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.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Positivity vs. Mush-mindedness

Recently, I got a comment from a reader that seemed to imply my blog was a bit too chipper.
Those of you who know me know I can be a bit of a pollyanna-- and I can also be complainy, cranky, and overwhelmed by the negative.  I think I am pretty average there.  I try, though, to make decisions on where I am giving my energy.  As I said in the last post, I have as many troubles as blessings.  But the research is clear on the restorative effects of positive psychology:  being grateful, tending to community, keeping an open mind, seeing a bigger picture.  Being hijacked by suffering does not help the sufferer, whether it's me or another.  It's not that I don't acknowledge it.  It's not that I don't sometimes indulge it.  It simply works better when I don't live there all the time.  

There's a difference between positivity and a sort of glib refusal to acknowledge reality. It's a bad idea to dismiss feelings, whether positive or negative.  I think we have to learn about and figure out how to integrate our shadow material so it's not running us.   I'm not a fan (though it may work well for some) of books like The Secret which seem to imply we can wish our way into everything we want.  It's close to delusional to assume somehow we can get a free ride from pain in our lives.  But we do have some control over what we feed ourselves, both externally and internally.  I want respite from the spate of negativity and cynicism that serves for information/entertainment in our culture, and that's what I do here.

This was, aptly,  the poem of the day on Joe Riley's wonderful list-serve.  To see the archives, visit panhala.net.  To join the group and have a poem a day delivered to your email address, send a blank email to this address.

Speech to the Young.
Speech to the Progress-Toward.

Say to them,
say to the down-keepers,
the sun-slappers,
the self-soilers,
the harmony-hushers,

"Even if you are not ready for day
it cannot always be night."
You will be right.
For that is the hard home-run.

Live not for battles won.
Live not for The-End-of-the- Song.
Live in the along.

~ Gwendolyn Brooks ~

Thursday, November 26, 2009


 The pies are baked, the cranberries saucing, the squash stuffed and the counters overflowing but clean.  The oven is ready for the next round.  In between, I danced in the kitchen.  The rain does its November thing, and in the moat of our driveway, bird are taking wildish baths together. 
For a change, there is time to rest before the meal.   
I am grateful for this day, for my family here and away, for my place in Oregon with its wet beauty, for work I love, for my loyal dog who follows me room to room.  I counted my blessings until I ran out of breath.  I could do the same with my troubles, but they can wait, and I'll let them.
Thanks & blessings be
to the Sun & the Earth
for this bread & this wine,
this fruit, this meat, this salt,
this food;
thanks be & blessing to them
who prepare it, who serve it;
thanks & blessings to them
who share it
(& also the absent & the dead).
Thanks & Blessing to them who bring it
(may they not want),
to them who plant & tend it,
harvest & gather it
(may they not want);
thanks & blessing to them who work
& blessing to them who cannot;
may they not want - for their hunger
sours the wine & robs
the taste from the salt.
Thanks be for the sustenance & strength
for our dance & work of justice, of peace.
~ Rafael Jesus Gonzalez ~

Friday, November 13, 2009

Reeling in the Years

Birthdays serve as my New Year-- a chance to reflect on the past and rechart my course.  I spent the days leading up to it in the loving embrace of my beautiful sisters and eldest daughter.  We walked in the woods, talked til all hours, laughed til our cheeks hurt, did art, ate slow food.  I fully immersed myself in their shower of nurturing and left reinvigorated and deeply grateful to have been born related to such an amazing bunch of women.  On my actual birthday, I enjoyed a quiet morning of writing and reflection, an afternoon in the forest mycogeeking, and a great dinner with my family.

I am looking at my time and seeing that it is finite.  How do I want to spend my days?  I am looking at my habits and seeing which ones I want as part of the next decade, at my relationships and how I can deepen them, and at my values and how I can live them more fully.  I am counting my many blessings and thinking of how I can honor them. I invite you to do the same. 

Even if you aren't having a hallmark birthday in this season, think about prepping for your own new year.  The dark short days offer us encouragement to slow down, rest and turn inside for a time.  Take time for a personal inventory.  Spend a quiet evening or a rainy day in contemplation of where you have arrived, and redirect to where you want to end up. 

ps-- the picture is of a dahlia, still blooming even in all this cold dark wetness.  I like the sleeping bee nestled in there--

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Living with Dying

"I don't have time for epics"-- Anselin Reed, 1986-2006

In early November,  it is traditional to honor those whose who have died with celebration and rememberance.  In my faith community, we celebrate All Soul's Day with an alter decorated with pictures and token reminders of lost loved ones, and music and thoughtful readings to help us reflect on their gifts to our lives.

