Helping Kids Cope in Difficult Situations

It cannot be denied that the current pandemic situation is the very definition of “trying times.” With all the uncertainty flying around, it’s easy for adults to be anxious, imagine what it must be like for our children. But, resilience and endurance are excellent traits that can be modeled to those not yet experienced in challenging life situations.  

Several of my more recent posts have been dealing with fear, and how we can ease our worried minds. Children tend to be more sensitive to what’s going on in their environment and, especially to what the adults around them are saying and feeling. Below are a few tips on engaging with children–and adults–during stressful situations.

Talk openly about your feelings and invite them to talk about theirs: Children need to know that what they’re feeling and thinking is normal and that they can lean on their elders for wisdom and support. Above all they know that they are loved and that you will get through this together.

However, if your anxiety has sent you off the rails, it would be best to talk to them when you are calmer and can be open to whatever they have to say. Get guidance, if you feel you need it or have a good friend offer you calm reassurance before engaging in a conversation with your children.

Turn the experience into an adventure: Children love adventure. One of their best qualities is to look at the world through curious, innocent eyes. This is a trait we, as adults, would do well to learn from our children.

Join them in writing, drawing, painting rocks, or making a scrapbook concerning the things they see going on around them. Ask them what they think should happen or how they could help. Make it fun. If they can’t play with their friends, maybe they can video chat with them or better yet, have them send a letter or a card like you might have done when you were younger.

The curious mind is a creative mind and a creative mind finds unique solutions to challenges!

Tell stories: Tell your children stories of challenging times that you faced when you were a kid and how you dealt with it. Invite them to tell you their stories. It’s okay if the stories are made up, all stories tell us something about ourselves.

Have them draw pictures or make a video to go along with their stories. Start a group where they can share their stories with other kids. My grandson once drew a whole story onto a rock and then regaled me for twenty minutes about what all the figures meant. It was quite an adventurous story!

Harlon’s Story Rock

Go outdoors! Fresh air, exercise, and sunshine are the best medicines. This goes for the adults, too. Take the adventure outdoors. Teach your kids to be observant. What critters or plants or rocks do they see? Have fun looking them up and identifying them.

One of the best adventures I had with my grandchildren was to have them make their own Plant ID books. We went out and gathered a few common herbs–just a few leaves and/or flowers, then pressed them between layers of newspapers. I asked them to have a conversation with the plant and see if it had anything to tell them. (Their answers were amazing!) After the plants were sufficiently dried we glued them into a scrapbook with notes on what they might be a remedy for.

Later that summer one of my grandson’s friends got stung by a bee and he said, “Here, let me get you some plantain!” He had his friend chew the leaf and press the paste onto the sting. Within minutes the pain was gone.

NOTE: There are many SAFE uses for common plants. Get a book on medicinal plant identification or go to Eat the Weeds.

Above all, teach your children the value of treating Nature with gentleness and respect.

Learn something new: Learning is an excellent diversion from stressful situations, especially hands-on learning. Teach your kids how to plant a garden (you can easily grow food in a pot), cook a meal, how to make a campfire, do the laundry, perform simple car maintenance, balance a checkbook, or any other practical life skill they may not already know. YouTube has an unlimited supply of How-To videos. Productive activities build confidence and assurance that anyone can manage during difficult times.

Create Routine: Like everyone, your family’s lives have likely already been disrupted by this pandemic. With so much of the future unknown and uncertain, routine helps to create comfort and reassurance, that there is something tangible we can count on. Even keeping simple things like meals and bedtimes on a regular schedule will go a long way to soothe your children’s minds. If you cant stay at home with them, let them know you’ll be checking in regularly to see how they’re doing. Perhaps a trusted neighbor or family member can also check in to see how things are going or just to chat.

Pray or Meditate: Studies have shown that prayer and meditation are wonderful practices to calm and soothe. Anyone who regularly engages in these practices can verify these findings. Simple mindfulness can steer the mind away from anxious thoughts and toward inner peace. Trusting in a power greater than ourselves teaches us to let go of things we annot control and lean into quiet acceptance. When the mind is calm, we can more clearly hear our inner wisdom and know the right thing to do and the right time to do it.

These are just a few suggestions to keep your children engaged, relaxed, and open to possibilities. I’d love to hear your ideas.

Blessings and Prayers for Peace,

Melody

This is Your Brain on Fear…

…and how to quiet an anxious mind.

With the looming threat of COVID-19, fearmongering and misinformation is at an all-time high. Inundated with reports of potential threats 24/7 on our airwaves and social medial, it’s easy to get caught up the in the wave of hysteria that is now sweeping the world. We are assaulted on a daily basis by information with the precise intent to activate and feed our basic survival fears.

Incredibly, we are often willing gluttons for this type of base emotional manipulation. Like watching a train wreck we can’t turn away from, we may click on the news and expose ourselves to one horrific event after another. Fear is the new sex. It sells! The joke in the journalism trade is, “If it bleeds, it leads.” And, the more lurid, the better.

Irrational behaviors erupt, pushing people to hoard everything from toilet paper to vodka and doing things that cause more harm than good. One report mentioned that some people were reported to have ingested bleach to kill the virus! A friend of mine told me recently that, upon going to the local grocer for everyday supplies her husband found the shelves where the bathroom tissue would normally be stocked, empty. Upon inquiry, he was told that someone had bought the entire truckload of toilet paper before it had even hit the shelves.

Our fear levels have gone off the rails.

Why can’t relatively intelligent and rational people over-ride their fears and make reasonable and wise decisions, you may wonder? One of the reasons lies in what happens to our brain when over-exposed to fear. Unfortunately, as risk consultant and author David Ropeik of How Risky Is It, Really? reports, “The smarter people are, the more they can twist the facts to prove their point of view.” According to Ropeik, we don’t just take in the facts and reasonably assess the danger.

When exposed to fear, our brain is more interested in conserving energy than engaging in rational thought so it discounts or ignores risks we can’t control and attempts to manage the fears we imagine to have some influence over. Whether these fears concern potential or real threats is irrelevant.

Ropeik also suggests that with exposure to fearful situations the prefrontal cortex tends to go off line and the brain becomes lazy. It’s in survival mode and needs to conserve energy, after all. So, instead of making sound and reasonable choices, a fear-filled (or thrill-seeking) mind will reach for seemingly obscure or unrelated “facts” to rationalize risky behaviors.

