Unwelcome Visitor

In the middle of a pandemic, I realize it’s somewhat fanciful to think my household would make it through this relatively unscathed. We’ll all have scars from this. Disbelievers who swear it’s a massive hoax that took a mind-boggling amount of cooperation to launch and sustain will be forever looking over their shoulders for the next trick to be played on them. Folks who realize God (or perhaps accidental good sense) gave us science and one another for care and protection may rarely wake up feeling safe because the disbelievers will ignore their own safety at our peril.

But, yes, COVID-19, an unwelcome visitor, is in the house. Where I live, in a multi-generational household, I had hoped my diligence would be rewarded with a pass. You know, A Pass. Freedom from the virus because we mask-up when we’re off the property. For this elder, two essential workers, and two young children early in their elementary school lives who attended hybrid (in-person and on-line) classes, the Pass has been revoked.

While I’m still hoping to avoid symptoms, I’m keenly aware that being older and fat and identifying as Hispanic and not-a-celebrity and lower-income puts me in a category unlikely to receive full-throttle medical care should it come to that. In other words, to me the spread holds potentially dire consequences.

And I’m one of the lucky ones! I have health insurance. If I do need to see a doctor, I won’t need to rob a bank or win the lottery jackpot to cover the cost. In fact, instead of writing this morning, my intention was to contact my insurance provider’s “Advice Line” to explain the situation and get some pointers. All circuits are busy, that unwelcome phone voice tells me. Try again later.

So, instead, I took time to meditate, now I return to the power of words, later I’ll walk around the backyard listening to a podcast. And I’ll try again later.

As a young girl, I remember vague discussions about this shadowy thing the adults called The Polio Epidemic.[i] The grown-ups I knew seemed genuinely afraid, though I don’t remember a single person – even Uncle Eddie who everyone thought was crazy – believing it might be fake. Perhaps they were blessed with the lack of social media apps. My parents argued about the vaccine, my mom preferring that we all avoid the outside world (and, therefore, The Polio). The general warm-weather lock-down must have spanned a few years during which nobody knew much and everybody knew someone who had been devastated by the disease.

My dad put his foot down when the Red Cross launched a huge immunization drive. As a military veteran he had been subjected to vaccines and suspected that they may have helped his survival chances in faraway places. In spite of mom’s objections, he took my brother and me to a large auditorium where nurses in white dresses and doctors in white lab coats took information and mingled with what seemed like hundreds of children receiving shots. Dad said it was the right thing to do.  He reassured me with, “Sometimes you gotta trust experts and science, Punk.” He was right.

There are so many variables to control in this pandemic world. Do your best anyway. Logically, even if the sickness is indeed fake (even though a family member who tested positive a few days ago is coughing in a nearby room, with more family members on their way to be tested because one has symptoms), taking precautions violates no civil liberties. Washing hands, keeping hand sanitizer nearby, masking up (unless you have a legitimate medical reason not to), and keeping your distance from others are simple and effective strategies.[ii] If you’re upset at the inconvenience of masking up, find or make a badass mask to express your displeasure.

Self-care includes caring about yourself and others in practical ways.

I know we’re all tired from the restrictions and, personally, I’m so thankful for the folks who make contact-less pickup work and so exhausted from watching people flagrantly disregard safety precautions. Remember, even one hasty break from restrictions may have a nasty ripple effect. Even giving it my best shot – I’m fairly certain I’ve followed the guidelines consistently – there are no 100% guarantees. Right now, I have no symptoms, but I’m acutely aware of how vulnerable we all are.

Considering the well-being of others is the right thing to do, whether or not the dreaded virus is visiting your household and whether or not you think it’s real or a threat. Show a little respect.

That’s all I have to say right now.

May you appreciate your life, your body, and all living beings. May we all be healthy, happy, safe, and strong.

Copyright 2021 D. R. deLuis

[i] For more on the history of Polio (worldwide) and the use of the vaccine, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_polio.

[ii] For updated information, including where and when to test, visit your local health department website. Free testing is available in many locations. For more info, check out the World Health Organization website at www.who.int, see what’s posted at www.cdc.gov or contact your family doctor for information and advice.

Friendship Magic

Around this time of year, an old friend always pops into my mind. I think part of the reason is because Kay knew how to do holidays. Truly, she had a talent for making even little things special and her gift wrapping: sublime! She crafted bows of such artistry that they deserved a lighted display case at a Smithsonian Museum[i]. The rest of her life overflowed with substance, and lacked flash. Faith and family were her priorities. She dressed simply, seemed to avoid makeup, didn’t have expensive tastes, lived for pots of home-brewed plain-ol’ coffee, and prepared for all holidays with total abandon.

Prior to her cancer diagnosis, my little ragtag ‘ohana and her clan used to go out on picnics, bowling, have marathon board game sessions, or just hang out to eat and talk-story – always family style. She would volunteer to go early to pick out the best picnic table at a nearby park for our Easter feast and figure out the perfect time to attend fairs and community events. She cracked jokes with her husband, but as often sat quietly and observed others’ antics. She never asked for favors, didn’t depend on others for help. Without reservation, she treasured her daughter and son.

After the diagnosis, Kay started calling me for Adventures when she felt chipper. She rarely offered pleasantries and assumed I’d recognize her voice. My phone would ring. In those days “caller ID” cost extra, so on my shoestring budget I never knew who waited at the other end. I’d answer with a careful “Hello.” She would utter two words: “An adventure?” For some reason, good sense or my better angels would spur me to say, “Uh, yeah! What are you thinking?”

We enjoyed dozens of spur-of-the-moment adventures, most of them in southern Arizona.

We went to a Mariachi Festival where I stood about 15 feet away from the crowd and watched Kay twirl and laugh in the shade of an ancient tree. She stood within a yard or two of the musicians when she turned to me, grinning, and shouted, “I LOVE mariachi music!” Although we had known one another for years, that took me by surprise. How could I not know that?

We roamed Tumacácori[ii], looking at pottery and art and eating freshly made corn tortillas behind the museum/mission church. We went to rivers and hummingbird sanctuaries and monuments and museums tucked into the miles of mountains around Sierra Vista. We went to vineyards and toured wineries even though Kay didn’t like wine. We watched a ceremony in Skeleton Canyon (near San Simon) with the Buffalo Soldiers[iii] commemorating Geronimo’s surrender. We went to Mission San Xavier del Bac outside Tucson to pray and visited with a few local artists. We went to a ghost town (a trailer in the middle of nowhere that displayed items for sale on an honor system and offered free brochures that provided info/served as a warning system about the prolific local pit viper[iv] population).

There were a few longer journeys. We went to Disneyland once. When I picked her up at her house for the 7-hour drive and hastily arranged 4-day trip, I asked what her spouse said about the trip. He and I worked together; I didn’t want him upset with me. “Oh,” she chuckled, “I left him a note.” What?! We walked, talked, and laughed our way around the Magic Kingdom. We took a side-trip to wet our feet in the Pacific because we didn’t want any regrets during the journey back home.

There is one Adventure I most cherish, though. It had touches of spirit, magic, and the kind of trust that some friends share. This is one I keep thinking about.

If you’re at all familiar with the old War Chiefs, you’ve heard of Cochise. He’s apparently buried in an unknown and secret site up in what’s known as Cochise Stronghold or Cochise Memorial. The Stronghold, an oasis of sorts in a box canyon, sits in southern Arizona. On the way, Kay reminded me that she picked up a few things from her Apache dad (she didn’t connect as well with her mom, described as a generic-white debutante-type) before she informed me she wanted to go the Stronghold to find Cochise’s grave to have a little ceremony and pray. Now, lots of experts have tried, and failed, to find that grave, but … what the heck?! We went.

We took back-roads to the narrow lane into the canyon. That day, Southern Arizona looked like a drenched blanket. Mile after mile of craggy soaked land stretched out beneath an endless swath of dark clouds that dumped heavy rains and rattled teeth with thunderstorms. But Real Adventurers ignore minor inconveniences.

As we got closer to the Stronghold – me driving, Kay riding shotgun, my daughter in the back seat – we realized the pouring rain might interfere with our mission. We recalled a passage from the Bible – our version: “whenever two or more are gathered in God’s name, God is there” – and so we prayed for a break in the storm so we could enjoy the Stronghold and accomplish what had become our mission.

