Welcome to the middle path

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Sporadic photos and notes from a Psyche-midwife, cheerleader, anthropologist--aka clinical social worker in therapy practice. Photos are usually mine except for those of historical events/famous people. Music relevant to the daily topic is often included in a web video embedded below the blog. Click on highlighted links in the copy to get to source or supplemental material. For contact information, see my website @ janasvoboda.com or click on the button to the right below. Join in the conversation.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Thrifty Thursday: Door2Challenge January 11,2018

Thursday's challenge invites you to don the identity of a revolutionary.  We're going to spend some time today thinking about how our consumption isn't such a great deal.  It's a complicated subject: for every take out meal you trade for cooking something already in the freezer, someone's job takes a  tiny hit.  So we'll just work on this one day-- to wear what you already have, to eat what's in the cupboard, to trade a neighbor for something we need and they have.  

There's a lot to mine in this:  the environmental impacts of our current throw-away culture.  As Winona Duke said, "Where exactly is AWAY?"  Our away is someone's HERE.  In China, where the bulk of our recycling ends after a trip on a large garbage barge, they are getting sick of all the useless, un-recycleable-able crap we wishfully throw in our bins, and are starting to turn away our ships. what doesn't get turned away is burned or dumped into the ocean. Consumerism and capitalism, which try to convince us we need certain things in order to be happy-- and those things are designed to be obsolete within 18-24 months. 

Because we don't actually need most things that people produce (a new car every year, dozens of shoes) we must be convinced that having them makes us happier, relative, acknowledged.  But it's like herion-- we always need another bigger fix. 

Here's some ways to take this challenge:
1) Buy nothing day.  Use what you have and make do.  Figure out free ways to entertain yourself.  Wear some of those clothese are are keeping for "someday".
most weren't edible, but i got a meal out of this.
eat what;s laying around.
2) Cook something out of your pantry.  Maybe it is going to be sort of pitiful:  eggnoodles covered with mushroom soup and leftover cheese.  Top Ramen.  You'll survive.  Maybe you will get creatve and start using up those dried beans and speces and make a soup that delights you.  At worst you will have a mediocre meal, and you can tahnk Gods and Goddesses you live somewhere where you don't have to boil grass to have anything at all to eat.

3) If you really need something tomorrow-- the cat''s puked all over the rug and you want to clean it, you'd make that soup if you only had an onion-- use your community to share in the bounty.  I happen to have 40 cloves of garlic, a vacuum sealer, axes, shovels, some perennials and annual seed, extra warm coats I am willing to lend or give.
4) Try on of the thrift shops first.  You;re recylcing/reusing.  Karma points.
5) Go to a locally owned, locally employed store that treats its employers well and buy what you need.  You'd be surprised at the level of personal attention and desire to get what you need to you.
.6) Check out craigslist, Facebook community garage sales pages, or local Reuse/Recycle posts to see if you can find what you need.
7y) Have a potluck.  Everyone contributes a small amount and you end up with a feast.  And community.

The major goal today is to get a deal.  A deal costs less (to you, the environment, the social fabric) in some way.  What deals did you get today?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Time, that elusive vixen:Door2Challenge for January 10, perhaps to be completed in a another dimension or day. LET SOMETHING GO.

I let go today's challenge until the day way over nearly everywhere,  The good part about playing fast and loose is you can do this challenge tomorrow, next week, three tiems in one day-- just remember to give it a shot.

Tuesday's challenge was to engage in some unproductive hours of just being, punctuated with completing a task you dread.,  I excelled at that today:  stayed in bed until 11, jammies until 1230.  My excuse was meeting another challenge of facing my fears.  I had to have some gruesome dental work done today that I'd managed to put off a couple of years.  I came home woozy and puttered about getting very little done, then topped the evening off with a family outing to inconsequential cinema.(THOR< GOD OF THUNDER!!!)which was delightful, and reminded me of the great powers of escape and denial

On a self-care scale of one-10, I scored a solid five.  I took care of a need, faced some fears (really folks, my childhood dentist was a sociopath sadist) and regressed gracefully on both sides of that quest.

How did you take care of yourself today?  In both necessary and sentimental/coddling ways?
SURRENDER TO THE NEED TO DO NOTHING OF CONSEQUENCE AT TIMES.
especially if your day includes a difficult task and  bravery for part of the time.
  

Remembering your thread: Door2Challenge January 9, 2018

Just who do you think you are?
Today's challenge is to remember who you are.  What traits defined you at age 5, 7 or 10 continue in you today?  What did you love that you still love?  What fascinates you now, and did way back then?  What scares you?  Where do you feel your limits and challenges, those that remain unchanged after all these years?

Look for your thread of continuity in the world.  When you know it, you answer, at least a little bit, these questions:
Who am I?
What is true for me?
forest hike/meditation, Kansas, 1976



  the beautiful crescent moon-- love her--

Aware of what been and still is true for ourselves, what realities can we learn to accept (stop resisting, and then learn to work with in a more graceful and passionate ways?  What strengths have always been with there we can remember to utilize in the now?



 Make a list of at least five. 
 
Here's some of mine:
I have always loved and been interested in the welfare of the environment, humans and animals.
snakes.  still love 'em.
I have always felt compassion for and wanted to understand the underdog (snakes! spiders!)
I have always been impatient and wriggly.
I have struggled with and continue to struggle with self-discipline.
I am curious and love to learn.
I love music.
I love the moon.
I love being in nature.

What are some of yours?

How can you work with compassion with the threads that bug you?  How can you nourish the strengths that have always been with you?

Monday, January 8, 2018

Thank You Day: Door2Challenge January 8th, 2018

Revised retrieval of a 2016 tiny resolutiom/

I spent the weekend in a cabin by the Mighty McKenzie, and she sang me to sleep every night and knocked me out with her beauty every day.

 Hope you had a chance to walk in your new year.  Did you know you were practicing Friluftsliv?

