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 (, 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:

Friday, September 30, 2011


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.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Weathering Storms

I recently read an accounting of a woman hiking high in the Himalayas with her husband, stepson, guides and pack horses. A sudden, unexpected blizzard spooked the animals, who ran off with all the gear and supplies, while the snow blinded the travelers from seeing even a hand in front of a face. They had no way of knowing if the storm would last hours, days or weeks, but as they huddled together beneath a rock overhang, they passed the night hoping and praying for the best. This story brought to mind an experience of my own, paler by comparison but life altering, nonetheless.

There was a year during the early seventies when a storm hit central California, severe enough to close down San Francisco's Bay Bridge. My brother barely made it across in time to pick me up in Stockton so that we could make a long-planned trip to a yoga retreat in Nevada City that I wanted to visit desperately enough to decide against cancelling our plans. When we arrived we found ourselves in snow, previously unknown at that low elevation. We parked the car when the dirt road became undriveable, grabbed our backpacks, and hiked in for what we expected would be only half hour, What we discovered, however, was that not only were the trails obscured by the cold, wet, white stuff, so were the signs stuck in the ground along the way to show the turns that needed to be made.

The weather worsened. All three of us wore glasses, but had to take them off as they became covered by snow. Thirty minutes became hours, as darkness fell and we became colder and wetter in our jeans, sweatshirts and tennis shoes. I found myself having to use my freezing bare hands and heavy arms to lift one leg in front of me at a time, out of the knee high snow, and place it mere inches in front of me. My son had taken my backpack from me, carrying it in his arms along with his own on his back. At one point I began to think that freezing to death might not be such a hard way to go, as I imagined it would become numbing both mentally and physically. I briefly considered just lying down in the snow and staying there rather than to continue to fight the pain in my body from forcing it to move. I knew, however, that if I did that my son would not go on without me, and that, along with thoughts of my other son at home, is what kept me going. Long story short, we eventually followed a light in the distance, happened upon a cabin miles beyond where we should have veered left, and accepted a flashlight from the couple there who gave seemed so strange that, despite being soaking wet and exhausted, we declined their hot tea and invitation to stay overnight. After five of the longest and most miserable hours of my life we found the retreat. It was one of three times in my life when I feared the grim reaper was headed my way.

At that time I had barely begun my experience of yoga, and wasn't aware of the resources more recently put to use by the woman hiking in the Himalayas. Instead of my dismal mental state mind while stranded in my own storm, she focused her thoughts that night on... the sun, imagining its warmth, but also the reassurance that rests in the awareness that -- no matter what -- the sun always rises. She filled her mind with a sense of calmness and trust in the natural scheme of thinks, knowing that even though she couldn't see the sun shining down on her, she could trust that it was there for her somewhere. Uncertain though she was as to whether or not she would survive, she was filled with the inner conviction that she was fulfilling her purpose in life not by always having what she wanted, but by accepting whatever life sent her way and using it to the best of her ability. Her roots in Raja Yoga (yoga of the mind) were tested that night. She passed.

In the current economy we are all weathering our own storms. Sadly some will not make it out alive financially or psychologically, others will escape but not unscathed. All our lives will be affected, and how we are then, when the climate clears, depends somewhat on the survival skills we put to use now.

The same holds true of emotional storms that can shatter our equanimity. Raja Yoga defines a purusa as "a special being, divine energy, higher power, or God, according to ones' own orientation... " and advises us during times of fear, injury or heartbreak, to detach from suffering by "letting go of the illusion of control over the circumstances of your life." What the Himalayan hiker learned from her experience was that we need to continue along our path doing the best we can, hoping, dreaming, praying and pursuing what we want in life even as we stumble and fall from time to time. But when things don't go according to our plan, there is a grander plan -- and she advises us that realizing the outcome of our efforts is often out of our hands allows us to move forward with the peace that comes from accepting this.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My Interesting Answer to an Inner Conflict

I have an inner conflict.

Because I was only 19 when my first son was born, 21 when his brother came along, and 35 when I gave birth to my daughter, I now have two sets of grandchildren. The older set range in age from 20 to 25. The younger set range in age from due in December to seven. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I didn't get as much time with the older grandchildren as I would have liked. I lived with it.

Knowing all too well from our personal experience how times flies when you are having fun with your children's children, my husband and I have more control over our schedule in our sixties than when we were younger, and we've used this latitude to arrange our lives around the smaller set. We ask for them often, and are offered them often -- under normal circumstances.

They live only 30 minutes away, but their stay-at-home mom's schedule is very hectic, as you can imagine, dropping off and picking up two of them for school at different times, regulating the baby's nap, and taking the others to swim class, gymnastics class, and so on. Their father (who is so nuts about them that it brings squirrels and baseball games to mind) works at a very challenging and stressful job. Coming home to them every weekday and having weekends with them are what keep him going. Understandable. Because our time with them is what keeps us going too.

So here's the conflict: My son-in-law's job provides a very comfortable lifestyle for his family, but it comes with the possibility of transfer to a distant location. My daughter has recently pointed out that my husband and I need to prepare ourselves for the possible separation by spending less time with the little ones, and she is the one in complete control of if and when we get to have them. So the question becomes, is she right? Should we spend less time with them now so that if/when they move away it will be less painful? Or should we pursue every moment we can muster, while they are nearby?

Inner conflict can be explained as the conscious part of the mind (where we do our thinking) disagreeing with the subconscious part of the mind (where we do our feeling). Sometimes that line becomes muddled and the information stored mentally intermingles, as is the case for me now. Then the answer to the dilemma becomes, "I don't know."

Normal circumstances don't always prevail. My daughter is pregnant (hormonaly challenged) and I am 70 (read old and crotchety, not to mention hypersensitive). We both have a history of depression and she cannot take medication in her condition. My depression is episodic, not chronic, therefor medication isn't recommended (plus many years ago when the problem was chronic, I experienced undesirable side effects of all medications I tried). All this adds up to a mother/daughter relationship that is touchy and... tenuous... at times. Such as now.

This means that we can only see her children when she deems it acceptable. At her will and mercy, as her father puts it. This leaves us in a very uncomfortable position because we know from experience with our first set, that little ones grow big in the blink of an eye. If anything were to happen to us within the next few years, Annabella's memories of us would be hazy, Evelyn's even more so, Olivia's and Scarlett's nonexistent. (How much do you remember before the age of seven?) We've made certain to take photos of all the goods times we've had with them, but photos can only hint at a relationship.

My husband and I, alone together, take solace in enjoying each other and the many activities we share. But without our grandchildren (around whom, under normal circumstances, we plan much of our our lives), our corner can seem very dark and dismal. At least we're in it together. Frank and I handle testy relationships differently. Emotionally he holds them off at a distance, whereas with me they're as close as the nose on my face. We balance each other out.

There is a metaphor I've created for the aging process. When our children are old enough to drive, we sit in passenger seat next to them. Later we're moved to the backseat because someone more important is up front. Eventually we're put in the trunk to make room for others in the back. Then, at some point in time, we're taken out of the trunk and placed somewhere in a corner of their lives. Despite our full lives, when we are too long from our grandchildren, Frank and I have found our corner can sometimes seem dark and dismal. That's just the way it is.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Eastern & Western Indians (But Not in That Order)

In our collection of old movies and TV shows stored on VHS, is a based-on-fact movie called Walks Far Woman. Starring, if you can believe it, Raquel Welch. Despite the fact that I’m not a huge fan of Raquel’s, this happens to be one of my favorite movies.

