Essential Recognition of Soul

In this time of many challenges, there are seemingly few opportunities.  Perhaps the essential task is to recognize our soul and the soul of others.  To understand we are inter-dependent, with each other, the environment and the planet.   To experience participating, helping and sharing with others.   Changing our orientation from a life based on fear, i.e., separation, competition, hoarding and control to a life based on love, i.e., sharing, participating and abundance.  Begin to understand, it is not about what can I get…but what can I give or share.  Learning to acknowledge, appreciate and participate in diversity.  Learn that the world is full of wonder if we are open and receptive to the experience.  Recognize that we create our experience and the world. 

Many years ago, I attended a Sufi workshop.  One of the exercises had a profound effect.  It was a simple exercise of forming a circle with about 60 folks.  Then, collapse the circle into a crescent moon or “C” shape.  We were then standing face to face and instructed to remain silent but to look deeply in to the other person and acknowledge their soul.  After a brief moment, then take a step to the left, do the same with the next person…and so on until we had acknowledged each person in the group, and were back with the first person.  It was a powerful experience looking deeply while at the same time exposing or revealing one’s self/soul to another…and all done in silence.  By the end of the exercise, everyone was aglow and there was a deep awareness that something special had occurred…which was being acknowledged and received by 59 other souls in a brief time and without speaking word.

Essential Being and Interactions

So how do we meet another soul?  By simply acknowledging the other, while also being open and receptive to them and without fear or judgement.  There are four reference points, like on a compass that help orient us.  The first is integrity, knowing who you are.  It is merely knowing “I am” and this is my being.  Integrity is about “who I am.”  The second reference point is compassion, which is acknowledging, treating, and receiving others as you would like to be.  Compassion is about interacting with others “how you would want to be experienced.”  The third reference point is grace, i.e., manifesting a subtle yet receptive influence.  Instead of a forceful PUSH to make something happen, i.e., control.  Grace is beyond power, ego and attachment to the outcome.  Gracefulness requires mindfulness, i.e., patience and insight to watch for opportunities to act with integrity and compassion for the betterment of all.  Lastly, the fourth reference is that of presence of BEING.  The silence of being present.  It is not the silence of isolation or separation.  It is the holding of sacred space for the other person.  It is the willingness to hold and share space with another person without fear or judgement and being receptive to them no matter what.  Being, holding and sharing sacred space, things change, unfold and blossoms.  Our experience, the world and future changes, it becomes light, peaceful and full of wonder.

So got it…integrity, compassion, grace and being! 

Acknowledging all with integrity, compassion and grace, we recognize that each one of us is no different.  That each person is trying to make their way and we all get by with a little help from our friends and the kindness of strangers.  Understanding the difference between a fear-based life that centers around separation, hoarding and controlling others.   Fear, recoils, withdraws and isolates.  It seeks to control and have power.  While love-based life seeks to understand, appreciates uniqueness and participates in creating a diverse and beautiful universe. 

***Mindfulness…breathe, be patient, strive for insight and then watch for opportunities to act with integrity, compassion and grace.

Peace, Love and Light!

Tim

Essential Questions That Root Us

The next few posts are about essential understanding.  Essential understanding provides the ground or soil in which to grow.  Soil provides nutrients but it also provides the foundation that allows a plant to stand up via the roots.  They are the concepts that give both the meaning and protocol for our everyday life. 

Essential Questions

Each person needs to find his or her reason for being.  If not, they often feel lost and don’t know what to do and seemingly wander along at the mercy of the wind and rain.  The place to start, is to ask the question; “why am I here?”  What is my purpose, what do I need to do, to learn, what can I give and etc.  To get meaningful answers, you must to ask meaningful questions.  The questions of “why am I here and what is my purpose” are the essential questions which only you can seek the answers.  Once we have an inkling of our purpose and meaning than it becomes much easier to set down roots and get on with growing.  The world’s religions, philosophies and arts are reflections of this quest for meaning and purpose.  I encourage folks to explore these fertile grounds relative to their cultural or ethnic roots; or with what resonates.  The essential questions are:  Who am I?  Why am I here (what is my purpose)? What is my passion(s)?  What do I want/need to do?  Subsequently, the search for these answers ground us, enables us to set down roots and grow.

 

The Essential Skill of Decision Making

We are the sum of our decisions.  If we know how to make good decisions then we should be doing well...right?  During mental health consultations, I'll often ask.

“How do you make decisions?” 

“Well they just feel right or they make sense.”

“What decision lead up to being here in the emergency room?”

“I was afraid…anxious…depressed…overwhelmed…I don’t know what to do or I don’t know.”

There are two basic contexts of making decisions, the reactive context and the proactive context.  The reactive context is based from fear.  The proactive context is of love or passion.  What kinds of information are used to determine our decisions?

The reactive fear context as in the example above stems from conditions of acute stress and the primary goal is survival.  A person operating out of this context reacts out of an older part of the brain that is sometimes called the reptilian brain.  It works like this; when there is a perceived threat to our survival, the reptilian brain responds as if there is in immediate and imminent threat of death.  This reaction popularly known as the five F’s.  The five F’s are:  Fighting, fleeing, freezing, feeding and fornication.  Fighting, fleeing and freezing are the typical reactions to immediate danger. While feeding and fornication is when there is a pervasive and non-imminent condition of threat.

Every individual has their dominant mode of how they react to a perceived fearful or stressful event.  Some folks are fighters, some runaway or are avoidant and some freeze, i.e., they go numb, unable to move and unable to decide what to do.  All three of these reactions are valid reactions when there is a real threat. Like in the case of a bear attack, it might be good to freeze and play dead; with a mountain lion you want to yell scream make yourself big and lots of noise ready to fight.  Moreover, if someone is pointing a gun at you, your best option is to run away.  Lastly, in the case of a pending hard winter, eating a bit more or in the case of a pervasive environmental stress the survival of the species is perhaps dependent upon fornication, i.e. reproduction. 

Sometimes life feels like we are a cat trapped in a small garden shed with a big bad dog (our demons, fears and anxieties).  The survival response of the cat is a disorganized attack on anything that is near.  However, if the cat can take a few deep breaths and realize it is up in the rafters of the shed and beyond the reach of the dog.  The barking is scary but not life threatening.  The cat notices that it can jump down to the bench and out an open window.  So the cat takes a few more deep breaths to gather up courage to face the big dog (fear/anxiety), focuses and executes its escape.

Years ago, I was free climbing (without ropes or climbing gear) in the Grand Tetons and managed to get quite a ways up on this bit of wall.  About 2/3rds the way up (150+ feet), it became impassable for my skill level.  Admittedly, I was young, dumb and too full of myself.  I spent a good 90 minutes frozen in fear, trying to manage my anxiety and trying to figure out what to do.  It was late in the afternoon and would soon be getting dark.  I came to the realization that I could stay there, get tired and fall to my death.  On the other hand, I could die trying.  Finally I decided my only option was to scooch along a ½ inch wide crack/ledge for about 40 feet and then leap down 20 feet on to patch of loose shale.  Well I survived to tell the tale.  It was a memorable life lesson…die or die trying…perhaps by the grace of God we survive but we still have to put forth our best effort.

The point is, when decisions are from fear and anxiety the goal and outcome is very short-term, i.e., staying alive.  However, the reactive response from the context of fear is not necessarily good for the longer-term health, happiness and well-being.

When we make decisions based on our love, passion and dreams it is in a context that motivates towards our happiness.  So how do we make conscious and strategic decisions that move us towards our joy?  Presumably, we have discovered our passion, what we love to do and what we want to grow in our garden.  Possessing the skills of breathing well and mindfulness, a person is in position to make conscious strategic decisions instead of reactive decisions.  What kinds of information are valuable when making strategic decisions?  An easy way to think about information and processing decisions is to conceptualize it as HEAD, HEART and GUT.  That is logic, feelings and intuition. 

Logic is about using analysis and measurement in a manner that adds up or makes sense.  It is like A+B=C or weighing the pros and cons.  The trick is to realize that every logic has a premise or assumption and every measurement has a bias.  Therefore it is important to be aware of the premise or bias and thus the limits of only using your head.

The heart is about feelings.  Feelings are not rational; feelings are feelings.  Feelings are multilayered or there over-laying levels of emotions.  Do a quick image search on the internet for emotion or feeling charts.  It is important to determine your feelings relative to a decision.  That is, how do the choices and options surrounding a decision make you feel?  Many decisions are influenced by feelingsWhat are our anticipated feelings…how will we feel?  Is there anticipatory anxiety or excitement?  Will there be buyer’s remorse or regret?  What are the positive feelings AND the negative feelings of each option.  It is helpful to have a sense of why you have specific feelings; perhaps from a scary or traumatic event or from a fond or nostalgic memory.  Again, feelings are feelings…neither logical nor right or wrong…they just are.

The gut is about intuition.  Intuition is what we know about our self, the world and the future.  Ideally, it is what we know our self well enough that when an option resonates, something deep inside responds…it is a gut reaction.  The reaction intuits… yes this is me  or this is not who I am…I just know.  The trick is to quiet yourself, find a quiet place and listen to the resonance...the questions are:  Is this me, is this true to my "acorn"?

However, if we only rely on only our feelings, or just our thoughts or only our gut, it can get us in trouble.  Using only a single source of information or way of processing a decision can lead us down the wrong path.  It is important to know which is your dominate mode of decision making or processing.  But you also need to account for the other two process or types of information, so you can come to a more coherent and cohesive decision.

For example:  You are walking down the path of life and you come to a fork in the road that branches in to three different directions.  If your head, heart and gut says go down the path on the left.  It makes sense, it feels right and there is resonance with what you know to be true about yourself and your “acorn.”  Then run down the path on the left.  However, if two out of three…your head and heart say take the middle path but your gut says go left; then just walk down the middle path but have a contingency plan or a plan B or an escape plan.  However, if your head, heart and gut all say to go a different direction.  Such as, your heart says go left, your head says go right and your gut says take the middle path; you have a fourth option.  The fourth option is to decide that the stew is not done cooking.  You can decide, not to decide and instead gather more information and further processing until the direction or choice becomes clear.  That is to think about the choices, ask more questions, gather more data and spend some quiet time with yourself.  With your heart, investigate your feelings at a deeper level.  Try to determine what makes you feel excited or leery of the choices.  Obviously, your gut will be uneasy, so find a quiet place and listen to the resonace.  This is the cue or signal to stop and ask yourself, “Is this me, am I being true to my “acorn,” does this fit with my view of myself, the world and what I want my future to be.  Is this who am I, what I do, what I want to create and experience?

