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I Love Your Story Still.

cowper Titania sleeps
Ive been neglecting this blog as I continue to work on my book, Dancing in the Dark: Lessons from our Darkest Nights. And because I still cant seem to manage to create a new entry today, I want to share a piece that I wrote several years ago.  Although it isnt new, I feel it flowing after all of these years still straight through my heart.

You sit before me now, head down, while your face seeks shelter in your hands. I failed, you confess, sounding hollow and broken. I attempt to comfort and reassure you. When you finally look up at me, Im not seen, and not heard. Youre so lost inside of your pain and disappointment that my words cant find you. I cant find you. And so we sit silently beside one another for a time, both feeling inadequate. Youre hurting so much right now, feeling lost and more than a little sick inside. In my silence, I try to communicate to you that youre not alone. Im here. Right beside you. And I still believe in you.

Later, I decide to write you a letter one you can carry in your pocket to remind you of my caring. A note to read when youre more open to my message. I know it wont take your pain away or magically transform your beliefs, but maybe it can hold a seed, one that might eventually emerge from the rich and fertile ground in which I so lovingly planted it.

And so you failed. And this failure wounds you so profoundly that its penetrated deep into your psyche.  It may have even become an integral part of who you believe yourself to be today.

Today, you look into your mirror and see a failure. I look into your eyes and see the wisdom born of pain. And it hurts, this learning. I know. I know. Ive felt its sting before. Ive been thoroughly haunted by my own mistakes, miscalculations, and self-judgement. Ive fallen too. Again and yet again.

Just like you, I forget during those moments when my folly is first discovered what I know. What we both know. Defeat isnt the theme of our unique stories, it isnt what defines who we are, where well go or who well become. It only reminds us that were not alone. That we share the legacy of all human-kind, that we all will fail from time to time. Each of us stumbles and gets wounded in the fall. Failure, my dear, dear, friend, is a natural offshoot of growth. We churn in it, learn from it, and we become stronger as we struggle to recover from it.

In a commencement address delivered at Moorpark College in 1989, James D. Griffen remembered John Kennedy OToole, a young writer who won a Pulitzer Prize for his book, A Confederacy of Dunces. Imagine what it would have felt like to him to achieve this coveted award. How successful, how triumphant, how wonderful he would have felt. I say would of because well never know how he might have felt. Hell never know. We can only imagine on his behalf, because he never lived to claim his prize. After being rejected by seventeen publishers, he committed suicide. What a strange term, to commit suicide, when the act is above all else, a lack of commitment.

We must all hold fast in the darkness, for regardless of the blackness which may surround us light always eventually illuminates our path. Always…

Experience fully the pain of your failure. You must, bless you. I know you must. But when your body and soul grows weary of the sadness, the recriminations, the what ifs (and they will), accept the compensations, (however modest) that accompany your misfortune. Learn the lessons that follow behind them. Theyll serve you well. Youll be wiser, stronger, and more prepared for the rest of your journey if you take them with you. Rest now if you need to. Grieve if you must. And when youre ready to collect them, let me know. Ill gladly help you gather them up.

So whats the moral of this story? Your story? Its not a story about loss, deficiency, and flaws. Its a story about lessons learned, overcoming, moving forward and onward, and most importantly it is a story about hope.

Some of my most cherished tales have touched my heart and at the same time they have made me weep. And though Im sad for you right now, I want you to know my weary friend, that I love your story still…

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Discovering Meaning: Living and Loving the Good Life

Id like to warmly and humbly share a gift with you today in honor of Fathers day. For the rest of this month you can listen to the audiobook, Discovering Meaning, for free! Discovering Meaning: Living and Loving the Good Life is the second of four audiobooks in the BirthQuake: Journey to Wholeness series.

The Birthquake: Journey to Wholeness series is one of those rare finds written by a psychotherapist that not only enlightens, inspires, and comforts it befriends and embraces the listener. Its the culmination of the authors many years of research, clinical experience and perhaps most importantly, her own life lessons. The BirthQuake series is an invaluable tool for anyone who has ever struggled or stands anxiously at a crossroad.


