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Red Light: Practicing Everyday Mindfulness

A chance to breathe, while sitting at a red light.  You look around, reflecting on your life…
Jonny Lang

I registered for meditation class in Junior College. I thought it would be a blow off course, an easy A.  Although the majority of my fellow students snored, farted or snickered through the course, I found it fascinating. Naturally, my mind wandered, I fidgeted, I dozed off and I giggled with my peers.
Eventually, sitting quietly with myself, I felt a profound calm and acute awareness that over rode the chatter of my monkey mind.  I sometimes had the sensation that I was hovering above my body,  yet profoundly connected. I felt better overall and experienced less stress.  I received an “A” in the course but more importantly, a glimpse into the beauty of the breath.
Outside the context of class, it proved a challenge to practice the sitting, eyes closed version of meditation.  It fell of my radar.  My anxiety increased, I avoided more and wallowed in self-­?doubt.  I racked my meditation course as, great while it lasted, but non-­?sustainable in the “real world.”
Interestingly, when I listened…REALLY listened, to the wonderful simplicity of Cat Stevens vocals in Hard Headed Woman, The crazy, fast guitar riffs in Alien Chase on an Arabian Desert, courtesy of Al DiMeolia, or excellent bass line in That’s the Way of the World by EWF, my breathing slowed, I felt calm and engaged in life. I decided to end my day caught up in the wonder a song.  This was do-­?able (and pretty cool.)
Decades later, while studying Marsha Linehan’s, Dialectic Behavior Therapy, I learned this type of listening was one version of mindfulness. I think of mindfulness as an [...]

Welcome to Laurie-­land, I’m glad you’re here!

Standing tough under stars and stripes, we can tellt his dream’s in sight

You’ve got to admit it, at this point in time that it’s clear

The future looks bright, on that train all graphite and glitter, under sea by rail

Ninety minutes from New York to Paris, well by seventy-­six we’ll be A.O.K.

What a beautiful world this will be What a glorious time to be free.

– Donald Fagan

I often joke about how wonderful life would be if everyone lived in Laurie-­land. A community designed around my values and beliefs, the aspects of life and self that I deem important. What a concept!  I acknowledge a superficial urge to include super-­cute boots, homes designed in the spirit of Gaudi, guilt-­free ice cream and free travel in my vision. However, the essence of Laurie-­?land comes from the inside out.
My vision for Laurie-­land is not predicated on utopia.  I prefer my life with a side of messy.  I revel in the beauty of experiencing other cultures, other ways of making sense of our limited time on this lovely planet. I honor the challenge to remain non-­judgmental when faced with divergent thought. The allure and wonder of the unknown has honed my sense of curiosity and paradoxically, my faith. While I consistently fight the process, I have learned and grown the most as a result of my struggles.  My deepest pain has led me (kicking and screaming at times) to compassion, kindness and love.
However, in Laurie-­land, EVERYONE maintains the unwavering belief that they are enough. We are an inclusive community, where people are prioritized above things. We build bridges and don’t see the need for gates. Our value is based on who we authentically are, rather than [...]

Going Green, My 30 Day Healthy Eating Challenge

My eating habits are terrible. I love the candy from my childhood, Peeps, Circus Peanuts, Cotton Candy.  I have reveled in meat orgies at Churrascaria. I pay homage to the Diet Coke gods throughout the day.  If I could only eat one food for the rest of my life, it would be bread, with really good butter, or honey, or nutella, or cinnamon and sugar…and butter, really good butter (sigh).

I want to be a person who makes healthy, informed choices, who listens to and respects her body. I work out five to six times a week to stay healthy and strong. I aspire to live a long productive life.  I have seen family members hospitalized and dead as a result of poor choices. I know I feel icky and guilty when I eat what I want, when I want.  I know I’ve felt triumphant when I’ve allowed a craving to pass without caving.

I’ve started a 30-day challenge to make healthier choices when feeding my body.

So what gets my way of healthier eating?

I go too long between meals, get hangry and overeat.
I reward myself with decadent food.
I eat on the fly or don’t allow myself the time to savor a healthy meal.
I rationalize that diet coke is my “one bad habit.”
Healthy eating accountability is only to myself
I tell myself  “If I eat one unhealthy thing, I’ve blown it for the day.”
I don’t keep enough healthy food at home.

What can I do about it?

Set reasonable goals around healthy eating
Commit to taking one small in the direction of healthy eating per week
Involve others by hosting a savoring dinner with tiny one bite portions
Allow myself permission to screw up. [...]

