Unexpected Gifts

Many, many moons ago when my son was just a toddler, I was working part time as an attendant at the Dartmouth College Art Gallery.  In this capacity, I was charged with making sure that no one touched the art, and I also had a counter device so that I could keep track of the number of visitors.  An easy and peaceful job!  Well on this particular day stretching back in the recess of my memory, it was Thanksgiving, and there was a huge snow storm.  I did not want to go to work.  But I only had a short three hour shift so I plowed through the snow to my bulldozer Saab 95 wagon and drove the five miles to the Hopkins Center for my shift.  I sat quietly, reading.  There were no visitors of course, because no one was crazy enough to be out in the storm and everyone was cozily ensconced at home enjoying Thanksgiving.  Then he silently entered, the music Artist in Residence, Robert Northern, who later became famously known as Brother Ah.  He was carrying a flute and he began to play, a soft, lilting, beautifully haunting melody.  I was enraptured!  I do not remember if I spoke to him as he left, I was so awed by the experience.  But it is an experience that I never forgot, a gift from a giver who may never have realized the effect those moments had on me.  So when these earthly raptures occur, are we receptive to the beauty of the moment?  Also, can we purposely participate in creating them for others?  I was just wondering…………………..

Another not so rapturous, yet significantly memorable moment occurred for me about five years later.  I was living on Cape Cod at this time.  Fry boots were the rage.  I wanted lace-ups, which were harder to find, and I learned a leather shop in Chatham had some.  I drove the same reliable Saab to that leather shop, filled with excited anticipation.  It was very close to Christmas, and my husband and I were separated, so I was going to treat myself with this gift for which I had been longing.  I entered the store and quickly told the friendly bearded clerk what I came for.  He brought me the boots and I quickly laced them up, strutting back and forth, admiring myself in front of the mirror.  “Ah, yes, they suit me,” I thought silently, as I was thrilled to have finally found them.  I went to the counter to make my purchase, and there, hanging on a peg, was the most beautiful leather pouch bag!  It was a perfect accompaniment to the boots.  I  put the boots back on and sashayed back and forth again in front of  the mirror, now with both boots and pocketbook.  Finally, I looked longingly at the purse as I reluctantly returned it to the peg where it had been hanging.  Clearly I could not afford it.  I paid for the boots and the clerk handed me my package.  Then he said, “Come here,” and he lifted the purse from the peg and draped it over my head onto my neck and said with a big smile, “Merry Christmas!”

More recently, I learned that I had breast cancer.  I was fortunate because it was very early stage, although it still necessitated surgery followed by a month of radiation.  I couldn’t get scheduled to start at the center closest to me so I scheduled myself to have it done in Falmouth, normally a half hour ride.  However, it was July, the peak of  the tourist season, so the daily drive took twice as long.  But still, I never lost sight of the fact that this was curable and I was very fortunate! And best of all, I didn’t need chemo! I met many different people during my daily encounters.  My conversations with these people were also part of the gift, many of them struggling with much greater challenges than what I had to endure.  The gift of these conversations was the courage, spirit, and hope with which these people faced their problems.  One woman’s story remains with me vividly.  She was about twenty years younger than me and she had to take the boat every day from Martha’s Vineyard.  Then she had to arrange for a ride to and from the hospital as well.  Her courageous attitude will remain with me always.  The best part of the radiation was graduation day.  The staff explained that there would be a celebration.  Mine was even more special.  A group of five of my friends surprised me by being there while they and the staff adorned me with confetti!  Afterward they took me to lunch.  Their support at this challenging time of my life was a beautiful gift!

I am not aware of all the gifts I may have given, but I do recall being a messenger of TLC during my month long hospitalization when I was 33.  The three weeks after my surgery required rest, although I was able to ambulate.  I began to make daily rounds to each room on my hallway.  The other patients, who were mostly bedbound, expressed their thanks for my daily visitations.  It was something that they looked forward to and helped for their recovery.  Little did I know that this was practice for my future!  After obtaining my doctorate, I consulted in nursing homes for many years.

