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Archive for the ‘crisis’ Category

Perhaps one of the greatest reasons I was drawn to become a psychotherapist is that I’m a lover of stories. Storytelling isn’t only an ancient art form and a means through which information and wisdom is shared, it can also be a powerful source of inspiration and healing.

In a speech entitled, “Politics as Spiritual Practice” Larry Robinson, former Mayor of Sebastopol California observed, “Stories tell us who we are and where we belong. They give meaning to our lives and to our suffering. In an age of fear and uncertainty, people are hungry for a story which shows us a way through the current darkness…Story has the power to bring soul back to the world.” And so from time to time, I’ve decided to share one of my favorite soul full stories with you.

Gifted poet and speaker, David Whyte, was visiting Brother David Steindl-Rast one evening after a very long and stressful day at work. Whyte had been struggling with whether or not to leave his job and pursue his calling as a poet full time and shared with brother David that he was absolutely exhausted.

I picture the two Davids in a warm and dimly lit room, wine glasses held loosely, and a book of Rilke’s poems resting on a low table between them. The poet’s broad shoulders are slightly slumped, his dark head bent and his wise and loving friend is leaning in slightly towards him as he very gently shares the following, “You know David, the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest.”

Whyte tilts his head and shifts his position slightly as something not yet definable stirs quietly within him. “The antidote to exhaustion isn’t necessarily rest,” he repeats slowly. “What is the antidote to exhaustion?” Now it’s Whyte who is leaning forward, entirely receptive to the gift some part of him already knows is on its way.

“The antidote to exhaustion,” brother David responds, “is wholeheartedness.”

And while it was not me who asked the question, not my own exhaustion and depletion that called brother David’s response into being, it is my own soul that stirs in response. “The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.”

Yes.

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allison 2

Photographer: Allison Fowles

Following is a poem by Tom Atlee that I believe speaks to each and every one of us, particulary as our beautiful blue planet heats up, civil unrest reverberates in all four corners of the world, and a fourth of July approaches where it’s not the fireworks alone that causes the earth to tremble.

Extra Ordinary Days

On seven otherwise ordinary days

an Oregon graduate student discovered — without even meaning to —
that a newly engineered bacteria
might accidentally destroy all terrestrial plants

a controversial election ended
with the U.S. Supreme Court
making the loser President of the United States

a flock of geese came within seconds of triggering
global thermonuclear war
a dime-sized robot was created,
capable of prowling around buildings
in coordinated swarms

a dozen physicists debated whether to proceed with an experiment
that might turn the earth into a black hole

global trade in high-tech torture devices was found to be booming,
with a 7500% increase since the 1970s
in the number of companies making
electroshock stun weapons

and, oh yes,
a hundred species disappeared from earth forever,
along with 18,000 hungry children
(but we knew that already: that happens every day)…

Is it possible that
life is not ordinary any more,
despite all its appearances
and comforts?

Yesterday, I saw the death of life itself
stalking just around the corner
of that very ordinary day.

And today, just a few minutes ago,
I saw it watching us
as we dashed along the edge of the End Times,
looking straight ahead, moving fast,
desperate to accomplish so many urgent things.

It is time to look down —
at the earth, at the void, at our hearts.
Perhaps only a blast of vertigo will snap the trance,
call off The Fall,
save our souls and the world in one clear Seeing.
For we are too busy in a not-see death camp on the edge
of the beginning
of the world’s ending.

The prospect of Death, seen once, unmistakeably,
can do wonders for Life.
We need to see death now,
clearly,
for the sake of the children
of this and every generation to come,
of this and every type of life.

When the fire starts in the kitchen downstairs
at 2 am,
we’ll only get one chance to wake up.
Please don’t think the alarm
is part of your dream.
For I have seen this, and it is a fact:
Business as usual is over —
despite everything that remains to be done.

It has been said that war is obsolete.
I say, in the same way,
that business as usual is over —
even though the sun also rises
and the bells toll.

It has been said that what is happening is inevitable.
Well, I say unto you:
Business as usual is over —
even though its presence continues insisting
like the ghost of an amputated arm.

And now I’ll whisper this last:

(For the sake of the children:
Let’s wake up
together
in the very next extraordinary day
that so much needs and wants us awake.)

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I haven’t written a blog entry in over a month, the longest I’ve ever gone without writing. Sadly, inessential activities (like this blog) have been overshadowed by my mother’s cancer and my daughter’s illness, and the lion’s share of my life energy is being poured into sustaining hope and tending wounds.

