Some Cherokee Tidbits

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Some Cherokee Tidbits

A few years ago, I had the privilege to travel in and around Cherokee, North Carolina. My daughter and I chose to spend a morning at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. Here we not only met but also sat and listened to a great storyteller and renowned Beloved Man, Jerry Wolfe. Mr. Wolfe was 92 years young at the time, the first man to have received the honorable title ‘Beloved Man’ among Cherokee in over 200 years. It was well-deserved. He was a World War II veteran, a survivor of D-Day on Normandy, a stonemason who lay stone throughout the Smoky Mountains, and a dedicated volunteer who spent time with children, teaching them Cherokee stories, language, ways and games. He volunteered daily in the museum, greeting visitors and giving talks. That’s where we mer him. His interest shifted readily from what he was reading (a New Testament, written in Cherokee language Tsalgi) to the visitors entering the museum.

Jerry Wolfe Cherokee Beloved man cropped

Yours truly with Beloved Man Jerry Wolfe, a year before his passing.

He told us delightful stories. He shared traditional Cherokee stories, woven like fables, with funny twists and important lessons.

After listening to his wonderful stories, we slowly meandered through the museum. Here we found a beautiful talking stone with the Cherokee syllabary engraved and backlit. As each “letter” lit up, museum visitors heard a recording of its sound.

Did you know that rather than an alphabet, the Cherokee have a syllabary? What’s a syllabary, you ask? A syllabary is a set of syllables that make up the language. The Cherokee syllabary was developed and published between 1815 and 1821 by Sequoyah (English name George Guess). After trying to devise pictures for each Cherokee word, he realized the task was too much. Instead, he thought long and hard about the syllables that made up each word and identified 86. This made symbol creation feasible. He soon taught his brother and daughter the new form of communication.

Before long, Sequoyah was arrested and stood trial for sorcery, which could have been the end of him. During the trial, his people saw that he and his daughter were able to communicate with one another by making symbols on pieces of paper. His captors soon helped him spread the news to their people.

As it turns out, the syllabary is a remarkably easier way to learn to read and write a language. Students learning the syllable forms could learn to read and write in a few weeks as compared to our years of study. Within a matter of months, a great number of Cherokee in this time became literate. By 1824 most Cherokees could read and write using this syllabary. By 1828 both the Cherokee Phoenix and the Cherokee Advocate, regularly published newspapers, employed this syllabary and publishers in Boston worked toward translating it into print for the Bible and other notable works.

It is the language of some of my ancestors, but it is long forgotten in my family’s line. It is a language of harmony with nature, with one another, and with the Great Spirit. It is a language that is coming back again.

For too long, Cherokee, as other indigenous peoples to this land, were suppressed. Our American forefathers forced them into schools in an effort to eradicate their language and culture. As recently as the 1900’s, our government leaders and respected professionals took part in what was no more than a witch-hunt to identify and isolate from mainstream white America any who were part “Indian,” and categorizing them as Blacks, discriminating equally against the two groups so they could not receive government assistance, schooling or medical care.

Imagine what that would be like to us today, to have a foreign invader come and force their way upon us–or death. It is incomprehensible. Yet this is what happened to the indigenous people, here, in America, when this country, which stands for freedom, began.

It is no wonder that so many Cherokee and other indigenous people found refuge by blending in with their European spouses and families, and kept their heritage to themselves. It was a matter of survival, a matter of securing their hope for the future; for their children.

All the years of oppression left the Cherokee in a poor state, with rampant alcoholism, poverty and poor health. This is the stereotype. But they are returning. Their pride is returning. Their language is returning. Their culture is returning. There is something special about this people. They hold truths which will be vital in restoring our nation–even our world.

Tell me–are you descended from indigenous people in America? How has that deepened or enriched your life? I’d love to hear your stories, heart to heart.

Joan T. Warren

 

 

Addendum: As an occupational therapist, I’ve been privileged to help many a child master writing the alphabet, sentences and paragraphs. If you’d like to see another alphabet photo challenge, visit my newest blog, OT Interactions.

Helplessness, Learned Dependency and the Art of Compassion

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Helplessness, Learned Dependency and the Art of Compassion

A few years ago, an older man in a wheelchair approached my husband, granddaughter and me as we walked across the street toward a playground. He started out as if he were going to introduce himself as a neighbor, very happy and outgoing, “Hi, are you folks looking at that house?” We had been. Then he shifted gears. “I’m a diabetic, and I don’t have any food in my house. Could you spare a few dollars?”

I suppose I should have felt compassion for this man. We’ll call him “Ned.” Instead, that twinge of compassion quickly dissipated, and I felt suspicion instead.

I noticed my gut feeling: that he was not as nice as he acted. For some reason, I didn’t believe he needed that wheelchair. I didn’t believe he didn’t have any food in his “house.” I didn’t even believe he had a house. I believed he wanted a drink, and had refined this strategy to tug at people’s heartstrings, and, ultimately, their purse-strings. Then, I felt angry that he approached us under false pretense–it felt like a bait and switch tactic. Overall, though, knowing my mix of emotions was just that–a mix of emotions–I wondered what the real story behind this man was.

Perhaps anger and gut feelings such as these don’t seem to mesh with this blog, “Heart to Heart in a Shielded World.” Certainly they don’t seem congruent with my earlier post on Compassion.  Do you relate a bit, though? Do you have gut feelings and quick reactions to things like this?

Maybe you’re upset with me right now. After all, here I am, a writer whose blog is all about heart. . . a therapist whose profession is all about promoting personal worth, function and independence. . . a woman who professes genuine faith and authentic love for people. Hold on, though.

Don’t discard me as a total hypocrite too soon.

I’m also a woman who seeks to balance intellect with heart. I’m also a woman who grew up with men not being who they professed to be.  I’m also a woman on an authentic journey of becoming, not one who has already arrived.

Stay with me for a little back-story, and then you’ll see where we’re going with this post.

As a teen, I dreamt we would change the world with “love, sweet love.” Like the old commercial, we’d “buy the world a coke,  and keep it company.”  I turned my back on prosperity preachers and party animals, who reverted to a different sort of coke in the 80’s, while I lived thriftily and dedicated myself to helping people with addictions recover their lives and find faith, hope and love. Then, I came to a point where, with education and a sensibly-sized student debt, I changed careers. As an occupational therapist, I brought practical strategies to folks with impairments who want independence.

When I felt those negative things toward the man in the wheelchair that day, I surprised myself. I soon began to ask myself some questions. The first question flashed across my mind:

“Have you let your original love fade into cynicism and selfishness?”

Then, another question paraded its way across the screen in my mind:

“Was he an angel, a test to see if I’d entertain angels unaware?”

Still more questions emerged: “What really is his problem, and what really is his need?,” and, last, but not least, “What should we do?” I pondered these questions a while. From that experience, this post emerged.

(Reader, this means beware: long post ahead!).

Helplessness, learned dependency and the art of compassion: its title flowed from my fingers as if the post had a life of its own.  I named it before I knew what I was going to say.

Helplessness and Learned Dependency

There is something about helplessness that moves us.  A newborn baby. An abandoned puppy. An orphan in a third-world country. When we hear the term helplessness, our mental images usually involve young life, not adults–certainly not adult men. Men are supposed to be tough. Men are supposed to take care of women and children, as protectors, providers. Right? Those beliefs, rooted in ancestral memories, and the facts of body composition, are not necessarily reality. In fact, more male children are born with disabilities than female. There are plenty of men who actually are helpless, in many ways. Yet somehow, we expect more from men; even men with impairments.

