by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghAugust 15, 2016 counseling, couples counseling, couples therapy, educational, mindfulness, personal growth, popular culture, psychology, psychotherapy, wellness, wisdom0 comments
4 Lessons on Life from Farmer Jim; The Hawaiian Vanilla Farm
As a lifelong lover of all things Vanilla on a recent travel excursion in Hawaii, I opted to spend an afternoon at The Hawaiian Vanilla Companies’ farm. The farm which is a true artisans purveyor of some of the world’s best small batches of vanilla bean goodness. What was most striking about that afternoon wasn’t the lush tropical vistas, although the altitude and sea views were indeed stunning. Nor was it the fantastical process of cultivating Tahitian vanilla, which is in fact an orchid, the coveted vanilla bean are the tiny seeds which grow in the orchids stem. Botany and Geology aside, I am psychotherapist, for me, character succeeds setting, the man behind the bean is most noteworthy about that afternoon.
Jim Reddenkopp, farmer, my host, owner of the Vanilla Company is a man whose adult life began after he had acquired a dangerously steep, craggy, and startlingly cheap and unruly plot of Hawaiian land. Why purchase such a plot, a tour goer dared ask, his blank honesty, Lesson 1, ‘I had only one dream, to raise a family in Hawaii, with just enough money to buy this soil that nobody else was crazy enough to want, my wife and I were well on our way to dreams come true, we lay under glistening stars in our tent while building our home here happy as can be.’ As Jim implicitly seemed to know, the first lesson is that in mindful living every endeavor should first be aimed at cultivating our inner principals, most of the time, the rest will take care of itself if we toil hard enough.
With the thrill of striving for his goals steaming his sails he didn’t think too much about the ‘how.’ It was only in later conversation with his two university professor parents who looked to Jim, their long haired, increasingly thin, patchouli wearing son, living out his dreams in a tent in Hawaii. As good parents do, they lectured Jim and provided him with Lesson Number 2, “Better figure some things out Jim, what are you going to do with your life?” Lesson number 2 is that there will be naysayers and hurtles, Jim had been thinking about this, with lots of trial and error under his belt he had acquired a long list of all of the things which could not be done on this rocky plot of earth. It took years of failed crops for Jim to reply to his parents that he had a solution for the impossible bit of land he had been toiling, “I am going to grow Vanilla!” An excellent but complex choice, the elusive and exceptionally valuable vanilla orchid, a matter which would be much more challenging than he had anticipated.
Jim eventually mastered his craft, mastered in ways he had never thought possible in looking back. Yet the vanilla is not the thing of which Jim is most proud, closest to his heart is that his adult children have decided to stick around on the farm where they had grown up. They can be found working in the kitchen and grounds of the farm. The other tour goers kept astonishing with their consumer values, “why aren’t you growing more vanilla?” “yours is thought to be some of the best in the world! Surely there is a demand for it!” Master chefs reach out to Jim, buying out his stock of vanilla bean in advance of its harvest. Jim in his humble flannel looked to them with such brightness in his eyes, “yes, yes, but the thing is that I am already rich! My family is here with me, I like to take days off and on them I enjoy surfing. I get to grow vanilla and curate other products in a way that is comfortable and enjoyable. Work life balance is important to me.” Lesson number 3; less is often more, we should strive for balance in all things. The crowd of tour-goers looked at him curiously, some in wide eyed admiration, as though he had come to embody some elusive and novel concept, an unsung anthem which some of us had all been waiting all of our lives to hear!
Sometimes we wonder what happened to good old fashion family values, well sometimes they clock out with the 60 hour work week, we work, toil away to put food on the table, to get that bigger house, bigger promotion, yes to win at the game of life, to have that comfortable retirement and with any luck we will actually live to our 70’s to enjoy those golden years, that is a gift in itself. Yet Jim, he was living with that joy and comfort now, by embracing the values of a simple life, remaining surrounded by his loved ones, making contact with nature and his passions, his eyes seemed to sparkle with the happiness of embodying his values and don’t we all know what a tremendous accomplishment it can be to simply hold tight to our values in today’s fast paced world.
