The Beauty of a Tangled Mess

It has been a while since I’ve allowed myself time to sit down and gather my thoughts to write. There is something about this turning from Summer to Fall and now heading into Winter that seems to discombobulate me a bit – especially when I am mindfully observing it all –  and my seasonal turn inward this year has been especially tangled. I am not sure why this is. A bit sluggish in the body, increased emotional reactivity, an amplified desire to flee back to my warmer and greatly missed home state, California…twists and turns and inner-conflicting directions to consider and, and…well, just a bit tangled up lately.

Yet, while sitting in meditation this morning I became aware of a growing curiosity about this state. Allowing it to amplify, I was surprised to find a memory of a photo I had taken a while back of a beautiful natural sculpture from a massive tree root. Tangled, intricate, beautiful

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I recall that when I came upon this beautiful piece of art, I silently studied it for quite a long time, taking in each detail and watching the changing shadows as the sun rose higher by each moment. I felt grateful for this beautiful tangle before me; something that in the literal context of trying to dig these roots from a yard, would be a disagreeable nuisance.

I realized this morning that I had been experiencing my tangled seasonal shift as a parallel disagreeable nuisance. Then I saw that wishing my uncomfortable “nuisance” experience away would be akin to taking a chainsaw to this beautiful piece of art.

Now, as I am writing and reflecting on this morning’s realization, I feel a sense of ease with my inner tangles. Perhaps even they are a thing of beauty. I will step back and study them, remembering to appreciate their shadows in the sun.

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Embracing an Opposing Perspective

It happened again.

Yesterday, I heard a piece of news about a family member that inspired a heated reaction within myself. Before I say more about this, I will say that I give myself credit for the hard work I have done on minding my own business when someone else’s life decisions do not line up with my what-I-think-is best thinking, as long as their decisions do not personally affect me. I have enough on the plate of my own life to provide uninvited commentary on someone else’s. Well, the information I was told yesterday does have the potential to affect me (and my pocketbook). While silently and ineffectively smoldering, I miraculously had at least enough presence of rational mind to remind myself of an admittedly and frequently forgotten commitment I made many years ago:  When feeling stubbornly invested in an opinion, try to embrace the opposing perspective to see a bigger picture.

Gulp.

Here’s the history of that commitment: 

Many years ago I enrolled in an Ethics class at a local college. Most of my fellow students and I were in our late 20s or early 30s, fairly well-educated, and while unaware of it at the time, rigidly set in various opinions about how the world should work.

The instructor was a mild-mannered fellow who assigned each of us the task to prepare an oral presentation in defense of a position regarding a controversial issue. He appeared quietly amused by all of our posturing and chest beating in defense of our stated positions on various issues such as religion, politics, abortion, women’s rights, capital punishment, and assisted-death. He encouraged us to invest heavily in our point of view, even suggesting various articles and books to bolster our position on the issue of choice. Many of the presentations were passionately presented, some were preachy and rigid, and a few were just flat out obnoxious. Looking back, I am fairly certain that my presentation contained all of the above.

You can probably imagine our collective surprise when we discovered that our next assignment was to prepare another oral presentation in defense of the view opposing our own regarding our selected topic! Most of us were quite shocked, and I recall actually feeling slightly queasy at the prospect. My first assignment involved defending my position against capital punishment, and now I had to persuasively argue for the death penalty? Really?

We had several weeks to research and prepare our presentations. While at first I felt highly resentful, I noticed that as I began to delve deeper into my topic, I became increasingly confused about what and how to think. After a time, resentment began to give way to curiosity, then excitement as I acquired new information. My rigid position began to erode, along with my ego’s demand to cling to what I thought was rational thinking and a sense of certainty. My final oral presentation included an overview of all sides of the argument and my own evolution in considering various perspectives. It felt liberating to confess to my classmates and instructor that as a result of the assignment, I was undecided and wanted to further consider the issue. I felt no need to concretize my own position and was eager to continue my exploration of the topic.

It was shortly after completing that class that I decided to enroll in a doctoral program in clinical psychology. However, as I reflect back on my entire academic career, it was that Ethics class which taught me the most. I often use the lesson I learned there  – but perhaps not often enough. When I experience a knee-jerk reaction to a given situation and feel compelled to rigidly defend my perspective (much like yesterday), I try to remember to see through the eyes of my “opponent.” I wait until I feel the shift from rigidity, and then I know that I am on my way to becoming more fully informed. In the end, I may hold my same perspective, but I will have seen a broader view on the way.

The way this played out with yesterday’s situation was that I no longer feel the heat of maintaining my position; now it feels like an alert curiosity and desire to hear more about my family member’s perspective. I feel much better equipped to listen with a “clear ear” and can still assert my own boundaries if needed, when the time comes. This feels so much better…

Is there anyone in your life who holds rigid opinions in opposition to you or your positions? Do you hold any rigid opinions? What do you notice when you consider learning about and arguing to support an opposing view?