What does it mean to be helpless? It’s not a term we like these days. Current technology enables capacity for independent functioning as never before. Tongue movements can activate a switch to use augmentative speech devices, manage home electronics, lock doors and turn on lights. Electrodes placed on the head can let the wearer move the cursor on a computer by thinking it there. Power wheelchairs can lift a rider to standing position, climb stairs, and respond to torso movements with delicate balancing responses. It would seem, then, that being “dependent” or “helpless” is a thing of the past. Yet few have the means to own and maintain this sort of technology. Even if they did, there is more to this whole dependency thing than we realize.

When it comes to concepts like helplessness or dependence, our brains get hard-wired early in life. Modern brain science teaches us there are optimal periods in brain development for certain skills, and if, for any reason, we experience significant failure, our brains learn that we cannot. Our brains learn what works, what does not, and it moves on.

For example, a newborn is hungry, but cannot reach mommy, or speak. Discomfort leads to crying. Crying tends to result in baby being picked up and fed. Voila! Hunger dissipates. Problem solved: When I feel hungry, cry. It’s as simple as cause and effect, yet as complex as neuroscience. The developing brain moves on, and focuses on things like trying to hold his head up, reaching the dangling toy, and rolling over. Later, he learns he can say, “Baba,” and mommy gives him milk. Much later, he finds he can go get his own drink. If, at any point along this continuum, baby has impaired physical or language skills, efforts toward greater independence fail. Without some alternate means to facilitate independence, the brain settles into reliance on what works: maybe all the back to crying. Neural pathways become firmly established at this point, and baby has learned to be dependent. This is called learned dependency.

Hard-wiring like this happens all  the time in our brains. We aren’t particularly aware of it when it happens. To us, it just seems that we’ve figured out how things work, and we move on to learn something else. Learned dependency can be a problem for anyone, whether or not they have a physical or mental impairment.

Here’s an example: I  used to work in a rehab hospital, where clients came to regain skills after stroke, surgery, and such. My job included going into patients’ rooms in the morning to help them problem-solve new ways to do daily tasks such as dressing and hygiene. There was one gentleman who refused to participate. At first I thought he was just not up to it yet, but after a few days, he explained that he never dresses himself. “That is women’s work,” he stated emphatically. I inquired further, and spoke with his family, and found it was true; in their culture, the woman dressed the man. This man had been completely able to dress himself, but had learned early on, and lived with the reinforcement, that he was dependent on a woman.

So, now let’s revisit “Ned,” and see if we can distinguish between actual helplessness and learned dependency. The man in the wheelchair: Was he helpless? Did he learn dependence? He was independent enough to propel his wheelchair down the road. He was independent enough to offer a friendly greeting, a smile and eye contact. He was able to verbally ask for help. All of this was easy to see. What wasn’t easy to see was why he didn’t have food in his house. He said, “I’m a diabetic and I don’t have any food in my house. Can you spare me a few dollars?” Is there something about being diabetic that makes a person more prone to run out of food and money? If not, why did he feel it was important to preface his plea with that information? Did he presume we would think that without food, he will go into a diabetic coma? He seemed to emphasize that he had a house, as if trying to prevent us from disregarding him as a homeless person. If he had a house, had he no phone? Certainly there are people and organizations he could call, like the local food bank, before heading out to beg from strangers. What about his neighbors, his buddies? The pieces don’t fit. To me, “Ned” is strongly suspect for learned dependency, not helplessness. Somewhere along the way, he learned that he didn’t have to make his budget stretch to keep food on the shelf. He learned that he could get handouts with a little work and a few little tricks.

This is the main reason my gut feeling was that “Ned” was not being honest. After years of working in addictions and years working with people who have disabilities but want independence, I have a fairly reliable sense of who can do something, who cannot, and what a person needs to be able to do it.

Does “Ned” need help? What sort of help does he need? Does he need a few bucks to put food in his cupboard? Does he need someone to bring food instead of money?  Does he need much more than this? Does he need help unlearning his learned dependency?  Can hard-wired brains be rewired? If so, what does it take? If we gave him a few bucks, would we reinforce his learned dependency? How do we determine the best way to help “Ned?”

The Art of Compassion

Compassion is more than an empathetic feeling. Compasson takes action; well-considered, planned action.

Some acts of compassion are fairly easy to plan. For example, you’re walking in the mall and see a toddler standing alone, crying. The child clearly is helpless, and in danger. It doesn’t take much to decide to put on your best comforting style and get the little one to the nearest store register or security guard, so announcements can be broadcast to find the parent who is most likely frantically searching for their child.

Others, like in “Ned’s” example, are not so easy. Is the problem too complex to fix in the twenty seconds we need to make a decision? If so, we may find ourselves hesitating, avoiding it and moving on. In essence, we find ourselves “helpless” to help. Or, maybe we feel too uncomfortable ignoring the plea, and give a little something before we move on. Either way, the problem remains. What do we do when true compassion takes well-considered, planned action, and the problem is complex?

This is where compassion becomes an art.

Creative, unique and beautiful, acts of compassion can explode into works of art. Consider the late Audrey Hepburn’s work as ambassador for UNICEF. A beautiful, glamorous Hollywood actress, she had no need to work at all. Yet she spent the last several years of her life visiting the world’s  starving children, and, in so doing, brought international exposure to their plight and made those children real to us. A dentist and his rotary club began a small venture to bring pure water to El Salvadore back in 1994. Today their work is international and growing exponentially. Along with providing sustainable filters for each home, they also provide education on hygiene, foodsafety, and create jobs where work was unavailable. Visit their website to see the work of art expand before your eyes. 

Having said all of this, I wonder about you, my readers.

What do you think should have been done about Ned?

What do you think when you meet Ned?

What do you do?

In what ways have you learned helplessness or dependency?

Thanks for reading and sharing your hearts.

Joan T Warren

2022: People of Earth Sharing Hopes, Dreams, Promises Against All Odds

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2022: People of Earth Sharing Hopes, Dreams, Promises Against All Odds

We got our hopes up that 2021 would be better than 2020. That we could stop wearing masks. Get together again. Go on vacation again. But she wasn’t so kind, that new year. COVID brought us more punches, more anguish, more supply chain shortages. Crowds looted stores to get what they wanted. Trash piled up in many neighborhoods. Recycling came to a grinding halt. Shootings reached an all-time high. Many schools remained closed. Perhaps it was a bit Grinchie of me, but I wondered if perhaps 2022 would come without hopes or dreams. Perhaps we’d given up on the idea that things can–or will–get better. So, looking at the world through social media eyes and in keeping with the Grinch theme, here’s what I found–

“Their mouths will hang open a minute or two,
Then the Whos down in Whoville will all cry BooHoo!”

I started a Round-up, and gave it a name. Added hashtags and spread them and searched for the same. I wanted to see what the people would do. I wanted to see if they’d all cry BooHoo!

So he paused. And the Grinch put his hand to his ear.
And he did hear a sound rising over the snow.
It started in low. Then it started to grow.
But the sound wasn’t sad! Why, this sound sounded merry!
It couldn’t be so! But it WAS merry! VERY!

At first I saw nothing. No one hashtagging hope. No one hashtagging dreams. Not even a gleam. No one promising better. I searched all through WordPress. I searched on the Twitter. I even searched Instagram, Facebook and Jitter.

(Okay, Jitter isn’t really a platform, but it rhymed. Seuss made up words didn’t he?)

And then came the first. Then another. Then more! Writers were starting to write from their core! The world started sharing. Admitting to caring.

They’d curled up in comfortable places to dream. They’d looked in the mirror, eyes starting to gleam. They’d promised to take better care of the planet. They’d promised to hug with their masks and hand-sanit. They’d hoped upon hope with the simplest of joys. They’d hoped beyond packages, ribbons and toys.

