Beat the Christmas blues

The discordance between our expectations of happiness and the emotional realities of the holidays is a major reason for the high incidence of depression at this time of year.” — Dr. Andrew Weil, Spontaneous Happiness

Does it feel like the world is throwing one big holiday party and you’re not invited? All those cheery TV commercials promoting holiday excess and family unity can seem downright cruel — especially to those enduring the loss of a loved one or a job, or the end of a marriage. If you suffer from the holiday blues, I wrote today’s column for you. Please click here to read it.

Being still

“Lent is the time for trimming the soul and scraping the sludge off a life turned slipshod. It is about taking stock of time….Lent is the time to make new efforts to be what we say we want to be.” — Joan Chittister

Variations on the theme of rebirth and transformation — waiting for spring and learning to overcome impatience — have always fascinated me. Today I’m running an excerpt from a column that was first published on April 4, 2004, in the Daily Tribune of Royal Oak. The complete piece is reprinted in Writing Home. As the Lenten season begins, what are your challenges? Are you letting go of grudges or foolish expectations? Surrendering an old habit? Using the season to take stock of your life?

________

Being Still

One of my favorite traditions at First Congregational Church of Royal Oak is the silent meditation service held the week prior to Easter. The midweek candlelit service is led by parishioners, and this year its my turn to help open it. The service is offered during Lent because it is, as T.S. Eliot wrote in his poem, Ash Wednesday, “a time of tension between dying and birth.” It is the perfect opportunity for reflection; a time to meditate on the fearsome darkness of the tomb and the pending miracle of Easter.

While a silent service is simple enough to plan, it isnt as easy to carry out. Few of us are comfortable “being still” in a sanctuary with other people sitting near us. We expect to be enlightened, educated, entertained, preached to, or otherwise distracted from the white noise in our heads. Meditation makes us fidgety. We fear what might be revealed in the pauses and blank spaces.

As Sue Monk Kidd notes in her midlife memoir, When the Heart Waits, one of the guiding principles of American culture is “All lines must keep moving.” Even when were home alone, we rush to fill the void with mindless activity or television. Kidd says we resist getting quiet because were afraid to confront our own darkness.

Yet real miracles occur during moments of being still – and waiting in the dark. Spring bulbs do their hardest labor underground before blooming. Likewise, the work of spiritual growth and healing is done in silence.

The time I woke up alone in a dark hospital room, two years ago, immediately comes to mind.

It was just past midnight, a few hours after my second hip surgery. Barely conscious, I awoke to discover my legs were strapped to a large foam wedge to keep me from moving. While I realized this was essential to my recovery, I still felt trapped and terrified.  Equally scary was the sensation of waking up alone in a strange room. (I didnt recall being wheeled in after surgery, of course.) And while most hospitals are buzzing with activity during the day and evening, the earliest hours of the morning are eerily quiet.

Breaking the silence, I shouted for help and pushed every button within reach. It was the first time Id experienced a full-blown panic attack. When my nurse arrived, she explained that my panic was probably triggered by withdrawal from the anesthesia. She promised to check back periodically.  Meanwhile, I kept a light on above my bed. Afraid to fall asleep, I kept vigil for daybreak.

By the time the sun rose, Id finally calmed down and accepted my temporary state of immobility. And in a luminous moment of grace, I suddenly knew Id been given a second chance. I knew that I would heal and walk again. It would take time, but everything would be okay. And it was. Three days later, I was released early from the hospital to recover in bed at home.

A week before that last surgery, my friend Jenny had sent me a note of encouragement, which included a quote from Patrick Overton. Heres how it begins:

“When you come to the edge of all the light you have and must take a step into the darkness of the unknown, believe that one of two things will happen to you: Either there will be something solid for you to stand on, or, you will be taught how to fly.”

