Like many of us, I grew up thinking that “poetry” was verse written for other people and by other people— usually by, from, and for people from a century, a life, and way of speaking that was very different from mine. Also like many of us, I thought it had to rhyme

It makes sense that I would have had these misconceptions, since my only formal exposure to poetry as a child was by way of teachers who had the same misconceptions. In the absence of other kinds of exposure and experience of their own, they in turn introduced us, their students, to poetry by way of a “required reading” curriculum that they had no part in developing, no particular interest in, and which in turn simply reinforced the idea that poetry was…what I said above.

Fortunately for me, community college instructor Miles Wilson, (himself a novelist and poet) opened my eyes and heart to poetry when I was a student at Central Oregon Community College. in 1972. “You might like these,” he said once, handing me a photocopied set of poems by the contemporary poet Sharon Olds (and in the process, introducing me also to The American Poetry Review, in which they appeared).

I had never read anything like them: these were poems that spoke for and about my lived experience with direct, plain, and viscerally-engaging language. And while none of them rhymed, they were musical in the sense that the rhythms of the lines kept them grounded in the body’s experience. 

At age 19, I had never read anything truer, more moving, or more exciting, and these were poems! 

After, and ever since, I could not not get enough of poetry, neither of reading it or writing it; it is as necessary as food (“no; it IS food!” my poet friend Colleen B said to me today).

And because I believe that poetry is an essential part of living well, I will be dedicating the next several “Living Well” posts to introducing poems and poets which I hope might invite readers into the ways poetry can help us to deeply engage with, and to hold, the celebrations, sorrows, and complexities of human being-ness, by way of some of my favorite poets writing today.

Oregon poet David J.S. Pickering’s just-published collection, Jesus Comes to Me as Judy Garland (winner of the 2021 Airlie Prize), is a current favorite of Rich’s and mine, so I’m going to offer one of his poems here, since it is such a beautiful example of the way that poems can speak about, and for, the most ordinary-yet-powerful experiences of our lives .

David grew up and lived much of his life on the north Oregon coast, in a working-class family that struggled to make ends meet…a family that more than once left both town and home at night when they could no longer do so.

About the collection of poems as a whole, the description on the back cover says it well: These poems are much like the old Cadillacs that Pickering clearly loves: big and powerful and roomy. And while these poems sometimes navigate dark and complex territories, Pickering is a confident driver […] So “settle into the leather-trimmed aqua brocade …and step on it.” You’re going for a ride.

David and his husband recently moved to Hillsboro, Oregon, after living for several years in The Dalles. 


The seat was designed for comfort,
for two. A resplendent late ‘50s
model, it was a full-length dress with a suicide
shift and a booming V-twin bass
rumble channeled through chrome
pipes forty years before hip-hop.
Sunny Sundays were not wasted.
Winding coastal roads were made
for Dad’s only day off, and I learned
my world from the back of his black
leather jacket, wet highways
bisecting the quiet towns, beaches
full of driftwood, sunlight blinking
through alder and fir, the Nehalem
River insisting its way through the
willows and dense summer foliage.
And always the comforting thump
and roar through the quiet pastures
and woods, winding up Highway 53,
accelerating into the major curves
where I followed his instructions,
his voice with me even now, saying,
Don’t fight the corners, David, lean
into them. Don’t be afraid. Lean
into them, and you’ll be just fine. 


Into the Light

As the pandemic continues into another March, and as I watch new blades of daffodils stir up through the soil in response to light’s longer days, I have been thinking a lot about the difference between behaviors (physical, mental, spiritual and other) that help us survive, and the ones that help us to thrive: that support the actual vitality of our lives.  

So even as we all continue to focus attention on doing all we can do to ensure our own and others’ safety and survival by the protective practices we all know by now to follow (right?), now that it seems clear that we are in this for the long haul, I have begun to bring much more conscious attention also on behaviors and practices that support my own and others’ vitality, since protective behaviors that are not eventually complemented by life-giving ones are like planting bulbs in a pot, then storing the pot indefinitely in the garage. Which protects the bulbs from harm, but also deprives them of nourishment, especially the life-giving touch of light.

Fear leads us toward isolation and disconnection, which is a good thing in a time when quarantine is a crucial part of our collective survival strategy! But extended isolation also carries the risk of weakening our sense of connection to what the West African healer and teacher Sobonfu Somé calls the “web of light” from which the entire web of life is made: from the very source of our vitality. And since many of us have been spending a lot more time indoors than we did before the pandemic, some of the naturally-occurring ways that we previously connected with the web of light (mostly by spending a lot more time outside) have been disrupted and constricted. With the effect that, in the process of protecting our safety, we may have been unknowingly neglecting our own everyday practices and habits which support our vitality

Sobonfu Somé (

One basic remedy is to make sure to spend some time outside every day –any amount– in which you make conscious that connection in some way, through the body.  It may be as simple as taking a walk without listening to a podcast, so that you are engaging instead the active awareness that you are connecting with the web of light and life, and feeling that in your body (this is one of the practices I have recently begun: ditching the earbuds when I walk, and connecting fully with what is around me instead). It might mean standing outside on your patio or in your yard for a just couple of minutes with your cup of coffee (instead of inside, in front of the TV news), and using words to more deeply welcome, allow and receive that connection (words like those ones, even: “I welcome, allow and receive my connection with the web of light and the web of life”). Then do something that connects you to dirt, plants, ground, and notice that you are doing that (which is what “mindfulness” is, by the way: “paying attention on purpose to what is happening now” ). Then notice, over the days, the effect of such brief, simple practices as this (or others practices you are drawn to) on your sense of vitality and connection, even as you continue to distance in other ways. 

