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, May 30, 2011

Troubles and Happiness

       Happiness often shows up on the ridges of trouble.  I think it was Elizabeth Kubler Ross who reflected about the beauty of canyons,  formed only in harsh conditions.  Likewise, happiness has a bigger edge when there is something pushing it into contrast.
  Zen Buddhism speaks of life as 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows.  I can tell you for sure you have to be asleep or die young to pass up the last half of that bargain.  No choice for sorrows if you choose to live.   But sometimes we seem to think of the joys as trivialities.  As if This Life is Serious Damn Business, and Don't You Forget It, less you flunk the final.

Did I mention this mind-blowing Koan of DBT founder Marsha Linehan?  "Whether you are walking to the 7-11, to the alter, or to the execution chamber-- in that moment you are just walking."  I hated that when I first heard it.  My regular "let's be black or let's be white" mind heard it as the most idiotic form of denial.  Now I see it as possibility that living in the present can allow a moment of peace.  There is potential for joy or disaster (or banality) around every corner, and until we get to that corner, well, we're just walking.  We might as well look around and see if there is anything of interest here, where we are.  And be open minded that we cannot know what for sure on which side of the list of 10,00 joys or 10,000 sorrows the next checkmark will go.

About all we have the semblance of control is what we are doing in the right now-- where we are choosing our focus, such that advance sufferings (or happiness) can wait their turns.

It doesn't take much to bring joy.  This weekend alone I found comfort and pleasure in food shared with family, the new blooms in the garden, the exquisite brightness of young musicians (hit play button at end of post to here the amazing BEE EATERS).  In the latter, such genius brought me also to tears.  Real beauty can do that-- bring both those joys and sorrows smack in our heart in one harmonic package.  It takes no more than an open and curious eye to see wonders everywhere.  

Admittedly, one woman's wonder is another's horror.  After a few grumbling hours spent trying to subdue the invasives from my garden, I came upon a bursting mound of baby orb weavers.  They delighted me (see photo right);  my companion at the time was decidedly less pleased.

After diminishing the biomass to negligible effect, I'd been considering the sell points of an all-paved yard.  Seeing this clot of bristling life brought me straight out of cranky thoughts of dandelions, holly seedlings and springweed and into the present, and then a future where my garden would be delicately decorated with lacy mandalas, each with a stripy guardian.  It was a happy yank up from my grumbling.

Spring's bounty--an iris jutting out from under a miniature Japanese maple, the fiery pokers, a plethora of clematis-- maybe they are worth it, even when it's hard to see my intention for all the weeds.   So I'll potter around the garden, not knowing what will poke up around the next corner.  And what the heck,  while I'm potttering, might as well Be Happy.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Happy Factors

I've had out-of-country company this week, so though thinking about and engaging in happiness practices (walking wetlands and beaches, dining, and roller derby), there was no blogging.

I'm still recovering.  Meanwhile, check out these previous posts for quick tips on upping your level of life satisfaction.  If you're a new reader or haven't seen the HAPPY documentary yet (get to the Darkside!) , some of these may be news to you.  Lucky for us, happiness research has been happening for a while, and we know a few things about the non-genetic factors.  They're ripe for your manipulation.  Try a few and let me know the results.

Resolution #4: Thank Somebody

Resolution #5: Do Something Different
Resolution #18: Notice What's Going Well
Resolution #19: No News Is Good News
Resolution #20: More Experiences, Less Stuff
Resolution #21: SMILE!
Resolution #22: Have a Good Belly Laugh
Resolution #24: Make A Joyful Noise

Three gratitudes for today:  
1) The grape Nehi smell of the purple irises my guest brought for the table
2) My sister made reservations for she and her family to visit this summer
3) Last night's long gentle rain on my neglected garden, blooming despite me

Shine on,

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Happy Tummy

Tonight was the West Coast premiere of HAPPY, a documentary by Roko Belic.  Thanks to the efforts of our own Paul Turner and his lovechild Darkside Cinema, we got not only the movie, but a chat with the Academy-nominated director.  He's here tomorrow as well.  If you want a chance to see a man and his dream in motion, pop in for the 7 or 9 pm Saturday showing.  If you can't make it then, you'll have three more weeks to be among the first to see this inspiring film on the best part of the American Dream.

