Beautiful young woman in a field on a sunny summer day.
Christy Gualtieri

A Leisurely Summer

I was having a conversation with some friends recently, and the topic of leisure came up.  I had assumed that the definition of leisure was something like “taking your time,” like a leisurely walk; or “relaxing without a specific goal in mind,” but I learned that it’s not always been defined in that way.  In the book “Leisure: The Basis of Culture,” philosopher Josepf Pieper describes it as:

…not simply the result of external factors, it is not the inevitable result of spare time, a holiday, a weekend or a vacation…it is a receptive attitude of mind, a contemplative attitude, and it is not only the occasion but also the capacity for steeping oneself in the whole of creation.”

In other words, leisure is the state in which your mind is free to explore and contemplate things – to really think.  (Hardly seems like doing nothing!) And, to be honest, it seems kind of difficult to pull off in today’s current world.  We have so much information coming at us from so many different angles (this news site, this social media page, this neighbor, this radio station, this friend) that it’s hard enough to step away from it, much less stop altogether and think long and hard about what we’re hearing.  Not only do we have to know everything that’s going on, it seems, we’d better have a good opinion about it, too!

That got me thinking a bit: how much time do I spend in contemplation? Turning things over in my head, examining them, figuring them out? As someone who struggles with anxiety, I can tell you – I don’t do much examining…I’d rather just jump to the worst conclusion possible.  It’s definitely not a healthy way to live, and I know I’d probably be better off if I decided to live a bit more contemplatively.

But how do we do that, cultivate a more contemplative life? One thing I know is that I need a lot more silence. In my home so far this summer, we’ve instituted a “quiet time” for the kids each afternoon, an hour of quiet in which they can occupy themselves, and it’s really worked wonders for their attitudes (when we can stick to it, that is!) It really is a leisure time in a lot of ways, where they do have the freedom to learn more about things by reading, exploring the backyard or watching the neighbors work on their landscaping. And I try to do the same for myself, too: free up a little time to learn more either about something I’ve been curious about, or even to learn more about myself by journaling or reflecting on my feelings about something. It doesn’t always come easy – and we aren’t always able to fit in in the day – but I think it’s worth it so far!

I’m sure your summer is pretty busy with lots to do with family and friends and work.  How can you “steep yourself in the whole of creation” this season? Does the idea seem intriguing to you, or does the idea of quieting down our minds in order to free it up for other things scare you? How can you experience a more “leisurely” summer this year?

Until next time, be well!
Christy

***

eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor onlineAbout the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

The Mind Body Connection. Women with outstretched arms in front of a waterfall.
Christy Gualtieri

The Mind/Body Connection

One of my favorite movies – and one of a handful I can think of that still holds up after so many years of it having been made – is the first of The Matrix movies. In this sci-fi adventure-turned-philosophical treatise, the protagonist asks his mentor what happens if they are killed in “the matrix” (an alternate reality they can enter in and out of by the power of their consciousnesses).

“The body cannot live without the mind,” comes the answer.

A few weeks ago, I was really stressed out about a large number of things; and because my anxiety is like a muscle that sometimes gets pulled, it constricts and contracts and pulses out of my control, sometimes for hours – if not days. My entire upper back painfully twisted and stayed that way for days. I went to the dentist and had a wisdom tooth extracted, and the pain from my back was far greater than the dental work. I had been so nervous already that by the time I sat in the dentist’s chair, I was a wreck. After he pulled the tooth (a painless procedure – my dentist is seriously awesome) he lightly patted my hands, over and over, and I couldn’t figure out why.

“Stop clenching,” he told me. I hadn’t realized that I was still so tense, my hands stuck tight, holding onto each other. After days of feeling so uptight, my body was finally speaking up, and needless to say, it didn’t like what it was feeling.

Two days later I had an anxiety attack. I called my therapist right away and he counseled me about stress hormones and how they were affecting my body. The flight-or-fight response was flooding my veins with cortisol and adrenaline, and because my eyes could see that I wasn’t in any immediate physical danger the incongruency just kept taking its toll. Everything just felt awful. The physical was mirroring the mental. What had been working pretty decently was just calling out that things weren’t okay, but they needed to be addressed, and worked through, and quickly at that.

