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The Constants In Our Lives

Do you remember taking algebra and having the constant in the equation?  Constants are important because they create stability.  When we have constants in our lives we have a sense of safety and security.  They say, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.”  I started thinking about what’s constant in my life because I work all over the country and it feels like things are constantly changing.  Knowing someone at home loves me even if I’m not there is critical to continuing my work away from home.  Experiencing support in the form of life updates keeps me in the loop even when I step out of the circle physically (but never emotionally or spiritually).

I was listening to an interview with Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron where she shared, “The sun is always there-sometime clouds are disguising it, but it never leaves.”  That’s the simplest way to describe object constancy, knowing something still exists even if we can’t see it.  How is that possible?  We experience the world through multiple senses and on top of that we have our innate sense of intuition.  When we pair all these sensory and experiential aspects we build a spiritual nest where in our hearts we know we’re protected.

I’m not sure why, but many equate constant with boredom.  You here things like same s**t different day.  If we’re coming up against the same challenges repeatedly and you think that’s a constant there’s a problem.  Incurring the same obstacles over and over is insanity.  It’s in that moment that changing your strategy is critical to moving forward.  The constant experiences in your life should be the things that support you, encourage you, provide you with a sense of security and allow you to take some risks to hopefully improve your pilgrimage to health and healing.

Remember, the sun really is there even if you can’t see it and so your humanity!  The world needs you!

Valentine ’s Day is right around the corner and stores are displaying merchandise and cards for the occasion.  I started thinking about the messages sent by some of the big companies like Ma Bell and Hallmark and what’s been lost with the invention of Facebook and other social media.  Ma Bell wanted us to “Reach Out and Touch Someone”, and Hallmark told us buying cards, “When You Want to Send the Best”.  These two company taglines spoke more, to me, than just about commercialism, but how we interact in the world.

I’ve watched the number of birthday cards dwindle significantly over the past four years.  I used to have a mantle full of cards, and now it’s down to a select few.  Don’t get me wrong, I get plenty of Happy Birthday messages on Facebook, but it’s different.  We no longer have to plan on how we interact.  We are now able to wake-up in the morning and see who we need to send a birthday wish, congratulate for an achievement, or commiserate about a dilemma.  What happened to sentiment?  Have we lost the ability to connect more than electronically?

I sent out a bunch of cards today because there are people who I haven’t spoken to in a while that I wanted to send a special message.  I want to appreciate certain people who have supported me, kept me in the loop of their lives while I’ve been traveling the country.  It gave me an opportunity to say I took the time to spend a few minutes devoted to connecting with you.  I know I may be a bit over the edge, but social media has left too many people connected to others with only a dotted line, and they’re still lonely.

When going through difficult times we need to make those phone calls, send those calls, and show that we’re making an effort and that this person matters to you more than just a count on your Facebook page.  Illness, divorce, death, financial struggle to name a few are life events that require deeper connections to emerge with a sense of peace and to have the ability to continue on life’s pilgrimage!

If you follow my blog you know that I travel around the country for work, months at a time. I work long hours and in return my time off is really off. I’ve had the good fortune to visit some great cities and in each one I make sure and find my tribe. My tribe is anyone who engages in artistic endeavors, no matter the genre. In addition, I always make it a point to visit the local attractions such as museums and botanic gardens not to mention quilt shops and knitting shops.

My current work assignment is in Baltimore. My other blog www.manofthecloth.wordpress.com is where I focus on stitching as meditation. I was looking for a particular yarn and found that a local art supply store happened to carry this gorgeous 100% wool yarn. I made it over to the shop, found the yarn, but they didn’t have enough for my project. Little did I know, until I got up to the register, that they have back stock that isn’t on the floor. I found five more skeins of yarn and proceeded to check out.

The staff inquired if I was affiliated with the Art Institute as a student or faculty member, to receive the discount. I explained that I’m visiting from out-of-state for a work contract. Once I divulged where I lived, the two employees proceeded to tell me about all the art spots that I had to see while in town. First they were focused on fiber art, since that’s my medium, but I explained I’m open to anything art related. They gave me a list of locations, exhibitions, and venues to visit before I leave town. They made me feel very welcomed and over the next few weeks will give me things to see and do while I’m far away from home.

So who is your tribe? What makes a tribe? I find that it’s about common passions. It doesn’t matter what you’re passionate about, these folks exist all around you. Another way that tribes are formed is by common experience. I’ve worked in outpatient drug and alcohol programs and the bonds that are formed are very strong. When I worked at The Wellness Community, serving cancer patients and their families, they created a tribe. The tribe can tell you the things you need to do, see, look for, and experience, as well as where the land mines are to avoid.

