Ten for Tuesday... Featuring One and Only One Link

Normally my Ten for Tuesday post includes a list of links that have inspired, delighted or challenged me.

Not today.

Today I only have one link to share, because I want everyone to listen to it. It’s that important.

Johann Hari

Johann Hari

It’s an interview with Johann Hari by Dan Harris on the Ten Percent Happier podcast.

Hari is the author of Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions.

Three minutes into the episode, I had already bought Hari’s book.
Sixteen minutes in, I knew the book (which I still haven’t read) would change my life in some pretty profound ways.
After the interview ended, I immediately went back to the beginning and listened to it a second time.

From the episode description:

Suffering from his own long battle with depression, social scientist and author Johann Hari yearned for a greater understanding of what caused it and what might help combat it. Hari set out on a journey to not only meet the leading experts on depression, but to observe how other parts of the world treat it. He breaks down his research into the biological, psychological and social causes of depression and presents several fascinating studies from around the world.

If that sounds dry, it’s not. Hari is a great storyteller, and several of his findings brought me to tears.

If this episode seems like it’s not for you because depression doesn’t touch your life or community, well a.) I don’t believe you—it does, you just don’t know it, and b.) the factors that Hari talks about are endemic in our culture, whether it leads one to fall into depression or not. Every pastor I know would benefit from giving this episode a listen.

Obviously this topic is a very salient and personal one for me right now. Very true. The interview makes clear that antidepressants are (or can be) a very important tool in living with depression… but that there are many others, some of which have societal implications. That’s both heartening (listen to the bit about Cambodian antidepressants) and discouraging (the amount of cultural shift that would need to happen in the U.S. is huge in order to take his findings to heart).

I will say this though. My kid has received unmitigated support from her community, from doctors to friends to family to insurance to teachers and school personnel. It’s overwhelming to all of us… even as I ponder the immense privileges at work in many of those things.

Anyway, several months ago I attended a workshop put on by the school district about parenting kids with anxiety. The workshop was free and the place was packed with parents. (You know the stats on anxiety and depression are ghastly, right?) We were introduced to brain research, received coping tools, and learned how to support our kids and build resilience. Part of me was appreciative, part of me was angry—not at them specifically, but at all of us. It was as if our kids all had really bad respiratory problems, and we were there getting the gas masks and learning how to use them, and feeling the comfort of being in a room with other parents whose kids aren’t breathing well either… meanwhile nobody’s talking about why there’s so damn much poison in the air.

If you, like I, want to know why there’s so damn much poison in the air, check out the podcast, and let me know what you think.

~

And there’s still time to help us get to 50 donors for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Read my blog post or donate here.

Wisdom for Times of Anxiety (with bonus playist just for fun)

The following was sent to my email subscribers this morning. To receive articles like these in your inbox, twice a month (at most), click here.

A coach colleague recently recommended the wisdom of psychologist Dr. Rick Hanson, who does a lot of work around anxiety. I caught an interview with him on the Anxiety Coaches podcast, which is a decent resource for people who struggle in this way. (There are a TON of episodes.) 

In his interview on the podcast, Hanson offered a mental trick for dealing with anxious moments. As I’ve pondered it and worked with it myself, I’ve come to appreciate it as one of those simple-but-not-easy things: Let Be, Let Go, and Let In. 

Let Go and Let In both made immediate sense to me. When we’re anxious or stressed, to the extent that we can, we should Let Go of the self-defeating thoughts or behaviors that aren’t serving us. Hanson is gracious in his guidance on this one: not everything can be let go of in the moment. Don’t worry about that. We should simply see if there is something, however small, that we can release. (As I like to say, quoting Anne Lamott, “Everything I ever let go of has claw marks on it.”)

Similarly, Let In seemed intuitive enough: when we let go, we create space to let in various positive thoughts and behaviors. What helps us feel calm and centered? Breathing? A walk? Talking with a friend? Laughter? Hopeful words? Welcome those things in, Hanson says, and they can help shift us away from acute anxiety. And even if they’re not effective in the moment, they help us build habits so maybe next time, the positive behavior can defuse the anxiety before it takes over.

Sadness-with-Bing-Bong.png

It was Hanson’s first step, Let Be, that was the new revelation for me. Before we can Let Go or Let In, we need to acknowledge where we are and receive it non-judgmentally. “Observe [your experience] and accept it for what it is, even if it’s painful,” he writes

Recently I was talking with someone who had gotten tightly coiled into their own anxiety. I found myself (gently) arguing with what seemed to me like a completely irrational series of thoughts. Of course, at the time I never would have called it arguing. I was “bearing witness to the truth!” or “holding hope when they could not!” or whatever flowery language we use when justifying ourselves for trying to fix someone.

It will not surprise you to know that my assurances did nothing to calm my friend. In fact, they seemed to make things worse. Finally I said quietly, “OK, you’re right. Sounds pretty bad.” 

