Mentoring and Recovery The skinny and wide and tall and small of how supporting relationships can help to heal the inner hurt. 2017-10-17T14:00:03Z https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mentoring-recovery/feed/atom/ Shannon Cutts http://www.shannoncutts.com/ <![CDATA[Misplaced Creativity (and how to send it back where it belongs)]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mentoring-recovery/?p=9387 2017-09-26T18:29:09Z 2017-10-17T14:00:03Z

My creative kitchen, full of wonderful inventive items I love dearly.

It would seem I can’t resist developing a relationship with everything in my life.

From the coffeemaker (most wonderful BFF EVER!) to the dustpan and broom to the small cute stuffed sheep that sits on my bedside table, these aren’t just “things” in my life.

They are mirrors. They are parts of me….and I am a part of each of them.

Part of why I feel so connected to everything in my near surroundings is because I picked it out personally.

I mean, here I’m not talking about the floor tiles or the stove/oven set….with these I only have the most casual of connections (especially with the latter).

But then again, those came with my casa, which I rent from my wonderful landlord whom, I must say, has excellent taste in the household appliances I rarely use.

Most of the rest, however, has been carefully selected by yours truly from thrift shops near and far, and then some have come to me courtesy of dear friends who seem to know exactly what I’d most enjoy receiving.

What does this have to do with creativity, you might be wondering?

At first, I didn’t think it had anything to do with creativity. But then I realized that everything in my casa is its own expression of my unique creative tastes and preferences.

For example, I sincerely doubt even the most thorough home goods researcher will ever find another casa where the stove alone is decorated with each one of the following:

  • a teal blue Mr. & Mrs. Nessie (a soup ladle and strainer, respectively)
  • a small freestanding plaque with a picture of a turtle and the words “Dream SO Big” on it
  • a wonderful wire frame art piece featuring three swimming sea turtles, complete with coral, scallops and algae.

I love each one of these items with great devotion. I have myself to thank for the first two and a dear friend gave me the third. And don’t even get me started on the four small art pieces that decorate the walls on either side of the stove.

But sometimes, this type of creativity can sincerely interfere with other types of creativity that require bigger chunks of my daily creative energy allotment.

I think the reason for this is because all creative output – whether expended working on household furnishings, reptile enclosure landscaping, writing work or something else – comes from the same “pot” of creative energy.

So it’s not like I only get 25 percent of that creative energy daily to use on selecting home decor, and then when I’ve used that up I’m automatically booted out of the thrift shop and forced to move on to another creative project. Rather, I get 100 percent of my daily allotment of creativity to use in unspecified ways.

And then I can choose to spend that daily “creative balance” in any way I choose.

At this point you’re likely pondering how I might know when I may be misplacing my creative energy?

Here is one example that might help explain what I’m talking about: let’s say I woke up this morning feeling….creative. I felt energized, engaged, interested in working on….something creative. Often in this scenario, my initial thoughts may turn to a book-in-progress, my Love n Feathers n Shells blog project, a new freelance piece I’ve been hired to write….something like that.

But then somehow I find myself at a thrift shop instead. Maybe I find some new treasures and maybe I don’t. But when I return home again, that early-day creative energy feels depleted. I try to tap back into the creative zest, but somehow find it….spent.

This is what I mean by misplaced creativity. (And by the way, I have gone through this process many, many, MANY times over the last few years – which is both why my casa is filled to the brim with one-of-a-kind curiosities and also why I finally started to sense there might be a pattern at work here.)

So now I strive to notice when I wake up into one of these “creative days.” I try to stay put. I try to pour that creative energy into a project that doesn’t require leaving the casa, spending money when I need to be earning it, or avoiding bigger creative projects that might feel just a little (or a lot) intimidating.

Here, there is another twist that I now call the “stealth creativity redirect.” Let’s say a friend calls me to go for a walk. I agree – after all, health and fitness is also a daily priority.

But then after the walk, there is that thrift store I like that is just around the corner….you get the picture. Before I even realize what has happened, the part of me that woke up determined to put in some good creative time to whichever creative project has been neglected or ignored of late has gone thrifting instead.

Again.

I’m not trying to say there is never a time for thrifting….or whatever other smaller and not time-sensitive creative projects you might enjoy doing when you are not working on the big meaty creative items on your bucket list.

There is definitely a time for all types of creativity! It is just when, how often, how long and in what order that often needs more working out.

Today’s Takeaway: Have you ever found yourself full of creative zest and energy, only to later wonder where it all went? If you’ve taken a look back over the day’s activities, do you ever see where the level of “big” creative energy a heavyweight creative project demands has instead gotten filtered and funneled out into a number of smaller creative areas instead? 

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Shannon Cutts http://www.shannoncutts.com/ <![CDATA[We Are Hard-Wired for Kindness….Or Are We?]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mentoring-recovery/?p=9378 2017-09-25T22:50:27Z 2017-10-13T14:00:12Z

My wonderful bicycle, locked safely in the closed garage where it always stays between rides. But, of course, this won’t help me one bit if I go out riding and the bike gang steals it out from under me!

According to Harry Reis, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, to be a homo sapiens is also to be predisposed towards kindness.

