Tag Archives: books

full cup, thirsty spirit – a book about self care

it is important that we bow down to the breadth of our human experiences and to the larger mysteries that surround us. seeing beauty in the swirls of life’s busyness, making the most of what life brings our way, offering kindness to those around us, and being able to laugh from time to time. these gestures may be as grand as anything we can offer in our human life.

these are the parting words of karen horneffer-ginter in her book full cup, thirsty spirit – nourishing the soul when life’s just too much .full cup, thirsty spirit

like many of us, i have become weary of self help and motivational books – will this be another author telling me what to do, heaping platitudes on me, haranguing me to make endless lists, boring me with (most likely invented) stories about tracy the stockbroker and bruce the bank executive? you know what i’m talking about, right?

what a lovely surprise full cup, thirsty spirit was! it started with my eyes – i like a pleasing cover. the warm yellow and brown colours of a tea cup and pastel-yellow blossoms promised me rejuvenation and calm. if you’re still a “real book” reader like i – this is a book you want to have around, it feels good.

oh, and the words! they are all as lovingly written as the quote above. karen horneffer-ginter comes across as a gentle friend, someone on whose sofa you want to curl up, someone whose quiet wisdom will enrich your life.

this book is about self care, a topic about which i know quite a bit about, and something about which i preach to anyone who will listen. it takes quite a bit, then, for me to find new and interesting approaches. this book delivered just that.

i like the metaphors. she talks about thirst, one of our most essential drives, second only to the need to breathe. it expresses how much our spirit needs watering. how preposterous that we so often neglect such an essential call! the first chapter uses the metaphor of rhythm. she asks a lot of questions, such as

are there places where you get stuck in the movement between engaging in the world and turning within?

do i ever! i think there is a little part of me that rebels every time, that feels yanked back and forth: “8 hours for work! 3 hours for family! 1 hour for relaxation!” what if i want to work for 10 hours and then just … well, maybe swim around in my life, without being plonked into the next activity?

in turning within, she touches on how our use of language can thwart us.

if we had a socially acceptable language for naming “i’m unplugging today,” “i’m on sabbatical today,” “i’m going inward today,” this would be helpful. often when people say, “i’m taking time for myself” or “i’m taking personal leave today” the questions that follow suggest that we should be inserting some alternative activity into the day in order to justify our time off: “do you have a doctor’s appointment?” “are you getting caught up with some errands or yard work?”

that makes me think that “socially” acceptable can mean all sorts of things. we can wait till the cows come home until this sort of thing is acceptable in western society as a whole. but really, i don’t live in society-as-a-whole. i live in smallish societal circles, some of them overlapping, and why not experiment here and there what is acceptable, or even what i can make acceptable, simply by being the one who starts a particular use of language?

some years ago, when i was running a small but very vibrant and busy social service agency, i decided to emulate gandhi once in a while and have a day of silence in the midst of my busy work place. it didn’t mean that i wouldn’t work – i just didn’t talk. and you know what – it went well, and had a positive influence on everyone. that would be an example of experimenting with the notion of “acceptable”.

there are many, many gems in this book, and i honestly urge you to read it. i’ve been given a number of books to review here on this blog over the years – i think i’d put this in the top 5.

let me end with a quote from a poem by oriah mountain dreamer, which the author mentions in the chapter on embracing difficulty:

i want to know if you can see beauty, even when it is not pretty every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence

i want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “YES!”

