Tag Archives: disappointment

True Confessions

I’m a mom.  Mom’s have a way of becoming somewhat psychotic or at least neurotic when it comes to defending and protecting their children.  I am no exception.  I remember when my eldest son Alex was about 3 years old and I dropped him off at the play yard of his preschool.  A couple of 4 year olds came along and wanted to take a little tricycle away from him.  I had to hold myself back to keep from wanting to beat up his 4 year old school mates.

Fast forward to today where I’ve reached a supposed level of maturity, which I have actually but not always when it comes to my kids.  Recently there was a situation involving my younger son Andrew.  I felt like he wasn’t getting the kind of recognition I felt, or rather I KNEW he deserved.  I found myself behaving in a less than attractive way uttering unfortunate descriptions of his competition.  Even while I was doing it, I knew it felt wrong, but I let the criticism roll off my tongue.  At least I had the good sense to do it mostly in private.

And then I went back to reading Cheryl Strayed’s book “Dear Sugar: Advice on love and life”.  While I don’t agree with every single piece of the book, I found it to be generally lovely.  Strayed is a wonderful writer, an old soul and is a human being with more compassion in her bones then should be allowed.  I stumbled upon the following passage that had nothing to do with protecting your kids or permission to be a momma bear.  But here it is:

“When I feel jealous, I tell myself to stop feeling jealous and to stop being a jealous person.  The cure for feeling jealous is to stop being a jealous person.”

Profound rocket science right?  It is incredibly simple, and yet the key is not to simply utter magic words and the behavior stops.  It means to ACTUALLY CHANGE the behavior and then the feelings will stop because there is no behavior for them to take root within.

When I thought about what I was really feeling, I was behaving in my own child (me as a little person- not Andrew) voice.  I was feeling the many times that I didn’t win the prize or get picked for the team.  And by projecting that on to Andrew in that moment, I wasn’t thinking about teaching him that he could not win the prize and still be okay.  More importantly, I wasn’t thinking about how many times I DID win the prize, and did get picked by the team and someone else did not.  I don’t recall times when I got picked and I started feeling how unfair it was that someone else did not.

This realization allowed me to realize that to stop feeling jealous, I needed to stop looking at what the other kids had done or not done.  I needed to consider that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.  To not win doesn’t mean that you are a loser.  It simply means you didn’t win this time.  To stop being a jealous person, I needed to focus on Andrew’s many accomplishments and to realize the joy that those bring to both him and me.  With that in mind, it’s hard to behave in a jealous way, because there is nothing to be jealous about.  Jealousy is not a flattering emotion on anyone.  It speaks to a sense of lack, which is a condition created entirely from within rather than externally.

Our little selves are alive and well inside all of us.  We want them to be because they contain many wonderful memories, vulnerabilities, innocence and raw emotion.  But those parts of our selves also need to be parented by our more mature and wise self.  They need to be protected and treated with compassion and they do not like to have their left over wounds ignored or pushed away by our adult parts.

Any time we find ourselves operating in an irrational or overly emotional way, I believe it is our child self that just took the driver’s seat.  Rarely does this prove to be a good strategy. 

Floating in a sea of insecurity

Sixteen years ago I became a mother for the first time.  I was 2 months shy of my own 40th birthday.  Obviously I am a late bloomer.  And 13 years ago I became a mother for the second time.  And so I have enjoyed saying that I am the mom of two kids for quite some time.  But on Friday my youngest son Andrew will turn 13, meaning I will for the last time, be the mother of children and will instead become the mother of teenagers. 

I would be lying if I said it was not bittersweet.  On the one hand I am delighted to watch my boys grow and become people in their own right.  It is fun to have the freedom that comes with the untangling of childhood needs and demands.  We have the luxury of not attending to their every need.  And I miss soft skin; baby smells (the good kinds) and coos.  Even though these have actually been gone for quite some time, there is still a way of defining one’s self that changes with an official transition of stages.  It’s neither cool or welcomed to remind a teenager of the things he did when he was a toddler.

But perhaps more than rearranging the child memories out of the forefront of my brain is the awareness that my own identity is once again cast out onto the open seas, unmoored from the dock of supposed security where I had been storing it for a time.  This is what we do as a people.  We link our identity to some safe haven so that we might know ourselves and have a way of introducing ourselves to others.  The dilemma is, of course, when we delude ourselves into thinking that our identity claim is anything more than arbitrary and or temporary.  I chose the identity of mother of children; some choose more exotic names like executive or entrepreneur, while others go for more personal descriptions like thin or beautiful.  In the end, they are all mere snapshots of who we are, and fleeting.  The only thing constant about our lives is that they change.

