The New Holy Trinity Defined

“My soul is old; my body is young; my mind drifts in between.”

In Christian circles, the Holy Trinity refers to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As a child growing up in the Christian church, I admit I had a hard time getting my head around that one, and even today, I don’t find it easy to explain. Nowadays, the Holy Trinity is a bit different for me. I prefer to think of it in terms of body-mind-spirit which together, refers to our totality as human beings. So what exactly are the body, mind and spirit?

In ordinary human terms, the body is the physical structure we haul out of bed in the morning. It requires care, and we use it to do things. Sometimes it doesn’t work so well, necessitating medical intervention. If you want to get technical, the body is composed primarily of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorous along with some other trace elements.

However, if you take a closer look at the body, you will realize what a miracle it is. Consider this: An egg cell the size of a pinpoint is fertilized by a sperm cell. From the union of these two cells, all sorts of cells develop…muscle cells, nerve cells, bone cells, blood cells…all resulting in a human body. That human body will grow from infancy to childhood to adulthood, and in adult form, it will be comprised of some seventy-five trillion cells, each made up of atoms numbering around 1027 power.

Consider that the nerve cells make up a million miles of nerves that run through the body. Around 200 billion neurons transmit information in the central and peripheral nervous systems, and it is these neurons and their neurotransmitter chemicals which allow us to receive various sensations.

Through the mystery of consciousness, human beings perceive these sensations, experience emotions, make value judgements, think, plan, store and retrieve memories, and enact motor behaviours. Without our thinking about it, the heart beats, blood pumps, hair grows, food digests, wastes are eliminated, organs are managed, muscles and bones are renewed. To add to all this, Deepak Chopra has been quoted as saying that our bodies are 99.999% empty space, meaning that on a physical level, they are not so solid after all but more like “light beings.” All this said, I’m learning more and more not to underestimate the body’s wisdom.

Now let’s take a look at the mind. Merriam-Webster defines it in three ways:

A) the element or complex of elements in an individual that feels, perceives, thinks, wills, and especially reasons;
B) the conscious mental events and capabilities in an organism; and
C) the organized conscious and unconscious adaptive mental activity of an organism.

The mind perceives, scans for data, judges, reacts emotionally, houses memories, anticipates, abstracts, processes, dreams and plans.

There are many extraordinary things about the mind that we take for granted. For example, neuroscientists are still unable to satisfactorily account for the subjective experiences of seeing colour, hearing music, and feeling emotional states like love. These things cannot be explained merely in terms of the brain’s neuronal processes. The physiological states correlate with the subjective experiences but they don’t adequately account for them. How does the idea “I’m going to move my right foot” translate into actual physical movement? As of yet, there is no satisfactory way of explaining how such mental events translate into physiological terms. Although the workings of neurons may correlate with mental events, neuroscientists admit that it is unlikely that brain matter itself is responsible.

What about the amazing concept of memory?  The concept of short- and long-term memory storage and retrieval, despite recent findings in brain research, still doesn’t answer the question of what is responsible for cementing something in memory. We need only look at the effect that mental visualizations and intentions have on biochemical processes in the human body, the effect of mind over matter, to be even more amazed. In fact, it is this very thing that has led to the upsurge in psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) or “mind-body” medicine. I think you can see that we still don’t know much about how our brains produce consciousness, and all evidence suggests that we still aren’t close to figuring it out.

Let’s move on to spirit which is often defined as the animating or vital principle which gives life to physical organisms. For many, spirit is often thought of as a supernatural essence. Many believe this is where we tap into past-life memories and access information from paranormal sources, for example ESP which takes the form of remote viewing, telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, retro-cognition or discernment of subtle-plane personalities. There is also very interesting literature which explains how, at the level of spirit, significant healing is possible.

Spirit also represents all that which is beyond mind, space-time, structure and energy. It is referred to in various traditions using terms such as the God-Self, Absolute Awareness, Tao, I Am, Divine Truth, Source of all Being, Absolute Essence and so forth. No matter how we name it, spirit is the absolute, infinite and eternal. Many feel that spirit is responsible for the multiple phenomena that we experience and the dream that is the universe, the One Self manifesting as all selves. If this is the case, it’s an absolute wonder how spirit has created a world of such endless variety, from subatomic matter, to elements, to physical bodies, to conscious minds and souls.

