Eat, Pray, Kalamazoo.

I drive a lot for work. I wander between podcasts, audio books, and music. I pick my poison when I start on my way. This week I’ve been listening to excerpts from one of my all-time favorite memoirs, Eat, Pray, Love. Call me cliche, say what you will about this book but the first time I read that book, I found parts of myself that were hiding. It was one big permission slip.

The first time I read the book, I was at a job and a university I hated. I knew in my bones that I needed to leave but I did not have the courage to quit this thing I dedicated my young life to. It’s weird to think how rigid my thinking was then. I laugh when I think that anything will ever go as planned. The first time I read the book, this quote brought me to my knees:

“I just wanted to slip quietly out the back door, without causing any fuss or consequences, and then not stop running until I reached Greenland.”

Today, on the road, I burst out into gasping sobs when I heard this piece:

“My thoughts turn to something I read once, something the Zen Buddhists believe. They say that an oak tree is brought into creation by two forces at the same time. Obviously, there is the acorn from which it all begins, the seed which holds all the promise and potential, which grows into the tree.

Everybody can see that. But only a few can recognize that there is another force operating here as well—the future tree itself, which wants so badly to exist that it pulls the acorn into being, drawing the seedling forth with longing out of the void, guiding the evolution from nothingness to maturity. In this respect, say the Zens, it is the oak tree that creates the very acorn from which it was born.

I think about the woman I have become lately, about the life that I am now living, and about how much I always wanted to be this person and live this life, liberated from the farce of pretending to be anyone other than myself. I think of everything I endured before getting here and wonder if it was me—I mean, this happy and balanced me, who is now dozing on the deck of this small Indonesian fishing boat—who pulled the other, younger, more confused and more struggling me forward during all those hard years.

The younger me was the acorn full of potential, but it was the older me, the already-existent oak, who was saying the whole time: “Yes—grow! Change! Evolve! Come and meet me here, where I already exist in wholeness and maturity! I need you to grow into me!”

And maybe it was this present and fully actualized me who was hovering four years ago over that young married sobbing girl on the bathroom floor, and maybe it was this me who whispered lovingly into that desperate girl’s ear, “Go back to bed, Liz…” Knowing already that everything would be OK, that everything would eventually bring us together here.

Right here, right to this moment. Where I was always waiting in peace and contentment, always waiting for her to arrive and join me.”

It took the air from my lungs because it is my truth. The truth is we believe that there is a finite amount of love, joy, and happiness in the world. We believe that your happiness steals from my happiness, It is ludicrous. There is enough of all these things for all of us. We each have our own paths, My happiness was never for you and your happiness was never for me. But, it is hard for people to celebrate one another without reflecting on their own deficits.

I wonder what your future self is pulling you towards? I wonder what you are growing into? I wonder where this world will take me. I wonder and trust and hope and fear. Trust yourself, trust the wise inner voice, trust the divinity inside of you. Don’t let other people quiet that divine voice pulling you into a beautiful future. It’s not their path. It’s mine.

Love.

The Dogs Will Be Okay.

I have been reading the book Altruism by Matthieu Ricard on and off for months. It is a nine-hundred page book that outlines, with substantial research,  a scientific case for altruism. This book serves as a respite for me when the days seem dark and people seem cruel. It is a dense read so I can only concentrate in fits and starts.

The stories from the book that grabbed my heart today are:

A kennel guard found three dogs in the kitchen after escaping their cages in the night. He made sure to lock their cages even tighter the next night. However, the next morning, the dogs had returned to the kitchen to feast. This perplexed the guard so he set up watch. When the lights went down and the place was closed one dog had figured out a way to unlock the kennel. Instead of going on his own to the kitchen, he opened the cages of two other dogs and then they headed to the kitchen together.

The next story is simple. One dog was disoriented in traffic and likely to be hit when another dog grabbed him with his teeth and pulled him off the road. They both survived.

In the end, at least we know the dogs will be okay.

Love.

I Hate You?

I don’t like the word hate.

I’m currently finishing a psychotherapy training and the current module is on forgiveness. This is decidedly the most challenging thing for humans to offer themselves and others. I’ve written about forgiveness before and I’m not going to go into that today.

