Today I want to share with you three self-compassion actions I have been taking to calm myself, reenergize my heart, and find glory in the flower and splendor in my thoughts.

Awe Walks

Have you ever taken an Awe Walk? Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of “Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life,” tells us that Awe Walks can change our lives. Dr. Keltner explains,

Awe is that complex emotion we experience when encountering something so vast that our sense of self recedes. It can be positive or negative (like the feelings that come from witnessing violence or death), but the “awe” that feels good is the type found in moments of wonder and humility. Research has shown that an Awe Walk is good for your health, it can calm your nervous system, reduce inflammation, and foster a sense of community.

Most people think that to do an Awe Walk, you must travel to a majestic site, the Grand Canyon, Lake Louise, etc. Although you can do an Awe Walk almost anywhere, Dacher Keller suggests picking a place you have never been. Stay still and silent for 20 minutes before you start walking, and make sure to turn off your phone. As you walk, take time to look around and notice the intricacies of nature, whether it’s a small buttercup or a fallen leaf. Breathe in the air, stop to listen to the sounds around you, and take in the awe. I remember one glorious day, about 15 years ago, I had the privilege of walking with Suzy Spafford, the founder of Suzy’s Zoo.  We went to walk the hills around where we lived, and she was my awe-inspiring guide. Suzy saw colors, plants, and tiny little flowers that my eyes did not. She taught me how to look and see the world through indigo and cayenne, to see the awe in little things. My daughter Shelby is a master of awe as well, and she reminds me of the beauty in the world, the stillness in the sky, and the joy of the ocean

So if you are wondering what you might do differently try a walk go awe and let me know how it goes.

Meditation

As I wrote in my book Addiction in The Family: Helping Families Navigate Challenges, Emotions, and Recovery, one of the best ways to take care of yourself is the gift of meditation and mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to sit still, be present in the moment, and not pass any judgment. This is something which, admittedly, I am not good at, at least the sitting still part. Meditation is a form of mindfulness that we can do to improve our mental health. One can meditate anywhere, anytime; you don’t have to join a club or have a membership. Meditation can help enhance your awareness, generate kindness, help with addiction recovery, improve sleep, reduce pain, redirect your thoughts, and help rewire your outlook on life. Meditation can help control your anxiety and approach the world with a better attitude.  I am not the best meditator. There are many apps that can aid you on your meditation journey, a couple that come to mind are “Calm”, and “Happy”. As for meditations available online, I have always found peace and solitude in Deepak Chopra’s “21 Days of Abundance,” which I have done many times.

Below is an easy meditation for you and one that I have found helpful for myself and the families I work with. This meditation promotes your worthiness and kindness. I want you to take time to truly appreciate the wonderful, loving, compassionate, courageous person you are.

  1. Find a comfortable, quiet, relaxed place to sit- whether on the floor or a big comfortable chair
  2. Take 3 big breaths in and gently close your eyes
  3. Take another 3 big breaths in and wrap your arms around yourself, giving yourself a hug
  4. Rub your arms and hug yourself 10 times 
  5. As you keep breathing, let go of your worries
  6. Keep breathing with long exhalations
  7. Now, for the next few minutes, I invite you to feel or imagine your breath going through the center of your heart sending you warm wishes
  8. I want you to start sending yourself positive thoughts. I want you to say aloud,  “I am worthy. I deserve health, peace, and wellness, I am at peace with myself and my world.”
  9. I want you to continue sending yourself love and light and repeating the mantra “I am worthy. I deserve health, peace, and wellness, I am at peace with myself and my world” 10 times
  10. Next, I want you to bring into your consciousness, your mind’s eye, a person that you are deeply connected to, perhaps the addict in your life.  I want you to send loving kindness to them by saying, “May you be healthy, may you be safe, may you grow.” Repeat 10 times, just as you did with your mantra.
  11. As you are doing this, you may want to also think about other people, neighbors, strangers, acquaintances, or even people you are struggling with. Expressing loving kindness is a way of healing. 
  12. During this exercise, emotions such as anger, grief, or sadness may arise. Take this as a sign that you are opening up to what’s inside. This is ultimately a good release of feelings, so do not judge yourself. 

If your eyes are shut, slowly open them and look around you. Embrace your surroundings, hug yourself, and know that you are on the way to recovery.

Tears

Tears, let’s talk about them. Are you someone who readily cries or are you like me, a person who holds their emotions in (which is not a great idea)? In the last few weeks, I have discovered the cleansing beauty of tears, so today, I thought it best to share a bit about the etiology of tears and how they can help us.  Much of this was adapted from another social worker, Leo Newhouse, LICSW. Leo is a Senior Social Worker in Neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC). In this capacity, he works with patients and families coping with life-limiting illness, aging, and loss. 

