The thing about impermanence is that it cuts both ways
The plant in the cup dies
The wild things die
Our pets die
So do we.
On the other hand this
Illness, grey days, the seeming
Endlessness of winter.
For a select few
The illness passes only into death,
The injustice lives on,
the grey stretches out forever.
We would like to think that few is a few,
Three, maybe four souls per
We know we are wrong.
A few is a fallacy,
Naïve gentling of the ranks that fall into line under
The classified ad:
For lifelong relationship
I am lying here, grateful,
Joints, nerves, muscles, bones,
Pressing like clockwork with every beat of my heart,
Secure in the fairy tale
That this will not last forever.
Not two hours south is a new mother whose freak accident has left her paralyzed from the neck down.
I cannot possibly imagine.
She is determined to walk again.
I will cook,
I will drive,
I will go to the ball,
I will walk away from this one.
One of the things about being a minister, or working in any kind of volunteer organization, is that you start to see really clearly how the lines between work and home get blurred. Volunteers, after all, are not in work mode–they are on their own time, doing something for fun or to contribute because they feel it is important.
When people come in feeling like they’re not working, however, it means they often bring fewer boundaries and less formality with them. Sometimes, that’s awesome. It allows a kind of bonding and camraderie that is rarely possible in the workplace. Sometimes, though, it means that people behave badly–in ways they would never consider appropriate if they were at work.
We’ve almost all done it. And when that happens, it’s often because something about the situation is reminding us of something from our past, from home, from an old family pattern. We might not even be aware of it. In fact, usually we’re not. We respond from a sense of threat and from the gut, with only a vague awareness that it feels icky before we act.
And usually that action only makes it worse, because we’re reproducing a pattern from home, one that was strong enough to get echoed forward in time.
You’d think this would be less true in the workplace, where you try to be on your best behavior. But what I’m seeing, especially as a coach, is that family systems and patterns get played out just as often in formal work environments, although the way they play out might be a little different.
That’s the bad news. The good news is, if you know about it you can fix it.
Once you start trying to notice it, you might see it in a physical reaction–a tension in your belly or the way your shoulders creep up to hug your ears. Or you might just realize that whatever you’re feeling is out of proportion with the experience you’re having.
Then you have a few choices.
You can change the physical first. Turns out that forcing yourself to smile can improve your mood. So can standing straight, shoulders back, feet firmly planted. Or raising your arms in the victory pose. Amy Cuddy has a great TED talk about that.
If that’s not working or not your style, you can go for the emotional, remind yourself that this situation is different, that you’re safe, and talk yourself down.
Or you can take a timeout. The inital biochemical wave of panic lasts about 90 seconds, whether it’s from your boss asking to speak with you later or a tiger chasing you across the savannah. In that moment you lose higher order thinking, creativity, and your sense of humor, among other things. After that, if the threat has passed, you can either retrigger the chemical cascade by telling yourself the situation is terrible, or you can take a deep breath, relax, or even meditate to calm down. That will give you the rest of your brain back.
Sounds simple enough, right?
Now the tricky part is that for most of us it’s nearly impossible to see the family connection from inside the situation. We’re just too close–and too triggered. And that’s where it’s good to get help.
There are tons of resources out there, too. Plenty of books and articles, if those help. But often you need a person with some perspective–a friend, a coach, or a therapist. There’s no shame in getting help.
That bears repeating: there is NO shame in getting help, and I don’t just say that because I’m a coach. We need help. As humans we’re made to live and connect and grow in community. And as we’ve slowly moved from villages and extended families to isolation and hyper-self-sufficiency, we’ve lost the incredible gift of outside eyes.
We’ve lost it because we are somehow ashamed to be anything less that perfect. But we need to see ourselves and each other as three dimensional, capable of beauty and grace and redemption without perfection. And in the cases where friends are not available for that, we can, with total grace and confidence, pay for help.
And that’s where true strength lies: not in success when everything is going right; not in toughing it out and pretending we’re fine when we’re hurting, but in knowing when we need help and having the self-confidence to ask for it.