The tour continued on, we meandered over hills on a cloudless day, we walked passed a smallish house on the farm and Jim paused there, ‘this is where my father lived, he died last year.’ Myself and the other tour goers offering sad expressions, condoling comradery in understanding such loss. Jim, with dignified melancholy, gently waved it off. “Dad is gone but he died of natural causes at 88 years old right here while we held him in our arms, it was a beautiful thing and we are forever changed by it.” I paused in thinking about that, yes death is an agonizing loss for those alive to be touched by it, yet it is indeed the cost we pay to live life, the finality of it. Jim offered yet another lesson, lesson 4, that there is integrity to a long life, well-lived, clinging to loss would dishonor his father’s life. At that moment, Jims’ son popped out of the house’s shabby front door, holding the hand of a petite framed women who was waddling along with an enormous bulge in her belly. Jim waved proudly, “that is my son and daughter in law, they live there now and they are expecting their first child in a few weeks.” Ah, and now we see the circle of life continues, yes, there is so much honor in that, in a life well lived.
Wishing you all vanilla skies and sweet dreams,
The Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
830 Western Avenue
Pittsburgh Pa 15233
by Stephanie McCrackenApril 13, 2015 counseling, mindfulness, personal growth, psychology, psychotherapy, wisdom0 comments
With the passing of the seasons, the moist dew draping the landscape, like just maybe the earth herself is crying for one of the many seasons departures. Typically the subjects I explore are things that I find intellectually interesting, topics which may be trending on the web. Today something different, in a recent reading about tapping into universal consciousness as a reader I was urged to follow synchronicity. Where are we noticing patterns? Those uncannily shared and observed sets of circumstances which arch across history and humanity? None may be more universal that the experience of grief and loss, a topic which has touched me personally during the last couple of months. The death of someone close or even far is extremely difficult, perhaps even harder than anyone could know lest they have experienced deaths dismal grips. The proverbial lights go out, we stand in darkness, we may tell ourselves, “hey lighten up, you are lucky enough to have made it through another bombastic winter and onward to the next season’s days, you’re still here you know.” In the being here, there are so many things to do, tasks of the living, so we may push away our feelings to move on with our busy tasks.
As therapists, counselors and mental health professionals alike we have our charts which makes explicitly tangible the grieving cycle, from immobilized shock and dismay, a dose of anger and denial, depression, and acceptance. The motions are not static, they are an influx of transitions greatly affected by personality, biochemical, and social variables. Coping skills can be assessed at each interval of the process. As counselors we are trained to understand what is within the normal range for the process of grieving, whether that loss is divorce, death, loss of unrealized potentials, among the myriad of other losses. Saying goodbye, the gravity of letting go can be paralyzing, yet as every great philosopher knows life is indeed about loss, we build up, we hold on, we let go, this is the grand procession of all things. In death of loved ones and even in divorce or a break up, we struggle with the paramount life questions. Concern over the deceased and what our spiritual views dictate. We may become vividly aware of a sense of aloneness, who has a touch or a word that sincerely offers comfort to internal anguish, we too may find comfort in spirituality and or those who grieve with us, comrades in grief, unity within our suffering. We at times may feel alone and not know where to unravel the depth of our sorrow as well intended acquaintances may or may not really want to know what we are thinking when they ask how we are feeling. Other bleak nuances and limitations sharpen focus in grieving, we know that we too will one day depart from our human form, a veiled and stupefying terror of our own death may emerge. It may at times seem herculean to continue delegating time and attention to the tasks which sustain our basic lives. The cycle of grief.
