Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Walking The Path

I have recently become an “empty nester.” My daughter moved to an apartment close to her college in Chicago – close enough for easy visiting but far enough to not be at home. My feelings about this are mixed. I feel loss and sadness that she is not in my everyday life, while at the same time excitement and anticipation of the freedom that being an empty nester implies. What will I do with my extra time? What is important to me? My first answer is “Finish The Book” – how long have I been working on this now? I’m not sure what comes after that.

Life gives us many opportunities for growth and change. With those opportunities comes finding our answers. Luna Sung, a master’s level practicum student from Northwestern University has written an article on one way to find our answers, “Walking the Path”. I hope it inspires you to seek out a quiet meditative way to find the answers to the questions in your life.

Amy Grabowski
Walking the Path

Have you ever walked through a labyrinth? I wasn’t quite sure myself what it was about until a month ago, when I had the opportunity to attend a training at a wellness center. In addition to the more “typical” and expected offerings (i.e., complementary therapy and meditation rooms, spa facilities, manmade waterfalls, bamboo gardens, gluten-free cookies), there was also a large outdoor labyrinth for guests to use during their stay. Sitting on a bench before it, I noted how visually soothing it was – curved paths of neutral-hued stones arranged in a harmonious circular shape. The sun was going down on a long, hot day and the trees were beginning to darken against the sky; all was quiet but for the evening hum of cicadas.

Though initially skeptical (a bit New Age-y for me?), I nevertheless felt drawn to this ancient symbol and meditation tool. It
looked mysterious and powerful, somehow, as if it might hold a secret or an answer. I had been struggling with a personal issue that seemed to have no resolution no matter how many times I turned it over in my mind. So it was with a curious but (admittedly) facetious attitude that I began this walk. What did I have to lose? Perhaps the ground would open up and this magical labyrinth would provide me with some much-needed guidance.

A labyrinth isn’t complicated in design – at least, this one wasn’t. There was one entrance, one exit, and the only task was to walk the path. I purposely did not look around me or try to guess where the path was leading; I focused on my breath and tried to stay as present and aware as possible. Normally a fast walker, I deliberately took slow, careful steps. I noticed the thoughts that almost immediately came up – and there were many – “what ifs,” “shoulds,” and feelings of doubt, guilt, fear, self-judgment, and confusion as I wondered for the 400th time what I should do.

But as I continued placing one foot in front of the other, I gradually began to notice the pleasure of silence (well, except for those cicadas) and solitude. I actually enjoyed moving slowly and concentrating on nothing but taking steps. I looked down and saw how pretty the rocks were in their infinite variety – not neutral at all, but some gray, pink, orange, burnt umber, ivory, white, yellow, and all shapes and sizes. I looked around and appreciated the chance to see and breathe in the magnificent woods. And while a labyrinth is perhaps an obvious metaphor for life’s journey, I was surprised by how suddenly it struck me as such. I started reflecting more deeply upon the last few years – my educational journey, which brought me to The Awakening Center, and my journey toward personal growth – to a greater understanding of heart and mind. It sounds trite on paper, doesn’t it? But the act of walking the path and focusing on the present moment more fully showed me that I had nowhere to go, nowhere to be, but exactly where I was. I suppose I could have cheated and stepped over those boundaries of stones, but even then, would I have found the exit so easily? (Not with my sense of direction, I’m afraid.)

During my week of training at the wellness center, I stayed at a small inn that provided shuttle service around the area. I became friendly with the driver, who casually said something I found very wise: “You’ve gotta get lost before you can find what you’re looking for.” And it seemed that the meandering path of the labyrinth was a pretty evocative metaphor for the desires, conflicts, and longing for answers that we all experience at some point. Life is not linear, after all; I cannot foresee the future, and I can only plan so much. We’re familiar with that John Lennon lyric:
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. And yet the path does lead to a definite place. As my thoughts became less gripped by anxiety and fear, I noticed that the rocks on the ground suddenly seemed to be larger, more colorful. The cicadas were growing louder. Was it always so, and I just hadn’t noticed? And then suddenly, without any warning at all, I had come to the center of the labyrinth. At the center was a large stone, upon which other “travelers” had placed smaller stones, almost like markers, or perhaps they were wishes. I placed my own stone on top. And then there was nothing more to do but slowly find my way back out.

Luna Sung

Luna leads the GO! Generating Opportunities for Successful Employment group on Tuesday afternoons at The Awakening Center. This group is for those who are job hunting and who want a supportive group setting to stay motivated. Call Luna at (773) 929-6262 x12 for more info.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Getting Lost & Getting Found

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “When Life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Sometimes it’s hard to find the positive in negative situations. It’s perfectly normal to want to sit back and sulk about our plight! But that doesn’t mean that Life won’t dish out any more lemons to us. Oh no! Sometimes it’s when we are sitting there sulking that Life decides to teach us another lesson!

