Myra Bridgforth, Counselor

Get Unstuck and Find a New Way
June 17th, 2015 in Uncategorized

Ten Ways to Use a Blue Sky Hour at a Coffee Shop

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In case you haven’t heard the expression, a Blue Sky Hour is a way of referring to time spent brainstorming — fleshing out an idea or thinking about some new things to try or directions to consider.

The next time you have a Blue Sky Hour, try using it to think and listen to your internal muse, and take notes on possibilities that occur to you. 

Or you could:

1. Write a shitty first draft. In Bird by Bird, author Anne LaMott first introduced her readers to this notion. Writing the first draft is always the hardest part. Changing your environment from your office, or home, to your coffee shop, can sometimes be helpful trick to push out that first draft.

2. Figure out which two or three items on your lengthy “To Do” list that you can actually accomplish this week.

3. Draft your imaginary TED Talk. Tell your audience about the thing that you feel most passionately about. You’re the expert and they will be on the edge of their seats.

4. Pull out the book on your bedside table and read a single chapter.

5. Suppose June was your last month on this earth. What special activity would you do that you wouldn’t normally do?

6. Draft a poem, lyrics to a song, or a speech for your upcoming conference.

7. Drink your coffee or tea while you sketch what you see out the window or in the coffee shop.

8. Make a list of five lives you would live if you could do anything.

9. Make a “jealousy map” as author Julia Cameron suggests in her book The Artists Way. In an effort to channel your jealous in a productive way, you make a list of the people who make you feel jealous or envious. Along with the names, you list the specific reasons for your feelings. Once you’ve completed your list, Cameron suggests that you look at the reasons and consider actions that you could take to bring you closer to the traits that you admire.

10. If none of these ideas appeal to you, how would you spend an hour “blue skying” ideas without letting your inner critic shut you down?

May 11th, 2015 in Uncategorized


A New 365 Plan

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Do you remember “The West Wing”, the TV drama about the American presidency? A few years ago, I watched an old episode from the sixth season called “365 Days”: Leo, the Chief of Staff, calls a meeting of the team and writes 365 on a whiteboard. He challenges every member of the team to carefully consider what he or she wants to accomplish with his or her powerful positions in the year, or 365 days, they have remaining. Isn’t that an interesting notion?

Couple that with the Buddhist belief discussed in Stephen Levine’s book, “A Year to Life”: In the teaching of the Buddha, we should draw death closer to us, rather than pushing it away, by being more intentional about our choices. For example, it’s the month of May and if this were going to be my last May, what would I want to do with it? Not in a morbid, get-ready-to-die-soon way, but in a let me use these May days in the best way possible.

I am trying to use my days in the best way possible. I am trying to pay better attention. Why not join me? Find a way to make better, more intentional choices about how you spend your time. Maybe try making your own 365 plan.

My plan for May includes more hikes by the Potomac River. Maybe a trek up Old Rag Mountain. I’m going to plant my herbs in flowerpots on the patio. And work on new poems. That’s all I have so far. I’m still working on it.

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April 27th, 2015 in Uncategorized

Who are you and how do you make your living?

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I am an artist, but I don’t make my living from my art.

I am a poet, but I receive nary a droplet.

I am a singer, but singing doesn’t pay my Bills Bills Bills.

I am a spiritual director/retreat leader, but I don’t get paid for the privilege.

I make my living as a Psychotherapist and Marriage & Family Therapist in my own private practice. It is also my calling in life — for which I often use the inspiration, creativity, and present moment awareness tools that I draw from my artist, poet, singer, spiritual self.

So. Is being an artist, poet, singer, spiritual director/retreat leader any less important or significant because I don’t make my living at them?

I don’t think so. What do you think?

 

April 24th, 2015 in Uncategorized

I must learn to live with ambiguity.

 

Living with ambiguity is the mantra to my daily life. I was 20 years old when I first saw a card tacked up on a wall in a Heidelberg pension that read, “I must learn to live with ambiguity”.  My memory tells me that my roommate, Alexa, put it there after reading it in Thornton Wilder’s, “The Skin of our Teeth”. I remember it resonated with me then — making me think of my own life not making much sense to me most of the time, and how I liked to just keep moving while hopefully having fun, and making friends while learning something.

Years later, as a therapist fearful for a potentially suicidal client after she left my office, I used the sentence to reason with myself: I had to manage my fear and learn to live with the ambiguity that I didn’t have control over her actions; I would do the best I could to help her.

While making this mail art card, the image reminded me of the quote. Curious, I looked it up on the internet and a search told me that my memory was wrong. After all these years, I discovered it was not from the Thornton Wilder play.

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I looked back at the image and thought to myself that it doesn’t matter much where the quote is from, but it’s been important hold onto the sentiment, because well — I must learn to live with ambiguity.

The image is a fancy dandy head and the body of a saint in a stained glass window. Two things that don’t fit together easily. I feel that way a lot.

