Water from the sky

We try not to notice. To accept it. To be Zen.

Once we do take note, we try not to complain. What would that do? Make it worse. Can’t take it personally. It’s happening to everyone. Everyone. Think of the troops in faraway deserts. Think of starving children in Africa. Think of….and shush.  

It’s just summer, it’s just summer…..right?

It’s running a marathon. It’s holding a long, slow, deep yoga pose that you just…can’t…quite…melt into. Painful…but bearable…I can do this. Breathe. We adjust our schedules. Early mornings. After sunset. I. Will. Not. Complain.   

It’s the ongoing joke. It’s the only conversation at the Farmer’s Market. How are you? Fine..but could really use some rain. No shit? Me too.

One farmer laughs… “I’m not gardening anymore. What I’m doing is 90% irrigation..and 10% gardening.”

Most farmers stopped laughing more than two weeks ago.

If you don’t grow or garden or care, this respite into central air may have felt like cool, calm solitude. Cozying up during a long, steaming sun ray blizzard.

But if you grow food, flowers, living creatures…if you run, bike, hike, jump…

If you rely on the outdoors for sanity…

If you have children who grow, run, bike, jump…

You go…a…little…mad.

Rain, rain, rain….beautiful open tumultuous heavens. Plants sigh. Shoulders drop. Attitudes adjust. Vegetables stand to attention.

Pure, honest humility and gratitude for the power that is water.   

Advertisements

Vulnerable on Valentine’s

One of the traits I admire the most in people is vulnerability. I have difficulty relating to or trusting those who wear masks of order and control. I defend their right to do so. Maybe someone else has access. I don’t allow just anyone see my raw spots either. But constant protection limits our understanding of each other. It limits our relationships.     

It is those who crack that win my heart. Those whose snot drips out of their nose when they sob. Those who drank one too many and are the only one dancing. Those who confess sins and admit mistakes. The awkward and unpolished. Where some see weakness, I see courage. I see human.    

As long as this doesn’t all happen on a continual basis, mind you. Then I see hot messes. There IS a difference between “letting down your guard” and “clinically significant”.      

What does vulnerability have to do with Valentine’s Day?

Everything.



Love is all about rendering yourself defenseless. When you open yourself up to the bliss love brings, you also expose your jugular.

We’re never so vulnerable than when we trust someone – but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy.  ~ Walter Anderson



Ultimately, love brings pain. I watch my dog age with a lump in my throat. She was a Valentine’s Day gift to myself too many years ago. I anxiously watch out the window for my husband’s car. He should be home by now. I watch my son sleep, a bittersweet reminder of the day he will no longer fall asleep in my bed after reading by my side. Don’t grow anymore. Don’t leave me.     

Love brings loss. I am out of touch with close friends. With some, I’m left holding the frayed end of a completely severed tie. Death takes people from me. I find solace reflecting on  the impact they made in my life. Solace from others who love me.

It’s brutal. But it’s your reaction to love’s pain that determines growth or stagnation. You can find and appreciate the lesson. You open yourself back up and seek new outlets. Or you shut down.   

Yes, give me the vulnerable. Give me the conflict. Give me the flaws. Seeing weakness in others is like unbuttoning my pants after Thanksgiving dinner. Aaaaahhhh, now we can get comfortable. Now I can be genuine too.     

Walls protect the builder, but everyone else bangs their heads against them. Walls teach us nothing.  Loving and being loved teaches us plenty.

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one…,  But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.   ~ C.S. Lewis

photo by dieraecherin/morguefile

This Valentine’s Day, redeem a piece of your heart you once protected. Trust where you haven’t before. Acknowledge mistakes, both yours and others. Open something that you kept closed.

Be human. Be vulnerable. Be loved.

Sticking Your Head Under the Faucet: 8 Ways to Calm Monkey Mind Without Meditation

I love the phrase “monkey mind”. It perfectly describes the phenomena of constant chatter up in the ol’ hat rack. I am The Queen of Monkey Mind. Sometimes it’s so bad, I want to repeatedly slam my head against the dull corner of a concrete brick. But that would feel like an ouzo hangover, and I pinky swore myself that I would never endure THAT again.

So what to do? All fingers point to meditation to shut that monkey up. I envy those who practice regularly. I have tried and will try again. Even the miniscule amount that I managed really did help. Why I don’t make it a regular practice is beyond the scope of today’s blog.

Stop that incessant cymbal clanging you stupid, stupid little monkey!                                                 

So I need other outlets while I am learning.

