In this issue ~~
When I start to hear the same stories from everyone I encounter, I take notice. This year so far has been one of intensity and turmoil. On a global and national level, we're dealing with war, terrorism and a crucial presidential election. On a personal level, many of us are facing health issues (ourselves or loved ones), losses and financial or other challenges. (Even new opportunities and growth can be emotionally challenging.) While we're seeing some improvements in our economy, the job market and cost of living continue to be in flux.
Along with our own fear and apprehension, those of us who are sensitive or empathic will also pick up the "vibes" around us. A few weeks ago, I found my heart pounding for no apparent reason. In retrospect, I realized that New York had been on terrorist alert that week. While I take an optimistic approach to such things, many people around me were fearful and cautious, and I was feeling that energy.
The world we live in has gotten faster and more intense, and the frequency of change is bound to increase rather than settle down. Since we only have limited control of what's going on in the world, it behooves us to develop strategies for coping, so that we can deal with the turmoil and keep ourselves sane and healthy.
For starters, find places where you can feel grounded and secure. Cultivate multiple areas, such as family, friends, community, job or career, trust in your own strength and skills, and trust in a higher power, so that if the bottom drops out on one or two, you have others to fall back on. Focus on what's going right in your life. When we're frightened, it's easy to expect and focus on the worst. Generally, there are things in your life that *are* going well, and you can alleviate the fear, despair or depression by putting attention on those positive things.
Take it moment by moment. When we get caught up in fear or anxiety, our tendency is to project the frightening images into the future, thus scaring ourselves further. Bring yourself back into the present moment. Chances are, right now, at this very moment, things are fine. If not, do what you can do to restore equilibrium. If you can't change the circumstances, try to find your emotional center, perhaps through meditation, focused breathing or just pausing amid your flurry of activities. If there's something you anticipate happening in the future, look at what you can do now to avoid it or reduce the impact.
Look for ways to create inner peace. Find places you can go to restore and rejuvenate, whether it be a spiritual venue; the gym; a dance, yoga or tai chi class; a museum; somewhere outdoors or a special spot in your home. For some of us, especially city dwellers, quiet places can be hard to find. Instead, or in addition, create an inner sanctuary where you can feel safe and peaceful. Use meditation, breathing, visualization tapes or music to help you get there, and visit often, so that you can achieve that sense of peace more easily. You might even cuddle up with a pet or a favorite stuffed animal.
Use your tried-and-true creative outlets, and explore some new ones. Early this year, I found myself moved to replace the large upright piano I gave away years ago to make space in my apartment with a trim digital keyboard. Later in the year, I took a "painting from intuition" class (www.processarts.com) and have continued to use painting as an outlet. These two forms have provided a much-needed steam valve when I find myself off-kilter. The time I spend on them is calm, focused and peaceful. Hearing the music created from my own hands brings me a soothing sense of peace and satisfaction, and painting provides a way of expressing what's in my heart and my subconscious in a way that, for me, transcends words, my usual creative outlet.
In finding a new form of creative expression, select something that isn't goal-oriented, that you have no performance expectations around, so that it can simply be an outlet for your feelings. You might even choose something that you think you're bad at, as I did with painting. (I was very encouraged to learn that Jackson Pollock's greatest frustration, like mine, was that he couldn't draw!) Release any expectations about how you think the results should be, and just let loose with it. When you let go of technique and outcome, using this new form can be very healing and freeing, and a lot of fun.
Use this time to challenge yourself, to stretch and grow. While we'd all prefer to grow through fun and joy, we can also use difficult times to discover and cultivate our inner strengths. For those of us who study personal growth or spiritual techniques, it's during times of adversity that we get to flex our muscles and use what we learned.
