Ruth Gordon

MA MSW LICSW

Office: 239.692.8060
Cell: 239.293.4314

Naples,

Florida

 

 

 

Archive

 

2017    Jan 2017   Feb 2017    march2017 button    button apr 2017

 

2016     button Jan 16   button 2.16    mar 16 button    button 4.16    button 5.16   button june2016

             Jul 2016 button   buttonaug2016    button sept 2016    button oct2016    button Nov 2016   buttonDec2016

2015     buttonjan2015   Feb button15    March button    aApril2015button    button may 2015  June 2015button        

             July   Aug 2015 button    button sept 2015    button Oct 2015    button Nov 2015  button dec 2015     

 

2014    buttonjan2014    Feb2014    buttonmar14    buttonApr2014    May 2014   June2014button     
            buttonjuly2014    buttonAug2014    nov2014news    newsDec2015    

 2013                   MAY 2013    june2013   

            july2013    Aug2013    Sept2013    Oct2013    Nov2013    Dec2013

2012                   may2012    June2012     
            july2012   aug2012         oct2012    Nov2012    Dec2012        

2011                      

                               

2010                       

                              

2009                      

                                

            

2008                       

                               

2007                       

                              

2006                       

                               

2005                       

                               

2004                   

Show All

August 2004 - After the Hurricane

Here where I live, in southwest Florida, we were heavily hit by hurricane Charley almost 2 weeks ago. The trauma from the storm was an obvious physical reality. We had a lot of landscape damage, as did most of our neighbors. In fact, if Charley hadn’t moved one degree to the left we probably would have found our homes blown apart & our possessions scattered under the remaining piles of debris.

Further north, in locations like Port Charlotte, Punta Gorda, and Arcadia there was total devastation. I accompanied a group of volunteers last Saturday. We went to one street in Port Charlotte. Just one street. What we found was overwhelming. Homes that held the belongings of mostly elderly, ailing people were almost totally destroyed.

Charley was a most particular hurricane. The fronts of many homes looked fine, the rears no longer existed. One room would look untouched; the others had collapsed ceilings and beams. In one home, three curio cabinets were pristine; the back of the house was blown away.

While most of the volunteers began repairing roofs and hauling out wheelbarrows full of ruins, I went house to house checking in on the folks who lived there. Invariably, I was warmly greeted. Individuals who were living without electricity and telephone service were apologizing to me for the condition of their homes. All of them said they wished they could offer me coffee or tea. All of them offered hospitality to me! Talk about grace under pressure! Many of these people will never recoup their losses. Some will not live long enough to witness a restoration that could be years in the making. Nowhere did I hear self-pity. Nowhere did folks rail against God. Nowhere did anyone ask, “why me?”.

It’s hard to avoid looking at oneself after such an experience. We live so much of our lives fearing that something will go wrong. We maintain the illusion that we have control over the course of our days. We are under the impression that we cannot survive without certain material possessions. The truth is, that we can, and must, do whatever is necessary when calamity arrives.It is one thing to see television and newspaper reports of disaster. It is quite another to witness it first hand. My prayer for myself, my family, and all of you is that when misfortune turns up we will have the fortitude and faith of the people of Port Charlotte. They are my heroes. To maintain one’s kindness when knocked down; to extend a warm welcome when one has nothing; to harness one’s belief when there is no promise of recovery – that is my definition of heroism. I am humbled and awed.

"Every heart that has beat strong and cheerfully has left a hopeful impulse behind it in the world, and bettered the tradition of mankind." Robert Louis Stevenson

 

Show All

September 2004 - Dreams of Early Days

Have you ever noticed that many of us greet September with groans and sighs? We feel that we are being reigned in. “Playtime” is over. Of course, most of us have continued to work at our everyday jobs through nearly all of those “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer”. So, what’s the problem?

This is what I think. Like ducklings, we become imprinted with certain behaviors and ideas from the time we are very young. For children, summer vacation is one of these imprints. I grew up in Washington, D.C, and have visual and other sensory memories from my childhood Memories of morning glories and honeysuckle twined through chain link fences; the smell of boxwood hedges; tree-lined streets and visits to farm stands. Nearly all of us share that blissful memory of burdens lifted and a feeling of being unrestrained when summer arrives. I think this is one of childhood’s enduring gifts, for it reminds us of our once-upon-a-time innocence, optimism, and our belief that everything was possible; that age, illness, and misfortune would never knock at our door. As we approach the anniversary of 9/11, I particularly long for the naive days of my childhood.

My parents had told me about Pearl Harbor, which was one of their life’s benchmarks. I, however, only knew about that second-hand. My father was born in 1901. When I told him I was frightened bythe Cuban missile crisis, he said, “Honey, we thought the world would end at World War I, it didn’t. We thought the world would end at World War II, it didn’t. Surely, the world will not end now.” I was comforted.

The first memory I have of my own loss of innocence was when President Kennedy was killed. I, like many of you, will never forget where I was at the time. I was pregnant with my first child, and pulling into a parking lot because I was meeting my friend Ruthie for lunch. The parking lot attendant told me that the President had been shot. I couldn’t believe it was true. When I entered the restaurant and saw people crying, I began to believe that the impossible had happened.

I was in D.C. at the time, visiting my parents. We drove into downtown Washington. The city was absolutely silent.. Shop windows were all draped in black. It was eerie and unforgettable. For me, the unthinkable had occurred. Life was never again as carefree.

September 11, 2001 is, of course, an unprecedented point of reference. This event, for those of us who live in the United States, overshadows all that came before. I have tried to envision what it was like to have been directly involved in that day’s events. To have been a passenger on one of those planes. To have been trapped in a stairway at the World Trade Center. To have run away from an enormous ball of debris that chased ordinary people down ordinary streets. My mind won’t even goto those very dark places.

One of the disheartening legacies of 9/11 is that no one – parent, teacher, or religious leader – can assure us that this event does not presage the end of the world we know and count on. Our illusion of living routine lives with a shared feeling of safety has been shattered. When I was 16, after having failed 3 times, I finally received my driver’s license. On my very first solo outing, I picked up a hitchhiker. When I told my mother what I had done, her response was, “You could have killed him!” It never occurred to either of us that he could have harmed me. It was a less complicated world backthen.

So, as we reluctantly say, “goodbye” to summer, let’s offer a toast -- Here’s to summer! Here’s to dreams! Here’s to an untroubled mind. Our summer fantasies are not gone; they are merely dormant until next June. We must hold on to our dreams and aspirations. It is essential to face our dilemmas, both personal and global, with a sense of optimism. The reality is, we do not know what the future holds. If we can imagine a world that offers safety and harmony, that may actually come to pass. If not, we lose hope..

“Hope is the dream of a soul awake” French Proverb

 

Show All

October 2004 - Memory and Connection

I recently returned from a visit to Vermont. Fall had begun to arrive. The foliage was just beginning to display it’s colors, and there were alternating crisp, bright, sunny days as well as those that were damp and gloomy. Living in southwest Florida, it’s easy to forget that other parts of the country are preparing for winter. While I don’t miss the approaching cold that used to drive me to the fireplace,, I do miss the reflective state of mind that autumn evokes. For many of us, the change of seasons reminds us of the changing stages of our lives. I think it is helpful to take stock every once in a while, to reminisce as well as look ahead.

Recently a friend and I were talking about death – the mystery, the certainty, and the necessity of coming to terms with our ever-increasing accumulation of losses. My friend asked, “What does it mean to ‘come to terms’ with loss?” That’s an interesting question, and one that our culture is reluctant to deal with.

Religions and philosophies have always dealt with issues of bereavement, and many of us have found comfort in these beliefs and points of view. One of my coping mechanisms is to memorize, or internalize special moments of joy, celebration, and, especially, connection. I believe that the loss of connection or the bond is a key ingredient in our sorrow when someone dies.

Since the mid-70’s the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at Wellesley College has conducted extensive research on Relational-Cultural Theory (RCT). Their basic premise is this: “…growth-fostering relationships are a central human necessity and disconnections are the source of psychological problems.”. It makes sense to me that since we literally begin life as connected beings we have feelings of profound disturbance when physically or emotionally separated from those who tie us to the earth.

Mitch Albom, who wrote My Tuesdays With Morrie, throws an encouraging light on the problem of disengagement when he tells us that just because a person dies does not mean the relationship has to end. I think he is right on. In fact, once said, it seems so obvious that I wonder why I never thought of that. The idea that our bond has not been, and cannot be, broken is both comforting and significant. Every time we think or talk about someone we loved or a treasured memory, we are bringing the past, however fleetingly, into the present.

When I was about ten, I was at a campfire at summer camp. I remember having a wonderful conversation with a friend. The moment felt really unique. When we had to go back to our bunks, I did so reluctantly, because I hated to leave the moment. I do not remember who my friend was. I do not recall what we were talking about. I do remember the feeling, and believe it was my first conscious awareness of a significant understanding between someone outside my family and myself. The recollection is one I value.

As we prepare for winter and the severe weather that drives most of our country indoors, we are, I believe, drawn to worry about impending isolation and separation. Many of us shore up our winter resources with items such as warm clothing, firewood, music, and books. Should we fall into loneliness or feel down in the dumps it is important to know that we also have our memories, which we can call on at will. As we think about times past, we can warm ourselves with the remembrance of the love, encouragement, and sustenance we once knew. Circumstances change, but the things that heal remain in our hearts and minds.

“God gave us memory that we might have roses in December”
James Matthew Barrie (1860 - 1937)

 

Show All

November 2004 - Presidential Election 2004

Like many of you, I have been glued to reports from pollsters, pundits, and spinmeisters who are continually reporting on the upcoming presidential election. Like many of you, I have strong opinions on the candidates and on issues that I believe effect our survival. Like many of you, I am hoping that we have a definitive winner by November 3rd and do not have to go through the national agony of uncertainty we experienced in 2000.

It is not my place to try to influence you politically, and, therefore, I am writing this newsletter on the Sunday before the election; before any of us know who is to be our next president. We have important things to think about regardless of political affiliations.

My husband and I moved to Florida in 2000, and were far from proud to have participated in the mess here that was called an election. Sure, we knew that politics was a rough sport. Coming from Boston, we were aware of cheating, “tweaking”, and other dishonest voting practices We were certain, however, that our votes were counted and that we had been given a chance to be heard. In today’s New York Times magazine there is an article entitled, “Another Contested Contest” by Matt Bai. This article speaks directly to the paranoia that has infiltrated our electoral system since 2000. (If you’d like a copy, e-mail me and I will send it to you). In his article, Bai says, “The voting process, once presumed to be a reliable, if fallible, arbiter of the public will, is increasingly seen, even by many more sophisticated voters, as a tainted instrument of partisan conspiracy.”

How has it come to this? How did Florida, and other states, come to resemble third world countries, where poll watchers are brought in from the outside to ensure the fairness of the voting process?

I do, additionally, have other concerns:

What happened to the separation of church and state? Is that not a principle on which this country was founded? When did religious leaders earn the privilege to bless or damn us depending on our vote? Does the Constitution direct us to base decisions about healthcare and lifestyle on our religious beliefs? Did I miss something?

Why do we demonize those with whom we disagree? Do we not cherish the right to hold varied and dissenting views knowing that we are safe and, in fact, encouraged to do so? We know that whoever wins this election; roughly 50% of us will be disappointed. How do we find a way to work together if we truly believe the “other side” is evil? When did we get to be so mean?

Undoubtedly, we have had reason to be afraid since the 9/11 attack.. Indisputably, the terrorists have succeeded in their goal of terrorizing (that’s what terrorists do). Wouldn’t we feel safer if we could find a common ground? Wouldn’t it be comforting to know that we can count on each other? Can you imagine what would have happened in New York if people hadn’t helped each other on 9/11?

I know that when we feel insecure we do seek out those who reflect our beliefs. I really think that, when severely stressed, we don’t really trust anybody who isn’t us, and we’re not so sure about us either. A true definition of xenophobia.

What do we gain when our soul, our very essence, becomes so polluted? No one “wins” under these circumstances. Our challenge, then, is to keep an open mind, make informed decisions as to who is trustworthy and have the confidence to know that no matter who wins the election, this is still a wonderful place to live. I believe that, in our hearts we are, for the most part, a caring, principled, and well-intentioned nation.

I hope all of you voted. I hope you know your power. I hope you trust that you do make a difference.

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

Show All

December 2004 - The Things That Matter

Well, here it is! -- “Holiday Season 2004”. Many of us have begun or are about to succumb to feelings of stress or anxiety. The nervous tension we experience is usually due to too little or too much of something. We become self-critical as we imagine that everyone else has the holidays “under control”. We enter into the fantasy spun by the masters of commerce that our celebration must have both a specific look and cost before we can pronounce it, and ourselves, up to par.

We worry about having enough money to spend. We worry about having spent too much money. We feel invaded by too many friends, relatives, and acquaintances. We feel isolated as we see other, presumably happy folk, in couples or groups. Too many parties. Too few parties. Our homes are not flawless, or are so decked out that we’re afraid someone will mess with their perfection. We don’t have enough time to deal with the pressures put upon us by others and ourselves. We eat too much, we drink too much, and on and on…

In this haze of insecurity, it becomes difficult to focus on what really matters to us. There are just so many distractions. As a fellow self-flagellator, I understand what you’re going through. I do, however, have a bottom line, and, when I go over the edge, my bottom line pulls me back and reminds me of what I really care about.

More than nine years ago, I had a run in with cancer. It all turned out as we hoped, but one of the things I took away from the experience was an understanding of what, at the end of the day, was important to me.

Were you ever asked, “If you had one day or month or year to live, how would you spend the time”? This is what went through my mind upon receiving a cancer diagnosis. I had to focus on what really made me happy. Why don’t you give it a try?

For me it comes down to simply whom I have loved and who has loved me. I’m talking about the genuine, I need you in my life, kind of love; the kind of love that forever changes who you are. I did not find myself longing for more things or experiences. What my heart yearned for was more time with the people who made a difference; those to whom I was deeply connected. I have a strong belief that love, like nothing else, has the capacity to transform us.

Sadly, there are many people who do not have or cannot recognize the love of which I speak. These people suffer. Often, they fail to recognize the genuine love that is available to them. They believe that love must come from a particular person or present itself in a particular way. I know, because I was once one of those people. Once in this situation it is easy to focus on “things” rather than relationship, because material goods seem more readily attainable. In his book, The Courage to Love, Stephen Gilligan says: “Materialism… translates relationship into ‘I want/I deserve/I need to have all my needs satisfied.’ Naturally, this leads to an inattentiveness to life outside one’s own immediate interest, and isolation and loneliness result.”

We need to awaken from this dream of imaginary heights. There is healing in giving to others what we wish to receive ourselves. Rewards of unimaginable profundity are available when we pay attention. Helping a person, a pet, a garden, any living life form, to flourish can fill us in a way that no material object ever can. When we are able to treasure the significant people in our lives, we can treasure ourselves. The reason? We thrive when we focus on the good in others. I wish all of you a loving holiday season, and hope you are rewarded with the wishes of your heart.

"The pleasure of love is in loving.
We are happier in the passion we feel than in that we arouse."
Francois de la Rochefoucauld

 

January 2005 - It Doesn't Make Sense

My husband and I spent Christmas and New Years in Mexico. We stayed at a lovely little hotel that was right on the beach. We left the doors to our balcony open at all times so that we could listen to the sound of the waves from the Pacific Ocean. It was idyllic.

Other people decided this winter to spend their holidays on the Indian Ocean. They also were savoring the tranquility of their surroundings. We know what happened to them and those who were attending them – the brutality of the tsunami. You don’t need me to detail the traumas connected to that event.

Our country and numerous others have sent money, aid, supplies, and personnel to that part of the world, as well we should. What strikes me about this however, is how much more we would have to contribute were we not mired down in wars, negotiations and issues of control. The thought struck me, “Why can’t we call a ‘time out’ and rush the resulting resources to those whose very survival is in such a precarious state at this time?”

What has happened to our moral principles? We know that people who live across 6 time zones have been hit with a disaster of virtually biblical proportions. Is it possible to ignore such an occurrence? Do we believe that we live in a magic bubble that protects us from the aftermath? It seems so clear to me that this catastrophe must take precedent over all other events, including those of combat.

Some of us have been frustrated in hearing of the civil war in Sri Lanka and the ways in which it has impeded efforts to bring help. In an editorial on Dec. 28th, the Daily News in Colombo, the capital, declared, "This tragedy would have not been in vain if it had served to once more show we are a strong, loving, united nation, where we are all brothers and sisters, whatever the color, whatever the religion." The post-tsunami power struggle has indicated that the catastrophe did not bring people together. The article goes on to say, "It would be an ideal opportunity for the government to work hand in hand with the (rebels)… Southerners should take relief supplies and go north. Northerners should go south. Unfortunately, it's not happening."

What does it take for humans to learn that what we have is a shared humanity? I cannot understand why property, resources, beliefs, philosophies, religions, and politics are given a higher priority than the continued existence of those who share our world. We need to wake up and know that none of us are inoculated against disaster.To me, the connection between each and every one of us is quite clear. All events influence all subsequent events. Action influences action. We are all vulnerable to the consequences of the choices made by others and ourselves. Every one of us is affected by the events that happen in our ecosystem. If we do not care about ourselves, do we not care about the children, many of whom are born unprotected into a dangerous world? If we do not care, how can we call ourselves “human”?

Part of our responsibility while we are here is to leave a legacy. Not just a legacy in terms of our individual families, but an inheritance that impacts all who follow. If we do not know this now, what will it take? I wish all of you a peaceful and responsible New Year.

“ It is better to be a beggar than ignorant; for a beggar only wants money, but an ignorant person wants humanity.”Aristippus

 

February 2005 - When Love’s Not Perfect

Whether we know it or not, we each bring our own very personal set of expectations when entering into a relationship. The person on the other side of this relationship brings his or her own personal set of expectations. If, by chance, both parties have the same set of expectations (I know no example of this), love, potentially, can progress very smoothly. If not, we run into turbulence and don’t know why.

Let me give you an example from my own adolescence. My boyfriend’s name was Tony He and I went “steady” all through high school. As Valentine’s Day approached, my expectation was that I would receive a flowery, syrupy card. A huge valentine arrived in the mail (so far so good). On the front of the card it said, “I found the perfect Valentine’s Day present for you…” Inside was a little man on a spring holding a big heart that said, “ME!” Being more than a little spoiled and lacking anything close to self-control, I hit the roof! Poor Tony! To this day I do not understand why he put up with me, but, wishing to please, went out and found me the sappy card that I had wanted.

The significant part of this story is that in my mind, proof of love resided in a corny Hallmark card. Tony, on the other hand, believed that his card said it all. Two unconscious, and differing, sets of expectations went head to head and we ended up with hurt feelings all around.

Does any of this sound familiar? Do you assume that if someone cares for you they will call you three times a day? Is a gift of jewelry on your birthday proof of affection? Is your significant other expected to fly into your arms when you’ve been away? Will he or she take you to meet the parents if the relationship is getting serious? I think you get the gist of where I’m going with this. It’s not about “good” and “bad” expectations; it’s about differing sets of desires. No one that I know of is really acquainted with all of his or her automatic assumptions. You can bet, however, that when this type of conflict comes up in an intimate relationship it has to do with assumptions, not intent.

Therein lies the cure. It behooves us to pay attention to the other person’s purpose. If we cannot pretty much take it for granted that our significant other only wants what’s good for us, then why are we in this relationship?

On the other hand, many of us have emerged from families where it was impossible to assume the best. If that is the case, we need to understand that we may be recreating a situation that is not relevant to our current set of circumstances. Just knowing that is the first step to making a correction. An individual who sincerely cares for us will almost certainly help us with that problem.

Perhaps we are only dealing with a case of inadequate communication. Again, a mutual approach to correcting this should be quite helpful.

Relationship is about needs and expectations being met on both sides. It is foolish to throw in the towel because something as simple as a valentine wasn’t exactly what we wanted. On the other hand, if we cannot communicate in a productive, supportive way, we need to learn how to do that, or consider saying goodbye. Love and attachments are difficult, but we humans cannot seem to live well without them.

“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and
know we cannot live within."James Baldwin

 

March 2005 - Take Off Your Mask

The other day, I read an article by a well-known journalist. She revealed that her family of origin was eccentric at best, and, at it’s worst, lived on the streets. This woman felt such shame about her family’s circumstances that she had kept details of her growing-up years a secret, even from her husband.

I know a woman who has had a radical mastectomy and has not allowed her husband to see her naked since that time. Someone else I know grew up in a completely disorganized household. She feels great shame if anything is out of place in her home – even when she’s the only one there.

Why do we do this to ourselves? One very sad reason is that in our very core many of us feel unlovable, defective, and “less than”. This is compounded by a common belief that each of us is alone in this situation. Many of us believe that “others” are successful, knowledgeable and effective in ways beyond our reach. We cannot imagine that a large number of the people we encounter join us in submitting to feeling poorly about themselves. Then, what do we do? We cover up and go around pretending that we think we’re great. The problem with this is in the pretending. When we feel that we must mask who we are, we cruelly damage our sense of self and our rightful feelings of self-respect.

It seems we humans just must have a pecking order. However, the whole idea of hierarchy in terms of a social class has no relevance in today’s world. Information and education are available to everyone. Outdated social rules such as, “You can never be too thin or too rich”, “A woman is nothing without a man”, and the notion of the “dumb blonde” are recognized as being obsolete. We know this as it pertains to others, but many of us still hold ourselves hostage to these meaningless standards.

It is impossible to define, no less measure, which life has been the most productive, beneficial, acceptable or admirable. In other words, “the best”. Nevertheless, we waste our time and emotional energy as we compare others’ achievements to ours. While we are busy spinning our wheels in this meaningless endeavor, a lot of other people are doing the same thing. How do we recognize that this is happening? We know this when we begin to look at others’ lives and judge them to be superior or inferior to ours. When we feel inclined to hide something about ourselves that we fear others may judge, we should see that as a big red flag. There are so many ways to live a life. Do wealth or poverty make a heart more or less loving? Are there an optimal number of things we must have before we can be happy? Is it better to have inherited opportunity than to have risen above difficult circumstances? Is it meaningful to look at our sense of connectedness to others? Above all, what have been our intentions? Do we consciously try to improve the world we live in or stay focused on our own navels? These are crucial questions and not easily answered.

Listen to me; every one of us has had a pimple from time to time. We give away our own power when we accept someone else’s concept of a life well lived. If we don’t buy into certain “lifestyle” myths they will lose their oxygen and influence.

A brilliant journalist should not have to hide the truth about her relatives. She had no role in their decision-making. A cancer survivor did not ask for cancer. The miracle is that she survived. The “neatness police” are not on their way to our homes, and if they are, so what? Each of our lives stands alone. If your grandfather was a hero, it doesn’t mean that you will be a hero. Maybe you will and maybe you won’t – the way you live your life will tell.

One of the coolest things about humans is that we are resilient and, when motivated, can rise above seemingly impossible life circumstances. We should be so proud, and yet, we are so often fearful that someone will “find out”.

“ No one can make you feel inferior without your consent" Eleanor Roosevelt

 

 

April 2005 - Recycled Lives

As we go about living our lives, we take them for granted. They are, after all, our lives. It takes an occasion, such as a reunion or, perhaps, a death, to shift our focus to the trajectory of our years, decisions we have or have not made, and the inevitability of change. I have almost always welcomed change. Sometimes it scares me, but, for the most part, I like the excitement of the adventure.

Some have lived more predictably. They settled in one place, socialized with long-term friends, stayed married to the same partner, and continued to pursue the dreams of their youth. The security of this type of lifestyle is a wonderful thing and allows for the building of a genuine community. Those who have chosen that path know whom to call in case of emergency. In fact, there are probably many people they could choose from, Others have selected a more tumultuous lifestyle in which they have had a number of homes, careers, friends, and, sometimes, partners. There is a whole spectrum to choose from in terms of playing it safe and taking a chance. One is not better than the other, but, one is usually a better fit than the other..

A few weeks ago I went to a party. Most of the folks there had chosen a path of safety. They are what I, originally, started out to be. They were part of one of my former lives. I was surprised to find that, after hanging around them for a while I felt wistful and slightly sad. The ambiance of that party really took me back to the choices I have made along the way. Some of the women there were pretty good replicas of who I might have been.

I have been blessed with the type of personality that likes to make decisions. I don’t have to think for a really long time before making up my mind. I can analyze what works for me rather quickly be it a home, car, or lifestyle.

Spending time with such a large group of friends from my past, opened up memories of the hopes, dreams, and expectations, of the rather naïve girl I was once upon a time. That girl could have used a mentor. It would have been helpful to her to have had a wise person to guide and challenge her through some of the complicated issues that affected her life. That girl was so young. She knew so little. No one had told her that being human is tricky business.

It takes a lifetime to figure out how to live a life. To know who you are and what fulfills you, opposed to what your parents wanted for you and society expected of you, takes time and maturity If you don’t know who you are, how do you know if you’re living the life your heart yearns for? What are your daydreams? What would you choose if you had the opportunity? I was lucky, whatever it is that drives me, after many missteps, propelled me, into a life I love.

Regardless of the choices we have made, we all pay a price for what we have and have not done. I have one friend who has said to me, “You are my role model.” My answer to her has been, “You would not have liked the hard parts.” In the end, there is always potential for change. If you are happiest staying put, good for you! The heart of the matter resides in knowing yourself.

May your core resolve be based on a profound understanding of who you are. That is the best way I know to reach the royal road to happiness.

"Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart.
Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens." Carl Jung

 

May 2005 - In Memory of my Mother

My mother died 18 years ago, five days after Mother’s Day. She had suffered a stroke in April and everyone agreed that this was as good as it was going to get.

It was ironic that my mother lost her speech. Her voice was what maddened, frightened, and annoyed me most of my life. It was also her voice that I dearly missed after she lost her ability to speak. For months I would call her answering machine just to hear the sound of her. I cried when I gave up the comfort of that tape.

Sylvia & I had a very complicated relationship. I was an only child who believed she loved her father and hated her mother. My father always said that my mother and I were like “oil & water” we just couldn’t mix. My mother and I were never on the same wavelength, never approached things from the same direction. The struggle lasted a lifetime.

The fondest memory I have of time spent with my mother occurred shortly after my father died. We didn’t know at the time that she had only seven more months to live. One morning she surprised me by showing up at my home and suggesting that we spend some time together. What was unusual was that we didn’t go shopping or fill the time with activity. For nearly 3 hours my mother and I werequiet together. We shared a grief and a protectiveness that was uniquely ours. We were, for one of the very few times in our relationship, emotionally in the same place at the same time.

When I was a little girl I really tried hard to please my mother. After I became an adult my mother tried really hard to please me. Sadly, neither of us perceived ourselves as being successful. Mothers and daughters. It is such a complicated relationship. In a normal life cycle it is their job to bring us into the world and ours to help ease their passage out. We are cohorts and competitors; rebels and disciples; alike and dissimilar.

As we continue our journey through life it behooves us to incorporate our mothers’ strengths as we discard that which does not work for us. It’s a hard job. We have a tendency to polarize and strive to either hold on to or get rid of the whole package. I have a pillow that says, “Mirror mirror on the wall, I am my mother after all.” Well, that’s true and not true, as it is, and will be, for my daughter and my daughter’s daughter.

I wish, with all my heart, that I still had a mother. I wish she could know that this is my wish. Would I handle our differences better? I don’t know. I hope I would. Would she drive me crazy every time she said, “I have a brilliant idea”? Probably. I would make sure, however, that my mother knew that I appreciated her ferocity, loyalty, courage and independence. My mother never “knew” that women were second-class citizens. That’s pretty remarkable for a woman who was born in 1911

The sadness that envelops me every Mother’s Day and on the anniversary of my mother’s death is familiar. I won’t go so far as to say that I welcome it, but it does seem appropriate to remember and mourn the loss. When all is said and done, Sylvia and I did the best we knew how to do with what wehad. In the end, we were there for each other and shared an imperfect but unstoppable love.

“I have tried to build my mother’s life again, filling in the holes as best I can, using plaster & bones, but every time I think I see her, I see a reflection of myself; she is a relationship: my mother.” Sarah Willis, A Good Distance. Berkley Books, 2004.

 

June 2005 - The Measure of Caring

A relationship is a relationship is a relationship… What I mean is, that we are basically the same in all of our attachments. The difference is the degree of intimacy, and thus, feelings of vulnerability that these attachments trigger.

For many of us, the most difficult connections are linked to romantic love. While we yearn to be loved entirely for ourselves, we also fear self-exposure. This leaves us, so to speak, caught between “the devil and the deep blue sea”.

When we first meet someone, be they friend or lover, the thing we call “chemistry” kicks in & often we have a strong inclination to go either toward or away from that individual. This “chemistry” is really a result of our unconscious responses that tell us “I do or do not feel drawn to you”. Often we are surprised, and ultimately feel quite differently about a new acquaintance as time goes on. And, that is the point. For a relationship to have “feet” it must have the durability to withstand the unavoidable ups and downs that accompany familiarity.

As we handle the differences of opinion and expectation that go along with our attachments we learn a great deal about the character of the other person and find out more about ourselves. It’s impossible to ask for what we want if we do not know what that is. For me, the willingness to be accountable stands right near the top of the list. Most of the time, I can get over the fact that you hurt me. What I need, however, is for you to understand that I have been hurt by your actions are willing to try to avoid repeating that behavior. Excuses carry very little weight with me. That I can count on your concern for my well being means a lot.

Years ago one of my best friends let me know that my responses to her felt harsh and judgmental. She advised me that this was ruining our friendship. While I was taken aback, because I was so caught up with myself that I hadn’t considered her feelings, I was and am grateful to her for being candid. Our relationship has deepened over the years. We know that each of us can “hear” the other and respond in a loving manner. We are safe in revealing “the good, the bad & the ugly”.

As we go along the path to self-knowledge, it is helpful to learn where our boundaries lie. When someone crosses the line we owe it to ourselves and to him or her to cry “foul!” Of course, if we are not interested in pursing a particular relationship it may just be easier to drift away. I have always believed that when you have given up, when there is nothing left to talk about, when you simply cannot be understood, and the existing state of affairs is hurtful, it is best to close the door and put your energy into more gratifying situations. The trick here is to know if you have truly given up or are merely temporarily frustrated or angry.

As with so many things in life, what we fear most, exposing our vulnerability, is what makes us endearing. We feel best when we are most authentic in our own lives. Successfully emerging from a bumpy ride with someone we value can deepen our attachment in ways the smooth path never will. Trust needs to be tested and earned.

You’ve heard it said before, but it bears repeating… You can’t be close to everyone you meet. As the years go on, we learn to be selective and optimize the way we spend our time. One thing is unquestionable, the more fully we are our true selves, the more completely we feel alive and vital in our world.

“When we were children we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability…to be alive is to be vulnerable.” Madeline L’Engle

 

July 2005 - What's The Difference?

In our efforts to improve ourselves through exercise, nutrition, and with the help of the entire self-help industry, do we ever stop to think, “Why am I doing this?” Seriously. Do we think we will be more successful financially and socially? Do we believe that if we succeed in transforming ourselves into any one of the many idealized images that are thrown our way that our happiness will actually grow? Why do we do the things we do to “evolve”? What’s it really all about?

One of the ways to look at this is to consider the competitive, “gotta get ahead” climate in which we live. Today, July 24th, 2005 is the day that many of us will eagerly applaud Lance Armstrong as he wins his 7th and last Tour de France. Today we love the Boston Red Sox, reality show winners, movie stars, and every other kind of celebrity you can think of. Look at Paris Hilton, the smartest dumb girl around. She told us she was “hot”, many of us believed she was “hot” or at least a curiosity (which is ok with her), and voilá, Miss Paris owns a 24 carat diamond ring, has book deals, TV appearances, and much more. This readership may not emulate Ms. Hilton, but believe me, many young women do. They really believe that Ms. Hilton lives a life to be envied. They don’t know if she has nightmares or if her fiancée has bad breath, they just know it all looks good.

So, what is celebrity worship really all about? First of all, we have the wish to believe in the possibility of a perfect life. If it’s possible & we work on ourselves hard enough, we too may live a life free of misfortune. While we know that everyone endures hardship of one kind or another, we still want to believe that it is possible to beat the system. One of the ways we go about trying to do that is to be a little bit better at this and a little bit better at that until we find ourselves so removed from our own souls that we have no way of knowing our heart’s desire. If only I were a better golfer, lost 10 lbs., or had been a better parent my life would be complete! We “know” in our heads that this is not true, but many of us hold on to the myth of nirvana in our hearts.

Now, I would be the last person to discourage the building of self-esteem. That is why, although it is paradoxical, I urge you to try to accept the wonder of you. It is true, beyond a doubt, that each of us, as our genuine self, is already all we need to be. Sure, there are some things we’re not so good at (after 4 years I still struggle to do a roll-up in pilates). There are, however, areas in which each one of us excels. Unfortunately, many of us focus on our perceived deficits rather than our strengths. While our society may encourage competition, when it comes to living a life, each and every one of us does it in his or her own way. There is no contest built around life living.

Continue to strive, learn, and practice. The caution is that you do this only if it springs from a desire inside of you. Expanding your skills can be great fun, but only if the skills you are working on are interesting and worthwhile to you. If you’re learning French to impress your great Aunt Edna, forget it!

Once you accept that you, as you are, are absolutely wonderful, the things you choose to pursue will seem a pleasure and not a chore. Another bit of advice, if there is something you are yearning to do, do it now. If you wait for the perfect moment, it will never arrive. I’ll tell you a story about my father. He didn’t like working in his family’s business. Dad saved his money so that he could take an early retirement. He had a certain sum in mind. By the time he had accumulated that amount, the economy had changed and it wasn’t enough. My father worked for 10 additional years. He missed out on some very good times. As Joseph Campbell says, “Follow your passion!” Do it soon and live a joyful, fulfilling life.

"If your success is not on your own terms, if it looks good to the world but does not feel good in your heart, it is not success at all." Anna Quindlen

 

Aug 2005 - You Want Me to do WHAT!?!

Many of us find it really difficult to let others know how we feel. We hear the word “confrontation” and we quake. There is good reason for us to feel that way. To “confront” means to argue or engage in conflict. Who wants to do that? We believe that having a different point of view brings with it hostility. It’s easy to forget that clearly stating our beliefs, wants, and needs constitutes good communication. When we are straightforward we allow for the possibility of meaningful relationships that allow others to know who we really are.

If this is the case, why do we spend so much of our lives pretending to feel things we don’t and pretending to not feel things that we do? Well, we start life as completely dependent beings. We need our caretakers to ensure our survival. Tiny babies can read facial expressions and learn about the world from the joy, negativity, or indifference on the faces of those who attend to them. As a rule, toddlers (roughly ages 2-4) are the most upfront people you can meet. Their “job” is to say “no” and they are really good at it. We expect a toddler to be contrary and are less likely to see pathology in their behavior. As we become more socialized, we learn that there are benefits attached to pleasing other people. This becomes a problem when the result is that our individuality becomes suffocated in the process. So, we say that we love a food that we can barely choke down and hold back on feelings, especially anger, which we do choke down in order to please someone else.

If a friend asked you, “Do I have to agree with you in order to be your friend?” most of you would say, “Of course not”. Do you really mean it? It gets even more complicated, because all of us have some kind of measure of “we” and “them”. We can’t help it, that’s the way we are. It usually takes a cataclysmic event, such as hurricane Katrina, for us to remember that we are all “we”. If you find yourself in a relationship that does demand acquiescence on all matters, you might want to think about if that connection is worth the price you are paying.

Telling the truth does not have to be “confrontational”. When we know we have the right to our individual opinion; when we trust that we are entitled to take care of ourselves and be heard; when we understand that we do not have the power to ruin someone’s life because we don’t agree with him or her, at that point, we are free to say what’s on our mind without guilt or the anger that results from feeling guilty. As always, the caveat is to take into account what kind of relationship it is that you’re looking for. Not everyone needs to know everything about us. Not everyone wants to know everything about us.

Do you ever let things “slide” because they seem small or petty? I know that is one of my struggles. The problem with ignoring minor irritations is that it’s the small things that weave the fabric of our lives. We often become estranged from people after we have failed to let them know that something they do or say annoys us. Recently, I told my husband about something he was doing that bothered me. His response was, “That’s such a little thing.” My response to him was, “You’re right and let’s make sure that it stays that way!” It’s far better to get the small irritations out in the open than to build up an anger that is hard to control.

Years ago I was at a conference. The woman sitting next to me was knitting. Every time she knit a stitch she poked me in the arm. She didn’t hurt me. By the end of the day, however, I was ready to commit murder! Had I asked her to move over I’m sure I wouldn’t remember that incident today. The little things can drive us crazy!

Be who you are. Let people know what you like and what you don’t. Extend the courtesies to others that you request for yourselves. Life is too short to be bogged down by the trivial stuff that we find so distracting. Celebrate who you are and go for your heart’s desire.

"The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls." Elizabeth Cady Stanton

 

Sep 2005 - Finding a Home

This summer we have borne witness as people along the Gulf coast have lost their dwellings, possessions, pets, family, friends, and, sometimes, their own lives as a result of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Medical sources have been quoted as saying that psychological, as opposed to physical, trauma is the single largest source of worry vis-à-vis the survivors. This has led me to wonder about the significance of “home”, and how we maintain our equilibrium if that space is lost.

Let us start with the physical structure that we call “home”. Ideally, it is the spot where we feel safe, protected, and free to be entirely who we really are. We start life in a womb. That is our first home. It is a place where we are fed without having to ask and develop without analytical influence over our own unique developing selves. Unconsciously we continue to try to achieve that sense of safety and belonging throughout our lives. It is said that a home reflects who we are, and that is true. Even when we have very little to spend, we exhibit something about who we are in the way we organize, care for, and personalize the place in which we live. Some like to have everything in its place, some take a more casual approach, and some care very little about the actual physical structure in which they reside. What is important is to know what makes you feel “at home”, and proceed from there. Don’t let anyone else, without your consent, tell you how your home “should” be. One of the most helpful things my father ever said to me was, “Honey, your home is there to serve you, not you the home”. Think about it.

Sometimes “home” is about a place, not a building. “Home” is going back to California, the farm, where it’s cold, or where life is either more or less pressured. This place has something about it that feels familiar. It is where we instinctively understand the customs and way of life. It is a setting where we feel like we fit in. A certain location may appear somewhat foreign when we first arrive, but, over time, becomes a home. Think about a group of college freshmen. Some have difficulty making the adjustment away from their parents’ home. Others exult in finding themselves in surroundings that have little to do with from whence they came.

Finally, there is the home that has to do with who is there with you. I always think of my husband and myself as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I could probably live anywhere pretty happily as long as we were together. For others the essential ingredient could be friends or children or pets. Some people have a very strong spiritual connection that allows them to feel safe and fortified. And, there are those who truly need only themselves. We do not run into them very often. Most of us need to be in touch with another living being.

Not to be melancholic, but it’s a good idea to think about what you would do if you lost that which you call home. What would you need to overcome the trauma of your loss? Whatever your answer, you would have to, as Bob Dylan says, “keep on keepin’ on”. Where would we be if the grass stopped growing just because we cut it every week?

For me, as long as it’s things and not people (or pets) that are have vanished, I know I can find something else that will fill the bill. It’s not that I would like it; it’s not that I wouldn’t feel sad about the losses, but I know that I would forget about those injuries over time.

The death or disappearance of someone I love compels me to use a different set of skills in order to recover. The best I can do with that is to remember that, like in the garden, you must to prune in order to make room so that something else can bloom. I would love to still have parents, but would I trade in my grandchildren? – No! I was devastated when two of my dogs died, but am I sorry that I live with the two I have? – No! There are terrible losses we must accept, but, eventually, we all must face them. The measure of a person’s character does not reside in what happens to them, but in how they deal with those occurrences.

So, remember to tell the people you love how you feel about them; savor your home; appreciate what you have on a daily basis. Do whatever you can to avoid “cut offs” from those you care for. Don’t waste your time brooding over things that are unimportant. The best we each can do is celebrate, day in and day out, that which helps us, as Joseph Campbell would say, “follow our bliss”.

The joy of a spirit is the measure of its power.
Ninon de Lenclos (1620 - 1705)

 

Oct 2005 - You Always Have You

In a world that has bestowed upon us hurricanes, earthquakes, terrorist attacks and wars, it is easy to lose perspective. More and more, we hear reports of people suffering from a chronic, nonspecific feeling of anxiety. Gone are the days when we left our doors unlocked and felt comfortable nodding “hello” to strangers we pass on the street. We live in a time when it’s smart to identify those we can count on, those we know we can trust.

What happens when you don’t have, or lose, some, or one, of the people who makes you feel safe in the world? It’s a situation that most of us don’t like to imagine, no less experience.

Occasions that will trigger our feelings of insecurity are the loss of a parent, close friend, or anyone who symbolically represents stability on a personal level. It matters not if the relationship with that person was “good” or if we depended on that individual to keep us grounded. The child we once were lives on beneath the layers of acquired knowledge, sophistication, and poise we utilize in adulthood. The child we once were is the oldest, most primitive, and, in some ways, most powerful part of that which we call “ourselves”. The child has the muscle to surface without warning and level us with feelings of helplessness and vulnerability. The child anguishes over the loss of a parent or parent representative.

When a relationship that is really important to us becomes disrupted, we flap around like fish that have been set in a meadow. It is useful to take a look at those who enhance our ability to conduct ourselves with some sanity. Everyone has their own criteria for identifying those who prop them up in times of distress.

I have recognized that I begin to falter when I have, what I consider to be, a serious fight with my husband, Harry. Now Harry, in certain ways, has me trumped when it comes to stability. He doesn’t struggle with fears of “You love me today, but will you love me tomorrow?” Harry was raised in a home with it’s own brand of chaos that didn’t revolve around the granting and withdrawal of affection. Therefore, when we clash, he is able to hold steady while I am convinced that the world is spinning out of control and the apocalypse is nigh. My outlook, at such times, is immature and out of kilter, but, that’s the way I’m glued together. I don’t think that part of my personality is going to change – it’s been there too long.

This raises the question of what to do when terror thumps toward us and exposes our (universal) fear of abandonment? I try to console myself with the premise that I always have myself. I have overcome a number of serious challenges. The past is a good predictor of the future, and, therefore, I can foretell, with some certainty, that I will survive. I am an intelligent, usually resourceful woman. So, what’s the problem? The problem is that underneath, in a masked and very hidden part of myself I KNOW that I am only a rock of jello! There, it’s out, I’ve said it – I jiggle and quiver and pulsate at the thought of navigating the world without my primary ally.

Eventually I do come to realize that the current crises will pass and tomorrow will appear. I try to measure the severity of the current situation by asking myself, “Will you remember that this happened a year from now?” If the answer is “no”, I have, at least, the intellectual understanding that whatever is troubling me is not really all that important.

How many of us fail to have confidence in our ability to take care of ourselves? My guess would be that we are large in number. It would be so nice to know how to convert “head” knowledge of our ability to cope to that which infiltrates the heart and soul. In the meantime, I suggest that we attempt to behave like “grown-ups” (whatever that means) and do our best to understand that deep down inside every one of us there is a rock of jello just waiting to be uncovered. May you chase away the goblins on Halloween and all the other days of the year.

"Courage is mastery of fear--not absence of fear." Mark Twain

 

Nov 2005 - At the Thanksgiving Table

Thanksgiving is the holiday that we happily anticipate and we claim that it doesn’t push our buttons. Oh sure! This is probably true for children, but their parents and other adult participants almost certainly approach the holiday with fixed ideas of what constitutes a proper Thanksgiving. Often someone ends up feeling unheard, disrespected, and like some important part of the feast has been done wrong, or, worse yet, left out.

The first Thanksgiving in our blended family began with my future husband asking, “How do you make your stuffing?” After that, we were off and running. We had discussions about how to make gravy, which way to roast a turkey – breast side up or down --, canned or homemade cranberry sauce, brownies with or without nuts and on and on.

Thanksgiving, as we know, kicks off the holiday season. As the opening festivity, the smells, the gathering, the bird to be carved, transport us back to our somewhat burnished memories of feeling connected, included, and full of happy anticipation. This festivity arrives before we’ve stuffed ourselves for days, and suffered more than one hangover or upset stomach. We naively believe that this year it will be different, we will resist temptation, and remember to get enough exercise and sleep. For those of you who believe you have all of this under control, I say, “Congratulations”, but I, personally, don’t even want to dine on steamed fish and vegetables at this time of year.

Some of us simply stick to our way of doing things and the rest be damned. Others try to make everyone happy by catering to as many expectations as they can. I belong to the latter group. On our table we actually have two different kinds of stuffing and cranberry sauce. I try to have an assortment of desserts so that everyone will be happy. My husband and I always argue over whether the turkey is or is not done and the proper way to carve the bird. We are both passionate on these subjects, and find it hard to give ground, but we do manage, in the spirit of the holiday, to reach a compromise position.

One of the best Thanksgiving stories I have ever heard was about a mother who was irritated with her grown children and stuffed the turkey with spaghetti and meatballs. Here’s to you Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are!

The worst Thanksgiving I ever spent was during my divorce from my first husband. He “got” the children that year, and my usual coterie of friends was unavailable. So, with a barely-known acquaintance, I went to see “The Wiz” and ate popcorn for Thanksgiving. It was beyond depressing. What I should have done was go to a shelter and assist in creating a happy holiday for someone else. Sometimes I have to learn the hard way.

This year I am spending Thanksgiving with my daughter who lives in Vermont. I know I will like the food – she uses a lot of my old recipes. Dana has asked me to bake brownies (with and without nuts) and jam bars. Easy enough – I’ve been doing that for forty years. It will be my pleasure to trouble shoot the holiday for her. We have discussed seating arrangements and the amount of food to be ordered. My husband and I will be on the lookout for complainers, controllers, and those who refuse to follow “house rules” (like whether or not to let the dog out).

When my children were younger, they would hear, “Everyone under thirty gets to clean up.” Will the same directive be given this year to all of us who are over fifty? I guess we’ll see.

In our family we try really hard to include anyone who has no place to go. This policy invariably leads to a more interesting and less predictable gathering. Sometimes one wants to bring another who wants to bring another. You know how that goes. As my mother would say, “Just add more water to the soup.”

In the end, we have one more Thanksgiving memory to put into our scrapbook of remembrances. After dinner we talk about Thanksgivings past with burnt veggies, spilt juice, and the item we forgot to take out of the oven. We have learned to laugh at ourselves and understand that the holiday is perfect in its imperfection. Finally, we do remember to give thanks for we know we are blessed in our ability to congregate and celebrate. Wishing all of you a Thanksgiving to look back on with a smile.

"We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures." Thomas Wilder

 

Dec 2005 - A Wish

Do you ever feel reluctant to tell your age? Is it hard to find “age-appropriate” clothes when you go shopping? Are you embarrassed if someone hears you ask for a senior ticket at the movie theatre? If any of the above applies, feel reassured that you are not alone.

Guess what? —The baby boomers are turning 60! Now, in many cases this is not our parents’ or grandparents’ 60, but we can still be pretty sure that we have segued out of middle age into life’s next stage. What, exactly does this mean, or, better yet, what do we think this means?

To begin with, it’s time to understand that these are the good old days. We will never be able to increase our store of folks we’ve loved for more than forty or fifty years. We cannot replace those we have known our entire lives. This may seem gloomy, but it is, nonetheless, true. Therefore, it’s time to mobilize and contact, or, better yet, spend time with the people who are important to us. This is not the phase of life in which it is appropriate to say we’re much too busy to take the time for activities that are not related to that which we call success. This is the time to actually do the things we have been putting off for years. So if you have been thinking about seeing Uncle Dominic in California or Aunt Lena in Ohio, stop thinking and start doing.

Is there someone you care about with whom you have lost touch? Maybe, like me, you’re hesitant to call because you fear they may admonish you for allowing the relationship to lapse. If this happens, just say, “I’m sorry that we lost each other (you needn’t accept or deny blame) and I want to remedy that situation right now. Set up a time to meet, e-mail, or speak to that person again. Both of you will be so glad that you did.

The most important circumstances to address are cut-offs. A cut-off is a situation in which a formerly close person is no longer in your life by either his/her choice or yours. Cut-offs tend to come back to haunt us. We must learn to forgive the unforgivable. To forgive does not mean to condone a terrible hurt; it means to get beyond that hurt and wish the other person well.

I have had painful personal experience with cut-offs. This year a woman from whom I had become estranged died. Years ago I did something that hurt her. She refused to my apologies and I was banished from her life. I called and wrote, but she turned down my overtures and I could never get through to her. I am so glad, however, that I tried. I still have dreams about this person. My consolation is that I made every possible attempt to reconnect. Do not wait until it is too late to resolve painful issues. If resolution is not possible at least you know you’ve done everything you could.

Do not assume that because you are older that you are unlovable, undesirable or ineffectual Despite the ideal that our society calls “youth” there are many rewards connected to having some years under our belts. Nothing is more attractive than a person who is self-confident and self-aware. If you don’t know what makes you tick, you had better start learning. You deserve to be self-indulgent; you have put in your time. It’s hard, however to pamper yourself if you don’t know what it is that makes you happy. By now, hopefully, you understand that what and who you are is pretty darn good. So, shake your tail feathers and just be perfectly you! The time is now.

My wish for you is that you are able to put guilt behind you – it is useless. My wish for you is that you recognize the love you inspire. My wish for you is that you understand how essential you are to the world that you inhabit.

Most people, when they are asked if they would like to be young again say, “Yes, but I would want to know what I know now.” Therein lies the rub. You cannot know what you know now without having experienced failure and success, grief and gaiety, and the accumulation of wisdom that only the years are able to grant you.

Treat yourself the way you wish the world to treat you. If you are secure in the knowledge of your significance, heaven help those who are disrespectful or, worse yet, act as if you are invisible. You have never been more visible or more completely and confidently you. The human race is lucky to have you as one of its members -- go out and celebrate! Wishing you a year of health and love in which you enjoy being and using your full self as you face life’s challenges.

"But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a person and life they lead"
Albert camus

 

Jan 2006 - So You Think You Want to be the Favorite!

Most of us were taught, growing up, that we were meant to excel, to be the best. Of course, “the best” covers many parameters. Depending on family values, individual talents, interests, and cultural trends, we have put our focus on one area or another. Whether we have endured sibling rivalry or the fact that the kid next door was simply a faster runner, we have all been asked to compete in one arena or another.

Now I was an only child. I didn’t have to compete with anyone to get my parents’ attention. That is both the good and bad news. Before I even knew what I was learning, I recognized that the “spotlight” of attention shone on both my assets and weaknesses. I got all the punishment as well as all the praise. Such a situation is always a concoction of celebration and disappointment, pride and shame.

We are constantly reading about young celebrities’ struggles with sudden fame. It’s not just the flood of money, access to almost anything they can think of, or retinue of “yes men” that bring them down. What happens in such cases is that they come to believe their own publicity. It takes a certain amount of maturity and wisdom to understand that one cannot continue to burn with a white-hot light 100% of the time. It is impossible for a celebrity or anyone else to continually delight, surprise, “shine”, and stay one step ahead of what others wish them to be. When the “favorite” horse fails to win the Kentucky Derby we are far more disappointed than if one running in the middle of the pack falls short.

While it is extremely flattering to be put up on that pedestal, we need to know that not only will we, eventually, fall, but that others may take that personally and be particularly angry or shocked that we were unable to live up to their expectations.

Does this sound like I’m urging you to hide your light under a barrel? Not so. I am suggesting, however, that lowering your profile, flying under the radar, is something to consider. There is an old saying that goes, “When someone tells you who they are, believe them”. Tell your supporters who you are. Let them know right up front that they will be disillusioned if they expect you to enthusiastically fill the roles they put upon you or achieve excellence in all endeavors. Don’t just tell them once, you must remind them. If someone is treating you like a super hero/heroine put your ego aside and tell him or her right up front that you are “only” human. They may not believe you. They may still respond with indignation when you turn out to be exactly whom you have claimed to be. You must know, however, deep in your heart, that the projected wishes of others are not your responsibility.

As with all things in life, being a “star” of any type has it’s up and down sides. If the limelight is what you wish, there’s nothing wrong with that – go for it! If your desire is to be the “best” friend, “best” teacher, “best” community organizer, that’s okay. If you tire of this role, and wish to step down, however, you must give yourself permission to do just that. Those who are accustomed to your filling up a particular position will protest; you can count on it. These are the times when you must take care of yourself and do what is best for you. You can be assured that the planet will keep on spinning.

The mantra is and will continue to be, “Know Yourself!’ Do not imagine that you must be anyone other than who you are. We all crave synchronicity. The more thoroughly our inside matches our outside, the more capable we are of moving through the world with contentment and harmony. Can you imagine if everyone aspired to be the ruler of the world? We would ceaselessly be at war (now there’s a thought!). You are perfect just as you are. This is not soft-minded hogwash it’s true. Each and every one of us has a role to play in this drama we call life. Find your role. If necessary, change your role. Have the courage to back down on what others expect of you. The short run may be complicated and difficult. In the long run, you will be living the life that you wish to live. That is the greatest success of all.

“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts, …”
William Shakespeare, From As You Like It (II, vii, 139-143)

Feb 2006 - Just What Is Love...Exactly?

I hope you’re not expecting an answer to this question. I don’t know what love is…exactly. I do know, however, that there are people and creatures I do love as well as those who have never found quite the same place in my heart.

All of us have heard, at one time ore another, “I don’t love him/her better, I love him/her differently”. Many of us pretend to understand this, but truth be told such statements often leave us confused. That “thing” that we all long to give and receive remains elusive. It slips through our fingers when we try to pin it down. Yet, we feel sad and empty without it and far more than any material possession, love is a pretty good indicator of a well-lived life.

It is my belief that love has to do with my unconscious communicating with your unconscious and through some system of identification and projection we experience an “aha!” you’re the person I love.

Anthropologist Helen Fisher of Rutgers University is now working with www.match.com on a site of her own called www.chemistry.com. She says, “People believe that depression, anger and fear have chemistry, but they somehow relegate romantic love to the supernatural. I thought there was a chemistry to love and looked into it…” It will be interesting to see the results of her research.

In his excellent book, Can Love Last? Stephen Mitchell takes a look at romantic love. He says, “Romance fades because it is inspired by idealization, and idealization is, by definition, illusory. We fall in love under the spell of fantasy; time is the enemy of romance because it brings reality and inevitable disillusionment.” So, clearly, “love” is a separate entity from “romance”. It serves us well to remember that the next time we attempt to hold someone else responsible for our illusions.

Of course, many of us feel love for our pets and our plants. Do my Pekingese and Shih Tzu have an unconscious through which they communicate? You’ve got me. I don’t think I’ll go out on a limb over that one. I do believe that love flows between us and it would be hard to convince me that what I’m experiencing isn’t real. Of course I project my feelings all over them. I erroneously assume that the dogs and I have a perfect love relationship in which they forgive my every thoughtless and inconsiderate action. Do fellow humans give us the same leeway? Of course not! And, they shouldn’t.

It seems to me that in human love there must be an element of appreciation for the character or soul of the other person. This becomes quite complicated in the relationship between parent and child, especially as our children reach adulthood. It is also a problem in failed romantic relationships and intense friendships. We do have to make peace with the reality check that love inexorably delivers. It is important to somehow find a way to work toward an acceptance of individual differences and the disappointments that each of us brings to the other. In some instances, where we feel we have been terribly wronged, this is an especially difficult task. Without some form of resolution however, the conflict will inevitably poison the well being of those who are not successful in coming to terms with their experience of disenchantment. It is simply unhealthy, psychologically and physically, to allow resentment to burrow into our core.

Please do not think that I do not believe in love or that I believe love is impossible to find and keep. Quite the opposite is true. I know that love is transformational. Love can lift us above ourselves and inspire us to radiate its magic to those who enter our lives. I believe that love is a part of that mysterious thing we call “charisma”. A healthy love that is a combination of love of self and the other is one of the most powerful forces on earth. The assertion, by Lord Tennyson, “Tis better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all” is one with which I completely and absolutely agree. We must all try to remember this when love goes awry.

Be it chemistry, the unconscious, a need to nurture or procreate, we live in a world in which love may well be as necessary to survival as the air we breathe. Love comes in many different forms and packages. It can be hard to recognize. Without it, I imagine, we would all be mad.

Wishing you love during this month of valentines and every month for the rest of your lives.

“Love is never lost. If not reciprocated, it will flow back and
soften and purify the heart" Washington Irving

 

Mar 2006 - Shifting Into Neutral

How do you respond when someone launches a verbal attack that is particularly hurtful? All of us have been in that situation, probably several times in our lives. We have many choices. We can fight back, run away, or blame ourselves. We always have a number of responses that are available to us. Sometimes, we forget that there is a quiet place to which we can retreat while we take time to gather our thoughts and feelings. I call this place the neutral zone.

We know to give young children a “time out” when their behavior spirals out of control. We forget, however, that we can bestow that upon ourselves and that a “time out”, far from being a punishment, is an opportunity.

Have you had the experience of saying, “I wish I had thought to say that!” Most of us have. We chide ourselves when we have felt tongue-tied. We may feel that we have allowed ourselves to be victimized when we remain silent, or, conversely, regret a response made in anger. It’s hard to feel okay on such occasions. At times like these, it’s helpful to remember that we can retreat into the safety of the neutral zone.

Of course, what I am talking about is impulse control – that concept that we try so hard to imprint on the consciousness of the adolescents in our lives. Now, there’s nothing “sexy” about impulse control. Once again we are asking ourselves to delay gratification. Why should we do that? Because living with regret lasts a lot longer than the satisfaction of a clever response.

I am in NO WAY suggesting that any of us become doormats. It is always appropriate to set limits. No one is required to endure cruelty. If you are living or working in a situation where someone who has the ability to seriously affect your life is mistreating you, it is important to take the time to strategize how best to handle this situation. You may want to discuss your problem with someone you trust as well as write about your feelings. Writing will help you to organize your thoughts. Do not share what you have written with the person who is causing you distress – it is far too personal and your position, at such times, may well be exaggerated.

It is never too late to respond. When you do respond, or, if you do respond, it should be after you have had the time to assess what your goals are for the outcome. If your objective is simply to hit back – let it go. You will do more damage to your own self-esteem than you will to the other person’s ego. If you are dealing with a stranger you will never see again, really think about if your reply is worth the energy you will expend. You want to take action in a way that will be beneficial to your overall well being. We are not looking for martyrs here, but for self-respecting, confident individuals who know that they have discipline and control when it comes to their emotions. Taking the time the circumstances require can be extremely powerful and is always a good choice.

Try to remember that when someone employs a hurtful and inappropriate outburst, it says far more about him or her than it does you. Really try not to take such tirades personally. No one controls another’s response. If someone tries to persuade you that you are responsible for his or her behavior, please know that you are not that influential. There are always several ways to react at any given time and we always choose the way we behave when we are stressed. You are responsible for no one but yourself.

The neutral zone is a place where you can feel safe and soothed. It is a good place to retreat to as you are deciding what to do. The neutral zone is a wonderful tool that is always available in times of unease. In the long run, it is better to be proactive than reactive. Do not give away your self respect, happiness and personal power, they belong to you and no one else.

Keep in mind that whatever is upsetting you today, no matter how disturbing, is still a small tile in the mosaic of your life.

“Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions" Steven Covey

 

Apr 2006 - Dorothy's Story

Dorothy is dying. She has terminal cancer. What makes this especially awful is that Dorothy, for months and months, has been telling her doctors that she is in pain. Her doctors prescribed Prilosec. Her doctors didn’t pay much attention to Dorothy’s complaints. They failed to consider the possibility that something was seriously wrong. The reason? Dorothy is mentally ill. She has been her entire adult life. These doctors, like so many of us, tend to overlook the cries for help from people suffering from chronic mental illness. They, like many of us, believe that such individuals are unreliable reporters. They, like many of us, forget that even those suffering from severe psychotic episodes have times of lucidity and have the right as human beings to be seriously listened to and treated with respect.

The stereotype for people who are afflicted with brain disorders is that they are permanently “out of it”. This formulaic view infects the way we look at people who have schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, and a host of other neurological disorders. Additionally, we tend to disregard the reporting of elderly and handicapped individuals, who exhibit no sign of thought disorder whatsoever. These people frighten us; make us fearful that we may be contaiged by their mere proximity. Our anxiety encourages us to devalue and distance ourselves from those who we are apprehensive we may become.

As a society we are excessively worried about the threat of loss of physical, and, more critically, mental acuity. We reassure ourselves that we are okay by separating ourselves from those we see as “less than” that which we believe ourselves to be. Rarely do we consider the possibility that those who are handicapped have anything to offer or that they have wisdom or information from which we could benefit. It is easier to write such individuals off, to pretend they don’t exist. How often do you meet the eye of someone who is in a wheelchair or is mentally challenged? Most of us have no idea of the extent to which we are cheating ourselves when we fail to offer kindness to those who do not fall within our artificially designed constructs.

Dorothy is one of life’s true champions. Although she was handed the fuzzy end of the lollipop in terms of her life’s possibilities, she is cheerful, friendly, and compassionate. During her hospitalizations Dorothy has been appreciative and considerate of those who are trying to help her. Over the years, Dorothy has conquered drug and alcohol addiction as well as a serious eating disorder. She has a large group of friends who love her and are there for her whether she is celebrating a birthday or recovering from the effects of chemotherapy. There are many of us who consider ourselves “normal” who would fail to face such challenges with Dorothy’s grace and acceptance.

We resist seeing ourselves as callous or cruel, but, often, we are. We don’t want to be reminded that the people we do not take into account have feelings that can be and are hurt by our insensitivity. We don’t want to be told that any one of us could find ourselves in their situation at some future time. Life often has a way of dealing to us that which we most fear.

Many great thinkers believe that compassion is the highest of human qualities. The practice of compassion requires us to reach beyond our fear of the “other”, discard our judgments, and recognize the humanity of those whose life circumstances differ from ours. This is not easy. However, a civilization that flaunts its heartless lack of mercy and understanding is hardly civilized. It is never too late to choose to live our lives differently; we have everything to gain and not one thing to lose.

"How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these." George Washington Carver

 

May 2006 - The Parentless Child

“I wish your parents were alive to see you. They would be so proud of you.” This is what my almost 92-year-old Aunt Sylvia said to me when I called to wish her a happy Mother’s Day earlier this month. Here I am, with more years behind me than ahead and those were the most warming and touching words I could have heard. I have not had parents for 19 years now, but it actually makes me glow to think that they would be proud of the person that I have become.

We all grow up being dependent on pleasing someone. Our knowledge of self and our personal set of moral principles develop and change as we gain life experience. A child, being reliant on the approval of others, has various standards that he/she is expected to live up to. A grown-up is expected to have all of this in place.

In school we received grades. As adults, there is no one to pass or fail us, and we learn to trust our own judgment. As children, our caretakers certainly let us know whether we were hitting or missing the mark. As adults, we understand that it can be difficult to evaluate a particular decision or action. We know now, that “right” and “wrong” are not absolutes. This makes everything a lot harder.

This may be a curious admission for a woman in the 21st century to make, but there are times when I wish there was a measure to guide me as I go along in the world. We live in a time where we are encouraged to think for ourselves and follow our passions. I have certainly encouraged those I work with to dig deep and learn what truly makes life a joy for her or him. Why is it then that I labor to reconcile the pull between my commitment to living independently and the longing for affirmation that originates outside myself? For me, this is an ongoing and everlasting struggle.

The experiences of childhood are a part of us; they are woven into the cloth of our being. We can no more expunge the lessons of our upbringing than change the century in which we live. We are imprinted with the yearning for approval that we experienced in childhood. This is not a bad thing, it simply is. We are all the children of the folks who raised us. Whether we are rebellious or docile, we are influenced by the values that were handed to us. Many of these values are held unconsciously, and we become aware of them only in times of crisis or confusion.

Unknowingly, many of us follow the mandates of our early years as if they were written in stone. There have been times in my life when I fully expected a hand to descend from the heavens and grab me by the throat when I chose to go along a heretofore-unsanctioned path. The child in me has been frightened. The adult has encouraged me to follow my heart.

It is so easy to forget that our parents were flesh and blood, the same as we. Most of them were following their own combination of inherited and autonomously decided rules for life. They were unconscious like we are. They were frightened as well. Moses did not descend from Mt. Sinai, as far as I know, and personally hand “new and revised” tablets of commandments to them or to us. We all tiptoe around, living the best possible lives we know how to live. Deciding the fundamental way to be in this world has become increasingly difficult, as we have progressed from generation to generation. When we reject a blind following of the “rules” we become responsible for our decisions. This is called growing up. It is a hard thing to do.

I am not embarrassed to say that there are times when I wish someone else were “in charge”. When I could be the recipient of an “A” or a gold star. I feel so fortunate to have an Aunt Sylvia. She is the last member of my family from my parents’ peer group. I want her to live forever.

As I embrace the pull I experience between the adult I am and the child I was, I do so knowing that a healthy stage of separation/individuation is successfully completed when we can integrate the old and the new. The task is made easier when those who preceded us in our families are still here to remind us of from whence we came. Part of our job, after they have passed on, is to internalize the wisdom they have given us. When we do this our former caretakers are available to us at will and we can use the recollection of their spirit as a reminder of some of the reasons we have become who we are.

I love and treasure my Aunt Sylvia both for who she is and for her connection to those who gave me life. I have given myself permission to look for and welcome her approval. I hope that all of you will turn to your “Aunt Sylvia’s” and allow yourselves to do the same.

“It is certain that memory contains not only philosophy
but all the arts and all that appertain to the use of life” Cicero

 

Jun 2006 - The Nature of Love

What is love? What does it look like? How does it feel? Of course, there are as many
answers as there are people who are or have been in love. While love is impossible to
measure, in this month of weddings, it seems worthwhile to try to understand why some
knots stay tied while others unravel.

Love cannot be forced. It’s there or it isn’t. So, when we spend time dreaming up a
plan or a way to convince someone that they love us we are wasting our time. It may be true
that the object of our affection doesn’t realize that he/she returns our devotion. When this
happens, efforts at manipulation and coercion will, ultimately, leave us high and dry. If the
“ lovee” cannot experience the feeling of returning your devotion you have, at best, a reluctant
and precarious partner in love.

I know, you’ve heard it 100 times, “you can’t expect someone to change”. That’s true.
It’s especially true when only one of you believes a change is in order. Long-lasting change
occurs when someone, out of love for self or the other agrees that adjustments are necessary
and is willing to take the steps necessary to realize the change. A healthy love includes
adjustments that benefit each party and the relationship as a whole. When couples are able to
think in terms of the welfare of their union, they are on the road to long-lasting satisfaction.

It seems to me that when you realize that something that you do, that is not crucial to
your happiness, is actually injurious to the person you love, it is not too much to give up that
conduct for the sake of love. This kind of letting go does not carry resentment along with it. If
resentment is what you feel, it’s wise to take a look at what’s really going on. If the
relationship feels unbalanced in terms of one person’s will dominating the other (unless both
of you like it that way) steps should be taken to restore equilibrium. The best relationships
allow for two full adults who feel free to be their true selves while remaining sensitive to the
sometimes-conflicting needs of the other.

Love is not mean-spirited. No matter how angry you are it is essential to remember
that your mate is the person you love. When you intentionally “go for the jugular” harm is
inflicted all the way around. There is nothing wrong with an honest, clean fight. Argue the
issue, explain your frustration, and agree to disagree. Do not, under any circumstance,
unleash a personal attack. When you go after your lover’s character, you are likely to inflict
irreparable damage. Do not wound the other person’s or your own self-respect in your efforts
to win an argument. It’s just not worth it. No matter how hurt or angry you are, you must
remind yourself that your significant other is not the enemy. When the heat of the moment
cools down, you don’t want to be left with a situation in which you both must scramble to
recover your self-respect. Love deserves to be protected.

The healthiest relationships allow each person to be completely and uniquely
themselves. While so many of us fear the familiarity that accompanies a true intimacy, the
truth is that nothing is as affirming and rewarding as knowing that there is someone in the
world who, as I like to say, “loves our guts”. The feeling of freedom and relief that
accompanies the knowledge that someone who knows everything about you still finds you
lovable is indescribable. It is important to remember that secrets have a way of leaking out or
otherwise poisoning a relationship.

You deserve to be loved for exactly who you are. When you twist yourself around in an
attempt to be the person you think your partner wants you to be, you are doing something
akin to slaughtering your own soul. You will never find lasting happiness under these
circumstances. Know yourself – who you are, what you value, and make sure you are in touch
with your dream of a life fulfilled.

Finally, it is close to impossible for love to survive over the long haul if both people do
not want the same thing. If one of you believes that a monogamous, committed relationship is the only way to go, which, by the way, is, from my experience, the way it must be, while the
other does not want his or her freedom compromised, you can be guaranteed that your
relationship will falter. As Maya Angelou says, “When someone tells you about themselves,
believe them.” It is better to take an honest look at what you are signing up for than spend
years unhappily waiting for the situation to change.

I believe in love. I believe in abiding love. If that is what you want, don’t give up; your
sweetheart may be just around the corner. Defy convention; refuse to hook up with someone
just because you’re expected to, and learn to listen to your heart. Open your arms to love, and
it will most certainly find you. Wishing that all your knots stay tied.

