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Journal Therapy Workshop in September 2019

I will be hosting a one-time, two-hour journal therapy workshop on Tuesday, September 17th, from 5:30-7:30pm. We will cover all 14 “rungs” of the Journal Ladder, practicing a few in-class, sharing our reflections and, if desired, sharing our writing. The cost of the workshop is $30. Seating is limited to eight people. To reserve a spot, or for more information, please email me at sarahsimpsoncounseling@gmail.com.

How to Deal with Climate Change

Blue ocean events. Wet bulb temperatures. Coral reef extinction. Global dimming. Food shortages. Floods. Fires. Hypercanes. These and other terms comprise the terrifying language of climate change, a source of major grief and anxiety for those of us who are paying attention. We feel powerless to stop the negative feedback loops already set in motion by centuries of shortsightedness, greed, and a rampant obsession with convenience and “progress.” We feel angry toward the generations of people who came before us and did nothing to prevent what now appears to be an imminent catastrophe. And our hearts break for the generations to come whose lives will be little more than a sweaty, scary struggle to survive — if those generations are even given the chance to exist.

So, what are we supposed to do? In many ways, the instinct to do something is what got us into this mess. Our fear of sitting still and doing nothing, of doing “boring” or repetitive things, or even just doing one thing at a time, has spawned some our most debilitating inventions. And the systems in place that maintain the ceaseless production of all that we have come to “need” are so massive and complex that I doubt the average citizen can effect the kind of change that’s required, no matter how much they vote, protest, reduce, reuse, and/or recycle. Which isn’t to say we shouldn’t do those things. On the contrary, we should all continue to act in ways that uphold our deepest values, because that is how we self-actualize and make the most out of the time we have left.

Facing a problem as overwhelming as the current climate crisis, many of us feel like a deer in headlights. We’re stuck in a freeze response, knowing we cannot flee (where would we go, if not planet Earth?), and not knowing whom to fight. Even if there were a discreet enemy to take outside and show who’s boss, maybe we’re not the fighting types. Some people are inclined toward activism, confident in their ability to wield the weapons of politics and policy. Others are not. And those in the latter category waste a lot of energy on guilt-ridden hand-wringing, thinking they should be able to go against their nature. Meanwhile, they neglect the actions more suited to their temperaments and specific talents, the fulfillment of which could give more meaning to their lives and better equip them to instill meaning in the lives of others. 

Saint Francois de Sales, a mystical writer from the 16th and 17th centuries known for his goodness, patience, and mildness, said that our requirement as humans is a “faithful fulfillment of the merest trifle given us to do, rather than the most ardent aspiration to things to which we are not called.” He also said that the “dignity and difficulty” of an action only affect what’s termed its “accidental worth, but all its essential worth comes from love alone.” What does it mean to act with love? This is the question we must ask ourselves, the question we must embody every day. The answer will vary from person to person (and possibly from day to day), but in most cases, love imbues activities with a quality of being freely chosen, as opposed to compulsory or nonconsensual. When at all possible, if you cannot do something with love, don’t do it. As for the “merest trifle given us to do,” therein lies our freedom from the fear-borne shackles of climate change. 

“More, more, more” has been our species’ response to the nagging belief that we are not enough — which we usually translate as not having enough and not doing enough. In thinking we should do everything (and all at once, no less!), we accomplish nothing. It may feel like a trifle, in the grand scheme of things, to do the dishes, fold laundry, pick up a piece of trash from the street, write a blog about eco-grief, etc., etc. But if we can approach these things as the tasks we have been given (i.e., as gifts), and do our best to fulfill them faithfully (i.e., with trust in their goodness and importance), then they will assume a sacred quality. With practice, we can approach all of life in this way, and thusly in touch with our most authentic selves, we can effectively pursue our values in accordance with our natural strengths. From that place, we can respond with expertise to the demands of the present moment, which is exactly what the climate crisis asks of us.

There’s only so much you can do. And what you can do will differ from what I can do. Maybe what we end up focusing on has nothing to do with climate change at all, at least on the surface. Regardless of the direction in which we channel our unique efforts, we must detach from the outcome of those efforts. We must do what would feel wrong not to do, with whatever tools we have been given. And all along we must be grateful. Each time I find my mind conjuring apocalyptic scenes in which everything I take for granted is suddenly, violently ripped away, I give thanks for the peace and beauty that still abound. Gratitude is the sweetest antidote to grief.

A Day of Journal Therapy… Plus Yoga!

