Happy Winter Solstice!

 

If the darkness of winter has been weighing on you, remember, it only gets brighter from here.

May the fires of self-compassion, strength, and inner wisdom illuminate your path when the sun is nowhere to be found.

May you always find your own guiding light.

solistice

Three Ways to Love Yourself This Valentine’s Day

valentines dayValentine’s Day can be difficult for many reasons. For some, it brings about loneliness, sadness, or self-aggression. When this happens, a powerful antidote can be the cultivation of self-love and self-appreciation. Here are a few ways to intimately connect with yourself this Saturday.

  1. Take your inner creative out on a date

In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron offers the concept of the weekly “artist date,” as a crucial part of the creative life. Simply put, we take our inner artist, or our inner child, out on a date by setting some time aside, listening to his/her longings, following them, and having fun! On my first artist’s date, I felt nostalgic for my past home of Valparaiso, Chile. There, on free afternoons, I would often put on headphones and meander through the hilly city, letting my senses guide me to ocean overlooks or hidden pockets of street art. On my date, I decided to bring the ritual to Boulder, and aimlessly wandered the city for hours. I ended up back in front of old houses I had lived in during college—places I hadn’t revisited in many years. I let myself dance with old memories, while connecting with my gratitude for my current stage of life. It was a perfectly intimate and special day I could have only shared with myself. Try, for an afternoon, to touch into that intimacy you have with yourself—with the parts of you that only you can understand. If you are feeling nostalgic, revisit the past through old music, photos, or places. If you are feeling adventurous, try something you never envisioned yourself doing, just for kicks (it could be bungee jumping, but it could also be hanging out in a different part of town, test-driving fancy cars, or trying a spa treatment you’ve never heard of). If your soul is feeling hungry, take in inspiring art, or indulge your senses through a trip through a spice shop or a delicious meal. However you are feeling, have a special experience that only you will understand.

  1. Create a vision board

A vision board is a place for you to gather and clarify what you want to invite into your life. A simple way to start is by hanging up a corkboard (poster board can also work), and perusing magazines, books, or visual websites like Pinterest, paying attention to what images, words, or phrases stand out to you. From there, you cut/print them out and collage them onto your board. It can be difficult for us to know what we want with the next chapter in our lives, and a vision board is a great way to gain understanding of what your soul is longing for—what is to calling you. Vision-boarding is powerful because it puts you in touch with what you really want—a feat that can be difficult when noise from friends, family, and the media seem to want to tell you what you need and crave.

  1. Practice Maitri

Maitri, literally translated as “loving kindness,” is a Buddhist term that often refers to the practice of being unconditionally loving and friendly toward yourself in whatever experience you may be going through. This means that if you are feeling lonely, allow yourself to be lonely, remaining compassionate towards yourself as you have your experience. It means noticing when you want to be angry with yourself for feeling how you are feeling, and choosing to love yourself instead, acknowledging that your feelings are sometimes out of your control. There are times when we receive the message that to achieve happiness, we must transcend negative emotions like anger, jealousy, or fear. Practicing maitri teaches us that these emotions are normal and sane parts of ourselves, and we are whole and loveable, no matter what we feel. Here is a five-minute exercise to help cultivate maitri: Find a comfortable seat, and begin by closing your eyes and noticing your breath. Notice it just as it is, without any need to change it. If you notice your mind drifting away, simply come back to your breath compassionately, without judging yourself. Rest your attention here for a moment. Now scan your body from head to toe, noticing where you may be holding tension or emotion. Take a moment to acknowledge this part of yourself, again, without any need to change it. Let it be just as it is. Imagine that it is a physical mass of energy, and you are able to wrap your arms or a blanket around it to comfort and love it. Ask it if it needs anything else, and imagine yourself giving that thing to it.

A Word of Gratitude

upThis weekend, a training in Motivational Interviewing left me with a deep sense of gratitude. Sure, I was grateful for having a fun way to learn and practice helpful skills. I was grateful for the generosity of the trainer, who has been an amazing colleague and wonderful support for me in my professional development. I was grateful to be spending time with a group of wise and talented therapists and coaches over tasty scones and cherry juice.