Unfortunately, I read about this study right after I had read about how gangs of young black men have recently been attacking middle aged cyclists on a bike trail near my home, beating them up and then stealing their bikes.

So I suppose I might be forgiven for wanting to take Reis’s statement with a few (hundred) grains of salt.

The initial goal of the Rochester research study was to test out a theory put forth by none other than the Dalai Lama himself:

Showing compassionate concern for others’ welfare enhances one’s own affective state.

To do this, Reis and colleagues assembled 175 newlywed couples and asked them to track “random acts of kindness” given and received for two weeks. The participants were also asked to note whether their acts of giving were noticed by their spouse or not.

As it turned out, when the partners reported back in, they said they felt just as happy when their acts of giving were noticed and when they weren’t noticed. This is the part that led the researchers to conclude we are (as Reis stated) “wired to give.”

The researchers pointed to the evolutionary advantage of giving when you are a group-based (cooperative) species, saying it makes sense we have become wired to cooperate – give – in order to ensure the wellbeing of our group and our place within that group.

But then what is going wrong with our neighborhood’s local bike gang thieves?

Are they evolutionarily flawed? Do they no longer identify as homo sapiens? Are they just drug addicts (a theory a few neighbors have posited) who are driven by their habit to turn a quick profit by reselling stolen bikes through pawn shops?

Or have they perhaps reframed their “group” and the acts of (ahem) “kindness” they may perform to only that which may benefit the shared aims of their group, which is to acquire items with resale value that can increase the group’s kitty?

But then, why are they beating up the riders too? What benefit could that possibly have to anyone?

I will confess I don’t know. Every since hurricane Harvey, it feels like for every story about horrid looting or theft or violence, there is an equal and opposite story about truly random acts of kindness to keep me from just completely giving up on our species.

Here is one story about the latter:

About two weeks after my folks were flooded out of their home and had to move into a hotel, they were out eating dinner at a local Italian restaurant. After working hard all day, they were exhausted and so hungry. They were seated outside so their anxious dachshund, Flash Gordon, could come along. A lady showed up, went in, picked up take-out, came out and started chatting with them.

The lady asked if they were flood victims and my parents shared their story. Then the lady said goodbye and left. A few minutes after that, the waiter came out and told my folks their meal had been paid for and they had a $30 gift card to come back and eat again anytime they liked. It was from the lady they had talked to – someone they had never met before!

Now if that story doesn’t make a homo sapiens’ heart just sing, I don’t know what could! When my mom told me about their experience, it felt – for just a moment – like all was truly alright with the world.

But it isn’t. The reports of local violence have increased day after day. I wonder if perhaps no one has told the thieves that offering kindness feels better than kicking the crap out of someone and then taking their two-wheeled ride.

Or maybe we just haven’t yet put a suitably valuable price tag on kindness….one sufficiently alluring to convince the thieves it gives a better high and still costs less than whatever substance the stolen bikes are supposed to procure for them.

Today’s Takeaway: Is that the key to ending or at least reducing crime and violence towards each other? Do we just need to put a price tag on happiness, giving, joy? Interestingly, the same research team is now starting to study whether spending money on others makes the spender feel better, emotionally speaking. All I know is that I would feel emotionally better if I read fewer crime reports. 

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Shannon Cutts http://www.shannoncutts.com/ <![CDATA[Life Is Too Short to Wear Too-Tight Shorts]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mentoring-recovery/?p=9368 2017-10-11T02:10:08Z 2017-10-10T14:00:13Z

My beautiful fast-growing shelled girl digging in to yet another hearty meal!

Yup. I said it. Life is too short to wear too-tight shorts.

Those aren’t just words, either. They are words I live by.

It doesn’t matter how long I’ve owned a particular pair of shorts. Once that day comes when I pull them on (or attempt to) and parts of me immediately start lodging complaints, the shorts come right off again.

In fact, these days, I pretty much always have a “to donate” bag going in my closet. Right now there are four….no make that five….pairs of too-tight shorts in the bag.

I don’t miss any of them, and I’m not tempted to pull them back out of the bag, regardless of what I paid or how good I thought they were going to look on me.

My thought process is: once they stop fitting me, clearly they are ready to meet their next owner. Since shorts can’t talk, this is how they can let me know.

What is so interesting here is to look back over my life and see so many years where a verdict of “too tight” was more like a guilty sentence than a statement of fact. The shorts (or jeans, or dress, or swimsuit pieces) weren’t just too tight.

I was too big. The solution during those years was not to donate the mini-me sized items in question and go shopping for something comfier. Nope….the solution was to whittle myself down until I could squeeze back into them again.

For many years, this solution was somewhat workable, given that I wasn’t yet committed to healing FULLY from my eating disorder and my metabolism hadn’t yet discovered the joys of reaching age 40.

But once both of those particular stars aligned, there was no going back. It was me or the shorts, and I’ll give you one guess who won. 

The thing is, I’m a lot happier now that I’ve given myself permission to downsize what I own and upsize what doesn’t fit. As a minimalist-in-progress with a marginally expanding waistline from year to year (or month to month, as luck, stress and hormones would have it), both of these permissions feel good. They feel timely. They feel right.

