August 25, 1889 – August 25, 2018

 

 

I grew up with a grandmother. Today is her birthday. She was a story-teller, a raconteur, like Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Unlike Estes, Gram was forced to give up her career at 24. In 1913, at least in Pennsylvania, married women were not permitted to teach school.

So Gram chose Grandad over teaching. In 1954, when he committed suicide, Gram moved into the other side of our double house in Durham, Pennsylvania. We had nine inseparable years.

Martha Leidich Hindenach taught me two invaluable lessons: to love stories and to listen. As every minister knows, the congregation remembers the stories. Had she not taught me the fine art of listening, I could never have become a therapist.

When I crossed through the cellar and up the basement steps to Gram’s “side,” she always gifted me with time. If she was cooking, she’d turn off the stove. If she was reading or working on her “correspondence,” down went the book or pen. We had our assigned seats – she in her green wooden rocker beside the kitchen window, me in the black vinyl kitchen chair that was closest. She’d elevate her feet, in the black-tied shoes with the squat, square heels, on the footstool; I’d tuck my bare feet under me. We were all set. She’d listen to my school-girl prattle; I’d soak up her heart wisdom.

The stories were about family – how Aunt Ruth cut off my mother’s beautiful, blonde curls one day when they were supposed to be napping. How my mother sliced through Uncle Lee’s hand with a hatchet while he was holding the wood for her to split. At my mother’s funeral, her ninety year old younger brother was showing people the scar and re-telling the story. It was sort of a badge of honor and connection all those years.

Gram remembered exquisite details about her few years of teaching: the boys bigger than she; the number of children who spoke little or no English; the impossibility of teaching twenty or thirty children from ages 5 to 15 with every variable of talent and capability. She fed me on tales of shared school lunches and terrified me with times she feared she’d forgotten to bank the fire at night and would arrive at school the next morning to find the building burned down. We weathered storms together, sleigh rides in the snow, laughter and games at recess, and lesson-planning challenges not yet named ESL or IEP.

Gram never talked about her mother or father. I doubt that she had a happy childhood. She was a brilliant woman and a creative artist placed in a life that demanded routine and plodding predictability.

She did talk about other family members. Uncle Marcus took a walking tour of Europe and subsidized her education at East Stroudsburg State Teacher’s College, which she entered at 16 and from which she graduated at 19. Grandma Melchoir, the minister’s wife and my father’s step-grandmother, took Gram under her wing and together they ran the Missionary Society, taught Sunday School classes and cared for the parishioners of Durham Lutheran Church.

I was an adult — a married woman [a teacher, imagine that!], a mother, a divorced woman, a single mom – before I realized what her stories were really about. They weren’t about the people of whom she spoke. They were about how those people, in general, and she, in specific, chose to live life. Gram’s stories were about making do, having faith, accepting what is, learning from everything, and embracing the ordinary. She taught me to re-dream when the old dreams got shattered and to reconnoiter when the original plans fell through. She taught me to keep going. She died at 96 with her mind and body still engaged. Only her heart finally “petered out,” as she would have said.

Happy birthday, Gram. You are alive and well in my heart!

Love, Susan

P.S. I am away from my computer, so my granddaughter is posting this blog for me.

How sweet is that?  As Harry Chapin sang: “All My Life’s A Circle”

 

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August 25, 2018 at 2:29 PM Leave a comment

Narcissistic Abuse

I had not heard the term narcissistic abuse until last week. When I saw the term in print, here’s what it said: Narcissistic abuse is a cause of anxiety. Upon further research, guess what else narcissistic abuse is a cause of? Depression. Being the child of a narcissistic parent is certainly a cause of childhood trauma, causing a third group of narcissistic abuse survivors. It’s about time we took a look at this.

I found an article in Psychology Today written by Darlene Lancer. I had never heard of this marriage and family therapist who is also a lawyer, but she appears to be an expert on both narcissism and codependency. She says, briefly, of narcissists, that they really don’t love or like themselves and their huge egos are a cover for a being a person driven by shame. They learn to cope by becoming  abusive.

