Monday, December 28, 2009

A New Year

What a year of changes! Both professional and personal aspects of my life have changed,become richer and more satisfying. If I were asked to identify only one experience that has enhanced my life in 2009 I would have to identify the work with soldiers and their families.

I have learned so much about integrity and bravery and my own sense of patriotism has been refined. I am more thoughtful and circumspect. I find myself responding with more awareness to issues on which I previously had fixed opinions. I look forward to working with more soldiers and the significant people in their lives in this coming year.

As this new year opens it is possible to face it with apprehension about tasks yet undone or with fear about the unknown and unexpected and those negative feelings would get in the way of simply owning this present moment. All we ever really have is this very moment here. Energy invested in the possibility of what might happen or on the other hand focusing on assignments not completed takes our awareness away from what is really happening in the present.

Breathe and accept this moment as all that we ever need or own. Be gentle with yourself. Be kind to the creatures - all sentient beings - in your life. And, most important of all, laugh.

A New Year

Sunday, December 27, 2009



We got through those challenging days. I survived by doing some actually pretty silly things including gazing at the moon, eating lots of chocolates and watching several thrillers. The closest I got to Christmas spirit was the snow in several of the scenes in the thrillers.

Now it's about breathing and being gentle with ourselves. Maybe even getting files and records ready for the next semester.

Nicest of all is that I am returning to a project started many years ago that was interrupted by a marriage, family crises, a move to Southern California and a change of careers. This adult fantasy is great fun, light, minimal heart break and focuses on dreams of environmental and political peace.

The remainder of this break from office and classroom is a little cooking; I'll get the leak in the bathroom fixed and finally replace that worn-out, broken toaster oven.

Keep thinking those good thoughts AND breathe. Gently enjoy the crisp clean are and the scents of pine in the air. Be of good cheer.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Short Story


My short story has been posted at Do read it. For laughs.

More about getting through the holidays later.

Smudging - discussion will be posted later.

Keep thinking good thoughts.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The most wonderful time of the year?

Not really. These next few weeks are the most challenging of the year. I am always confused about why we must call it the "most wonderful time of the year". Everyone is under pressure to be "joyous" of to spread happiness and gifts. Not really easy this year and that's the point of this blog today.

First, know that these days are rough and it's okay to acknowledge you're not up to the task of making everyone joyous. Do something for yourself: take a deep, gentle breath and sit quietly with a cup of tea or hot chocolate. Be easy on yourself. You can actually provide a lot more happiness for the people around you if you are finding some peace within yourself.

Take care of yourself. Breathe. Take a walk and watch a funny movie. If you can go to the movies, see The Fantastic Mr. Fox. You will get through the next six weeks and then it's a whole new year.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tough Days Ahead: Keep breathing

There're back. Those darkest days of the year. First there's Thanksgiving and eating. Then there are those school and office and neighborhood parties then Chanukah and Christmas and Kwanza and then the New Year. How does anyone get through these days? How does someone who is struggling with depression manage the holidays. What about the families whose soldier is away in training or in Iraq or in Afghanistan?

Sure you can "get through it". But what does that mean? Using every artificial support you can find or doing the whole macho bit of "barrelling through" without a thought about anything except hanging on until January 2? There really is a better way, sometimes an easier way but definitely a way that doesn't add to the sadness that often accompanies the holidays.

First step is to breathe. yes, something as simple as taking a moment to experience that full deep breath before saying anything or taking any action. Then remember there are people who care about you and people who can offer support. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Telling someone you need support is a very brave step. It is the first step to getting through these coming challenging weeks.

Keep breathing. More ideas to be posted.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hello from the woods!

The intensity of the past few days reminds me that as far as we may be from Afghanistan or Iraq or Bosnia we are all touched by the lives that are disrupted in those and all the other conflicts occurring around the globe.

It is important to remember that we can make a difference for both our soldiers here at home and abroad and for ourselves. We can make a difference by being kind to each other, by understanding we all experience confusion and pain about the events at Ft. Hood or at the office building in Orlando or the lack of services from the telephone company. We can't take the gun away from the person racing through the office building but we can look at our own anger and take control of those intense feelings.

When we take responsibility for our own feelings, we are able to show our children that anger does not require destructive behavior. We show ourselves and our loved ones that negative emotions can not only be controlled but can be channeled into constructive action.

The most important way in which we can care for ourselves is by being kind to ourselves, being gentle during these painfully stressful times. Those non- judgmental behaviors will spread beyond ourselves to everyone we touch. Sometimes a pebble in a pond can create a tsunami. The wave of easy, soft feelings we share can soothe others' firey pain.


Monday, September 7, 2009

Thank you

I learned from you all. The Army spouses who were willing to share their 20 years of experience with newer wives and husbands, the Sgts who talked about the tasks of preparing to leave their families for the next rotation and the soldiers who were leaving the new baby only six weeks old or their children just starting the fifth grade or high school. You were generous with your experiences and your warmth and concern and your love of this country brings tears to my eyes.

I look forward to being with you again. You are all in my thoughts and prayers and daily I send you the best I can offer. Thank you for all you do for this country.

Thank you all

I learned from you all. The Army spouses who were willing to share their 20 years of experience with newer wives and husbands, the retired Army Sgts who talked about the tasks of preparing to leave their families for the next rotation

I'm Home

It has taken too many days to re-adjust to life outside the Army post. What an amazing experience. What a satisfying, challenging and heart-rending summer and I am ready to return.

How often we spend our time thinking getting that newest car or the fancy dishwasher or the best meal at the hottest restaurant is what really matters. And those jobs where getting that final perfect shot (after 23 earlier shots of the same action) must be completed before we can wrap for today. Or thinking that something as simple as saying "good morning" to someone else who is walking her dog is a big risk.

These are the sorts of thoughts with which I have been filling my time since my return from the summer with the soldiers, their parents or spouses and siblings. These beautiful young women and men who are readying for their next assignment down range touch me deeply. I can not measure the impact I may have had, I only know I gained so much from the work with all of the people at Ft. Bragg.

Thank you all for being such an important part of my education. Thank you for giving me so much to share with my students.

