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Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

A vanishing point is an interesting study, and perhaps not just for points of convergence or disappearing lines.

I recently found some vanishing points in fire, fog and falls…helping the mind fill in what may lie just beyond, where lines, images and elements dissipate and invite imagination to take it from there.

Kind of like vague relationships.

In my line of work doing online therapy, research is showing that the “fantasy factor” helps both client and counselor achieve an optimal working relationship, even though the missing gaps may or may not be accurate. Freud was on to something when he chose to sit behind the couch, just out of the line of vision of the patient.

The brain and God are faithful to give us exactly what we need to get through this thing called Life.

My eyes saw these realities, but my mind filled in the blanks of what it might be like to go just beyond. I forewent captions, for you to enjoy them as you see them.

A recognizable scene, given pause, may rise to unrecognizable dreams. A waterfall seen from beneath, has an unseen origin, where gravity may not be so pronounced. A slumbering volcano is made awake and alive by rumors of gnomes and fairies beneath.

I invite your mind to fill in the blanks – joie de vivre! 💋

Thanks, God, for the fantasies and illusions that give us hope, faith and perseverance.

May we never tire as we approach the vanishing point, always finding that extra burst of energy to see what awaits us around the curve.

Give us courage to face what’s on the other side, just beyond our line of vision, and equip us with confidence to accept Your will as we pursue the point of convergence.

Take us around that distant bend, Lord, and infuse us with elegant grace and poignant wisdom.

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Today I had the privilege of working with a homicidal patient who is partial to philosophy. This can present a challenge as a therapist, in that one must steer the patient away from an unhealthy amount of overthinking – and yet insight comes from a certain degree of thinking beyond the garden gate.

My patient quoted a line from a poem by Rumi (see below), so I brought it up on my device and together we tried to untangle the mystery of whether the darkness of mental illness is a guest in our lives, or if we are a guest in the darkness.

We wrestled with how to achieve mindfulness; to tolerate, endure and to even embrace the unexpected or the unwelcome. We contemplated how to find balance. We considered if it is pain or freedom that is fleeting and temporary. 

While we mused, she played in the kinetic sand tray on my desk. Afterwards, I observed aloud how, when talking about her pain and darkness, she stabbed at the sand and carved deep but symmetrical gashes. When she spoke of healing and hope, she used the roller to smooth it out. Someone had left the sand in mostly one half of the tray; I commented that as she had approached it, she met it where it was – she did not attempt to rearrange it, only made impressions on it. 

“What do you make of that?” she asked.

“Mmmmm….” I paused, “What do YOU make of it?”

She broke out in a broad smile for the first time I’d seen.

Yes, “meet them at the door laughing and invite them in!”

Here is how she left the sand – what do YOU make of it?

  
THE GUEST HOUSE

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.

meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.
— Jelaluddin Rumi,

    translation by Coleman Barks

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Ten minutes’ worth of Etch-A-Sketch (still in the package) for a bored thirteen-year-old, passing time in the check-out line:

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And check out the other creative entries for this week…

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For all new followers, a warm, sunny welcome. And for my tried-and-trues, a big thank you – without your support and encouragement, this blog would not be turning 2 years old today.

A recent post by our WordPress gurus reminded me that I had gotten too absorbed in catering to what people like instead of why I started the blog in the first place, doing what others expected instead of doing what I might otherwise do best. (Thank you, WordPress, for nudging me back to my blogging roots!)

I noticed readers REALLY like photographs. A picture is definitely worth a thousand words around here, at least for this fledgling blogger. Posts I thought were some of my best work, stats showed otherwise. And things I thought nothing of, garnered the most “likes.” (If you get to the bottom of this one without scrolling fast, I double-dog-dare ya to “like” it.)

In thinking about it, though, I realize that pictures are recognized and appreciated across cultural borders, and, based on some of my new friends from various countries, I can appreciate this. Don’t worry, the photos will still be coming.

I’ve been vaguely aware recently that the subtitle to my blog has always been, “little ponderings with the Big Guy,” yet many of my posts recently have excluded Him. And excluded my ponderings. Not because I quit pondering, but because I got caught up in what I thought YOU wanted. I got sucked up into the world of not talking about God and of posting more pictures. That’s what it seemed people wanted…my posts about faith or spirituality or my walk seemed to give people the willies.

