prized tree, a sweet Cherry, grows a very thick shiny rust colored trunk with equally large shiny leaves.  She is radiant and captures the attention of all who see her.  The birds check on the ripening berries each spring day, tasting them and spitting out the sour ones.  The ground is littered with the debris.  We are happy to savor the sweet ones the flocks have left on the lower branches. 

      Unfortunately for the birds, and us, at twenty-two years her life ended abruptly.  High temperatures in November preceded a dramatic freezing drop.  Many fruit trees, including cherries and plums, had not gone dormant; their sap froze, swelled and burst the walls supplying life-giving nutrition.  Months later, it was painful to see her brittle bare branches when all of the other trees were green with life.  It took some time to remove her as our hearts wept.  In her place a red twig dogwood gallantly and courageously planted itself, mirroring the shiny rouge of her bark.

     Hardier species of evergreens, trees, and plants continue to adapt and bear the brutal force of nature’s onslaught along with nature’s bountiful grace.  With every plant that dies, a new one makes its entrance.  Drifts of enchanting species emerge, make a bold appearance and have their day.  Just like life, the garden is an ever-changing, self-renewing kaleidoscope. 

     The wee child has grown.  I honor this land that has given support to dreams, taught me patience, resilience and that struggle and sadness mixed with great joy are all necessary aspects of growth.  I fall in love with every life form and delight in the uniqueness of their being.  My heart hurts at their passing and my heart trumpets at the arrival of a fresh discovery.  Change is constant and the lesson is to treasure the beings and people that inhabit my world.  This land has bequeathed a divine gift to me, my family, and friends, teaching us what it truly means to love and be in relationship with one another and with life.  Reflecting on what has been and what will be brings a deeper appreciation for the precious moments and movement that create a rich life. 

It all adds up to love of Home.


How Emotions Affect the Body || Lora Cheadle

The Mind/Body Connection of How Emotions Affect the Body

By: Lora Cheadle

Our bodies and our minds are endlessly adaptable. There is quite literally an endless variety of adaptations that our bodies and our minds can make, allowing us to survive in even the harshest of mental or physical circumstances. Although this ability is useful in a wide variety of circumstances, it also the reason that emotions can get stuck in our bodies, negatively impacting our health as well as our mental well-being.

Physical and Emotional Traumas Both Have Physical Manifestations

When we break a leg, and are in a full leg cast for an extended period of time, our bodies adapt to the gait and manner of walking with one leg straight. Remove the cast, and for the first several days it’s difficult to walk normally again. Our physical body adapted. Without mirrors, physical therapy or the conscious desire to return to a normal gait, our limp might remain permanent, even though there is no physical reason to maintain the straight-legged gait.

The same is true with physical patterning with regard to emotion. Different emotions result in different physical posturing, and our body language changes depending on the emotions we are experiencing. Unlike a limp however, emotions are not tangible. We cannot simply look in a mirror and see where we are holding emotion in our bodies. Therefore, it can be difficult to identify and release the emotions that are unnecessarily being held in our bodies.

But just like the resulting limp from a broken leg, unnecessarily holding emotions in the body can be just as debilitating. Whether we call it baggage, triggers or psychological damage, emotional experiences impact our physical bodies. Since emotions cannot exist outside of the body, the only way to hold or express emotions, is through the body!

How Emotions Get Stuck in the Body

Think about your own body posturing when you are trying not to be noticed. Have you ever worn the wrong type of clothing to an event? Been awkwardly taller than those around you? Had a blouse that kept gaping open or a zipper that kept sliding down? Chances are, in an attempt to not be noticed, your body posturing changed. Perhaps you slouched, pulled your shoulders up and forward or hung and head. Maybe you presented the side of your body instead of meeting people head on, kept your arms crossed over your chest or literally tried to make your body compact, and smaller than it was.

Our feelings of embarrassment, nervousness, or our desire not to be noticed manifested in our bodies, in the form of tension in the shoulders, neck or chest, due to slouching, or pain in the knees, ankles or feet, due to slight squatting and keeping the body turned sideways. Our physicality reflected what was happening on an emotional level.

Over time, our bodies can get stuck in a variety of emotional holding patterns. Just like the limp from wearing as cast too long, we can slump, slouch, squat or protect out of habit, even when there is no longer an emotional reason to do so.

