A Week in the Life Of…Zen and the Art of Just Showing Up

By Calm Pond

For the last two weeks I’ve lived a life of continual disorder: my Mom fell down the stairs after she lost her balance, now, two weeks later, things have just a pinch more sanity than before.

I haven’t the time to write a proper post, I’m afraid. But I will copy what I wrote at a family member’s house while I was recovering from stress.

It goes: ‘I believe we are now getting to the point where countless caregivers (either caregivers by choice or by circumstance) are living in a state of continual crisis. What we do about this will be the difference between preventing needless suffering (and saving lives) , or, not. Not to try and address the very real needs of caregivers is the act of an uncaring society. We simply must care. This is critical. There can be no other option, if we are to continue calling ourselves an enlightened nation.

Together we stand– divided we fall. That’s our choice now.’ And so, I ‘showed up’ for my parents, and learned a great deal : about myself, family, and society at large. I prefer to see it as a growth experience.

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Open My Heart ~ A Meditation To Encourage Receptivity

By Elizabeth Bishop

With all my heart and soul

I ask for what I want

I allow myself to soak it up

And I deserve it

Believing it is possible

I notice my resistance

At the thought of receiving

Can my desire penetrate my heart?

Can I let it in?

I count the many blessings

That shower me each day

I stand in the energy of the gift

Doubts that arise

Slide off my back

I am safe

I am ready

The time has come

The desire has arrived

I take a deep breath

And open my heart

The Benefits of Retreat

With the summer upon us now, I am carried away with thoughts of sailing off into the sunset ~ shaking up my regular routine for something that feels different ~ not necessarily more exciting or less busy ~ just different.

Retreat to me can mean many things. I can retreat during times when I feel unsafe or unprotected. I can retreat when I am feeling weak or vulnerable. Retreat is sometimes an attempt to keep myself safe and out of harm’s way whether it is real or perceived. Not much happens in this space. On the other hand, retreat can also mean stepping back to deliberately take a different perspective on the same situation.

Retreat is not always about slowing down. Summer is not always about slowing either even though it is common to connect the season with vacation. Whether you are slowing down, speeding up or simply shifting gears, you can take on the energy of retreat any time. It is true that we can create spaces of safety and security even in the midst of chaos. It is also true that we can take time for solitude and seclusion even when in the midst of a crowd.

Retreat as Contrast

At the very least, a time of retreat can provide us with the contrast we need to see the familiarity of our lives with fresh eyes. Have you ever gone through a particularly busy time in life ~ you know, the kind that just feels like a whirlwind? At some point, you come up for air realizing that six months has just flown by and you can’t help but wonder where you have been and what has just happened in your life? You look the same ~ perhaps, you feel the same ~ and yet you stand there like a deer in the headlights with a sense that something has shifted or is about to shift. You just don’t know what that is yet. Sounds like a perfect time for retreat.

A time of retreat can create just enough space to take that deep breath that has eluded you. It is a chance to relax your shoulders ~ to sit and stare out the window ~ to lie in bed for just a few minutes longer. Retreat can be just what we need to settle back into our bodies and give our logical minds a rest. And if we are lucky, somewhere in those moments of reconnection, we will sense our integration ~ the absorption of the quiet, yet profound moments of our lives that may have otherwise slipped by without notice.

During retreat, we might have the wherewithal to see more clearly the aspects of our regular life and routine that we’ve been putting up with that no longer feel good or healthy. We see the contrast between how we feel in retreat and how we were feeling in the rat race, and we can make choices about how to re-enter. We have time to really connect to the parts of our lives that bring us joy and that feel aligned. And we can ponder the many ways that we can maximize this while remaining open to how we might reduce or eliminate parts of our lives that just don’t fit anymore. Think of it through the eyes of an artist. If you are painter with your nose pressed against the canvas, it’s going to be pretty tough to make creative decisions and to see clearly the outcome you are creating. You have to step back to know where color is needed, how to work with empty space, how to add balance. You need to step back to see the whole picture and then you can come back to the details. Life is just like that.

We need space to see where we are at and where we are headed. Retreat provides that space.

Creating Your Personal Retreat

Here are a few tips to help you plan for your personal retreat:

Decide on your time frame. Consider what responsibilities you may need to delegate to others during that time and which ones you will maintain yourself. Make those arrangements.

Set an intention for your retreat. What do you hope to gain through this process? How do you expect to feel during and after? How will you be sure to capture the wisdom that arises? How will you integrate what you learn into your life following the retreat?

Tell the people who will be affected so they are aware of your availability of lack thereof. Devise a plan for how you can be contacted in the case of emergency if you are going in a blackout zone. Plan ahead for potential distractions whether external or internal.

Gather your supplies. This could be anything from books, to food, to art supplies. Link this to your own personal practices for self-connection.

