Wabi-Sabi + Kintsugi = Resilience

G'Tis the season....for Wabi-Sabi. For those of you who aren't familiar with this term, it is a Japanese aesthetic honoring and celebrating the beauty of imperfection. Wow, what an amazing reframing of our obsession with perfection, especially during the holiday season!

I have written about the concept of wabi-sabi on this blog and you may want to read some of the archived posts. I recently came across another wonderful  Japanese term, related to the essence of wabi-sabi called kintsugi ("golden joinery").

Kintsugi is the centuries-old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with a special lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. Instead of discarding treasures when they become broken, they are repaired with jewel-like metal; acknowledging, with visibility, that while they may have once been broken they are now strengthened, and more valuable because of their repair. What a message of resilience not just for pottery but for ourselves. Repairing with gold the scars of a life well-lived as a indication of resilience is a metaphor that I can wholeheartedly embrace.

Will you join me this holiday season in using the gold and silver glittering decorations as reminders to engage in the practice wabi-sabi and kintsugi? Let's celebrate the beauty of imperfection and acknowledge the strength and courage of repairing adversity with gold.

Happy Holidays...wishing you a month of celebrating wabi-sabi and kintsugi

Mindful Moments Challenge

"Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans."~ John Lennon

snowflake-cookies.jpg On the eve of a new year, it seems especially timely to reflect and consider the wild ride we are on together called life.  Mindfulness teaches us that it is the moments, sometimes hidden within the busyness, that give our life richness and meaning. Often we project into the future, as in "when (fill in the blank) happens, then I will be happy", and new year's resolutions can push us toward this way of future thinking by negating the present moment.  Consider making 2014 a year of mindful moments, continuing to have overarching goals, but also honoring the present moment by noticing it as it unfolds; and not observing your life in the rear view mirror or as a mirage on the distant horizon.

As a way of embracing this rather radical idea of mindfulness, I invite you to join me during the month of January in a Mindful Moments Challenge: Let's work together and help each other in learning to slow down to the speed of life in the new year. Beginning tomorrow, January 1,  I encourage you to join me in capturing a mindful moment in a word, poem, photograph, drawing, description, etc. Let your imagination take flight! You can post your mindful moments in the comment section of this blog.  I hope it will serve as inspiration and will be interesting to see what others notice and share. Remember to look for those small, seemingly inconsequential moments that are really the essence of our life.

Happy new year and may this year bring many mindful moments your way,

Feeling a Little Stressed?

Feeling a little stressed? We are constantly dealing with a myriad of stressors, both external and internal, in our lives. Throw on top of these "normal" stressors the added stress of caregiving and we are often pushed over the edge from coping to crisis. Do you want to learn some simple to implement tools of relaxation and mindfulness into your life to create moments of calm in your busyness? 

I will be presenting one of my most popular workshops: Creating Calm Within Crisis on Tuesday, November 12 at Chestnut Park in Brighton, MA -- this workshop is free and open to professional and family caregivers.  Join me for refreshments and networking beginning at 5:00 PM.

 Please register with Dorothy Garfield at 617-536-1700. Hope to see you on November 12.

Starting the Day

How does technology mesh with mindfulness, or should I say is it possible to find some connection between the two? Yes, I do believe it is possible, but it must be deliberate use of technology. One of my favorite ways to connect technology with mindfulness is a daily practice I started several years ago. My very first email I open each day is one from Panhala (meaning "source of fresh water" in Hindi). Each day I spend a few moments of awareness with a new poem that speaks to mindfulness, compassion, life. Panhala is a free yahoo group, open to anyone who would like these moments of contemplation delivered to their inbox every day. Today's poem was especially appropriate:

life is a garden,
not a road

we enter and exit 
through the same gate

where we go matters less 
than what we notice


Keep Calm and Carry On

Keep Calm and Carry On...have you been noticing that ubiquitous phrase and simple poster as much as I have lately? It seems to be everywhere! It has morphed into all forms of iterations as evidenced on Pinterest boards and Esty.com.  I was curious about where this saying came from and was surprised to learn that it first appeared in war torn England during the devastation of World War II as one of three propaganda posters that were distributed and hung in prominent public places. In fact it was meant to build resiliency among the people who had lost so much and were starting to rebuild their lives from the rubble. 

