Connecting with CommUNITY on First Friday

UNITY

About a year ago we stumbled across information about the UNITY project, a stunning and powerful interactive project.

What is the UNITY project?

Designed by artist Nancy Belmont ,UNITY is circular arrangement of  poles in a large space. Each pole is labeled with an identifier, such as “I have experienced loss,” we have tailored it to be directly relevant to mental health awareness. With yarn, participants tie to each pole with which they identify. A canopy of interconnectedness forms as more people participate. In the end, we see that we are all connected by something. This project celebrates the uniqueness of individuals and raises awareness of how labels impact our perception of and interactions with the world.

Why UNITY?

We knew we wanted to bring this project to our community. Over the past year, the divisiveness that has emerged within our global, national and local communities has underscored the need to focus on what connects us. Our perspectives about the world are shaped by our individual experiences and while our experiences are each unique, we often forget how much we have in common with our friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, etc. When we lose sight of the common threads that connect us to others we may experience loneliness or a sense of isolation.

Mental Health Awareness Month takes place during May and will be celebrated during Downtown State College’s “First Friday” activities on Friday May 5th. UNITY is a powerful vehicle for raising awareness of mental health and allowing us to address the stigma that still surrounds the topic. Many individuals in our communities, neighborhoods and workplaces have personal experiences with mental health struggles. Mental health struggles are often not spoken about openly and freely within our society, which only serves to reinforce unnecessary shame. This only increases the sense of disconnection, loneliness and isolation that often accompanies challenging times in our lives.

What remains silent and unspoken can lead to more suffering.

We hope that UNITY will provide a space for awareness, healing and connection for our community. By using a piece of yarn to tie around poles labelled with specific “identifiers” within our structure, each artist participant will be able to speak their truths and share their stories while remaining anonymous. As more artist participants create their own webs, the overall project will grow and change.

We hope that you will stop by and visit us in front of the Schlow Library and add your story to the UNITY project on Friday May 5th from 5:00-9:00pm!

 

To learn more about the UNITY project, visit http://www.unityproject.net/

Compassion Project

At the end of December Christy asked about intentions for the new year. The previous year this idea of intention had a sense of whimsy to it but this year things are very different. Our world is a little darker, a little more ominous and there is definitely more uncertainty about the future. It feels very overwhelming. My upbringing, my educations, my career, my life is shaped around helping others. My goal in this life is to nurture people’s compassion- compassion for self and others. So for this year that is my intention to nurture compassion and with that in mind over the next few months (hopefully all 12) I plan to offer ideas about how to show compassion to ourselves and to others. My partners, who are awesome, have agreed to join me in this compassion project and we have some great ideas of how we can bring a little more compassion, hope, and love into the world. Please join us when you can and share with us what you discover. We love hearing everyone’s stories and experiences.

For January we are focusing on warmth. For knitters, crocheters, and seamstresses please consider making a hat for either:hat

  1. Someone who is going through chemotherapy treatments
  2. Pre-mature infants
  3. Homeless men and women
  4. Children living in poverty
  5. Active Military and Veterans
  6. Senior Citizens

I am including a list of links of places where you can donate your items as well as find out specifics for each group (there are guidelines regarding yarn choices, patterns, and embellishments for groups in #1,3, and 5). For those who want to get involved you can make a hat, sponsor a hat, donate money, or donate a store bought hat. Don’t forget to post pictures of your handiwork and where you plan to send it!

http://www.knotsoflove.org

 

http://halosofhope.org/home/

 

http://www.crochet.org/?page=charity

 

http://afridgefulloffood.typepad.com/knittingforthenicu/2012/06/the-rules-for-knitting-for-nicus.html

 

https://www.facebook.com/Hats4Hope/

 

http://www.warmupamerica.org

 

http://www.woolworks.org/charity.html

 

http://warmthforwarriors.com

Yes, I am THAT mother who…

… can’t drive the shopping cart car and takes out the candy display at the grocery store

