It’s Summer! Time to Speak Out

My goodness!  I looked at the date of my last post and see I’ve been asleep at the wheel for a while.  Well, Spring has been lovely here in the Northwest.  It comes earlier every year – buds sprouting in February are lovely, and a warning of more dramatic changes to come.  We are also in a political season, spun so tight  and amped to such volume that it invades every corner or our psyches.  Do therapists have a responsibility to engage politically, or should we keep silent, so as not to offend or distress those we are pledged to support?  That is an important question which has found airing in forums from the New York Times to a noted therapists’ own web site.Notrump

In March, the New York Times ran an essay encouraging psychotherapists not to disregard the social and economic stresses (and injustices) suffered by their clients.  It is entitled Why Therapists Should Talk Politics and it is linked here.  Turning our gaze to the Midwest, we come to William Doherty,  a remarkable man who I have known for years as one of America’s deans of marital therapy.  His classic Take Back Your Marriage is an oft-recommended book to my clients.  I recently came upon an effort by Doherty and others at University of Minnesota, where he has taught for years, to promote social responsibility and healing in the Citizen Professional Center.  Their efforts are wide and inspiring (well, to me) and include Balance4Success which describes its mission as: This initiative (started in 2005) involves parents in Apple Valley and nearby suburbs of Minneapolis/St. Paul organizing with a mission to liberate their kids from out of control sports schedules and to change the culture of hyper-competitive childhood by replacing busyness with balance. Other efforts include: STORKS: Sisters Together  in Overachieving Raising Kids which describes itself as targeting at-risk urban single pregnant teens in North Minneapolis. Its mission is to promote healthy child development in children with teenage mothers and to provide community support for young single mothers and Baby Boomers for Balanced Health Care which describes its mission as follows: This group of citizen Baby Boomers believes that out-of-control health care spending will bankrupt our country unless we all take responsibility for changing how we think about and use health care.

Doherty recently began a movement among mental health professionals to stand up to and speak out against the threat of Trumpism.  The Citizen Therapist site is here.  it contains a manifesto which therapists throughout the country are invited to endorse.  It states quite clearly that Trumpism:

  • Is antithetical to everything we stand for as therapists
  • Is inconsistent with democracy, with the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, and with emotionally healthy living
  • Promotes hyper-masculinity, public hostility, the cult of the Strong Man, and the denigration of women
  • Presents a threat beyond a single election; the next demagogue may be less outrageous- and thus even more dangerous

I have signed this manifesto and joined a growing number of therapists throughout the country saying firmly that I reject the message, tone and “solutions” by the man who wants to ban entry to this country of people based on their faith; who wants to wall us off from the world and promises chaos and unbridled hatred in the name of fighting “political correctness” and prays on our fears.

I have long been a lover of American History.  In our nearly 250 years, this country has been the home of intense debate between the left and the right – between Federalists and Republicans, free market advocates and those who promote more government oversight, international interventionists and isolationists…and so many more.  However, the toxicity of our public discourse has currently been embodied in Donald Trump.  It should be rejected.

Love and Fear

I’m going to be spending a week at this beautiful spot next week – away from the incessant, assaultive  demands of electronics and media.  I know I’ll laugh at myself the first time my friend, David, and I have a discussion about something and I’ll wonder, “Who was it that said that?” and I’ll reach f025or my phone to Google the answer and then realize that this is exactly why I was there in the first place – not to be near a cell phone tower.  I know what books I’ll bring with me and I’m planning the menus for the five nights.  Maybe the best thing about camping is how everything tastes great – franks and beans…you name it.  One thing that I will welcome next week is a respite from the aura of fear that has descended like a thick, gray blanket on our public consciousness.

