The Reptile Within

As a part time resident of beautiful, swampy, low country on an island in South Carolina, I have frequent encounters with alligators.  During my daily dog walk I pass by two ponds inhabited by these creatures, and they are frequently found sunning themselves on the bank of the pond about 20 feet from me and my dog as I pass by on the leisure path.  Some days they are even closer, and for safety, I am forced to trod through the brush in order to maintain a safe distance.  Because of their nearby habitation, I have educated myself in alligator behavior. The most interesting aspect of alligators, however, is how we humans are like them.  Through evolution, the oldest portion of our human brain, the amygdala, has been passed down to us from our reptilian ancestors.  So the bottom line is, what is the effect of the amygdala?  How many people actually understand the influence of our reptilian brain?  I was just wondering………

Alligators enjoy a fairly uncomplicated existence.  They slip into a pond and swim around when they want to cool off, they bask in the sun on a bank when they want to warm up, they breed at a certain time of year, and they eat, with a plentiful food supply.  They do not think because they do not have consciousness.  They react.  They follow ritualistic patterns of behavior.  They are instinctive and they are neurologically wired to fight or to flee.  Because they are territorial, if another alligator comes into their space, they make a signal that shows the intruder that he is noticed.  If this does not effectively remove the intruder, then a hissing sound may emerge or the alligator may plump himself up in a menacing manner.  This is the brain that we have inherited.  And this part of our brain remains very active within us to this day.  The amygdala is the part of our brain that causes us to react without thinking.  It is the part that causes us to fight or to flee.  It is our amygdala that causes us to feel threatened and to feel the need to protect ourselves and what we perceive as our territory.  In short, while the amygdala does still serve a protective fight or flight purpose, it is the ancient part of the human brain that causes most of our problems today.

When we are faced with a true threat, such as a robbery, a fire, a tornado, or physical harm, our reptilian brains remain a useful asset.  But unfortunately, we have learned to become reactive about perceived emotional insults, and this sets in motion the same kind of reptilian responses, such as hissing, puffing up, and other threatening behaviors.  We have also taken the territorial protectiveness aspect to a new level, so that we react with hate crimes based on our differences. We have expanded the concept of threat to include things that are only emotional, not physical threats to our being.  When we react to emotional threats in the same way we would deal with a physical threat to our lives, we actually create problems.  We have learned to perceive a dirty look or a snub or a smart remark as an act of violence.  And then we respond with the same reptilian response as an alligator, with a fight!  Perhaps in a way they are smarter than we are. Their battles are limited to survival, while ours are often over insults!

So, what can we do about our amygdala brain?  How do we stop its control over our behavior?  The good news is, that unlike the alligator, we have consciousness!  Consciousness is the beautiful aspect of humanness that separates us from all other animals.  Consciousness allows us choices.  In fact, we do not have to react as the alligator.  When not under immediate threat, we can learn to pause to better assess our situation.  We can evaluate the various responses that may be available to us before we chose to react. We can actually decide whether or not a nasty remark is really worth doing battle over.  We can choose to ignore a snub.  We can honor and appreciate our cultural differences instead of fearing that someone different from us is encroaching on our territory to cause us harm.  We can rejoice in all of our glorious manifestations of humanity and learn from one another rather than to fear that which is different.

Our reptilian ancestors can teach is a great deal.  The scary alligator is a good lesson on how not to be scary humans.  Our consciousness allows us to appreciate the beauty of our world, while the alligator just goes through the motions, day after day after day.  Is that how you want to spend your life, going through the motions day after day after day, without thinking?  Without choosing how you really want to behave? Do you actually want to be human or are you content to be ruled by your reptilian brain, the amygdala?  I was just wondering………..