Listening to the minister from my teenage years try to explain the concept to a group of confirmation candidates, I realized the Holy Trinity is not easily defined. Neither is body-mind-spirit. The best I can come up with is that it is a wondrous reality vaster than we can possibly imagine, the sum of who and what we are which is a perfectly choreographed cosmic dance and an absolute miracle worthy of reverence.

Today’s takeaway: Love your body. Love your mind. Love your spirit. Namaste.

Zern

“If you want to write, keep cats.” – Aldous Huxley

My sister is somewhat sarcastic. She can also be funny, particularly in writing. So when she commented on a Facebook post about my new kitten, Zern, it went like this: “I am expecting an ‘I-rescued-a-kitten-but-he-really-rescued-me’ [blog] post next week.” She also advised, before I’d even begun writing said post, to “…scale back on the ‘he changed my life’ theme.” I told her that I would take this under advisement.

After over fifteen years of asking my husband for a cat, he finally relented and got me one on December 1 as an early Christmas gift. Zern is a three-and-a-half-month old black bundle of joy. When I took him to the vet for his booster shot this past week and the form asked for the breed, I wrote “mutt.” The vet pleasantly informed me that the term is Domestic Shorthair (DSH). She and I also had a fruitful discussion about disease, illness, infections, worms, neutering and diet. Zern is scheduled to lose his manhood on January 15, but I think the blow will be softened by the fact that he’s now enjoying expensive, veterinarian-approved kitten food.

Although my sister warned me not to go overboard on the life-changing aspect of being a new cat owner, I can’t help but share some of the ways my life has changed in the last few days. I’ll try not to get all sentimental about it, since my sister doesn’t like that level of emotion. By the way, she owns a Maine Coon and has been known to post her fair share of cat photos on Facebook.

The first thing of note is that my basement has the faint smell of a toilet in need of flushing despite the litterbox cover (swinging door nonetheless), fancy filter, and odor-control, clumping cat litter.  I scoop every morning and have even been using essential oil spray – all natural – to freshen things up, but the scent still lingers.

I’ve added twenty minutes of moderate cardio to my daily exercise routine. I drag the string for ten minutes in the morning. Zern chases it. I drag the string for ten minutes in the evening. Zern chases it. Good for him. Good for me.

I’ve resumed my childhood sport of soccer. This means I kick various balls around the house while Zern chases them. His favourite one is what I call a “crinkle” ball which is really nothing more than a fancy wad of aluminum foil I bought at the pet shop that he can pick up and run with. I also spend a lot of time retrieving balls from out of bounds, i.e. from under the sofa, computer, stove, and other places too numerous to mention. Some balls have just disappeared, and I keep feeling his belly to be sure he hasn’t eaten them.

I’m ruining my nails. This is because I spend a lot of time scratching a cat post and a piece of board to demonstrate to Zern what he’s allowed to scratch. I’m not sure it’s really sunk in yet, but I will say he’s an attentive audience. I also think I’ve lost my mind.

I’ve learned to keep my hands under the bed covers in the morning. This is to avoid getting them ripped apart by a kitten who likes to dive bomb moving objects. Now I tease him by moving my arms around under the covers. He gets to experience the joy of the hunt, and I stay injury free.

I always thought I kept a really clean house, but now I realize this was nothing more than a sense of false security. There’s actually a lot of dust under the furniture which I discovered while searching for cat toys with a flashlight. Zern also reminds me when he drags the dust balls out from under the couch. Usually they’re attached to him. There’s no doubt I have to step up the cleaning routine.

I’m frequenting the pet shop for the first time in twenty years and trying not to spend more on the cat than on myself. It was a rough go last weekend, but I think I have all the supplies I need…for now.

So why am I waxing eloquently about the changes a new kitten has made in my life on a blog that’s supposed to be about holistic health and spirituality? Well, given that I’m the creator and generator of content, I suppose I have full artistic license. However, observing and interacting with Zern has reminded me of a few things which, when you think about them, are very healthy and spiritual in nature. Here are some of the principles he has reinforced for me.

Take a nap if you’re tired.
Take time to play.
Stare out the window.
Get your exercise.
Groom yourself.
Eat when you’re hungry.
Love your people.
When people bother you, set boundaries.
Be bad every now and then.