After the show, I went out for some slow food and good chat with friends.  We talked about times we felt in flow (more on this next post).  I remembered a great night in Summit where all the requisites for my personal happiness were present: community, celebration of life milestones, family, good food, music, nature, physical activity (in this case, dancing in the barn).  And recalled another beautiful evening with photographer friend Maria and her foodie musician friends, dining on four courses and telling tales of great food adventures throughout the world.

Food is as democratic a road to happiness as any.  In the documentary Happy, a seriously happy Cajun family chows down on a tabletop feast of fresh crab; a few scenes later a Bushman family in Namibia shares a fresh kill.  Cut to the Dali Lama, reminding us that love starts with that first suckle at mama's breast.

As screwed up as our relationship with food can become in a calorie-laden culture, food still brings us together, in celebration and grief.  We comfort the sick with soup, celebrate the milestone with sweets.  As lovers, we long to feed the other early on, cementing the bond with gifts of physical nourishment.

In honor of the primal need to sustain our partnerships through cuisine, I'll start this series of Happy Blogging with a recipe.  This was a gift from Dennison Farms with my leek purchase last week, writ by local earthmama Wendolyn Molk (who also bakes a darn good loaf of bread and makes a great peach pie).  Done by memory, so please forgive me, Wendolyn, if I have screwed it up.

So very yummy I have made it twice.

Leek Pie
3-5 leeks, cleaned and finely sliced
1-2 TB butter
4-8 oz  Roquefort or Gruyere  cheese (these are vastly different cheeses, and frankly I substituted with local "Oregonzola")
1 egg
1/4 cup cream or yogurt
pie crusts, top and bottom  (I cheated. First Alternative Co-op has organic vegetarian crusts in the fridge section)
Saute' the leeks on medium-low heat for 30, yes 30 minutes in the butter.  If they look like they'll get too dry, cover them.
Beat the egg with the cream, throw in the crumbled/grated cheese and add the leeks.  Put it in an unbaked crust and cover with the top crust.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes.
Because I do not know how to leave well enough alone, I added the fresh morals I found in my backyard (sauteed til slightly brown) and a bit of nutmeg.

For additional happiness, serve with friends, conversation, reasonable social risk-taking and gratitude.

See you soon,

PS:  The pic at the top is of a beet and pumpkin seed tart from lunch at the Gathering Together Farm.  It was delicious.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Corvallis HAPPY

Good intentions about spreading the happy gospel have been waylaid-- but am hoping to see some of you at the Corvallis premeire of the HAPPY documentary tomorrow at the Darkside.  The director will also be attending the Saturday show.  Still can't make it?  Show up during the three week run thereafter.

HAPPY - How It All Began from Wadi Rum Productions on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Getting Happy in Corvallis

Giant Oceanic Grasshopper
Back from 3 days of art, conversation, and way too much good slow food at the coast with my WAR (women's art retreat) pals. What a happy respite from a long and weird Oregon winter.  

Speaking of happiness, which we'll be doing a lot of the next few posts, a documentary on same is coming to our little burg this weekend.  Here's a chance to hear the science that can help you in that elusive American Pursuit.

HAPPY, the latest feature-length documentary by Academy Award® nominated Roko Belic, takes us on a compelling journey across the world in search of what really makes us happy. From the swamps of Louisiana to the slums of Kolkata, deeply personal stories weave together with insights from renowned experts to provide the keys to our most valued emotion. There will be an exclusive Q&A with director Roko Belic after the opening Friday and Saturday night shows on May 20th and May 21st. HAPPY will be opening on May 20th for a three week theatrical run, and can be seen until June 9th.
FOR TICKETS: www.darksidecinema.com, 541-752-4161

See you on the sunny side of the Darkside--

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Why are you letting the baby drive the car?