Which is bringing to mind, as I write, a favorite poem by poet Mary Oliver which itself could be a daily prayer with which to welcome the light. So I’ll leave you with that (for now!): 

Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety –
best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –
good morning, good morning, good morning.
Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

― Mary Oliver


Alive, Together

As the COVID19 pandemic continues, and infections increase, I find my own “living well” concerns to be focused first of all on making and encouraging choices that are most likely to help ensure that you and I and all the people who risk their lives every day to take care of us, simply get to keep on “living.” 

Before the vaccine became available, the most important choice we could each make individually to slow the spread of the virus was (and still is) to follow CDC guidelines on physical distancing and state mandates on masking, since there is now solid and overwhelming evidence that these are critical factors in slowing the spread of infection. But even though we know this, there seem to be many among us who resent and even refuse to “go with the program” of masking up and distancing, because is seems to somehow represent a threat to our individual freedoms and rights.

The thing is, individual “rights” in a mature society are always and only meaningful and sustainable when we who have them exercise those rights in consideration of our equally strong sense of personal responsibility for and to others: for our society as a whole. 

As the tongue-in-cheek but-oh-so-true saying goes about the nature of “maturity” itself: “You know you’ve become a grown-up when you can do something your parents want you to do even though they want you to do it.” 


As for the COVID vaccine: in the weeks prior to receiving my first shot a month ago (I received my second this week), I —like everyone, I think— had seen and received my share of “the scary truth about the COVID19 vaccine” material in circulation via email and social media. And since all vaccines carry some risk, I have in fact paid close attention to the roll-out itself, and to associated safety studies and considerations. Personally, I’d much prefer to avoid vaccines altogether (though I get them), since I am well aware that introducing foreign proteins (or, more accurately, messenger RNA (mRNA), molecules, as I was recently corrected) into the body to protect it from one kind of threat may put me at risk also for “collateral damage” of various kinds later on (although, given the dangers associated with getting this particular virus, if receiving the COVID vaccine makes it more likely that I’ll live long enough to eventually get something else as a result of it, that’s still a “win” in my book!).  

For the reasons above, I sympathize with the concerns and appreciate the sense of caution of those who forward the warnings that are circulating. The problem is, much of the “information” is actually misinformation (“facts” that have since either been disproven, or are not actually verifiable). In addition, these campaigns themselves are intended to make fearful people more fearful…and fear, by nature, keeps us self-centered, which in turn keeps us from even asking ourselves what sorts of risks might actually be important risks to choose to take as individuals, in order to protect and care for each other. We expect our deployed military personnel to do this routinely: to risk their own personal safety every day in the service of protecting our collective safety. Should we not be willing to expect something of the same of ourselves, in a time of crisis such as this?

As I come to the end of this piece, these words of Mahatma Gandhi come to mind: “Live simply, that others may simply live.” In that spirit, as we choose how to exercise our own rights in these crucial days, may we consider our choices in light of our responsibility to do our best to ensure  that each of us has the best chance possible to continue to simply live. 

The fact is, your own life depends on it.


Breathing Easier in 2021

In December, 2019, breath was the subject of that month’s post also.

In it,  I described how to practice the technique of “4-7-8” breathing (“Relaxing Breath”),  a technique that is  immediately effective in triggering our parasympathetic nervous system (the part of our nervous system designed to calm us down) on the spot. When practiced regularly, 4-7-8 breathing can help with many conditions, including anxiety, insomnia, hypertension, managing cravings, and controlling or reducing anger reactions.

Then, on January 25, the first case of COVID19 was diagnosed in the U.S.  Then came George Floyd’s murder-by-suffocation at the hands of police on May 25, followed by the wildfires of late summer and early fall which took the Air Quality Index in many parts of Oregon and California (including where I live) to over 400 for days at a time: a score of 100 points higher than the 300 points required for the air to be considered hazardous to breathe.

In short: little did I know, a year ago, how very much I breathing would be on our collective minds during all of 2020!

And as I pause to reflect on the year behind (breathing a little easier for the moment, with both the tension of the fires and of the election behind us, for now), I realize how crucial a role my own mindful breathing practices have played in supporting, stabilizing and sustaining me—as they did many others close to me— in meeting the mental, emotional and physical challenges of the year we have just been through. I engaged those practices daily, and came to depend on them gratefully, whether to settle a feeling of panic when the AQI was “hazardous” for yet another day, or to cope with grief and fear in contemplating the massive and individual suffering that COVID, violence, injustice, and the wildfires were heaping on so many.