“Lovers do not hide their nakedness" Congolese Proverb

Jul 2006 - A Different Kind of Place

We just returned from our annual one-week stay in southern Vermont. I call it the land where all the children have unusual names and beautiful hand knit sweaters.mAlthough it’s hard to generalize, it seems to me that Vermont has a character and coda all its own. In some ways it feels like a throwback to the time when communes were more prevalent, and in others it seems like its own special type of aspirant utopia.

Of course, there is the beauty of the Green Mountains, which are a part of the Appalachian Mountain range. In the summer the mountains are brilliantly and breathtakingly green with amazing wild flowers like orange lilies, Queen Anne’s lace, cornflowers, forget-me-nots and many other species that effortlessly and reliably display their glory unabashedly for passers-by to enjoy.

Most of the time our cell phones did not work in Vermont. This depended on whether we were on the top or bottom of a hill. In some ways it was, as you can imagine, really inconvenient. On the other hand, being somewhat cell phone phobic as I am, it was a relief to be able to have a long conversation face to face without interruption

Where we were, near Brattleboro, there is, truly, a feeling of community. As a rule folks don’t lock the doors of their cars, neighbors know and help each other, and fathers don’t give lip service to being involved in their childrens’ lives, they really are. Whether I visited a toddlers’ swimming class or a music lesson, I could count on seeing Dads in the pool, drying wet heads, and tapping on tambourines.

Did I forget to mention the food? Well, that’s a very special pleasure and aspect of Vermont life. Organic produce is sold everywhere and is frequently right from the farm. Milk from cows that is free of growth hormones and other additives is easily attained. We even purchased milk in glass (recyclable) bottles. The food co-op in Brattleboro is truly that -- cooperative. Members agree to work assigned shifts in exchange for a reduced price for groceries. It is possible to buy everything from sesame seaweed salad to fresh-baked blueberry pies under its roof.

The restaurants in the area follow suit. While there is, of course, a McDonalds there are also numerous reasonably priced restaurants that feature just-cooked food produced by vendors who are known personally by the restaurateurs. On our way to Bennington, near Hogback Mountain, we saw bison steaks offered from animals that were raised at a nearby bison farm. Now, I would not be drawn to such an offering, but for those who are, you can’t get it any fresher than that!

Fashion is a non-issue in this section of southern Vermont. While I don’t believe I would want to give up some of my acculturated habits regarding make-up and simply pretty things to wear, I salute those women whose un-dyed hair, cosmetic-free faces and sturdy practical clothing are the norm. I admire the self-accepting atmosphere that encourages such practices.

As with many places to which I have journeyed, it was grand to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there full-time. Vermonters are sturdy souls, who adapt to frigid weather, and gloomy winter days. I know myself, and if the temperature were around freezing with a wind chill factor to boot, you would not be able to pry me from under a pile of quilts. This would be a huge problem because in that part of the country you will not find an abundance of home-delivered food and necessities. I would probably rather starve than face an unheated garage, not to mention the “great” outdoors.

The purpose of this treatise is not merely descriptive. Our vacation reminded me that there are many ways to live a life. When you get to know yourself, you gain a better understanding of what home feels like to you. My message to anyone who is living in an environment that doesn’t feel quite right is -- try something different. It is so easy to believe we are stuck, when in fact, much of the time change is possible. I’m not saying that it is easy to uproot and relocate. What I am saying is that only you know what suits your needs and brings you joy. Try very hard to resist the help-rejecting complainers who will try to convince you that your options are limited. Of course you will be required to give up certain things that you care about. However, you may find that there are many different kinds of places that suit you just fine. If you long to explore what’s out there, take a chance; adventure may be just around the corner.

"Everyday happiness means getting up in the morning, and you can't wait to finish your breakfast. You can't wait to do your exercises. You can't wait to get out -- and you can't wait to come home, because the soup is hot. " George Burns

 

Aug 2006 - Unexpected Blessings

When I met my husband 13 years ago, I had mixed emotions about the fact that he had sons aged 3 and 6. I had already raised my own kids and wasn’t especially eager to revisit the process. Sure, I appreciated that he was a responsible father. I understood that commitment is commitment and that this man knew how to do that. I just had no desire to “mother” young children again and made it very clear that if our relationship worked out, I was not prepared to have the boys live with us full-time.

Years passed, as they have a way of doing, we married, and the boys were definitely a part of our lives; sometimes for better and sometimes unquestionably for worse. Our most painful disagreements centered on family issues. “You don’t like my family!” “I am sick of hearing you say that – you hurt my feelings!” and on and on. We, like all couples had made assumptions of the trajectory the blending of two families would follow, and, unfortunately, we sometimes found ourselves with differing sets of expectations. Let me say, that even though both of us knew that this was “normal”, it was painful nonetheless.

Five years after we were married we moved from Boston to Bonita Springs. The dynamic had again shifted, and instead of weekend visits, it only made sense for the boys to stay for anywhere up to a month once they got here. Our new home had extra bedrooms, so the housing part of the adjustment became easier. The emotional tweaking was a lot more complicated.

I had waited a long time to meet someone like my husband and was never overly thrilled at having to share his attention. When we first got together, we would watch television in the evening glued together on the sofa. Eventually that fell by the wayside, but I jealously worked to keep the focus on the two of us. I know how selfish that sounds. I believed, and still do, that I had somehow stumbled on to the love of my life and wanted to savor every moment.

Let me be very clear, the boys were always nice to me. We did a lot of laughing when they were around and it was easy to feel love for them. They were always affectionate and loving toward me. Their father made it clear that we were both rule makers and enforcers. My problem was the rationing of time and attention. I couldn’t even kid myself about my motives. I knew that I was being unfair and childish, but I felt how I felt and that was it.

Then came the day I had most dreaded and resisted – for many complex reasons the boys were coming to stay. It’s probably a good thing that I had only one day’s notice; because I probably would have been foaming at the mouth by the time they arrived.

It was a tough move for all of us. The boys were not happy to be uprooted. They had to attend new schools that were about to close for the summer. Since bus service was not immediately available, I was recruited as a school dropper-offer and picker-upper and was less than delighted to be the oldest “mother” in the line of vehicles that dispensed and collected youngsters. As for my husband, although he loved having his sons live with us, he soon became swept up in the nonstop need for rides, extra milk, and problems that required discipline or consolation. We were all exhausted.

The boys were with us for more than a year. I would love to tell you that I stopped complaining and became a regular Mrs. Brady. Not so! When my hard drive was wrecked, my time taken hostage, and my husband out of energy for the types of quiet time discussions we used to have, I complained and groaned and counted the days until we were all set free.

Did I miss them after they left? No. I relished the peace and quiet that was left in their wake. Our 13 months of living as a nuclear family did, however, leave behind a stunning surprise. Despite the hassle and, sometimes, painful encounters, I had, while I wasn’t looking, come to love them as something more than stepchildren. Did I love them like a mother? No, it’s better than that. Living with the boys did not stir up guilt for past mistakes and I don’t feel responsible for their futures. The “boys” who are now verging on becoming “men” have become an essential part of my life. I feel their love for me. They give it freely and I know it is genuine. Whatever mistakes I have made as a mother with my own children have not rubbed off on my husband’s sons.

As to the lesson to be learned…once I embraced the people that the person I love loved, something I had never expected was revealed to me. The love was multiplied and intensified. My stepsons are favorite figures in the lives of my children’s children. There is more than enough love to go around for all of us.

I cannot imagine my life without my stepsons in it. It would be far more boring and I would miss them dearly. As they enter adulthood, I find myself trying to imagine who they will become. One thing I know for sure, they will continue to add excitement, frustration, and joy to the adventure I call my life. I love them with all my heart and always will.

"All who would win joy must share it; happiness was born a twin" Lord Byron

 

Sep 2006 - It's Best to Just Say It !

You must have, as you’ve gone through life, faced the dilemma as to whether or not to directly discuss an interaction that has been a problem for you vis-à-vis someone else. There may be many reasons to avoid a discussion. Some are healthy, others not. Whatever your decision, if you come to a resolution that is well thought-out in terms of a reasonable self-interest you are more likely to be satisfied with the outcome,

I am not proposing that you charge into the world with an emotional machete. You will not be happy (nor will many of the people you encounter) if you mow ‘em all down with your verbal tank. Instead, as you decide whether or not to directly address something that bothers you, as always, you must know yourself and what you can and cannot put up with.

Perhaps you are afraid of seeming petty. That happened to me, many years ago, at a conference .The woman sitting next to me was knitting. Every time she used her left hand her elbow poked me in the arm. It didn’t hurt. However, by the end of the day I was ready to wrap her up in her knitting and send her off to a sheep farm! Looking back on it I know that it would have been wiser to simply ask her to move over. Why didn’t I? It was a small thing; I didn’t want to seem unpleasant. What I discounted was that it was also extremely annoying and that by the end of the day my silence would leave me frustrated with her, and, more importantly, with myself.

Your circumstance may be that this is someone who simply insists on having his or her way. The trick to this is to understand that, without realizing it, that person is behaving like a bully. What do we do with bullies? We stand up to them. It’s not necessary to handle this with aggression. Just, calmly, say, “No, I’d rather do it this way”. If you don’t do this when it’s something that feels important to you, you will find yourself resenting and avoiding that person and feeling unwarranted and unneeded antipathy Why put yourself through that?

This is the rule of thumb: If all things are equal in terms of actual need, it makes no sense (emotionally) to always put your own wishes aside. Your dominating friend will probably be shocked that you’ve changed, but you can, good-naturedly, acknowledge that this is the new you and you want to participate in the decision-making process.

Finally, there is the famous “Ignoring the elephant under the rug”. My clients hear about this from me until they’re blue in the face. This occurs when there is a large, sensitive issue between you and another, and your fear is that to address it could cause a serious rupture in the relationship. Now, I can’t guarantee what the outcome will be, but I can promise you that, as long as you ignore what’s going on, you will be tripping all over that elephant. Furthermore, it will begin to stink! That elephant will not simply go away. Most of the time, a tactful discussion, in which you reveal your true feelings, without blaming the other person for those feeling (they are yours after all), will allow you begin to heal what has gone wrong between the two of you.

Sometimes, a relationship will blow up when you attempt to address a problem. When this happens, be very careful as you frame your response. In fact, give yourself time to think about how you want to handle the situation. It’s much better to put your reply on “hold” than to lash out in a way that you will later regret.

It’s very easy to forget that the other person also has a stake in this and probably wants to keep you in his/her life. If the outcome is disastrous, of course, it will hurt. You will probably review the events that led you to this point and you may regret that you didn’t let things “slide”. Try to remember that if you had avoided the discussion you would have been stuck with a big, smelly elephant as your sidekick and that would get pretty old. Additionally, if a discussion of the problem leads to a rupture, you can be quite certain that your bond to the other person was already severely weakened. If the situation cannot be righted, you have the small comfort of knowing that you did the best you could. The point here is that, in the long run, it is always a mistake to keep yourself in a situation that is damaging to your self-esteem.

Look, none of this is easy. I struggle with these issues the same as you. I have, on occasion, lost relationships that were very important to me. These losses still hurt. I do believe, however, that, prized connections must include honesty. You can’t be close and hold a bitter taste simultaneously. It’s important to clear the air for the sake of love and respect, yours and the other person’s. It has been my experience that when two people have successfully gone through a struggle increased trust and understanding are the result.

Genuinely caring connections are a large part of what makes life worth living. Wishing all of you the love and respect that you truly deserve.

"Kindness is the only service that will stand the storm of life and not wash out. It will wear well and will be remembered long after the prism of politeness or the complexion of courtesy has faded away" Abraham Lincoln

Oct 2006 - The Me They'll Never Know

I am at the stage of life in which my children are grown and have families of their own. My children think they know me. It’s understandable that they think that, I have been their mother longer than I was not their mother. They do not, however, know the things I saw, the experiences I experienced, what it was like to be the child of my parents, or what it meant to grow up in the 50’s in Washington, D.C., a predominantly southern city at that time.

Is this important? It is to me. Childhood sets the stage for the rest of our lives. It is the time when we are the most impressionable. The stamp of childhood is the core of our character. When I think about the things that contribute to the inexhaustible reality of the generation gap, I have a new appreciation for all that I don’t know, and never can, about my parents in the years that shaped who they were to become. We can study the times that preceded our own, but we will never have the taste, smell, and feel for the texture of those times.

When I grew up children could go out to play in the morning and not return home until it was time for dinner. Our parents rarely worried about where we were. It was my job to break the ends off of string beans or shell peas as part of the preparation for the family dinner. When the weather was nice, I would sit on the front steps of our apartment building so that I could have fresh air (it was really fresh then) while I completed my tasks. I remember the lilac trees that lined the back of the property on which we lived, multitudes of butterflies, lightning bugs, and endless searches for four-leafed clovers.

We were the first people on our block to get a television. My parents would leave the door open so that neighbors could crowd into our tiny living room, while the overflow stood in the hall and sat on milk boxes as they waited to experience this exciting new form of entertainment. We watched boxing, Kukla, Fran and Ollie, and Bishop Sheen. Everyone knew everyone else and the fear of strangers was not a part of our daily life.

This is not to say the times were perfect. We were very afraid of polio, and McCarthy was busy stirring up paranoia about Communism, but I don’t remember ever feeling personally unsafe. People pretty much stayed put in those times. It was a shock when our across the hall neighbors moved away when I was nine. I had never known a life without “Uncle” Nick, “Aunt” Nina, and their son Bobby, who was the first boy I fell in love with. I had little experience of the loss of people I was accustomed to seeing every day, and can remember wondering if life could really go on without them.

I was an only child, so there were no sibs to share the feel of my childhood. That pleases me. I love having my private memories. My daughter has often asked me what it was like to grow up then. I can provide her with descriptions and tell her stories, but there is no way to convey to her the gestalt of those times. I know that I was lucky to have experienced an era that now seems so innocent compared to the world in which we now reside. Today, so many of us are concerned about “power” and “control”. We didn’t think in those terms when I was growing up. There was no arguing that our parents were the bosses and competition between friends simply wasn’t as prevalent as it is today. We were enfolded in the feeling of “plenty”. We didn’t worry about getting into colleges; there was room for everyone who wanted to go. We were not obsessed with collecting “things”. In fact, my mother was of the opinion that the more you had the more you had to dust. No one who was in the middle class was concerned about paying medical bills – if you needed a doctor he would, frequently, come to see you.

It may sound like I long to go back, but that’s not true. I have been fortunate in that, in large part, I have lived the life I want. Some of the things that I was taught to believe in ended up betraying me. There have been controversial and seemingly risky decisions I have made that have turned out really well. Mine has not been a cookie-cutter existence and that suits my personality. It pleases me is that there was a time when I knew few of the people who are actively in my life today. As I look back over the arc of my years it is intriguing to me to recognize how both the world and I have changed.

Sometimes it’s so easy, when times are difficult, to believe they will last forever. Take a walk down memory lane. No matter what your past was like, you moved on. Take heart from this knowledge, and know that life’s pages are always turning and, somewhere, in your past, you garnered the tools you will need for today and tomorrow.

"All of childhood's unanswered questions must finally be passed back to the town and answered there. Heroes and bogeymen, values and dislikes, are first encountered and labeled in that early environment. " Maya Angelou

 

Nov 2006 - An Overlooked Blessing


All of us know to give thanks for our families, health, prosperity and the cumulative graces in our lives that allow us to live well. One of our most important gifts however is, as a rule, taken for granted. It is rarely, if ever, appreciated. What I am talking about is the marvel of our own physical being, the home we live in, ourselves.

We worry that we are too fat or thin or have bags under our eyes. We rush to the hair salon to ensure that our gray roots don’t show, and fret over the fact that our physical selves, over time, have seemed to drift downward. I understand – I’m right there with you. It’s been years since I’ve seen my “real” hair and I don’t intend to get to know it at any time in the foreseeable future. At the same time I am aware that there’s a lot that’s inherently wrong with this degree of self-focus, and, even worse, self-criticism. Whatever causes us distress; whatever permits us to feel badly about ourselves requires a looking at. So, I invite you to join me on a journey toward greater self-love.

Like it or not, we are engineered to change. We would not choose to have a brain that stalled at the age of sixteen (just imagine, a world full of teen-agers!), why are we shocked and disappointed when our bodies adjust as we age? Of course we live in a youth-worshipping culture. Does this mean that we lack the ability to decide for ourselves what is beautiful, positive, and worthwhile? If we don’t exercise our right to independent thought, why have we thrust aside such an important privilege? To paraphrase football coach Bill Parcells, “It’s the people who are able to ignore the fact that others are looking who are the most successful”. I don’t even like Bill Parcells, but I will agree with him on this point.

Ultimately, the world will treat you the way you treat yourself. Women, in particular, are browbeaten into seeing everything that’s wrong with their physical appearance. Worse yet, we have a tendency to devalue our smarts, humor, and spirit. When you see it written out, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? I don’t know about you, but I was always quite certain that by the time I was 50 I would be wearing orthopedic shoes, an apron over a flowered dress, and have white, short-cut, curly hair. Well, I passed the 50-year marker a while ago, and am still not ready to embrace that particular image. What happened?

Well, one thing that changed is a health consciousness that has encouraged many of us to eat well, continue to move, and use our brains. Our grandmothers (or great grandmothers) didn’t know that vitality after middle age (whenever that is) was an option. The idea of matriarch or patriarch has shifted. More of us have access to fitness centers, videos, and health-conscious groups. That we employ these aides is terrific. When we become discouraged that we cannot transform ourselves into the 25-year-olds we once were. The resultant disappointment is the consequence of unrealistic expectations.

Each of us has the ability to love who we are at this particular time. We must, however, make the choice to do just that. Think about it. Don’t you think you deserve to give yourself this particular reward? I don’t care what your age is, if you want to flirt – flirt! If you want to try a new fashion – try it. Maybe you like very bright colors or want to learn to skateboard. Take a crack at whatever it is you want to do and don’t let somebody’s displaced ageism stop you. Would you rather take a chance or hold on to a regret for opportunities you’ve allowed to pass you by. Just because you’ve reached a certain stage in your life does not mean you have to throw in the towel and merely tolerate your existence.

The real truth is, if you’ve raised your kids, given them the tools for success in life; if you’ve endured the pain of failing parents or their loss; if you’ve worked hard and done the things you, or others, have expected you to, don’t you think it’s time to rejoice in your accomplishments? You don’t need anyone’s approval, except your own. So, if you think you look good and are doing great, trust your judgment and choose to be a spectacular 45, 53, 67, 72, or 85 year-old and celebrate your face, body, spirit, and everything that makes you, YOU!

Learn to appreciate your eyes, your limbs, your stride, and everything else that allows the rest of us to recognize who you are. Try to understand that you are an example of everything that’s perfect just as it is. If you were meant to be different, you would be! I suggest that this holiday season you remember to be thankful for yourself. You’re one of a kind, there will never be another you. People like you and I, though mortal of course like everyone else, do not grow old no matter how long we live...

"[We] never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born." Albert Einstein

 

Dec 2006 - Oh No – I’m One of Them!


I recently read an article in the New York Times about the decline of conversational skills in a world of cell phones, i pods, and computers. Well that got me to thinking. As a therapist, it’s the nature of my work to converse with people all day. The ability to hear what they have to say with accuracy and compassion is key. So, for a brief moment I was puffed up with pride at the thought that I, among the few, am causal in keeping the civilized in civilization. I should have thought about it a little longer.

Do you get nuts when you stand in a line? I do. My anxiety level soars to a point where you would think the grocery store would refuse to take my money or that I was on “The Amazing Race” and they were about to run out of tickets. What’s with that? It makes no sense to be resentful when the cashier is having a brief and pleasant encounter with the customer who is 2 ahead of me in line. What is the disaster I believe will occur if it’s necessary to wait a little longer? Is my house going to burn down? Will I be punished for arriving home 5 minutes later than planned? Do I take it as a personal insult that I am being asked to wait? You see, I know that I am being annoying when I tap my fingers, hum, and sigh, at the audacity of those ahead of me who dare to keep me waiting. Yet, such histrionics pour out of me with mindless intensity. If I were watching me, I would declare myself to be obnoxious.

It has been increasingly apparent to me over the past couple of years that there is a growing sense of entitlement in the air. We are not talking about the narcissism discussed by Christopher Lasch in The Culture of Narcissism. This excellent, groundbreaking book was a comment on the “me-niss” of the 1980’s. Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities addressed this issue in fictional form. Entitlement goes beyond narcissism in that those of us so afflicted believe that not only are we entitled to what we, personally have worked for, but also the “riches” of others.

In my practice I have encountered an astounding number of families in which there is shockingly bitter feuding over the cutting off of support by those who are perceived to hold the family wealth. A terrible case written up in a magazine told of a son who actually had his mother arrested (on trumped-up criminal charges) because she decided to help him in the way she felt she could rather than the way in which he wished. What is this? Do we lay blame at the feet of Generation X, Y, or Z? Have we, as parents and guides, prepared the ground on which this particularly ugly shrub is allowed to grow and thrive? I really am not sure.

It has been well documented that we are using up our natural resources. Your child or grandchild can no longer go to college and expect a plentiful number of job opportunities upon graduation. It has been projected that those who follow the baby-boomers will be the first generation that not only will not make more money, but will also live shorter lives than their parents. There is often the feel (unlike the postwar ‘50’s) that there is simply not enough to go around. This feeling of shrinking supplies was compounded by the fall of the dot coms. Young people made unheard of sums of money. Many of them, who knew nothing of deprivation, were quite unprepared for the collapse of that segment of the economy and found themselves starting over.

So, you may ask, what does this have to do with “waiting in line” impatience? When I dig down to discover what is going on with me, I realize that any form of being put on hold increases my level of anxiety. It’s rather like a mild form of being in survival mode. Now, of course I know this makes no logical sense. It does, however, make psychological sense. Given my personal set of demons and self-doubts (we all have them, you know), combined with the generalized sense of unease prevalent in the world today, I can get a handle on why no one wants me behind them in line and promise to try to adopt a more considerate attitude.

So, we are left with a conundrum – what to do about an environment in which we would rather e-mail than talk? Are we truly happy in our insular computerized lives in which we can, for the most part, avoid dealing face to face with those who “make” us feel uncomfortable. What have we gained? What have we lost? The true answers lie in what makes sense for each of us, individually. However, at a time of mass human cruelty it makes a great deal of sense to think beyond our corporal presence and take into account that, as the old, yet true, saying goes, “What goes around comes around.”

At this time of New Year; new beginnings; it might be a good idea to think about what we wish to “come around” to us as we plow through this adventure we call life. May all your wishes be wise ones, and may they all come true.


"Some people grumble because roses have thorns;
I am thankful that the thorns have roses." Alphonse Karr

 

Jan 2007 - It’s About Keepin’ On Keepin’ On

It’s hard, when you’ve tried your best to accomplish, overcome, or succeed at something over time, and it seems that you continually fail. I know, I’ve been there. It’s easy to give up hope and feel (at least at the time) that your life is over. I know, I’ve been there too.

The people who fascinate me are the ones who, despite being given very little to build on, put together meaningful lives. In other words, I am inspired by stories of courage, of human will, motivation, and the willingness to accept a less than perfect situation and then put together a life that works.

Many of us have had a dream of the life we want for ourselves. This is a good thing – if you can’t dream it you can’t have it. The problem comes when we become irrevocably married to that dream. Circumstances change in life, and often the original dream becomes impossible to achieve in exactly the way we had anticipated. Those who have found contentment in their lives do not spend their time worrying about poor decisions, or the misfortunes of fate. Instead, they recognize that there are many paths that will lead us to the life to which we aspire. Freud got it right when he wrote that what we really need to make us happy is work and love. In other words, we need to feel useful and connected.

Obviously, there must be some realism connected to the dream. You can’t expect a dog to sing an aria. If you can get in touch with what you really want to feel, you will, with persistence, find your way to success. You may not be able to be a football player, but, if it’s hero worship you want, there are many different ways to make that happen. If you’re looking for an intense experience, go for that. If you want to be involved in sports, playing the sport is not the only option open to you.

The key (as always) is to know yourself and to understand where your yearnings lie. Be sure that you think carefully about what you want. Few things feel as bad as achieving your success only to find that it leaves you hollow. There aren’t “good” and “bad” things to desire, you just want to try to make as good a fit as possible. See if you can get beyond the goal and imagine how you will feel once you reach it. It’s a pretty good bet that you will be back with Dr. Freud, and that what you crave is, after all, work and love.

It is not necessary for your aim to be for something on the grand scale. Not everyone is cut out to handle that. Know that every time you are kind to someone you contribute to your world. If you want to work with lepers in Calcutta, go do it. Not all of us, however, are destined to be Mother Theresa.

How, you may ask, do we know when we’re doing what we’re meant to do? Well, take a good look in the mirror. You are not searching for signs of aging or beauty. What you are trying to find out is if you like the person who is looking back at you. You are not trying to ascertain if that person has done everything “right” – right and wrong are often hard to define. See if the person looking back is well intentioned, is honest with him/herself, lives by his/her own values. You must be compassionate with yourself. Compassion is one of the most important building blocks of humanity. Without it, we are always “less than”.

Try very hard not to worry about what others may think. As I have said before in this newsletter, “they” do not exist. There will always be a pull from those linked up to you to do things the way they do them. You will find this effort from family, friends, and, sometimes, strangers. People want us to be like them so that they can feel more secure about the choices they’ve made in their own lives. We do it too. Everyone does. Try to know, in your heart, that you are the ultimate decision-maker in the path you choose, and only you are responsible for your ultimate journey.

I thank Bob Dylan who was the first to tell me to “keep on keepin’ on”(in his song). We really have no other choice. If we don’t take the risk of listening to our own voices, we find ourselves facing disappointment at best and in the worst cases despair. A good, and very sad, example of this is in the book The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne by Brian Moore. If you recognize yourself in Judith Hearne, I beg you to take this as a cautionary tale. Your details may differ, but the feelings will resonate.

Finally, what I hope you will believe is that is never to late to find your happiness. Love and work are available to us at every stage of our lives. For some it arrives when they are young, others wait. Life is always ready to surprise us. Shake up your old thought patterns. Stop living on automatic pilot. Think about what you could and would like to do differently (not what you “should” do). Take a chance, open your heart, and change your routine. The Dali Lama says that the purpose of life is to be happy. Not a bad idea.

"At the center of your being you have the answer;
"You know who you are and you know what you want." Lao-tzu

 

Feb 2007 - Face Yourself

“ Every morning, Kitty Carlisle Hart gazes at herself in her dressing-room mirror and says, ‘I forgive you for whatever you did yesterday. ‘When I ask her how she evolved this philosophy, she says, ‘It all goes back to my mother.’” The above is a quote from an article in March’s “Vanity Fair” that was written by Michael Feinstein. Kitty Carlisle Hart, who is 96, is currently performing in a sellout nightclub act. WOW! What a woman! Did she have a smart mom or what?! Kitty Carlisle Hart gets it; this is the essence of what makes life wonderful and allows us to live it with jam-packed enthusiasm. Forgiving, liking, appreciating you, that’s what it’s all about.

Look, no one starts out saying, “I will be an alcoholic, unfaithful, untrustworthy, or mean. Traits of this type develop as we accept self- and other-imposed guilt. Nothing is more damaging and life wasting than the belief that past acts irrevocably damn us beyond the point of recovery. Is it important to take responsibility for the things we do? Of course it is. However, when we do not allow ourselves to learn about how to live as we go along, we prevent ourselves from growing into the talented, unique individuals that we are intended to be. What a waste.

It is never too late to have a good life. It is never too late to do our part to make the world we live in a better place. If Kitty Carlisle Hart can develop and perform in a nightclub act (that people are clamoring to see) at the age of 96, how can we possibly insist that it is too late to find the love, efficacy, and meaning in our own lives?

Why do we label ourselves as “bad” when we make mistakes? What is this perfectionism we convince ourselves we must attain? Who has given us an effective, workable definition of perfection? If any of you know, please pass your answers along to me.

Self-acceptance, love and liking are what it’s all about. No one but you knows what’s truly in your heart. Do you struggle with feelings of anger, envy, scorn, or bitterness? Why not try trusting that these are normal human feelings and that the challenge is not to obliterate them from your psyche but to know they are a part of you and that the challenge is to figure out what to do with them?

I have worked with so many clients, who believe that at the age of 30, 45, whatever, their chances of finding love are doomed to failure. Why do perfectly in touch believe this? Do we become less lovable because we have (hopefully) acquired wisdom? Let me tell you something, a good-looking face and great body lose their appeal when the person owning them treats you with disrespect or callousness. If you have been accepting this type of treatment and still believe that you love this person, it is possible that you are looking to feel better about yourself through someone else’s attributes. WAKE UP! This is not the royal road to happiness. When you start to believe that you are lucky because this beautiful, wealthy, glamorous person pays attention to you, you are about to get lost in the woods. Worse yet, if you feel that you must convince or (heaven forbid) beg someone to love you, it is not love that you are seeking, it’s something else and that something else will, inevitably, turn on you.

We are encouraged so often in our society to “make connections”, spend our time with those who further whatever aspirations we may have. How often do such relationships feel especially comfortable? Are we relaxed as we pursue these associations? Maybe sometimes we do make real friends this way. We are not, however, accustomed or encouraged to pay attention to how we feel in this person’s or that group’s company. We all need to spend time with people who really care about us. Neglect the necessity of genuine caring and at some point you will find yourself feeling kind of empty and not knowing why.

This brings us back to the original point of this newsletter. Treat yourself with kindness and compassion. Look in that mirror and see what is right about you. Break the habit of seeing your “faults”. If you want a life that’s exciting and true to who you are, stop looking around, put on your blinders, trust your smarts, your heart and your instincts.

Sure, there will be people who believe they hold all truth and feel entitled to sit in judgment of those around them. Their dirty little secret is that they cannot tolerate their own flaws and are distracting themselves by concentrating on what they think are yours. They’re NOT important! If you find yourself doing that (and you will) – knock it off! Practice empathy and appreciation. You will be happier and will find that the shackles that restrain you, that trash your passions and fill you with insecurity will dissolve into the atmosphere. When that occurs, you will discover your joy and the wonder that is you.


"Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it." Salvador Dali (1904 - 1989)

 

Mar 2007 - My Hero

When I first met him, there was no reason to think that he would become a significant person in my life. On the surface, we had nothing in common. I was fascinated by him because of our differences – he grew up in a rough neighborhood, had lived a Tom Sawyeresque adolescence after his parents moved to the suburbs, and had hitchhiked across the country for a good two years, just seeing what there was to see. I, coming from a more circumscribed conventional background tried on, vicariously, the sensation of personal freedom that he exuded. As a semi-good girl wishing to experience more adventure, I loved to hear of his escapades and the intensity and drama that were a part of his life. I had no notion of the impact he would have upon mine.

He was one of the funniest people I have ever met. Our sense of humor just meshed. When I told him that we must have been separated at birth, his response was “only in the twilight zone!” We laughed in the morning, evening, and, in fact, for the better part of each day. He was unusually strong and quick and I knew that, physically, I would always be safe when I was with him. In time I learned that emotional safety was mine as well. Did I mention he was a great looking guy? Well, he was. I did the only thing I could – I married him.

Shortly after we married I was diagnosed with breast cancer. He was strong and sensitive and there for me every step of the way. He took me to 36 radiations and managed to turn each treatment into a treat with his kindness, thoughtfulness, and, again, his humor. Because he was with me, cancer was just a blip on the radar for me. I know that sounds impossible, but it’s true. While we lived in Boston he successfully started a plastering business from scratch. He has never been one to shy away from hard work or to avoid a risk. We probably would have stayed in Boston, except for the cold. He was developing aches that were exacerbated by the glacial winters and we decided to move to Florida with its milder climate.

We have been happy in Florida. He has worked for two companies down here. One was a bad experience. The other was the place we believed, until recently, he would stay until he retired.
Over the past year, my husband has been diagnosed with a series of serious and nearly unbearable ailments, none of them, thankfully, fatal. All of them, however, have left him in a state of chronic pain and some of the medication and surgeries he has had to endure have made him quite ill. He doesn’t complain he doesn’t surrender. His unshakable self-confidence and get-up-and-go have kept him working and planning and dreaming of our plans for the future. One trait we have in common is that we never give up. I often tell people that if we’re ever defeated it will be self-caused, we will never grant that kind of clout to anyone who dwells on our periphery.

I am awed by my husband’s courage. He is a man of his word, and despite his personal circumstances is always available to help when someone needs him. When we lived in Boston, despite the fact that he was struggling to build a business, he always had a donation for anyone who was down on their luck; especially if they were old, or sick, or suffered from a disability. He defines the term, “generosity of spirit”. I have always said about him, that if he had 50¢ to spare he would give $5 to someone who needed it.

Those he has gone that extra mile for have not always appreciated my husband. A couple of weeks ago he was laid off by his employer who had, in December, gifted him with a 5-year gold ring and praised his loyalty at the company Christmas party. You might expect that the shock of this termination would have stopped him. Anyone who knows him understands that that would never happen. He has wasted no time forming his own construction company with a friend and will do, whatever it takes, while ignoring the reality of his pain in order to build a successful, honorable business in which the people he has worked for and with will know that they were treated well.

I am so lucky. The fates have given me the opportunity to live with a man I love, respect, admire, and learn from. He has taught me to keep my eye on the goal and to never, ever, give away my strength to anyone else. As a therapist, I am often asked who I turn to when I have a problem. The answer is, to the amazing man I was fortunate enough to find and keep as my partner for life.
It has always been my opinion that if one person can accomplish something it proves the task can be done. As many of you know, those who rise above the odds inspire me. It has been an amazing privilege to live with someone who is the living embodiment of what I define as courage, and, more importantly living a life with grace.

We will never throw in the towel. We know that self-pity is a waste of time. Life may not progress in exactly the way we pictured it, but whatever happens, we will do what we can to appreciate what we do have, make the most of the talents available for us, and know that the road to happiness can meander in many different directions along the way. As always, I urge you to look inside. Get to know what it really takes to make your heart sing, and don’t give up until you find it. Your bliss may come wrapped in an unusual package. Take care to nurture and protect it – it is your bliss after all.

“To measure the man, measure his heart." Malcolm Stevenson Forbes

 

Apr 2007 - What Happened To Tender?

This month’s newsletter addresses a conundrum that has existed as long as folks have sought relationships. That is, forever. In my practice, and my life, I have met both men and women who, in their desire to escape the grim reaper, discard their long-time partners with the fantasy that they can outrun time. It sounds silly when you see it written, but believe me, it is a serious matter for both rejectors and rejectees.

Look, no one cheers the prospect of losing vitality, opportunity or hope. Most of us would say that, when the time comes, we would prefer to die in our sleep at a time when our “powers” have not yet diminished. What we may fail to take into consideration is the consolation of the wisdom that makes it possible for us to understand our personal core values and to focus on the things that we treasure. It is not possible to have that insight when we are very young. When we dedicate our time to escaping the fearful inevitable, we literally throw away the richness we have at hand. In these circumstances, we surrender our gifts to the illusion that we can obtain eternal youth. It would be a lot quicker and easier on everyone involved to go to St. Augustine, Florida, take a drink from Ponce de Leon’s famed fountain, and be done with it.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not recommending that you stay the course with someone who treats you poorly. If you, like so many of my clients, find yourself apologizing for who you are, for your very being, get out of that situation as quickly as possible. What I am talking about is a circumstance in which the partner who wishes to break the bond can acknowledge that he/she stills feel love for the person he/she is about to abandon. One woman I know has fretted about leaving her husband of many years because she thinks she may find love. She freely acknowledges that she already has love. So, why bother?

When I encounter a situation like this, I am pretty sure that this person is watching the sands of time and is afraid that she is missing out on something. It is of course her decision to make. What worries me is that she will realize, down the road, after the novelty of a possibly new relationship wears off, that life has all the old problems and that she discarded someone with whom she had shared a significant portion of her time. It would be pretty hard for this woman to escape the feelings of regret and guilt that will then contaminate whatever newer relationship she has established.

Don’t you want the person and/or people that are closest to your heart to be there for you should you encounter an illness or other difficult circumstance? I certainly do. If you don’t, you are probably not deeply attached to anyone in particular. That’s great if it works for you. For those who are emotionally involved in a sincere and genuine relationship, however, the presence and attention of the beloved is important beyond measure.

Are you reluctant to display your vulnerabilities? It can be hard to do that. I would like to suggest that you give it a try. There are few things that are as comforting as knowing that someone knows everything about you (all your warts and pimples) and, loves you nevertheless. Of course, I am not suggesting that you stop the next person you encounter and spill it all. Choose the person who is always there for you. As you allow another to experience what you fear, love, hope for and feel shamed about, you will find that it becomes easier to face yourself without cringing. Theoretically, we know that we are all “just human”. Many of us, however, secretly suspect that our “defects” are deeper and darker than those of anyone else. Bringing your mortification into the light will allow you to gain perspective and to treat yourself with a compassion that might have been mislaid.

It’s time to start understanding that physical vitality is far from the only measure of a human being. Our culture encourages us to think that way. When we can understand the reality of our transience and make peace with it (not an easy thing to do) we do gain an inner peace that will draw others into our sphere. Think about the people that you spend time with that leave you feeling calm and good about yourself. Often, you will find, that such a person is in a place of harmony within him/herself.
Looking at another and holding them responsible for what we believe is missing in our lives is a distortion of reality. Hold on tight to those you do love. Minimize your contact with individuals who are hurtful or are so self-involved that they are incapable of appreciating who you are (except as a mirror on themselves). Honor yourself by maintaining an awareness of your abilities. Your life will be as happy as you allow it to be.

"Animals are reliable, many full of love, true in their affections, predictable in their actions, grateful and loyal. Difficult standards for people to live up to."
Alfred A. Montapert

 

May 2007 - It’s a Shame

Earlier this month I saw an interview with a woman whose son had died in Iraq. She said that when her son was home on leave, shortly before he was killed, she had apologized to him. When he asked her why she said, “I’m sorry I wasn’t the mother I wanted to be”.

I find this to be almost unbearably sad. Many of us tend to do this to ourselves. We set impossibly high standards and then feel ashamed when we have, inevitably, failed to live up to our own expectations. I’m sure that the mother who was interviewed was a great mom. She didn’t see herself as the source of all truth. She did the best she knew how to do. No one can ask more of her or himself than that.

So often we use the past to self-flagellate. This is not where the value of what went before is to be found. Our memories serve us well when we use them to summon up joyful events and people. They add to the richness of our existence. They provide the depth. We also learn from mistakes we believe we have made. It’s far more productive to use the insight we have acquired than to sink into remorse. When we ruminate upon things we did and didn’t do, say and didn’t say, we are really trying to gain some control over times gone by. If we believe that we are causal in the way matters turned out, we grant ourselves a certain amount of power. Even when this is painful it is less stinging than acknowledging that we have little control over the events in our lives. The world will continue to spin whether or not we said or did the “right” thing. It may be frightening, but is, indeed, necessary to come to terms with that fact.

We are especially vulnerable when it comes to our treatment of those we are particularly attached to. The parent we disrespected, the friend we turned our back on, the lover who wanted something different than we did. These are the people about whom we often torment ourselves. True, we may be important in their lives, but we are not that important. While we are castigating ourselves the vast majority of these people have gone on and actually enjoyed the times that followed.
Look, ultimately, each one of us is responsible for our own life. It is misguided to blame others for what we have done. The reverse is also true. If you find yourself drowning in guilt it helps to visualize that guilt as a ball that is tossed to you (by yourself or another). Learn to recognize that awful feeling of self-reproach (it can be pretty sneaky and hard to distinguish). When the “ball” is thrown to you DO NOT pick it up! It is toxic and can only cause harm.

Most of us are well intentioned. When we behave “badly” it is usually because we are frightened, shamed, or confused. When certain buttons get pushed, any one of us is likely to respond in a way that leaves us less than satisfied. It would be so much healthier if we could just accept that certain things happened. If we don’t feel good about the outcome, we always have the option of behaving differently the next time. As “human” beings, we will, inevitably, disappoint ourselves in certain situations.

There are many things in my life that if I could, I would do differently. I accept, however, that I cannot. What I can do is be the best possible me right now. I’m lucky, in the work I do; I can see that clients find my counsel to be helpful. It’s sort of like getting an “A” in school (& I loved A’s). Take some time to think about the kindness and help that you extend to others. It is so easy for many of us to focus on what we view as our mistakes. It’s much wiser to acknowledge the truth, which is that when we are compelled to choose an action we are wise to choose one that allows us to be true to ourselves. It’s not so important to be right, it is important to be authentic.

Do you enjoy the company of those who put on a façade? Those who are so fearful of judgment that they hide behind an elaborate mask that has been years in the making? I don’t. Give me a straight-talking man or woman who let’s me know what they want. I’ll take that over someone who panders to me any day of the week. It’s frustrating to attempt to have a relationship in which one is expected to be a mind reader. I’m not sure about you, but my crystal ball never has worked properly.

We try so hard to be better, when the truth is that what’s really needed is for each of us to be exactly who we are. Until we find a scale that can give an accurate measure of our behavior, it’s best to limp along doing the best we can. Hey, even A’s are subjective! Don’t live with regret. Convert the lessons you have learned into wisdom. If we all did that, we would be well on the road to peace and contentment. You’ve done just fine. You will continue to do just fine. Enjoy your life you deserve it.

"A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval." Mark Twain

 

Jun 2007 - Avoiding the Merge

What do we mean when we say we have an intimate relationship? I guess there are as many definitions as there are people. One of the big problems inherent in such liaisons is that of holding on to ourselves as we join with another. Is it required that we become less of who we are? How do we find a balance? Why does getting thisclose strike fear in our hearts?

One of the misconceptions we have is that to be truly close, we must tear down our fences and expose ourselves in our entirety to our beloved. That may be a worthwhile long-term goal, but there is no urgent requirement that compels us to expose our souls in the getting to know you stage of coming together.

Look, once upon a time we were all helpless babies. Well-meaning but fallible caretakers who, inevitably, misread the cues sent out by our infant selves nurtured us. That was, I believe, the genesis of our lifelong apprehension about trusting and revealing too much. These misgivings buried themselves deep in our unconscious, waiting for the opportunity to resurface. Resurface they did when we encountered someone to whom we were tempted to reveal our true selves, including our vulnerabilities.

To one extent or another, we all have to deal with early missteps, as we evolve into adults. Some of us are lucky; we encounter someone who teaches us that we can remain safe as we approach self-disclosure.

I have been one of the lucky ones. It’s not that I had any secrets, deep, dark or otherwise, I did have, however, some painful insecurities and parts of myself that I was pretty sure no one could possibly accept. Happily, my then boyfriend (now my husband), refused to allow me to pull away. Howling, I would let him know that he couldn’t expect me to enter into a healthy relationship now when I had never had one before. I would tell him that he simply had to leave; there was no way I was going down that path (to happiness). He would simply look at me, cross his arms and say, “Tough, you’re stuck with me”. Believe me, the therapist (me) who had been helping couples for years, had no personal experience with what it took to have a solid, committed love relationship.

So, I implore you, trust me on this one. The first, and most difficult part of this is that you must choose the right person. If you are experiencing push/pull or someone who builds him/herself up by putting you down, head for the hills! As soon as you are in the position of proving yourself to be “good enough”, pretty/handsome enough, smart enough, etc., please realize that something is wrong here. You can do better than that. All of us yearn to be loved for who we are, not for what someone else wishes us to be.

Once you have found the “one”, you can resolve to reveal to the extent you desire. Remember, as long as both of you want the same thing, you will not have a problem. What I want you to understand is that all humans yearn to be loved for the whole of who they are. I, personally, do not believe in “unconditional” love, but that’s a topic for another newsletter.

Now, what does all of this have to do with the fear that we will lose ourselves in a relationship? Sometimes we experience the other person as being, somehow, so powerful, so overwhelming that our voice cannot be heard. Sometimes we hold the illusion that it is our job to keep our partner happy; that somehow we are failing when we seek to have our own needs fulfilled. Such beliefs do not speed our progress toward a life of joy.

It is not necessary to “twin up” in order to be connected. The stuff of connection includes trust and respect. We must be able to trust our partner emotionally. No one wants his/her openness to be thrown back in his/her face; used as a tool for abuse. A healthy relationship is one of mutual respect. It’s okay to have tomato/ tomahto (different ways of looking at things). Seeing the world through each other’s eyes is a step toward compassion, which is one of the core values necessary to live a wonderful life. It’s time for us to grow up and realize that when someone sees things in a different way it is not an attack on us or our values.

Sing your own song loudly and proudly. Appreciate the one sung by your significant other. The universe smiles when we are still two as we become one. A healthy devotion to another means being the best of who we are, not less of who we are. When that is achieved, you possess the essence of what it means to join in love.


"You don't get harmony when everybody sings the same note." Doug Floyd

 

July 2007 - Being Sarah

Sarah Olivia Gordon-Macey is my 5-year-old granddaughter. You’re probably rolling your eyes right about now, anticipating a gushy treatise on her brilliance, beauty, talent, or intellect. Relax; this is about none of that. The reason that Sarah is the focus of this newsletter is that Sarah is unyieldingly and unquestionably herself at all times, in all situations. Of course, it helps that she is only 5 and that she has, thus far, escaped the come-uppances that life will surely levy on her. Sarah also has the advantage of having 2 especially tuned-in parents – it helps. Nonetheless, it has been fascinating to observe the unselfconscious, self-confident force that she is at this time.

Sarah will wear only dresses. Now, this does not mean that she is fastidious or fussy she simply loves dresses. Actually, Sarah is a tomboy with curly hair who has a dirty face most of the time. She climbs, slides, hikes and fishes in frills. Sarah will wear jeans, but only when she is going to the farm (I’m sure that is not a frequent event). She has firm ideas as to what suits her and cares not if she is the only one who goes to the playground looking like she should be at a tea party. Sarah is the first to volunteer, be it in swimming, drawing or reading, and is always proud of her own performance.

You may be asking, “What’s so fascinating about this?” I ‘ll tell you. So many of the people I treat have no idea who the “real them” is. They have spent their lives living up to the expectations of others and forgotten to even note the things that make them happy. Most of these people are not terribly unhappy, they are simply out of touch with their joy. It’s something they have rarely thought about. Sometimes, the most baffling quest is the quest for ourselves. Certainly, the longest journey is the one between the head and the heart. Why is this so?

I’m pretty sure that there are numerous studies that have been done on this topic. Here’s what I think. We humans come into this world and spend the greater part of it dependent on or at least in affiliation with others. Of course we are influenced by their ideas and values. If your family served only tomato soup only at Thanksgiving, and made a big fuss about it, you would probably think tomato soup was a special treat. Sure, we may not like liver and would rather be warm than cold, but in most of the aspects that identify who we are, we have been hugely influenced by those around us.
Fortunately we possess imagination and curiosity.

Children are not embarrassed by these traits. They are utterly free to dream and believe that anything is possible. Few of us carry this certainty into adulthood. A child can plan to be a fireman, astronaut, lawyer, or tightrope walker – anything that strikes their fancy. They are not hindered by thoughts of practicality and security. Ask a child what she/he loves or hates and you will get a direct and honest answer. In large part, adults have to worry about what others may think, what will impress, what will make them look foolish. How often do you filter your response before giving an opinion? Probably more often than you realize.

A lot of this, of course, is necessary. We thrive in connection with others, so we really cannot go barreling through life doing only that which we wish. It’s a pity that so often we lose the sense of who we uniquely are along the way. Children delight us because they are right out there. It’s too bad that many of us believe we must trade in our sense of self to become the solid citizens we need to be.

As in so many things, what we may lack is self-confidence. There are many reasons for this situation, and I, most certainly, am not talking about blaming here. What I hope to impart that you will at least consider is that we can teach ourselves to value what is distinctive in each and every one of us. The corridors of the brain, believe it or not, can be re-routed. With repetition, determination, and encouragement it is possible to change the way we view ourselves in relation to self and the world we live in. I am not talking magic here. A considerable amount of scientific research has been done on the human brain that has proven that neural pathways are altered by the things we think and do.
None of this is easy. But really, what is? Giving the gift of you to yourself would be a glorious thing to do. So, put on your party dress and Tevas and come out to play. You have very little to lose.

“ We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves in order to be like other people.”
Arthur Schopenhauer

 

Aug - 2007 The Image

Who among us has not looked at a person of fame, wealth or power and wished, even briefly, that some of their fortune would rub off on us? I know I have. The story, the representation we are given looks so darn good. For those who manage to stay out of the limelight, life may be as wonderful as it seems. However, unless we know them personally, these are not the people that most of us aspire to be. Furthermore, we rarely know what life feels like, really feels like to those we tend to idealize.

I have done some thinking about what it must feel like to be an object of curiosity, envy, and idol worship. Personally, the idea of having to be “on” all the time makes me uneasy, so I am guessing that life’s probably a whole lot happier when we fly “under the radar”.

We have reached the ten-year anniversary of the death of Princess Diana, a woman who was deluged by the curiosity of others once she made a royal connection. While I am far from an expert on the reality of her life, I, like many of you, have read about her and have formed certain ideas as to what her day to day existence may have been like.

Like other celebrities, a good portion of her life was spent in public. She was worshipped by some, admired by many, and, in public, the recipient of applause and approbation. However, at some point, she, like all of us, had to return home. From what I have read, that home, in Kensington Palace, was frequently an empty place where she did not have anyone waiting who was genuinely happy to welcome her into a warm and caring nest.

How sad! Think what it must have been like to be idolized by strangers while lacking intimates in the place she was most truly herself. This is an extreme example of someone’s outside not matching the inside, of the sense of make-believe with which her life was saturated. When the persona eclipses the person most people, like Diana, will find her or himself experiencing a sense of fraudulence and uncertainty as to her/his true identity. When this happens an individual is left with a sense of having failed to live up to expectations.

All of us share certain basic longings. The deepest of these have to do with being loved for who we are, as we are. Many of us flee from intimacy because we fear our own fundamental “unlovable ness”. These are the saddest people I know. Whatever it is that fills us up and fills us full in a life-enhancing way is always connected to our feeling genuine in our own skin.

It is the rare person who can play to the crowd and maintain a sense of reality at home. Celebrity is not a requirement of this dilemma. Have you ever tried to impress someone? Gain an approval? Attempt to attract a yearned-for love relationship? If so, you have probably shaped your image in a way that you hope will be pleasing to another. This is not a big problem if what is projected is not far from the legitimacy of who you are. We all do it to a certain extent and certainly not everyone we encounter wants to know all about us. If, however, you find yourself hiding or exaggerating your intelligence; disguising your temperament; pretending to like certain activities, be they knitting, dancing or fishing, in order to gain someone’s approval, be aware that you are selling yourself short in your efforts to make a connection. How at ease will you feel within that union if you are not free to be yourself? It’s worth thinking about.

The healthiest expectations to live up to are one’s own. If you find yourself painfully twisting yourself into a pretzel in your attempts to please another, you would be far better off to admit to your limitations and be pleased with yourself for maintaining your integrity. The paradox that we tend to forget is that the more true you are to yourself (in ways that are important) the happier you and those you care for will be. If you don’t want to ride that horse and are pretty sure you never will – don’t ride it! That way, everyone, including you, knows what to expect.

You are not responsible for the truth that certain individuals may want to live through you. The narcissists, controllers, and timorous would be far better off to work on themselves than attempt to persuade you that you, and only you, can make them happy. You, in turn, should grab the opportunity to learn more about yourself, your passions, and the circumstances that make your life happy. Giving up the pretense will free up your physical and psychic energy. Who among us would turn down the promise of less fatigue, worry and tension? If you would, please call me immediately!

Enjoy being you – you are the one thing you will always have. Whether you know it or not, you are your own treasure. Who you are is who you are meant to be.

“We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves." Francoise La Rochefoucauld

 

Sept 2007 - Lessons From the Andes

In early September a friend and I went to Peru. Our goal was to trek part of the Inca Trail into Machu Picchu. This had been a dream of mine for many years. Now, I have taken what I call “adventure vacations” before, including hikes down the Grand Canyon and on several of the Hawaiian Islands. Do not be fooled; I am not a graceful or athletic girl. I am vulnerable to sunstroke, afraid of heights, have short little legs that find nothing natural about taking a steep step, am pigeon-toed, and my left foot drags when I’m tired. About all I have going for me is a dogged determination to realize an aspiration once I decide it is worth going for.

So, there I was at a high altitude (HARD to breathe), on a very narrow and uneven trail that had many ascents and descents (including a climb up 300 vertical steps). There was no shelter from the sun for the first 3 hours. Add to that the factor I hadn’t considered, which is that 95% of the trek is along a sheer drop with nothing to stop one (me) from plunging off the side of the mountain.
By far, the most daunting part of this challenge was my fear. For most of this 7-hour expedition, I truly believed that I would plummet off the path as my eye was continually drawn to the amazing view of the Andes that surrounded me. I knew that the terror I was experiencing was making everything harder, but was helpless to bring it under control.

Why did I put myself through this? Well, first, I really do love an adventure and thought that to hike into Machu Picchu would be far more exciting and rewarding than taking the bus from Aguas Clientes, which is the town below the site. Also, on every other escapade to which I have subjected myself I was, inevitably, the last one out of the jungle, the one that everyone else had to wait for. I was determined to improve my status and at least be next to last this time round. I was not successful, but what I learned about myself, was one of my most valuable lessons ever.

It all goes back to a pigeon-toed 2-year-old girl (me) who was put into a ballet class where she was asked to achieve 1st position. This, of course, was impossible. When I think about it, what I felt was shame, shame that my body just wouldn’t do what it “should”. Of course, as a two-year-old I had no name for this feeling, only an uncomfortable memory. I learned quite early that I could always count on my brain, but counting on my physical aptitude was not a good idea. Now, this has not ruined my life or been an active part of my conscious mind. It is significant to me, however, that the memory of physical inadequacy, which has been repeated throughout my life, sprang from this childhood experience.

Having been born with a feisty constitution, I have not shied away from this difficult area, but instead have, without realizing it, strived to reverse the irreversible. I’m glad that I’ve tried, but I wish I could have spared myself the feelings of humiliation that I consistently suffered when judging myself to be deficient in corporeal skills. I never would have dreamed that my Andean venture would help me to put all of this to rest. Our guide, Celena, was a sensitive and kindly individual, who unimaginably makes this trek every week. I allowed her to relieve me of my backpack and actually take my hand and lead me over the toughest parts of the terrain. Celena was consistently encouraging and patient, which allowed me to accept her assistance, which I so dearly needed.

I had worn a white shirt that day, and as the rest of our group waited at the rest stop, we passed another guide, headed down the mountain who was also wearing a white shirt. The group at the rest stop only saw a white shirt and thought that I had backed out of our pilgrimage. I never heard them, but was told that they began shouting for me to come back, to stay the course. Therefore, when I unexpectedly appeared at the top of yet another vertical challenge, they all stood up, applauding and cheering.

There was a time, I must tell you, that I would have found this response to be humiliating – last again and all that. This time I bowed (as well as my collapsing body would allow) and sincerely thanked all of them for their support. It’s taken an awfully long time for me to understand that just taking the journey is what counts. I have always allowed that for everyone but myself. I’m glad I took the trek, and even happier now that I realize that I will never have to prove myself in that way again. From now on, it’s the bus for me! Never fear that it is too late to change the way you view yourself. We are, after all, our own most fearsome critics.

I hope that all of you have the opportunity to conquer your deeply felt insecurities. Let’s add on to that that I hope you don’t have to spend 7 hours on the edge of a mountain in order to realize that success! Persistence and courage are your friends on your road to personal freedom.

"Life shrinks or expands according to one's courage"
Anais Nin

 

Oct 2007 - I Yam What I Yam

For a couple of weeks I’ve been experiencing a feeling of malaise. It was really hard for me to figure out what this was all about. My husband and I have been discussing our plans for 10 or 15 years down the road, which include summers in Vermont and maybe a house on the beach in South America. Why should this leave me feeling discomfited? I allowed myself to mope for a couple of days, and, after wallowing in the feelings, I was able to put my finger on what was bothering me.

I, like many of you, have always had certain scenarios in my head as to how life is “supposed” to be. Some of this is unconscious, some not. Most of us have such self-imposed mandates. We must get that degree, follow that profession, get married, have children, or lose weight by a certain date and obtain the desired results in a particular way. Our domicile must look like (fill in the blank) but usually it’s just like the home we grew up in or is intentionally quite the opposite.

It’s hard to shake off earlier influences, and I’m not suggesting that we just toss them in the trash bin. Life is good when we understand what works for us and what doesn’t. We neither want to follow like sheep or get stuck in an adolescent rebellion. None of this is easy to sort out. There’s another piece to this dilemma as well. At times it’s nearly impossible to figure out our best course of action, and, when we do choose a road that differs from our predecessors or our peers it can stir up a lot of trouble. When we choose guiding principles that are unique, we may find ourselves feeling concerned that the hand of our departed ancestors will descend from the heavens, grab us by the throat, and say, “WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?” When we follow the pack, we may we may feel suppressed, resigned or sad. One thing is certain, when we are unsure, some very uncomfortable feelings are bound to occur.

In my own case, I have really lived a very different life from the one I had planned. Some choices were made by chance. The riskier choices developed after I found that I was compromising far too much of myself by keeping to the course that was laid out for me. There would have been pain regardless of the road I chose. For me, my willingness to move away from the norm came in part from having watched my father relinquish his dreams time after time because of what he perceived to be his duty. He was not bitter. I, however, promised myself at a very young age that I would not give up on the things that were important to me.

Between my mother’s feistiness and ambition and the sense of safety that I felt with my father, I was born a creature who would, most of the time, take a chance. Being the only child of older parents, I grew accustomed to making my own decisions and handling things my own way. Some of my ideas as to what constitutes a family have been quite different from the ideas of others. For this I have faced a considerable amount of criticism and scorn from the younger generation as well as from some of my contemporaries. This has hurt; in fact, some condemnations have quite taken my breath away. I have lost contact with individuals whom I have loved quite deeply, some who I thought would be in my life forever. It is impossible, however, to change the core of who I am. It hurts to be misunderstood, but while I will apologize for certain actions, I will not apologize for my character, my very being.

It is both exciting and painful to be different. Each of us must decide for ourselves where our boundaries lie. In an ideal world we would have no particular expectation as to the behavior or beliefs of others. As we know, such a world does not exist. So, I now recognize that my feelings of unrest stemmed from the consequences of some of the detours I have followed in the journey that is my life. One thing is for sure; this is not my parents’ maturity! There are so many things I should have handled differently, some of them quite significant. Many of my digressions came from a lack of know how, some were deliberate choice.

The plus side of all of this is that I love the life I am presently living, and have for quite a long time. I optimistically anticipate the future. Along with the losses have come self-respect, self-confidence, and the discovery of love that knows and understands me, warts and all. So it’s a trade off no matter what you choose. Be true to yourself. Understand and pay attention to your heart’s desires. Know that it is impossible to please everyone. Join Popeye and me as we affirm “I yam what I yam”.

"A radical is a prodigal son. For him the world is a strange place whose contours have to be explored according to one’s destiny. He may eventually return to the house of his elders, but the return is by choice, and not as of those who stayed behind, of unblinking filial obedience." Daniel Bell

 

Nov 2007 - Overlooked Heroes


A couple of days ago I received a call from someone who knew about a small dog that needed a loving home. She wondered if my husband and I could take her. Apparently, this little girl, a Pekingese named Violet, had been used as batting practice for a group of adolescents in the Miami area and was, found, literally, up in a tree with her teeth knocked out & a damaged eye that had to be removed.

Of course, this is a sickening story; one that even those who are not animal lovers will cringe at hearing. How could anyone of any age harm a helpless creature in this way? It happens all too often. Whether the story is publicized, such as the Michael Vicks case or known only by a few, one has to question how the individuals involved have reached this level of insensitivity and depravity. My vet tells me that since the publicity around Michael Vicks, that law enforcement is taking animal abuse much more seriously. I for one, hope this is true.

Most of us spend little or no time thinking about the people who step in and do everything in their power to rescue innocent victims. It cannot be, in any way, easy to take in a severely abused, sick or abandoned creature. Excluding the financial burden, the emotional toll must be enormous.
One such person, whom I am privileged to know, is Peggy Dunne, the founder of Pekes and Pals, a rescue organization for small (under 20 lb.) dogs. I first spoke to Peggy about 4 years ago when I was looking for a breeder of Pekingese. We had just lost our beloved Jolie, to surgery. She was a puppy mill dog we had the privilege of loving for 8 years. Peggy was a great help, referring us to a wonderful breeder. Since that time, I have kept an eye on Pekes and Pals as they have struggled to keep their doors open through Hurricane Charlie and numerous financial difficulties. We have made small contributions by “sponsoring” some of her more needy dogs (in other words, we contribute to their upkeep).

It is amazing, to me, that people like Peggy are able to nurse, find homes for and love these creatures knowing that they are likely to lose them in the short, rather than long-term. The dedication and ability to knowingly accept a transitory relationship of this type takes a humanity and courage that I believe is quite rare. It seems to me that loss is our biggest human challenge. To give your heart and then lose the object of your love to circumstance, often death, has few up sides. I believe in celebrating a life rather than staying stuck in the demise of a person or pet that we love, but it’s still painful as hell. Eventually, if we want to enjoy our own lives we must make peace with the loss, but it sure is hard.

Individuals who dedicate their lives to rescuing those without a voice – a child starving in Africa, an infant who has been dropped in a trash container, an animal that cannot defend itself, are among the most worthy people I can think of. In most cases the Peggy Dunne’s of this world never achieve wealth or recognition. They devote themselves to the helpless because their inner voice mandates that they must. I’ll wager that, should you ask, they would say that the gratitude in the eyes of the creature whose life improved as a result of his/her intervention enriches their lives in a way that nothing else could. It is one of those unmistakable times when one knows that he/she has done the right thing. In today’s world it is so easy to focus on an eroding environment, war, school shootings, and a prevalent air of cruelty. We are likely to forget that there are those who, by nature, look out of the welfare of others.

We have three dogs. Two of them, Babe & Ruby were purchased. The third dog, Casper is a little boy we rescued. He was in tough shape when he came to us. His teeth were loose, bones sticking out, full of fleas and very frightened of just about everything. Today, he’s still a little shy, but he gets along well with his “sisters”, and, I love it (of course) that he follows me with the most loving eyes you could ever imagine. The satisfaction that comes from knowing that we are in a position to give him a very good life for the rest of his is beyond measure.

Among the rewards that come from reaching out is that we are put in touch with our own humanity. All of us have had times in our lives when we were not at our best. It is important for us to remember that our misguided deeds do not define us as people. The great majority of us never had any intention to cause hurt. The not-so-surprising finale to this story is that we went to meet Violet, and, happily, she is now a member of our family. Did I imagine that one day I would be the owner of four dogs? Never! However, we have enough love in our home and our hearts for these loving little creatures. Of one thing I can assure you, what they contribute to our sense of well being far outweighs anything we could possibly do for them. We are not among the Peggy Dunne’s of this world who deal with tragedy on a large scale every day. We consider ourselves fortunate that we have found a vehicle that allows us to do our part. Maybe this is what Thanksgiving is really all about.

"We are like angels with just one wing. We can only fly by embracing each other."
Anonymous

 

Dec 2007 - The Vision Comes First

Is your life pretty much the way you want it to be? Do you know how you want it to be? If it is, why? If not, why not? Why am I asking you so many questions? Well, we must know what we want before we can decide whether or not we have it. That must sound pretty obvious, but it’s not as easy to achieve as you might think. As a rule, we have to know ourselves really, really well before we can understand and know what we need to live a happy life. As you might imagine, I meet a lot of people who are reluctant to dig down deep and discover what makes them tick. Usually what holds such a person back is fear, a fear of finding out something about themselves that they won’t like. We are all vulnerable to such apprehension, and much of my job is to create a safe environment in which to do that kind of work.

After over 30 years in my profession, I can confidently assure anyone who comes my way that there is very little in the human psyche that I have not experienced over the course of time. We all come wrapped in different packages, but are more alike than not under the surface. Many years ago, when, after a stretch of exhausting effort, I was still spinning my wheels and seemingly unable to find the enduring happiness I longed for, it was suggested that I write up a scenario of what my ideal life would be. Now, the assignment was not about rattling off a list such as, I want to be in love; successful; admired; wealthy, etc. What I was asked to do was to create an actual picture of what that life would look like, feel like, encompass in such a way that I would feel content.

My ideal life was set in a house on the beach at Cape Cod. I was sitting on a back porch with a curly-haired man. Lots of children and dogs were running around on the lawn. The atmosphere was relaxed, joyful and playful. We were laughing. I was able to imagine how I would feel, how my heart would be full and warm and I would feel safe. That was my dream.

Well, here we are 18-19 years later, and the man does not have curly hair; he does make me laugh. We have a lanai in back of our house that overlooks a man-made lake (hardly a scene at Cape Cod). This holiday season we did not have the whole family with us, but we did have four children and five dogs among the adults on one particular day. After 14 years of knocking myself out to make things “perfect”, I “allowed” my husband to cook the turkey his way (it was great) and my father-in-law took care of hanging ornaments on our tree (many of which contain photos of everyone we have ever loved – people, pets, the whole shebang).

We are a family of many religions and have settled on doing “Secret Santa” among the adults for holiday gifts, which makes life easy. My husband and I do not give each other extravagant presents. After all, we just buy the things we want most of the time and “need” nothing. This year the children got gifts and stockings, but, unlike other years, no stockings for grown ups or pets. It was relaxed, simple and cooperative, in other words, great.

This is not the first time that I have recognized that my dream has come true – I have love, laughter and emotional security in my life. The details differ from those in my dream, but specific items were never the important part of the story. I am so grateful that I am able to recognize and appreciate my good fortune and happy that every once in a while I am reminded that I have all the important things I wished for such a long time ago.

As I always tell you, my life is far from perfect. I have encountered conflicts that have hurt and continue to hurt at this very moment. There have been betrayals at the most unexpected places and a dearth of compassion and understanding from some I have held dear. I have experienced illness, financial difficulties and loss. Probably, for me, the most painful setbacks have occurred when I have fallen down on the job; the times when I have not lived up to reasonable expectations and have hurt people I care for deeply. These struggles are a part of my life’s journey. I work at accepting that.
Never, however, will I fail to appreciate the many, many things that have come my way. I will not minimize the importance of my good fortune by focusing on the inevitable disappointments. I understand that perfectionism can rob us of joy. Who’s to say what’s perfect anyway?

Define, pursue, and hold on to your passion. Have the patience to stay on the road. Everyone is worthy of love and appreciation, and that includes you. Keep your focus on you aspirations and victories as you learn from the things that don’t work out. Do NOT get bogged down in the details. The stars are there for you; all you have to do is reach. Wishing all of you a most wonderful New Year.

"A sailor without a destination cannot hope for a favorable wind."
Leon Tec, M.D

Jan 2008 - Guilty As Charged

I have been wanting to write about this for a long time, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. I’m not so certain now, but I’ll give it a try. The subject is the “generation gap”. Having been both a child and a parent, like you, I feel quite well versed on this topic.

Growing up, I would say that the heart of a bad girl was hiding behind the behavior of a seemingly good girl. I didn’t get into any serious trouble, nor did any of my friends. My relationship with my parents was periodically turbulent, and, in fact, grew more difficult as I grew older. We drove each other crazy, especially my mother and I, and the love and deep attachment we had for and to each other would not have been apparent to anyone who didn’t know us.

I have experienced tremendous remorse in the years since my parents died, wishing I had understood them better, been more patient, more appreciative. I was, however, always there for them and elected to live close to them when their health was on the decline. There was never a time of cut-off, and I knew there were behavioral boundaries that were never to be crossed. I am grateful for those boundaries.

When I became a mother I was certain that I could do a better job of parenting – that I would be more fun and “cool” and able to allow my children to spread their wings and discover what made them happy. My intentions were the best and my confidence high. I am not the only person of my generation who held these ideas about parenting. I have talked with dozens of people – friends and clients—who started out doing their best only to end up with adult children who resent, disrespect, and, at times, shun their parents, cutting them out of their lives completely.

Where did we go wrong? Were we too reluctant to be dictatorial? Did we too fervently want to be their friends? Has society changed in a way that, other than being life-givers and baby sitters, parents have no value? One cannot help but wonder what this will mean for the next generation. It’s worrisome. Now I know that many of you come from families that do not behave in this way. That is really, really good. You deserve great kudos.

When I have noted to members of my children’s generation that there seems to be no importance attached to “Honor thy father and mother”, it has been called to my attention that my generation was part of the “Me” generation of the 80’s. Now I don’t know about you, but in the 80’s I was a single parent working at an anxiety-raising, time-consuming job so that I could keep us financially afloat. At the same time, my parents were sick and dying, so when I wasn’t working I was likely to be at the hospital or in my parents’ home trying to cheer them up and providing distraction. I surely don’t remember yukking it up or even being able to get a restful night’s sleep.

Look, the purpose of this is not to defend or prove myself in any way. Many of us are simply baffled at the turn that life has taken. We didn’t expect to have children who consider us to be shallow, foolish, self-absorbed and just plain stupid. Allow me to also say that this has not been my experience with all of my children, but I am well acquainted with being spurned and insulted in very personal and hurtful ways. Perhaps, as a psychotherapist I’m “supposed” to present myself as a “blank slate”. Well, it’s way too late for that. Besides that, I don’t think it’s useful to be idealized into something/someone I’m not. As you know, I’m all about being true to yourself.

