Every once in a while, super hot.

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Someone once told me that every 10th padrón pepper is super hot.  I can't remember if it was the farmer market hipster vendor or a foodie friend, but I am intrigued by the implications for daily living.  I love padróns and shishitos.  Smothered in really good olive oil and seasalt and roasted or blistered.  They offer a note of bitter, one of those five flavors we don't get enough of.  Unexpected hot.  Unexpected bitter.  Again, how can we use this as a metaphor for taking life on life's terms.  

We can't predict when a bitter moment is going to sidestep right into our lives.  We don't know what's around the next corner, let alone the next moment.  Everything slippery, no predictability in life.  Padróns are like that.  You are going along, going along and wap, zap, a hot one.  Expecting the same flavor and the same intensity and, bang, that's not what you get. How to not react?  How to stay calm and take the heat and enjoy the ride?  Or not take the heat. And yet be neutral,  nonplussed by the ride.  Dispassionate but not detached. 

 

  

Proud to be Maladjusted

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Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in modern psychology. It is the word “maladjusted.” This word is the ringing cry to modern child psychology. Certainly, we all want to avoid the maladjusted life. In order to have real adjustment within our personalities, we all want the well‐adjusted life in order to avoid neurosis, schizophrenic personalities.But I say to you, my friends, as I move to my conclusion, there are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good‐will will be maladjusted until the good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self‐defeating effects of physical violence…In other words, I’m about convinced now that there is need for a new organization in our world. The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment‐‐men and women who will be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos. Who in the midst of the injustices of his day could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.  --Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

A couple of days after MLK's birthday celebration and the insanity that is Trump, I find that I am carrying this quote around in my back pocket.  It would be actually insane to feel sane amidst this complete insanity.  

Take the Least Natural Grip

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In yoga, often we instruct students to take the least natural grip, interlacing fingers in the funky feeling way.  Over time, we practice this interlace and it doesn't feel all that odd or unnatural.  Proprioceptive adaptability.  Meaning that the feeling becomes familiar, even comfortable.  The position of the body or the movement becomes a bit more assimilated.  Feels normal, dare I say.  

Can this finger interlace be a metaphor for other aspects of life?  Can we translate this into psychological adaptability, resilience, flexibility? Can we find more comfort, neutrality or even ease with the unfamiliar, the foreign, the mystery?  

 

 

Future or Past Warrior Two

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Bear with me, but I find I can make endless metaphoric connections with what happens in yoga class to what happens off the mat, out in the world.  For those of you who frequent sweaty yoga studios, perhaps you can find resonance in what I am about to say.

Warrior II.  That strong, yang-generating side lunge with arms extended from the torso, spouting fire or energy or both out the fingertips.  Knife edge of back foot glued to the mat and front quad firing to maintain that warrior-like stance.  Strong, kick ass, no bullshit stance.  An asana that requires commitment and a nod toward inner ferocity. Tuck your tender away in Warrior II.  No room for it here.   But the torso is often lunging forward as well. Or the torso is hanging back, not quite committed to the pose.   I want to say to students "plumb line your spine right down into the earth, in the middle of your hips, not too much forward and definitely, not leaning back."  

How is Warrior II a metaphor?  We futurize a ton.  Often we harbor future predictions as if they are true and we live in perpetual planning mode.   Or we live in the past.  Warrior II reflects these nodes.  We jut our spine forward or we hold back into the past over the back leg and kinda slump into our Warrior.  

How can we live in this present moment more and practice that in all our poses, not just Warrior, but in moment to moment living?  Nothing in this moment is lacking. Plumb line the present.  Sink your feet in, rest into your pelvis,  and send your breath right through to the center of this moment.  

 

Junkie for Realness

I know it takes a lot of courage to acknowledge your pain. To say to yourself, "Something is not right. I can't pretend anymore. I need help and I don't think I can do it on my own." There is so much pressure in our society to fix our problems on our own and to not air out our dirty laundry.  Once you admit you need help, you are well on your way to healing.

Somebody asked me once why I was a therapist and I joked that I was a junkie for realness. I think we are in a massive crisis in intimacy, trust, and trauma. This crisis is systemic and not just personal. We need realness. I come from a background schooled originally in social psychology and feminism that first locates the problem in society, in our collective historical and familial trauma.  I attempt to help you make sense of it and ultimately heal.  I tend to look at the macro before I look at the micro-- the sociopolitical factors, racism and lack of access, the sexism and lack of empowerment.  Before I look at mental health problems as stemming from mental processes, I look at the body and movement, nourishment and breath and how these factors might influence and interact with  mental functioning.