Getting support is what makes us truly robust, truly reliable. And when you can see what’s going on, you can find a way to make it better, which makes life better for everyone. Most important, though, it frees you up to really be present in the world, to give and share what you have to give and share, so the world can benefit from your brilliance.
And that’s truly a gift. For all of us.
I’ve been thinking about how pleasure meets intense pain. Here’s what today looked like.
Want to hear me read this?
So I’m lying here on my back, trying to navigate the incessant pain, the kind that presses and burns and shoots from one place to another. It doesn’t stay still, but there doesn’t seem to be a pattern to where it goes next. And through this all I’m aware that the only way that I’m going to manage it at all is by following what little wisps of pleasure are left in its wake. This means finding them first, the echoes of the absence of pain. And so I breathe in and breathe out and let the tension in my adductors go, willing my leg to relax, and I find an opening. But instead of immersing myself in that opening I put one foot there and try to make another opening. I will my quads to relax, I breathe into them. The pain is in the middle so I start instead at the knee. I breathe an opening into the muscle tissues, I breathe an opening up from the knee toward my hip and somewhere, for a moment, there’s a space. If I don’t think too hard, now I have two spaces, one on the inside of my thigh, and one on the top. I breathe into them both. With them both released, I feel the tugging in my groin, no longer balanced by the tension in my leg. Holding both openings with one piece of my mind, I press my thought into my groin and will that, too, to release. At this point it feels like a juggling exercise, trying to keep all of the openings open, and breathing, and allow the pain to fall away, that pain to which I’ve become so accustomed that it is almost like breathing itself. And with all of those held open, as I breathe and relax and breathe, the pain shifts to my hip and is more piercing and more solid there. I wonder briefly if I should take what I’ve got, or if I should continue pursuing the openings of pleasure. Some part of me wonders if I’m getting greedy. Another realizes that pain free is not unreasonable but I simply am not sure I can do it. These are the uncertainties that pain plants when I’m not paying attention. And so, holding my focus, I allow a small thread to lean and weave into my hip to create a crack in the ball of tension there, to open it up. I feel the pain try to return to my thighs as I do this, but I cannot panic now, so I breathe again and open the thigh again and then for a moment all is silent. The pleasure, for the moment, has won.
Nobody ever tells you
Hey, wake up wake up, this
Is the day you become a mage!
The magician school comes for you at noon!
It’s not like Harry Potter
No Hagrid no professors who turn into cats,
…well, not many
And they don’t carry mail.
Just messages that turn your head at dusk
The vague shadow of another world
Beckoning in the side mirror but
It Reflects nothing
Which is itself a message
So you start hunting in the corners
and leaving the lights off
Bathing in herbs that begged to be picked last summer and you didn’t know why
One day you find your voice,
Over dishes perhaps,
Or halfway from here to there
With advertisements for wrinkle cream blurring the lines of reality as you navigate traffic
The words pour forth
Or the paint,
And suddenly there you are
Casting spells on I-95
or handing a small packet to your darling but perennially sad co-worker with one word
It makes you feel a little like Alice (in wonderland) or
maybe the puppeteer behind wonderland,
did you ever wonder who put all those chess pieces there, anyway?
And now you’re doing it
Contributing to the mystery and absurdity of the world as you go around behind the powers that have been ceded to,
Trying to make magic that will balance the forces of light and darkness.
You find you have no illusions, there is an unseelie court
but fortunately they believe they are doing the right thing, too,
And are easily swayed by cookies
Although they work better if you sing over them while baking,
Calling sunbeams and flecks of hope to sprinkle on top.
And there comes a day finally when you realize
You have only sweatpants, witches clothes, and disguises,
And you don’t want anything else
That you come and go as you please
And that you have developed the habit of making magic everywhere.