Zern has brought some change to my life. It’s all good, though, because he’s proving to be a wonderful source of love and companionship. Another bonus is that it’s been scientifically proven that cats lower stress and anxiety levels which is great for me. So not only is Zern great for my health, he’s a great spiritual teacher all wrapped up in one furry little body. You can’t get much better than that!

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

“Don’t get your tinsel in a tangle.”

WARNING: If you love Christmas mayhem, this article may not be for you.

I like people, just not too many, at once, for too long. I’m not shy. I don’t like being alone for extended periods of time. However, when there’s too much socializing and the conversation is superficial, I start dying on the inside. I’d rather talk one-on-one about meaningful things – joys, sorrows, hopes, dreams, successes, failures, fears and uncertainties.

I’m an introvert. My sister says I’m not, but I am. Social interaction sucks the energy out of me, so I need lots of time alone with a book, computer or TV. I need to do things that don’t involve a lot of human interaction, things that recharge my batteries so I can face the world with a smile.

My friend, Angie, is an extrovert. Although I can’t speak for her, I believe that without frequent socializing, she would dry up into a dust ball and float away. Angie’s on the go…a lot. She has a wide circle of friends, so when she wants to do something, she throws out the invitation, knowing someone will  take her up on it. What I love about her is that there are no strings attached. She figures that if she asks enough people, she’ll find someone who’s up for the adventure. And she’s not insulted when the introverts like me decline. She knows if she asks me enough, I’ll eventually say yes to something. That’s why she’s great.

So where am I going with this? Well, the season for extroverts has begun. Ho, ho, ho…NOT! You see, for me, it’s more holiday fear than holiday cheer. Don’t get me wrong. I love the lights, the music and the food. I just don’t deal well with the stress, the pressure, the endless line-up of activities. This is the reason I’ve dropped out to some extent.

I go to the office Christmas lunch because, hey, that’s just what you do, and I go to Angie’s annual holiday sleepover (but never sleep over), and THAT’S IT! Other than that, I put up a little tree, set out a couple of decorations, and have Christmas dinner. I don’t do a lot of  shopping, and I don’t bake much anymore because my husband and grown-up kids don’t really eat it.

The great thing about all of this is that my Christmas season is fairly peaceful. I haven’t opted out completely. I just keep it quiet and low key. The general insanity permeating the air this time of year is stress enough. I don’t need to add to it.

Yes, the holiday season is full of delight – until it’s not. Indeed, there are people who aim for three Christmas parties in the same weekend. However, I think most of us would like to slow it down a bit. Why do we get ourselves so worked up for one day of the year, dragging it out needlessly for weeks in advance? I hate the idea of waking up with a hangover – did that too many times in my life – and I especially hate the idea of waking up with a Christmas hangover. That’s why I try to live by the following principles.

Slow down – Christmas can be such a rat race. Shopping, cooking, socializing, crying, drinking, decorating, eating. Thinking about it makes me gasp for air. I strongly suggest taking five minutes, a few times a day, to stop, focus on your breath and body, and be in the moment. The to-do list isn’t going anywhere, and you really do need some time to center yourself.

Pass on the invitations – You don’t need to attend every holiday event in town or every party you’re invited to. If you love that stuff and are energized just thinking about it, fill your boots. But if not, stay home, put your feet up, pour yourself a beverage of choice, and watch one of those badly acted Christmas movies where they wear ugly sweaters and smile a lot.

Make it potluck – I had a family meal not long ago, and I got everyone to bring something. You know what? It wasn’t a lot of work for any one person, and it saved me a lot of time and effort. I was the host, the food was great, and the company was awesome. Share the love this Christmas. Don’t do all the cooking!

Stop buying – Let’s be honest. Can you really remember what you got for Christmas last year? I can’t. And I suspect that’s the norm. I know some will call me a grinch, but can we scale back on the expenditures a bit? Some kids get nothing – or very little – and some get way too much, only to forget about most of it before the end of January. How about limiting the packages under the tree and sharing a little more with those in need? Remember this: The perfect present is your presence.

