Category Archives: Uncategorized

Thank You Sheryl

Sandberg2016-05-16t12-09-26-766z--1280x720.nbcnews-ux-1080-600Stalled at the Pittsburgh airport while the airline tried to locate a part for our plane last week, I had time to peruse the magazine racks. And there it was, on the cover of Time magazine, Sheryl Sandberg’s image and the message, “Let’s talk about grief.”

YES, I said enthusiastically to myself, inhibiting the desire to make a fist in the air and bring it down in a firm gesture of agreement, like the ringing of a chime. It’s about time we spoke out loud the name of the elephant that is in the middle of our social gathering places – our offices, churches, ladies luncheons, schools, and corporate conferences. Anywhere we gather, at least half of us are most likely in the middle of experiencing a major loss and yet a conspiracy of silence keeps us isolated from getting and giving the support we need.

I learned about this when I lost my 31 year old son to AIDS and later, my 42 year old daughter to breast cancer. Being a therapist I decided to write a book about our family’s experiences and the role that support from our community played in our handling these challenges. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y12Wj06_nAI

My hope was that writing and talking about what we experienced would help me and reading our stories would help others deal with their losses. I developed a format to “Perform The Book,” getting help from my improv troupe, as we used the expressive arts to join the particulars of their stories to mine. This experience was most satisfying and rewarding for me, those who chose to participate, and audience members. But it was noteworthy how many people declined our invitations.

The taboo about hiding the pain of loss seems to stay firmly in place not only in relation to death and the loss of a loved one, but operates when a family member loses a job or goes to jail, gets a cancer diagnosis, or when we ourselves deal with pain or infirmity. In short – whenever we suspect that our current life situation might be considered a “downer” for someone else.

On the other side of the equation, when we know someone is going through grief we often fear saying something that might make their pain worse. Once when my son was seriously ill in the hospital my sister-in-law asked about him and I began to tear up as I talked about the situation. “Oh dear. Now I’ve made you cry,” she said. I had to explain that she didn’t make me cry. ” By asking about my son, and listening to my answer, she allowed me to have a few moments when I was not pretended that everything was “fine. She let me know that she cared and gave me the opportunity to share my concerns and sorrow with her.

Hopefully through Sheryl’s courage in writing her book, https://www.recode.net/2016/7/29/12320222/sheryl-sandberg-leans-into-next-book-option-b-about-grieving-and-healing about the sudden loss of her husband, and the well-funded promotion of her platform, more of us can be there for one another through the tough and tender times, becoming stronger from dealing with our adversities.

Pain Free

IMG_3098Sitting by the fire looking out over the snowy March landscape outside my window, I think of Emily Dickinson, a writer who perfected her craft as she dealt with health challenges throughout most all of her short life. My destiny has been the opposite. In uncompromising good health until a few weeks ago, I have avoided having to perform creative activities, or the simple tasks of daily living while being sick or in ill health.

A bout of the flu here, an allergic reaction there, mostly I’ve been blessed with opportunities to put my whole self into whatever projects and goals attracted my fancy. Like most people, I’ve been unrealistic at times, creating stress and strain by demanding more of myself than is possible for a single human being. Perhaps we identify our limits by pushing past them on occasion. Perhaps we stretch our capabilities by using the second wind that appears after the first one dissipates.

In my 30s I got good at pushing myself beyond my limits and then with the help of artistic practices, learning how to heal into a place of ease and balance. Later on, there was the juggling act of family roles and professional goals, self-care practices to stay healthy while supporting family members going through their own health challenges.

My initiation into the world of ill health began with sixteen days of excruciating headache pain. I became engrossed in symptom relief; hot showers and cold compresses, Advil, essential oils and naps while we hunted for medical professionals who could get to the bottom of it all and return me to the world of the well. Occasionally, there were short opportunities for normalcy, to teach a class or attend a dance concert, but life as I had known it seemed long ago and far away.