My primary focus is with women and parents, particularly those with a history of trauma, whether that stems from medical issues, an accident, or physical trauma or sexual assault, harrassment or abuse. Often you might ask yourself what you've done to deserve this; you feel victimized, helpless, hopeless, or worthless. This can be remedied by working through the trauma in a safe way. I strive to empower you to change the way you think about yourself and your life. You might feel wrapped up in your past, or the destructive stories you tell yourself. But you have a choice: once you start to take responsibility for your healing and dominion of your mind and trust yourself, you'll be able to choose a new and more positive narrative. You begin to look at your life through a different lens.

 

 

 

photo:  Donna Insalaco

 

Self-Care without Self-Kindness

Doing the perfunctory self-care routine but without kindness and self-compassion isn't really self-care at all.  Think about it.  Eating something mindfully and with pleasure regardless of the ingredients, is way better than gulping down that super food green smoothie and hating it.  How can we just bring simple mindfulness and lovingkindness to our self-care routines?  Brushing teeth with self-love?  Now, hold it, that might be going a bit too far.  But seriously, I sense that thing we are doing would be much more beneficial to our bodies and minds if we flipped the routine and offered a ray of sunshine and self-love on that 150th vinyasa flow class or that same 'ol hike in the hills.  

It's not really self-care if we do this stuff without pleasure, presence, kindness.  It's going through the motion but not super-charging our batteries, really.  We super-charge with the sweetness.  Even if we do it less often, we bring more quality.*

 

* Forget what I said about teeth brushing however.  Best to do daily, regardless of that ray of sunshine..ha.

Thrivers Is and Is Not

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Thrivers is a support group starting back up again this winter.  Open to women dealing with the effects of a traumatic event(s) such as:

  • An accident
  • Sexual assault or harassment
  • Medical trauma, such as surgery or disease
  • Suicide and unexpected death
  • Witnessing an accident, crime or difficult event.

What Thrivers Is and What Thrivers Is Not

Even though most of us have experienced a trauma or multiple traumas in our lives from the past, this group focuses on present time positive change.

Thrivers is:

A healing circle

A confidential space

A place to get powerful somatic therapy tools and cognitive behavioral tools help us cope in the world and live more zestful lives

A support team of other women who understand

A safety net

A mindfulness container where we learn breathing and simple mind body techniques

A place to challenge our thinking

A place to challenge our behavioral patterns

A place to communicate with other women differently

Thrivers is not:

A place to vent without change.

A place to hash up, review, repeat, re-enact the trauma story

A place to increase your PTSD symptoms

A place in which there is no trust

A place where we can’t trust ourselves to say no, to respond, to be ourselves

It is not mandatory to tell our story in Thrivers. We don't encourage a re-hashing, although it is ok if stories emerge, when you are ready. We encourage you to concurrently do work in individual therapy.

Go from Trauma to Triumph and RECLAIM your JOY!  We each will discover a place within that’s never been hurt, abused or neglected in any way.

 

Smooth Everything Out

Yoga tends to smooth everything out.  Balance the mood, the brain and perhaps the hormones.  I love yoga.  I prescribe it to my patients and practice it on the daily.  I also get bored and cranky at times in my practice. I become forgetful to be mindful and grateful.  But just even doing a standing forward fold and nothing else, or 1:2 ratio breathing tends to help me remember my skin, my breath, this current experience of aliveness.   Believe it or not, I came to yoga prior to sticky mats.  Can you imagine practicing a vigorous vinyasa flow without your mat?  I was introduced to yoga in an aikido dojo where we were required to wear sleeveless t-shirts and balloon shorts.  There were no lulu's and quite frankly no one gave a shit.  We were there for the enlightenment, not the flashiness.  I am reminiscing now about the good old yoga dinosaur days, at least in the US.

I am reminded that the western yoga tradition is no more than 50 years, whereas this vast lineage spans more than 5,000 years.    But there was a purity then in our dinosaur days that I long for.  We had one style, yes, definitely co-opted and bastardized from the original, but yoga nonetheless.  We had one lineage to practice and it was Iyengar.  I am grateful to that earliest of trainings for it's uncompromising exactness and attention to anatomical alignment.  It's like having the basic veggie stock for any soup combo.  One builds on that delicious foundation, the mineral broth of life.  That is what Iyengar yoga gave me. A foundation for not only incorporating other styles of yoga later on in my practice, but a hearty, breath by breath, bone by bone alignment and base for living.  

Hot Homemade Soup and Fresh Bread

“No purpose intervenes between I and You, no greed and no anticipation; and longing itself is changed as it plunges from the dream into appearance. Every means is an obstacle. Only where all means have disintegrated encounters occur.” --Martin Buber

"Excuse me, sir, would you like some hot, homemade soup and fresh bread? You don't have to get up; we'll bring it to you."  

