The Lighter Side of Transformation

with Lisa Wessan, LICSW

Feeling Blue? Try donating your blood

Giving blood can be surprisingly uplifting. I donate every eight weeks or so because it feels so good to make that immediate positive impact.

From my personal and professional experience, I have come to understand that searching for happiness is a somewhat bleak cause. Happiness can be fleeting, flimsy, fast. Instead of searching for happiness, searching for ways to feel useful and peaceful are much better drivers for feeling good, which can lead to more joy — which is long lasting and not based on external stimuli. Feeling useful and peaceful is the foundation for all good things in my life.

Giving blood checks off so many boxes, plus according to Tim Ferriss’ research (THE FOUR HOUR BODY), donating blood successfully lowers your probability of getting cancer. This is because when you donate blood, the iron stores within your body remain at a more healthy level. Studies have shown that a lower iron store level in the body is connected to a lower cancer risk. This has several significant benefits for health and longevity.

In sum, giving blood is a total WIN/WIN event…you get a sweet bump up for feeling useful and peaceful plus you lower your odds of getting cancer💙

💥 INTO ACTION? You can easily make an appointment here: http://www.redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS. 💥

Don’t take my word for it, be a good scientist in the laboratory of your life… make a donation and just observe how you feel afterwards.

Onward and Upward✨

Lisa Wessan

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The difference between a flower and a weed is a judgment. ~ Unknown

During my morning hike I came across this beautiful field of dandelions…

Weeds or flowers?

I choose flowers💕

The Dandelion Story

A man bought a new house and decided that he was going to have a very beautiful lawn.  He worked on it every week, doing everything the gardening books told him to do. His biggest problem was that the lawn always seemed to have dandelions growing where he didn’t want them.  The first time he found dandelions, he pulled them out. But, alas, they grew back. He went to his local gardening store and bought weed killer. This worked for some time, but after summer rains, alas, he found dandelions again.  He worked and pulled and killed dandelions all summer. The next summer he thought he would have no dandelions at all, since none grew over winter. But, then, all of a sudden, he had dandelions all over again. This time he decided the problem was with the type of grass.  So, he spent a fortune and had all new sod put down. This worked for some time and he was very happy. Just as he started to relax, a dandelion came up. A friend told him it was due to the dandelions in the lawns of his neighbors. So he went on a campaign to get all his neighbors to kill all their dandelions.  By the third year, he was exasperated. He still had dandelions. So, after consulting every local expert and garden book, he decided to write the U.S. Department of Agriculture for advice. Surely the government could help. After waiting several months, he finally got a letter back. He was so excited. Help at last! He tore open the letter and read the following:  

“Dear Sir: We have considered your problem and have consulted all of our experts. After careful consideration, we think we can give you very good advice. Sir, our advice is that you learn to love those dandelions.”[De Mellow, A. (1984). The song of the bird. New York: Image Books.]

This is a story about Radical Acceptance, and learning to accept the things we cannot change. Radical Acceptance is a lifelong process that you experience each day, in many opportunities and forms. Notice all the dandelions in your life. Some might be close family and friends, others might be strangers. Most important, do not judge your judging – just observe and let it go🌟


	
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Reflections on Juneteenth 2020 and the Evolution of Consciousness

Evolution of Consciousness

“One discovers the light in the darkness, that is what darkness is for.”  
James Arthur Baldwin, novelist

I have felt crushed and overloaded by the recent events of our times, but still feel peaceful and hopeful that we are having a wonderful new beginning.  History teaches me that the Dark ages are followed by the Renaissance, Saul becomes Paul, the heroin addicted sex worker becomes an addiction counselor, on and on. This is the emergence of consciousness, over and over here at Earth School.

The Program is designed to move us forward until we realize and accept our Oneness with each other and the Universe.  But what a long journey it is…probably many lifetimes of learning are achieved before we totally get it.

During the crisis, the saying goes,  “When one door closes, another one opens, but it is hell in the hallway.”  I’m the one who tells my clients “…It doesn’t have to be hell in the Hallway.  You can choose to create a different kind of experience during ambiguous times.”  Yes, I do believe that is still true. Yet during these past few months the Hallway has been brutal. Each day, it is a struggle to stay focused on solutions and find some joy, despite the chaos around us.

