Category Archives: When my mind wanders

Freedom and modern day slavery

 

So it’s been a while since I’ve posted.  Perhaps I’ll start again- time will tell.  I love to write in this blog, and yet a million other things call my attention away from doing so.  And that is part of what prompts this post.

Let me start before the actual content in saying that this is not in any way intended to be a political blog, and would appreciate there not be any comments of the same.  Politics is a very volatile subject these days and I prefer to keep that out of my therapeutic realm.  I also want to state clearly that my use of slave and its derivatives that follow are in no way intended as a comparison to historical slavery.

So today is the Fourth of July.  It’s our national celebration of our freedom from the British.  We have pool parties, eat good food, watch fireworks and socialize.  Perhaps we fly our flag and spend a few minutes thinking patriotic thoughts.  We celebrate what it means to be free.

But despite my own recent efforts with some points in the win column, I am aware of how easy  and prevalent it has become for us to enslave ourselves.  We become slaves to our jobs, our commitments, our homes, our families, cultural trends and while the list can go on, most of all, slaves to our fears.

Words that define slave:  owned by another, works excessively hard, forced to obey.  Certainly my assertion doesn’t meet that definition in the literal sense.  And yet, I see people every day (and sometimes myself) working very hard to meet the demands of someone or something that is not me.  An “other” be it a job one stays late to work at when they wish they were with their family.  A socially inspired trend that requires spending outside of one’s comfortable budget.  A body that is punished beyond reasonable limits in order to maintain a culturally identified ideal.

But unlike true slaves, we do this however unknowingly by choice.  We put ourselves in the small box like prisons of behaviors and repeat them day after day both because they are familiar and because they are so often unexamined.  This jail has no lock on the door, but we so often go years before we wander over and give it a tug and discover we could have walked out all along.

Fear is perhaps the most insidious of our masters.  It keeps us faithful and in check.  So often, our fears began a very long time ago and are tied to circumstances that no longer exist.  Yet our actions which support them continue to persist.

So today is Independence Day.  Brave people of long ago and soldiers still today die for our right to be free.  Are you brave enough to light a sparkler to begin your own emancipation today?  Here is a quote I recently came across:

One of the  most courageous decisions you’ll ever make

Is to finally let go

 of what is hurting your heart and soul

Bridgette Nicole

 

Be Extraordinary

Be extraordinary

I love the word extraordinary.  It has a fun and almost whimsical ring to it.  But I realized recently that I had not really been using it correctly.  In fact, I don’t think most of us use it accurately.  Usually when using the word extraordinary, we are referring to something that is amazing, a stand out, over and above.

But if you look at the word, it is literally EXTRA Ordinary.  It means to take that which is ordinary, and make it even more ordinary.  I am not a linguist or a scholar but this got me thinking in a different direction.  What does it mean to be extra ordinary?

If I am washing the dishes and that is an ordinary task, does it mean to wash more dishes?  I don’t think so.  I would consider that it means to wash the dishes with as much presence of mind as I can muster up.  It also means to appreciate and experience as much EXTRA in the task as is humanly possible.  It means to feel the water against my skin, the smell of the soap, the shine of the dish, the awareness that there is clean water easily accessible to wash the dishes, a cabinet to store them etc.

I realize this is a corny example, because it’s unlikely that you or I are going to run to the sink and break out the dish soap just to have a mindful experience.  If I could convince you to try, I’d start first by trying to enhance my children’s joy by getting them to do the task.  But if you transfer this mindset into the other zillions of “ordinary” experiences that happen each day, there are probably many opportunities of where missing joy might be lurking.

How about a meal?  Instead of making small talk and zipping through your evening meal which is ordinary, how about making it even more ordinary?  How about taking a few minutes in this everyday task and making it last a bit longer with a little more meaning?  What about the commute to work?  Are there ways to take this ordinary event and make it something even more than it is most days?

Most of us have no trouble making other events that are outside our ordinary routine special.  We put something more into them and call them special.  While that’s great, they are also things that may occur too infrequently to sustain us.  By taking the everyday opportunities to experience “extra”, we increase our capacity and opportunity for more contentment.

I’d love to hear your experiences in taking joy by expanding your ordinary into extraordinary.

Don’t spoil the ending… if there is one

Don’t spoil the ending… if there is one!

The other day my son Andrew was listening to the news as we drove along in the car. There was a story about stem cell research and Andrew commented that he hoped the endeavor was successful. I asked him why, because I wanted to know how much he understood. He said it would be cool to be able to grow a new arm if you lost one. Then he asked me if I thought it was a good idea. I told him that if I was the one missing the arm I would think it was a very good idea, but that I sometimes worry that, we are trying to take medical advances to a point of believing we can avoid death entirely. At some point we just have to let it go. No one will ever accuse me of sugar coating things for my kids.

I’ve been reading “The Martian” by Andy Wier. (Side note for anyone thinking of reading this, the first chapter is brutally dull unless you’re an astronaut, but if you’re not, read on it gets better.) I’m not going to spoil the ending because I’m not finished and don’t actually know how it ends. The premise is that a mission on Mars has to be quickly aborted due to a sand storm and one astronaut Mark Wadley, is left behind. The rest of the crew thought him dead but it turns out he is alive and has to figure out how to survive and get home. Calling a cab is not an option.

As the story unfolds, the whole world begins to join in the effort to bring Mark Wadley home safely. I have found myself rising and falling to the triumphs and failures along the way in these efforts as other book reviewers suggested would happen. And while I hope he makes it for a happy ending, there is another part of me that thinks “Wow, what happens if they spend 100 billion dollars bringing him home and find out he has terminal cancer or he gets hit by a car the next day. Will everyone still think it was worth it”?

Call me morbid. And again, if Mark Wadley was my husband or son, I ‘m sure at least part of me would want to be stand on the corner begging for money to fund the “bring him home” campaign. But Mark Wadley is a fictitious character. He is only brought to life on the silver screen when played by Matt Damon in the upcoming movie version. And so because of that, coupled with the fact that this is my blog, I get to philosophize over the deeper questions of how much is enough and how much is too much?

We are largely a Type A nation, believing we are capable of doing just about anything we put our minds to. There is plenty of evidence to suggest we are accurate. But we are also people who are burned out, insatiable and sometimes disillusioned by the realization of our achievements when they either fail to satisfy us or we can’t stop long enough to enjoy them because we are on to the next challenge.

I saw a T shirt the other day that said “I never finish anyth” I thought it was funny when I saw it, but now I’m thinking it might be profound. What if there are things we simply don’t finish because they are no longer worth finishing rather than chastising ourselves for failure? What if we let something go because we have had enough or simply because we are willing to recognize that all things have a season or a life cycle. What if we didn’t put in a heroic effort just because we know we could?

For years I wouldn’t allow myself to stop a book or a movie once I started. No matter how much the experience lacked satisfaction I hung in there hoping for an eventual payoff. Finally, I began to realize I was wasting a lot of life doing something that I didn’t benefit from, just because I could or thought I should.

I do not profess to know where the line is. I think it varies from person to person and depends on each situation. I do know that feeling perpetually exhausted is an indicator of when I’ve crossed the line too frequently.

Two other great movie scenes that exemplify this concept come to mind. The first is Forest Gump when Forest, after having run hundreds of miles across the country, just one day stops. He has had enough and it was something from inside of him, rather than outside that told him when to stop. The other is Regarding Henry. The character played by a disabled Harrison Ford, learns over time that he can no longer live the life he had before his disability and learns to say he has had enough of trying. He learns to say when it’s time to let go of what was and embrace his life for what it has become, limitations and all.

How about your movie? Are you perpetually exhausted and out of time because you’re giving it all, your all? Are there somethings that you might be willing to experiment with to not finish? I probably have more to say on this but

 

Reflections from a cruise ship

Seriously, it IS a new topic, I promise.

So the other part of my vacation was a Disney Cruise. Before anyone starts to envy me, let me say I’m never going on another cruise with any of the men in my house. Turns out they aren’t fond of lying on a beach for all the daylight hours like I am- but enough complaining. Let’s get to the real stuff.

Disney cruises are cool for passengers because there is a low staff to guest ratio. They are pretty much there to spoil you. In short, they prevent you from having to do anything for yourself including use up any brain cells unnecessarily while in their care. However, there is limited space on a ship and that means to achieve everything they do, the crew works sometimes very long days. And very long weeks. And very long months.

The cruise director said that a passenger once asked him if the crew slept on board. Tongue in cheek he told her no, they are helicoptered off and on at the start and end of each day. But of course they sleep on board. When they sleep that is. Depending on their contract, the crew may remain on board for 2-8 months at a time, with the latter being more common. The following information is from the Disney employment site:

  • Agree to share a cabin with another crew member
  • Be able to work a seven-day, 70-84 hour week with limited time off

The workers come from all over the world.   They have to pay their own transportation to get to and from the boat. And with the handful of workers I informally surveyed, many repeat their contracts after going home to their native country and family for a month or two.