My grandmother used to call them “Angel Rays” – when light bounces through holes in the clouds. As we approached, an Angel Ray opened over the Stronghold and expanded. We recited my favorite prayer – Thank You – a few times and arrived at the one sunny spot we saw that day. All the campers and other visitors had fled, so we wandered the rocky, soggy area in peace. We trusted God or intuition or luck to guide our meanderings as the hole in the clouds above us began to shrink. We paused to talk about turning back, but Kay felt sure we were close. Another 20 yards and around a bend, we stopped.

The spot, scattered with trees, boulders, and small plants, transfixed us. The foliage danced in a sun-powered spotlight, a bouncy little breeze shook rain off the trees and shrubs while the rest of the area looked decidedly gray. Like something from a great movie scene, except this one belonged to Mother Nature without help from a fabulous special effects team, little bits of foliage and droplets of water from the leaves flitted around in this extraordinary golden light, surrounded by dark shadows around us that washed out the surrounding color.

We didn’t even discuss the location. While I stood aside, Kay led an informal, haphazard little ceremony. I didn’t ask Kay about her motivation. My prayer thanked Cochise for leading us to that beautiful place. She mentioned blessing him, his ancestors, and his descendants. She took a moment for silent reflection and asked that my daughter and I head back to the car. She promised to catch up.

My daughter and I moved as quickly as we could over soaked ground. The sun had disappeared behind charcoal clouds so when we reached the vehicle, we climbed in and sat with the engine idling, like a getaway car, heater running as we peered anxiously into the shrubbery until Kay appeared.

She scrambled into her seat, closed the door, and as the door latch clicked the clouds released a near solid curtain of water. We sat in the parking area and laughed as rain drummed that unique booming and soothing all-nature rhythm on the roof of the car.

Whenever this comes to mind, though I miss my friend who left this world shortly after that trip, I remember there is magic in this life. Magic in friendship. Magic in making time for adventures. Magic in nature. Magic in connecting.

I remind myself to cultivate a sense of wonder. To look for awe as a self-care practice. And to both acknowledge and treasure those moments.

So here’s my wish for you this year:

May you Appreciate What’s Around You. May you experience Joyful Adventures. May Magic and a Miracle or Two surprise you. May you enjoy Shelter from Life’s Storms. And may you Laugh in the Rain.

Copyright 2021 D. R. deLuis

[i] In case you’re not aware, and since I mentioned the Smithsonian, I feel compelled to mention the Smithsonian recently opened a new National Museum of African American Arts History and Culture. For info, visit: https://nmaahc.si.edu/.

[ii] For a bit more info about the area, including the very small unincorporated area and park, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tumacacori,_Arizona. The annual art festival offered a lot of diversion the first weekend in December, though check the schedule. Nearby Tubac also has a fun vibe and lovely art festival. For more info: https://tubacaz.com/festival-of-the-arts/.

[iii] For more information, one brief description can be found here: https://www.azcentral.com/story/travel/arizona/road-trips/2018/09/10/fort-huachuca-arizona-buffalo-soldiers/953088002/. A longer history is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffalo_Soldier.

[iv] Primarily Western Diamondbacks (rattlesnakes).


With the end of each calendar year some people look back in horror. Who could blame anyone this year for feeling challenged and drained? I think it’s safe to say very few of us approach any year-end without having lost something or someone dear and, along with that, we often lose some sense of comfort and peace. Change remains inevitable, though, and a year like 2020 packed enough challenges to knock some of us off kilter.

Some weary or introverted folks may greet the new year with quiet contemplation or much-needed rest. In spite of the danger, some of us will always prefer to go out with bunches of friends to either complain about the bad breaks of the old year or to jump for joy at the prospect of a new year. Whether taking time to commiserate or to celebrate, for the safety of us all, please plan ahead. Consider the purpose of your gathering so you can employ your creativity and make these rousing festivals virtual gatherings or outdoors distanced events. [i]

Though the past 12 months may have been trying, uplifting, or a bit of both, I’m hoping you’ll give some thought to how you’ll offer farewell to the old year and greet the new one. Rituals have a healthy place in most of our lives, so after the Thanksgiving Turkey and the Christmas Tree, crafting an Old-Year / New Year Ritual sounds like a good idea to me.

As a child, it seemed every adult I knew followed a similar Ritual every new year. They stocked up on their favorite alcoholic beverages, ice, and special (expensive) snacks they normally avoided. All shared their list of crazy resolutions, most of which failed at lightning speed. My dad’s resolution, several years running, was to quit drinking. That resolution lasted about 24 hours – or until he remembered he had received some quality booze for Christmas and ignoring it would insult the giver. Unforgivable! 😊 My mom’s resolution involved giving up either bread or coffee, both of which she loved. That lasted about 12 hours or until the new percolator or toaster she bought on sale after Christmas convinced her that abandoning her morning cup of “Joe” with toast would make the gleaming new appliances a waste of money. 😊 Sinful!

Studies now show that resolutions fail for most of us within a relatively brief period of time (a few weeks). When we “fail” at resolutions, we often judge ourselves harshly, blame ourselves, and end up mired in negative feelings.

Like my parents and many others, I haven’t excelled with things labeled Resolutions. However, a decade or more ago I stumbled upon a better way for me to wrap up an old year and move forward into a new one. My inspiration came at some point in an interview I watched. Dr Maya Angelou commented that before she fell asleep each night, she would mentally review the day. She would note areas in which she did well and those in which she felt some improvement was needed. Inspired by that, my year-end / new-year routine evolved.

It’s simple. I ask myself some easy questions.

  • Looking back on the past year: What went well? What needs improvement? Is there anywhere I need to make amends?
  • Looking forward to the new year: What do I feel fiercely drawn to and curious about? How do I want to improve as a human being?

I don’t spend a lot of time waxing poetic, but I do make some simple notes and consider the mechanics of improving areas where I fell short, making amends if they’re due, and selecting areas for study if they’re something I’m curious about or believe would make me a better human. I take action by modifying existing routines. For example, reading and writing time (or studying) come in the evening when the grandkids sleep. Meditation, enjoying some physical activity, and other self-care fits into small pockets of time each day. If I get out of whack with new routines, I can rewind, evaluate, adjust, and try again. Having those annual (and sometimes in-between) reviews and priorities helps me.

That doesn’t mean that’s what’s best for everyone! When I started this journey, I lived near a fairly large hill that I would literally climb the last day of the year to sit, look around, pray, and make copious notes. The following day I’d take time outdoors on my patio if it wasn’t snowing or super-cold to write out plans for the new year. That felt burdensome and eventually I pared it down.

Find something that works well for you. Be sure anything you try feels like a loving method of self-inquiry. Some ideas:

  • RAIN (Recognize what is happening, Allow the experience, Investigate with interest and care, Nurture with self-compassion) or “The Work” with its clear written guides may help you look at areas or beliefs that seem to block your progress or warrant more consideration.[ii]
  • Write down a few questions you find meaningful and simply respond to them within a time-frame (don’t overthink the answers; you can edit later). Try making a few notes – not going overboard – so you can look back later and determine how the experience helped you (or if it didn’t).
  • Express yourself by crafting a “treasure map” with pictures you draw or cut out (from ads, newspapers, magazines) and paste on a large poster-board, cardboard from a box, or pieces of paper. One smaller section can represent what you’ve overcome and what you’ve achieved. The rest can remind you where you’d like to be at year-end next year.

In any case, leave room for making adjustments. Life has a way of surprising us.

I believe every ending and each beginning carry with them opportunities to reflect and learn. May you have the luxury of enough free time to review the past year with kindness and to envision the new year with hope.

May you be happy, healthy, safe, and strong.

Last words: Please remember that neither my opinions, my experiences, nor resources I mention are meant as cures or treatment. If you’re in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[iii]  If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline.[iv] You deserve support and to know someone has your back.

Copyright D.R. deLuis 2020

[i] For a good guide, check out Priya Parker’s book: The Art of Gathering. She has some great ideas that include ways to make your gathering, however distanced, truly meaningful to all who attend.

[ii] For more information on RAIN, visit https://www.tarabrach.com/rain/. Another option is Byron Katie’s “The Work” explained at https://thework.com/ . Info on RAIN as well as links to videos to practice the technique, and info on The Work with a link to worksheets to guide The Work are free resources. If another option works better for you, use that.