Ive posted that quote where I can see it on my desk every day. Its the one I like to remember when Im stumbling in the dark or feeling stuck — or waiting impatiently for a new season to begin. — Cindy La Ferle

–Top photo: Detail from a mixed-media collage: “Birthing a Soul” by Cindy La Ferle. Please click on the image for a larger view. —

Girl groups

There was a definite process by which one made people into friends, and it involved talking to them and listening to them for hours at a time.” – Dame Rebecca West

Nothing tops the power of a girl group. Whether youre swamped with a crisis at work, unruly kids, or too much estrogen, you can always count on the harmony of other womens voices to lift you higher.

Girl groups rock. And I dont mean the musical variety, although Im a fan of those too. But right now Im applauding the whole idea of women banding together to form their own circles and support groups. Never in the history of womankind have we been so overbooked, so stressed, and so starved for emotional connection as we are today.

Blogging is, of course, a fine way to discover new friends with common interests. But blogging can’t be compared to forging three-dimensional connections in one’s own community. Like the quilting circles of my grandmothers era, female support groups provide the personal contact that can keep a gal from unraveling at the seams.

But first, some definitions are in order. A support group should never be confused with a clique, which still has the hollow ring of adolescence. Websters New World College Dictionary defines a clique as “a small, exclusive circle of people; a snobbish or narrow coterie.” A support group, on the other hand, has a large collective heart. It is typically formed around a positive agenda – to explore complex issues like new motherhood or breast cancer, for example. Individuality is welcomed and encouraged; sage advice is exchanged to aid the group as a whole. And the conversation is always therapeutic.

Over the years Ive belonged to several womens clubs, but the “Second Sundays” circle I helped form at my church is the first to spring to mind. Though the group eventually came to its natural end and has since disbanded, I’ll never forget how that incredible family of women coached me through some difficult challenges, from major surgery to my sons graduation party. Meeting monthly for several years, we rehashed a variety of topics, including healing and forgiveness, letting go of our kids, rebuilding friendships, caring for aging parents, and caring for our stressed-out souls.

It was an uncommon grab bag of gals. Our ages ranged from 44 to 84, and we represented a wide variety of professions from social work to finance. The generational differences enriched the group. The older women offered their wisdom and experience, while the younger members helped the elders view life with fresh perspective.

If youre inspired to form your own official girl group, heres what to do.

Decide on a focus for your meetings. Keep the circle small, preferably under twelve women. If its much larger, there wont be time for everyone to get a word in edgewise. Always commit to a regular meeting time at the same location, unless you prefer to rotate your gatherings at various homes. And for everyones sanity, keep the refreshments light, as in coffee or tea and store-bought cookies.

Above all, your support group should be about nourishing friendships and feeding the soul. So, forget the gourmet brownies but be sure to bring an open heart. — Cindy La Ferle

— Part of this essay appeared in slightly different form in The Daily Tribune of Royal Oak. The complete original version is reprinted in my book, Writing Home

Top photo: My beloved soul sisters: Debbie, Norma, and Shirley

Think Christmas, buy local

Before you head to the malls with your holiday gift list, consider buying locally produced or handmade gifts this year. According to researchers quoted in Time magazine, when you purchase locally crafted items, more of your money stays in your community. And who doesn’t appreciate receiving a gift with a hometown connection?

“The Christmas season has come to mean the period when the public plays Santa Claus to department store merchants.”  ~John Andrew Holmes

So if you’re in Royal Oak this weekend, I hope you’ll visit Salt Box Specialties’ annual FALL AND HOLIDAY CRAFT SHOW at the First Congregational Church of Royal Oak. The show features more than 40 local vendors, including several new crafters and books of local interest. Signed copies of my collection of family stories, Writing Home, will be available at a special discount for craft fair shoppers, with proceeds going to the Welcome Inn day shelter for the homeless. Hours for the show: Friday, Nov. 12, 4:00 – 9:00 pm and Saturday, Nov 13, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm. Admission is $2.00. –CL