The calendar page has turned from 2016 to 2017. Some would say, “not a moment too soon,” as a result of seemingly daily losses of notables and the current socio-political climate. Since the election here in the United States, levels of anxiety and depression have increased dramatically. Regardless of which side of the fence you position yourself on, there is friction to be felt. What happens when you don’t let yourself feel it?
In my case, I have discovered that repressing genuine emotion takes its toll on me physically. I am writing this blog after returning home from a visit to my local ER where I knuckled under and went following a bout with bronchial bleh that was treated with methods mainstream and integrative. These included antibiotics, inhaling salt water via a Neti pot, bags of lozenges, Nyquil, Dayquil, breathing in steam infused with essential oils, a warm wrap containing rice, flax, eucalyptus and wintergreen. What came along with the illness was that I coughed so hard that I strained my ribs. Imagine doing a few hundred sit-ups or crunches and then trying to breathe. With the aid of hospital- based TLC and a non-narcotic medication, the screaming level 8 ouch has diminished to a far more manageable 5 at the moment. Got through triage quickly. Being a cardiac patient who is having breathing issues and rib pain, kind of bumped me up on the list. Felt like Typhoid Mary with my residual cough, so I was given a mask as a precaution as I alternately sat and paced around the lobby. Although I work out 3-4 times a week at the gym, I felt considerably older than my 58 turns around the sun and like my mom would have said, “decrepit,” as I limped a bit and guarded my ribs.
When I was ushered into the room, I was greeted by caring staff who assessed what was going on, took my info, vitals, expertly inserted an IV for Tramadol and fluids since I was dehydrated (chalk it up to meds that were meant to dry out sinuses and congestion) and got me to the x-ray room. I found myself resting well, despite the pain and within 3 hours or so, I was out the door headed to pick up prescriptions. No flu, no pneumonia, blessedly.
Roll back the clock to 24 hours ago, which was New Years’ Eve. I had planned on joining friends at a party in their home. I don’t hang with a rowdy crowd, so I knew I could lounge and veg in the company of those who were there. A persistent voice reminded me that I needed sleep more than socialization, so I made a decision to stay home instead of venturing out into the night. It was the first NYE that I had spent totally at home on my own in my adult life. I am a social butterfly and although watching the ball drop in Times Square or the Giant Peep descend in nearby Bethlehem, PA isn’t my idea of a good time, I still have enjoyed time with kindred spirits as I said farewell to one year and a hardy hello to the next. It occurred to me that it really was no big deal to flip the page on the calendar solo. As indicated on social media, others of my friends were feeling low key too and decided to forgo festivities. My fancy dinner was chicken soup and tea and my elegant attire were a fleece robe over jammies.
Roll back even further in the day, and I was having lunch with my friend Ken who is a phenomenal dream guide as well as an intuitive healer. He has known me a long time (likely two decades.) and had picked up on the need I had to explore long time challenges with regard to money, success, and self-worth. Call it ancestral, but the fear of not being enough and doing enough to have enough has plagued me. As a child with asthma, I felt a need to push beyond healthy limits to keep up. An A student and dedicated athlete (competitive swimmer) who gave it my all in nearly every circumstance. A committed caregiver to the people in my personal and professional life. A workaholic who literally worked her way into a heart attack. Someone terrified of not being able to pay her bills, to the extent that she is embarrassed at being underemployed at the moment after being laid off from a lucrative job a bit more than a year ago. I have been able to piece together freelance/contractor jobs in my conjoined fields of therapy and journalism. Still, I have been ‘shoulding on myself’ over how I think things in my life ought to be. I have been setting up unreasonable parameters and then harshly criticizing myself when I haven’t met them.
I acknowledged that one of my stumbling blocks is comparison as I measure myself unfavorably to others who I perceive as being more successful in worldly ways (meaning making more money than I do with a similar background and training). I also hold up an extended tape measure that spans where I am to where I think I should be. Either one is a losing game.
