Relationship in a Rut? Tap Your Inner Child!

Has the spark been waning from your relationship, or have you found yourself knowing your significant other less and less? Wishing you could reconnect in a deep or vital way? Your Inner Child can help tap the energy you need to get out of a relational rut!

When we tap our Inner Child on the shoulder, we can have the best of both worlds – the fresh energy of childhood and the wisdom and sensuality of adult experience. Your Inner Child can help you re-learn the affection, creativity, spontaneity, and vulnerability necessary to maintain a powerful love connection!

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1) Affection – One of our primary sources of affection in adulthood is through our romantic partnerships. If you are missing affection in your current relationship, chances are your partner is missing it, too. The best way to receive is to give. This does not mean initiating sex and then feeling angry or defeated if it doesn’t go your way! Think of the affection that freely flows from your Inner Child. The part of you that easily gives hugs, holds hands, or needs to snuggle to forget about the “boogeyman” under the bed (ie: the overdue bills, unnerving lab results, etc.). As adults we never stop needing comfort and affection – give and receive freely! Nurturing affection can lead to passionate affection – and both are essential to feeling special and loved.

2) Creativity – In the beginning there are fun dates, love letters, and spontaneous sex. Later on … not so much. But that doesn’t mean you can’t revive the spark through following the example of your Inner Child! (Secret: We often show a lot of our Inner Child when we’re falling in love!) Think of the artwork you offered up and displayed proudly on the refrigerator, or the way you chased butterflies and lightning bugs in your backyard as a child. Now you can make a homemade Valentine or birthday card for your partner, surprise him/her with a spring picnic or a snowman-making contest, or watch the sunset at a local place of beauty (and arrange the baby-sitter, too, if necessary). Now you have a soul mate for a playmate – enjoy it!

3) Spontaneity – Why is it that the unplanned parts of life usually stand out in our memories the most? Because spontaneity has a way of inspiring mindfulness and bringing a spark of energy that elates our moods and calms our nerves. Spontaneity is a magical way to create an experience together that will increase connection. And no one is more spontaneous and inspiring than our Inner Child! Think of the joys of following your curiosity down a new bike path as a child, or of sinking your teeth into a candy sprinkled dessert! Sharing your spontaneity and offering yourself as an encouraging partner in your significant others’ impulsive urges will give your relationship a needed jolt. Make yourself a promise that next time you feel a twinge to stop off at a carnival or go to that often seen but never frequented hole-in-the-wall restaurant, follow it toward the chance to make a memory together! Even if it turns out to be sub-par, it’s something to bond over and laugh about for years to come.

4) Vulnerability – Over time we can begin to feel we already know everything important about our partner; or conversely, we can assume our partner will never understand an important dream or wound of ours. Maybe you’ve known each other for years or decades, but continued engagement is necessary to continue knowing someone. If you feel as if your partner doesn’t know or understand you anymore (or that you don’t know/understand him or her), reach out from a place of vulnerability. Think of the unabashed way you used to talk about the cool new thing you learned in school, the super scary spider you saw on the playground, or how you were going to be an astronaut when you grew up! Only now you’re old enough to know how to say, “This is what I think and feel … what about you?” Share a hard moment from your workday, a bad dream you can’t shake off, or fun idea for a long-weekend away. If you lead with your own vulnerabilities while also offering your partner the chance to reciprocate, intimacy and passion are sure to follow.

Of note: Sometimes our Inner Child no longer feels safe in the company of our significant others. Or sometimes our Inner Child is still quite wounded from the traumas of childhood.

If these tips are met with your partner’s apathy or opposition … or if you can’t even imagine how to tap your Inner Child or how to receive a good response for putting yourself out there in these ways, please don’t hesitate to seek a couples therapist to help break apart defenses and rebuild intimacy.

If your Inner Child is wounded due to physical or emotional traumas in childhood, please take these wounds seriously and seek care and support for yourself. There are many qualified therapists who can assist with healing the lifelong pain of childhood trauma to help you reclaim vitality in adulthood.

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.

