Stumbling on Creativity
CHAD MORRIS, Ph.D., Director
It’s a time of transition. I shift between “please no more snow” and savoring the bright sunshine and longer days. Living far from the equator, the weather can keep one off balance. Over the last twelve hours alone, the weather has changed from snow, to rain, to a hint of sun, and back again to snow.
My mood easily follows this changing climate. Teased by the sun and taunted by snow, the outside environment doesn’t offer much stability. As I wait for the true spring, my best use of the changing seasons may be to go along for the ride.
The unpredictable weather provides contrast and an appreciation for what is and what is to come. It reminds me that my internal emotional state is fleeting. External and internal storms come and as quickly blow away. From this vantage, I am better prepared to sit with daily discontent. I know that the weather, as well as my mood, will soon change. And amazingly, I might even miss the snow and ice months from now.
I find it’s easier to listen to what an uncomfortable state has to teach when I know that the climate will soon change. Not that I always welcome these teachable moments. But all these environmental, mental, and emotional states do universally exist, so I may as well use the contrast to my advantage. After all, I wouldn’t know that I desired a toasty room if I hadn’t just walked several miles in the most recent blizzard.
CINDY WANG MORRIS, Psy.D., Clinical Director
I can feel it coming. My tone is sharper than I intend it to be. The idea of taking on another work project feels like a burden rather than an opportunity. I feel impatient and irritable. It’s hard to be around other people, especially happy ones. What’s harder is to be around myself.
It’s a mutiny. My mind is working against me. The mental environment is toxic. My thoughts spiral downward into a negative space, ruminating about things I can’t change, old dysfunctional beliefs that never worked for me or just plain old worry. It seems that no matter what I do, the momentum I have created in my head is stronger than anything I can combat. I struggle to redirect my mind, focus on something innocuous. But nothing seems to work.
It’s at this point that I remind myself to just let go. There’s nothing I can do to fix it. I know that it will pass and fighting against it doesn’t work. I contemplate my unmet needs and try to meet them. I allow myself to think the negative thoughts that I cannot keep at bay. I swim in my feelings as a practice to honor myself—to celebrate the contrast in my experience that helps me know what I do and do not want.
Although it feels like I’ve lost control when mired in negative thinking, it is really an opportunity to regain personal clarity. By listening to my reaction and following it to its origin, I gain wisdom that I could have missed. All I need is to be open to what my thoughts and feelings have to say, whether I think it’s acceptable or not.
LAURA MARTIN, M.D., Medical Director
I am currently on a business trip in San Antonio, busily working away in my room during a break in programming. My concentration was just disrupted as the boom of a cannon penetrated the silence of my room. I guess I should have realized that this would be one of the free amenities provided by a hotel room across the street from the Alamo. This boom has ensured that I will always remember the Alamo. It also reminds me of the great extent to which our environment, including our acoustic environment, can be conducive or aversive to our goals.
The cannon boom greatly enhances the theatrical experience of the individuals touring the Alamo and grabs my attention. At the same time, it reduces my productivity and transiently increases my stress levels – outcomes that have been associated with noise pollution. Noise pollution can even contribute to increased blood pressure in humans and can change other animal behavior, such as limiting habitat, disrupting communication, and altering ability to detect and respond to opportunities and threat.
In thinking about this within my own home, our family regularly seems at risk of getting the environmental protection agency called on us for noise pollution. When we go out to restaurants, we start at a whispering level to ensure our eventual decibel level will be appropriate to the setting. Since I’m thinking about environmental wellness this month, I am definitely going to work on my family’s awareness of noise and the impact of loud communication levels. But like the cannon, I also need to use this opportunity to think about what is gained by our loud behavior. Similarly, I think it is a dramatic attention getter.
Made to Move
JAMIE PFAHL, B.A., Community Liaison
Colorado has a lot going for it but what tops my list is the environment. Of course “environment” spans more than just the incredible physical geography and the near-perfect climate. It also means the social and cultural environments as well as the masterful urban planning that join bike lanes and walking paths within neighborhoods in close proximity to great mountain recreation. Even though it’s not perfect, Colorado is leagues above where I grew up.
My hometown in Appalachian New York is in a poor county whose defining economic feature are its two landfills. The climate, with its long, dark, snowy winters and limited sunshine can definitely be a barrier to exercise, but worst of all is the culture. There’s no collective identity or passion around health and fitness, and it shows. And there aren’t nearly as many safe and accessible opportunities for wellness. In high school, I had to plan run and bike routes (by trial and error) that avoided passing houses with mean farm dogs that would rush out into the street barking, snarling, and biting. My sister was knocked off her bike once by a vicious lab that “owned” a stretch of the only road leading to town. That kind of experience doesn’t exactly motivate you to bike the 6 miles to town on a country road with no shoulder.
Needless to say, I left that all behind when I chose to move to a place that encourages and facilitates my well-being. The healthy choice is definitely the easy choice when there are mountain trails just 5 minutes from my house, and a bike path right outside my door. With shopping and services in walking distance, I’ve got no excuse not to get my 10,000 daily goal steps in, even on days that I don’t intentionally work out. And the diversity of free and paid options for exercise satisfies my every whim, from trail running and rock climbing to pole dancing or blues dancing lessons.