Like a polite group of Southern ladies who quietly stop inviting someone to their gatherings because of some unspoken social gaffe, it was made clear to me that my ponderings about God were not as popular in the blogosphere as were my more worldly wanderings. This came as little surprise to me, since one frequently teeters on thin ice with religion or politics.

So for any who are reading now who are offended by Jesus, go ahead and click off right here, if you haven’t already. Or scroll down to the profound picture below, then click off – that is certainly okay, I understand and appreciate your visiting anyhoo, and I don’t ask that you share my views. Take what you wish, leave what you will – it’s all good.

Some posts ago I described my mother’s decline into dementia as reflected in some spontaneous freestyle painting. It has been just over a year since she tried to run away from her illness by literally running away from her Chicago home of 88 years and coming here to the sea.

Now, a year later, she has come to the realization that she can run, but she can’t hide. Time and her illness march on, and with each week a new limitation seems to be imposed on this fiercely independent woman who lived through the Great Depression, World War II and forty years of wearing an apron.

She later burned both apron and bra and returned to college to finish her degree, going on to do great things outside the home. A timeless Rosie the Riveter, of sorts. She only just retired a few years ago, shortly after she was chosen to display 50 of her best photos in a prominent municipal venue in a major U.S. city. Which she did with zeal and the energy of a 25-year-old. (I’m not into zodiac stuff, but she embodied her Taurus birthday in everything she did with the utmost of bull-headed resolve).

Today, she can’t even operate the children’s camera we got her for Christmas that only has two buttons.

For most her life, Mother shook her fist at religion, although she had her own ideas about God. She stood by her beliefs and scorned those of us who believed in Him. Less than a year ago she stated out loud that she hoped she’d go to Hell before she’d have to suffer the latter stages of dementia. I figured she’d either be a deathbed conversion or that her wishes would sadly be realized.

So last week while decluttering Mother’s room, I came upon this image she had doodled on a random piece of cardboard:

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To me, it appeared to be a self-portrait: all her knowledge tumbling out of her faster than she can control. Desperately trying to scoop up and keep the knowledge… to no avail.

One eye signifying only being able to see half of what she used to (she has a cataract she opted, at the doctor’s recommendation, not to have surgery to correct). One ear, only able to hear half of what she knows is going on (she has significant hearing loss in one ear, and can’t wear a hearing aid because she would surely misplace it).

Half a mouth, only able to speak partial sentences, because nouns, pronouns and adjectives have turned into whatchamajiggers, whoozits and “damn it, you know what I mean!”

To such a bright, creative, independent woman, dementia surely is the ultimate insult.

When I went to see her yesterday, she was nervously flitting around the entryway at her assisted living facility, looking completely bewildered. I could see she was not having a good day. When she saw me, she urgently approached me and said she didn’t know I was coming .

She said she was at a crossroads; twice that yesterday morning she had to be reminded that she had already eaten breakfast, but her nerves and mind kept her worrying that she had missed breakfast – over and over.

Her frantic eyes searched mine as she described what awareness she had left, being aware that she is more unaware than aware. (Reread that sentence if you must!)

She knew that she was slipping faster, and it terrified her. She described being lonely and scared. She clutched a magazine someone had left with her back in January, a copy of LifeWay’s Mature Living which had an article about Alzheimer’s, it’s inevitable course, and how one needn’t be lonely when the Lord is in their life.

Even though she had no interest in changing her notions about God all along, she had been trying to socialize more to keep what mind she has left – going to all the activities, even the Bible studies and more recently, to church at times, but she justified it by maintaining it wasn’t for religious purposes, only to keep her mind sharp. Or to see her grandson play in the church orchestra. Or to flirt with the cute man who moved into the facility recently. Any reason BUT God.

But not today.

Today, all my wanderings away from daily prayer, Bible reading and bloggy ponderings didn’t seem to matter. He called me up when I wasn’t looking, after all these years of wondering what use I am since I’ve never led another soul to Him, never done anything spiritually outstanding, never felt I measured up when it came to All Things Religious. I am just another sinner getting caught up in the throes of the world, flowing toward Him in convenience or crisis, ebbing from Him when the flesh lured me astray.

