The Dark Days

The weather is grey, wet, irritating, uninviting. “Crawl back under the covers,” the very air seems say.

The news is grey and miserable. Everybody hates everybody. Everyone wants to destroy everybody else. The things I see on the internet are touting “Humiliation,” “Crookedness,” “Collusion,” “Harassment,” “Abuse,” and SHAME, SHAME, SHAME. The republicans and the democrats are trying to outdo each other: Who can unearth the most dirt on the other? Who is worse, the idiot on one side of the table or the scumbag on the other side of the table? You must take a side. Sign your name, and donate, because if we don’t win this battle or this special election or this skirmish….the world will end. (And it will be your fault for not taking OUR side. The Right side. The Correct side. The Good side. The Logical, Wise, Responsible side.) Everything is in absolutes, and everything is dire. There is no small stuff for us to sweat.

I’m not sure where I would be with all this or what I would be doing were I not a year and a half into my two year study program with Richard Rohr. He, a Franciscan priest, like the Buddhists, the mystics of all world religions, the Native Americans and indigenous peoples of all continents, refuse to be reduced to either/or thinking and behavior. When someone, anyone, says you MUST do this or that, stop dead in your tracks and be suspicious. You are being seduced into dualistic thinking. You must be either a republican or a democrat. You believe either in God, or you believe in evolution. You are pro-life or pro-choice.

Can you see how we are being minimized and marginalized? We humans are not either/or beasts. We are capable of complex, beautiful contradictions and wide open options and choices. I’m a pacifist, and I hope never to own a gun or use one. However, if there was a boa constrictor slithering into the crib of a baby, I bet I could figure out really quickly how to use one and be very happy there was a gun handy. We are being forced into artificial boxes and categories which don’t suit our human nature at all. Can you feel it? Can you feel the stifling, stale air which keeps us from taking a deep, free breath?

Pay attention this week, okay? Listen for all the good/bad, right/wrong, logical/illogical, republican/democrat, pro/anti arguments which are airing around you and trying to cramp your wisdom and intuition. You know you are not simplistic and one-dimensional. None of us are. We are born to learn and study and grow and evolve. We are not born to stagnate and stiffen and give up.

These dark days can serve a valuable purpose if we let them. They can teach us to go inside and grow restless with the two-dimensional choices we are being coerced into making. This is a multi-dimensional world and we are multi-dimensional people. Laws and morals and ethics and values exist which lift us and free us to soar to new heights and depths and breadths of being. But, first, we must become aware of the cages we are unconsciously entering. Having to choose between two opposites is always a mistake. Always, forever, in every circumstance, there is a third, and fourth and infinite number of other options. Twenty-eight, my friend, Phil Hockwalt, used to say. When you think you have only two options, you always have at least twenty-eight.

Don’t let yourself shrink to fit into the small mindset of people who see only a or b. There are billions of alphabets of possibilities for us. Think big, much bigger. and think freely, much more freely. The only limitations that truly exist are those of our own imaginations. Listen to Albert Einstein:

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

The world needs us to open doors not close windows.

In love, peace, and infinite potentiality, Susan

 

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March 3, 2018 at 9:20 AM Leave a comment

The Red SeeSaw

On the playground of Durham Elementary School was a red seesaw. You could not do a thing with it by yourself. ANOTHER was required for seesawing. Here we have a basic metaphor of life. It is not to be lived alone. You’ll never get off the ground if you try to go it alone.

Ah, but the metaphors don’t stop there. If you were seesawing with someone heavier — read “pushier,” “more controlling,” “more opinionated,” “demanding,” “narcissistic,” “unwilling to negotiate or compromise” — in other words, HEAVIER — physically, emotionally, intellectually — you were going to spend your time up in the air, feet not touching the ground, flailing, feeling out of control, at the mercy of the “heavier” person. For most of us, this would create a lot of anxiety.