However, during the meditation part of the module the thought struck me that I struggle because I want some people to be different than they are so they can stay in my life. Culturally, we’ve entered a season where our values are brightly colored on our sleeves. We all feel right in what we believe. The rifts are growing. The violence and fear are turned all the way up. And, some relationships are being tested in ways they’ve never been before.

I read the comments on news articles and squint as if it will change the words I’m reading: You think all Muslims are terrorists? How can that be? You think that LGBT people should be turned away from business or care? That can’t be the case? You want to close our homes to the suffering and dying refugees? I don’t understand this.

I scratch my head at the idea of giving up an already weak public education system to a person that is categorically unqualified.

I tilt my head as my dogs do when I give them an unfamiliar command.

Are you sure we want to live this way?

I cannot fathom continuing to pillage the earth when she is telling us, not so quietly, to stop or we will soon be without a home.

I look at social media and think “Is our president really calling the country haters?”

I do not know how to talk to some people anymore. Literally.

I hate you? No.

I hate this.

I resent them for being who they are, when I ask to be accepted for who I am. I feel anger towards them and towards their values. This is hypocritical of me. I cannot expect that we are all going to fit together in times like these. I was confusing things. I don’t hate these people. I hate that because of who I am and who they are, we can’t be what I want us to be.

I have this image of life as it should be and it never quite maps onto life as it is. This discrepancy is what causes me pain. This discrepancy is what I hate. I think that might be true for most of us. I wish things were different but they are not. I wish that we all fit together but we do not. I wish we agreed but we do not.

I still believe in basic human goodness. I will always believe that whatever the question we should continue to try our best to find our way to love and be love.

But, I think fear is driving the boat and that’s never good.

How can we work on forgiveness and healing? I don’t know that yet.

Under the hate, under the anger, and under the rage, is a deep sense of sadness. A dark cavern of grief for the way things are. It feels eternal and it whispers, “I don’t recognize you anymore”

Sacred Safe Space Meditation

(bummer disclaimer, someone recently stole my work and tried to pass it off as their own. this, of course made me quite angry because well, that’s not a very cool thing to do and the contents of this blog and of my training courses are intellectual property and they belong to me. please don’t steal things. if you like something, give the person credit, if you want to present something to others, ask first. okay? love.)

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”
Mary Oliver

I wrote this mediation for a training I’m doing tomorrow. I know that many of us are overwhelmed and stressed out by the chaos that’s happening in our world. I want to share with you a moment of peace so you may warrior on with all the strength you need.

Big shout out to my sister in law Kara for having the courage to tell me I needed to be better about my boundaries. We need our tribes to keep our heads together because we can’t always see when we are burning out.

Love.

Sacred Safe Place Meditation

Let’s begin with a Be Here Now practice, this will help us fully in this moment

Let’s take a few full deep breaths, in the nose slowly, and out of the mouth slowly

Pause

As you continue to take slow deep breaths

Please scan your body for any tension or stress

Pause

Starting from the tip top of your head all the way down to the very bottom of your feet

Please try to rest and relax your body, releasing the stress in your body

Sometimes it helps to relax your jaw or roll your neck and shoulders

To relax your stomach or shake out the tension in your leg

Take your time to release all the stress and tension in your body

Pause

Continuing to take slow deep breaths, feel your chest and abdomen expand and contract

With each breath feel, your body becomes more and more relaxed

Pause

Sometimes it helps to remind yourself that right now, in this moment, you are safe

Right now, in this moment, you are safe

Pause

Try to rest in the feeling of safety and relaxation

Right now, in this moment, you are safe

Pause

Now please visualize yourself in a place, either real or imagined, where you feel completely safe

Continuing to take slow deep breaths

Notice all the details of this place, the sights, the sounds, how it feels in your body to be in this place

Pause

Continuing to take slow deep breaths

Take a moment to enjoy the feeling of safety of this sacred safe place

Pause

Continuing to take slow deep breaths

Say these phrases to yourself slowly as you breathe

May I be safe

May I be happy

May I be healthy

May I be loved

Continuing to notice all of the details of the sacred safe space that surrounds  you

Pause

Continuing to breathe deep an full breaths

Repeat the phrases slowly – there is no need to rush here and now

May I be safe

May I be happy

May I be healthy

May I be loved

As you continue to breath, rest your mind and body in this sacred safe place

Pause

Now as we prepare return to the group, we remember that this sacred safe place is always available to us, it is just a deep breath away

And continuing to breathe deep an full breaths

Repeat the phrases slowly

May I be safe

May I be happy

May I be healthy

May I be loved

When you are ready, you may slowly open your eyes and join us

 

 

 

 

My Friend The Chaplain.