Part of the way the brain minimizes mental demands is to become selective about which dangers it can reasonably respond to in the moment. So, reflexively the mind reasons, I can’t do anything about the Coronavirus or children being bombed in the Middle East, but I can buy a a year’s supply of toilet paper and water or take a pill that cures my erectile dysfunction. At least I can manage that crisis, the limbic/lizard brain reasons.

To the limbic brain, it makes sense to tend to our survival needs–to focus only on that which we have some reasonable control over. This same rationalization and illusion of control is why many are buying up everything on the grocer’s shelves.

Unresolved fear creates an imbalance that leaves us either in a constant state of hyper-alert or causes our conscious awareness to shut down from the overload, or both.

Now that we’re all jacked up on the looming dangers of our every day world, what the heck are we to do about it? I don’t know about you but I don’t like to feel my fear and anger popping up whenever I read about or watch the latest tragic account. However, even though we may not be able to personally resolve the threats that seem to press in from every side, we can take some practical steps to reduce and manage our fears in a more balanced way.

St. George Island, Florida

Here are just a few ways you can actively make a difference in reducing fear:

Get some perspective: Do you realize that though daily media reports suggest that everthing’s going to hell in a hen basket and, probably within the next 24 hours, things are really not as tragic as the media would have you believe? Take mental stock of your fears, then do some serious reflecting on whether or not those fears are imminent and if they are actually a real threat to your life, family, or home. Remember that most average American citizens are decent, kind, generous, and good-natured folk who love their families and their communities.

Studies show that exposure to the elements, sunlight, fresh air, and especially dirt, can strengthen our immune systems. Further, unsupervised, unstructured time alone (otherwise known as play) develops creativity and problem-solving skills.

Go on a media fast: Take time to retreat from a steady diet of the ongoing crises of the world. I’m not suggesting you stick your head in the sand about the state of our world, but it’s really not necessary to mainline tragic information in order to have an intelligent conversation or to take positive steps in correcting social, cultural, or environmental imbalances.

Once a week do a media detox for at least a full day. Trust me, the world as you know it will survive. If something really catastrophic happens, I’m sure your friends and neighbors will alert you. You have much better things to do with your mind.

Play: Have fun. Be silly. Laugh with your friends. Tell a joke. Play with your dog or cat or ferret. Give your self plenty of reasons to exit survival mode thinking and simply enjoy life. Play raises the levels of endorphins and norepinephrine in the brain, the “feel good” hormones that strengthen our immune systems.

Focus on what’s right in the world: Take time to notice the beauty around you. There really is a lot to appreciate at almost any moment of the day; the beauty of nature or art or music, for example. Or, the generosity of your family or neighbors or people you don’t even know who do little things every day to make our world more comfortable. Thank your sanitation worker or waitress or your children’s teachers. Enjoy snuggling with your beloved or your pet. Any of these small actions, when performed on a regular basis, go a long way in helping to neutralize or reduce stress hormones and helps our fearful mind focus on something besides our survival.

Take Action: Nothing brings about satisfaction or makes a difference in the world than taking an action that supports what’s dear to our hearts. If you worry about the safety of your food supply, take a course in growing your own food, find or create a community garden in your neighborhood or support your local farmers. If you’re concerned about the damages of petroleum production and consumption do to the environment, do everything in your power to reduce your carbon footprint on the planet. There are tons of books and free information on how to do this. Taking positive action can reassure us, calming our fearful minds.

Learn some basic survival skills: If you don’t already know how, learn to grow your own food and how to filter water to make it fit for drinking. Go backpacking or camping. Learn how to start a fire and keep it going and, how to cook on one. Take a wilderness survival or first aid course. Enroll in a self-defense course or learn how to shoot a gun. Learn how to hunt.

Investigate how to forage for wild foods or how to use plants for medicine. Many plants that grow right in your own yard (You know, the ones you call weeds and keep trying to yank out or poison?) may supplement your diet or heal a wound or treat a virus. Though you may never have to use these skills you will be empowered by the ability to care for yourself in an emergency situation. It’s also a welcome diversion from focusing on the imminent doom of mankind.

Pay Attention to Your Fear Triggers: Notice what your fear triggers are—they will provide you with important clues to where you can engage in making a positive change. What causes you the most upset? What do you shout at the television over? Wherever you find a fear trigger, you will find a place to make a difference in the world.

Reassurance: When we have a balanced relationship with fear, we will perceive a threat, come up with reasonable ways to deal with it, and then take appropriate action. Sometimes taking these steps are enough to reassure ourselves we’ll be able to cope with the situation at hand. Additionally, receiving reassurance from others can help calm our fears and allow our prefrontal cortex to come back on line so we can remember that we possess the skills and knowledge to deal with things.

Call a trusted friend or advisor to get some objective feedback and to offer the reassurance that you can manage what’s currently facing you or that you’ll have access to the support you need. Calm reassurance goes a long way in reducing our fears.

Prayer and Meditation: Making time for prayer and reflection can be one of the most soothing practices to calm a fearful mind. In moments of quiet contemplation we can hear the wisdom of the Divine speaking through our heart of truth. That is why so many find comfort and reassurance in practicing their faith.

As we heed these unspoken inner messages and find that in surrendering to my spirit’s calling, we honor our hearts and can trust in our ability to choose wisely. We can develop and strengthen a level of trust in Divine guidance and in our own innate and God-given wits and wisdom. These are the gifts fear can bring us.

Blessings and Peace, Melody

The above post contains excerpts taken from my recently released book, Soul of the Seasons: Creating Balance, resilience, & Connection By Tapping the Wisdom of the Natural World.

The Dance of Fear

In light of recent events, rampant fearmongering is at an all time high. The following contains excerpts from the chapter, A Winter’s Rest, in my book, Soul of the Seasons: Creating Balance, Resilience, & Harmony by Tapping the Wisdom of the Natural World. Winter is the season of death, rest, darkness, gestation, and The Mystery. The fundamental element of Winter is Water and the core emotion of this season–not coincidentally– is >>>>>FEAR<<<<<.