They feel self-loving and self-caring in a way that changes more than just the selection of clothing I see when I open my closet each morning. I see a person who lives better, loves better AND looks better because she is wearing clothing that actually fits her.

I feel more confident when I’m not walking about tugging this down or hiking that up, readjusting and wriggling, and checking and re-checking to make sure my personal presentation is still G-rated.

I can also pay more attention to what is going on, who is with me, the topic of conversation, and my own experiences of it all when I’m not constantly focused on my ill-advised outfit of choice.

In other words, I don’t want to miss out on the sight of one more lovely butterfly winging its way through the flower bed because my mind is busy elsewhere, worrying about wiggling thighs or dreaming of comfy (ROOMY) pajamas.

When my little tortoise, Malti, head-butts my leg because she wants to play “tortoise tunnels” again, I want to be so present to that experience that I laugh with delight right away rather than look away from her because – oh my god – there is a thigh jiggling.

I don’t want to spend one more day feeling trapped inside my own body or the items of clothing I’ve purchased to cover it. I especially don’t want to feel that way when I’m the only one who is there to notice!

So I upsize the shorts and donate their predecessors. I don’t permit myself to worry a moment over it – either I like something and I want to keep it, or I don’t like something and don’t want to keep it. There is no “I like it and want to fit back into it” option anymore to confuse the issue.

For the remainder of my years, I will be wearing shorts that fit….and spending all the extra time and energy this gives me playing “tortoise tunnels” with my fast-growing shelled girl, who, like me, is also getting bigger every single day!

Today’s Takeaway: What – if anything – is sitting in your closet right now that no longer fits? Do you know? Is there that one item, or small collection of items, that you just can’t quite bear to give up on just yet? What do you think is still holding you back from releasing them in some way, whether through repurposing, donation, gifts or some other means?

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Shannon Cutts http://www.shannoncutts.com/ <![CDATA[Why I Believe That Plants Are Healers]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mentoring-recovery/?p=9360 2017-09-23T01:59:51Z 2017-10-06T14:00:09Z

Some of the enthusiastic greenery that is thriving inside my turtles’ enclosures (no thanks to me).

My mom is really good with plants. Of course, like many talented gardeners, she swears she is not at all good with plants.

But I know that she is. The reason I know this is because each time one of my plants dies, or seems close to dying, or simply starts to look interested in beginning to die, I take it to her.

Then, somehow, it miraculously gets better.

Since I am not there and she is, I have to assume this has something to do with her.

Over the last three years, keeping a box turtle and a red footed tortoise has encouraged (forced) me to confront my brown thumb more directly. The reason for this is simple: both shells live outside, and as a good turtle and tortoise mama, I know I need to keep their habitats filled up with safe and (ideally) edible greenery.

However, since my baby tort, Malti, thinks the only proper way to welcome a new plant is to eat it, while my box turtle, Bruce, prefers to climb each new plant and perch in it like a bird, I can’t say it is always fully my fault when their greenery fails to thrive.

But I have no such ready excuse for the two (count ’em) gardenia plants who have yet to produce a single actual gardenia blossom between them, the sickly basil, the lavender bush with no lavender on it, or the miserable potato plant that has yellow leaves instead of green.

I do love plants. They just don’t seem to love me back. 

The other day I discovered a delightful little indie film called “Greenfingers.” Initially I thought it would teach me how to correct all my gardening errors. But then I realized it was an actual film based on a true story about prisoners in England who turned their lives around by learning how to garden.

These prisoners even went on to win big prizes in garden contests and they got to meet the Queen. Pretty cool, right?

Unfortunately, the only thing the film taught me is that some people are born to garden and some people are not.

But there was this one stellar moment in the film when the head gardener (prisoner) comes up for parole and he is asked if he wants to make any kind of statement to the parole board.

He tells them (and I paraphrase) that he used to just think he would be a prisoner forever and that he was just waiting for someone to come and take his life and get it over with already. But then, by participating in the prison gardening program, he realized he could give life, make life, nurture and grow something that needs caring for. He had developed a new identity now as a gardener.

He then went on to highly recommend gardening to any member of the parole board who was feeling stressed or was struggling with anger management issues.

Not surprisingly, he got his parole. And ultimately, the story has the kind of real life happy ending that I could really appreciate and enjoy, especially after all the hurricane Harvey-related messiness that has plagued my life this last month or so.

And the thing is, I agree with that prisoner. I truly do. There is something about tending to growing things that need care. It can change how a person sees themselves, and help the hurt places inside start to mend and heal.

When I was younger, I used to daydream about gardening, but in all honesty there was no way I was actually going to make time to do any.

Then I got slightly older, and instead of just buying houseplants and wondering why they kept dying, I started to actually try to pay attention to subtle nuances such as when and how much to water them and whether they liked lots of light or very little light.

Now, thanks to Bruce and Malti, I am a regular at the local gardening centers. I know there are several types of potting soils, and that “mulch” is not the same thing as “peat moss.”

I also know that many plants I would like to plant in the shells’ enclosures are toxic to reptiles, which limits my options and also my potential failure rate. And it makes me happy when I witness the rare bit of foliage that actually survives my pets’ tender ministrations and somehow manages to thrive all on its own inside their habitats.