Decisions based on our loves, passion and dreams often result in joy, well-being and a sense of purpose; but at the very least result in valuable life lessons.  These decisions are in relation to our dreams and are not just a mere instinctual survival reaction.  So how do we make conscious and strategic decisions?  Conscious, strategic or mindful decisions are made with executive functioning that is associated with the frontal lobe of the brain instead of the older survival reptilian brain.  It is the ability to observe, evaluate, plan and execute.  It is the mindful insight of the recognized opportunities that align with our “acorn” and subsequently reach out and grab on to the best option to actualize our passions/dreams.

Skillful decisions are essential.  Even poor decisions are an opportunity to learn...there are very few bad decisions in life...the trick is to learn from them; they'll offer valuable gifts.

Peace Love and Light!

Tim

Mindfulness

The next essential skill is mindfulness.  Mindfulness is the ability to be immediately aware of the present moment in a curious, open and non-attached manner.  It is a position of merely observing without reaction.  Without the reaction of neither aversion (fear) nor of attraction (love).  In part, it is the ability to remain in an equanimous or undisturbed observational state.  It is the detached observation of our thoughts, feelings, behaviors and reactions in our experiential field or experience.  Mindfulness provides the opportunity to observe the subtle patterns of development, manifestation and dissolution of thoughts, feelings and behaviors.  Mindfulness subsequently leads to insight and understanding of these thought, emotional and behavioral patterns.  Ultimately, mindfulness provides opportunities to make conscious decisions about our thoughts, feelings and behaviors.  

A simple 4 stage progression for the development of mindfulness:

First is the ability to sustain a level of focus or attention.  It is the ability to concentrate on a single thing for some time.  Often it is referred to as “one pointedness or single mindedness.”  This ability to focus on a single thing is like a concentrated laser beam of attention.  That is your focused attention on one thing until it starts to open up and reveal itself.  A natural place to start developing your ability to focus on one thing is your breath.  Whenever you become aware that your attention is not on your breath and has wondered off, just gently bring your awareness back to your breath as it moves in and out.

Second is the ability to observe without reacting or responding.  That is, to observe without having a fear, aversion or recoil reaction.  Nor having a love reaction of being seduced, being drawn-in or having resonant feelings of joy or bliss.  In some meditative schools, this is taught as meditating on impermanence and developing non-attachment.   For many folks this non-reacting or state of detachment is difficult.  However, an easy way to think about this is to suspend your judgment.  Instead of making a judgment of “good or bad, positive or negative, light or dark”…just note to yourself “well isn’t this interesting!  It’s both good and bad, positive and negative or light and dark.”  However, the focus is on merely stating, “isn’t this interesting.” When a person makes a judgement, then there is no further observation and analysis.  However, in the observational “isn’t this interesting” mindset it allows for the next insight stage.  *Tip…if you notice that you are wandering and becoming involved or having a fear or love reaction; then merely gently re-focus on your breathing and re-establish your equanimous observational posture. 

The third stage is insight.  With the ability to focus and observe without responding or making a judgment, then a person is able to witness insight.  You are in an equanimous posture to “witness” the revelations of the inner workings and salient aspects of whatever you focus on.  Insight is often in the form of recognizing or become aware of a pattern of thoughts, feelings or behaviors. 

For example, often folks come in depressed over some situation in life; like a separation or divorce or job loss, bankruptcy or death of a friend and such.   Many times an underlying feature is the concept of “fairness.”  In life, we are taught to play by the rules, work hard, be kind and the expectation is fairness or karma or that we will be treated in a fair manner.  So we do our best and despite it, something seemingly unfair occurs…let’s say that we get passed over for a job promotion.   Often the response is anger and being upset at the other person, our self and the situation of being treated unfairly.  First take some deep breaths, then become curious and make the statement…”well isn’t this interesting!  I wonder why I’m angry and upset about being treated unfairly?  What is fairness?  Where did I get the concept of fairness? Why is fairness so important to me?  Why do I feel disrespected?  Often what is revealed is that our expectation of fairness was not met.  Maybe we were raised with a sense of fairness and it is one of our core values.  However the deeper insight might be…”why should I let this situation define who I am or determine how I feel or make me angry or subsequently invalidate my sense of well-being.”  We realize that the world is not fair and there are no guarantees of fairness in life.  However, we have insight into our experience of fairness in the world.  We realize that we are not defined by the behavior or actions of others but by the actions of ourself.  Furthermore, that we have the ability to choose to treat others fair manner despite being treated unfairly.  Therefore, we make the effort to treat others fairly despite the situation, because this is what we determine our self to be.

The fourth stage is “OK”, now what?  Now that we understand and recognize the dynamics, patterns and presentations of whatever is brought to our mindful awareness.  There is now the opportunity to influence or change our experience.  We have the ability to focus, observe and have insight in to the dynamics; and therefore, we are in a position choose what and when.  Being mindful, we can choose a different outcome, path or experience.   The next post is about how to make these choices or decisions.

***Again from the Eastern meditative traditions, Vipassana meditation techniques have become an adopted mainstay in the Western mindfulness school.

Peace, Love and Light!

Tim

Breath of Life

The next few posts will focus on essential skills and understanding so that we may live well.  These are skills and the foundation that are used every day.   They enable us to change our life, the lives of others and the world around us.  In a sense, they are the common gardening tools, such as a shovel, hoe, rake and bucket for watering or carrying stuff.

The first essential skill is breathing.  Years ago, I evaluated a young man in his early 20s who was in jail.  He was depressed and suicidal because he was looking at prison time for manslaughter.  He found himself in a situation, felt threatened and impulsively shot another person.  Essentially this young man’s difficulties stemmed from a series of impulsive reactive behaviors. He did not have any torrid or traumatic events in his childhood nor a history of depression.   However, he had never been taught or learned how to breathe and thereby give himself a moment to get his head and heart into the game.  And now he was scared to death and at risk for continued poor reactive behaviors.  So we spent a few minutes on learning how to breathe.  I explained how breathing would give him a moment for more astute perception and analysis to any situation and thereby giving him options to consider before merely impulsively reacting.  Granted this young man also needed to develop better executive functioning skills.  However, with only a very brief time to work with this young man, giving him an introduction about learning how to breathe was feasible.

Breathing is the first essential skill.  There is the yogic or meditative axiom of “if you can control your breath you can control your life.”  Breathing is life.  It is important to become aware of the difference between merely breathing and skillful breathing.  Different breathing patterns are associated with different states of feeling, thought and behavior.   Singers, athletes, sharpshooter snipers, speakers, welders, musicians are well aware of how breathing effects their performance.  Once we become aware of different breathing patterns and their associated different states, we can learn to control our breath to influence our feelings, thoughts and behaviors.  Breathing is an essential skill in life. 

Practice becoming aware of your breathing…any time and any place.

1.  Just notice your breath, where it is…in your chest or belly, is it fast or slow, even or irregular, warm or cool, halted or smooth and even…etc.

2.  Start to notice the more subtle flow…how it flows in, how it flows out, how it changes during the day, with different activities, emotions and thoughts.

3.  Where are the end points of the breath…the point between the in-breath and the out-breath; and between the out-breath and the in-breath.

Next time you find yourself feeling angry, upset, anxious, frustrated or irritable take notice of your breath.  Then take a few deep, slow and even breaths.  Bring your breath deep into your belly (diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing) and notice how your feelings and thoughts change.  After 2 or 3 deep breaths, notice that you are feeling more calm and thinking more rationally.  Diaphragmic breathing will change your feelings and thoughts in very short order.  It will also lower your pulse, blood pressure and sympathetic nervous system, i.e., physiological stress response.  Thus, when you are calmer, you are more able to engage your executive functioning, to recognize other options and make better strategic responses and decisions.

In the example above, simplistically it can be seen as stemming from conditions of stress and the reactive goal of survival. When a person operates out of fear, they are reacting out of an older part of our brain that is popularly referred to as the reptilian brain.  It works like this.  When there is a (perceived/interpreted) threat to our existence, the reptilian brain responds as if there is in immediate and imminent threat of death.  Popularly knowing as the five F’s.  The five F’s are:  Fighting, fleeing, freezing, feeding and fornication.  Fighting, fleeing and freezing are the reactions to immediate danger. While feeding and fornication are typical when there is more of a general pervasive but non-imminent sense of threat.  When there is perceived immediate danger our sympathetic nervous system jumps to a state of hyper alertness.  However, a few deep breaths can over-ride this reactive fear response and allow a person to more realistically evaluate the threat, become aware of other options besides the five F's and execute a better or more strategic response.

Attention on your breath can also be used as a tool to help develop the skill to focus.  As noted above just become aware of the subtleties of your breath.  Your thoughts and feelings will start to drift to other things.  When you become aware that your thoughts or feelings have wondered off and are not attending to your breath.  Gently bring your attention back to your breath; notice the subtleties of your breath.  After you gain some ability to maintain your focused attention on your breath and become aware of the different mental and emotional states associated with different breathing patterns.  Then you begin to have insight and skills to control your thoughts, emotions and behaviors by controlling your breath.

*** There is a vast amount of eastern knowledge in the study of breathing called Pranayama from the Indian yogic traditions.

The ability to focus on our breathing helps us to have more conscious interaction with our behavior, feelings and thoughts.  Breathing well equates with living well.

Peace, Love and Light!

Tim

Spring Equinox...Get Ready!

It’s the spring equinox, what are you planting in your garden?  For the past month or so what have you been dreaming about?  What seed has germinated and taken root in your unconsciousness and do you dream about?  What has sprouted into your consciousness and taken root in your imagination?  What are you nourishing with your dreams and inspiration?  A shoot has pushed up and broken through the soil and reaching for sunlight.  It is springtime, time for definite plans and to layout the garden.  Gather the tools, get the soil tilled and prepared for the new plants, a new season and a new garden. 

Wellness is hot, there are wellness programs, newsletters and apps but what is wellness?

In mental health, there are three treatment pathways.  The first treatment pathway is medications but only if the severity of the symptoms deems it appropriate.  The issue about medications, is do they work for you and you can tolerate the side-effects?  The underlying issue is, what is your quality of life on medications verses without the medications?  Only you, the individual can make that decision.  However, you need to be informed of the benefits, risks, efficacy profiles, the transient side-effects and long term risks.

The second treatment pathway is counseling.  These days, counseling is basically skills development in a brief treatment mode.  That is, limited sessions of focused psycho, social education.  It is often about developing more effective stress management, relationship communication, decision-making, mate selection, emotional modulation skills and etc.

The third treatment pathway is wellness.  That is establishing a good wellness routine.  Having a good wellness routine is a highly protective or positive factor.  It is the epitome of health. 