The trajectory of my mother’s illness is too final and predictable to contemplate, while the weight and course of my child’s suffering is crushing and unknowable. It seems that we have set upon one of those night passages that Sue Monk Kidd observes can “blister the spirit and leave us groping.”

As I tentatively feel my way through a murky shadow land, I remind myself that the whole of my life is still abundantly blessed with love, and sweetness and light even as it requires me to be stronger and wiser than ever before – demands that I do/think/feel more than I have ever done/thought/felt before. Even though it insists that I. must. become. more.

Julia Cameron reminds us that “creativity – like human life itself – begins in darkness.” For over two decades as a psychotherapist I’ve witnessed so many transformations that were initiated by heartbreak and cultivated in darkness. And while there have been times when I could hardly bare to look into the depths of despair and suffering, I am especially grateful for them now, each and every one of them, because I have seen with my own eyes and heart what we are capable of surviving, overcoming, and becoming. Because I have seen, I can believe.

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“There are no hopeless situations; there are only people who have grown hopeless about them.”
Author Unknown

Being a proponent for strength based therapies for the past twenty years, I was extremely receptive when positive psychology was first introduced to the world. Like so many therapists, I’d experienced that terrible sense of hopelessness that periodically emerged during my early years as a therapist as I and my client become entrenched in the muck of pain and pathology. There in my light filled office, muscles tensed and heart heavy, gazing into the eyes of someone whom I had come to care deeply about, I all too often came perilously close to developing tunnel vision. I had witnessed the pain, listened compassionately, and carefully gathered up the shattered pieces of a broken story, while failing to truly see the
epic tale before me

I had come close enough to not only touch the wounds, but to hold them closely, and yet I had allowed precious and essential aspects of my client to move beyond my immediate reach – all of those experiences, lessons, wisdom, and unique strengths and gifts that my client possessed which absolutely guaranteed a successful (though never without risk or pain)passage.

When I learned to adapt my lens so that I could readily shift my focus back and forth between pain and possibility, pathology and promise, I not only improved my effectiveness and enhanced my vision – I discovered an inner voice. This voice has sustained me through many difficult, frightening and even heart breaking journeys with clients, and while this voice still expresses self-doubt and even despair, it is never without hope. And with hope in tact, we can go on. I can go on.

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I think the following, written by Pema Chodron, is particularly relevant today.

“The whole globe is shook up, so what are you going to do when things are falling apart? You’re either going to become more fundamentalist and try to hold things together, or you’re going to forsake the old ambitions and goals and live life as an experiment, making it up as you go along.”

I am a risk averse planner who is working very hard to embrace Chodron’s wisdom. As more and more falls out of my control, I am learning to let go of old expectations, fears, and unspoken demands that things go a certain way in order for me to feel safe and secure. I am striving to keep my mind and heart open to new realities, new challenges, and new possibilities. And the more I am able to do this, the more it seems I’m able to feel a powerful “YES” rising up from a very deep place inside of myself, moving through and beyond my anxiety, my uncertainty and my fear….

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When we encounter times in our lives that disorient us, frighten us, or wound us, we generally view them as unwelcome interruptions or unfortunate detours that have been inflicted by some outside force, or are the result of our own misguided actions. Seldom do we recognize that the discomfort that we’re experiencing may in fact be originating from a very deep and wise place inside of ourselves that is calling to us. Calling for us to stop and to listen, to explore the meaning and purpose of our lives, and to assess whether our actions and choices reflect what is best for us and in us. A voice that calls us to answer the question, “is the path that I am on now one that will constrict or enlarge me, hollow me out or deepen me, distract me or teach me, harm me or heal me?”

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What I most love about the internet is the window to the world’s wisdom it provides. From my office in Lewiston or from my little cottage in Wayne I can attend lectures, listen to interviews, and watch thoughtful and informative webcasts.
Today I listend to an interview with Duncan Campbell and David Boren who talked about his new book, “A Letter to America” on Living Dialogues. Boren’s message regarding the crisis’s that we in the United States face is both alarming and inspiring at the same time. I encourage you to listen to the interview as well as to a number of other valuable and thought provoking interviews that are available on the Living Dialogues website.
Each and every day I listen to individuals who are appropriately worried about their futures, good people who share that they all too often feel powerless and frustrated. It’s in my nature to want to reassure and comfort, and I find myself in most cases automatically leaning forward, unconsciously assuming the posture of compassionate witness. And then I am pulled back by the awareness that now is not the time for empathy nearly as much as it is the time for accountability and action –a time for us to collectively face the challenges that confront us while creating a vision for a healthier and more sustainable future.

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