This pandemic chaos and  racism crisis also remind me of the Chinese word for crisis, which is made of two symbols, Danger and Opportunity.  In each crisis, we are totally at risk, and yet the opportunity for a new and improved consciousness is here.  That’s the good news. Again, it’s part of the Program for the evolution of our consciousness.

As much as I want to discuss ways to live in ambiguity with peace, even joy, today I feel the need to be quiet.  I am sitting with the grief, and processing the harsh reality of the racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and other forms of tribal cognitive distortion that are still infecting our world in tandem with COVID-19.

Here are two resources which have been particularly soothing, uplifting and informative recently:

“Bleed the Same,” with Toby Mac and Kirk Franklin.
This song captures exactly what I am feeling, and what needs to be said now.
No other words say it so perfectly.

⭐ Tim Ferriss’  interview Coach George Raveling, 82,  “This Unique Moment in Time, How to Practice Self-Leadership, Navigating Difficult Conversations and much more” .

In the throes of feeling this intense outpouring of emotion after George Floyd was murdered, and under the suffocating history of  racism,  I appreciate hearing how this wise black man frames this moment.  This wide ranging interview will give you an intimate view of Raveling’s extraordinary journey from being born in the basement of a segregated hospital,  to becoming a world class coach, and how he navigated his life in this ocean of racism all these years.

At one point, Raveling says “We are both the problem and the solution.”  Yes, I love that dialectical view for each of us. We are ALL accountable for this situation. We need to step up and take a stand to create a world worth living in, with “Equality and justice for all.”  Simple, but not easy.

So I invite you to listen to “Bleed the Same,” and Raveling’s interview.  I think your heart and mind will be moved to a new level of awareness, acceptance and then action. 

YES, you can be an agent of transformation, and turn this Hellish Hallway experience into a magnificent corridor for the evolution of consciousness!

Onward and Upward❤

Lisa Wessan

 

Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2020. All rights reserved.

 

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Lisa Wessan, LICSW, invited to participate in “Medicare for All Forum” with Senator Jamie Eldridge

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💥THIS EVENT HAS BEEN POSTPONED DUE TO THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC.💥
IT WILL BE UPDATED WHEN THE NEXT DATE IS SET AND ALL IS WELL.
STAY SAFE AND WELL IN THESE NEXT FEW WEEKS!

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Is it a fantasy? Is it a dream? Who are we if we don’t think bigger, better, more expansively with each generation?  I am honored to be invited to be a panelist on this critical topic, as we hasten slowly towards a new horizon for healthcare.  Onward and Upward!

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WHEN: Tuesday, March 31, 2020, 7 – 9 PM
WHERE: First Parish Church United, 48 Main Street, Westford, MA 01886
FEE: This is a free event, open to the public, but registration is required. Click HERE to register. [Clinicians can receive two CEUs for this event. Members of NASW can register HERE. ]

Description:

“Massachusetts has expanded health insurance, but still thousands of our families, friends and neighbors can’t see a primary care doctor, get routine tests, or fill a prescription. Working for a small company or holding part-time job can mean living only a short step from medical and financial disaster.

A Medicare for All solution is under consideration in the Massachusetts legislature. It is intended to restructure the way we currently pay for health care. The goal is to provide broader access, greater efficiency, lower costs, and better patient outcomes. The proposed system enhancements are designed to streamline and consolidate the finances and administration of healthcare in order to reduce cost, waste, and inefficiencies so that more time and resources for patient care is available.

The expert speakers on today’s program offer insights into the deficiencies of the existing system, the proposed Medicare for All legislation, the costs and benefits of a new system, and what will be required to make Health Care a Human Right.” [Source: Indivisible Westford]

Panelists:
Senator Jamie Eldridge – State Senator in Middlesex and Worcester Counties, Lead sponsor of S.683, An Act Establishing Medicare for All in Massachusetts.
Dr. Sara Clay MD – Internist practicing in Lowell, MA
Lisa Wessan- LICSW, Psychotherapist, Life Coach, DBT Skills Trainer, Author, Speaker, Consultant
www.lisawessan.com
Rebecca Wood- Community Organizer with Mass Care.