Wellness is simply:

Eating well,

Sleeping well,

Getting good physical exercise,

Doing your passions,

Having a good and supportive group of friends,

Keeping your self curious and learning new things,

Having a sense of meaning and purpose to your life,

Taking care of your spiritual needs…however you see fit.

A person that has a good daily, weekly and monthly wellness routine is better able to weather an unfortunate event.  However if something throws off our wellness routine, it can really disrupt our life and we may have a difficult time getting our routine back together.   Things can be a positive or negative disruption.  A positive disruption that might take a bit of time and adjustment might be a newly married, birth of a child, a new job, a new house, moving and etc.  A negative disruption might be a death of a someone close to you, loss of a job, bankruptcy, divorce, rape or domestic violence, a major medical injury or condition, a car wreck or etc.

The thing about wellness is that it is mostly up to you.  Nobody or no thing can do it for you.  Sure, medications might help give you the energy, focus or calmness so that you can more easily do your passions or routine but they won't make you feel alive and happy.  In addition, the better skills of doing something might be more effective and easier.  However, having a good wellness routine it the ticket for feeling alive and happy.  Wellness is your responsibility.  Your doctor or therapist may say…get more exercise, drink less coffee, take deep breaths, reduce the carbs, go to bed earlier…the list is endless.  But you are the one that must figure out what is right for you.  Your doctor or therapist are merely consultants…it is up to you whether you follow their advice.

Take the above list of 8 wellness items and briefly write down what they might look like in your perfect life.  Then think about how you could start to incorporate them around your life, work and family.  However, just pick one or two small changes and start doing it.  Grab your “week-at-a-glance” organizer and add just 1-2 items to start doing this week.  Perhaps it’s taking the stairs instead of the elevator.  Or perhaps calling a friend to go out for lunch and then have a salad.  Start small…small successes lead to bigger successes…shoot for 70-80%...it does not need to be all or nothing.   As one routine becomes well established, then do another wellness item. 

"Acting will change your thinking easier (and faster) than thinking will change your acting."…or “fake it till you make it.”  Just do it…do something!

Peace, Love and Light!

Tim

21 to 28: Got Grit…its down to You!

During the previous teenage stage the task was learning to become emancipated. However, the grit stage is about being emancipated. This is the stage where the young adult is responsible for their actions, making and grabbing a hold of opportunities.  It is the stage where a person is required to commit to themselves, their passion and their path. Folks who have generally done well in the previous three developmental stages are excited to get their life going.  Of course, there are some anxieties and apprehensions.  But in general, the person is well-prepared and ready to go.

A short while ago, a young man 21 yrs old whom I had known since he was in 1st grade, contacted me and ask if he could stop by and I could give him some names of some good counselors.  He noted that he was taking some time from his university studies because things were just not working out.  A few days later he stopped by for the list of counselors.  I invited him to sit with me a few moments in the back yard and the noted ethical boundaries in which I could not be his counselor but gave him a list of local folks that were well respected.  However over the course of about 45 minutes I presented the gardening metaphor, a basic outline of developmental tasks but focusing on the 21-28 grit time frame and then finished with a brief introduction of the essential life skills of breathing, mindfulness and decision making.  He never did share what specific troubling issues he was having...nor did I need or want to hear about them due to ethical parameters.  A few months later, I ran into his mother (a family friend) who said, "I don't know what you told him, but whatever it was he came home a completely different person."  She proceeded to tell me that he had immediately went and found a great summer internship position in a far off large city with a prestigious agency, had made his own travel and housing arrangements and was now returning to the university as a senior to finish his degree.  

There are a few unfinished items to complete during the grit stage of development.  An influential item is that of the completion of the frontal lobe and executive functioning.  Young women come into full capacity around age 25 or 26.  For young men full capacity of their executive functioning finishes around 27 or 28 years old.  So how might this affect their life? During this time, young men and women are often finishing college, entering into the full-time job or career, developing significant relationships.  This is where they are required to take full responsibility for paying their bills, being a responsible employee and taking care of all the other tasks of daily living; such as, groceries, laundry, cooking, cleaning, paying bills and taking care of their toys.  It is quite the task of setting up their household, negotiating relationships, activities and working.  Generally, there is the excitement of career, learning and doing well at work.  Moreover, there is also playing hard, being adventurous, going out and staying up late at night.

This is a relative new experience of being responsible for household, job, playtime, and relationships.  For some this can be an overwhelming and rather anxious endeavor.   For others the opportunity of independent responsibility is pursued with gusto…but perhaps unaware of the full obligations that are required.  There is a lot on the plate.  The general recommendation is to take some time to grow in to these responsibilities and activities.  That is to get established a new job or on your career path, enjoy playing hard and continue to learn about yourself and meet new people. This is the stage to enjoy and get comfortable with yourself, who you are, do your passions and really committing to your path.  The underlying challenge is to establish your structure and routine that works for you.  Its about finding a balance between work, play, relationships and time for yourself.  This will take self-discipline, i.e., the responsibility for setting and following a routine that will allow you to accomplish your passions and goals.

After you have taken some time to come to know yourself and are comfortable and established; then and only then, you should consider the added responsibility of navigating an intimate significant relationship and/or children.  You will need your full capacity of executive functioning and to have gotten some of your youthful YaYa’s, shenanigans and adventures out of the way before committing to a significant relationship and starting a family.

To the young women:  Give yourself a chance to get established in a career, to live on your own, to have supportive girlfriends, to travel, have adventures and develop your own interest and passions. This is your time.  It is your time between leaving the family of your childhood and before starting your own family.  It is so very important to find and become yourself.  It is also important to understand the following advice to young men.

To the young men:  Give yourself a chance to become established in a career to live on your own to hang out with the buds, develop your passions and interest and get your wild oats dealt with.  Guys, are a little delayed in the relationship arena, have testosterone driven issues that borders on recklessness and endangering activities.  In reality, guys are just not ready to be responsible mates/husbands/dads before the age of 27-28 at the earliest.  So give yourself a chance and take the opportunity to be adventurous and somewhat reckless…get your YaYa’s out before you choose to settle down with a mate and family.  And it is important to understand the above advice to young women.  They need the space to grow into themselves.  You need them to be a fully functioning and willing so that they can be a complementary partner a relationship...they have much to teach you.

During this time, there are many opportunities for adventuring into relationships with a potential significant other.  However, it is important to figure out a partner that share interests, have similar values and goals. Moreover, that you can work together, trust, complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses and help the other to grow and mature.  Nevertheless, the requirement to figure out the relationship or partnership thing is you have to have a good understanding of who you are!  This is the stage to become you and really understand your wants, needs, passions and dreams.

Frequent in emergency department consultations, I meet with a young woman or a young man or even a couple in their early-mid 20’s and things are just not working out how they imagined.  In many instances this is because the timing is off and the above development of each person is not quite finished.   This stage is for an individual to come into their own being, to be adventurous and establish themselves as a person within their society, community and culture.  Very few individuals are truly ready to be responsible mates or partners, let alone become parents before their mid-late 20’s.  I often plead that they take some time for themselves.  If there are parents around during these consultations, they are often nodding their heads and have personal stories to share how their life might have been different if they had waited until their late 20’s or early 30’s before becoming married or having babies.

To Parents:  Parents are still needed...at times.  However, its still lending an empathetic ear and you might be asked for some advice.  What...my kid is asking for abit of help or advice?  It often involves specific issues of how to handle a situation at work, a relationship or how to do a brake job on their car, fix a leaky faucet, prepare a tax return or lease application for an apartment.  This is the time to give some advice and perhaps notes from your experience but in a calm and measured manner.  Basically the sequence is:  1) Empathetic listening, 2) Offering other views, strategies or thoughts/explanations of the situation and perhaps suggesting specific solutions, 3) Be reassuring, remind them that they are smart, that they have done well in the past and they are still learning.  Remember you are their rock; you have more experience and skills.  They are asking to tap into some of your experience and skills.  Parents, you are passing along experience and skills they need...but your kid still wants to do it themselves.

During the 20’s this is the time to establish yourself and to become adept at navigating your social, vocational and recreational relationships and environment. This is really the first time that you are on your own as an individual.  You need to learn to interact and integrate into your chosen community.  This is where you become known in your community.  What kind of reputation you establish with your employer, friends and potential mates.  When you were a teenager there were allowances made due to your immaturity.  However, now that you are an adult, your reputation or image within your community becomes more accountable.  This is the stage where your decisions and actions tend to lead you in a direction for the remainder of your life.  Therefore, it is important to give yourself the opportunity to find out who you truly are, your passions and what your path is to become.

The 7-year developmental spectrum continues into old age.  The rest is an adventure…so I will not spoil it for you.  In my work, the first 28 years are the critical foundation, that if establish, will weather all kinds of challenges and tragedies.  However, more importantly, this foundation will lead to a life that is full of adventure, passions and will be more awesome than your wildest imaginations.

Peace, Love and Light!

Tim

14-21 Years: It’s all about me and getting ready to fly the nest.

The overall task is emancipation.  That is to learn to make it, on their own.  To learn how to fly out of the nest.   The challenge is several fold.  First, they won’t listen to parents.  Second, they want to do it themselves.  Third, they think they know what to do and that it just magically happens. 

The teenager’s task is to find and develop a sense of themselves, who they are and what they like.  This is a stage of exploration, trying on different personalities, trying different activities in attempt to find out who they are.  It is an adventure of discovering who they are. They are beginning to have the capacity for self-reflection, to ponder about who they are and their situation.  The search of who they are occurs externally and internally.  Of course, most of us know more about the external search of trying different things, going different places and putting on different mask, i.e., trying on different personalities.

The internal exploration takes the form of questions. The questions of why am I here, why do I care, who am I, how do I feel, how does this make sense, what is this mean and so on.  Notice that all these questions around the “I or Me”.  Characteristics of this stage are noted by narcissism.  It’s all about me and what I want and what I want to do. It’s about teenage angst which is what is the meaning of all this. “This is senseless, I don’t care, and what does this mean?” Remember introspection is the process of winter.  This is their first experience of winter, it is a rite of passage.  It is leaving childhood and becoming an adult.  It is the first time of searching and discovering who they are.

Another characteristic is the sense of time, is only “NOW”.  They often forget about the past and yet can readily envision the future. Though the issue is, they can imagine the future but make the mistake of, just because they can imagine it; it is real.  Adults see this as “magical thinking”.  Teens may experience this as frustration because they don't yet have the process and skills of turning their imagination into reality.  But this is the stage when they begin to have the ability and capacity to set goals, make plans and execute so that their imagination can become reality.

