One Person. A Hundred Monkeys.

One Person. A Hundred Monkeys.

I got the sad word today. My friend and mentor Sharon had died.

I met her many years ago when I arrived for her five day workshop for abuse survivors.  (She’d staffed and trained staff for Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ Life, Death and Transition workshops.)

Sharon scared me that week. And yet also made me feel safe. She pushed me to go to places I wanted to avoid and pushed me to do work I didn’t want to do. And when I survived all of it I began to hope that healing was possible.

So I kept going  back to workshops.

I was convinced that telling parts of my story would be the end of me. She pushed, and I told and far from being the end of me, it was the beginning. When I needed to wail with the grief deep in my bones, it was Sharon’s hand on my shoulder keeping me grounded, reminded me that I wasn’t alone.

At the close of one workshop Sharon said, “Perhaps one day after you’ve finished your school (I was getting my graduate degree in counseling) you’ll get the training and work on staff.”

Of course, I didi just that. I did my training and then started working as an apprentice in workshops. What an honor it was to be working with that staff. And what an amazing learning experience. It is no exaggeration to say that at least 75% of what I do as therapist I learned from working with them: Sharon, Shannon, Connie, Nancy and David. They were all brilliant and they taught me things about working with wounded people that can’t be learned in a classroom.

Sharon had a masterful intuitive sense and an absolute commitment to what it took to hold a space safe enough for people to do such deep work. As staff, we could do what we did because we knew Sharon was there. She held the safe space for all of us.

She insisted that being on staff meant taking care of your own stuff first. And it meant taking care of any issue that arose between the staff. We had to be clear with each other before we could work clearly with participants. She also taught me about knowing when to say goodbye, retiring her Safe Harbor Workshops long before anyone wanted her to, but also before she grew tired of doing the work.

She was smart and wise and most of all, loving. She (along with the rest of the staff) changed my life. I’m in private practice today because when I finished grad school, I didn’t want some boss saying I couldn’t take a week of vacation to staff a workshop. She made me an infinitely better therapist and a healthier person.

Staffing was hard and demanding work, but such rich work. Being able to share in it along with that staff is one of the greatest blessings of my life. The gift of it still fills me with wonder.

I know Sharon touched hundreds of lives. Through the work that I do now, both as a therapist and as staff of a similar grief workshop, her influence and her work flows on to many more people.

At the close of each workshop Sharon told a story. It was about the hundredth monkey.

The government started studying animal life on a group of Pacific Islands. They noticed on one island monkeys started washing their food. It spread one to another – monkey see, monkey do. That wasn’t so remarkable, except when the number of monkeys reached a critical mass (for simplicity, we call it the hundredth money), monkeys on another island began washing their food.

“We never know,” Sharon said as we stood in our goodbye circle, “who will be the hundredth monkey, who will be the one to be the tipping point.”

On days when I feel discouraged by the amount of need I see and the seemingly impossible mountains before us, I think of that story. And I press on, for who knows who will be that person to be the hundredth monkey, the one voice that begins to tip the scales in favor of love.

I’ve seen it happen, you know.

I’ve seen a stranger step into my life and tip it in ways beyond my ability to dream or to imagine. For such a life, and that it touched my life,  I am grateful

 

 

 

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The most embarrassing thing I’ve done… this week… so far

The most embarrassing thing I’ve done… this week… so far

Monday morning.

I’m rather proud that I’m getting an early start on my lengthy one mile commute to the office.

Briefcase packed, cell phone in my purse, jacket on – I’m ready to go.

Except I can’t find my keys.

keysI usually put them on a coat rack just inside the door. They’re not there. They didn’t fall to the floor beneath the rack. I check my pants pockets. I paw through the dirty clothes to check the pockets of the clothes I was wearing the previous night.

I check the kitchen counters. The dresser in the bedroom. I check in every room of the house and then I do it all over again. No keys.

By now it’s time for my first client who, thankfully, is running behind herself.

As I try to figure out the mystery of the missing keys (thank you, Nancy Drew) my hand brushes against the vest I’m wearing. It’s a cute vest, and being as it’s from Eddie Bauer, it has lots of pockets.

One of which holds my keys.

I still beat my client to the office and all is well.

Later I thought about what a great life parable that was. We search high and low for something while in reality, it’s been with us all along.

