Friday, December 4, 2015

Transforming Loss

Thanksgiving should be a time of celebration, but this year is has been draped in the black crepe of loss. I attended two funerals, one for a young man who took his own life in the depths of his struggle with mental illness, and the other, an elderly aunt who lived a full and bountiful life. The contrast between these losses was striking, but death does not discriminate.  As sad as each of those losses were to the family and friends of these departed, there was comfort to be had in gathering together to honor them with songs and eulogies, photos and reminiscences, that left us all with a feeling of having seen them off to the next stage of their journey, whatever that may be.

More disturbing losses arrived in abundance with the mass shootings at a center for the promotion of women's health, and a program for environmental health.  The senselessness and depravity of these random and widespread losses is devastating, yet they are only the most recent of the more the 100 such events to take place this calendar year in this country.  Not to speak of the incredible losses around the world through war, poverty, epidemics and callous disregard of life.  How can we assimilate such loss without becoming disconnected from our own humanity?  How can we protect ourselves from the constant mirroring of our shadow selves as it arises in the savage disregard for life among others of the human species.

Instead of turning away in fear and disgust, it is essential that we pause to acknowledge these losses.  We can hold a small light in the darkness by engaging these painful stories with compassion for those who suffer.  It is the disenfranchised who express their express their isolation and frustration through such desperate acts. Only someone with the feeling of nothing more to loose could turn to such measures, thinking they can somehow make a difference by causing such pain to others.  It is hard to even consider expending compassion on people who would act with such seeming indifference to the rights and wellbeing of others, yet their very actions cry out for change.  Change in our focus on independence over interdependence.  Change in our celebration of financial fortune as the measure of success, rather than an opportunity to share and aid those less fortunate.

Crisis always begets opportunity.  May we all seek to offer solace to the suffering; to shine a light on our common humanity; to recognize ourselves in the faces of those less fortunate.  By such efforts we can change the world, one human interaction at a time. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine...

Monday, November 16, 2015

Women's Wisdom

I have a birthday this week; my 56th year will soon be underway.  I understand this is the traditional year of a woman's transition to "Crone."  In Ancient Celtic tradition there was recognition of a feminine trinity of life phases having to do with fertility and creativity.  Beginning with "Maiden," then "Mother," these phases speak to ongoing cycle of birth, growth and death, then rebirth at another level.

Our society tends to downplay the gifts of aging often shuttling elders to the side, although of course these days the life expectancy has increased to such an extent that it happens later than it once did.  Still there is such a focus on youth and vitality that we may forget to appreciate the accumulation of wisdom available among older family members.  We might think there is too much new out there for the past to have much meaning, but the old ways still hold truth.

Having lived through the blessings and struggles of the earlier two phases, I am feeling excited about my entry into "Crone-ship."  I am fortunate to have a group of sister (by blood and by choice) to share this age with.  Our combined knowledge and creative energy is a force to be reckoned with.  If we add our energies to those of the mothers and grandmothers who came before us, our collective strength is a tremendous resource.  It is only when we separate ourselves out that we risk becoming extraneous.

In an exploration of carrying familial truths forward; Generating new formulations from old energies, take some time to think about what meanings your mother has given to you that are part of who you have become.  What do you know about your grandmothers that might have contributed to that gift or burden?  How does it affect you now?  Let this awareness continue for a few weeks and see if there are elements of those contributions that you wish to enhance or to extinguish.  Why and how might you do so? How might it make you stronger?

Begin to pave your path to your own "Crone-ship."  Make some noted in your journal for future reference. Let your intentions be your guide.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


Growing up in St. Louis, the Gateway Arch is a constant.  This Icon of the city where I live is displayed on logos for city services, car dealerships, morning newscasts and beyond.  More than a monument, the St. Louis Arch is an identity; underscoring our centralized location on the map, and our history as a center of commerce. It so happens that this date, 10/28/15 is the 50th anniversary of its completion, the day that the final section was eased into place with a margin of error of only centimeters.  What an amazing feat to create this symbol of strength and progress.

Today is another anniversary as well; one smaller in stature but no less meaningful to me.  On this date 17 years ago, I met with a surgeon to receive the diagnosis of breast cancer in my right breast.  Although I could not have known it at the time, that day laid the groundwork for a new identity; a gateway to a different life than the one I’d been living.  You might not have noticed if you’d been looking at me from the outside, although you would have clearly seen the hair-loss and the fatigue of the next months to years.  You might have heard that I had extensive surgeries, but couldn’t have realized that I was blighted, razed and dug into like the riverfront earth where foundations were set deeply to hold a delicate yet powerful new form.  