If as Oprah (a non-mother herself of course) says, the most important job in the world is being a mother, it is true that that was not my area of greatest excellence. There is a big “however” of course (I’m sure you saw that coming). None of us need accept judgments passed on any aspect of what we have accomplished in our lives. I bring this up because, for a considerable amount of time, I believed that my life was a failure because of my inadequacies as a Mom. Today I know that this is a lopsided point of view, which is based on the findings of those who are hardly unbiased. < o:p>

Love, forgive; grant generosity and honor to yourself. Extend the same to others. No one can ask for anything more.

"Life is under no obligation to give us what we expect."

Margaret Mitchell

 

Feb 2008 - Happy Valentine’s Day?

February, the month of LOVE is just about over. I can confidently bet that for many, buttons were pushed, hopes shattered, and self-esteem plummeted accordingly. Most of us lick our wounds and manage to regroup. The unfortunate few, feel devastated and take their disappointment as a sign that they will forever be alone and left out. For these folks there is a tendency to idealize the lives of others, and for some, the resulting bitterness and perceived failure is more than their fragile egos can tolerate.

February of 2008 brought with it three horrific crimes right on or within a few days of Valentine’s Day. Coincidence may be the answer to the question, “Why now?” We do know, however, that there is a connection between feeling like a pariah and violent behavior.

The three crimes I’m referring to are:

1. The shootings at Northern Illinois University

2. The murder, by meat cleaver, of a psychotherapist by a psychiatric patient she had never met

3. The slaughter by, apparently, incineration, of a 14-year-old by her father.

Now all of the people responsible for the commission of these crimes carry serious psychiatric diagnoses, and it appears that all three of them had stopped taking their medication as prescribed. This is the most universal reason that patients are readmitted into controlled therapeutic settings. The NIU assassin reportedly had a rocky relationship with his girlfriend. The man who killed the therapist was carrying adult diapers with him and had a plan to rescue his mother from a nursing home. The 14-year-old’s father killed her when he found she was text messaging her boyfriend. Theoretically, we have a common theme.

Each of these emotionally unbalanced men was in some way separated from a person who represented a yardstick by which they were, somehow, assured that they were loved and valued. It is likely that no one had a clue that any of these men was about to boil over. Probably no one checked on them on a consistent basis.

The resources are not available that would allow us to provide meaningful intervention for most of the mentally ill. In the 1970’s many long-time patients were “liberated” from psychiatric hospitals throughout the country. The plan was to develop a network of community mental health centers that would keep track of and assist these individuals. The plan was never dependably implemented, for many complicated reasons, and we began to see increasing numbers of these unfortunate souls living in the streets or unsuccessfully on their own.

It is not surprising that those who feel unloved suffer particularly acutely during a holiday that is dedicated to love. For many, the realization that Valentine’s Day is a manufactured holiday that benefits card makers, florists and such, does not assuage the pain they experience on this day of “love”. Maybe it would behoove us to just grow up. The measure of love is not the roses, jewelry, cars, or whatever is presented to us by our “beloved” on this particular day. Too often, I have heard, primarily from women, how disappointed they have felt when their significant other failed to live up to Valentine’s Day expectations. The rational part of us knows that any fool can buy us flowers, and the ability to do so proves nothing about the durability and satisfaction to be found in a relationship with such a person. When it comes to Valentine’s Day, all too often, our good sense goes out the window and we depend on a false measure of devotion.

I am not “bah humbugging” romance, not at all. Fantasy can be fun. Romance, when we understand that it doesn’t define love, is just great. The trick is to really know that love takes commitment, devotion, compromise, and sincere concern for the welfare of another. It’s hard work, can be bumpy, and will bring us days when we need some space and separation. Finding love can be complicated and difficult. I believe in being choosy and taking a clear-eyed look at a proposed partner. It is possible to fall in love and stay in love. I wish I could give you the formula that makes it all work.

I do know that love has nothing to do with artificial rules and “playing” the “game” the right way. We all have that place deep inside of us that tells us who we love and who genuinely cares about us. When we allow ourselves to become blinded by our wishes, we are flirting with unhappiness. Wishing all of you a love that is lasting and true.

"Life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit." Kahlil Gibran

Mar 2008 - Celebrate Me Home


I went to a symposium in Washington DC this month. That’s where I was born. My father’s family moved there in 1902. With Washington being comprised of mostly transient citizens, I’m sure you can understand that I feel somewhat proprietary about the city. It’s the childhood place I called home.

A certain kind of melancholic nostalgia settled around me just about as soon as my plane landed. The feeling was a wistfulness that I rather enjoyed and I spent the long weekend trying to figure out what was going on with me. Many of the old landmarks were still there. Of course when you consider that my landmarks consist of the Washington Monument & Lincoln Memorial, this is no surprise. The streets, however, held new businesses and sometimes followed reconstructed pathways. After I settled into my hotel, I was absolutely thrilled to find that some of the old signs and even semi-ancient businesses, the look of which I didn’t even know I remembered, were still around. Seeing them opened up for me so many memories.

At my hotel there was a book with pictures of “old” Washington – really old Washington (like in the 1800’s) juxtaposed with DC as it is today. I was taken by surprise at my delighted response at finding a photograph of the street where my father’s family’s store was located. I have such a clear memory of running up and down those brick sidewalks, the pigeons that I dodged every few steps, the statue at the head of the street & the turreted bank building on the corner. I savored the sweet/sad warmth that wrapped itself around me as I saw the child I once was in my mind’s eye.
The bushes and trees captured me as well. Spring is a wonderful time in DC. I remembered my mother dressing me in “transitional” cottons and my walks to school past forsythia, dogwood and cherry trees, crocuses and daffodils that were beginning to bloom. My memories were surprisingly sharp.

I am not one to idealize childhood. Never have I ever wished to return to what was. So, it was puzzling to me that I was actually “trying on” going back there to live. I think I know now what the thing that felt like longing was all about. It’s really hard being an adult. The good parts are making my own decisions, feeling some personal power and gaining a little wisdom along the way. However, like many of you, I have worried about finances, and in the past two years, our household has had to manage some pretty serious illnesses. It’s not that I feel that I shouldn’t have to deal with these issues or that I don’t feel adept at handling them. More accurately, I would have to say that I’m just experiencing “adult fatigue”. There are times, many lately, when I have wished that someone (anyone) would just give me a break an d take over for a while. That’s where my longing lies.

Do you remember when you didn’t have to think about what to eat? Can you recall a time when you couldn’t believe that you would ever grow old? Wasn’t it great to know nothing about income tax and to see the world as a place with unlimited possibilities? The world is so much more sophisticated today. My oldest grandchild has told me that he wants to be a paleontologist. Me, I wanted to be a movie star or a bride. We are responsible for being responsible. I wouldn’t like the consequences of relinquishing that accountability, but in my fairy tale world that would be possible.

One trait I have retained from childhood is the ability to plan, imagine and dream about an exciting future. I was lucky enough to have a father who told me that I must always dream. He opened the doors to my creativity. This has helped me to transcend certain obstacles – he taught me that certain rules were bendable and that I really didn’t have to color within the lines. Being “home” allowed me to fantasize as an adult, but with the enthusiasm of a child. You can bet I no longer wish to be a movie star or a bride!

Up until an American was wrongfully held in jail there, the dream my husband & I had was to run away to Nicaragua and build a house on the beach. Well, I guess Nicaragua’s out, but who knows what will replace that in our fantasies? Regardless of your stage of life, give yourself permission to envision an idyllic time right around the corner. Keep it realistic enough that there is a possibility it will come to pass. The bitter will be sweetened and, who knows, your dreams just might come true!

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined."
Henry David Thoreau

April 2008 - Finding Plan B

Conditions are downright scary here in Southwest Florida. From what I read and hear, the markets are hurting in much of the rest of the country as well. Where I live the collapse of the construction industry has rippled to many other sections of our economy, including restaurants, retail, doctors and dentists. Gas is selling at heretofore unheard of prices and the cost of staples, such as eggs, has soared. More often than not, in my practice, I do my best to reassure clients whose well-thought out life plans are collapsing around them. These folks are suffering from the pessimistic outlook that they can’t escape on TV and in newspapers. Those who were counting on the value of their homes to provide financial security are helplessly watching their greatest asset decline in value. The public and private exacerbate each other, and a lot of people are feeling trapped in their lives.

As I hear individuals attempt to comfort themselves with, “Everything happens for a reason” and “When one door closes another opens”, I recognize that they are failing to find solace in these forward-looking bromides. It is hard for me to find any wisdom that genuinely comforts those who are finding themselves living in ominous circumstances.

One benefit of the uncertain times is that people are thinking long and hard before leaving their jobs and marriages. Where the culture of instant gratification once reigned, individuals are longing for even a small ray of hope, as they look into what seems like an unpromising future. Folks are doubtful of their ability, literally, to survive. This is the time when one’s capacity to “think outside the box” has been challenged. Creativity and originality are essential, no longer simply fortuitous talents.

One’s ability to calm down and think clearly is the bedrock for enduring future success. This, of course, raises the question of “How do you do that?” You might want to start with imagining the most awful possible result. This may sound counterintuitive, but, once you figure out what you will do in the “worst case” scenario, it will be much easier to deal with less extreme circumstances.

Don’t weigh yourself down by leaning on false pride and keeping your fears a deep, dark secret. No, you shouldn’t put an ad in the paper announcing your troubles. You would benefit, however, by confiding in trusted advisers who just might be able to help you brainstorm your way to some solutions. By the same token, present a confident face in your every day world. Even if you have to fake it, if you appear to be confident others will have confidence in you. There are few personality characteristics that are more appealing. This is a good time to remember that every time you smile you change your brain chemistry in a positive way.

Take an inventory of what you are and are not willing to do. Do you want to relocate? Think this option through carefully. You do not want to hastily embrace a geographic cure, but you may find that you have valid reasons to go elsewhere. Take into consideration the cost in terms of money, lifestyle, friends and opportunities. If a move makes sense, consider giving it a shot.

Don’t get bogged down by blame and self-flagellation over decisions you made that weren’t the best. No one can predict what the future holds (even if some claim they can). Learn what you can from what has occurred, and move on. Remember, even the Great Depression came to an end. Life may have taken a negative turn, you may not be living the way you planned, but circumstances always change and, in time, things do improve. In fact, that’s the one thing we can count on – change.

Suppose you are clinging to a scenario of how your life is “supposed” to unfold. Are you able to relinquish any part of that, or to see it play out in ways that are unexpected? The more flexible you allow yourself to be, the more likely you are to find solutions you can live with. Remember, nothing but the Ten Commandments is carved into stone.

Another aspect to think about is to be careful not to “punish” yourself when things are tight. Allow yourself an occasional treat such as a massage or dinner out at a nice restaurant. If you attempt to live like a Spartan, unless you are one of the rare individuals who can thrive on extreme deprivation, your spirit will suffer. So, dress up, buy flowers, or take an inexpensive vacation. As you experience enjoyment your resilience will strengthen.

Few of us are glued together in a way that allows us to say, “Welcome tough times; I was hoping to be challenged today.” Over time, however, our newly found skills and attitude will serve us well. Stick it out with courage – one day you will wake up and realize that, one way or the other, the crisis is over. You will feel better, I promise.

"I think I've discovered the secret of life - you just
hang arounduntil you get used to it." Charles M. Schulz

May 2008 -A Romantic Getaway


My husband & I have been together for nearly 15 years. Surely you would think that by now planning a romantic week-end would come to us like second nature . Not so! We have tried three times in the past three months and have managed to become ensnared in a series of mishaps, hurt feelings, and poor judgment calls that I would have thought we could prevent at this stage of our relationship.

Harry’s friend, let’s call him Bill, has a boat. Bill told us that he knew of a secluded, enchanting island off the coast of southwest Florida. We decided to give it a try -- bad decision! Bill’s boat reeks of gasoline, has no bathroom, and may someday be turned into thing of beauty, but that day has yet to arrive.

Bill forgot about low tide, so when we arrived at the “enchanted island” we had to trudge about 500 yards in quick sand-like muck that came up above our knees. Oh it was grand! Just getting to the beach was the workout of workouts.

It had been a long time since we had received rain in southwest Florida. As you probably guessed, with our arrival, the rains came and along with them, strong winds. The result was that our tent leaked & trembled, and I spent one of the most uncomfortable nights ever! We now know why the island at which we stayed was so private. Nothing was there! No running water, no shelter, of course no bathroom - it was just swell. In the morning, we were attacked by thousands of no seeum’s. We controlled them by building a very smoky fire, from which sparks flew that burned our beach chairs and towels. Romance had turned into an episode of Survivor -- not exactly what we had in mind.

Our next attempt involved Bill’s other boat. Wouldn’t you think we would have learned? We stayed tied up to the dock. Harry worked really hard to make it smell good and pretty it up, but nothing he could do would turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse. Harry wanted to fish at night from the dock. I knew it was possible he would fall asleep, plunge into the water and drown. This did not make for a restful night. In the morning we were both cranky, and had one of our biggest fights ever. So much for romance.

Our last try was a couple of weeks ago. Harry had taken me kayaking and in our travels we found ourselves in Everglades City. We stopped in at a well-known hotel there which had been built in 1864. The place was just beautiful (in a very rustic way), and the dining room knocked us out. Surely, this would, at last, provide us with our romantic time away. We made a reservation for the following week-end.

Well, when we arrived, we noticed that the beautiful dining room was not air conditioned. In fact, it was stifling. As we went to our “cottage” to unpack, I got into an argument with a rather vulgar local who was furious that I had parked my car next to his truck. What a beginning!

An air-conditioned restaurant was recommended to us that prominently featured alligator tail as a culinary delight. For some, perhaps, but definitely not for me. We returned to our cottage where we were deluged by mosquitoes and other swamp-like creatures with wings. We looked at each other and asked, “What were we smoking when we signed up to come here?” Harry reassured me that we weren’t so far away, and that we could visit our house if we needed to!

The next day we got a late start. We stopped at a hardware store, where a gentleman customer was talking about how he loved to eat scrambled squirrel brains and grits with fatback poured over it. Believe me, I couldn’t make this stuff up. We cracked up. From that point on, we were able to see how ludicrous our situation was. We decided to skip the kayaking and headed into Naples, with me muttering all the way, “Great, we stay in the Everglades so that we can go to Naples!” There were few things that failed to strike us as funny. And…you know what?…we had a fabulous time, and in a weird way, romance was in the air. We certainly did not experience moonlight and roses. We did, however, laugh ourselves silly.

A large part of our yearning for romance is linked to our desire and need for attachment. People who can share humor, who “get” each other realize that same feeling of connection. In fact, when I work with couples I always ask each if the other really knows who they are. Surprisingly often, the answer is “no”. At that point, it’s pretty clear where our road together must lead.

Would I love to go to Paris with my husband? Sure. If that doesn’t happen, the Everglades will do just fine.

"Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but looking outward

in the same direction." Antoine de Saint-Exupery

June 2008 - The Passing of Everyman

The public response to the death of Tim Russert this month was remarkable. Tim (it feels comfortable to call him that) was not an elected public official or a movie star. Instead, he was a man who really epitomized values that are considered by some to be old fashioned, if not thoroughly “uncool”.

One of the aspects of Tim’s persona that I have been thinking about was his confident, unapologetic love of his country; his appreciation of what his country has done for him. There has been a tendency among a number of so-called “enlightened”, intelligent, and sophisticated people to convince themselves that we live in the “evil empire”. They have forgotten that those of us fortunate enough to live in this country have unparalleled opportunity to live a life we choose, not one that has been chosen for us. Is the system perfect? No. But it’s still darn good.

My parents were first generation U.S. citizens. I can remember my mother’s face lighting up when she would recall the day her father became a U.S. citizen. He was so proud and passed that pride of citizenship on to his child, who passed it along to me. My father’s mother came to this country as a little girl and was far more “Americanized” than my mother’s family. Yet, when, as a teen-ager I was planning a tour of Europe, her comment was, “It was so hard to leave, why would you want to go back there?”.

It used to be that political discussions were challenging and fun. Folks didn’t become angry and insulting when an opposing political opinion was presented during a dialogue intended to examine issues. Today, one risks turbulent waters when entering into such a conversation. Many of us avoid such thought-provoking sessions fearing the very personal hard feelings that frequently emerge from such debates.

Tim Russert reopened the conversation, and I, among many others, looked forward to “Meet the Press” on Sundays and his appearances during the first half-hour of the “Today” show during the week. His equal opportunity challenges to candidates and seated politicos encouraged me to think more deeply about issues that impact all of us. Tim did the homework for me, and compelled me to consider complexities that may well have gone right over my head.

Tim was “uncool” about other issues as well. Lifestyle choices concerning marriage, parenting, hard work, loyalty and a belief in limitless opportunities were, seemingly, informed by the values of his industrious working class(what an antiquated term!) family. He didn’t (to my knowledge) bellyache about not attending an Ivy League college, but aimed his very sharp mind and innate self-confidence at his goals ,becoming, not only successful, but influential beyond any level that he could have anticipated.

I think it’s important that we recognize the value of all cultures. What concerns me, however, is the ease with which some dismiss the positive aspects of the way of life afforded us right here. There is a tendency to adopt a simplistic and skewed attitude that perceives failures and disappointments in public policy as evidence that our entire culture is ignorant, naïve, corrupt and mean spirited. It’s like seeing a blue-eyed person as ONLY a person with blue eyes! People, countries & civilizations are made up of complexities and nuances -- it is unfair, not to mention inaccurate, to judge a painting on one brush stroke alone.

Sometimes we adopt an attitude of cynicism because we fear that we will be hurt. It appeared that Tim, rather than embracing an attitude of pending disaster, adopted an optimistic outlook which allowed him to rejoice in his relationships and his work. By all accounts he was a happy man.

An essential piece of living a life of satisfaction lies in our ability to learn from the past, face the future with hope, and, most importantly, embrace today. Today is the only time we are capable of holding in our hands. When we remember to be grateful for what we have right now, rather than fret about what we have lost or may lose at a future time, we allow ourselves to live with contentment. Even when we face loss, it benefits us to celebrate the gifts that have been and are ours.

I think that some of the reaction to Tim Russert’s death is a result of losing a role model who seemed to have grabbed for and attained the gold ring. His success came solely from his own efforts and talents. His success was proof that it is possible for any one of us to achieve our dreams.

As humans, we are at our happiest when there is congruency between our in- and out-side. Tim Russert demonstrated for us what that congruency looks like. This is a fine time to take stock and allow ourselves to be who we really are. Be authentic -- what a novel idea!

"Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom.
If you don't live it, it won't come out your horn." Charlie Parker

 

July 2008 - In Defense of Wallowing

Most of the time I’m all about finding creative solutions, persisting at what you love to do, and trying to remember that life does not only dole out bad news. This month, however, I succumbed to self-pity and a feeling of doom. Two members of my family received some very bad and very serious medical news, and that, on top of everything else, led me to feel “What’s the use”?

Unlike some I’ve known who wish they could just check into a psychiatric hospital for a few days to regroup, that was most definitely not my wish. Having worked in a psychiatric hospital, I know that all instruments of possible harm, including shoelaces, tweezers, and pens are confiscated, as the staff focuses on keeping patients from harming themselves or others. Patients are kept behind locked doors and are usually surrounded by others who are in more distress than one could possibly imagine. No, a psychiatric hospital would not do it for me.

My plan was to run away to Tennessee (I’ve never been there, by the way). My husband, quite sensibly asked, “Why Tennessee”? “Maybe things will be simpler there”, said I. He looked at me like I was crazy and I had to admit that I was a tad insane. “OK, then I’m just giving up”. “What does that mean”?

Good question. Did I plan to take to my bed and bemoan my fate? Hardly! That would not be my style. What I did need to do, however, was give my stiff upper lip a rest as I wailed and carried on about how hard life had become.

After a little over a day, I was sick of myself. To my surprise, I felt more energized than I had in a while and new ideas and approaches to working out some of our dilemmas were flooding my brain. Nothing had changed, mind you, none of our problems had been alleviated. I believe that by giving in to my feelings of being snowed under, I unexpectedly gave myself the respite I needed from the constant flow of energy that had been going into finding solutions.

To me, this feels counter intuitive. So, what happened? Well, I always tell my clients to accept all of their feelings, even the so-called negative ones. I know that when we fall into denial, we can, sometimes, squander our vitality just fighting off our true feelings. That is what I had been doing. I was so busy going, going, going that I wasn’t giving myself the opportunity to receive the comforting I needed from myself and others. Yes, I was frightened. Yes, I was exhausted. Yes, I felt too small to be able to do anything about the mountain of problems that had popped up on my plate.

As I was pushing myself to avoid what appeared to me to be the likelihood of multiple catastrophes, I managed to forget something very important. Sometimes, we lack the capability for doing anything at all about life’s circumstances. This is a time when it is very helpful if we happen to believe in a higher power.

Look, either you believe in a driving universal force or you don’t. Do you remember the old saying “There are no atheists in foxholes”? There are many ways in which one can interpret that maxim. One version could be that when we feel too slight to deal with our own setbacks it is a great comfort to believe in a power outside ourselves that offers some protection. It can be quite comforting to trust that there is order and meaning in the world.

It is so important to be able to recognize that we will probably encounter times when we find ourselves to be defenseless. At such times, we can allow ourselves to wallow in self-pity; for a short time. The guiding principle here is that this kind of self indulgence must never become a way of life. Overdone, we begin to feel like victims, which tends to leave us bitter and disappointed in ourselves and others. A time-limited emotional “vacation” during which we can allow ourselves to acknowledge our feelings of outrage and fear can be a very good thing .

We often ask, “Why is this happening to me”? I have stopped asking that question. First of all, I’m not sure why things should not happen to me. Secondly, I have a feeling that each of us is a small piece of a mosaic and that we’re not intended to see the whole picture. Finally, even if we could answer that question, we would still be required to deal with the circumstances at hand.

When confused as to what to do, try to remember that usually there is not just one way to solve a problem. Listen to yourself, and then take the kind of action that will allow you to look at yourself in the mirror and feel ok. You can never ask more of yourself than that.

None of us navigate this thing called life without running into some pretty confusing and uncomfortable passageways. At such times, treat yourself with kindness and do the best you can. That’s all you can do.

"When you have come to the edge of all light that you know and are about to drop off into the darkness of the unknown, Faith is knowing one of two things will happen: There will be something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly."

Patrick Overton

 

August 2008 - The Blame Game

It’s so tempting, when something goes wrong, to decide that someone, anyone, but us, is responsible for the fiasco. If the person we wish to be at fault is a stranger and if we can manage to ignore the little voice inside that knows that we‘ve bent the truth, I suppose it’s ok to take that stand. If, however, our problem is with someone close to us, we are facing an entirely different situation.

I see many couples in my practice, and, not surprisingly, I hear a lot of , “you did this” or “you made me do that”(rarely, by the way, does anyone “make“ us do anything). The reason such individuals show up at my door is that they get so caught up in who’s right and who’s wrong, that they keep going around in circles. What is really needed is a tactic that focuses on solution, not fault.

Now, this sounds like common sense, but I’ll bet that there’s not one of us who’s reading this who hasn’t resorted to blame at one time or another -- it’s human nature.

We avoid accepting culpability for many reasons, among them, feeling stupid because we made the mistake, fearing the consequences of our behavior, and a deep-seated feeling of shame that can result in a very painful self-image. The paradox is that often we are more forgiving of the errors of others than those we make ourselves.

In long-term relationships it’s really important to keep in mind that when we vanquish our “opponent”, who was previously dear to us, we are setting up a situation that is a perfect breeding ground for resentment and dishonesty. The erosion of trust and positive bonds is assured under these circumstances, and we lose far more than we have gained.

When the focus is on the solution, we are forced to work together, which rebuilds the positive bond. Try to remember that there is almost always more than one way to work out a difficulty. However tempting it might be, avoid the old “I told you so” if the other person’s attempt fails. It’s far more productive to say, “Ok let’s try something else”.

One of the most frequent relationship challenges I encounter in my office is the fact that one party will not allow the other to forget mistakes and hurts of times past. Trust me, if you insist on harping on things that happened months or years ago all your partner will hear is, “blah, blah, blah “, he/she has heard it all before. You must figure out what it would take to allow you to let go of the hurt and concentrate on now. Maybe you need an apology. Maybe you want your experience validated. Decipher what your need is. At some point it will be necessary to take the leap toward trust again -- that is, if you want to reestablish intimacy. If not, please recognize that all the spying and questioning in the world will not ensure the other person’s sincerity. If you are the person who allegedly did the harm, accept responsibility, stop defending yourself and be very careful to only make promises you can keep -- your self-esteem is at stake.

Another thought, it’s easy to assume that everyone sees the world in the same way that we do. Be slow to criticize and please do not stoop to ridicule. Unless identical twins married identical twins who grew up next door, followed the same religion, etc., it’s going to happen -- you and the other person will have different theories as to the way things should be. Let me give you a silly example. I was having trouble backing out of the driveway last week. My husband, who was losing patience with me, said “why aren’t you using the side mirrors for that?” I told him that I always looked out the back window to back up. The more he insisted that I back up his way, the more I wanted to do things my way -- (the back window happened to be foggy at the time). Well, I backed up alright -- right into the mailbox & dented & scratched the whole rear side panel of the car. Guess I should have tried it his way!

The point is, we all have habits that we don’t even think about. When someone disappoints you, try not to make the mistake of thinking that because your partner, friend, whoever, is not aware of what pleases you is proof of a lack of caring. So often, hard feelings emerge between partners because each of them expects the other to read his/her mind. “If you loved me you would have…” If you don’t let the other person know exactly what you want, don’t be surprised if what you’re expecting doesn’t happen. Someone doesn’t love you more because they make a lucky guess once in a while!

Part of growing up is learning to put things into perspective and to know that even if someone holds an opinion that differs from ours, they can care about us just the same. Try to learn from mistakes and differences. You can be quite sure that making someone you care about feel “less than” never produces future happiness.

"A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday"

Alexander Pope

September 2008

A Life of Generosity, Gratitude & Grace

Years ago my mother used to say to me, “Gregory Peck can park his shoes under my bed at any time”. I felt the same way about Paul Newman.

Granted, I never met the man, but between his amazing good looks, generosity, talent and personal courage I do believe he was someone quite special. I have never heard or read a negative word about Paul Newman. He appeared to be down to earth, and humble to the point that he attributed his many successes to good luck.

One of the discussions I frequently have with clients is about their feelings of not being good enough. There is always a mention of someone, or several someone’s who “make” them feel inferior. This is what I have to say about that: Anyone who truly feels good about him/herself, who is comfortable in his/her own skin, would NEVER attempt to make another feel “less than”. There’s a adage I learned a long time ago -- “under the arrogance lies the shame.”

What so many of us fail to realize is that regardless of our financial circumstances we always have something to give. A few weeks ago I was at Starbuck’s and the man ahead of me in line couldn’t find a dime, so I gave him one. You would have thought that I had done something amazing. It was only a dime! The man was flabbergasted and the folks behind the counter were reacting as if I had discovered a way to turn coffee beans into gold. What they were really responding to, of course, was that I had reached out a hand to help. Now, I know this isn’t like working in the refugee camps in Darfur, but we are all in a position to share the “bounty” whether it be through a phone call, a smile at the right time or a dime in a coffee shop.

There is a piece of self interest in this. When you do something that makes someone else feel good you will feel good yourself. We all have an internal meter that, like it or not, we unconsciously use to judge our own actions. When we live up to our own expectations we are rewarded with a personal feeling of satisfaction. So, when you are feeling somewhat “subhuman” as we all do at times, a simple act of kindness will boost your feeling of self-worth. It’s something we can all afford and seriously need.

Paul Newman was in the position and had the inclination to help on a large scale. Reportedly, he donated +$200,000,000 in profits from his food line to causes he believed in. By any measure, this is an extraordinary sum. Another impressive part of this is that, as a consumer, when you saw the brand “Newman’s Own”, you knew that you were buying a quality product. We don’t often find such a clear example of a win/win situation.

These are extremely difficult times. Florida has the highest foreclosure rate in the country. Lee county, where I live, has the highest foreclosure rate in Florida. Not only are people losing their homes, but one result is there are segments of our local population who are being denied the right to vote because they now cannot prove they have a Florida address.

When we encounter extreme circumstances it is a challenge to find things for which to be grateful. If you like being alive, if you have anyone who loves you, if you have health or if you’ve ever been treated with kindness and care, you will surely be able to find a reason to be thankful. Please try not to measure yourself in terms of how someone else is getting along. I know that’s hard, I struggle with that myself. The problem is that such a focus leaves us feeling either inferior or superior. In my opinion, we are neither -- we’re just folks struggling to make sense of a very complicated period of time.

Even in times of tremendous stress we have the capacity to exhibit compassion and courtesy to our neighbors. I think when we do that, it reminds us that we are human and what being human demands of us in terms of our behavior. However deprived we may feel, it’s an egregious error to treat others as enemies with whom we are competing for survival. In a macro sense most of us know that we need and flourish with the assistance of others. When we bring it down to a micro level, however, we tend to forget that a wholly self-focused style of living is unrealistic and will defeat us, in some way, in the long run.

Often, no matter how hard we try, we have no control over the circumstances that come our way. We always have control over our own behavior. No one makes us behave with cruelty, thoughtlessness, greediness or dishonesty. When it comes to our conduct, we must take responsibility for our own.

Paul Newman was a great role model. It is now up to us to demonstrate, in the way we live our lives, how we believe the world should be.

"It’s been a privilege to be here."

Paul Newman to daughter one week before his death

October 2008 - Look at it This Way

I’ve been trying to think of something to write about that isn’t political. It’s not that I’m lacking in opinions, it’s that I don’t believe that this newsletter is the appropriate venue for sharing my ideas on political subjects -- what do I know anyway?

This evening I went to see the movie, “Rachel Getting Married”. If “Caddy Shack” is your idea of a great film , this one is definitely not for you. The film is devastating and human and joyful and touching and hopeful all at the same time. I enjoy a certain amount of emotional wreckage, especially when my doses come from a distance, so for me, I feel that my movie money was well spent.

One of the sub-themes of this movie was the realization of the joy and comfort available to us when we are able to expand our ways of thinking so that we include other cultures and points of view in our value system. I will not reveal plot points, but this is story-telling that possesses wisdom and an attitude of respect. See it if you can.

What I experience over and over in my life and practice is the belief held by many that it is impossible to be emotionally intimate with someone who sees the world through a different lens. We seem to be living in a time where we expect others to “twin” with us. If they fail to do that, we immediately brand them as the “enemy”, and close our minds and hearts to all kinds of wonderful possibilities.

Think about it. If, somehow, we were all programmed to reflect identical beliefs what would happen to creativity? How would we have painters, poets, musicians or scientists? It’s the person who essentially says , “I don’t think I agree with that” who discovers something new. Isn’t it sad that the “establishment” so often derides the idea of a new influence? I understand that there is the tendency to protect what one already has; nobody like to feel that they have “lost” something. But, why does it have to be all one way or the other? We live in a continuous cycle of birth and death; does it not make sense that different ideas of beauty, justice and belief come to the fore as the world changes and shifts? It sure makes sense to me.

It really bothers me that we seem to have lost our ability to good-naturedly spar over our varied ideas of how we would like the world to be. This is a time when we appear to be in a cycle of limited resources -- wealth and energy assets look as if they are in short supply. We have become so focused on what we perceive that we are losing that we fail to recognize the assets that are ours forever and in unlimited quantities, should we chose to use and value them. There is no ration on love, trust, compassion, sensitivity, grace, or kindness. These are the commodities that we crave, and often believe we can achieve only through wealth, influence and power. The predicament is not that you possess wealth, influence or power. The trouble starts brewing when they possess you.

Here’s something else to think about: Don’t you think that you would eventually become terribly bored with a mirror images of yourself? You might feel more secure that way, but where would you find inspiration? When would you experience the joy of crafting an object or idea that is , for the most part, uniquely yours? We would never have a symphony if we used only one note.

Of course you can have a happy marriage despite philosophical differences; of course you can have a good friendship or any other kind of relationship. More important is the concurrence of your values. Here’s how you disagree in a way that is healthy: You start with each of you listening to the other and I do mean just listen. Check to make sure you’ve understood correctly and then present your point of view, asking your partner to listen to you without interruption. So often we get so caught up in the details of what we would like to say, that we never even hear the other. Try starting out with good will. Hey if James Carville and Mary Matalin can do it, so can you.

Better yet, why not assume that most people are pretty nice. You really can’t judge someone by a first impression (I don’t care what anyone says). Try not to hurry to conclusions and you will, I bet, find yourself to be pleasantly surprised. For the most part our behavior originates within ourselves -- no one forces us to respond in any particular way.

Finally, even though it’s tempting, try very hard to resist convincing yourself that there is only one way to accomplish something There are lots of ways to cook a chicken -- I might like barbequed and you might like baked -- they’re both good.

 

"The price of the democratic way of life is a growing appreciation of people's differences, not merely as tolerable, but as the essence of a rich and rewarding human experience."

Jerome Nathanson

November 2008 - The Best Thanksgiving Ever

Over the years I have been both the host and invitee to many a Thanksgiving dinner. We have had traditional feasts at which everyone had a good time. We have had traditional feasts, where there was tension between “merrymaking” participants and many of us did not have such a good time. It’s tricky with Thanksgiving because everyone has their own idea as to what a Thanksgiving spread should consist of. What kind of stuffing? Pumpkin and apple pie? And, my old favorite (in which my husband and I engage), is the turkey thoroughly cooked yet?

The worst Thanksgiving I can remember was over 20 years ago. I was going through a divorce, my kids were spending Thanksgiving with “him” and for one reason or another no one was available to spend the holiday with me. I tried really, really hard to not care. I told myself that it was just a day, really no different than any other Thursday, but myself and I did not agree. Ultimately, I allowed myself to sink into despondency and managed to be miserable right through the week-end.

This year was unlike any in my experience and was, by far, my best Thanksgiving ever.

As many of you know, my husband, Harry, has had a multitude of health problems over the past three years. For six months now we have been battling the results of a botched foot surgery, and with the help of wonderful friends, we have transferred his care to a doctor in Manhattan who has been beyond conscientious in helping Harry to keep his foot and improve his overall health.

Harry was discharged from the hospital on Thanksgiving day. He could not travel alone, so I took a 6:20 am flight from Florida to New York, picked him up and had him home by 7 pm. As we waited at the airport, I munching a tuna sandwich, he a Philly cheese steak, the most wonderful feeling took me by surprise. I understood that there was nowhere in the world that I would rather be than with him at the airport at that particular moment. I felt simply, uncomplicatedly happy. There was no tinge of regret or longing, just a feeling of being where I was supposed to be.

I had half-cooked a Thanksgiving dinner the night before , so when we got home, all I had to do was heat things through. I had purchased store-made mashed potatoes and gravy, used a packaged stuffing and topped it off with the kind of cranberry sauce that still bears the imprint of the can when you serve it. Not exactly a gourmet delight!. Certainly not the way I usually prepare for a feast.

Harry was just thrilled -- he never would have guessed that he would be able to have his Thanksgiving celebration this year. It was easy for me -- there weren’t even a lot of dishes to clean up. When he turned to me and said that this was the best Thanksgiving he’d ever had I was surprised to find that we were on exactly the same page at the same time. Better yet, I was getting a lot of applause for accomplishing something that wasn’t really very hard. It was like winning the Thanksgiving lottery.

Nothing means as much to me as knowing that my husband’s health will improve, after all, I will be needing him to push the wheelchair at some time in the future. The challenges we have faced over the years (there have been many) have bonded us ever closer together. There is no guess work. We simply are there for each other, no matter what. When I was younger I was always trying to recapture the “pink cloud” that envelops new relationships. I never knew that it was possible to engage in a deep and long-lasting love affair that is based on an accurate understanding of each other. The warmth and gratitude that I experience on a daily basis (even when he’s irritating) is far richer and more rewarding than the butterflies I felt at the beginning of our “couple hood“. Truth be told, sometimes he comes through the door and those butterflies are right back there in my tummy.

This brings me to my central point. You are never too old, your relationships are never too longstanding, your work is never so stale that you cannot experience the splendid feeling that you are doing exactly what you were put on this earth to do. Avoid the trap of attempting to wrap your arms so tightly around the past that there is no room left for the gifts that are yours today. The past is important -- it helps us to understand ourselves and why we have chosen certain paths rather than others. Do not be tricked by the illusion that you can use yesterday’s solutions for today’s problems. We need to expand our repertoire if we wish to live happily. Look for and accept new practices that will enrich your life today.

My wish for you is that even in these very difficult times you can recognize the things in your life that are right. The blessings are there, our job is to discover wherein they lie.

 

"Count your blessings. Once you realize how valuable you are and how much you have going for you, the smiles will return, the sun will break out, the music will play, and you will finally be able to move forward the life that God intended for you with grace, strength, courage, and confidence." Og Mandino

December 2008 - When You Can’t Protect

2008 has been quite a year. Most of the people I come into contact with are eager for it to be over. I must admit that I join that group. Of course, the turning of the calendar doesn’t promise that anything novel is about to occur -- it simply gives us the sometimes needed illusion that we have been given permission to start anew.

So, I asked myself, what exactly has made the last year so painful for me, personally. I think, that when I scrape everything else away, it is the realization that I cannot shield some of the people I love the most from harm.

You already know about my husband, Harry, and how distressing it is for me to witness his physical pain. There is, however, another family member who suffers from a different kind of pain -- one that is damaging to self-esteem and, at times, results in insulting behavior from normally very decent people. That person is our oldest grandson, Max.

I can, of course, remember when he was born and the certainty with which we dreamed about his future. Max was born into a loving home with two sensible, warm and successful parents. When he was very tiny I babysat and that song, “Nothing's gonna harm you, not while I'm around…“ kept running through my head. I believed, that with love, we could shelter him from anything that came along.

When Max was 2 he was diagnosed with autism. It’s such a baffling condition, and my son and daughter-in-law were right on top of accessing every service that was available to them. Autism is part of a spectrum and Max was certainly on the high end of the continuum, which is far more apparent in a young child than in an older one. After his younger brother, who does not suffer from autism, was born, their parents moved to a community in Florida which afforded special services for children with special needs.

And so…we went along. Max will be 13 in January. He is old enough now to understand that he is not like other kids his age. He feels lonely and cut off from his peers. One of the myths about autism is that those who experience it do not miss their connection to others. This is not true. For “high functioning” people with autism loneliness becomes a way of life. Max cries about this and, of course, other than finding the best schools and programs and showering him with familial love, we can do nothing for him.

Max is extremely attached to his parents. Autistic children become very bonded to their caretakers. They are the folks who understand the world of autism and try to help these children adjust to a world that expects one to be “normal“.

Max’s mom now has cancer. At a recent family gathering, which his mother was too ill to attend, Max repeatedly reminded us, “My mom is sick, she has cancer”. Our hearts break and we scurry to try to make everything better. We can’t.

So, I have been unable to keep the harm away. Here I sit with the ability to help other people find new ways to look at and enjoy their lives and I can do nothing for this precious child. His situation breaks my heart. On the other hand, I am grateful that Max was born into a family that loves him without limits. We will continue to encourage him to make the most of his strengths and let him know that we believe in him.

And, I do believe in Max. Max believes in himself. He has so many plans for his future. He has aspired to be everything from a paleontologist to an accountant (that’s quite a range there!). Max doesn’t stop trying. Although people (even me, I must confess) tire of his repeated stories, (perseverance is one of the characteristics of autism), Max hangs in there. Of course, I don’t know his thought process, but he must expect that if he keeps on trying someone will share his interests. For those of you who wonder why he doesn’t belong to a group with youngsters more like himself, I can only say that he has, he does, and he will, but, kids like Max have a restricted ability to pick up on social cues and to imagine what situations feel like to others. It is difficult for them to offer solace to each other.

I hope with every particle of my heart and soul that my daughter-in-law will be well. I hope that all of us experience a swell of optimism in the year ahead. I believe that my job in the coming year , and in all of those from then on, is to continue to make peace with my own impotence. I wish, I wish, I wish that I had more influence on the lives of those I love. I am, however, simply human.

Wishing all of you a year in which your heart sings.


"Sanity may be madness but the maddest of all is to see life as it is and not as it should be." Don Quixote

January 2009 - Please Choose the High road

I write this as a recovering “low roader“. In years past, when entering into an argument I was willing to pull out the big guns, try to “win” at all costs, and leave my so-called opponent bloody and wounded. I was tough! All that I garnered from that approach was lowered self-esteem, a guilty conscience, and a relationship that was difficult, sometimes impossible, to repair. I knew how to make people fear me and actually thought of that as a positive trait.

Anger is an important emotion. You will never hear me advise you to squelch your irritation and just be “sociable and friendly” (I cannot tell you how many times my father told me to do just that -- I never listened). The trick is to figure out what to do with your feelings of outrage, frustration and indignation while holding on to the standards you have set for your own behavior.

If you have a short fuse, just know that that’s how you respond. It’s neither good or bad. For your own protection, put some space between the incident and your response. Counterattack probably feels good to you in the short term but there’s a good chance you will experience some regrets down the road. You can even let the “other” know that you have a reply but you will deliver it at a later date. Do not interpret prudence as weakness. Adults value discretion.

Suppose you are someone who lets it all build up. Well, you know what happens with that -- a big explosion, and, sometimes, stress related illnesses. Neither is a very good alternative. The other person is likely to respond with something like, “Why didn’t you tell me that bothered you?” and you will be left flummoxed and muttering something like “I didn’t want to complain about little things”.

Look guys, it’s the little things that make up the fabric of our lives. You could preface your wish that your friends take off their shoes at the door (or some such thing) with, “I know this is a little thing but…”. Whatever response you receive will sure beat the one you get if you let the fur fly.

A lot of people are on edge these days. Anxiety, fear and sadness can all be masked as anger. Why? Because anger makes us feel powerful; allows us to believe that we are not victims. Check out your anger with yourself and see if you can figure out what’s really going on with you -- you can’t treat a broken nail with a toothbrush or anxiety with a temper tantrum.

We are far more likely to demolish our self-esteem than anyone else. Regardless of the rationale, be careful in your responses. If you stoop too low, you are likely to not feel too great about yourself. It’s just not worth it. As for payback, be very, very careful with that little devil. Revenge is a set up for escalating and perpetuating what is already a bad situation. If someone steals your wallet, by all means, call the authorities, try to retrieve it, do what you can to recoup that which is yours. You would be foolish to go out and steal the thief’s wallet.

You may have the illusion that you can make someone experience what your injury feels like. Come on back down to earth. No one else is you! Your past, your genetic makeup, your lifestyle and so much more go into making you a unique, inimitable human being. Besides that, people have a way of teaching themselves their own best lessons. Leave it to the fates, or whatever you believe in, and spend your time making plans that enhance your life rather than harm another’s.

I’m sure you’ve all had the experience of having a falling out with someone only to discover, at a later date , that you wish to reestablish contact. That’s kind of hard to do if you’ve gone for the jugular and caused that person to feel humiliated or shamed. People like me are always urging you to be proactive rather than reactive. What that means is that it’s a good idea to step back and think before you speak or act. You may not deliver the witty putdown you had in mind, but you also will not wish you had bitten your tongue out or regret your lack of access to a memory altering drug.

A maxim that I have always heeded is that if a relationship cannot be changed in a way that you are able to put up with, that’s the time to understand that there is nothing left to say. Don’t stick around so that you can deliver the final blow. Preserve your dignity, and just let it be. This doesn’t mean that you should stop talking to that individual, like, “Hi, how are you?”, but it does mean that if, on a regular basis, you feel worse after you’ve spent time with that individual, your wisest course may be to turn your attention elsewhere. If you can’t connect, you can’t connect.

Be true to yourself. Listen to your own voice and be proud of who you are.

“Satire's my weapon, but I'm too discreet to run amuck, and tilt at all I meet”

Alexander Pope

February 2009 - Where it Begins and Ends

Wouldn’t it be great if someone invented a Love-O-meter? Such a device would be able to measure if love exists, how intensely it’s felt, and sort of like the black light used to test the authenticity of antiques, whether or not it’s the “real thing”? Just think, so many of our emotional fears would be addressed and answered and we would, more easily, be able to make decisions as to when to stay and when to go.

Until this happens, we are pretty much on our own, with, perhaps, the help of friends and family (choose wisely!), to solve the dilemma and make reasonably apt decisions that will lead to current and future happiness.

Of course, if we had a Love-O-Meter we would have to come up with a definition of love and decide if we need categories such as “romantic love”, “family love”, “friend love”, “short term”, “long term”, etc. As you can see the list could go on indefinitely.

Love and death seem to provoke almost equal levels of fear. Some people have trouble recognizing their anxiety regarding intimacy, but I see it all the time. And, in some ways, really revealing your innards to another feels like flirting with death -- the possibility of the emotional slaying of your very being. It takes a combination of courage, optimism and persistence to take the leap and allow someone else “in”.

It’s a shame that we humans believe that if a significant other finds us lacking that, indeed, we are. We obsess over the “wrong” word or action that may have tanked a wished-for relationship. Intellectually, we say that we know that the rejection we feel reflects the other person’s standards rather than our own deficiencies, but we usually believe that the fault lies inside of us. “If I’d only given him more room”… “If I weren’t so needy”… “If I’d played it smart, made more money, etc”. Is there anyone out there who hasn’t harbored such thoughts as we watched our dreams of love tumble through our fingers?

We often forget that timing and shared common goals play a large part in our quest for love.

In our attempts to lessen the impact of our yearning for a connection we play it cool. See, the trouble starts when we feel the necessity to “play” it at all. When we “play” it we’re not true to ourselves and when we’re not true to ourselves we are bound to feel insecure which pretty much ensures we will suffer from a certain amount of apprehension as said relationship develops.

This is not to say that it’s wise to indiscriminately pour our emotions all over the object of our affections -- he or she will surely drown. We have all learned (I hope) to exercise a certain amount of impulse control in our lives and we must have that skill at the ready when we encounter emotionally-charged situations.

On the other hand, emotional constipation is not a good alternative. If “the other” cringes or panics when you express positive feelings you probably have a problem on your hands. I really don’t subscribe to the idea that a woman must wait for a man to say “I love you” first. If he feels trapped, coerced or in some way compromised because you’ve told him you care for him, he’s not a good candidate for “happily ever after” (this applies to women who respond this way as well).

As I always say, “the longest journey occurs betwen the head to the heart”, and while a certain amount of brain power is important, when you go with your intellect and discard or ignore the song in your heart you are unlikely to develop a bond that fills you with joy.

Look, whichever road you choose, you will be taking a chance. Stop looking for the “sure thing”, you’ll never find it. I’m sorry to say this, but if you become involved with someone who offers “unconditional” love no matter what you are likely to find yourself wondering where that person’s self-esteem lies (if it exists) and this type of reflection is likely to result in a feeling of disdain or disrespect. Such a situation will never make you happy.

Look, I’m a confessed risk-taker (not a recovering one, by the way), so you may not want to follow me to the edge of the precipice. However, if what you wish to experience is a fulfilling love connection you will have to stick your neck out and take some kind of chance. See if you can make choices that disregard your desire to control the situation. Don’t, however unconsciously, decide on an individual who is likely to view you as a superior being. You will indubitably slip off of that pedestal and, when you do, you will wish to be with someone who sees you as you really are underneath the idealized vision.

We all deserve to be loved. Take a chance -- go find yours!

“It hurts to love someone and not be loved in return, but what is the most painful is to love someone and never find the courage to let the person know how you feel.” -- Unknown

March 2009 - I'm Feeling Anxious!

It’s really hard when we feel completely overwhelmed, which at times is a unremitting state for me, to gain perspective, calm one’s pounding heart, and believe that, indeed, there will be a future and that all is not lost forever. Of course, there are medications that deal with that, but what to do if tablets are not our route of choice to serenity?

My first suggestion is one you’ve probably heard a million times, but take a few very deep breaths. The reason for this is that deep breathing will relax your system and it is impossible to be relaxed and tense at exactly the same time.

Now that that has been accomplished, how do we tackle the insurmountable mountain in front of us.? The way that I prefer to tunnel through the mess I’m facing is slowly, in a very focused way. First, we must prioritize. It’s really easy to be distracted by some side issue that is easily resolved. We will find, however, that moments spent on tasks that take us away from our goal consume a lot of time, and, in the long run, increase our angst many fold.

I know that a lot of you feel uncomfortable when you are unable to complete a task as perfectly as you would like. Well, perfection is hard to define and perfectionism will delay a livable-with resolution. Decide which parts of your task are essential and non-negotiable and concentrate on those. I’ll give you a silly example from my own, often chaotic, life.

On many a morning I plan to attend to the dogs, wash my hair, iron or steam my clothes, have breakfast, make my bed and be ready for a 9:00 appointment. A reasonable list one might assume. Morning comes and I may receive 3 unscheduled phone calls, two of which require me to consult my schedule and adjust it. Since I really make every effort to avoid having the dogs pee in the house, they must be attended to. Now, a good 45 minutes may have passed so I decide that my hair is clean enough, try to find something that doesn’t need ironing or steaming and rush to get ready. Usually, as I’m attempting to put on my makeup, my husband has something to talk to me about or some task he would like help with. There goes the bed! Finally, if I’m lucky, I have time to put two of the dogs in their cages and just maybe throw together a breakfast drink that I either take into the session with me or wait to gulp down at, let’s say, noon. Now the day is completely off kilter and rarely do I make it as far as straightening the bed. Why do I not get up earlier you may ask? Simple, it’s hard for me to function before 7AM no matter how hard I try. When I force it I’m grumpy, bump into things and am unbelievably inefficient --I’m better off staying in bed.

I have had to give myself permission to let certain things slide, and in doing so, have applied that point of view to other areas of my life. Is it the way I would like it to be? No. However, I can either be a raging lunatic or a fairly reasonable person to deal with. I choose the latter (to the relief of those who cross my path).

In making choices about what to do and how to handle those things it can be helpful to imagine the worst possible conclusion. It’s tax season (as if you didn’t know). Once upon a time, a long time ago, I believed that disaster would strike unless all of my information was compiled in the early part of January. Had you asked me what would happen should I fail to do this, I would have told you that I would probably be chained to a wall in a dungeon, never to return to civilization. These days I am hardly peaceful as I gather up my scraps and endeavor to remember where I put those all-important pieces of paper, but, if I have to take an extension, I do so. The world has continued to spin and the cell in the dungeon is still empty (for now).

Try to remember a time in your childhood when you felt the same kind of dread you are feeling now. Were I a betting person, I would wager the farm that somewhere, back in the days of youth, lies the foundation for the discomfort you feel today. For me, as a kid when I lost the crayons it was my fault. When my own children lost their crayons it was still my fault. I still, and always will, tremble when I am handed a very important piece of paper -- don’t give it to me -- PLEASE! I know I am unlikely to outgrow this, so, I try to be patient with myself and understand that paper is not my friend.

You may have noticed the delay in receiving this (March) newsletter. Well, now you know what slipped to the bottom of my “to do” list. What saves me from becoming engulfed in unease is that this is my newsletter, after all. Also, I’m sure that no one’s life has suffered as a result of the holdup. So, happy April everyone & I hope to deliver this months’ newsletter in a more timely fashion. Smile -- it makes your brain happy.

“Do you want to know the surefire way to stay anxious? Don’t do the thing that makes you nervous!”

Larina Kase

Special Edition - The Thief

A thief arrived on our doorstep and breached the protective bubble that enclosed our family. The thief’s name was Death by Cancer. The thief stole Stacy Leigh Gordon, age 45. from our arms and whisked her to another realm, one which we will only be able to enter at some undetermined time in the future.

Stacy Leigh Gordon was a wife, mother, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, attorney and journalist. She was really something quite special.

While she was not my biological child, she was a second daughter in my heart. At the end of her life, when she was still battling, but becoming weaker every day, she called me “mommy” and liked to snuggle next to me in her hospital bed. What a privilege that was.

Stacy spent her life defying the odds. She had her first newspaper column at 14 (also her first lawsuit), graduated from high school a year early and paid her own way through the University of Florida, Northwestern School of Journalism and Fordham Law School. She was “Dr. Stacy”, but with her blonde curls, shining blue eyes and high-pitched giggle, you never would have guessed what an intellectual powerhouse she really was.

I love Stacy and am not yet ready to put her in the past tense. I don’t know if I ever will. She was so determined, persistent and impressive that even though I knew that a diagnosis of stage 3 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was quite terrible, I always, until the very end, believed that she would find a way to outsmart that damn disease and return to us with her limitless energy and joie de vivre. I was wrong.

My girl faced many challenges in her life, among them the discovery that her first son, Max, had autism. Even when the doctors initially failed to take her fears seriously, she attacked the situation with her usual vigor and I can tell you, as a first-hand witness, that Max has had every possible opportunity afforded him. Stacy would have been so proud of him at her funeral as he, his brother Jacob and my son, Bennett eulogized her before a large crowd. Max told us that his mother was a “good woman”, that she had taught him to be positive and that’s why he always was.

Jacob looks just like his mother. It’s easy to make him laugh, he’s a goof ball (in the very best way) and is a great baseball player and fan.

My son has displayed strength and composure like nothing I have ever seen. He and Stacy were married for 17 ½ years. They understood each other thoroughly, and were still in love. Bennett has, literally, slept on the floor so that Stacy could be comfortable and never shied away from the unpleasantness that cancer brings. He was with her when she died.

I am very, very angry about her death. It’s simply WRONG. I will never be able to say, “it was for the best”. I must, as all of us who love her must, accept that she won’t come bouncing into the room like a joyful puppy and lead us wherever she would like to go. There is nothing “best” about any of this.

My own mother died 22 years ago. I have asked her (I speak to her all the time) to keep her eyes open for the bubbly blonde who loves to smile and show her the way around heaven. Boy will those 2 get along! Stacy will settle in quickly as my mother proudly embraces her and my father pats her head like he did mine throughout our time together as father and daughter.

I console myself with the belief that we will all meet up again, sometime. I don’t care if my belief is correct -- I need it as I learn to live with the losses our lives inevitably bring.

I love my life, I really do. I eagerly anticipate, however, the joyful reunion that awaits. We were so fortunate to have had someone as extraordinary as Stacy in our lives. She believed in the possibilities and that you never say die until you have used up your resources and have nothing left with which to fight.

She lives on in the DNA of my grandchildren and, of course, in the love with which she has filled our hearts. I will see her when the sun shines and know she is there when her children laugh.

Max is right, his mother is a good woman; a very good woman. An original we were blessed to have in our lives for a while and who we will miss and remember forever.

April 2009 - Manifest Your Inner Shmoo

 

Okay, life’s been complicated and tough. Of course, it always has been that way, but no one told us that when we were growing up. We thought if we just followed the yellow brick road that a genuine Wizard of Oz who was all-powerful would solve all of our problems. Wrong! So, what’s a human to do?

Well, the shmoo was put on earth to spread love and to please those who needed him/her. So, how do we get in touch with the shmoo of peace and serenity?

Those of you who are able to maintain your optimism regardless of what’s going on around you probably don’t need to read the rest of this. My guess is that even the most positive of you have, at some time or another, felt like you just couldn’t handle one more setback.

Let’s take a look at what life’s had to offer in the past couple of years. If we were invested in the stock market, we’ve lost money. If we invested in real estate, we’ve lost money. Many of us who have never been jobless before have found ourselves out of work and carrying more debt, with fewer assets to pay it off ,than we had ever imagined. We cannot, of course, predict what Mother Nature might bring our way. We can fervently implore her to spare us flood, fire, hurricanes and tornados, but usually she just does whatever she wants. We do know that our environment is deteriorating and want to live “green”, but it all can get pretty confusing. Now, just as we congratulate ourselves for holding on to our relationships and health, along comes the swine flu to scare us half to death, with talk of a possible pandemic. Whoa!

How much more can we take? As much as we need to. Some of us will retreat into old, seemingly comforting behavior like drinking too much, gambling too much, excessively depending on drugs to help us handle our fears, etc. Probably anything that’s got “too much” attached to it will end up biting us back at some point in time.

During times like these I would suggest you call up your inner shmoo and let him/her know that you need help RIGHT NOW. That’s the shmoo’s job -- to reassure us and help us find our own tranquility. The shmoo is there to remind us that we are all built to be resilient. We may have more confidence in our suppleness when we are children and have not formed habits that encourage us believe we cannot live without this or that, but our ability to bend with the wind is still there, and we must begin to believe this, or our fear of breaking will, engulf us and leave us feeling that our feet have been sunk in cement and we are helpless to move.

I’m not implying that contacting the shmoo is easy. It is certainly less complicated for some of us than others. From my point of view, I don’t think the speed with which we reach “shmooville” is all that important. Cliché as it may sound, it really is about the journey and not the destination.

It’s so hard to realize that each of us is perfect just as we are. That doesn’t mean we may not wish to change some of our ways of doing things, but, it does mean that, regardless of what we’ve come to believe about ourselves, each of us has everything we need already in place.

Look, the people (likely our parents) who taught us that we were “bad”, disappointing, or, perhaps, looked to us to possess certain traits that they were never able to acquire, were simply, wonderfully, human. I doubt that there are very many parents who, looking at their newborn, say, “Gee, I can’t wait to mess with this kid’s head!”.

I cannot tell you how often, in my work, when I tell someone that they are exactly who they were meant to be, the tears start to flow. This reaction is wonderful and painful to experience. Wonderful, because that means that my client is considering the possibility that this might be true and painful, because this truth has never before been given credence. So many of our colleagues walk around believing that they are truly bad people. It’s quite sad. In fact, although I really don’t like labels, the “good” people outnumber the “bad” people by far.

Obviously the shmoo is a symbol. Symbols arise because we need them. As a rule, we don’t trip ourselves up because we think too much of ourselves; it’s a result of honoring ourselves too little.

Please, in good times and bad, try to remember there’s a really good and valuable person who resides in your skin. Should you forget, just call up the shmoo.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." Ralph Waldo Emerson

May 2009 - Climbing Trees

A couple of weeks ago, while he was home with a nasty cold, my youngest grandson, Matty (age 4), proceeded to climb up his parents’ elliptical trainer and attempted to stand on the handle bars. Matty is a climber -- he always has been. I asked my daughter, “Where did this come from?”. And then, I remembered.

As unlikely as it may seem, given my limited athletic ability and utter lack of balance, as a child I loved to climb trees. Of course, in Washington, where I grew up, the trees where heavy-limbed oaks that were just begging to be ascended. I loved to get up to the part where I was enshrouded in protective green, unable to look out or be seen from below. I loved my green cave, that’s what it felt like, and I was entirely safe and peaceful as I sat on a substantial branch and leaned back against a sturdy trunk that had been around a lot longer than I had. It was my own leafy world, a private place just for me.

When I think back to that time, I can remember that it never occurred to me that I would not be able to scale to a desired altitude, nor was I plagued by the fear of heights that has troubled me over my years as an adult. I’m sure I must have fallen any number of times and believe that I wasn’t deterred by this, taking it as a part of the experience and nothing to worry about.

Let’s fast forward to today, a time in which I easily lose sight of the childhood wisdom that allowed me to understand that there would be many tumbles along the way.

Recently, as I’ve pondered the road ahead, I have fallen into believing that I will, from this point on, lose mental and physical acumen. It’s all downhill from here! I have looked out 10 years in the future and assumed that I won’t be as sharp as I am today (however sharp that is!). Once I became aware that I was doing this and got a bead on the resulting anxiety I experienced, I took a step back and had to ask myself, “Why are you doing this?” “Would you advise someone else to slow down and fear the future?” Of course not -- so why do it to myself?

Even if I have “only” 20 years ahead of me -- that’s a long time! Plenty of time to learn and try new things, plenty of time for things to go both wrong and right. By putting an age-based limitation on myself I have constructed an artificial barrier, one that makes no sense and can only lead to feelings of defeat and ineptitude. That’s not a smart way to plan or to approach life.

Having thought this through, and, understanding that this is a self-defeating way to live, I have found a freeing-up of my physical and creative energy. I realize that my challenge is to prioritize my life in such a way that I allow time to do the things and be with the people I care about. It’s my intention to practice enlightened selfishness. Hmm… yet another lesson from my own, as yet unwritten, self-help book. It just makes sense to make the best use of who I am today. I like knowing that I have acquired some degree of wisdom and have a pretty good idea as to what I need to feel joy in my life. It’s all so obvious -- I’m not sure why I didn’t think of that sooner.

One of the qualities of childhood that is so appealing is the confidence that youngsters have in a world with no limits. There’s something really refreshing about a naïf tackling a goal without being crippled by fears of inadequacy. It seems to me that successful entrepreneurs possess that same kind of audacity. I’m not saying that childhood is a stage without problems. We know that struggles that last a lifetime are planted at this time. However, lacking the developmental capacity to understand and foresee possible obstacles has it’s advantages. We can’t be held back by vulnerabilities that are beyond our ability to imagine. Unless it’s a visceral reaction, the bold are unlikely to be fettered by fears of what could go wrong.

Accessing caution rather than anxiety is a good way to approach a new situation. It also increases the likelihood of success. Caution allows for action. Anxiety or apprehension can keep us frozen on the spot. Cautious optimism is a great ally when we apply for a new job, meet a possible love interest, or attempt something that is outside our usual repertoire. Recognizing the challenge inherent in every dilemma is a great way to start to resolve the problem -- it’s not beyond our reach, we simply need to figure out ways to extend that reach.

While I won’t be attempting to balance on handlebars at any time that I can foresee, it’s helpful for me to remember a time when climbing trees was a part of my ordinary routine. I do not believe that confidence is truly lost -- it’s dormant and simply waiting for us to find it again.

Never stop dreaming, planning or setting goals. Life is full of surprises, and yours might be just around the corner.

"Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now."

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

June 2009 - Where Did it Go?

This morning on television they played a video from 1985, which showed a large group of artists recording “We are the World”. For those who don’t remember, this was a song produced by Quincy Jones and written by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson in an effort to raise money for starving children in Africa.

I lived in Washington in 1985 and I remember a Sunday at a specified time (which I can’t remember) when many of us went out into the street, joined hands and sang “We are the World” in a demonstration of support for the cause. There we were, strangers for the most part, in a line through Georgetown to the west and toward the White House on the east. The goal, as I remember it, was to form an unbroken line throughout the city, and from where I stood, it sure looked like we had done just that.

I never saw any of those people again. But, that day, I felt so much connection to everyone I saw, so much joy, not for my participation, but for the fact that, at this particular time, we joined together with a mutual wish -- “We are the ones who make a brighter day so let’s start giving”. Hope was high and with hope we are encouraged to try; without it, we tumble into despair.

The end of June, 2009 has brought with it tragedy, gossip and scandal. While it is tempting to engage in schadenfreude, perhaps we would be better served by taking a look at what we need to do in order to lead our lives in a way that brings us, not just satisfaction, but a fullness of heart that keeps us going when things get rough.

It’s easy to fall into the pit and feel like your troubles are the only elements that exist in your life. I am as guilty as anyone of becoming mesmerized by my own navel. I am grateful for my work, which does not allow me to stay self-focused. I always feel better after a session in which I may have assisted in the lightening of another’s burden. How the girl who only ever wanted to be a movie star or a bride (not necessarily a wife) ended up doing this kind of work is a long story, which is punctuated by disappointment and loss, and for which, to my own astonishment, I am grateful. Book learning is one thing, but overcoming life’s inevitable disappointments brings heart and soul to the work, and in my opinion, without that, it’s not possible to heal.

My question, for which I do not have an answer is, “Why is it that we forget that we only thrive when we accomplish our objectives in conjunction with one another?”. I really don’t think the answer to that question is selfishness. Rather, I have a hunch that, in our search for ourselves in an unfortunately increasingly competitive world, we believe that, should we reveal what we consider to be our “weaknesses”, that the “pack” will turn on us. It’s so sad. We’re hesitant to ask for help because we believe that we’re expected to be totally self-sufficient. We believe that “others” will hold us in contempt if we acknowledge that we are going through a rough time. Even with those who are most dear to us, we hold back our fears and desires on the premise that we do not want to burden them; that our vulnerabilities will cause them to turn away.

No one comes out of the womb saying, “I think I’ll grow up to be an addict; an unfaithful spouse; a swindler, etc. People fall into these situations because they feel pain and look for ways to assuage the rawness. Fear is terrifying. When it sweeps over us all the reassurance we receive or good sense we already possess can fail us and all we feel is dread. Some of us are constitutionally able to withstand this, others are not. It really has nothing to do with weakness or strength. An undecipherable combination of temperament, genetics, environment and opportunity work together to motivate or freeze us; to get us going or turn us to seek an escape, any escape, as we disregard the inevitable consequences that our choices bring.

I always try to be candid in this newsletter, so I will disclose to all of you that Harry and I are going through a very difficult time right now. We have managed, quite well in fact, to adjust to the illness and demise of people in our family whom we hold dear. We have been less successful, however, in finding ways to outlast the current economic crisis and, in the next few months, will be making decisions about where to live and how to maintain ourselves in the years to come. I never expected my life to turn down this particular road, but here it is.

Have I felt sorry for myself? -- yes. Do I think it’s unfair? -- yes. I am also angry and frightened. On the other hand, whatever comes, I know that we will, however hesitantly, continue to put one foot in front of the other and, no matter what, will continue to live lives that celebrate love, and meaning and connection.

Do not misunderstand me. I have no more courage than anyone else. I do not possess unusual fortitude. I am, in an ironic way, lucky to have been a cancer survivor. At that time, which was many years ago, I knew, to the depths of my being, that the only thing in my life of any importance was the love I felt for others and theirs for me (you won’t be surprised that I include dogs in this category). After my second surgery, the first face I saw as I came out of the anesthesia was that of my daughter-in-law Stacy. As you know, she, her physical presence, is gone. The love continues.

I hope that someday I will look back on this time and say, “Whew! Another mountain climbed”. Whatever the future holds, it is my plan to continue to reach out and offer hope to you and welcome the love that so many of you have shown me with an open and grateful heart.

“Out of suffering comes the serious mind; out of salvation, the grateful heart; out of endurance, fortitude; out of deliverance faith.”

John Ruskin

July 2009 - Ya Gotta Keep Swimming

When I was 6 years old, I went to the Marjorie Webster day camp during the summer vacation. I have a crystal-clear memory of one particular day. There I was, in a 2-piece bathing suit (we didn’t call them bikinis then) and a horrible tight, white bathing cap that was pulling my hair and had a chin strap that was most uncomfortable. Even the rubber smell of that bathing cap was awful, but I was required to wear it, so I did.

I was walking along the edge of the deep end of the indoor pool, and, unexpectedly, found myself in the water. I did not know how to swim. I do not remember being afraid. Whatever my 6-year-old survival instinct was, it kicked in and I propelled myself the full length of the pool to the shallow end.

When I arrived, all the counselors and campers were there cheering for me. It was so surprising -- I didn’t think I had done anything unusual. My brain hadn’t gotten in the way, telling me, “remember, you don’t know how to swim!”, I just did what I needed to do in order to live to tell the tale. I did not wonder if I was going to be able to keep going -- I just kept going. Incidentally, this was not the start of Olympic aspirations --I’m still not a very good swimmer.

This, for me, has been a pretty good metaphor for life. Whatever the challenge, we need to keep going and set aside fears that we just can’t do, whatever it is we must do, anymore. I frequently have to command my brain to just zip it -- I don’t need all that noise getting in my way. Easy? No. Helpful? Yes.

This newsletter marks the end of 5 years of monthly missives I‘ve been sending out to you. I had no idea, when I started, at the time of Hurricane Charlie, that I would still be writing them today. Never would I ever have imagined that I had opinions on enough ideas to fill 60 of these communiqués.

What I didn’t think about, at the beginning, is the complexity of our lives. I hadn’t thought there was so much to say about inspirations and obstacles in day to day living.

Your feedback has enriched my life far more profoundly than you will ever realize. Some days when everything feels pretty rotten, a comment from one of you that lets me know that I’m hitting the mark with the topics I choose really means a lot to me. I’m quite certain that I have learned at least as much from you as you have from the ideas that I have shared.

One thing that I know is true is that we are all in this together. There are those who say that the use of the internet has disabled our ability to communicate with each other directly. I do believe that if we crawl into our computers and lose our will and energy to deal with the world face to face, that we will paralyze our social skills (we must remember the importance of social IQ) and deplete the vibrancy we have gathered from dealing with others in the flesh (so to speak).

On the other hand, there are many of you I have never met and could not have possibly learned from and/or interacted with if the vehicle of e-mail did not exist (trust me, you do NOT want to wait for me to write a letter!). If you believe, as many of you do, that circulating hope, wisdom, and a feeling of connection influences those you meet and returns to you in the form of innumerable blessings, this internet “thing” is a pretty cool tool.

I urge you to always try to remember that whatever your struggle may be, there are many in the same situation who have come before and those who will follow. There is nothing you have done or not done that has no precedent. Your guilt, shame, sense of achievement, whatever, is not so unique that you are the first and only to experience whatever is going on in your life right now. Uncomplicated super heroes exist in the comic books, not real life.

