A Network of Grateful Living: Healing for all

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I hope the rest of you are familiar with “A Network for Grateful Living.” I discovered them through their wonderfully healing short video A Good Day, which offered me a whole new perspective on what a good day can be. I started watching this video ten years ago. This video has changed my life.

Here’s a short statement of how they see their present work:

“These are moments that call on us to harness the greatest courage and conviction that our hearts can muster. Holding fast to our connectedness, faith, creativity, values-clarity, and our tenacity to love more deeply than ever – this is the work of our times. 

Our work is to offer a wellspring of nourishment, support, and inspiration for you and this community; that we might collectively move through the moments of our days, and the days of our lives, uplifting and helping to heal ourselves, one another, and the world. Thank you for drinking from this well…”

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I personally cannot summarize my own work any better than that…

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Living in the simplicity of the present

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I have been changed by the experience of leaving city life behind. The greatest change has been my new ability to at least occasionally be in the present. I see now that before I moved here, I was constantly stressed out, and in distraction mode.

“Distractions are both more tempting and more destructive than we realize. It’s tempting to fill in every little minute of the day with productivity or distractions. Don’t. Leave some emptiness.”  – Zen Habits

It seems to me that cities are set up for constant distraction. Any time you feel uncomfortable in any way, you can call up someone to go see, order some new kind of food, go out shopping or to see a movie. People in cities spend most of their time sitting in traffic or driving somewhere else. Cities are distraction machines, and the Internet is the ultimate, easily available escapism.

meditation and the sun

Being in the present means you are not planning ahead. You are sitting still, willing to be here now to observe and absorb your present surroundings with no thoughts of yesterday or tomorrow, and no need to distract yourself. I find many of the observations of ZenHabits.com useful in my new mindset:

“If you’re filling your life with distractions, its probably because you’re afraid of what life would be like without constant Internet, social media, news, TV, games, snacks.”

To be honest, I never really had the time to gain full awareness of all of this until I moved away from modern American life. I knew I was anxious and not as relaxed as I wanted to be in the city, and now I see why. Cities simply raise anxiety levels. I know because it took me at least a year away from a city to see how anxious I have been most of my life, and then find ways to allow myself to truly relax.

I have been a worry shopper my whole life. Once I solved one problem I moved on to the next one. Here there is so little to worry about, leaving me much more time to focus on what is important to me. Now that’s a great new challenge! And what is important to me now is a few important relationships, and appreciating the natural world and its wonders.

We can sit and dream about so many things, but we would be wasting our lives. This present reality is all we get. Let’s learn to love it.

 

 

Three Ways of Confronting Suicide

Since 2010, photographer Dese’Rae Stage has taken snapshots of Americans to highlight an issue that most choose to ignore.

Dese'Rae Stage“You hear that word suicide and you think, ‘I don’t want to go there’ but this project is not about death. This project is about life. My work is about life.” Ms. Stage has chosen to tell the stories of suicide survivors through her photos and words. All the people in Ms. Stage’s exhibit — almost 200 of them — survived at least one suicide attempt. They agreed to let Stage use their names, tell their stories, and take a portrait for a project called Live Through This.

“When I woke up after I was in a coma for three days, I realized that ‘OK, God, the universe, did not see fit for me to, leave here like I wanted to,'” said Nancy Nettles, 50, who tried to overdose with pills.

Ms. Stage feels her project gives people permission to talk about a topic which I have found to be mostly taboo in our world today. As controversy swirls around videos like “13 Reasons Why” available on Netflix, and opioid deaths continue to rise, do we choose to confront this issue publicly, or pretend that if we ignore it, it will certainly go away?

opioid deaths in 2015

“Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015.”   One of my cousins died of a heroin overdose a few years ago, and last week I heard of two other suicides from individuals I had just met. How long can we ignore this national crisis?

Do we simply not care about Americans who choose to kill themselves? I believe the first step is for all of us who have ever considered suicide to fess up. If everyone of us who have ever felt that miserable and desperate for our lives to get better, would say so, suicide could become a topic to be discussed and awareness would improve dramatically.

I considered suicide a few times, and I am so glad I didn’t do it. I had no idea what I would have missed in this wild experience called life. Suicide is such a permanent solution to a temporary problem. It may seem like the easy way out, but you will miss so much if you are tempted by this ‘easy’ solution.

