Personal Growth and Healing

Raku Pot by Anne Alftine

Beautiful in Its Unpredictability: Savoring What Is

I just finished a raku firing with my ceramics studio. It was beautiful in its unpredictability and rustic in its process. The clay, glaze, and firing resulted in a final piece that is not watertight, and in my mind that meant I was creating less for function and more for beauty in its own right. But not for a beauty I could control. I had not been in the studio for several months, and this return felt so welcoming with friends and clay as it was asking me to let things emerge, unfold, know my part in it, and then let it go. And to do it with a community of similar travelers on the path that is ceramics. A lovely day with a lovely community.

This week we celebrate Thanksgiving in the US. Many times, this holiday is fraught with familial and historical challenges, asking me to examine who I am in the context of it all, yet it also brings me opportunities to come out of my regular schedule. Doing so helps me learn about myself, gain perspective, and realize what’s important, and for that I am very grateful.

With both ceramics and family home for Thanksgiving, I have so much to savor and it brings me such a feeling of open-heartedness and connection.

It reminds me of Savoring and Resilience, one in a series of classes in Nonviolent Communication that my teachers Jim and Jori Maske offer. Listen to the whole thing or skip to the slides and thoughtful process at 52:30. It is a low-production recording but free to anyone who wants to participate.

In this recording, Jim mentions the Hidden Brain Podcasts Slow Down and Make the Good Times Last. Both focus on psychologist Fred Bryant’s research on savoring and the positive impact it has on our lives.

In my own experience, savoring helps me to find joy and gratitude, and I’m learning it helps create memories and the storylines of our lives. It creates a state of rich mindfulness, and, when shared with others, a deep sense of connection and a “on the same team” feeling. As Jim points out, we can savor the celebrations and the mournings, which may seem counterintuitive in our culture and in our world as it is today, but when done by ourselves or with others it creates bridges through the richness of our shared experiences. Cumulatively, it feeds our desire to know who we are and how we fit in and that we are worthy of love and belonging. All in the space of a shared experience savored together.

Leo Lionni got it right way back in the late 1960’s when he wrote the Caldecott Honor–winning children’s book Frederick:

Winter is coming, and all the mice are gathering food … except for Frederick. But when the days grow short and the snow begins to fall, it’s Frederick’s stories that warm the hearts and spirits of his fellow field mice.

Frederick gathers the colors and abundance of the summer and harvest in his mind and heart and shares it with the community of mice when winter gets cold and rations low. Together, they savor and connect during the winter months with stories and memories of the richness of their lives, helping them make it to spring.

So my invitation to you today and through the holidays is to take time to take it all in, open up your senses and your awareness to your life exactly as it is in the little moments, for this is your life. It is our shared lives together.

Thank you for being with me today.

Love,

Anne

Mosaic Artwork with Angel Musician and Potted Flowers

Joy

While cozy in bed scrolling, I saw an article about joy with movement. Click. Yes, I’d like that.

Reading it, I learned from a few small studies specific movements not only help us to express joy but elicit joy in us. Doing these movements, watching someone else do them, or even imagining them all elicit feelings of joy and enhance our emotional state. What’s fun is the study showed our joy is further enhanced when we do these movements with someone. #sciencecatchingup #duh

As I read this article, I flashed back to a pocket of joy at the beginning of COVID lockdown. The common and very modern irony is not lost on me that I’m reading about joy in movement while snuggled into my Sunday morning lounge-in-bed-newsfeed-scroll. And I am excited to share this memory of joy with you today, wherever you are. No judgment. I’m here for the collective moments of joy. I want more of them, and I want you to join me in them. It’s very much why I’m inviting you to join me for the intro to group SoulWork series.

Flashback to early April 2020: I am living separately from my partner and kids as he is in healthcare and they are temporarily in LA, and we are only weeks into the fear and isolation stage of COVID pandemic lockdown. A friend texts me to join her online at something called Dance Church on an upcoming Sunday. At this point, we hadn’t established friend/family isolation bubbles or even realized how much safer the outdoors were. No masks, no vaccine. We were all experiencing lots of unknowns; everyone and everything had moved online. Sunday comes, and I log on to find three dancers separated on a big stage all dancing. It’s been described as “not Zumba, exactly; more like if the DJ at your favorite club periodically made all the partiers do glute work.”  And I love dancing—exercise not so much, but dancing is a big yes. I was all in.

