Posts tagged ‘wholeness’

October 8, 2018

New Studies on the Health Benefits of Alcohol are Making Me Want a Drink

Two new studies indicate that alcohol consumption may not have as many (or any) health benefits as research previously indicated; these studies are making me want a drink! Try to figure out the health benefits or harm of consuming coffee, fat, carbohydrates, chocolate, or even bananas can be confusing at best. Now that they’re messing with happy hour, I think I’ll mull over the evidence drink in hand.

I’m not here to defend alcohol consumption. Alcohol has had devastating effects in my family. My grandfather drunkenly stumbled on the concrete front steps of his house, fell, hit his head, and eventually died from his injuries. The psychological effects of his drinking left my dad angry and violent. I understand on a visceral level that the detrimental effects of alcohol may not be quantifiable without including their contribution to psychological and physical trauma within families.

I’m not here to rail against alcohol consumption either. I know there are many people who have a drink occasionally or regularly and that’s it. They don’t overdo, drink and drive, or engage in other high-risk behaviors. Some of these people are genetically predisposed to alcoholism and yet they never develop the disease.

barrelsLike other dietary decisions, drinking alcohol is a lifestyle choice fraught with religious prohibitions, social implications, and conflicting evidence regarding health benefits. The path to making the best choice in such a situation is to have clear intentions, be informed, tell yourself the truth, own your choice, and give yourself permission to change your mind.

The older I get, the less it suffices to wait for someday to fully enjoy life. It is increasingly important to me to have a few moments each day that are pure pleasure. These moments don’t have to be big or monumental, but I intend to lean into them.

Last weekend, one of those moments was tasting a delicious coffee liqueur at the end of an impromptu distillery tour with friends. If I made a blanket prohibition against consuming alcohol, I would have missed that moment.

I chose to embrace it knowing there was no health benefit, but also knowing that I do not suffer from alcoholism. I am happy with that choice. If in a month I find myself spiking my coffee or milk with liqueur every morning, it may be deliciously pleasurable, but it will also be time to reconsider my choice.

There are so many pieces of life over which we have no control that we can feel quite powerless at times. It is easy to get lost in that feeling. Making deliberate choices to improve the quality of life in small, consistent ways can greatly increase a feeling of purpose and well-being which in turn can improve our health.

Each of us will have a unique path to wholeness, happiness, and health. Each of us will find obstacles on that path, naysayers who discourage us, cheerleaders who encourage us, and examples that inspire us. We will find pleasure and comfort in different ways.

I cannot say what the journey should look like for you. I do know that intention and practice can propel each of us toward becoming our best selves while enjoying life fully. Sometimes for me, that means watching the sunset while sipping a Hendrick’s and soda garnished with a cucumber.

Here’s to you loving the path you’re on!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


July 24, 2018

Speed Kills

Remember the ad campaign, Speed Kills? I can’t remember if I first heard the term in an anti-drug campaign or an attempt to reduce speed limits. The phrase has been used for both. This week, I’m thinking of Speed Kills in totally different terms.

Last weekend I went to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor. This movie chronicles the career of Fred Rogers, the creator of MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD. There was nothing speedy about Mister Rogers. His slow pace stands in stark contrast to other children’s entertainers. This was deliberate. It was also significant.

Mister Rogers understood that very important things happen when we’re still and quiet. He included long pauses and silence in his television program. This is considered a no-no in the TV world, but as someone observed in the movie, there were many times when nothing much was going on, but none of the time was wasted.

On some level, parents and children must have sensed the significance of this. They certainly responded. Mister Rogers became hugely successful in spite of doing everything “wrong” for a television audience.

In my home, I observed that when my boys watched MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD their behavior was markedly different than when they watched He-Man. He-Man led to an afternoon of hitting each other, breaking toys, and generally violent behavior.

MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD, on the other hand, had a calming effect. After watching, the boys were kinder, gentler, and quieter. They played together instead of fighting. My house was infinitely more peaceful.

At the time, I didn’t take time to analyze why this was true, I just did the practical thing and banned He-Man. If I needed the kids to have screen time so that I could clean up the kitchen or do the laundry, we opted for MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD or the video disc Free to be You and Me.