Craig Childs should be on the list for being such a wooly
world walker and great storyteller

I didn't either, until poet Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg posted an article about it.  Here's an excerpt: " Friluftsliv translates directly from Norwegian as "free air life," which doesn't quite do it justice. Coined relatively recently, in 1859, it is the concept that being outside is good for human beings' mind and spirit. "It is a term in Norway that is used often to describe a way of life that is spent exploring and appreciating nature," Anna Stoltenberg, culture coordinator for Sons of Norway, a U.S.-based Norwegian heritage group, told MNN. Other than that, it's not a strict definition: it can include sleeping outside, hiking, taking photographs or meditating, playing or dancing outside, for adults or kids. It doesn't require any special equipment, includes all four seasons, and needn't cost much money. Practicing friluftsliv could be as simple as making a commitment to walking in a natural area five days a week, or doing a day-long hike once a month. "

Sounds like a plan.  I'm always happiest when I am getting enough Free Air Life.  My mood lifted measurably throughout the weekend where the best of worlds collided-- no cell phone reception, a luxuriously  cozy sleeping bag, good simple delicious food, some art, music, deep conversations, lots of laughing and puttering in woods and gathering mossses and hedgehogs,

The article's great; take some time to read it if you can. It mentions a concept you've heard on these pages before, which happens to be what I did today as well:  Shinrin-yoku, or Forest Bathing.  I had a sweet ramble into the woods, where I saw lots of interesting ice formations and made a little talisman of rocks around a fire burn near a landslide.  My legs are singing me to sleep from the good stretch.

You can read more here:   http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/blogs/7-cultural-concepts-we-dont-have-in-the-us#ixzz3NeMsfGrg

But what about today, you say?  We're going to bless two birds with one stone by practicing gratitude in Real Life, not just in journals or heads.  We all have tons of people to thank in our life and doing so allows them to receive and to know their work has been appreciated.  The practice of expressing gratitude is good for the giver, too-- it's been researched many times with great outcomes.  See blogs at end of page for more.


thank you for Philosophy Talk

80 years of jazzy art:
Earl Newman
Choose 1 or a dozen people to thank in the written form.  Tell them why you are glad they exist and how their existence has added and enriched your own life.  While I have several people in my personal circle that meet the criteria, last year I wanted to stretch a little and send messages and postcards to some people who worked hard doing what they loved and then were kind enough to share it.  I'm thinking Julian Hoffman, who came from across the world to read his intricate treasure of a book, The Small Heart of Things.  And Caryn who sent that and who also made a great book with photographer Stephen Locke.  She wrote the poems and he took the pictures, and let me tell you it is hard core storm porn:  supercells, tornadoes, prairie winds.  A luscious book.  I believe I have sent a thank you already to Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, a book that inspired and moved me deeply.  And hopefully I got one out to Paul Bogard, whose book on the End of Night made me cry when I read less than 60% of American children will ever see the Milky Way.  I've thanked Charles Goodrich for his poetry and also for his ongoing determination to save the earth.  I need to send a similar letter to philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore.
Elena Passarello:
a great writer and very funny reader

Maybe I'll get a card out to Ocean Liff-Anderson for making such innovative and delicious desserts at Fireworks restaurant, and also for being an all-around-good-guy.  And though I tell her a lot, it wouldn't hurt that my pal Lisa got it in writing that I see her as brilliant, brave, disciplined, an artist and adventurer with a huge heart.  I should probably tell Harriet Lerner that she and Shirley Anstaat and Eve Unkefer were my social work and feminist prototypes and I was so lucky to have grown up near them and get occasionally taken under their powerful wings.


I'm definately thanking my brother-in-law for coming across the pond to join us for family fun and for humiliating me in scrabble;  it's officialy a traditional now.

I'm going to thank Barbara and Pat for inviting me on a gal pal LSCW weekend in the fuzzy forest and showing me the secret hot springs.  I want to shout out to Drs. Vesper, Symthe, Gallent, Trimmer, Gopal, Marske,. Boyle and  Carr who reminded me they had my back when others were slowly pushing it against a wall.

You get the picture.  No limits on who you applaud-- might be your grocer or massage therapist or a community activist.  Zero in on how they are making the world a better place and let them know.  Letters are good but if you are choosing someone outside your circle you can try Facebook or their publisher.

This exercise will remind you that we are a community and are learning from each other; that there are talents out there that not only know some things to do, but practice them and get them in the world.  Maybe you'll get inspired to get brave and disciplined yourself.  Maybe you'll make someone feel good.  At the least, you'll take that hidden admiration and put it out in the world in a way that may lend some energy to someone who works hard and doesn't always know where it goes.

I'm going to try to get at least one out.  But first, I'm going to keep listing names and reasons, and I hope you do too.  The focus on what's good in our lives is an antidote to the constant "not enough" and terror ladled over our heads every day.  We remember there are loads of people conspiring to keep life interesting and beautiful.

Tell them thanks.
And thank you for being here in the world, and in this conversation.

See you tomorrow,
Jana

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Encourage Community: Door2challenge January 6th, 2018

(A rerun from 2011. I’m engaging in community on the McKenzie this weekend)
Feeling isolated?  You're--so to speak-- not alone.  Despite our fat facebook friends lists, Americans are spending less time in group and individual interactions and counting fewer people as confidantes than in previous history.  We work more, move more, attend church and civic groups less, volunteer less, walk less.  We have fewer sidewalks and front porches, all which used to encourage us to bump into our neighbors.  We watch videos and streaming concerts instead of attending theaters and live music.  In general, our places of worship, schools and other commnunity gathering sites are larger and usually outside of our immediate neighborhood.  Our banks and grocery stores are owned by anonymous corporations who don't know us or our individual needs.  All of this results in feelings of isolation and anonymity.

If positivity research is a bit muddy on some things, it is in consensus on one:  social connectedness increases happiness and health.  A meta-analysis of nearly 150 studies found strong links between mental and physical wellness and feeling tied to community.  Read a NYTimes article about it here.

