Coping with Challenge, Loss, and Change

 

Some days and weeks are more challenging than others in my ability to maintain my upward spiral of positivity and goodness. The last few weeks have been more challenging than most with one blow after another keeping my emotions on a roller coaster of grief and sadness as I ride the waves of transition and loss. Each time I feel my sense of self moving back to normal another shock comes along and I find myself tumbling into more raw emotion – more tears, more grief, more sadness, and more questions centering around “Why?…”

Yes, I have my daily practices of writing, meditation, gratitude, and yoga that anchor me to the moment. Though, I find during times like these, I need more to ground me into balance and bring me back to joy. So I write more to explore my questions, express each story, and sort through my emotions. My journals become my rudder to navigate the emotional storms. I am grateful for my daily writing.

Another practice important for channeling my disrupted and lost feeling is focusing on creative expression — I’ve made several journals, sifted through photographs for a new album, (even doing dishes and cleaning are creative channels) and I have a crochet project ready to begin. Each of these provide focus and each brings me into a fine balance of mindful action and mindless free thought — because they tap into a cellular memory from doing them so often, my hands know the way. I find a sense of quiet calm when I am in flow while making something new.

A practice that connects me to my spiritual self is to look for beauty in nature. Yesterday, I went for a meditation walk with my camera. Each step taken slowly and mindfully while opening my senses to beauty. Sometimes I’ll walk with a prompt or question then wait for what is before me — I listen to nature for answers, calm, or a redirect. My walk led me to explore my gardens. I was captivated by the lush growth and the recent challenges of weather. We’ve had an over-abundance of rain which invites overgrowth.

I then focused on the finer details. My eyes found something quite interesting as I stepped closer to a gourd plant — as it grows it sends out these spiraling shoots to grab hold of what’s available for stability and support as it grows taller. These reaching shoots create more than support, they generate my sense of awe and wonder as I witness the beauty and intelligence in nature.

Do I not also need something to hold for stability as I feel insecure and off my center? How do I find my anchor in turbulent times?

Later I reflected on my list of anchors I’ve recently utilized as reminders of my inner strength and resilience as well as support:

~ Reach out to a friend, whether by phone or in person.
~ Make something – like a journal, a weaving, or a photo album.
~ Make a plan for a next project when these are finished.
~ Go for a long hike into the woods feeling my connection to the natural world – not only are my hikes connection to nature, they are also movement which is always healing and calming.
~ Write in my journal exploring my questions and writing the stories in response to each situation.
~ Read something inspiring – poetry works well for me, as well as uplifting authors such as Brene Brown, Tal Ben Shahar, Megan McDonough, Maria Sirois, or Elizabeth Gilbert.
~ Give myself permission to feel all of my feelings. By expressing them without holding back, I move through them more easily.

By doing, I am reminded of using my strengths of appreciation and curiosity. I use these strengths on my meditation walks. I am also reminded of the research studies supporting the positive benefits of writing about troubling or traumatic events — writing about the same topic over 4 – 5 days allows me to integrate my emotions and my experiences into a greater sense of well-being. I am also reminded of the power of my breath to fortify my immune system, improve vagal tone as well as to lead me into my meditative calm. My creative self is grateful for my flow experiences that take me out of myself and into a focused process of creation — a healing balm in troubling times.

As I sit with a friend for support I feel the oxytocin – or know it’s being released through our connection – and find comfort in the positivity resonance shared between us.

All of these guide me in making sense of troubling times and make room for my thoughts and tears to flow while being balanced in positivity.

What do you do to lead you into a positive upward spiral during challenging times?

 

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Nature Deficit Disorder

 

 

“Nature deficit disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.”
~ “The Last Child In the Woods” by Richard Louv

Do you play? How do you play? Do you spend time wandering in nature? Perhaps play is a memory from your childhood traded in for the responsibilities and busy-ness of adult living?

For the last four months I’ve had the gift of both witnessing and participating in the play of my grandchildren. From the time they wake until bedtime, they are involved in some form of play. Life is an endless stream of curiosity and exploration. As I watch them, I remember my own childhood of play with Pennsylvania farmland as my back yard.

Except for weekdays in school, I remember being outdoors soon after breakfast until lunch, then out again until dinner. In the summer we would be out again after dinner until just after dark. The only time we stayed indoors was if the weather prevented us or if we were sick.

With plentiful seasonal clothing, I learned to love being outdoors and using whatever was available as props for play. My siblings and I made up endless stories and games for fun. I remember knowing the names of trees, bushes, and flowers that grew around our neighborhood.

