Wellness

3rd Annual Houston Compassion Week

Houston Compassion Week

The city of Houston is celebrating it’s 3rd Annual Compassion Week April 22-29th. For more information on festivities, workshops, and service projects, click at Compassionate Houston Website.

As a part of the celebration, Shannon McClain and I are teaching our workshop on Self-Compassion at the Healing Space. We would love for you to join us. Be sure to RSVP. Space is limited. (713) 520-6800, healingspacehouston@gmail.com.

  • Date: April 27, 2017
  • Time: 6:30-8:30

Houston Compassion Week

The Gift of Uncertainty

I am thrilled to have another contribution as part of the conversation going on in the Kindness Community, A Word Imagined, from Diana Walla, a seasoned marriage and family therapist, recently relocated in Austin, Texas. She discusses the opportunity for us to look for the potential gifts in disorienting experiences. She explores the opportunity to sift through the struggle to learn what is most important and meaningful both individually and collectively. Thank you, Diana, for your hopeful insights:

The Gift of Uncertainty

By Diana Walla MS, LPC, LMFT

We live in uncertain times. Long-held traditions and definitions of decency are under attack from all sides. Families and friends are divided along political and religious lines, and we seem to have forgotten our way back to one another.

It is uncomfortable, to be sure. We humans would like life to be served up in predictable nuggets, thank you very much. The unprecedented uncertainty of these times keeps us awake at night, creates anxiety, and encourages us to circle the wagons and protect everything we can from everything and everyone we fear, whether that fear is based in reality, or is just a product of incorrect information that leapfrogs across the internet and onto our social media feeds.

The truth is, our attempts at protection during this uncertain, messy time might just rob us of the opportunity to be our best selves. Throughout history, spiritual mothers and fathers of major faith traditions have observed the potential for personal or spiritual growth in dark or uncertain times. It far outstrips the level of growth that occurs when times are good or smooth.

Theologian, author and preacher Barbara Brown Taylor sums it up:

“We are all so busy constructing zones of safety that keep breaking down, that we hardly notice where all the suffering is coming from. We keep thinking that the problem is out there, in the things that scare us: dark nights, dark thoughts, dark guests, dark emotions. If we could just defend ourselves better against those things, we think, then surely we would feel more solid and secure. But of course we are wrong about that, as experience proves again and again. The real problem has far less to do with what is really out there than it does with our resistance to finding out what is really out there. The suffering comes from our own reluctance to learn to walk in the dark.” ~From Learning to Walk in the Dark

As difficult as it is, we have an opportunity to look not to the “other” in fear, but within ourselves in courage and curiosity. We could wonder what opportunities will present themselves, opportunities for our own growth. Would we ask for this tough time? Surely that would be masochistic. But since it is upon us, we can look for the chance to grow, to push beyond what is comfortable, to reach out to others, to create peace and show mercy and kindness.

As cliché as it sounds, these are the times in life that define us, individually and as a culture. It is time to dig deep, to practice mercy, which writer Anne Lamott defines as “radical kindness.” Kindness shown in difficult times packs a powerful effect. Love that reaches beyond fear is muscular and strong. People do not forget what others do for them, especially when the kindness comes at some cost. Perhaps that cost is a stepping beyond what is most comfortable, a willingness to find the gifts of personal and spiritual growth seeded in these strange and uncertain days.

Join Our Kindness Community:

Last week, Dr. Jeff Christian graciously contributed a guest post, The New Dinner Table.

We can all share great ideas on how to build more positivity into our society. Join the conversation on our public Facebook group, A Word Imagined, to share ideas.

 

The New Dinner Table

I am thrilled to have another contribution as part of the conversation going on in the Kindness CommunityA Word Imagined, from Dr. Jeff M. Christian about how we can all grow a healthier discourse in our online communities. His thoughts offer some creative ways to cultivate a kinder experience that makes space for a healthier, healing discourse in our society. Thank you, Jeff, for your insights:

Healthy Debate

By Dr. Jeff M. Christian

The New Dinner Table

Only about an hour before company arrives. The smells of onions and garlic are starting to permeate the rest of the house beyond the kitchen, smells that will hit the guests the minute they cross the threshold of the front door. By that time, the food will have magically transformed from separate ingredients into whole courses.

The table is set. You went through the stacks in the cabinet to make sure that you did not bring out one of the chipped plates. The glasses, forks, knives, spoons. The bread in the oven will not finish baking until five minutes after the guests arrive. That is on purpose. Everything is in its right place.