So goes my line as a co-pilot in a roving soup and supplies delivery service for a Bay Area homelessness program.   I volunteer in this capacity once a month.  It is hard work, but never monotonous.  It is routine in our driving route, but never rote, even though I perform the same simple task each time I greet a homeless person at the back of our van.  I get some bread, a few pieces of candy or fruit and ladle a hearty portion of piping hot soup into a cup and hand it off to the mostly grateful person on the street.   It is the same task but never mechanical and I am never bored.  My heart is fully in it.   

I do this for an organization that is 'beyond grass roots.'  It's a one woman show with about 50 volunteers who scaffold her vision and delivery method. I love this gig.  I volunteer elsewhere both in social service sectors and environmental fields. Nothing compares to this monthly act of service.  

What does all this have to running trauma groups for women and being a therapist?  What does this have to do with therapy? 

It has everything to do with being attuned to humanity.  It has everything to do with being human.  Hence it has everything to do with therapy.   And being a witness to trauma.  

For so many years, like others, I did not want to notice the homeless.  I walked around somnambulistic and averted eye contact, rarely offered a smile or a hello.  I just wanted it --the problem and hence I guess the actual people-- quite honestly, to go way, because the issue seemed so much greater than I could fix or tackle.  I didn't believe I could  make some sort of measurable inroad into helping.  I had the privilege not to notice.   I recognize this is coming from my own class and race background as a non-homeless person who has only electively been homeless in the past while living in my VW bug, or my VW camper van or in the university community garden as a student.

In the past, prior to this volunteer position, I walked around my community not fully being in my community.  Because our urban settings are so steeped in pain and trauma, we hunker down, safeguard our hearts and watch suspiciously or self-protectively our purses, backpacks and phones.  I watched for problems. I scanned for how I or my family could potentially be hurt or assaulted.  In the meantime, I didn’t really connect with humanity on the street.  It felt like too much.  Too hard.  Too heart wrenching.  

I now make other choices. I decide to notice.  I offer help and thus help myself in the process. I open my heart and really greet people.  This actually helps me in my daily life. It helps me be more alive and more present.  I know I can’t fix it.  Of course, even though ego wants a nod toward omnipotence, that is not possible. Instead, I can be present and do my small part during my monthly shift serving hot homemade soup and fresh bread.    

This selective noticing of pain and trauma is analogous to the therapeutic process.   Sometimes we notice, or decide to notice and bring mindfulness to our therapeutic work and sometimes we are shut down, defended, flooded, triggered and unable to take in.  And that's ok.

While out on the route, I sometimes feel like I enter briefly into the mental illness or drug addiction of the person I am serving.  Because things happen so quickly at the back of our van, I temporarily feel altered, drunk, off kilter.   Its as if I am so altered, I temporarily enter into the homeless person's system or into the experience of the person.  I feel at times, quite honestly, stunned by this, as I was trained as a psychotherapist in a clinical sterility that required boundaries and separation.  But while serving the homeless, I have an ability to have what Martin Buber so eloquently described as "an “I -Thou” experience in which I hold reverence and non-duality.  The relationship is paramount in that moment.  There is no separation. I feel fully alive.   I believe this is what every person longs for.  A relief from the suffering caused by adherence to the myth of separation.   

So while serving soup, is in those instances, no separation exists,  even though in reality, there is vast separation between me and the person I serve.  I am, for one, not homeless.  But nonetheless, when I enter into the experience, the I-Object is not in focus.  In Buber’s words,

 “The basic word I-You can only be spoken with one’s whole being. The basic word I-It can never be spoken with one’s whole being.” 

In a moment, I offer care and comfort to the homeless person with soup, a blanket, a warm jacket, some socks. This is all I can do and it is always not enough.  But as a simple offering, this hot homemade soup and supplies is enough.  The same goes for therapy.  I offer care and yet I know I cannot fix or change the person's experience.   Good psychotherapy requires a similar presence and a similar letting go of outcomes. It requires that we both open to vulnerability in an I-Thou kind of way. The same occurs with serving the homeless.  One temporarily attunes to the person's experience and enters a vortex of care and lovingkindness.  This is empathy.   This is also therapy. 

 

 

Only Six Ways to Go

Everything we enter into will end. In relationships, romantic or otherwise, I have worked out that there are only six endings.  This is the existential truth of all of our lives. Every relationship we enter into will end.  There are no happy Hollywood endings; there are merely endings. Deaths. Saying goodbye.  I have tried to wrack my brain thinking of other mathematical equations or scenarios. But I have only found six. So, here are they are:  

You die

I die

We perish together

You dump me

I dump you

We mutually end our relationship (rare, but possible)

How then do we live our lives fully, knowing that everything we begin will end?  There is some comfort in knowing, in this universality of experience, that we need to carpe diem the shit out of our lives and our relationships.  We need to love with reckless abandon, knowing we will lose it all eventually.   It is incumbent on us to do so, for we recognize the preciousness of life.  And the peril.  