While I couldn’t see everyone dancing, just the instructors, I had seen pictures on social media of all the everyday folks dancing in their living rooms by themselves, with their dogs, with their little kids, with their plants or partners. Some were in exercise clothes, but most were in sweats and a t-shirt. What a collective experience. I knew I was moving my body with 10,000 other humans around the world. It was the closest I would get to a concert or sporting event for a long time. I felt alive again remembering pre-COVID times.

To give you a feel of the experience, I found this Dance Church attendee who was brave enough to share what it was like. It reminds me how my dancing used to bring smiles to those I danced with. I would take it as positive feedback. “What a good dancer I am,” I’d think as I smiled back at them—although it’s more likely they were enjoying my freedom to be goofy.

I felt the full-on freedom of doing all the crazy dance moves (not exercise, mind you) in my living room that April. Tears were streaming down my face from the feeling of freedom, joy, and the deep need for wild abandon. I hadn’t realized how much pent-up anxiety and disconnection I had been feeling until, while flinging my arms in the air, tears started streaming down my face. I felt intense joy as if a long lost child had returned (my inner child, right?). It was a chance to feel the grief I had been bravely putting off. After, I felt sweaty and so much lighter.

We know what this cozy-in-bed-Sunday-scroll article is referencing: We are wired to connect through our bodies. Our bodies, hearts, and minds are intertwined. Jumping for joy, sweeping our arms out and open, bouncing to a rhythm, taking up space with spinning and swaying from side to side. Movements we have done for thousands of years.

Science is now uncovering the details of how our bodies are here to help us regulate and connect. These movements regulate the nervous system and bring us joy, relieve our anxiety, wake us up, calm us down, and connect us. We may not be tapping into this often enough.

People who exercise regularly likely have found this true, and yet exercise can be easily co-opted by the “shoulds” about health goals. Let yourself move freely without a goal every now and then. To help you center yourself, remember the movements don’t have to last long or have a goal attached. It can be done for the pure pleasure of being in your human existence.

The first part of the online group SoulWork taps into the wisdom of using breath and simple movements like these. We find a sense of aliveness when we feel drained and calmness when we feel agitated. Anyone can do them, and when you join, the Zoom camera can be off or on. 😊 Coming home to our bodies helps us to be present in the moment that is right now. With nothing to do and nowhere to go, just being you.  The next parts of SoulWork help us with mindfulness and decreases reactivity. Helps us to heal. Most importantly, this practice can be the portal to you knowing and caring for you. And to knowing and growing into who you can be.

Join me in the SoulWork intro class Starting on April 5 or 6 followed by the free monthly SoulWork community class. I’m looking forward to seeing you soon!

Grief Bowls by Anne Alftine

From Mud to Art: Rediscovering My Beginner’s Mind

I started pottery after I got home from a temporary move to Portland to support my young adult daughter with eating disorder treatment. It was the first thing I did that was purely creative and solely for myself in a long time, and it was unbelievably nurturing. It is a singular experience loving someone navigating an eating disorder, but that story is for another day. With her recovery well underway, I could breathe again and focus elsewhere, recentering myself. We were back home.

It was at the Northwest Ceramic Studio here in Southern Oregon that I found a beautiful community of creative and lovely humans with whom I get to play. They started their business in 2020 and adjusted to all things COVID, closing for a time, navigating uncertainty, and winding through multiple deep adaptations as we all did. It was a place I could go to find peace and community.

Pottery and ceramics fascinate me. Messy, hands-on learning, it is a transformative medium from mud to art. Well, some days it’s art. 😊 Other days, it’s back to mud. None of the days in the studio are bad because, as Jeff the owner says, “It’s just clay.” You let it go and start again.

It’s not often as an adult you get to experience learning something from the start. A chance to practice beginner’s mind they say—although I’m not sure that’s where my mind is. I’ve had too many years of school to feel completely free of comparison and ranking myself when I try something new. My mind sounds more like a mixture of enthusiastic parts (Let’s jump into the deep end! Let’s get messy! What fun!) surrounded by the careful one (You don’t want to look like a fool), and the comparing super-precise judgmental part (Well, that’s not good enough). Sometimes I have a part that tells me not just “It’s no good” but also “I’m no good.” That one is not as much fun, and we all work to keep it under wraps. This is my beginner’s mind.

Anne Alftine Doing PotteryWhile it has been three years and I don’t feel like a beginner in the studio any longer, I moved into a new clay type with porcelain last year, and my beginner learning parts (the Enthusiast, Cautious one, and the Precise judge) all wanted to let me know they were still available for my support: “Ooooh, this is slippery and so cool!”; “Don’t do anything too big, go slowly, start small, and don’t push it”; and “If you don’t pay attention and plan, you’re not going to do it well. We want to look like we know what we are doing.”