So as we enter the challenges and hopeful possibilities of a new year, I wanted to come “back to the breath” (as I regularly remind myself and others, leading a yoga class), breath itself being something that I imagine all of us take for granted less than we did a year ago.

Joe Ringo, Maupin, OR

If you, like I, have become even more interested in using breath to cultivate well-being and to manage stress?, wellness coach and (self-described) “leader in the field of stress-mastery” Cynthia Ackrill, M.D. ( recommends the free apps, “Breathwrk”  (IOS only, but there are other good ones for Android devices) which offers a whole array of breathing exercises for various conditions and situations. And recently, one of my clients introduced me to the “Headspace” app, which, while not focused exclusively on breath (and limited in what’s offered through the free version) is a treasure trove of short and long guided meditations and practices to effectively calm an anxious mind.  

Meanwhile, here are a few easy and effective “on the spot” breathing exercises for various mind-body states:

To “simmer down” when you’re feeling angry: shift your focus from your mind’s stories (i.e its justifications) for your anger, setting these aside (you can always come back to them if you want to make yourself re-miserable!) and just focus on your breathing. Purse your mouth slightly as though you were pursing it around a straw. Then simply exhale slowly through the imaginary straw, tightening your belly on the way to push out all the air. Then take a couple of normal inhalations and exhalations, then do the slow exhale again. Practice this for two or three breaths, and repeat if needed. 

To boost your energy: In yoga practice (as well as in Qi Gong practice), the simple-to-do “breath of fire” can be used to generally energize and literally warm the body. While breath that is focused on calming the body does so by lengthening the exhale (as in the technique above), energizing practices work by lengthening the inhale and shortening the exhale, often by forcing the exhale out in short bursts. The “breath of fire” is an especially effective way to quickly pep you up, and even to get yourself up and out of bed more easily if you are not a “morning person.” How to do it: Breath deeply in through the nose, then forcefully contract your lower belly to push out the exhale quickly with a “whoosh” sound through the mouth. Do this for three breaths in a row, then check for how you are feeling, and repeat if necessary. (Important note on this one: if you have vertigo, hypertension or cardiac irregularities, check with your health care practitioner first!)

To sharpen your thinking  and balance your mood: Just as lengthening the exhale calms the body/mind while shortening it energizes, rhythmically equalizing the length of inhalations and exhalations balances the mind and body, stabilizing heart rhythms and mood, and focusing and calming the mind. How to do it: Place one hand on your belly and one on your chest, as a way to make sure you are fully “filling the glass” of your breathing apparatus from belly to chest. Then Inhale slowly through the nose to the count of 6, and exhale through the nose at the same rate, also to the count of 6. Do this for about 5 minutes at a time at first; as you become more comfortable with this practice, you may extend the time to 15 or 20 minutes at a stretch. 

With so much uncertainty about the future (the future is always uncertain, but aren’t we so much more aware of that in our daily life, now?) and with our individual repertoire of  “feel-good” strategies (gatherings with family, exercise classes, the simple and spontaneous hug between friends) constrained by our primary responsibility to protect each other by physically distancing, how lucky it is that effective help with both coping a thriving is as close as our breath!


Boosting Your Immunity: The Energy Connection

I invited Nancy Wesson to contribute the following post, after I read a version of it in her blog, ( Nancy is a writer, a twenty year consultant in the fields of spiritual and personal growth, and most recently a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Uganda 2011-2013), now living in Maupin, Oregon. She writes:

Over the past twenty five years or so, working with energy (i.e personal energy fields, not your electric bill), both professionally and through personal practice, I have learned that we can rely on the following principles, which are shared by both the science and spiritual practice of working with energy.

    1.    Everything exists as packets of energy, each vibrating at its signature frequency, which can be demonstrated as a sine wave. Humans are a collection of energy-packets in a skin-suit, operating within a field of energy called a biofield (scientific term) or aura (metaphysical term).  It’s both measurable and changeable.

    2.    Because we vibrate, we are transmitters—sending out our unique vibrational signal, a signal that impacts everyone around us. Remember how things vibrate when the bass on your stereo is too loud?  Same concept, but more subtle.

    3.    Like any other transmitter, the signal we broadcast determines the signal with which we will resonate, i.e. a radio-signal tuned to Heavy Metal, will not receive Beethoven, just as a signal tuned to hate and fear will not resonate with love and gratitude.
    4.  Like a radio operator, we get to manage our operational frequency and tune it to what we want to receive (experience) and what we generate (manifest). We do this via intention, thoughts, and emotions. Now, take a leap with me while we connect the ends of the continuum and talk about emotions as frequencies: high-frequencies = love, gratitude, compassion; low-frequencies = fear, judgment, anger.

Learning how to manage our energy/frequency/emotions is the single most powerful tool we possess.  The power to do this is within every one of us. We are deciders, more than doers.

(Image from Massage Magazine)

What does this have to do with COVID 19?

It turns out, it has much to do with boosting immunity, both individual and collective.