He stared down at Whoville! The Grinch popped his eyes!
Then he shook! What he saw was a shocking surprise!
Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!

The earthlings had done it! They’d lifted their voice! It isn’t all gloom! We do have a choice! And so, in the wonder of holiday cheer, I share with you some of their voices, right here!

First there is Pamela Canepa, dear. She’s from New York and is making it clear. . . that simple is better to ring in the year. https://pamelascanepa.wordpress.com/

Then there’s Steven McFadden, who’s taken a cause. He’s hoping the world will sustain against odds. https://deepagroecology.org/

Reesa Shayne shared on Facebook, right on cue! She hopes “Every wish you have for yourself comes true.” And it looks like she has some awesome books that are new!

Thoughtsnlifeblog made a promise to step into the year with ease and grace. That’s a promise I think we all can embrace!

And over at Merril D Smith’s lovely site, you’ll find that she offers a promise of light.

Roth finds that hope blooms after the cold, and Kally dreams of a new little bundle to hold.

There are more, my dear readers, more to be had. So come on, and share, join the group and be glad! Link up in the comments, I’m sure to approve. Give hope a try; you’ve got nothing to lose.

Well, that’s enough of this silly post rhyming for now–I smile as you’ve given this old heart some “Wow!”

And what happened then? Well…in Whoville they say,
That the Grinch’s small heart Grew three sizes that day!

Happy New Year!

Joan T. Warren

And in 2022, may your hopes and dreams spur you on to make a great difference, one day at a time.


2022: Hopes, Promises and Dreams

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2022: Hopes, Promises and Dreams

Let’s get ready for those new year resolutions! Here at Heart to Heart, we’re drawing 2021 to a close by hosting a prompt/roundup for all of us WordPress bloggers and readers!

Tell us or show us, through writing or pictures, what your hopes, promises and dreams are for the coming year. What is hope? Are you hoping for things that will take a miracle? Is hope something that keeps you going, or have you been experiencing hopelessness? Maybe you’d like to promise yourself something special this year. Or perhaps you have a promise to the world for this year. Are you charged by a wild dream; one that you know is out of reach in one year, but you can’t help but aim for the stars? Tell us! Be funny if you’re funny, serious if you’re serious; just be you!

Tag your post with #2022Hopes #2022Promises or #2022Dreams so we can find each others’ posts, and be sure to drop a link to your post in comments, below! If you do, I #promise I’ll read it! I’ll share all those that meet requirements on my New Year’s Roundup post!

Who knows? Maybe your post will inspire someone this year. Maybe your post will lift a down heart. Maybe your post will bring a smile to someone’s face. Or even a laugh!

Let’s get ready for a Happy New Year! Start writing. . .

Please try to post by January 1st, 2022.

Do-Overs

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Do-Overs

Ever wish someone would yell, “Cut!” and you’d get a chance to do the scene over?

Maybe you lost your temper. Maybe you felt the fool after spilling your guts. Or, maybe you tripped and fell, beginning years of pain and frustration.

There are all types of fumbles, and we all make plenty of them.

Only occasionally do we get a chance for a real do-over.

You may have noticed that much of my writing takes a positive vibe. I like to share messages that inspire goodness and mercy. I like to get into meaty matters of the heart. That’s because I’m a grateful recipient of mercy and grace—and of many opportunities for do-overs!

But I love do-overs as hobbies, too. I love to re-do furniture, do and re-do art, and re-do stuff in my house. Since I’ve spent a lot of time on projects, and haven’t been writing enough, I decided to take this blog in a little different direction. I’m going to start weaving in projects I work on with my spare time!

There’ll be a little how-to with these projects, and I’ll weave some matters of heart, inspiration and reflection along the way. How do you like the sound of that? They say we bloggers need to stick to theme, so in the past I started other blogs for other endeavors, but my gut tells me this, the “writing” blog, needs a little more pizazz. A little more of the real, every day me.

Here’s a little intro, please tell me what you think:

Repurposed Old Cabinet

Found: old cabinet for sale nearby—and less than $100! But this ole gal was bland.
And, Oh my God, what is that awful smell inside???

It reminded me of one of the bold proclamations Jesus made to the insincere religious men of his day:

“You Pharisees and teachers are in for trouble! You’re nothing but show-offs. You’re like tombs that have been whitewashed. On the outside they are beautiful, but inside they are full of bones and filth.”

Matthew 23:28, Contemporary English Version

Yes, this cabinet looked okay on the outside. It was white (ish) and neutral (meh); not really offensive. . . kinda pretty even. But inside! Not only are those shelves too short to store most things (dysfunctional!) but they were poorly painted–and what in the world is that smell?!?!!

Stink. Stank. Stunk!

So into the garage she went, to air out and undergo some much-needed cleaning and refinishing.

I removed the shelves, deep-cleaned every inch inside and out, sprayed her down with disinfectant and Febreeze, and she still. stunk. BAD. It was IN the wood, whatever it was. I placed baking soda inside the cupboard and drawer and let it set a day or two.

Hmmm. Still a little stinky. Maybe fresh paint will do the trick, I thought. So I didn’t give up.

After several coats, inside and out, I only smelled that stank when she’d been closed up overnight and then opened again.

Hmmm. Maybe she just needs a little more time to heal. Let’s give her a new purpose. Once she gets going serving a good purpose, maybe some of that old ghastly odor will dissipate.

So, I added a $5 mirror from a second-hand store (which I refurbished the frame to lighten it yet let its pretty design show through), some wine glass holders ($15 each, painted and attached to the top) and a light strip along the top inside of the cabinet. Then I added a little extra touch on the door front, feeling she deserved a little something fancy front and center. Now she has a prominent place and function in our home!

Just a little bit fancy!
Now she’s clean and pretty inside and filled with “spirit!”

Oh, sorry—apologies to those of us who must avoid alcohol due to that unwelcome “allergy” known as addiction. I have an allergy too (gluten) that means I must avoid bread. Sometimes it’s hard to even see a picture of my old friend, bread. But I still keep it in the house and serve it to my family. I truly hope that this picture doesn’t throw anyone addicted to alcohol back into drinking.

With the help of a little air freshening device inside the drawer for a month or so, I’m happy to say this gal no longer stinks. She got a do-over in life! Now she smiles and curtsies bashfully when people rave about how lovely she is. She is glad to serve a purpose—to hold and present items that we and our visitors seem to enjoy. She is hospitable, bright, and, one more little thing—she can lock up at night!

Take the key and lock her up. . . my fair lady!

I love do-overs. Maybe that’s the heart of why I’m a Christian. I love that God gives me do-overs. Yes, I realize that if I mess up there are still real-life consequences. Like, if I jump off a tall building, I’ll break my body. And if I eat bread, cereal, cookies—anything with gluten, I will suffer for it. And there’s gluten in almost everything!! But in my relationship with God through Christ, I am reminded of the good that is in me. God took my hurt, angry and lost soul and gave me new life. He cleaned out the stink. He comforts my heart with such patience and kindness that I feel renewed again–every time I need it. He imbues me with love and purpose and the power to fulfill it.

How about you? Where are you in your journey toward inner health and life purpose? Do tell! And your hobbies, do you love a good do-over too? Leave me a note and a link so we can see what you’re up to!

Happy Do-Overs to you,

Joan T. Warren

This podcast episode here

“But it’s not COVID. . . “

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“But it’s not COVID. . . “

This season, I’ve heard it again and again. I’ve heard myself say it. “It’s not COVID” has become the new catchphrase. It means relax. It means don’t worry. It means it’s okay if I’m here.

