Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Holiday Grief 101

Bursting forth at the seams, her dress fit too tightly.
Overwhelmed and overburdened with affectation,
The buttons popped, the zipper broke.
Another Christmas Day, full and rich.

No longer able to fit into these clothes,
How will she dress?
What adornment, what accessories can
Continue to hide her vehemence, her fear and rage?

A suit of armor, a bikini, or a straight jacket? 
An aging hippie dress, or inappropriate leggings
That may show her age but not good taste.
What outer layer can envelope her?

Perhaps a cloak, a drape, a poncho,
Scarves wound round and round,
Gloves for hands and boots for feet,
At least she won’t get cold.

Protected and enclosed, she enters the next
Party, smiling in agony and anxiety,
Misery, tears and hope.
Maybe this gathering will be better.

Alas, the people attending this party are
No better than the ones at the last.
Maybe she should just be by herself, 
At home, isolated, withdrawn, alone.

Entering into this safer world, she cries out
Wanting, longing for love and comfort,
Hating the way she is, so sensitive and
Pained by every day life.

Her pets are good company, nurturing her well.
A good book plays the music of
Her soul, getting through another holiday, 
Another time, another life.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Holiday Dream for an Effective Government

While listening to TV news analysts and political comedians lately, I am appalled once again that our government is so inefficient and full of rampant and radical divisions. Our leaders fight with each other, like elementary school kids at recess, blaming each other for the state of our nation, both sides feeling bullied by the other. Is this is a battle to the death, a civil war that pits each one of us against the other?  I have a dream that does not include bullying.

At first, I dream about a government with the majority of its leaders being women who look like me.  I feel cozy and nurtured in this dream, and I see things getting done, bills being passed, laws being implemented and evaluated effectively.  But then, the dream changes to a more powerful proposition.

My dream transforms to include not only women as leaders but some men too. Not only white women, but women and men of color, of different races, backgrounds, creeds and sexual orientations.  This dream includes people of all genders plus young people who are committed to working together in multigenerational and multicultural teams.

These excellent leaders create a system for effective communications with their constituents, asking for input and representing rather than following. They care about all people no matter whether they are rich or poor.  Corporations cannot control them and they do what is best for all of the people they serve, not just for the business sector.

In my dream, we have a government of the People, by the People, and for the People.  But, I wonder if we can truly implement such a dream? We have moved so far away from this dream, that many have turned away from politics, believing that our government will never change so why even get involved?  That way lies madness. 

Do we leave decisions that affect each of our lives up to people who campaign for a living?  Leave our children to grow up in a world where we don’t count, we don’t have any power to help our leaders make life long decisions about how we work, what we eat, where we sleep, how we educate our children, and how our children get sent off to wars to fight our battles in other lands?  Our battles that are focused mostly on economic desires, and perhaps greed? 

My dream has an ending.  But, getting to that ending entails a lot of tough, hard work.  It calls for us all to leave our homes and engage with others about what we think would be good for our country. In my holiday dream, I see everyone having the energy, time, interest and enthusiasm for helping us all help each one of us, realizing that if we don’t work together, someone else will make decisions for us. And then, we cannot live in a free democracy.  I hope it is not too late.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

As Our Bodies Change....