Finally, dramatically, I got to the right professionals, got the correct diagnosis and most importantly, the potential disaster of losing my eyesight was averted. Gratitude for that as I live into my new role as a patient in recovery.IMG_3099

My father always said, there’s a bit of poison in every medicine, and the miracle drugs western medicine has developed are no exception. The challenge now is managing both the short term and long-term side effects of the medication that is keeping me pain free.

My view of what’s realistic and doable under my present circumstances demands constant discernment. I must be cautious and careful, mindful of what energy is from the medicine and what energy is truly my own. Slowly, carefully, I’m returning to the physical practices that have kept me healthy in the past; a half a yoga class here, 45 minutes of Zumba there. Health challenges are always a reminder of our fragility but also of the gifts of a good night’s sleep, the love and support of friends, and gratitude for the opportunity to move pain free throughout our world, for however long that is possible.

 

Happy Merry Us

happy-holidaysWhen I googled “Holiday Stress” this morning, I got 7 million, 500 thousand items. Top picks were articles and blogs attempting to help people manage their holiday stress. As an expert on dealing with tough stuff, I feel obliged to jump into the fray of suggestions for surviving and thriving this holiday season.

Let’s first look at the stress we create for ourselves.

  • What about the big deal hassles over the proper way to wish a friend a happy winter holiday? In an effort to be inclusive of all citizens, the White House has sent Happy Holiday cards for the past 8 years. Some Christians take that as an insult, as a “war on Christmas.” Some Jewish people have their own issues on greetings at the holidays. Coming out of my health club yesterday I overheard a couple of Jewish women ridiculing a non-Jewish woman’s mispronunciation of Hanukkah, or Chanukan. (For those who don’t know, to pronounce either word correctly, a soft guttural clearing of the throat needs to precede the H or C.) And this matters why?
  • How come we expect our holiday season to always and continuously, be happy? This unrealistic obligation pumps pressure into all our activities; In searching for just the right gifts, planning decorations and menu items we’ve seen in magazines, addressing holiday cards to business contacts that reflect our brands, and writing an annual letter to friends and family recounting all the happy successes of the past year.

Meanwhile in the real word – life continues as usual – people get sick, family members disagree, loved ones die, accidents happen, and bad weather delays travel plans. Instead of blaming ourselves, one another, or the gods, for this unexpected bad timing –

How about…

1) Lowering our expectations, it’s just a fleeting season of the year

2) Calling on helpers, both seen and unseen, while reaching out to help others

3) Saying yes to whatever cannot be avoided and asking ourselves “what good can come from this?

4) Continuing the radical self care practices that have kept us sane and healthy throughout the rest of the year  

5) Honoring those no longer with us by sharing stories of when they were here, or giving a gift in their name to a charity or cause they believed in

6) Connecting with previous experiences of peace, joy and love and bringing them into the present moments of this particular holiday season.

Allow me to wish you a blessed holiday season and a peaceful,  joy-filled New Year.

 

Love Sweet Love

What the world needs now is love,” lyrics Hal David, music Burt Bacharach

1-jyoti-black-hatI’m in the shower, preparing to attend a celebration of the life of one of my dearest long time friends, Jyoti King. The first lines of this song come to me….”love sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s still too little of.” I guess it would be natural to think that the world has less love now that Jyoti’s left it, but the event organized by her husband Randall last Sunday, involving 60 or so friends and family members, taught me otherwise.

We gathered in an upper room of a restaurant in downtown Fort Worth Texas, and read Jyoti’s poems and other writings out loud for nearly three hours. Taking turns we added our own stories of Jyoti, whose life has meant so much to each of us these past 30 years. I spoke of my vast personal indebtedness by quoting one of my favorite African sayings, “I am because she is.”

