Book Club: The Clinician as Neuroarchitect

This week’s video is based on the article, ““The Clinician as Neuroarchitect: The Importance of Mindfulness and Presence in Clinical Practice.” by Baldini et al. Click here for the link to the paper.

I adore these concepts because they help me understand the “magic” that happens when we share our stories together in community. Registration for my 8 week online program, Sanctuary, where we do just this, is open now. I’d love for you to join me in the next round.

Watch this video to learn about how sharing our stories actually changes the connections in our brains leading to higher levels of positive well-being. It’s fascinating!

Community is Worth the Search

I was sitting in a circle of about 40 people in the western mountains of Massachusetts. It was summertime with no air conditioning, but my Buffalo blood loved the lack of that frigid, fake air and felt comfortable in a sleeveless sundress. While there were a few women donning the trademark Lululemon insignias, it was mostly folks in label-free yoga wear or t-shirts and shorts. The clothes alone made me feel comfortable being there without knowing a soul. “Come as you are” would be the motto and these people would mean it.

We were instructed to write a one line response to, “Something you know to be true”. Our teacher gave us a beautiful example of the maple trees and smell of sap in Vermont. The first thing I wrote without thinking was, “I know how it feels to stand in a group of moms and feel utterly alone.”

I started to judge myself, thought about writing something else, something more positive, but I felt so at home with this group that I gently reminded myself to stop being critical and I shared it out loud. It was a deep personal truth that I had known for almost a decade, but never voiced to more than my closest circle.

We could analyze why I should or shouldn’t feel this way, but the point I want to convey to you today is that your people are out there, waiting for you to find them. Now that I’ve had time to reflect, I think the reason this particular truth bubbled up was because I was realizing in that moment the contrast of how different it felt to feel at ease with a group.

Maybe you fit in seamlessly with all of the communities you find yourself in. Great! But maybe, you are like me and while there are a ton of nice, friendly people it’s taken a lot of time to find the ones who make you feel good inside and figure out how to act when you don’t. It can be draining.

Which is why it’s so crucial to find the people with whom you feel like you can completely be yourself. It’s one of the reasons I love running this business - the people who enroll in my programs are my people! I’m sure it’s one of the (subconscious) reasons I started Orchid Story in the first place.

If at times you feel like an odd duck, this is me encouraging you to branch out. I know it’s one of those memes that we’ve seen too many times (FInd your tribe!) but maybe that’s because it holds truth. You may have to drive a distance to find them. They may be online. It may be a support group. Keep yourself open to opportunities to find them.

Actively searching for and finding community last year was good for my soul. I’m convinced it helped me build resilience for major life challenges that came soon after. When I think about the writing retreat in the Berkshires I feel full of warmth and connection. Just knowing those people are out in the world makes me feel less resistance and more positivity in my life. I think that’s what it’s all about - the connection. We all need this, require it in order to find contentment and peace. Maybe that’s why you are here, reading this. Let’s keep building this together - a community of people who believe that our stories, no matter how challenging, are our strength.

Marathon Monday

On April 16th my husband, Curt, ran the Boston Marathon. Throughout the entire training process, every time I talked about the marathon I said "we," as in both Curt and me, as if I was running the marathon too. It just came out. I am not a runner and in fact I can't quite stand running. I think it's because when our partners decide to commit to something big, we feel a stake in it too. We want it badly for the person we love and we often have a significant shift in our daily schedules too.

Because he was running for a charity, Team Frannie of the Ethan Lindberg Foundation, this added to my feelings of connectedness to the race. I wanted to give back to this organization that had been alongside us since my son Griffin was diagnosed in utero with congenital heart disease (CHD) seven years ago. 

Also, the lives of several children who had died of CHD were integrally woven into this race: Ari, Chase, Ethan, Frannie. Their moms, dads, and siblings would all be present on race day. 

On race day, Curt got up early and headed out. The weather was as bad as predicted. The kids and I sat in the hotel restaurant watching the elite runners and wheelchair athletes at the starting line.  The rain was already gushing in torrents over the hotel entrance, soaking passersby. I was anxious about Curt having to stand in the wet and cold for hours before he started. I was anxious about all of the runners having trained so intensely to show up for this weather. Then they did a tribute on tv to the five year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing and my kids starting asking what had happened. Yes, I was anxious about that too.

We headed up to the hotel pool and I watched Carly and Griffin play. My heart was hurting, confused and joyful. Hurting for the pain that CHD has caused these families and my own. Confused about how some kids make it and other kids don't. Joyful that we had the once in a lifetime opportunity to be in Boston that day and participate, in our own way, in the race. 

A little while later, we arrived downtown. We stepped out of the uber and within ten second we were drenched. The kids starting complaining immediately but we went up to Beacon St. to watch the elite women pass. At mile 25, they were almost done. 