 

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Falling in the Hole, and How to Get Out

My close friends and I have taken to calling it, “falling in the hole.” That feeling of walking along in your life and then, whoops, finding yourself unexpectedly in the hole of depression or anxiety complete with confusion about how you got there or how to get out. Falling in the hole can look like difficulty getting out of bed and completing anything other than necessary tasks, cancelling social plans due to feelings of insecurity, avoiding the very elements of your life that give you more meaning, and finding yourself unexplainably irritable or sensitive toward friends and partners. Falling in the hole is a bit different falling from falling of the horse, as I discussed in my last post. Falling in the hole is a less profound experience that lasts for a few hours or a few days at most.

Having fallen in the hole countless times in my life, as well as helping many others – both friends and clients out of their respective holes – I have a few ideas about how to gain the most from these experiences while having them impact your life the least.

Try to Pin-Point What You Slipped On – the very nature of falling in the hole means there’s likely some confusion about how you got there. What on earth happened? Just yesterday you were glowing with stability. But if you look more closely, there are usually clues. Despite what some people think, emotions do not materialize out of thin air. Neither are emotions facts – they don’t always make sense, and aren’t always helpful. But they do always have a cause, and they do have the function of communicating something potentially important to use. Take time to listen. Think back over the past hours or days and see if you can notice a moment that in hindsight, caused you unease. It could be an upcoming work deadline, the success of a friend that has you thinking about failures, or an unusually disturbing nightmare. Still unsure? Journaling is a great way to help. Just write whatever comes to mind. Even if it seems unrelated at first, something may pop up.IMG_0419

Accept That It Could Be Biological or Historical – emotions always have causes, but sometimes the causes are very chemical in nature. After all, our beautifully complex brains are an electric circuit of synapses firing at will. Pre-menstrual Syndrome is a very real experience for many women caused by the plummet of estrogen and rise of progesterone in the days leading up to a period. Or maybe you’ve been exercise-deprived, eating too much sugar, drinking too much alcohol, or not getting enough sleep. Sometimes our circuitry gets re-fired by a historical trigger – something that happens in our present reminds us, even on an unconscious level, of something that happened in our past. It could be as simple as an anniversary of important events, or even watching a mother scold her child the way you were scolded such that shame rises to your face and yet you can’t connect the dots as to why.

Problem Solve It If You Can – if you can figure out the likely culprits to your situation, then take some time to problem-solve. That’s one reason we have emotions – to spring us into action! To set boundaries, escape dangers, take steps to creating more fulfilling lives. This could be a quick fix in some instances – such as letting a partner know it is important to celebrate your birthday after all, or setting aside some extra time to get ahead on that work project.

Try “Opposite Action” If You Can’t – in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a treatment for mood dysregulation championed by Marsha Linehan, there is a skill called Opposite Action. It’s one of my favorite skills. In brief, it goes a little something like this: feeling depressed with urges to isolate? Act the opposite – get out of bed, get active, get social. Feeling anxious with urges to avoid people or situations that you know will not bring you harm? Approach those people and situations anyway, with as much confidence as you can muster. Feeling really angry at your partner for minor irritations? Rather than attack, gently avoid until you can calm down or even act kindly toward him/her. The idea is not to suppress your emotion, but to still act opposite to it, such that the actions themselves help you regulate again. This only works in situations where your emotion doesn’t fit the facts (your friends aren’t likely to reject you) or where the intensity of your emotion is a little extreme (your partner hurt your feelings but didn’t mean to).IMG_0420

It’s Okay To Take a Day Off – don’t be too hard on yourself if you just can’t get out of the hole immediately. Sometimes our minds or bodies need a break, and falling in the hole is a way to get that break. Allow for some down time, some tears, some worries, some self-care, and some sleep. Just don’t stay stuck for too long. If you find you repeatedly can’t get out of the hole day after day, that’s a good indication that you may need some assistance from others – either professionals or those wise ones in your tribe.

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.

From Do to Be: 12 Mindfulness Activities

After writing about mindfulness recently and suggesting 3 steps to create a more mindful life, it occurred to me that sometimes we need something more concrete in order to learn new skills. In this post I offer 12 simple mindfulness exercises to jump-start your mindful life!