Moderated by Beth Morrison, LCSW, Northeast Regional Coordinator for NASW-MA, Leader of Indivisible Westford, Progressive Mass Chapter

Co-Sponsors of event: NASW – MA, Westford League of Women Voters, Social Action Committee of First Parish Church United, Progressive Massachusetts, Indivisible Westford, Three Rivers Progressive Mass, MASSCARE

 

 

 

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One of my favorite dialectical quotes…

#DBT du jour:

“Love tells me I’m everything. Wisdom tells me I’m nothing. And between the two my life flows.”

– Sri Nisargadatta

What does dialectical mean?  Learn more HERE.

If you are challenged with depression, anxiety, social issues, relationship troubles, impulse issues or addiction, DBT skills will help you become healthier, stronger and more capable of coping with your emotions.  DBT is a Solution Focused therapy that gets effective results, and quickly!

Up Next:  Mindfulness and Interpersonal Effectiveness skills training in Westford, MA starts 11/06/19. Learn more HERE.

Fun fact: when you worry about the past too much, you become depressed; when you obsess about the future, you become anxious.  Learning to live in the present moment, aka practicing Mindfulness, can reduce 90% of your depression and anxiety.  Yes, you will still need to learn better ways to solve your life’s issues, but if you learn to stay in the  present  you will be so much more peaceful and useful.  Learning Mindfulness skills helps you get there.

If this speaks to you, please visit lisawessan.com and complete the CONTACT FORM.  I will contact you within 24 hours to discuss joining our next DBT group or working together individually, whatever you need.

Onward and Upward,
Lisa Wessan

Four leaf DBT

 

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On Receiving Accolades at the State House in Boston

When I left my job at NBC as a Talk Show Producer, I knew that there was never going to be a time when fame, fortune, cash and prizes were going to make me happy.  Not that I was ever famous, or super wealthy.  But I had lived in that world, worked at 30 Rockefeller Plaza for over a decade amidst the affluence and glittery abundance of mid-town Manhattan.  Working in the Entertainment Division at NBC was being at celebrity central, especially working on the talk shows.

What I learned, after a while, is that these things cannot sustain deep joy and wonder.  Working in that world was not inspiring me, and I felt I was somehow skimming the surface of life. I knew at some point that I was going to move on…

Fast forward…Yes, moving from trauma to transformation is now the name of my game.  As it is for most of my peers,  we are mostly off the radar, not seeking the limelight and quite happy doing what we do in the privacy of our consulting rooms.

So imagine my surprise and delight when I learned I was going to be honored for my deep dive into psychospiritual matters!  This was quite the shockeroo…

Who would have guessed that working with clients through their mysterious process of defrosting grief, recovering from illness, loss, abuse and neglect, teaching skills on emotion regulation, mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, finding new purpose in life, and finally building new dreams would be honored?   Not me. 

Getting kudos for how we work through the muck of it all? Incredible! Clearly, there is no Red Carpet in therapy land!  (Perhaps one day, however, when my book is out there, it will become a best seller, and then a blockbuster film…that would be fun and quite the wild ride.  Being a bit conflicted about being on the big arena,  I will need to continue to choose “Courage over comfort,” as Brené Brown  says.  Book tours, screenings, interviews, all positive and negative.  “Courage over comfort” helps me to accept leaving my safe, small world and moving on!)

In the meantime, it’s wonderful to live in Massachusetts, one of the more enlightened states that takes the time to acknowledge our inner journey, and how important it is to use mental health resources when the going gets tough.  Massachusetts is great at de-stigmatizing mental health issues.  There is tremendous support here for everyone to get what they need and move on.  

The Big Day…

On March 6, 2019, there was a beautiful and moving ceremony at the State House in Boston to honor a few of us maverick social workers who are doing extraordinary things in our practice.