Now, don’t stop reading. You may be thinking of a narcissist who is dominant in the news right now and saying to yourself, ‘I never lived with anything like that.’ Narcissists come in many degrees: malignant narcissists, sociopathic narcissists, and the more common variety of non-fatality causing run-of-the-mill, drive-you-crazy, cause you anxiety and depression narcissist, which is the kind you and I are likely to have tangled with.

My experience with narcissists — yes, I have some, although I never connected my anxiety with them — is that narcissists are SUBTLE. When you read the long list of methods narcissists use to ply their trade, please remember that many of these coping skills are not so much obvious and above board as they are subtle and on the down low. My descriptors of narcissists I have known (and loved) is that they are sneaky and sly. One of the phrases Darlene Lancer used in the article was “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Narcissists use verbal abuse, like bullying, blaming, raging, name-calling, belittling and accusing. The name-calling, for example, might be something rather benign like “turtle,” or “little girl,” or “babycakes.” They’re just sweet nicknames, aren’t they? Or are they names which imply you’re slow or immature. The blaming might be equally hard to identify, like, “Oh, she can’t help herself. She is driving me to the poorhouse because she just has to have every little sparkly thing that catches her eye.” The belittling, too, might be subtle but stealthy: “God bless her, she really just can never make up her mind, so she’s never been able to stick to anything, but she never means any harm.” These comments are like sweet and sour candy — sweet on the outside with a whole mess of nasty, sour at the core.

Narcissistic manipulation might seem harmless, but it makes the recipient feel demeaned or under hostile attack. One of my clients was married to a master at this technique. Now that they are divorced, he will, for example, bring his daughter back from visitation at midnight and then report my client for not being able to get the child to school on time the next day. Or, he’ll call the girl at eleven at night and talk for a couple hours, and then, again, blame the mom for the tardy appearance at school. She once handed him a pen, and the ink side was down. It made a mark on his hand. He went to the police and told them his ex-wife had tried to attack him with a pen. The police actually came and arrested her and she spent the night in jail. Narcissists can be VERY convincing. They sound so sincere.

Emotional blackmail consists of threats and warnings. Remember, these are often subtle and suggestive, not overt and obvious. “You know,” says the laughing, smiling narcissist, often in front of others, so they’ll laugh and smile, also: “Wives who don’t put out are often put out.” Vague suggestions, sarcastic asides, and even hostile gestures which the narcissist says are just “play,” are ways narcissists abuse others. If you complain about such narcissistic abuse, you’ll be told: YOU’RE TOO SENSITIVE.

Darlene Lancer’s list of characteristics is rather frightening. I found a number of them very sobering because I had been the recipient. In addition to being sobering, there is a sense of understanding which I found, too. Ah, I thought, no wonder I felt so shaky or disregarded or, actually, endangered. I imagine when many of you read this list you’ll come to see that you have also been the victim of narcissistic abuse.

One point I have made to abused spouses for thirty years, and which is made by Darlene Lancer, as well, is: BE CAREFUL. Do not confront someone who is abusing you. Get safe first. Seek help. Just because the abuse has always been ONLY verbal or emotional doesn’t mean it can’t turn on a dime when confronted. (Even the cat I feed every day bites me sometimes. Just saying.)

Emotional blackmail consists of threats and warnings, usually non-specific and obscure. These create FOG, as Ms. Lancer calls it: fear, obligation and guilt. Gas-lighting is a way to make us doubt our own perceptions and intuitions. Competition is a pattern of one-upping another person. Male narcissists love to use negative contrast and often subtly put down the woman they’re with by comparing her to others. If she’s a blonde, the compared one will have thick, shiny black hair. If she’s slender, the compared one will be voluptuous.

The list continues with things that will no doubt sound familiar. All of us have our narcissistic moments. Don’t run away, screaming, unless these things are a consistent pattern of behavior. One snarky remark does not a narcissist make. A pattern of this behavior consistently will reveal a wolf in sheep’s clothing who may well be a narcissistic abuser.

Here are more of the tell-tale signs: lying, sabotage, objectification, withholding — withholding communication, like the silent treatment, or withholding money, or withholding sex –neglect, privacy invasion, stalking, snooping, economic dominance –lack of access to money, everything in the name of the narcissist –isolation, manipulation and broken promises.