But what left the deepest impression of gratitude was the continual reminder of the beauty and resilience of my clients, and how sacred it is to be invited into their life journeys.

Motivational Interviewing is a wonderful approach to therapy that calls on the wisdom of the client to move toward the changes they feel compelled towards making. And the therapist is lucky enough to be a travel agent and a guide in this profound process. As we learned new skills and reviewed the ones I had already been practicing, I thought of all of the growth and existential shifts I had been a part of over the last year with my clients. That I have had the blessing of knowing, over and over, on the most intimate level, how resilient the human spirit is.

Thank you to those of you I have worked with. It has truly been an honor.

Three ways to use the holidays to heal and grow

IMG_0008As we descend into the darkest month of the year, we may notice ourselves bracing with closed fists and gritted teeth. For some, the cold and darkness keep us tucked away from the present moment. For others, the holidays bring a blizzard of emotional turmoil that is hard to understand. We are supposed to be joyous and celebratory; it can feel confusing and isolating to feel differently. It can feel embarrassing, even shameful, to dislike the holidays, especially when we don’t have a clear understanding of why they cause us distress. We may feel angry with ourselves that we are unable to enjoy them. We wonder what is wrong with us.

Truth be told, the holidays are rough for a lot of people. We as a culture don’t talk enough about this. It’s hard and sometimes shameful to admit.  Family is complicated and personal; it can be painful to have the spotlight shown on family dynamics. Old family dysfunctions that we can generally avoid suddenly take center stage as we reunite with one another. The holidays can also remind us our losses, whether an empty chair at dinner or a missing part of ourselves.

While the inclination may be to ignore difficult feelings, drowning them in eggnog or whatever our seasonal coping mechanism may be (shopping, eating, peppermint schnapps), we can instead use this season to grow, to incubate, and to heal. Here are some of the nurturing ways in which we can approach difficult holidays:

  1. Using the holidays to grieve.

Walking through the mall around the holidays may feel unbearable. That six-year-old girl sitting on Santa’s lap reminds us of the child we might have had if we hadn’t had an abortion six years ago. We wonder what sort of toys we would be buying her, what new rituals we would make as a family, had we chosen a different life path. We think about playing draidel together, or making Christmas tree ornaments out of Mason jar lids and glitter, just as our moms taught us to do so many years ago. These thoughts bombard our consciousness uninvited, and haunt us even when we plea for them to leave us alone.

Or maybe that six-year-old girl, smiling and laughing, her parents rejoicing in the magic she sees all around her, gnaws at a much older wound from our own childhoods. The sexual abuse we endured at that age enters our minds, and we realize that we were robbed of not only magic but also of safety. The thought of sitting on a stranger’s lap terrifies us. And even if it didn’t, there was nothing to ask of Santa because even at age six, nothing mattered. Even then we may have lost hope. And suddenly we resent this child. We wish we had had memories like hers—memories of innocence in a time when innocence is so quintessential. And we wish there was a family to go home to visit now, though we haven’t spoken to our abusive parent in years. Instead we are alone still, stung by the frostbite of these thoughts which never cease to appear each year.

The holidays highlight innumerable losses: divorces, lost pregnancies, lost childhoods due to abuse or neglect. Deaths in the family, estrangement from family, lack of family, family who seem stable on the outside but ignore who we are in those subtle ways that hurt so unbearably. We cannot change the ways in which the holidays bring these wounds up. However, we can use these experiences to allow ourselves to grieve—to allow ourselves to feel whatever we are feeling without trying to change it: sadness, anger, resentment, fear, loss. We can choose to give these wounds a voice by letting them be, just as they are. This is a complicated journey, and one that can require professional guidance as to prevent overwhelm or retraumitization, but is worth pursuing as part of the healing process.

2.  Allowing ourselves to hibernate.

Sometimes with the lack of light and warmth, it feels only natural to go inward during the winter—inward into our homes and inward into our own consciousness. All beings need to rest and recuperate; winter can offer some of that. Often shut away from spending time outdoors, we can turn to introspection and contemplation, to reflect on the year and set our goals and intentions for the future. We can enjoy our own company and the space we call home.