Gifts appear in many packages. Some are like the beautiful experience of haunting music on that Thanksgiving day years ago.  Some are simply companionship or a helping hand.  Some gifts are physical objects, although it is the meaning behind them that is most important.   It helps if you can become more fully aware of the gifts you have received.  I have many more I don’t have the space to share, but I hope that these accounts will help to stimulate your memory so that the beauty of what you have received in your life can blossom, creating your own bouquet of gifts.  It is not so difficult to make someone’s day more beautiful. Joggle your memory and bask for a moment in what you have received.  Tune yourself to become more aware when you are receiving a gift. Then, will you join me in passing on the gift of human kindness and beauty?  I was just wondering……………………….



Just like the argument over nature versus nurture, a similar discussion often occurs over the concept of change, that is, people can change versus people don’t change.  The subject of change is a popular one in our culture, especially the mystery of exactly what creates change.  You will probably remember David Bowie’s famous song, “Changes,” both about his personal struggle of acceptance but also about the larger issues of how change occurs.  In the lyrics to this song, Bowie repeats over and over, “Time may change me but I can’t trace time.” He appears to view himself as a helpless bystander to how he is changed by time.  He is adrift within changes that go on within and about him and seems to keep trying to find some kind of balance and acceptance through it all.  Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus asserts that “A man cannot step in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.”  This supports Bowie’s sense of lack of control over the movement of life/time that creates changes of which we are not fully aware as they are occurring.  While I will concede that there is an aspect of change related to the passage of time over which we have little control, I am thinking about other factors that might create change.  Do we have control over any of this?  I was just wondering…………………

Sometimes we change out of necessity.  When we are subjected to a crisis, for instance, such as a job loss, we are forced to look at things differently.  A crisis will often shake us out of our routine, thus offering us a new way of seeing things.  It is a mild form of receiving electric shock treatment! Our homeostasis is temporarily altered and as we regroup, we are sometimes exposed to new ways of operating.  A romantic breakup or even worse, the death of a significant other will cause the same type of response.  We are temporarily derailed, and during that time we are often exposed to a significantly altered way of managing our daily routines.  This exposure to new elements can create permanent change.  The type of change provoked from some sort of tragedy, however, is not planned and has not been considered before the upsetting event.  So, it is more of a shakeup, like throwing the IChing, and however it settles is how you will learn to create a new balance.

Another stimulus for change is an epiphany.  This is also unplanned and unexpected.  It seems to come about when, for reasons we don’t fully understand, you suddenly see or experience something that has been usual and ordinary in a completely new way.  There is usually a triggering event, again often something very ordinary, but you may suddenly have an “Aha” experience.  Some prior experiences all on their own have suddenly coalesced to create a new and important meaning.  An epiphany may also occur from something emotional or something extraordinarily beautiful.  It is like a little seizure of sudden understanding where before there was none. It is a reconfiguring jolt to the brain which allows us to see something not before understood.

The argument about change seems mostly to arise when we want to change in some way that is ostensibly under our control but just doesn’t occur.  We may want to lose weight or overcome a fear but do nothing to change our behavior or thinking that would alter these wishes.  We may be unhappy in a relationship but continue to behave the same way within it.  We may wish to be kinder or more spiritual but do nothing to make that happen.  We are experts at wishing, but we are not so good at making our wishes come true.

Einstein suggests that “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself,” and he further suggests that “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” C. JoyBell C. avers, “The only way we can change is if we learn.  The only way we can learn is if we are exposed.  And the only way we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open.  Do it.  Throw yourself.” She further encourages, “We can’t be afraid of change.  You may feel very secure in the pond that you’re in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea.  Holding on to something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don’t have something better.”  Nietzsche suggests that “The snake which cannot cast its skin must die.  As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.” Roy T. Bennett says, “It is only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform.” According to Libba Bray, “And that is how change happens.  One gesture.  One person.  One moment at a time.”

What actually makes the changes that you want to make?  WORK! You have to do the work.  And what is the work?  Just as the experts have suggested, venture out, expose yourself to new things, immerse yourself with people, books, all educational materials that represent successfully what you want to become.  Follow the behaviors of those whom have succeeded before you, practice, find a mentor, and ACT!  Do your homework and then put it into action! As a psychologist I have seen people do their work, come back, and change, and I have seen those who never take the suggestions offered, keep complaining, and continue to wait for the magic wand.  The magic wand is only for fairy tales. If you really want to change, then unless you experience a tragedy, crisis, or epiphany, you have to make the effort.  Are you willing to do that? Or as in Bowie’s song ”Changes,” are you willing to allow time to shape you while you remain adrift and helpless to its subtle influences?  I was just wondering………………