1. Sitting at Your Desk: Take a few moments at your desk to pause and really experience the moment. How does your chair feel against your skin or fit against your bones? What smells can you detect? Is there music playing? What can you see without getting up to move? The point of this exercise is not to relax or even necessarily enjoy your surroundings (though that may be the outcome!). It’s to become aware of this place where you probably spend large amounts of time. What is this place – your desk? How does it feel to be sitting here?

2. Eating Breakfast: Instead of rushing out the door with a granola bar and a smoothie, set your alarm 10-15 minutes earlier and take time to eat breakfast before you leave for your day. Sit down with your meal, and focus your attention on the colors, tastes, and textures – even the life behind your food. Such as, this is an orange, but it is also of the sun, earth, rain, the farmers who nurtured the tree, etc. If you are able, you can experience the oneness of life and death in the eating – even for vegetarians, something had to die to nurture the soil that grows your food. And yet this food is life, sustenance.

3. Walking Around Your Block: Some evening this week after dinner or before breakfast, take the time to mosey around your block. Do this with the purpose of really seeing your neighborhood, maybe for the first time. Again, focus on your 5 senses. What can you see in gardens, architecture, wildlife? What do you smell? Taste in the air? How does the ground crunch or remain solid beneath you? Take time to smell the roses.

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4. Lover’s Eyes: You’ll have to gain your partner’s cooperation for this one. Maybe even invite him/her to join! Take a full 3-5 minutes to stare into your lover’s eyes. No kissing, talking, or anything other than noticing the exact shapes and colors, the mix of golden and stormy hues. How do his/her eyes look in the light, in the shadows? Can you see yourself reflected in the pupils?

5. Notice Your Breath: Tried but true, when needing an immediate anchor for mindlessness, return to the breath. Focus on how it feels coming in through your nose, cold perhaps down the back of your throat, shoulders rising or belly expanding, and then hot back out, warming you up. If your mind wanders (and it will!), there is no need for judgment. Just notice the wandering and then bring your attention back to your breath. Try this for just 5 minutes at first.

6. Read Your Favorite Poem: If you have a beloved poem, passage, or even song, take a moment and read it aloud. Really feel the rhythm and the words as they take shape on your lips. Notice what emotions rise for you as you read, how your body changes in tension or relaxation, in ache or weightlessness.

7. Just Listen: Turn off the TV and iPod, and just listen. Listen to the silence. The empty space. Listen to the train passing in the distance. Your children playing in the backyard. Listen to the electric hum of lights and machines. The creak of old wood. A bird calling just outside the window. Listen to the sound of your own breathing. Open your ears … what do you hear?

8. Notice A Certain Color: This is a fun exercise for the whole day. Pick a color (any color!) and every time you see it, take a moment to be mindful of your surroundings. “There’s orange!,” for instance, and then take a breath and really notice where you are. This is a double mindfulness, because you are remaining mindful of noticing this color (I bet you’ll see it more than you think), and then the promise of further connection to the present moment when you encounter that color.

9. Play with Kids (or Animals): Kids have amazing aptitudes for mindfulness. The world has not yet taught them to be self-conscious, running a to-do list in their heads, or how to worry incessantly about the past or future. This is a mindfulness practice of participation. Can you open yourself to the moment? The sand castle, the tea party, the made up game of cops and robbers with the rules changing at every turn? Can you be fully present to the excitement and joy of imagination? Let go of your conscientiousness, your worries, your need to be in control or productive. Just play.

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10. In the Shower: This is an activity that is often done in haste and without thought. Instead of running your shower routine mindlessly,  pay attention to the feel of the water on your back and face, the smell of your shampoo and soap, the way your razor or washcloth feels over your skin. Take a moment to breathe. Take a moment to just be naked and tender and alive with yourself.

11. Dancing: The idea is to actually lose yourself in the music, and let your body express what it wants to express. If you’re a little hesitant to do this at the club or in front of others, close the door to your bedroom and crank up the volume on your favorite song. Turn off the critic, and see what your body might enjoy sharing about this specific beat or those catchy lyrics.

12. Waiting in Line: Next time you’re waiting in line at the post office or for a table at a restaurant, rather than pulling out your smart phone, take a moment to take in your surroundings. Allow yourself to really breathe, and notice the people, the chatter, the white noise, the music, the art on the walls, the smells of food. Take a moment to notice where you really are, and who you’re sharing this space with for a short time.

