Friday, May 11, 2012

Do-Overs

Do-Overs


Looking back (as oldsters often do), my first major mistake in life was marrying the wrong guy straight out of high school. Back then, this was the fastest way to get out of a household where I was being physically and sexually abused. At the age of 18, what did I know about the frying pan-to-fire concept? Even after 7 years of marital misery, however, I have to say I’d do it over again if I had to, in order to end up with the two sons he gave up but I held onto. I’d simply do it differently. I would have ended the marriage sooner.

Later, at one point during my college years, I realized no matter how much I learned I’d never know it all, or even know enough (by my own standards), so I dropped out. Truth be told, I was too busy living life to actually learn more about it. On second thought, however, I did learn… from “the best teacher of all - experience.” I eventually got back on the academic track and was more receptive and responsive due to the respite.

After my first baby was born I was told any future births should be by c-section. I was able to avoid that the second time around, by spending my 8th month in bed and having labor induced a week early to keep the baby’s size down. At that point, the doctor told me I should not have more children period. I totally forgot his advice when, many years later, Frank and I had been married five months and we decided to have a baby together (his only child). She was an emergency c-section, which happened so suddenly the anesthesia hadn’t even taken effect. They say we forget pain, but I remember that one all too clearly. Would I do it over gain? Of course! There are worse things in life than having your belly sliced side to side in order to bring new life into the world. :-)
There were two junctures where I made difficult judgment calls I do deeply regret, and would “do over,” were I given the chance. They are too personal too divulge in detail, but suffice it to say I will carry the guilt as a constant reminder that circumstances can sometimes be too weighty during our younger years, to allow wisdom to prevail. I pay that price justifiably, and therapeutically. Meaning lessons learned… even if the hard way.

In my late forties I made a career choice I also regret. I was so happy at home -- keeping house, fixing meals, baking pies from scratch, and packing lunches for my husband and teens (including some who had nowhere else to live, so we took them in). But I was lured back into the workplace for all the wrong reasons. Mainly money -- a large law firm made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I was out of my element and, although I was good at doing my job, I was lousy at playing the game (office politics). Under the influence of too many beers, one of the attorneys once told my husband, “The trouble with Ginny is she sees through our bullshit.” I did, and I paid the price for that. But then so did they because I left of my own accord, hitting them right where it hurt -- in their pocketbook. If I had it to do over again, however, I would have turned down the job at the onset. It wasn’t worth it.

So, to quote Sinatra, Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention. Except that mention them I did, lol. Regrets are a part of life. My theory is that anyone who doesn’t have some tucked away in their psyche, hasn’t lived life fully enough. Thankfully, no one who knows me will ever accuse me of that!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Butting In, Butting Out

Problems are a part of life. So are solutions. My training, education and my nature turn me immediately in the solution-seeking direction when a problem is perceived. Step one - identify it. Step two - evaluate it. Step three - observe it to determine if, as sometimes occurs, the problem resolves itself. If it does not, step four: The question becomes, "How can we fix this?"

Notice two fine points here. One: Problems are perceived, therefore neither viewed nor processed in the same way by all people. Two: In my way of thinking, solving the problem is a "we" not an "I" issue. There is always more than one person involved in a problematic situation. My approach is fashioned after that of Virginia Satir, world renowned therapist who always treated everyone in the close circle of her patient. She didn't for example, see just a 10-year-old bed wetter. She saw his/her parents, siblings (and grandparents, if they were a constant in the child's life).

Bringing everyone into the solution process only works when all individuals are motivated to fix things and wiling to be honest and open. This sometimes takes some doing, but it eliminates the natural tendency of individuals (a) to say one thing to one person, and something entirely different to someone else, and (b) to misquote or misrepresent something that someone else in the group said or did in an isolated situation.

Yes, this can be messy unless/until everyone understands the rules and agrees to play by them, but in the long run it gets you where you want to go much more quickly than the round-about path fraught with one-on-ones that elicit varying versions, all of which must be reconciled. But, lucky for me, I have a horse and I do lots of shovelling. Messy doesn't bother me.

