Monthly Archives: July 2018

It’s Not the Problem, It’s How We Handle It

Years ago, after a client had just poured her heart out to me about all her troubles, she looked at me and said, “You never have any problems, do you?”   I was stunned by her assumption.  I still have no idea where that came from or why she said it at that moment.  It just so happened that my family and I had been dealing with some extremely difficult decisions at that time.  But as a person in the helping profession, I had learned how to not let my problems interfere with how I dealt with my clients’ work.

That’s sometimes easier said than done.  I’ve had a couple of extremely stressful events in my adult life.  The one I’m going to focus on here as an example is a health issue that was an emotional roller coaster for me – one that took me by surprise, and one like I had not experienced prior to this.

I’m very invested in being healthy.  I work out and meditate on a consistent basis, juice and make green smoothies daily, eat whole foods much of the time and actively work on dealing with my emotional, spiritual and relationship issues so that I can learn the lessons I need to become healthier and happier.

But for a few months in the fall of 2014, I had had a health issue that wouldn’t go away, regardless of what I did.  I stayed in denial for much longer than I like to admit. I was an extremely healthy 64 year old at the time. I wasn’t supposed to get sick.

Eventually, I was told it looked like “some kind of cancer”.  I’m not typically a person who worries about something until I know there’s something to worry about.  (Of course, even then, there’s no point in worrying, but I’m human)!  I went through a breast biopsy in 1999, and it never concerned me. I just knew it was benign – and it was.  But this was different somehow.  Nothing was helping and I had explored every other possible ailment I could think of that it might be.

And that word “cancer” is a scary one. I had some really dark moments waiting for the actual diagnosis. Not knowing is the worst part emotionally. I’m not going to say I was living in fear every day.  Most days, I was very positive and could talk myself into remembering that it was senseless to worry. But a few days I lost sleep and had to force myself to eat at times so I could have strength to get through the day.  I was so busy going to doctor’s appointments that I couldn’t make the time to work out and meditation was difficult, which made me feel even weaker and less positive.

After what seemed like an eternity, I got the results from my biopsies.  NOT cancer! I have a rare auto immune disease.

But that doesn’t mean I avoided the reality of what I was facing.  While I was relieved it’s wasn’t cancer, it still was NOT a walk in the park. After a long period of a combination of Western medicine and LOTS of spiritual and behavioral/nutritional approaches, I learned to manage my auto immune disease. I know that in order to deal with something I have to face the reality head-on, no detours.   The only way to the other side is to go straight through it.

By sharing this experience, I don’t mean in any way to minimize those who have and are still dealing with cancer and any other life-threatening disease. My own husband has been going through daily radiation treatment this summer, and I know several people who are absolute heroes to me because of the way they are attacking life every single moment of every single day.  I aspire to be more like them and I learn from their spirits and strength!

But today, because of my experience, I’ve come to the place where I am grateful for the opportunity for growth. This was another chance to see if the conclusions I’ve come to in my spiritual exploration are true for me.

I believe we come to this life to expand and strengthen our spirit. That doesn’t happen when everything always goes the way we want it to or think it should. We all learn the best lessons by facing and accepting the crappy stuff. We gain strength by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and by moving through pain.

And I could feel myself becoming more vulnerable.  I dropped walls that had been up for a long time. I had to bless this experience in my life, or the negativity would stay in my body.  Hate and resentments lead to disempowerment.  Vulnerability isn’t weakness, it’s the nature of being human.  It allows us to open up for connection with others – to love at a deeper level.  THAT is what gives us power in this life.

Curiosity

Although I’ve updated this blog slightly, I first published it a couple of years ago after a foot surgery. It’s a good reminder for me that just because something may not be my expeience currently, that doesn’t mean it’s not important in someone else’s life – and that I need to remain open to and honor that person’s reality:

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As I reported last week, my recent experience of having to walk with a boot and occasionally use a walker or wheelchair has opened my eyes to the difficulties faced by handicapped people every day. I’ve always tried to be compassionate, and to imagine how it must feel to have to deal with the constant difficulty of getting around in a world that doesn’t always seem to care how things affect the disabled.  But when you’re placed in that role, even for a while, and you have to experience it, reality sinks in.  For instance (and I know this is a very small deal compared to what people have to deal with every day – but it woke me up), my husband and I have been season ticket-holders at the Kansas City Starlight Theater for years.  But when we attended a show a week ago, it was the first time I realized that there is not a level spot on the floor of the venue once you enter the audience seats.  It’s very difficult to navigate a sloping floor in a wheelchair, walker or a boot.