She plays an Indian banned by her tribe for killing her husband (in self-defense). After wandering a while she is taken in by another tribe, to live with the chief and his wife. Enter the young brave who falls in love/hate with her. Love because she’s gorgeous, hate because she is also athletic; and the two become highly competitive.

The handsome man eventually visit’s the tepee of the chief and explains awkwardly that he is confused about the beautiful Walks Far Woman’s position in the chief‘s family. “Do you think of her as your daughter? Your sister? Or your wife?” The chief replies, “All of these.”

“And if I were to ask to marry her, how would I do that?” asks the young man. The chief replies,

“The old ways are always best.”

This comes to my mind as I prepare for the Traditional Yoga class I’ll be teaching when the new semester begins in a few weeks at the University of the Pacific. I call my class Traditional Yoga because, over the 40 years I’ve been teaching, I’ve seen so many changes take place. When someone asks me what style I teach, I say, “I began teaching before styles existed.” This means before Yoga became Americanized, commercialized, transformed into a business complete with cute clothes and trinkets and gadgets that are sold to increase revenue.

Now you can find Hot Yoga, Aqua Yoga, even Laughing Yoga, to name a few. You can find classes where a teacher merely strikes poses in front of the group, expecting them to follow the example asasks you to move into a forward bend and then puts all of his weight on you to force your stretch, and classes where a teacher asks you to remain in a posture for 20 or 30 possibly uncomfortable minutes.

I teach as I was taught by four different teachers, one of whom was from India. With the exception of one instructor, they also taught the way they were taught. They carried on the tradition of yoga without making changes to create a style they could then name after themselves, promote, and use to make big bucks. The one exception should have called his class Ego Yoga, since in each of the 10 classes he taught we spent most of our time listening to him tell us how great and wonderful he believed himself to be and how fortunate we were to be in his presence. Years after that I became certified by Kriyananda of the Ananda Yoga Retreat. It too has changed to become modernized, but I continue to visit and I relish my memories of “the good old days” when it was more rustic.

Once, in the dimly lit room of a health club where I was teaching, a gentleman came in after class began and sat silently in the back. I assumed he was there to observe rather than participate. Afterwards he came up to me and explained with an intriguing Indian accent that he had been visiting various classes on his visit to America. Mine, he told me, was the only one that “felt like Yoga. In fact,” he added with his palms together and a slight tip of his head (and this gives me chills every time it crosses my mind) “For me it was like a visit home.”

I’ve never tried to make a living at teaching Yoga. My belief is that Yoga is a personal experience, and in the traditional sense every teacher is sharing his or her personal experience of Yoga with students. I find it difficult to place the component of money into that equation. Yes, I’m often (and currently) paid to teach; but over the years I’ve also taught many classes without charging, and others with all proceeds going to the sponsoring organization.

As for “styles,” in my mind any Yoga at all is better than no Yoga. I’m 70 this year and who knows how much longer I’ll be in the front of the class sharing my Yoga experience with university students young enough to be my grandchildren? While I am, however, I’ll be teaching as I have taught for 40 years, following in the footsteps of my teachers, who followed in the footsteps of theirs.

I believe the old ways are always best.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

With Appreciation to Our Military

TV commentators have announced that a Chinook helicopter was recently shot down by the Taliban, killing all 30 on board -- including a dozen members of Seal Team Six. I just finished reading a book by that title, written by retired seal team six member Howard Wasdin. (My father's career centered on espionage. He could never discuss his work and refused to write his memoirs despite my urgings. So material of this nature is meaningful to me.)

It is possible that reporters are doing what they typically do -- reporting a possibility as though it were a certainty in order to awfulize it for higher ratings. Even if no passengers were special ops our nation's tragedy is devastating enough -- I mourn the loss of every military man and woman -- but to lose a number of our most stringently and technically trained soldiers leaves me at a loss for words to describe my sorrow.

I typically tend to be wordy when I express thoughts and feelings, but on this occasion I'll only go on to say that in high school freshman English class (1955) our teacher, Jonathan Pearce, assigned to us the memorization of a poem by John Donne. To this day I can recite it in its entirety but don't worry, I'm only going to share a few lines for those unfamiliar with it:

No man is an island, entire of itself

Each man's death diminishes me

For I am involved in mankind.

War is ugly and unforgiving -- the underbelly of life we wish did not exist. Yet exist it does. I did not know any of those whose lives were so dramatically sacrificed in this incident, nor do I know their names or any of their loved ones. But I take this painful loss personally. I have an intellectual understanding of the gruelling challenges they faced voluntarily to become who and what they became, knowing all too well the risks involved. And I know that the high price they've paid is shared by parents, siblings, spouses, children, friends, and comrades. That's a hell of a lot of sorrow swirling about in the universe and it's as though I can feel their tears burning my cheeks.

Dr. Wasdin's book is a worthwhile read. I highly recommend it. Short of that, English poet John Donne's poem (written in the 1600s) is also worthy of consideration. Even at the crazy age of 15 it left a lasting effect on me.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

In This Day and Age

I just finished mowing the front lawn. Frank used to mow the lawn, front and back; but when I began to notice him tiring too easily I insisted he mow in back one day and in front the next. Now I insist on doing the mowing, while he pulls weeds (less strenuous). My legs will talk to me tomorrow (and they won't say thank you) but Frank has more serious issues at play, so my legs and I will have that conversation when the time comes but in the meantime I've done the right thing.

Yes, we could hire a gardener, as we have in years past. But we aren't of a mind to pay some young whippersnapper to come in to mow-and-blow at his own convenience, then spray chemicals (that give me sinus headaches) to control the weeds. There was a time when you could hire a kid to spend an hour a week keeping your flowerbed weed-free, but kids don't do that anymore. They don't need the money because their parents shower them with two of everything, and such a menial task would interfere with their overactive social and overstimulated intellectual life.

When Frank and I went to visit and groom my horse last night, she would NOT lift her foot to let Frank clean her hooves (easier for him than for me in the past, because it requires bending over and supporting the weight of her leg with one hand while using the hoof pick in the other hand). I took over and she gave me no resistance.

I remembered the time she would NOT go into one corner of the riding arena for me. I spent 10 minutes trying every technique I knew (and admittedly my riding skills are limited). When I finally looked beyond the fence I saw two coyotes in the nearby orchard. Horses have their own way of knowing things. And letting you know. I had forgotten last night that Frank is not at his best but somehow Brandi knew he should not be the one to clean her hooves.

He was the one who got me out there in the first place though. I've decided for a variety of reasons that Brandi needs a new person. Someone younger than me, who can give her the attention and exercise she deserves. I was hoping my grandson would take her, or his goddaughter's mom, but they aren't ready for the responsibility of a horse. Had they said yes, I would not have seen her again, but would have asked them to simply pick up and trailer her to her new home. Less painful without the goodbye. Since they said no thanks, Frank convinced me that while I am pursuing other possibilities, I need to continue to nurture my relationship with her. So off we drove to the ranch, lump in my throat be damned.

I'm not selling her, I'm giving her away. No amount of money can equal what she means to me. But if you're interested don't bother contacting me unless I know you well. I will not let her go to a stranger. I need someone I'm certain will treat her kindly and who will commit to seeing her through to the end of her trail. I don't want her handed off willy nilly from person to person. She's not getting any younger either, and she does not adapt well to change. As for me, I love her enough to let her go, and I fear the time has come.