A Life Well Lived

My husband died.  Suddenly.  As I wrote his obituary, I was flooded with memories of the incredible journey that we shared.  But I was even more affected by the messages and condolence calls that I received from people who expressed their gratitude for the help that my husband provided for them.  His service to others was more widespread than I had realized.  It occurred to me that not only had he fulfilled his bucket list, but that he had experienced a life well lived.  The whole exercise of reviewing his life led me to the concept of my own life inventory, and then, the thought that a periodic life inventory of ourselves might be a really good idea.  As I considered this, I pondered what exactly makes a life well lived.  I was just wondering………………………………

If you were writing your own obituary, what would you want to say?  After notating a person’s birthdate, most obituaries discuss the individual’s achievements.  Have you obtained the education you want?  Don’t make excuses.  There are so many ways to manage the cost of college today.  I did it as a single parent with a full time job.  If I could do it, so can you.  Do you have satisfying work?  Are you in the field of work that you always hoped for, or do you need to re-evaluate to get where you want to be?  If it seems impossible, re-evaluate now, create a plan, and start working toward your goal.  Don’t let life actually pass you by before you have achieved your dreams.

What would you say about your relationships?  Do you have good friends and supports?  If not, start engaging in activities in order to correct this.  Are you satisfied with your family?  If family relationships pose problems, then see a therapist, read some helpful books, try to understand from a different point of view, or practice tolerance.  If the problem is in a marital or couple relationship, then please remember that the grass is not usually greener, and understand that it takes loyalty and commitment to make a long- term relationship work.  If you want a long -term relationship, you will have to face this fact.  Take off the rose-colored glasses, support one another, and scrub in!  You are a team and if you remember that you are on the same side, you can make it work!  If you know you are not in the relationship that is right for you, then stop wasting your time.  If you don’t know, then see a therapist.  Get your life right!

What about your health, physical, emotional, and daily activities?  Are you engaging in activities that are enhancing to your life?  Are you making sure to get some kind of exercise?  Do you take care to eat well?  Do you have a routine that ensures that your body is being nourished, both physically and emotionally? Have you incorporated mental stimulation as part of your self-care?  If you are thinking, “I always wanted to ski,” then do it.  Whatever is an unrealized dream, make it a reality.  Make sure it is on your obituary list, not an incomplete bucket list!

What have you contributed to the common good?  What are your talents and how can you make the world a better place?  What is special and unique about you that you have to offer to others?  If you don’t know, then take some time to think about it.  Ask you friends what special qualities they see in you and then apply them to realize your gifts!

What about your Bucket List?  If you don’t have one, then create it. Travel.  See the world because it will help you to understand it better.  Start realizing your dreams before you no longer can.  Don’t postpone!  Have adventures!  Love!  Help others! Enjoy yourself!

But finally, it comes down to one very important issue.  Most of us go through life on robotic mode.  But when you reach the end of the road, you want to be pleased with the journey.  In order to be pleased with the journey and to achieve a life well lived, you must make an ongoing effort to improve yourself and to raise your self-awareness.  Remember the Jimmy Stewart movie, It’s a Wonderful Life?  His guardian angel appeared and showed him the impact he had on his community.  We are each leaving a piece of our own personal legacy every day of our lives.  This is about your spiritual journey.  Whether it is through church, spiritual groups or readings, never stop trying to become better.  We have a lot of garbage input in our brains.  We need to work on awareness of our automatic behaviors, if they have purpose, and if we want to change our destructive thought patterns and reactions.  My husband did this throughout his life.  He had his demons, and while he did not overcome all of them, he made a very concerted effort to become a better person.  And he did.  He made a very positive difference in the lives of many people.  I am proud of him.  I hope I will feel the same about myself at the end of my journey.  How about you?  Are you satisfied with your obituary inventory?  I was just wondering………………..





