Did you make a traditional resolution for 2020? Or did you choose a word of focus for the year?  Maybe, you decided to do neither, because you know that all this talk of change loses its steam by February anyway, so what’s the point? 

Well, I typically do choose a “theme word” for each year - it’s usually more like a phrase and I find it to be a good guidepost for decision-making throughout the year.  (For the curious ones out there, last year was ironically - “follow your curiosity.”)  

And as we approached January 2020, I was struggling to come up with a word, theme or focus for the new year.  The whole “new month, new year, new decade” thing seemed pretty overwhelming. And, the trendiness of choosing a word of intention for the year was blowing up my feed with great ideas (none a fit for me, but great nonetheless). 

I did find my way to a word for this year….but I’m keeping it to myself for just a while longer.  

Over the course of the month, another word found its way to ME.  I did not choose it. I wasn’t thinking about it intentionally, but it keeps popping up in different ways again and again and again.  

So, I’m wondering if it might be helpful to ask others to notice what is going on in their worlds and see if there is a whispering of something calling out to you that needs more of your attention.

The word that keeps appearing to me in January is….

PRESENCE.


Full disclosure:  I can’t say that this was a total shock.  My colleague and friend, Lynn Louise Wonders and I put together a bundle of courses for mental health therapists called the 2020 Play Therapy Bundle (it’s basically like a book club, but for play therapy webinars).  And the first course is all about presence. 

I knew it was coming up first, but I didn’t really think about it (lol, now that I think about it, it’s further evidence of how much I needed the course).  To be fair, the course is officially called  Effective Applications of the Tenets of Child Centered Play Therapy in the Playroom, so you might see why this topic sneaked up on me. 

When the year started, and I started listening to the course  and low and behold, the very first quote that caught my attention was:

“No other person can ever chart a course for you, but (a listener) who is really present can firm up what you in your own deepest heart of hearts have already felt drawing at you,”  Douglas Steele, On Being Present Where You Are.

Being present isn’t about solving problems or providing recommendations, but really about listening as other people figure things out for themselves.  And even though this course is for mental health professionals, it is a great reminder for how to be present (and listen) amid the distractions of our lives and really focus on the relationships.

I have been present in the material by thoughtfully only listening to 30 minutes of the 2-hour training each week so that I would have time to think about what we were learning.  And I have done it without checking my email or multi-tasking!

PRESENCE.


And, right after we debuted this course,  another beloved play therapy colleague, Lisa Dion, released her first podcast of the year (in a totally random and unplanned bit of synchronicity) on, you guessed it….presence in the playroom

My favorite part of this podcast was around the 16 minute mark when Lisa talked about the moments that we find ourselves NOT present and how to get curious about those times.  She says,

“Do we have the ability to pause and think, oh my gosh, I’m caught in my head. Let me take a breath and come back to this moment. Let me take a look and feel in this moment…What don’t I want to feel right now?”
PRESENCE.


As we start to look at how to be more present in our lives, we have to notice and pay attention to the things that draw us out of connections.  Is it a behavior that is overwhelming that we just don’t want to deal with, are we avoiding a painful conversation, or feeling incompetent in some way?  Is my to-do list causing distractions? What is it that is going on that is making it difficult to listen, connect and maintain that presence with the other person?

And then, low and behold, one of the most highly anticipated parenting books of the year, written by Dr. Dan Siegel and Dr. Tina Bryson, was released this month and became available at my local library. 

It’s called “The Power of Showing Up” but the subtitle caught my attention specifically because it says  “How parental presence shapes who our kids become and how their brains get wired.” 

PRESENCE. 


This book is on every therapist's must-read list, but it is written for parents! I would encourage you to read it.  

While reading this book, I found that it mirrored what Lynn Louise Wonders, and Lisa Dion, and all of my friends who were writing about words of intention and goals for the year were saying….how do we show up in our own lives for ourselves and for those we love the most?

Two important themes  from this book were:
  1. The longitudinal research on child development clearly demonstrates that one of the very best predictors of how any child turns out - in terms of happiness, social and emotional development, leadership skills, meaning relationships and even academic and career success is whether they developed security from having at least one person who showed up for them. (page 5).

AND 

  1. You’re doing fine. You’re showing up. That’s what matters. You don’t have to be perfect; you can’t be. We are all lifelong learners. Just be there for your kids. Love them.  Use discipline moments as opportunities to teach and build skills. Model kindness, respect, and self-care. Apologize when you miss an opportunity to connect or you mess up in other ways. They don’t need every advantage, and they don’t need a super parent. They just need you -authentic, flawed and fully present you. (pg 22).

Isn’t it funny how the same messages keep getting broadcast in  slightly different ways from different sources throughout the month?  I heard if from Lynn Louise Wonders when she talked about the power of being the one person who just shows up and listens. I heard from Lisa Dion when she talked about acknowledging when you lose your ability to be present and how to get curious about that experience.  And then, again from Dr. Daniel Siegel and Dr. Tina Bryson as they talked about both the concept of showing up and also of messing up, but trying again.  

PRESENCE.


Throughout the year, your 2020 word of intention may grow stronger and be an excellent guidepost throughout the year.  Or, you may find that there are words or concepts that find their way to you. Both are important. This is not an either/or situation. 

My encouragement is to spend time this year showing up in an intentional way for the people that you care the most about.  Practice being present with them and really listening to them. Acknowledge when you zone out or lose touch. And try again.  

Why a white daisy?

Apparently, when people  are asked to draw a flower, the first one that comes to mind for a majority of people is the daisy shape.   This single flower (just the flower part without the stem or any leaves and on a solid black background) was show to study participants after being shown a high-arousal negative image. Examples of high-arousal negative images include awful things like violence, injuries and car crashes.  Two trials were conducted:  in the first subjects were shown a high arousal image and then either a) the flower image b) a mosaic of fragments of the flower image or c) a visual fixation point.  In the second trial, the high arousal image was followed by either a) the flower image, b) a chair (deemed a neutral image) or c) a blue sky with clouds (deemed a positive non-floral image).   Systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings were taken throughout the experiments.  

As expected, mean blood pressure was lower when participants viewed the flower versus the fixation point or the mosaic flower,  but what was unexpected is that the flower image actually reduced mean blood pressure to a level lower than the baseline.  Both the flower image and the blue sky had a similar positive impact in changing mood from negative to positive (with the blue sky having the most overall impact).  However, only the flower (not the sky) caused a reduction in mean blood pressure.  It was determined that viewing a simple flower image could in fact change a negative mood into a more positive one and also decrease blood pressure. 

The power of the single flower image was then studied in regards to salivary cortisol levels.  During this study, the high-arousal images were once again paired with the flower image, the flower fragment mosaic or the fixation point.  Once again, only the flower image was shown to significantly decrease stress during the recovery phase. One final examination looked at fMRI images of the brain during these conditions.  Through this imagery it was discovered that the flower image was effective in decreasing the amygdala-hippocampus activation that occurred after viewing the high arousal images. Researchers speculated that the flower image was a distraction tool that was helped prevent the recall of the stressful images.  

The brief viewing of this single flower image was shown to be effective at reducing negative emotions and created better functioning of both the cardiovascular and endocrine systems! Having such a simple tool available to help reduce stress and regulate unpleasant emotions and is one possible tool for interrupting ruminating thoughts or unpleasant flashbacks.  

About the Author Jen Taylor

Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at info@jentaylorplaytherapy.com

Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at info@jentaylorplaytherapy.com

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