This Way Up!

“For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.”

– Thich Nhat Hanh


This Way Up! Here I go!

In my last post Smile,  I let you all know that I was asked to change the title of my book. As I said in that post, I felt frustrated and kinda old. However, what I learned was as Thich Nhat Hanh explains:

For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.

What a wonderful week of uncovering and abandoning old views.  I asked for help (ah there’s a novel concept!) First, I called my friend Tam in Seattle and we brainstormed together, from the red chair. Then I asked for ideas from my son Lukas. And then my incredible editor Annie and I brainstormed some ideas.  And finally, I sent off our top 5 ideas to Brooke at She Writes Press. Eventually it was a bit of an amalgamation of everyone’s ideas.

So the new title of my book, as reflected by the new look and title of this blog page is:

This Way Up: One Woman’s Path to Fullness and Joy

I’m so glad I asked for help, and that ultimately I was willing to let go of feeling old and stuck and embrace the new.

To honor the concept of asking for help, I’d like to close with a wonderful video, Bill Withers singing Lean On Me.

 

 

Please let me know what you think of my new title. I’d really like to hear your opinions.  And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

Heroes and Role Models

“Now you get to tell it, because then it will become medicine – that we evolve; that life is stunning, wild, gorgeous, weird, brutal, hilarious and full of grace.
– Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott is my favorite author.  There I’ve said it.  I struggle to say that because there are so many amazingly wonderful writers out there. But really, it’s true. Lamott never fails to bring me to tears and to laughter, usually within the same paragraph.

The first book I read of hers was Operating Instructions, A Journal of My Son’s First Year. I laughed til I cried, and I hadn’t even had my own kids yet.  And then after I gave birth to my son, I read it again, and I cried even harder.

I follow her on FB, and she doesn’t disappoint, even though she just sort of writes stream of consciousness there. A couple of days ago she wrote this post.  I loved it so much I sent it to a couple of friends, and they both loved it too. But I want to share it with you too.

I have recently been going through my own bouts of what she terms  psycho doing-ness and achieving-ness. And it’s always nice to read about someone else going through that stuff:

Nearly twenty years ago, I arrived at a fancy writer’s conference, in what were some of America’s most majestic mountains, where I was looking forward to meeting a great (and sexy) American director, who’d given a lecture the day before. But he had already left.

There was, however, a letter from him, to me: to not-all-that-well-known me. It began well enough, with praise for Bird by Bird, and gratitude for how many times it had inspired him when he got stuck while writing screenplays. He singled out my insistence on trying to seek and tell the truth, whether in memoir or fiction, and my belief that experiencing grief and fear were the way home. The way to an awakening. That God is the Really Real, as the ancient Greeks believed. And God is Love. That tears were not to be suppressed, but would, if expressed, heal us, cleanse up, baptize us, help us water the seeds of new life that were in the ground at our feet.

Coming from a world famous director, it felt like the New York Glitterati was stamping it’s FDA seal of approval on me, and my work.

Unfortunately, the letter continued.

He wrote that while he had looked forward to meeting me, he’d gathered from reading my work that many of my closest friends and family members seemed to have met with traumatic life situations, and sometimes early deaths. So basically, he was getting out of Dodge before I got my tragedy juju all over him, too.

I felt mortified, exposed. He made it seem like I was a sorrow-mongerer, that instead of being present for family and friends who had cancer or sick kids or great losses, I was chasing them down.

And I flushed in that full body Niacin-flush way of toxic shame, at being put down by a man of power, that had been both the earliest, and now most recent, experiences of soul-death throughout my life.

My clingy child was drawing beside me, What did I do? You can’t use your child as a fix, like a junkie. That’s abuse; plus it won’t work.

Well, duh–I fell apart, on the inside, like a two dollar watch.

I had stopped drinking nearly 15 years before, stopped the bulimia 14 years earlier, and so did not have many reliable ways to stuff feelings back down. Also, horribly, my young child, two thousand miles from home, upon noticing my pain, clung even more tightly. I wanted to shout at him, “Don’t you have any other friends?”

What I did was the only thing that has ever worked. After finding a safe and stable person to draw with my son, I called someone and told her all my terrible fears and feelings and projections and secrets.

It was my mentor, Horrible Bonnie.

She listens.

She believes that we are here to become profoundly real, and therefore, free. But horribly–hence her name–she insists that if we want to be free, we have to let every body be free. I hate and resent this so much. It means we have to let the people in our families and galaxies be free to be asshats, if that is how they choose to live.