Now, with much more experience under my belt including many years of working long hours, never missing an event, frequent travel, work-work-work-play-play-play and rarely saying no, I understand the importance of being still. Being present requires taking pauses to notice what has happened and how it makes us feel.

I know you may read that and say, “duh,” but look at how we live. We rarely pause between activities, much less during them. We fill our waking hours with movement, noise, and electronic distraction.

One of my grandchildren has 4 structured activity classes per week – he’s 9 months old! Will he be able to lie on his back, stare at the clouds smelling fresh-cut grass and feeling the solidness of the ground supporting him when he’s three or will he be lost without constant activity?

It seems we have some level of awareness that we need to increase our sense of well-being. Ways to increase wellness are often featured on morning TV. The number of people practicing yoga in the US has doubled since 2008. The mindfulness movement touts the health benefits of meditation.

In contrast, we see our friends, neighbors, and family members numb themselves with work, gaming, social media, TV, sex, food, alcohol, and drugs on a regular basis. Sometimes we see ourselves doing the same. If we know we need to feel better, and we know that slowing down to reflect and be present in the moment will help, why do we keep speeding forward?
What’s difficult to admit, much less discuss, is what lies underneath a need to speed through life at a level of maximum distraction. If you have lived in an environment of chaos and/or danger to your physical or emotional well-being that you could not escape, it is excruciatingly hard to sit still and be present. It is also necessary if you are to heal the wounds your spirit has suffered.

It is in this context that I now view the phrase – speed kills. Speed kills our connection to our spirit. This removes us from knowing, accepting, and loving ourselves. It removes us from the very best parts of ourselves. At its worst, this disconnect allows us to act out our anger, hurt, and frustration in vindictive, destructive ways.

In the face of a tragic, hostile act, we often wonder – what kind of person would do that? Often the answer is simple: someone who has suffered in ways you cannot see and may not be able to imagine.

Remaining present and emotionally open in the face of violence, humiliation, rejection, neglect, or shunning, is intolerable for most everyone. It is absolutely healthy in those situations to engage in fighting, fleeing, freezing or fawning in order to protect yourself.

The problem is many, not just some, MANY of us have lived in an environment in which violence, humiliation, rejection, neglect, or shunning were the norm. Living in persistent, unrelenting physical and/or emotional danger creates wounds that are both physical and emotional and result in disconnection from ourselves. Constantly being in a state of fighting, fleeing, freezing or fawning creates long-term barriers to calm, peace, connection and joy.

When we have the strength and courage to sit still and be present, it opens the door for all the emotions we have been avoiding to come rushing in. This is a great opportunity to release those emotions and the hold they have over us. That’s easy to say, but terrifying and hard for many of us to do even if it is worth it in the long run.

I’ve spent years unraveling the knots in my stomach and my spirit. I know that I did not choose the environment that created them. I was born into it. Accepting this hasn’t eliminated the seemingly bottomless well of sadness I feel in my solar plexus. It hasn’t removed every trigger that can send me into an emotional flashback that I simply can’t outthink. (I know this isn’t some particular defect in me. Signals from the amygdala can override executive function, but it still feels terrifying and out of control.)

Mindfulness has helped me rewire my brain away from anxiety toward noticing small ways in which I feel good. I feel less braced for the (as I learned to view the world) next inevitable attack. My new level of awareness lets me deliberately shift my focus in order to feel better in a given moment.

I am painfully aware how difficult it can be to find support for a healing path. Even places we expect to provide a cushion for processing trauma, grief, depression, anxiety, and somatic symptoms – the therapist’s office, doctor’s office, church, or support groups, may not provide the type of support we need. Feeling unseen, unheard, dismissed, targeted, or misunderstood can leave us feeling even more alone and, sometimes, revictimized.

Healing can bring immediate improvement, but I do not know of a straight or swift path to wholeness. That journey is a process unique to each of us. The best support along the way is to be seen and accepted just as we are at any given moment.

Perhaps this is why I so appreciate Mister Rogers simple affirmation that he likes us just as we are. But I cannot fully receive that message unless I am sitting still.…_You_and_Me

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

October 6, 2015

Is Bigger Always Better or Should I Channel My Inner Goldilocks?

