Under The Skin

Not to be confused with the recent movie of the same name, it was the movie, in fact, that got me thinking about this blog subject. The movie, a strange and surreal tale of predator aliens harvesting the skin of human bodies in order to experience human life, focuses on the alien’s disconnect from the human experience despite living under the human skin.  I began musing about our own human disconnect with what is beneath our own skin.  What goes on underneath there remains mostly a mystery, a mystery we spend very little time attempting to solve.  We know a bit about our physiological bodies, but we know almost nothing about the mind, the component that is essentially responsible for just about everything we do.  Don’t get me wrong, while we have incorporated the teachings of psychologists and neuroscientists, what do we really know about the everyday workings of our individual minds and how they dictate what our physical bodies outside of the skin and even our internal physiology are doing moment to moment?  The question, then, is how well do we understand exactly who we are and how aware are we of our intentions and behavior?   But even more concerning, how much effort do we make to have any understanding of this?

I was just wondering……

It has occurred to me that we spend millions and millions of dollars annually on clothing, makeup, toiletries, hair products, perfumes, cosmetic surgery and all things to improve our surface layers.  We also spend many more millions attempting to make ourselves feel better with alcohol, vacations, massages, relationships, movies, gambling, parties, cars, adventures, and so on.  We spend even more with physicians, chiropractors, and other health care professionals attempting to stay healthy and feel well.   So, compared with how much we spend attempting to improve the outside, and the physiological body, what efforts do we actually make individually towards self-understanding?

There is a paradigm known as Johari’s Window which addresses this concept.  It is shown as a square divided into four equal sections.  One square represents the aspects of self that both we know of ourselves and what others also know about us.  Another represents what we know about ourselves that we do not share with others.  Still another square represents what others know about us that we don’t (clearly an area we might want to get more acquainted with!)   The final square represents what both we and others don’t know about us.  So according to this model, we are actually acquainted with only about half of ourselves.  This is a startling comment on our lack of awareness and understanding of self!  This means that half of our behavior is occurring without any conscious awareness of it! That is surely cause for alarm, but the question is, what will we do about this?  Anything?

I have personally been involved in several spirituality groups that promote self-awareness.  Even in these situations with sincere seekers of truth, it appears to be a challenge for us to really look within.  I recall my frustration in one group, which spent a great deal of time every week examining the content of what we read.  After digesting all of these sainted messages of advice for over five years, I suggested that we begin focusing how we were applying these learnings to our lives, to explore how it felt to try new behaviors, to see how much we were actually assimilating.  This idea went over like a lead balloon!  It seems that it feels much safer to play with the idea that we are really exploring within than to really explore within.  But before you give me too much credit for trying, I’m sure I would have been just as blocked as everyone else when it actually came down to doing it.  This is why therapy such as Freudian analysis goes on for years.  It is fraught with defense mechanisms, like denial, minimization, intellectualization, rationalization, and the biggest block of all, resistance.

In my practice as a psychologist, resistance reigns.  I have found that there are actually very few people who really want to know themselves.  Most people just want to attain a quick fix from whatever is distressing them at the moment.  To really know oneself is a frightening and challenging journey that only few really attempt to undertake.

We are afraid of what may lurk under our skin.  We fear that our demons lie there, waiting silently to be released, when in truth, it is our demons that control us because we are unaware that they are already at the helm of our body ship. If we became aware of our dark urges they would be brought to the light and no longer have any control over us.  We could become acquainted with the bright beauty of our souls if only we would have the courage to look beneath the skin.

So I wonder myself what prevents us from spending equal time exploring our inner caverns.  Why do we resist?  What do we fear?  Are we just created so as not to look deeply this way?  Are we just so superficial that we only care about appearances and how we feel?  Are we just not interested in a true mystery? Do we just not have the courage to look within?  Are we brave enough to face ourselves?  Are you willing to discover your essence?

I was just wondering……………….

 

 

Respect, Creative Expression, and the “F” Word

My husband and I went to a movie last night and like many movies that we have seen recently, the dialogue was replete with the F word.  While I have become accustomed to hearing this not only in movies, but also in everyday conversation, I must admit that I have not become immune to its vulgarity.  Now before you jump to the conclusion that I am just an old prude, just hear me out and see if you still feel the same at the end of this rant!  My objections are not necessarily about morality, but more about the deterioration of creative expression in our everyday language.  It is also about respect and especially self-respect.   I would like you, the reader, to think about your own use of this modern substitute for anything you want to express.  How do you feel about your personal use of the F word and how do you feel when you hear it every day?  Have you become immune to it?