“invisible driving”: a memoir of mania and depression

here, finally, is a review long promised, of alister mcharg’s extraordinary memoir, invisible driving. this book, says alistair,

reads with the urgency of a novel. my work delivers a wild and hilarious thrill ride through the misunderstood, phantasmagorical world of manic depression, providing both a visceral sense of the experience and a thoughtful context for understanding it. while other books have described the surrealistic circus, invisible driving takes readers along so they can smell the sawdust for themselves.

alistair mcharg spent his early years in edinburgh and amsterdam, moving to philadelphia with his father, ian, and mother, pauline, at age six. he attended germantown friends school, haverford college, and the university of louisville. the prestige of an M.A.. in creative writing enabled mcharg to secure employment with one of philadelphia’s least reputable cab companies, providing the background for his first novel, moonlit tours. other forays into dead-end employment have included deckhand on a norwegian tramp freighter, forest fire fighter in alaska, and guide at a canadian wilderness survival camp. alistair has been arranging words for a living since 1983. apart from invisible driving, he has written countless poems, hundreds of movie and book reviews, and an ever-growing catalog of cartoons. his second novel, washed up, was released last year.

what follows is a conversation we had last tuesday.

moritherapy: what do you like best about your book?

alistair mcharg: the writing itself, the way it puts readers inside the experience of mania. (and of course, the humor.)

moritherapy: have you found people who are/were interested in the literature aspect of your book? actually, that sounds a little strange – “literature aspect.” the way i read it, your book is literature, and it is about the topic of bipolar illness. thoughts?

alistair mcharg: i totally agree with your description. it is a memoir first. in essence it is a coming of age story about facing demons, battling them, and becoming a man – a human being – in the process. the landscape where that battle plays out is manic depression. the people that don’t get it are the ones who don’t realize that the manic narrative is there to put readers inside the experience of a manic episode – you have to surrender to it to get the true benefit. – i have indeed found many readers who appreciate it as literature – rather unorthodox literature.

moritherapy: there is a rhythm to your book that is clearly there but hard to pin down. it sure isn’t a simple little polka. in the beginning you seem to have a “crazy” chapter taking turns with a “normal” one; then the manic and the normal (if i may use that word) start to take turns within the chapters, then two or three chapters in a row are wild and woolly, etc. etc. can you say something about that? to what degree is that a stylistic device, and to what degree does it echo your experience? can the two be separated at all?

alistair mcharg: the manic chapters came first. then a literary agent said that there needed to be “depth” – a second voice that was sane, reliable, and recovered. i rewrote the entire book several times. i now see she was so right – the chapters in the recovered voice provide the background – the psychological architecture. the reader finds out why i was vulnerable – what the triggers were – and what was significant about how i acted out. yes the point/counterpoint is very deliberate. (you would think that the wild, manic chapters would have been hardest to write – but the sane ones were much harder – more soul searching of real things.)

moritherapy: actually, to me, imagining writing the book, it felt that the manic ones were the ones that were written with more ease. perhaps that is because i was frankly flabbergasted how much i could relate to a lot of what you wrote. i think that’s what first drew me in. i knew exactly what you were talking about, even though my bipolar experiences are extremely mild. i’m still astonished at that.

alistair mcharg: interesting. maybe the bipolar experience is essentially the same, and what varies is the degree. it is a very nice compliment that the writing registered with you. (when i gave the manuscript to my psychiatrist he said he had to put it down now and then because it was making him manic!) i can’t say that they were written in ease – recreating the pitch of mania, the quicksilver logic twisting and slipping, the bobbing and weaving, energy, raw creative force – when i was squarely back on earth – slightly depressed – took a tremendous amount of labor and craft – craft i didn’t know i had until i attempted it.

moritherapy: i was wondering about the mood you were in when you wrote those passages! the fact that it was indeed a re-creation speaks to your fantastic writing skills. were there moments when you wondered whether recreating this would take you back into the mania?

alistair mcharg: thank you – it was writing this book (my first) that turned me into a real writer – it was transformational. — your question is pivotal. i began writing immediately after the episode described had ended. i was terrified, really shaken. i had suffered with the illness long enough to know that a trigger could send me off again – and i was pretty sure another episode would kill me. but i knew i couldn’t write the book unless mentally i went back in. (rock & hard place.) so i went deeply back into the middle of it. that decision is what made the experience transformational. i knew it might set me off on another high, i knew that might kill me – i did it anyway. i knew that i had to face this darn illness or be destroyed by it.

