Family Therapy

This week began with a lunar eclipse amped up by a full moon. The results were sudden, impactful, disturbing, and unsettling. In all facets of my life I saw people upset, frightened, and angry. I held tightly to my daily rituals, ones which, are the rudders that help me to glide through my day. Morning two mile walk at sunrise with my canine companion, one hour yoga, and meditation. Shower –breakfast– and off to work. News of Trump and Korea wafted through my non-network news world……Charlottesville cast its shadow. I thought of the day I rolled into Charlottesville with my sister and parents –my body springing forth chicken pox and making my way to the medical center there…..

My car exited the parking lot from the grocery store I had just exited. I was met face to face with the demolition of a school where I had been trained to conduct family therapy. Eight months of videotaped sessions with a team of professionals and two way mirrors. I sat aghast at the sight of the building in ruins…..and I felt the tears sprint down my cheek and a tautness in my throat and chest……a wrecking ball laying waste to a place and time I had held sacred…I sensed the loss of a time of innocence, a remembrance and celebration of the value of family therapy, and my formation of valuable counseling skills of compassion, connection, and loving kindness meditation….

I was finding myself nostalgic for an earlier time of innocence–Where violence and impersonal insensitivity was perhaps more hidden, less raw, and perhaps more regional. Over-faced by Facebook and other of the instantaneous and multi-faceted news feed, I reached into my earlier days where phone were attached to walls without answering machines and computers only lined corporate locked rooms not laps. What I needed was a good dose of my mother’s lap.

And then came the text from my sister to me and my folks. It was a kind of technological hug reaching from coast to coast. And then my mother called, and she and my father listened to my uncharacteristically sad take on the state of the world and my place in it. It was a moment where I was sliding from my can–do position to one of overwhelm and withering spirit. My mother father and sister had held me held me across the phone line. Later I took the hot bath and the nap prescribed, and now I can face another week with hope in my heart, Michael Franti lyrics in my ears, and my lab by my side, and the love that is my family’s legacy in my heart.

As I work with families this week and beyond, may I hold in my heart the deep knowledge and appreciation of my family and their love and the family therapy that I received today.

 

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Mother’s Day: A day of remembrance

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It’s a day of emotion and connection, Mother’s Day.  It’s our day of reflection into our origin story, our entry into and out of the primordial ooze.  And then there is the layer of the commercial upon the emotion replete with flowers and cards and duty.

My mother is at a play in Connecticut at the Long Wharf theatre today with my father who is celebrating his 82nd birthday.  My parents are indeed Thespians, I was even named after a play written by George Bernard Shaw.  The play of my life began with my mother being ushered into Columbia Presbyterian Hospital on the isle of Manhattan one snowy Friday evening  in December with nary a taxi available for the ride to the hospital.  My mother left her purse in the taxi, my father had to threaten the taxi dispatcher to retrieve her wallet,  and my mother grew nauseous from the spaghetti and meatball meal she had ingested to close to my arrival.

Yet with the the swirling energy and the near full moon, I arrived in less than four hours, in an uncomplicated delivery, robust, alert, and cheery to all accounts.

Now in my third act, I live far from the northeast.  I sit under tall Ponderosa Pines on a sunny day and reflect on the first two acts of my life; a cacophony of people, episodes, adventures,  and lessons.

One such adventure I was reminded of in the parking lot of a grocery store this morning as I set to drive off with pineapple and yogurt.  A man approached my car with a smile.  I suspected I had left my keys outside or some-other mishap, but he wondered at my front license plate, a souvenir plate of Kentucky.  He asked me if I was from Kentucky…………and I traveled to the second act of my life.  Kentucky, where I had almost drowned, become an equestrian, met the love of my life, all phases now in the rear view mirror of my life.  He had lived in Pineville, an eastern Kentucky hamlet that I had traveled to with my husband.  I relished the warmth and gentility this man offered.  He spoke of the cool mountain air and trees.  I missed all that he offered, and absorbed the remembrance on this, a day of remembrance.