Several politicians gave speeches, Senator Ed Kennedy acknowledged us by name (see his Facebook post below)  and there were lots of hugs and cheers throughout the event.  In addition, our photos with brief bios were on display in the State House during National Social Work Month in March.  (So fun and unexpected!)

Each of us that were honored that day has taken our original graduate training and morphed into providers who are doing unexpected works.  We all went past graduate school and expanded into unpredictably useful areas  (Click HERE for the original press release.)

My unusual areas of work involve Walk and Talk Therapy,  Therapeutic Laughter Training and Dialectical Behavior Therapy.  (You can learn more about these topics at my web site, www.lisawessan.com)

I appreciated Senator Ed Kennedy’s comments on Facebook and his ongoing support of our work (see below). It was a special day and fun to be with my magnificent peers.

Here are some photos from the day:

 

Thank you for sharing in the gratitude and excitement of this moment in my career!  It was certainly one of the highlights of my time here in Massachusetts.

Up Next?

The journey continues — and this is truly a shameless plug — I’m an organically wired promoter, and cannot help sharing good science tested information or personal anecdotal results from the Lisa Laboratory of Life!  So if you want to keep in touch, you can follow this blog, or send me a message at my web site to receive my periodic newsletter.

Stay tuned for more quality news as we journey together from Trauma to Transformation!

Onward and Upward,

Lisa Wessan

 

Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2019. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Is this true? Young Love vs. Old Love…

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Young love is about wanting to be happy. Old love is about wanting someone else to be happy.

~ Mary Pipher, Psychologist

When I first saw this quote in The Boston Sunday Globe (11/18/07 in “A love supreme finds space in dementia”), I thought it was beautiful.  But now I’m wondering if it is referring to a codependent love?  Do we naturally sacrifice our own happiness for others? Is it a true exchange? Does wanting others to be happy make us happy as well? Will that be a quiet, joyful feeling, or an ecstatic white light flight into the heights of happiness? Or sometimes one, then the other, plus all the levels in between?

I am also reminded of a sermon I heard a while back, when the pastor asked, “Can there be love without sacrifice?”   I was percolating on that for a while, and realized that true love is refined in the kilm of sacrifice. That is where it truly gets to shine and become complete. The crucible of marriage has taught me this and I trust it is for the good…but sometimes I do wonder. This is truly a dialectical debate, dealing with the pain in the name of love.

As the poet Rainer Maria Rilke once said, “For one human being to love another, that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.”

Thoughts?

I’m Curious.  Can we have deep love without sacrifice?

Onward and Upward,

Lisa Wessan

 

 

 

 

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On the “Myth of Closure,” Ambiguous Loss and Complicated Grief

“Everyone experiences ambiguous loss if only from breaking up with someone, or having aging parents or kids leaving home. As we learn from the people who must cope with the more catastrophic situations of ambiguous loss, we learn how to tolerate the ambiguity in our more common losses in everyday life.” 

– Pauline Boss, Ph.D.

In my immediate family, several of my nearest and dearest have battled with cancer over the years…both of my paternal grandparents, may they rest in peace,  my dear first cousin Stephanie (may she live to be a super centenarian) and my delightful and fierce Aunt Yvette (known as “Auntie”), who is currently receiving hospice care.  It has been a long and grueling journey with cancer for all my loved ones.

Sometimes I struggle with feeling powerless, and living so far away from my family in Sarasota, FL. When they lived in New York, it was so much easier to visit. Sadly,  I can’t make frequent visits to Sarasota. The only “power” I do have is to send intentional healing and loving energy to my Auntie and family…and to practice radical acceptance so that I will function with some measure of inner peace here in my world.

For a while, my Auntie was in and out of the nursing home while she battled her cancer and other complications from treatment. Her life was severely compromised by her illness.  As harsh as this has been is for her, since April 2015,  I have also been witnessing how Auntie’s dying process is affecting everyone around her.

My cousins are fraught with anxiety and grief. Others in my family are a hot mess, watching Auntie dying so slowly, not being able to process their feelings and find some relief.  Some people get trapped in the “Blame Game,” and are always looking to find ways to defocus their pain by pointing at others.

