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 easyand 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 themost courageous decisions you’ll ever make
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.
I’m going to attempt to create a visual experience for you. Try and imagine yourself in this scene as you read along.
You are a toddler about 12 months old. You are used to crawling around when you want to get to somewhere other than where you are. Your view of the world is predominantly at ground level looking up at everyone. While this has been fine for a while, you now realize that others around you are doing things differently. You also notice that your hands and knees are getting sore.
Everyone around you seems to be getting around on their feet instead of their hands and knees. Hmmm you think, perhaps I can do this too. You inch your way over to a table or chair and using all your might, you pull yourself to an upright position. “There! You exclaim. “That wasn’t so hard.”
Full of confidence and wonder you lean towards the direction you want to go towards. First your right foot, followed by your left and boom! Down on your bottom you land. It looked so easy when you watched others complete the operation, but it doesn’t seem easy now.
Of course you eventually learned to walk, but not without a few good drops to the bottom and perhaps your head as well. It’s the natural evolution of learning to walk without the conscious processing that I describe above. Yet, if we were conscious, I don’t think my description would be too far off base. It might include varying degrees of excitement and fear depending on our nature and our success rates. And of course, there are many other milestone achievements of which we partake as developing children that have a similar structure.
I submit that, to some extent, we retain our childlike approach to change and development throughout the life span. The differences however, include that 1) we are often more conscious and 2) we are often filled with judgment and fear, both of which, are founded on information we have collected over the years. That information not even need be accurate, but it still influences our decision making capabilities.
In application, this means that if I had to learn to walk today, I might say to myself “No, I’d rather not, because I don’t want to risk falling.” Or “I don’t think I’ll take up playing the piano because I don’t ever stick with things.”
Thinking about this topic reminds me of a quote I like very much:
A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because the trust is not on the branch, but on its wings. (author unknown).
Perhaps my argument is lost if your position is that you don’t trust your own wings. But even the most confident will at times lose faith in our selves. It is during those moments that we can trust that even our baby selves were once brave enough to take the risk towards change. We can know that sometimes we have to fall a bit to make progress and our boo boos and ouchies will heal. Wobbling is a sign of progress towards success rather than a prediction of our failure.
The baby in us has the desire for something more. It remains focused on the goal rather than the limitations. It is not necessary to recreate a state of unconsciousness to achieve this skill. Because we now have the ability as adults to exercise choice and reason, it is a matter of prioritizing the goal we want over indulging the fears, some of which are irrational, so that we might move towards the direction of our goals. We need not employ denial or ignorance, but rather the confidence that we are strong enough to tolerate the necessary wobbling and sometimes falling as a means to our achievement. And to consider that wobbling isn’t a sign of our failure, but is evidence of our willingness to grow.
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
I want to share an insight this week. Actually it’s a revisiting of a lesson I learned several years ago when my first son Alex was a baby. Most mornings Alex would wake around 4 or 5 and I would pick him up from his crib, bring him to our bed and nurse him back to sleep.
On one such morning, I went through the same routine not unlike so many others. What was different however, is what happened next. As Alex snuggled up to his father, I lay there watching the two of them and became overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. I looked at them both slumbering and thought “This is the most perfect moment of my life! I have everything I could ever imagine right in front of me!” And so I watched. And I watched trying to soak up all of this perfect joy.
And that lasted about 15 seconds.
After that, I got up and went on with my day a little dumbfounded as to why the sensation of reaching nirvana seemed to occupy my attention span for only about 15 seconds before becoming “over” it. Well, not over it exactly, as I still remember it very clearly. That said, it wasn’t something that entranced me to the point of choosing to gaze on.
So the lesson I learned was this. Emotions; all emotions, positive or negative rarely, if ever seem to have the power we ascribe to them. We are simply incapable of sustaining them. That is both the bad news (when we want it to last) and the good news (when we fear they will overwhelm or destroy us). I suppose this coping mechanism is built in to our species DNA for survival the same as needing to pee is.