Amid the chaos surrounding the virus, and the compassionate and necessary actions of physical-distancing, self-isolation, and hand washing as ways to safeguard ourselves, families and communities, it’s vitally important to ALSO know that:

We EACH carry an effective arsenal of immunity building capabilities within ourselves.

That capability rests in knowing HOW we control our frequencies—our emotions—which directly influence immunity. What follows is a partial list of practices anyone can do, to build immunity and support each other, now and always.

In 2009, Professor Elizabeth Blackburn won the Nobel Prize for her 1984 discoveries regarding telomeres images(found at the ends of chromosomes) and their relationship to immunity. Longer telomeres translate to stronger  immunity, and medical research shows that those telomeres can be lengthened through various practices in a matter of weeks.

In 2008, the Dalai Lama and a group of biomedical scientists came together for a conference on Longevity and Tibetan Medicine.     Among other things, was the discovery that the practice of gratitude lengthens telomeres, and therefore supports immunity.

So gratitude is the first on my list of daily practices.

    1.   Gratitude: in addition to lengthening telomeres, reduces stress and cortisol levels, increases IgA (immunoglobulin antibodies), stimulates “feel-good” neurotransmitters and a sense of well being.

             a. Keep a gratitude journal.

             b. Sit with gratitude for ten-minutes a few times per day.

    2.   If experiencing fear, shift to gratitude, love, compassion for ANY event in your life. Trying to talk yourself out of fear is like putting-lipstick-on-a-pig, so shift to a memory, event or relationship that stimulates gratitude.

3.    If you can, meditate. Any method that works for you is effective and as little as fifteen minutes a day can stimulate creativity, calm the amygdala, and reduce reactivity in emotional responses.   

    4.   Strengthen and take responsibility for your personal biofield by creating your own high-frequency bubble of good-in, good-out. For Star-Trek fans, think of this as your own personal deflector shield. (And NO, I’m NOT suggesting that this replace physical-distancing.

    5.   Be responsible for the energy/attitude/intention you bring to interactions. Experiments show that when two people are placed in a room, even in the absence of behavioral interaction, their brain waves will synchronize and the person with the most coherent brain wave pattern has the greatest influence. Coherency is supported by meditation and emotion.  In other words, you change another person/situation merely by your presence

    6.  Increase the synergy between head and heart through visualization, breath, intention, or meditation. Heart-brain coherency changes blood chemistry, cognition, emotional response and many other biological functions. To learn more, check out HeartMath Institute.  For those of you who like gadgets to help guide you, they are available.  Several of my clients have found them useful.


   7.  Pause and consider the larger metaphysical implications of the current crisis on society, environment, and systems that may no longer serve us.  Further, what are the implications at a personal level, and what are you meant to learn as an individual consciousness at this point in your own evolution? 

      8.   Put yourself on an energy-diet. Literally, choose your energetic intake: monitor and manage your exposure to toxic “news,” fear mongering, and any media (including t.v, movies and articles) that focus on victimization, whatever the method. Prolonged fear and anger reduce immunity.  This is not to say you can’t be informed, but choose discernment rather than reactivity and judgment.

    9.    Finally, use the opportunity of staying-at-home in ways that support you, not to just pass-the-time.  What are the things you’ve been saying you “don’t have time for?”  Evaluate the things that have fallen away; what served you and what didn’t?  How can you use this time to build relationships (with yourself or others)” “Go deep,” as one of my sons would say, and discover the wilderness within. You might be surprised by what you find, and what you’ll heal.

In short, in the context of so much external uncertainty and change, we can be our own best allies because of our phenomenal innate resources for managing our thoughts, energy, emotions, immunity, and brain chemistry. Sometimes helping in a crisis boils down to being the person in your circle who can stay grounded and centered and hold space for others going through rough times.

Your own energy is a powerful source for others and can offer solace simply through your presence.

Be the light that guides the way.


Nancy Wesson can be contacted at



To start with, an experiment:

Imagine we’ve just met at a gathering of some kind, and, noticing your duds, I say, “I love your shirt! I love your shirt, I love your shirt, I love your shirt, I love your shirt! I love your shirt, I love your shirt, I love your shirt, I love your shirt, I love your shirt, I hate your shoes, I love your shirt, I love your shirt, I love your shirt, I love your shirt!”

Now, what sticks with you most powerfully from what I’ve just said? Betcha it’s not “I love your shirt,” even though the ratio of “I love your shirt” to “I hate your shoes” was 14 to 1. Which your rational brain knows perfectly well, right?…and which knowledge does not make a bit of difference, I’ll bet, in what sticks emotionally, which is that I also said I “hate your shoes.”

I love this exercise for the way it demonstrates so directly and powerfully the way our brains are wired: the reason that “I hate your shoes” is the one that both triggers an emotional reaction and sticks in our memory most powerfully is that the fastest acting part of our brains (the amygdala) is the part wired to detect, remember, and respond to danger. Even a sliver of perceived negativity (hostility, rejection) will trigger this part of our brain, which knows that any negative experience could indicate a potential threat to our survival…and our survival (not our ability to thrive, mind you; solely our survival)  is it’s job. Our cerebral cortex (where rational thought occurs, and also where we experience compassion and empathy for ourselves and others) on the other hand, is much slower-acting, and in fact tends to shut down when the amygdala is activated.