Many thoughts throughout history have been expressed about home.  Pliny the Elder suggested that “Home is where the heart is,” while Frank Baum in the Wizard of Oz opined, “There’s no place like home.”  Thomas Wolfe wrote, “You can’t go home again,” while Robert Frost suggests that, “Home is  the place wheare, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Warsan Shire believes, “At the end of the day, it isn’t where I came from.  Maybe home is somewhere I’m going and never have been before,” while Robin Hobb suggests, “Home is people. Not a place.  If you go back there after the people are gone, then all you can see is what is not there anymore.” Sarah Dressen has a similar thought, that, “Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map.  It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together.  Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.” Jon Kabat-Zinn has a similar thought, which became the title of his famous book, Wherever You Go There You Are, suggesting you cannot get away from yourself.  Pascal Mercier has a different thought, that, “We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” As we consider all these thoughts, what does home mean to you?  I was just wondering………………..

I have recently returned to my Cape Cod home permanently, and as I settle in, I have been inclined to wonder what has caused me to choose this now as my one and only home. Now, when I am no longer bound by employment considerations or family obligations.  I have just left a very beautiful sub-tropical coastal climate to endure a New England winter.  What has called me back?

I have been fortunate to experience homes in many countries.  I have shared meals in homes in Thailand, Germany, New Zealand, China, Morocco, Fiji, and Egypt.  In my travels I have been inside homes in Cambodia, the earthen huts of the Hill Tribes in Thailand, the stilted huts hugging the shore of the Amazon in Boca de Valeria, Brazil,  and huts on the isolated island of The Republic of Kirabati.  I have visited over 60 countries and I have spent time in all the continents except Antartica.  While I love the “laissez faire” of France, the colorful emotion of Italy, the primitive allure of the South Pacific, the pristine white beauty of the Greek Islands, and the exotic richness of Southeast Asia, I still choose to live in America.  In America I have visited all but 7 states and I have resided in Vermont, Ohio, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and New York.  So, what is home, why do I choose here, and how does here connect to my heart and soul?  What is it about “place” that calls any of us?  And is “place” where home is, or is it something else?

We just can’t escape being influenced by the culture in which we grew up.  So while I might be attracted to some of these other lands and cultures, they are still not where my ultimate comfort zone lies.  I love to visit, but I don’t choose to stay.  As I sway with my husband on the wooden swing in my yard on Cape Cod, I am surrounded by lush vegetation and flowering plants. Many ponds are within minutes of my home.  I love the quaint beauty and the unique New England style shuttered and shingled homes.  The droning engine of a biplane above tells me it is a beautiful day.  Each town and village on the Cape offers a peek into a different and unique experience.  Galleries and boutiques are in abundance.  Boston with all of its culture is a short drive.  The ocean is everywhere!  Feeling the ocean breeze brush playfully through my hair while the sun warms my soul is a perfect day for me!  There are so many secret coves and paths and beaches to discover.  Cape Cod is clam chowder, cranberry muffins, and lobster. It is art and street festivals and music at the Melody Tent.  It is Indie films at Cape Cinema and bountiful offerings at summer playhouses. It is visits to Ptown with its diverse culture and joyful street festivities. It is day trips on the ferry to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard or just watching the ferries coming and going, loading and unloading, from Hyannis Harbor. It is bike rides on the trails.  It is hotdogs and smores with family by a fire on the dunes at Sandy Neck at night, watching the sun set over the shimmering sea.  It is waiting in line while salivating over the zillions of flavors at Four Seas Ice Cream.  It is leisurely Sunday mornings sipping a cup of hot tea while perusing the Boston Globe.   It is the change of seasons, and the cozy pubs on a cold winter day. It is the winter holiday “Street Strolls” filled with festive carolers, hot chocolate, and Christmas treats!  It is the longing for spring, when it never seems to come, that makes its eventual arrival even that much more splendid! And it is NEVER tiring of the lush, serpentine beauty of route 6A!

It is all part of a place that I fell in love with many years ago.  My heart and soul remained connected even while I experienced other adventures around the world.  But my heart has called me back.  It is the place that most connects with who I am, the place that supports the very most of my being.  It is informal, carefree, bohemian, and inclusive.  The girl who grew up in Ohio and couldn’t wait to leave, after traveling the world, found that sense of place on Cape Cod.  I feel safe and loved and deeply connected with all that surrounds me. It is a sense of belonging.  It is home.  What and where is home for you?  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…..