I stopped at the gas station.  Cars from all over were collecting gas for trips to meet mother’s.  An SUV with a confederate flag stood perpendicular to mine.  My muscles tightened and I reflected upon a confrontational conversation I had once had with another such vehicle’s owner.  I was incensed that anyone would affix  that flag on their vehicle.  The farm worker defended their position.  I countered by questioning why anyone would celebrate the confederacy OR a lost battle.  Awakened from that memory, a Mennonite woman stopped to ask me where country club road was.  I heard her southern accent and asked where she was from having given her directions.  Jacksonville, she responded with “bless you dear.”     I remembered a friend who had begged me to move to Jacksonville in my late 20’s.   I paused and reflected that  If I had taken that path, Kentucky would never have materialized.

I returned home to water plants, and tidy up the house and I came across an envelope stuck in a Kentucky photo album now 25 years old.  In the envelope was a collection of letters from high school and college boyfriends, letters from my mother and father, a newspaper article heralding my college boyfriends’s running-back acumen and diary entrees from a high school.  I saw the words from the voice of the person I was, still evolving still stretching into adulthood.

Mother’s Day for me this year has been a memorial day come early.  No armaments needed no soldiers in uniform required, just a reverie of reflection.

I am grateful that this Mother’s day I was able to wish my mother a happy day, to thank her and express my love for her. This I feel for my remarkable father as well to whom I send out birthday wishes and gratitude for the love and life he gave me.   I don’t know how more years of that I will be afforded going forward.  Mom  and Dad thank you for my life and my adventures, may they continue to come forward.

Playful, the dandelion

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Saturday morning sunshine beckoned me to the dirt trail near my home this morning.  That along with the open mouthed panting of my Lab companion Frannie.  And out we went earlier than most.  Flowers, new generations of flowers have arrived in the high desert.  Some spikey yellow Zinnia type wildflower, bluebonnets, a desert primrose.  Even the un-natural green of artificially seeded banks along the arroyos have come into their uniformly green hue.

And then I happened upon a meandering row of near perfect dandelions and I felt an urge to do the almost unthinkable……and so I did.  I grasped the waxy stem of a dandelion and blewwwww………….  resulting in a flurry of floating seeds, of hope that yet more of these merry seeds may waft and float to welcoming soil.  And with the breath and action I felt the same exuberance of my child still alive, however well camouflaged at times, rejoicing in the simple.

We adults need to play just as our younger counterparts do.  Its a basic human need and drive.  So wrestle with the dog, throw a stick, throw yourself into volleyball or tennis, or the pool, or something real….not virtual.  Something you can see and feel.  Maybe even something alive.

It occurs to me that many adults are veritable bonsai trees having amputated the last vestiges of their authentic selves.  Coifed and clothed in uniforms, watching and reading that which Microsoft or amazon or yahoo or Verizon has selected for them to listen, hear, and scroll through on their external brains (or phones).

How to undo this colonization of modernity and return to the functioning of an organism as it was indeed designed to function if not flourish?   Go to the flowers.  Go to the streams.  Go to the mountains.  Turn it all off, all that has an adapter or a plug.  Pick a day, pick a time of day when no mercurial glow can emanate eerily.   Rather delight in the glow your skin and face will emit when you climb into your soul and body.

Go play frisbee………………….

Climb on out of the cage….

Spring is quickly running into summer, with soft breezy nights, greenery and bulbs a-flourish, kids and couples staying outside to parade along tree-lined paths arroyos and streams. In short we are going into the out of doors, that place of our origins.

Anxiety has grown in this great country of ours, just as people have taken to the indoors, the tv screen, to the screen you are reading from. Have you seen Gorillas in zoos, particularly the old fashioned zoos where cement slab meets primate? Eyes frozen and dull.

Newsflash: we are primates. We need nature bathing. That’s the in-vogue name the Japanese are calling time out in nature. Research is showing just how vital it is to get out on walks in nature, not cement city blocks

So if you don’t have a dog or a pet centipede, may I urge you to take it to the dirt, maybe even without the ear buds. My lab companion Frannie and I already took to the trails this morning. We saw the new buds and some of the old unraveling. We heard bird songs. We collected vitamin D into our skin and coat. We gathered peace and inspiration in the vistas and the views, and we gathered relaxation and wonder as we pulled in the perfume of the spring morning air. Inoculate yourself with wonder and stamp out anxiety. Check into nature.thlady

Traveling Trauma

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I was watching the post-quel or prequel or whatever quel of film “300”, the tale of the mighty 300 or so Spartan soldiers whose rose to fight the Persian’s expansive army. I paid attention in hoping to gain some insight into my militaristic –Spartan ancestry as we all carry our ancestors with us.
 
