New Year’s Resolution at Earth Meets Sky

Dear Readers,

I haven’t updated this blog in nearly 4 months. There have been several reasons for this, but the primary reason is that I’ve been struggling with balancing the purpose of this blog with other beliefs. I firmly believe that we are an over-saturated society when it comes to tidbits (or long bits) of information – including inspirational info! – and that we’re also a society far too stuck inside our iProducts, TVs, computers, and social media.

There was a time when reading a good article, even online, was meaningful. Now there are so many good articles to read, it’s hard to make time, and even harder to keep in mind what we gleaned from the reading. Things get condensed into soundbites of the written word, the longest of which is still a fairly short article or blog entry (much like mine) with a “Step 1, 2, 3” flow to it, and the most common of which are Tweets and quotes. I love quotes, but even those start to lose meaning when we’re bombarded with them on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram all day long. An inspirational kernel of wisdom can become a meaningless platitude when you find it “spamming” your social media walls.

Amanda Carver, LMFT is not about any of that. I am not trying to compete with the already amazing resources out there, and I’m certainly not trying to pull you away from the richness of your inner wisdom or the warmth of your real life human connections.

And yet, I do have ideas to share. I do realize that some people may use this space as a spring board to get to know me and my clinical work which could lead to very meaningful connection in my therapy office. And I do think sometimes an article or a quote can be just what we need to take the action our deeper wisdom was already stirring inside of us.

As such I’ve decided to become very focused with this space. My New Year’s Resolution here at Earth Meets Sky with Pie is to carefully sift through the various ideas I have about what to share and hold myself accountable to sharing what is potentially most meaningful to you … and in a way that is accessible and digestible but not at the expense of honoring the complexity of the human experience. In short, I want to share what you want to hear and what I believe may actually be helpful based on my human and professional experience.

Please let me know if there are topics you’d like to see covered at Earth Meets Sky with Pie! Knowing I won’t be spamming your walls or inbox, please take the time to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or WordPress so that you are aware of when I do make a post … and so that you can more easily engage in the ongoing human conversation of what helps create a vital and meaningful life! I want to hear from you. I want to connect with you. I want this space to honor the vital and meaningful, including respecting your pursuits of those things in the real rather than the virtual world. As always, I look forward to seeing what ideas we can create together.

Warmly and with Best Wishes for 2016,
Amanda

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Amanda Carver, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Atlanta, Georgia. She specializes in providing Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) in helping couples create and enjoy lasting love and affection in their relationships as well as helping women create deeply meaningful lives. All written content and images owned by Amanda Carver.

 

 

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The Promise of a Lifetime

You may have noticed that my online presence has changed a bit in the past few weeks. I am now Amanda Carver! I am married and excited to announce that, yes, when you see Amanda Carver, LMFT online, it’s me!

Though a wedding or commitment ceremony is but a moment, a marriage or partnership holds the promise of a lifetime. It requires much in terms of vulnerability, tenderness, passion, humor, and forgiveness. A ceremony is a way to honor the path behind that led to this moment of profound commitment, and the path ahead undoubtedly full of both vibrant and difficult times – but better enjoyed and weathered because it’s together. In this way, my husband and I decided that having a marriage ceremony that we wrote together and witnessed by our closest family was deeply important to us.

One of our vows included: I promise to keep your trust. And to share my honest self with you, even when it may be easier to pretend or hide. I promise to make it safe to show me your true self, and to not try to change you, because the whole spectrum of who you are is who I’ve fallen in love with.

At many times in a relationship, a couple can come to this important point of making or renewing vows. In considering what means the most to you about commitments of love and marriage, what vows would you like to make to your current or future partner? Please share!

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All written content owned by Amanda Carver. Photo credit: Mike Moon Studio and Morgan Corbett Photography.

How to Help Your Therapist Help You

Honored to have contributed to mindbodygreen with this article about how to get the most out of therapy! How to Help Your Therapist Help You

Do you have ideas about what has helped make your therapy more meaningful or beneficial? Please share!

You’ve mustered up the courage to say, “Something’s off in my life right now.” You seek the assistance of a helping professional to get back on track, and feel relieved almost immediately. You’re starting to make productive choices.

Maybe you’ve realized sadness or anxiety has hijacked your life, or you’re struggling with chronic conflict or lack of connection in your most important relationships. Maybe you’ve realized that despite having everything you always thought you wanted, you’re still not fulfilled. Whatever the reason, you’ve decided you are important enough to seek assistance with creating the life you want.

Some individuals seeking therapy think that their therapist will “fix” the problem that they are facing, even if they don’t realize this dynamic is at play. But therapy is work, for both parties involved. It takes reflection, a healthy balance of self-analysis and self-acceptance, and a commitment to follow-through.

If you’re in psychotherapy or counseling treatment or are considering gaining the assistance of a mental health professional or coach, the following tips will dramatically enhance the return you can gain from this powerful investment — an investment in you. I offer these tips as both a psychotherapist and someone who has benefited from being in therapy.

