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9/11, Depression, and the Meaning of Life

Many people are remembering 9/11 today. It's hard not to remember. So many of us can recall exactly what we were doing when we first heard the devastating news - for me it was that a plane crashed into a building in New York City. I remember a group of students gathered around a TV screen in one of the Social Work buildings. It was one of our first day of classes. I wasn't sure what they were watching, but I cruised right by already late to class.

We moved our desks into a circle. There were a few people frantically pushing numbers on their cell phones. The instructor had the affect of someone trying to maintain calm. It turned out that several of my classmates' families were in New York and my classmates were trying to reach them. As the beginnings of the story of 9/11 unfolded, we exchanged looks of shock. Our professor asked that we stay for the full 2.5 hours of class. We thought she was crazy.

I remember going home and watching the news all day long. I remember going to bed terrified. I couldn't snuggle in close enough to my husband and I finally fell asleep wondering what kind of world I was bringing my firstborn into as I thought about him sprouting from a little seed inside my belly. Earlier in the day I had wondered if our new insurance plan would cover my pregnancy - we had just moved to Michigan from Arlington, Virginia. That seemed like a non-issue at bedtime. I couldn't stop thinking about how I had driven past the Pentagon every day on my way to work when we lived in Arlington. I couldn't begin to make sense of what had happened in our country - the land of the free and home of the brave - that day. Nobody could.

It is National Suicide Prevention Week. I saw a post on Facebook yesterday about a group call To Write Love On Her Arms. According to their mission statement, this is a  "movement is dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide..."

Yesterday's call was to write the word "LOVE" on your arm to help raise awareness. So I did that, knowing that finding hope and help for these issues specifically is a cause that I hold close to my heart.

When I woke this morning to stories of 9/11 and LOVE on my arm, I began to think about graduate school and how I had diagnosed myself with almost every mood disorder I learned about in class. It was actually quite liberating to learn that there was an entire vocabulary for the feelings I had struggled with my entire life.

In a different Facebook post yesterday, someone I know shared a picture of LOVE on her arm. She included a note to her dad - I gathered he had committed suicide. I thought about my dad's sudden death about 3.5 years ago. He didn't commit suicide, but before we knew the cause of his death, the possibility that he did commit suicide wasn't out of the question. With drugs and alcohol, he certainly found other less severe ways to escape the pain he felt in his life.

After his death, I pretty much fell apart. With three little people to care for and my husband back at work, I knew I needed help. I decided to take anti-anxiety medication. While my grief intensified my anxiety and symptoms of depression, it is true that living with anxiety was something I had been doing my whole life. I didn't have words for the constant feeling that something could go wrong at any second until I learned more about anxiety and depression in graduate school. I thought I was "too sensitive" while the truth was I felt things really deeply. Maybe more deeply than other people. When the pain was too much bear, I looked for ways to hide it or dull it. 

When I finally decided to take medication for my anxiety it was in part because I remembered a friend saying to me "Anna, you don't have to live this way" referring to my constant state of anxiety. I never wanted to take medication, but at that point - after my dad died - I didn't think I had time for therapy and I knew from my studies that it would help me. It was a very small dose, just enough to take the edge off and not enough to keep me from crying my way through a year's worth of contacts in way less than a year's time.

The thing about living with anxiety and depression that is so hard, and can be debilitating even, is that you feel so alone. So hopeless. So isolated. And on top of all that, you can feel ashamed of feeling that way. You think the only way out of the pain is to stop it. People try stopping the pain in all kinds of ways.

I would never, ever tell anyone that the key to happiness is to take medication. That is a choice you have to make for yourself based on your own history and your own present situation. What I would do is to say what my friend said to me - "You don't have to live like this." You have options.

See, I have come to realize that while there is immense pain and suffering in this world - and while I am not immune to any of it - we are not here on Earth to suffer. We are here to enjoy our lives and to live them peacefully. I don't know what that means for everyone, but I know that it is true. I don't have any proof, you'll just have to trust me.