Listen to Part One


Listen to Part Two

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As a therapist who walks beside others who struggle with depression, and as a woman who has endured its devastating blows myself,  Im all too aware of what overcoming it demands of us.  We are required to hold on even as our grasp weakens,  overwhelmed by dread and hopelessness.  The pull of life  insists that we get up and face the day when all we really want to do is cover up our heads and refuse to come out.  And we are called during our long dark nights to recognize that those voices (all too often the loudest and the most convincing) that repeatedly remind us of all the ways that we have been wounded and taunts us with our failures, disappointments, and of the vast array of dangers that surround us, can not and  must  not be trusted.  And when almost every fiber of our being seems to be shutting down, we are challenged to acknowledge that the gaping wound inside of us is also an opening one that is capable of ushering in as much possibility as it does pain.

Dancer and wisdom keeper, Gabrielle Roth,  who died from lung cancer this past October, just one month before my mother lost her own battle with lung cancer, wrote that in many shamanic cultures when someone sought a medicine person because he or she was disheartened or depressed, it was common for the sufferer  to be asked one of the following four questions:

When did you stop dancing?

When did you stop singing?

When did you stop being enchanted by stories?

When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?

As I sat yesterday in the gloaming, mellowed by the sweet territory of silence, I asked myself those questions.  And as I waited for answers, memories of my mother floated in and out of my consciousness.   As a child she  created entire universes within the magic and mystery of her own imagination, enchanted her husband as a young woman by belting out country songs about cheating hearts and lovin eyes, and captivated her eldest daughter with tales of  an abused and abandoned little girl and her faithful dog, buddy.   My mother taught me so much with her stories, and it was both the bitter and the sweet of her own life that offered up multiple lessons regarding how to live, what’s important, what needs to be let go of,  and what’s essential to remember.

And at this moment I am remembering one of my favorite stories of my mother as a child.  She was five years old and it was her first  day of kindergarten.  My grandmother was helping her get ready for school and she was both excited and terribly anxious.  As her mother combed her fine brown hair, she peppered her with the following questions.

Can I come home if I miss you too much? she asked.

No.  You need to stay until the school day is over, her mom replied.

Can you come and visit me? she bargained.

No.  School is for children, not for mothers, answered her mother.

“Can I sing in school?” my 5 year old mother asked hopefully.

“No Brenda.  You have to be quiet and listen to your teacher.”

“Can I play?”  she asked tremulously.

“Only at recess.  You go to school to learn,” my grandmother explained.

“Well, can I dance?”

“No Brenda.  You have to sit in your seat,”  her mother responded firmly.

“Well, the tiny child sighed,  holding her skinny little arms over her head as she started to twirl round and around, then, I’d better dance now.”

And I see her in my minds eye still, almost fifty years from the time that  I first heard this story, and feel my soul reaching out to the child that I came to cherish almost as dearly as I loved the mother that she would grow up to be,  and I am smiling and I am weeping now as I imagine her yet again, swirling around the kitchen, pig tails flying, dancing.

Both Gabrielle Roth and Brenda Byram are with us no longer but their legacy lives on dance.  Dance even as your heart breaks, dance even as your body bends from the terrible gravity of grief, dance even though your stomach aches and your heart trembles.  Dance.  Dance while you can….

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I  just finished reading Rocky Braats blog, a young man who is devoting  his life to serving poor orphaned and abandoned children stricken with aids in India    I read  his blog surrounded by creature comforts in a land of plenty while our collective national preoccupation appears to be our faltering economy.  I read two days following a holiday still deemed by many to be sacred in spite of the sad fact that its primary message appears to have become buy this.   I read in my warm and cozy room, shaken once again by the profound suffering and deprivation  that exists in other parts of the world, and by the spiritual poverty that threatens  my own country.

Braat observes, very few people in the West recognize how often the white knights of citizenship, medicine, and raw, brutal wealth sweep us up in their powerful arms and bear us from the battleground of suffering. Our bank accounts, our families, our insurance policies and hospitals, our consulates and ambassadors have so often rescued us from folly and misfortune that our psyches cannot squarely contemplate the torment that is the lot of the truly poor. 

In the midst of our pain and our shame and our debt, there are alternative stories to the Buy Me  story so prevalent in the United States.  Following is one of those alternative stories, told by  activist and philanthropist, Lynn Twist.