Or does it? Is it okay if I’m here?

One thing I wish we’d learned from the pandemic is TO AVOID SPREADING ILLNESS!!!!!

I’ve missed four holiday events and three weeks of visits with grandbabies, friends and family because someone went on with life as normal. ALL. BECAUSE. “IT” wasn’t COVID.

But maybe it WAS strep. Maybe it WAS RSV. Maybe it WAS a stomach virus. Maybe it WAS the flu. Maybe it was a nasty cold.

Whatever it was, it (along with all the rest of us who’ve been sick lately) resulted in countless hours of suffering, spread to countless people. It meant many missed days of work for many people. It meant many doctor visits, much expense in medical care and medicine. Weeks without hugs, kisses, shared meals. Okay, so maybe we didn’t die, but still, why spread it around?

Some people just don’t get it.

We know how to avoid spreading illness.

Symptoms = Stay away

Yes, your family loves you and wants to see you. But the truth is, they’d rather not get what you have.

So there it is. No sugar coated, emotionally supportive, poetry-laden, relational or spiritual message today. Just a little vent and some sage advice:

Keep that bug to yourself.

Make it your mission to stop that bug at you.

That’s all for today. Oh, and one more thing. I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and a Healthy New Year. I really do. Achoo.

Joan

Serenity Prayer 2.0

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  • A little update to the old standby, this prayer spilled from my heart one day. I pulled over to jot it down. Here it is, in case you might need it too.

Lord,

Grant me the serenity to accept reality and face it head-on with you,

the courage to do what is right,
the faith to let go of what is not mine to do,
and the wisdom to see which is which. . . and when.

Grant me the power to love beyond my personal triggers,
the patience to respond supportively when others are venting and reacting,
the perspective to see when it is time to draw a line,
and the fortitude to let my yes mean yes and my no mean no.

I thank You for your everlasting kindness and the apt and ample supply of your Holy Spirit, that we may indeed have those things we ask for in faith.
Amen.

Audio version, click for my podcast link here: JOAN T WARREN PODCAST SERENITY 2.0

Blue-pencil Time

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Blue-pencil Time

So many of us here, who follow each other’s blogs, are writers who want to publish. Others are writers who just want a place to express, create, share and sometimes just vent.

I’m both. I’ve enjoyed times here when I’ve been very active on WordPress. I’ve taken breaks and focused more on other things, including personal writing. Around 2010, a concept for a novel twinkled my eye. I set out on the journey, and the journey took so many more years than anticipated. But folks, it’s almost ready!

With only a couple of chapters left of the first draft, this thing is a monster! If I were to format it for your basic paperback, it would be nearly a thousand pages. That’s too big! Who wants to read a book that thick? I usually won’t. So, soon I’ll approach blue-pencil time. Time to edit. Cut. Rearrange. Re-phrase. Clean it up.

I’m turning to you, my fellow bloggers and readers. How have you managed parting with your treasured paragraphs? How have you ensured your books are concise and on point, while also richly laced with delights for the senses? Have you paid beta-readers? Have you paid editors? Do you have family who can be that honest with you about what needs to change? How soon before publishing did you start your pre-release marketing strategies?

Please tell me your experiences rather than your advice. That’s what I’m after. Thanks for following, and thanks for sharing your comments and experiences!

Typing away,

Joan T. Warren

All is not Sweet

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All is not Sweet

Yesterday’s violence at the US Capitol saddens me. My last post was for Old Glory. That glory, has it faded, or are we jaded? Listen to one side, it sounds right. Then, the other. Activists with hearts for the downtrodden. Intellectuals with Harvard degrees. High or low, black or white–or pink or yellow, rich or poor, gay or straight, how easily we can slip into judging others as if we knew for sure.

As I reflect upon the last decade or two of political polarization, my grievous thoughts took me back to high school. It was the 1970’s. Richard Nixon shook his jowls and held up a peace sign. The word IMPEACHED splayed across the headlines. Visions of nuclear holocaust fueled my steps to school and George Orwell’s 1984 was our dreaded future. My favorite poem was by Ben Jonson. It went like this:

Still to be neat, still to be dressed,
As you were going to a feast;
Still to be powdered, still perfumed; 
Lady, it is to be presumed,
Though art’s hid causes are not found,
All is not sweet, all is not sound.

Give me a look, give me a face,
That makes simplicity a grace;
Robes loosely flowing, hair as free;
Such sweet neglect more taketh me
                       Than all th’adulteries of art. 
They strike mine eyes, but not my heart.

In all my teen and adult life, I’ve never known exactly who or what to believe. Action, inaction, which is worse? Talk? Lies? Manipulation? Who knows? So, I believe nothing but my gut, as I look in your eyes, and see your actions. Time will tell the rest.

Political lies and unrest striketh not mine eyes nor my heart, folks.

Truth is between us. Not out there.

I’ll still salute this country, its freedom values at core. I’ll still salute you, no matter how we differ. Not because I’m a blind follower, but because I stand for love. Because I value simplicity as a grace.

Drop Your Mask?

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Drop Your Mask?

The US is buzzing with political opinion, judgments, and even mud-slinging about masks. Wear it. Drop it. It’s gotten so bad here that folks can almost tell if you’re republican or democrat based on whether or not you’re wearing a mask.

Scientific opinion seems to change every time we open a search page.

All this talk about masks leads me to think about the other kind of mask.

After all, there are two types of masks.

One is tangible, designed to provide a physical barrier to block the spread of illness. By now, you probably have one of this type to color-coordinate with your daily outfit, and another that’s silly or funny. These masks are designed to block airborne illness from you to others. It’s really only the highest medical quality (N-95) mask that works to block the virus from reaching your lungs.

The other type of mask is intangible. It’s an invisible one. Maybe you’re not even aware you have one of these. It’s also known as a facade. We wear invisible masks all the time, without even thinking about it. We wear our invisible masks to block the undesirable effects of truth.

Smile. Agree.

“How are you?” . . . “I’m fine.”

Conditioned as children to behave properly, we learned to dampen or conceal our natural responses. That’s not entirely a bad thing. If we didn’t hold back much of what pops into our thoughts and emotions, chaos would reign.

Relating to others through our facades might in some way protect us, but there are side effects.

Some effects are mild, like not getting our true feelings out and ending up with the need to find a release. Some can be more disruptive, like becoming ineffective at honest relationships, leading to poor job performance or even divorce. More severe side effects of living behind a facade can be grave, like becoming completely dissociated from your true self, or becoming so isolated and lonely that life loses its meaning and joy.

So what do we do about this? Do we just drop our masks?

I recall a time when I wanted to completely drop my facade of being “fine” all the time. I wanted to pursue my ideal of living a fully authentic life. I soon discovered (yep, the hard way) that most folks don’t feel comfortable with this level of honesty.

Imagine! Can you say ostracized? Distanced? Rejected? Maybe even persecuted?

Lesson Learned: There are times and places where it is safer to wear a mask. That invisible mask protects us—and others—from harmful vitriol.

It’s okay to make determinations for ourselves about where and with whom we choose to drop our masks.

There are safe places to drop your mask. There are people and times where you can safely lower your invisible mask without causing hurt or being hurt in return.

And if the situation changes, it’s also okay to change that decision and slip your mask back up for a while.

We can be authentic, honest and open people without necessarily spilling our guts all over the place.

How about you? What have you learned about wearing or dropping your facade?

Heart to Heart,

Joan T. Warren

Oh, and kudos to Jason Youngman, whose blog post “Jason Without His Mask” sparked my ideas for today’s post. Check his blog out here:

https://metaphysicaldiscourse.wordpress.com

Embracing Diversity

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Embracing Diversity

As we approach election day in the USA, this previous post from 2017 seems especially relevant. Click on the link below and please, weigh in with your comments.