Jyoti and Randall were midwives for Rich and I, for the behavioral health clinic we co-founded and directed, “Iatreia Institute for the Healing Arts. Jyoti was clinic manager for most of its ten years. She helped edit my first book, Stillpoint: The Dance of Selfcaring, Selfhealing, a playbook for people who do caring work. She left the clinic briefly to pursue her writing, but when my youngest son was diagnosed with AIDS, she returned to support me. When a year to the day later, her son was diagnosed with AIDS, we wept together, fearing we’d taken this sister bond too far.

When my friend Rose asked me to come and be with her as she was dying, Jyoti, a former childbirth midwife, encouraged me. “It’s in the coming in and the going out that there is the most light, when the veil between the worlds is lifted. It’s an honor and a privilege to be present at both occasions.”

Jyoti’s exit was one of the long, long, goodbyes that people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and their family members endure. She and her husband and friends lived this journey for 12 years, before her death last month. There were many stories of lessons Jyoti taught before she got sick. Her son, whose ‘s been sober for 25 years now, told how no matter his mistakes, his mother always forgave him. When he had to go to prison Jyoti washed his feet to protect him. “She told me, keep remembering, you are just a visitor there.”

I shared some of the gifts Jyoti gave me during the course of her disease. Shortly after she was diagnosed I moved to Pittsburgh but I traveled back to Texas often. I always visited her, first in her home and then in the memory care center. Each trip on the plane I would caution myself, “She may not know you this time. Get ready for that.” But, though she eventually lost most verbal language, she always knew who I was. Perhaps better than I did.

Once we walked together in the garden of her home when she was still living there. I noted that she felt unsteady on her feet. Her once good coordination would flounder and she’s grab my hand going down stairs or on the uneven path. Having been a nurse, when she entered the memory care center, she saw herself as a nursing assistant, always looking out for the other residents. A film aficionada, she advised a staff member on movies the community would enjoy. On one visit she brought out a musical instrument, and played and chanting for me.

sheila-and-jyoti-2When my second book was in manuscript form, I brought it with me on a visit. I told her I knew she wouldn’t be able to help me with this book as she had the first one. “But I’d like you to bless it,” I said as I placed the binder in her lap. There were no words, but she took the binder and gently hugged it to her heart. She smiled and we both knew we were doing a ceremony.

On what turned out to be our last visit, I found her in the parlor of the memory care center alongside other residents. They were all seated before a television displaying a blank screen. She was rocking in a rocking chair and coming closer, I heard her singing to herself. I couldn’t identify the song but it was clearly a Texas boot-scooting two- step.

The Cost of Our Current Conveniences

kinzua-damHere just before Thanksgiving, a national holiday that encourages gratitude for the gifts of plenty most citizens enjoy, I’m reminded of the First Peoples who lived here before European refugees, settlers, and immigrants arrived.

This past fall representatives of over 300 tribes have been gathering in prayerful demonstrations in North Dakota at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Their aim is to prevent an oil pipeline from crossing their land, threatening their water and the sanctity of their sacred lands. My grade school images of the first Thanksgiving where white and native peoples supposedly sat down together did not foretell the environmental racism that still continues 300 years since.  

All this and the fact that I now have a granddaughter who is Native American has caused me to look closely at where I stand and what I am willing to stand up for. The following piece is the result of what these experiences are making of me.

Floods No More

“Aren’t you afraid of flooding?” people ask

when they visit our home on the Allegheny River.

Floods can be monsters claiming everything you own and hold dear.

But our safety is insured by the Kinzua dam constructed upriver in 1965 on

Seneca tribal lands. 10,000 acres were flooded including ancestral burial grounds.

This broke the 1794 Canandaigua Treaty, signed by President George Washington.

The lake behind the dam is known as Lake Perfidy (treachery and betrayal).

Unaware of this cost, from the edge of our newly expanded deck

I’m convinced we have the best backyard in all of Pittsburgh.

That’s White Privilege.