These working conditions would not fly (or cruise for that matter) in the U.S. At least not at the pay scale cruise workers receive. In fact, when someone works for a couple of weeks without a day off, we are generally appalled. One client recently told me of a woman he knew that had worked over 100 days without a single day off. As a man who had himself run his own business, he was amazed by what he felt was a rare work ethic. Yet, the people on the ship do it for months a time, willingly gratefully, and usually with a pleasant disposition.

But how about working conditions for our own military? I don’t have personal experience, but I suspect they too ,work long hours, days and months on end without time off. It’s not like a soldier in the middle of a mission, can say “ I’d like to take a personal day off next week for my son’s birthday.”

While I’m hoping to not sign up for a job that requires me to be alert and on my game 24/7 any time soon, I do think it’s worth dissecting this idea a little bit. What makes it possible for people to plunge in to these types of experiences and not feel totally abused, while others feel like they will fall apart if expected to work a little overtime?

Maybe it has to do with a mindset more than a temperament. Does someone from a third world country view the opportunity with gratitude that there is continued work, because it means continued financial support for their family back home? Does someone in the military value the opportunity to learn a skill or complete a mission without the interruption of other things that naturally occur in a more traditional job?

The reality is that we can do a great number of things both positively and negatively depending on our mindset. Marathon runners tell me they can complete a race because of their mental strength not their physical stamina. Anorexics can continue to push their bodies far beyond reasonable physical limits because of the image they hold in their minds eye. One is positive, the other negative, but they are alike in the sense that, it is the story held in the mind, not the body that determines an individual’s course.

Perhaps Henry Ford discovered this truth a long time ago when he said “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right”.   Is there anything that you think is impossible that could become possible if you change the story you currently hold?  I always appreciate your comments and insights.

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections from a theme park part 2

Reflections from a theme park part 2:

Last week I discussed looking at amusement parks as a metaphor of life. That entry dealt primarily with the idea that we spend most of life in the “waiting, anticipation” phase working towards the much shorter time of “pleasant experience” portion.   I got a lot of great comments- thank you! I so appreciate your feedback and especially your insights and stories.

In this post, I’d like to take it a step further. How prepared are you for the ride to be over? Could you do it with the feeling that you got your full four minutes of fun and willingly turn your seat over to the next incoming group? Or do you want to keep yourself strapped into that seat demanding that you get another turn because you’re either not yet satisfied, or you weren’t ready to fully participate in the experience when it began. And even if you could have a do-over or second turn, would it give you the same thrill that it did the first time around?

I remember when my children were babies; they were the center of my universe.   I’m sure I was guilty on more than one occasion of sharing their every achievement with the rest of the world.   My boys are older now and I hear similar stories from other younger mothers about their babies. My boys are equally important to me as they once were, but their day to day moments are not share worthy. At least not in the proportion they once were. Now it is someone else’s turn to take the floor and highlight the achievements of cooing, smiling, and going on the potty the first time.

We are a nation obsessed with youth. If we inject enough Botox into ourselves will it let us stay on the ride longer? Does looking 30 when we are 40 make us 30? While age is in many respects just a number, there is still a passing of time that occurs. And in that passing of time there are experiences both positive and negative that accumulate into making us who we are. Is stretching the skin to erase the lines meant to erase the effects of that accumulation as well? If you continue to ride the ride at 40 that you did at 30, does it give you the same sense of thrill?

Kudos to the 90 year old that lives on their own, drives themselves about town and still shovels their own driveway. But I’ll take the risk of being called judgmental when I notice the mature woman dressing in a mini skirt and boots with enough cleavage showing to leave little to the imagination. Sexy at 40 isn’t the same as sexy at 20.   How about the guy with the comb over who is willing to be asked if his date is his daughter? I can’t help wonder what either of these two examples are trying to hold on to or avoid. A man told me once that he stopped dating younger women after a date where he took one to see the movie “Apollo 13”. Upon leaving the theater she asked him “You mean that was based on a true story?”

How about when the ride is really over and its time to leave the park completely?

I have sometimes described life as a game of musical chairs. For now, I can still hear the music playing and I usually feel agile enough to grab a chair when I hear it stop. That said I realize there will come a time when I won’t be the person who gets a chair. I can only hope I will have the grace to let someone else have the chair and step aside. I don’t have a particular need to die anytime soon, but I do hope as I age my way to that point in time, that I will feel the same sense of fulfillment that I do about my life now. The only way I can imagine that being true is to live well now. To live as if this is all there is and ride with my eyes open, taking in every curve and twist as if they are all part of the fun. And if I have to wait in the lines in order to get my 4 minutes…. So be it. It’s all part of the ride. And all part of the fun if I choose to see it that way.

 

 

Reflections from a theme park Part 1

 

As part of my recent vacation, I enjoyed three days at Universal Studios. Believe me when I say, I use the term “enjoyed” loosely. A few weeks before my vacation, I had begun to play with an idea in my head about theme parks as a metaphor of life. So regardless of my personal satisfaction, this trip was really a great experience in field work. That said, I’m pretty sure my accountant would never agree to this as a business trip.

The Despicable Me ride at Universal is apparently one of the newer and most popular attractions. After observing the lines on day one, we noticed the line had gotten longer throughout the day, but never shorter. So, we decided our second day that we would stand in the 60 minute wait line. About 20 minutes into the line, an announcement came over the intercom informing us that there was a problem that the “minions” were trying to repair, but they didn’t know how long it would take. If you’re not familiar with the movie, minions look like twinkies wearing denim overalls and big round glasses.   We waited about another ten minutes through a few more repeat announcements and gave up.

On day three we decided it was now or never to enjoy this ride and got into the line as our first stop of the day. The board said it was an 85 minute wait. And so we added ourselves among the millions of other cows and stood in our cattle line inching our way closer to the ride. Line standing is often a time to bond with other people who are suffering the same misery. It’s also a great place to people watch in order to entertain yourself. And roughly 85 minutes later we were relieved from the heat, but not the standing as we were herded into a small crowded room to watch a short movie about the ride. Then the doors opened and we moved to…another small room with a different short movie about the ride. And finally, we were herded towards the bins to pick up 3D glasses and finally, the ride itself.

The ride was a delightful 4 minutes of 3 or 4 D (I can never tell the difference) action that include bits from both of the Despicable Me movies. Then the lights came on simultaneously with the announcement of where to return our glasses and asking us to quickly exit the auditorium. As we made our way towards the exits, I could see the next group of exhausted line waiters and room watchers piling in. These seats were no longer ours, and were about to become theirs.

So the idea is this. Amusement parks are a metaphor of life itself. Most of us spend the majority of our time in the mundane routine, non-exciting, and even sometimes painful chores of everyday living, working towards some brief time of exciting, satisfying moment. But those moments are short lived, only to have us once again return to the wait lines of the next anticipated moment. Some people look at the wait times and say “nope, not going to do it”. But the reality is, they only trade one wait line for that of another kind.

The rides, no matter how pleasurable are inevitably short. This is true both literally and metaphorically. My children being toddlers, was too short, the great meals I had on vacations ended too quickly, even getting a haircut I really like grows out quickly and I can’t get it back to the way it used to look. From the big to the small, pleasure is a fleeting experience that cannot be sustained. Even if we could logistically allow something to go on longer, our own psyche begins to diminish its sense of pleasure within us after a time. A job we were thrilled to get hired for becomes mundane and routine over time. The lover we once couldn’t keep our hands off becomes boring in our eyes. A male client once said to me that he suspected “Even Cindy Crawford’s husband gets tired of having %#@ with her after a few years.” And so, often, our remedy is to go stand in another line looking for the next thrill.

The French philosopher Jacque Lacan, made addressed this issue with his theory of what he called registers. Lacan designated the term demand as that part of our selves that wants and wants and wants, but can never truly be satisfied. In contrast, he used the term desire to describe a more mature experience of yearning for something with the knowledge that it will ebb and flow. That which we desire, are not things we expect to last and thus, are not disappointed when they pass. In fact, part of their satisfaction lies in the knowledge that they are temporary. The very essence of their fleeting nature does not over tax our psyche.

Another way to reduce our imbalance between wanting and getting is to reduce the disparity between the two. This doesn’t mean to buy a fast pass and shorten the line, but rather to embrace the wait itself as a pleasurable or at least neutral experience, rather than simply a means to an end. Often, what makes the wait line bearable are factors like, who are you waiting with, how much can you learn to play while waiting. Is it possible to even enjoy the wait instead of using your energy to either fight against it, numb yourself out from it, or complain about its every aspect of discomfort.