As adults we tend to view this stage is a bit of a hot mess, an adventure in drama and hang on by the seat of your pants.  “By the grace of God” we will all survive.  So let us try to tease some of this hot mess apart. First, from the physiological standpoint, they are going through a dramatic physical change that involves hormones.   Hormones wax and wane, ebb and flow in a sense they are gaining a new body.  They are no longer a child but yet not an adult.  Perhaps one of the best ways to deal with these physical changes is to ensure that they have good physical exercise, eat well and sleeps. This helps to develop and modulate this hot mess. The first thing to focus on is good physical exercise. Exercise does a number of things.  First, is to help burn off some of that energy.  It also helps to deal with the various fluctuating hormones, smoothing out their emotions of euphoria, frustration, anger, aggression and a HOST of new feelings.  Physical exercise also helps to deal with eating/metabolizing and sleeping.

Next, is eating well since they are going through a dramatic physical change and hopefully keeping busy, they need good fuel and good building blocks. Thus, good nutrition is going to help them have the experience of physical health.  Hopefully, if they experience good physical health they will recognize when they are not feeling well, not eating well, not getting enough exercise and this will motivate them to establish a healthy routine of exercise, eating and sleeping.

Lastly, is sleep.  Frequently teens have a shift in their sleeping patterns called the circadian rhythm. It is where their energy level and sleep cycle tends to shift to a later time during the day.  Teens that are active in keeping busy and getting good exercise will generally want to sleep a lot...until late in the morning.  Sleep is important during this growth spurt. The problem is that the circadian rhythm being shifted later in the day often is not in-sync with the rest of the world.  The youth often like to sleep until noon, have their peak energy flow during the evening and they are not ready to sleep before 2-4 am, early morning.  So, in the evening as the rest the world is winding down, they are just beginning to hit their peak energy.  It’s party time. And if there’s no respectable activities to engage in, it’s time to wander and adventure the streets, between the sheets and see what shenanigans they can get away with.

The other significant factor in play is the lack of executive functioning that is commonly associated with the frontal lobe of the brain. The frontal lobe and the executive functioning are just beginning to develop and is correlated with the whole idea that the youth can begin to self-reflect.  This aspect of frontal lobe development is the ability to begin to understand the processes and logistics of how to get something done.  As adults, we often forget that this is a whole new experience, for them it is the power of being logical.  Our teen suddenly becomes frustratingly logical and is more than willing to argue some minutia while failing to see the larger picture.

This is the stage where teens can begin to introspect and think about themselves think about their life think about meaning and why they are here, i.e., teenage angst. In a sense the teenage angst is perhaps the search for their acorn.  Relative to James Hellman’s "acorn theory," the youth is trying to find their acorn that is buried deep inside themselves. This is the time when the youth starts to wonder about why they are here, what their passion and what do they want to do.  This process is an introspective endeavor.   The youth needs some guidance about finding their acorn, the opportunity and permission to find their acorn.  Hopefully, parents can recognize this developmental event and give some guidance, allow them some space to find opportunities and give permission for this existential adventure to occur.  Culturally it’s noted in various forms of “rites of passage,” stage between childhood and adulthood.  Rite of passage involves an adventure into the unknown, a challenge and a discovery.  In a sense it’s the first occurrence of the death and rebirth process of the winter time. So parents if we can encourage them to find reasonable opportunities for this self adventure. Perhaps in the forms of going on a road trip, backpacking in the wilderness, traveling in a foreign country with a group; some opportunity for them to be alone find themselves.  However this can also take the form of writing, some artistic or music endeavor. This adventure might also happen while wandering the streets late at night.  The point is they need space and the opportunity for this process of finding their acorn/self.

Parents

So how can parents be helpful during this hot mess when their child will not listen, is full of themselves, is going through a lot of physiological changes, with frequent episodes of drama and does not yet have a full functioning frontal lobe.  At this stage, parents often feel that they have lost any influence or control.  Their teen is out of control, that they will not listen nor do anything.  However, not all is lost, but it involves a change of strategy. 

Despite popular belief, parents do have a fair amount of influence in this hot mess. The approach continues to be the same but the tactic is distinctly different.  Obviously the youth is beyond listening to any reasonable advice or direction.  So do not even try...save yourself the argument…you will lose.

So what can a parent do?  It is about leveraging their drive for emancipation, their passions and their lack of knowledge.  Leverage what?  The basic strategy is to “yield and play dumb.”  Tell them that you don’t know.  Tell them they are smart, that it is their life, and they will figure out what is best for themselves.  Tell them that you believe in them.  Tell them that they are choosing the lessons that are valuable for their path in life. Tell them that you love them.   Beyond that, you merely ask them questions, have an empathetic ear and reassure them that they will do fine…nothing more and nothing less.  Doing more and you will be doing it for them, you will be robbing them of the opportunity to learn for themselves, to claim and walk on their own path.  Doing less, and they will not recognize the opportunities and lessons. 

First, you need to determine what are your expectations and bottom line.  Clearly and succinctly communicate these expectations and the bottom line.  Remember kids…well everybody likes structure and predictability.  They like to know the ballpark they are playing in…is it soccer, baseball, tennis, basketball or water polo.  So think about what are your parental expectations, the bottom line…and be mindful, i.e., choose your battles wisely…what hill do you want to die on?  Be clear and consistent…nobody likes the rules of the game to change.   Be clear…on what your expectations, what the bottom line is and what the consequences are.  And be consistent.  Consistency helps the teen learn that there are rules and thus they can predict or anticipate results...thus learn.  Such as, with my middle son…“If you are smart enough to get in to jail, you are smart enough to get out.  If you need to call someone, call your friends who helped to you get in the jail.”

Secondly, the tactic is to merely ask good questions….but don’t expect or demand reasonable, well thought out answers.  It’s not going to happen and it is not the purpose.  The purpose of asking good questions is several-fold.

Good questions imply that you believe they are capable; that they have permission to seek opportunities to learn and to find the answers for themselves.  The underlying message to them is, that you belief in them, that you trust them to find their own path.  Good questions also help develop that frontal lobe executive functioning. In a sense, a parent is the child’s frontal lobe by proxy.  However, now by asking your teen good questions you are training and imparting the skill of asking themselves good questions, i.e., developing their own executive functioning.  Remember that good questions, lead to good answers...so question wisely and don't waste the opportunity with insignificant questions.  Hopefully, in the earlier stage you started some of this by them questions about some of their peers’ interactions. Why they thought their peer behaved in a certain manner or made a certain decision and etc. 

In this developmental stage, you are helping them to learn to think for themselves. They are to learn the skills of observation, analysis, synthesis, strategy, implementation and execution. For example, some useful responses/questions might be:

Do you have money, where are you going, with whom and when will you be back?

“Honey, geez I don’t know.  What do you think?

Humm, that is interesting, what do you think you want to do? 

What are your feelings about _____?

How are you going to make that work?

What do you anticipate will happen?

What did you learn from this experience?

I’m not saying yes and I’m not saying no, I’m asking what is your plan?

You are a smart kid, I believe you will figure it out.

I’m always here to listen.

The delivery of asking questions and dealing with the drama episodes need to be done in a calm and non-reactive but empathetic manner.  Your teen knows your hot buttons; they will be oppositional and want to argue for argument sake.  At times, they might feel anxious, fearful or perhaps overwhelmed and need re-assurance.  Or maybe they are testing your limits, but are really wanting to know that you are steadfast and stubbornly consistent…which despite their feelings of frustration…they find your response reassuring.  As in the past, realize that you are the constant in their rapidly changing world.  That you are their emotional and psychological refuge in during this time of big changes in their life.     

There will be times of near disaster or even tragedy .  For example, all three of my kids wanted to drive and at some point, they were involved in accidents that resulted in a totaled the car.  For all of them, driving was about learning opportunities.  Learning about how to drive, the expenses of a car, how to do maintenance.  They learned what happens in an accident, the insurance process or when they got a speeding ticket and how to deal with these events in a responsible manner.  Another time my son’s close friend died in a drug overdose and as result he gained a deeper understanding of the tragedy of drug abuse and the impact on friends and family.  As a parent, it is important to recognize that you are merely coaching them and these are opportunities for lessons or a practice for them.

Initially teenagers are self-absorbed or a bit narcissistic; they can primarily only see themselves, their needs and their wants…the world is them.  Eventually they are able to recognize that they are not the center of the universe and will learn that there is a big wonderful world in which to learn to navigate and follow their passions and subsequent path.  For teens, the world is to explore and find out who they are. 

The future…is initially “now” but then extends, from impulsive “now” to making plans and executing their plan.  Their personal efficacy is initially magical because they can imagine and this imagination is mistaken for reality.  It is the process of moving from the immediate “right-in-front-of-their-nose” and magical thinking to activating executive functioning.  It is the applying and executing of these skills that they become responsible for following their passions and attaining their goals.

During the teen years, there is a lot that goes on.  They get a sense of them self, of their existential existence, discovering their passion and developing the executive thinking or functioning skills.  Your teenager has to deal with peer pressures and distractions of contemporary culture.  This includes the media, dating, intimate relationships and the allure of drugs and alcohol.  This is no small challenge and is quite the task.  It is the beginning of the emancipation of your child, out of the nest and learning to fly.

Over the 7 years, it is a progression of earning their independence by becoming progressively more responsible.  It’s a matter of measured opportunities for them to demonstrate their responsibility and to show off host of critical thinking skills, of implementation and execution of those skills.  Make sure that you acknowledge their accomplishments.

Discipline at this stage takes the form of self-discipline.  It is the ability to self-organize and commit to oneself and their goal.  It involves planning, impulse control, delayed gratification and higher ordered thinking.  It is about getting the frontal lobe; executive functioning to begin operating.

Remember my daughter, the ski bum.  At age 17, during her senior year of high school, she skied over 100 days, was a ski instructor, worked part time at a yogurt shop and did her senior project training with the ski patrol.  She was skiing big mountain backcountry that most folks only dream of.  As a parent, it was not something I would have chosen for her and there were times of high anxiety for her well-being.  However, it was her passion, her responsibility and her accomplishment.  At age 20, she became an operations manager at a small custom retail storefront and on-line business.  She is often responsible for daily operations, data management of inventory, orders, shipping, payroll, web management and customer service.  Now at 21 years old, she continues at the shop, is going to community college working toward a nursing degree, volunteers at mountain ski events, affords her own apartment, car, activities of skiing and downhill mountain biking and is going to Hawaii during spring break.  I am a proud parent and in awe of her determination and accomplishments.

The goal of this stage is to have a young person that has self-respect, self-worth, is confident and competent.  They will know what it takes to do their passions and accomplish their goals.  The path is about finding themselves, their passions; not only working hard, but also learning to work smart, taking responsibility for making their opportunities and learning from them.  In the garden metaphor, this is the fruition or the fall harvest of your parenting efforts from birth to 21 years of age.  The next 7 years, ages 21-28 is for your young adult to state and make a claim of and for their self…they are emancipated.

