Some things I’m not grateful for….

Thanksgiving 2015

There are a lot of things that I’m not grateful for.
I’m not grateful for all the terrible things going on on the world stage
Although that makes me even more grateful for my life
And it makes me think about and care about
People in the world who I might never have thought about otherwise

Well I’m not grateful for the knee replacement they say I need.
Though it does make me even more appreciate
Some of the things I right now can’t do
Like Tae Kwon Do
And it’s making me think about
What other kinds of work I might want to do.
That would not have me on my feet for eight hours in a shift

I’m not grateful for bipolar disorder
Every seven to ten days
Throwing me into the dark and cold
Where I can hold on to nothing
That the day before I loved
About myself and about life.
But my new meds seem to be helping some
And I am clearer all the time
That reaching out to my brothers and sisters
With this terrible disease
And writing and teaching about it
For those who love us or have to deal with us
Is my life’s work.

I’m not grateful about not seeing you people very often
Except it does make me appreciate you even more
And I’m actually probably as busy as you are – or more when I’m up
Busy and unavailable when I’m up
Flat on the floor and unavailable when I’m down
OK, us not seeing each other is not all your doing
And, in the here and now, here we are

So, I’m not grateful for er-r-r uh, a lot of things
I’m kind of good at not being grateful
So I have to learn how to love
All the players on the world stage
Even those who are doing heinous things
I’ve got to love my knee doctor and Lucille
And you people
And myself when I’m not being grateful

I’ve got to love myself no matter what
Gratitude will come in spurts
I will learn it over the whole course of my life
And I guess I can be grateful
That we have a day like now
A season like now
That encourages us to go to that place

So I’m going to be grateful for this present moment
Radiating out as best I can
In all directions
I’ll do it the best I can, for as long as I can
And ask some benevolent spirit
To give me a heads-up
When I return to whining.

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Crying behind the cash register

Last weekend I attended a grief workshop.  Sobonfu Some brings African traditions to the West to help us move past our collective and individual suppression of our grief.  She says, “There is a deep longing among people in the West to connect with something bigger — with community and spirit. People know there is something missing in their lives, and believe that the rituals and ancient ways of the village offer some answers.”

Her website says:

“Destined from birth to teach the ancient wisdom, ritual and practices of her ancestors to those in the West, Sobonfu, whose name means ‘keeper of the rituals’ travels the world on a healing mission – sharing the rich spiritual life and culture of her native land Burkina Faso, which ranks as one of the world’s poorest countries yet one of the richest in spiritual life and custom.

“Recognized by the village elders as possessing special gifts from birth, Sobonfu’s destiny was foretold before her birth, as is the custom of the Dagara Tribe of Burkina Faso, and was fostered by early education in ritual and initiation in preparation for her life’s work. ‘My work is really a journey in self discovery and in building community through rituals,’ says Sobonfu. Dagara rituals involve healing and preparing the mind, body, spirit and soul to receive the spirituality that is all around us. ‘It is always challenging to bring the spiritual into the material world, but it is one of the only ways we can put people back in touch with the earth and their inner values.'”

The weekend workshop consisted primarily of an extended ritual to support the 120 of us in releasing grief that perhaps was a reaction to a recent loss, but more typically had accumulated over years from a variety of losses and could be a reaction to international and global pain as well as personal.  The village that here came together to support us in this release was mostly strangers, but still very quickly came to offer a lot of genuine support.

grief hug

It takes a village to heal a grief.

 

When early in the workshop it was my turn to announce what losses I wanted to offer for healing, I said that it was the death of my best buddy Monty last January and the recurring loss every seven to ten days of all my good feelings – about myself , my life and life itself – when my depression comes rolling in.

I realized just a few minutes after my turn that the other loss I would offer for healing is the very loss of my ability to deeply feel and release my grief.  Once I was very good at surrendering to tears, having reclaimed this ability through personal growth experiences in my mid-twenties and on.  But depression itself has crushed some of this spontaneous and natural release.  And even my psychiatrists have acknowledged that the mood stabilizers that I take to even out my ups and downs also tend to dampen all my feelings.  It’s a tough call, but I continue to opt for the reduction in emotional pain that the meds afford me.

grief-counseling

I haven’t cried over Monty yet. I guess it will happen when it’s meant to – but I also believe that surrounding myself with support can help to get at it.

When I am manic, I am more able to connect with feelings and to release them  than when I am depressed. I was depressed at the workshop and predictably stayed fairly frozen right through from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon – though there were moments when it felt like something might be moving within me.  On and off, touched by someone else’s grief, I felt spontaneous shudders roll through my body.  When I would take my turns – with another ten to twenty people in various stages of deep breathing, wailing and screaming – to approach the grief altar (you chose whether to do this, how often and for how long), I progressively got more aggressive about also screaming and loudly crying, though my crying was without tears and my screaming felt hollow and without connection to genuine feeling.