But I still have absolutely no idea why. And I still know it has absolutely nothing to do with me.

Today’s Takeaway: Do you have a green thumb? Or a brown thumb? In either case, why do you think that is? Have you ever had an experience that showed you a healing side to caring for plants? How did that change your interest in gardening and/or your gardening abilities?

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Shannon Cutts http://www.shannoncutts.com/ <![CDATA[Yes, I Love Goats (and Sheep, and Guinea Pigs)]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mentoring-recovery/?p=9348 2017-09-23T01:25:38Z 2017-10-03T14:00:29Z

The lovely little brown boy Abyssinian guinea pig I got to hold at the pet store.

I have a little “goat problem.”

It actually started with sheep. I watched this documentary called “Addicted to Sheep.” The documentary was filmed in rural England, which meant I didn’t really understand anything the sheep keepers said.

But I watched the entire thing anyway, riveted, sucked in, snagged hook line and sinker by the adorable little furry bundles they cared for.

But then it occurred to me that it probably wasn’t possible to keep just one sheep. What would I do at shearing time? “Um, hello, do you shear sheep?” “Yes, ma’am – we can even come out to your farm to shear on-site! How many sheep do you have?”

“Uh….one.”

Click.

Nope. That wouldn’t work. Then I read this fabulous article about a new fitness craze sweeping the country called “goat yoga.” Now THIS was more like it.

No shearing issues, I would finally have the incentive to actually do some yoga (rather than just talk about doing yoga), and no complaints about the cute, furry workout partners…..

Then I thought to myself, “Wait a minute. Baby goats are very cute. If I had one of my own, I could do goat yoga all the time and I’d get very fit.”

So I decided to start researching. 

This led me to realize there is no such thing as having “just one” baby goat. Goats, unlike turtles and tortoises, like to be with other goats all the time, not just when they’re ready to make more goats.

Plus, adult goats are a lot bigger than baby goats. A single pair of adult goats (any size) requires 3,000 square feet of lawn space to play and run in. This is approximately 2,990 more square feet of lawn space than I can currently offer, none of which is technically mine anyway given my second story garage apartment casa.

Roadblocks were popping up everywhere.

Then today, I went to the pet store to buy my box turtle, Bruce, some mealworms. And there was the cutest, furriest, fluffiest little guinea pig I’ve ever seen! I’ve been writing about guinea pigs lately for one of my freelance clients, and from everything I read, they are perhaps the sweetest, most docile pets on earth.

By lingering near the guinea pig enclosure and looking lovestruck, I convinced one of the store associates to open up the cage and let me hold the guinea pig. So soft! So furry! And I could just close my eyes and imagine slightly longer legs and a slightly bigger body….

Everything was going great until I realized there was only one more teensy, tiny problem with my new perfect plan.

I already feel completely and totally and utterly overwhelmed with caring for the three pets I have.

My boyfriend keeps trying to encourage me to work at a petting zoo or the actual zoo or some place like that where there are lots of animals. But the issue there is that I would really be working with people, which is not precisely my strongest forte. After all, who comes to visit petting zoos and real zoos and wildlife reserves and all those types of places?

People.

More than two decades of work in retail, including 5 endless years waiting tables, has taught me that I can comfortably tolerate about 10 minutes of working with people before something in me spontaneously explodes.

I’m really very introverted, and this makes me much more suited to work with animals, who don’t require me to make small talk or actually remember the fine details of their lunch order.

So for now, it would seem I’m not getting any sheep….or any goats….or any guinea pigs, for that matter.

But I can dream. And oh, I DO!

Today’s Takeaway: Have you ever wanted to keep a certain type of pet but you just knew it was all kinds of impractical on all kinds of levels? Did you find another way to fulfill that interest? If so, I sure would love to hear about your experiences!

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Shannon Cutts http://www.shannoncutts.com/ <![CDATA[How to Know How Strong You Are (a hurricane Harvey story)]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mentoring-recovery/?p=9332 2017-09-20T22:10:34Z 2017-09-29T14:00:32Z

Only the partially submerged stop sign gives any indication this was once a street….the very same street where I grew up!

In late August of this current year, (un)coincidentally just hours after hurricane Harvey had swept through my home city of Houston, TX, I encountered a new me.

She was much stronger than I expected she’d be.

She was kind of….awe-inspiring, actually….especially considering disaster struck so very swiftly and oh-so-very-close to home.

Here’s what happened:

While my neighborhood (um) weathered “horrible Harvey” fairly well, my parents’ neighborhood didn’t enjoy the same good luck. My folks actually have one of the biggest bayous in the city right on the other side of their back fence, so their home stayed dry all the way until the day Harvey waved goodbye to Texas and headed off to visit Louisiana instead.

But then our city officials, apparently attempting to cope with wildly outdated reservoir capacity that threatened to overflow and flood all of the downtown area, decided to open one of the major dams and let the extra water out before it could reach that area. Guess where all that extra water went?

My parents were evacuated from their flooded home by kayak just hours after Houston opened its own floodgates.

The days and weeks that followed were….heart-wrenching. Horrifying. Disastrous. Panic-inducing. And sometimes miraculous.