Fear has much to teach us and, like the emotion of anger, is one of the most challenging to master. The propensity of these emotions to run rampant is great. The following passages contains some great wisdom in identifying when fear have overwhelmed your life and how to get it back in check.

“When we are out of balance in the Winter seasons of our lives, the core emotion of fear can get out-of-hand. Our minds race, overburdened with work, family, the news, or our state of health, from one frantic thought to another, tracking endlessly through all the horrible ways things could go wrong. Overwhelmed, we can become unable or unwilling to take even the tiniest of risks, confused about whom or what to rely on.

“Desperate to find security in what seems an uncertain future, we may enlist faith in those who are incapable of holding our trust. We may seek out conversations or environments (like social media and hysteria-based news outlets) to stimulate and feed our worst fears, mistakenly believing that being “more informed” readies us for the possibility of future [or present] disaster. Flooded with fear and mistrust, we may even believe that others are conspiring against us, causing us to withdraw, unable to trust that anyone will have our backs.

“Flooded with fears of an uncertain future, we use our willpower in contaminated ways. Fearing failure, we may end up with little desire to take action. In a world that seems cold and lifeless, we may curl up in our beds, clutching our heating pad for warmth. If our willpower imbalance shows up as an excess, we may rush around willy-nilly just to be doing something—anything to appease the nagging fear that we will never get anything done. Or we may just as easily use our willpower to bend the will of others to our bidding, convinced that we can create safety through the manipulation of our outer world. And though we desperately crave peace and tranquility, we resist any lessening of our frenetic pace.

“We refuse to rest because resting would be like quitting, like giving up. Driven by our fear of never being (or doing) enough, we fill up our calendars and planners with activities, unwilling to stop and confront the painful realization of our own inadequacies. We may even fear that if we stop, we will die.

“When a Winter/Water imbalance goes far enough, we may become frozen. Lacking the fluidity that Water provides, we stagnate, becoming stiff in both thought and action. We may become emotionally rigid as well. Opinionated and narrow-minded, we resist any viewpoint that differs from our own. We might even become aggressive or belligerent in order to cover fears of our shortcomings.”

Get Quiet: Don’t wait until you’re too sick to get out of bed to give yourself permission to rest. Sit down. Turn off your phone and shut down the computer. Lounge in a hammock or lawn chair. Take a nap. Sit beside a river, stream, or other body of water. Watch birds build a nest or the leaves fall from the trees. Slow down. Give yourself the time and space to settle into doing absolutely nothing. Daydream. Breathe.

“The basic reflexive reactions associated with fear are: fight, flight, freeze, and faint. Each response is appropriate in its own way, depending upon the circumstance at hand.

“Today, survival skills are often viewed as an extreme sport practiced by thrill-seekers and reality TV participants. However, when we are properly prepared, we can trust our wisdom to kick in, and we can make the best use of our knowledge right when we need it most. In the face of danger, our fear can instinctually spur us into taking right action. On a practical level, it is always good to know how to take care of ourselves in difficult situations. When we prepare, as best we can, for impending disasters like hurricanes, forest fires, power outages, floods, or flesh-eating antibiotic-resistant bacteria, we can face these challenges with calm reassurance and the confidence that we can handle most anything that comes our way.

EXERCISE: Paying Attention to Your Fear Triggers: Author and spiritual teacher Caroline Myss states, “People can be put into bondage through all forms of abuse, among them fear tactics. All someone has to do is repeat a fear to you again and again and that fear will take hold of you and make you its prisoner. It will enslave you.”

Don’t become enslaved by the fears of others. Instead, learn to identify your fear triggers. Use this awareness to provide you with important clues for making positive changes.

Take a few moments to ask the following questions. Be sure to record your answers in your journal.

What causes you to be the most upset?

What are you most afraid of?

How do you know when you’re afraid?

  • What is your usual fear response: Fight? Flight? Freeze? or Faint? (List all that apply.)
  • If Fear showed up at your door, what would it have to say to you? What would it ask of you?
  • How does your fear response(s) play out in your behaviors?

Example: “I freeze during moments of fear. I stop what I’m doing and retreat from the situation. If it’s really bad, I’ll hole up in my bedroom for a day or two.”

In the future, whenever your fear is triggered, embrace it with the spirit of curiosity and discovery. As you allow your mind to relax into the guidance of your heart, you can rest reassured either you’ll find a way to work things out or you’ll find someone who can.

“While our fear demands a place at the table, it’s never a good idea to seat it at the head. Taking the time to acquaint ourselves with how we move (or don’t move) with the emotion of fear, we can more easily rely on this essential survival emotion. We can take appropriate steps to calm and reassure ourselves, to access the wisdom we need in the moment, and then to decide whether or not it’s time to take a risk on the matter at hand. By recognizing how fear manifests in our body, we can utilize its ability to access our wisdom and guide us toward right action.”

With Blessings and Peace, Melody

Protecting Yourself During a Pandemic

With the hysteria levels off the charts concerning the spread of Coronavirus it’s easy to forget some of the basic tenets of maintaining health and preventing illness. The constant barrage of conflicting information can leave us confused and reactive. Five Element medicine, the impetus for the creation of my book, Soul of the Seasons, provides an excellent foundation in maintaining balanced health and well being.

I’m not going to overload you with more information on virus protection or how to sanitize your home, you’ve likely already have more than enough data on that, instead, we’ll focus on the benefits of holistic self-care. Holistic self-care is more than stocking up on the latest superfood or learning specialized body work techniques, it’s also about creating balance and harmony in our intellectual, emotional, and spiritual bodies.

Northwoods Herbal Tea

Whether it comes to choosing a food plan, selecting the best herbs to boost our immune system, or deciding whom to allow into our inner circle, when we know ourselves well, we’ll make the best decisions because we understand who we are at our core. This applies to everything that influences our inner and outer landscapes.

In Soul of the Seasons: Creating Balance, Resilience, & Connection By Tapping the Wisdom of the Natural World, each of the five seasons of Spring, Summer, Harvest, Fall, and Winter offers unique ways in which to support and strengthen our whole being.