For this resolution, do a social inventory.  How many people in your extended family, neighborhood and community did you connect in the last seven days?  How can you increase it this week?  And what is one thing you can do to increase connectivity within your community?

There's so many ways to work on this resolution.  Spend more time in your front yard, and greet your neighbors.  Volunteer.  Throw a potluck.  Call or write an old friend or family member.  Need more?
150 things you can do to build social capital: from bettertogether.org.

Related posts:  CONNECT 
Nourished by Community
https://youtu.be/uSM5MpKSnqE

Thursday, January 4, 2018

SUSPEND YOUR JUDGMENT: Door2Challenge January 5th, 2018

Today's challenge is to spend a bit of time noticing the flow of judgments your brain narrates.  Some will be future casts:  "It's so cold; I'm going to be miserable today".  Some are past-bashing:  "I was a terrible partner/mother/field kicker/student".  A lot will be about other people:  "She must not be very smart", "I wouldn't like him", "He just did that to piss me off".

curious or foolish?
Sometimes our judgements are really discernment, aggregated data we use to sort and to understand potential pitfalls. It's not judgmental to have negative thoughts about a person lunging angrily at you.  It's probably more effecient to get the hell out of there, though.

Today practice presuming BENIGN INTENT, the idea that most people are doing the best they can and mean us no harm. Assume we don't have all the information to truly know their motivations and intents.  That scowl may just be their resting face.  The distraction may not be lack of interest in your needs but preoccupation with their own.  The guy who cut in front of you may not have seen you, may be very late to something important, maybe unaware his turn signal isn't working.  It's possible it wasn't a plot to annoy or scare you.  The woman who is keeping you on hold at her cubicle job is just trying to make a living, pay for a place to live, feed her kids.  Sure, her script is stilted, and maybe her accent is hard to understand, but she's more like us than not, trying to get through the day with the least possible suffering entailed.
Youth gang?  Healthy festive teens?


We can easily fall into traps of thinking others are less than or more than we are.  Both traps are bad and keep us wary and separate.   If you've a mind to, go for extra credit toda and try to understand the other to the point that at least some judgments start to fall away.  she how that poor mama loves on her kid, how strong that fat man is, how kind the alcoholic, offering you a half of his sandwich.

Good ol Annie-- ridiculous person, or master of fun?
And listen especially carefully to our own inner dialogue-- your fear weasel that says you can't make it, you're not enough, you don't belong, you'll never amount to a hill o beans, it's too late etc etc etc....


JUST WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
I mean, really? 

See if you can answer those questions without opinions, just with facts.  Like:  Sometimes my brain doesn't work as week as other times.  Or:  I can be aloof when I feel vulnerable and other people may interpret this as snobbishness.  We all have our defender behaviors.  How about for today we just observe them with a keen and kind eye, trying to figure out their function,and instead of acting them outwe just watch them from a little distance.  We can remind ourselves that moods and fears pass and look for the core that connects us.

Possibile activities for this challenge:  have lunch with an other or a conversation with a stranger.  Look for commonalities between you (you can make this into a game-- find three obscure facts about each other you have in common)..

Do a fearless self-inventory of your failings and rewrite it as FACTS about you, HABITS about you, INTENTIONS of these habits.  Dont forget to put in FACTS about your Strengths as well.

I have a Buddhist friend who, when I would say something judgmental about a fellow human ("she lots a hot mess") would gently bring me out of judgment with remarks like :I don't know her story.  I am not better than she or she than me."  My sister in law gave  me a lesson many years ago when I was in my salad days and saw a older bleached blonde woman in a very tight dress with teetery heels.  "Mutton masquerading as lamb", I said rudely.  Bhodi sister said "I love her self-confidence and that she dresses how she wants, not how others tell her she should. "  Great reframe. 

So just for today, watch those judgments spin out, and if you catch them, replace them with a benign or even positive reframe.  Or just let them drift on by and pay attention to what is really happening around you.  You might be surprised what you can learn, setting judgments aside and paying open attention to others. 

The world is a sweeter, safer place when we can corral our judgments and only pull them out when necessary after examining them through the lens of our preconceptions and limited exposures.  Here's a little film about that.

snail and catipilliar

See you tomorrow!
.

 

Shed Some Skin: Door2Challenge January 7th, 2018

"Loves Me", prayer flags, Renee Zangara
(Ed. note:  I'm at the river this weekend.  This is a rerun of a 2014 post, but worth repeating.)

Slogging on through a month of challenges--oh, that feels heavy.  Today, let's get rid of some excess weight.  

Way back in early 2014, those of you who accepted the month of tiny resolutions challenge wrote down a few things you want to leave behind this year.  Please refresh your memory.  Weren't here for that part?  Go write them now.

Today's challenge is to make manifest this desire through a real or symbolic letting go.  Take care of some unfinished business.  Resolve, at least for today, to do that thing that is the opposite action of the one you want to leave behind.  Letting go of an old resentment?  Do a splendid ritual and bury it with ceremony.  Getting rid of psychological Samsonites?  Make yourself a whole new bag, baby, and fill it with reminders of what it is you want.

For tips on rituals and creative play for bringing in and purging, try Rob Brezny's book "Pronoia", the antidote to paranoia.  You can get a preview:  "A Spell to Re-Genius Yourself".

Some things are best left behind:  tonight at Goodwill store
If that's too much, just take a trip to Goodwill and divest some of life's detritus in a more concrete fashion.  But to up the ante, try to find at least one item to discard that no longer fits the life you want to be in.


"Thoughts and Longings" , porcelain casts by Amanda Salov
Thanks to Susan Peck for suggesting today's post and quote.  from Arcadia, spoken by Septimus, tutor to Thomasina: “We shed as we pick up, like travelers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it."

