Connection to Things

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In this year of focus on connection, I find myself wondering why we humans get so attached to things. Why do we find, collect, hang onto and attach meaning to physical objects ? Why some things and not others? How do our feelings get projected onto our stuff? Nostalgia for the past and aspiration for the future. Love and loss. Pain and pleasure. At what point does a healthy attachment to material possessions morph into materialism? Where is the fine line between collecting things and hoarding them? I have no definitive answers to these questions, but looking from the perspective of the different energy centres of the body may shed some light on our connections to things.

The root chakra is about connection to ancestry, tribe, and the earth itself. We attach to things that we feel we need to survive, and stuff that reminds us of our corners of the world and where we come from. Do your treasured possessions add to your sense of belonging and groundedness? Do they truly speak to your culture and your roots? Are you hanging onto memorabilia passed down from ancestors that no longer serves you or brings you joy ? It may be time to dust off the objects you feel truly rooted to, and repurpose or pass along things that are simply taking up space.

The sacral chakra is about connection to our emotions and with the emotions of others. Our centre of sexual and creative energy. The place from which we create and find beautiful, evocative things that bring joy and pleasure. Is your stuff a true reflection of your inner world? Are your most precious and beautiful belongings hidden away or displayed? Are they all but lost in the clutter of too many things? Do you hold back on fully expressing yourself through the clothes you wear and the decor of your surroundings, choosing function over form and muted colours and practical pieces over fun ones?

The solar plexus chakra is about connection to trust and power. We collect objects that signify comfort and securtiy, as well as acheivement and social status, from our cozy favourite sweaters to the gilded diplomas on the wall to the new car in the driveway. Most of us have things we have acquired and hung onto because of their material value, or to project a certain image. Do your posessions help you feel safe and secure? Confident and in control? If your desire for shiny objects far surpasses your need for them, it may be worth taking the time to evaluate the authenticity of your relationship to material things.

The heart chakra is our connection to love and compassion. We get attached to things that are gifted to us, and pictures and objects that remind us of those we love. We displace our love for people onto things sometimes, like a child clings to their favourite blanket. Over a lifetime of love and loss, stuff accumulates and it can be difficult to part with. Ask yourself whether you are keeping things for love or simply nostalgia. Sometimes we hold onto things because actually touching them feels too painful, such as the heartache of going through that box of a deceased loved one’s possessions, or rereading an old love letter. Bringing awareness to the the emotional charge we attach to objects can be healing..

The throat chakra is about communication and speaking our truth. We stay connected to things that tell the stories of our lives: words we have written and books we have read, pictures of places we have been and maps of places we want to visit. Documents and objects marking important life passages. Have you grieved the loss of key pieces of your story to moves, theft or fire? Do the things you have managed to hold onto reflect your personal narrative? How do you want to be remembered?

The third eye chakra is the seat of consciousness, our connection to wisdom and the present moment. We are drawn to things that help us learn and grow, and tap into intuition and deeper levels of consciousness. Do the objects you collect actually reflect your life as it is now? Some of our collections are like time capsules frozen in the past or hope chests for futures we are not actively creating.

The crown chakra is our connection to all that is and the dissolution of the myth of separateness. At the end of the day, all of our connections to objects are temporary. Things get lost and broken. They eventually fall apart. We no longer need them and pass them along to someone else, or give them back to the earth. Do you look at objects that come into your hands with a sense of possession? “This thing is mine and I am keeping it”. Are you willing to share your things with others or give stuff away to those in need?

This summer, I plan to look at my relationships with physical objects through more discerning eyes. Keep the things that are useful, treasured and meaningful, and start to let go of things that no longer belong to the life I am living.

How do you connect with the things in your life?

Reconnection

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Mixed emotions arise as our province and country start to open up again from Covid-induced lockdown. Relief about dwindling case counts and accelerated vaccination rates. Grief around multiple losses. Hope about returning to some kind of normal. Fear that “normal” will be fleeting. Excitement about in-person events and activities. Anger and Despair about the inequities exposed and highlighted by this pandemic. Yearning to reconnect with faraway people and places. Concern that climate change will be a lower priority.

Let’s reconnect with kindness, and remember to:

Celebrate life passages such as birthdays, weddings and graduations with gusto, while bringing into community the losses experienced in isolation, without proper goodbyes and collective rituals of mourning.

Reconnect with the ones we love, while taking the time to talk about the grannies, grandpas, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, children, and friends who died alone during Covid and from Covid.

Embrace the freedoms that come with a second jab, while staying humble to the privilege. Much of the world is not yet vaccinated.

Fill our hearts with the joy of being with children, while extending support to their exhausted parents and teachers.

Spend precious time with the elderly, while honouring the long term care staff who have been there for them.

Live life to the fullest, while recognizing the cracks in our social fabric, and reaching out to those struggling with the ongoing economic, psychological, political and health impacts of the pandemic.