We sometimes may notice shortened attention spans, greater irritation at small things which normally wouldn’t bother us, we may begin to doubt ourselves. When reiterating this stringent knowledge I am reminded of a modern adage wherein a waiter is holding a bludgeoning tray of goods for his next table, his arm stands poised and for the first minute, succeeding erect posture, his elevated arm is steady. When asked “how heavy is the tray?” He replies haughtily “It is nothing!” Ten minutes later, when the examiner checks back to ask again, “how does it feel now?” Sweat beads a look of distress have contorted his face, his muscles twitch, “I can’t hold on any longer!” The burden of the weight changes equivalent to the length of time one holds on. The point is that even the most well equipped muscles buckle under the strain of holding a heavy load for too long. During times of loss and grief it becomes important to lighten our load in anticipation of exhaustion and irritation, to relay on others who will help us to get our orders to the table.
Within the span of an hour or day, a month or two life’s circumstances can change radically, few things offer such stark rotation to direction as saying goodbye. We struggle to understand these mournful changes, staring bleakly at our permanently gnarled family or friend tree, a hallowed and unrecognizable tone offers a faint “goodbye.” Letting go of the old and embracing the new are not often as easy for our human minds as the turning of a calendar page, despite the melting frosts and welcoming warm winds. Yes, the cycle of the grief but let’s too have compassion for our own suffering, let’s not expect too much from ourselves. It’s ok to look out the window and notice that the spring time has a dismal tinge this year. It is only by allowing the April showers to soak into the earth that our spring flowers burst most aptly, so yes let us not refrain from experiencing the depth of our sadness and anguish for fear of falling into a pit of grief, let the sadness soak into our heart, allow it to be felt deeply penetrating the core of the self. Yes, April showers, they do bring many things, a memory of tear drops, the promise of May flowers, replenishing the earth, and they will prepare for another seasons growth ahead.
In care and compassion,
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Nicole Monteleone LPC, NCC, NBCC
Reviving Minds Therapy
1010 Western Avenue Pittsburgh Pa 15233
*This is not a substitute for medical or professional advice, this article is for your mild consideration and intended to be an literary artistic musing, if you feel that you may be suffering from depression or sadness due to a loss of some other then please set up an appointment to meet with one of our or another mental health professional.Learn More
We could make a game of picking them out of the crowds, they are the creatures who glow, in their spritely luminescence you may notice an impish glint in their eyes. The poised and if well-seasoned, they may even be able to levitate from the terrestrial sphere and stand upright on their heads. They are yogis and they could very well be taking over the world as more and more studios are popping up and raving about the benefits of doing yoga. Want more strength, endurance, balance, a physical routine which simultaneously calms and invigorates you? Then yoga may be worth a try for you. If you pop into a class and observe the blend of beginners and experts the stunning postures are dazzling to behold. When I admire the graceful transitions, forward and back, up and down, down and up, yes, these are indeed the subtle and dramatic motions of life. The sequences of Sun A’s and Sun B’s attracting and sustaining huge crowds of devotees, could it be that those postures and their meaning mirror the major stages of the life cycle itself? Were those ancient yogis offering us a message far beyond strong muscles and calm breathe, were they providing wisdom to better navigate the circle of life?
The basic structure of a Vinyasa class begins in a child’s pose or downward facing dog, like an infant sensing its basic surroundings we begin to notice the sensations within our bodies. Attunement to the heart rate and its responsiveness to expanding the lungs upon a full breath, the very first moments, linking motion to breathing in an effort to create an inner harmonization of our self, and attention guided inward.
Once breathing has been linked to subtle motion we begin Sun Salutation A, these poses are often fast paced and designed to build the heart rate while increasing strength over the long term. In the beginning of life as energetic toddlers we are at once eager to move and flow with the height of our energy and the wonder which beckons each motion. Even the term, Sun Salutations implies waking to a new day, greeting the glorious morning sun with the heightened morning chi. At times we may notice that we are struggling to maintain our breath as a focal point, the breathe is the powerhouse which energetically fuels each motion.