On Monday, the day after the workshop, I was inclined to say that nothing  meaningful had gone on for me there.  But I noticed on and off through the day, in the middle of a kind of typical depression, waves of genuine sadness.  I felt like crying, for no reason that I could lay my hands on.  I was nowhere near actually crying, but I felt some of the feelings that might lead one to cry.  If I was not depressed and not behind the cash register, I might actually have cried.

This morning I learned in an email from my close friend Byron that his son-in-law Phil has been diagnosed as having “terminal cancer”.  I believe that I have never met this man.  His wife Sarah, my friend’s stepdaughter since her late teens, I have probably not seen for 20 years or more.  But I felt a genuine fondness towards her after just a couple of meetings back then – and certainly they and their three children, all still young, are an important part of Byron’s life.

grief, bench

My brother is still very much alive, but every day his cancer threatens him and his family with the spectre of his absence.

But, still depressed, I was unprepared to have such a visceral response to the news of Phil’s cancer.  I felt really sad for Phil, his wife Sarah, their three kids, Sarah’s mother Nancy, and Byron.  When I started to launch into an email back to Byron, I said to myself, “You just sit here and feel this for a minute.”  And so I did.

Then I decided, for whatever reason, that writing this post would keep me closer to the feelings. I could follow it by writing to Byron.  There’s a risk that writing would drive me up into my head and lose the visceral connection, but so far – as I go back to connect within – I still feel some shudders and seem to not have lost the thread of my genuine feelings. It’s feeling like writing is really helping me to process the feelings, is keeping them real for me.

Now I will let go of writing, will go back to just feeling the feelings – for as long as that feels alive for me – then probably write the email to Byron.  And I will bless myself and my grief, which now seems to include some people who I had not previously considered to be part of my family, but now do.

grief, swim

Did reading this stir in you any feelings for this family, whom you really do not know, or about any people closer to you (and including you) who are experiencing illness, loss or pain? It’s OK to feel it, to find somebody to talk to about it, to describe it in a comment here.  It’s all part of staying alive.

 

 

 

“Hey, good lookin’…”

Complimenting a woman on her attactiveness is usually not the most powerful affirmation, but in a very short interaction you might not access anything more personal to affirm.  And for the right woman at the right time, being told that she’s pretty can have a lot of power.

Complimenting women on their good looks is a dicey proposition.  I think I get away with it better than a younger guy would because at 69 years old women assume that I’m harmless.  I also honestly believe that I have good intuition for when it would be useful information for a woman that she is seen as attractive.  I pass on the impulse to speak it as often as I act.  I don’t know exactly why I choose not to – something in me just says, verbatim, “Leave it out”.

I have a lot of ways that I tell women they are attractive.  I think they probably work best when they are invented on the spot, but some of these repeat.  To really work, I’ve got to absolutely mean them.

  • “You have such amazing eyes!”
  • “Wow, where did you get that hair?  Did your mother have beautiful hair like that?”
  • “You have the skin of a 20 year old.” to someone clearly well past that age.
  • “You are so pretty.”
  • “You have a perfect nose.”
  • “You are the most beautiful woman to come through my line all day.”
  • “You are our most beautiful customer.”
  • “You are the most beautiful woman on our staff.”

So, when I tell women they are attractive I have a pretty good hit average for responses that sure look like they liked it.

  • “You’re making me blush.”
  • “Wow, thank you.”
  • “You have no idea how good that is to hear.”
  • “I really needed to hear that today.”
  • “I could cry.” (And her eyes did tear up.)
  • “I’ve been telling myself that my skin looks all wrinkled.”
  • “I bet you say that to all the women.”  “Nope, I’m pretty scrupulous about only saying things I mean.”

I got an education from one of our customers yesterday, when I told her maybe four year old daughter that she was pretty.  She said to her daughter, “You know what you say when people tell you you’re pretty.” Then they in unison said, “I’m pretty and smart and strong.” With that last word, she held up both arms in a powerful gesture and growled.  I think she enjoyed the whole self-affirmation, but that last part seemed to especially tickle her.  I think that the next time I’m inclined to tell a little girl (including my little granddaughter) that she’s pretty I will give her the whole list.

grateful for ll that i have

When Linda came through my line yesterday, she was clearly as pretty as any woman I had seen all day, so I could have affirmed her on her looks.  But after just a couple of verbal exchanges, something else grabbed me more powerfully.  “You are so totally alive.  You’re amazing.”  “I’m blushing.”  Usually I take that as a cue to back off, but for some reason my inner guidance was to keep moving towards her.  “No, really, you’re radiant.  It’s a real treat to be standing in front of you.”  It’s kind of woo-woo to tell someone that they are very alive, but Linda had a very real quality – maybe a really core quality – that I could not find another word for. I knew that I had my finger on something real and I strongly believed that it would be useful for her to have this aspect of her mirrored back, so I moved past my own shyness to give her that which I had to give.