There was so much to be done and it all needed first-place priority, from filing insurance claims to applying for FEMA assistance to locating temporary housing to finding a contractor to turning the house my folks have lived in for 42 years literally inside out….until pretty much everything that had previously been contained safely inside their four walls was sitting out in full (and gloriously moldy) view on the front lawn instead.

A very stressed out canine family member attempts to relax in the aftermath of “horrible Harvey.”

Not to mention that our puppy, Flash Gordon, took one look at that kayak and rather instantly commenced to having panic attacks, panting and shivering and shaking and whimpering nonstop from that point forward whether we were at the hotel, in the car, at a restaurant, or anywhere, really. He wanted his “home” and we couldn’t explain to him why going back home just wasn’t possible right at this particular moment.

Anytime this type of disaster strikes, it takes a team to work your way through it. I joined up with “Team Cutts” ASAP, of course, and spent long days working side by side with my folks, the workers, the contractor and caring volunteers as we went wading through the mountainous urgent to-do list the dam flooding had generated.

In many areas of our city, people emerged mostly unscathed from Harvey. But in pockets, such as in my parents’ neighborhood, the formerly neat rows of polite one-stories with carefully trimmed hedges had turned into epic disaster zones, complete with Homeland Security, police reinforcements and community teams monitoring entry and exit for weeks.

At the entrance to their neighborhood, where several Homeland Security agents stood watch during daylight hours, one enterprising homeowner had made up a hand-drawn sign that proclaimed, “You loot, we shoot.” On the nearby table were mounds of donated water, baked goods, bleach, paper towels, mold masks and other things residents might need that were hard to come by at local hardware stores.

It was a beautiful time and a terrible time. And it is still not over. To date, my parents are as yet unable to return to their beautiful classic home, which is even now undergoing a full makeover to make it livable again.

During this time, I have lost many days of work (as a freelance writer, I only get paid when I work, so you can imagine the impact there) in service to the “Team Cutts” effort. I have also lost sleep and occasionally sanity as we have all put our heads together and tried to decipher what our next moves should be.

But we are getting through it. And I think I personally have recovery as well as daily life to thank for this, since recovering from an eating disorder, panic attacks and chronic depression has taught me that any goal can be achieved if the achiever simply refuses to stop trying.

Daily life has also taught me that help can arrive at the most unusual moments and from the most unexpected of places and people, like the hotel concierge who spontaneously organized a “Harvey happy hour” for his full hotel of displaced Harvey evacuees and their dogs, which has since resulted in lots of new friendships, both human and canine.

Since Harvey, we have witnessed equally great devastation from Hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria, an unspeakable 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Mexico, massive monsoon flooding in India and southern Asia, two back-to-back typhoons in Japan and epic wildfires that have swept through Canada and the northwestern United States.

Our hearts go out to each and every individual – human and non-human – whose lives have been and continue to be touched by these catastrophic events.

From our team to yours, we also have a prayer and a message to share:

You are STRONG. SO very STRONG. And we are all stronger TOGETHER.

Always remember this. <3

Today’s Takeaway: Have you ever been hit with disaster, catastrophe, great loss, from totally out of the blue, to where you had to mobilize literally immediately just to stay one step ahead as it all unfolds? What did this experience teach you about your own inner resourcefulness, strength, perseverance, heart?

P.S. This post is from my free monthly zine, Good News for Recovery + Life. Read the full edition HERE!

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Shannon Cutts http://www.shannoncutts.com/ <![CDATA[Seeking My Spirit Animal]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mentoring-recovery/?p=9323 2017-08-29T19:25:21Z 2017-09-26T14:00:16Z

Part of my ever-expanding home turtle collection….each one of these has a special story (including the little red not-turtle ladybug at the very end!).

When I googled “turtles represent…” just now, this immediately popped up:

…the turtle is a symbol of longevity, endurance, persistence, and the continuation of life (sometimes against incredible odds). – Animal Symbolism

As I read further, the turtle started to sound less like a turtle (as in, the living, breathing shelled beings walking around my living room right now) and more like Shangri-La.

The turtle is carefree. Peaceful. Innocent. Wise. Protected. Patient. Intuitive.

Must be nice.

In lieu of actually possessing any of these qualities myself, I have an ever-expanding collection of metal, cloth, ceramic, and stuffed animal turtles scattered all over my house.

Just when I think I have run out of room for any more turtles, a surprise package (my favorite kind!) will arrive and in it I will discover another turtle.

There is always room.

Often I’ve wondered about which animal is my totem or spirit or guide animal. Sometimes I think it is the parrot (my many reasons for this belief are described in detail in Pearl’s and my book together, “Love & Feathers: what a palm-sized parrot has taught me about life and love and healthy self-esteem“).

At other times I think it is the turtle.

Mostly I think it is the parroturtle, or the turtleparrot, because you can have animal spirit guide mashups where totems are involved, and I have so many aspects of both in my personal makeup.

For example, I like to hide when things frighten me (usually in my house and under the covers since, unlike my turtles, I don’t have a hiding receptacle right there on my back). I also often feel the desire to scream or bite when life gets irritating (since this isn’t socially acceptable for homo sapiens, I can trust my parrot to act out these behaviors on my behalf).