Getting old is not for sissies, and ironically it strikes at us when we are at our weakest. Frank and I love our home but it's high maintenance and we're exploring options for an apartment in a seniors apartment complex. We've always done a pretty good job taking care of each other, but recently we've learned there are times when we are in individual survival mode and neither one is in any condition to compensate for the other's frailty. Frank has always helped me remember my vitamins (and sometimes even remember to eat); but now he is using his I-phone to remind himself to take his medication. One requires one pill a day. Another requires two pills a day. The third requires three pills a day. Yeah, we could write it down but neither of us would remember to look at the list. We need someone looking in on us occasionally. I know there are places where you can push one button that signals "help" and another that signals "leave us alone, we're fine." Then again I suppose someone has to remember to push the right button.

Yes, we have family, but they have lives of their own. A few nights back we watched Clint Eastood's Gran Torino, which speaks loud and clear to to the generation and communication gap that can sneak up on old people. Anyone who can't relate to that movie on one level or another gets brownie points in my book. Even in the best of families, reliance on someone you love can only add to the drama playing out in their own lives -- an unfair burden. This, I believe, is why old people "cocoon."

Well tomorrow it's back to the hospital for more tests for Frank and, who knows? When the results come back "well and clear" the two of us may break into an energetic happy dance that reassures us (rightly or not) that we're not as old as we've recently come to believe we are. Meanwhile it's do a little, rest a little. Do a little, rest a little. Remember to keep an eye on each other even if we forget why, and...

Hmmm. I had an idea for a great way to end this, but now I've forgotten what it was.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Highly Sensitive Subject (Me)

All medical conditions have emotional components to varying degree. I'm not talking psychosomatic here (where an issue originates in the mind and the body then acts it out), I'm talking about (a) stress, which makes every condition worse and, more particularly, (b) self-image, which is a patient taking on a condition as their identity -- I have ADD becomes I am ADD.

We've observed that once a condition is either self-diagnosed or validated by a professional, it takes on even more importance. Vague aches and pains become Fibromyalgia. Mood swings and irritability become Premenstrual Syndrome. Gastrointestinal inconsistencies become Irritable Bowel Syndrome. A wandering and forgetful mind becomes Attention Deficit Disorder. Fixation on repeated thoughts or behavior becomes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. But wait, there's more.

Once these conditions become common enough to be known by and called by their initials, they have made an important breakthrough into societal acceptance. FMA, PMS, IBS, ADD, OCD.
Instead of name dropping a person gains a sense of self-importance by simply dropping initials. Impressive. Expeditious.

Am I being snidely critical of others? No, I am simply setting the groundwork for making fun of myself. In a way. Because now EYE have a fancy name for what afflicts me, and I have initials! HSP! Hyper Sensitive Personality (or Highly Sensitive Person, if you prefer simplicity).

A recent article in Psychology Today says of HSPs (like me) that we are extremely perceptive to nuances unnoticed by others, that we are especially sensitive to animals and how they are handled, that our feelings are easily bruised by occurrences that others would simply shrug off, and that we have a complex inner life, sensing and internalizing the moods of others on top of our own.

Lines between fact and fantasy become blurred for us, which explains why certain scenes in movies have me covering my eyes and ears, sometimes even leaving the room, and why I skip over disturbing passages in novels. It explains why I prefer the quiet environment of my home to social interaction that can sometimes deplete me, and even why I am often impulsive -- intensified sensory input consumes psychic resources for thinking before acting. Ernest Hartmann, a psychiatrist at Tufts University, in solidifying boundaries as a dimension of personality, says of HSPs (like me), "It's as if those with thin boundaries have porous shells that allow more of their environment to penetrate and 'get' to them."

This also explains why I am highly perceptive to the complexities I encounter in dealing with clients and their psychological issues. This is a good thing in that it gives me more information to work with therapeutically. I liken this to the wolf nature that permeates my favorite book, Women Who Run With The Wolves (Dr. Claire Pinkola Estes). Wolves don't just look at -- they look over, under, beside, and even through. On the other hand it can be a bad thing. If my guard is down I literally feel a client's pain, and then must see to the healing of my own psyche.

In another context, years ago when I was a legal secretary in a large law firm, an attorney once said to my husband, "The thing about Ginny is she sees through all the" Guilty. I did. I do. I catch myself often asking my husband, "Don't people realize how obvious they are?" No, he assures me, most do not.

But back to Psychology Today. Jerome Kagan, a Harvard psychologist. found that brain imaging studies reflect "a distinctive biological feature: a hyperresponsive amygdala" (the brain center that assesses threats and governs the fear response). Thus HSPs (like me) are hypervigilant. Cortical areas linked to attention and processing perpetual data show higher activation in response to all kinds of stimuli. HSPs (like me) perceive the slighest sensory or emotional provocation and respond "with a flurry of brain activity" that others consider an overreaction. In the words of Andrea Bartz, Psycholoogy Today news editor, hypersenstivity is "neither a flaw nor a gift, but rather an amplifier of an environment's effect."

So, now that I have a self-diagnosis and initials, the advice I am giving myself is the same that I have given countless clients over the years -- it's not what you have, it's what you do with it. I can take on the identity of an HSP and use it to excuse my attitude and behavior (as in, "I can't help it! I am an HSP, you know,") or I can use the magic word I've so often encouraged others to use -- just. As in, "This isn't the end of the world, it's just my hypersensitivity playing games with me."

Which isn't to say it doesn't hurt when the HSP ball hits you in the psyche; however, while it is hurting (more deeply than it would hurt most others) I can remind myself of what a 10-year-old boy told a news commentator years ago after donating a kidney to save his father's life. When she asked him, "Didn't that hurt?" he said simply, "Why are people so afraid of pain?" Or, as my granddaughter said to me when she was 5 and broke a crayon, "It's just part of life, Gramma."

On a good day I'll remember and apply this wisdom. On a bad day? Well, no one's perfect, especially an HSP, like... you know who.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Something to Think About, Hmmmm....

Business people offer guarantees to attract customers and to increase their income. If your washer doesn’t work, they’ll repair or replace it. If your car falls apart, they put it back together for you or provide you something similar. They play the odds. In most cases all goes well and they don’t have to carry through with their end of the agreement. In some cases, when a customer does return seeking satisfaction the business is no longer there, has "changed" its policy, or lays out prerequisites that are impossible to meet.

Legitimate health care professionals do not offer guarantees. Surgeons cannot guarantee success. They will do the best job possible and hope for patient compliance, but the healing and recovery are up to you. Marriage counselors cannot guarantee they will save your marriage. He or she cannot. You are the only one who can do that... perhaps with help from others.

Think about it. If you want to use hypnosis to stop smoking, and you are given a guarantee that if “it doesn’t work” you can return for a free follow up session, from a psychological viewpoint you have been given permission to fail. You might think, “Oh well, if it doesn’t work I’ll just go back. Maybe next week. Till then I'll just smoke some more.” This weakens your motivation to succeed. The "guarantee" is in the business person’s best interest, not yours; because (a) many people falling short of success won’t bother coming back, thinking, “If it didn’t work the first time why would it work a second time?” or, “It’s too much bother,” and (b) those who do decide to return may find that the business has gone out of business.