Put yourself out there: January 4th 2018 #Door2Challenge

What did you learn Wednesday?  I learned an Indian folk talk, thanks to my Turkish friend Nuray.  I learned about the rise and fall of Winston Churchill and his ambivalence in facing down the Nazis knowing England was outgunned and out-trooped and that it would be a high cost and lengthy battle.
I learned WAY TOO MUCH about pyrosomes (there were virtually unheard of here until 2016, being warm water deep creatures; they've become prolific all the way up to Alaska where they clog nets and hooks, they are called pyro-somes because they glow in their native warm waters, but not here and the speculation is they are eating a different diet.  We don't know exactly what these aggregated simple cell creatures are filtering through their tissue connected, colonized tubes; we're not sure why they are here now except maybe the Giant Warm Blob that persisted off our coast for a couple of years has something to do with it, and we're not sure how they are affecting the ecosystem, especially if millions start to die off.  We aren't sure if they are related to the sea star die-offs or why they are still around now that the Warm Blob has moved on.  One OSU researcher did posit they are like cockroaches and now clearly in the running for surviving a human apocalypse.  Two more quick tidbits: they look like translucent pickles and ooze a pussy substance when stressed.

YECH.

And now, as Monty Python used to say, time for something completely different.
using my voice (and being silly)

Today's challenge is to put yourself out there in some healthful/helpul way.  It may be volunteering for something, or offering your opinion in meetings where you are usually quiet, or revealing a vulnerability to a safe person (most people are.  Avoid known sociopaths).   It may be trying something that you know little about and lack confidence in (safety first-- I'm thinking about going to a line dancing meet, trying a new foreign cuisine, writing a poem, painting).  It could be a bit more risky:  if you are single and looking for a partner, getting out in the world and letting that be known.  Maybe you just persist past being interrupted or take credit where due at work.  It might be facing a fear in a very controlled and willing (even if nervous) way.  It might be reconnecting with that old friend, or showing back up at church/the neighborhood meeting/etc.

This tiny resolution is rich in possibilities.  It offers a look at how you rein yourself in, why you don't do the things you say you want to do, and encourages you to challenge your narrative of who you are and how you operate.

As usual, I'd love to hear what you tried and whether it worked.  some good advice from the Churchill film I saw tonight (Darkest Hour, playing at the Darkside):  "Success is not final, failing isn't fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.:    

Thanks for playing along,
Jana

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Learn Something New: Door2Challenge January 3 2018

Hope you took a few moments to notice human kindness Tuesday.  I didn't get out much, but my sweetheart rehung my bird feeders to protect them from the very fat squirrel that's been decimated them, and my pal and brother-in-law-in-law didn't gloat too much when they kicked my bootie in scrabble tonight.  Also, thanks for the encouraging remarks for restarting the 30 day challenge.

For Wednesday, the challenge is to learn something new.  As always, these are tiny resolutions.  You could make a new dish, learn a few words and phrases in another language, practice a song.  I'm planning to study up on pyrosomes in anticipation of a day at the beach.  I doubt I'll see a 60-foot long version, but I'm excited to get a chance to see some of these creatures that usually aren't visible unless you are deep-sea diving in warm water areas.  And did I mention that they GLOW?  Why are they here?  Why now?  I'm going to research and see what I can learn.Wish I had a non-copyrighted picture to pipque your interest.  Maybe this other random microbiota will do.  
Not a pyrosome.  Go look them up!  Everyone seems to think they look like translucent pickles.

 The learning brain is a happier brain. I try to fall down some educational rabbit hole everyday.  Last night I studied about Tibetian monks doing hard labor for the Chinese in Socialist Rehabilitation camps, and how they snuck their malas into their huts and chanted their prayers when the guards fell asleep.  The world's amazing.  Get out there and buddy up to all there is to know.

 Exercising your gray matter keeps you sharp and curious.  While you may not be as curious about primitive colonizing zooids, I bet you can learn something interesting today. Let me know what it is.



Jana

 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Door2Challenge January 2, 2018: Notice Kindness

Hope you were able to get out in nature to greet the new year.  I heard it was WAY TOO COLD for that in some places.  You're welcome to make up challenges at any time this month and still be in the game.

Today's tiny resolution:  look for human goodness.

2017 was full of news stories about hate and division.  It seemed a new free reign given to public expressions of racism, xenophobia and misogyny and just down right bullying-- behaviors that in the past would have still occurred, but without a cheering section that sometimes appeared federally sanctioned.

We'll never be rid of the occasional asshole.  But we can reduce the power of the narrative that asshole behavior is the new norm.

Bad stuff sticks out, and sticks in the brain.  Joe Quirk, in his book "It's Not You, It's Biology", wrote that our obsessive focus on negatives ( the ''bitch gene") is in part responsible for our achievements.  We were cold, so we invented clothes, and built shelters.  We got tired of the same old game meats and foraged veg every day, so we invented agriculture and fusion cuisine.  Our noticing what isn't right is a motivating and protective factor for us.  Focusing on the glass half full is wired in.

But this year, the negativity and fear mongering has been way too much for most of us.  And it gets easy to forget that the vast majority of people are basically good, and mean us no harm.

So today's challenge is to go out of your way to notice people being kind or helpful to other humans.

Maybe it's just your grocer being patient with you while you fumble for your debit card.  Maybe it's the stranger who smiled. Maybe it's the person who waves you on at the four way stop.  It doesn't have to be a big thing.

And if you go through some long enough segment of your day without noticing any kindness, create some yourself.  Smile at the stranger, ask after the grocer.  Hold the door.  Use your politeness words-- please, thank you, you're welcome-- that seem to be going out of fashion.

I look forward to hearing about any kindnesses you encounter today.  You can tweet or instagram them to #door2challenge or post them in the comments below.
Jana

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2018.

It's just been an hour or so since 2017 closed out here on the west coast, but there's a sense of relief in the start of a fresh new year.  In my neighborhood, we sent off a sky lantern full of what we hoped to bid farewell before midnight, and as the year turned, another full of wishes for the future.  Hopes rose into the nearly full moon.