Those of us who are typically able-bodied experience life from a place of privilege, which means we don’t have to even think about how it feels to live with a body that is not as healthy.

This mindset can be transferred to any given issue – race, gender bias, women’s rights, poverty, the daily sacrifices by our military personnel and their families, first responders, etc.

We are reeling from a number of changes in our world order, and there seems to be no end to it.  Everyone appears to be choosing sides, and many tend to see these issues as “black or white” (no pun intended).  Because there are so many horrific acts being perpetrated on other humans, animals and our environment, many people react emotionally to them.  I’m no exception.

Although I’ve been known to be very “vocal” at times on social media when I see things that accost my sense of fairness and equality, my usual stance on such sites is to look for the positive stories. Even in the midst of the hateful or sad ones, there are still stories where people are coming together, showing love when they have every right to want revenge; stories about people stepping up to help victims; or articles that help remind us to stop and think before we act or speak.

All of these events stem from not being able to meet each other where we are; from not looking the other person in the eye with curiosity and compassion, rather than judgment; from not being able to at least wonder what it might be like to be in his/her shoes.

There was a show on cable T V several years ago called 30 Days. They placed people in a family or group that had completely opposite views or belief systems for a month so they would become immersed into that group’s lifestyle.  It was amazing to watch the transformation.   One of my favorites was when a man, who was politically conservative, and didn’t trust anyone who didn’t look and think like him, was placed with a Muslim family for a month.  He had to practice the values of the family, go to religious services and actively participate in the family’s daily activities. By the end of the show, the man and the family understood each other better and he had made friends with others in their community.

I believe I’m fortunate because, as a therapist, I see my job as being able to crawl behind the client’s eyes to see the world the way (s)he does.  But I also have to maintain enough objectivity to be able to suggest alternative ways to look at things, to encourage that person to think outside the box. I’ve always tried to do this personally also, but it’s difficult when we don’t know much about that person’s experiences.

That’s where curiosity comes in.  It distances us a bit from the judgment we tend to jump to when something happens.  If we can be curious about what really happened and open to talking to AND listening to others who we know have dissimilar views, we might not feel so separated from each other.

When I work with clients on communication, I remind them that the purpose of an argument is NOT to prove who’s right or wrong.  It’s to come to a middle ground where we can both win.  Curiosity helps us do that. All any of us really want is to be understood.

If we attempt to understand the other person, what they have gone through prior to the argument or event, and how our actions or words might affect their lives, it’s more possible to come to an agreement.  Immediate judgment does not allow that.  Curiosity does.  It also takes good communication skills – actually being able to verbalize a view in a rational manner and then actively listening to what the other is saying, rather than thinking about how I’m going to defend myself the entire time he or she is talking!

We’ve become a society of sound bites and memes on the internet.  Those don’t solve anything.  They might incite a reaction – and occasionally remind us we need to think before we react, but they don’t tell the whole story!

I hope you’ll join me in making every effort to stop and recognize when we might be coming from a place of privilege; think and question what is possibly under the surface of those in a different position before we act.

Curiosity is one of the great secrets of happiness.

-Bryant H. McGill

 

The Lessons We are Here to Learn

I’m a therapist. I work primarily with adult individuals on trauma, grief, LGBTQ issues, addictions and other general mental health concerns. But I’m also an advocate for those who often can’t speak for themselves – or if they can, they aren’t heard until more voices join in to be sure their concerns are heard. I think I gravitated into the advocacy naturally because I get to know my clients intimately, and they have taught me so much about what it’s really like to grow up in circumstances I have never experienced. I don’t think it’s possible to understand an individual’s concerns unless we understand the context, so many of my blogs use some social/political issues to illustrate how we individuals are drawn into stress and pain.