Addendum:  Remember the car ride time?  Now they are driving you around on some errands, or perhaps going to a baseball game or something.  It is the perfect time to have one of “those parental discussions” of sex, drugs and rock and roll.

You know, I don’t think you are sexually active.

Dad!

I know but I’m just being your dad…just hear me out….Yea, I don’t think you are having sex yet, but in the near future you will have plenty of opportunities, if you want and that is for you to decide.  However, it is a matter of respecting yourself, the other person and being safe.  And, being safe is a health issue.  I don’t want to see you get yourself in a tough situation and have to make REALLY hard decisions.

Dad…I’m not going to get pregnant.

I know but things happen.  You know you can go see the doctor anytime if you want.

Dad!

Ok, I’m done…just know I love ya.

In a sense, you are giving them permission to step-up and be responsible.  Put the issue right out there, clearly note your concern and cue them to take responsibility for themselves. The underlying message is that you trust them, believe in them and you are there for them. 

These parental discussions are never comfortable…and even more uncomfortable for your teenager.  The trick is to BE CALM, just lay the issue out there but do not be accusatory.  You are their parent who is merely concerned for their health and well-being.  You don’t want to see them to struggle in a potentially difficult situation.  It might be a good time to reveal to similar challenges and struggles that have occurred in your life.

Again, be calm, do not be baited into an argument and know when to stop.  That is stop on a high point of that you are just being a parent that is concerned and doesn’t want to see them get in a tough situation and have to make really hard decisions.  Then move on to more comfortable subject.  Rest assured that your teenager heard the message; you don’t need to preach or hammer on it.  You might be surprised how quickly your teenager will take the opportunity to be responsible. 

They just need a little nudge and if they need more than that, then it’s the school of natural consequences that they have chosen to take lessons from.  And your supportive response is…”I am sure that you will figure it out, this must be something that you need to learn, I’m always here for you.”

Peace, Love and Light!

Tim

 

 

7-14 Years…Kids…the peer group and establishing fluency

The second seven-year period from ages 7 to 14 years is where the child develops a sense of group norms and expectations.  This is where they learn how to interact and socialize with their peers and the world.  Thus, the most important reference is their peer group.  Kids at this age will live up or down to the expectations and norms of the peer group.  Parents need to be attentive to and guide which peers their child spends time with and in what environment or activity. 

Parents, at this stage, are going to pay!  So, the question is; for what and when are you going to pay? 

If you let your kid run the streets and hang out in the alleys without supervision or guidance, the child will learn the way of the streets and “thug life.” The child will want to fit in with the ruffians and will be required to perform some illegal or immoral act to fit in and be accepted as a member of this group.  These behaviors and social interactions required by the ruffian peer group and will become part of the child’s sense of self.  Parents, sometime later, you might be paying for therapy, juvenile court cost and perhaps drug and alcohol treatment.  On the other hand, parents that are attentive, guide and ensures that their child participates and is active with "good" peers.  Peers who participate in organized sports, church youth groups or perhaps scouting and etc.  Again, your child will want to fit in and will live up to the expectations of the "good" peer group.  However, you will need to make the upfront sacrifice and investment in terms of time, money and participation.  The clear expectation is that they will participate in these activities.  The trick is to find something that your child enjoys and then both you and your child will have to make the commitment. You will need to be attentive to opportunities of how your youth can also invest in their passion and then encouraging them to figure out how to make it happen.

Examples from raising three kids:  It was expected that they were to be involved in some respectable activities.  The two boys started out in Cub Scouts and my daughter the youngest, started out as a Brownie Scouts. All at one point wanted to quit scouting, which was fine.  However, the question to them was “what other activity are you going to commit to?”  They all ended up choosing to remain in scouting. The eldest attained his Eagle Scout, the middle son could care less about badges and ranks but enjoyed camping, hiking and outdoor activities.  The youngest became a Girl Scout troop leader and now even in her 20’s she will participate in various volunteer Girl Scout activities.  We also expected that all three of them would be involved in some kind of physical activity.  The eldest was involved in soccer and hockey.  The middle guy was in to strength conditioning and mixed martial arts.  And the youngest loved to ski and snowboard.

Truth be told, I had a much better understanding and handle on working with the youngest.  When she was in 4th grade, from day one on the snow, it was obvious that she loved the snowy life. Beginning in fourth and fifth grade, we made the sacrifices to ensure that she had the opportunities to snowboard.  Then during fifth grade, it was made clear that she understood that she would needed to start investing in her snowboard activities.  So the agreement was made she would buy her own seasons pass starting in sixth grade.  She earned enough money pet sitting, doing yard work and household chores for neighbors, friends and family.  My commitment was to match each dollar she earned to buy new/used snowboard gear.  Additionally, I would ensure that she got to the mountain most every weekend during the ski season. 

Back to socialization and peers, this stage often involves cliques, pecking order, social competition, bullying, social drama and the beginning interest in the opposite sex.  So how does a parent help their youth during this phase?  Especially, when the major influence or leverage is seemingly with the peers.

Remember that you are encouraging them to be in some activity and they need your help.  And you want to be attentive to their peer group.  In order to do this, you make the self-sacrifice to be involved.  This might entail being an assistant coach, helping with carpooling, helping with their activities.  By being actively involved, you get to know the other kids and you will have some insight into the social environment.  Another way is food; kids at this age love to snack and eat.  Make your home a place to stop and eat.  Invite their friends to hang out, to stay for dinner and for sleepovers.  This way your kid’s peers will get to know you and your expectations and you will get to know them.  Another opportunity is that kids need rides.  There is an opportunity to drive the peer group to activities.  When kids piled in the car, after a few moments, they forget you are there and you get to hear all kinds of social drama.

Now that you have access to the peer group remember that the developmental task is group norming and socialization.  When you notice your kid is happy, angry, sad, distraught, mad or whatever…merely ask some questions.  Questions, such as, “geez you look mad/sad/frustrated…what happened?  The approach is to primarily listen and ask just a few questions.  Often, at this stage, it’s the result of some social drama.  Kids are still willing to talk and share with parents.  Merely listen with an empathic ear…but do not interrogate, advise or lecture. 

After listening, ask rhetorical questions to get them to think about why their peer might behave the way they did; about what pressures they might have; what they did and how might your kid might navigate the social interaction or drama.

The standard questions are:  Why do you think (peer) did that?  How does that make you feel?  How do you think you should/would handle the situation?  What do you want to do?  How might you try to do it?  The goal is to get your kid to start assessing the social situation, gaining some insight into the possible agendas and pressures of why their peers might behave a certain way.  Get them to think about what might be an appropriate social response to their peer situation.   Realize that underlying social interactions, are usually driven by emotions and understanding the emotional basis is important in social skills development.  The emotions of wanting to belong, fear, frustration, anger of being included or excluded.  Thus as a parent, it is important to listen empathically to support your kid’s learning about how to manage and navigate their social world.  A lot of the peer and social interactions are about inclusion or exclusion of cliques amongst peers, competition, cooperation, collaboration or collusion, pecking order and influence among the peers have an emotional base.

The parental task is to help your kid to understand the social dynamics and emotional aspects of their culture in order to navigate within their peer group and later in the larger society and community.

A few things to keep in mind, remember structure.  Kids like clear expectations, clear consequences and the bottom line.  Again, structure gives the kid the parameters or rules to work with.  Sometimes you get a sense that your kid feels pressured to do something that they might not want to do.  Such as go to a sleepover, a party or school dance.  When your kid is not able to set the parameters or boundaries to say “no” to their peers, then as their parent, by proxy, you can say no for them.  Thus they can save face in their peer group.  It will give them the time to develop their social identity, skills and strength to do it later on.  It is an opportunity to help them develop the emotional and social skills.  In a sense by saying “no” for them, you are providing supportive structure, that on their own they have not yet developed. 

At this stage, discipline is about providing support to promote the learning to observe, assess and make decisions.  It is the beginning of responsibility.  Discipline is not about taking something away, but of earning the privilege.  It is about the awareness of choice, the responsibility of choices made and the awareness of the consequences of the choice.  You are setting the stage for them to learn from and navigate their social environment.  The parental leverage during this stage is physical grounding, electronic grounding (cell phone, internet privileges) and the age old leverage of being an embarrassing parent.  On the other hand, your home can be the welcoming (but structured) kid hang out and be the cool mom/dad that is “active/attentive at a distance (not the helicopter parent).”   An example might be that you help the kids and show them how to fix their bikes, repair and mount skies or even have your kitchen be at the mercy of the cookie/brownie/pizza making.  Want to herd cats?…have tasty cat treats! 

At this socialization stage; the self, world and the future is in relationship with their peer.  Their group is their World.  The future and time is in relation to the group’s activity.

Opportunity for Fluency

This stage also presents the opportunity to start establishing fluency.  It could be academic, artistic, performance, athletic or any number of skillful endeavors.  A kid that has or shows some strong interest in something might be encouraged with opportunities to participate in their area of interest or passion.  A tutor, coach or mentor can help establish a level of fluency in short order.  Fluency at this age is in part due to physiologic and neurological development.  Kids are growing and setting neurological pathways.  It is easier to develop these pathways during development growth than to establish or change them later.  The usual example is of a particular sport or foreign language.  A kid learning a foreign language during this time verses later after puberty is much easier and kids often develops a natural or innate fluency that if done later is difficult to achieve.   The same concept applies to all kinds of skills development.  Whether its language, math, art, writing, music or sports.  It also applies to the more nebulous concepts such as empathy, generosity, altruism or compassion.  If this opportunity is missed, it becomes more difficult to achieve a level of fluency later on after puberty.  During this stage, peers, the community and their environment has a significant influence.  It is important to be attentive to what your kid is exposed to in their environment. Retrospectively, it is often seen, that life-long paths are established during this time.

Refer back to James Hillman’s Acorn Theory, if a kid showing some potential or propensity for something; perhaps it is their calling or imperative.  It is important to pay attention to this potential.  If possible, support and encourage the exposure to and opportunities for their passion.  In a sense, you have a special plant, that if grown in a well-suited garden environment and climate, they will thrive, flourish and produce wonderful harvests. 

 

Birth to 7 years…Childhood:

This is where the child gets the core sense of themselves, the world and future.

Prince or Princess

If a child is treated as a prince or princess, they will tend to view themselves as most important and everybody else is regulated to second place. They see the world is at their disposal and for their entertainment and at their disposal. Their sense of future will be NOW.  As you can imagine the prince or princess has the potential be rather difficult if things are not going their way.  And, they not have a great amount of internal resources like self-sufficiency and resiliency.

