Holidays and Traffic Signs

 
Holidays and Traffic Signs
 

Holidays and Traffic Signs

Several people have shared with me in the last twenty-four hours that they are already stressing about the holidays. One person said they wished they could wake up tomorrow and it would be January 1st and the holidays would be behind them. The holidays can indeed be a stressful time, and so a little psychological and spiritual preparation can go a long way to making them a more pleasant experience.  

I have made several roads trips recently for work, and I have found some wisdom that might help with holiday stress in a rather unlikely source—road construction signs. My favorite one so far is, “Stay alert! Traffic pattern changed ahead.” True to the sign, the lanes on the interstate had shifted due to construction, and because it was a road I drive frequently, the sign was helpful in alerting me to the changed conditions.  

This sign is excellent advice for the holidays, a time when we are faced with the reality that the patterns in our families may have naturally and predictably shifted over time. Grief and loss are not uncommon during the holidays as we can’t help but realize that things are different than they used to be. Previous patterns around the holidays have changed, and the old familiar roads look different now. 

Another sign I saw was, “Major delays ahead—Alternate Routes Suggested.” Sometimes we just need to be flexible and be open to taking a different route. If we have young children, or even a teenager, in the family we will have to do things differently than we did a few years ago. We will have to adjust accordingly, taking “a new route” to help everyone have fun and enjoy being together. 

“Construction traffic may be entering ahead, be ready to yield,” is another sign I saw that can be helpful wisdom for the holidays. The ability to be flexible and to be able to yield will always serve us well, but especially so this time of year. And something that will help us to be able to yield is the advice seen when approaching any road construction area—“Slow down.” I am convinced that one of the reasons we speed our lives up this time of year, sometimes to the point of exhaustion, is because we are doing so to speed through or around whatever grief, sadness, or uncomfortable feelings we might be experiencing.  

A road sign that is always a welcome sight for our tired eyes is the one that tells us there is a rest area or oasis a few miles ahead. We are wise to not only slow down during the holidays, but actually create time and space to stop, breathe, pray, meditate, and recharge on a regular basis. 

A little preparation will always make a road trip more enjoyable, and the same is true for the holiday season. Doing so means we will have a much better chance of adjusting to any changes we may encounter so that we are more able to enjoy this most special time of year. 


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What Is, Is Change

 
What Is, Is Change
 

What Is, Is Change 

The title for this column is from a quote by writer and naturalist Edwin Way Teale seen above. It is worth noting that the last part of Teale’s quote, “What was, is not, and never again will be; what is, is change,” was written soon after his son died serving in World War II. After his death, Teale and his wife Nellie traveled over 75,000 miles by automobile between 1945 and 1966 to observe and chronicle the changing of the seasons all across America. He is best known for his series of books entitled “The American Seasons,” and won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction in 1966.  

There is a tension in autumn between the beauty we observe and the tinge of anxiety we feel that things are changing rapidly, that indeed time is speeding up. The leaves that were still green just a week ago are brilliant reds and yellows today. The leaves that were a mix of vibrant reds and yellows last week are gone today. Autumn reminds us that change is the norm in life, but it also reminds us of the beauty that can be experienced in the midst of change. We have numerous opportunities this time of year to practice living and being in the present moment. Yet the changing seasons remind us that our own lives are marked by seasons of change as well. 

Nothing affects our emotional, spiritual, and relational wellness more than how well we negotiate significant changes. As a therapist, I have over the years had the honor of working with many people who were or are in the midst of a profound change. One thing I have found that is beneficial for them is to be able to affirm and hold on to the things in their lives that they see as not changing. I always ask, “What can you affirm and hold on to as changeless in the midst of the many changes you are now experiencing?” Each person answers differently, but the most common responses are such things as love, God, their soul, and their core beliefs and values.  

Autumn reveals how suddenly the world around us can change, and yet at the same time, it shows the incredible beauty that exists for us to behold in the moment. It is so easy for us to miss this beauty though if we instead spend our energies worrying about what is to come. Just yesterday I was commenting to someone about how beautiful the colors were this year, and all they could say was, “I dread seeing the leaves turn because I know soon I’ll be cursing the winter snow and cold that is coming.” It’s a challenge for all of us to find and celebrate the moments of beauty that are right in front of us, even though we are keenly aware that they will not last forever.  

As the leaves rapidly drop from the trees, time indeed seems “speeded up.” Autumn is just about over. Before it is through though, be sure to pause and enjoy both its beauty and some of the life lessons it can teach us. 


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The Tree of Life is Always Rooted in Love

 
The Tree of Life is Always Rooted in Love
 

The Tree of Life is Always Rooted in Love 

   I have been writing this weekly column for a little more than ten years, and if you have been reading it that long you know that I have written many columns about how I believe, with all of my heart, that the power of love is stronger than the power of fear and hate. There are, of course, times when it seems like that is not the case, such as when another terrible act of hate causes unspeakable horror in our personal lives, our communities, or our nation. I suppose the reason I have written so many columns about this topic is that I know how easy it is to become overwhelmed by the number of hateful incidents happening in our world today. Unfortunately, such is the case once again, as demonstrated by the ugly hatred that led to the murdering of eleven worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh this past week. 

   Prejudice and hatred always come from a place of fear and weakness, though on the surface acts of prejudice and hate may wear the disguise of strength. Real strength is always grounded in love and comes from a place of recognizing that we all truly need each other to thrive and that there are no "others" to demonize or project our fears upon.  

   So in response to the latest expression of hatred that occurred in Pittsburgh this week, how do we show the world that love is stronger than hate? How do we show up and respond? In all the little choices we make each day.