In light of our collective grief from the Ghost Ship fire, I have been steeped in our community's suffering. How do we bear the unbearable suffering of the friends and families of those young victims? This existential truth, that each relationship we begin will end,  holds no solace in the face of this enormous grief. I do not offer this here as comfort, but merely to acknowledge the pain of our community.

I went to the Lake Merritt vigil three nights after the tragedy and I watched how a professional LA Times photographer snapped shots of the grieving parents and I wept. What a media mockery in the face of these parents' pain. I wanted reverence. I wanted to hold these family members' pain, but knew I couldn't.  I was disgusted by the media blitz.  I tried to keep my heart open to the pain at the vigil.  Mostly everyone was numb.  Some were weeping.  Some were wailing. It was comforting to hug strangers and to know, for that instance, we were not alone.  

No existential analysis can wipe free the attachments of the human heart.  We are all in mourning.  Although I did not know anyone personally at the Ghost Ship, I have heard countless people in my office this past week recount stories of horror and grief.

Yes, there are only six endings.  A universal truth, but not a truth that is easy to bear as we mourn the loss of these 36 vibrant, young artists, social justice activists, students and lovers.     

 

 

photo credit:  Donna Insalaco

 

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Releasing Micro-Traumas in Group Therapy

Having facilitated women’s trauma groups for a while, I have noticed the effect of listening in silence as participants share their stories. The norm in group therapy is to stay silent while others talk. Our female socialization is to further stay quiet, resolute, stoic. Women are socialized to be relational, so we quickly figure out the group rules, implicit and explicit. I recognize this is culturally determined and not all women stay silent, but largely this is my observation.  As a whole, humans are herd animals; we study the pack and quickly learn to adhere to group norms.

In the support groups I facilitate, often there is limited cross talk during check-ins and extended shares. We listen, we might nod, we might say ‘yea’ but mostly we remain silent.  I am concerned about the effects this silence has on the body and mind.  I have begun to label the effect on the body as somatic micro-traumas. 

What is the effect of listening in silence?   The body cannot process all that is arising in group effectively and still be present.  For example, someone might share about their father, or car accident or sexual assault, and of course, we have a reaction.  Our mirror neurons are firing. If we care about the person, our empathy is also firing.  Our previous traumas get reactivated, re-stimulated, triggered.  We might start to dissociate or space out.  We might get a sudden belly ache or headache or leg cramp.  The body is reacting, as it does, which is normal.   We usually call these triggers.   The fancy term is ‘affective dysregulation.’  When we are triggered, we are outside the ‘optimal zone of arousal’ and we fall into hypoarousal or we rev up into hyperarousal.  This means we either space out or become hyper vigilant.   Our bodies then hold a lot of this tension which is experienced as micro-traumas or assaults on the nervous system.     

If we ‘suffer in silence’ as the pre-feminist adage goes, I think we do a disservice to the body and to our ability to be present. We also thwart our healing, further our isolation and don't let others know our reaction and the impact they have on us.  This reinforces the original trauma, where it is common to not show our reaction, vulnerability and wounding.  

Specifically, I have begun to support participants to notice their micro-traumas and move them through their bodies as they are occurring.  How to do this?  

Having been a student and teacher of yoga for a while, I have begun to incorporate yogic and somatic techniques into the beginning and end of each trauma group session.  We breathe, we meditate, we do a body scan, we try the 9 Gamut in EFT,  we listening to the Tibetan singing bowl for auditory attunement or we try other mind body techniques.  These practices are offered as a way of gaining awareness and presence in the here and now as well as a way of clearing out what came before in our day and offering ourselves fully to the group process. 

It dawned on me that in my own yoga and exercise classes and throughout my day, I have been using these techniques as a reset.   I reset my mind and focus.  I reset my body for better alignment.   Although at times, perhaps socially unacceptable, I do it anyway and don’t worry what others may think.  

In my groups, I encourage participants to incorporate these practices as their own mini resets.  To release and move through their body whatever is arising.  To do this even when another is sharing.   This is not easy.  The socialization is like a magnet pulling us back to old patterns learned in classroom settings and work meetings.  We worry that we might distract the participant who is sharing from her experience and from deepening into her own awareness of what is arising.  We worry we will be disruptive.  

To not reset is actually a disservice to yourself and the group.  To reset from these micro-traumas is to help us come back to ourselves and the group.  It helps us bring more aliveness and more presence to what is happening in group.  Can we toggle back and forth between our own inner experience and that of the women sharing?  Can we titrate our experience better and not be flooded?  Can we ease into the experience with breath?  With compassion?  With mindfulness?  Can we create our group culture, family milieu or work place environment to normalize these mini-resets?  To breathe and make sounds?

