The ability to look forward . . . and behind – An unexpected encounter

Owls can rotate their heads and necks as much as 270 degrees  “. . .  owls have backup arteries, which offer a fresh supply of nutrients when blood vessels get closed off by rapid turning.

Their arteries also swell to collect any excess blood created in the process.”  National Geographic

imagesI bought paint today for the bedroom – grey paint, Grey Owl, the name on the paint chip.  A quick trip to the paint store.  “I like how you smile.  I just told my last customer that I like to see smiles.  I always say the first wrinkles I get will be right here”, she swipes her fingers around her mouth,  “from smiling,” the clerk behind the counter looks at me straight in the eye.  “I like how you smile”.

Maybe from 30 years of being a therapist, a scent people pick up just like Freddie my dog picks up with his nose –  scents that I can’t, don’t detect.  I watch her ring up my paint purchase.  

“I just have a happy disposition.  They say I’m like my mother. Always laughing.  If my Mother saw someone trip and fall out there” – she looks outside through the plate-glass window – “she would laugh and laugh. But people never know what you feel inside, people never know if you have just been in your car, crying.  People can’t see the sadness or pain inside.  You can swipe your credit card now”, she takes a breath, “My mother died when I was 4 years old.  I wasn’t allowed in the hospital.  Maybe my brothers got to see her, got to say goodbye.  I never saw her. I never said goodbye.  I have two boys and a girl.  My little girl always wants to be with me.  I try to imagine what it was like for my Mother.”

I say something rather innocuous struck by how beautiful – smooth skin, clear, dark kinky hair, color streaked, pulled tightly back in a careless knot, bright red lipstick.  Turning, gesturing, looking up, looking down at the computer she doesn’t stop moving, trapped behind the counter. She speaks fast, effortlessly, her words softened with Spanish sounding consonants. “My aunt raised me but I’ve never felt like a daughter.  I never felt loved. My aunt already had 6 children but she told my Mom she would take care of me.  My mother never told anyone she was dying.  She didn’t want anyone to worry.  I talk to my Mother.  I tell her when I’m angry. I want to give you a hug.” an effortless, tight hug separated by a counter.  She picks up the ringing phone and motions me to get my paint.

Two gallons, one in each hand. They’re heavy, the wire handles digging painfully into my palms. She smiles and nods in my direction, still on the phone, as I walk out the automatic doors.

Grey Owl paint on the bedroom wall.  Surrounded by the stark white molding it looks fresh and soothing .  I’ll smile at the Grey Owl walls when I wake in the morning, a smile for the young woman in the paint store and her mother.  

OwlMeaningOwlSymbolism“In ancient Egyptian, Celtic, and Hindu cultures the symbolic meaning of owl revolved around guardianship of the underworlds, and a protection of the dead.”

“The owl was honored as the keeper of spirits who had passed from one plane to another. Often myth indicates the owl accompanying a spirit to the underworld – winging its newly freed soul from the physical world into the realm of spirit.” animal-symbolism

The Mask We Show to the World – In the Face of Pain

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A favorite Therapeutic Creative Expression exercise is mask painting – whether it is on an actual mask or on a 2-dimensional outline

I have participants paint or collage the inside and the outside of their mask representing in color, symbol, design how they experience

PHYSICAL, MENTAL or EMOTIONAL PAIN:

what they present to the outside world and what they experience on the inside that no one can see.

There is a worksheet on the TUTORIAL PAGE – click on TUTORIALS in the header and scroll down – that helps PROCESS the exercise.  The processing is as important as creating the mask.

The green mask is the only one that is collaged using torn pieces of magazine as “color”.  All the rest are painted with acrylic paint or drawn on with crayon.

I have three masks hanging in my office waiting room.  I find all the masks beautiful, each in their own way.  

Even if you don’t draw/paint or collage your mask imagine it in your mind’s eye and do the worksheet.

I would love to know what your vision is.

The Single Most Effective Antidote for Anxiety.

(This is a repost, especially for my friends who look outside their windows and do not see what I see)

If I  watched the news all day and evening I would KNOW that the world is in its last days:  Earthquakes, tornadoes, nuclear reactor melt-downs, flooding, war, starvation, killing,  financial collapse, drought, fires . . . EVERYWHERE.

I look out the window, past the TV.  It’s sunny, warm and lovely.  My brain, however, has already been cued by the words, thoughts and images of death, dying and devastation.  My brain as a response has released the neurochemistry of anxiety into the cells of my body.  And I FEEL the anxiety in every fiber of my being.

Chronically Running for Our Life

All our brains chronically perceive danger with any chronic emotional or physical condition.  The body being continually under siege, in pain, sends signals to the brain which get us ready to flee or fight off our enemy.  Muscle tension is needed for running like hell or slugging it out.  Now’s not the time to relax if you want to live.

The opposite of DANGER is SAFETY.

Here’s one of the very best mind-body techniques, and easiest, way to let your brain practice calm.   Best of all it requires no Rx, no money, no time and you take it with you where ever you go. I have taught this hundreds, maybe thousands, of times and it absolutely works . . .when you do it.

Chronically Safe Signal:

1. Take a deep breath through your nose.
2. Hold the breath for just a moment
3. As you release the breath, through your nose, very gently, say silently: “I’m safe.” (Be kind to your brain.  It’s just trying to keep you from being eaten alive)

Sound too simple!?