Public fear is much like the private fear I see in my office on a daily basis.  I am convinced that the driving force that unsettles so many marriages and intimate relationships is quite simply – fear.  It may be the fear of something concrete and nameable.  However, usually what I observe is more something that lies deeper within us.  When that attachment bond – upon which our inner security seems to depend – is shaken – is cast into serious doubt – we shift into a desperate, often ragged, attempt to regain that safety.  This comes in many forms.  I have seen these efforts expressed as rage, as utter abandonment hijacks one person’s well-being.  I have seen it, as well, in the silent withdrawal of the partner who, like Boticelli’s St. Sebastian, feels riddled with the arrows of criticism and unhappiness aimed at them by their partner.  One thing is certain.  The intensity of the fear is directly proportional to the level of anger, judgment or withdrawal.  When we are fearful, we react.  Our only goal at that moment is safety.  Abraham Maslow, in his famous Hierarchy of Needs, identified “safety” as a primary need, after basic physiological sustenance.  If we are starving, the only thing we need – that which dominates and overwhelms our consciousness – is food.  That need being satisfied, we are able to summon the psychological resources to seek out higher needs, which ends with living the highest expression of ourself in this life.  However, second in Maslow’s pyramid is “safety” and, just as with food and shelter, if this need is threatened, we will mobilize all we have available to us to satisfy that need.  Only when the anxiety – the fear – is abated, can we turn to higher, better, ends.  On the personal level, this includes listening and empathizing with the worries and fears of our partner.  On a broader level, it is building a more inclusive and tolerant society.

Years ago I heard a colleague share what seemed at the time to be an overly simplistic personal equation. That was my mistake.  He said, “We are motivated either by love or fear.  Fear distances us from love, but love, when embraced, will vanquish fear.”  This love isn’t simply sexual love or being “in love.” It is an opening of our heart to another person.  It is the certainty that whatever another person may need, fundamentally, we have inside of us to provide.  We have the power – the capacity – to ease another’s pain – and their fear.  When I see that realization gleam in the eye of an individual in relationship distress, that distress always lessens.  I witness love conquering fear.  I’m going to mull on that further in the mountains next week, away from the noxious fog of fear that is being pumped into our society during this terribly overheated election year.

On Vulnerability, Safety and Cats

catFirst, let me be clear, I am a dog person.  I am allergic to cats and never understood them.  I tip my cap to the feline fans.  Why do I mention this?  Read on and you will understand.

So much can be gained through the safety engendered by personal disclosure.  It is undeniable that when we get to know another person, we are less likely to succumb to stereotypes and projections of what is going on inside of them.  In his excellent book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni notes that the first step towards establishing a cohesive team is the establishment of trust.  He tells us that the barrier to this trust is the need to appear invulnerable.  The solution: Display some vulnerability.  How to do this?

Well, in the work-world an abundance of vulnerability is unwise and unnecessary.  Yet, even such seemingly bland disclosures as where one grew up and their number of siblings can be a low-risk and valuable instrument of bonding.  I recently was privileged to run a retreat for a local collaborative group and that simple “share” opened the door to later, much more significant personal disclosures about the relationships within the group.  In Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, the real breakthroughs of connection come when enough safety has been created as a platform, allowing the individuals to open up long withheld (often even from themselves) yearnings and vulnerabilities.  These, of course will go quite a bit deeper than those aforesaid workplace disclosures.

Some months ago the New York Times ran a story about a study by psychologist Arthur Aron, which held that “sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure” deepened relationships.  In order to demonstrate the power of this hypothesis, Aron crated 36 questions which he said were guaranteed to jump-start the deepening of intimacy in any relationship.  They are in three clusters, each diving a bit deeper than the one before.  Cluster 1 Questions include: Would you like to be famous?  In what way? and Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say?  Why?  Cluster 2 Questions include: What is your most treasured memory?  and  How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?  Cluster 3 Questions include: Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share ______” and What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?   Here is the article and those 36 questions.

Now AS FOR CATS.  Clearly, this does not work only for human relationships as you can clearly see in this YouTube video.

Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All

When I was a kid (back in the 50’s and 60’s) the United States was a more unabashedly Christian country.  Christmas was universally celebrated and “Merry Christmas” was on almost everybody’s lips.  Nobody was saying “Happy Holidays” in an effort to be all inclusive.  As a Jewish kid,xmastree2 I’ve got to say, I wasn’t particularly offended or confused by the emphasis.  I was in a kids’ choir and loved singing those gorgeous carols.  The lights were magical!