I never dared suggest to Mother that she reconsider her views about God or life or death – you just don’t do that without incurring her wrath. But yesterday she came to me and asked…despite my recent wanderings instead of ponderings.

She asked where I found my peace. She asked for assurance that she wouldn’t have to face the quickly-approaching end stages alone, when she will someday no longer be able to recognize me or anyone else. She asked me to share what I knew about her Bible-believing parents, against whom she spent a lifetime rebelling. She asked me how I found Him.

After nearly 90 years of hardened disbelief, she asked me to share Jesus.

So I did.

I told her how after years of studying different religions, I finally asked God why there were so many and which one was THE truth; He then introduced me to Jesus Christ, in no uncertain terms.

After over an hour of talking, prayer, weeping, laughing and showing her things in the Bible my brother had sent her, she accepted Christ as her Savior.

I never knew she would do that. I never knew He would call me to do that. I never knew He was saving my first experience in doing so for THE most hard-headed, free-wheeling woman most people who know her would never have guessed she’d ever do.

She was astonished to hear so many people had been praying for her for so, so long, and she took comfort in knowing that God calls us to do these things in quiet privacy, without pressure, without fanfare.

She said for the first time she felt “full,” “complete,” “relieved,” “at peace.” She described how so many things suddenly made sense, as though nothing was a mistake: it was all so very purposeful all along (indeed!), and this excited her.

This reawakened me, as well, so I suppose I should find it no surprise that it coincided with the blog’s birthday – a time of celebration, rejoicing and marking time – His time. A time of thanks – to those who have supported my blogging, to those who have been in the forefront and in the wings, to those who made my mother’s salvation possible. And to those who “get” me and my ponderings, as well as they “get” me and my wanderings. Possibly the best birthday present? You got it!

Never give up dreaming, hoping, seeking, pursuing. Yes, don’t go away!

Just when you think you aren’t looking, He shows you even greater things, like a magnificent sunset distracting us from all our fears.

Thank you SO much – happy, happy birthday – and hugs from the beach ~~

~~ssm

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I was recently reintroduced to a concept known as “spiritual bypass,” coined by American psychotherapist John Welwood. Spiritual bypass occurs when one worships the spiritual experience and exploits it to avoid working on necessary psychological tasks.

Dr. Welwood observed the phenomenon in the context of his Buddhist experience, although I recognize it also in the context of Christianity, causing me to infer that it is a universal phenomenon.

Bypassers are the folks who jump headlong into religion, especially during a time of crisis, using chapter and verse to smile when they should be weeping and gnashing their teeth. It is justification for not feeling, chalking it up to “God’s will;” psyching ourselves out of critical opportunities for growth. Misplaced priorities.

This is the churchaholic, throwing themselves headlong into every activity available when the church doors are open, thereby bypassing perhaps what God really intended for them.

This is the workaholic, grinding away at the office for hours on the premise of doing a good job and bringing home extra bacon while neglecting duties of primary importance.

This is the alcoholic, the drugaholic, the sportsaholic. And, yes, the Facebookaholoic.

I propose that the concept of “bypass” is not only spiritual, but emotional, mental, physical, psychological, and any other framework within which one chooses to avoid God’s reality for them. I’d venture to say it even has neurological underpinnings, and is not unlike the brain’s ingenious way of creating dissociation in the face of unbearable trauma.

How many times have we seen those who are addicted to substances, to abuse (victims or perps), to human dysfunction of any sort, “find Jesus” (or Buddha, or environmentalism, or any good cause to an extreme) and “miraculously” turn their lives around for a time?

This is where the concept of salvation may seem shady to some: one “dedicates their life to the Lord,” only later to stumble and fall, and then at some point may again rededicate.

Throw a little Calvinism into the mix and you’ve got some worthwhile confusion to chew on.

Nobody wants the wood, hay & stubble, yet we wrestle with what quantifies the gold, rubies and Good Stuff. I like to think of it as a process that God needs us to go through to be closer to Him.