Resume the joy and adventure of travel, while doing what we can to minimize the impact on the environment.

Resume social activities while giving each other time to adjust, relearn social skills, and figure out individual comfort levels with physical proximity and larger gatherings.

Reconnect with the external world without losing hard won connections to our inner worlds through this introspective time. Maybe we do not have to rush back to crazy schedules or push through introversion, shyness or social anxiety.

Enjoy the physical activities we have been missing without judgement about diminished fitness levels and Covid weight gain.

Balance fear with hope as we navigate the uncertainty of future outbreaks.

What does reconnection bring up for you?

Embodiment

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“Embodiment is living within, being present within the internal space of the body. It’s something quite different from being aware of the body”

Judith Blackstone

As I integrate Somatic Experiencing Therapy into my practice, I find myself wondering what it would feel like to live a more fully embodied existence. There are glimpses, while doing yoga, dancing, gardening, hiking through a forest, creating… whenever I am completely immersed in an experience. I feel most embodied by the ocean, toes in the sand, wind in my hair, as the surf rises to meet me. I feel more alive when mind and body are connected. In touch with my emotions and physical sensations. Able to tap into and trust my intuition. Life flows, and there is a sense of timelessness. I have more energy and passion for living. Embodiment is being in the body, and we all have our own ways of getting there.

On busy days I feel like I spend far too much time “in my head”, thinking and planning. Not exactly “disembodied”, but definitely living at more of a distance from my physical experience than I would like. Working for hours sitting in front of a computer screen, taking my body for granted until it starts talking to me, often in the form of exhaustion, muscle tension or eye strain, or feeling restless and irritable, at odds with myself. Does this sound familiar to you?

A simple practice I have discovered to quickly shift from thinking to experiencing is to bring in an element or a combination of elements of earth, wind, fire or water. Here are some suggestions for finding moments of embodiment in the day-to-day busyness of life through exploration of these four elements:

Earth: If you are feeling scattered or unfocused, take a moment to ground into the earth element. Simply feel the contact of your feet on the floor. Allow yourself to sink more deeply into the pull of gravity. Look around the space you are in and set your gaze on a plant or a flower, or a picture of a forest or a mountain. Touch something solid or hold a smooth stone in the palm of your hand. Wrap yourself in something soft and heavy, maybe even a weighted blanket.

Wind: If you are feeling stuck and stagnant, bring in the element of air. The simplest way to do this is to take a deep breath. Notice the inner tumbling of your thoughts and worries, and detach from their grip by looking at the sky, turning on a fan, or opening a window to let the breeze in. Take a moment to stretch and yawn and move your body in a way that feels good. Connect with a song or a poem.

Fire: If your energy is flagging, access the element of fire. Turn towards the sun or a source of heat and light in the space you are in. Light a candle and gaze at the flickering flame. Warm your palms with the heat of your breath, by rubbing them together, or wrapping them around a steaming cup. Bring that warmth to wherever your body feels stiff or cold, or simply place your hand over your heart and connect with its rhythm. Think of hugging someone you love and imagine their warmth and energy enfolding you.

Water: If you are taking on the stress and emotions of your environment, connect to the soothing, releasing element of water. Take a sip of liquid. Slow down for a moment. Close your eyes and feel your feelings. Imagine yourself floating in your favourite body of water, or dancing in the rain. Bring some humidity into the air around you. Wash your hands. Take a moment to moisturize your skin or your lips.

Have an embodied day!

Connection with Mind

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In this year of personal focus on connection, I shall devote the month of March to connecting with Mind. This endeavour could be challenging. Meetings of Mind feel intimidatingly cerebral. I would rather tell a story or describe a relationship than get lost in concentric circles of analysis. Or worse, be called upon to engage in a debate. Words come with less flow and conviction. I get stuck in the mire looking for the right sentence structure to express my tumbling thoughts, ever seeking depth and clarity. Perhaps such is the nature of Mind.

I am learning more about the workings of Mind, thanks to big-brained researchers translating scientific knowledge into psychotherapy practice. From their clarity of thought springs forth new language. Useful words to articulate the impacts of trauma: what happens at the level of the brain and nervous system when a living being, particularly a human child, experiences pain and neglect versus joy and nurturing. Neurobiology explains attachment processes, emotional regulation, and stress responses. On a personal level, a deeper understanding of how experience has shaped my own values and view of the world, and the ways in which I move through emotional states and survival responses such as fight, flight or freeze, provides insight. Opportunity for more conscious choices of action. Powerful stuff.

Having language for these pathways opens meaningful dialogue with Mind, but not the deeper connection I crave. On her part, I sense disatisfaction with the scope of current research. Mind seeks insight into the bigger picture. Light shed on the meaning of consciousness. Clarification of complex phenomena like Intuition, Imagination, Wonder and Transcendence. She states matter-of-factly that there is more to her than the physiological mechanisms of the brain and the workings of chemical transmitters and neural pathways. Vast, infinitely complex and interconnected to a wider web.