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Today was a perfect autumn day, the kind that calls me out of my head and into my senses. The kind that finds me with my car windows rolled down and the music loud. The kind that makes me feel giddy and free. The kind thats drenched in vibrant color and sunshine during the day, and graced with the scent of baking apples and cinnamon at dinner time. The kind that says to me, hey, just maybe you can spend each and every day living in radical amazement each and every day even the hard ones.

Theres such sweet celebration and melancholy in autumn temperatures drifting down, mists rising, the ancient choreography of birds embarking on their long migration, the harvest moon an enchanting paradise so soon to be lost as nature once again begins her inevitable journey into the frigid arms of winter.

While the autumn advances and the leaves deepen and dazzle before relinquishing their hold on the bodies that have sustained them, my mothers own grasp weakens as her cancer progresses and her spirit quickens. My love of nature has never been more acute than in autumn and I have never loved my mother more fiercely than right now.

I walk along the shore of Wolfes Neck woods, hear crows cawing in the distance, tilt my face up towards a gentler sun that caresses now instead of scorches. Im both awed and saddened at the same time. I wonder how much of life is at its most beautiful just before dying. Is this the truest bitter gift of death, that life becomes oh so much sweeter?

Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. .get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

Ammidst the loss, the longing, the life, and the love, I am amazed

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Perhaps one of the greatest reasons I was drawn to become a psychotherapist is that I’m a lover of stories. Storytelling isn’t only an ancient art form and a means through which information and wisdom is shared, it can also be a powerful source of inspiration and healing.

In a speech entitled, “Politics as Spiritual Practice” Larry Robinson, former Mayor of Sebastopol California observed, “Stories tell us who we are and where we belong. They give meaning to our lives and to our suffering. In an age of fear and uncertainty, people are hungry for a story which shows us a way through the current darkness…Story has the power to bring soul back to the world.” And so from time to time, I’ve decided to share one of my favorite soul full stories with you.

Gifted poet and speaker, David Whyte, was visiting Brother David Steindl-Rast one evening after a very long and stressful day at work. Whyte had been struggling with whether or not to leave his job and pursue his calling as a poet full time and shared with brother David that he was absolutely exhausted.

I picture the two David’s in a warm and dimly lit room, wine glasses held loosely, and a book of Rilke’s poems resting on a low table between them. The poet’s broad shoulders are slightly slumped, his dark head bent, and his wise and loving friend is leaning in slightly towards him as he very gently shares the following, “You know David, the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest.” Whyte tilts his head and shifts his position slightly as something not yet definable stirs quietly within him. “The antidote to exhaustion isn’t necessarily rest,” he repeats slowly. “What is the antidote to exhaustion?” Now it’s Whyte who is leaning forward, entirely receptive to the gift some part of him already knows is on its way. The antidote to exhaustion,” brother David responds, “is whole heartedness.”

And while it was not me who asked the question, not my own exhaustion and depletion that called brother David’s response into being, it is my own soul that stirs in response. “The antidote to exhaustion is whole heartedness.”

Yes.

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Following is a poem by Tom Atlee that I believe speaks to each and every one of us, particulary as our beautiful blue planet heats up, civil unrest reverberates in all four corners of the world, and a fourth of July approaches where its not the fireworks alone that causes the earth to tremble.

Extra Ordinary Days

On seven otherwise ordinary days

an Oregon graduate student discovered without even meaning to
that a newly engineered bacteria
might accidentally destroy all terrestrial plants

a controversial election ended
with the U.S. Supreme Court
making the loser President of the United States

a flock of geese came within seconds of triggering
global thermonuclear war
a dime-sized robot was created,
capable of prowling around buildings
in coordinated swarms

a dozen physicists debated whether to proceed with an experiment
that might turn the earth into a black hole

global trade in high-tech torture devices was found to be booming,
with a 7500% increase since the 1970s
in the number of companies making
electroshock stun weapons

and, oh yes,
a hundred species disappeared from earth forever,
along with 18,000 hungry children
(but we knew that already: that happens every day)

Is it possible that
life is not ordinary any more,
despite all its appearances
and comforts?

Yesterday, I saw the death of life itself
stalking just around the corner
of that very ordinary day.

And today, just a few minutes ago,
I saw it watching us
as we dashed along the edge of the End Times,
looking straight ahead, moving fast,
desperate to accomplish so many urgent things.

