If I were still A to Z’ing, U would be for (Un)fortunately

UWhen I was a kid (a long, long time ago), I loved this book I had called Fortunately. It starts out “Fortunately, one day Ned got a letter that said “Please come to a surprise party.” We see Ned looking happy in full color, imagining all sorts of birthday treats. The next page (in black and white) says “But unfortunately, the party was in Florida and he was in New York.”

Fortunately, a friend loans Ned his airplane. But unfortunately, the engine explodes. Fortunately Ned has a parachute. Unfortunately, it doesn’t open. Fortunately Ned lands in a haystack. Unfortunately, there’s a pitchfork in the haystack. And so goes Ned’s adventure.Fortunately cover

My day got off to a sucky start today when Unfortunately, the neighbors’ dog started barking quite loudly at 5:06 this morning, waking me from a rare and deep sleep. This unfortunate dog barks most mornings, usually about 6:30, which while not ideal, is much better than 5:06.

I couldn’t fall back to sleep, so I got up to make coffee (fortunately I had coffee) and decided to go for an earlier-than-normal run. Unfortunately, when I left the house I ended up following a slow and stinky old diesel car all the way to the first stoplight (about a mile). I decided that if it turned right, I would continue on straight ahead and run along South Bay Trail. If it didn’t turn right, I would turn right and run at Lake Padden (in spite of the fact that it’s Mean Lady Monday).

Fortunately, stinky and slow old diesel car turned right and I could avoid the mean ladies at Padden. I drove another half mile to the Fairhaven Green and parked. Unfortunately, I had updated my Nike running app the previous night, hoping that the update might have fixed the issue with the music not starting when the run started. Unfortunately, not only did the music not start, I had to go through three or four additional steps to make it work at all. Fortunately, that was all the update broke.

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Fortunateley, I live here!

Fortunately, the morning was glorious—blue sky, gentle breeze, lovely sailboats in the harbor. Fortunately, I am healthy and can run. Unfortunately, about .75 miles into my run, I had to, uhm, use the loo. (Running shakes things loose). Fortunately, there’s a bathroom at .76 miles. Unfortunately, the first one I entered stunk of cigarettes and had a large mound of , uh, a large brown mound still in the bowl. I flushed it, but unfortunately, the mound remained unmoved.

Fortunately, there was another bathroom right next door. Unfortunately, it too reeked of someone’s old stogie. Fortunately, the bowl shone empty and bright. Fortunately, I was in and out in record time.

As I ran, I tried to shake my annoyances out. I reminded myself that I was healthy, generally happy, able to run five miles. I remembered the Fortunately book, and the idea for this blog was born. Unfortunately, as I ran, I encountered many smokers, at least one of whom I suspected was responsible for the aforementioned smelly and clogged up bathroom. Fortunately, I can hold my breath while I run a few steps. Fortunately, my second mile was faster than my first (negative splits baby), and my fourth mile was the fastest of all.

Fortunately, I was able to make the run up Taylor Dock without stopping. Unfortunately, I did have to stop and catch my breath once I got to the top. Fortunately, I took this great picture of this amazing view. Fortunately, I had less than a half mile left in my run.

Unfortunately, when I finished my run, two smokers were sitting right on the steps where I usually stretch. Unfortunately, the grass cutters and leaf blower guys were there. Unfortunately, as I decided to stretch on the other side of the green from the smokers, the leaf blower guy motioned for me to leave. Fortunately, we have a parks department that cares for and maintains our many green spaces. Fortunately, I decided to listen to him and save my hearing. Fortunately, I drove home.

Unfortunately, I ended up in the middle of the Fairhaven Middle School morning traffic jam. Fortunately, I had decided to write this blog and so I didn’t get too annoyed. Fortunately, I didn’t have anywhere I needed to be at a specific time. Fortunately, my children are all grown up and no longer in middle school. This fact is a big, big plus.