Try very hard not to confuse self-respect with pride. There are so many people ,whom I have met over the years, who hesitate to ask for and take advantage of help that is available. Somehow, the notion of receiving assistance becomes interpreted as weakness. So, we turn our depression, anxiety and illnesses into deep shadowy secrets. We put them in a place where they are able to fester. These difficulties thrive on darkness. Please believe me when I say that the more you hide your struggles, the larger and more toxic they will become.

At the same time, you must, somehow, understand that, in almost all cases, you do have strength and power and courage. Do not forecast a life of failure for yourself. You may have to change the way you look at things, you may have to relinquish certain desires, but try to remember that there are many ways to live a life that is rewarding.

The little girl that I once was looked pretty funny in her smelly bathing cap and was far from dolphin-like as she made her way down the length of the pool. The point is, however, she did make it and if she could so can you!!

"Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goals."
Sydney Smith

August 2009 - Who Will Care?

I came of age, so to speak, as Camelot was beginning. Living in Washington, I was very aware of politicians and their ways. My boyfriend was a Page at the Capitol, so I was afforded a real insider’s view. Circumstances did not allow me to participate in the “Age of the Flower Child”, but I remember being absolutely fascinated by the apparent freedom with which these people conducted their lives.
Looking back, I can, of course, see that there were both pluses and minuses to that environment, and, today, I would not wish to be a part of that in quite the way it occurred. So, please indulge me, as I address the parts of those times that were remarkable and from which there was a lot to learn.

People cared back then. There was an excitement and a belief that personal prosperity and social wellbeing were not mutually exclusive. Granted, many of the programs of the time were poorly constructed and administered. A huge amount of money was wasted due to lack of follow through and an unwillingness to adjust the template on which these programs were founded. The closing of psychiatric hospitals without adequate resources that were well-organized and effectively available to those who needed them is just one of the tragic and disgraceful results.

On the other hand, for those who were young or young at heart the formerly gray world of “elders” became a patchwork of vibrant color. I, for one, was captivated by the glamour and enthusiasm of the Kennedy administration. It was a time of hope. We did believe that anything was possible.
Look, the Kennedy’s, at the very least, have been controversial. Yes, they broke and ignored laws and managed to fill their bank accounts with more money than I can even imagine having. Nonetheless, that family was involved in a serious and positive effort to better the lives of those who were disenfranchised. I can remember a time when we didn’t call folks who were having a bad time “lazy”!

I was surprised to learn that Ted Kennedy was the push behind Medicare. Hmmm… I could be wrong, but it seems to me that a lot of people who are in an uproar about “government interference” are still busily collecting those Medicare benefits. So, is it “good” government when those who can take care of themselves are beneficiaries and “bad” government to hold out a life line to those who can’t afford to go to a doctor? Do we really believe that a focus on self is the answer to a life of stability and happiness?

All of us (except for Native Americans) are the descendents of immigrants. Suppose our predecessors developed a closed society that excluded new arrivals to this country? Where should the line have been drawn? With the Native Americans? The Spaniards? The French? How about the Puritans? Before or after the 20th century? I’m pretty sure that most of us (if not all of us) would want our ancestors to be included in the “in” group.

Isn’t it a pity that it is considered a mistake today to reach out to people who are truly struggling. Oh we may respond to a catastrophe -- 9/11, the tsunami, Hurricane Katrina. How many are still involved 2 or 3 years later? Once the immediacy has passed, most of us roll along to the next crisis and never look back. What does that say about us?

I am inspired by those who understand there is a world outside their own doors. Few families have succeeded in bringing help and hope to the disenfranchised the way the Kennedy family has. I , personally, will mourn the loss of a Senator who always looked out for the underdog. A flawed man, who knew he was flawed and sought redemption. Where is the person we could always count on to stand up for all of us? The person, who made personal friends out of political enemies? The big smile, the tender heart, the man who took so many children under his wing in such a way that each and every one of them felt safe and loved.

Yes, I most certainly do have a bias. As I watched the funeral service in Boston today, I cried. I cried in wonder at the large family that has stuck together (there aren’t too many of those). I cried when Ted Jr. described the very loving and inspirational support his father gave him that encouraged him to believe he could have a great life, even after cancer. I was impressed by Ted’s widow, Vickie, who wasn’t putting on a display of grief for the cameras, but emanated a sorrow that seemed to come from her very depths. I cried at the phenomenon of such a varied group of individuals, who, despite his terrible missteps, still loved this man who had touched their lives.

We will experience many heroes in the course of our lives. Fearlessness comes in many packages -- just as it should. Today, it felt to me as if an era was over; an important chapter in my life was closed. I am very sad. I do believe that men and women of courage are among us now and will emerge in the future. It’s not that I can’t live without Ted Kennedy (I didn’t even know him), it’s that I love so much of what he represented and it’s hard to say “goodbye”.

"The more our feelings diverge, the more deeply felt they are, the greater is our obligation to grant the sincerity and essential decency of our fellow citizens on the other side." Senator Edward M. Kennedy

September 2009 - Your Best Re-Frame

So…your life isn’t going the way you planned. You’ve held your chin up high for what feels like (& often is) ages. “Everything happens for a reason” and “When one door closes another one opens” just don’t work for you anymore. What can you do? Well, one answer is find a palatable re-frame.
A re-frame involves taking a look at something from a different angle. For example: An elephant steps on your toe. You can think, “That elephant was out to get me” or “That gunshot frightened the elephant & my toe just happened to be in the way when the elephant jumped” (I’m sure these examples are extremely useful in your everyday life).

Now, I know that when you try on a less toxic way of looking at things you will probably decide that your first thought, which probably was to blame yourself or someone else, is far more valid. We all do that. The truth is, however, that all experience is open to interpretation, and how we construe reality usually effects our mood, our solution and, ultimately, our outlook on life.

“How can I change the way I think?” you might ask. The first step is to understand that you, personally, do not hold all wisdom and, therefore, your internal camera may click a fuzzy, rather than sharp picture. If this thought is unsettling, think about that. Do you really want to be commanding officer of all that is true & accurate? It sounds like a pretty exhausting job to me -- not much time to play for whoever accepts that assignment.

You might feel that releasing yourself from blame is a way of giving yourself an unfair “out”. Perhaps you believe that you deserve your ill fortune or that if only that other person weren’t in the way it would have all gone smoothly. Maybe that’s true, but the only way out of the doldrums is to find an alternate plan.

I think you need to come up with more than one plan. Having choices will immediately allow you to experience a feeling of strength. Use your creativity, use your imagination and dig your own tunnel out of the confusion. This is not the time to reject every alternative because you want to hold on to what you have “lost“. As a friend of mine, whose son was turned down by the University of Boulder said (in his best New England accent), “Boldah is ovah”.

Are you being crippled by feelings of shame and guilt? I would rather you be angry, as anger is energizing and those other two simply keep you in the hole. You are not the center of the universe. If anyone who knows you is gleeful that you have hit a snag, you really don’t need that person in your life (I hope you already know that). Your problems will be the topic of conversation only until the next bit of gossip comes along. Then, when you survive, and even thrive, those same people will think you’re amazing. I know, it has happened to me.

I could tell you to not pay attention to your critics, but I know how hard that can be. When someone slaps you it’s still a slap and it hurts. It does not, however, require major surgery. Take the hit; admit the injury; then, go on with your life. It is YOUR life. Yours to mess up, make better, fill with gratitude or regret -- you still have choice, and it’s important to remember that.

Several months ago, as my husband and I were struggling with difficult circumstances, I made a very deliberate decision. Nothing will stop me from having a happy life. That concept has proven to be invaluable to me. Whenever I face the prospect of this and that going wrong, I remind myself of my vow. It has been an enormously helpful tool for me. If you believe that you can choose happiness as well, develop your own mantra. It’s not “new age”, “old age”, or psychobabble to understand that happiness lies within. Yes, there will be losses and disappointments -- no one escapes those. But, if you define your OWN values and live them, you will experience self-respect and the freedom of authenticity as you go along in life.

Joseph Campbell advised us to follow our bliss. I believe that bliss is earned with self-knowledge, understanding and a willingness to be who we believe we are meant to be. Should a belief in a Divine Spirit or fate accompany your self-characterization all the better. I believe that being true to oneself carries us to the divine. Those who do not believe in a spiritual force needn’t feel condemned to a life that is less worth living. In my opinion, you believe or you don’t believe -- it cannot be forced. If each of us focuses on our own moral compass rather than another’s we will all be much happier.
I hope you will believe, if you don’t already, that you are perfect just as you are. You are perfectly you. Follow your heart, your mind, your soul. Be fearless in living the life you believe in and your bliss will follow -- I promise.

"Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy." Joseph Campbell

October 2009 - And Oh What a Day it Was!

The day in question was Wednesday, October 28, 2009. For reasons unknown to me, I was harried and hurried as I prepared to leave the house to get a flu shot. No, I did not have an appointment for a specific time, I could have walked to the vaccination location, and I had a 2-hour window in which to complete my errand. No real pressure here. Nonetheless, I was feeling an urgency to get this over with and Harry’s truck was blocking me in the driveway.

Now, Harry has been blocking me in the driveway for years, even though our driveway has a curve to the left that accommodates his truck and leaves me free and clear to come and go. This is not a big source of friction between us, but I do bristle whenever I am raring to go and there’s the truck in the way once again.

Do I blame Harry for the subsequent event, during which I, for the third time this year, (shhh, don’t tell my insurance company)backed up into the mailbox? I would love to, but, he would never let me get away with that. So, bump went my car (I’m sure it must have been on it’s own volition) and once again I provided Sweet Gum Court with it’s personal version of the Tower of Pisa.

So, without further incident I got my flu shot, knowing all the while that Harry could not allow the morning’s event to simply pass. I came home to teasing, which of course, he could not resist as he insisted, for at least ½ hour, on calling me “Crash” Gordon. Thank you Mr. Sensitivity!!

Not much else happened that day that’s worth telling you about. But the evening, oh yes, the evening brought it’s own little bundle of quirkiness, laughter and some tears. I really wanted to see the movie about Michael Jackson, “This is it” and didn’t expect Harry to go with me since that is not, usually, his kind of thing. Well, he said he would go, so great. What you don’t know about Harry is that he always manages to slip into his movie seat exactly as the movie is beginning. This is really irritating to friends who are kept waiting and used to drive me crazy; but I of course, have had years to adjust to his split second timing.

On Wednesday he invited his son, Dan, who is living with us, to come along and Dan, being just like his father, decided to join us just as we were walking out the door. Of course, when Dan says he ready, he really means that he will be ready in about 10 minutes. So, while I love my stepson, I was getting really antsy and, with my own proficiency at doling out aggravation, drove myself and everyone else somewhat crazy during the 3 minute trip to the movie theatre.

As I have mentioned before, Harry has severe pain from arthritis and other conditions that are caused by a genetic disorder called HLA B-27. He never complains. In fact, he pushes himself physically, beyond what anyone would expect from a 30-year-old. He never complains, but, as his wife, I can tell when the pain is severe and he was being positively heroic that night. I’m quite certain that I would have stayed in bed, but he keeps going, which is one of the many reasons that he is my hero.

The movie intensified my melancholy, although I never felt a whole lot of attachment to Michael Jackson (or even thought about him) when he was alive. As Harry pointed out, look at all those talented people who were part of the show and dramatically had their dreams blown apart with his death. It was sad. Harry left right before the end of the movie because he was just too uncomfortable to sit any longer. When I met him outside, I felt so badly about having put pressure on him that I began to cry. Harry being Harry, insisted it was no big deal, but I still felt awful.

As we approached our car, we saw that the lights were on. That was pretty strange, since, as a rule, they turn off automatically. When we opened the doors, it was cool inside. Huh?? Well, we have a car with a keyless ignition. So, as I was nagging and pushing to get to the movie on time, I distracted my husband to the point where he forgot to turn the car off or lock the doors (which wouldn’t have locked if he had tried).

Well, we just died! We couldn’t stop laughing. How lucky were we!?! As we sat in the movie, our car was happily running, just begging to be stolen and, apparently, nobody noticed. So that was the emotional trajectory on Wednesday, October 28, 2009. From irritation to feelings of inadequacy to frustration to sadness ending up in side-splitting laughter.

When you think about it, we were presented with a paradigm for life. A full range of emotions. And, weren’t we lucky that the day ended in glee! In the greater scheme of things that’s a pretty great finale.

"Laugh as much as you breathe and love as long as you live."

Anonymous

November 2009 - Power Redux

When the concept of “power” comes up it is usually connected to some type of emotional reaction. Some seek it; some fear it; some wish for it and on and on. When we can’t reshape or influence our environment in some important way, we customarily feel powerless. It is one of life’s most distressing sensations. Significant loss is always a trigger, and depending on our degree of optimism and self-confidence, we feel like our lives are out of control to varying degrees.

As with all emotions, we often feel stupid for “over-reacting” to relatively minor adjustments we need to make or, at times, we feel numb as we become overwhelmed with life circumstances. The most perilous of these situations can result in PTSD that well may haunt us for the rest of our lives. Fortunately, this is caused by real catastrophe and not too many of us have to worry about this.
So, you may ask, why am I writing about this during the “ho ho ho” holiday season? The answer is because during a time when we are supposed to feel joyful, yet times are hard, we may feel particularly out of step with the rest of humanity and increasingly vulnerable to a descent into bitterness, anger, depression and so on.

This is a good time to look at the whole concept of personal power, because, I am convinced, despite circumstances, your personal power is always there and is simply waiting to be tapped.
Most of us have no desire to control nations, so our understanding of power is on an individual level. Something to kind of tuck away is, that those with an overly ambitious drive to exert influence over others are not necessarily coming from a place of strength. Why would anyone want to conquer another unless, underneath all of their hidden layers, they were fearful that “the other” will control them, rob them, deprive them of their freedom to enjoy the life they wish to live?

When our feelings of authority and authenticity, of the ability to be true to who we really are, come from the inside, from our very core, it is very hard, if not impossible for anyone to take that away from us. This is the true source of power. Always hold on to this knowledge. No one can change WHO you are.

Most of the people that I talk to are not only reeling from difficulties that have entered their lives, but are also feeling battered by the relentless onslaught of problems that have polluted their feelings of safety and security over the past few years. It is one thing to stand strong in the face of hardship once or twice, it is quite another when one is being relentlessly battered over a given period of time.
If you are feeling worn out, that is NORMAL. If you are feeling discouraged, that is normal as well. One of the most debilitating things you can do to yourself is to be self-critical as your grief, anxiety and anger rise to surface, as, inevitably, they must. We have these feelings because they are useful. They tell us when we are overloaded; when we need to take action; when we need to simply endure (not that that is a simple task).

Your circumstances do not define who you are. Your essence remains intact, and if you valued yourself before the hard times, there is no reason to look at yourself differently now.
There is one thing of which I can assure you -- no one lives a life with no challenges, fears or disappointments. You do not know what goes on in the private lives of those who appear to be untouched by adversity. (Hello Tiger Woods).

When you are struggling is the time you most need to appreciate your own courage and strengths. Rather than listening to an internal rant of self-criticism, try turning that around to resemble a silent cheerleader that praises your efforts and believes that you will extricate yourself from whatever quicksand has you trapped at this time. Just has happiness abandons us, so does sorrow. It is in the nature of emotions to be transient. You must reassure yourself that, over time, you will experience change (you cannot, in fact, stop it) and that you will look at your life through a different lens.
When you are feeling especially insecure, please, as much as possible, spend your time with people who genuinely care about you and who boost your spirits rather than drag you down. If someone who is important to you is always looking at the dark underbelly, tell them that you cannot enter those realms with them and ask them, as a favor, to keep his/her negative outlook to him/herself. If this person is unable to do this for you, take a break and get back to him/her after you begin to feel more optimism yourself. This is called self-preservation and you need not explain or apologize for your efforts to rebuild your confidence.

Allow yourself to appreciate what you DO have and try to celebrate the good rather than linger on the losses as you navigate your way through this holiday season. As long as there is someone (human or animal, maybe plant?) who loves you and someone that you love there is reason to smile.

"May the love hidden deep inside your heart find the love waiting in your dreams. May the laughter that you find in your tomorrow wipe away the pain you find in your yesterdays.” Anonymous

December 2009 - Looking Ahead

First, I would like to wish all of you a 2010 filled with blessings.

For so many people, including my family, 2009 was a painful year in which optimism and positive energy were a challenge to maintain. We trudged ahead, because we really didn’t know what else to do. We used denial when we couldn’t convince ourselves that we could figure out how to hold on to the things and relationships that were, we knew, at risk. In short, we did what we always do, it just felt a lot harder to sustain the required effort.

For those of you who were treated well in the year that’s just ended, please, do send me your stories. People who flourish in tough times are inspiring and I borrow strength from those who manage to prosper emotionally when things get tough. Please, don’t worry, this newsletter will not turn into a “poor me” narrative. I know, and hope you will remember, that control is an illusion and much of what we encounter has nothing to do with us personally.

I agree with persons of wisdom who suggest we practice gratitude on a daily basis. It’s important to keep in mind that there are people who love us. During times of difficulty those same people may not be as readily available to us, as they struggle to keep their own heads above water. I have my own maxim about romantic relationships that says, “ Take a look at your bond after both of you have had the flu simultaneously, look foul, feel and behave worse, and are stuck in the same room. If you are still going strong after all of that, you may well have a liaison that will work. “ This can be used as a metaphor for other relationships as well.

It’s easy to lose faith, experience envy and/or rage, and feel severely disappointed when someone we counted on doesn’t understand our personal suffering. When we seem to bump into the debilitating forces of depression and anxiety at nearly every turn, I think it’s probably a better idea to accept that that’s just where we’re at. It is a BIG mistake to chastise yourself for possessing human feelings. In the long run, it’s much better to embrace (I know that’s a strange word) where we are emotionally and to nurture and respect ourselves as we trek on the road to feeling better. It’s what we do when we’re feeling down that shows us our strong points, not the so-called negative emotional responses that sweep over all of us at times.

Many say that everything happens for a reason. I suppose you can always find a way to look at any situation that proves such logic. The only problem is, no one (or at least no one mortal) really knows what the authentic reason is. So… I wonder if we need to believe in the “reason” theory in order to make ourselves feel better when things go awry. From my point of view, it really doesn’t matter (to me) if I attribute my unhappy state of affairs to flawed decision-making or that what I am going through is beshert ( a result of destiny);it’s what I decide to do with any set of circumstances (if I can do anything at all) that holds meaning in my life.

Control is an illusion and, often, we don’t have choice. How we interpret the events in our lives, however, does have a huge influence over our ability to successfully rebuild after a loss. One can choose to live in the past, to feel so damaged that there is no hope for future happiness. Certainly there are people who suffer from sever emotional and/or physical illness . Such people frequently rise so far above what is expected that it takes my breath away. If one person can thrive, so can another. If one opts to stay stuck, then it’s fairly predictable that the future and past will bear a strong resemblance to each other.

Our efforts may result in struggles that may or may not prove to be worthwhile over time. Taking a risk, reaching for a dream, brings with it the possibility of hurt and disappointment. With no risk, however, we are unlikely to touch heaven or anything that remotely approaches rapture in our lives. No one way is, necessarily, better than another. Know yourself and try to live the life that makes you happy.

I doubt that anyone can feel fulfilled living a life that touches no one in some positive way. Please, notice who is in your life. Are they solid? Are they capable of compassion? What do you think of yourself according to these parameters? At the very least, when you are at what you believe to be your lowest point, try to remember the many times you provided a kindness or encouragement or were willing to listen to another’s tears and you will be reminded of your intrinsic worth.

No one lives up to expectations at all times. Even when trying to do that, we are bound to fail and will forget our primary obligation, which is to take good and wise care of ourselves. Set your boundaries. Learn to recognize the point at which you have hit the wall, be it in relationships, work or any other endeavor. Reach out to the people who understand you and want to offer any kind of support they can simply because they care about you. If too many strings are attached, neither you or the other person will thrive.

Try very hard to let go of deep-rooted bitterness . There is nothing to be gained by perpetuating feelings of failure, hurt and humiliation. If someone in your life is truly toxic ( you must carefully make your assessment), do both of you a favor and detach at least from some of the strife that gets stirred up in this particular chemistry.

We are guaranteed change at all times. There is nothing magical about it. There are no charmed lives out there. Many prices are paid privately, but paid they are. I hope we find times to laugh in the year ahead. I hope we maintain our ability to tap into our courage, humor, vitality and versatility when we need to. I hope that for all of us that 2010 has arrived with the sweetness of encouraging possibilities. And, I hope we all find a way to maintain our balance and connection in the year ahead.
Happy New Year.


"The future is always beginning now." Mark Strand

January 2010 - Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…

It’s always unsettling, to say the least, when facing an inevitable unwelcome event that will occur at some unknown time in the future. This could be anything from going to the dentist to a serious loss. There hangs the sword of Damocles and we are helpless to make it vanish or to slither out from under it -- we are stuck.

We can steel ourselves, go into denial, round up a crew of advisors, or utilize any one of a number of possible reinforcements. I have discovered that I have, without realizing it, developed an unusual, intangible ally when faced with a certainty that I wish would go away. I have transformed “tomorrow” into my second in command. In my world, the dreaded upcoming event will always happen tomorrow, not today. Of course, today becomes tomorrow, but, I somehow manage to ignore that actuality.

I wasn’t always like this. My mother loved to tell the story of how when I was very little, and wanted to do something, only to be told that I could do it later, that at some point I would remind her that “now is later”. As an adult, I have, somehow, managed to convince myself that later is a constant. The result is, that when the dreaded event arrives, I am somewhere between surprised and prepared to handle it. It’s not a bad place to be, but it is ridiculous.

A miniscule number of us are comfortable as we linger in limbo; not knowing which way the road will turn. Most of us would like to have, or believe we do have a roadmap that will guide us safely through life’s obstacles. With a fair amount of self-esteem, we can understand that somewhere in our arsenal we have the tools to deal with future misfortune. Ironically, each hurdle we clear allows us to gain the confidence we need to face the stumbling blocks that , inescapably, lie ahead. When the heat is on, however, we tend to forget our strength and resourcefulness.

As a rule, children cannot imagine surviving without their parents. We know, nonetheless, that in many cases children traverse the road of parental loss, and change, and manage to emerge with surprisingly strong coping skills that allow them to successfully continue with their own lives. Yes, life is sadder, but it is not over.

When I married my 1st husband at the ridiculously young age of 20, I would lie awake at night praying that I would never have to be without him. I felt quite differently, of course, when I divorced him some 15 years later. Now, many, many years later, I am relieved and grateful that our union did not evolve into a life sentence.

When facing something alarming, it is tempting to try to find an escape route or to deny it altogether. Sometimes, our worry is for naught and we have robbed ourselves of time, time during which we could have enjoyed our lives. There is no formula available to tell us the precise amount of concern that is warranted in any situation. It can be hard to discern which, if any, action to take. Confusion is the norm. There is a big difference between taking a break and abandoning our responsibilities. It is the people who are willing and able to “take it on the chin” when necessary who usually manage to survive and thrive.

This is not about burying feelings. In fact, allowing our frame of mind to wander where it will while withholding judgment on ourselves is a really good way to build emotional muscle. I cannot state strongly enough the importance of appreciating and applauding the emotional skirmishes you face and rise above on a daily basis. So often we focus on the fact that we feel bad that we forget to appreciate the behavior we use to manage those feelings. You are probably more heroic than you ever imagined.

If my house is on fire, you can be quite sure I will take care of it right now. When I face a deadline, I take care of it today. But… if I find that worry is keeping me awake and depriving me of a good night’s sleep, I think it’s okay, and actually, pretty functional to say, “I’ll worry about that tomorrow”.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."
Winston Churchill

There was no Newsletter produced for this month.

March 2010 - Getting What You Need

First, I would like to apologize for the “missing” February newsletter. My computer was struck with PEP (pervasive e-mail problems) and I was unable to use it for quite a while. Hopefully, I’m back on track and this reaches those for whom it is intended.

Knowing the “proper” procedure for communicating on an honest, yet respectful level can be quite a conundrum. How honest and how respectful need we be? Sometimes being phony can feel okay and can serve us relatively well, but, most of the time, at the very least, we suffer damage to our self-esteem. Any time we fail to honor our true selves and feel that we need to hide who we really are and how we really feel we commit some form of psychic self-mutilation.

So, how do we stay authentic without bringing a mountain of misery down on our own heads? It’s best to know that, every once and a while, the mountain will fall and that survival (ours and others’) is not only possible, it’s likely.

Our feelings are an integral part of who we are. My personal belief is that if we weren’t meant to have a large range of emotions in our repertoire, they wouldn’t exist. Do not punish yourself because you are hurt, angry, disappointed, etc. Do your best to understand what is triggering you; what interpretation you are putting on the events that surround the uncomfortable mood that has descended upon you.

As in all things in human life, the greater your self understanding, the better able you will be to know what you need and, where your strengths lie in the acquisition of the elements that are essential in the creation of your happy life (as opposed to what someone else “thinks” you should want and need).

For those of you who are thinking “But I hate confrontation”, “I’m afraid to upset the apple cart”, “It’s a small thing, I’ll just let it ride”, or some variation thereof, I would like to suggest that if you are dealing with a situation or a person who evokes chronic unease in your life, your continuing discomfort will erupt in some way and you will experience some form of unhappiness as you try to avoid dealing with the components in your life that are hurting you or driving you crazy.

A common scenario that occurs when we try to communicate about a sensitive issue is that the other person becomes defensive and is, thus, unable to even hear what we have to say. Try some form of “I’m not attacking you and there is nothing for you to defend, I simply want for us to be able to have the best relationship possible -- that is why I am discussing this with you”. By all means say this in a friendly tone -- you want to be heard, after all.

It’s important to know that if we don’t express our needs, however obvious they may seem to us, “the other” may have no idea that we are having a problem with something they have said or done or neglected to say or do. We all look at the world through our own unique lens and what is evident to one of us may not be, as unlikely as it seems, as apparent to anyone else. If you don’t let the world know what exactly it is that you require, you may find yourself disappointed with the portion you have been served.

There is always a reason for our behavior and emotions -- they don’t appear from thin air, like a genie from a bottle. It is not useful to chastise ourselves for the way we feel. What is helpful is to understand what is going on with us, and when fitting, to let the source of our discomfort know why we are upset. When we are on the receiving end of this, it behooves us to drop our own defenses and to listen to what another individual is trying to tell us. It is not shameful that we have been involved in a miscommunication. It is a shame when such communiqués result in hurt and/or loss.

When we are able to say, “Look, this is what is troubling me”, and to say it without feeling guilty, we are on the right track. Even if we are at an impasse, most of us feel better when we have been heard. A respectful decision to “agree to disagree” does not usually result in the demise of a relationship. It is not a personal insult or a hostile act to hold differing points of view. Couples, in particular, have a tendency to believe that it is disloyal to hold divergent opinions on matters of importance. A successful (which implies mature) relationship does not require that we be joined at the hip on all issues (how boring that would be!!).

Open your mind to diversity. Your life will be richer; you will afford yourself the opportunity to learn and grow. Above all, honor who you are. Rather than wrapping yourself in shame and self recrimination, continue to learn about what you need to live a life that makes your heart sing. That just may be the life you end up living.

You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find,

You get what you need

The Rolling Stones

April 2010 - Color Me Lucky

Despite, the often, dramatic, ups and downs, I think I have led an extraordinarily lucky life . This is because of the people I have been fortunate and privileged to know who have chipped away the ice as I was becoming worn out and seriously considering giving up. Repeatedly, just as I was running out of steam, the right person has come along, at the right time, and has given me whatever it is I have needed to get me to the other side of the street.

I am not going to name names here, but I hope, and believe, that those of you I love and appreciate, (who are, obviously, still alive) who are reading this, know who you are.
We all say that “we have to love ourselves first”. I agree with that to an extent. It is the rare human being who can live in isolation and retain his/her sanity and humanity. It’s the other people in our lives who lift us up above the level of pure survival. The right kindness at the right time makes all the difference.

It has been brought to my attention that many people who know me believe that I am very strong. Much of the time, that is true. However, I think a lot of that comes from having been an only child and having grown accustomed, as an adult, to handling things on my own. When my parents died within a few months of each other, there was no one but me to take care of things. I don’t feel badly about that -- it felt natural -- I wasn’t expecting anything else.

My good fortune has included having parents who were unusual in that my father taught me to be tender and my mother taught me to be tough. This role reversal allowed me to fear no one (after all, in my family the women were not considered to be inferior and the men knew how to nurture). It is only under unusual circumstances (which I will not reveal) that anyone is able to intimidate me. How lucky is that!! Harry calls me his “little giant”, and he’s right -- I never remember that I’m only 4’ 11” tall.
None of my so-called strength could have blossomed, however, if there hadn’t been , and still are, friends who knew I needed help, even when I didn’t ask for it, and stepped in to prop me back up.
Allowing others to be aware of our vulnerabilities is far different, in my opinion, from being needy. When we are vulnerable, we have a difficulty, be it temporary or permanent, with which we need help. On the other hand, chronic neediness, in my opinion, stems from a resistance to adult responsibility and an expectation that those who are self-sufficient will “save” him/her when he or she gets into trouble, which has become a way of life.

If you think I’m being judgmental, you are right. Certain things drive me crazy, and among those are individuals who, with a strange form of entitlement, expect everyone else to clean up their mess.
It’s a good thing that everyone is not like me, and some folks thrive on rescuing people who, with some effort, could probably recover on their own, and be stronger for the effort. But hey, it’s only my opinion.

Should anyone ask, this does NOT include my clients -- they have already looked within and have asked for help. I have found it to be profoundly gratifying to be in the position to assist someone who may not understand (but wishes to) what their need is and where to go for help. This is the foundation for the satisfaction I get from the work I do. Again, I’m so lucky to be able to have a job that satisfies my soul.

I have been fortunate in finding relationships that have allowed me to redefine who I am; what type of person I am. Anyone who has been through childhood (all of us) and has sustained personally painful intimate relationships has, without a doubt, suffered in terms of his/her self-esteem. I have people in my life who have really experienced my core and have loved me nonetheless. What a gift! What luck!
It seems to me that the things we hold to be important in our lives change, on occasion, with time and circumstance. The constant in my life has been, as it is, I believe, for many others, the hearts I have touched and those who have touched mine.

I believe that people are, essentially, well-intentioned, and, at least, have faith in their own ideas of right and wrong. Of course, there are many differing opinions on this subject, so we humans get into disputes and often mess things up pretty badly. The counter balance to this is that, so often, and unnoticed, life-changing kindnesses are doled out every day.

I thank those of you who have enhanced my human experience throughout my life. There are no words to express the gratitude I feel. How lucky I am that you have been there and I have had the awareness to notice.

In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. - Albert Schweitzer

May 2010 - The Day the Music Died

So, why am I using a verse from Don McLean’s “American Pie”? Well, I have discovered that a lot of the lyrics from this song can apply, in metaphorical form, to many different types of situations.
As much as I encourage all of us to hang in there and not give up on our dreams, I also believe that there are times when one must simply (or not so simply) choose another path for his/her life.
I have a tendency to hang in too long. It’s really hard to know when a relationship, a job, a location will not work out, no matter how hard we try.

One of my biggest blunders was in the early 80’s, when, for a time, I simply could not focus on how to help my clients and believed my own life had reached a dead end. So, what did I do? I took a job for which I had no aptitude whatsoever and tried to fit my little square self into a very round hole. Terrible decision-making! I became a stockbroker for a major (at the time) brokerage firm. There I was -- I have trouble adding, become sick with anxiety over making “cold calls”, never knew whether to believe what the financial analysts were telling us about particular investments and terrified of losing someone’s money because of my bad decisions. I stayed in this job for 3 ½ awful years, until my sweet, sweet father, who was dying at the time, told me that nothing was worth the breakdown I was headed toward. I am so lucky to have had that wonderful man in my corner -- he always wanted what was best for me. In the years since his death I cannot tell you how often I have wished that I was able to seek his counsel.

I see people, really nice committed people, who struggle over and over again trying to find a compromise solution to their very different (and incompatible) beliefs about the way life is to be lived. Fortunately, we often do come across a way to find the middle ground, and they can live “happily ever after” (somewhat). This is not always the case. Sometimes the loving feelings fall apart and couples spend years trying to recreate what is no longer possible. These are sad situations. But, I think it is much sadder to spend a lifetime trying to convince yourself that everything is ok when, in truth, it is not.

“The courtroom was adjourned, No verdict was returned”.(D. McLean).
The same holds true for work that has lost it’s meaning and places that we have outgrown or have outgrown us. Major decisions should never be made precipitously. Take all the time you need to explore the viability of the changes you are about to make. Discuss your situation with people who can give you good objective advice. But, at the end of the day, only you know, in your heart, which road is the one to take. Trust yourself and try very hard to not make decisions based on fear.
It is important to not only know yourself but to be honest with yourself about what you know about yourself. Deluding yourself about what is and is not possible will only lead to a broken heart.

I went down to the sacred store
Where I'd heard the music years before

But the man there said the music wouldn't play
And in the streets the children screamed
The lovers cried and the poets dreamed
But not a word was spoken
The church bells all were broken (D. McLean)


Once we understand what is NOT possible, we are freed up to turn our creativity and attention to what is. Try not to be discouraged if this takes a while and if you fall into a mud puddle once in a while -- that is the nature of making changes.

“American Pie” holds a far more apocalyptic vision than the one that I hold. I believe that there will always be hurdles to overcome, but, I have great faith that each of us can find our way to happiness.
The real issue is to never give up on yourself. Stick with the people who really understand you and have no manipulative agenda. Stick with the people who, if you do fall down, try to help in a way that is meaningful to you. You do not have to be a pawn in anybody’s chess game. If there is a demand that you pretend “the emperor has new clothes” refuse to play that game. Believe in yourself. I guarantee that there is more that is “good” inside of you than “bad”. If anyone tries to shame you or to encourage you to feel bad about yourself, turn off your hearing aid. If anyone tries to get you to believe that you “made” them do this or that, please understand that that is claptrap -- one is always free to choose one’s own response. Do not be surprised if someone who sees you as the “strong” one is resentful and insensitive to your needs.

Sometimes Humpty Dumpty cannot be put back together again. When that is the case, honor your grief, trust in yourself and face the future knowing that, surely, the sun will shine again.

But something touched me deep inside the day the music died. (D. McLean

June 2010 - Talismans of my Life

Did you ever search for a 4-leaf clover? Carry a rabbit’s foot, shark tooth or worn a cross, star of David or St. Christopher’s medal? What about wishing on stars or sticking pins in a voodoo doll? These are just a few examples of items that are commonly believed to bring us luck and protect us. Even the most cynical among us has probably at least knocked on wood or thrown salt over his/her shoulder. Being merely mortal, there are times when a little magic (or belief therein) calms our frazzled souls or, at least, allows us to laugh at our desire to be rescued by mystical rituals.

Sometimes, quite ordinary objects acquire supernatural powers. Otherwise, why would someone spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on Michael Jackson’s sequined glove or Princess Diana’s dresses? It’s as if the owner’s essence has permeated the object and in our fantasies the characteristics that person possessed are magically passed on to us.

My talismans would not strike anyone but me as unique and valuable. Yet, I treasure them and would never consider discarding them. We are moving to a different home this summer, so this has been the perfect time to throw out the 40 or so lipsticks that I thought I might use again and, of course, never did and to give away the really cute shoes that always gave me blisters. Weeding out the gems from the zircons is not particularly painful for me & I think I’ve neglected to do that regularly because I can always find something more interesting to do with my time. This process has brought me face to face with objects I didn’t even remember that I had, but would rather walk on hot coals than relinquish.

The highest order of talisman, for me, is a pile of my father’s old cotton handkerchiefs (do you remember when people carried those?). I have kept a stash of said handkerchiefs since I was 7 years old. That was the summer I went to overnight camp for the first time. I did well until Visiting Day. I was always Daddy’s girl and when the time came for my father to leave, I literally climbed up on him in my efforts to delay his departure. He must have wiped my tears with his handkerchief, which I kept, put under my pillow, and fell asleep with it in my hand every night. Over the years his handkerchiefs have been a direct line to him and always connect me to a feeling of “all‘s right with the world“.

When I ran across my supply of his hankies in the back of a drawer, as I was purging my bedroom of unnecessary items, I couldn’t help but smile and, of course, think of my Dad. Those handkerchiefs will follow me in my travels for the rest of my life; I actually re-experience the feelings of peace that emanated from my father’s very presence every time I press one of them to my cheek.

The memento that brings my mother to mind is a red, shawl -collared cardigan that she knitted for me, I’m guessing, when I was in junior high school. If you’ve ever read an “Archie” comic book, you’ll know exactly what it looks like. I don’t remember even particularly liking that sweater or wearing it very often. I don’t know why that sweater became endowed with special powers in my mind, but, I know I will never give it away. That sweater stands for my mother’s feistiness and “don’t mess with me” attitude that has become a core part of my persona.

Additional items that seem to follow me everywhere are a quilted satin glove box (I don’t know if they make those any more) filled with my good white calfskin gloves (you never know when I might be invited to attend a garden party); my first ballet slippers, which were stained with peacock blue ink when I was in high school; a braid of my hair that was hacked off during my first serious haircut. It’s a strange collection, but, along with all of my photograph albums these are among my most cherished belongings.

My childhood, like yours, was far from uncomplicated. One of the benefits of growing up with my parents was that I always felt safe. Even when things went terribly wrong, I had confidence that ,between them, my Mom and Dad would find a way to make things right. Things were far from perfect, but, I always felt protected. So, I suppose, that that particular memory is the last of my essential amulets. These memories shield me as I navigate this strange, unpredictable route that I have chosen as my life.

I firmly believe that whatever brings us comfort and confidence, as long as it is not harmful, is worth holding on to. I know the charmed elements that help me to endure tough times and sticky situations will be in my baggage, wherever I go. We all could use a lucky charm now and again.

"Love and magic have a great deal in common. They enrich the soul, they delight the heart. And they both take practice." Anonymous

July 2010 - And the Clock Keeps Ticking…

I know, that’s a pretty ominous title, but it was the best I could come up with. Worry not, this is not a treatise on doom and gloom. What I have been thinking about is that, so often, we decide not to do something because, “I’m too old” or “I’ve never done it before”. The trouble with this attitude is that whether we stretch ourselves or not; whether or not we explore our enthusiasms, the time will pass. If we watch life from the sidelines we are stuck with: “Should ‘uv, would ‘uv, could ‘uv”. Who wants that?

Learning something new isn’t all about being the best (compared to another), it’s about being the best “us” that each of us can be. Does it really matter if you try to learn a skill and enjoy it, even while feeling kind of ham-fisted? There really is no great big jury in the sky that’s going to give you between 1 and 5 stars like a restaurant critic. I know you know that, but, I’ll bet, sometimes you forget.

Of course this leads me back to my usual mantra of, “know yourself”. What would you like to try? What do you find interesting or intriguing? If you can come up with nothing then I think you’re not digging deep enough. Years ago I took a course at the New England Conservatory of Music on the music of Aretha Franklin. Was this related to anything I would find useful at work or in social circles? No, probably not. But, you know what? I had a great time.

It isn’t necessarily the smartest, most talented or timely who get ahead. Believe me, without people skills, unless you’ve invented the automobile, (hello there Henry Ford) you will be missing one of the most potent forces in human life --your connections to others. Temporary or permanent, intense or superficial our relationships are what fill up life with hope and a feeling of fitting comfortably into the human race.

First, of course, you must be comfortable in your own skin. Recently I was at a conference with a large group of incredibly talented artists. An astonishing number (to me) appeared to put their creativity into their work, which was simply spectacular, while, seemingly, entirely ignoring their personal care and the “face” they showed to the world. In spite of their talent, many looked worn out, when they had every reason to carry themselves with pride.

Knowing your assets is not arrogant, it is sensible. It’s hard to get through life happily if you fail to feel a well-deserved pride in work well done. Acknowledging our strengths teaches those who learn from us to be aware of theirs. Focusing attention on the things that work encourages us and others to keep going as we attempt to deal with things in our lives that are not ideal. There is no benefit, in my opinion, in underestimating our real strengths.

Why would anyone offer up their insecurities to the world at large? Does it make any sense to walk around with a “kick me” sign on your chest? I think not. It’s far wiser, and, I believe, more practical to reveal ourselves to a select number of people with whom we, at least, have some sort of relationship. There’s a lot to be said for “Put your best foot forward”.

Corny as it sounds, every day really is a new start. Be bold. Listen to yourself. Even if someone else, should you ask, is discouraging, go for the gold (not the brass) ring. If an unsolicited opinion is offered, please do consider the source.

Through better and worse, time moves on. We’re pretty resilient, we humans. We navigate the landscape that accompanies our joys and sorrows, knowing that everything passes. It takes courage to believe in love and loyalty and principle, knowing that our beliefs will be challenged and will fluctuate depending on events over which we, often, have no control. What, however, is the alternative? When we wall ourselves off through addiction or doubt or any other vehicle, a part of us dies.

Many of you know the story of our little dog, Violet, who was found tied in a tree after some boys took a baseball bat to her. The pain and resultant deformities she has endured were enough to bring anyone to their knees. Violet, however, is feisty and bossy; she has allowed us to love and dote on her (though she had few reasons to trust humans) and (sort of) hangs out regularly with our other dogs. If 9 ½ lb. Violet can take such a leap of faith, any of us can as well.

This time will pass. It is hard for me to believe that this is the end of my 5th year of writing this monthly newsletter. I can’t imagine what I will have to say next month or those after, but, I’m pretty sure I won’t be silent.

Make time your friend. Use it to enhance the life you want to be living. Don’t let it slip, like sand, through your fingers. Figure out the route you want to take, and if you need to change course, you will. Be proud and confident and see what comes your way.

P.S. My son got married yesterday and we have a strong, beautiful and resourceful woman who is now a part of our family. She is truly the sun after the storm.

“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” Steve Jobs

August 2010 - Reaching My Point of Panic

People who don’t know me all that well think I’m pretty calm about most things. People who do know me well know that my anxiety can spike rather quickly, even though I may appear to be (somewhat) serene. It takes a lot for me to lose my inner and outer composure, but that’s exactly where I was several days ago.

You know, for many years of my life I, like many of you, knew nothing of e-mail and cell phones and would have strongly resisted the idea that anyone could find me and interrupt my life at any time they chose to do so. In fact, if there had been anyone from Sweden in my family, which there was not, I could have imagined an ancestral relationship to Greta Garbo, because I, like Garbo, simply “vanted” to be left alone.

While I love my friends and enjoy socializing, I don’t function real well with persistent interruption. This is especially true when I’m concentrating on something I like or need to do. I prize my time alone to think and plan and do all the little everyday things that make me happy. I do not have a need for constant company (I am an only child, after all).

Given all of the above, it’s ironic that what made me feel like I was in the midst of a calamity was that we moved. In that process, for a few days, we had no telephone (the old number was disconnected days before I wished that to happen), no properly working television, uncertain computer connection, and, because I was still learning about the plugs in our new home, more often than not, I would try to charge my cell phone on a “dead” plug, which meant, of course, a dead cell phone.
All of this has been, mostly, straightened out, but, let me tell you, I was anxious, with a pounding heart and nausea for days until I had the opportunity to let  people know how to get a hold of me. It was all so out of character!

How did I allow myself to feel so out of control over a situation that I knew would, eventually, be corrected? Well, one thing I do know about human nature (especially women [yes, our brains are wired differently]) is that we are all about connection. That’s why solitary confinement is such a successful punishment. -- most of us cannot stand long-term isolation.

Of course I saw and spoke to many people during that time of severed (cable) connections; nonetheless, I worried that someone (I’m not sure who) would think I had disappeared off the face of the earth and would write me off as gone forever. Hey, I never claimed to be without my twitches and quirks!

I have only, over the course of my life, met one person who enjoyed the process of moving. He was a boss of mine many years ago, and, when I think about it now, I’ll bet that the larger part of the stress of moving was not laid on his shoulders. I thought he was crazy. I still do. I can remember this man’s face lighting up as he described the joy of all those boxes around him. Really!! I don’t know about his boxes, but mine start out being organized, with related items going into the same box and it’s all downhill from there . By the time we are beyond half way into the process, I just want to fill the cursed things. The whole process is disorienting and uncomfortable as far as I’m concerned. Rooms to Go may be a good idea; boxes to go simply stinks.

“Home” is a really significant place. The more that we can manage to make our dwelling feel like it’s ours, the more comfortable and safe we feel. I know that over the years, when I have chosen a home, my choice has rested on how that particular space spoke to me. When we lived in Boston, we were in a wonderful old building with two units per floor that went from the front of the building to the back. My condo had a big curve in the hallway wall and there was something about that curve that just felt like “me”. I can’t say why, but I was always happy living there.

I saw a documentary about Joan Rivers recently in which she showed the film crew her co-op in New York. The place was extremely formal and just screamed “don’t touch” to me. For her, however, that’s what a home should be. It’s always a good idea to add touches that say to you, “Yes, this place looks like I’m the one who lives here.”

As my sense of dislocation subsides, I find that everything seems a little bit easier. Life is good as long as I know where my own space is on the planet. We all have needs that must be satisfied for us to feel all right. If you don’t know what those needs are, try really hard to define them. Once you do, and make sure that they’re met, your enjoyment of and satisfaction with this life you have will grow exponentially.

“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself"
Maya Angelou

September 2010 - It’s Not An Option

I saw an interview on TV a while back with the fashion designer, Diane Von Furstenberg. When asked about the people who had inspired her, she named her mother, a concentration camp survivor, who taught her that fear was not an option. Well, that got my attention.

On one hand, I think it’s unhealthy to deny our feelings to ourselves -- that practice will always bite you back. On the other hand, becoming paralyzed by the so-called negative emotions is not exactly a principle that supports thriving mental health. So, I spent some time thinking about that.
What makes sense to me is that we acknowledge our fears and insecurities as we continue to do everything we can to attain and maintain the life we want to live. Fear, after all, can be a great motivator when it inspires us to put in that extra effort and redouble our efforts to be the best “us” we can possibly be.

These thoughts led to a consideration of the non-negotiables in my own life. It’s a good inventory to take -- it leaves you free to cease worrying about the non-essentials.
For me, giving up is not an option. First of all, I’m not sure what “giving up” means. Killing myself? Not likely, I’m a cancer survivor and would not have the audacity or lack of gratitude to end the gift of life that I have been given. Quit working? Why? Even if I’m struggling to find a way to be more profitable, how would not working help? At the very least, I know I would feel utterly bored and useless -- how is that an improvement?

Then I reflected on relationships, which, as most of you know, I consider to be the bedrock of a meaningful existence. The principal familial bonds, for me, are my husband and children and their children. When I married Harry, +15 years ago I promised that I would remember, on a daily basis, to be grateful for the incredible love I had found. Now, we have had moments that have been incredibly painful over the years, but, the delight has far outweighed the disappointment. So, in this marriage, divorce is not an option. One of the advantages of having made this type of commitment is that even when I wish to skewer him on a bread knife, I know that I am obliged to work things out. Think about it -- it really makes things easier.

When it come to my kids and grandkids, my responses to their needs rests not on obligation, but on a deep belief that I want to be the first line of defense in times of joy and trouble. Do I extend this concern to every relative on my family tree? No!! Ancillary kin are supported (by me), emotionally and financially, on a case by case basis. For the most part, if I think there is mutuality in our relationship, I’m happy to help; if not -- oh well!! I feel no duty to loan Uncle Zachariah’s step-sister $10 just because a fraction of his blood is mingled with my own.

What shall I say about my friends? These are the people who love me “just because”. There are a small number of people for whom I would do ANYTHING (they know who they are). Every one in this amazing group has stood by me, no matter what, which was not always an easy task. I believe in reciprocity and commitment and love, and this group, who did not inherit me, have come through for me time and again. I would gladly do the same for any one of them. So, betrayal, for me, is not an option. Along that same line, when I believe I have been betrayed, I have to think long and hard about whether the perpetrator is a person who belongs in my life.

I will not tolerate being treated disrespectfully in my own home. “My house, my rules” has always been my philosophy. Accordingly, I will abide by “Your house, your rules”. I believe in boundaries and accept that it’s my responsibility to let people know where my boundaries lie. Anyone who knows me, knows that rigidity is not one of my unswerving principles, so, if I lay down certain guidelines, I expect that they will be respected and followed. I’m not a “one strike and you’re out” kind of person, but, if you repeatedly cross the line, make excuses and refuse to take responsibility, there’s a good chance I will wish you well as I escort you out the door.

There are many other behaviors that I consider to be unacceptable: cruelty to animals; unremitting self-absorption; slander and malicious manipulation. Do I sound like a vice-principal? Well, think about it this way -- it makes having to wear the same old dress to the next party a whole lot less important. This is the list (or part of it) that works for me. What works for you?
Please, think about it -- what in your life is NOT an option? You might be surprised at what you come up with!


The hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn. ~
David Russell

October 2010 - The Choice Really Is Yours

When the miners were rescued from the Copiapo copper mine in Chile, their putative leader, Mario Sepulveda (super Mario) explained the choices that were made that allowed the men to endure their ordeal with the greatest possible grace and optimism. In interviews after the rescue, Mario said that he felt like he had faced the devil on one shoulder; God on the other. He had chosen to listen to God.
I don’t know if Mario meant that literally, but it’s a pretty darn good metaphor that warrants some examination.

We can look at this as: GOOD vs. EVIL/HOPE vs. DESPAIR/ STRENGTH vs. WEAKNESS and on and on…you get the picture.

The men in the mine, when requesting supplies they needed during their time underground asked for, among other things, razors and toothpaste. Why razors? Why toothpaste? What difference could it possibly make if they remained untidy or had bad breath ? Mario Sepulveda understood that these personal care items could make all the difference.

I’m guessing that what Mario knew, intuitively, was that routines, courtesies and self-care allow us to hold on to our humanity, even under the most inhumane circumstances. This is not about designer clothing or making an impression. What it is about is that tending to our corporeal self (which is, of course, connected to our psyche) reminds us to that we all hold intrinsic value. To paraphrase the L’Oreal commercials, “…because we’re worth it”.

When these men shaved, brushed their teeth, shared the little food they had, they behaved “as if” they had a future beyond that mine. I’m pretty sure this attitude led to other acts of self-preservation. Practiced on a daily basis, the men reinforced for themselves the belief that they would be set free. Had they fought over food, turned on each other, abandoned simple acts of grooming, like brushing teeth, it is likely that their collective frame of mind would have plummeted and the outcome of their ordeal would have been far less ebullient than what we witnessed as they emerged from the mine.

Many of us have fallen into psychological black holes. It is hard for me to imagine what it would be like to, literally, be forced to live in one for 70 days. These men have reinforced, for me, my belief in the resilience and resourcefulness that resides in every one of us. If they refused to give up hope, why should we? If they could call on their courage and hold on to it for such a long time -- is that not possible for us all? When trouble knocks on our door it is common to feel weak, unprepared and overwhelmed. When we face our challenges, using our ingenuity and imagination, we rise above the ordinary and the hero that resides within us all watches over us as we find our way out of whichever black hole it is into which we have fallen.

We all have the instinct to survive. One of our problems is that when life feels out of control, we often forget that we have that ally deep within our core. During troubled times, we have tendency to see our challenges as dense lumps that we cannot hope to move or penetrate. The truth is, that regardless of the direction from which we approach our trials, one inroad leads to another, and even if we simply see a speck of light ahead, we triumph when we keep tunneling toward that light. The landscape we find when we emerge may not look the way it used to, or the way we wish it did, but, once we have regained our footing, we have the opportunity to design something new…something that reflects the lessons we have learned during our struggle. We just may end up with something unexpectedly amazing and beautiful.

Wisdom is gained through experience. We may acquire knowledge from our schools and books, but, wisdom is what we get hold of as we journey through our lives. No one cheers when tragedy strikes. Our responses to unexpected negative events lead us to a greater understanding of who we are. Hopefully, this self-knowledge will lead us to greater compassion for and understanding of others.
The tools we use to navigate our excursion through life must be updated, sharpened and refined on a continuing basis. We do ourselves a disservice when we fall back on old platitudes that no longer hold any real meaning. In order to find ourselves and to know who we really are, we must, unfortunately, absorb pain, loss and disappointment. The good news is that once we’ve known loss, we will not, unless we are numb, take our joys for granted.

Rejoice when you can. Laugh and hoot and holler and don’t mind those who want to stomp on your glee. Time changes everything. Always remember to head toward the light.

"Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory."
William Barclay

November 2010 - A Different Perspective on Gratitude

From, at least, the time we were toddlers, we’ve been aware of Thanksgiving and all the reasons we have to be grateful. I think all of this is positive and useful, but, my guess is that, most of us, are not encouraged to focus on our greatest gift, which is, of course, ourselves. By now you know that I am not talking about false pride and self-centeredness. What I am talking about is the combination of the parts that comprise the fundamental nature that each of us calls “me“. I think we should take the time to remember and give gratitude for this shell and mind and spirit that incorporates our essential being.

It is so common for us humans, when faced with a challenge, (and some of them are, indeed, huge) to feel inadequate, not up to the job. Suppose, when feeling engulfed, after recovering from the shock of our next worry, we stood back and assessed what tools we have, and what tools are available to us from sources outside ourselves. An important step in this process is to know that, should all our best efforts prove to be inadequate, there are always new paths to follow and we are rarely devoid of choice.

Allow me to state the obvious: regardless of our personal trials, the earth will, at least in the foreseeable future, continue to spin and tomorrow will arrive. What happens then? It’s a good idea to, at least, be aware that many different roads lead to “Tipperary”. Do not underestimate yourself. You are far more talented and resourceful than you recognize. We tend to, mostly because it’s easier, focus on the outside. Am I thin enough, good-looking enough, in fashion, does my skin, hair, whatever, look the way it should? Blah…blah…blah. Yes, our looks can help us along TO A CERTAIN EXTENT. Believe me when I tell you, that I have spoken to many wonderful looking people who weep in my office because they have not developed confidence, do not believe in their smarts and creativity, and all the other wonderful assets within their reach.

Years ago I heard it suggested that when we look in the mirror we focus on what we like about ourselves. So, how about instead of, “does my butt look big?” Why not notice, “that color looks fabulous on me” (stop snickering guys… you do it too). Yes, personal care is very important, for reasons that are not about simple vanity, but, what about the rest of you? What about your inside?
Are you smart, clever, downright funny? Are you a good listener, easy to be with, an organizing gu ru? Maybe you’re great with money, are an athlete, nurturing, someone a friend can depend on. Do you value these traits as highly as the ones you may think you don’t have? If you don’t, you’re shackling yourself unkindly and unnecessarily.

Example: I am not known for my athleticism. We laugh over my misadventures skiing and hiking and my total inability to play tennis. Would we, therefore, count on me to scale the tower and rescue the damsel trapped therein? Not if we’re sane we wouldn’t. I might, however, discover a secret passageway for her escape, or, more likely, convince the dragon who’s holding her hostage that he will really be happier if he stops roaring and spitting flames at people all the time.

Use your assets! Don’t tell me you don’t have any -- I know better. You may not appreciate the strengths you have, and, far be it from me to insist you use them. But, at least learn to recognize what you have going for you and understand what parts of yourself you can call on when handling a predicament. Keep in mind that there is always more than one solution to any problem.
Please believe me when I tell you that you have EVERYTHING you need to build a life of meaning, a life of consequence. You don’t, and won’t know the ripple effect your simple being has on people and events that surround you.

Faith is helpful. For some, that comes naturally. Others struggle and feel alone and fearful and powerless. It makes no difference to me what source provides you with that feeling of “you are not alone”. But, for those of you who feel that way, please consider the possibility that in the immensity of the universe there lies a source of support you have yet to discover. I have been on that journey, and, for many, many years, and did not believe that any font of true comfort was available to me. I “get” it now. I know where to go, inside and outside myself, when the road becomes treacherous.

My wish for all of you is that you learn to appreciate the wonder of “you”. Each of us is special and linked, one to the other, all at the same time. Join the knowledge in your head to the wisdom in your heart and live the life you were meant to live.

Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.
Harper Lee

December 2010 - Catching Happiness

It  almost sounds like capturing sunshine doesn’t it?  And... in some ways it feels the same, since, most of us, think of sunshine as an exhilarating element in our lives.  So how how do we go about seizing, nabbing, holding on to that  “whatever it is” that seems to make life that much more worth living? 

Well, I know you’re tired of hearing me say this, but, before you embark on your journey toward the life you long to live, you must know (heart-knowledge, not brain-knowledge) who you really are and genuinely understand what lies beneath your longings for a particular lifestyle, work trajectory or relationship.  

This can seem like quite the daunting task, and I trust that we may each have to figure out for ourselves the route that will get us there. But... I can tell you what I have learned for myself, how I learned it, and the ways in which the resulting know-how has transformed the way I look at my life.

In my work as a therapist, I am continually looking for ways to heighten my understanding of human nature, most especially, to understand why some of us are able to “rise above”, while others of us seem to either tread water (which is, of course, exhausting) and some, tragically give up and sink into despair.  Even though I well know there is no “silver bullet”, I, like Don Quixote, cling to my quest.

I believe that all wisdom is circular, so I borrow from this and that in my efforts to learn what I need to learn.  Several years ago, probably at the height of the Madonna Kabbalah craze, (pop culture is, most definitely, not above me) I purchased a group of tapes purporting to explain Kabbalistic principals. 

One of these tapes contained a meditation that has had a profound influence on my life.  I will give you an abridged synopsis.

Get into a relaxed state (this is best done with professional help).  Focus on 3 attributes:

    1. Your physical self
    2. Your temperament
    3. Your talents
  1.   Next, imagine yourself at a time before you were born, when you were a soul.  You are sitting at a table with a group of other souls -- people who will prove to be important to you in both positive and negative ways, when you enter the terrestrial plane. The reason you have all gathered around that table is so that you can decide on your mission when you enter the the world you are about to live in.  Spend some time in this state & listen to what comes to you from your heart & gut.  Leave your brain out of the process
  2. Now revisit your physicality, temperament and talents.  You will quickly see that you already posses everything you need to successfully accomplish your life’s purpose.
  3. Slowly re-enter your every day world.

What I learned when I went through this exercise was that my “job” during my lifetime was to comfort.  

Now.. does this (to me) mean that I must be available to every turkey who thinks they have the right to suck the oxygen right out of my lungs? NO, NO  & NO!  Guess you know how I feel about that!  The way that I interpret my so-called job is to help those who take active responsibility for their satisfaction in life find a more a gratifying road that will lead them to their goals.  It is my honor to accompany those who are willing to do the work when they hit the rough patches.

My belief in my purpose makes it very easy for me to be goal oriented and I can’t say that I care a whole lot when I find it necessary to place restrictions on my availability.  Setting boundaries does not necessarily increase my popularity, but, fortunately, I have some very special people in my life who understand me and, as to the rest of the world... oh well!!

A sense of life purpose has made getting through the tough times a lot easier.  For me, there is always a reason to get out of bed in the morning.  I’m pretty sure I know why I’m here, and my assumption is that here I will remain as long as my so-called skills are needed.  

As many of you know, I have lost many things I thought were secure over the last year, but, none of that keeps me from doing the things I need to do.

An old friend, who is not normally warm & fuzzy said to me, “You know, you will be happy again some day”.  I THINK I know that.  I do know that the world I expected to inhabit will have transformed into something unexpected.  Be that as it may, my father always spoke of “The Laws of Nature”.  I have great respect for those laws and have never believed that it was even worth asking “why” certain things have occurred.

Learn about yourself.  Why are you here?  When you discover your answer, life might be hard, but it will also be a whole lot easier.

Happy New Year to all of you!

Life's not always fair.  Sometimes you can get a splinter even sliding down a rainbow.  ~ Terri Guillemets

January 2011 - Who Would You Be?

Please notice the question ... this is not about profession or the “shoulds” and “woulds” in your life it’s about, given no input from significant (or insignificant) others... what would it be like inside your world?
Would you get up early or sleep late?  Would it be noisy or quiet?  Structured or unbound?  I ask these questions because, so often, it’s the personal preferences between people that can make their relationship seem impossible to work out.  It’s the so-called little things that drive us crazy and pile up to become this huge thing that we call our life.
A lot of the time we just go along and don’t even realize that some of the regimens we have adopted really DO rub us the wrong way and some are changeable while others simply are not.
Sometimes, it’s our approach that prevents us from carving out a niche for ourselves.  We don’t want to complain about small things, things that seem petty, so we wait until we are really angry and then explode or implode in a way that obscures what we really want to communicate.
At times we attribute motives to our spouse, boss or friend that simply aren’t there.  A great example of this happened in our household a number of years ago.  I found that Harry (my husband) was arguing with, what seemed like, every statement I made.  My irritation grew slowly, but, finally I told him that I didn’t like talking with him anymore because it was too much work.  He was genuinely surprised.  Finally, he, who had known me for quite a while by then and “should” have known better said, “Don’t you like to debate?”  “No!” was my reply, “you and your brother can do that (Harry is one of six kids), I (only child) hate it!”.  A lesson  learned, on both sides.
We all grow up in families, where, regardless of the tone, our parents set the tenor or the pattern for what occurs within the household.  We absorb this, of course, and even if we rebel, this framework sets the stage for what we expect life to be.  Until we run into the cement wall of another’s expectations, we have no idea that no two “tribes” are run the same way and that, even within a single family, there are different belief systems.
A number of years ago I had a boss who, unknowingly, made it very difficult for me to accomplish what needed to be done at work.  When I’m writing or doing anything else that requires real concentration, it’s really hard for me to be interrupted.  I lose my train of thought, and become irritated when I’m unable to get right back on the path.  Here was my boss, however, who had very different boundaries and really had trouble understanding why he was driving me crazy.  John was a good guy and we (sort of) worked it out, but, until the day I left that job, I knew that there was a distinct possibility that he would come barging in my (closed) door at any time. 
Obviously, the more people there are in the household, the harder it is to  
carve out pockets for yourself.  You will probably receive protests when you try to set new boundaries for yourself, but, it’s better to go through that breaking-in stage than to go through years of discomfort that your central nervous system strongly objects to.
If you cannot seem to get any cooperation from those who resonate in different ways, see if there isn’t some kind of compromise.  This is, of course, harder to do at work than it is at home.
It’s really helpful if you can educate the people with whom you share space.  You may have to tell them, more than once, that your personal preferences have nothing to do with them.  That you have always preferred silence or light or music or a clean sink or a made bed or whatever.  You have been this way since before you met them and will, most likely, be this way in the future.
It’s also useful to make it really clear that you are not passing judgment on the way another person does things.  Many a hurt feeling has occurred because there are so many ways to handle simple situations. 
I am an only child and I had three children.  When my mother would come to visit she would, without fail, say to me, “when you took your nap I would use that time to polish your shoes and wash your shoe laces”.  You can imagine how this made me burn!  I wanted to yell at her, “You try handling three small children!”.  Looking back on it, I do believe she was attempting to give me what she would have called one of her “brilliant” ideas.  To me, it felt critical.  All these years later, I can remember it and smile at the differences that often must be tackled and, hopefully, overcome by mother and daughter. 
It is very sad when I see couples spend huge amounts of time arguing about lifestyle differences.  It often feels, to each of them, like a power play by the other.  The truth is that the concept that we have control over our lives is a myth -- and the sooner we accept that unfailing truth the better.
Life can change quickly and unpredictably.  Surprising developments pop up all the time.  It is up to us to ask for what we want, cooperate generously when we can, and refuse to accommodate that which we cannot tolerate.  
So... think about the things that make your life feel sane and safe and see to it that at least some of those elements are part of your everyday world.

"Life is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things, in which smiles, and kindnesses, and small obligations, given habitually, are what win and preserve the heart and secure comfort." Humphrey Davy 

February 2011 - When Do You Tell?

It can be a pretty confounding decision -- what do I keep as a secret and what do I share?  Furthermore, with whom do I share?

All kinds of elements go into making these kinds of decisions.  Loyalty, betrayal, shame, desperation, and ambivalence are among the influences we face.

I feel quite strongly, that unless someone is in real danger, we are obligated to allow others to reveal or hide that which is theirs.  We do not own another person’s secrets.

Probably the most painful emotion we face when we need help with our choices is the feeling of shame.  Over the past several years I have encountered so many people who have run into all kinds of  losses and disappointments and it is their sense of disgrace that has prevented them from asking for advice or help.  We tend to think we’re alone in our dilemmas.  Even in my office, I have found that when an individual has a really hard time opening up, that whatever it was they were wishing, yet reluctant, to talk about, is something that many people have encountered and few would regard as shameful.

I hear from so many of you about what you believe to be my courage when I share my own personal troubles in these newsletters.  It is not so much that I am courageous, it is that I will always try to be as open as possible as I send out these missives that deal with the things in which I believe.  If I hide, how can I suggest that you share?  If I “pretty” up the facts of my life, why would I ever have credibility?  The only real merit in my writing is that what I discuss is about real life, real situations.

It has often seemed to my to be to my disadvantage that it is very difficult for me to lie.  I am not morally superior, by the way, I merely become flummoxed when the time comes to tell the truth.  I can’t even lie to my husband about being the one who finished off the M & M’s when he asks.  I flush, become tongue tied and stumble all over myself.  You have no idea how often I’ve wished that “bending” the truth came more easily.  On the other hand, I don’t have to remember which story I told to whom (I would be terrible at that) so it’s probably best that I get things out of the way from the very beginning.

I do share worries with friends.  Depending on the situation, I try to ask for counsel from those who I believe can bring me insight or comfort.  My husband is not always thrilled that I talk to other people.  He is far more private than I am and he probably feels that our difficulties make us look deficient.  This is one area on which we will probably never agree.  I do make every effort to separate out my worries from his out of respect for his wish for confidentiality.

Friends and relatives are in our lives for many important reasons.  Sometimes help is offered and then retracted.  If your situation is serious, that can be extremely painful.  I do believe, however, that when the offer is made it is sincere and the other person has often made a gesture of support before having the opportunity to think about what that would really mean.  Most folks would like to help -- they may be at a  loss as to the type of help they are prepared to offer.  Sometimes a silent listener can do a world of good.

Sharing your concerns with the right person -- someone who can understand and  lets you know that he/she cares is what chases away the shame.  Whatever difficulty you find yourself in, I’m pretty sure you didn’t intend to wind up where you are right now.  Yet, we so often blame ourselves -- believing we should have known better, used less haste in decision-making, either following or not following another’s advice. I know I have travelled the road of self-blame and if I couldn’t, or wouldn’t bring myself to talk about what’s on my mind I would be missing an important avenue of relief.

Your real friends will be there to care about you regardless of your circumstances.  Someone who’s had a good bit of life experience under their belt is always a good resource.  If you have no one, then call a professional (shameless self-promotion) and at least put words to what you are feeling.

We all need witnesses at one time or another in our lives.  It’s comforting and essential to  find some way to air and give voice to our troubles.   We feel less alone when others know about the fears we are facing.  Do not overly concern yourself with the reactions of people you don’t know.  Believe me when I tell you that your news becomes old news pretty quickly and those who are judgmental were that way before and will remain that way after your situation is resolved.

Bad and good times always pass -- sometimes that can be hard to remember.

“We exaggerate misfortune and happiness alike.  We are never as happy or as bad off as we say we are” Honore de Balzac

March 2011 - It’s Never too Late to Change

One of the most recurrent concerns that comes up in my office goes something like this:  “But, I’ve always thought (or done things) this way... how can I change now?"

It’s not simple to revise a lifetime’s worth of behavior or thought, but, neither is it impossible.  The first step involves taking a good look at whatever it is that is getting in the way of your happiness.  This is the really tricky part because we all have certain beliefs that we have held for so long that we assume they are immutable.  Not so.  
What makes this so hard is that we really don’t want to acknowledge that long-held ideas may no longer be serving us well.  People go all over the place with this one.  “Does this mean that everything I have done is wrong?”  “Have I been incredibly naive?” “Have I been misled by family, friends, teachers, etc. into giving credence to things that are simply wrong?”  There are no simple answers to these questions, but, as with just about everything in life, the so-called truth falls into the grey areas of life. Many of us prefer undemanding, black and white solutions to whatever it is with which we are struggling.  It’s time to accept that living a life that is truly meaningful is not so easily accomplished.  It involves taking risks, making mistakes, raising the hackles of people we care about and, often, being brutally honest with ourselves.  None of this sounds like a whole lot of fun.  It is often painful to replace familiar ways, but when we are successful, we often find rewards that go far beyond anything we had imagined.

Most of us change when whatever it is that is interfering with our well-being becomes so painful that we find the inner resolve to revamp a portion of our thoughts and/or behavior.  The key here is that the motivation, if we wish to truly succeed, must originate within ourselves.  Most of us have had the experience of attempting to make a change “for” another person.  That may give us an initial push, but rarely does it provide us with the type of energy we need to sustain the effort.

There are many reasons for this actuality.  Suppose I alter my behavior to please you?  What will happen when I become disappointed or disillusioned by something that you say or do?  More often than not, I will say to myself some version of, “Look at how he’s (she’s) treating me after all the effort I have put into pleasing him (her)!”  As a rule that heralds the end of our efforts.  Unless we believe that our attempted modifications are necessary; unless we want to leave behind an attitude or way of being that each of us ,as an individual, understands is hindering our enjoyment of life,we are likely, when discouraged, to go right back to our old ways of doing things. 

