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The Winter Blues: Make Peace with the Season or Be Miserable!

IMG_8362.JPG Susan at Lincoln Woods, NH 1:15:17 with friends

This past weekend it was a balmy 24 degrees for the high on most of Saturday and Sunday here in the Northeast. Many of you might grimace at this information, especially if you live in Maine or New Hampshire and routinely experience a six month winter. You’re even more likely to look at this photo of me on the Lincoln Woods trail, deep in the heart of the mountains, and think I’m crazy, right? What you may not realize is that, along with some good friends and my husband I was practicing the art of making peace with the cold, given the fact that we can’t change it and would certainly get very depressed hanging around inside all winter. (What you can’t see in this particular photo is the fact that all four of us had just driven two hours North to see the Ice Castles, basically, an ambitious bunch of ice towers near Loon Mountain – all freezing stuff)!

But, there’s method to the madness: Get out in nature after you’ve sufficiently bundled up, experience it’s beauty, yield to it, and you’ll be taking a natural anti-depressant! So, whatever feels most comfortable to you – downhill skiing, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, ice skating, or just plain trail walking with your dog, if you have one – any of these activities will help you not only get through the very long New England winter, but will give you exercise, social contact, a happy dog and communion with nature. All very good things….

Midnight Madness Meditation

I could never sit “Indian Style,” so when I spent two weeks in Girl Scout camp at age nine I felt like a total failure next to all the other little scouts sitting like perfect Yogis around the campfire, inhaling their gooey Smores. Imagine my later dismay whenever I attended a cozy, casual group event, or God forbid, a Yoga class and attempted to achieve a Namaste frame of mind in lotus position! So, sadly to say, my attempts at “regular” meditation haven’t been stellar with the posture all convoluted. I also sit in my work as a psychotherapist more than most elders do when they’re confined to wheelchairs, so more sitting as a form of meditative practice is generally out.

I relax and even meditate through movement, often focusing on my breath and gait during speed walks, no matter where I am. But the real deal happens when everything is quiet and shut down, my cat and husband are asleep, the horrible news is off, my laptop has been put to bed, the dishwasher is humming, and I’m in the zone making popsicles. I am the newest member of a bizarre club of mostly young Moms who need some peace and quiet, and find it late at night, concocting all sorts of decadent popsicles, then posting them on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook. I call them the Midnight Madness Poppers, and I guess I’m one of them, invited, young and tired, Pinterest addicted – or not.  I’ve decided that even though nobody has nominated me yet, that I have an even more exclusive membership in this club, because anyone can invent delicious pops loaded with gobs of sugar, but mine are healthy, untainted by that sweet poison.

I’ve also decided that most anyone can sit in perfect Lotus position, still and silent, noting their breath and invasive thoughts as a path to enlightenment. How many people can go into a total meditative trance at midnight whipping up things with names like “Banana Maple Coconut Rum Pecan” or “Russian Cappucino Walnut Kahlua Chip”?  Huh?

Meeting on the Mountain

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 12.51.40 AM

Most couples who’ve graduated into a king-size bed fully understand the ups and downs about the change. Gone are the days when the two of you naturally fell into the canyon in the middle created by your joint weight, cozily cuddling. Instead, you’ve probably permanently moved into your own canyons on the far sides of the mattress, keenly aware that king-size beds create a “mountain” in the middle, unless you’ve made a conscious attempt to share the middle “we” space, or have sex four times a day. If you live in a hot climate it makes it more pronounced – who needs to cuddle when bodily contact warmth isn’t a necessity for comfort? The up side is that you probably enjoy the ability to fully stretch out without worrying about unwittingly shoving your elbow in your partner’s nose. Ah, space… But there are costs to your new found independence: Disconnection! Less intimacy! Waning pillow talk! So, in the spirit of avoiding all these forms of alienation, I say, “be deliberate about meeting on the mountain!”

Here are three ways the rendezvous on the summit can help a relationship:

  1. If you do it together or take turns, you’re practicing compromise and collaboration in the name of closeness.
  2. You’re being intentional as a couple about maintaining intimacy and connection.
  3. You’re practicing the delicate balance between the “Me” and the “We,” so key to close relationships.

So, think of “Meeting on the Mountain” as a perfect metaphor for what you need to do in many areas of your partnership, only this time with a giant mattress underneath you.

 

“Living with Loss – A Conversation with Ashley Davis Bush” BlogTalk Radio Show on Monday, 1/18/16 7 PM EST

Tune into my next 45 minute BlogTalk Radio episode “Living with Loss – A Conversation with Ashley Davis Bush” on Monday, January 18th at 7 PM. Ashley and I will discuss the process of grieving – the realities and the myths, as well as tools for coping, from her latest book, “Hope and Healing for Transcending Loss.” 

