Not so long ago I gave myself an extravagant gift - I gave myself the gift of 60 minutes a week (plus travel time) to go see a counselor. I highly recommend it! I learned so much. My husband and I nicknamed my counselor "the feelings teacher." That's what counseling is, really - it's a process of learning . . . allowing someone to give you the gift of perspective and guidance so that you can deal with your life in a healthier and more insightful way. 

Can you tell I'd like to normalize the idea of taking care of one's mental and emotional health? I know that lots of folks feel like counseling is for extreme situations only. I've found it to be helpful as a sort of "checkup" now and then. If you have insurance that allows you access to counseling services, you should consider a yearly check-in with a counselor who works well with you (I got really fortunate and loved the first one I saw, but some people have told me they have had to look around a bit). 

Anyway, I learned 2 things that have helped me in my teaching, my writing, my friendships, and a whole host of other situations. And I think they'd be good for all of us as we go into the busy season we like to call "The Holidays." Now, I'm not a counselor. I'm a music teacher/songwriter. These 2 little thoughts are not meant to make all things better and they won't. They are just things I've enjoyed as I've practiced kindness toward myself this past year. For real deal mental health assistance, you have to find a counselor who you can see regularly. Again - I highly recommend it!

1. If your stress/anxiety/intensity of emotion is on a scale from 0-10 (10 being most intense), where are you as you go into any given situation?

Right??? I mean . . . Right??????

What a fantastic question. What an immensely useful question! 

Just knowing where your feelings fall on that scale of 0-10 gives you a certain amount of understanding toward yourself and others. For instance, if I stub my toe, spill my coffee, am running late, and get stuck in traffic, I'm probably close to 7 . . . ok . . . maybe 9? And if I'm close to 9, then I need to do some deep breathing exercises and pray before my first class. I can also be prepared to experience a somewhat shorter temper . . . I can expect to be easily annoyed . . . and if I understand why I'm triggered more easily on such a day, well, then I can do some helpful self talk and use reason to help myself respond to things in a more appropriate way.

If I happen to recognize my 9-ness a little bit late . . . for instance, after I've already been short with somebody at work or something, then I can at least offer myself some forgiveness and understanding (offering myself understanding is always extremely helpful). It's really hard for any of us to move on and do better when we're still beating ourselves up for something that happened 10 minutes (or 10 years) ago. I often find myself thinking, "Oh dear, I didn't really mean that. Ugh. I still feel really rushed after coming in late this morning." So I forgive myself. I apologize to the other person. I breathe deeply. I move forward.

So, as you go into the busy "Holiday" season consider joining me in this practice of self awareness. Cleaning the house, traveling, preparing big meals, performing, and getting together with lots and lots of loved ones is joyful, but can also be quite stressful. Sometimes we get in the middle of a conversation and can't figure out how on earth it became heated or why we feel the way we do. Mindfulness won't always help . . . but for me? It very often does.


2. Radical Acceptance.

#2 isn't a question. It's a concept. I have practiced radical acceptance a few times now. You may have heard the old phrase "this, too, shall pass" - radical acceptance is sort of like that. It's maybe a mixture of that and the idea of "fierce compassion" you can find in Buddhist literature. 

Where to begin?

I've radically accepted some things in my life. You probably have in yours, too. We accept painful events and conversations . . . the existence of frustrating limitations . . . we accept loss and grief. Basically, we acknowledge that these things are real. We acknowledge that we are feeling them and that they are part of our lives. And we find courage to say, "But my life is still very much worth living."

I'm so fortunate to have loving relationships in my close family. But I know so many people who feel a great weight around the holiday season because of familial struggle.

I will share with you freely that in my own life experience it's been most challenging for me to get over feelings of "being wronged" by others in various situations, and in these situations radical acceptance has been good to me. In fact, I'd say that radical acceptance has assisted me with my biggest forgivenesses. Sometimes I've had to say, "This person is not going to change. Their mind is made up. They believe that they are completely right. I can't argue my way to changing them. And they are a child of God, just like me. I can no longer allow myself to sit here in my anger over our disagreement. I have to offer forgiveness and apology, and then I need to go on with my life, because it is a good life."

We don't deny that there is painful struggle. We acknowledge it boldly. We find a way to acknowledge it while still acknowledging the goodness of life. "Fierce" is part of the phrase "fierce compassion" for a reason. This is not an easy thing to do.

Jesus had fierce compassion as he gave all of us ultimate forgiveness on the cross - remember what he said? "Father, forgive them. They have no idea what they are doing."

Many times, we think we're right. Or our loved ones think they're right. Maybe we both think we're right, and that's where the disagreement crops up. So we allow ourselves to go partially blind to the other person's humanity . . . the other person's unique connection to God the Creator. When that happens, we're no good for each other or for ourselves. I do believe we could all use a big dose of fierce compassion right now. The recent election has brought out a meanness in so many of us that grieves me. It should grieve all of us. Let's talk together about these things . . . let's not yell at each other. Can we not have fierce compassion? Radical acceptance of each other's humanity? I'm a very liberal person asking my liberal AND my conservative friends - can we not show respect and kindness to each other? In person and on the internet? Just saying. 

None of us know what we're doing, friends. Jesus forgave us for our ignorance. All of us who believe we know it all as we talk with family, friends, and co-workers? We don't know it all. 

I'm not saying this to one kind or person or another. I'm saying it to myself. I'm saying it to ALL of us. We don't know what we're doing . . . and our ignorance is so great so often that it is necessary for God to forgive it, specifically.

So . . . anyway . . . it's time to be thankful for mercies and blessings in our lives. It is time to be generous. Can we use a few simple practices to stretch our thanksgiving and our generosity in new ways? I hope so.

Many blessings to you and yours as we approach Thanksgiving and Advent. My heart skips a beat every time I think about Advent and Christmastide. Does yours? I can hear Him in my heart saying, again, "Sarah - I forgive you. Let's walk now for a while. Let's share this life together." God . . . drawing close.