Piece of Dirt

A child treated like a piece of dirt or is unwanted or merely a piece of property; what do you think will happen?  They will see them self as rather insignificant, with limited value and without an intrinsic sense of self-worth or self-respect.  The world is an oppressive place.  The future will seem dismal and often hopeless.  This child will generally have a depressive outlook and interpret life as a struggle.

Raised in Chaos

If the family environment is chaotic, unpredictable or there is no consistency, the child may become rather anxious and fearful.  Or maybe they become rather manipulative an attempt to control their environment.  Perhaps later they will become skillful in observing, reading and interpreting the environment and as a result can become quite skillful in navigation and negotiation.  Perhaps they will become opportunistic and make sure their needs are met, but they will be unsure of their self-worth and self-respect.

Part of a Team

The child raised in a family who views itself as a team in which the child is a part. The child will view himself or herself as a team member.  In which they are important, that they have certain duties or responsibilities and feel that there is a purpose and meaning to their existence. The world will be a place where there is give-and-take.  The skills of negotiation and navigation are required and thus to be developed. They view the future is generally hopeful.  They understand they have a meaningful contribution and that their participation is required if they are to enjoy their desired future.  This child will develop a sense self-worth, confidence, and competence.

Learning Style

How does a child learn or what is the child’s learning style?  The three principle learning styles are:  By doing, by observing or following the rules.  One of my kids was a doer…schooled by natural consequences and hard knocks.  The youngest was an observer.  Geez my older siblings were dumb…I can see that it did not work for them and I don’t want to have that experience.  She was always a bit reserved.  But would observe for a while and then if it looked fun and safe enough she would jump in.  Otherwise, she would walk away and find something else to do.  The eldest was the rule follower.  He would read the rules or instructions and made sure he understood the rules and how things are supposed to work.  Then he would set about on ticking things off on the list, he was very structured and a bit ridgid that there was a correct way.  On a few occasions when he knew he did something wrong, he even grounded himself.  

When it is about safety, there are times to say NO!  However, there are also times when experience or the school of natural consequences is the better teacher. Generally, children react to and learn from their environment.  Children watch our (the parent’s) reactions.  We are their role models.  Children are naturally inquisitive and want to learn.  It is important to be mindful of when and what we are actually teaching.

Discipline and Timeouts

Discipline is really about education.  Time-outs are about moving a child to more calm place, having them become aware of their offending action.  It is to give them time to consider other alternatives and use more appropriate behavior.  Initially when giving the child a time-out, tell them (in a calm matter of fact manner) the offending behavior (education or awareness), while in a time-out (generally 1 minute for each year of their age).  At the end of the time-out, have them tell you why they were in the time-out (to ensure they are aware of the offence).  Then ask them what they could do differently/better next time (sometimes you need to suggest 1 or 2 more appropriate behaviors).  Then, tell them, “I know that you will do better next time” (you are setting the expectation and the belief that they are capable…that you believe in them).   Lastly tell them that you love them.  Thus a time out becomes an educational opportunity for them to become awareness of their behavior, better options/alternatives to their behavior and that you setting/expecting confidence (belief) in their ability to do better next time.

A couple examples of learning:  I distinctly remember as a toddler, putting a paper clip in an electrical outlet; I never did it again…excellent teaching from the school of natural consequences.  My youngest when she was a toddler loved to climb things.  She would climb anything and then yell for me to get her down.  I eventually figured out a better response.  “If you climb it, you have to get yourself down.”  I would be close by but instead of lifting her down, I would instruct her how and where to place her hands and feet so she could get herself down.  She quickly figured out how high she wanted to climb.  However, more importantly she developed the confidence, competence and skills required to climb up and down.   On the other hand, if my response was fear and anxiety about her falling and as a result grab her and safely put her on the ground; what would she learn?  Realize that children learn from their parent’s reactions…what to fear, what to feel and how to cope with a situation. 

With toddlers it is about identification and the question is “what”…cat, dog, bird, car, truck and etc.  Then at two and three years old the question becomes “why?”  Which is about how do things work (verbs); stop, go, where, sleeping and etc…and of course the use of the word “NO!” (as an action verb).  As parents we encourage the toddler to “say please and say thank you.” Later the toddler becomes insistent about wanting to do it themselves.  Often what is heard is “No, I want to do it.”  They have developed an elemental sense of themselves, their ability and thus want do it themselves.  Later as preschoolers, there is a developing sense of mastery and accomplishment.  It is the “show and tell” stage.  They look for reinforcement, reassurances and praise.   In kindergarten and first grade, there is continued mastery, accomplishment and the beginning of social/peer interactions.

Understand that family life during the first seven years of a child’s life can have a lifelong impact on the quality of their well-being.  A large part of the first seven years is dependent upon the quality and content of the relationship with the parent.  The parent’s intention and mindful interactions are primary factors.  Kids are observant and intelligent.  They learn from what they are exposed to…which are mainly their parents and their family environment.  Thus as parents, it is important to be mindful of your behavior, affect and manner of your interactions with your children.   Are we angry and intolerant, frustrated, anxious and fearful?  On the other hand, are we calm, encouraging, instructive and loving?  What are you really teaching your child?

 

Development in 7-Year Periods

Let’s start at a simple understanding of the developmental view of a person.  The primary focus is on the first 28 years, divided in to four 7-year periods.  In a sense, the first 28 years is the spring of a person’s life and is instrumental in preparing a person for the remainder of their life.

An interesting place to start the discussion of developmental stages, is with James Hillman’s “Soul’s Code” (1997).  Hillman proposes the “Acorn Theory;” which is the idea that a person has a unique destiny, imperative or purpose. 

"The Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling" outlines what he calls the "acorn theory" of the soul. The theory states that all people already hold the potential for the unique possibilities inside themselves, much as an acorn holds the pattern for an oak tree. The book describes how a unique, individual energy of the soul is contained within each human being, displayed throughout their lifetime and shown in their calling and life's work when it is fully actualized.

Hillman argues against the "nature and nurture" explanations of individual growth, suggesting a third kind of energy, the individual soul is responsible for much of individual character, aspiration and achievement. He also argues against other environmental and external factors as being the sole determinants of individual growth, including the parental fallacy, dominant in psychoanalysis, whereby our parents are seen as crucial in determining who we are by supplying us with genetic material, conditioning, and behavioral patterns. While acknowledging the importance of external factors in the blossoming of the seed, he argues against attributing all of human individuality, character and achievement to these factors. The book suggests reconnection with the third, superior factor, in discovering our individual nature and in determining who we are and our life's calling.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Hillman

Hillman’s idea is that a person searches for his or her own acorn/self.  Winter’s process of introspection, the search for existential meaning, discovering a seed that has germinated and taken root.  This is much like Hillman’s notion of growing down or “rooting in the earth” and fits well with the metaphor of gardens of the soul.

A place to start is to ask a few important questions.  By asking these questions, you start on the path or adventure in which you will discover the answers.  They are simple questions but resonate deeply.  The three questions are:  Who am I?  What is my passion or purpose? And what am I to do about it?  The answers to these three questions help to orient, ground and give meaning to our growth.

An easy way to think of development is in terms of 7-year chunks of time.  In each developmental stage, there is a different task to accomplish.  The first three developmental stages are heavily influenced by the child’s environment.  Subsequently, parents are instrumental in these first three stages of development.  The child’s parental environment and climate help the child to develop the knowledge, skills, strategy and opportunities to pursue their life’s calling.  When viewed over a lifetime, the parental influence is brief but critical.   There are many aspects to the parent-child interactions.  However, two central aspects are worth noting.  First is the “relationship.”  The parent’s view of their relationship to their child sets the tone or quality of the relationship.  So the question is what is your primary role in the relationship to your child and helping them to discover and grow their acorn? 

The second central aspect is to understand that “structure and consistency leads to predictability.”  Children want to make sense of their world, to know how to participate and navigate in the world.  Thus, a parent helps establishes a meaningful and structured environment.  Hopefully it is a structured environment that is consistent.  This helps a child to learn how to predictably respond to their environment and thus manage their own behavior.  Kids may complain about structure or routine; that it is the same old thing.  But they need this, because it makes their life predictable.  For example, if the child’s family life and environment is chaotic and unpredictable.  What will be the child’s mode of operation or their behavior?  Generally, the child will respond in one of several ways.  Perhaps their response is anxious, fearful or unsure.  They feel like they are walking on eggshells; unsure of themselves and how to respond.  Perhaps the child determines that it does not matter what they do.  Sometimes it pays off and sometimes it does not.  It is a gamble, so they might as well do whatever they want.  The problem is if there is no structure, consistency or predictability; the environment does not support consistent feedback or learning on how to navigate effectively.  That is to orient, plan and execute in a meaningful manner.

The next few posts are going to present a simple view of the developmental tasks of each stage.  The primary focus will be on the first 28 years, divided in to 7-year periods.

The first 7 years are about a person establishing a core sense of them self, the world and the future.  The second 7 years is about socialization and normal behavior.  The third is about discovering who they are, their passions and learning about the skills to make things happen.  Lastly, the 20’s are about making the commitment to yourself.  It is the down and dirty; the grit of taking responsibility and ownership to make it happen.

Three Books of Life

There are three must have books in life.  The first is a “week at a glance” type of appointment book.  It is where you track appointments, things to do, lists, phone numbers etc. It is organization at a glance.  However, it is also excellent source of feedback; it allows the review and realization that over the past few months or a year you have done many things to get you where you want to go.  You are not the same person, nor are you at the same place; you have changed and grown.  Seeing and remembering that you have accomplished these tasks can be great inspiration and motivation to continue to chase your passions.

The second book is a blank book, it is where you store and keep your seeds.  This is the book where you put things of your imagination, passions, dreams.  It is for the seeds and things that are inspiring and that you might want to plant in your garden.  It could be a poem, idea, song, a lyric, recipe, picture of something you want.  Whatever it is, tear it out, glue/tape it in the book.  This book is your seed catalog.  Albert Einstein proposed, “imagination is the greatest creative force in the universe.”  Everybody has great ideas, thoughts and solutions but often we forget about them. They get blown away or lost by the busy winds of time.  If we do not collect them, we may not remember or find them again.  In the late winter when we are wondering what to plant in our garden, open the “book of seeds.”  Perhaps it was 5 years ago, but now there is time, space and resources to plant this seed.  Maybe 85-90 percent of the seeds may never be planted.  However, that does not matter; they are not lost.  What matters are the 10 or 15 percent of the seeds that you do plant.  How many times have you thought, what a simple idea, I wished I had thought of that million dollar idea.  How many seeds have we lost that could have been valuable?