It's rare, in America, to be allowed public time for grieving and memorial of those who have died.  Even our national holiday has been minimized to a day off and a weekend of sales.  Americans have a peculiar need for closure, and a strange idea that grief work has a time limit.  I have found that grief comes in waves.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's work on the stages of loss was never meant to indicate an ABC orderly procession that ends neatly.   

It's two weeks today since my father died, quickly, of a heart attack.  It's not that surprising I frequently forget that he's dead and think of something I'll tell him when I visit.   Denial of this sort doesn't mean we aren't in touch with reality.  Denial is a gift, allowing time for us to adjust to big changes. Other moments I wish I had more of it, when I am gripped with the sadness of having no living parent, and the end of access to some of my history.  You live long enough, you are going to say a lot of goodbyes.

Krista Tippet said recently:  "Mortality is not at all special, but it is something we manage to avoid an awareness of, especially in Western culture."  We like to think there is all the time in the world to mend those fences, hear those stories, figure out what we need or believe.   But as the old saw goes:  "One hundred years from now, all new people."  

We can't and shouldn't live in fear about the very basic fact of life that is its certain outcome.  What we can do is spend a little time thinking of the little time we are here, and what we want to do with it.  We squander so much.  And I am not talking about leisure activities, which are a necessary replenishment (there was an alarming article in CNN tonight about how Americans forfeited 34.3 BILLION dollars worth of vacation time this year).  No, I'm talking about the amount of time we spend worrying about ridiculous things, such as whether our thighs are too fat, or what to wear in the morning, or whether we are Right and someone else is The Bad Guy.  I don't think it's a bad idea to think about our own inevitable death, and how we want to live in the interim.  I'm doing that this week.  I've not come to any profound conclusions, except I want to spend less time avoiding stuff  (I am a master procrastinator) and more time living the life I say I want.  I haven't got very far into practice yet.  I hope to spend some time figuring this out.  And I want to remember that I can't count on how much time I have.  I want to use it well.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Courting the Muse

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hearing local writer Marjorie Sandor reading from her latest book.  At the conclusion, she asked if anyone had questions.  The first question went straight to the heart.  Louise, a woman who brooks no bull and wastes no words said, "How do you write so well?" Marjorie was a bit flummoxed, but only for a second.  She said, in summary-- Well, I complain, I struggle, and then somehow I eventually get out of my own way--of the story and my ego--and it gets down and I am surprised.

That's a great distillation of the process, I think.  We all have an artistic language.  Some of us suppress it; some express it.  We have a lot that gets in the way:  our lack of faith in our own truth, our drift towards judgment and self-deprecation, our measuring against others whose gifts differ from our own.

I was one of those kids with the art teacher who said, "Cows aren't that color" and "Follow the directions".  I also have a just slightly older sister who is a very gifted artist.  As a result, I assumed I wasn't capable of art for a number of years.  Two weeks after  I moved to Oregon, through wondrous serendipity, I was invited to participate in a weekend of wild artmaking with a group of mostly "real" artists.  I was intimidated, but infected by their loving enthusiasm, I tried everything-- felting, basketry, painting, sculpture.  I found that I could love the process even when the outcome was--well, relegated to the attic, or used for wrapping paper.  Occasionally, I even made something I loved. In the meantime, I learned to appreciate my own muse, oddball that she was.  I became less afraid to try things I wouldn't necessary shine at doing.  Heck, it's no less a time waste than net-surfing or TV, and for me, much more relaxing.  I started a wonderful web poetry games group, engaging parts of my brain I didn't even know existed.  And something in me that wanted, healed.

Joseph Chilton Pearce said, "To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong".  Judgment is a real deal-killer for the muse. We can create for expression, for fulfillment, for purging, or for pure joy.  We don't have to show it, or sell it, or even judge it-- it can be enough just to do it.

If you are a shy, reluctant or unexplored artist, join me this weekend for a four hour workshop on freeing your muse.  It's a bit late notice.  My muse has been on holiday and I haven't been on the blog.  But if you're reading this by Thursday eve, throw me a line.  If you'd like to hear about future events, get on the email list by contacting me at janasvo-at-comcast.net (substituting @ for -at-) or check out the website at:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tilting At Windmills

Fall has arrived, and with it the coming of the dark.  For many, it's the beginning of this season rather than Jan.1st that marks the psychological start to a new Year.   It's a good time to take inventory.

