Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Stopping the Pain

A friend who is going through separation, and probably divorce also, spoke of the confusion of feelings that has come up, and continues to come up in his process of transitioning his relationship with his wife. “I didn’t know what to do, or what I wanted. All I knew is that I wanted the pain to stop.” I found this to be an extremely eloquent statement, a very clear expression of that unclear feeling, all too commonly unearthed when life offers an unavoidable, and unchosen major jolt. It is really what my clients hire me to help them to do: “Stop the pain. Please just help me stop the pain!!”

We are very good at getting ourselves into pain: get up every morning, do our lives, make a few mistakes along the way and BAM! PAIN! Now what?? No one told us life would be this difficult when we were sweet innocent young children. Well, maybe even that is a fantasy. Most small children get to witness their fair share of struggling adults around them. In that respect maybe it is an unspoken truth that we all know somewhere deep inside; yes we too are destined for struggle and Pain.

Wouldn’t it be nice if as a holiday gift to ourselves we could find ways, at least a little bit, and maybe even just for a short space of time to, “stop the pain”? It really should not be that hard. Pain is all about our wounded hearts. We wound ourselves, and allow the people around us to wound us also. First step in undoing our pain is to take personal responsibility for all the things that we know we can take responsibility for. Our adult ability, prerogative, and privilege to make choices is very powerful and very freeing.

So what do the Holiday’s and Healing have in common? Plain and simple, they are both occasions for pure loving. The first place to offer that love, and sometimes the hardest, is to our selves, to our own hearts. The wise advice I offered my friend is simply this: Healing and loving are two sides of the same coin. To offer yourself healing, allow yourself to be and feel loved, truly loved. So often people skip themselves and move directly to all the people around them for whom they feel responsibility. Altruism looks good on the surface, but it really is only altruistic if the person making the offering is strong enough to be able to make an offering. As anyone who has ever traveled on an airplane knows, if you don’t have oxygen, you will not be able to offer oxygen to your traveling child or other loved companion. Likewise, if your heart has been abandoned, it will not have the strength and capacity to love well.

This holiday season make an offering of love to yourself. Spend some time thinking about what will nourish you, inspire you, make your heart sing, and find a way to allow yourself that gift. Think of it as an offering, not just to you, but to all the people around you that you love the most. Imagine a world where all the people in it were content, nourished, and felt loved. Then do what you can to make yourself one of those people.

May you feel and be love, this holiday season and always.



Monday, October 6, 2008

A Day to Reminisce

The juxtaposition of life’s events can create a complex stir of thoughts and emotions. It seems that my life is offering up a potpourri of events and feelings, and I have yet to figure out what the mix is supposed to be creating and offering for me. As I write this, I realize that at almost any point in the last several years, I could probably begin an essay with these couple of sentences.

Took a big exam a few days ago that, should I pass, will legitimize some of my big energy expenditures of the last nearly eight years. Traveled the first half of this past weekend following my exam, with a mission to deliver a cello to a violinmaker. Not sure these events have much to do with each other, but both mark endings and beginnings, and so in some abstruse way they seem appropriately connected.

The cello offered two of my children an opportunity for some portion of their musical education which, to my disappointment, neither of them have been keen on continuing. As fate would allow, however, their full size cello is a beautiful instrument with some value. This is an important piece that I am realizing now also: Musical instruments don’t generally depreciate in value like most other material possessions! And, as I have a potential serious buyer for this beautiful cello, it turns out that before it can be sold, it will need a repair or two from the violinmaker who sold it to me, who is now in Boston, giving rise to the need and opportunity for this trip from Central New York to Boston, as well as my extended imaginative travels.

Which is also the exam connection. All that wild pre-exam imagining that so effectively puts an end to any level of efficiency of day-to-day living!! What is being offered up as I expose my anxious self to 200 multiple-choice questions? Every time one takes a BIG exam it is the culmination of years of preparation that seem to be at stake. How could I possibly put on the table the better half of the last decade of my life in a mere four hours???