Put the family feud to rest – Your uncle’s a raging alcoholic, your mother-in-law’s a battle-axe, your sister’s a militant vegan who won’t be in the same room as a turkey, and your grandfather hates those leftist liberals. You’re not perfect either. Avoid the hot button topics and look for opportunities to be kind, even offer a compliment. It’s only one day, but if you just can’t do it, don’t. Remember, though, people can only get to you if you let them (I’m not talking about the violent ones here.). Personally, I find it more fulfilling to laugh at people you disagree with when they’re not looking.

Savour – Too much sugar, alcohol, and junk food combined with missed workouts, late nights and busy weekends makes you feel how? LIKE CRAP! Slow down when eating and savour the flavours. Novel concept: Eat when you’re hungry. If you’re not hungry, find something else to do. Be careful of nibbling. You pack a lot away doing that. Take a plate, fill it, eat, and be done.

Be prepared for the blues – This time of year can be difficult, especially if you’re alone, have bad memories or have experienced loss. Know what triggers you and try to avoid it. This might mean you avoid certain events or even people. Get enough sleep, exercise, and take time to do something nice for yourself. If you don’t like the holidays, take a trip, go to a retreat, or find people who don’t partake in the traditional celebrations.

Focus on what you appreciate – Be mindful of the reason for the season which can vary depending on your faith tradition or lack thereof. Think of the gifts you already have in your life, the big things like health, home and relationships and also the small things – reconnecting with an old friend, a new project you’re working on, the fact that your dog loves you. The trivial joys are often the best ones, and they last all year round.

One of the biggest sources of stress during the holiday season is that instead of breaking from the busy-ness of our normal lives, we fill them with more activity, more obligations, and more opportunities to sap our energy. Pace yourself, practice self-care, and take the time to actually enjoy the holiday season.

Happy holidays!

 

A Life in the Shadow

“Your illness does not define you.”

James Wendell MacMillan had three sisters and a brother. Every one of them died as young adults between 1898 and 1902, victims of tuberculosis. Wendell survived, so the story goes, because he moved to the shores of Covehead Bay to live with the fishermen. The fresh ocean breezes and a basic diet composed mainly of seafood allowed him to escape the epidemic sweeping the community.

As the sole survivor, Wendell was the reluctant heir to his father’s prosperous farm. Slight of build and academically inclined, he preferred to read and spend time in deep thought. What Wendell really wanted was an education, and he dreamed of becoming a doctor. Bound by the constraints of the times and familial expectations, however, he never realized that dream.

Wendell suffered from a number of ailments: food sensitivities, indigestion, a “bad heart,” and “bad nerves.” It’s not known when his health issues began to surface, but it’s clear that he battled mental illness for most of his life. By today’s standards, his bad heart would likely be attributed to anxiety attacks and his bad nerves, to depression or possibly, bipolar disorder.

On January 1, 1909, Wendell married Mabel Lavinia Richards. She became his constant support and inspiration. Sadly, she died at forty-seven from uterine cancer after which Wendell’s life fell apart. Devastated by his wife’s death, he became very depressed to the point where he was admitted to Falconwood Hospital, the provincial asylum. This was the first of many stays there.

Wendell and Mabel on their wedding day

Between “episodes,” Wendell would return home and seem quite well, but then he would relapse. Prior to some of these hospital stays, he would become agitated and visit various neighbours, talking incessantly the whole time, something that was very out of character for such a quiet man. He would also rise during the night, go into the upstairs store room, and start rummaging through his deceased wife’s belongings which had been carefully packed away in trunks.

Did the trauma of losing every one of his siblings, coupled with his thwarted ambitions, trigger Wendell’s illness? It’s possible. And there’s little doubt that his wife’s untimely passing contributed to the growing severity.

On July 12, 1951, Wendell passed away at Falconwood Hospital after having contracted pneumonia. Sadly, mental illness was not laid to rest with him. No, it remained alive and well, casting its shadow over many who followed.

How do I know this?

James Wendell MacMillan was my great-grandfather.

Making Bread

“All sorrows are less with bread.” – Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Life is busy. We rush to go nowhere. We cross things off never ending to-do lists. We multitask. We burn out. As I read one time, “We have lost the sacred art of being present…the simple pleasure of enjoying the moment.”

We need to slow down, stare out the window, and reflect on things for a while. We need to reclaim the simple pleasures of life – slow, meditative, sense-filled experiences – for nothing else than the joy they bring us. For this reason, I make bread.