[iii] Most areas in the U.S. offer a “2-1-1” service that can provide information about local resources. In addition, one website (there are many) with info about finding an affordable therapist is Open Counseling at www.opencounseling.com .

[iv] National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: call 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website to text/chat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/. To reach the Crisis Text Line in the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808.

Keeping Up with HoHoHo

Self-care matters to me. I decided several years ago to make time to practice self-care on a daily basis. Starting small, I experimented with different techniques to determine what works best for me, and I most often succeed in sticking with my self-care regimen. But not always.

Sometimes it feels as if Life has a mind of its own and takes off in one direction when I have every intention of moving in the opposite direction. Somehow, I had envisioned that stay-at-home holidays this year with close family would feel simple and easy. No big stresses about getting the “right” gift for people who typically attend the big festivities. No expectations about my role in the big multi-family gathering with people I don’t know very well. Just a few no-pressure people to locate treasures for and a quiet day.

Whew, I thought, this will be easy. I knew I’d miss watching the related kids open their gifts, but I still get to watch my grandkids open their gifts in person (we live in the same house) and we’ll still have a special dinner and we’ll probably all eat too much. Church services will be attended online and if we connect with anyone outside our pod, it will be via video-chat. Entertainment will come in the form of new games, books, and movies received.

In spite of doing my best when planning and starting early enough, it just didn’t work out. To deal with the oops, I decided to pay more for what the grandkids wanted though it irked me and cracked my budget. Items I’ve never had problems purchasing (jumbo rolls of gift-wrap and snazzy cards) disappeared quickly so I cavalierly decided to make my own. (I thought, How long could it take? Real world answer: Longer than I imagined!) When I ran out of yarn, I swapped out another color for the out-of-stock shade and opted to hope for the best with that small project. I rushed through my sewing the one afternoon when space became available.

In the midst of all the craziness, I didn’t make self-care a priority.

A rough estimate: about 40,764 times in the last few weeks (I wasn’t counting), I clocked myself doing things that are not in my best interests in order to maintain pursuit of a level of holiday perfection that I’ve never achieved. I’ve stayed up past midnight making cards, crafting gift-wrap, or making gifts when I know I’m awake with my grandkids by 6. I’ve relied on caffeine to help me come to life and deal with the list of must-do items. Not a part of my healthy repertoire.

Though I had expected more of myself, I am officially taking time right now to pat myself on the back. I didn’t sacrifice every moment of me-time (I would have in the past). Even five years ago I would not have realized that the pace I set doomed me to living in a self-crafted level of hell for a time. I caught on quickly this time.  Here are some hints for the busy times in life when you need to cut yourself some slack:

  • Acknowledge that your life is extra-busy, particularly when you’re magically expecting everything to work out within teensy timeframes with no room for error or slack.
    • Take action: Pause  for a moment. Take a deep breath. Acknowledge to yourself that you’ve got a lot going on. Use your own words. Mine: This is difficult. I feel pressured. I’m doing my best. This is temporary.
  • Maintain your most important self-care practice(s). They may change shape or form but keep to those things.
    • Take action: Again, stop for a moment. Take a deep breath. Ask yourself what two or three things most matter to you in self-care. Focus on those and plan to pick others back up later. Although I didn’t feel like doing it, here’s what I did:
      • I kept up with my meditation practice. Yes, some days I meditate in the car while waiting to pick up my grandsons after school instead of in my room just after sunrise. Some evenings I shorten the time because I’m tired. I held onto the habit of doing those, though.
      • I compromised with half the walking time I had planned, added my Nordic Walking Poles to make the stroll easier on my knees and harder in general.
  • Having lived decades with insufficient sleep, I know how it feels to drag yourself through the day feeling as if you’ll never catch up.
    • Take action: Take some time to wind down before you fall asleep. If there’s something low-priority on your do-it-now list, drop it and take that time to go to bed earlier or nap if you can. If not, do NOT chastise yourself for staying up too late: negative feedback rarely helps. In any case, remind yourself: I’m doing the best I can and that is enough.
  • Some things we think save time, really don’t help us. Do not scrimp on the basics like dental care or regular meals.
    • Take action: To keep up with your basic needs, take things off the must-do list or ask for help with them! Lately I’ve noticed I’m skipping meals while I’m tangled up in projects or rushing to pick someone or something up. Although many folks feel that behavior is a good thing, particularly for fat women like me, studies inform us this action creates a detrimental hunger-boomerang that results in a sharply increased risk of eating with abandon. Find some hearty snacks (cheese or meat sticks, granola or nut bars, toast or crackers with nut butter, whatever you enjoy) and keep them nearby to fill in until you can take time to toss a meal together.

Whether things go wonderfully according to plan or fall into another dimension you didn’t expect, may your plans go well-enough, may your work be rewarded, and may you notice many happy surprises this season.

May you be happy, healthy, safe, and strong.

Last words: Please remember that neither my opinions, my experiences, nor resources I mention are meant as cures or treatment. If you’re in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[i]  If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline.[ii] You deserve support and to know someone has your back.

Copyright D.R. deLuis 2020

[i] Most areas in the U.S. offer a “2-1-1” service that can provide information about local resources. In addition, one website (there are many) with info about finding an affordable therapist is Open Counseling at www.opencounseling.com .

[ii] National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: call 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website to text/chat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/. To reach the Crisis Text Line in the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808.

Venting Season

Though we have always held to some regional differences in the USA, and at the risk of sounding like one of those stick-in-the-mud old-ladies, it seems to me that we once behaved more respectfully, at least within our communities. Of course, last minute holiday shoppers got pushy and neighbors always tried to outdo one another (or at least keep up), and our foundation, built upon racism and social Darwinism, has always needed replacement, but it appears the hint of civility that kept us moving forward with hope evaporated somewhere along the line. Welcome to venting season, what I think the world needs, and what’s inspiring.

It feels as if the stress of going after one another and living in social-media hideaways during the tainted election season of 2016 accentuated a downhill slide. The upheaval within the taken-for-granted internal-goings-on of a nation turned us toward what some point out as strengthening the 1%/oligarchs while others insist average-folks now fare better (even if we sacrificed in areas like environment, health, and income)[i]. All this, followed by the pandemic and wrapped up by the contentious election of 2020, drained us. Here’s hoping we get our act together, have the courage to examine our feelings, and make time to work through them in order to find peace in government, in business, and in our communities. Now is the time for some grassroots organizing of a little widespread self-care so we can initiate healing.

Once my great aunt Jeannie and my dad had a falling-out. She talked, more than once, over the announcer during a world-series game. Dad asked her, a couple of times, to take the chatter elsewhere. Finally, he shouted, stood, and threw curses her direction. The woman who had gotten my dad through the loss of his mother vowed to never speak to him again. He threatened to call the police or shoot her for trespassing if she put one foot on his property. They both overstepped their bounds and trampled feelings. The insults lasted a few minutes. The feud lasted a few months, until an intervention by a gaggle of great aunties broke the chill between them. Dad grudgingly apologized and Jeannie promised to take any conversations to another room during televised sporting events. Things did not go back to the way they had been, though. The two spoke but became more guarded and less spontaneous. The harsh words they exchanged remained a sheer barrier, and that lesson hit home for me. For better or worse, relationships change, adapt, move forward. They don’t go backward. Even the relationship with self. Make time for that.

Industries are hurting. People are hurting. Our medical system is stretched thin. Tourism, a business that supports workers around the world, limps along these days, scanning the horizon for signs of fuller flights. My quarterly road trips to a nearby state to visit my son who has some physical and mental challenges flew off the table. In my many previous travels, via air and ground, I noticed most of us manage to behave like quiet and respectful tourists while visiting other communities and countries, though among the quiet, there seem to congregate pairs (and, face it, families) shepherded by big-mouthed ignoramuses who will continue to give us happy travelers a bad name. Like it or not, they are part of us, the glaring exceptions among the rule followers. The bright sides, though? We have learned to live with one another – the respectful and the obnoxious – on tour buses and in tourist traps, so we can figure out how to do that in other contexts. And while tourism-based businesses surely suffer from the loss of income, I know many people who celebrate having their glorious scenery relatively tourist-free. What a great opportunity for community care: to enjoy nearby attractions and support local merchants and take some comfort in knowing we’re all in this together.

