Kindness as a De-stressor for the Holiday Season

 

Whether or not you are a Christian, the month of December descends upon many of us all with an overload of stress: pressing consumerism, forced merriness, and social and family expectations that can make us feel less than and despairing in so many ways. We can lose sight of the sense of hope that the season is meant to embody, the acceptance of darkness before the dawn, the preparing and waiting for the light, the igniting of that light within ourselves and others, all in the maelstrom of media messages.

Well, today, I am thankful for this calendar that I found on social media, and I want to share it with all of you, I see it as a template. It might be a wonderful activity for you to do alone, with children, or with family members. If you make your own kindness calendar, you can add to it acts of kindness that hold specific meaning for you and are within your reach to accomplish. You can place a piece of oaktag or cardboard over it and cut out little doors and windows to open each day.

Just contemplating this activity makes me think of kindnesses I have witnessed in the recent and not so recent past.

A fellow teacher had a particularly bad day when a troubled student lost control, trashed the classroom and scratched the teacher’s face. My assistant teacher, Elizabeth, entered her colleague’s classroom during her lunch break to find her fellow teacher crying. Elizabeth quietly went about the room, righting chairs, picking up toys, and straightening up the chaos. Then she went to the nearby market and brought back some chocolate. These gestures spoke so much louder than words of consolation might have.

At a family gathering in the basement of a local Baptist church, where parents and children worked on arts and crafts, a family struggled with finding positive ways to respond to their preschooler. I watched as each parental admonition ratcheted up the child’s resistance and anger. For a few moments, my friend, Edna, joined the child in play, and gave him some gentle, corralling, positive feedback, helping him to self regulate and giving the parents a break.

On the city bus, a loud and hostile argument broke out between two passengers, fueled by both, but with one person definitely being more aggressive. As his voice grew louder and louder, an elderly lady finally stood up, and approached the yeller. “You need to stop,” she said. “It’s not okay to use that kind of language.” Once she spoke up, others did as well, and the situation calmed down.

A nurse responds to my tears of fear facing chemotherapy by putting down her medical implements, drawing her chair up to mine, taking my hands in hers and telling me that God will help me bear whatever I must face.

A yoga teacher guided our class in breathing with intention and awareness yesterday. He said that when we breathe for ourselves, we are breathing for all of our loved ones, and for all humanity. When we feel so overwhelmed that even breathing feels like a colossal task, it does help to know that it is enough, and that breathing can be more than a self sustaining act. Breathing can sustain others. So whether your acts of kindnesses are as simple as breathing, or a single word, a glance, a gesture, it is all within your grasp to ignite the light of loving kindness in yourself and others, one act and one day at a time.

 

 

Restoring my Soul: Recipe for Self Care in The Czech Republic

 

 

IMG_2508

We all need time to restore our energy and feed our spirits. It is not an easy task during the workaday world of most of our lives. For anyone in the service professions, self care is a necessity, not an option. As a professor teaching Child Life graduate students, my calendar revolves around the academic year, and by the time the end of May rolls around, I am usually quite exhausted and spent. An invitation to teach in the Czech Republic came at a very good moment for me  – after graduation and at a beautiful time of year.

Recipe Ingredients:

Knowing what to expect

The recipe for filling my well was a simple one, but I could not have done it without the friendship and nurturing of the Kralovec family. Marketa graciously and painstakingly created a hand written and illustrated book telling the tale of all we would be doing together in the next two weeks. The guide was especially helpful in letting me know what to expect, as we traversed the country and visited Poland and Austria.

A Warm Welcome

But the whirlwind began with a gentle, warm welcome back to Malejovice, the home of the Kralovec family and the Klicek Foundation Hospice. My third excursion from New York City to the Czech Republic felt like returning to the home of my soul. Marketka, their daughter and a highly skilled artist, documented my arrival by depicting the short emotional distance between our two homes. What’s an ocean anyway when like minds and hearts connect?

Bright and cozy bed linens and wild flowers from their garden greeted me in the guest room. The sounds of the birds sifted in with a gentle breeze through the open window.

IMG_2514

Wonderful Home Cooked Meals

Each meal was prepared from local ingredients and cooked with love. The eggs from their chickens (rescued from terrible conditions in a chicken mill), fresh herbs from their garden, homemade soup, duck with dumplings and sauerkraut, fresh bread and danishes, black tea and local beer…….. my palate fairly exploded from the goodness of it all. The family would not allow me to wash a plate or rise for a napkin. The nurturing wasn’t just about the food, but the care with which they served it.

IMG_2685

 

Four Legged and Winged Friends

Animals are therapy, and a wide variety of animals inhabit the pastures surrounding the 100 year old schoolhouse. Each morning began with a chorus of birds at about 4 AM, followed by the harsh and comical braying of Donkey (his name is Donkey) at 7 AM. The sheep served as the snooze alarm, sounding off a few moments after Donkey. Mollie the dog was the night time alarm system,  and the chickens cooed and clucked whenever we approached them. The cats draped themselves over windowsills and plant boxes and moseyed up and down the driveway throughout the day.

 

Nature

Nature is what grounds us and reminds us of the cycle of life, our smallness, and the beauty of creation. The surrounding forests of Malejovice, the wild flowers and rolling hills and pastures, the lush ponds and hidden villages of the country………  all served to quiet my gerbil wheel mind.

Solitude

I get plenty of time alone teaching online from my apartment, but there is something different about being alone with nature in wide open space. Nothing to distract me from the sun, breeze, scents and light.

IMG_3161

Wonderful People

Solitude is always best when you return from your walk to a household filled with joy, love, laughter, and music. The time spent with these people, and all the people we met on our travels, energized me and acted as a balm to my tired soul. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you – and these words will never be enough to convey my gratitude.

Instructions:

Repeat whenever able.

 

Retraining my Brain

IMG_5114

I had surgery last week to repair a tendon in my right wrist, which happens to be my dominant hand. With my hand wrapped up like a giant cocoon, I am learning a few lessons quickly.

  1. There are many daily tasks that we perform without much attention or awareness.
  2. My non-dominant left hand is slow and clumsy.
  3. I cannot multitask as I did before.
  4. I am slowing down to a methodical plod with each task.
  5. I am compensating by using my left hand a lot.
  6. This may not be such a bad thing.

“The non-dominant hand is actually linked to the non-dominant hemisphere in your brain – the one that isn’t exercised as often. There are studies that show that when you use your dominant hand, one hemisphere of the brain is active. When you use the non-dominant hand, both hemispheres are activated, which may result in thinking differently and becoming more creative.”http://www.goodfinancialcents.com/benefits-of-using-your-opposite-hand-grow-brain-cells-while-brushing-your-teeth/

Continue reading