Kira Redig, an intern from The Adler School, wrote a blog article about getting lost and finding her self in the process. Hope it helps you to “make lemonade” just one more time!

Amy Grabowski

Getting Lost & Getting Found

The other day as I was walking home, I took a wrong turn and got lost. After a minor panic I kept walking the direction I felt I needed to go, and eventually made it home, discovering a delicious bakery along the way. As I walked up my street, finishing the cookie I had bought, I started to think about the benefits that come from getting lost.

Life throws us some difficult curves, and at other times we intentionally step off the clear path to see what else is out there. Both of these can suddenly leave one feeling overwhelmed, scared, unsure, and well, lost. It is at this point you can become overwhelmed with panic and stay right where you are, or you can push though the panic and walk in the direction you feel is right, possibly asking for directions along the way.
Moving ahead when you don’t know where you are going can seem daunting, but it is amazing what you find out about yourself along the way. It is when we really don’t know what to do, or where to go that we are open to trying a new way. It is also when we really focus on our surroundings. Just as a stumbled upon a bakery during my walk, many of my life changing opportunities have presented themselves just after I have been at my lowest, most lost, moments.

Being lost forces us to try things outside of our comfortable routine. It expands our knowledge of our abilities, and ourselves, as we try to find our way. It offers lows and highs, and the heightened experience that comes with the unknown. Over all, being lost presents us with opportunities we probably wouldn’t have recognize or tried as we followed our set path of life.

For me, there is nothing more satisfying than finding my way home after being lost. I feel proud of myself for pushing through the fear and figuring out my way. I learn from the wrong turns and the gifts of experience they have presented me along the way. With all theses opportunities for growth it seems maybe we shouldn’t be so afraid of getting lost, but push ourselves to do so more often. Maybe its is like Justina Chen Headly says in her book North of Beautiful, “getting lost is just another way of saying going exploring”.
Kira Redig
Kira is a master’s level practicum intern from The Adler School of Professional Psychology. She currently leads an Art Therapy group on Thursday evenings. If you would like to learn more about the group or Art Therapy in general, please call her at (773) 929-6262 x13.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Summer is a hectic time for many of us. We try to cram a lot of activities into our limited supply of summer weekends – I am writing this early Sunday morning after having driven my son back to ISU in Normal IL yesterday, and my daughter hosted a party on Friday night. Today is an Anniversary Party for a cousin and a family reunion picnic, plus getting ready for a day of meetings at work tomorrow.

Katie Anson wrote a blog article about the emotional, physical and social importance of self-care, specifically the need for getting sufficient sleep. I hope you are inspired to squeeze self-care into every day.

Amy Grabowski

I am big on self-care. Historically, I never made time for myself. I was always busy, doing a lot of things that I enjoyed, but many things that I did not, and I wasn’t taking great care of myself. I wasn’t listening to what I wanted emotionally or what my body craved physically. I wasn’t doing things that would make me genuinely happy. To me, self-care was selfish and indulgent.

This perspective held for many years, but as I explored and experienced more, and became surer of my true self, I reframed what I formerly called selfishness as self-care. And the more I practiced self-care, the less selfish and better I felt.

In my mind, self-care can take many forms. Sometimes I treat myself to a splurge when shopping. I do my best to go to yoga on a weekly basis. Occasionally I’ll forego a social activity to relax and spend some time with myself at home. I like to treat myself to morning lattes.

Sleep is an essential aspect of self-care for me. It’s always a battle in the summer - the sun sets later and there seem to be so many activities going on during the day and night, which don’t promote a full night’s rest. I’m reminded of the “sleep when you die” quote, of which I’ve never been a fan. For me, lack of sleep leads to numerous emotional, physical and social side effects that negatively impact my life. For instance, my overall outlook on life is more negative the day after I barely sleep. I’m grumpier and my patience decreases, meaning I’m terse at work and complain more. I’m not as friendly or outgoing and I just feel crappy. I will actually get a sore throat the day after I don’t get sufficient sleep - my body’s way of telling me I’m not giving it enough rest. In order to avoid all of these negative effects, I’ve learned to prioritize, plan and say “No.”

Getting enough sleep is still a work in progress and there are still days, and even weeks, where I feel overwhelmed and wonder if I will ever feel well rested. Luckily, I’m able to recognize that when I feel this way, I simply need to realign my priorities and make myself the main focus.
Taking good care of yourself can be challenging, and with all of the roles we balance in a single day, it’s easy to forget about yourself and fulfilling your own needs. Think about the things that make you happy and then make yourself a priority by scheduling some self-care.

