Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Quote for the Season

"I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."

                                                                                                                 Mahatma Gandhi 

Monday, December 12, 2011


I have a friend, petite and southern, and if you were to meet her and asks, "How are you?" she might say, "Oh, I'm fine. I'm neurotic and anxious and a flat out hypochondriac, but I'm fine. Nice to meet you." It isn't a schtick, she's just quite open about who she is and as she puts it, "People are going to know sooner or later."

Bettye June is a bit eccentric, in my sense of the word; meaning a little outside the norm, no harm done, often whimsical. Walking buddies, she and I chat about the small occurrences of the day, but, no matter how mundane the conversation, I can count on her to say something enough out of the ordinary that it will stop me in my tracks and leave me laughing on the sidewalk. I find it interesting and fun to view the world from her perspective. The same is true of another friend, more buttoned up than Bettye June, but surprisingly original. A fine doctor, he had, among other oddities, the habit of watching the weather channel with the attention I would give to a movie, and by "watch" I mean for hours. He saw nothing unusual about wanting to know, in real time, the temperature in every city on the planet.

These friends have pockets of eccentricity. Margaret, on the other hand, is a full-blown eccentric. Visiting the village in Ireland where my folks come from, I often see a woman walking with a quick, purposeful pace, sometimes several times a day in different locations. Curious, I learned that she is called, "Margaret Who Walks the Roads." Everyone knows her and, if the weather turns rainy or if Margaret gets tired and sits by the side of the road, someone will stop and give her a lift back to her cottage. Cared for rather than shunned, valued rather than ridiculed, Margaret is part of a community that accepts eccentricity. If you ask her why she spends her days as she does, she will tell you, "I like to walk."

A lot of us have small eccentricities and they remind us that we are not just like everyone else. I like that. So much of the time, we feel compelled to conform and we demand the same from others. I find that I am more tolerant, far less annoyed and often amused when I view people through a Dickensian eye. Try viewing the current crop of politicians this way and fall on the floor laughing.

I'll keep my own eccentricities to myself, only saying that as a child my mother called me a flibbertigibbet. If you are not familiar with the word, think flighty and silly ... which, as an adult, can come out in eccentric bits. I'm OK with that. I've come to value Flib. She's the one who has fun.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Bear with me, folks. This is a bit of a circuitous story. I've been flipping through the online pages of Etsy, looking for special little gifts. If you don't know about Etsy, it's an online clearinghouse for homemade and vintage items. Here's a link if you want to find some unique pieces but be warned---give yourself plenty of time to roam:

Then, last night, I heard about a website called Regretsy. At this site you will see all the many seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time objects that people purchased on Etsy and later regretted. You can find them at: (They also have a charity component so it's good for more than just a laugh.)

This takes me to the topic of regrets. I'm sure I'm no different than most of you in my desire to live with as few regrets as possible so i was happy to read an article via my friend, Bette. Here, according to someone who worked for years in palliative care, are the top 5 regrets of the dying:

1)  I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2) I wish I didn’t work so hard. 
3) I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4) I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. 
5) I wish that I had let myself be happier. 

I intend to read this and read it again and again to keep myself as alert as possible to the courage it takes to live a life free from the burden of regret. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Bumping into Magic

A familiar childhood memory for many of us is that of winter's first snowfall when, in bed, just opening your eyes, you sensed that the world had changed and you rushed to the window to see it. A moment so magical that it is easily recalled, often with the wish that it could be replicated; and sometimes with a self-scolding because you can't bring up that feeling again. "What has happened to my sensitivity?" you wonder, as you grumble about the morning's drive ahead of you. Well, ease up. No one can produce magic. You can produce a wonderful setting, a grand wedding or a perfect Christmas morning. Such settings may be fun and moving and memorable, but not have a single magic moment. And that's because you bump into magic, you don't create it. It's a fleeting glimpse into another world. Time and place are suspended in a moment of harmony and joy and mystery. And, while there is mystery, at the very same time, there is a sense of understanding ... though you don't necessarily know what you understand. Sometimes, in larger moments, one is aware of a coming together of various elements, a confluence never thought of. I had such a moment a few days ago.