To support our emotional well-being, we must develop healthy and balanced relationships with the core emotions of Anger, Joy, Sympathy, Grief, and Fear. These emotions are essential in helping us to navigate the ever-changing seasons of life. For example:

  • Anger serves to remind us when an injustice or boundary violation has occurred. Creating healthy boundaries creates an environment of safety and security necessary to maintain balance and harmony
  • Joy is the expression of a healthy heart and builds resilience through connection, communication, and community. Studies show that joy, happiness, laughter, and play strengthens our immune system.
  • Sympathy allows is to relate to others with understanding and compassion and gratitude for all we have been given. These qualities can and should extend to ourselves and are essential components in nurturing ourselves and others.
  • Grief is the expression of a loss of the things we have valued and loved. It teaches us the invaluable skill of letting go and respect for the fragility and beauty of life.
  • Fear activates our internal risk assessment department. When we notice feelings of fear and anxiety, it’s our signal to take a moment to stop and evaluate the situation, gather the skills or tools we may need, and make any necessary adjustments to manage any potential threats.

I want to focus a bit on the core emotion of fear in this post because our relationship with fear is critical when dealing with threats, whether they be existential or perceived. The level of fear surrounding Covid-19 is off the charts. Facts, fiction, and superstitions about prevention and contraction of the virus have been examined, refuted, and contradicted by conventional news sources, social media, and everyday conversation.

Too Much Information is a real thing. Deluged by too many “facts”–especially those steeped in fear–causes the mind to shut down and/or go into survival mode. Operating from this mode, we revert to our lizard brain where we are more likely to react defensively and out of fear, instead of making clear choices that are best for our bodies and our situation. Overwhelmed and confused, we may run around grabbing everything and anything we believe might help us or, we can become immobilized, unable to make any decisions at all.

Our best antidote to fear overload, however, is peace and quiet. Though it may be tempting to research all the available data, in order to make quality decisions, the mind needs to go on a fast. Taking a break from all media and sitting quietly in nature (especially near water) is one of the most useful tools in making quality decisions.

Quality rest is another valuable tool. Sleep and rest keeps our mind, body, emotions, and spirit in top form. Over-work and sleep deprivation are hugely detrimental to our immune system and make us vulnerable to illnesses such at COVID-19. Lack of quality rest can adversely inhibit everyday function more than alcohol ingestion.

To Review: To improve your mental, emotional, and physical health…Do Nothing.

Rest, gardening, laughing with friends, feeling gratitude for the sweetness of life, and valuing what is most precious to us are all excellent ways to stay healthy and ward off illness.

My book, Soul of the Seasons, contains many thoughtful questions, guided meditations, and exercises designed to create and restore balance and harmony in our inner and outer landscapes. Read more about how the natural world can help us navigate the seasons of life with more grace and resilience.

Our Violence Calls

DSCF7428aI awoke today in the dark pre-dawn hours to the news of the Las Vegas shootings. A familiar and heavy pain in my heart deepened as I groaned, “Not again!” I scanned my social media accounts over my morning coffee, scrolling through comments that have become heartbreakingly commonplace: “When will it be enough?” “What is wrong with this country?” “How bad does it have to get?”

Amid posts filled with heated debates over ineffectual gun laws, rampant hatred, and mental illness rise the cries of hearts like mine, those that have grown weary of these all too familiar tragedies. We want something to be done. The ache of loss and grief has become too great. We pray for it to just please… stop.

Anger surfaces. We wonder why our leaders, while mouthing their regrets, do nothing to stem these terrible violent massacres of our brothers and sisters. Still, we summon the grace to offer up prayers of sympathy and support, to find deep compassion for all who are impacted by yet another horrific display of violence. I search my heart for meaningful solutions but any answer that comes seems woefully inadequate.

Perhaps the answers we search for often come up short because the violence we see on a daily basis is the result of many, many years of oppression and emotional suppression. There are few safe places where we can admit to our anger and hatred and desire for revenge. We often find little generosity to express our neediness and feelings of inadequacy. We may lack the courage to admit just how much we resent our demanding children, our indifferent partners, our needy parents. With little tolerance for our aching exhaustion or acrid bitterness or the bottomless grief, we shove these unwelcome thoughts and feelings deep into our subconscious. In an effort to soothe our ever-expanding fears our minds want simple, straightforward answers, though our hearts know that none exist.

It frustrates me to no end to admit I do not have satisfactory answers for these complex, layered issues that have been centuries in the making. The causes of violence are complex and charged with emotion. In order to continue to put one foot in front of the other and continue to live a meaningful life I must enter my inner landscape and to honestly confront  my feelings regarding these events that triggers so much grief and rage and sorrow. I must become aware of the dark emotions as well as the light ones. I must both find my joy, and confront my own violent thoughts. I must learn to embrace all of me. I must face whatever this violence calls out in me.

We are emotional beings. Though we often pride ourselves on our ability to reason things out, 95% of our decisions are made for emotional reasons. Little happens in life without either an emotional impetus or an emotional reaction. Yet we remain strangers to our rich inner landscapes.

Here’s what I know about the dynamics of emotion:

All emotion calls for expression. Emotions by their nature demand movement (expression). Whether we express our emotions in balanced or imbalanced ways depends upon our relationship with them; in how we have embraced them, or abandoned them.

Suppression always causes imbalance. The minute we begin to suppress or judge or deny any emotion, we drive our feelings into the dark recesses of our fearful minds where they fester and become caustic.

Disavowing our suppressed emotions separates us from our power. When we cannot or will not own our dark thoughts–the ones where we carry a secret desire for revenge or hatred or punishment or indifference, we remain impotent in affecting a change. Since all emotion demands expression, our denied dark thoughts are destined to erupt–either internally or externally–with varying levels of intensity, the most extreme of which is violence. When we cannot or will not confront our denied emotions we often take out our unresolved feelings on those we love the most.

Expressing our emotions requires the courage to become vulnerable.  We all need a sacred witness to our pain. The most courageous thing we will ever do is to admit to ourselves, to God, and to another human being the truth of our darkest feelings. This should never be done casually, however, or without assurance that who we reveal our failings to has the integrity to hold our confession in confidence with a compassion that is free of judgement.

Having compassion does not condone action. We can find compassion for another soul whose heart has been crushed beneath the weight of their destructive behaviors without absolving them of the responsibility for their actions. We can also do this for ourselves.  We must learn to tenderly love our most wounded selves while being fully accountable for our words and actions. One way of creating peace in our hearts is to offer a means for restoration for the harm we may have caused others.