1. Don’t skimp on sessions — make it a practice.

People sometimes seek therapy services with a “one foot in, one foot out” mentality. This may look like frequently canceled sessions or forgetting or not doing homework. Unless you are on vacation or experiencing a true emergency, it is essential to attend sessions weekly (or at whatever interval you and your therapist have determined is best).

Building a relationship with your therapist and the regular contact that requires is the foundation for gaining the most from your therapy experience! Even on days when you’re feeling down (especially on these days!) or when the sun is shining and you’d rather spend an afternoon at the park, remind yourself that it is a commitment not just with your therapist, but with yourself.

2. Work between sessions. (It’s like “therapy homework.”)

Some therapists assign homework. This could be as simple as thinking about a certain topic or as specific as reading chapters in a book or practicing specific relational or coping strategies. Some therapies are designed to include homework on a regular basis, such as behavioral treatments like CBT or DBT. In other types of therapy, homework is more of a periodic way to enhance your growth experience.

Even if you aren’t assigned specific homework, it’s important to bring the thoughts and questions you engage with in therapy outside the office. Try exploring and practicing techniques you have worked on with your therapist in other relationships. Journal. Talk to supportive friends or family members about the questions you’ve been thinking about. Engaging in the process will help you transform a slow-paced recovery into a life-altering experience where the change you seek gains noticeable traction.

3. Get radically honest.

Therapists are trained professionals who are likely predisposed to offering compassion and support. We’ve taken this natural inclination to be helpful and learned specific ways of interacting with you that may assist with positive outcomes in your life.

Our ability to help you is severely limited if you aren’t honest with us. This includes the big things, like history of abuse or drug and alcohol intake, and the “smaller” things, too, like not having a sincere interest in a homework assignment.

I can’t tell you how many times a case has “cracked open” into meaningful change because a client finally disclosed needed information about him/herself and problems. If you’ve found yourself lying to your therapist, don’t beat yourself up! Shame about problems is normal, as is the impulse to lie. Just take the opportunity to be brave and correct this information with your therapist.

4. Practice transparency.

Somewhat different from telling the truth, being transparent means telling the truth in incredibly subtle and internal ways. It’s having the courage to speak up and say, “No, I don’t think you got that quite right,” or, “I’m struggling with thoughts that you are judging me right now.”

It’s sharing your inner world with your therapist, especially as it relates to your therapist and your treatment. It may seem like you’ll hurt your therapist’s feelings, or that the information is not that important — but trust me, the “meat” of the process of therapy comes in these more intricate interactions where you allow yourself to be a fully authentic person.

Please note that these tips are offered under the assumption that you are working with a competent and compassionate therapist. Good therapists may sometimes point out problems or unhelpful patterns as a way to encourage healing and growth, but they know how to do so without judgment.

It is imperative that you feel safe with your therapist in terms of knowing that your therapist has your best interests at heart and will keep what you share confidential. If this is not the case, please consider speaking openly with your therapist about your concerns, or seeing if a different therapist may be a better fit for you.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Informal Mindfulness: Small Effort, BIG Reward!

IMG_2056Do you frequently find yourself texting while stopped at traffic lights? Talking on the phone while walking your dog? Reading your email while eating breakfast? Or even layering 3 and 4 activities at once, such as scrolling through Facebook while eating dinner, reviewing your to-do list, and trying to catch up on the day with your significant other? We all know on some level the sad state of affairs that has arisen in recent years when it comes to not paying attention, not even to those most important to us, not even to our own selves. We’ve all been there: situations where we’re already posting something on Facebook or Twitter before we’ve even fully experienced the thing we’re so excited to share with others. Dinner dates with friends where a text pulls our attention away from remaining attuned to conversation. Or the nagging urge even when relaxing in front of the TV to check our work email “one more time.” Technology is amazing! I’ll be the first to say it and embrace it in my life. But it’s also become detrimentally distracting. If you’re looking to get back to the basics of simple pleasures and awareness, consider mindfulness as a powerful bridge for getting you from here to there. You can reap big rewards by weaving a conscious effort into the small, everyday routines you’ve already established.

To recap from a previous post, mindfulness is the experience of being fully present to the present moment. Mindfulness is about awareness and participation in life rather than ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. It does not necessarily mean meditation – though meditation is often involved in formal mindfulness practices. It does not mean being happy, or even calm – though those are often the effects of repeated mindful practice. In recent research done by Matt Killingsworth he concluded that people are often happiest when fully engaged in the present moment. (Follow this link to his excellent TED talk.) This makes sense! In a very real way, the present moment is all that exists. Connecting to the present through mindfulness can lead to expanded appreciation of your everyday experiences, improved connection with others, and enhanced union with your wiser self.IMG_2024

If you’re one of those people who experiences herself or himself as too busy, daunted, or unmotivated to establish a formal mindfulness practice, that’s ok! You can still practice mindfulness in informal ways every day. If there’s any single thing someone can do to improve the experience of mindfulness in his/her life, it’s to put down your phone and consciously reduce multi-tasking! As a culture that worships busyness, multi-taskers have long been praised as the go-getters and high-producers of our time. Younger generations are even being heralded as genius multi-taskers due to their immersion in technology since birth. But research shows that multi-tasking is a bit like going through life inebriated or in a fog. We don’t do any of the tasks as well, and we certainly don’t gain the vital enjoyment and knowledge of the present moment when multi-tasking.