The evening before, I watched the 1949 film, "The Secret Garden," which was one of my favorite books when I was a child. The next morning, while going through my usual routine, I had a sudden, intense realization that the major themes of my life were present in the film I had watched. It wasn't a mental activity. That is, I didn't name and sort out the themes. (Hey, I'm a psychologist, been there, done that) The experience was one of integration, unity, wonderment at how things can come together, outside our range of consciousness. My life made sense in a new way and with that came a rush of joy. It lasted, at most, a minute. I hadn't learned anything new about myself, but I had a more integrated understanding and a keen sense of happenings beyond my control. It was enchanting.

While you can't create magic, you can be open to it; aware enough that when a magic moment occurs you don't dismiss it and hurry on to other things. For me, nature sometimes calls up magic moments as does creative activity. How often we hear writers and painters say that they have no idea where a creative impulse comes from; it mysteriously appears and then is gone. While there, they are indifferent to time and place, aware only of a force or energy that seems to be beyond the usual self.

Before I go to sleep at night, I like to ask myself, "What was the surprise in my day?" No matter how humdrum the day, there is always a surprise to be found. It's a habit that helps keep me open to surprise, to valuing those rare, soul-satisfying moments of magic.


The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Friday, November 25, 2011


You're eating dinner and you've had sufficient but the word "more" pops into your head. You're moved by the beauty of a setting sun or by a perfect moment with a loved one and you think, "If only this could last." You want more. And isn't that what everyone wants? More things, more time, more money, more power, more peace, more influence, more happiness. Without the natural drive of wanting more, we would not have our homes, our cities or our country. More gets us out of bed in the morning and to our jobs because we want more for ourselves and for our families. So the drive for more is good...unless it goes wrong. And that happens when the thrill of acquisition becomes the primary focus. Does the guy with thirty cars or the woman with a thousand pair of shoes acquire these objects for the sake of the objects or for the sake of getting? When you eat or drink beyond the need to satisfy appetite and pleasure, when you buy clothes beyond your closet's ability to support them or even your ability to wear them, more is the engine driving you.

More infringes on life in subtle ways as well. You see a magnificent view but mostly it's through the lens of your camera. So many clicks, so few minutes spent just being with the view because you want to acquire the view. Or, your perfect moment with a love one is tinged with sadness because you want it to last, you want more of it and wanting lessens the joy of the moment.

A lot has been written about the various reasons people become gluttonous about food and drink or excessively greedy about objects or loved ones, but underlying all is the desire for more. In the state of more, there is a frisson of excitement, a lift out of the ordinary and a suspension of boundaries. The rational mind seems to stop functioning; you reach out, or stuff in, or hang onto.

These days, we talk about wanting to be present, to be alive in the moment. Being aware of how more operates in your life can bring one closer to that experience. More reduces the present experience by pulling one away from it with the promise that "more is better." And sometimes that's true. And sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's a brief joy ride that leaves us feeling empty and lonely; even though we have a bulging stomach and the company of dozens of shoes.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thank You

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday for 4 reasons:

There's the food, of course, and any excuse for a great meal is a good day for me.  

Then there's the gathering of family and friends.  When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was an opportunity to invite whomever had no other plans to gather in a kind of odd mix, for better or for worse. I still have that kind of "the more the merrier" attitude, even though our family is like any other family in all that that implies.

Another thing I love about this holiday is the absence of gift-giving. I've come to think that the forced expectation of giving and receiving gifts actually detracts from the experience of generosity and gratitude.

Which brings me finally to gratitude. The entire expectation of this day is to be thankful which is a very good thing.  In fact, this experiment is worth a try: promise yourself that at the end of every day you will write down 10 things you were grateful for that day. The amazing thing about this exercise is that it puts you in the world in a different way. You are intentionally focusing on all things things for which you are thankful because you have that list to do later in the evening. When you do this, there is less room for your unhappiness simply because you have changed your focus. The result is the expansive and comforting experience that gratitude brings. And don't worry....there will be time later for the gripes.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Quote I Love Today

"If you fixate on the worst-case scenario and it actually happens, you’ve lived it twice."

Michael J. Fox

Sunday, November 13, 2011


"When you are old and gray and full of sleep/And nodding by the fire ___." Yeat's wonderful words came to mind the other evening when I was sitting by my fire, more full of Irish whiskey than sleep, and in a poetic frame of mind. Browsing a book of Scottish poems, I came across "Warming Her Pearls" by Judith Radstone in which the poet describes a servant's reaction to one of her duties; the duty being, to wear the pearls her mistress would wear later in the evening in order to warm them up. WTF I said (the whiskey talking) but it got me thinking about comfort and its place in life.