moritherapy: fascinating! i am really touched by what you say, can feel it in my gut. and what hits me is, again, this commingling, meeting of art, this thing called mental illness, and the healing of/from/with it. it reminds me of a poem i wrote many years ago when i was close to dying of typhoid fever. i wrote it in spanish so it’s a bit hazy in my memory but something about the need to climb the mountain of art, alone, naked, because there is no other choice. does that resonate?

alistair mcharg: resonate indeed. that is exactly what i had to do – and it was probably the single bravest thing i’ve ever done. as you say in your poem – i had to do it alone. i had been fed so many lies – i was very fear-based – i had to strip absolutely everything away until there was nothing left that wasn’t true. and then i rebuilt – i reinvented myself. – but what you say about comingling is deep – and many people do not understand. i say often that manic depression and alcoholism have given me more than they have taken. in manic depression i saw rare things – and was forced to evolve. alcoholism ultimately took me to a better way of life and a higher power. it has all been a spiritual journey and while mental “illness” has caused earthquakes in my life it has also produced angels. (typhoid fever!! yikes! thank goodness you’re okay.)

on my blog today is a poem called “rex” — you see, i was shy, i hid, i felt “less than” – but manic depression made it impossible for me to hide – and also – it forced me to admit my power.

moritherapy: more on the commingling … so there is the art, there is the “mental illness” (funny how i often feel i have to put it in quotation marks), there is the healing, there is the acknowledgment of power – and then there is humour. there’s a lot of humour in your book. page 218:

and how do these aristocrats of oddness settle down after a busy day of counting their fingers and slashing their wrists with plastics forks?

humour in these circumstances can be taken as disrespect sometimes. do you hear that sometimes? how do you react? (by commingling i mean that the humour seems to be part of it all.)

alistair mcharg: humor and music are in the very center of me. to me the best humor is never nasty, it doesn’t single out anybody and it is never there to make me feel better than you. real humor celebrates the absurdity of all life, human vanity, fatuous selfishness. you will notice that most of the humor in the book comes at my own expense. – that said, when i was manic every mean quality came out – the anger, the hurt, the fear – and, combined with an intellect caught on fire – all this hurt often found expression in really cruel humor. other times it was quite surrealistic and charming. even in my other books – both satiric novels – and my cartoons – even my poetry – you will find that i include myself – all of us – when aiming barbs. i disrespect parts of people, racism, jealousy, entitlement, xenophobia – but it is never about disrespecting people – it is about loving truth and loving what people could be but are afraid to be.

moritherapy: one last question for now: towards the beginning of the book you say, “the love of my daughter is my favourite thing about myself.” in therapy, there is often a dictum that people should change for themselves, not for others. as a father, would you agree with that?

alistair mcharg: this is a great question. the easy answer is yes! there is a saying in AA that is told to the uncertain: fake it till you make it. at first it doesn’t matter if you are in therapy – or recovery – for the wrong reasons – so long as you are there. (bring the body and the mind will follow.) but absolutely, there must come a time when you are doing it for yourself – otherwise you will never commit fully and you will never get the full benefit.

if you asked me that question today i would answer – my favourite thing about me is that i know what i have to offer and i am doing my best to put it to the service of others.

moritherapy: thank you, this was absolutely lovely!

—–

alister mcharg’s blog, america’s favorite manic depressive, is at http://alistairmcharg.blogspot.com/

the book’s web site is at http://www.invisibledriving.com

tony schwartz: the way we’re working isn’t working

the following is an interview with tony schwartz, who you may know as co-author with donald trump in the art of the deal.  tony just came out with a new book which i think everyone who has ever worked (so about 90% of the adult population) should read.  it is called the way we’re working isn’t working.  in susan lyne’s words

for two decades, tony schwartz has been observing and teaching the fundamentals of great performance.  his new book looks at why working harder doesn’t translate to working better.  backed by research and his own case studies, he offers a path to better results and higher rewards that should be hugely valuable to individuals and organizations alike.

isabella: you say that a good way to make deep and lasting change in your life is to create new rituals.  can you give an example in your own life where you have done that?