I told Linda that I was going to write that exchange up in a blog post that would go up today.  I’m going to be a day late, but I hope you do read this, Linda. If you do,let me know what you think of this – in an email if you want, but most powerful would be to put it in a comment attached to this post.

Long live beauty!  Long live aliveness!!  Long live the courage to move past our shyness and to give affirmation!!!

The deal goes down…

One of the posts I have been planning and writing notes towards is about how I Iike to compliment people on their clothing.  It’s maybe not the most personal kind of affirmation, but when you don’t have any deeper connection happening it’s better than not affirming them at all.  And you can’t tell in advance what meaningful connections they have with that item of clothing.  Complimenting it may be taken as an affirmation of their taste, or there may be all kinds of personal associations to this sweater, etc.

I was complimenting Joe on his shirt.  (I didn’t get his actual name – Joe, if you’re reading this, let me know your name.  Better still, leave a comment here on the blog so any readers can get more of a glimpse of you.)  It was some kind of faux-suede, a great warm earth tone, and hung on him like it was really comfortable.  From his response. it was clear that he liked it as much as I did.  I didn’t unearth where/how he got it (more that would be fun to hear from you, Joe), but I had the impression he had had it for a long time.

It was a total bluff on my part – part of a shtick I do sometimes – that I said, “I’ll give you 15 bucks for it.”  i was completely surprised when he immediately seemed to be weighing my offer.  His wife saw him doing this and jumped in herself: “Oh, not 15 – ten”, which made it all seem even more like a real possibility.  Moments later, Joe was peeling off the shirt, I was pulling out $10, and we had made a deal.

Joe gives me the shirt, I give him ten bucks - a steal for such a cool shirt. The woman waiting patiently next in line while Joe and I made our transaction was not just being a good sport.  The whole exchange turned her on as much as it did us.

Joe gives me the shirt, I give him ten bucks – a steal for such a cool shirt. The woman waiting patiently next in line while Joe and I made our transaction was not just being a good sport. The whole exchange turned her on as much as it did us.

All three of us – and the woman waiting patiently next in line – were completely turned on by the spontaneity of this connection.

There was another layer here that I may have been intuiting, but not consciously, which came out some minutes later when I was telling another customer about this exchange. (I ask her for a highlight of her day, she returns the favor by asking me the  same question – and out spills this story).  She said, “They really liked you!”  It’s pretty interesting that it took her prodding to get me to realize this.  And with this realization, another recognition popped out.

I had been thinking just earlier today how boring most of my clothes are.  Now I've got a really cool new shirt.

I had been thinking just earlier today how boring most of my clothes are. Now I’ve got a really cool new shirt.

Joe didn’t want to get rid of his shirt – he really liked it. He just wanted me to have it!  Underneath a fun, playful exchange there was really a kind of love.  Now I’m especially going to wear this shirt in good health.

Shit

Last Sunday at Jubilee, where I go to church, I introduced a poem in this way:

This morning around 8:30, I read a post Howard put on the Jubilee Facebook page about today’s service, where he said that I was going to offer a poem.  Shit….I thought sure I cancelled on that poem.  I went through my recent correspondence with Howard and found no reference to cancelling.  “Well I’m just gonna call him and cancel anyway – I’ve got no poem ready.”  But all that started to feel really lousy, so I pulled out my poetry book and came up with a poem that is serviceable – not great but good enough, not exactly on point for the theme of the service but close enough.  And if you spin the theme to embracing our imperfections, then it’s right on the money..  So here it is, full of imperfections – it’s called “Shit”.