The reminder lesson came this past week with child number two. Andrew was at cello camp in Bloomington. It was his first time away from home and the camp lasted two weeks. Okay, it was my first time away from Andrew that long and it was excruciating for me. When I went up to visit, he stayed at the hotel with me instead of the dorm. So this idea I’m about to try and describe to you happened a couple of times over that visit.
I noticed when I first got to hug him, I hugged really hard. There is that sensation when you first make contact, that is new and fresh and seems to touch parts inside of you; even parts that aren’t making physical contact with the other person like warmth in your toes or joy in your heart. But it dissipates quickly. And if you try to hug harder or longer, the feeling doesn’t increase. Then, I noticed at other times, when I went to kiss him that, if I pressed my lips against his cheek the same thing occurred. The “reward” came in the first few seconds of the kiss. After that, pressing harder or longer just seemed weird or mechanical, like lip skin touching face skin, rather than the adoration of a kiss.
So I came away reminded again of the gap between our desire for wonderful things to last forever and the disappointing reality that they don’t, or maybe “can’t” is a better term. But like most things, the disappointment comes from expectation and ignorance rather than the events themselves.
If we could feel that level of joy all of the time, would it really mean the same to us? Remember the wisdom of the Budweiser Super Bowl commercial that tugged at our heart strings? The commercial featured a song by the group Passenger, “Let Her Go”. While it played, a man ultimately feels such joy reuniting with his horse after the two had been separated for a time. It was the absence that made his heart grow fonder.
The following excerpt from the lyrics are relevant:
Well, you only need the light when it’s burning low, Only miss the sun when it starts to snow, Staring at the bottom of your glass Hoping one day you’ll make a dream last But dreams come slow, and they go so fast
If we don’t expect the good to last forever, and can instead, appreciate it for what it is in the moment, we can greatly reduce our disappointment. And the flipside is that if we can remember that pain too, will not last, we can greatly reduce our fear.
How about practicing this week a willingness to let feelings come and go naturally without having to either hold on tightly or push them away.
I’d love to hear your stories about your experiences in this area.
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?
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There is a movie from 1992 called Leap of Faith starring Steve Martin and Debra Winger. Martin plays a con man Jonas Nightengale, who poses as an evangelical preacher that goes from small town to town creating “miracles”. But what he actually does is use a crew, led by Winger to feed him information about the audience into a hidden ear piece so he can “appear” to know things about the people. Of course, everyone is impressed by his great capacity and gives him money. Then he moves on to the next town and repeats this scenario.
Jonas and his crew find themselves in the impoverished town of Rustwater Kansas after their travel bus breaks down. Jonas looks around and declares “A town this deep in the crapper’s got nowhere to turn but GOD!” Among their many problems, the drought plagued town needs rain to survive. Jonas plans to run a show or two while he waits for repairs before being discovered.
Shortly into the movie however, he is intrigued by a young boy Boyd and the sister who cares for him. Boyd can walk only with crutches since an accident that killed his mother and father and left his legs dysfunctional. The sister warns Jonas to stay away from Boyd, explaining that once before a preacher tried to heal Boyd. When it failed, the preacher blamed the boy for not having enough faith. However, despite her cynicism, Boyd is mesmerized with Jonas and wants to be healed by him.
Jonas continues to prey upon the vulnerabilities of the towns people. Each time they suspect God has spoken to him on their behalf, they add money to his coffers. Boyd makes his way to the stage and seeks to be healed. Jonas tries to ignore his presence because he doesn’t want his cover blown. But Boyd actually begins to walk without his crutches and the crowd goes wild. They throw money at Jonas and shout one more miracle. They now want him to make it rain to benefit the town.
Jonas is angry, believing that Boyd was a bigger conman than even he presuming the boy faked his impediment. The next night the town gathers in a field to camp out waiting for the miracle of rain. Knowing he will be discovered as a fraud, Jonas slips off and hitches a ride on his own leaving his crew behind. Ironically, he isn’t very far out of town when the truck driver notices it has begun to rain. Jonas laughingly calls out “Thank You Jesus.