As I walked my dogs past Spring Lake recently, I encountered a wheel chair bound fellow basking in the sun, fishing.  I greeted him with a question, “Catch anything?”  He responded with a big smile and said “No,” without any regret, and then he laughed while he added, “It’s a good thing my wife went to the store.”  We began to chat and he informed me that he used to be a coal miner and that is where his accident occurred.  He told me he was 53, but the fact that he was paraplegic didn’t seem to disturb him at all, at least it certainly did not interfere with his ability to enjoy life.  I silently felt sorry for him, that he was unable to walk around the lake like me, that he missed out on so much that I can do that he cannot.  But I slowly began to realize that he may have a secret that I and others could learn from.  He clearly knew how to be thankful!  He was focused on what he could do, and he was definitely enjoying it! So how does a person make this transition from despair to contentment?  I was just wondering……..

During this season of Thanksgiving, this man offers us a wonderful lesson.  As I write this blog, I think of several people I know right now who are suffering deeply.  One lost a son to a tragic accident over a year ago and another lost a sister to suicide a few months ago.  These are both horrendous tragedies that even with the best efforts take time for healing.  But the most effective way to heal is always to focus away from oneself, by helping others and by being thankful for WHAT IS.

It is so easy for us to obsess about everything that is wrong with our lives. I have been guilty of that at times myself!  No one’s life is perfect!  Just remember that!  But we all have some perfection in our lives, and while we are bemoaning our sorry lot in life, all the good stuff is just waltzing on by, and  we are not even seeing it.  Just think of the happy movie going on right around us while we are lost in negative thoughts.  Perhaps we look at but don’t see the beauty of the sunset.  Maybe we miss the flower that bloomed.  Perhaps we don’t see the love offered to us because we are so enveloped in our sorrow.  Imagine that we miss the possibilities and opportunities that might make us feel better because we just can’t see beyond the sad movies we continue to view in our heads!

My favorite teaching from the Rhonda Byrne book The Secret is, “What you think about, you bring about.”  Just consider this for a moment.  Really take some time to think about how this has actually transpired in your life!  If you keep yourself into negative and unhappy thoughts, that is just where you stay.  If you begin to monitor your thoughts and change them to positive ones, then you suddenly begin to notice those beautiful and wonderful people, things, events that have always surrounded you but you simply overlooked!  Life is not about one event, one circumstance, one person.

Thanksgiving is our yearly lesson in thankfulness.  But this time I encourage you to make it a daily practice, so that you can enjoy Thanksgiving every day of your life and thereby reap the benefits of being daily nourished by the Thanksgiving message.  Every time you catch yourself being sorry, sad, depressed, discouraged, dissatisfied, angry, irritated, think immediately of something wonderful in your life. It is there!  I promise!  And you probably won’t have to look too far.

An exercise I often use to help people be thankful is to write down 20 things you like to do.  The list is a starting point to help you get focused on what makes you happy and thankful.  My list included even small things like drinking a hot cup of tea on a rainy day, watching my dogs play and roll around on the floor, feeling the breeze blow my hair while riding my bike or while walking the beach, or just spending time with good friends.  Sometimes the simplest things are the most meaningful.  Next, start doing them!

Helping someone else is another powerful way to overcome your own despair.  This will quickly focus you away from yourself and help to create concern and thankfulness.  But the best trick of all is to go to the nearest mirror, and instead of asking like the wicked witch, “Who is most beautiful?” just smile at the image before you and your troubles will magically begin to melt away as your own reflection connects to you empathically and knowingly and with forgiveness as you realize how you hurt you own soul. Celebrate your life this Thanksgiving by being grateful for it by making the very best use of it every day. Remember those who are gone by making them present in how you choose to lead your life and show your thanks to the living by being a gracious and inspiring light.

Can you make a promise to be thankful for yourself?  Can you promise to make the most of your life like the fisherman in the wheelchair, and make it a joyful encounter?  Will you treat yourself with love, caring, compassion by focusing on what it good and what you have to be thankful for rather than using your thought energy on things that can’t be changed or that you can’t have?  I was just wondering…..