This however, does not mean we have to have lunch with them. Or go on vacation with them again. But we do have to let them be free.

She also knows, and said that day, that Real can be a nightmare in this world that is so false. The pain and exhaustion of becoming real can land you in the an abyss. And abysses are definitely abysmal; dark nights of the soul; the bottom an addict hits.

And this, she said, was just a new bottom, around people-pleasing, and the craving for powerful fancy people to approve of me. It was a bottom around my psycho doing-ness, my achieving-ness.

She said that because I felt traumatized, and that there had been so much trauma in my childhood, and so many losses in the ensuing years, that the future looked like trauma to me.

But it wasn’t the truth!

There was a long silence. (Again: she listens.)

Finally, I said in this tiny child’s voice, “It isn’t?”

Oh, no, she said. The future, as with every bottom I have landed at, and been walked through, would bring great spiritual increase.

She said I had as much joy and laughter and presence as anyone she knew and some of this had to do with the bottoms I’d experienced, the dark nights of the soul that god and my pit crew had accompanied me through. The alcoholism, scary men, etc.

She said that what I thought the director had revealed was that I am kind of pathetic, but actually what I was getting to see, with her, and later, when I picked up my luscious clingy child, in the most gorgeous mountains on earth, was that I was a ral person of huge heart, laughter, feelings and truth. And his was the greatest gift of all.

The blessing was that again and again, over the years, we got to completely change the script. Thank God. We got to re-invent ourselves, again.

But where do we even start with such terrible days and revelations? She said I’d started when I picked up the 300-pound phone, told someone the truth, felt my terrible feelings. Now, time for radical self care. A shower, some food, the blouse I felt prettiest in. Then I could go get my boy and we could explore the mountain streams.

Wow. We think when we finally get our ducks in a row, we’ve arrived. Now we’ll be happy! That’s what they taught us, and what we’ve sought. But the ducks are bad ducks, and do not agree to stay in a row, and they waddle off quacking, and one keels over, two males get in a fight, and babies are born. Where does that leave your nice row?

I got about five books out of the insights I gleaned from our talk. I still have a sort-of heart shaped rock my son fished out of a stream later. Sadly, this director’s movies have not done well in the last twenty years. Not a one. And all of his hair has since fallen out. Now, as a Christian, my first response to this is, “Hah hah hah.”

But Horrible Bonnie would say, Now you get to tell it, because then it will become medicine. Tell it, girl– that we evolve; that life is stunning, wild, gorgeous, weird, brutal, hilarious and full of grace. That our parents were a bit insane, and that healing from this is taking a little bit longer than we had hoped. Tell it. Well…okay. Yes.

I want to close with a great video clip:

Hanging Out with Anne Lamott – Point Loma Writer’s Symposium By the Sea 2014.

 

I’d love to hear about your favorite authors and your role models.

And as always thanks for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

Are Men and Women Wired Differently?

“Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other.  Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.”

– Katherine Hepburn


I just had the most delicious conversation with my dear friend Tam.  She and I have been friends for over 30 years.  When we talk, we go straight to heart level, which I value so much and crave so deeply.  As a woman, this need for deep heart connection is so important to me. And this brings me to the essence of this post,  yet another layer of stuff my husband and I are working through. 

I won’t go into the full background of the latest turmoil, it’s more than a argument or disagreement – it feels like a deep mis-understanding of the sexes.  Our communication feels like he’s trying to connect from the head and me from the heart, and I end up feeling like a bleeding mess in a puddle in the corner and he is trying to analize why and how it happened and what exactly was said to get there and what words can deal with it. 

After talking to Tam and to my sister and a couple of other friends, I noticed once again, not surprisingly that men and women really communicate differently. So I decided to do some research, and I found that it’s not surprising that we communicate so differently because research shows that men’s brains don’t work the same way that women’s brains work.   There is so much new research out there showing us beyond a shadow of a doubt that men and women are wired differently.

According to psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, the female brain is wired to empathize and the male brain is characterized by its tendency to systemize. The male brain seeks to develop a set of logical rules that guide another person’s behavior. When a man can’t understand someone else’s behavior through logic, he tends to become confused about how to proceed.  Women, on the other hand, may be more empathetic because their brains’ mirror neurons are more sensitive than men’s. Mirror neurons cause us to imitate emotions and actions that we’re exposed to. One theory is that women’s mirror neurons allow them to more easily hone in on another person’s emotional cues.