Maybe I am just feeling my age more than usual on this chilly morning, but I have noticed that my peers and I are not just viewing our bodies as changing, we are dealing with aging in all aspects of our lives: mentally, spiritually, economically, emotionally, in all ways. 
At my age, some of us complain about our sagging faces, bottoms and breasts, and we yearn to look like our children who have such smooth and healthy looking skin.  What we would give to be young again but only if we could bring along the wisdom that we have now, a product of many experiences, decisions, and choices in life. Many of my peers groan about our economy and about the continual injustices in our world, in our nation and in our town.  We may still be searching spiritually, or we have come to a more peaceful place with our devotional lives, having integrated much along the way, and hopefully still with curiosity about what’s next. The Great Mystery is just that for some of us: a mystery to explore and wonder about, and we are not quite so fearful about the unknown as we once were.
We call ourselves mentors now instead of students, we might like to see ourselves as old crones or wizards as we spout off our views, theories and ideas to the world and to younger folks in particular.  I believe we can have deeper relationships with ourselves and with others at this stage of life. We can wade through conflict at least a little better than we used to, and we have more compassion perhaps than ever before.
We may no longer be seen as sexual beings by others, but we may feel and act more sexual and romantic than ever before, more comfortable with ourselves and our partners.  But, in contrast, the world may see us as grandparents or elders rather than as nubile nymphs.
What do we do with all our smarts and somewhat integrated selves?  Let me get more personal: what is my calling now, besides my profession which I both love and enjoy?  What passion do I have for acting on my values and hopes about the transformation of humanity?  Where will I put my energy in the coming years?  Will I just flow along and let come what may, or will I go to the other extreme and get obsessive about planning, setting goals, mapping out my wished-for future? 
What do you do, what do you plan, what do you hope for as you watch your children grow up and have families of their own? What are your interests and joys while you watch your parents age and die, or while you grieve their passing away from this physical realm?  How long will we need to work for pay, and will retirement ever really be an option when it used to be the norm?
Back to our physical bodies.  How do we make peace with our bodies, our faces, our hands and all those parts that show the gravity of our situation, the lower amount of energy, the settling in our bones?  Do we cut our bodies up, stretch and pull our skin like straightening out a wrinkled carpet, or do we honor these creases, these bags and sags, and watch movies featuring Judi Dench so that we can see that there is truly beauty in an old face that hasn’t been filled in or botox-ed out?
My holiday wishes for you are:  
  •  I hope you will love yourself, your mind and your body as much as you can. Be gentle about the changes that are happening.
  •  I hope you will know that numerical age is not the same as the age we feel, and sometimes you can be shocked by mirrors and photographs of yourself because you feel so much younger than you look.  Maybe that is better than the alternative.
  • Use your wisdom and experience and help others who are younger or who struggle. We have a lot to teach and give to others at this age but we may want to wait until we are asked before offering our excellent advice.
  • Find some activity you enjoy and just do it. Stop working so hard, work smarter but not longer.
  • Relax more and enjoy yourself and others.  No one else can do that for you. It is time to be self-centered (within limits) and do for yourself instead of only doing for others.
That’s enough.  I wish you the best, no matter how old you are!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Dreams: They can haunt us or help us

 I awoke this morning, having dreamt about competition with a woman for a man. High drama, lusty and frightening. I screamed at this vicious woman while she tried to take my man. He claimed he was mine forever, that she was just a harpy, not to worry. At the end of the dream, she was dead.

After awaking, I was partly horrified and partly stunned. Why did I dream such a dream? I can interpret this dream in numerous ways. Maybe I was fighting against the loss of a loved one, scared he would be taken away by some strange, angry woman. Perhaps I was feeling insecure and needed my man to play the hero, slay the dragon, that Medusa whose head writhed with snakes. Maybe I wanted to kill her, a Hunger Games type of theme: it's either you or me and one of us has to go. We can't both share him and live. Or, perhaps it was a part of me struggling with myself.

I can view the dream as having to do with my family of origin where my sister and I competed for our parents' attention and love. Or, this could be a classic Oedipal or Electra dream, and I am competing with my mother for my father's love. Or, I may have been competing with my father for my mother's love, who knows? What does this dream mean? All of the above, none of the above, and probably more.

Dreams are like snowflakes or fingerprints, each unique but with themes, threads that weave a tapestry over time about our unconscious lives. Dreams can be mirrors of our humanness, or windows into our souls.
What do you dream about? Being chased, or being naked in front of a class where you are supposed to lead, teach or entertain? My favorite dreams are about my stretching out my arms and flying free, or being pregnant.

Dreams may be metaphorical stories like intriguing fiction or wise tomes. We may speak to and listen to our gods while we dream, or we may sort out anecdotal events of the day. Some think that dreams are just neurons firing in our brains, chemical reactions with no real meanings.

I tend to view dreams as messages to our conscious minds from deep within.They may also have a transpersonal element to them, the divine speaking through code. I engaged in a battle to the death last night in my dream. What an archetypal journey, filled with desire, with fear, loss and sacrifice.

Exploration, awareness and understanding are keys to the mysteries of our dreams. Play with your dreams, talk to them, wonder about them. Associate freely to the images and put yourself in each part of the dream, imagining a part of yourself in each character, each place and action. What are your dreams telling you? Are they only haunting you or can they help you while you reflect on the present, the past and the future?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Is this another Civil War or Civil Rights Movement?

Is our country participating in another Civil War, or another Civil Rights Movement?

The media uses words like hijack, hostage-taking, ransom and standing down. These terrorist-type, war-like words reflect what Americans have been doing to each other lately: fighting over values, over racial and class issues, over right and wrong. Some say we have not been this polarized since the Civil War.

The government shutdown is reminiscent of the Civil Rights Movement and before, when the Ku Klux Klan acted like vigilante warriors, out for blood, seeking to silence any voices that differed from theirs. The Klan performed all sorts of horrific acts of violence. Maybe more metaphorical, the government shutdown has also been highly expensive, risky, and dangerous.