OK, back to my actual trip: After depositing the cello with the violinmaker, I got back in my car, turned around and headed west right away, but decided that on this beautiful early autumn day, I would take the scenic route back. I took myself home traveling across northern Massachusetts via Rt. 2. As I got close to Walden Pond, it seemed that both my head and my car at the same moment decided that I should pay a visit. I spent five important years of my earliest “mommy-ing” in the greater Boston area, and Walden Pond was one of our old haunts from those days. It has been nearly 20 years since we had last been there. The recollections that it brought up were of my 2 older children, both in their mid 20’s now, who were between the ages of two and five or six when I discovered and visited Walden Pond with them. Those visits then were very different from this visit. I actually walked around the entire lake this time! With toddling kids, that simple hour-long walk would not have been a pretty sight. My current visit also is well past the heat of summer. We always came on warm summer days, with sand pails and shovels, beach towels, bathing suits, and sunscreen. We splashed some in the water, but swimming was less important than playing in the sand. Here I was now however, by myself, in the same place where I had come to play with my young children so many years ago. At first it did not feel like all those many years, and yet there is undeniable history that has spanned those years. As those memories flowed, all of a sudden the time was more poignantly felt. The pail and shovel, sandcastle-making-kids today are both working their first serious real jobs. Their next younger sibling, too young to get into sandcastle creations before we left Boston is now a junior in college. Baby of the family, not yet even a twinkle in my eye when we left Mass., is now looking forward to college next year. I am feeling my years and the nurturance of all those intense mommy-ing days. Every time I come back to one of these places near and around our old stomping grounds, I sink into the recollection of that time when life was both complicated and simple, busy, hectic, scheduled, but with no difficult questions about what needs to be done next. Diapers and dinner, walks to the park and naps, grocery shopping, art classes, their first piano lessons, and pre-school.

In the interim 20 or so years the family structure has changed, there have been a number of graduations, including my own from graduate school. And, lots of complexity as well as routine, keeping our lives both mundane and storied. Stopping along the way to take in Walden Pond, and the gorgeous colors along the winding road and hills of Rt. 2 offered tender opportunity to slow down for a day, ponder the intersection of my and my children’s past with current time and space. Opportunity to reflect on how I got to be standing and walking this space where I mixed my own early adult years with my children’s impressionable years of sucking everything in. As I now ponder my sentimentality at this juncture, I recognize the tear in my eye and throat as another coming of age. I, like so many others, granted myself wisdom as I stepped into parenting full steam ahead. One of life’s many lessons, that we don’t really “get”, until an opportunity to step back and away offers itself. Tears of my own youthful innocence, offering the best I could to my children. Forgiving my parents for the best they could offer me, which of course is never adequate. Moving forward, I continue my job of my own re-parenting, and guiding my children when and if invited, as they now enter the stage of their lives not so far from where I was 20 years ago.

I make no predictions for anything at all. There is no knowing or predicting. There is only the offering of love, and being present to what is.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

No Yoga week of August 11-15

I am away August 11-15; no yoga this week.

My schedule the following week will be Monday and Friday at 8:30 AM, Wednesday at 5:30 PM

Call for more information or for directions: 885-3057


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A weekend in Lily Dale, NY

I came to Lily Dale, NY for a weekend of quiet, alone time, opportunity to access and explore my spirit life, and the possibilities of angels and spirit guides. I come looking forward to the opportunity to poke and prod, and learn a little bit about this place that has a reputation for the being the place to go to speak with loved ones who have passed to the other side. I arrive very late on Thursday night. No spooks, despite my late arrival. Just another little upstate NY community on a beautiful lake near woods in the summer time. Friday morning I wake up wondering if I will find healthy food to eat while on my spiritual weekend adventure. Day one breakfast: a processed egg, and sticky sweet muffin… will do better next meal!!

Then I begin walking…. Up and down all of the small streets, peering into the porches of the various mediums, stepping up onto some of them, taking in the energy of the community, I obtain a large handful of cards to pick and choose from. I stumble upon and enter a small gift shop, buy a couple of CD’s, and a crystal to bless my new car.