A few nights ago, I had a terrible dream.  There had been a murder in an area I was vacationing, and when I came back from hiking to the home where I was staying, the door was ajar. The house was ok, but as I went to secure the back door, the murderer came in, and made clear his intent to harm me.  At some point I remembered what I did for a living, and started talking him down, buying time.  I'll spare you the long winded details, but what was interesting to me in the dream was that as we talked, and I listened to him with genuine curiosity and compassion, he grew smaller and smaller, and I realized I didn't need to fear him at all.
Jung says dreams come to us in service of of Psyche, as letters from the unconscious.  My webmaster pal Hal might say some dreams come in reaction to the pastrami we had for dinner.  This particular dream may have been symptomatic of too much CNN.  But since I'd seen Don Quixote in Ashland the previous weekend-- well, I saw a different possibility.  It seemed a representation of how our fears can become gigantic, hold us hostage.  How they can cause us much more trouble than they are actually capable of inflicting, with our help.  And about how when we face them, with curiosity and compassion, they shrink and lose their power.  I had a very similar dream five years ago.  As before, I'll take it as an invitation to look more closely at what fears might be holding me back in growth.

Resources:  For an interesting article on Jung, check out this week's New York Times Sunday magazine.  Find it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/20/magazine/20jung-t.html?emc=eta1

Update:  This morning's GT had a sweet article about the local Waldorf school's Michaelmas celebration, echoing the theme of this entry.   Second-grader slays his dragon!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Being the One Less Asshole You Want to See in the World

Warning to the sensitive: Salty Language Alert (a little late for that, though, isn't it?)

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a client about the many opportunities others offer for us to be a jerk. There's the shopping cart commando, blocking you at the grocery aisle. The clerk too busy talking on her cell phone to check you out. The person who curses you in traffic even though they caused the problem, or the friend that says something terribly hurtful. The client noted that at times like that, it seems reasonable to be rude. After all, you have a right to get mad when someone is being an asshole to you.

I agreed. I also agreed we had a right to a tension headache, high blood pressure, and a clenched jaw— but who wants them? What if, even when or even especially when others are assholes, we decide not to be? That would mean one less asshole in the room—and that's always a good thing.

And thus a new world movement was born: One Less Asshole, or OLA, baby, for short.

This isn’t just Pollyanna sentimentality. We’ve reached the world’s carrying capacity for jerkiness. It’s just not that big of a planet. And kindness is good for you. It can turn a situation around in amazing ways.  Even if it doesn’t, there’s still one less asshole in the room.

So do your part, for an hour or a lifetime. Become an OLA supporter. When someone is rude to you, don’t react. As Plato said, “Be kind. Each of us is fighting a hard battle”. It could be your reasonable response is enough to tip their balance in a positive direction. But at minimum, you don’t have to get tipped.

For more information and related links, join the movement at the OLA, BABY facebook group.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Back to the Stacks

More good reads from more good souls:
Maria Camillo's list (photographer, Secret Agent, gourmand)
to kill a mockingbird
the road
sirens of titan
cats cradle
jitterbug perfume
the godfather
love in the time of cholera
the exorcist
stranger in a strange land
cannery row
lovely bones
great expectations
les miserables
another roadside attraction

Pete Heitzman's list (Bassist extraordinaire, gearhead, trivial pursuitist)
Their Eyes Were Watching God / Zora Neale Hurston
Salt: A World History / Mark Kurlansky
The Grapes Of Wrath / John Steinbeck
The Once And Future King / T.H. White
Letters From The Earth / Mark Twain
Great Expectations / Charles Dickens
Beloved / Toni Morrison
The Call of The Wild / Jack London
All You Need Is Ears / George Martin
Be Here Now / Ram Das
The New American Trout Fishing / John Merwin
The Education Of Oversoul Seven - Jane Roberts
Stones From The River / Ursula Hehi
Pan / Knut Hamsun
Siddhartha / Herman Hesse

Ann Marchant's List (storyteller, nutritional guru)
The Adventures of Danny Meadow Mouse/Thornton W Burgess
The Sneeches/Dr Seuss
The Hidden Staircase/Carolyn Keene
Tarzan of the Apes/Edgar Rice Burroughs
Tales of the South Pacific/James Michener
Exodos/Leon Uris
All Creatures Great and Small/James Herriot
Let's Eat Right to Stay Fit/Adelle Davis
Autobiography of Mark Twain / Samuel Clemmons
Outlander/ Diana Gabaldon
Small Wonder / Barbara Kingsolver
Guns, Germs & Steel / Jared Diamond
Power of Now / Eckhart Tolle
Loving What Is / Katie Byron
Stumbling on Happiness / Daniel Gilbert