I cannot iterate enough that the purpose of mindfulness is not to relax or even to feel content. The purpose of mindfulness is to be alive in the present moment as it is – to notice what is and enter into what is with a purpose that focuses your attention and strengthens your anchor to vitality. The purpose of mindfulness is to slow down and experience. To be alive in the moment you have, which is always and ever, only this one. The past is gone. The future may or may not happen in any certain way, or at all. Live this moment. Don’t let it pass you by in a string of missed opportunities. There is beauty all around you. Heartache, too. It all deserves your attention.

All content owned by Amanda Bowers

3 Steps to Mindful Living

Meditation. Zen. Mindfulness. These are now words of mainstream 21st century consciousness. Yet many don’t really know what they mean, or more importantly, how to use these concepts to enrich their lives. Some people envision monks meditating in monasteries at the tops of foreign mountains, others think of yoga practitioners twisting themselves into ever complex poses, and yet others may think of a blank slate heart where perpetual serenity whitewashes emotions off the canvas of life. In truth, all of these ideas are true. And yet they don’t have to be your truth. It is entirely possible to enjoy a more mindful life without devoting hours in meditation or yoga, and while still enjoying the stirrings of passion, hope, and what this Southern girl likes to call sweet sassy molasssy spunk.

So what is mindfulness? I’ll be the first to admit I am in no way an expert on the definition or practice of this art. The more I read about mindfulness, and the more I talk to people who value a mindful lifestyle, the more I realize that mindfulness is a subjective concept and practice. For me (and for others who share this mindset), mindfulness is more about living than reflecting. It’s more about being in the present moment than remembering that ugly altercation with a co-worker, running your to-do list over and over, and looking forward to dinner with your partner such that you don’t notice the lunch you’re eating now. (And we all know that dinner can then be filled with looking forward to dessert, to sex, to sleep … fill in the blank.) Mindfulness is a way of life that helps you slow down, enjoy the present, experience more novelty, and enhance your connection with yourself, those precious to you, and the world around you in all its beauty and strife.

So how can one become more mindful without signing on for hours of additional “work”? The easy and difficult task of it, is simply this:

1) Attention: We live in a world where our concentration is pulled in more and more directions at once. We can be bathing a child, planning tomorrow’s staff meeting, and casually glancing at work emails to which we feel we must reply as soon as possible all at the same time. We can be eating dinner, watching T.V., and remembering yesterday’s sorrows all at the same time. Mindfulness asks us for our full attention. Something we’ve probably not mustered to that extent since grade school when learning multiplication or creating a splendid holiday craft were all our minds could hold at any one time. Children and animals are exemplary models of mindfulness, yet as adults we have the ability to sustain our attention, and experience meaning from that attention in ways that a child never could. When mindful, we are in the present moment. That is all. You can be in the present moment listening to Prince, or eating a gourmet hamburger, or marveling at the exact curves and taste of your lover’s lips. You can be mindful when you’re driving to work or responding to emails or cooking dinner. Ask yourself to slow down and focus on this moment and this moment alone. Ask yourself, “How can I give this moment my full attention?”

2) Awareness: Now that you’ve slowed down enough to even realize what you’re doing or how you’re being in the moment, allow your awareness to blossom. Not sure how to do this? You can start by paying attention to your 5 senses: What do I touch, taste, hear, smell, see right now? What is this person really trying to communicate to me? What am I really trying to communicate to this person? How does my child’s hair smell right now, and now after I’ve bathed her? How many different colors are in this flower? How many different tastes in this strawberry rhubarb pie? How can I experience this moment instead of going through the motions of this moment? How is it different from all the other moments, even from other similar moments? This doesn’t mean you must get lost in all the intricacies of the particular: the early morning splash of light, the sound of an ambulance passing by, the photocopier oozing ozone into the air. But it does mean that as you remain in touch with your task, you recognize what you are doing as you are doing it, and what the world is offering back.