Unfortunately, I did have to go home and write a paper. Fortunately, I was able to focus and finish a decent first draft by 1 p.m. Fortunately, I have a kayak and a Jeep. Fortunately, it was 88 degrees and sunny today. Fortunately, I could go to Lake Padden to read my textbooks while I floated on the lake in my kayak. Fortunately, I finished my reading. Unfortunately, my water bottle exploded all over inside my “dry” bag. Fortunately, I had a large towel in the bag and it absorbed the water and my books stayed dry. Fortunately, I had a great text conversation with my oldest daughter while I floated on the lake. Unfortunately, our discussion was about racism which unfortunately seems to be getting worse. Fortunately we can talk about this difficult topic. Fortunately, she is a wise young woman.

Unfortunately, the sun just became too much for me as it sparkled and reflected off the water.  Fortunately, I have the good sense not to stay out too long and get completely sunburned.

Unfortunately, I headed home just as the middle school was getting out for the day and again got stuck in the middle school traffic jam. Fortunately, I still had no place to be, so tried to remain patient. Unfortunately, I thought as I watched the tweens meander by my car, middle school is a hard time for lots of kids. Unfortunately, we all have to go through those years. Fortunately, we don’t have to stay there.

Fortunately, I have a home to which I can return when I want to. Fortunately, I have a deck on which I can sit and be alone and think. Fortunately the neighbor’s children have all nearly grown up and no longer scream. Fortunately (knock on wood), she’s not power-sawing anything in her backyard yet.

Fortunately, this day improved as I decided to focus on my good fortune.

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Fortunately, I get to sit in my kayak here

 

 

R is for Repair

R We are taking a break from writing about socially relevant topics to geek out a little. I was going to devote R to Racism, but every time I sat down to write about Racism, I got a stomach-ache. I know that is a weak excuse, and I do have much to say on the topic, but Repair just sort of fell into my lap as I was sitting here noticing how low my battery had gotten on my laptop. It was at 27% when I last looked. And so, I plugged it in. And about ten minutes later, I looked again. 15%! What?

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It’s charging now!

I checked to make sure the surge protector was turned on. It was. My laptop just wasn’t charging. I’d been having issues with the power cord. These damn Apple chargers have a tendency to break off right where the cord goes into the transformer, making splicing difficult. I’ve had my MacBook Air for five years, and I’ve replaced the charger once already, to the tune of $80. Last time I waited as long as possible before buying a new one. This time, I noticed the break starting and wrapped it with electrical tape, hoping to buy a few more days.

I got on Amazon and found one for $43 instead of $80 and placed my order, so excited that it was half price I didn’t notice that it wasn’t eligible for Prime shipping and wasn’t going to be here in two days! The stupid vitamin D capsules I ordered at the same time have already arrived. But I don’t need those. I need the power cord.

My tape job held up decently for a few days, though. But tonight my good luck came to an end, and I still don’t have the new cord. So, what to do? I can’t do anything without my laptop–can’t research. Can’t write. Can’t check my syllabi to see what’s due. Can’t post to my website. Well, I could, but I really don’t like doing those things from my iPhone 5. It’s just too small.

So, I googled how to repair a Mac charger, found this site on youtube, and voila! I am typing to you from my currently charging laptop. Readers, I fixed it! I am so damn proud of myself. Here are a few shots (and only one minor injury):

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Okay, maybe it’s not pretty (and I probably won’t leave it plugged in overnight or when I’m not home to supervise), but it works, and I don’t have to spend $80 at the damn Apple store.

P is for . . . Pause

PP is for so many things. Pam for starters. Without P, there would be no me, or at least no me as we currently know she. 🙂 (P could also be for Poet).

I’ve started and restarted and erased and deleted this P blog so many times the past few days. In my initial list of Things to Write About for this letter-a-day blog, I had down Practicum for P. After all, I am supposed to be starting my six-month practicum for counseling this quarter. But I have encountered a few roadblocks/difficulties/imPediments along my way to practicum and have thus lost my enthusiasm for that particular topic.

Of course, there’s Prince. Sad to see him die at such a young age, and it’s always tragic when someone of his talent leaves this planet too soon and so unexpectedly. That said, I evidently lived under a rock in the 80s and have only a few vague memories of his music—mostly related to aerobics class. I am sad to have missed his important musical legacy.