I particularly loved the general good feeling that shone through the holiday – probably best reflected in the conversion of Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  The magic of that time was all about open-heartedness,  kindness and gratitude.  Santa was most definitely a bonus and I was, indeed, one of those acculturated Jewish kids who believed in the jolly old man whose elves made toys for kids somewhere in the North Pole.  I recently reviewed the many Jewish holidays to see if any one of them so explicitly trumpets goodwill to all men in quite the same way and was unable to find one.  The many holidays honor parts of our history, the seasons, the beginning of the annual cycle of reading the Torah and, of course the High Holy Days in which we are urged to look deep inside and cleanse our souls, seek forgiveness and turn the page for a coming year.  One theme for almost all Jewish holidays I heard from a friend a few years ago, which is perfect, goes, “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!”  Hanukkah is a very minor Jewish holiday and commemorates a time, more than 2,000 years ago in which the Jewish people were at risk of being absorbed into a hostile dominant culture.  A band of rebels were able to wrest away their people’s freedom.  It’s pretty much the same theme as the more major celebrations of Purim and Passover.  Somehow, American Jews long ago converted this into a more significant celebration so their kids didn’t have to feel left out in all the Christmas gift-giving…but Hanukkah is not Christmas.

I think of the “Holidays” as bounded by Thanksgiving and Christmas – both times when we gather with those we love (and who love us) and breathe in the warmth of care and community.  For those of us who feel isolated and adrift during this time, my hope and prayer for you is that you can, step-by-step, heal, renew or create the bonds that may allow you to experience that care in the years ahead.  My hope is also that you find some way to give to others during this time.  You will enter the tide of humanity whose spirits join in loving-kindness and there is no better gift you can be given.  There are volunteer opportunities here.

My wish for anyone reading this is that your world is blessed with the comfort of another’s  loving heart, that you treat yourself and those around you with the gentleness reserved for a baby (which this holiday is about) and hatred, fear and violence be banished from our lives.

Thanksgiving

About 10 years ago, I wrote a column in the local King County Bar Journal about gratitude and well-being – directed (of course) at lawyers.  I happened upon it today as I was going over old files and thought I ought to post it.  I like its message and it certainly isn’t limited to lawyers:
Lincoln

GRATITUDE 

On October 3, 1863, our country was in the middle stages of a horrific civil war.  Unlike recent involvements in Afghanistan and Iraq, which touched families selectively, in that time, almost every family experienced the devastating loss of a young and vital life.  A hundred and fifty years ago, people weren’t talking about the costs of war in some theoretical sense – that crushing weight was shared universally throughout the entire society.

 And yet it was on that date, amidst this cultural trauma, which today we can scarcely imagine, that Abraham Lincoln issued of all things a “Thanksgiving Proclamation.”  He noted that, despite “a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theater of military conflict.”  He went on to observe that the economy was still robust and the country was growing “notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and battlefield,” and that “the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.”

 Perhaps most remarkable about this proclamation is that it came from the pen of a man who was frequently crushed by depression during most of his adult life.  But then, Lincoln seemed to understand so much on a basic intuitive level – he’s not on the five dollar bill for nothing, after all.  He saw that relief from despair may be obtained through gratitude.

 Turning to our own special plight, while we lawyers certainly cannot indulge in the conceit that our experiences mirror those at Antietam or Falujah, many of us are challenged to our core on a daily basis by the demands of the work that we do and the environment we create.  Martin Seligman, Ph.D., professor of psychology at University of Pennsylvania and past-president of the A.P.A., has something to tell us about the causes of our professional unhappiness and the way out of it.

 In his recent book, Authentic Happiness (despite the rather “sweet” title this is a powerful and rigorously researched work), Seligman first describes a number of the qualities of thought which are endemic to the practice of law that seem to make us prone to pessimism and unhappiness.  These observations are consistent with a wide array of research conducted over the years at U.W., Johns Hopkins and under the auspices of the A.B.A.  These have been touched upon in past columns and I won’t belabor them here.  If you are interested, I do recommend you to the “Work and Personal Satisfaction” chapter in Seligman’s book for a particularly trenchant discussion of the challenges faced by attorneys.  For the moment, let’s take as a given that lawyers experience a depressing downward pressure on their mood and life-outlook from their education, training and practice.  Now for a way out.

 Gratitude is not a habit of mind for lawyers – nor is it a habit of conduct.  Yet, Seligman’s research has revealed, quite clearly, that a deep sense of personal well-being comes with attendance to gratitude.  This is a two-step process.  The first is simple realization of those circumstances and people for which we are deeply grateful.  It is suggested from various sources, both spiritual and secular, that we would be well-served by taking a set time out of our routine to acknowledge to ourselves what and who we are grateful for – and not only the object, but the reason. 

