Saturday, February 27, 2010

You are the Giver and the Receiver

I just purchased this card for myself at my local Whole Foods Market. I was drawn to the plum purple colors and most certainly the self-affirming message of self-trust. This card is a Papaya! production created by one of my artistic heroes Anahata Katkin.

Not only does the message of the card inspire me to write a blog post highlighting Katkin's creation, but I am struck by the fact that I often buy myself greeting cards. Does anyone else do this? It occurs to me that we needn't wait for cards to arrive in the mail or on our birthday. We can in fact make greeting card purchases a regular routine, and these small gifts should be for ourselves.

I am almost tempted to write myself a message in this card (and I just may do that). I do know that I want to frame the card and place it near my desk where I write and create art. The reminder to trust myself is essential for me in my creative process; I often need to remind myself to follow my intuition, to scope out my hunches, to listen to the colors circling in my mind, and to taste the words in my journal like ripe strawberries, appreciating each red burst.

Buying yourself a greeting card is a form of self-care. Self-care involves listening to what you need and following through with action steps. Maybe you need a massage or a walk or acupuncture or green beans. Maybe you need a hug and tea and a foot bath. On the other hand, maybe you need to give yourself a card and a bouquet of flowers to remind yourself that you are worthy, loved, and admired. Maybe you should try being both the lover and the loved, the admirer and the admired, the talker the listener, the giver and the recipient.

Try this:
Buy (or create) a card for yourself and find a use for it. Write yourself a note in it (and even mail it to yourself!), frame it and place it in a significant place, or simply hang it on your fridge. This card is for you, from you. Cherish it as you do yourself.

Note: If you are in love with the "Trust Yourself" card like I am and you can't find it in a local store, you can always buy it online at Papaya! here.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cultivating Joy

Cultivating Happiness, 8" x 10" encaustic by Courtney Putnam

"Sometimes comfort isn't an action, but an open heart that you bring to a situation. Acceptance for others is rooted in accepting yourself. If you are tired today, emotionally vulnerable, or angry and frustrated, make room for it. Learn to gently say, I accept all of myself. I hold my feelings with tenderness, love, and comfort."

--Collette Lafia, Comfort and Joy

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Interconnection & Empathy

Human beings are interconnected spiritually, emotionally, mentally, even physically. Everyone remembers this occasionally, with a little shock of recognition. Take breathing, for example. What could seem more personal than our breath? Yet humans all over the world share your air. As songwriter Tom Chapin sings about recycling, 'Someone's going to use it after you. Someone's gonna need it when you're through.' Our physical swapping doesn't stop with the nostril stuff, either. It's mind boggling to realize that Planet Earth uses, and always has used, the same water supply. Dinosaurs drank from pools that, many water cycles later, have filled up bottles at your local convenience store, bottles that bear that mystical label Coca-Cola. In fine print those labels should read, 'Recycled over eons from mountain lakes, jungles, and city sewers; distilled from the sweat, blood, and tears of
every race that has lived on this earth.'

- Rose Rosetree, Empowered by Empathy: 25 Ways to Fly in Spirit

Imagine what it is like, then, for someone very empathic. Imagine how swapping the air with other human beings, feeling their energy acutely, and tasting the water that contains eons of many different life forms could make someone extremely sensitive feel completely overwhelmed.

That is how I have felt most of my life. When I was an adolescent -- maybe 10 or 12 -- my mother said to me: "What a gift it is that you are so sensitive, Courtney, and yet I am so sorry that your sensitivity makes life so hard for you." I remember being entirely understood in that moment. My mother's words blanketed me with assurance that I was not crazy; in fact, her words indicated that I had a gift. At the time, I pictured a strange package set out before me: a beautiful gold box with a silver bow. Inside, though, contained my worry over the puppies in the pound, apartheid, and the Holocaust (for some reason, those were my "big three"). I also held in that gift box my worry over falling off the balance beam during my routine, my concern for the girl down the street who had cancer, and anger at my peers who made fun of gay people.