Create a loose agenda for your retreat time. How do you want to start your days? Are you including exercise, rest, pampering? Are there specific decisions you are hoping to reach?

Pay close attention to the activities you might be missing while on retreat ~ this tells you a great deal about what your heart loves. On the other hand, also note those activities that you are dreading upon your return. There’s equally valuable information there.

As you emerge from your retreat, resist the urge to bemoan the transition back to the “real world.” Consider that the energy and wisdom you have been immersed in is the “real” stuff and make the commitment to carry those gifts with you as you re-engage.

If you are feeling uncomfortable with the idea of taking a retreat, ask yourself what that’s about. Sometimes, when we step out of our daily routine, or slow down our pace, we can become afraid that we will lose ground. We might worry that we are going to fall behind. It might feel very strange when we change the rhythm of our day. And that alone might feel terrifying. On some level, we know that stepping out of the daily grind will connect us to that inner voice that we may have been ignoring. You can trust that you are safe in retreat. Know that the world will keep spinning and will welcome you back into the swirl when you return. Let life teach you what it wants you to learn.

How can you integrate the spirit of retreat into your life this summer?

‘On Dark chocolate, Miss Piggy, and Communicating with Our Elders’

By Calm Pond

As the Summer Solstice will soon be upon us, now is a good time to sit back and reflect on how things are going, as it is now mid-point in the year 2019.  Late Spring finds me visiting Hollyburn House in West Vancouver, where the charming Nicole lent me two excellent books: the one; ‘Seabiscuit’ and the other; ‘How to Say it to Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap with our Elders’, by David Solie (Penguin, 2004).  This book ought to be required reading for every caregiver. 

In the beginning of the book, Solie addresses the issue of how communicating with our elders can be very frustrating at times.  This he believes is the result of a gap between the baby boomer generation and the older generation that lived through the Great Depression and World War II. In order to communicate effectively, Solie reasons, we must forever banish the notion that when you’re really old, everything goes downhill. Yes, it’s true some of the elderly have physical frailties or perhaps a touch of senility, but Solie thinks this is doing our elders a disservice, because in fact, our elders have a great deal of knowledge and wisdom to share with us.

Solie posits the theory that seniors have two ‘developmental drivers’ and that these will directly impact our communication with them. The first driver is the need for control. Imagine, when you’re old-old, the extent of loss that you have to grieve for: job, identity, social position, financial issues, health issues, loss of friends and family, and so on.  We must put seniors back in the driver’s seat, Solie recommends.

And when we do, things will go a lot smoother, and be more peaceful.  In addition, once we have achieved this harmony between ourselves as middle-aged and our elders, we will be ready to tackle the second developmental driver, which is, the need to leave a legacy.  We all want to be remembered in some way, to pass something on to the next generation. This is a deep-seated need in all of us.  Solie recommends we take the time to really talk with our elders, and act as facilitators, in the elder’s journey towards leaving a legacy.

If we do this vital work, Solie says we will be all the richer for it, and when our turn comes, we will know what to do, and how to articulate our needs. I highly recommend this book for its deep wisdom and above all, the sense of how important it is to truly respect our elders.  This goes contrary to society’s obsession with youth and the ‘Pepsi generation’.

And now yes, as promised: dark chocolate.  In Romm’s book: ‘The Adrenal and Thyroid Revolution’, (p.153) she informs me that dark chocolate is actually good for you. It’s rich in magnesium, supports healthy brain function, reduces blood pressure, and, most importantly, makes us happy because it’s a natural mood booster. It keeps cholesterol in check and is a powerful anti-oxidant. The only stipulation is that the chocolate has to be at least 72% dark (or higher). Didn’t muppet Miss Piggy say something about chocolate?  Remember the ‘Muppet Show?’

Peace to you all.

Calm Pond

A Week in the Life of a Caregiver: ’Strawberry Fields Forever’

Monday:

First, the good stuff.  I sign on to two online courses on dementia (Dementia 101 and Dementia 102) through the Alzheimer’s Society of Toronto.

www.alzeducate.ca

Both courses could be completed in one afternoon.  What I’ve learned so far has been very helpful, particularly the material about communicating to a person who has dementia. Certain technical requirements though. Info on that can be found on the website.

Tuesday:

A visit to Hollyburn House West Vancouver. The sales person, Nicole, went into a lot of detail. My parents are not ready to move yet, let alone face the idea of moving, but it’s good to do your research.

I felt grateful that Nicole spent so much time with me one-to-one. She gave me a copy of the Seniors Directory (2019) that has some useful contacts that might help me to help my parents think about their future.

Wednesday:

The new hummingbird feeder I set up is so much fun! And great for my Dad to sit and watch, as he loves nature.  The ‘Hummingbird Café and Soup Kitchen’ is officially open for business!