I’m a bread maker from way back. I used to like watching my mother make bread, and when I was still in elementary school, my apprenticeship began. Mom could be impatient at times, but when it came to teaching me to make bread, she had the patience of Job. When my first attempts at kneading the dough were less than desirable, she’d give encouragement and help me finish, explaining it was a big job for small hands.

Over the years, I made a fair bit of bread. I even sold some for a while. But then I found other things to fill up my time: work, children’s activities, studying, exercising, reading, and writing to name a few. However, bread making is like riding a bike. Once you learn, you never forget.

My homemade bread

At this stage in my life, I’m faced with the reality of having to work for at least another ten years. For the most part, I enjoy the daily work routine, but I’m at the point where I look to interests outside of work, particularly now that my two children have left the nest. I’m sensitive, and like all introverts, I need quiet time to recharge my batteries. I also yearn for peace and calm, so any activity that facilitates those mental states is high on my list.

I’d thought about learning a new skill in order to have a creative outlet, but recently I decided that I would stick with what I know, and one thing I know, thanks to my mother, is how to find my way around the kitchen. Although I like to cook, I prefer to bake, so what better way to slow down, be creative, and have something wonderful to eat than to make a few loaves of bread.

Here are the reasons I started making bread again:

It’s a calming, meditative exercise. Mixing the ingredients, kneading the dough, waiting for it to rise, and shaping the loaves relaxes me.

It connects me to one of the simple pleasures in life. In this busy and over-stimulating world, it’s nice to do simple things that bring happiness. There’s also satisfaction in creating.

It smells fantastic! Who doesn’t love the smell of freshly-baked bread? I mean, it’s hard to feel unhappy when the heady scent of fresh bread is wafting through the house.

It tastes great. Who doesn’t love fresh bread, straight out of the oven, smothered in butter (or in my case, peanut butter). My mother used to freak out when we kids would start slicing into a hot loaf of bread. “You’re ruining it!” she would shout. But we did it anyway.

It’s safe. I make it. I know what’s in it. No additives, no chemicals, and no weird ingredients I can’t pronounce.

It affords me creative options. There are all sorts of variations. I can play around with recipes and even make up my own. I can add different ingredients to dress things up. I can experiment with shapes and sizes.

My homemade rolls

In her book, The Art of Eating, Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher sums up my thoughts quite nicely: “The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight … [Bread making is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world’s sweetest smells…there is no chiropractic treatment, no yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.”

 

 

 

 

Contentment

“I am content; that is a blessing greater than riches; and he to whom that is given need ask no more.” – Henry Fielding

What is contentment?

Having reflected on this, I think it’s a matter of being happy with who you are. I’m not 100% content, but I would say that my contentment levels are higher than they used to be. In other words, I’m generally pleased with life.

Many people wrongly believe that contentment is possible only after achieving a certain level of “success” – whatever that means. The thing is…many people who achieve success aren’t necessarily content. In fact, I think that being content may actually contribute to any external success that we enjoy, and I believe that we can be content RIGHT NOW regardless of our circumstances.

When we start out in life, we think we’re pretty awesome. At two or three, we’ll sing and dance in public and love it, not caring what others think of us. By the time we’re adults, that’s been driven out of us by peers, parents, media and embarrassing situations. We doubt ourselves. We judge ourselves. We criticize our bodies, our lack of discipline, and our faults. We decide we don’t like our lives.

As a result, we embark on self-improvement exercises to make ourselves “better.” Or we doubt our ability to get better and are unhappy about it. Or we sabotage our attempts at change because we don’t really believe we can do it. This “self-dislike” results in worse relationships, a stagnant career, unhappiness with life, complaints about everything, and often unhealthy habits such as eating junk food, drinking too much alcohol, not exercising, shopping too much, being addicted to video games or the Internet. Been there, done that with a few of these.

What’s the path to being content with yourself and your life? Two things immediately come to mind. The first thing is to start trusting yourself. Your relationship with yourself is like your relationship with anyone else. If you have a friend who is constantly late and breaking her word or not showing up when she says she will, you’ll stop trusting her. It’s like that with yourself too. It’s hard to like someone you don’t trust, and it’s hard to like yourself if you don’t trust yourself. So work gradually on trusting yourself, and eventually you’ll trust yourself to be awesome.