This quote just made so much sense to me!  I get so frustrated because it feels like my husband is trying to understand me “logically” – and does not understand emotional cues.  But if he’s not wired to do so, can I hold this against him?  Ah there’s the rub.  So I guess we just keep trying to find the common ground, and to work through this morass called relationship.

This video clip is a long one, well over an hour, but if you are interested in this subject, please do take the time to watch it, it offers some fascinating information on the brain differences between men and women.

 

 

I’d love to hear what helps you communicate better and how you make your relationships work. And as always thanks for stopping by, I appreciate it.

 

If you cannot see anything beautiful about yourself – get a better mirror . . .

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”

– Dalai Lama


I still have tears in my eyes as I write this – having just read an article about another teen in NZ who committed suicide due to bullying.  The suicide rate among young males in New Zealand is the highest in the OECD.  It’s appalling! Where is the compassion? Is compassion among young people diminishing?  Can it be brought back?  Can it be taught? Some say that compassion cannot be taught, but I believe it can.  Recent studies seem to suggest that it can.

At the University of Virginia, Compassionate Care and Empathic Leadership Initiative — a lengthy, fancy name for a simple, purposeful way to teach kindness, usher resilience and nurture compassion — is seeding change in fertile ground.

It appears that compassion can be taught, according to an article in Huffington Post.

Voluteerism can lead to compassion, and educational institutions are a central pillar in fostering volunteerism among youth. Indeed, it appears that compassion can be taught, which means that today’s educational institutions carry greater social responsibility than ever.

Please take the time to watch this amazing video by a young man who was bullied.  Shane Koyczan took his pain and created something mesmerizing.

To This Day,” is his spoken-word poem about bullying.

 

 

I’d love to hear what you thought about this YouTube video.  And as always, thank you for stopping by, I appreciate it.

 

 

 

Right or Happy . . . or Facing Conflict . . . isn’t that a Contradiction?

“I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions . . .”

– Joni Mitchell


As I said in my last post, being willing to disagree, facing conflict squarely and not hiding is a difficult thing to do for most of us.  But as Maddie pointed out in a comment from my last post:  You have blogged in the past – “Would you rather be right or happy?” This post seems to contradict that. Does it?

I don’t see the two as being contradictory or exclusive.  I have learned to stand up for myself, learned to be willing to disagree, to not just “paper-over the conflicts as I used to in my old ‘peace-maker’ days” as Rosalie so aptly put it. But I have also learned that it is sometimes ok to let things go and not push doggedly to be RIGHT above all else, at the expense of harmony in a relationship. I think of that kind of right as the “Ego Right.”

The idea of being right or happy comes from A Course in Miracles.

The main benefit I see in correctly interpreting “Do you prefer that you be right or happy?” is that it allows the line to be a challenge to our egoic insistence on being right at the expense of real rightness and of our happiness. Stubbornly clinging to a wrong position no matter how much pain it causes us is a virtually universal human phenomenon. This line is both a challenge to us to seriously question our way of seeing things and an invitation to accept a new way of seeing things that is both right and happy.

This also reminds me a bit of The Serenity Prayer –

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;  courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

I don’t see that as a Christian prayer so much as asking that part of me that is beyond my Ego, to have courage to face conflict, be willing to disagree, but to also accept some things and some people and not try to change them so I can be right.  It is subtle sometimes, but not a contradiction in my opinion,  just perhaps seeing things from Both Sides Now!

 

 

Thank you Maddie and Rosalie for taking the time to comment on my last post, it prompted me to think through this and clarify it for myself. Please tell me about how you have learned to balance this subtle difference.  And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

Willing to Disagree and Facing Conflict

“The people to fear are not those who disagree with you, but those who disagree with you and are too cowardly to let you know.”

– Napoleon Bonaparte


Being willing to disagree, facing conflict squarely and not hiding is difficult to do for most of us. I can say for myself, it used to terrify me.  I was the peace-maker in my family, the one who tried to make everything OK when anyone in my family was arguing (and trust me, there was a lot of arguing in my family!)  And when my husband, Jeff and I used to argue, it terrified me.  My fear of abandonment surfaced and I shrank.  The fact that Jeff is about 6′ 2″ and I’m just over 5′ added to the whole paradigm of shrinking back.  Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t give into every whim, but I didn’t like to face the conflict and sort through the disagreement.  My usual MO was to punish with silence, to walk away and not talk and make him suffer (yes I know, not the most mature approach!)  But as I said, conflict terrified me and I did not like being around people who disagreed with me.