Okay, I ruined the movie for you I’m sorry. But I wanted to give you an illustration of something I think best illustrates a principle one of the classic theorists in psychology, Alfred Adler. He calls it the As IF principle.
Adler suggested that when we are trying to make a change, we need to behave as if the change has already taken place. For example, if you want to get promoted, wear the clothing of someone at the next level. If you want to improve your marriage, act as if it is already improved and treat the other person from that mindset. If you want to be more financially sound, live as if there is money around you and operate from confidence rather than fear or deprivation.
Please don’t confuse this as simple and easy. Actually, it is somewhat simple, but it isn’t necessarily easy. It requires clear goal setting, commitment to the goal, letting go of obstacles you may be holding on to (crutches), and the willingness to experience the discomfort of being in transition or even limbo between the self you have been, and the self you wish to be.
Even more than changes in behavior on the outside, acting as if, requires significant changes on the inside. It means to practice seeing yourself as successful. And, while many people have this desire, as the move suggests, it often requires a leap of faith.
While Martin is a clearly stated con man, Adler is not. However, in this exchange between Jonas and Boyd, Martin actually demonstrates in a crude way how Adler’s theory works:
Boyd: My sister says you’re a fake
Jonas, “Well maybe I am and maybe I’m not
If I get the job done, what’s the difference?
When we act as if, we begin projecting outward the image of us as having the capacity to live in the role where are seeking. Others, seeing us in that role begin to respond to us that way, which reinforces that confidence within us that we can handle the change. From that confidence, we continue to develop and strengthen the skills needed to make the change permanent and natural for us. Essentially what Jonas told Boyd is that whether or not it starts out as pure and legitimate, belief can make something become true.
Are there any areas that you could benefit from acting “as if”? How might you change if you took a leap of faith? I’d love to hear your comments.
The recent storms created a lot of fallen trees in my subdivision which is mostly wooded. In fact, one of my neighbors had a rather large tree fall across their driveway. It was a pain to remove, but it’s also one of the expectable hazards of living where we do. Trees get old; storms knock them down.
I’m not so much of a nature watcher, but I suspect when a big storm hits birds don’t hang out in the trees. I have to guess that if they do, they fly somewhere pretty quickly if they feel a tree starting to sway and tumble.
But on a regular day, I imagine birds hang out in the trees for the most part, unless trees are not prevalent. And it reminds me of a quote I like very much:
A Bird Sitting On A Tree Is Not Afraid Of The Branch Breaking Because His Trust Is Not On The Branch But On Its Wings .
I guess to be a bird means to have faith when it walks out on a branch that, it will either be fine or it will do something else. In contrast, as people, we tend to think in advance about the branch, look at it, research branches, finding out the statistics on how many branches will break per year and under what conditions, and then try and make a calculated guess of whether or not we should step out onto the branch. After that, we invest more time still discussing our findings about branch safety with others to try and validate our plan. Very often this results in either not going out on the branch at all, because we haven’t finished the analysis, or forgetting what we went there for by the time we arrive. Possibly, what we went out there for has already passed.
On the other hand, there are also some humans that will tromp on out to the branch before they learn to fly which doesn’t usually end well either. One could argue that real faith means not even worrying about the flying part- trust that God or the universe or whatever you subscribe to will simply take care of the falling bird. And so when they inevitably fall, they use the bump on their head as justification that God doesn’t really care about them, or even that, there is no God.
Do we really want to live in a world where something other than us takes care of every single for us? While it sounds tempting in those moments that we feel overwhelmed, the truth is that we derive a vast amount of our satisfaction and esteem from mastering things. We learn from the struggles and to have them taken away from us leaves us without much purpose in living. Faith is to fill in the parts we don’t need to struggle with. Faith is the connective tissue between the parts we do, and the parts we don’t.