Again, don’t confront an abuser. It is not safe. Get help. Therapy is good. Trusted family and friends are good. Seeking police or legal help is tricky. No one is more convincing than a narcissist. Also, narcissists have the most disgusting ability to stay calm when authority is around, especially after they have driven the one being abused into hysterics or fits of rage. Don’t go it alone if you need to press charges.

Sorry for the heaviness of today’s blog. It’s an important topic and the way it relates to anxiety, depression and PTSD is something that convinced me we needed to talk about this.

Be safe. Be well. Knowledge is power.

Love, Susan

A sweet memory for you next week.

 

August 18, 2018 at 8:46 AM Leave a comment

The Line in the Sand

I am back from my last scheduled trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico and have graduated from The Living School, the two-year study program of The Center for Action and Contemplation (cac.org). Will this accomplishment give me an advanced degree or a new job with a six-figure salary? No, I have to laughingly tell you. This program gave me an amazing circle of supportive kindred spirits from Canada to Colorado to California to Alabama to Maine–oh, and Mexico, England and Argentina. This experience introduced me to Guido and Luigi and Theresa, Buddhists, Muslims, Quakers and other Christians of every persuasion. The studies have diminished the egos of everyone who did the work as well as changing the lenses through which we see the world. Our God is bigger and our need to control smaller. We have been introduced to concepts like quantum entanglement and unitive consciousness — both of which re-enforce what we know in our hearts and souls: We are all one, and we are all in this together.

Seven of us who had never met worked for months on a graduation project, our joint thesis, if you will: Barmen Today. The Barmen Declaration of 1934 was a response from a minority of German churches to the erosion of morality in pre-war Germany. Barmen Today is our contemporary, contemplative response to the erosion of moral standards and humanitarian, egalitarian rights which is insidiously overtaking us in the United States now.  One important reason why we call ourselves contemplatives is because contemplatives do not attack and create resistance. When we listen to the republicans and the democrats we are bombarded by hateful, divisive speech which centers on how wrong the other is. As contemplatives we simply state the truth as our hearts and souls discern it: All persons are created equal, for example.

Okay, enough introduction. What we received in Albuquerque this week was the full endorsement of Barmen Today by the Center for Action and Contemplation and the whole-hearted support of Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault and Jim Finley, our three core faculty. As of this moment, 9:19 a.m. Saturday, August 11, 2018, 301 people have signed Barmen Today at the bit.ly link listed at the bottom of the document and 134 people have joined Barmen Today on facebook. You are invited to see if this statement of truth to power speaks for you. As Richard Rohr said so eloquently when talking about Barmen Today at our graduation: “This is our line in the sand.”

In closing, I reinforce the relevance of this work to each of us suffering from PTSD, depression, and anxiety. PTSD folks: Don’t get angry, take action. Depression folks: Don’t be sad, take hope. Anxious folks: Fear not. We are in this together, and we have drawn our line in the sand.  Stand with us. We stand with you. And You. And YOU.

