Monday, October 31, 2011

Living With Wasps

If you are living or working with a wasp you have my sympathy. Not the Anglo Saxon W.A.S.P. but the stinging insect with the pretty yellow and black stripes. And not actually the insect but the person who delivers a sharp and unexpected sting in wasp-like manner. Harmless for the most part, the wasp person is not to be trusted in difficult moments. Moments involving spilt coffee, lost keys, socks left on the floor, slow deliveries, rain and snow, cat spray, late flights, wrong turns, everything. The wasp person responds to life's little disappointments or annoyances with fury and if you are anywhere in the wasp person's vicinity, LOOK OUT. Don't wave your arms and don't even try to sooth with words. Don't move. Then, as soon as possible, slip away.

The next time you see the wasp person it will be all pretty stripes again. You may be suffering from a welt but the wasp person will appear to have no recollection of the incident that set him/her off or of the person stung. "Be still and slip away," may seem like cowardly advice but, lacking extermination, it is difficult to change the behavior of a wasp.

However, if you are a wasp person, you do have the ability to change. Your biggest obstacle is your remarkable ability to deny bad behavior. Welts you have caused seem so small to you as to be negligible. You easily turn to more pleasant things; little jokes, an invitation to lunch, a posy or two and all is smooth again. What you don't fully realize is that once stung, people don't forget. Stung more often, resentment builds and dreams of pay-back fester.

Low tolerance of life's little difficulties and the habit of blaming turn people into wasp. Blaming is based on the irrational thought that someone (or something) has to be responsible for your frustrations and that if you call out that person, it makes things better. And that may feel true in the moment but it's only a temporary release of anger. The coffee doesn't flow back into the cup, the keys are still lost and the rain and snow remain indifferent to curses. And you have created distance and distrust and fear in others and likely made a fool of yourself.

Blaming and temper tantrums hearken back to childhood. In order to avoid punishment or to protect a good boy or girl image, you blamed your brother or the dog or the teacher. In order to get what you wanted, you threw tantrums. Alas, the baby years are over. We're all wearing grown-up pants now ... best worn without yellow and black stripes

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Nine Again

At-chewy! I would never sneeze like this in public but I sometimes do when I'm alone. Then, I think of Frankie and how I made my brother laugh with a sneeze. I'm nine again.

I love such moments, the physical memories that return me to a younger self. They give me a sense of continuity and, strangely enough, freedom. On a day when I'm feeling old or stale, a physical sensation from childhood can change my mood...not always, but mostly for the good. This happened the other day when I dragged my tired body to the gym to work out with a trainer. I got belted into a machine and my feet were left to dangle. A kid again. I felt more spontaneous, more adventurous; I really tried hard and I believed I was having fun even when it hurt.

Another thing that can flip me backwards is a pat on the head. Of course, no one pats my head these days, but when I've done something well, I can physically recall my mother's hand on my head. Unlike thoughts, physical remembrance requires no picking apart, no use of words, just experiencing.

It's tiresome always being in adult mode. Small wonder younger and older people report greater degrees of happiness than those in middle age. So many responsibilities, global problems to be solved, kids to be fed, trash to be taken out. Every so often, it's a relief to be aware of a younger you; a sense of physical presence within your grown-up body. People speak of smells and tastes that take them back but there are also postures and smiles and gestures which can connect you with your early life. It takes some awareness but it's a focus worth cultivating. Lately, I've been revisiting my thirteen year old self. If I walk into a room or an airport and Simon Hobbs (my odd heart) is on the telly, I feel a little of the crush I had on Chuck Norton in eighth grade. Only for a moment cause I'm not nuts...but what a delicious moment.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What a Mess!

In the last few weeks I've heard a couple of quotes that, on their face, might not seem related but got me thinking about an aspect of life we tend to either ignore or reject. First, the quotes:

"Let the lover be disgraceful, crazy, absent-minded. Someone sober will worry about events going badly. Let the lover be." Rumi

"Stay hungry, stay foolish." Stewart Brand (Whole Earth Catalogue) as quoted by Steve Jobs.