One of the challenges I have encountered over the years is my perception of The Divine. I like the 12 step term, “The God of our Understanding” and I have what I call ‘God-versations’ often. The question I ponder is whether they are dialogues or monologs. Who is it that I am communing with? I know that I don’t believe (as Ken put it) in a ‘guy in the sky’ who pulls the puppet strings and we have no control over which direction we move. I also know that we are not totally left to our own devices with a God who has no investment in our wellbeing. When we took a look at my belief system, it turns out (no surprise), that I have a difficult time surrendering to God’s will for me. I am like that two-year-old who wants to tie her own shoes, as she insists, “Do it myself!” How am I not willing to let God tie my proverbial shoes from time to time since I sometimes get them tangled in knots?
We agreed that I would truly invest myself in non-action more of the time, which feels counter-intuitive for this recovering Type A who sometimes downgrades to a Type B+. Once I seed planted, my instructions were to step back and just let things be and let God do what God will, trusting that all is for my Highest Good.
As I entered into the New Year, my lungs are open and I am breathing my way clear. I am inhaling love and exhaling fear. I am inhaling trust and exhaling doubt. I am inhaling self -compassion and exhaling self- judgment. Ahhhh~
My friend Kai Karrel came into my life in the past five or six years as a teacher of spiritual ideology that he puts into direct practice. He refers to himself as a “writer, a poet, a mystic and a spiritual adventurer.” He is a divinely human and humanly divine soul brother. Kai spent years in a rather austere ashram and emerged with insights that guide his life and inspire others. One of my favorite stories about him relates to his love of high test coffee that might, on the surface, fly in the face of the disciplined life he had lived.
His Facebook post today spoke what I needed to hear in the moment.
“One of the root meanings of the word Hanukkah is initiation. The story tells us of an oil lamp that lasted eight nights instead of just one allowing the Menorah to be a source of light and illumination.
One of the spiritual meanings to this beautiful holiday also called the ‘Festival of Lights’, is the initiation into trust. An initiation into the knowing that we are plenty, that our inner source of inspiration never knows lack. That if we trust and accept, open and allow, our lives will forever be illuminated.”
Raised Jewish, Hanukkah has always been a celebrated-in-the-home holiday in my childhood and to this day, allows me to acknowledge my roots and honor the light within us all. Lately, my own light seems to have been flickering, with the fear that it will be extinguished. Never prone to depression or anxiety, I have been noticing an uptick in both. I might attribute it to the state of the world, post election. As an empath, I have been known to absorb, like a sponge, the feelings of those around me. As a therapist, I am in the thick of things with clients who have been riding an emotional roller coaster. Add to that, the holiday season (anniversary of my husband and mother’s deaths and a recent passing of Michael’s 98 year old Aunt Kitty, who was the family matriarch), with the call to be full of cheer, when there are times when I’m just not feelin’ it. On top of that are financial/career issues and I have been on quite the wild ride. One final cherry on top of the not so sweet sundae is feeling under the weather physically.
Last night, I trekked to my son Adam and his fiancee’ Lauren’s place, to celebrate Christmas with her family. It was a joyous and low key time where we enjoyed each other’s company, basking in the glow of the tree, engaging in an Italian Catholic tradition of The Feast of the Seven Fishes and watching a bit of the holiday classic, It’s A Wonderful Life. Just my speed at a time in my life when being a recovering Type A+; not satisfied to be merely Type A, (I have long been an overachiever) necessitates, not only slowing down, but stopping completely. Driving home, little traffic, (Aunt Kitty used to muse that “Everyone must already be at their destination,” when she would note that there were few cars on the road.), drinking in the twinkling lights that embellished buildings along the way, remembering doing that with my parents when I was a child. Even though we didn’t celebrate Christmas in our home, we still appreciated some of the traditions of our neighbors and friends. I lit the candles for the first night of Hanukkah and watched as the light steadily burned; liquidating my fears a bit, as the flame did for the yellow and red wax.