 

What Happens After the Election?

no-problem-can-be-solved-from-the-same-level-of-consciousness-that-created-it-albert-einsteinOur county’s going through a tough time. No matter which candidate you favor, or whether “none of the above,” is your preference, you would probably agree that the way forward looks bleak whoever wins next Tuesday. Bitterness is the residue of the quarrelsome public conversations that have left many of us feeling disrespected and discouraged. Parents and teachers are embarrassed that our children have witnessed grown-ups’ engaging in behavior we would not tolerate from them, – name-calling , bullying, attacking one another’s personalities. Whatever happened to the loyal opposition – respectful discussions between people who hold different points of view.

We like to feel that either the situation is hopeless but it isn’t serious or it’s serious but it isn’t hopeless. But when the situation feels both serious and hopeless, we fear for the survival of our democracy.

What is the way forward towards a resilient recovery, personally and as a nation? Since I’ve become a kind of expert in helping people get through tough stuff I plan to practice what I teach.

  • Keep an optimistic mindset, no matter the circumstances – Our right to vote was hard fought for by our ancestors and for many peoples around the globe, voting is still an allusive dream.
  • Give and get help. I’m walking my community on behalf of the candidates I support, every step a prayer that encourages and hopefully enables others who agree with me to cast their votes.
  • Take part in rituals that heal – Remembering what Einstein said that “no problem can be solved from the level of consciousness that created it,” on November 13th, I plan to join a national ceremonial Day of Healing and Reconciliation sponsored by the Meditation Museum in Washington DC. In the spirit of unity, forgiveness and solidarity there will be local events around the country.

Rituals are the way we heal. Join me in this national ritual that will allow us to step back for a broader perspective, identify our commonalities as human beings and come together in a container large enough to hold our differences. We owe this to our children and grandchildren coming after us. https://www.facebook.com/dayofhealingandreconciliation/?hc_ref=PAGES_TIMELINE

Let Me Read It To You

My then 20s something daughter said it best. “The main problem for my mother is that she has always been ahead of her time.” She supported this assertion with the statement that her mother had used what was then called “natural childbirth” when she was born. She added that her friends, who were just beginning to learn that taking drugs during labor might not be advisable, couldn’t believe her mother had acted on that so many years before.

Perhaps creative people have always had this problem but in the present era’s ubiquitous focus on branding, the timing and seeming appropriateness of an idea or project seems to have become even more critical. Being seen as a trendsetter is of value, but it’s not advisable to get too far ahead of where most of the herd are grazing. So recently I’ve been paying special attention not only to what’s emerging in my creative consciousness, but also to what’s happening in the larger culture, hoping for some possible connections during my lifetime.

Here’s the way my creative process works. Like most people, I get a lot of ideas, but every now and then, one idea won’t leave me alone. It continues to emerge and reemerge in spite of my efforts to question the advisability of acting upon it. Take for example the idea of writing a book. I wrote a book that I started with a co-author in 1985 and my version was finally published with me as the sole author in 1992. The process was so grueling that I told myself I would never write another book.

The idea to write another book came to me sometime in 2006, but it had to keep competing with the part of me that had taken that vow of “never writing another book.” I’m happy to say that the process of writing the second book was much more grace-filled and enjoyable than the first, but it did take, just as the first book had taken, seven years to become a reality. So perhaps our reticence to act on our inspirations exists to protect us from all the years of work that will be required to go from idea to reality.

Closet StudioSo here I am again, about to act on one of my ideas, to “ground my vision in reality, “as Anna Halrpin would say. Almost from the beginning of working on my second book I thought about the idea of creating an audio book version where I would read to my “readers”, making the book available for people to listen in their cars, or on their mp3 players while they worked out in their gym or garden. In the ensuing years, this idea has grown into a passionate desire.

Since Warrior Mother was published by She Writes Press in 2013, I’ve been Performing the Book, around the country and internationally, reading passages from the book while improvisational InterPlay performers respond with stories from their own lives. This idea, conceived as a way to get the word out about my book, has been most satisfying for me, and I believe for the participants who have performed or witnessed it.

