Archive for April 22, 2016

If I’m Going to Move Forward, I Have to Let Go

letting go

They’re sitting on the floor, their eager young faces turned towards this morning’s Unitarian Universalist storyteller. She’s holding up a drawing of a red lobster. “This is what they look like once they’re cooked,” she tells them, “but in their natural state they’re a greenish colour.” One little voice pipes up, “I’ve seen them in a tank at the supermarket.” There’s a murmur of small voices before the storyteller continues.

“The lobster is an exoskeleton. Its bones are on the outside. Where are yours?”

The children rub their tummies or stretch their backs saying “inside me.”

“Yes, our bones are inside our bodies. The lobster has a really interesting way of growing bigger. I’ll bet all of you have had shoes that just got too small for you.” There are nods of assent. “And your parents bought you new shoes.” More agreement from the children.

“When the lobster grows too big for his ‘bones’ he pushes his shell out and out until it breaks right off. You can imagine how scary this is for the lobster. In this in-between stage he could very easily be eaten by a big fish. He has no protection. For a while, he has to hide under a rock so he won’t be seen. And then, a new bigger shell starts to form. This takes a while. Then finally he’s ready to resume his normal life in the water.”

We adults sing the children out to their Sunday School and our Reverend Carol Strecker continues with the adult version of the message.

Her talk could have been written just for me. The message for us adults was about the necessity of letting go our old comfort zones if we want to move forward to new growth. I listened closely. That’s what I want to do: move forward into a new way of being. I want to shed my inner protective fog. I want to be fully present in everyday life. I hope to change the way my inner space is cluttered with grumblings, critical voices, constant planning about what I need to do next and worrying about something stupid I said the other day. I want to be totally present in the here-and-now.

The morning’s events cause me to wonder if I’m in the process of shedding my old protective shell. Am I that lobster hiding out under a rock? Living alone allows for this. I wake each morning free to decide how I’ll shape the day. No human disturbs my attempts at living mindfully.

That brings me to wonder: once I shed this old shell, how will my new, bigger self look and feel?

Sammy The Poodle

 

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Moving out of the house we’d lived in for 43 years was hard on all of us. Sammy The Poodle found it especially difficult to understand why his peaceful home was being subjected to de-cluttering, downsizing, staging and finally beingput on the market for sale.

Here’s a piece from the memoir I’m writing:

Sammy The Poodle wants to say something. ‘What is happening to my house? There are all these strange people walking around as if they own the place. I’m supposed to be quiet and allow them to go anywhere they want. This is very tough on a dog.’

‘Sammy,’ I explain, ‘We have to put in storage everything that detracts from making our house look even more spacious and light-filled. You have to face it. We’re selling this house and moving to Kingston. Ann, our stager, is reorganizing the space to look like nobody lives here. It’s hard on all of us.’

Sammy drops to the floor with an exasperated thud and a groan.

I’m happy to say that Sammy The Poodle is very happy these days in our little apartment by the lake. For me, the downside is having no fenced-in yard. Each morning I grumble to myself about needing to get dressed so Sammy can go out for his morning pee. Once outside, my mood changes. I’m always glad to be out there. Life on a large body of water means an ever-changing sky. The surface of the water goes from glassy smooth to wild white caps smashing onto the rocky shore. Sometimes I’m met with a deliciously soft glow of rising sun. On such days the water is tinged with silver from the low early light. Sammy The Poodle joins me enthusiastically in our morning routine, sniffing the whole of what he now considers his territory. Male that he is, he marks each previously claimed tree and post with his territorial squirt. Then, happy that we’ve greeted the new day, we return to the apartment until it’s time to head for the dog park. Most of my social life takes place when Sammy and I join the other canines and their owners in large fenced-in areas dedicated to dogs.

Let me tell you about the other morning. I really didn’t want to go outside. Gale force winds and a wild sea awaited us. Nevertheless, Sammy and I headed out, bravely facing the new day. After all, a dog has to pee. Soon I found myself caught up in the adventure. Sammy’s tail was riding high and the long hair on his poodle ears was blowing in the wind. We were having a great time watching the breakers smash up on the shore. I took the photo that goes with this blog post.

I can only imagine how amazing summer will be here in our waterfront home. I’ll keep you posted.

Mindfulness

peace

For hours at a time in San Miguel I experienced what it’s like to be here and now. Returning to Kingston my mind has once more become a monkey or a butterfly, depending on which meditation tradition you follow. I’ve lost the ability to be totally present.

There’s no good reason for my busy, irrelevant thoughts. I’ve de-cluttered my physical possessions. I’ve moved to a newly tidy home and finally done all the million chores associated with moving, but my mind is filled with stuff that has nothing to do with the here and now. I need to de-clutter my thoughts the way I de-cluttered my house.

I think back to my early training in mindfulness with Swami Sivananda Radha. I was a young yoga teacher when she took me under her wing. She taught me to empty my mind of all distractions. To do this, I filled the vacant space with the repetition of a mantra. A mantra is a group of words designed to unite the person to the whole universe. It connects us with something much larger than ourselves, I was told.

It’s the lightness and joy in being I want to remember. What was it like to walk around in a mental state free of anything but my mantra? To get there, I had to accept the worthlessness of most of my mind’s chatter. I’d much rather have an ongoing mantra resonating off the inner walls of my consciousness. But how do I get there again? How, in my old age, can I find that peace and contentment?

In my old age, there’s nothing to stop me. I live alone. I structure my days as I wish. There’s no need to go to work or, for that matter, to go anywhere. I’m free to seek spiritual Oneness. The Unitarians talk about “the Interconnectedness of all Beings.” Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as the faith of aboriginal people, teach that we are all One. How does this rational, science-respecting, almost 80 year-old-woman find the peace and wholeness she once knew?