“There is no coming to consciousness without pain.” – Carl Jung

“I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.” – Frederick Douglass

I have this friend. He’s one of the kindest souls I’ve ever known. He’s the type of man that just makes you feel safe and loved in his presence. In my opinion, Christians would be much better at recruitment if they were more like him and less “you’re going to Hell if you don’t _______” Just a thought from the outside.

I met with him last week. I was weary from hearing so many clients talk about how the election impacted, retraumatized, scared, and broke them. I went to him for solace and guidance. I expected him to tell me that it’ll be okay. In fact, I was desperate for someone, anyone, to tell me that this is going to be okay. After assessing my social support system, I thought he would definitely tell me that it would be okay. I was not able to find “okay” from any of the usual sources.

Well…

He did not tell me that it would be okay. He said that it might not be okay for some people and probably will not be okay for others. He said this in earnest. He broke my heart all over again. He told me to deepen my compassion and empathy and get to work helping the people that come to me for help. I took a deep breath and we talked more about what that means and how that looks. He was able to guide me in terms of phrasing and compassion. We talked about what it means to be a light bearer in dark times. I went to him seeking “okay” and what I got was “get to work”

I never intended on this blog becoming a political platform. Then, the world started to burn. You see, people put their emotions, pain, love, suffering and care in my hands. I hold the sacred parts of people and help them tie these parts together for a living. I hear stories of racism, sexual assault, misogyny, suffering , domestic violence, and child abuse and so much more. I am not lamenting because I know that this is my life’s work. I hold the sacred parts of people and for that reason I believe my job is sacred. The Chaplain and I talk a lot about that.

But, to tell me what’s happening doesn’t matter is to discredit my story and the stories of so many other people that have fallen prey to a broken system that hurts and will continue to hurt so many people. Maybe, you’re lucky enough to never have experienced deep pain and suffering. I suppose a lot of people didn’t really understand what they were getting behind. I suppose some wanted the 1950’s America back. I also know that we live in a segregated world. People mostly spend time with people that look like them and act like them. We don’t cross the divide enough to really hear about the life experiences of “the other”

I’m working on developing a compassion curriculum and the research is clear. If you want to eliminate racism, xenophobia, and homophobia you have to listen to the lived experiences of the people in those groups. You have to listen over a period of time and believe what they are saying. One of my friends, a person of color, said that if you say you have a friend that is a person of color and they’ve never talked to you about the lived experience of what that means, they aren’t your friend.

We need compassion and common humanity. We need to be our brother’s keeper.

However, I suspect some did know what was coming and some are reveling in the stories of pain, hate, and white supremacy that are circling the internet.

What I know to be true, is that people want their insides to match their outsides. What I learned after this election is that a lot of people are struggling with dark insides and they want the world to be dark, too. They want Muslims and Mexicans to suffer because that’s what they deserve. They want suffering because they suffer. They suffer from a patriarchal system that tells them they’re worthless. They suffer from rich capitalists taking all their money and blaming it on “the poor people”. They suffer from a media that makes money stoking fears and creating boogeymen that don’t exist or exaggerating those that do exist.

They suffer in deep and dark ways but instead of speaking of the suffering and instead of fighting for their joy they are trying to engulf us all in the darkness. Misery loves company and Misery just bought the farm.

I’m struggling with the concept that Liz Gilbert presented about “Is compassion a privilege?” If you are a person that feels unsafe and you are not ready or willing to extend compassion or understanding to people who hurt you in this election, put it in my hands. I’ll hold it for you. You’ve been doing that work long enough.

I will do as the Chaplain says because I know he’s right. I will work. I hope you will, too.