tony: wow! i actually have a life filled with rituals. i start every day by working out. that’s a ritual.  i begin my work day by doing the most important thing first, for 90 minutes, and then take a break. i take a break every 90 minutes throughout the day. i ritualize 8 plus hours of sleep. on saturday mornings, i sit with my wife of 32 years and we talk: she first, usually, with me listening, and then me, with her listening. building rituals that serve my life well has transformed my experience. my  rituals assure that i do what’s important to me, no matter what else is going on.

isabella: one of your tongue-in-cheek headers is “what do you want, and what will you do to avoid getting it?” i think this is a central question for everyone, whether at work, in relationships, in personal goals or anywhere else.  asking this question point-blank raises people’s hackles; have you found a way to ask this question so that people will actually reflect on it?

tony: well, interestingly, i think that it turns out you’re often better to start by helping people to build behaviors that serve them well ” the sort of rituals i’ve described above.  and then, almost inevitably, they’ll run into unexpected roadblocks and resistances.  that’s the opportunity to start exploring what’s getting in their way, because then you’ve got the energy of a person’s frustration working for you.  this helps explain why i believve that enduring change is ultimately a blend of many approaches: deepening awareness, cognitive work around the stories we tell ourselves, and explicit work aimed at changing specific behavioraa.

isabella: the idea of rhythm and balance (e.g. spending/renewing energy; work/rest; right/left hemispheres) is central to your book.  it reminds me of one of the seminal early new age books, george leonard’s the silent pulse. are you familiar with his book, and if so, could you touch on one or two areas where you have similar or different views?

tony: george leonard had an intuitive sense that building a rhythmic life rather than a linear one was the way to go.  he  was a lyrical writer, not a researcher.   what i’ve tried to do in the way we’re working isn’t working is to really lay out the multidisciplinary evidence for the fact that we’re designed to be rhythmic  and to really show how this works across all dimensions of our lives. physically, we need to balance rest and movement, eating and not eating, waking and sleeping. cognitively we’re at our best when we learn to move flexibly between left and right hemisphere dominance. spiritually we need to balance taking care of others with truly taking care of ourselves.

isabella: you propose that awareness has three dimensions:  “how long is your perspective? how wide is your vision? how deeply are you willing to look?”  how did you develop the idea of these three dimensions?

tony: most of us have a very narrow, superficial, short-term perspective built around avoiding pain and seeking pleasure. it’s our evolutionary inheritance. we want, above all, to survive, and reproduce, and not to be in discomfort.  awareness ” consciousness ” is an evolutionary leap, and it’s a capacity that separates us from every other species. we’re the only ones with the capacity for self-consciousness — reflection about ourselves. with that in mind, the question become “how spacious and embracing is my awareness?”

there are only so many ways to answer that. you can have a wider vision, which means more inclusive. you see your connections to others, and you’re capable of empathy.  you can also have a longer perspective, meaning the ability to see beyond your immediate needs and preoccupations. that’s possible only when you learn how to delay gratification, which is an extraordinary ability, and also the key to doing almost anything enduringly meaningful in your life.

and finally, there is depth.  most of us live at the surface, focused on the external world and how we’re managing it. depth is about interiority isn’t it? it’s about the willingness to look within, to peel away the layers, to overcome our infinite capacity for self-deception.  the whole journey really starts with depth, because depth is about working your way towards your ground, past the layers of conditioning, and reactivity, impulsivity and rationalization, defenses and blaming.  depth is what makes life rich. it frees up the ability to take a broader and a wider perspective.

isabella: below are two other quotes from your book that i found interesting.   do you have any wise words on them that you may not have been able to include in the book?

“we tolerate extraordinary disconnects in our own lives, even in areas we plainly have the power to influence”

tony: this goes back to our instinct to seek pleasure and avoid pain.  one of the shocking truths about a really satisfying life is that it necessarily involves pain ” the pain of growing, of pushing past our limits, of seeing through our delusions, illusions and premature conclusions.  when the researcher anders ericsson studied violinists at various skill levels, all the violinists agreed on one thing: practice was not only the most important single thing they could do to improve as violinists, but also the most difficult and the least enjoyable.  that helps explain why so few people achieve greatness.