Follow me as I seek for it in Kingston in my little apartment near the water.

My Thoughts on Jian Ghomeshi and the Women Who Fell For Him

judgment

Jian Ghomeshi’s trial indicates the need for a separate court to hear the testimony of women who are sexually assaulted by the men they date. Ordinary courts, jurors and judges lack the training to understand these women’s seemingly irrational and dishonest testimony.

A fair trial would require knowledge of the lasting effects of trauma on the human brain, just as The Family Court understands child development and decides “in the best interests of the child.:

I don’t know any of these women personally but in my years as a psychotherapist, I treated many women who were sexually abused by the men they chose. These women had all been sexually abused as children. (Conservative statistics say one in four North American females is sexually abused before the age of 18.) This secret epidemic is tied to the under reporting of sexual abuse. Only 3% of females who are sexually assaulted actually lay charges. The trauma to young brains resulting from child sexual abuse leaves the victims vulnerable to predatory men. The resulting shame and dissociation of traumatic memories is tied to under-reporting of sexual abuse and the inability of traumatized adult women to respond rationally to partner abuse.

The witnesses in the Ghomeshi trial have probably made it more difficult for women wanting to press charges for sexual assault in the future. The police, the women’s lawyer and the Crown all told the women to avoid talking with the press and with each other. Their refusal to comply and the resulting circus of contradictory stories further damaged their case – as well as the hope of women receiving a suitable hearing in the future.

If women are to be given a fair hearing, our courts need to realize the following:

  • children blame themselves for inappropriate touching and sexual behavior on the part of trusted adults. This continues into adulthood. Adult victims of abuse try to normalize an abusive relationship by convincing themselves they love the abuser.
  • Children are helpless to deal with the sexual demands of adults: they attempt to please and placate the assailant in the hope of changing his behavior and surviving the assault. Adult women, crazy as it may seem, attempt to turn the attack into a romance. They learn to dissociate, to remove themselves from the scene, as it were, and hence have “faulty memories” of a myriad of details. This too continues into adulthood.
  • Sexual predators instinctively recognize and seek out vulnerable women who were traumatized as children.

Until we have a court system that is competent to hear cases of sexually assaulted women, sexual assailants will enjoy the protection of our legal system’s innocent until proven guilty standard. Of course, it is essential to our legal system that the accused are given a fair trial. This leaves us needing a court system that can somehow protect the accused and also recognize the psychological needs of the vulnerable.

Mindfulness in San Miguel de Allende

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I warned you that I don’t really know where my story is going. I’m writing it as it happens. For example, I had no idea I’d be holidaying in Mexico during the worst of our Canadian winter and that three weeks in the ancient mountain town of San Miguel de Allende would result in an unexpected course in mindfulness. Here’s how I describe it in my memoir:

Every year, older women break hips, legs, ankles or some other part of their aging anatomy because of the town’s infrastructure. Raised curbs, uneven steps and unexpected holes in the pavement threaten the woman who isn’t fully present. Step off a high curb or fail to notice the holes underfoot and you risk becoming one of those women whose active lives end with a fall. Yes, a fall is the most common reason aging females go downhill. Break a hip or a bone and you end up in a cast or bedridden, all of which means long periods of inactivity: and inactivity results in less oxygen to the brain and heart, all of which is very bad news if you want to stay active and mentally alert.

The mindfulness course begins with paying attention to your feet. If you want to look at a colourful building or gawk at the local scene, the wise woman steps aside, backs up against a wall or stands in a doorway. Those who aren’t mindful can pay a terrible price,

This is just the beginning of mindfulness training, of being here and now in San Miguel. Besides finishing your vacation with your limbs in tact, you’ll spend hours mesmerized by colourful sidewalks formed from locally mined stones. Each one is a unique design, an abstract creation of yellows, reds, browns and greens, all swirling in sculpted 8 inch by 12 inch works of art. Sculpted goudges may have been ancient leaf forms or bits of embedded animal bones. I thrill to the realization that feet like mine have worn the stones to a glossy finish. There’s two-way traffic on these narrow, bumpy sidewalks, another reason for staying present. The whole environment supports your practice.

Being mindful taught me something else. Those first days in this paradise I couldn’t get rid of the grumbling and complaining in my head. Yes, as I looked at some wonderful crafts in the bazaar, this crazy voice in my head was spoiling my experience. It was telling me whatever item I looked at was too expensive, that I didn’t need it and that to buy it was probably supporting some exploitative Mafia organization that forced the poor women in the booth to hand over their profits at the end of the day. It was ruining my holiday. What was it? It was my husband’s voice. Somehow his critical voice had got into my head.

The very reason I don’t like to travel with him is that everywhere we go, he finds fault. He can never just enjoy and relax. And since I’m unduly influenced by his opinions, my pleasure is taken away. This was to be MY trip. I was going to be free of his constant complaints and disapproval. The irony was, I’d brought this part of him with me. He’d gotten into my thoughts!

This was crazy. It had to stop. ‘He’ was ruining my vacation again.

I had to find a way to get him out of my head. I decided on a technique from Behavioural Therapy. Each time ‘he’ took over my brain, I shouted (silently) STOP. Then I concentrated on saying to myself: ‘Peace, love and joy. Peace, love and joy.’

To my relief and surprise, within a few days the voice went away and I was left with a blissful state of inner space. I walked about without a battle going on in my head. A whole new way of being was opening up to me. Thank you, San Miguel, for reminding me it’s possible to have my inner space all to myself.