     Not long ago, I was having a difficulty in my life.  I didn't ask for it, didn't want it, and didn't like dealing with it. So I gave in to some baser impulses, and indulged my Id in being a jerk about it.  I was well aware I wasn't taking the higher road, but I justified it that None of This Was My Fault, So I Had a Right.  I was being the one more asshole in the room.
     After a few days of this, I had a dream.  I was driving a new car, and in the car was a baby.  I decided it would be great fun to let the baby take a turn at the steering wheel.  I was amazed its little baby legs could reach the petals.  Not only that, but baby was doing a fair job of piloting the car.  It wasn't a great job, but it was fun, and whizbang interesting to watch this little being move things dangerously along.  Pretty soon SuperEgo started to speak up in my head.  "This is insane.  Babies can't drive.  Someone is going to get hurt, and it will be your fault!  What are you thinking?"
      Just as I was thinking, "Why on earth am I letting the baby drive the car?," I woke up.
And kept thinking.  Thinking that even though I was feeling all high and mighty and in the right, the path I was taking was juvenile, indulgent, and leading me only into more danger.  That I needed to do the grown-up thing, whether it was what I wanted/felt like doing.
    A wise Midwestern therapist once told a client to imagine she was wearing a bracelet engraved WWGD.  What would a grown up do?  What terrific advice, which I've re-appropriated on many occasions.  We all possess the imagination, enthusiasm and boundless desires of the child, as well as the judgmental, condemning voice of the superego.  The middle path is that of the adult, possessing both wisdom and compassion.  The adult is able to act with restraint to its base desires.  Unlike the black and white world of id and superego, the adult sees life in shades of grey.  As sister social worker Janice Melland commented in the last post, this higher self can initiate "more thoughtful. nuanced response to incredibly complicated human problems."
   Today I talked about the shadow self with a client-- the parts of Self that are pushed down, rejected as unacceptable by Persona.  We were discussing how Americans lack a word for the middle path between Selfish and Selfish-- a Door Number Two between being a narcissist and a martyr.  I am all about that middle path.  I don't want the baby driving the car, but I don't want the sourpuss Senex (archetypal stern, critical and withholding judge) driving either.  The baby is the gut-- all instinct and emotion.  The negative Senex is Spock-- logic without feeling.  Submitting to either involve indulgences or defenses.
     When I am in wise mind, I ask myself:  What would a grownup do?  If I can get there, I can listen to both my gut and my head-- at the place they interlap and inform.  And choose Right Action, a place I can stand with integrity.  It ain't easy, but it feels and works much better than letting Baby drive that car.