… holds up the exit at the parking garage because she only could find 65 cents when learning that no, parking is not free during that time

… sends her child out in public with pants that are way too short because he sprouted up faster than she could get to Kohls or Kid-to-Kid

… and clothes that don’t match because she forgot to do laundry… again

… forgets her child’s raincoat on days he really needs it

and rain boots

and hat

… wakes up to a bed full of dog and child and all the stuffed buddies who made their way there in the middle of the night

… can’t have a coherent thought before having a cup… or two… of coffee in the morning

… is thankful for cucumbers and avocados and other healthy foods that require no cooking

… forgets there is laundry in the wash

and the dryer

… hasn’t worn hardly any makeup since… who knows when

… can’t remember the last book she read in its entirety that hasn’t been written by Eric Carle or Dr. Suess

never irons

… has to take inventory of her shopping cart before checking out for items put there by quick little hands

… cries (and curses) when the dishwasher stops working

… lets her child play with the figurines in the middle of the aisle in Michaels because it keeps him happy

… orders pizza because she just doesn’t feel like washing the dishes she needs to cook

… has a 4-year old who often reminds her to “Take a Breath,” (apparently those lessons are sticking better with him than me)

… allows her child to play with his food because he’s still eating it and it just isn’t a battle worth fighting

… owes the library money if fees because she forgot, yet again, to return them on time

… enjoys listening to her child’s far-fetched stories about Dr. Skees and ThunderHook and BoomSpinner

… still rocks her child to sleep because listening to him chatter while snuggling is the best part of the day

… occasionally resorts to small bribes to just get through the errands of the day

… probably needs a better clean-up system other than – “if you don’t pick it up, the dog is going to eat it

… tries really hard to do the best she can while enjoying the happy child she’s raising.

American Express Photo - Tina Fey

American Express Photo – Tina Fey

Authenticity

When Christy suggested we set intentions for the year, my first thought was: I just want to survive.  But that’s not entirely true; I want to do more than just get through another year.  I want to thrive and for me, part of that means being true to myself in all that I do.

Including accepting my own limitations.

So, I had loads of ideas for how to present this blog.  Lots that I wanted to try to say.  I wanted to talk about roles and labels and voice and vulnerability and self-compassion… but then I’d never get this post written (certainly not this year) because words don’t come easy to me and even if they did, I’ve realized that’s quite a bit to accomplish in a single post.

I’m going to practice being authentic and just offer you what I have at this moment.  I will be self-compassionate and not berate myself for offering this in the middle of year… or I’ll try not to.  Which is really all that we can do or we’ll get trapped in a loop of self-deprecation and judgment.

Here is an expression of my voice in the best way I know how, in art form.  I don’t consider this complete, which in a way is very appropriate since I am really still searching for what it means to “be me.”  I do need to “practice what I preach” and allow and trust in the process of exploring what it means to be genuine in all the roles that I play.

My process begins with inspiring words from others; they give me the beautiful language I often search for.  I’m sharing these alongside the art I’m working on because these are passages that are really compelling me to be authentic.  When I’m inspired by language, images begin to flow through my mind and I explore ways to express those images: drawing, collage, painting…  This is how I work and makes up a large part of who I am.

Authentic Me“If we stay as survivors only without moving to thriving, we limit ourselves and cut our energy to ourselves and our power in the world to less than half.” – Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D., Women Who Run With The Wolves

“The strongest lesson I can teach my son is the same lesson I teach my daughter: how to be who he wishes to be for himself.  And the best way I can do this is to be who I am and hope that he will learn from this not how to be me, which is not possible, but how to be himself.” – Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider

“…I felt like I was witnessing a character in a play.  The character was continually trying to protect herself, but in the process, she was disconnecting more and more from herself, from authenticity, from the potential sustenance of feeling connected to others.  And in each scene, I saw her perpetually ‘doing’ in order to feel better about herself, ‘doing’ in order to avoid pain, ‘doing’ in order to avoid failure.

