Archive for the transformation Category

I Will Not Die an Unlived Life

Art by Steve Hanks, Bookends

Art by Steve Hanks, Bookends

One easy way that you can tell which books in my library have touched or taught me the most would be to notice which are the most marked up.  I came across a book just the other day that is filled with yellow highlights, its Dawna Markovas, I Will Not Die an Unlived Life.   Beautiful and wise.  Reminding us of whats sacred,  asking us what it would look like to live our lives fully, sensually alive, and passionately, on purpose.   Encouraging us to live days that are a sweet and slow ceremony and nudging us as winter approaches to let go of what no longer is alive, to get bare enough to find the bones of what is important to us.

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible;
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.

~Dawna Markova~


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On Darkness, Despair and Hope

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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One of the Greatest Discoveries of Our Era

Diane Ackerman wrote in the New York Times, A relatively new field, called interpersonal neurobiology, draws its vigor from one of the great discoveries of our era: that the brain is constantly rewiring itself based on daily life. In the end, what we pay the most attention to defines us. How you choose to spend the irreplaceable hours of your life literally transforms you. A message well worth reminding ourselves of daily.

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Matthew Fox, Peter Reason and Falling in Love at Least Three Times a Day

Photo by Guy Mayer

In a thought provoking paper entitled, Reflections on Sacred Experience and Sacred Science, Peter Reason wrote, I heard for the first time the challenge that we in the West had lost the feeling for sacredness, the ability to notice the sacredness of our world, and that we need to discover this anew if we are to learn from the traditions of Native Americans. One is entering a different world, a world that is again alive and enchanted, a world in which all sentient beings bring their gifts of teachings, and are thus worthy of honour. Such an animate world is akin to that inhabited by the alchemists, and can only be comprehended fully through a participatory consciousness.

In this same paper Reason quotes the following from Morris Bermans book, The Re-enchantmant of the World:

The view of nature which predominated in the West down to the eve of the Scientific Revolution was that of an enchanted world. Rocks, trees, rivers, and clouds were all seen as wondrous, alive, and human beings felt at home in this environment. The cosmos, in short, was a place of belonging. A member of this cosmos was not an alienated observer of it but a direct participant in its drama.The story of the modern epoch, at least on the level of mind, is one of progressive disenchantment. From the sixteenth century on, mind has been progressively expunged from the phenomenal world At least in theorythe mechanical philosophy (is) the dominant mode of thinking. That mode can best be described as disenchantment, nonparticipation, for it insists on a rigid distinction between observer and observed. Scientific consciousness is alienated consciousness: there is no ecstatic merger with nature, but rather total separation from it

Reason points out that our disenchantment and disconnection from the natural world and from our own experience has led us to a kind of soul sickness and calls for a re-sacralization of the world. One way to do this, he suggests, is to follow theologian Matthew Foxs advice to fall in love at least three times a day.

And so today I fell in love with a puppy I met on my walk, rubbing my cheek against her silky soft fur, and laughing fully from my belly as she wiggled wildly and covered my face with kisses.

Later I witness the anguish and sorrow of a couple desperately attempting to find their way across a chasm that seems to grow wider and more dangerous with each moment – with each jagged heartbeat – and with each accusation. Finally, as they sit rigid and exhausted, I ask them to take just a few moments to listen for what else might lie silently beneath their fears, anger, frustration and betrayals. Softly at first, barely perceptible even, their breathing steadies and something indescribable begins to happen as the energy in the room shifts and remarkably (you would have had to have been there) and seemingly as if by magic we are each touched and even (I think) for a moment transfixed by the undeniable presence of a battered and weary but still living love.

After work I spoke with a friend whom Ive known for over thirty years and as she shared with me a simple and yet oh so sweet story about her day, I allowed myself to savor her voice, her laughter, and her unique and wildly optimistic perspective, and I felt my love for her warm my heart and gentle my spirit.

And so, I have fallen in love at least three times today and I resolve to fall in love at least three times tomorrow as well. In doing so, I allow myself to be enchanted and to more fully embrace the sacred.

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Childhood Trauma: When Childhood Stories Haunt Us

In M is for Magic Neil Gaiman wrote, “Stories you read when youre the right age never quite leave you. You may forget who wrote them or what the story was called. Sometimes youll forget precisely what happened, but if a story touches you it will stay with you, haunting the places in your mind that you rarely ever visit.”

The only book other than “Dick and Jane” that I recall was used to teach my seven year old self how to read was a book that I remember as, The Paradise Lost book. It was a Jehovah Witness text written for children as an introduction to the religion. It contained Bible stories and pictures along with Jehovah Witness teachings. I learned a great deal from that book.

There was one particular story between its pretty orange cover that has lived inside of me for a life time. It was the story of Armageddon, the story of how my fragile little world would end – of how my mom dad, sister, and probably all of my toys would be destroyed in the terrible chaos of an angry God. The God who I was told to love, and taught to fear. I learned my lesson well. I feared him every single day and night of my painful childhood. Each and every one of them.

There was a picture in that book depicting Armageddon. I can still see it clearly in my mind’s eye. I used to dream regularly about the woman in that picture. Surrounded by children in Mrs. Nichol’s second grade classroom, I barely paid attention. I was too busy thinking about the dream I’d had the night before about the beautiful lady with long curly hair who looked up with wide terrified eyes, her arms raised defensively over her head, and her mouth open wide in a frozen scream as the debris of a collapsing building headed straight for her. That picture fueled a little girl’s nightmares, causing her to lie awake at night clinging desperately to her big brown teddy bear, reciting the Lord’s Prayer, and trying with all of her might to not go to sleep.