Monday, August 17, 2009

New Boots

They look like really nice hiking boots. Brown suede with thick black rubber soles that reach up the sides approximately two inches and there is a thick leather collar right next to the ankle bone on these shoes. When these boots are issued the soldier is instructed to wear them now to avoid the problems that might come with impressively engineered boots.

She told me they were more comfortable than the old heavy desert boots and they are actually built in proportion to woman's feet. She told me that this new boot even with the shorter ankle support, was more comfortable and stronger than the heavy desert boot. Her old ankle injury felt even better in these new boots.

How interesting that the uniform the soldiers are now wearing are actually based on ergonomically appropriate construction. That is, the boots are now built for the unique structure of each gender's foot. With all the stress of being down range there's something reassuring about knowing that the boots they are now receiving provide the real support for those hard working feet.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

They're Leaving

She's saying goodbye for only a while to her fiancee. He's patting his son on the back but he dare not open his mouth to speak. She watches as her brother puts his enormous pack with all the gear on his back. The young woman over there, the one with the amazing blue eyes holds the hands of her fiancee. They are both assigned to Afghanistan but at different ends of the country.

This group is going down range tonight. They've been waiting in the hanger as the final clearance is performed for the aircraft that will fly them to Germany. The Sgt. has passed out the medication they will be taking daily throughout the deployment. The predictable joking is heard as the bottles are passed to the individuals to whom they are assigned. She popped the top and a handful of pills spilled. No one will admit to the anxiety that is thick enough in the hanger it could be cut like cheese.

The Dfac (dining facility) provides a last hot meal - roast beef, baked potatoes and rice, green beans, salad with choice of dressings. There is fruit - apples, oranges and for the first time since I've been eating at the Dfac there are peaches and plums. Packaged cookies, snack bars and a variety of chips are also offered. The food might not be haute cuisine it is basic, familiar and the troops are encouraged to take multiple servings to get them through the 18 hours (or more) of travel time.

My instructions to myself for this deployment: Focus on this moment here. Don't think about when the plan may be ready. Don't focus on where the troops are going. Just stay present. Breathe.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Homecoming vs. Reunion

There is a difference. Homecoming is the joy of seeing your loved one for the first time in fifteen months. It is those ecstatic moments and hours when you connect for the first time and realize he or she is really back with you. Then the hard part begins.

Reunion is a process. It begins before the loved one - parent, spouse, partner, child or sibling - actually arrives. There is the combination of relief that she or he has survived and is returning; there is the expectation that it will be so good to have this loved one back and there is the worry. This worry is also a real part of the return.

The reunion involves adjusting to the changes that have inevitably occurred during the soldier's deployment. One partner has assumed new responsibilities while the other has filled his or her responsibilities down range. Each partner has made adjustments and changes. Sometimes these changes are happening for the third or fourth time because the soldier has been deployed multiple times.

The greatest pressure on families and loved ones comes from the expectations everyone has about how "it will be" now that he or she has returned. Expectations are based on events that have happened in the past and MAY happen again in the future. But these events are NOT happening at this moment. One instruction for managing the process of reunion is: "stay in this present moment."

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Welcoming them Home

This night which begin with arriving at the empty hanger at 3AM ran from anxious expectation to overwhelming love. The last soldiers from the brigade with which I have been working returned from Iraq at 4:30 AM Thursday.

There was a Southern summer rain storm raging until approximately ten minutes before the doors opened to let the soldiers off the plane. As they walked down the stairs into formation the rain stopped. The soldiers then marched into the hanger where we were all waiting and the commander officially thanked them and welcomed them home.

They were given approximately 15 minutes to hug and kiss their families, their children, their parents and siblings and then they piled onto the bus to go back to the brigade headquarters to pick up their gear. Some of the soldiers didn't have family greeting them and my beautiful assignment was to provide some of the warmth a family might provide. What an amazing experience!

This night was so beautiful. I am so blessed to have been part of their homecoming.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Army as Fashion Trend Setter

First the fabric is lovely. Wrinkle proof, color that blends in and goes with every environment and the cut of the pants and tops is excellent. It used to be that there was a terrible olive green for the basic uniform - think MASH - then there was the pattern designed for jungle wear - Viet Nam or Grenada but now, now our computers have created a sleek pixilated print that serves in all terrains.

But the cut of these 2009 uniforms is really outstanding. Fitted through the hips and waist, stylish cargo style pockets on the legs and the pockets the army has so intelligently added on the sleeves of these tailored tunics. . . well, finally the soldiers can keep their pens on the sleeves right where the writing utensil should be for immediate use.

The biggest innovation is not the fine pattern of the fabric or the addition of those smartly placed useful pockets but the very nicely tailored uniforms for the pregnant soldiers. The first time I saw the maternity outfit I didn't realize the reason for the wider tunic was pregnancy. How impressive this change in styling is for all soldiers as well as for those female soldiers who continue to serve throughout their pregnancies.

Yes, this job is not easy nor is it ever stress-free but at least now the outfits add a little pizazz to the work environment.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

His x-box, Her Cats, Flood Insurance

Her cats eat the plants. What can she do to protect the plant she is picking up on her drive back home? Maybe a philodendrine placed with the aloe vera she is retrieving. The cats might stay away from that poisonous plant, then again, cats can be clever. Her flood insurance has gone up. Last year the floods kept her in her home for six weeks but, fortunately there was no damage.

We talked about these issues and how well her son had done in his training to become a Medic. She was deservedly proud. He had not done well in high school; in fact, he had just barely graduated and then he got this assignment when he enlisted and he has shone. She talked about how proud she is of his taking on this assignment and she talked about how relieved she is that his father is also down range. They may even be together in Afghanistan.

And there were the tears. Her son is being deployed tonight. At midnight. He is nineteen years old. She was embarrassed when she became tearful and then she said, "Oh, it's okay for you to see them. You're the person with whom I can cry."

She expressed in her simple observation the job for which I am at this Army base. She is an Army wife AND mother. Her experience and her training have prepared her for her husband's absence and her son's deployment and she has intense feelings for which the military culture has not given her permission to display. I am with her at breakfast and I can admire her strength and I can see the intensity of her fear for the safety of her son and her husband. My job is to validate these powerful feelings and to remind her of the impressive job she is doing to take care of her son and her husband.