April 8th, 2015 in Uncategorized

Stop. Breathe. Look. Listen.

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I have a spot by my office window. Right now, in early April, it’s flooded with natural light. It’s the spot where I often choose to sit for careful thought, to focus my attention on something important.

I equip this spot with a chair, a drawing pad, and a fountain pen — so that on some days, I can indulge myself with ten minutes to sketch something from the view.

Other days, I will give myself time in my spot to read over a line from my latest poem in progress, occasionally getting rewarded with some inspired words or images.

I gave myself this spot after realizing that a regular practice of controlled breathing allows my brain to settle down, and make a difference in how I feel.

Just noticing my breath, just looking out the window, just seeing if words come. You might try it right now. Stop. Breathe. Look. Listen. Give yourself a spot for ten minutes. What do you have to lose?

April 4th, 2015 in Uncategorized

Put Things That Don’t Normally Go Together, Together To See What Happens

 

Take a look at this Mail Art Card I made a few years ago. I cut out the words from a poem that wasn’t working for me, and using artist gesso paint, I applied them to a picture of a girl from a magazine — and turned it into one of my favorite art pieces.

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As an art piece, I think it works because individual phrases and words stick out as you look at the total image. The girl is stunning, with great attitude that illuminates from her face, and I love how the words from the poem match her glow.

The poem never came together for me, but it now exists out there in the world as another layer on a Mail Art Card that one of my friends (can’t remember who!) received in his or her mailbox. I am not aware of what my friend did with the card — maybe it was propped up on a bookshelf to enjoy, or perhaps it sits in a drawer — it might have even ended up in a wastebasket. But here’s the thing: the outcome doesn’t matter.  I let go of caring how something is going to turn out, and just enjoy the work — from the process of writing a poem, putting paint and paper and words on the cardboard piece — and play with it. For me, creativity and getting unstuck works better when I let go of perfectionism.

 

April 1st, 2015 in Uncategorized

Getting Creative With Poetry

April is National Poetry Month. I am just back in town from a weekend at the Lost River Retreat Center in the beautiful West Virginia mountains. It is there where I co-lead the Poets&Writers&Artists Retreat twice a year.

And I have returned newly inspired to encourage you, Dear Reader, to find a path that is creative in order to feel better. I am a poet and I passionately believe that reading and writing poetry can impact and sometimes, even significantly change how you experience your life.

Poetry is a creative practice like any art. You have to give it time. You have to practice.

I’ve been asked — What’s the point of reading or writing poetry?

1. Poetry can be beautiful and inspiring. It can make you think about life in a new way. A phrase from a poem can stick in your mind as you walk through your day and get you moving in new and better directions.

2. Reading and writing poetry strengthens your brain. The left hemisphere, where words live, has to cross the midline to the right hemisphere to ask “what does this mean” and “how do I feel about it” because feeling and meaning live in the right side of the brain. That means the left and right sides are now joined and cooperating and listening to each other. You might even engage the cerebral cortex (think forehead) to step in with “so what might I do about that or how does this change things for me?”

3. Poetry requires focus and paying attention. Both of these skills, when given time and intensity, make you feel better. Poetry brings you into the present moment where life resides.  You might find some inspiration on Garrison Keillor’s website, The Writer’s Almanac, where you can learn about poets and poetry. You can sign up to have an email sent to you every day and even read aloud to you for your pleasure.

4. Poetry helps to make sense of life. I write poems to help me figure out what I think about something significant, now — or in my past. And I am always listening for a phrase or looking to observe a scene for a oh-gotta-write-a-poem-about-that moment.

I self-published my first poetry book, “No Sins of Omission” in October 2014.

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Despite the fact that it has turned me into a shameless self-promoter, I am proud of my work and I want to share the ten years of creative endeavor and love that went into making this book. You can find it on Amazon here.

I will leave you with this poem I wrote after hiking near Lost River that gets at what I’ve been talking about. Thank you for reading and please come back to my website later this month to check in on creativity and ways to get unstuck.

myra

November 19th, 2014 in Uncategorized

How to Get Unstuck #6

Let’s Take A Pause In This Series To Ask:

Are You Serious Stuck? In-Real-Trouble-Here Stuck?

Do you know when you are in hot water and the water may be getting close to boiling?

Would you say that nothing seems to be going right these days? Is it accurate to say that where you sit right now you don’t know what to do next?

Stuck may require a more professional level of help. If you cannot focus well enough to make a plan and the behaviors that you find yourself doing are not helping — and certainly if they are making things worse, you need to consider asking for help.

Take a deep breath and pick someone to help you get help.