You are a little eccentric and the constant
Use of power has rendered your hair untameable And probably grey
But you are indifferent because it suits you perfectly It makes you glow
And at long last you know you are using your power
What people don’t tell you about healing from trauma would fill a book, an encyclopedia, all the leaves of all the trees of Sherwood Forest, all the grains of sand in the Caribbean.
What people don’t tell you could scare you off from ever doing the work or it could make it seem like it might actually work.
What people don’t tell you
is that it will change you.
It will hurt sometimes, sometimes more than the trauma itself did,
the best metaphor is that you are breaking up scar tissue, rubbing and pressing and forcing and scrubbing your way through the very things that have held you together.
You will find a capacity to handle pain that you didn’t know you had.
Even if you knew you were really good at pain.
But this time you will be present with it, staring it down, dancing Kali’s dance of destruction and rebirth, standing on the hot coals until you can feel your feet beginning to burn.
And you will know this is the only way through and you will learn to say stop, that’s enough, that’s too much and you will learn when to say, okay, it hurts but okay, I’m going to be okay, let’s keep going, it’s going to be okay, breathing like lamaze class, like you’re birthing something much too big, which is, in fact true, because you are birthing the grown version of you and no one should ever have to birth themselves, but this time you will, and you do.
And sometimes it will be too easy.
Sometimes you will wake up and the thing you have been pushing against since you were twenty five or seventeen or twelve or three will just be gone, gone like it never existed, barely a ghost remaining to show you where it was, or not even a ghost and you will wonder if you dreamed it or made it up (no, you didn’t) and suddenly you will be tumbling full force into the void beyond the resistance, like you just ran off the edge of a cliff.
And you will feel betrayed by the very thing you were fighting against for so long, because at least you could count on it. It always kept you from falling. And it didn’t stop you from falling, this time.
And you will take a deep breath and dive back into the work because you want to know, you need to know, what do you stand on now?
It will ask you who are you without the trauma? And you will look, incredulous, and blink, as if they have just asked what happens when OPEC starts agitating for alternative fuel conversions and funding wind farms in small countries, and try for the first (and second and twenty second) time to imagine what in the world without the trauma even means.
And eventually you will imagine it, and that will be even more scary.
And then it will feel like a breath of fresh air, just about the time you discover that there’s a whole extra closet full of skeletons you didn’t know you were going to have to clean out.
It will change your body, it will make you gain and lose weight, turning that whole chrysalis-butterfly metaphor into reality as you wrap yourself up and peel the layers off, over and over again. Things you thought you liked to do will disappear and things you thought impossible will suddenly become your favorite way to wake yourself up too early. If you have always had a fear of swimming you will decide that open water distance freestyle at 5 AM is the only thing that makes you feel better. If you hate to exercise you will start, and if you live to run marathons you will become a couch potato. Or not.
Because there are definitely no rules for this. Everyone does it differently, everyone is different, and you will be different from moment to moment and day to day. Just as you get yourself figured out again you’ll go talk to your therapist or your best friend or your dog or the tallest trees in the woods near your house and something else will crack open and spill egg and ice cream all over the sidewalk where it will melt in place and you will not know what to do with yourself. Again.
Your music will change, your hair will change, if it was straight it will become curly, or curly will become straight. Your body chemistry, so exquisitely adjusted to constant adrenaline floods and cortisol overflows, will change radically. Your hormones, your sex drive, your physical sensations will change.
Your ability to think will change. If you have been concrete-linear, prepare to find your feelings more compelling than you ever thought they would be. If you have been a giant ball of emotion you might just discover that you have a little logic hiding in there somewhere.
Half the stuff you thought was you will turn out to be how you protected yourself and like a marionette whose strings have been cut, you will spend some time very, very limp, in a puddle, on the floor, while you figure out what happens when you don’t have to protect yourself from yourself or from anyone else anymore, not like that.
You will see other people differently. You will see triggers as triggers. You will develop a self-protectiveness and a compassion that looks and feels totally different from before. You will gently tell people that you can see that they are hurting and then you will not do anything about it, because you will know that no one could fix yours and no one can fix theirs, either. Ironically, you will be more willing to trust that people love you.
