Tag Archives: Perspective

Self-Esteem Deconstructed

For quite a while now I have been of the mindset that a good part of mental health is embracing the flaws, the nicked corners, and the pockets of rust that reside in the darkish regions of the psyche–honestly just because I, like other inhabitants of this world, have learned my lessons well: don’t air the dirty laundry; be professional; when asked how your doing, only respond, “That life is good; business is great.”

But something happened this week that has made me want to explore and ponder the other side of this paradox.Maybe I need to take a hard look at these things I have just been embracing, and like a bad boyfriend, kick them out the door. Or as my 12 step friends say, survey the inventory and throw out what is rotten.

All this really got going when I learned that someone that I know thought I talked too much and was not that great of a listener. This stung for two reasons: this person said it behind my back and well, after a week of self-reflection, it is true.

Like waves on a shore, other character defects began to raise their hands to be called on…judgement of others, brittleness, vanity, a tiny closet stuffed with the I’m-doing-more-than-others attitude, and worst of all–the twins–resentment and pride.

Oh, boy.

Along with this period of self appraisal, this off-season lent or Yom Kippur, has been an awakening that most of the suffering that I see in those around me and within myself, comes from defending these broken places that reside within the human heart. Quite a different entity than acceptance. Defending a sore spot is not the same as acknowledging that it there. If there is consciousness, it can be dealt with, and in time, healed. I see humanity and me wanting acceptance so badly, yet this stuff-that-needs-go just blockades human connection. Sufferers long to be wanted and appreciated, but it just doesn’t happen. At least not in the way the heart hopes.

So where does this leave me? Well, today I accept that I have a lot of work to do. I will not hide these facts about myself…but…I will not just leave them to poison my life and my connections with others. I will roll up my psychic sleeves and work on becoming the better person, the kinder person, the gentler person, that I was meant to be.

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A Run-in with the Law

Back, long ago, in what seems like another dimension of time, I was a college freshman, sitting in a single person desk, in an old cement-block kind of building, trying to catch the eye of the beautiful boy sitting in my row, and pretending that I understood what my philosophy 101 professor was saying. I honestly think I barely passed that class. Not that couldn’t have, but I didn’t have the desire to do so.

You see in my life my parents had made their best efforts not to leave anything up to chance. College was always in the works for me. So were a lot of other positive experiences–travel, prep school, dance, and theatre classes. But there was this thing, this law, quite unknown, that had not been obeyed. And you know how the law functions. It does not matter one bit if you are conscious of it or not. Whether you knew of a particular statute or not. It is still enforced. The law I am speaking of is this:  it is what new-agers call the law of attraction.

In a nutshell, it functions quite simply. What you put into life, and I am talking at the heart level here, at that raw-emotions-that-spur-actions place, is what you get out of it. So that negative talk participated in, will, for example, create a dynamic. It first super-charges the environment with disquieting energy and begins to affect human well-being. People start feeling bad. Work, relationships, etcetera, suck. It also alters the trajectory of things. Ideas and attitudes form life as we know it. So even though the news may be filled with all kinds of ominous warnings of bad guys, from terrorists to dental plaque, coming to attack our castle,  it is we that will decide whether those walls of fortification stand or not.

Here’s a story to illustrate my point. I heard this one several years ago and it goes like this. A man meets a woman on the beach. She is new to town. She asks this beach-strolling gentleman this question, “So what are the people like in this place?” To which he queries, “What were they like in your old town?” She quickly replies, “Oh they were awful. They were judgmental, petty, and very class-conscious.” Then the man on the beach said, “That is exactly how people are here.” Okay. People are jerks everywhere, right? There is more to the story. Another beach walk. Another woman. Same scenario. Same inquiry. Different response. When he asks this new sand-stroller what the people were like in her old town, she gushes, “Oh, they were the best people, so warm and real. I was so sad to leave them.”  To which the man replies, “That is exactly how they are here. I think you will be very happy.”