Picture the Tea Party as the KKK. We beg them to be empathetic about the needs of the poor and the oppressed, but their ears are clogged with hate and fear-filled rhetoric, and they are unable or unwilling to discuss the issues. The Civil War was connected to slavery like our current times contain actions like Stop and Frisk and massive incarceration of black and brown people. And, let’s not forget the color of our President’s skin. Hasn’t that been an underlying trigger that has inflamed these extremists?

A minority of Republicans, the Tea Party, took ObamaCare and the country hostage. Why would they not negotiate for so many days, mediating the conflicts and developing a plan for all Americans? We can blame the left, we can blame the right, but maybe we need to listen to those in the middle who might have made the most sense of all.

Sometimes, human beings divide and conquer. Our great nation’s history includes our ancestors’ finding this new land and stealing it from its residents. We fought battle after battle with the American Indians, pushing them farther and farther west and then we confined them to reservations (like we did with the Japanese after WWII), as if they were less than human, while white European Americans reigned. I thought our ancestors came to this country to create a different kind of government, one led by the people, for the people.
Instead, our government is run by those with the deepest pockets. Elections are won by those with the most money. This is no longer a democracy. The term, oligarchy, comes to mind.

Our country was founded on violence and exploitation and since then we fought a bitter Civil War with more Americans being killed than in all our other wars combined. Fifty plus years ago, there was a Civil Rights Movement. We desperately need to create change within our society and our systems so that all of us are not held hostage by the few loudest voices, the biggest money, and the most sensational spin. If this is war, at least let it be nonviolent. And, instead of the winner take all, maybe we can share some of the wealth. 

Cohousing creates family you can choose

Imagine walking into a room and meeting your new family. As an adult. While entering the room, various people reach out to you and you see a few familiar faces. You sense the welcome and the curiosity of these 20+ people sharing delicious, home-cooked food.
This has been my experience while exploring a brand new concept in Nashville, its first Cohousing community, Germantown Commons of Tennessee, LLC, which is located at the corner of 5th and Taylor. This idea appeals to me and my family partly because of the intentional nature of this Cohousing community.

There are only120 Cohousing developments in the United States. Research tells us that living in community with others often prompts a long and healthy life. Perhaps “it takes a village to raise a child” pertains to even us adults.

Cohousing neighborhoods are privately owned homes clustered around shared open space and common facilities. Cars are parked outside the cluster for green space, activities and safety for children. The core values of this community are environmental sustainability, smaller homes, green building attributes, and renewable energy systems. The Cohousing model offers social opportunities, shared responsibilities, privacy, and economic benefits to those involved.

As I think about the people involved in the Germantown Commons, I see ethically just and socially active individuals who seek comfort and enjoyment while sharing meals and/or various activities together. Each of those I have met have been interesting and intriguing people, and watching them learn to communicate and process all that comes with building a home together makes for dynamics similar to those within our families of origin.

The difference though is that these people self-select. They choose to be part of this pioneering group that hearkens back to the old family compound, the extended family that lived together, worked together and built a life for themselves. We don’t choose our families but we can choose to participate in another kind of family, one that we explore first, learn all about, and as we get to know the systems and people, we may decide to join them, or not.

Diana Sullivan, a real estate broker and founding member of the Germantown Commons, says it best: “Cohousing is different. Instead of a developer leading this, it is the residents who initiate, design and partially fund the development.”

The Germantown Commons seeks to make decisions by consensus and by working through any and all issues until solutions are discovered. If you are at all interested in this possibility, please review the website: (www.GermantownCohousing.com). You may just find yourself a new family! 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Hearing Violence inside our Heads

After Newtown’s tragedy and the recent killing of 13 people in Washington, DC, some of us focus on gun use in the hands of mentally ill shooters. Others cringe and now fear anyone with mental health issues. We all want to blame someone or something for these horrors, but unfortunately, our culture itself, including all of us, may be involved.
The New York Times published an article on 9/19/2013 entitled, “The Violence in our Heads” by T. M. Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford. She writes about a study that compared the voices that American schizophrenics’ heard to those in Chennai, India. The researchers found that American “voices” are far more violent than are those voices from India. She suggests that not only do we have a culture of violence here in America, but schizophrenics have incorporated this violence and it plays out in the voices that they hear.
In this study schizophrenics in India heard voices that commanded them to do chores, or sometimes something seemingly disgusting or sexual, whereas Americans heard voices commanding them to do horrific acts of violence, including cutting up people, drinking their blood or killing themselves. Some say the media is to blame but perhaps the media only reflects us, our whole culture.
We all have “voices” inside our heads, surely different in quality and type from the voices schizophrenics hear. Who hasn’t heard an internal critical comment when they make mistakes? Many people in all parts of the world “hear” a inner running commentary about life. Some people who have been traumatized can struggle with demanding and condemning internal voices, but most everyone hears some variation on the theme that we are not good enough, pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, or rich enough, something along those lines.
Is there any way that America can change its culture of violence, the culture that we and our children and grandchildren experience? Is there any possible way to grow up healthy in such an environment?
Many people go to psychotherapists and psychiatrists to find ways to handle their internal distresses, and therapy and psychiatry can help in some ways. But, we need to change our whole culture including our families, our schools, our economic inequities, our institutions, and our government, and how this government carries out its mission to protect its people. For instance, most people did not want to go to war in Syria, however, when a unexpected diplomatic solution was found, many people were livid that we did not fight, did not fire missiles and kill all kinds of people to teach that dictator a lesson.
I hope it is not too late for us to find some ways to make sweeping changes to our culture so that violence is not the most vivid voice in our country’s schizophrenics’ minds - or, in ours. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Pilgrimage for Jobs, Equity, and Fairness

