Mother: a word unlike any other. It has meaning in every culture and time since the birth of human kind. By definition it elicits a range of thoughts and emotions, as each of us considers the personal and collective vision we have for the word “Mother.” The day we honor those who embody this wondrous expression is once again upon us. What does it mean to you? How do we characterize the word, the embodiment, the spirit of “Mother?”
Who Is She?
Venus von Willendorf
At the birth of civilization it was the “Great Mother” the nomadic tribes worshiped. She who could spring forth life from her womb and nourishment from her breast, and revered as a magical being would thousands of years later become the most respected woman in the Christian Bible. “Mother Mary,” a virgin, who gave birth to Christ, is just one of the many creation stories from our collective religious canon. Isis, an Egyptian goddess, worshipped as the ideal mother and wife was honored for her connection with nature and magic. She was the friend of the wealthy and poor alike. Pachamama, a fertility goddess linked to the earth and nature, promotes ingestion of a tonic brewed from “the mother vine or the sacred vine.” In fact, the earth is often referred to as the “First Mother,” giving life to all who have followed. “Mother Earth” provides the theater for each human to rise from the soil, wind and rain. In all of her selfless giving, Mother, often asks for nothing. In our endless quest for progress and growth we often forget to mumble a simple “thank you” to our sacred creator.
A Mother’s Love Remembered
Thank you for my life. From your flesh I was born, from your blood I could breathe, from your surrender I was able to grow and love. We have this day, this collective day, to remember the importance and the essence of what it is to be “Mother.” A day to recollect with gratitude all the giving, caring, and loving smiles; the encouragement, tenderness, warmth, sustenance, freshly pressed clothes, and matching socks. For the hand that stroked my hair when I was sick, and took my temperature with expert precision, reassuring me that it would be okay.
Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist and St. Mary Magdalene by Neroccio di Bartolomeo
Thank you Mom for the freshly cooked meals, the gooey cookies, the cradled feeling of being gently rocked until the tears magically disappeared. For the hand that nestled yours, until my safe arrival to the other side of the street, Mom, allow me to offer a kiss to that hand. To the sweet voice who read the fairytales at bedtime, the passion with which the words fell from your lips – hearing those words was the greatest gift I have ever received. Your words both read and spoken have taken me so far. To the singer of lullabies and pop songs, turned all of the way up on those warm summer days when we would drive with the windows down. You should know that I love the sound of your voice, Mother. The voice that I hear most prominently after all these years is yours. I still hear you, Mom. I know that sound, I delight in it, and I thank you for your encouragement and your courage. As a woman I have felt that glory, the knowing and the gratitude, and you were right.
This Mother’s Day, allow us to recall the sacrifice which lead to the brilliance surrounding her title, she asked for nothing but the charm of your smiles and hugs. The homemade greeting cards were always her favorite, especially when they came with a macaroni necklace that crowned her throat more dazzling to her than any string of pearls and rubies. I think she only wanted to know that we appreciated what she did, to say,” Thank you, Mom.”
Though a single day could never be enough to truly illuminate the magnificence that all of your love and time deserves, it is but what should be many days to honor and recall with great fondness and respect the queens the earthen goddess has created. For all the biological Moms, Step-Moms, Foster Moms, the Mommas of fur babies, the Grandmas, the Mother Earth, a world of Moms who sustain the life from moment to moment, today we salute you and we honor you, Divine and Mortal Mother, Thank you.
Love, and maternal happiness,
Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghLearn More
Being mindful of your breathing is one of the easiest and fastest ways to evoke a sense of calm, become centered, and re-energize. Our regular contributor and resident wellness guru, Stephanie McCracken, shares her insights and techniques on breathing and its meditative powers and benefits. Enjoy!
In Good Health,
Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC
Breathe By Stephanie McCracken, MS
Everyone does it. So if you don’t mind my asking, when was the last time that you really did it? When was the last time you allowed it to propel you to the heights of Nirvana only to have it gently slide you back down into limp flesh, relaxed? I bet many of you didn’t even know that it could be so good, like sweet cream on a warm summer’s evening. After all, this very act sustains the life you are living.