“meaning and significance are a unique source of energy that ignites passion, focus and perseverance”

tony: well, meaning is a big subject, but there is a simple answer here.  when something really matters to us, we bring vastly more energy to it.  many of us spend our lives trying to please others, or live up to some external standard.  that’s not nearly as powerful a source of motivation as simply loving something for its own sake, regardless of what anyone else thinks.  i feel exactly that way about all of the ideas i’m talking about here.  it gives me joy every day of my life to engage with them, and to share them, and to believe that they have the power to improve people’s lives.

therese borchard: the pocket therapist

earlier this year, you heard me rave about therese borchard’s book beyond blue a few times. she has a new book out, the pocket therapist. i just received it and haven’t opened it yet. because i have so much trust in therese, i’ll do this: i’ll look at three random pages, tell you what i see there, and give you a few thoughts. ready?

page 50: imitate an eagle

that’s a great start. this being a pocket therapist (what is this? the sub title is: an emotional survival kit. maybe it’s a-tip-a-page?) maybe it’ll suggest to glide, let the winds take you, without resistance. maybe it’ll talk about being super protective of your little ones (little what? creative urges, perhaps?) ok, let’s see.

an eagle knows that a storm is approaching ling before the storm comes. he will hoist himself way up high and wait for the winds to come. then, when the storm arrives, he steers his wings so that the wind will raise him up and lift him above the storm. while the squall thunders below, the eagle is gliding above it. he hasn’t dodged the storm. he has simply used the fierce winds to lift him higher.

interesting! totally reminds me of norm amundson’s book on metaphors that i discussed a few days earlier.

how might this help someone with, say, bipolar disorder? we could say the storm resembles a manic episode. honing one’s sensitivities so that the “storm” can be anticipated is a very important skill to learn. how might one glide above it? that’s an interesting question. perhaps possible only for people with advanced meditation practice.

perhaps this is not what therese was referring to. how do you think this metaphor could help?

page 161: pin the anxiety on the unrealistic expectation

makes me think of pin the tail on the donkey. that involves tapping around in the dark (makes me think of the times we look around in the jungle of medication and techniques, hoping to stumble on one that might eventually work, at least for a while). it also involves trust – that there is someone who will make sure you don’t fall down the stairs or fall into the flower pots while you blindly stumble around. here’s therese:

i jot down irrational goals like “penning a new york times bestseller in my half hour of free time in the evening” … [or] “training for a triathlon with a busted hip.”

then my therapist and i arrive at some realistic options, like “writing an adequate blog” [or] “swimming … a few times a week but saving the triathlon for after retirement.” these goals don’t sound as sexy on paper as the overachievers’ but they are friends with sanity, and that’s all i care about.

aah! i get it. she separates the realistic from the unrealistic, and as she does that, the anxiety stays behind with what’s unrealistic.  can you see yourself using this techniqe?

page 71: bawl your eyes out

not much interpretation needed here, is there?

in a recent new york times piece, writer benedict carey refers to tears as “emotional perspiration.” …

for one, they remove toxins from our body. emotional tears (those formed in distress or grief) contain more toxic by-products than tears of irritation, like when you peel an onion, indicating that weeping is surely nature’s way of cleansing the heart and mind.

second, tears elevate mood. crying lowers a person’s manganese level, and the lwoer the better because overexposure to manganese can cause anxiety, nervousness, irritation … and the rest of what happens in your brain when you or your spouse are in a foul mood.

finally, crying is cathartic.

you’ve felt the same release that i have after a good sob, right?

it’s as if your body has been accumulating hurts and resentments and fears … until your limbic system runs out of room and then, like a volcano, the toxic gunk spews forth everywhere.

what’s crying like for you?  does it offer you release?