My sense is that although my understanding of Mind may be outwardly informed by science, true connection with her will have to come from within.

To connect with Mind, I endeavour to be present. Seek stillness to meditate and contemplate. Embrace her eccentricities. Indulge her liberal use of metaphor to link fact to feeling. Tolerate her meanderings when she drifts into daydreaming and symbolic language. Keep up with promises to feed her well and make sure she gets enough sleep. Provide her with tea and chocolate. Warm baths.

To connect with Mind, I shall approach her with loving kindness. Through years of academic striving and professional practice, I pushed her hard to get things right, unduly harsh towards lapses and imperfections, stifling imagination and creativity. Witnessing the dignity with which my mother faced cognitive decline brought me to my kness, and softened my ego. Mind deserves to age gracefully, in respect and celebration of the wisdom that comes from making mistakes.

To connect with Mind, I resolve to be patient when I need her wisdom. Mind does not operate in a linear fashion. She examines all possibilities before making a decision, balancing intuition with an ethic of equanimity. I will ask better questions. Listen to her reasoning for overriding impulsive or compulsive ideas. She knows more than I give her credit for.

To connect with Mind, I will create intentional space for creativity, imagination and pure fun. When the world opens up again, we shall explore art galleries and museums, take a train across Canada, and travel the world. We will dance into our dotage, open to new experiences and ways of thinking. When stuck inside, I will keep her amused and stimulated with books, crossword puzzles, and games of Scrabble. Mind loves playing with words.

In meditation, I get a rare glimpse of Mind in all her glory. A clear blue sky behind the weather of thoughts and worries, vast and peaceful. Most of the time, our connection feels more like this:

An attic room, a dusty, cobwebbed, seemingly disorganized space. The centre of the floor scattered with memorabilia and half-completed projects. Overwhelmed by the clutter and chaos, I feel the urge to flee. Then curiousity gets the better of me, and I stay to explore. The dust begins to settle, and I realize there is some kind of order to the disarray. Massive shelves overflowing with books, plants, pictures, board games and craft materials line the walls. A huge map highlights places I have been, and places I want to go to. A stream of soft music provides the perfect soundtrack to my thoughts. At one end of the room, beautiful sunshine filters in through a window, illuminating a desk for creating, and a comfortable corner to curl up in. A steaming pot of tea. Mind whispers ” Let’s hang out today. I have missed you”.

How will you nurture your mind this month?

Connection with Love

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Valentine’s Day is both a sweet opportunity to celebrate ongoing romantic love, and a reminder of loves’ lost. As a relationship counsellor, I hold extra space this month for hearts pierced by cupid’s arrows. I pay particular attention to those who are grieving recent losses or anticipating painful endings. February can evoke the more tender aspects of our relationships with self and others. Strong emotions may arise, sometimes unexpectedly. When the feelings and physical sensations are lovingly witnessed, allowed expression, and made meaning of, growth and healing can occur.

In order to consistently hold loving space for myself and others, February has evolved for me, to a time for connecting more deeply with love itself. Love as a concept. Love as a feeling state. Love as a verb. Love as playful engagement with life. I reflect during these winter months on my words, my choices, my actions, and about small ways in which to inhabit the earth from a more loving place. I believe that Love expands consciousness and opens possibilities, and yet it is too easy in these troubled times to view the world from a place of fear.

Some simple ideas for making February a more loving month, no matter what your current circumstances:

Extend love to houseplants. Sing or play music while you water them. Tend to their needs. Maybe this one has outgrown its pot, or would benefit from being rotated towards the sun. Perhaps a little plant food is in order. Look upon them with love, and thank them for their silent gifts to you.

Write yourself a love letter. This past year has been tough. Take a moment to consider the ways you have grown, the sacrifices you have made, and the small kindnesses you have bestowed and received.

Embrace sensuality. Wear the clothes you love. Break fashion rules and mix shades of pink and red, silk and flannel, leather and lace; whatever you feel good in. Many of us are touch deprived these days. Wrap yourself in warmth and texture. Break out the fragrance you usually ration for special occasions.

Cook with love and abandon. Change your living space and the space in your head by creating meals with aromatic spices, choosing the right background music, and lighting candles. Pretend you are eating at your favourite cafe or restaurant.

Send Valentine greetings. To a romantic partner for sure, but why not to anyone you care for? Especially if they are feeling lonely or broken-hearted. The messages can be sentimental, silly or sarcastic. Love has many flavours of expression. No need to subscribe to the commercialism of the season. Make your own Valentine, or send a digital message or a short video. Often the most meaningful gift is your time and attention.

Clarify expectations. This may not be best the time for romantic partners to Define the Relationship. Wait until after Valentine’s Day for that conversation. But do talk and come to some mutual understanding ahead of time about the giving and receiving of gifts and shared activities. Your lover cannot read your mind, and may have different ideas from you about what turns them on and makes them feel appreciated.