This story illustrates the law. Creation, artistry of life, is happening ALL THE TIME, whether we are aware of it or not. So when things are bad or seem to be sliding down hill, I have to start with myself. I have to ask some questions. These are a few I start with: What is going on with me? What is causing me to feel like complaining? What is the culprit in my poor connections with others? What is behind the constant disrespect I encounter? Why can’t I seem to move ahead?

It has been said that the quality of  life is based on the quality of the questions one asks. The handful listed above, are often beginning points for unlocking the swirling weather pattern of crazy-stuck-not-working-out stuff that has its way with me so often. Sometimes the answers come quickly. Like if I am judgmental and prickly, I usually find myself on the receiving end of another person’s condemnation or at the bare minimum, experiencing some kind disconnect with other human beings. No one wants to listen to my point of view. I feel less-than and I usually blame others for my predicament. However, after a few days of misery, I know its me. I know the world is not perfect. But its lack of perfection has to do with what is put into the ether…the fear, the scarcity, the people-are-idiots attitude, the things-never-work-out-for-me vibe. I have to abandon that stuff, if I want my life to work again.

Sometimes excavation is the order of the day. I have to dig deeper. Ask bigger questions. Sometimes the face of judgment I perceive on my neighbor, is just a reflection of some unresolved issue within me. For example, last night my son was talking about how all his friends like coming over to our house because they feel loved and feel relaxed here. The house is by default, kid friendly. It is dirty, old, and needs lots of repairs. The walkway is lined with surf boards and a sundry of other junk. It’s a little trailer parky. Then my boy said there was one ex-girlfriend of his that found it horrid. My heart hurt. I think I made some nasty comment deriding her character. But then I had to think about my reaction. You see, at the heart of that negative reaction was a sadness at the-just-getting-by nature of our finances and a shame at not being able to take care of most of the material things granted to us–cars, home, our boat project. And once I was able to admit to my inner most self  exactly what was up with my comment about my son’s friend, I was free. I owned my sadness. It was not this girl’s fault. It was my reaction because of an unhealed pain in my heart.

So this is what I did. I told God that I am sorry for always wishing for something that I don’t have, instead of appreciating, loving, relishing in the life I do have. And then I went and looked at the stars and felt better. I have learned that this process is absolutely vital. We have had both sides. I have seen how hurtful words born of scarcity and fear have created a life that has nearly annihilated my family. I am happy to report, the profound affect of the positive, too. Almost every knot of an emotional problem has been untangled through the realization that I have the power to create something different. You see, it is not just making a mantra of things you want to see happen, nor is it restricting yourself to only positive words, whilst seething just beneath the surface. It is understanding that life is trying to get you to resolve the pain that is creating your existence, so that you can think another thought; and in doing so, make something new. For regardless of what you think, thoughts become things.

Just look at the history of this country. A mess of a militia facing the greatest fighting force in the world. A David and Goliath scenario. George Washington realized after receiving pounding after pounding by the British, that he didn’t need to win the war, he just needed not lose. His strategy was to HOLD ON, despite all the evidence bellowing, “Give up.” In fact the new government, the Articles of Confederation, was created after one of the Patriot’s greatest defeats. What an act of faith! When they had no evidence that they would  even get to be a country, they acted as if it had already happened. They were determined to create something. Their focus was not primarily about being against the British, but shinning brightly at the center of their attention was the idea about creating something new, something where equality and freedom could grow. Do you see the difference?

It is not a denial that *bleep* happens, rather it is  a determined change of mind, to make sure that you are not a contributor to any more of the hurt, discouragement, or dysfunction that trips us up and make’s life like a dingy room lit by a single bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. It is suppose to be more like Van Gogh’s Starry Night. It is sublime. It is miraculous. And stuff just works out, if you are aware of this law and you start inquiring within.

Back to Philosophy 101. So this is a class I barely passed…truly because I was unconscious of all that I have talked about today. Yet for some reason, I remembered Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which, in Cliff-notes brevity is this: A bunch of guys are in a subterranean cave, lit from some unknown-to-them source. Shadows result on the walls. The cave dwellers think that the shadows are reality, when reality is through the hole up in the world where the light is sourced.

