Open Your Heart to Healing: Emotional Engagement in Your Own Life

Author: Emily Munoz

Have a Walkabout

While the term "walkabout" originates in Australian Aboriginal culture as a soul-searching rite of passage, it has found more general usage to describe movement intended to alleviate the feeling of being unsettled, restless, dissatisfied or bored. Having a walkabout means going outside, whether in wilderness, an urban jungle, or your own neighborhood, and looking at things with new eyes. It involves being present, looking with perspective, and detaching one's self from fitness or destination goals. Go out and experience the feeling of movement. Open your senses, try on new perspectives. Don't plan a route (but keep yourself safe!); don't stick to your normal patterns. Go where your walkabout takes you, and you'll know when you're done. By disrupting your own uncomfortable stalemate, you'll look at the world as something to explore, not just something to survive.

Thinking by the River

Give Love and Time

When you can't reach out and express how much you love and miss the person who's not there anymore, make a conscious decision to put that love somewhere else. Choose to speak, act and live to represent that love through volunteerism, visiting shut-ins or nursing homes, staffing a local animal shelter or soup kitchen, or organizing or participating in a charity food or toy drive. Give someone the gift of time - babysit for new parents, cover someone's obligations so that they can spend extra time with an ailing family member - and do so without bitterness that the gift of "enough time" didn't come for you. By focusing instead on the gifts of time you did receive, you'll learn to appreciate the gifts of time and love you can still give. 

Change the Soundtrack

We use music for a myriad of reasons, among them are communication, worship, grieving, expressing anger, celebration, instruction and binding us together in shared experience. Holiday music is a tradition, but it may also be a tradition that doesn't feel as good for you as it once did. So change the soundtrack - try something completely new. Set the stage for your own season by reaching outside of your comfort zone. Can you find a new genre that speaks to you? Furthermore, can you find song lyrics that you can use as a kind of mantra? When you find lyrics that act as a balm for your heart, you'll know. Write them down; share them with us; use them to shape your days. Often, when I've found lyrics like this, I'll wake up with them on my mind. It's as though my spirit has been singing them all night. By opening your heart to a new melody, you'll invigorate your spirit.

Find New Tools

Opening your heart may mean opening yourself up to new tools and even new technology. Whether you are attached at the hip to your smartphone or think of it as a necessary evil, there are ways to use your smartphone to help you practice opening yourself to new information, constructive habits and better health. Apps like Headspace, Calm and Mindfuless can help you with guided meditation that’s accessible, fun, progressive, and, in some cases, social. Nutrition and wellness apps like MyFitnessPal and Noom can help you commit to healthier eating choices by providing accountability, information and easy-to-use food diaries and food guides. True to its name, the app Happify is geared toward life improvements. When you open it, you’ll be prompted to  select a goal like finding more time for yourself or getting better at handling stress, and the app will provide you expert advice, activities, and even games to keep you on track. By trying something new that helps you focus on small changes and incremental improvements, you’ll remember that flowers bloom gradually.

Embrace Imperfection 

Rigidity is the enemy of openness. Restricting yourself to the way things “should” be keeps you away from embracing life. Furthermore, a focus on the daily “shoulds” can reinforce feelings of betrayal and bitterness, as the big “should” (our loved ones should be here) remains unresolved. If you tend toward needing and wanting structure and control, lean into mess and chaos whenever you can. Think of experience first and effect second. If you’re holding yourself back from travel, social engagement or the fullness of the season because of insecurity, anxiety or fear, don’t wait on your self-imposed standards to be a part of a world that wants you, not perfection. Create space for magic, not standards for “musts.” By embracing your own imperfections, you’ll pave the way for others to do so, too.

Create Readiness 

Openness is about being ready. It’s about setting the stage for something wonderful. There’s a reason why we feel better when we take time to feel “put together;”  it’s because we’ve created a platform for flexibility and confidence. If you’re in the habit of letting part of your appearance go, shower, shave, get a haircut, put on your makeup or jewelry. You’ll feel pride in your own effort. You’ve taken care to ready your best self for whatever the day holds. If you’re in the habit of procrastinating and putting off until later in the day things that you know you need to do, get up and get them done. Allow yourself the freedom to know that the rest of the day belongs to possibility, not postponement. If you’re moving toward setting personal or professional goals, find ways to prepare yourself for those new endeavors — find a training program, get paperwork together, ask questions. By opening yourself to potential, you’ll be prepared and ready for new challenges.