Oh, yes, the x-box. She will take her son's x-box to his high school pal to use while the son is in Afghanistan.

Monday, July 27, 2009

NC Summer Heat, Breathing, Yoga

Maintaining my yoga and sitting practice is a challenge here. The temperature, the numbers of meetings I must attend AND the Southern cooking (issue for another post)and without those breaks, working in this environment is not easy. And the summer heat adds to my own stress.

Keeping up my yoga and sitting practice make it easier for me to deal with the silly things I find myself in the midst of every day: I can not easily find my way around this base. I count the day a major success when I don't get lost at least once.

When I haven't done yoga, I find myself expressing my stress in painful ways: last week I smashed my thumb in the car door. Oh, I'm okay but it was another reminder that I had not taken the time to just breathe and really figure out where I was supposed to go before heading out of the car to find out where I was! Then the day I arrived back at the hotel in the midst of that torrential rain storm, I locked my keys in the car.

Everything turned out fine. I learned my lesson and I am now signing off in order to do some yoga and sit.

Keep breathing.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

It's All About Being Prepared

Being prepared for the predictable: equipment and knowing how to reach each other through e-mail, cell phone, twitter or even the family blog. And then there's preparing for the predictable, unpredictable: the new baby will arrive while he's deployed or the six year old will get strep throat while staying with the soldier's mother. Or even the being prepared because the soldier is deployed during the Jewish New Year and mom wants the two little girls to go to services at a congregation near this Army base.

All of these situations have been presented to me in the past two weeks. I am a problem solver so I eagerly take on the challenge of finding resources that will help the stateside family members move through these issues. The objective is to insure that the soldier doesn't also have the added stress of family situations she or he can't control.

Sometimes the best solution is simply to get the family members to talk to each other. This conversation can ease the frustration of not knowing for the distant member as well as for the parent or grandparent and even the child who is here in the states.

As much as I rail against cell phones, the ability to contact each other, to speak to her spouse or his mother is a very powerful tool in managing the stress of these deployments.

Keep breathing.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Summer Rain, Coloring Books and Passports

Sounds pretty innocent, doesn't it?

This week I spoke to at least eight different groups of soldiers, their wives, their parents and their children. Sometimes the group included all of these different people and sometimes the briefing was for the soldiers alone. One group at which I appeared to describe the support we provide was a briefing on maintaining computer security. Another briefing directed to soldiers and their families included instructions on communicating with their families in a manner that does not reveal any information that could be used against the troops.

What is really wonderful about these briefings is the acceptance I am receiving from the officers who want this information about support spread widely. On the other hand I am working with a cultures which until very recently has not accepted the psychological impact of the trauma the soldiers confront daily while down range.

The families are given coloring books and crayons so that with their children they can discuss the experience of a parent or both parents leaving on deployment. The spouses are instructed to get their children's passports in case they must leave the States to be with their injured spouse. And through all of this information there was a summer thunder shower that reminded me of one aspect of summer in the South for which I have yearned.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dirty Diapers, Two dogs and a Cat and Deployment

They are a young couple. It's such a romantic story. They met, got pregnant and married within two months of meeting. And now the baby boy is here, they have roaches and he's being deployed to Afghanistan next week.

This couple has enough stressful events to try a couple with ten years together. They came to me so that I could wave the magic wand of counseling and fix everything so that he could leave for his assignment with only the so-called normal fears. Of course she is scared of what may happen to her husband and naturally he is worried too.

The first instruction I gave them is to identify what you are feeling and tell him or tell her. He was reminded that it is okay to be scared of what he is facing in his deployment. That fear does not diminish his strength or bravery. Acknowledging that you are afraid is another way of being strong. You can't take care of yourself and it is hard to accept the fear she may be feeling if you are unable to admit what you are feeling.

After his predictable mumbling about not feeling that sort of thing and her embarrassment about acknowledging she's scared to tell him she's mad at him for leaving, they actually accepted that these feelings are close to what they have been experiencing.

I want to put my arms around them and protect them both from the anxiety and fear they will be facing in the next weeks. And I look at them and see two lovely people who do love each other AND their country and are doing what together they hope is best for themselves and THEIR country.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Jumping and Bar Tending

She has completed ten jumps in the process of becoming a paratrooper. She has a BA in psychology and plans to use her military benefits to pay for graduate school. She is supplementing her income working during the weekend. And she is depressed. Unlike my clients back in LA we can't talk about solving the stresses of this job by figuring out a conversation with her supervisor.

The culture of work in the military is you do the job you signed on and don't ask questions. My assignment is to help her accept that that's the way the Army operates. What can I say to her to help ease this emotional pain? We talked about simple tasks: breathing, stretching AND NOT drinking.

After five days on this Army base I have attended four briefings where alcohol use was discussed and the troops were given directions for recognizing signs of abuse. Substance abuse is always a risk. While I am not certain how many of my ideas will be useful, I do know that she found enough support in our conversation that she is meeting with me again.

Keep Breathing!

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Red Bird and a Black dog

As I talked to an officer in the middle of a rotation to Ft. Bragg from an assignment in Hawaii when a cardinal flew by us. It was a breathtaking experience. I responded with amazement and our pleasant chat took a turn to the much more personal. I explained how awestruck I was by the appearance of the red bird. This is a bird that is not seen in California and it has been years since I saw one that close. How wonderful that something so natural could create such a powerful connection.

Later I turned the corner around the building on my exploration and exercise around the family resources center and saw another officer walking a stunning black lab that was wearing a blue service dog halter. I had to ask him about his dog and I learned the wonderful story of how he had acquired his dog. Because Pilot had failed his test to become a guide dog for a non-sighted person, he was available for this soldier who is recovering from his own injuries, to adopt. A dog who was unable to achieve the level of skills required for one job was available to support this man in learning how to live as the person he has become as a result of his was experience.

How wonderful are healing powers we find in our world when we are receptive to them.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Power of Attorney, Wills, Who's got the car keys?

Yesterday I took part in a briefing for soldiers preparing to deploy for Afghanistan before August 15. Before August 15! How reassuring that date when these men and women and their families can't know precisely when their loved ones will be leaving.