We are all coping with the ambiguity of Auntie being here, yet not here.  She is no longer resembling her true self as we knew her.  Sometimes she is delirious, sometimes she is too weak to talk. As her body deteriorates, she is no longer living the full and robust life she once enjoyed.

ambiguous loss1

This pain we are all experiencing has a name…it is called Ambiguous Loss.  “Ambiguous loss is a loss that occurs without closure or understanding. This kind of loss leaves a person searching for answers, and thus complicates and delays the process of grieving, and often results in unresolved grief.” (Wikipedia)

There are a variety of types of ambiguous loss.  One type is when people go missing and the body is never found.  For example, a person does not return from a sailing trip, or from a hiking excursion, or war, or they are kidnapped.  Their loved ones still feel a lack of closure because the body was not found.   “Maybe they will return…” lingers in the mind.

After 9/11,  all of us in NYC were processing personal and professional ambiguous loss for all of our New Yorkers who were lost in the pile of bodies that were never recovered.

Another kind of ambiguous loss is when people experience a new emotional boundary that hurts.  This happens when people get divorced, or when someone ignores you, stops talking to you, shuts you out of their life.  Any kind of break-up creates ambiguous loss, because the person is still here, yet not here. They are alive, but dead to you.   This is considered more painful loss than when someone actually dies.

ambiguous loss3

Medical illness and addictions cause ambiguous loss.

Ambiguous loss also occurs when a loved one has Altzheimers or dementia, and they no longer recognize social connections. Similarly, when someone is very ill, such as my Auntie. We have ambiguous loss because the illness is transforming our loved one into someone other than the person we always knew. We are mourning the living remnants of our loved one while she is here…so excruciating and bitter.

When someone is living with an addiction, this too causes their personal relations to deteriorate and they are not fully present for their loved ones. Again, they are here but not here.

I have a friend who had a beautiful daughter in Cambridge, MA,  who chose to be homeless.  Her daughter was an alcoholic.  My friend tried all methods of intervention and help. Nothing worked. My friend suffered with ambiguous loss for so many years. Her daughter was a pianist, absolutely lovely.   She died a few years ago,  at 35, and it was one of the most heart wrenching tragedies I experienced.  My friend is still recovering from this painful loss.

Learning to live a good life with ambiguous loss

I recently listened to a wonderful and insightful podcast interview with ambiguous loss pioneer Pauline Boss, Ph.D., who originally coined the term “ambiguous loss.”   Krista Tippett hosts Dr. Boss on her podcast, On Being.  You can listen here:

The Myth of Closure [UNEDITED VERSION, 1.5 hours]

The Myth of Closure [EDITED VERSION, 1 hour]

I prefer the unedited versions of Tippett’s interviews, because there are sometimes fascinating nuances that are deleted to make the long form interview fit into an hour. But I’m sure whichever one you listen to will be rewarding💙

One of the ideas I took away from Dr. Boss’ talk was that we will never have complete closure from our ambiguous losses, or from our complicated grief.  What we can do is become  more adept at processing our negative feelings and difficult thoughts. Dr. Boss has some wonderful suggestions on the process.

Cognitive restructuring, which can be learned, is a big part of the solution.  Dr. Boss’ stories and explanations are very helpful in deconstructing the different kinds of ambiguous loss that we all have in our lives.

Even though I learned about ambiguous loss and complicated grief in graduate school, it seems I keep deepening my understanding of it every year.  I learn more about ambiguous loss from clients who are struggling with painful divorce, adult children with addictions, my Auntie’s battle with cancer, harsh racial and homophobic incidents and for all the ongoing loss of freedoms in the world that never seems to subside.

Fun fact: Ambiguous loss is clearly part of our psychospiritual journey — for it forces us to grow and move to new levels of compassion and acceptance of things we cannot control.  “Lack of power, that is our dilemma,” says Alcoholics Anonymous  (Bill W., 1976).  Yes, in our culture, we seek to control, cure, fix and manage everyone and everything as much as possible. We don’t like messy endings.

