12/13/17 Living Fully, Aging Gracefully & Preparing to Let Go

We welcomed John Berkowitz to ACC for a second time to continue the conversation previously begun on aging. For a  topic as daunting as living and dying, participants were very active and enthusiastic about engaging with one another about it. We opened the discussion by talking about our end of life wishes--the circumstances we hope will surround our death. It was interesting to see the range of preferences individuals subscribed to. While some hoped to die alone, others hope that they will be surrounded by loved ones when their time comes. Some participants expressed they lack a fear of death while others expressed an apprehension surrounding the idea of death. Some talked about how they would like to die according to their own personal interests, while others came from an angle of the interests of their loved ones.

Josh presented the group with a series of poems and quotes to spark discussion. Each managed to successfully touch on different topics, such as how we hope to have lived when "death finds you," embracing the fragility that comes with aging, and what we can do to live each day in a fulfilling way. We even talked about cultural differences in attitude towards aging by using a poem titled "The Beauty of Aging" by Nina Brock. The poem talked about the beauty that surrounds aging in Japanese culture, which stands in stark contrast to American culture, which shies away from the aging process with unease.  In Japanese culture, "shibui" (the beauty of aging) encompasses the highest form of respect that is bestowed on the elderly. They are elegant, insightful, and wise--the only ones capable of advising the young.

Many of our participants were interested in attending regular aging meetings held by Josh Berkowitz--a testament to just how eye-opening and needed it was to explore the joys and challenges of aging in a group setting. Allowing us to confront the challenging topic together with others and not alone.

Written by: Daniella Colombo

The Art of Confident Public Speaking

Back in 2014, public speaking topped the list of most common fears held by Americans. Today, at the end of 2017, the list seems to reflect a growing apprehension surrounding a shift in the political climate (the top spots are occupied by fears pertinent to the government domain). Regardless, speaking in front of a crowd is still something most of us will have to do at some point or another. Public speaking can be a daunting, anxiety-invoking challenge for nearly anyone, and we were lucky to have Dorothy Pam, a lecturer at Holyoke Community College, with us to help relieve some of these fears. 

We started with the basics--the way in which we present our own names to others. Dorothy had one of our participants say their first and last name to the group. She worked with him to improve his introduction; each time he repeated his name, Dorothy would respond with one way he could make it better, prompting him to repeat his name once again. Ultimately, our participant introduced his name to the group with conviction, power, and strength. Dorothy helped us realized the importance of stating your name in such a way when presenting yourself--to make sure listeners don't forget who they are hearing from. If they want to reference you later, they are more likely to remember your name.

The presentation of our guest speaker was particularly timely because of the Town Meeting that week. The lessons she had to teach the group were ones that would enable any community member to give a compelling argument for whatever it was they wanted to fight for. Advice like "tell the audience why they should care," and "speak with passion" and "be extemporaneous" (meaning prepare your speech but never read it) was key to coming off to an audience as a confident public speaker. We were appreciative of Dorothy Pam for empowering us in a way that better prepared us to advocate for our own needs in a town hall-type of setting or give a compelling, convincing speech.

 

Written by: Daniella Colombo

 

11/15/17 EMOTIONAL FREEDOM TECHNIQUES

Today, Reverend Cindy Frado joined us today for a crash course in emotional freedom. Reverend Cindy works as a minister at the Universal Unitarian Church, and has learned from energy psychologists David Feinstein and Donna Eaton. Before things got started, participants went around the room and shared what comforts them in times of emotional stress, and how they react to feeling intense emotions. Cindy came to talk about emotional freedom and give us some tools to use when we feel unable to handle stress in our life. The first was called the Emotional Freedom Technique. A practice based on ancient Chinese medicine, EFT involves tapping your body and talking through stressors. Although it may seem silly or leave you skeptical, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that this technique and others like it work-- people report remissions of cancer and feeling heightened levels of restored energy. One of the participants had a phobia of spiders, so that was used as an example. . Before starting, we exercised self-love and acceptance by tapping our “third eye” and saying, “Whatever my issue is, I deeply love and appreciate myself.” Then, Cindy led us through the sequence of acupressure points to tap while talking about our hypothetical fear of spiders. The first spot to tap is the inside of the eyebrow. Then the outside of our eyes, under our eyes, under our nose, and on our chin. Then we moved down to tap our collarbones, our sternum, and our lower ribs, all while discussing the fear of spiders. Then we tapped our knees, and a few spots on our hands. After that was done, we woke up our nervous system by moving our eyes all around and humming. Then we did the sequence again, but this time we reframed our fear in terms of respect and honesty-- where at the beginning, we said that we hated spiders because they were creepy, we now say that although we don’t like them, their webs are beautiful and they keep bugs away. Cindy reminded us that this technique is not meant to change a stressful situation, but to allow us to approach our feelings rationally. It is good to keep checking in with yourself, she said, so that you know what feelings to address. If you are unsure of what you are feeling, you can “tap it out” in order to articulate your meaning. Cindy then showed us 4 ways to keep ourselves emotionally grounded and energized: The 4 Points, The Wayne-Cook Posture, the Homolateral Crossover, and the Heaven and Earth cycle. To do the 4 Points, place one hand on your forehead and the other on the back of your head. Take a deep breath, and then tap the following 4 points on your body: under your eyes, your collarbones, your sternum, and your bottom rib. In Chinese medicine, Cindy told s, these spots are said to be linked to your digestive system, your kidneys, your thalamus, and your spleen, respectively. By tapping or rubbing these spots, you stimulate the proper functioning of these organs. The next practice is the Wayne-Cook posture, in which you cross your foot over your ankle, and your hand over your wrist and rotate them up and out. You do this on each side and hold it for a couple breaths. You may also put your hands together in a pyramid shape and hold them against your heart. To perform homolateral crossover, simply lift your legs up and tap your knees with your hands. Practice this with the same hand and leg, and then the opposite hand and leg. This practice, and the Wayne-Cook posture are meant to ensure your energies are crossed properly. The “energy” refers to the meridians in Chinese Medicine, or paths of life-force that cross inside your body. The last grounding technique is called Heaven and Earth, and it is Cindy’s favorite. To practice Heaven and Earth, stand up and put your hands over your heart. Take a deep breath and raise one hand as far up as you can, and lower the other down towards the earth. Imagine you are drawing energy from down below and bring it up through your other arm while concentrating on your breathing. Do this with both your arms. When you are done, fold your body forward for a breath, then slowly come up and raise your hands above your head. Let the energy rain down on you for a few breaths. Participants all performed these exercises alongside Cindy and agreed that they made them feel very good. Many were excited to use it in their daily lives and attempt to restore their energy. Cindy does admit that these practices are a different way of dealing with and looking at the body, and understands that some people may have trouble integrating them into their lives. She says it is ok to be skeptical, but truly believes it works. In her own words, “whatever helps you get through the day, as long as it’s helpful and not harmful, is great.” Some participants stayed after the meeting to discuss their health and wellness with Cindy, who also runs a hypnotherapy and spiritual wellness center in North Amherst. Participants left feeling well-rounded and inspired. You can find more information about Cindy and her practice at http://www.hampshirehypno.com/