During my 3 day stay, I get 5 readings, attend a workshop on angels, take a dip in the lake, find a couple of spare hours to do a little studying, take brief yoga time in the morning, get in some good journaling time, walk a labyrinth, and overall just have a pretty fabulous time. The highlight of the whole weekend, however was my last reading:

Before this reading, I went for a walk in the woods very nearby. There were “fairy houses” placed along a path. It was a beautiful day, the woods were quiet; I was alone. As I am looking at the beautiful trees, I begin to see a tool for me to use to kick up into a handstand. I had already checked out of my room; I was going to get on the road shortly, and I was wishing I could get a handstand in today. I have not done this outside before, but what a cool thing it would be to find a willing tree to catch my feet, and allow me up. So I begin. First tree I try is uphill from where I need to place my hands…. Not happening! I go to several trees, find hand placement difficult, trees leaning away from me, trunks too narrow, muddy ground, uneven ground, the earth’s slope too far uphill or downhill for kicking up to their trees, etc. I actually get up pretty close once, but never found the tree behind me, lost my balance quickly and came down before achieving a satisfying handstand. As I come out of the woods, I am walking and see a big beautiful tree on level ground near the lake. I look to see if there is anyone nearby, choose a side of the tree where I might be most likely to be hidden from view, and am at it again. I come so close, but again, did not get good balance and do not reach the tree to stay up. Frustrated, I keep trying; the more I try the more I realize, this is not happening today! At which point I step away from the tree, resigned to improving my handstand indoors on level floor with a smooth stable wall that doesn’t lean away from me!! I walk over to my last reading of my weekend.

The first people who showed up for this reading are both of my uncles on my dad’s side. The medium characterizes them quickly and well; they both offer me support and encouragement regarding my business. And then Gram, who only passed a couple of months ago, shows up and is having a regular conversation with the medium. Next thing I know, the medium is asking me if I do yoga. She tells me that Gram is showing her a yoga pose. I ask what pose; she only says that she is going backwards, and that Gram has a great big smile. She asks me if I had ever tried to teach Gram, or engage her with yoga, if we had a joke between us. I said no, and then I told her what I had been doing before I came in and had Gram seen me? Gram is smiling big still, and says to her, that I should have gotten up, and that it would be more like her to not get up. She says to me, that I would have better luck on more level ground! I just laughed. It sounded so much like what gram would have said to me! I left from my first visit to Lily Dale, NY with a great big grin on my face!


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Big Plug for Suzanne..... Great Opportunity for MFT Trainings in CNY

The Syracuse Institute for Healing Relationships
Need an Infusion of Professional Energy & Growth for Summer 2008?

I. 5-Hour AAMFT Approved Supervisor’s Refresher Course. Friday, June 13 (or December 5), 2008. Liverpool, (near Syracuse) N.Y. 8:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Renew your supervisor’s credentials. We’ll try to mix up the supervision topics you’ll need with personal application to your work. Really, this will be painless (some people have even said fun)! (Cost: $ 125).

II. If You Want To Be A Healer…For Early Risers: Thursdays in June (5th, 12th,19th, 26th) Morning Growth Group for Mental Health Professionals. Liverpool, N.Y. 8:00 – 9:30 am.
What is a healer and how can we intentionally promote healing principles in our every day life and practice? This four session professional growth group is designed to give you enriching exercises for nurturing and exploring your current self-of-the- healer gifts and glitches, and a group synthesis of clinical ideas, thoughts, and wisdom about the healing experiences that inhabit your daily life. (Cost:$155. If you sign up with a friend: $135.)

III. Considering Life Meaning, Loss, Spirituality, Intuition, Synchronicity, and Oneness in Everyday Practice: Every Other Friday Morning 6-session Growth Group for Practicing Mental Health Professionals. Liverpool, NY. (First two weeks will be June 6 and June 20th. We’ll work together to coordinate schedules after that.) 9:00 – 10:30 a.m.