The guests arrive. You shake hands, perhaps a cordial hug shared among those who do not know one another quite well enough to embrace. These are not the kinds of guests like family where you let down your guard. These guests have never seen you on a bad day. They do not know about some of the pain you carry down deep. For now, handshakes and side hugs will do.

A Season of Handshakes and Side Hugs

Healthy Debate
I am wondering these days if a season of handshakes and side hugs might be in order, in some sort of general sense. The tone of voice with one another online, for instance, is more like that of a dysfunctional family forced to eat Thanksgiving dinner together when no one actually wants to be there. Comments sections of online news stories are filled with drunk uncles who yell more and more as the night wears on. Raised voices fly above the table cloth only a few inches above the appropriately placed fall colors and side dishes. Grandma makes a passing comment about the price of her prescription medication and three-sheets-to-the-wind-uncle verbally pounces on her for saying something that may have the potential to undermine all of western democracy.

I know things are strange. In no way do I suggest that we bury our heads in the sand. On the contrary, past civilizations thrived in times of healthy debate. When people think critically together, lights come on where people wind up saying things like, “Well, I never thought of it that way.” Civil discourse is not only necessary; it is good. It is healthy. It is, well, civil.

Pause Button

The only way to resurrect the corpse of civil discourse is to hit the pause button on the entire project and practice some recently forgotten virtues. We need to welcome one another like acquaintances spending time together for the first time, like people who will take the time to actually get to know one another. We need to set our tables assuming the best in others, rather than holding those who might potentially disagree with me in suspicious contempt.

Most of all, we need to listen to one another.

Join Our Kindness Community:

Last week, Kim Fredrickson graciously contributed a guest post, Self-Compassion Fuels Kindness.

We can all share great ideas on how to build more positivity into our society. Join the conversation on our public Facebook group, A Word Imagined, to share ideas.

Self-Compassion Fuels Kindness

I am excited to do something a little different this week. Kim Fredrickson, counselor and author of the book, Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend, graciously contributed a guest post as part of the conversation going on in the Kindness Community, A Word Imagined. Her message is both inspirational and healing for me personally and to many throughout the world. Thank you, Kim, for blessing us with your generous contribution:

Healing Power of Kindness

By Kim Fredrickson, MFT

I’m so blessed to offer words of compassion and kindness today. Our world desperately needs the healing power of kindness. We need kindness when we are hurt, and we need kindness when we are the ones doing the hurting.

But how do we muster kindness for others from within? How do we speak words of compassion to others when our own inner critic speaks so loudly about our own mistakes and faults? That is the question…

The well of kindness we want to give others starts with a more compassionate relationship with ourselves.

A Compassionate Friend

Healing Power of KindnessBeing a compassionate friend to ourselves helps us become better friends, spouses, parents, bosses and co-workers. We have more love and energy to give others when we are in a more settled place inside and aren’t wasting time and energy fighting with our inner critic.

But wait! Isn’t this just being selfish and self-centered? The answer is a resounding “No.” Jesus knew we’d have trouble figuring this out, so He explained it here:

Mark 12:28–31 says: One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”  

Jesus was asked which commandment was the greatest and He gave them two commandments encompassed by one principle: Love.

Love God with everything in you. Love your neighbor, and use your model for loving them as the way you love yourself.

Wait! What? Our model for loving others is how we love ourselves? Uh oh! Wait…I’m judgmental toward myself for lots of things! Exactly.

Wanting to be kind toward others is good, very good. We can even sustain this effort for a while if we try really hard.

A Changed Heart

Kindness heartTo live a life of kindness requires a changed heart.

We need God’s love to permeate our heart, mind and soul. We need His love and kindness to fill us in order to share with others. But, His love for us alone isn’t enough. That is what He’s talking about in Mark 12 – Love is a three-part deal…love God, love yourself and love others. Unless we also learn to love ourselves and be compassionate with ourselves, our inner critic will sabotage our heartfelt efforts to be kind to others. The ways we are critical of ourselves will spill onto others. Without meaning to, we will judge others harshly for the things we’ve never forgiven ourselves for.

We cannot live a life of kindness, if we do not have kindness and compassion for ourselves. Until we face our own brokenness with compassion and forgiveness, we cannot truly love others in the ways we want for the long haul.

We want to be changed people, instruments of healing and love to this very broken world. We want to do this as a lifestyle, and pass it on to our children, friends, family and community for generations to come.

To live a life of kindness requires a changed heart.

Practicing self-compassion changes our heart. As I treat myself with the care and compassion I would give a good friend who is struggling, I have more love to give others.