In the next blog, I will give examples of some of these techniques.  Until then, just try a 1:2 ratio breath.  Inhale to a count of 4 and double the exhale to a count of 8.  If you don’t enjoy counting your breath, just lengthen the exhalation.  Whenever we exhale for a longer count, we move our nervous system away from the fight, flight, freeze patterns of the sympathetic nervous system and toward the rest and digest,  relaxation response of the parasympathetic nervous system.  Try it.   Enjoy the presence.  Relax into the relaxation.  

 

 

How I Develop My Multicultural Lens

She asked in the interview, the only South Asian woman, amidst three white people, “How I develop my multicultural lens while working with people from various backgrounds.”

I froze.  My white guilt-turned dissociative haze of a brain would not work for me on cue, on command.  What was the right answer?  I went to my index of all the ways I had clinically helped people from the non-dominant experience, the books I read, the conferences I attended.  I rattled them off.  At once I knew I was both inadequate and a fake.  This is not the answer I wanted to hear myself saying nor could I guess it was the answer she wanted either.  

What I really wanted to say:  

I sit with not knowing shit.  I am at times humbled by not knowing.  The gauze of racial superiority and the fortress of privilege does not allow me to see all this. Privilege wants me to not see, but instead to glare, to strain my sight past the wrongs. My privilege wants to justify, deny, minimize.  But when I admit I don’t know anything, the wrongs are right by my side and even inside of me.  I sit with all the wrongs.. And this is where it hurts the most for us white folks.  To sit and for an instant, feel it.   

I sit in the shit of not knowing anything about the other person’s experience, even if I’ve read the books and have gone to the conferences and have done a lot of unlearning, relearning, ally work, multicultural competence trainings. I still don’t know anything really.  This is where my most humble self emerges if only for a wee moment.    All I know is I know I don’t know, even if my ego thinks it knows. It’s just a way of comforting me out of the guilt and the pain.  And the sense of separation.  Sometimes, admittedly we don't want to feel that bad. Who does?  I don't like the feeling of discomfort, but quite frankly, I wouldn't want to feel any other way.  

I also admittedly and importantly sit in self-love, because if I do not embrace my own cultural roots -- the bad and the ugly and the sweet and the sublime --I am not doing anybody any good.  I need to be self-loving in order to be the best ally I can be.  In order to model self-love for others and keep my heart open.

This clearly was my only answer.

 

 

Embedded in a Question is a Statement

My yoga teacher asked to an obediently silent class recently, "How we all doing tonight?...Good?"  with an inflection in her voice that signaled the only answer should be "Great.  Fine.  Ok.  Hanging in there."   

Often we embed statements inside our questions.  Clearly, my yoga teacher was doing that; meaning the only right answer was yes, in fact, we are all doing great.

Notice the statement embedded in a question. 

Here's some examples, inflection in the voice inferred by the italics.

  • Do you really want to go out to eat tonight?
  • Do you think I look fat in this dress?  (See the entire blog dedicated to this question)
  • Don’t you think you’d rather….When we hear this line, invariably the questioner is speaking about  themselves and their rather.  They would rather do something else.

How can I be more direct in my communication and thus more effective?  How can message sent be truly the message I wanted to send?  How might I be obstaclizing (made up word I use frequently) and hindering my truth from emerging? Do I tell myself a narrative that I don’t have a right to make a declarative statement?   I don’t deserve to ask for what I want in statement form.   Do I have to be convoluted and obtuse in proclaiming what I want?  Perhaps in order to be heard, I think this is the case.  

All questions worth pondering.  Words, questions, statements all worthy of scrutiny and gentle architectural overhaul.  

 

Honey, do I look fat in this dress?

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Every answer is a wrong answer.  One is a caught between a rock and a hard place, damned if you do and damned if you don’t with the answer.  It’s a minefield.  Better to just keep your lips zipped and hazard hostility.  

If you answer, “No, sweetheart, you look fabulous,” the incredulous retort will be, “No, I don’t.  You’re lying.”

If you answer, "Well, it's not the most flattering line for your figure,” then the partner lets it rip with "How dare you call me fat. You are so sizest or what.”   

Embedded in the question is a statement.  I've talked about this before in other blog posts.  It goes like this:

I kinda feel fat in this dress and I want you to validate my experience.

I feel insecure and I want you to validate that I am hot even though I don't feel hot.

I actually am fat and I'm ok with that.  I don't need your validation and I don't actually want you to lie to me.  

I am not sure how I feel.  I just want you to be my external referent, my accepting, loving, validating mirror, even though what you might say, I will potentially cut down and argue against.  Again,  it's a 'no win' situation.   

The question needs to be reframed into a transparent statement:  “Honey, I’m feeling insecure and yucky.  I recognize that no amount of reassurance is going to ease my distress, but nonetheless, I’d love you to feed back to me all the things you love about me so I can attempt, with your help,  to recover my self esteem and feel better about myself.”