I suppose “bypass” can be any means of avoiding God’s will for us to fully experience our weaknesses. By His mercy He gave us manna, judges, prophets and, finally, Jesus, to help us face the fears we have behind our avoidance. He gave us these things to soften the blow, because He loves us. He knows we are vulnerable to pain – that’s how He made us. There is merit in ashes and sackcloth. But also in balance.

Jesus faced those fears head-on, but not before an attempt at bypass, Himself (“…let this cup pass.”).

I challenge you to examine your own bypass, ways you evade the experience of going through the necessary eye of the needle:

How do you bypass your own discomforts?

How do you bypass God’s intentions for you?

Do we sugar-coat these things with do-gooding and man (or self)-pleasing benevolence?

Sit erectly in the pew with the utmost appearance of faithful attentiveness, or lie crumpled in a heap, quietly weeping in a dark corner where only He can see?

Stay on the track we think best, when He’d rather we go on a wilderness walkabout?

What if you went through the eye, totally raw, skinless, open to the experience? Willing to feel? Amenable to risk? Susceptible to His sharpening?

What would that look like? And feel?

Courage, my friend.

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God’s abundance…

If these shells are all dead creatures, think how many more are alive and thriving in the sea from which they washed up.

We only see parts of the whole.

Parts of me are dead,

yet alive,

“I am.”

Fragments of pieces of life within and without me.

Some I recognize, some I am not aware of even though they are part of me,

be it forgotten or unconscious or yet to be.

Only whole by the parts.

Only parts

by His grace.

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The other day I heard a piece on the radio about melancholy; how melancholy can be as prevalent during the holidays as holiday cheer. The reflection included the sage suggestion to give honor to those people or things associated with the melancholy, but then give way to and give thanks for the present and future.

As I reflected on this on my run that day, I pondered a pair of points:

1.) God gave us melancholy, along with all other emotions. These are not wrong. He also instructed us to maintain moderation in all things. I believe to allow any one emotion or state of mind to dominate our being to where it interferes with our ability to honor Him and His will for us, turns into coveting.

To be melancholic is to pine away for something that is not, was not, will not be or cannot be. It is the sadness that accompanies wishful thinking, or lusting after the imagination of what was not intended to be so. This, I perceive to be covetousness. To covet is to break a Commandment. Therefore, we must be circumspect as to how we give time and energy to our emotions.

2.) Last week while leading a group therapy session, I pointed to different expressions of emotion and asked the children if each one was “good” or “bad.” Instinctively, most of them ascribed “bad” to feelings such as anger, sadness, fear, anxiety and grief. “Good” emotions included happy, joyful, excited, surprised, loved and calm. As you, dear reader, already surmise, the point of the group content that day was to teach the children that ALL emotions have worth and place in our lives, all emotions are okay, all of them are GOOD. It’s what you do with them that matters.

That being said, we often tease that we can tell when a child is ready to leave our hospital when the little Butterball thermometer pops out of their side and they’re “done.” The thing that pops out for me, as their therapist, is how well they’re able to COMPARTMENTALIZE their emotions, how they organize their emotions, both in their heads and in their actions.

Can anger or sadness, grief or melancholy be tolerated and even embraced as a legitimate source of forward movement in the natural process of growth and change? (remember, I’m working with little ones who have no families, or who have families who’ve rejected them or chosen drugs over them, or with families who will never have the capacity to love).

Can you find room in your heart to allow the natural discomfort of difficult emotions, and find a way to organize them into your psyche, give them their place use them as a springboard to move forward?

Can you find gratitude for the way things must be? I ought to change the title of this to “finding the silver linings,” but I may have already used a similar title, I believe. Silver linings are just my nature, and I have a soft spot in my heart for those whose nature gravitates toward having to monitor their melancholy.

It’s all good, baby!

I was tremendously grateful for this snippet about melancholy, since it pertains to us all in various ways, but in much greater proportions we often overlook. And it’s true for all emotions. To spend too much time in positive emotions, we’d neglect our duty to feel sorrow for those without or to feel guilt for our transgressions. Negative emotions propel us to betterment, both in ourselves and in loving our neighbors.