Sadly, I was preoccupied with fundamentalist christianity at the time, where the Prevailing ideologies leaned more toward burning Prince albums than listening to them (I never did Participate in such an atrocity, thankfully). I owned Amy Grant and Keith Green albums instead. And when I left the church I immersed myself in “women’s music” ala Meg Christian, Tret Fure, and Cris Williamson.

P could be for Pause, I guess. I thought for a bit about writing P is for Pfrustration (you know, like Pfizer. The P is silent) since that has been my overarching emotion of late. I’ve had to take many a Pause recently, reconsidering my reactions to this and that, thinking long and hard before sending reply emails. Pondering Possible reactions Prior to Posting Pernicious Perspectives on social media sites. The sacred Pause can be Positive for Preserving ones reputation and dignity.pause

Pausing takes Patience and Practice, things I’ve become better at since starting my training as a mental health counselor.  I’m nowhere near Perfect as anyone who knows me can attest. But awareness of the Pause, knowing that it works, is in and of itself Powerful. There’s no going back to a state of unawareness. Every time I react without pausing, I remember a little bit sooner the next time I want to overreact. My ability to stop and reflect, to think about other possibilities, reactions other than annoyance, rage, irritation, anger improves.

I was listening to a Tara Brach podcast not long ago, and she told a story about a compulsive thief, a guy who had been in trouble many times for his need to steal and pilfer. He made the Pause work for him and used that space, those few seconds, to remind himself that he could choose to walk away. If he changed his life by pausing, I can too.

 

 

 

O is for Old? Nah. O is for being Open to Options

OLet’s face it, I’m old enough to be the mother of most of my classmates. Some days it’s more obvious than others. Like last week, in Crisis, Trauma, and Disaster Mental Health Counseling class, we were discussing the September 11 terror attacks, and I realized that everyone in class except for me and the instructor was approximately eight years old in 2001. Eight. I was 38.

I’m even old enough to be the mother of some of my instructors if I’d gotten started on the kid thing in my late teens. But still. In many ways, age does not matter. And in fact, I’m often envious of the folks who get to start out in this career so young. How marvelous that they know what they want to do in their mid-20s.

And then, I remember that I too knew exactly what I wanted to do in my mid-20s. I wanted to be a writer, so I got a Master’s Degree in English. I had some classmates then who were in their mid-40s and older. I envied them because they actually had life experience to write about. I hadn’t gotten far enough to realize what I was doing would eventually count as life experience. I mean, who’s to say if I’d become a counselor at 25 I wouldn’t now be returning to school to get my MFA in creative writing?

We can only be where we are at any given time. We can’t know what our unchosen life would have been, where the road not takenfork-in-the-road1 might have led us. As Cheryl Strayed wrote in Tiny Beautiful Things, “I’ll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”

We can’t spend our lives second-guessing our decisions. We decide what we decide when we decide it. There’s no going back, no do overs. Some people make better (and isn’t that a subjective term?) choices. Some are born into more privileged circumstances, and some people just get fucking lucky. Even if we plan, and listen to our parents, and invest properly and go to the right schools, there is no guarantee life will pan out according to plan.

All we can do is be open to the moment and what it presents, weigh our options, and follow our passions.

 

 

 

N is (usually) for No. But Not Today.

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No. I usually say no.

I don’t have any spare change

Or an extra dollar.

I work hard for my money

Or I’ve borrowed it

And will have to pay it back

In spades one daycasa que pasa

Working my ass off

Just to get by

And you want a handout?

I don’t think so.

But today?

Today, feeling flush

with unexpected cash in my pocket,

a gift from a friend,

I listen to your plea,

and look

Into your youthful brown eyes,

Where I see your shy smile

And when you ask

only that I buy you a burrito,

I say Of Course.

And ask “What kind?”

You looked surprised

And offer me your sweatshirt

But I don’t need a sweatshirt

Or even a thank you

I just need to buy you this

Burrito and a bottle of water because

How can you eat a potato burrito dry?

At the counter, I place your order

And tell the guy

It’s for a kid outside

As I hand him a twenty

You appear at my elbow

Holding out a flashlight

As an offering, an exchange

For my seeing you.

