Wednesday, July 25, 2012

the time to "process"

it has been 6 months since i started this blog and while i knew i wanted to do it, i did not really know why. the reasons are still becoming clear to me but one thing i know is that this blog in some way is helping me to find my voice, something i need to do as a person, as a counselor, and as an advocate for children... all things i am, and do, and strive to do better.

but there is one thing that has been conspicuously absent from this blog -- my work with 2 non-profits, both of which take in orphaned/abandoned children in 3rd world countries (Jamaica and Haiti).  this is not something that would necessarily to be obvious, even to those who know me well, but i have realized that my experiences on behalf of these organizations, and for these children, while some of the most important ways i spend my time, have not entered into any of the posts i've shared thus far.  i am consciously avoiding, although the reasons for that are unclear to me.... too painful?  too personal?  to raw?

during my training in counseling psychology, i was required to journal - A LOT.  i found it both liberating and oppressive.  it helped me to "process" what i was feeling, so that i could understand it and deal with any issues which might get in the way of being an effective counselor. but it was not easy.  i still do it sporadically in my every-day life but i have noticed that at the times i need it most, i tend to avoid it.  when i came back from haiti in january, i could not journal or blog or write at all.  when i came back from jamaica in april, again -  no journaling, no blogging, no "processing". 

and now here i am again -- i just came back from a 1-week service trip to jamaica.  while i was there i journaled like crazy, trying to capture every moment, thought, emotion, until the schedule got the better of me and i realized i could not do it and also get the rest i needed to function.  but i wanted to - i longed to save the experience in those pages so i could revisit it.

but since being home, i have shunned my journal. i have retreated into "work" and preparing for an upcoming vacation.  i feel busy to the point of overwhelmed.  it didn't occur to me that i was creating this busyness to avoid processing what i was feeling - didn't occur to me until now...

today i came across a blog by one of the "medium term" volunteers at Mustard Seed Communities, the organization i work with in Jamaica.  it made me happy, and then sad, to read it -- happy because it momentarily transported me back there, sad to realize that life there is going on without me.  while i was there i felt that i was really making an impact.  now that i am  home i doubt myself and not only what i did while i was there but what, if anything, i left behind. when we were preparing for our trip i was focused and felt sure of my purpose and my path.  i had a direction and goals and checklists and an endpoint to work toward.  now that we are home and the trip is over, i feel confused about what to do ... as every additional day passes i am more and more uncertain, floundering a sea of to-do lists for things that don't seem all that important...

unfortunately i don't have answers but what i do know is that i need to allow myself time to really, fully process the experience, because now that the high is wearing off and i am back to "normal" life, i need to let the experience sink in and let it change me, not push it away and simply go back to life as before.  there is no going back....

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

identity crisis

i love to dance... i mean i *really* love to dance.  it is one of those things that makes me feel alive in a way that can only be experienced, not explained.  i have always loved it and i am good enough at it that its pretty fun to do.  i'll never be on "dancing with the stars" but i can usually avoid embarrassing myself (or my partner).

i also love shoes.  i have a lot of shoes.  beautiful shoes, classy shoes, sassy shoes, cute shoes.  i have shoes i don't even wear but i don't get rid of them because i love them.  they are a form of self-expression, and they each hold a promise... i can envision the perfect event for each of them, and at some point they will have their day.  and no matter how many pairs i own, there are always more beautiful, cute, sassy shoes out there ... there are also sensible shoes out there, but i never buy those.  i never even look at those.  none of my shoes are sensible -- on a rainy day i never know what to wear because none of my shoes are appropriate for bad weather ... they are appropriate for great weather, fun times, and big events.  they speak to the dreamer in me.

i pondered this for awhile, on the way home from seeing an ankle specialist one day last week -- he  told me my ligament was stretched to the point of no return.  it wont get better.  changes must be made.  Limit the dancing... maybe get some more "supportive" footwear....

uhhhh, wait a minute.  is getting rid of all my "non-sensible" shoes the only option?  but...but...but if i do that, what will be left?  sneakers and a couple pairs of boots. that's it.  i cant walk around in sneakers every day.  they don't go w/ my clothes.  sneakers are for the gym.

i had a momentary crisis of identity when i realized i may have to forgo both of the above.  no more dancing?  no more cute shoes?  seriously?  but who am i if i cant dance... in cute shoes?  can i be a person who does not dance... and wears sensible shoes?   i decided that i cannot - and that i have to adapt in my own way.  i'll wrap my ankle, i'll get new dance shoes, i might even wear sneakers outside the gym occasionally. i'll be careful. while i worried what this says about me (vain, impractical, short-sighted), i also realized that there are so many ways we  express ourselves and that, when some of our options are taken away, what is also taken away is a part of not only our self-expression but our identity, and even our freedom.