Nashville is proud of its civil rights history. The Freedom Riders and other college students, who conducted sit-in’s in the 1960’s, gave their energy, time and hearts to the civil rights movement here in the South.

Several groups in Nashville advocate for the disadvantaged much like during the civil rights movement, focusing on the rights of immigrants, women, minorities, and searching for racial and economic fairness. Others focus on poverty, hunger, children and youth, human rights, and the cradle to prison pipeline including nonprofits who work with felons, the impoverished, the disabled, the elderly and the needy. Nashville should be proud of these programs and creating a more coordinated and cooperative collaboration among all these services can benefit us all.

Now, a Pilgrimage March will be held in Nashville on July 21 - 23, 2o13. The Pilgrimage is modeled after the Gandhi Salt March in 1930 and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Selma to Montgomery campaign prompting The Voting Rights Act of 1965. Several activists will begin a 2-1/2 day, 20+ mile march walking from the MLK bridge throughout Nashville, then downtown for a press conference at 4:30 PM on Tuesday, July 23rd. To shed light on communities with entrenched poverty, Pilgrimage Hosts will offer testimonials at 13 stops along the way, particularly in some of Nashville’s most impoverished areas like public housing developments. Throughout the march church and community leaders, residents and activists will present their views of these current struggles. This march will follow the principles of nonviolence taught by Ghandi and King. Everyone who is committed to nonviolent action is invited to participate in the march.

On July 1st, the Tennessean published an article by Sekou Franklin, PhD, one of the leaders of this march. He described the new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) whose design neglects to touch many of these same communities, those that would benefit greatly from the BRT. Because council members and residents complained about this, the Mayor now “hopes to start running ‘lite’ bus rapid transit along Charlotte and Nolensville Pikes in about a year:” http:// www.tennessean.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2013307120134

Please contact your council members and the Mayor to tell them about what still needs to be done to bring more fairness to our transportation and criminal justice systems, and to our educational programs to offer all of Nashville’s people a better place to live. Our message includes the belief that everyone has the freedom to thrive here in Tennessee.

Yes, Nashville has come a long way and has its roots planted firmly in history as one of the best cities in the South for business, education, health care and tourism. Let’s add to those strengths by working hard for all communities, all races, cultures, and religions. Thank you for your part in making Nashville a more friendly, fair and compassionate place to live.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Moving Through Life's Transitions

Life's transitions, two neutral-sounding words.  Not at all descriptive of the difficulties, the joy and the pain that are often felt during such times. I heard recently that a gifted minister in town said this about grief (I am paraphrasing): "I hate grief!" And, I can understand that. Can't you?

Whether it is the loss of a loved one, a new baby born, a divorce, a job change or geographical move, each of these are common transitions. Physical illnesses, menopause, and empty nest are some other "normal" transitions during which people struggle with both negative and sometimes positive internal experiences as well. Even good stress is still stress and can be hard on us.When we are elated, in love and about to be married, the transition from one state of being to another is often complex and complicated.

Stress during transitions are handled or managed, and one part of the equation is that we first need to acknowledge that this change is happening, and accept that reality. Once we become aware, we are on the road to better health.  

Some would say that the next step is to let ourselves really feel what we feel, so as not to avoid or distract ourselves from the impact of the situation. We are told not to just stuff down those feelings by our regular soothing behaviors, but, we may do just that and sometimes this can be a healthy maneuver initially.

Many people survive crises without feeling much because of a natural process that protects us. During and after a medical crisis or car wreck, our whole bodies move into shock helping us through the trauma. Only after the funeral or divorce, when things quieten down and life settles, do some people feel the raw and heavy weight of the crisis. As if nerve endings had been cauterized and numbed, and now the nerve is growing back highly sensitized, hurting horrifically. Perhaps it is at these times that we need the most support as we live our lives with fresh new eyes, noticing how the transition has changed us, how it has transformed us.