This is how I lived. Shadows being what I thought was real. I had to make the tough trek to the opening…to discover what was really going on. I still do. I still think the shadowy feelings I have are informing me of reality. But they are not. I have to ask the right questions to not only get out of my cave, but to make sure I am not adding to the pain of the world around me.

We have a weighty responsibility to obey this law, but isn’t so cool that we can commit to thinking differently, to healing, and in doing so, shift the world.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.” Margaret Mead


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Furniture of Life

Yesterday, in class we did this silly little quick write activity. The prompt was in the form of a multiple choice question: What is your favorite piece of furniture?

a. swing

b. couch

c. desk with computer

d. pillows on the floor

I asked my students what they thought mine was. Some thought, rightly, the desk/computer combo. A good choice, backed with plenty of evidence. I love technology, our class is nearly 100% digital, and I am a writer. Others assessed me as a pillows-on-the-floor girl. Right on, again. Lots of support for that one, too. There is a shift in atmosphere when people are sitting on the floor, comfortably with something soft to recline upon. I also think it takes away the distance thing that happens with tables and chairs. It’s harder to stay emotionally separated from another human being when there are no barriers. You can get closer to hear what someone is saying. Also everyone is on the same level. No hierarchy.

Although these two answers are true of me, at the heart, I am a swing girl.

First of all, a swing is exceedingly simple. Very low tech. It’s movement calms the savage beast within. It is, by default, set in nature. Very important. Desks, computers, and pillows are creatures of the man-made world. In fact, they dominate in some ways. Or a least play a starring role. A swing is a small thing set against the lush wide wild world of God.

There was this swing up in Santa Cruz, probably long gone from the playground there, a casualty of that oh-my-god-swings-and slides-are-the bastions-of-danger citizen’s group. You know those clans that have existed for all time. The ones that think the unsafe must be eliminated at all costs. They should be called the taking-all-fun-out-of-this-world group. Okay, back to that swing. It had so much purchase that once you got going, you could touch the low tips of the Redwoods that clustered, in a protective way, around that little box of sand. At night, you could gaze on the blanket of black dotted with its starry random pattern and feel right again. I think it was also the site of my first kiss.

You see for me, the swing puts me in my place. I am a part of a much bigger picture. I am not isolated from the world. I am in it. Those Redwoods, those stars, the maternal movement of the swing, are far more like me than those things made by human hands. And I feel at home with my worldly family.

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Kahlil Gibran and the Dead Fish

Soft sobs emanated from my daughter’s room this rainy morning. Her beloved Beta lay on his side at the bottom of the tank. We knew he was old. We knew he wasn’t well. So we were “prepared” like our culture says we should be…like expecting a loss would somehow make it better.

As I held my daughter in my arms, as she cried, I thought of what I could say to make it better. Again, it feels like that idea is more a cultural norm. For what could anyone say that could ease the pain of loss. A quiet presence is needed…coupled with a willingness to do something hard: enter into the silence of sadness, even if it is just for a few minutes. Just be there. Let it penetrate the heart, like a storm surge over the emotional boundary levy of the heart… the one that most of us have constructed against the pain and horror of this world. But that is not what usually happens. We raise a hand to suffering and say, “You shall not pass.”

But what does keeping out this metaphorical sea actually accomplish?

For me it has, ironically, kept me from life. I was raised to avoid the sad and the tragic, even though, right within my immediate family, there was heart-breaking dysfunction.  I am not sure why this seems to be the way of things. Maybe when there is so much incomprehensible woe, you just disassociate from it. However, regardless of the emotional content of my childhood, the result was that I interfaced with life quite superficially. Life on the surface is not much of a trip. The deep is where the wonder is.

Just think about it, if a person’s guiding, albeit unconscious, philosophy is to avoid pain at all costs, look what is lost. Relationships with others are most definitely on the block. For there is no other place fraught with more suffering than the commitment to love someone in all their imperfection. Also what about risk? It is the essential element  in having a dream. What then? Can great things be accomplished if risk is reduced to a background buzz? Yes, it is true that there is safety, but what kind of life is safeguarded? Is it something transcendently beautiful, like the soulful strains of a cello, or the orange-pink of a morning sky? No, it is a life of  protected routine  that never allows for the sweetness innate in every soul to emerge. Kahlil Gibran said that our capacity to feel joy in life was directly proportional to our capacity to feel pain. I wonder in our society, if some of the great tragic sweeps of serious psychological hurt might be displaced, somehow, if we as a culture, made some  sacred space for sadness, instead of always trying for “happy” all the time?

