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 Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMay 9, 2016 counseling, mindfulness, personal growth, popular culture, psychology, wellness, wisdom0 comments
“Peace Out Happiness; Why letting go of Happy may make us more Healthy ”
In psychology, in pop culture, in our songs and movies, our social media, we hear words and anthems which suggest that all the world is happy or in search of happy. “Happy” is the new salvation, happiness is quantified, we travel the globe, move our homes and families, friends coach each other through break ups by saying things like “it’s for the best, you weren’t happy.” We take pills, we change directions, we do it all on the quest for the place where we can experience this Holy Grail. Happy is one of those feeling states kind of like love, it means something a slightly different to everyone. What most people mean when they say that they are feeling happy is really more of an ecstatic sensation brought on from external stimulation. We eat, we shop, we serial date, and we orgasm our way into euphoric happy but it’s likely that it’s never enough because this happy is always fleeting leaving us with the notion that something is missing, so begin cycle again, more eating, more shopping, more dating and on and on. Perhaps even most of all, notice the way we judge ourselves or lapse into despair when we inevitably come crashing into the notion that perhaps we are not “happy,” we feel like a failure at life, imagining that everyone else has some secret to being that we have not. Yet maybe, just maybe we are ok just as we are without all of the trappings of that five letter word.
Our proverbial quest changes the moment that we notice that these fleeting sensations are the cheap imitation version of long standing peace. We have been tricked, happiness is a fallacy, balloons bursting, drum roll stopping, external states of joy or daft manic amusements are no place by which to chart the life map. In the misguided journey, happiness will always be a place ahead, sometime in the future looming on a distant horizon. “After the promotion, after the next high dollar sports car, when I graduate school, after we are married, when our first child is born.” Happiness, peace, a space where we can stop and take a breath, the life marker where the “aha’ moment presents itself and the final sense of accomplishment graces our countenance. Be cautious traveler, searching for the treasure trove called happiness will throw off the compass, encouraging the bypassing of eternal states such as peace and serenity which are by far more sustainable emotional destinations.
We can nurture peace when we are living our life in balance, hard things will present themselves but we will assimilate and understands those things and we will allow them to pass by in their right time. Happiness can’t be sustained through the weathers of lost jobs, parking tickets, gossip mongers, accidents and hurtles but serenity, the far more virtuoso milestone can. Yet we know there will be days when happiness will stop by, she will sit down for an afternoon visit, we will always enjoy entertaining her but we know that she must ever move along on her Sunday drive, and we respect this, never demanding that she remain seated for yet another serving of our crumpets, frantic in our fears that the lovely face of happiness may never come again. That which we allow to come and go freely shall remain yet that to which we cling will forever suffocate and seek to escape us.
Our sense of serenity, the little kernel of you which is based upon confidence in personal integrity, the security which knows that whatever may come will be handled with wisdom, we are seasoned captains of our own vessel, when we notice that we have veered into some familiar or odd storm ridden sea which challenges our equilibrium and decimates our sense of peace, fear seizes the cloaked night as we are cradled in the turbulent arms of high winds and sea sprays, white knuckled grasping the helm. The captain allows the winds to die down and high seas ebb away without disturbing his peace.
Storms happen, life happens but peace can remain even in the midst of change, chaos, destruction. Peace is more profound than euphoria, more enduring than pleasure and more tangible than happy. Perhaps the flower children of the 60’s had something right with their peace mantra, maybe we can find a way to come back to that, when we make our life goals, our relationship goals, when we weigh and assess how we are living our life, maybe rather than ask, “am I happy?” or “were we happy together?” “will this new job make me happy?” maybe a better question to ask, “is this allowing me to hold on to my sense of peace?”