once again, therese borchard didn’t disappoint me. in fact, i already have someone in mind to whom i will give a copy of the book.

godthink

god is not one, for someone with my buddhist and ecumenical leanings, was a bit of a provocative book title so i started reading it with some resistance. was this going to be some rabid right-wing pseudo intellectual trying to persuade me that all gods are bad except his?

really, the title of the book should be “if you think all religions are the same, you’re ill-informed and unrealistic when you hope that your attitude helps world peace.” (clearly, the people at harper-collins are better headline writers than i.)

far from a raging religious conservative, the author, stephen prothero from boston university, calls for empathy and a celebration of diversity while acknowledging the reality that the vast majority of people who practice a religion feel very strongly and protective about the details that make up their religion. while every religion “asks after the human condition. here we are in these human bodies. what now? what next? what are we to become?”, they tend to differ sharply among what philosopher of religion ninian smart calls the seven dimensions of religion: the ritual, narrative, experiential, institutional, ethical, doctrinal and material dimensions.

prothero makes a good case for his idea, although some of his arguments are a little circular. for example, he tells us that each religion articulates

a problem
a solution to the problem
a technique for reaching the solution
an exemplar (or exemplars) who chart the path from problem to solution

for example

in buddhism, the problem is suffering; in christianity, sin
in buddhism, the solution or goal is nirvana, in christianity, salvation
in buddhism, the technique is the noble eightfold path; in christianity, a combination of faith and good works
in buddhism, exemplars are, among others, bodhisattvas; in some forms of christianity, saints

this analysis is not a bad idea. prothero readily admits that this is a very crude lens, and i quickly came to like the book because he so freely admits to this and other shortcomings. however, what he doesn’t acknowledge is that it is easy to make the point about the divergence of religions if he is the very person who sets up the criteria by which this divergence is to be measured. this is all the more interesting because he points to that very problem with others: “there is a long tradition of christian thinkers assuming that salvation is the goal of all religions and then arguing that only christians can achieve this goal.”

another (small?) weakness of the book is that prothero does not do much to bolster his arguments – that religions are more different than alike, and that negating this difference detracts from harmonious co-existence – with evidence or reference in the relevant literature. he doesn’t point out who makes counter arguments (and how they might be refuted) or who else makes arguments similar to his. i put the word “small” in parentheses because the book is clearly meant as an introductory text for a wide audience. a person interested in the subject would do well to do some further reading.

these weaknesses aside, i am enjoying reading this book. prothero underlines that religions must be looked at warts and all, and from the point of view of its ordinary practitioners, not from the point of view of mysticism. i haven’t come to a conclusion yet whether i agree with that (i suspect that i might come to think that both perspectives are useful) but i welcome the chance to think about religions from that angle.

prothero’s concept of “godthink” is also interesting – a “naive theological groupthink” that lumps all religions into one, and which is practiced by theists and atheists alike.

i read the beginning and the end of the book and have a feeling that i have a good sense of prothero’s main arguments. and while i believe, perhaps mistakenly so, that i have a good grasp of the general outline of most of the religions he discusses in the middle of the book – christianity, islam, judaism, confucianism, daoism, buddhism, hinduism, yoruba and atheism – prothero has piqued my interest enough for me to look forward to what he has to say about these religions. so stay tuned; i think i’ll mention this book again.

how to create a heaven on earth

aaaah, book reviews. let’s start with the bad parts: how to achieve a heaven on earth is full of conservative christian overtones, quite a few of the articles have a bit of “chicken soup for the soul” feel, and at times i thought i was dealing with an aborted e-book. but there were clearly good intentions behind the book, and if you’re looking at “101 insightful essays from the world’s greatest thinkers, leaders and writers”, you’re bound to come across some good stuff.  for example

changing the game at work by christine barnes

don’t wait for the CEO to build a culture of engagement but begin by creating heaven on earth for your employees now. ask questions such as