The second thing is to stop judging yourself badly. We all have a tendency to compare ourselves to unreal ideals. We want the model’s body. We want to achieve lofty personal and professional goals, travel the world, speak three languages, be an amazing chef, have an amazing social life, have the perfect partner and kids, achieve incredible things, and on and on. Such realistic ideals, right? And when we have these ideals, we compare ourselves to them, and we always measure up badly. The path to contentment, then, is to stop comparing ourselves to these ideals, stop judging ourselves, and actually let go of these ideals.

There’s a whole lot more to say about contentment, but I’ll save it for future posts. In the meantime, consider the following action step: Consider what ideals you have that you compare yourself to. Also, ask yourself if you trust yourself to be able to follow through, to stick to changes, to get things done. This is a good starting point to contentment.

(Full disclosure: It was a busy week, so thank you to blogger Leo Babauta at Zen Habits from whose material I drew for this post. He lets people do that and doesn’t even ask for recognition. That said, some of my original thoughts are included in this piece.)

Off the Rails

“Excuses don’t get results.”

I’ve gone to pot. I’m a slug, a slacker who needs a good kick in the butt. I’ve been shedding good habits and embracing the bad. There, now that I’ve suitably chastised myself, I’ll explain.

A while ago, my personal trainer, Doris, offered me the opportunity to do some self-reflection and goal setting. As part of the exercise, she had me list five health and wellness goals for Fall 2017.

Here’s the list I came up with:

  1. Experiment more with vegan cooking.
  2. Drink only one pop per week.
  3. Be more consistent with my exercise.
  4. Work on healing my chronic elbow tendonitis.
  5. Cut back on the amount of work hours.

Here are the results thus far:

  1. Fail
  2. Fail
  3. Fail
  4. Check
  5. Check

Two out of five? What’s up with that?! I’m supposed to be a health nut! Why am I putting less effort into my fitness program and more junk into my body (written as I’m curled up on the couch thinking about leftover Halloween candy)?

(Photo credit: Jennifer Pallian)

I’m well aware of what I’m (not) doing, and I’m not pleased with myself. I feel slobby, blobby and lazy. So why am I not turning this around?

CAN ANYONE ELSE RELATE TO THIS?!

I can only speak for myself, but as I try to gain more insight and clarity through writing about this, I hope even one thing I say will resonate with you. Maybe then, we’ll both feel better.

First of all, how did I get into this rut? I’ve read things like:

“How you’re living right now isn’t in alignment with your true self.”
“Doing the same things in the same way, day after day, can sap your energy and enthusiasm.”
“You would rather have predictable misery than fear-filled fulfillment.”
‘You’re responding to disappointments based upon what you thought should or would happen.”

Well, that’s great if you’re talking about things like hating your job, but these theories don’t really seem to align with my failure to achieve all of my Fall 2017 goals. In fact, upon reflection, I think it’s a simple matter that I’m indulging in short-term pleasures at the expense of long-term rewards. Perhaps there’s more to it than that, but this explanation is good enough, at least for now.

Now the question is what to do about it. I’ve been thinking about this, and here are a few things I’ve decided I need to do.

Cut myself some slack – Ok, I’ve fallen off the wagon, but I can get back on. It’s happened before and will likely happen again. And in reality, it’s not a case that I’ve been all bad. I’ve been consistent with two of my five goals, and I’ve been exercising, although not as much as I should be. So yes, I need to recognize that I’ve slipped, but I also have to give myself a pat on the back for what I have been doing.

Improve my long-term perspective – As I mentioned before, I’ve been opting for short-term pleasure over long-term gain. However, if I take the attitude that I’m in this for the long haul, then I can keep these laziness relapses in perspective and not beat myself up so much. I have to remember that I was doing really well for an extended period of time, and then things came up, things that pulled me away from the good habits I’d developed. The reality is I’ve gotten off track in the short term, but I can get back on track for the long term.

Practice discipline – I don’t care how many books I read, how many motivational speakers I listen to, or how many cheerleaders I have. There are times – in fact lots of times – that I won’t be motivated. In fact, I regularly lack motivation, and at the end of the day, what it often takes to stay on track is cold, hard discipline. Yep, it’s not fun or sexy, but it’s the truth. When I don’t want to do something that’s good for me, I do it anyway and vice versa.