You will become a better judge of people.
You will judge people less.
You will see your flaws more clearly, but they will feel like less of a disaster. In fact, you might even begin to think your flaws are kind of cute. This makes other people’s flaws infinitely easier to embrace, which makes the world suddenly much more full of beautiful, interesting people who were certainly not there last year. Where did they all come from, anyway?
And all this means that the years of self-love work you have already done will kick into Advanced mode, that things you did by rote and discipline will become easier, but not before they kick your ass one more time for good measure. All the wrestling begins to feel like horseplay with a fallen angel who is an old friend instead of a life-threatening crisis.
Because it has changed you. You are changed. You are different.
And one day you realize how much of this you’ve done, and how much it made possible, and you sit down and cry, great gulping tears of gratitude and grief and more gratitude for all the beauty and all the stuff that is, praise be, finally DONE, so done it is solid enough to stand on. And you find your feet hold you up after all. And you know you have more to walk. And that, at long last, is going to be okay, probably mostly almost certainly.
When I pray this is how I pray
Hands clasped before me on my pillow
Curled on my side
Before the day has breached the raw and sleepy ramparts
Here where the call to prayer is too loud to be overrun by lists or fears
Of not enough, not good enough,
Of being devoted to a thing that does not exist
Hope or something
And might not care
Love or something
And might not be able to change my world
Without my unlikely and awkward assistance
Because I have hands and it does not.
Before any of that can creep in
While my brain is still soft and muzzy
I pray without thinking just pray without asking
I pray with the quiet wings of birds and angels
That I, too,
I’m part of a lot of organizations. That happens when you’re committed to the power of community. You get into communities for business, communities for health and wellness, communities for personal growth, communities for healing, communities for recreation. The communities I’m part of all love commitment. They think it’s awesome. Some of them have it in the rules, about committing, and some of them don’t. But the idea is that you’re here and you’re not going away.
You know, like family.
Except that one time.
And that uncle.
And when I look around at all those communities, the ones stuffed full of amazing and beautiful and wise people, they have something in common. Whether it’s in the rules or not, a lot of people take time away.
I’m one of those people, when I join up I always think, “I’ll never do that. I’m going to be in this for good, for life, for ever. I won’t need a break.” And for whatever reason, I have incredible staying power. I don’t usually need a break. I can withstand a lot of things and still keep my seat.
But even then, sometimes I’m better when I take a break. I have more resources. I have more grace. I say fewer things I regret later. I have better ideas.
And then I was listening to this Abraham-Hicks recording this morning ) , where she says, “Stop beating the drum of the problem…the solution cannot come when you are beating the drum of the problem….”
And I thought, wait. What if this is what happens when we get into a community where we believe a problem lasts forever and we keep beating the drum of that problem?
What if our continued focus on the problem keeps us from moving forward?
And what if the only way out of that trap is to allow time away?
What if we need to step away so we can learn to focus on something else, so we can really allow the wound to heal? And what if, once healed, we can come back, healed, with a perspective that looks beyond the problem that brought us through the doors? What if this is how we find the path forward?
What if we need time away? What if as leaders, as elders, as family members, as just PEOPLE we all need our rumspringa, our time to step outside the context of our usual frame? What if that stepping away lets us focus on being more whole?
What if that is the way to bring wholeness to the group?
PS: if you’re thinking of some community you’re a part of and your first reaction is to say OH NO! WE CAN’T DO THAT! I ask you to breathe and really LOOK at the leaders, and ask yourself if any of them have taken sabbaticals. And then ask yourself how insular or wide-reaching the group is. And I don’t do flame wars.
If the Law of Attraction works, why are people still homeless?
That’s the gist of a question posed to me recently. I think it’s an important question. Why? The basic idea of the law of attraction is that your energy and beliefs and behaviors create and/or attract what happens in your life. Believe in prosperity and it comes. Believe in poverty and it comes. Believe in your health and you’ll be healthy. You can see how this becomes problematic, because, misinterpreted, the LOA could be construed to mean that everyone who has something bad happen to them must have attracted it, must have somehow wanted it, must have caused it. It makes the individual into their own omnipotent-model god. (Not all gods are omnipotent in all theologies, void where prohibited, not available in all states.)