Forgiveness is the key to compassion. Forgiveness is a deep letting go of our attachment to our pain. It is not the absolution of another’s hurtful actions. It does not mean that our pain was not valid or that our heart was not wounded. Forgiveness unties us from the belief that we are our painful past. To forgive ourselves is the most courageous and healing thing we will ever do.

We are not meant to heal alone. At times, the weight of our shame, bitterness, rage, grief, and fear can be crushing . Loneliness amplifies the burdens we carry. We can feel shunned and unloved, that we don’t belong. It may seem as if there is no way out of our darkness and we slip further into despair. Without others to offer compassion and encouragement or to present another perspective to our problems, it’s easier to entertain thoughts of harm to ourselves or others. One of the most courageous things we will ever do is to ask for help. The next most courageous thing we can do is to offer help to another in need, no matter how uncomfortable it might make us.

DSCF7799aPerhaps the thing we need the most to quell the explosion of violence in our communities is the thing we need the most in ourselves: To be heard. To be seen. To be honored. To be understood. To be loved. To belong.

Perhaps what we need during these very trying times is to examine the ways we have both embraced our emotional selves, and where we have committed self-abandonment. Spend a few moments today examining your heart space for all the thoughts and feelings this most recent tragedy has triggered. Try to do this self-examination with tenderness and compassion, and, with utter honesty.

With Much Love,

Melody

Melody A Scout is an author and Intuitive Spiritual Advisor. Her deep connection to the natural world has influenced her work as a Sacred Landscape Consultant and Plant Spirit Medicine practitioner. She is currently writing a book called Soul of the Seasons which explores the wisdom embedded within the seasonal cycles of the natural world and how to find balance and joy in both our inner and outer landscapes.

In Preparation for Winter: A Time to Turn Inward and Hide

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me lately. I don’t want to do any of the things I normally do. I just want to run away and hide.”

I’ve been hearing these types of statements a lot recently. Friends, colleagues, healers, and clients alike have reported feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by everything from repeated natural disasters to the simple tasks of their everyday lives. But what if there is nothing wrong with us at all? What if instead, our desire for retreat is just our internal wisdom telling us it’s time to prepare for a much needed season of rest?

DSCF2895.JPGHere in the U.S. the season of Harvest is complete and Fall has arrived with Winter right on its heels. Fall is where we prepare for the fallow season of Winter. In Five Element wisdom, Winter embodies the processes of hibernation, death, gestation, and stillness; it is the season where doing nothing is the right and perfect activity. These forces are at play in both the natural world, and in our inner landscapes.

But pressed by internal and external demands for continual productivity, we often fear (the core emotion of Winter) the very idea of slowing down, of taking a break. Though we want nothing more than to quiet our minds and our activities, to retreat into our self-constructed caves of isolation, rest, however, is not a culturally acceptable season in which to linger. Deep rest, however, is exactly what our bodies and spirits crave and Winter’s rest is the perfect prescription for the weary ache that seems to be embedded in our very bones. .

“Imbued with the qualities of contemplation, reflection, meditation, and conservation, enveloped by Winter’s deep rest, we can come to more fully appreciate the core essence of life itself. With its long, dark nights, Winter is the perfect time to work on our inner landscapes. When we make good use of this rest we remain more resilient to life’s changes, able to move with the unexpected without fretting unduly over an uncertain future.” –from Soul of the Seasons (c) 2017, Melody A Scout

Every living being on the planet requires a season of rest to build resilience, and for restoration and rejuvenation. When we press ourselves into over-work and over-stimulation we create imbalance. An imbalance in the season of Winter can show up as anxiety, hyper-activity, fearful striving, adrenal exhaustion, aggression, and mind-racing. Overwhelmed by our busy schedules we may believe we don’t have time to rest, but rest is exactly what we need.

Mother Earth wisely knows the importance of quality rest. The natural world retreats as most signs of life go into hiding. Forced growth and activity during this season would result in death for many beings, so all unnecessary activities die away during the Big Sleep that is Winter.

Fall’s purpose then, is to prepare for the coming Big Sleep by setting aside the necessities that can sustain us both internally and externally. Much in the same way we save for a vacation by carving out time and resources for time off, we can make plans to ensure we have the means and resources necessary for regular periods of rest. Taking small daily breaks that restore body, mind, and spirit, getting quality sleep, and setting aside periods of time for napping, meditation, and contemplation can help us to build resilience and avoid burnout.

As Winter looms on the horizon, take some time to consider the following questions:

What can I do now to prepare for an extended season of rest?

How can I incorporate seasons of rest into my every day schedule?

How do I avoid or resist rest?

What in my life needs a good death?

Winter streamThe power encoded within the act of retreating from our everyday lives is perfectly reflected in this poem by David Whyte.

HIDING

is a way of staying alive. Hiding is a way of holding ourselves until we are ready to come into the light. Hiding is one of the brilliant and virtuoso practices of almost every part of the natural world: the protective quiet of an icy northern landscape, the held bud of a future summer rose, the snow bound internal pulse of the hibernating bear. Hiding is underestimated. We are hidden by life in our mother’s womb until we grow and ready ourselves for our first appearance in the lighted world; to appear too early in that world is to find ourselves with the immediate necessity for outside intensive care.

Hiding done properly is the internal faithful promise for a proper future emergence, as embryos, as children or even as emerging adults in retreat from the names that have caught us and imprisoned us, often in ways where we have been too easily seen and too easily named. We live in a time of the dissected soul, the immediate disclosure; our thoughts, imaginings and longings exposed to the light too much, too early and too often, our best qualities squeezed too soon into a world already awash with ideas that oppress our sense of self and our sense of others. What is real is almost always to begin with, hidden, and does not want to be understood by the part of our mind that mistakenly thinks it knows what is happening. What is precious inside us does not care to be known by the mind in ways that diminish its presence.

