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As the day to celebrate my birth approaches, I’m thinking a lot about death. Not in any maudlin sense but in a way that feels real and necessary. In a few days I’ll turn the same age my older sister was when she died from a brain tumor. I’m already 61 years older than my younger sister was when she died of kidney failure. While I hope to live for many more healthy, joy-filled years, I am feeling my mortality in a new way and although I’d love to be all Zen about it, I can feel the terror and the grief running like an icy stream just under the surface.

On my hike today, I saw a huge red-tailed hawk sitting low on a branch in the woods. I approached slowly and quietly, hoping to get nearer without startling it to wing. It felt magical and life affirming as I crept closer and closer and she stayed put. I could not believe that I was able to walk directly beneath her perch and we looked each other in the eye and still she did not fly. I hiked on with a sense of joy my heart that I had been granted this moment of presence with such a magnificent creature but when I made my way back, an hour or so later, she was still there. The enchantment faded as I approached and I began to understand that she was wounded in some way and that was why she didn’t take to flight, even when I stopped directly below her.

I sat down beside her tree and allowed myself to truly understand her to her plight. She could not fly and so would soon die deep in that wood. She appeared calm but clearly could not leave that branch. There was nothing I could do to help her and, although I know that this is the nature of things, my heart ached with the knowledge that I was witnessing that tender moment between life and death and I was, once again, reminded of my own mortality and did my best to stay with the feelings and be curious about my process.

Could I remember and hold the joy in the encounter with this wild bird even while knowing that it would end with the imminent loss of her life? Could I remember that I too will die and, in fact, am dying now, and still hold on to the joy of living? How can I come to terms with the fact that life ends, sometimes in spectacularly painful or messy ways? How do I stay in the moment? How do I carry joy even in the hard and heavy times?  Can I shift my intellectual understanding that death comes to us all and that from the moment we draw our first breath we are on our way to dying, to a true acceptance of that truth?  I want to have equanimity and grace as I journey toward my inevitable end; to live fully even as I’m dying every day.

May it be so for all of us.

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Facebook informs me that I joined the site 10 years ago today. They even made me a cute video to “celebrate” and of course, they’re hoping I will share. I’m certain that Mark Zuckerberg himself is having a little office party at headquarters in appreciation of my ten years of wasting thousands of hours on Facebook.

During those hours, I mostly see a lot of things that I don’t want to see, like upsetting news, political posts, or stupid (and every once in awhile mildly entertaining) memes or cat videos. It drives me crazy that any time I “like” something, a choice of clickable “related” posts, by various media outlets that I would never read, pop up next in my newsfeed. And it’s totally creepy that I will immediately see ads for anything I looked at anywhere on the internet; because I googled a question about how to care for a wool rug, I’m now seeing ads for new rugs. Ugh.

Very occasionally I see a personal share or photo from someone I care about and even more occasionally I share something that sparks a few comments. Likes and hearts are fairly meaningless at this point but if my friends actually engage with me or share something meaningful themselves, that gives me a feeling of real connection and that’s what keeps me coming back to FB to scroll my news feed several times a day.

Yesterday I read a quote by David Greenfield, author of the book “Virtual Addiction” that nails it for me. He says, “Your brain is guiding you toward rewards that you either imagine or hope will be there. It’s not conscious like ‘Oh! I’m gonna go on and see everything I want.’ It’s that you get rewarded intermittently, and you don’t know when the reward will be there, or what it’s going to be.” Bingo.

A feeling of connection is the reward I crave and I don’t think I’m alone in that. So many of us are isolated in our lives, living in our single family homes or apartments without true community or regular get-togethers with large numbers of the people we care about. My parents are gone, my kids live far away, most of my friends are not local, and my work life is very insular and doesn’t allow for reciprocal relationships outside of my office. I’m grateful to have a loving and supportive partner to share my day to day with and I actually enjoy my own company but I still yearn for more contact with my beloveds, thus I keep coming back to Facebook. But with all the garbage that most people are posting and the valueless ease of a “like” or some other emoji, the reward is seriously intermittent. Of course, anyone who understands how behaviorism works will get that this is the very thing that makes the draw so strong.