Now, I am grateful for the days, seasons, and years spent outdoors. I am grateful to my mother for sending us outdoors throughout my childhood. As an adult, I prefer the outdoors to being indoors. I prefer curiosity and creativity in nature over sitting in front of the television or my computer. Most days I look for ways to get outdoors to walk, stretch, work, and enjoy the changing weather and seasons.

In the last decade or more it has become increasingly rare to see children outdoors simply playing (even at playgrounds). Though I understand the dilemma parents must face now — fear of children being bullied, abducted, or our own over organized schedules preventing time for play, as well as the hours of homework children must do after school — I wonder if we are robbing our children of important play and exploration, without a schedule.

Today, the process of squelching play begins at younger ages (even in preschool). We exchange their natural curiosity of learning through play for standardized tests so they can succeed in the world of academia. Are we robbing them of something essential? I believe so.

Watching my grandchildren in their play, I see that play is their learning. Through their play they are acquiring knowledge and important skills they’ll need for life. I am excited by their enthusiasm, curiosity, and exuberance as they run, explore, use their imaginations, and ask endless questions about what surrounds them in nature. Being outdoors has seen them grow in so many ways. My almost seven year old granddaughter can take you on a nature tour, identifying flowers, plants, and trees she has learned. My grandson, who is just two, has improved his running style, digging skills, and strengthened his bond with his ‘always by his side’ dog. They have both honed their frisbee throwing, gardening, and ball throwing skills. As a family we have enjoyed hours of birdwatching while the seasons have changed from winter to summer. On rainy days or just before bed, we listen and learn the birdsongs of the birds we’ve seen. Walks in the woods now include listening as well as seeing to identify birds.

We’ve rescued birds, turtles, and toads from danger or injury. We’ve made a nature book to create pages with nature’s findings — butterfly wings, leaves, feathers, and treasures.

Richard Louv in his eye-opening book, “The Last Child In The Woods”, speaks about the decline of children being outdoors to hike, walk, fish, play, and garden. Science studies indicate that direct exposure to nature is essential for physical and emotional health. Louv has coined the term ‘nature deficit disorder’ and speaks of children missing out on important outdoor play and exploration. Florence Williams in her book, “The Nature Fix”, has followed scientists around the world who study the positive effects of being in nature. When we are outdoors in nature — the woods, the beach, or hiking mountains — we can lower blood pressure, calm our minds, and decrease the effects of daily stress. Nature allows us to be more creative, improve problem solving skills, and leads us back to our busy lives refreshed.

The fresh air, the changing seasons as well as the sunshine has helped my grandchildren grow physically, mentally, and emotionally. They have become more independent and resilient being in a natural setting. Each day they are filled with nature. They are not experiencing nature deficit disorder that is so common with children today.

For myself, I’ve re-learned to relax into play and exploration while letting some of my ‘responsible to do’ lists take a back seat. I enjoy watching butterflies land on flowers, hummingbirds drink from the feeders, and looking for toads.

Do you play? How do you play?

Let’s Play A Game

“Games are not just a source of entertainment. They are a model for how to become the best version of ourselves.”
~ Super Better by Jane McGonigal

Our seaside cache!
Our seaside cache!

My fondest memories of summer as a child were the games we played. Nearly every evening our neighborhood — children and adults — played Hide And Seek or Kick The Can. We would begin after dinner as the evening light began to wane and continue until it was too dark to see our own feet on the ground. I remember the fun, the laughter, and the sense of community. Games were an integral part of every day.

On our short street in rural Pennsylvania, everyone knew everyone else — we were a micro community. Because of the games we played, summertime became a long “endless summer.” During the daytime hours, all of us children would meet in one or another’s yard and make up games. When the weather was nice (which seemed to be most days) we all were outdoors from morning until bedtime with breaks only for meals or when our mothers called us in for help indoors. Back then, playing outdoors was simply what every child did and we wandered from yard to yard or into the cornfields beyond our yard. (We didn’t experience the fear that so many parents and children feel today.) The summertime was one long game from morning until night.

On rainy days, we had board games — Monopoly, Checkers, Candy Land, Scrabble — or card games, like Go Fish, and, of course, the family jigsaw puzzle always in progress. We didn’t have video games, iPads, computers, or apps for games. We also didn’t watch TV except briefly in the evenings. Games for us were physical and mental as well as opportunities for everyone to join in. We were close as siblings, as family, and as neighbors. The games we played were about connection, fun, and laughter.