These quotes made me think about how messy life is. Relationships are messy, politics are messy (I'll say!), and our internal workings are messy. Still we tend to believe that things should proceed in an orderly, predictable way. We think in an "if...then" way. "If he loved me, he would never hurt me;" "If I were a good person, I would be happy for my friend who just won the lottery;" "If this, then that." Sometimes we are correct in this calculus. Often we are not. Because people are messy....and disgraceful and crazy and absent-minded and hungry and foolish.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Can You Believe It?

Thank your lucky stars you are living now for you are far less likely to get clubbed over the head when you walk out your front door (or visited by any other form of violence) than at any time since Neanderthal Man walked out of his cave. Steven Pinker, the well known and respected Harvard cognitive psychologist/historian, argues this in his soon-to-be published book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. The reason you may hold a contrary view, Dr. Pinker explains, is that we are daily bombarded by the media's reporting of global crimes and wars.

I'm looking forward to reading his book, if I can lift it (700+pages) because I have long thought that, despite all the miseries in the world, things/people are looking up. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I hoped such was the case, but now, using statistical methodology, Dr. Pinker offers a scientific point of view.

What I glean from reading summaries and pre-release reviews, Dr. Pinker sees humans in constant struggle between good and evil (different vocabulary, but let's give a nod here to Dr. Freud) with good getting the upper hand. What really has caught my attention is Dr. Pinker's identification of five inner demons and four better angels involved in the struggle. The demons are: sadism, revenge, dominance, violence for gain and violence for an ideology. The angels are: self-control, empathy, morality and reason. What therapist, worth the name, hasn't dealt with these demons and angels within the self and within clients? It's a tidy list, don't you think?

Monday, October 10, 2011

There Are No Words

On a single-digit winter day I had a bloody experience. I had a thing on my arm lanced by a doctor filling in for my doctor. No numbing, no pain killer, no warning, just splattered blood and a scream. (Needless to say, I never saw that guy again.) Shaken, I made it downstairs to the pharmacy, turned in my prescription and waited. My mind was empty as I watched my hand reach out and pick up a cookie from the counter. I unwrapped the cellophane, held the cookie in both hands and ate it as a five year old child would. My mind was disengaged as my body took over and found comfort. I have long forgotten the pain of that day, but not the texture nor taste of that cookie. This was a small moment in my life, insignificant except that it brought home to me how much the body has a life of its own.

Later in life, I fully experienced this when grieving the death of someone very dear to me. I had not known, could not have known, how much grief takes place in the body. When words cannot express grief, the body does. One such expression is numbness; a dazed state where one can sit, staring with no purpose and no understanding.

"The Woodspurge" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti is a spare picture of isolation and sadness. With no destination, the poet walks wherever the wind takes him, until the wind stops. He sits, his head down between his knees, and stares at a patch of weeds and a woodspurge, a yellow flower with three petals. For me, this poem comes as close as possible to expressing the trumatic moments of intense, numbing grief.

The Woodspurge

The wind flapp'd loose, the wind was still,
Shaken out dead from tree and hill:
I had walk'd on at the wind's will__
I sat now, for the wind was still.

Between my knees my forehead was,--
My lips, drawn in, said not Alas!
My hair was over in the grass,
My naked ears heard the day pass.

My eyes, wide open, had the run
Of some ten weeds to fix upon;
Among those few, out of the sun,
The woodspurge flower'd, three cups in one.

From perfect grief there need not be
Wisdom or even memory:
One thing then learnt remains to me,--
The woodspurge has a cup of three.

                                Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Quote I Love Today

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."


Monday, October 3, 2011

Versatile Blogger Award

Laura Stanfill has graciously shared the Versatile Blogger Award with us. Thank you so much, Laura. We are honored.

To accept this award we were asked to:

1) Thank the awarder and link back to him/her (see above)
2) Share 7 things about yourself (OURselves in this case)
3) Pass on this award to 15 blogs we've discovered

So, having thanked Laura and linked to her site, here are our 7 things and our blog list:

7 Things About Us:

1) Liz: I'll start with Milo, my ultra-lovable grandson because I can't seem to resist talking about him

2) Bridget: I have an eighteen year old cat, Baby Stokes, who is teaching me to age gracefully while paying attention to the kitten within.