“It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.” – Frederick Douglass

When I Was Transphobic

“But you can only lie about who you are for so long without going crazy.”
Ellen Wittlinger, Parrotfish

I watched Silence of the Lambs when I was eight years old. Perhaps I was a bit too young to watch such a horrifying movie. The part that scared me the most was when Buffalo Bill danced around to the god awful song wearing his human skin suit. Unknowingly, I then associated trans people with scary people and on I went in life.

I started college in 2000 and we were not talking much about trans folks at that time. I studied psychology and at that time it was still pathologized (meaning it was a diagnosable illness). This did not do my brain any favors in terms of developing an understanding or compassion for trans people. I then took a trip to New York City where I saw trans people in real life for the first time. I remember thinking about that scene in Silence of the Lambs and feeling a real fear and confusion around trans women.

This went on until I started seeing clients professionally. I believe that to be a good person and a good clinician we must be willing to learn as much as we can and extend as much love and compassion as we can at all times. This is when I started my journey to move past my transphobia.

How does one move past a phobia? One, they identify and accept that they have the phobia. Two, they expose themselves to the thing they are fearful of and do not understand. I did just that. I talked to trans men and women. I volunteered at a local Pride organization that allowed me exposure. I read and watched as much as I could about trans life and experience.

Then in 2007, I had my first trans client. This changed my outlook entirely and not because of anything this person said or did but because of how the other therapists talked about this person. It made me sick to hear how they talked about them. I was angry that they made fun of this person. This was just a person trying to move through the world as safely as possible and ignorance put them in real danger. I could not stand for this. I could not be a person that contributed to the pain of another person. I would hope that most people would not knowingly create pain for another person. However, that is not the case with trans people.

I’m not sure why people are obsessed with trans people’s bodies. I’m disturbed that it still seems acceptable to make fun of, physically harm, and even murder a person for being trans. It’s not politically correct to treat another human with respect and dignity, it’s the fucking right thing to do as a human. No two ways about it.

There are still a lot of things in the world I don’t understand but they surely do not give me permission to be mean, cruel, or harmful.

Let’s do better.

Love.

Each and every one of us has the capacity to be an oppressor. I want to encourage each and everyone of us to interrogate how we might be an oppressor and how we might be able to become liberators for ourselves and for each other.

I Will Forgive You – Desmond Tutu

I will forgive you

The words are so small

But there is a universe hidden in them

When I forgive you

All those cords of resentment, pain, and sadness that had wrapped themselves around my heart will be gone

When I forgive you

You will no longer define me

You measured me and assessed me and decided you could hurt me

I didn’t count

But I will forgive you

Because I do count

I do matter

I am bigger than the image you have of me

I am stronger

I am more beautiful

And I am infinitely more precious than you thought me

I will forgive you

My forgiveness is not a gift I am giving you

When I forgive you

My forgiveness will be a gift that gives itself to me

Taken from “The Book of Forgiving” by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu

Love.

 

 

Are You A Porcupine or A Teddy Bear?

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

When I’m working with kids, I ask them if they are being a teddy bear or a porcupine. I realized that this question is also effective with adults.

What does it mean to be a teddy bear or a porcupine?

Humans are wired for love and connection. Our deepest desire is to be loved and cared for. This is the reason we buy big houses, desire lots of money, paint our faces, and drive fancy cars. We do all of these things because we think it makes us more attractive and desirable to others. This is actually not true but we are bombarded with this narrative from the time we’re born until we die. It’s hard not to believe that having things or looking a certain way is tied into how lovable we are.

The truth is, we are lovable just as we are right now. We are deserving of love no matter how we look or how much stuff we have. The challenge is so many of us walk around like porcupines as opposed to teddy bears we make it impossible for people to love us as we are. This only feeds the narrative that I am unlovable.

When a porcupine gets scared it pokes to stay safe. This is the same for some people. Some of us will lash out, get defensive, call people names, get self righteous, hit someone, and withhold love when they get scared or sad. This leads the person to a lonely life and a sad life. It’s hard because a lot of porcupines don’t know they are being porcupines, all they know is that they can’t get close to another person. This makes them more sad and more scared and more pokey.

Porcupines are hurtful because they are insecure and lonely.