Love, Susan

BARMEN TODAY


A CONTEMPORARY CONTEMPLATIVE DECLARATION
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Friends,
Printed below is Barmen Today: A Contemporary Contemplative Declaration. A statement of common purpose in a time of dire
common need, Barmen Today expresses a resolute commitment to equality, dignity, and opportunity for each and every living being, no
exceptions, offered in love and the belief that we humans are capable of more than we’ve achieved so far in fulfilling the spirit of each of
our faith traditions as well as the American dream of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for all.
We hope you will read Barmen Today and join us in support of it.
It is our hope that you and others will gently, thoughtfully, and contemplatively share Barmen Today with your friends, talk about it, post
it in your office, write about it, discuss it in small groups, incorporate it in your daily meditation and/or prayer practices…. It is our hope
that you will help us move, one soul at a time, from a place of division, hatred and discord to a place of greater awareness,
understanding and dialogue; to a place loving and tolerant enough to include and transcend our many differences; to a place where we
live united by our common humanity.
Namaste, friends,
Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew, Cynthia Bourgeault, Lee Clasper-Torch, Leslye Colvin, Mary Ann Evans, James Finley, Roy Hoagland,
Louise McClelland, Scott McClelland, David Morris, Enrique Otero, Donelle Poling, Richard Rohr, Wendy Shafer, Susan Stocker, Jan
Taylor, Amari Verástegui
All of the signatories are faculty and students of the Living School at the Center for Action and Contemplation (https://cac.org/livingschool/living-school-welcome/)
“Every forest branch moves differently in the breeze, but as they sway, they connect at the roots.” – Rumi
BARMEN TODAY:
A CONTEMPORARY CONTEMPLATIVE DECLARATION
History is filled with moments which demand words and actions to define fundamental values and commitments. Such moments require
not only humble introspection consistent with contemplative practice but also the concurrent courage to speak prophetically, consistent
with such practice.
In 1934 in Germany, at a time when humanity faced the threats of the tyrannical and evil power of Nazism, when the state church of
Germany affirmed the actions and leadership of its nation to ensure its place of privilege in society, not all voices of opposition remained
silent. Those signing the Barmen Declaration spoke out as an act of “divine obedience” in resistance to the church’s unconscionable
moral compromise, proclaiming their allegiance to a Truth greater than temporal politics.
Time has revealed the Barmen Declaration to be a significant confessional document, a historical statement defining fundamental values
and commitments.
In contemporary America, we face parallel threats and affirmations as prominent and privileged leaders of America’s Christian churches
choose to closely and publicly support the policies and actions of our nation’s leadership – policies and actions irreconcilable with the
pursuit of peace and justice. Many of these policies and actions demean people of color, support hate-filled speech from white
supremacists, ostracize gender minorities, demonize refugees and immigrants, and ignore climate change realities. These policies and
actions embolden others to act similarly; polarize people within and beyond this nation; falsely cloak nationalism, fascism, and racism in
words of universal beliefs and values, distorting and undermining the very bases of many faiths, not the least of which is what it means
to be Christ-affirming.
As contemplatives of diverse ancestries, traditions, and faiths, we hold in common our witness to:
o Love and compassion
o Healing of division
o Promotion and protection of human dignity
o Stewardship of creation
In so holding, we honor and cherish the inherent Divinity existing within all of creation.
Our intention is to stand in unanimity and non-violent resistance to the very real threats to that which we hold in common. Recognizing
that actions of tribalism, fascism, isolationism, and similar divisive initiatives are now happening throughout this world, as citizens of this
nation, together, we seek to provide a common message to reject and resist the policies and actions of our nation and its leaders when
they run counter to our common holdings.
As contemplatives of diverse faiths, we may and must speak with one voice in this matter today. “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil,”
warned Dietrich Bonhoeffer. “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Precisely because we want to remain faithful to both the
Divine which we seek to understand and the Love which we seek to live, we choose to not be silent. We choose to speak and act.
We have a common message in this time of common need:
o To the extent that our government affirms the basic dignity of all people and works deliberately to provide equal access
to law, economic opportunity, education, healthcare, and a healthy environment, we will be loyal citizens. But to the
extent it promotes factionalism, racism, fascism, unequal treatment in law enforcement, gender bias, or harm to the
poor, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, the unwanted, the refugee, and the environment, we declare that we will nonviolently
reject and resist.
o Our security comes not from gun ownership or military might; it does not come from oppression of the many for the
enrichment of the few; it does not come from degrading others who are unlike ourselves. As contemplatives of many
faiths, we seek the welfare of all our brothers and sisters, including those of differing perspectives and opinions. But to
the extent that current policies and actions demand allegiance to the tyranny of the privileged and the few, we declare
we will non-violently reject and resist.
o We seek to speak the truth in love and to challenge the prevailing ideological and political convictions which do not
align with the Divinity of love. We understand that free speech, pursuit of happy and healthy living, and freedom of
religion lay in the Constitutional foundation of this nation’s history and in our hopes of securing and protecting the dignity
of all humanity. We believe in the full and equal exercise of these rights by all people. To the degree that our leaders
shun these rights and their equal exercise, we declare we will non-violently reject and resist.
o We embrace separation of the powers of Church and State and urge all to continue to embrace it. And while individuals
may vote as their conscience dictates, it is blatantly false to proclaim that any elected or appointed leader of this nation,
including the President, represents more than a person charged with the duty to serve all of the people of this nation;
it is blatantly false to proclaim that he is anointed or especially chosen of God to lead this nation; it is blatantly false to
conclude that he is somehow above the constraints of moral and legal scrutiny. To such positions, we declare we will
non-violently reject and resist.
Therefore, the undersigned hereby commit to avail themselves of contemplative, non-violent action and ask spiritual and faith leaders
and followers across the United States to join us in works of “divine obedience” in resistance against current and future policies and
actions which marginalize any human being of any color, class, race, religion, disability, or gender; which threaten the stewardship of
creation; which embrace evil rather than good and hate rather than love. We ask you to reject and resist the words, policies, and actions
of exclusion, denigration, hatred, fascism, and nationalism.
We invite all who are able to support Barmen Today: A Contemporary Contemplative Declaration to hold it in a circle of unity of faith,
hope, and love, and to stand steadfast in non-violently rejecting and resisting until our nation chooses to serve all people and all of creation
with the Divine love to which all are entitled.
Nothing has ever been more imperative.
To join us and sign Barmen Today, click on this site:
http://bit.ly/barmentoday
AN IMPORTANT NOTE
We invite you to use Barmen Today as a way to engage in contemplative practice to increase compassion and decrease suffering, both
for yourself and others. Contemplative practices come in many shapes and forms, all of which provide access to communion,
connection, and increased awareness. Activist contemplative practices include bearing witness to social justice issues and generative
practices include varieties of prayer. Tonglen is an ancient Buddhist practice to awaken compassion. To see a guided explanation of
Tonglen, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwqlurCvXuM
To learn more about the historical event of the signing of the original Barmen Declaration in 1934, go to
https://www.5minutesinchurchhistory.com/barmen-declaration/ and http://www.westpresa2.org/docs/adulted/Barmen.pdf
If you have any questions or wish to share any thoughts concerning Barmen Today, please email us.
BarmenToday@gmail.com