Although I am not, by nature, a "joiner," a few years back I found a group I chose to become a part of. Despite my intention to remain a silent and obscure (passive) member, I am now in the center of things and not liking the problems that are inherent to personality dynamics. I recently defaulted to my normal method of handling matters that mattered to me, but I was told by someone above me in the hierarchy to, "butt out." Not her words, mind you, butt they get the idea across. So I have done just that.

What's good about this? I have made life easier for myself, and am off the hook where I often hang myself, concerned for others/all involved. (On the Titanic I would have tried to save everyone within my reach.) In my present situation, I can now keep myself safe with an "every other woman for herself" mindset, and with no guilt whatsoever. I tried casting a broader net of concern, to help make a situation better for everyone. I failed. Life goes on and I will go... to a place in life where I feel more comfortable -- helping those who want and appreciate my efforts. It's all good.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

On Whales & Wolves, Optimism & Pessimism

Frank and I (Ginny) recently watched the two-part DVD of Moby Dick, featuring William Hurt and Ethan Hawke. Though the title character is an enormous creature of the deep, the story offers an interesting glimpse of human behavior. It begins with Captain Ahab at home, struggling against the fake leg he has been cursed with since the great white whale crippled him during their last encounter at sea.

Still Ahab seems sane enough, soft spoken with his wife and son, and in quiet control of his familial relationships. It isn’t until he returns to active pursuit of the deadly whale that viewers are privy to his mental state, free of its mask. Revenge brings out the worst in him, exacerbated by the stress that goes with the hardships of life aboard a vessel manned by a crew of na├»ve and, in most part, not-so-bright mariners. It is a story of obsession that sinks into insanity and, although some of the sailors are colorful characters and quite likable, I found myself rooting for the whale (which was, I’m sure, the intent of the author. Well done, Herman Melville).

Psychology teaches that humans basically move intuitively away from pain and toward pleasure, but wires get crossed and behavior becomes bizarre. When this occurs, quite often delusion sets in and people behaving in the most irrational ways consider themselves perfectly rational. Their mental imbalance becomes their norm and it is others who do not share their warped view of reality who are judged by them to be flawed in their thinking. Captain Ahab would have had a difficult time understanding why any sane person would have dealt with Moby Dick in any way other than to impose suffering on others and sacrificing lives in the name of revenge.

This movie makes for fascinating people-watching by those who are inclined toward observation and analysis of human behavior. I love the way Jungian Psychoanalyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes puts it in writing of wolves. They never look at anything; they look around it, beside it, over it, under it and, if possible, through it. They are rarely fooled and in this regard they surpass humans, who can be easily taken in by the false words of others, and feigned behavior. We often see and hear what we want to see and hear, for better or worse.

Consider optimism, which is a good thing; however, too much of a good thing can turn it bad. Likewise, pessimism can sometimes serve us well. In terms of mental health the middle road is the safest path. Somewhere between optimism and pessimism is realism. Here's the kicker: It’s a nice place to visit but due to the nature of the human mind, few of us get to live there. At best reality becomes the base camp from which we are forever setting out in one direction or the other in pursuit of… whatever.

As hunters and gatherers we don’t survive by sitting still. Sometimes we get lost. We fail to see the signs along the way, or see but ignore or misinterpret them. We’re misled by other travelers, either intentionally or un. We’re called upon to make a choice, and by opting into this we are coincidentally opting out of that. Some of us never find our way back to base camp, we simply set up a new one.

There is a school of thought that tells us never look back. I find this thinking erroneous. Life lessons line up behind us, proud to have served and deserving of our appreciation. We learn the alphabet in elementary or preschool, but we would be foolish to leave it behind as finished business. It is imperative that we acknowledge it in order to put letters in an order that creates words, and then to string words together to make sentences. The past is important. It simply needs to be put in its proper place in our life.

Captain Ahab got it wrong. Instead of drawing from his past with an eye toward ensuring a better future, he was driven by it, and driven in the wrong direction. He relinquished both control and objective reflection. Some lessons are more painful than others, and loss of his leg was a high price to pay. A higher price, however, was loss of his sanity. Moby Dick didn’t take that from him. Ahab gave it away. For him there was no new base camp to be set up, unless you count the bottom of the deep, dark sea.

Studies have shown that in general optimists are happier than pessimists; however, pessimists are more accurate in their world view; more realistic, if you will. I suppose the question becomes: Do you prefer the softened sight provided by rose colored glasses, or the clear vision that lets you face the future head on?