There is a time for ashes and sackcloth, and there is a time to move on. To remain stuck is to become stagnant (refresh thy iPod regularly!). To move on is to discover the future.

Yes, I embrace the melancholy, and even relish it for a moment, here and there, even moreso when something occurs to me down the road that I neglected to realize…but I am moved by the current down the rapids, which does not allow me to wallow and wade in the waters of what was or wasn’t. I am moved forward with wonder into the excitement of His will.

May we all be.

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Thank you, dear readers, for your thoughts and prayers for the little ones I serve, and I wish you all a very merry Christmas!

~~ssm

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Dear                            ,

I hope you know that even though you just came to (this lockup hospital) Santa always knows where you are, so you don’t have worry that I didn’t know where to find you this Christmas! Santa comes to (this hospital), too, and I know all my boys and girls, and especially YOU!

I’ve been told that you’ve come through some very, very hard times in your life recently, and that it is terribly difficult for you to talk to others about those times. I want you to know that besides Christmas presents, I am going to give you a different type of present, a present that doesn’t come in a box or in wrapping. That present is called COURAGE, and it is something I know you already have plenty of. But I am giving you MORE, because you are very dear to me and you didn’t deserve to have the things happen to you that happened. Those things, dear one, were NOT your fault. (Remember that naughty people, especially grown-ups who are supposed to know better, get lumps of coal and a lifetime of shame for things like that).

Please know that as you use the courage I give you, time will help heal your pain. And I want you to know how very proud I am of how strong you’ve had to be, and how strong you will be as you learn to trust grown-ups again. That is not an easy thing to do. In the meantime, please don’t hurt yourself or hurt others – you are such a beautiful child, and I want you to feel good about yourself and about your life. You have a very bright future.

Thank you for believing in me, because I believe in YOU, too.

Merry Christmas with Love,

Santa

*************************************************

Dear                             ,

Thank you for writing to me with your Christmas list. I always love to hear from the boys and girls I care so much about, and you are one of them!

I will try to get you as many of the things on your list as you listed. Even though you won’t be able to be home with your family this Christmas, I know where to find you at (this hospital). Santa doesn’t need keys! Listen for the clatter of my reindeer on the roof.

Since you asked me for some things, I’d like to ask you for something. I would like you to work on not saying naughty things when you get angry – try not to curse, not to make threats to hurt other people or your family, and to try to be respectful. Remember, the people you talk to are people I love and care for, too, and I like to see people happy. You are a smart boy, and I know you will be able to make good choices, even though things aren’t perfect.

Enjoy your presents, and have a very, Merry Christmas!

Love,

Santa

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Dear                          ,

What up, bro’? Thank you for writing me such a good letter! I will try to bring you as many things as I can from your list. I like how your writing has improved, and that you are able to talk respectfully to other people about what you’re feeling inside, more than before. That is what makes things better.

Did you have a nice birthday? I was so excited that you had so much fun and got to go on a pass and all that jazz. I overheard you asking me to bring you a Dad for Christmas, and I am working on that, although it won’t be THIS Christmas – hopefully soon, though. I want you to know that even though your family can’t be together this Christmas, that I know of another family who is waiting for YOU to join them. They will wait for you to finish working on your treatment goals, so keep trying to do your best. Everything will work out just fine.

And someday, I hope you decide to become a professional athlete – I don’t know anyone else your size who can shoot a hoop from across the gym each and every time like you do. You’re a pretty amazing guy. And now that you’re eight, you’ll be able to do even more!

Have a very, Merry Christmas and enjoy all your presents!

Love,

Santa

p.s. – Don’t try to fool the Tooth Fairy any more – she reports directly to ME. But your therapist told me that everything’s cool now, so we’re good, dude. Jam on.

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Dear                          ,

I got your letter that you wrote to me and I want you to know how much it meant to me. I will try to bring you as many things on your list as I can. My elves are working overtime to get everything just right.

I know how difficult it must be not only to be so far away from home, but to have to wait so long for the right family for you. I am so proud of how patient you are and how much hope you continue to have even though it feels like it’s taking forever. I see how hard you are working on your treatment goals, and I know someday you will join a new family who is waiting for the right child – that’s YOU! In the meantime, I want you to have fun this Christmas.