I want to share with you the secrets of doing it really well. I will warn you, it’s not as simple as it seems. It takes training, discipline and wisdom if you really want to experience its full potential. Take some time for yourself. This time will give you the chance to develop tools that will offer an opportunity for clarity, strength, calm, and wisdom throughout all parts of your living and being.
Come. Take some time. Breathe with me.
There is a common misconception that we know all that we need to about the breathing process. After all, isn’t it our first physical act once emerging from the warmth of the womb? Yet, there are gurus, yogis, monks and other wellness facilitators who devote a lifetime of practice to this complex and exhilarating act. As with most everything, what you see is not what you necessarily get because there are many layers of power to be harnessed and experienced within the act of breathing.
Let us journey to our core. Begin by sitting in a chair in an upright position. Now close your eyes, allow them to gently block the outside world. Find yourself in a warm, tranquil space that exists on the backside of your eyelids. You notice the beating of your heart as it pushes warm, oxygen rich blood to the rest of your body. Begin to connect with the rest of your physical self. Notice the distinct calm feeling in your hands as they rest on the tops of your legs. Open your palms in a position of reception for the energy that is coming toward you. Accept this as a gift, a connection from the universe to you. Your feet should be planted flat on the ground. Notice how the floor feels beneath them. What does it feel like to be connected to something as grand as the earth?
Now that you are settled in a peaceful position, we are going to go even deeper inside. Take a slow and steady inhalation through your nose. Feel the warmth of the air as it makes it ascent from the tip of your nose and fills the back of your throat. Feel your shoulders rise as the air continues to spill inside of your chest, filling you down to the bottom of your belly which has expanded to allow the air space inside.
This breath feeds and nourishes your body as you hold the inhalation and very slowly, let it go, let it go, let it go. The act of taking in should match the process of letting go, equal strength and time allotted to each of them. Notice how your body softens as you exhale, feel your shoulders falling as the tightness disappears from your neck and your brow. Now let’s fill our lungs again, taking in the rich air which surrounds us. All that is full of life and power brings the breath into us until we are full. Now hold the breath as your chest expands and your belly begins to soften on the release. These sacred breaths allow everything within you to fall naturally and evenly away, as you savor in the calm which washes over you on the exhale.
Take attention to your body. Feel the energy coursing through your hands and legs. Such supple feelings of softness as you float in the space behind your eyes. Whatever you are noticing, you are exactly where you should be. You are comforted and cradled in warmth. You are present and you are calm in this moment.
Spend time at least once a day to focus on your breathing and the physical sensations related to it. If you can dedicate 5 or 10 minutes of your hectic day to breathe in this manner, you will notice a greater calm and clarity in the rest of those moments where you are devoted to work and family and all of the other tasks related to living life. Always remember the importance of your breathing. Notice the ever evolving shape and speed of your inhalation and the physical sensations attached to this. Close your eyes and for a brief moment, escape, soothe, relish. There are so many ways to do it simply and elegantly.
Love, peace and happiness,
Audrey Hepburn was once quoted as saying, “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’.” And so our need for a language of creative and global understanding marches on. We are meaning seeking creatures. We need to know what happens when the lights go down and only shadows remain. Words help fill that void. They have the potential to create, cultivate and sustain our souls. Our resident contributor and wellness guru, Stephanie McCracken, taps into the power of language and words in this week’s beautifully simple posting, “The Word.” Enjoy!
In Good Health,
Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC
The Word by Stephanie McCracken, MS
The written or spoken word, each of these is an abundantly powerful entity. Upon subtle examination we can begin to understand and then perhaps harness their infinite power. Find assurance that words, whether verbal or written, are the building blocks to our relationships with others, our relationship with ourselves and ultimately how we relate to the rest of the known universe. There are countless overly used and somewhat trite aphorisms that guide one toward the powerful secret to which I write, “Think well, speak well, and be well.”
It sounds simple, but what does all of this wellness really mean? For those of you who have already discovered this transformational tool the lesson will be unnecessary, but it will seem the majority of people who I interact with have yet to take note of the vast difference between positive speech and negative speech. This difference draws the distinction between effective and ineffective communication. In the expanse between speech and action we are given the opportunity to enjoy the magnetic and expansive power of attraction which will repel or manifest thoughts, feelings and blessings.
Read the following two passages very closely and unveil the differences inherent in the words…
1) I can’t show you the power of attraction, if you don’t already know its mechanisms then you are living without its effects.