I believe one secret to success is recognizing the difference between the two, and holding both options close at hand -- realizing of course which approach is most appropriate at any given time, and remembering that from the middle road we can always step with agility in one direction or the other.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Little Change Can Make a Big Difference.

"When you have faults, do not be afraid to abandon them." So spoke Confucius, whom we quote on our web site home page (http://www.egreen.net/), since we are in the business of helping people change bad habits, bad behavior, bad attitude, bad self-image, etc., into good.

Those familiar with Freud's life know that he had some deep seated issues, himself. When Carl Jung asked him why he didn't use his knowledge of human behavior to seek professional help, Freud said that, in order to protect his reputation, he could not let anyone know of his shortcomings. Self-help is a good thing, but sometimes we need an objective eye and a trained hand to help with transformation, which is why every good therapist has a good therapist (and yes, I am one and yes, I do).

Q: Why do we, as humans, have an innate resistance to change? A: Because it moves us out of our comfort zone. Even positive change does that, which explains why we sometimes relapse following efforts toward self-improvement. Women who have been abused will remain in or return to a harmful relationship. Even badly abused children cry to go back to their abusive parent(s). I have seen a child scarred by cigarette burns on his arms, terrified of leaving the mother who was responsible.

When we settle into a place it feels like home, and often we believe what is happening there is happening everywhere, in all homes. It becomes our norm. It allows us to relax, as opposed to putting forth effort to adapt to a new environment, either physical or emotional. This truth does not apply to humans only. I recently witnessed my horse traumatized by a move from one boarding facility to another. Horses are herding animals. Brandi has become alpha mare in every pasture she has shared, even sustaining bite marks as evidence of her struggle to reach the top. It is a psychological need she has, and it runs deep in her. By nature she is very social. Being isolated from other horses causes her great discomfort. Now she has one pasture mate, and they are duking it out. I put my money on Brandi.

An attorney I worked for more than 30 years ago was starting his own practice because the law firm where he had previously worked basically said to him, "You don't herd well." By choice or perhaps by nature he did not fit in there, or anywhere. He needed to be on his own. He and I worked well together because I could relate. I don't herd well either. Years later I tried working for a large firm where I was, to mix metaphors, a duck out of water. I stayed longer than I should have, considering I hated the games being played all around me, and as for the game players, well, I didn't like them, didn't want to be like them, but I did want them to like me. I wanted to be accepted into the herd. But of course that didn't happen (generally speaking) because to them I was a duck To myself I was simply a horse of a different color, and while they were all racing to be first across the finish line, I just wanted (and needed) to run free. Wouldn't you know this discourse would bring me back to horses? :-)

My spirit in that environment was suffocating day by day, yet I kept returning to where I believed I needed to be at that point in my life. Why? Because I made the mistake I see so many others making in the workplace -- I associated success with stress. I suppose, like Brandi, I accepted bite marks as a natural part of the process. Eventually I built upon my degree in psychology to become a therapist, and relocated to a place in life where I feel safe and valued. It isn't about making money, it's about making change possible, palatable, and even profitable for those brave enough to face it head on.

Have I settled in? Become complacent? Not only no, but hell no! I step out of my comfort zone on a regular basis, but never so far out that I can't get back. I am constantly adapting and re adapting to change, sometimes comfortably, sometimes not. Sometimes it isn't a step I take voluntarily, it is life jerking me across the line I've drawn for myself in the sand. Another Chinese proverb is that the only thing in life of which we can be certain is change.

While Brandi is gradually familiarizing herself with her new home, I am the one constant in her life. I reassure her that she is safe. This is why I visit her daily, though I'll begin to spread my visits our more over time as she adapts.

I believe what we need to remember as humans with (theoretically) superior intelligence is that, ironically, the one constant in our life is change, and although we by nature may be resistant, if we stop and think about it wouldn't life be absolutely boring if every tomorrow was just like today? Learn to recognize changes large and small. Pay attention. If you're not noticing change, you're not watching closely enough. Some change is good, some is bad, at least at the onset. Again to draw from the Chinese philosophy of Taoism, in all good there is bad and in all bad there is good, you simply have to see beneath the surface to know how to respond.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: Our psychological safety depends upon our ability to work with Life (capital L intended), not against it. Life equals Change (capital C intended).