Yet what I have come to know, is that true mastery of life is being able to live in ambiguity with peace, even joy.  My life is far from perfect…yet I am more often feeling positive, grateful,  uplifted, inspired and anticipating good interventions that will transform it.

If we can learn to live in that “not knowing” place and be peaceful — that is a vast improvement on “hating ambiguity” and perhaps yelling at G-d or the Universe, or twisting into knots over why bad things do happen to good people…again, very messy, so annoying.

The truth is, when it comes to matters of love, there is no closure. As they say at the Grief Toolbox,  “Closure is not part of the grieving process, nor is it necessary for healing. A connection formed in love can’t be closed.”  Dr. Boss confirmed this with her years of research on ambiguous loss, leading to her forthcoming book on “The Myth of Closure.”

ambigousloss5

As Dr. Boss discussed in the interview, our Western culture wants neatly packaged endings and for everyone to move on as quickly as possible.   There is plenty of ignorant shaming that goes on, as in “Aren’t you over that yet?”

Sadly, our culture does not tolerate ambiguous loss very well at all.  It requires more Eastern, dialectical thinking.  To be able to say non-binary statements such as “She is alive, but also dead,”  “He is not here, but he is possibly still alive,”  or “She looks like Auntie, but this is not Auntie anymore,” requires a leap from dualistic thinking to a more dialectical thinking which allows us to embrace opposite beliefs without sinking into a deep depression or disruptive anxiety vortex.

Solution Focused Suggestions

For today, I invite you to learn more about ambiguous loss, and start to apply these non-dualistic, non-binary, dialectical thinking ideas to your situation.

  • Listen to the podcast above, and learn some skills to help process your ambiguous grief.
  • Perhaps find a good therapist who can help you learn to cope better with your struggles.  Good news: coping skills can be learned!
  • Learn to laugh at the absurdities, paradoxes and incongruities of life (Gavin, 2010; Wessan, 2013).
  • Practice your Distress Tolerance skills …join a Dialectical Behavior Therapy group.  You may then find it easier to work through the painful moments, and allow yourself to live in ambiguity with, dare I say it, some joy!

 

Onward and Upward🌟

Lisa Wessan

 

References

Gavin, J. (03 Sept 2010). Laughing with the Joys and Troubles of Life Leads to Growth. The Chelmsford Patch. Found at https://mirthmaven.blog/2010/09/16/lisa-wessan-interviewed-in-the-chelmsfor/

Pauline Ross, Ph.D. https://www.ambiguousloss.com/

W., Bill. (1976). Alcoholics Anonymous : the story of how many thousands of men and women have recovered from alcoholism. New York:Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. Fourth edition, Chapter 4, We Agnostics. P. 45. 

Wessan, L. (2013).  Using Humor and Laughter in Therapy. Focus Journal. National Association of Social Workers.  Vol. 40, No. 4. 3,11.

Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2019. All rights reserved.
www.LisaWessan.com

 

 

 

 

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More PRESENCE, less presents…the Mindful holiday season

 

Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn’t come from a store. – Dr. Seuss

Christmas isn’t a season, it’s a feeling. – Edna Ferber

For it is in giving that we receive. – Francis of Assisi

May you practice connecting with more Presence during these holidays, and have less of a need for presents…and I hope you and your loved ones have a healthy, joyful holiday season and New Year!

No matter what, each day is a new beginning…

Onward and Upward,

With warm blessings and love,

Lisa Wessan

 

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Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2018. All rights reserved.
www.LisaWessan.com

 

 

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Boylston, MA: “Night Lights: Winter Reimagined” is so Uplifting and Rejuvenating

For those of you in the Greater Boston area, there’s something magical to see at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden.   A variety of  creative displays cover the whole garden, indoors and outside. It is so beautiful, cosmic and exhilarating to walk through at night.

“Night Lights: Winter Reimagined” will be available to visit until 12/30/18 (must purchase tickets prior to going, timed tickets). IMG-6877

Inside the Rainbow Tunnel, Tower Hill Botanic Garden

 

I hope you can get there this year.  If not, mark your calendar to book for November/December 2019 for their next awesome light show.

Happy Holidays!

Onward and Upward,

Lisa Wessan

 

 

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