Amy Rogers (indiana joneser of equador, monkey chaser, forest saver, surfer, soul sister)
Where the Sidewalk Ends/ Shel Silverstein
The Prophet/ Kahlil Gibran
House of Spirits/ Isabelle Allende (almost all of her's actually)
Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates/ Tom Robbins (absolutely all of his)
Lord of the Flies/ William Golding
Real Magic/ Wayne Dyer
Tropical Nature/ Adrian Forsyth
Into the Wild/ Jon Krakauer
The Beach/ Alex Garland
The Secret Life of Plants/ Tompkins and Bird
Breaking Open the Head/ Daniel Pinchbeck
Savages/ Joe Kane
Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret/ Judy Blume
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe/ CS Lewis
Out on a Limb/ Shirley MacLaine

Claire Montgomery (beautiful mama, more adjectives to be learned)
A Fable - Faulkner
Them - Joyce Carol Oates
Lolita - Nabokov
The Castle - Kafka
The Tall Book -- a kid's story book
The Good Earth - Buck
LaBas - JK Huysmans
Frankenstein - Shelley
A Distant Mirror: the calamitous 14th century - Tuchman
The Idiot - Dosteovsky
God - Jack Miles
Salem's Lot - Stephen King
It Can't Happen Here - Sinclair Lewis
The Diary of Anne Frank
The Crossing - Cormac McCarthy
The Giving Tree - Shel Silverstein

Marah Cook (world traveler, style queen, boggle maniac)
Siddhartha/ Herman Hesse
100 years of solitude/ Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Where the red fern grows
Where the sidewalk ends/ Shel Silverstein
The Butter Battle Book/ Dr. Seuss
By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept/ Paulo Coelho
The Alchemist/ Paulo Coelho
Ishmael/ Daniel Quinn
Heart of Darkness/ Joseph Conrad
The Moral Life/ Louis Pojman
To Kill A Mockingbird/ Harper Lee
Omnivore's Dilemma/ Michael Pollan
Cat's Cradle/ Kurt Vonnegut
Le Petit Prince/ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Stephen Elsemore's List (poeting partner, Beat Brother, Hemingway/Kerouac/James Dean amalgam)
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Anna Karenina - Tolstoy
E.E. Cummings Complete Poems
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men - James Agee
The Brothers K - David James Duncan
Ragtime - E.L. Doctorow
Corelli's Madolin - Louis De Bernieres
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
Moby Dick - Herman Melville
The Education of Little Tree - Forrest Carter
The Periodic Table - Primo Levi
Winnie the Pooh -A.A. Milne
Bel Canto - Ann Patchett
Morgan's Passing - Anne Tyler

Boog Highberger (Dadist, Mayoral guy, Mail Art Man)If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler/Italo Calvino
Catch-22/Joseph Heller
Trout Fishing in America/Richard Brautigan
Cat's Cradle/Kurt Vonnegut
The Illustrated Man/Ray Bradbury
Snake’s Nest/Ledo Ivo
In His Own Write/John Lennon
The Lover/Marguerite Duras
Amerika/Franz Kafka
In Patagonia/Bruce Chatwin
Erotism/Georges Bataille
Grist for the Mill/Baba Ram Dass
The Life of the Theater/Julian Beck
Open Secret/Rumi
The Three Christs of Ypsilanti/Milton Rokeach

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Few (Dozen) Good Reads

This is a long one, but there are some real gems in here. A friend of mine asked me to participate in a tag to list 15 books, in a few minutes, that made an impression and stuck with me. My few minute list was more like thirty-- but here it is. I sent the tag to some friends, and noticed that a lot of theirs were on my longer list. But there were also a few I'd never heard of, and now will be checking out. Feel free to add your list. It's been wonderful to see familiar and new titles in these.
I want to be clear my (and your) list isn't perfect-- I've since decided there are others that would bump some off. But do it quick, don't give much thought. I've included the replies I've received thus far from those who ok'd sharing them and will add others as they come in.