Read closely and notice what you think and feel about the following statement compared with the previous one.
2) The power of attraction is an invisible force, if you are in the process of discovering its components you are on the road to enjoying its effects.
Do you notice that these two sentences are fundamentally similar in their meaning? Yet, by using a few contrasting words the feelings associated with each of them are very different. We would likely find the first statement within a dialogue spoken with any number of words such as: “can’t, won’t, shouldn’t, don’t, never, less.” These words frame the way one perceives the world. They are the words that are used to color interaction with others, and they invariably become part of the way that others remember us and the way that we feel about and understand ourselves. “I can’t ever catch a break in life!” “I never have any luck with men/women.” “I have no money, I’m always broke.” I know a few people who make it a regular habit to speak and think in these terms and interestingly enough, they are almost always right about their poor luck, lack of love, and nonexistent portfolios.
Now think for a moment upon the other end of the spectrum. Do you know any people that typically seem to be in great spirits? That person who is usually smiling and has seemingly good luck? The people who remain confident and calm even when dealing with challenges? Who are these people and how do they develop the skills necessary to enjoy the universe instead of becoming overwhelmed by it? I will share with you a skill that they utilize, perhaps even unconsciously. They think and interact with others in terms of abundance, strengths, and abilities, simple constructs that make all of the difference.
Imagine the person exemplified in the aforementioned paragraph. In communication they would think, “I am going to enjoy the better luck that is waiting for me around the next corner.” “I am ready to enjoy a positive, loving relationship with a man/woman.” “I am working on my money management skills and or finding new employment.” What simple differences in which these individuals order their universe. In the first example there is a sense of helplessness, a poignant hopelessness that says the universe is against me. The latter example highlights someone who has learned the power of words. This is not semantics or simple reframing. This is buying into the words we use to ourselves and others. It is speaking in ways that are constructive and aligned with faith, trust, hope and growth. I ask you to try this small exercise the next time you are feeling overwhelmed and helpless in life. Reclaim your intentions by re-sculpting the terra nova of your inner sanctum and make a change toward the positive.
Even if you don’t necessarily believe everything that you are saying at first, it will be helpful to view yourself as someone developing unto your desires. If you were to choose, right now in this moment, which potentials would you like to expand upon? Choose what feels right for you. Grow, move, release your dreams, hopes and purpose into the ether.
Love, expression and happiness,
by Stephanie McCrackenMay 6, 2013 counseling, couples counseling, couples therapy, marriage counseling, mindfulness, Uncategorized0 comments
Eros, Cupid, and Heart Shaped Boxes of Chocolate
“The Task is not to seek for love but merely to seek and find all of the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” – Rumi
Ah, February. That time of the year when the days slowly begin to increase, while the climate gives us a pining glimpse of why we love the summer months. Yet, in spite of the frostiness outside our bodies, there is warmth in our hearts. They pitter-patter or maybe they simply ooze with affection and reflection, indicating that now is a fine time for us to consider love. Eros in Greek and roman history is the god of passionate love, yet Carl Jung who later uses the work meant something very different by it.
Since the earliest times we have always been fascinated with the topic of romantic love – think Cupid, spritely son of Venus in Roman mythology. His message was quite simple; love is something that simply happens to us. It happens when we meet the perfect person who is our “soul mate.” We are always looking for our other half, the half that the Gods took from us. When we fall in love at first sight, then we have found someone that “fills” our anima or animus archetype particularly well. This match, cut from the same archetypal cloth, will make all of our short comings suddenly dissipate with the fulfillment of this perfection…uh-oh! With such a wishful perception of what it means to fall in love and linger in love, it is no wonder that Cupid’s arrows often result in more pain and disappointment than pleasure.
The desire to be a part of a romantic relationship is a very healthy one. Psychologists, philosophers, media outlets and the public chatter on endlessly about love. Yet sometimes this healthy urge can bring us to the pits of repetitive despair. There are those who seem to be in a new romantic relationship every month. Each liaison is asserted to finally be “the one.” However, as soon as true intimacy begins to take form emotional fears emerge and the person is off to find the next “one.” How about the friend who continually falls for “the one” that she ends up loathing? She embraces an idea of love that soon resembles a battlefield where tears replace laughter and frowns are misaligned, forced smiles. With the advent of social media there are those who increasingly hide behind keyboards instead of taking the risk to experience meaningful human interaction. Perhaps they are so afraid of the risks of love that they choose to stay far away from its possibilities and responsibilities?