Here’s what I’ve been pondering: Is bigger always better or should I channel my inner Goldilocks and learn to be satisfied with just right. I know, it seems obvious that just right is just right and therefore the obvious choice, but I’m surrounded by images, ads, attitudes, messages, and the occasional TEDx talk that imply, or outright state, that just right is somehow failure; that if I do not reach the absolute pinnacle of wealth, status, expertise, or achievement in my field, I will have failed to have a great career or a great life.
Versailles USA
And it seems to be no secret that I’m supposed to feel happiest when I buy a bigger house, fancier car, more expensive TV, computer, phone, coffee maker, iron, and larger lips, boobs, and these days, perhaps even booty. But I know plenty of people who have bought a bigger house or a high end car and now talk as if they’re more stressed than they were before. I have numerous friends who own the latest and greatest everything, look fabulous, and feel anxious, so anxious in fact, that they use daily medication or alcohol to take the edge off. Working in a service business for 25 years, I am also no stranger to the conversation that includes an expression of dissatisfaction with a job or spouse.

But something feels wrong to me. I understand that most of us are our own greatest limiters, so trying to inspire us to be more isn’t a bad thing on it’s own. The hard thing with all the messages encouraging excess is to determine when more becomes too much. Without tools for discernment or a different measure of enough, it’s easy to fall prey to the lure of too much and too many. Once we get on that roller coaster, nothing is enough and we certainly can’t be enough or produce enough or ever live up to our expectations. How can our spouse, our kids, our boss, or anyone, ever measure up? In this environment, how can we help but feel anxious and fearful?
Rev Run
Last fall I went to see Joseph Simmons (Rev Run) speak at a college nearby. He described a scene early in his career when he was experiencing the kind of success we’re told to strive for. Run DMC’s albums had just gone gold, platinum and then double platinum. At that point, Run’s goal became to top LL Cool J, so, his plan was to go to LA, get a presidential suite with a huge Jacuzzi tub, order French toast and smoke some weed. Then one day, he’s in LA in a presidential suite, in the Jacuzzi eating French toast and smoking weed just like he planned. As he described it, syrup was falling in the tub and ashes were falling in the tub. A guy that ordered him a Rolls Royce to rent was at the door. “Rolling Stone” magazine was at the door with a girl for him, and the hair cut guy was on the way. He had everything he had imagined as “winning”.

Then, Rev said, he had a moment of clarity. He realized that he was trying to have everything at once. He was trying to win like we’re told to win and it did not come with the good feeling he expected. That point was the beginning of his bottom, or as he said it when I saw him, his top was his bottom. To quote the way he said it on another occasion to CNN, “At that moment I took a deep breath and realized that there`s more to life than just being No. 1, pushing the other rappers down.” It was the beginning of a journey that led Rev Run to become a real reverend with a real ministry.

When I was reading “Fearless Living” by Rhonda Britten, the book instructed me to choose a list of heroes. In various versions of this list, I chose Burt Rutan, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Ben Vereen, Theodor Seuss Geisel, and Ron Clark. In the beginning, I noticed that most of my lists were full of men and none included anyone I actually knew. Was it possible that the idea of bigger is better had caused me to believe that no everyday person could possibly qualify as a hero? Even more frightening, did I believe that only men could achieve the level of hero?

By the time I’m consciously asking a question, I know I’ve already shifted my subconscious beliefs enough that I can entertain a new point of view. Today my hero list includes Michelle Knight, Elizabeth Smart, and Michelle Wilkins – all women who endured the unspeakable and emerged with a bright, sweet spirit intact. It’s that spirit that inspires me. You can’t buy it. You can’t get a degree in it. You can have it no matter what you look like. It’s available within each of us and it can be cultivated, nourished, and shared. It is a piece of wholeness.

We all have different paths to healing and wholeness. Along the way, some of us will enjoy accolades, win prizes and garner fame as the foremost achievers in our field. Some of us will receive recognition for our contributions as parents or patrons of the arts. For some of us, there will be no overt recognition. We will only know we are having a positive effect during brief moments when we feel it in another’s response to us.