I’d love to hear your comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Brilliant Audience

A big part of blog writing motivation for me is the comments that you guys make. They challenge me, gratify me, and most of all inspire me to think. Last week was no exception and this comment from “K” in response to “more spring cleaning” got me thinking: “When you say it could be interpreted as cold to withdraw from some people, a lot of people will agree and dislike that advice overall. But when you spend a lot of time and energy on a person who is wasting those resources of yours, how much time are you taking away from others in your life? Time is a much more scarce and precious asset than money after all.” I think in part this struck a nerve because I’m a little guilty myself. My job is in the helping profession. And while it’s easy to look at my schedule in terms of the hours I sit in my office during any given day, there is a lot of other work activity that can easily fill my day from returning phone calls and emails to writing reports… and even blogging. Yes, blogging. All of these are things that are necessary, not because I have a boss standing over me, but because I feel like they are part of what enables me to feel like I’m doing my job to the best of my ability. They are important to me. But these are the tasks for which there is not a billable hour attached to them. And without that, it means there is not a clear start and stop time. I have to monitor this effort from within. When I’m successful at doing that, life hums along pretty well. But despite what I know in my head, I too can get backed up on obligations and I have to make choices I often don’t like in order to work my way out of overload. A client I haven’t heard from in a long time drops me an email. And days go by before I respond. I owe someone a follow up to a conversation and I take much longer than seems reasonable. A colleague or friend asks me to participate in an event that will take a considerable amount of time with little or no payback. And when I don’t manage it well, the people who suffer are primarily my husband, my kids and ME. As K so wisely pointed out in the comment “Time is a much more scarce and precious asset than money after all”. And time, once passed, can never be made up or recovered. You can do better going forward, but you can’t get back what you gave away.   While fortunes can be made, lost and made again, the clock only moves in one direction. I’m not suggesting that you or I should neglect our responsibilities in order to spend more time with people we love. I am however, floating this as a reminder to myself that sometimes the job, social or even family tasks are things we often assign to ourselves with arbitrary standards of acceptability. Sometimes, those standards are such that while each individual task may seem reasonable, the weight of the whole is unbearable and undoable. The most logical way I know to address this is of course mindfulness. It’s Steven Covey’s Sharpening the Saw. It’s taking stock. Look in the mirror, look at the people you believe you care most about. Are they (and you) getting enough of you compared to that which you give to others? I hope you didn’t find a lot of typos when you read this post. I’m not going to proof it. I could, but I think I’ll go say goodnight to my kids instead.

Spring Cleaning

 

It seems that when I put away the holiday decorations their storage places shrunk. I thought I was putting away the same amount I took out, but I guess my decorations also gained some weight over the holidays. That prompted me to do a little pre-spring cleaning.

I moved on from the holiday storage and into some other closets in the house. Each time I go through this process I’m always a little surprised at how much junk I can accumulate in a short time. I don’t think of myself as a hoarder. (Although I’m pretty sure hoarders don’t think of themselves as hoarders either but I digress).

There is certainly a practical aspect to collecting some items. We use mechanical toothbrushes in our house, so we save all the toothbrushes and sample toothpaste boxes we get from the dentist. Take four family members with two annual visits each to the dentist and you get eight sets to donate to charity care boxes. Instant good deed.

When I save my older sons outgrown clothes, there are fewer to buy when my younger son grows into the same size. Thrifty.

I ran across a ceramic lid to a little trinket box I used to have. The box and lid got separated at some point and I hung on to the lid in case I found the bottom. I haven’t seen the bottom in a few years. But if I do, I will have a lid to match. Sentimental, but not so practical.

I also found quite a few medical supplies. Those of you who know me may realize that I’m a bit accident prone. I have quite a collection of ace bandages, slings, ice packs, heat wraps, canes, crutches and a walker. Okay the walker isn’t and never was mine, but it was nearly brand new when my mother passed away and I just didn’t know what to do with it so I put it in storage. Not even sentimental, but prepared?

The dilemma, of course, is that storage, like most things is limited. And after a while, it becomes cluttered and jammed, and impossible to even find what you are looking for when you actually have the need. When that happens to me, I find myself going out and purchasing the item, again, even though I probably have it in storage. This begs the question of how practical or thrifty the storage is in the first place.

So why do we do this? Sometimes it’s just a habit. Other times, we hold on to things out of fear. And still another reason is the desire to cling to something as if doing so, keeps its memory in the present tense. I especially identify with that last sentiment when it comes to holding on to my children’s baby clothes or their hand created mementos.

I’m not suggesting that we never allow ourselves to hold on to pieces of sentiment. But I am suggesting that we do it with mindful discernment. Is that decrepit rose bud that is about to turn to ash going to rekindle our romantic feelings for our partner? Or might we instead, perform a loving act of kindness towards them out of love in the present moment? Will our grown sons really appreciate us saving every toy from their childhood? Maybe, but I found that most of the items my mother in law passed down to us from my husband’s childhood were worn and dated. Our boys didn’t really play with them or appreciate them after the five minutes of novelty wore off. Given that experience, I’m not sure any future grandchildren in my bloodline will be any more welcoming of my hand me downs.

 

Is it time to take a look around and see what you have collected that is taking up unnecessary space in your world? Do you hang on to things out of habit or fear?   What might you experience good or bad if you practiced letting them go?

 

 

Operating Instructions

 

 

 

For an audio version of this post, click on the link below:  On a smart phone, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the sound icon

 

Operating Instructions

Recently it seems I‘ve been asked a lot how I come up with blog topics. There are a couple of ways actually. First, there are a lot of ideas that have circulated in my brain for a long time and I’ve never written in a formal way before. Many of them are stories I’ve used repetitiously in my career over the years and found them helpful. So sharing those is easy. I have an ongoing list that I draw upon from time to time.

The second way is when I feel a reaction to something going on in current events, or happening in my own life. My goal when I provide these is to offer another way of looking at something that might be happening, with hopes that it can be applicable to your life as well.

The third source is perhaps the most quirky. Sometimes I think I have a rather peculiar brain, but over the years I’ve learned to run with it, rather than fight it. Mostly what I mean by this is that when an idea hits me I try to capture it as best as I can. Often this is when I’m in the shower, or driving, or immediately upon waking up in the morning. I find that when I fail to get it down its usually pretty much gone forever. And I get a lot of ideas.

I like to think of these ideas as whispers from the Universe. They usually aren’t hand engraved announcements but rather a nudge to make me aware of something or more curious about something. When the latter occurs, I will often go dig up a little more information to better understand a topic. What I find so interesting, is that many times, its something I previously had no interest in.

My reason for sharing this with you is to encourage you to not “ignore” whispers. Perhaps you too, have a peculiar brain that you haven’t been “listening” to. One very common place people experience this challenge is in dreaming.  Often, they will tell me that they don’t remember their dreams when they wake. I’ve found this is a cultivated practice. Try keeping a note pad beside your bed and jotting something down, even if you wake up in the middle of the night. Once your subconscious knows you are taking notes, it is more likely to be a little more forthcoming.   You may find some helpful insight.

As for daytime whispers, try not discounting the information you take in and brushing it off. I’m not suggesting you try to find the shape of Jesus in your nacho chips here. I am however, suggesting that, my legitimization of events that many would chalk up to coincidence, has proven to be very helpful to me over the years. Anne Lammot titled her best-selling book “ Operating Instructions” after the phrase her father often used. She reports that he when he felt stuck, he would look to the sky and ask for his next set of operating instructions.

The biggest resistance in this arena for most of us is when we get a “message” that may be our operating instructions, we are not open to what may come, but rather are focused on what we want to hear. This often blunts us from hearing what we are offered. Another resistance is that we may not want to stop what we are doing and get quiet enough to take note. I am particularly resentful when my operating instructions come before my desired wake up time. I’ve also had to pull off the road a time or two in order to make notes. Now, I try and carry along a micro tape recorder and get down as much as I can even when I’m driving along.

Just to be clear, I’m certainly not suggesting to anyone that I hear “voices”. At least not in the technical sense. But like many of my other posts, cultivating a posture of mindfulness is essential in being able to notice what happens within you.

I’d like to finish today with a quote I love from children’s author Shel Silverstein

 

The Voice

There is a voice inside of you

That whispers all day long,

“I feel this is right for me, I know that this is wrong.

” No teacher, preacher, parent, friend Or wise man can decide

What’s right for you–just listen to

The voice that speaks inside.”

Justin Bieber gets religion?

 

For an audio version,   please click on the link below:  On a smartphone, you may need to scroll to the end of the message and click on the sound icon.

 

I heard recently that, Justin has reportedly found God, is doing bible study and trying to use that avenue to turn his life around. The skeptic in me thinks Justin is trying to turn his plummeting stardom and likability ratings around- but who am I to judge. And frankly, I hope the skeptic is wrong. Not because of a religious conviction, but because at the end of the day I do firmly believe that the path to change always begins with the decision to do so followed by a single step in a different direction.

This morning I received a text from an old client I haven’t seen in a while. He told me he had been thinking of coming in for a while. I said I was looking forward to seeing him and we set up an appointment. He said I shouldn’t be too excited, because he wasn’t feeling very proud of himself. I don’t know what we have ahead to work on. Frankly, it doesn’t change how I’m feeling. I’m fairly confident that regardless of what he has to present, the fact that he already has an internal feeling that he knows he is behaving in ways he doesn’t feel good about, and is willing to talk about this, is justification for my optimism.

I am often asked if I think people change. My answer is yes. And it’s based on more than the PolyAnna optimism I’ve been charged with at times. While many people don’t change, I believe more often than not, people are capable of change. However, it is unlikely to happen unless there is something more compelling to go towards, or something compelling enough to motivate them to move away from. What qualifies as compelling varies from person to person.