It takes courage to change one’s mind.  Sometimes it feels as if we are being disloyal to our family’s standards of behavior. To this day, when I make a decision that runs counter to my family’s codes of belief I wait for a hand to descend from the heavens, grab me by the throat and boom, “Just what exactly do you think you’re doing?”  It’s not so easy to go against what has been, for you, “conventional wisdom”.  Do not be surprised if the little child that resides within pops his/her head out and asks, “What are you trying to do -- get me in trouble?”  Worse yet, is when our meandering leads to an unexpectedly negative outcome.  At such times we may feel like rebellious children who deserve to be punished.  Be assured, the laws of nature don’t really work that way and any decision can lead to success or failure.  Again, as a rule, solutions are not usually black or white.  Sometimes “Lady Luck” gets into the mix.

We do not “owe” it to anyone to lead the life that pleases everyone but ourselves.  It takes some real growing up to make our own heartfelt decisions.  Becoming independent means being willing to accept responsibility for the consequences that accompany our choices. These are the times when it is useful to turn down the volume on our perfectionism. We will never be free from flaw or error, and, if you really think about it, you may decide that such a life would be pretty boring.  Imagine, no surprises, no discoveries -- a life lived in vanilla.  Hey, if that’s your flavor, that’s great, but I would be skeptical, at best, if everyone fell into that camp. 

Try to remember that those who taught you and set certain standards were struggling with their own insecurities.  Just because they put on ties and high heels doesn’t meant that they felt like grown ups.  Each generation inherits a different world than the one before it.  The best you can do is the best you can do.  At the end of the day, you may find that it is quite satisfactory to live you life in that way.  No one gets it all right -- they just pretend that they do.

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind"
Dr. Seuss

 

April 2011 - Lessons I've Learned from Stinky Dogs

We have 4 dogs:  Ruby, Babe, Casper & Violet.  We have loved them for many years & each one comes with his/her own unique story, but that's not what this is about. Before we moved in August of 2010 we were not aware, or made aware, of the fact that our dogs were odiously odoriferous.  To us, everything about them smelt like roses.  They were (and are) "inside" dogs, never let out of our sight (alligators frighten me), regularly groomed by a professional groomer and the 4 of them don't weigh more than 70 lbs altogether.  So, how smelly could they be?

We found, when we moved into our new home that they exuded a "bouquet" that could probably knock out a horse.  What a shock!  What to do?  We thought we were dealing with the problem by spraying every piece of furniture and pillow with Febreze to eliminate canine odors.  We bought dog-specific carpet powder and air fresheners.  We kept reassuring each other that everything smelled just fine.  Wrong!  We were baffled as to what to do next.

Have you ever ignored the obvious?  Like tripping over the front door rug and never thinking about removing it altogether.  Or lamenting toys strewn everywhere while failing to provide a place for proper storage?  Well, that was us. 

I tend to fall into certain routines and stop paying attention to recurrent kinds of chaos.  I can also be very concrete.  So, if I'm looking for something that's always on the second shelf, I may well neglect to look 2 shelves up, where such an item is clearly in sight.  Being vertically challenged (okay, short), I forget to look up.  So, everyone seems tall to me and why should I bother looking at things that are out of reach anyway?

Then, one day I came across "O MY DOG!" natural care detangling spritzer that smells of honeycomb & oatmeal.  What a find!!  Now I just had to convince the 4 "kids" that this was a good idea.  They each reacted in their own unique, characteristic way.

Ruby is our beauty.  She comes from a long line of champions and is, for the most part, patient with me as I brush out her long ears and tail.  If she could, she would ask everyone not to hate her because she's beautiful.

Babe, who is the most fun dog to be around, but is far from beautiful. really hates the process.  Babe is good natured, so, especially when I'm brushing around her beard (she's a shih tzu) she manages to express her aversion to the process by moaning and subdued growling that clearly says, "Mom, what happened to you -- why are you doing this to a nice girl like me?"  I think she feels betrayed.

Then, there's Casper, the world's most timid dog.  Casper is clumsy, bow-legged, not especially clever, and is madly in love with me.(The feelings are reciprocated on a somewhat reduced level).  When Casper sees me coming, he thinks he can run away.  I guess he doesn't know he's slow and that at some point he will be trapped in a corner.  So, to his dismay, and, perhaps, shock he's caught every time and is subjected to a 5 minute clean up.

Finally, we have Violet.  She is the smallest of our dogs (less than 10 lbs.), has one eye and 3 teeth.  Her spirit, however, is fierce.  So, when I do anything that displeases her she tries to bite (or gum) me.  This is far from intimidating and I'm pretty sure that's what I would do if I were in her situation; so I have great respect for this "mighty" warrior.

The point of all of this is, of course, that when you tackle a problem head on, it's usually a pretty sure bet that you will resolve it sooner rather than later.  Wouldn't you think I would have learned that by now? I even enjoy grooming the "kids".  Somehow I managed to ignore the obvious and spent a lot of time, money and worry as I tried to conquer this particular problem.  Under certain circumstances that way of thinking might be considered to be creative.  In this instance, it was simply dumb!

So, my advice is this:  If you have something to say -- say it clearly and plainly
If you have something to do, come up with a plan that makes sense and unless there are surprises, follow it.
If you are trying to solve a problem, don't get so caught up in your own "genius" and try to make a king sized bed with single bed sized sheets.

Take it from one who's been there -- the "scenic" road is not always your best choice. 

"No question is so difficult to answer as that to which the answer is obvious"
George Bernard Shaw

May 2011 - Do they Think They Invented Sex?

As a rule, I avoid commentary on so-called "moral"issues.  I really don't care too much what consenting, independent, equal adults decide to do with their lives.  It's really none of my business & who am I to judge anyway? 

I do care when I believe that one individual has used his/her (perceived) power to exploit another.  What is wrong with the predator?  Just because you can take advantage of another doesn't give you a green light to go ahead and do that. What our marauder has not taken into account is that his/her actions demonstrate hidden insecurity and self-doubt. 

Those who are truly secure, whose security is based on genuine self-confidence, would never take advantage(knowingly) of another. So, our degrader might just as well wear a sign that says "I don't think I deserve or can hold on to my success -- therefore, I will continue to attempt to fill my unfillable emptiness by forcing my will on anyone I want to."

The past few weeks have given us so much material to choose from:  Ahhhnold, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and Italian Prime Minister, Bulisconi are simply the ones who have made it into the news.
It's staggering to think that these men, with real achievements, with real success are so unsure of themselves that their need to force their penis into an, often, unwilling identified underling overcomes common sense, human respect and reality.  They are such PATHETIC IDIOTS!

Maybe a lesson in human behavior is needed here.  Anyone can learn to be a seducer.  It's not that hard, especially if you're in the one-up position.  Once you have successfully maneuvered your target into submitting to your will, what is your great achievement?  Do you think that person loves you; admires you; that he/ she believes that no one does "it" like you?  You are deluding yourself.
I am aware that women are also guilty of these acts -- it just seems that the men become exposed (in many ways) more regularly.

The scandal with Schwarzenegger sickens me because children, as well as an individual who depended on him for her income,  are involved.  I never thought much about Maria Shriver, but that she was expected to look out for, be nice to this "secret" family for years is just plain wrong.  That his marital children have been humiliated, as has the boy who resulted from his liaison is uncalled for and beyond callous. The husband of the housekeeper has said that he thought the child was his, that he feels as though he's lost his son.  Arnold had it "all".  He worked hard & threw it all away because he simply had to find another venue in which to display his power.  STUPID!

As to our friend from the IMF, well there's a lot of controversy -- did he or didn't he?  There does seem to be blood & semen evidence that would corroborate that he did, but, even if that's not true in this case, his reputation far precedes him.  A known "womanizer" whose very wealthy, American wife thinks it's ok.  That's her choice & if that's their mutually agreed-upon lifestyle, it's none of my business.  But, to attack a maid from another country, in which women are regularly raped... where's the glory in that?  Again, here is a genuinely effective and, reportedly, brilliant individual who thinks he's above the law and can do as he pleases.  Fine... but why is this what he chose to do?  This display of entitlement has nothing to do with real authority.  A crowd of Egyptian men tried to do the same thing to Lara Logan, the reporter.  Are these the people he identifies with?  I doubt it.

Finally, there is Prime Minister of Italy, Bulisconi.  I don't know a whole lot about him, but, apparently, he has been a debaucher for years.  The man is 74 years old -- what does he think when he seduces an 18 year old -- that she loves his body!?!  This is a lack of reality testing in the extreme.  
Armies have been raping women since the beginning of time.  It's rather chilling to think that these men thought (if they thought at all) that so-doing rendered them powerful victors. Who ends up with a win?  Surely not the person upon whom sex was forced (violently or otherwise). Every human being longs to be seen and loved exactly as they are.  It is also our greatest fear -- if someone really sees me they will never love me.

So, I understand that an individual might choose to avoid taking that risk.  What I don't understand is what genuine pleasure is derived from overpowering someone in the sexual arena. (Sports are something else entirely).

Having grown up in Washington, D.C., I spent my formative years around individuals who believed they were above the laws of human decency.  Some were exposed others got away with whatever it was they did.  I can't understand where the glory lies in "getting away" with something.  It's not so hard to deceive people, most of us would prefer to trust.  I'm sure that most of you, like me, have received e-mails offering us $15,000,000 if we'll only open a bank account for someone we never heard of from a place we may have heard of.  That's a pretty good time to be cynical.

Look, I believe that people deliver their own worst punishment to themselves.  I, personally, would not waste my time with retaliation or revenge -- I couldn't do as good a job.  Also, when a situation turns toxic, I would rather disengage than stick around. Nothing feels better than being truly loved. Those who are all puffed up on their own power really don't get it.  It's their loss.

"Their insatiable lust for power is only equaled by their incurable impotence in exercising it."  Winston Churchill

June 2011 - Forgiveness -- It's Complicated

Why is forgiveness so difficult?  There are those who say they forgive easily, but, I'm not sure I always believe that.  When we say, "I'll forgive, but I won't forget", what, exactly does that mean?
Forgiving does not mean that we're saying that what harmed us is okay.  It does not mean that we have to like the person, or persons, we are attempting to forgive.  I think Oprah said it best when she said, "Just because you forgive somebody doesn't mean that you have to eat potato salad with them".
Now, I don't claim to be an expert on this subject, but, it's something I have had to grapple with both personally and professionally.  So, I will just voice my opinion.

It gets confusing when we proclaim that we forgive for our own benefit, not the well-being of another.  It's hard to know what that really means.  I can tell you that I have worked with many, many people who harbor and hold on to their resentment for a very, very long time.  It is true that such an individual believes he/she has been wounded.  What is often not understood is that as we are batting around old injuries, we are keeping them alive.  Why do some of us insist on newly and continually reliving old heartaches?

One explanation is that a negative attachment may feel better than no attachment at all.  Especially when a significant person or issue in our lives is trampled on, we may nurse it, go over it, do just about anything to avoid letting go of it.  Why?  Because we feel too empty when we just let go.  We attempt to avoid the grief that inevitably follows such a discharge, often by denying that grief has anything to do with the situation.  As long as the issue is kept alive, we believe, consciously or unconsciously, that we are dispensing with the inevitable feelings of loss.

I don't think that I have ever met an individual who doesn't have some sort of fear of abandonment.  We may dread being discarded or being the one who does the letting go.  These issues are painful and it us understandable that we want to avoid entering that arena. One of the problems is that the break has occurred whether or not we choose to acknowledge it.  The longer we hold on to the illusion of attachment the longer it releases toxins into our systems.  It's like being hurt by another and swallowing battery acid ourselves in response.  Of course it makes no sense, but we are human and are likely to follow this course at some point in our lives. 

We know we have achieved forgiveness when we reach the point of indifference as to the comings and goings, fortunes and misfortunes of the person who has harmed us.  When we really believe that it is too much trouble to invest emotion into or become unduly interested in such a person's life, we have made the leap and relinquished the connection.

It feels good to boot trouble out of our lives.  It may take us a while to get there, but there is a great deal of relief that accompanies just not caring.  We have more energy to put into activities that are meaningful in our lives as well as the people who sustain us.

After we have let go of hurt, regret, shame and disappointment, our self-esteem grows and we learn to trust that we can take good care of ourselves.  This self-trust is an essential element in adult mental health.  We need to believe that we can depend on ourselves as well as others.  The more we know who we really are, the better the likelihood that we will make decisions that serve us well.  Taking an unflinching look at ourselves, accepting our limitations and foibles as part of being human and maintaining self-love is exactly where we want to be.

Once we have extricated ourselves from a noxious attachment we are in a position to recognize that what makes this event so poisonous is that, some part of us bought into the notion that we had done something wrong, that our failings caused the outcome.  Well if that's the case, let's learn from it and move on.  It is important to realize, however, that we do not choose another person's behavior -- that is their responsibility.

When we burden ourselves with the ideal of personal perfection, we become self-punishing and judgmental.  What a waste!  We, ultimately, are our own, faltering selves trying to build the best possible lives that we can achieve.  When you start forgiving yourself for your imperfections it becomes much easier to forgive others.

Unless you begin to grow angel wings, embrace your humanity and rejoice in the life you live.

"When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free." Catherine Ponder       

July 2011 - Let's Talk About Self-Respect

This is where it all begins.  Sometimes I wish we had a "self-respect" button attached to our hearts that beat along with it in synchronicity.

Maybe you're having trouble coming to terms with your inability to reach what you perceive as perfection Perhaps you underestimate your talents and contributions.  If this is the case, I suggest, at the very least, that you, based on the fact that you're a living creature, consider respecting your own humanity, which includes your compassion, tenderness and generosity among many other traits.
Forget about the big picture -- not everyone is meant to be a world-renowned superstar, and those who are have plenty of their own insecurities and flaws.  Most of us would not enjoy being in their shoes.

Many of us easily find that we can care about the starving people in Somalia or victims of natural disasters.  What we often lack is the talent for granting ourselves the big heartedness we allow others.  Somehow we've come to believe that we must always strive to be better, which in and of itself is not a big problem.  The stumbling block is that we put off our good feelings about ourselves to sometime in the future and devalue who we have been and are right now.

Have you failed to be (in your eyes) a good parent or child?  Have you not been as successful financially as you had planned?  Maybe you've had trouble with school or athletics or are unconfident in social situations.  Do you find change difficult or have a fear of the water?  So what!  All of that is part of being an earthling on this planet.

Unless we have illusions (Hitler did) of creating a super race, we will be saddled with fears, inefficiencies, clumsiness, poor attention span and bad handwriting.  Oh well!  Don't you think our individual quirks are interesting?  What would it be like if we never had a disagreement or made a mistake?  Where would we be able to tap into our creativity and spirit?

None of us welcome the tragedies that life, inevitably,bestows on us.  Sometimes we think it's our own fault anyway.  It really doesn't matter if the latter is true -- it was not our intention to trigger a calamity.  Don't you think it takes a great deal of courage to get through these times?  I do.  Holding your head up high, while others around you may be tsk tsking or offering a condescending form of sympathy is the only way to go.  By now you must know that there are many hypocrites out there and that they will be the first to cast stones, so to speak.  Such acquaintances are not essential to your well-being and you do yourself a favor when you slip away from their orb.

I am in awe of individuals who get through terrible times with their inner being intact.  Those who have learned through misfortune and hold on to their optimism in the process are, in my opinion, heroes.  Is a hero always confident, knowing which way to turn?  Of course not -- that's what makes such a person a hero.

You must begin to recognize the strengths that lie within.  Whether you are 18, 35, 62 or 80, you had some part of being where you are right now.  Even if the present doesn't seem so hot, look at the energy and commitment you have expended to get here.  It's not luck that has carried you in the race or the help of another person -- at the end of the day,  YOU are the one who has kept you going.  If that doesn't deserve self-respect, I don't know what does.

We do not thrive under conditions of censure, verbal abuse, humiliation and degradation.  Why do we visit these upon ourselves?  As a rule, if this is what we do,  we've been taught to look at ourselves that way.  Whether it was parents who were misguided as to what parenting ought to be, a teacher who for his/her own reasons was stingy with praise, an unfortunate handicap with which we were born, none of this defines who we are.  When we are children, we believe what we are told about ourselves.  As we age and learn about the world, we have the opportunity to cast off these unfair depictions of ourselves and take (probably with help) a fresh look at ourselves that allows us to focus on our strengths.  These strengths are, by far, more important in our personal development than our so-called encumbrances.

It is noble to dream and try and stand up after falling down. To take responsibility for our lives and live up to our own values are core parts of living a life with meaning.  Look in the mirror and pay attention to the things you see that make you happy.  If you can't find anything in yourself to admire, keep looking until you do -- it's there, it's really there -- I promise.    

To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves - there lies the great, singular power of self-respect.  ~Joan Didion 

August 2011 - Where Have You Gone...Angela Potter?


I was always in love with Georgetown.  Growing up in D.C., it was a treat whenever my parents took me there.  I loved the brick sidewalks, cobblestone streets, the vines growing on the houses -- the whole gestalt.

Georgetown was not always a desirable neighborhood.  At the beginning of the 20th century, only the poor lived there -- it was a throw away kind of place.

That, of course, changed, and for a long time it was considered to be THE neighborhood in Washington.  Not only was Georgetown the hub of political power, it was also the place where members of the intelligence community, specifically, the CIA lived and schemed.

Everyone knew everything about the goings on in Georgetown, and while they all gossiped about each other, the journalists of the day refrained from "outing" the love affairs, affair affairs and, sometimes, the misdeeds, large and small, in which this privileged group felt free to engage.

I, of course, knew nothing about any of this -- I just thought it was an incredibly romantic, almost magical place, where I dreamed about living some day.

You must be wondering, who is Angela Potter and why am I writing about her?  Well, Angela, who was at least 70 in the 80's when I met her, had not only been born in Georgetown, her mother had owned an antique shop there for many years.  Angela loved to gossip about the place, and although she wasn't ensconced in the "in" group, she certainly knew everything about their comings and goings.  I guess you could call her a semi grande dame.  Angela used to love to talk about the people who patronized her mothers' shop.  She took great pleasure in telling me about Jackie Kennedy walking around with stains on her blouse and (oh the horror!) no stockings.  I'm guessing that Angela, who I lost contact with, has been living in a neighborhood beyond the pearly gates for many years now .

I first met Angela when I had to deliver something to her home on 33rd Street.  I had to go down several stairs to get to the front door of her townhouse, with it's shining brass door knocker (one of the "rules" of the time was door knockers must be brass and highly polished).  This giant of a woman opened the door, took one look at me and said, "Oh, I thought you would be bigger".  She promptly took me under her wing and for about a year, until I moved away, she introduced me to her version of the Georgetown way of life.

Angela invited me to attend cooking classes in someone's (I can't remember her name) home.  The establishment ladies used to do the same thing, except their classes were with Julia Child.  I learned to make a bouche de noel, which took me 12 hours and resulted in an unbelievable mess (meringue dripping into the dishwasher as my standard poodle tried to lick it off of the rest of me)  when I tried to do it on my own. That was definitely a once is enough kind of experience.

We also went to some pretty fancy horse shows in Middleburg, Virginia and engaged in other sorts of activities, which allowed me a peek into a world I had never known about.  It was a lot of fun and Angela was great company.

What I miss about that time and the years preceding it, is that while there were certain behavioral rules around dressing and drinking and entertaining, it was more than acceptable -- in fact, it was encouraged, for people to have differing points of view, to debate in a way that was educational, not divisive, and that encouraged an opening rather than a closing of the mind. 

Now, I was never fascinated by politics, other than that my high school boyfriend was a Page at the capitol (a job that will probably be eliminated in the next few years).  So, while I was in the environment, I was certainly not politically engaged.  I did know, however, that being on the other side of an argument was not in and of itself considered to be a bad thing.  I think there was a certain kind of grace allowed that has pretty much evaporated today.  That may have been a result of calmer economic times, with folks feeling more secure about their future, than what many of us are experiencing today.  I do believe that times of self-confidence breed a greater tolerance for disparity than do times of skepticism and doubt.

The famous Georgetown gatherings barely exist today, with their mix of just about everyone. I'm not glorifying the "good old days" -- there was bigotry, corruption and artifice to spare.  Perhaps my wistfulness has more to do with the illusion of a world that seemed to be safe on the home front. It would be nice to recapture that feeling.

It seems to me that we are living in an age of disasters.  Maybe we're simply more aware of them.  It's hard to integrate the atmosphere of dread that comes with the daily news with a life of peaceful productivity.  We used to feel invincible.  That is no longer true.  

The mindfulness movement, the appeal to live in the NOW, and the study and use of principles of Buddhism are some of the tools available to help us deal with the close- to- the- surface anger and judgment and insecurity that are in our faces on a day to day basis.  Maybe I'm lazy, but sometimes I think it would be great to just "be".  On, the other hand, I know I can't stop the world because I want to get off for just a little while.

"Each generation has to live in their own time"

Oatsie Charles     

Sept 2011 - As the World Changes

I heard on the news the other day that one of the new demographics is that older single women will "have" to work for the the rest of their lives.  For them, retirement is no longer an option.  The report put a negative slant to this, which led me to ask -- is this, necessarily a bad thing?

Thomas Edison was trying to find a viable alternative to natural rubber for use in the making of tires for automobiles when he died at the age of 84.  Thomas Edison did not continue to work because he "had" to. Obviously there is work and there is work and there is a vast difference between doing something out of choice and doing something out of necessity.  I'm really only pointing out that there is a continuum here and that there are some real benefits that come with the continuation of whatever it is we call work.

We know that a lifetime that consists of both physical and mental exercise is likely to delay some of the disabilities that come with age.  Having to maintain some form of structure in our lives is likely to enhance the lives we live.  If there is no reason to get out of bed in the morning, there are many people who will not bother to do so.

Using our brainpower to learn new ways of doing things, which will always require the use of focus as well as imagination, can, in addition to warding off the decay of brain cells, prove to be stimulating and fun.  When we realize that we really don't have to worry about "rank" and that our accumulated experience and wisdom will serve us well, why not use our own unique skills and apply them to new undertakings?  I have, personally, found that even jobs that I have taken that have not been at all a good "fit" (there have been several) have provided me with an understanding of systems that I would not usually comprehend at all.  Everything I have done has added to my "bag" of tools.

It is natural that we resist change and just as natural that it arrives with every generation.  The old paradigm of retiring at 60 or 65 seems somewhat outdated in today's world. I have nothing against retirement.  Many people have a wonderful time pursuing long-held interests and traveling.  It's great.  Others lose their zest for life and become depressed as they begin to wonder what their purpose is.  It all depends on the person.  We can't assume that age means what it used to or that certain kinds of activities are restricted to certain age groups.  There's a lot of choice out there -- in that way, we really are so lucky.

The internet has, of course, opened up avenues of information that, 20 years ago we never dreamed were possible.  We have instant access to expert opinions and demonstrations on technique that would have taken us a long time (if ever) to find. I'm pretty sure that just about all of you who are reading this spend a significant part of each day on your computer, ipad or smart phone.  It's easy to stay connected, to get directions, to look something up.  So, while change is always accompanied by feelings of discomfort and fear, there are so many opportunities that have, and will continue, to open up for us, that we should not forget to count our blessings. 

There really is no one perfect road to choose for one's life.  Most of us spend a lot of time fretting about matters and choices, large and small, that, ultimately, will result in happiness and disappointment; relief and regret.  Sure, we should think through decisions that will impact our lives.  I can guarantee you, however, that regardless of the road you choose, your boulevard will be a bumpy one -- that is the nature of life.

The death of Steve Jobs has captured the world's attention this week.  An innovator, a genius, a visionary and on and on.  Another Steve Jobs will come along -- someone who will literally change the way we perform ordinary tasks.  Such people do not bow to limits and do not stop pursuing their goals simply because almost everyone they know says "it can't be done".  Such people believe in themselves, know themselves, and listen to their inner voice.  They know that just because something has never been done before doesn't mean it can't be done.

So, if it is true that many of us (I don't believe it's just single women) will not be able to retire, it may be time to re-define what retirement is; what it means.  It's time to rethink what we view as the essentials in our lives.  Most certainly there are things to add as well as subtract.  Every decade brings with it shifts in requirements.  What we don't want to do is spend an inordinate amount of time pursuing "necessities" that are no longer relevant.

Above all, don't let anyone count you out.  There is only one "you".  Trust that person, nurture that person, and you will find that you are doing much more than merely surviving -- you are living an extraordinary life that was meant for only you.
 
"Be a yardstick of quality.  Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected." Steve Jobs

 

October 2011 - Can I Really Really Trust You?

We all hope for and count on our ability to trust the people we care about. Often we are disappointed.  In many cases the person who has let us down is not even aware that we feel an important commitment  has been violated.

Then it gets complicated -- to continue, take a break from, or end our relationship with that person.  There are no hard and fast rules.  I have seen people survive really serious betrayals, while others have given up over what appears to be a minor incident (obviously, it's not so minor to one of the participants).  The best solution is to follow what we believe to be the best course.  This is often made difficult by input from friends, family, etc. who, inevitably, project their own beliefs on to our situation.

Please know that you must abandon "shoulds" here.  "Should" has nothing to do with it.  No decrees are carved in stone that demand we hold on or let go at a particular point.  For many of us it would be much easier if that were the case, but, sorry, we must delve into our own minds and hearts to find the best possible answer.  Please note that I have said minds and hearts, not one or the other. 

To say that betrayal hurts is an understatement.  It is such a serious breach of behavior that traitors are habitually put to death.  In many ways, disloyalty is like a death -- an emotional death.  If I have held you close and then discovered that you have worked against my best interest, for a time, at least, I will feel less safe in the world.

Many couples have crossed my doorstep with the dilemma that one has "cheated" on the other.  This term is seen in a multitude of ways, but, in essence, what is experienced is a feeling of "I thought I had a relationship with you that was exclusive in certain aspects.  Now,I find, you have shared yourself (physically or emotionally) with someone else".

This is a sad predicament, but, I have seen couples come together, learn to more fully share themselves with each other, and establish a happier, stronger relationship than the one that existed previously.  This is not to say that it is an easy situation for anyone involved, but it does not necessarily mean that a death knell must be rung on the established bond.

Another injury that enters my office is when one has taken financial liberties that were never agreed upon.  Having no money to pay essential bills, differing philosophies on saving and spending, a lack of regard for the other's needs and wishes can be extremely damaging.  This is especially hurtful when one partner feels that his/her hard work has not been valued or respected.  If you find yourself hiding bills, watch out -- trouble is brewing.

Sometimes a trust has been broken that has to do with confidential information.  Sometimes a supposed friend is insensitive to our worries to the point of ridicule and/or cruelty.  I could cite example after example, but I'm pretty sure that you know what I am talking about. Our responsibility is to tell our confidents that certain things are ours alone to reveal.  In general, it makes good sense to allow each person to tell their own story -- it is respectful and proper.  Too often individuals feel better about themselves when they believe they are correct in feeling contemptuous of another.  That never carries anyone for very long and certainly doesn't erase personal feelings of inadequacy.

It's best to avoid a hasty decision.  Our emotions will, inevitably, be high and we are less likely to be able to reach a satisfactory resolution under those circumstances.  A good place to start is to get in touch with what we believe to be true about the essential character of the person who has broken faith with us.  Is this person basically honest?  Is this someone who has repeatedly let us down?  What is the history behind the situation?  Are we dealing with someone who sees others as a convenience and is incapable of establishing a genuine, mutual connection?  Are you seeing the other person as you wish him/her to be or as he/she really is?

You will never be able to answer those questions quickly, nor should you.  If you are on the brink of a legally binding agreement such as marriage or a business venture, you CAN back out if you simply cannot feel assured that this is a person you can believe in.  Your feelings of unease are coming from somewhere and you will be far better off if you can figure out what they are all about.

It is certainly true that at the end of the day, there will be a small number of people who really care about your well-being.  This is not cynical, it is simply true.  My friends and I call this "who's going to be sitting at the end of the bed?"  We don't need a crowd, just a few souls we can be sure will be there. If you have been badly burned, please, please do not close your heart.  Learn from your experience.  Pay attention to those red flags that are so tempting to ignore.  Try to trust and believe in yourself -- the rest will, eventually, fall into place.

"I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you" 
- Friedrich Nietzsche

November 2011 - Bringing Gratitude to a New Dimension

Those of you who have been receiving this newsletter for many years know that Holiday Season 2010 was far from joyful for our family.  Harry (my husband), as many of you know, has been battling serious medical problems for years.  Last year, at the beginning of November, he was diagnosed with stage 4A throat, tongue, tonsil and mouth cancer.  We were scheduled to undergo foreclosure on our home in early February.  I, most certainly, was not in a festive frame of mind, and, when Harry  told me that he wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving, well, that was not where my head and heart were at, but... since I believed it would be our last Thanksgiving together, I, of course, agreed.

Harry's wonderful sister, Cindy, had moved in with us to lend a hand with Harry's medical needs, so she helped me prepare for the Thanksgiving for which I had so little enthusiasm.  I don't know how I would have managed without her. My son, his wife (who was pregnant) and 2 of our grandsons were coming and that really was a wonderful part of the day.  Two dear friends from Canada joined us, but, one of them had received a cancer diagnosis that morning.  I thought it was very courageous and generous for her to attend, but, as always, there are some very special people in my life.

Well, with forced enthusiasm and smiles we had, considering the circumstances, a very pleasant celebration. That's pretty much how we got through the rest of the holiday season. Harry underwent grueling chemo and radiation.  I was pretty certain that I was on the verge of losing everything that held my life together, so, to put it bluntly, I was a wreck.

I was so busy focusing on the fact that I was certain he was about to die, that I would be unable to pay the rent on the beautiful home we were living in, and that I would be forced to place my dogs with others, that, for a while, sleeping and eating became impossible.  Thanks to another dear friend who said, "Don't forget, he might live" and the extreme magnanimity of supporters (financial and emotional) I was able to climb out of my deep, self-absorbed hole and see the possibilities of a less than grim future.  I, of course, do not have the words with which to express the never-ending gratitude I hold for those whose kindness, encouragement and understanding pulled us through those terrible times.

Planning for Thanksgiving this year was a piece of cake (although the pumpkin pie I bought at Costco did turn moldy).  Although he couldn't eat due to complications from his treatment, Harry was here, cancer-free and, once again, telling me that I didn't know how to properly cook a turkey.  I happily, for several reasons, turned that bird over to him.

The Florida portion of my family was here, with the addition of our new granddaughter, Mira (what could be more delicious than a happy baby!), and, our Canadian friend returned to us, also cancer free, and she brought along 2 of her delightful comrades.  Thanksgiving, 2011 turned into the celebration I never thought I would see.  I really don't care how the turkey is cooked or if the pie is moldy when surrounded by loving, happy, healthy faces.  Gratitude doesn't begin to cover the joy in my heart when I think about where we were and where we now are.

With this background I can confidently say to anyone who's life has gone off track:  NEVER give up hope.  Never, never, never.  Your journey may have meandered down a different than expected course, but it can still be breathtaking in wonderful ways. Even though we may be hit by tragedy, it is not necessary for tragedy to define our lives.  All of us encounter catastrophe, in one form or another, simply because we're human.  Some losses may be so extreme that we lose our hope for happiness, and, sometimes, we lose our enthusiasm for life altogether.

Our feelings of isolation often increase.  It may become difficult to tell the difference between those who can and will help and those, who for selfish reasons all their own, are feeding on our misery.  We need to be clear-eyed at a time when it's hard to see at all.

One of the most wonderful things about human nature is that we seek equilibrium.  Over time, if we manage to avoid self-destructive behavior, we will regain our spirit and find a way to appreciate the life we have.  I wish I could tell you how long this interval will last, but it's different for each of us.
What has worked for me is to stop worrying about the disappointments and "what ifs", to appreciate the help that has come my way and embrace the belief that this life I have is a pretty miraculous thing.  No more second guessing.  The goal is to garner whatever optimism we can find and head toward the next stage with the secure knowledge that we can count on ourselves.

This juncture is reached after we have honored our grief and forgiven ourselves and others as we make peace with our pain. It is within every one of us to achieve this.  Even though I don't know many of you, I believe in all of you.  Now I ask you to look within and begin to believe in yourself.

Praise the bridge that carried you over.  
~George Colman   

December 2011 - Before and After

There's a saying that advises us to not fill our arms with the past & future, as that leaves no room for the present.  Since this is the time of year that we tend to look back and ahead, I think this recommendation is timely.

My experience has been that many people hold on to their past mistakes and remain so focused on memories that they stay stuck -- unable to really put the energy they need into today.  The past is useful as a guide to what has and has not worked for us up until now.  Other than that, the past will keep us back, keep us yearning to have done things differently rather than trying on new attitudes and approaches to life events in the moment.

Two common impediments to growth are an overwhelming sense of guilt and a determination to recreate what we remember as an ideal time.  As a rule, both of these wishes are out of focus.  We are rarely as "bad" as we recall and things were never as rosy as we have conjured them to be.
Yes, you may have hurt someone you care about deeply.  You may have been unkind or unfair or inept.  That's what learning is for.  Sometimes our missteps are instrumental in motivating their recipient to become less dependent on us or to approach his/her life from a new point of view.  Seldom do we inflict so much damage that we have actually destroyed someone.  Each of us is responsible for developing a certain amount of resilience and the tools we need to activate new responses.  You may hold your self accountable when someone blames you for their relapse, failure, heart attack, whatever.  The truth is that you are not that powerful.  Learn from the things you have done that make you feel bad about yourself, but don't grant yourself Divine powers of destruction.  It just doesn't work that way.

Try to develop enough self-awareness to understand when you are clinging to an old guilt because you are afraid to get back on the horse.  You are free to do that, of course, but you'll be missing out on possible achievements and victories.  The choice is yours -- why limit yourself?

We humans have a tendency to cast past times of contentment into an idyllic fantasy.  This is especially true where romance is involved.  Yes, I'm sure the ardor you felt in the beginning of your liaison was amazing.  You have never felt so loved, understood, listened to.  The truth is, the person who embodies your dreams of love doesn't even KNOW you!  My mother always used to say, "A new broom sweeps clean".  Tell me about your relationship after you and your beloved have weathered a few storms -- you need these turbulent times to learn who you and the other person really are.  You may find that you work well together. 

On the other hand, you may feel abandoned, disappointed, or uncomfortably maneuvered by "the other".  If you can communicate your feelings to each other and respect each other's point of view, I have high hopes for you.  If either or both of you stubbornly holds your ground and refuses to even consider a compromise position -- watch out -- do not ignore a major red flag.  Holding on to a dream that is illusory will lead to a great big let down in days to come.
And then there is the future.  We fear it, try to shape it, ask others to predict what lies in store for us.  We can, to a degree, make plans that seem appropriate at the time of their construction.  We cannot, accurately, foretell what will occur, but that makes many of us feel too vulnerable, so we "make up" our version of the future.

Planning is fine.  When we put off the majority of our wishes, saying, "I'll do it after..." we are taking the risk that that day will never come.  As we get older we become more aware that "forever" and "life" do not belong in the same sentence.  A more moderate approach probably works the most effectively as we balance today's needs against tomorrow's.

Prioritize your dreams.  You may not realize all of them, but, experiencing your aspirations, even some of them, makes for the feeling of a life well-lived.  Of course, before you can prioritize, you need to know which goals are really yours and which have been projected on to you by others.
As you release the ghosts from your past -- guilt and regret -- you will find that you are able to face the future with less fear.  The unknown road is intimidating -- even to the most stalwart travelers.  The self confidence you will gain as you learn what does and does not make your world work for you, will stand you in good stead.  There is always a lesson to be learned as we tackle the adventures that life brings us.

If you are safe, feel loved, did something that made you proud today, please take note.  Do not miss what you DO have now by focusing your eyes exclusively on the past and future. You must have had at least one good moment today.  If not, create one tomorrow by being kind to one person (or more) in the next 24 hours. Right now is what you hold in your hands -- treasure it as you participate in the evolution of your life.         

Food, love, career and mothers, the four major guilt groups.
Cathy Guisewite 

January 2012 - This Thing Called Love

As we approach Valentine's Day, I find that I have very mixed feelings.  I don't care so much that it's a "manufactured" holiday, any celebration of love is ok with me.  What does bother me is that for those who are not in a romantic relationship, this holiday can be extremely painful. Wonderful, accomplished people, men and women, become depressed, feel like losers, feel like they are alone in a world of couples.  There was a time in my life when I felt like that, although I'm quite sure I would not have wanted to talk about it.

It is so easy to mistake the pink cloud that envelops a newly entranced couple for something that will endure forever.  I am not cynical about love and I do believe that we  may retain our particular rosy haze, or remnants thereof, but I know there is more to love that gazing adoringly in each other's eyes.

Why must we measure our worth by romantic love?  Doesn't love of family, friends, causes, honor or being the best us we can possibly be (yes, I do mean self love) count? It seems to me that if love is what is desired, but not obtained, the problem probably lies in our ability to choose appropriate partners, not in some deep, unforgivable blemish deep within.

Of course, there are probably as many definitions of love as there are the number of people who experience that sensation.  I do have some thoughts, however, regarding the elements that promote durability in a relationship and the ingredients that become less important over time. Obviously, looks are the first feature on the list.  Judge Judy says, "Beauty fades, dumb is forever".  It's true.

Yes, there is chemistry between loving partners, but that chemistry relies on what we see "in" the person rather than the outside covering.  No matter how well you preserve yourself, time will change your appearance.  It would be beneficial if we could focus on embracing whatever stage of life we are in rather than spending futile time and money on turning back the clock -- we'll never be 18 again (hello Joan Rivers).  This is not a diatribe against cosmetic surgery -- just don't fool yourself into thinking that it will solve all of your problems (I have had a "tweak" or 2 over the years).  To become obsessed with and believe in the notion that you become less valuable as you age is, indeed, a problem.  If you do not devalue yourself it will be hard for others to do that in a way that has any credibility. 

"Love" that is based on a particular lifestyle is also subject to erosion over time.  All of us wish to have a certain level of security and comfort.  In the past few years, many people who thought they were settled have found that life is not what they expected it to be. If your relationship has been built on acquisition, and, worse yet, if you are overly concerned about what others think (this could be a real folie a deux) how will you get through possible setbacks -- financial, medical, etc. -- together?

Are you friends with the person you love?  Are you secure enough within that you don't have to worry so much about your partner controlling you (you can always play deaf you know)?  Do you understand that a difference of opinion is not betrayal -- it's simply an additional way of looking at things?  Do you waste valuable emotional energy keeping score and/or getting even?  Sometimes we need to accept that we have not fully grown up and that we are approaching our relationships in much the same way we did as adolescents.  Is that what you really want for you life?  If it is, by all means continue. 
It is important, in my opinion, to maintain relationships with key friends and family.  It is foolish to opt for a lifestyle that focuses on one person alone.  There is, naturally, the threat of loss of that individual.  In addition, there are people who will be happy to take up the slack in ways that you and your beloved may not be able to accomplish.

If you are not in an amorous relationship, please, give yourself a break!  If you have no close relationships, you have a problem.  Many a valentine has been sent from someone to someone else for superficial reasons.  This isn't like grade school, where you counted to see who received the most valentines.

My husband, Harry, is not well enough to send a valentine, but he gives me his heart every minute of every day.  We have faced many struggles together over the years, including a time when chemotherapy changed his entire personality (talk about walking on eggs!). Our life is nowhere near where we expected it to be and we face new challenges all the time.  Having received meaningless, although sometimes expensive, gifts from past relationships, I can confirm, that for me, what we have is at the very pinnacle of my wishes for feeling loved and cared for.  It's invaluable to understand what really makes your heart happy. 

When I was in high school I threw a fit because my boyfriend didn't send me the mushy kind of valentine I wished for.  What a jerk I was! Commemorate or don't commemorate Valentine's Day.  Whatever you do, please know that love, in some form, is just waiting for you to find it. 

“There's this place in me where your fingerprints still rest, your kisses still linger, and your whispers softly echo. It's the place where a part of you will forever be a part of me." Gretchen Kemp

February 2012 - Facebook Reconsidered

Now, I was never an opponent of Facebook.  It seems to me that any adult who believes he/she can post just anything and that it will never come back to haunt him/her is, in my opinion, living in LaLa Land. Maybe it's because we had an inordinate number of lawyers in our family, but my mother always taught me, "Never put anything in writing".  That may sound somewhat archaic, but at a time when there is no privacy, it's a motto at least worth considering
.
Originally, I joined Facebook because it was the venue through which certain people I cared about made important announcements.  If I wished to obtain news or view photographs, Facebook was the only surefire way to go.  Later, when I heard from childhood friends, I was surprised at how pleased I was to be contacted by people I hadn't seen since I was 9 or 10 years old.  Having moved many times, I took for granted that I would never run into my childhood again.    I learned a lot about myself when I began keeping in touch with individuals I hadn't even thought about in many years.  I now know that I have an undeniable bond to those I grew up with.  There is a deep fondness in my heart for these folks that has taken me by surprise.

I do understand and agree with those who believe that our reliance on electronic communication has diminished our facility with face to face interaction.  We are becoming less assertive (and self-confident) as we text to one another the things we haven't the courage to handle in person.  Why not develop many ways to connect with each other, rather than throw out the old as we learn the new?  If you have difficult information to deliver, at least have the courtesy to convey it in a way that is not impersonal.

In my work, I confer with people using varying approaches.  Phone sessions have taught me to pay special attention to voice tone and pitch.  Writing (electronic or otherwise) tells me much less -- some people write with more ease than others. When we have the time to plan what we wish to discuss, we lose the element of spontaneity that is so potent when we are "nose to nose".  When I meet with people in my office, I can feel (sometimes almost taste) their mood through their body language, demeanor, ability to focus, etc. 

Speaking to my grandchildren over Skype beats a phone conversation, but is nowhere near as rewarding as receiving a great big hug and smooch. I have, not surprisingly, accessed Facebook to get the word out about the work I do.  I have, I must admit, asked people I do not know to be my "friend".  I have accepted "friendship" requests from folks I have never heard of.  The one thing I cannot imagine doing is "defriending" someone who does not appear to be harassing or dangerous. 
"I don't want to be your friend anymore" is strictly for the sandbox.  If you don't like someone, simply do not respond to them.  No need to stick out your tongue or crinkle your nose.  Using a certain amount of impulse control is a good thing.

A few weeks ago I celebrated a birthday.  I was pretty sure who would acknowledge the day and not particularly worried about those who wouldn't (I always start reminding certain people that my birthday's coming so that my feelings won't get hurt). By the end of the day I had over 60 birthday wishes from friends on Facebook.  Some of them I knew, some I didn't.  Why would anyone be delighted to have strangers' congratulations on a birthday?  I can only speak for myself.  I felt celebrated.  Every time I visited Facebook I found new good wishes.  In recent years my birthdays have become subdued affairs, which is mostly by choice.  I didn't even know I missed the "hoopla" of earlier days.

When I was in elementary school, my mother would bring a sheet cake to class with vanilla squares of ice cream with cherry hatchets in the center (George Washington & the cherry tree -- my birthday is near that).  She never asked me what I wanted & I guess I didn't know I was entitled to an opinion.  My birthdays were boring, even for me -- not much in the way of presents.  Once the class gave me a wrist corsage -- that doesn't mean a whole lot when you're in the 3rd grade. 
As an adult, however, I have had many wonderful happy times with lots of laughter.  So, I really have no complaints.  Nonetheless, I thank Facebook friends for showering me with birthday wishes when I was not expecting them.

Facebook in and of itself is not the enemy.  Used properly, it is an entertaining and informative tool.  Yes, it is hard to keep track of our adolescents' posts and pictures.  As parents it is our responsibility to keep up with what our kids are doing.  It's not fun.  It causes conflict.  If you are the "owner" of a teen ager, you already know what a challenge that can be -- this is all part of that challenge.
I have appreciated being able to let people know the goings-on in my family as well as learning about theirs.  Facebook provides us with a way to keep current with the people we care about.  Don't "spill" information that you don't want the world to know.  The degree of your involvement is yours to choose -- take some time to decide what it is that you want.   

"Our ancient experience confirms at every point that everything is linked together, everything is inseparable."  Dalai lama XIV

March 2012 -  In the Middle of the Night

For reasons I will not go into (don't ask, don't tell), our bedroom television is on 24/7.  Over the years I have learned to attain adequate, although interrupted, sleep despite the presence of 4 dogs, 1 husband and a sometimes blaring TV. There's a limited amount I can do about the living creatures I share my space with, but you would think I would be able to exert some influence over the mechanical apparatus.  Not so, the TV is a challenging, sometimes entertaining, but mostly exasperating element that tests my ability to cope.

Initially, I would beg Harry (my husband) to please leave the TV on a salubrious channel at bedtime.  This was useless, however, since he would fall asleep and had no idea as to what I was experiencing throughout the night. I have become accustomed to monsters gouging out the eyes of mortals, damsels trembling in the dark as menacing footsteps approach, semi-pornographic love trysts, and blaring sirens and gunshots.  Sometimes, whatever is on is so engaging that I become "hooked" and deliberately stay awake in order to see the end of the story.  

Harry and I are rarely awake at the same time.  We have all joked about men and their attachment to the remote.  Well, you ain't seen nothin' until you've seen my sound asleep husband protect the remote from my prying fingers. His death grip on that device while he is snoring away is quite remarkable.  For the last year or so, the channels of choice have been Animal Planet, Discovery and History.  Doesn't sound so bad, does it?  Think again.

I do not enjoy watching hand fishing in the swamp (disgusting) or lions stalking wildebeests.  
My insurmountable hurdle, however, is reptiles.  Nature may need these creatures, but in my perfect world, they would not exist.  I am afraid of snakes and Crocodylidae, Alligatoridae, etc.  I shudder as Harry's "friends" on TV struggle with them, catch them, and display their lifeless carcasses. I gag as they fry them up, feed them to their children and declare them to be "delicious".  The "swamp people" may have engaged in these activities for generations, but I am, after all, a city girl.  I do not wish to bear witness.

Now, I admit that I can be highly suggestible.  In the dark before dawn, I am even more so.  My defenses are blunted, which results in extreme reactions on my part.

One (very) early morning I was awakened by a gentleman on CSN who was selling "rare" coins".  First he shilled one set of incomparable quarters.  Then, I was amused (maybe I wouldn't have been if I watched this type of thing more often) when he declared that the first collection was basically worthless and that the viewer should invest in the (of course) more expensive series he was about to display. Was this for real??  That would be like a restaurant saying, "You know, most of our food is really lousy, but if you order this particular dish you will be happily satisfied".  Does this make sense?  Am I missing something?  I almost laughed aloud, but could not risk waking the sleeping dogs (best to let them lie).

I have endured gold mining in Alaska and river monsters with Jeremy Wade (at least he's good looking).  The Pawn Stars, Pickers, and Rick Dale on American Restoration are enjoyable, but after the 5th or 6th go-round are a bit predictable.  

One show, however, really undid me, quite literally. 

Swamp People features alligator hunting.  One of the teams consists of two women, Liz and Christy.  They are unbelievably courageous, and have even hauled in one gator that weighed 1.000 pounds.  One night I awoke to their preparations for their upcoming hunt.  They had raw, rancid meat that they put on lines to lure the creatures in.  One of the women could not withstand this noxious routine and gagged and vomited for what seemed like a half hour.  Well, that was when I tuned in. As I said before, I can be powerfully influenced by certain kinds of displays and this was one of them.  It was as if I could smell the rotten meat; as if it were hanging there right over my shoulder.  Shortly thereafter, I was echoing the scene on the television screen and was off in the bathroom bringing up everything I had eaten over the last couple of days.  This is not a good way to spend the night!

When I travel and sleep alone, it's wonderful.  Nonetheless, I sort of miss our dog Babe walking on my shin bones and Violet sticking her prickly little rear under my right arm.  Casper and Ruby pretty much leave me alone.  I have become accustomed to the nocturnal wanderings of the living creatures in my bed, but those on the screen -- not so much.

I have always enjoyed living a life of adventure.  I never thought the adventure would stay ramped day and night..  be careful what you wish for and all that. Are we rather eccentric?  I suppose so.  We're doing it "our way" with it's plusses and minuses.  Most of it is pretty funny.  We are rarely bored.  The rest... well that's the price, in this case, for a life of individuality. Would I trade it if I could -- of course not -- I believe in being true to yourself, even if yourself is marching to it's own drummer

"The things that make me different are the things that make me."

April 2012

Who ARE We Anyway?


This morning I read yet another article about a young girl who killed herself following an extended episode of bullying.  Why is anyone surprised?  This gut-wrenching trend has been going on for years and we ALL know about it.  To my way of thinking, if the "joke" isn't funny to both sides, it simply isn't funny.  Why does this seem to be an exotic idea to so many of us?  There is no reasonable way to grant validity to behavior that inflicts harm and, frequently, prompts the most vulnerable among us to end their lives.

I have seen the documentary, "Bully", and it was a painful experience.  I saw it with a youngster who has been the target of bullies.  Fortunately, this youngster has many adults who are aware that he is seen, by some, as an easy mark, and, most of the time, we are able to intervene or, at least, build his self-confidence so that the insults he endures are less likely to leave wounds that cannot heal.  
It seems to me that this youngster and individuals of all ages should not have to have "guardians" who watch out for them.  What is wrong with US that it has become an acceptable part of our lives to disparage, denigrate and make ourselves feel "superior" by "dismissing" those who appear to be fair game.

I have a news bulletin for those who engage in this behavior -- it allows the world to recognize your own feelings of inadequacy -- are you sure you want to put that out there on public display?
In the documentary, a lot of the "blame" seemed to fall on the school system (which was far from exemplary), the school bus driver, and, of course, the perpetrators themselves.  However, one boy was attacked by his sister on a consistent basis at home -- I never saw the parents step in to say, "No, we don't treat each other, or anyone, that way". 

When this child's mother asked him if he actually enjoyed being stabbed with pencils or having his head smashed against the seat, his heartbreaking reply was, "If they're not my friends, who will be?".  His mother had no answer.

Why is it cool to be cruel?  There's no real power attached to that.  The game can change at any time.  Why do we all (and we all do at one time or another) agree to participate in the abuse of another?  Is it just to go along?  Is it to prevent others from turning their malicious eyes on us?  What happened to the "inalienable right" of people to be treated, at the very least, with respect?
If we cannot honor the simple value of human life, where are we placing our values?  The best looking kids at the senior prom often end up bald, wrinkled, fat, unemployed, drunk, or any number of other things that we would not care to embrace.  Many people who possess superior intelligence suffer from breaks with reality, or may lack the social skills that will allow them to prosper on all levels of society. We all know that financial success can turn on a dime.  Why would any of us think that we are immune to misfortune?  What would benefit us would be to develop the strength of character to handle life's disappointments in ways that allow us to at least respect ourselves for being the best "us" we know how to be.

Is there documented research that proves that intimidation works better than kindness?  Does cruelty beat out a loving heart?  I've never seen a study that suggested that.  Unfortunately, when someone we care about disappoints us we tend to berate, blame or scold, rather than sit down and see if there is a way to fix the problem.  We do this to our children, parents and other loved ones in our homes.  We behave badly without even thinking about it and then wonder where our children picked up their rude, harsh and even insensitive behavior.  We often don't think before we react.  Unfortunately what comes out of our mouths may cause someone else deeply embedded pain.

I have worked with many adults who have never fully recovered from hazing or bullying they received from "friends".  Is it possible that we adults do not know that childhood and adolescence are times when youngsters often feel defenseless?  Are we so eager to distance ourselves from our own pasts that we forget to look out for the welfare of those we are meant to protect?  Why are we so reluctant to safeguard those who can't stand up for themselves?  It seems to me that we have no problem doing this during war.  Why not prevent the war in the first place?

When did it become "cool" to attempt to outsmart or triumph over someone else?  An individual who was born with a handicap or who has had to struggle with a difficult life can be an easy target for an as-yet untested bully who has not yet struggled with his/her own limitations.

If you can, try to see the documentary "Bully".  No matter how knowledgable you may think you are on this subject, you will receive an education. There are many things in this world over which we have no control.  The way we treat one another is ours to regulate.  Think about it. 

 
"Bullying builds character like nuclear waste creates superheroes. It's a rare occurrence and often does much more damage than endowment" 
Zack W. Van     

 

May 2012

What are YOUR Family's Values?


Even for those who thoughtfully plan to join their lives there are certain obstacles that can never (to my knowledge) be avoided. Yes, you have discussed children or no children; a frugal or not so way of life; jobs,living arrangements, etc.

Have you, however, talked about Thanksgiving? Why Thanksgiving?  Because, inevitably, that is where assumptions hit the road & the two of you, or however many there are, have dissimilar expectations. Thanksgiving is the non button-pushing, "sacred" holiday we happily anticipate every year. Most of us have a pretty good idea of what Thanksgiving day is supposed to entail & find we're reluctant to take a compromise position.  It is not unusual for this "easy" holiday to become very complicated. 

Your family may have feasted at 1 pm & mine at 3, and, even though we recognize that the time change is insignificant, we still find it really difficult to make that adjustment.

What about Uncle Joe? He always joined the family table.  Now that there are 10 more of you, is there room for him & your deadbeat cousin Ronnie?

Let's talk about the food.  In my house it was always homemade cranberry sauce with walnuts & other yummy things.  Harry (my husband), however, wouldn't think of consuming a cranberry that didn't display clearly defined markings from the can.  

Did your family have lots of vegetables or just the "good" stuff like stuffing, gravy & mashed potatoes?  It may sound silly, but believe me, celebrations can bring unexpected stress into an otherwise easy going relationship.

Another area of frequent tension springs from the question of care taking responsibilities.  You may well be prepared to look out for the welfare of members of your nuclear family.  Are you sure that you & your partner agree on what that entails?

Suppose Grandma Hazel is ailing and you are the only family member who lives in close proximity.  Do you and other close family members have a plan for the assignment of responsibilities or are you playing it by "ear"?  Have you always assumed that Grandma would be living with you? How do your spouse and children feel about this?  Can you help out temporarily or is there a long-term plan?  Do you have the discipline to maintain the boundaries you have set?

Too often, these situations spring up unexpectedly and one of the presumed "rescuers" panics because he/she does not know exactly what promises have been made and how difficult they will be to adhere to.  Sometimes, we do not feel comfortable saying, "I'm sorry, but this is not working for me".  It is, however, far better to "fess" up than to become overwhelmed and resentful.  If you are in the position of authority, it is imperative that you are free to pass along some of your obligations to others and stand firm against the guilt trips that will, inevitably, be cast in your direction.  No one can happily handle all the work all the time. 

Suppose you have a child with a serious illness or other special needs?  Have you and your partner discussed, hopefully in a calm and exploratory fashion, how to handle the extra effort that is necessary?  It is important to stay away from either blame or martyrdom and to creatively explore the options that are open to you. This is tough stuff and it will be important to assume good will on both sides and to remember that you're on the same team.  Fear and a lack of information can be severely undermining elements in these situations.  Try to remember to protect each other as you look into solutions.

Successful long-term relationships require flexibility and an aptitude for compromise that is based on compassion.  If you cannot put yourself in your partner's shoes, how can you really understand where your partner is coming from?  If you do not consider that there are multiple valid solutions for every problem, how do you expand your problem solving skills?   One thing I know for sure, is that if a relationship is perpetually lop sided to the advantage of one person, there will be a blow up of some sort in the future. It is unrealistic to ask anyone (no less someone you care about) to accept the downside position on a recurring basis.

The rewards that are the result of a successful odyssey through life's unanticipated obstacles are self-confidence, trust in your partner, and the pride you take as a couple (or family, or friends) in knowing that you have weathered your problems with benevolence, maturity and resilience.
Don't waste your time wondering why life is difficult.  Accept that it is, and decide what strengths you bring to the table so that you emerge with, at least, the knowledge that you did your best as you reach the other shore and look ahead to the future.

If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.
--Abraham Harold Maslow

 

June 2012

A Quiet Man


When my father died in 1986, an old high school boyfriend wrote to my mother and said, "Milton was a gentleman and a gentle man". I cannot think of a more accurate way to describe my dad.

I have always known I was lucky to be raised by such an unusual, brilliant and humble individual. Being Daddy's Girl (and only child), I loved him unquestioningly when I was young. From today's vantage point, I am able to appreciate his self-confidence that was coupled with humility; the scope of his intellect that was paired with a pixieish sense of humor; and his ability and willingness to listen to and understand his daughter and to validate as well as challenge her perceptions of life.

My father was small in stature, about 5'4" ,and he lived modestly, well within his means. He most certainly was not famous, but it seemed as if everyone knew him and those who knew him smiled as they recalled what a nice man he was. My dad could be counted on for a warm smile and a tip of the hat (back in the day). He didn't vie for a position in the pecking order. He was happy with himself.

As I work with couples on their relationships, I always ask them about the bond each individual has had with the parent of the opposite sex. It saddens me when I learn that women were and are afraid of their fathers. That they experienced little, if any, tenderness. That they were bullied, devalued and felt "less than". My experience was so different, and, the actuality is, that our fathers teach us what to expect from men (as mothers teach their sons about women). It is such an advantage to believe you will be treated, at the very least, with respect and kindness.

This does not mean, of course, that one chooses the greatest romantic partners (I have been known to pick some real doozies along the way), but at least women who have had healthy relationships with their fathers believe it is possible to maintain a well-balanced partnership.

I love it that my father taught, through demonstration, that I never needed to feel awed by anyone. That didn't mean I was to be unappreciative of achievement. Rather, he knew that no one person was better than another and, I don't believe, he even thought to compare himself to anyone. This attitude left me to feel free to not worry, very often, about what other people think. The person I compete with is myself. It is very liberating for me to go about life pretty much listening to my own heart and soul and to pay attention to what feels right for me and what doesn't. The poor choices I have made (and there are many) are ,at least, my choices. I do not believe coercion has played a notable role in my life.

My dad was silly. With his penchant for tall tales and love of fantasy and magic, he encouraged me to dream; to be creative; to, by all means, think outside the box. I don't believe he'd ever been to Russia, but, for reasons unknown to me, Tzar Nicholas of Russia became a focal point for him. He was the Tzar's head musician, chef, and all around go-to guy. We had so many laughs. It was wonderful to hear him pass along the same loopy tales to my children that he had turned into enchantment for me. Good natured fun crossed the threshold of every room my father entered.

Was he flawless? Of course not. But, I can honestly say that 90% of the time, having a relationship with him was a great privilege. My father loved to visit historic sites within a day's drive of D.C. As we walked the fields of Gettysburg, visited Mt. Vernon and Harper's Ferry, he told me "stories" about history that were so vibrant I would remember them always. 

Dad was intellectually brilliant, but you would never have known. He had no interest in drawing attention to himself, so only those who spent real time with him knew that he went to Wharton on full scholarship, was Order of the Coif at G.W. Law School, could sing in French (badly) and recite in Olde English. He loved to keep records of the odds on the horses at Pimlico (he never bet more than $2 on a race). Had you seen him with his racing sheets, pad & pencil, you would have thought he was a bookie for sure. He learned Spanish and needlepoint in his later years and hooked a rug for my mother. He loved boxing and salami and eggs. It was so much fun being his kid.

One of my dad's greatest legacies to me has been that I know what a kind-hearted, loving man is. Although my husband, Harry, in no obvious way resembles my father, he is not afraid to love, he has strong self-esteem, and is accepting of the differences in others. He is my biggest booster, and, although he is ill, he helps with anything and everything to the best of his ability. What a charmed life I have had -- 2 wonderful men in one lifetime. Don't settle for less than what your heart demands and don't overlook it when it comes your way. 

True merit, like a river, the deeper it is, the less noise it makes.
Edward Frederick Lindley Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax

 


  

July 2012

"Just" Do Your Job


I recently read an interview with the actor, Anne Hathaway.  She was required to lose a great deal of weight in order to player role in the movie version of Les Miserables.  When asked if it was difficult to shrink her body so dramatically, she said (& I paraphrase), "It doesn't matter if it's hard.  It's my job and I do it".

This attitude was displayed abundantly in the 2012 Olympics.  I was struck, in particular, by 2 of the athletes. 

First, Kristin Armstrong, the American cyclist.  She had recently recovered from a broken collarbone and was back in the race.  A cyclist from China crashed right in front of her, causing Kristin to fall off her bike as well.  She was then run over by several cyclists who could not avoid hitting her.  I'm sure I would have sat there on the ground cursing and weeping.  I, however, am not a champion athlete.  Kristin got back on the bike and gave it her all, and, although she didn't win a medal, she finished the race.  That was her job, to cross the finish line, and she did.  It was gratifying, later, to watch her win the time trials and receive a well-deserved gold medal.

The other competitor who took my breath away was,of course, Oscar Pistorious,the South African runner who, due to leg amputations, ran on carbon-fibre blades.  Yes, he fell.  No, he didn't win a medal.  What he did win was far more important:  self-respect, the victory of completing the job his country sent him to do, and the worldwide awe at his courage and strength of body and character.  What a role model!

I don't know anyone who loves every single aspic of their job.  Whether it's paperwork, cold calling or taking conflicting orders from "superiors", we all must do the whole piece of work, if we are to do it properly.  It's exasperating and often feels like a waste of time.  We can, of course, complain and, sometimes, those complaints are even heard.  Regardless of the outcome, unless we are asked to break our own ethical standards (at which point we might want to move on), we are obligated, and rightly so, to perform the task as assigned.

With all it's setbacks and heartaches, i can tell you truly that I love the life I have lived.  I have messed up so many "assignments", let myself and others down so often that i cringe when I think about it.  I have visited many a dark hole called "hopelessness, yet, with a lot of assistance, have managed to emerge, learn from my missteps and continue my search for a life I can look at with pride.  My ultimate goal is to be able to say, at the end of the day, "Ya did good".

It is tempting to observe certain individuals and long for the advantages they appear to have.  Well, I can tell you that I have met many of those seemingly "blessed" souls and have entered into their grief, guilt, and shame and it is no different from yours and mine.  There is great suffering behind golden gates and no one is protected from tragedy and tribulation.

We do a lot of head-nodding about life's triumphs coming from within, but I'm not so sure that many of us even know what that means.  It's the warmth, adrenaline, the purr of satisfaction that we, personally, experience as we work our way through challenges.  The feeling comes from the inside.

I was not at all surprised to hear that Michael Phelps spiraled into a depression following the BeiJing Olympics.  The applause stopped, he was no longer out there doing something extraordinary.  Astronauts who have walked on the moon report similar experiences of depression.  It's sort of like, "After I've walked on the moon, what's left?".

These are the times we put outside approbation aside and take a look at WHO we are, not WHAT WE HAVE ACCOMPLISHED FOR THE WORLD TO SEE.  The world is forever changing and shifting focus.  Our personal measuring stick resides within.  If that interior ruler is too grandiose, we are bound to experience a feeling of failure.  If our bar is set too low, we may come up against a feeling of ennui or irrelevance.  Allow your scale to be fair and true.  If you have been unkind, disloyal, needlessly stubborn, you really can stop that behavior right now.  If you can't figure out what's driving it, seek professional help (I, of course, am available).

Behavior has its genesis in what we have learned from others, about ourselves and the world around us.  Patterns of belief are passed down, often silently, from generation to generation.  It's a good idea to check out if the rules that guide you are serving you well or are even relevant.  You may find that "the cowpoke and the farmer" actually CAN be friends.

Whatever it is you are trying to accomplish, give it the best you've got FOR YOURSELF.  Endowing yourself with self-confidence, real (as opposed to false)pride, compassion for your struggles and respect for your very being is really as good as it gets.  Give it a try.

Each one has to find his peace from within.  A peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances
Mahatma Gandhi 

 

August 2012

And We Always Laughed...

I visited my daughter in Vermont a couple of weeks ago and she said something to me that was remarkably gratifying.  She said that whenever she thought of times in my parents home or in our own, while growing up, that she remembered the laughter.

Now, that's saying a lot.  There was plenty of conflict to go around in our nuclear family, way too much in fact.  I am relieved that at least one of my children was able to absorb some of the good stuff too.

None of us were stand up comics, but I do think there was a communal recognition of life's idiosyncrasies and paradoxes.  Somehow we knew that a lot of what we got ourselves all worked up about was silly stuff, stuff we wouldn't be able to remember the next day.  I suppose you could say we operated with a strong sense of the absurd, and it served us very well.

Many potentially difficult situations are handled so much more easily when sorted out with a calm tone and pleasant demeanor.  I may really dislike the fact that Ms. A telephones and then talks about nothing right when I am busy (or not).  By smiling (it does change your tone on the phone) and explaining that I would love to hear more at another time when I can give her my full attention, we're far more likely to end up with neutrality than if I allow her to go on and on while I become more and more impatient, which will be reflected in my voice.  No one likes to feel trapped or "guilted" into participating in something in which he/she has no interest.  As a rule, there's a nice way out.

I, like my parents, am a story teller.  Everyone has family stories to tell, and when they are used to illustrate a point, they can be powerful and bring a lot of joy.
All of us have dropped the turkey on the floor at Thanksgiving or "borrowed" the car and wrecked it.  We have gotten awful looking haircuts, told a joke that fell flat or broken the vase that was an "heirloom" gift from our grandmother.  My father, who had a terrible singing voice was asked to not sing in singing class.  He figured that meant he didn't have to attend.  Wrong!  Although he had won a full scholarship to Wharton, he nearly failed to receive his high school diploma because he skipped so many music classes (in those days you went straight from high school into a graduate program).  We all have a story to tell.

Surely, other than cases of tragedy, there is some humor to be found in our slip-ups.  If we can't laugh at ourselves, I would suggest we are taking ourselves far too seriously.  

I, personally, would find it very difficult, maybe impossible, to be married to someone with no sense of humor.  It would be so boring!  It would be so much harder to bond.  I know that Harry's sense of the absurd was a major factor in getting my attention and affection.  Even when I am very upset, as a rule, he can tease me to the point where we can, at least, have a civil conversation.  On his end, he's had to put up with a lot. At one point, when we lived in Boston, I purchased a bunch of needlepoint pillows that said "Go Away".  When he roused my ire, I can assure you he found "Go Away" on every doorknob in the house.  It was inevitable that we would end up laughing.

It is most important, I believe, when things are really tough to be able to remember that you do know how to laugh.  It's neither disrespectful or daft to find a shred of humor in times of trouble.  A good laugh brings relief and, in fact, opens up the brain to the possibility of creative solutions.
 
Like my daughter, Dana, I remember the laughter we shared with my parents and in our own home.  My mother once insisted that my father turn the car around because she had just seen a 2-headed cow.  On further examination, it was discovered that the cow also had 8 legs.  Oh well!  One of my sons got me flowers for Mother's Day.  Unfortunately, they were all dead.  And when our tiny shih-tzu, Ceil, walked right up to Harry's face while he was sound asleep and barked, my husband, without pause said, "who do you think you are, f***n Lassie!"  I treasure the laughter we have shared, those memories are my best inheritance.

Folks think they're arguing about the burnt pot roast or the mud tracked in on the clean floor.  What they're really in conflict about is their interpretation of the event.  As a rule, it goes something like..."If he/she respected me, he/she would appreciate my efforts and not take me for granted."  Well, you know what, respect has nothing to do with it -- we're all a little unconscious some of the time.  Harry almost always forgets to rinse off the spoon he uses for the dog food, and in the morning the food is crusty and hard to get off.  His forgetfulness has nothing to do with me -- he's simply paying more attention to the dogs.  Will I divorce him over this, not likely!
Lighten up.  Try to avoid being defensive.  Assume the other person's intentions are good (unless you find a shotgun between your eyes).  Most of life's events are pretty harmless -- the waiter didn't ignore you because of your appearance, he's probably busy or, maybe he's just not a very good waiter.  Sit back.  Relax.  Enjoy.  You're probably better off than you think you are.

"Happiness and the absurd are two sons of the same earth. They are inseparable." Albert Camus

 

September 2012

A Little Thing Called Loyalty

When I consider what I can and cannot accept in my relationships with others, the one constant on which I will not compromise is the trust that comes with loyalty.  I know that this concept means different things to different people, therefore, I believe it bears looking at.

Back in Boston we had a sweet Peke named Jolie, and Harry had a very special relationship with her because she was his "loyal little friend."  She would stay up with him until he went to bed and if there were a fear or a pain, she would head straight for her "Dad".  Watching this, over time, and watching this precious bond between man and dog got me to thinking about what loyalty meant to me.

If I don't know you real well or feel very attached, I, for the most part, don't care what you say or do.  Live your life as you will.  However, do not EVER threaten any living creature that I care about. So, protecting those I love is part of my understanding of what loyalty encompasses.  I do not doubt, however foolish it might be, that I would stand between those dear to me and any perceived or real threat to their welfare.  It would be impossible for me to turn away.

I expect the ones I care about to honor the private issues I have shared with them.  My story is mine to tell; when, how and if I wish to discuss whatever that might be.  Of course, as a therapist, I am mandated to comply with confidentiality.  This is even more important in my personal life.  I have had fallings out with individuals and refused (although prodded) to disclose their secrets.  I couldn't live well with myself if I fractured that part of my personal code. 

There is very little about me that is not known by at least several dozen people.    I have found that there is great freedom in refusing to be shamed by past behavior. Whatever it was that I did or did not do was the best I knew how to do at the time.  I will, however, not hesitate to confront or step away from anyone who thinks the struggles in my "story" are theirs to joke about as they pat themselves on the back believing they have made more astute decisions in their own lives.  They may even convince themselves that the "fates" or "universe" or whatever love them more...who cares?  