We read a hundred self help books. We talk endlessly with friends and family and coaches and therapists, all in a quest to find that missing something.

Direction. Peace. Hope.

The great family therapist Virginia Satir was completely flummoxed after World War II. She began seeing people who’d survived Hitler’s camps. She was overwhelmed by their stories and felt completely helpless to help them. She thought about it and meditated on it and even prayed about it.

What could she offer to them?

One day she realized that she’d gotten it all wrong. She felt helpless in helping the victims of those camps but in truth, they were survivors. If they didn’t have some kernel of strength inside they wouldn’t have made it through, much less making it to her office.

Her job was to help them reconnect to that strength. Her job was to reconnect them with what they already had inside but had just forgotten.

(If there is a single story that guides my work as a therapist, it’s this one. If you’re able to make an appointment and make it into my office, you have more strength inside you than you know)

We run hither and yon looking for answers but never take the time to stop, be still and listen to our own voice of wisdom. We’ve gotten disconnected from that voice through the years, or maybe we never had a chance to connect in the first place.

If you want to start listening, journaling is a great way to start. Ask that wisdom to write a letter to you, and see what it says.

You may need someone else to help you listen, whether a wise friend or good therapist. We learn early on to discount our own wisdom so it helps to have someone who can provide a different perspective. Or tell us if we really are full of it.

What keys have you tucked away in your pocket? 


Need some inspiration for your reflection? I’ve just launched a Kindle version of my devotional book, Strugglers, Stragglers and seekers: daily devotions for the rest of us.

If you order by February 14, you can save $3.00. Find out more here.

Trump, Clinton and Those People

Just when it becomes hard to imagine our political climate becoming more divided, along comes a presidential campaign season that seems intent mostly on fracturing our divided nation even more.

(Incidentally, right now I’m reading Joseph Ellis’ fine book The Quartet. After the Revolution the fractured collection of states threatened to go the way of divided Europe instead of becoming a united country. Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, John Jay and James Madison stepped forward to push for a new Constitution and to create a true nation. A thought provoking book.)

change livesWhen I sat down here to drink some coffee and do some writing  I couldn’t help but overhear the people at the next table. They were of the sort who saw anti-Christian conspiracy around every corner. They agreed that our society went down the tubes when they stopped paddling kids in school.

I dug my headphones out of my computer bag even as I felt my blood pressure rising. I was thankful for the music of Hamilton downing out their conversation.

And then a pesky truth nudged me, like my dog pushing her nose between me and my book. I was ready to write them off as those people. You know those people. The people on the other side of the spectrum. The people we caricature and make fun of, whether we are conservative or liberal or somewhere in-between.

The pesky truth kept nosing its way in. These people are my brothers and sister. God loves them just as much as God loves me.

Dang.

One of the interesting things about my work as a counselor is being able to listen to the lives of such different people. The grocery store clerk. The executive. The single mom. The grandfather. The deeply conservative. The flaming liberal. The straight. The gay. The confused. Black. White. Mixed. The woman who never had a struggle until recently when things went off the rails. The guy who has scrapped and scrambled every day of his life. Like a bloodied prize fighter he stands wobbly kneed in the ring but stands nonetheless.

I don’t have to listen long before those people become just people. People who hurt and fear and hope.

It’s a tough line to walk, embracing the humility of grace that recognizes our common kin while still holding to whatever prophetic voice the times demand. But the promise I try (sometimes unsuccessfully) to keep is never to ridicule people who are those people to me. I know if we could talk long enough they’d become just people with their own fears and hurts and hopes.

As responsible citizens, we have a duty to call candidates into question, whether it’s for the presidency or the local school board. We may challenge and debate and even argue with fellow citizens. If we are very brave, we may listen to someone with whom we disagree.

(As a time management tool I am trying to avoid comments sections for online articles and stories posted on Facebook. But more than once I’ve found myself writing, “It doesn’t work like that. None of this works like that.”)

The times call for wisdom, and wisdom resists the seduction of too easy generalizations and too neat categories. Wisdom ain’t easy, but may we be brave enough to ask for a measure of it.


 

I debated giving up anger for Lent, but the realized that it was too important.

As Christians, what are we to do with anger? Is really one of the deadly sins? Does our spirituality need it, and does anger need our spirituality?