I was delighted to note that Spartan women, unlike the Athenians and other women of the era, were considered equals to men, educated and allowed to own property. This seemed just and right and my admiration for my ancestry locked in. I wasn’t much for their militaristic orientation nor their proclivity for infanticide, but I did admire their ability to serve the majority through discipline and serving the community as a whole.
 
As the story unfolded, I discovered that the Persian army was poised to destroy the greeks under the devilish commander, a Greek woman, who was raped as a young girl as she watched her family murdered. In that moment of abject horror and trauma, she vowed to return to her native Greece and to destroy the Greeks who had killed her family and defiled her. She claimed her blood and birthright Greek, her heart Pure Persian.
 
This a story of trauma and PTSD and how it can alter the fate of individuals, of families and ultimately of nations.
 
And then I consider the trauma that the author of Mary Poppins, PL Travers, the daughter of an alcoholic whose father died in her seventh year and how her trauma translated, at least in part, to the creation of Mary Poppins. A balm to the troubled family—the celebration of a partnership modeled society, a page turn away from patriarchy….a celebration of the suffragettes of that era.
 
And I consider how the childhood traumas of Trump and Clinton and Bernie have all woven separate textiles, some life affirming—some not so much.
 
Trauma travels around us daily. May we seek to join with those whose traumas and fears and hopes that might differ from ours with one real goal in mind: To support life on this planet, not just survival, for it is in the mending of the broken that we may all thrive.
 
As we gaze at the horizon of 2017 may we keep our eyes poised north to Standing Rock and the water protectors there. The Lakota have been traumatized as history tells….But in their trauma they have not lost sight of protecting Mother earth—-she who sustains us all. Let’s pay attention to our individual and collective traumas, bring them into consciousness and place in our alchemical basins the ingredients of strength, kindness, discernment, and ownership of our strengths and our shadows. Let’s be clever as we mix our magical alchemical brews so as to support life fairness and love in the years ahead.

The Power of the Hero’s Journey

ladyThe inertia that accompanies depression and anxiety is an opportunity. We have all felt “the overwhelm” of our lives at times. This is an invitation for the creativity that comes with the adoption of the archetypes of adventure, the hero’s journey if you will. It’s what we in the therapeutic community refer to as the “reframe”.

Joseph Campbell and his compadre George Lucas understood the value of myth in helping individuals to understand their world and their place in it. From the ancient Greek myths as far back as the Odyssey to the latest Star Wars Film, there is medicine in the media! There, heros and heroines are available for hire as we circumnavigate our latest quandary, are deflated egos, and hopeless selves.

starwarsI have met with countless clients who come to me at first meeting telling me how they feel trapped, alone, and deflated. I draw their attention to an archetype, usually a figure that they admire either from a film that they have seen or a biography they have read. There are few well-known “heroes” in the news and or in the public eye that haven’t endured their own hero’s’ journey.

dorothyLook to Opra Winfrey, Maya Angelou, Princess Diana, Stephen Hawkins for real life examples, or to the characters from Star Wars be it Luke Skywalker, our new female Star Wars warrior, Dorothy in the wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins, the little mermaid, and countless others. What do these characters share in common?

They each felt isolated, alienated, and were put to the test. What arose from this period of alienation and isolation was a rebirth. The hero’s journey is threefold: there is the call of the journey or the catapulting into the journey called the “threshold”, the separation and isolation often referred to as the “severance”, and the “return” in which the hero returns newly created and stronger for the effort put forth in the transformation created by the trials and tribulations of the severance period.

I have four modalities thlabat I prefer in helping to catalyze the hero’s journey with client’s: EMDR, Sandplay, narrative therapy, and therapeutic writing. Each can be tailored to accentuate movement from inertia, a realization of that which has been gained and learned through their own personal trials, and a reframe of the narrative they have been telling themselves.

Whatever the process or modality, there is one common denominator: the person that has come for help in seeking an answer –leaves with a new way at looking at the problem presented. The medicine is in the reframe, for it is in the reframe that a new sense of movement, of locomotion, and a seizing of a new vantage point and the recognition of a new life path invisible just moments before. As I gaze at faces once sullen and sad, I recognize, the ignition of hope and the palpable presence of inspiration. I see healing.