3) Liz:  I would go to 2 movies every day if i could

4) Bridget: Liz taught me to put Raisenettes in my hot, movie popcorn. So good, still trying to forgive her.

5) Liz: My last meal would be a lobster roll, potato chips and a hot fudge sundae

6) Bridget: I've practiced Transcendental Meditation for thirty-six years. Best thing I've ever done.

7) Us: We respect our differences, learn from each other, and laugh a lot.

Cool Blogs We Have Discovered:

1)  Laura Stanfill--Laura is a former newspaper reporter and writer of fantastic historical fiction. Her blog is full of great info for writers.

2) Ut Omnia Bene Gigi's blog has something for everyone: art ,writing, performance, cute dogs and life.

3) Everything Health addresses the rapid changes in Science, Medicine, Health and Healing in the 21st Century  

4) The Therapist Writer great hints for therapist types who want to get published

5) A LIbrary of My Own visit this blog if you love to read

6) Share a bi-monthly event in Portland, OR that brings together artists to create in a shared space

7) Shrink Rap  Three psychiatrists discuss clinical and professional issues, therapies, and ethics

8) Mind Hacks Neuroscience and psychology tricks to find out what's going on inside your brain

9) Everyone Needs Therapy This social work blog reflects multi-disciplinary scholarship

10) Object and Architecture handmade objects for habitation & living from reclaimed/reused/recycled material

11) Urban Monk modern life, entwined with ancient spirituality

12) Urban Muse a wide range of excellent topics that all writers will enjoy

13) Roger Ebert's Blog all about movies, of course, but also about leading life in the face of challenge

14) La Belette Rouge a psychotherapist talks about a wide range of topics, including fashion, moving across the country and the craft of writing

15) Write to Done unmissable articles on writing


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Save Yourself

A memorable moment in my practice was the day that Sophia fell on the floor. Sophia, my client and not her real name, always brought energy into the room and found it difficult not to start talking the minute she entered my office. The day I am recalling was no different. As soon as we were seated she began telling me the latest episode in her complicated, dramatic life. Once again, Sophia had had an argument with her boyfriend, had broken up with him and was now regretting it. Ten minutes into our conversation, she stopped talking. A minute of silence ensued and then Sophia fell on the floor. I say fell but it was more a gentle slide down the couch and then a fetal positioning. I was taken aback but remained seated, aware that this would not be my ordinary response to someone in need. I asked Sophia if she were OK, she said yes, seemed to be breathing fine and not in pain. I waited. A long five minutes later, Sophia got up, sat on the couch and resumed talking as if nothing had happened. But something had. I had not jumped up and gone to her. In that very long five minutes on the floor, Sophia realized I was not going to save her. Help her, yes. Save her, no. In all her difficult relationships, salvation was what Sophia sought. She longed for someone to make life easy, to do the hard things for her; above all, she longed for someone to whom she could turn over the responsibility of her life. We had spent a lot of time looking at this salvation theme in Sofia's life. That afternoon, her graphic demonstration of an inner state of infantile fear and longing was the beginning of change.

As a giver or a receiver, it's important to know the difference between helping and saving. If you are the giver, at a certain point, helping can turn into salvation with you trying to arrange another person's life, make the wise decisions and hold up a guiding light.Of course you will be disappointed and, perhaps, angry...also, tired and fed up. You cannot live another's life nor should you try.

If you are the receiver, you, also, may be disappointed and angry. If so, try asking yourself this question: "Am I looking for help or salvation?" If it's salvation, you are bound to feel let down and you are likely to be into blaming. You often say or think, "If you REALLY loved me, you would ___." However you fill in the blank, the message beneath the complaint is, "arrange things (even things beyond your control) so that I feel happy. It's your job to make me happy." If you are fortunate, the giver will respond, "Sorry, you will have to save yourself.