When you are sad, please remember that I am thinking of you and that so many people are working to get you home. Don’t do things to hurt yourself (no more tying things around your neck!) or to hurt others – this is very important, because I love all my children very dearly, and I want you to feel better, to feel happy. Remember that God and I care for you very much and will make sure that you stay safe this Christmas. We will wipe your tears away with our love. Never give up, never lose hope – stay strong and keep facing forward to your bright future. Keep believing!

Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas, with love,

Santa

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I wish to extend a grateful thank you to Lea At Sea for bestowing upon me the “Beautiful Blogger Award.” Please visit Miss Lea’s blog for quality literary work (not to mention great photography).

Most of you already know I am an evil chain-breaker when it comes to doing my part with bloggy awards – I shamelessly claim them without listing seven things about myself and selfishly neglect to nominate others. The latter is mostly due to the fact that I don’t have enough time to get around the blogosphere to meet enough new bloggers who haven’t yet been awarded, and most my blog pals are already spoken for, for this or that award.

So I kind of lurk in the corner of the blogosphere, standing there holding my drink, vicariously enjoying the party without venturing forth and making the rounds. I’ll let the hors-d’œurvres tray come to me.

I noticed that one of Miss Lea’s seven items about herself is near and dear to my heart: hating (“a lot”) to talk on the phone. Yes, I was the one in the marriage years ago who, when the answering machine finally self-destructed, made the case (and won) not to replace it. Having a device which bestows others control over me and my life is incredibly oppressive, be it phone, answering machine and now voice mail.

I do not like the idea of others running around knowing they can summon me at their will like I’m some genie in a bottle. Especially when the caller is a solicitor, politician or, the worst, a robocaller. But, you say, I have complete control over whether to accept, ignore or not return calls? Aha, but this still puts a subliminal psychological burden on the phone-owner in that either decision evokes a multitude of required thoughts and feelings. Choosing to ignore a call demands that I make a decision at someone else’s will and timing, when frankly, I’ve spent all day making decisions and I would like to come home and relax and have the most mind-bending decision be what time I turn out the light and go to sleep. The caller, no matter how beloved, has cluttered my psychological landscape with an unexpected and sudden demand to interact. (Okay, so this introvert acknowledges it requires selfless sacrifice and giving on my part to make things work…I’m working on that part; please have mercy and patience).

This past week was the first time I willfully and purposefully punched the “IGNORE” option on an incoming call. And (please remain seated with your tray in upright position) the person I ignored was my husband. But, see, I had a REALLY good reason: I was in the middle of a bird-swooping shot using the camera feature, and timing was essential. Lucky me, he was very understanding. But don’t think I evaded a brief grilling…fortunately, the proof was on my phone with the great picture.

As one inclined to write, talking on the phone is just not my cup of tea. I often awake at 3 am with the perfect response which I likely was not able to offer the caller when the caller had me at their disposal. I am witty on my feet, but cannot always offer you the answer I really intend to give. I have to mentally chew your input before I can swallow and digest, a process which takes me time. I do not like to gulp my food, nor do I like to gulp my relationships and their conversations. I like to savor and reflect.

Curiously, this only applies to calls received at home, my castle, my sanctuary. Somehow, I am not like this at the office, where I even look forward to verbal exchanges with random, incoming callers. Sock it to me, baby!

This week a long-awaited, coveted piece of paper arrived (and quite unexpectedly this soon) deeming me worthy of officially engaging in the practice of mental interior redesign (therapy). This is the fourth such piece of paper I have ever received, but this time it was extra-special because the first ones I had retired before to care for our little guy with Down syndrome with critical health problems, and did not expect to return to the field, much less to have to go through the credentialing process a second time, which is now much more rigorous than it was decades ago. And this one was particularly unexpected because I had already been told many times  by the credentialing body that I likely couldn’t get that piece of paper in this state because this state takes pride in their extra-rigorous process which is far more hassle than any other state I’ve ever gotten that paper from. Sheesh.