During life's transitions I recommend that we all be gentle with ourselves and not push ourselves too hard. We also need to listen to the cacophony of inner voices, graffiti on our internal walls, informing us in coded ways about how to interpret the past, present and future. Therapists know that reframing a struggle as an opportunity for growth is cliche but can be true. Like Dante's Divine Comedy, perhaps we must go down before traveling up to a higher place, a healthier place than before. Sometimes, we transverse this new crevasse easily and sometimes awkwardly, clumsily.

This we know: Life is not for the faint of heart. A good friend Noel says that aging isn't for sissies. Most transitions aren't either. We hope that we can move through them with grace and wisdom, but some changes just bring us to our knees. To move forward we may need others' help.  I wish you the best in your life's challenges, your transitions. For some reason, right now, I feel like singing and dancing to the song, Amazing Grace.

Monday, August 26, 2013

What happens when we lose trust in our government?

The most recent episode of the Newsroom (HBO, 8/25/2013, created by Aaron Sorkin) is about trust. At this episode’s end, Charlie, played by Sam Waterston, offers his boss resignations from his top staff and himself because of a horrible “institutional” mistake. Jane Fonda, playing the owner Leona, refuses to sacrifice her brilliant news team so Charlie yells at her, “They don’t trust us anymore!” Leona yells back, “Then, GET IT BACK!”

If we cannot trust our nation’s government, our leaders, then who can we trust? Can they “get it back?”

In families, good-enough parents act with consistency and reliability so that babies learn to trust early on, so that they can feel secure enough to grow up and have healthy, satisfying lives. When parents fail to offer even an illusion of security and safety to the child, the child grows up being anxious, worried, insecure, and sometimes fearful. Growing up in a family where trust is absent is like growing up in our nation these days.

Perhaps earlier American leaders offered the illusion of safety and security because they hid secrets better. Maybe if we didn’t have 24 hour news coverage and our current media industrial complex, we wouldn’t hear about so many lies and deceit not just about leaders who sext and sexually harass, but about many atrocities like our government’s secretly collecting information about all of us. Even after the whistle got blown, our leaders tried to spin the facts, telling us more untruths.

Normally, we condemn the messenger of the truth, sending him and others like him to prison or death. Since we do not want to hear the bad news that our privacy has been violated, we create stories about our world, our nation and ourselves. We fight to keep the delusion of safety and security in any ways possible and if not able, we need much soothing by using avoidant behaviors like spending more money, using more alcohol, drugs, sex and other means to distract us from the truth of this nation, which is that appearances are not reality. Or, rather, what seems to be true in our experiences may be factually wrong but we don’t want to look too closely to find out any differently. Too scary to view with clear, open eyes.

Our nation is in trouble. It is easy to say that someone needs to resign, to be sent to prison, to be impeached. But, there is a more dire problem. Without excellent journalism, how to we even find the truth? We must not accept the lies we are told. We must not put our heads in the sand so that life feels a tiny bit better. We must work together to confront these truths about our government, our leaders and ourselves in order to make a more perfect union. Our leaders must win back our trust and we need to help them learn how to do that. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Politicians Who Lie

Politicians’ sexual lives are exposed. Some people don’t want to vote for a man who frequents prostitutes or who is sexting women other than his wife, along with naked and/or pornographic photos. Some male politicians act out sexually with men while denouncing homosexuality. Since America seems to believe in monogamy, if not in actuality at least in the ideal, these married politicians are suspect.

I am not condemning anyone for sexual behaviors between consenting adults, and I am not trying to evaluate any one politician’s behaviors. Even though I am a psychotherapist, I do not know these people personally or professionally.

What intrigues me is that they are mostly men and that they seem to lie so well. My list includes JFK, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner. How these powerful men can look a reporter or America in the eye and tell us that they are not acting out sexually when in fact they are, is amazing. They are so good at lying, it’s scary.
Let’s examine lying. All people lie at some point in their lives, if not every day. Withholding the truth or lies of omission are common. Perhaps more important are the frequency, severity, and content of the lies as well as the power these politicians have. We Americans want good decision makers, and I know that at least one of these men has done incredible work for our nation and for the world. Some don’t like Bill Clinton for political reasons or for lying to America, but he has become a respected humanitarian throughout the world.

An excellent politician may need to be a good salesman. Getting others to believe in you, getting their agreement to be led by you, are no small feats. But, do they really want to help our country and be good public servants, or are they mainly feeding their own egos, having some great insecurity inside? Probably both. Narcissists can be charming, enjoyable and downright cunning, desperately needing and wanting excellent feedback from their populace. Some self-destruct.

