What You Do Matters

By Christy Gualtieri

A little over a week ago, my children and I were involved in a car accident. We were traveling on the highway and a garbage truck crossed into our lane and hit us, causing us to hit the concrete divider on our left side. It dragged us for quite a way; and when the accident ended, my car stayed, immovable, in the left lane and the garbage truck had made its way to the right shoulder.

I had never been in that large an accident before. I had been rear-ended a couple of times, but those were only minor events; and this was a real, window-glass-shattered, doors dented, tires-blown-out emergency.

When it was over, I was aware of a breeze coming through the large hole where my passenger front window used to be. Shattered glass littered the seat next to me. Other vehicles outside were slowly passing by my car, the curious faces of the drivers trying to catch a glimpse of what had happened. I tried to catch their eyes and made a handsign of a phone – please, call; somebody, please call the police. I turned to look at my four year old, who was scared but otherwise okay, and as I tried to calm him down, reassuring him that we were fine, I realized that I could not hear my nearly two-year old daughter, who was strapped in behind me in a rear-facing car seat.

“Is she okay?” I asked my son, but he did not answer me – he was still recounting everything that had happened. I couldn’t open my door to get out to see her, so I tried calling out her name. No answer. I tried to put my hand on the passenger seat to turn around and see, but there was so much glass. I began to brush it off, and just then, a face appeared at the hole.

It belonged to a friendly-looking, curly-haired woman. “Are you all right?” She asked me. “I’m a nurse, I drove by – I didn’t see the accident happen, but I saw that you had your kids in the car and I had to stop. I called the police, they’re coming – help is coming.”

I tried to smile, but I was still disoriented. “My daughter, I can’t see her,” I told her. “She’s behind me in the seat, but I can’t get out to see her. Is she okay?”

“She’s fine,” the woman told me. “I see her right there, she’s giving me a little smile – hi sweetheart, you’re okay – She’s fine. I just had to stop to see if you were all right, I’m glad you are all right.  I got kids too, I know what it’s like. I’m so glad you’re okay.”

I thanked her again and she got in her car and drove off. I kept reassuring my children as I looked out of the back window. Traffic was starting to back up; I was sure we were the cause of a lot of grumbling from folks trying to get through one of Pittsburgh’s many tunnels. Cars continue to trickle past us, and I was worried that it was taking the police so long to arrive.

A few minutes later, I watched as another car drove around us and stopped in front of my car. A man walked out and over to my passenger window.

“Are you all right?” He asked me, looking into the car. He was a large man, with a tattoo on his arm.

“Yes, thank you,” I replied. “Someone else stopped too, said they called the police.”

“Good,” he said. “I saw you were here, and I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

He looked around again, nodded, and left. A few seconds later, we heard the sirens of the ambulance and fire truck that had been dispatched to help us, and it wasn’t too much later than that when my kids and I were able to safely exit the car and make our way home, a bit shaken up but amazingly otherwise no worse for wear.

There is a lot to consider when I think about that accident. There are the biggies, of course, the what-would-have-happened-if scenarios to ponder, but I mainly find myself thinking about those two commuters who went out of their way to stop and make sure we were okay. They didn’t have to stop; they just could have called from their own cars and continued on, but they took the time to stop on a busy highway to make sure a frightened woman and her two children, whom they had never met, were all right.

And that means so much to me. I am, of course, grateful for the EMTs and Firefighters that assisted us and did a wonderful job helping, but I was just so struck by the impact (no pun intended) that those other two people had on me. I will probably never see them again; I don’t know who they are or where they are from, but I know that their kindness meant a great deal, and I am so grateful to them.

I know that sometimes, maybe most times, you may feel as though the little things you do don’t matter much. But honestly, as the recipient of a little kindness that did a lot to calm my heart and my mind, those things do matter, quite a bit. I hope this encourages you to keep doing those little kindnesses; they may make someone’s really bad day much, much better.

Until next time, be well!

Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health.

The Games We Play

By Christy Gualtieri

Chocolate, or vanilla?
The Beatles, or the Rolling Stones?
Nintendo, or Sega Genesis?

Growing up, we were a Sega Genesis family.  My brother and I took turns playing Sonic the Hedgehog until our fingers nearly fell off, sometimes forgoing our turns if it meant that the other one had gotten to a higher level.  We loved the high tech-ness of it, the new world that was so much more than what Atari games had to offer us.  16-bit graphics — unbelievable! As generations before us did, our friends and I gathered in basements and living rooms to socialize, but not to listen to records or watch TV or to merely gossip.  We’d gather around a screen and cheer each other on as we played different video games — to a kid growing up in the ‘90s, there was no better way to spend your time.

And now, with the advent of even greater technology, the bar has most definitely been raised.  The cavemen-like days of shimmying up a two-dimensional ladder in Donkey Kong or puttering slowly around a track in Excitebike are long over, with realistic RPGs and first-person shooting dominating the scene, not to mention the 3-D awesomeness of the newest generation of virtual reality games that really make you feel like you’re in whatever universe you want to be.