The New Year is a great time to nurture new habits. Habits that deepen self-knowledge and compassion are some of the best we can cultivate. Therefore I’m delighted to be offering a day-long workshop that incorporates two of the most versatile tools for such cultivation: journal therapy and yoga!

In this 8-hour workshop (not counting a break for lunch), we will use the Journal Ladder to facilitate self-discovery and social connection. The Journal Ladder, created by Kay Adams of the Therapeutic Writing Institute, starts with very structured, time-limited “writes” and ends with longer, deeper-reaching free writes. Its prompts progress from information-based, to insight-driven, to purely intuitive.

Participants of the workshop will do at least one in-class exercises for each “rung” of the Journal Ladder and have a chance to share their reflections on the experience, along with brief readings from the journals themselves. We will also explore other types of life writing, as popularized by Ira Progoff (the Intensive Journal Method) and James Pennebaker (Expressive Writing).

To prevent fatigue from too much sitting, we’ll also enjoy a late-morning yoga session. Since January of 2018 I have been studying under Kristine Kaoverii Weber and will receive my RYT-200 certification in October of 2018. My teacher training program has centered on Subtle Yoga, which is a very mindful form of slow movement that strengthens not only the body, but the mind-body connection. Subtle Yoga builds resilience on the nervous system level, with a focus on safe sequencing and trauma-informed cues.

After our 60-minute yoga practice, we’ll have a 75-minute lunch break. Participants will need to either bring a lunch (there is a refrigerator, microwave, and stove on-site) or plan on eating at one of the nearby restaurants. Lunch will also be followed by a few minutes of restorative poses (like Legs Up the Wall), feeding the body’s need for rest at that time of day and preparing the mind for more writing.

Given the personal nature of journal therapy, this workshop will abide by the rules common to any kind of therapy group. Everything shared in the group will be confidential. Emotions of all kinds, expressed authentically and respectfully, will be welcomed and encouraged.

The cost of the workshop is $85. To register, email sarahsimpsoncounseling@gmail.com or call 919-805-4096.

Mindful Cooking: Brown Rice

In my ideal world, we would all have schedules that allowed us to prioritize cooking. The preparation and sharing of fresh, flavorful, nutritious food would not be a perfunctory chore, but the primary activity on which all other activities centered. In the actual world, I’ll have to be content with inspiring a handful of people to cook just a little more often. That’s what I hope this blog series will do.

I myself have not always enjoyed cooking. I was twenty-five when I realized how satisfying it was to follow a recipe and end up with a beautiful, delicious meal. With this realization came another: I was capable of many great things. All I needed was the right ingredients, the proper tools, and some very precise guidance. Because I could learn how to cook, I could learn how to knit, how to draw (kind of), how to play guitar and write songs, how to be a radio DJ, a psychotherapist, a yoga instructor, and how to write a screenplay. 

Learning how to cook not only boosted my confidence in acquiring other skills, but also — and more importantly — taught me how to be mindful. Cooking gives me the time and space to be present with my Self. Few activities are more meaningful and life-affirming.

I’ve chosen brown rice as the first Mindful Cooking recipe because it’s so essential, and so simple. The opportunity for mindfulness is only about a minute long here, so make the most of it!

Here’s what you’ll need:

a fine mesh strainer

a small pot with a lid 

a cup of long-grain brown rice

2 cups of water

a teaspoon of olive oil 

a half-teaspoon of salt

Instructions

First, rinse the rice in a fine mesh strainer. Here’s your chance to be mindful. Don’t blast the water out of the tap; let it flow relatively slowly for a solid minute as you move the rice around with your fingers. Give all of your attention to the rice, the water, and your fingers. Also notice what’s happening in your neck, back, and shoulders. Notice how you’re breathing.

Turn off the water and let the rice drain for a moment, tipping the strainer in a few different directions until no more water drips from the bottom. 

Transfer the rice to the pot and add the water, oil, and salt. (I like to keep my salt in a small cup for easy measuring.) Stir everything with a fork, lid it, and place it over high heat. Bring it to a boil, then turn the heat down to low. Simmer on low (covered) for 45 minutes. 

While the rice cooks you can take a load off, or you can work on other complementary recipes, like roasted butternut squash or fresh salsa [coming soon].

Remove from heat and keep covered for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork and serve.

I make at least one pot of this brown rice every week. It’s great in burritos (or burrito bowls) and as a side with salmon and veggies. It’s also a nice addition to certain soups and chilis.