Traveling Mercies-- Annie Lamott Ruminations on faith by a Christian who's not afraid to use the F word
Love is a Dog from Hell-- Charles Bukowski Beat poetry
Franny and Zooey-- JD Salinger Family in all its idiosyncratic glory
A Year of Living Biblically--AJ Jacobs Esquire writer's attempt to follow the bible, literally and ludicrously, for 365 days
Yes Man-- Danny Wallace Another experimental year-- saying yes to everything-- funny and poignant
Mushrooms Demystified-- David Arora The be-all, end-all guide to everything fungal
Mr. Bloomfield's Orchard-- Nicholas P. Money A more British take on mycology
Therapy-- David Lodge Hilarious coming-of-middle-age novel
Be Here Now-- Ram Das This was my introduction to mindfulness and present moment, way way back in the day
The Lorax-- Dr. Suess Environmentalism for all ages
In and Out of the Garbage Pail-- Fritz Perls Found this in my dad's bookshelf when I was 12; decided to be a therapist
The Incredible Lightness of Being-- Milan Kundera Beautifully written novel by a great Czech author
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest-- Ken Kesey Local hero Kesey also influenced my career in mental health work
The Collected Works of ee cummings He kills me. Still.
Charlotte's Web-- E. B. White EB White was also an environmentalist, and a very wise man, who wrote of a splendid pig.

Now here are some from fellow travelers of the page, copied/pasted:

Aaron Zee's list

Leopold's Ghost (reading it a second time)
The Jungle
Slaughterhouse Five
Portnoy's Complaint
A Bend In The River
No Longer At Ease
The River
The World According To Garp
The Stranger
Murder in Amsterdam
The Crossing
Poisonwood Bible
A Thousand Acres

Juliana Zee's list
The bluest eye. Toni Morrison
black like me
Traveling mercies
Fall of the house of usher
girl with the pearl earring
bell jar
bastard out of carolina
an unquiet mind
diary of anne frank
wind in the willows
whats the matter with kansas
sociopath next door
for better or worse
catcher in the rye
the forest people

Ike Reser's list
more to come...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Grasshopper and The Ant

Remember the story of the ant and the grasshopper?

It was summer, glorious summer. After a cold wet winter, Grasshopper was delighted to be spending the day singing and fiddling, hanging out with his pals, and enjoying spur of the moment sunset hikes up Mary's Peak. He loved laying in his hammock watching the moon rise, and sleeping through the hot parts of the day in the shady cool. He loved hanging out at the farmer's market, sampling the seasonal produce. He loved gleaning at town picnics. And he never turned his kid's requests for a trip to the river to take a dip, or a walk to the park to pitch a ball.

With pity in his eyes, he watched Ant, scurrying back and forth gathering food for the winter. What was the point of wasting such rare and beautiful days on nothing but work? "Hey!", he teased as she heaved past, lugging some morsel to her tunnel. "Stop already! Smell the roses!"

Ant glared at him in disgust. "SOME of us are busy. Some of us have work to do. Winter will come, and then where will you be?" Grasshopper just fiddled a tune and patted his round belly.

Winter did come, along with the drowning rains and then the cold. Grasshopper was fine for a bit, living off the fat he'd packed on during the summer lazy days. But after a while, he grew hungry, and there was nothing to eat. He went looking for Ant.

"Ant", he said, "share some of that food. You have so much."

"Forget it, buster. While you fiddled, ate and lazed, I worked to have food for these hard times. I left my babies to find it. I forsook the contra dances. I missed the sunsets you said were so fantastic on Mary's Peak. I didn't even get to see my kid's baseball games, because I had important work to do. And if you think your lazy butt will profit from all my sacrifice, you got another think coming."

At the end of this soliloquy, Ant keeled over from a sudden and massive coronary.
Grasshopper fully intended to mourn the moment, but was too weak from hunger, and passed out instead.

The moral of the story is:

MODERATION IN ALL THINGS. Including work and play.

Here's to balance--

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Plays Well With Others

"Life is Mysterious
Don't Take it Serious
(quote on an old rubber stamp)
In several of these blogs, I've talked about the inevitability of suffering.
Enough of that. Let's talk about the power of playfulness.

You may have heard the expression that "Kid's play is kid's work." Play is where kids learn to deal with roles and other people, fine tune communicating their ideas and needs, exercise their bodies and widen their imaginations. Why would we want to give that up as adults? Yet many groan-ups (yes, that was deliberate) see life as one unending have-to-do list. I'm not advocating shirking responsibilities, though I am admittedly expert at it. I'm encouraging righting priorities. Play, laughter, positive thinking, joy have their own rafts of research supporting the idea that a good time is good for you. Laughter really IS good medicine-- it reduces stress hormones that havoc the body and soul. Researchers in Loma Linda found cortisol and epinephrine levels drop, while human growth hormones and beta-endorphins rise when people experience, or even anticipate big fun. Other research shows laughter improves relationships, immunity, increases oxygenation, is cardioprotective, and helps us be more alert and creative.