The parts we do are simply “our part”. It means to develop the strength, skills, resiliency and in some cases, patience and understanding. And probably a few other qualities that I’m forgetting at the moment. So in short, it’s not about developing how to anticipate everything and account in advance for every unknown. It’s about developing a plan A to try and get down the right path, and a plan B for when A doesn’t work out. Plan B isn’t just a more developed A. Plan B is a strategy about how to be okay when Plan A doesn’t get you where you wanted and accepting that you have to live with the way things are now, at least for now. Another way of looking at his is that Plan A is your willpower and Plan B is your willingness.
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Let me state clearly at the start that this blog has zero to do with a political opinion. It is merely a political event that introduced me to a thought.
In the recent news stories about the conflict in Gaza, I heard a quote that really grabbed me. It comes from former prime minister of Israel Golda Meier.
Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us. I thought it was such a powerful quote. And it got me thinking about other areas in life that it might be useful. Of course my mind naturally wondered to my work and the conflicts I see for people I work with. So I changed it to this:
Until you love yourself more than you fear imperfection, disorder will remain.
You can quote me on that.
A person with an eating disorder will abuse themselves to any length in order to achieve a body that they believe will gain them acceptance or legitimacy. The result is reliance on a chaotic system of eating and exercise that not only precludes any other area of their life, but often results in malnutrition, injury, and even self-abuse.
A person who lacks confidence in their ability at work will ignore their personal boundaries and work themselves to oblivion at the expense of their personal life or personal self in fear of having that inadequacy exposed.
A person who ignores themselves to help others in order to win status is forced to function at the mercy of everyone else’s beck and call. It is easy to get caught up in chaos and frenzy only to realize that one has little to show for all of their efforts. They may find themselves in middle life feeling empty of anything to measure their life by, especially if the people they have served have outgrown the need for them.
A person may remain in an unhappy or even harmful relationship with another because they do not feel deserving of happiness or peace. As a result such a person may deny their needs on any level in order to tolerate remaining in the relationship because they fear they are unjustified in the eyes of others to ask for more.
So what does it mean to love oneself? And how does that eliminate disorder?
Loving oneself means to make decisions based on self care as a priority over decisions that lead to approval or acceptance from others if the actions required for either are in mutual conflict. So, if I have to decide to eat because I’m hungry, or not eat because I feel too fat and unacceptable to others, self love means to eat- but eat well and appropriately for the highest level of self care- drowning one’s self in a container of ice cream is not self care.
It means if I have to choose between going to bed when I’m exhausted or reading email from my boss because I’m trying to get promoted, it means go to bed. Sleep well and then be prepared to work to the best of my ability tomorrow.
I’m confident that I’m not sharing any new earth shattering news with anyone here. We all know these things. But we get afraid. And then we get busy. Out of our fear we fill our lives with a million things that we think, or at least hope will make us happy and fit in. And then those things fill our time and our psyche to such extremes that we are too saturated to even think about what is good for us, much less find the time to implement those strategies. But as Meier so eloquently brought to light- we always have a choice. And until we value one thing more than another, change will not occur.
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The wisdom of a child.
One of my most useful quotes comes from Jon Kabat Zinn:
Think of children as Zen masters in little bodies. They will bring you to every lesson you need to learn in life.
My little Zen masters have taught me invaluable lessons, and continue to do so every day. I had an advanced course this morning when my 14 year old taught me that I sometimes don’t listen very well, despite the fact that, a large part of my livelihood comes from my ability to teach others to listen.
He taught me that while parents think their goal is to teach a child how and what to be, what they really need is us to create an environment that allows and encourages their skills to flourish, even when as parents, we don’t understand their skill set.
I’ve learned that sometimes a six year old is the smartest person in the room. A client recently told me about an accident that happened to their younger child. While she was in a bit of shock over the affair, her six year old sat calmly beside her and kept reassuring her that things would be fine.
