Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Longings

It is the season of so much nostalgia and tradition; again.  Funny how it creeps up on me sooner and sooner each year.  As I contemplate Christmas this year, longings are the sugarplums that dance in my head.  It is the metaphor that continues to capture me.  Christmas, the holiday of so much consumption, is also the holiday of reconnecting with those whom we hold most dear.  In a very cynical analysis, this season of consumption that is so directed towards children, teaches our young at the earliest and most tender age, that there is never enough.  We stir our children’s longings for what they don’t or cannot have, and for what someone else determines they most need, training within our babies, this sense of being incomplete, not good enough.   And, it seems that this feeling of inadequacy, of not being or having enough, continues to be profoundly familiar.

For me, I can count on having an awareness during the holiday season of feeling that something relationally is missing.  A relationship that didn’t materialize, or maybe one that disappointed.  It feels quietly sad, and I hold it tenderly, within.  Others step up and fill the vacancy, and yet, there is a poignancy of something not being quite right.   Longing, not always for material things, and yet Christmas places the emphasis squarely on the material.   Every year that passes I try to move away from the consumptive part of the holiday, just a little.  Yet, there remains a feeling of being empty handed if I don’t have gifts wrapped up under the tree, or if there’s nothing in hand as I show up at a festive gathering.  Am I enough?  What do I have to give?  How can I sufficiently show my own sensitivity and caring?

And, there’s also this amazing nostalgia that comes with this the grand finale holiday that ends one year and begins another.   I listen to the familiar songs, and thoroughly enjoy the festive, cheery brightness they bring, never tiring of them.  I find myself wondering; do I enjoy them so, because they are genuinely good music, or is it this soft sentimental place within me that just wants to melt and feel the Peace, Love, and Joy of the season?  My heart weeps, as I reminisce my own familiar longings.  My heart sings as I delight in gratitude for the loves that are mine and always present.  The tears and singing join, and I appreciate that the longing and the gratitude intersect somewhere, where the difference is so  ill-defined, as to disappear.  The longing IS the love, and without some degree of disappointment and loss, I would not feel its’ depth.   The holidays bring our sentimental eager vulnerable hearts to a place of great opening.  Here’s hoping that you find a place to share that opening with deep gratitude.  And, that any losses that are felt are reminders of the greatness of your Love that is always present.    May the Peace, Joy, and Love of the Season be yours, Always.  Donna

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Therapists Quest for Therapy

One of the challenges, or possibly in turns, indulgences, of being a therapist is the absolute necessity of doing the work oneself.  Right. I must figure out how to become the client. I have understood this requirement of my chosen field from well before I entered graduate school. And, as I have progressed through school, and some years through working with clients, multiple trainings, etc. this essential aspect has only been confirmed and re-confirmed.  I have taken the responsibility of, "doing the work", very seriously and could tell some pretty interesting stories about what that means in terms of encounters with other therapists. Very delicate business, being a therapist in search of a therapist. Suffice to say that I have figured out at the very least that I am not going to hire locally.  So, I have discovered some locals willing to do co-therapy with me, who are actually very good counselors, though not formally trained therapists (thank you to the amazing RC community in Syracuse, NY, and to my favorite local kindergarten teacher and counselor!).  And, when I need a more formally trained therapist, I have found myself, on the road.  Going on the road, and paying top dollar for therapy can be a bit risky.  And when it doesn’t work; very disappointing.  Though, it absolutely beats firing your local small town colleagues!

After having recently attended a professional workshop, I decided that the presenter might just be a good person to approach to help me satisfy my longing to experience really good professional therapy.  Not being entirely certain how he would feel about taking me on as a client, with some trepidation, I asked.  And so it begins, the edging of personal and professional.  He affirms that indeed it would be fine.  Do I use my personal or professional email?  Do I intercept our client therapist sessions, with therapist therapist questions?  All of a sudden I am really a client.  It was such a fascinating shift to move from never really feeling quite safe enough, to finally actually allowing a therapeutic relationship to happen.  I do know what a good therapeutic relationship feels like on the therapists end, but now all of a sudden, I am a real client.  What to do!  Nothing to do but to drink it in.  And so I do, for three 2 hour sessions in the space of three days.  A little like being on a retreat, I knew I was going to be in for a bit of intensity.  And yet, as on retreat, you can never really know what will come of it, until it comes.

Some highlights: 

This huge sense and depth of feeling my looooonnnnnging.  Words cannot even describe, and I am not even sure I have fully wrapped myself around this.  But, I have a serious and deep respect for what longing is, and the many dimensions of its existence in my life.  Not the least of which, it has no doubt made the search for the right therapist an important quest.

Enormous respect for my clients.  All of a sudden being a real client, and this is not to say I have never before been a real client, I have.  But now as a therapist having gone on this quest, I feel like I have a much greater appreciation for the courage, dedication, and hard work that my clients do.  I would always say that I love my clients, have tremendous respect and gratitude for them, but there is something very humbling that happens as I myself experience getting it right with a colleague, that deepens my appreciation for my clients.  Anyone’s clients for that matter.