I also know and love people who would never choose meditation. It’s just not them. They may not realize meditation doesn’t have to involve incense and a statue of Ganesh. Just a quiet room and some deep breaths will do. But let’s face it, some will never start because it goes against their grain.

Finally, we find ourselves in environments unfavorable to meditation. My sister-in-law currently resides in Afghanistan, bless her little heart. Her living quarters are less than a hundred yards from a fully functioning airfield that regularly sends flights out at night. She is constantly on alert.  She has little to no options to create her own “gentle environment”. Her brain is racing.

What does SHE do?

So here are a few suggestions for the rest of us. Some are my own. Others came from really smart people off the Internet.

All these techniques are for relatively mentally healthy humans with fairly manageable levels of monkey mind. Although they may benefit from these suggestions, people with clinically significant anxiety should also talk to a health professional about treatment.

1. Understand that monkey mind has a vital purpose. It’s not all insignificant or negative chit-chat up there. Your brain makes every attempt to organize thoughts that come from challenging situations or a conflict of values. Sometimes it gets overwhelmed. If we examine why the chattering is getting louder we can make monkey mind work FOR us. This lady says how.

2. Allow yourself to wallow in the chatter. This cognitive-behavioral technique helps you with #1. Don’t quiet your thoughts, give them a chance to scream. Set a timer for up to 30 minutes and actively devote that time to let mental chaos ensue. Exhaust your thoughts. Ultimately, they’ll lose their racing power. You will get sick of sitting there thinking. You might not come out with answers, but you might reduce the clutter.

3. Exercise. Reap the natural anti-depressant/anti-anxiety benefits that exercise brings. Even a quick walk around one block can bring some peace or trigger some clarity.

4. Shower. One of my former office mates shared my inclination to over-think. Her sister, a clinical psychologist, told her to literally stick her head under a cold faucet to break particularly strong thought patterns. Maybe she was just getting her sister to do something unfounded, but it works. I prefer a hot, relaxing shower over the cold faucet.

5. Build and access a support system. Verbalizing thoughts helps clear them out. Talk to someone who understands excessive rumination. They sympathize. Then talk to someone with little patience for listening to obsessive thoughts. They give you pragmatic observations and solutions. “You’re crazy-talkin’…go stick your head under a faucet!”  Just don’t exhaust one resource, mix it up. If you’re getting signals that someone is done with your issue, it’s time to give them a break and pick a different coping mechanism. Have a list of “happy places”, not just people, that you can easily access.

6. Access humor. Put on an ugly hat. Blow bubbles. The Internet is full of funny shit. Humor lifts the needle off the broken record, just enough to remind you that funny exists and that you need to temporarily shut of the serious.

7. Listen to bluegrass. Really. Who can wallow in thoughts whilst a rapid banjo plays?

8. Stop comparing yourself to the Dalai Lama. If you have time, read this opinion piece.  If you don’t, I’ll summarize. The Dalai Lama, for all his wisdom, comes from a place of privilege. His JOB is to meditate and be wise. OUR jobs are to hunch over desks or bag groceries at the Piggly Wiggly or work 100 yards from military airfields. OUR reality causes us to spend more time making decisions about money and family and healthcare, than mediating. Last I checked, the Dalai Lama didn’t hold puke bowls for sick kiddos or deal with crashing servers. I’m not dissin’ the Dalai, let his wisdom inspire you.

But our monkeys will always be louder. Don’t beat yourself up for having daily worries and ruminations he will never experience. Accept the monkey.  Love the monkey.

If you ARE interested in mediation, I found this site to be an easy read.

Good luck monkey minds!

Photo chris hau/flickr creative commons

Good Riddance

On Dec. 28th, the people of New York celebrated Good Riddance Day. They gathered in Times Square to destroy a particularly depressing, distasteful or all-around nasty moment from 2011. They performed the ritual by sledgehammering an object that represents the event or shredding a piece of paper with words describing it.

The winning object was a puke bucket used by a kid who battled blood cancer. He is now in remission. GREAT riddance.

I like it. The idea got my wheels churning over these last few days of 2011, days that have found me listless and blue. What do I want to shed from 2011? This year brought some loss and transition. It brought out glaring deficiencies in my coping mechanisms. It brought a lot of self-doubt.

Most of my 2011 unhappiness stems from how I think. I would like to say “good riddance” to my irrational brain.  

There are days when it truly sucks inside my head. I am not mentally ill. My tendencies are not clinically significant. But I do have a hard time turning off the old noggin in situations I can’t control. I still worry about what other people think. I sometimes find I am still living inside a junior high head.