All this practice in reading sections of my book out loud has given me the confidence to hire a sound engineer to help me create a sound studio in my closet and read and record the entire book for an Audio version of Warrior Mother.

Those inner voices of reticence and dissent have been making quite a ruckus lately as I prepare to act on what is now a burning desire. But all that became silenced this morning when I read Wyatt Mason’s article, Audio Books Read By the Author in the New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/17/magazine/letter-of-recommendation-audiobooks-read-by-the-author.html?_r=0

Mason begins by extolling the virtues of poets reading their own work but then he says, “I would extend Rilke’s idea beyond poetry to prose. Because in prose, the author’s voice is even more essential to making the text not only intelligible but also meaningful.”

As I enter my sound chamber/closet to begin production of my audio book tomorrow, I take this as encouragement from the universe that this project will be both timely and relevant, and serve the purposes for which I intend it. Stay Tuned.

From Tough to Triumph

ParamedicsThe one-year anniversary of my fall from gracefulness occurred this past week. I’d been attending a dance class, sliding sideways across the floor when my feet stuck and the rest of me kept going. Unable to get my feet back under me I landed splat on my left shoulder, breaking it in three places and creating an injury that has taken nearly all of the past year to heal. But heal it has, a fact that I don’t take for granted, especially since the doctor made no promises. He sent me to physical therapy, my first experience with that specialty. I’m grateful for the support and encouragement I received through the many months of challenging and frequently painful rehab.

Today I celebrate the fall and its subsequent lessons and learnings.  First off I salute the friends and family members who got me through, especially those first few weeks when I couldn’t dress myself, tie my own shoes, cut my own food, or wring out my own wash cloth. It’s amazing how many actions you need both hands for.  There was Amy who planted the flowers I’d purchased the day before my accident, and Pam who helped me find items in my wardrobe I could get into with my arm in a sling. Less than a week after the fall my husband who, besides helping me shower and put on my underwear, pushed my wheel chair through the airports to get us to our granddaughter’s high school graduation in Nebraska.  Two weeks after the fall, my InterPlay colleagues enabled me to fulfill the strong need I have to keep my commitments whenever possible. With their help, I was able to perform and teach a scheduled workshop for a women’s retreat. As with these and many other challenges, one of my favorite Beatle songs expresses it best, “I got by with the help of my friends.”impairedtraveler

As the summer wore on, since I couldn’t drive I got to practice the spiritual discipline of asking for help. I learned to rely on the kindness of strangers like the Uber driver who taught me how to use the system when I inadvertently signaled him a full day ahead of when I needed a ride. I came to appreciate how many shops and services I could access from my house by walking,  including the physical therapy clinic two blocks away.

My fall, like most accidents, came unexpected and unannounced. In a split second, one’s life can be changed for a very long time, and in some ways, forever afterward. I had plans that could no longer happen. We postponed our European river cruise to another year when it could be fun, but our long awaited grandparent trip with our granddaughter had to be cancelled. Not likely that window of time in her life will reappear.IMG_1511

But because of these disappointments, this year’s family event to celebrate our grandson’s graduation from college was especially joyful. And now, every time I raise my arm up over my head to reach for a dish or to stretch, or to dance, I pause for a moment of gratitude for the mobility I took for granted until last May 17th.IMG_1917

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After The Fall

It’s day 16 since my fall, the pattern interrupter that broke my shoulder (or more exactly, the humerous where it inserts into the shoulder) and changed every activity of my daily life. injured.dancerLuckily I’ve learned quickly how to sleep on my back in a stable, relatively comfortable position. Not so quickly, I’ve mastered a one-handed version of dressing myself. A friend came over and helped me figure out what items in my wardrobe could work. Tops with wide-neck openings are the only ones that can go over my wounded left arm. The top buttons on some pants make them impractical for fastening and unfastening during visits to the rest room. And forget a bra and contact lenses. Those items can only be included when someone is available to lend me another hand.