I just shake my head while

The clerk counts back my change.

And I press the remaining dollars

into your hand

before I leave.

M is for Monday, Mean Ladies, and Mindfulness

No Mud, No Lotus.

—Thich Nhat Hanh

MI hadn’t gone running in a few days, so the fact that it was Monday today had slipped my mind this morning when I headed out to my favorite trail. I was more preoccupied with how I was going to fare on this warm day, more interested in how well I would run rather than on the day of the week it was. But, when I pulled into the parking lot and noticed the proliferation of Priuses with Bernie Sanders stickers, I suddenly remembered.

Dammit. I hate running on Monday mornings when the Mean Ladies walk. Usually I try to arrive later in the morning in order to avoid them. I’ve been running on this particular trail most mornings for the past two years, but only in the past six months or so have the Mean Ladies become a problem. I’m not exactly sure how it all started, but a couple of months ago the issue kind of came to a head.

One of the things I like most about my favorite trail is that I see the same people there. After two years, I’m on a friendly basis with many of them. We smile and nod, wave, say “good morning” day after day, week after week, season after season. I’ve even gotten to be on a first name basis with some of the folks there: Danny, Lisa, Diane, Jeff. I often also see many people I know from various other contexts. After 35 years in this town, I know a few folks. Generally these encounters are friendly, so I’m a bit perplexed as to how I came to be at such odds with this group of ten or so mostly older (say, oh, over 60) women.no mud no lotus

Part of the problem is that they always walk side by side and have a tendency to not move over when I either come running up behind them and need to get by nor when I come running from the opposite direction. They meander four or five abreast across the whole trail, ignoring my need to get by and presumably the needs of other trail travelers as well.

And it’s not like I sneak up on them. I am a noisy runner: breathing heavily, my water bottles sloshing on their belt around my waist, my shoes flapping and splooshing in the mud. I am not a swift nor elegant gazelle. Most people hear me coming and, if they are walking two or three across, move over courteously to let me by. I do the same for others. I run on the far right side of the path, moving toward the center only to avoid hazards or large mud puddles.

But these ladies . . . if they were cars, they’d be driving in the wrong lane. There’s a larger one, more school bus than smart car, who always walks on the left, on the inside of the path and for whatever reason refuses to get out of the way or step a bit to the right. She will not cede the right of way, and her obstinance (or obliviousness) makes me crazy. Nearly everyone treats the running/walking trail like a road—slower traffic keeps right except to pass. Occasionally someone will walk on the left, against the grain, but generally they move aside to let others pass.

dontmessA couple of months ago, on a Monday (for I only ever see them on Mondays), I met the Mean Ladies on a wider part of the trail, but it didn’t matter because they were spread all the way across. I had to step off the path and into the brush to get by. They did not budge. Of course because I am running and they are walking, I met them again during my run, and this time, I resolved I would not step off of the path. I would hold my narrow bit of ground.

Also about this time, I had been meditating in the mornings before my runs as an assignment for my Transpersonal and Eastern Philosophies counseling class. One of the modalities we were studying was Mindfulness. So, as I approached this maddening group of matrons, I had a bit of an argument with myself. “Remember the sacred pause,” I admonished. “Take a breath.” But as I drew closer and as it became increasingly apparent that linebacker lady wasn’t going to move, I lost my mind a little. And, in my defense, if I moved a foot to the right, I would, in fact, land in the lake.keep-right-except-to-pass-8

I tried to make eye contact, but the Mean Ladies refused to see me. They continued walking and talking across the entire trail, ignoring my approach. I held my ground and continued running forward. I got closer and still they didn’t move, did not cede a single inch. I braced myself and continued apace, hoping for a last second miracle. But no. My left arm (where, incidentally, I wear my iPhone in a “tunebelt”) smacked into the left arm of the Largest of the Ladies.