 For example, I am blessed to have my eleven year old daughter in my life….because when I get home from dealing with the toxicity of conflict for a living, she’s there with our beautiful golden retriever and she is so beautifully open, intelligent and fresh.   I am invariably transported to a finer place and as I sit here right now and look at her picture on my desk, I feel myself relax. 

 We so often take our health and physical well-being for granted.  I remember a moment five years ago when I was on a ladder, arranging some boxes in the attic of our home when the ladder slipped out from under me and I fell flat on my back from ceiling height.  I should by all rights have been seriously injured – but all I got was a bruise on my arm.  I don’t know what force protected me that morning – perhaps it was God almighty;  maybe it was dumb luck –  but there’s not a week that goes by that I’m not grateful for my health and moments of good fortune such as that.

 As I write this, my wonderful wife is soon to be leaving for a two week trip to Italy with  her best pal.  I’m looking forward to being Mr. Mom for a while and having alone time with our girl, but I’m going to miss the warmth and sweetness of my baby’s loving company. 

 While all of these thoughts tend to lighten the load on a daily basis, there is one more powerful step which brings the power of gratitude home.  That is the expression of gratitude.

 I went through a period when I was lazy and didn’t express my gratitude to my life’s partner.  Over time a hard-to-pinpoint coolness developed inside of me. I actually was very aware that in my preoccupation with work and striving that I was failing in the fundamental task of expressing my gratitude for the love in my life.  When I finally “snapped out of it” and began to attend to these gifts, I swear it felt like the windows were thrown open to a stuffy room and warmth began to fill our home.  This warmth not only filled our environment, the actual practice of experiencing and expressing gratitude felt healing for me, internally.  Recently, the incessant stresses of this professional calling are less wearing.  Renewal is easier.

 So here’s a suggestion.  In three weeks, those of you who are fortunate to be sitting around a table on Thanksgiving with people who have touched you, express your gratitude – openly and unabashedly.  What the heck.  If you can’t get away with that kind of behavior on Thanksgiving, when can you?  Let each person who touches you know that you are grateful for their gifts. Describe those gifts, simply and clearly.  See how it makes you feel.  My bet is that you’ll think you just gave yourself an enormous holiday gift.

Best Money I Ever Spent

I’m writing a book.

Actually, I’m well into the process and expect for it to be available in August.  I have titled it Divorce (or Not): A Guide, and its 300+ pages will cover much of what I have pondered, and learned, professionally over the past 40 years.  Each step in the process of conceiving, creating and honing this book has been rich with the gems I have Cover.1uncovered about both how to approach such a project and, well,  my own darned self.  For anyone who has felt they wanted to write a book, but has not put fingertip to keyboard, here is a brief description of my experience.

1.  Conception:  Many of us have at least one book marinating inside our heads.  If you have ever said, “I’d like to write a book,” then you’ve got one resting comfortably inside your cranium.  That is step one.

2.  Blurting: I finally goosed myself into writing when I sat down in April, 2014 and prepared a Table of Contents, which was a good outline for what I wanted to say.  Then, I just blurted.  I spent about five months simply getting it out of my head and into my computer.  I knew it did not matter how it sounded because nobody was going to see it but me.

3.  First Refinement Phase(s):  Once out there, I started to laboriously review, reorganize and clean up what I had written.  Again, this was for my eyes only.

4.  First Feedback Phase:  Once I felt okay with it, I sent my work product out to a handful of dear, and smart, friends for feedback.  I was initially nervous about this step, but had recently bought a great book Thanks for the Feedback – The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well and it helped gird my loins for external comment on my baby.  People were generous and spot-on with a number of their comments.  In response, I put the book through a massive re-organization and re-write.  I shared the new approach with a smaller group of people because, to be honest, I was afraid of burning people out.  After all, it is quite the gift of time and energy to read someone else’s work and give thoughtful, cogent feedback.  After positive comment, I was ready to find an editor.