Religion, here, seemed to play a sad role in this move away from graciousness and kindness. Take the self-proclaimed “religious” groups that insist (with the apparent blessing of the all-new Supreme Court) they have a right to spread the ‘Rona plague in order to host joyous celebrations of their interpretation of the guidance of a Rabbi/Carpenter who stated all the rules boiled down to loving God, loving your neighbor, and loving yourself. A reasonable person might consider spreading a potentially deadly virus with abandon as a contradiction to those guidelines, but there’s a Biblical passage about gathering in God’s name and somehow that – and, I suspect, a loss of income tied to empty seats – seems enough to demand the “right” to host close indoor gatherings in spite of the known health consequences. Tangling capitalism and church complicates theology, particularly among people who feel downtrodden. Yet, there are lessons to be learned; find a spiritual discipline that supports you, helps you grow, and expands your mind and circle of friends. 

Growing up in a Catholic household, mom insisted on weekly trips to “Confession” where we admitted our sins and asked forgiveness, then did penance. The significance of taking time to try to make things right – usually by a brief period of prayer and contemplation, but sometimes in more physical ways — didn’t descend upon me until a new evangelical church congregation became my temporary faith home. Those evangelicals, it turned out, were not as different from the Catholics as they believed, including enthusiasm when discussing persecution of Christians (though others sometimes feel the Christians more guilty of persecution). However, one preacher felt neither he nor his flock had a need to seek forgiveness or make amends. He explained, “I’m washed in the blood of Christ, so no matter what I do I’m forgiven.” I get it, but I believe we should expect more of ourselves. Though I remain grateful to both faith groups for what I learned through them, I appreciate the evangelicals for their music and the Catholics for their idea of redemption. For me, seeking or offering forgiveness[ii], taking time to consider errors, and making corrections turned out to serve as excellent acts of self-care.

According to the Pew Research Center, about two-thirds of the world population identify as something other than Christian, with most Christians living in Africa (631 million), 601 million in Latin America, 571 million in Europe, and 205 million in the US. About 70% of us living in the US claim some affiliation with Christianity (though far fewer profess to be church members and less of those regularly attend church services). Other faith categories are Islam, no religious affiliation, Hinduism, Buddhism, and a long list of others. The fasted growing group appears to be no-religious-affiliation.

Yet the notion has arisen more than once during my lifetime that the USA springs from the loins of God and is, somehow, therefore a Christian nation. As a child I noticed, even though I entered the world years post-WWII, folks like my parents realized that war exacted a heavy toll. Growing up, though, it wasn’t military might that inspired my grandparents, my parents, or my generation. For my dad, the American way, headquartered in Detroit, remained my dad’s hope for the USA. He loved to talk about Motor City. American exceptionalism during my parents’ prime revolved around those hard-hat factory workers churning out internal-combustion engines in vehicles that were engineered like works of art. That working-class ideal lacked the polish of later years when the athlete or the ruthless Wall Street junk-bond millionaire, driving sleek Euro imports, sped into our heroic imagination. How we moved from respecting hard work to idolizing those who appeared uber-wealthy says a lot about our shift in priorities. The value of knowing our 3 to 5 priority areas becomes evident when life requires hard decisions and helps when day-to-day priorities conflict. Give time to those. There’s freedom in both recognizing those and being open to shift values over time. Make a list. Note yours. Career. Education. Health. Family. Connection. Story-telling. Learning. Travel. Exploration. Friends.

When I attended elementary school, during a period after the Dark Ages and around the time the Beatles invaded, we celebrated that we welcomed all people from all countries and all religious faiths. We understood our forefathers whose ancestors fled religious tyranny refused to name a national religion. We learned those early patriots fought for freedom for all-religions (including no-religious-affiliation) and freedom from the oppressive taxation system of the crown. From 1776 until around 1950, during the McCarthy Era, “In God we trust” (an anti-communist catch phrase) does not appear on money, and the Pledge of Allegiance, with it’s anti-immigrant roots in the 1890s, didn’t include the words “under God” until 1954.[iii] Still, we have been known, in our zeal and with open hearts, to accept notions like ‘Christian nation’ and legislation like the ‘Patriot Act,’ even when they only represent some of us or make us less free. We may need to question things more and reserve unbridled support for people and pets we know personally.

As a nation and a world community of human beings, I have high hopes we find our higher selves. I still believe the journey will require a grassroots movement and bodacious self-care skills, so here’s a quick tip.

In Practice…

This helps me when I’m feeling overwhelmed and start catastrophizing (I’m fabulous at that but rarely go there since I began practicing this!) or lost in a negative thought.

Briefly become aware of the negative thought or flight into catastrophe. Just notice where your mind is headed. Question the situation that exists only in your mind and do it as often as necessary (this may take some repetition).

If Catastrophizing: Say to yourself, either aloud or in your head, [Your-Name], this is not real. OR  [Your-Name], this is not happening. (Repeat, if needed.) Remind yourself: Obsessing about it now will not make it easier if this ever happens.[iv]

If you have identified Negative thoughts that haunt you: Challenge your thinking. Ask yourself: [Your-Name], is this thought helping or hurting? If the thought is hurting, make a decision to question and reframe the thought. For example, restate thoughts away from shame-inducing while acknowledging guilt: “I’m so stupid” becomes “Touching that hot pan was a stupid thing to do.”

Using your name may feel awkward. It did for me, at first. I’d read a study that showed this technique really helps most people, so I tried. For me, it’s two thumbs up!

Wrap Up…

May your expectations of yourself be kind. May you find the tools you need for self-care and both the time and the will to use them.

May you be happy, healthy, safe, and strong.

Last words: Please remember that neither my opinions, my experiences, nor resources I mention are meant as cures or treatment. If you’re in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[v]  If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline.[vi] You deserve support and to know someone has your back.

Copyright D.R. deLuis 2020

[i] According to world-recognized economist Mariana Mazzucato, from 1975 to 2016 the US GDP tripled when adjusted for inflation, from $5.49 trillion to $17.29 trillion. During that period, productivity increased by 60%. During the same period real hourly wages have stagnated or fallen, pointing to 4 decades of economic gains that all went to a tiny elite uber-wealthy group. This uneven growth accelerated the last few years, leaving a handful (~60 people) holding the equivalent wealth of 3.5 billion world citizens.

[ii] To be clear, forgiveness can be offered from afar and I believe nobody has a responsibility to forgive another or to request forgiveness in person, in writing, or by any particular means.

[iii] See this article for more info: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/made-by-history/wp/2017/11/03/the-ugly-history-of-the-pledge-of-allegiance-and-why-it-matters/

[iv] If you live near a tsunami zone, in a flood-prone area, live in an area where tornados or earthquakes are possible, packing a bag and creating a safety plan makes good sense, is excellent self-care, and is not obsessive (even if your happy-go-lucky friends say it is).

[v] Most areas in the U.S. offer a “2-1-1” service that can provide information about local resources. In addition, one website (there are many) with info about finding an affordable therapist is Open Counseling at www.opencounseling.com .

[vi] National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: call 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website to text/chat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/. To reach the Crisis Text Line in the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808. And if you check references, kudos and thanks. May you prosper beyond your wildest imagination.

Lessons on Boundaries

Growing up with parents who both lost their parents while they were still young had a few advantages and many disadvantages. Both parents admitted parental roles didn’t come naturally to them, though they wanted children. It’s no wonder they struggled; they hadn’t witnessed much parenting and what they did see varied wildly. On the other hand, their challenged youth brought wonderful additions to the household: aunties and uncles and cousins, some by blood and others by choice, many of whom had provided mom or dad respite, in addition to folks my father randomly encountered. He seemed to collect stray people, so the notion of boundaries didn’t dare step foot on the property my dad considered his own.

The father I knew really never knew his father. His dad abandoned him and his mom when dad was an infant and died when dad was three. My grandmother struggled to survive as a live-in housekeeper and cook, so dad bounced between friends’ and relatives’ homes as a child. He seemed to have spent a lot of time with older adults or by himself. A gifted storyteller, he truly relaxed in taverns and small local bars, considered anyone who drank with him a friend, and brought home fellow-drinkers from all walks of life, cultures, races, and educational levels. The door also remained open to all his family and family-ish folks, with never a need to call first.

My mother, on the other hand, lived in poverty, knew her violent dad, and lost both parents by age 9. From that age until she finished high school, she lived in orphanages with strict rules. She slept in congregate quarters with lots of other children. She craved privacy and found strict rules comforting. Had she been given the power, I suspect she would have constructed a moat to keep the house inaccessible and hired assassins to sit on the roof to make sure nobody but immediate family (and perhaps a few selected others) stepped on the grounds, let alone inside the house.