Tears in scripture play a unique role in spiritual breakthroughs. We discover that the planting of seeds, accompanied by a spirit of brokenness, will not only bring a spiritual harvest of results but will leave the sower with a spirit of rejoicing in the process.

Health benefits of crying

As a phenomenon unique to humans, crying is a natural response to various emotions, from deep sadness and grief to extreme happiness and joy.  Is crying good for your health? The answer appears to be yes. The medical benefits of crying have been acknowleged as far back as the Classical Era. Thinkers and physicians of ancient Greece and Rome posited that tears work like a purgative, draining out and purifying us. Today’s psychological thought largely concurs, emphasizing the role of crying to release stress and emotional pain.

Crying is a necessary safety valve, mainly because keeping complicated feelings inside — what psychologists call repressive coping — can be bad for our health. Studies have linked repressive coping with a less resilient immune system, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension, as well as with mental health conditions, including stress, anxiety, and depression. Crying has also been shown to increase attachment behavior, encouraging closeness, empathy, and support from friends and family.

Not all tears are created equal

Scientists divide the liquid product of crying into three distinct categories: reflex tears, continuous tears, and emotional tears. The first two categories perform the vital function of removing debris, such as smoke and dust, from our eyes and lubricating our eyes to help protect them from infection. The content of these tears is 98% water.

The third category, emotional tears (which flush stress hormones and other toxins out of our system), potentially offers the most health benefits. Researchers have established that crying releases oxytocin and endogenous opioids, also known as endorphins. These feel-good chemicals help ease both physical and emotional pain. Popular culture, for its part, has always known the value of a good cry to feel better — and maybe even to experience physical pleasure. The millions of people who watched classic tearjerker films such as West Side Story or Titanic (among others) will likely attest to that fact.

Rethinking crying in boys and men

“I know a man ain’t supposed to cry,” goes the lyric of a popular song, “but these tears I can’t hold inside.” These words succinctly summarize many a man’s dilemma about emotional expression. From early on, boys are told that real men do not cry. When these boys grow up, they may stuff their feelings deep inside and withdraw emotionally from their loved ones, self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, or even become suicidal. Many men therefore, need to learn how to reconnect with their emotions. Back in the 1990s, the poet Robert Bly led men’s seminars at which he taught the participants how to get in touch with their long-buried feelings of sadness and loss and to weep openly if needed. However, such education should begin early on, at home and/or at school, where boys feel safe to talk to adults about complicated feelings.

Crying during COVID or in a natural disaster

As of this writing, the nation has registered over 500,000 deaths from COVID-19, and the human loss from natural disasters and war are far more The collective grief over these losses can only be described as staggering. It is no surprise, then, that at times like these, our feelings are closer to the surface and many people who were not previously prone to crying find themselves tearing up more quickly. As one medical professional put it, showing emotion in public may have become a new normal.

When are tears a problem?

There are times when crying can be a sign of a problem, especially if it happens very frequently and/or for no apparent reason, is uncontrollable, or when crying starts to negatively affect daily activities.  I once had a client where the mother cried uncontrollably over her young adult son, who repeatedly got into trouble for substance abuse and other nefarious things. The mother cried so hard that her eyes would close shut, and she needed the help of an opthomologist to open her eyes. Yes, she needed help to learn to keep her eyes open so she could change her behavior, as many of her actions were counterproductive, some could even say enabling. As she engaged in therapy and new behaviors, she learned that tears were necessary and healing in an appropriate setting.

Conversely, people suffering from certain kinds of clinical depression may actually not be able to cry, even when they feel like it. In any of these situations, seeing a medical professional who can help diagnose the problem and suggest appropriate treatment would be best.

Takeaways

As challenging as it may be, the best way to handle complicated feelings, including sadness and grief, is to embrace them. It is essential to allow yourself to cry if you feel like it. Make sure to take the time and find a safe space to cry if needed. Many people associate crying during grief with depression, when instead it can actually be a sign of healing. Teaching boys and young men that it’s okay to cry may reduce negative health behaviors and help them have fuller lives. It is always great to see a Licensed Professional if you have questions 

Let me know, how YOU view tears? How do you experience tears?

Enchantment

Lastly, I wish all of you the ability to experience the mystery and awe of enchantment. Wherever you go, wherever you are, may you cast a magical, mystical spell that brings you awe, wonderment, quiet introspection, and perhaps a few tears, and joy.