Hiding is an act of freedom from the misunderstanding of others, especially in the enclosing world of oppressive secret government and private entities, attempting to name us, to anticipate us, to leave us with no place to hide and grow in ways unmanaged by a creeping necessity for absolute naming, absolute tracking and absolute control. Hiding is a bid for independence, from others, from mistaken ideas we have about our selves, from an oppressive and mistaken wish to keep us completely safe, completely ministered to, and therefore completely managed. Hiding is creative, necessary and beautifully subversive of outside interference and control. Hiding leaves life to itself, to become more of itself. Hiding is the radical independence necessary for our emergence into the light of a proper human future.

© David Whyte: March 2014: Excerpted from ‘HIDING’ From the upcoming book of essays CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.

Melody A Scout is a Plant Spirit Medicine practitioner, Sacred Landscape Designer, and the author of the upcoming book, Soul of the Seasons which reveals the wisdom of Five Element medicine through the template of the seasons of the natural world.

The Art of Making Mistakes

Barb Psimas
Artwork by Barbara Psimas, Fine Artist

There’s no way around it, pursuing art and opening to our creativity involves risk. Any time we consider beginning a piece of artwork we must become willing to take a chance. We must become willing to enter into the unknown. We must become willing to be wrong. We must risk feeling silly or embarrassed, of making a mistake.

In my conversations with fellow artists of all types I find that we share similar anxieties or “fear Gremlins”, as author and researched Brene Brown calls them. Fear Gremlins are those insidious creatures who live in our psyches. Whenever we put our hand to a brush or a welder’s torch, a spatula, or the keyboard–basically, any tool of creativity–these annoying fearful critters of the subconscious begin to prattle incessantly, bringing to the surface our deepest fears and insecurities. They blather on with their accusations…

“Who do you think you are?”

“You can’t do that!”

“You don’t have what it takes!”

“You’re not enough! You’re not enough! You’re not enough!”

I’m sure you could add a few of your own.

In Five Element medicine Summer is the season represented by the element of Fire, and Water represents the season of Winter. Both Water and Fire are essential elements that support and nourish our creative spirits and, where we often experience the most conflict. In their balanced states Fire and Water temper and support each other. In the natural world the sun’s heat is tempered by the moisture in the atmosphere. Water sources such as seas, rivers, streams, and lakes, evaporate in the heat of sunlight. Their moisture then falls in the form of rain and snow over great areas, replenishing the earth, allowing plants to germinate and grow, for new life to begin. Forest fires reduce dead plant material to ash, fortifying the soil. These same fires are also essential in activating certain plants and seeds, allowing them to germinate.

Fire is the element that represents the emotional states of passion, joy, and creativity. Fire generates heat and light; physically, emotionally and spiritually. Our creative work requires warmth, tenderness, trust and deep courage, all important attributes of this essential element. Just as a physical light reveals the details in our artwork, spiritual light reveals the deepest recesses of our hearts. Expressing our creativity involves shining a light into the depth of our soul, revealing who we are at our very core.

Water, by contrast, is the element that symbolizes darkness, mystery, and the emotion of fear. Water is about caution and contemplation, stillness and gestation, risk assessment and fluidity. It is also where death resides. Our fears are here to serve us by alerting us to possible danger. They show us where we feel most secure and, what makes us tremble.

Water quenches Fire and Fire disburses Water. In this way, these two elements keep each other in balance and create an environment that is not only inhabitable, but pleasurable to live in. An imbalance in either of these two powerful elements can create havoc. Think: Forest fires and deserts, floods and avalanches. Spiritually, the element of Water tempers our enthusiasm and passion with time for contemplation and rest.

Though not unique to artists, one of our deepest desires is to live a life filled with warmth and juiciness, with  happiness and joy–but also with the calm reassurance of security. Experiencing a life such as this requires us to develop a delicate and dynamic relationship between the elements of Water and Fire. Too much fear (Water) and we’ll never pick up a tool. Too much passion (Fire) and chaos is the result.

Art is a container for our creativity.

Winter streamWater is of little use without a container. We need a cup from which to drink, pipes to carry water to our homes, rivers and streams need their banks. In art, as in life, one of the most critical aspects of creating is knowing where to begin and knowing when to end. We have to not only pick up a tool and give birth to our work, but also to give it a good death by finishing our art and then sending it out into the world. Or at least out into our living rooms.

Fire spread2Fire, on the other hand, provides the heat of passion that is necessary to carry out our creations. This essential element both warms our hearts and our homes. It brings light to our work, our vision, and our soul. Light shows us the unadulterated truth, revealing our flaws, and our brilliance. Both physical and spiritual light are needed to carry out our work. But too much enthusiasm (Fire) and we’ll keep working and reworking our art until it becomes a muddled mess.

An imbalance in either of these two elements inevitably creates difficulties. Too little Water and we become frozen, unable to take a risk, afraid we’ll make a mistake. Too much Water and our work (and our life) spills out everywhere, our art becomes watered down, soggy. Too little Fire and we lack the creative spark, we will find little joy in our work. Too much Fire and we work without ceasing, leaving only ash in our wake. We may create, but we as we do, we burn down everything in our path including our health and our relationships.

MistakeIf you find yourself stuck in either an excess or deficiency of either Fire or Water, consider how you might bring a little more balance to these elements.

If you are frozen and experiencing a creative block, try engaging with your creative passion. View great works of art and commune with other artists. Make passionate love with your beloved. Take small risks. Start out small. Paint or write for only fifteen minutes. Walk in the sunshine. Give yourself permission to make a mistake, permission to fail.

If you find there’s no beginning or end to your art, that your work (or your life) is in constant chaos, or that you tend to begin, and then discard your work too easily, (a Fire imbalance) try including periods of quiet contemplation into your routine. Sit by a body of water or listen to a calm and reassuring mentor. Spend time meditating. Take breaks. Sit in the dark. Trust that your art will be there, alive and well, when you return to pick up your pencil or awl or keyboard.

“Before every creation there must first be destruction.” — Pablo Picasso

Art is a continual cycle of death and rebirth. Ask any accomplished artist and they will tell you: creating art requires a continual balance between trust and vulnerability, between passion and the willingness to take risks. I am often challenged to find a balance between Water and Fire in both my writing and healing arts. I have found I need periods of solitude balanced with periods of lively interaction with friends and fellow artists.