Over many years of taking more spiritual and personal growth seminars than I can count, I've learned that there comes a point where we need to go beyond the concepts and actually put what we've learned into practice. When something goes wrong, I find that I want to fall back on my tried-and-true methods of dealing with things, even though they may no longer be as effective as the new techniques I've learned. I've come to call it my "put-up-or-shut-up metaphysics" – using what I've learned in all those workshops in real-life, challenging situations, so that it becomes more than just interesting ideas or a nice hobby. It can be scary going out on a limb like that, but the truth is, it's never failed me, and when I come out the other side, into smoother waters, I can use the techniques and really soar.
During troubled times, it becomes particularly crucial to have a support system, whether it be family, friends, an organized community or helping professionals. During the blackout in northeastern United States in August 2003, I was alone in my apartment, which is in a large apartment building. On the second afternoon, as I was waiting for power to be restored to my section of town, I attempted go up a few flights to visit a friend on another floor. By that time, the emergency generators had run down, and the hallways and stairways were pitch black and a little spooky to navigate, so I went back home. With no working computer, my usually trusty e-mail connection was inaccessible. As long as I was able to reach people by phone, I felt connected and safe. It was when the phone lines became jammed and I was unable to reach anyone that I started to feel anxious. So, be sure to stay connected somehow, especially if you live or work alone.
It also helps to get your attention off your own troubles by helping others. If you feel upset or frightened, reach out to someone else. See what you can do for them. Volunteer at one of the numerous agencies that would be grateful for your help. Check on an elderly neighbor. Baby-sit for a friend who needs to work overtime. Phone or get together with a friend and make a point of lifting each other's spirits. You'll stay connected and feel more grounded.
Watch out for a hidden, and erroneous, belief that fear and worry will keep the terrorists away. It won't hurt to lighten up. Set aside time to play every day, to do something purely pleasurable. If you're a caregiver, be sure to get someone to step in occasionally for an hour or two to give you some time off. Enjoying yourself de-stresses mind and body and helps you to cope with your responsibilities and handle crises more effectively. It's interesting to note that some of the lightest, most fun stage and movie musicals were produced during the 1930s, the time of the Depression, when people desperately needed to escape everyday reality and regain hope for a better future.
Finally, don't feel you have to stay glued to the news. While it may make you feel safer to know what's going on and preparing for it, the media tends to run the same frightening stories over and over. Carefully choose which news programs to watch. It doesn't do your psyche any good to be branded with these horrifying thoughts and images. I find it easier to hold a positive vision when I stay away from not only the news, but from films that feature violence and terror. We create what we focus on, so why not focus on the good that's possible, rather than the horror.
Do what you can to lessen your fear and cope with turmoil.
If it makes you feel safer to have a survival kit in your home
and your car, or to get a physical exam, or to join some sort
of support group, do so. Have an action plan in case something
happens. Set aside time on a daily basis to restore and reconnect.
Then, let go and relax. Things *will* get better – they always
have, even in the worst times in history – and you'll feel stronger
for having gotten through this crazy time!
Use aromatherapy to alter your mood for the better. It's believed that odors stimulate the limbic system, the part of the brain associated with moods and emotions. Whose mood isn't lifted by a beautiful fragrance! Check out these websites to find the scent that's right for you.
"True hope dwells on the possible, even when life seems to be a plot written by someone who wants to see how much adversity we can overcome. . . . True hope responds to the real world, to real life; it is an active effort."
"Most people live, whether physically, intellectually, or morally, in a very restricted circle of their being. They make use of a very small portion of their possible consciousness, and of their soul's resources in general, much like a man who, out of his whole bodily organism, should get into the habit of using and moving only his little finger. Great emergencies and crises show us how much greater our vital resources are than we had supposed."
"A spiritually optimistic point of view holds that the universe is woven out of a fabric of love. Everything that is happening is ultimately for the good if we're willing to face it head-on and use our adversities for soul growth."
"What we actually learn, from any given set of circumstances, determines whether we become increasingly powerless or more powerful."
(click on the book graphic to see a description at Amazon.com)
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