I wish I could say I was pulling a Hanson and letting it be, when in reality I was simply frustrated and fresh out of arguments. But wonder of wonders, the person visibly relaxed, as if relieved that what they perceived really washappening in their head, and it really was pretty bad. And fairly quickly, they were able to come to a different, slightly more centered place. 

Let Be, Let Go, Let In. 
I’m a believer!

I'd love to hear what this stuff evokes for you.

And just because it’s fun, I put together a three-song playlist on Spotify to help reinforce Hanson’s idea, and to give you a little soundtrack to try this out yourself. See if you can guess what the songs are before you click through—it should be a pretty easy quiz… 

Onward,
MaryAnn

I'm currently booking speaking engagements for fall 2019 and beyond. To find out more, or to see if I'll be coming your way, check out my Events page.

Image is from the movie Inside Out. Sadness was pretty good at "letting be" with Bing Bong. 

What's Your Pain Tolerance? Essential Questions for Leadership

I meet monthly with a group of pastors to talk about ministry, leadership, family systems stuff and more. (We also catch an occasional Nats game.) Today our facilitator shared this handout which inspired much discussion:

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 5.55.25 PM

The most effective leaders strive to be in quadrant B: high "pain tolerance" in self and in others. Pain tolerance in this case means willingness to experience discomfort in order to move a system forward, fostering growth and needed change.

I'd argue that quadrant C and D leaders are rare---if you have a low pain tolerance for yourself, you're not likely to want to attempt the work of leadership. But many of us probably cluster in quadrant A: willing to endure plenty of personal discomfort, but less willing to inflict it on others. We squirm when we have to hold people accountable and support them as they risk and grow.

Being a pastor undoubtedly compounds this quadrant A dynamic: we are tender-hearted types who want to comfort the afflicted. And news flash: everyone's afflicted. (Philo reminds us to be kind, for everyone is fighting a great battle.) So quadrant A leaders can come up with every excuse in the book for letting people off the hook.

And yet, for us Christians anyway, transformation is the name of the game, and that means some pain. Flannery O'Connor writes, "All human nature resists grace, because grace changes us and change is painful."

What do you think? And where do you see yourself in this diagram?

Source: Leadership in Healthy Congregations

~

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Fight the FOMO!

FOMO pc1(1)Do you have Fear of Missing Out? I take a tech Sabbath each weekend, which for me means no social media from Friday night until Monday morning. I have three basic things I do:

1. I delete the Facebook app from my phone. I have a wicked long password that I can't remember, so no dipping into the mobile site either. (I don't run Twitter on my phone.)

2. I turn off my laptop. If I need to use the computer over the weekend, I will activate the Self-Control program which blocks a bunch of sites that suck me in the easiest.

3. I do allow myself to check email, but I don't respond unless it's an absolute emergency. Everything else can wait until Monday.

It's rough and imperfect most weekends. And I'll admit, I peek into FB maybe once a day for a couple minutes, because there are times that something urgent and important comes in that way. But there's probably some FOMO at work too.

FOMO is nothing new---it seems like an inevitable by-product of human consciousness. And what is FOMO but a twenty-first century iteration of "the grass is always greener"?

Martha Beck wrote recently about FOMO in Oprah magazine. She suggests three strategies, all of which I connect to Sabbath:

One: Recognize FOMO as the deception that it is. Beck points out that sites like Facebook are filled with the greatest hits of people's lives---amazing meals, the kids' soccer trophy---but they're packaged as everyday activities. How can our real lives compete with everyone else's carefully-chosen Instagrams?

Sabbath, among other things, helps combat the deception that everyone is doing this life stuff better than we are. We want to provide for our families, engage in meaningful work, give our kids every advantage, care for our homes and communities---all good impulses. But so much of our striving is grounded in fear that there will not be enough, that if we will fail to crack the code of The Good Life we will be left behind. We live in an anxious age. But Sabbath is a reminder that the world does not implode when you stop striving---in fact, there is great peace to be found in practicing contentment.

Two: Make up your own FOMO. Beck suggests a new acronym. Instead of Fear of Missing Out, she suggests some whimsical ones, from Feel Okay More Often to Flocks of Magic Otters (hey, why not).

May I suggest Find Other Modes of Operation. The mode that works for me is to unplug from technology for an entire weekend and to have a period of full-out Sabbath nestled in there somewhere. I will say that after a couple years of tech Sabbath, I don't feel as much FOMO as I used to. But I still have to do it every week because I'm dense and a slow learner on this stuff.

What mode would work for you?

Three: Stop. Beck tells a story about having her adult kids visit. She was going crazy suggesting things they could do until her daughter said, "Stop." Everything was fine... exactly as it needed to be.

Well that pretty much says it all, doesn't it? Shabbat literally means stop. End. Cease. Rest.

Do you have Fear of Missing Out? How do you fight the FOMO?