I invite you to develop a more intimate relationship with your Fire and Water. Strike a good balance between your creativity with your caution, your joy and your fear. Make  a place in your life for both a season of Summer Fire and a quiet Winter’s Rest. When you begin to understand the dynamics between the season of Summer and Winter it cannot help but be reflected in your art, and your life.

 

Blessings and Grace,

Melody

 

Dealing with Fear: Staking Out Your Square Foot of Sanity

DSCF5507In the heated debates of the current political arena I find myself both incredulous and frustrated, sometimes hysterical with laughter and other times quaking in my boots. People are pairing off, dueling with harsh words of opposition or reciting endless lists of factual and imagined grievances of the opposing position. Sometimes it reminds me of the riot scene from the movie Young Frankenstein*.
Casual friends, social media acquaintances and even family members can barely stand to be at the same table with each other. High level discussions are carried on as if it were a life or death matter, and sadly, some of it is just that. I’ve found myself after one or more similar discussions, silently wondering (or aloud to others) about these frustrating on often unproductive conversations:
What could I possibly do to connect with this person? They seem so set in their beliefs and so vehemently opposed to any position except their own. Can’t they see the clear danger their cherished candidate/position is promoting? How can they not see what is going on?
I see by the numerous posts on social media and in discussions over coffee with friends and family that I’m not alone. Many conclude they may simply be light years apart from others in their core beliefs, that the chasm is just too vast.
But, the dynamics that underlay these often polarizing conversations may go much deeper than simply having differing views and core beliefs. The influences that support the divisive contention and resulting backlash is more complex than we might imagine: it may have to do with a biochemical response to fear that is produced by the body and the brain.
Fear-mongering, whether through the dispensing of it or hearing of it, has been used as a successful tactic in motivation and manipulation since the beginning of time and, it can be quite addictive. Fear creates a biochemical reaction in the brain that releases adrenaline and other stress hormones. These biochemicals are then released into the bloodstream resulting in a sort of hormone-induced high that gets us all jacked up and ready to take on any obstacle in our way. Once this “high” wears off we feel flat, spent. We may even feel melancholy or with a lingering irritation.  Some of the side effects of spent adrenaline include exhaustion, depression and anger, we may find ourselves unconsciously reaching for another adrenaline “fix”. It’s like watching a train wreck–we want to turn away but somehow we cannot avert our attention from the awesome and terrible gore.
Unchecked fear has some very curious effects and may leave people open to being easily manipulated.When we’re over-stimulated by fear, whether it’s a short-term intense reaction or more subtle but constant exposure over time, the brain begins to shut down the prefrontal cortex to conserve energy as mind and body enter survival mode. Logic and reasoning go out the window as the brain focuses on what it believes is the most immediate threat and what it can reasonably manage in the present. The greater the threat, the need for more singular focus. Everything else is put on the back burner. The mind perceives danger and reacts: it believes it is the time to set our defenses, not for waxing philosophical. It’s the mind and body’s very effective and essential way of keeping us alive when we perceive a threat.
In this ongoing state of threat, whether real or imagined, the individual is immersed in survival mode thinking and tends to grasp at any “fact” to support their position. If there is no voice of calm reason (internal or external) or time taken away from the steady diet of trauma-drama the ability to take in new information is curtailed. Everything looks dark, darker, and black. If we get caught up in the fear cycle we’ll engage exclusively with like-minded people, seeking out data and media resources that support our position and mirror our inner state of alarm. We’ll have little interest in the truth of the matter. In fact, those who oppose our beliefs may create more fear or even activate our rage.
So…what to do if we find ourselves stuck in this merry-go-round of fear? It’s hard to have reasonable discussions on highly-charged subjects when we’re not grounded, when our own fears have become imbalanced. Here are a few steps to help you stay grounded and open during fearful times.
Take care of yourself! This is the first rule in survival training: You can’t be of any use to others if you don’t take of yourself first. Go on a media fast. Put away all electronic devices, printed or other media sources. One 24-hour period a week would be optimal or, at the very least, create a media-free zone every day. The dinner hour is a great place to start. Taking a media break is not a denial of what’s happening in the world but more akin to a mini reboot of mind and spirit. This allows for a renewed perspective so we might more clearly see the greater forces at work.
Second, don’t forget to laugh, play, and have fun. Give your heart and mind a rest from the turmoil. Hug a friend. Have a long soak in the tub. Play with your dog. Have a water balloon fight! Do anything but engage in more  of what triggers your fear cycle. Having a few heart-felt moments can reconnect us with a sense of community and remind us of what’s really important in life.
In Five Element medicine Fear is the emotion that is associated with the element of Water. Being in, near or around water may help to sooth and calm your spirit and allow pent up emotions to flow more easily.
DSCF4206Find some areas of commonality. Believe it or not, most people’s core concerns, even those on wildly opposing sides, are often quite similar. If opposing parties can find even one shared common interest, the door may open to more expansive conversation. In doing so you just might see that even though you may vigorously disagree as to the possible solution to a particular problem, you are united in your concerns and aspirations. Talk about your fears and hopes, your dreams for the future. Sometimes just speaking about these things out loud and being truly heard by another can reset our fear cycle.
The true purpose of fear is to keep us alert to danger, assess the risks and take appropriate action. If we notice our fears are overwhelming us, simply talking about them with a compassionate listener can reduce our fear and the effects it has on our body, mind and spirit. By expressing our fears in a balanced way we can stay open to clear-minded thinking. In taking a moment to get quiet, we can more easily access our inner wisdom.
Be the calm voice of reason. People who are fearful often respond positively to reassurance or a kind word directed toward something that is uplifting to both parties. Remember there’s a lot more to this world than the horror show that is the political arena right now or the dire state of the world as reflected in the mass media. at the very least we can reassure each other that we all care about family, safety, and a better future for our children.
Fight Fair. If you must argue, to stand up for what you believe to be right from the very core your being, do it with someone you can trust not to throw you under the bus emotionally or intellectually. Frustration and anger are natural responses to unaddressed fear and arguing may be a way that some choose to express that emotional charge. Some (like me) thoroughly enjoy a good verbal sparring match if both parties can come out shaking hands and retain their respect for each other. Resist name-calling and inferences that the other party is ignorant or in denial or both. Don’t use shame to manipulate others or to denigrate their beliefs. Avoid trying to dominate another with your position or your righteousness, it will only create more resistance. Here’s a good rule to follow.: If you wouldn’t want it done to you, don’t do it!
IMG_2815Lastly, try to remember that we’re all struggling to find our way. In order to respond effectively in times of fear it’s important to stay grounded yet flexible, to stand clearly on what you know in your heart to be true yet remain open to seeing the world through another’s eyes. It’s important to hear others and to be heard. If you are truly grounded in your convictions, temporarily looking at the world through the eyes of another will not weaken your position but may just open your heart. Examine your core beliefs and don’t be afraid to have them challenged. If you cannot stand for your beliefs to be challenged perhaps they are not serving you as well as you thought. Try to find compassion for those that scare you the most. Honor and respect your fear, not to let it overwhelm you or render you immobile, but to alert you to what really matters in the present moment.
With Blessings and Grace to All,
Melody
*I highly recommend watching the movie Young Frankenstein starring Gene Wilder and Terry Garr.