Mostly, comfort is a good thing whose value, rightfully so, increases as the years pile up. The danger lies in becoming so comfortable in your robe and slippers and fluffy this and that, that you stop moving around. Or, in becoming so pampered that you lose perspective, as in the Radstone poem. The world, after all, is a changeful place and a day might come when you have to warm up your own pearls.

We are more likely to be aware of seeking physical comfort than we are of seeking emotional comfort, but similar pitfalls prevail if we are overreaching. Not wanting our hearts to hurt, we dodge situations that might expose us to emotional pain. We can bear second-hand tragedy in films and books but not in real life.

At a younger age, consequences and comfort were less important and our hearts more easily opened. But experience teaches that we can't save everyone, bring home all the animals, give away all our money. We need to pace ourselves, look out for ourselves and that includes our emotional comfort. To a degree.

When the desire for comfort gets overgrown, we lose some of the richness of life. To avoid the heartache of seeing a loved one decline, we don't visit the retirement home but we also miss the expansive feeling that goes with doing "the right thing." And we don't get to have whatever that person had to give that day: a smile, a frown, a bit of wisdom, a window into where we may one day find ourselves. When we don't ask an old friend to dinner because it's too much trouble, we avoid a pile of dirty dishes in the morning but we miss some good laughs and the warmth of friendship.

Hanging a sign on oneself that reads "Do Not Disturb" comes at a cost. Many things, both large and small, remain undone or unexplored because comfort has climbed high on a list of values. Comfort can dull the senses and the heart. When it's too much trouble to look up, we don't see the beauty of the sky. When comfort trumps compassion, we don't nurture the heart. I, for one, will think "pearls" the next time I pass up life for the sake of comfort.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Reminder: How to Post a Comment

Hi everyone: it seems as though there is a bit of confusion about how to comment on a post and we certainly don't want that. we LOVE hearing from you so keep them coming (and "like" us to facebook, if you are so inclined).
Here are two ways to comment:
1) Click on the TITLE of any post...a screen will come up that has the full post and BELOW it is a link that says "POST A COMMENT"...the print is a but small, look for it UNDER THE GRAY BOX
2) If you are on the main blog page, look below any post IN THE GRAY will see the word "COMMENTS" (again, small)---sometimes it says "0 comments" or "2 comments,"etc. THAT'S where you click on the word "COMMENTS."

Under CHOOSE AN IDENTITY, you can use your google account if you have one OR choose the NAME/URL option and enter your name(no need to enter a URL) OR choose the ANONYMOUS option.

Hope this helps.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I've Got a Secret

When I was studying at the Gestalt Institute in the late 1970's, we spent a fair amount of time talking about distinctions between various closely related concepts. In our book, Bridget and I touch on some of the more frequent and important examples of these distinctions and just this morning with a client I was reminded of one .... the distinction between privacy and secrecy. Without thinking, we might use these words interchangeably and, of course, they have a lot in common. Naturally if you consider something either secret or private, the upshot is that you are keeping it to yourself. From the outside they look the same.

This morning my client was talking about her chaotic childhood and the fact that her mother was institutionalized several times for a severe mental illness. She had been at lunch with friends who were telling childhood stories and she decided to stay silent and not chime in with information about her past. Secrecy or privacy?  it might be hard to distinguish between the two but it seemed important to me to explore this with my client.

Secrecy and privacy are motivated by different needs and feelings. And, if you'll pardon the new age-y language, they have different energies. Of course we are all entitled to privacy. It would be bizarre--not to mention a reflection of poor boundaries--if my client went up to the barista at Starbucks and said, "By the way, did you know that I had a very dysfunctional family of origin?" On the other hand, if she and a good friend are talking about their childhoods and she decides not to share any information, it's helpful to wonder why. To keep something secret has implications---maybe she would be afraid of being judged, worried that people will conclude that there must be something wrong with her. More significantly, she might harbor her own fear about what her dysfunctional family means about her. If you are keeping something secret because you are afraid or embarrassed or ashamed, you are walking around carrying a big ole glob of toxic, festering material that can effect your self-concept and eat away at your self-esteem.