Sure, I’ve got it good living here, but that doesn’t mean all the credit goes to Colorado for being awesome. It was my choice to move here and to stay here when other career opportunities arose. Furthermore, I’m empowered to modify my surroundings, whether it’s by physically putting myself somewhere else, or by taking action to change what I can. I might not be able to reposition my house to have that perfect mountain view I’ve always wanted, but I CAN make time to go outside and play and continue to advocate for changes to my community that support health and wellness. Besides, what good would the environment be if I wasn’t out making the best of it and working to make it better?
SARA MUMBY, B.A., Program Administrator
Recently my partner and I had to give up our dining room table. (It had been on loan to us while our friends were living abroad). When we walked back into our home after carrying it to our friend’s car, it was like walking into a house of someone who was moving out, or worse, of someone who had just been robbed. Our home just didn’t feel the same. It felt barren and unlived in. It was no longer the inviting space I had come to love and depend on; it was empty.
Sadly, we lived without a table for nearly a month. We were cooking the same elaborate meals in the kitchen, but then we’d squeeze in around the coffee table in the living room and attempts at conversation were stifled by a television we had somehow forgotten how to turn off. We joked at first about how not having a table would squash any plans for dinner parties (hooray! no more menu-planning, food/beverage expenses, cooking for a crowd or dirty dishes), but even that quickly deteriorated from a sense of relief into a feeling of deficiency – even if I wanted to have friends over for dinner, I couldn’t.
When my partner’s parents came for a visit, we knew sitting around the coffee table wasn’t going to cut it. The expense aside, I found it so exciting to pick out the table together, to imagine how it would look in our space, how it would feel to have all of our friends and family sitting around it, and how it could be used for projects, studying or the occasional card game. After we toiled for an hour putting it together, we sat down and ate our first meal. We played our first game of cards. We spilled our first glass of wine. In just a few hours, our home had once again been transformed into a space of warmth and welcome.
I have come to realize that although I show disdain for the materialism and object-obsession of modern society, I need to appreciate that the symbolic nature of certain objects and what they represent is genuine and influential. Even a slight change for the better (or worse) can have real effects on how I perceive my environment and how I move through it.
SUSAN YOUNG, Ph.D., Director of Research
As I start itching for Spring to arrive, my annual clutter purge is underway. I’ve started with my office, where I have fewer emotional ties to my “stuff.” By digitizing and recycling a vast collection of paper (articles, financial statements, medical records, receipts), I gained a renewed feeling of clarity and more square footage in my office! To overcome my arch nemesis—mail—I’ve switched to paperless billing and account statements and opted out of junk mail (see Ecocycle.org for tips). Kitchen island – be free!
But, purging my sentimental clutter is another story. It is hard to decide which of my daughters’ Christmas dresses, finger paintings, ballet slippers, and handmade cards I should keep or toss. I suspect that these collections feed my denial of my daughters’ race to grow up. Who knew that 9 was the new 14? So my goal is to start binning the outgrown clothes and toys for charity, recycling the piles of school worksheets and coloring book pages, and selecting only my very favorite clay turtle and pinch pot to display on my bookshelf.
I am also struggling to let go of the lovely things that my mother, who passed away in 2009, left behind. In my overfilled closet, I have her favorite shoes, the coat she bought for our trip to Belgium, and her collection of costume jewelry. But many of her belongings I neither love nor have any use for, so it’s (past) time to find them new homes. Surely there are women of a certain age with petite frames and affection for patent leather who would appreciate and breathe new life into her things. I will keep and honor the little treasures that remind me of the inspiring woman she was and the joyful times we shared. And I will remember this nugget of wisdom from Peter Walsh (my organizing guru): “If your house is full of stuff, all of the blessings that could fill your house can’t get in.”
JIM PAVLIK, B.A., Program and Policy Analyst
When I was a kid my street didn’t even have a name, just a rural designation and a number. But the absence of sidewalks or nearby playgrounds did not inhibit my ability or willingness to get outside and play.
As I’ve gotten older and puddles and mounds of red clay have lost their charm as destinations for fun, I find myself looking more closely at my potential neighborhood’s “walkability” score, its access to greenways and parks, and its proximity to indoor exercise facilities. But there’s a sense in which that reliance on such things are really just excuses to stay inside and catch up on the newest season of House of Cards.
When I choose to stay inside and do something sedentary instead of being more engaged with my environment, the real reason is me. The temptation to stay inside and take one more online quiz or hit refresh on my Facebook feed can be strong. Unplugging myself and taking a walk seems impossible and there’s always a reason not to. Maybe the weather is a little chillier than I’d prefer. Maybe I have a meeting in an hour and I don’t want to risk getting a little sweaty first. Maybe my shoes aren’t up to the task.
Just getting out there—getting outside—even if that means taking on some inconvenience—is better physically, socially, and intellectually. Most of all—it’s fun! Sure, reading my friends’ snarky Oscars comments had its moments, but at the end of the day, I’ll remember the streams I walked by and the memory of the dogs in the park. I’ve already forgotten what my “Travolta-ized Name is.” If you’re reading this in the future, you’ve probably already forgotten why we were “Travolta-izing” names at all. I know the Internet is fun, but its essence is its evanescence, its shallowness, and often its mean-spiritedness. This is not the fun to make our lives whole and to make us better as people.
In the wellness community, we talk up the benefits of taking hikes, gardening, and trips to the ocean to rejuvenate our souls. But I grew up poor. I know that sometimes it can seem difficult, if not impossible, for a lot of people. And I know that there are real concerns regarding the safety of our neighborhoods that can diminish our desire to venture outside. But I also know that by walling ourselves away we arrest our development as full members of society and that the benefits of getting out there, getting outside, are worth the cost.
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