I’ve learned that adults often use the same behavior they criticize their children for- like yelling when they are angry. We tell ourselves that our anger is justified because it’s something big. But in reality, what a child is yelling about is equally big if not bigger to them because they often don’t have the tools or resources to counteract what is confronting them at the time. If we want them to stop that, maybe we should as well.
I’ve learned that you should carefully choose your words; they can crush someone’s soul if you forget to love a person when you speak to them. But in that same lesson, I also learned that love from a child is unbelievable strong and its power along with a little time, can often heal the deepest of wounds.
I’ve learned that most things in life can and should become lower in priority then missing a moment to share something important with another person. And that often what a person wants to share, isn’t the thing they are showing you, but rather the opportunity to let you know how important you are to them because they want to share it with you. If you are lucky enough to realize that at the time, don’t get lost trying to critique the thing you are looking at.
I’ve learned that- oh who am I kidding? I haven’t learned that patience is cultivated by lots of practice. I’m still working on this one. But I want to learn it so I’ll keep practicing. And I’m confident my Zen masters will remain at work to teach me.
I’ve learned that your body is an incredible source of wisdom. Things work a lot better if you listen to it and not try and cover up its messages with societal rules. Pee when you have to pee. Sleep when you have to sleep and eat when you have to eat.
I’ve learned that there aren’t really a lot of things that separate kids from adults. Adults have more cash, kids can bend and stretch more and run faster. But beyond a few things, we are more similar than different. It’s just that adults have more things to hide their fears and inadequacies behind. We have fancier words, letters behind our names and more powerfully built and long standing illusions than kids do. They use make believe to soothe themselves and so do we, but we are better at defending our coping mechanisms as legitimate. They use teddy bears. We use chemicals and compulsions.
I’ve learned that most things can be better explained in books 10 pages long and pictures than one with 300 pages and a bibliography.
And with the birth of my children I learned that love is something we decide. We extend our love to them before we ever know who they are. Even when they are covered in muck, red faced, wrinkly and screaming. Love is our power to give or to withhold. Whether we love a person or not has a lot less to do with who they are and what they do, and a lot more to do with what we are willing to pay attention to or let go.
This is such a brief snippet of the things I’ve learned or am learning from my Zen masters. What are yours? I hope to add to this list, and would love to know yours as well.
Please leave me a comment, and I hope you’ll pass this on to someone else and suggest they subscribe as well.
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This morning I had to run some errands before work. I tried to leave myself enough time. But I was day dreaming and I, unfortunately, took a wrong turn. I was actually on a familiar road, but that road had nothing in common with my first destination. However, since it was familiar, I drove pretty far down the path before I woke up and realized I had to turn around.
But turn around is what I did. It cost me enough time that I cut it close getting my tasks done while still arriving at work on time.
This is similar to the feeling I have when people tell me about their life not being on the right path. The dilemma is that, often they are afraid to turn around and take another direction. The road they are on may look familiar, so they stay, even when they know it won’t lead them to where they ultimately hope to go. They may stay the course because they feel safe knowing which twists and turns lie ahead. Another thing that keeps people stuck is the feeling that sometimes it may feel like it’s too late to turn around. They’ve lost too much time. So they concede to live the remainder of their life going where they don’t really want to go, rather than risk ending up some place else in between.
My first career illustrates this challenge. I fell into a line of work and then kept doing it because it fulfilled financial needs. I hated it, and knew my growth was pretty limited, but taking another path meant I had to get an education. For awhile, that seemed unsurmountable. I shudder now to think how miserable I would have remained, had I not turned around and gone in another direction. Now I love my job and have for 23 years.
When I contemplated a divorce in my first marriage I was scared of the unknown. I remember thinking what if I leave in hopes of something more and end up with everything less. I recall a friend who said to me , “It’s true, that if you leave, you might not get what you want. But if you stay, you guarantee that you won’t.” That advice helped me make the decision and I started down a new path.
