Yesterday, I immersed myself in cosmic color, awe and ahhh, song and soulfilled to overflowing dance and delight as I offered a training for professionals whose work in the world is with clients who have mental health diagnoses. The organization is called COMHAR and is based in Philadelphia. I love its vision for those they serve who are referred to as ‘members’.
We believe in the inherent value and dignity of every person;
We believe that an individual with a disability is a person first;
We believe every person has strengths and the capacity to grow.
These values are in alignment with my own as someone who has been in the mental health field since 1979. I believe in strengths based treatment for the whole person, focusing on what’s right with the situation and not simply what’s wrong. I believe in being a solution finder and not a problem solver. The term ‘mental illness’ never sat right with me. I sometimes refer to them as ‘mental health challenges’ that any one of us can be privy to. Challenges call out for resilience, flexibility, strength and creativiy. Thus came the class I taught.
I was excited and a wee bit nervous as I headed from my clean suburban community in bucolic Bucks County to a neighborhood in Philly that on the surface appears to be disheveled and downtrodden. As I drove throught the nearby byways, it occurred to me that I could have grown up there had my parents not moved to South Jersey in the 1960’s since I passed the street on which my family lived when I was born; Rorer Street near Hunting Park, for those familiar with the city. When I pulled in front of the professional looking building, near Kensington and Allegheny, it occurred to me that the folks who are served there may fall into those same categories and be judged accordingly as ‘disheveled and downtrodden’. Walking through the doors, I entered an entirely different world, one filled with bright hues, thriving plants, smiling people, evidence of the caring that the staff exudes. Setting up art supplies, props and music, getting the tech stuff (thank goodness there were professionals who knew what they were doing in that regard, since I am high touch/low tech in my presentations) taken care of….we were ready to roll. Twenty some co-workers with varying degrees of experience in the field, hailing from different corners of the globe, some Peer Support Specialists who once upon a time had been consumers themselves, jumped right in to the fun. My intention was two-fold: to offer them portable skills and tools that they could use as therapeutic intervention and enhancement for the members and to assist them in good self care, since those of us who work with clients that face major life challenges and who carry serious mental health diagnoses sometimes fall prey to vicarious traumatization and can be impacted by hearing painful stories on a regular basis. It was also an opportunity to develop their own creative gifts and let them shine….and that they did!
One of the exercises we did, the name of which came to me as I woke up yesterday morning…I could hear the words in a sing-songy fashion in my sleepy ears was called “Creativity Tree”. I invited them to draw a tree…even if it was a lollipop version harkening back to pre-school and then embellish it with pictures and words that symbolized their own creative genius. I was amazed with what they produced as they proudly played ‘Show and Tell’. They wrote poems, entered the Imaginarium, ate chocolate and strawberries in a mindfulness exercise, danced to a song that beckoned forth silly sounds and childlike wonderment. By the end of the morning, the room was alight with love and laughter and literally love was sprinkled upon them.
I found myself in the creative flow as well, allowing the spirit of play to guide me in each interaction. Every day, I enter the Imaginarium, a room in my mind where all manner of A-mazement and A-Musement flows~
This is the song to which we wiggled and giggled at the end:
Imagination by Jenny Heitler-Klevans, © 2011
To hear the song, go to www.twoofakind.com
www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZ-uV72pQKI Pure Imagination from Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory
Today at my job as a drug and alcohol counselor, I was facilitating a group of clients who have varying amounts of sober time and have been actively engaged in treatment to maintain it. I asked the folks there about their ability to handle particular life stressors. The concensus was “If it’s a good day, then we can. If it’s a bad day, it’s harder.” I nodded and then shared with them a response I had given to someone who had commented years ago that “Today just isn’t my day.” I put a mock puzzled look on my face as I asked two powerful questions: “Whose day is it and who the heck has YOUR day?” She laughed and shook her head in bewilderment and I could almost see the reset button in her head being engaged. My clients laughed at those questions and I reminded them that at any point we can reset our own switches by asking ourselves those same questions.
Many’s the time when I have face life circumstances that could have knocked me on my tush and kept me there. What assisted me in standing and remaining vertical was the certainty that the God of my understanding (to invoke a 12 step term) has my back. People often ask how God could allow ‘bad’ things to occur. I answer with my own questions: “What if God doesn’t let things happen, but rather is there to get us through whatever shows up? What if life circumstances just ARE and our task is to find our way through the maze to the other side? What if every experience, those which we label good, bad or worst, is meant to show us something, to offer valuable lessons to help us recognize how blessed we are, what support there is for us, how those we love are really temporary gifts and every emotional state is fleeting?” The phrase “This too shall pass.” is one of the grandest truths I know, since happiness and sadness are not sustainable forever. When we are ecstatic we mistakenly think we always will be and when we are despondent, we fear we will stay that way.
My friend Yvonne Kaye encourages people via her voicemail message to “Have any kind of day you’d like.” The reality is YOU choose and I choose whatever we make of anything and regardless of how a day starts, we decide how it ends. And so it is.
http://youtu.be/OBfqABtOoxI Beautiful Day U2
Yesterday in the midst of a workshop I was co-facilitating with my friend Elaine Silver called Follow Your Passion, Be Your Bliss, one of the participants commented that recently she found herself in ‘the void’. She described it as frustrating since the projects and ventures she attempted to create, seemed like they were going nowhere. I could empathize, since there have been times in my life during which I perceived that I was spinning my wheels. For many, the void is a frightening place to be, if they believe they will never move past it. Fortunately, that has never been the case here, since my ‘inner Annie’ bursts forth in song with knowing “The sun’ll come out tomorrow….” Several years ago, I had an experience of being in that shadowy place, scrambling to fill time with activity, afraid of ‘the nothing’ that I mistakenly believed would just swallow me up if given the chance to sink its sticky talons into me. I developed laryngitis and bronchitis, partly attributable to my unwillingness to speak my truth in an unpleasant situation. As a result, I was required to be silent to heal my voice. This in and of itself terrified me because I am a communicator by nature and profession. My vocal chords did eventually heal and I was able to ‘come clean’ with the person around whom this ‘truth telling’ was necessary in order to maintain a friendship.
I shared with the workshop participant that my ‘void’ sometimes felt like the song lyrics of the David Bowie song Space Oddity where I felt as if I wasn’t tethered to the Mother Ship and was going to disappear into the inky black vastness of the cosmos.
“This is major Tom to ground control, I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today
Here am I sitting in a tin can far above the world
Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do”
What I have since discovered is that ‘the void’ can be a fertile place in which the seeds I have been planting, have the necessary warmth, moistness and darkness in which they can take root and grow, just as plants do in the winter. Following some of my most internal moments, I have emerged with treasures I would not have found otherwise, since I would have been so busy doing that I had neglected to simply BE. Can we be absolutely certain of the outcome when we enter or leave the void? I don’t think so. What I do know is that each time I have ventured inward, whether by conscious choice or happenstance, I have been grateful for the lessons that tagged along with me.
http://youtu.be/83P_oay3Bzo Uncertainty Minutes by Kim Revival