Sometimes I wish my medication would numb me to the pain I feel, and that's when I know that it is time to take it up a notch in other areas of my life. When I want to escape what I'm feeling, I have found that writing helps me to feel more grounded. Yoga reminds me to breathe and helps me to stay present. Meditation helps me to quiet my "monkey mind" - the what-ifs that can spin out of control if I don't stop them. Being outside soothes my soul. Taking walks and running (or trying to run...) helps me to clear my mind. Spending time with people I love helps me remember who I am - not a condition, but a soul doing its best to enjoy this human experience. When I can return to myself and what is most important to me, I can better handle whatever life throws my way. 

For me, art is a cure-all. Creating connects me to my core, the Creator, and all things created. I try to create something every single day. Sometimes it's just dinner (usually it's not dinner...). I have been keeping a Blessings journal for a while now and I love it because I can do just a little bit of creating very easily every day AND reflect on the things and people for which I am grateful. 

Yoga, art, and meditation are some of the tools I use to get to break away from the every day and get back to what matters most to me. 

We all have those tools - those things that can help us to slow down and re-focus on what matters. For a lot of people prayer will do the trick. No matter how much pain you are in, you must remember that life is not about the pain. Life is about JOY and you have the right to live in peace.

So, how do we get back there? What will it take to get you back to the peace? Here are a few steps you can try to take...
  1. Breathe
  2. Think of one thing that brings you peace
  3. Take one step, make one stroke, write one word, recall one memory, or reach out to one friend at a time - whatever it is that will take you to peace
  4. Keep breathing
  5. Keep going
  6. Get there

The only way through anything is to go through it. Seriously. Sit in it for as long as you need to. Feel what comes up for you. Yell, scream, cry, stomp your feet. Get as angry or as sad as you need to be. 

And then remember that you don't have to live there. You don't have to stay in the darkness. Let it - whatever it is - flow through you, then you too can go with the flow. You can move through whatever it is. It might take hours or days or even years. Choose one thing that brings you joy or peace and take one little step in that direction whenever you can. You will make your way out of it. And, know you're not alone. If you need help, reach out for it. It's okay to ask for help.

This world - one where true heroes sacrifice their lives to save others, where slowly we are raising our voices around issues like depression and suicide, where communities come together in times of despair to help one another, and where we recognize that we are all connected - this is the world I brought my now eleven year-old son into. It is a world filled with war and hate and hunger and pain and suffering, and it is a world filled with beauty and peace and joy. We have to learn to live with the good and the bad. It's not an either/or proposition. 

When you are suffering, you don't have to stay there. You don't have to live like that. You have options. My hope is that we all choose PEACE and JOY and do whatever it takes to get there.

With all kinds of love and big Anna hugs... xoxoxo

May Mandala Meditation

When I realized it is May 1st today, I started thinking about how quickly 2013 is flying by. I keep telling myself that it's okay if I'm a little scattered because I'm still recovering from the holidays and the start of the New Year. Um. Right. I've had four months! Maybe I'm just eternally scattered, and I need to accept that?

The great thing about today is that it is absolutely gorgeous outside. I think Spring has finally arrived here in Michigan! We had a very long, grayish-white winter so Spring comes as a huge relief to me. Today the sun is shining and the birds are flying about singing their songs. I am so happy for the birds! I am so happy for all of us!

To celebrate the sunshine and birdsong, I am offering a mandala mediation for May. Meditation is one of my favorite ways to be still and listen. I think it may intimidate a lot of people though because nobody wants to do it wrong. This is a short and sweet little meditation that I hope will serve as a breath of fresh air for you. Anyone can do it.

I created the mandala shown above in the spirit of promoting self-compassion and love. I am finding in my scatteredness that it is more important than ever to be gentle with myself. I am human after all. I am flawed. I make mistakes. I forget things... Sometimes I can be really hard on myself. Unforgiving. What I'm learning is that when I let go of my mistakes and forgive myself for making them, I open up a lot of space in my head and my heart to do more meaningful things. Like make mandalas.

So, take a look at the center of this mandala and notice the little hearts I drew there. They represent the LOVE that is at the center of everything.

Click play to listen to the guided meditation.