Join me on Friday as we talk about these things in my free webinar:

Can I Be Angry? Anger, Faith and a Real Life

A replay will be available, but only for those who register for the webinar. Find out more.

Mat on Cats

Mat on Cats
cats
Pre-mat version of my cat

She purrs on my lap as I focus on one section of fur. Finding a sliver of space to slip the comb in, I slowly work the teeth of the cat comb back out.

My best guess is that as my cat’s blood sugar got out of control with her developing diabetes, my cat didn’t feel vey good and her grooming suffered. However it happened, she developed large mats of fur along each hip.

So now we work each day working them out. My job is to keep combing until we hit pay dirt – a section of matted fur pulling loose and getting free. Her job is to allow me to do it.

We’re making headway, the two of us. In some ways it’s become a meditative time, an exercise in mindfulness as I focus on the fur before me. I think it may also be a pretty good metaphor for the healing process.

1. We don’t always know our lives are getting matted up until after it’s done.

One day we realize that everything’s in a tangle. We have to do something different.

2. It can be a slow process and you’re not always sure you’re making progress.

Some mornings I work, not really sure if we’re making headway or not. The mat looks the same. Or, it’s become more disorganized with raggedy patches of fur now sticking straight out but still matted up. All I can do is keep working patiently, trusting that even the little bits of fur that are coming out are a step in the right direction.

Likewise, as I work on my life or help someone else work on theirs, there are stretches in which it feels like nothing is happening. We’re focusing on making different choices but everything feels the same. We’ve been working on our insides but our outsides look unchanged. All we can do is keep trusting the process, trusting that all of these small steps are yet leading us to better places.

3. When we least expect it, a big chunk breaks free all at once.

As I work on my cat, something starts loosening up. I pull gently with the comb, and suddenly a large chunk of fur breaks free. One more piece down.

Most of our journeys are travelled by one small step following another. But when we least expect it, a lightbulb moment breaks upon us. We find the one puzzle piece that fits everything together. In a moment of clarity, we realize that everything our therapist has been telling us is ACTUALLY TRUE – and we see that relationship, that job, or even ourselves in a whole different light. Something shifts inside and we know the ground has shifted beneath our feet, in all of the best ways.

So, as you consider the work of healing and change in your life, remember my cat and be patient with your own mats.



One of the ways lives get tangled up is with grief. Sometimes part of the tangle is not realizing that what we’re feeling is grief – or that we have a right to grieve. If that’s you (or someone you love), check out the recording of my webinar, Is My Grief Weird? Find it here.

For other webinars, visit www.BetterDeeperLife.com.

Death of a Pit Bull

Death of a Pit Bull

I learned this morning that Hector the Pit Bull had died. I never met the dog nor his owners. I only knew of him from his Facebook page.

pit bull
Hector and his family

This was no ordinary pup with publicity. Hector was one of the pit bulls seized from Michael Vick’s dog fighting operation. Some of the dogs were too far gone psychologically and had to live in a rescue the rest of their days.

Then there were the dogs like Hector. His early years were spent in brutality, pain, violence, and terror but his rescuers saw past the beginnings and saw past the dreaded pit bull label. They gave Hector a chance.

Not only was he adopted by a family, but he became a certified Canine Good Citizen* and certified therapy dog. As the end approached his family took him to his favorite places, gave him a soft bed in which to rest, covered by a warm blanket. A canine companion stayed by his side. He ended his days on this earth surrounded by his adopted family, who were just some of the people who loved him.

He began his life in a life no dog should have.

He ended his life in a way every dog deserves. Oh, what the heck – in the way most of us people would want as well… given loving attention, lots of treats, a faithful dog by our side and nothing but love at the end.

I have a friend who wants to know if a book or movie “ends well.” She doesn’t want to invest her time if her heart is only going to be broken at the end. Hector’s story ended well.

I don’t know about you, but I can go a long time on the light and the love of such a story. I know such stories sustain many animal rescuers as they wade through the horrors they must encounter in the course of their rescues.

Such light and love sustains me in my work as well. Sometimes someone will ask me, “How do you do it? How do you listen to such painful stories?” Some of the stories my clients tell me are indeed heart-breaking. Some of them make me angry for the injustice that has been done. We don’t get much choice about our beginnings, and some of their beginnings have also been tough.