In that moment of impact, I felt smugly satisfied and a little scared. What if she came after me? I could outrun her, sure, but I felt kind of bad. I mean, yes, she and her Matronly Mavens had Most of the trail, but why couldn’t I have remembered in that Moment to take the Sacred Pause? To be the bigger (metaphorically speaking, at least) person. Why couldn’t I have just stopped, waited for the Mean Ladies to meander on by, and then continued my run? Why wasn’t I More Mindful? I berated myself and vowed to do better.

The next Monday I again forgot what day it was and encountered them, but this time I was able to be more mindful. I managed to come upon them at a particularly wide spot on the trail that even they could not fill up, and then upon completing my first lap, I reversed direction in order to avoid seeing them again, at least that day. I took to running a bit later on Mondays for a few weeks and avoided them altogether, until last Monday when I approached them from behind. I mustered up my courage and my voice and bellowed out (nicely) “Excuse me!” And miracle of miracles, the large lady moved over. I think I surprised her, and she couldn’t see who it was coming up behind her. I plowed by, grateful, and gave a little wave of thanks as I passed. Maybe she was learning some Manners after all. Or maybe I was.

Today when I met them midway around the lake, I slowed down and made room for them—as well as I could—and again reversed directions after my first lap. I didn’t encounter them again until we all ended up in the parking lot together, where, I again gave them all very wide berth. Before I even started my car, I let them all climb into their Priuses and drive away. Then I made more than a mental note about Mondays. This time, I put Mean Ladies in my calendar. With an alert. Sometimes, being mindful requires a reminder.

L is for Listening, or Oh? How Do You Feel About That?

LI can’t think of anything better than having a conversation with someone and really being heard. Walking away from an intimate exchange with another human being and leaving with that warm, fuzzy feeling that not only did that person give me the time and the space to express what was on my mind, but they really listened to me.

How do I know if someone has listened? Well, they reflect back to me what they heard me say. They ask questions related to what I’ve said, and they engage in active listening skills—nodding when appropriate, making sympathetic noises, maybe reaching out to touch my arm, hand, or leg in empathy and understanding. I had a therapist once who would get teary-eyed when I told a particularly poignant story about my child custody struggles. Her tears made me feel heard and validated.

One of the most challenging aspects of training to become a therapist has been learning to listen in a way that will help my clients not only feel heard, but helped, assisted, valued, and worthy. I remember when I used to think that being a therapist would be so easy—how hard could it be to sit and listen to people all day, throwing out only the occasional, “how does that make you feel?”

I didn't have a happy childhood, I was often misquoted.
I didn’t have a happy childhood, I was often misquoted.

Ha. If only. At school we practice on each other quite a bit. I’ve listened to my fellow students in nearly all of my classes thus far, learning to hone my listening skills, learning to take in what they say and ask relevant, useful, insightful questions in an effort to help them move forward. It’s not easy. There’s so much to hold in my head and pay attention to. Details to notice. Key words to focus in on. Facts to track.

We’re learning not how to give advice, but how to ask good questions, open-ended questions, questions that will encourage our clients to explore their feelings. For example, if a client were to tell me they’re anxious about a weekend outing with their partner and the partner’s family, what might I say in order to help the client better understand and deal with the anxiety?

If I were practicing gestalt, I might ask where in the body the client feels the anxiety and if they could talk to it, what might they say? What would the anxiety say? What does the anxiety look like? What color is it? How big is it?

If I were practicing narrative therapy, I might ask the client to give the anxiety a name and to imagine a world in which the anxiety no longer existed. What would that world look like? I’d ask the client to tell me about a time they didn’t experience the anxiety and ask them what was different about that time.peanuts-cartoon-about-listening

I have so many theories and approaches rattling around in my head, sometimes I think it might explode. What theory to use? What words to zero in on? And then, in one class, the instructor told us to not work harder than the client. And, yes, that makes sense, but oy vey.

The best approach might be Carl Roger’s—he believed that the therapist should always give the client unconditional positive regard. His approach, Person Centered Therapy, came in response to psychoanalytical models popular at the turn of the last century. He believed the therapist should be warm, genuine, and understanding.

He said, “It is that the individual has within himself or herself vast resources for self-understanding, for altering his or her self-concept, attitudes and self-directed behavior – and that these resources can be tapped if only a definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided.”

