Bundling Up Against the Elements

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here in Alberta the snow and cold have arrived. We’ve dropped a good 30 degrees in the past two weeks from +20 degrees Celsius two Mondays ago to -10 degrees this morning. I find that it often feels colder these first cold days than it does in the chilly depths of a legitimate January prairie deep freeze. Why? Because we aren’t used to it yet. I have shorts in my dresser drawer and the wool sweaters have yet to be pulled out of the bin in my closet, and yet here I am needing to scrape ice off of my windshield in the morning.

When I went out early this morning, the steering wheel was freezing to touch and I had to wrap my jacket tight around my neck because I didn’t realize in time that I should zip up my jacket. As I drove with my cold hands on the colder steering wheel trying to hold my jacket together with my chin, I realized the big difference a good, warm, bundled up layer can make and how quickly the cold seeps in if a layer is missing or open to the elements. (Also, how quickly I become irritated and focused on how awful the cold is!) I realized if I’d zipped up my jacket I wouldn’t have been as freezing. If I had grabbed a scarf, I would have been better still. Mitts would have made my hands comfortable instead of frozen. But I was caught off guard by the temperature and was unprepared in my layers.

And as I drove, cold everywhere, I got to thinking about how we go about life. Some days we have a pretty thin layer between us and the harshness of the world. A bad sleep, a fight with our spouse, or an unpaid bill may feel like a layer stripped off to make us feel more exposed and sensitive in the world. Sometimes we are dealing with long term or more difficult struggles like chronic illness, the death of a loved one, job loss, or strained relationships. Those can make us feel less like we just forgot a scarf and more like we are going out into the winter of the world without a jacket at all!

We are in the middle of a global pandemic right now. That adds a level of uncertainty that might make you feel like you are walking into a snowstorm in nothing but a speedo (and a face mask)!

There are lots of things that can happen in life that make us feel exposed and ill-equipped for the things we are facing. There are elements to life and being human that means the unexpected is, to some extent, always to be expected, and that can make it hard to prepare.

So I got to thinking, what are the things that can help us feel more safe, secure, and bundled up against the harsh elements of being human:

  • looking after your body: getting sleep, drinking water, eating things that are good for you, exercise, and some fresh air every day are such simple things that do so much to help us manage (and feel capable of managing) life better. Imagine what your mom or your doctor would say to do in those areas and really try to do it — even a little bit of effort helps.
  • staying connected to others: don’t under-estimate the immeasurable value of having regular contact with people who love and support you. (We should all have learned that lesson during the spring quarantine!) Even if it can’t be in person, keep contact over FaceTime, telephone, or text. And don’t shut people out. Sometimes we automatically do that, but I want you to forever think of shutting caring community out of your life as the equivalent to building a snowman without wearing gloves — you can do it, but it is going to hurt and probably damage you! There is a better and easier way, and that way involves community.
  • acknowledge your feelings: which also means looking at what’s going on in your mind and body, because our feelings thoughts, and behaviours are all connected. Mindfulness is a great practice. It means simply acknowledging whatever you are feeling without judging it. Mindfulness doesn’t mean you are automatically peaceful. (I once did an entire weekend mindfulness retreat only to discover how incredibly angry I was — I just hadn’t been still enough before to recognize it.)
  • breathe: it is the simplest thing, but it truly makes such a difference. Besides, you’re doing it anyway! Slow breathing with long exhales literally switches our frazzled bodies and worrying minds from the stress response to the rest and restore system which helps us relax, think more clearly, and feel safer. A slow exhale is literally like a warm blanket wrapped around you.

There is so much going on in the world these days, so much in our communities, families, and in our own hearts and minds. None of us expected to be in the situations we find ourselves in this year. There are ways we are rising to meet these challenges. And there are ways we are left feeling unprepared, exhausted, bitter, and cold by it all.

If you can have the courage to acknowledge the ways you feel ill-prepared and struggling against the elements you are facing right now, you are already on your way to finding ways to manage. That’s what we humans do. We figure things out. We adapt to the harshness of this world by creating warm places, spaces, and shelters.

But remember to pay attention to what you need on a daily basis to manage those elements for yourself. Look after your body, stay connected, acknowledge your feelings, and breathe. Keep working on those things and you will feel a little more protected, a little more capable, and maybe even a little warmer towards the harsh elements of this world.

Transitions 1: Change is Inevitable

“The only thing constant in life is change.”

We all know the above phrase to be true. Yet we often rail against the changes that come in our lives. Not always, but often… at least for the uninvited, unplanned, unpleasant changes.

Transitions, change, and loss happen throughout life starting with the two major changes that bookend our lives: birth and death. In between there is growing, moving, job changes, relationship changes, empty nest, full nest, illness, aging, all of which keep us on our toes, reminding us that we never know the future and we are all always human… always changing.

King Solomon was, purportedly, the wisest man to ever live. He had some things (though not all things!) figured out. In Ecclesiastes 3 he says:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity
under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones
and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace
and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
– Ecclesiastes 3:1-9

All we have to do is look around the world and we will see that change and loss is always wrapped up in this thing called living. Think of the changing of the seasons — the leaves and flowers budding, blooming, and dying, and in that death spreading seeds for new life to begin again.

In many ways we expect change in life. Yet, knowing it will happen does not mean that change is easy to handle.

What do you think makes change easy? 

I would suggest  that changes that are planned, desired, expected, positive, and which lead us somewhere better are generally easier to handle.