Luckily, to use the pottery wheel with porcelain, I must focus only on the clay and the feel of it, and my parts get quiet with me when I do. Clay is meant to be pushed. Ceramics is meant to have failures. The studio is filled with people who want to help. Practice on the wheel invites presence, creative play, and experimentation. Sometimes the studio is full but really quiet. I think we are all connected to the sensations in our bodies and focused on the clay in our hands in this present moment, curious what might emerge. I realize this is also my beginner’s mind. And I’m grateful to the clay and this community for reminding me.

In 2022, I wrote this on a flyer placed in the small porcelain bowls I was selling.

“This last year I was working with porcelain and listening to everyone’s stories of grief and loss. As I worked with the sensitive porcelain, I began to imagine how much we could all use a container for our grief. Somewhere for it to be held, a support, even if just symbolic. These 8 bowls came next. I invite you to use them however you like: everyday use, held in a special place, or used in a simple ritual. Whatever helps you to honor your grief and know you are not alone.”

I named eight bowls and kept one for myself: Grey Mountains, Stone Wall, Lost, Storm, Bellyache, Cut, Rift, and Beauty Anyway. It has been important to me to honor the parts of me that hold my grief. In the creation of these bowls, my parts know I heard them and know they were not alone. In this way, I honored the hard times we navigated together.

I’m grateful for the part of me that jumps in and is willing to get messy. She helps me find peace and joy in the studio, and it brings tears to my eyes remembering how many times she has been willing to help me jump in when it got messy and hard in the early days of my daughter’s ED recovery. We figured out how to swim when we hit the water some days.

Life is messy more often than not, and feelings from tragedy, trauma, and transition can be hard to navigate. If navigating the path of eating disorder recovery with my daughter has taught me anything (and it has taught me a lot), it is that releasing the shame of needing and asking for help is one of the more powerful shifts you can make. If you are feeling resistance to asking for help, know you are not alone.

Let’s normalize reaching out for help and being in community when we need it. Practice asking for help with the small things so it is easier to ask for help in the harder times. Begin again if you need to. Shared burdens are always lighter and resources for help are available to you. Contact me if you’d like support.

Antique French Compass

Our Hands Are Full

I sent this DM to a friend after learning she had suddenly begun taking care of her mom due to her deteriorating health:

Wow, so much. So hard to watch your mom not do well. You love her and you are there for her and in the end that’s all you can do. And it’s everything. Love you.

It takes a LOT of energy and resources to keep all the plates spinning while you care for your mom.

I was just packing up from a ski vacation today and had a bunch of things in my hands. Had to set them all down to open the door. Pick them all up to cross the threshold and then put them down again to close the door. It made me think about how much harder it is to cross a threshold when you’ve got lots going on. Adults our age are crossing 2 thresholds at once: our kids moving into adulthood and our parents shifting into old age. Sometimes we need to set all the stuff down.

Our hands are full, our lives are busy, and we care deeply for our people and how we contribute. What happens when we must transition in the middle of it all? We set things down. Sometimes thoughtfully; other times, we let things slide, drop tasks and to-dos, miss appointments. All of this, even the conscious decisions to do less can lead to frustration or disappointment or pushing ourselves to do more, which can lead to feelings of shame or resentment and anger. It can pile up quickly, adding more to our burdens. And since we are evolving continuously, we may feel like we are transitioning constantly. How do we find choice and ease in this?

If you are feeling this right now, take a moment for a deep breath. Give yourself a three-breath pause. Connect to your sense of self-compassion and listen for your internal voice that knows it is okay to be human, to make mistakes, to get overwhelmed, and to ask for help.

These three breaths won’t pick up the kids or get work finished, but it will give you a moment of perspective, guidance, and choice. As Victor Frankl is famous for saying: “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” When you create that space by taking those three breaths (especially if you gave yourself permission to listen for your own compassion), choice naturally arises as a small curiosity: What if? The what-if’s will be varied depending on the situation but might sound like this: What if I did this differently? What if nothing gets done today? What if I asked my partner/kids/friend/coworker for help? What if I just cry or sing/scream in the car right now? (Very cathartic, BTW). Follow this intuitive lead of small curiosity and see where it takes you.

Have you tried this, but you still can’t seem to find any compassionate voice? Feeling cynical and thinking this is “stupid”? Let’s talk. It may take time to develop this internal support, but it is there and eager to connect.

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