Please email Susan sraustocker@yahoo.com if you’d like a pdf of BarmenToday to share or send people to the bit.ly link to read it as a petition. Thank you most sincerely.

 

 

 

August 11, 2018 at 10:28 AM Leave a comment

Staying Sane in Insane Times

“So, how can we hold onto our own mental health in the face of the” dangers being presented to us and the frenetic chaos in which we live? (I changed the end of the question to take the emphasis off one person. The author of this question is Bandy X Lee, Assistant Clinical Professor of Law and Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine. Her particular concern, as a psychiatrist and the organizer of the Yale Duty to Warn Conference, is the mental health of the current president of the United States. I wanted to broaden our focus, though, because no one person, not even Donald Trump, can create all this chaos and insanity without a lot of help. We’ll concentrate, therefore, on how to stay sane in these insane days and times.)

I’ve been repeating my main theme every week now: Those of us who suffer from PTSD, depression and anxiety are particularly vulnerable to the contagious contamination from the fear, guilt, nastiness, helplessness and hopelessness being shoveled onto us day and night by the media, both social media and news media. We are being hard hit, my friends. It is as though we were already up to our noses in the middle of a raging river and now an avalanche of more water is coming our way.

Dr. Lee actually has three specific ideas for how we can hold on, keep our heads, and continue to function under these adverse conditions. Interestingly, none of them include turning off the television. Last Thursday evening I watched Rachel Maddow, and then the hour of news following her, and then a half hour of the news that followed that news. I don’t know if any of you have ever had gel polish on your fingernails, but it is tough and indestructible. Well, in that two and a half hours, I picked the polish off six of my ten nails. At 12:30 on Tuesday I had paid $35, to get that polish put on my nails. It was supposed to last two or three weeks. Hm . . . .nerve-wracking to watch the news? Not to mention the computer news, which doesn’t even begin to compare to the traumatic absolutes of my email: SOCIAL SECURITY IS DEAD was one which particularly stopped my heart this week. Um, that is how I pay my bills. I was explaining to my granddaughter this week that since I started working at age 16 I have paid into a savings account with the federal government which is called Social Security. All those taxes which were taken out of my checks over the last 56 years are coming back to me now that I’m of an age where I might not be able to work  or might not have the abilities to continue doing my job. Those things aren’t true in my case, but I am the exception, not the rule. My “insurance policy” with the federal government, Social Security, is now the basis of my livelihood and the way I buy her Dr. Pepper and Haribou Gummy Bears. It is the way I pay for her brother’s trumpet rental every month and send Southern Poverty Law Center, the Environmental Defense Fund, Books for Africa, and politicians from Hawaii to Montana to Ohio donations because I believe them to be supporting equality and the values I hold dear: every living person counts and deserves equal respect, opportunity and dignity. NO EXCEPTIONS.