It was only after years of therapy and reading lots of books that I came to value myself enough to not fear standing my ground.  And by realizing that I would survive fine without Jeff,  my fear of abandonment started to dissapate, and I became stronger in my willingness to face conflict head on, and as a result, our relationship grew stronger.

I’m not that afraid of conflict anymore, and this brings a delicious freedom.  I don’t necessarily go looking for an argument, but as a 50+ year old woman, I am pretty good at standing my own ground now!

So it was with great interest that I listened to Margaret Heffernan in this fascinating TED Talk, Dare to Disagree.  She describes constructive conflict as a fantastic model of collaboration: thinking partners who aren’t echo chambers.

“So what does that kind of constructive conflict require? Well, first of all . . . it means we have to resist the neurobiological drive, which means that we really prefer people mostly like ourselves, and it means we have to  find ways to engage with them. That requires a lot of patience and a lot of energy. And the more I’ve thought about this, the more I think, really, that that’s a kind of love. Because you simply won’t commit that kind of energy and time if you don’t really care.”

I love that statement that we have to resist the neurobiological drive, which means that we really prefer people mostly like ourselves.  It’s true, we usually surround ourselves with people who agree with us and show disdain for those who do not.  But in reality, as Heffernan points out, conflict often leads to creativity:

“Yes, there was a lot of conflict and debate and argument, but that allowed everyone around the table to be creative, to solve the problem.”

I agree with Heffernan, we must be willing to disagree with each other, to face conflict and work through it.  In this TED talk she explains the importance of disagreement in organizations and globally. But for me, I can only confirm how liberating it is personally.  As Napoleon points out – the people to fear are not those who disagree with you, but those who disagree with you and are too cowardly to let you know. Daring to disagree takes courage, but in my opinion, it is essential.

 

 

Please tell me about the times you have dared to disagree.  And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

 

 

 

 

 

If it were up to me . . .

“Death is a billion-dollar business. They can’t even pass a law where it takes seven days to get a gun. Why don’t you have to go through the same kind of screening you do to get a driver’s license? It’s totally insane.”

– John Cusack


A break in my series on Understanding Happiness on iTunes U.  I cannot focus on happiness in light of the events in Colorado.  It is heart breaking.

A wonderful post on Common Dreams.

A wonderful video by Cheryl Wheeler.  Tell your friends to watch it. The Gun Violence has got to stop!

 

Still Trying to Understand Happiness . . .

“I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.”

– Groucho Marx


I’m still trying to Understand Happiness through iTunes U.  In previous posts I discussed classes 1, 2 and 3 in the iTunes U course Understanding Happiness.  In the 4th class, psychologist and professor Barry Schwartz discusses The Paradox of Choice and it’s effect on happiness. His talk is interesting and entertaining and somewhat disconcerting.  His premise is that:

Adding options to people’s lives can’t help but increase the expectations that people have about how good those options can be –  and what that is going to produce is less satisfaction with results even when they are good results . . . the secret to happiness is Low Expectations!

This is an interesting thesis certainly creates debate, but is it true?  Professor Schwartz’ talk certainly has validity.  And when I think back to talks I’ve had with friends about shopping and dissatisfaction, I can’t help but think the man has a point. Schwartz explains why choice makes people miserable:

  1. Regret and anticipated regret
  2. Opportunity costs
  3. Escalation of expectation
  4. Self-blame

We are always wondering if we could do better.

A thought provoking and often funny video presentation:

 

 

Please let me know your thoughts Barry Schwartz’ TED talk at iTunes U, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on choice and its impact on your happiness.

And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

 

 

 

Right or Happy? Not always an easy decision.

“Would you rather be right or happy.”

– Hugh Prather


I was on a beautiful bike ride yesterday on the new Hauraki Rail Trail.  It was a beautiful day, sunny and stunning.

The only problem was that on the first part of the journey, my husband Jeff and I were in an argument.  The argument wasn’t huge, it was a revisit of a common theme.  I tend to hyperbolize things . . . (OK and occasionally make stuff up to make a better story), and Jeff tends to want the TRUTH with a capital T in most situations.  On this particular occasion, I was talking about something financial, and I did a bit of spinning a tale, and Jeff reacted, in my opinion over-reacted.

