Monday, September 21, 2009

Have a Good Bad Day...

We all have days that feel like this.

In her website, The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin offers an antidote, listing Tips for Feeling Happier Right Now. Each tip is guaranteed to lift your mood, as will the mere fact that you've tackled and accomplished some concrete goals.

1. Boost your energy. Pace while you talk on the phone or, even better, take a brisk ten-minute walk outside. Even a small amount of exercise elevates your spirits.

2. Listen to a great song. Research shows that listening to music you love is an extremely effective way to improve your mood.

3. Reach out to friends. Make a lunch date or call a friend. Having warm bonds with other people is a key to happiness. Perhaps surprisingly, it turns out that socializing boosts the moods not only of extroverts, but also of introverts.

4. Rid yourself of a nagging task. Answer a difficult email, purchase something you need, or call to make that dentist's appointment. Crossing an irksome chore off your to-do list will give you a big rush of energy and cheer.

5. Create a calm environment. Clear some physical and mental space around your desk by pitching junk, stowing supplies, sending out quick responses, filing, or even just straightening up your piles. Outer order contributes to inner serenity.

6. Lay the groundwork for some fun. Order a book you've been wanting to read (not something you should read) or plan a weekend excursion. Studies show that having fun on a regular basis is a pillar of happiness. Try to involve friends or family , as well; people enjoy activities more when they're with other people than when they're alone.

7. Do a good deed. Make a helpful email introduction, set up a blind date, or shoot someone a piece of useful information or gratifying praise. Do good, feel good - this really works. Also, although we often believe that we act because of the way we feel, in fact, we often feel because of the way we act. When you act in a friendly way, you'll strengthen your feelings of friendliness for other people. And that's a happy feeling.

8. Go outside. Research suggests that sunlight stimulates brain chemicals that improve mood and increases focus. For an extra boost, get your sunlight first thing in the morning.

9. Save the life of a stranger. Every day, seventeen people die while waiting for a donated organ, and just one donor can save or improve the life of as many as 50 people. Most Americans say they approve of organ donation, but not many actually sign a donor card. Register and tell your next of kin you want to donate. Imagine the joyous faces of the people who will one day get a call from a hospital, to tell them that their prayers have been answered. That will make you feel pretty darned happy.

Are there other ideas you could add to personalize this list? Try adding them and then copying the list and posting it on the fridge or above your desk as a reminder that we can sometimes make choices that will lift the gloom and tiredness and allow a better day.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Forgiveness or Reconciliation...

Anger and resentment can be a great drain on the energy of anyone with compassion fatigue or chronic sorrow. And forgiveness or reconciliation can bring equally great renewal.

Forgiveness is different from reconciliation. As marriage and family therapist, Tom Moon, says, "Forgiveness means letting go of the past, but reconciliation is about committing to a future."

Forgiveness means letting go of anger, resentment, hurt, judgment and condemnation. It means giving up the victim role and the desire for revenge. It is something we do on our own, for ourselves, to prevent these feelings and actions from poisoning our own lives.

Reconciliation, on the other hand, is a process where both parties own and acknowledge their parts in the problem, without excuse or blame, and strive to restore trust in the relationship. It's something we do together for the sake of the relationship.

We are free to choose forgiveness or reconciliation as our goal in any situation. And, oddly enough, when we know that we don't have to reconcile, we can often be more generous with our forgiveness. (Fear of being hurt again by an unrepentant person can be a legitimate reason for forgiving but not reconciling.)

Both forgiveness and reconciliation are processes, often lengthy ones, so they can take patience and persistence. In considering forgiving someone, Tian Dayton, PhD, author of The Magic of Forgiveness, suggests writing the answers to the following questions:

1. What is the forgiveness issue I'm working with?

2. Where am I stuck?

3. What will I gain if I forgive?

4. What will I need to give up if I forgive?

5. Why am I afraid to forgive?

6. What feelings keep coming up when I contemplate forgiving?

7. What do I feel angry about?

8. What do I feel sad about?

9. What, if anything, am I holding against myself?

10. What, if anything, am I holding against someone else?

11. What do I think forgiving myself or this person will mean?

12. What do I want it to mean?

13. What am I afraid it might mean?

14. What do I imagine forgiveness can give me that I don't have now?

Reflecting on these questions can help to ready us for the steps to forgiveness listed on the website for Zen Habits by therapist, Allison Mupas, MFT:

1. Journal or talk to someone about what happened, your feelings, and let it all out.

2. Look at your side of the event, disagreement, or problem. How did you participate? Do you have anything to clean up? ("Clean up" means take responsibility for.)

3. Consider whether you're even willing to forgive yet. If not, take some steps to work through the underlying feelings.

4. Make the decision to forgive anyone involved in the situation. Don't forget yourself, if you need it. Decide if you need to say or write anything to anyone involved to get your feelings out and be heard.

The person you are forgiving does not need to be willing to receive them or to be present for you to complete this process. You can ask an objective person to be on the receiving end if you don't feel safe or comfortable going to the person with whom you're upset. You can visualize that you are speaking to that person when you are speaking to a friend or objective listener.

5. Let go! Keep in mind that you are choosing to forgive. If you are holding on to a belief that the other person has to do something before you forgive, you may be choosing to remain stuck. If you find situations re-stimulating the old feelings of hurt, you may need to repeat step 1.

Keep in mind that this process is not easy but it is very rewarding and can be very freeing...

If you are having difficulty with your forgiveness or reconciliation process, you might want to contact a counsellor, spiritual advisor or professional coach for help.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Bits 'n' Pieces...

I have a number of bits 'n' pieces of things buzzing around in my head this afternoon, and rather than letting them use up my precious cognitive space, I'll write them down for you now, rather than waiting until next week's post.