Tired of not being able to talk about the parts of your practice that fall outside the realm of diagnosis, treatment plans, and case note reporting? Wanting to trace your “life meaning trajectory” in your everyday life as a therapist? This twice/month learning group will feature provocative exercises to begin each session, and follow-up time to dialogue about how they apply to your own life and your clinical cases. We will work towards helping you to identify and develop themes of meaning in your life and make core connecting experiences an intentional priority.(Cost: $235. If you sign up with a friend: $ 200).

IV. Medical Family Therapy: Practical Matters and the Many Pathways to Healing. Coming on a Saturday in September!

The morning of this day-long workshop will focus on straight talk about medical family therapy, the therapist’s role, self-of the therapist issues, and case study analysis. In the afternoon we will switch gears to explore the many pathways to healing, including such aspects as: 1) story-telling and meaning-making through phases of illness, 2) working with touch, energy, breathing, and balance,3) the inclusion of rituals in healing, and, 4) the importance of building community and connection for patients and caregivers alike. Send us an email if you’re interested and we’ll get more information to you about times and cost.

V. Approved AAMFT Supervision and Supervision of Supervision. Groups and

Individuals. Liverpool, NY. By appointment. (Cost: $ 65. per hour).

For Further Information & Registration Contact:

Suzanne M. Haas-Cunningham, Ph.D:


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Log: Celebrating 100 years in Four Days!

Thursday May 10: 12:30 PM call from Dad notifying me of my 100 year old grandmother’s apparently serious decline. I drive home to see her and my mother. Gram does not look well. I call all my kids, her great grandchildren, to let them know.

Friday May 11: Justine takes the train from NY to Albany; Dad drives to Albany to pick her up and bring her the rest of the way to New Hartford to see Gram.

Friday evening: Steve (brother), Teresa, and Danny drive up from Westchester county to see Gram. I drive to New Hartford, so Justine and I can head back down to NY to prepare for Justine’s graduation festivities (NYU). I realize after arriving in New Hartford, that one of my tires is too low to drive on.
8:30 PM: Justine and I leave in Dad’s car
11:15 PM: Call from Dad, Gram has just passed.

Karl, in the meantime… just finishing his spring term at Tufts, spent Friday packing his car and getting ready to leave, departs for Syracuse around 7:00 PM, stops in Utica to give his grandmother a hug and offer his love after hearing of the passing of his great grandmother.

Saturday: 1:30 AM Justine and I arrive at Steve’s empty house, for short sleep. Karl arrives home, for an even shorter sleep.
6:00 AM: Karl and his Dad get on a bus for NY.
6:15 AM- Justine and I are up so we can take the 7:something train into NY for a 9:00 yoga class! After class Justine heads back to her apt. I head over to a meeting with a friend. Wander back towards Justine’s apt. after my meeting. Stumble on a café for lunch. Walk across Central Park to get to the other side of town to get the train to Justine’s.

1:00 PM: Paul, Karl, and Dad go to a Mets/Reds baseball game.

4 ish: Choosing a restaurant for dinner to please palate of pure meat eaters, pure vegetarians, and those of us in between. 5:30ish: Phone call from mom and dad; Gram’s burial, calling hours, funeral, and the family meal that will follow will all take place on Monday, beginning at 10:45 in the morning.

7:00 PM: Justine and I, and her room mate Erin, meet up with Paul, Karl, and their dad, my ex for celebration dinner for Justine’s graduation. Dinner at Moroccan restaurant. After dinner, we disperse, and I head back up to my brother’s overnight. 11:30 ish I arrive, and Steve and family have now returned from upstate also.

Sunday: 7:00 AM: up, so that I can pack all my things, dress appropriately for a graduation and an evening Broadway production. I find my way in Dad’s fancy car to drive to Paul’s apt. in Queens. Arrive at Paul’s by 9:20, park the car; Paul and I take the train to Madison Square Garden. Meet up with Karl, and their Dad, a little before 10:00 AM. New York University’s College of Arts and Sciences Graduation from about 10:30 until 1:30. Meet up with Justine after. We all take the train back to her apt. First time her father sees her apt. Then, walk to lunch at a very nice little café near Columbia. Back to Justine’s briefly after our late lunch. She kicks us all out so she can get possibly an hour or so to herself. I head to a café to get some quiet time with myself and my journal over a cup of coffee.