Things have been very quiet behind door number two. But something's stirring. Time to renew an old tradition: 30 tiny resolutions to kick off 2018.  It's been a while, so instead of a month-long theme, we'll revisit some from past years along with some new challenges.  Try as many as you like, and let me know what you find.  I've a box of *treasures for 2 or 3 who complete the whole challenge.

1/1/18 challenge is another tradition:  get out in nature today.  If your landscape limits you, your yard or a city park might do, but if possible, get away from signage, electronics, noise and manufactured artifacts.  Find somewhere with soil and trees, quiet and beauty. Minds work better there.  Look around and notice, really notice. 

There's all sorts of reasons to take respite in the natural world.  At the most basic level, we're away from calls to the crazy busy-ness of modern life, or even just the pulls of laundry and sticky floors and the daily chores. We're invited to appreciate simple beauty, to quiet our souls and to breathe deep and easy. 

Turn off incoming calls and emails for a while and see what you can hear when nobody is yakking at you.   Send me a picture if you've a camera with you and see something wonderful:  twitter or instagram at #door2challenge. 

More on the benefits of being in nature from previous years:
challenge-take-walk.html

walk.html


spend-more-time-in-nature


See you tomorrow.  Sweet dreams.
Jana

*treasures:  your box may include art, found natural objects, a special goodwill find, a book, and/or whatever is interesting in that desk drawer I keep meaning to clean out.  Just let me know daily you are taking the challenges-- through instagram, here in the comment section, or through the Jana Svoboda LCSW facebook page. Whoever hangs in there is likely to be a recipient if you connect regularly and send me your snail mail by the end of the month.  And don't worry-- no email lists, marketing schemes, things to sell you.  This is just community fun.







Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Cerebral Soulful Cinema: Captain Fantastic lives up to its name.



“You," he said, "are a terribly real thing in a terribly false world, and that, I believe, is why you are in so much pain.” –Emilie Autumn




If you’re local-ish, head down to the quirky delight that is Albany, Oregon’s Pix Theatre for a showing of Captain Fantastic, and see what good movies are made of.


There’s lots of types of good movies.  Some tell a tiny story with gem-like detail.  Some create a wormhole for your mind to escape life for a couple of hours.  And brilliant ones like Captain Fantastic let you live deeply in another life, which might not look anything like yours on the surface but has all the essential ingredients of not just a good story but a real life:  realism in emotion, sometimes brutal honesty, true in-the-moment ecstatic joy and sorry and confusion and clear purpose and wisdom and big sticky messes.  “Oh, this life of mud and miracles”, sings Richard Bucknard.  “It’s just the prettiest little burden, isn’t it.”

There’s plenty of all of this bounty in one two hour movie about a family on the outside.  Cultures clash, there is dancing and love and hating and death and joy.  And there are ideals that cannot be manifested without smashing into opposing ideals.  It’s about family, and worlds we wish to create and the cost of being a creator.  It’s simply the closest capture to how things really are, even when it is pushing an extended metaphor as an explanation.

Go see it.  Let it stir up some values checks for you. Let it remind you of our common need and fear of connections. 

Playing this week at the Pix in Albany.

Cerebral Soulful Cinema: Captain Fantastic lives up to its name.



“You," he said, "are a terribly real thing in a terribly false world, and that, I believe, is why you are in so much pain.” –Emilie Autumn




If you’re local-ish, head down to the quirky delight that is Albany, Oregon’s Pix Theatre for a showing of Captain Fantastic, and see what good movies are made of.


There’s lots of types of good movies.  Some tell a tiny story with gem-like detail.  Some create a wormhole for your mind to escape life for a couple of hours.  And brilliant ones like Captain Fantastic let you live deeply in another life, which might not look anything like yours on the surface but has all the essential ingredients of not just a good story but a real life:  realism in emotion, sometimes brutal honesty, true in-the-moment ecstatic joy and sorry and confusion and clear purpose and wisdom and big sticky messes.  “Oh, this life of mud and miracles”, sings Richard Bucknard.  “It’s just the prettiest little burden, isn’t it.”

There’s plenty of all of this bounty in one two hour movie about a family on the outside.  Cultures clash, there is dancing and love and hating and death and joy.  And there are ideals that cannot be manifested without smashing into opposing ideals.  It’s about family, and worlds we wish to create and the cost of being a creator.  It’s simply the closest capture to how things really are, even when it is pushing an extended metaphor as an explanation.

Go see it.  Let it stir up some values checks for you. Let it remind you of our common need and fear of connections. 

Playing this week at the Pix in Albany.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A Life of Non-Sense, Update


It's my five year anosmiversary.
Anosmia: lack of sense of smell.
A half decade ago, my nose up and left me, after a lifetime of exemplary service.  Until then I'd been a smellaholic, a supersmeller.  Smell connected me to place, to person, to memory more than any of my other senses.   And then it was gone, practically overnight.

For 6 months, I smelled nothing, and the world turned colorless and dull.  And a bit dangerous.  I burned myself giving a surprise hug to someone smoking a cigarette.  A season before that I would have smelled that stogie a block away.  I nearly asphyxiated my family a few dozen times when the stove pilot light didn't ignite. I licked bleach from a spray bottle bottle because I was sure it was water, not realizing I was wrong until my tongue blistered.  I burned numerous meals and ruined others because I had always cooked by smell and taste. Like the pie I made with unripened gooseberries, or the tumeric cookies (I thought it was cinnamon in the dim fall light).  I

For six months, food was a chore and a bore.  Everything tasted like variations on paper:  crisp paper,
dry paper, wet paper, soft paper.  The first food I enjoyed even slightly was a gift from Tony,my brother-inlaw.  Knowing that at least textures gave me some sensation, and that I had some very rudimentary taste (we don't lose our taste buds, so salty/sweet/bitter/spicy/unami are still there, just underwhelmed by the loss of flavor/odor), he made me a salad of chewy wheat berries, sweet dried cherries, crunchy nuts, and dressed with lime and hot peppers.  I was in heaven.

