Archive | December, 2011

Turning Points

29 Dec

I never quite understood the incredible success of Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink”, a NY Times bestseller. People seemed blown away by his assertion that some of our best thinking comes from rapid cognition or the conclusions we make within a few seconds of an encounter or situation. This to me seemed like a no brainer. While Gladwell doesn’t define this instant thought process as intuition nonetheless the premise felt rudimentary to me. For those in tune, some of the best and most life transforming points in our lives occur in the blink of an eye if we’re perceptive enough to pay attention and act according to what is unfolding.

As I walked along the point today I couldn’t help but think about how a few decisions created such important shifts in my life. A decision made many years ago to connect with strangers, to move to strange places and to study strange things.

Thank God I didn’t deliberate.

I’m convinced certain souls gravitate towards one another as part of some bigger cosmic plan but we must hear the Lord beckoning to us as to how he wants things to unfold for our optimum healing and redemption.

Perhaps what we term “blink” is actually an answer to our prayers for guidance.

Yes Lord, I will try to pay attention to the rapid fire cognition you gave us all. Embedded in this tool you have revealed to me how your hand has constantly been guiding my life.

Will You Play With Me?

25 Dec

The other day within an hour of being around a family friend’s child, the little boy approached me and with quiet earnestness asked, “Will you play with me?” As I nodded yes, he gently led me to the living room where his toys were scattered and we began to play. Although the toys were appealing what fascinated him most was the switch that could dim the lights. As he lowered the lights, making the room grow dark he pronounced, “Now it is night.” Taking my cue, I rolled over on my side and began to gently snore. Then the lights came back up. “Now it’s day.” I stretched out my arms and sighed, opened my eyes and said, “Good morning.” Looking at him I continued, “I’m hungry. Are you hungry? What shall we have for breakfast?” We settled on pancakes and bacon and then went through the procedure again. The lights dimmed, I snored, the lights came back up, I awakened and then we ate pancakes. We did this at least ten times proving yet again that Freud was not entirely clueless for repetition compulsion is most definitely an aspect of children’s play and a mechanism through which they can explore the events they observe on a daily basis.

It never fails to amaze me how much children yearn to play and need to play. It is not to be underestimated. The therapeutic benefits of play are profound which is why some of us psychotherapists use it as a central part of our work. But it isn’t just children who need to play. We all do. Animals. Children. Adults. All of us benefit from the intimate contact that comes through play as we enter the portals of our imaginations with another. So in a way, those five innocent words – “Will you play with me?” are like a secret password that if taken seriously initiate us into a very specific form of delight, exploration and experience of each other’s company.

The Many Uses of Enchantment

22 Dec

I always get a bit defensive when people accuse fairy tales of being unrealistic and sugar coated as fairy tales are anything but sugar coated. Hansel and Gretel get left in the forest by their father to starve because there isn’t enough food, Snow White’s step-mother schemes to have her slain in the woods and her heart returned in a box and Cinderella is forced into child slavery within her own home. I wouldn’t say that is glossing things over for kids. No. I think people’s beef with fairy tales has more to do with the little line “and they lived happily ever after” at the end of the story. People hate that line because they take it far too literarily thinking that it means all will be hunky-dorrey for the rest of one’s life, particularly in matters of love. People also complain about the fact that the female characters typically reflect a more passive role than their male counter-parts.

In the psychoanalytic classic, “The Many Uses of Enchantment”, child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim counters some of these claims by making an ardent case for fairy tales as a vehicle for children to explore the trials and tribulations of life. Yes, fairy tales are written on a simplistic level. Duh! They are written for children. Yet that does not mean that their content is simplistic. Take for example the topic of sexual power, seduction, betrayal and desire. Not quite easy subject matter and yet when woven into a story of a big bad wolf lurking around to eat Grandma and Little Red, children on some level respond to the story’s themes subconsciously. And while children in these stories, (and particularly the female ones) are often cast in the victim role, this is not to reinforce a stereotype but instead to help children explore and transcend an all too common phenomenon in our society. How does one overcome adversity without becoming bitter? How does one prevail despite hardship and find some modicum of happiness? And how does one attain wholeness in both love and within oneself?

One of the plot devices in the fairy tales is the introduction of a helper to the hero or heroine. Often we see this individual cast in the role of Fairy Godmother. Regardless, the helper character is a wise and loving elder who can help mentor and assist the young prince or princess. And maybe I relate to fairy tales because in my own life I have had many fairy godmothers along the way.