Yes, they are leaving. It's part of the job. And my assignment is to provide support to these troops and their spouses as they take those very uncomfortable steps of writing the will and insuring that a power of attorney for health care is in place. I am railing against the pain these families endure as an aspect of their spouse's employment contracts AND they know that these tasks must be completed.

While I have met a few husbands who will be staying behind, most of the spouses with whom I have had contact have been female, young and frequently caring for very young children. I am impressed with their strength and their warmth as they prepare for this deployment, often the third or fourth time out.

The commitment of these spouses to their partner's chosen work is teaching me about endurance, love and patriotism. The soldiers continue to perform their assigned jobs because they know that the work is bigger and more important than anything else they could do at this time.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

And so it begins

My tour around Ft. Bragg, described as the largest Army installation in the world covered only a small portion of the entire facility. By the time I had seen the various sites at which I will be providing briefings about the support I can offer, the location of "my brigade" and the assorted mini malls serving the troops, my head was swimming.

My job requires that I produce government issued ID and official permit to enter every time I come onto the base. I must also wear the name tag issued by the organization that is supervising my work. I am both reassured by the level of security and somewhat uncomfortable with the data the security personnel have about me. I have admitted to my actual birth date(!)and now must contend with exposing that information every time I arrive on base.

Monday was described as a "training day" with very few troops on Base. The Army is willing to provide another day off when a holiday occurs on a weekend but I was warned that Tuesday, when the full force of personnel is back on base I will spend part of my day looking for parking. Oh, well, I've had extensive experience with that obstacle in LA.

There is so much more to learn. Tact, diplomacy and empathy are the first tools I must use with the objective being that individuals I encounter will be willing to receive the information I can provide.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ft. Bragg, NC. July 5

Wet, cloudy and the summer heat made walking to and from each building to which I was guided felt like walking through a steamy sauna.

I had forgotten about the muggy part of Southern summers but I remembered my umbrella. First time I've used it in many months (there's a drought in California) and it was actually a not unpleasant reminder of growing up in South Carolina.

The military culture has for years been unsupportive of identifying and especially in preventing the problems that rise from the intense, brutal experiences the troops experience in warfare. I am joining a group of social workers, marriage and family therapists and psychologists (all of us licensed) who are committed to offering education on how to prevent the pain of the combat experience from becoming unmanageable. I am excited about the challenge of introducing the support we provide to individuals for whom the idea of this aid is anathema.

More to come

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Off to see the Wizard

Or Whomever.

Tomorrow I go to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina to work with National Guard and Reservists and their families. I'm scared and anxious and very excited. I look forward to using the skills I have developed through all these years of social work. I also anticipate a true challenge of working in an environment where self-sufficiency as well as cooperation among team members are essential to the performance of any tasks these Reservists and Guard members perform.

Right now the details with which I am concerned are small by comparison with the work I will be assigned. I know that I am being asked to provide support and education. As simple as those activities seem, I am required to give this information and guidance in a fashion that supports the culture of the armed forces.

So here I am off to a wonderful, stimulating and challenging adventure. Oh, yes, the temperature at Ft. Bragg today is 96 degrees Farenheit. Hmmm.

My instruction to myself is: Keep Breathing.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Another one on Getting through today

It's gotten worse. I have the shorts, as it were. Clients not showing up, others dropping out because they lost their insurance and everyone else wanting their own chunk of change. Taxes here, office rent there, and more tea for the office. And the dog needs to be fed and get his rabies shots.

Those are only the financial stressors. I know they will stabilize - and I will get through this money crunch. My mindfulness practice keeps me focused and even helps to keep me less overwhelmed with worry. I remind myself, when I start chewing on fears of being tossed out of my office that at this very moment here, I am okay. I keep breathing. I take another deep breath, and take the dog out for a walk.

Believe it or not, it does help. I recognize the things I can control, accept the things I cannot change and see the difference between the two. It's what people in 12 step programs call the serenity prayer and what I call radical acceptance.

At this moment, that's all the guidance I have. Keep breathing.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Coming home for the vet ain't easy

Coming home for the vet ain't easy.

Has my family changed? Will the kids know who I am? Does my wife still love me? Nothing's the same. And I don't feel like I belong. Why am I biting everyone's head off?

Last weekend I had my first assignment to meet with and provide information to vets and their families. These returned vets have been back from Iraq for about three months. They were gathered at a two day meeting called a reunion during which they attended required briefings. These briefings were designed to assist them in the transition to civilian life. Family members were also invited so there were partners, a few children and parents all in attendance.

One of the encounters that touched me the most was with the mother of a vet who had been taking care of his children. She talked about the little things that had happened in her home since he returned and described some of the challenges she faced. "It's tough getting him to just sit. He's always wanting to make changes" and then she described a situation with his car.

His car had been sitting for over a year; it had been started regularly but that's not the same as being used everyday. She said he insisted he could fix the problem. It wouldn't start.

After spending two full days working on the car he agreed to take it to the shop. She talked about how hard it was to persuade him to take the car in for repairs. "He used to listen to my advice. Now he ignores me. Now he just doesn't talk."

After listening to her and understanding the challenges she is facing, I knew I could give her a little relief. There are many resources available for vets and their families. My job is to help her feel okay about reaching out to these resources. "Thanks for this number. I'll call them when I get a chance," she told me.

"Why not give them a call on Monday?" She smiled shyly and nodded as she walked away and I felt optimistic that this family would accept the support they deserve.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rest & Recreation

It's time for me to get away. After the number of meltdowns to which I have been an active observer, I need to find a space where I can find some silence.
My yoga and sitting practices make it possible for me to continue to work with these clients, there comes a time when I need a space away from phones, car sounds and the phone. I a peace that is both internal and external. This type of break is essential to continuing to care for my clients.

I am able to remain calm and even quiet when a client in my office is traversing an emotionally overwhelming experience. I can feel their pain and I can validate them for the intensity of what they are feeling. And I must take care of myself so I can continue to offer that support.

I am searching for a spot where I can simply attend to my physical needs and allow my psychic health to be enhanced by quiet, good food and beautiful space. This location must also be within easy access by car. I may have found it. Now anticipating confirmation is part of my pleasure in planning for my essential break from work.