Some people call these behaviors, sex addiction. Addiction may mean that one is powerless over the object of their passionate need. Others believe it is more complex and complicated, and that compulsive acting out is a coping strategy, a pattern that one uses frequently to manage feelings and problems within. These may be age old behaviors that we just didn’t hear about as much before, now that we have a 24 hour news cycle and hacking.

I ask us to use intelligent exploration and careful analysis about who makes decisions about us and our country. Surely there are some politicians who can be just as if not more effective than some of these who need the fame and power of political position to feed that part of themselves than never gets filled up. Like a bucket with a tiny hole, they are in constant need of replenishment. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Trayvon Martin was killed and his killer is free: A commentary on our nation

Yesterday, the verdict of not guilty for George Zimmerman has cast this country into a dark hole, one I am not sure we will ever crawl out of. 

Why are black youth and black men crucified just for being dark skinned?  Some talk about archetypes, about the dark and the light and how it is inherent in people to fear darkness.  Well, darkness maybe but I believe we are taught from an early age in this country that white is better than black and if not formally taught, we breathe it in the air.  The good news is that young people seem not to be soaking up this message so easily.  Like with LGBGT issues, young people are challenging the very idea that some people are not treated fairly, a heresy to these youth.

I just watched Lincoln, the movie, yesterday.  A well done, beautiful film that for me describes how things get done politically above all else.  “I pat your back, you pat mine,” is yet another message that we have grown up absorbing just by living in America.  In fact, most groups work that way. Is that natural?  Can we change it, or is it just human nature?

On this bleak day, while so many are reeling from what many African Americans expected, that George Zimmerman is a free man, why is it that white people are so horrified and surprised?  Why did we expect it would be anything different from that outcome?  Were we just feeling hopeful again, idealistic and optimistic about the justice system’s doing something right in this case?  It could be that the prosecutor didn’t present the case well, or that this tragic death occurred because George Zimmerman was scared, paranoid, racist, and/or a vigilante, or because Trayvon Martin fought back, and wouldn’t you if you saw or somehow knew that a guy had a gun and was pursuing you for no good reason?  No matter what reason Martin was killed, is this how we handle his tragic death?  By not charging Zimmerman to begin with because police believed his Stand Your Ground theory?  By not investigating and presenting a well-prepared case to a jury of 6 instead of 12, certainly not expecting any bias with 5 of the 6 being white women in Florida, a state that also suppresses the right to vote for the poor, black, disenfranchised, and elderly?  What kind of nation do we live in?

Perhaps it is not that we should be worrying about freedom from harm by foreign terrorists but freedom from harm by our own citizens who take it upon themselves to police our youth, to kill and maim at their own pleasure all in the guise of protecting the neighborhood.  Maybe we can focus on how we can find the freedom for all people to thrive in this nation, to have enough to eat, a place to sleep, education, jobs and incarceration only when there is fairness in our justice system.  Then, perhaps we can worry about other countries’ freedoms and democracies though I am not naive enough to believe that we fight wars for only these noble values rather than for our own self interests like oil, money and power.

America needs to look at itself in the mirror.  Who are the true villains in our land?  We reinforce the money grabbers whose greed and deceit run rampant in the banking systems, the corporate world and unfortunately in our own government, all of which include true criminals who never get prosecuted.  Let us look at ourselves in the mirror too, instead of blaming this horror on others, separate from ourselves.  Let us look deep inside ourselves and find our own darknesses, our own prejudices and privilege, our own fears, demons and rage.  Then, only when we explore our own complexities and understand them might we be able to understand any others who are different from us, whose actions may seem aggressive but who have excellent and valid reasons for their fear and rage.  

Only then can we point fingers really, even though I have just done so throughout this post.  Who among us is honest enough to cast stones?  Who never lies or cheats?  Each of us needs to do something to confront all the inequities in our country regarding the lack of equal rights for all minorities, including women, LGBGT people, immigrants, people of non-Christian religions, and all those who have been unfairly incarcerated in the huge prison industrial complex that has become the 20th and 21st centuries’ new form of slavery.  Is it fair just because someone is born to a black family instead of a white one, or someone is born into poverty instead of privilege?  How can we make our society a more just and compassionate one? 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

How do you know when it's time to consider divorce?

Simple answer: When you have tried everything else.

Oftentimes, I work with individuals who have been blindsided by the words, “I want a divorce. I am not in love with you anymore.” A lightening bolt out of the blue. On the other extreme, some couples have threatened each other with divorce for many years, and we might wonder, “What are they waiting for?”