Plan for difficult days. If you are freshly single and feeling jaded about romance, plan to do something meaningful rather than wishing Valentine’s Day away or being triggered by social media posts of champagne and roses.

Focus on family Family Day falls on the day after Valentine’s Day this year. Extend your love to those in your inner circle, whether they are related by blood or choice.

Take stock of your grudges and hurts. Perhaps this is the time to shed some light and love on past wounds and unfinished relationship business. Especially if they are getting in the way of fully connecting with love in its many forms.

Find an inspiring love story. Ask a happy older couple about how they met. Watch a touching movie. Write out your own love story, the one you are living or perhaps….the one you want.

How will you connect with Love this season?

Connection to Soul

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I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. Promising to do more or less of something for an entire year feels like daring fate somehow. Those earnest stroke of midnight declarations rarely seem to manifest into authentic, enduring action on my part anyway. Forgotten by February.

Instead, each January I give myself a month or so to come up for a word for the year ahead. My word for 2021 is connection. This pandemic and other global events have brought home for me the extent to which connection, in its multiplicity of forms, is necessary for survival. Connection with self. Connection with other beings and aspects of living. We connect through our senses, particularly through touch, and via language, movement, ideas, music, art and story. Connection is so important that it can bridge the vastness of space and time. Human beings are wired to connect.

This past month has been particularly disconnecting: globally, locally and personally. I vacillate between a pit of uncertainty about the coming months, and earnest hope that life on this planet will return to some kind of normalcy by the summer. Celebrating the speed of scientific advancements while thrumming with restless impatience with the implementation process. Moved to tears by simple acts of kindness one minute, vehemently disgusted by senseless violence in the news the next. Grateful for the work I do, but spent by the end of the day. I feel quite alone riding the waves of my emotions, despite knowing that others feel similarly. And underneath it all, a crushing sadness about the losses that humanity is coping with. Too many souls departing the earth even as we shelter in place in relative comfort and prosperity here in Ontario.

Technology facilitates connection to the extent that it allows me to “see” clients and colleagues and to meet up with family and friends near and far. But I cannot hug my grown up children over Zoom. Human interactions feel muted and disjointed. We all grow tired of connecting across devices, of conversations and media reports centred around rising infection numbers and the impacts of new restrictions.

I miss simple pleasures and freedoms of living that I took for granted. People watching at a coffee shop. Dancing at a wedding. Hanging out with happy people in real time. In quieter moments meditating or walking outside, I realize that I am more easily pulled off my centre these days, At risk of falling prey to negative thoughts and darker imaginings.

Where I most need to stay connected to navigate the storms ahead is to that place deep within myself. The most powerful tool in my mental health toolbox (when wielded from a place of love and awareness) is quite simply, my imagination. When my soul longs to dance and explore the world and be closer to those I love, I can tune in and picture the places we have been and the good times we have had together. I can imagine positive experiences yet to come, and in so doing influence both the biochemistry and the inner landscape of my mind. Imagining is not about escaping the current reality, but about putting it into context and making it more bearable.

From the perspective of soul, the quietness of this time is a rare opportunity to unplug from automatic patterns of living. To connect more deeply to passion and purpose, plant seeds for future, fuller connections with life, and cultivate a healthy imagination.

What are you looking forward to in 2021? What does your soul long for?

Good Enough

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I hope that Mr. and Mrs. Claus are safe and healthy at the North Pole. They should probably avoid travelling this Christmas. Stay put and let us figure out the material trappings of the holiday season. I am not sure that what is truly needed this year can be put into a box under the tree anyway.

Naughty or nice, rich or poor, most of us are struggling to cope right now, and hard on ourselves as a result. This December, I am asking Santa to send a little extra holiday spirit our way. To recognize those doing their best to adapt to difficult times and be there for each other. Maybe we could celebrate just being good enough as we are this year.

Good enough parents No parenting book ever came with a chapter on how to keep children safe and happy during a pandemic. We are all flying by the seat of our pants, keeping little kids entertained, making tough decisions about school and daycare, balancing work and family, and staying connected to adult offspring from afar. Exhausted parents, please give yourselves permission to dial back on the extravagance of the season.

Good enough children Kids are incredibly resilient. It breaks my heart to see kindergarteners lined up six feet apart with tiny masks on, waiting for the bus. They have adapted to the new normal, as kids do, even when rules keep changing. This year has been heart wrenchingly difficult for many adults too, who are caring for, separated from, or grieving the losses of older parents. We are all children at Christmastime. Let’s focus on the simple things that make the season magical.

Good enough partners Sometimes the people closest to us receive the brunt of our frustrations. Let your sweetie know your heart still beats for them even if they have not been at their best this year.

Good enough relatives Some families are more dysfunctional than others, but I have yet to meet a clan where everyone lived in harmony. Disagreements are inevitable. Perhaps this is the year to let go of a grudge or two and reach out to distant relatives.

