Archive | October, 2009

Day of the Dead

28 Oct

This afternoon as I walked through a hallway at San Diego Hospice, I stopped at a table decorated with what I thought were Halloween decorations. “What’s this?” I said, as clueless as an ugly American traveling abroad – totally out of touch with the culture within which I was visiting. San Diego Hospice. Grief. Loss. October. Skeletons. Day of the Dead. Duh! It dawned on me. The alter was set up to honor “El Dia de los Muertos” – or “Day of the Dead,” the holiday celebrated in Mexico and Latin America to honor those deceased. 

Okay, I’m not really that insensitive regarding culture, or the culture of grief for that matter. After all, I am a therapist and have experienced more than the usual dose of grief in my life; these two things make me more receptive than the average bird when it comes to loss. Why then was I so checked out as to what the skeletons and candles signified as I stood mesmerized by them? 

The answer lies in the denial that comes with trauma. For here I am, a year after my mom’s suicide still trying to make sense of it – still not fully able to metabolize this loss. Which is why I am still receiving grief counseling, even though I only see the therapist about once a month now. The fact that I still clench my teeth at night something terrible makes me realize how pervasive grief is, particularly under such circumstances. My incessant TMJ signifies “too much junk.” Too much left over sadness and anger that seeps out in my sleep like the spirits lurking on All Soul’s Day.

My mom loved Halloween and it is one of the few holidays that I have no association with her alcoholism. Halloween came right after the start of school and when I was young, this was a fantastically happy time. My mom was good at instilling structure and stability during those early years, so when I see the leaves turn and pumpkins on doorsteps, I think of mom getting me to bed at the same time each night and helping me with homework. I think of good things. I think of her.

If Halloween conjures images of scares and nightmares, my worst has already happened. My mom finally took her own life. And now, sitting in the weight of this, I am left with the waking up part. Seeing the light of day. Remembering her. Loving her and moving forward. Which I know is what she wants me to do. 

After a year of sifting through the traumatic elements of my mom’s death, now the grief is softening. Becoming more organic and less horrifying. Good memories start to surface and I’m starting to feel my mother’s spirit, loving and supporting me in ways she couldn’t when she was alive. And as I go back to school – at forty – I feel my mom about me – an angel proclaiming the Good News – at the very moment I study it. 

Yes, after the Fall, we can be delivered. We can make our way back to the Garden. Thanks be to God.

Back into Alignment

22 Oct

On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, Whole Foods has a massage therapist on deck for anyone who needs their neck rubbed from the stress of grocery shopping. I’ve obviously employed this person or I wouldn’t have his schedule memorized. He charges $1.00 a minute. For ten dollars, I get immediate relief from jaw pain caused by my increasingly severe TMJ. (The dentist says I’m managing to bite through my night guard – great.)

Anyway, last night after work, I popped in and got my quick fix because no matter how much prayer, yoga or swimming I do, I still clamp down at night from something – (whether it’s stress, or dreams or habit) and it can really hurt the next day. What amazes me is how that little ten minutes of getting back into alignment reorients EVERY aspect of my being – not just my jaw. 

I have long supported body work and the work of the body because I truly feel the mind, body and spirit are inter-related. If the body is calm, the mind slows down too. But even though I know this, I’m always amazed to witness how radical the shift is when the body moves back into alignment via something that consciously nurtures it. 

Yesterday’s ten minutes of massage basically made my brain mush today. I could barely think straight and seemed to move through my day as slowly as molasses. I kept having fantasies of my bed and sunshine and birds singing. I actually took the time to cook and eat something and pause. I found time to go swimming and I looked up at the blue sky. I felt my cells taking in oxygen and my muscles softening. And I sensed my priorities shifting from the petty to God. From things that stressed me to things that delight me. Even though I still had to go about my daily duties and responsibilities. 

In a prayer meeting tonight, I heard someone say, “God’s love and power is not about suffering,” (even though we as humans suffer). I found this inspiring because the more we can let go of the gripping in our lives – the places where we push and worry incessantly, we function better and with more ease. And are actually more productive, efficient and loving.

You can physically extend more when you smile vs. grimace; when you breathe vs. hold your breath. 

Lise’s little reminders: Stepping on a tennis ball hitting key pressure points in the foot does wonders. So does stretching. And surfing. And bending and breathing.  

I realize I have been WAY off balance for awhile now. How great to be back into alignment.

Restoration of the Kingdom

18 Oct

One of the by-products of having both your parents die before you turn forty is that it puts you acutely in touch with your own mortality. Any notion that you have your whole life in order to do things gets chucked out the window immediately. On the contrary, you realize, “life is short.” You have to embrace and live it NOW. Because you never know when you won’t have that tomorrow to do what you love, love who you love and touch other’s lives. 