We stayed inside for a while, keeping warm. But, I had only one chance to see Curt and I didn't want to miss him. So, the Team Frannie crew headed out to Beacon St. Again, fully drenched within seconds. The rain was coming in sheets, sideways. By now the runners were slowing down. Many were walking. Several were already wrapped in the silver thermal blankets they normally receive at the end. Some were in between two runners who had their arms wrapped around the middle runner, almost carrying the person along. A double amputee made his way by on his prosthetics. I could see the pain in his clenched face.

About 15 minutes before we expected Curt, I took my hand out of my glove and held my phone, with the camera open. I wanted to capture the moment on video. This meant that my hand and arm were sopping wet and frozen and that I couldn't follow Curt on the tracker app because I wanted to keep the camera ready. 

The 15 minutes came and went. By this time Griffin was crying hysterically. He was freezing and wanted to go inside. Carly was ready to give up on seeing Daddy too. I couldn't hug them because we were too wet and I was holding an umbrella and the Team Frannie sign we made and the phone. I tried picking Griffin up and putting the umbrella down but that made things worse. 

I needed to make a decision and quick. Should I let them go inside and get warm? My mother's instinct said yes, especially for Griffin whose health could really be affected by this weather. But my human instinct said no. Their dad had undergone a grueling training for this day. The families standing next to me had undergone weeks and months of hospitals stays for their sick children. And, even if they didn't feel it right then, my kids would always want to have the memory of seeing their dad at mile 25 of the Boston Marathon. So we stayed out.

I started wondering if we missed him. What is he wearing? the Team Frannie supporters wanted to know. I didn't know or couldn't remember, the anxiety getting the best of me by this point. Is Griffin ok? they asked. I wasn't sure.

Finally, we spotted him through the driving rain. He looked fantastic - a big smile on his face and a great energy in his stride. I instantly felt ten pounds lighter. The kids switched from crying to cheering. I pushed the red video button on my outstretched hand. 

He gave us a each a kiss and then he was gone. I looked at my phone and realized it hadn't recorded the moment. I tried again as he ran off towards Boylston St, the final stretch the runners dream of. 


All the struggle and pain and beauty and transformation of life was happening right in front of us that day. Feeling so many emotions at the same time IS life. I was filled with pride and love as I watched Curt run past. Then I turned to take the kids in and caught the eye of my friend Jessica, mom of Ethan, and became filled with sadness for the loss of his life. 

Life is not black and white. It's not either or. It's messy and gray, confused and beautiful. I'm lucky to be here, right in the middle of it.

We Run For Them

Orchid Story started by telling my story of my experience with my son's diagnosis of congenital heart disease. Like all stories, this story keeps growing and evolving. My husband has taken hold of it in a new way this year - he's running the Boston Marathon to support the Ethan Lindberg Foundation. I feel compelled to share this video here with you all. #werunforthem

Love is Openness

We can't know how our actions will affect the people and the world around us, but I'm seeing real evidence that happens it all the time. The ripple effect is alive and present. I made a commitment to myself this year to write about my personal stories that I've held tight, not wanting to shed light on them. My reason for not sharing has been that I don't want to hurt people I love - because all stories are told in relationship. But I think that's been more of an excuse than a reason, so here I am trying today. This story describes why it's so important to me that I do. 

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Six years ago I became friends with a stately man in middle age with a bald head, glasses and a bow tie. And a lovely singing voice. I was drawn to this man because of the way he spoke about his young adult son, J, who was facing the most serious struggles with life. The kind that push a person to the edge of their existence. The kind that come with phone calls in the middle of the night. His father talked openly and I didn't sense the shame that so often surrounds these conversations.

But, oh the pain. The pain expressed by this man was so raw and so embedded in every fiber of his being. I recognized that pain almost instantly. And I connected to it.

I had a three year old and a one year old that year. I knew that my three year daughter was not thriving in the way all my friends' three year olds were thriving. Life seemed too much for my girl to bear and so she was in a constant battle with it. Which meant she was in constant battle with me, her mother. I couldn't fix it. I had been trying and trying for three years. I wanted to fix it so badly and I was so ashamed and wracked with a sense of lack that I couldn't. If she needed help that meant that I needed help too. In my mind that was equivalent to failing as a mother.

J's story was woven into my heart the first day I heard it. His father helped me to accept that getting help was not a choice. It was a need, a necessity. I don't know many details of J's life but I don't need to. His father gave me an enormous gift of showing me how to live as a parent of a child who is in pain. I don't think I could see my daughter's challenging behaviors as her own pain back then, but my eyes were opened to the idea of figuring out an alternative way to do parenthood. J's father showed me that it's possible to be grieving, to be joyful, and to be loving all at the same time.

It may seem odd to have made this strong connection between our experiences. He was parenting a 20 year old and I a three year old. This the beauty of love and kindness. We don't need to understand it. We only need to be open to receive it. And we need to be willing to give it of ourselves. 