Then, six months into a world of nothing olfactory, I smelled a smell.  Bacon!  I was thrilled.  Except we are vegetarian, and there was no bacon.  And there was, apparently, no bacon smell.  I had my first smell hallucination.  I'd read about that, but it was entirely different to experience.  It gave me a a new respect for hallucinations, which I'd assumed would be more like dreams-- weirdly different from our usual sensed reality.  In my experience, they were no different that regular experiences.  I wasn't IMAGINING I was smelling bacon, as in remembering or thinking about the smell-- I smelled it.  A few weeks later I smelled incense.  I believed people when they said there was no smell there, but I was thrilled, after a half a year of absolutely no smells at all.  A new phase.

There isn't any way to describe the sudden loss of smell such that those who haven't experienced it will truly grasp.  Smell links us profoundly to the world.  For those born without it, it's a hardship that's minor and sometimes major, but it's the way of the (their) world.  For those who had it, it's as if you are instantly plunged into an alternate, very flat universe.  Memories fade.  Sexuality changes.  The gustitorial glue of the world disintegrates.

A few weeks after the bacon incident, I went to my sister's for a party.  I had come to loathe food centered events, and by gosh nearly all events are.  I was jealous and bitter about people raving about the fantastic smells and flavors when all I was getting was the paper.  I had a glass of wine, just to be social.  In the past wine had been a kaleidoscope of complexities.  After I lost my sense of smell, it was weird tasting water.  That night it was foul tasting water.  Everyone was going on about how good it was, but mine didn't taste good at all.  It tasted rotten.  I thought it must have gone very bad.  A few days later, I began to prepare a peanut butter sandwich, but after opening the jar became so nauseated I had to leave the room.

For the next several months, I could smell quite a few things.  Unfortunately, they all smelled the same:  rotten meat soaked in chemicals and covered with treacle.  This was a new phase:  cacosmia.  Literally:  shit smell.  It was awful.  I couldn't go in a restaurant or grocery store.  Walking in a public place was a horror: perfumes, gas fumes, coffee and cigarettes sent me retching.  One vivid day:  I walked through a duty free shop to get from point A to B in an international airport.  I ended up in the toilet, trying not to vomit, sobbing.

There were the worst offenders:  car fumes, smoke, and chemicals of nearly any kind including cosmetics or detergents.  Peanut butter, butter, celery sent me running.  I stayed inside.  I declined invites to eat out or at others' homes.  I avoided getting up in the morning to stay clear of my sweetheart's ritual coffee brewing.

Oddly, I still couldn't smell most anything.  Not bleach, not gas or ammonia or outhouses or body odor or farts or catboxes. I still can't.  People say :  Oh aren't you lucky.  I disagree. I tell them about an anosmic acquaintance who traveled abroad to get help regaining his sense of smell, and how he cried the first time he was again able to smell his own shit.

Meanwhile, my father died, and I cried because I could not smell him as I said goodbye. I remembered smelling my mom's robe for years after she died, and what a comfort that smell was to me.  I cried because the flannel shirt I took from my father's closet would never bring me that familiar comfort.

I cried quite a lot.  Like all grief, I cried at the firsts:  the first Thanksgiving when I could not taste the food, the first Christmas I couldn't smell the tree or the nutmeg in the eggnog.  I cried when I saw an old friend and buried my head in her neck and there was nothing familiar there.  I cried about the pies I ruined and the breads I burned.  And I cried because few people would acknowledge that I was grieving something very, very important, which meant I was alone in it.

I worried a lot too.  I worried I stunk and wouldn't know it.  I worried that when I walked at night or worked late I wouldn't smell a predator lurking nearby.  I worried everything I cooked tasted as bad or dull to my family as it did to me.

During the period of intense dysnomia (olfactory distortions), I ate apples and almonds for breakfast lunch and dinner-- when I remembered to eat. They met my criteria: they didn't project that foul zombie sock scent, and they were crunchy.   I lost 36 pounds because unless others reminded me or there was a clear external cue, I forgot about food. 

This lasted for many months, interspersed with random periods of back to no smell at all. By that time, true anosmia was a welcome relief from distorted smells. 

And then, like it does, life crept into a new normalcy. Partly this was time,and partly effort.  It's socially difficult to have such a restricted diet, so I did exposure therapy to add new foods.  I would choose a food that wasn't too offensive, like a carrot.  I would remind myself that it would not taste like I expected and that was ok.  I would remind myself, over and over, that it wasn't poison and was in fact a healthy and innocent food.  And then I would eat it, over and over, until I could tolerate it.  Then I would add a new food.  Soon I was able to eat most things.  Celery, cukes and coffee were still off the list but at least I wasn't a freak at Thanksgiving with my apple and bag of almonds.

I discovered that if I concentrated on those simple tastes of sweet, salty, sour and bitter I could learn to --almost-- enjoy food.  

And I discovered that those foods that were REALLY high in sugar and salt and spicy and bitter were, at least comparatively, wonderful.  So much so that in the last five years I have regained that 36 pounds.  Maybe a few more, because I also notice that I don't have an off switch.  If there is food in front of me, I eat it.  Faster than I used to because it doesn't taste as good.  And I am always chasing the high of it tasting good.  I'm working on that one this month, simply because I am too lazy and cheap to buy a new wardrobe, and I only have so many floppy dresses and stretchy pants.  I'm going to go back to taste training camp, using mindfulness to eat slowly and really try to notice what I can get from food.  How it feels in the mouth, how it looks, it's texture and how the sweet or salty changes on different parts of the tongue.  I'll find my anosmic cookbook and follow it for a while.  And I'll start portioning again, especially at restaurants, because I know it doesn't matter (except in a negative way to my waistline) how much I eat: I won't reach that bliss point of flavor savor.

There are a few practical changes I've made:  gas detectors, timers to check food (I used to know based on what smell was coming out of the oven).  LOADS of cayenne and hot sauce on foods to remind me I am eating something.  The return of antiperspirant and extra laundry, since I can't do a reliable sniff test.  In my therapy practice, I've had to hone other sense skills to tell if a client is ill or drunk or otherwise stinky, and I'm improving.