No matter what my job, my social status, or my financial situation, the more whole I am, the more contentment, satisfaction, beauty, and joy I’ll be poised to experience. That sounds to me like the underpinning of a great career and a great life!
Wholeness does not require wealth, a bigger house, a high end car, a Nobel prize, a larger TV, plastic surgery, a ticket to the Super Bowl, or French toast in a presidential suite. If I am whole, I can be a hero in my life. It seems quite simple, perhaps obvious, that bigger is only bigger and better is only better when it’s just right. Now that we cleared that up, I’ll just sign off – as Goldilocks, of course!

January 13, 2013

Reducing Stress to Regain Your Life: Getting Ready


Does stress make you feel like this inside?

A government-sponsored study was released this week that shows “people in the United States are sicker and more likely to die earlier than peers in high-income countries”.(1) The study was conducted by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine. It analyzed US health conditions against Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Britain.  The study found that in spite of the fact that the US spends more per capita on health care than any other nation studied, the US life expectancy for men ranked last of the 17 countries and the life expectancy for women ranked lower than 16 of the 17, and our health numbers have been declining for 30 years.

One interesting note: these numbers held true even for the wealthy, insured, and those with “healthy” behaviors. Even groups we would expect to live longest are dying sooner than their peers in the other countries that the study compared. How can this be? Perhaps even more important, how have we ignored the facts for 30 years?  And most importantly, can we afford to continue to avoid asking what each of us can do as individuals to change these statistics?

Before you start to yell at the screen that you’re doing all you can do, (don’t worry, I’m a screen screamer too) just stop for a minute and breath.  I know you’re probably doing all you feel you can possibly do, and not just in the area of health, but in every area. That, in a nutshell, is the problem. The majority of us live in what feels like a pressure cooker.

We call this feeling stress and we know it contributes to disease, but we behave as though we have no choice but to be stressed. That is NOT a fact. It’s just how we feel because we don’t know how to get from stressed to not stressed and still meet our obligations.

In order to develop behaviors that reduce stress, we must first identify the sources that contribute to the pressure we feel.  Here are some possible contributors:

Over-obligating our time

Trying to please everyone

Pursuit of possessions


Saying yes when we want to say no

Comparing ourselves with others

Doing what we believe is expected by others, or what we “should” do

Working too much

Sleeping too little

Eating food high in calories and low in nutrition

Feeling disconnected

Trying to avoid failure

Feeling as though you’re different from everyone else

Protecting our children from consequences

Avoiding the difficult conversation

Not being open to receiving

Weak boundaries

Getting lost in shame

Not seeing success in progress

Not seeing opportunity in a moment that feels like failure

Measuring success as attainment of one specific goal

Measuring success as financial gain

Giving up our power in an attempt to be liked

Feeling angry with others over the bargains we make

Not living in alignment with our professed values

Waiting for someone else to make us happy

Avoiding admitting the ugly, dirty, difficult truths we believe about ourselves

A lack of compassion

Trying to control everything around us

Failing to recognize that we have a choice

Focusing on the outcome rather than the process

Spending too much time on outward appearance

A lack of spiritual connection

Filling every moment with activity

Holding out for perfection

Denying our fear rather than feeling it

Substituting the general consensus for our personal truth

Not giving ourselves credit

Not giving others credit

Getting stuck in the problem

Focusing on what we don’t have rather than feeling grateful for what we do have

Hiding our vulnerability

Not telling each other the truth, especially when it requires the difficult conversation

Pursuing happiness rather than receiving joy

Shutting out the joy of everyday beauty rather than sinking into it

Feeling guilty for savoring, relishing, lingering, embracing

As you read this list, you may recognize behaviors that you feel are just normal, or that cause you to shrug and say, “I know that may be an issue, but there’s nothing I can do about it.”  This response lets you know where to begin reexamining. Any area in which you feel you have no choice, or can’t get past seeing as a catch-22, is an area that is contributing to your stress level.

In order to reduce the pressure and begin to improve the quality of each day, it is important to create time and space for the possibility of change. You may be familiar with the concept of “developing a practice”.  This is an often touted and important technique for improvement in which you replace old patterns by deliberately implementing certain behaviors in your life that positively support you.