  • do you know what’s expected of you at work?
  • do you have the materials you need to do your work?
  • do you have the opportunity to do what you’re best at, every day?
  • in the past seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?

i’m very happy to say that my part time work at mcc gives me all of this. what about you?

maida rogerson, who talks about many mothers

imagine. you’ve just had your first baby. your husband is in a new job and doesn’t have a lot of time for you. you’ve moved away from your extended family. suddenly, there you are, you and your beautiful baby, home, alone. your baby starts to cry, and you’re dead tired and all you want to do is cry yourself, and you have no one to turn to.

the idea behind many mothers is that it takes a community to raise a child well. a great idea, presented with lovely words.

perfectly broken by mark lundholm

i have a chemically challenged anatomy, a drug-resistant soul and a penchant for guessing incorrectly when it comes to the betterment of others. … because i am terminally self-centered, i am spiritually retarted, emotionally invisible, financially irresponsible, socially phobic and almost pathological when it comes to lying. … i have been liberated by the knowledge that my liabiliities as a practicing addict can now become finely tuned assets that allow to deftly navigate the foreign terrain of relationships, employment, success and excellence.

this is a language i understand.

would i buy this book?  probably not, for the above reasons.  but it’s a nice gift idea for someone who likes to be inspired by people who do something, rather than sit around complaining.

stigmatization through silence

you don’t have to spend a lot of time leafing through therese borchard’s beyond blue: surviving depression and anxiety and making the most of bad genes to find some mention of suicide. here, for example

i understand why people who haven’t experienced severe depression believe that a mother who commits suicide is extremely selfish and totally careless in leaving her children to deal with that ugly and permanent baggage. but the truth is that i envisioned my suicide as an act of love for them. i was sure that by removing myself from the picture, i was affording david and katherine a chance to lead a normal life, as they would be no longer victims to my moodiness and despair. the way i saw it, if eric remarried a nice woman, my kids would be far better off than if i stuck around. so i began to search for a suitable bride and mother. i felt pressured to execute the plan as soon as possible, before david and katherine formed memories, before my depression shattered their innocent lives.

i tear up whenever i write this, but it was BECAUSE of, not despite of, my ferocious love for my children that i wanted to disappear.

i think we need to read about things like this more often. have you read about the common suicide myths? two of them are

talking to someone who is suicidal about suicide just makes the urge even worse

and

suicidal thoughts need to be kept secret so as not to embarrass or upset anyone.

such myths contribute to people keeping mum about the topic. they help bolster the feeling of discomfort or panic that many people feel when the topic is raised. “do we really have to talk about this?” “this is not the right time to discuss this” or “now you’ve spoiled the mood!” are typical reactions, uttered aloud or under the breath, when the word “suicide” rears its supposedly ugly head.

i’m so tired of mental health being a non-issue, and of life-and-death matters like suicide being brushed under the carpet because they’re not pretty. that’s why i’m glad that people like therese borchard lay out her suicidal thoughts for all to see. because you know what? bringing them out in the open goes hand in hand with her talking about how she made it out alive, how her children can keep hanging out with one cool mama.

in recognition of the importance of opening our mouths about this, versus keeping nice and quiet, raul and i have decided, in our limitless hive-mind wisdom, to dedicate this year’s MentalHealthCamp  to “stigmatization through silence”. neat, huh? (only we’re looking for a catchier phrase. can you think of one?) oh, and the camp will take place on july 10.

be the change: how meditation can transform you and the world

the other day i received the book be the change: how meditation can transform you and the world from the great people at FSB associates, who occasionally send me books to review. usually i spend quite a bit of time reading the book and writing a review but since i’m busy with NaNoWriMo this month, i’ll take them up on their generous offer and post an article written by the authors of the book. many thanks, and – enjoy! if you like the book, please consider buying it for yourself or for someone for christmas.