Emotional Holding Patterns That Cause Physical Symptoms

Take the case of long-time caregivers, who often have the tendency to slouch. Whether it’s from holding babies or from leaning over beds to check on patients, the emotions of nurturing, protecting, care and concern become synonymous with stooped posture. Over time, whenever those caregiver feel the same emotions they feel when checking ono patients or children, the physical patterning of slouching follows suit. The emotions literally get stuck in the body’s muscles.

Although the caregiver might have enough strength and flexibility to physically stand up straight, on an emotional level, standing up straight is as emotionally threatening as asking that caregiver to stop feeling emotions of nurturing, care or concern.

How to Release Stuck Emotions From the Body

A good way to begin untangling the emotions from the body is to start noticing your body in a variety of situations. At home, at work, with friends or while you are alone. Notice how your body feels when you experience different emotions. Begin to see the correlation between your body’s posturing and your emotional state.

Notice what you feeling and where. Is it tension in the neck, back or shoulders? Is it a holding in your stomach or a gripping with your thighs? Do you have a pain in your foot, difficulty breathing, or clenching in your jaw or fists? Is there an obvious physical posture that is causing this tightness or sensation, such as slouching, leaning, gripping or holding?

Identifying both the emotion as well as the posture is the key. After identifying the emotion, analyze whether this emotion is currently present in your world today, possibly necessitating the physical posturing, or whether this patterning is a holdover from a past situation.

Sometimes simply recognizing holdover behavior is enough to release it. Other times, deeper psychological work may be necessary. In either event, one of the most effective ways to deal with physical patterning that is the result of an emotional issue, is to do this 30 second meditation.

Take a few deep breaths. As you are breathing, focus on feeling your body both physically as well as emotionally. Focus on aligning, straightening, expanding and opening your body. Feel like you are stacking your bones, one on top of the other, and that they are so perfectly balanced, you no longer need any muscular tension in order to keep your bones in place. Relax your muscles and breathe.

Focus on your emotional state. Gently let any stressful or negative emotions either float up, and out your body, or drain down, and out of your body. If you know the emotional trigger that caused your tension, affirm to yourself that that situation is in the past, and can no longer impacts you, or your body any longer. If you are not aware of your trigger, affirm for yourself that even though you are not aware of the root cause of your tension, you still unconditionally love and accept yourself. Affirm that from this point forward, you are no longer impacted by that, which in the past, caused you to hold tension or emotion in your physical body.

Take one more breath, imagining, visualizing or pretending that both your physical body and your emotions are uniting in a place of unity, peace, resilience and healthy harmony.

And so it is!


To read more of Lora’s writing, visit her website.

About the Author: Not sure what lights your fire, or do you know exactly what lights your fire, but you keep spinning your wheels? Either way, Lora’s got you covered! Whether it’s through an Angel Reading or through hypnotherapy, where the subconscious mind is brought on board with the conscious mind, working with Lora reveals your divine path and gets you chugging down the road in no time. As a former lawyer, (She knows firsthand the courage it takes to following a new path!) Lora is very straight forward and process- oriented, using modalities that that yield results. No crystal balls or goddess robes here!

Doubt…Creator of Mountains || Jenny St. Claire

Doubt…Creator of Mountains

By: Jenny St. Claire

You are about to do something where you will be truly seen and a feeling comes over you –  you’re frozen or shaking on the inside, maybe both, and thoughts start quietly sliding into your consciousness.  As the seconds go by, the volume escalates until they are screaming at you:

What if I’m not good enough for my partner’s family?

What if I can’t actually do this job I’m so passionate about?

What if I’m too (fat, hairy, flat-chested, zitty, wrinkly, old) for someone to love me?

What if I can’t earn enough money to care for my family?

What if I don’t fit in because I do/feel/think differently than everyone else?

What if people find out that I’m not as perfect as they think I am?

Sound familiar?  The common denominator in all of these thoughts is doubt.

“Your faith can move mountains and your doubt can create them.” ~ unknown

Doubt is defined as a feeling of uncertainty about the truth, reality, or nature of something.  Further, it is a hesitation to believe.  When we’re doubting the truth or nature of ourselves, it can be debilitating.  It can keep us from taking any step leading toward what we’re wanting in life.  On a deeper level, if we’re hesitating to believe in ourselves, the pain can slam us right to the core.  Ultimately, doubt can spark shame, which is the felt sense that we are bad.