World Run Riot?

Certainly, the avalanche of images and stories erupting from the middle east and Europe have done nothing to improve average individuals’ sense of calm and tranquility.  The ardent battle cries and vocal outrage does nothing but to increase our heightened sense of outrage, anxiety, despondency, and anger.  These images can cause trauma, and the overwhelming sense that we are powerless.

What to do?  Take it to the trees is my motto. Walk by the stream.  Stand by the pond.  Go for a hike out in nature.  Develop a gratitude list and breath it into your body::: into your nose, and out of your mouth with a count to three in, and six out, repeat two more times.  Up your exercise, get your body moving, that is one of the best ways to metabolize fear, frustration, and anger.  Yoga.  Go to the mat.  focus on muscle stretching combined with breath which can only serve to bring you back into alignment, emotionally, hormonally, spiritually.

Treat your thoughts as if you had a remote, and each set of thoughts were a channel.  You have a choice.  When a negative thought emerges, witness it, and redirect.  Quantum physicists and neuroscientists agree, that our mental images effect our bodies in the same way.  Our muscles respond one and the same whether imagined or seen through our optic nerves.  Hence NASA and the US olympic teams have employed creative visualization to develop practice in accomplishing future events.

So, even if you are in line with “Chicken Little”, remember that the thoughts you have are setting you on a course.  It’s your decision.  Look at your diet, the company you keep, and don’t feel guilty to enjoy the life offered—even if others are not.  Life is to be appreciated.   Joy is your birthright!

I leave you with the wisdom of Kentucky Poet, Wendell Berry, whose words resound and can provide the salve most needed:

The Peace of Wild Things

BY WENDELL BERRY

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things” from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Copyright © 1998. Published and reprinted by arrangement with Counterpoint Press.

Healing from Trauma: The Film “Wild”

I have sat and wondered at two new films brought to us by the two remarkable women directors and producers of Wild and Unbroken.  Both are beautiful to view, and both touch upon a subject I deal with daily as an EMDR therapist.  Trauma/PTSD and the remarkable resiliency of the thing that makes us all human beings:  The human spirit.

Both films are as beautiful, heart wrenching, and implicitly unrelenting in their portrayl of the triumph over PTSD.   We all have our traumas and the opportunity to traverse the shameful walls of trauma and triumph just as the heroes of these two films do.

In Wild, Reese Witherspoon portrays a real life woman who endures a lifetime of traumas stemming from the childhood abandonment of her father, the domestic abuse that spawned the divorce of her mother and father, and ultimately the early and sudden death of her mother at the age of 45.   What ensues is a montage of sexual behavior ill-fitting to her character and her marriage, alcohol abuse, heroin abuse, and ultimately her divorce.  Her human spirit reaches out to grasp a random book off the shelf of a box store drug store. The book: a Pacific Coast Trail guide book.    Through the haze of heroin, our heroine determines to walk the astounding distance of 1600 some odd miles from the Pacific Coast Trail’s Mexican point of origin to the finish on the Oregon border.  The film escorts us along the trail along with the litany of traumas as her bruised and forceful feet walked metronome like toward the termination point.  The author and hiker then wrote her book Wild and produced the film bearing the same name.

How does someone endure such traumas and rejoin their life’s path with all the joy and determination of a warrior bound for victory.?   The answer:  Bilateral stimulation and expressive writing.  These are my two preferred methods of treating clients who have endured their worst.  EMDR and expressive writing are the key to the door of rehabilitation and triumph.

The Native Americans knew the secret of bilateral stimulation and used drums, dance, and rattles when their warriors returned from battle.   Somewhere in the heart of us all is this ancient knowledge of self-repair.   We can return to the path of joy in our life.  Just as the Cretans celebrated the labyrinth as a path of wonder, ceremony, and a symbol of life’s miraculous meandering path –we too can walk on our paths, rediscover our center, our health, and our joy.

The key is to find your path to wellness through EMDR, expressive writing, dance, running, walking, drumming and the like.

I invite you to take the first step on your road to Recovery and Joy.