So here are the three ideas suggested for the maintenance of sanity:

#1: Don’t match the emotions running rampant with our own. If fear or lies or exaggerations or injustice come at us, we have to maintain our faith and truth and balance and justice. We cannot give in to or be swayed by what is wrong and does harm.

#2: Be clearer than ever about our core values, principles, and beliefs and rely on them for guidance and comfort especially when being triggered and fearful. Challenge every day the natural inclination to feel overwhelmed, fatigued or numb. Just because we hear something that is wrong a thousand times doesn’t make it right.

#3: Fear is our enemy. Hold on to realism and optimism. Never doubt that what is good and right and just and true will prevail in the end.

If you would like to read the entire article, here’s the link: politico.com/magazine/story/2018/07/27/insi….Inside the Mind of Donald Trump

If you would like to read even more, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump is the book that resulted from the Yale University Duty to Warn Conference.

August 6th through 10th I’ll be in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is the final session of my two-year study program with Richard Rohr at the Center for Action and Contemplation. We Living School students were invited to create a final project to congeal what we had learned over the two years. Barmen Today, which you will be able to find and join on Facebook, will be unveiled during that week in Albuquerque. It is a statement of a moral floor below which we — many of the Living school participants, and most, if not all of you–will not sink. We refuse. On Saturday, August 11th, I’ll put Barmen Today on this blog along with the directions or link for you to join, should you so desire.

In the meantime, let us keep our heads while all about us are losing theirs. Faith trumps fear. Trumps, get it??

Love and encouragement to each of you, Susan

 

 

 

 

 

August 4, 2018 at 9:59 AM 1 comment

Connected At The Roots

“Every forest branch moves differently in the breeze, but, as they sway, they connect at the roots.” This poetry was written around 1260 in present day Afghanistan by the Sufi poet we call, simply, Rumi.

Rumi is my favorite poet. My friend, Marsha, and I often do “devotions” on the phone, and we always end with what we refer to as dessert: a poem from Rumi. This is one of the loveliest of Rumi’s metaphors. As different as we humans are, swinging and swaying, sometimes with every useless, directionless breeze, we must remember that we are connected at the roots.

What is that deep-rooted connection? What is the invisible, unknowable association? What attaches us one to another? How is it we are joined? What are our roots?

Scientists would give us fascinating answers to those questions. Physicists would give their perceptions. Mathematicians probably have some formula to answer my query.

I’m thinking of a book that was popular when I was in college. I’m sure it’s available for a penny on Amazon these days. It was a book of pictures of many diverse peoples called The Family of Man. We all looked different, the book showed, but we were all from the same family: the family of man, which, I suppose now, to be politically correct, we’d call the family of humanity.

Is that it? Is that the connection? Is it our shared humanity as members of the human race?

To be part of the human race  means that we are each born and we will each die. Rumi again has wisdom for us: “I didn’t come here of my own accord, and I can’t leave that way. Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.” Is that the root that binds us? Do we all have the same taxi driver chauffeuring us home?

Or is it more about the common journey? We share so many things. We begin and end in states of absolute vulnerability. In between those impotent, helpless times, we have a crescendo and a decrescendo as we get more and more confident that “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my ship.” I am in charge and totally in control of my own life. Then, without warning, one healthy virus or drunken driver can disabuse us of that notion. One lover who leaves us, by choice or by chance, reminds us that we are not in control. One sick child, one daughter or son sent to war, one lost job, one unplanned addiction, one disease we were genetically susceptible to, one humiliation . . . has us begging whoever is in charge to please have mercy and grace.