My hunch is that when you come up against this issue you will be able to distinguish between the two. Privacy has a sort of easy, matter-of-fact feeling to it...."No, I don't think I know her well enough to share this information." Secrecy has a more anxious energy. When you experience that, try exploring what fears might be lurking underneath.

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.

Friday, September 30, 2011


I just read this interesting article about empathy---kind of pro and con:

What do you think?

The Quote I Love Today

"To get up each morning with the resolve to be to set our own conditions to the events of each day. To do this is to condition circumstances instead of being conditioned by them."

                                                                                               Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Did You Find Everything You Were Looking For?

If you have ever shopped at Whole Foods, you have been asked this question. I always say, "Yes, thank you," because, really, what's the point of saying you couldn't find that heavenly cheese that they had last week?

Yesterday was different. Waiting in a long line, I repeatedly heard the cashier ask, "Did you find everything you were looking for?" and it got me thinking, did I?

It's often said you have a better chance of finding what you want if you know what you're looking for, and , in large part, that is true. Still, it's possible to foreclose on life, to lock into a position without having experienced options. If you push your cart about for a while, wander the aisles, you can find all kinds of interesting things on the shelves.

Never having had a list or plan for my life, I mostly stumbled into things. But I did prepare myself to have good things happen. I liked learning, I valued physical well-being and I paid attention to relationships. A lot of the time I was scared, still am, but I tried new things.

So, putting my groceries into the car, I concluded that, "Yes," in my own circuitous way, I found a lot of what I wanted in life. I wasn't always fully aware of, or appreciative of it at the time, and everything didn't arrive at the times I woulld have liked. Some of the things I most valued, I wasn't able to keep, but my little life-review left me feeling pretty good. And life is never over until it is; I'll keep shopping because I do want to find that amazing cheese.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Yesterday I had a couple in my office and one word from the session jumped out and continues to ring for me today. The word was "just;" in particular, the phrase was, "I just want you to understand..."

We have a tendency to think this way, that to ask someone to "just understand" is a modest expectation. I don't think so. To truly understand other people we would have to know everything about what makes them tick and to be privy to all their inner workings. Even people who are in long-term marriages can't know every unconscious motivation or dynamic in the other. Hells bells, we can't even know all the unconscious workings in ourselves. 

To some extent or another, our understanding of another person is limited. Asking someone to understand our position is, in fact, a pretty substantial request and, sometimes, an impossible task. Instead it might be better to start here: "You may not totally understand but I am asking that you accept what I am saying anyway."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Visiting the Shops

If you want to buy a cigar, don't go to a health food store. The same logic applies to friendships. If you need to talk, don't go visit Rosie. Rosie is the friend you have fun with, lots of laughing but the spotlight is on Rosie. If you're in anxious mode, don't visit Brian who is always on the edge. Brian makes you feel good about yourself when you are able to say things that make him feel better, but today you're the one who needs to feel better. And if you're feeling on top of the world, don't visit mournful Carol. Sometimes you find her views on life intriguing and she's smart and you learn things from her, but she will bring you down. Go Visit Alan. He's supportive and a pretty good listener and the fact that he doesn't have much of a sense of humor doesn't count today.

If you do go to the health food store, don't have a fit when they say no cigars. Having been there a few times, you already know it's not the right place.

People have fits when friends don't deliver what they want...and that never works well. Not only do you not get what you need, you can lose a friendship that has some value in your life. Then, the next time you feel like cutting lose and laughing, there is no Rosie to go to. Why should we expect one friend to have all the things we need in friendship...that is about as rare as finding cigars in health food stores. Be smart and don't shop in the wrong store. (Also, stop smoking )

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Crying Over Joe

I've never met Joe but I'm curious about him. A friend of mine has been telling me about him off and on for years. Most recently, she bumped into him at a fund raiser, not unusual as they share a number of friends. Susie introduced Joe to her boyfriend, they chatted and then she excused herself and went to the powder room. It was empty except for a young woman who had her face pressed into a bundle of paper towels, her body shaking with sobs. Susie, good person that she is, asked if she could help, but got waved off. Nevertheless, she stuck around until the woman calmed down and she could ask her what she was crying over. "Joe," she said. "I'm crying over Joe."