Sunday, October 23, 2011

No, I Am Not Adopting A Muskateer

"Young monks at Drepung Loseling Monastery in India have little parental support," the pamphlet begins. Well, my goodness! How could I resist filling out the paperwork to become a sponsor? I mean when my ageing Inner Mother Figure hears "little parental support," it springs to its feet, waves both hands in the air, and implores the Universe -- "Send me in, Coach!" So reply I did, check included. Then came the waiting.

I of course had to immediately share the happy news with my granddaughters, Annabella (7) and Evelyn (5), giving each of them a bracelet made in Tibet and making sure they new the name of the once-upon-a-time country. Later that day I heard AB saying to EV, "... and Gramma is adopting a musketeer!"

Close enough, for a first go at it.

So today I received a picture of Konchak Jonpa. He resembles the cute little boy on the cover of the original pamphlet I perused, although I estimate an age difference between them of about twenty years. Konchak was born in 1985. So there goes my cuddling fantasy. It's just as well, since careful consideration leads me to believe monks don't cuddle, not even with an ageing Inner Mother Figure.

I'm adjusting.

Sponsorship money goes into a general fund for the welfare of the entire monastery, so all monks receive equal benefits and none are left out. This makes my ageing Inner Mother Figure smile approvingly. If only the rest of life could be so simple. Twenty-six seems fine with me, and while there's so much more I'd like to know about Konchak, I will not ask. He is, after all, representative, not real -- in the sense that he won't be flying to the US to spend the holidays with us, and we certainly won't be visiting the monastery in India -- that sort of thing.

I've previously been leery of donating to charities for two reasons: one, the uncertainty of exactly where my money will end up and two, there are so many charities, how does one choose? I've always had a fascination with Tibet, a reverence for its ancient culture, and in recent years (I admit it) a wee crush on the Dali Lama. When I recently attended a performance by Tibetan Monks demonstrating their dances, songs, and chants, I was touched deeply by the realization that this facet of humanity is in real danger of annihilation. If my monthly check doesn't forestall such a drastic fate, at least it can help put food on the table to sustain those who are devoted to a life of peace, wisdom and compassion.

My use of humor in writing of the commitment I've made is not meant to imply that I don't take it seriously. I do. Konchak's picture will be framed and hung on my family photos wall. It is, in truth, not a photo of a man or even of a monk, it is a reminder to me that there is hope for humankind. There is a place on this earth far from my home where, though life is hard, young men don't cross the street to join a gang. They cross the Himalayas to join a monastery.

For more info: www.drepung.org

Friday, September 30, 2011

Jonathan

Jonathan was a soft, warm man living in a hard, cold shell that he created purposely to keep people out of his personal life. Over the years I wore away at that exterior like water drops falling on stone, until an opening appeared tiny enough to sneak through. He did and didn't appreciate my persistence.

In our high school freshman English classroom (1956) he called us Miss this and Mr. that, which let us know the only way we could conduct ourselves during those 50 minutes in his presence was with dignity. Well, as much dignity as a teenager can conjure up. He used words like complacency, vicarious, and auspicious. He insisted we all memorize John Dunnne's No Man is an Island. I know it to this day.

He was a man of mystery back then, wearing very dark glasses whenever outdoors, sporting a practically permanent frown, speaking softly always yet sternly when appropriate. Never talking down to us, but expecting us to rise up to meet him on a higher road. Now and then he would surprise us with his unique wit.

My parents divorced when I was small, and my father lived in other parts of the world. My stepfather was not a nice man. In retrospect I believe the reason Jonathan lived in the spotlight on the stage of my young life was that in the role he played opposite me, he never yelled at me, never swore at me, never hit me, never behaved inappropriately toward me. He was gentle, kind, intelligent, supportive, and inspiring. When I handed in an original short story as an assignment, it came back to me with his note in red ink -- "I am constrained to ask the painful question -- did you write this?" Crushed, I assured him I had and he asked me to write another for him, after which he said to me the magical words, "You are a writer." It wasn't until my thirties that I began to believe him, to prove him right, and we reconnected.