The joy of my work, however, is that the beginning of their stories isn’t the end of their stories. As we work, I get to see the light come back to their eyes… or maybe shine for the first time. I get to see them move through the pain into the healing, to stop listening to the lies about who they are and what they deserve in this life.

Hector’s past wasn’t his present.

What about you?

*Canine Good Citizen requires that a dog pass a test safely handling things such as encountering strangers and strange dogs.

Sometimes I struggle as a counselor…

Sometimes  I struggle as a counselor…

I’ve been doing this work for over ten years now, and sometimes I struggle. I struggle because we live in an increasingly clinical world and I see therapy as both dance and art… as well as clinical wisdom. I struggle because I believe that a diagnosis may open a window into a client but will never tell the whole story of them.

There’s a checkoff on one of my online record keeping forms that I am to check if I think this treatment is medically necessary. And I never know what to do with that, because isn’t all my work medically necessary? As people heal old wounds or stop beating themselves up or punishing themselves or trying to make the entire world happy, their bodies are able to let go of heavy and powerful burdens. As we get healthier emotionally we tend to get healthier physically. But I’m not sure I can whip out an evidence based study to prove it. I just know it in my soul from all of the people whose journeys I’ve been privileged to share.

Some days my work is in asking the right questions. Some days it’s simply sitting and listening and really hearing the stories they’ve been too afraid or too ashamed to tell anywhere else. Some days I reassure clients that they are not crazy or hopeless, they are simply in the midst of the grand rhythm of life, a rhythm that brings birth but also loss, and that loss can take a thousand forms, from the husband you lost to the childhood you never got to have. I remind them what their bones know, that grief is not a thing to be done but a journey to be lived, and there is no going back to the place where we used to live.

A little while ago I just read a powerful blog about the journey of grief; or, more accurately, one woman’s journey of grief, and all of the misunderstanding she faced from those who thought they had the right clinical box to put her in.

It is a deep and powerful story and I cannot commend it to you enough.

You can read it here

“But, when a child dies, even “good therapy” doesn’t cure or fix. Good therapy is merely joining the sufferer in their pain, non judgmentally with full acceptance and compassion.” Bereavement and snorting seaweed, by Dr. Joanne Cacciatore

When is a horse not a horse?

horsesWhen the horse is deemed an innately vicious animal, of course.

I came across this story recently. A judge in Connecticut, ruling in a case in which a horse bit a boy’s face, declared horses to be innately vicious animals. (Read more) It’s a ruling that could devastate the not inconsiderable equine community in that state. Insurance for stables would skyrocket. Children could no longer take riding lessons.

I couldn’t believe it. I grew up horse crazy and have never gotten over the sickness. As a child, I not only rode the pony at my grandmother’s farm but volunteered to spend my Saturday cleaning out the stables. I took riding lessons, loving it most when we got free time. I always took the saddle off and rode bareback. I loved jumping over low fences bareback, feeling the power of the horse gathering himself and then flying.

I also thought about the wonderful healing work done by places like Riverwood Therapeutic Riding Center, places in which horses become therapists and healers for everyone from disabled children to depressed adults. My most enjoyable CEU ever was at Riverwood, walking among horses, trying to make connection and lead them with just the power of my own self.

One of my first thoughts was, “That judge didn’t grow up with horses.” And then I realized that  I was probably more right than I knew.

For too many of us, our only experience with the natural world is what we see on television. Our conception of how animals behave comes from Walt Disney. I was in Colorado one fall during elk mating season. It was an incredible time because the elk came down from the mountains.  We pulled to the side of the road to see a heard grazing in a valley. Incredibly, one woman was walking towards the herd, calling out, “Here elky, elky.”

If you’ve never seen an elk in person, let me tell you. they are big. And in the fall when a bull elk has only one thing on his mind, you don’t want to get close to them.

When we are disconnected from nature we forget that animals are animals. Creation is neither a video game nor a Disney movie.

Horses are not innately vicious; they’re animals. One of my first lessons in my riding lessons was never to walk behind a horse. You can get kicked and get hurt. If a horse is startled or frightened the horse will act to protect himself.

Some horses, for whatever reason,  are onery or just plan mean. Just like some people. But many others have amazing spirits. Just like some people.

Wonder how that judge would characterize humans?