If you were seesawing with someone lighter, a light-weight, someone willing to let you be responsible for all the work, someone “along for the ride,” you were going to bump your butt on the ground continuously. It was going to be difficult to get anything “off the ground,” including “you,” and your view of the world was going to be about as interesting as that of the average snake. For most of us, this would create a fair amount of depression.

Unequal relationships are not much fun, whether the relationship is two partners, a parent/child relationship, two friends, two siblings or any other two people who live, work, or talk with each other, or love each other.

Just like on the seesaw, there has to be some similarity, some symmetry, some symbiosis, or the relationship will have no life or joy to it.  The similarity, of course, doesn’t have to be in body weight, as it need to be for the seesaw. We can have emotional, spiritual, intellectual, physical commonality. But, in some way, we need to be kindred spirits. We need shared values, shared hobbies, shared passions, shared interests, or shared histories. But, we need something. Opposites attract, they say in sexual matters. Opposites also repel. Other than getting my car repaired, I don’t want to have too much to do with the guy at the garage who calls me, “The damn Yankee.”

Back to the seesaw. When we get on the seesaw with someone who is similar, we both go up in the air sometimes, we both land on the ground sometimes, and in between, we spend our time working on balance. Relationships are not static. They require constant rebalancing. Each member of the team needs time to shine in the sunshine and time to keep his or her feet on the ground, so the other team member can take a turn riding high.

Balance is the secret of a healthy relationship. I always have to smile when I see my daughters-in-law in the driver’s seat of the car. In my day, at least in my world, women didn’t drive if their husband was in the car. My mother would never have said to my father, “If we’re taking my car, I’m driving.” Neither of my grandmothers ever learned to drive. I also have to smile when one of my sons gets up from the table and starts doing the dishes. Equality and shared responsibilities around the house are much more prevalent than they were in past generations. But dominant/submissive relationships vastly outnumber healthy, balanced relationships. Imbalances of power are everywhere in the world, aren’t they? Unfortunately, power imbalances can only lead to tragedy.

Power imbalances result in the dominant, domineering person holding on to his or her power at any cost and by any means. The person with the lesser amount of power will grow resentful, secretive, cunning and devious to try to “unseat” the powerful. Revolution. History is full of them. Relationships collapse, divorces ensue, friendships die, families are estranged, and countries go to war. The pressure is on the person who has more than the fair share of power, and getting someone powerful to share the power is nigh onto impossible. When power is inequitable, it will be abused. The unempowered must be empowered. It happened for women through education. It has happened for racial and ethnic minorities through law.

Obviously, we are not going to change history or right the wrongs of the world. But, what can we do in our lives? When we are on a seesaw with someone, anyone, in any sort of fledgling or long-term relationship, what we can do is find the commonality which will lead to a balanced time on the seesaw.  My friend, Marsha, always makes it a point to call every clerk by name. “Thank you, Janine,” she’ll say. Or, “I really appreciate your help, Phil.” Its a small gesture which recognizes the shared humanity of clerk and patron. The calling of someone by name is a step toward a balance of power. I once saw my oldest son shake someone’s hand and say, “Isn’t that a Notre Dame ring?” and the stranger started right in as though he and Andy were long lost friends. When we step toward someone, show interest in someone we climb up on the seesaw with them.

The littlest look, smile, touch, acknowledgement can change a day or save a life. Literally, save a life. You’ve experienced it. You’ve been the giver and the receiver. Viva la balance!!!

Peaceful last days of February, my friends. Love, Susan

February 24, 2018 at 9:28 AM Leave a comment

FALSE OR TRUE?

You’ve seen children playing sports, dancing, singing, working on an art project, walking down a trail, listening to a story . . . and you’ve seen how differently various children respond to the same activity. What delights us all is that child who gets “lost” in whatever the activity is. This is not necessarily the child who is best at the activity. This is the child who is most in the “flow” of the song or the story or the hunt for insects in the dirt. This is the child who is not self-conscious, not looking for praise, not living in fear of criticism, but simply absorbed in the moment. This is the best description I know of “living in the true self.”