As I sat there watching this play, I had, for the first time, a compelling sense that this character wasn’t really ‘me.’  Her feelings and reactions were certainly familiar, but they were just ripples on the surface of what I really was.” – Tara Brach, True Refuge

 

 

 

Simplify.

image

As I sat at my kitchen table, decluttering and sorting the recycling, I picked up a recently expired desk calendar, the kind that promise a thought provoking quote each day. I couldn’t help but find the irony in the moment as I found myself quickly flipping through months worth of quotes because I’d fallen so behind, too busy with other tasks to pay any notice to the words on the paper each day, the days piling on top of each other.

There I was trying to go back to see what goodies I’d missed, what pearls of wisdom I could scrape together to carry forward with me. This all at once awareness of past, present, future can be dizzying.

And there it was. “Simplify. Simplify.” I smirked, ripped out the page and quickly snapped a photo which I sent off to Alisha and Rachel.

I’d already revealed to them my intention for the year. Simplifying. Trying to remove the excess that tangles me up and holds me back at times. My colleagues know that this is a challenge for me.

My tendency is not to look towards simplicity in many things I do, from our brainstorming sessions for planning upcoming classes to meal planning. In my attempts to be thorough and prepared, I was over thinking things, over committing myself, making things more complicated for myself and those around me, and running out of energy quickly by worrying or trying to get it all accomplished to my standards. When I asked myself what was getting in the way of my own stress management and mindfulness, this was a very clear area for improvement for me.

As I mentioned, intentions are different than goals, and therefore can be less concrete or tangible. When I set my intention, I wasn’t exactly sure how it would come to fruition, I just knew it was a shift in my perspective that I needed to make.

In my daily life, I try to be aware of this intention by asking myself if I am “simplifying” in the moment before me. It has been challenging and I have had to remind myself often of my intention. I caught myself recently spending hours researching costs and features as I prepared to make a purchase. Once I reminded myself to simplify, I stopped caring so much about the details and the choice became easier. This has taught me to trust my instincts more.

Sometimes simplifying has meant spending extra time or energy, such as devising a system for planning meals for the week, something I would usually stress about each day trying to decide and figuring out if we had all of the things we needed for that day’s meal. But now I have a simple system that works and reduces my daily stress and cuts down on the number of trips to the grocery store each week. This has helped me to save more energy, and to be able to change my habits to purchase what I need, another way to reduce excess. It’s also allowed me to enjoy feeling less pressured, by inviting my family to share in the responsibility for planning dinners for the week.

I’ve also spent time decluttering and organizing spaces so that I can more simply access or find whatever it is I am looking for, and to get rid of the clothes, toys, things that my family does not use or need. I’ve also cut down on the amount of tasks I schedule for myself and my family on the weekends. This has given me more space to connect with my family and to do more of the things I enjoy doing, rather than the focus on accomplishing.

As I write this post, I find myself being aware of my inclination towards being verbose. I accept this awareness in the absence of criticism or judgment. It is this awareness that helps me to put my intention in to practice.

Simply put.

Intention of a Sort

My wise partner Christy, wrote a beautiful piece about intentions for the new year and asked that Alisha and I join in but alas I am the snarky one of the bunch and offered her a Calvin and Hobbes strip

Calvin

And darn it if I didn’t find an irony in my selection, this has a note of faith in it- let things unfold, nothing will be beyond managing and you are doing okay. Faith is something I struggle with- believing that I have done pretty well so far and that if I can remember that letting things happen and seeing how I want to handle them is okay, I have good instincts and I am quick on my feet. So my intention for this year is borrowed from both the comic above and from a fairy…

“Faith, trust and pixie dust!”

Setting intentions for the New Year

hoose Joy

When we begin a yoga session, we are often encouraged by the instructor to set intentions for our experience on the mat.

