Human beings are a storytelling bunch. It's how we make sense of ourselves and the world around us. But have you ever stopped to think about which narratives we tell and why?
If you answered no, that's to be expected. Most of us have moved through life on auto pilot not really thinking about the messages we're given -- the narratives handed down through family lines, history class, media and so on. And then there are the stories we've subsequently been spinning. Sometimes those narratives are about us, our relationships or the world at large. Sometimes those narratives are unconscious and other times they are so loud they just repeat over and over again in our minds. But if ever there was a time to pause and unpack the narratives of our times, it's now.
Here's an example: A couple of weeks ago, here in the San Francisco Bay Area we woke up to dark orange skies due to the epic number of climate-induced wildfires in our area. I'm not going to pretend that it wasn't unsettling, it truly was. But what was even more unsettling than the scene itself were the number of headlines that made reference to 'the apocalypse' or 'end of days'. Social media followed suit. Or maybe it was the other way around.
Either way, most people I talked to that day - clients, neighbors, friends, family - were making similar references. And with that narrative came a sort of hopelessness. Not the kind that passes quickly, but the kind that's insidious, paralyzing.
It wasn't until a few days later that I saw other folks on social media elevating alternative narratives. Below is an image that was circulating on IG and Facebook. Unfortunately, I don't have the information to appropriately credit it here.
But what a change in perspective, yes?
Exploring stories is a big part of the work I do with clients. This practice shows up in numerous psychotherapy approaches, but most notably Narrative Therapy which is considered a postmodern approach. That means it's rooted in the premise that reality is subjective. What I love about this work is that we are encouraged to unpack the stories we've held and author our own experiences.
This isn't just the case for big events like, let's say living through a pandemic or catastrophic wildfires. It's also a powerful tool for every day life and sometimes is as simple as word choice. Notice the difference in stories here:
"I am stuck at home." vs "I am safe at home."
How does your experience shift reading each statement? Perhaps both feel true to you and your experience becomes more nuanced.
An easy way to begin exploring this concept is is to take a few minutes at the end of the day and ask yourself: How was my day? Be mindful in your response. Notice what events get privileged and given more weight. Notice which events fall to the waste side.
I encourage you to experiment, be curious. In a time when we have such little control over external events, we do have autonomy to choose the stories we tell ourselves and others.
Till Next Time, Wishing you Health & Ease,
Today let's talk about altars because, whew, can they be helpful in hard times!
As I've written in previous posts, I'm not one to shy away away from out-of-the-box interventions in my work with clients. Altar-making is included in that, both a psycho-spiritual intervention, as well as an expressive arts practice. It's rooted in the use of metaphor, imagination and ritual, but the use of altars can also be coupled with cognitive behavioral therapy or any evidence-based practice that helps clients shift behavior and thought patterns.
While we always use the client's goal to guide us, the use of altars is commonly used to support clients in creating sacred space within their home or office. The space can be used to 'get grounded,' meditate, pray, set intentions or just be - and who doesn't need a place for that these days?
Also, I want to mention that altars are used across cultures to honor those who have passed on. This year , 2020, has certainly brought collective loss to the forefront. Those of us on the West Coast are not only grieving the losses brought on by COVID, but also the epic wildfires induced by climate change. Altars can help externalize and hold the grief and loss we feel.
There is no right or wrong way to make an altar, though certain cultures a/o religions have specific traditions. Below, I note the importance of not appropriating other traditions, but beyond this baseline of respect, designing an altar space for yourself can be as creative as you like. Some folks make multiple altars for various purposes. Some are elaborate and free standing, while others are made for your wall, erected on bookshelves, or next to your computer. We make what feels right and what is useful.
If you're called to this practice, here are a few questions to ask yourself as you get started:
1. What do I need now? Do I need a place to feel grounded and safe? A place to grieve? A place to visualize what I want to create in my life? A place to focus on hope or gratitude?
2. What objects, colors, scents, sounds, textures represent or meet my need? What inspires me and makes me feel comfort? If I am drawn to a symbol or deity associated with a culture/religion other than my own, do I have explicit permission to work with it?
3. Where should I place my altar and what materials do I need? Do I want it visible to others? Is there a spot that is particularly meaningful?
If you're interested in learning more about about altar-making or other psycho-spiritual and expressive arts practices, please feel free to contact me. Also, please know, every Thursday I use Instagram to share expressive arts prompts, and this week will focus on simple wall altars -- connect with me there!
Till Next Time, Wishing you Health & Ease,
Clients often ask me for practices to support their self-care and well-being and without a doubt my favorite practice is rooted in appreciation and gratitude.
These days it can feel exhausting, if not impossible, to focus on what's going well in our lives, but I want to emphasize that the purpose of this practice is NOT to gloss over the grief and struggle that so many are experiencing right now. It's doesn't require us to "just think positively" - ugh.
Gratitude practice helps us hold a fuller, more nuanced view of all we experience instead of falling into the everything is all-good or all-bad binary.
Here are some ideas to get started:
1. Start a dedicated gratitude journal where you write daily about what you are grateful for or appreciate. You can write in list form or go into detail. This is great to revisit when you're having a hard day.
2. Use your time on social media to share what you're grateful for or appreciating, and invite others to share what they are grateful for or appreciating.
3. Verbalize your appreciation directly. This one is so important. Often we think about our appreciations, but don't share with our communities. Make a call, text or zoom session to let someone know how they've impacted you.
As with any practice consistency is key. I suggest picking a time of day to set aside and review your day or week. What went well? What made you smile? Who or what brought you joy? Are you grateful for your body's ability to heal? Your best friend's laugh? Your resiliency? The smell of your morning coffee? Be authentic to your experience and try to be specific, including sensory detail. Watch how this practice can shift your perspective (and mood) over time.
For many, focusing on what's going well is a new way of thinking, of noticing. It can feel challenging at first, but that's why we call it a practice.
Till next time, wishing you health & ease,