It’s easier for children, especially young children, to fall back into themselves. They haven’t been poisoned and punished and pushed into conformity. They haven’t been forced to color inside the lines, to sit with their legs together, to be aware of how they look when they’re playing. They can still connect with that sense of abandonment, freedom, ease. They haven’t been anesthetized into missing the present because they were too concerned about what was going to happen in the future.

Last week we talked about indicators that we are living in our “false self.” Our false self is the self our parents, teachers, society, and culture demanded we become. No matter how gentle or insidious the demands, the forces around us wanted us to be well-behaved, good at things, achieving successes, even in nursery school. “Your child was the first to pick up her toys and sit in the circle for story time,” says the teacher. “Wow, says the parent, good job, kid,” and a neurotically responsible child is born. It can be that well-meaning. The competition and comparison, the roles and rules, the standards and achievements become the way we identify and self-define.

Living in the true self means leaving behind everything that is not true for us. Some of that “imposed self” will fit. Most of it will not. Volumes have been written about the causes and reasons we leave our true selves behind. That’s fascinating to me, but not what we’re about here. This is just an introduction to the topic of false self/true self.

Here are some indicators you are living in your true self, being yourself, accepting yourself:

You have a sense of humor. You are able to laugh at yourself. You are able to laugh with others in such a way that they can laugh along because you have not been cruel or mean.

You walk with people, not ahead of them or behind them. The true self is not superior or inferior.

You are more selfless than selfish.

You have an ability to validate the differences. Someone who is different than you, in sexual orientation or skin tone, for example, does not threaten you.

You are merciful.

You are kind.

You can both give and receive.

You have integrity. You know what matters to you, and you neither shout it from the rooftops nor deny it when it is unpopular.

You are generous with your attention, your time, your resources, your praise, and your skills.

You are hungry to learn.

You are serene when alone or in a crowd.

You don’t miss much because you are living with your eyes and ears and heart open.

You are patient when things go your way, and when they don’t, as well as when people are thoughtless, think while driving, for example, or “bothering” you.

You are probably interested in conservation and things which are good for the planet and other people.

Obviously, the list could go on and on. You can feel when you are living from your true core and being authentic because you are as unselfconscious as we humans ever get. You are in the flow. One reason I have so enjoyed being a therapist is because when I am in the listening seat, I am not thinking about myself. I’m not thinking, “I need to say something clever now.” I am just, completely, listening.

Richard Rohr says that great love and great suffering are breakthrough opportunities for us to visit our “true selves.” Most of us don’t stay there, but visiting is refreshing. Sitting in silent contemplation or meditation is another chance to turn off the monkey chatter of judgment that diminishes us and often defeats us on a day to day basis. In contemplation, we simply sit by the river and watch it flow gently along. I usually sit by the ocean. On a good day, when the monkeys are busy chattering to someone else, I can actually get in the ocean and sometimes feel the dolphins moving the water beside me. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “When the wave realizes she is water, her fear disappears.” Then we know we are one. Then we have returned, even if just for a moment, to our true self.

Blessings and deep peace. Love, Susan

(I’d be happy to hear from you!)

 

February 17, 2018 at 9:36 AM Leave a comment

TRUE OR FALSE?

So, what is the difference between the true self and the false self?

A number of different answers leap to my mind.

Psychologically, the answer is straight forward: our true self makes decisions based on our internal, individual, intuitive wisdom. The false self makes decisions based on what we have been taught, what others have coerced us to believe and think, what our culture and society deem important, and what our families value. Some of these things will be coherent with our own true self. Many will not be.

A spiritual perspective also determines how we differentiate the true self and the false self. Do you believe that you were born to Be a certain person, to DO a certain sort of thing, to BRING INTO THE WORLD a particular gift or set of gifts. Do you believe you have a unique set of contributions to add to this planet? Don’t answer that too quickly. Are you different from other people? Did you arrive wired?