It’s easier to think of the polical/social as impersonal, because then we can ignore others’ pain if we choose. But most policies and large social events affect each of us. They weigh on our psyche and wear down our bodies. But please remember, as you read this blog, the political is just the surface – just the stage where the play takes place. The actual real effect I’m focusing on here is within each of us. I understand people might disagree with my perspective, and I completely respect their right to do so. While I’m no expert on the social issues, I have worked with people from many backgrounds and lifestyles, and I’ve learned that the circumstances from which we come are not an excuse for current problems or behaviors, but they DO often explain them.

So my purpose here is to possibly put words to what many are feeling.  I always welcome comments and questions, but I won’t allow this to become a political war ground.

With the constant barrage of news, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Emotionally and physically, we aren’t built to withstand the stress, and it’s impossible to keep up with it all. Sometimes historic events have been pushed to the back burner because the day’s latest crisis supersedes the media storms.

The dichotomy, and yet the similarities between all the stories give me pause.  I understand that not everyone views them in the same way.  But it’s my blog, so I have the microphone at this moment and I’m going to attempt to look at the big picture and express how they are affecting me, in the hope it might be helpful to you.

Much of the news that we hear every day has historical implications and many involve prejudice and bias, greed and a lack of integrity. Others just display the deep divide that have taken place between us. The stories that seem to be more about hate than policy, have generated a lot of pain that will be felt for generations.  Some people are being traumatized and others feel like they have been perpetual victims of the way the systems in our country have always worked. Whether the issue is families being pulled apart, people losing their healthcare, farmers losing a market for their crops and possibly their entire livlihood, manufacturing jobs being lost and plants being closed down or moved to other countries, school/mass shootings, our water and other resources being contaminated and not protected – all of this affects each and every one of us.  If we are not part of a group or work in a job that is being obviously affected at the moment, we very possibly will be soon. We are all in this together, whether we want to think so or not.

The dichotomy of each situation is that they have also generated a lot of love and unity – displayed by Americans who are weary from the hate, violence and lack of integrity and respsect that have been displayed in recent years – and who can complelely identify with how it must feel to be in the shoes of some who are affected. Many of these people are helping in very concrete ways – marching to show support to the families trying to come into our country – or more recently who may be kicked out, donating money for bail or attorney fees or other personal needs, even driving parents across the country to reunite with their children. Others step up during and after shootings or natural disasters to give support – emotionally, financially, physically and spiritually. People give what they can. We’re hard-wired to be kind.

Each story contains the same characteristics, just in different circumstances – but they also are  each countered by people who put their love to work in ways that help.  It’s my contention that these situations are examples of the lessons we, as individuals are to encounter as spiritual beings having a temporary human experience. These are the tests put in our paths to allow us to examine our strength, our sense of purpose and our compassion.

Like many others, I despise the division we all feel between us. The depths of how hate can affect us as humans – and spread so quickly – simply because some people feel threatened by others who appear different from them, leave me in wonder. It’s difficult to completely wrap my head around the mindset that leads people to not trust anyone, but it seems that’s the case more and more. What  I do know, is that we all have the capacity, if we narrow our focus enough, to let something we believe germinate until it grows into something else that becomes larger than life. I also know the seed is fear; and that when we do this, we are making the choice to focus on the fear and hate.

There has always been a stark difference of opinion about many issues. That’s one of the pillars on which our country was founded and I respect and honor the right of those who believe differently than I do. But I’m repulsed by some of the self righteous comments and actions taken to move their own positions forward, moving from a difference of opinion to a personal attack and disparagement  – especially those made by political and religious leaders. They often characterize their actions as a means towards protecting us from the *other* and by identifying the people who often have few, if any alternatives in life as that group. The values I learned as a citizen and as a human did not inform me that I was to stand in judgment of, or try to control the behavior and lives of other human beings, especially when that behavior does nothing to diminish my own life in any way. Again, much of what is being said and done is because people are threatened by those who appear different from them or who believe differently.  As Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, commented to country singer Chely Wright, when he was helping her prepare to publicly come out as a lesbian: There’s no one quite as mean as people being mean for Jesus.

There is not a reason to intimidate and torment another person just because they are different – unless there is fear. When we feel fear, we attempt to control whatever we believe is the cause of that fear.  I repeat: what we focus on expands. We are all capable of letting irrational thoughts or misunderstandings grow into hate.