So, here goes:-

1. One knows that a concept has really hit the tipping point when you see it in Oprah's, O Magazine! Did you all see the Compassion Fatigue article, (page 141), in this month's issue? It is a short but well written article entitled, "Do You Have Compassion Fatigue?", by Tom Jarvis and I was particularly pleased to see that he had acknowledged CF as a problem of both helping professionals and family caregivers.

2. I'm reading two great books on mindfulness this weekend:-

a) Letting Everything Become Your Teacher: 100 Lessions in Mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Delta Trade Paperbacks: NY (2009)

b) You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment by Thich Nhat Hanh, Shambala Publications, Inc: Boston, Mass (2009)

The first is a nicely laid out small book of excerpts from Full Catastrophe Living (2001), designed to "inspire you to embrace what is deepest and best and most beautiful in yourself". It's the perfect sort of book for exhausted people with short attention spans because the excerpts are brief, pithy and very easy to read.

The second is, again, a small book, this time written by the renowned Zen monk and meditation master, Thich Nhat Hanh, based on a retreat he led for Westerners, explaining a range of simple practices for cultivating mindfulness. It reminds me a little of his earlier book, Peace is Every Step, in that it is restful and calming just to read its pages.

3. My own little ebook on Chronic Sorrow has been coming along nicely but, because BC will be embracing the Harmonized Sales Tax in April, I will hold off on publishing the book until the sales mechanism on the website can be set up for the new tax. So expect to see the ebook in about mid 2010. My apologies to those who have been waiting patiently...

4. I am currently looking for a lovely, clean, quiet, peaceful, meeting space, with kitchenette, to rent occasionally for Saturday workshops in the Greater Vancouver area. If you know of such a space, I would be grateful to hear about it at

That's cleared my head for the moment, so I'll leave you with warm wishes for happy and restorative moments this beautiful autumn weekend.



Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Spiritual Renewal...

Most people believe that we have a spiritual nature as well as a physical, mental and emotional one. In living through compassion fatigue and chronic sorrow, we can become spiritually spent and we need - and often yearn for - spiritual renewal as well as physical exercise and emotional support.

But how do we go about enriching our spiritual lives? Frankly, there are as many ways as there are people. The spiritual path is a highly individual one, without a rule book or standard curriculum that fits all. That said, there are some practices that have emerged through the years and across faiths, that can lead to a richer spiritual life:

1. Set aside time every week to nurture your spirit. (Eventually, you may find this time so nourishing that you want to set time aside every day.) During this established time, you might want to:

* Spend time in silence or prayer with Whom/Whatever you believe in that is greater than   yourself - God, Love, Nature, Truth, Beauty,The Universe.
* Visit different places of worship, paying attention to the music, the architecture, the difference in the sermons or teachings. Or, conversely, visit at a time when the place of worship is empty to pray or meditate alone. There is a wonderful peace to be found in sitting in a sanctuary where others have prayed before you.
 * Read inspirational writings and reflect on them. They needn't be "holy" writings, rather, anything that inspires you, be it poetry, a novel, autobiography or spiritual writings of your own or another faith.
* Write a poem or story for or about your Spirit.
* Write a prayer that celebrates your relationship to your Spirit or Higher Power.
 * Write a spiritual autobiography, noting times of spiritual insight through nature, relationships, and events. What are the stages through which your spiritual growth has progressed? Has your faith been helpful to you in times of strain and stress? Are there beliefs that frighten you or seem nonsensical and need reconsideration?
* Study an aesthetic discipline.
* Attend a meditation or prayer group.
* Begin a "Seeker's Group" to discuss spiritual issues.
* Attend a retreat.
* Spend time in contemplation of beauty, kindness, compassion, nature.
* Listen to uplifting music - dance to it.
* Create a spiritual journal for quotations, reflections, recording the spiritual happenings of your life.

2. Practice peace and reconciliation. The irritability and unmet needs that accompany both CF and CS easily lead to situations where forgiveness and/or reconciliation are needed. The topics deserve more space than I have today. Watch for more next week.

3. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is a form of meditation but, more, it is a way of life. A way of be-ing. It is a way of becoming intentionally aware of the present, in this moment and this moment and this moment... A way of living life deeply and fully.

4. Practice gratitude. Open your awareness to the gifts of this world - large and small. Becoming consciously grateful for the fact that you step on to a carpeted floor when you get out of bed, that you drink clean water, that you have someone to love, that you're surrounded by the beauty of nature, that you have eyes to see and ears to hear, can do a lot to balance the pain of compassion fatigue and chronic sorrow.

I could say much more here but this is a good start. Think about your spiritual wellness this week. If it could use a tune up, perhaps try one of these ideas - or one of your own - to begin a process of spiritual renewal.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Who Inspired You?...

September and the return to school never fail to remind me of the wonderful people who inspired me to become the helper I am today. Some were family, some friends, some therapists, some famous persons I would never meet. But most were the teachers who wove a golden thread through the tapestry my life from kindergarten through graduate school. Each of them in-spired, or breathed into me, the desire to learn and then to support the learning of others.

Miss McIntosh, my third grade teacher, taught me the importance of empathy, warmth and compassion in creating an emotionally safe space for learning. Barry McDell, my highschool English and Journalism teacher, taught me that a painfully shy teenager could do more than I ever dreamed possible - even edit the school yearbook! And Dr Selma Wassermann and Lin Langley showed me that respectful teacher-student interactions are at the core of all good teaching. They demonstrated again and again that content matters less than the learning experience - that the medium truly is the message.

Without these deeply human and caring mentors, I could never have become the teacher I am today and I will be forever grateful.

What about you? Who inspired you to become the helper you are today? How did they do that? What did they say? What did they do? Perhaps you could share your story of inspiration here so it can, in turn, inspire others?

Photo by BigStock Photos