Acts of kindness

So many of us are struggling to find a way to fit together the painful shards of the events at Sandy Hook.  We express disbelief, anger, sorrow, and often we share the echoes of our own painful experiences.  Underneath this, we catch unwanted glimpses of despair.  What can any of us do in the face of such tragedy?  Especially when our memories are still raw from the theater in Aurora, and a sharp red line of other episodes of meaningless violence.

I believe we need to have a thoughtful, careful yet thorough national discussion about the complex mix of causes that lead to such horrific results.  There are no simple solutions to prevent the next occurrence, but perhaps we can come up with a few ideas that could help reduce them.

In the meantime, I have found one small thing I can do to dissolve my sense of despair.  Since peace starts within and the only person I can hope to change is myself, I resolved to do 26 acts of kindness by the end of the year.  Some for people I know, others for strangers.  Some for animals or the earth.  Some even for myself.  Just little things, some of which I would have done anyway, but I will do them mindfully, in remembrance of those beautiful lives that were ended in that elementary school.

Thinking again, I ponder the other two lives lost.  The gunman’s mother I didn’t know and perhaps she had some guilt to bear, but did her actions or inactions deserve death at the hands of her own son?  I will be mindful of her, as well, and do an act of kindness in her name.  Her son is a harder thought to contemplate.  I remember the arguments after Columbine and 15 memorial crosses that suddenly were reduced to 13.  Is it better to ignore those who bring such pain and destruction to others?  Or better to search for the hints of their own humanity underneath their actions?  I will not give name to the ones who did these terrible acts, but I will remember and question.  And I will do an act of kindness for one other lost soul this year.

And then I think I will do little acts of kindness for all of the rest of us.

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When Life Keeps Giving You Lemons

We all know the old cliché that “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” It’s a cliché because it holds truth: often the best response to getting handed a sour deal is to sweeten it and repackage it for a different use. A relationship you thought was wonderful goes bad, so you pick up the pieces, learn from what went wrong and use that knowledge to improve your relationship skills. You lose your job, feel angry and unwanted for a while, then set to work figuring out how to present the positive aspects in your resume as you build your self esteem to go look for a new job. You gain the diagnosis of a chronic disease, then reframe the fear into a goad for lifestyle changes. If we accept the lemons with a sense of gratitude, remarkable transformations can occur. The ideal situation is one where we can “reframe” the concept of lemons from a sour problem into nourishment for our lives. Lemons are tremendous tools for positive change.

lemon with window copy
But what do you do when life keeps handing you lemon after lemon? How much lemonade can you stomach? We all know that gratitude is good for you, body and soul, but how do you maintain a sense of gratitude over the long haul when things are tough?
You could make something different from the lemons, of course (lemon pie?), or learn new purposes for lemons (they are good for cleaning stains and clearing out smelly refrigerators). You could sell lemons or trade lemons for other goods, assuming you can find someone without his or her own abundance of lemons. You could store them for possible future use (do lemons freeze well?).
After a while, though, most people find that their creativity and sense of enterprise dry up when confronted with a steady supply of lemons that gradually pile up and rot. It is hard not to feel resentful, depressed or angry. Now it is time to employ other sets of skills.
Confronted with a pile of lemons, I have learned to ask a few questions:
• Where are the lemons coming from and why do they get into my possession?
• Is there something I can do to redirect the flow of lemons?
• Are they all really lemons or are my perceptions of the situation what is sour?
A bit of meditation (or sometimes a lot) on these questions usually leads me to fresh ideas and a more positive perspective. The scent of lemons can clear the mind and uplift the spirit.

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In the flow

I haven’t posted much on this blog but that isn’t because I haven’t had creative ideas.  More like a tangled yarn ball of creative ideas; the task has been to sort them into usable form.  After the fourth or fifth person asked me if I was going to set up a practice again, I finally got the hint.  The big question was: what sort of practice?  My interests and skills seemed to be scattered across a range of services.  The challenge would be to bring them together into some coherent order that I could present to the world (since marketing makes the difference between an idea and a living).

I knew I wanted to write, and to write things that are helpful for people.  I knew I wanted to do some reflexology, but not just “working the points” on whatever set of feet come along.  I also knew I wanted to do counseling again, but not just sitting/listening/talking for an hour at a time.  So how to organize it all?

I decided to take a walk.  I went to the South Platte Park in Littleton, a place I have driven by often enough, each time thinking I would stop and walk, but never did.  It was a beautiful late summer day and I often find that walking helps the creative process.  I was puzzling over what words to use and how to craft a workable marketing plan when I crossed a trickle of water down a wall of concrete and rock.  I was distracted by the empty shells and claws scattered about—the remains of a surprising number of crawdads.

