Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Good Old Albert Ellis

August is my least favorite month of the year.  Too hot, too dry and dusty, summer clothes have become a bore, mosquito bites are a misery and the whole neighborhood smells of barbeque.

This irritable, August frame of mind is kind of fun. Any day that doesn't go well, I can blame on August. Irrational, of course, but a bit of a buss man's holiday since, as a therapist, I believe that blaming is at the root of many emotional problems.  Albert Ellis (1913-2007) father of Rational Emotive Therapy, went so far as to say all problems share a single root: blaming and demanding.

Certainly, there are times when it's important to know, in the name of justice and to avoid repeating mistakes, who holds the responsibility. You might call this rational blaming.  But a ton of blaming has noting to do with rational thinking, au contraire.  Often, blaming serves to hide one's own bad behavior, to try to control the behavior of others, to get revenge and to feel superior. And then there is the cognitive error that if the wrong doer is labeled, the problem goes away. Knowing who spilt the milk will not put the milk back in the bottle ... but yelling about it is a nice release, at least temporarily.

A learned behavior, blaming can be unlearned by practicing accepting responsibility for a mistake or bad behavior even if only a part of the problem can be attributed to you.  A funny thing happens when you step up to the plate and say this part is my fault. (I am not talking about awful, false equivalency) It takes a bit of courage but it actually feels freeing.  Since you own the poor behavior, you no longer have to hide or defend.  As a bonus, you may be admired for being forthright and honest.  Sometimes, other culprits will follow your lead and also fess up.  And, importantly, owning failure allows you to learn from a mistake and move on.  Ellis had this to say: "The best years of your life are ones in which you do not blame them on your mother, the ecology or the president.  You realize that you control your own destiny."

Ellis believed that there are three "musts" (demands) that hold us back (and make us blamers) I must do well.  You must treat me well.  The world must be easy.

Having said all this, I still dislike August and I thank Mother Nature (whose fault it is not) that autumn is on its way.

Fault Lines

Soiled, smelt, dripped
Splashed, spilt, pinched,
Bawled, hit, bit.
Who spilt the milk?

Punked, rocked, flunked,
Dyed, smoked, lied,
Drink, drank, drunk.
Who do you think you are?

Swore, burnt, fried,
Fought, gnashed, crashed,
Yelled, failed, bailed.
Whose fault is it?

Broke, doped, bent,
Drooled, pooped, stooped,
Dried, cried, died.
Who made a mess?

Bridget Harwell

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Nietzche via Joseph Campbell

This is something i am currently working on:

"Nietzsche was the one who did the job for me. At a certain moment in his life, the idea came to him of what he called “the love of your fate.” Whatever your fate is, whatever the hell happens, you say, “This is what I need.” It may look like a wreck, but go at it as though it were an opportunity, a challenge. If you bring love to that moment - not discouragement - you will find the strength is there. Any disaster that you can survive is an improvement in your character, your stature, and your life. What a privilege! This is when the spontaneity of your own nature will have a chance to flow.

Then, when looking back at your life, you will see that the moments which seemed to be great failures followed by wreckage were the incidents that shaped the life you have now. You’ll see that this is really true. Nothing can happen to you that is not positive. Even though it looks and feels at the moment like a negative crisis, it is not. The crisis throws you back, and when you are required to exhibit strength, it comes.”

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Forever After

Once upon a time
pearls fell from my lips
when I spoke.
In a red cloak
I had discourse with wolves and bears.
I danced in crystal slippers
and fairy folk befriended me.

I put aside the fanciful, as one must,
and toiled long years in the rational world.
But I've grown old now and lingering
and on a soft day like this of mist and shine
with sundrops sparkling in the damp wood
I feel the tug of magic.
I hear my companions call:
fairy wings, the witch's cackle,
my sad prince's sigh.
And that old troll.
How he laughs
and slaps his knee
over the tricks
life played me.

Bridget Harwell

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Last Snow

Propped up to take a pill
to have her face washed,
her hair combed,
she saw upon the window sill
a mound of snow.
She remembered ...
that empty space
after school
between there and there.
Snow brushing her face
heat rising from the collar
of her opened coat.
Scentless air
and the soft, slow walk
through a field of all possibilities.