Work on one thing at a time –  I’ve made gains on two of my five Fall 2017 goals. That’s great, but there are still three outstanding. I guarantee if I try to tackle them all at once, I’ll go great guns for a period of time, and then I’ll burn out. Therefore, I’m going to take small steps. I’m going to pick one of the remaining three and re-commit. I’ll also throw in some extra veggies for good measure.

Congratulate myself on what I’m doing well – At the end of the day, it’s not like I haven’t been doing any exercise or drinking pop every single day. Plus, I’m back to reading a lot more – which I love – and I’m participating in an amazing ten-week memoir writing workshop. In some ways, I suppose, I simply shifted my focus for a while.

Running Days

I started off by calling myself a slug and a slacker. Terms like slobby, blobby and lazy were also bandied about. However, as I’ve been reflecting and writing, I realize that I’m not really those negative labels I’ve attached to myself, at least most of the time. Being human, I have ups and downs. At times I’m keen on something; at other times, I’m not. The best thing is to pick up, regroup, make a few adjustments along the way, and hang in for the long term. That’s progress.

Some Extras for the Depression Toolkit

“The sun stopped shining for me is all.” – Nina LaCour

You ruminate, your mind trapped in a dismal feedback loop. You try to figure out why you feel like this because you really don’t have much to complain about and a lot to be grateful for.

You force yourself to go out so that you can have a conversation with someone besides the demons in your head. This helps a bit, but then you return to the stillness of home and the darkness returns.

With just a few exceptions, most people don’t know. That’s because you don’t talk about it, and you still smile because a smile doesn’t normally scare people away.

You can blame your brain but it’s really not that simple. Yes, depression is caused by changes in brain chemistry, but there are many things that contribute to its onset: genetics, changes in hormone levels, certain medical conditions, stress, grief, and difficult life circumstances.

(Photo credit: Ian Espinosa)

Treating depression isn’t as easy as taking medication or seeing a specialist although medication and specialists are often necessary and can save your life. It’s not always as easy as a healthy diet, exercise and rest although every one of these strategies can be extremely helpful.

Returning to health requires a mix of personalized strategies, trial and error, patience and faith. Most people who deal with depression are familiar with many of the more well-known treatments. Yet there are also a number of alternative treatments that can be helpful in an overall plan.

Aromatherapy – Aromatic essential oils from plants are extracted, distilled and mixed with other substances like oil, alcohol or lotion, then applied to the skin or inhaled. Oils that are often used in the treatment of depression include bergamot, lavender, Roman chamomile and ylang ylang. Inhaling scents triggers neurotransmitters and other chemicals that stimulate certain parts of the limbic system in the brain, resulting in improved mood.

Biofeedback – This technique trains people to improve their health using signals from their bodies. Sensors are attached to the body to provide feedback on things like heart rate, blood pressure, skin temperature and muscle tension. A biofeedback therapist can review the results and teach mental and physical exercises to control those functions.

Flower Essences – This system was created by Dr. Edward Bach. He believed that distilled essences of wild flowers, preserved in an alcohol base and administered under the tongue, could help heal emotional disturbances. This type of therapy falls into the category of vibrational medicine which is based on the idea that everything in nature has its own vibration. Dr. Bach believed that flower essences could help restore balance when a vibration is out of tune in the body.

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) – MBSR is a structured program that trains people to focus on the present moment and let go of thoughts from the past or worries about the future. The practice of MBSR is associated with changes in the gray and white matter of the brain which are involved in the regulation of emotions.

Meditation – The practice of meditation refocuses attention on calming thoughts and the breath. It can include mindfulness meditation, repeating a mantra, or guided imagery or visualization. Meditation reduces the activity of the sympathetic nervous system thus lowering heart rate, slowing breathing, lowering blood pressure and relaxing muscles. It also changes the structure of the cerebral cortex in the brain which plays a key role in memory, attention, thought and consciousness.

Music Therapy – Music has a powerful effect on the mind which transfers to clinical effects on the body. It has been proven to influence physical, emotional, cognitive and social well-being. Studies show that listening to music affects various parts of the brain associated with emotion, relaxation and learning.

Reflexology – This form of massage targets reflex points on the feet to cause therapeutic changes in the corresponding organs or body systems. Feet are sensitive to pressure, stretch and movement. By stimulating their nerve endings, the body’s flow of vital energy can be unblocked.