Of course, there are drawbacks to the gaming world.  There is a genuine concern about the relationship between kids’ attention spans and the influence of video games, and of course, serious conversations about the connections between video games and violence.  It’s easy to get caught up in the differing viewpoints.

But there are stereotypes, too.  Think about someone who’s really into “gaming,” and you might assume that they’re all pale, out-of-shape outcasts with a serious lack of Vitamin D and no social skills whatsoever.  But you may be surprised by the connectability that gamers share, the universality of competition around the globe.  The Internet has given gamers the ability to instantly connect with other players around the world; a person never has to play alone – never has to feel alone.

My brother-in-law has a serious video game collection.  Name the system, and he has it.  He knows the savviest ways to get the newest system as soon as it’s released, while the rest of the masses are put on waiting lists.  When we visit, we have a great time trying out the newest technology, and it’s just plain fun.

Just recently, we tried out the new Nintendo Switch.  Its particular innovations draw on the fact that most of the games that are played on it make the player rely on not looking at the screen at all, but at each other.  We had a great time, and I was drawn once again to what makes video games so entertaining: the competition, the skill, and the feeling of escapism that comes with entering new, beautiful worlds with the push of a button.

I’m excited for what the next generation of video gaming is going to come up with!

Thanks for reading,

Christy GualtieriChristy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health.

Choosing Your Own Adventure

By Christy Gualtieri

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”
Alan Bennett, The History Boys

I’ve always loved reading.  Ever since I was very little and I first learned to read, I could be found anywhere, reading anything that happened to be lying around and in arm’s reach. I loved the many popular book series of the day: Sweet Valley Twins (At the age of 11, I was too young to be allowed to read the Sweet Valley High series, although I had hidden the fact that I’d read many of them already from my mother), everything by Roald Dahl, and the Baby-Sitters Club.

One of my favorites, though, was the Choose Your Own Adventure series – a book that was unique in that you didn’t read it cover-to-cover; you chose what the character did as you went through, sometimes skipping whole chapters. I liked them because each book contained dozens of paths to get through the book, so it was like reading many different books in one. When I was done with one adventure, I’d just go back to chapter one and begin again with another path. I do admit that I would cheat here and there; if the book asked me to choose one path I’d hold the page I was on and look ahead; if I didn’t like it, I’d choose the other.

The Choose Your Own Adventure books are enjoying a bit of a comeback these days, and for good reason: everyone likes to feel in control of their own lives, even kids, and it’s fun to undergo an adventure with little risk involved (like I said, if you don’t like the adventure, you can just go back a chapter and pick a new one!). Sometimes it depresses me to know that when I’m going through a bit of a rough patch in my life, I can’t just “flip ahead” to the next chapter to see if I’ll make it through alright, to get that assurance that I’ll be able to get through different anxieties or worries that I feel or the difficult days that I have. On those days, I have to work a bit harder to remind myself that those days are part of the adventure too, even if it doesn’t seem like it; that spending hours sorting through my kids’ toys or running back to the grocery store twice in one day all plays a part in how my life is going to turn out, unglamorous as it can be.

But there are days when it’s all going well, and I don’t want to skip ahead! When I’m having a great weekend with my family or catching up with friends I haven’t seen in years, or I’m finally being productive with a creative project — and then here comes the cue on the bottom of the page that reminds me that there’s more to come.

I don’t know what it’ll look like, and sometimes that makes me nervous. I don’t know what your life is going to look like next either, but I invite you to choose your own adventure today! Choose to take the riskier path, have a little fun! I will try to do that same thing too.

Until next time, be well!

Christy GualtieriChristy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health.

A Wintry Peace

Unsplash Photo By Ben White

By Christy Gualtieri

When writer and film director Philip GrӦning wanted to make a documentary following the lives of the reclusive Carthusian monks, he wrote to their superior for permission.  He was told no, but maybe someday.  Sixteen years later, Groning received a phone call, and he was invited to stay with them for half a year to document how they lived.

The Carthusians in the film reside in the Grand Chartreuse, the head Carthusian monastery in the French Alps, and spend their days in nearly complete silence and contemplation.  They also study, work producing Chartreuse liqueur, and maintain the centuries-old building.

What makes this documentary (called “Into Great Silence”) so compelling, frankly, is its monotony.  There are no special effects (in fact, there’s hardly any music, or speaking, aside from a few minutes of mid-night chanting); no villains; and little conversation.  The camera only focuses on one of the monks at a time for most of the time.  But the viewer is drawn into the rhythm of the monks’ lives, the cycling times of work, rest, meditation and prayer, sleep, and rising.  There is a calmness that seems to go right through the screen and after a while what seems like a boring premise becomes a meditation unto itself.

The interesting thing about it, really, is that our lives can be very similar.  We have a rhythm to our days, and our weeks.  It may be waking up, going to work, coming home, and going to bed.  It may be waking up, driving a truck for twelve hours cross-country, sleeping in a rig on the side of the highway, and waking up to do it all over again.  It may be waking, studying, learning, and taking exams, followed by caffeine to stay awake to keep studying! Whatever your life, your routine, looks like, there is a sacredness to it.  There can be a calmness to it.