 

From the outside looking in, we tend to view the need for someone else to change as pretty straight forward. Woman beaten by husband- leave him. Husband using alcohol with poor health- Don’t drink. Wife disappearing in emaciation- just eat. Employee losing wife due to overworking- just set boundaries.

I think the important thing to remember is that people don’t develop problematic behaviors in a vacuum because they are attractive or fun. Behavior is meaningful. It serves a purpose. The woman may tolerate the beatings because she is financially or emotionally dependent. The husband may be using alcohol to self-medicate other issues. The emaciated woman may use her body as a way to set boundaries between herself and others that she has been unsuccessful doing any other way and so on. I do not offer these as excuses, but as explanations or as a small glimpse of what might lie under the surface that we do not see in others when we judge.

That said, dysfunctional or maladaptive behavior needs to be addressed. But change in my opinion is a process that occurs over time, not an event from a short term burst of enlightenment. People can have an “aha” moment, feel the heal, and seal it by singing a little Kumbaya during a group hug. But chances are when they return to the mundane routine of their everyday world, the very factors that led to their choice of behavior will still be waiting for them. Real change involves learning how to be different internally even though the environment hasn’t changed.

Change takes work. It requires introspection, objectivity and honesty. It also requires a willingness to tolerate the uneasiness of stepping out of your comfort zone while you wait for something better to grow in its place. It also requires a willingness to fail and start again, sometimes over and over again.

I think I’ll wrap this one up with a little humor with a joke that although corny, does make the point.

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?

Only one- but the light bulb has to really really want to change.

 

I hope you’ll leave a comment and pass my blog on to someone else suggesting they subscribe!  Thanks for stopping by and Take care.

 

 

Happy 6th 7th and 8th of July

 

 

 

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The fireworks have ended. The sparklers have burned out. The chips are eaten and hopefully by now the trash from holiday celebrations is already out on the curb. 4th of July 2014 is now in the memory files.

Summer is ½ over. Department stores will start to transition this week to fall apparel. We start to think ahead to back to school (my kids go back 8/11).

So is that it? We move from anticipation of event, to event over, to anticipation of the next event. But what is the event? More importantly, WHY is it an event?

The 4th of July is a national holiday. Its ONE day. And sometimes it dribbles into a 3 day weekend. But what the 4th of July represents is not an event. I mean literally it is the marking of signing the constitution, but it represents far more.

The day we elected to become a free nation

What does it mean to be a free nation? Most of us don’t take the time or energy to think about that very often. I am moved by a recent story about a woman in the Sudan was jailed and sentenced to death by stoning and then set on fire because she refused to denounce her Christianity. She was given a temporary stay to give birth to a child and raise it for two years before her sentence would be implemented. She was then released, and detained again as she tried to leave with her family. At the time of this writing she and her family are staying at the U.S Embassy and trying to make their way to the U.S.  Her plight is an example of what it means to not be in a free nation.

We can be Jewish and not persecuted. We can be Christian or anything other religion and not sentenced to death for our beliefs. How many of us ignore our religion?

We can hold property. Property we often complain about the woe’s. I live in Wildwood and we have a septic/well system. The well pump broke this week. I have been without water for 2 ½ days so far. I have complained- a LOT- So this post is to remind me that I am free to hold property. But freedom also has responsibility attached.

We are free to marry who we wish. How often do we complain about our spouse?

We are free to send our children to school. I have spent a lot of this past year complaining about my kids school.

We are free to speak our minds. Are there times when you avoid doing this when it could make a difference to avoid getting involved?

We are free

But do we appreciate these freedoms day in and day out?

We can vote. How many times do you blow off an election because its not that big of one or you don’t know the candidates?   I know I have.

The goal of this post is not to lecture you and I hope it has not come across as such. Rather, it is to remind me along with you that freedom is not something to celebrate one day a year, but every day of the year like a process rather than an event. Considering our freedoms on a regular basis moves us into a spirit of gratitude rather than deprivation and burden. Embracing our freedom on a daily basis promotes a feeling of optimism of what is possible rather than focusing on what is hard about the life you are in. I heard a story this morning about a fund that raises money for returning vets to start their own businesses. The speaker said “Vets make great small business owners. Those guy know what a hard day is and what a hard day is not.”

I don’t wish to minimize any challenges or difficulties that exist in anyone’s world. Dealing with a special needs child, financial worries, an aging parent, a chronic illness or disability is in fact stressful in ways that most of us cannot truly imagine. I am simply saying that even when those traumatic events occur, we live in a society that provides much greater resources to cope with these things than most other people on earth. I also believe we are a nation of people with a mindset to work together to help manage crisis which is exactly how we got our freedom in the first place.

If you are a military vet, or a family member of a vet, please accept my heartfelt gratitude. Last night I watched Lone Survivor. If you have not seen the movie, select any 5 minute clip to get a sense of what the people who serve to make this a free nation for the rest of us are willing to endure, in order to achieve that goal.

So while the last sparkler may have extinguished in this holiday, light one in your heart today and shine for the world with all that you are free to do.

 

 

 

 

not all who wander are lost- but some of us do need directions

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I used to be a somewhat serious student of yoga. I realize that some of you who know me may find this hard to believe, but it’s actually true. One of the things I most appreciated about yoga was a lesson I learned not about a particular posture, but about the philosophy of yoga. Rather, that yoga IS in and of itself a philosophy.

When you put your body into some contorted posture, you are purposefully (with intention) causing your body to have stress or tension. You hold that tension to increase your awareness of the tension and notice the nuances of your muscles under that stress. (which if you’re out of shape like I am these days, doesn’t take long for that awareness to become front and center in your brain).

Once you have established that the only thing you can now think about is that your are experiencing that tension, the next step is to round up all of your internal resources to try and calm the tension. THIS DOES NOT INCLUDE RELEASING THE POSTURE. At least not yet.

It means you use your focus and your breath in harmony to try and ease the tension. For example, you might try and inhale the image of a soothing light into the tension, and exhale away pain. Use whatever imagery or thoughts work for you keeping the goal of making your breath the power or the tool of your brain to ease your discomfort. Stay in the moment of what is happening in your body right now and deal with only that.

When either you’ve gone as far as you can, or you’ve had some success, release the posture. If you didn’t achieve your goal, try it again later, but try to go a little longer than you did before.

So that is what you do in Yoga on the mat.

But as a philosophy, you have to take the yoga off the mat and it works something like this:

I’m standing in a long line at the grocery store. Or let’s up the stakes a bit. I’m standing in a long line at Hobby Lobby. The tension is mounting. I’m thinking I need to get home, I have stuff to do. I fold my arms across my chest and jut my hip out to one side to indicate to all around me that I am not happy to be sitting in this line once again. My face shows frustration.

Time for yoga.

No it does not mean to drop my packages and go into a tree pose or a downward dog.

But what is happening in that moment is that I’ve left the line. I’m thinking about where I want to be next rather than where I am right now and what is happening as a result of where I am right now.

So to start yoga (philosophy) at this point, I first need to relax my body a little. Uncross the arms, stand up straight.

And then, just like above, I start using my breath to go in and heal any remaining tension. I focus on where I am right here right now.

The magic of focusing on your breath is this: You cannot think of two things simultaneously. When you are focused on the breath, you can’t think about tonight’s dinner or the clothes you left in the washer or how bad traffic is going to be. Those are “not here”. The breath is “here”.

Why is it important to be “here” over being “not here”. Because regardless of where your brain wanders, your body remains “here”. And if you don’t attend to it with the presence of your brain, you leave yourself at risk. It’s kind of like a headless man running around trying to find his way around a crowded room.

When you stay present with your mind, you keep your “head on” making it much easier to navigate which direction you are trying to go towards. You can address the obstacles that come into view in real time, rather than having to deal with the after effects caused by bumping into stuff you didn’t plan on. Think of it like this, You are walking in a room with awareness and you notice the rug is crumpled. Because of the awareness, you notice the crumple, and walk around it or bend down and straighten it out before passing. Without the awareness (because you are instead thinking about where you are ultimately going), you trip over the rug, fall and hit your head. Now you have to stop, prolonging your journey and attend to the bump on your head.

In the next blog I’ll extend this to meditation. And let me tease you by saying that I have always thought probably far worse and boring things about meditation than you might conjure up at its very mention. So try and keep an open mind and check back for Sunday’s post. I promise no caffeine will be necessary to keep you awake through it and you won’t be asked to sit on a small cushion for 3 hours chanting “om”

 

 

Crash

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Last week a woman was reportedly killed when she slammed into another car on the road. Authorities believe she was posting to Facebook how much she enjoyed the song “happy” at the time.

Yesterday I started to put a flash drive in my computer. It didn’t seem to want to go initially so I gave it a little extra push. It went in. And the screen went black. The computer would not turn on again.

