Welcome to the middle path
- Jana Svoboda, LCSW
- 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, June 18, 2009
One day last week I woke up cranky. Might have stayed up too late, might have been the moon. Maybe I had a bad dream. Whatever the reason, I woke up irritated, and projected it on everything. A series of regular delights and irritations followed:
some things I wanted to happen, didn't, even though I did my part. I had a nice breakfast with a colleague. Someone talking on a cell phone nearly ran me over. I found a present from a stranger. Point being: things happen. Every day. Good things, bad things. But from my half-empty-glass state, my attention wanted to focus on the bad.
That morning, I noticed my mood and decided I would make a real effort to act reasonably even though I don't feel reasonable. In my therapy practice, I talk a lot about acceptance, as in the Serenity Prayer: deal with reality you can't change, change what you can, be smart enough to figure the difference. I figured I may not be in charge of my mood. Feelings aren't facts; they rise up when they want. But how we act on them-- we can take charge of that. It wasn't easy. I wanted to snap at people (and I did, time to time, before I caught it), but for the most part I was intentionally kind and patient, even though some rascally part of me wasn't motivated to that. I want to be clear that I was not denying my mood or feelings. Rather, I was choosing my behavior, on the premise the mood would pass. I thought about the economist I quoted in an earlier blog who noted our future self often would prefer we make different choices than our present self desires. I practiced, in short, being a grown up and doing the hard but right thing.
It was simple, but it was eye opening. The next day, when I inexplicably woke in a good mood, I was able to assess my choices of the day before and feel ok about them.
There's a story I sometimes tell, about a king who was terribly melancholy and searching for a cure. He hired and fired various priests, sages, doctors and wizards. Nothing worked. After a time, he was presented with a ring and told it would do the trick. Inscribed on the ring: "This too will pass."
That's the deal with moods. In his book Don't Sweat the Small Stuff , the late Richard Carlson noted that we wake up different days in completely different moods, despite the same circumstances we had the day before. No sense reworking your life-- or your reactions, or behaviors-- on something so transient.
Good stuff, bad stuff--this too, will pass.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Monday, June 1, 2009
Title generated by a robotic poetrix-- but it's not half-bad, especially for a Monday evening mantra.
Except I am lucky. I have a job, and I love my job. I realize not everyone is in that happy boat.
I remember the dip of the mid to late 80's-- people walking away from their 18% mortgages, plants shutting or cutting down left and right. I was working in Southeast Texas. Many of my clients had worked for years on the rigs or at refineries, where no degree at all, not even a high school diploma, was needed to make a family wage and have health insurance. When the Savings and Loans failed, those same folks couldn't even find minimum wage jobs. We didn't wait to see how things turned out. We left our newer, Lone-Star-State scale Texas home on the market for a year and a half at much well under 100K in a town that had boomed, then busted on oil.
The good thing about getting old is watching history rewind and unwind. The market goes up, the market goes down. If you live long enough, or die at the right time, it doesn't matter so much. In a book called "Astonish Yourself! 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life", this is illustrated in No. 55: Invent Headlines. Author Roger-Pol Droit encourages the reader to write an imagined front page full of political changes, scientific advances, crime stories, celebrity tidbits and natural disasters. At the end of the entry, he notes: "Killing time is not the point of this experiment, which is rather to prove to yourself how the flood of news never ceases to repeat itself, and how it is always the same. It shows neither progress or novelty...only confirm(s) that there is nothing less new than the news. All it shows, interminably, is the endless misfortune of man."
That seems rather disheartening. But for every sorrow there are also joys, and guess what? Neither are permanent. There is something to be said for being an observer rather than interpreter of events. I like the old Chinese story about the farmer, out in the field. One day he finds a stray horse. His neighbor tells him, "You are so lucky! Now you have help for harvest." The farmer nods, and says, "Maybe, maybe not." The next day, the farmer's son attempts to ride the wild horse, and is bucked off and breaks both legs. The neighbor comes over to comfort the farmer, saying, "Bad luck! Now your son can't help you with the harvest!" The farmer replies, "Maybe. Maybe not." A day later, the dynasty in power comes searching for any able-bodied young men to go on a suicide mission. The farmer's son is out of commission. The neighbor says, "So lucky for you!" And again the farmer replies: "Maybe, maybe not."
We don't know the ending. We can't know. We can make meaning out of what is offered. We can do the serenity prayer-- change what we can, accept what we can't. We can do, as my grandmother used to say, the best we can do, and that's all we can do. But the answer to most of our worrisome thoughts is: Don't know. While we wait-- try not to suffer in advance.