Whirling Dervishes

The term whirling dervish evokes a sense of mystery and my interest in this phenomena goes back many years.  I am not even sure anymore where I first heard the following parable about the dervishes which goes something like this:

A tourist and his guide were traveling across the desert.  It was hot and arid and the trek was difficult. After crossing some distance, they began to see something on the horizon.  A mirage, of course, they both exclaimed.  What else could be in the middle of the desert?  As they approached, however, they began to discern there were people, and as they neared the group they were able to see that these people were whirling.  With so many people whirling the energy was totally chaotically.  In the center of all of this tumultuous activity sat a woman who was calmly reading a book.  The tourist was astounded!  He turned to his guide and asked with perplexity, “How can she possibly concentrate on reading a book amidst all that frenzy?”  The guide paused and then replied with an amused knowing smile, “She just lets the dervishes whirl, and eventually they all just fall over.”

I actually had the privilege to observe one during a trip to Egypt.  Simply put, a whirling dervish is an individual’s attempt, by using a specific approach, to achieve spiritual transcendence.  My group watched with fascination as the practitioner, decked out in layers of colorful flowing material, began to spin.  Starting off slowly, the individual increased the speed of the whirl as well as alternating his position, frequently changing the center of balance.  The effect was both amazing and beautiful.  While we were mesmerized as onlookers, the effect on the practitioner was even more profound, as he lost himself to the practice in which he was engaged.

So while we were mesmerized as observers of the whirling dervishes during our trip, try to imagine sitting in the midst of many of these dervishes dancing about madly!  Just like the tourist In the story surmised, it would be extremely difficult to read a book or do anything requiring concentration in the midst of such intense energy.  I have used this story for many years as a reminder to clients to stay out of the fray.  And the lesson is, all that appears so agitating eventually just goes away, just as the dervishes in the story drop from exhaustion.

This is not an easy task however.  I am reminded of the droppings of the cottonwood tree, beautiful fluffs of billowy white cottony balls that float slowly in the breeze. If you are walking around them it is difficult to avoid having them attach themselves to you. Also, they are lovely and fascinating and in one way you want to touch them, to try to discern their mystery. The whirling dervishes in our lives attach in the same way.  At first they may seem interesting, and we may barely notice that we are immersed in them.

Another less appealing but equally enticing analogy is the difficulty we have walking past a “trainwreck.”  Often times horrible things hold a certain fascination for us and we can become victims to its pull to engage us.  We crane our necks to view an accident that we pass, we move toward an altercation to hear what is going on, we watch engrossed at news reports of tragedies and calamities.  We can’t take our eyes off of someone’s bad behavior, because while revolting, it is also somehow captivating!

It is similar when we are not minding our own business, allowing ourselves to be pulled into something that does not concern us and then causes us great distress.  Or when we obsess over a problem, lose sleep, can’t eat, and just can’t let the bothersome thoughts go.  These are whirling dervishes in our brains, numbing our ability to concentrate and clogging our thought processes and disturbing our daily routines.

Think about what was bothering you last year.  Does the problem still exist?  What about six months ago?  What about last week? Do you still have the same concerns?  As time goes on, everything changes, and the truth is, many problems just dissipate without any sort of intervention.  But joining in with the fray will rarely help you to resolve a problem.  Allowing the dervishes to cloud your thinking will only prevent you from finding a solution.

The true whirling dervish practitioner is in a state of transcendence instead of a state of anxiety, worry or chaos.  He is not frightened by appearances, but instead is in a calm state of mind.  He is not distracted by appearances, but instead is focused on inner peace.  Can you learn to detach while you address the issues in your life?  If you have problems for which there is no apparent solution, can you disengage, remembering that everything changes and it most likely will not look the same in 6 months, next week, or maybe even tomorrow?  Can you stay out of problems that don’t need to concern you?  Can you just let the dervishes whirl like the puffs from the cottonwood tree and avoid having them stick on you? Can you resist their pull and stay centered and immune to the chaos around you?  I was just wondering…………………..