Throughout our lives, we will rebuild and reconstruct our lives through transitions, changes, joys and sorrows. Perhaps this simple phrase on the red and white poster can instill within us the same sense of resiliency as it did more than half a century ago. May we all...Keep Calm and Carry On

Great video of the history of the WWII poster: Keep Calm and Carry On

Sustainable Resilience

Sustainable resilience...I love the concept of being able to bounce back from challenges and adversity time and time again. But often it is the little things that wear away our resilience, like water wears away stone: the traffic jam on the way to work, the parking space that disappears before our eyes, running late and realizing that you left your phone on the kitchen counter, etc etc. Slowly, invisibly wearing us down drop by drop. One way to help ourselves create a more sustainable resilience is to cultivate mindful moments amidst the trials and tribulations. And so it was for me today...finding incredible beauty on my long walk from a very remote parking space at UMass Boston. These photos were taken on the UMass Boston campus near the Massachusetts Archives Building, sights I never would have seen if I had snagged that first close parking spot.

Season of Kindness

With the uber excess of the holiday season, it is easy to forget the gift that we each already possess, is renewable and transferable, doesn't need to be wrapped, always fits and doesn't cost a dime...the gift of kindness and compassion.  In the Buddhist tradition, this quality of loving kindness or compassion is called metta and is meant to be cultivated and nurtured both in ourselves and extended outward to include all living beings in the world. Self compassion is often the most difficult to nurture, but essential to be able to acknowledge and share your metta with the others.  During this season of giving, why not  save yourself a trip to the mall and consider giving the gift of kindness, compassion and presence?

by Naomi Shahib Nye 

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and 

purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

Happy New Year...What Are Your Priorities This Year?

"Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes...how do measure, measure a year?", asks the opening song from the musical Rent.  Our new year's resolutions often focus on beginning a new year with better time managment skills, more effective prioritization of tasks and in general being more organized with our time.  Does this sound familiar?  If so, I invite you, at this beginning of a brand new year, to take a breath...and then read an email I received today from a colleague at University of Massachusetts/Boston.  It made me stop in my tracks and simply smile at the profound wisdom of a six-year-old:
"Here is a suggestion from my six-year-old daughter on how to start your TO DO list. Two of days ago, I wanted to teach her how to make a plan for the day so I asked her to bring me a notepad to write down what we would like to accomplish. She jumped quickly and brought a note that said “LOVE” and without even waiting for me to ask her anything, she said: “Mommy, I wrote the first item on the agenda” grinning from happiness. “Isn’t LOVE the most important anyway?”, she added.
As I watched her in awe, I noticed a change in my state of mind. “Yes, dear child, LOVE is the most important”, I said to her and thought to myself … “even if nothing else gets accomplished for the day but we share LOVE with each other the day would be quite successful”. We made a schedule for the day and moved on. Every time we were in disagreement we reminded each other “What was the first item on our Agenda?”
Put LOVE first in your daily/weekly/yearly TO DO list and simply enjoy the benefits it will bring to your life."
What incredible insight and what a good suggestion for the first item on the inevitable TO DO list(s) in our lives!  How will you measure your precious five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes this year? How about in LOVE.

Wishing you LOVE in the new year,

Happy Wabi-Sabi Thanksgiving

In the November Stress Resources Newsletter, I contrasted the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi-Sabi, the beauty of imperfection, to our westernized view of perfection (think Hallmark card, Norman Rockwell illustration, Martha Stewart anything) continually fueling our stress levels during the holiday season. I asked readers to send in their version of what a wabi-sabi holiday in their home looks like. Thanks to my sister, Hilary Katz Gould, from Huntsville, Alabama, for sending along her thoughts....have a wabi-sabi day, little sis.

Wabi-sabi Thanksgiving table at the Gould's

The pumpkin pie will have a crack in the middle, and the crust will not be flaky or gourmet. It will be made by Sam, and her middle school recipe from 7th grade. Store bought crust and easy canned ingredients. It will be tasty though, and we will only have a few more years of Sam's pumpkin pie to enjoy before college sweeps her away.

Daniela's cranberry sauce will consist of a bag of berries, and a cup of sugar, maybe some orange zest... if we happen to have oranges around. It will end up cooling in what ever bowl is around at the time. May even end up in a plastic cup, if that is the easiest for her 11 year old hands to work with.

Derrick's turkey will be stuffed with a loaf of ripped up white bread with paprika, mushrooms and some chopped onions. His mother's recipe from her Hungarian mother.

None of these dishes will be beautiful, or gourmet, or color coordinated. But, years from now, the picture of the imperfection, or wabi-sabi table will bring back wonderful memories of our family Thanksgiving.

Wishing you all a wabi-sabi Thanksgiving...filled with mindful moments and gratitude.

