Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Some of What I Learned in 2010 (So Far)

That no matter how hard you try, you’ll never be able to be in more than one place at a time.

That no matter how careful you are, there will always be someone who takes what you say or do the wrong way.

That expecting life to make sense makes no sense at all.

That something as fleeting as a sigh, a word, glance, a touch, can change your life forever. For better or worse.

That sinking down is easier, faster, and more common than rising up.

That the hardest part of finishing a job is starting it.

That even though animals can’t put words to it, they often know more about loyalty than humans.

That time doesn’t heal all wounds, but you can decide to let an injury stop you in your tracks, or simply slow you down.

That we should never make a promise if keeping it depends on someone else’s behavior.

That letting go is sometimes harder than holding on.

That it’s easier for older people to understand young people than for young people to understand their elders.

That sometimes the fastest way to make someone really angry is to be right.

That if you want a hug from someone sometimes you just gotta give them one.

That having a hero in your life is important, even though all hero worship is largely fantasy.

That love has more to do with what another person needs, than what you have to offer.

That sometimes it helps to clear things up, but sometimes it’s best to let things be blurry. The trick is knowing when to do what.

That fixing something doesn’t always mean it’s going to stay fixed. Sometimes you have to fix it over and over and over again.

That “Knowledge is power” and “Ignorance is bliss” are separate but equal truths.

That certainty is stupidity dressed up in party clothes. Wisdom is never being sure of anything.

That too much of a good thing can be bad, but sometimes too much of a bad thing is pretty good too.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Fitting In and Standing Out

Relationships are complicated. Correction: meaningful relationships are complicated. Meaningless relationships are simple. Consider what we used to call the one-night-stand (today known as “hooking up”). This consists of one set of hormones bumping uglies with another set of hormones, after which everyone moves on without a backward glance. If one party stops to think about the interaction or starts to feel something for the other person, complexities begin to brew. The one who cares the least wins, the win who cares the most, most likely loses.

Now remove sex from the equation and consider parent/child relationships, which - typically - rest upon the very foundation of caring. It’s a given. Or should be. The basic variables are: who cares the most, who cares the least, and who or what is cared about.

When my daughter was small I was sitting beside her where she was nestled in her bed, talking about something or other that was of concern to her. “Don’t frown,” I said to her, gently rubbing the place between her eyebrows. “If you do, you’ll grow up to have wrinkles here, like mine.” “But, Mommy,” she replied, “I want to be just like you when I grow up.” That changed, of course, with time. Why? Because humans are herding animals.

Think about horses. They run together in the wild, and individual safety depends on fitting in with the others. A predator’s attention is always drawn to the one among the group that “stands out” by being different somehow… smaller, slower, more erratic, less attentive, a different color, or perhaps the same color but with different markings. When children are small, yes, they want to be just like those responsible for protecting them -- their parents. It’s instinct. But when they leave the home and go to school, dynamics change. Faint stirrings of logic begin to set in, bringing with them the latent realization that teachers and parents are older and less likely to last as protectors. Safety now shifts to fitting in with their peers. As the new group of allies forms, in order to separate itself from the group that was once in control, it rebels, revolts, and redirects its allegiance to members of its own generation.

As parents, we want our children to succeed, which at its core means to be psychologically safe. Most commonly we want them to follow in our footsteps, or to pursue a path we’ve chosen for them based of our years of experience. We know the way! We know the whys and wherefores. Some will do as we desire (or dictate). It’s an easier life for them because we’ve cleared the way. Furthermore, when Fireman Fred’s son becomes Fireman Frank, Dad’s life choices are validated by his son’s replication. If Dad has instead lauded the police force and his little boy grows up to become Officer Alex, the message is still that father knows best, and everyone is happy with that. Despite the generation gap, an emotional connection remains intact. It's win/win... fitting in with both parents and peers. Nancy becomes a nurse just like her mother, but under that crisp, white uniform are racy tottoos that impress her friends.

But what about the maverick? The one who knows the dangers but decides to dart off in an entirely different direction than the one with arrows pointing toward it and footprints clearly leading the way. Here is where humans differ from the four legged creatures of the earth. We are, at least theoretically, more highly evolved. A horse, a cow, a giraffe, a zebra leaving the herd to go his or her own way doesn’t look back. Doesn’t stop to think or start to feel. And doesn’t care, therefore doesn't return in time to say, “Look what I’ve become. Look what I’ve made of myself. Look at me now that I’m my own person. Look at me. And show me you love me -- even though I‘m not who or what or how you may want me to be.”

Yes, they yanked your control over them out of your hands, and perhaps left you wondering where you went wrong. But isn’t good parenting about eventually relinquishing control? As long as they’re doing nothing illegal or unethical, choosing for themselves something different from what you would have chosen for them doesn’t mean they -- or you -- have made a mistake, it simply means they chose a harder path. And perhaps for that they deserve some credit, not denigration or rejection.

When they come back it’s not because you don’t matter to them. It’s because you do. If you don’t hand over the love it takes (with no strings attahed) to fill that empty spot they’ve shown you, they’ll go away again, maybe for good. They care, you care, but everybody loses. Remember: loving an adult child means making their individuality more important to you than your control. This is one of the things that marks the distinction between a good parent and a bad -- and sad -- one.