I don't get as depressed when people wax on rhapsodically about delightful smells.  Usually I actually enjoy hearing about them.  Spring gets me, for a few weeks at least-- I miss it.  I miss the smell of rain, too, and of children's heads.  But mostly I'm used to it now.

Which, after all that, may seem like a weak way of saying it gets better.  But it does.

I have some smell back now-- maybe 10-20 percent.  The smell training kit my daughter made me has me pretty solid on vanilla, cinnamon, coffee (ugh), a few other things. I can make out smoke, and occasionally skunk on a highway (so far more of a feel in my chest and throat than a smell).  I ask for confirmation on my guess and they are getting closer.  I can sometimes smell something like perfume, distorted, on a client or a passerby,or food cooking.  It's not what it was but it works, mostly.  I haven't given up on future improvement.  But I am learning to accept what is.

Here's a takeaway. We are amazing.  We learn to adjust, to compensate, even to correct at times.
Takeaway two: don't belittle a situation you cannot understand.  Treat loss as loss and don't tell people "it could be worse." In the case of anosmia, we know that, and we don't need shame on top of our grief.  Try to accommodate when it is early in.  Don't test us by shoving something stinky in our face, and restrain yourself a little about what we are missing.  After a while, we won't need the latter.  Except, maybe, in Spring.  Spring is hard.

Love and the dream of the scent of rising bread and a fresh rain,
Jana 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Dining with Death


Tonight I enjoyed a vivid plate of freshly sourced local delicacies and the company of others as we contemplated our demise. 

Our host had recently attended a similar dinner at the home of an oncologist.  The idea:  meet with others and talk straight about one of the few experiences we absolutely will all share but rarely discuss-- mortality.  We talked about a death that impacted us and toasted each (here's to you, Mary Zee).  We talked about what we feared most about death, what we wanted to accomplish before and what legacies we wanted to leave.  It was an enlightening evening, both easier and more difficult than I imagined.  The conversation's only started.

Started by Seattle artist/activist Michael Hubb, Death Over Dinner is a way to encourage us to think and talk about how we want our end to be.  The aim:  get end of life issues on the table.
I've seen people of great significance in my life die in the last few years.  My own mortality has never felt much of a concern, but watching others go is hard.  Several of these deaths came in a short period of time and I went on a death-reading-binge, perhaps thinking if I glutted on facts the emotional part would relent.  It did, some.

I did clarify my hoped-for legacy tonight.  I want to leave my children and maybe a few other people I've met with a little more love for the natural world, a desire to be kind to themselves and others, and a joy and wonder and curiosity for life and learning.  That would be great.


I hope you'll consider talking about death, with your family and physician.  Fill out your advance directives.  We can't avoid it, so let's do what we can to make it what we hope.  

If you're ready to look death in the eye, here are a few recommended reads.  I had to do a search to get the correct title for one of these.  It's telling that if one enters books about death and dying into that certain major vendor site, the vast majority of books are about heaven, reincarnation, etc.  Not these.  You've been warned. 

STIFF, by science writer Mary Roach, opens with a scene that should give
nightmares-- but it must to be the funniest nonfiction book about mortality written.  She covers the gamut from body donation to biological decay, with smarts and a truly morbid sense of humor.

The Undertaking and Bodies in Motion and at Rest, by poet and mortician Thomas Lynch.  These essays from a small town undertaker look deep at final moments and the wake of them, and he writes with lyricism and wonder.  PBS' Frontline made a film about his work; you can see it by clicking this link.

The Thing About Life is That One Day You'll Be Dead, by David Shields.  I liked one this a lot, but be warned, many reviewers seem to have a hard time with it.  It's half memoir, half encyclopedia of the rampages of human decay.  The author is a 50 something man with coming into a death-grip with his own mortality and working through a difficult history with his 97 year old dad, who apparently refuses to die.   Shield has a wicked sense of humor that is so dry some will miss it.  He opens the first pages listing all the things we do to preserve and prolong our lives:  yoga, low-fat, jogging, decaf-- then reminds us:  you're still going to die, sucker.  I read this at a time when I needed that slap.

Learning to Fall:  The Blessings of an Imperfect Life, by Philip Simmons.  Simmons, a professor of writing, was 35 years old when death became an imminent reality with his diagnosis of ALS.   This is his love letter to life, a spiritual teaching tale.

How We Die:  Reflections on Life's Final Chapter, by Sherwin B.Nuland.  This classic book by a surgeon was probably the first modern unflinching look at our common and ubiquitous outcome, and stirred much of the movement toward end of life directives.  It also won, rightly, a National Book Award.  It's sobering and profound. Fresh Air's Terry Gross interviewed Nuland in 1994-- it's well worth a listen two decades later.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Mental Health is a Physical Heath Issue


CAN I see another’s woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another’s grief,
And not seek for kind relief?
      ~~ William Blake
Songs of Innocence and Experience

I recently took a sabbatical from my private practice counseling to start work with a grant program.  Its intention is to explore integration of mental health services into family practice medicine.  What a great idea.

Studies show around 80% of people with anxiety and depression never see anyone about these issues except their PCPs (primary care medical folks).  Many persistent and "medically unexplained" physical symptoms are the result of trauma, stress and untreated depression and anxiety. Since most people see their PCP at least once a year, it makes a lot of sense to have a mental health professional at the ready and in their medical home.  My grant takes me to a clinic that serves over 10,000 adults and children.  Over half of them are on the Oregon health plan, meaning they live at or below the poverty line.

Most insurances now, including public health, are required by law to offer coverage for "mental" illnesses.  I have never understood the notion that the emotional and mental processes are somehow supposed to happen separately of the body.  All are contained within the same vehicle, right?  And by now, surely, most of us understand that what we translate as emotion and even thought has a physical corollary.