7:00 PM Justine and I meet up with Paul and Karl at the Shubert Theater for Spamalot! Beautiful production. Light, entertaining, funny, good dancing and singing.

All day long on Sunday: Several conversations with Ruth who stayed behind from traveling this weekend so she could study for her Bio AP, scheduled for Monday morning. Now: how to rearrange our lives so that Monday, tomorrow!!! will work. Phone calls to Ruth, school guidance counselor, bio teacher, scheming about how to get Ruth out of that exam time, all of us a little bit of sleep, and Ruth and the rest of us to New Hartford in the morning.
9:30 PM after Spamalot, we head to Paul’s apt in Queens. He packs, we get directions to get out of Queens to head upstate. Leave by 10:30 PM; Justine is first driver. We get ourselves in a wrong lane and end up driving through Manhattan, back on track without much trouble. Paul is second driver, then me, and the last 30 minutes or so, Justine finishes the trip.

Monday: Phew!! Arrive, safely, in Syracuse about 3:00 AM. Sweet Ruth has beds prepared for the unanticipated arrival of all her siblings! 9:15 AM head for New Hartford.
6:30 AM: Steve’s family heads upstate again!
10:45 AM: burial
12:00 noon: calling hours
2:00 PM: funeral
3:00 PM: Lunch with extended family and friends at the Phoenician
5:15 PM: back to mom and dad’s house
6:00 PM: Justine and Paul head back down to NY
9:00 PM: Donna, Karl, and Ruth head back to Syracuse. Karl drives, mom collapses.
10:00 PM: Back home!

The juxtaposition of Justine’s graduation weekend with the death of Gram has not been lost on me, or Justine. Gram was a very strong, very intelligent woman. She herself was a college graduate, from Cornell University in 1930. Though she did not work outside of her home, Gram most definitely did work very hard in her lifetime, taking care of her family and participating actively in her community. She used her many skills wisely, carefully, lovingly, and thoughtfully. And, she was widely recognized by everyone who knew her for these qualities. In her own very distinct way of being, she paved a path for her daughter and grand and great grand daughters to, generation by generation, take steps forward to be independent, strong, active women. Each of us in turn stepping into our own wisdom, not in small part, we receive from the legacy of our great Gram.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Sun In Syracuse in April

What incredible sun and warmth we have had unseasonably early this year. Another lovely poem from Dana Faulds captures the essence of early spring; from her collection, From Root to Bloom:

Bright Day

The hill of daffodils
shines like the sun
come down to drink
its fill of light.
Spring unrolls its
leafy carpet, the
whole world going
green, reminding
me that miracles are
not just vague
possibilities, but real
as mockingbird
melodies, obvious as
dewdrops flashing like
prisms in the grass.

Enjoy and drink in the sun while it is offering itself as a warm tease of summer to come!!


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Love..... again!

I find my thoughts, again meandering to what it is to love. This time, in the context of the client/therapist relationship. As a family therapist, and someone who truly loves what I do, I often tell people, “I love my clients.” And, given the circumstances of the setting and relationship, it is hard to do anything else. A client humbly comes to me, seeking safe space, patient listening, a little bit of guidance, a little bit of reassurance, a place of solace for their grief, sadness, anxiety, fears, and any number of their other emotional intensities. My contract with a client is to give them the space they need, on their terms. They owe me nothing in return emotionally. In exchange for that manner of one way giving, there is monetary remuneration, and an expectation that my professional training equips me to take care of myself and to not need my clients’ emotional support. It is sometimes confusing to clients because, despite the imbalance of the relationship, and the clear understanding that the sessions will only be about the client, inevitably there will be a degree of mutual affection that develops in the client/therapist relationship. A developed fondness between client and therapist is not essential, but it can be a good thing, and can also be quite useful, a fortunate and common bonus.