I no longer think that being a therapist will be an easy job—in fact, I’m pretty sure it will prove to be one of the more difficult I take on. Listening to people, actually hearing them and reflecting back what I’ve heard, will take practice, time, and focus. I can’t afford to space out or daydream halfway through a session.

Maybe Stephen Covey said it best: “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

My success as a counselor will not be measured by what I have to say, but in how much I understand.

 

 

 

K is for Karma, or Newton’s Third Law of Physics, or Comeuppance if you’re not particularly Buddhist or Scienc-y

KKarma is the Buddhist notion of moral causation, the idea that we all get what we deserve in this lifetime based on what we’ve done in previous lifetimes. It’s an interesting thought—and one that explains the discrepancies in fortune along the human spectrum, i.e. why some of us suffer and others don’t.

Whenever I ponder karma, I think of Newton’s third law of physics: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. I don’t know why—I’m not much of a scientist, but that’s what comes to mind. Also, the law of the conservation of mass—that mass is neither created nor destroyed but remains constant over time. If science can have these sorts of intractable laws, why not the human condition?karma_dominoes

Last summer I had an encounter with a spiritual advisor of sorts—a seer, a psychic, someone who purported to see into my past lifetimes. Her instructions before our meeting were that I should come with seven questions about my life. To be honest, the timing wasn’t very good. Immediately after our session I had an appointment at the lawyer’s office to sign my final divorce papers.

Anyway, I asked her about my writing and she waxed on for a bit, but didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t know, or anything I wanted to hear, as in nothing about my memoir writing itself and making the NYT bestseller list. So, I waved her off and asked my next question: What is up with the pain in my body?

I’d been experiencing a strange array of symptoms in my shoulder, liver, back, arms, and feet. But it was the weird sensation in my shoulder that caused me the most grief and discomfort. I expected an alien to pop out at any time. My physical therapist determined it was nerve pain, an assertion backed up by MRIs. Various massage therapists told me I needed to breathe more deeply or explained that I had steel cables running down my spine instead of the expected flat ribbons of muscle. The psychic consulted my Akashic records. Initially she reported that she couldn’t see anything—my records were blank, or, perhaps, closed.

Why would my records be closed, I asked, having absolutely no idea what an Akashic record even was, but imagining a very large filing cabinet in the sky. She replied that I might not be ready to see them, that whatever information they held might prove to be too much for me. Well, ask again, I admonished. I’ll be fine. So she asked again—and this time, after a few minutes with her eyes closed, told me a story.

“Do you have much experience with betrayal?” she asked.

I rolled my eyes. “Let me count the ways,” I said. “More than my fair share.”

karma_next tattooShe nodded. “The pain you feel in your back is the pain of betrayal, of your heart being broken. Of being stabbed in the back, metaphorically speaking.” And she went on to tell me a story.

Evidently, many, many, many lifetimes ago, I was a gay man with a devoted lover. We were very close, very respected in our community. We worked together as builders and architects. I thought we were happy and committed, but then I found out my lover was having an affair. My world crumbled then, and I never recovered. Three thousand years and many lifetimes later, she told me, I am still searching for that kind of love, trying to recreate that relationship.

Her words rang true. I’d never before heard of Akashic records. I’d never given much credence to past lives, though I tried to keep an open mind about such things. I felt the pain in my back more acutely at that moment and pushed away from the table, looking at my watch.

“I’ve gotta go,” I said. “Got an appointment.”

I thanked her and stumbled out into the sunshine and made my way to the lawyer’s office nearby. As I walked through the bright and warm summer day, I replayed in my mind every betrayal I had experienced in my 52 years. The ache behind my shoulder thrummed more intensely as each one sprung to mind. Had I really been trying to recreate this perfect relationship from millennia ago? Would I ever be rid of the pain? Did I even believe in Akashic records? Did it matter?

What I know is that her words rang true. What she said made sense to me on some deep, previously unexplored level. There’s so much we don’t know, so much we can’t see, so much happening beneath and beyond consciousness. Is karma real? I don’t know, but it feels like it might be.