I am continuing to learn that genuine peace comes not from finding a more solid identity defined by my current circumstances, but rather increasing my awareness that who “I” am, is in fact, none of these adjectives or roles.  I am “I” who has participated in many of these over the course of my years and will hopefully continue to participate in more still to come.  I am “I” when I was not a mother of any children just as I am “I” today.  “I” is a solid and constant, and is the only thing that is solid and constant.  The lesson is to not get too attached to the ways I try to box “I” in.  It is not the boxing in per se that is the problem, but rather the attachment to the limitations of that box.  In other words, if I only feel present and solid because I am the mother of children, then once they become teens, it will be hard to know how and what to be the next day.  It will also be hard to know what they are the next day as well.  This is the case with folks who experience “empty nest” and depression from other kinds of life transitions like divorce, loss of a job etc.

This is deep, philosophical convoluted and truncated for the sake of space in a way that might not make it very clear.  If you want to do more reading “The Untethered Soul” by Michael Singer is a good primer.   This is predicated on the strategy of engaging in more eastern rather than western thinking.  In particular, it means to be mindful of not becoming attached to culturally or familial definitions of our self and using those definitions to insist on their legitimacy.  Failing to do so means we forfeit the right to choose anything not on our predefined path, and we require everyone around us to support our identity through their behavior as well.  Unfortunately, they usually don’t receive the script in advance and they keep mixing up the lines.  And when they do, it is us who falters.  We don’t receive the right cues, we get agitated and we become the director who now focuses on everyone around us to get their lines right as we want them performed.   

Nobody wants to work with a diva.  Not in show business, not in life.  No one wants to alter their behavior or their life trajectory so that we can feel safer in our comfortably created little identities.  The alternative is to let ourselves drift as the fleeting souls we actually are and enjoy the waves as they come along.  It means accepting that some will be gentle and some not but neither condition is ours to control or claim.

Life in the fishbowl

I read what was for me, a rather moving book last week.  Though, as much as I loved it, I recommend it with quite a bit of trepidation.  I listened to the book on Audible and I must say until the last two hours, it was pretty dull.  There was a lot of philosophical rambling.  I nearly quit, but I held on and I was well rewarded by the gems contained within.  I don’t know how well these will come through without the context of the book, and I have to be somewhat cryptic in order to not spoil the story in the event you might wish to read it for yourself.  The book is titled “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”.

There are two concepts that I want to share here that do not give away the story.  The first is the idea of the fishbowl.  This theory is put forward by 12 year old Paloma, an intellectually gifted French girl who lives with her family.  At the start of the story, Paloma is working out her plan to commit suicide on her 13th birthday.  As an intelligent child, she deduces that life is nothing more than the struggle to fulfill a great lie that our parents have thrust upon us and therefore, not worth the effort once you know the truth:

“Apparently now and again adults take the time to sit down and contemplate what a disaster their life is.  They complain without understanding and, like flies constantly banging against the same old windowpane, they buzz around, suffer, waste away, get depressed then wonder how they got caught up in this spiral that is taking them where they don’t want to go…And yet there’s nothing to understand… “Life has no meaning and we grown-ups know what is” is the universal lie that everyone is supposed to believe.  Once you become an adult and you realize that’s not true, it’s too late…. People aim for the stars, and they end up like a goldfish in a bowl”.

Thus, her planning suicide is to suck out what few joyful moments might lie ahead and then save herself the agony of ending up in the fishbowl.

The second thread I want to share is something that Paloma learns at the end of the book.  While we all use the word “never” quite freely, it is something that none of us truly understands until we are faced with a condition in which we experience no ability to transcend a limit regardless of our means and abilities.  A real never occurs when the illusion of our control is shattered beyond repair. Everything becomes clearly defined without the fantasy of “if only or when this, then that”.

The irony however, is that in the midst of Paloma’s “never” experience (I must be vague here to keep from spoiling the book), she experiences a moment in which time as she knows it to be in its linear form gets “interrupted” for lack of a better word.  In her words:

“I have concluded, maybe that’s what life is about:  there’s a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same.  It’s as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that has come to us, an always within never”.

In short, life is filled with so much beyond our control.  The idea that we can and should do X Y and Z and we will be guaranteed the magic answer and life without sorrow, is in fact a lie perpetuated upon us by our parents and our culture.  Most of all it is perpetuated by our childlike naiveté and wish to have a perfect life with a happy ending.

Paloma begins with the understanding that the wish is a lie and attempts to resolve it by quitting the game.  Despite her advanced intelligence, her immaturity and surroundings prevents her from knowing that there is an alternative to both wrestling to live the lie or dying to avoid trying.