When we lose someone, it’s easy to feel unmoored. We have to find a new rhythm to our days and new ways to connect to the ones we’ve lost. Ashley Davis Bush offers just that.

Ashley’s book is filled with small lifelines and glimpses of hope for coping with the death of a loved one. Included are daily meditations offering comfort and tools for how to move on, living with gratitude, compassion and meaning. In this BlogTalk Radio episode Ashley will share key points from this latest goldmine of a book.

Ashley Davis Bush, LCSW, is the internationally bestselling author of six self-help books, including the classic “Transcending Loss.” She is a compelling and wise presenter, having appeared on many television and radio shows.

Call 877-497-9046 on Monday, January 18th at 7PM EST to listen, make comments or ask questions. You’ll be glad you did!

Retail Meditation

I’ve often teased my husband about how he goes into his “happy place” when he’s fishing, especially from his kayak. He slips into a total trance, paddling softly, examining the shallow water for fish and lures other people have left behind. I could be drowning in the next kayak, or there could be a nuclear holocaust and he’d be completely immersed in a Zen meditative state. (I think he’s in good company with half the planet in this way.)

Well, I’ve noticed something similar about myself and what I think may be true for millions of women: when I’m on a shopping mission searching for a specific item, I’m either in a store or online, totally immersed in the experience, focused and calm, in much the same way as when I play my guitar, maneuver my kayak, ski or garden. I used to think of the shopping as being too material, but I now realize that it’s a form of meditation – retail meditation! Whenever I’m in a store I observe something similar seeming to happen for mostly other women – they sail around with their carts, looking for this or that, with contented smiles on their faces, calm and centered, in what looks like a perfect state of “flow.” I don’t know if they’re on drugs or engaged in compulsive shopping, but they sure seem to be present in the moment!

So, if you engage in the same behavior, and you’re not overspending or avoiding some other responsibility, try not to let your inner critic define the experience as shallow. You may instead be honoring a biologically wired “gathering” instinct and doing a moving meditation. If it centers and calms you, it may be just what you need at that time!

Susan Lager

PS. If you need more help with silencing your judgmental inner critic, feel free to call me for an appointment: 603-431-7131

Tired of Waiting for Time Off? Use “Time On” Instead!

As the seasons change, many people I know are bemoaning the loss of “time off” they’ve had in the summer. There’s an obvious feeling of ambivalence about the upcoming season of busyness and social obligations dovetailing with work and family responsibilities. People tend to dread being over scheduled and deprived of personal time to self-nurture or play. The myth we seem to have bought into in the American culture is that one needs to be on vacation to fully experience joy, spontaneity, discovery and meaningful connection.

I invite you instead, to explore the experience of what I call “time on,” or living your everyday life with more wonder, appreciation and joy. Start by regularly taking a “snapshot” of the present moment – notice your breathing, the air on your skin, the color of the sky, the sound of the wind in the leaves. Notice the quality of the conversation and connection with the person facing you. Take a “snapshot” of this sharing as it is unfolding. Savor it. Drive more slowly and take in the tones of the changing season. Take a “snapshot” of that field of hay, or the person trying to get somewhere in the car next to you. Take a risk and smile at them and your common circumstance. Be more playful with yourself and those around you. Laugh at yourself more often. Be physical – dance, walk, run, move! Appreciate the daily work your body does for you, and treat it with kindness and compassion. Stop, and pet your dog or your cat if you have one. It will be good for both of you. Pick a wildflower and stick it in your hair. Write a poem, play an instrument. Turn off your automatic TV watching, and read a good book or listen to a symphony.

Just be present for your life each day, not just for one or two weeks of vacation in the summer. Use your “time on,” your everyday life, to be cognizant of, and grateful for your blessings. You’ll be a much happier person…….

Cheers,
Susan

PS. Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist and eloquent writer, is a terrific resource for the issues of happiness, staying present and in the “now.” You can get any of his wonderful books on these subjects at my Amazon store by going to: http://astore.amazon.com/wwwsusanlagec-20

End of Summer 2014 – Here Comes Winter……….

Here it is October 1st, the leaves are falling, the temperature has dropped radically, and most noticeably, it’s getting dark at about 5:30 PM.  No doubt about it, the summer of 2014 has come and gone. Before we know it, we’ll be bundled up in winter coats, shoveling or snow-blowing our driveways, freezing our butts getting into frigid cars, sliding around on icy walkways, looking at a grey and white landscape and hiding out indoors. I love it!