Some people take this time to identify desired outcomes: to walk away sweaty, to be relaxed for the rest of the day, to hold a particular pose for a little bit longer, or even to make it back to the mat again tomorrow.

Unfortunately, these aren’t actually intentions. These are goals–great, wonderful, valid goals–but they are not truly intentions.

Many people can easily confuse the difference between intentions and goals, or between intentions and resolutions. Goals or resolutions are generally tangible outcomes that can be measured, evaluated, observed, tracked….either they happen or they don’t. By design, they can be magnets for self induced expectations, judgment, disappointment, frustration…even when goals are achieved, the path towards them can involve negative thinking, fear, anxiety and stress.

By contrast, intentions describe how we want to approach or experience whatever is happening around us or whatever task we are engaged in. They are present focused rather than future focused, process focused rather than product focused.

Another way to think of intentions is to identify a theme or a word that describes how you want to be or what you want to give to yourself and others.

Our intentions guide our thoughts and actions in the moment.

And so, we challenge you to set your intention for the new year. Think about what worked and didn’t work for you in the past year. What was it about those situations or experiences that affected you the most? What role did you play in these situations? What did you have control over, and what was beyond your control? (Remember, we generally have the most control over our reactions to a situation, and less control over the environment around us). If you can, identify any themes that are present among these different events or experiences. This can be a good place to begin when deciding on your intention.

Resolutions and goals tend to identify things that we want more (balance, confidence, self care) or less (stress, anxiety, negativity) of in our lives. Our intentions can identify how we want to be when we are trying to put this into practice.

Setting intentions calls us to become more mindful, by paying attention to the moment before us and increasing our self awareness through the focus on how we are experiencing the moment. By extension, we may enjoy more self compassion and acceptance when we slow down and remove the pressure of achievement.

Look for each one of us to share our intentions for the year in upcoming posts!

 

Incorporating Yoga, Art, & Mindfulness During the Holidays

“Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go…”

Holiday songs beckon a romanticized image of a family merrily traveling for a holiday visit, where one can hear the crackle of the fire waiting as they enter the cozy family home and enjoy time spent together by the hearth, sipping hot chocolate and eating homemade treats from a recipe passed down through the generations. Days filled with laughter, playing outside in the freshly fallen snow, hearty meals…

The reality is long waits at the airport or rides in the car, parents and kids pushed to their brinks, overdosed on sugary treats, and overstimulated by all of the lights, sounds and people. Disrupted routines, bad weather and lack of sleep can shatter the idyllic scenario of peace and joy, for both parents and children alike. Patience and tolerance can wear thin quickly during the holiday season, when reality can differ so much from the expectations built by Lifetime movies and songs that talk of the days of yore.

My family is on an extended holiday visit with my family in Georgia, which has included a few very rainy days. While we are enjoying our time spent with family, I have noticed us all struggling a bit more than usual to listen to each other and respond to each other with empathy and compassion. Just like my own behaviors, my kids’ behaviors are an indication of their needs-sleep, food, attention, more or less stimulation, etc. Determining the source of behaviors or emotions can serve to guide me in my responses to them.

Here is how I incorporate mindfulness, art and yoga to help my kids and myself when we are struggling.

My first response when I see my kids struggling with following rules or listening to directions is to evaluate my expectations. Are my expectations developmentally appropriate and reasonable based upon the situation? Having expectations that don’t match reality can be a source of tension and stress for both parents and children. Adjusting my vision of their behaviors, and mine, so they are more realistic can help to ease anxiety and stress. I must be mindful of these mental pictures I have created and any hidden expectations I may have. Once I am aware of them, I can determine if they are serving me well or if they are preventing me from being present and in the moment, thus giving rise to stress or even frustration. This is a way to adjust my reaction to the environment.