When my dad died about five years ago, I got very serious about writing. I naively assumed I’d write books when I married and when my fantasy husband would support me while I stayed home with babies and my computer. It suddenly dawned on me – I might not marry, I may never have the luxury of not working or the privilege and challenges of raising children. And even if I did, I’d still have to juggle my time and energy to write. So I started doing double duty – working and writing – and accustomed myself to the sacrifices that went with that. 

Then when my mom died last summer, my life was irrevocably changed. No longer having the burden of her mental illness to contend with created new possibilities regarding my destiny. Suddenly, chains of worry, fear and frustration I’d worn for almost a lifetime were taken off of me, ultimately freeing my time and energy. The result: my tolerance for dysfunction went way down. While my compassion for those in need and pain remains, my soul cries for a more happy, joy-filled life. Knowing how short life is and how much of mine was eclipsed by my parents’ addictions, embracing MY life becomes a matter of urgency. 

Last weekend I sat in the first of three seminars for a Gospels class I’m taking. It was quite intellectually dense, focusing on the historical and literary context of the Gospels, in addition to much analysis of the Old Testament and its role in God’s story as it moves towards the resurrection. A central theme discussed was the “restoration of the Kingdom” – the complete realignment of the universe from chaos and evil into wholeness, harmony and love.

Because I’m still moving towards the learning curve in this class, I can’t yet articulate and integrate these concepts into my writing and life experience. I can however state that the class left me emotionally moved, as I realized God’s story working within me. My inner kingdom is being rebuilt; restored. I am moving out of exile. Into the land of plenty. Simply having the opportunity to be in school feels like a righting of my universe; no longer part of the Diaspora. Simply the fact that I can change career course and how I spend the rest of my life shocks me as revolutionary. That I could actually do something that fills me with joy moves me to tears. This may sound so dumb but this notion of restoration is epic. On so many levels – personal, societal, spiritual, relational. It is the STORY and stories have always been where my heart finds the most excitement and peace. 

Here’s to the Grace of God.

Out on a Limb

15 Oct

Three times in my career I’ve taken the plunge – jumped out of a job without “solid” work lined up. Well, four, if you count the move I’m making now. You have to be careful who you tell when you do this, as most people think you’re insane and will tell you so. (And here I’m putting this on a blog where everyone can post this opinion to me).

It can seem very ungrateful to walk away from a job with benefits and a decent salary. We live in an age when people are desperate for work and this can seem the epitome not only of stupidity but of arrogance. Biting the hand that feeds you. But there is another way to look at all this. 

The first time I ever walked away from a job it was a job offer (vs. an actual job). It was at the tail end of the dot.com boom and the Silicon Valley was looking for bright, young people who could write. A company made me an offer to write about computer chips. The salary was more than I’d ever made; far more than the meager income I made working in a nursing home years ago. I thought I was supposed to take it even though I’d never done technical writing and even though I’m a numbskull when it comes to math, engineering, appliances and computers. It would have helped me pay off the graduate student loans I’m STILL paying on. But two people stopped me in my tracks. I distinctly remember my best friend walking with me on the beach in Carlsbad. “Do you really want to live THERE – San Jose- doing something you’ll probably hate when you just returned to San Diego (from NY) to be near the beach and family/friends. Life is too short.” And then my step-father saying, “Lise, you aren’t married and you don’t have children. Nothing is tying you down from following your dreams. Going after what you really want. Why play it safe?”

So I risked. Until I took a technical writing job in San Diego, even though I was a psychotherapist by education/training. A year later, after working part time during my father’s battle with cancer, the company approached me when me dad passed away. “It’s either full time or no time.” I knew I couldn’t stay. I was miserable. But scared shitless. I had no money in savings and no one that would swoop in and rescue me if I became a bag lady. But I jumped anyway. Took the plunge. Prayed more seriously than ever. Three days later I had an job interview at a psychiatric hospital and continued teaching psychology at Miracosta College.

Over the last ten years, I’ve done the dance of nine-to-five, steady therapy job and then jumped into private practice and teaching. Each time I’m part of a “job”, my opportunities shrink along with my dreams. Each time I jump into free lance mode, I get closer to my true vocation and the expression of my spiritual gifts.  

So yes, it’s not always a good thing to leave a job and sometimes we have to be responsible and bite the bullet. That is part of being a grownup. But my grandmother once told me that it was a sin not to use one’s gifts and talents to the maximum. Although conservative in nature, she was basically saying – trust in your path. And I think living in America where we actually have the opportunity to do that, it is almost our responsibility to make the attempt. To find how we can best serve in the areas we most enjoy, yielding the highest spiritual dividend. And just because we’re good at something doesn’t always mean it is what we’re meant to do or what God wants us to do. Growth comes when we move outside our comfort zone and in the direction where we’re Called. Enamored. Alive. 

So I’m a chicken, particularly when God hits me over the head with where I most need to grow. Risk. Jump. 

But here goes. When climbing a tree and going out on a limb, you don’t fall. Instead, you get to see things from a better vantage point.