That person might be:

  • your medical doctor
  • a close friend
  • your spouse or significant other (tell this person that you are seriously stuck and need immediate help, don’t under sell it!)
  • a 24-hour hotline
  • do an internet search for therapist in your town name (find a website you like, make the call)
  • or check out another search site: www.psychologytoday.com
  • a minister, rabbi, person in your spiritual community

This may seem extreme to you, but really — this is the most immediate way to get moving toward feeling less desperate. The bad feeling in your head and in your body — where you have been living, where the water is hot — can change today. But for that to happen, you have to tell someone and let them know that this is real and you are sure you are in trouble and you need help.

Right now you do not need to answer the question HOW or WHY this has happened to you. It is not your fault that you are stuck. Getting help will move you closer to being able to think better, so you can make better decisions about getting unstuck.

But, let me ask you, are you seriously thinking about a plan to harm yourself? If so, forget the list and call 911 or go to the Emergency Room now.

Make today the day you ask for help.

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October 6th, 2014 in Uncategorized

How to Get Unstuck #5

Practice A Walking Meditation As You Go Through Your Day

Walking meditation is a way to return to your breath and take a few moments to practice settling yourself down.

Getting unstuck starts with zeroing in on your body, your breathing, and checking in with where you are.

Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Monk and meditation teacher, is a man who has taught so many people in the world how to have peace in every step. He teaches many different ways to do this, but this is one of my favorites:

As you walk, you match your inhale breath to the words In the here, in the here and then you exhale to the words In the now, in the now.

As this Buddhist monk and teacher says, the words are different, but they have the same meaning: I am aware of breathing. I am in the now. I have arrived. I am home. I know where I am.

Last spring, I co-led a silent retreat that used Thich Nhat Hahn’s writings and exercises as the content to our liturgies.

I made prayer cards using Thich Nhat Hanh’s meditations meditations for each liturgy.

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This prayer card shows the “in the here, in the here” meditation.

You could write down these words. Put them in your pocket to remind you that any time you want to practice getting unstuck, a very good place to start is with your breath.

Why not just try?
See what you notice and check back in for Step Six.

October 6th, 2014 in Uncategorized

How to Get Unstuck #4

Practice Going Into Your Feet

Learning how to pause is the beginning of finding a new path to get unstuck and the practice of going into your feet is a good way to begin.

Did you know that a reptile only knows to fight or run away with its tiny, little brain?

Under stress, our brain starts acting like a reptile.

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Sit down on a chair.

Feet firmly on the floor.

Spine straight, but not too rigid — you are allowed to be comfortable.

Lean forward a little and look down at your feet.

Now, don’t over think this — but begin to travel quickly with your mind starting in your head and make its way to your feet.

What does it feel like in your feet?

Are you more aware of the sensation in your right foot or your left? It doesn’t matter which — just notice.

Is one foot more engaging of your attention?

If so, picture a hypnotist swinging a pendulum back and forth over your feet.

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This motion may even out the sensation – or not. It doesn’t matter. You can’t do this a wrong way. Just notice.

Do you feel mostly the soles of your feet?

Or the tops?

The balls of your feet?

Or the heels?

Again, it doesn’t matter which — just notice.

Are you aware of a temperature being warm or cool?

Can you feel a tingling in your feet?

Can you feel the pulse in either foot?

Just notice.

Now from the perspective of being in your feet, look up at your chest and belly.

Do you notice a difference there? Maybe a little less tense or breathing more slow or deep?

You may not notice anything, and again, that’s perfectly fine. For those people who have a tendency to be anxious or worried, just the initial experience of going into their feet helps relieve the tightness in the core of their body.

When we are stressed, anxious, and focused on our worries, we operate within a very limited repertoire of behavior. The inner brain is riveted on survival. I think of it as acting like a lizard, only my inner brain is open for business and I am blocking my right and left hemispheres – preventing them and my cerebral cortex from fully functioning. It takes practice and intention to operate from our whole brain, especially when we are upset, overwhelmed, pushed.

The advantage of having our right and left hemispheres and cerebral cortex in play is huge. It allows for a wide range of responses. We can begin to get unstuck and think of all kinds of responses to what is going on in our lives. Trying something new and different — like going into your feet — is the brain being playful.

Try going into your feet several times a day. You might do it right before you have to do a task that you are resisting, or before a very challenging task. Maybe you’ll want to try this exercise before dealing with an upset child or angry co-worker.

When you can identify a situation that makes you feel upset or one that tends to make you do the same thing over and over, you can begin to make a plan. Planning ahead of time to do something differently is powerful.

Minus the pause, we are likely to do the same dang gone thing we always do, with predictable outcomes. In our mammal brain (whole brain), we can try new things, do the opposite, pause or do nothing until we figure it out. Or we can laugh, make a joke, sing a song, go for a walk — anything other than the automatic limited response.

The purpose of going into your feet is to practice calming down your body and your brain, and in doing so, greatly expand your choices of possible actions or inactions. I highly recommend you practice this every day and teach it to others – maybe your kids or co-workers? When you practice on your own, just remember to ask yourself the same questions about your feet and what you notice.

Why not just try?
See what you notice and check back in for Step Five.