It doesn’t always feel that way, I know.  You may feel restless; want to see the world, but you’re unable to because of your circumstances.  You may feel bored, tired of the same commute, the same co-workers, the same drudgery.  I know that, for me, there are some days that just drag, and I don’t see the beauty in the housekeeping or the balancing of the million things I have to do but don’t necessarily want to.

But then I think about the monks, and realize what a benefit there is to the process of living a routined life. Each movement that you know is coming helps to expand your ability to contemplate the world we live in, and helps us to learn more about ourselves. Maybe that 40 minutes you’ve spent in traffic has, over the years, made way for helping you expand your thinking as you’ve listened to audio books in the car.  Or that time in that big rig all by yourself has helped give your time to listen to yourself, to discover what you want from the world we all live in.

And maybe all of that drudgery is just a season in your life, and you’ll be able to accomplish more one day, but you would only have gotten there because of the work you’ve done on the ordinary ones.

In this cold, still (and short!) month, I wish you the gift of a routine.  The gift of those moments in between the things you have to do, the moments where you can dream, and explore, and find out who you really are – so you can get ready to hit the ground running once it thaws and the warmer weather brings more opportunity for you.  And even if it doesn’t, I hope this time of winter routine brings you the best gift of all — peace.

Until next time, be well!

Christy GualtieriChristy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health.

The Sounds of Silence: The Art of Stillness

by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC

Culturally, spiritually and psychologically we live in a paradox. We retreat from our call-to-being by crafting stylish diversions; neatly manufactured conduits to conveniently bypass the chaotic backwoods of our lives rather than direct us on a path through the Terra Incognita. Yet, we crave something more beyond our smartly planned objectives. “Be still and know that I am God,” the Christian Psalm tells us. Stillness, tranquility, peacefulness, calm and concentration; the Buddhists call it Samatha.  

Our raison d’être for exploring the geography of psyche is to discover deeper and lasting meaning, direction and rationale through an evident lack of meaning, direction and rationale.  Consequently, occupation, career, acquisitiveness, and changing technology and systems are now endemic throughout our collective and personal unconscious. Taking the time to work through a crisis, even a relatively minor one, requires us to concede that our bridges are not so stylish, not so sturdy, not so safe. The map plainly illustrates that the monsters of fable, which use to haunt the imaginations of all travelers has been replaced with a less discernible, albeit more frightening, pathology produced from a life left unquestioned and anxiety unchecked. Sadly, our egos are not well-versed in plotting an effective course, and anxiety swells while we further devise elevated, objective methods to escape the natural world lingering below. 

This increased anxiety results in a further distancing from our creative selves, while we force as much activity and noise into our psyche in a self-medicating attempt to obscure the call for calm. Reality television, shop from home, instant messaging, downloadable music and movies, and even therapy by e-mail are now directly accessible in packages that are engaging on the surface, but are ultimately symptomatic of our creative insolvency. These diversions, void of personal meaning and substance, nurture our digressions and weaken our creative and psychological vigor. 

Simply put, we’ve become bored with our lives.  

Therapists have an obligation to be familiar with the creative influence of stillness and the empowerment of silence as an art, not a technique. In recent years, our profession has demanded we circumvent the prickly subject of being still; a quiet mind is metaphorically viewed as a “devil’s playground,” and most empirical validated therapies heed this adage. 

Stay distracted, rate your feelings on a number scale, complete the therapeutic “homework” and your symptoms will decrease. However, the source of the individual’s malaise remains unattended like a super-sized, hyperactive child running amok in a jungle-gym of smoke and mirrors. The inexhaustible revisions in textbooks, the pretensions of clinical research and statistics, the departmental and administrative meetings, and the suggestion that we as therapists somehow provide helpful and informed solutions for others, exhibits the inane, magical thinking that all too often plagues our human sciences. Bells and whistles will explain away pain, while homework and workbooks will change behaviors.  

Let us never lose sight of what Toto revealed behind the curtain. 

Within the context of the creative process, our ability to integrate psyche is much more possible than through other orientations if executed with care, compassion and understanding. Just as a tree is an arrangement of numerous substances that compose its treeness, imagination and vision tend to present as multifaceted essentials. There are many roots to the same tree all moving in different directions, but sharing common qualities. The same could be said for the creative process, be it writing, painting, sculpting, or composing music. The cohesive bond shared between artist and expression is a silent channel of communication that is open, deep and provides connectivity to the psyche in a creative style. 

It is our creative, artistic endeavors that become the conduit for change, and it’s here that the spiritual essence of an individual-in-the-world can be called forth. Psyche is always with us. She is ever present and can either be embraced and accepted or avoided, displaced and repressed into a nothingness that eventually pressures us to reevaluate and renew ourselves.

Exploring the crossroads of creativity and psyche reawakens our conception and understanding of both. The most prized gift we can give the other is our creative presence. This presence need not be spoken in any language other than that of the artist’s silence. When our presence is attentive it blooms within us and others, crafting an otherwise ordinary encounter into a rich tapestry on a weaver’s endless loom.