While we’ve been practicing professionally since 1992, with impeccable credentials and with community awards for excellence, we’ve seen many others in this field come and go. Why? Because there are no state regulations or oversight, meaning that hypnotherapists are not held to standards of practice. With no solid foundation in psychology (the science of human behavior), most people discover it is more difficult to achieve and maintain success than they were led to believe by the hypnosis "school" (actually a business) of their choice. With their sights set primarily on making money (and maybe helping some people in the process), they find that to most people their misplaced priorities are transparent.

To make sure that you are dealing with someone with a successful track record and a stable reputation in your community, do a little research -- including checking on (a) the history of their business license, (b) the existence of liability insurance, and (c) the location of their business. Are they seeing people in their home (unsafe, and in some cases illegal)? If not, how long have they been in an office? Is clinical hypnosis something they do there full time, or do they share space with someone else, and pop in occasionally to do a session? Is hypnotherapy their only business, or one of many ways they generate income -- which doesn't make them a bad person, it simply makes them an entrepreneur, not a health care professional.

A big difference that raises a little cause for concern.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

Frank and I are privileged to enjoy a profession that provides a comfortable lifestyle (we have simple tastes, which helps.) When I began the business in 1992 he was working in retail management (underpaid and unappreciated) and while he was coming home feeling used and drained, I was the one coming home with an ear-to-ear grin and receiving lovely thank you notes from the clients I had helped. That elated realization that your contribution has made life better for someone else in a meaningful way, is what we call a "Helper's High." Frank eventually joined me at Evergreen, proving if there's anything better than a happy camper, it's two happy campers!

In 2002 I created a venue through which others can have the same rewarding experience.

I created a FREE Peer Level Support Group called Rising Tide, which consists of 5-10 members who learn and practice simple, specific self-improvement techniques on a weekly basis. The setting is casual & comfortable and the agenda combines structure and sponaneity within the context of pleasant conversation. Focus centers on 4 areas of life: 1) Creating and maintaining a positive mindset, 2) problem solving with input from others, 3) goal setting with accountability, and 4) stress management.

Many groups were formed, and some members remained actively involved for years. Literally. Those attending included a woman dealing with her mother's Alzheimers Disease, a man who described himself at the onset as "suicidal," a stay-at-home dad with borderline agorophobia, and a self-made millionaire who was healthy, happily married, and yet considered himself a loser. Others were in difficult relationships, or meeting the challange of raising teens, or stuck in a go-nowhere job they hated, or feeling disillusioned with life, or simply wondering whatever happened to that upbeat, energetic "old" self they could barely remember.

Despite the problems we all deal with in life, a basic concept in Rising Tide is that, based on your life experiencestress, goals, problems, helping others resolve their issues gives you a helper's high! The encouragement and support is reciprocal, and in an hour-and-a-half, no matter how "down" or dejected or discouraged you may have felt coming into the meeting, it's guaranteed you'll leave feeling better! That's right -- guaranteed!

In today's general atmosphere that is cloaked in uncertainty about our future as idividuals, as a business, or even as a nation, it is more important than ever before that we use every resource available to us to keep our heads above water in a psychological sense. For this reason, I am reprising the group and inviting anyone interested to give it a go. I'm willing to bet it's like no other group you've ever attended. (No hypnosis, no prayer, no mediation is involved.)

Let me reiterate and reassure you that membership costs you nothing other than your commitment to attend six consecutive meetings. This is important because with regular, consistent application of techniques that are effective and enjoyable, your results become lasting. You simply develop a new way of looking at and dealing with life!

Meetings will begin the 3rd week in July and run through the 4th week of August. Which day of the week and what time of the day depends on input from those who contact me to register. I'll be as accomodating as possible. I can be reached at 209-406-9901 or by e-mail at

This is an opportunity for you to find out for yourself that a rising tide does, in fact, lift all boats!

Monday, May 30, 2011

What's So Special About Seventy?

My husband has been asking me lately what I want to do for my birthday in September. It should be something special, he tells me, since this will be my 70th. His argument has merit, and so I have been giving this some thought. The problem is, I am feeling uninspired.

The fact that he asked, "What do you want to do for your birthday as opposed to, "What do you want for your birthday?" proves how well he understands me (i.e., better than anyone else ever has or will). I certainly don't want or need gifts. He and I stopped exchanging gifts years ago when we realized the most fun in giving a present is the element of surprise, and we can't surprise each other because we can't keep a secret from each other.

Rather than things, what I value most from others is their time. One of my greatest pleasures is having a son or daughter or grandchild spend time with me and at least seem to genuinely enjoy it as much as I do. It's common knowledge that children want attention, acceptance and approval from their parents. A lesser known truth is that parents want the same from their kids. It's called validation. It gives meaning to our lives.

Traveling is one of my least favorite things to do. I enjoy other places, it's just that I wish I could teleport to and from them, and not have to pack or unpack. Alaska is my favorite place, Hawaii comes in second, but I've been there/done that enough times that I wouldn't call going again to turn 70 in either place special. Over the years Frank and I typically plan vacations that take us away from the hustle and bustle of business and book promotion, and I have fond memories of hiking a remote trail with no one else in sight, and walking a beach that was, for the time, ours alone. On the other hand, last year we travelled with family for a week, eight of us sharing a luxury condo on Waikiki -- and had an awesome time.

The difference being family.

Aha! A distinct clue. Nothing I enjoy more than family, so why not keep it simple, I'm now thinking. Everyone has such busy lives that take them in so many different directions, just gathering the clan in one place at one time qualifies as special! I may be onto something here. A sunny September day, a sparkling swimming pool, good food, cold champagne, a cake with lots of frosting, maybe Jennifer Lind, John Denver, and SCOTTY singing over outdoor speakers, kids, grandkids, great grandkids all happy I'm still healthy and mobile and for the most part independent.. wow... it almost makes 70 sound downright inviting!

Okay, so having put together in my mind my Walt Disney version of a birthday that seems as though it should be different from all the others (though I'm not sure why -- 70 is just another number, after all), keeping it really simple, I wouldn't mind waking up that morning, putting on my jeans and boots, and heading out to the ranch for a nice quiet ride on Brandi. Then coming home to a cold beer and a long soak in a lavender-scented tub, a few phone calls, and some cards to stand on the mantle over the pellet stove. Hokey though it may seem, I love my family whether they are near or far, together or apart. And they find wonderful ways almost every day of the year to let me feel loved.

I'd have to be crazy to want or need anything more than what I already have.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Piece of Pakistan in my Family History

My parents were divorced when I was very young. My father remarried, had a son, and pursued his military career with vigor, retiring eventually as a Colonel and Chief of Instruction for Army Intelligence. He was never able to talk about his work, and after his death when I attempted to obtain his military records I learned they had been stored in a building in Kentucky that, at some point in the past, caught fire, everything inside destroyed. Okaaay... One of the many places he lived was Pakistan. Following the death of Bin Laden, my brother sent me the following information, which I thought readers might also find interesting.

Abbottabad, where Bin Laden was killed, is about a 30 minute drive from Murree, on a narrow, winding, mountain road, and is named for a British general. It is in rolling foothill country that's a bit cooler and greener than the hot, dusty flat land down at the capital of Islamabad, which is why so many Pakistani army folks have homes there.

In 1958-59 Dad, Mom and I lived in Murree HIlls (not the village itself). Murree is higher in elevation than Abbottabad and in the steeper mountains very close to the disputed (still today) border with India. We then moved to Rawalpindi for a year, the capital at that time, as construction on the new capital city of Islamabad (adjacent to Rawalpindi) was begun.