Sun Salutations B, or Surya Namaskar is an elaboration upon the budding strength of the Sun A sequence. Here we continue to reach for the heavens with our arms our stretched, and with our hearts open in faith; we fall bending into ourselves before finding our bodies completely upon the earth. Remembering to be strong while we stretch sending breathe to our trembling muscles when they want to give up. The instructor stands at the front reminding gently, just breathe, with the fire of the breathe all strength becomes energized and relaxation is possible even in the most complex posture. All of this motion to build the strength much as the child ever growing taller and stronger as she moves through the stages of life.
From the strength and exhaustion cultivated through the sun salutations many instructors will move on to a balancing series. Balance takes even more strength and ideally our youth and teen years have afforded us the strength to stand up and fortify the balance which is sustained by our budding strength. Flowing through Crow, Balancing Half Moon, Airplane, Dancers Pose we breathe with our drishti or point of focus alignment, allowing ourselves to tremble while holding our poise. There will be times when you fall, the postures are complex and each day is different-sometimes our muscles feel weak and our balance is wobbly, no matter how hard you fall you must get back up, it is not yet time to quit or rest states your inner yogi. Invariably you may learn in early and middle adulthood as you aim to acquire the balance of spouse, children, career, aging parents, we realize that balance does indeed fluctuate on a daily basis, we do our best. We hold our strength trying to remember to breath, enjoy the opportunities to smile, and remain present throughout while flowing through these roles of life.
As we gracefully propel ourselves to the hip opening sequence we are subtly reminded that all things which stand erect will eventually fall back to the ground. In our hip openers we are able to relax into all of that strength and effort which has been building in our bodies. All of the tension which we build is actively released as is this thing that we call life. Sometimes the greatest challenge that we have is to remain within stillness and unlock the pain and stress which is stored deep within the memory of our muscles. Oftentimes the most unusual thoughts may occur as you are settling into the tight hips, during the hip openers allow your mind to become aware of what it is thinking, it could be a great thought to journal about at a later time.
One of the final sequences to a yoga practice are the inversions such as head stand. Please do not fret, if you have not yet cultivated the ability to balance your entire body upside down upon your forearms then the less challenging shoulder stand is a great option. The most essential component of this series is to yield your freshly oxygenated blood towards the brain while simultaneously slowing one’s self down, towards the limp bodied finale. In very old age, we often invert ourselves as the realities of changing bodies are stated with cosmic exactitude, we feel ourselves slow. Inverting oneself with legs in the air, balancing precariously on one’s own stamina can be a source of much pride. It takes much strength and repetitive falls to experience the of glory of gravities defiance, just as any worthwhile life accomplishment it must be worked towards in increments after developing strength and balance.
The final pose for every last thing within the known universe, it comes after we have known the exhilaration of a hastened heartbeat, the process of learning to melt into the matt until we are able to find comfort in stillness. Final relaxation, Dead Man’s pose or Shivasana in Sanskrit. If your practice has been done well and you have taken advantage of each opportunity for movement then your relaxation may be approached with gratitude as the heart beat slows. Those sweat beads ebbing and drying, the body cooling down, and as the mind meanders in meditation you may recall that within this hour on the yoga matt you have experienced the very rhythm which hallmarks life. From the moments of your infancy where you are crawling on your hands and knees, discovering balance and learning to walk and the greater complexities of those balancing series. Later in life relaxing into the self during later adulthood until the very last breathe of shivasana, final relaxation. As your instructor beckons from this highly restorative pose and the body is summoned to bow while uttering “Namaste,” meaning the goodness in me salutes the goodness in you. Perhaps the rest of your day will somehow be a bit lighter, a bit more enthusiastic after working out those internal stresses and calming the breath. The intimate yogic knowledge that today is yet another day of life, fully colorful and abundant life which is to be expressed joyfully in all of these motions before that cosmic and eternal, final relaxation.