This afternoon found me bundled under a quilt on the couch, while the sun beamed through the half circle window in my living room, warming me up and melting my soul that has felt frozen lately. A sinus/respiratory yuck-fest over the past week, has me immersing in solitude this afternoon, rather than time with family. I did get out this morning to Circle of Miracles for the holiday service. On the way home, I stopped at the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa. It is where I go sometimes to commune with Mother Mary; a nice Jewish girl who had a pretty important role to play in the spiritual realms. There is a grotto on the grounds where people leave petitions for intercession and tokens of appreciation. Today, I wrote down the words that were in my heart and tucked it into a notch in the wall. I left a green crystal heart that I found in my backpack. Although I wasn’t raised Catholic, the place has special meaning for me. The first time I visited, I was in my mid teens. My BFF Barb, her mother and I went there for the annual Polish festival. It felt like the other end of the world. (something like an hour from our South Jersey town) Amazingly, as an adult, I end up living 10 minutes away.
When I was speaking with Mary, I was walking in circles around the center of the grotto and surrendering my beliefs to let go of what was holding me back. With each step, I found myself closer to a truth. I know better than to ask ‘why?’ something is happening, since the answer is always, “Because it is.” The real question that beckons a constructive response is, “what?” as in what are the next steps I am to take? I await my marching orders.
I sometimes forget, as Kai said, “that our inner source of inspiration never knows lack.”
I go back and forth between seeing myself as co-creator who has a hand in everything and at the effect of a decidedly benign Divine with a sometimes bizaare and twisted sense of humor. I assure myself in the midst of doubt that everything I ever worried about or fretted over has worked out better than I imagined.
Love. Time Death. Three concepts that loom large in the human psyche’. Something none of us can escape; try though we might. Ideas that motivate and inspire us. Lenses through which we can view all of our relationships with people who cross our path; some family of origin and others family of choice who take extreme steps to help us heal.
These are overarching themes of the new film Collateral Beauty, starring Will Smith, Keira Knightly, Helen Mirren, Edward Norton, Naomie Harris, Jacob Lattimore, Michael Peña, Ann Dowd and Kate Winslett. This ensemble cast supports each other well and weave a thread that begins with the death of a child and ends with a coming to terms of a sort. When someone we love dies, it as if a piece of us goes with them. Such was so with Howard Inlet whose 6 year old daughter died of an illness. As the film begins, he is offering a pep talk to the staff at the ad agency he co-owns; utilizing the three aforementioned concepts as the reasons people buy products. “We’re here to connect. These three things connect every single human being on Earth. We long for love, we wish we had more time and we fear death.” They are smiling approvingly.
Flash forward three years and Inlet is a fraction of the man he was, himself disconnected from his previous life. Sleep and food deprived, he huddles on floor of his near empty apartment and rides furiously fast into traffic as if daring other drivers to pick him off and put him out of his misery. He also constructs elaborate, multi-colored domino scultpures that he taps to watch them fall over. He writes letters to Love, Time and Death. When he does happen to tumble into slumber, he has memories of his beautiful little girl, as they play together in a park; him swinging her around as she laughs with delight.
His co-workers/friends are expressing growing concern for him personally and for their agency as it is in danger of crashing to the ground in the same manner as the dominoes, so they concoct a dramatic scheme to intervene. While it might seem to be opportunistic and self serving, I would like to believe the trio of Whit (Norton), Claire (Winslett) and Simon (Peña) have everyone’s best interests at heart.
I was profoundly moved by the portrayal of the bereaved father and his authentic reaction to the death of his beloved daughter. From the perspective of this long time therapist/bereavement specialist, it seemed as if he was experiencing grief in ways that many do. There is no cookie cutter way of facing it. As abstract concepts of love, death and time, it seems that Knightly (Love), Mirren (Death) and Lattimore (Time) played their parts well and engage with Inlet and his co-workers as they too face their crises with aspects of life.