Painting Your Life

One of my very favorite activities is my weekly acrylic painting class. Besides the fact that it is a perfect zone-out event that keeps me totally focused in the now, it is populated with other lovely like-minded artists. And because it is a class, it is also educational. We learn techniques to better express ourselves through our paint. The most fascinating aspect, however, is the tremendous differences in the way each painting turns out. Despite the fact the we each paint the very same picture, our finished products are remarkably different. Each unique painting is the product of the painter’s view of the world, and in particular, that one little snippet of it within the assigned picture. No one sets out to create a different painting, but our creations are influenced by our own unique visions of what we each perceive. These very differences are most fascinating to me and are clearly an expression of our individuality and how we interpret what we see. I realized that this exercise in painting is a metaphor of how we paint our lives. I began to think about how we color our lives, how we see and interpret what is around us, how we judge it to create an idea or belief and so on. So I began to ponder, how do we paint our lives?   I was just wondering…………..

Acrylic is very forgiving, which is probably why I like it so much. If you make a mistake, you can just paint over it. We can paint with the same acrylic in our lives, I mused. We can learn forgiveness, we can learn to move on, we can learn new techniques from our errors and use them the next time. We don’t have to stay stuck in a bad picture. We can just paint over it!

As I mentioned, painting is the best thing I know to keep me in the now. There are many other things in life to keep us focused on the now, so that we can enjoy each moment as it occurs, rather than missing things because our focus is elsewhere.   Do you paint your life with focus, or is your life filled with distraction, chaos, hurriedness? There are paintings that depict these unpleasant experiences as well. Which kind of painting do you create for yourself?

What is the mood of your life painting? Is it filled with color, beauty, pleasantry, serenity?   Or does your life depict a painting filled with angst, despair, resentment, full of darkness, with cold murky corners, secrets, hidden meanings? Is your life painting orderly or is it filled with confusion, untidiness, chaos? Do you enjoy viewing your painting of your life, or do you shudder at the sight of it?

Does your painting have integrity, honesty, virtue? Or is it blackened by shame, disgrace, disrespect? Can you look at it with pride and feel satisfaction about how you behave and handle problems as they arise? If you don’t like it, how can you correct it? Perhaps you could add more color, remove the darkness, make it more honest, truer to the real picture.

What is the texture of your life painting? Is it bumpy, full of ups and downs? Or is it flat, too flat and boring, needing some added points of interest? Are there too many snags? Is it smooth sailing or is it a rocky sea for your “life” boat? Does it have too many rough edges?

What depth does your painting have? Is it demonstrated through your relationships? Are they loving, kind, supportive, nurturing? Or are they disengaged, unavailable, unloving? Sometimes if you look again they may seem different. Is there enough intimacy and fulfillment? Many paintings need to be studied, viewed with a keen eye. Sometimes we misinterpret and then have to paint over, or in the case of life, look again. Sometimes we miss love and support because we are not in a good place as we view it. If the fault is not in our vision, then it is time to connect to a better painting, drawing nurturing people into our lives.

What is the meaning of your life painting? Is this something you have thought about? If you have considered the meaning, then is it going in the direction you had intended? How can you change it so that the meaning becomes clearer and is experienced in your life as you would desire? What needs to be corrected and repainted?When I circle the room of my painting class, I get ideas from the other paintings I see. Sometimes these ideas help me to add or subtract something that makes my painting more interesting, more expressive, more unique. We are all stuck in our own vision of the world. It is very powerful to try to look again, see what you are viewing in another way. For your life painting, use some ideas from your admired friends to alter the parts of your life painting that you don’t like. Changing the picture is always possible. There are endless ways to depict the same thing, because it is different for every eye that views it. Readjust your sight! Paint over what you don’t like and try again. And don’t give up! You can achieve the same feeling of homeostasis that I have in my painting class when you make positive adjustments to your life painting!

After evaluating your life painting, are you happy with it? Are there changes that need to be made? Are you willing to start over and paint again in the areas that need touching up?

I was just wondering…………

A Holiday Invitation

With the Holidays right around the bend, I thought it might be a useful time to think about our behavior rather than our usual preoccupation with gifts, holiday parties, decorations, and such. The next month is known to be one of the most stressful times for the whole year! In fact, my husband quoted to me yesterday from a magazine that Christmas day, noted for all things religious and cheerful, is also the day of the year when most heart attacks occur! So as I pondered the blizzard of events into which I head for this next month, I thought about a pledge I would make to myself to get through it. I know that if I follow this Holiday prescription, I will sail through with less stress and greater satisfaction and contentment. I thought this holiday challenge would create a great blog idea for this time of year. So here goes my invitation and holiday gift to all my readers. Will you join me? I was just wondering…….