Please be sure that as I describe these two major turning points in my own life, neither of them landed me on a shiny road made of gold with clear painted signs and beautiful flowers along the perimeters. Sometimes my car stalled, I got lost, it rained, sleeted and snowed on my journey. But each new day, the sun rose and I resumed my travel. I had to learn to remember that the sun is still present even when I can’t see it through the clouds.
One of the things that helps a traveler is having a good map. So often, we forget to ask ourselves at the start of our journey, where is it we really want to go. Many of us end up going where others suggest. Perhaps well meaning others, but in the end, no one can really know where each of us needs to go better than we will. It’s personal. The answer needs to come from within.
Another useful tool is the ability to stop and ask for directions. Though no two people will experience the same journey in an identical way, others can still help you seek out and recognize milestones. They can let you know at least some of the pitfalls ahead to expect, or caution you about detours or construction. In non metaphor terms, this can mean someone with a lot of marriage experience teaching you that marriage happiness ebbs and flows. Another example is a career mentor who might tell you the pros and cons about a vocation with honesty.
But probably the most useful tool for a traveler is willingness . You have to be willing to stay awake at the wheel and not daydream like I did on my morning adventure. And in that state of attentiveness, be willing to ask yourself if you are going where you want. And if the answer is no, be willing to turn around, no matter how much time you have invested. Because even if you don’t ultimately end up there, at least you’ll know that you were headed towards your happiness, rather than going further away.
Thanks for taking the time to read this entry. I’d love to hear your comments and I hope you’ll pass it on. Until net time- take good care.
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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
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Please don’t shoot the purple cows
I have to say my last post inspired ME. I hope it did you as well.
I started to think about what purple cows really look like and how would I recognize them if they were only a dim shade of lavender in the process of becoming deep purple.
My son Andrew likes to mix his ketchup and ranch dressing together for dipping French fries. I’ve criticized him for doing that in the past. It’s not normal.
I wonder if the mother of the kid who invented honey mustard was more flexible and said to her son “great idea… run with it”.
My son Alex is constantly creating large scale contraptions out of old junk. I often tell him to get the mess out of the way.
I wonder if Walt Disney’s mom told him to stop wasting so much time in his imaginary world. Or did she say, “Wow those are such creative ideas. I bet millions of other kids would love your stories as well.”
My husband the inventor uses the microwave in increments like 33, 44 seconds rather than 30 or 40. He says it’s more efficient because it requires the hand to search for other keys.
I originally told him I thought that was the laziest thing I had ever heard. Then I realized (with much reaction from him) that this is the mindset behind process improvement in manufacturing something he knows a thing or two about. Significant manufacturing dollars are recouped with sometimes even microseconds of improvement in efficiency.
How does one become a purple cow? Some are born that way. And if they are lucky, they don’t have someone like me who talks them out of it before it flourishes and takes root.
But for those who aren’t born purple it looks a little differently. Someone asked me yesterday if you decide or become and then decide. My reply was “Once you decide, you have already become.” Let me explain.
If I take two clay pots of dirt and plant the seed for a daisy in one and a geranium in another and set them on the windowsill, anyone passing by will see only 2 clay pots with dirt in them. But at the point of deciding, and planting the seeds, they are in fact already a daisy and a geranium. They are uniquely different from each other, even though no one can see that yet. Each day as they start to make their way to the surface they take on more and more of the qualities that let’s others recognize them.
So once you plant yourself, you have made the decision to grow in a particular direction. You can water and nurture that growth and become either a vibrant daisy or a sickly one. So similarly, if you want to be a purple cow, or a purple daisy, you need first to decide what variety, plant, and then start growing. Unless of course, you are one of the lucky natural born purples. If that is the case, your work is largely the sum of not hiding your purple. And, it is a good idea to seek out and nurture other purple cows to preserve the species and protect them from extermination from people who don’t understand the benefits of purpleness, or that lavender can lead to purple.
Think about posting a metaphoric “no hunting purple cows” sign in your household or business environment. If they are wandering around, they may just be the person who comes up with the next great idea. And think about hanging one in your own brain. Eliminating the energy expenditure to mute yourself into the “normal” bubble, may just free up the creative energy you needed to accomplish something really important to you.