When I read about how to locate one’s persona/ spirit animal, the instructions typically say things like “let nature lead” or “meditate free from any distractions.”

Since I live with two turtles and one parrot, I am never free from distractions. And as far as nature goes, it’s in my house with me on a daily basis, which inevitably brings my thoughts back around to the parroturtle or the turtleparrot.

So I think that must be my spirit animal/guide/totem.

Aesthetically speaking, since I have two shells and one set of feathers mentoring and guiding me, I was thinking this combination could make for a nice balanced totem design – one turtle could be on top, with the feathers in the center and then the other turtle on the bottom.

Once it as all carved and polished and ready, only one step would remain….finding room for it.

But there is always room.

Today’s Takeaway: Do you have a spirit animal or totem or guide? My DNA includes recent remnants of the American Indians, and I’ve always had an affinity for nature and animals, so perhaps it is something I was born being curious about. But I’ve never really delved into it, since I’ve nearly always had pet animals in my life and they teach me every day. I’d love to hear if you have a spirit animal or know someone who does!

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Shannon Cutts http://www.shannoncutts.com/ <![CDATA[Potent Healing from an Unexpected Place]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mentoring-recovery/?p=9312 2017-08-29T18:42:05Z 2017-09-22T14:00:46Z

My precious avian, Pearl, poses with two of his mommy’s new Dr. Weiss books!

I am an avid reader. This is likely no secret if you have read at least one post here.

I especially enjoy books about animals. I like learning about their preferences, habits, behaviors, feelings, thoughts and needs.

During the animal communication course I recently completed (more about that course in this blog post), the instructor mentioned a book called “Many Lives, Many Masters” by noted psychiatrist Dr. Brian L. Weiss.

Assuming it was a book about animal reincarnation (fascinating!) I immediately ordered it from my local library.

It speedily arrived, and I eagerly read the back cover….at which point it got relegated to the bottom of my reading stack. Instead of a book about animal reincarnation, which I was keen to learn more about, I discovered it was a book about people reincarnation, a topic I tend to hold at arm’s length (or even longer, if my present life’s arm length would permit).

It’s not that I’m against the concept of reincarnation, or even that I feel any particular way about it. It just has never seemed particularly relevant. Why would I want to learn about my past lives, if such exist, when I already have a really full plate just dealing with my current life!?

Yet there it sat. I finished one and then another riveting book about animals. Finally, it was the only book left on my bedside table. SIGH.

I picked it up, opened it under duress, read the first page.

Three hours went by. 

I missed my bedtime completely. I was so hooked. I haven’t read a book that gripping since the last John Grisham novel came out!

I didn’t know anything about Dr. Weiss, the author. I had no idea he’d won an Emmy for a television program produced by none other than Oprah. I didn’t know he had a whole Institute dedicated to studying and practicing what he calls “past life regression hypnosis therapy.”

All I did know is what his bio told me, which is that he was even more skeptical than me when he first started working with a patient who seemed incurable…at least until she began remembering past life memories under hypnosis. Oh, and also, he had graduated from the types of universities that would have placed my application promptly in the round file….probably without even opening it first.

So finally, after reading two or three of his books, I opened up YouTube and searched for the keywords “Dr. Weiss regression.” Several videos immediately popped up. I picked the shortest one (36 minutes and 23 seconds). I pushed “play.”

Since that first morning, I have played that video nearly every morning, and each time, I have remembered more things, none of which appear to be from my current life experiences files.

Dr. Weiss starts this particular video by asking participants not to judge or analyze what arises, but to just experience it and reserve the analysis for later (my brain wasn’t a huge fan until it heard it could do as much analysis as it wanted to later on).

He also says it doesn’t really matter if the recollections are “real” or not. He encourages people to use their imaginations and creativity (my brain liked this suggestion very much). He says whatever comes up into our minds during the session is fine.

I didn’t expect anything at all to come up into my mind when I played that video for the first time.

But thus far, to my utter surprise, some part of me that must be very eager to participate in this way has always managed to produce something, be it dream or fantasy or actual memory or some combination thereof.

This is relevant because in his books, Dr. Weiss says that you can know the regression hypnosis therapy is helping you if you start to feel better after you do it.

By that I decided he meant that it doesn’t matter if it is real or not so long as it helps me.

As of today, right now, it seems to be helping me.

I should probably mention that I started this process around the same time Hurricane Harvey roared into my home city of Houston, TX, at the end of last month. This catastrophic storm was pretty much the most stressful possible thing, and yet somehow as I listened to Dr. Weiss’s video each morning, I managed to stay at a level of calm and clarity that surprised even me.

I wasn’t totally stressing out (I mean, I stressed out, but I was still functional). I felt some level of greater peace that extended out way past the edges of the floods and destruction and connected to a bigger picture than catastrophic hurricanes usually permit me to remember…and being in Houston, this is the third such major headline-making storm I’ve directly lived through.

So I have to say, I think there is really something to Dr. Weiss’s life work. I only ordered his most famous book because I thought it was about animals. After it arrived I avoided it for weeks. Then I read it and my life since then has begun to shift for the better in places where I’ve been stuck for not weeks or months but years. And all this happened before I began using his video as well.