So I simply breathe and take care of myself.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What Makes a Lie a Lie?

What makes a statement a lie? First there is the obvious - the information given is not accurate. The most frustrating lie though comes from information withheld. Figuring out the truth in a statement that is not factual is often easier than understanding what is accurate when the speaker has not responded completely.

I have been chewing on this topic for several days as I work with various degrees of accuracy I hear from my clients. How do I teach these individuals to communicate with integrity? I request accuracy; responses are factual and without judgment. No value assigned to information provided. I direct people to reframe statements so that they include only accurate details without judgment. Emotions can be a powerful influence on honesty.

To learn clear truthful communication, examine the following thoughts. What does it mean to be honest with yourself? How can you be truthful and care for yourself if you are always worrying about taking care of someone else? The only way to guarantee your own integrity is always to be accurate in communication with yourself. The place from which to initiate integrity for yourself is with yourself. We can't always depend on genuine honesty from other people, but we must be able to invest in the truths we tell ourselves.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Culture of Trauma

Trauma. It's a word, an event, an experience that creates overwhelming fear for your life or the life of someone dear to you. It might be a personal event so terrifying that you can't shake the fear even though it has ended. Trauma is unpredictable and frightening. It may be the fires here in Southern California or the horrors of the conflict in Iraq.

How do we live with these overwhelming feelings? What can we do to let go of the enotional intensity?

Breathe. First start with where you are. Ask yourself: "at this very moment, am I safe? Can I tolerate the place, physical and psychic space in which I find myself at this very moment?" This instruction and this question is the beginning of finding a moment of safety in this overwhelming world. Be present. Stay here. When your mind begins to move to the fearsome possibilities that are out there, bring yourself back to this very moment. Stay in this moment which is safe.

Breathe. Gently let your breath keep you in this safe moment and the gentle place in which you are now sitting. Breathe.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Telephone Calls: To Answer or Not

The phone sounds that double ring that lets me know it's client. Two doctors on Grey's Anatomy are just debating going into the on-call room. We all know what that means. AND I have to answer the phone?

That's my own debate. I know how to talk to my clients, how to reassure them and how to discourage them from doing anything to hurt themselves. Is it fair that I should now interrupt my evening to use these skills? Of course I do answer the phone. They know I will stay on the phone for only ten minutes. As a result, they present their problems concisely and immediately.
After she has described her crisis, I ask my client what she has done to take care of herself. Right Now. We discuss suggested alternatives from her skills notebook. She is usually able to offer steps that are exactly right for her.

While I serve as a sounding board, these telephone calls give the client an opportunity to experience her own power in managing intense pain. Once we have identified a satisfactory solution and agreed on action she will take, the telephone call ends. She has found mastery and feels safe. In ten minutes or less, my client has found a way to tolerate her pain, in the moment.

Oh, yes, at the conclusion of this conversation, I am able to pick up Grey's Anatomy where it was paused. Because it is recorded, I avoid advertising and can answer those calls without missing the guilty pleasure of that wonderfully mindless fluff.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Lying Part III: Does it Really Matter?

What happens when a client lies? How do I feel if I suspect s/he is not telling me the truth? Will this inaccurate information get in the way of my working with her or him?

I have a client who regularly exaggerates events in her life. She tells me about the elegant Hollywood parties she is catering. I want to accept this report a factual but she is unable to tell me about the menu or the kitchen in which she will cook. As a former caterer, I have suspicions that this party may not exist.

Another woman reveals only limited information about events in her life. This omission is another form of lying. I am unable to effectively support her in learning to solve problems in her relationships or employment. How effective can I be as a professional, as her counselor, if she does not give me a valid picture of her life?

When I call her on not giving me a complete picture, she stated she wants me to see her as managing her life. I wonder out loud, since everything is going so well, what purpose is served in seeking my support?

Her answer does not produce more accurate information but does motivate her to tell me that she’s afraid she’ll be rejected if she’s not perfect. I don’t use the term "lying" when I discuss the way these clients provide information. I use the concept integrity. For me, Integrity is the foundation for all healthy relationships.

Friday, May 29, 2009

List Making

Making Lists
something I rarely do
and yet so very reassuring

Measuring out my life with check marks for tasks completed

What do I list
tasks to complete
calls to make
groceries to buy

and when they are checked off
what have I accomplished?

measures based on numbers of tasks completed
a life contained in the activities that
can be counted and measured

so reassuring
not abstract
visual and contained.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Trauma, Fear, Uncertainty

Trauma, fear and uncertainty: words with which we are confronted daily. Perhaps you have just been told that your department is being downsized (terrible word). Even more painful, you have been asked to stay while some of your colleagues are told to leave. You watch as people pack their desks wondering when will you be asked to leave AND you still have a job. For how long?

In this environment of uncertainty it is important to care for yourself and for the people you care about. How do I care for myself when I am feeling so overwhelmed? Breathe. At this very moment you can take care of yourself by being busy helping your colleagues. Be sure you know how to reach those people with whom you worked so that you can share resources.

Share your own uncertainty and fear. Your partner, spouse and close friends need to know how you are and what is happening with you. Their support is important in this time of change. Ask for help. Sometimes the most important support is simply in finding the right person to listen to you. You can offer the same resource to your friends.

Breathe. Ask yourself: "at this very moment, am I safe? Can I tolerate the place, physical and psychic in which I find myself at this very moment?" Stay in the moment. When your mind begins to move to the fearsome possibilities that are out there, bring yourself back to this very moment. Stay here now. Breathe.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Computer Crash or Sometimes Everything Seems Wrong and It Still Turns Out Okay

How do I explain to my clients that I - strong, grounded, centered clinician - must learn how to manage the problems of a system for which you have no control? The issue arose because my hard drive crashed and now I have to resolve a problem not of my making. My only choice in the midst of this problem was how I would handle it.

First, before throwing the machine across the room, I took a deep breath and focused on what I could do at that moment. I sat and reminded myself to simply breathe. I wanted to get myself out of the fury mode and into this very moment here. The silence was calming.

Silence is a luxury. Our minds are an organ not unlike our hearts or our lungs which are part of the autonomic nervous system. The heart beats and the lungs bring air into out bodies without our telling them to work and our brains think.