Thanks for reading. If you find this helpful, I hope you’ll pass it on to someone else and suggest they subscribe. If you aren’t a subscriber, please take a moment to enter your email so you won’t miss a post. Until next time take good care.
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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.
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…I’ve realized that loss creates an opening in our lives. We can fill that space with fear, panic and anxiety. Or we can let it be open for creating something new, something that didn’t exist before. It can lead to something far better. To experience something new, we have to let go of what’s old. We have to remain calm in the face of setbacks.—art of being unmistakable
The house my husband and I owned prior to the one we currently live in was a house I really loved. It had an open floor plan, a huge kitchen and a pantry, so large that when our oldest son was a toddler, he called it the “food room”. There was an abundance of cabinets– so many that I could be careless about the space, never really filling them to their capacity.
It also had a Jacuzzi tub in the master bath that could easily be operated with a little button on the top of the tub and a sizable walk in closet. It wasn’t perfect. The lot was TINY and the next door neighbor had two GINORMOUS dogs that frequently rushed the fence in a threatening way whenever we went in our back yard. And, it was in St. Peters.; a fact that did not please my husband.
One day he came home announcing that he would like to have a little more room to use for his business. He wanted an out building or perhaps enough land to add a building. And then, as if someone magically waved a wand, about 10 weeks later, we were living in the house where we still remain today.
I don’t exactly mean it happened by magic. But rather that, it happened incredibly quickly. We looked at houses for a couple of weeks, saw the one we wanted and bought. We went home and put our house up for sale, and moved the closing to about 3-4 weeks out. It wasn’t as if I wasn’t an active participant. In fact, on a couple of the days, I went out with the realtor on my own and saw houses my husband did not. When we walked into our final pick, I fell in love with a staircase. I imagined it decorated for the holidays. My kids fell in love with a pool. My husband fell in love with 3 acres at the end of the lane. Everybody had something to love….
Until we moved in.
Day one of the move I went to work. I returned home to find my refrigerator in my new kitchen. Only it wasn’t where refrigerators normally go. It was stuck in the middle of the kitchen more or less. It seemed it was a little too large to fit in the spot where it was supposed to go.
Not to worry my husband said “we’ll buy a new one.” The only problem however, was that the spot for a fridge was made for a size that apparently no stores in St. Louis carried. No problem my husband said. ” I’ll cut the above cabinet out a bit and have it cut down.” The only problem however, was that when the former owners retiled the kitchen, they grouted the cabinet stabilizer into the floor. No problem my husband said. I’ll cut it away and the top cabinet will come out with the stabilizer.” The only problem however, is that once the cabinet was removed, it showed a large hole that had been caused by an obviously leaking shower from the bathroom above. A hole that appeared to have started growing mold.
No problem he said, and I began to feel like Goldie Hawn in “the money pit”, just not as cute.
My response was to cry. And cry I did. I cried that day, the next one and pretty much most of the ones after that for about 3 months. And when I cried I said “what have we done to our lives?
the furniture didn’t fit
I had no idea what living with a well and sewer “off the grid” meant
deer ate everything and anything that resembled a flower
there were bugs everywhere since we live in woods, not to mention a snake or two
the sprinkler system groaned at night as if a dying body was living under the front porch
frogs croaked so loudly outside the window it was hard to sleep
the jacuzzi tub was small and to operate it, you have to get out of the tub to turn on the switch
the pool heater broke
every room was painted with sponge painting
and….. did I mention it has a really pretty staircase?
My poor husband was beside himself. He tried everything he could think of- short of decorating the staircase for Christmas in August, to make the house seem more enjoyable to me. But what finally came to me was the realization that I was comparing the new house constantly to the old house. Everything had happened so quickly, that I hadn’t really had time to process leaving the old one behind. And as a result, I felt not ready for the new one. I didn’t yet “live” there.
That insight provided a huge relief for my situation.