Bridget Harwell

Thursday, April 17, 2014


I stopped to buy a car.
Something sure and simple
with nice upholstery.
Rick, the salesman,
thought my name was Young Lady
though I corrected him often.
Sometimes he thought I was Gal
and often I reminded him of his wife
though none of her problems,
dislike of technical explanations
and fear of driving in the snow,
were my problems.
I countered.
I called him Dude.
I said man a lot
as in man you gotta be kidding.
Though well into his seventies
I told him he was a thoughtful lad.
I thought he was naive
he thought I was peculiar.
We parted, he with his commission
I with a car
and a reminder
that the old world
turns slowly.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Take it Easy

You know you're not a perfectionist.  You can tolerate messes, you're not overly critical of others or yourself, you procrastinate but not excessively, you notice details but not obsessively. So, while you are not swimming in the deep and very difficult waters of perfectionism, you are aware of some discomfort at the shallow end.

You have a sense of not being so comfortable with yourself, even when things, for a change, are going well.  A tugging at the self, a message whispered, There is more to do.  In order to silence the message, that you are barely aware exist, you might have that extra drink or too much TV or just be aware of not being as happy as a pleasant day or evening would warrant. Could it be that you are suffering from SUP? (Don't look it up cause I made it up)  SUP stands for slightly under performing.  Unlike the perfectionist, this has little to do with what others think of you.  It's an ongoing self-examination, an anxious drip, drip drip: you're letting-yourself-down, you are not living up to your full potential, whatever that might be. And, really, could anyone ever know their full potential?  Isn't there always more?

Goals are good.  Some of life's best days are those spent in working towards goals.  But goals have their place.  There should also be goal-free time. Time when the message is not try harder but rather, stop trying... leave space  for other meanings and purposes in life to occur.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Brave Season

I hear from other parts of the country that spring has arrived, but we here in Cleveland still await it.  The hardest winter many of us can recall, when spring does arrive, we will open our doors, come out and greet our neighbors and reassure ourselves that we are not polar bears.

It's almost impossible not to be touched by the season of birth and growth whether one is happy or sad, looking forward or clinging to the past.  Spring, especially, seems to say, "Move on."  "To where, to what?" you might ask if you are depressed or confused.  No answers from me except to say, move. Often, a whattodo will present itself once you decide to move your body and your mind.  It's not always a right answer but it is something.  And something can lead to something else. That's called living, which by now, we all know, requires courage.  So, if your are fortunate enough to have spring at your door, take a  brave step into it.

Snowdrops, in the poem below, are the bravest flowers I know.


Camped beneath the trees,
lined up along the driveway,
snow drops are rioting in my yard.
Two inches high, their droopy little heads together
they are bound in flower solidarity,
withstanding every weather.
Even the mad March hare
that runs about my house at night
cannot scare these little soldiers.
Heralds of spring, they close ranks
against the blustering wind
that, unbeknownst to it,
carries the snowdrop message,
"Spring is coming."

Monday, February 17, 2014

Beauty Salon

The salon is packed. There's the usual frisson of excitement that belongs to a Saturday morning; lots of chatting, some talk about weekend plans.  I recognize a few people who, like me, are regulars.  I enjoy the pleasant pull of Marie's strong fingers as she blow-dries my hair, shakes it back and forth.  In the mirror, I see the frothy cloud she has created and will soon tame. My eyes slip sideways. Several feet in front of and to the left of me I see a face that blots out everything.  A middle-age woman has her head tilted back.  Her skin has a gray tinge.  Her lips are moving but no sound comes out.  Her eyes are tightly closed but tears leak through and slip down her round cheeks.  Jane is cutting her hair.  Big chunks of it fall on the woman's shoulders and the floor.  Very soon, Jane will begin shaving her scalp. She stops to wipe tears from her own eyes so she can go on.  I look up at Marie who shakes her head and mouths the word cancer.

The woman's sorrowful face returns to me many time during the day.  The way she squeezed her hands, her lips moving with silent incantations, the bright world buzzing around her. That night, I wake up and see her face again.  I wonder if she, too, is awake. Her head cold, her ears strangely exposed.