Kahlil also says:

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.

So back to the dead fish. As I held my sweet girl, I thought of this to say:  “He was probably the most loved fish in the world. Most people don’t even care about a little fish, but you did, and he knew it.” When my daughter would place her finger on his tank, he would come. There was a connection between two living beings. Life happened. It wasn’t safe, for as Antoine de Saint Exupery says in The Little Prince, you risk tears when you love. But it was life because there was depth and meaning present…”mattering” was there. It was one of those Gibran daily miracles. That fragility of loving something, knowing consciously that it is indeed ephemeral, that it will die, or leave, and then defiantly loving it all the same, is life. And it can hurt. But it is also sweet…it is poetry…it is the heavens touching our plasticy, costumed existence with such luminous beauty.

Who would have thought there was so much in the little life of a fish.

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Perspective Knocking at the Door of My Heart

After I finished the “Dinner Theatre” post yesterday, sitting at a little oak table in the corner of the coffee shop, watching the rain gently misting down, I picked up a copy of one of our local weeklies.  I turned to Rob Brezsny’s column and read because 1) he is a metaphor god 2) he has something to say, whether you buy his brand of spirituality or not.

Okay, to the point, I read “Taurus”, and Rob quotes W. Somerset Maugham, “The common idea that success spoils people by making them vain, egotistic, and self-complacent is erroneous.” In interpretive mode, Rob goes on to say that people born under this sign had a great 09. At this point, I look at “Ares” because Phil was born on the cusp, and perhaps this “reading” will have some resemblance to reality, because “Taurus” was soooo off.

Philip, my husband, who is technically a Taurus, has had a stripping-the-flesh-off-bones year in almost every way possible. He sold one painting, healed from a serious injury, and our marriage was, at best, thread bare. This gifted painter has shoveled dirt, repaired mail boxes, fixed all manner of house related ailments, all to bring in a tiny wage, that like manna, covered the just day’s needs. His life as an artist, well, let’s say, has shriveled back to just a seed of promise.

So Brezsny got it wrong, right?

That brings me to this morning. I am padding around the living room, tidying. It was my oldest son’s eighteenth birthday on January 15th, and we have had kids in the house ever since. Guitars, shoes, and water bottles are everywhere. Then my eye falls upon my middle son’s journal. I had seen it yesterday, and without my glasses, I thought it was just a school related tome or perhaps a place for his newly honed songs.

But no, it was none of those things. Upon closer inspection, it was a book of prayers.

Okay. It’s perspective knocking at the door of my heart, once again.

How many parents would wish that their children would have some guiding force in their lives? And here, we had it, without any effort on our part. We haven’t pushed faith on the kids, but they all believe. We haven’t pushed fiscal responsibility on them, yet they all are extremely careful with the little pocket change they have in their position. We have not pummeled them with rules about being kind to others, yet they are true to their diverse cadre of friends. We haven’t even pressed them to love us, but they do. The 18 year old wanted us to stay at his beach birthday party, because it “wouldn’t be the same without family.”

I could go on, but I won’t.

It just the simple fact that there no real success in life, unless the invisible kind is present.

So maybe what Rob said was true…

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Sticky Fingers

One of my most favorite authors of all time, Anne Lamott, kept a journal that turned into a great book called Operating Instructions, which chronicled the first year of her son’s life. In one section, she recorded a conversation she was having with God about how things were progressing, or more accurately, not progressing…After giving God the proverbial laundry list of concerns, she made this statement, which, no pun intended, has stuck with me. The paraphrased version is this… “Well God, I am trying really hard to keep my sticky little fingers off of all this.” It was a statement of surrender, and honestly, it is with this kind of thought in my head, that this existence begins to work for me.

This is my plan today. To try to keep my sticky little fingers off my life and listen for my next set of operating instructions…

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