The lessons I learned about boundaries as a child, laced with the popular value Children are to be seen and not heard, included two contradictory rules. Rule #1: good people let everybody in all the time for any reason and live as if mi casa es su casa (my house is your house), holding no expectation of reciprocation. Rule #2: good people refuse to let anyone into their homes or lives unless they have been properly vetted and sworn to follow house rules (no using the bathroom, no snooping, no borrowing, and with one or two designated exceptions, no spontaneous visits).

Because mom ruled the house weekdays, not even school friends who lived nearby could stop by to play. Instead we would meet in the alley and entertain ourselves behind cover. Because dad ruled the house weekends, impromptu parties erupted with clusters of guests as varied as fund-raising priests from Northern Ireland, motorcycle club members, and professional wrestlers on tour (dad loved to share Haystack Calhoun and Pepper Gomez allegedly stepped foot in his house)(I slept through the visit so cannot corroborate).

No wonder I had such difficulty creating and holding boundaries in my life, flopping between social butterfly and wannabe-hermit. Taking in abandoned animals/strangers and then adopting creatures back out when neighbors or landlords complained. Feeling guilty for sandwiching 5-minute beach visits in the midst of back-to-back meetings on long work days as if time to breathe seemed frivolous.

Lessons arrive in many guises. Two memorable teachable moments pop into my mind.

The scene: shopping alone after work in a K-Mart store in rural Arizona, a single mom picking up items for somebody’s school project. Focused on a quick in-and-out, I didn’t give attention to anything but the task at hand. My cart pulled to the side, I surveyed a display of merchandise. In the middle of the aisle, a red-faced scruffy man in a not-so-white t-shirt and jeans that barely stayed up, bumped his cart head-on into mine, blocking my passage up the aisle with his cart and belligerence. He looked at me with disgust. Startled, I waited. About three feet behind him I saw a woman. She stopped, avoided eye contact, and didn’t speak. The man observed, quite loudly, “They shouldn’t allow fat women like you in this store. You take up too much room in the aisles!” I cannot remember the remainder of his rant, but he continued for a short while. I had not blocked the aisle in any way, hadn’t noticed him, never met him before. Eventually he shook his head, moved his cart, and stormed away.

As he left, I wished I had thought of something to say to him. My dad would have bought him a drink. My mom would have fled, quickly, leaving the cart behind, complaining to the manager on her way out the door. I finished my shopping. On my way home I thought about it, feeling hurt and then feeling angry. What made him think I wanted his opinion?! A quote from a Wayne Dyer book I’d read returned to me: What other people think of me is none of my business. I repeated, Your opinion of me is none of my business. It helped me calm myself and I realized the stranger’s behavior violated a few of my values related to judging people and to manners. I began to think about boundaries.

As a single parent working full-time, attending college classes at night, I kept a roof over our heads. We had vacations every year and did a lot of weekend family activities. Neither perfect nor wealthy, I handled things well enough. I used your opinion of me is none of my business often until random folks quit offering their opinions to me. I introduced the word “No” into my vocabulary to reduce my stress. My lesson: know my values and boundaries ahead of time.

The second lesson in boundaries arrived when a friend’s breast cancer returned. She wanted to talk about death and dying. Her spouse, she said, refused to listen, and even after her doctor offered a grim prognosis and suggested she get her affairs in order, the doctor also encouraged her to stay positive through treatment. She remembered one night, before her first diagnosis, when our families got together to play board games and eat. I had quoted something I read about death and dying by Dr Bernie S Siegel. I regretted my enthusiasm about the book and I really did not want to talk with this woman who was near my age about dying. But she needed to talk, and my friend-boundary said Listen.

You would think that hanging out with someone who felt death hovered nearby might feel sad. Instead, it freed us both in many ways. She said it gave her blessed relief. For me, once death was on the table, no topic was off the table. The change in her amazed me. Some days she’d call me, too tired and sick to move, and I’d go visit and read to her from Love, Medicine and Miracles (her choice, not mine). When her spouse found out, he told me to never return. Still, she called and informed me I would not abandon her. How could I? Normally restrained, she disappeared at a street fair we attended together. I found her dancing under a tree as a mariachi group played nearby. She shouted in my direction, “I LOVE mariachi music!” I laughed. I didn’t know that! At another event I lost track of her when she followed a small Mardi Gras parade, gathering strings of beads and hooting at the musicians. The last weekend she phoned and told me she needed time outdoors and asked me to pick her up right away. A storm dumped buckets of rain as far as we could see, but she hopped in the car and we headed for a memorial to a fallen war chief. She talked about her parents (her white mom as the formidable one, her Apache dad as the kind and quiet one). We commanded the rain to stop (it did) so we could search for the warrior’s hidden grave (didn’t find it, of course, but a rainbow convinced us we might be close). She shared obnoxious observations like “You take on too much and expect too little from other people in your life.” I did not even consider telling her that her opinion was none of my business.

At her funeral I had zero regrets. I’m crying right now, but I still celebrate that time together and our talks about life, magic, prayer, God, the human spirit, and death. I remain so thankful I didn’t let fear create a boundary.

That’s the thing about boundaries. They need to reflect our values and matter to us.

You have a right to set and hold boundaries around general expectations as well as some responsibility to be clear about them with others. By general expectations I mean things like requesting a significant other contact you if they’re running late, regarding raised voices (I grew up amid passionate arguments so I don’t mind raised voices, but some people find them very aggressive), sarcasm, personal insults, assisting with household or common-area work tasks (yes, please!), tipping (please don’t be cheap), violence (no, including threats), and any topic that matters to you.

Speaking of things that matter, a friend of mine has a 300-question guide he uses to size up potential relationships. While I laughed about it, I also applauded him for taking time to figure out if others’ values mesh with his. We all need to acknowledge our values, know what’s not flexible, and recognize changes as time passes. Lifelong learning is important to me. I love travel and learning other languages. My views of the “isms” (like Racism, Sexism, Ageism, Size-ism) aren’t very negotiable. Knowing what’s important to you should matter to others in your life. Politics. Money. Credit cards? Family. Social media time. Education? Reading. Religion and spirituality. Ambition? Fortune-tellers. Sports. Holidays?

My dad referred to New Year’s Eve as “amateur night for budding alcoholics,” so he always turned in early that evening. For me, it’s a time to reflect on one year and welcome the new with hope and joy.

Value and the associated boundaries may change over time. I worried about spoiling my children. My grandkids? So few worries. Growing up, my dad shut down certain discussions, including professional sports, during family gatherings because they resulted in insults and angry exchanges. In my world, Super Bowl Sunday exists for eating, laughing, and talking smack about opposing teams. Never witnessed food policing or a temper flare, even for a minute.

Some time ago I watched a video with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. He refrains from violence, of course, but he told a story. A pesky mosquito comes to visit us.  We wave it away. And wave it away. And wave it away. And without thinking, whack. An act of violence against the mosquito. He chuckled and made a comment about all of us doing our best and moving forward. Amen to that.

For tips on maintaining boundaries, check out this article.[i]

Will be back next week.  Until then, may you be healthy, happy, safe, and strong.

Last words: Please remember that neither my opinions, my experiences, nor resources I mention are meant as cures or treatment. If you’re in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[ii]  If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline.[iii] You deserve support and to know someone has your back.

Copyright D.R. deLuis 2020

[i] https://psychcentral.com/blog/when-people-cross-your-boundaries/

[ii] Most areas in the U.S. offer a “2-1-1” service that can provide information about local resources. In addition, one website (there are many) with info about finding an affordable therapist is Open Counseling at www.opencounseling.com .

[iii] National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255; to reach the Crisis Text Line in the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808.

Feeling Deeply

Growing up includes some challenges for everyone, I expect. For me, life often felt huge and confusing, living in a farming community amid a fairly large and loud Portuguese and Hispanic family with generations-deep blood ties to the Azores and a sort of grandiose pride in clinging to European roots while also grasping for The American Way. The closest family members belligerently professed  connections to conservative politics in public in order to “blend in,” while behind closed doors they retained a rebellious devotion to more progressive candidates and ideas. (Under questioning, they encouraged 8-year-old-me to never vote by political party affiliation but by candidates’ character.) Both my parents lost their fathers while they were still young and lived unstable lives. They came from a generation that survived the Great Depression and a World War. They didn’t talk about feelings.