That alternative is also known as life.  But it is life that willingly accepts our limitations without shame, fear, denial and insistence that we and others transcend them.  It is life that is open to the moments of beauty that allow us to step out of the Never of time for brief moments and to allow those moments to nourish us and hold us until the next one comes along and to let them go as naturally as they came to us.  It is life that sees its end, not as a failing to hold on and thus succumbing to the fishbowl, but rather the transformation from this existence into something else, even if that something else cannot be definitively determined by the human mind.  And most of all to be open to those moments of beauty in a variety of forms rather than to predetermine allowable examples conjured up by our own ego.

 

 

The City of Lights

The City of Lights

We are a couple of weeks past the tragic attacks on Paris.  Hopefully, those affected more personally have begun the process of healing.  The word process should be emphasized, because it is fact that and not as many expect, an event.  Grief, like many other life circumstances ebbs and flows through many changes and takes time.

Paris is often referred to as the City of Lights.  I would like to take liberty with that title by highlighting one of the stories I heard among those involved, because I believe they shine on the potential of a brighter existence for all of us.

Hélène Muyal-Leiris, left her husband of 12 years and their 17month old son, Melvil to attend a rock concert on Friday evening.  Instead of returning to their lives, she along with 128 other innocent victims lost their life in the massacre.  Upon learning the news, her husband Antoine offered the following powerful message to those responsible for his wife’s death:

“I will not give you the gift of hate.”

Leiris went on to interpret his understanding of the ignorance that leads to such violence, as well as, the limits of which, despite his grief, he will allow this to impact him and his son.  When referring to his child’s future he added “He is only 17 months old, he will eat his afternoon tea as always and then we will go and play as always, and this little boy’s entire life will be an affront to you by being happy and free. For he will not hate you either.”

I am in awe of this truly remarkable posture.  I often write about the accepting the freedom of personal choice in how we respond to what comes towards us in life.  This example is one of the best examples I have seen of application.  Leiris could choose to remain bitter, angry, devastated or immobilized by what has occurred.  Who would judge him harshly for choosing any response?  But instead, he opted to respect his grief, while also honoring the magnitude of love he felt for his wife.   He achieved this by choosing not to tarnish his or his son’s love by being forced into other feelings dictated by the actions of others.

There won’t likely be follow up stories to let us know in 5 or 10 years of this man or his son succumbed to depression, drugs and alcohol or a life of crime of their own.  But I have to hope that his gift of love will touch many people, who will in turn use it as motivation to choose in kind.  I hope that his current posture emerges from a spirit within him that looks towards the good in the world and that as a result; he has surrounded himself with like- minded people who will continue to support him through the days and years which lie ahead.

I often hear people say they can’t choose their feelings.  I’m not sure I agree.  I believe that circumstances appear to us and then we create a story around those circumstances.  How we build the story is predicated on our individual circumstances, both historically and in the present.  Sometimes this information is in consciousness and sometimes not.  But the story we tell is inevitably powerful, because it is the fuel that ignites our feelings.  Thus, while we may not be conscious of choosing our story, we are nonetheless its author.  Even if someone else originated the story, when we reinforce it by retelling it to ourselves, it becomes ours.

The good news is that all of our stories are subject to revision as we acquire new information.  We don’t have to stop editing until we take our final breath.  If you are not comfortable with the feelings generated by your plot lines, you have every right to change them.  I hope you will choose those which allow you to shine at your brightest.

 

 

One Small Step for man… and Woman

Yesterday I had a session with someone I’ve known for quite some time.  I’ve watched her grow considerably from a few years ago.  I originally met her shortly after the dissolution of her first marriage.  She was young; the marriage had been brief.

She began working on her career, knowing all the while she also hoped to remarry at some point and have a family.  Her career has taken her to places near and far.  Yet, despite her attractiveness both physically and psychologically, she hasn’t met another suitable mate.   She understandably finds this disconcerting.  It’s not that she hasn’t put effort into it, because she has.  Although she has met people potential suitors along the way, none, seems to be suitable.  And in case you’re wondering, she is not being too picky.

I sat with her, wishing I could wave a magic wand and produce a perfect candidate, or at very least look into a crystal ball and tell her when it will happen.  Unfortunately, my wand is broken and my crystal ball is cloudy.  I also cannot resort to some text book prescription that will instruct her on exactly what to do to insure her desires will be fulfilled.

Sometimes there is luck and fate to contend with.

What I did do is ask her “If I could tell you without a doubt that, it’s not going to happen, what would you change in your life?”  I wasn’t attempting to be prophetic or pessimistic.  I was relieved by her answer, which was simply “Nothing”.  And I appreciated that she was certain about it.