I was fortunate to attend a graduate school that had the ancient Wisdom Traditions as the foundation of the curriculum. I met amazing people who were on the same pilgrimage as me. We took classes together, worked on our dissertations together, and fortunately graduated together. The experience of traveling with other seekers was amazing. It eased much of the anxiety of the process and increased my level of devotion to the work. My tribe supported and nurtured me throughout my journey.

Where we got the notion that it’s better to go it alone I’m not sure. What I do know from personal and professional experience is that having a tribe makes me feel a part of something larger than me. It gives me the sense of expansion and possibility that exists beyond what I can see in my world today.

Who makes up your tribe? How have they created a safe haven on your personal journey? How have you benefited from being part of a tribe? Be conscious of these questions and I think you’ll be amazed at the connections that are all around you!

Who’s On Your Side?

We all need people on our side when things get rough.  We all face adversity and in those moments of despair, challenge, and simple questioning it’s important to know who is on your side.  I’ve seen the best and worst in recent days and I’d like to share both accounts with you.

I work with a woman who is currently one-thousand miles away from home.  Her husband and three children are home and she’s in contact with them throughout the day.  Recently, her daughter was accused of cheating while taking a final.  The teacher believe she saw the young woman looking down at her cell phone during the exam.  As luck would have it, the young woman’s phone was taken the night before by her father, so the cheating on those grounds was an impossibility.

What hurt the most is that the teacher accused the student in front of the class.  My colleague called the school, spoke with the administrators and got to the bottom of the matter.  The administrator agreed that the cheating would be expunged and then asked my colleague what she felt would be appropriate to rectify the situation.  My co-worker said that since her daughter was accused before the class, an apology before the class and the administrator agreed.  How’s that for knowing that someone is on your side.  This young woman knows that “right” is on your side and that there are people (her parents) willing to go to bat to defend her honor and integrity.

On the flip side is another recent turn of events.  Management for a company was challenged by their client about a business practice.  In turn, the upper echelon sent the front line managers and accusatory email with the tone of a reprimand.  I don’t know about you but my leadership training has always taught me that before taking action you get all sides of the story so you have a clear picture of the situation.  In addition, you hired your staff for a reason and if your client is having concerns don’t you have enough respect for your own staff to address them in a respectful and inquiring manner?  I heard the story and imagined myself in that predicament.  I can’t imagine feeling like my own company was against me.

So how does all of that related to the theme of Surviving Strong?  It’s critical that you believe your support team, both medical and personal are always on your side.  I remember reading Jerome Groopman’s book How Doctor’s Think, the story in the introduction of the book tells it all.   He tells the story of a young woman who was diagnosed with an eating disorder and for twelve years she was passed from one doctor to the next searching for the root of the problem.  It wasn’t until the last doctor set her records aside, took out a clean pad of paper, and asked her tell her story from the beginning.  He was on her side.  He knew that if he was going to help her it was imperative that he believe in her and her story.

In order to achieve peace of mind, strength of body, mind, and spirit, and a sense of community knowing who is on your side is important.  It’s a crazy world and knowing with your whole heart that you’re not in this alone can make or break your journey to health and healing.

Recently I took a Trans-Atlantic cruise from Barcelona to Fort Lauderdale. After stopping at a few ports it was time to cross the Atlantic Ocean, a journey that would be seven days across the sea. The trip was fourteen days so there was plenty of time to interact with other passengers along the way. It’s not uncommon to become friendly with people you see over and over throughout the trip. On the last day when everyone is getting ready for departure we say our goodbyes. One person shook my hand and said, “Have a good life”. I walked away and began to think about this interaction. It left me wondering about the people we meet every day and the impact they have on our lives.

Unless you meet someone and make plans to cross paths in the future it’s likely you’ll never interact with those you meet along your life path. I found it interesting to exist in a microcosm of the world.   Twenty-eight hundred passengers and about fourteen hundred crewmembers created a city on the sea. The people I gravitated to I met at activities such as lectures and other scheduled meetups. Two weeks gives you plenty of time to maintain ongoing discussions in an attempt to get to know the others on the ship.

It’s not as if you become friends with everyone you meet, but you do have an affinity for certain people. You seek these people out because they become your onboard social network. It makes the trip more enjoyable, and in some cases friendships do develop.

It was the statement, “Have a good life” that made me consider who enters and exits my life over time. There are people who I have spent a lot of time with and over time when the group disbands the associations remain in tact through Facebook and other social media, but the day-to-day interaction seems to dissipate. How do we measure the impact and the lessons learned from those who enter and exit our lives? What is it that these people we gravitate to are sent to teach us on our journey of life? How can we make the most of the interactions we experience and develop a deeper understanding of our social nature and its impact on health and healing?

I’m grateful for the people I met, the stories I heard, and the experience of sharing the gift of travel with wonderful people. I was happy to deepen friendships with those I have traveled with before and extend my social circle with those I met who I know I’ll see again. I’m grateful for the life lessons I learned through anecdotes and activities. It’s important to know that all we want for each other is to “Have a good life”, but to hear it is reassuring!