Consider a Social Media Holiday 

Little Girl UpsetRemember that social media can make us feel connected to others, which often has a positive effect on mood. However, as compassionate human beings, we can also be affected by the anger, emotional distress, and inevitable comparisons to which we introduce ourselves when we passively experience social media. Taking a break from social media may be a way for you to focus on how you're experiencing the holidays, and how you really feel about what is happening in your own life, without imagining how other people might view it. The key is to use your own lens for determining how you feel and for evaluating what you want and need, not the virtual or imagined lenses of others. Instead, focus this energy on your touchstone people and friends, the ones who know how you're doing, not how you seem to be doing on social media. Make efforts to reach beyond the stories other people tell, too. Try to be the person who values connection and genuine interaction. There are times when we do need the perspective of others to help us realize things about ourselves, recognize warning signs, and identify options and solutions. Those points of view are almost always more well-received when they're the result of real, active communication. When you pick up the phone, swing by a friend's house, let people in, meet for coffee or a meal, you'll trade scrolling through life for intentional communication.

Have a Pity Party, but Be Cinderella 

Whatever part of the holidays you celebrate, or don't, as we mark the end of one year and the beginning of another, at some point, we'll all hear the familiar strains of "Auld Lang Syne" or the good old days. The song, meant to shepherd in one year while paying tribute to the times that have come before, is almost an anthem of mourning. When you're missing the good old times, when you're grieving the ways life could have been different, when you're just not feeling like yourself, or when you're frustrated with having to work so hard at a time when so much seemed to come easy - it's OK to sit with those feelings for a while.

How easy it is for the divide between the world we want to live in, and the world in which we find ourselves, to cause us pain and to make us feel bad about our situation and the human situation. It's easy to seek pity, to be sad, to wonder: why me or why us, or why them. It's easy to extrapolate from there - why sickness? Why accidents? Why war? And why did all of these things happen to these people we loved so much? If you need to sit with these questions, and even with the feeling of feeling sorry for yourself, do so. Have a pity party, but impose a deadline. If you're alone on New Year's Eve for the sixth straight year with no one to kiss, it's OK to feel sorry for yourself. Until midnight. And then Cinderella has got to leave the pity party. If you're feeling misunderstood the whole holiday season, and your family and friends are just not seeing your anguish, mourn the ease of the past and then hop into the pumpkin coach, and resolve to do better. The pity party may have to happen, but it can't last all night. By accepting that there is still a rest of the story, you'll resolve that it's one we can still use to make a difference.

Consider Yourself as Part of Something Larger 

Even in the darkest moments of loneliness and grief, you are part of a larger story, a story that demonstrates the ability to connect love and loss across miles, across spheres of consciousness, and across and among families. You are part of a story of persistence and perseverance, of hope, even when you feel least like this is the case. Besides the story of the human experience, and what it is like to be a part of this world, you're also a part of the story of our country. You are living the history of our time, and you are taking your place in the long line of patriots, warriors and flag-bearers. As such, you are part of the larger TAPS family and community. And so, wherever you find yourself, whether you are feeling unexpected or longed-for joy at what is, or whether the bleakness of the landscape tugs on your heart, you're not the only one experiencing it. Reach out. Know that we are with you, wherever you are. When you find comfort in your TAPS family, however you find us this season, you'll keep your heart open to healing. We're sure that there is still enough love to fill it, and we can't wait to help you find it.  

About the Author, TAPS Strategy and Communications Senior Advisor, Surviving Spouse of Army Capt. Gil Muñoz: Emily Muñoz is TAPS Strategy and Communications Senior Advisor and survivor spouse of Army Capt. Gil Muñoz. Emily (with the tilde) is still living a personal campaign to be the person her late husband, Gil, loved — and is using the Inner Warrior program to empower survivors to do the same.