This morning after I dropped my son off at school I was sitting at the entrance to my subdivision waiting to turn in, waiting for several cars to pass. The entrance is just after a blind curve. In the rearview mirror I saw a car coming around the curve very quickly fighting to slow down and avoid hitting me. Fortunately, I was awake and had a little extra room so I rolled forward a bit to give him more room. I noticed after he came to a stop he appeared to be picking things up from the floor board that had obviously fallen due to his abrupt stop.

Please don’t misconstrue that I think my two events are remotely comparable to the first tragedy. But the common link is that in the first two examples the intended plan not only failed, but it ended future plans in a flash (no pun intended regarding the computer). Fortunately for all, in the third case I was alert and present.

We all have in mind a strategy, a goal or a destination. We develop a path or a plan to get there and we can see it in varying degrees. We don’t normally work into the plan a provision for the crash, car or computer. But unfortunately, we often don’t take the time to be mindful in order to work in the provision for it not to happen.

What would have happened had the woman thought about the fact that she was driving and it was more important than letting her Facebook friends know about her musical preference?

What would have happened had I stopped and thought that it is not normal for Flash Drives to have such difficulty entering a USB port?

What would have happened if I had not been paying attention this morning at the entrance? Or if the other driver had been?

There is a saying “there is never enough time to do it right the first time, but there is plenty of time to do it over again and again.”

The art of Mindfulness is about slowing down, noticing the nuance of the ordinary both within and externally. It is a practice that must be cultivated to be effective. It is not only something one does, but something one is or becomes.

Is there anything you are neglecting or taking for granted simply because you are not aware? If you knew that your lack of awareness would cause it to change drastically for the worse, what would you do differently? Imagine playing the tape forward of the undesirable outcome. Then play it a second time in slow motion with a posture of mindfulness. You still have that opportunity.

The Places that Scare you

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I had a boss when I was about 18 years old who gave me the following advice: The best thing that can ever happen to you is to get fired.

I can’t say I’ve had that joyful experience, but I certainly understand what it meant. Simply, that once you’ve been fired, and you survive that, you quit working in such a way as to “avoid firing” as your primary motivation and guide. Instead, you begin to work focused on what is the job about, how can you be good at it, how can you enjoy what you do and so on.

Fear is an insidious and debilitating worm. It crawls into places that we may not even know about and sits waiting to call out the shots with a megaphone. While this is of course indicative of other maladies as well, I’m going to use eating disorders as the metaphor to illustrate a point.

Ive had the experience more than once (or a hundred) times, where I’m working with someone who is terrified at the prospect of gaining weight. Perhaps they are already at the upper end of their comfort zone, or potentially even emaciated when this discussion occurs. I’ve learned its universal, regardless of one’s size because its about the fear, not the size. And the fear is always extremely heavy.

So I say “you need to gain some weight to get beyond this”.

The other person looks at me like I could not possibly be any more stupid or insensitive.

See here is the deal “I am not trying to get the person to “gain weight”. I’m letting the person know that their constant fear of what will happen IF/WHEN they gain weight has a death grip on them and it is filling every waking moment.. and for some a bit of their nocturnal dream world as well. And because of that death grip, they are not able to use their energy in other places of their lives. So when I say gain weight, what I’m really saying is go to the place that scares you and learn that you will and can live in that place- you might not enjoy it – but it won’t kill you- and you might find it isn’t nearly as scary as you thought it was-or even as terrible- but if you don’t like it, you can still change it- but not not because you’re terrified of it-

This is usually when the other person says “I’ll just stop thinking about it”. Bzzzz- wrong answer- here’s why- try this little experiment. If I ask you to not think of any four letter words for one minute- I’m pretty sure you will come up with a list of at least 20 in no time. It’s how our brain works- Tell us we can’t do something and the brain kicks into high gear going to work to figure out exactly how to do what we told it not to.

So if you tell yourself to stop thinking about it…. You’ll only think of it more. The way out is through, not around.

How do we get a kid to learn that they aren’t going to die by sleeping alone at night with the light off? Remember, from the child’s perspective its terrifying. We know otherwise. So we tell them the words but it isn’t until they actually sleep through the night, and wake up on the other side there is any measure of convincing that takes place.

Gaining weight in this scenario is about losing fear. It’s about telling the fear that it cannot continue to have a death grip on you.

What form does your death grip have? Money? A job? A relationship? How would you enter into the place that scares you? What might be possible in your life if you didn’t have that fear?

 

 

 

The toilet paper up or the toilet paper down? That is the question.

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Without taking space to debate that here, I’m pretty sure there are legitimate arguments for both positions. Each of us grows up with a story of the way we think the world should operate. We are exposed to a plethora of sources and experts who make some minor adjustments on those stories with each passing day, but even those sources are subject to interpretation by our own sense of what is correct.

Couples of course have to negotiate these things on a day to day if not minute to minute basis. Parents have to do this with their children. Employees with employers and so forth. Every time we come into contact with another person, there is the potential for conflict or harmony depending upon the degree of disparity between our stories of truth and our insistence to hold on to them.

With any relationship, it is important to remember a couple of things.

First, once you unite, the integrity of the relationship itself takes precedence over the integrity of the individual. Sorry- it’s in the contract. Sometimes you have to be willing to give at the individual level in order to sustain the relationship. Note the word sometimes.

Second, remember the other person has a legitimate set of reasons for holding an opinion that may differ from yours. More can be gained by trying to listen to those reasons rather than focusing on the end result.

Third, you can dump this partner and try again, but chances are high that you will have other differences with the next guy or gal. That may not be enough of a reason to stay in a relationship in and of itself, but at very least, its important for you to spend some time trying to understand what you cling to before repeating it somewhere else.

And finally,

Is there something you can learn from not doing it your way? Is there a chance to grow that you are avoiding by staying in the safe zone? Is there a gift you can give to another who needs this more than you do right now? Do you need to let something go in order to get something so much more? There are great players- but there are great coaches behind them, whose names we might never learn.   Sometimes, it is more valuable to be in the backseat so someone else can shine… even when you’re sure you are right.

 

Run to Nebraska

I used to love watching movies, but since having my kids, I haven’t seen many that aren’t animated.  It’s hard for me to justify in my mind the time to just sit still for two hours when there are a million other things I could be doing.  But this weekend I indulged in the movie Nebraska.  When I saw the academy award lists, the description intrigued me.  I had not spoken with anyone who saw the movie, so I had no recommendation to watch.

Let me start by saying I LOVED this movie.  I watched it by myself (while making cards).  I fully intend to watch it again and get my husband to watch it with me.   But this post is less about a movie review and more about why I loved it and who I think would also enjoy watching the film if you haven’t seen it already.

I don’t want to give too much of the story away, but it’s basically about a man who decides to take his father on a long road trip to claim a sweepstakes prize.  Along the way they stop in the town where they used to live, and where relatives still live.  Everyone in the town has some sort of reaction to the man and son.  The father is also suffering from some dementia and is an alcoholic.    But the real essence of the movie for me is the relationship between the son and the father.  While dad is looking for his sweepstakes earnings, the son is looking for a way to love his father and in the end is clearly successful.

At the start of the movie the son seems to be operating from a scared child part of himself.  He wants to do the right thing, but he really doesn’t know what the right thing is.  He is lost, and reactive.  But he works towards finding his courage by taking a leap of faith, even when others tell him that, doing so is a stupid idea.  His character develops throughout the film, and clearly by the end he has become a man.  He responds to his father actively out of a sense of love and generosity.  There was for me, such a confident sense of him operating out of pure and selfless love.  Love for his father, love for himself of knowing he was doing the right thing at the right time.  And in so many ways, I suspect it was the first time the father ever truly experienced it, but its highly unlikely his father really absorbed the effort.  The best part is, that didn’t matter- the son still did it.   He ended the story with being able to see his father as a dignified man, rather than a pitiful drunk.  Talk about the power to create our own reality.

While the circumstances are not remotely the same, watching the film reminded me of my last day with my own mother.  I knew she was days if not hours (as it turned out to be) away from death.  That morning when I went to be with her she had not eaten any of her breakfast.  I pulled out some chocolate and said in a singsong voice like one does with a child “I have chocolate”.  I remember still how her face lit up like someone had just given her a magnificent gift.   In truth, she could only nibble on a little bite.  But for a brief moment, she and I were able to bond in a sense that the world was exactly as it should be and all was well.  Sometimes, that is the most magnificent gift we can give to another person.

Don’t underestimate the power that you just being where you are at any particular moment might provide for another person walking the earth.  You might think you just held the door open while the person walking through sees that someone finally noticed they needed help.  You might think you’re just chatting about the weather, and the other person felt invisible until that moment.  I realize this probably sounds trivial.  But remember, I have the experience of listening to the person who describes to me feeling unseen, unheard, undervalued.  I hear the stories of people who tell me what it is like when they receive a kindness, even from a stranger and how it impacts their world.  So my observations are not merely a Pollyanna wish of what I think could happen in the world.  They are informed by years of sitting in the same chair.  And if just a random act has power, think of how much more powerful you are by actively reaching out.