We Fight Back with Beauty

We had a great day yesterday at Tiny---week 2 of the Harry Potter series-within-a-series. (This Sunday's installment of "parables and pop culture" is about reality TV and I have NO idea what I'm going to say. Anyone? Anyone?) After yesterday's worship and last week's Young Clergy Women conference, today is a quiet, even melancholy day. I'm sad about the shooting in Wisconsin at the Sikh temple. (Read this.) A friend of mine got very disappointing news. A family I care about has been walking uphill in a health crisis for way too long.

Last week at the conference we explored many of the blocks to Sabbath-keeping. One of these, a big one, is the undercurrent of anxiety in our culture: anxiety over money, aging, time, you name it. This anxiety tells us that we can never stop. We cannot submit to the inevitability of getting older, we must resist it with products and self-punishment. We rest only if we've earned it.

To represent the pervasiveness of this anxiety, we made collages that we displayed on a big board:

(Incidentally, finding "anxiety" within newspapers and magazines is like shooting fish in a barrel. It's their currency.)

The next day I told them the story of Mario Batali's restaurant after 9/11, how he stayed open and offered hospitality to shell-shocked New Yorkers as an act of defiant beauty. (I have talked about that story before on this blog.)

We fight back with beauty, I said. We fight against the chronic anxiety of our time with sabbath moments and a posture of trust. We fight back with unhurried glimpses of magnificent beauty.

I had placed colored paper on the tables and had people write moments of beauty they had witnessed or participated in. Then they placed these over the anxious messages.

It ended up looking like a crazy quilt of small and sometimes silly moments:

The anxiety does not go away, does it? It still peeks out. But it's not the first thing you see.

So I will let today be a quiet, melancholy day.

Worry is the Work...

Many years ago, I ran across this pithy quote:

Worrying is like being in a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but you don't ever get anywhere.

I have no idea how it came to me. I was a young teenager and my parents were separated. They later divorced, and we kids moved to Dallas with Mamala. I was to enter a new school halfway through my eighth grade year.

Remember junior high? The painful awkwardness? Add a traumatic family experience, then throw in a dash of being the new kid amid people, many of whom had known each other since kindergarten. And do all that with just a semester to get one's bearings before high school.

There was plenty about that that was worrisome.

But I tried to put it all out of my mind, because it doesn't do any good to worry, right? Even Jesus says so.

Wrong. (Sorry Jesus.)

Fast forward almost 20 years, when I was pregnant with Caroline. My favorite book about pregnancy and childbirth had a chapter called "Worry Is the Work of Pregnancy." In it the authors made the following counter-intuitive case: Worry is actually useful and helpful. And when well-intentioned people advise us not to worry, they are actually keeping is from doing very important psychological and spiritual work; namely, to mentally picture ourselves in that situation, to plan for contingencies, to prepare for the unexpected.

This chapter was a tremendous relief.

I am a talented worrier, and there are all sorts of worrisome aspects of pregnancy and labor. What if the fetus isn't healthy? What if I get preeclampsia? What if I don't have the kind of birth I want? What if the baby needs to go to the NICU? What if we can't ever get breastfeeding to work?

Making worry one's work means taking these fears to their logical conclusions by asking, "Well... what if I need a C-section? What will that be like? What do I need to know in order to feel good about that outcome?" That felt so much more sensible than trying not to think about all those unlikely scenarios because "there's nothing you can do about it anyway." Yes, there is. Even the practice of seeing one in the situation is a help. Even if the worst-case scenario never comes to pass, it is not wasted effort. You are stronger for looking at the fearful possibilities and saying, "Here is how I will handle that with strength and courage."

As you can see, this is a productive kind of mental exercise. Worry is not the same as fretting. It's not healthy to let one's life be consumed with anxiety. Rather, worry is engaging Shel Silverstein's Whatifs and saying, "Show me what you've got."

I know a dear family with three sweet children. Their oldest contracted a disease that required a bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately, his body was too compromised, and he died. Their other son also has this disease, though he was asymptomatic for a long time. One night the mother asked the father, "What are we going to do if this disease progresses in J?" The husband answered, "We will go back to Minnesota and go through the bone marrow process again." He was kind, but matter-of-fact: That one's easy.

And in fact... they did have to go back to Minnesota. And things are going very differently for their other son. It's not my story to tell, but he's doing well.

I had my first mammogram last week. On Friday the doctor called and asked me to come in today for some additional views of a spot they couldn't see clearly. Statistics were on my side; genetics were on my side. I knew that chances were good that the additional tests would reveal nothing of concern. And that's exactly what happened.

But I did spend some time with the Whatifs. What would I do if there was a problem? Whom would I tell? What would I need? And those questions did not consume the days between the doctor's call and the appointment. They gave me something firm to stand on today.

So I guess you could say, I worried...

But because I worried, I wasn't afraid.