For those of us who don’t like poems, I’ve copied and pasted a paragraph of reflection from that post beneath the link.

Let’s keep our focus where it should be, on loving one another.

https://joantwarren.com/2017/02/07/diversity/

May we care for our planet, and may we care for each other: Republican and Democrat, Independent, Green, Black, Blue, Whatever. May we care for each other whether behind walls or by reaching out. May we care for each other whether we feel a need to set personal boundaries and draw lines or whether we feel we’ve been ostracized, abused or neglected by someone’s boundaries or lines. May we care for each other whether worried about losing rights for equality and choice or to bear arms. May we care for each other whether we trace our ancestral culture to Isaac or Ishmael, to Sitting Bull, Dalai Lama, Peter the Great or Henry the 8th. May we do so without having to face a common foe threatening our existence, forcing us to pull together to fight it. May we care for each other, period.

May we care, lovingly.

Joan T. Warren

Oh! I just found an ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL video from Ireland that flows perfectly with the diversity poem you just read. Jump over to youtube with this link and soak it in!

Wes Grierson

Developing a Mission Statement for Fiction Novel

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You can help me decide! Here are a few shorter sentences that I’m developing to help guide revision of the upcoming novel, The Bent Tree Path. Here’s your chance to weigh in! Add, subtract, edit, suggest, negate. . . be involved.

A mission statement for a fiction novel helps the self-editing process. It serves as a filter to revise each scene and chapter: if they don’t significantly support the mission, they don’t belong.

The original mission statement draft, shared last week, was nearly the size of one of Ernest Hemingway’s paragraphs! Now it’s time to simplify. Which of these do you like the best?

  1. Interplay stories of ancestral history with modern life to highlight the importance of, and a pathway toward, healthy relationships with God, self, others, and the earth.
  2. Reveal the secrets of generations of women who grew stronger as they overcame oppression and abuse.
  3. Create a path for future generations to find their way through challenges.
  4. Show how generations effect one another; each personal choice bearing on future generations.

I’d love to hear from you!

Joan T. Warren

Writing Through COVID-19

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Hello Faithful Readers!

First, my apologies for leaving you so long! Writing is a hobby for me, and sometimes I fall into placing my beloved hobbies last on my list of things to do!

In the last couple months, though, I’ve been writing a lot more. The COVID-19 scare and distancing orders at first gave me LESS time to write (can you say homeschooling?), but then MORE. Fear of early demise reconnected me to the importance of prioritizing that which is most precious to me. Faith leads me to keep that up even though that fear subsides.

As a result, I’ve been tap-tap-tapping away on the novel I started nearly ten years ago! It’s epic, folks. So far nearly 150,000 words! Which, of course, will get whittled away in the editing process. That’s how I write. I overdo, then slice and dice. I’m in editing mode now, for most of the novel. There are a few chapters yet to write.

An awesome self-editing course I took from Mary Kole set me to creating this novel’s mission statement. A mission statement helps the writer stay on course. Each scene is re-read through the lens of that statement. If it doesn’t support the statement, it either needs to be reworked or sent to the chopping block. The mission statement can also lead into log lines, which help attract you, the readers, to be interested in the book.

So here, I entreat your help! Please take a look at the mission statement and tell me what you think. Does it interest you, bore you? Is it too long, or too wordy, or too whatever? Do tell! It’s better to fix it now than spend another day on something that isn’t worth it.

Here it is:

“Through stories from three centuries, The Bent Tree Path follows ordinary women who overcome oppression, abuse and despair and pave the way for future generations to connect with their rich ancestral heritage, their earthly and spiritual interactions, and their personal and relational health.”

So comment away, no worries about offending me. I can only see through my own eyes unless you share your perspective.

Thanks!

-Joan

 

 

Elusive Pleasures Part 5

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Elusive Pleasures Part 5

This is the last of a five-part series on Elusive Pleasures, in which we’re exploring losses, their associated neural connections and ways to adapt to changes and renew pleasure.

Elusive Pleasure: Sprinklers in the Garden of Life at JoanTWarren.com

In the first installment, we learned that the brain has a pleasure center, and that sensations travel along the nervous system to bring messages to the brain. The brain is a whiz at associating emotionally-charged memories (especially fear and pleasure) with sensations (such as sights, sounds and aromas). That’s why something as simple as changing the sprinkler heads in my yard could cause the pleasure response in my brain not to fire. This whole series began when I found the new sprinkler sounds detracted from the enjoyment I had sipping coffee on the back porch.

In the second post, we learned that pleasure can be associated not only to incoming sensations, but also to underlying perceptions or beliefs. Thoughts are neuronal connections too! In this segment, I examined my struggle to accept some physical impairments, and realized I had an erroneous underlying belief: that I needed to do things better than others to feel good. I wondered: Can change in underlying beliefs restore pleasure?

Elusive Pleasures: Aging with Erroneous Beliefs Be sure to read this second in a five-part series designed to help you restore pleasue after losing it! This is not just for the aging, it is for anyone who is experiencing a loss of pleasure!

 

In the third installment of the series, we explored how important pleasure is in life, and how making new connections in our brains can create the experience of pleasure. We realized the best new connections happen inside our brains. The principle, “neurons that fire together, wire together” suggests that if we repeatedly pair one sensation or movement with another, we not only enhance their function, but eventually, we create an automatic response. We tried this by picking something that makes us feel good and pairing it with a new sensation or movement –then practicing it regularly, so the two become automatically associated. If you did your homework, you likely found that when you experience the sensation you paired with your pleasurable activity, your brain eventually delivered that pleasure response! We also learned that adding physical exercise to pleasurable thoughts increased those neuronal connections.

 

In the fourth installment, we learned ten brain exercises to improve our pleasure responses. We found that learning new things, doing routine things differently, running (or other strenuous exercise) and even foods, probiotics and experiencing orgasm can all strengthen our neuronal connections for pleasure.

 

In this segment, we’ll look more in depth at ways we can establish long-term neuronal connections that can really make the difference in adjusting to major life changes.

This is the part where we learn how to dig in and make changes in our erroneous underlying thoughts and beliefs.

Maybe you’re familiar with some of the basic developmental and psychological concepts of our day, like the idea that there are stages of development that include trust vs. mistrust, and autonomy vs. shame and guilt (Erikson), or the idea that there’s an hierarchy of psychological stability and growth, and the base or foundation is safety and security (Maslow).

Well, here’s the thing: During those early years of development, we learned whether or not we felt safe in our world. We learned who was safe, and who was not. We learned what it took to get attention. We learned whether others saw us as good or not. We decided what we thought of ourselves. We made plenty of associations. Our brains built a foundation during those formative years, a foundation that functioned automatically once established.

It was in those years, for example, that my brain got a firm hold on the erroneous belief that outshining my siblings and peers was good. That belief didn’t seem wrong when I was a child! At the time, it was a reliable method to get attention and affirmation, which made me feel good. I was a kid in a large, dysfunctional family. All kids need attention and affirmation. They’ll do whatever it takes. As I grew, the practice of getting pleasure by outshining others started to feel wrong. Selfish. Self-centered. And yes, I got shamed for it. “She thinks she’s better than everybody else.” “Goody-two shoes.” By the end of elementary school, I’d lost friends for it. As a teen, I left off the goody-two-shoes behavior to replace it with the attention and affection of my peers. I cared less for my parents’ admiration.