So I started working through them. And slowly, really slowly, the pain in my body lessened. The mind/body connection was so evident to me in those days, and it’s something that’s becoming more and more clear over time.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Although I think as a society we’re doing a good job of researching, treating and diagnosing mental illness, it’s worth a deeper look at ourselves to see where our own mind/body connections are telling us. Have you been having any sleepless nights recently? Haven’t been eating, or eating too much? Has your stomach been in knots, or have your eye muscles twitched uncontrollably? Are you not sure why? This might be a good time for you to look at your physical body as objectively and without judgment as you can, kind of like a scientist taking notes. Observe what your body’s been telling you, even if you’ve been telling yourself you’re okay. If you’ve been uncomfortable or even in pain and think it’s worth reaching out about it, I heartily encourage you to do so. The mind/body connection is a strong one, and the healthier we feel mentally, the better we’ll feel all around.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

***

eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor onlineAbout the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

Women reading a book
Christy Gualtieri

Our Special Faults

“A year seems very long to wait before I see them, but remind them that while we wait we may all work, so that these hard days need not be wasted. I know they will remember all I said to them, that they will be loving children to you, will do their duty faithfully, fight their bosom enemies bravely, and conquer themselves so beautifully that when I come back to them I may be fonder and prouder than ever of my little women.” – A letter from Father in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women

For Mother’s Day this year, my husband took our kids out to give me some much-desired alone time; and with my quiet house, I did what any sensible mother would do with two hours in a row of time on her hands: I watched Little Women (the BBC adaptation is especially lovely) and cried my eyes out. It wasn’t my first time seeing this version, but I particularly love the sweeping, gorgeous cinematography and how well Marmee’s character was portrayed, and one little bit that I hadn’t thought about much last time I saw it really stood out to me this time. It was in a letter the little women get from their father, who is serving as a military chaplain in the Civil War:

“…will do their duty faithfully, fight their bosom enemies bravely, and conquer themselves so beautifully…”

Bosom enemies? I didn’t really know what that meant, but I understood the concept of “conquering myself” – trying to overcome my faults in order to be a better person.  From what I understand, the term “bosom enemies” refers to those things which particularly harm us, those special vices that we tend to struggle with more than others. If I spend some time thinking about mine, I can come up with my list fairly easily, but what really struck me was the fighting them part.  I can identify and list what my vices are, but am I actively doing anything to fight them? I’ll admit, it’s taken me a lot of years to even figure out what the heck they are, thanks in no small part to the work I’ve done in therapy over the last ten years, but now that I know what they are and what to do about them, am I following through?

The answer is… not always yes.  

I do try, of course, but most times I’m just content with the idea that I know what my struggles are. I do forget, though, that just labeling it is not enough. I think there is a great freedom in knowing that we do have what it takes to conquer what’s worst about ourselves, even if we don’t have it yet. It’s a skill we can learn to develop, with time and patience and knowledge of who we are. We can start small too, and over time, we can grow out of – and eventually conquer – those things about ourselves that give us the most trouble. (Disclaimer: I’m not referring to the physical aspect of mental illnesses, like chemical imbalances and things like that that are treated with medication. If your condition requires medical treatment, please make sure to follow your doctor’s orders!)

So, what about you? What are your bosom enemies, those special faults” unique to you that you know you can change? How can you fight them? The girls of Little Women resolved hard to grow out of them, and as they grew up they succeeded! Their example still serves us well, 150 years later. We can do it, too! 

Until next time, be well!
Christy

***

eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor onlineAbout the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

Two women having a conversation with coffee
Christy Gualtieri

Words Matter, Choose Good Ones

I don’t know if this is a trait more particular to women than men, but when I am struggling with an idea or wrestling with my feelings, I like to talk about them. I need to use words to figure out what I’m thinking, like the words themselves help me navigate how I’m feeling about things. And last week was a tough week. I was grappling with some issues that were really near and dear to my heart and my community. And much like me, the people in that community dealt with those same difficult and confusing issues by talking.