An out of the box plot twist at the end had me shaking my head, smiling and crying simultaneously.
The term, ‘collateral beauty,’ refers to the idea that in the midst of deep sorrow, there can be profound blessing. Sometimes we need to search for it intensely. Other times, it is ‘hiding in plain sight,’ right before our eyes in various disguise.
A friend posted something on her Facebook page, in which the discussion was about how she might answer a question from a child about social conscience and consciousness. The query, “What did you do, once you knew?”echoed in my mind as well. We are bombarded with input about tragedy and trauma that occur on a moment to moment basis all over the world. There is a temptation to deny the elephant in the room who is trumpeting loudly for our attention, since we reason that he or she won’t destroy the furniture if we ignore their presence. If you are reading these words, chances are, you are not hunkered down in a war zone. You have electricity to run your computer or a smart phone on which to see this missive. Hopefully, you have a full belly, clean clothes, a roof over your head and people you love who love you. Your challenges may be what I think of as ‘First World Problems,’ which are minor in the scheme of things.
Once you know something, you can’t un-know it.
Author Robert Fulghum puts it this way: “One of life’s best coping mechanisms is to know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem. If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire – then you’ve got a problem. Everything else is an inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy. A lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat and a lump in the breast are not the same kind of lump. One needs to learn the difference.”
Another person on her thread chimed in about ‘sacred activism’. Great term that I was searching for yesterday in response to a commentary on my page. For me, holding a space of peace and calm is not enough. Burning sage, chanting and meditating are not sufficient. Yes, meditation is important. Yes, seeing the light in all is important. In conversation with a friend, we spoke about viewng anyone about whom we have judgment, as an innocent baby to whom something damaging happened. That doesn’t excuse anti-social or otherwise reprehensible behavior. It leaves no room for any group to be threatened by bullies on a one to one or institutional level. I can take all of my spiritual tools and use them as a foundation, but they are not enough. I need to put legs under my ideals and walk my talk.
Do you default to spiritual bypass?
It is tempting to succumb to spiritual bypass with the idea that God will take care of it all. If that was so, many (including me), ponder how violence, war, children dying, abuse or natural disaster could be permitted to happen. My own faith has been tested often and the only answer I can come up with is that I have survived everything that has ever happened to me and have learned valuable lessons as a result. I have become stronger and more resilient. What if we were meant to be God’s hands to do this important work in the world?
In Judaism, there is a concept called Tikkun Olam, that translates to ‘repair of the world’. It calls on all people to do their part to put the broken places together. Ideally, folks would clean up after themselves so the job wouldn’t seem as overwhelming. Even more impressive would be for people to refrain from making unecessary mess in the first place. It is as simple as not dropping litter, or cigarette butts on the ground (or better yet, not smoking at all). It relates to being willing to take a stand for what they believe in. It means being in integrity with relationships. A friend uses the phrase, “Always leave the campground better than you found it,” which echoes a Boy Scout tenet. It means taking responsibility for our own actions and not blaming anyone else for our choices.
With all of those preparatory tasks, I am better able to go out into the world and walk my talk. I need frequent recalibration, when I slip into anger and resentment and seeing those who intentionally do harm as ‘other’. While anger can be a motivating force and a tool, it can also be wielded as a weapon.
I know that many of my friends are indeed sacred activists who walk the talk. So, I ask you….what did you do, now that you knew?
I write. I speak out if I see someone being bullied or otherwise mistreated. I counsel clients who are struggling with the outcome of the election and the state of the world in general. I hug as the founder of Hugmobsters Armed With Love. I go to rallies and vigils. I sign petitions. I have begun to teach mindfulness for little ones (two-five year olds) and feel honored to guide them toward pro-social behavior. We learn (I do too) about kindness and compassion, taking care of each other and the planet, loving ourselves, in part, so we can love others better. My hope is that it sets them on a trajectory that will indeed heal the world.
I think of Phil Och’s song that informs my marching orders; peaceful warrior that I am.