Reiki – This therapy is based on the belief that the “laying on of hands” can strengthen and normalize certain energy fields within the body and reconnect the subject with life energy. Reiki is a biofield therapy and works by encouraging the healing processes of the body and mind by restoring and balancing the flow of stagnant energy in the body.

Tai Chi – This form of exercise originated as a martial art and is sometimes called “moving meditation.” In Traditional Chinese Medicine, illness is seen as an imbalance between the opposing life forces of yin and yang. Tai chi helps to re-establish that balance to achieve harmony between the body, mind and outside world.

Western Herbal Therapy – Plans and plant materials are used to create medicines to help treat or prevent illness. In some European countries, the use of St. John’s Wort exceeds the use of prescribed medications for depression. (Check with a medical professional if you’re already taking prescription medication.)

I’m not suggesting that anyone goes out and breaks the bank trying all of these treatments. However, I do suggest that experimenting with one or two might prove helpful. Depression is miserable and healing is not always easy, but in most cases, an appropriate treatment plan makes it possible to come out on the other side. In the end, be open to the options, and take time to figure out what works.

(I’m not a medical professional, so make sure you consult one. I do, however, have experience, enough to know that depression doesn’t have to win.)

 

Cougar Boots

“There was a time when I believed that ‘stuff’ meant something.”

It was October 1979, a Friday night. Of course I had nothing to do. I was twelve and lived in the country so there was no possibility of going to a party in Sherwood – not that it really mattered. I was a late bloomer, so the boys weren’t interested in me anyway.

My dad was at the neighbor’s down the road. My oldest brother was away at college, and my other brother was at a high school dance, likely drunk and smoking in the parking lot. My younger sister was sleeping overnight at a friend’s place. So it was me and Mom, and what do you do with your mom on a Friday night? You go for groceries at the local store, the one your grandfather and uncle own.

When we arrived, I bought some junk food and went into the house (it was joined to the store) to visit my grandmother, Freda. Once the groceries were bagged and loaded in the car, Mom joined us. It might have been around 7:00 p.m., and while Mom and Freda were chatting, my grandfather came bursting through the door.

“Myrna! Your house is on fire!”
“What?”
“Your house is on fire!”

My family’s house on fire

My mother jumped up and started out the door with my grandfather. Being a kid who always wanted to be in the middle of everything, I started howling that I wanted to go too, but to no avail. I was going nowhere.

So I sat. I paced. I looked out the window and watched the distant glow in the sky. This wasn’t looking good. I had just bought a new pair of Cougar boots for winter, the first brand name thing I had ever owned, paid for with my own money. Those boots were my one and only hope of fitting in with the Sherwood girls, and now it was all a pipe dream.

A few hours later, my parents and grandfather returned. We were homeless. As I sat on my mother’s knee, I cried, “I lost my Cougar boots.” Beyond putting them on to dance in the family room, I had not yet had the opportunity to wear them. Life as I knew it was over.

My aunt took me to town to buy a new pair of Cougar boots, but since it was October, there was not a pair to be found. She bought me some expensive boots that were a similar style and much better quality, but I didn’t feel particularly grateful.

That winter, I hated every girl at school with Cougar boots. I also decided, for the first time, that my life sucked.

Afterword: I no longer think my life sucks. I am also very grateful to my aunt for buying me new boots, and in hindsight, I realize that Cougar boots were actually pretty ugly.

Wedding with Eternity

My son, Max, is a singer-songwriter. I am neither. However, one day I sat down  and wrote this tune. I sent it to Max, and he put it to music. No bells, no whistles, and no mixing or mastering – just Max and his guitar. Here it is (lyrics below).

Wedding with Eternity

My heart moves through a tunnel,
lost to you and me.
My struggles continue,
but now you’re free.

And fears that were hidden,
lost in useless action.
Oh, oh, oh, oh
Lips of blue,
There’s no separation.

It’s a wedding with eternity.
Life’s an obscene mystery
Purple winds moaning,
how beautiful you were.
But now you dance.

The way it was,
The way it was,
Oh when you touched me.
The world breaks everyone.

Flames of razor steel.
Life’s deep red wine.
It don’t feel real.
My despair is your peace of mind.

It’s a wedding with eternity.
Life’s an obscene mystery.
Purple winds moaning
how beautiful you were.
But now you dance.