Which is very, very important to our survival, but does not help us a bit in developing and holding onto (in the presence of fear, I mean), compassion, empathy, empathetic imagination, lovingkindness, trust, imagination, curiosity, and other feelings of positive connection with ourselves and others. And since the amygdala is pretty much set on “automatic” (not to mention always being the loudest voice in the room of our minds when triggered, so it tends to dominate our inner conversations when left unmanaged), it has an advantage over the activity of the cerebral cortex, which is pretty much set on “manual.”

So the challenge (and a lot of therapy approaches, sports skill-building and discipline, and mindfulness practices are really all about doing exactly this:) is to deliberately develop the “message muscles”  (I just made that up) of the frontal cortex. When we engage in practices which help to deliberately keeping that part of our brains “online” longer, and cultivate the capacity to observe ourselves and our reactions with compassion and acceptance, we begin to become more and more able to recruit that part of ourselves in the midst of strong reactions, to take care of ourselves and of others, rather than simply react with “fight, flight or freeze.”

I’d like to share an experience of my own which showed me the power of this: after I had been been plagued by panic attacks for years, one of my sisters (who had been similarly plagued) shared a little book with me which described a kind of mindfulness practice (though it wasn’t called that in those days) that I began practicing regularly. Stuck on an airplane at 40,000 feet one day, I felt a panic attack come on, along with the awareness that there was no escape (at that time, going for a run was my go-to in a panic attack, and that wasn’t going to happen). I remember distinctly having the thought, right in the midst of the panic, “Oh, here this is. Well, I think I’ll just sit in my seat here and do a little reading until it passes.” The panic attack still happened, and while it was just as powerful an experience as it would have been otherwise –panic is panic– the practices had made me familiar with, and able to recruit, the “I” which could sit in the “eye” of the hurricane and observe it, knowing that I wasn’t the hurricane. 

In her little book, Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears, IMG_2896wisdom teacher Pema Chödrön offers a number of practices for breaking the hold of our reactive brains, and cultivating and strengthening the parts of ourselves that have the natural capacity to stay open, warm, and “awake” and aware, and so able to actually  receive from the world, not just defend against it. Many of these practices are simple and informal, requiring no additional commitment of time, but only intention and remembering. “Pausing” practice (which one can do any time —and preferably several times— in a day) is one of these.

Pausing, she writes, creates a momentary contrast between being completely self-absorbed, and being awake and present. You just stop for a few seconds, downloadbreathe deeply, and move on. You don’t want to make it a project […] In the middle of just living, which is usually a pretty caught-up experience characterized by a lot of internal discussion with yourself, you just pause.

In my own “pausing” practice, I have found it enormously helpful to make an effort to also notice (and so to take in) what is positive in that moment, within and without: the presence of a loved one, the sunlight, the way I was able to either refrain from or respond to someone in a way I liked, today.

Or maybe to remember and to savor how someone had told me how much they liked my shirt. 




If you’ve attended a yoga class lately at Canyon Wren Wellness Center, or have visited with me as a client, you know how excited I am—in a very calm way, of course— about a simple breathing exercise known as “4-7-8” breathing (a.k.a. “Relaxing breath”).

Joe Ringo, Maupin, OR

There are many different breathing techniques that are effective in activating our parasympathetic nervous system (the part of our nervous system designed to calm us down), and rhythmic breathing itself is a core part of yoga practice. But I have found the 4-7-8 breathing technique to be especially powerful in providing immediate results, especially when it is practiced regularly, which helps teach the body to expect it to do exactly that when practiced on the spot. 

I learned about the technique from a friend who, hoping to avoid or to minimize the need to take medication for recently-diagnosed hypertension, visited Dr. Andrew Weil’s website ( hoping to find some effective integrative (combination) medicine  approaches, which is where he found the directions for this technique. To his happy surprise, he has been able to significantly reduce the amount of medication needed to lower his blood pressure (by his report) to healthy parameters, by using this technique on a regularly basis.

So I went to Dr. Weil’s website to learn more, and found that this 4-7-8 breathing can help with many conditions, including anxiety, insomnia (according to an article in Medical News Today some people report being able to drop off to sleep in one minute by using this technique), managing cravings, and controlling or reducing anger responses.

What’s not to like?

How to do it:

1. Find a comfortable sitting position and place the tip of your tongue on the spot where the top front teeth meet the roof of your mouth.

2. Empty your lungs by breathing out through the mouth once, fast and forcefully enough to make a “whoosh” sound.

3. Breathe in quietly through the nose to the count of 4 (about 4 seconds)

4. Hold the breath for a count of 7 (about 7 seconds)

5. Exhale through the mouth, pursing the lips for 8 counts/seconds

6. Immediately breath in through the nose again to begin the next round (you don’t do that initial “whoosh” again between rounds), and repeat the cycle for a total of 4 rounds.