I, for example, arrived a sensitive, kind, right brained child. I was not gifted in math, as was the rest of my family. I was more expressive verbally than they were. I “wore my heart on my sleeve,” and they were more private, less emotionally reactive and receptive. My role in the family differed distinctly from the roles of everyone else. I was Little Mary Sunshine. I was the “sweet” child and my brother was the “smart” child. This is what I mean by “coming in wired.” The Myers/Briggs Personality Inventory helps us understand that people are differently wired. None is better than another. Each has it’s own benefits and its own problems.

Here is a list of some of the indicators of the false self. These are clues that we are working against our own nature and our own wiring.

You have a narrow view of anything. (Can’t see alternatives and options.)

You are easily offended.

You have a set field of expectations. (You think others “SHOULD…….”) One of the happiest days of my life was the day I realized no one else was as enthusiastic as I was. I stopped expecting others to match my level.

You are an angry person.

You are attached to ……. SORRY…… but, anything. As in I must have…….cleanliness? organization? my needs met by others? Starbucks coffee?

You are easily frustrated.

You label things as “right” or “wrong.”

You find yourself judging others.

You compete constantly — even if only in your mind.

You compare yourself to others. Alot.

You feel irritable and cranky.

You feel superior to anyone.

You feel inferior to anyone.

You are attached to ANY outcome. “If I can’t BE (the best), HAVE (the most)…….”

If you MUST be in control. Someone else suggests ANYTHING and your immediate response is NO. Either it wasn’t your idea, or you have to tweak the plan to add your own juice.

If you want success, adulation, high marks, winning, beauty, or any “best” of anything…….

If you feel you can manipulate anyone about anything. Even if you want to manipulate anyone about anything.

If you feel like you’re the judge, jury, and final authority.

This is a partial list of false self indicators, but it gets us started on our road to authenticity.

In the present circumstances of the planet earth, nothing, truly nothing, could be more vital than that each of us look inside ourselves and find the kernel of divine wisdom and guidance. Let us  commit ourselves to fulfilling — to the best of our ability– our unique and special and, perhaps, very small but necessary, role in this amazing drama of life on the Planet Earth.

Blessings and love from me to each of you!!  Susan

 

 

February 10, 2018 at 9:17 AM Leave a comment

Transforming Power to Empowerment

What’s the difference between being a powerful person and being an empowered person? Others judge whether we’re powerful, based on all sorts of societal criteria: job description – how many people do you have “under” you

Salary

Prestige (the best teacher at a community college is not considered as powerful as the best teacher at an Ivy League school)

Sphere of influence (does you family think you’re powerful? Your community? Your business? My aunt was CFO of a local hospital. Her younger brother was CFO of a major international corporation. Who was more powerful?)

You get the idea. Do we look powerful? Powerful men and women have a dress code. They have a friend list: other powerful people. You’re known by the company you keep.

Powerful people will self-identify as “powerful.”

Empowered people operate by different criteria. They are immune to the judgment of society. Some would say it is because they answer to a higher power. Certainly, that is true more often than not. But there are also many empowered people who answer simply to their own internal template of right/wrong, good/bad, acceptable/unacceptable. They have standards which they adhere to whether someone else is watching or not. These are often but not exclusively religious or spiritual standards.

Empowerment comes from knowing WHO you are, not what you are – not your title or role or address. Now this gets pretty murky because it is from others that we find our early – and sometimes ongoing –identity. It’s up to us to spend our lives sorting through which of the things people saw in us were truly us and which were masks or persona or roles we assumed because it was expected of us. This is a lifelong process, and it requires more courage and insight than anything else we’ll ever do.

WHO AM I? Powerful people will tell you who they are as described by what they do, who they know, how they spend their time, and where and with whom they hang out.

Empowered people won’t even talk to you about who they are. They are to busy being who they are. Can you imagine Mother Teresa being asked who she was? She’d be appalled and brush you off to get back to her women and children on the streets. Now she was, from all the stories I’ve heard, a powerful woman as well. Her power came from a very different place, though. It was internal. It was, in her case, I’d say, the power of righteousness. Apparently, she’d walk into any building in Calcutta and tell the owner she needed she needed his building and the date by which she needed it for her ministry, and it would be turned over to her.