 

“We are treasure chests with more jewels inside than we can imagine.”
? Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha

 

 

Deep Waters

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Deep Waters

As a kid, my family was always around water.  We had a boat and, a dilapidated shack of sorts on the Mississippi river.  We called the place, the Clubhouse, and it’s where we spent the bigger portion of our summers.  But the intriguing part of this tale is that neither of my parents could swim.

Despite his limitation, my father had no fear of the water.  He would drive the boat faster than he should have.  I especially remember how he would make sharp turns to create a wake for those of us swimming nearby.  The turns would cause the boat to careen in such a way, so close to the water that, it was as if, anything not buckled down, including the people, could roll out like marbles in an open bag.  Although it never happened, I can still see the fear and disdain in my mother’s face as she tried to admonish him from the shoreline.

My mother was a woman of great fear.  I don’t offer that with the same harsh judgment I once did, but rather as statement of understanding what better governed many of the choices she made in her life, both for herself and for her children.  Although she too, spent many hours in the water, it was a relationship precariously balanced between her love for it, and her fear.  Fear of water is not irrational, people do drown.  But my mother’s fear was more of a philosophy than a reaction.  Sometimes she sat near, other times venturing in with her life jacket, ski belt or more commonly, an inner tube.  We had a stockpile of used car and truck inner tubes inflated as flotation devices that anyone could use to just lounge about the water.  For my mother, they were literally her life preservers.

There were times over the years that she tried to become more engaged.  She took a lesson here or there to increase her confidence.  And sometimes it worked.  But then life turns would take her away from the water for a bit too long and she would forget what she knew.  Mostly, she forgot the confidence that her body was capable of keeping her afloat with just a little effort and a smidgen of skill.

One day when my mom was about 87 years old, she joined me and my boys in the pool at our home.  My youngest son was about 5 and still trying to get comfortable with swimming into the deep end of the pool without his water wings.  I was going back and forth from end to end alongside him trying to build both his confidence and endurance.  My mom watched on from the shallow end clinging to a noodle despite a depth of only about 3 feet.  After a bit, I tried gently at first and then more forcefully to get her to venture out into the deeper water.  Annoyed, she snapped back “I’ll do it later”.  And in a harsh frustrated and sarcastic tone I retorted “Mom! You’re 87 years old, just when do you think you’ll finally get around to this?

My mother died three years later.  If my memory is accurate, and believe me, these days people should question that before assuming it is, I think that day in our pool was the last time my mom was ever in the pool.  I started to write, “went swimming”, but I realized as I wrote the preceding line, she didn’t swim that day.  She got in a pool.  She stood in water.  But she did not swim.  She was too afraid to swim.  And in a very real way she, at least partially so, knew how to swim.

I just did a google search on the word fear.  137 million entries in .29 seconds.  It’s a pretty big deal fear is.

What are you waiting to do that you are afraid of?  What are you waiting to do that you don’t even know about yet, because the fear inside won’t even let you conceive of the idea of that something?

When you think about things you want to do, what comes up? What are the stories that your head tells you that you cannot do and why?  If I tell myself I want to be a world class ballerina, a myriad of stories are going to come forward.  Stories about how I’m too short, out of shape or too old to achieve a goal that requires training I should have begun 40 years ago.  These are not fear based nor are they judgments.  They are simply assessments of reality as it currently exists.

But if I say I wouldn’t want to dance because people would laugh at me, that instead is a story based on fear.  If I more cleverly try to disguise this by telling myself, I don’t want to dance because I don’t have time, then it’s a story born out of a seed of fear that is nurtured with the soil of convenience to help it grow.  The improbability of becoming a world class ballerina does not mean I could not take a ballet class.  It doesn’t mean I could not perform in a local recital.  It doesn’t mean I couldn’t dance at home.

Fortunately for me, I have zero interest in becoming a ballerina, world class or no class.  My fears lurk in other domains.  Where do yours lie?  Are you willing to pull them out, dust them off and have a thorough look at them?  Are you willing to schedule them far enough in the future to assure they will never confront you?

Take a look backwards at your life for a moment.  Look for the themes or patterns of events that may have been opportunities to get you started towards something that is important to you, that you have perhaps ignored.  In the story of my mother’s reluctance to swim, opportunity had presented itself many times over her lifetime.  How about you?  Has opportunity invited you to join in the fun but you have allowed fear to persuade you into thinking it was calling someone else?  Did you tell yourself it wasn’t the “right time” or circumstances?   What are you putting off “’til later on”?

Are you willing to just make a list of those things for now?  You don’t have to act on them.  But even making a list of them gives the universe a little hope that, you are still interested.  It says to not cross you off the list just yet.

In the next blog, we’ll get a little more personal.  So for today I’ll end today with a couple of quotes of inspiration.

 

There comes a moment in every life when the Universe presents you with an opportunity to rise to your potential. An open door that only requires the heart to walk through, seize it and hang on.
The choice is never simple. It’s never easy. It’s not supposed to be. But those who travel this path have always looked back and realized
that the test was always about the heart. …The rest is just practice.”
? Jaime Buckley, Prelude to a Hero

 

For if the talent or individuality is there, it should be expressed. If it doesn’t find its way out into the air, it can be turned inward and gnaw like the fox at the Spartan boy’s belly.’

— Shirley McLain

 

I’m no more a wonder than anyone. And that’s what makes the world magical. Every baby’s a seed of wonder – that gets watered or it doesn’t.”
? Dean Koontz, Relentless

 

 

Kids vs dogs- A tribute to an old friend

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When I divorced my first husband, we had to determine custody of our three dogs. I took one, he took two. Although imbalanced in numbers, it was fair enough because I took along “my girl”. Chelsea was a strapping 65 pound German Shorthair Pointer that I bought on my birthday. I used to say that if she were a human, she would have been a supermodel. She had beautiful features and a personality, from which, she communicated just by her movement, she was top dog. Chelsea could be equally aloof or loving, depending on how it best served her.
Beginning with my divorce, my life went through many transitions and Chelsea accompanied me on the journey. She took me through singlehood, remarriage, and the early stages of motherhood. Sometimes, when it seemed too rapid a change for me to know who I was, I looked at her to remind myself of the one stable that had not changed. She sat in the car in the parking lot of Barnes and Noble while I wrote my dissertation in the coffee shop. She greeted me warmly when I picked her up from the kennel on the weekends I went to Chicago for school. She waited patiently to lick the tears off my face following a disastrous bad date or a relationship woe.
I like to say she picked my current husband for me. She was so calm in his presence and clearly seemed to love him at first sight. And next came motherhood for me. Well, first came pregnancy and it was not a delicious experience for any of us. I was physically miserable and one night in my 7th month, my husband and I went out to dinner leaving Chelsea at home. We returned to find that, her activity earlier in the day had included eating rabbit poop in the back yard. How would we know this one might wonder? By the piles of black vomit on the beige carpet spread all throughout our house. All the while I cleaned the stain and the stench, I decided it was time for Chelsea to go back and live with my ex-husband. I was soon to be a mother of real children, and no longer needed this kind of “crap”- both figuratively and literally from a dog. And thus, I voted her off the island in my new world.
At least I did for a while. But I missed her. I missed her a lot. And I began commuting 25 miles each way to the home of my ex-husband for visitation weekends. They stretched in to longer periods of time. I continued to pay for her care. Once she tussled with a porcupine. The minute I picked her up from my ex- I realized her nose didn’t look right. A minor surgery later produced the quill that was lodged in her nose. I was still her momma.
But like her owner, she was starting to age. Since I did not see her every day the changes were probably more obvious for me than, they were for my ex-husband. He asked me to take her while he was going out of town. He dropped her off on his way to the airport. Almost immediately upon her arrival, I realized she did not seem like herself. That evening I watched her get very confused, backing herself into a closet as if she couldn’t figure out what to do next. She refused to eat a hot dog. Within a day I realized she was in really bad shape. I spoke to the vet. I called my ex-husband. I let him know that it was time for her to be put to sleep. He told me he had seen it coming, but didn’t feel like he could follow through. Chelsea had Huntington’s disease which is kind of like human Alzheimer’s. She could get worse, but not better.
The next morning I got up prepared to take her in. My oldest child was now five. He had grown up with Chelsea. My youngest, just barely two could pet her, but wasn’t all that attached to her. They interrupted their morning to say goodbye only at my request.
I took her through the Burger King drive through along the way. It’s a ritual we had done together many mornings before. She had no interest in the food. I thanked her for removing any shred of doubt I had, about whether or not, I was doing the right thing, at the right time. She may have been a supermodel, but she always loved to eat. When she refused again, I knew.
We arrived at the vet’s office. They administered the drugs while I held her in my arms. I pet her velvet ears and told her how much I loved her. She didn’t resist a bit. I held her until her beautiful coat turned cold. And then I left her body behind. She was done with it, and so was I.
I cried a lot. And then I cried some more. And then a little more after that. I held my children close, and I still cried. That first night I was lying with my 2 year old son Andrew helping him to get to sleep. The room was dark and I was fighting back my tears. I did not want to upset him and I knew he was too young to understand. Or so I thought. Without any provocation or explanation from me he simply said “It’s Chelsea”. Startled I asked “what?” I thought he was trying to comfort me. But he wasn’t looking at me. It’s as if he was looking at something else and he replied “It’s Chelsea, and she’s kissing you”. Andrew has always been a uniquely spiritual child.
Over the next few days my tears ebbed and flowed. I anticipated a certain amount of grieving, but I felt far more than I thought reasonable considering I now had “real children”. And I began to question why I still felt so much attachment to her. She used to be “my girl”. She was the closest thing I had to children, but she had been replaced in my world. Why hadn’t I moved on?
And then it hit me. The problem wasn’t in trying to compare if loving a dog child is as legitimate as loving a human child. The problem was in my failure to see how different they are in terms of what they bring to our lives and the role they play. I realized that although I love my children more than breath itself, they are primarily takers. The gift of our children is their ability to take from us the love we have to provide for them. Of course, they provide love back to us. But that love is developed out of the loving relationship we provide through caring for them. We love them unconditionally at first sight.
Dogs on the other hand-and I can’t speak for cats because I’ve never had one, are primarily givers. Yes, we give them food, shelter and love. They don’t care if our hair isn’t combed, if we brought home dinner from a place they like. They don’t care if we are in a good mood or how much money we make. They are ready to give us love to whatever degree we will accept it from them. And in those times when we aren’t, they will back away and patiently wait for the next opportunity. Their gift is their ability to give us whatever we will take from them. They love us unconditionally at first sight.
That realization allowed me to stop telling myself to move on from missing her, because I had it covered elsewhere. The truth is that with two beautiful boys of my own, I still didn’t have it covered. I now had other beautiful gifts in my world, for which I was grateful, but I didn’t have that one with the velvet ears any longer.
It’s been said that heaven is a place where every dog you have ever loved is waiting to greet you. I believe my girl and a few others are waiting there for me. I believe God gives us these precious creatures to remind us of what it feels like to be loved unconditionally. And while they don’t live as long as humans, I also believe he creates so many of them, so we don’t have to be without this symbol unless we choose to be.
About 2 years after Chelsea moved to the great beyond, we got our dog Snickers. She is no Chelsea! But then, Chelsea was no Snickers. Our family dog is something amazing in her own right. She loves each of us in our own unique way. Snickers, too, is starting to age, and I can’t imagine how I will manage that inevitable day of saying goodbye when it comes. And the anticipation is exacerbated by the realization, that she will probably be my last big dog, if not my last dog. I am getting older as well, and don’t really have the energy to manage 75 lbs. of romping muscle. I can’t imagine not having a dog in my life and so I’ll have to make that call when the time comes.
For now, I try not to figure that out. Today, I try to just make sure I spend as much time as I can rubbing her belly and ears and feeding her forbidden ice cream. And most of all, I try to take in all of the love she has to give me and not compare it to anything else or anyone else. In the moments I am with her, I am hers, all hers. And whether it is 2 minutes or ten, it is the occasion to experience being truly loved for the mere price of showing up. It is as pure of a love as a human can experience, diluted only by the presence of a little slobber.