As  a young adult, I learned about Maslow and his assertion that the highest level of human development is a self-actualized person who can give selflessly to help others. Subconsciously wanting to be the best, I focused my energy on helping others. I thought I had squelched that self-centered need for attention. Yet that function continued, on auto-pilot, in the recesses of my mind. I helped others while still feeling needy on the inside. I became a co-dependent helping professional. When I realized my codependency, I learned I had a faulty foundation, laid in my early years. It didn’t seem fair. I didn’t want to live my life paying the price for what happened when I was a child.  I had tried my best to eradicate self-centeredness from my life, without success.

I sought God’s help. Admitting my failure, I asked Him to replace those faulty layers with a solid foundation. Much to my relief, I found that God is in the business of renewing minds. He was happy to help me, as though He were saying, “Ah, now you’re asking the right questions, my dear.” Together, we embarked on that journey.

Thanks to DenesiaChristine at Instagram

It’s been decades since that journey began. At first it was a deeply emotional and difficult journey for me, as I found many very painful memories buried in the recesses of my mind. It consumed much time and energy. It was like feeling my way through a dark, cold, rocky and jagged mountain range, with fog all around and no map to direct me. I had no idea how long it would take or what it would entail. I relied on God for each step and hold as I pulled myself along the craggy way, clinging to the rock.

Thanks to DenesiaChristine at Instagram

The journey led to a beautiful land of rolling hills and rich soil. The sun’s warm rays consumed the fog and the way became easier. I found a little garden to tend. It was the garden of my heart. Beautiful new growth promised a life of health and security.

Any remaining faulty beliefs occasionally sent shoots into this garden, but maintenance was as easy as pulling weedy tendrils from soft, moist ground.

For many years, I didn’t realize that even my strong desire for God to renew me came from my faulty foundation. I didn’t realize I wanted Him to change me because I didn’t think I’d be good enough, or feel good, unless He did.

I found out along the way, though, that He knew all along. His grace covered me with love no matter how faulty my foundations were. His heart as Holy Father looked past all that I tried to accomplish to win His love, and showed me He just loved me, period. He loved me whether I worked on myself or not. He loved me whether I served Him or not. He loved me whether I had a perfect childhood or not. He loved me whether I was mad at Him for all that had happened, or not. He just loved me. Period.

That love is what transforms me to this day.

So what have I learned about replacing erroneous beliefs?

First: The most amazing miracles are those that take place inside the human mind.

Just before Jesus took off to send the Holy Spirit our way, he told his disciples they would perform greater miracles than he did. What could be greater than healing the sick, raising the dead, and feeding thousands on a few loaves and fish?  Transforming human beings from the inside out. Our brains are formed and functioning early in life. Those early neuronal connections operate on auto-pilot, behind the scenes. Changing a person’s deeply-rooted beliefs and processes is nothing short of a miracle. It’s the biggest miracle of all!

Second: It’s a cooperative effort; you do your part and ask Him to do His.

Someone once told me, “God is a gentleman. He’s not going to barge in where he’s not been invited.” It’s true! We can’t expect God to go digging in and changing things all around if we don’t invite Him in to do the work. Once He’s been invited, He’s not going to just snap His fingers and make it so. He’s not Mary Poppins. He prefers to work with us. He’s more interested in the relationship we build as we work together on this common goal. He won’t force us. He won’t push us. He will, however, be with us as we examine our thoughts, feelings and associated memories, and present them to Him. Our task is to turn our finger from pointing at and blaming others to the courageous work of self-examination. What did I feel? What did I think? What did I do? What shall I do now? He will perform the miracle of comforting us when we realize the wounds we covered with whatever we had at the time. He will apply the miraculous balm of weeping with us through the memories of lonely times, hurtful words or actions. He will share with us how He was there all along, longing to take action to change the situation, but having to hold to His conviction of giving mankind free will. He will whisper beautiful truths that electrify our neuronal connections, replacing things like, “I’m no good,” with things like, “I am very dear to my Father God.” He will reach into our thorny hearts and pull the roots of the many weeds, without damaging the good that is there. He will take faulty beliefs like, “I have to outshine others to get your attention,” to the realization that He cares for all of us, and maybe especially the lost, the lonely and the oppressed. Yes, it’s a cooperative effort with a miraculous Holy Spirit working inside our physical minds. It’s the most amazing miracle of all, and we (as disciples) get to be a part of it!

Third: It takes time, but is worth the effort.

Just as we’ve learned in the last four installments in this series, creating new neuronal connections for pleasure takes repetition and practice, along with activities, exercise and engaging our senses. Working along with God, it takes time to mature. He relates to us as the Holy Father we need, consistently reaching out with pure love to hold us every time we struggle and look to Him. He relates to us as the Friend and Brother we need, stepping in to talk with us when we’re confused, standing up to our foes for us and even taking upon Himself the consequences of our own mistakes and failures. He relates to us as the Holy Spirit we need, charging our thoughts and hearts with powerful energy that lights up our darkness and changes our outlook, empowering us to love and forgive others and ourselves. The relationships we build with God, ourselves and others through this process of remodeling our neuronal connections results in a life of immeasurable peace, unexpected patience and generosity of spirit toward others. How could that not be worth the effort?

So now, more than a year after the first installment in this series, when new sprinklers in my garden disrupted my sense of pleasure, you must be wondering how that turned out.

The pleasure is back! I look forward to hearing the gentle wisps of water now. In fact, I much prefer this sound to the more violent splays of the old sprinklers. Brewing coffee into my favorite mug, I hurry to the garden to make it in time for the music of this water dance in my back yard. It’s gentle enough that the birds stay through the cycles now, adding their song to the symphony as they gather the bits of seeds and dried fruit the squirrels didn’t steal.

And the aging thing? I feel much better in my skin now. It’s okay with me that I’m not what I used to be. It’s okay with me that others can do things better. It turns out I actually really enjoy seeing them outperform me! I’m the grandma who pretends to race as fast as I can, beating my granddaughter to her room as we prepare her for bedtime, but am delighted to watch the youngster zoom by me every time. I delight in hearing my students come up with ideas that far surpass my own. I’m learning to pace myself because I’ve been learning how loved I am, just as I am. I’m learning to call on others to take their place where I leave off, because it’s good for them. I’ve found that by not trying to do it all myself, I now recognize the amazing abilities of those around me. How good it is for them to be able to rise to their fullest potential. How silly it was of me to think I had to do it all.

There’s no need to spend our lives unhappy. Pleasure is a good thing. There’s no need to feel guilty about wanting pleasure! There’s no reason to think we’re stuck with the hand dealt, or that others have to change, or things have to change, to make us happy. We can reclaim, remodel and transform elusive pleasures. We have the power to transform our brains from the inside out. It may take some work, but the result is amazing. Oh, yes, it’s worth it. So let’s get to it!

Lovingly,

Joan

“You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy, at Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11, AMPC

 

Elusive Pleasures: 10 Ways to Feel Better!

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Elusive Pleasures: 10 Ways to Feel Better!

What if you could do some simple brain exercises to get more pleasure in your life? Would you be interested?

What? Exercise my brain? How in the world do I do that?

Good news! For these exercises, you don’t even need to get off the couch! You don’t need to purchase new work-out clothes or shoes. Better yet, there is no gym membership required!

Welcome to the fourth of this five-part series, “Elusive Pleasures.” In this segment, we’ll explore brain exercises to improve our pleasure responses.