I was just wondering……..

 So let’s start with whether or not the use of the F word has lost its meaning.  Yes, I do believe to some degree we have become benumbed to it. After all, it is everywhere. There is no escaping it! It’s at the water cooler at work, it’s in many homes, and it’s definitely in our school systems.  As noted, it’s in our movies, media, and more recently the civility of Congress has deteriorated to this language as well. So if it’s lost its meaning, perhaps you are wondering, then what is the big deal?  Well, I would suggest that the decline in our overall dress codes, particularly in school makes a good comparison.  When people are dressed better they tend to behave better.  I suspect that the same applies to the use of the F word and our language in general.  While the F word may to some extent have lost its meaning, the mere sliminess of it has remained intact.  So the question I pose to you, the reader, is how do you feel when you are dressed in old, dirty, sweaty  clothing?  It’s definitely a pick-me-up to get a hot shower, to wear a new dress or suit, to get a stylish haircut. The language we use is also a key component of the way we approach the world. Thus, I maintain that mouthing slime is like wallowing in a pig sty.  Even worse, what does this do to our attitudes toward everything around us for the day?

 Let’s take a look at the modern day meaning of the “F” word. If you’re surprised, you may say “F!”  When you’re happy perhaps you say “F!” When someone is mad, you’ll most definitely hear  ”F!”  But then you may hear “F!” when someone has suffered a loss and is depressed.  You may say “ F!” when you forgot something. You will hear the F word as an adjective describing various things, such as “I got the F….ing job,”  in this case a good thing, or “My F…ing boss railed me out today,” a bad thing.  Or you may hear, “You’re a F…ing genius,” or “You’re a F…ing idiot,” the same adjective to describe completely opposite concepts. The F word is a noun, it is an adjective, and it is a verb!  It is primitive and completely lacking in creativity! It’s a perfect word to use if you can’t think of anything else. It’s nondescript yet perfectly understood. You probably only need an IQ of about 10 to use it! So you may ask yourself, what does it say about the user?

 A few months ago I was having an unpleasant text exchange with a tenant from whom I was attempting to extract the rent.  The tenant, as usual, peppered me with the F word while I listened patiently. She added that we were not friends and therefore I did not have the right to ask her for the rent.  I concurred that we were not friends, but that we did have a business relationship to which she had a contractual obligation, adding, that in fact, I would never have a friend who talked like her.  I went on to suggest that the only person she was demeaning was herself.  This idea must have struck a note of truth in her.  Surprisingly since that exchange, she has never uttered the F word to me again.  In addition, she has become the epitome of politeness and civility. I used to brace myself for her onslaught whenever I had to communicate with her and now every exchange couldn’t be more pleasant.  I actually have come to like her!

So, what have you learned about the “F” word?  Do you feel better towards yourself if you delete the “F” word from your vocabulary? Do you feel you are more linguistically creative so that you can avoid using this primitive form of expression?  Wouldn’t you prefer your listener to know how you really feel with a more descriptive word?  And if you do not use this word yourself, how might you affect someone else’s use of it in your presence?

I was just wondering……

Carriage of Treasures

As my husband and I leisurely enjoyed our late lunch at a Main Street restaurant in downtown Hyannis, our attention was diverted outside the window to a woman on the street.  She was talking to the maitre’d and she was thoroughly decked out in the most colorful garb consisting of pink sneakers and  a heavy blue winter coat with a bright yellow scarf encircling her neck.  She also wore a colorful ball cap and she was bedecked with large dark sunglasses, obviously ready for any weather.  The day was cloudy, but about 62 degrees, so that she was clearly overdressed.  Beside her stood a bright blue baby carriage, devoid of baby but filled instead with all of her earthly belongings.  She was clearly homeless, and I wondered what had brought her to this place in her life; what was her story?  As I mused over this I began to realize that everything that was important to her was in that baby carriage.  As the meaning of this began to sink in I thought of my own belongings and what I truly treasured of them.  Can we fit what we most treasure into a baby carriage?

I was just wondering…….