Legalize It

“Legalize it, don’t criticize it. Legalize it yea-­ah-­yea-­ah, and I will advertise it.”
Bob Marley
Exercise is my drug of choice. I’m not an athlete. I was the last one picked for team sports. I never qualified for the Presidential Fitness Award in middle school. I tried out for high school swim team and puked in the pool after the first practice. At 19 my boyfriend and I rode our bikes to Lake Michigan, which sounded like a great idea, until I realized it was over 50 miles one-­?way. He had to bribe me to go the distance with a hot fudge sundae at mile 27. I have memories of sobbing in the woods after less than 30 minutes of cross-­?country skiing because I was tired, wet, out of wine and hopelessly lost (in more ways than one.) In my 20’s, I rationalized if I ate less, I wouldn’t need to break a sweat to keep my body looking good. Yeah, right.

I didn’t succumb to drug peer pressure, until my 30’s. The eat less strategy was a youthful delusion. A propensity for generalized anxiety made my mind race and I often felt I couldn’t take a deep breath. I had yet to fulfill a phys-­?end credit for undergrad so I decided to register for a circuit training class. I was the un-­?cool girl in a room of fitness junkies. Despite my incessant whining and moaning, my body became more fit, my mind cleared, I could breath deeply. Circuit training was my gateway drug. I joined the YMCA and was at the gym by 5:30am throughout grad school. My daily fix gave me the edge, stamina and clarity to successfully complete my degree.

During my MSW [...]

Brain Bloom

The Playful Garden of my Mind
12 hours riding shotgun from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Greenville, South Carolina allowed my mind an abundance of “nothing” time.  In a lame attempt to harness and direct my frenetic brain, I was armed with my laptop, personal hotspot and IPod. My justification for these mind-sucking devices, “I’ll get caught up on my business accounting, sort through and resolve billing issues, maybe watch a couple episodes of “Tal TV.”  I have learned to appreciate the absurdity the Universe presents when I devise a plan to DO instead of BE.

Here’s what actually evolved.  After an hour of accounting/billing, my brain screamed. I joked, laughed, ka’veched with my husband and partner in all things silly, for two hours. I responded to email for another hour.  My mind begged, pleaded and eventually whined (in this really annoying tone) for respite. “OK, OK, enough!” I thought. “BE, HERE, NOW.”  In therapy terms this is called “one mindfully in the moment.” It refers to being fully engaged in the experience, not lamenting the past or worrying about the future.  I refer to this as, my mind at PLAY.

I became aware of the landscape.  I grew enamored by the beauty of golden round bales peppering a newly mown field.  My heart swooned with the magnificence of layer upon layer of mountains bathed in mist. The soothing, repetitive hum of tires on highway lulled me into a deeper space of relaxation.  I inhaled the scent of rain, which enhances the growth, and bloom of  the wildflowers around every turn. My mind began to hum a tune by the Indigo Girls “Now I know a refuge never grows, from a chin in a hand in a [...]

The Sound of Silence, My Path Away from the Comfort of Human-DOing

“Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping, left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain, still remains
Within the sound of silence.”  Simon and Garfunkel
I’m a “doer”.  I make it happen. I emphatically say YES.  I reinvent myself after failure. I consistently seek the next big thing. I prefer my life messy, full of opportunity, rich with possibility. I gulp down busy-ness for breakfast. My glass is not half full; it’s overflowing.

When given the challenge to do something well outside my comfort zone, I considered “Is there anything outside my comfort zone?”  My husband suggested I tackle high-level math or accounting.  While I respect his suggestion, my visceral reaction was to vomit a bit in my mouth, before responding, “Um, I don’t think that’s quite the idea.”

I started to consider what terrifies me, freaks me out; rattle’s me to the core?  Silence.  Not as in “nothing comes to mind”, but rather SILENCE scares the shit out of me. BEING instead of DOING freaks me out.  Internal peace and calm rattles me to the core.

I equate PEACE with REST IN, as in you’re DEAD, GAME OVER, that bleak silence of grief after my grandma, dad and little brother died.  I remember the heavy silence in my first marriage, when I knew I couldn’t survive the relationship but wasn’t yet able to utter the words to end it.  I also consider the CALM before the storm. In 1980 my dad and I were in a tornado that destroyed much of downtown Kalamazoo, MI. Before it hit, there was an eerie calm, a silence so profound, recalling it [...]

Can a right-brained girl find beauty and excellent in the left hemisphere?

 

Can a right-brained girl find beauty and excellent in the left hemisphere??

Our society is almost exclusively problem-focused.  We direct our time and energy into identifying and eliminating our stressors, our struggles and our troubles.  Our belief is that a problem-free life is a happy life. Not only is this thinking inaccurate (consider how an absence of pathology does not equate to well-being), it also minimizes the impact we can create by identifying and maximizing our strengths.

The field of Positive Psychology’s foundation is built on identifying and exploring strengths. The VIA or Values in Action is a rigorously researched, culturally inclusive, FREE survey that helps you determine your top character strengths. When I completed this test, I was surprised by my top strength, Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence.  As a psychotherapist, and family of origin confidant and problem-solver, I assumed my #1 signature strength would be Curiosity, Kindness or Perspective, which ARE included in my top seven strengths. When I read this description I realized that the VIA knew me better than I consciously knew myself.