Katie Anson, MA, LPC
Katie is bilingual (Spanish/English) and sees clients for individual therapy at The Awakening Center. She can be reached at (773) 929-6262 x23.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Please Like Me!

Please Like Me!

Have you ever had a date with someone where all you could think of during the date was, “I hope he thinks I'm pretty”, “What if what I order is too expensive”, “I hope that impresses him.” Your mind is racing like a mouse on a wheel with thoughts of what he thinks about you and if he liked you. And he never even asked you anything about yourself! It never crosses your mind to ask, “Do I like him?” You come home from the date after having eaten a steak dinner (and you hate steak) and seeing a movie you hated (it was violent) and you feel exhausted, tired and depressed and didn't enjoy it at all and just want to crawl into bed? Welcome to the draining world of people pleasing!

Do any of these apply to you?
It is difficult for me to say No.
I avoid speaking my mind.
I try really hard to be who someone wants me to be.
I find it much easier to go along with what someone else wants, rather than rock the boat.

If you find yourself agreeing with these statements, a Part of you may be a People P leaser. You may not even be aware you are doing it, but a Part of you may want to please others in order to avoid reactions you are afraid of. When you are people pleasing you may have a hard time setting limits or saying no, setting boundaries and want to avoid others disapproval at all costs.

What to do? First try to pay attention in the moment you feel it happening. Do you feel a knot in your stomach? Do you get fuzzy thinking? Is it only with guys? Your boss at work? Do you feel afraid? Once you understand the underlying feeling you can assure yourself that you won't be rejected and if you are you can take care of yourself. Work on saying what you want and need from other people. Pick safe people to start with and work on knowing what you think and feel and sharing it.

Start small. Reassure yourself while you are doing it that you are just taking care of yourself And finally, surround yourself with friends who will support you in trying this. Maybe it's time to get some of what you really want and start surrounding yourself with people who like you for who you really are and not because you are good at pleasing them!

Maureen McNichols Ed.S, LCPC
Maureen currently is doing a training internship at The Awakening Center

Monday, August 9, 2010

Go With The Flow

Did any of you attend Lollapalooza last weekend? My kids went and described it as "So so so awesome!" But then again, on Sunday morning it was pouring and they had to decide whether to stick it out or leave. Sometimes Life doesn't cooperate and gives you a truck load of lemons (and one can only drink so much lemonade!) So what do we do? We have to learn to "Go with the Flow." Claire Jolly, a summer intern at The Awakening Center, wrote a blog article on that subject. Maybe you'll identify with how she came to terms when Life doesn't cooperate - although a semester in France is a nice truckload of lemons!

Amy Grabowski

Go With the Flow

I recently looked at my calendar and couldn’t believe it is August. I will be studying in Strasbourg, France for the upcoming fall semester and the anticipation of leaving stirs up many conflicting emotions. I am excited to embark on this adventure with several of my closest friends but also anxious at the thought of living in a foreign country for four months. In an attempt to ease my worries I began journaling things to pack, possible trips to take while in Europe, and my goals for the upcoming semester. I noticed that my expectations for the trip were quite high considering I haven’t even boarded the plane yet!

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and realized that when I really got down to it, my number one goal for this experience is to be happy. I am not going to be able to anticipate every possible problem or sticky situation. I may forget to pack something, get lost while traveling, or get homesick but, at the end of the day being flexible and going with the flow will be the best way to achieve happiness abroad.

This approach is not only applicable when traveling but in all aspects of life. Our society often puts a lot of emphasis on being in control. While making smart decisions and planning ahead can be useful tools, things don’t always go according to plan. Sometimes there is an unexpected extra guest at your dinner party or major construction on your way to work. We are often faced with situations we cannot control but how we react to these situations is within our control.

So, the question is, what do you do when things don’t go according to plan? I find it is often helpful to first take several deep breaths; this relaxes the body and the mind and allows you to think more clearly. Then, I try to focus on the facts. If I forgot to pack something, can I find it in France? If there’s construction on the way to work, can I take an alternate route? If I’m homesick, will the feelings pass? The answer to all of these questions is yes. Even when things don’t go the way you thought they would there is always a choice to freak out or be flexible. I hope that the next time you or I are faced with a change of plans we choose to take a deep breath and go with the flow and, who knows, the outcome may be better that we expected.

Claire Jolly

Claire is a Bachelor's level summer intern at The Awakening Center. She co-leads the Tuesday night ANAD support group.