Looking closer, I spotted two living crawdads, each methodically working its way up the wall, pushing against the water falling around them. Image

Hard work, and for no clear purpose, except, perhaps to clear the top and land in the still pool of water on the other side.

I think my path in life is not so hard.  Just keep my feet moving forward and focus on staying in the flow.

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Dark Knight of the Soul

The past couple of days have been good ones for thinking.  Here’s a few rough thoughts:

 

Dark Knight of the Soul

 

Dark theater, crowd focused deep in the flashing story lights,

Cries of bullets fill the air.

A man in black costume steps from the screen,

In through the emergency exit, throws

Chaos from the pretend world into the real.

Cries of bullets fill the air,

Harmonizing with the show.

Fantasy draws an edge of steel.

 

Flesh of my flesh, where are we safe?

Where do we draw the lines?

Where are the rules, the heroes, the directors on this set,

Where the editors to rough cut the painful scene,

Leave it on the editing room floor.

Can we shout fire in this crowded theater?

Where are the writers to make sense of all this?

 

We watch images on the screen,

A dance for our entertainment:

Villain shoots the victim, is shot in turn.

What do we mean to each other?

News shot of bomb blasts in a foreign land,

Spattered blood on white clothing.

What do we mean to each other?

Climbers tumbling under mountain snow slide,

Breath freezing shut.

What do we mean to each other?

One child dies of malaria, another of cancer,

A third hunches down in the closet dark.

What do we mean to each other?

Tires skitter along an icy sweep,

Steel crumples, bones break.

What do we mean to each other?

 

We are all here in this darkened theater,

Watching each other’s grief flash by.

What do we mean to each other?

 

                                Joanne McLain

                                07/21/12

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The Door Closed Behind Me…

I’m not sure I was free, but I was cast into the currents of change.  The next morning, after I had packed all of my office belongings (from books on trauma recovery to a sleepy-wise stuffed Totoro), said “this isn’t really a goodbye” to everyone who had been my fellow workers, and drove off into the unknown, I woke up feeling undeniably good.

The choice was right, but the steps of this dance still need to be choreographed.  Several friends said that I was metamorphosing, as if the past were just a larval stage of the butterfly to come (or the mosquito to come, perhaps).  I don’t think this change is that abruptly transformative.  It seems more like the transformation of a snake shedding its skin, growing out of the old, restrictive habits into the next stage of growth.

A week or so before my last day at work, I could feel the heel of my left palm hardening in a process I have come to accept as just one of the weird skin things they don’t tell you about in Health Class.  Every year or so it happens: the skin hardens and turns a little red, then milky white like a snake’s old skin, then it sloughs off, leaving new skin underneath.  If I’m patient and don’t pick at it too much, the process goes smoothly and painlessly.  The first few times this process happened, I picked at the dying skin before the tender young skin was ready to meet the air.  That didn’t help.

I am learning to let transformation take its time.  Snake transformations are messy and boring to watch after the first couple of minutes.  Given enough time, however, and the freedom to wander about in its own patterns like a river with gentle banks, fertile ground appears.

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endings/beginnings

One more day at work.  One more day to finish all of the little things I had set aside for “when I get time.”  No more time, just get done what gets done.  Gregory Bateson said: “What’s important is what gets done.”  Hence you can determine what is important by what you actually do, or at least attempt seriously to do.  Tomorrow will tell.

One thing I will accomplish is walking out the door.

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Stepping Onto the Path

I am stepping out of my familiar shell and feeling a bit uncertain of myself.  Two more weeks and I will complete the steps for casting myself off from work, without sure directions for where I am heading.  I don’t know who might be interested in my journey, but I plan to leave a few markers along the way that may be interesting to other wanderers.

I have often viewed my life as a spiral path: it never seems to be a straight line or a tight circle.  I find myself looping back toward familiar landmarks, sometimes close enough to touch their remembered surfaces, but always far enough that I know I have traveled somewhere, learned something.  The spirals aren’t just upwards or downwards: they lead wherever the mystical wind chooses to blow.  Sometime I follow reluctantly, other times I dance, but always I walk best when my feet can feel the texture of the ground underneath me.  Even when it hurts.

Once I dust myself off from my last day of regular employment, and when I get my thoughts somewhat together and my emotions a little more in tune, look here for such topics as: “My Perimenopausal Journey Through Human Services,” and “Why Don’t I Know What I Want to Do With My Life Now That People Say I’m Grown Up?”  Please leave comments–they are like markers on the path, showing that others have been this way, too.

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