That being said, if I had my druthers, my method of engaging in the act of phone calls would involve some long-term Freudian analysis process. This might include noting who is trying to call me (love that caller ID!). I would analyze why they might be calling (so I can adequately prepare an intelligent response with accompanying appropriate humor if needed), analyze all possible reasons and all possible responses, anticipate their frame of mind in reference to mine, flip through my mental Rolodex to see if there was anything I forgot to say the last time, pull out my calendar in case the call requires date-setting, pray that for once my tongue doesn’t get me in trouble and, with four noisy children, reserve the bathroom in the farthest end of the house to secure privacy and quiet prior to the call.

Okay, so maybe telephonic spontaneity isn’t my thang. Sorry, folks.

I guess I just think too much. And I’d much rather you joined me on the beach for an expectation-less chat and some quality peace time.

I will quit thinking for now and simply share a picture I haven’t found a place for until now. It was on some little side street and evidently the owner saw fit to paint a natural knot in the tree which happens to be heart-shaped. It expresses my sentiment to my fellow bloggers, readers and callers I might avoid, about how I really feel about them and how much I appreciate them, even if I’m busy over-analyzing stuff:

Thanks, God, for a direct line with You, and that You allow me the control to call You at will, without need for analysis, forethought or structure. Please help my hang-ups not be literal when it comes to others’ needs to make contact when I’m off the clock. Even if it’s a robocall.

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I’ve just returned from a workshop about using art therapy to treat loss and grief. There I picked up over three dozen nifty ideas to use in the practice of healing those whom I serve. I expected to passively sit and be taught, like a good little seminar-attendee, pen purposely poised over legal pad, brain in sponge-mode. A nice way to end a hectic work week, to be paid to hang out in the Sunshine State for a day of intellectual ministering. Woot!

Silly moi, I should have anticipated that a good learning experience involves, well, experience…and that creative sorts like artists are all about the process. The pen sat largely idle and the pad was brought home mostly blank. Instead, I carried away a very personal experience of how art heals.

That’s right, she put us to work. This “Sorry, I’m limited to stick-men” kind of a gal didn’t get too far with that excuse with an art therapist. There was no hiding in that hotel conference room, and only so many times you can use the restroom/important call/refill the coffee excuses. Reluctant and reticent, I got sucked into the world of self-expression and vulnerable exposure. One cannot, after all, change others if one is not intimately familiar with the experience of changing, themselves.

I was reminded of the old joke in the field of child & family therapy…I started out with no kids and 4 theories; now I’ve got 4 kids and no theories. In order for healing to hold water, one must know something about holding water. Neither book smarts nor experience in and of themselves are ever as powerful as the combination thereof.

Our first project introduced us to the Mandala Circle, a large, outlined circle on a blank page. The instructions were to choose an oil pastel (each of us had been given a generous supply at our tables), and draw anything for 30 seconds.

As is my custom, I was already fretting about what to color, and thus I failed to hear that I would only have 30 seconds. So when the time began, I slowly and cautiously began to color around the outline on in the inside of the circle, using my favorite color (orange). I didn’t know where I was going with it, and was feeling mentally hijacked in being asked to DO something besides vegetate for the duration of the seminar, so I mindlessly and mechanically put pastel to paper.

As I began to plan ahead to where I might go with this drawing, she interrupted and stopped the time, instructing us to trade papers with another person. I was mildly miffed: not only was I NOT going to be able to plan and complete whatever it was I had not planned for, but now I had to go an mar someone else’s pretty circle with my lack of artistic talent.

Adrenaline rising, I quickly took mental note of the location of each emergency exit sign in the room, but was again interrupted by the timekeeper-lady, who summoned us to begin the next 30-second drawing. In front of me was someone else’s pretty pattern, in blue. I was terrified of ruining what they began, but I obediently put pastel again to paper, and found myself tracing their pattern with my orange. It reminded me of one of my favorite color combinations on my commute, when the sun is beginning to set and the water takes on a bright glacier-blue hue, and the sky turns into Creamsicle orange. Yum!

My trepidation began to melt into relaxation and enjoyment. Snap – she called another trade! I had no idea where my page was at this point or what it might possible look like, but now in front of me was a circle with purple and red…and at the start of the new 30 seconds, I added my orange to this one, which resembled a dream-catcher pattern. I wondered what would happen if I went out of the circle…damn, I couldn’t remember the directions! Was this allowed?