Then, I figure out how to change the environment to yield better responses. This is where I can become creative with how I help my kids focus their energies and help calm themselves. Following a visit to the Aquarium, we involved the whole family in yoga based around an aquatic theme. There are some really great aquatic themed poses and we had fun making up some poses of our own! We even had grandma join in on the fun! (And we ended with a fun movement activity using Laurie Bernker’s song “Let’s go Swimming”). Using their bodies in purposeful, creative and silly ways encourages a sense of self control. It is also a great way to connect with each other.

 

Aquarium

I also travel with creative supplies for the kids to have access to–Color Wonder marker travel kits are great for the car or airplanes, and at least crayons and paper are generally within arms reach anywhere that waiting is required. It’s important for kids to have access to something that allows them to be “in charge”. Having a variety of materials and tools to choose from allows kids to feel more in control of how and what they are creating, which is key especially in situations in which they have little control, such as traveling. Adults can encourage this creativity and independence by using process focused comments (“you are using the green marker to color the building” Or “you are using a lot of different shapes in that picture!”) rather than product oriented statements or questions (“what color are you going to use next?” or “what are you drawing?”). These interactions show our interest and help kids enjoy a sense of leadership.

I try my best to incorporate one or all of these techniques when I find myself or my kids struggling during busy times and when we are away from home. Sometimes they work wonders and, of course, there are times when they don’t work so well. Still, these tools help to remind me and my kids how we can take a break when we need to in order to help reduce stress.

 

 

 

 

Top 3 Myths about Mindfulness

the-stones-263661_1280There are many myths and misconceptions still lurking around about what mindfulness is, and what it isn’t, which can sometimes get in the way of enjoying the benefits that it can offer. We have compiled some of the misconceptions that we encounter most frequently to help clear up some of the confusion.

Myth #1: Mindfulness is a religious practice

This is perhaps one of the most pervasive myths that still exists. Many people believe that mindfulness is the worshipping of certain gods or only practiced in certain religions. While it is true that the concept of mindfulness originated within Eastern religions and philosophies, it does not require any specific religious beliefs, nor does it denounce any non-Eastern religious or spiritual beliefs. Many religions incorporate the fundamental aspects of mindfulness, just with different terms or practices. Whether it is a part prayers, devotions, blessings, ceremonies, rituals, or daily exercise, the act of taking time to step outside of your “typical” thought patterns and bringing awareness to the here and now is the essence of mindfulness. When we can slow down our thoughts and emotions and see them clearly in a non-judgmental way, and accept those thoughts and emotions rather than fighting against them, we are being mindful.

Additionally, the goals of achieving feelings of peace, gratitude, calm, love and joy are universal concepts that directly relate to mindfulness.

Myth #2: Mindfulness= meditation

Meditation, the exercise of calming and relaxing the mind and the body often practiced daily for distinct period of time,  is one way that some people can practice mindfulness. There are many other exercises and activities that help people move their awareness into the present moment and strengthen the connection between their bodies, thoughts and emotions.. Some people may feel that mindfulness is a daunting concept because of this association with meditation. Mindfulness encompasses more than just meditation.

Mindfulness is engrained in daily life, often without being identified as such. Sometimes it’s referred to as being grounded, centered, zen, chilling out, unwinding, taking a moment, a breather, time out, in the zone….you get the drift. I would argue that any act that slows down thoughts, releases tension, and allows a person to feel and experience being “in the moment” is an act of mindfulness.

Let’s review a few everyday activities that you may already be doing that are mindful:

  • Taking a deep breath to calm frustration on the way home from work…. check
  • Watching your baby’s face as you slowly rock her to sleep…….. you betcha
  • Observing nature…….. rightarooni
  • Getting a massage….. yup, right there
  • Getting a pedicure or manicure………. sure thing
  • Listening to the notes and sounds of a song…… absotutalootly
  • Biting into a piece of chocolate cake and melting into its decadence…..mmm hmmm
  • Holding your partner’s hand while you stroll leisurely around the neighborhood….sweet, sweet mindfulness
  • Smelling a glass of wine and focusing on the aroma and taste………. go ahead and fill ‘re up
  • Losing yourself while crocheting/painting/cooking………for sure
  • Closely studying a piece of art……….thumbs up
  • Lifting your face to the sky to soak on the sun……yes, but only with sunscreen
  • Releasing yourself in a blog post/journal entry/poem…….. right on (pun intended)
  • Losing sense of time while hiking or jogging….. sure….

fashion-828895_1280If you engage in any of these tasks wholly and surrender yourself to the moment before you, letting worries, fears, sadness, or anger pass by gently like clouds floating in the sky, then you are practicing mindfulness.