H               Is for Happiness for this sparkling time of year. Even when stressed to the max, I pledge to stay             positive and try to find the joy around me.

O               Is for Optimism, the ability to see the glass as half full rather than half empty. When things appear bleak as the gray winter sky, I promise to watch for a ray of light.

L                Is for Loving, which I will try to demonstrate through my personal interactions. I will also try to love each moment as I experience it.

I                 Is for Introspection, a necessary practice in order to encourage personal growth.

D               Is for Dependability, a trait to be demonstrated through responsible action for myself and others.

A               Is for Accessibility, the ability to be emotionally present. While it is easy to do for my work, it is more challenging to demonstrate consistently with one’s family and friends.

Y                Is for remaining Young at Heart, to continue to see the world filled with awe through the eyes of a child.

G               Is for generosity, the ability to be kind and giving to others and also to oneself. This is a perfect season to practice this attribute.

R               Is for Responsibility, the ability to be reliable to others, but most importantly, to be able to trust myself to make the right judgments and decisions, those which will enhance my growth, not hinder it.

E                Is for Empathy, the practice of being able to relate in a sincere manner to another’s feelings. This makes us more able to see all sides of a situation.

E                Is to practice being Easy Going, a difficult challenge for an intense perfectionist like me. I promise to try not to worry about unfinished business.

T                Is for Togetherness, which I vow to promote within my family. There are always many opportunities within families to derail this, but I promise it won’t be from me.

I                 Is for Inspiration, which I will try to provide to those in need.

N               Is for the practice of being Non-judgmental. I have learned through my years as a therapist that everyone’s story explains why they are the way they are, and if you walked in their shoes, you most likely would see things in a similar way.

G               Is for Gratefulness, during this season and every day. Practiced gratitude enhances happiness.

S                Is for the pledge to Silence negativity. I pledge to enjoy this season as a beautiful gift to myself!


I invite you to join me in my pledge for this often difficult season. Nurture yourself by following the prescription in my Holiday Greeting to you. Don’t make yourself one of those Holiday heart attack statistics! Join with me in gifting yourself with happiness, optimism, love, introspection, dependability, accessibility, youngness of heart, generosity, responsibility, easy-goingness, empathy, togetherness, inspiration, non-judgmentalness, and gratefulness. As you enjoy these gifts to yourself, you are also gifting those around you as they enjoy the results of your efforts. Toss your negativity to the Grinch so that you can greet this season with a Grin. Can you, can you, can you do it? Will you join me? I was just wondering……….


The Cost of Freedom

            I will be the first to tell you that freedom means everything to me. I do not appreciate anyone telling me what to do, and I admit that I sometimes have trouble with rules, especially the ones that make no sense. I celebrate the concept of free will and I dance to the tune of my ideas as a way of life. Think what I want, live how I love, engage with what I enjoy is my motto! And I have spent much of my life assisting those who have trouble with self-expression to overcome it. Free yourself up, express your feelings, learn to enjoy and live life to the fullest I encourage! So the prospect that someone else should have the power to make a decision for me is utterly revolting. But what if you are not of sound mind? I am a psychologist and the question requires an answer. Should another individual or a state have the power to make a decision about how an individual leads his/her life? Should an individual’s free will be confiscated? I was just wondering……………

            I recently left my Cape Cod home where a major controversy is brewing over the homeless population. The homeless, it seems, have become a blight to the community, a community that relies on tourism to thrive. Main Street in Hyannis, Massachusetts has become the living room to the homeless.  They walk the streets, they populate the park areas, lying on the greens and benches. One evening after dinner at a downtown cafe, I noticed a homeless man sitting on the bench in front of the restaurant. An unwelcome advertisement for the restaurant, I thought, yet the poor man most likely had never actually eaten there.