Note that the speed of the count is less important than keeping steady rhythm. The friend who told me about the technique uses a metronome, but as long you feel the count is “even,” and the speed of the count feels comfortable to you, you’re doing it right, even if your count is faster or slower than one second per count.

Dr. Weil recommends practicing the technique at least twice a day, since the effectiveness of the technique when you need it increases the more regularly you practice it. He also suggests that people avoid doing more than four breath cycles in a row until they have more practice with the technique.

Some people feel lightheaded after doing this the. Therefore, it’s a good idea to try this technique when sitting or lying down to prevent dizziness or falls.

As we face the happy-and-otherwise stresses of the Holiday season, what better time than now to add a quick-and-easy (and free!) stress-reducing technique to your repertoire.





In my visits with couples, “problems with communication,” is the reason people most often give for deciding to seek consultation.

And while there are many, many factors that are involved in how the communications can go wrong in individual relationships (though they often involve too much expressing and not enough listening, over all), an understanding of the difference between being “frank” and being “honest” can be an important foundation for reworking the ways we go about trying to communicate with the people close to us, so that our communications lead to more closeness, instead of just widening distance.images

“But aren’t ‘frankness’ and ‘honesty’ the same thing?” you might be thinking.

Far from it.

“Honesty” focuses on our own feelings (like sadness, anger, confusion, happiness, hopefulness, excitement, anxiety and fear) and our own behaviors (including our “thought behaviors”: the stories we tell ourselves about our feelings, and about “how things are.” ). Conversely, “frankness” generally involves blaming and/or judging the other or others in some way, as a way of avoiding (however unconsciously) the vulnerability that comes with actually being honest. “Frankness” is about what I think about you, not how I feel and behave inside me.

From the point of view of this definition, the phrase “brutally honest” really doesn’t make any sense anymore. “Honesty” is never brutal, since it doesn’t get involved in judgements about others; honesty is interested in taking responsibility for self.

So if you are having difficulty persuading or feeling understood by a family member, coworker or friend, take a look at your own behavior first. Do you focus more on expressing yourself than you do on listening? Is your focus more, that is, on trying to be understood than to understand? When someone expresses themselves to you, do you reply by giving opinions, advice, or otherwise making judgements about what is being said? (newsflash: opinions and advice are both varieties of judgements) Do you express your own distress by accusing and/or placing blame on the other person (“You never want to spend time with me!”), instead of describing the actual feeling (“I miss you”)? In short, do you find yourself trying to have an “honest” exchange by statements that start with leads like “I’m mad at you because you _________ !” Or “What’s wrong with you is __________!”  Or maybe with one of the two classic accusations: “You always ___________!”  and “You never ____________” ? (Newsflash number two: no-one “always” and “never” does anything, so you’ve instantly undermined your credibility with this one)

If any of these sound like you, consider that you’ve been being very, very frank with your loved one…but maybe not yet so honest: after all, there’s nothing in those phrases about you, at all.

So what are more “honest” ways of communicating about disappointments, differences, distance, and other relationship issues, according to these definitions? Does “honesty” just amount to “frankness ‘lite’”?  Does it mean soft-peddling information, or beating-around-the-bush, instead of having the “courage” to speak the truth, to be direct, to say what’s-what?

Actually, the opposite: it takes much more courage (because it’s so much more vulnerable) to be direct and honest about our own feelings and reactions and judgements, than it takes to judge, blame and complain about the other person in the relationship.

Skeptical? Try out these “honesty-speak” statements, imagining you are saying them to someone important to you who you are also angry at…and notice what it feels like inside.

“I’ve been feeling distance [or maybe ‘tension’ or some other feeling-quality] between us, and I’m not sure how to understand it— can you help?” (this statement makes an observation without making up a story about “why,” and invites conversation)

“It’s been seeming to me like I’ve been doing most of the household chores, and I’ve noticed myself starting to build up resentment about that, which tells me it’s time to talk.” (an observation that describes and owns up to your own experience and your reaction to it, but which stops short of accusing the other person of not doing their share).

“To be honest, I’ve been privately judging/blaming you for for my disappointment [or ‘pain,’ or ‘sadness’] about our communication for awhile now…”  (owns up to your blaming behavior, instead of simply projecting that blame itself)

If it feels uncomfortable to imagine actually speaking in this way, welcome to the world of genuine honesty in close-relationship communication!

While blaming, complaining, fault-finding and arguing can feel cathartic and satisfyingly self-righteous in the moment, consider whether these actually do anything to improve communication or closeness (or, as TV psychologist Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”). Truly honest statements and questions like the ones above require that we own our own feelings and reactions…which naturally invites (without demanding) that others take ownership for theirs in turn (thought experiment: imagine your response if your loved one approached you with one of the statements above).

The truth is, unlike the counterfeit bravery and openness involved in being “brutally frank” in our communications with our loved ones (the implicit objective of which is generally to make someone else “wrong,”), real honesty requires real courage: the courage to be vulnerable, and to take responsibility for ourselves.