We have the capacity to slow down the beating of the heart and the intake of air by focusing on inhaling and exhaling. We have the capacity to control the intensity. Controlling the constant flow of thoughts through our minds is very similar: our brains are built to think therefore thoughts flow through, usually in a disorganized fashion.

To create some quiet, we must first recognize that our brains are doing what they are supposed to do. We aim to gain silence between thoughts. When a thought comes in, we acknowledge the idea and let it go. It takes practice. Again and again we turn our mind back to the space between thoughts. And that space between thoughts, the silence, grows so that we have more quiet than thoughts.

The final outcome is that the hard drive just died. the good news is there was NO virus so after my computer maven did his magic, I received a new hard drive and have rejoined the cyber world.

Breathe. Allow the cool calm light to enter your lungs. Release any tension that may remain in your chest and belly. Breathe and lighten up.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What Makes a Lie a Lie?

Sometimes the simplest statement can open a whole can of worms. Questions rise out of the words that are spoken and the listener wonders if the information shared is true. What makes a statement a lie? First there is the obvious - the information given is not accurate. The most frustrating lie though comes from information withheld. Figuring out the truth in a statement that is not factual is often easier than understanding what is accurate when the speaker has not responded completely.

I have been chewing on this topic for several days as I work with various degrees of inaccuracy in my clients. How do I teach these individuals to communicate with integrity? I request accuracy; responses must be factual without judgment, without assigning values. And I direct people to reframe statements so that they include only the facts without emotional content. Emotions can be a powerful influence on honesty.

To learn clear truthful communication, examine the following thoughts. What does it mean to be honest with yourself? How can you be truthful and care for yourself if you are always worrying what the other person thinks? The only way to guarantee your own integrity is always to be factual and accurate with yourself. The place from which to initiate integrity for yourself is with yourself. We can't always depend on genuine honesty from other people but we must be able to rely on our own truthfulness.

Keep breathing.

Taking Risks

Which one is harder? Finding a new job or finding the right place to live? Yes being is love is hard but that's a whole other type of challenge and that experience involves sharing and willingness on the part of two people to communicate.

Having a job and a place to live are basic needs that must be met before you can do the hard work of managing painful emotions. In order to learn how to live with intense emotions, you need a living space that makes you feel safe.

If you are sharing your living space (not a partner, but a roommate) with someone who understands your privacy it is because you communicated your needs. Expressing your basic needs in a shared space begins with your knowing what you must have. For example, if you are someone who needs quiet after 10pm, you must be willing to state that priority and you must hear your roommate's desires as well so that you share healthy, supportive environment.

Make a list of what is important to you in your living space and in the individual with whom you will share that space. Sometimes you must make adjustments to your priorities. For example you may find the perfect physical space in the right neighborhood but you must also be comfortable with the person with whom you will be sharing space. What are you both willing to give in order to live together?

Be willing to compromise. Stick to your own values. Take care of yourself and stay mindful of what really matters to you. Know yourself and what is important to you.

Keep breathing.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

More on Taking Care of the Therapist

I always say, if you can't take care of yourself, how can someone else know how to take care of you? Yesterday, I turned down a really great chance to go to the theater. Now, don't get me wrong, I enjoy being with this friend. she is one of the people with whom I can feel comfortable even when I'm not feeling friendly. And she understood when I told her: I've got to have some time for myself.

We all need quiet time in which to just digest the events in our lives. We don't generally acknowledge how important it is to take time for our selves. It is a fundamental aspect of self-care to respect the hours or even days we spend alone. This time is an essential restorative and healing tool for surviving today's stressful times.

Alone time, personal time is a precious commodity. Sometimes we set time aside for ourselves and end up using this valuable resource for the hard work of paying bills or doing the laundry. It is tough to allow ourselves to choose a gentle way for using those rare personal minutes. And it is important to maintaining our health that we spend time listening to favorite music - not using the music as the sound track for scrubbing the bathroom.

Take a walk on a sunny afternoon, spend time on a beach or beside a lake watching the water. Water is an important healing element. Schedule time for yourself. Arrange your schedule so that you have that rare and precious commodity. You will feel better and live more happily. You can be okay.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Stay in the Moment

Sometimes we know the appointment scheduled for 2:30 on Wednesday is going to be really painful. We wonder how we will get through it. And there we go: projecting into the future what might happen, what awful things will be said and (especially) how horrible we are going to feel. First, you must understand that the event is not happening at this very moment. And, naturally, you will ask: shouldn't I be prepared for that tough experience? The best preparation is take care of yourself in this very moment.

How can I take care of myself right now when there is nothing to fear at this moment? And that is exactly the awareness you must maintain. You must narrow your focus sufficiently so that you are able to know and feel the security of this very moment.

When we face challenging interactions, we frequently put all of our emotional energy into what may possibly happen in the future. We are not taught that staying in this very present moment makes it possible to experience the feeling of safety. In the next moment, when you may be facing that person who can make comments that are painful, narrow your focus so that with each sentence, even each word, you are able to tell yourself "in this instant I am okay."

People often say, but I'm not okay. My response is it is okay to say, "I'm okay" even when you don't feel it. You are now teaching yourself that you can be okay AND have your fear. You can be in the midst of a stressful event, a painful confrontation and still be okay. First you must teach yourself that it really is okay to feel okay, even in the midst of a painful experience.

Breathe. You are okay.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Taking Care of the Therapist

Because I have made a commitment to work with challenging clients, I must take care of myself as well. There are the obvious ways in which I care for myself: setting clear boundaries so that the client knows when he/she can reach me and being clear how long I will talk on the phone. There is also the scheduling of appointments, and, of course, there is support and guidance from friends and professional colleagues.

There are also the not so obvious steps of giving myself a vacation. I must watch the red flags to know when I must schedule a day or several days of pampering. During this past week I have been annoyed at small matters and irritable with friends. I saw the warnings. I realized this annoyance is not about the challenges but about needing some self care.

I made arrangements to attend a seminar in a nearby city for a brief vacation. Preparing for this break includes doing the on-line search of restaurants, cultural events and farmers markets. Before I leave, making plans gets me ready to relax.