5.  Working With an Editor:  Thus, the title of this blog post.  A web search brought me to the site of the Northwest Independent Editors Guild, and after a fairly thorough vetting process I chose my current favorite person in the entire world (FPITEW) other than my wife and daughter (FPITEWOTMWAD), Jennifer D. Munro.  Last week, I finished  reviewing her comments and I don’t think a day went by that I failed to send her an ardent appreciative email.  A good editor projects such care onto your creation.  The process of improving the work product while maintaining the writer’s voice is challenging and if you are lucky, you will find that combination of skill and kindness.  (It didn’t hurt that Jennifer liked my sense of humor.)  I believe I am an excellent writer.  I enjoy the process and for years have received uniformly positive feedback.  I believe this affirmation gave me the confidence to embark on the project in the first place.  Yet, I have learned a great deal about writing and the places I can improve, markedly,  through Jennifer’s kind and rapier-sharp feedback.  There were many places throughout my review of her “track changes” comments that I thought, “This comment is appropriate and helpful.  I can imagine it having been made by someone with a harsher hand and instead of learning an important lesson I can use in the future, I would have been chagrined, embarrassed, defensive and dispirited.  I’d had enough of that kind of treatment in my first year in law school many years ago.”

So here’s to you Jennifer Munro.  Every cent I pay you for your service is the best money I ever spent.

If I End Up With Alzheimer’s…….

When we baby boomers get together, I find that the conversation often migrates over to talk consistent with our age and stage in life.  Our bodies are no longer taken for granted, as they are with my daughter and other young people we are blessed to know (all in their 20’s and 30’s).  High on the list of topics is the frightening specter of Alzheimer’s, which can slowly rob us of our identity.  No other organ can fail and strip us of our sense of self like our Sandy.Bembrains.  In a brilliantly written, deeply felt and penetrating piece in the 5/17/15 New York Times Magazine, Robin Marantz Henig tracks the degeneration of Sandy Bem, a woman of unfathomable life force who was diagnosed at the age of 65.   Upon presentation with the unalterable diag – and prog-nosis, she made the decision that when she had deteriorated to the point of being completely dependent and unable to “be myself,” she would voluntarily end her own life.

I cannot count the times I have heard friends and comrades in my generation utter with complete assurance that if they were diagnosed with a degenerative dementia, they would choose to end their lives before they reached a certain point of cognitive deterioration.  I have known people in my parents’ generation who said the same thing, and who invariably failed to do so.  Such a statement is like the thoughts that ease the pain of depression – “I could kill myself.”  Yet such thoughts, which promise relief from the pounding, dominating inner pain, are not, in themselves, a plan to suicide.  Similar is the, “If I get Alzheimer’s, I’ll…..” statement.  Sandy Bem, however, followed through in a thoughtful and very focused manner.  The story is one of fortitude, grief, and devotion.

I have never rSandy.Bem.2ead, in so short a space, a clearer portrait of the unrelenting loss of person-hood.  As her time for action on her commitment approached, her husband (from whom she had been separated, but never divorced) was her constant companion.  Her adult daughter resisted the decision and wanted one more year – one more month – whatever she could get – for her mother to spend time with her baby.  I have a good friend, Don Desonier, who has transitioned from a family lawyer and mediator to a caregiver/coach and family mediator for families struggling with this dark and painful challenge.  He was a long-time caregiver for his wife, Nancy, who died two years ago after her losing battle with dementia.

There are many changes that our society will experience in the coming decades.  My daughter’s whip-smart boyfriend said over dinner this weekend that the political landscape will be completely different in 20 years.  As we have come to accept – actually embrace – same sex unions, I believe we will accept – even embrace – conscious dying, as we struggle as a culture to address the new challenges wrought by longevity and medicine’s maintenance of the physical body.  The New York Times essay, together with the most affecting piece I have ever read  (in which Katy Butler describes the mental deterioration of her brilliant father who had been a professor at Wesleyan University) are but two of a growing number of personal reflections which wrestle with one of the great personal, familial and cultural challenges of our age.

Living the Good Life ?

A New York Times article appeared on April 27th featuring the struggles faced by recent law school graduates, 20% of whom, according to one survey, are not working at a job weatlh.1that requires a license to practice law.  This rather desperate state of affairs was introduced by the story of 29 year old Jonathan Wang, a Columbia Law School graduate who is quoted as saying, “I would spend three years at school in New York, then work for a big law firm and make $160,000 a year, and someday, I would become a partner and live the good life.”

Really?