I keep saying I’m going to quit this FB habit and maybe I will. Right after I read everyone’s comments on this post.

 

 

 

 

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 I first wrote this piece for my Facebook friends in 2010 and it showed up in my “Memories” today, right on the heels of a conversation I had with a colleague yesterday about the increase in numbers of young women we see in our psychotherapy practices who are suffering from weight, food, and body image issues. I’ve decided it’s time to share it on my blog:

Like so many women, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my body all of my life and until fairly recently, it’s been weighted pretty heavily on the hate side, no pun intended. Even as a pre-teen I especially despised my legs. Why did I have these lumpy, cellulite laden thighs when it seemed that all the other girls had smooth, shapely limbs that looked great in the requisite cut offs of the seventies? You wouldn’t catch me dead in a pair of shorts.

I was always a pretty girl and most of the positive attention I received, even as a little girl, was centered on my looks. I learned early on how to work that angle, becoming an expert flirt and using it to my every advantage. But like so many women, in order to maintain what I perceived to be my primary value, I also had to learn a whole series of disordered eating patterns as well as the habit of obsessive exercise. Thin was in and what I assumed was most desirable, but it took considerable effort to make a body that naturally wanted to be a ripe pear look more like a string bean.

Unfortunately, no amount of exercise or dieting could change my skin. Genetics dictated that I seem to be sadly lacking in whatever it is that makes one’s skin elastic. Where some folks’ insides seem to be housed in fabulous new spandex, my epidermis more resembles cotton; soft to the touch but easily stretched and little ability to snap back into its original shape.

After carrying and nursing two beautiful babies, even after I twice fought my way back to my pre-pregnant weight, the skin on my belly was left hanging like a cowl necked sweater. If I lay on my back, my once perky and swollen breasts completely disappeared into my arm pits. The stretch marks on my abdomen that once resembled a quickly drawn local map transformed into a full blown, detailed atlas. No matter how taut I kept the muscle underneath, the battered skin that had housed and fed my children just continued to fall, making the southward journey with increased speed as every year passed.

I spent my forties wrestling with the question of how I might move into the inevitable aging process in a graceful way given our youth, beauty, and thin obsessed world. Dr. Kubler-Ross wrote a famous book about the 5 stages of grief that people go through when they learn that they have a terminal illness. The stages are:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Well, life is terminal and aging can make one face that truth and as I approached and turned 50, I watched myself cycling through these stages.

  1. Denial: I bought a push-up bra and always dressed in ways that covered the worst bits of skin.
  2. Bargaining: I continued to obsess over every morsel of food that passed my lips in order to fight against those extra pounds that would result from the slowing metabolism of aging and menopause.
  3. Anger: I raged against this culture that so values thinness and youth and smooth young skin, constantly furious at myself for continuing to buy into it even with all my awareness of the issues.
  4. Depression: yes.
  5. Acceptance: Over time, thankfully I find I’m having more and more. (and as I’m now pushing 60 I’ve finally, gratefully, landed in acceptance!)

All I have to do is think about my two amazing children, now adults and both living vibrant, full lives of their own, to know that my sagging skin is a small price to pay for bringing them into the world. They are the greatest source of the joy and meaning my life holds. And my heart breaks when I witness them, each in their own struggle to love and accept their bodies given our sad and deeply damaging cultural expectations. I want to be a power of example of a woman who can accept and love herself just as she is.

So I want to set an intention and share it with you all right now. I ask you to join with me in any part of this intention that fits for you.
Today, I will embrace and love my body JUST AS IT IS. I’ll remember with pride that my breasts and belly sag because I chose to nourish my beloved children. I’ll eat what I enjoy and focus on being healthy as opposed to thin. I’ll see the increasing wrinkles on my face as signs of wisdom and lines of laughter and joy. I’ll wear what I like and what’s comfortable, even if it’s not particularly flattering. I’ll continue to age with panache and grace!