Ultimately it’s an inside job, but we also need some shoring up, some sprucing up and some no-holds-barred validation from those who love us. 

 

The Sunglasses Effect

Often over the years I've noticed toward the end of the session, clients begin to put on their sunglasses while still on the couch or before we reach the doorhandle together. This makes sense to me, as it affords the client a bit of privacy as a way of preparing to go back out into a world that is often harsh and cruel.  When someone feels raw and vulnerable or has been crying, sunglasses are a shield.   

Our world doesn't have the emotional refueling stations, way stations and drop off locations to feel our feelings and get support whenever we need to on a dime. Instead the onus is on us to shield our emotions and our vulnerability.   I'm visualizing the old fashioned filling station in those 50's and 60's movies in which attendants would come out and fill one's tank with gas, wipe the windshield and at times offer a smile.  We need these refueling stations for our hearts.   We need "Got Empathy" booths  set up in every town and city.  Perhaps utopian, but completely necessary nonetheless.  I love the community acupuncture movement in which patients receive low fee acupuncture sessions on a lazy boy recliner in a large group room.  I always wanted something like this for mental health patients as well, HIPPA and confidentiality requirements not withstanding.   

What would a world be like in which we could emote freely, like babies do, lungs wailing, ribcages billowing? Often we can do this in the sanctuary of therapy but then we go out into the world so scary and harsh.  Hence the sunglasses come on before one gets back past the waiting room.    

In the Reichian bodywork and breath work workshops I have trained in, participants experience the full range of emotional release, should the need arise.  From specific breathing exercises, held emotions are released. Vulnerability is a precious gift, tantamount to the deepest form of healing.  A 'let it rip' freedom is the norm in these Reichian workshops.  The client is supported to allow the full arc of feelings to rise and then pass away.    This is not for everyone.  For many, the inhibition is understandable.  However, if we see babies wail, why can't adult babies do the same?

I am sad and disappointed in a world that unquestionably requires sunglasses. I am not condemning the client; I am condemning our society.   It is not a problem residing in the client. It is a problem in a restrictive society with a narrow range of acceptable behaviors.  A  society disabled by decorum and proper conduct.  

 

I Give My Daughter Back Her Pancreas

On my daughter's 17th birthday, I gave her a few small gifts and then, at the breakfast table, I  gave her the biggest gift I could ever give.  I gave her back her pancreas.  I wrote her a letter and said:

"It is neither grand nor expensive, but it is probably the best gift I could give you.  For over nine years, I have nagged, cajoled, begged, pleaded with you about your diabetes management. On this day, your 17th birthday, one year away from legal adulthood, I do something different.  Today is the day I give you back your diabetes.  You are 17 years old now and I have to trust you have the reins.   I do trust you have the reins and can manage your diabetes on your own."    

I wish I could tell you I stuck to my guns and never pulled rank on her pancreas again.  This would be false.  It's been a gradual decrease toward a full-on, screeching  halt in helicoptering.  Moms of kids with chronic medical conditions will get what I'm saying right now.  We wrote the book on helicopter parenting because we had to -- or so we told ourselves.

When my daughter and I went to Accepted Students Day at her newly chosen college, we met with Accessibility Services and got trainings on how to transition to college successfully with a disability or chronic illness.  Us parents were getting trainings on how to transition too.  I have to say it wasn't easy. The director of the Accessibility Services was looking right at me when she said, "Parents, you need to let..." I fogged out at this point.  All parents need to let their children go.  Those of us who have been in and out of the hospital with our kids, have a particular form of letting go to do.  It's called 'worry sick'  letting go.  It's called  the  hypervigilant, 'when am I going to get the phone call' letting go, it's 'remembering all the times of terror' letting go.  It actually isn't letting go at all.  Let's be honest.  I still carry hordes of food in my car, low blood sugar supplies in my bag and pack like I am toting a toddler.  When my child-- my woman-child -- doesn't even carry her low blood sugar supplies, let alone her insulin, I get sick to my stomach.  Chronic illness is sometimes harder on the parent than the kid.  We get sick fast too.  We need lots of self care, yoga, breathing, gardening, hiking.   Lots of support to get us through or else we die young.  

I am writing this blog for myself as a reminder, a cheat sheet, a manifesto. Let go. Let go. Let go.  I am also writing for other parents of kids with special needs.  Don't you hate that catch all term --special needs? Nonetheless, I'm writing to say that I am committed to letting my child find her way, even when I fail over and over again to loosen or release the reins.  Middle of the night blood sugar checks for all those years of childhood are quite a habit to break.  Trusting that my daughter has her diabetes down, even when she doesn't, is the real lesson.  