it does not feel good to have one's freedom of expression, or movement, or any other freedom compromised.  this experience  made me think about those who have limiting factors in their lives and how restrictive and unfair it can feel.  tell me i cant wear cute shoes and all i can see when i walk down the street are cute shoes... while in one sense my particular circumstance may seem almost trivial, when thought of in the bigger picture it made me realize how much we take for granted our options, freedoms and modes of expression. whatever the outcome with my ankle, this experience has made me conscious of how many options and freedoms i still do possess... and more compassionate of those whose options or modes of self-expression are compromised, in any way.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

things my dog teaches me

i stumbled upon the writing posted below while poking around one of my favorite blogs, "Positively Positive".  it expresses beautifully what those of us who are dog owners know all too well... the infinite wisdom which can be obtained by owning, loving and bonding with a dog.  like children, they can teach us so much about how to truly live, if we pay attention.


what dogs teach us:
when loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.
allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
take naps.
stretch before rising.
run, romp, and play daily.
thrive on attention and let people touch you.
avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
on warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.
on hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.
when you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
be loyal.
never pretend to be something you’re not.
if what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
when someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.

enjoy every moment of every day!

today i spent the entire day with my dog.  she was by my side every second - up and down the stairs, inside and outside, at the computer, the dinner table and the phone.  i was engrossed in writing a report, but looked up many times just to see where she was.  she checked in with me too, occasionally putting a paw on my leg to remind me she was there. as busy as I was and under deadline, i stopped often to talk to her, rub her belly, or just look at her (i'm hopelessly in love!)...  each time, it de-stressed me instantly, and helped me focus.  when the sun peeked out from behind the clouds, i grabbed her leash and we went for a leisurely walk...

today i spent the entire day with my dog.  over the course of the day, she reminded me of just about every one of the items on that list, and more.  we worked together, walked together, ate together.... it was a day of pure and joyous friendship.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

what exactly is "happiness"?

in a recent post i wrote about the roller-coaster ride of my emotions and how to find equilibrium.  i wondered whether happiness was something to even strive for, as an attainable goal. i have thought a lot about happiness since that post and have asked myself "am I happy?" more than once.  strangely the answer is: it depends... which makes me wonder what question I am really answering.  on the one hand I feel much more myself in the past year than i have in a long time.  on the other, most of the things that I want for my life are not in place right now.  so while I may feel on a day-to-day basis like an authentic version of me, my life from the outside looks like a bit of a mess (or at least, a work in progress).

i suppose i could say that i feel happy with who i am but not with the current state of my life.  but what does that even mean - can i be happy and dissatisfied at the same time?  i didnt think so until i ran across this beautiful song (Lament, by Audrey Assad)

the words in that song "i am a picture of contentment and i am dissatisfied" expressed exactly how i'd been feeling.  its hard to reconcile, but i think its part of the human condition.  we are never satisfied... always running.  we need something to strive for and we can never get enough of the good things we have, or feel...  or the feelings don't last.

so can we ever really say that we're happy?  and anyway... what exactly IS happiness?

I had to admit that I didnt quite know, or rather that my thoughts on happiness were  a bit muddled.  Is it a state of being?  is it an emotion?  does it apply to the current moment or the big picture?  hmmm... time to go to the dictionary...

Webster defines happiness as :
a) a state of well-being and contentment : JOY
b) a pleasurable or satisfying experience

aha! even webster cant choose a single definition -- that makes me feel better!   definition a) seems to apply to me in the broader sense, my feelings of authenticity and balance.   while definition b) is more about an in-the-moment feeling derived from an experience (which relates more to my previous post about feeling "up" and then "crashing").

i admit that i've had trouble reconciling my feelings of contentment with the fact that my life looks nothing like i want it to look.  but that's only when its viewed from the outside.  at closer scrutiny things are not so out of balance after all -- in the small, day-to-day living my life looks very much how i want it to look: i do meaningful work that makes a difference in people's lives; i have strong relationships and connections with lots of interesting, dynamic, inspiring, wonderful friends and colleagues; i am healthy enough to enjoy life and do what i want; i have goals and interests in abundance such that i am *never* bored; and i can carve out free time to relax and rejuvenate.  [ note the absence of any discussion of status or money... things which we all want and strive for but know won't really make us happy ]

a recent "happiness moment" on my walk home from work

i finally made the connection today when i read this blog post and then one of my grad school friends emailed me with a story similar to mine -- she's feeling very much her true self these days, figuring out what she wants for her life, staying connected to people and making time for what it important to her.  and not so coincidentally, she is one of the friends who joined me in a vision boarding session this past january... she said even though the board doesn't exactly match her life (or visa versa) its a representation of the authenticity she is living in now.  in the moment. day by day.