Yes, I’ll wear my bikini with pride but it’s still pretty unlikely you’ll ever see me in a pair of shorts!

 

The Jordon Porco Foundation is a wonderful organization whose mission is to prevent suicide, promote mental health, and create a message of hope for young adults. I was thrilled to be asked to write a guest blog for them. You can read my post here.

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It is human nature to direct all our energy to feeling better. We have been taught to believe that pain equals danger and our survival instinct is to do whatever it takes to avoid pain. Our systems, both internal and external, are geared toward getting us away from pain as quickly as possible and the strategies we use are myriad and incredibly clever and often totally unconscious.

I sometimes wish I could be as blissfully unaware as so many seem to be but, leading up to and in the aftermath of the election, I’ve been watching myself cycle through my own go-to ways of avoiding and relieving pain. Even as I write this now, I see how I’m using the attempt to order my thoughts and feelings in writing, along with the idea of sharing it with you, as an attempt to feel better. Sure, I hope something I say might also help you but primarily I’m seeking relief from my own suffering.

I’m suffering because I’m sad and afraid. I’m afraid because I am a Jewish woman, mother of a gay daughter, and a friend and ally to many people of various already marginalized groups. I’m a professional therapist who sits daily with the pain of sexual assault survivors and victims of domestic violence. Today I see a world where instead of moving toward a more loving and healing understanding of differences, so many seem to be ignoring, if not inviting, the growing atmosphere of hate and intolerance.

I’m heartbroken that we now live in a country where because of the presidential campaign and its result, many people feel as if permission has been granted to attack women, people of color, LGBTQs, Jews, or Islamics. I do not believe that everyone who voted republican is a perpetrator, but it’s scary and sad to know how many people continue to ignore or deny that this is happening with even greater frequency than it already was. I am terrified and grief stricken that so many people appear to place their fear of their own financial insecurity before the basic rights to human dignity for all people.

I’ve been bouncing all over the place in my thoughts, feelings, and actions but really I know that I just have different parts of me that have differing ideas of how best to protect me from drowning in the fear and sadness that seems to be threatening to overwhelm me. These protectors believe that if I fall into the fear and grief I cannot survive. These parts of me are afraid that those feelings will kill me or that a suicidal part may take me out because for someone who doesn’t believe in an afterlife, suicide is the final solution; the ultimate protective strategy to avoid the pain of living.

It’s hard enough to keep awareness and sort through my own internal system’s struggles with how best to handle the truly terrifying state of our world today so witnessing with awareness and holding compassion for everyone else’s ways of managing their pain has been extremely challenging for me. In the context of my work, I can hold that space fairly easily and open heartedly but beyond that, my tolerance for people’s various strategies for trying to help themselves feel better has been fairly low. Even though I myself have been engaging to some degree in everything from trying to focus on the positive and what good can come, to self-righteous anger and needing to take immediate action, to rehashing what happened and what should have happened, plus more than a small dose of Netflix and chocolate cake, I’m having a hard time witnessing everyone else doing any of these things. I keep saying I’m going to stay off of Facebook, but then I go back, hoping to see something that helps me to feel better.

Fortunately, I have a big part of me that knows that I can actually tolerate the fear and the grief. This part of me knows that if I welcome it in and just sit with it for a while, allow the tears and the shaking to come, I will not die or want to kill myself. In fact, I will begin to heal more quickly and be better able to be fully present in whatever life brings next. But I still have many parts of me that don’t know this and I’m watching as these parts do their best to keep me from feeling the depths of the despair that threatens to take over.