I have a few problems with this.
One, hello victim blaming. This is the spiritual equivalent of, “If you didn’t dress so provocatively you wouldn’t have been raped.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Two, this is incompatible with my version of the power that moves in the world, which I experience as benevolent by association. I don’t think the power itself knows (or cares) but the humans who interact with it give it moral leaning and force. That world doesn’t make people sick or make people suffer on purpose. That’s just not my theology (yours may vary). Mine is a theology of beneficence and pleasure, wrought primarily through human nature.
Three, we are part of a giant interactive system; you are not the only being in the universe. This is the biggest, most key part of my answer. There are other forces at work, things other than the law of attraction, and also competing needs and forces, not all of which are nice, and not all of which are good for you even if they are objectively morally neutral or morally good. In with Law of Attraction we have politics and capitalism and fear and uncertainty and the industrial revolution’s cultural backwash. We have seasons and bad decision making and while none of that negates what the law of attraction may be doing, it also doesn’t make it smooth sailing. NO proposition of attraction proceeds in a vacuum. It’s all about context. And in that context the things that lead to bad stuff (including homelessness in a country where we have enough vacant houses to give each homeless person six) are sometimes overwhelming. Love wins in the end, but the path between here and the end isn’t always easy. Or, said another way (stolen from a Facebook meme), “When one door closes another one opens, but these hallways are hell.”
We’ll get there. LOA is part of my toolkit but definitely not all of it. Everything else exists too, and we need to play in a complete context. It’s a big world out here.
Can you get better too fast?
Not really. Ask anyone in pain how much longer they’d like to hurt, given a choice.
There’s this thing.
When you are sick for a long time (I’ve had depression for decades) and then the fog starts to lift, it leaves you with a bit of a dilemma. You don’t know that at first. At first you’re all,
WOOOHOOOOOOOO!!!!!! I’m FREEEEEE! (picture me running around in circles on the lawn, flapping my arms.)
Because holy shit, the transformation is incredible. My brain started functioning again after years of scraping by. I didn’t even know I WAS scraping by. I knew I was mildly muted by my depression, but holy hell.
At first, between homeopathic treatments, I had one, glorious, clear-brained day. It was like the sun coming out after a Seattle winter. I had energy. I wanted to run a thousand miles. I had ideas, and plans, and I got ALL THE THINGS done. I was fucking superman.
Not every day has been like that, but I’m having more of them. And I had NO IDEA how much the depression was hampering my ability…even just my ability to THINK. It was amazing to emerge from the equivalent of pea soup fog and chest-crushing oxygen deprivation to run along the ocean in the sun.
But about a week later, I had a thought. It went like this:
Who am I without depression?
It stopped me in my tracks. As long as I have been forming an adult identity, depression, or the spectre of its return, has been part of my identity. I’ve been Person (With Depression) or Depressed Person or Person (Trying To Be Happy) or Person (Probably Happy For The Moment).
The idea that I might have found a combination of treatments and experiences (homeopathy, hypnosis, etc) that had the potential to change my brain structure such that I might no longer be as vulnerable to depression, and that adding therapy, diet, exercise, reiki, touch immersion, extra sleep, creativity, etc would only enhance my quality of (not depressed!) life…stunned me.
If I am not depressed, I thought, can I just make plans and assume I’ll be functional? Can I exert myself and only run the risk of sleeping well that night? What have I assumed was not possible for me, that is actually possible? What is my identity without the sisyphean overlay?
Who am I when I am not pushing that boulder up the mountain all the time?
Ordinarily, if you’re getting treatment under the old models, you change slowly. It’s like walking to your destination. You have time to adjust to the idea of being in the new place, and your body keeps pace with your brain.