At this point, in the telling of the tale, both Susie and I laughed. "Another one?" I asked. "Another one crying over Joe. What DOES this guy have?"

I've seen pictures, and Joe's a good looking guy but not drop dead. He doesn't have a brilliant career, lives mostly paycheck to paycheck and has enough flaws that you wouldn't say flat out that he's a nice guy. But Joe's got something. Something magical that I have never been able to define. And that's charm.

What is charm? I wish I knew. From what I've observed and read and what people say, I know some of charm's components: using people's names when you meet, having a ready smile that pushes up into your eyes, an open countenance that says I want to know you, the ability to listen, pleasing looks and voice, sexiness, good posture, freely complimenting others, excellent manners, and on and on.

Well, you may have a very nice personality and a good heart and all these attributes, but still not be charming. And you may have only a few of these attributes and still be charming. And you can't fake it. You can have a charming moment or two but I'm talking about sustained charm. It's more than the sum of its parts. It's a special ingredient, a drop of nectar straight from the gods. It's part of the magic side of life. A charming person can lift or break your heart. Who has not cried over Joe?

Monday, September 19, 2011


Sometimes I think that all relationships should come equipped with dark glasses. Or some kind of filter that blurs your vision. After all, everyone has eccentricities and habits that could easily be annoying, especially if you noticed every little thing. And--ouch--the same goes for you; there are things about you that could annoy people too.

You could choose to "confront" annoying quirks and habits every time you encountered them but I doubt that would leave you much time for anything else. And I also doubt you would keep most of your friends. Or, you could focus on the irritants without saying anything and silently build up a storehouse of bad feeling which would likely create substantial distance between you and the other.

Neither of these options seems like a good idea to me. Instead, next time someone you care about does something you find annoying, try this: SQUINT.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

What Does it Mean to Be Alone

The other night I had the pleasure of going to a reading by the poet Jane Hirshfield. She read a short poem  (see below) that got me thinking about how many different kinds of aloneness there are.

The most obvious way to think about being alone is related to being single, as in not in a romantic relationship.

Then there's the aloneness of being in a romantic relationship that is not working, one where communication has broken down and in which you do not feel seen or valued or understood.

Or, the relief of the rare experience of having some time alone in your own house when it's usually full of people and noise.

Single or partnered, there is the aloneness of being by yourself in the awesomeness of a redwood forest or under a sky bright with stars....or, sadly of being in the process of dying. You can think of this kind of aloneness as an existential experience.

So many people say they are afraid of being alone. And I do think there is a strong tendency to put a value judgment on the word and the experience i.e. alone=bad. In my mind that kind of black and white thinking restricts our experience. Instead of thinking in better vs. worse terms,  consider that aloneness has its gifts and its challenges, just like any other state of being.

Here is the short poem that got me thinking:

Vinegar and Oil

Wrong solitude vinegars the soul,
right solitude oils it.

How fragile we are, between the two good moments.

Coming and going unfinished,
puzzled by fate,

like the half-carved relief
of a fallen donkey, above a church door in Finland.

                                                        Jane Hirshfield

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My Dear Child

Have you been calling yourself names again? Imagine telling a friend or child that they are fat or stupid or incapable. Not likely, yet the harsh parent within you may feel quite free to beat up on you, on your inner child. Your conscious, active mind hardly notices these attacks, especially if they've been ongoing. But hearing bad things about yourself on a regular basis is undermining. The next time you make a mistake or don't live up to expectations, pay attention to what you do and say to yourself.

Self-attack can be painful enough that you may alleviate the pain by turning it outward. Your scolding parent makes your inner child want to protect itself and, as children do, you look for someone to blame. Now you have a mess. You hate yourself, hate someone or something outside of yourself and are moving away from the truth of what actually happened.

I'm not a fan of positive self-reinforcement in the form of untrue messages. You're not the best, at least not for any extended time. Rather than pumping yourself up artificially, I think it's better to raise your awareness and gradually get rid of the name calling and harsh criticism; getting to the point where you can speak the truth without being mean about it.

I also like creating a few messages that have the voice of a good parent,i.e., supportive and directive. I have two that are simple but work for me.