3 mini meditations to help you through your day (or night)
by ed and deb shapiro,
authors of be the change: how meditation can transform you and the world

what stops you from sleeping through the night? is it when things are not going your way or they look topsy-turvy and you just want to scream; when your life appears chaotic and you are not sure if you are coming or going; or when it feels like everything is piled on your shoulders?

life should be an exciting and outrageous adventure. isn’t it a wonder how a spider weaves a web or a bee makes a hive? did you ever notice the small, everyday miracles, like the fact that you can breathe in and out? but how many of us get to experience this miracle? sometimes life just feels too awful. we want to feel good, we want to be happy, in fact happiness is our birthright. but so often there are just too many difficulties to deal with. and although we may know that meditation chills us out, if we are feeling stressed or irritable then it just doesn’t seem so appealing.

so here are three mini-meditations, moments to just stop and breathe and remember why you are here. a moment to check yourself out, to look within, and to find what is really meaningful to you. you can get it together even when you think it is all falling apart.

mini-meditations can be done on a train, walking down the street, at an airport, standing at a bus stop, in an elevator, while sitting in the bathroom (often the only place you can be alone!). silently count your out-breath up to ten times, or walk with awareness of each step for up to ten steps. or relax each part of your body, then silently repeat “soft belly” for five breaths.

if you are at work, then use your lunch hour to find a quiet spot, perhaps in a park, or even in the office if everyone else has gone out. if you are traveling then use that time to consciously breathe, letting your awareness follow your breath from your nose tip to your belly and back out again. if you are driving or operating machinery and feel you are getting tense, then stop for a moment, breathe into your belly and silently repeat “soft belly, soft belly.” focus on any part of the body that is feeling tight and breathe into it, until you relax and let go. silently repeat “soft shoulders” or “soft neck” and so on.

as you walk down the street or ride in an elevator, practice a mini-loving kindness by silently wishing everyone be well, wishing that everyone be happy. in the office you can spend a few moments repeating the names of everyone you work with and wishing them happiness. on your way home from work reflect on your day and generate loving thoughts to all those you met. when you send out relaxing and loving thoughts it relaxes the space around you and often any chaotic or disturbing energies will dissipate. what you put out comes back to you ten fold

1. mini breath meditation

sit comfortably with your back straight. take a deep breath and let it go. begin to silently count at the end of each out breath: inhale . . . exhale . . . count one, inhale . . . exhale . . . two, inhale . . . exhale . . . three. then start at one again. just three breaths and back to one. simply following each breath in and silently counting. so simple. do this as many times as you want, eyes open or closed, breathing normally.

2. mini walking meditation

you can do this walking along a country lane, a city street, in the office or the garden. you can walk slowly, normal or fast, whatever feels right. as you walk become aware of your walking, of the movement of your body and the rise and fall of your feet. become aware of your breath and see if you can bring both your breathing and your walking together. just walk and breathe with awareness for a few minutes.

3. instant letting go

find a quiet place to sit, have a straight back, and take a deep breath and let it go. then quietly repeat to yourself: “my body is at ease and relaxed . . . my heartbeat is normal . . . my mind is calm and peaceful . . . my heart is open and loving.” keep repeating this until you have let go of the tension and are at peace. then take a deep breath and have a smile on your face!

©2009 ed and deb shapiro, author of be the change: how meditation can transform you and the world

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author bio

ed and deb shapiro, authors of be the change: how meditation can transform you and the world, are the award-winning authors of fifteen books on meditation, personal development, and social action. they are featured bloggers for the huffingtonpost.com and for care2.com, teach meditation workshops worldwide, work as corporate coaches and consultants, and are the creators and writers of the daily chill our inspirational text messages on sprint cell phones. the shapiros’ books include your body speaks your mind, winner of the 2007 visionary book award; voices from the heart with contributors such as president gorbachev, his holiness the dalai lama, and bishop tutu; and meditation: the four-step course to calmness and clarity. ed, from new york, trained in india with paramahamsa satyananda, with sri swami satchidananda, and with chögyam trungpa rinpoche. deb, from london, trained with tai situ rinpoche. the shapiros have taught meditation and personal development for more than twenty-five years. they currently reside in boulder, colorado.