Drama flourished within the community of my youth, though. Booze launched family gatherings, with cousins spilling out back doors and aunties organizing food while uncles bickered. Then arguments grew louder until somebody walked off, red-faced, or took a swing at someone else. Kids and women would scatter until things calmed down. Over food, jokes that I rarely understood drew guffaws and eased tensions until a few folks dusted off their favorite funny stories to share and share again. And then, whew. Sometimes we headed home. Other times, the wine from dinner urged someone to play fado, sad music featuring, most often, a heart-broken woman singing in Portuguese, or non-English versions of songs like Ave Maria. My mom, who spoke only English, and any nearby children, all of us forbidden to speak Portuguese or Spanish, would brace ourselves when those tunes started. We waited, amazed, until the big bossy manly men wept, blew their noses on cloth handkerchiefs, and ran out of energy. The evening wrapped up with folks patting shoulders and heading quietly home. That’s the closest we ever came to disclosure of feelings.

No surprise, I grew up with a limited ability to identify emotional states. I knew about four that I would have named as Fearful, Angry, Happy, and Sad. I read a lot and tried to figure out how to control emotional states and where they originated, but eventually I set the whole thing aside because of conflicting information. A few decades later I found a chart of emotions that helped me to understand some nuance so I could say, “That talk left me feeling content, hopeful, inspired” instead of “That was good.” Still, it felt as if feelings primarily mattered to me.   

Several books inspired me, starting with HeartMath (the book helped me consider the importance of the heart and offered techniques to feel calm), the books Blue Zones and Thrive (helped me view emotional and physical health through a cultural and holistic lens), and the book I want to talk about, Permission to Feel: The Power of Emotional Intelligence to Achieve Well-being and Success by Marc Brackett, Ph.D.

This book came to my attention during a podcast, and I picked it up because I want to improve my own skills and hoped to help my grandsons identify emotions beyond the common 4 I knew as a child. Along with engaging and well-written text, the book contains opportunities to pause and consider how we’re feeling or to practice a technique. There are 3 sections to the book. The first is more background information. The second section covers the method in more detail. The third is about applying the method. Because I’m looking for tools to help in the real-world I inhabit, the opportunity to engage with the material inspired me and initial trials have boosted my appreciation for the material.

Though the book warns against judging others’ feelings, I’ve used some observed encounters to build my own vocabulary. Because I completely acknowledge we’re often not as skilled as we think, I also take opportunities when it’s safe to do so to reality-check my observations with friends/family. I wondered how often my grandkids feel irritated, frustrated, and disappointed but hold in their feelings until they’re ready to burst.

Last spring, when schools were wrapping up for the year and before I’d read Permission to Feel, the grandchildren and I started a related discussion. We began learning about the brain, focusing primarily on the pre-frontal cortex (the Wise One), the hippocampus (the Library), and the amygdala (the Guard Dog) based on the Hawn Foundation MindUp Curriculum: Brain-Focused Strategies for Learning—and Living[i].  I hoped by teaching the grandsons brain-basics, they would better understand feelings, recognize anger and fear are designed to protect them, and develop ways to regulate emotions. We had fun discussing parts of the brain and how our Guard Dogs go berserk.

We only finished two lessons, though, before schools closed and our household schedules were upended by other changes. We haven’t yet gotten back in the groove and in online school the children checked in with their teachers on feelings with a simple thumbs-up, thumbs-down, or thumbs-sideways.

In contrast, Permission to Feel provides a 100-word feelings chart (for adults) in full color with 4 sectors divided from high-energy to low energy and low pleasantness to high pleasantness. For example, “enraged”=high energy/low pleasantness, “ecstatic”=high energy/high pleasantness, “serene”=low energy/high pleasantness, and “despairing”=low pleasantness/low energy. The method includes steps we can take to guide ourselves away from being a feelings-judge. These steps are abbreviated as RULER (Recognize feelings, Understand the causes and consequences, Label emotions correctly, Express emotion(s), Regulate emotions).

Two of the many very helpful ideas for me include suggestions about how to question children regarding feelings and a technique called “Meta-Moment.” Please note that this book overflows with useful information. This is a glimpse and, hopefully, encouragement for you to read this yourself.[ii]

Questioning children. Asking children simple questions after they’ve had an outburst or seem upset sounded like straightforward advice. The author provided some sample questions that I remember as WHY. What happened? How did you feel (when that happened)? Why do you think you felt that way?  In brief practical experience, I’ve discovered waiting too long to bring up the feelings may give the memory time to clear from a child’s memory. Ask too soon and it can restart a tantrum.

One day I just didn’t know what else to say when my youngest grandson seemed angry and revving up.  He raised his fist as if he planned to hit me. Normally I talk about hitting as an inappropriate response that can cause more problems than it solves, then suggest deep breathing. He always refuses the breathing suggestion. Instead, this time I said, “I feel soooo frustrated right now. I love you so much and want to figure out what’s happening. I feel disappointed in myself because what I usually do doesn’t help you and I feel sad because I don’t know what to do to help you feel calm.”

By movie-moment standards, his response registered as far from miraculous. He looked at me, lowered his fist, and emphatically responded, “I feel frustrated, too!” And I said, “Isn’t it awful to feel snarled up like this? I need to take a break.” He nodded and walked away to take a break of his own. Later I tried to open the discussion about feelings, but he seemed to have moved on to more interesting topics.

The following morning, though, he came to me and said, “When I was little, (so-and-so) pushed me and bit me and hit me and it hurt.” I told him I felt really mad that someone would do that to him, told him it was mean and not fair to him. “You deserve to feel safe and be treated with love.” He simply said, “Thank you” and walked away. No happily-ever-after, but a good start.

Though he seems to have some trauma-based anger to deal with, we’re working on small things. The next time I noticed his frustration escalating (while completing homework), instead of asking him to pay attention, I mentioned he seemed really stressed and asked how I could help. He wasn’t quite sure, but I made a few suggestions and he accepted one. Quickly, we returned to task.

There have been some failed attempts. When we’re tired or haven’t eaten, things can go off the rails fairly quickly. I’m learning to ask about his feelings sooner. To be frank, re-reading the book sounds helpful, too, since it’s packed with so much information that I barely offer a glimpse. 

Meta-Moment. This suggestion, with multiple emotion-regulation techniques, spoke to me. Normally I can react semi-intelligently, but things have been stressful lately. The pool (my “happy place”) I depended on for exercise is closed and I’ve failed rather spectacularly at substitute endeavors, my schedule has been chaotic, the political and social climates have been erratic and sometimes scary, and we’re currently socially distant from friends and family. I’m destined to practice this technique a lot.

In most basic terms, it’s about taking a brief time-out when life feels overwhelming to the point we’re ready to act out. Instead, the book suggests: Take a deep breath (or a few). Clock it (sense the shift). Stop it (pause). See your Best Self in the situation. Consider options and take the road that helps close the gap between your “triggered” self and your Best Self.

Again, this book has a lot to offer if you’re someone who wants to dig in and try some techniques to better recognize and regulate your emotions. Whether you’re curious or you really want to learn ways to integrate emotional openness into your life, consider inviting Permission to Feel into your world. 

Next week, book 3 of my recent (for me) top 3 “self-help” books.

Until then, may you be happy, healthy, safe, and strong.

Last words: Please remember that neither my opinions, my experiences, nor resources I mention are meant as cures or treatment. If you’re in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[iii]  If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline.[iv] You deserve support and to know someone has your back.

Copyright D.R. deLuis 2020

[i] Visit www.mindup.org for more info and https://mindup.org/mindup-for-teachers/ for additional materials, including links to free training videos. The curriculum can be purchased on Amazon or at other book retailers.

[ii] If you’re on a budget, check with your local library or see if you can borrow from a friend! My current income is limited and my bookshelf is full, so I understand!

[iii] Most areas in the U.S. offer a “2-1-1” service that can provide information about local resources. In addition, one website (there are many) with info about finding an affordable therapist is Open Counseling at www.opencounseling.com .

[iv] National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255; to reach the Crisis Text Line in the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808.