Depth of understanding how interwoven I am with the fabric of who my parents are:  In these few hours of therapy, who my parents are, and how their and my woundedness intertwines was offered up on a very pretty silver platter.

An affirmation of myself as a therapist.  It was comforting to receive from a practitioner who created space for me, similarly to how I believe I create space for my clients, and to feel the warmth, nurturance, and safety from that space.

Deeper understandings of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), both as a recipient and a practitioner.  EMDR was an important part of these sessions, and a significant part of what I was experiencing and observing, as both client and therapist.

Finally:  Having traveled a distance, I was lucky enough to find a cabin on a lake to stay in for a couple of nights.  There was a row boat at this cabin.  My previous experience with row boats has been minimal, but very pleasant and happy.  This time around, as I went to get in the boat, I found myself getting confused about how to sit, how to orient the oars, and how to create that wonderful easy row boat experience.  Before I could even get in the boat, I had already bailed about 6” of water out of it; after having made that effort, I was not going to allow a bit of confusion to defeat me.  I got out, went back up to the cabin, found a picture on the internet to orient myself, went back down, got back in, and off I went.  The ride was not perfectly smooth, but there were many metaphors playing in my head, about the nature of my life, my getting to that beautiful spot, and not really quite understanding how to fully work with it.  I had a very lovely, short and somewhat clumsy ride in my boat.  Saw a couple of loons and heard their gorgeous song, and went back to my cabin satisfied, knowing that the ride is never quite the dream you think it will be, but it is still my ride.  

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Last of Summer, First of Autumn

I recently went on vacation, and had a really wonderful time.  I did not go a huge distance away, did not fill my days with endless exciting new and different activities.  In many respects, I basically did a lot of what I do at home, but I did it on vacation, and hence it was many times easier and more enjoyable.  I rented a small housekeeping cabin in the Adirondacks on a tiny lake a little bit north of Saratoga Springs, NY, and arrived there prepared to do most of my own food preparation (only went out for one meal in 5 days), as well as to hunker down and do some work and some studying.  I took time every day to go outside and either hike, canoe, or swim, but the vast majority of my time was spent inside, reading, and listening to music.   When I am home, the food preparation feels much more tedious; the work reading frequently gets relegated to a time when I am already too tired to keep my eyes open and my attention focused; and even if my client schedule is reasonable, with breaks and time to get things done, it frequently feels like things don’t get done.  Then I am off and running in a cycle of getting down on myself, dragging, and getting even less done.   So I wonder, what is so different about pulling myself out of my home and basically doing what I would be doing at home anyways, that makes it so much easier to do while away in a cabin on a lake, with barely the creature comforts of home?  There is no doubt something to be said for being in a calm quiet secluded and beautiful location.  And yet, it is hard to say that that alone is sufficient to have made the difference. 

I imagine the so good feeling of a relaxing vacation that is not filled with a lot of excessive busy-ness feels good differently for everyone who is lucky enough to be able to take that time.  For me, I do think that isolating a period of time, a space, and limited number of activities takes away some of the bigger overwhelm that happens when I am just home and all of a sudden everything is beckoning, and choosing what comes first becomes so hard that, sometimes anyhow, nothing comes first.   September is now upon us.  The great outdoors is still warm and welcoming.  Schedules re-adjust again as even the world of people who don’t go to school, notice, account for, and accommodate the populations that do.  Again, maybe it is my own personal nostalgia, but there is something about the September air that is uniquely inviting.  Maybe it feels that way, because I am coming off of what has become my traditional August vacation?  Whatever it is, I hope you feel it too, and have a wonderful last of Summer and first of Autumn!  

Monday, July 16, 2012

Never take anything personally

Again.   As with most true wisdom, the directive is very simply laid out, but not so simple to truly understand or live.  So often people come in precisely because of how difficult and hurtful their lives are feeling, and precisely because they are taking so much in their relational lives personally.  It may be a bit insensitive to just tell them: “Don’t take it personally; you need to get over it.”   The underlying truth that I understand however, is that when you take the offense that is offered, intentionally or not, personally, you are giving in to the vulnerability of the other person.  This is where we all tend to get confused.  As an example, a young woman came to me recently speaking of a very small conflict with her boyfriend.  She asked him a question, he answered her, she misunderstood, and didn’t follow through with the relatively simple information he had offered her; she asked again, and then he responded to her sharply.  The follow up was awkward silence, followed by a more serious with holding of conversation, and confusion on both of their parts.  Why should this have been so upsetting?  Why is this hurtful?  

Anyone who has ever been in any kind of relationship, and it does not need to be a committed couple relationship, recognizes this scene.   Very simple, and seemingly benign misunderstandings, and the fall out becomes so much more than what would seem to be warranted.  The reason for the hurt and confusion is inevitably so much more about themselves than it is about the other person.  She needed to be more certain of herself, that her initial question and confusion was not a big deal, not a statement about her worth or intelligence.  He needed to be less rigid about her getting it exactly right the first time, probably also an indication of some of his own self-doubts. 