3) Participation: You’ve slowed down, you’ve noticed the moment, now release yourself to be in that moment. We all have our daily agendas. And agendas themselves are not to be discouraged. Yet getting from point “A” to “B,” or marking this and that off your to-do list does not mean you have to be mindless along the way. You can dance when your favorite song comes on the radio. You can compliment a co-worker’s new hair cut. You can savor the sweet sunshine you taste in your orange juice. You can notice your feelings and neither avoid or cling to them. You can merge into the moment – energetically – such that you experience flow. A flow from this to that to this. Nothing is ever the same. Each moment is always only what is. And when you’re really looking, what is, is so so much.

(Ideas about mindfulness influenced by Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behavior Therapy, a type of psychotherapy practice.)

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“I have lived with many Zen masters – all of them cats.” ~Eckhart Tolle

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.

How To Find Your Inner Voice

You must train your intuition — you must trust the small voice inside you which tells you exactly what to say, what to decide. -Ingrid Bergman

We’ve all heard the sage advice from someone – mothers, mentors, and self-help books – about the importance of finding your inner voice. But what exactly does that mean? And why is it so important? What is an inner voice?

Your inner voice can be called many things: soul, heart, gut, wise mind, conscience, intuition, guide … some may even believe in connection to a certain energy, nature, spirit, ancestors, or as Yoda made ever-so-popular in Star Wars, a connection to “the force.” Yet however you chose to define it, your inner voice is an essential component to living a wise and vital life. Your inner voice is that deeply honest and strangely shrewd voice inside that points you in the right direction toward your goals, smells bad news and people coming from afar, and a part of yourself – your birthright even – that helps you live an authentic and even miraculous life.

When making major decisions, feeling dissonance about something and you’re not sure why, or in moments when you realize you’ve really strayed from the path or type of person you set out to be, your inner voice can offer intense comfort and insightful guidance. So how does one tap into his/her inner voice?

1. Quiet Mind – Before you can listen to your deepest self, you have to tune out all the other voices vying for your attention. Friends, family, colleagues, media, everything. Sometimes this mindless or even well-meaning chatter can make it quite difficult to tune into your own frequency. Whether you need literal silence, such as meditation, or engagement in an activity that Zen-ifies your mind, such as sports or art, a quiet mind is a good place to start when trying to tap your inner voice.

2. Expression – If quieting your mind is your connection to that deep place, expression is the process of bringing what is deep to the surface. You may choose to write whatever comes to mind, or engage in some other form of art or expression that works more naturally to you. You may choose to speak your thoughts aloud to a trusted friend or professional. You may choose to engage in a lucid dream if you are lucky enough to have that talent. Whatever you chose, it is important to block the inner-critic, editor, or otherwise naysayer from this process. This is about allowing what is there to bubble to the surface. It is about a process, not a final product.

3. Say It Out Loud – If you haven’t already expressed what your inner voice is saying in a direct manner, do so now. Say it out loud. Say, “I need to find a job that fits my skills and priorities more closely.” “I need to stop drinking so much.” “This person I’ve been dating is not right for me.” “This person I’ve been dating is worthy of my trust and love.” “I’m going to travel to the coast instead of the mountains this year.” Whatever it is – say it out loud.

4. Calm versus Fear – When in doubt about if you’ve tapped your inner voice or not, consider if you are feeling calm or crazed about what message your inner voice has communicated to you. Sometimes we let our fears guide us and call it our inner voice, such as, “I’m sure this won’t turn out good any way, so I just won’t paint tonight.” Other times our inner voice has something important to say, “You need to refill the creative well with good conversation and inspiration before returning to your craft.” These types of messages can be difficult to distinguish. Even if what your inner voice has communicated to you is a scary concept – a big move, starting a family, lifestyle change – you should also have a sense of calm guided by the wisdom and honesty of that decision. Of course you’re nervous, excited, even self-doubtful, but there is a kernel of groundedness. Think: Am I running from something or toward something? With an inner voice, there is a lack of impulsivity, and more of a vision.

5. Personal Values & Goals – If you’re still not sure what to think of your inner voice’s communication with you, consider your own personal values and goals. If you value security, honesty, and loyalty – it’s probably not your inner voice telling you to have an extramarital affair. If you value creativity and community, it’s probably not your inner voice telling you that you aren’t talented enough to share your passion with others. If your goal is to help others, it may be your inner voice pushing you to leave a retail job and go back to school or work for a non-profit. Catch my drift here? When in doubt, consider the source of the inner voice. And that source is you.