I was relieved because it said to me that she wasn’t missing any of her life by waiting until it was “Right” in order to live it well.  She was instead, getting up every day and moving towards the things that she could control.  She had settled on living in a place that made her happy.  She had recently changed jobs to find work she felt more authentically aligned with.  While she would like a mate to join her world, she is no longer looking for one who will build it for her.  She is a smart girl in addition to being beautiful and charming.

Sunday I finally got around to seeing the movie Martian by Andy Weir.  I mentioned the book in a recent blog.  As I was leaving the theater, my friend mentioned to me that Weir had originally self -published the book as blog entries.  Intrigued I looked up more information to better understand the story.

Weir, a computer programmer always had an interest in writing, but took a job in programming to earn a living.  After reaching some financial independence he took time off to try his hand at writing.   According to an article in the Washington Post “His first efforts weren’t very good, as he freely admits. He couldn’t get an agent, much less a publisher. He decided that his childhood ambition of being a professional writer was unrealistic, and he went back to computer programming.”

But he kept writing.  He loved writing and it made him happy.  Eventually, he self-published it on Amazon and it was later picked up by Crown Publishing.  The rest was, as they say, “History”.

 

Many people give up on their dreams when they aren’t validated by the outside world quickly enough.  Weir obviously did not.  My client is continuing to do what makes her happy without any evidence that a book deal is in the works.    And others may wait for the life to feel “right” until after their dreams are sufficiently met by their own standards.  The ideal circumstance is to push towards living the life you want, while experiencing the one you actually have.  It is possible to dream of more and live in what it is currently.

Are there any paths you are waiting to take because someone or the world has not given you a clear map?  Are you living the life you enjoy even if nothing else changes?

High Tide

I got divorced in my mid 30’s. I moved out of the house I shared with my then husband in January and hoped by my birthday in March that, my life would look magically like I dreamed it could. That of course,  did not happen. There were times when it was hard to see IF this adventure was going to work out well, much less how it would work. And it was sometimes hard to sit in the period of not knowing while my biological clock ticked loudly drowning out the sound of comfort.

Eventually, however, I met my wonderful husband, married and had two children. At around the same time, I also completed my doctorate. Over a couple of years span, I went from being an unhappily married woman, to a divorced woman, to a happily married mother of two with a doctorate. Talk about identity change!   And despite the odds, I was 40 at the birth of our first son and 43 for the second. Blessed is an understatement.

The other night I re-watched the movie Castaway with Tom Hanks which is such a great movie. I highly recommend going back to view it if you haven’t seen it in a while. What I was most struck by this time around was a soliloquy Hanks gives near the end. Upon realizing that his fiancé had married someone else after she believed him dead, he describes to a friend how he was dealing with the loss of her in his life now that he returned to civilization.

“I was never going to get off that island. I was going to die there totally alone. I was going to get sick or get injured or something. The only choice I had, the only thing I could control was when and how and where it was going to happen. So I made a rope and I went up to the summit to hang myself. I had to test it, of course, you know me. And the weight of the log snapped the limb of the tree. I couldn’t even kill myself the way I wanted to. I had power over nothing. And that’s when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew somehow that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing even though there was no reason to hope. And all of my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that’s what I did. I kept breathing. And one day that logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in and gave me a sail. And now hear I am. I’m back in Memphis talking to you. I have ice in my glass. And I’ve lost her all over again. I’m so sad I don’t have Kelly. I’m also grateful that she was there with me on that island. And I know what I have to do. I’ve got to keep breathing. ‘Cuz tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring.”

It can be excruciatingly painful when relationships end, and even more so if they are not of our choosing. They might be family, romantic, platonic or even loss of a job or other significant structure in our lives. In the aftermath of realization that we are now without that, which we once held dearly, it can be difficult to see into the future of how or if anything is going to work out for us. We are often so attached to what we lost that it is difficult to cultivate a vision forward of what might be possible.

What I love most about Hanks thought is that, he relinquished the need to know what or how and instead began to focus on the most basic of tasks in the present moment. He started with the baby step of just breathing. He stopped trying to control and insisting and instead agreed to live with whatever he had in the moment. And when the next moment brought him something new, he lived with that moment.

I’ve always felt when looking at my own story that something similar happened. After my marriage ended I dated a lot. I agreed to go out with people that I knew were a bad fit but I wanted to make something happen even if by sheer will and persistence. When I quit however, and decided that my life was pretty full just as it was, I met my husband shortly thereafter. He was indeed my sail. And now here I am, talking to you.

Are you on an island without hope? Remember, tomorrow the sun will rise and you never know what the tide may bring in. Until then, just keep breathing.