Improve Well-being and Relationships

Many studies link the practice of self-compassion to an increase in emotional resiliency, self-worth and contentment; reduced stress and healthier relationships. We become better friends, spouses, parents, bosses, co-workers, etc. We handle disappointments more smoothly and understand our own humanness, which helps us handle the humanness of those around us.

Just as I am an imperfect person, with great worth and value, so are those around me. The internal transformation of accepting God’s love for us and then extending it to ourselves, sets the stage for the sharing of that love and kindness with others.

Don’t worry if you haven’t got a clue how to turn your inner critic into a compassionate friend. You can learn, and your heart, family, community and world will never be the same.

Join Us

We can all share great ideas on how to build more positivity into our society. Join the conversation on our public Facebook group, A Word Imagined, to share ideas.

A Word Imagined

A Word Imaginedby Jennifer Christian, LPC and Dr. Jeff M. Christian

Words of hate tear at the fabric of our society; words of kindness mend.

Imagine.

Imagine life without unkind words. Imagine comments sections on your favorite website that only allow constructive criticism, words meant to further the conversation rather than out-shout those who disagree.

Today, online words of hate, abuse, fear, and violence are rampant. The intensity of negativity overwhelms us, a tsunami of words altering our lives without us realizing their enormous power. This new world often feels devoid of kindness. Few of us would choose to pass on this world to the next generations, so we begin this project in the hopes that we can change the future by changing the present.

We have power to create a better world.

Imagine.

Imagine a world that offers encouragement. Imagine a world where people matter. Too often, though, we feel helpless in even thinking about making a change. Where should we begin?

Well, we have some ideas.

Start with some simple things. Appreciation and gratitude, for instance, are powerful tools that can help rebuild this world. Every word of kindness heals, builds resilience, and draws people together.
A Word ImaginedJohn Gottman found that it takes five positive interactions to overcome one negative interaction. Relationships find balance when positive interactions outweigh the negative ones. At times we will misunderstand each other and say the wrong things. We are human, after all. However, for the health of all our relationships, we have the power to create better worlds for ourselves, as well as all of those around us. Our hope that we can do this together is reminiscent of John Lennon’s line, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

 So let’s imagine a better world. One word of kindness can create ripples of healing across our society. If we come together to dedicate building reserves of gratitude in our families, places of work, and all other communities, we can change the tide of negativity.

Here are some other practical suggestions to get us started:

  1. Get creative. We can share great ideas on how to build more positivity into our society. Join our public Facebook group, A Word Imagined, to share ideas.
  1. Remember the magic ratio of 5-to-1. Each week send five notes of encouragement, whether online or handwritten.
  1. Practice gratitude at home as a family. “Researchers found that a nourishing cycle of encouragement and appreciation provides extra incentive to maintain our relationships. In other words, when we appreciate our partners, we develop trust and respect. When we feel appreciated, we feel needed and encouraged.” (Susan Heitler)
  1. Notice the words you say to yourself. Learn how to offer yourself words of kindness and compassion: “Life can be rough without the comfort, balance and guidance of a self-compassionate friend on the inside. Lack of self-compassion affects our relationships and our well being in profoundly negative ways. What a difference it makes to go through life with a kind friend on the inside rather than an internal critic or bully!” (Kim Fredrickson)

Please take a moment to share this article and this project with friends and family. Together, we can create the world we imagine.

For Further Reading:

On appreciation and gratitude:

http://www.jenniferchristiancounseling.com/mental-health/7-powerful-ways-gratitude-will-change-your-life/

On John Gottman’s five interactions:

https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-positive-perspective-dr-gottmans-magic-ratio/

On practicing gratitude at home as a family:

http://www.jenniferchristiancounseling.com/relationships/four-ways-to-build-trust-with-your-partner/?preview_id=538&preview_nonce=b7d0d3d768&post_format=standard&_thumbnail_id=542&preview=true

On Susan Heitler’s work on gratitude in marriage:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/resolution-not-conflict/201207/does-gratitude-matter-in-marriage

On Kim Fredrickson’s work on self-compassion:

http://www.jenniferchristiancounseling.com/counseling/self-compassion-is-vital-for-a-healthy-life/

The Upside of Stress

In Kelly McGonigal’s latest book,”The Upside of Stress,” she explores how things that create meaning and happiness in our lives also create stress. When we learn to change our relationship with stress, we build in possibilities for meaning and happiness. In the following video, McGonigal recommends practical ways to shift our perspective on stress:

Take some time to journal, visit with a friend, or ponder following  prompts:

  1. Discover what matters to you in life. Write about the roles, relationships, activities, and goals that are most important to you, and how you would feel if they did not exist.
  2. Discover your values. Spend 10 minutes writing about each of your top three values. Values are the things that are important to you and give meaning to the way you live and work (examples: adventure, compassion, humor, courage, and loyalty). How do your values play into your life? How can your values create some new meaning around a problem you are currently facing?
  3. Understand the drawbacks of avoiding stress. In order to avoid stress, we may turn down meaningful opportunities or give up on something important to us.