Equality isn’t just for Black and other ethnic groups, women, LGBTQ, disabled or anyone else who appears different from the mainstream. It’s for each and every one of us. We all come from the same factory.  We may come in different packages, but inside we all contain the same ingredient. Just like a drop of water exists of the same molecular structure as the ocean, we are each a piece of the originating Source. That ingredient is the energy of love. The problem is that when we become human, we tend to forget that, and we let our ego run away with us. When the seeds of fear and hatred are allowed to grow, they are like weeds that take over the garden. It may not be YOU who is being targeted right now, but at some point, it may well be. By then, if you haven’t fought for those who went before you, who will be here to fight for you?

If I had to point to the one issue that clients present most in my practice – it’s that they are trying to fit into someone else’s idea of who they should be. They feel they have to please someone – or everyone else. So in the process of trying to please others, they become sad, bitter, addicted and sometimes homocidal or suicidal.  It never works to live our lives for others, but that’s what those who oppose equality are trying to enforce. They are saying, “You have to be more like me or you don’t fit in.”  (Please understand that we all want others to like and approve of us, but it becomes a problem when we allow them to define us). What we need to understand is that we are making a choice to allow them to have that power over us. To become healthier, we need to learn to take our personal power back to make conscious choices that benefit us, while also being aware of not harming others. It IS possible to stand up for ourselves, while allowing others to be who they are. We are all meant to be free – free to be who we are. Those who are fighting equality (unbeknownst to them) are actually more imprisoned by their own rigid beliefs, because any time we fight or resist anything we give it so much more power over us.

So, just as these stories coming through our TVs or social media may be part of a divine plan, so is our reaction to them.  I’m not saying God, the Universe, or whatever you call he/she/it caused these things to happen. Humans did, because we have free will. They happen because we can get off track easily if we don’t remain conscious of our need for connection, which I believe is why we’re here in the first place. But once they do take place, we have the opportunity to determine whether we make the choice to let the world explode from hatred or if we are going to lift it to new heights of unconditional love. It’s up to you and me.

Where Are You Looking?

There is an old story about a drunk who lost his keys.  A policeman sees him searching for something under a streetlight and asks what he lost. He tells the cop he lost his keys, so they both look.  After a few minutes without coming across the keys, the policeman asks if he is sure he lost the keys here, and the drunk replies, “No, I lost them in the park”. Of course the policeman is dumbfounded and asks why he is searching here.  The drunk replies, “This is where the light is.”

Apparently, he chose the simplest place to put his focus in order to find what he wanted.  But it was not even close to where the keys actually were.

How many times do we search for something where it is not?  For instance, if I want a better relationship with my husband, sometimes I focus on what HE is or is not doing that would make my life better.  He takes it for a long time before he finally gets frustrated with me and then we have to talk about what is really going on.

I forget that the answer is not with his behavior.  If I’m upset because he doesn’t pick up his things, it’s not his problem – it’s mine.  And that is very difficult for me.  Somehow I’ve always inherently understood that if I want to have a clear head and heart, it’s much easier if my physical environment is clear.  My husband – doesn’t really care about that.  He literally can sit in a room surrounded by all sorts of “stuff” and be happy.

So occasionally, he has to remind me that it really is my problem.

How do I deal with this?  Sometimes, not well. None of us enjoy to be confronted with our own character defects. But when I am able to feed my spiritual being by exposing myself to information and music that inspires me, physically working out, eating right and meditating, I can usually get myself back to a place where I recognize where my focus needs to be: 1) on my own anxiety that is stimulated by the surrounding “mess” and what I can do differently to make peace with the situation, and 2) on what he DOES do to make my life better in so many ways.  My happiness does not depend on him; it’s up to me to find it where it is – inside me.

When we put our focus on what we DO have in our lives, rather than what we don’t have, we can begin to move forward towards freedom and peace.

Eckhart Tolle says, “It’s almost a joke, how humans live – how they look for something where it can never be found.”

I’m pretty sure my need for a clutter-free house and my husband’s lack of enthusiasm for that may never quite be resolved for me.  But we’ve made it over 49 years together in relative peace (most days), so I think we’ll survive.  As humans we are always under construction.  That’s why we’re here – to experience ALL of life’s little joys and pains, and the bigger ones – and to grow from them.