Never can say goodbye

for an audio version of this post, click on the link below- if you are listening on a smartphone, you may have to scroll to the end of the post and look for the sound icon

 

 

Put on a little Michael Jackson background music for this one

 

Never can say goodbye-

Today my neighbors moved away.  They are an elderly couple who are moving to Portland in order to be near their children and grandchildren.  In addition to having been really sweet neighbors, Ron and Orlanda were also my landlords for the building where my office is located.

They had a little going away party last weekend and I attended with bittersweet feelings.  On the one hand, I’m sad to see them go.  On the other, I feel confident that it is the right thing for them and their happiness and comfort level.  I saw Orlanda on the road yesterday and gave her a hug.  I had to fight back my tears.  Today I saw Ron while I was on my way to take my son to school.  I thought for a moment of just waving, but I stopped the car and gave him a big hug instead.  And I sobbed.

A short while later I talked to another neighbor Sarah, who lives across the street from Ron and Orlanda.  Sarah and her family have been a surrogate family for Ron and Orlanda since they’ve lived here.  In fact, Sarah offered her home to the Keuther’s last night since their house was empty.  I knew it was going to be a really hard day for Sarah.  We met on the road and cried together for a few more minutes.

 

In addition to missing the company of the Keuther’s who are really lovely people, Sarah and I have something else in common.  We are both orphans.  That was an attempt at a little twisted humor rather than self-pity.  Sarah lost her mom when she was 18.  I lost my dad at 15.  She lost her father about 5 years ago, and my mom will be gone 3 years this July.

Orlanda taught me how to make the most amazing caramel apple pie.  Ron is an incredible word worker and made beautiful hand crafted items including ornaments he gave us at Christmas.   Part of what made today’s saying goodbye for me is more than simply knowing that I won’t see my neighbors again.    It’s also knowing that I no longer have a kind of naiveté about life transitions like these.  The other reality is that Ron and Orlanda are becoming a bit frail, less independent and while I don’t mean to suggest they have one foot in the grave, the reality is they are in the later season of their life.

Maybe it’s my age and colored by the experience of having lost both parents, but I know when I was younger, I didn’t think about these things much.  I hate to be a spoiler in case you haven’t read the book, but in the early part of the “Giver” by Lois Lowry, there is a discussion about how the elderly woman is all excited about her “getting released” party that is about to occur.  It’s a celebration of one’s life and then you are released from the utopian community.  Of course, you learn later in the book that,  being released really means being given a lethal injection because you are no longer needed in the community and you’ve lived out your usefulness.

Ron and Orlanda are pretty vibrant for their age.  In addition to making a great pie, Orlanda is an artist.  Ron get’s up early every morning and walks.  It’s easy to forget sometimes.  Except that Orlanda had a stroke a couple of years ago, and she gets pretty forgetful when she gets tired.  Ron had a bad accident on his tractor a year or so ago and his back and hands haven’t really healed as well as he had hoped.  They are getting older.  They are getting less dependent.

And of course, as I look for these features in them, I am keenly aware that in the big picture, I’m not that far behind them.  On the one hand they have a good 30 years on me.  But my “baby” turning 11 yesterday reminds me how quickly time does pass.

I’m not planning on any self (or other) lethal injections any time soon- I promise!  Nor would I tell anyone that I’m afraid of dying, because I’m truly not.  I have a faith that allows me a comfort that whatever is on the other side will be of comfort.   But that said, I am still a human being, with a human life to manage through every day.  I have children to care for, a house to clean, a job to do and so on.  And many days if not all of them feel like there is more on my to do list than there is time in a day… or in a lifetime to get them done.  And I suspect that although I know that most of the tasks really aren’t that important- I’m keeping the list long enough to try and bet against time.  Because in the end… it really is true…. I never can say goodbye.

 

Excerpts from a session – Eating Disorders Part 1

to listen to an audio of this post click the following link.  If you are listening on a smartphone, you may need to scroll to the end of the message and find the sound icon.

 

These are my rambling thoughts from a recent session-   The subject matter was eating disorders and fear:

When Winnicott (my all time favorite theorist) discussed the primitive psyche  he used the word “annihilation” to capture the angst of the infant.  In other words, a baby doesn’t think, “whoa, if someone doesn’t meet my needs I’ll “die”.  They aren’t that developed.  They don’t know what life/death is.  Instead, they can only muster up “I’ll cease to exist”—and when they do, it is terrifying.

I keep a cartoon drawing in my office on the bulletin board.  It is of a woman looking at a mirror image of herself.  One version of the woman is pulling a string out of the other version, causing the latter to “unravel”.  I can’t remember what the cartoon was originally about, but I kept it because it so perfectly illustrates for me what happens when a person pulls out whatever is holding them together without first building anything else for support.  For example, one may hate their eating disorder, alcoholism, or any other malady- but it may very well be the very thing currently holding them together.  That same eating disorder, for example, may be the way a person organizes his or her day from the moment they wake, ‘til the moment they sleep again.  It tells them how to dress, who to be with or avoid, how to act etc.  Pull it out, and you get a jelly puddle with no reliable or predictable internal guide.  And that is in part, what makes many pathologies so hard to eradicate.

In the session that prompted this chain of thought, it occurred to me that the patient I’ll call Amber (all identifying information has been changed, and some dynamics altered to illustrate theory)has spent years successfully creating an “identity” that she feels legitimizes her.  It makes her feel productive- it is measurable by title, salary, awards.  And it is an identity that is culturally sanctioned.  In contrast, Amber did not grow up believing she was valuable.  She did not see herself as having much substance.  In her youth she turned to alcohol and drugs, partly to numb, partly to embody the state of feeling out of control- she was above the rules because she didn’t fit her world and the rules, therefore, did not apply to her. Her parents didn’t seem to notice.  They were waist deep in their own maladies.

But by her early 20’s Amber buckled down and found a path to success.  She knew she was smart and she had a strong worth ethic.  She finished college, went to law school and joined a prominent firm.  She also focused heavily on her appearance making sure she looked the part.  Success came somewhat rapidly, and although she appreciated it, she has never rested on her laurels knowing that every new case or assignment could be the one that undoes her.  She believes she is only as good as her last “at bat” and can be easily disposed of.