The Murree Christian School's stone church is where I attended 2nd and 3rd grades. They had divided part of the church interior into separate classrooms, and it still looks in photos very much as it did 52 years ao. When we lived in Rawalpindi I would stay in the school's boys dormitory in Murree Hills during the week and take the hour-plus drive home on weekends. A search on the internet identified the 1959-60 dormitory as the Sandes Soldiers Home, a former convalescent facility for soldiers of the British Indian Army (Pakistan was part of India back then). It's now being used as a dorm for 6th grade and up. [In a photo, it is a 2-story building with a steep pitched roof and white porch railings.] The old stone church is named "Garrison Church" and was an Anglican church used by British soldiers stationed in Murree back when.

There was an armed attack on the school by 4 masked Islamist gunmen in August 2002, in which 6 Pakistani security guards were killed. None of the kids or teachers were hurt. I hope they didn't later become a target again. Just thought you might like to have some family history of where Dad was stationed at one point[relative to recent highly publicized event].

I tried relentlessly (and unsuccessfully) to talk my father into writing his memoirs, which included 5 amphibious landings during WWII as a young infantryman, and later, many colorful countries as his residence. When I was in my twenties he visited the states, escorting an Iranian General who was here for medical treatment. They came to my home for dinner, which is material for a story I'll tell another time --guaranteed to amuse.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Business is Business & Other Platitudes

I know a man who sold boats. He worked on commission. One day he sold a boat to his son, who paid cash. Weeks later his son was sitting next to the owner of the boat business, having drinks.

"How are you enjoying that new boat?" asks the owner. "Loving it," replies the son. "Heck of a price I gave you on it," says the owner, mentioning specifically what that price was. Pause. "Yeah. Heck of a price all right,thanks," son agrees. When he later asked his father why he paid $500 more than the price the owner believed the boat sold for, his father replied, "Oh that. That was my commission. Business is business, son."

Full disclosure: I'm not a business person. I'm a therapist. My husband is the one who makes sure we stay in business so that we can do what we do -- help people on an emotional/behavioral level to live better lives.

Recently I ventured out with him into a section of society I rarely visit -- a newly formed group of business people meeting to help one another become more successful. "It's not about business," the leader reminded members enthusiastically. "It's about relationships. No self-promotion allowed here. Introduce yourselves to each other, arrange to meet one-on-one. Get to know each other, find out who you like, who you trust. Ask yourself what you can do to help that other person succeed. Then they'll do the same for you." I found the concept exciting. At last! Business with a heart!

The next speaker presented his views on how to be successful. His voice was soft, his style unassuming, his presentation unpolished, even bordering on awkward at times, which rings of authenticity. My kind of guy. As I listened to him, however, I looked around the room. Something was "off," but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. (I'll admit to the possibility of projection -- my perception of others may have been tainted by my personal unease. Remember, I was out of my element here.)

Now, platitudes may be boring because we hear them frequently, but repetition is a teaching tool that helps move information from the conscious part of our minds (short term memory) to the subconscious part (long term memory, therefore more highly influential regarding attitude and behavior). So I didn't fault the speaker there; however, when his bottom line regarding relationships became, "The people you talk to the most must be people who make more money than you do," he lost me. I mean, given the choice, I'd rather cultivate a relationship with the Dalai Lama than with Donald Trump.

I have the honor, and I mean that sincerely, of having been named our city's Small Business Person of the Year back in 2003. I'm quite proud of that, and grateful; however, I immediately jimmied the title around to be "small business" (omitting "person") because there were many others behind the scenes who placed me in position to qualify -- my husband, our small staff, and most importantly the clients who, over the years, have trusted us to help them unravel their psychological snarls. "Business Person" was a hat that did not sit well on my head, yet there it was, part of a uniform I suddenly realized I was being asked to wear.

So I resigned. Retreated to the wings and left my husband to enjoy the spotlight. I established a mentoring program, the purpose of which is to train others in my field to raise their standard of practice by focusing not only on competence but on ethics and professionalism. I believe if your heart is in it, success is inevitable. By "it," however, I mean helping others, not earning money, and that's where I became highly selective in considering candidates for the program. Highly. As in taking the high road, raising the bar. And by "success" I don't mean adding zeros to one's income. I mean (warning: platitude ahead) making the world a better place.

Problem is not many subscribe to my philosophy. Our society flashes dollar signs in gaudish neon that lights the wrong way to success, if you ask me. Too many follow blindly, caring only that along the way there are lots of banks with ATMs, and places to shop for the trappings of wealth. Flashing neon turns me off. I look instead for what can simply be called, "the spark." It can be found in people, in other living creatures, in places, and in ideas. But it isn't found commonly. It is rare.

Ah! There you have it! My ramblings have led me to understand what it was that seemed off to me in that room full of business people. There was no spark. I mean collectively. Had there been, the room would have lit up with it. I genuinely wish the individuals and the group well, and concede that many there make more money than I do. Allow me to fall back on Princess Lea's admonishment to Han Solo of Star Wars fame: If money is all you love, money is all you'll get. Perhaps for some, it's enough,and they consider themselves blessed and give generously to charity (or not), as they seek relationships based realistically on, What's in it for me? I wonder if they ever wonder what Jesus's net worth was.

Of course, his meetings were of a different nature, and he did hang out with fishermen and spend most of his time talking to the downtrodden.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Romance, Royalty, and Reality

With all the talk about Princess Dianna's legacy, truly her greatest contribution to the world rests in her two sons and, in particular, the grounding she gave them in what we call real life.

Along with her Christian upbringing, perhaps Dianna learned from Buddha, who was born a prince and was so sheltered from reality that when he finally snuck off the palace grounds to explore the real world, he discovered (to his deep consternation)poverty, illness and death. A major religion evolved from his dramatic awakening.

Dianna was, in her day, quick to become the beautiful princess envied by none who observed her with a keen eye. A loveless marriage, overpowering in-laws who did not accept or approve of her, and the public humiliation of ongoing blatant betrayal by Charles all moved her along the path that molded her into a devoted mother determined to raise her boys her way -- as best she could. She also became a doer of good deeds in terms of the hundreds of charities she supported by her actions, not mere words. The world is indeed a better place for her existence.

Now there is Kate, who is dearly and obviously loved truly by her Prince Charming... the manifestation of his mother's dreams for him. I love that William gave her Dianna's engagement ring. What an honor for her, and for him a gesture with deep meaning. It seems that the high price paid by Dianne covered lessons actually learned by the monarchy, which allowed William to live in the real (albeit privileged) world, where he is marrying for love after earning a university degree, serving in the military complete with the risks of a rescue pilot,and sowing his fair share of wild oats. Kate's compassionate understanding of his struggles with his inescapable position in life speak volumes about her own character.

This prince and princess have had the best and the worst of examples set for them by their parents' marriages. Charles and Dianna's relationship has taught them how not to do it. Kate's commoner parents have offered inspiration and hope. William and Kate have not turned a blind eye or deaf ear, and their relationship has passed the test of time. They have both deep emotion and high intelligence going for them -- plus what Dianna never had: the freedom to be themselves and to reject the stuffy and senseless traditions that history has taught us have reaped misery for so many. This prince and princess face the future forewarned and forearmed.

