Autumn is my favorite time of year. While I always enjoyed summer as a kid, when September rolled around, I would find myself sighing in relief that school was about to start. Yes, I was one of those kids…. a nerd with a capital “N”. I loved everything we did in school and found it one big adventure. I liked the art projects, school plays, learning to write in cursive and even when the San Diego Zoo person brought in a snake for us to pet. (That sound positively gross to me now).
Over the years, September and October have come to symbolize more than the start of a school year, although seeing as I start school today, I guess the more things change the more they stay the same. But in all seriousness, when I see pumpkins in front of stores and Halloween candy on display, I can’t help but think of my mom. Some of my fondest memories of her are from when I was a young girl during September and October. A lump forms in my throat as I remember all the Thursday evenings we did our grocery shopping, our trips school shopping for new clothes and her helping me figure out my Halloween costume. I remember her getting me fed and bathed and in bed by a certain hour and attending all my open house evenings at schools. And I feel sad that she is physically gone from this world and that alcohol took her from me long before her actual death.
But I remember those happy times that reflect a mother’s love and sacrifice of time, energy and ultimately, her freedom.
Autumn is also a time of year when the sky and sun are magnificent in San Diego (and in most places in the country where I’ve lived). Last weekend the ocean resembled a lake more than its inherent nature but the sky and water were magnificent with a lovely Mediterranean quality of light. I was also baptized at this time of year, so fall reminds me of how blue the water and sky were when I was dunked in the Spirit.
Finally, in our family, autumn is a time for football. Specifically, Sundays start with church and then end with naps and football. Even Hafiz and Rumi enjoy the sun and like to get into the spirit of autumn’s rhythms.
I never talk about my work as a therapist as it is against ethics and I make the same policy when I’m teaching, as it violates the privacy of others. But I do want to express that I have been very moved by teaching this week in New Mexico, a part of the country I haven’t been in since I was a young girl.
I am currently training people this week to teach Mental Health First Aid so that they can bring the curriculum to their communities. It is a five day course but Wednesday is a half day, so my co-facilitator and I traveled to Canyon de Chelly on the border of Arizona and New Mexico.
What beauty. And wonder. And sadness and sacredness are in these canyon walls. These images reflect many thoughts and feelings from the week, and they echo in my heart the same as sounds reverberate throughout the canyon.
The Navajo people call themselves Dineh – of the people.
I find the moment an infant discovers the sound of her own voice fascinating; that instant when a baby makes a high pitched squeal and realizes her voice created the sound. Clapping her hands and smiling, she grows even more excited if an adult happens to react, either positively or negatively. Delighted by her own power to stimulate the the attention of others, you can guarantee she’ll keep squealing while intensifying the high pitch. Until she is met with rejection, punishment or some type of negative consequence, she will keep pushing the territory.
This initial act of expression and its resultant joy affirms to me what I already know at the core of my being. We humans long to express ourselves and to be recognized for that expression. Related, a colleague of mine once said, “Theatre. Therapy. They’re the same. We all want to be seen and applauded.”
But where does narcissism creep into this? Or exhibitionism for that matter? Where is the line drawn between healthy self-expression and a more pathological need for validation and attention?
Albeit, we all need validation and attention and it only becomes pathological when we either didn’t get enough recognition for our authentic selves in our formative years and/or if haven’t learned to get our needs met through Sources other than ego driven tendencies or the energy of others. But where is the line between expression and an agenda? The pure joy of the expression and shameless self-promotion?
I’m not sure. I only know that since being on FB and keeping a blog, I’ve been walking a tightrope between the two. Navigating between my innate delight of expression and my repulsion of my own ego. Likewise, I’ve been trying to ascertain what types of connections we have with those who witness our creations. Is this real intimacy or a poor substitution for it? And while there is a gift in being seen and recognized at what point does it feel overwhelming – having left oneself wide open for criticism, rejection or fantasy and projection?
I don’t know. I don’t know the answers to any of these questions.
Because in the end, I think we’re all perilously navigating the line between self and other, boundaries and no boundaries. The need to be accepted and the need to be separate.