The third book is the book in your hand that is interesting and that you enjoy.  Books are time machines, spaceships and your ticket to the universe.  Unlike movies that are illustrative and descriptive, books require imagination.  To the parents of children, one of the single best things you can do to help ensure academic success and the most reliable predictor of graduating from college is to instill the passion for reading…Period.  Children who are read to when they are toddlers and into the elementary school years; become people that enjoy reading and are generally more successful. 

Location, Location, Location…where to grow your garden

A 26 year old African American/Black woman had brought herself into the emergency department.  She was feeling depressed and suicidal but wanted help.  She was working as a cook in a diner, had her own apartment and friends, but was feeling stuck.  I ask, what was her passion?  Her reply was “cooking;”…but she was working as a cook.  I asked what kind of cooking?  She noted, her passion was to learn Cajun cooking.  “Well what the heck are you doing in the Pacific Northwest.  You got to go to Louisiana.”    The light bulb turned on!  Instantly, she livened up and you could see that she was making plans on what she needed to do.  We continued to discuss a few other life skills but essentially this young woman had a lot going for her, but the key piece was a change of location so that she could pursue her passion.

There are as many different kinds of gardens as there are gardeners.  There are vegetable, flower, cactus, tropical, fern, desert, indoor, herb, succulent, rock, terrariums and etc.  Gardens, are to an extent are determined by environment and climate.  In a sense environment and climate can be thought of as the physical, resources/financial, emotional, social, cultural, intellectual and even spiritual environment or climate which may significantly determine the success of the garden.  It is important to be mindful of the location of the garden and it may be required to relocate to a favorable environment and climate.

Cycles and Seasons

There are different lengths of times for different cycles and seasons.  Some cycles are long and some are quite brief.  A cycle circumambulate around the center.  The center is purpose.  The center is what holds the cycle together while it cycles around.  In a sense, purpose is the gravitational force or glue.  It helps to have to understand or at least have a concept of the purpose of a cycle.  Begin at discovering the purpose, passion or task of the cycle.

How do we discover the purpose?  Begin by asking questions.  Questions:  Such as why am I here and for what purpose?  What am I to learn? What am I to offer/give?  What are my passions?  What am I to do with this opportunity?  What do I love?  What is the task to do now?

Cycle of a life

The soul has 4 seasons in a lifetime, spring, summer, fall and winter.  Spring is from birth to young adulthood (0-28 years of age).  Summer is adulthood (28-56 years).  Fall is for enjoying the fruit of your labor (ages 56-84).  And winter is for preparing for the big travel opportunity.

Spring, is about learning, skills development and growing in to who we are as a fully functioning adult with all the responsibilities and freedoms.  Generally a person does not have full executive frontal lobe functioning until their mid-late 20’s; women mature earlier in this capacity at 25-26 and men are abit later at age 27-28.  It not until the late 20’s and early 30’s that people are ready and have the capacity to understand and fully appreciate the course of their actions, are able to make informed commitments to them self and others.  During the spring we learn about our self, how to navigate and negotiate the physical, social, emotional, intellectual and spiritual aspects of our self and others.

The summer (ages 28-56) is about using the knowledge and skills that were developed during the spring, toward application of purpose or opportunity.  Adulthood is about actualizing or manifesting our purpose.  It is about using the opportunity.  Imagine a garden in summer, it is full of activity.  There is growing, blooming, pollination, weeds, bugs, watering and fertilizing.  However despite the various challenges and distractions it is about using the opportunity to manifest your passion, purpose and contribution.

The fall (ages 58-84) is about harvesting, reaping the fruits and sharing.  Often we think about passing along our assets to our children or perhaps establishing a “legacy” gift or foundation.  However it can also be figuring out what and how to pass along good seeds to the future.  Which might as simple as in the form of writing, poetry, teaching, family stories or recipes and etc.  This often involves contemplating about what are the truly important things in life.  Sometimes we miss the opportunity to think about or take the time and ask for the seeds….until it’s too late.  In our fast paced culture that often forgets to consider the history.  It is important to take the opportunity to know some history so that we don't repeat mistakes.

The recent retirement of several close colleague emphasizes this.  They each had over 40 years of mental health experience and in each case the agency/organization failed to recognize or utilize them as mentors and thus did not take the opportunity to pair them up with young professionals.  It’s truly unfortunate for young professionals and the agencies to merely let these seasoned professionals go without harvesting the fruit of their many years of experience. 

In the Winter of life, it is ideally a time of graceful appreciation, blessing and letting go.  It is mixed with a joyful acknowledgement of life, a time for noting thankfulness, a time of forgiving and gratefulness.  However, for some it may be a time of fear, horror of regrets and holding on instead of a release, unburdening or enlightening.  

Cycle of the Day.  

What is the ebb and flow to your day?  Does the alarm goes off, hit the button once or twice and then its off to the races.  Jump out of bed, brush teeth, shower, dressed, quick cup of coffee and out the door to work.  A harried lunch, a quick phone call to check in with family…and what to do about dinner?  After work, run to do an errand, stop by the grocery store, fix dinner, clean up and now fall asleep in front of the TV.  Ahhhh what a life…yeah right!

During the past few years I’ve developed a daily rhythm with spring, summer, fall and winter seasons during the day.  When waking (late winter/early spring), I'll continue to lie in bed in a semi lucid dream/twilight state.  While in this imaginal state, I just let ideas and thoughts embellish and flow without critique.  Then when arising, I will jot down a few notes to remind me of ideas and concepts when I return to write.  While drinking morning coffee or tea I will review the various tasks to attend to during the day, make a general plan of action along with a list.  However, I will also figure out what is that one thing I can do, to get me where I want to be in 3 days/weeks/months/years; and make it a priority to do that 1 thing.  Perhaps it’s a phone call, schedule a meeting, and write an email or whatever.

Then its time to get busy (summer), attend to the list and start checking off items on the list.  Sometimes the actions are investigative (digging), eliminate distractions (weeding) or attentive focus (watering or feeding).  There are many gardening activities like cultivating, grafting, supporting, protecting from pests and etc. that are possible.  At times everything goes smoothly and other times the plan goes awry.  When things are not going according to plan; one of the important things to recognize is “knowing when its time to stop, give it a rest and comeback later…before you make things worse.”  It’s like the first part of the Serenity Prayer… by Reinhold Niebuhr

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

The evening is the fall.  After doing the dishes and cleaning up the kitchen; its time to enjoy some other passions like spending time with family and friends, reading, playing guitar, working on other little projects and etc. 

Bed time is the winter.  Take a few minutes before falling asleep to review what has been accomplished and what remains to be done.  Perhaps acknowledge a particular problem or struggle and then let it go with the expectation that a solution will be worked out during your sleep, that your unconscious will come up with a creative solution.  Then surrender, let go and get some restful sleep.

Cycle of a Project or Task

Eggplant parmesan example:  I love eggplant parmesan, one day I decided why go to a restaurant for to have it (late winter a seed germinates and inspiration).  After looking at a few recipes, made a list and went to the grocery store (spring).  At home, make the sauce, bread and fry the eggplant, grate cheeses and put it all together (summer).  Dinner; sharing and enjoying the eggplant parmesan, a baguette and salad with family and friends (fall).  And, while cleaning up and washing dishes, (the winter), thinking about how to improve the next attempt at making eggplant parmesan.

There are different sizes and lengths of times for different cycles and seasons.  Some cycles are long and some are quite brief.  Let’s begin at the center of a cycle.  The center is purpose.  Underlying purpose is the why and what.  And the why and what is our passion or love.  The center is what holds the cycle together while it is spins or cycles around.  In a sense, purpose is the gravitational force or glue...and that is our passion/love.  It helps to have an understanding of the central purpose of a cycle.

Knowing and understanding there are cycles and seasons helps orient to what needs to be done today, what we learned yesterday and what to do tomorrow.  Understanding this is how we get from imagination to creating to realization/actualizing our world.

Tis the Season…What are you giving?

Wealth…Tis the Season…What are you giving?

Wealth what is it?  There are many forms of wealth. Historically wealth has been measured in money and gold.  A person can have lots of money but no time to spend it. Or person can have a lot of time but no money.  The common ideal is having a balance of enough money to live comfortably and enough time to enjoy life.  As we get older, wealth equates with health and the ability to be active, having friends and sharing with others is the joy in life.

There are many types of wealth and it’s important to figure out what wealth you strive to attain and what wealth you process.  Wealth can be in many forms, such as money, time, access to resources or a comfortable existence.  But it can also be in terms of the quality and quantity of relationships, freedom to think, feel, share, love, explore and adventure.   Or perhaps having the depth of emotion and being empathic, the capacity to ponder ideas and concepts, the opportunities to share with or help others and etc.  Wealth can also be holding a sacred space for another person.  Meaning creating space for another person to be who they are…without judgment, conflict or an agenda.  It is a gift or blessing to another and it is a privileged opportunity to provide the seemingly endless moments/space to another.

Perhaps there is a developmental aspect of wealth. When we are children it’s generally thought of having toys and having fun. As we move and to the ages of 7 to 14 it’s about having friends. In adolescence it’s about having opportunities for responsibility and freedom. From 21 the 28 it’s about having opportunities to establish oneself.   From 28 to 35 is often about having a good relationship with a significant other and the ability to comfortably support yourself and your family. From 35 to 42 is about having some comforts and the ability to enjoy them. From 42 to 49 is often about respect from peers. And 49 to 56 is about enjoying the company of family and friends and having bucket list adventures.  At 56 to 63 often times we start to seek out opportunities to mentor or share.  And from 63 to 70 it’s about making conscious decisions to lighten and unburdening ourselves and pass along the essentials seeds of life lessons to others.  And at 70+ it’s about being grateful, graceful and giving by being a living example or role model.

So how do we attain wealth?  There is the wisdom of “you reap what you sow.”  The flip side is “sow what you want to reap.”   If you want money yet to figure out how to strategically give it away, i.e. invest it. If you want friends, be friendly. If you want fame, recognize and acknowledge others. If you want help, be helpful. If you want health, give health to others. If you want love, be loving.  If you want patience, be patient.  If you want understanding, try to understand others.  Recognize a pattern, it’s about giving away what you want.  You reap what you sow. Be generous.

The shift toward abundance is about recognizing opportunities to share your wealth, talents, skills, passions and holding sacred space for others.  The result; you, others and the world will become enriched. It’s not a matter of what you get, it’s a matter of what you give…take the opportunities to invest wisely. Sharing and relationships are the new wealth.

What do you want in your garden….pain, sorrow and fear…or hope, joy and love?

