It can be easy to get overwhelmed at times and yet making small differences in the lives of others can actually help ease feelings of helplessness and disempowerment. Sounds a bit counterintuitive doesn’t it. “I am already overwhelmed with a list of to dos and uncertain of what to take on next. How can adding additional “work” help?” Sometimes it is not the long list of actions we feel we need to take that is the source of discontent and overwhelm. Perhaps, it is the lack of meaningful action and purpose. Connecting to others and building a village of support is a wonderful way to dig ourselves out of holes of isolation and doubt. So find that starfish, throw it back in the water and see how you feel. And as was mentioned, if you get overwhelmed by how many starfish are on the beach, remind yourself, “I made a difference to that one!” Please share how helping others has helped you and have a wonderful Friday.
June Lake 2020: Back to the Basics
Going on vacation almost always leaves me feeling rejuvenated and refreshed. The drive back from June Lake included the beautiful green meadows and majestic mountains of Yosemite National Park and sparkling blue water of the Merced River. As we drove by this beautiful scenery, I reflected upon what it is about vacation that is so healing. This vacation to June Lake for the 4th of July holiday, it was getting back to the basics. I used my phone to take pictures but otherwise spent very little screen time checking emails, texts, or phone calls. My family and I spent a whole day at the beach. My kids played in the sand and made sandcastles, dug holes and splashed their feet in the water. My husband went fishing on the shoreline. I challenged myself to go paddle boarding for the first time and only fell a couple of times. Paddle boarding is a good workout! I said a silent prayer for my Uncle Bobby who passed away last week, as we walked the Parker Lake trail. We ate simple meals, slept in a one-bedroom motel room, got plenty of sunshine and enjoyed talking with friends and family. I am grateful for this five-day trip which taught me that getting back to the basics helps to simplify a sometimes complicated life. How can you get back to the basics today?
The Road Less Traveled
My sixth grade teacher Mrs. Clayton (shout out to Vallemar Middle School in Pacifica), gave me a book of poems by Robert Frost at the end of the school year. In his poem “The Road Not Taken,” Frost writes
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Taking the off-beaten path can be a difficult and challenging journey and one that can be worth the effort. I am a big fan of hiking and being outdoors. While well-groomed pathways can be a lot easier and predictable, I have found that the less-explored routes have led to some of the most awe-inspiring destinations.
Same can be said for the mind. Studies on neuroplasticity of the brain have shown that neural pathways themselves can be restructured and strengthened. I will leave that talk to the experts for now.
In summary, new challenges, whether they be of the body (trying to lose weight, trying to get back in shape, adjusting eating patterns) and/or mind (striving for stress reduction, adjusting sleep patterns, trying to form healthier habits); while difficult initially can make all the difference in the greater span of your life. How has taking a less traveled route (literally, physically or spiritually) helped shaped your life? How might meeting a new challenge today guide you toward a better tomorrow?
The Four Agreements in Action
In my mid-twenties, I came upon a book by Don Miguel Ruiz titled The Four Agreements. Having just graduated with a Master’s in Social Work from San Diego State, the168-paged book was a lot smaller and concise than the heavy-weighted readers and text-books utilized in my graduate classes. Yet within its pages I found the guidance I needed in a time of uncertainty and transition. Years later I find myself doing my best to live the Four Agreements as best I can and hope to teach them to my friends, loved ones and those interested in learning its teachings.
In summary, The Four Agreements are:
- Be Impeccable With Your Word.
- Don’t Take Anything Personally.
- Don’t Make Assumptions.
- Always Do Your Best.
Sounds simple enough right? Yet we live in a world complicated by an abundance of information (some of which is not always positive and/or uplifting), technology at our fingertips (giving us constant distractions), heightened emotions and unresolved grief, unspoken traumas, and complicated relationships. How might utilizing the four agreements help you today?
Once a year we celebrate Thanksgiving. In my household growing up we would go around the table and say what we were grateful for. That tradition has continued in my household today. Why only one day to acknowledge what we are grateful for? In a day and age where information is easily accessible and material goods and possessions are highly sought after, it can be easy to focus on what we do not have, where we cannot go, who we cannot see. I at times find myself at the top of a slippery slope of ‘what ifs’, complaints, and negativity. What has helped to stop myself from continuing down that slide of dread and despair, is a regular daily practice of gratitude. It can be as simple as it sounds. Start your day with a simple thought of one reason to be grateful. A few months ago I started my gratitude practice with beginning a list. Each day I would write down what I was grateful for and try not to duplicate what I had written on the list. Now, it has been while since I have actually written on the list, but not because I stopped my gratitude practice. I found as I practiced more it became easier to identify what I was grateful for. I no longer need to write it down, although writing can sometimes be therapeutic in itself.
This is not to say that life has been easier, in fact this has been a time full of challenges, stress, and uncertainty. The practice of gratitude has become a daily practice I am very thankful for. What are you grateful for today?
Get In Your Flow
A friend of mine at a summer camp used to call me ” la sirena,” which in Spanish means mermaid. I have always had a strong connection with water, whether it is jumping off a 20 foot cliff in Bocas Del Torro, Panama (to submerge myself in the freezing cold water below), to 4am swim workouts during both of my pregnancies. Had I chosen to be an animal it would have been a humpback whale, spending my life swimming through the ocean waters.
The moment I emerge myself in a body of water (whether it’s in my backyard pool, a lake, the ocean, or taking a shower after a day at work) I feel an immediate reconnection of mind and body. For a woman who has been very cerebral and an over-thinker the majority of her life, being able to settle my thoughts and be more in the present moment is a much appreciated experience. In addition, swimming has not only been a good exercise routine but a much needed active meditation.
Now, not everyone enjoys swimming, or plunging into cold body of water that can literally take your breath away (this happened on one of the obstacles at Tough Mudder) for a few seconds. I have friends and family that would rather lounge around the pool or beach than get their hair or body wet. At the moment, my two toddlers would rather throw various toys and rocks into the pool than swim in it. Hopefully when the water warms up they will be excited to go in.
So I ask you, what is it that gets your energy flowing? What activity takes you out of that mind clutter or stress of the daily routine, and helps connect you to the present moment? What gets your inner light shining? Is it getting out for a hike or some other form of exercise? Is it eating your favorite meal without distraction and in the presence of others your love? Is it engaging in a conversation with someone who inspires and uplifts you? What gets you in your flow?
You Have a Strong Spirit
Even if you might not be thinking or feeling it at the moment, today, yesterday, the past few months, the past year – you have a strong spirit. In this time of uncertainty and struggle some are able to pull on their inner strength more than ever while others may feel their inner light has dimmed to a flicker. I’ve started this blog as a space to share stories of hope during a time when we need it the most.
About Me: Jennifer Macaulay, LCSW
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker
- Passionate about shifting how we treat and look at health, wellness and life
- On a mission to create a community of support and hope
- I believe focusing on resiliency and strength can help make the positive changes needed to awaken your inner spirit and live your most fulfilled life