"I'm doing the best I can." Saying this is reassuring and true. Being able to take in the message alleviates the anxiety that goes with pushing oneself when nothing more can be accomplished. That doesn't mean I've accomplished a great deal. Maybe I'm having a 20% day as compared to 100% day but that's OK. My message is about me, not a task.

My second message is quite opposite of the above.I dislike the state of procrastination though I can dwell there. I'm as good as anyone at putting ice cream or a nap between me and a task. But I'm uneasy, aware of working at being distracted. It all gets better when my good parent shows up and says, "Try harder". Once heard, the procrastination is acknowledged and it's difficult to settle back into sloth. It's a kind message because it says "try". It allows me to say, "OK, I'll try a little bit". Almost always, that little bit gets me going. I don't mix my two messages. If I'm doing my best,I don't tell myself to try harder.

I stumbled on these good parent messages that work for me. Best of luck in finding yours. And, by the way, you don't have to have had good parents to find a good parent within yourself.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Hey All You Fathers

I saw this youtube clip of the comedian Louis C.K. on another psychology blog. (I must sheepishly admit that I cannot locate the name of that blog so if you are out there and reading this, please let me know so I can send readers your way.)

What I really like about this bit on fatherhood is how he readily acknowledges his own limitations as a parent and yet has some pretty darn good wisdom.

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Poem For Today

While I was listening to the 9/11 memorial I remembered this poem by Carl Sandburg:


I have love
And a child,
A banjo
And shadows.
(Losses of God,
All will go
And one day
We will hold
Only the shadows.)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Yes Requires No

This morning I was talking to a client about how important it is to be able to say 'no'. There's the obvious stuff about boundaries and how we need to be able to say 'no' in order to protect ourselves against potential harm. It's analogous to the pain reaction you'd have if you put your hand on a hot stove. Without boundaries and the ability to act on them by saying no, we could get badly burned.

But we were talking about something different this morning. We were talking about how you need to be confident in your ability to say 'no' in order to be able to say 'yes' wholeheartedly.  I'm sure you know how it is when  someone agrees to something but then makes it clear in indirect ways that he or she really wanted to say 'no.' It might be passive-aggressive behavior, a pouty mood, withdrawal. The 'no' just has a way of seeping out no matter what.

On the other hand, if we feel free to say "no", our "yes" is uncontaminated. Personally, people who are able to say both "yes" and "no" in this wholehearted way seem more trustworthy to me. If you ask your friend to feed your cat while you're out of town, it would feel a lot better if you absolutely knew that she would say no if she chose to. And if she said yes, she meant yes.There would be no need to waste energy wondering how she really felt.

Any meaningful relationship should be able to accommodate 'no' as an answer sometimes, even if that results in disappointment or worse. What you get in return is the ability to relax with confidence that when the answer is 'yes',  it's really 'yes'.

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ho Hum

If I could put a tattoo on the hands of my clients, friends and self, it would be one word. A word undervalued, misinterpreted and underused. And it's not love. This word is not the least bit exciting, doesn't call up images of adventure, joy or expansion. Doesn't intrigue, doesn't speak to a higher or lower self and doesn't fuel creativity. It's definitely not sexy.

I'm being a bit coy for as soon as I write the word you may stop reading. I hope you don't because the word, for all it lacks luster, can bring goodness into your life (and no, it's not money).

"Moderation" is the word. Leaving now, are you?

Moderation is that place between extremes. Between high and low, loving and hating, gorging and starving, flaunting and hiding, ecstasy and despair, freedom and confinement and, you get my point.

You don't live any length of time without experiencing some extremes in life and who would have it any other way. But moderation has its place. The middle ground brings stability, improves health, reduces stress and keeps families together.

Moderation means you can have some but not all. Try applying this idea for a day. It means you will have one doughnut, not six (reach with your tattooed hand). You will speak your mind and get your point across without demolishing the other. You will have fun without losing the next day to a hangover.

There are people who seek to live life at extremes, in fact, they disdain any other way. But most of us find our well being in the middle ground, the happy medium. To practice moderation is to live a balanced life. It doesn't mean that feelings aren't intense but actions that follow are considered and restrained with the desire to not hurt others, our selves included.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Quote I Love Today

"You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection."