But you know how it is when people talk: it can very easily go from “let’s work this issue out,” to “here’s a bunch of hurtful words.” The transition from mercy to gossip can be really quick, almost like a current. Before you know it, you’re swept away in the feelings of anger, disgust, and confusion that can threaten to swallow you whole if you’re not careful.

And, to be honest with you, it’s hard to be careful with what we say. It’s hard to think first and add to the conversation later. It’s natural: we want to be heard. We want to be validated, we want to be right. It’s hard to override that impulse to have our voices heard, even if the things we say can be hurtful or mean. I personally struggle a lot with where the line is between venting and gossip. But I do know that gossip hurts. I have gossiped and been the one gossiped about. And I have felt terribly on both sides.

But then, a wonderful thing happened. I called a friend of mine I haven’t spoken to in years (not on purpose; it had just been a while). I asked for advice, and I got some wonderful encouragement. I was challenged – but lovingly – and I was able to voice my concerns, and as I hung up the phone, I felt better than I had felt in days.

This is important: I didn’t see my friend. I spoke on the phone with them. But just the same, their words – those lifted me up. They were life-giving. They were affirming, and they made a difference.

What you say is important, and the words you use carry a great power to them, even if you don’t think so. And so I want to offer you a little challenge: for the next few days, make an effort to speak carefully. Just take a minute before talking – a small pause, not even a full minute – and even if what you have to say is difficult, try as hard as you can to say those words with love.  Then simply observe. Observe how you feel. Observe how the other person reacts.

Sometimes it’s tempting to think that we aren’t good enough; that what we say doesn’t matter. But it does – even the small things (especially the small things). Thank you for all the times that your words have brought life, joy, and encouragement to another person. That will inspire them to speak in kind, and remember that their words will help you too, one day.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

***

eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor onlineAbout the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

Group of friends smiling and taking a selfie
Christy Gualtieri

Confidence of Character

When I was a kid, I loved watching The Monkees on TV.  It aired really early in the morning, like 4:00 a.m. or some other ridiculous time, and since I was a kid before the glory days of DVR, I had to set my alarm to get up to watch it. I’d sneak out of my room and over to the TV, and flip it on to watch before I got back into bed. Davy Jones was my favorite -to me, he was the cutest one – but I loved the whole show: the slapstick, the songs, and all of the jokes. When Jones passed away some years ago, I was so sad; and when another of The Monkees, Peter Tork, passed away recently, I was saddened, too.

Peter was my second favorite on the show, and I was always drawn to him the same way I was drawn to George Harrison from the Beatles and Howie from the Backstreet Boys – these guys who weren’t the stars of the show, but people who contributed just the same. Maybe they stood out to me because their personalities seemed so different than mine, but I really think it’s because they were quieter people who didn’t need the spotlight as much.

You might know people like this in real life: people who know who they are, who are self-assured and confident in themselves. Maybe you’re even one of these people, and if you are, I salute you! I find it difficult for me to have that self-confidence that is content with my life and the way I live it. It’s a funny thing, because it’s the opposite of what you’d think is true: the more self-assured you are, the less you need outside validation – and the more people will probably end up validating you, because they’re drawn to you.

Maybe not right away, though. I think a lot of people, especially these days, get caught up in the flashiness, the glitz and the glamour – the costumes, and not the costume designer, so to speak. But there is a great value in being the one who doesn’t need the world to tell them how to be. They are themselves, uniquely themselves, and it’s a wonderful thing to see because it’s authentic, it’s real, and because there is only one you on the planet, it’s irreplaceable.

So to those of you who are the quiet ones that know who they are and who live that well, keep it up! And for those of you who are quiet and think you’re invisible, you’re not. People see you. By all means, reach out to others if you feel alone, but know that if your personality runs contrary to the people in society who think that you’re nobody if you don’t shout everything all the time, it’s okay to just be yourself. You’re just as needed and as valuable as everyone else.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

***

eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor onlineAbout the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.