Sand play

Carl Jung was said to play along the shores of the lake by his house. With a stick, the old man played on, moving sand and objects about, creating, and envisioning in a three dimensional world. This play spoke to his soul, his psyche, in a way mere words could not. Dora Kalff, a client of Jung’s wife Emma, fused Jung’s active imagination work with the work of British pediatrician Margaret Lowenfeld’s technique in which she provided a “free and protected space” in which children could communicate their needs and fantasies. This “wonder box,”as she referred to it, was at first a zinc tray filled with sand that children could place any number of miniature objects. Lowenfeld was known to say this play was appropriate to all ages.
Central to the philosophy Kalff developed was the employment of the technique “visioning.” Visioning is the age old technique employed by shamans the world over. In it the shaman’s visions were adopted to provide prosperity and health to their tribes.

I was first introduced to Sandplay just a few days after returning from my firsts day solo vision quest in the ancient lands of the anasazi. Now the proud ceremonial lands of the Navajo, Canyon de Chelly is reserved for its people with exceptions only granted access with accompanying Navajo. I slept under the night sky and the yellowing leaves of a strong old cottonwood. My post lay directly under a collection of Shaman petroglyphs I discovered my first day (climbing up a loose shale hillside at great risk to myself). Below my tree and to my right was a roaring stream, that grew quiet the first day. The Tsaile damn had closed off the rush of waters– an echo of this frozen ceremonial time. I wandered about the second day only to discover the origin of the ever-present yellow jackets. Lying under a stand of cottonwoods was the carcass of a dead bay mare. This dead horse was significant as I had been pelted by the death of many significant friends in the years prior to the vision quest. The third day I came across a herd of wild horses, the third night I was awakened by a trio of wild horses, amongst them a lone white stallion which reared as I bolted up awake. The fourth night a group of seven horses could be seen directly below the 7 shaman petroglyphs on the unsteady shale above, this highlighted by the full moon night sky.

I came back to civilization, cognizant, that I had endured a most significant experience. My conscious mind was clouded by the eeriness of it all, my psyche craved an intepreter. The timing of a three day sand play workshop was the key to the lock. I, along with other hopeful therapists, sat poised in front of our wooden boxes, with blue painted sides. We perused the endless number of objects. The horses, the sand, the trees, the shamans, all objects that I needed were there. I related to the archetypal Dorothy of the wizard of oz, on a rare and magical journey, which I shared with my colleagues. I walked along the rear table holding miniatures and books and came across a book written by a sand play therapist that is the great granddaughter of the late author of the Oz series. Synchronicity set into the sand.

In the days that followed, my trays evolved. The story became edited, less cluttered, more refined, well hewn. What was most palpable was the growing sense of calm I felt within. Somehow as the figures evolved in space, my soul began to settle.

In the end, I wrote some fourteen pages on my experience and how it was held by this shamanic technique.

More recently, I have worked with Native American people in Santa Fe. My preferred practice, is to invite clients to take to the sand box with their hearts moving the objects few or many. The stories they share are accompanied by relief and inspiration by what they see before them: their psyches/souls in three dimensional reality. My favored nickname for the process: Ceremony in a box.

This morning, in the aftermath of an unending snow storm, I took to the sand myself. There I placed Dorothy ( a figure I won at a silent auction at the sand play associations 2013 annual meeting while seated next to Frank Baum’s great granddaughter, the author of the wizard of oz—quite by coincidence) at the center of a labyrinth, calling to mind, my journey to the center of my heart with my bear, my healing helper. To the far right stands the cottonwood tree, and behind her the turquoise horse, and the navajo people standing next to the rainbow I saw in the canyon. To the far left is Mauna Kea volcano of the big isle of Hawaii, where I spent a winter swimming with dolphins and exploring the jungle there. To the close near left is the quail, a reminder of my first peruvian ceremony at Big Tesuque where I spotted a mother quail and her four children who ran off as I approached, only to discover my mentor dead 5 hours later in the sol y loma subdivision opposite the Quail Run Subdivision. Finally, the far near right recalls my five months in Peru, the sacred rocks, the winged Apus, the Owl of Wicucu that I spied that magical day. This journey of my recent life, I recapture. It is an utterance without words. My soul recognizes the symbols in such a deep way, I can exhale satiated and somehow deeply connected to that which is.

Come, come, play in the sand, it can be better than a day at the beach!