What I really want is just a little space to allow myself to feel the pain. Feel the fear. Feel the sadness. Cry. Don’t be all wise or inspiring or impassioned. I want to be with some folks and sit Shiva for the world. I’ve tried to find that space for myself but it’s been hard to find people to share that with. It’s too hard to just be in the grief of what we have lost and the terror of what’s coming next. People don’t want to do it.

There’s lots of outrage and organizing; plenty of discussion about next steps happening, protesting and letter writing. I applaud that and I understand how it helps people to feel better when they jump into much needed action. But I’m not ready for that. I need to just feel what I’m feeling, even though it hurts.

If this resonates for you, I encourage you to gather and make a space for grief. Put the organizing and action planning aside for just a moment. Get off Facebook and get into someone’s living room. Find a place to share food, to pray, light candles, cry, dance and sing together. Let’s honor the sadness and the fear, acknowledge the cycle of life and then, from that place of healing, go forth and stand for what you believe in.

It’s been a long time. Apologies to those of you who have been anxiously awaiting my next post (right.) After five years I’m imagining you thought I must of died. Or given up writing all together. Of course, there’s nothing possible in between those two choices that might have accounted for my disappearance on WordPress, right?

Yes, many things have happened in my life in the time since my last post. I have traveled to Europe, the Middle East, and across the US. I have been to Burning Man.  I have seen my mother through several years of dementia and remained by her side until her death last winter. I have watched my daughters grow into fascinating, deep-thinking, completely financially independent (!) women out in the world following their own bliss. And I have sat for thousands of hours with people in pain and held them in compassion (and I hope with great skill) in my private psychotherapy practice.  Life has been full.

You might be wondering, as I have many times, “Why not write about those experiences?” Didn’t I promise that I’d be sharing stories here to help uplift my readers and that I would challenge myself to do it even though I’m sure I have nothing new or Earth shattering to say? How did I so quickly renege on my commitment to blog about progress, not perfection?  I do have so many things to say about what I continue to learn in the very rich life that I lead.

So let me share a little about my adventures with writing over the last 5 years.  I want you to know that I’ve struggled. As I’ve in a previous post, I have a part of me that is a staunch perfectionist. And I have a part of me that loves to write. Those two parts are not friends. In fact, they are often at war with each other and the easiest way to reach detente between the two is to not write. Perhaps you can relate. Most people have different parts of themselves that are opposed. We often experience that as the feeling of, “Part of me wants this but part of me wants that.” Well part of me wants to blog, and part of me wants my writing to be perfect. Not a good match.

One of the reasons I decided to blog in the first place is that writing in a vacuum isn’t appealing. I’m not someone who will quietly fill pages and pages with poetry and prose and never feel the need to have anyone read it. And I judge myself that I’m not a “real” writer if I don’t feel like I have to write whether anyone reads or not. I want interaction. I want to be read. Like most people, I want a mirror that says, “You’re the fairest in the land!” or least, “You don’t suck.”

Recently, in an attempt to kick-start my writing again, I signed up for an online class. Each week there was a theme to write on and we shared our work with our fellow classmates and the teacher giving and receiving feedback, all in written form online.The rule generally was: only positive feedback allowed. There I was, craving the magic mirror and getting it, but also knowing that I had no chance for improving my work if I only received accolades. Quite a conundrum.

And isn’t that how it goes in life? We all want those gold stars and blue ribbons but they lose their meaning if everyone gets them every time. But after brief stint with with a writing coach who unkindly told me that my poetry was not really poetry, and mocked the poets I admire,  I’ve decided that I need to find a teacher who can give me good honest feedback on my writing but do it with kindness and compassion. The Bhudda said, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I’m ready for a mentor who can say what they mean, mean what they say, but not say it mean. Meanwhile, until the teacher appears, I’ll keep writing and hope you’ll be interested enough to read.

 

Here’s a very interesting article on some of the latest research looking at the efficacy of psychotherapy. It really works.
http://pn.psychiatryonline.org/content/39/9/34.1.full

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