No, life was not easy for me. I watched Sophie's Choice and Dry White Season. I read Virginia Woolf and thought about the importance of a room of my own. I spent many Friday evenings as a teenager watching Hitchcock movies instead of going to parties. I rarely raised my hand in class for fear of hearing my own voice, and my struggle with speaking in front of others worried me for years.

Later I discovered that some of my feelings (and even bodily sensations) were not entirely my own. I picked up on others' emotions, felt others' pain, and even sometimes knew what someone was thinking before they spoke a word. Sometimes I would even pick up stomach aches, headaches, and even hangovers from others. On a subconscious level, perhaps I was trying to be Mother Theresa of the empath world: I was trying to take others' suffering away.

As Rosetree writes, "Unskilled empaths suffer." Yes, indeed. This became clear to me the year my father was sick with kidney cancer. My left kidney area often ached. I felt nauseated a lot. And on the day my dad had the worst time keeping anything down, I threw up later that night. Ultimately, I feel I took on my father's fears and pain, and as a result I began having panic attacks.

Empathy doesn't have to be this painful. It took me 33 years of my life to realize that not only was I empathic (and not "damaged" in some way), but to see that I was not skilled in managing my empathy. I am now learning how to "turn down the volume" of my empathy. I liken this to the tuning that acupuncturists do with the needles. They can increase the intensity or lower it by twisting the needles. Often times I turn up the volume of my empathy when I am giving my massage and energy work sessions so I can tune into my clients fully. When they leave my space, I turn the volume back down and create an energetic boundary, which reminds me that I am me and my client is my client. I break the energetic connection we just had so that I can feel what I feel in my body and in my heart and know that it belongs to me. Sometimes I breathe a little matra: "I breathe in Courtney, I breathe out who I am not. I am me."

My mother was right: my empathy is a gift. But it is a gift I must fine tune so I don't feel so much internally-driven pain. If you find yourself experiencing stress due to over-empathizing with others, try that breathing technique I mention above:

Breath in: I am [your name]

Breathe out: I am not anyone else.

Breathe in: I am me.

Repeat several times until you feel calmer and more centered in yourself.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Sound Life

Tweet! 6" x 6" encaustic by Courtney Putnam

"We often speak of desiring 'sound' lives without realizing how telling the phrase is. By focusing on the sound of my life, I can alter and improve my life. What is the tone of my voice? What is the tone of my environment? As I focus on the 'pitch' of my life, I can create harmony. My voice, the music I choose, even the tone of my prayers--all these factors contribute to my life's being 'sound.'"

--Julia Cameron, Transitions

I don't know about you, but the coming of spring alerts my ears first. Yes, the days are getting longer (thank goodness for light!), but the birds are emerging from their hiding places--their little wintry nooks--and they're talking!

Spring seems to be arriving early this year in Seattle and I can hear it coming. With this awareness of bird sounds, I've also become more aware of all the sounds in my life. For instance, I've been hearing my own voice a lot more lately now that I am teaching a college writing class. This is new for me. I'm not a "talker" and here I am listening to myself say things that I usually reserve for writing. Last night, I returned from teaching with a hoarse voice. I actually liked feeling that hoarseness. I've spent most of my life holding back speech, reserving it for creative expression, and hoarding it away for fear of being "wrong" in some way. That hoarseness is a sign that I am taking risks. I like the sound of that.

I also like the sound of music with a bit more of a light beat to it. This fall and winter I listened to a chakra chants album over and over. My partner would politely ask me to turn down the volume at bedtime when I wanted to listen to those deep, almost Gregorian chanting sounds. He'd say, "Doesn't that feel a little intense?" At the time, no it didn't feel intense, but now, now that spring is coming, those chants feel too deep and heavy. I am searching for light sounds -- music that makes me think of the flapping of birds' wings.

And I think I'm wanting to feel lighter in general. I want to surround myself with light and lightness. Let me fly. Let me hear the wind spiral in my ears.

What sounds are you drawn to right now and what sounds are you ready to return to the depths of fall and winter for their own hibernation? How do you want your life to sound? And are you finding ways to make it so?