The night the twin towers fell in New York city, approximately forty years after that first bad dream, I woke up in a cold sweat, heart pounding, and throat aching. The little girl’s helplessness and terror sprang immediately back to life inside of me. Only now, the little girl was lost, and I was the woman with the long curly hair quaking in fear.

We need to pay close attention to the stories our children are being told. Are they stories of hope and love and kindness and beauty? When you’re watching the news, are your children watching too? Are they being bombarded with images of war, and death and destruction? Are they hearing stories of mother’s murdering their own children? Or of a world hurling head long towards ecological disaster and financial collapse? Are they being seduced into believing that their happiness and self worth depends upon the newest toys, technology, and designer clothes? Pay attention now, because they will carry the stories they learn today forward forty years from now, and those stories will either strengthen and sustain them or haunt them….

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Theodore Roszack, our Toxic Culture, Boomers, and Hope

I just learned that Theodore Roszack died this past July in his California home at the age of 77 from liver cancer.

Ill miss him. Ill miss his wisdom, his perspective, his call to therapists everywhere to respond to the madness involved in urban industrial society that has to do with our lack of balance and integration with the natural environment He urged us to join those ecologists and environmentalists who warn that were on a path of self-destruction. He implored us not to remain so focused on our clients’ individual issues that we failed to confront the wounds inflicted by a “deeply toxic” culture. In an interview with Jeffrey Mishlove on Thinking Allowed, he encouraged us to find out why ordinary people are engaging in behaviors that are so destructive. To ask, how did we lose our intimate connection to the natural world? And what drives us so fiercely towards material gain at the expense of community, spirituality, health, morality, and so very much more? And he adviced us to listen very carefully to the answers as closely and as genuinely as we listen to the stories of our clients.

He pointed out that while our mental health system was focused on trauma, pathology and illness for so long, there have always been those whove maintained that, “the deeper you look inside, the more reason you find for joy, for celebration; that the foundations for human nature are clean and good and innocent and creative.” He asked us, as mental health professionals, to lead the way in helping people move away from the burdens of shame and guilt and original sin and towards what psychoanalyst Eric Fromme called, biophilia the love of humanity and life. If we were to fall in love with the beauty thats contained both within the natural world and within ourselves, wed be far more proactive in caring for ourselves, our planet, and one another.

In an interview on PBS which focused on ideas from his first book, an examination of the revolutionary youth movement of the sixties entitled, The Making of a Counter Culture, Roszac suggested that if the ethos of the sixties had prevailed today, it would be a world, where people lived gently on the planet without the sense that they have to exploit nature or make war upon nature in order to find basic security. It would be a simpler way of life, less urban, less consumption-oriented, and much more concerned about spiritual values, about companionship, friendship, community. Community was one of the great words of this period, getting together with other people, solving problems, enjoying one anothers company, sharing ideas, values, insights. And if thats not what life is all about, if thats not what the wealth is for, then we are definitely on the wrong path.

He called on therapists such as myself in his book, The Voice of the Earth: An Exploration of Ecopsychology, and he called on boomers such as myself in his last book, The Making of an Elder Culture: Reflections on the Future of Americas Most Audacious Generation, to relaim the spirit that was very much alive in the sixties, the one that questioned rather deeply the cultural standards of the time. He asked us now that we are becoming elders to revive the energy and commitment we had back when we were young to work to birth a better and more just world.

I will miss you Theodore. I took you for granted. I was too self absobed to fully hear your message. And now, as is all too often the case with we humans, you got my full attention only when I found out that you had left me. Im listening now with both a sad and grateful heart.

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A Question to Ask When Your Life Hurts

When we encounter times in our lives that disorient us, frighten us, or wound us, we generally view them as unwelcome interruptions or unfortunate detours that have been inflicted by some outside force, or are the result of our own misguided actions. Seldom do we recognize that the discomfort that we’re experiencing may in fact be originating from a very deep and wise place inside of ourselves that is calling to us. Calling for us to stop and to listen, to explore the meaning and purpose of our lives, and to assess whether our actions and choices reflect what is best for us and in us. A voice that calls us to answer the question, “is the path that I am on now one that will constrict or enlarge me, hollow me out or deepen me, distract me or teach me, harm me or heal me?

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Letter to America

What I most love about the internet is the window to the worlds wisdom it provides. From my office in Lewiston or from my little cottage in Wayne I can attend lectures, listen to interviews, and watch thoughtful and informative webcasts.
Today I listend to an interview with Duncan Campbell and David Boren who talked about his new book, A Letter to America on Living Dialogues. Borens message regarding the crisiss that we in the United States face is both alarming and inspiring at the same time. I encourage you to listen to the interview as well as to a number of other valuable and thought provoking interviews that are available on the Living Dialogues website.
Each and every day I listen to individuals who are appropriately worried about their futures, good people who share that they all too often feel powerless and frustrated. Its in my nature to want to reassure and comfort, and I find myself in most cases automatically leaning forward, unconsciously assuming the posture of compassionate witness. And then I am pulled back by the awareness that now is not the time for empathy nearly as much as it is the time for accountability and action a time for us to collectively face the challenges that confront us while creating a vision for a healthier and more sustainable future.

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