Emotional Freedom Tapping

Emotional Freedom Tapping

Emotional Freedom Tapping, or EFT, is very easy to learn, and will help you:

  • Alleviate Negative Emotions
  • Reduce Food Cravings
  • Reduce or Eliminate Pain
  • And Implement Positive Goals

Emotional Freedom Tapping, or EFT, is a form of psychological acupressure, based on the same energy meridians used in traditional acupuncture.

Simply tapping with the fingertips on the head and chest inputs kinetic energy onto specific points while you think about your specific problem – whether it is a traumatic event, an addiction, pain, or anxiety. Tapping is paired with voicing positive affirmations. This combination of tapping the energy meridians and voicing positive affirmations works to clear emotional blocks and restore your mind and body’s balance.

 

University of St. Thomas Labyrinth

A friend of mine recently recommended visiting labyrinths throughout Houston as part of my “healing space” journey. Houston has a number unique labyrinths, located all over the city and surrounding area. I visited the Labyrinth at St. Thomas University, a replica of the labyrinth in Chartres, France. I was deeply moved by the beauty and the serenity of the space. Gentle water fountains line the side the labyrinth closest to Alabama Street, quietly subduing the sound of the traffic. Children’s laughter from a nearby elementary school mixed with the sounds of the birds and trees.

St. thomas labyrinth

Every time I walk, I have a unique experience. On this occasion, I felt myself calm and become centered throughout my walking meditation. Throughout the rest of the day, I continued to reflect on the experience and carry the peace of the walk with me. The labyrinth at St. Thomas University has definitely been added to my “Houston Healing Spaces” list.

St. Thomas Labyrinth 3

Benefits of Labyrinth Walking: 

“Labyrinth walking is said to benefit participants by allowing a temporary suspension of so-called left-brain activity—logical thought, analysis, and fact-based planning—and encourage the emergence of the intuition and imaginative creativity associated with the right brain. labyrinth walking puts them in touch with simple body rhythms. Because labyrinth walking involves physical movement, participants may find themselves becoming more mindful of their breathing patterns, the repetition of their footfalls, and the reorientation of the entire body that occurs as they move through the circular turns within the labyrinth. More particularly, the overall pattern of movement in labyrinth walking—first inward toward the center of the labyrinth and then outward on the return path—holds deep symbolic meaning for many people.” (Encyclopedia.com)

St. Thomas Labyrinth 2

The Power of Gratitude

Last week, I had a dream that I was caught in a blizzard. A blanket of swirling white surrounded me. My mind raced to discover some sense of direction. I was disoriented and frightened. Paralyzed. Where was I? Where was the path home?

And, then it was as if everything went into slow motion. Time slowed down. Way down. I began to notice individual snowflakes. Unique details of one snowflake. Its beauty. As my awareness shifted toward the structure of the snowflakes, I noticed my body beginning to relax. My mind settled. Gently. Slowly. I began to see areas of empty space open between each of the flakes. The spaces grew wider. The snowflakes began to lessen. I saw more clearly. The intensity of the blizzard that had seemed so overwhelming now calmed. Though still surrounded by the snow, I no longer felt afraid.

Since this dream, I have thought how much everyday life can at times feels like a blizzard. Time speeds up without warning. Daily tasks swirl around me: work tasks, family expectations, holiday chores, friendships, household duties, volunteering, etc. But then other things compound what might already be a blinding blizzard of activity. Thoughts, feelings, regrets from the past and “what ifs” of the future can surface to cloud my vision even more. My mind begins to race.

Where am I? Where is the path home?

Then I notice. Awareness. Gratitude.

  • The smell of the crisp autumn morning air
  • Listening to the laughter of my children as they watch silly videos
  • Seeing my husband’s eyes gently crinkle as he pushes the plate in my direction to let me have the last bite
  • Gently holding the hand of a dear friend who is grieving
  • Tasting a hot, gooey chocolate chip cookie
  • Feeling the sensation of a long hot shower after a satisfying day

Power of Gratitude

Take a deep breath. This is your life. Notice. Search. Find the moments of beauty sprinkled like beautiful snowflakes in the midst of the flurry of tasks and worries.