And while most of us think we want to feel truly close to the ones we love, fewer of us are as prepared as we may think we are for the vulnerability involved, and the courage that calls for, so we go about “communicating” in ways (blaming, complaining, demanding, accusing) guaranteed to keep the other person at a “safe” emotional distance (and to make it the other person’s fault, in our minds), rather than communicate in ways that actually invite them emotionally closer.

As the great family therapist, Carl Whitaker (1912-1995) put it,”We all want more intimacy than we can actually to tolerate.” The great challenge and opportunity of our intimate relationships, then, is primarily not as much about getting as it is about honestly inviting, and then learning to tolerate the vulnerability involved in receiving. 

Not happy with the quality of your communication from your loved ones? Take an honest look first at your own, and make an honest assessment of your own real goals. If you’d rather be right than close (final newsflash for this post: we don’t get to have both; we have to choose), and find closeness a little too scary to actually invite it, then blaming, complaining, judging and demanding (all that frank talk) is the way to go. But if its genuine intimacy that you’re wanting with the one you love, try a little honesty.

It won’t take long to find out if you’re actually up for it.



Resolution Revolution

With the winter holidays behind us and a fresh year ahead, the tradition of “New Year’s Resolutions” are on the minds of some of us. This is the year we’re going to start exercising, lose weight, pay off our credit cards, or quit smoking or drinking…really!

Really? Well, according to statistics cited in an article in U.S. News and World Report), 80% of us will have given up on our efforts to achieve our resolution-related goals before the end of the second week of February.

So why are New Year’s resolutions so prone to failure?

One big reason is that resolutions are often based in those very powerful-in-the-moment, but not very effective-in-the-long-run feelings of shame and self-judgement: the feeling of being “bad” somehow. And when we feel like we are “bad,” we tend to go about “self-improvement” goals in self-punishing ways: by diets, for instance, that exclude foods we actually enjoy (or that we could, if we had a different attitude about them), or by going about exercise in a grimly-determined way, rather than seeing it as a form of enjoyment we have yet to explore. After all (reasons the mind subconsciously), if we are “bad” for being “out-of-shape,” shouldn’t the process of getting in shape be difficult and unpleasant? From that starting point though, it doesn’t take very long before we start feeling the need for relief from all the self-judgement-based punishment and deprivation we are putting ourselves through. And when we do look for relief, what do we turn to for self-soothing? Most likely the substances or behaviors we were trying to eliminate or change in the first place: food, alcohol, nicotine, spending, T.V.-watching, video-gaming— whatever.

The solution to the “resolution”? Rather than identifying a behavior you want to change, identify a “theme” that you would like to keep in mind for the coming year. This could be a word or a phrase that has meaning for you, and that represents something that has been missing from your daily life. Then, instead of vowing to achieve a specific behavioral goal, simply keep your theme in mind, and allow the year to unfold from there, checking in with yourself now and then to ask whether or not your current behaviors reflect that theme, or not. The results may surprise you.

I did this myself a few years ago, having realized that a broken ankle I experienced had been the result (at least in part), of how fast I habitually move through the world, and how much I try to get done in any given amount of time. My theme for the following year? “Half as much, half as fast.”

Here are some other examples of possible themes to consider for your New Year’s theme:

Theme: “Relaxation.” Constant activity without down-time takes a definite toll on our physical and mental health, and taking time to relax (whether with meditation, massage, a daily nap, or any playful-versus-goal-oriented activity)  can help to curb overeating, as well as helping with chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia, hypertension, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Theme: “Enjoyment.” There’s a saying that “It’s not the cart that pulls the horse, it’s the oats!” We are much more likely to do things that are good for us if we actually enjoy those things. Try expecting to enjoy (instead of just endure) health-supporting behaviors. Find a physical activity that is fun for you, and have fun expanding the range of the kinds of food you enjoy by experimenting with unfamiliar, healthy ones, with the expectation not just of feeling “virtuous” but of actual pleasure.

Theme: “Movement.” Our bodies are made to move, but modern-day life often involves a lot of sitting—we even sit in the process of transporting ourselves from one place to another! Keeping “movement” in mind as a theme may make us more alert to opportunities to walk to the store instead of driving, take the stairs instead of an elevator, or to meet a friend for a walk instead of (or before) coffee and donuts.

Maybe your theme will be “Kindness” or “Listening” or “Joy,” or “Patience” or “Gratitude” or “Self-Care”— qualities you would like to cultivate by bringing more attention to them in the year ahead. Try it…and see if the behaviors that support them don’t start to develop naturally, as a result of your intention.

As for my “half as much, half as fast” intention/theme? Well, it’s a process! I can’t say I’m down to “half” yet, but I have slowed down considerably by keeping my theme in mind, my theme reminding me to ask myself more often, “does this particular activity need to happen at this much speed?” …and to respond accordingly. 

Whether your 2019 involves making formal resolutions, establishing themes, setting intentions, or none of these, may our individual and collective hearts open to, be filled with, and stirred to action by all that decreases division and increases love.

Happy New Year!