Thursday

Crafts are taking a back seat to a program of intensive reading and study—mostly on children with special needs and the elderly. Still, I found time to do a few pieces, a yin and yang piece and a piece for my mother’s upcoming birthday.

Dad loves his new talking album. It’s just perfect because I’ve read in ‘Mind Over Matter’ that one of the alternative methods of communicating with a person who has dementia is either photos or music (both of which my Dad adores.) So good that with the help of Whatsapp, we could record my brother’s voice (he lives back east) for one of the pictures.

Friday:

And now, the not-so-good stuff. Dad fell (again!) in the kitchen. Luckily no major injuries, just stressful for both of us.  I had to leave for work half an hour later.  Cassandra’s post on worry (on the Caregivers Blog) I really found helpful at times like these. Particularly the worry scripts method. I’ve read in ‘Mind over Matter’ (volume 7, Women’s Brain Health Initiative), that engaging in creative practices can help alleviate depression and anxiety.

It is possible that I have burnout. I have most of the symptoms, according to what I read.

https://ada.com/signs-of-burnout

They are:

  1. Reduced productivity
  2. Anxiety
  3. Detachment
  4. Feeling listless
  5. Low mood
  6. Difficulty concentrating
  7. Lack of creativity (this one I don’t seem to have)
  8. Fatigue

Saturday:

I find my concentration improves when I read online in French.  This is why I so enjoyed landing on the l’appui website, a website dedicated to caregivers originating in Quebec.

www.lappui.org

On this website I learned, among other things, the French word for ‘caregivers’. It is:

‘les proches aidants d’ainés’.

I also learned of a huge volunteer event in Montreal and surrounding communities called ‘on jase-tu?’ (Which translates as: ‘Wanna chat?’  Volunteers from all over chat with lonely seniors at designated centres over coffee.

Sunday

Alas, many people are going off to far-away places and not I. However, the following two quotes comfort me. This one is by Minot J. Savage:

‘Go not abroad for happiness. For see! It is a flower that blossoms by thy door.’

Or, Marcel Proust, 19th century author of ‘Remembrance of Things Past’:

‘The real voyage of discovery consists in not seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.’

I leave you with a recipe, perfect as strawberries are now in season:

Calm Pond’s Awesome Strawberry Nectar:

(great on plain yogurt)

Take ½ pound strawberries and hull them (remove stems). Slice strawberries in half or quarters if large. Place in a small saucepan with ½-3/4 cup water and sweeten to taste. (I use brown sugar but you can use white sugar or even honey, if you prefer). Bring to a boil and then lower the heat and let ‘stew’ for 5-10 minutes or until the syrup thickens. Cool, then pour into jar and store in the fridge.

Peace to you all.

Family is everything. Story is everything too (in my view at least).

By Calm Pond

How to Laugh Away Your Stress

Feeling a bit stressed today? Laugh it away! Read this post from our archives to find out how.

North Van Caregivers

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Think about a time when you’ve had the giggles. You know… that feeling you get when it seems like no matter what you do, you can’t stop laughing. Your eyes might water and your cheeks and belly might hurt from laughing so hard. That kind of joy seems to wash all of the pain away – if only temporarily. These bouts of laughter are usually unplanned, but what if you could schedule them in to your week? Enter: Laughter Yoga.

Laughter Yoga was created in 1995 in India by Dr. Madan Kataria, who wanted to create an alternative treatment for his patients suffering from stress-related illnesses. This very unique type of yoga invites participants to laugh through exercises, stretches, games and activities. Watch the video below for a sample class.

Dr. Kasim Al-Mashat offers free Laughter Yoga classes on the fourth Monday of every month, from 6-6:30PM at the Centre…

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A Mindful Path to Resilience

Caregivers may struggle to feel resilient when they’re worried about their loved ones and juggling the demands of caring for a spouse or parent while also managing their own lives. Resilience is what keeps us afloat, and it can be something we can build.

Read this post from our archives to learn how you can increase your resilience, and please let us know what you’ve tried in the past! We’d love to hear and learn from you.

North Van Caregivers

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“Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” – Nelson Mandela

Resilience is the capacity to bounce back quickly from hardships. You might know some people who seem to be more resilient than others. When their loved one fell ill, they brainstormed ways to get them support. They stayed positive and found ways to laugh with their spouse. Other people in your life might come to mind that seem to have less resilience. Their care partner’s diagnosis made them anxious or depressed, and they disconnected from social activities. Maybe you’ve noticed that these people have a demonstrated a pattern of how they respond to adversity. Although a person’s ability to respond with resilience may be predictable, it is not something that someone simply “has” or “does not have.” Resilience can be developed, and it can falter.

One…

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