J is for Just Do It

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Whatever it is that you want to do, just go for it. Do it. Move. Take action. Stop talking about it and take that first step. Yesterday in my Trauma, Disaster, and Crisis Counseling class, we watched a video about the Oso landslide. We talked about the September 11 terrorist attacks, and Brussels, Paris, Turkey, Pakistan.

The take away from all of this? Life is short. Unexpected shit happens. Don’t put off until tomorrow (or someday) what you want to do now. Don’t listen to the naysayers, especially the one that is usually the loudest, the one in your own head that says “you’re too old, too broke, too tired, too fat, too busy, too whatever.”

No one is going to intervene on your behalf to suddenly make your dreams come true–or usually that is not the case. If you want to write a book, you’re going to have to sit down and write. Want to run a marathon? Gonna have to get out there and train. Have the urge to see the world? You must book the tickets.

I know taking that first step isn’t easy–if it were we would all be out there living our dreams, and I would have no justification for pursuing my dream of becoming a therapist–no one would need me if everyone just did what they wanted to do. But we don’t. We don’t just do it when we want to make positive changes, nor do we just stop doing the things that make us miserable. This Bob Newhart video is a classic and one of my favorites. If only it were this simple!neuralpathways

Instead we take the path of least resistance, living the status quo, afraid to rock the boat or upset the delicate balance. We live in fear, unable to extricate ourselves from what seem to be proscribed paths.

And, it’s not our fault. We are creatures of habit. We get used to doing things a certain way, and our brains form neural pathways, well-worn grooves that make our responses and actions more automatic. If we’ve developed a habit of getting up every morning and reading the news on the interwebs but what we really want to do is develop a morning meditation practice, we’re going to have to work at it. We’ll have to focus on retraining our brains to not reach for the laptop or the smartphone. Just like walking in the woods–it’s a lot easier to take the defined path than it is to bushwhack through the underbrush to get to our destination.

The good news is that we can build new pathways. Our brains can rewire, thanks to neuroplasticity.

It takes effort to forge new trails, but if the old paths don’t lead to where we want to go, we have to get out our machetes and go for it.

I is for . . .

IInternship. Intention. Intelligence. Introvert.

I can’t decide. My year-long internship should start this Fall, but I first have to complete a six month practicum. My intention is to graduate by the end of next summer, but perhaps I should have used more of my innate intelligence to better organize myself toward this end.

On a completely different note, I have recently been thinking about whether or not I am an introvert. Whenever I take a personality test along the lines of the Myers-Briggs, I generally score right in the middle, usually with a tiny preference toward introversion.

The definitions of introversion and extraversion (yes, that’s the correct spelling) have less to do with how much one enjoys meeting new people and more to do with how one gets one’s energy. Does being with people leave you energized or drained? If the former, you’re probably an extravert. If the latter, if you get energy from being alone and recharging, you are more likely to be an introvert.

People often confuse shyness with introversion, but shyness isn’t about where one gets energy, it’s about social anxiety. At a recent AWP panel, Networking for Introverts, the moderator introduced the intersections of shyness and intro/extraversion in which we find shy extroverts and calm introverts, i.e. extraverts with social anxiety and introverts who have no problem interacting at, say, a cocktail party.ExtrovertVSIntrovert

I’m pretty sure that I’m a shy extravert, even though I’ve almost always test as an introvert. I realize I do get my energy from being around other people. I love interacting with groups of people that I know. Not so much with people that I don’t know. If I have to meet a new group of people, I have terrible anxiety. But, I know that being alone is not how I get my energy nor how I renew. I love a peaceful bubble bath as much as the next person, but I’d much rather go hang out and drink beer with a bunch of writers and talk about our blogs. That’s what gives me juice, and I do just that at least twice a week. If you’re interested in reading more about Carl Jung and his thoughts on introversion/extraversion, check out this article from Psychology Today.

As I contemplate my counseling career, I am looking forward to spending my days listening to and talking with people day in and day out. I know I might be a bit naive at this point, and maybe I’m just anxious to be done with school and in the field already, but I am not good at small talk and enjoy diving into the deep stuff. Seems like it’ll be a good fit.