The rest of us can benefit by the incredible potential and dare I say natural inclination these two have to follow in Dianna's footsteps, together using their position in life to make the world a better place. My hope for them is that they will continue on the path, the high road if you will, they have chosen for themselves, balancing their personal and private lives on the same tightrope that tripped and tethered Dianne, then took her life.

There is no such thing as too much publicity when it comes to these two, although my read on this is that William will take the bull (pun intended) by the horns when it comes to the media, to do what Charles did not -- protect the love of his life with fierceness and ferocity, as well as live his life and someday rule his country with backbone as well as dignity.

I don't care what Kate's wedding dress looks like or how much the event is costing. I care about their happiness. They've earned it, they deserve it, they exude it and the rest of us can and should let it wash over us like soft, foamy waves. Those of us who choose to can love their love and let our admiration for them inspire us to greater heights.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Horse Sense & Dollars Too

In my thirties I owned four horses, a sensible number based on the size of my family at the time. We lived in the country and had a pasture and stables for them at the back of our property. There were plenty of tractor roads to ride and, in fact, I could (and often did) jump on my mare to ride her bareback to the little grocery store with its wooden floor, just down the way from our house. My three teenage sons threw hay and shoveled up the… used hay residuals. It was ideal. Then came a divorce, and I moved back to the city after finding good homes for Happy, Blaze, Spinner and Cronie. I gave them away along with saddles, blankets, bridles and so on, to people I knew would care for them. It didn’t occur to me to sell the horses or the tack. They were a part of my life that was dear to me, and money doesn’t mix well with matters of the heart.

In my sixties I decided I needed one -- just one -- horse in my life again. Brandi’s former owner let me keep her for a month to be sure we were a good fit, after which I paid the asking price without trying to strike a bargain. My horse was worth every cent and it would have been an insult to her to attempt to pay less. We were a good match. I was rusty and she was… somewhat… patient with me as I relearned the ropes -- not aiming to show her or to compete, but to simply have fun together. From the beginning I’ve never thought of her as my horse. I think of myself as her person, and I feel privileged.

I first boarded her a 30-minute drive from my house, where we enjoyed the wonderful indoor arena but had no roads to ride. Eventually I moved her to a new place, thirty minutes in the opposite direction. She hated it. We had a great indoor arena but she had no shelter in her pasture, which was very large but butted up against a rural highway. There were roads to ride; however, I didn’t have the confidence to take her out alone, and the other boarders were… less than friendly. Which made them “nice” compared to the owners of the place, who were… not nice. Brandi has no papers, and I have no patience for snobbery. So I moved Brandi to the place where she is currently boarded.

She loves it, and has adjusted to several moves from one pasture to another. No covered arena, but roads to ride and I have the confidence now to go out alone. Layout of the land favors dressage, and long term friendships among other boarders is rather cliquish, but Brandi and I pretty much keep to ourselves to avoid the games many people play (usually without enough insight to realize how obvious they are).

Now comes the dilemma: my cost of boarding her has gone from $130 per month in 2003 to $350 and rising. My choices are to pay even more when the exact increase is soon announced, to avoid the stress of moving her to another facility (she doesn’t like change), to take her off pellets and let her waste away slowly on hay that she doesn’t digest well, or to find someone who wants her and can afford to pay the ever-expanding expenses. I see this as a lose/lose/lose situation.

Our business overhead and living expenses have increased too; however, my husband and I haven’t raised the fee for our services in the past five years, because we are loyal to our clients and want to remain affordable to them when they need our help. That’s called putting people first and money second, not a popular philosophy in today’s economy, though many pay it lip service. If we had increased our fee at the same rate as Brandi’s maintenance has increased over the past 8 years, we would be charging close to $300 a session instead of $180. But then we are in the people business, not the horse business.

The people boarding Brandi for me are in the horse business. I am not. Therein lies the problem. I am her person, and responsible for making the sometimes hard decisions that affect her. Right now as I mull over options my heart is hurting, just a little, not a lot. I’m not a barrel racer, but I feel like I’m over the proverbial barrel. Sometimes that comes with accepting reality.

I suppose business is what it’s all about these days, with success being measured by dollar signs. That’s why Frank and I make such a great team. My primary motivation is to help people, he is the one who sees to it that we can stay in business in order for that to happen. There are others in our field who charge more and may earn income comparable to ours, but they earn their pay by helping fewer clients than we do. They have other jobs and multiple income streams, rather than dedicating themselves solely to the practice of hypnotherapy which is, after all, a profession. In my opinion, at least. Similar to being a dentist. (Would you choose one to do a root canal if he was in his office two days a week, selling vitamins door-to-door three days a week, and mowing lawns on the weekends? ) Yes, food must be put on the table. But from my point of view “following your passion” means devoting yourself to that which is dear to you, even if it means eating more beans and less steak.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Life Gives Us Pause

In a peer level support group called Rising Tide. where we learned and practiced a positive approach to solving life's problems, a new man joined us and announced dejectedly that he was considering suicide. Why? Because he had just learned he was HIV positive. The words "be positive" were, to him, a death sentence. The rest of us in the group modified our speech pattern to say instead, "Be optimistic," but apart from that the good news is he turned his attitude around and ended up moving to Arizona with his devoted partner, to live on a ranch where he looked forward to planting a vegetable garden.

Scientific evidence has recently indicated that our outlook on life is half hereditary and half learned. If we are born with a tendency to be unhappy and are raised by adults who are basically pessimistic, we have a strong tendency to view life's glass as half empty. If we are born with a propensity for happiness and raised by adults who are basically optimistic, that same glass seems to us half full. In either case, our parents are to blame. Pretty cool, yeah? Only as a humorous aside. The fact is, we need to accept personal responsibility and use our past as a stepping stone, not as a place to squat for the rest of our lives.

The reason I say "blame" even in the second scenario, is because being too much of an optimist is just as much a problem as being too pessimistic. Anything carried to an extreme is nature out of balance, and when our nature is out of balance, we are out of sync with the world around us. Life (with a capital el) has a life (small el) of its own, and if Life is zigging when we are zagging, we and Life step on each others' toes. Not a graceful move on any dance floor.

I often teach my clients to use the auxiliary word just to minimize a problem they have blown out of proper proportion. A person with a phobia, arachnophobia, for example (an unrealistic fear of even harmless spiders) can learn to say when encountering a Daddy Long Legs, "Oh, it's just a spider," and remain calm as opposed to shrieking OH MY GOD IT'S A SPIDER and running from the room in a fit of terror. This technique allows them to function more realistically in normal society.

Imagine, however, a person who lives in the mountains saying, "Oh, it's just a bear trap." This nonchalance might increase their odds of stepping in it (both literally and metaphorically speaking).

There is a choice that rests somewhere between optimism and pessimism, and that is called realism. We have the potential to view stimuli without attaching an evaluation skewed by either heredity or conditioning. It isn't good, it isn't bad, it just is. The solution rests in the pause between whatever "it" is, and our reaction. An automatic reaction overpowers the pause by happening instantaneously, without consideration. We revert to our default mode and, by doing so repeatedly, we reinforce that tendency. We become more positive, or more negative.

I treated a client recently who was very right brain predominant... extremely "dreamy" with no grounding in intellectual processing. She asked me how she could correct the imbalance and I told her some ways by which she could develop her intellect. "That sounds AWFUL" was her reply. "I don't want to DO that." Of course not. It would have meant leaving her comfort zone to explore unknown territory. The other option, I explained, would be to accept her nature, and nurture her gift of imagination. This might doom one to the category of eccentric but, in my book, there are worse labels.