Chasing Happiness

Before I dive in, I have a favor to ask. Please remember that my opinions, my experiences, and resources I mention are not meant as cures or treatment. If you’re in a moment of your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[i]  If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline.[ii] You deserve support and to know someone has your back.

When Autumn arrives, somehow it feels as if the world takes a pause and starts to look back, tentatively, and forward, expectantly, full of hope for the future and often with a touch of regret about the imperfection of the past three-quarters of a year that slipped through our fingers. By New Years Eve, a lot of us will have a list of things we want to accomplish in the next year, though most of us suspect,  based on statistics and our previous history, we won’t attack our “resolutions” as vigorously as we imagined we would.

Thanksgiving decorations have started appearing and it reminds me the holiday (in the U.S.) originated to encourage appreciation for one another and our history. Whether we imagine a history as simple and flawless as the stories taught in our early school years or hold to a more realistic and imperfect version that many have grown to accept,[iii] the present seems the perfect time to re-envision our personal future. Every adjustment we make now, will change what we feel when we look back next Fall or Winter. In a sense, each moment of the present gives us a chance to write a new history, a little at a time. To help along the way, I’m bringing into the conversation three books, one per week, that I’ve found extra-helpful in my self-care journey.

The first book, in plenty of time to request it from the local library or to order from your favorite retailer and dig in soon, is The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky. This book wandered into my life a few years ago during a course called “The Science of Happiness” that I completed (twice) online through www.edx.org. I picked the book back up for a second read recently, and I’m so glad I did.

The happiness myths I grew up sorting through seem alive and well today, decades later. I thought when I found the right person, got the great job, and made enough money, happiness would find me, or I’d find it. If I didn’t find it, I thought, it was because it resided outside my circumstances or my genetics. The book addresses these myths with science and clear explanations. The author points out about 50% of our happiness seems tied to a “set point” that appears genetic (we used to call this “hard wired”). Another 10% relates to life circumstances. However, a whopping 40% can be changed through intentional activity. 

With all the self-care materials on the planet, this book really delivered a lot of info and some excellent tools. This book offers a good explanation of the theoretical framework and then provides a lot of tools. Not only are there options, they can be based on just picking ones that click for you or you can select recommended options that seem most in sync with your values by completing the included 12-question Oxford Happiness Questionnaire. (To complete the Questionnaire without the book, go to this link.[iv])

The tools, called “happiness activities” in the book, cover 12 areas and offer different options within each area. The general areas are Expressing gratitude, Cultivating optimism, Avoiding comparison and overthinking, Practicing acts of kindness, Nurturing relationships, Developing strategies for coping, Learning to forgive, Increasing “flow” experiences, Savoring joy, Committing to goals, Practicing Spirituality, and Taking care of your body. The Questionnaire helps score and select areas of focus.

Per the Questionnaire, Expressing gratitude scored as one of my highest-interest areas. Since I’m already using a tool related to gratitude and consider it quite important, I’m impressed with the questionnaire. In addition, it helped me narrow down my broad interests to a few options. And though I feel I’ve progressed a lot with gratitude, from the book I learned more about ways to cultivate an optimistic attitude. Honestly, I hadn’t linked the two.

Growing up among adults who often outdid one another to the point if one had a “cold coming on” the other self-diagnosed with pneumonia, I witnessed a lot of negative thinking. My personalized definition of optimism in my teenage years included having the ability to recognize when something awful happened (friendship fell apart), accept any role I had in the disaster (didn’t pick up the cues someone was deceiving me), and acknowledging other circumstances (intentional cover-up by folks who knew what was happening). To my surprise, the book’s definition of “optimistic” states a person who relegates their failures to causes “that were external, transient, and specific” as opposed to causes that are internal and long-lasting. Suddenly, I felt a bit more like Pollyanna.

The tool I felt most drawn to in the section on cultivating optimism suggests writing about “your best possible selves.” This involves pondering deeply important goals and picturing them as achieved, then writing about that. It’s suitable for people of all ages and employs my imagination.

To find a second example, I closed my eyes and opened the book to a random page. Well, perhaps it wasn’t quite so random. The pages I opened to nestled in the section entitled “Managing Stress, Hardship and Trauma” and the tool was “Learning to Forgive.” Yikes! Although this wasn’t one of my top scoring areas, I realized almost everyone I know (including myself) has gotten bogged down at some time after we have been wronged or perceived we have been. The page I opened to has two activities/tools. One is to “Imagine forgiveness.” The other is “Write a letter of forgiveness.”

  • Imagine forgiveness suggests thinking of a particular person “you blame for mistreating or offending you.” You then imagine feeling empathy for the person, take time to consider their perspective, view them as a complete human being, and forgive them. Note that this does not mean excusing or putting up with poor behavior! It’s about letting go of the pain around the incident(s) and weaving through it thoughtfully and completely, imaging what you would say, how you would feel, and, in the end, reducing your stress.
  • Write a letter of forgiveness seeks to help us let go of anger and resentment by writing out our feelings in a letter, but not sending the letter (so it doesn’t matter if this person lives next-door or is no longer alive).  The activity suggest one method is to write about the offense, how it hurt you, how it still hurts you, what you wish they would have done, and ending with a clear statement of forgiveness. Again, this is not meant to be sent/mailed to anyone, but to help you find some peace and, perhaps, understanding.

While these may not resonate with you at all (and that’s absolutely fine), there are many other great examples in the book that might interest you. I consider the book one of those that touched me in a most lovely and uplifting way. To be clear, my preference is for information that wraps itself into or around practical tips – things I can use in my own life. The How of Happiness does that so well that I have to add it to my small personal library (and remove a book to make room for it because I have limited space).

Above all else, the book reminded me that we all have the power to make our lives happier, not by magic, but through chasing happiness in the right way: with an internal focus. To me, the potential life-long happiness upgrade makes it well worth the attempt.

Next week, book 2 of my top 3 “self-care” books. Until then, may you be happy, healthy, safe, and strong.

Copyright D.R. deLuis 2020

[i] Most areas in the U.S. offer a “2-1-1” service that can provide information about local resources. In addition, one website (there are many) with info about finding an affordable therapist is Open Counseling at www.opencounseling.com .

[ii] National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255; to reach the Crisis Text Line in the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808.

[i] Most areas in the U.S. offer a “2-1-1” service that can provide information about local resources. In addition, one website (there are many) with info about finding an affordable therapist is Open Counseling at www.opencounseling.com .

[ii] National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255; to reach the Crisis Text Line in the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808.

[iii] For U.S. history, as a start consider Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram Kendi or sources that respect the perspective of indigenous people and those kidnapped humans who were brought to this country enslaved. For me, loving a country means knowing the country’s authentic ups and downs, accepting the past, and working toward a more equitable future.

[iv] If you’re waiting for the book and would like to try the Happiness Questionnaire, here’s an article that includes the questionnaire along with guidance: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/nov/03/take-the-oxford-happiness-questionnaire

Giving Attention

So many things compete for our attention these days. Interacting with family and friends. Opportunities to engage with one another. Commitments to work, whether paid or volunteer. Making sure we meet our financial obligations. Focusing on caring for our bodies, preparing food, taking time for movement. Keeping up with current events and staying informed. Leaning in toward new opportunities. Keeping up with lifelong learning. And we live in a time with many entertainment options. Given all the competition, it’s no wonder so many of us struggle to make time for ourselves.

Several years ago I realized that when I completed two simple activities, my days went much more smoothly. For me, that still stands. I feel far calmer, happier, and far less likely to become irritated with others on days when I take as little as 15 minutes a day for some meditation and give myself some time – from 2 minutes to 2 hours – to write (whether a journal entry or crafting stories, but excluding emails and work-related tasks).

On days when I traveled for work or had other unusual time-sucks to deal with, these soothing timeouts sometimes didn’t happen. What I learned from this, thanks to the obvious difference in my stress level during days when I rushed around feeling frazzled, was to take time to pay attention. In my rush to care for family, do my best at work, and move through the day as efficiently as possible, changing my focus from the task-orientation to something a bit softer did not come easily to me. I learned a little at a time.

During the Greater Good Science Center class, “The Science of Happiness,” the instructors discussed the power of spending time in nature, engaging in simple walks in a park or even a minute or two looking at a tree (or other large green growing plant). Not one to accept such advice without trying it out, on a particularly difficult day at work, I stepped outside, walked to the back of the building where a large tree towered over a neighboring office. I stared at the tree for a minute or two, daring it to make a difference. Frankly, I found it difficult to direct any frustration toward the tree. It stood, firmly rooted, leaves rustling in a light breeze, apparently unconcerned about the humidity or the temperature or cranky clients or a complaining coworker. In spite of doubts, I stood watching the tree, breathing, and felt my tension slip away.