While some may not want to hide away for long periods of time, or at all if they struggle with depression or other emotional difficulties, for others it can be helpful to enjoy some of the inevitable alone time during the winter. We can get to know new parts of ourselves—spend time listening to different parts of our brains and hearts. Re-examine old thoughts and beliefs. Find refuge in solitude.

3. Keeping our hearts open to joy.

Even if we feel like scrooges during the holidays, we can ourselves to take in the positive moments; they may sustain us through the rest of the winter. While this may seem obvious, if we are in pain during the holidays, enjoying any part of them may feel invalidating to our experience; we may feel like we are ignoring our feelings or “selling out.” It is important to realize that nothing is black and white; if the holidays bring us mixed and complicated feelings, which they so often do, we can invite in the entire spectrum of our experience. We can make a seat at our dinner table for both pain and joy, understanding that not only is there room for both, but also that both need to be invited in, fed, and listened to.

Letting loose with our coworkers at the holiday party can be a much needed reset from the deadening routines we create together and can bring levity back into our working relationships (especially if done in ugly sweaters). The way the city lights up, trees and lampposts and houses glowing and twinkling against the snow, always reminds me of the resiliency and optimism of humans when they loose the light of the sun. Allowing ourselves to put on ice skates, or to eat special once-a-year things, or to decorate our homes with treasures from our grandparents, can help to balance out the difficult feelings. It’s ok to have sadness around the holidays and to also enjoy parts of them. Giving ourselves permission to indulge in these joys can be hugely nourishing.

If we are ready, welcoming in all of the emotions that arise during the holidays—grief, solitude, joy, and others—can help us to make peace with the inevitable tornados of the human experience. It is when we hide from them, when we shut them away, that we find ourselves suffering more.

For those suffering from depression: don’t give up.

DepressionDon’t give up.

Buy yourself flowers when you feel your ugliest, even if they don’t make you feel beautiful. Cook yourself a meal when you feel hollow and insatiable, even if you can’t feel your body’s welcoming of nourishment. Feed yourself and feed those who depend on you.

Put one foot in front of the other, even if you can’t feel the grass between your feet. Let yourself believe the ground exists below you, and that the earth is holding you, even when your spirit feels detached and anchorless. Don’t float away. Pet your dog when you feel invisible and out of reach. Believe that he/she can feel your hand, even if you can’t.

Bathe yourself when you feel dirty in your soul, and clean your home even if you feel unworthy of its warmth and comfort. Listen to music even if you can’t hear the harmony. Listen to a jumble of scattered notes, reminding yourself that you deserve music.

Your senses will return.

It will pass.

After the Flood

There are now mornings I have awoken without the smell of mildew on the back of my dreams. The fans have stopped their buzz and the gutter mud has settled into dry, frozen waves. My sinuses have fallen back into invisibility. There are moments when life feels normal again. Or perhaps I have gotten used to a new normal. Many of us have.

flood

My new normal is cleaner—simpler; it has to be. There is no longer the luxury of leaving clothes on the floor. Of taking a home—a car—a healthy body, for granted. Of forgetting to count the blessings around me.

Water washed out the path between summer and fall. As though crisp air and dark nights and pumpkin lattes sprouted from summer grass like flood-quenched mushrooms. Here I am in October, wondering how I got here.

But I’m glad I’m here, in this October unlike any other.

Some of us are continuing our path as normal—those leaves that yellowed in the usual September cycles. Others of us are stunted, grasping to green. A few of us fell with damaged branches, crashing abruptly into rivers that weren’t supposed to be there—now left thirsty and disoriented and alone. And many of us are bigger and cleaner and more vibrant than we have ever been, our roots having absorbed the abundantly saturated soil, filth and all. And we sway like trees twice our age, paradoxically angry and grateful, weighted and flexible, grieving and inspired.

Most of us are all of these—and integration of our September’s sun and debris. And here in Boulder, life will go on.

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Página en español veniendo pronto! Para aprender mas sobre mis servicios, llame (720) 515-5184 o mande un email a rachaeluris@gmail.com.
Rachael Uris, MA, LPC is the owner of Atacama Counseling, LLC, offering sex therapy as well as individual and couple's counseling for issues surrounding sexuality, love, and pregnancy. All services are located in downtown Boulder, Colorado, and are provided in English and Spanish.
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