Good enough friends It is harder to stay in touch when life gets busy and the winter winds howl. Make a point of reaching out to the people in your circle. Virtual hugs are not the same, but a heartfelt text or a phone call can make a difference in someone’s day.

Good enough neighbours With social gatherings curtailed, many people are spending more time close to home this year. We may not see eye to eye with all our neighbours, but what is the harm of putting aside any petty grievances for the season? Go for a walk down your street and smile at the people you meet. Stop to admire their Christmas lights. Maybe check in on neighbours who are frail or living alone.

Good enough workers This year has been particularly hard on health and social service workers, teachers, and those employed in retail and service industries. Maybe we could all be a little more patient and generous when accessing professional services, and take extra care of the front line workers in our lives.

Good enough politicians So easy to criticize the other party or to rebel against unpopular decisions. Maybe they too, are just doing their best to deal with the mayhem of 2020.

Wishing you and yours a good enough holiday season this year!

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Eco-Anxiety

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The impact of environmental issues on mental health is a recurrent theme in my practice.

Many people describe an unsettled, niggling worry about the environment and what the human race is collectively doing to make things worse and not doing to address the current reality. They are genuinely concerned about climate change, but their level of distress ebbs and flows, pushed to simmer on the back burner when reactions to other personal or global issues arise. Their worries come to the forefront when triggered by external events such as natural disasters or pictures of starving polar bears. I describe this prevalent level of concern as “eco-anxiety”. Environmental concerns bring us to face our own mortality in uncomfortable, anxiety-provoking ways.

For a growing number of people I meet, the emotional impact of environmental devastation extends way beyond disquiet and concern. They describe a deep and pervasive sense of fear, powerlessness and hopelessness about the future, accompanied by a little or a lot of bitterness and cynicism about the apathy and greed of humankind. I conceptualize this level of distress as “eco-despair”. I see it in caring human beings who have close and personal contact with our changing ecological system: millennials whose ideals and passion for healing the planet are crushed by the uphill battle of change, seasoned activists feeling burnt out from years of lobbying and fighting to preserve nature, artists and lovers of the great outdoors, those who live off the land, particularly in the rapidly changing Arctic, and the “canaries in the coal mine” who are affected by malignancies and autoimmune disease.

As a therapist, I have no magic phrases or precision tools in my mental health toolbox for living happily and at peace in relationship with an ailing planet. I too, am deeply disturbed, saddened, and trying to find a middle ground between hope for innovative solutions and despair that we have slid too far. When the global environmental crisis invokes personal existential crises in my clients, I pay close attention to the burden of their suffering, help define and unpack mixed emotions while holding space for their expression, and reflect back their deeply held values, strengths and positive actions, while bearing witness to the struggle of maintaining hope and optimism.

Eco-anxiety and despair may be accompanied by a mix of conflicting emotions, such guilt for not personally taking action as much as they would like, anger and disgust towards corporate offenders, distrust of government policies, and renewed grief and sorrow with each new ecological disaster.

I worry about some of my clients. Depression and burnout are real and growing consequences that need to be addressed. As much as time is of the essence in taking action on environmental devastation, sometimes helpers need to step back from the issues to take care of themselves, especially when bitterness and hopelessness prevail. Similar to compassion fatigue in frontline healthcare workers and caregivers, how are environmentalists to extend care to the planet when their own cups are empty? Simple strategies can help, such as spending time in nature, connecting with supportive people, finding sources of inspiration and learning about new innovations in addressing climate change. We all need to restore mind and body and lean into each other sometimes.

One way of coping with feeling overwhelmed and discouraged is to pick one area to focus on, and commit to a course of action that feels congruent with personal values, individual circumstances, skills and capacity. In between powerlessness and absolute control over any situation, there is always a way to exert some influence. Even small actions can have a ripple effect. Finding a personal zone of influence has power, especially if multiple people do so.

I see many hopeful examples in my work and daily life. Mothers and teachers cultivating a love of nature in young children and teaching them simple ways of treading lightly on the earth. Students pursuing environmental studies or becoming more politically active in social change. Millennials using technology and social media in countless innovative ways. Artists of all kinds plying their crafts to highlight the beauty and fragility of the natural world. Retirees volunteering time and skills. For most of us, it comes down to the choices we make every day, from where we spend our money to the ways we conserve resources and live sustainably.

In mental health, we need to keep in mind that politicians and pandemics will come and go, but the environmental crisis is an issue that is here to stay. How has your well-being been impacted? What helps?

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The lighter side of working together at a distance

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Since March 2020, so much of what we do has migrated to online spaces, a testament to the adaptive capacity of human beings and the communication systems we have developed. While there are many challenges associated with connecting from a distance, it feels important to highlight some of the unexpected perks and sweeter moments of working together while apart.