Some years ago my mother was contacted by someone who thought they might be related to her. The individuals involved were led to her by the meager contents left in an old shoe box by their father when he died.  No one in the family had previously known of the existence of the shoebox, nor its contents, but it was clearly treasured by the keeper of the box and remained a secret until his death. You probably know people yourself who keep a box of treasures.  Many of us had an old cigar box as children where we kept our precious found stones, post cards from faraway places, little mementos and secrets that meant everything to us.  My father had an envelope filled with his secret treasures that we discovered when he died. It was filled with all of his artistic endeavors that were stifled by the demands of the time when he lived, stuffed into an envelope and stuffed inside of him, never again to be released until his death.  Beautiful poems and tentative drawings from his younger self, untarnished by the vicissitudes of life, revealed themselves after years of being concealed.

Then there are those of you who have collections such as cars, dolls, teacups, stamps, comic books, baseball cards, art,  and so on. Maybe you treasure most you house or your car, your jewelry, or perhaps your job or your bank account. Whatever it is, your initial response may be something material.

But what if a disaster were to occur and you had 24 hours to collect your most important valuables into something the size of that baby carriage?  Besides your loved ones, what would you preserve? Or if the time were only hours or minutes, what would it be?  What is most important to you?

As we left the restaurant the homeless woman was still out there chatting away, carriage in hand.  She seemed surprisingly unperturbed about her situation. As the sun broke through the thick clouds above I noticed the smile on her face.  She seemed strangely happy, content. Well, she had no bank account to worry about, no car payments to stress over. I began to think about what we could learn from her.

So what would you pile into that small carriage?  I guess I would have my family photos and some sentimental mementos. But I realized as I left that scene that what is most important is in my heart and cannot be taken from me no matter what happens. What she reminded me of was that the love I feel for my family, friends, and my memories and experiences are what I most covet from this interesting journey called life.  What would be in your treasure box?

I was just wondering……..

The Splendor of September

I love the heat of summer but for some reason, September has always been my favorite month.

I am acutely aware of it now, having just come inside from my deck at my summer home on Cape Cod. The tourists have all departed now and there is a sweet serenity lingering in the air before the cold sets in. I don’t know if it’s the way the sun hits the earth at this time of year, but there appears to be a brilliant glow bathing the terrain that delivers a magical sensory bath of peace. I think it is a love affair I have with this month because for me, no other time quite captures the beauty of life so well. September somehow manages to enhance my sensory awareness so that if I take a moment to relax I can quickly lose myself in the wonder of it all.

Do others have this experience as well, I wondered?

Are you too caught up in your everyday matters that you miss the splendor of September?

I was just wondering……

Take a deep breath and join me in my reverie.

Back on my deck as I sat in the warm silky sun with closed eyes, I heard the comforting sound of the crickets, mingled with a few chirping birds and an occasional caw of a crow. Everything is in order, I mused. This was interrupted with the distant sound of my neighbor’s saw, followed by hammering, not the annoying kind, just the sounds of life on a nice day, when you feel that all is well. I opened my eyes to the clear blue sky to see the sun shimmering through the branches as a tiny green inchworm swung gracefully in the breeze, attached to a barely perceptible glistening strand anchored to the fir tree above. I became aware of the soft rustling of the breeze as the branches swayed softly to the rhythm of the earth below. I noticed the patterns created by their changing shadows and then looked above to see the beauty of the fractal pattern of the treetops against the September sky.

The September sun sprayed diamond encrusted sea awaits as we make our lasts visits to the beach for the season. There are few people there now, but this is my favorite time, devoid of the cacophony that exists in the summer. There are no loud voices, no announcements, no radios blaring, only the sound of the waves as they come crashing into the awaiting shoreline. There are a few dogs running around and my little guy Mocha dances excitedly in the sand as a band of seagulls lands nearby to scavenge for the crumbs someone left in the sand. The sand is cooler now and does not sting the bottom of your feet as in the summer, and we walk leisurely along the shore, basking in the sensations of our surroundings, the briny smell of the sea, the cool wind, the coarse damp sand.

A small plane glides above, and I wonder about the passengers and how they experience the breathtaking scene below. In the summer the ocean sky becomes a billboard for these planes carrying messages for their advertisers, but now the plane above is just a lofty purring passerby, minding its own business.