Time slows. Mind gently settles. I am still surrounded, but I am not afraid.

The power of gratitude.

Jennifer Christian CounselingJennifer Christian, M.A., LPC

Writing Your Own Self-Care List

Today during my routine morning walk I began to ponder the many self-care skills that I use regularly. Over the years, I have learned that I feel better when I make time to:

  • Walk
  • Eat right
  • Nap
  • Practice gratitude
  • Practice prayerful meditation
  • Practice yoga
  • Have fun
  • Plan enjoyable activities
  • Spend time with friends

This may seem like a no brainer to some people, but personally it has been an evolution of self-acceptance and self-compassion. Healthy habits that are so natural for me today were nonexistent several years ago.

I remember the first time I received a self-care list. It was about 10 years ago. I was fatigued, stressed out, and pushing myself harder and harder to be perfect. I could not go on this way much longer. I was at a breaking point. I found Nancy, a therapist who began to help me process how I found myself at this point and how to move forward. During one session, she gave me a self-care handout that addressed physical, emotional, and spiritual health. I had never seen anything like it. What a radical concept!

As a child, I received a version of a “Christian” message that I should always sacrifice my own needs on behalf of others. Somewhere along the way I learned that my needs were not only unimportant, but that it was selfish for me to express my needs. I was told that whenever I felt empty and exhausted I should pray harder and God would provide. But years and years of emptying myself for others wore away at my physical and emotional health. Moreover, there was not enough of me to go around, and my children and husband sometimes got the short end of the stick. This approach was not sustainable.

When Nancy handed me the self-care list, I began a journey of learning self-care and boundaries. In the beginning, I carried the list with me wherever I went, especially when I found myself around difficult people who suck the life out of me, treat me like I do not matter, or that they should always come first. I needed a reminder that it is okay to respond to myself with care. At one point I even carried my self-care list to a challenging family gathering in another state. I referred to the list several times as a support to say “no” when needed, or to allow myself rest when I was tired. I began to experience a positive difference.

“When you doubt your own importance, you’re allowing the manipulations of difficult people to gain a foothold. However, when you understand that your time, money, dignity and needs are vital to your well-being, it’s easier to tune out people who want to break your boundaries.” (Margarita Tartakovsky, 5 Ways to Maintain Boundaries with Difficult People)

Now I practice responding to myself in the same way that I want to respond to others: with love, compassion, kindness, gratitude, acceptance, and gentleness. I continue to learn what it is to be a compassionate and loving person every time I practice compassion and love with myself. I am a recovering perfectionist, so I often have to start my compassionate practice over again daily.

“Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” (Eleanor Brownn, Self-Care is Not Selfish)

Rest and Self-CareI write about my own personal journey because I know many who find self-care challenging. You may have received the message that your needs are unimportant, or that you are selfish when you take care and nourish yourself. If self-care is a radical concept, or if you feel like there is not enough of you to go around, you are not alone. You can start with baby steps, adding one or two things and noticing differences in how you feel. If you feel overwhelmed, Jennifer Louden’s article, “Minimum Self-Care Requirements” is a great place to start. Be gentle with yourself. There is no hurry and no right way to do this.

For me, it has been almost ten years, and I am still experimenting and learning, even adapting Nancy’s original list. I feel excited just thinking about the adaptations you will make as you begin to explore and create your own list:

Nancy’s Adapted Self-Care List

Physical Health:

  • Breathe
  • Eat (mostly) healthy foods in moderation
  • Exercise regularly
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Get adequate sleep
  • Practice good hygiene (bathe, brush teeth, etc.)
  • Obtain medical care, as needed

Emotional Health

  • Nurture yourself regularly
  • Use compassionate self-talk
  • Learn and use relaxation techniques
  • Use healthy boundaries
  • Express your feelings appropriately
  • Identify your feelings
  • Share them directly with someone who will treat you with care
  • Talk to a friend
  • Journal
  • Use ventilation techniques (punch a pillow, throw ice, etc.)
  • Allow yourself (& others) to make mistakes
  • Respond to your negative self-talk with self-compassion
  • Ask for what you want
  • Say “no” when you need to
  • Use “I feel …” statements to express your emotions
  • Avoid being passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive. Be Assertive.
  • Spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself
  • Accept compliments without discounting (just say “thank you”)
  • Make time to laugh & play!

Spiritual Health

  • Make a daily gratitude list
  • Open yourself to the beauty of nature
  • Continue to learn something new
  • Be open to different points of view
  • Engage in activities that connect you with God and others

Jennifer Christian CounselingJennifer Christian, M.A., LPC