Navigating the Holidays After Major Loss


So many people I know (myself included) have experienced major losses over the past year that I’ve been thinking about it a lot as we enter this winter holiday season.

The winter holidays can be stressful under any circumstances, whether we experience their stressors as welcome or unwelcome. There are gifts to purchase, expectations (real or imagined) of others to face, invitations to events that we may welcome or dread (or both!), winter travel to navigate, crowds in town, strains on finances, the presence of friends or family members we may not like that much, or the absence of those we do…and on and on.  And for those who have experienced loss, the usual seasonal stresses may be significantly  amplified.

RjwL9926881, photo by Flash90

The loss of a loved one through death, divorce or estrangement brings with it an array of related losses during the holidays, some of which can be anticipated and prepared for, and many of which can’t. Maybe your wife always put the lights on the tree, or your daughter and son-in-law brought the grandchildren to visit, or dad gave a dramatic reading of  “T’was the Night Before Christmas”. While you or someone else could decorate the tree, put the lights up, recite a poem, or fill the empty chair at the table, especially in the first year after a loss it may feel much too soon to “fill the hole” by taking over (or asking someone else to take over) the absent person’s role: after all, the loved one’s absence is their presence in the early stages (and by “early,” I mean at least the first 2 years) of mourning. And there are so many individual, little decisions to make. Do you send a holiday card this year, or not? If so, what’s the message? And what about that traditional family picture greeting card, after a child has died? Then there are the unanticipated emotional “stings”: the sight in the closet of that holiday sweater he always wore. Or you’ve decided to send a card, but then oops, that’s right: it will only be you signing it this year, not the two of you. Or those toys the grandkids loved to play with that will stay on the shelf this year.

Christmas lights, Bokeh effect

For these reasons, even those of us who have been coping okay with a given loss can find that the holiday season “pushes the refresh button” on our grief, as we encounter the specific losses associated with the holiday season— losses that can’t be grieved until they come along.

What to do? Anyone who knows me very well has probably heard me say this a bazillion times, but it bears repeating: Grieving itself is the way through grief. Feeling, acknowledging and getting through are all that is really called for…and that is plenty.

That said, here are some specific things that can help ease holiday stress, during early grief.

1.  Don’t avoid the holidays. They’ll come anyway, and avoiding them now will mean dreading them again next year. Feel your feelings, and prepare as best you can for the hardest days.

2.  Make plans with others tentative.  Because the emotions of grief are so unpredictable, it’s hard to know how you’ll be feeling when the time comes for a given event. When accepting invitations, let others know that you may change your mind, and why…and then do what feels right when the time comes.

3.  Do only what has meaning for you. Think about what supports you and makes you feel most comfortable, and do only those things. If you are reluctant to disappoint others, remember that taking care of your own needs when you are grieving will make you more available to others again in the long run.

4.  Consider shopping early or online. As Julie Siri of Journey Through Loss puts it, grieving people often see reality through distorted lenses.  If you have lost a spouse, it may appear that all the world is “coupled”  with happy , healthy, married people […] If you have lost a child, everywhere you gaze you will see only energetic, rosy-cheeked children with smiling parents.   During the holidays these perceptions can be accentuated:  the malls are filled with joyful shoppers, Holiday music, colorful decorations, and an exciting hustle and bustle in the air. A grieving person may feel alone and depressed in this environment.

5.  Let others know what they can do. people who care about you can’t  know how to support you unless you tell them how you feel and what you need, as there is no formula or single “right way” to support a grieving person. Saying honestly that “Today is a hard day for me, and I’d appreciate some company” (or “…and I feel like being quietly alone”) lets people know what would be (and not be) supportive at a given time.

6.  Choose who to be around…and not. Spend time people who can be okay with tears, and who won’t tell you how you should and shouldn’t feel!

7.  Remember that our important relationships don’t end, they change. For many people, spending time with people who had a relationship also with the person who left or died— people you can reminisce with— is an important part of making that transition from how you were with the loved one then, to how you are with them now. Julie Siri again:  You are still impacted by your loved ones’ love, guided by their words, touched by their sense of humor.  Acknowledge the person who died, write them a card, get them a gift.  Honor this relationship in whatever manner you find helpful. Reminiscing with others about a person who died is an important way that we develop and nurture the new way (through our memories) of continuing to be in relationship with the people we love.

8. Connect with the larger community of grievers as an additional way to share experience and support during this time. Local hospice programs always have special holiday programs and holiday-focused information and resources to share, and there are a lot of good online sites that provide information and connections with other grievers., and are two of many.20161204_180331

In the end, there’s “no way out but through” the special emotional challenges that the holidays bring to the ongoing process of grieving, and no right way to navigate them, nor formula for easing the pain. But acknowledging, accepting (and for some of us, talking about) our feelings and experiences, without judging ourselves for what we feel (or for what we don’t feel, like “cheery”!) during the holiday season can go a long way toward relieving the additional pain that comes from thinking that “However I am I should be some different way.” However we are is exactly how we “should be,” as grieving itself navigates our course through it.