As I said before, neuroscientists are our friends! The research they’ve conducted paves the way for us to change the way our brains respond to any challenge. Today we’ll review ten science-backed ways science we can start our internal workout:

1.     Develop new interests and rekindle your interest in activities you left off long ago. New neuronal connections can be super-charged by learning new things. This can be as simple as learning to play an instrument, learning a new language, or learning how to crochet. Any novel task can stimulate new neuronal connections in your brain! Choose a pleasurable, interesting activity, and strengthen the pleasure circuitry in your brain!

painting and drawing tools set
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

2.     Read a favorite book aloud with a friend. Yes, reading aloud is different for you, and the process of taking turns hearing the book in your own voice and in your friend’s voice will lay new neuronal connections that enhance the pleasure center in your brain.

couple holding books sitting on bed

Photo by Zun Zun on Pexels.com

 

3.     Add a new aroma to your favorite activities. By adding an enjoyable scent with an enjoyable activity, more areas of your brain will be stimulated with a pleasure signal. The olfactory system is highly associated with emotional responses, so this one’s an easy exercise! It’s as easy as adding a lavender bath bomb to your warm bubbly bath.

aroma basket beautiful flowers blooming

 4.     Try new foods! Yes, it’s true! Learn about new foods, recipes and seasonings. Ask others about their recipes, how they use the foods you’ve never tried, and give it a try yourself. The pleasure circuit in our brain fires wildly when we’re engaged in an activity that sustains life, and eating is high on this list!

 5.     While you’re at it, explore the nutritional benefits of foods that help release dopamine in your brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is associated with pleasure. Foods and supplements that increase dopamine include those rich in L-tyrosine, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy. Consider drinking tea, seasoning with turmeric with pepper, supplements like Ginkgo Biloba, and others you’ll find on the list on this site: Think Tyrosine.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

anise aroma art bazaar

6.     Consider probiotics. There’s so much talk these days about probiotics. Some research supports the idea that toxins in our gut from “bad bacteria,” (lipopolysaccharides) actually destroy the brain cells that produce dopamine! Probiotics can rebalance the gut’s bacteria, thus preserving our dopamine-producing brain cells so we can enjoy more pleasure.

7.     If you can, engage in a strenuous activity like running for 30 minutes or more. In some people, this releases the body’s natural opioid into the pleasure centers of the brain. This has been known as the “runner’s high.” If you’re not able to engage in strenuous activity, instead do isometric exercises. This involves tightening and relaxing different muscle groups, but not necessarily moving the joints. Hold each contraction five to ten seconds, and do this several times for each muscle group in your body. Include your facial muscles, too! The simple act of smiling (yep, a big, toothy grin) can bring the pleasure response.

woman running wearing gray shirt

Photo by Luka Siemionov on Pexels.com

 

8.     Engage senses you don’t use often, such as stereognosis. This is the ability you have to determine what an object is by its feel. For example, place a few objects in a bag. Choose common objects like a paper clip, a spoon, a few coins and a comb. Now, without looking, place your hand in the bag and identify each object by its feel. That’s stereognosis! Have a friend (or your kids) gather items for your bag, and you gather items for theirs. This simple exercise, though it may seem silly, can create and strengthen neuronal connections and increase your pleasure responses.

9.     Walk into a store, bank or library rather than doing business by machines. Interacting with other human beings rather than machines and recordings strengthens our neuronal connections and pleasure circuits. Take the time to look these people in the eye, ask how they’re doing today, and really listen. Encourage them, compliment them or express your gratitude for the job they’re doing. Your reward? Enhanced neuronal connections and pleasure responses!

 

adult baker breads city

P hoto by Tran on Pexels.com

10.  Last, but certainly not least, is for mature audiences only. If you’re over 18, you can read on:
Read the rest of this entry

Elusive Pleasures: Get the Feeling Back!

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Elusive Pleasures: Get the Feeling Back!

How can we get our brains to release that much-needed pleasure response again?

We’ve looked at how easy it is to lose a good feeling. A simple change in sensation can derail pleasure. (If you’re just joining us, you can read part one of this series by clicking here). We’ve also discovered that our own perceptions and beliefs can contribute to pleasure loss (to review this concept, click here).

Now we’ve come to the good part! The reason you’ve come back, the reason you’re taking precious moments from your busy life to read this little blog:

How to get the feeling back!

happy found on clipart by Word

It really is important to have pleasure.

Lack of pleasure–and effort to find pleasure again–can produce all sorts of behaviors that can make the situation worse than when we started. For example, consider how many marriages fail when a partner looks elsewhere for pleasure. Or consider the astounding statistics of increasing drug and alcohol abuse, of crime, of consumerism and waste. . . of so many poor souls seeking an immediate sense of pleasure in ways that backfire.

The idea that we need to make a new connection isn’t wrong. Making a new connection is essential. But the connections we need to make are in our brains; in our neurons, in our thoughts and beliefs. When changes in sensation (like those sprinkler heads) result in a misfire in the pleasure response, our brains need new associations to restore pleasure. It’s neuroscience, but it’s not that complicated:

One neuron reaches out to shake hands with another.

“Pleased to meet you!”

“Likewise, charmed. Let’s meet here again.”

 

Most of us have heard of Pavlov’s dogs. Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist around the turn of the 20th century, used dogs in his studies of the digestive system. He paired a stimulus (like ringing a bell) with food presentation. Before long, he noted the dogs began to salivate at the mere ringing of the bell, even without the aroma or visual presentation food. The ability to create purposeful connections between the digestive system and the brain became known as “classical conditioning.”

It’s old science now, but still true.

Since then, scientists have discovered much more about brains. We now know that our brains constantly learn–including how to learn better.  We also know that natural chemicals in our brains can make us feel excited, good or pleasantly satisfied.  Perhaps most relevant to our task of restoring pleasure, scientists who study the brain found that

neurons that fire together, wire together.” neuronal connections with blue light from Word clipart

“Neurons that fire together, wire together.” This is a catchy way of saying that pairing one sensation or movement with another, repeatedly, enhances their function. Eventually, activating one automatically

activates the other.

When someone asks you, “What is 1+1?”

You don’t need to think about it. You automatically associate:                     1+1=2

Just as we learned this simple association early in life, we can re-condition our brain to respond to new stimuli with a pleasurable response!

 

Crazy, huh!?!

But true.

Try it! Pick something that always makes you feel good. Maybe it’s an Adam Sandler movie. Maybe it’s a sensual time with your partner. Maybe it’s a big slice of Death by Chocolate cake. Now, add a new sensation or movement while you enjoy this activity every time you do it for the next month or two. For example, bring a certain pillow to place on your lap every time you watch a funny movie. Touch your cheek during times of intimacy. Or, if you’re the chocolate lover, play or hum the same piece of music with each bite.

eating chocolate cake

 

Before long, you’ll find that when you experience the sensation you’ve added to your pleasurable activity, your brain will start sending out that pleasure response! Just picking up that pillow makes you smile. Stroking your cheek in that spot will. . . (um, you know). . . . Your song on the radio will give you the feeling you’ve just had a scrumptious slice of chocolate cake!

So, as it turns out, neuroscientists are our friends! They research methods to enhance new brain cell connections (neuroplasticity). They’ve found that both physical and brain exercises boost neuronal growth.

For this week, along with practicing the pairing we just discussed, add some physical exercise to your daily routine. It needn’t be much; just an extra walk around the block, some light resistance work, or a few extra times up and down the stairs. Do this while you’re thinking pleasurable thoughts, and your brain will have more reason to fire up those neuronal connections.

brain exercises found on Word clipart

In the next installment, we’ll learn more brain exercises we can do to improve our pleasure responses–even if they’re impaired by our own erroneous beliefs. For now, though, you have plenty of things to try. Please join me in a discussion by commenting below.

  • How will you be pairing sensations to restore pleasure?
  • What exercises will you add to your daily routine this week?
  • Have you found new connections that restored your pleasure, now or in the past?