Years ago I treated an engineer who presented with Globus Hystericus -- an imaginary lump in his throat. He met with success but later reverted, so I offered to record a hypnosis session that he could play repeatedly to reinforce the solution to his problem. "Great idea," he said," but don't use any of that drifty, dreamy stuff. I prefer pragmatism." Of course he did, I explained, adding, "If this issue could be resolved with logic, you would have done it yourself. To fix it, you're going to have to step out of left brain now and then."

Left brain, right brain, optimism, pessimism -- it's all good. What's bad is getting stuck in one or the other. We need to be able to travel through our mind, explore, and adapt to new terrain when we come across it. An honest assessment of an undesirable event (such as the recent tsunami in Japan) is more appropriate than thinking or saying something seemingly positive. "Think of all those who survived," for example. Not an appropriate comment if talking with those who lost loved ones. One of the worst things to say to a person with clinical depression is, "Snap out of it! Be positive!" It's the equivalent of asking a man without legs, to walk. So in social interaction we must take the circumstances and needs of others into account, and perhaps override our default mode to temporarily adopt a more helpful stance. Don't offer a potato chip (because you happen to have one handy) to someone dying of thirst.

The tsunami and clinical depression are extremes that I use to make a point, which is that we are social beings and when we interact, it isn't just about us. It's about others as well. It's true that others who are negative can drag us down. It's also true that others who are positive can lift us up; and sometimes either of those is precisely what we need in order to bring balance into our own lives. We can lead others by example, but we can't drag them from their internal storm into our sunny meadow filled with wildflowers. Sometimes we have to step out of our comfort zone to meet them in theirs, then guide them if they are willing to follow, understanding they may only move partway.

This means --for the eternal optimist as well as the proverbial pessimist -- abandoning the fear of viewing Life realistically. Life gives us Pause (with a capital P) precisely so that we can choose an action or reaction appropriate to time and circumstance rather than simply using the one we like best and practice most.

The same way we can remember that our opinion is just our opinion, not fact; which is why differing opinions can both be right -- or wrong. But that's a blog for another day.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

When Is "Me First" a Good Thing?

I admire Freud for his enormous contribution to the science of human behavior; however, in studying the man himself, there's no denying the dude was pretty messed up! For one thing, he couldn't see past his own fixation on sex. For another, his views were far from objective. Every woman suffers from penis envy? Only a man, and particularly one fixated on sex, could come up with such a ludicrous theory. I mean if I saw a group of horse owners being led around by their horses instead of vice versa, I wouldn't envy them, or want to own one of those horses myself.

Now Carl Jung -- there was a guy who got it together when he learned all he could from Freud, then outgrew the teacher. They became close friends, close enough that Jung was not blinded by the halo effect (a tendency to idealize an individual, exaggerating their good qualities and denying their flaws). He once asked Freud why, with his enormous body of knowledge and undeniable analytical prowess, didn't the man mend his own mental/emotional fences. This would have, of course, called for a second party trained in objective analysis, and Freud's reply was that he could not put at risk his stature in the psychiatric community by admitting to psychological imperfections. Jung split -- not schizophrenically speaking, but hitting the road -- leaving Freud feeling betrayed by his favorite student, who then went on to develop his own school of thought.

In terms of raising children, for example, Jung writes that if there is something we wish to change in a child, we should begin by examining it to see if it may be something we need to first change in ourselves. (Integration of the Personality, 1939) This is an interesting concept that preceded the contemporary self-help movement. Additionally, whereas Freud maintained that humans consist primarily of ugly and evil complexities that must be sorted through with professional help and put in order before one can function effectively in life, Jung believed in our basic goodness as a starting point for psychological tweaking.

The truth is, it's much easier to look at/listen to/help with someone else's problems, than to examine our own. "Physician, heal thyself" is easy enough in terms of pills, potions and patches; but matters of the psyche are different. They come with their own societal stigma and can be more easily overlooked (repressed/suppressed). I happen to believe that every good therapist has a good therapist -- holding up a mirror, encouraging self-examination and offering objective evaluation that leads to putting one's own ducks in a row. I am willing to wager, however, that few therapists share my philosophy. I know some who really need professional help -- but can't see that forest for the trees. Sorry for the mixed metaphors. It's just what I do. Causes no harm, unless a reader is anal retentive -- in which case I've already apologized.

The trend today is "coaching," which allows people to make a living helping others become successful in one context or another. So much easier to hand a soldier a gun and order him into battle, than to get one's own hands dirty and risk one's own life. Yes, there are coaches who have been there, done that; however, there are many who have not. They've read about war, heard about war, and can talk about war, but where are their medals? Far too many, when the going got rough, turned tail (between legs) and ran -- right to the sidelines where it's safer, easier (and more lucrative) to spur others on than to fight the good fight oneself in a business environment that has turned ugly. At the other end of the spectrum, of course, is the person so self-involved that no one else matters. But wait, can't these two be one and the same? The person who "helps others" only as a means to an end (helping oneself)?

A helper's high can be as blinding to the helper as the halo effect is to the helped -- when others adore someone for their attention without looking for authenticity and without realizing it's easier for helpers to bask in the light than to turn an honest eye toward themselves. I personally know coaches who have earned their scars, having actually seen success from the inside out. I also know some who have not even come close enough to success to see it with binoculars. They purport to lead others to a place they've never, themselves, been.

I came across this Confucius quote years back while studying all the major religions of the world: "When you have faults, do not fear to abandon them." This may mean a willingness to work through your own pain, not simply talking someone else through theirs. Confucius was a wise guy, and I don't mean that colloquially. Nowhere in any of the religions or cultures that I've studied has it been said, "If you have faults, ignore them and make a living fixing others."

So do I practice what I preach? You bet. I am a good therapist who has a good therapist. When I treat clients I come from a history that includes keen awareness of my personal problems and personal solutions -- and professional help. When my husband and I teach success, we teach what has actually worked for us and what has not. We've earned our scars and a few medals too. Oh, one more thing: You won't find us neat and clean and calling out from the sidelines. We're still in the trenches -- not because we need to be, but because that's where the action is. We're a part of it, not apart from it.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

No Kidding Around About Parenting

Why do moms get such a bum rap, as the lingo used to go in old time gangster movies. I mean, you've seen it dozens of times. Think TV comedy series. Phone rings. Handsome actor frowns and says, "It's my mom. Don't answer it." Laughter. The audience relates. Think dramatic movie. Aging actress in a moment of angst frantically removes all pictures of her daughter from the wall. Nervous laughter. Audience relates. Think Shakespeare. Okay, I was never really into Shakespeare so I can't pull up a specific example, but even sweet William had a mother so I'm sure she shows up somewhere in his works.

And when was the last time a husband said to his wife, "You're just like your mother," to have her smile and said "Oh, thank you, Honey!" Hug, hug.

Try these on for size:

Do we HAVE to invite your mother?
Why can't YOU just call my mother?
Can you BELIEVE what your mother has done now?
Oh, no, not my mother AGAIN?
Sorry, you KNOW how mothers are, right?

I think I have it figured out. In the wild, generally speaking, the father, well, he fathers... and heads out to... father with another female, never to be seen again. The mother sticks around to raise the young and take the flak when the young become old enough to bite back and say, "Hey, I'm outta here!" So maybe moms are more in the picture when it comes to creative portrayal because... they're more in the picture in real life. Generally speaking.