What makes change difficult?

Likely the flipside of what I mentioned above. Change is difficult when it is unplanned, unwanted, unexpected, negative, and leads us somewhere worse or harder. Death is often seen as a difficult change.

I attended a retreat a number of years ago where one of the “get to know you” activities was making a timeline of positive events in your life. Most of the people attending quickly came up with the five positive things. Not me. I could easily think of five things, but at least half of them were not “positive” in the way most people would describe positive.

You see, the actual events themselves were painful and difficult and, at the time, were in no way positive. Yet, the change they brought to my life was so astonishingly wonderful that I had to put them on my “positive event timeline”.

How could such painful moments end up being seen as positive? Time and perspective.

Those painful times were also growing times for me. I sought wise counsel and learned a great many things about patience, love, and grace. Lessons I would not have learned without the “opportunity” to need those things so much. And over time I saw a change in me — a positive change.

Did I always feel like it was positive? Heck no! There were days of pure darkness and despair. But as the days, weeks, and months passed, I could see what had been growing all along in the darkness. There were good things there even when I couldn’t see them.

I needed time for my journey to take me where it needed to. And I also needed to be willing to shift my perspective to see the goodness and the growth present in the midst of my pain.

You see, our perspectives matter. The way we view ourselves and the events in our life matters. The words that we use about ourselves and our life matter. Our willingness to see the big picture of our lives matters. 

That is not to say that we will always be able to look at hard moments in a positive light.

But reminding ourselves that our perspective matters can be an invitation to posture ourselves differently as we think of our circumstances: past, present, and future.

To do this, you can make your own “Positive Event Timeline”. It will look something like this:

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Start with the significant moments of change in your life. (Remember that significant moments may be small moments that have a big impact!) Place them above the timeline if you viewed them at the time they occurred as positive and below the line if you experienced them as negative when they occurred.

Now comes the fun part! Think about the impact that moment had on you (your physical body, your emotions, your relationships, your finances, your sense of self, your spirituality, etc.).

Can you find a positive in any of these areas for that moment? For example, perhaps you were in a car accident and the injury was horrible for your body, but you grew very close to a friend who cared for you as a result.

I hope that as you stop and examine some life moments that you will find positive threads woven throughout, even if right now they appear tiny. And I hope that time and perspective will allow for more positives to unfold as you continue to grow and change in this life.

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This post is the first in a series based on the Storybrook Therapy seminar “Transitions: Positively Adapting to Loss and Change Through the Seasons of Life.” In the days ahead we will be offering tools and analogies to help us all better manage what it means to be human and live lives of constant change.

Constant change. Oh the irony…

What I learned from Influenza A

Recently I spent a solid week in bed with what my doctor was pretty certain was Influenza A (the strain of the flu not put in this year’s flu shot, incidentally). I felt pretty horrible the first few days and when the crazy pain eventually stopped I still had zero energy and would have to go back to bed after getting up for even the shortest time. It was rough, especially since my husband was away and then very busy with work for the worst part of my sickness. My kids are of an age where they can make meals and keep on top of basic household duties, thankfully.

But a week in bed is never welcome, is it? 

Actually, that’s not true. I often dream of a week in bed when I’m fully healthy and running full-tilt. I would love to have a reason to slow down. But when it is sickness that makes you slow down (and all of the pain and discomfort that goes along with that), that kind of week in bed isn’t welcome.

I spent most of my sick week, when I wasn’t sleeping, watching Netflix. But I noticed that I couldn’t just put on anything from Netflix. It had to be calm, quiet shows. Even comedies were too much for me. So I ended up watching the new Anne (of Green Gables) series, This is Us, and Call the Midwife.

I assumed I couldn’t watch action or comedy movies because of the busyness and noise of them. But I think that the bigger reason was that I needed shows that slowed my heart and mind down.

Just as my body was needing rest, so did my heart and mind.

And what I learned from a week in bed, unable to do much of anything besides take Tylenol and stare at a screen, was that slowness and simplicity espoused in those shows are a huge value of mine — a value that I often miss.

The programs that I watched reminded me again that sticking to the basics of life and relationships is what I need to do.

  • Creating a home that is secure and welcoming.
  • Making mealtime a place that gives real nourishment to our bodies and our hearts.
  • That stopping and  listening to each other in the moments that we have is probably the greatest gift we can give.

I’m not sure what happens in my day-to-day life that makes me miss that or lose my sense of intention with these simple things. 

But this week, I had a revelation that I would like to be like a grandparent to my kids.

Which for me means taking time and listening instead of getting caught up in the panic of, “What am I doing as a parent?!” “This problem is all my fault.” “Why didn’t I notice this sooner?”

No. I remember talking to my grandparents a lot. It seemed like there was always time. (I guess retirement helps with that, doesn’t it?) We would have a fancy plate of cookies and juice, play games, tell stories, and talk. And I was always assured that whatever I was going through was going to be okay… that I was a capable and lovely girl.

How often do we miss chances to offer hope and peace to our loved ones because we don’t take the time for these simple moments?

So, that’s what I learned from my bout with Influenza A this year — that I want to be much more intentional with creating simple, secure moments for my family and the people I meet.

(Also, my husband says I should learn to consistently take vitamins.)

My life continues to be a work in progress. But the work, these days, seems to be to simplify, to slow down, to declutter my mind and heart of its fears and anxieties, and to listen to the stories of those around me.

That is the good life to me.