I have a good life, to be sure. I don’t have blood cancer. I have accomplished and experienced much. I like my kid. I like my little house. I still grab my husband’s butt as he struts by.

But sometimes I find thoughts nitpicking away and keeping me from giving my life and the people in it the enjoyment it deserves. I hate my emotional reactions to conflict and discomfort. I hate my worst-case scenarios. Most of all…I worry about what I’m NOT doing because I’ve put more energy into thinking about doing it. 

Many of us do this, I know I am not alone. Lately, however, it’s been constant chit chat up there. And when someone asks, “Wow…what must it be like inside your head?”, you know it’s time to say good riddance to the mental clutter.

Time to curb the headaches it brings, to produce more than ruminate. To stop doubting and start making more decisions.

I am a smart woman. I am well-educated. I have an advanced degree in mental health for the love of god. I KNOW the obvious answers…exercise, meditation, healthier living, cognitive therapy, setting a routine. What I lack is the willpower and discipline to reap the long-term benefits of these.  

I’m not trying to be hard on myself, I’m just starting to get really itchy to become the human I have the potential for being. I don’t want to envy the productivity and successes of others. I want to be more productive and successful.

Time to resolve the hypocrisy of promoting “healthy living” while ineffectively dealing with the self-defeating mind race. You can make all the organic shitake-burdock root soup you want. But if your mind is tackling some distant “issue” while you stir it, the magic is lost.

This does not come with sadness, it comes with productive anger. I believe you can’t improve yourself without staring down what holds you back and spitting in its face.

Good riddance junior high head. Good riddance ruminations. Time to chill the hell out.

Today I spit. Tomorrow I act. Good riddance brain. Happy New Year gut and hands and sweat.

Thank god I write…I wasn’t sure how to sledgehammer my head.

What about you? What will you say “good riddance” to?

Recommendation for self-defined victims…

“If it’s never our fault, we can’t take responsibility for it. If we
can’t take responsibility for it, we’ll always be its victim.”

Richard Bach

I’ve been giving lots of thought to the concept of self-defined victimization this week. It has made me increasingly aware of true stories of struggling and survival. Starvation in refugee camps. Childhood cancer. Tough stuff.

It has also made me aware of a tiny release of some little crap that usually bugs me. Just a little. My husband might tell you otherwise, as my heavy sighs were duly noted during a recent TV remote tussle, but I have felt a subtle, gentle shift.

I’ve taken the above quote from a blog I bumped into when writing “Victims”. I found this entry on The Positivity Blog to be a nicely packaged piece about the benefits of staying a victim with tips on pulling yourself out of it. If you fall into the Poor Me pit like I do, I hope you find some helpful nuggets of truth in there. Dig around the site on a gloomy day.

Photo: mzacha/morguefile

Victims

So. Where were you?

I was in Albuquerque, New Mexico…running on a treadmill next to my sister-in-law at the university gym. A rattling headache was handing me a crappy workout. We heard Peter Jennings shakily report that the North tower had been hit. We stood in shock on paused machines to watch the South tower go down. I quickly left the gym and called the man I married just one short month ago.

I had an appointment with a peer who wanted to pick my brain about a former counseling client of mine. On the way, I overheard that the North tower collapsed.

My colleague was still in session. I watched from the observation room, half-panicked and anxious.I don’t want to be here…I need a TV…what
the hell is going on…what’s next?    

The young client droned on about her boyfriend. It was sooo unfair
that he didn’t want to go to her sister’s last weekend…don’t judge, don’t judge…she doesn’t know…she doesn’t know what’s going on in the world… She switched gears to the absolute injustice that her mother had, yet again, made tuna casserole… really,she wouldn’t complain if she knew…

The counselor knew. “I’m wondering if you’ve heard the news? They think terrorists attacked New York and D.C. It sounds pretty bad…I’m curious to know what you think about that? Translation: does this put ANYthing in perspective for you?  

“Yeah…I heard about it on the way here, but I think she does it on purpose sometimes. I’ve TOLD her before that I don’t LIKE tuna casserole…seriously, it’s like she made it just to make me mad!”

*************************

There are true victims and there are self-defined victims.  Sometimes true victims become self-defined victims.  Most of us have experienced both roles.

The biggest difference between the two is that you and real victims see the same, painful reality. Coping and healing are the goal. You and a self-defined victim see different, often distorted realities. They resist theirs like a cat on a water slide. They spend a lot of energy rationalizing their actions or inaction. They get stuck in a blame funk. They devalue those who question their role. Saving face is the goal.

