I look outside my window as I write this blog post in the month of January. The outside world is covered with snow. Concrete paved streets and tall trees with lingering and withered leaves normally radiant with color are now left only with a glistening white residue. Everything beneath is in waiting... waiting to be uncovered... waiting to emerge.
Where are you? Are you too beneath the snow, waiting to emerge? Are you covered with residue from dreams long lost and goals unrealized? Are you silent, waiting to be noticed and given the opportunity of a lifetime?
Today, I remind each one of us to give that opportunity to ourselves. Out of the solid ground peeks a rosy pink and green bud. "This is me," you can tell yourself right now. "Today is a new day. There is no need to be silent or wait any longer. It is my time... to be born."
How do we maintain hope at times like these when the media tells us that so much is wrong with our world? We are told daily that the lives of immigrants, Muslims, Mexicans, women, Jews, People of Color, LGBTQI People, and just about everybody else, are in danger. We feel as if we are being put in a position where we must fight for our lives and our safety or die. We worry that will not survive if we sit idly by and do nothing.
We must condemn the hatred and animosity of our enemies while not becoming like them ourselves. This is a difficult job. We must stay centered within ourselves, our hearts, and our minds, for the Highest Good of the Universe to manifest. How do we take the higher road, when we are scared for our very lives and our very survival, and at the same time, take care of our hearts?
How can we be a force that grows stronger in love, truth, light and peace, rather than becoming like our enemies who choose to espouse hatred, lies, darkness, and violence? The wicked mindset of White supremacy and those who spew racist hate speech, commit violent actions against good and innocent human beings, and harbor racist beliefs toward those same good and innocent human beings is abhorrent. We must understand this mindset as antisocial pathology in terms of psychology.
It may be possible to treat these people psychologically. However, it is more important that we focus on ourselves and our own mental health concerns, taking care of ourselves first, before going out into the terror of the lions' den to convert and coax racist White supremacists from out of the darkness and into the light, although some of us may have the resources and inclination to do this work.
It is hard to accept that someone who we have elected to be the leader of our beloved country, a country of beautifully diverse individual citizens and groups, espouses these same erroneous beliefs and mindset.
Therefore, I would now like to suggest a few supportive exercises to sustain and grow our mental health while having to combat racism and White supremacy. Turn of the TV, the phone, the computer. Then, do these four things: (1) rest, (2) sit in meditation and practice deep breathing, (3) take quiet walks in nature, and (4) write down your thoughts and feelings in a journal. These practices that will help us find inner peace, quiet, balance, and will make us all more effective activists, healers and artists fighting for the Truth, Worth and Dignity of All of Us.
If you do not already have one, start a daily practice of breathing deeply for 10 to 20 minutes. I offer some guidance on meditation practice here: Daily Meditation.
Walks in Nature
Go to a neighborhood park or the woods if you have them nearby, or just take a quiet walk around the block, taking in the sights and sounds and practicing deep breathing as you walk. Stretch and relax your limbs. As you walk, let the chatter in your mind dissipate as you find your quiet center. Stand near a tree and feel yourself calmly inhale the oxygen it is producing for your breathing pleasure. Feel your heart calm down inside of your chest as you breathe. Turn up the corners of your mouth slightly into a relaxed smile. Remember it takes fewer muscles to smile than to frown, so turn that frown upside down...
Writing in a journal or notebook can help you sort out your thinking. Placing the stressful thoughts and feelings outside of you so you no longer carry them around inside of you where they can fester, contaminate your precious mind, and create a sense of overwhelm, is possible. Just write everything down, your fears, your cares, your worries... You might just feel so relieved by the time you are done, that you feel ready to run a marathon, literally or figuratively. As you write, you might also come up with some great ideas to execute in the work of social justice and building intercultural unity!
Every human being is a unique artist. Made in the image of Our Creator we, too, are creators. We enjoy making things as an extension of our own unique selves and our own creativity. It is good to make art and express ourselves creatively.
Some of us were taught that we are terrible artists, and we have aimed to cease all of our unique, creative expression lest we subject ourselves to further criticism, ridicule, and hurt. Some of us have learned to call others "good artists" and have learned to imitate others in their expression, thereby ruling out our own unique expression. We have learned to question ourselves.
It is simply not true that you are not a good artist. Of course, you are a good artist.
Each person has his or her own unique way of expressing him or herself. We must use our own unique creativity to free ourselves. It is possible to heal by making art. It is even good to have a practice of making art on a regular basis. This way, we build up our "art muscles" and create a channel inside of us for the healing and divine inspiration to come through. The more you try, the more you will see yourself and your squiggles develop into new and different squiggles and patterns. Keep going. See what's inside of you. Be curious.
Yes, you may not be Picasso or Monet, but why should you be? You are you, and who you are is perfect. You are exactly right just as you are. Your creativity is good. Express yourself!