According to Brené Brown, in her book Daring Greatly, we have twelve areas that can trigger our shame: appearance and body image, money and work, motherhood/fatherhood, family, parenting, mental and physical health, addiction, sex, aging, religion, surviving trauma and being stereotyped. 

In addition to our shame filled culture, we also buy into the idea of lack.  Brené believes this sense of shortage extends to how we perceive ourselves.  Fill in the blank of this sentence: “I am never _________ enough.”  How many sentences can you come up with?  Spend a week investigating these pervasive messages and you’ll probably discover more than you were aware of.

These kinds of thoughts are painful!  Since we don’t really want to be present with our doubts, we have a tendency to turn away from them.  Brené outlines in her book a variety of ways we do this (which I’ve summarized): numbing with alcohol, drugs, sugar, food, sex, social media and technology is incredibly common.  Other ways we avoid doubt are perfectionism, trying to control everything, playing the role of victim, oversharing, or becoming critical.

The bottom line is this:  whenever you want to take a step where you might feel vulnerable, doubt will rear its head.  At best, it will only make you pause.  At worst, it will stop you in your tracks.

When you step back and look at yourself and your life as a whole, do you really want doubt to hold you back?  Would you rather risk being vulnerable, really being seen for who you are, in order to create connections with others?  To make your dreams a reality?

If you’re willing to find the courage to open to vulnerability, to choose to believe in yourself, here are a few things that can help you through:

  1. Notice if you’re numbing out. If so, what are you avoiding?  Facing a hard truth will be uncomfortable for a little while, but it’s better than using your energy to avoid it for a lifetime.
  2. Remember all of the fears you have already overcome. How did you overcome them?  Try it again.
  3. Get in touch with what you want more: having what you desire or being stymied by doubt.
  4. Decide to wonder. I wonder what it will be like when I succeed…  I wonder if it will all go better than I’m thinking it will…  These kinds of questions open you up to possibility.
  5. Brené suggests finishing this sentence, “I’m feeling vulnerable and I’m grateful for ________.”

I’ve heard it said in many ways that happiness is just outside your comfort zone.  Doubts keep you within the safety of your comfort zone.  In order to reach happiness, we need to embrace vulnerability and choose to believe in ourselves.  Here’s to you!


About the Author: Jenny is one of the many phenomenal interns working in the People House Affordable Counseling Program. With over 15 years of experience as a Spiritual Counselor, 4 years as a teacher of meditation and energy work and 2 years as a Wellness Coordinator, Jenny is a wonderful addition to the People House community. Jenny is a gentle and reflective soul who is committed to inspiring her clients to reconnect with themselves, find meaning and create positive changes. For more information or to contact Jenny, please see her therapist bio.

In the Land of Pain: Grieving a Suicide || Mary Coday Edwards

By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA.

March 10, 2017

Ranking 10th highest in the nation, Colorado’s suicide rate of 20 per 100,000 residents is more than 65% higher than the national average of 13.8. In 2015, about three Coloradoans per day chose to kill themselves.

Research suggests that for every suicide, at least six people experience a major life disruption, but it can impact up to 25.

The Walking Wounded

That’s a lot of sad, suffering people (see chart ).

Entity, 2015 Rate, Per 100,000 population+ Total Deaths Total Population Suicide Loss Survivors, @ 6/ Suicide Suicide Loss Survivors, @ 25/ Suicide
U.S. 13.8 44,193 321,418,820 265,000 1,105,000
Colorado 20.0   1,093     5,466,000     6,560       27,325
Denver County 13.9       94        682,000       564        2,350

Sources:  See Notes 1 & 2.

+Suicide rate = (number of suicides by group / population of group) X 100,000

Some facts defining this wounding:

-The majority of men will use a firearm; women will use poison.

-Men are about four times more likely than women to die of suicide, but three times more women than men report attempting suicide.

-Nearly all completed suicides are among individuals with mental illness.

-Nationally, one suicide occurs every 11.9 minutes; therefore, there are either six or 25 new suicide loss survivors every 11.9 minutes.

-In the United States, suicides outnumber homicides about two to one.

-At-risk population groups are men over age 75 and in mid-life.

-Other groups include:

     -young people struggling with their sexual orientation/identification,

     -veterans and military personnel, and

     -Native Americans.

In this blog, I’m not addressing assisted suicide or Western attitudes of fear and perhaps terror over death.