It is time to look down
at the earth, at the void, at our hearts.
Perhaps only a blast of vertigo will snap the trance,
call off The Fall,
save our souls and the world in one clear Seeing.
For we are too busy in a not-see death camp on the edge
of the beginning
of the worlds ending.

The prospect of Death, seen once, unmistakeably,
can do wonders for Life.
We need to see death now,
clearly,
for the sake of the children
of this and every generation to come,
of this and every type of life.

When the fire starts in the kitchen downstairs
at 2 am,
well only get one chance to wake up.
Please dont think the alarm
is part of your dream.
For I have seen this, and it is a fact:
Business as usual is over
despite everything that remains to be done.

It has been said that war is obsolete.
I say, in the same way,
that business as usual is over
even though the sun also rises
and the bells toll.

It has been said that what is happening is inevitable.
Well, I say unto you:
Business as usual is over
even though its presence continues insisting
like the ghost of an amputated arm.

And now Ill whisper this last:

(For the sake of the children:
Lets wake up
together
in the very next extraordinary day
that so much needs and wants us awake.)

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I havent written a blog entry in over a month, the longest I’ve ever gone without writing. Sadly, inessential activities (like this blog) have been overshadowed by my mothers cancer and my daughters illness, and the lion’s share of my life energy is being poured into sustaining hope and tending wounds.

The trajectory of my mother’s illness is too final and predictable to contemplate, while the weight and course of my child’s suffering is crushing and unknowable. It seems that we have set upon one of those night passages that Sue Monk Kidd observes can “blister the spirit and leave us groping.”

As I tentatively feel my way through a murky shadow land, I remind myself that the whole of my life is still abundantly blessed with love, and sweetness and light even as it requires me to be stronger and wiser than ever before demands that I do/think/feel more than I have ever done/thought/felt before. Even though it insists that I. must. become. more.

Julia Cameron reminds us that “creativity like human life itself begins in darkness.” For over two decades as a psychotherapist I’ve witnessed so many transformations that were initiated by heartbreak and cultivated in darkness. And while there have been times when I could hardly bare to look into the depths of despair and suffering, I am especially grateful for them now, each and every one of them, because I have seen with my own eyes and heart what we are capable of surviving, overcoming, and becoming. Because I have seen, I can believe.

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There are no hopeless situations; there are only people who have grown hopeless about them.
Author Unknown

Being a proponent for strength based therapies for the past twenty years, I was extremely receptive when positive psychology was first introduced to the world. Like so many therapists, Id experienced that terrible sense of hopelessness that periodically emerged during my early years as a therapist as I and my client become entrenched in the muck of pain and pathology. There in my light filled office, muscles tensed and heart heavy, gazing into the eyes of someone whom I had come to care deeply about, I all too often came perilously close to developing tunnel vision. I had witnessed the pain, listened compassionately, and carefully gathered up the shattered pieces of a broken story, while failing to truly see the
epic tale before me

I had come close enough to not only touch the wounds, but to hold them closely, and yet I had allowed precious and essential aspects of my client to move beyond my immediate reach all of those experiences, lessons, wisdom, and unique strengths and gifts that my client possessed which absolutely guaranteed a successful (though never without risk or pain)passage.

When I learned to adapt my lens so that I could readily shift my focus back and forth between pain and possibility, pathology and promise, I not only improved my effectiveness and enhanced my vision I discovered an inner voice. This voice has sustained me through many difficult, frightening and even heart breaking journeys with clients, and while this voice still expresses self-doubt and even despair, it is never without hope. And with hope in tact, we can go on. I can go on.

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I think the following, written by Pema Chodron, is particularly relevant today.

The whole globe is shook up, so what are you going to do when things are falling apart? Youre either going to become more fundamentalist and try to hold things together, or youre going to forsake the old ambitions and goals and live life as an experiment, making it up as you go along.

I am a risk averse planner who is working very hard to embrace Chodrons wisdom. As more and more falls out of my control, I am learning to let go of old expectations, fears, and unspoken demands that things go a certain way in order for me to feel safe and secure. I am striving to keep my mind and heart open to new realities, new challenges, and new possibilities. And the more I am able to do this, the more it seems Im able to feel a powerful YES rising up from a very deep place inside of myself, moving through and beyond my anxiety, my uncertainty and my fear.

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