So what is the “good life” that Jonathan and his cohorts strive to achieve?   It sounds an awful lot like making a lot of money and then enjoying all the money he made.  I don’t hear him talking about a deeply satisfying work life which responds to whatever inner calling he brings with him – be it service to a population he is attracted to, intellectual curiosity, deep engagement in the machinery that makes this society just and workable.  Does the “good life” include time with his family – the chance to spend leisurely weekend mornings lazing in bed with his kid(s) crawling all over him or the loving rituals he will share with his partner that will keep them secure and bonded?  Does “the good life” include a spiritual calling – be it a membership in an embracing congregation, or the awe he might experience in moments of private reflection?  Does it include doing good works for no compensation other than the knowledge that you have contributed to the well-being of others?

This mwealth.2ay be very generational, but I really don’t understand it when young people say they want to retire when they are 50, or even 40.  I never hear (it may be said, but I’m not hearing it) that these people, who wish to sacrifice their early adult years for a “good life” later, speak of what they want to do with this good life other than spend the money they have sacrificed to amass.  Meanwhile, they will likely find they must spend a lot of time, emotional energy  (and money) attempting to reweave the bonds with their loved ones which have frayed and stretched as they have become embedded in a culture of striving for great financial reward.  We should not forget that lawyers have a unique and valuable role in our society.  No other profession studies the way a society works – how common disputes can be resolved in a productive way.  It has been said that doctors are healers of the body; ministers are healers of the soul and lawyers are the healers of the society.  It is a bit of a perversion to see the practice of law as an avenue to riches.  It has become sadly common to think of it that way.  Yet, we can’t escape the fact that lawyers have a frighteningly high proportion of their population suffering from depression.  Google “lawyers” and “depression” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  It’s good, actually, that the practice of law may no longer be a gilded path to wealth.  Hopefully, this will result in a greater number of young people not succumbing to the siren call of some “good life” and who may choose, instead, to contribute their skill, knowledge and earned wisdom so we can all live a good life.

 

Therapy Thoughts – The Importance and Elusiveness of Self-Compassion

You may have heard.  The Seahawks lost.  They didn’t just lose – they tore out the heart of a region with a poorly called or poorly executed or poorly blessed play at the end of the Seahawk.cryingSuper Bowl.  If you haven’t heard, then you’re not reading this and are probably foraging for breakfast on your deserted island.  As for the rest of us….wow!  Wow wow wow wow.  On Monday after the game, I processed this hardly imaginable disaster with a few friends and none of them had slept on Sunday night.  My wife, who doesn’t give a hoot for sports, recovered about five seconds after Butler’s interception.  I usually pity her for not being able to get excited about the drama of good sports contests, but this week I envied her.  Seriously, this was a visceral blow to those of us who were all engaged with this scintillating drama.

Then again, it wasn’t Ebola.  It wasn’t a suicide bomb detonating at our place of worship.  Tanks aren’t rolling down our street to crush dissent.  My family is healthy and secure.  Really, in the big picture, it IS a game and three days later, I’m just glad I’m not one of the team members.  Now, they must be having a real hard time right now.  Still, their families are safe and they  will be able to cash their checks.  This all got me to thinking about people in therapy who have suffered emotionally in their lives and who dismiss their pain by saying, often glibly, “What right have I to complain?  I’m not blind.  I’m not a starving child in Africa.”  Well, that’s true.  Our distress can often be easily dismissed as “First World Problems,” but to do this matter-of-factly really misses what I think is a very important point.

