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italy! 2007 010

The wise ones, self-proclaimed

and otherwise,

extol the gems

we’ll find tucked in the jagged places

of our lives.

 

They profess the riches we will

meet spelunking

in caliginous caves

of personal pain and diving the deepest

wells of our grief.

 

Starting with a broken heart

makes the trek

more meaningful,

the sages say, as if they know

we will not break

 

from anguish of the broken world

we darkly dwell

in every day,

but find, instead, an unobstructed oculus

to light the way.

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2Paul's 50th circle 048

Life falls apart. That’s what it does on a regular basis for all of us and yet, every time it happens to me I’m shocked and dismayed. I’m launched into the groundlessness that part of me knows can be a huge opportunity for growth but most of me is simply scared of. The unknown is such a boogieman!

When I’m not busy shaking in my boots, it can be fascinating to observe the various strategies that the different parts of me employ in the service of trying to protect me from the feeling of terror. While I can intellectually identify that the level of fear I’m experiencing isn’t commensurate with the event that’s causing it, the feeling of extreme danger persists so my system goes to work to try to get me feeling safe.

My inner personal growth junkie has collected many pithy little pieces of wisdom designed to counter the fear. I mantra: “this too shall pass” and “pain is the touch stone of spiritual progress” along with, “everything is fine right this minute.” I employ lots of deep breathing and regularly attempt to shift my focus to what I’m grateful for. These things do help but I still feel the undercurrent of deep anxiety.

In the face of this fear I feel the part of me that longs to be rescued. The little girl inside who just wants someone to tell her that they’ll take care of everything, that I don’t have to worry about a thing. She cries, “Where is my knight in shining armor – my Mommy and Daddy – my benevolent powerful God to save the day?”

My inner critic generally jumps in around now. “That’s enough whining. You need to be your own knight – your own parent – your own deity. Get over it and grow up.” I know the critic thinks she’s helping – that she can shame my little girl into piping down – but it’s not a helpful strategy and I try to practice self-compassion when my critic makes an appearance. That scared little part of me that wants to be saved needs love and understanding, not criticism. Of course she wants someone to provide that for her!

At some point the practical part of me jumps in and begins to strategize. I gather information. Knowledge is power and this part of me knows that the more intel I have about what I’m facing, the better I can determine what I can control and what I cannot. The serenity prayer is a strategy that is best applied with lots of information that helps me to know the difference between what I must accept and what I need to muster the courage to try and change.

As you can imagine, all these competing strategies can be so exhausting so let’s say hello to the part of me that thinks that the best way to get everyone to relax is to eat something delicious. A lot of something delicious, preferably while watching a soothing show on Netflix like The Great British Bake Off or Anne with an E. It’s a surprisingly effective game plan and works for as long as I can keep the inner critic from reappearing to shame me for escapist behavior, “unhealthy” eating habits, and oh yes, fat. She will always tell me I’m fat. Fortunately, her body shaming has lost most of its power (with the help of my personal growth junkie!) but she can still successfully nail me about being a coward or being “unhealthy”. Sigh. It’s time for more self-compassion. It’s hard to be a person.

My parents were not particularly present or available as I grew up so I developed a fiercely self-sufficient part that doesn’t ever want to ask for help. She’s there to protect me from feeling rejected or abandoned. If I don’t ask, I can’t be told no or even worse, receive a begrudging yes. It’s much safer to figure everything out on my own and the side benefit to this strategy is that I’ve become an extremely competent person. I’m good at many things and generally available to help others with a wide array of issues. But it can be so lonely and when the shit hits the fan, as it is wont to do every now and then, going it alone can feel like a very heavy load. Wise mantras, mad skills, a can-do attitude, and cookies and TV don’t really help that scared little one inside of me. For that I really need other people.

Self-compassion is such an important practice and can calm the inner critic and curb the urge to sink into anxiety or depression but receiving compassion from others is what really helps. To allow another person to really see me and to have them hold my pain with loving kindness is the most valuable gift. My decision to be vulnerable and the other person’s decision to respond with compassion creates the intimacy that I believe we all crave in our deepest selves and what truly heals.

I can only echo the words of my incredible teacher Pema Chodrin: “The human experience is an experience of nothing to hang on to, nothing that’s set once and for all. Reality is always falling apart. In this fleeting situation, the only thing that makes sense is for us to reach out to one another.” Thank you to the people I have reached out to and those who have reached out to me. My heart is filled with gratitude. May we all hold each other with love and compassion as we make our way through these difficult times.

 

 

 

 

 

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Today’s big news is that Britain votes to leave the European Union. My first reaction: Where is my opportunity to vote to leave the things that I no longer want to participate in? Sometimes I think I would like to separate myself from almost everything happening in the world today. I know this thought is rooted in fear; of course I want to just escape everything that scares me. I suppose I could leave Facebook, as I am so often tempted to do. At least then I wouldn’t constantly and instantaneously have in my face every little piece of horrible news (true or not) when I’m simply hoping to see something that will make me feel a little closer to my many beloveds who live far away; but I’d miss all those adorable cat memes.