 

 

Hot Pad Hannah

I’m far from being a novice in the kitchen. And I’ve owned several kitchens in my life. Despite experience and knowledge however, I have a recurring dilemma in my current kitchen of 9 plus years that, still continues to plague me. For reasons I can’t fathom, I can still get burned while using my oven. There is something uniquely awkward for me about its height that has resulted in a number of scars on my forearm over the years.

The other night it happened again. Only this time the damage landed on the top of my thumb, right at the joint. I pulled back quickly and noticed a white residue on my skin. While the initial sensation caught my attention causing me to jerk my hand out quickly, the pain dissipated almost immediately. This led me to conclude that I hadn’t really burned myself and the white reside was a film left on the oven’s top surface from a recent cleaning. But to be sure, I did put a little ice on the spot for a minute or so.

The next day I noticed that my thumb clearly had a burn. I also noticed it still didn’t hurt. I came to another conclusion that, there must be relatively few nerve endings in that part of my thumb, hence the lack of pain.   Admittedly, it was pretty cool to not have it hurting, but it reminded me of a story that I read as a kid. The story was about a short order cook or waitress nicknamed Hot Pad Hannah. As I recall, Hannah had a unique ability to handle hot pots and plates without using an auxiliary hot pad because, apparently she had no nerve endings in her hand to signal pain. For the life of me I can’t imagine why this was a children’s story. I also can’t imagine why anyone thought this skill was virtuous enough to write about, but I digress.

While I agree it was a novel ability, the downside is that Hannah also remained at risk for touching something hot enough to burn the flesh right off of her bones. It might not feel hurt, but that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t be hurt. Obviously this story traumatized me enough to imprint it on my brain but it has since become useful, as I’ve learned to see feelings much the same way.

It’s generally easy for most of us to allow pleasant emotions to surface and even share. Negative emotions are a different story. All too often we see them as unnatural, something to be conquered at best or worst, destroyed. At the very least, we try and minimize undesirable feelings with a host of tricks many of which have to be repeated making us vulnerable to addiction.

Hannah was able to avoid the feeling of pain because of her natural anesthesia. In doing so, she was not able to use them as a warning sign or a call to appropriate action. Feelings, while sometimes painful are like sensors to let us know that something is happening that we find unappealing. Sometimes our feelings could be seen as a warning sign telling us that a certain behavior or action is necessary. We might need to change course, end a relationship, and let something go. When we dull the sensation of the feeling we may leave ourselves perpetuating the status quo and causing further dissatisfaction.

Other times our feelings may be indicators of something that we can’t change. Loss is a natural part of life and denying it by numbing the feeling does us a tremendous disservice. The absence of loss and disappointment deprives us of the necessary contrast to appreciate growth and satisfaction. Moreover, it prompts us to live life in ways of overprotecting ourselves to avoid the risk. This strategy is rarely, if ever, effective or satisfying.

The burns on my arm have become warnings to be more careful. Obviously I need to keep working on this. But I must be changing something because at least I have moved up to my thumb instead of my arm.

 

 

 

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

 

Now that I can hear, can you?

First, another thanks and round of applause to the wonderful comments I’ve received the past couple of weeks.  My readers are incredibly awesome and insightful people!  Not everyone posts their comments publicly- but they are all fantastic!

I learned a new word this week. I mean really learned it instead of just having heard it before and tried using it in a sentence. The word is “ineffable”.

Maybe you already know what it means. The dictionary says “too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words.

But I realize now that it is the word I haven’t been familiar with enough to describe the experiences people often share with me. A feeling, a condition, an experience so great or extreme that they find it difficult to capture in words.

In a blog a few weeks ago I tried to describe someone’s physical pain. This week someone described the tragedy of losing a loved one far more prematurely than expected. Others try to describe to me a fear of a situation looming, the dread of lingering past betrayal. Sometimes they try to describe a longing for something that seems out of reach, a lover or a child to name a few. For the record, the longing for chocolate is not ineffable. Rather, it is well documented by many including me.

My job is often an attempt to help people describe in words that which is indescribable. The goal is to help them feel understood, to share, if only for a few minutes that someone understands the weight of their burden. No one asks me to take the burden home with me, only to be heard and quite possibly to find a way to manage the feelings with a little more ease or at least grace.

I recall back when I worked in residential eating disorder treatment, the residents were often anxious around fat people. Some were disgusted, others literally terrified. It was as if, sitting next to someone fat put them in danger of catching the same. I find people’s reactions to intense feelings much the same. They grow impatient when listening to another, or worn down when they have to hear the same thing more than once. I believe this is most likely due to either not wanting to have to think about the same situation potentially occurring in their own lives like a contagion. Others may have a sense of inadequacy from not knowing how to respond appropriately. Of course, there are situations where we simply don’t care about the person or the subject, but these are not the ones I’m thinking about in this blog.