September is the whole deal. It brings an inviting sense of solitude unlike any other season. It is still part of what has been, but it is the best part, free of the hurry of vacationers and the accompanying chaos. It is also the promise of what is to come as glimpses of fall begin to intrude with nippy mornings, along with an emerging hint of the change of clothing soon to occur for the surrounding foliage as it prepares to dress itself in its brilliant display before retirement for the winter.

So I will spend every last moment indulging myself in the splendor of September as long as it lasts. I hope that you will not miss it. I will be leaving here soon but I will take my memories of sweet September to warm me through the winter.

Will you take the time to immerse yourself in this golden month before it is gone?

I was just wondering…..

These Feet Were Made For Walking

These feet were made for walking

            The other day my husband and I were sitting on the beach enjoying the beautiful day when he began to massage my foot.  He studied it pensively, looked up at me and said, “These feet have walked a long way since you were a little girl,” a simple statement that grew increasingly profound as I contemplated it.  “Yes,” I thought inwardly as I mentally skipped over my journey in life.  As my mind flooded with memories of where those feet had actually been I began to wonder how the journey of my feet had affected me.  Where had those feet taken me and where were they going next?

I was just wondering……..

There have been many metaphors about our feet and walking such as “walking the walk,” a statement about doing what we should be doing, or having someone “walk you through it” when they are showing you how to do something. Then there is “Don’t put your foot in your mouth,” meaning don’t say something you shouldn’t. Those of you who are old enough may recall the lyrics crooned by Nancy Sinatra about her “feet made for walking,”   in this case to “walk right out on you.” All of these metaphors relate our feet to our behavior, or more precisely, define our feet as the instrument of our actions.

So, back to the beach…..Encouraged by my response to his query about my feet, my husband continued to give me fodder for this column I was already writing in my head. “Think of the feet on the battlefields,” he said “and the feet that walk in the ghetto,” as I wondered how the bodies of those feet absorbed those experiences.  I returned to my own feet again, remembering how they used to feel in the freshly mown grass of my barefoot days as a child, how I screamed in pain when shocked by my first bee sting on my foot.  I remembered running with the speed of a bullet to my grandmother’s house when I got a new pair of sneakers, thoroughly convinced they made my feet run faster.  I recalled the gritty feel of the sand and the bumpy, painful rocks as I waded into the cold Lake Erie water and years later repeating that experience into the icy North Atlantic. I recalled with delight the memory of my father tickling those feet, much smaller then and much less worn.

I shifted then away from the physical sensations of my feet to the experiences those feet absorbed from their physical location back to my body. I remembered walking tentatively into my new high school at age 14 when my father’s job transferred us to a new town.  I remembered 4 years of 100 plus steps to reach the main campus from my dorm at Ohio University and many ”side”-walks  of college life throughout my tenure there. I remembered my first tremulous steps after the birth of my son and my years in Boston before his birth when my feet eagerly joined in the “love-ins” in Boston Common. I recalled the first step on the island of the Republic of Kiribati where the native children sat in wait, greeting us with a melodic, haunting melody that brought many of us to tears.  Those feet stood strong in St. Mark’s square in Venice as, surrounded by pigeons, I drank in the wonder of that awesome setting. Those feet climbed the hill of the Parthenon while I was flooded with feelings for those who had lived before me, those who built those marvelous structures that still stand today. These feet have risen from illness and walked me back to health. They have overcome many obstacles with firm determination. They just kept moving along. They have trudged the hills of Thailand to mingle with the people of the hills and they have draped the sides of an elephant while thrilling to the wonder of an elephant camp.  They have sailed the Amazon and walked the tiny villages with the rainforest natives on the rain soaked muddy shore, always to be grateful to be back home.

No, my feet have experienced neither a battlefield nor a ghetto, but they have had their share of challenges.  It has not been “a walk in the park,” but nevertheless, one I would never want to miss. Each misstep was only an opportunity for growth and each correct step has been a gift for appreciation. I would not take another path if I could.  You know what they say, most people would not want to walk in your shoes, but that’s okay with me, I’ll own my own, scuffs and all, as I plod on to my next adventure.  Where will it take me?  I don’t know, but I’m ready to learn more about life.  That’s where my feet have been, deep in the trenches of humanity.  They have affirmed to me that humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers’ quote, “What is most personal is most general,” is so true. No matter how different we may appear, we are basically all the same! Where have your feet been and what have you learned from your journey?  I was just wondering…….