A Call for Love

My husband, a friend and I attended a political rally yesterday. We were stoked and it was a beautiful day, if you had to wait outside in a line. As we enjoyed the warm sunlight bathing us gently, there was a beautiful camaraderie amongst us. We shared a common vision and we talked animatedly. We shared our stories and we met new friends as we waited patiently for our speaker. We did notice however, directly behind, a woman who stood alone, talking to no one, with a steely expression on her face. While the rest of us engaged easily with one another, this woman stood alone, talking to no one, clearly not wanting to mix. Just before we entered the auditorium, a young man arrived wearing a very dapper pin stripped suit with a shining sky blue tie. His arrival caused the sullen young woman to change her expression to relief as she exclaimed, “Oh, I thought you weren’t going to make it!” They remained encapsulate in their own little twosome and I suspected they were lovers, lost in their own little world together. They were definitely noticeable, however, and my friend commented about the man’s suit, which stood out in the crowd of very casually dressed people. She wondered out loud if maybe he was an undertaker to be wearing such a polished suit as that. We mused about it momentarily but returned to our own thoughts about our candidate and when the speaker would arrive.

We were so fortunate to get 3rd row seats and my body shivered with excitement and appreciation when the speaker finally emerged. After about a half hour, the man in the shiny suit suddenly emerged from nowhere, but right up front, and began making angry demands and accusations of the speaker. The intensity of hate that spewed from this man brought tears to my eyes as we all watched in disbelief as his rage only increased. We wondered if he might pull out a gun. The speaker remained polite and kept asking the fellow to sit down and he would respond to his questions, but the satiny fellow just ranted on and on. The emotions in the crowd rose to protect our speaker and everyone began to shout for him to leave, as our rally had become totally disrupted by the threat of violence. Undeterred, he just kept screaming and he was finally removed by the authorities. No sooner had we achieved a brief moment of order when the girl who had accompanied him stood up and took up where he left off. She too, had to be removed. As I sat there in sadness, still reacting emotionally to the intensity of the hate, I mused internally about what causes a person to behave so badly, to make such an ugly spectacle of himself. I was just wondering…………………….

When I talked with a friend about this episode, she offered that she believed we live in a society where everyone wants his own way. There is no more compromise or civility, only an aggressive drive to get what one wants. She noted that previously we had discussions and we used problem solving, but the new desire to please oneself shows up in every aspect of our lives, and especially in politics. I agreed with her to a certain degree.

However, as a psychologist who has written a book about anger, I am convinced that the root of the problem begins with how we deal with anger, which can easily expand to hate. We have become a drug addicted society, addicted with anger. All addicts only think of themselves and all addicts want their own way. When we attempt to solve problems by bullying, by screaming, by threatening, we have lost our problem solving skills and only win our way through threat and intimidation.

But what lies beneath this rage that has taken over our way of operating? As I advocate in my book, ANGER THE TOXIC TEMPTRESS; UNDERSTAND IT TO OVERCOME IT, anger is a handy defense mechanism that keeps us from being in touch with our vulnerable feelings. So what does this mean when we witness all the anger being espoused around us? It means that many people are feeling hurt and vulnerable and that they have lost their ability to deal with their true feelings. By covering painful feelings over with anger, it makes them feel empowered, though only temporarily and at the risk of causing even greater harm. What makes this especially threatening is that as a society we have succumbed to this addiction without knowing that we are anger addicts. So whether it is a heckler at a political rally, your co-worker or boss who is in a bad mood, your spouse who snaps at you angrily for no apparent reason, or the countries who are war torn, filled with anger and hate toward their rivals, it all emerges as a result of our desire to numb ourselves with anger from any feeling of pain. If we actually sat down with one another and shared our vulnerabilities, then perhaps we could begin to learn to compromise again. The great psychologist Carl Rogers said, “What is most personal is most general.” When it comes down to the basics, we all want the same things.

So how do we start to change the dynamics of our addiction? We begin to see the call for love in every individual who is brimming with hate and anger. We understand that they are hurting deeply for them to behave in such a way. And by doing this, we ensure that we will not react in kind by battling with them, by entering the fray, by resenting and hating back.