Richard Rohr, the wise teacher with whom I have studied for the last few years, tells us great love and great suffering are the master teachers. They may, in fact, be the commonality. Both extreme pain and extreme pleasure, suffering and love, make us pay attention. You know how when you’re in love all the colors are more intense, the flavors of everything so sweet, the songs jazzier, the moonlight more romantic, etc., ad nauseum, etc. And when we’re suffering, the smallest kindness is transformative. I remember as a seventeen year old nurses’ aide taking some ginger ale to a woman dying of cancer. I helped her drink it. She said it was the best thing she had ever tasted. I have done many more generous things in my life, but no one has ever appreciated anything I have ever done more than that woman did. She was suffering, and my small act of kindness was balm for her body and spirit.

Under ground, out of sight, ever tree has a root system as elaborate as an village of ants. And the root system is wonderfully resilient. If the roots on one side of a tree are harmed, those on the other side of the tree grow stronger and longer and deeper. Have you ever tried to dig out the roots of a tree? It’s like following a tunnel system that has no beginning and no end. Those roots are tenacious. And Rumi says that is where we’re connected — at the roots. Our human connection is that intrinsic, that intertwined, that intense, and that indestructible.

Our special assignment this week is to focus on our connections. It’ll be easy with people like my grandaughter. It’ll be difficult with people like those in South Carolina who erected the billboard that says, “Let’s make America white again.” But you know what I always say: If it were easy, they would have sent somebody else.

Peace and love to my dearly connected friends — my roots.  Susan

I just looked up The family of Man on Amazon:

Hailed as the most successful exhibition of photography ever assembled, The Family of Man opened at The Museum of Modern Art, New York in January 1955. This book, the permanent embodiment of Edward Steichen’s monumental exhibition, reproduces all of the 503 images that Steichen described as “a mirror of the essential oneness of mankind throughout the world. Photographs made in all parts of the world, of the gamut of life from birth to death.” A classic and inspiring work, The Family of Man has been in print for more than 40 years. The New York Times once wrote that it “symbolizes the universality of human emotions.”

July 28, 2018 at 9:20 AM Leave a comment

My Favorite Republican and Democrat

My father was a Republican. My mother was a Democrat. They lived in harmony for 62 years. My mother never ran for office. My father did. I have every reason to believe she voted for him whenever he was up for election. She was broadminded like that.

When I listen to and read the nasty, snippy, underhanded things democrats and republicans say about each other these days, I have to shake my head. It’s all so unnecessary. Why can’t everybody just do what they’re good at? I don’t wish all accountants were therapists. I don’t wish all schoolteachers were welders. Really, where would we be if every one had the same skills and talents?

I’ve always considered my brother and myself proof of how well a democrat and a republican could do when they had a shared project.

Don’t all of us actually have a shared project, whether we’re affiliated with a political party or not? Don’t we all just want equal rights under the law, equal opportunities to live in our own idiosyncratic ways. Some of my neighbors have multiple dogs. Some have goats. Some have strange orange furniture on their porches. One neighbor has a bright green trailer parked in his driveway he takes to carnivals and fairs. I just call him “the carney” and go on about my business.

My granddaughter and I were driving to lunch yesterday and we happened on the body of a dead dog in the road. She said, when she could finally talk again, “How can people be so mean?” How could someone have hit that beautiful golden dog and kept on going?

How can people be so mean is indeed the question. How have we become so disrespectful? How have we come to accept people’s rude, bullying, demeaning, dismissive remarks and behaviors as “normal” and “acceptable”?

I don’t have to give you examples. The examples are indelibly written on our eyes, our ears, our brains and our hearts.

What you may be wondering, though, is why a therapist, who is supposed to be concentrating on messages related to PTSD, anxiety and depression, is talking about republicans, democrats and meanness.

The very air we’re breathing is so toxic with hatred that our mental and physical health is suffering. In my own small practice, I see anxiety flaring in places where it was previously well under control. The people I see who are suffering from depression are spending more and more time hibernating — not a good sign. And, as we all know, anger — the major emotion associated with trauma — is running rampant. We are each traumatized when we feel out of control with our own well-being. I certainly feel that way now.