The impulse to write about this comes from a bad experience that I had as a client. A massage therapist I went to approached the space in the massage room very differently from how I do when I see clients. As opposed to family therapy, when I see massage clients, though I may speak to them, and engage in conversation if that is what they seem to need and want, conversation is not essential during a massage session, and sometimes it even feels distracting. This therapist however, initiated conversation during sessions with me. I was a little confused as he became chatty, friendly, engaged in conversation about both himself, and me. Despite my training, despite my very clear understanding of how I conduct myself as a therapist and clinician, and because of my desire to receive a very good deep massage, and my desire to truly allow myself to be the client, something that I do not get to do very often, I continued to see this therapist for massage, deciding to presume that he knew what he was doing, and was in control of himself and the situation. I allowed myself to continue receiving massages from him for a period of 3-4 months. At the point when I stopped going to him, it felt appropriate and necessary even, to have a conversation with him about some of the confusion that I felt in the “therapeutic space” of his office. My desire to clarify, understand, clean up what seemed to be confusing not only for me, but for him as well, lead me down a road that is not at all what I had hoped for, or expected.

My attempts to contact and converse with this therapist were met with some combination of being ignored and refused, and eventually a meeting that he begrudgingly allowed. We met at a small coffee shop, where he paid for my drink, sat down with me, and then proceeded to publicly humiliate me by loudly rebuking me, and then walking out on me. Needless to say, as this scene unfolded I realized I had entrusted myself to someone who I should not have trusted, despite his technical skills, and despite my urgent desire to be a client.

Why do I tell this story in the context of my musings on “love”? Because of my deep frustration with the poor outcome of how this has unfolded, and continues, more than a year later to have no satisfactory resolution. After the shocking encounter in the coffee shop, I did get some small satisfaction. He indicated to me that he understood how out of line he had been. He apologized and demonstrated that he had gotten professional help for himself, at which point I let the matter drop without taking any action against him. After all, what action would there be to take? He had not done anything physically or sexually inappropriate. What he did do however was to betray the client/therapist relationship.

I have discovered in the time since this unfortunate incident that I am not the only client to have been betrayed by this “professional”. I have tried to engage the conversation with him again, and again I am being met with slammed doors, and a refusal of any contact. As I find myself at the client’s end of a bad relationship with a professional, I find myself observing and questioning myself. What is it about this that is so terribly disturbing? So he is a bad therapist, why is it so hard to just let this go and be done with it? This is where I find myself again realizing the impact and importance of what it is to truly love my clients.

I don’t always like all of my clients, but I always love them. What does that mean? First and foremost it means that they are given the respect to be allowed to be cared for as a client. It presumes that their intent in coming to see me is to be offered nurturance and the possibility of healing through a modality in which I am professionally trained. The mere fact of my professional training does not necessarily mean that I come to these relationships open and ready to love anyone who steps through my doors. I do not find myself expressing out loud my love for them either. However, the nature of the fields I have chosen presumes that what is being offered will include nurturance and some level of healing. With the inadequacy of language, “Love” is the best way to describe what motivates me to be able to offer myself to my clients openly, without judgment, and with curiosity, caring, and concern. This is not what I was feeling from the massage therapist who needed to close off conversation from or with me. At this point, it became evident that he was taking care of his wounded self at the expense of the outcome that choice might provide for me.

Clearly, what feels so bad about what has evolved in this particular client/therapist relationship gone sour is the denial of communication. If the client is confused, and the therapist refuses to offer clarity and communication, yells at the client, denies contact, blames the client, and in multiple ways gives signals to the client that are rejecting, then what should have been a therapeutic relationship has now become hostile, harming, and hurtful. It is my experience that clients come for both talk therapy and massage therapy, because of a desire and a longing to be cared for and yes, loved. Loved; safely in an uncommitted neutral relationship, by a professional who is wise enough to be able to separate him or herself from his or her clients. The abandonment that occurs when a confused “professional” brings the conversation to an end is inexcusable, selfish, and unprofessional. What I have gained from this experience is an understanding of just how profound the simple difference can become between allowing and not allowing conversation. The difference between an offering of love, or an infliction of another wounded layer.