Since I’ve begun using his video (and there are lots more detailed and lengthy videos where my short snippet came from), I have pretty much stopped worrying at all about whether any of this is “real.” I don’t really care. After all, there is no real way to “prove” one of my memories or recollections is actually from a bonafide past life. And even if it was possible to prove it, it’s not like I could go back for a do-over.

But Dr. Weiss’s point in all this work he continues to do seems to be that we get our do-over NOW. We can heal NOW. We can learn NOW. We can evolve NOW.

And I am all about anything I can do NOW to feel better, live better, be better.

I just thought I would mention it in case any of you are interested in learning more about Dr. Weiss’s unique work too!

Today’s Takeaway: I don’t know about you, but I have done some pretty “out there” things in this lifetime, many of them in service to trying to recover from a serious eating disorder. I’ve had all kinds of therapies….traditional and very-not traditional. Some have worked and most have not, at least from what I could sense at that time. But this therapy I like, even though I’m not sure why I like it and most of my logical left brain still disagrees with the rest of me about liking it. Also, when I like something I usually want to share it. So if you do decide to read Dr. Weiss’s book or try the videos out, I’d love to hear about your experiences!

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Shannon Cutts http://www.shannoncutts.com/ <![CDATA[Forgiveness: the Stranger I Thought I Knew]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mentoring-recovery/?p=9260 2017-08-29T17:55:22Z 2017-09-19T14:00:24Z

My two-year-old red footed tortoise, Malti. She often has this sort of grumpy intense expression on her face, but I never once have taken it personally….unlike with some people I know!

Recently I realized that I’m not sure I have ever forgiven anyone, ever, for anything. And that includes myself.

This is not because I haven’t tried, mind you. I have definitely tried.

It’s just – all of a sudden I’m not sure I even know what forgiveness is.

Although I’m pretty sure I now know what forgiveness is not. I say this because I have started to work backwards to see how I have “forgiven” people who have harmed me in the past. And I see a lot of mental and emotional activity, but I don’t really feel anything like a real release in my heart or spirit.

If I had to pick one, I would say my speciality is probably “intellectual forgiveness.” What I mean by this: when I reason out in my head why a person might have said or did something I now feel like I need to forgive them for.

So maybe someone says something really mean to me. It bugs me and I feel like I need to forgive them. I think about it and conclude they didn’t have any good role models growing up, so they probably couldn’t help being mean or inappropriate or rude or whatever happened. Then I feel I can forgive them because I’ve found a potentially valid reason for why they acted like they did.

After intellectual forgiveness, I think I am next most expert at “emotional forgiveness.”

So let’s say someone said or did something mean or hurtful or just plain awful. I get really angry, or sad, or depressed. But then after awhile I am finally done crying or raging or telling everyone I know my side of the story so they can agree with me.

With the emotional trauma released, I can then forgive them because the memory doesn’t really bug me anymore and I no longer really care what happened and don’t want to spend any more time or energy on it.

But neither of these feel like “real” forgiveness, which I suspect I suck at….at least with people.

Where I have realized I do NOT suck at forgiveness is with animals, and in particular with my 3 animals (two turtles and one parrot).

I am actually really good – expert – at forgiving my animals. It happens instantly. I don’t think twice about it. In fact, it is not uncommon for my 17-year-old parrot to bite me for no reason at all, and in the next 30 seconds hear myself cooing at him, “Oh Pearl, you such a good bird and mommy loves you so much!”

When my little tortoise, Malti, bites me on the little toe because she sees it wiggling and it is pink and she thinks it is fresh salmon (her favorite treat), I am NEVER mad. Surprised maybe, but there isn’t anything that needs forgiving.

Or when my adult rescued box turtle, Bruce, cringes and cowers and runs away from me even though I’m just trying to deliver his lunch plate, I don’t feel a moment’s anger or hurt over it.

I think the reason why I can forgive my animals so easily but find it almost impossible to forgive myself (and very difficult to forgive some other people) boils down to this:

I don’t take anything my animals do personally. 

In other words, what they do or how they act is not about me. Ever. It is always about them.

Of course, this is one of the Four Agreements (Don Miguel Ruiz) I have been studying for years. I now understand why there are only four agreements and am very grateful (in fact, he could have made fewer agreements and that would have been fine too).

After all, I haven’t even mastered ONE agreement and I’ve been working on it for several years now!

But I have mastered it with my animals. Or, I never even needed to master it, because I’ve never taken anything in our relationship personally. They are just being who they are, doing what they feel they need to do, looking out for themselves, reacting in ways their ancient survival instinct has programmed them to do. It isn’t personal. When they act loving towards me, I don’t think it is because of me (although sometimes I think it is because I’ve brought treats or I smell like my salmon dinner leftovers).

When they act grumpy or reclusive I don’t think it is because of me. More often, I worry that I am not doing enough to ensure they are healthy and happy, but I don’t take offense or think they are mad at me. I just take it at face value, look at my part, see if I need to change anything, and then do that and drop it and move forward.

So I think I know what forgiveness feels like – or what it should feel like. It is a lovely, intuitive, connected and deeply spirit-led “letting go,” bolstered on all sides by lots of peace and unconditional love.