When I admit that, everyone I know, (except for one sleepy client today), looks at me like I have two heads. They freely complain about all the above developments, expecting me to commiserate, and when instead I get all warm and fuzzy about the upcoming six-month winter, they probably begin to wonder if they’re sitting with a sane person. Some never come back for another session…

I’m convinced that I have the opposite of Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) – the condition in which some people’s brain chemistry shifts into depressive mode around the lowered level and duration of light in the colder months. For me, I get happier as the skies get grayer and the weather gets murkier. I call it “sultry” weather – nice and cloudy and real chilly. It reminds me of happy adventures in Ireland and England. It may also be some nostalgic fragment of genetic memory from my slavic ancestry, harkening me back to the cold, dark weather in Russia and Poland where my grandparents grew up. Or, maybe I really am psychotic. But whatever the origin, I’ll share some reasons why you too might look forward to the six month “winter” we’re famous for here in Maine, instead of getting all bummed out about it:

  • If it was warm and sunny all the time you’d lose the excitement about seasonal changes
  • When it’s murky and cold out there’s no pressure to do fabulous things outdoors
  • Grey, cold days give you space to be still and contemplative, less busy and frenetic
  • There’s no need for air conditioners, fans, and other costly energy hogs
  • You don’t have to tend to your garden or your lawn when there’s 2 feet of snow outside
  • Without the chill of winter you’d never have an excuse to wear all those groovy boots
  • Baths and hot tubs are much more delectable when you’re freezing your ass
  • You have much more reason to tuck in with a good movie, book or instrument
  • How would you ever experience the joy of skiing or snowshoeing without the snow?
  • Without winter there would be no savoring of good soups, stews or comfort food
  • There’s no earthly joy like climbing under a cozy down quilt when it’s frigid outside
  • Monotone landscapes rest your eyes and brain from all those vibrant summer colors
  • You pet your thankful dog, cat or hamster more when you’re hanging out indoors
  • You have more time to read deep, thought-provoking blogs like this one

What more can I say?

So, if you have S.A.D. and are starting to get depressed facing the arctic blast, get one of those special lights to reset your brain chemistry, sit back and relax!

When Things Fall Apart: BlogTalk Radio Episode 9/17/14 8:30 PM EST

Don’t miss my next BlogTalk Radio episode tonight about the subject of dealing with life when things fall apart. We’ve all had the experience at times of dealing with crises which create a sense of chaos and uncertainty – maybe the loss of a loved one, or a debilitating health issue, or the loss of a job or business. It always feels horrible and destabilizing, and often creates a story of victimhood or bitterness for us. But the fact is that misery is just another part of life – it inevitably comes with the joy, relief, and triumph that are also part of our story.

Tune into this half hour episode tonight and join the discussion or just listen in, and hear about some attitudes and behavioral tools which may help you to accept some of these hardships as part of being human, and move through these experiences with more wisdom and perspective. Call toll-free 877-497-9046, or if the lines are busy call 760-542-4114. I hope you can join me! If you can’t make the live show, listen to it online at your convenience by going to the web player on my website, www.SusanLager.com or at www.BlogTalkRadio/SusanLager.com

Leaving Your Comfort Zone

I’ve recently returned from a Couples Retreat I conducted with Meredith Richardson on Star Island, NH.  Suffice it to say that the whole experience was a smashing success for not only the couples who participated, but for Meredith and myself as well.

For the couples who participated it was an exercise in moving out of their own routinized ways of seeing issues and behaving with each other. It was also an exercise in opening up with the other participants, and being vulnerable in a more public way. For me, it was an experience of leaving my own comfort zone in several ways: staying on an island for several days with a bunch of strangers, working closely with a colleague who brought very different credentials, skill sets, and ways of operating, and “roughing it” in a rustic setting without hot water, without a private bathroom, with limited shower times, and with “community meals.” And guess what? No one got killed!

As a therapist I understand the value of trying new things toward creating new “grooves” in your brain, and even how novelty can ramp up pleasure and bonding for couples. I was reminded in a direct way however, about how valuable it can be to move out of one’s comfort zone, challenge the status quo, and to try new things in the service of growth. Unless you’re jumping off a cliff, what have you got to lose?

(Now, stay tuned for more terrific Couples Retreats on and off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine)……

Blog Talk Radio Host

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Susan Lager

I am a licensed, board certified pyschotherapist and relationship coach in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Through my psychotherapy or coaching services, I can provide you with skills and tools to transform your life.

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