The next time you experience this type of rage by someone, it is better to respond as I did at the rally, with great sadness, recognizing that that individual is in great pain. It is only then that we can begin a conversation of respect and mutual nurturance. Also, the next time you find yourself becoming angry, can you recognize internally your need for understanding and acceptance? As you practice learning not to react, can you begin to recognize the call for love in both yourself and others? Are you courageous enough to open the underlying wound, and with love and nurturance begin to cleanse the painful feelings that created it? 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…………

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…

A Helping Hand To Those In Need

At my island winter retreat, the headlines of the newspaper for the last several days have been focused on the story of an abandoned car and a missing person. The car, sadly, was found abandoned at the top of the Cross Island Bridge, unlocked, with the keys on the seat. You can probably guess at the outcome. The missing person’s body was found by a fisherman below a dock after several days of searching. It is being treated as an apparent suicide. While it has not been made public, I have been told there was a note. It seems as though the body was that of a beloved individual involved in the early development of this island, who more recently, had developed a first class jazz club. While I did not know him myself, he was apparently well known and respected in this community long before I became a winter resident. The story is not so rare today as we hear of suicide more and more frequently.   Recently it was listed as the 10th leading cause of death for all ages. While I have worked directly and intimately with suicidal clients, this story made me consider what we all might do to help prevent this growing problem. What can you, the reader do to help eliminate suicide?   I was just wondering……

While I have never personally experienced the suicide of a client, I certainly have had clients affected by the aftermath of suicide. One woman I saw years ago found her husband hanging in their garage and of course was devastated by it. Another lost a son to suicide when he was run over by a train. The families and other survivors of these tragedies are left with thoughts haunted by questions of why and what could they have done to prevent it? Unless it is a love gone wrong situation, the cause of one’s decision for suicide is usually not related to one individual. It is connected to how they see themselves in relation to life in general, their lack of opportunities, how people view them, shame and or humiliation, a feeling of general hopelessness. So the point is, it is not usually one person’s fault nor is it one person’s responsibility. So how do we collectively address this growing concern?

The first problem is to learn to identify where there may be a problem. Many people who are suicidal actually hide it quite well. Often however, the signs are there. Sadly, we often identify them incorrectly. The first red flag is drug use. People just don’t overuse drugs unless they are too uncomfortable without them. Social drinking is just that. Anything beyond it is really a cry for help. Another red flag is isolative behavior. We’ve often seen this connected to school shootings and other similar rampages where the shooter ends up shooting himself. Another danger sign is anger, which is a defensive mask for vulnerable feelings. Someone who is angry a lot is a very unhappy person who is in a lot of emotional pain. Erratic extremes in behavior are signals as well as loss of interest. Persons who feel they are a burden and who feel trapped in some way with no way out are also at risk. These are the early signs and this is when we should begin to intervene. As a suicide plan begins to take form there are other more apparent signs, such as preoccupation with death, sleep deprivation, reckless behavior, and settling of one’s affairs.

In addition to those heading towards suicide, there are thousands of other people who exhibit these symptoms who are suffering from depression. While they may have no plan for suicide, they suffer intolerably. So when you see these signs, what should you do? You do not need to be a psychologist to lend a helping hand. You do not need to be professionally trained to show a kindness, to listen to someone who needs a listener, to provide a shoulder to lean on. Anyone can offer friendship. There are also things you can stop doing. You can stop gossiping about people. You can stop bullying. You can stop judging. You can stop being petty. You can learn to be forgiving. Life doesn’t have to be organized around exclusive cliques. You can learn to be inclusive and invite everyone to participate. You’ve heard the term, “The more the merrier!” There is always something to learn and everyone has something to offer. Open your heart and see what it can behold.

The best way I know to help prevent suicide and reduce depression happens long before an individual feels the need to see a therapist. Watch for the signs, be aware. Offer a helping hand, send an invitation, smile. Sometimes the feeling of acceptance is all that is needed. Just think of the personal power you have to positively affect someone’s life! Are you willing to extend yourself to save or change a life? In fact, you may be saving or changing more lives than you even realize!

Can you give it a try?