Last year, a ex-friend, who thought she was very cute could not resist making fun of the medical and financial problems we were dealing with.  I asked her to stop ridiculing things that frightened me.  I asked her several times.  Finally, when she called me & started off with "How goes the war?", I knew it was time for me to step away.  No regrets, just dumbfounded at her shortfall in the department of sensitivity.

The flip side of this is, of course, betrayal.  This is also open to personal interpretation.  I don't care if you disagree with me, but don't say and do hurtful things behind my back that you haven't the courage to tell me directly.  I expect my friends to refrain from judgment, to grant me grace when I'm having a tough time, and to be there, in the ways they can, when I reach out for help, which is rare.  I always appreciate corrective suggestions that come from those who care about my welfare -- I know I have my deficiencies. 

I do have a coterie of a few people who I know would always be there for me if they could.  I'm very lucky.  There are also, disappointingly a couple of people who I thought I could trust, but when the rubber hit the road, so did they. 

This happens to all of us, and, I believe, I have been more fortunate than most.  My heart is very full with the understanding of the very strong reciprocal bonds in my life.   

There is a very good maxim that "one should never take anything personally".  That is very hard to do, but, in truth, we are who we are.  When we feel rejected or discouraged by another, we must remember that each of us chooses our own response.  Try very hard not to feel like a loser -- you are not to blame that someone doesn't resonate to your way of thinking.  It may be that the best idea is to give yourself and the other person a break and move on.  Sometimes there is no middle ground.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I am awed by the loyalty that has come my way from my husband, Harry.  Because of illness, his world has shrunk to, basically, me, 4 dogs, our grandson and the television.  He says he is a happy man, and who am I to disagree?  I know that he knows I would hold myself together were he to slip away.  However, he has been the center of my life for 19 years, and, I do believe, I would feel like an apple without a core.  My pledge of loyalty to him is that I will always take care of myself and keep on "truckin'" no matter what.  He has redefined my concepts of strength and optimism.  He tells me he will live forever -- who knows -- he just might manage to do that.

 

Loyalty and devotion lead to bravery. Bravery leads to the spirit of self-sacrifice. The spirit of self-sacrifice creates trust in the power of love. 
Morihei Ueshiba

October 2012

Those Little Secrets...

I am a strong believer in privacy.  Mine to tell is mine to tell and that's it.  However, I have learned along the way that certain secrets transform into feelings of shame, and that's when all the trouble begins.

Shame is, in my opinion, the most corrosive feeling.  It allows us to harbor the most toxic beliefs about ourselves that can be imagined.  Look, a little guilt (in moderation) is useful in terms of learning what does and doesn't work for us.  Shame keeps us trapped.  It prevents intimacy -- we certainly don't want anyone to learn about that part of us.  It prevents self-esteem and genuine self-care.  It doesn't just make us feel different than, it makes us feel less than. A human being who compares him/herself to others and believes him/herself to be diminished next  to what they believe is "normal" humanity, will never find their own happy ending.  Is that what life is really all about?

At the bottom of all human wishes is the longing for love.  I want to love you and for you to love me back in the same way.  Sometimes this longing looks like a pursuit for power or money or fame or all of the above.  But, what lies underneath our quest for these things?  We hope others will hold us in high esteem. If we can gain admiration then maybe, just maybe, someone will find us lovable.

So, we hide things that we fear others would find reprehensible.  "I won't let anyone know I'm dyslexic"  " I'll only wear clothes that carry certain labels".  "I'll claim financial success when, if fact, I'm stone broke."  None of this will help us encounter closeness and connection.  We may well not wish to publicize certain aspects of ourselves to the world at large.  But, when looking for love, how can someone love you when you are hiding parts of yourself that cause you discomfort?  For those who wish to be really and truly loved, they must be willing to share their hidden parts and know that they are accepted and loved with those pieces included.  Otherwise, what we have is a sham.

I have heard many secrets over the years.  Frequently the most closely guarded material turns out to be something that is found, to a great degree, in most of us.  We protect these hidden parts of ourselves.We believe we will be rejected if we allow them to be seen. One who loves us will not care that we're shy or clumsy, or have failed chemistry.  We assume because we don't approve of some aspect of ourselves that no one else will either.  This is simply not true! 

There's a saying (I believe it's from AA), "You're only as sick as your secrets".  Think about that.  The tension that results from self-loathing could not possibly result in anything that resembles health.  If you have an addiction... you can do something about that.  It's not easy, but you can.  If you come from a family that causes you to feel less than proud, access your empathy.  If someone else judges you because you don't live up the their "standards" -- why would you want them to be in your life?

Let's think about those judgmental people for a few minutes.  Do you really think they feel good about themselves?  You are wrong if that's what you believe.  Why would anyone choose to spend so much time and energy criticizing the way you think, raise your children, dress, or enjoy yourself.  If you support a cause that another does not, wouldn't it be better if they focused on their own beliefs rather than yours?  The energy that I have come in contact with from those who "must" be right simply exhausts me.  You may win the argument.... so what!

Listen folks, there are many ways to live a life. There are innumerable roads we could choose to follow.  Do not allow someone else to map out your journey.  If you do, your life will never be your own.  Is that what you really want?  In any event, whichever road is chosen brings with it joy and challenges and tragedy and loss and the opportunity for wisdom and peace.
 
"Under the arrogance lies the shame."  This is simply true. Try to remember this the next time someone tries to intimidate you.  Refuse to be intimidated, and see what happens.  You will find that the louder they roar, the more likely it is that you have found a paper tiger.  All thunder and barely any substance.

May I suggest that you embrace your imperfection?  Not the ones that keep you from your happy life, but the ones that make you uniquely you.  That thing we call chemistry between people is often based on shared, recognized or unrecognized quirks that help us to feel at home with certain folks.

If you tell me that you have never loved yourself, I will tell you that it's high time you began to do just that.  How?  Keep it in the front of your mind that you self-denigrate.  When you catch yourself doing that STOP!!!  Your talents and capabilities are wonderful, but your so-called accomplishments or lack thereof, do not define you.  Just because you are a prima ballerina does not necessarily mean that your heart is full of love and your inner being embraces serenity.

No one is better than you are, and if someone tries to convince you that they are, then you know the problem lies with them.

It is the false shame of fools to try to conceal wounds that have not healed. 
Horace
  

 

I

November 2012

5 Ways to know it IS About you

In recent years "it's not about you" seems to have become a popular catchphrase.  So, let's look at the other side of this.  If you're not feeling so hot about yourself, it definitely is about you. That's the good news, since you can do something about that.  Here are some guidelines:

  1. Do you believe that everyone is looking at you -- judging your hair, make-up, shoes, bag?  You are mistaken.  After other women give you a quick glance they go right back to thinking about their own ensemble and how they measure up.  The really insecure tell you they love what you're wearing if they think you look especially dowdy and momentarily feel better about themselves.  If the men are looking at you, they don't give a hoot about your clothes -- that is definitely NOT what they're looking at.  The same situation occurs with men, I've just seen it more often with women.  Men usually use a different measuring stick and that orbits around their wallet.  Try to remember what you already know -- beauty comes in many different packages.  Women of a certain age shouldn't even think about competing with the 20 somethings -- you're two different critters.  If you limit your definition of beauty, you will miss the spare elegance of Georgia O'Keefe and the knockout qualities that Sophia Loren, Dame Helen Mirren, and Carmen  Dell'Orefice brandish like a sceptre.  

  2. Do you depend on a "big" event or unorthodox change in order to feel good about yourself?  Must you advertise how unique, bold and courageous you are?  Watch out -- you are depending on the reactions of others in order to feel good about yourself.  I'm all for living your life uniquely the way you wish.  I know very few people who've been able to pull that off.  None of those people call attention to themselves.  They wouldn't think of trumpeting their exploits to the world at large (unless they were being paid millions of dollars for their stories , and even then...).  Live your dreams because they are truly your dreams.  Take risks, take the alternative path, but, only if the choices you are making truly come from your heart.  If the life decisions that you make have grown out of an unresolved childhood rebellion, or a wish to earn the world's applause, you will be sorely disappointed.

  3. Must you always be "right"?  If you are too ashamed of your mistakes and misconceptions to even admit them to yourself, you are in trouble.  You have stunted your own growth, passed up the opportunity to take a view from a different lens.  The worst aspect of this is that you are basing your own worth on your ability to always be correct.  By all means stick to your principles (if you still believe them), be inventive, refuse to just "go along".  Where would Einstein, Edison and Mme Curie be without a curious and questioning spirit.  I can take a pretty good guess that each of these geniuses failed time and again, but did not let that debase their feelings about themselves.  Their so-called failures inspired them to dig in and find another route to their answer.  Be aware that if you value your ability to be right above all else you risk becoming rigid and intolerant.  That's probably not what you want for yourself.

  4. Do you resist asking for help when you are asked to do something you don't really understand?  The question is, why would you expect yourself to know what you don't?  Perhaps you've been thrown into an entirely new system and believe that you must do everything the so-called "right" way immediately.  There are some things that require a particular order.  I recently took a part-time job that has to do with the criminal system.  Their paperwork, initially, made no sense to me at all.  I'm still kind of wobbly with it.  I do back off when I realize that I'm driving my supervisor crazy with my questions, but I'm right back at it after granting him some time off (from me).  Yes, I have felt stupid.  Yes, I have worried about being fired.  But, I will continue to do my best because I believe in myself.  My personal work code demands that I give this job (and every other one that comes my way) my very best effort.  It's really not about the undertaking at all -- it's about me respecting myself for hanging in there and being willing to stick my neck out.  It's also important to know when something you've signed up for calls for skills you may not have and do not wish to have.  Everything is not for everybody.  It's hard to know when to say "I can't do this" and when to dig in and continue to try.  The more you know yourself, the more successful you will be at determining when to stay and when to go.

  5. Is it important to you that "the world" believes your life is perfect?  Are you kidding? No one with any sense would consider that to be true.  In fact, if you refuse to allow yourself to accept your own vulnerabilities, intimacy will be hard to find.  Do not make the mistake of building your self-protective walls so high that the very people who could help you and would like to help you find themselves locked out.  You will end up alone.  That is the saddest place to be that I can think of.  If you shy away from what you consider to be your flaws or if you're in such denial that you believe yourself to be flawless, you are, I believe, doomed to a life of isolation, even when surrounded by people who care about you.  Your wall will inevitably become the coffin that separates you from true joy and vitality.

It is never too late to change our lives or include new elements into them.  Yes, there are, inevitably, chances that have passed us by.  So what... let's keep our eyes open for the next one that comes along.  

"The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself."
Mark Twain 

         

 

December 2012
The Other Side of the Pancake

It feels impossible to look back at December, 2012 without thinking about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  I don't believe that I have any great insight about the resulting devastation that differs in any meaningful way from what hundreds, if not thousands, of people have already put forward.  I am not, by any means a Constitutional scholar, so I will leave discussions on Amendment 2 to those who are more knowledgable.  I must admit, however, that I get a smile out of the notion of hiding all weapons and issuing everyone a musket -- it makes a great visual.

What I do know something about is human nature.  I know that, in my lifetime, I have never experienced the sense of distress and fear that surrounds us today.  Is it safe to go out?  Is every stranger potentially dangerous?  Will the sky fall tomorrow Chicken Little?  This is not a healthy way for a society to function.  When we recognize how easily we fall into road rage, stampedes in stores (where people have been killed) when there is a special sale, how our hackles go up when an unknown person knocks at the door, we cannot deny that we are living with monumental amounts of stress almost every minute of every day.  The worst part of this is, that the resulting tension is a valid reaction to a world made more dangerous, I believe, by our dearth of knowledge about, on a macro scale, others and, on a micro scale, of ourselves.

I cannot judge Adam Lanza's family (the Sandy Hook shooter), because I don't know their story.  What I do know is that Adam had very serious disabilities that resulted in the killing of innocents.  Most people with a brain disorder are more likely to be victims than perpetrators.  We become frightened of these individuals because they do not respond to what seem to us to be ordinary circumstances in a predictable way.  Surprise throws all of us a little off kilter.  I think this is especially evident in cases of divorce where the person we once trusted the most becomes our most feared enemy (more often than not).

Who can I trust?  When am I safe?  Do I have the tools to protect myself?  These are all reasonable concerns.  There are things we can do to protect ourselves -- I think cell phones are among our assistants, as are other forms of technology.  Being self-aware will, ultimately, be your most valuable tool.

Let me give you an example.  Years ago I was the Clinical Director of a residence for adolescents with problems around impulse control and violence.  I was taught various jiu jitsu techniques in case I had to bring someone "down".  There was no way 4'11" me was going to bring down a 250 pounder -- nor do I like the idea of being required to do that.  Instead, I know that I an acquainted with non-physical forms of intimidation. I used this know-how and even when they were angry, no one laid a finger on me.

Sandy Hook shook us so profoundly because it was, in reality, the slaughter of innocents and the school, itself, had put all proper precautions in place.  There was nothing more they could have been reasonably asked to do.

One of our goals in preparing our children for the world is to help them internalize an appreciation for their genuine strengths.  If you can't hit harder, maybe you can run faster.  If you can't talk your way out of a situation, maybe confusing the person you find threatening will be effective.  In other words, we all have access to self-protection (or most of us do), it's important to know what you can count on yourself to do when you need you.

This type of preparation will, hopefully, imbue our loved ones with the self-confidence they will need in this ever-changing world.  Then we must encourage them to step out of their zone of comfort and to welcome life's challenges as well as it's gifts.

I do not understand why Adam Lanza's mother thought that teaching him how to use weapons of mass destruction was going to solidify his independence.  I do think her decision was a demonstration of her own fear.

Sadly, we do not have an adequate supply of effective services to assist those with brain damage and other disabilities and their families during their lifespan.  There appears to be a lack of money, interest, and understanding of the very serious difficulties these families must deal with.  We do pay attention when a Sandy Hook or Aurora explodes, but we tend to think that these are problems that "others" must deal with -- we have been spared.  Until we haven't. 

No one requests to be born with a brain that responds differently than that which is considered to be "normal".  I am not talking about those whose differences lead to creativity and discovery.I am discussing those tormented souls who genuinely do not understand why they are "left out".  It is a heartbreaking place to be.  Yes, these individuals can be encouraged to focus on their strengths, but I believe that few of us would have the fortitude to face rejection and humiliation on a regular basis.
Take some time to be kind, to be understanding, to be protective of those who have been pushed aside by a society that doesn't have a conscience that tells them this is MANDATORY.  You may save someone's life some day.  

 

"No matter how flat the pancake, it always has another side"  Annonymous 

"The first one to plead his cause seems right, Until his neighbour comes and examines him." - Proverbs 18v17   

 

January 2013

Getting Fired

Yes, that happened to me, just last week.  I can't blame the person who hired (and fired) me -- I wasn't doing what he wanted me to do and he placed no value on what I thought was my appropriate role. In other words, we were a really bad fit.
Sorry for being cryptic -- but there is no need to identify the people or institution involved in this debacle.  What is significant is the way that I felt and how I searched, and mostly found, a way to moderate my feelings of embarrassment, guilt, and uselessness in the days that followed.

My first reaction, after I got home, was to cry.  I had never been fired before, and to have that happen at this stage of my career was stirring up all kinds of feelings of self-doubt, which is not usual for me.  The job was part-time and paid poorly, but I was tutored, over the years, to give each and every task my all, and if my "all" wasn't good enough, what was that saying about me?

My husband, Harry, was very helpful.  He pointed out that my training, in this endeavor, had been sporadic, without any consistent daily repetition that would allow what I was learning to sink in.  He was right about that.  What I had been hired to do had more to do with paperwork, at which I do not excel, than with clinical skills, which I realized, belatedly, were not valued or desired in this situation.  I know that I should have asked more questions before I accepted the job offer and I should have been honest with myself about my own interests and priorities.

Nonetheless, it's hard for me to look back on the day of the firing without cringing. I am torn between relief at not doing something that is, basically, of no interest to me and berating myself for failing to accomplish the work I was hired to do.
I have spoken to so many people in similar situations over the years, that I find myself remembering what words I used, what ideas were constructive in getting to the next stage, which does not involve not beating myself up.  It's been a real test of my belief in the advice I give.  

I am relieved to say that I find that my suggestions hold up, when I allow that to happen.  I know (in my head) that not every job is a good fit.  But, having a zealous Super Ego, I also have that critical, nagging voice that says, "You should be able to make the best out of every opportunity".  I think that's attached to, "You're bad because you were not successful".  Getting what I know in my head into my heart is a long journey and for me, like for many, it's a real struggle.  I have to remind myself that I am blessedly human, like everyone else, and that it makes no sense to hold myself to a different and more difficult standard.  I am reminded how complicated it is to, simply, be human.

As I write this, I realize that I am back to doing what I do best, because it is what has fascinated me for many years.  My endeavor to make sense out of behavior never ends. Why do I, why do we, do the things we do?  There is always a new point of view to consider.  I have received great gratification when I am told that something I said or an idea I proposed was really helpful.  It is hard for me to imagine that I would feel "at home" in an occupation that did not allow me to do that. For me, a certain amount of space for creativity is essential.  I don't have a problem with "rules" per se, but to operate in a system that feels rigid, if not pre ordained, does not suit the style to which I have become accustomed.

In my personal journey to know myself and to appreciate and accept all of who I am, I have found that there is always some challenge that pushes me to consider my life and what I want it to stand for.  I have always believed that this questioning never ends.  It seems to me that we grow until we are no more.  Every person we interact with, every experience presents us with an opportunity to reconsider "What is meaningful to me?".  Some would find this exhausting.  I find it, while often painful, exhilarating.  I guess that's why I do what I do.

It is my belief that the days of the therapist as a blank slate are behind us.  In a complex, multi-tasking, always shifting environment, what stabilizes us, I believe, is our connection to one another.  As our technology (which I like, by the way) pushes us to associate from a distance, I believe the eye to eye intimacy that we experience when we are in the same space is irreplaceable.  The ability to let down our personal walls and experience each other with respect and acceptance in a manner that is not filtered through a device is especially meaningful.  To open ourselves to each other while in close proximity takes courage and reaps the highest rewards.

The position from which I was let go did not allow room for further self-understanding.  I now wonder what made me think that this would work out well.
Sometimes it's hard to accept our own stumbling, I know it is for me.  That, however, is exactly what we need to do in order to be who we know we are.

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.  
~e.e. cummings       

 

February 2013

It's Not That Complicated

A short while back, an announcement came on the Today show, that in the next segment they would be discussing how to make a marriage work.  My first reaction was, "Why don't people start by being nice to one another?"

First, we are attracted to an individual.  If all goes well, that mysterious thing called "chemistry" kicks in and sometimes what develops is a mutual infatuation.  Initially, we are floating on a cloud as we perceive that this new person in our lives understands us, wants the same things we do, and, in general, fills up the holes that we believe need filling in our lives.  How nice!

Unfortunately, this lovely pink cloud is an illusion and, in truth, we idealize the "other" in such a way that, eventually, we are bound to be disappointed.  Yes, this may well be the precursor to true love, but a strong relationship that will last must overcome certain obstacles in order to "take hold".

Our bond must be secure enough to withstand disappointment as we realize that the carefree sensation we experienced (it may even be relief) will not be front and center for large portions of our dealings with our beloved.  We may have times when the headiness reemerges, but for those of us who live everyday lives, we will notice a recurrence of those "swoony" kinds of feelings on scattered occasions only.

Even for those who have stumbled upon a lifestyle that was previously unavailable, the glamour will become ordinary, and these people will still have their own insecurities and issues with intimacy to deal with. 

In the course of all of this, it often occurs that we become angry and resentful when we discover that the person of our dreams is flawed. We feel cheated and, sometimes, that we were misled. Most of the time, we have fallen in love with our own projection of what we desire on to the other person. Said person usually has no idea as to what this projection consists of. A manipulative individual may well understand what your yearning is and may appear to respond perfectly to your needs and desires. Be very careful -- this may be a temporary response that cannot or will not be maintained. Do not count on that bright and shiny veneer -- it probably will not withstand the pressure of time and circumstance.

At this point, our love interest may well become disappointed in us as well. "What happened to that easy going, eager to please person that I thought I knew?" Unless we can obtain a certain amount of clarity as to what is going on here, we are likely to fall into a negative cycle where each of us begins to punish the other for perceived deficits. Unchecked, this is often the commencement of the unraveling of a possibly healthy attachment.

Too often, the person we once put on a pedestal is perceived as withholding, self-absorbed and intentionally unkind. In cases of divorce our once-best friend is seen as a dangerous enemy. As we swing from black to white and back again, it is easy for both sides to forget about the things they like and respect about each other.

So... why not attempt (at least) to remember you were once friends. If you identified your partner as a savior, please step back and take a look at the unreasonable situation that creates for both of you. Live up to your own standards and be respectful. Put in the effort to understand where your significant other is coming from. It is possible, when you do this, that you will understand that no harm was intended and that you (as we all do) jumped to the wrong conclusion.

Take the time to really get to know your sweetheart. If you understand and like the person within, you are in a prime position to take misunderstandings in stride and allow some grace on the other side. Take the time to assess the maturity level reached by each of you. If one of you is simply unworldly it is not a sign of character but lack of experience if situations devolve into juvenile bickering. This can be fixed. Take the time to reassure each other that you are a team and be prepared to give and receive support emotionally. Almost anything can work if both of you are looking for the same thing.

Think about the kind of person you want to be. You do not have to either disappear into a relationship or to dominate. There is room, if you allow it, for both of you to be strong and capable. If you do not like who you are in this alliance, you are facing a big red flag. Each of you, preferably, will bloom and be the best possible "you" within your twosome. If this is not happening, it would be a good idea to make some changes. It's best to begin by assuming good will. Be proactive rather than reactive. A willingness to try to "hear" each other is essential. 

You do not need tricks and strategies. Be yourself and allow the same for your partner. Try to understand which situations set you off and why that happens. Avoid lashing out -- no one comes out ahead when that happens. It is possible to find mutual satisfaction. Get underway with a positive attitude, you may be surprised at the results.

Happiness is a state of mind and not a state of possession. Be as you are and you will be happy, if you try to be someone else you will be miserable. Apoorve Dubey

 

March 2013
Thank You Don Draper

Sometimes it pays off to be late.  I had an entirely different March newsletter in mind and then Mad Men had it's season premier and a far more interesting topic was right there waiting to be noticed.

By the way, I didn't have the opportunity to watch the season premier (I can catch up on "On Demand") but I did read a very interesting blog written by Maureen Ryan and it got me to thinking.

Often the people we find the most frustrating to deal with, if not the most cruel,   are afflicted with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).  Please notice that I use the word afflicted.  While such individuals can drive us crazy and occasionally break our hearts, they are doomed to live with their own emptiness and lack of genuine connection to others.

Don Draper is a perfect example.  He is handsome, successful, charming, and has had multiple beguiling women pursue him.  He is incapable, however, of maintaining a long term committed relationship, with it's frequent jaunts into the realm of common, every day life. "Don needs women to love him completely and fully; he needs them to be everything to him, all the time; he needs them to not want or need anything or anyone else. He needs a bond that will cut through searing loneliness and rejection..."  Yes, he is torturous to deal with, but the ultimate victim is Don himself.

People with NPD come in all forms.  Not all of them are our lovers.  We find them in friends, bosses and family members.  They catch our attention by allowing us to feel that we are the person they have been waiting for all along.  No one has ever understood them or nurtured them in quite the way that you have so nicely managed to do.  It's like the pink cloud of falling in infatuation.  While it is lovely, please do not forget that this level of fulfillment is like the sand -- it will slip through your fingers just as you grab a handful.

What, you may wish to know, tips us off to the reality of certain relationships?  Well, harking back to Don Draper, "...when he finds those kinds of immersive relationships, they eventually set off his boundary alarms."  So, if an individual who initially couldn't seem to get enough of you starts to segue away from you -- spends less time, calls less often, becomes more critical -- you have experienced the red flag of warning.  When you feel the push/pull; sense that something has gone wrong (and it's probably your fault), you are well advised to begin your own retreat.

You will probably begin to attempt to recapture the past, feeling certain that you can preserve the intimacy.  How do I know?  I have done this so many times in days of yore.  These days I'm pretty good at detecting the NPD's in my life (they can be quite alluring, after all) and position myself in such a way that when the NPD's demonstrate who they really are (and they always do) I am prepared for damage control.

These are the people who, over time, manage to keep the focus on themselves and their needs.  Who will not, in times of conflict, step up to the plate wholeheartedly and achieve a real solution to the problem.  They will attempt to place the blame (which is not the issue) elsewhere and offer a nonspecific panacea, which allows for multiple interpretations, that, when you are disappointed once again, enables them to slip away, once again.  "I meant it when I said it".  "I'm sorry that you thought I meant AB & C, I really meant XY & Z".  "I never said when I would do this or that".  If you are on the receiving end, throw in your cards and walk away -- there's plenty more where this came from in your future.

Back to Don Draper, Ms. Ryan states, "the side of Don that enjoys pursuit is ultimately disgusted by the kind of dependent woman that another part of him craves".  If you find yourself singing "What did I have that I don't have?" let it go -- your particular Don Draper is searching for something that does not exist.  His existential belief system does not allow him to trust, and, more painfully, receive love.

NPD's, for whatever reason (usually a lack of nurturing), while often hiding behind a mask of success, do not believe in their own lovability.  They have never felt truly loved and, as a rule, are incapable of authentic empathy.  These individuals are vessels with a sieve at the bottom -- they can never fill or be filled.  They are not to be resented (they can't control this missing part) but they are also poor choices for emotional satisfaction.

Finally, the show itself has said of Don Draper, "There is no man, just footprints".  That is the destiny of those, men and women, who cannot love.  They are never able to become fully human.  How sad.

I don't care what you think unless it's about me
Kurt Cobain

     
 

April 2013
The Creepy Staring Man

I feel uneasy just thinking about this individual.  I don't know his name, so let's just call him Clyde.  Clyde works as one of the maintenance people at a flea market near Naples.  Harry (my husband) runs a booth at this flea market on occasional week-ends.  It's a good opportunity to get rid of tools and household items we no longer have use for as well as a venue for collectible items, jewelry, and fishing gear (which is Harry's speciality).  

Operating a booth at a flea market is a lot of work.  Each item must be carefully packed, loaded on to a truck, unloaded and displayed in a way that customers can easily examine whatever it is that interests them.  Then the haggling begins as buyer and seller attempt to reach an agreement on the value of any given item.  It is always dusty, often hot.  For those who are solo operators there is virtually no way to take a break to get something to eat, much less go to the bathroom.  Many of the dealers bring coolers with food and drink to keep them going.  Then, at the end of the day, goods must be carefully covered and wrapped in such a way to prevent damage and/or thievery.  On the final day everything must be repacked and carefully reloaded onto the truck and the empty space must be left clean.  You couldn't pay me to do this job, but Harry loves it.  He loves talking to people and participating in the back and forth of the bargaining.

All of the vendors that I have met are nice and helpful and kind of keep an eye out for one another.  There is a spirit of cooperation. Since Harry has ankylosing spondylitis as well as other medical issues, he really cannot move as quickly as some other dealers.  I cannot bear the thought of him doing all of this work alone, so, on most Sundays, I meet him there and we have a system for reloading the truck.  We're a pretty efficient team.

It is not unusual for some of the other sellers or maintenance people to give us a hand when they see us struggling to get these huge containers in the back of the truck.  Most people are really nice.  That is, most people except Clyde.
The vendors have about 1 1/2 hours after closing time to get packed up and out.  You can believe me when I tell you that no one has any desire to hang around.

Well, Clyde has anointed himself the supervisor for Harry.  He drives up in his golf cart well before the time we must leave and just sits and stares at us.  No pleasantries, no assistance, just hatchet-faced, dirty old Clyde with his rotten teeth, pony tail and cowboy hat glaring at us in a way that actually is intimidating.  One time he started yelling at Harry because we were running late and we were told by the folks in the booth next to ours that he has been known to set the guard dogs on people. What in the world is he protecting?  Some dirt and gravel?  Some rough pine tables?  There's not much else there.  And then, to my way of thinking, he did something really malevolent.

It was on a Sunday when Harry was alone there.  Clyde got in his face screaming and Harry, who has poor balance because of his medical conditions, tripped over an item and fell hard, hitting his head.  Clyde simply drove away.  Fortunately, Harry was able to get himself back up, but I can tell you that since that time it takes every bit of my willpower to resist flipping Clyde the bird and telling him off.  The only reason I don't is that Harry says it's easier to just ignore him, and I know he's right.

I really don't want my husband to go back to that flea market at all.  But, he does very well there and enjoys the activity, so if he wants to continue, I will not attempt to stop him -- we really don't have that kind of relationship anyway.

I don't know what makes someone turn into one of the Clyde's in the world.  Why the rage?  Why the threat of violence?  It's fairly obvious that we're not planning a heist (why would anyone steal a bunch of dirt?).  How can anyone watch a disabled person fall and hit his head and just drive away?  I'm sure he has his story, but, for once in my life, I don't care what it is -- there's just no excuse for that kind of behavior.  It just makes me sick to know that my husband, who I love, and who is vulnerable (physically) has caught the eye of this brutal ignoramus.

At the end of the day, this experience has intensified my desire to treat others fairly and with compassion.  We need a time to heal, not violence and mindless abuse.  Sometimes I wonder when we will learn.   

"Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind." 
Henry James

 

 

May 2013

Le Miserable
(In the Merrie Month of May)

This year I was made particularly aware that May is a month of emotional struggle and growth for me.  I don't know if you have had any particularly difficult period of time in which you, regularly, feel not quite "yourself" and have trouble pinpointing the reason, but, if you do, it might be an "anniversary syndrome".  I never head into May with misgivings, but, they seem to find me.

The solid proof (or what convinced me) was that I hurt my back -- a totally new experience for me -- and took a trip, on May 25, to Urgent Care.  The doctor there said, "Oh, welcome back, you were here a year ago on May 30th".  Last year it was a squamous cell carcinoma on my arm, which was successfully excised.  This year, a possible herniated disc.  I say, "This cannot be a coincidence".  I am almost always healthy, so two trips to Urgent Care, a year apart, in the month of May...  Hey, I'm just saying...

I guess I kind of like my "rattling the can" times of year.  They are always painful, but, as a firm believer that there has to be a certain amount of discomfort in order for us to be motivated to change, I (sort of) don't mind struggling to get to the next wherever I'm going.  At least I now understand that the fugue I am experiencing is a passing phase and does not indicate that my life has gone completely off track.
It's so easy to resist change and just keep plodding along.  On the other hand, the struggle validates our ongoing growth and sense of vitality that, I believe, is ours to access as long as our minds allow.  When I was a student, I was struck that there were writers on human psychology who assumed that we were "cooked"at 21 or so.  It never made sense to me.

Lots of times, I have asked clients what they would love to do that they have never done.  More often than not, this is a hard question for folks to answer.  Maybe they feel a little timid about sharing an untested dream.  Maybe they believe that unless they can really be good at it, they shouldn't attempt something new.  Maybe they are not accustomed to letting imagination run free.  I believe it is my job to help unfetter these fantasies -- why limit yourself before you are forced to?  Our dreams bring the magic into our lives.

Maybe I was very lucky in that I had a father who told me to always have a dream.  He was whimsical and curious.  My mother was bold.  It was important to her that I face the world unafraid.  Not a bad combination.

While our logic is all well and good, there is more to us than sequential, rational thought.  Do you ever stop and think "I am really happy right now.  At this moment my world is good"?  If not, give it a try.  I'm not talking about major events, like childbirth and winning a gold medal in the Olympics.  I'm talking about those quiet moments when the air feels good, you feel energized, your loved ones are safe and within reach -- just an ordinary moment when it feels good to be alive. Tuck that moment away.  It will be helpful down the road when you're feeling like you are just waiting for the next disappointment to strike.  If life can be good once, it can be good again.  My thought is that it is prudent to alter our definition of what makes us happy.  It doesn't seem possible to me that what we want at 20 is exactly what we want at 60.  Do not allow yourself to be stuck longing for something that just doesn't fit any more.

This year some major adjustments have come my way -- adjustments that, while they please me, spur the memories of past dreams.  There is an appropriate sadness that accompanies this.  Hey, I cry at parties where they display photos and videos of an individual's life.  Call me mushy, but the passage through life is one that I find moving beyond words. 

My father used to talk about "The Laws of Nature" (as when the poodle ate the gerbil).  I have a great respect for these "laws" and know, that when all is said and done, something far larger than myself has a hand in the journey that is my life.  Some people find this threatening, as they struggle for control.  I find it reassuring -- I do not want to be the place where the buck really stops.

If you know nothing else, please KNOW that our lives are not static.  Those who struggle with depression, especially, believe that the depression will define their lives.  Be reassured, you will feel differently in time.  I am not promising a life of ease.  I am promising a life of diversity.  If you can, embrace your feelings -- all of them. Tara Brach tells us "pain x resistance = suffering. " Think about it. 

"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man."   Heraclitus 

 

June 2013

Grounded!

Okay, it's not tragic or even sad, but I have a herniated disc in my back and it's taking months to heal.  It's driving me crazy.  You see, although I have had illnesses, I have always been able to shake things off really quickly.  So, I guess I have become spoiled.  As the pain doctor (who thought I would ever need one?) said, "You're used to your body doing what you want it to".  Yes, I am.  Now, this does not imply that I'm graceful or speedy, but I'm pretty strong and very determined and really like to challenge myself physically.  Drats -- I've been foiled!

For about two weeks I couldn't really get out of bed.  I felt like a damn fish lying around in the sack.  Useless!  I'm really good at entertaining myself, but this was ridiculous.  Every morning I would get up, feel fine and within 5 minutes my back would begin to throb and burn and it was right back to bed. Is this a lesson I needed to learn?  I've always been nice to people who are sick.  I don't think I'll be a better person or a better therapist as a result of this nuisance.  If someone tries to tell me that "everything happens for a reason" they are likely to receive a dirty look and a big harrumph from me.

I will recover and I'm hoping I will regain  some of my fearlessness around injury.  Not that I will be attempting high jumps, mind you, but neither will I be walking around taking tiny steps in my orthopedic shoes. 

Resilience is one of the keys to living a happy life.  The ability to come back (I avoided the word "bounce"), to understand the things you do have and can do and not yearn in a backward direction, gives you a reason to look forward to at least part of the day that lies ahead.  It really is a choice that each of us has.  I will never be 25 again (not that that was such a great year), have living parents, be naive about the blows that were inevitably going to visit me or the people I love, or have shiny hair that doesn't get frizzy in humid weather.  If I were to obsess about the things that didn't turn out the way I hoped, I would expect myself to give me a kick in the butt and tell me to get moving,

It is impossible to help an individual who outright rejects every suggestion that might improve the condition that they find themselves in at the moment.  I am all for grieving when you must, and do not put a time limit on recovery.  Recovery will never arrive, however, when we stay focused on "woulda, coulda, shoulda".  There is always some reason to smile or be optimistic, we just have to be willing to have that happen.

Allow yourself to be self-confident.  This is also a choice.  You might have to think about that for a while.  People are drawn to folks who value themselves.  I'm not talking about arrogance. It is very unappealing to be in the presence of those who put everyone else down.  If that's who you hang out with, give it a while, you will be found unworthy in due time. If it's of any comfort, these people devalue themselves the most, and, because of their haughtiness, rarely elicit genuine empathy from others.

Refuse to become married to a particular outcome.  Of course we experience disappointment, but that doesn't mean we can't look in other directions to find meaning and happiness.  

Our definition of success may need to be re-examined.  Currently, there is a group of "thinkers" who are proposing that we add a third metric to our definition of success. The first two measures are power and money.  The suggestion is out there that we add another dimension that includes empathy, wisdom and, yes, resilience.  Sounds good to me.  I believe it's foolish to sacrifice who you are for what you want.  Only sociopaths, in my opinion, can successfully ignore their own values (if they have them) for the purpose of achievement.  If you are not true to yourself, to whom are you true? 

Be creative.  What can you do that will fill the spot of something you've had to give up?  Do not reject everything out of hand, just do something that you enjoy.  It's ill-advised to compare what you can have with what you used to have or believe you should have.  Unless you have a crystal ball that works better than mine, you do not know what or who can result in increasing your happiness.  Get okay with yourself first, because if you don't do that, nothing will please you.

There were a number of events I was looking forward to before I injured myself, including one of those obstacle course races.  I don't know if that will work for me next year, but I do know that as the pain recedes and I feel stronger, I will be out there finding some way to challenge myself and force myself to grow.  I don't say this in a self-important way.  I enjoy challenging and competing with myself.  Identify what you enjoy and pursue it -- it's bound to be better than sitting around bemoaning your losses. Satisfaction comes wrapped in many different packages.  

 "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."   Dr. Seuss

 

July 2013
Celebrities Behaving Well

It’s downright refreshing when those in the spotlight acquit themselves in a way we can applaud.  When we are given real reasons to admire the “rich and famous”, it makes sense to us that they are appreciated and held in high esteem.  July provided us with three disparate and sparkling examples of the privileged behaving well.
               
First, there was President George H.W. Bush.
  
                President Bush (41) shaved his head to show solidarity with the family of Patrick, 2 1/2, who is being treated for leukemia.  The Bush’s lost their daughter, Robin, to leukemia when she was almost 4 years old.  She had gone through chemotherapy, but lost her battle after 6 months.  I am moved to both smiles and misty eyes when I look at the picture that was published of President Bush with Patrick..  There is no doubting that President Bush’s gesture is heartfelt.  His secret service detail also shaved their heads.  This is not a political pose.  His delight at being able to participate publicly in the efforts to support Patrick and his family is evident.  My advice to today’s politicians -- there’s a lesson to be learned here -- try being real.  You can’t help but like the man in that picture.
               
The second hero I would like to salute is Sam Simon, the co-creator of The Simpsons.
  
             Sam earns 10’s of millions of dollars annually, and, at 58 is dying from colon cancer.  He has always been a philanthropist, but has stepped up his charitable activities in face of his now-limited life expectancy. His pet charities include PETA, Save the Children, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and the Sam Simon Foundation, which feeds the hungry and rescues stray dogs(US magazine).

Sam recently began buying zoos and circuses.  He believes that this is where we will find the most ill-used animals around.  He is working with PETA to find healthier living space for these animals.  Although extremely ill, he enjoys seeing the results that emerge from his charitable donations.  He wants to witness accomplishments in the causes he holds dear while he can.  He says that this gives him great joy and comfort.
 
It seems to me that Sam Simon has his priorities in order and is dedicating what is left of his life to generativity rather than stagnation (see Erik Erikson, stage 7).  We all leave a legacy of one sort or another.  We need not (thank goodness) donate millions of dollars to causes we deem to be worthy.  If we have helped one person find hope in his/her life; if we have donated time (or money) to a worthy cause; if we have worked to improve the political system -- these are important and valuable legacies.  It is never too late to start on this road, which is one of the keystones to segueing into peace and a sense of accomplishment in the final stages of adult life.

Finally, a joyous occasion brought about an action that is admirable, overdue, and, hopefully, going to inspire women to accept their bodies in a way we have heretofore failed to do.

                Kate, The Duchess of Cambridge, has flung open the door to the realities of the changes in a woman’s body when she has a baby. The “baby bump” of early to mid-pregnancy is often described as cute and the mother-to-be as “glowing”.  As the date of delivery approaches, however, and “the bump” is perceived as “huge” there is often a certain anxiety that doesn’t settle down until after the birth.  I can’t understand why anyone would imagine “the bump” would remain at a comfortable (for all involved) size.  Wouldn’t we expect the soon-to-be child would need a fair amount of room as it prepares to enter this world?  Why do we not celebrate the magic that allows a women to carry a child?  For those who fear the mother will “burst” -- I have never heard of a baby being born in that manner.
 
Shame around the new mother’s body arrives with the birth.  We want to know, “How does she look’?  The mother, herself, may wish or be encouraged to hide the swelling that remains in her belly until her uterus settles down. It is so strange that a woman’s body is repeatedly regarded as “cute” in the early stages, fearsome in the later, and shameful after birth.  Does this make sense to anyone?  I even heard a female news anchor express surprise that a woman’s abdomen doesn’t go completely flat after childbirth.  How can we be so smart and so ignorant at the same time?

What I admire about Kate’s behavior is that she has treated a natural bodily change as if it really were natural.  I can’t think of a celebrity who as ever appeared in public, body unhidden, in a relaxed, poised and calm manner.  Good for Kate!  This is hopefully another step in the struggle for women to accept and rejoice in the body that is their home.

President George H.W. Bush, Sam Simon, Kate the Duchess of Cambridge.  Three very different people.  Three examples of priorities in place.  We could use a lot more of this.  In human development our feelings precede our thoughts.  Good things happen when we are able to lead with our hearts.

To be doing good deeds is man's most glorious task. Sophocles

August 2013
The Past is in the Past -- I Have Moved On

Really?  I'm all for living in today.  I'm all for refusing to let the past define who you are today.  What I'm not all for is pretending the past never happened; failing to learn from years gone by; and, most importantly, declining to honor the people who were near and dear to us -- those who gave and changed our lives.

The most difficult assignment we receive in life (in my opinion) is to find ways to come to terms with the losses that unavoidably come our way.  It can be painful to recall those who are no longer with us. But, those who left an enduring mark on our lives must be remembered if we are to understand how we became who we are and continue on to examine the efficacy of our behavior. Our reflections may alter certain assumptions and allow us to gain a different perspective on our life's goals.

I read somewhere that if we only remember a person's death we are negating the rest of that life.  I agree with that.  It seems to me that if we amputate our feelings of sorrow we are truncating our ability to fully experience the joy that also comes our way. Why deprive ourselves of the memories of warmth, laughter and comfort we experienced before an individual's death?  Our lifespan is not one dimensional. It is unfair to recall only the pain of loss.

Like it or not, the past travels with us.  There are those who believe that certain unconscious themes are passed from generation to generation. If we are in a position to acquire new information about our families and others who influenced our development, we can free ourselves of certain meaningless ways of functioning and more easily attain the life we wish to live.  If it is impossible to gather further insight we can still attempt to understand, through empathy, the circumstances that influenced those who influenced us.

It is true that every day provides us with a new start.  We do not, however, begin our days at ground zero.  The past is a powerful ally in assisting us to effectively handle the challenges that come our way.

What if, as we mourned the losses, we allowed our feelings of gratitude to blossom as well?  The balancing of gain and loss, joy and grief is what allows us to move forward.

How often have you found yourself wishing that things, relationships, lifestyles, could be restored to the way they once were? I've seen people break their own hearts in their attempts to relive the past.  We mortals cannot resurrect what once was.

Often, after one individual(person A) has been terribly hurt by another (person B), A stays steadfastly committed to what once was.  A is now pouring salt into his/her own wound.  We cannot undo what has been done.  We can become aware of the meaning we have attached to the painful event. When we understand our own reaction, we may be able to move on and build a relationship that is stronger and healthier than the one we have left behind. What we cannot do is duplicate the old experience.

Most of us, especially as we grow older, would like to know that our existence has been significant.  The proof of that significance lies not in naming a building or road or town after us.  It lies in the hearts and minds we have touched.  When we remember, discuss, laugh about the time spent with the person who is deceased, we do them honor.  Would you choose to be forgotten after you have left this worldly dimension?  I hope to be remembered as a multifaceted woman who sometimes got it right and sometimes fell flat on her face.  My wish to to be remembered as I really am.

Sometimes we are intimidated by those who came before us.  We may feel inadequate to  inherit their place , especially in the context of family. There is another way to think about this.  If we join in honoring an individual that our loved one has lost, are we not endearing ourselves to our beloved and strengthening the bond we have today?  There is no ceiling on the love each of us is authorized to use in a lifetime.  It won't run out.  Further, if, out of love, you can embrace children, pets, family members that were attached to the person who has passed on, you will feel good about yourself and, in all liklihood earn the profound appreciation and gratitude of your partner.

Einstein showed us that time and space are inextricably linked.  My understanding is that each time is a part of every other time, past and future. Why should we even begin to attempt to erect artificial barriers?  The movement of time is fluid.  Today grew out of yesterday and holds the seeds for tomorrow.

Living with the regrets of the past will only mire you in quicksand.  Learning from the past and cherishing special moments will energize you.  In the same vein, while it makes sense to plan for the future, we never know when our plans will be upended.  Knowing that shifts are a normal part of life will, hopefully, reassure us that change is not, as a rule, catastrophic.

One of the best things I ever did, as my father was dying, was to lay my head on his chest and thank him for being my father.  He said, "I'm happy I was able to do it".  It doesn't get any more complete than that.

When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure.  
~Author Unknown

 

September 2013
Home

Wherever it may be, whatever it may look like, our sense of security hinges on the place we call home; the place where we can relax and be (ideally) who we truly are .  
"Home" is such an individualized concept that if we did a poll, we would find all kinds of answers.  Does 'Home" mean the place you grew up?  The spot you've always dreamed about?  Is it a room full of family pictures, or, perhaps, the presence of a particular individual?

"Home", for most of us, has multiple interpretations as we move through life.  I have lived in places that were quite beautiful to look at, but did not have a comfortable place to sit and put up my feet.  It was my own fault, I turned the furnishing entirely over to someone else.  At the time, I thought it was important for my home to look a particular way.

"Home" is where we belong.  And, in a world where a false sense of entitlement runs rampant, is the place where we should feel entitled to say "this is mine". 
A Room of One's Own was written by Virginia Woolf and published in 1929.  The concept is so powerful that it remains relevant and fresh 86 years later.  The idea, of course, is that we crave some space that is inviolably ours.  Maybe it's just a shelf or a drawer, but it is sacredly our own.

In my present home, my office is that space for me.  Even family members know to ask permission before they enter.  When Harry fumbles through my desk looking for something, I get so antsy that after admonishing him not to change the order of anything, I must leave the room -- I just can't stand it.

My all-time favorite home was in Boston on Commonwealth Avenue.  It was a floor through condo in a very old building (1889).  There was a curve in the long hallway that just sang to me.  The moment I saw it, I knew that was where I longed to live.  It was during that time that I met Harry (my husband), so the sense of belonging and safety and of being in a wonderful cocoon was reinforced.

We moved to Florida after living there for 10 years.  It was time to proceed to the next phase of our life together.  While I was somewhat reluctant to leave, I have found that the memory of that time makes me happy and that "home" for me is more that a curve in the wall. 

As we look ahead to the future, it is impossible to ignore the fact that thousands of baby boomers and people with disabilities will find it next to impossible to find a welcoming place to live.  This is a problem now and will shortly become an epidemic. 

A large number of us who may not have adequate retirement income (or live longer than "planned"), do not have or wish to live with relatives who will genuinely welcome them into their homes and want to maintain a certain amount of independence will find that, right now, there are few resources available.

Families with members who have grown into adults who cannot fend for themselves are at a loss.  The latest statistics I have heard for one particular disability is that one in 947 will find a residential placement.  What will become of these folks and what will become of our lives if we fail to come up with some creative alternatives?

I am not taking a political stand here.  No one, in my opinion, is particularly to blame, it's just a situation that is and will get worse.
We have recently become acquainted with a group that is looking into co-housing.  This is a solution that began in Denmark and is thriving in Europe and a number of venues in the United States.  It is not a commune.  It is, I believe, one creative solution.  Surely, there must be others.  In fact, I would love to hear from you if you are aware of any other blueprints that look promising. 

Sometimes defining "home" is influenced by the stage of life you are in.  My parents moved the year I went out of town to college.  That was of no concern to me.  In my Freshman head, it never occurred to me that I was "homeless".  While my parents were certainly always happy to have me back and would have welcomed me to live there, I don't think it would have crossed our minds that I would ever return there to live.  Although I never thought of it that way (nor did they) once I was gone I was gone.  It felt right all the way around.

Our family, like yours has weathered so many changes that it's impossible to predict where and when we will arrive at our last home.  For right now, I know that I want one red room; the ability to have my dogs; separate spaces for Harry and me to pursue creative interests (really important -- otherwise we would probably kill each other).  There are certain items I would love to hold on to.  It will be a pleasure to get rid of most of the "stuff" I have.  I would like to live in a place with plenty of light.  For right now, I think, those are my basics.

I think the most delightful homes reflect the people who live there.  Years ago, when Jackie Kennedy (Onassis) died, I was struck by reports that, at death, she was surrounded by books and the people she loved.  Nice choice.  Something to think about.

Home is the place that goes where you go, yet it welcomes you upon your return. Like a dog overjoyed at the door. We've missed you is what you hear, no matter how long you've been gone. Michael J. Rosen

October 2013
Boston Strong - So Easy to Love

I love Boston.  I have always loved Boston.  My first visit was in the spring of my junior year of high school.  My mother and I flew up there for an interview at Boston University.  The plane ride was rough, to say the least.  It was late when we arrived, everything was closed, we had liberated the contents of our stomachs into the "sick" bags on board, and were starving.  We stayed at the old Somerset Hotel.  Room service was closed for the night.  Some kind soul managed to deliver 2 tuna sandwiches and ginger ale to our room - for us, it was a feast.

Our journey continued the next day with my interview at Boston University and, more importantly, a visit to Filene's Basement.  We took the Tee, and were bewildered when everyone told us to get off at Pahk St. Station.  Eventually, someone spelled it for us and we successfully egressed at Park Street.

My mother, being a more formal type (as were mothers in those days) was wearing heels, gloves and, yes, a hat - a real hat, not a winter cap.  She took one look at the Basement  and chucked the gloves and hat and bought a pair of comfortable shoes.  We had a great time.

I attended both the Theater Arts and Liberal Arts colleges at Boston University.  This was a fabulous place to go to school.  Lots of activity, and if you wished to date there was always someone available.  The times were more innocent and we hitchhiked everywhere without worry.

My roommate ,Susan, and I would walk down Beacon St. and Commonwealth Ave. on cold nights and try to look into the windows of the elegant buildings.  It was beguiling to imagine living in one of those beautiful rooms.

Almost thirty years later I was able to do just that.  I bought a condo on Commonwealth Avenue at Hereford.  It will forever be my all-time favorite home.
Living in Boston, absorbing the lifestyle, was every bit as satisfying as I dreamed it would be.  Bostonians always have an opinion about something.  The sports teams occupy the altars at the very peak of general interest.  No one was ever blasé about wins or losses.

My building was near enough to Fenway Park to make it an easy walk.  I knew it was special to have that kind of access even though I rarely entered the gates.  Boston is a city with the right kind of pride - pride in teams, intellect, the arts and history.

It is important to understand the passion that is invested in Boston events.  Whether it was The Head of the Charles, 4th of July, or the Marathon, our attention was focused on these contests with intensity.  They carried with them the sense of their own importance. 

Bostonians are not afraid to care.  I love the exuberance of the city.  Whether it is Gay Pride or Columbus Day the parades are impressive.  At our end of Back Bay, near Newbury St., there were always performers from the close-by music schools.  In fact, we even hired the violinist for our wedding right off the street.

Our institutions are important.  The events we support are sacrosanct.  The trauma attached to the Boston Marathon of 2013 snowballed as it did because The Marathon, like the Pops and the Red Sox is part of a tradition that has been absorbed into our very being.  The Marathon is supposed to be a safe and triumphant event.

So... What about them Red Sox!!!  Their World Series win is symbolic of the fight and grit and persistence and determination of the spirit and energy of Boston.

Maybe because it is so small geographically, it's easy to have a real feel for the different neighborhoods.  It's insane to try to park in the city, so most of us who lived there walked everywhere.  There is no better way to get to know a town than to pound the proverbial pavements.  We live in close proximity to each other, so even though we don't know each other we do KNOW each other, if that makes any sense.  
Our home on Commonwealth Avenue, "The Imperial" was once the residence for the staff that served the great homes of Beacon Hill.  It is at the wrong end of the boulevard - away from the park and on the wrong side of the boulevard - the shady side where it takes longer for the snow to melt and it was...simply fabulous!

I know I am mixing my tenses here.  Boston is not where I was born.  I only lived there for ten years (except for college).  But, it is the place where I finally became "me".  While it is a place of tradition, is is also the location of the new and never done before.  With the great universities and medical facilities in and around the area, a spirit of "hmmmm let's try something new" is always floating in the air.

Of course the Red Sox won THIS World Series at home.  The city is a place where we refuse to be defeated.  Through rats and big digs and the unthinkable actuality of bombs being placed deliberately next to innocent citizens Boston is Strong.

I guess this is my love letter to the place I was so proud to call my home.  The girl may have left Boston, but Boston never left the girl.  The principle of never accepting defeat is a part of my DNA.  It is comforting to know that it's there.

In Boston serpents whistle at the cold. Robert Lowell

November 2013
It Only "Works" From The Inside Out

I know, you've been trying to figure yourself out for a long time.  It's hard to imagine that you can alter the way you approach the world.  You're frustrated.  Let me attempt to make that a little bit easier for you.

Could you please, just for one week, remove the concept of "blame" from your mind (and vocabulary).  This will take some work on your part.  You will find that the "blame concept" is pretty deeply embedded in your MO.  So, when it pops up, despite your efforts, brush it aside and tell it you will deal with it later.

In making life-changing adjustments, it just does not matter whose argument carries more weight on the scales of justice.  We can spend forever defending our point of view, but, at the end of the day (despite short-lived satisfaction) we are left standing at the point of embarkation.  

If nothing else, when you find yourself in a situation that assaults your dignity, allow yourself the opportunity to think before you respond.  I am not counseling you to roll over and play dead.  I'm hoping you will play smart.

Fantasy scenario:

You have been trying to reach an acquaintance by telephone (we won't even go into texting here).  Your phone calls appear to be ignored and you are experiencing hurt feelings.  Do you believe that this individual is avoiding you?  Does not believe you are important?  Makes time for just about everyone but you?  As soon as you are aware that you are beginning to feel hurt and angry, slow down and give yourself an opportunity to reassess. 

Let's suppose the most insulting state of affairs is the correct one.  If what you want to discuss is a matter with little meaning for you, stop wasting your time.  Why put yourself through this form of rejection, which is what it will feel like,  once again?  The more time you put into this, the worse it will feel.  Even if you finally get through, you will, most likely, be experiencing some resentment.

Even if the "unreachable one" is your boss or someone to whom you have assigned a higher status, take a step back. This is a good time for you to remember that neither you or the elusive individual is the center of the universe.  The failure in communication is probably not going to significantly impact your life in the long run, and, unless it's life and death, ask yourself why you are allowing yourself to feel bad about you because someone else is rude, pretentious, has a defective communication system or is just plain busy.  Even if you have been wronged, why give weight to the other person's attitude? If you buy into what you imagine is going on, take some time to consider why do you hold on to that negative opinion about yourself. 

Here's a news flash. Even if your parents treated you poorly, now that you are an adult, you can at least entertain the notion that they were wrong!  That's correct, you are no longer that vulnerable child who accepts their word as The Truth. 

Of course, when you discard their assessment you are also giving up the unconscious wish that they would (or could) love you without judgment.  This shift will cause you pain.  It's worth it!  When we hold on to our childhood we prevent ourselves from growing up and getting on.  I'm not asking you to develop amnesia.  I'm suggesting that you understand your family's limitations.  It's time to deconstruct the ivory tower.    

Make friends with your own warts and pimples.  We all have them (even cosmetic surgery leaves behind traces of flaws).  Instead of condemning yourself for your imperfections, try working on the ones that are getting in your way and leave the others alone - in this case, the art is in the mix.

I promise you, that if you let go of blame for seven days, you will find yourself to be more relaxed and less likely to be waiting for the hammer to fall.  We don't even realize the extent of the judgment we pass on ourselves.  "I shouldn't eat this", "I could have done a better job on that", "Where are the tea bags, I look tired this morning".  (Well, of course you look tired, you were up most of the night worrying over something you probably have little control over!).

When you retire the critical voices, or as many as you can, you can begin to understand that we do not live in a world of absolutes.  Given that, if someone does not respond to us in the way we wish, why do we turn it on ourselves?  Most of the time we are more interested in ourselves than anyone else is.  And... caveat... if someone persists in gazing at you ceaselessly and adoringly and can't even imagine that you have faults, be prepared for a bumpy landing. Wake up Sleeping Beauty, you need to be your own Prince Charming!

Give suspension of judgment a try.  You may feel an emptiness that heretofore you did not experience.  Be patient.  You have a choice to incorporate curiosity and wonder or something else that brings joy into your way of thought.  You can always retrieve your fault-finding self - we're not killing it, just giving it a little vacation away from our center. 
No one is content all the time, but it's not a bad goal to aim for.

"To expect life to treat you good is foolish as hoping a bull won't hit you because you are a vegetarian."  Roseanne Barr

 

December 2013
Keeping the Love

We've all heard that you can't be loved until you love yourself.  Well, that's true and not true. Love is transformational.  When love is healthy, our self-esteem rises and our horizons open in, sometimes, surprising ways.

We have to be healthy enough to be able to accept the affection of another.  If we are always looking for the "catch", believe that people only want to use us or decide that love will never last, you can bet that it won't.

Of course if someone who doesn't even know you declares their devotion, be skeptical.  In those cases, the other person has cast you onto some kind of magical pedestal where you become the flawless god or goddess of their dreams.  That, most definitely will not last.

It is no great achievement to fall in love at first sight.  It is a romantic construct that does not hold water.  Even if you want to believe you have mystical powers of perception and intuition, get over yourself - you don't.

Are you aware of what you value, of your own personal ethical code?  It's a good place to start.  You cannot go against the grain of what you believe to be right and wrong and live happily.  If your relationship forces you to feel compromised on a deep-seated level on a regular basis, you are in the wrong place.

It is not necessary to be alike, but, your values must work for each of you individually and as a couple.  How do you look at the world?  Is it a hostile place where dog eats dog?  Is there enough to go around for everyone?  Do you wish to dominate or be dominated?  There are so many parameters to consider.  If you're with someone who steals the wait person's tips off the table (which I have witnessed) and you think that is wrong, you have some serious differences here.  The "little" things can be very telling.

Can love last?  I say absolutely yes!  Now, granted, there are many definitions of "love", but, I'll go with what I understand love to be.  To me, it includes a deep respect for the welfare of the other person.  Do you appreciate who  your partner is?  Do you support his/her ambitions?  By this I mean, even if you do not agree with your partner, can you understand how he/she feels about a particular endeavor?  Do you get what about it is important, what it means to him/her. 

Couples who don't take the time to understand the meaning of events, the importance of certain happenings to each other, are missing the boat.  Remember, you came together, hopefully, as two complete and different human beings.  If you have ceased to (or never did) understand what makes your partner feel successful, productive, fulfilled, then I wonder just where is the love?

Has your relationship become sloppy, and do you focus only on how your beloved can assist your agenda?  If your relationship is about power and control you have something closer to a business arrangement (and not a very good one at that) than a marriage.  A power struggle should never be a part of your attachment.  When you focus on who has the leverage, you drift away from the important stuff like compassion, compromise and a trust that your partner has your best interest at heart.  If you can't trust your loved one's intentions and good will you are missing the very essence of what this very important connection is meant to provide.

We enter into unions for a reason.  That reason is that together we can make life better than standing on our own.  Somewhere along the line, many of us get off track.  We stop noticing our partner's expression when we say something that to him/her is hurtful.  We forget that we have a common goal.  Why turn the differences of opinion into battles?  If the playing ground is level there is no need for one of you to always get your way.  Believe me when I tell you that you are breeding resentment when you allow your attachment to become one-sided.

At the end of the day, do you want to be "victorious" or truly loved?  That is your decision to make.  Even if you are convinced that the way you do things is better, you are diminishing you partner's ability to utilize his/her own competence.  Here's a rule of thumb:  If what you are arguing about was not written on the tablets that Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai, (and even that has many interpretations) you are not the holder of perfect truth. 

A number of years ago I was visiting a friend who was helping her daughter take care of a newborn.  I watched as they debated (mostly my friend debated) over what the baby should wear after his bath.  The baby was simply staying at home and was not going to subjected to extreme weather or scrutinized by anyone but me, and I didn't care what he wore.  It was hard for me to make sense of this bickering, as I would have put on anything appropriate and gotten on with it.  Obviously there was a power play going on.  It still seems sad to me that something as innocuous as dressing a baby should ignite this.  I can only imagine the pain of resolving problems that have importance. If both of you focus on protecting each other and the relationship, you will be heading in the right direction.

"Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person's ultimate good as far as it can be obtained."  C.S. Lewis

January 2014
It Always Bites Back

Everyone expresses shock when a well-known celebrity dies from an overdose of a mind-altering substance.  The latest being Philip Seymour Hoffman, and his reported overdose of heroin.  Why are we surprised?  We have known for a very, very long time that sobriety is hard-won and maintaining that sobriety demands a lifetime commitment.

There are numerous theories as to whether one can or cannot "use" safely.  Why risk it?  If you don't dip your toe back into that particular pond, you won't have to worry.  There are always those who have to play Russian roulette (James Dean, Paul Walker), but if you can find any reason to stay alive, why do that?  If nothing else, think about whether it is possible that your individual life is a gift and go from there.  No one can tell you what to believe, but, please, think before taking dangerous chances.

My stand on addiction is based in what works and what does not.  I don't know the statistics, but, those who cannot regulate their appetite for a crutch that fills up a space between them and reality are allowing into their lives guilt, shame, misery, secretiveness, isolation from others and lowered self-esteem.  Why would you invite such a guest to the party that is, after all, you life?

If the behavior that we turn to as a prop allows us to speak up more truthfully, provides a temporary "high" or allows us to delay important decisions and tasks, it is likely that we have, at least, a dependency.  The line between dependency and addiction is perplexing and many an intelligent and talented individual has crossed that line without realizing what has happened.

If the dark side of oppression that accompanies the relinquishing of self-control were not so nightmarish, I don't believe I would be addressing this.  I have, both professionally and personally, looked at the destruction that accompanies the loss of self to mind altering substances and/or behavior and it is ugly; very, very, ugly.

Often, we turn to a "drug of choice" because we feel inadequate or overwhelmed.  We need a "small" escape from the demands that life has conferred upon us.  While we are so distracted, the problem never resolves itself or gets better.  We end up with the unpleasant knowledge that we believe ourselves to be inadequate, "less than" 
others we know. 

As we continue along the road to addiction, and (hopefully) recognize the losses we are accruing, we become more discouraged and less able to pull ourselves out of the whirlpool in which we have become entangled.  I have, personally witnessed mouth and breast cancer that were a direct result of the misuse of substances.  I have seen marriages and relationships within families dissolve.  Homelessness is often the consequence of a loss of faith in oneself.  Once the erosion has begun, unless an individual is extraordinarily fortunate, it is hard to climb out of the deep dark hole into to which they have fallen

A word about heroin.  Every several years we are taken aback when we learn that "nice" people from "good" homes have become involved with heroin.  I was educated by a colleague in the early 90's who taught me that heroin has been used by all classes of society for as far back as memory holds.  It is less expensive than prescription drugs, which are, currently, the gateway to heroin use and reportedly delivers a "high" like none other.  One problem is that the user's body adapts to the drug and within a short time more and more is needed to produce the desired effect. 

The need for more is what we find in all addictions, except, perhaps, end stage alcoholism.  In this case, as the liver becomes more diseased, less alcohol is needed to get the user drunk.  I once had a houseguest who arrived from out of town, came into my home and immediately had a seizure.  There were nips of vodka throughout her suitcase. 

You may have heard this many times, but the device you use to prop you up will, eventually, control you.  You will become mired in a world where you have one focus only - to repeat the "soothing" experience.  You will lose your observing ego and believe that you are smarter, funnier, more unique than you are while sober.  I often wish we could video an individual in the throes and have him/her watch it upon regaining sobriety.  The picture is not pretty.

It is very difficult to help a "user" gain temperance.  Most of the afflicted individuals I have come to know are perfectly nice, charming, and well-meaning.  No one gets up in the morning and says, "Gee, I think I'll become an addict today".  You are not smarter or stronger than your habit.  I say this with sadness, not judgment.  It is one of life's more painful experiences to watch someone you care about struggle and lose, struggle and lose.

Although few admit it, all of us feel intimidated by obstacles we encounter, relationships that break our hearts.  We pretend we're okay, but, in fact, often we are not.  I believe that we all need someone to confide in, to trust with our closely-held fears.  Allow someone to get close enough to you who can demonstrate they care for you when your world is falling apart.   Do not be held back by false pride.  

It may sound self-serving, but please speak to a trained professional who will not be surprised by your situation and will not judge you.  This relationship may be short term or may continue over the years - together, you can choose the most helpful course of action.

Do not give up on yourself!  Continue to try as you treat yourself kindly.  Vulnerability enters into the world with us and leaves when we depart.  In that way, we are all the same.

"All the suffering, stress, and addiction comes from not realizing you already are what you are looking for." John Kabat-Zinn    

 

 

February 2014

You Can Have it All... Part 1

Hold on there tiger, this is not a quick fix "give it to the universe" kind of message.  So, let's start with a question,  "Do you really know what all is for you"?  Let's just toss away the generalities and get specific.  If having it all is important to you, you have to do  a little work to find it.

1.  Do you know yourself?  Have you explored beneath the surface?  Are you stuck with who you always assumed you were?  How long has it been since you felt your heart melting or prancing with joy because this particular moment in time has filled you up; has seemed like dreams coming true? 

If you tell me that the special moment came when you purchased your luxury yacht, you can just stop reading.  If that yacht has real significance for you beyond impressing others (and yourself), for the moment, hang in there.  What import does that yacht really hold for you?  Does it symbolize freedom and dreams of being able to explore new worlds, new experiences?  Will you actually use it for that purpose?  Will you share your adventures or do you prefer to explore alone?  Are you willing to put the time and money into the maintenance it will require?  Are you sure you won't be felled by sea sickness?  What about unexpected storms?  If you have the answers to these (and there are many other) questions and still believe that yacht will bring you long-term happiness, by all means, enjoy it

You see, it really doesn't matter what I or anyone else thinks of your longings.  It makes no difference and deserves no judgment.  But, if you are looking for the life that feels like "you" you have to dig beneath the surface and figure out what you are really all about.

Are you able to be honest with yourself or are you so afraid of who you really are that you shy away from self-reflection?  Have you pre-judged, in a negative way, what you have never taken a look at?  My guess is that you are a far more harsh critic of yourself than anyone else could ever be.

After all, you are the one walking around with that negative, critical voice inside your head that never lets up.  That voice is comprised of the whisperings of  significant others.  You may have only heard part of the conversation.  Are you sure you heard all of what they had to say?  They may have, at one time, said you could not cook without burning the eggs.  You may have been 3 years old at the time.  Are you sure that what you've been carrying around is still relevant today?  Further, who cares if you can cook eggs anyway?

What do you believe about yourself?  Do you bury your so-called shortcomings way down deep so that you are mostly unaware of them?  They're still there you know.  Why are they, necessarily "bad".  You may never be a mechanic, but when you sing, it touches the hearts of others.  I think you know what I mean.  It is not possible to be equally talented in all areas.  If was possible, how would you know where you shine?  I'm pretty sure that even Leonardo Da Vinci couldn't ride a skateboard.
Getting to know your values, your goals, your beliefs, your passions is essential.  If you don't bother, to self-reflect, you may have a box at the opera, but the music, in your ears, is irritating and you always fall asleep or leave early. Why exactly do you bother showing up there? How many aspects of your life no longer carry significance?  Don't you think it would be a good idea to do some weeding here so that genuine satisfaction can flourish?

I can think of few situations that are more tragic than the individual who is so afraid of his/her fault lines that they are buried in cement where all they can do is fester and grow moldy. 

How can you have it all if you can't get down to specifics?  You want to look young.  Okay.  Why?  Is it because of the judgment of others?  Maybe it's because it is frightening to witness the changes that come with age.  It's okay to wish to avoid facing a daily reminder of your own mortality.  How far are you willing to go?  Are you afraid of surgery?  Does it worry you to put control of your face, or belly or ears in the hands of another individual?  Would you prefer your signs of aging to an artificial look of "work done"?  It doesn't matter what your answer is.  The only thing that's important is that it is your answer.  What does it take for you to be happy with you at any particular time?  

Remember, believing in yourself is free.  The "X factor" that we find most appealing is a grounded self-confidence.  If you really love and respect who you are, it will be contagious.  I happen to be married to an individual who has been through more painful and disabling illness than anyone should ever be subjected to.  He is optimistic, forward-looking and still willing to take a chance.  It is not surprising that I still consider him to be absolutely gorgeous - I love him.  But, when people who don't know him see the sparkle in his eyes, encounter his solid sense of self, engage in his good humor, the reaction is almost always the same.  "He is so handsome!"  I get that response from men and women.  He (Harry) has reinvented himself, more times that I can count, in such a way that he has a well-deserved pride in what he can accomplish.  He has dealt with pain and loss and now looks ahead.  He knows and values himself.  This is the book to take a page from.
To be continued...

To love yourself right now, just as you are, is to give yourself heaven. Don't wait until you die. If you wait, you die now. If you love, you live now. Alan Cohen

March 2014

Together Forever or Not???