Victims draw concern and attention. That can become appealing. The inertia is nice too; it involves little risk. Active participation in life makes you vulnerable. People who make things happen also screw up. This means they have to accept responsibility and blame sometimes. Scary stuff.

In a perfect world, Tuna Casserole went home, turned on the news and saw some haunting images that triggered a huge a-ha moment. She started to think outside herself. She recognized her role in those souring relationships. She began to make dinner for her tired, ol’ mom three times a week.

****************************

On September 15, 2001, my new husband would admit me to the hospital. Turns out the rattling headache was viral meningitis. I would receive a spinal tap, spend five days on a morphine drip, and the majority of two months horizontal on my couch. A victim of the worst headache in the history of my world.

I spent a lot of time watching 9/11 stories during my recovery. Television didn’t do wonders for my head, but it put my pain into serious check. Did I complain? Yes…it really hurt. Did I shout “Unfair!” when I had to choose between taking my comprehensive exams two weeks later under the influence of pain meds or pay for another semester of school?  Yes…I was pissed. Poor me. Why me?

But in a twisted way, I had 9/11 to thank for pulling myself together a
little more quickly that fall of 2001.

These weren’t jumpers. I think these people are trying to crane their
heads out, to get fresh air. I always thought it was a cheap tabloid trick to
characterize them as jumpers. These are their last minutes on Earth. I think they were trying to get to a place where they could breathe.”
Thomas Dallal, freelance photographer

I had fresh air. I was living. I had Tylenol-3, a new husband, green chile stew, impending degree…a future. I got back in the game sooner than expected, muddled through comps and my final semester. I had no grounds to stay a victim.

We all fall into moments of self-pity and that’s okay. I have tuna casseroles. Many. I tend to regress to “why me?” habits as soon as my perspective shifts or fades.

Wrong-doing or sorrow WILL happen at some point in our lives. This may cause lifetime scars. These moments mold us, they strengthen us or defeat us. But living life as a chronic victim is irresponsible. Simply feeling emotions like anger, frustration or out of control doesn’t give us instant license to check out and let life happen to us for an undetermined length of time.

Sometimes seeing examples of true suffering, real perseverance and survival helps. Take your pick from the plethora that happen on this godforsaken planet every second. Let them move you…cast new light on your tired casseroles. Change the menu.

This anniversary not only reminds us of the true definition of “victim”, September 11, 2001 was a glaring example that real life will sucker punch us in the gut. Hard.

So the less time we spend mucking around in self-created puddles of “Poor me”, the more time we have to properly brace ourselves for life’s real strikes.

Father’s Day

The group counseling class was required in my Master’s program.
The professor, two inches away from retirement, was notorious for student led seminars which allowed him to nod off and dream about his fledgling vineyard. To better understand the group process, we were to facilitate “mock” group sessions with each other on a topic of our choosing. Very early on, a particularly cringe-worthy classmate was selected to run the group. She chose “fathers” as her topic.

Fortunately, I skipped missed the class. I heard it was a wet mess of sobs, regrets, pent up anger and heartfelt memories. My colleague opened Pandora’s Box and mishandled it as an amateur who already made people bristle. I imagine a few classmates ran home that day to a carton of unfiltereds and bottle of Jack.

Whether your dad was in your life or not, today is the day to reflect on what fatherhood means to you. To examine half of your origins. Look on father-child moments with either fondness or discomfort, but look. What did you learn that you will keep? What will you discard? What influence do they have on who you are?

What do you expect from dads? What can they deliver?

I know great fathers and horrible fathers. I know men who are present in their children’s lives and those who could care less. I’ve seen from the irritable to the abusive, passive to downright insane. I‘ve had the fortune to see gentle, patient, vigilant, trustworthy, intelligent and funny. I’ve seen the imprint fathers leave on kids. Most of the dads I know and love are a combo platter, as most human beings are, falling somewhere on the trait continuum depending on the day.

I have friends who have lost their fathers too soon, or are currently in the painful process of losing them. Today can be a very hard day. My heart goes out to them.

What did you learn from him? What didn’t you? What will you pass on to the next generation? If you are or want to be a father, what kind of father do you want to be?

These are tough questions because fatherhood is tough. Parenting is a hard, strange trip and we all experience travel differently. For most of us, it’s constant unchartered territory. The fathers in our lives are no different. And a lot of dads don’t always get the credit they deserve.

So today, examine who you are because of your father. Think about what fatherhood should look like. Identify something about fatherhood that has made you a better person.

Then raise your glass to all the dads you know. They all give us insight into one of the hardest roles a man will ever play.

Happy Father’s Day.