I started to realize finally that I needed to say goodbye to my old house. It’s where we lived when we had our second son. It’s the first house we bought together and several other important memories. But at the end of the day it was a house, not our home. Our home was where we lived as a family, and that place was now no longer in St. Peters. I began to allow myself to enter the process of saying goodbye. And gradually over a few days, maybe longer, I began to open myself up to appreciating what the new house had to offer our family.
We painted. We disconnected the sprinkler. We had the hole over the fridge fixed. And we got a dog. Our beloved Snickers, who loves running in the woods around our house and chasing every rodent she can find. We met new people; some wonderful people. We have a life here now and although we probably we won’t live here forever, it gives me great joy for now. My children are growing up here. They will most likely always think of this as the house they call their childhood home. And every Christmas, decorating the staircase still remains my favorite activity.
It’s very hard to enjoy the life you are in if a significant part of your emotional self remains living somewhere else. Are there places or people that you’ve had difficulty saying goodbye? Are there opportunities in your future that you have not yet created space for by letting go?
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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?
Although this came from a session revolving around eating disorders, the reality is it is far more universal. Therefore, I’m going to try and make this more generic, and a little more theory based. Keep in mind, however, this is an excerpt, and is therefore, an abbreviated explanation.
The precipitating idea for this discussion was fear. Specifically, it was the underlying fear that resulted in someone choosing a binge. I pressed, as I often do with the questions, then what… then what… and so on. Usually that takes us to the point where a person has no more words- just an awful feeling. (nice of me isn’t it?)
But I’m not sadistic- that stage, most often, I believe is representative of a very primal fear. It is the fear of what the literature calls “annihilation”. Simply stated, the infant isn’t capable of thoughts like “gee, if mom doesn’t get back here soon with something to eat I’ll just die”. Rather, it’s a cease to exist- which generates a terror that we all know from watching an infant as a “blood curdling scream”. As we grow, we learn to suppress the urge for one of those screams, or to be more accurate, suppress the scream. However, the urge can come out in a myriad of ways that look like an automatic or even compulsively driven urge towards an addictive or bad habit, even when our “adult mind” is unsuccessfully saying stop.
We choose the behavior as a way to soothe that primal tension even though it is present for us in our subconscious rather than conscious mind.
Conscious level: I had a bad day at work-à I feel tense and uneasyà I reach for M &M’sà I feel calm.
Uncs. Level1: I had a bad day at workà I feel anxious- what will happen to me, what if I lose my job or do something awful, what if I can’t provide for myself, how will I live, what will become of me,
Uncs. Level 2 (deeper still): I am a tiny little being unable to provide for myself and dependent on a world/system/mother that is not here to soothe me-à I will cease to exist.
But now that we are in fact, NOT an infant—we reach for something to soothe that feeling before it can reach our conscious level, and because it has become automatic for us.
When we later try and analyze what has happen it may sound something like this:
I had a bad day at work-à I felt tense and uneasyà I ate M &M’sà, but I don’t know why I keep doing that. Sure, they tasted good at first, but then I wasn’t really tasting them, I was just shoveling them in until I felt sick and I wished I hadn’t done that.
This illustrates the circular nature of the unconscious addictive pattern: I feel bad—I do something to feel better in the moment— that something makes me feel better for a moment, but then much worse for much longer— I feel bad—repeat-
How does therapy help?
Therapy helps primarily in three ways. First, therapy is a place to identify the pattern, and illuminate the context in which, the terror (or fear of annihilation) originated.
Second, therapy is a place to strategize new coping skills, practice them and evaluate their effectiveness.
Third, and most importantly, the relationship that develops between the client and the therapist fosters confidence for the client which begins towards the therapist, and then is transferred to the client’s own internal voice. Once secured, the client can rely on that internal voice to guide, and more importantly, soothe themselves.
Stay tuned- In my next post I will provide you with a diagram to help illustrate this content more clearly, as well as, provide you with a practical application of this theoretical concept.
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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.’