Nor will I focus on the morality of suicide: “is it right/wrong, good/bad?”

Instead, my focus is on the suffering of suicide loss survivors.

“ … you learn to dance with the limp.” ― Anne Lamott

Grief is messy, not so neat and tidy as the drawing on the left, which shows grief actually stopping before it ends.

The picture on the right not only shows a back-tracking, circuitous entanglement with grief, but more accurately, we don’t just dust our hands off and walk away. The arrow continues.

We as a species are hard-wired to grieve; it’s the universal, instinctual, and adaptive reaction to the loss of a loved one. It’s normal.

I like that idea.

We come packaged not only to love, but to grieve the loss of our loved ones (3).

We are equipped to mourn death.

But suicide loss short-circuits that instinct.  

Grief Reactions and Characteristics

Grief has been described as one of the most painful experiences an individual ever faces. In his work on suicide bereavement, Illiant Tal Young (4) subcategorizes grief as follows:

Acute grief: the initial painful response, characterized by numbness, shock, and denial, anguish, loss, anger, guilt, regret, anxiety, fear, intrusive images, depersonalization. Constant feelings of anguish and despair eventually give way to showing up as waves or bursts – pangs of grief. A memory hits us when we’re least expecting it. For me, a dearly beloved passed about six months ago, and I’m hit with this loss when I catch myself saying, “I must tell Bob about this.” And then remember I can’t, at least not in the way I used to.

Integrated grief: Under most circumstances, acute grief instinctively transitions to integrated grief. Signs of this happening include the ability of the bereaved to recognize that they have grieved, to be able to think of the deceased with equanimity, to return to work, to re-experience pleasure. For many, new wisdom and strengths, as well as broader perspectives emerge in the aftermath of loss.

Complicated grief (CG) is a bereavement response in which acute grief is prolonged, causing distress and interfering with day-to-day functioning. Acute grief remains persistent and intense and does not transition into integrated grief. CG is sometimes labeled as prolonged, unresolved, or traumatic grief.  

And it is in this land of complicated grief that suicide loss survivors often dwell.

More than Feelings of Loss, Sadness, and Loneliness

Questions haunt their existence: “Why didn’t I see the symptoms?” “Why didn’t I do more?” “Why wasn’t I there for her?”

Not seeing all the factors that went into the choice for suicide, the bereaved takes on unnecessary responsibility, resulting in self-blame.  The suicide is seen as an event that could have been prevented.

Survivors may feel abandoned, rejected, or angry at the deceased for “checking out”, leaving their loved ones behind.

In some cases, suicide is still stigmatized – along with mental illness. This can keep the bereaved stuck in shame, afraid to truthfully discuss the cause of death. Isolated from the community, they cut themselves off from counseling and the support of loved ones.

The majority of suicide methods involve considerable violence to the body, which can leave the survivors in trauma. Suicide loss survivors are more likely than other bereaved individuals to develop symptoms of PTSD.

And suicide loss survivors are at a greater risk of committing suicide themselves.

“Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.” – Megan Divine

Summarizing, Young says treatment should include the best combinations of education, psychotherapy, and pharmacotherapy, often with a focus on depression, guilt, and trauma.

Through mindfulness practices, the bereaved can train in paying attention non-judgmentally to their body’s stress signals.  They learn to respond vs. react to the flight-or-fight chemicals coursing through their bodies, spawned by emotions of self-blame, anger, rejection, and possible stigma-induced shame.

Support groups have proved invaluable to those finding themselves unable to talk with family or community members.

And as always, People House ministers, counselors, therapists, and staff are here to assist individuals and families navigating this painful territory. People House contact details are provided on our home page at https://www.peoplehouse.org/ as well as a drop-down menu listing People House Practitioners.

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Notes & Sources:

1.)USA Suicide: 2015 Official Final Data. American Association of Suicide. http://www.suicidology.org

2.)Denver County Births & Deaths 2015: http://www.chd.dphe.state.co.us/Resources/vs/2015/Denver.pdf

3.)Exceptions are there, of course, when mental illness robs us of that capability and/or childhood trauma – to name only two.

4.) Young, Iliant Tal, et al. Suicide Bereavement and Complicated Grief, Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3384446/ Published 0nline June 2012

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About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation

 

Here is a list of the other blog Mary has written for People House:

 

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People House: a Center for Personal and Spiritual Growth