Monday, May 2, 2011

"Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that." MLK

     Last night I was doing my geek thing, surfing weather blogs. I wanted to see what meteorologist Jeff Masters, founder of Wunderground.com, had to say about the spate of terrible and unusual April tornadoes that had resulted in enormous destruction across several states.  I'd had a cancellation the week before, just as major storms were breaking out in the southern states.  It was horrifying to watch the biggest tornado I'd ever virtually seen form before my eyes on a chaser site (severestudios.com)-- a monster storm poised right on top of Tuscaloosa.  Hours later my father and I watched the same tornado come into Birmingham.  We were seeing what was clearly at least an F4, and knew that meant many lives would be lost.  
     Instead of the usual post-storm deconstruction, there was weird chatter about something big about to break on U.S. news.  No one knew yet what it was-- something involving Obama, the CIA-- but even before it broke, people were guessing it was Bin Laden.  And it was.  It leaked before the official presidential announcement.  And on the news channel, people, mostly young, crowded the Capitol Hill mall, waving flags, screaming and shouting in celebration at the news of Bin Laden's assassination. It was a happy party scene. If the sound or subtitling was off, you might have mistaken it for an enthusiastic crowd at a rock concert.
     Meanwhile, back in my little burg, recently named the safest US city from natural disaster, and just a few years after being named the safest town from crime, the headlines were focusing on a different story.  A young man had stabbed his one year old baby and the baby's mother, killing both.
     The 20 year old had come here as an exchange student as a teen.  During his stay he fell in love with a local girl. They were good students, and after graduation began studies at a local college.  By all accounts the two were shining lights--- loved, gentle, loving.   When she unexpectedly became pregnant, both appeared to devote themselves to the task of bearing and raising their child.  And the community surrounded  them with support.  But there were apparently problems in the relationship.  According to local news reports, she broke things off a few weeks ago.  He became despondent.
     I don't have inside information.  I don't know what despondent felt like for him.  But I do know crazy.  And by that I mean the twisted kind of thinking one can have when either through genetics or circumstance it feels as if the world has narrowed to one sharp and unbearable point.  What I do know from the news is that he decided to kill them all.  That he reports thinking they would then all be together in the afterlife.  And that he successfully carried out two-thirds of his plan.   He called 911 after the slitting of his wrists did not result in his own death. thinking he could get the police to finish what he could not.  Something in this boy was broken, and it resulted in much harm.
    I don't know if what follows will make sense to anyone.  But somehow all of this feels linked to me-- the horrific impact of the storms in the South, the celebration of a death of an enemy, and the loss of three (yes three, because there can be no good ending for this young man now) lives for no reason I can begin to understand.  And it is the second time in several weeks our community has had to try and fathom how someone everyone believed to be good and loving could commit such atrocities.
    How is it linked?  Because all of these events are tragic, and none have tidy explanation.  Because in each  I have watched unfolding rushes to judgment from media commenters.
    In the cases of the tornadoes:  multiple writers talked about this being God's judgment.  The result of abortion being legal, or tolerance of homosexuality.  I have lived in the South, and trust me, if you are looking for the churched and the God-fearing, you are going to find it there.  Why on Earth God would pick Alabama to unleash wrath is completely beyond me.  Vegas, maybe.  But Birmingham?
   In the case of the young man, there was an ugly flood of racism, rants about immigration (may I remind us that we are a NATION of immigrants?)  and immediate calls for the accused to be hung or shot.  I understand that people are reacting to the bare facts of the crime, and it is a horrific crime.  But I recoil from the early mob mentality, and especially to the calls for more violence.
     Similarly, while I don't mourn the death of Osama, neither am I inclined to celebrate it.  For me, Bin Laden's death is one punctuation mark in a very sad chapter of world history.  I don't know that I feel safer.  I don't know that it was worth the 5885 American soldiers now dead from the wars in  Iraq and Afghanistan.  The 100,000 plus civilian deaths in Iraq alone.  All I can think is every single one of those dead was someone's baby.  
     Martin Luther King Jr said: "I'm concerned about a better world.  I'm concerned about justice; I'm concerned about brotherhood; I'm concerned about truth.  And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence.  For through violence, you may murder a murderer, but you can't murder murder.  Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can't establish truth.  Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can't murder hate.  Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that."
     And I do love the soldiers. Those who have been called up and served two, three, four times for a war even some of them don't get.   I work with them, with their families, with their injured brains and their daddy/mommy lonesome children and their sleepless nights.  And while I admire their bravery, their reality just plain sucks.  There is no prettier words I can find.
   We want easy explanations, simple arithmetic.  We want to subscribe to the Just World Theory:  that if we are good, good things will happen to us, and that only bad people can do bad things.  But life, and especially people, are way more complicated than that.  In these last six months it seems I have seen more examples of this than I have in a dozen years.  Shit happens, as they say, and it certainly doesn't pick those most deserving.  So how do we make sense of it?
     I'll work on that one another day.
     In the mean time, listen to Plato:  "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."