SHIT     (Majo, 11/3/05) 

This morning, shit, my bus was late
It made me late for work
My job today might be at stake
This world did not regard my hurt

I do not only think today
That things are going very wrong
I know it in my bones
Or, where do I know it, actually?
I know it in my mind – that biggest know-it-all
My mind does not only think and think
Mr. Descartes, sir
It thinks it really knows

Talk about a job at risk!
If my mind is not really right
Is not sure, does not know
And know for sure it knows
It fears for life its very self

What if my old mind, day-in, day-out
Is making all its knowing up?
Is maybe seeing nothing as it is?
But perhaps is just a movie screen
Projecting all its weary plots
As if they all were real?
What if I know nothing, not at all?
Save just that this moment here, of time and space
Is tied to every other one
As this breath to my next and last

Today I think that things are going wrong
Because I yesterday saw them as right
The hubris of my mind, my guide
Does bounce me like a silly ball
My thirst to know, to judge the plays
Is the only fatal flaw

Or what if even that is not?
What if this dramatic life I live
With me as hero, villain too
But mostly victim of the script
Is scripted by a bigger brain?
By Life, which sees and is it all
Me, my fellow actors, props and stage

I will insist to tell my tale
Full of fury, idiot that I am
As long as Life gives me that role.
This moment’s glimpse of waking up
Is just as it was meant to be
But no better or no worse
Than the next moment’s fitful sleep

Nothing here is good or bad
Including my persistent dreams
They are all, like this poem, too
With its freedom, flaws and doubts
Just part of the show
Like you and me – and him and her
At least I think it’s so – you know?

 

He was just trying to greet me.

This post is about twice as long as is recommended for blog posts, but I think you will find it very thought-provoking.

About a dozen years ago, on a lovely Spring afternoon, I was walking down a pretty Chicago side street, talking on my cell phone.  I had my cordless headset on with the actual phone in my pants pocket, so was not obviously on the phone.  It was totally understandable that the schizophrenic guy walking toward me on the other side of the street, also talking to somebody who wasn’t there, took me as one of his peeps.  He gave me a big smile, a hearty wave and a super-friendly “Hi”.  I will always regret pulling my phone out of my pocket to let him know that I was actually talking to a real person.  Why did I have to do that?  Sure I’m not schizophrenic, but I had already for several years carried a psychiatric diagnosis (first clinical depression, then the more accurate bipolar disorder) . But schizophrenics are at the bottom of the mental illness food chain – they are really crazy (never mind that I have met schizophrenics who are very high functioning, many better in some ways than me).  There are some who claim to have completely recovered from mental illness – and look and sound for all the world like they have.  But I still don’t want “them” in my support group – I want it to be “just us”.  Anyway, my compadre on the other side of the street just hung his head and continued on.

A little while ago, on an equally lovely Fall morning, I put my sweater over a table outside a cafe in the perfect-temperature sunlight and went inside to order some food.  I immediately became aware that the young guy at a table at 11 o’clock was mentally challenged. I don’t know what his diagnosis would be.  When I was trained as a clinical psychologist 40 years ago, they didn’t put much emphasis on mental retardation. You would have had to work hard to get a practicum working with “that population”. (Hey, back then they didn’t even know about bipolar disorder; it was manic-depressive psychosis – if you didn’t have delusions and/or hallucinations, you didn’t get diagnosed.) But I’ve had enough experience with “mentally handicapped” people to recognize the look – and the sound. And I somehow, out of the corner of my eye, spotted the family member or social worker who was with him.  Or maybe I just assumed they were there – this guy was not out and about alone, I felt sure.

So I recognized his voice when, ten minutes later – with me all caught up in my lunch and my laptop, pretending to multitask while I am swayed by the research showing that we really can’t do that very well. He came up behind me, talking to his voices or his worker – or me! I felt a hand on my back and knew it must be him.  That was literally a first.  In my 69 years of life, I think it’s totally possible that I have never touched a “retarded” person, old or young. If perhaps I did an assessment with one (with instruments that were primitive for “normal” people and probably grossly inappropriate for mentally challenged people) during my clinical training forty years ago, we were taught by our Freudian supervisors never to touch a “patient” (not “client” or – gasp! – a “consumer”).

This guy who was apparently attempting to talk to me: Do other people understand him? Does he understand them? Does he know how to use a phone? Does he have a job? So much I don't know. I guess acknowledging that I don't know is a start.

This guy who was apparently attempting to talk to me: Do other people understand him? Does he understand them? Does he know how to use a phone? Does he have a job? So much I don’t know. I guess acknowledging that I don’t know is a start.

As I turned in his direction – being careful to not make eye contact (what do I think?  It’s catching?) – it became clear that he was talking to me.  Now in Asheville initiating a conversation with a stranger on the street is more the norm than inappropriate.  Even if the person is very odd, like the woman who joined in Marian and my conversation yesterday on the porch at Greenlife.  The fact that we were talking about bipolar disorder, which I have, did make it seem inappropriate – and then she was odd in other ways. She had in her shopping cart some broken-down cardboard boxes which she set up on her table around her laptop, creating an impromptu cubicle.  (I guess the Greenlife management turned down her request for a private office.)  But even here we let into our conversation.  Actually, Marian was very polite and talked with her some.  I had earlier on diagnosed her as “crazy”, just from the boxes, and didn’t want any part of this conversation, even though the little parts of it I did hear seemed only odd, not loony-tunes.  I finally, when this person showed no signs of tiring of the conversation, interrupted to say, “Marian and I actually have some business to transact” (which was true, though it would not have been truthful to say that there was any objective hurry for the two of them to break off their conversation).