I’ll offer also that the second part of trying not to take anything personally is listening.  Listening broadly and expansively.  Listening to words that are being said, of course; but also listening to body language and temperament, of the speaker, and of yourself.  When listening is deep and thoughtful, you can hear the story so much more completely.  And, from there you can understand that the hurt that is being felt is not just yours, but the other persons also.  This is the key to not taking it personally.  Getting defended becomes so much less necessary.  It is no longer a pointing the fingers blame game.  Now you have two human beings who have their own separate histories and their own situational triggers.  That is really what relationship offers us, this beautiful opportunity to go into our triggers with someone who will offer us a degree of safety.  Fear creates the need to shut down, respond sharply, or blame someone else.  A safe loving relationship offers the opportunity to see the vulnerability in our self and in our partner, and through that sharing offer each other the healing of compassion and understanding.  Donna

Saturday, March 17, 2012


I sometimes struggle with how to make this blog both personal and professional. So, here goes yet another attempt.

A wounded heart, “Hurt”, happens when we take things personally. An adage that I have come to deeply appreciate in the work that I do with clients, is: “Never take anything personally”. The question becomes, how can you not? As a resilient, graceful, self-aware individual, you just might be able to pull it off, but alas, we are not always so well poised. When someone does something to hurt you, it is inevitably because they are not paying attention to a situation, or to themselves, and therefore the insult is handed to you, but really a function of where that person is, and of their own Hurt. The inflicted hurt (upon you) usually comes either from a relationship where you believe the other person cares about you, and you would not, therefore, expect an intentional hurt being thrown your way, or from something that someone says carelessly, that you might bring more meaning to than what was actually intended, in their unskillful carelessness. And now, a difficult cycle has begun. Someone with unawares or in carelessness has flung some ugliness around; you’re hurt; you sling it back at the offender; they’re now hurt again, and more deeply than they were when they first threw the insult your way; they now either fling it back again, Even Worse, or become defended and denying, making your original hurt even More Worse, and on and on. What to do??!!

So yes, I did. I got myself into one of these little cycles recently. Being the evolved, self-aware therapist that I like to think of myself as, I thought to myself, I will not sling back to the offender who threw out to me. I know better. I will express my Feelings; I will Explain how and why I was hurt. Well, the difference was a mere splitting of hairs, and off we went into our little cycles. And to the credit of both of us, I think we are hanging in pretty well, at least for the moment. Despite our imperfect attempt at being evolved mature beings who never take anything personally, there does seem to be an understanding that we’ve tried to do it right, and that even underneath the ignorance of slinging hurts at each other, there is ultimately an obvious element of caring between us.

So here’s where I get to go a little professional in my thinking about this. I have heard many people, this friend included, clients, various other friends, and family members plea to me: “Does there always have to be so much analysis?” Can’t we just live and let live? Does there always have to be something underlying? And my compassionate response is generally, yes, you are right, there really are moments when you just live and let live. But deeper inside somewhere, I tend to always question that response, and wonder if I am really being honest. So, here’s a more genuine (from my perspective) answer to that question. In any given moment of interacting with someone, hopefully you are not staring at that person, wondering what awful childhood history they might have that is going to make it impossible to tell them the simplest thing about what you might be having for dinner that night. Right, I think we’ve all got that. However, when the conversation with people gets beyond the mere superficial, if you have not done enough of your own “homework”, and have a fairly honest sense (can be read here as “analysis”) of what does and doesn’t feel so good for you personally, it will be that much more difficult to really get it right with someone when you most want to. That is, the more personal analysis, exploration, self-awareness, what ever it is you want to call it, that you can tolerate, the more you will be ready when conversations get beyond the superficial with the people you care the most about.

Frequently on this page, I have accused myself of always bringing the conversation back to Love. Well, here I go again. In order to be able to do that difficult self-work, and hence to tolerate it, we have to be able to see our own hurts with loving compassion, not blame ourselves, and ultimately be open to the fact of and depth of, our own hurts. The resistance to acknowledging all of that keeps us away from both knowing and loving ourselves. That very knowing and loving of oneself is the crucial place from which empathy for another begins. And, I would suggest that empathy is some of the most fertile ground from which loving relationships begin. So yes, figuring out, understanding, growing in self-awareness, being courageous enough to do that work is fundamental to growing healthy and satisfying love relationships. It is an ongoing life long process that is never complete. And so long as we are living in relationship, and have not isolated ourselves from the rest of humanity, it is the essence from which we not only are able to do relationship well, but from which we further grow and know ourselves better. So that scary question, “Does it always have to be so much analysis?” becomes less scary, and it just happens. Not the answer most of the world wants to hear. But from where I sit, it just is; the fabric of our being, the fabric of honesty, and the fabric of love.