It is important for people working and/or living with people with challenging symptoms schedule time to be kind to themselves. Planning this brief vacation is pleasurable. Meanwhile, I have my daily routine of self-care: Healthy meals, cookbooks and other fun reading and caring for my dog (an important support system). I also have a regular routine of yoga and meditation.

Self-care involves the everyday tools for maintaining my health as well as breaking the routine with various interventions including travel, massage and conversations with friends.

Keep breathing!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Taking Care of Yourself

Are you looking for support because you haven't found a professional to help you get over your depression? Or attempting to support a client who is unresponsive to your most skillful guidance?

I work with individuals who have struggled with intense psychic pain for years and have developed some tools that have proven effective in lessening their discomfort. I want to share my experience with consumers and clinicians and this blog is an opportunity for me to develop this information into a format for that purpose.

I invite comments from bloggers: as a consumer share the experiences that have not worked for you; as a clinician ask questions about the tools you need to effectively support your own clients.

The very first thing I tell my own clients is: breathe. Feel that calming breath going all the way down the the bottom of your spine and with the exhale feel the tension leaving your belly.

Come back into this room. Feel yourself safely seated and take a deep breath. Breathe and, if you can, softly smile.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Today's Toughies

Today I saw patients with whom I have been working for some time. The question is how do I support these individuals in learning to tolerate their fears and have the peaceful life they each deserve. I have learned that so many of our fears arise out of lessons we learn as children. We learn to be afraid of the things our parents tell us are fearful even when those fears are unrealistic. It is scary to take risks but we must take risks in order to move forward with our lives. The unknown is frightening. We cannot control the environment - people and physical - but we can learn to trust ourselves. This trust is the foundation of being willing to take those chances.

My job is to help these clients to take risks. Through these risks, going to a party, making a telephone call, and the big one, asking for help, they develop a solid foundation for trusting themselves. Being willing to experience fear is very powerful. Willingness means that the individual is open to participating. Willingness does not remove the fear but is allows him or her to see and feel that the feeling of fear won't kill them.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Is there one secret to Parenting?

I often tell clients and friends that the secret to being a good parent lies in the ability to communicate unconditional love through all the lessons that must be taught and/or learned. Everyone makes mistakes. Parents become overwhelmed and make critical remarks, children misunderstand and rebel against the lessons that must be learned. Through all this interaction, when the mother or father is able to show his or her child that he or she is loved, that small person gains the ability to survive the tumultuous experience of growing up.

There are, unfortunately many people out there raising children who are unable to let their sons and daughters know that they are loved and are valuable individuals. And the question is raised: How can people who call themselves parents inflict such horrors on their off-spring? Do those people dislike themselves so much that they are unable to separate their own pain from the sorrows being inflicted on their children?

When working with my clients I am regularly reminded of the fear and anger their parents must have experienced in their own lives to create such pain in the people in my office. I do NOT expect my clients to forgive the mother or father who said and did unspeakably cruel things but in the process of getting stronger and of learning how to care for themselves, they often gain an understanding of their parents' pain. The benefit of this insight enhances their ability to create loving relationships for themselves (first) and then for the significant people in their lives.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Getting Well:Part I

Getting Well Part I

It ain't easy! When you've lived with depression or fear or anger for a long time, you've learned how to have a life that includes feeling these negative emotions. As you begin to experience the daily events of your life without constant psychic pain, you begin to learn how to feel okay without that pain. Having less or even no emotional sadness can be uncomfortable. You are accustomed to being sad, or angry or fearful. You may even miss it when you realize you have gotten through an afternoon without the unhappiness. You may be surprised that you are able to spend time comfortably with challenging people.

What's happening? Something's missing. What has changed? You are getting stronger. You are gaining skills for accepting who you are without resorting to big emotional outbursts or intense lows. This new feeling comes from the process of getting healthier. Each step along the path to learning how to live inside your skin requires the skills you are now gaining. You are learning how to take care of yourself in an effective and safe fashion.

While you are beginning to feel better, your new found strength may be surprising for some of the people in your life. This change may even make some people uncomfortable. Other people's reaction to your new behavior is one of the painful aspects of getting healthy. Some people will expect you to respond in the way you have always acted. There is nothing wrong with you. You are learning how to take care of yourself in a gentler and kinder fashion. That ability is what you gain from the hard work you are doing in treatment in order to get better.

Give yourself credit for the hard work you are doing and understand that these changes don't always feel comfortable nor are they easy. And congratulate yourself for being willing to hang in with the work even when it isn't comfortable or easy.

Thursday, April 30, 2009


Welcome to my beautiful new home!

I'm glad you're here and hope you will find support and answers AND I want to hear your reponse to anything that might be on this blog.

If there are topics about taking care of your psychic health on which you wish information, have questions or comments, please tell me.

Thanks for being here. Keep coming back.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Don't Be logical

Okay, that statement does sound strange but sometimes logic or reasonableness doesn't allow us to really solve problems.

To get through these challenging times we need to think in ways that aren't the same old, same old. We need to be willing to look at the problem from a different point of view. Sometimes this different point of view is simply to place ourselves in the other person's shoes.

You may be working to solve a computer problem with the customer service rep in India. I Know! Frustration. However, think about the person on the other end of the line. She or he is doing a job for which they were trained and which they really want to do well.

In attempting to get my computer glitch resolved, I listened to that man on the other end of the line and watched my frustration heighten and then suddenly it hit me. He really wanted to help. The first thing I did was to apologize and state: "I realize you didn't cause this problem and I really appreciate you desire to help."

My attitude moved 180 degrees and together we were able to actually solve the problem. Think in a way that isn't your regular pattern. Look at your attitude or your approach and search for a different direction from which to look at that challenge.

Keep breathing.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Breath. You'll feel Better!

The first place I start when confronted with the facts of a lower income for the coming week is to remind myself that my mortgage is current, that the home owners' dues do not have to reach the management office for another week and I do have food in the fridge and thirty pounds of dog food.

Then I talk myself through a "Three Minute Breathing Exercise". My objective with this exercise is to bring myself back to this very moment and to give myself three minutes of quiet breathing to simply stay right here in this very second.