Monday, September 5, 2011

Playing Backgammon With My Mother

Playing backgammon with my mother was, shall we say, interesting. If she won, she was adamant that backgammon is a game of skill; if she lost, she was equally insistent that it is a game of luck. It wouldn’t have been so challenging if she did not have such a strong need for others to agree with her conclusions. That’s what made me a little batty.
What I see more clearly now some years after her death is that she needed to construct that house of cards (to carry on with the metaphor) in order to protect what was indeed a very fragile self concept. Even something as meaningless as a board game was a threat that she needed to guard herself against. It’s a natural and valuable instinct to protect ourselves from perceived threat and exposing what could be viewed as weakness can make us feel very vulnerable. Without thinking, our defenses can go up. The challenge is to make distinctions between what are real threats and what are simply encounters with our humanity.
How hard it must have been for my mother to feel threat at every turn. How much easier her life would have been had she been able to accept her very human limitations.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Private Enemy

You may have heard the rule of thumb that if you say it more than twice, it's a complaint. Well, we all complain, some of us more than others. When someone is annoyed or has been treated unfairly, telling a sympathetic listener can take away some of the sting and offer some second hand justice. Up to a point. If the story is told too often, it can reinforce the hurt...or the enjoyment of exposing the bad guy. Think of the divorced person who five or ten years or forever is telling the tale of the "Horrible Spouse". Or the guy in the office who cannot resist demonizing the boss, over and over again. And then there is the friend whose company is enjoyable until the friend starts in on another friend or a relative, listing faults and flaws, betrayals, ingratitude and advantages taken.

Bad bosses and obnoxious people and flawed friends are plentiful so, of course, it's understandable that one needs to vent. But when venting is intensely focused on one person, when it's so repetitious that it is a staple in someone's conversation, there is something deeper going on. This is especially obvious if the person focused on, for one reason or another, disappears and a new person takes the place of target.

A lot of people can own some of this kind of behavior. But, more often than not, if they try to explain it to themselves, rather than gaining insight they start listing even more awful things about their target and conclude that no one could help but feel as they do.

To get out of this tangled mess, two questions are helpful. The first is: "What purpose does this behavior of mine serve in my life?" Asking this question places the problem with the complainer not the target.The second question is:"Do I need an enemy?"

That is, do I need a nail on which to hang my anger, frustrations and disappointments? Do I need someone to belittle in order to feel superior? Do I feel threatened by someone whose power I try to diminish with ridicule? Do I need an enemy who takes up so much of my emotional energy that I cannot (don't have to) get on with my life?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Your Inner Seal

Last  night I watched a Navy Seal interviewed about BUDS (basic underwater demolition). It's the training they undergo at the start of their stints. One thing that was clear to me was that I would never, EVER be a Navy Seal. What is required physically and emotionally is flat outside my range---waaaaay outside. It's hard not to be awed at such a test of mettle and to feel like quite a wimp in comparison. But then I got to thinking about strength and courage and how we all have many opportunities to confront fear and make choices that contribute to a strong and positive sense of ourselves. Next time something feels a little scary---even if it's a small thing like sending back an incorrect order at a restaurant----ask yourself this question: what would make me feel proud? I bet you will know the answer and that if you take that action you will contribute to building a stronger and stronger self-concept (your inner Seal??).

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Stuff of Dreams

Last night I had a date with Al Pacino. Of course it was a dream, but still pretty exciting with the added benefit of not actually having to get the date nor figure out what to wear. All I had to do was figure out what the dream meant. Here is what I came up with.

First, prior to going to bed, there was an overabundance of yogurt (Wallaby, vanilla bean, really good) while watching a TCM war movie. Then, before lights out, I read a couple of chapters of Villa Triste, a novel set in Florence, WW2. Quite a long book, consisting mostly of street and Italian names with a little bit of story in between. The immediate environment, including what's in your tummy, is often the material from which dream symbols are created.

All I recall about the beginning of my dream is that Al and I had just met and were briefly together. Then we were apart, then back together in an apartment that was pewter color, lit by high windows and scarcely furnished. It opened into a room with a brass bed. (Put Pacino and brass together and I think knuckles and jeepers creepers.)

Within this disturbing setting, Al and I have a conversation. He does most of the talking about serious things, He knows something about everything and none of it interest me. I show him several pairs of shoes I bought while we were apart. He dismisses them and goes on talking. Then, just like on a real date, I excuse myself and go into the bathroom, the kind of bathroom one finds in a restaurant or a club. I look in the mirror and see that Al Pacino is not the only one with a face. My thought exactly. When I return to the room I know I'm not getting into that brass bed but I don't know how to get this across to him in a pleasant way. Then I wake up.