There is so much I'm grateful for relating to Jonathan, but more than anything else I think I am grateful that he and my husband were able to know and like each other. A few years back he invited us to spend a weekend with him at his home in Tahoe. He made it clear that we were free to wander off to sight see or visit the casinos. I made it clear we were there to spend every waking moment just being with him, which came so easily to all three of us. There were so many questions I had asked him throughout the years about himself and his life, receiving only cryptic replies. I had no idea he had stored my questions away, to answer them in his own time. At Tahoe he talked. It was almost as though he had been waiting until he knew I had someone at my side to help me support the weight of his words.

Among other things he told us that, as a young US Marine, his duty during the Korean war had been to document interrogations led by the CIA. He carried a heavy and hurtful burden on his shoulders for the rest of his life. With his death my consolation is knowing that the burden has been lifted. And while it is said that most tears shed graveside are for words unspoken and deeds undone, I know with absolute certainty that I said and did everything within my power to let Jonathan know throughout our relationship that he holds a special place in my heart. He felt unworthy, of course, embarrassed at times, but now and then one corner of his mouth would turn up ever so slightly, letting me know he was secretly pleased.

I thought I was prepared for his eventual death. Frank and I had planned in advance. He read the obituaries daily and we had rehearsed how he would inevitably break the news to me in the least devastating manner possible. Yesterday he simply said "Oh-oh," put down the newspaper, and stood with his arms open, saying, "Come here." That was when my crying began. It hasn't stopped yet but it is lessening.

Joanthan's last words to me (a phrase he repeated often) were, "Strive on." Rest in peace, Jonathan, and rest assured that I am striving on. I am striving on.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Life in the Slowing Down Lane

When Frank and I married in 1976, I had two teenage sons from a previous marriage. Several months after our wedding we decided to have a baby together, and that explains our Jennifer, 14 years younger than her brother Jeff, 16 years younger than her brother Craig. She is Frank's only child, although he always claims a proud stake in the boys as well, since he saw us all through their teen years and supported me emotionally during the letting-go-of-them stage. Which was tough. On me. Not them. As is usually the case, they could not WAIT to be out and on their own.

Now all our children are adults, two of them with children of their own, and one of their daughters a mother herself. It has been an incredible journey for this mom/dad/grandma/grandpa/great grandmother/great grandfather. An adventure in learning lessons from the younger generations as they grew up and we grew old-er -- some of the lessons happy ones, others not so much; but all worth the impact they've had on our lives.

It literally took me years to adjust to the empty nest once Jennifer tested her wings and flew off into the rising sun that shed both light and shadows on the path the chose for herself. My eyes still tear up when I recall waking up the first morning that she was... gone. Frank joyously danced about the house naked, reveling in his new found freedom. I felt as though I was coming out of anesthesia only to find that an important part of me had been surgically removed. I had known in advance that it was coming, but still it hurt. For a long time.

Her father and I continued to make our lives all about her. It was like breathing -- something we simple could not not do. Zen tells us that all paths lead to the top of the mountain, which may be true, but as her path took her further and further from us, the only thing that has kept us climbing has been our little grandchildren. Wouldn't you know it? We have made them the center of our universe.

Since they do not live under our roof, however, as had their mother, there are times when we have empty hours to fill. We run our own business, with Frank being the social networking one while I lean more toward cocooning, we maintain our own home, and we have many activities that let us enjoy each other's company (ranging from good TV, good books, good movies, good music, good coffee on our deck listening mornings to the countless birds that live in our trees, and good wine as we later sit on that same deck watching the sun set). We also talk a lot -- mostly about life.

Which has led us to a new facet that we are now exploring -- called friends. We're somewhat picky, opting for quality over quantity, but it's amazing how the universe has provided recently by arranging that our path cross other paths being travelled by folks (outside of family) who are fun and interesting and inclined to enjoy our company as much as we enjoy theirs. A new chapter in our book is being written, to mix metaphors.

We can't always hold our babies and rock them and sing to them and tell them stories (mostly about horsies), but by golly we can sure brag about them and show off their pictures! As can our friends about their offspring... while we wonder together where all the years have gone, and where future years will lead us. Life continues to be an adventure, even though our footsteps aren't a steady as they used to be.