Are there those who are simply addicted to love? The Top 40 catalog of popular music for the past 100 years would have us believe so. Recently neuroscientists have identified that there does seem to be a similar pathway which is involved in the formation and sustainment of all addictive behaviors, including an unhealthy need to always be “falling in love.” We know it is there, those who are suffering know that it is unhealthy, yet how do we move beyond the despair of repeatedly engaging in patterns that debase our sense of personal strength and hope?
So, what then is this thing called love? Love is a mutual interest in each other and in other things yet love is also maintenance of individuality and solo pursuits. Love is compassion and care for the self and for the other. Love is respect of the other and of others-in-the-world. Love is both, “I want to append to this person’s happiness and I will continue to be my own happiness.” Love is taking the time to listen and hear, being present with the other. Finally, love is speaking with positive clarity and authenticity to the values wants and needs of me and the other.
Remember when someone told you that love begins where and when you love yourself? Mature love will not sustain itself by an unhappy person trying to bring happiness to another—only the unity of the two nurturing mutual wholeness and happiness can ignite the chemical reaction of true and meaningful love. So if you are plodding along anxiously waiting for “the one” to appear, “the one” who is going to change the gloomy trajectory of your life, you may be waiting a while.
Seizing this moment to respect yourself, to love yourself in an authentic and mature fashion, will eventually ripple out into the ether and present an opportunity for you to experience the love of another in a new and significant way. Perhaps you have some thoughts about love that you would like to share?
by Stephanie McCrackenMay 6, 2013 counseling, couples counseling, mindfulness, personal growth, psychotherapy, Uncategorized0 comments
The Delicate Dance
The delicate dance, our human nature eternally pirouettes. A melodic sway, a hip sashay, and life is brightly illuminated by the sun’s luminosity. Soon the night falls, and we are left contemplating the sepia toned shadows outlining the nocturne. Darkness and light, yin and the yang, animus and anima, life and death, each of these do flow within us, watering the gardens of our souls. There is more to consider as our ever present opposites are further knotted by the presence of a shadow. This opaque sum of us that follows the persona, as it is cast to the ground for all eternity. How is it that we seldom bring our shadow to the truth of light? Instead, we tend to leave it bereft in the unconscious parts of our selves where it unleashes even greater power in an effort to be noticed and heard. Allow us to remember that there is wisdom in the darkness.
As a woman, my family and friends, indeed culture at large, exerts a strong influence upon me to nurture the archetypal image of the “Great Mother” female. For a woman this means that we are to be social, nurturing of our close friendships and the cohesive glue and bleeding matriarch for our families. She is the ever doting caretaker who will sacrifice any moment of indulgence for her husband and children. I applaud these women. Yet, it took me years to appreciate this domestic scene. As a child I did not prefer to play with toy dolls and strollers. I was most happy to run, imagine, and read books.
Primavera by Botticelli, courtesy wikimedia.org
We should always remember what a challenging duty being a mother is. To nurture a family and watch it grow is one of the greatest gifts of all. Yet, even for the most tireless caregivers, balance is always the highest function. My animus has always been a bit more developed. I am driven toward increasing my abilities which remain outside of our conventional domestic sphere. Female executives recognize the trade-offs and cultural misgivings of assertiveness and flaunting success outside the home. These women are often relegated to the social sidelines as “bitches.” Sadly, there are still many who have a difficult time understanding women who do not subscribe to the preconceived notion of “what they should be.” Now we see the “doing it all” woman who will raise her family and nurture her career simultaneously. While some argue that these women are wearing themselves thin, there are others who recognize the importance of achieving a healthy balance between self-interest and familiar nurturance.
Dichotomies are present in most every facet of life, and the greater understanding that we develop of them, the better able we become to integrate competing impulses into a harmonious whole. As social creatures we all, to varying degrees, crave the comforting sensation of intimacy and togetherness. Yet this reminds of a parable involving porcupines which Arthur Schopenhauer originated. Later, Sigmund Freud was known to have been so stricken with this allegory that he placed a porcupine figurine on his desk as a reminder.