Winter: The Other Side of Fear

Winter streamThe Winter equinox notes the official start of winter, or at least it says so the calendar. In Five Element tradition the season of Winter marks a time for rest, death, contemplation, and for entering the unknown. It is represented by the element of water and the emotion of fear. Water represents the womb of our consciousness, the place where our dreams can safely gestate until they’re ready to be borne into the world.  It is the quiet place where we can hear that “still small voice”.

The fundamental emotion of Winter is fear. Fear is often labeled a “negative” emotion, one we need to eliminate or dominate. To be sure, an unbalanced relationship with fear can lead to a path filled with panic, anxiety, suspicion, and mistrust. The experience of fear has an addictive quality to it, drawing us back, again and again to the things that terrify us. Fear sells. Think: Mainstream news and 95% of all advertising.

“When we fail to maintain our spiritual balance, when our connection to divine guidance is clouded or broken, we forget our Divine Destiny, God’s purpose for us. Without this inner knowing it becomes a struggle to make decisions that are in our best interest. As a result, we may run after money or material goods or relationships that do not serve our highest purpose. If, in order to achieve our goals, we go without sleep or decent food or we neglect important relationships,  we will only create undue stress on the mind, emotions, and body resulting little satisfaction once  those goals have been met.” – from Soul of the Seasons by Melody A. Scout

The emotion of fear can assist us in some very essential ways, however. Fear challenges us to consider the risks in our physical, emotional and spiritual survival choices, and then supplies the excitement of stepping into those choices. Fear pushes us to the edge, demanding that we reach deep within the dark corners of our spirit to access the wisdom we need in order to move forward. By facing our fears we can more easily access that creative spark, the creation of new beginnings, and, the excitement of birthing our dreams.

Following our dreams requires us to step off into the unknown, to say good-bye to old ways of being, to trust that we’ll be supported in our endeavors, and the confidence to know that we are enough.

Winter is the perfect time to contemplate the following questions:

What needs a good death in my life right now?
What dreams lay dormant in the mire of my past pain, frozen by the fear of disappointment?
When did I last take a deep and quiet rest in order to hear that “still small voice” of wisdom?

What awaits you on the other side of fear?

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I wish you a rich and cozy Winter.

With Love,

Melody

Melody A Scout is an author and Intuitive Spiritual Advisor. Her deep connection to the natural world has influenced her work as a Sacred Landscape Consultant and Plant Spirit Medicine practitioner. She is currently writing a book called Soul of the Seasons which explores the wisdom embedded within the seasonal cycles of the natural world and how to find balance and joy in both our inner and outer landscapes.

Thinking the Unthinkable

IMG_2815The recent events in Paris and now San Bernadino, CA ,and Savannah, GA are just the latest in the string of unthinkable losses that befall us each and every day. Somewhere on the planet someone is experiencing their own horrific trauma. Rest assured, whether we are consciously aware of it or not, we all feel it. No one is exempt from these gut-wrenching emotions, not even terrorists.

The mind simply doesn’t want to comprehend these hugely tragic acts of violence–that they are a part of our everyday world.Our collective unacknowledged grief begs for our attention. Violence and hatred find a perfect breeding ground of a denial that separates us from our grief.

The recent horrific events here in America and countless other locations around the world resurrect within me old feelings of anger, powerlessness, fear, and despair. So many questions have been running through my mind. What would I do during a catastrophic event such as this? How can I protect myself and my family? What do I do with my grief, fear, despair and anger over so much tragedy and loss? When will enough be enough?

As I prayed and meditated on these questions, questions that have been troubling me since 9/11, I asked God the following: In the face of senseless destruction how do we keep from being overwhelmed by our fear and grief? What do we do in the face of such evil, an evil that wants only to destroy? How do we deal with a group of people who’s credo is ‘We love death more than you love life.’?

IMG_2747
St. James church ruins overlooking the Potomac in Harper’s Ferry, WV

Here is the response that came to me:

“You can start right now by building and strengthening your communities at the most personal level. Develop more intimate relationships with your family, your loved ones and especially your neighbors. Build relationships that embody compassion, kindness, and affirming another’s worth. Learn to resolve conflict with an empathy that includes both the laughter of children and the wisdom of your elders. Create a space of honor, respect and value for all–a place where all benefit just from being there.  Comfort each other. Be a witness to another’s pain and grief and help them to bind up their wounds.  Create a place where together you can work toward the best and prepare for the worst.

“When you develop your communities in this way there’ll be no room for evil. By developing your relationships and becoming more intimately acquainted with all whom you encounter, you will KNOW when your brother or sister is in trouble. You will know when they become filled with darkness or are being led astray. In creating greater awareness in your communities you can help others become more aware of their needs and their gifts, their capacity for love and the depth of their shame. Of course, you will first have to do the same for yourself.”

Once again I’ve underestimated the power of my prayers. It was crystal clear; my responsibility to my community included a responsibility to myself.  I need to work toward the best, but prepare for the worst. I need to comfort and bind up my wounds in order to have the capacity to heal or comfort others. I need to resolve my personal conflicts with offering empathy and kindness to those who show hate. I have no excuses. There’s no reason to throw up my hands in despair declaring, “What can I do?” There’s always a soul to comfort and a spirit to lift, and that includes my own.