Looking to further your journey of health and healing?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

Want to explore how to have a good life through creativity?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

Follow me on Twitter: @GregKatz2

We’re familiar with the pilgrims of the Middle Ages struggling to make it to the Holy Land. They overcame many obstacles, fought wars, and hopefully in the end found peace. There are many who make pilgrimages for personal reasons; physical challenges and healing of health issues, emotional freedom, or attaining spiritual enlightenment. The truth is that we walk this world as pilgrims because we’re all in search of something, even if you’re not aware of what it is in this moment.

Last night I facilitated a call for students working on their doctoral dissertations. I believe these students are on their own personal pilgrimage. They are expanding their personal and professional boundaries. They are taking on a pursuit that will change their lives forever. They are creating a soapbox on which they will stand for the rest of their lives. As someone who has completed this process I am honored and privileged to serve as their Sherpa, carrying the heavy load when necessary giving each pilgrim the space to move forward on their journey.

Richard R. Niebuhr, noted scholar from the Harvard Divinity School, stated “Pilgrims are person in motion, passing through territories not their own-seeking something we might call completion, or perhaps the word clarity will do us well, a goal to which the spirit’s compass points the way.” When we set out on a pilgrimage we have a nagging question that keeps showing up in our lives and is demanding attention. Many believe that the “good” life is one where we have a sense of completion. We have tackled the challenges set forth by that whisper in our ear nudging us to take action in our lives.

Roger Housden in Sacred Journeys in a Modern World writes, “Whatever its destination, what sets a sacred journey apart from an every day walk, or a tourist trip, is the spirit in which it is undertaken. It is sacred if it sensitizes the individual to the deeper realities of his or her own being, and those of the world in which we live.” Our pilgrimages are sacred because it’s part of our narrative. It is a catalyst for change. As Pilgrims we are making conscious what has been seeking a voice, an answer, or possibly leading us to new questions.

I’ve sat in many counseling rooms with those facing life-threatening illness and each person’s pilgrimage had similarities, seeking hope, some sense of control over their lives, and empowerment. Since not everyone who is diagnosed with an illness recovers, some individual’s pilgrimage is seeking a good death and making sure they do not have an unlived life.

Whatever your pilgrimage I hope you make each step a conscious one. Your pilgrimage will keep you consciously engaged in your life opening your body, mind, and spirit to new heights. Set out on a pilgrimage and experience the wonder this journey to the depths of soul will reveal!

Facing a chronic or life-threatening illness and looking for education, support, and inspiration?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

Want to take an Art and Healing pilgrimage?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

Follow me on Twitter: @GregKatz2

The Anxiety Fugue

Yesterday I talked about taking my black lab, Tashi, to the vet because of her trouble walking. I wrote about needing cue cards because the questions I should have asked escaped my consciousness in the midst of the exam. What caused my lapse in consciousness? What is it that prevented me from following my own protocols that I’ve set in place for my own healthcare when it came to Tashi? Anxiety!

Anxiety can be an overwhelming tidal wave of angst. It causes panic attacks and evokes a stance of fear. I don’t find myself to be an anxious person, but when anxiety does strike it strikes hard. It’s not invited. It’s a party crasher to our lives. I’ll give you an example.

I’ve got asthma. It’s under control with the use of a couple of inhalers. I am under a doctor’s care and have had numerous pulmonary and cardiac tests to insure that I’m getting the right care. I don’t know if you’ve ever had trouble breathing, but the anxiety of not being able to breathe, for me, is worse than not being sufficiently oxygenated. There is an anxiety of doom and potential death.

Prior to taking Tashi to the vet she was having trouble walking. She was agitated and would move around the house quickly and without purpose. Her back was hunched like one of those black cat pictures you see at Halloween. You could look in her eyes and see the angst she was feeling.

Watching Tashi struggle evoked my anxiety. Instead of waiting for the exam I was already struggling with her impending euthanasia. For me, in that moment, there was only one ending to the story and that put me in a tailspin. By the time I got to the vet I had forgotten my own medical exam process. I didn’t have enough clarity of mind to ask the questions I knew in my heart needed to be asked. It wasn’t until I got home that the fog cleared and the questions surfaced.

When anxiety strikes it can be debilitating. This is why when facing a chronic or life-threatening illness it’s important to either record your doctor’s visit or bring a family member or friend as a witness. There are too many of us who miss vital information when the anxiety fugue hits and when it comes to our health and healing we don’t want to miss anything!!

Experiencing Anxiety?  Facing a chronic or life-threatening illness?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

Want to alleviate anxiety through art?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

Follow me on Twitter: @GregKatz2