At least twice a year, I go away to play with my pals at WAR (women's art retreat), where we hold theme dinners in dress up (wedding in Vegas, Beauty Pageant, Circus Night) and write ridiculous bits. For years I participated in an on-line salon where we exchanged thematic haikus, limericks, tom swifties and wrote bad country songs. There's lots of ways to make the ridiculous sublime. A few minutes a day softens the heart and sharpens the brain.

A few links for you:
Laughing Yoga
Laughing Yoga was started by a physician in India who to promote the healing benefits of laughter for the body and soul. Here John Cleese provides a 3 minute intro to the practice.

Global Belly Laugh Day
We're a few months off from the official Day (Jan. 24th), but we can start practicing. This site is also offers a wealth of research and related links.

Positivity research and tools for its practice can be found at Dr. Segilman's site on Authentic Happiness

Want to shop local in Corvallis?
Our own Happy Guru Jean Bonifas offers Right-Brain Fitness and more and is a member of the World Laughter Tour

Even if all the movies that week are dramas or documentaries, a look around the eclectic decor at Darkside Cinema holds grins for most of us. While you're there, pick up one of owner Paul Turner's books of essays or a Prancing Lavender Bunny T-shirt sporting one bad-ass buff biker bunny.

Grassroots Books has the latest McSweeney's collection of public weirdness, humorist/scientist Mary Roach's sex research book "BONK" and other sources of inspiration.

Dancing like a maniac always cheers me up, and there are plenty of opportunities at River Rhythms, contra dances, and our summer festivals (Cherry Poppin' Daddies this Friday!).

And don't forget next week's daVinci Days! The Saturday morning kinetic sculpture parade always brings smiles.

Watch the website for announcements about a Play Weekend during the dark days of winter. We'll need it.

Now, go out there and don't come back until you've had some fun.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

You are not your mood.

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

Big love, big heart

Click the title!
"through music, we can get enlightenment."

Monday, June 1, 2009

Be luminous! The day is over.

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.

Monday, May 4, 2009

What's At Hand

I made a good mental health decision and spent a weekend at the beach and another in the garden. While there are a few hundred other tasks begging for attention, nothing soothes my soul like some time away from things electronic. At the beach I walked for hours, tracked a cougar tracking a deer, and shut up the Chattering Monkey for a bit.
A friend told me about attending a lecture on American Malaise; the speaker talked about the propensity of Nature Deficit Disorder. I'll try to hunt down and credit the speaker. Meanwhile, if you're cranky and preoccupied, try a dose of the woods or beach in spring.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Things are starting to bust open here in Oregon. Spring reminds us that even after we've been asleep a bit, there is plenty in us that is beautiful, and waiting.

I was premature about the unraveling fear knot. I've turned off the radio alarm because I don't want to wake up to more bad news. The doomsayers are out in full force. Many folks I know-- clients as well as friends-- are dealing with layoffs. What I also notice, but seems to get less press, is that some people are being more patient with themselves and each other, and expanding in their generosity as a result. For some of us, the fear of what will be is a bad story that isn't even happening yet-- but we suffer in advance. I am reminded of an exchange writer Anne Lamott had with her Jesuit friend Father Tom. "How are we going to get through all this craziness?" There was silence for a moment. "Left foot, right foot, left foot, breathe," he said.

When we suffer in advance, suffer for what we fear but has not yet occurred,we suffer needlessly. If it doesn't happen, we suffer for nothing. If it does, we suffer twice. Keep present, keep walking. Use this time to practice kindness, and patience. Learn how to receive if you need to, and give if you can. And let what is asleep in you, but beautiful, open.


Thursday, February 5, 2009

If you're going to break, break open.

Are you starting to feel the knot of fear unravel, or grow tighter?
There's a lot of bad news out there. It's easy to react by holding on more fiercely to our divisions. I attended a beautiful talk this week on reconcilation by Rabbi Benjamin Barnett. He started with the poem at the end of this post. It beautifully addresses how fear closes our hearts.

We're all in this together. Be kind to one another.
Some seed for your journey can be found at

The Place Where We Are Right

by Yehuda Amichai

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.