-Joan

“You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy, at Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11, AMPC

Elusive Pleasures: Aging with Erroneous Beliefs

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Elusive Pleasures: Aging with Erroneous Beliefs

 

Last week I wrote about sprinkler heads.

Why would anyone stop to read about sprinkler heads?

Because it’s really about pleasure, and adapting to changes that block pleasure.

Maybe for you, it’s the sound of rain on the roof. Or perhaps you’re drawn to the beach, where the rhythmic splash of the surf and the caress of warm breezes relaxes your soul. Some prefer the mountains, with the scent of pine, and expansive views. Still others are drawn to the city, where light and movement dance all night. Wherever you’ve found yourself prone to relax, forget your stressors and relish the moment, that’s the spot.

That’s the spot I’m writing about.

I’m writing about our brains associating sensations (like the sound of the sprinklers) with pleasure. But then something happens to that spot:

  • The sprinkler heads need replacing, and the new ones make a different sound
  • Construction of a ten-story condominium interrupts your favorite spot at the beach
  • A stuffy nose blocks you from the aroma of pine trees on your mountain hike
  • The building across the street hangs a huge neon sign that blocks your view of the city

And the pleasure is gone.

That’s what I’m writing about!

We all relate to pleasure. We want pleasure. We need pleasure. Without pleasure, life is drudgery.

So how do we find pleasure once it’s gone?

(That’s why you’re reading an article that started out being about sprinklers!)

This five-part series can get you back to pleasure.

Today, I’m going to share with you a little more in depth about an obstacle I’m facing that is more challenging than changing sprinkler heads. It’s an obstacle that has been steadily crimping my pleasure for several years now, and one that I think many of you can relate to:

Elusive Pleasures: Aging with Erroneous Beliefs

Aging. Dang it! I was going to knock around the tennis ball with my husband well into my 70’s. I was going to be that 80-year old still running the 5-K. I was going to dance in sexy high-heels well into my 90’s. I was going to lift bags of potting soil and bend over to tend the garden perhaps to 100.

Something ordinary and un-interesting blocked those pleasures well before their time: aging. In this aging body, they’ve labeled it many things: fibromyalgia (which I called the boogie monster in this article), arthritis, bone spurs, bulging discs and even a non-bony union of the subtalar joint. (Geez!) Whatever they’ve called it, it’s been one thing after another, and it’s left me with a choice between:

getting to do the active things I love           or

check feeling good enough to function in daily responsibilities.

I fought it for a while. When my right shoulder hurt all the time, I taught my left arm to swing the racket. Then my left shoulder hurt. With both shoulders, a hip, low back and ankle hurting, I finally left the tennis court.

gif funny tennis game over aging pleasure
Credit senorgifcom

 

 

Eventually, even less strenuous activities like ballroom dance, yoga, biking, walking and gardening produced more pain than pleasure.

For many people, this is “just part of aging.” They don’t talk much about it. They just don’t do as much as they used to do.

But hold on. . . Does aging have to mean life without pleasure? Is aging a slow process of peeling back the layers of pleasure until, at last, we’re ready to say goodbye to this cruel world?

I stepped back to think on this. Does aging have to equal lack of pleasure?

Elusive Pleasures: Aging with Erroneous Beliefs Be sure to read this second in a five-part series designed to help you restore pleasue after losing it! This is not just for the aging, it is for anyone who is experiencing a loss of pleasure!

(Selah)

If pleasure is associated with sensations and neural connections are involved, and I’ve associated being an active elder with pleasure, can my brain connections be changed?

What is it about my hope of being an active older person that gives me pleasure?

Is the pleasure response from activities like running, playing tennis, dancing, yoga, biking, walking and gardening only from their associated sensations? Is it just from the proprioceptive feedback from pounding of my feet on the pavement? Is it just from the cardiovascular exchanges and the toxic release of sweat rolling down my face as I dart side to side across the clay to reach the yellow ball? Is it just from the visual and vestibular feedback of seeing the same houses as I bike around our neighborhood day after day? Is it just from the tactile and olfactory signals from the gentle breeze on an evening walk, or the texture of the soil between my gloved hands as I plant a new flower in the yard? Certainly those sensory-neuronal connections release chemicals that produce pleasure, but is that the only thing about it that brings pleasure?

Could that pleasure response also come from something I perceived or believed about those activities?

When I think about the pleasure response that comes from the idea of being an accomplished, active senior, it isn’t really so much about the sound, or the scent, or the tactile input, though they each have their value.

What is it, then?

A new question arises in my mind. Could the idea of being active well into my senior years produce a feeling of pride of achievement? Do I find pleasure in being better-than-average? In beating the odds?

Hmmm.

I have to admit I’ve enjoyed that feeling since childhood. As the fourth of six children, affirmation and attention didn’t come easy for me. As a young child, I found affirmation and attention from being the smart one, the honor roll student, the best and the fastest. I could recite the alphabet before my school-aged brother when I was two years old. I could out-spell all of my older siblings by the time I was eight. I did algebra from my brother’s 9th grade textbook when I was ten, and, by the time I was thirteen, I could cook, clean and budget better than my mother (Sorry, mom). No one would call me lazy! I got positive attention from dancing, from taking care of myself, from being up and ready on time. In short, from outshining my sibs.

Hmmmm. Maybe I’ve held an erroneous belief all these years, and didn’t ever notice it.

(Note: Erroneous because pleasure never should have been from feeling better-than-average in the first place, but that is another story!)

My experience with aging is just one example of how loss of pleasure can be related not only to a change in physical ability and sensations, but also to underlying perceptions or beliefs.

Maybe you’ve had to stop and examine yourself, too. Maybe a challenge you faced persisted to the point that you had to look deeper into yourself to question why you struggled to adapt to your loss. Maybe you didn’t even realize you held erroneous perceptions or beliefs, until you had to stop and examine the matter.

Yet, here we are: a change in sensation, a change in some bodily function, a change in something beyond our control, a change that keeps us from achieving that which we believed would make us feel good– and pleasure eludes us.

What can be done? If aging—and its associated decrease in strenuous activities and impressive performance—continues this way (as it likely will), then where can pleasure be found? And what about you? Whatever it is that you’ve been believing but isn’t working out for your pleasure, can it be changed?

How can we get our brains to release that much-needed pleasure response again? Can changing our underlying beliefs help us find pleasure again?

That’s where we’ll pick up next.

(Click here for part 3 in this 5-part series Elusive Pleasures)

In the meantime, I hope you’ll join this conversation by commenting below (in orange, where its says “Leave a comment.” What changes in sensations, or functions, or other losses seem to rob you of the pleasure response in your brain? What underlying perceptions or beliefs have you identified when you more closely examine your childhood associations?

-Joan

“You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy, at Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11, AMPC

 

Elusive Pleasures: Sprinklers in the Garden of Life

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Elusive Pleasures: Sprinklers in the Garden of Life

Comfortably settling into my spot on the back porch for Sunday morning coffee, I notice it.

It doesn’t feel quite right. Something is missing. What is it?

The cushions and pillows cradle and support me as always; the velvety plum-colored pillow fits perfectly on my lap, softly snuggling my hands as they curl around my coffee mug. The coffee is its usual perfect color, aroma and taste as I savor a sip.

I look up. The garden sports more than its usual splendor of blooms. The squirrel, in its ritual leap from the tree to the squirrel-proof bird feeder, cleverly clings to the wire mesh and bounces to get the seeds to fall out. Birds glory in their announcement of another beautiful day. The sprinklers, as timed, emerge for my enjoyment of their rhythmical dance across the lawn.

Yet my usual Sunday-morning-on-the-back-porch-peaceful feeling eludes me. What is it? Read the rest of this entry