            Because of the growing homeless population, the local authorities have been identifying their camps, creating a great deal of controversy. Some were located next to schools and the town spent many hours razing these camps where they found used hypodermic needles and other drug paraphernalia, and a great deal of waste product. The camp conditions were deplorable and found to be extremely unsanitary, a definite health risk. While the materials in the camps were removed, the officials were acutely aware that they would most likely be reconstructed again elsewhere.

            The problem is that probably 100% of these individuals are alcoholics/addicts, mentally ill, or both. They are simply trying to survive in the best way they can given their impaired judgement. That is, they are trying to survive while also supporting their addictions, being unwilling, of course, to give them up. Some agencies in town have even assisted them to continue to live this way. One agency gave out free needles, so this homeless and sick population could prevent infection from HIV, hepatitis C and other diseases. Seeing this as a do-gooder service, this agency overlooked the fact that this was enabling them to continue their dangerous and demoralizing lifestyle and habits. This agency looked the other way when it came to clearly seeing the conditions in which the homeless lived with their “clean” needle supply. Apparently it is okay to live in squalor as long as your drug needle is clean. It doesn’t matter that your camp is surrounded by your human waste, filth that causes as great a risk as the infections the clean needles were to prevent. Even slums have some kind of shelters. Even slums, at least in this country, have toilet facilities. Even slums have a place to keep and prepare food.

            We have no excuse for the existence of these homeless camps, except that this is what we call free will. They are choosing their own fate, we say. They don’t want any help, we think. We have no right to interfere in another’s chosen direction in life. This is a free country, but just don’t rain on our parade. Don’t use Hyannis as your living room. Hide your squalor better so that we don’t see it and the tourists don’t see it and then everybody will be happy. Make a camp deeper into the woods. Enjoy your drugs all you want but out of our sight.

            From my perspective, the de-institutionalization of mental patients that occurred about 25 years ago is not working. Most of the homeless today would have been institutionalized 25 years ago. They would have had a shelter, warmth in winter, clean clothing, and a balanced diet. Those with addictions would be removed from their supply. Those with mental illness would be receiving the treatment they need.

            But the question still lingers. This seems to be the cost of freedom, and for the majority of these homeless individuals, and it is a very high cost. The chance of them ever finding a better way of life is virtually nil. But I pose the question to you, my readers of sound mind, what would you choose now when your brain is neither addled with drugs nor with hallucinations? I know that if I were to ever be so lacking in judgment I would hope that someone would rescue me. Most likely in such a sick state of mind it would be against my will. But I do not ever want to live in the conditions of the homeless I have recently seen. But you readers of sound mind, what would you chose? Would you choose freedom or protection? 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…….

Do You Love Cutting Your Carrots?

I was just wondering…..

Years ago I had a boyfriend who claimed he couldn’t make a commitment because I didn’t love the carrots while I was cutting them.  He was experimenting with macrobiotics and according to its founder, Michio Kushi, fully engaging yourself harmoniously with your food preparation is as important as the food you choose to eat. I got a lot of mileage about this over the years when I would laughingly complain to my friends what a crackpot he was. But many years later, armed with a lot more experience and knowledge, I’ve begun to wonder if maybe there might be something to it.

More than likely, like me, most of you are probably scratching your heads wondering why you should love your carrots while you chop them.  After all, most of us are in a rush, and if we are cutting carrots at all, we should be awarded. These days most of us are throwing dinner together quickly, which usually doesn’t even entail cutting carrots, perhaps while juggling a few other things at the same time.  Who cares how we feel about the carrots, or for that matter, what we are thinking about while we are doing it?

In recent years we have learned more and more about the concept called mindfulness. Mindfulness is the process of being fully engaged in whatever you are doing, whether it is driving your car, watching a movie, eating your dinner, brushing your hair and yes, even cutting your carrots.  It is the practice of learning to live in the moment, each moment of your life. This is not such an easy task, because our consciousness is usually focused on something other than what we are doing for the moment. This is why there are so many books available on the subject today. My personal favorite is Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing, but a more contemporary read would be Eckart Tolle’s The Power of Now.