I was just wondering………


Violence and the Meaning of Being Human

A few months ago when the autumn began to envelop the earth with its chilled night air, I noticed some mouse droppings in my kitchen. An unwanted visitor, I mused, as I bristled against the idea of mouse excretion and bacteria in my kitchen. My husband and I discussed our options to rid us of this nuisance and we agreed on the one which seemed to keep us most removed from removing the pest from our abode, the dreaded DCon! Neither of us wanted to remove a dead, mutilated mouse from a trap. So my husband set about carefully placing the DCon in the attic, away from our dear dogs. Several days later, while I was savoring my hot morning tea in the company of the Today show staff I suddenly saw something fly from the ceiling beam to the love seat perpendicular to me. I thought at first it was a bat and I shuddered in horror as I screamed for my husband to save me! I know, I know, I’m a wuss, but I know some of you can relate. But I digress. The thing that landed on my love seat, however, was in fact what appeared to be a dead mouse. I quickly realized it was not dead, however, as it began to slowly move, so I screamed louder for my husband to come and save me! Well, my dogs were in the room with me and they had not yet seen the creature, and I feared that if it was half dead from DCon, then my dogs were at risk if they grabbed the poor thing. Besides which, DCon or not, a bloody tangle between mouse and dogs I definitely did not want to see. My husband finally arrived, scooped the wretched thing into a dust pan and threw it outside. Later, as I was about to let the dogs out into the fenced back yard, I remembered the mouse, and I went out alone first to see that it was gone. But no, there it was, alive but not dead, and surely suffering. Even as I relate this story I am still overcome with a sick feeling for the plight of that innocent mouse. Again, I called for my husband who had to put the poor creature out of its misery, an act that brought us both up close and personal to the actual killing of the mouse. It was not a happy day as we mourned our involvement in the loss of a living creature’s life.

I make it a habit to carefully remove uninvited Daddy Long Legs spiders when they invade my bathroom, and I set them gently free back outside where they belong. On the rare occasion when we accidently hit a creature on the road, we suffer a moment of anguish at the loss of that life, especially because we were involved in its demise. So, you are wondering, what is the point of this story so far? As I recoil in the horror of the daily news, replete with violence engendered by hate I am perplexed beyond any of my training or my life experience about what causes a human life to relish the destruction of another when I can’t even kill a mouse or a spider without feeling badly? Where does the enjoyment of seeing another suffer come from? I was just wondering……..

Besides the headlines on the evening news, I have seen several films recently which vividly depict the satisfaction enjoyed by the perpetrators of these kinds of violent crimes. In Selma, the story demonstrates not only that there was a desire to stop Blacks from voting, but also the relishing by the perpetrators of the beatings that they inflicted. In the film Unbroken, the Japanese officer inflicting pain on the story’s hero seemed chronically unhappy unless he was inflicting pain on him. We, the moviegoers, cringed in horror.

But these films are not unlike the horrors of real life, as we witness every day; reporters decapitated, innocent families slaughtered in the Middle East, promising, intelligent girls kidnapped from school in Africa, never to be seen again, leaving us only to wonder what horrendous fate they have endured.

These acts of cruelty are so far removed from my realm of understanding, yet I am supposed to be an expert on human behavior. I cannot explain these atrocities nor can I even remotely relate to them. I guess it shifts back to that age old argument, is it nature or nurture or a combination of both? What exactly causes a person or a group of people to desire to harm, inflict pain or fear onto another living creature? How can someone actually inflict violence without feeling repulsed by it? How can another human being be so different from me NOT to be repulsed by it?

I know I have not suffered much in my life as compared to many humans around the world. I have not personally witnessed the violence of a war. I have been sheltered, fed, and clothed throughout my life, so that my sufferings have only been the kind of mental anguish that most of us have experienced at one time or another when things didn’t go our way, when we didn’t get what we wanted, when the right person didn’t love us, and so on. But I have suffered and overcome what was declared a chronic illness. I know that many others with that illness succumb to it, that is, they allow it to control and incapacitate them. What is the difference between us? So, I have had my challenges, but we all do. Maybe I don’t understand because I have not suffered enough. But what about those who maintain their humanity and love for one another in countries where the aforementioned atrocities are occurring? What is the difference between them and those who desire to hurt them, yet they have no desire to hurt and hate back? Is it nature, is it nurture, or is it something else?

We are taught that our superior brain is what makes us human. But then what makes someone turn against oneself? In turning against another we do just that, turn away from our own humanity. Where is our thinking brain then? Not thinking, I would speculate! When we turn against another we are operating from our reptilian brain, the amygdala. When we allow ourselves to be ruled by our reptilian brains we have given up, lost ourselves. When we become violent and are not repulsed by it, we are no longer human. When we have lost our consciousness to feel compassion and the ability to emote have we not lost ourselves? Have we not just become another lower animal, an animal that lacks our superior brain, an animal that lacks the understanding that we are all one? Isn’t that what sets us apart?

I was just wondering………………..