My good friend said to me, "Laine, you need to let her have a medical emergency here in the Bay Area, where you are close, so that she learns before she goes back east to college."  Yes, learn lessons the hard way.  The school of hard knocks.  Blah blah blah.  But when you are dealing with a life or death thing or a perceived life threatening thing, then the 'learn it the hard way' pedagogy doesn't really cut it.  Get it right the first time, there are no redo's for some kids.  Or are there?  We parents need to take ourselves off the edge of the cliff.  It doesn't help our kids. They need calm and measured parents for the long haul.  Remember the adage, "just trust you child."  This served us well for potty training and eating solids.  Let's assume there is transferable skill for chronic medical condition management in teenagers and young adults.

So, I give you back your pancreas, daughter of mine.  Enjoy it.  Partially functioning and partially not, it is your pancreas.  And it's your wild and amazing ride.   

 

Flickr CC Cred:  Erin Stevenson O'Connor

Period Instead of Semicolon

Often I nudge clients to put a period at the end of their metaphoric sentence instead of a semicolon.  Let me explain.  Often we don't want to fully end things.  We don't want to truly finish up.  Especially with relationships.  We want to kinda leave the door sorta half open.  Hence, the semicolon.  Notice the ways in which you semicolon your life and is that working for you?  Does it serve you?  

What would semicolon-ing look like as opposed to perioding?  (I recognize I am taking liberties here with the English language which is a popular trend -- to make a verb out of any wayward noun).  

Here are some semicolon clues:

Do you say you'll come back but never do?

Are you afraid to tell the truth and deal with the ending?

Do you hope something will change, even though it hasn't and you are really done and don't have any more energy to go back into the relationship?  You have done all you can.

Are you afraid what's underneath the truth?  Underneath and behind the void?   

Was completion never modeled for you in your family? How to complete in earnest?  How to end with integrity?  A job, a relationship, therapy.  

How have you dealt with death in the past?  Because to really place a metaphoric period at the end of your sentence, you are saying to yourself, the person and the world, you have the strength and courage to face the ending.    You can deal with death of the relationship and the existential awareness of the impermanence of all life.  

To Semicolon, definition: To be done but act like you aren't. To hope and wish and pray that you aren't done.  To be the recipient of someone else's 'doneness' and be in denial and therefore not move on.  To hope they will come back.  

To Period, definition:  To complete. To finish up.  To say to yourself that you are done.  To move on.  To grieve and say good bye.  

cc photo cred: Tom Magliery

Check for Readiness

The other day my neighbor started to launch into an issue with me early in the morning:  "So, Laine, did you get my email and what did you think about..."  Hand on car door, bag and coffee in the other, clearly I was rushing to get out the door to work.  Part of me wanted to say, "Can't you see now is not a good time to talk."  Another part wanted to rush to judgment, "What a narcissist!"   But what I really wanted was something else.  

I want everyone to check for readiness.   We'd love if others had the ability to check for readiness, so we don't have to cut them off with, "Hey, now's not the best time.  I'm hard pressed for time so can we talk tomorrow?"  Instead we crave for others to check if we are available to receive their communication.   We desire for others ask if it's a good time to talk about a particular subject.  We then get to fully say "sure" and put our listening caps on.  The  interaction is then 100% yes for both parties.  Short of that, we are not present, we're resentful or tuned out.  

Checking for readiness is a skill I learned in NVC.  I love to teach couples and kids this technique.   

A simple formula:

Time + Content in a ? Format

It looks like this:  "Hey, Laine, I'd love to talk with you about the .... (Content)  tonight at 6pm (Time).  Would this work for you?  

Or

I need some feedback about that proposal (Content) I sent you.  Would you be available to talk with me about it now (Time)?

Or

I am still really upset about that fight (Content) we had last night.  Can we talk about it again tonight  (Time, although not quite specific)  when we get back from work?

Or

I'm in the middle of making dinner.  I'd prefer if you (to your 6 year old) would check with me first to see if I am available to play Lego's with you right now.   

It is such a relief to know that message sent can be message received.  That you on the other end --the recipient -- are available to engage with me at a certain time over a certain issue, because I checked in with you before hand and gave you a heads up as to the content.  I checked for readiness.  You responded with either a yes or a no.  But at least I didn't plow ahead and deliver my content without knowing your availability.  It's like delivering a truck load of compost (manure) without a garden to put it in.  It's more like unloading shit on a platter, because the person on the other end doesn't want it.  It's not compost to help the garden grow.  It's unwanted shit.   

Choice.  I want choice when I receive communication from you.  

And I need your 100% presence in order for me to deliver the communication.  

Check for readiness.  