It is our human nature to want to be understood. Words; the construct of language is perhaps our best attempt to unite us. But what happens when words cause us more distance because of their inadequacy? What happens when the experience is ineffable?

Maybe the simple demonstration to not speak, but rather just to stay with another is an alternative. What might happen if we allow someone to describe something so ineffable to us and we don’t leave? What if we simply reached out our hand to theirs or put our arms around them. Maybe the best we can do is hand them a tissue. Don’t underestimate the value in simply being present with another who is in pain. Sometimes the value lies in the fact that they can see us sitting in our own discomfort and our willingness to stay as a model to help them tolerate something within themselves. Maybe it simply will make them feel less alone.

Someone recently introduced me to a video called “It’s not about the nail”. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s worth the 2 minutes or so watch. It’s another way of addressing the power of listening. And maybe, through the practice of listening to others with compassion, we will become more willing to do the same for ourselves.

 

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.

 

 

Time to learn

 

 

For an audio version of this post, click on the link below:

A young but earnest Zen student approached his teacher, and asked the Zen Master: “If I work very hard and diligent how long will it take for me to find Zen.” The Master thought about this, then replied, “Ten years.” The student then said, “But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast — How long then ?” Replied the Master, “Well, twenty years.” “But, if I really, really work at it. How long then ?” asked the student. “Thirty years,” replied the Master. “But, I do not understand,” said the disappointed student. “At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that ?” Replied the Master,” When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.” — Author Unknown

 

I often think of this story when people tell me that they are working really hard at something and it doesn’t seem to be happening quickly enough for them.

A young woman wants to find a mate and none seems available.

Another is eating well and exercising but is unable to lose weight.

A man is trying for a promotion that is taking too long while others in the organization seem to be moving ahead.

I recall how badly I wanted to have a second child and found it hard to get pregnant, yet every female under 17 seemed to be turning up with child whether she wanted to be or not.

It seems so unfair when we are working so hard for something that seems logical and possible and yet, it still doesn’t happen.

Or at least it doesn’t happen in the time frame that we have deemed reasonable. The dilemma in most cases is that, it is not our unilateral decision to deem what the right time or right amount of work parameters are actually supposed to be. There is a universe around us that has to also consider the needs, wants and expectations of a gazillion other people as well. What if that perfect mate is saying he is looking for someone exactly like us, but not for another 6 months because he has some other things to finish working on first? What if the conditions for us to have the promotion and succeed are not yet all in place?

The thought process of the western mind is cultivated in an environment in which 1+1=2. There is a specific sequence to follow and you get the prize. But eastern cultures cultivate a different mind-set. For them it is 1+1=3. I’m not talking about common core here. But the Easterners acknowledge that when you put two things together something additional happens by virtue of that union. The sum is greater than the whole of its parts. When you put a match and paper together, you don’t get paper and a match- you get fire.

I think there is great value to both eastern and western thinking and that wise people use some of both.   In the examples I mentioned, western thinking teaches us the value of hard work. But eastern thinking helps us to accept that there is more to consider than only our own definition of the way things should work. And that sometimes we need to let go of working so hard and allow time to follow its own course. Some things can’t be accomplished faster, just because it’s what we want.

 

Life below the surface

 

 

 

For an audio version of this post, please click on the link below:  if you are listening on a smart phone you may need to scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the sound icon

I took a fairly hard stance when Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a drug overdose. I tend to be somewhat unsympathetic about stars and drugs. And yet,  I find myself with a mixed reaction to the death of Robin Williams. Actually, it seems incomplete to say the death. It’s more accurate to include the phrase suicide in the death of Robin Williams.

After prolific musical artist Buddy Holly died in a plane crash, Don McClean wrote his classic melody “American Pie”. The chorus lyrics include “the day the music died”.   Given the widespread media coverage on Williams, it seems August 11 is a day many people will associate as the one the laughter died. Although I personally sometimes failed to appreciate his comedic talent, Robin Williams was truly a genius. He was also an outstanding dramatic actor. I wrote a post a while back that I will publish at a later date about his role in Good Will Hunting.

Robin Williams was also a man. One I know little about, other than what he puts in the public eye for us to interpret. He was vocal about his chemical dependence and struggles with depression. And despite what he now has taken away from us to enjoy, the reality is he never owed it to us. It wasn’t ours to keep.