With professional colleges giving the green light for virtual psychotherapy, so much is possible. People have varying degrees of emotional and technical bandwidth for accessing online spaces, or connecting about personal issues by phone. Some lack privacy at home to speak freely, or access to reliable equipment or Wi-Fi. Others distrust or simply dislike connecting over virtual interfaces. Yet for many, appointments by distance are a welcome bridge to safety, health, location, time and other practical barriers to accessing counselling services.

Ease of access For women coping with postpartum issues, virtual therapy simplifies the process, especially in those early days of caring for an infant when getting out of the house for an appointment can be a monumental task. Getting to see new Mums interact with their babies from the comfort of home and hearing their little sounds in the background is a sweet bonus from my end.

Walk therapy I never much enjoyed talking on the phone, until I discovered that some of the best conversations with people in my life happen while one or both of us is walking somewhere. There is something about actively moving hands-free with headphones that generates ideas and discussion. Some therapy clients are opting for telephone appointments so that they have the freedom to roam around the house or go for private walk outside during session. Not for everyone, but it can work well.

Connecting families With my own large family spread across Canada, we have discovered the power of being all together in real time virtually in a way that rarely happens in person. But who knew that online couples counselling and family therapy could be so effective? There is something about us all being able to all see each other on screen at the same time that enriches empathetic communication, and I think it helps that only one person can speak at a time.

Animal helpers My cat proudly marched into my home office during a virtual couple therapy session the other day, the tail of a live and struggling field mouse dangling from his mouth. The couple’s cat heard its plaintive squeaking and jumped into the frame. Laughter ensued, but it took a few minutes to settle back to business. Zoom-bombing pets are a distraction in online spaces, but the presence of a calm, attentive animal can be grounding during stressful moments or when strong emotions arise during therapy. I love meeting and resourcing people’s dogs, cats, birds and other pets online, especially with some of my younger or more anxious clients.

Thinking outside the box This has been a year of learning creative ways of being together on-line: playing games, breaking bread and shared activities in real time. In the absence of in-person Sand Tray work, I am exploring novel approaches to working experientially, such as screen sharing resources and incorporating physical objects and craft materials from their home environments.

Opportunities for mindfulness The mini-interruptions, time lags and glitches with working remotely can easily disrupt flow and the usual give and take of conversation, particularly when more than two people are involved. Easy to become impatient and frustrated, or to zone out. I am trying to use these moments as an opportunity to be mindful, stay present and focused. It helps to pause and take a sip of water or a deep breath. I am learning to hang out more patiently in online spaces and over the phone, feeling less compelled to fill silences with words, and more intentional about slowing things down to talk about the things that really matter. This is definitely a work in progress.

Improved technology Internet capacity and the scope of online platforms are also a work in process, but rapidly evolving. There are regular hiccups. Faces frozen in unflattering expressions, and voices distorted into robotic monosyllables or trailing off into nothingness. However, the glitches are briefer and I am seeing vast improvements in overall connection quality (in my urban setting at least) compared to pre- and early pandemic experiences of learning and coaching in virtual spaces. And encryption standards have tightened. Privacy is paramount online.

Self awareness I often turn off the “mirror” when working virtually to minimize the distraction of my own on screen image Seeing ourselves can serve a useful feedback function though, bringing awareness to our non-verbal reactions, posture, and energy levels. I find it useful for teaching yoga, in that I can monitor my own alignment in postures as well as the participants.

Witnessing Virtual appointments felt a tad awkward at first. I worried about missing important body language cues given the partial, two-dimensional view of the person “in front” of me. Yet over time, the experience has shifted from a sense of interacting with a disembodied screen image to an actual face-to-face encounter in shared, intimate space. With greater “eye contact” at a closer range than would be comfortable in person (especially during a pandemic), I am noticing subtle changes in facial expression, and my headphones pick up nuances in tone of voice that I might miss in an actual room sitting further apart. Investing in better operating systems, lighting and audio equipment helps, but it seems like our brains have somehow adapted to this virtual reality.

Economics There are cost savings to working remotely, even with increased insurance fees and virtual office expenses. My clients save money on gas, parking, and time. I have bought way less Kleenex this year (but more cleaning supplies). Many of my colleagues are forgoing brick and mortar offices altogether, but I feel like I have the best of both worlds with splitting my time between home office and shared professional space.

Location freedom Being able to connect more reliably now with each other from almost anywhere in this global village is a game changer. Working virtually opens up so many new possibilities in terms of where we live and travel.

Balance Hours spent plugged into remote connections are hard on mind and body. Simple self-care strategies focus on maintaining comfort, movement, connection, hydration, and fresh air. With realizing my long held dream of working barefoot in yoga pants, stretching or resting between appointments is easier. My work space includes a stand-up desk close to a window and a full-spectrum lamp. I take advantage of telephone appointments to move freely and rest my eyes, book longer lunch breaks in the winter months for daylight walking dates with friends, and attend regular virtual meditation in real time with a caring group of people, We are all doing what we can to stay positive and well during these crazy times.