Neutrality When All Else Fails

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A great deal of what I offer in these blog posts, I suggest to clients in session. A lot of these techniques I apply in my daily life.  As a great teacher once said, "how we do one thing is how we do everything."  I attempt to do the things I teach. I don't always make the mark.  I fail and forgive myself over and over again.  If I don't try nonetheless to do the stuff I suggest, my authenticity and transparency as a healer and a human would hit the dirt.

So here's my current suggestion:

At the very least try neutrality.  When we can't be kind or nice, try being neutral.  We don't have to be buttery and warm.  We can be authentically neutral.  I tell my daughters, when snark is sneaking into the household, just be neutral.  Deliver your words in a neutral tone.  You could still be mad or upset, but try neutrality in tone and manner and see what it gets you.  

We pendulum swing either toward nicey nice or super snarky.  We then feel crappy about ourselves in either delivery.  One is saccharine sweet, inauthentic and obligatory and the other is down right mean.  We could slide into neutral, like a car, shifting into a stance of pure delivery of content and not much else. Barebones neutrality.  Sometimes, this is the path of least resistance and takes the least amount of emotional energy.  It also takes skill and mindfulness to remember that neutrality is an option.  We want to snark because snarkiness makes us feel powerful, superior, self-righteous and accusatory.  On the flip side, we want to be nice and avoid conflict, even if nice is not what we feel.  

Try neutral.  Neutral words, neutral tone. As David Burns says, check your ego at the door and try something new. This approach can still be authentic and convey your thoughts and has high probability of getting your message across.   Try reflecting back with observables --pure, unadulterated observations --meaning what you heard someone say or do, not your interpretation of their behavior.  Try neutrality when all else fails.  

Mansplaining

I was driving the other day and found myself being mansplained.  A term made popular by Rebecca Solnit, in her book, Men Explain Things to Me,  but certainly not originated by her. 

Mansplaining, wiki def:  a [combo] of the words man and explaining, defined as "to explain something to someone, typically a man to woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing." Lily Rothman of The Atlantic defines it as "explaining without regard to the fact that the explainee knows more than the explainer, often done by a man to a woman," and Rebecca Solnit ascribes the phenomenon to a combination of "overconfidence and cluelessness" that some men display.

So back to my story.  I was in the wrong lane. I turned to the  parallel car to ask if I could cut in while at a red light.  The guy in the car was not willing to graciously grant me entrance without first explaining the error in my driving ways.    I thanked him for his wisdom but then decided I wouldn't take him up on his willingness to let me into the queue now that I was fully reprimanded.  One ego butting heads with another, I suppose.   I went to the back of the car line but somehow came up to this guy again.  

As someone who at times wants to get the last word in, I then womansplained (my own made up word, or so I thought, but Urban Dictionary beat me to the punch. More on womansplaining in a future blog).  I told him it was sexist to mansplain to a woman about her driving behavior and he promptly delivered the final classic line of "Go to hell, bitch."  Ah, just another day in the Bay.  I took the high road at this point, zipped my lips and let my mansplaining fellow traveller have the final final.  

Not even my finest NVC (Nonviolent Communication) could have prepared me for a smooth sailing tête-à-tête that day.  That guy was in his unconscious patterning and so was I.  When threatened, do onto others, was my limbic brain's response.  His reaction was classic yet subtle male dominant socialization and subtext.  Tell the woman what she did wrong as if we do not have a mind of our own to figure out the error of our ways.   Or worse, we actually do have a mind but need a man to translate our mish mash of neural synapses for us.  

What can we harvest from this 'not quite worth the blog space' interaction?  Stop topping a guy with my seemingly superior intellect and ego?  Ha.   Help men to be super choose-y with their mansplaining free passes?  Only use my womansplaining when there is visible points to score?  Meaning -- only outwardly analyze the situation when I can guarantee a bullseye? What are the points to score anyway and who's counting?  What's a bullseye here?  It would need to be, as we say, a teachable moment.    Message sent has to be message received.  I have to be able to get my point across.  If not, I get a 'go to hell, bitch'  or worse, "fuck you, bitch" which does nothing to advance my agenda or the agenda of many a woman who has been mansplained throughout the annals of time.   

In retrospect, what could I have said using NVC vernacular?   Observation.  Feeling.  Need.  Request.   Here's the NVC template response back at the dude:   

"When you tell me specifically 'you shouldn't have gotten in that lane, blah blah' (Observation), I feel dismayed and hurt (Feeling) as my needs for support and solidarity in our womanist struggle for self determination, freedom of thought, speech and access to the world were not met (Needs).  Would you be willing to read Rebecca Solnit's book and let me know how it made you feel and what you gleaned from it such that you could curb your mansplaining ways by 50%?" (Request).  

Somehow NVC doesn't always cut it and "Fuck you bitch" to my fantasy retort, "Fuck you asshole." seems to nail it.  Violence begets more violence.  And so the world turns.  

Flickr CC pic cred:  Jason Carlin