Saturday, February 19, 2011

Why I Lived a Lie for Six Stressful Months

I was in the process of earning my doctorate degree in clinical hypnosis (DCH), at the same time seeing clients and dealing with a houseful of teenagers (most of whom were throw-away kids with nowhere else to live).

The degree program typically covered a span of two years, but when I received a letter saying, “Congratulations! You’ve completed all of the required subjects for your degree,” I was elated and somewhat surprised, thinking Gee, that time went by fast! and I began announcing to friends, “I’ve done it! I’ve earned my doctorate!”

When I contacted the Institute to find out about the graduation ceremony, however, I was told that I now needed to navigate x number of elective subjects! I had only completed half the program! To this day I can remember the feelings of utter dismay and embarrassment. How could I have been so naive? My only excuse is that life was hectic, and it was easy enough to lose track of time and details. It would have been really awkward running around trying to remember who I had bragged to prematurely in order to recant, but I was secretly horrified about having unintentionally misrepresented my academic status.

I asked the classic question that has saved my... backside... soooo many times: How can I fix this? Answer: I promoted my secretary from part time to full time, asked my husband and the teens to run our household, and -- except for seeing clients -- I dedicated every waking moment to study and research (which culminated in more than 500 pages of written material and, I might add, nearly perfect marks!) In order to live up to the image I had been presenting, I completed the year’s worth of study in six months.

I believe that action should support truth, even if it takes time, effort and sacrifice to get there! I see and hear others playing fast and loose with words in sales and self-promotion, but that's their choice, not mine. If truth is tweaked to sound good with no actual substance, well, it isn't truth, is it?

Call me old fashioned.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

This is not about the "old" movie of the same caged bird title. I'm sure I saw it in a theater back in the day (when popcorn cost a quarter), but to be honest I couldn't begin to tell you what the film was about, or even whether or not I enjoyed it. I find the words a catchy phrase though, which has been tippy-toeing across my consciousness for a few weeks now.

As a psychologist I've studied dream analysis and am not a proponent of Freud's outdated theory that the meaning of symbols is universal. Rather, a tree may mean one thing to one person, and something entirely different to another. So if you were to have recurring dreams around the symbol of a tree or trees, in order to understand the underpinnings of your dream the question becomes why? Why trees? What do trees mean to you?

My question is also why? Of all the words in all the dictionaries (to play on another phrase from another old movie) why have these words recently invaded the privacy of my mental processing? What do they mean to me?

Cage brings zoos to mind, and zoos used to depress me. Poor animals, I thought in the light of youthful idealism, denied their freedom, robbed of their right to live a natural life. When genius-type Marilyn Vos Savant commented on this subject, however, she made the point that animals in the wild live short, often stressful lives, and typically die painful if not violent deaths. "When cared for by humans they are protected, fed, bathed, medicated when necessary, and even provided mates. Which life would you prefer?"

Seven years ago I retired from clinical practice and revelled in the privacy of my comfortable home, where my office was mine alone and I had the luxury of working near a window with a naturalistic view complete with greenery, flowers, a pool, waterfall, squirrels on the ground and a zillion birds in the trees. They were free and I was the one caged. But by choice. And I believe that in my heart I outsang them!

The door of my cage was always open, and not long ago I ventured out, came out of retirement, and found that the bigger, wider world holds some allure of its own. I'm reconnecting with friends, reaching out more as a volunteer in the community, and of course seeing clients once again. It means more mix-n-match instead of Levi's, stylish shoes more than bare feet or dusty cowboy boots, make up on my face like it or not, and... meetings...

Meetings are not my favorite thing. Agendas, protocol, smiling, nodding, asking, answering, agreeing, disagreeing, explaining, pretending, being honest, speaking out, shutting up, and never, ever... yawning. I am not a natural up-and-on person, but I can fake it when I have to, and I do, understanding the necessity of social graces. The lines, however, become blurred. I've left my beloved cage but is this living free? No, it's living civilized. I can do it. I can. I can.

Why? What makes me so sure I can navigate this world that is in such sharp contrast to the sanctuary I call home? Again the therapeutic question why and the answer is: because the door to my cage is always open, and I can fly back in as easily as I fly out, whenever I so choose. My freedom rests in the realization that the privacy of my office always awaits me, window and all, the squirrels and twittering birds ever abound, and I can -- at any time of night or day --step back in, kick off my shoes, scrub my face, slip into my jeans, settle into my soft swivel chair, open the window, take a deep breath and... sing... sing... sing!

Friday, February 4, 2011

What's In the Hat? You Decide

Many years ago (I've discovered as I age, this phrase appears more and more in my speech and writing), when I deplaned during a brief layover in Denver, I left my favorite book on my aisle seat. When I returned, it was gone. I told myself, "I hope whoever picked up my book, appreciates it." I could have been upset, angry even, but in forming a philosophy of life, it's wise to find one that helps you feel better, not worse.

More recently I gave away something special -- to someone who was special to me at the time. It was a hat my father wore to SF Giants games, and he was privileged to have the brim autographed by then Manager, Dusty Baker. The person I gave it to was an avid Giants fan long enough to know who Dusty Baker is. He was grateful and gracious in response to my gift, and fully understanding my feelings toward my father. He promised me the hat would be treasured as a family heirloom and would be handed down to his son, also a genuine Giants fan.

Then something happened. I spoke a truth as I believed it, and it wasn't what he wanted to hear. He took offense. "Perception is reality," he said to me, in justifying his emotionally charged reaction. What I did not say next (trying not to escalate our disagreement) is, "Your perception is your reality; my perception is my reality." The fact is, a person's perception is not universal reality, or unilaterally real, though some of us are arrogant enough to think so about our own.

His family is stable and rooted in their community, so I felt my father's hat had found a good home. Since he and I have parted ways, however, there's no way for me to be sure this is the case; but the fact is I believe the hat will be where it is meant to be, whether he keeps it, sells it on E-bay, or throws it away. And if there is any truth to the theory that loved ones on a higher plane hold influence over people and events on this plane, my daddy will keep an eye on his hat if it matters to him. Which it may not. I mean, in the final analysis, it's just a hat.

"Just" is a word I encourage clients to use to minimize an unpleasant person or event, to help them keep matters in perspective. I could, of course, become emotionally embroiled enough to consider the giving away of this hat as a -- now -- personal loss. OH MY GOD I'VE LOST MY FATHER'S HAT! I choose, however, to remember it is just a hat, and changes in what was at one time (in my perception) a warm and caring friendship, are just part of life. People change. Circumstances change. Someone wise once said "The only thing in life of which we can be certain is change."

Yes, I was caught off guard by this one, as is often the case, and in retrospect I can see that my trust was misplaced; but I have an intellectual understanding of the dynamics at play, and I am reconciled to the reality of the situation. This is just a relationship gone awry, certainly not a matter of life and death. To quote Charles Darwin (as I have in the past), "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change."

I'm cool with change. Over the years I've even made it my friend. It is a friend I can trust. And I do. If my father is now capable of feeling anything, I believe he is feeling proud of me for taking the high road. And he is feeling loved -- regardless of what becomes of his hat.