Yesterday’s Yahoo headline, from Rick Newman, Senior Columnist for Yahoo Finance was: “It is now clear Trump puts self above country.” I’m incapable of reading a headline like that and not having a fear (anxiety), sadness (depression) and anger (PTSD) response. I imagine you each feel the same.

Interestingly, I found the idea I was going to suggest in this blog suggested in this month’s Better Homes and Garden’s Editor’s Letter. Stephen Orr, the Editor in Chief, talks about something new he’s trying: “I’ve started to practice sitting and thinking.” He reports it seems to unnerve people. They probably think his phone is broken or someone stole his tablet. “By now,” he says, “we’re so trained to expect everyone to be on their phones in grocery store lines, elevators, or when walking down the street, that it seems odd when someone isn’t.”

He’s found that when he grabs the pauses, and just sits and thinks or watches or listens, he realizes he is thinking his own thoughts, problems start solving themselves, he remembers things without technological reminders, and he even has a creative surge now and then. Imagine reading this blog or an article of any kind and not having any spaces between the words. Mr. Orr says: “It would be indecipherable. Your life is the same. Those gaps, no matter how tiny, are precious.”

Spiritual teachers suggest contemplation. Psychologists suggest meditation. Editors of women’s magazines suggest “sitting and thinking.” I say, let’s do it all. Let’s work on a “practice” of contemplation in which we indulge every day. At some point in time, we simply sit and breathe for a prescribed amount of time, somewhere between five and twenty minutes.  It becomes a habit, like brushing our teeth. Our body and spirit look forward to the break, the empty space, the way our mouth looks forward to the rush of peppermint. Then we meditate as we listen to music or watch a sunset or pet the cat. We calm ourselves by giving our thoughts to just one thing, by focusing. And then we sit and think other times. I like to sit and think when I’m driving, waiting for someone, peeling carrots.

We live our lives in a constant state of frenetic action and reaction, hostages to the phone, the beep of a new Facebook message, plans, appointments, the television schedule. No wonder we can’t go to sleep or stay asleep: we haven’t turned off all day and we’re out of practice. So, moments when we think about nothing, moments when we focus on only one thing, moments when we free ourselves to observe and listen, are moments when we reconnect with our own essence. The Buddhists say, “Chop wood, carry water.” This is their reminder to do only one thing at a time. When drinking a cup of tea, taste the tea in your mouth, feel the warmth of the cup in your hands, smell the citrus or the mint, watch the steam rise. I once participated in an exercise where we were given one raisin and asked to enjoy that one raisin for five minutes. Imagine actually tasting the food, feeling the flow of liquid down our throat, enjoying the smells and textures.

Okay, now I’m just getting plum crazy.

Peace and increased pleasure be yours, my friends, as we experiment with silence and being. Love, Susan

 

I don’t know if anybody else did it, but I really enjoyed picking out a phrase from last week’s poem and concentrating on it during each particular day. I encourage you to try it. It’s uplifting. (Poetry of Rumi and Mary Oliver work really well.)

July 21, 2018 at 8:50 AM 1 comment

Let’s try something new this week.

Let’s read this poem every day this week and focus on a different phrase which will be our mantra for the day. I am so overwhelmed by the barrage of negativity, divisiveness and hatred in the world, not to mention the headlines, pleas for money, cries of disaster and despair, that I decided I needed something solid to hold on to. Maybe you do, too. I remembered that a copy of this poem hung over my father’s desk for the fifty-three years we shared on this earth.

The end of the poem says we will be a “man” if we can do the things talked about. If we can do any of the things talked about, we will certainly be finer humans.

Peace and blessings this week as we open our hearts to pieces of wisdom from the ages, Susan

IF by Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936 )

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you; If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you but make allowances for their doubting, too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating, And, yet, don’t look too good nor talk too wise;

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master; If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same; If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to broken, And stoop and build ’em up with worn out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings and risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breathe a word about your loss; If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch; If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you; If all men count with you, but none too much; If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run -Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

July 14, 2018 at 9:25 AM 2 comments

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