No, this gateway was more personal, an internal rebuilding without reference to the blueprint to make certain the new structure stayed on course.  This rebuilding was haphazard at first, and had to be created along the way.  There was no way to plan the outcome, and uncertainty about whether the whole thing might just collapse at any point along the way.  I guess that could be said about each of us and our own personal gateway experiences.  Even with the best of plans, we are all held by the hand of fate; architects of our own lives living in a state of delicate balance.

In the midst of the celebrations in St. Louis, I heard reference to DaVinci’s description of an arch as “consisting of two weaknesses which leaning one against the other make a strength.”  These words strike me as a perfect description of life in relationship.  The arch of my recovery has been propped against the equally vulnerable support of my husband and family, when the wind blows hard, and I wonder if I might just topple this time, I reach across to them, and find strength in the broken places.  The further we get from the start, the more we need each other for support.  Leaning against one another, we make a strength.  Our gateway opens to a multitude of possibilities.  We are symbols of progress.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Building up the FLOW

Part of the fun of this project has been making the time, and giving myself permission to explore different options for self-expression and expansion. As I have gotten to know my own parts in all their glory I have found a level of self-acceptance that is unprecedented.  Despite their burdens and their quirks I really love these unique elements of myself.  I admire the ways they have found to cope and to thrive especially when it might have been easier to hide away and feel sorry for ourselves.  My clients have inspired me in this, and have helped me to find the tools.

My number one tool is certainly a product of training in Internal Family Systems therapy.  Through that training I have gotten clear about how my coping skills have developed, and in response to what.  At the same time I learned not to take myself so seriously.  That life is full of risks, but that it is necessary to confront risk, if we are ever to reach our rewards.  This is it, the only life we have to work with (although my Buddhist parts remind me that we aren’t necessarily limited to only one).
So here is what I want to do; use this space to continue playing with ideas for creative recovery.  If you’d be interested in joining me, and maybe letting me know what you think of these ideas as we go along, I’d be happy to have you with me on the journey.  I will share some of the things that have been most meaningful to my own recovery, and will try to modify them where it seems appropriate to make best use of the activity in the service of Integration.  That’s the term used for identifying change at the level of the nervous system, and sorting through some of those old burdens that have blocked development and engagement in the past.  When you read the book, you will notice that it is the “I” in my acronym FLOWING; the part of the word that goes from passive to active.  (That’s what is known as a teaser.  I’ll continue to reference elements of the model, in no particular order, as we go along.)  

The first activity I will suggest is keeping a journal – nothing fancy, just a place to track your efforts and reactions as we go along.  If I have discovered anything, it is that the writing makes it real.  Otherwise it is just a thought that goes away, or if we remember it at all, it looks different in hindsight.  The act of writing is a way to engage those thoughts, to honor them (even the silly ones).  Writing is an opportunity to Witness our own development, and by Witnessing, to acknowledge, participate with and even to heal old wounds.  So let’s start there, and find out what happens next as we begin FLOWING together.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

All in Good Time

When I took a break from blogging two years ago I decided to use any available writing time to get the book together.  Yesterday I finished the edit to a point that the project is ready to hand off to a professional editor, so here I am, as promised, back at the blog.  It seems like a good time to jump back on the bike, while the wheels are still spinning.  Otherwise those wheels might get rusty, and harder to pedal.

I am in my happy place, back at the Minnesota lake cabin, where thoughts FLOW and creativity comes easy.  Tomorrow we head back to the big city and all of the routines that demand attention and energy.  Added to that will be seeking help with publishing the book so all that work isn’t in vain.  In truth, it could never be that, even if nobody reads it, although I certainly hope they (you) do.  The process was amazing; it gave me permission to explore and consider my own internal processes in a way that might have been considered self-indulgent if it hadn’t been intended as something to benefit others.  At least that’s what my old self would have thought.

Taking on the book has established a new way of thinking, but only gradually.  Perhaps turning 50 before I got serious about it has something to do with my change of attitude, but even then I continued to doubt my efforts.  After all, who would want to hear anything I have to say?  (That was the doubting parts asking)  The answer is, I don’t know, and if I don’t put it out there, I never will.   So instead of folding to the possibility of failure, I choose to try.  

That’s the amazing part, just by trying I have found myself opening up to the gifts within and around me.  I have released my doubts (mostly) and decided to go for it; to let it FLOW.  I have had the amazing experience of surviving cancer and all its nasty treatment effects.  I still fight to keep the after effect from taking over, but that’s part of the learning curve.  I talk to people everyday who are working on making their life better, despite whatever life has thrown in their way.  Inevitably, it’s those curve balls that make the whole thing move interesting and shake them out of their complacency.  Maybe not right away but eventually.  That’s why I called the book Unkind Gifts.  There is something to be gained from all that pain.  There are presents found in presence.  We just need to Open it up and see what’s inside.