Future considerations Connecting over distance is definitely here to stay, in my line of work anyway. Learning how to better communicate in virtual spaces and over the phone will serve us all moving forward. I see the benefits of continuing to work remotely, in terms of convenience, accessibility, managing overhead costs, location freedom, and the potential for deeper connection than I ever expected in virtual spaces. I anticipate maintaining a hybrid model, integrating the benefits of both in-person and online life and work.

How do you find living and working over distance?

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Covid-Proofing your Relationship

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

Relationships can be hard hit by Covid-19, whether partners are living under the same roof 24/7, trying to stay connected long-distance across borders, or something in between. We have bizarre new things to argue about now. Whether or not to spend two hours wiping groceries down with Lysol. Managing space when more than one person is working from home, especially when there are kids and pets in the mix. Who to include in a social bubble. How to pay the rent after job loss. Whether to put off or reorganize big life events like graduations, weddings and funerals. How to celebrate holidays and stay safely connected to extended family and friends.

Many worries and multiple losses to grieve, without roadmaps for coping with uncertainty and rapid change. While facing challenges together can strengthen bonds between partners, prolonged stress can turn the fissures that exist in any relationship into chasms. I have no magic solutions to offer, but here are some simple suggestions to make your relationship more “covid-proof”:

Make time to be fully present to each other. You can spend 24/7 with someone and never actually see them. Create a ritual of connecting for at least 10 undistracted minutes. Be together in relative stillness with minimal conversation. Take notice of this person close to you. Do they seem different at all, tired or worried?  Let yourself be seen by them too. This is a powerful practice, that can be done over Zoom if you live apart.

Priorize getting outside every day. Especially if you are living in a high-rise and working from home. Being cooped up indoors leads to irritability and escalates disagreements. Feel the sun on your face. Go for a walk or a run. Smile at the people you pass. Take pictures of nature. Return refreshed.

Create spaces in your togetherness. The immortal words of Khalil Gibran never rang truer. A universe of two can easily become a closed system. Stay connected with individual friends and relatives. Within your living space, create zones for connecting with each other and designated areas for each person to connect with themselves. A chair and a set of headphones will do in a small apartment. Respect each other’s boundaries and individual differences in the need for alone time.

Separate work from home. This is not easily done when one partner is working at the kitchen table but try a keep work from bleeding into home life. If you go out to work, use the commute to let go of your workday as much as possible.

Be mindful of substance use. Line-ups for liquor and marijuana stores have never been longer. Notice if you or you partner are over-using substance to numb out from stress. Are you arguing more as a result? Be willing to have uncomfortable conversations about the impact of substance use on your relationship, and to seek help.

Strive for good endings and beginnings to the day. Make the bedroom a sanctuary if you can, free from clutter and electronic distractions. Try not to watch the news before sleep. Take arguments to another room. Remember to say goodnight from afar when living apart.

Recognize and have compassion for symptoms of grief in yourself and your partner(s). The entire planet is grieving right now, and grief has many faces beyond sadness. Waves of irritability, loneliness, numbness, anger, apathy, all are symptoms of grief. Find ways of identifying and expressing these emotions. Support each other and tap into outside sources of help when it feels like too much to bear.

Seek help for depression and anxiety. Symptoms that impair functioning need to be addressed. You can be there for each other, but you cannot fix each other’s mental health.

Keep your dreams alive. Talk about that trip you want to make in the future. Go to Google Earth and explore another country virtually. Watch a foreign film.

Be kind. Simple rituals and acts of kindness can go a long way. Learn your love language and ask for what you need from your partner. Some of us thrive on hugs, others on acts of service or words of appreciation.

Find a shared project. Do something together that you both feel passionate about, such as creating a garden, learning a new skill, volunteering or training a puppy. (Good luck finding a puppy…)

Have the courage to work on or walk away from an unhealthy relationship. Not all partnerships will survive Covid. It may be better for both parties to separate than to cling together unhappily. If pre-existing issues have escalated to the point of unbearable tensions or violence, this may be the time to get out or seek help.

There are many other ways of strengthening intimate relationships during these crazy times. I would love to hear more about what is working for you and your partner.

Covid-Proofing your Relationship

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

Relationships can be hard hit by Covid-19, whether partners are living under the same roof 24/7, trying to stay connected long-distance across borders, or something in between. We have bizarre new things to argue about now. Whether or not to spend two hours wiping groceries down with Lysol. Managing space when more than one person is working from home, especially when there are kids and pets in the mix. Who to include in a social bubble. How to pay the rent after job loss. Whether to put off or reorganize big life events like graduations, weddings and funerals. How to celebrate holidays and stay safely connected to extended family and friends.