Recurrently and with great frequency there has been a considerable amount of brouhaha regarding "Are we meant to stay together forever" or "Are we genetically programmed to change partners every [x] number of years"?  Before I begin, for the sake of transparency, allow me to inform you that I have been divorced once (stayed too long) and re-married once (can't get enough of him).  So, I am not mired on either side of this earth-shattering controversy.

I do believe that this "hot potato" will continue until humans discard the practice of partnering up with other humans - in other words, for, at least, the foreseeable future. 

Let us speak the unspeakable:  NO ONE KNOWS!!  There, it's been said.  For all the discussion about mourning doves and rabbits, we really do not have any solid idea about the validity of arguments on either side when it comes to human beings.

At the end of the day, it comes down to a matter of choice.  So, maybe our focus should be on the advisability of each of us taking responsibility for our own decisions.  Hmmm... where's the advantage in doing that?  Well, the payoff is that we end up being true to ourselves, and, it seems to me, that that is a large part of what being a grown up is all about. 

Ah... you say you are not ready to grow up?  Well, that is, also, your choice, but you will be a pretty funny looking "kid" at 65 collecting your Social Security (should it last).  You see, time marches on for all of us regardless of self-delusion.  The behavior that served you well at 3 is a little bizarre at 33.  You can choose to throw a temper tantrum.  There will be those who will respond and hand over control of the issue (probably just to shut you up).  The problem is, that if you could step back and observe your own behavior, you might find that you look pretty ridiculous.  Why not use the tools in your arsenal of operation that you have acquired over the years?  In this case, more choices is a real advantage.

Let's take the moral judgment out of the concept of to be or not to be (thank you Hamlet) dedicated to a single or to multiple partners, in a way of your choosing.  What is the motivation behind your choice?

Are you intrigued by the idea that a super duper mind-blowing experience is just around the bend?  Perhaps it is.  I wish you the best of luck with that one.  The vast majority of sexually active adults have a limited repertoire.  Of course, there's always the option to explore new territory(so to speak) with your present partner, but you may choose to go  a wanderin'.  Let's say you do find the breathtaking adventure of which you have dreamed.  What now?

Well, there are some facts you may have forgotten to consider. 1. How long do you think your new partner will continue with this level of enthusiasm?  One month?  6months?  2years? 2. What kind of temperament accompanies this sexual prowess?  Fidelity?  Impulse control? Unruffled conduct? 3. If you're looking for a long-term relationship, does your new squeeze share your point of view?

If you're just interested in putting some more notches in your belt, how long do you think your satisfaction will last?  Hey, a fling is a fling and that's fine, but, what will this do for you in the long run (other than, perhaps, passing along to you an STD)?  

As it has been said, (paraphrase)"Hearts are broken by dreams that come true".
This all brings me back to my eternal theme: Know Yourself.  If you really function most happily on a superficial level, that's fine.  I do wonder, however, if a time might come when you long for a little substance in your life.  Pace yourself.  What feels like the good life now might look mighty different 10 years from now.

Do not confuse sexual conquest with love.  Yes, sex is a very important part of a loving relationship.  What usually makes it special are the feelings you have for the other person.  Do not expect when you engage in "sport sex" that you will still find the jokes he tells over and over funny as time goes on.  Her complaining may seem justified initially, but, it will become wearisome, I promise you. It's not so much "familiarity breeds contempt" as it is that there are always boring and "down" times in a relationship.Of course you can hop from encounter to encounter.  My question to you is "who's going to be at the end of the bed when you really need them?".

I'm not at all convinced that we are "meant" to be any particular way.  If you have found an arrangement that feels good and right, that's wonderful.  Do I think you should stay forever in a toxic relationship - I didn't, why should you?  Just be honest with yourself.  We humans spend much too much time defending ourselves.  This is unnecessary and, probably, demeaning.  Stand by your decisions.  Sometimes none of the choices look so good.  Understand the reasons you select certain pathways for your life.  

Don't forget that as a living being you have intrinsic value.  Stand proud; learn from your mistakes; roll the dice - there's no telling what you may find.  Stay or leave, it's all up to you.

"What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you." Ralph Waldo Emerson

April 2014
You Can Have it All -- Part II

Now that you have figured out what really holds meaning for you in your life, it's time to get to some specifics. How much do you need and what do you imagine it will do for you?

The two most standard wishes reveal a desire for love and/or money.  That's understandable.  We thrive with healthy connection and require a certain amount of  capital to maintain safety and independence.  So, let's go with those two.

Love:  what kind, with whom, & how long must this last?

Are you looking for romantic love?  Well that's a reasonable wish.  How would this idealized notion look in your particular life?  Is it proven with flowers?  These days that's kind of old-fashioned and ordinary.  Is it exhibited by the number of contacts per day/week/month?  This has become especially prevalent in the world of texting.  It seems to be an insult when a text is not returned in "x "amount of time.  This leaves me to wonder... don't people work?  Go swimming? Ride horses, or do just about anything that would require free hands and a certain amount of concentration? 

I am very relieved that the important people in my life don't judge the depth of my feelings by the number of times I touch base. When I am working or focusing on something else that has captured my attention, I never think to initiate a call much less look for a text (maybe that's why I don't get many).  Frequency and true depth of feeling just don't correlate for me.

Do you desire a love that is tempestuous, passionate and full of fire?  That's okay, but, you may adjust to each other so well that the explosions diminish over time.  If you are fortunate enough to reach this stage of relationship, is it possible for passion to express itself differently?  Do you need the adrenaline rush more than the feeling of comfort and safety that may be the end result of the love you have found?
Have you considered the different types of love available?  Your love could come from your parents or children, from your friends, from the people you help in the workplace, even, and especially, your pets.  What exactly are you looking to receive from love?  

Will your life change permanently? This is a good question to consider in relation to all your dreams. Can you hold on to the feeling that comes with the experience of being loved?  How many creatures do you need over the course of your life who love you in order for this longing to be satisfied?  And, let's not forget, are you able to love yourself?

Your answers need not be limited.  This is not a test.  Just understand exactly what it is you desire.  If you cannot do that, you may well miss out on some life-enhancing opportunities.

Let's move along to the issue of finances.  Do you want to be wealthy?  How wealthy do you want to be?  Just holding on to a vague idea of  available resources will probably not take you very far.  What would the attainment of wealth mean to you?

Do you dream of one or more homes?  Where are they located?  Will you have help with maintenance or do it all yourself?  Will you need to live in close proximity to certain individuals, or, do you prefer to maintain distance and independence?

Maybe you want to travel.  Would that be a full-time calling? Do you think you might want to have a home base? Where would you go and why would you want to go there?  What do you wish to learn, which new adventures appeal to you?  Do you know why?

Perhaps what you especially want is security.  Do you know what that means to you?  What type of lifestyle do you think you need to attain or maintain?  What happens if you are introduced to an entirely new perspective? How would you resolve that?  What would you hold on to and what would you discard?

Is it your wish to incite envy in others?  What will that do for you? Think carefully before you choose this route, it will probably end in disaster.  Even if things are fine, your feeling of satisfaction won't last very long.

Are you a person with short-term or long-term goals?  Remember, the future will eventually be today, so, while I don't believe in needless worry, I would still take future probabilities into account.  At the same time, I believe it's foolish to postpone all pleasure for "later".  If happiness drops into your lap, by all means, do not ignore it.   

Which days will you be able to look back on as the happiest you have spent?  Do you consider a bad patch to be a failure?  There is so much to anticipate as a result of a desired outcome.  Use your imagination.  Try on different scenarios.  Dig a little deeper and discover what and how much and how long you need to hold on to what you wish for.  Of course, you want that blissful state to last forever, but, it won't.  What would be enough for you?  Be greedy, reach for the stars, but, stay in touch with your  heart's desire.  Be honest about how you really feel, not how you think you should feel.

Before you can have it "all" you need to define what "all" means to you.  You might be further along the road to your idyllic life than you ever imagined.  Wouldn't that be a wonderful surprise? 

Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so you shall become. Your vision is the promise of what you shall one day be; your ideal is the prophecy of what you shall at last unveil. James Allen
 

May 2014
Phenomenally Phenomenal

A unique voice is a rare treasure.  When that voice belongs to an individual of great heart, soul and mind, I would be hard pressed to name five.  I never met Maya Angelou or had the opportunity to hear her speak in person.  I have, however, taken the time to read a fair amount of her poetry and other writings.

Dr. Angelou had a way of phrasing things, that, when I heard them, I recognized that I had always wished for a way to express such sentiments, except I never knew that that was what I wanted to say.

The layers of meaning and nuance in her work inspire me.  At the same time, I can recognize talent and wisdom that go far beyond my reach.How a woman who didn't even finish high school could so command the English language (she spoke 5 others as well) is a mystery, and, further proof, if we needed it, that mastery goes beyond mere schooling.

I remember the first time I was just blown away by Dr. Angelou's writing. I happened upon the poem "Phenomenal Woman". This was in the 70's, and I, like many others, was struggling with the shift in women's roles in general and the unexpected expectations in my own.

"It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That's me." 

What a concept!  To be a strong, confident, self-actualizing woman was a good thing!  This was a far cry from my late, ex mother-in-law who told me that my husband would come home more often if I would clean the garage! (Fortunately, I didn't believe that was the solution to the problem).

Dr. Angelou was different from most of the leaders in the Women's Movement - she advocated building relationships with men, not going to war against them. She understood that splitting into factions was counter-productive.  That those with differing opinions were not the enemy,that it would behoove us to listen to and learn from those who saw things differently.

I come from a long line (at least 4 generations) of women who refuse to remain silent.  I appreciate that tradition increasingly as time goes on.  It would not occur to any of us to follow sheep-like over the cliff or to withhold a dissenting opinion.  In fact, although it was never said, we were rather proud of not quite fitting in with the rest of the crowd.  How fortunate we were (here's to you Dana, Alice & Amy) to have missed the shaming that accompanied phrases like, "Don't be too smart".  

Dr. Angelou took all of this to a much higher level.  She, I believe, understood the almost endless number of facets and opportunities that are available to many. 

"One isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest."

Potential -think about it.  The idea that we all have the germ of some strength within us that, heretofore, has remained unexplored.  Do you not think we were meant to test and investigate what lies inside?  I do. It's all about being the best you, as defined by you that you can possibly be.  

If you love to paint - paint.  If you love to play football - play football.  The only significant measuring stick for most of us is the joy and and satisfaction that lies in the doing.  The majority of us are not performing in hopes of a grant or scholarship.  Compete against yourself.  Do it with patience and kindness. Extend the same to others as they find their way. Honor the effort.  The real source of satisfaction is your commitment to the challenge to accomplish.

"I don't trust people who don't love themselves and tell me, 'I love you.' ... There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt."

While a healthy love can, most certainly, serve as an agent of transformation, if we don't believe that we are worthy of being loved, we will never be able to accept what is being offered to us.

Try thinking about your worth or lack thereof this way:  Do you believe that there is some undefined characteristic that you possess that makes you inherently unlovable?  Are you so strange, venal, ignorant or smelly that you hold a blue ribbon prize in your particular category?  Does every effort you make turn to dust, while others succeed?  To this I say, GET OVER YOURSELF!  

That's right.  Your ego is getting all mixed up with your innate sense of what is true.  You do not hold the world title in deficiency.  Even if you did, so what?  How would we measure such a quality?  There will always be someone, somewhere who will outdistance you in perceived self-contempt.  Your existence proves your worth.  Behavior can be changed.  Stop making such a big deal about it all.  

"My life has been one great big joke, a dance that's walked a song that's spoke, I laugh so hard I almost choke when I think about myself."

In other words, lighten up!  This is one of my personal mantras.  We are all significant yet insignificant. Unusual and every-day plain.  This is the duality and one should not come down on one side and neglect the other.  If you can't already, please learn to laugh at yourself. Banish shame and accept praise. It will make you feel better. 

"Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That's me."


Thank You Maya Angelou
This is dedicated to all of the phenomenal women and men who have blessed my life.

 

June 2014
Sunny or Cloudy - You Decide

If you have gone through life, and I hope you have not, feeling somewhat cheated, like you've missed the good things; like luck and happiness only happen to others; it is clear to me, that you don't really understand the concept of gratitude.

The first step, I believe, is to recognize when something nice comes your way. Stop, pay attention. If someone, you know or don't know, unexpectedly and without solicitation does something positive, that is a gift.  It doesn't have to be big.  

A few weeks ago I went to the market & I told the young man in back of me  to go ahead because my load was much larger than his.  He watched as I emptied my cart (I was getting a bunch of veggies for juicing) & that led to an interesting discussion on health and nutrition.  We shared ideas.  I wouldn't recognize him if I ran into him again, but, an ordinary run to the store turned into an interesting exchange and a brief meeting of the minds. I appreciate that. That is the kind of gratitude I am talking about. 

In no way am I suggesting that we pretend that troubles don't exist.  Denial leads to all kinds of toxic illness.  But, just as when we are angry with a friend we must still remember our fondness, so, with our lives, in painful times ,it is essential to remember the blessings that have been dropped in our paths.  I believe that this is important because to become enveloped in the darkness is defeating , life-threatening, and unnecessary.

My concern is always to seek ways to make life better.  Better in ways that, in our souls, we know are true. No one gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop all the time.  When we sink too deeply into self-pity it is all too easy to forget the times someone gave a helping hand or we witnessed an unexpected recovery or experienced the arrival of spring.

A lot of this is what we call common sense.  When we dwell on how this is missing or that's imperfect, it is impossible to feel positive about our lives.  Of course, the opposite is true as well.  Finding the small and large supports that we all have helps us crawl out of a hole that houses the dark twins: depression and despair. 

There are many who insist on looking at their lives in terms of black and white. It may be comforting to believe that if we follow certain rules we will consistently obtain the desired outcome. In fact, our end result and how we get there is attached to mystery.  We have a choice here.  We can accept the uncertainty and make peace with it or insist that we actually have control.  I'm afraid those who choose the latter will find themselves banging their heads against a very tough cement wall.   

So often I have heard, "but I've always thought of it that way".  That may be true, but if you give yourself a chance to explore and understand a new framework, you just might change your mind.  Of course it's work, but, at the end, you will find genuine peace and a sense of satisfaction.  If that's not, in your opinion, worth sweating for (metaphorically), then you can, of course, stay right where you are.  The problem is, if you stay, it might be in a place you don't like so much.

Traditions are fun and binding and remind us of the commonalities we share.  When we attach magical thinking to them we end up fooling ourselves.  The "universe" or whatever we want to call it, is not bound by our requests.  "Luck" is largely attached to hard work and our ability to understand a real opportunity when it comes our way.

This brings us back to gratitude.  When you believe that you have many things for which to be grateful, your outlook is, of course, more optimistic.  With a positive mood, we are able to recognize possibilities.  If we only consider our lives through a negative lens, we are likely to reject these opportunities because we are too blind and cynical to take them seriously.

I saw a posting on Facebook that said, "Relax, nothing is under control".  I pass it along to all of you.  Please stop running yourselves ragged in an attempt to keep a lid on your life - you will never find one that fits.

Look at your life as a whole.  It's easy to focus on separate incidents and place too much significance (good and bad) on certain parts.  Yes, you will face disenchantment at times.  The feelings that are attached to this will not  polish you off.  Stop running from yourself and stay the course - you are strong enough and you will benefit in the end.

Remember the moments of joy (I'm sure you can find some).  Stow them away in your memory.  These are not sad reminders of what you have lost.  Your recollections of  contentment and well-being are yours to call upon at any time.  We humans tend to believe the good times won't last and that the bad times will stay forever.

Take a realistic accounting of the pluses in your life.  You will inevitably find there is plenty to be grateful for. Happy or miserable to the end?  The choice is yours.  

At Times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person.  Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us
Albert Schweitzer

 
10th Anniversary Edition!
July 2014
Watermelon Summers

There it sat, on my kitchen counter - a watermelon the size of Montana.  Why was I surprised?  I had, after all, asked Harry to pick up a watermelon from one of the local stands.  Did I not know that Harry never underbuys?  Still and all, what would I ever do with this citrullus lanatus that lay in wait for me?

 
Sure, I could juice it, make smoothies with it, saladify it (my word) and eat it plain.  But, that would barely make a dent.

 
When I was a kid, growing up in D.C., my family would regularly hit the farms in the surrounding area and pick up bushels of peaches, cartons of fresh eggs, corn on the cob, and, yes, giant watermelons.  In those days my father could ask for a plug to be cut so that he could make sure the melon was sweet.  What did we ever do with all that produce?

 
We were merely a family of 3 living in a small apartment.  Storage space was not plenteous.  But, those were times when we knew all of our neighbors and it was common to share the "wealth" with everyone.  That was normal in my world, and I really didn't appreciate how special those excursions were at the time. I thought that was the way everybody lived.  

 
When I look back, now, at my mother's nutritional standards, I recognize that she was way ahead of her time.  Fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, never, never ever Wonder Bread - these were hard and fast rules in her kitchen.

 
One of my father's favorite snacks was to get beefsteak tomatoes (the real ones), slice them thick, and eat them on saltines.  This became one of my comfort foods.  I know, there are those who will say the saltines were processed and therefore, not so nutritionally sound, but, all in all it wasn't such an unhealthy way to eat.

 
My daughter and her family live in Brattleboro, Vermont.  It's a pretty special place where organic farms abound.  When I visit, I love to shop at the Brattleboro Co-op where a lot of the food (if not most of it) is locally-grown.  The aroma of field-grown produce (not the stuff made out of chemicals) reminds me of my childhood, and always resonates of "home". 

 
I am happy knowing that there are apartments above the Brattleboro Co-op and that when I am in my dotage and can't get around, I might be able to live in one of them and just go downstairs for my groceries. I love that idea - (After all, I am not, any longer, a cold weather girl and have zero desire to face those brutal winters).

 
It's ironic that all these years later, my husband has brought back into my life a spirit of sharing and abundance that has nothing to do with actual wealth.  This is especially awesome since he cannot eat any of the comestibles he so readily supplies for others.  He has recovered from mouth, tongue and throat cancer, which has left him unable to eat.  I do believe that he derives great vicarious pleasure from supplying food and watching others enjoy.  I have had to, laughingly, remind him that although it was very sweet that he brought home ten lovely bananas, I could not possibly finish them off before they rotted (these days it is unlikely that I will be baking banana bread or making banana pudding). 

 
I wish you could see Harry when he feeds our dogs.  Everything is perfectly blended, evenly divided and hand-fed when he notices that the contents of a bowl is not being immediately devoured.  Although I am quite certain that the dogs could care less (I bet they think he's a little extreme - that is, if they think!).  It really is so sweet that he takes care of the household's dietary needs, especially since he is limited to a liquid formula.  He was always this way, but now, it's especially touching.

 
Whether it's literally a sharing of the harvest or a pot luck gathering, there is something special and binding that happens when we get together and share the food.  In my grandparent's day every stranger was invited to sit at the table.  Today, most of us are afraid of strangers (for some very good reasons).  I guess it is another example of how disconnected we have become and how little we know about those who are not "us".

 
It is so interesting to me that I grew up in a family of generosity and that generosity remains a salient ingredient in my home today.  What I know is that the atmosphere in such a home is one of acceptance, an ability to notice and care for someone outside oneself, and a simple happiness that comes from living this way. 

 
There are no strings attached.  It would be pretty shabby to say, "I gave you half a dozen peaches, now you owe me!".  Who does that?  I hope not too many.  Helping because that is what we do, is a happy and fulfilling way to spend one's life.  We know the difference between the gift that carries the expectation of "pay back" - it makes me kind of queasy - and the one that is given "just because".

 
Well, eventually, I ran out of ways to use the watermelon the size of Montana 
 (I did give a lot of it away).  But, when I think about it, I have to laugh.  My husband with the over-sized heart brings with him gaiety and warmth.  How lucky am I? 

"Food, in the end, in our own tradition, is something holy. It's not about nutrients and calories. It's about sharing. It's about honesty. It's about identity."
Louise Fresco

 

August 2014
Before You Light That Match

I mean this figuratively.  You know when someone is rude, insulting, arrogant or blaming?  The idea of the perfect retort is comforting.  I know.  Once upon a time I was really, really good at that.  Not now.  I no longer have the desire to encourage the spark that can explode into a firestorm.  Let me explain...

 
Over the years I have learned that the satisfaction that accompanies the well-placed zinger is short-lived.  The worst outcome is when I have hurt someone because I have misunderstood the root of our conflict.  My once-so-clever rejoinder feels crude and unkind and the result is that it is hard for me to like myself.  Knowing I have now, needlessly, hurt two of us is painful.  There is no longer room for that kind of experience in my life.

 
To change, the first thing to do, that is indispensable, is to allow myself to feel the self-caused embarrassment that always follows.  This requires dropping the justifications I have allowed myself, stop defending and simply take responsibility.  Accepting accountability is an essential ingredient in the process of growing up.

 
Oh, so you're not sure you want to grow up Peter Pan.  Well, truth be told, when we insist on holding on to irresponsible behavior we are setting ourselves up for trouble.  There is no shame in being wrong, the shame is in refusing to acknowledge that and to learn from that.

 
Get to know yourself well enough that you strive to live up to your own standards.  As soon as you allow someone else's behavior to guide your own you are behaving reactively and forfeiting the benchmark you have set for your own conduct.  It's hard, if not impossible to stick to this at all times, but, when you can, you will not have to second guess yourself or feel disappointed in your own interactions.

 
We are experiencing times in which we are communicating more (via electronic devices) but connecting less.  It takes maturity and self-confidence to tackle an interpersonal difficulty face to face.  However, an in-person discussion is what will bring the most satisfying and complete resolution to the problem. Even if no agreement is reached, you have refused to hide behind a text or other distancing device.  If it's important enough to say, please, say it in the most direct way possible.  

 
It seems to me that we are, increasingly, becoming a society that rarely puts it's cards right on the table.  What inhibits us?  I've thought about this a lot, and believe that we fear the "explosion" we will receive from another.  Look, if you are dealing with someone who is unquestionably violent, the answer is, if possible, to stay away.  On the other hand, a display of emotion is not going to kill any of us, and, if the verbal release becomes abusive, there are ways to handle that:

 
1.  Tell the other person that when they insult you, it is impossible for you to hear what they're really trying to tell you.
2.  Put on your emotional raincoat.  If someone is trying to hurt or provoke you, why allow them to succeed?  What they are really showing you is their own fear or shame or disappointment.
3.  You can refuse to participate in a discussion that you believe is disrespectful (I don't care if it's your boss, you have the right to protect your own integrity).
4.  Recognize when you are dealing with someone with whom you will never be able to hold an honest dialogue.  If it's impossible, it's impossible - refuse to engage.

 
Of course I could probably write a book on all of this, but the point is, think before you respond.  Take your time, you can always tell someone that you hear them but have to think about it.  Do not go for the jugular - you might hit your target but you will end up with someone who resents you and just may hold on to the hurt.

 
There is another aspect of this that I have experienced and have found to be particularly thorny to deal with.   I call this "the curse of the strong".  I know, I'm being a tad dramatic here. Just as I believe that it's not always so great to be "the favorite", I have found that, being perceived as the "strong" one can be a double edged sword.  I've become aware that it's just not so great when others think you are emotionally indestructible. It's hard to know what to do when this occurs, but I have discovered that silently taking it is not a good idea. If it hurts, it's really important to say "ouch".

 
Do not ever, ever, ever apologize for being strong, intelligent, resilient. My parents taught me that and it was one of their greatest gifts to me.  For those who like things to be quantifiable, who need to put people and things into neat little boxes, this will be a problem.  If you find yourself taking the heat because it is assumed you can, correct the misperception. Do not allow yourself to be reduced to a caricature because it makes life simpler for someone else.  Not everyone is happy when you commit to being true to yourself - it can be a bumpy ride. 

 
I view life as a process of refining, improving, learning and growing.  I will surely attempt to do that until the day I no longer can.

Be the commander and navigator of your time on earth.  Listen, pay attention, avoid repeating the same missteps.  Your existence is about being the best you that you can possibly be - as defined by YOU.  Life is a challenge - you can handle it - in fact, you must.

My greatest challenge has been to change the mindset of people. Mindsets play strange tricks on us. We see things the way our minds have instructed our eyes to see. Muhammad Yunus

November 2014
Celebrating...you!!

How long has it been since you have made a positive appraisal of yourself?  I'm guessing it's been quite a while.  As negative monkey chatter fills your head and warps the way you think about yourself, how often to you simply stop and pay attention to all the things about you that are right?

Living on the negative side of the equation that is your life is just as misleading as denying your limitations.  We humans tend to have a tough time owning our success and our talent.  I don't think that makes a lot of sense.

You see, strength breeds strength.  The confidence we gain as we handle difficult turns in our lives counts for something.  In fact, it counts for a lot.  The more often you know (after initially feeling overwhelmed) that you can handle whatever "this" is, the closer you get to understanding that we, ourselves, are the most important gift we have ever received.

I hope there will always be those who love us; those who want to help us; those who challenge us; and those we must learn to live without.  I wish for all of us many of "those".  

The real nucleus for all of us is that when everything is stripped away, which it will be, eventually... is that ourself is always with us.  Our essential "selves" are comprised of so many particles that it is simplistic to try to reduce that mass into a few categories.  I must do that, however, in order to share thoughts with you about this entity we call "ourselves".

We were born with a particular physicality.  We are inundated with nearly impossible images of what our bodies, our faces, our hair, etc. "should" look like.  Being impressionable, many of us, have spent a great deal of time trying to emulate these ideals.  When I was much younger I used to think that if I was skinny enough that my legs would look longer in proportion to the rest of my body.  Skinny was achievable, long legs??? Nah!  

Our bodies are our homes, our faces reflect our thoughts and feelings and moods - that's pretty miraculous stuff.  I am all for taking care of our physical selves.  In fact, this is at the top of the list of my priorities.  I owe this body and this face a great deal.  They have been down a long road with me.  They are always there. It would, in my opinion, be stupid and ungrateful to revile the part of me that is tangible.  Everything in the material world bears the signature of time.  Try making friends with your physical self - it feels good.

Let's take a look at our minds and talents.  Have you learned by now that your so-called IQ has little to do with overall happiness?  Appreciate your talents and, please, stop troubling yourself about skills that have passed you by.  I spent years feeling embarrassed by  my lack of balance.  Then I wised up -  I'll never win The Tour de France - so what !

I'm willing to bet that you have all the brain power you need to live a life that is meaningful to you.  There are so many types of intelligence - who says it's better to figure out a mathematical equation than to repair an engine? (I, of course, can do neither).

What kind of a person are you?  Spiritual? Generous? Judgmental? Petty? Forgiving?  It's a good idea to spend some time thinking about that.  We have a lifetime to become "who" we desire to be.  These areas can always be beefed up or pared down.  Do you have the courage to be honest with yourself?  Give it a try.  Remember, you are surrounded by fragile beings, just like you, who, just like you, can, if they wish , focus on the traits that will make them (you) feel good about themselves (yourself).

If you run away from who you are, who do you think will stand by you?  Our most poignant human desire is to be seen, exactly as we are, and be loved in spite of ourselves.  Our greatest human fear is that this is impossible.  If you turn your back on you; live in a world of shame; refuse to accept and make amends for behaviors that deprive you of self-respect, then who in the mortal realm do you think will?  Forgiveness from others doesn't hold a candle to the forgiveness we grant ourselves.  Please read this paragraph over again - this is important stuff.  This is the core, the nub that allows us to know that this life we live is all it could possibly be.

It is imperative to like, love and appreciate the person who looks back at you in the mirror.  Idealistic as it may sound, I know that each of us is perfectly who we are supposed to be.  It is never too late to believe that about yourself.  It will take some practice to remember that you are second to none.  This is not vanity, this is reality.  

One person is not better than another - I don't care how revered an individual might be.  We fall from our pedestals, which is probably a good thing, (minus the cruelty that is often attached). 

The essential you is perfect.  The you that has not been persuaded to compare yourself to others and develop a hierarchy is actually pretty pure.  

I have had the privilege to be present at a death bed on a few occasions.  This might seem like a strange thing to say, but, to me, to witness the mystery of the line between life and death can be nothing but a privilege.  There comes a time when we are on a journey with no mortal companionship.  Don't you want to make that journey with a "you" that you trust, respect, believe in?  Of course you do.  This opportunity is open to all.  You are your greatest gift, you are always there.

"To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life."  Robert Louis Stevenson  

         
December 2014
I'm Ba-a-a-ack

What does that mean?  Well, allow me to explain.

Last week my cell phone was stolen.  It was an old iPhone, didn't even have Siri on it, but it was taken anyway.  I was furious, just furious!  My adrenaline went surging and didn't really calm down for about 15 hours.  I was back in old fighting form and, mostly, didn't care what I had to do to get my phone back.         

I set off the alarm, put the phone on "lost phone" mode, enabled the tracker & sent a message demanding that it be returned.  My home phone rang and it was the person who stole it, saying she wanted to return it.  I was to pick it up at a Dollar store in a pretty nasty neighborhood at night.

Being in full "fight" mode I didn't consider that it could have been a set-up and that it probably wasn't smart to go to said Dollar store.  I just wanted my damn phone!  

So, off I want to the dangerous locale (which is a good way from my home) and roared in demanding my phone.  Well, the clerk who had said he had it claimed that he returned it to the lady who called me.  The runaround went on for about 10 minutes and even I could see that standing there arguing was useless.

Next, I went to a large, well-lit gas station up the road, used their phone and called 911.  They said they would send someone over.  When I hung up, a policeman, who I knew wasn't there to help me came into the store.  Even though I knew he wasn't "mine", I told him my predicament.

"You expect me to help you find your lost phone"? says he in a not very nice way.  Well, since I was crazed, my reply was, "Yes, I do. I know it's not murder and that it's not important to you but it's very important to me.  By the way, I didn't lose it, it was stolen".

I think he realized that he was speaking to a person caught up in temporary fanaticism, so he calmed down significantly (he never was very nice).  At that point "my" policeman arrived and was much more open to treating my dilemma as something that deserved some attention.  The first guy's last words to me were, "I don't even have an iPhone".  I let him know that Verizon would be happy to sell him an old one like mine for about $30.

The second policeman accompanied me back to the Dollar store (I wanted to let them  know that I was serious).  Well, after all that, I didn't get my phone and knew the chase was over.  I did, however, continue to sound the phone alarm, just in case it still worked.  I did this at 3 and 7 a.m.  Childish, I know.  But, maybe there's more to it than that.

I was brought up in a home where "good girls" could get angry and speak their mind.  How lucky for me!  I have never, willingly, been a victim.  I don't always win, but I put up a good fight.  I love it that I am able to defend myself.  The outcome doesn't matter to me as much as the fact that I know that I can and will defend myself when appropriate and necessary. 

Those who have known me for a very long time know that I was always ready to enter the fray.  As time went on, I learned that that behavior did not always serve me well.  So, I calmed down and learned that a lot of what happens in life does not require a response from me.

I like living in a more tempered way.  I believe that is a good way to deal with the world.  There are times, however, when out of a sense of what's right, or self-respect, or in the course of defending oneself or another, when passivity not only is not appropriate, it may encourage or perpetuate a bad situation.  Knowing when to speak up and how to speak up makes it more likely that each of us will be able to live in a way that feels balanced.

By now you must know that we humans have little to no control.  Ten years ago the tsunami hit Indonesia and changed life in unimaginable ways.  The Titanic sank.  This year, Joan Rivers, a wealthy, savvy and celebrated woman died during an endoscopy where supposedly top notch doctors failed to notice changes in her vital signs.  All of us are vulnerable all the time - we just can't live thinking about that.  If we did, nothing would bring us joy.

Check in with your inner warrior.  Make sure he/she has a pretty good take on situations and people that may prove to be unhealthy or dangerous.  If you must be fearful of the response of someone in your life when you protest their behavior, try to keep them as far away (metaphorically and literally) as possible.  Fortunately the majority of the people you know can get angry without becoming violent.  An argument just may clear the air and lead the way to a better relationship.  If you routinely feel like your needs and wants are not important, if possible, extricate yourself from that environment.

I am tickled pink that my "go get 'em" was available after all this time.  I feel relevant and connected and alive.  Don't ever count yourself down and out. Your inner mercenary is probably just waiting for your signal. 

"The wicked flee when no man pursues but the righteous are bold as a lion."
 Proverbs 28:1

January 2015
Talking - Why Bother?

Does it really make a difference if you text rather than talk?  Email rather than phone?  Phone rather than meet face to face?  Of course it does, so let's consider a few ideas on the subject.

I love electronics.  If I had the time, money & patience to learn, I would have more and use them more.  The one thing that these devices will never replace, however, is human, look in my eyes, contact.

We are losing some very important communication skills as well as those that build character when we hide behind a tablet or other device.

Let's start with what seems to be the most daunting of the interpersonal skills - confrontation.  Allow me to remind you that confrontation does not have to be hostile.  It really is simply a matter of letting the other person know what is bothering you.  If you manage to not feel guilty as you are expressing yourself, you will find that it's not so hard to teach another how you wish to be treated.  Do not turn this into an ultimatum and do not become abusive as you are putting your point across.  When others know that you will give them straight talk, they will think (hopefully) before they speak and (if they're not total dunces) will respect you for standing up for what you think is right.

Unless your use of the written word is clear and specific, you are taking the risk of being misunderstood.  You may know what you wish to say.  The person on the other end cannot know what is going on in your head - what remains unspoken.  The purpose of a text is to be brief.  Choose your words wisely.

We humans need to feel a connection to one another.  It is innate.  While we may deny that we yearn to be seen and understood, there is no escaping what nature has delivered into our DNA.  In order to be understood we humans must take the risk of self-revelation. Those who are unable to hazard the possibility of letting anyone in will face loneliness, and often, the difficulties that accompany addiction.  Nothing is more lonely than turning to a substance rather than another human being.

I have, naturally, heard many stories over the course of my practice as a psychotherapist(Clinical Social Worker).  In the past few years, when the problem of infidelity has been brought to my attention I have found that more often than not, the unsuspecting partner has stumbled across a text or email that gives the deception away.  Yet, those who are "caught" are quick to try to turn the table around and accuse the other of being nosey, needlessly suspicious. Grow up!! Don't put anything in "writing".  I was taught that long before the dawn of the Computer Age.  While I believe that most of the time the infidelity is a misstep, being careless with the tangible proof of your deception is just plain arrogant and stupid!  If you are unhappy in your relationship, try talking about it!!

Most of us in my profession spend a fair amount of time assessing the benefits of "talk therapy".  It is much easier to pop a pill.  It is truly beneficial to meditate and to exercise.  What cannot be replaced, however is the intimacy of the space in which one human's heart and soul are shared with another.  Nothing replaces the trust and mutual respect that can bloom in the therapeutic setting. As I watch a client approach my door, I learn so much from the way that individual  gets out of his/her car, the walk, the "air" about that person before the session even starts.  I cannot do this when "talk therapy" is limited to the telephone or over the internet.  We can have useful sessions via electronics, but, nothing replaces being in the same space, in each other's presence.

There is a practical aspect to in-person therapy sessions as well.  When we talk, when we work collaboratively, we use a different part of our brain than we do at other times.  Our discussion triggers  creative thoughts and understandings that would not otherwise occur.  The synergy that flows from this type of therapeutic process cannot be duplicated in other forums.  At its very best, I feel as if I am given the privilege of viewing another's soul.  It is breathtaking.

If you have decided that you no longer wish to continue a romantic relationship, I beg you to man-woman-up and break the news in person.  No one deserves to be "ditched" by text.   The tactic of "fading away" is no better.  It is cruel and cowardly to use this approach.  If the person on the other end must face your rejection, you can certainly tolerate the response you will receive (unless they decide to shoot you - just kidding!)  Tackling these difficult situations will prepare you for complexities that are bound to materialize as you continue on your life's journey.

To the best of your ability be honest, be fair, be respectful.  Take an opportunity to examine your own feelings of shame.  With proper assistance you will find that you are no different from the rest of humanity.  Reality is hard.  Do not be too proud to ask for help.  We are biologically structured to need the presence of others in our lives.  This is not weakness, it is simply what is. 

Life doesn't make any sense without interdependence. We need each other, and the sooner we learn that, the better for us all.
Erik Erikson

 

February 2015
Is it Worth the Downside?

 

What am I talking about?  Just a little thing called love.  Love is such an individual concept that I would not even begin to try to define or quantify what love is.  What I do know is that a very particular feeling of connectedness, appreciation and well-being accompany this sentiment when it is experienced in a way that is wholesome and opens the heart to life's joy. 

I do not believe that love must necessarily be romantic, although it is lovely when it is.  We can feel love for a person, a pet or a place.  It often includes a feeling of warmth and serenity like no other.

Recently, I read a quote, "...grief...it's the price of love" (author unknown).  I believe that to be true.  That is the downside of the heart taking wing - it cannot last forever.  Unlike the movie, "The Notebook" it is not likely that we will leave this world accompanied by the object of our deepest affection . 

I have had my share of losses and know that coming to terms with the inevitability of bereavement  is the most difficult task we face through life.  It does not get easier with age. 

Do not try to fight your feelings of despair - they will only intensify if you do.  It is hard to accept something that brings along searing pain as its companion. You cannot begin to really reach peace or acceptance if you attempt to deny the loss.

So... is it worthwhile to love?  In my opinion life without love isn't much of a life at all.  Keeping the heart protected, allowing it to harden and mummify, is only a symptom of a deeper longing for and fear of love.  

Those who are incapable of caring (we usually call them narcissists) find themselves sunk in loneliness.  The experience of emptiness that is a result must be, I imagine, excruciating to bear.  These individuals cannot love themselves (although they often hide behind arrogance) and their dark secret is that they believe they are unlovable.

While I have read occasional reports of people who have died from a broken heart, please allow me to assure you that this occurrence should be low on your list of concerns.  More likely than not, your heart is more resilient than that.  There are many sound arguments for continuing to not only live, but to embrace life after a loss.

Probably my favorite reason came from my father.  When the poodle killed the hamster and one of my children, in particular, was struggling with his love for both, my Dad said, "It's the laws of nature".  Spot on!  The chain of life supports  evidence that, one way or another, we will all live and die and something (it may be our own bodies) gets the better of us eventually.  How can we argue with the replacement of life as an ongoing certainly.  It doesn't matter that we may not like this truth, it simply is true. 

Think about this - do you wish to honor the gift of love you have been given?  There is no honor in self-destruction.  When we can remember our gratitude for an indescribable relationship, it allows us, in the midst of our mourning, to go forward.  Helping a person or a cause is a wonderful choice at this time. As we care for another, we cannot help but to heal ourselves.

So often, when we begin to ask "why?" we find the answer in blaming ourselves.  The truth is, it is unlikely that you are that powerful .In addition, that explanation is too simplistic.  

We can always alter our own behavior.  It makes sense to do more of what works for us.  But, as hard as it may be to accept, there is no formula, no sure fire way to eliminate hurt and disappointment in our lives.  I believe that when we avoid our tender feelings, we close down our joyful ones as well.The more impenetrable the walls we erect, the more likely it is that we are condemning ourselves to life in a self-made dungeon.

If you want my advice, I say, open your heart and take a chance.  Now, I'm not telling you to hurl yourself at the next attractive opportunity that comes your way.  That may work for some, but the odds are against you.  I will continue to beat that old horse that says "know yourself".  And, by the way, you are not the same person you were 10 years ago or even 6 months ago.  Life changes us.  Our values and needs shift.  Try to be very clear with yourself as to what you truly desire.  Those with a significant amount of self-knowledge are probably going to make the best choices.

A friend of mine, who breeds dogs, experiences more suffering than regular pet owners.  When you have more, you, by necessity, lose more.  I asked her how she could tolerate all the deaths.  She told me that she might take to her bed for a day, but, if she stopped raising them she would also miss the wonder attached to the birth of the new pups when they arrived.  My friend Susan is a wise woman and I count her words among those I have stashed away for a time when I will be needing them.   

To die in love for someone is not the big thing. To live with that pain with smile forever is the great real achievement. Unknown

 

 

March 2015
Making Friends With Temporary

Letting go is hard.  Sometimes it's a relief, but, even then, it's complicated.  Anything that feels like a loss is likely to remind us of other losses, large and small.  Yet, when you really think about it, we spend a lifetime relinquishing, voluntarily and involuntarily, things, people, pets, ideas, youth, stages of life, etc.  As I said in my last newsletter, those are the laws of nature.

One of the difficulties of change, because that's what it really is, is that we're never really prepared.  Even the changes that we plan for and look forward to can throw us for a loop when they arrive.

I know that I always believe that change, in the form of loss, is going to happen tomorrow, never today.  I say to myself, "I know it's coming, but, when it does, it still takes my breath away.

In order to live our lives in a way that optimizes our potential for happiness, there is some accepting we must do.  Yes, there are times when we can turn a situation around, but not always.  Some spend an inordinate amount of time attempting to maintain the status quo, thereby, remaining stuck, rather like the dinosaurs, in the mud of transition.

How about if we really knew, deep down that loss is inevitable?  Suppose we could focus on the things we treasure, enjoy them to the fullest, and then, when it was time to move on we let go in a more useful way?  I'm not suggesting that we not mourn, but there are things we do to ourselves after loss that are painful and cruel.

"Could I have prevented it?"; "Did I make the right decision?"; "Was it my fault?" are just some of the things we say to ourselves.  So often our "monkey chatter" takes over and we are persecuted by our own thoughts and lack of self-confidence.  It's awful, I see it (and have lived it) over and over.

It's hard to accept our powerlessness, but, once we really do, life can take a turn for the better.  When we know that G-d, the universe, fate, destiny, or whatever we believe in, is really in charge, we can make peace with ourselves.  Not to say, just lie back and let things happen.  What I'm really saying is always give it your best, be prepared, fight for what you believe in, and then, when the puzzle pieces still don't fit, trust that this is not yours to decide.

One of the traps we fall into is that we forget to search for the positives within our altered circumstances.  I do believe that, most of the time, we can anticipate a new adventure, with its pluses and minuses, and confidently move forward.  If we are not wedded to a life story we have laid out for ourselves, unforeseen possibilities open up for us.  Most of the time, our planned chronicle is overturned by events over which we have no control.

Even in the most dire circumstances, if we are willing to consider an alternate path, we can find our way to a new form of happiness.  There are people with terrible illness who are so grateful to be alive that they do not trouble themselves with what could have been.

I have witnessed this reasoning in cancer hospitals, heard the stories of survivors of wars, and, presently, live with a husband who truly believes each day is a gift.  It is  inspirational and awesome to watch my husband, who copes  with multiple illnesses, endures chronic pain, and is unable to eat, genuinely greet each day as the gift that it is.  I strive to match his optimism.

When we "get it" that we don't own anything, we are beginning to find a way to accept the inevitability of hardship.  With this understanding, we can learn to value what we have.  The things that each of us take for granted, would ,likely, be seen as unreachable by another.

Reversing our thinking and appreciating the blessings that have come our way, not only makes sense, but leads to a healthier existence.  "I cried because I hadn't any shoes until I met a man who hadn't any feet" is a Persian proverb that my father quoted frequently.  I don't think I appreciated it's wisdom until I got older (it probably annoyed me when he said it), but, today, I understand.

We don't own anything:  our lives; people; money; status; youth; friendship, or good fortune.  It's so easy to rail that life is unfair.  That's true, but, adversity is handed out to everyone.  Just because we don't see another's suffering does not mean it is not there.

Some individuals seem to be hit by tribulation over and over again.  What about those who appear to have everything, but cannot rejoice or find peace within themselves?  If your blessings fail to make you happy, you are, most certainly, on the wrong path.

Many years ago I possessed everything that I believed would make me happy.  I was miserable.  At that time I promised myself that I would never forget the lesson I was learning.  I have always remembered.  Although many challenges have been scattered before me, I know that by changing my priorities, I have, actually, had everything in life that I could have wished for.  I cannot even begin to explain the peace this has brought into my life.

Accept impermanence, savor your blessings, and live the life that, for you, holds the most significance.

"We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses." Carl Jung

     

April 2015
The Enchantment Above

"Somewhere Over the Rainbow" was written by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg in 1939 for "The Wizard of Oz".  The song evokes powerful feelings of longing, wistfulness and, most importantly, hope.  It is hard to name another song, that is not patriotic, that has endured and retained it's hold over our deepest, most closely held yearnings.  To this day, it is hard to find a singing competition in which some contestant does not pull "Rainbow" from a pocket and send listeners into an altered state of "awww".  Even the most sophisticated audiences are moved by the words and melody that touch our childish and "adultish" wishes for that place where "dreams really do come true".

Yip Harburg was the son of immigrants. It is believed that as a lyricist  that certain inescapable historical events influenced his point-of-view as he wrote the words for "Rainbow".  

Harburg's family originated in the Russian Pale of Settlement, which was the part of the Russian empire in which Jews were allowed to live.Life in these villages or shtetls was hard and the people who lived there learned to expect progroms, or devastating raids sponsored by the Russian empire.  

Hope was often kept alive by dreams of escape, especially to America.  The vision of streets paved with gold and the freedom to "be" was held dear and around the turn of the 20th century, large numbers of Russian Jews took off for the land of possibilities.

The Great Depression of the 1930's dimmed American optimism. The Dust Bowl devastated farm families, in particular. The years between 1933 and 1939 left many feeling dazed and defeated. Industrious, innocent people lost their worldly goods, and with them, the ability to support their families. The belief in reward for hard work was turned upside down.

The unimaginable desecration of human life that occurred when the Nazi concentration camps were built between 1933 and 1939 led to an undercurrent of the knowledge  of the presence of malignancy in the world.   While it is impossible to know how much  Yip Harburg knew about these camps, which were kept under wraps,  it is not too far out there to imagine that the unthinkable cruelty, that was found to be acceptable, influenced his thoughts as he wrote the lyrics to the song.

When, no matter how hard we try, we cannot find a way to make life bearable, what do we do?  Violence is one solution, as we have seen in this country and around the world.  Another option is the dream of escape.  When we can believe in a place where "troubles melt like lemon drops" we hold on to hope, warranted or not, that something better lies ahead.

There are many hardships that we are able to endure.  Hardship without hope, however, leads to the literal and metaphorical death of the human spirit.  While I have never personally experienced the human degradation that prevailed in the Russian Pale, the Dust Bowl or Nazi Germany, I have encountered over and over individuals who believe that even their best and most consistent efforts have failed to result in the belief that life is worth living.

It may sound absurd to compare "normal" despair to that which emerges from unthinkable life circumstances, but hopelessness is hopelessness and some are better equipped to tolerate misfortune and tragedy than others.

In my own life, I have learned that creating an alternative prophecy for the future helps me to get through what feels insurmountable today.  It doesn't seem to matter if my fantasy for the days ahead doesn't make a lot of sense - I am not terribly picky about the details.  What helps is the conviction that at "x" time "x y and z" will occur and that I will not remain stuck in what feels like an inalterable, intolerable reality.

No, I am not insane (not yet anyway).  It would be amazing if my fantasy that after death I will live on a cloud surrounded by an invisible fence that bars folks who get on my nerves from entering really comes true.  I find it quite comforting,however, to believe I will have the opportunity to re-encounter loved ones lost and protection from those whose presence in my life has proven to be toxic.

Faith in the possibility of an acceptable outcome has helped many survive in the darkest of times.  If this is childish, as some claim, so what?  I'm not sure that any of us ever feel like full-blown adults.  If the child (or the pragmatic adult) can discover a dream, a wish to hold on to, I say, "so be it". 

The ability of "Rainbow" to stir emotions in generations over time confirms, once again, our interconnectedness. I have no doubt that the survivors of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, those living in refugee camps in Uganda and Chad, individuals suffering from unreported chronic diseases resulting from the war in Syria could use some belief in that place that is over the rainbow.  Maybe the dream is of heaven, maybe not.

The wistfulness that accompanies the sense of something lost; the collective memory of expulsion from the Garden of Eden, resides in us all.  It must be there, it must be true - otherwise, how do I go on?

The answer to that question is, "bring the peace inside, learn to believe in your personal worthiness."  If you are okay with yourself, you will survive and thrive.  So often I am asked, how do I change?  I often feel like a Nike ad and want to say "Just do it".  Recognize your ability to give and receive love.  When we learn just how valuable we all are, then we are truly already over the rainbow.     
    
"Be thou the rainbow in the storms of life. The evening beam that smiles the clouds away, and tints tomorrow with prophetic ray." Lord Byron

May 2015
Lessons from My Juicer

About 2 years ago I decided that a good way for me to consume more vegetables was to purchase a vegetable juicer.  The cost of juicer "A" was prohibitive and I got a great deal on juicer "B".  So far so good.

Now, I had never tried to use any vegetable juicer, so I made assumptions about "A" that I then applied to "B".  Among these:  a)I shouldn't have to peel anything b)I shouldn't have to chop anything up c) there would be no problems with the device clogging  and stalling.  You can see where this is headed.

First, just putting the darn thing together just about put me under the table.  This device seemed to magically work or not work as it was controlled, I was convinced, by the whims of fate or evil fairies.  I did get some help (thank you Harry), but it took a very, very long time before I bothered to pay attention to what "B" was trying to tell me about the sensible rules I needed to follow.  The voice inside my head kept saying, "If I had juicer "A" I wouldn't have all these problems".  It was all the juicer's fault.

Since I had decided that "B" was defective, I complained about how long it took to obtain a pint-sized Mason jar full of juice.  The @**!!? thing kept stopping and jamming and making a mess that was driving me crazy.  It is embarrassing to admit how long it took me to figure out the problem (almost 2 years), which was ME!

All of this led me to wonder how often I refused to acknowledge "what was" and tried to bend real life to my own skewed and stubborn vision. That I often refused to see my vision for the masquerade that it was.

Now, I'm really good about giving other people advice.  The feedback that I receive is that I can be quite helpful.  I never hesitate to remind someone that "the dog can't sing".  What I mean by this is that we can wish that someone we care for has certain characteristics such as understanding, a sense of humor, or compassion.  The truth is, that while some things can be taught, others cannot.  So, my best example is even though I love my dog and my dog loves me and I want him to sing an aria from "Carmen" and he wants to sing an aria from "Carmen" the truth is, the DOG CAN'T SING!  

We can, and do, drive ourselves crazy with this.  It's near impossible to understand that if we possess these attributes, why another may not or may exhibit them differently. Are they hidden deep down inside?  If we are great role models can't we prompt a little growth and blossoming in someone else?  In some cases, yes.  In others, it is futile.  A long time ago someone that I cared about told me that I was looking for a depth that wasn't there.  I couldn't believe it.  But, truth be told, as Maya Angelou said, "When someone tells you about themselves, believe them".

(An important side note here:  we may not be as evolved as we think we are.)

It's so easy to see things  the way we want them to be.  When applied to an inanimate object like a juicer, it really is no big deal.  When we apply our vision to our relationships it is a huge deal, and often, a heartbreaker.

You may believe that if you treat in individual with kindness and a generosity of spirit that you will be treated that way in return.  Then, to your surprise, your gifts are taken for granted.  Your kindness is interpreted as weakness.  Worse yet, the other person may not even recognize your big heartedness.  A wise rule to follow is, "if it costs too much emotionally or financially, stop giving".  You will never be able to put those glasses on an individual who does not wish to see.

We filter our perception of the world in a way that fits our particular point-of-view.  One of the many reasons we do this is that we feel secure when all the pieces line up the way we want them to.  The problem is, that no two people hold the exact  same sense of what is real.  This can be not so serious - as with ideas about the quality of a juicer and very significant when we make decisions about relationships, finances and health.

I have, once again, learned that it is misguided to make assumptions.  When I think I know it all I cut off avenues of understanding.  Often, when I spin what I am experiencing, I miss the whole point.

It is really hard to "get" it that our conclusions do not represent THE TRUTH. I attended a conference where the speaker said, "Just because you believe it doesn't mean it's true".  It was important for me to hear that. We live in a world of relativity.  It seems we always have and, until further notice, are likely to continue on that road. 

It makes sense for us to re-evaluate our standards from time to time.  There are some we will hold on to forever.  Others, may need modification as we go along.  It's a double edged sword - it is essential to be true to ourselves while questioning what still holds true and what needs a second look.

At this point I have to say that I really appreciate my $89.99 juicer and am unlikely to trade it in for model "A".  We can always learn, we just have to be willing. 

When we believe in lies, we cannot see the truth, so we make thousands of assumptions and we take them as truth. One of the biggest assumptions that we make is that the lies we believe are the truth!
Miguel Angel Ruiz

June 2015
It Wouldn't Hurt

You could set out on a journey with no directions, headed  toward a specific address. If you had no idea as to where that address is located, you might stumble upon it, you might even take a direct route, but, it's extremely unlikely.

When looking for adventure and surprise, we might head west and see what we encounter along the way.  That could be fun.  However, in living our lives, it's a pretty good idea to have some notion, some visualization, of what we would like our life to look like.  When examining a possible future with a partner this is particularly important.  One of the most common reasons that relationships fail is because we don't both want the same thing.

Now, I'm not a fan of rigid planning - some aspect of that is bound to go wrong and it will be, most likely, outdated at one point, and, oh no!, boring.  I also don't believe in "borrowing" problems that have not yet occurred, but, we are talking about your one and only life here, don't you think that warrants some significant thought?

Several years ago, as I was finishing my MSW, my dream was to be living in Boston.  My heart was set on residing in one of the wonderful old buildings in the city, driving a red sports car, and having the ability to walk to work. Well, lo and behold, it all came to pass( except, the car was white and not red. )! I won't go into a long explanation as to why I wanted those three things, but I knew they would contribute to a lifestyle I had envisioned for myself.

That part of my life worked out really well.  I had not anticipated a number of eventualities, one really never can, but, I remember all of that with a smiling heart.  My home was my all-time favorite, the car was great and lasted a long time, and, while the job shifted, it certainly led me to my present-day work which still excites, challenges and gratifies me.

After several years, it was suggested that I write a narrative as to the future I now wished for.  There were to be no limits, anything was possible. For this plan I chose to focus on personal relationships and intimacy.  It was extremely specific, so, of course, when my dreams came true, which they did,the scenario did not look like what I had in my head. The wonderful thing was that my life felt  like what I had dreamed of.  In fact, it was even better. 

To achieve this, I was required to dump many of my preconceived notions, take a look at some of the toxic choices I had made along the way, and to fulfill my wishes, I had to take a leap of faith and trust my heart, and thus, my feelings.  It was also necessary to tune out the voices that opposed my decisions.

Now, I am, once again at a crossroad.  I am under no pressure to make hard decisions.But, I am surprised that I had forgotten the value of dreaming and choosing what was important and what no longer mattered.  An extra added bonus is that it's fun to complete this exercise, at least I think so.  

It seems to me that most of us need something to look forward to.  Most of us would like to make a contribution, large or small, that will be a  part of our legacy.  It feels good to get up in the morning with purpose and optimism.  And, our focus can be anywhere we wish.  No one can dictate what we care about, wish for, and believe in.

When we allow ourselves to lift the veil of self-imposed restrictions, the world opens up.  Certain opportunities (although less than you would think) are a part of the past.  In which ways have we grown?  Where do our passions lie?  What feels like it "fits". There are so many exciting choices to be made.  

There is no rule that says we can't discard our "Plan B".  If life is giving us what we believe we want and deserve, there is no need to make a change.  In most lives, however, alterations are needed as circumstances change.  Why not think ahead to scenarios that might just keep us, at the very least, content?

Did you stop dreaming?  When?  Why?  It's always a good idea to imagine what could be, what is possible.  There is no age limit on dreams.  We are supremely qualified to be versatile.  Why stay stuck in a situation that no longer holds any meaning?  If you are stuck, add something that will make your heart beat just a little faster.

You probably haven't run out of possibilities - you just haven't thought of them yet.

Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.
Gloria Steinem
       

July 2015
The Dentist, The Lion & Public Opinion

It would be impossible to ignore the news of the vicious slaughter of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe.  What strikes me, however, is the polarized reaction to the event.  

There are those who are outraged and would like to see Walter J. Palmer, the dentist who butchered Cecil, beheaded and hung, himself, as a trophy.

Some are defending Walter J. Palmer, and, some, are questioning why we are in an uproar about a lion when there are so many human tragedies wherever we look.

Why must we be "for" this and "against" that?  Are those who wish to preserve endangered wildlife less virtuous than those who embrace other types of causes?  Is it not possible to support human life, mercy for animals, concern for the planet, extinction of disease, and termination of all types of suffering simultaneously?

Why must we be competitive as we tap into our individual sensibilities and provide attention and care to whatever attracts our social consciousness?  Is there a hidden list that ranks the worthiness of existing problems? Show it to us so that we can move forward and choose based on precise measurement.  Wherever it is, please, show it to us now.

Kudos to those who care about something outside themselves.  For whatever reason we are drawn to a particular issue, is our world not improved by our attention and efforts?  Is it not praiseworthy to wish to make the planet, in some way, a better place?

It is true that there are conditions that will always divide us, especially in the area of politics.  When we really examine this, we will begin to recognize that just about everything is political in one way or another.  So, we are bound to take sides.  When our positions convince us that the "other" side is evil and must be defeated, we begin the descent into war.  At this point we must see the "other" as less worthy of life.  We  begin to believe that there are higher and lower stratum assigned to different groups.

If more of us could accept the belief that every person and thing that has been given life has a right to that life, would we still be so willing to destroy?

This urge to compare and deride opinions that may  differ from ours stems from a belief in scarcity - not enough to go around.  Even when the supremely wealthy donate, create and support important issues we continue to condemn if their particular interest is not the same as ours.

At the moment, there are 137 billionaires who have promised to donate the majority of their fortunes to philanthropy through "The Givers Pledge".  I do not know which causes every one of them sponsors.I do not know which agencies they have chosen to direct their contributions. Part of the dilemma for most of us is that we do not know which charities steer their funds directly to the intended beneficiaries and which are shams hidden in red tape.

What percentage of our efforts - monetary and just plain hard work - are spent wisely and what percentage goes to waste?  Who determines what is useful and what is useless?

Rather than spending energy on criticism of the choices of others, would we not create more that is praiseworthy by focusing on the good that each of us can do?  When we believe we can be effective we are.  We may not paint in broad strokes, but each droplet contributes to making things better.

We all know that it is easy to censure and, often, nearly impossible to find workable, even-handed solutions.  Why are we so quick to judge others?  I believe that some of this comes from a wish for self-aggrandizement.  That in and of itself is fine as far as I'm concerned.  The hard part is that this comes from a wish to appear to be "better" than everyone else. 

To my way of thinking, we have now come full circle.  If you do not know, respect, have compassion for, and,  love yourself; care for the person you are, you are among the neediest of the needy.  If your feelings of worthiness depend on outside acclamation, you are in trouble. Solid belief that we are "good" starts on the inside, not the out. The good news is that you have so much to learn and all of that is learnable.

If you are among those who demand attention for your "good deeds" and spend a considerable portion of your time angrily attacking others, are you not giving with one hand and taking away with the other?

There is more than enough venom out there in the world.  If I focus on cancer treatment  and you are committed to finding a solution to certain deficiencies in education, why would we be enemies?  Facebook has 1.49 billion users.  Still, a few years ago I was excoriated for the attention I was calling to animal rescue when an acquaintance became furious that I wrote posts on the same day that she wrote posts about a different cause.  I sure do wish I had the kind of powerful influence that was attributed to me! 

Here's a notion - we can be passionate without being destructive!  So much more can be accomplished with clear, respectful communication than with all the haranguing we can muster.  There really is plenty of goodwill to go around.  Why muck it up?

It is important that all of us stand by our beliefs as we graciously allow others to hold on to theirs.  This is not new, it is based on a notion called FREEDOM.  Take up the flag; express your convictions; fight for the protection of the issues you care about.  Just remember, we cannot dictate to another who to love and what to believe is true.

Whether you believe in Karma, God, the Universe or the Great Apple in the Sky, things have a way of working out.  As a rule, people are their own worst punishment - you can relax. 

You don't get to choose how I feel.
Author Unknown

 

August 2015
August - WHOA!!!

August, 2015 has brought along with it some serious challenges.  Along side these challenges have been offers of help, personal generosity, and, for me, a confirmation that there are some mighty fine folk out there.

Our first predicament was that Ruby, our beloved 12 1/2 year old pekingese went from being a vibrant senior to barely alive almost overnight.  Now, I know that some of you will say "it's only a dog".  I will say, she's a beloved member of the family and leave it at that.

Ruby developed congestive heart failure and spent time in a specialty animal hospital.  Could we afford this - no.  Could we bear to take her out of her oxygen box and refuse her multiple medications - no.  So, love won (as I hope it always will), and Ruby, while still far from well (we are not expecting a recovery),  looks at me with her big brown eyes and fights me like a champ when I am obliged to force her pills on her (no, cheese, peanut butter & green pockets don't work). 

Next, with barely any notice and no room for compromise, the family that inherited the house we rent, ordered us out.  Look, it's their home to do with as they wish.  Our understanding was that we would be given a lot of lead time since we do have pets, my husband's health is unpredictable and our grandson, who lives with us, loves his school and the special program he's in.  We had hoped to keep him in the same school district.  Well, in this case, the owners prevailed and we were faced with a very difficult "treasure hunt" for a home.

Let me be really candid here.  We were severely hit, financially, by the economic downturn and medical expenses.  Our once excellent credit rating has taken a hit, and we are left with so-so numbers in a time of scarcity for rental properties.

Our first thanks (I speak for Harry & myself) go to the members of the real estate community who have made this work for us.  No one made a living (or enough for a good dinner) from this new rental.  We could not have asked to be treated better if we were purchasing a home for cash on Gordon Drive (a premier location in Naples.  No relation - darn!).

Max, our grandson may have to change schools, which would not be a tragedy, but the outpouring from the teachers, administration, and friends at his current school has been extraordinarily heartwarming.  A lot of energy is going into finding a way for Max to stay where he has blossomed over the past year.

Here's to the helpers!  We have volunteers who have (and are continuing to) help us pack, brought us packing materials, organized us (this is not my strong suite), and promised to help us in the final phase, when the heavy stuff gets moved.  We have wonderful friends & I do want to shout out to family members, Max & Jacob and Dan Auch.  You have been there when it counted.

What this leaves me with is gratitude almost beyond words.  None of us can control certain life exigencies.  I learned a long time ago that the unthinkable can and will happen.  I will never completely recover from the loss to cancer of my daughter-in-law Stacy +6years ago.  Not fair, not right, but unstoppable.

It is, I believe, our mandate to regroup and recreate a life with love and purpose.  Not easy, I know.  When it becomes discouraging it's important to think about refugees and survivors of disasters, past and present, who lost all and rebuilt.  If one has help and health (mental and physical) it is almost always possible.  It is certainly worth a try.

I'm learning that, at this time in my life, throwing things away is a pleasure, & ,  a metaphor for other parts of my life as well.  All those little shampoo samples that I save for travel & never remember I have - gone.  Shoes that never did fit right - gone.  Weirdo tools that I can't be sure of what they're for - gone as well.  It's a relief.

Another thing that is, not totally, but mostly, gone is worry about things before I must and worry about things I can't control anyway.  I wish I had reached this years ago.  Maybe because the bottom has fallen out on us a number of times & we're still here enjoying life, I have confidence that we can and will handle whatever comes along.

A while ago I slid away from hurtful and ambivalent relationships.  I understand that the energy consumed just isn't available any more.  As one of my clients taught me long ago, I will grant you grace, hope that you grant me grace and we can keep on rollin' along.  If not , fare thee well.  

By the end of September we will have fully settled into a new home with me in a new office (I'm already there & love it!).  Max may, or may not, be in a new school.  I want to make this an adventure and know I have the right crew around me to ensure that this happens.  In it's own inconvenient way it's kind of wonderful.

As we lurch into a new phase, I'm so glad that I've learned not to take myself so seriously.  A sense of perspective and a recognition of the absurdities in life are so very helpful.  This really is beyond making lemonade out of lemons - it's making every effort to meet life where it really is and not just accepting what is, but taking the challenge to make it terrific.  It's understanding what's critical and what's passing.
I will definitely appreciate some quiet time, but, it's good to know my world is A OK. 

In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on.
Robert Frost

September 2015
My Karmic Reboot

 

My daughter, Dana, sent me one of those messages that promised Karmic justice if I would pass it along to 14 people. Since she, generously, resists complaining when I send her such communiques, it felt only fair to share this opportunity with others. And so, I did.

Within three days, two of our precious fur babies, Casper and Ruby, departed for the Rainbow Bridge. The next day I dropped, and broke my phone. A mere 6 days later I learned that my computer had bitten the dust (thank you Andy Branka for turning that one around).

I called Dana, explaining that I must have done some pretty terrible things, of which I was unaware, that triggered this stream of loss and change (see my August newsletter). My daughter, who has been blessed with both brains and common sense, said, "No, Mom - you're just experiencing a total Karmic Reboot".

Oh, well, I hadn't thought of it that way. That feels better. In fact, if I am being encouraged (or pushed mightily) to embrace a significantly new chapter, I guess the implication is that the Universe is not yet done with me, which implies that my time in this "veil of tears" allows for some duration before expiration.

What will this new chapter bring? Well, definitely some challenges. My handsome husband still bears the albatross of illness (with great grace, I must add). Just yesterday we spent a considerable amount of time at the hospital finding out what could be done for his damaged foot. Since said foot was not surgically removed (yes, that is where my head takes me), a hefty dose of antibiotics seems like a pretty tame solution. I am grateful.

We have both embraced the challenge of facilitating our grandson, Max, as he embarks on the path that leads to his destiny. This has been an enterprise that has been rewarding beyond anything we could have anticipated. We have all learned from each other how to "be" in the world.

I am, of course, open to learning and to, hopefully, add to the store of wisdom I have acquired along the way. I do not say this from a position of self-importance. It just seems apparent to me that as problems are dealt with, it is almost impossible to fail to learn new solutions and foolish to remain blind to new perspectives.

As is stated in Ecclesiastes 3, "There is a time for everything,and a season for every activity under the heavens". I do know this to be true. As I have mentioned before, my father taught me to have great respect for "The Laws of Nature". I do, and I understand that there are forces far more powerful than my will. I don't necessarily rejoice in this knowledge, but I respectfully acknowledge this truth.

There was so much going on at the time that we lost Ruby & Casper that we literally did not have time to properly mourn them. I am glad that they never made it to our new house. I can comfort myself by telling myself that they just didn't have another move in them. In Casper's case - he was 15 1/2- this was certainly true.

What I did do was return to the "old" house and take this picture of the path they would use to return home after they had been outside. I can envision little Violet with her lopsided gait determinedly heading for the front door. Ruby would do this precious little gallop. That was the only circumstance under which she did that. Casper? He would sort of "La di da" to the front door and courageously leap over the threshold. They were always happy to come inside and we were always happy to have them there. This picture allows me to cry, and it feels good.

bunny 350

I know that the last 10 years have taught me a lot about acceptance and moving on. I know that it is important, every day, to experience the gratitude I feel for all of the wonderful things, especially the loves, that have remained true and have sustained me through the most difficult times.

I know that we can never predict the future and that it is crucial to remember that things change in good ways as well as bad. Sometimes we just need some patience to understand what is positive.

I know that every life is valuable and whether we understand our mission in life or not, there is purpose to our having been here.

I know that we would benefit from spending less time on our imagined legacy and more time on spreading good will whenever possible. It has never seemed like a good idea to me to ask "why me?" We will never receive a satisfying answer. If we can learn from our mistakes and improve our lives, that's great. Beyond that, the universe does not owe us explanations.

Those with the most fulfilled lives stay true to themselves. In order to do that, you must self-examine and learn who you are. I promise that you are better than you think. Proceed with courage and take a good look.

Change is scary and good and necessary. Face your life with confidence, and whatever the consequences, it will all be okay.

 

A Time for Everything

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes 3

 

October 2015
When it Feels Like Home

I was recently at a joyful family celebration in Vermont. It was touching and all around wonderful. What made the occasion extra special for me was that three long-time, dearly-loved friends were there with me.

As we begin to enter the holiday season (for some the "dreaded" holiday season) I cannot help but think about which celebrations, in my life, have been heartwarming and which have left me feeling distressed.

As a rule, the measure of happiness has to do with the attitude and feeling of connection to the folks in attendance. A lot of time may be spent on cooking, decorating and organizing, but it's the spirit that defines the event.

My three friends and I have been celebrating together for a very, very long time. Since many in my group of close friends lost both parents at a relatively young age, we formed the "orphans" club and made sure that no one of us was alone and lonely when important events came along. It is staggering (in a good way) to realize that those of us who can be there are still there for each other.

It is not possible for me to say enough about these kindred souls with whom I have experienced love and loss, birth and death, illness and health. You're right, it does sound like marriage vows. In fact, our loyalty to each other does not waver. We may get on each others' nerves from time to time, but the commitment to friendship we have made has held strong, and, for me, has been what has allowed me to get past some pretty serious obstacles in my life.

Many of us think about family in an idyllic, Norman Rockwell sort of way. There is a yearning for the idea that family will always be there for us to catch us in a dependable safety net. The truth is far more complicated. Now that families live at geographical distances that challenge our ability to visit and we live in a more global, rather than local, context, the built-in "knowing" of each others' lives is not there for us to access without thinking about it.

While this shift has brought with it many exciting opportunities, it has diluted our dependence on family in times of trouble. If Aunt Mary, who used to live down the street, now lives 500 miles away, she cannot give me a ride to the emergency room when I break my ankle. My neighbor Josie, however, is right there and willing to help.