People who struggle emotionally have a really heartbreaking paucity of self-compassion.  There seems to be this either/or duality in our thinking, so that we think that the choice is (a) wring our hands and cry “woe is me,” collapsing into a mound of self-pitying protoplasm, or (b) dismiss our pain because we have two functioning legs (and others don’t) or two functioning eyes (and others don’t), etc.  However, I do believe that many of us hold fear, shame, grief and other honest and very real feelings inside (and usually have for a long, long time).  When we first experienced the violations or wounds that caused us to experience these, we also reasoned with our youthful brains that we could never show the world, or ourselves, the horrible pain or the belief that a powerful force outside ourselves (adult parental figures) were wrong or uncontrollable.  That would be intolerably confusing and frightening.  So we hold it inside and when we get older dismiss our deepest wounds with off-hand comments like, “What do I have to complain about…”   In dealing with most of the world, that’s a smart decision.  But in our closest relationships, or in therapy, by thinking these thoughts, we deny ourselves the care we have longed for and, at the same time, found so risky.  I have sat in amazement and great sadness watching the determined energy with which  people bat away truly caring statements from their partners in couples therapy – or me in individual work.  We are so many things in our lives – filled with such an array of feelings.  Many such feelings are safe to show to the world.  Others, comprising an essential and intense core, are very risky.  Chief among them is the grief we harbor for the love we needed and the anger, neglect and judgment we received in its stead.  For many of us, it’s part of our personality and isn’t going to simply evaporate over time.  We need to embrace it – embrace ourselves – and allow others to embrace us as well – to embrace our hearts while we are experiencing this grief.  Yes, we have both eyes or both legs – and we also have weeping hearts that we shield from ourselves and others.  If we can be able to say to ourselves, “It’s okay.  That part of myself is there along with all the other parts. I can grieve for the embracing love I needed and didn’t receive” I think we can experience our world more fully and freely – more joyously.    No one is a “victim” unless they choose to be – and that won’t ever get you anywhere.  There’s a difference, though, between embracing our own hearts and letting ourselves be cared for, now, and being a victim.  Self-compassion is one of the great gifts of personal therapy, actually.  Even New England Patriot fans deserve that  in their lives.

The Uncomplicated, Beautiful “Go Hawks”

When I was a kid in L.A., I loved the Dodgers.  It was the era of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Maury Wills (Perranoski, Fairly, Tommy and Willie Davis – if you were there, you know what I’m talkin’ about) – World Series appearances in ’59, ’63, ’65 and ’66 and a heartbreaking near miss in ’62.  Players didn’t make astronomical salaries and stayed with the same team (and city) throughout their careers.  Ernie  Banks died this week and he was a wonderful man who played with grace and joy for an atrocious Chicago Cubs team for his entire professional life.  It was a nice fantasy – that these guys were playing for us and our neighbors.  Of coSeahawksurse, there was its own brand of injustice to this sweet ideal that a 12 year old boy clutched to his heart.  Professional athletes were forced to stay with the same team by a “reserve clause” in every contract and got paid pretty much what the owners wanted to pay them.

Well, the pendulum has swung to the other pole now with whiplash-inducing velocity.  When Alex Rodriguez signed a 2001 contract paying him $25 million dollars per year, he banked more in 2 days than most fans made in an entire year (over $130,000).  The minimum salary for the major league baseball player who may spend most of the year riding the bench is now $500,000. (Who do you know that makes anywhere near that kind of money?  Few, I would guess.) When a contract is completed, they go to the highest bidder – with an annual salary of $8 million dollars not being good enough if they can make $10 million per year somewhere else.  The days when a pro athlete could remotely be considered “one of us” are long dead and buried.  So has my love for following sport waned – only to pick up if the current team, composed of some familiar and some new, big contract guys start winning.  Owners, like Howard Schultz, unload a “civic institution” like the Seattle Sonics on a group that immediately moves them to Oklahoma City because the place they play can’t accommodate wealthy business people and their hunger for luxury suites.  Professional football players are forced to play a game on Thursday night, given just three days rest after taking a beating equivalent to a mugging with a steel pipe.  Why?  More wealth for the already wealthy.  Boy, talk about the corruption of money in American life – look no further than the world of sports.

And then the Seahawks stage a miraculous comeback and land in their second straight Super Bowl, to be played in three days.  I just received an e-mail from a therapist I don’t know commenting on a piece I just wrote for a local therapists’ newsletter and she ended her message with “Go Hawks!”  I had a couple I work with in therapy end their session two nights ago with the same exhortation.  Drive through Seattle or Bellevue and you can’t go more than two blocks without seeing a “12” banner, signifying the Twelfth Man – the team’s fans.  It doesn’t matter if you are black or white, rich or poor or even freakin’ red blooded or blue blooded.  Everyone around here is pumped and an entire civic culture is joined around two words “Go Hawks.”  If Russell, Marshawn, Richard, Doug, Bobby and the rest of the Legion of Boom win on Sunday, strangers will beam with unalloyed joy at one another for weeks afterward.  If Brady and his crew of talented cheaters prevail, the disappointment well be joined, a great ride having been shared.  So for all the corruption of values inherent in modern sports, the gift to a community – of unity around a goal is refreshing, lifting spirits around this region – regardless of politics, station in life or present circumstances.  When it’s all over, weeks or months from now, we can all go back to our old divisions and gripes. For now, though….Go Hawks!