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There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
“I feel that this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.”
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
or wise man can decide
What’s right for you— just listen to
The voice that speaks inside.
-Shel Silverstein

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.

Couples Are Teams: Hallmarks of Happy Ones

Whether it be raising kids, running a home, or navigating a life event like a major illness or career shift, couples are teams. In small every day ways, couples have the chance to be teammates as well: planning meals, money management, even sex! That’s one of the most powerful parts of being a member of a couple: that feeling of you’re not alone. Unfortunately the exciting tingles of falling in love and deep security of early partnership can fade over time when life together becomes routine, stress becomes overwhelming, or when you slowly shift from getting to know each other to assuming you already know all there is to know.

Being part of an effective team is a profoundly satisfying and even invigorating experience. Anyone who plays (or spectates!) sports, enjoys a supportive and successful team at work, or is a member of a choir or theater cast knows the simultaneous surge of excitement and loyalty that a team can bring: that feeling of being part of something larger than yourself.

Who better to enjoy such feelings of  excitement and satisfaction with than your partner? If you’d like to improve the quality of your team as a couple, or want to be sure and maintain the intimacy you’ve already built, take a look at these 6 Hallmarks of Happy Couple Teams:

1. Trust – This seems like a no-brainer, and that’s because trust really is the foundation of every important aspect of your relationship as a couple. If trust is something you’ve not taken as seriously as you meant to, or you’ve encountered big breaks in trust during your life as a couple, it’s time to make rebuilding that trust a top priority. You may consider seeing a professional such as a couples therapist to assist if necessary. If you’re lucky enough to have a trusting relationship, don’t take it for granted. Guard your trustworthiness with each other as the prized treasure that it is.

2. Communication – How can two separate people with two different brains, different histories, different preferences, and different ideas, feelings, plans, and problems possibly work well together as a team without communication? The short answer is they can’t. Being able to share your ideas with your partner is essential to a strong and happy team together. Equally if not more important is the ability to truly listen to your partner’s ideas. This means focusing your mind only on what he/she is saying – not developing a defense or waiting for a chance to talk again. Good communication such as this may be slow in the beginning, or when discussing difficult topics – but it will pay off in terms of highly effective communication in the lifetime of your team.

3. Don’t Take Things Personally – Have you ever heard the saying that how a person reacts to you says more about him/her than you? Well, it’s true. Outside of those heart-to-heart occurrences where your partner may be sharing something important about how you affect him/her, most jokes, snide remarks, and misguided feedback really isn’t personal. It’s just not. Accepting this and avoiding easily bruised feelings will not only change your happiness in your partnership, it will change your life.

4. Self-Soothing – Not taking things personally is much easier if you have the capacity to self-soothe. By self-soothe, I mean the ability to calm yourself down when you have perceived (perhaps falsely, perhaps not) that your partner has slighted you in some way. This does not mean that after you’re calm that you shouldn’t talk about what happened. But don’t rely on your partner to always soothe you with his/her proclamations of love, affection, compliments, etc. Sometime you have to be able to take some deep breaths and remind yourself of your good qualities and worthiness without your partner’s help. The ability to do this will transform your relationship in ways you cannot imagine.

5. Avoid Perfectionism – No one is perfect. We do the best we can, and then have to let the rest go – in each other and in ourselves. I was kayaking with my partner a few weekends ago in a tandem kayak – an endeavor we’d neither done before independently or together. If we’d decided we were going to “perfectly” navigate this unknown river, in this new-to-us flotation device, it would have been a miserable day! Instead we communicated the best we could, problem-solved mistakes such as getting caught on rocks (or yes, there was this one time I fell out of the kayak!), and laughed off the rest. This is a good metaphor for life. Perfectionism isn’t possible, but learning together is.

6. Seek Humor – Along with avoiding perfectionism, the ability to seek humor in situations is key. Couples who can tell a joke, crack a smile, and overall bring levity to life situations have a far greater chance of staying together for the long haul and enjoying themselves along the way. Your brain may be telling you: this is awful, scary, angering. And it may be! Also allow room for the part of the situation that is playful, silly, and adventurous. Enjoy!

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.