Depression is a complicated thing that we sometimes over simplify. Many people use the word with an almost flippant regard. “Oh that was a depressing movie”. Or, “ I’m so depressed about this”. People that suffer from migraines understand there is an enormous difference between a headache and a migraine. People who have experienced clinical depression understand it is not like the feeling of being “bummed out” or sad.

I was a therapist treating “depression” for a number of years before I fully understood what it was. Or at least my version of it. I have had loss and less than optimal times in my life and always managed to “pick myself up by the boot straps” and move along. Until my 2nd pregnancy that is. I attributed my mood shift to my hormonal havoc, but I experienced a full fledged clinical depression. My intellectual functioning and emotional state simply would not line up. I was happy to be pregnant. I was relieved to be pregnant after nearly a year of trying. But I found it impossible to feel joy, or much of anything beyond a jagged numbness. Fortunately for me, the depression lifted almost immediately after giving birth.

Most of what I recall was the inability to feel motivated to do much of anything. Every action seemed labored and unworthy of the effort it required. The promised payoffs provided little to no incentive. Even my beautiful toddler at the time could not propel me to be excited about anything.

I once had a client who attempted suicide. Her description included a firm awareness that she would take her life at the end of a particular evening. She had dinner with a friend, and reported that, all the while she carried on a normal conversation, she was calmly thinking in her own head “only ___more hours until I kill myself”.

Depression hijacks your brain. The things you want to think, the things others tell you to think don’t have much impact. It’s kind of like the flight attendant yelling at the hijacker “You know, if you just put down that gun and take your seat, we’ll all have a much more enjoyable flight”. The hijacker isn’t interested in what the flight attendant has to say.

Medication is kind of like an Air Marshal. It can step in with authority that none of the other passengers have the skills to use. But even medication doesn’t help everyone. Some hijackers are resistant to even Air Marshals.

Therapy? Yes it helps. But not just the therapy that takes place in someone’s office. Depressed people often find themselves curled up in an emotional ball protecting their vulnerability from the world. Yet, what they most need is to be touched by as many supporting structures as possible. Ironically, the thing they feel least like doing, “talking” is the most helpful during depression. And they need to be “doing”, even if it just begins as going through the motions. At very least, doing, keeps you from drowning in the sea of one’s own negative sense of hopelessness.

Doing allows for the world to be a little larger than the black hole of one’s own depressed mind. And similarly talking provides not only an unburdening, but also a way to feel some sense of another person’s non depressed energy to remember what it feels like, during times you feel zapped of vitality. It can also be a way to see one’s value as worth more than a depressed person might be able to conjure up on their own.

Part of the dilemma however, is that non depressed people don’t usually want to hang out for very long with depressed people. This is usually painfully obvious to the depressed. And so Instead of seeking contact, they are more likely to retreat behind a façade or to their private hell where they can suffer silently.

Being with a depressed person doesn’t require us to solve their problems. Nor, does it require us to take their problems on as our own. More often than not, it harkens us to just be there in that space with them for a few moments without judgment or insistence that they change. Think of it as providing just one glass of water on a long path for a weary traveler. You don’t have to be an endless fountain and quench all of their thirst, simply provide enough for that leg of the journey. The traveler may still elect to end their journey prematurely, but they will do so with the knowledge that someone tolerated them as they truly are before they leave.  Sometimes that is the most needed and effective gift we can provide to another human.

 

Thanks for stopping by.  I’d love to hear your comments.  If you found this helpful, please pass it on and suggest someone you know subscribe.  Until next time- Take Care

 

How to make people happy by disappointing them

 

 

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

 

In another life I had a job very different from what I do now. I worked in the corporate office for a retail chain. Basically, once the buyer made a purchase of goods, my job was to allocate how much of that purchase went to each specific store.

Different types of commodities used different criteria for determining what, was an appropriate level of inventory to carry. If there was a new toy for the season, the goal was to have as much of it as possible on the shelves. The demand was high, and supply was usually low, so buyers tried to purchase as much as they could to keep product filling the shelves as quickly as it arrived.

In contrast, an item in health and beauty department only expected to be about 95% in stock. That means for every 100 customers who came in to purchase a bottle of aspirin, the store expected to only satisfy 95 of them, and willingly considered it a benefit rather than a problem, to disappoint 5 customers. I hope you weren’t one of them with a headache who left empty handed.

So why does a store deliberately want to disappoint its customers? 5 of them in this case? Because in order to maintain 100% in stock on the shelves, there has to be a constant flow of merchandise. Some has to be on order, more in transit to the warehouse, more sitting in the back stock room, and then finally enough to fill the shelves. That is an enormous amount of dollars tied up to carry enough inventory to ensure the 100% outcome, especially on items that, the store might only make small margins. Therefore, it’s too costly, to try and sell to 100% satisfaction.