When painful misunderstandings develop between family members we may well not encounter this part of our family with any regularity. This physical separation often leads to disappointment, painful misunderstandings, and, increasingly, in family cut-offs. Many of us do not possess the skills that will allow us to address the source of conflict in a constructive way and when we do not see each other it can become far easier to simply avoid the cause of distress.

When, for whatever reason, family cohesion becomes impossible, our matrix of friends may be the ones to help us to feel safe, loved and secure. I have been blessed with individuals in my life who have always been there to prop me up, to understand me and to have faith in me when my belief in myself has faltered.

Please do not misunderstand. If the ties of both family and friends are available, that is the best possible scenario. In my work I encounter, naturally, families that, for whatever reason, become toxic when they are together. While we endeavor to find a place of peace and healing, this is not always possible. Some folks are left with the feeling of abandonment, of being alone in a world where everyone else is connected. This is when the rewards of the links to a group outside the biological family become apparent.

Whether our connections have been developed through religion, charitable endeavors, our children, or something else that allows us to feel a kinship, they may be vital to our wellbeing. So many individuals think that everyone but them sits down to a family Thanksgiving full of good will and gratitude. They then mourn the lack of something that has a lot of myth attached to it. If you are doing that to yourself I urge you to allow yourself to enjoy what you do have here in your life today.

When my mother was alive, she had the biggest smile you can imagine. My daughter and I have always commented that it was easy to find her in a crowd. My mother died many years ago. Nothing will ever replace her presence in my life. However, when I am at a function, as I was several weeks ago, and I see my dearest friends come into the room, I am filled with warmth. I don't need a "team" but I love knowing that it is there. I am so thrilled to share the happiness of the event with those who mean so much to me.

What does it mean to be "at home"? For me, it is where I have no reason to feel self-conscious. I will give and receive good will. "Home" is the place where even if I make a serious misstep I know it will be ironed out and the bonds will grow tighter. My mom, with her zany way of saying things, would probably say, "It's where I can take my girdle off".

That is not a bad benchmark. We all deserve a place where we can remove our girdles and just be ourselves. If your "sacred" place is populated differently than you would have imagined, please allow yourself to enjoy the freedom of being who you truly are, not who you imagine another person wants you to be.

How about if, as we head into the holiday season, we focus on munificence of the heart; try to remember that other people's issues belong to them (we did not cause said issues), and if it is too painful to attempt to "celebrate" with those who beam overt or covert hostility in our direction, allow ourselves to sidestep those occasions.

Our moments on this earth are precious. Spend as many as you can with those with whom you feel "at home".

There is no friend like an old friend who has shared our morning days, no greeting like his welcome, no homage like his praise.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

November 2015

Back to A B & C


Harry and I have been together for 22 years.  As you might imagine, given my verbosity, we do a lot of talking and have become pretty adept at putting things on the table and clearing the air.

So, when we it seemed like I was speaking Bulgarian and he was communicating in Swahili, it was puzzling, frustrating and annoying.  At times we were in agreement but each of us thought the other didn't understand. What was that all about?

And then, Harry figured it out.  Our basic stylistic differences, which had gotten in our way before, were, once again, causing chaos.

You see, in general, I am all about the big picture and he is a detail kind of guy.  We could both see the same movie, but if you asked us what it was about you would feel like he was discussing "Star Wars" and I was describing "Pinocchio".  I would tell you about the mood and theme of the movie and the lesson to be learned.  He would describe hair for hair how Chewbacca's costume was constructed and provide you with a detailed account of each character's background (I wouldn't even remember the character's names).

So here we were asking each other questions, not getting answers that made sense to either of us and getting on each other's nerves in a way that was not typical for us.  Was he not feeling well, was I overwhelmed, did our move throw both of us off balance?  We could not get past the rut we were in.

And then, aha!, my husband had a light bulb moment and explained to me what was going on.  You, see, one of his problems with me is that I become impatient.  This, understandably, can feel insulting and dismissive.  If I am working on a project, such as this newsletter, I prefer to be left alone.  Let me got from "A" to "B" finish what I am doing and then talk to me about other stuff.  This might have been a consequence of my life as an only child.  No pesky sibs to get in my way and if my parents interrupted, it was a good idea to pay attention to what was being said.

He grew up as the oldest of six.  Not only was disruption expected, it was no big deal.  He could respond or not, tune out what didn't interest him.  So Harry welcomed"A", "B" and  "C" into his daily routine.

"C" is more creative and interesting but it is also, from where I stand, terribly distracting.  Being a naturally generous person, he suggested that he try to stifle "C" and offered to take responsibility for our dilemma.  While that is above and beyond what I would request, I also know that I would miss "C", which brings so much color into my life.

So... why is this important?  Because it is not a case of right or wrong or of one way being better than another.  This is not about two people trying to drive each other crazy or gaining control in the relationship.  We simply approach the world differently.  This does not mean that we have fundamental disagreements, I just go on the highway and he takes the scenic route.  We both get there.

Uncovering the mystery of what was percolating in our household has restored the dampened humor (on which we both depend) and opened doors of appreciation and understanding.

When I work with couples. in my practice, I always explain that I have no interest in right and wrong; we benefit most when we focus on solving the problem ("A" to "B").  The more we can recognize good will, the more easily we alleviate the pain that, unfortunately, always accompanies intimacy.

The day after our discussion Harry gave me directions to a doctor's office.  The confusion that ensued was probably predictable, and when he told me his foot doctor was in the same building that nearly put me through the windshield (I got confused!).  What could have resulted in hurt feelings was actually resolved with laughter.  I finally "got" it that he was not being needlessly specific and he understood that I was not being intentionally dense.  This took 22 years, but I'll accept it!

I believe that especially, now, with frightening episodes  of terrorism and pervasive mistrust, we all need to find islands of safety.  It is possible to be on red alert at all times, but it's kind of a lousy way to live.

Learn to recognize who, in your circle, really means well.  Who would not, intentionally, undervalue your importance or ignore your reasonable requests for attention.  If we ever needed to include grace in our lives, it is right now. 

Ask questions.  If you have received a troublesome response, ask what was intended - there may be no reason for distress.  Try to understand where the other person is coming from - really coming from.  If a particular situation pops up regularly and there is no mutuality, retreat.  You may not be able to walk away (from a relative or co-worker), but you can decide whether or not to engage in a particular discussion.  Toxic is not ok, but understanding and respect sweeten our lives.  Learn to distinguish between what is intended and what is delivered.

You see, if we always focus on the pebble in our shoe, we will always be uncomfortable and out of sorts.  When we take the time to pay attention to the small kindnesses we receive, almost on a daily basis, we are reminded of the good stuff life has to offer.  It was an awful night when we had to "put down" our dog, Casper.  The fact that the vet cried along with us was incredibly comforting.  An individual who barely knew us was willing to join us in our grief.  We all yearn to be understood.

"A", "B", "C" and maybe "D", "E", and "F" may be in operation in your home and life.  If you can recognize it, try to appreciate it and have fun with it - save the battle for a more urgent cause.

Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.

 

December 2015
Chicken and Rice - a Metaphor

This will make sense, I promise.

For 4 1/2 years my husband, Harry, has been unable to eat as a result of his treatment for mouth and throat cancer.  The feeding tube failed, and he has been only able to swallow an already-prepared nutritional beverage frozen in a particular way. 

Of course we tried many combinations suggested by helpful friends.  Since, however, his taste buds don't work right, he has no saliva & and has a shrunken esophagus , virtually nothing was edible.

I happened to make a huge pot of arroz con pollo (chicken with rice) from a recipe my mother got in South America in the mid 1950's.  Harry was drawn to the aroma and said that he wanted to taste it.  Now, we had been down that road many times in the past and he would either choke or find the taste of whatever he tried to eat to be unbearable.  I had few hopes for chicken with a base of tomato, garlic, onion and celery.  You can see where this is going. He couldn't swallow the chicken, but the rest of it tasted good and went down easily.  We were so excited!

I figured this was a fluke and that he would be sick later on.  Happily, I was wrong.  Harry ate it repeatedly over 3 days and felt steadily stronger and pleased to be able to add to his extremely limited diet.

So... what's the point?  You never know when there will be a shift in circumstances and life will begin to flow in a more positive direction.  I have believed this for many years and have tried to encourage my clients to stay the course (when the course is not something destructive).  Our "miracles" probably won't appear on demand.  Many balk at the idea of being patient.  Well, guess what?  We might as well be patient and keep trying.  The time will pass regardless of our attitude.

There are, of course, caveats attached to this.  Most of the people I see struggle in the area of relationships. Individuals fall into a trap of expecting the object of their affection to change.  As, I'm sure you know, some spend years attempting to make what is impossible achievable.  How do we judge when to give up and when it is in our best interest to stand firm? 

Or... suppose you have a job and a boss with whom you cannot get along.  How do you know if you can make this fit?  Is this the right job for you?  Can you genuinely tune out your supervisor to the point that you do not feel like you are white-knuckling it all day?

What about lifestyle?  Are there alterations that can be made so that you do have a place that feels like your nest?  Your safe place?  I'm thinking about Virginia Woolf and A Room of One's Own.  If you can't attain a whole room, how about a corner, closet or drawer?  

The common denominator here is your ability to personally stimulate a change.  If your happiness or peace of mind are dependent on manipulating another, things may well not turn out the way you want.

Had I become angry that Harry couldn't swallow the nourishment I was offering, that would have been unfair and, in my opinion, pretty awful.  Instead, we tried things that he identified as appealing and viola! four and 1/2 years later we hit the jackpot.

In terms of your beloved, try to focus on what this person's character is all about.  There are certain personality traits that are pretty inviolable. If your sweetheart has a pattern of  pulling you in close and then pushing you away, that is something that is beyond your control.  Try as you might to manipulate or influence this behavior you will, ultimately fail.  Until and unless the individual has worked through fears of closeness, entrapment and rejection, you will never be successful in changing that person's behavior.

Your job.  Are you really suited for this type of employment?  Many years ago I worked as a stock broker.  Basically I was bored and mystified by financial news and had no talent for numbers.  Nor, was I  really motivated to improve my mathematical skills.  No surprise here, this was not a job I belonged in.  If you, like I was, are a wreck on your way into work each day, unless you really thrive with that kind of apprehension, do yourself a favor and get out.  I stayed stuck for 3 1/2 years. Do not follow my lead.

I do believe that constructing a private space that nurtures your spirit is a simpler job.  You may not be able to control most of your environment, but you certainly can take over some small spot.  Whether you inject a color you are drawn to, display photographs that encourage you to smile, or find the pen that fits your hand perfectly, there is something you can create that feels like it is in sync with who you are.

Try something different.  I'm am not suggesting that you move to the tundra of the North Pole.  You needn't be extreme and must remember that you will accompany  yourself on every geographical move.  If there is a place, a subject, a skill that holds some intrigue for you, explore it.  You have little to lose and a lot of possible satisfaction to gain.

When I lived in Boston and was between jobs I took a course on the music of Aretha Franklin at the New England Conservatory of Music.  Did this lead to employment - no!  What it did steer me toward was a lot of fun learning about music I love with a small group of people who enjoyed it along with me.  Allowing some activity that brings nothing but enjoyment into your life is a wonderful way to pass the time.  Not everything is about becoming a world conquerer.

At the very least, keep an open mind; allow your curiosity to take you where it will, and your perspective will change.  One thing always leads to another and your next discovery might just be your best!  Happy New Year to all. 

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.
Carl Sagan

January 2016
There is no newsletter this month:

I have been doing my newsletter for 13 years and some of you have been really supportive and faithful followers. We had in our family this month, a really tragic death, and it knocked the priority list and changed it. So, no newsletter was written ... but, it will be back. There will be one for the month of February. I want to say: any of you who may be struggling with something, whether it's a low grade depression, anxiety or problems with your relationship, you do not have to go it alone. It's not necessary.

Please do call me; I am available. We'll work collaboratively, because you and I, we work together—that's what works.
I hope if you need me, that I will hear from you. 239-293-4314

February 2016
The Fall of Narcissus

Over the last few years many clients have come to me and explained their frustration in trying to develop a relationship with a person who comes on strong, and then, when there seems to be an agreement on what will happen, becomes distant.  Individuals have reported feeling like they are too needy, demanding and foolish.
 
Others have turned to their computers.  After they have done some research, they come up with the diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder to explain to themselves the behavior of another.  They may be correct, but really understanding the limitations of a person who has been legitimately diagnosed with a personality disorder, is very hard for most people to understand and accept.

The concept of narcissism comes from the Greek myth of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection in the water.  Unable to tear himself away from his image, he, eventually, withered and died. 
 
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) has entered into the understanding of mental disturbances relatively recently, in the 1960's.  However, when he DSMV (Diagnostic Statistical Manual 5.This is used by mental health practitioners in making diagnostic evaluations) was released in 2013, NPD had been discarded as an independent category.

Recognized or not, it is easy to tell when an individual has become involved with another individual who possesses many of the traits of NPD.  Those with NPD are arrogant, express a sense of entitlement, believe that others are jealous of them, and, display a grandiosity that is far more extreme than one would find in an average individual.

When one is chosen by the Narcissist to receive the spotlight of their attention, the drama begins.  Since the Narcissist can tolerate only self-elevation, as soon as the chosen one displays signs of vulnerability the Narcissist will drop them like a hot potato.

Should the one who is being idealized (you) fail to look at the Narcissist with total admiration and adoration, you are no longer useful.  One must maintain the Narcissist's idea of perfection at all times. 

It has been pointed out that within our culture more men than women seek power and, that more men display an insensitivity to the feelings of others. Therefore, there are more narcissistic men than women

This may be a result of living in a still patriarchal society in which men are applauded for assertive (even aggressive) behavior, while women are expected to be compliant and self-sacrificing. We will see, in this age of selfies, if these numbers hold true.

The real point of looking into NPD is that those who have been subjected to the fallout resulting from their failure to maintain the standards are deeply wounded and often spend years believing that it was their failure to understand that caused the relationship to implode.

Actually, it is the "fault" of the injured party, as no one can maintain the demand of the Narcissist to be raised high, praised, at all times.  Think about being in a relationship with someone whose needs must be put before your own.  Many people believe they can and will self-subjugate for an indefinite period of time. 
As a rule, if that individual has even a scintilla of self-esteem, this becomes a most difficult, if not impossible way to live. 

Do not fool yourself, the Narcissist will not change.  It doesn't matter if you turn yourself inside out in your efforts to gain true empathy from your Narcissistic partner.  You will find that your partner is unyielding.  One of the difficulties in treating these individuals is that their view of the world is intractable.  
Please do not think that someone with NPD is happy.  It is virtually impossible for these individuals to find and hold on to contentment.

 The saying that "under the arrogance lies the shame" is true.  If the Narcissist did not harbor a view of him/herself that he/she finds mortifying, he/she would not behave the way he/she does.  Under the arrogant shell is a fragile, frightened human being.

NO!!  You cannot make this better.  The damage, which is unconscious, was done a long time ago and is not something that you can change.  The wound is too old and too deep.  No matter how much love you shower on an individual with NPD, no matter how many times you have believed you have had a breakthrough, this is a person who is incapable of the empathy that goes along with love.

It is easy to fall for a Narcissist.  They are experts at discerning your needs and wishes.  In order to lure you in, the Narcissist will appear to care for you in the way you have always longed to be loved.  He/she will quickly figure out what pushes your buttons, where your own feelings of inadequacy reside.  The problem is, he/she will not care about how capitalizing on these beliefs may help or damage you. 

If you are looking for a contractual relationship with this individual, be alert.  He/she does damage in all areas of his/her life.  As soon as your agreements cease to fulfill his/her needs, the Narcissist will, through means ethical or not, discard you.  You will not be missed or thought about unless it is perceived that you can still fill a need.  Do not cling to the belief that he/she will come to his/her senses.  That will not happen.

If you are in a love (or other) relationship in which you feel you must monitor your every word and deed, try to understand that this is a big red flag.  Yes, intimacy is hard and often painful to achieve.  It does not thrive in an atmosphere of one person trying to be everything to another.  If there is not some balance between you and the other person, you are probably not where you need or want to be.

Please, do not blame yourself for having been taken in.  These folks survive on exploitation - they are professionals.  When you recognize an ongoing imbalance, extricate yourself from the situation.  As painful as it may be to leave, it will absolutely be more painful if you stay. As you concern yourself with another's well-being, look out for your own.  If you believe that there has been an ongoing dearth of reciprocity, move on.  Pay attention to the warning signs and you will, undoubtedly find yourself in a happier situation.

Whoever loves becomes humble. Those who love have, so to speak, pawned a part of their narcissism. Sigmund Freud

March 2016
Before you Judge...

This morning I read a review of the documentary on HBO, Gloria Vanderbilt, Nothing Left Unsaid.  I have no attachment to Gloria Vanderbilt.  Nor do I identify with her in any way except one: Each of us has a son who will have nothing to do with us.

The article I read said that this estrangement, while a major aspect of her life, was left out of the film. Really?? Why would it be included?
 
Having gone through a cutoff initiated by my son (whose name I will not reveal), I can tell you that if that becomes a defining moment in life, life will be a pretty sad and pathetic thing.  It is an awful moment, but far from the measure of  the worth of an individual's existence.

I do not mean to sound cold.  But, after my experience, and about 20 years of no contact, I will not allow this rift to destroy my ability to love and enjoy my life.  Is it what I expected? No.  Did it hurt for a very long time? Yes.  Will I allow it to impair my ability to appreciate what I have and stay deeply connected to those I care about? Absolutely not!

Of course Ms. Vanderbilt's estrangement from her son was not included in the documentary. Who would benefit?  Not the mother.  Not the son.  And, if many people know about it, it is hardly a secret.  I would imagine that the fact that she witnessed another son, Carter, commit suicide by jumping out her bedroom window was a far more life-altering and traumatic event.

In my biological family we did not do cut-offs.  My mother and I, when we were not feeling close and cuddly, would often fall into being adversaries.  We just looked at life through different lenses. However, we would far rather argue than not speak to each other.

My children's years with me were certainly not always easy.  Their father and I separated when they were 10, 12, and 14.  When I look back, I am not proud of much of my behavior or the way I handled things.  I regret the things that I did that made life more difficult and have acknowledged and apologized to each of them.  I do not make excuses.  I wish I had known how to do that in a way that was more informed and that I had been more aware of certain of their needs.I am grateful to have two of my children firmly in my life. 

When this particular son closed the door on me, I wouldn't have believed that it could last forever.  It would have been unthinkable for me to bar my parents from my life.  In fact, my father, was from the school of thought that one honored one's father and mother(like it says in the 5th Commandment).  He lived that belief and held it to be true regardless of the differences that developed between parent and child.  
It is so easy to judge this type of situation.  One assumes that someone did something that was so intentionally harmful that it was unforgivable.  That is not always the case.  Basic temperament and outside influences play their part in this kind of occurrence.

Aside from that, it seems that every religion and philosophy that I know about grants forgiveness after repentance.  That being said, it would seem to me that a cut off says more about the distancer than it does about the person who has been discarded.

I cried for years.  I blamed myself entirely, until I understood that blame fixes nothing.  I sent birthday cards and other notes on a regular basis until...  In the summer of 1995 I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Two surgeries were required.  My daughter had told my estranged son about my medical condition.  He did nothing!  No note, no call, no caring.
 
That was when I gave up.  If cancer couldn't stir his compassion, nothing would.  I felt, and still feel, that I must discontinue an unwelcome pursuit.  My son was 29 at the time, old enough to make his own decisions. 

Yes, the comment in today's article pushed my buttons - you bet it did! On the other side of this is the fact that many, many people have stood by me through all types of circumstances.  I have been extraordinarily lucky in the loyalty I have received from others.

We never know what we will do, how we will respond, until we are experiencing events for which we are unprepared.  It is not hard to do the wrong thing when one doesn't know what to do. A good rule of thumb is to do nothing until you have had time to really think about it.  You can usually wait a while to take action.  As I like to say, you can't uncrack an egg. 

So often, all of us, criticize that which we really know nothing about.  It's human nature - it makes us feel better about ourselves, at least in the short term.  In the long term, everyone benefits when we exercise compassion.  It's never too late to endeavor to improve the world in which we are living.  When you can't understand, try.  When you still can't understand, stay silent.  

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. George Bernard Shaw

April 2016
Accepting What's True

It's hard to surrender to the idea that certain changes in our lives are irreversible.  We dislike what we are  feeling when we realize that we are unable to turn the clock back.  We feel helpless, and, vulnerable.  Without acceptance, however, we may make ourselves, and others, more miserable than is necessary.

When I work with couples I always ask, "What do you love about him/her?"   Most of the time I receive a response that describes a person as he/she used to be. Then, of course, the question becomes "Can you love the person as he/she is today?"
It makes sense that everything and everyone changes over time. It is possible that our beloved was able to demonstrate tender behavior in the early part of the relationship.  Making a good impression is important at that stage.  As a rule, those who become less endearing as familiarity sets in had the hope and belief that this relationship would turn out differently.  What you need to take from this is that you were not intentionally misled.  Hopes were high, the positive energy had kicked in, and things looked rosy.

It is also possible that we, in our eagerness to embrace a healthy bond, took no notice of problems that we cannot ignore as time passes. Perhaps life has interfered with our unity in such a way that we are unable to believe what we used to believe about our significant other.
 
If there has been a feeling of betrayal, depending on the individuals involved and the circumstances, the trust we once felt may be permanently compromised. Deceitfulness may come from infidelity, a lack of candor around finances, or from promises we have made about acceptable mutual behavior that have been thrown to the wind.

When the stated goal is for the partner to go back to the way he/she was it is not a good sign for the survival of the relationship.  Everything changes.  If we can genuinely embrace the way things are now, our chances for success are greatly improved.

Better yet, if we can see the advantages to a union that may have greater depth and less fire, we well may remain gratefully together. So many occurrences may throw us off kilter.  Couples who have a child with a troubling handicap often pull apart.  Right when these twosomes really need each other for support, they may fall into blame, fault-finding, and bitter differences of opinion as to how to attend to the situation
.
One of the partners may develop a life-changing illness.  If the healthier of the two can roll with the necessary adjustments there may be an increase in compassion.  If the person who has been stricken is able to feel and express appreciation, the relationship may reach a depth of emotion and devotion that neither could have imagined.  The variable of time will probably play a big role in the ability of each to sustain the alliance.

The need to incorporate a family member into the household will often throw things off balance.  Attention is divided, expenses may increase, and one or the other may feel abandoned.  The more people there are in the household, the more profound the disruption.

Our ability to communicate will certainly influence the outcome of change.  It is necessary to be able to verbalize what we need as well as to hear what the other person is actually saying.  Even if you think the other person "should" know what you want, it's a good idea to give a little reminder.  Prompting does not spoil anything.  Living with unspoken resentment does.

Physical changes are inevitable over time.  Should you have been unwise enough to have chosen a beloved based on looks or physical prowess, of course you will be disappointed.  Encouraging each other to take care of health is loving (although nagging doesn't work).  If you really must have that "arm candy", you might want to take a look at your own insecurities.

Suppose you entered into a relationship with the idea that you would play Pygmalion.  I would advise you to be very careful if this is what you are all about.  Unless the other person appreciates your "help" you will be seen as judgmental and condescending (which, in fact, you will be).  How do you know that your taste, ethnic group, spiritual beliefs, etc. are superior?  It takes a certain kind of arrogance to treat anyone else as "less than".  Again, you are saying far more about yourself than anyone else.

Many years ago I was dating a decidedly snobbish individual.  He actually asked me what I would do if he refused to go out with me unless I wore Armani.  Even if he had coughed up the money, I still would have fled from him and his particular style of courtship. I hope you will recognize that this type of behavior is not rooted in self-acceptance. Thank goodness I knew that I was not put on this earth to make him feel good about himself.

While the changes we are facing might be challenging, we fare far better when we open our eyes and try to understand what is actually going on.  Perhaps the  requirements of yesterday have changed for us as well.  To own traits such as flexibility and resilience allows us to adjust to and even find satisfaction in the shifts we all must face.
 
Make an effort to be patient with yourself.  The core of who you are is probably pretty stable.  Know your own values.  Be tolerant of the standards of others.  It's tough to be human, but, it's the only choice we have.

Truth is everybody is going to hurt you: you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for. 
Bob Marley
   
       

 

May 2016
About Happiness

It's such a tricky concept.  What makes us happy?  What keeps us happy?  How long does it last?  Are our memories of happiness accurate? Being in a state of happiness is often our identified goal, but how much do we know about it?  There are some who believe it can last forever and most of us would probably describe them as being naive.  But, suppose what they believe is true?  What does it take to hold on to that feeling of well-being?

The "Big Event" is not going to guarantee a lasting feeling of euphoria.  In fact, many of us, after we have won accolades, reached a goal, or passed an important milestone in what we believe to be our life's journey feel let down.  "What now?"  Is the best behind me?
 
Athletes, as a rule, hit their peak fairly early.  The damage to the body in the pursuit of excellence brings with it wounding physical trauma and, ultimately, decay.  Think about what we have learned about brain damage in football players and boxers.  Runners are destined to experience injury to their joints.  There is always a new tennis player to take over.  Look at Serena Williams' loss at the French Open this week-end to Garbine Mugeruza of Spain.

The most handsome, most beautiful, the one with the best hair will all slip from what is a subjective summit over time.  It was once thought that to be wealthy you had to be a millionaire.  Today, anything under a billion is considered less than super rich.
What can we hold on to?  Even if love lasts it changes.  Eventually one of the lovers will abandon due to death, illness or choice. What is even more unfortunate is that many do not associate being loved with feeling happy.  

At the risk of sounding too "shrinky" I would like to suggest that inner harmony is the key to maintaining a sense of contentment with one's lot.  Of course we should be able to look back at past victories and feel grateful.  After it's gone that's hard to do.  It is extremely easy to  feel anguish over gifts, situations and individuals that have left and are not coming back.

We generally spend so much time in the past (depression) and the future (anxiety) that we forget to take a look at right now.  Many of us preach the value of staying in "now", but, in practice, it's a hard thing to do.  It is possible to train ourselves to do that, and those who succeed do find that navigating the ups and downs becomes less stressful.

If you need a gimmick to help you stay in the present, there are many ways to accomplish this.  I have an imaginary file box.  When I begin to lose focus on what is happening right now, I place the intruding thought into my file box and promise to deal with it later.  Sometimes I do deal with it, sometimes I don't.  What has become clear is that I usually forget what has been archived, proving to me, once again, that I really did not have to get particularly involved in that dilemma.

It is no secret that, right now, the accumulation of wealth is the measure we use to calculate success (whatever that may mean) .  I can tell you that from my experience some of the most unhappy individuals I have worked with do not have financial worries.  Be assured, I am not one to declare that money, itself, is evil. 
Many who have recognized wealth (folks know they're wealthy) must protect themselves from hangers on.  Are they sought after for their brilliance, their wit, their style?  Or, is there, more often than not, the expectation that they will enrich their so-called friends and followers?  The irony is, that while this is a painful problem, the large majority of such individuals find a way to let others know they have a lot of money.  It is hard to convince someone in this situation that they may be the cause of some of their problems.  The money itself does not cause misfortune - it is inanimate.  

Since it is recognized that relationships are indispensable in the quest for personal happiness, we would be well-advised to put more effort into being the kind of person we would like to hang out with. 

Ultimately, a lot of this is about "locus of control".  When we believe our problems come from "out there", we render ourselves either helpless or doomed to futile attempts to control uncontrollable situations.  When we own our power, when we look to improve ourselves, we are headed in the right direction.
 
By improving ourselves I mean to do that in a way that resonates for each of us individually.  This requires self-knowledge.  It is so easy to fall into the trap of being what someone else wants us to be.  When we attempt to behave in such a way that we feel like "job well done", that is the most we can ask of ourselves.  Sometimes we will be successful,sometimes not.  But, being true to one's own beliefs and striving to leave the world a better place because we have been here, that is the pinnacle in life.

Unless we become incapacitated we have ourselves; we have our inner world.  If we live in a way that demonstrates our self-appreciation and respect for ourselves and others, we have, I believe, found what it means to be happy.  We may not be pleased with events and losses in our lives, but, if we are honest with ourselves and behave according to our own principles, we will experience peace of mind.

So, yes, it is possible to hold on to happiness - the trick is looking for it on the inside. 

It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere.  Agnes Repplier

June 2016
It's Hard to Believe

I read a blog by Andrea Pflaumer, in which she reports that when she posted pictures of Maggie Smith and Judi Dench as examples of beauty in the older female there were 16 million views and 14,000 comments. This boggles my mind!

It seems to me that we have been discussing aging and beauty for a very long time. Those who watched Downton Abbey are well aware of Ms. Smith's visage, which appears to have escaped the plastic surgeon's scalpel. The same is true of Ms. Dench. So, what's the big deal?

Personally, I don't care if an individual does or does not attempt to maintain an illusion of youth. There is no right or wrong to this. If the transformation helps to make a person feel more self-confident and secure, why should anyone object?

By the same token, for those who are content to let nature proceed at it's own pace, why should they be criticized for accepting themselves as they are?

This is not a matter for moral concern. One is not better than the other anymore than a blue shirt is better than a white one - it's a matter of personal taste. I would also like to point out that men make the same kind of choices - to remain in their unrefined state or to enhance what they see in the mirror. None of this is new or earth shattering.

Maybe because so many Baby Boomer are past middle age, we are more likely to take notice. It's not news that more and more people are living well into their 90's. Are we really going to tell them how to dress? Why would we?

I remember receiving a book many years ago entitled When I am Old I Shall Wear Purple. My response then and now is that it would never occur to me to not wear purple, or chartreuse, or fuchsia. When was it decided that certain colors are improper past a certain age? Is this a lot of nonsense or am I just crazy?

One of the benefits of aging is that one acquires wisdom and a sense of who he/she really is. It is unlikely that post- middle age individuals have parents who will note that they are not properly clad and insist that they go back to their room and change.

It would seem to me to be appropriate at some point in life to to present oneself as one wishes. The real impression we make on others is tied in with our demeanor, bearing, and energy. When we encounter someone who is comfortable in their own skin, we soon forget to notice how they are garbed.

When I was quite young I thought that by the ancient age of 50 that I would have white hair, big boobs, and wear black orthopedic shoes. After all, that's how my grandmothers looked. It never crossed my mind that they were well beyond 50. My still-maturing brain could not project out that far. To tell you the truth, I haven't seen my real hair color in years and have not yet had the desire to do so.

It's helpful to remember that there are many opinions as to what constitutes beauty. In the presence of someone who is creative, interested and interesting, unafraid to allow a certain amount of closeness, and emanates good humor, it is likely that we will to consider that person to be beautiful or handsome or comely or whatever.

If experimenting with your look is fun, why stop because of age? When I lived in Boston and saw the students from the music schools, I found their multi-colored hair to be inspiring. I went out and bought myself some Manic Panic, which I was told was easily washed out. Well, it wasn't and for about 2 months I walked around with neon purple hair. Was it lovely? No. Did it change anything in my life? No. I'm still glad I tried it.

If you have a very particular idea of how you wish to present yourself to the world why not just do that? Of course you may have to limit your choices of adornment in the workplace and/or at specific occasions. Otherwise, do as you please.

It seems to me that we spend way too much time worrying about what someone else will say. Please remember that if someone is feeling competitive with you that person may encourage you to adopt a look that looks and feels wrong. It's so stupid really, but it happens.

Self-confidence is beautiful. Positive energy is beautiful. Kindness is beautiful. Courage is beautiful. When your inner strengths shine through your persona (and yes, we all have inner strengths) you are stunningly, jaw- dropingly beautiful.

Do not hide your intelligence or wit or originality. The so-called influence-makers do their own thing. Your goal may not be to have an impact on those around you. That's ok. It is possible that your self-presentation will influence in ways you cannot imagine.

Years ago I went on a cruise to the Far East. A woman I came to know, Bettina, taught me an important lesson. We were visiting a site and the woman who was taking our tickets appeared to be quite disagreeable. Bettina asked her if she was feeling tired. The woman just melted. The lesson: Instead of judging and taking another's behavior personally, try being considerate - you have nothing to lose, and may be just the antidote for someone else's low spirits.

Learn to expand your appreciation for what's happening that pleases you. You will find what your are looking for, good or bad, and will experience your life accordingly.

The bad news: life forces us to change. The good news: life forces us to change. The best news: we all have the ability to revise our point-of-view.

Take advantage of what you can do - life is full of possibilities.

Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.
Betty Friedan

July 2016

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

It is likely that most of you have, at least once, fallen in love with someone who rejected you (or it felt that way) in the end. It has certainly happened to me. In my practice I hear, so often, "what was wrong with me?" "Why wasn't I good enough?"

We need to look at this from another angle. Maybe the real problem is what we tell ourselves about the break up.

When I was divorced ( almost a million years ago) and my ex-husband remarried I was sure that everyone saw me as a loser. This, despite that fact that our marriage should have ended years earlier.

I believed that there was something inherently wrong with me. Basically, I was certain that I was not lovable. Given this attitude, it is no surprise that I went through numerous attempts at romance before I found the one that worked.

In the meantime, I witnessed relationships in which one or the other was needy, angry, controlling, afraid of intimacy, etc. Not being entirely obtuse, I began to entertain the idea that being flawless was not only not a requirement, it was impossible. How I wish I had caught on to this earlier!

There are so many individuals out there who fear heartbreak and protect themselves from experiencing, once again, the mortification of rejection. That is a shame and a waste. The more you know about yourself and what love really means to you, the more likely you are to choose someone who is a good fit.

Of course you can always learn about more useful ways to handle troublesome situations. You do not, and will not be able to, overhaul your character in order to gain the affection of another. And yet, there are so many who, seemingly, cannot let go of the belief that his/her imperfections are the sole cause of the breakdown of the love affair.

One of the most common ideas is that one has lost the only person in the universe who could possibly love and understand them. Well, the counterpoint to this is that, clearly, that was not true, or it would have worked out. As a friend of mine said many years ago, "There's always another bus coming down the road."

Loving intensely feels magical. We, spiritually, become entwined with the other. If it doesn't work out, it can feel like we have lost a piece of ourselves. If you feel that way, it's a good time to take a step back and look at what we have learned from this liaison. What I know for sur that you are not diminished because he/she has gone away.

Unless your relationship is a straightforward business arrangement, it has been driven by unconscious forces. What you believe about yourself and about what love is is instilled at a very early age - at a time when you could not cognitively understand what your psyche was figuring out. When we are very lucky we are driven by the search for the complimentary piece. More likely, we are seeking the piece that our unconscious believes is missing. Well, of course, this is tricky because our new relationship cannot fill that void for us. We must learn to either release the longing (which is painful) or find a way to heal within ourselves.

You may not have enough confidence to believe that all the tools you require are right there in your core. Please believe me when I tell you that self-healing is well within your reach. Changing your fundamental notions about yourself will take some time and help, but is quite doable. You must be able and willing to rethink ideas that you have held onto for a long time.. Despite the sorrow that can accompany the revision of your point of view, the relief and renewed enthusiasm you attain will be well worth the effort.

It is so easy to become ensnared in the idea that you have invested so much time in this relationship that you do not want to face the possibility that you have wasted your time. Please, do not allow this kind of thinking to hold you back. Take this opportunity to learn what does not work out for you. Have your expectations been unrealistic? Intimacy is hard. If you expect a walk in the park, you will be painfully disappointed.

Do you believe that only an individual with very specific attributes will fill the bill? You might want to ask yourself why. Again, if you believe that "the other" can elevate your status and belief in yourself you are heading for a fall.

Falling in love is one thing. Being able to maintain a gratifying partnership is something else. Sadly, we cannot always live with the person we love.

Regardless of what you are convinced is true , you have what it takes to find satisfaction with another.

This brings us to another point: Do you really want to partner up? There are many people who are happiest when they are free of intimate entanglements. There is nothing wrong with an independent life. I am not suggesting that you become a recluse. If you find that your friends, families and activities are providing you with a life that feels worthwhile, why upset the proverbial apple cart?

In the greater scheme of things we all want to believe that somehow our earthly existence has had some type of positive impact. Take a look at Jane Goodall. Dr. Goodall has chosen to live a life among the chimpanzees. She is a renown primatologist and a UN messenger of peace. Her research has been of great benefit to our understanding of the natural world. Dr. Goodall has been married twice. Her marriages are not what define her - it is her passion for her work that has caught our attention and enriched our understanding of primates.

Allow yourself to take pride in your efforts. This is not vanity, it is reality. Many of us dwell on our deficits with ease. In order to live a balanced life, it makes sense to take stock of what we do well

What are you telling yourself about yourself? If it's weighted heavily in the direction of your perceived deficiencies, it's time to go back and do a rewrite.


Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 

August 2016
WORDS Matter!

Maybe it's just me. Every time I put on the television, it feels like someone is screaming. The atmosphere on my piece of the planet feels intense - too intense - and I like intense. That dreaded feeling that something cataclysmic is about to happen has taken over the world, as I know it, and, this time I know it's coming from the outside, not from my all-too-present personal demons. 

I understand that we tend to shout when we wish to be heard. But, what do we do when everyone seems to want all of the attention all the time. To be honest, I find it to be nerve wracking.

I travelled home to Florida yesterday from a greatly-needed visit to my family in Vermont. In Atlanta I changed planes and went to a different gate. A woman at the end of the row where I was planning to sit (quietly) quickly covered the dog, who was accompanying her, with a blanket. I told her that she needn't do that for me, I love dogs. She furiously informed me that she was protecting her pup from me! "100 people have walked in front of us (I was on the side) and my dog is upset." As I sat down I muttered, "Well, now it's 101".

I can understand that this individual was uneasy and protective of her dog. Did she expect that the airport would be empty? Had her approach been less hostile,  I would, certainly, have attempted to be helpful. As it was, I had been up since 4AM in order to make my plane on time, so I was in no mood to offer "tea and sympathy."

Aren't you tired of all the angry people out there? I'm as good as anyone at participating in a wall-thumping confrontation. I just don't feel like it anymore. It takes up too much of my energy and neither side converts the other, so why bother? Have we forgotten how to make our needs and desires known in way that is somewhat more civilized? Sometimes it seems to me that we do not have a clue.

So often we get caught up in responding that we don't even have a clear idea as to what has been said. With this being the case, it is not surprising that communication gets weird and distorted. It's easy to reach the conclusion that no one knows what they or any else is talking about. Does this remind anyone of anything... like maybe, the Tower of Babel. It's just a thought.

Of course in my line of work words, volume and intonation are critically important. Even as I write this newsletter I stay plugged in to my thesaurus so that I can have some confidence that what I am trying to say is clear. For me, a certain amount of precision is a necessity. If listening to understand became the goal, wouldn't we see a decrease in anxiety? Well, it makes sense to me.

After a summer of "This matters" and "That matters," I want to say that WORDS MATTER. Pay attention to what you are saying and who you are saying it to. You can inflict permanent damage with words. Many of us do not recognize that this is true. It makes sense to not call names. That behavior, ideally, should have changed years ago. Why use a tool of young childhood when you have so many more responses to choose from? Hey, Gang, it's time to get out of the sandbox!

We don't have to bulldoze an individual whose opinions differ from ours. It appears that many, especially in public speaking, believe that the louder they are the "righter" they are. Not true!! Actually, try to speak more quietly as your (temporary) adversary goes roaring along. You might find that things quiet down, sometimes quickly.
Maintain control of yourself. The other person is not your responsibility - not yours to change. It is always smart to refuse to take the bait - especially when it is thrown out blatantly. Terminate a conversation that has become too painful. You can always agree to finish the discussion later.

Be sure that you do listen to what the other person is saying. You might be surprised at what you will learn. If you have misjudged someone apologize. Don't give numerous examples of how right you were - just say "I'm sorry" and get on with it.

When we pay attention to what an individual is saying, we are exhibiting our respect. Ask questions to be sure that you understand. It is an all too rare and heartwarming experience to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, with all the drum rolls and clatter, we often miss the opportunity to give and gain esteem. You do not have to agree with everyone. You do yourself a favor when you take the time to make sense out of what is being said. 

What screamers don't understand is that as the volume increases, the party who receives the rant is likely to stop listening. Even if the recipient does manage to comprehend what you are trying to express, he/she will mostly remember the experience of being treated with contempt. That does not further your cause.
This is the political season, and, of course I know that the 2016 candidates and their surrogates are not literally bellowing at me (sort of). I also know that as interested as I am in this election, if the way the message is presented riles me up when I want to relax, I will, voluntarily, mute the sound. It's one thing to attract attention and quite another to maintain the kind of notice that works to one's advantage.

Anyone can be obnoxious. Maintaining an attitude of grace and display of self-esteem engenders more of the same. Why should you lower your personal standards? Be authentic first, with yourself, then, with others.
A good goal is to be more proactive than reactive. Think about it.

Speak softly and carry a big stick
Theodore Roosevelt

September 2016
Why Brangelina Why??

You may think that I'm concerned with the nitty gritty of the Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie divorce. Actually, not so much. What I am curious about is why, following ten years of cohabitation they are divorcing after a mere two years of marriage? Logically, a pre-marital split would seem to be a simpler situation than one that occurs after the formalities and legalities of marriage.

The occurrence of a long-term couple splitting up shortly after marriage is not an unusual phenomenon. One answer that makes sense to me is that the reason lies in an individual's beliefs about marriage. (I am discounting marriages of convenience)  
It would seem that long-held convictions of what marriage is supposed to mean may muddy the water. If there is no significant mutual agreement, one or the other is bound to feel let down. What makes this even more difficult is that many ideas about love and marriage are sub- or unconscious. This is one of those instances in which the 18 inches between the head and the heart becomes particularly challenging to traverse.

We say that we know that we cannot change an individual to our liking.  Is it possible that the magic of marriage will do that for us?  Ahhh...the head says "no" but the heart says "maybe". In fact, it is more likely that one or both partners will relax and return to old habits.  Why not? The deal is sealed, now they can sit back and put their feet up.
Marriage is one of those institutions that, for many of us, symbolizes the threshold to a new and wonderful beginning. We, who observe marital rituals, often cry and experience a feeling of nostalgia when attending a wedding. We look at the marital couple and, for a moment, get caught up in the fantasy. It doesn't take a lot of stretching to understand that we are reminded of our own romantic dreams and project them on to the newlyweds. Oh how we wish we could believe in uncomplicated never-ending love as we did (or pretended we did) a long time ago.

Those who get caught up in the fairy tale of "happily ever after" are doomed to experience disappointment.  Anyone who has lived in a long-term marriage will, I'm pretty sure, agree that it's not always a walk in the park. There are those who experience the wedding itself as the prize they have worked so hard to capture.  Somehow it is expected that it's easy after the ceremony.  Some version of "We did it!" is frequently expressed after the lovebirds are proclaimed to be man and wife.  In truth, of course, now the real work begins.

For those who believe that they will feel more secure, worthwhile or in some way elevated after marriage, disappointment is just waiting around the corner. While knowing we love and are loved is an exquisitely healing experience, it cannot replace the work needed to accept that we are worthy of this love. Without self-regard, we are likely to sabotage what is being offered emotionally. We may even devalue the person who expresses his/her loving feelings. It's reminiscent of the Groucho Marx quote, "I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member."

Another aspect that may arise after marriage is the feeling that we are trapped. While we may maintain the fidelity and commitment that we felt were important when we were living together, we may now feel that these are mandated rather than offered freely. It's a really good idea to learn how to speak one's mind while in any type of relationship. Many a couple have misfired due to their inability to clearly state what disturbs as well as what delights. Serious differences are best dealt with as they take place. The formality that accompanies the marriage contract does not address what to do when you experience serious discord. It is possible that the uncertainty that often accompanies cohabiting inhibits the expression of differing points of view. After the "I do's," there may be surprises that cause you to stumble. If you have not spoken your mind you are risking the growth of resentment which, of course, will pollute your relationship. 

It really helps if both of you are grown-ups. You understand that patience will serve you well. You are also capable of empathy. Rather than struggle to get your way you will have the ability to understand what your partner is trying to tell you. If you regard differences of opinion as a cause for combat, neither of you will be happy. Sometimes it does not seem possible, but if you can react from a position of kindness, your disagreements may cause you to move closer together.

At the end of the day, we all wish to be understood.  If there is a struggle, it is an amazing relief to find that the person on the other side wants to make sense of what you really want. Better yet is the knowledge that someone cares about knowing who you are. Those who use only the tools of childhood will fail at this essential and important task. If you can make peace with a situation, without harming yourself emotionally, that is always the preferred course of action.

Married or not, your bond cannot be based on competition. Yes, you can encourage the other person to reach their goals. However, the victory will be hollow if you repeatedly try to one up each other. Mutual support, without being a "yes man/woman" helps to build a genuinely strong foundation.

Know yourself well enough to understand whether or not you wish to enter into a legally binding bond. When we make our decisions based on what others want, we may ignore the mandates that are informed by both our own head and heart. If you are looking for sustainable happiness, always remember to listen to yourself with courage, intelligence and compassion. 

Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years. Simone Signoret

October 2016
There's no getting away from it...

I was quite determined to leave commentary on the 2016 Presidential race to others. I do not have the credentials to offer any valid or original comments on the world of politics. I do, however, care about the mood of my country, which has widely disparate passions.
 
This election has, without doubt, brought out the primitive rage that has infected our homes on both a macro and micro level. Basic rules of civilization have been tossed out the window with no thought to the consequences.

I am not about to go on a tirade about those whose feelings of neglect and fear have been aroused. Those sensitivities did not just fall out of the sky. Our capacity for empathy has been buried under a mountain of serious misunderstandings. Our ability to be civilized has been stretched to the breaking point. Mutual respect has gone out the window and we seem to have no attachment to values that have prompted us to to refrain from going into battle with those whose beliefs differ from ours.

I really don't care who you vote for. I do care that you take advantage of the privilege to vote, although, even then, I would not treat you with contempt if you decided to sit this one out.

Numerous articles have been written about the effect this election has had on the human psyche. We, as a nation, have more unease about the future than faith that what lies ahead has elements that will make us happy. A brain that is primarily filled with fury is not a healthy brain. When our attention is repeatedly focused on what angers us, our levels of serotonin decrease. The imbalance that follows can lead to depression and despair.

Anger is a valuable emotion that is part of who we are.  It's purpose is to alert us that something is wrong. When we become consumed with anger, our ability to concentrate on cause and solution is impaired. Anger that is out of control pulls us toward violence rather than peace-making problem-solving.

The stress that unremitting rage puts on the body is hard to measure. We do know that stress can break us down physically and emotionally. And yes, stress can lead to death. To behave in a way that is civilized is not a sign of weakness. The "rules" of civility allow us to utilize a broad-mindedness and understanding that is basic to our sense of safety.
 
Sometimes it is necessary to act quickly.  More often, however, when we take a moment to think about why we feel the way we do, we allow ourselves to more directly deal with the problem at hand.

I was brought up in a home where I was taught to "turn the other cheek", "treat others as you wish to be treated", and to be "sociable and friendly". Believe me, these reminders irritated me at the time. In fact, then, they would trigger my rebellious nature and my behavior often deteriorated. Now, I understand. I am grateful that, developmentally, the capacity of my brain to think with more complexity has led me toward a life I feel good about.

There are no angels living in my home. We are courteous however. It may sound contrived, but we say "please", "thank you" and "would you mind?" We do our best to understand each other and we do talk about difficult situations when we would rather avoid them. This is not because we are so good - it is because it makes life easier. 

If you missed the November 5 episode of SNL , pull it up on wi fi. Both Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon "broke" character and left the studio to hug people on the street. What they tapped into is that all of us are worn out from from the intensity of the friction. Of course it was scripted, but, it was refreshing to hear the actors acknowledge that they couldn't stomach much more of the back and forth hostility.

We do not thrive when we live, primarily, in negative places. There has been little, if any, break in the negativity. I am always glued to the TV at times of Presidential elections. This year, I cannot stand to watch and hear the accusations, distortions, and lies as I attempt to figure out what, exactly, is true  I've heard as much about all of this as I can bear.

I recently wrote an article that asked the question: "Do we actually want an empathic leader?" The answer was not clear. It is heartbreaking to realize that we, as a society, do not believe it is essential for those in charge to be able to put themselves in our shoes. If we are not understood, in which direction will we be led?

I join those who fear the aftermath of this election. Regardless of which candidate wins, a stirred-up pot of anger and mistrust remains. We can only hope that we are evolved enough to focus on the greater good rather than individual interests. It has been my opinion that more often than not, we are well-meaning. If this is true, we must listen more than we shout and begin to work together.

The political atmosphere at this time is harsh and threatening. If we are to avoid some sort of tragedy, now is the time to learn from and help each other. Let us find palatable compromises as we work to stabilize and optimize our relationships. I do believe that we can do this and hope that we will. 

War's a profanity because, let's face it, you've got two opposing sides trying to settle their differences by killing as many of each other as they can.
Norman Schwarzkopf

November 2016
My Daughter Doesn't Like Egg Salad!

 

I'm sure at least some of you are saying "who cares?  This will not stop the earth from rotating on its axis."  That is true.  The only interesting thing about this is that I was flabbergasted when she brought this to my attention.

As I thought about it, I realized that it started with my grandmother. My Mom told me how she and her mother would get into bed and my grandmother would point out that their feet looked just alike.  When I look at my hands and nails, I see my mother's. My daughter and I share facial expressions and gestures.  I love the similarities from generation to generation.

Sometimes we get it all wrong.  My mother really thought I had thin pin-straight hair just like hers.  Uh-huh.  Put me in our south Florida humid weather and no voluminizer is needed.

When we mothers forget that our daughters are not (blessedly) our clones we assume (which is always dangerous) that our preferences in lifestyle, dress and food are identical.   After all, why would my daughter wish to fuss with something that already works?

I love egg salad.  I have a number of good friends who also love egg salad (for us it's probably a comfort food).  My daughter likes eggs, and I deduced that egg salad was on her list of favorites. So, when I suggested we serve some at a luncheon, I was really surprised to learn that she didn't (al all) like egg salad.

How did I not know this? I guess my narcissism got in the way.  My own mother loved éclairs.  Whenever there was a special food treat I could count on éclairs.  What I never told her was that if I never saw another éclair that would be just fine with me!  Not wanting to spoil her delight, I never said anything.

But, now we have another generation and what my daughter and I have learned is staggering. Her daughter, my granddaughter, Sarah, doesn't like any of the food served at Thanksgiving. How is this possible?  I've never heard of this before.  In fact, it borders on, in my opinion, un-American. Who doesn't love turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy?  Sarah, that's who!

Dana (my daughter) accommodated Sarah and cooked her a spinach lasagna for Thanksgiving.  She posted pictures on Facebook, and it looked delicious, but, for me, it didn't hold a candle to all the carbs and fat that everyone else was preparing to gobble down (please excuse the pun). 

It is so easy to believe that others see the world exactly the way we do. Especially those we love.  One of my dearest friends and I know that if something with cooked apples (or peaches or blueberries), that is not pie, is on the menu, that is the dessert we will share.  We delight in this shared preference. 

There is an unspoken validation when someone we care about likes the same things we do.  It is akin to sharing a sense of humor.  Not too many things are more satisfying than sharing an "I can't stop laughing - please don't look at me laugh" with another. It's bonding.  

As we influence and leave a legacy for those who will follow, it makes sense to withhold judgment on differing ideas. 

Mothers, of course, aren't the only ones who get mixed up about boundaries.  I hear all the time about fathers who feel insulted when their son doesn't play a particular sport or wish to follow in family footsteps.

Changes can feel like a personal rejection and stir our fear of loss of rituals that have held our family (community) together. It seems to me that the drifting away and coming back to ceremonial observances is natural over the course of generations.  What one group may find inhibiting another may feel reassuring.

With all the focus on immigration in 2016, there is a tendency to view other social practices and institutions as threatening.  It is not the introduction of different ideas that threaten a way of life.  It is, I believe, the dearth of bonding and connection within groups.

As with all things connected to the human race, a balance, a combination of old and new is the optimal solution.  When we regress to black and white thinking, we are limiting our potential for understanding and enjoyment.
Why do we travel and learn new languages?  I think it is because it allows us to learn about things of which we may have never dreamed.  What sparks creativity?  The internalization of an expanded way of regarding the world.

We need both stability and fluidity if we wish to reach our greatest potential.  We are the drivers of this particular vehicle and can choose, individually, how far along this road we wish to travel.    

There are those who are nostalgic and those who forge ahead.  My world is very little like my (immigrant) grandmother's was on a superficial level.  I feel fortunate that I do not have to struggle my way into a corset every day.  On the other hand, my grandmother lived in a community that was prepared to work together so that many not only survived, but thrived as they assimilated into the culture.

I must confess that I am disappointed about the egg salad.  However, we still have a love for ice cream and movie popcorn that we share.  More importantly, our bond of loyalty, which originated long ago, holds strong, extends to our children and causes us to rejoice in our shared genetic code. 

Mothers of daughters are daughters of mothers and have remained so, in circles joined to circles, since time began. - Signe Hammer

December 2016
Another Perspective

I'm going to start this newsletter with a shout out to Jenna Bush Hagar.  Here's why:  I've been trying to find a way to express what I have experienced in my little world for the past year or so and just haven't been able to give voice to my beliefs.  I had pretty much decided to not compose a newsletter this month.  Then, Jenna changed all that.

On the Today show, she discussed her family's relationship with the Obamas.  She described them in glowing terms.  The Obamas have expressed their fondness and respect for the Bush family as well.  If you doubt the sincerity of the positive nature of these shared feelings, check out the photo of Michelle Obama hugging George Bush on September 24, 2016.

Jenna continued to talk about Bill Clinton's positive relationship with her grandfather, George H.W. Bush, and the camaraderie between Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill.  

In a universe in which I hesitate to use "shoulds," I have to say that these examples show the political world as I believe it should be.  

Hey, I grew up in D.C.  It wasn't until the 23rd amendment was passed in 1961 that my parents and others who lived in the District were allowed to vote.  That was, and is a very big deal.

I have tremendous pride in and respect for our ability to vote as we choose. It is appalling to me that such bitterness, mistrust, and animosity surrounds this privilege.

Back to the Today show... As the topic continued to be discussed, it was pointed out that individuals in high office have a stake in attempting to make the world a saner and safer place. It would seem to me that it would be impossible to ignore every example of deprivation and injustice that is brought to a President's attention. Certain situations may seem to be more salient than others, but I must believe in the human capacity for compassion, if not empathy.  You're right, I am unwilling to become cynical.  To give up hope on human possibilities for good is not something I intend to do.

When I was a little girl, my mother would tell me about the day her father, an immigrant from Odessa, Russia, became a United States citizen.  She never forgot his joy at achieving this milestone.  I feel I am fortunate to have heard this personal account of patriotism.

It seems to me that today we are expected to show our loyalty in some ways that are hard to synthesize.  It is just about impossible to combine fear with welcoming and a belief in a shortage of enough to go around with genuine generosity.  To my way of thinking, this is so messed up!

I can only speak for myself, but, over the years I have been blessed to receive support - emotional, physical and financial from some folks who had nothing to gain by standing up for me.

 During a very sad time in my life, certain friends not only stood by me and encouraged me to believe that life would get better (it did), they loved me warts, pimples and all.  A dear friend said that she never saw my deficiencies as warts and pimples.  Now, that is a definition of love!
 
As I have shared over the years of writing this newsletter, I have experienced numerous rewards and challenges in my life. I chose to follow the so-called "road less traveled." I have such gratitude to those who continued to see me as a person of value.  Don't get me wrong; I feel that I have lived the life I was meant to live.  If I were wiped off the earth tomorrow, I would believe that my every deep-seated longing has been granted. I know, however, that love, in all its many forms is transformational and I have received more than my fair share.

Sometimes I wonder why we don't become tired of fighting.  When I listen to couples who are struggling to get along with each other, I often have the thought "Why don't they just call a truce once in a while?"  It seems to me that arguing the point and trying to win blocks out any impulse toward peace.  Also, since "right" is a relative term, how do we know who has won? 

When we view each other as competitors and, worse yet, demons, it is easy to ignore our similarities.  The pecking order always changes.  No one stays on top forever.  Our ascension to power does not necessarily bring contentment along with it.  If we must perpetually defend our status, that doesn't leave much time for fun and laughter.  We make choices all the time about our identification of and desire for happiness.  When was the last time you laughed until your sides hurt?

Anyone can make a choice to be, if not happy, at least satisfied.  Has anything pleased you recently?  Does anyone out there care for you?  Have you reached out to help someone else?  Can you think of a song that makes you happy?  Can you recall an act of kindness?  Any of these occurrences can change the way you look at life.  It may not be "perfect," but I would guess that you have at least a few good things going on.

Have you remembered to be kind to yourself?  We are far more likely to be self-critical than to honor our efforts and accomplishments.  In a shift in the Golden Rule, treat yourself the way you want others to treat you.  Give it a shot.  You may find it's contagious.  When you are successful at self-care, the day always seems a little brighter.

Bad humor is an evasion of reality; good humor is an acceptance of it. 
Malcolm Muggeridge

February 2017
A Time to Speak

"To everything, there is a season...A time to keep silence and a time to speak" (Ecclesiastes 3)

    This is the newsletter that my husband does not want me to write.  Why? Because of the possible repercussions.  I told him not to worry; I am not that important.  I appreciate his wish to protect me.  Nonetheless, the time has arrived.
    I have always believed that we cannot mandate what to believe and who to love.  I have no desire to debate faith or devotion.  If anything, one of my core beliefs is that, if we deny who we are, if we are not true to ourselves, we have not truly lived the lives we were put on this earth to live.
    I  am Jewish.  I was raised in a home that valued traditions without being obsessed with them.  When I was a little girl, my playmates were Bobby Zummo, Stevie and Frankie Lane, Sandra and Patrick Masters. None of them were Jewish; they were the kids who lived near me.
    When Sandra taught me to sing "Jesus Loves Me..." there was no uproar, merely a suggestion that it was not appropriate for me to be singing that song.
    My parents were born in the United States.  They knew what they knew about the Holocaust from a distance.  Of course, I remember the tone,  if not the words, of their discussions.  The message I absorbed was that it must not happen again but, it was possible that it could happen again.
    I have gone about my life knowing all kinds of people.  My friends are, for sure, a mixed bag - just the way I like it.  My first husband was Jewish the second one is Catholic.  Let's just say my heart beats faster for number 2.
    I believe that a life that is lived based on fear is hardly a life at all.  I have been wise and reckless am proud and (somewhat) shamed by past choices.  I am very lucky that I have been able to forgive myself.
    The hate that was unleashed in this past election set my antenna quivering.  Allow me to say this explicitly; I do not believe that President Trump is anti-semitic.  I do believe that he, and others, were provocative and inflammatory in their rhetoric.  I do not believe the intention was to release a generalized hatred in the country.  My guess would be that the intention was to win an election. And he did.  
    The prejudice that has now bubbled over was there all along.  Many extremists felt that they were given permission to express their bigotry openly.  Xenophobia is nothing new (read some of the Old Testament).  What is frightening is that once these floodgates are opened terrible things are likely to happen.  And they have.
    I am not suggesting that anti-Semitism is worse than racism, anti-Islam, heterosexism or any other ethnocentrism.  It is the "ism" that hits home for me.  You cannot frighten me with misogyny or intimidate me because I am short (woe to those who have tried). What I (and all of us) have inherited is the fear that has been passed down through generations, of violence against who I am. Ideas of what is good and what is bad are passed along with genes for blue eyes and big feet.  For more information on this, you may wish to look up Karl Jung and the collective unconscious.
    Like the Native Americans who are protesting the destruction of sacred sites and the sacred earth at Standing Rock, I am taking a stand, in my way, against the destruction of institutions and objects that are sacred to the Jewish people.  Over the weekend there have been bombing threats at Jewish Community Centers (which were probably developed, initially, because of the attitude of "no Jews allowed," which was common and considered to be acceptable). The destruction of 100 headstones at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, and, of course, the regular desecration of synagogues with graffiti and Nazi symbols reminds us that there are those who must disparage to feel good about themselves. 
    If you are a white supremacist, you are probably not reading this newsletter.  If you are, please know that every group that you are attempting to destroy will resist your efforts profoundly, powerfully, and successfully.  There are many ways our voices can be heard, and many of us will take advantage of those avenues of communication.  You are the actual terrorists.  Your job is to terrorize.  Well, I, for one, refuse to allow you to succeed in your mission.
    I come from a group of people who have been scapegoated for centuries.  We have learned from our history.  We know the worst of anti-Semitism.  Those who cling to bigotry and a twisted sense of superiority cannot begin to imagine the depth and breadth of our willingness to stand up to you.  We are courageous and fierce.
    The Jewish people will not be tricked and silenced as they were in the era of Hitler.  Some of us are Democrats, some Republicans.  Some conservative, some liberal.  Some attached to worldly goods, some to thought and philosophy.  We come in all guises. We stand together when we say NEVER AGAIN!  We mean it.
    I have never paraded my religious beliefs; I don't need to.  In my lifetime I have experienced some anti-Semitism, but, probably, less than most.  If you do not want to be my friend or my client because of my religion, all I can say is "so be it."
    Discrimination is not only cruel; it is ignorant.  The wave of violence that is becoming more and more prevalent worldwide harms everyone.  Most people are, I believe, kind-hearted.  There are more of "us" than there are of "them."  Be courageous, stand up, speak your mind.  Do not be afraid to disagree - that is a way we can all learn.  We can change direction; we simply have to make a commitment to do just that.

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
Elie Wiesel      
March 2017
Control - Really?

   When I point out that no one has control over anything, a typical response from clients is indignation accompanied by a look that implies I have two heads.  I sigh (as a rule) and try to explain that I am taking away nothing. Control was never there, at all.
    When we are rational, we know that any situation can change at any time.  For some, this fuels previously held anxiety.  This increase in the level of anxiety causes more anxiety.  This, in turn, can become quite crippling.
    How about if we began to rely on the power within?  For all who are reasonably healthy and sane, all that is needed is the recognition that all the clout  we need is right there dwelling inside our corporeal being.
    I frequently urge my clients to remember that they are warriors. You may not feel like a warrior, but, trust me, you are.
    A very important ally is your emotional intelligence.  You have to start with getting to know who your are - who you really are.  If you find that daunting and possibly, shaming, you have a lot of company. Don't run away from the aspects of yourself that, you believe, threaten your ideology.  It is important to understand your strengths and vulnerabilities.
    When something important goes wrong, go to someone who will listen as you talk it out.  If you are stuck when you try to decide who you can go to, by all means treat yourself to a consultation with a therapist. Warriors, in real life, need the help of others in facing their battles. When we verbally investigate solutions a part of our brain kicks in and stimulates our ability to be resourceful. 
    This is the time to be strategic.  Put your options down on paper and carefully consider what will work best in your situation.  It can be helpful to have tentative plans A, B, and C.  You don't have to execute any of them.  What your backups will do is remind you that there are many answers to your dilemma, that your brain has not frozen, and doomsday is still in the future.
    Use your creativity.  Yes, you are capable of thinking "outside the box".  If what you have been doing has gone awry, it is to your benefit to try something new. 
    Investment executives will advise you to not put all of your eggs in one basket.  This advice also applies to how much of yourself you are willing to commit to any person, idea, situation, or venture.
    It is vital to parcel out a piece of yourself that is for you alone.  What I mean by this is never give away all the pieces of your core.  If your belief in yourself depends on anything from the outside, you will ignore the power of your intangible self and will feel needlessly vulnerable.
    It is not unusual, when we are floating in the euphoria of a new love, to believe that our beloved's presence is crucial to our feelings of being secure and whole.  Well, at some point one of you will leave the relationship.  Whether the change is voluntary or otherwise, one of you, will, eventually fall out of love, move or die.  
    This is one of the reasons that a break up of any sort may leave many of us feeling fragmented.  This rule applies to your work, your social status or anything else that you rely on to identify yourself.  I have spoken to any number of retirees who don't know who they are any more.  They don't know, or have forgotten, that the authentic self is untouchable and invaluable.
    Regardless of what life may deliver at your doorstep you will always have your beliefs and mores.  No one and nothing can take away the essential you.  Now, at times, almost all of us, for any number of reasons, act against who we are.  As a rule, that nagging feeling that something is not quite right gives us a warning signal.  Whether or not we heed the signal, we are still who we are.
    There are many ways in which we manifest our struggle to control the uncontrollable.  We participate in power struggles every day.  When we battle for a parking space, when we flip out over towels that are folded the wrong way, when we angrily argue about a political occurrence, we are, consciously or unconsciously, attempting to display our ability to have an impact on our environment. 
    Perfectionists need, whatever is defined as perfection, to feel safe.  It is, I think, evident that the need for control is what fires up this particular engine.  Being a purist is hard.  We never achieve our goals.  Our feeling of having shelter in an unpredictable world is always tenuous.
    When we remember that our inner strength is inviolable we understand that we can weather the uncertainties that will, surely, visit our doorsteps.  What is important is what we hold inside.  How do we regard ourselves?  Forget the outside world, what do you think about you?
     Many rely on their religious and spiritual beliefs to address the feelings of being pint-sized in an immeasurable universe.  I will leave that discussion to the theologians. 
    In the meantime warriors, battle on.  Treat yourselves with enlightened respect, be willing to change course, and you will be just fine. 

You can have fantasies about having control over the world, but I know I can barely control my kitchen sink. That is the grace I'm given. Because when one can control things, one is limited to one's own vision.
 Kiki Smith

April 2017
Living with Sad

Sad is different than depressed.  Sad is temporary and not so scary.  Nonetheless, sad is not an emotion we welcome. Our desire to avoid the discomfort motivates us to dodge those feelings by utilizing a variety of distractions (healthy and not so) that, in turn, unfortunately, are likely to increase our sadness. 

I encourage clients to, if not embrace their uncomfortable feelings, at least take a shot at tolerating them.  When we give ourselves permission to experience what that entails we can then set some boundaries and limit the amount of time we allow ourselves to remain in that troublesome place.

Did I mention that it is an easy thing to suggest and a very hard thing to do?  I should have.  Right now an accumulation of events, past and present, have put me in the sad zone.  I have had to remind myself that I can productively live with this sensitivity to the blues.  I do not have to pretend (to myself) that I am upbeat.  I do not have to be afraid (as I have been in the past) that I will feel this way forever.  I have figured out the convergence of happenings that has led me to this funk at this time.  The next time I feel this way (and I will) I will, hopefully, recognize what is going on with greater speed and deal with it more effectively.

The reason I am addressing this is that so many of you have asked me, "how do I get out of this?" The answer is, don't try so hard.  The more you twist and disown and attempt to disfigure this uneasy state of mind the more difficult it will become.  We can't deny our uncomfortable feelings and expect to fully experience the happy ones.
Many years ago a therapist I was seeing said, "Your feelings aren't going to kill you."  I was indignant.  How dare she speak to me that way!  Well, you know what, she was right.  If one of our quests in life is to be authentic (which is a good idea) then each of us must accept all of who we are.

Once we are able to not only accept, but to take pleasure in this thing called "me," the whole world changes.  At this point we begin to be able to respectfully disregard opinions that do not support our beliefs and dreams.  This moment of self-understanding arrives when we can trust our judgement to lead us to make the decisions that bring our inside and outside into synchronicity.

As we evolve and gain wisdom we begin to express ourselves with originality and empathy.  We cannot possibly put ourselves into another's shoes until we stand comfortably in our own.  When we allow ourselves to become informed by our own struggles we increase our ability to prioritize and to place events into proper perspective.  In order to do this, we must allow all that we feel to live with us in peace.
It is helpful to understand that when we feel swamped by emotions that interfere with our functioning that it is possible to set boundaries.  Set a particular time to dwell on what is causing distraction and worry.  An example would be:  mornings between 9:30 and 11. 

Once you make this deal with yourself (you may want to write it down), it is important to stick to your schedule.  As you allow yourself to just experience whichever feeling (not event) is troubling you, you reduce that feeling's ability to terrify.  You will find that, with patience, your psyche will calm down again - it always does.  Going to war against your sadness, anger, anxiety, etc., will only allow whatever is haunting you to gain in strength.  Needless suffering!

If the first spark of melancholy is able to convince you that you deserve it, or need to run away, that is when you must have a talk with yourself.  What you are feeling is a legitimate part of you, but, it is not all of you.  Since we have no scale on which to weigh that which we deserve, how about giving up on worrying about that?  You will never get an answer.

Do you brainwash yourself into believing that you are the only sad person in your part of the world?  It sounds silly when I say it, yet, it is all too easy to believe that we are the only ones who cannot "deal" with feeling blue.

Maybe you allow yourself to conclude that you will feel this way forever.  Again, it sounds unreasonable when you see it declared in black and white, but, the fear of that feeling can drive us into that mindset.

It is normal, temporary, and rational to feel down sometimes.  Those who try to convince you that you bring on your own misery i.e. the law of attraction are not correct.  Of course you don't want negativity to take over your life!  Neither do you want to be a robot with no access to genuine emotions.

For myself, I find that keepin' on keepin' on is what works for me.  When the so-called "bad" feelings swoop in, I greet them with, "Oh, you're here again.  OK, I just can't pay attention to you right now, but I will get back to you."  And I do.

Tears come from the heart and not from the brain. 
Leonardo da Vinci