Surprised that a tree, however beautiful, had any impact, I vowed to remember that simple tool. And to try out more things.

Through the “Happiness” class[i] I experimented with a few different ways of paying attention to gratitude. One was to write 3 things daily for which I felt grateful. Another was to write 3 things on 3 different days each week. The final technique I tried involved gratitude writing once a week, stating 5 things for which I felt grateful and adding a sentence or two about what impact each had or why I felt so thankful.

A few years later, I’m still using the third technique. Someone gifted me with a lovely journal and though I resisted writing in it – who desecrates such beautiful works of art?! – I finally gave in and started a gratitude journey. This weekend I realized I’m nearly out of pages. I’m not ashamed to disclose I’ve missed weeks and picked up where I left off. I’ve also stared at the page a few times, after jarring weeks, slowly pulling something up from deep inside myself for which I could honestly claim I felt grateful. Most of the time, though, I strive to give little premeditated thought to the process. Instead, I go with the flow. I write the numbers 1 to 5 on 5 lines, then quickly jot something down, something that generates gratitude in my heart. After that, I give myself more space to write a 2 to 3 lines about each of the 5.

My entries will never win any prizes, and they often mention people – family, friends, coworkers, the stranger who bought me coffee. They also mention the weather, a spectacular sunset or full moon, a story that touched me, a sushi combination that surprised me, the roof over my head, the public library, the midnight blue color of the night sky, my health, access to healthcare, charming places, beautiful noise, services (like food delivery or my CSA), animals and birds, flowers and trees, easy trails. Several years of those weekly notes live in one journal that I rarely examine unless I want to remember.

Both of these simple practices – taking time outdoors to appreciate nature and developing a gratitude habit – can tweak a perspective enough to inspire more positive changes. Start slow. Stay consistent. Try different things.

This week I’m re-reading The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky, a book I learned about through The Science of Happiness class. I plan to write more about that book next time. For now, though, I’m wishing you some relaxing time in nature and hoping you find a rewarding gratitude practice that lifts you and keeps you mindful of all you have.

May you be healthy, be happy, be strong, and be safe.

[i] The Science of Happiness class is offered at low- to no-cost online through www.edX.org and additional information about positive psychology can be found at https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/


Autumn arrived last week, the season that most folks (in the Northern Hemisphere) imagine as bursts of colorful leaves that usher in the cold days of winter. Fall makes a more minimal entrance here in the areas fringing the biggest metro sections of Southern California. In my childhood, autumn in Central California brought some colorful foliage and the tulle fog that caused a lot of mayhem on the highways and streets. Where I live now, the only significant gatherings of autumn leaves erupt briefly, mostly in parks, and late in the year: after Thanksgiving. The trees quickly shrug off the old, rushing to try on their Spring wardrobe.

Though it doesn’t feel like autumn weather, at the local market I couldn’t resist picking up a beautiful pumpkin. When I got it home my grandsons started talking about carving it. More practical, I suggested cooking it. They countered with the idea of painting it. And then carving it.

We clearly see things from a different perspective, yet we all expect some compromises at home. It makes sense, given the combination of different personalities and moods crisscrossing paths in one relatively confined space. Because of the lingering heat of summer and heatwaves that have flitted through the southern half of California, we lost our usual suburban refuge: the back yard. We all get downright cranky some days.

The life issues contributing to that crankiness, I’ve realized, cross age boundaries. Our challenges include some lack of physical activity, lingering awkwardness related to a new way of living during a pandemic, a fluctuating level of anxiety because of external events like wildfires that impact air quality, and lapses into ineffective communication. In simpler terms, we all stress out.

Humor, when used at the right time, can lighten up potential emotional explosions. For example, when the 5-year-old in my life becomes really frustrated about house rules that limit television or playing video games, name-calling is a go-to response. It usually goes something like this:

A miffed kindergartener looks at me and announces, “You’re a doodoo head!”

Me: “What?! I have doodoo on my head?!” I start touching my head. “Where is it?! Help me get if off! Where is it?!”

My kindergartener struggles to glare but we laugh. Then we talk, and we’re back on track.

In grown-up world, the situations are often more nuanced and sometimes humor fails. While there are many tools I use, I’m sharing one I learned about a few years ago but just started practicing in the last few months. I use this when something is bothering me, but I’ve got conflicting emotions and/or I feel muddled by anxiety or fear. When I feel stuck, I’ve become a fan of RAIN.

To start, keep in mind this is just my experience and not a recommendation. You know what works for you, so you do you! I’m not a professional with a certification for teaching this technique (I’m not even sure if there is a certification!), so after you hear about my experience if you want to walk through this yourself, look for the link I’ll share to a video with Tara Brach (a genuine expert and awesome teacher). In the video, she walks folks through RAIN.

For me, recently two activities converged. I began posting more often on Facebook, and a friend I have known for decades started sharing a lot of posts I found offensive and racist. Since I didn’t think of this person as racist, I made an “Ah, c’mon” comment that I thought would seem non-judgmental and light-hearted. It did not go well, and I received some unexpected and mean backlash. When I went back to review previous posts from this person, it was clear that we have a big difference of opinion regarding race. Because I felt awful and had a hard time just letting this go, I used the RAIN technique.

The acronym RAIN, coined more than 20 years ago by Michelle McDonald, has been popularized by Tara Brach, PhD. The acronym stands for: Recognize what is happening; Allow the experience; Investigate with interest; Nurture with self-compassion.

Recognize requires taking time to look at the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. For me, the thought that repeated: I thought we were friends and I do not even know this person. I felt anxious, perplexed, abused, and embarrassed. How did I get this so wrong?

Allowing, for me, involved letting the experience just percolate, not beating myself up or making excuses for others. In just sitting quietly with the event, I realized my online comments resulted in a response of fury and disgust that I felt also held some sense of smug superiority.

To Investigate, I gave myself time by taking a few deep belly breaths and sat quietly to see what bubbled up. First, I acknowledged, offending someone else was never my intention. Then I reminded myself, I did the best I could at the time. What happened next surprised me. Just sitting calmly, old remarks and reactions from this person popped into my mind from decades ago. I remembered their best friend as an unabashed racist. I remembered the last time our paths had crossed, this person and their spouse gossiped about and made fun of other friends we had known while I sat uncomfortably, saying little. As other memories came to me, I realized this individual had not ever been a friend to me and most likely connected with me to feed information to my abusive ex-. Many other pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Initially I wondered How could I have missed that?! Rather than going down that rabbit hole, I moved on to offering myself compassion.

Nurturing myself, I repeated my go-to self-talk. I counted my blessings and repeated May I be safe, be healthy, be happy, be strong. I added the line from Brené Brown, I am here to get it right, not to be right. And, from Desiderata, the lines I recall most. Like the moon and the stars, I have a right to be here. Whether or not it is clear to me, the Universe is unfolding as it should.

In the end, I realized if I had it to do over, I might have approached this individual differently. I could have asked by private message about their posts and why they felt committed to their philosophies. I would have had a chance to try to understand why they believed what I understand as false stereotypes that, in the end, seemed likely to hurt them as well as others. I realized where my feelings came from and feel confident that I can move forward with a new understanding of the old relationship. I want to speak and honor the truth, so I will add that this experience helped me see this individual as unkind and not a good time investment for me right now; I’m taking a break that may become a permanent fracture.

To me, knowledge is power. RAIN is an effective self-care/self-compassion tool that helps me reach a deeper understanding, find some peace, and develop insight. I plan to use this when I’m having one of Those Days, feeling frustrated and, at some level, anxious, overwhelmed, or confused.

In the hope of inspiring others, I’m sharing what works for me. Take time to explore what works for you.   To learn more about the RAIN technique, use this video to walk through the technique with an expert, Tara Brach: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8e_tAEM80k

Next week I’ll share more about some of my other favorite tools and how they’ve worked for me. In the meantime, follow health guidelines, get some sunshine if you’re able to do so safely, move as well as you’re able, laugh often, and remember to be kind to yourself.

May you be healthy, be happy, be strong, be safe, and live a life of ease.