Peace and Love…
The Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
Contributed by Stephanie McCracken MSPC
830 Western Avenue Pittsburgh Pa 15233
by Stephanie McCrackenJanuary 22, 2015 counseling, couples counseling, mindfulness, personal growth, wisdom0 comments
The Grass is Always Greener, To the Brown Patches of Dirt in my Lawn, On Love and Life
The grass is always greener, the crab grass, the blue grass, the sea grass, I see it out there as one whose mind is prone to perpetual comparisons, squinting eyes contemplating between the haves and have not’s. My front lawn has large cavernous patches of dirt, etched amidst sparse littering’s of grassy blades. It’s something that really bothers me, sometimes in the way too early morning hours I lay awake and think about how to solve this problem, I should admit that I pride myself upon being a solver of life’s hasty demands. Yet this one has riddled me, how did this muddy pit get here? Once or twice I have even tried picking up all of my belongings and moving to a new home, so beside myself with this shoddy yard that I convinced myself to find a completely new house, a house with the dream lawn of my most romantic fantasies. I am not the only person to notice the grass, the grass provides the frame of ones home, the foundation for ones life, a connection to the earth, this is about so much more than the “grass,” it’s a part of ones identity, how does one manicure what is imperfect? How to maintain esteemed pride when the very things which frame my tidy house fail to meet my very own lofty standards of, “how it all should be.” Does one still thrust a pole into the lawn with a kitschy flag to commemorate each of the holidays? Does one dabble large planters upon the grass and fill them with marigolds and petunias? Maybe nobody will notice those miserable barren patches if I simply abandon all responsibility and allowing the lawn to grow long and wild, perhaps to revel in the mysterious and primal Amazonian nature of it. Coveting thy neighbors grass can become an obsession. A soothing Sunday drive to clear the mind and where am I? I am not in conversation with my fiancé who is stoically manning the wheel, I careen my neck from outside of his finely tuned automobile. I see the emerald spikes encasing the lawns of this neighbor and that, evoking for me a sense of desirous melancholy. Things can rapidly careen out of control, thoughts becoming high jacked, not wanted to walk out of the house to have someone see that this is my lawn, not wanting to be associated with those cursed drab patches of barren earth. I see my neighbors flaunting theirs, the grass that sparkles, those majestic little studs bolding jutting out from the earth, with their implicit meaning that any abode which has such grass is perfectly cared for, is more than a house, it is a home. I too want the kind that feels like that springs beneath bare feet and smells like a musky blend of lemon tart and pine needle. There are countless books written about landscaping and gardening, one can use seed or sod, barricade it to be sure nobody walks on it, or then too, one could walk on it with high heels to aerate, or perhaps enhance the soil with worms, for every curiosity help is a YouTube video, a google, or a guru away . Yet none of them say this: After a very long and drawn out rest, a celestial providence of an epiphany struck down upon me, opening up my mind with a shiny insight; nobody else is going to fix my lawn, moving isn’t going to help me find better grass, it is my very technique to tending the lawn which is lacking. It’s easy to get frustrated too much, to turn away from picnics in the grass because it doesn’t look, smell, or feel the way that one imagined it “should”. Soil samples and sod wont alleviate this eternal pondering for the clue to change the grass for good, there is a really simple way to enjoy the grassy knoll of ones dreams. Yet like all things worth cultivating, it will not be easy, lace up the old work boots and jean coveralls.
It all starts by loving the grass, those darling petite seedlings only dare rupture the earth for promise of the warming sun, give your grass warmth. Yes, I know my child, in this moment we see only barren patches of earth but I urge you to go out there and love them anyways, not just to say it but to do it, planting glorious seeds of intention. Water those blades each and every day, fill your watering can to the brim with hopeful water, set aside a collection of rainwater, the earth loves the water best which has danced amidst the clouds. Tend to your petite parcel of earth each day, when tired wield your soil crusted shovel, when fantasizing about a tropical holiday, one still must tend to the lawn. You see, I have learned something, our response to our imperfections, to those earthen patches of mud, does indeed determine our opportunities for growth. How do you tend to the patches of mud upon your lawn? Anyone can marvel at that which has been luxuriated with advantageous wonder but it takes one dedicated and master gardener to persevere with fortitude, to love a little earthen patch into a fully bloomed, springy and lustrous lawn. Just what is it in you or your relationship which just may need a little more love to blossom forth with life?
Dreaming of spring time grass, Stephanie McCracken MSPC Reviving Minds Therapy Offering Marriage or Couples Counseling and Psychotherapy 1010 Western Avenue Pittsburgh Pa 15233 *This is an intentional fictional piece and similarity to real or actual events is sheer cosmic coincidence…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.