Peace love and light!

Tim Justice

Winter Solstice

Winter is dark and invisible.  People often fear and dread winter.  Often the experience of winter is feeling lost, lonely, depressed and anxious and not knowing what to do.  We are tired, exhausted and feeling hopeless and helpless.   Sometimes, we get stuck and ruminate on something that has happened, what we did or failed to do.  When we are focused on the past, we stop moving forward and get stuck.  It like the biblical story of Lot’s wife.  When she turns to look behind her, she turns to stone or a pillar of salt.  Psychologically, when we get stuck or ruminate on something that has happened in the past, we stop moving forward.  Everybody has regrets, traumas or something in the past that haunts them.  It is important to investigation and learning about the issue, because if we don’t, it will haunt and interrupt our life until we face it and learn something from it.  It is difficult to face these demons, fears, anxieties.  It takes courage and faith.  Frequently a person gets chased all over hell, until they are exhausted or become “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”  At that point, it is often a case of “I have no idea of what will happen (when facing this fear) but something must change.”

Introspection:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Introspection

Introspection is the examination of one's own conscious thoughts and feelings.[1] In psychology the process of introspection relies exclusively on observation of one's mental state, while in a spiritual context it may refer to the examination of one's soul. Introspection is closely related to human self-reflection and is contrasted with external observation

FEAR:  When we turn to face the fear, acknowledge it and make a resolve to understand it; an interesting thing happens.  The fear is not as big as we imagined and surprisingly we are still here; we have survived.  A trick for coping with the investigation and learning from facing our fear is the following.  When examining the fear, don’t make a judgement of “good or bad.”  Instead merely make the statement “isn’t this interesting and I wonder why?”  When we merely observe, while not making a value judgement we begin noticing patterns.  Our awareness of the fear expands and we begin to see where it comes from, how it develops and its effects.  As we develop insights, we begin to see opportunities to manage our interactions with the fear.  Eventually we come to understand fear is useful as a cue or signal to pay attention; in a sense the fear becomes an ally and no longer overwhelms us. Learning to face our fears, demons and anxieties, we eventually realize that fears, demons and anxieties have been challenging teachers.  We have surpassed the challenge and learned from them.  The result is we accept, understand and move beyond.  The fear, demons or anxieties have become our allies. And thus, we are in a position to forgive our self, others or the traumatic event.  Forgiveness allows us to unchain our self from the past and we are able to turn around and look toward the future and are able to focus on what needs to be done today to get us where we want to be in the future.

FORGIVENESS:  What about “I’ve asked to be forgiven but they (the victim) won’t even talk or acknowledge me.”  Perhaps the offended is not at a place or is unwilling to forgive; and merely trying to forget.  In a sense the offender does not have the right to be asked to be forgiven.  To ask for forgiveness may be seen as a selfish request.  If the victim offers forgiveness that is an entirely different matter.  The offender must recognize their egregious behavior, accept their penance and then resolve to and make changes.  Once this is done, then they are in position to forgive themselves; they have learned from their mistake and are now ready to put things in the past.  Hopefully this process has also give them resolve or motivation to help others avoid the mistakes they have made.

EARLY WINTER:  During the early part of winter, it is important to look or examine the past to figure out or learn the lesson.  And the essential question is “what did I learn?”  And once you figure out the lesson, then it is time to turn around and get going again.  Sometimes we get stuck and we have to forgive our self, the person or the traumatic event.  The forgiveness unchains us from the past, so that we can turn around and look to the future and state this is where I want to go.  It doesn’t matter where you are from nor what you have done or what has happened.  What matters is that you have learned something, and more importantly is to figure out where you want to go.  However, the most important is to figure out what you can do TODAY to get where you want to go tomorrow.

DEAD OF WINTER:  The dead of winter provides the opportunity to dive deep within our self in search of the Self and existential meaning.  It is about letting go or surrendering parts of our self that are no longer useful.  This letting go tends to be experienced as a free-fall or perhaps an unburdening and lifting.  It can be disconcerting but we eventually learn that we fall into the self to re-discover our Self.  The existential dark night of the soul is the search for the meaning of our existence.  “Why do I exist?”  “Who am I”? Or, “what is my passion, what is my love?”  In turn from the question comes “this is why am I, I am, I love...”  This turn becomes the life affirming and confirming ground/soil in which to start something new.

LATE WINTER:  The late winter is still dark and cold.  Again we are inspired to find something new.  For a while we wander around in the dark, feeling for something warm or looking for a spark.  Eventually we stumble across a seed that has germinated in the renewed soil.  The germinated seed first sends down roots to search for substance and support.  The roots take foundation in our dreams, day dreams and are nourished by our imagination.  Eventually the germinated seed then sends up a shoot.  When this shoot breaks the surface of the soil, it cues us to note, “this is what I am growing in my garden.”  We then start making plans, gathering resources and getting the garden ready.  Soon it will be spring time and warm enough to transplant our little seedling in the garden. 

ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS:  During the winter, the essential questions are:  What is the lesson or what did I learn?  Who am I, and what are my passions/love and what do I want to do about it?  These are the basic introspective questions.  To get quality answers, ask quality questions.  The result is a found integrity of ones self.  That is, a firm knowing of who you are, a sense of purpose and meaning and a resolution of living life with authenticity.  Make a quick review of people in your life and various pivotal persons in history and you will find that they had a period of winter in their life in which they struggled and searched for their self.  You will also find that in many different cultures there is a path, ritual or a direction that involves the search for self that result in becoming one’s self.     

Summarily, winter is often misunderstood.  However with some re-orientation and insight into the invisible, introspective and intuitive/regenerative processes of winter, one can began to anticipate and navigate the symbolic death, renewal and rebirth of winter.  Winter is the pivotal time in gardening.

Winter Solstice is the time between death and rebirth, recognized throughout history and in different cultures.  It is celebrated with deep significance.

Peace, Love and Light!

Tim Justice

The Invisible Tasks of Winter...Introspection

Gardening metaphor:  Presume we are the garden, the gardener and the plant in the garden.  Each season requires a different task of the gardener.  Spring is about planning, preparation and gathering resources.  Summer is about establishing a routine, working in the garden every day; essentially being a servant to the garden.  In the fall, we harvest the fruit of our labor but it requires us to go out every day, decide which fruit is ripe and then what to do with it.   Winter is the time of evaluation, renewal and rebirth.  Symbolically it is the season and process of death and rebirth.

WHAT?  What are the tasks of death and rebirth?  Often in the winter and in crisis, a person often feels lonely, depressed, confused, anxious and overwhelmed…not knowing what to do nor who they are.  The re-orientation or re-framing these feelings as part of the natural process of change can help a person move toward a hopeful and meaningful growth.  Re-framing these feelings and experience as a natural part of winter, invites the individual to participate in the seemingly invisible processes of change and growth.  In winter, the private or unseen task involves introspection. 

The first task involves self-reflective evaluation and figuring out lessons learned.  What went well in our garden; what did not go well and what might we do differently next season?  If we do not do this evaluation, we are doomed to planting the same darn garden.  A definition of insanity; is to continue to do the same thing but expect different results.

The second task is forgiving and letting go.  This surrendering allows us to further drop down or dive deep inside our self.  The essential question is:  Who am I?  Eventually we drop into our self and discover…Oh here I am! 

“Ok, I am here…now what?”  Now that we have found our Self, then what?  Well we continue to stumble around in the dark (remember its winter, dark and cold).  Therefore, we stumble around for awhile…feeling around for anything warm or looking for a spark.  Eventually we discover something…a little spark…and we start to wonder about it, to dream about it, to imagine it.  Then it begins to consume our consciousness and we realize that it’s a seed that has germinated in the dark.  It has set roots in our consciousness.  The soil has been warmed by our imagination.  The seed has sent up a shoot that is now breaking through the surface of the soil and reaching for sunlight. 

The seed that has germinated and is now reaching for the sun.  It is our passion/dream/love.  Now the time to decide to commit to following our passion, then announce this is what we are planting in our garden for the next season.  And, as a good gardener, we must now protect our small seedling and start to make plans, gather resources and get the garden readied for the spring planting.

The searching for and discovering our soul; results in a new sense of self and existential meaning.  The winter season is the natural time to withdraw, hibernate and introspect.  It is a time for the introspective process of evaluation, touching our soul, discovering and imagining something new.   Winter becomes a long awaited and anticipated time to rest and spend some time by our self.  In a sense it becomes a time to revisit our roots and knowing that it is an important part of renewal and therefore growth.   

The gardening metaphor simply is the framework and process of Imagining, Preparing, Doing, Harvesting and then Introspecting.   Discovering our passions/love/dreams hopefully inspires and motivates us to make space for and to plant a garden.  Then, the process of bring them into existence and fruition occurs by preparation, work and harvesting.  This is the metaphor of “Gardens of the Soul.” 

Recognizing that the process of gardening and growing is a fractal and perennial pattern; it encourages us to recognize and use the metaphor to help make sense and guide us in applying it to different situations.

Thank you for visiting!  In addition, please make comments; ask questions or any feedback/critiques.

Peace, Love and Light!

Tim Justice

Introduction for Individuals and Family

Throughout my work conducting mental health crisis evaluations and consultations, the challenge is to provide a person a frame of reference that inspires a sense of hope, possibilities and opportunities to begin making changes.

Most people are not crazy; rather they are trying to deal with a crazy situation. They are overwhelmed, fearful, depressed, anxious and at a loss of what to do. Frequently, the essential issue is to help people find a way to change because what they have been doing is not working.  When the gardening metaphor is introduced it readily reorients them to the process of change and growth. Ideally the change is based on their passions, dreams or love.

Why do people change?  Two main motivations for change are Fear and Love.  Fear is to avoid pain or suffering.  Or at the very least to contain, manage or control the situation. Love believes it is somehow possible. It gives us the hope, faith and courage to change and grow beyond our wildest imagination.

You have the choice of Fear or Love. What you believe and pursue determines where you end up.  These two facets interact and ebb and flow in any experience. Both Love and Fear can be motivating or overwhelming, navigating the labyrinth is a matter of paying attention to your reactions and your intention. Which would you rather do?  Be chased by your fears, demons and anxieties.  Or follow your passions and chase your dreams.  

Gardening offers hope, faith and love in the process of manifesting our passions, dreams and love.  It orients us to what we have learned in the past, to what we want to grow and what is important to do today.

So why am I doing this?  It’s the right thing to do, change happens and we all get by with a little help from friends and the kindness of strangers.  Colleagues, clients and their family have begged me to write a book, ”just do something”…so here it is.  It is a small attempt to return the many blessings and pay-it-forward.

Peace, Love and Light!

Tim Justice