Now, though, we can literally fix it in an hour, sometimes. Certainly we can create dramatic change in the time it takes to cook and eat a single meal. When you get there that fast, there’s a transitional period. Most people will resist, be disoriented, try old things and find they no longer fit. Most people will need time to adjust, even though the problem is actually gone right away.
that’s ok, we just need to know that. We just need to give ourselves time and space for that. We need to grow into the new version of ourselves. And we need to give people around us that kind of slack as well. We’ll get there, we promise. But first, we need to breathe.
WANT TO HEAR MORE? I’m doing a call with Marcia Baczynski, called Embodiment for Brainiacs, about how intuition and energy make sense in a geeky, logic-oriented context. Join us!
As I said recently, I’m a geek. And I tend to run experiments on myself, which is a time-honored tradition among psych researchers (and others; see also: hemlock).
Recently I’ve been making seven-league-boot levels of progress in therapy and related places. Why? Because a whole bunch of techniques are gaining legitimacy and visibility, and they are much faster and more efficient than the old methods. As one researcher said on a recent webinar about neurofeedback, “We used to have to go through the mind to get to the brain. Now we can go directly to the brain.”
Most of the research and techniques that are emerging relate directly to trauma treatments. Some, like hypnosis, have been around for a while but are becoming more accepted. Some, like neurofeedback, have been in development for a while but are just coming to a useful maturity. All of them have varying results, because the people who are the subjects vary, but the conclusion is that they are worth trying.
One of the things that makes psych research different from other fields is that even the industry standard treatments, like antidepressants, are a best-guess-shot-in-the-dark that don’t work for everyone, and don’t have the same effect on everyone for whom they do work. If you go to your psychiatrist and decide that you should be on antidepressants, you could well spend months testing drugs on yourself–get a PGT test to see if anything is clearly not going to work, and then take one, see how you do, if it works, great, but if it doesn’t then titrate back off of it and try another one, lather-rinse-repeat until you find something that really helps…and hope you don’t build a tolerance or develop an adverse reaction.
I can tell you from personal experience: doing this while depressed is one of the most exhausting things ever, especially since side effects can include things like lethargy and low sex drive, and sometimes you get all the side effects with none of the benefits.
Why does this matter? Because with statistics like the ones for Zoloft and Wellbutrin, the odds of effectiveness for hypnosis or neurofeedback or homeopathy suddenly look downright gorgeous, and with the timeline for standard meds involving weeks of titration up and down, it might even make sense to try the alternative treatments first.
I was staring down the barrel of traditional antidepressant treatment recently. It seemed like nothing was going to work. Then I saw a naturopath and started homeopathic treatment. Changed. My. Life. Your mileage will vary, so be careful. This is just my experience.
Time to adjust to a homeopathic treatment: typically 1 week. Time to antidote if it’s having an adverse effect: in me, 4 hours.
Time to full effectiveness of hypnosis: varies, as fast as right away, as long as several months. Time to reverse the effect: almost immediately, usually.
Cost for any of these treatments: usually about $150/hour, more for neurofeedback, less for others. Cost of homeopathic remedies: varies, but generally under $30 for a one-month dose.
If it doesn’t work, you can still try the pills.
But paying attention to how your body feels you can often get faster and more effective treatment without using anything from Big Pharma at all.
nota bene: 1) I am not a doctor. Do not take any of this as medical advice, because it isn’t. 2) don’t change your treatments without consulting with the appropriate professional. That would not be me. 3) there is a place for traditional antidepressants. for those for whom they are the right treatment, they are literally a lifesaver. But if that isn’t feeling like the right solution for you, you have some other options. 4) alas, insurance doesn’t cover most of this
NEXT TIME: I will talk about what happens when you suddenly fix what’s wrong with you after years of having a problem.
WANT MORE? Marcia Baczynski and I are doing a call, Embodiment for Brainiacs, on November 1st. We’re going to jam about bodies and intuition and gut feelings and how that all fits in our geeky and logical brains. Sign up here.