You know powerful people and you know empowered people. The powerful people smell better, look better, talk better and stand straighter. The empowered people are quieter, smile frequently, would rather listen than speak, and are, as a group, curious, empathic and kind. The empowered have nothing to prove and nothing to lose. The powerful have everything to lose because their identity depends on others, so they have to keep proving themselves.

As long as we cling to the need to be powerful, accepted, respected, sought out, quoted, we are at the mercy of “the crowd.” In Bible stories “the crowd” was always the prevailing societal judgment. They were the ones who followed the law, the rules, the ordinances, whether they were equitable, universal, abusive, antiquated or cruel.

Interestingly, Jesus, like Buddha, Mohammed, and the wisdom teachers of all religions and cultures, said, repeatedly, “The law says . . . but I say.” Martin Luther King distinguished between the civil law and moral law. We each need to find and live by what our conscience and soul tell us is true. Truth, you know, is extrapolated because if it is true, it is always true. Truth, moral law, and wisdom teach us some pretty uncomfortable things. If it is true for me, it must be true also, in my moral and ethical code, for every other human. Power doesn’t like this. Empowerment is birthed from this.

If we are to embark on a journey of self-discovery, to find our real selves, to uncover the me I was born to be, we will have to do some soul searching. “The price for real transformation is high. It means we have to change our loyalties from power, success, money, ego and control to servanthood, surrender and simplicity.” Richard Rohr said these words, but the theme is repeated in the Tao Te Ching, the Bible, and, I am told, all the great wisdom traditions of the world. I haven’t studied them all. I have studied some poetry and I can’t find an exception – Rumi, Walt Whitman, Mary Oliver leap to mind as those who encourage this transformation poetically.

Peace and blessings, my friends, as we quiet down into the February stillness and let it lead us inward.

Love, Susan

February 3, 2018 at 7:54 AM Leave a comment

FIRE, ICE AND FOG

Which are you stuck in? Which do you try to keep under wraps? Which sneaks up on you?

The triangle of negative emotions is anger (fire), sadness (ice) and fear (fog).  They correspond, of course, to PTSD, depression and anxiety.

Fire. If you are a trauma survivor, you undoubtedly find yourself angry. Probably, frequently. Perhaps, fairly consistently. It may take constant surveillance on your part to manage the sparks. You may have a firewatch set up internally which warns you you are about to get snippy and hot-headed. (Anybody ever called you a hot-head?) Anger is a natural and healthy reaction to being the victim of trauma. The earlier the trauma, the more insidious the anger. You may be incapable of putting it into words if the trauma began before you could talk. Depending on your level of self-awareness, you may not even know why you’re mad. I’ll bet the people around you are confused, too.

Angry people are a challenge. They require a great deal of ego strength on the part of those who deal with them, work with them, live with them, love them. Anger pushes people away. That’s its purpose, of course. Anger is the classic defense against feeling vulnerable, a feeling trauma survivors can’t tolerate because, obviously, trauma produces feelings of vulnerability. Trauma means not being in control — think hurricanes, rape, abusive parents. Being in control after a traumatic event or, if its parental, a traumatic childhood, becomes your NUMBER 1 PRIORITY. I will never be vulnerable again is the motto of those who have not worked through their traumas. They get angry and keep people from getting too close. Sometimes the anger is red hot and sometimes it’s silent and cold-shouldered. It has the same effect — “I will not let anyone close enough to hurt me.” Unfortunately, that means they will not let anyone close enough to heal and love them, either. Intimacy demands vulnerability.