My mind really doesn’t get involved. My emotions don’t really get involved. My heart is all in and my spirit has already arrived way ahead of the rest of us.

In other words, it is as different as anything could be from what I’ve been doing to forgive other people and myself.

So now, I just need to figure out how to translate what my animal mentors have taught me about forgiveness to “people situations”…and most of all, to forgiving myself. Maybe then the big “mystery stress ball” in my chest will finally ease up already.

It sure seems worth a shot.

Today’s Takeaway: I would love to hear your experiences of forgiveness – of feeling/knowing/sensing/however you do it that you have really, TRULY forgiven yourself and others. And anything you want to share about how you personally know it is not coming from an emotional or intellectual place so much as a true “letting go” in the heart and spirit.

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Shannon Cutts http://www.shannoncutts.com/ <![CDATA[If You Believe In Something, Chase It]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mentoring-recovery/?p=9294 2017-08-24T03:09:55Z 2017-09-14T14:00:22Z

My parrot, Pearl, chases something he believes in….the shiny, crinkly cover of Sy’s book!

Lately, like for the past year or 10, I’ve been really keen to read about animals.

I like to read about all kinds of different animals – land and sea and sky and trees and underground animals – all are equally intriguing to me.

I’m not sure what I’m looking for, precisely….perhaps a closer connection with the natural world, or a greater sense of wonder at its diversity, or (most likely) a unifying thread that explains why animals can often make me feel better, peaceful, more at ease in my own skin, even when people can’t.

The most recent animal I’ve been reading about is the tree kangaroo.

This is a very unusual animal, in that the only kangaroo I was aware of looks nothing like this one and has no interest in tree climbing. In fact, in the place where the kangaroos I knew about live in Australia, mostly they are already as tall as the trees, so there wouldn’t be a need to climb them. Plus they weigh about 200 pounds each, which would mean the moment they tried to climb any trees, those trees would likely fall right over.

But this new kangaroo is small and loves to climb trees. It lives in the cloud rain forests of Papua New Guinea, where all the trees are really tall. And since it only weighs about 25 pounds, any tree it wanted to climb probably wouldn’t even know it was there. Tree kangaroos also don’t really look like kangaroos. For starters, their arms and legs are all equal lengths. Plus, their faces look more like bears. And they have really large, soft, pink noses.

The tree kangaroo was actually only discovered in 1990, by which time it was already considered endangered and rare. So now people are fighting to save it. Some of those people are scientists, others are students, still others are veterinarians, photographers, writers, artists, biologists, and some are simply animal lovers who want to help vulnerable species survive.

Sy Montgomery wrote a book about the plight of the tree kangaroos called “Quest for the Tree Kangaroo.” To research for the book, she went to Papua New Guinea with a group of other specialists to see tree kangaroos face to face.

One of her fellow specialists was a young artist named Robin. During their quest, he spent much of his free time making watercolors of local flora and fauna. At one point, as Sy tells it, he climbed up a tree and came back down with a watercolor of a lovely orchid. Then Robin told the team,

My mentor said this to me about my artwork. If you believe in something, chase it, and chase it as much as you can – you’ll be a happy person. Well, you can see how happy I am.

I thought this was so beautiful – and so spot-on. If you believe in something, chase it. Chase it and keep chasing it, because there is something for you there.

I am lucky to know a number of other creative-minded people. Often, I notice that creative people tend to have trouble believing in themselves. It is not uncommon to hear self-criticism tumbling out of a talented creative person’s mouth.

But Robin’s mentor didn’t say you had to believe in yourself. He said you have to believe in something….for him, it was art. 

For many years, I believed in music. I believed in its power to explore, explain, express, heal, soothe and connect. So I wrote songs and recorded albums of those songs and shared the songs with others in concerts and just immersed myself in all things music.

During those years, I never felt very self-confident about me and my talent. But I believed wholeheartedly in music. So I chased and chased and chased it, and I found what it had for me and it healed me.

These days I am chasing writing – words and their power to connect, heal, educate, inspire, express – and I just keep chasing and chasing them. I believe in words. I don’t always believe in my ability to use words, and definitely I often doubt my mastery of words, but I believe fully in the words themselves. I have always loved to read and write, and the more I chase words, the more wisdom they have for me to learn.

When I first read Robin’s words, tucked deep in the middle of a book about the endangered tree kangaroos, they seemed to be misplaced somehow – like, shouldn’t those particular words be in another, different book? Maybe one about the creative process or making art or choosing a career?

But then I realized his words were perfectly placed – he was there following two things he believed in: art and saving endangered animals. How beautiful!

Just to have two things you believe in so deeply and fully, to travel all the way to Papua New Guinea (like, where is that, exactly?) AND take all your art supplies along with you AND have that special artist’s eye to notice all the wild beauty and mystery around you AND bring it back in the form of art to share with others…..WOW.

Just….wow.

Today’s Takeaway: Do you have something you’ve been chasing that is mentoring and teaching you? Or have you been thinking about chasing something you really believe in, but you’ve been letting issues of self-confidence stop you? What if you just shifted your focus away from you and towards whatever-it-is that you feel so passionately about? 

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