Our brains are relatively simple in that brains can not tell the difference between when we are actually in danger (anxiety is our brain’s way of keeping us on alert for danger so we can survive) or when we perceive danger through thoughts or other cues.

Imagine a snake, a spider, anything that you are afraid of. Your brain will signal “danger” “danger” and flood you with the neurochemistry of fear. Watch a sad movie and your brain will flood you with the neurochemistry of sadness and, if you are like me, sob like a baby.
Soooooooooo, tell your brain you are safe and it will stop the neurochemistry of fear and anxiety. It’s not instant cup’o’soup because once you are flooded with the anxious feeling it will take about 20 minutes or so for theneurochemistry to metabolize out of your body’s cells.  No matter how you FEEL keep giving your brain the “I’m Safe” cue.

Here’s the Key

Yoga, meditation, mindfulness prayer, listening to relaxation recordings all help.  However, to break into a CHRONIC cycle we need to chronically signal our brains to stop sending the neurochemistry of the stress response to our bodies. Let your brain know that no one is throwing grenades at you, animals are not trying to eat you alive, you are not in danger.  And the easiest way is to . . .

 . . . CHRONICALLY “Sprinkle” the Breath/I’m safe cue throughout the day and evening. It’s a good idea to get a cue(s) to remind yourself to do this. A post-it-note on the bathroom mirror, every time your phone rings, a note in your appointment book etc.

You HAVE to breathe anyway so you’ve got nothing to lose — except your stress response.

In the midst of peace

Hypnotic danger signals

 My companion, fear

ME a Stress Case? . . . I Don’t Think So. . . This Anxiety Reduction Technique is for YOU

Self Reflection

I’m not a worrier by nature, I’m not anxiety riddenI teach OTHERS how to relax, how to reduce THEIR tension.

Getting my hair done yesterday – yes, I still have my purple streaksI had nothing better to do than focus on me.  That’s what my hairdresser was doing so I figured I could too.

Whoa! My entire body was tense.

I relaxed my muscles. They tensed up againI relaxed again.  Muscles from head to toe tensed up again as if I were a trained athlete who had practiced over and over until my muscle memory was so strong practice was no longer needed.

Flashing before my eyes was every therapy session I’ve ever had with anyone who had anxiety, PTSD, was a caretaker, had a sick loved one, experienced loss of any kind, anticipated loss, was in pain or had a CHRONIC CONDITION. . . .

I’ve explained “it” so many times that like a well-trained athlete my mind no longer has to think.  I automatically recognize the stress response in others (others being the operant word).

Chronically Running for Our Life

I know that your brain (NOT MINE OF COURSE) chronically perceives danger with any chronic emotional or physical condition.  The body being continually under siege, in pain, sends signals to the brain which get us ready to flee or fight off our enemy.  Muscle tension is needed for running like hell or slugging it out.  Now’s not the time to relax if you want to live.

The opposite of DANGER is SAFETY.

Here’s one of the very best mind-body techniques, and easiest, way to let your brain practice calm.   Best of all it requires no Rx, no money, no time and you take it with you where ever you go. I have taught this hundreds, maybe thousands, of times and it absolutely works (I of course don’t need to do it.  After all I teach it).

Chronically Safe Signal:

1. Take a deep breath through your nose.
2. Hold the breath for just a moment
3. As you release the breath, through your nose, very gently, say silently: “Thank you brain, I’m safe.” (Be kind to your brain.  It’s just trying to keep you from being eaten alive)

Sound too simple!?

Our brains are relatively simple in that brains can not tell the difference between when we are actually in danger (anxiety is our brain’s way of keeping us on alert for danger so we can survive) or when we perceive danger through thoughts or other cues.

Imagine a snake, a spider, anything that you are afraid of. Your brain will signal “danger! danger!” and flood your cells with the neurochemistry of fear. Watch a sad movie and your brain will flood you with the neurochemistry of sadness and, if you are like me, sob like a baby.
Soooooooooo, tell your brain you are safe and it will stop the neurochemistry of fear and anxiety. It’s not instant cup’o’soup because once you are flooded with the anxious feeling it will take about 20 minutes or so for the neurochemistry to metabolize out of your body’s cells.  No matter how you FEEL keep giving your brain the “I’m Safe” cue.

Here’s the Key

Yoga, meditation, mindfulness prayer, listening to relaxation recordings all help.  However, to break into a CHRONIC cycle you need to chronically signal your brain to stop sending the neurochemistry of the stress response to your body. Let your brain know that no one is throwing grenades at you, animals are not trying to eat you alive, you are not in danger.

CHRONICALLY “Sprinkle” the Breath/I’m safe cue throughout the day and evening. It’s a good idea to get a cue(s) to remind yourself to do this. A post-it-note on the bathroom mirror, every time your phone rings, a note in your appointment book etc.

You HAVE to breathe anyway so you’ve got nothing to lose — except your stress response!

Self Realization

I was going to name this post “Teachers Teach What they Need to Learn” but I figured out that I had a legitimate reason to be stressed while my hair was getting done because

my hair dresser had a scissors in one hand

and with the other hand pointed a hair dryer to my head.