In the Body

7 Oct

I have been a proponent of the body for a long time. Because it’s the house in which I live, I try not to vacate or abandon it and to enjoy and take care of it. Our bodies encapsulate our entire life experience – holding an imprint of feelings, relationships and events. It is the vessel through which we enter and exit the world. For all these reasons, I find it significant. 

Lately, the body has been on my mind for a number of reasons. One, because I work in an eating disorder program, a disorder that is partially characterized by disembodiment or an inability to tolerate the somatic experience. Interestingly, current trends in recovery for this disorder focus strongly on cognition, placing great emphasis on the mind to assist in re-programing one’s behavior and feelings about oneself and the body. While this is definitely valuable there are many additional components necessary to healing the body/mind/spirit relationship. How then do we learn to feel comfortable in our skins? How do we make peace with being in a body? And in the world? With all its strife and suffering. 

Perhaps part of the answer lies in the body itself. Breathing. Touching. Moving. Singing. Crying. Talking. Laughing. And simply being still enough so that we can feel whatever it is we are feeling. Hot. Cold. Tired. Irritated. Happy. Sad.

The other half of the equation entails turning to God. To God’s face. To God’s Body. 

As I deepen in my understanding of faith and Christianity, I am touched that there is support for the body. My naive assumption was that religion would negate the body – make it bad, impure, indecent. But I’m discovering that it is the opposite. The body is valued. In fact, the body is sacred, which is why we take measures to treat ours and other people’s respectively. Not only that, the son of God came to the world in a body, left in a body and was resurrected in a body. So the body can’t be that bad. And in fact, it might be significant if God chose to come through this channel. 

Not only that, when we talk about the church, we talk about it as a body. We are “in the body of Christ.” That to me is a beautiful concept. In fact, my pastor actually told me that in the body of Christ, it is as if the followers share the same spiritual DNA. I love that. I guess it would make sense that when people’s minds and spirits are aligned in Christ, the very molecular structure might correspond, if not literarily then metaphorically. Because the body is significant. It is a temple through which we experience God. If we can quiet the mind and integrate all the other aspects of being.

Collage of the Soul

2 Oct

When my mother committed suicide last summer, I couldn’t stop writing. Like a woman possessed, I groped my way to the computer no matter how puffy my eyes were or how tired I felt. Writing served as my life line, no different than during early childhood when I realized my mom’s alcoholism eclipsed our lives with sorrow and unpredictability.

The writing I did that summer was raw, stream of conscious and convoluted. I vomited both words and emotions without cohesion; my expression mimicking the nature of trauma itself. Normally at peace with my emotions, I found I couldn’t talk about the incident and at times wouldn’t even think about it. I could only express myself through writing and the tears stuffed themselves or came out cascading with violence. There was no middle ground.

From that writing, I produced an essay that will be published in a book called, “Think Outside the Cell,” a collection of reflections by family members with loved ones in jail, for my mom was incarcerated for a fifth felony DUI prior to her suicide. I also submitted a few other pieces to periodicals for publication. I thought about writing a book but couldn’t seem to conceptualize it, nor did I feel the impulse or discipline to explore my mom’s death on that level. However, I continued to write; this time in blog form about other topics, although themes of my mother’s death and spiritual journey continually wove themselves into the material.

And now suddenly, I see all these fragments of my story desperate to come together into a more tangible form. My psyche needs this to occur in order to be at peace. As psychologist Rollo May says, “Creativity is a necessary sequel to being,” and suddenly – I need to be, evolve, transform and transcend. And so, in the height of a busy schedule, I am finding myself moving to the computer not in effort or discipline or chore but in mad compulsion to experience the agony and ecstasy that comes with trying to make sense of things closest to one’s heart and soul. 

Art is a funny thing. It’s not something that can be willed into nature. May writes, “It is a waiting for the birthing process to begin to move in its own organic time. It is necessary that the artist have this sense of timing, that he or she respect these periods of receptivity as part of the mystery of creativity and creation.”

I know this well. Investing a number of years, I pushed myself to write two books that basically sucked and couldn’t be submitted for publication. I learned in the process and exercised my brain but… they were willed into existence, not delivered by the Maker. On the other hand, a few other projects – a screenplay, a children’s story and some articles –  wrote themselves. I was the vessel through which they came. I think I am becoming that instrument again – in which my mom’s death and related spiritual journey speaks through me vs. me willing myself to communicate.  Will it take time and energy to do this- yes? But can I stop the process? No. The water broke. 

Before starting school, I had a long talk with my friend’s pastor, Reverend Mark who also writes. As I debated the craziness of starting a second master’s program with no strong sense of related career goals, he said that the important thing was that being in a stimulating community (whether at church or in school) would do something to my writing. Would infuse it with fresh energy and passion. He was right. At a time when I have no real time to be embarking on serious writing projects, I suddenly find pockets of time in-between studying and work and life. Writing becomes the relief. The release. The outlet to make sense of new and old experiences. And to praise God.

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