Laura and Rasta Feb 2013 focusedLooking back over 62 years of life, I would have missed finally finding love at age 49 with the best person I have ever met, and the amazing experience of relating totally to one other human being with no disappointments. I would have missed finally finding ‘home’ in a new part of Colorado with breath-taking views, surrounded by the beauty and silence of nature. I would have missed finally attaining my dream of writing professionally and publishing my own books. I would have missed enjoying my parents in their elder years. In short, I would have missed out on most of my amazing life.

What a waste that would have been. Life is a continuous unfolding… Anything can happen!

How do you work with fear?

“I’ve experienced many terrible things in my life, a few of which actually happened.” – Mark Twain

make the world with our thoughts BuddhaI have only recently challenged myself to choose my worries and thoughts, instead of letting my mind choose them. If I find myself focusing on thoughts I don’t enjoy or choose, I change my mind. I turn to more compassionate and positive thoughts. I was never taught that this is possible, but it is.

Golden Kingdom film BurmaI just saw a new film: “Golden Kingdom” by Brian Perkins. This is the first feature film made in Myanmar since its recent opening to the outside world. Here we are offered a simple, quiet film about four young, orphan monks living in a Buddhist monastery in a remote part of Northeast Burma. The head monk departs on a long journey from which he may never return, leaving the boys alone in the middle of the a forest filled with unknown dangers.

Once the boys are on their own, strange, magical occurrences begin to occur. Orphan Witazara, the eldest, realizes he needs to protect the three younger boys throughout a series of bizarre events, all of which threaten to unravel the fabric of the young monks’ reality.

More specifically, this is a study of traditional Buddhist practice. Blending documentary-style observation with some embellished storytelling, this picturesque portrait of four child monks, forced to fend for themselves in the absence of their mentor, adds a bracing spiritual dimension to an otherwise universal boys-to-men arc.

golden kingdom in the grasses Burma

In one of the most powerful scenes for me, Orphan Witazara confronts an unseen evil in the woods. His response is to repeat over and over again one of his primary teachings:

If I look at what frightens me, it will go away.

When I thought about that teaching for a while, I found it to be much like something I have learned in my exploration of counseling psychology. When we try to ignore our fears, they can become larger and more scary in our minds. But if we have the courage to confront what we fear and gain awareness of where that fear may come from, if we free ourselves to explore where that fear comes from inside of us, it may gradually lose its power over us.

Awareness is the first step towards freedom from fear.

death and taxes signBegin with the awareness that we alone can free ourselves of our own fears. So many worries can be solved with a new attitude of “Who cares?” Even working with what most of us fear most, death, is workable. If we confront the reality that every single person you have ever known and will ever meet, must die, somehow makes death more approachable. We’re all in this together as living human beings, leading to gratitude for each new day.

Everything you want is on the other side of fear…

Mindfulness: Relax and Let Go…

The ABC News just found in a new survey that the thing most would prefer to do on vacation this year is NOTHING. Most would like to disconnect from the world and simply, fully relax. We have become specialists in this, since moving to the country.

Tension and relaxationFor many the greatest challenge is to let go of any thoughts we have of getting things done. I have had extra assistance with this problem as my brain injuries and shortness of breath from COPD often demand that I relax regularly during the day. After we completed our new home and moved in August 1st of 2015, we found it almost too easy to simply stare at the mountains and be here now. This is the LIFE!

Field of Wild Iris near Stonewall

Living in a quiet, peaceful setting creates new awareness and lowers stress levels tremendously.

But if you should need help in pure relaxation, try this meditation on letting go from Stephen Levine, one of my spiritual teachers since discovering his books in the 80s. Here’s a short excerpt:

Once and for all, completely relinquish control. Let go of fear and doubt. Let each thing float in its own nature.

Dissolve into the vast spaciousness of awareness. No body. No mind. Just thought. Just feelings. Just sensations. Bubbles. Floating in vast space. An instant of thought. Of hearing. Of remembering. Of fearing. Like waves, rising for an instant and dissolving back into the ocean of being. Into the vastness of your true nature.

No one to be. Nothing to do. Let each instant unfold as it will.
No resistance anywhere. Let the wind blow right through you.

No one to be, just this much. This instant is enough.
Nowhere to go, just now. Just here.
Nothing to do, just be.
Holding nowhere, we are everywhere at once.