So anyway (who’s tangential – one of those words I learned in my psychiatric training and maybe have never used since, to this very moment.  Probably no loss.), it was clear that this young guy was talking to me.  I looked at his worker (family member? How could you tell? Could they look alike, in spite off having such different stations in life?), who shrugged her shoulders like she didn’t have any more idea than me what he was saying.  I still hadn’t made eye contact and made an instant decision not to.  I went back to my work with my computer, burying my nose in it – if you can do that like you do with a book.  He took an abrupt step back from me and then continued down the street – I thought with slumped, discouraged shoulders.

What was he trying to tell/ask me?

  • “You look like a nice man.”
  • “Do you come here often?”
  • “I had the soup, too – it was great.”
  • “I’m lonely.”

I’ll never know, maybe because

  • I didn’t pay attention to him.
  • No real attention had ever been paid to teaching him to speak better.
  • His worker was not well-trained and not able to translate for him.
  • She had not been on the job long, like pretty much no one stays in these “entry-level”, poorly paid jobs.

So I who pride myself in being all about engagement with people – including spontaneous, improvisational encounters on the street or in the theater – missed a chance. Missed a chance in a way that I chronically miss chances – chances to engage with people who are in general marginalized and maybe thus even more in need of friendly connection. Missed the chance to reward a guy who was maybe pretty heroic to reach out, given that he gets responses like this all the time and I had not given him any encouragement.

I missed a chanced.  I’m disappointed.  But I got a blog post out of it.  And if I really listen to what I’m writing here, I may not always miss these opportunities.  I may still miss some – old habits die hard.  But maybe not all.  And if I take a chance and it goes well – even to just exchange smiles and head nods, like I do with foreign language speakers at my cash register – these successes may build on each other and I  may be on the way to a new habit.

How much do you want it?

I have played around with lots of theories about why I have not been writing on my blog, but they all really boil down to one factor: I haven’t wanted it enough.  Sure, it’s true that I’ve been depressed, but there have been other times that I have been depressed and still kept writing. It’s true that I’m tired at the end of the day, but that doesn’t explain it – if I wanted it enough I would power through the tiredness.  It’s true that when I’m manic I get all kind of scrambled: I generate too many ideas and can’t pull them all together into an intelligible post.

I’ve got to want writing more.  I’ve got to see it as super-important.  I’ve got to get how central it is to my identity, my life purpose.  I’ve got to really make the connection between not writing and depression.  When I don’t write, I’m more depressed.  It’s very circular: I don’t write because I’m depressed and then I’m more depressed. I’ve got to break the cycle.

It’s very parallel to what goes on for me with Tae Kwon Do.  I use some of those same arguments for why I don’t go to Tae Kwon Do, but then I get more depressed.  And Tae Kwon Do itself can be developing the qualities I need to push past my limitations and write.  When I had been practicing for just a couple of weeks, I had a little internal crisis about this practice.  “Why am I practicing such a hard, yang art? I need to be doing something soft and flowing like Tai Chi.”  But the answer came back loud and clear.  “There’s some shit in your life that needs kicking – so learn how to kick some shit.”  Depression rolls over me – completely takes me over.  I’ve got to learn better skills for fighting back. And these skills for fighting back can help me harness my wanting to write, can help me to push past the resistance – the depression, the tiredness, the manic scrambledness.  So Tae Kwon Do can very directly lead not just to the regular benefits of Tae Kwon Do, which are many, but can lead very directly to more writing – I need to remember that.

The rub comes when I get home at the end of my day with stuff to write.  I’m tired.  I may be depressed – or maybe I’m manic and scattered.  I can do some Tae Kwon Do to ground and energize myself.  So many things do one or the other – this can do both.  I don’t have to do much to get out of my head and into my body.  Today I resolved to learn my new form one movement at a time.  Five minutes.  Less.

At this moment, I’m very clear how much I want it.  At this moment, I’m tired from work and from a long day: up very early, then work until 7:30.  I may be manic – after about 11 days clearly depressed, today I seem more manic than depressed.  But so far I sure am not very manic.  My ideas seem to be coming out pretty clear.  Well, you be the judge.