How do people decide when it’s time to consider a divorce? There is certainly no recipe to follow, no formal rule of thumb about when that might be for any specific couple. Every individual and every couple are unique with their own histories, personalities, interactional patterns, biologies, and more. When I am working with an individual who is contemplating divorce and she just can’t bring herself to take that step, I realize that she is not ready yet - for whatever reasons. Too often this kind of person feels shame about not making a divorce decision, wondering why she can’t take that plunge, change her entire life, shake up her whole world. But I don’t wonder, and here’s why.

Divorce is a huge commitment, an enormous change in a relationship and in lifestyles, a upset apple cart for not only the couple but for the children and the extended family. No small matter. No wonder people need to make this kind of decision not only with emotion but consciously, with rational and clear thinking, just in case there is a way to either save and improve the marriage, attend to an unhappy partner’s intrapsychic troubles, or help the couple tweak their communication styles and patterns, so that everybody is more satisfied, healthier and hopefully happier.

Sometimes, fear and anxiety about the unknown keeps people in pretty disturbing relationships because at least the relationship is familiar and staying with the familiar is sometimes easier than jumping ship into risky territory. Sometimes, it is hard to imagine how a couple has stayed together so long because they seem to not only dislike each other but to hold each other in great disdain. We therapists realize that we don’t know everything and that something is keeping the couple together, and we want to discover those reasons and honor them.

Some therapists want above all to keep couples married. I do too when that is a good decision for them. But, I can sometimes see how a divorce can help a family grow healthier instead of continuing a tragic spiral downwards, when there is much harm happening within the couple and the family. I often tell couples that I don’t have an agenda for them when they enter couples therapy, that they are the ones who will figure out at some point if the marriage can be healed or not.

I recommend highly that couples do all that they can, find services to help them make such weighty decisions so that their marriages are respected well, and the difficulties are carefully examined in order to make necessary changes, or to decide that the marriage will end. And, as strange as it may sound, some families do thrive and develop new lives after divorce, lives much more satisfying than ever before.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Rest in Peace

We tried to save him, this young soul
Entering into adulthood, brave
But broken, full of life,
Sorrow and pain.

Everyone tried their best
To save him, to rescue him,
Loving him so well
So he could blossom and thrive.

When did that moment occur?
When did the last straw break?
What strong breeze led to
His final decision?

Why didn't he hold on for
Just another moment to see
If he could feel better, find some 
Meaning and heal?

But, he tried it all, all of the
Right stuff. He tried his best,
And finally, he just couldn't
Take it anymore.

We grieve with him,
That his life became so
Full of misery and distress,
So much despair.

We will never know all
The reasons why,
But, we do know that he
Will be well remembered.

Rest in peace, you gentle soul.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

American Values Need Re-examination

These days we cannot watch the news without hearing about rape and violence, power over another, perpetrated by someone full of rage and insecurity, victimizing those less powerful physically and/or emotionally. Ours is a society that criminalizes some forms of violence and glorifies others. No wonder we are confused and frightened.
Recently, we became disturbed because some military leaders who are supposed to protect others from sexual assault may also be performing these same aggressive, soul- crushing acts against others. We elect our leaders to uphold our wholesome American values but some violate the law, covering up criminal acts, lying to those who believed in them.
Why do people rape, terrorize or violate others? Certainly the reasons are complex, complicated and almost endless, many of these actions performed by people with histories of severe trauma or neglect, psychiatric problems and more. But, is violence becoming a norm in America, land of the free and home of the brave? Our young people can’t help but notice early on that life is not fair. They witness not just TV and media sensationalism and horror, they also observe America’s consistent aggression toward other countries and its own citizens, the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed.
America’s heroes are football players who are trained to do whatever it takes physically, within guidelines, to win. Now, we realize we have also damaged these football players from high schoolers to the NFL, those who worked hard and learned a valuable skill only to suffer greatly, becoming brain and/or body damaged. Why do we Americans enjoy and support such a dangerous sport? Do we want this for our children?
Our nation’s leadership sometimes lies to us and starts wars, imprisons people without due process, and carries out secret drone assassinations. Where is the line between between evil and rationalizing our military actions as means to an end, to keep America safe and free while killing huge numbers of innocent people? We live in a country that justified slavery for so long (and still does, if you analyze the prison industrial complex), and we now watch our leaders and heroes do whatever it takes to win, get wealthy, and exploit others for some perceived good. No wonder we have gotten confused about what is right and what is wrong.
Those who assault others physically or symbolically, be they school bullies, elected leaders, our neighbors, or CEO’s, they are the highest numbers of cloaked terrorists in our country. Far more than those from other countries or religions. The irony is that we glorify these terrorists, they are our role models. We are training our children to take what they want no matter what, within the guise of doing good for themselves and the world. Is this a new American value? Are you frightened and outraged by these seemingly heroic American terrorists walking among us every day? I am. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Death of My Father: A Tribute to My Mother