I'm still learning how to parent my child who continues to experience the world differently than her peers. I still want to solve it and put it behind us, but I'm starting to understand that is not how this works. I have enlisted many helpers and healers in the past six years. A desire is growing stronger within me to live joyfully in this own life of mine and not let the weight of this keep me under the surface. 

Earlier this month, just as 2018 was waking up and stretching its limbs, J released himself from this life. He was 26 years old. I know this is not the end of J's story. He will continue to touch me and the many others that survive him. His story will ripple. 

I've seen his father since that day. I see him in deep, deep grief and joy and love. 

Find Your Helper Along the Road of Trials

As you (our heroine), find yourself along what Joseph Campbell calls, The Road of Trials, you will be encountering lots of suffering. That's one of the reasons I like the Hero's Journey - the suffering is an acknowledged part of it. The Road of Trials is represented in the image as Challenges and Temptations. You'll notice there are also Mentors and Helpers along this road. These figures vary in their description depending upon whose writing you read. But I like to think of them pure and simple as helpers or teachers. 

Thanks  Wikipedia!

Thanks Wikipedia!

So, as you are working on re-writing your story (you're doing that, right?) the template of the Hero's Journey can be really useful. Especially if you aren't sure where to start and how to organize. The more I dive into this, the more I like using it as a template because of these Helper figures. The thing is that when you re-visit your story, you are likely recalling a lot of pain. After all the reason you want to re-write your story is so that you can find the glimmers that existed amongst the pain. 

While you are re-engaging with the suffering you experienced, recall a Helper. Who was there to hand you a flashlight in the dark? Who called you out of the blue when you were driving along the highway, tears streaming down your face? Your Helper might be a good friend or your Helper could be a complete stranger whose gesture reminded you of the goodness in the world. 

I know re-writing your story isn't easy. The Road of Trials can be dark and scary. There is no way around it though. The only way to get to transformation is to keep going down your Road. In doing this work, remember a Helper who nourished you along the way, who provided you with sustenance to keep going. 

Thank you Abby Wambach

I spend a lot of time with my kids in the public library. As an avid reader it's always been a place I feel at home. I can remember the library of my childhood; an old building with squeaky wood floors. My memories of the the adult section convey a dimly lit room with actual lamps and an old wingback chair covered in velour fabric. I still get a thrill walking out the doors of the library with a new book in hand.

I've enjoyed experiencing the library through my kids' eyes. My daughter, recently emboldened with a library card of her own, does something I have never done and have avoided like the plague. She enters the library and heads straight for the help desk. Sometimes I follow behind and other times I go hide in the stacks. She tells the librarian what she's looking for, graphic novels being the current favorite, and off they go, on a quest to find a new book. We've discovered wonderful new authors and series using this method of actually talking to a person, (imagine that!), at the library. 

So, when faced with a complexity in my own life, I frequently turn to books. Over time I've learned that I often stand to gain more from fiction and memoir than from instructional how-to's that promise to get your baby to sleep and harness your strong-willed child. 

We all need strategies to help us cope and one that has been so useful to me (and free to everyone with a library card!) has been books. Often I'll be reading along and happen upon a sentence that resonates so deeply it'll jolt me out of my heavy-lidded almost asleep state. That's it exactly, I think to myself. You read my mind. And all of a sudden I am less isolated in my experience. Here are some of those words.

Forward by Abby Wambach. This conversation between kid Abby and her mom could have been spoken between my daughter and me.  

"Abby, " she says, "you scored a lot of goals today. Don't you think it's important that your teammates become part of it?" I look up at her, confused, and ask, "Isn't the whole point to score goals?" She thinks on that for a moment and admits, "It is." "Well, I am the best one to do that. So if that's the whole point, I don't see the problem."

Devotion by Dani Shapiro. Oh, I love all of Dani's work so, but in Devotion I felt like she was literally walking inside of my brain and teaching me more about the why behind Orchid Story. 

Yogis use a beautiful Sanskrit word, samskara, to describe knots of energy that are locked in the hips, the heart, the jaw, the lungs. Each knot tells a story - a narrative rich with emotional detail. Release a samskara and you release that story. Release your stories, and suddenly there is more room to breathe, to feel, to experience the world. 

Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett. A gorgeous and heart-wrenching journey of friendship and addiction. This passage strikes right in my heart to all the times I've frantically grasped for control in the midst of uncertainty. My eyes well up every time I read the last line. 

I wouldn't give Lucy money anymore, but I'd buy her things or send an emergency rent check directly to her landlord. After we talked for an hour, I went online and bought her everything I could think of: pot holders and vegetable peelers and plates and pans... I bought her Tupperware. It was my own special brand of insanity that made me think the trials of Lucy's life could somehow be eased by the order of Tupperware.