Humans care. I’ve seen it with my own eyes… youngsters who have grown into adults apart from the herd (family), and come back yearning for approval. They want to be accepted not as one that fits in, but as one that stands out… by choice. This is when the question a parent must answer is “Do you want a lasting relationship? Are you willing to think, and feel, and care -- not about yourself and whether or not your hopes and dreams for them have been fulfilled -- but about this person standing before you, who hunted down their own hopes, domesticated their own dreams, and is here to show you that little empty place in their heart than can only be filled by your acceptance and approval.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Darwin During the Holidays

My favorite part of Christmas has always been finding just the right present(s) for the people I care about. Surprising my kids when they were little (by putting unexpected but highly hoped for toys under the tree), impressing them as grownups by personalizing my selections for each of them.

Shopping (or even making something by hand) isn’t as much fun as it used to be, though. My sons and their wives have all made good money for years, and they tend to buy whatever they want, whenever they want it. It has become harder and harder for me to get a genuine rise out of them at Christmas.

My son-in-law is younger and it took awhile for him to reach roughly the same point. It was always fun to surprise him and my stay-at-home-full-time-mother daughter with something I knew they wanted but couldn’t afford; but now they’re also in a better financial condition and do without very little. Even their kids seem to have two or three of everything.

What makes buying presents for my grandchildren and great grandchildren still relatively easy, however, is that I carry out a theme, which is… horsies, of course! I keep an eye out all year long to find unique items that reflect their love of horses (for which, I admit, I am largely responsible).

This year I have taken a huge leap. I have announced that I am only giving gifts to the little ones. Guess what. No one seems to care. Except me. It makes me sad. I feel as though I am abandoning a natural talent I’ve cultivated for years, and denying myself a wonderful source of pleasure watching others open their packages from me. But it does take the pressure off at a time when I truly do need to lower my stress level. Not that I’m having an easy time of it, because I am constantly fighting the urge to pick up this or that for one person or another, and stick twenty bucks in a card for someone else; but basically life changes and we must adapt. In my book The Rising Tide Model for Self-improvement I quote Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”

Frank and I asked others years ago not to give us presents. We have run out of room on our walls to hang things, on our flat surfaces to set things, and in our closets and drawers to stuff things. Our home runneth over and we are at a point where we are passing things on (or sticking them in the attic because we don’t have the heart to toss them -- When the time comes our kids will deal with them appropriately.) We no longer buy for each other on special occasions either. Simply stated there’s nothing we want or need, other than each other and for our loved ones to be healthy and happy.

Well, there is something else: World peace and an end to hunger and homelessness. If you ever come across those available to the public, please let us know. We’ll gladly rush right out with our checkbook.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Touching Tale of Random Creativity

Now follow this if you can. My daughter-in-law's sister's husband's sister lives in Petersburg, Alaska. On a recent trip there Carla met me on the rustic dock with her seventeen-year-old son Ben, who used a laptop to show me photographs he's taken depicting the life of a commercial fishing family. We only had an hour or so to visit, but we made the most of it while sitting beneath a graying sky, breathing in the brisk salt air.

When Carla learned I am a hypnotherapist, she was as excited about that as I was about Ben's impressive pictures of Alaska. She had been reading about clinical hypnosis and wishing she could use it to deal with some multilayered issues. "E-mail me," I said as we hugged goodbye. "Tell me what's going on, I'll get back to you if I have questions, then I'll record a session for you and send it on a CD." She did and I did, assuring her she had already paid for my services with the mouthwatering home-smoked salmon she gave us, wrapped for travel.

That was three months ago. Other than hearing from her how much she appreciated my help, we lost touch until she e-mailed a few days ago saying she had mailed a package to me. "A random piece of creativity," she called the gift she was sending. I was like a kid waiting for Christmas, and especially excited because part of the problem addressed on her personalized CD was her sense of sorrow over the fading away of her creative nature. Along with the recorded session I tailored from the information she sent, I had included subliminal suggestions specifically to help revive her creativity.

In the box I found Styrofoam beans protecting another box, in which there was an interestingly shaped shiny clear glass bottle... partially filled with the course black sand found on the shores of Petersburg. In the sand there were tiny treasures Carla had collected while beach combing -- several seashells, a tiny piece of coral, part of a young crab's leg shell, the red cap off a little tube 0f some sort, a little girl's pink hair clip, a tiny toy, a goldish ring, a piece of colored glass, and so on. Most importantly, there was a green marble. Marbles are rare finds, Carla's note told me, and she had come across this one on September 8th, the day my newest granddaughter was born. It's olive-green color made her think of the baby -- named Olivia. Carla had baked the sand to dry and sterilize it, and thought how much enjoyment I would have discovering the marble for myself each time I turned the bottle (sealed with a button and dangling bead) this way and that to expose the significant little greeen treasure that rolls around hidden in the dark sand.


The result of Carla's "random creativity" now sits on the windowsill of my kitchen (coincidentally decorated in an Alaskan theme). Sunlight shines in through the subtly decorated bottle daily, reminding me to take a moment to play. And I do, smiling each time I find there what I'm looking for, fantasizing about how much fun it will be to share the experience with my little Olivia when she is old enough.

In the package from Carla was also a page she had composed entitled, "Tides." The first paragraph reads, "Many people know some basic types of tides; there are spring tides and neap tides and lunar tides. They know of high tides and low tides, flood tides and ebb tides, and some even have met a riptide or two. At certain times in the summer come the krill tides, when millions of tiny krill wash up on the beach. They don't make the news the way a whale would that washes up. I've never actually seen a whale tide, but I am among the lucky few who have seen the button and decorative cap tides, the hair clip and comb tides, the little plastic toy tides, and sometimes the very rare marble tide."

Wow again.

What else can I say, other than what a pleasure it was to meet this special lady, how privileged I feel to have played a small part in her life, how impressed I am by her random creativity, how grateful I am for her thoughtfulness and sensitivity, and how touched I am by the unique and very meaningful gift she has sent.