Many worries and multiple losses to grieve, without roadmaps for coping with uncertainty and rapid change. While facing challenges together can strengthen bonds between partners, prolonged stress can turn the fissures that exist in any relationship into chasms. I have no magic solutions to offer, but here are some simple suggestions to make your relationship more “covid-proof”:

Make time to be fully present to each other. You can spend 24/7 with someone and never actually see them. Create a ritual of connecting for at least 10 undistracted minutes. Be together in relative stillness with minimal conversation. Take notice of this person close to you. Do they seem different at all, tired or worried?  Let yourself be seen by them too. This is a powerful practice, that can be done virtually if you live apart.

Priorize getting outside every day. Especially if you are living in a high-rise and working from home. Being cooped up indoors leads to irritability and escalates disagreements. Feel the sun on your face. Go for a walk or a run. Smile at the people you pass. Take pictures of nature. Return refreshed.

Create spaces in your togetherness. The immortal words of Khalil Gibran never rang truer. A universe of two can easily become a closed system. Stay connected with individual friends and relatives. Within your living space, create zones for connecting with each other and designated areas for each person to connect with themselves. A chair and a set of headphones will do in a small apartment. Respect each other’s boundaries and individual differences in the need for alone time.

Separate work from home. This is not easily done when one partner is working at the kitchen table but try to keep work from bleeding into home life. If you work outside the home, use your commute to let go of the workday as much as possible.

Be mindful of substance use. Line-ups for liquor and marijuana stores have never been longer. Notice if you or you partner are over-using substance to numb out from stress. Are you arguing more as a result? Be willing to have uncomfortable conversations about the impact of substance use on your relationship, and to seek help.

Strive for good endings and beginnings to the day. Make the bedroom a sanctuary if you can, free from clutter and electronic distractions. Try not to watch the news before sleep. Take arguments to another room. Remember to say goodnight from afar when living apart.

Recognize and have compassion for symptoms of grief in yourself and your partner(s). The entire planet is grieving right now, and grief has many faces beyond sadness. Waves of irritability, loneliness, numbness, anger, apathy, all are symptoms of grief. Find ways of identifying and expressing these emotions. Support each other and tap into outside sources of help when it feels like too much to bear.

Seek help for depression and anxiety. Symptoms that impair functioning need to be addressed. You can be there for each other, but you cannot fix each other’s mental health.

Keep your dreams alive. Talk about that trip you want to make in the future. Go to Google Earth and explore another country virtually. Watch a foreign film.

Be kind. Simple rituals and acts of kindness can go a long way. Learn your love language and ask for what you need from your partner. Some of us thrive on hugs, others on acts of service or words of appreciation.

Find a shared project. Do something together that you both feel passionate about, such as creating a garden, learning a new skill, volunteering or training a puppy. (Good luck finding a puppy…)

Have the courage to work on or walk away from an unhealthy relationship. Not all partnerships will survive Covid. It may be better for both parties to separate than to cling together unhappily. If pre-existing issues have escalated to the point of unbearable tensions or violence, this may be the time to get out or seek help.

There are many other ways of strengthening intimate relationships during these crazy times. I would love to hear more about what is working for you and your partner.

Dancing with Words

Photo by Damir Mijailovic on Pexels.com

Dance brings me great pleasure. I love most styles of moving to music, from ballet to ballroom. I stumbled awkwardly into dancing as a teenager, but it slowly and surely became integral to my adult identity. Pre-pandemic, I danced hours each week between classes, practice and social parties. If I had only known that last tango class in March was heralding a prolonged reality of social distancing and staying close to home. I would have lingered longer, savoured it more deeply. Danced long into the evening like nobody was watching and hugged everyone in sight. The abrupt interruption felt jarring, and somewhat destabilizing.

Dance is integral to my mental health. After a day of giving to others, moving to music reconnects me to some primal source of emotional release and renewal. I try to compensate with walking or running outside, music streaming through ear buds. I have turned my yoga practice into a rhythmic flow. Yet neither activity can quite replace the whole body letting-go and letting-in experience of dance.

Dance is social. Moving to music in my living room feels hollow, even with a partner. I miss the sense of community and belonging, the expansiveness of the dance space, and the emotional and physical connection with like-minded beings. I miss learning from other dancers, and simply picking up on their energy. Life feels muted without the push and pull of Argentine Tango, the sensual expressiveness of Rumba, the graceful, nostalgic rise and fall of a stream of couples waltzing, the energizing fun of swing and jive, the childlike joy of clomping around in tap shoes, the steely grace of ballet, and the explosive synergy of a roomful of people grooving in time to live music. Dance is so very human.

The shadow side of dance is that it provides the perfect, compulsive distraction from inner work. As my withdrawal symptoms subside, the absence of social touch and rhythm is an opportunity for more “being” and exploration of deeper realms of consciousness. I can finally take the time to bring written expression to my experience.

The dance floor will still be there, I hope, when this pandemic is over. I anticipate returning with a mended shoulder and renewed appreciation and abandon. In the meantime, I will dance with words.

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