Rest is important. Give yourself this gift. In times of rest, we replenish our energies. In this way, we become more effective actors in our own lives.
If you are busy at work throughout the day, take several breaks of 5-10 minutes to close your eyes and breathe deeply between tasks and between meetings. This will help your focus and concentration when you do return to doing work.
At the end of the week, take an entire day if you can, to do nothing but rest. On your day of rest, remember to have gratitude for all that is going well in your life. Count each and every one of your blessings. Nourish yourself with good and healthy food that revitalizes. Take naps that refresh and dream dreams that inspire. Read literature that makes your soul soar with pleasure. Laugh with glee. Go for a walk in the park and gaze at the beauty and wonder inherent in nature. Spend time with a friend. Discuss what matters most to you-- or just be silent. Notice your breath and the beat of your heart as they soothe you from inside your body. Do yoga. Listen to music. Dance with abandon. Sing with joy. Draw and paint from your imagination the dreams you wish to bring into being. Hold the hand of someone for whom you care deeply. Look calmly into the eyes of a stranger. See your own soul reflected there.
Take time to play among the posies. There is no time like the present to inhale the scent of sweet roses and magnolia. This is your life. Enjoy your time here on Earth, in work and in rest.
Meditation is a daily practice that will help you build the power of your mind. You can use this power in various ways. Many people practice daily meditation in order to decrease stress and find relaxation. Meditation is also a vehicle for helping yourself head-off obstacles before they arise and strengthen your internal resources to be able to handle whatever daily challenges may come your way.
Here is how you do it. Find a comfortable spot in which to sit quietly for 10-20 minutes. You may wish to sit on a pillow on the floor, or you may find a chair more comfortable. Rest your hands on your lap. Straighten your back if that feels like something you can do without too much strain or discomfort. Close your eyes or gaze at the floor a few feet in front of you. You want to make yourself comfortable, without distractions, for the next 10-20 minutes, so turn off any noise, close doors, limit distractions. Is the temperature too warm or too cold? Close or open windows, adjust heat or air conditioning as necessary. You may wish to set a timer for 10-20 minutes, or not.
Now that you have limited distractions and made yourself as comfortable as possible in your meditation spot... Breathe. Gently inhale. Feel the breath caress your nostrils as it moves into them. Then exhale. Feel the breath as it leaves your nostrils. Perhaps you would like to begin by counting eight counts for your inhale and eight counts for your exhale. If this feels like too much, try five or six counts.
You may notice you have thoughts going through your mind. Just let them pass like a cloud in the sky or like a leaf drifting on a stream. You may want to say to yourself, "Oh, there's a thought," and move on, without becoming attached to it.
Soon, you may find yourself in a very relaxed yet alert state. The more you do this daily practice over time, the more benefits you will come to know. If done daily, you will grow in inner peace and confidence, like a beautiful oak tree that is grounded firmly by its root foundation. You will come to know your own core. You are a light. Your inner beauty will shine outward, and you will feel deeply connected to yourself and your purpose. This is my hope for you.
Sometimes we may feel overwhelmed. Life seems to be handing us more than we can deal with. At these times, it is important to bring yourself and your focus back to the present moment. Breathing can help you connect with the present moment. Inhale and feel your breath move gently across your nostrils. Exhale and feel your breath move gently across your nostrils. Straighten your back. Hold your head up. Continue to breathe, noticing your breath. In this moment, this very moment, everything is all right. Everything is okay. Everything is fine. The more we can bring ourselves back to the present moment, the less overwhelmed we will feel.
You choose your focus. You can choose to focus on everything overwhelming all at once, or you can choose to focus on the present moment. The present moment contains peace. From this place of peace, you can see more clearly what needs to get done and what your options are for completing your tasks. You do not need to DO anything in the present moment, just breathe and focus on peace.
Take time out for yourself. Remember to do what makes you happy. You need down-time to relax and heal. The world will continue to make demands on us. It is important that we draw boundaries that help protect us, and our time, so that we may continue to feel good and be well. Self-care is a concept which often goes overlooked by busy people with much to accomplish. This may be especially true if you are a caregiver for others. Treat yourself well by creating time and space for your own life to matter and to put yourself first.
Allow your dreams to come to fruition! We can all manifest our dreams by creating our own unique vision for our lives, incorporating ideas, art, and imagery which come from within our minds, hearts and souls. No matter your desires, creating your artistic vision by selecting photos and words from magazines as well as incorporating your own artwork within a supportive group atmosphere will help you increase focus and motivation toward the achievement of your goals. The pictures you choose for your map send a strong message to your unconscious mind that will circumvent any doubts or insecurities, and illuminate your path with hope and clarity while energizing your future. Elana Stanger, LCSW will facilitate the process and offer her own insights about the power of dream mapping to help your vision soar.