Short digression:  truth is that the previous statement is not true.  Not everybody gets this connection.
So imagine this:  You are readying to cross the street just as the "Don't Walk" light changes to "Walk".  Entering the crosswalk, an inattentive driver turning right enters, missing you by a few feet.  Inattentive driver speeds on, maybe not even having noticed you.  But you noticed, as did your body.  You've just had a brush with death.  In an instant, you've gone from calm to agitated.  Your heart races, your blood pressure skyrockets, your breathing increases.  Less noticeably, your pupils enlarge, the tiny blood vessels in your hands and feet contract.  Your hair may even be standing on end. You logically know you are safe-- the car is gone, and you are intact.  But it will be at least several minutes before your body catches up with your mind.

What's happened?
On sensing an imminent danger, your body releases a chemical cascade designed to help you survive the threat.  This cocktail contains numerous substances, the most commonly known being adrenaline.  The chemicals have many effects intended to increase your chances of living.  Your pupils enlarge to help you take in the visual field and see chances for escape or weapons for use.  Your hair is standing on end because of an evolutionary quirk that works for many mammals, though not so much for humans: to make you look bigger.  Think raccoon or freaked out cat.  Your increased heart rate, blood pressure and breathing is sending oxygen to your large muscles (thighs and biceps) to help you run and fight.  Your cold hands and feet are diverting the blood to the more important internal organs.  Even the capillaries on the surface of your skin are contracting, so you won't bleed to death as quickly.

In short, your body is doing what it needs to.  And your brain is interpreting all this as FEAR, and filing it away under THINGS TO AVOID.

But fear, in this case, is just your body's shorthand to describe that chemical cascade and its connection to threat.

OK, that was a long diversion.  Let's assume that between your previous knowledge or this new information, you  understand that what happens to the "mind" is also/really happening to the body.    One affects the other.  The software (thinking) affects the hardware (body).  Addressing only physical symptoms without addressing the underlying stresses that bring them, continue them or worsen them doesn't make sense in the long run.  Our state seems to agree with that, which is why I am now doing therapy work within the context of a Medical Home model.

But not everyone gets this.  There is still a lot of  stigma about emotional health issues, and misunderstanding about stress-related illnesses.  And there are still many people who would be completely offended to be referred to a mental health professional.

Many people think that when a doctor/PCP tells them their symptoms are stress related, they are being told they are making them up, or faking them, or can fix them by just relaxing a little.  I didn't quite understand this myself, until I heard a great interview with an immunologist on Krista Tippet's public radio show.  At the time the show was called "Speaking of Faith".  To not scare the unchurched, it's now called "On Being".  The doctor, Esther Sternberg, explained in very clear terms the effects of stress on the physical body and the life-endangering damage it can do.  Click the link to hear the whole show.  The short story:  trauma and stress can damage the immune system and worsen or cause real disease. These symptoms are not in your head, they are happening to and in your body.

In the last two months or so, I have been able to see people who would NEVER have come to my private practice office.  But when their doctors (thank you for trusting me, docs!) tell them, hey, we have someone here who knows a lot about X (helping you with your racing heart/worrisome thoughts/grief over your loss/high blood pressure) and let me come in and say hi during a visit, they welcome the opportunity to tell their story, be witnessed and heard.  They appreciate being offered practical tools for calming their physiology, and being told that a normal human reaction to suffering is not pathology.

Many of the people I have seen the last two months have had a great deal of trauma in their lives.  Trauma has a marked effect on the body, and kindles the brain in a way that can cause ongoing difficulty in regulating emotions and handling stress.  Many have never discussed this trauma with another person before, because of shame or because it happened long ago and they thought they were supposed to be over it as adults.  They had developing defenses and coping mechanisms that served for a while and then stopped working or had too many side effects (self-medicating through substances or other numbing mechanisms, self isolating, anger).

These are also people who, even if they WANTED to see a therapist, might not have been able to do so.  Most private practices in my town are full.  My own practice gets 5-10 inquiries a week. Most only accept a few insurances, either because the panels are closed for new providers (I DO NOT GET THIS!  THERE IS SUCH DEMAND!) or because they choose not to participate due to the bureaucracy involved and low reimbursement.  Even the so-called public services turn away clients regularly and create numerous barriers to care:  lengthy waiting periods, intimidatingly personal paperwork requested without creating trust, mandated length-of-service before even knowing what the problems are, and lack of any assurance of privacy.

I get the problems.  Money doesn't grow on trees, and demands exceed supplies.  But we are being very short-sighted if we think we are saving money by refusing people support in managing the incredible stress of being human, and then spend billions to treat the illnesses this stress causes.

I am so very grateful to the doctors of Samaritan Family Medicine Residents Clinic who have trusted
me to assist their patients.  It took a little convincing.  And I am not great at measuring the data to show it is making a difference. Obviously I can't share with you the details of specific patients for whom this is working. But I can tell you that people coming in with heart pains are learning to take time to appreciate what is good in the world and to soothe their worried souls, and people who have been afraid to connect with others are making friends, and people who were ashamed that they were sad and needed space to grieve are back at work.  I am grateful to them for sharing their stories, their pain and their trust with me.

A few years ago, I took advantage of my generous insurance program to visit a specialist in hopes of finding relief from my persistent allergic reaction to Everything Oregon.  20 minutes and $890 (insurance) dollars later, it was confirmed by Science that I'm indeed allergic to most major crops and native plants of Oregon.  I was advised I would likely remain so, but could take the same over-the-counter stuff that seems to make me cranky and depressed if I wanted to sniffle less.  At current insurance reimbursement rates for my services, I could have seen someone with anxiety and depression a dozen times and offered them some tools and support that may have lessened the chances of a $2000 ER visit, lost work time, a relationship crisis, etc.  Something is wrong here.

I see the value in what I can do.  I hope the future of medicine sees the same.  That feels unlikely, as long as mental health is seen as moral/willpower issue instead of a medical one.  I'm going to talk with my representative, Sara Acres Gesler, to see what we can do about that.  I hope that you will do what you can to promote increasing access to emotional and mental health services in the country.

Jana