Mindfulness in daily routine can happen in the simplest of moments when you allow your attention to focus on only one thing at a time, such as not pulling out your phone on the way to your car after work. But instead checking in with yourself – your mind and your body – at the end of the day, or noting your surroundings – the weather, the landscape, or how the spring light seeps later into the evening hours. Mindfulness happens by paying attention to your driving (imagine that!) and the world around you while driving – familiar yet unnoticed neighborhoods, new businesses splashing up, the same man sitting on the same bench day after day. Mindfulness happens by enjoying your dog’s walk the way he/she does – noting the sights, sounds, and maybe even smells of your journey. Mindfulness happens by nourishing your soul while you nourish your body – savoring the smells, tastes, textures, and nutrients of your food. Mindfulness happens with loved ones, by giving them the incredible gift of your full attention when they’re sharing themselves with you. Mindfulness happens with children, perhaps especially with children, as they are excellent guides to a magically mindful moment. Mindfulness can even happen while checking your phone or sending an email if that’s where you place your full attention. It can happen when brushing your teeth. Listening to music. Embracing your lover. Whatever the task at hand, even if it lasts only a few moments, give it your full attention. Allow yourself to live it, rather than miss it, and potentially miss the little moments that when strung together create a beautifully rich life.

IMG_2047Don’t forget to start small! Pick one thing daily that you’ll do in the present moment: a meal, your commute, showering, your evening jog. Start there. When your mind wanders or you’re back on your phone without even realizing it, don’t judge yourself. Gently bring your attention back again and again to what’s at hand: the present moment – the one and only place you can live a vital life.

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.

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.

 

Gratitude: The Cure for What Ails You

I come to the page this morning to share something that’s been on my heart and mind, a practice that is my no. 1 go-to for moments of frustration, anxiety, inertia, and even hopelessness. Even when mindfulness seems like too much energy to muster and I am stuck in a place where my mind refuses to grant me a moment’s peace, I can always count on gratitude to help me take that next step forward in a healthy direction.

I practice Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) with kids and teens, teaching the skills of mindfulness and coping on a near-daily basis to those whose brains can barely grasp much less practice the concepts, and to those whose hearts and minds have been harmed in ways unfathomable. Yet I keep teaching it, because at the heart of this behavioral treatment, there is a depth of wisdom, a philosophy even, that can powerfully change lives. One aspect of this treatment is the ability to hold two seemingly opposing concepts at the same time – “I am doing the best I can and I can do better.” As well as shifting perspective, back and forth between the forest (life goals) and trees (mindfulness). Gratitude is an excellent way to quickly shift perspective. In the midst of feeling there’s too much of this and not enough of that, you stop and recognize what already is and how absolutely perfect the present moment can be.IMG_1785

For some, taking a moment to reflect on gratitude may come quite easy. You stop and think, “My family, my job, my health.” For others, perhaps those in great pain and loneliness, it may be more difficult. Yet I am here to tell you that one doesn’t have to search far to find something or someone to be grateful for. Even with my most pained clients, all it takes is some gentle nudging to get them on their feet and smelling the roses of gratitude. It doesn’t cure a problem. It is not an ever-lasting happiness pill to pop. But in that moment, it can give you the oomph you need to take the next step toward your healthy life.

I invite you to take a few moments right now and consider at least 10 things you are grateful for in this present moment. Things that do not need to come to fruition in order for you to be grateful, but what you are grateful for right now. If you’re having a difficult time getting started, start with the basics: you have met enough of your basic needs to be here right now (food, shelter), you can read, you at least have the desire to desire more for yourself (you want to want, which is a start). As you gain in ability to open your heart in this way, consider even more specific and “simpler” things: the exact gift of the bird song outside your morning window, the freedom of feeling the earth beneath your bare feet, sipping your favorite tea from your favorite mug, and as I always say, the sweet summer perfection of strawberry rhubarb pie.

My 10 Things

1. getting to sleep late right in the middle of the bed, surrounded by pillows and the dabbling of morning light
2. looking back and seeing how I always get back on the horse, no matter how hopeless that may have seemed at times
3. fresh berries – blue, black, rasp, or straw
4. in the midst of summer, everything is gorgeous green – and the flowers!
5. these clothes that cover me, often softly
6. these feet that take me where I ask, usually without complaint
7. the Internet – seriously. So much knowledge, so many connections right at my fingertips
8. just how often I remember my dreams, the glimpses into my deeper struggles and knowing
9. human touch on a daily basis, hugs are profound
10. the cardinals, blue jays, squirrels and chipmunks who make it worth being outside despite the mosquitoes

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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