As I reflect back on those games, I realize that they also taught us valuable skills for everyday life such as cooperation, concentration, perseverance, self-efficacy, setting goals, and resilience as in games there is, often, more failure than winning. We grew up using our natural strengths for happiness, health, and success because we practiced and used those strengths in the games we played.

Today, life is quite different. Few children (especially in urban areas) play outdoors unless supervised. Life is scheduled with structured activities and when not scheduled, too many children spend hours in front of the TV, their iPhones, iPads, or computers using Social Media and playing online games. Much of the disappearance of outdoor play is due to fear from the climate many children live in, I know. Yet, social media, TV, and online games aren’t necessarily learning and using valuable lifelong skills.

The good news (and there is always good news, if we look for it) is that games are making a comeback because who doesn’t like a good game whether old-fashioned fun or healthy competition between teams? How is this, you might ask? Children and adults can, indeed, be challenged with a good game that uses physical activity combined with technology for fun, cooperation, and connection. There is also growing scientific evidence backing the benefits of playing games — such as challenging us and improving our abilities both in and out of the game; increasing self-efficacy (the belief that you, yourself, can effect positive change in your own life); learning & nurturing greater resilience; increasing brain neuroplasticity; and increasing dopamine in the brain which is associated with faster learning and better performance. The science of games is quite interesting and, certainly, has encouraged me to play more games.

In just two weeks, I witnessed and participated in two games that combine technology and activity into the fun of game playing…

The first game I heard about and began seeing Tweets about is the new Pokemon GO. More on that in a moment…

The second game I learned about while out hiking, from a Dad with his two young children. The game they were playing is known as ‘Geocaching’ or a modern day, cooperative treasure hunt that uses a GPS to track a hidden cache. Totally intrigued, I asked them about geocaching since they were clearly excited and on a mission! Dad told me they were spending the day geocaching and there were four geocaches in the vicinity — the children excitedly showed me their small toys they’d retrieved from a previous cache.

On my return home, I googled ‘Geocache’ and was surprised at the number of results from a main Geocache website explaining all the rules and good practice guidelines as well as a number of YouTube videos on how to play and of adventures others had been on around the world. I Iearned that Geocaching began in 2000 to test GPS technology and quickly became a game played worldwide. Coincidentally, my daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren were just introduced to a geocache near their home that was discovered by a neighbor and his children who are geocacher’s.

We registered with the Geocache website and planned our own adventure to find several in their area. We all went together (Mom, Dad, Gramma, and grandchildren) and had tremendous fun finding two out of three caches within miles of their home. We spent the day focused on a challenge, cooperating, being with and connecting with one another, and having fun with the added benefit of being outdoors in nature. My granddaughter who turned six that day, was ecstatic and has already been out to find more!

The second game, Pokemon GO, (I am sure you have already heard it mentioned somewhere) is a game that, within several weeks since being launched, is already popular in the US, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK (with more countries soon to follow). Pokemon GO is an easily downloadable app onto your Smartphone. And, yes, I have heard many negative judgements about the game and even more positives. My curiosity was intrigued because of the premise of the game — you must be outdoors and/or moving to play. There are also opportunities to play the game with others. Everywhere I go, I see people playing the game and having fun. I’ve talked to teenagers who are already experts. I’ve talked to a father and daughter who play together. I’ve also noticed an increasing amount of mentions on social media — it is certainly the new trend in games that goes above and beyond the sedentary nature of many video games, watching TV, or the focused attention online in front of a computer.

In my recent travels while standing in a line, I asked a woman in front of me (who was playing) if she would answer a few of my questions about the game. She was most interesting as she was also a grandmother, her excitement was contagious, she admitted to the addictive quality of playing, she plays along with her grandchildren, and she gave me a mini-tutorial on how to play. Her one comment was most intriguing, she said “For an introvert, I’ve met more people in two short weeks because of the game!” She told me that everywhere she goes she meets people — young and old — interacting and having fun! (I want to be like her — a cool grandmother!)

As I looked around the busy roadside rest area off the highway, I saw people connecting, having fun while being challenged and moving about — you simply cannot play Pokemon GO while sitting still! (Of course, I’ve been playing!)

Whether your interest is in a traditional game of Monopoly or Hide-and-Seek or you want to try something new and trendy with technology (I like both) — it’s good for our physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being. So let’s play more games!