By: Sadie Mazur

11/1/17 Middle East Peacemaking, One Inch at a Time

Edit_Water_Drops_0169CU.JPG

To set the stage for today's incubator meeting, the group had a short discussion about conflict resolution before handing over the mic to our presenter, Dr. Rick Martin. The question each of us responded to was "How do you resolve conflicts with another person? What strategies or frameworks of thought do you call upon?" This was a unique experience; it's not every day that we are able to get some insight into what the person we are arguing with could possibly be thinking! Our participants shared a range of perspectives--many of us saw value in walking away from a conflict when possible, being able to distinguish between a conflict that is worth engaging in versus one that is not, and taking time to calm down before confronting another person. Most of us try to take the other person's point of view although, as one of our participants wittily put it, "You can never totally be in someone's shoes. If you are, that means you are stealing their shoes."

Dr. Rick shared with us his experience of "ducking bullets for peace" in Israel-Palestine, something he has been doing for 13 years. When questioned about how he manages to take on their incredible challenge, he pointed to courage. He recalls needing courage in order to bring himself to walk into the Palestinian mayor's office and ask him if he would be interested in making peace. If it doesn't work the first time, Dr. Rick advises us to "keep knocking." "We will not have peace until the peace lovers are wiling to take chances--duck pullets, dodge knives, avoid fast moving vehicles--for peace." Dr. Rick also highlighted the importance of having a sense of humor and getting the person on the other side of the conflict to laugh--a strategy that may not cross our mind during a conflict, but one that could really have a huge influence on how the conflict goes.

We probed Dr. Rick a little further on whether peaceful conflict resolution is really always a viable possibility. He seems to think so. Human relationships don't go bad because people are bad or good, or because certain topics can't be talked about; "They go bad because they don't take the steps to talk about a difficult conflict in a peaceful way." As a group, we came to the conclusion that we should understand that others come from different perspectives, identities, and opinions, and "once we get to know each other, we can appreciate the divinity of each person." As one of our participants beautifully captured in a metaphor, we each are one individual droplet united together in one collective ocean. We hope to take today's discussion and apply it when we are able to in the conflicts in our own lives to shift the world closer to achieving wholesome peace and love!

By: Daniella Colombo

10/25/17 Songs of Our Lives

Today we had the opportunity for a group-led incubator meeting, which turned out to be incredibly lively and engaging. Our discussion opened with two questions about music that we were each supposed to answer. However, we all drifted off to talk about topics beyond the scope of what we were asked. Perhaps this is telling of the great significance music has in each of our lives, whether we realize it or not. 

FullSizeR.jpg

Darcy shared a beautiful story about her mother's discovery of her love for Brazilian music towards the end of her life. This serves as Darcy's inspiration for exploring music for all kinds --we may just find something that perfectly satisfies our ears when we least expect it. Hwei-Ling was able to connect with Darcy as she recently discovered an interest in Brazilian music as well. This had us all thinking that we are missing out on something and I'm certain some of us will be checking out the genre in the future.

Stoney sang a Yiddish tune for us, which was followed by Greg's performance of a gospel song that he wrote himself. With Dr. Rick on vocals and Dave on the keyboard, the duo carried out their own rendition of "Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog." Dave again played the keyboard as the group joined together to sing "Amazing Grace," with Stoney feeding us the lyrics for those who did not know them all. It was amazing to see how eager participants were to share with us a song that is near and dear to them.

We had so much fun coming together to appreciate music for and hour and a half on this Wednesday morning--so much fun, in fact, that the group decided to organize a "Raise the Roof" choral group. The group will be informally run, and hopes to just provide a place for people to collectively engage in an activity that brings great joy to many of us. It is open to anyone and everyone on Tuesdays form 6-7:30 pm--we invite you all to join us!

By: Daniella Colombo