Often neglected when recommending a new practice is the concept of readiness. Before you can successfully sustain a positive practice and affect real change, you must first be ready.  Readiness requires more than a desire for change, more than a conscious effort to change, and more than a strategic plan.  Because our spiritual and emotional being defies logic, you cannot force underlying change by using your will. You can make behavior modifications that are inherently positive and still find yourself bedeviled a repeating pattern that looks different on the surface, but holds you back in the same way you were held back by previous behaviors. You can work really hard to make change, but it may seem like your subconscious is constantly kicking you in the behind.

The problem is not our inability to change. We have not been magically cursed to repeat destructive patterns over and over. The problem is similar to that of trying to solve a complex math problem without following the correct order of operations. In math, we get an unexpected and undesired result.  In life, we often find ourselves stuck. So how do we create readiness? What does that process look like?

Readying is a process of letting go. No more squaring your shoulders in defiance. No more fighting what is or things you can’t control. No more hanging onto anything in the past you’ve allowed to define you. Ultimately, it’s like turning over to float on your back after swimming really hard against the current.  Readying positions you to rest, regroup, and reallocate your resources. Also like floating on your back, it places your heart in a position of openness and allows you to be supported and cradled by the softness of the elements around you that moments before felt like your mortal enemy.

Letting go makes the emotional space for new behaviors to take root. When you let go of pain, you make room for joy. When you let go of your story, you create the possibility of writing a new one. When you let go of your parents’ expectations, you can focus on participating in events that feed and nourish rather than drain you. When you let go of comparison, you create room for compassion. When you let go of anger, pain, grief, and loss, you make room for peace, contentment, beauty, and wholeness.

Imagine that clearing your internal space looks like someone came into a cluttered room (perhaps one from your childhood or a recurring dream), removed all the old mementos, clothes that no longer fit, used bandages, broken furniture, and flaking paint, then gave you back a perfectly clean room with primed walls and an unlimited budget to decorate in any way you’d like at any pace that feels good. Even better than that, imagine that no matter how you decorate the room, anyone who sees it at any point will see the beauty that you’re expressing with your choices. Just like the space in this imaginary room, when our internal clutter is gone we begin with a clean open space from which to showcase our true internal beauty.

Once you are ready, you will be able to implement practices to support you as you develop stronger boundaries, release your fears, and use your courage to live in a way that reduces stress and improves your health. There is no certain point in the readying process that can be designated as more “ready” than any other point. This journey is unique for all of us. You will know when you have created enough space to let in more joy. You will allow yourself to face your demons as you become strong enough to face them. You will increasingly be able to embrace your fear and learn to accept it as a positive part of the full range of emotion. The specifics of the journey are not important.  A commitment to the journey is critical.

Why is commitment important? Commitment is critical because letting go, again like floating on your back and facing the sun, comes with the necessity of allowing light into our darkest corners. It will sometimes feel burning hot and so unbearable that we’ll momentarily revert back to our old habits. At these moments, commitment will save us from drowning and permanently reverting to old behaviors.

Why is the process important? Because what we’re doing is not working. Pressuring ourselves into “healthy” behaviors still registers as additional stress in our bodies. Taking the edge off by never sitting still, working too much, shopping, eating too much, using alcohol, pharmaceuticals, or illegal drugs is not making us healthier or giving us richer, fuller, more connected lives.

We are doing the best we know how, trying as hard as we can, and desperately hoping for relief while our quality of life, health, and life expectancy decreases. With commitment and courage, we can change our path. We can become more healthy, connected, and whole. We can encourage each other, support each other, and value the contribution we make by sharing our true selves with the world.

The journey will take courage. It will look messy. We will feel exposed. It will take time. It will not be easy.  But it will give us back our lives, our personal power, and our health. The power for change lies within us all. It is time to ready ourselves.



(1)Armour, Stephanie of Bloomberg News. “Americans Sicker, Die Earlier than Global Peers.” Arkansas Democrat Gazette [Little Rock, Arkansas] 10 Jan. 2013, A National News sec.: 6a. Print.


If you have suffered trauma and have a problem sitting still, you may want to pick up a copy of “Waking The Tiger” by Dr. Peter Levine.

For assistance with releasing the fears that hold you back, try the tools in “Fearless Living” or “Change Your Life in 30 Days: A Journey to Finding Your True Self” by Rhonda Britten.