Sticking with the metaphor of animals in nature, consider the young. They wriggle their way out of the womb into the big wide world, nurse when mom allows it and romp about looking adorable, nap in the sun with mom looking out for predators, and then let's say she teaches them to become predators, and off they go to, uhhh, find their own meals, until they are big enough and strong enough and cocky enough to flash mom their backsides as they kick dust in her face and leap and dart off to live their own lives. There, I've said it.

But wait, there's more. Time passes and if hungry mom and her hungry offspring happen upon the same available carcass in the brush, do they hug warmly and settle down to share? Oh hell no. It's tooth and nail, and maybe to the death. With the younger of the two most likely emerging as the victor.

Well, I don't know about you but I'm a mom and I'm sure feeling like crap right about now.

Oh. Wait. We're not animals in the wild! That's right! We're civilized! And THAT'S why our lives are not as simple or as predictable as theirs. When it comes to one generation finding a way to coexist with another generation, we are called upon to overcome our animal instincts, have our dust ups now and then but get over them, put up with each others' shortcomings, and do the best we can to play nice even when we're tempted to either head for the hills or go in for the kill. We're not animals. We stick around. We may bitch about it, but isn't this precisely why we have the vocabulary that animals don't?

I'm not saying it's easy. In fact I'm saying it's not. Why? Because at some evolutionary level of our being we are still in tune with... the call of the wild. It's the muted voice that reminds us when the going gets tough we always have the option of turning tail and running. I've done it myself, so I know of which I speak. For most of us, somewhere tucked away in our subconscious is the memory of those early days when life was good. And simple. And easy. And we want that back! THAT'S what we think we're running to (illusion) when we run away from reality.

However. Most of us procreate and the saga repeats itself with us in the opposite role. We shake our heads like a bear coming out of the water with trout 'tween teeth wondering how the heck it got all wet. We wonder, How the heck did I get here, I was there last time I looked! We experience the same confusion, the same frustration, the same disappointments and feeling of betrayal that we left behind us in our youth for others to gnaw on while we ate high on life's hog. "This wasn't supposed to happen to me," we whine, reliving our sacrifices and struggles in attempting to do our very best at parenting. Yet happen it did and does, unless you're the exception that proves the rule.

Well, as a mother I submit that if you're a father, just be glad you're not a mother. You're not the brunt of jokes, which leaves you free to laugh louder at them than the females (who may find them humorous until they reach that stage of life known as labor and delivery). As a father you can see cleverness in a movie title such as "Throw Mama From the Train," and if you're married you can be grateful to your wife for remembering your mother's birthday for you every year.

Even my own family makes fun of me, a little like Nora's kids do to her on Brothers and Sisters. Their kids are still little. Their day will come. When it does, Nora will sympathize, empathize, offer uninvited advice to be met by rolling eyes, and the audience will have a good laugh. I laugh too, because sometimes that's what you gotta do to keep from crying.

Don't get me wrong. I wouldn't trade motherhood for anything in the world, and I say that with all sincerity. I'm not complaining. I'm just saying... parenting is the toughest job in the world and you never, ever, ever get it right. It's a good idea to remember that whether you're a mom, a dad, a daughter, or a son. If your moment of truth hasn't smacked you in the kisser yet, don't go peeking around any corners.

I'm just sayin'...

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Odd Advice About Relationships

I admit it. I have a crush on the Dalai Lama. I like his smile, the twinkle in his eye, his humility, and his honesty. If you've ever lost an investment, your purse or wallet, something or someone you love, imagine losing your country! Yet the man maintains the spiritual glow that emanates from his love compassion for all of mankind. I once asked my husband, "If you had your choice between sitting down and having a conversation with Jesus or with an alien from another planet, which would you choose?" He's a sci fi afficianado, so his answer was different from mine. My answer today would be in the form of a question: How 'bout the Dalai Lama?

Not that the Dalai Lama is superior in any way to Jesus or Buddha or Muhammad or any other religious icon. I simply find him more intriguing. His wisdom is often cloaked in humor, accompanied by his laugh that, even in its extreme, has a tone of gentleness about it. I've read many of his books, and often quote or paraphrase him because his philosophy resonates with me. He has proclaimed, for example, that we don't have to like everyone! Oh, thank you, Dalai Lama! My guilt was immediately assuaged.

I tend to dislike people who like themselves too much, who are so full of themselves that there's no room to let others in. This in spite of the fact that I understand intellectually how, often, people who seem to like themselves too much are merely overcompensating superficially for, beneath the surface, not liking themselves enough. Unlike the Dalai Lama I'm afraid I fall short in the compassion department because in an overcrowded world familiarity is frowned upon. We want our relationships fast and easy, and place emphasis more on quantity than quality. Sadly, it's not how well do you know other people, it's how many people do you know? Worse yet, while the knowing of another should be a reward in itself, the bottom line seems to be What's in it for me? How can this person be of use to me? In most cases there is neither time nor incentive to navigate the complexities of human behavior for an accurate analysis of a particular individual. First impression equals lasting impression. Move on. Relationships require energy. Invest wisely.

I also dislike people who habitually lie. It's impossible to have a meaningful relationship with someone who is not being honest with you, because one blatant, obvious lie pushes a button inside us that flashes like a lighthouse warning ships they are nearing land. If we pay heed, we keep our distance. If we ignore the warning, we risk a wreck. Without constant vigilance, a lie can draw us into dangerous waters. Why? Because in many cases we want to believe! This burdens us with what is called an inner conflict. To be...lieve, or not to be...lieve? Accepting is easier than rejecting, the way swallowing food is easier than throwing it up. Are social lies okay? Uhhh, judgment call. I suppose "I like your hat" does no damage if said in passing, the way flailing about in a wading pool poses less threat than flailing about in shark infested waters. Circumstances must be considered, and a tiny untruth might be the sugar coating on a pill that makes it easier to swallow in order to feel better somehow. Milton Erickson, a psychiatrist who specialized in clinical hypnosis with phenomenal success for nearly 50 years, told "therapeutic lies." I can imagine the Dalai Lama himself availing himself of... shall we say diplomacy... from time to time.

The fact is, we're all flawed. If known well enough even the Dalai Lama might, I imagine, disappoint from time to time. This is why heroes are best worshipped from afar. Up too close and the chinks in their armor are distracting. In too tight and we might find that armor hard and cold. My advice is to choose your heroes carefully, then keep them at arm's length. Allow them to bask in the illusion of perfection. As for closer relationships, here's a bit of odd advice: If flaws are simply annoying, move on. Why bother? If flaws are hurtful (to the psyche), our instinct is to run, but I recommend sticking around long enough to identify the lesson there for the learning. You won't find the answers in the back of the book, or even studying that other person. You'll find them within yourself. And when you do, you'll be a wiser and a better person.

Years ago a ten-year-old boy made the news because he donated a kidney to his father. A TV reporter asked, "Wasn't that painful?" and he replied, "Why are people so afraid of a little pain?" When it comes to close relationships, if you aren't brave enough to take the bad with the good, that's on you not on the other person. Love isn't for sissies. If it seems to you that it's more trouble than it's worth, think about the Dalai Lama. He may not like everyone, but he understands and exudes love, which happens at a soul level, beneath the layers of superficiality. Peel away enough layers and theoretically there's something about everyone to love. The question is, do you choose to take the time and make the effort to find it, connect with it, and accept that even love can never be perfect?