As I think about my father’s recent death, my mind rehearses the events that led up to that final day.  The deep sadness, the helplessness we all felt as my father withered away in his bed at home, not eating, hardly drinking, sleeping more and more, in and out of consciousness.  But, even as I recall the pain of that time, my heart turns to my mother, and my witnessing her grief.
My father was a brilliant, wonderful, well-loved man who helped so many people throughout his life, including his children, Michael, Helen and Barbara, and his grandchildren Glenn, Clay and Kate.  He and my mother were so amazingly connected that most everyone who knew them still talk about the marvelous, rare interdependence and abiding love that they shared.  My father was in the spotlight, charismatic, teaching and preaching, counseling and assisting people through the remarkable transitions this life has to offer.  And, my mother was right there beside him, holding him up.
My mother stood lovingly by his side, sat amongst his parishioners, and supported my father, handling his correspondence, his schedule, and his life especially as they retired and aged.  No, theirs wasn’t a perfect marriage but it was one of the few that I have ever known intimately, that worked so well.
Imagine this couple who knew each other for 78 years and married 69 of those many years.  They lived through two wars with my father in danger as a Marine pilot.  They had three babies and then my father got the call to seminary.  My mother’s love was steadfast and sure, consistent and deep.  My father blossomed vibrantly in her love and she glowed quietly and adoringly in his.  As I grew older, became middle aged, I watched closely as my mother took care of my father so well.  Imagine then, my mother’s losing this husband of hers.
When I think about my mother, I am filled with grief and she is the one still living, the one who outlived my father.  At almost 90 years of age, she handles herself so beautifully on the outside, but she grieves raw, primitive emotions deep down, filling her with sadness, anger and loss.  She remains realistic and understanding about my daddy’s dying days and how he could live no longer given his physical health.  My father, she knows, is in a better place, and she is still here, very much alive and continuing to live as fully as possible.
This has been the hardest loss I have ever witnessed.  For her.  For the rest of us, surely we miss my father very much.  We are so sad, but we also know he lived a long and wonderful life, and it was time for him to leave this earthly realm.  But, no one can imagine how my mother feels.  Not even me.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Quest for a Nonviolent Response to Tragedy

The Boston Marathon attack and tragedy: why did this happen? We don’t know yet. What reactions do we experience? Fear, confusion and anger. My concern is that some Americans will become so anxious, they may act out violently themselves. Certainly, fear and cautiousness are both legitimate. But, I hope that people will not generalize and fear everyone who is different, such as anyone who comes from another country, those who have different religious views, creeds and colors. Must we load guns in response, or is there a nonviolent way to respond to such crises?

America is becoming more of a melting pot, a tasty vat of gumbo, full of all sorts of delicious foods. Some prefer Campbell soup from a can, soup we are used to, that we loved as children. But, even Campbell soup is full of several ingredients. Can we enjoy our differences, our unique ways of being while managing our fear and anxiety?
When someone attacks and kills in the name of a god or belief or for no apparent reason at all, we get upset. Christians fought and killed many during the Crusades as have other religious groups. There are extremists in every religion, in every race, and in patriots of many countries. 

We can learn to not blame a whole group just because of extremists’ or radicals’ actions. Even if we abhor violence, it may be likely that anyone who is stressed chronically or intensely enough may react in violence. Our nature, our very humanness includes not only the light but the dark as well. We don’t completely know why some kill and attack while others strive for peace and respond in nonviolent ways. The good news is that nonviolent actions can be learned and we can witness how successful the results can be. Can we resolve our conflicts nonviolently even after being terrorized?

This is not just about those who build bombs but also about Americans who buy and collect high powered guns. Whether fearful, angry or just protective, some hoard their weapons of mass destruction which can be so easily bought on the internet and at gun shows. After such a tragedy, trusting those who walk among us, looking just like everyone else, is more difficult. We can’t always know who is safe and who is not.

We need to deal with our frightened feelings, watch for possible risky behavior and potential violence in others and in ourselves, but we do not need to separate and isolate. The closer we are to each other, the more we connect to and get to know each other well, the better the possibility of peace, harmony and safety - than if we walk around loaded with guns, ready to shoot and kill at the slightest hint of differentness. 

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Life Transitions:Self, Society and Relationships

An exploration of ideas, commentary, wishes, hopes, and reality to help people deal with themselves and all their patterns and parts, and to live in this world in more effective and satisfying ways.