Risk-taker rogue that I am, I spat into the wind and zagged that orange pastel smack out of the circle and, like a bolt of lightning, boldly directed the line skyward to the top of the paper. There, I was happy now – I did something impulsively unique and creative, and I liked how it looked. It drew the eye away from the main, central theme and forced the mind to wander…and to wonder. Suddenly I was overcome by a quick flash of remorse, hoping the owner of the circle wouldn’t be upset that I colored outside their lines.

As I was balancing my regret and satisfaction (satisfaction won!), we were instructed to trade again. I cheerfully took it upon myself to color outside of more lines. Yes, this was ME! This was my Zorro-Z! I put to the grave my shame of henceforth being limited to stick men, and was filled with new artistic self-assurance. Rules be damned, lines were made to be crossed and my orange zags electrified and brought added interest to each circle. At least in the eye of this beholder.

After about five or six trades, we were instructed to find the original owner of the circle. When circles had been reclaimed, there was a hush in the room as we all beheld what had become of our circle. I was humbled and amazed at the journey mine had taken. What began with self-doubt, reluctant hesitation, emotional distress drowning out the directions and with only my favorite color to cling to, my circle had become the most beautiful creation which I could not have done – no-way, no-how, by myself. It could only have turned out so beautiful by my being forced to allow others to help me, to contribute to my experience and by others filling in blanks left by my limitations. Yes, this is how we become rich, and how life gets its true value.

Life is a joint effort. We are ourselves because of others.

According to research (Smitheman-Browne and Church, 1996), Mandala circles drawn at the beginning of each therapy session (whether group or individual) have been shown to reduce impulsive, anxious behaviors. In engaging in this exercise, I was able to see how I myself went from my own limitations through the change, to a redefined sense of self. As in life, it challenged me to evaluate my needs and expectations, to challenge those expectations, to compare my reality with those around me, and forced me into making choices I might not have otherwise made.

It reminded me of the anguish of those with mental health problems whose symptoms directly interfere with the basics of getting through a task or a conversation, much less an entire day, without their problems mucking things up worse for them and further reinforcing negative thoughts, feelings and behaviors in an endless, downward spiral, further perpetuating the stigma and hopelessness.

The drawing took me through feelings of artistic inadequacy, being anxious to the point of not hearing basic directions, winding up surprised and upset when asked to change (yet being forced to), finding a way to feel comfortable and define a new style all my own (using my favorite color to overcome fear and creating something I liked), reinforcing this with repetition to the point of enjoyment, and emerging on the other side of the exercise with new courage and a redefined self. Wowzers!

This also drove home how very hard it is to be on the other side of the couch, or worse, to feel as though you are alone in your plight. When we are in pain, it takes extra courage to reach out and ask for help, and even greater courage to change. Change involves risk, and risk can be scary. And the only way through scary is to trust. From a clinical perspective, I can extrapolate this exercise to apply to many different types of problems and diagnoses, but the goal for all is the same: the process of being able to trust others, begins with trusting oneself. Herein lies the greatest challenge of all, and for all.

How well do you trust yourself? And how do you regain that trust when your world gets rocked and your trust is shaken…or lost?

Postscript:

After the circles were returned to their owners and the hush had become fully pregnant, one participant raised her hand but did not wait to be called upon. “SOMEBODY DREW OUTSIDE OF MY CIRCLE,” she announced with great agitation, pointing to the bright orange zag emerging out of her otherwise-neat circle. She fully expected the scribbling scofflaw to be identified, drawn and quartered in front of everyone. The instructor smiled and looked at her picture, which the participant held high for all to see the violation for themselves. The participant sought confirmation: “We weren’t supposed to go outside the lines.” The instructor, still smiling, said, “I never said that. I was very careful to give you just general instructions. Isn’t it interesting the limitations we assume lie in the tasks we face in life? And how that may limit our ability to solve problems? Or limit our ability to guide others in solving theirs? As helpers, we must constantly think outside the box, since answers to life rarely lie within the confines of the boundaries we perceive to exist.”

Thanks, God, for having all the answers (even if we can’t see them), and for teaching us to trust.

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