Technology and Resilence

When friends and colleagues hear that I teach mindfulness and resiliency skills AND that I am actively engaged in social media in health care, they often scratch their heads in confusion. Mindfulness and building resiliency are thought to be at odds with our increasingly 24/7 digital society. Let me say, I agree. But resiliency is the ability to bounce back from adversity, and often requires creative solutions to do so. While I see challenges of over saturation with information and a frantic pace of living associated with 24/7 technology, I also see wonderful opportunities for increased connection, communication, as well as decreased isolation especially by vulnerable members of our society. One of the manifestations of increased technology is its ability to narrow the divide between those with chronic illness and those without. Helping to normalize interactions and social connection in ways that were once unimaginable are now possible for the cost of an iPad...and that is resilience!

Click here to read the NY Times article that inspired me to write this post. I would love to hear your thoughts and welcome your comments.

The Many Faces of Reslience

We often think of resilience when we are faced with a diagnosis of a life threatening disease, or perhaps when a natural disaster shakes us to our very core. This is when we hear the term "resilience" used most often by ourselves and the news media. But what about the faces of resilience during these bleak economic times -- the faces of your neighbors and friends who are not facing a devastating diagnosis or an instantaneous natural disaster, but the bleak economic outlook, family stresses or just surviving in tough times? Do you see resilience? That is why I found the article in the Boston Globe entitled: Resilience in Bleak Times so compelling. Look into the eyes of a resilient person and you will find someone who finds and maintains connection to self and to the outside world and finds meaning in giving back while moving forward. What does resilience mean to you?

Stress Reduction on a Parking Ticket?

I did a double take when I heard this story on the news today: the city of Cambridge MA has new parking violation tickets with yoga poses printed on the reverse side. Stress-producing to receive a ticket but stress-relieving to do the yoga poses after receiving a ticket? I will be interested to follow this story and hear reactions as people start receiving the yoga parking tickets. If you are one of the "lucky" ticket holders, please comment on this blog. Click here to read the story.

Season of Change

As the season of commencement, a time of change and new beginnings is upon us, this poem by Rainer Maria Rilke struck me as a quiet breath of wisdom into the stress of changes in our lives.

The Sonnets to Orpheus, Part Two, XII

Want the change. Be inspired by the flame
where everything shines as it disappears.
The artist, when sketching, loves nothing so much
as the curve of the body as it turns away.

What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to be gray and numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered.

Pour yourself out like a fountain.
Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
finishes often at the start, and, with ending, begins.

Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive. And Daphne, becoming a laurel,
dares you to become the wind.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke ~

Healing Music in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

Sometimes healing comes through low-tech interventions in high-tech medical environments. That thought resonated with me when I came across an article in the McAllen Chronicle, describing the work of Dr. Anatoliy Ilizarov, the medical director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Mission Regional Medical Center in Mission, Texas. As you can imagine, stress is rampant in a NICU, for staff, families and the tiny, fragile patients. Dr. Ilizarov, a trained classical pianist, began streaming music into the NICU to help reduce stress, and discovered that the premature infants began to gain weight faster, and began to feed earlier. Staff and families felt more relaxed as well. Dr. Ilizarov theorizes that the beat of the music, between 60-80 beats per minute, mimics the mother's heartbeat while the infant is in the womb. I was struck by the simple beauty of this intervention, a doctor who is a pianist using his gifts of art and science to heal gently. Good work, Dr. Ilizarov!

Stress So Bad It Hurts

An article caught my eye in today's Wall Street Journal..."Stress So Bad It Hurts -- Really" by Melinda Beck. The article presents a patient's perspective on being told that chronic physical pain is caused by stress and it is "all in your head". Without further explanation, the patient feels indignant and angry that the health care provider does not believe their pain is "real". The medical community is slowly becoming more comfortable with the notion that psychological stress can exacerbate and even produce physical pain in individuals. Yet, we currently do not have a health care system that is set up to be multidisciplinary in response to chronic pain. There are initiatives going on around the country that begin to address multidisciplinary ways of dealing with complex pain issues. I am currently involved in graduate work at Tufts University School of Medicine's Pain Research, Education and Policy Program, the only one of its kind in the United States. As an initiative to share information and dialogue about pain management, we have started a blog (http://www.go.tufts.edu/pain) on the complex subject of pain research, education and policy and would welcome your voice. I hope that as President Obama considers health care reform, we as health care providers and consumers take on a vocal role of advocating for a multidisciplinary approach to true "health" care and not procedure oriented "illness" care. Only when we begin to acknowledge the innate connection between the body, mind and spirit will we truly begin to understand the complexities of the human body.

I would love to hear your thoughts!