So, trauma survivors and those in relationships with trauma survivors, hunker down for a bumpy ride. It is the challenge of your lives to learn to trust. Self-edit. Trust in increments. Be prepared to apologize when you burn people. Those wild fires can “jump” and hurt innocent bystanders. And remember that the trauma was done to you and until you free yourself from the residual damage, you are still being traumatized. You can put your anger to work for you instead of letting it rage out of control. You have two great gifts as a trauma survivor that most of the rest of us only dream of: intuition and passion. That’s the positive legacy of trauma. Creativity is also yours, that’s how you’ve gotten as far as you have gotten, and you’ll need to use it to heal in the ways that are best for you.

Ice is the emotionally frozen position of the depressed. If you are suffering from depression, or have suffered, or are watching someone you love suffer, doesn’t it seem that they are immobilized, frozen, apathetic, energy deficient, unmotivated, uncreative, and, it often feels like depressed people are unwilling to do anything about it. That’s because they’re caked in ice — think Han Solo in his deep freeze coffin. Or, think about water pipes freezing. You can’t use them. The supply of water is cut off. Often the pipes break and things get very messy. Everything is out of whack and off balance. That is exactly what it feels like inside the mind and body of someone suffering from depression. The supply of life giving energy (water) has been stopped up, interfered with, denied to you. You don’t know how to dig a well and replace all the pipes and get things flowing again.

The apathy and lack of energy lead to loss of jobs, loss of relationships, agoraphobia, poor hygiene, weight gain or weight loss, lots of somatic symptoms — the list goes on and on. I used to gauge how severe one client’s depression was by how often he told me he left the house or took a shower. Sometimes he’d come for his weekly appointment and tell me it was the first time he’d left the house or taken a shower since his last appointment. I knew we were in trouble. We now refer to that period of time as “The Summer of Inconsolability.” Happily, that is a distant memory. While the trauma reaction is often a wildfire, I’d describe the depression reaction as a slippery slope. It’s the side of a deep, deep well. Ultimately, depressed people feel like they’re living in the cold and the dark. It is very hard on your body to live in constant coldness and darkness — you lose your muscle tone, literally and metaphorically. You’re stuck in the deep, dark, cold well and unable to figure out how to get yourself out. Sometimes, you give up caring if you’ll ever get out.

Depressed people need to get warm. Hopefully, they have someone walking around the edge of the well, calling out words of hope, throwing down heated blankets. More often, they have to find their own, creative way out of the depths of despair. For the Summer of Inconsolability client, it happened when he read the title of a homily: What Legacy Are You Leaving? That was the stimulus that motivated him. Alcoholics Anonymous teaches that one has to hit bottom to change. (It is estimated that 99% of alcoholics suffer from depression.) Somehow, through prayer, grace, dumb luck, some crazy unpredictable event, the negative momentum of the slippery slope has to change to the positive momentum of the climb back out and up. People who have suffered from depression have learned the lessons of endurance: patience, solitude, self-sufficiency, self-loyalty. There are lots of reasons for starting down the slippery slope — often a loss, like a death, a divorce, a job loss, a humiliation, a retirement (loss of purpose). No matter the propelling event, it is always creative, tenacious determination that turns the tide.

Fog. Have you noticed that anxious people have trouble thinking? They behave strangely. They forget basic things, like toothbrushes and deodorant, and remember esoteric things like the number of cracks in the sidewalk or all the symptoms of some deadly disease, which they are positive they have contracted. They have no idea if they walked out of the house and left a candle burning, and often have trouble remembering why they walked into a room or the name of a road they travel every day. There’s a good reason for this. Fog has descended over them. They are trapped in cloudy air through which they cannot see. They’re not angry, like trauma survivors, or sad like depressed people, they’re confused and mixed up. The more confused and mixed up they get, the more fearful they become, and the more fearful they become . . . the more mixed up and confused and disoriented they are. The gerbil wheel — covered in a fog of deep mist that makes it hard to breath, so we start hyperventilating, tighten our muscles to fight the fog, become ultra aware of everything that feels wrong — I can’t swallow is a frequent anxiety symptom. Another common anxiety symptom is the fear of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Perfectly reasonable. Your memory is shrouded in fog.