I think my dream is about choice vs. living up to expectations and also about self-acceptance. Al is an important person, which he demonstrates with his important conversation. I could be important too if I aligned myself with him by being clever and available. Instead, I choose to focus not on him but on something that appeals to me, shoes. Feeling overlooked, I head for the bathroom where a mirror reminds me that I count. Big shots, little shots, we all count.

Dreams speak in symbols. To get their message you look to the feelings they evoke before putting words to them. My feelings and the thoughts that followed them were: curiosity and excitement (hey look, here's All Pacino) distaste for a show of self-importance (his conversation) affirmation of my own way of being (the mirror) and an unwillingness to sell myself (the brass bed).

I could actually come up with a different interpretation of this dream and you probably could also. But I know that for me this is a good interpretation because it matches the circumstances of my life and it feels true. The sense of truth is the proof of the pudding. No one can know the truth of a symbol the way the creator of it does. Someone may offer an interpretation but if you don't receive it with an aha moment it doesn't really serve.

PS Thank you Al Pacino for letting me use you as a symbol. I think you are a fine actor and I apologize for any misrepresentation. And if you are ever in town ...

Monday, August 29, 2011


I wonder if Monday mornings and the end of summer will have the same meaning for me after I retire. There is a definite sense of something new attached to both, not in a purely happy/excited way but definitely as though something is starting. My hunch is that this feeling will be with me always. The childhood calendar with its divisions determined by school schedule seems to be hard-wired. There's nothing terribly difficult about that but there are other things that can get hard-wired during childhood that present more of a challenge. It's especially true of how we learn to think about ourselves at the particularly vulnerable stage of adolescence when identity is what it's all about. So, if you thought you were a nerd in 7th grade or felt like you were not part of the in-crowd, that same feeling can persist long in to our adult lives. It's worth unearthing those old constructs and maybe starting in on a re-wiring project, perhaps with the help of a good therapist because re-wiring is one way to talk about what we do.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Tricky Compliment

The other evening, I had dinner with a friend who had just given a talk at a local college and gotten kudos for her effort. She enjoyed doing it but said she was indifferent to compliments that once she would have loved. Is that an aging thing she asked me. H-mm. I said maybe at this point in her life she is less concerned with what others' think of her or maybe she is just so secure in her work that compliments don't mean much. The rest of the week, because I have that kind of brain, I was very aware of how compliments function and what people do with them.

For one thing, I know who not to compliment. I have a couple of friends who brush praise off as if it were an annoying mosquito. (One such friend writes for this blog). It doesn't seem like false modesty or embarrassment. It's more like something they just don't want to deal with. If anyone has ideas on this one, I would love to hear them.

Another compliment incident happened at a friend's house. One of her guests came in praising everything in sight. She loved my friend's outfit, her house, her cooking, her pets, her amazing new bathroom etc. It went on way too long to feel genuine and I wondered what purpose it was serving. Was she trying to make herself comfortable or liked, or was this her idea of connecting. My friend smiled through it but the barrage did have a bit of an aggressive edge.

Then, towards the end of the week, I got an email from a niece whom I rarely see but she had been in town recently and we spent a little time together. She said how much she liked seeing me and mentioned a couple of things about me she admired. It was nice but I thought no more about it. Later that day, I was aware of being in a sunny mood for no reason I could think of as the day had not been going well. Then I got it. That little compliment from my niece had nestled down inside me, sending out a low glow. The fact that she was my niece was only a small part of my response. I realized that a compliment from a stranger or someone I rarely see goes over well with me. It's both uncluttered and a pleasant surprise.

A fourth bump up against the tricky compliment happened yesterday. I was to meet someone, a perfectly nice person, but I was tired and didn't want to be "on". But this person requires, let's say demands, attention, a lot of it in the form of compliments. I tend to resist that kind of pull.

Then there's the opposite of the above; the person who never pays compliments. I bet all of us have someone in our lives like that. Not necessarily a grumpy person. A person who might, in fact, be generous in lots of other ways.

PS If anyone has something good to say about Pocket Shrink, I am totally open to that!