Research indicates that practicing mindfulness is beneficial to our health. So how do we do it and what does it have to do with cutting carrots?  It is simply a matter of refocusing our awareness, moment to moment ,in order to enjoy what is happening in the now. It is learning to luxuriate in your morning shower, fully appreciating the warmth of the waterflow at the same time enveloping yourself in the clean scent of your soap. It means really listening to friends and family while enjoying their presence. It’s about fully attending to your driving rather than thinking about how you’ll handle your boss or what you will wear to the theater. It means you will slow down so that you are able to appreciate everything around you, to become aware of what you don’t usually see, to hear all the sounds surrounding you.  And yes, it means loving the carrots as you slice them, noticing the bold orange color, being thankful for the flavor they will add to your meal.

So, maybe you still don’t care. Maybe you think it’s not such a big deal. But here is what you might miss—–a spectacular sunset, your child’s sweet smile while he’s watching tv, the feel of the brisk air as you take a morning walk, the comfort of your favorite room, the softness of your towel as you dry yourself, the strong pungent aroma of your morning coffee, a tender touch or glance from a loved one, and the taste of those carrots in your dinner. So the questions is, what did you miss today because you were not mindful?  I was just wondering……

Our Changing Brains

I was just wondering……

We have become so reliant on technology today that in some ways we may be losing our ability to think.  I myself am guilty of the instant google and I admit I am addicted to obtaining an immediate answer about anything I wonder about. While we are able to obtain information quickly, are we losing something from this immediate indulgence to our love of instant gratification and reliance on a computer brain?

Also, what is the effect of the computer age on childhood play and imagination? My adult son and I had a conversation about this the other day. He still enjoys playing video games, which exasperates me to no end, but he feels that the play of imagination can be learned to some degree through the computer and video games.  Perhaps some element of it, but it is definitely not the same kind of vibrant, spontaneous play that children of my generation enjoyed in our youth.

This leads me to further musings. For instance, what will be the long term effect, from the point of evolution, of our current technology on the structure of our brains?  Of even greater concern is what will be the long range effect of how these technologies are training us to react immediately, at the expense of everything else in our lives, to a simple beep? In one sense we are being conditioned like Pavlovian dogs.  When the phone beeps, we immediately rush to view the message.  I know, because I again plead guilty! Beep, react, beep, react. How will this rewire us and what will happen to the spontaneous sense of play and contemplation that arises out of pure imagination that doesn’t provide an immediate answer?

The new field of neuroplasticity has arisen to begin to look at the ways our brains change, now that we have become aware that they are so malleable.  What we are fast learning is that what we expose ourselves to is what we become. Our brains create new neurons and new pathways to enable these new activities. This idea has tremendous implications for us individually and for our future as a human race.  What kind of person do you want to be?  How do we want ourselves to be as a human race?

The really good news is that we then have a choice, a choice of what and how we want to be.  Once we have made that choice, then all we have to do is to expose ourselves to those ideas.  Kind of reminds you of brainwashing, doesn’t it?  The beauty is that we have control over this!  In brainwashing, someone else has made the decision what to implant as a belief system, but now that we know our brains are plastic, we can decide with careful thought and planning to what we should expose ourselves.  While this sounds like a simple undertaking, it is not as easy as it appears.  We may consciously plan to learn some things, but a lot of learning is going on all the time unconsciously and we are not used to paying attention to everything we do, everything we think.  Mind you, this means we are influenced by the news we watch, the movies we view, what we do for work, the company we keep, and how we spend our spare time, both in action and rumination.

For those of you interested in learning more about neuroplasticity, I would highly recommend the book “The Brain that Changes Itself” by Norman Doidge.  Meanwhile, let’s all start to become more aware of how we spend our time and to what we expose ourselves. As you review the events of your day will you be able to express satisfaction with the way you have trained your brain today?

Will you be able to include contemplation and thoughtfulness as methods employed to make your decisions?

Or will you spending too much time being trained by your technological appendages?

I was just wondering….