Close your eyes, and get comfortable in your seat or lying down. Take a deep breath and relax all your muscles, your limbs, and your face. Take a few deep breaths, and enjoy the meditation...

You are sitting alongside a creek on a bright Spring day.
Birds are chirping all around you and you can hear the water moving next to you.
A warm breeze blows over your face.
Imagine that in your hand you hold a small pile of seeds.

Each seed represents something you could release, something that no longer serves you. 
One seed could be regret over disappointing someone you love, or a grudge against yourself for a mistake you made. One seed might be a bad habit you've picked up, or a self-limiting belief that is holding you back. Take a deep breath, and on the exhale, blow your seeds into the creek.
Watch as the seeds fade away into the water, to be recycled into Mother Earth.

Feel the lightness that comes over you. You are no longer weighed down. You are free. Sit still as the new empty space inside you is filled with love. Let the love wash over you. Take a deep breath in slowly, taking in the love. Exhale any residue left behind from the seeds you released.

Take another deep breath. Let it go. You are loved. You are worthy of receiving the love you give so freely to others. Let that love into your heart. Embrace it. Wrap your arms around yourself and squeeze yourself into a warm, loving hug. Take a deep breath. Let it go. Wiggle your fingers, and  your toes. Come back to your body, and get ready to go back out into the world...
What will you do with all that love?

I hope you enjoyed that little treat!
Take care my friend!

p.s. Special thanks to my mom for the beautiful forsythia she brought to my house today, and to Tara Catalano for allowing me to use her gorgeous art in this post!

p.p.s. I've never made a video for a post before! I'm letting myself off the hook for its amateur quality, and I hope you will too! :)

My Word of the Year: Intention

tangles used: crescent moon, fescu, florz, and the word: intention

Mandala Monday is back! YAY!!!

Hmm... I'm not even sure where we left off with Mandala Monday. I'm guessing it was sometime in November before four billion tasks rose to the surface and begged for attention in December...

I missed Mandala Monday. I LOVE visiting The Bright Owl for Erin's templates and using them to create cool Zendalas. I also found that when I stopped doing this I more or less stopped tangling altogether. That just won't do. Zentangle as a practice is very important to me and this is a great way to supplement my practice. So, away we go!

Erin (Erin is the author and artist at The Bright Owl who posts a new Zendala template each week) wasn't pleased with her template and she challenged us to think BIG, then bring those plans to fruition. As I sat with my template all I could really think is that my stomach hurt. I decided to start with the tangle: crescent moon. I thought it might be fun to only use crescent moon for the entire Zendala! I didn't think of it at the time, but I think crescent moon appealed to me because my belly is sticking out like a crescent moon today! I stuck with crescent moon in the beginning, which was the center for me, but then the rest of the space seemed too big to continue so I introduced a few additional tangles and my word of the year: Intention.

When I was all finished I turned to my assistant and very best girl to ask her opinion. Do I keep it black and white? Or add some color? She stared at my Zendala for a good 15 seconds.

We spent a lot of time like this today. She coughed and I belly ached.

Then she said, "I think you should make the whole thing purple."

As is most often the case, it would have been hard to do anything BUT what my almost five year-old purple loving artist daughter suggests, and so I pulled out my new chalk-pastel coloring pencils (which I love madly, by the way) and colored the whole thing purple. Voila!

So, this word of the year thing. Yes, I have heard of it in years past and no, I have never chosen a word of the year before. It sounded very intriguing to me. I spent a lot of time thinking about just the right word and changing it around before I settled on intention.

1   a determination to act in a certain way: resolve

a : what one intends to do or bring about
b : the object for which a prayer, mass, or pious act is offered

Thank you

Zendalas are all about intention. You can set an intention before you make one or as you take a look at one, a lot like walking a labyrinth or working on a maze. You would set an intention in the same way you set one for meditation or before yoga practice. It's the perfect way to empty your mind of all its confusion, focus on one task, which in this case is repeating patterns with deliberate strokes, and end with some clarity - another reason why I love Mandala Monday. It's a wonderful way to start the week.