It does astonish what one cannot do having the use of only a single hand. I found clapping for my granddaughter as she walked across the stage at her high school graduation impossible, also tying my own shoelaces. Sandals work well but when it turns cold I enlist visitors to my house to help me don my silver sneakers. I’ve had to invent an entirely new method for wringing water out of my face cloth. The childproof tops on our medicine bottles had to be changed out so I could take my medicine on my own. And as I discovered yesterday, locking and unlocking our front door is something I cannot do without assistance. It’s a two-handed operation – you must pull with one hand while turning the key in the lock with the other.

I’m getting quite a bit of exercise just moving about the house. In order to preserve my balance and avoid another fall I must make multiple trips to move items from place to place as I can carry only one item at a time in my one good hand. To recover something I’ve dropped, which happens much more often now, I execute an elaborate slow genuflection of my knees to the ground in order to avoid bending over and disturbing the placement of my ailing shoulder. And that is the overarching goal. To preserve the proper alignment of what the doctor calls, “the bag of bones” that comprise my shoulder and upper arm, so they may heal on their own without the need of the surgeon’s metal plates and pins. So far, so good.impairedtraveler

Now I listen carefully to the universe to extract the message and meaning of this experience for my future life. I know already it will be a long time before I take for granted the simple acts necessary for self -care in my everyday life.

U S Air Travel circa 2015

We’re in line at the Tucson airport waiting for the gate agent to rebook us for a second time. Earlier in the day a broken fuel pump had sent us back to the gate and now, six hours later, storms around Dallas have grounded the new plane sent to rescue us. During the first hour in line I was forced to overhear one side of the cell phone conversation between a 30’s something man in a grey work out tee shirt apparently mentoring a less experienced friend. His subject – the relationship between performance reviews and annual salary increases. In between his descriptions of his own experience, he consistently repeated the phrase, “you see what I mean?” As his conversation progressed my irritation mounted at each “you see what I mean?” and I became fully occupied inhibiting my strong impulse to turn around and reassure him that I understood what he means.

Airport

This second time in line we’re behind two men, Presbyterian ministers, discussing mutual friends and the political issues of their chosen careers. Overhearing their conversation I learn they both live in Tucson and are trying to get to a two-day conference in Atlanta. In the best-case rerouting scenario they will already have missed the first day. “If God doesn’t want us to go, we’ll listen to that,” one man reassures the other, “and go home to our wives.” A woman in front of them who I had earlier overheard tell the woman next to her she was returning from a health coaching conference, chimes in, “I too am a minister and I like to say, “God has a plan and it isn’t always our plan.” At this point under the increasing weight of my stylish back pack, I’m holding on to a faint sense of gratitude that we are not air born and having to experience first hand the reported wind shears and tornado force winds taking place between here and our destination. By 9:30 pm, after retrieving our two suitcases and my husband’s golf clubs from baggage claim, we make it to the hotel to stand in their check-in line. We learn we’ll have to use our airline breakfast vouchers at the airport since the hotel’s food service won’t begin early enough for us to make our 7 am flight.

Somewhat refreshed after five hours of sleep in a real bed and a hot shower we make it back to the airport to learn that the kitchen that services all the airport restaurants is out of eggs. As I’m attempting to deal with my disappointment two slender women, perhaps refugees from the health coaching conference, distract me. One takes out a small plastic container from her purse filled with a small amount of what looks like peanut butter. She begins spreading it on a slender slice of dark bread. The other woman asks a restaurant staff person for something I can’t decipher but I laugh with the women as he presents a package of Reese’s peanut butter cups, “It’s on me if this will do,” he says with a broad smile and I wonder whether he gets the joke. Now my gratitude switches to the fact that I have brought some of my own provisions, sharing the health coach’s lack of confidence in any airport’s food offerings. As I crunch into the crisp slices of sweet red pepper, sugar snap peas, and spinach leaves I brought from Pittsburgh, I’m especially grateful that they travel better than we do.