When a teddy bear gets scared it reaches out for connect to stay safe. Of course, a teddy bear is not a real thing but it is in my head. A teddy bear will say things like: I’m scared I’m going to fail, I’m sad this happened, I need help, I don’t know what to do, I need you to just love me, can I have a hug, I’m so sorry I hurt you, I made a big mistake, I’m in a bad place. The teddy bear is able to reach out lovingly for connection. The teddy bear is vulnerable and accepts that it’s imperfect and will make mistakes or falter in life. The teddy bear doesn’t always know it’s a teddy bear either. The teddy bear is loved, loving, and usually happier.

Teddy bears are compassionate because they know life is hard and they can’t do it alone.

I think that we can all be teddy bears and porcupines. It’s hard when we get scared or sad not to try and defend or protect ourselves. The challenge is defending and protecting limits our ability to connect with others. We connect with others in our vulnerability.

There is a book called How to Hug a Porcupine related to raising adolescents. I think parents of adolescents understand why it is named as such.

“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”

Brené Brown

But For The Grace of God Go I.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40

I frequent a store by my house on the way to work in the morning. Most mornings several men are lined up waiting to buy beer and head across the street to sleep in the park. I often hear the judgemental  comments of the other customers in the store as they watch these men purchase alcohol. It takes all I have inside of me not to school the people around me on compassion.

I think of the great actor Ronald Reagan and how he put hundreds of thousands of people in the streets with his great idea called deinstitutionalization. I think of all the Vietnam veterans that died because of his brilliant cost cutting idea to put these people out. I understand that there was a lot wrong with institutions but putting them on the streets was heartless and cruel.

Sometimes I hear, I’m not going to give the panhandler money because they’re only going to buy alcohol with it. I think, and sometimes have the courage to say, so what if they do?

Who are you to judge these people? I also want to say (or scream rather):

Have you ever had voices in your head scream at you to kill yourself or someone else?

Have you ever endured physical/sexual/emotional abuse?

Have you ever watched your father beat/murder your mother?

Have you ever watched someone die in war?

Have you ever had to kill someone in war?

Have you ever known depression so deep and dark that there is no light?

Have you ever thought for one moment that no one says they want to be an alcoholic sleeping in a park when they grow up?

Have you ever thought that if they don’t get the alcohol they could die from withdrawals?

Have you ever considered that they alcohol is their medicine?

Do you know how hard it is to get mental health treatment in this country?

Would you judge me the same way when I pick up my Lexapro at the pharmacy?

Are you a professional in substance abuse treatment?

Sometimes people who have endured abuses or mental illness say: I didn’t turn to alcohol or drugs so I don’t understand why they did?

I respond: But for the grace of God go you. But, each life is different and we’re not given the same opportunities or bridges out of the darkness. I hope you are grateful for all that has been given to you in this life. I also hope that you are able to extend compassion to those who suffer greatly.

I had lunch with my favorite professor yesterday and she said the simplest and most profound statement (as she always does): Slow down your thinking.

My prayer for these men and women sleeping in the park is that I hope you find peace in your sleep. I hope your dreams are filled with the joys robbed from you in this world.

Love.

 

 “In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.” –Mother Teresa

 

I’m Being Petty.

How I feel matters.

This is probably one of the boldest and courageous statements a human can make.

There is a concept in Buddhism called The Second Arrow. In life, arrows hit us all the time (bad days, arguments, disagreements, bills, car accidents, etc). The first arrow is when something bad happens and we naturally feel badly about what happened. The second arrow is when I say to myself I should not feel the way I feel about what happened. The second arrow is self-harm and only causes us more pain. We often spend more time obsessing over the second arrow than trying to stem the bleeding from the first.

How you feel matters and how I feel matters. And no one, including you, gets to tell you that you should not feel the way you feel. There are enough first arrows hitting us all the time. Let’s try to avoid the second arrow as much as we can.

It’s best to tend to the first arrow, comfort yourself, and ask for comfort from others. Eventually, as with all things, this too shall pass.

Love.

“A wiser course of action is to avoid that second arrow by simply experiencing discomfort without reacting to it. We do this by being mindful — cultivating a patient, non-reactive, curious, and welcoming attitude towards anything in our experience that seems unpleasant.” – Wildmind Buddhist Meditation