Stephen, who spent his life working with those full of grief, died last year. A quote from him:

Don't let the world make you hard...“Our ordinary, everyday grief accumulates as a response to the burdens of disappointments and disillusionment, the loss of trust and confidence that follows the increasingly less satisfactory arch of our lives. In order to avoid feeling this grief we armor our hearts, which leads to a gradual deadening of our experience of the world. When a loved one dies, or indeed when our own death approaches, the intensity of the loss often renders our defenses ineffective and we are swept up by a deluge of griefs, both old and new.”                                                                            Stephen’s books are all wonderful. I cried my way through “Healing into Life and Death” many years ago, and recently found his “Unattended Sorrow” quite healing…  His books are all about finding compassion for yourself and your own suffering so you can love the world again.                                                                                                                              Stephen always said “soften the belly.”

Bicycle injuries rising among older riders

She was just going out for a short bike ride around her neighborhood. It didn’t seem necessary to carry an ID, or even wear a helmet. Ten minutes later she was found lying on the ground unconscious near a bike path. The bystander who found her, called 911 and an ambulance arrived soon afterwards. Then a kind Emergency Medical Technician whisked her off to the emergency room with her mind constantly weaving in and out of consciousness. After numerous X-rays and cat scans she ended up in the neuro unit of the hospital for observation.

This is a true story.  It happened to me back in 2008 in Fort Collins. My own tumble over the handle bars and into a nasty bike accident, led to fractured ribs, an injured wrist and thigh, and a traumatic brain injury.

This is my warning to you who think riding a bike is still as easy as climbing back on again. 

Injuries among older riders have jumped dramatically in recent years. Between 1998 and 2013, bike injuries among all adults over the age of 18 increased 28 percent, while hospital admissions jumped 120 percent. Head traumas went from 10 percent to 16 percent of all injuries in the same period.

Older bicyclists fueled much of that increase in injuries, especially ones that required an emergency room visit. Injuries among those 45+ jumped 81 percent and hospital admissions increased 66 percent, from 39 percent to 65 percent of total injuries. While death rates for cyclists younger than 15 fell by 92 percent between 1975 and 2012, death rates for cyclists between the ages of 35 and 74 showed a large increase, according to CDC data.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/bicycle-injuries-rise-especially-for-older-riders/

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SO much FUN when you’re YOUNG!

While I do not want to discourage you from healthy exercise as you age, be careful out there! I feel the effects of my brain injury everyday, especially when I write or speak with others. My memory is definitely not the same and it also completely depends on what area of the brain you injure.  I find I tire quickly in social situations, and the first sign that I am getting overwhelmed is when I cannot think of the proper word for something, a difficult feeling for one who has always been proud of her ability with words.

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On the flip side, my brain injuries (yes I suffered a second concussion after we moved in here!) have taught me to slow down, meditate more, and enjoy each moment as it arrives.

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Besides now living in a quiet and contemplative part of Colorado, I have learned some wonderful relaxation techniques that are quite FUN regardless of your brain injury status.

Take care of that old personal computer up there! You only get one.

Don’t look back, you can never look back…

sexagenarian joke by Gracie AllenAs a sexagenarian (great name for our sixties, huh?) I have entered into a period of being in the present in such a lovely, positive, relaxing way. This feels somehow like my reward for living life fully, to do what I want and answer to nobody.

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Something about living in an amazing natural place keeps me present most of the time, so much so that I rarely want to leave. I find nature so grounding.

But, as a therapist, I would like to make the case for paying attention to those moments in your past that you simply cannot let go, those moments that come up in your dreams and demand more psychic attention. I know that if I had not gone through a divorce and job loss in my late 40s and then decided to re-think my life, I would not be so content today.

past better not bitterPart of that process for me was contacting a key person from my past for a few astonishingly healing and cathartic conversations. Only you can decide whether letting your past go is possible and healing, or doing something in the present will expedite your movement into a better present and future. In my case I was quite lucky, because the lover from my past was also seeking redemption and healing. I don’t think any other choice would have provided that kind of healing for both of us. The whole experience felt like a blessing.

How to Believe in Love Again!Sometimes the only way to move on is to take note of what you simply cannot let go of in your past. I would not know about this without experiencing it personally. To learn more about psychic healing and how it can help you believe in love again, I offer you my book: How to Believe in Love Again: Opening to Forgiveness, Trust, and Your Own Inner Wisdom. If you purchase it used through Amazon, I receive nothing, so please send me an e-mail at: MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com to request a copy. I promise you a great price!