I’ve been seeing a client who didn’t take her medication correctly and brought about a couple months of frighteningly painful anxiety. She was on a common anti-depressant which is prescribed for anxiety. She used to have a little anxiety  before she got a blast from the fog machine. Anyway, she stopped taking her medication cold turkey. When she realized that, she started taking double the amount. Those are two big mistakes. Most anxiety comes from the fear that we can’t handle something. Again, a loss is a common trigger. Someone we relied on dies, we lose a job, we get jilted and we feel like we can’t handle life. This makes us very anxious. Just as with trauma and depression, the emotional responses we have lead to intellectual and physical responses — so the fog gets thicker.

Anxiety can be a teacher of valuable lessons. Anxiety can help us prioritize, get over our perfectionism, calm our dependency on others and help us take control of our own lives and our own destinies. Faith, of course, makes all these things easier to get through. A belief that everything has purpose and meaning and that all is in divine order can be the beacon light we need when we’re suffering. Suffering, some say, leads many people into a stronger faith. Richard Rohr says great suffering and great love are the best teachers. They open us to the opportunities to live deeper, more meaningful lives. Faith is the antidote for fear.

Medications are great because they stabilize us and give us a window of opportunity to make the changes which will reduce our symptoms. Most people go off medication much too soon. Two to five years is the suggested length of time to stay on an anti-depressant if one is prescribed. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you ever take yourself off medication without physician supervision. Medication needs to be paired with exercise, movement, therapy (ideally), reading,or some other gathering of information –information is power — and a spiritual practice of your choice. The mind/body/soul connection has to heal all together. Any one element left unattended will slow down your progress.

I hope this summary will serve as a validation and as encouragement. We spend our lives healing, hurting, hoping, helping — it’s a process. There is no fire too hot, no ice too frozen, no fog too thick that it cannot be mastered, tamed, and “kissed.” Rumi, my favorite poet, says there is a snake guarding our greatest treasure. To get to the treasure, we must kiss the snake. We must make friends with the cards we have been dealt. Everyone has something. It’s not what we have, a trauma background, a depression history, an anxiety predisposition, it’s what we decide to do with it that determines who we are. As I said in the title of one of the novels I wrote, sometimes the only thing that will get us through is what brought Sara back: ONLY HER NAKED COURAGE.

Peace and blessings, my friends. Let me know if any of this helped. In February we’re going to continue with our theme of courage by looking at our false selves and seeing what we can do to get closer to our treasure: the self we were born to be.

Love, Susan

I promise February’s posts will all be really short. Seriously. I promise.

January 27, 2018 at 9:56 AM Leave a comment

STRESS REACTIONS

These are stressful times. No argument from you, I’m sure, whatever your political leanings or economic status or religious affiliation. Everyone seems to be fighting on every level. Security seems to be illusive in every arena. Peace feels absent from the planet.

Our stress reactions don’t help us any, either. Without fail, anxious people get more anxious when stressed. Depressed people get more depressed. Traumatized people get more angry. It’s as though we do more of the thing that most isn’t working and exacerbate the weakness that keeps us off balance.

What to do? What to do? What to do?

Well, knowledge is power. We know that. So, being aware that we are making ourselves “crazier” is a huge step in the right direction. Which is your favorite “poison” — anxiety, depression or the residual stress from previous trauma that is as tenacious as my cat’s fleas.

Actually, let me take a quick detour here and talk about my cat’s fleas. I am so neurotic about fleas that I have been known to give her flea medicine when she has a little piece of dirt on her white coat. I have suffered so much, gotten so anxious, vacuumed my way through numerous vacuum cleaners, not allowed her out on the porch she loves, always watching her like a hawk for fear she’ll sprout a flea. Honestly, I am nuts about flea prevention. Now, a benign example, but a telling one. This is exactly what happens to us when we are stress survivors. We get triggered — any black speck — and go into offensive action whether it is warranted or not. Usually, in the case of Coco’s fleas, which exist in my imagination a hundred times more than on the cat, the offensive action is not warranted.