The three minute exercise (you can make it shorter):First, seated in a comfortable up right position, acknowledge that you have a thought that is disturbing or painful. Breathe

Then sit with that thought and feel the places in your body where this thought is felt. Are your shoulders stiff, do you feel a knot in your stomach, are your fists clinched? Breathe.

Finally, let go of attempting to fix everything and allow your body to feel your breath moving into those tight areas. Let those worry thoughts drift away as you listen to your breath. Breathe.

Take a deep inhale, slowly release. Feel yourself seated and take another deep inhale, then exhale and get back to your day's activities.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Economy: Words to make anyone nervous

It's a beautiful day, the birds are singing. Why do I feel miserable?

Well, not exactly miserable but every time I hear another comment about unemployment figures, see empty stores or even listen to my clients talk about layoffs, I get anxious.

My bills aren't overwhelming and I'm pretty good at staying within my spending limits. These facts are really key to my staying in the moment when I am surrounded by all the worrying media, talk show rants or TV images that remind me of how fragile our financial world is.

I can't change the facts of financial uncertainty but I do have the capacity to keep myself moving forward. The reality is that we can each take steps that support ourselves and soothe the intensity of worry with which we are surrounded in these challenging times.

Keep breathing.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Just Following Buck and Ben

A wise woman once counseled me that doing a job, getting somewhere or just getting through tough times means following Buck and Ben. And who are Buck and Ben, I demanded in my eight-year-old skepticism? Why this is Buck, she replied lifting her right foot and here's Ben she stated as she raised her left foot.

That's what it's all about, one step at a time. Just follow the single steps you must take to keep moving forward. It's staying still that prevents our moving out of our problems. However, if we reframe that word "problems" and identify them at "challenges" we don't get overwhelmed with the thought of obstacles with which we are surrounded.

So we're back to getting through today or this new week or simply remembering that each step we take is a step forward for resolving the challenges this day presents.

Keep breathing.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Choose your Battles or more on lemons into lemonade

There are so many issues about which anyone can put energy and emotion into that I recommend we are careful when we decide to allow anger to make decisions for us.

If an individual with whom I have business and/or professional contact is unhappy with me, my choice is to respond with similar intensity or to agree that the issue should be resolved and look for peace rather than conflict.

Sometimes the other person will follow my lead and find points on which we can agree and sometimes the other person is not ready to resolve the conflict. I am willing to wait until there is a better time for us to find a solution but occasionally that choice is not acceptable to the other person. In that case I return to my suggestion to make lemonade out of lemons.

I will keep my distance and attempt to solve the problem without additional disagreement. Sometimes that solution requires letting the other person leave my life and sometimes if means that we find a solution when he or she is ready to propose a compromise that meets both our needs.

Making lemons into lemonade requires that I use my wise mind and remember I always have a choice to take whatever steps will create a peaceful environment.


Cleaning is Great Therapy!

It's something that doesn't get done and when you've lived with the stack of newspapers or the dog fur on the carpet for a while, it's easy for forget that the dog fur and the papers aren't part of the decor.

The roar of the vacuum startled me as I pushed it across the floor and the dog began his attack on the machine. The amazing experience was that the carpet actually looked bright and clean as the dust and dog fur were sucked into the machine.

The satisfaction of seeing a room with a cleared floor and furniture without the black dog hair was real. What a nice feeling to have a house that supported my need for quiet and calm.

Breathe. Cleaning is only one of many steps you can take to remind yourself that you are in control of you.

More later.

Friday, March 20, 2009

It's not about having the most

It used to be that success was about having the biggest or the most or earning the highest . . . Today it's about making lemonade out of lemons.

If your bills are paid and the dog or cat don't need an emergency visit to the vet you are doing fine. If the mortgage is current and your electricity and phone are still on, you're in good shape. Who'd have thought just a few months ago people would be looking at 101 ways to fix pasta? Hey, I happen to really like pasta, so there.

All the uncertainty today makes it hard to get down to the basics of what we really have and how we must stay right here in the present moment. Sometimes these worries get so overwhelming that we forget what really matters is having a place to take a hot shower, a nice cup of good soup and a warm place to sleep.

When you can remember the real value in your life isn't going to come from that beautiful vehicle or that weekend in Jamaica or the newest pair of Manolos. . . the significant possessions in your life are not those items you can't sell today but your good health or that person who is truly with you during these chaotic times.

You worked very hard and got this far. You must give yourself credit for what you have achieved and know that it is the same skill that brought you to this point in your life that will make it possible to move through these next weeks. You have a choice lemons or lemonade!

What to do when the therapist is away

I was supposed to be away this week. The phone didn't stop ringing. The e-mails kept coming and I was here. There were not classes to teach nor clients to see and I still had calls from people at the office and I was at both USC and UCLA this week.

Everyone needs a break. It's really important to get away from the texting, the phone and the e-mail. It's very easy for me to remind everyone else, my students, my clients to take a break but what about me? Finally, I did it. Yesterday I got an amazing massage that lasted for even more than the hour and a half I had scheduled. And today - no phones only the sounds of the birds cheered by this beautiful day.

Listen to yourself. You usually have the answer to how to take care of yourself if you take the time to really hear what you need. That information comes from that place within yourself called wise mind. You actually do know what you need. The hard part comes from being willing to take the steps you recommend to yourself.

Follow your wise mind. Breathe. Take a break. That break can be something as simple as looking out the window at the bright sunshine and listening to the sounds. Lay on your back on the floor, with your bottom next to the wall and your legs up the wall. Breathe.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

What to do before the Therapist Arrives

Well, it's still happening and here you are! Hanging in there and tolerating all the scary uncertainty. First, Chocolate! It's sort of the vitamin essential to these annoying times. Next: BREATHE!

Yes, something as simple as just taking a deep breath can make a real difference. I don't know how to fix the financial pain we are all experiencing, but I do know several tricks that make it possible to get through today and maybe even most of tomorrow.

The first skill is simply breathing, softly, naturally and gently. Stay present. Listen to the sound of your breathing. DO NOT LISTEN TO YOUR WORRIES. Every time a worry crosses the screen, turn back to your breath. Worrying does not change the events with which we must all deal today, but listening to your breathe can make it easier to simply be present at this moment.

More later.

Keep gently breathing.