I want to act with resolve this year. I want to be very deliberate, thoughtful, and mindful of what the choices I am making and who I am being each day this year. In 2012, I went balls out. I was all over the place - learning, trying new things, meeting new people, and moving at an often frenzied pace. I missed appointments, forgot things, and stopped taking really good care of myself (which is important to me because I want to be able to play on the floor with my grandkids one day). It was a GREAT year! (hee hee) Really and truly it was, but now I need to be a little more careful. I need to figure out what is most important. Sacred even. And move forward with intention in the spirit of supporting those sacred things. It will be another great year and I am SO excited about it. I am really excited about my word too. Intention and I... let's just say we go together in 2013.

For Mandala Monday, I invite you to set an intention and if you aren't ready to make a mandala, spend a few minutes looking into the purple, letting go of the confusion in your head, and paying attention to what comes up for you. It might look like this:

1. Set an intention, let's say to be grateful.
2. Take a deep breath (breathing is a great practice in general).
3. Quiet your mind... maybe draw circles over and over again, stare into the purple, or do nothing...
4. Wait. Listen. Take note of anything that comes up.
5. You're done.

You may not even realize it, but deliberately choosing to be grateful for those few minutes was of benefit to you. You may have relished in the image of someone who graces your life with their presence, and like a little prayer, your gratitude warmed that person. It's a lot like prayer.

Try it. It works! It may take some practice, but it definitely works. I like to begin a Zendala with the question, "What do I need to know right now?" By the time I'm finished I often have an answer to something I've been wondering about. Answering the questions that plague us is so much easier when we stop trying so hard to answer them with our minds, and instead quiet our minds and open up to the messages in our hearts. No stress, no worries - just have fun with it.

Thank you! xo

Epilogue: after all my talk about intention and hitting Enter on this post, I immediately left to take my girl to dance class. We were running very late. I was so intent on getting there that I DROVE RIGHT BY HER STUDIO! I didn't even realize it. Okay, it was dark oustide, but geez! These are the types of mindless mistakes I'd like to minimize in my life! Thank God for practice. Maybe I ought to add "practice" to the front of intention? But that would be two words. Sigh...

Truth, Dare, Double Dare

Wow! I tried something new today...

I am participating in a blog challenge! From what I understand these challenges are a pretty big deal in the art blog world. This one is really neat. It is called The Zendala Dare, and this week is number 28 in the series. I learned about it from a fellow CZT (Certified Zentangle® Teacher) graduate. I will admit, last night when I saw some of the artwork people posted, I was very intimidated. I started that AWFUL comparing thing and knew my work would never compare. But, as I was so kindly reminded, it's not about that. At all. It is never about that. IT is about the process and the process was really fun!

So here it is...

I'm especially excited about The Zendala Dare in particular because I am really drawn to mandalas. These little works of art pack a lot of power. To actually create one is quite remarkable, and is becoming a bit of an obsession. The meditative aspect of Zentangle in and of itself is so relaxing, but then to be making mandala, which can be used as a meditation tool, is like cruising into DSW and getting two pairs of awesome shoes for the price of one. Euphoria!

And, like most things I love, I want to share! So, I've been thinking that Heart Connected will feature a mandala each week on Mandala Monday! Fancy, huh? I experimented a little bit with the idea last Monday with this fall themed mandala on Facebook...

So, for Mandala Monday, I'd like to invite you to take a moment to really look into the mandala. Think about the seeds you planted throughout the year and ask yourself what growth needs pruning? Maybe, to make room for new growth. And, what needs to be nurtured so that it will continue to grow? And what isn't working at all? What can be pulled and recycled into the earth for the benefit of something or someone else? No judgment, just sit with these questions for a bit...

It is already October 22, 2012. I can't believe it! This year is flying by and I think I might still be tired from last year's holiday season. The stores are ramping up to do it all over again. I'm thinking a lot about what I've done in the past how that will change now that my kids are a little older, I'm a little wiser (and older), and life is a little shorter. I'm leaning toward keeping it all really simple this year. What is going to work for YOU? I wish you all the best as you pursue whatever it is!

If you want to participate in the Zendala Dare, click the Zendala Dare button on the right-hand side of my blog. The button will take you where you need to go. 

Take care! xoxo