Schopenhauer’s story goes something like this: Porcupines live together in close social groups to brave the bitterness of winters. Cold, they inch closer together. Yet, as they draw increasingly nearer to each other their quills protrude. Their most important defense mechanism which prevents them from being hunted by other animals is activated. Inevitably the agony of being poked by the quills is painful and thus the porcupines move further apart to avoid the pain. This does not last long, as the chill of the air brings them back together in an eternal dance of seeking warmth and avoiding pain. Freud believed that human dynamics mirror this dance. My own personal experience allows me to recognize the validity to this simple theorem, a delicate balance between emotional intimacy and isolation. Yet the sad truth is a back and forth dance is an ensemble which should be conducted with precision and elegant beauty. It is by bringing the need for both isolation and intimacy into our awareness that we can begin to dance with greater ease and harmony. I know of relationships where the couple spends so much time bandaging their wounds from those pesky quills, in fear that there may be another jab coming, that they seldom remember the joys of enjoying each other’s warmth. The joy of togetherness, with recognition of the importance of solitude, will bring this shadow into focus thereby strengthening the relationship.
As we continue to consider all of the ways that dichotomous energies influence our essence on a moment to moment basis, we may experience a deepening empathy for our nature. As any artist or writer would fully understand, great creativity is birthed in the silence of introspection. In those times of meditation for the comforting quietude of the infiltrated mind, the artist is able to glean her energy in the creation of elegant sentences superb in their meaning and syntax. Just as a composer, singer, or songwriter intuits a masterpiece by utilizing both the wisdom of the notes and the silence in between the sounds. Indeed, silence and sound both lend their power to the creation of music. I have known people who are so terrified of silence that they prattle on endlessly, perhaps afraid that they may fall into a void of nothingness if not for the sound of their own voice. Ironically, such people never say anything of importance and invariably run out of audience, producing the silence that is so feared. Perhaps such a person could strengthen the ability to pause for just a moment and reflect on their words and instill them with some meaning.
Finally, the energetic shift of the animus motions toward the furthest reach of the spectrum, to the spaces where stillness remains but a memory. Culturally, it seems that the majority of our population is bound by the unwritten code which encourages or forces our motion, progress, and intent, into a faster, frantic pace that produces unhealthy results. It is no wonder that stress related illnesses continue to rise as our bodies sputter out due to the ever increasing demand for progress, it seems that deadlines loom like executioners to our health.
Dance at Bougival by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, courtesy wikimedia.org
Within the 3 x 6 span of my yoga mat, I have developed a vital valuation to actively seek comfort and peace. Surrender within moments of quiet and stillness. It is easy to note how the shadow can overwhelm the stillness. When we see one who spends all her time at the gym, training with weights to make the physical body larger than nature would have intended for it to be, we are witnessing an overindulged animus. Often people use steroids and other regimented combinations of compounds to tweak their physical form, but no matter what the compound their physical body is pushed beyond its natural limits. Our muscles are not intended to train 5-7 days per week and the creation of this sort of body build is symptomatic of far too much use of the animus’ energy. Such a female would do well to allow the anima to guide her toward relaxation and wellness. Even more than meditation, such an animus driven person would do well to perform an in-depth exploration of the energies that propelled her to desire such goals. The inverse of this would be one who allows the anima to overtake all motion leading to utter stagnation. Perhaps the most dramatic form of this would be a person who has been lying in bed for years at a time. This person has suffered from an extreme case of the anima releasing itself into the shadow and they must desperately balance with the animus for their health and wellbeing. Now the fact is that the majority of people do not fall within the dramatic outliers of such disharmonious alignments of their energies. Most of us vacillate between more subtle surges of motion, stillness, sound, quiet, intimacy, and solitude. The key to navigating life’s motion most successfully is to be aware of these nuances within the animus and the anima as there is infinite wisdom to be found within both. I ask you to ponder this question to yourself today: in what ways is my animus serving me and in what ways is my anima serving me? Keeping in mind all of the ways that the masculine and the feminine exist within each of us. Consider this as follow-up, in what areas are my energies crying out for greater balance? Where could I develop greater balance in my life? Consider these in the eternal quest for your happiness, by way of mindful, healthful, bountiful, wellness.