There is of course some practical logic to Amber’s thought process.  The job market is tough.  Law firms have to win cases to be successful.  But when Amber thinks about her “annihilation” it is not her adult self that thinks in these practical terms.  It is her infantile self- coming to the surface- terrorized that her worth/her existence is an extremely fragile entity.  And in a sense, she is correct— but only because her “worth and existence” is tied to professional accolades and physical appearance- rather than a solid and core sense of who she is and why she matters.  It’s as if she understands that people recognize her by her face- but she is aware that her “face” is really a mask- If the mask is removed, no one will know who she is.  The mask in her case- is the identity of a professional, successful very thin lawyer.

Stay tuned for Part 2

 

 

 

 

Selling the Drama

Okay the title comes from one of my favorite albums by Live- But the subject matter today comes from the Olympics-

I’m somewhat of a fair weather fan- but I do like to catch a little bit.  My youngest son Andrew is pretty much addicted to watching and so I spent some time with him last night watching the men’s downhill and the figure skating.  There are a lot of great stories that occur during the Olympics- defeat, triumph, perseverance, endurance and so much more.

Last night a particular story really caught my attention.  And today there has been a bit of talk about it on the news as well, thus it obviously affected a lot of people much the same way.

So Bode Miller got his 6th medal.  That’s cool.  More than any other U.S. skier.  Also he is the oldest Alpine skier to medal.  Also cool.

But the attention getter wasn’t actually Miller, but Christen Cooper, a two time Olympian and silver medalist who interviewed Miller right after winning his Bronze.  Miller was obviously in an emotional rush from having just accomplished his feats.  But his success is also impacted by the loss less than a year ago of his younger brother Chelone.  The younger Miller, also a skier was a hopeful for Sochi as well.  He died of a seizure, not his first since sustaining a head injury from a dirt-bike accident several years prior.

 

Cooper met Bode Miller on the slopes.  She asked him  how he was faring emotionally with his brother not present.  He tried to discretely move the topic to the current events.  Cooper persisted as if she had no ability to read his attempted social redirection.    Finally, she opened up the big gun  (quoted to the best of my recollection) “So when you are out there and you look up at the sky, you seem to be talking to someone- What’s going on in your mind?”

With that Miller cracked.  He started to cry.  She moved towards him to give him some comfort- He turned away.  He walked away.  He dropped down on one knee trying to pull himself together.  A teammate approached him and was rebuffed by someone on the sidelines, the first person to see that Miller needed to be LEFT ALONE.  Finally, his wife arrived on the scene, embraced him and  shielded his face from the crowd.

I can’t imagine what was in the mind of Cristen Cooper to make her think this was an appropriate approach.  But at the same time, I can’t imagine why NBC chose not to edit the coverage leaving Bode’s tearful reaction to be dealt with privately.

There were plenty of things Cooper could have asked Bode Miller.  How does it feel to be the oldest guy out here? How do you continue to perform at this level?  How have the sport and the games changed over your long career?

But instead, making him cry over something that was obviously so deeply personal for him became the mission.  And the network found it appropriate and significant to make it a display and a highlight.

Miller came out afterward in defense of Cooper. He tweeted the response ” “Please be gentle w Christin Cooper, it was crazy emotional and not all her fault.”  What a classy guy.

My purpose here is neither to vilify Cooper or NBC.  Okay, well maybe a little bit, because frankly I found it revolting.  But it made me think about how “normal” it is to report and focus on the juicy stuff.   How many times did Justin Bieber get in trouble in the past couple of weeks?  How many stars go to rehab?  How many deaths occurred, houses burned down etc. etc.  Even my own blog in its infancy already contains a report about the death of a star.  Drama attracts.  Drama sells.

Okay realistically, no one wants to turn on the news to hear that “Mrs. O’Leary’s garden is producing a beautiful bunch of tulips this year.”  Or, little Nancy Turner got  her braces off and her smile looks fantastic now.  But do we really have to fill ourselves with a steady diet of other’s vulnerability and shortfalls in order to feel good, or at least “normal”?  More importantly, it is important- no  it is crucial that we are at least mindful of how much negativity we take in from our “regular trusted sources”.  How can one feel optimistic and hopeful in the world when we have spent much of the day feeding on negative messages.

And it’s not simply the news.  It’s everywhere.  Marketing often focuses on something that is a shortfall, in order to make the product a solution.  I remember one night watching late night TV and thinking by the end of the infomercial, that I might need a garden weeding machine.  It was to solve the problems of my back caused by doing it all by hand with a hoe in rocky soil.  Fortunately, just before placing the order I remembered that I didn’t have a back problem OR a garden.  Nor, was I planning to plant one any time soon.  On the other hand, I do have rocky soil, so I am still vulnerable.

Yes it’s Sunday, and that means I have more time to wander through this post.  But in attempting to pull it all together now, let me get to the main point.  If you want to feel good, you have to surround yourself with positive, hopeful, optimistic people, places and things.  If you instead, surround yourself with negative, hurtful or critical people, it’s really hard to feel anything different than what you are taking in.  And you have to be thoughtful about what you are taking in.  Even well meaning, trusted people in your life can sometimes be the source of saying the not so helpful thing.  They might be uninformed, or having a bad day of their own.

Listening to yourself is the key.  Listening to your own voice as a louder tone than the ones you hear with your ears.   And that reminds me of the movie “The Help”.  Remember the mantra that Aibelene repeated throughout the book/movie to the little girl Mae Mobley?

You is smart, you is kind, you is important.

She wanted the little girl to know that at her very core in case anyone (most likely her mother) ever said or behaved in ways that suggested otherwise.  Aibelene wanted Mae Mobley to have that message as her very core and as the voice she would rely upon.  I hope it worked.

If you know that is your core and you live with that type of awareness, then you also have permission to let go of people, places, things, and sometimes just words that don’t fit your model.  You can acknowledge, just like Bode Miller did “it wasn’t her fault”.  He obviously knew that Cooper’s poor choice in interview strategy, was in fact just that”.  He elaborated that it was an emotional time and that the emotions were his.  He didn’t give her the credit for “destroying him” or even bringing him to his knees.  He held his head high and made the drama as less dramatic as he possibly could given the circumstances, rather than adding fuel to the fire.  And for that alone-  I think he deserved the gold!

 

 

Another one bites the dust… Sadly

Yesterday I was driving along when a newsflash came across my phone announcing that Philip Seymour Hoffman had died from an apparent drug overdose. Wow- Really? He had checked into rehab a couple of years ago and everyone believed he was on the straight and narrow. They found him on the bathroom floor with a syringe in his arm suggesting otherwise.
I’m not going to bash PSH. Let the poor man rest in peace from whatever demons tortured him. What I find troubling is that he is one in a long list that keeps growing. It’s certainly not that he didn’t know better. I suspect he knew all too well.

And so do I… and so do you… And yet- why is that we continue to do things over and over that we know without any doubt are harmful or even lethal to us? The obvious answer– we are human. But there are other humans that don’t, or at least not as often.

We can say it is our bad childhood, our bad marriage, we went to the wrong school, not enough money, education…. Another long list. But at the end of the day it really comes down to something very simple-although not easy- And that is that we have to make a decision every single minute of every single day- to live well or to not live well. To be our best self- or to not be our best self. And so often, we have created lives so full of noise, distraction and patterns that allow us to feel like we don’t have time to think through those decisions. Instead we just move like a pinball from bumper to bumper in a way that appears to be directed by everything and everyone except us.

Looking at only the day Hoffman died and saying it was from a drug overdose, I think does him a disservice on so many levels. But certainly not the least of these is discounting all of the events that led up to that fatal decision. Was he troubled? Maybe. Or did he just not want to feel some type of pain? Did he mean to end it all or was he just trying to get relief?
Addictions, vices, provide a temporary escape from the reality and hardness of life and that of course, is what makes them so attractive and appealing. Some are more temporary than are others. And we “treat” them by focusing on the symptom. We educate ourselves about the perils of alcohol, drugs etc.
But the symptom, I think isn’t the use of our vices– rather, its our unwillingness and fear to not use them. It’s our insecurity or disbelief that we will be able to live well if we meet life head on-on life’s terms, rather than on terms we feel are “fair” or desirable.

Someone told me once that “if you do what you are supposed to do, when you are supposed to do it, things generally turn out okay”. I believe there is a lot of merit to that- but it’s not full proof. Sometimes you can do everything you are supposed to do, and things still don’t turn out like you think they are supposed to. Then what?
Then what is that we need a plan B that is based on the 3Rs– Not reading riting and rithmatic, but Regulation, Resiliency and Reverence.
Regulation- how much do we really need? Do those needs come from an internal voice we recognize and trust?
Resiliency- Can we handle getting our needs met? Can we handle it when they don’t? How do we react/respond when needs are met and not met?
Reverence- Do we have a good balance between the desire to get our needs met and the needs of those around us? Do we appreciate what it means to have our needs met. Does it satisfy us?

More on this at a later date;-)