The magic phrase here, the tonic for the poison we’re feeding ourselves, is quite simple. I’LL HANDLE IT. Whatever happens, I’ll handle it. Now let me settle down, do some research, say a prayer, meditate, take some deep breaths, visualize a positive result, talk encouragingly to myself, distract myself and come back later, move around and change my perspective, and do something to make myself feel in control of my life — for me this is often rearranging a cabinet. Nothing like a clean, neat cabinet where previously there was chaos. Nice metaphor, huh?

Catching ourselves before we go into free fall is essential. Speaking as one who drinks the anxiety poison, once my heart is pounding out of control it is much harder to turn myself around than if I catch myself when the “aura” of anxiety first appears. When people have surgery and are prescribed pain medicine, they are always told, “Stay ahead of the pain.” Take enough medicine that you don’t let the pain control you. You control the pain. The same is true with our three favorites, anxiety, depression and PTSD. We have whichever we have. That is just reality. But we have to control “it” instead of letting “it” control us.

Watch yourself so you learn your patterns. What are your own personal triggers for anxiety, depression or a trauma reaction? Does it happen when you’re alone or when you’re in public? Day or night? When you’re cold or hungry, or as they say in AA, when you’re hungry, angry, lonely or tired? HALT reminds people of the likelihood that one of those four things may trigger us. Do you get triggered when you feel inadequate or unacceptable? Do you get triggered more easily by issues that are physical, like how pretty or handsome you are, or whether you have the right physique? Is it matters of the mind that trigger you? What happens if you feel outsmarted or as though you don’t know enough or can’t remember it quickly enough? Are you likely to fall into the depths if you’re single, unhappy with your spouse, recently jilted, guilty about having been the cause of the jilting or the actual jiltor? Or is it a sense of moral or ethical inferiority, or spiritual second classness, the kind that crops up when surrounded by religious certitude and condescension.

We all have our Achilles Heel, the place where we are most vulnerable. By identifying who or what or where or how we get activated, we can take some proactive steps. Take a class in what you think you don’t know well enough. Read or study a subject that makes you uncomfortable. If you feel like you’re never assertive enough, for example, and you get triggered when put in positions where you know you should stand your ground, study assertiveness. There are some great small articles on almost everything available at our computer fingertips. I learned one thing about assertiveness years ago and it gets me through almost every situation that calls for assertiveness. Rule #1 of Assertiveness: Do not explain, justify or defend. That’s it. Simple and immensely helpful. Be sure to use it every time someone starts at you with the word, “WHY.” Why is a word that is designed to put people on the defensive unless you know what to do with it. “Why are you wearing that?” “Why aren’t you going out with us tonight?” “Why did you vote for that loser?” DO NOT EXPLAIN, JUSTIFY OR DEFEND. Smile and say, “Personal.” It’s so much nicer than, “None of your business.”

Another cure all or bandaid to use when you start to feel yourself get triggered is to turn the penny over in your hand. The penny has two sides. Everything, every thing, has a positive and a negative. As Jung says, everything is a blessing and a curse. Let’s take loneliness. Flip side: time alone. Time to do what you want and need without having to compromise or negotiate. Time for self-care. Time to do solitary things. Time to “be.” Let’s take not be invited to do something. What are the advantages of not doing whatever that thing is? Saves money, won’t be out so late, don’t have to pretend to like so-and-so who you know is going. My blessing is that I feel things deeply. My curse is that I feel things deeply. Great joy to feel things deeply when they put a baby in my arms. Great curse to feel things deeply when I’m standing beside a dying friend.

So, in stressful times, we have the opportunity to pay attention to what stresses us out, how we react to those things and what we choose to do to bring less stress and more peace into out minds and bodies and hearts.

Let me know if anything in here is helpful, and, also, if there’s anything you’d like me to write about.

Peace, my friends, and love to each of you — Susan

 

 

 

 

 

January 20, 2018 at 9:09 AM Leave a comment

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