I understand how terrified people are and that it is a survival instinct to do whatever most quickly allays the fear from anything that seems to be a threat. Anger, denial, greed, blame, and sticking with those who are just like you can seem like the way to security. Separatism can feel safer than anything else. I get it. But still it is horrifyingly shocking to see such a surge in blatant racism, sexism, homophobia, religious intolerance, violence, poverty, and corruption in the world today.

The truth is, I have been struggling deeply with what to do with the feelings I have about the state of the world and people’s reactions to it. I feel myself slipping into my own private pool of despair and I’m paddling like mad not to drown. I can get caught in the downward spiral of berating myself for not being more of an activist and getting out there in the world in some kind of major way to “be the change I want to see.” I can think that my way of being an ally to the marginalized and downtrodden or the individual work I do sitting with people in pain somehow isn’t enough. I often worry that I lack the wisdom to know the difference between what I must have the serenity to accept and what I must have the courage to change.

I could get on a soap box about the media or our political system and how we’ve all been bought and sold etc.  I could also go on about the psychology of fear and human nature. But so many other people sell those suds much more articulately than I ever could and I really don’t want to feed into the focus on how we’re all going to hell in a hand basket; in fact, I’m desperately grasping for anything that gets me out of that basket even for a moment.

I am finding that I need to make a conscious effort to attend to what is good and beautiful in the world. I can notice how the late afternoon sunlight is dancing with the shadows on the leaves of the maple outside my window and how my whole house (yes! I have a home!) smells deliciously of the garlic I’m roasting for the dinner I’ll soon share with my beloved. I don’t really want to leave this life, no matter how scary it is, so as the poet Adam Zagajewski tells me, I must try to praise the mutilated world. I need to ignore the screaming sirens of scary news between the picture of my friends’ vacations and new born babies instead of leaving Facebook because I need those connections. And I need those videos of laughing babies.

TRY TO PRAISE THE MUTILATED WORLD  (Adam Zagajewski )

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
One of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion waited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtains fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
And the grey feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

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I’m a recovering perfectionist. I used to think that if you looked up the word perfectionism in the dictionary you might see a picture of me but what you actually find is something like: “A propensity for being displeased with anything that is not perfect or does not meet extremely high standards.”  If you’re anything like me, you know it can be an exhausting way to live.

Perfectionists, while sometimes being hard on others, most often place the highest expectations of perfection on themselves. These are the folks who keep a spotless house and belong to a gym and actually work out there. Daily. They get straight A’s in school, have wonderful manners, and they’re every boss’s dream because they’ll stay late and go the extra mile to do a job perfectly. Their hair is perfectly coiffed, their clothes in perfect taste, and they’re likely to show up with freshly baked cookies. I think it’s safe to say that Martha Stewart is a perfectionist.

But sometimes a perfectionists looks like a couch potato. The fear of not doing something perfectly can easily translate into not doing it at all. Perfectionists often present as your classic underachiever or someone who continually starts projects but abandons them before finishing lest they risk producing something that is less than superb. If a perfectionist is convinced they can’t obtain the perfect six-pack or buns of steel, they’re likely to just give it all up and pack on the pounds. If they can’t get an A in the class, it’s best to drop out entirely.

Either way, perfectionism can be a debilitating thing to deal with and difficult to recover from. One of the things I’ve come to understand about the perfectionist is that most of us don’t really want to be perfect. We all know that simply isn’t possible. But we do want everyone else to think we’re perfect. There’s a deep seated belief that if we don’t do it perfectly (whatever “it” is) then we won’t get approval which equals love. And I believe that deep down, everything we do (or don’t do) is on some level about trying to feel loved and accepted, a basic human need.

But of course it’s our very humanness, inherent in all the mistakes we make and all the ways that we fall short, that makes us truly lovable. Don’t we often resent those people who seem to be so perfect? How can you feel OK about your wrinkled shirt or your store bought contribution to the potluck when you’re standing next to a Martha Stewart? I think that’s why we all liked her better after her fall from grace. She’s not so perfect after all! But even understanding this, for the perfectionist it takes a great deal of willingness and a lot of love and support to shift from being “displeased with anything that is not perfect or does not meet extremely high standards” to really knowing that “good enough” is good enough.

Welcome to my Blog! I’m excited to begin sharing with you some of my many thoughts and feelings about the great challenges and even greater successes that are inherent in being a human being in our world today. As a psychotherapist, a mother of two grown children, and a person who has too much formal education and has packed a lot of hard living into her 51 years, I’ve had a great deal of opportunity to witness and experience many of those challenges and triumphs.

But I’m terrified about blogging as well! What if you don’t like my writing style? What if the fabulous wisdom I think I have to offer is nothing you haven’t already read in someone else’s book? Suppose I’m just not interesting enough for anyone to want to check out what I might be blogging about? Oh! I feel my perfectionism rearing its ugly head tempting me to give up before I begin!

But I’m going to be brave and believe that you can relate to the subjects I’ll write about. Perhaps, like me, you’ve had ideas that you always wanted to try out but didn’t because of fear that you wouldn’t do it well enough. In any case, I hope that you’ll stick with me as I start to write (in just a few paragraphs!) some things that I trust will help you think and feel more deeply. Stories that will make us all feel more connected to each other. I know I won’t do it perfectly but I do expect that as I practice I’ll get better at it and as my blog title suggests, I believe it’s all about progress, not perfection.

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