This can be a radical departure from our normal method of operations, when we may be overwhelmed with to-do’s and should-do’s and high expectations for ourselves. Therefore,  mindfulness requires practice and patience. Our fast food society may cause us to want quick fixes for our stress and something that will provide us with immediate and sustained relaxation, but this idea is the antithesis to mindfulness. A present centered approach takes time to develop. We have to practice the skills in less stressful times so we can readily call upon them and use them when we feel our stress increasing. The idea is that being mindful can help us to maintain relaxation throughout the day, rather than constantly working against our stress, which takes dedication and effort to achieve. Developing these skills in a supportive, non-judgmental atmosphere can bolster confidence and strengthen the relaxation tools in our tool boxes.

Myth #3: Mindfulness is a “new age” fad

Mindfulness has been utilized in many cultures for many years. What is new is the growing amount of evidence that supports the benefits of mindfulness. Over the past decade, researchers have turned their attention to the use of mindfulness as a therapeutic tool, and have explored the direct effects that it has on the brain, body, social-emotional health and overall well-being. These benefits have led to the incorporation of the fundamental components of mindfulness into healing practices, including mental health therapy, and an increased popularity of ancient practices that promote these concepts such as tai chi and yoga.

Mindfulness has been used to improve symptoms of anxiety disorders, trauma, mood disorders, ADHD, and personality disorders.  The benefits extend beyond just clinical diagnoses to children and adults who are struggling with managing stress. The general benefits include improved focus and concentration, reduction in stress, improved memory, decreased emotional reactivity, and improved adaptability to stressful situations. These effects are gained through skill development as well as the physical re-wiring of the brain that takes place when individuals practice being more mindful.

 

As you can see, mindfulness can be readily incorporated into daily life with some patience and practice, and can have short-term and long lasting benefits.

Ladies Night Out

human-770690_1280In childhood, a friend is someone you chase around on the playground, who you pick first to be on your kickball team. You sit together at lunch and play in the neighborhood together, and that is how you know you are friends.

Adult friendships, by comparison, are complex and can be more challenging to nurture amidst the organized chaos and responsibilities known as adulthood.

As we age, our relationships with others transform. We may grow apart because of physical distance or differences in lifestyles that become to difficult to bridge. But when friendships thrive and endure the passage of time and major life events, they add immeasurable value to our lives.

This, among many other reasons, is why I am so thankful that I get to work with my friends and business partners, Alisha and Rachel. They show me how powerful it is to have friends who provide acceptance, compassion, empathy and a non-judgment. They push me to challenge myself. When they provide me with these gifts-acceptance, authenticity, compassion, non-judgment- I always try my best to cherish them and cultivate them, and to share them in return.

However, it can be easy to lose track of time and to let spending time with dear friends slip down on our priority list. When we become too busy and don’t pay enough attention to our friendships, we can suffer as individuals.

That is one of the reasons we were inspired to begin hosting Ladies Nights Out at Taking Flight. Through the shared experience of yoga and unique art projects, we can deepen our understanding of ourselves and of our beloved gal pals. Spending time together relaxing, with the focus on the here and now, can foster a stronger sense of connection to ourselves and with each other.

The most important part of Ladies Night Out at Taking Flight is coming as you are—shedding any judgement or preconceived notions of our abilities or inabilities, donning comfortable clothing, and truly accepting ourselves and each other for who we are.

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