I won’t bore you with details, but suffice it to say that it somewhat ruined the first half of the ride for me.  At the spot where we were going to turn around, Jeff put on his goofy grin and said, so “Do you want to be right or happy?”  Which allowed me some space to see the humor, which opened up our communication and we could talk about this latest argument.  We talked about the workshop we did with Hugh and Gale Prather in Tucson, AZ back in 1989.  It was a relationship workshop and a central theme was Right or Happy.  Sigh – I usually want both.

The important realization I had  though, was that after talking at that mid-way point on the ride, I had such a better time on the second half of the ride.  Although I didn’t prove my point and make him see that he was wrong and I was right, I was so much happier after we were able to communicate through the difficulty and move on. The ability to communicate through it was the central key.  We both listened and tried to understand the others’ point of view – not to say that the other person was right or wrong, just to understand the other side and accept it as valid for that person.

Please don’t get me wrong, this is not an easy decision, and anyone who knows me – knows that I really like to be right!  But usually (always?)  in relationships there are two sides of a story, two experiences in an argument and both are usually valid depending on which angle you are viewing it from.  And yesterday, on the bike ride I viscerally felt the feeling . . . I’d rather be happy.  But damn, it is not always an easy decision.

For those of you who have not read Notes To Myself  by Hugh Prather – it is a beautiful book, well worth a read.  Here is a very short clip by Hugh Prather about Attitudinal Healing.

 

 

Please let me know your thoughts on Hugh Prather and any experiences you have being Right or Happy.

And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

 

 

 

 

Moving toward Authentic Self

“Our sadness is an energy we discharge in order to heal . . . Sadness is painful. We try to avoid it. Actually discharging sadness releases the energy involved in our emotional pain.  To hold it in is to freeze the pain within us.”

– John Bradshaw


I’m incredibly fortunate in that I get to work with my best friend.  We run workshops together through a charitable trust called Figjam Workshops.  I love my work!

http://www.figjamworkshops.co.nz/home

Part of what I really enjoy, aside from the facilitation which is wonderful, are the long drives to and from the workshops, where Deb and I drink coffee and have long, deep conversations.  On Friday, on the way home from a workshop, Deb and I were talking about Authentic Self; about healing old wounds, about dealing with old, deep trauma and abuse – about doing the deep work – the work to move from being stuck to finding one’s Authentic Self.  We both agree that doing one’s personal growth work is essential to one’s well-being.

And because Deb is a good friend and we trust each other, she felt safe enough to challenge me a bit, and I felt safe enough to listen.  She asked me about some of my posts on this blog.  She said that I make it sound like “being happy” is the answer, that all one has to do is decide to be happy and everything will be better.   She said in her opinion it sounded like I was saying just act happy, maybe journal a bit and everything will be OK.  And after looking over some of my past posts, I see she is right and I don’t feel like I am honoring Authentic Self.  I want to state here and now that I believe that any of us with past emotional scaring, trauma, or abuse need to acknowledge it and do the work.  Staying stuck, staying in denial and pretending that everything is just wonderful is not helpful.   Pasting on a smile and saying I will just be positive when the pain inside is unbearable does not work.

In my previous post,   Who Was Your Teacher:

https://patticlark.wordpress.com/2012/05/23/who-was-your-teacher/

I talked about finally getting to the point where partying and alcohol were no longer enough to numb the pain.  I was lucky enough to have a sister who cared enough to talk to me about her path and pass on a transformational book called Creative Visualization.  Yes I did read that book, and yes it did help me begin my journey.  But it is important to say that then I spent many years doing my own work.  I went to one on one counselling, I did psychodrama groups, I did group counselling and I went to more personal growth workshops than I can count.  I did deep, deep work. Most of it was not fun and a lot of the work was very painful, but all of it helped move me forward on my path.  I was and still am committed to growing and not staying stuck.

In order to make changes in the present and not stay stuck, we have to look at the past and understand what led us to our current situation. We need to work through and move through our feelings of pain and loss in order to move on. Please understand I am absolutely and positively a believer in Positive Psychology and finding happiness.  But it must be Authentic Happiness.  And in my opinion Authentic Happiness can only be obtained when we have done our work and touched our Authentic Self.

A great teacher and author who helped me move through a lot of my own past feelings of pain and loss is John Bradshaw.  I have included a video here of John Bradshaw on the Oprah Show.

 

 

Please let me know what you thought of John Bradshaw on Oprah.  And I’d love to hear about how you move toward Authentic Self.

As always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.