more to come on this topic .... i haven't even quoted the dalai lama yet ;-)

Friday, April 13, 2012

the hangover

is it possible to have a "happiness hangover"?

so far this year for me has been filled with changes, new experiences, connections, ... everything feels new new new. and while i am loving and embracing it, i am noticing a pattern of "crashing" after many of these new experiences or events. its like i have to gain my equilibrium after getting off the roller coaster.

i am the first one to say that change is good, and i prefer variety over sameness in my life. but constant change is a lot for the brain to handle and we need time to process new experiences. particularly when experiences change us, we need to get to know the "new self" and either incorporate it into our lives or find the pieces that fit and discard the rest. also we can go through a period of mourning for, or missing, a place/person/experience that particularly moved us. i often experience this when i return from a vacation.

brad pitt was asked recently if he's happy, and his reply was "happiness is overrated". at first i wondered if the implied message was that he's not. but i think his point was that its not happiness that he strives for or that he uses as an indicator for how he sees his life. that's actually a good thing, i think. no one is happy all the time. and is that really what we should be striving for? sometimes its our struggles that propel us forward or help us strive to improve. tension, even dissatisfaction, can be a good thing.

during a recent bout of feeling "down" and rather stuck, i found what i needed to cure my happiness hangover when my puppy crawled in my lap and looked up at me - i immediately felt better. it didn't change anything in my day, or the circumstances that i was struggling with in my life - but it did bring me back to the moment and make me realize that there is *always* something good to focus on -- and focusing on the present moment, as well as connecting with another being (human or otherwise) can take us out of ourselves and turn things around.

recently there was talk in the news about how "cuteness" affects our brains. looking at a baby/puppy/cute face activates pleasure centers in the brain. so next time you are feeling down, or crash after a high, take a look at this pic (or find your own cuteness cure):

and see if that doesn't help your mood...after all, isn't it in the simple things of life that true happiness is found?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

bouncing back

today was one long struggle... to stay awake, to get anything done, to even figure out what to get done. every time i take a red-eye, i remember why they call it that - whether you get any sleep or not, you return with a feeling of bleary-eyed fogginess.

a few things helped me get through the day - a loooong walk by the water with my pooch, a phone call from my best friend to catch up (on the week), and a phone call from a perpetual "phone-tag"ing friend to catch up (on the year).

i started thinking about why these things combined to not only get me through the day but make me feel better so quickly and bring me back to myself.
  • the first helped me breathe, be more alert, get into the moment, and stretch my eyes (and my legs)
  • the second helped me review an amazing week - the big moments, the small wonders, the blessings galore - as well as get out of my self-absorbed state to hear her stories and reconnect in a way that you can only do with someone who knows you like a sister
  • the third helped me put things in perspective.... when you connect with someone you haven't seen in awhile you tend to talk bigger-picture. it can be a good way to assess where you've come, where you're going, and not only chart your progress but organize your thoughts and feelings around it. and telling these things to someone who you know is in your corner can also help you feel supported, and be an impetus to propel you forward.
the next time i feel sluggish, stuck, or out of sorts, i plan to try to simulate today's remedy for my red-eye-induced fogginess and see if this formula will work for me again: get up and move, assess the source of the emotions, and then pull back to get the broader view and put things in perspective.

and i'll make sure i have a couple friends and my cute dog around for support :-)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

the dash

last night I attended a fundraiser for the Cardinal Stepinac Children's Center, in Port au Prince Haiti. about 140 people came together with the goal of raising money to build a school for the 50 orphaned/abandoned children who live there.

the guest of honor at the event was Miss America 2011, Teresa Scanlon. during her speech she talked about how volunteering in Haiti has changed her life (boy, can i relate). she reminded us that no matter how young or old we may be, we can all start from today and live our lives with purpose, focusing on the things which are most important to us and making a difference in the way that we feel called to do so.... she read a poem which really brought that message to life - i had never heard it before but i will definitely add it to my collection:

The Dash © 1996 Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone from the beginning to the end.

He noted that first came the date of her birth and spoke of the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time that she spent alive on earth
And now only those who loved her know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own, the cars, the house, the cash,
What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left that can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough to consider what’s true and real
And always try to understand the way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger and show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile,
Remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.

So when your eulogy is being read with your life’s actions to rehash
Would you be proud of the things they say about how you spent your dash?