    One way love showed up this week was in countless interfaith gatherings that occurred all across the country. At these gatherings, people came together to affirm their common humanity, and their love and support for the Jewish community as it laments yet another horrific act of antisemitism.  

   I was honored to attend one such gathering at Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid, a synagogue near where I live in Milwaukee, WI. I was joined by 1,800 other people from every religious, racial, and political background. We held hands, sang songs, read psalms, and listened to words of lament and hope from several rabbis and other clergy.  That night, in that gathering, as well as in so many other gatherings like it across the country, love was indeed stronger than fear and hate.
   

   There is a great deal of fear in our world right now. How will each of us respond? Will we isolate ourselves and allow fear to guide our actions, or will we redouble our efforts to sow seeds of love and healing in all of our encounters with others? 

   Fear and hate are contagious, but so are love and healing. We get to choose, in the big and small decisions we each make every day, what we will both take in and what we will spread out. I know that I need to not give into the despair of, "What is happening in our world right now?" and remember that the world isn't something that just happens around us, but is something we actively participate in co-creating together.

   I know that I, and maybe you, too, need to always stay focused on remembering that in every aspect of our lives, our friendships, our families, our communities, and our nation, that the tree of life is always rooted in love, and that we need to stay committed to watering that tree in every way that we can. 
     


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Hallowed Be...

 
Hallowed Be...
 

Hallowed Be...  

When it comes to words, I'm a bit of a nerd, and I love to study their origins to more fully understand their meaning. This next week the word that will be on many peoples' minds is Halloween, and in case you don't know, that word has a fascinating origin. All Saints Day, which is celebrated by many churches on November 1, was originally known as All Hallows Day. This day is set aside as an annual celebration of the saints who have gone on before us and whose lives are worthy of admiration and emulation. The evening before All Hallows Day became known as All Hallows Eve and over time All Hallows Eve morphed into our modern name for this day, Halloween.
 
      Continuing with my fascination with words, I must note that I love the word hallow even though it is not a word that currently gets much use. Exceptions are when someone talks about the "hallowed halls" of a particular institution, most often a beloved university or school, or when someone talks about sacred ground, such as a cemetery or battlefield. For Christians, it is a familiar word because it is part of the Lord's Prayer, in the line, "Hallowed be your name."
 
   The word hallowed, from which the word Halloween is derived, means holy or sacred. When we refer to something as hallowed, we are saying that it has special, often spiritual, significance for us. So with all the attention to Halloween this week, perhaps it is an excellent time to pause and reflect on what is hallowed or holy in our lives.
 
   In our Living Compass wellness programs, we invite people to pause and reflect on what is most important in their lives, or how they would define their true north. We remind them that there are many compasses that are competing to guide our lives, including the compasses of our popular culture, the values of our families of origin, of our friends, our work, and our spirituality. To make our spirituality and our values our primary compass means to identify what we believe to be most holy, most hallowed, and then to align the decisions we make in our lives with those values and beliefs.

   I hope you all have a "Happy All Hallows Eve" this week. I look forward to celebrating with my family, especially with my grandchildren, because not only is it lots of fun, but enjoying time with my family is hallowed time for me. 


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Plays Well With Others

 
Plays Well With Others
 

Plays Well With Others   

Luxury Liner was the first Emmylou Harris album I ever bought, and that was forty-one years ago. I  played it so much over the years that I nearly wore it out and have been a huge fan ever since. Not until just this week, however, did I have the privilege to see her in concert and was even fortunate to have the chance to meet and speak with her after the show. This opportunity to see her in person did not disappoint. Her concert and my interaction with her were soulful, authentic, and uplifting, just as I have always experienced her music.

    Over the last few weeks, as I would mention to people that I was going to be attending her upcoming show, they often commented that they knew who she was but couldn't name any of her "hit songs." Even though she has won fourteen Grammys, and just this year received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement award, she did not stand out as a big celebrity or musical star in peoples' memories.

    Some of my friends asked me why I had remained such a devoted fan for four decades. My response was that I find her music to have great depth, authenticity, and soulfulness. In addition, one of the things I love about Emmylou Harris is that she is such an outstanding collaborator. She has recorded and performed with over a hundred other notable artists including, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Bill Monroe, Alison Kraus, Linda Ronstadt, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Lucinda Williams, Tracy Chapman, Gram Parsons, John Prine, Guy Clark, Neil Young, Mark Knoplfer, The Band, and Bob Dylan . A talented songwriter herself, throughout her career she has also discovered and supported a multitude of other songwriters and musicians.

   In a world that often overvalues the role of the individual star or talent, I find Emmylou to be a refreshing alternative. She has embodied the truth captured in the African proverb, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." A "one-hit wonder" might be able to create a splash with a top-selling hit song and have short-lived fame, but an artist like Emmylou Harris, on the other hand, has the ability to perform at a high level over a long period of time.  She has lasted in the music industry over fifty years due to both her individual talent and her gift of collaborating with so many others, across a wide variety of music genres.  

    To be a good collaborator, you need specific skills. You must be a good communicator, be willing to bring people from different walks of life together and celebrate their unique strengths, be prepared to compromise, be tolerant and accepting of others, be able to work well with others and conduct yourself in a way that adds value to the whole. You must be able to value the ability sing harmony as much as you value the ability to sing lead. Emmylou must have these skills and traits to be the collaborator she is, and I admire that in her as much as I admire her music. 

    This is a wellness column, and so what's the connection to wellness in all of this? When I reflect on my description of Ms. Harris, it seems to me like the perfect description of a well-lived life: depth, authenticity, soulfulness, and the ability to collaborate well with others. These traits, while perhaps not assisting us in being able to travel fast, will definitely help us to travel far.  


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