“You routinely see beauty all around you. You appreciate quality in workmanship, in everyday tasks and excellence in events.  You notice and appreciate beauty in the little things. You often find yourself in awe of things that others take for granted. People high in this strength are frequently “caught” in wonder and admiration by what they experience around them.”

I was astonished how the VIA put to words the way I deeply experience the strength, vulnerability and honesty of those I work with and those I love. It understood my appreciation of a novel that combines gorgeous writing with substance. It nailed my awe at golden round bales in a green [...]

The Peugeot 504, My Most Beautiful Failure

At age 18, against my dad’s wise advice, I purchased my first car, a beat-to-shit, sun faded red Camero. Truth be told, I bought it to impress the hot guy selling it, in a lame attempt to appear cool. I soon learned that this car was my personal version of Stephen King’s killer car, Christine. It quit running when it rained, attracted rabid dogs (seriously..,but that’s ANOTHER story), developed enormous cancerous holes where it had been “bondoed,” left me stranded more times than not and consumed my entire savings in futile repairs. When I sold it, I had to exit from the window as neither door would open. I felt angry, like a failure, a sucker and totally NOT cool. I couldn’t afford to buy another car, so I rode my 10 speed everywhere and wore my tough girl “I don’t care” attitude instead of a bike helmet.

After a year of the “bike ride of shame” my dad suggested that we find a “good car” for me. I felt like I was being offered a rewind and replay of my Camero fiasco. My dad had a penchant for auto-exotica (at least for those times.) I grew up appreciating everything from a Studebaker, Fiat 124 and learned to drive a manual transmission in our Opel Cadet. We diligently scoured used car lots looking for my redemption car. Road weary and mildly disillusioned, he first spotted “her.” I remember dad’s words “now THAT looks interesting.” I remember thinking “please, please, please, let this be the one.” As bad-ass as I pretended to be bombing around on my Raleigh road bike, I was sooo over pedal-power.

We were holding our breath as we tentatively approached the lovely lady. [...]

The Raven and the Phoenix

Self-concordant goals align with our primary interests and deepest values. People who identify and pursue these goals end up being happier and more successful.  There is a distinction and implications between perceiving one’s work as a job, a career, or a calling.  Tal Ben Shahar uses the “bird” analogy to illustrate finding your calling, your purpose that encompasses meaning, interest and passion.

Have you found your bird? If so, what is it? If you haven’t yet found it, could it be that you’ve encountered your bird in the past and overlooked it? Or if you are certain that you have not yet encountered your bird, explore in writing where you might find it or how you can increase the likelihood that you will find it.

Below are my “birds.”
The Raven

 

 

 

 

 

 

Certain Native American Tribes view the Raven as a guide meant to help humankind along his/her journey. Ravens are messengers who share the secrets of the Great Spirit with their people. 

I am the Raven. I guide your beautiful soul on a journey at times constrained by the bars of a cage. I acknowledge and honor your pain, fear and hope.  I am the benevolent keeper of your words, wishes and possibilities. My soft, feathered wings hold you, in this moment, and in moments to come. I gently offer the secrets to acceptance, peace, love and joy. Through the reflection of my kind black eyes, you begin to see yourself as whole, as wonderful. Your stories, beliefs and values become the framework of wings.  I will lightly perch on your shoulder and whisper in your ear, long after you have discovered your own magnificent sky, and my blue/black feathers are but a memory.

 
The Phoenix

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Greek mythology [...]

The Maggies, Meaning and Positivity

In 2008, I gifted my brother my beloved Magnapan speakers (the Maggies.) These speakers were my first adult purchase after I moved out on my own in 1979.  They accompanied me as I relocated over ten times.  They were shipped to the Magnapan Company twice to be re-built.  As a bit of an audiophile AND music dork, my hi-fi provided me with the rhythms, chords and lyrics that guided me through the nuances of my life dance.

This exchange occurred between my brother and I, after I found the below writing posted on his website.  It seems to exemplify the idea of creating an environment of meaning and positivity as a means of balancing out the barrage of negativity we experience daily from the media (and at times from our own mindJ.)  I have forever recognized the personal value in creating a meaningful space, not full of things, but full of memories, love and possibility. I view home and work space as sacred. It is a way to honor my fondest memories and prioritize my inner peace and well being.

My brother’s perspective, 2008

I was traveling with my sister, as she moved again.

We talked of the smiles of youth, not the displeasure of our adult lives or with each  other.

See …she likes things, and as a counselor of all those with nothing and everything,

I smiled.  I tried my, “But when you die what will you remember… your things?”

I think she will remember her first love, her asshole brothers, her parents.

Not the latest sale at the pottery barn

But I stopped..it is her life, I wish for her only the best

If it means things, I love her no less.  Specially since I got the magnepans I had been [...]