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Turning

Here it is again. The inevitable turning from summer to fall has begun – as evidenced by the sound of the crickets, shorter days, and cool early September nights. We attended the local Renaissance Faire on Monday (Labor Day) and left after just a couple of hours; it was chilly and our costumes were too flimsy to provide much warmth.

Last evening, we built a bonfire and read our books until it was too dark to see. I even made my official seasonal switch from white wine to red. There’s something almost magical about enjoying a sip of a good red and just a taste of fine dark chocolate while being warmed by a crackling outdoor fire. The garden appears a bit tired, except for the ready-to-soon-announce-themselves-boldly purple asters. I can hardly wait. I was further delighted that I made it through the evening with only one mosquito bite…they usually dive-bomb me so severely that I whine loudly while frantically searching for the bug juice.

One of my parrots is saying “goodnight” around 7:00pm lately; she usually announces her readiness to go to her sleeping cage much later in the evening during the months of June, July, and August. She is also picking fewer of her down feathers; apparently she is aware that she will soon be needing an extra layer of warmth as she preens and prepares her winter clothing.

As for me, I notice myself turning, too. I feel the familiarity of my summer-to-fall rituals:  looking at recipes for warming soups, fantasizing about slipping into my ugly-but-comfy sweats and slippers, and noticing that my thoughts are less “up and out” and more “in and down” lately. I am also longing for the distinct fragrance in the fall air that is different than that of the warmer months. The best smells will be arriving as the temps fall…as soon as we have our first frost, the scent of the leaves as they drop from the trees is indescribably fragrant. This is my favorite seasonal scent of all.

Deep satisfaction…I suppose a warm fire and sip of red will do that to a person.

Yes, my favorite time of the year is the turn to autumn. However, if I pay close enough attention, I can also notice my tendency to jump ahead and bemoan winter’s harsh and inevitable reality. Why do I leap ahead with trepidation when I can enjoy the moment of this turn? My mission, “should I choose to accept it”, is to stay present to each delicious and precious turning moment into this most glorious season.

What about you? What is your favorite seasonal turn?

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How to Fail Successfully

From a small book by Seth Godin (Poke the Box: When was the last time you did something for the first time? 2011 by Do You Zoom, Inc.), I found a little one-liner that has had me pondering all morning:

I define anxiety as experiencing failure in advance…

Sounds about right to me. I have worked with hundreds of psychotherapy clients with severe anxiety and tremendous fears of failure, which stop many from seeking the life they want and deserve. Episodes of anxiety, in varying degrees, are truly part of the human experience for most of us. And, in fairness to all things we pray will go flawlessly – airline flights and major surgery are two that come to mind – there are some things that demand zero tolerance for failure.

However, what if we can experience those not so life-or-death failures while not demonizing them? Develop curiosity about them? Study them? Perhaps invite them? Even…re-define the very word failure? Godin’s book examines the benefits of taking bold risks while building resiliency to fear of failure. Undoubtedly scary stuff for those who are failure-phobic. But, hey…it is an entirely  manageable risk to hit the local library or purchase this little book. I say, take the risk…be a bit curious. Heck, if you are a current or former client reading this post (I know you know who you are!), I will even lend you my copy of the book.

Grab a friend and a cup of something pleasant to drink, and discuss what Godin’s quote brings up in your lives. I’d love to read about what you discover.

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Welcome!

Welcome to my blog, dear reader! These are indeed tremendously exciting (and for my electronic technology-challenged self, a bit daunting) times for blogging, and I am trying to learn how to do just this. I am intrigued by the idea of connecting with others within a broader arena than I am able by other means, and in this spirit, I endeavor to offer up to you some thoughts, observations, and questions; you know…ponderings. My favorite topics to ponder include psychology/social science, the psychotherapeutic process, creativity, health and wellness, nature, and spirituality, which, I suppose, broadly captures much about being human. I take delight in rigorous self-observation (a likely cousin to the art of mindful navel gazing) and aim to not judge myself harshly with what I sometimes find. I ask myself questions, then live the experiment/experience of what might be an answer – or not. Most often this path just deepens the question, which to me is one of those things that makes life worth living. Curiosity about the experience of life and practicing how to think as clearly and objectively as possible while also engaging the other intelligences of my heart and my body is a true joy.

Like most, I also have a silly side that wants to come out to play; often times, far beyond its curfew! I created another blog to honor this part of myself that sometimes behaves like a nerdy kid turned loose in a video game store. PonderToots.com is the place where I plan to send those insistent little thought-bursts; not to exile them, but to provide a playground in honor of the more spontaneous thoughts, ideas, and experiences that can sometimes distract me from more mindful consideration. Feel free to drop in there, take from it what you’d like and maybe even leave something for my – ahem – younger self to play with.

I hope you consider jumping in here to join me at WhyPonder.com and perhaps even lend your thoughts, experiences, and wisdom. Consider responding to my questions (they are not rhetorical; I am very interested in knowing what you think!) after pondering and having your own experience with the topic. I confess to having an agenda, of course. Many of my most valuable learnings in life have come from the mindful comments and questions from others. There’s even a rumor going around that we all need each other to expand our own horizons. What do you think? I say, let’s ponder together.

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