I bet you all have the headache now because you didn’t come to my blog looking for an explanation of aspirin sales. But this strategy is quite applicable in everyday life.

Any mom’s out there who are trying to fill 100% of the needs of their family, only to become exhausted and “out of stock” to manage their own health issues?

Any employees out there who are giving 100% plus to their job, and then disappoint their kids or husband because they are depleted?

Any individuals out there who are giving 100% to some aspect of their self, perhaps their appearance and then find themselves “bankrupt” on another area of their lives like financial stability?

Sometimes the cost of delivering a flawless performance is simply not worth the price. Not too long ago Tom Hanks went public with the fact that, he is now a Type 2 diabetic. He attributed this development in part, to his having gained and lost, in some cases significant amounts of weight. For his role in Castaway he lost 60 lbs. and gained 30 for his role of the coach in A league of Their Own. Oscars apparently do not have a positive benefit on blood sugar.

So my aspirin selling company had figured out that it was better to tick some folks off but a bit, in order to satisfy the greater number of customers. Doing so allowed them to make a profit, and thus stay in business to fulfill far more purchasing needs than aspirin. People with headaches stayed loyal in other ways.

And the likelihood is that the people who only came to buy aspirin, were disappointed and left vowing never to return were probably not worth having as customers anyway.

Are there relationships that you are afraid if you let them down in some small way, the relationship would disappear? Maybe your “customers” are more loyal and resilient than you give them credit for. And if they aren’t, again, they may not be worth having because of what they are actually costing you.

Today is a great day to assess your inventory reserves and see where you may be spending too many energy dollars to keep them available to others.

 

I’d love to hear your comments, but you’ll need to go back to the website to post them. Here’s the link

http://www.drmaryphd.com/blog

 

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Til next time… Take care

 

 

Grrrr

for an audio version of this post click on the following link- if you are listening on a smartphone, you may need to scroll to the bottom to find the sound icon

 

 

 

My blog today begins with a message from my 4 year old self.  I’m cranky, I’m disappointed, the world is unfair.  I did not get my way and I’m not happy about it.  I have been active in my local school board election, supporting a long shot candidate and she/we lost.  People are stupid.  The world is stupid.  I’m going to move to a country that I can’t pronounce the name of and live happily ever after, surviving on natural berries and weaving my own clothing out of the fibers I pick up in the wild.

Fast forward the time machine to my adult self.  Yep, I’m still disappointed.  I don’t even think angry as much as I’m just plain disappointed.  The election loss was not about a personal candidate, but about an agenda and a philosophy chosen, which is different than the one for my family.  But not everyone thinks the way I do.  Namely about 17000 people who voted differently.  I can take a hint.

So now what?  I can try again next time, toilet paper the house of the winners, or move to another district, country, universe.  Or, I can live today just like I did yesterday.  My world hasn’t changed.  I still have the same goals, hopes and aspirations today that I did yesterday.  It’s merely that one of the paths I had hoped to travel down has a “no entrance” sign posted in front of it right now. I think it also has a “no loitering” sign as well, which means, time to let go and move on.

But this post isn’t really about an election- or my mood as much as it is about a way to look at how does one let go and go with a plan b?  I am reminded of one of my very favorite books of all time “Life is Good” by George Dawson.  If you haven’t read it, consider doing so.  George is a black man, grandson of sharecroppers.  As a young boy he witnesses a tremendous injustice and his reaction is similar to the one I started this blog with (although a bit more mature).  But his father instills a wisdom in his son that remains with him throughout his lifetime.  “Life is good and it’s only going to get better”.    The book is a telling of events throughout George’s life that, illustrate his father’s message into a reality.

So today, when I get cranky, I have a list of things I have to work at remembering:

-I have a family I love dearly

-I live in safety, I have a roof over my head, a job I love, food in my belly, friends that are loyal and giving

-I am healthy as is my family

-my life is good… and it’s only going to get better.

-and even this- I moved to this place largely for these schools.  Agree with them or don’t agree with them, they continue to provide an education for my children.  But it is not the only education my children will receive.  I always have the option, as do they to supplement or change that course.   More importantly, my children’s education is one tiny piece of my world- and their K-12 years are actually only a small piece of THEIR world-   Put it in perspective-  it doesn’t deserve this much energy or focus.  Look at the bigger picture.

So, this is my plan B:  working on staying in my adult voice, broadening the perspective, and most of all switching to a posture of gratitude and connection to something larger than me as being in charge of the world.  On that note- I hope you have the same kind of wonderful day, that I’m going to work towards having.