On Friday, I’ll board a plane to visit one of them because this is a modern story after all. Fairy Godmother Lynn stepped in at a time in my life when both of my parents were succumbing to addictions and simply couldn’t be there for me. I was in college trying to navigate my way through the initial stages of adulthood and in swooped Lynn and her husband Vernon, hovering near to protect and nurture me for the next twenty years. Initially, this was hard on my mother who in some ways felt jealous of the bond I had with Lynn and the awareness that Lynn could fulfill me in ways she was incapable of. Yet ultimately my mother was grateful to Lynn, which tells you something about the tender heart and soul of my mother.

So here’s to the many uses of enchantment. I do believe in fairy tales and happily ever after and yes I am a feminist and no I’m not yet on the horse with the prince. But I believe in all of it anyway. And is not God’s story, the ultimate one of restoration and magic? So, yes, I am a princess and my father is the King of Kings.

FB Candy

15 Dec

The other day a relative asked me how much time a day I spend on FB. It was an interesting question because I sensed within the question’s subtext an accusation – i.e. any time I spend on FB is too much. And since the topic of social media has been flying around the internet, I thought I would weigh in on its pros and cons.

For me, FB is like candy. It’s a treat and I find it enjoyable. However, if I eat too much of it, I start to feel sick. Thankfully, I don’t really have issues with chocolate and sweets. I can take a few nibbles and then move on with life. I prefer more substantial calories found in the real foods of meat, potatoes and vegetables. FB is similar. I like it but if I have serious writing to do, I don’t do anything but write. The phone is off. Likewise, at work the phone just isn’t part of the equation.

So is FB really so evil? Is it damaging us? Changing us? Destroying us? I think it all comes down to whether or not FB has become an idol. Any idol does reflect evil, damages us, changes us and has the potential to destroy us. I think more important, we have to ask, who and what is at the center of my life?

When I’m good with God, I’m good with FB and social media. When I’m off center and not as dialed in to God, FB starts to make me a little sick. T.V. is the same. Some of it is nice but most of it just leaves me feeling yuck so I choose a different diet.

I also think we must be realistic about what kinds of connections and “friends” we have on FB. Just because we post a lot on someone’s thread doesn’t mean we necessarily know him/her – on the other hand – we can develop and/or enhance pre-existing relationships through social media. But can we really be “friends” with everybody and have quality relationships plus time to take care of ourselves too? Of course not. In real time, the people who get my time, are those of my heart’s inner circle.

I will say though that for better or worse, social media is changing us. The other day, I was at a busy lunch place. I was sitting at a table waiting for a friend to come back from ordering food and as I looked around everyone in line (including my friend) was checking their phones. Likewise, a number of guests at the tables were too even if someone was sitting next to them. And for a minute I felt dismay that so many people could not bear a moment to just sit and stare, people watch or contemplate one’s navel – or talk to one another. Now this is not a judgment for if in a long line I too will often pull out my phone. Why not answer an email so that when I get home, I don’t have to? Or why not read the FB newsfeed as it can be entertaining and informative. But I do think we need to be conscious of whether we’re using social media or if it is using us. Is the tail wagging the dog or the dog wagging the tail?

Ghost of Christmas Past

9 Dec

I must have been about five or six years old the first time I saw the film version of “A Christmas Carol.” It was in black and white and I remember being just as frightened by Ebenezer Scrooge’s countenance as I was by the creepy ghosts that visited him in rattling chains. I didn’t fully understand the depth of the story but on some level, I knew Scrooge was deeply haunted.

For many of us, by the time we reach adulthood, we too experience visitations from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future even if our souls aren’t as far gone as Scrooge’s. I know that as much as I enjoy aspects of Christmas, memories of my mother’s alcoholism will always break into the present, as well as her incarcerations for DUI’s and her first suicide attempt that took place on December 27th. But the Ghost of Christmas Past reveals a pastiche of memories many of which remind me of happier times. He shows me my mother when she was vibrant and healthy, lovingly creating a happy holiday for me to enjoy. He also shows me my father taking us to dinner on Christmas Eve, driving through Balboa Park to look at the decorations and then heading to midnight service. I see the plate of cookies left out for Santa and a little girl so mesmerized by the Nutcracker she eventually had to dance in it herself.

As the Ghost of Christmas Past steps aside leaving me to watch the montage of my life, I feel the angels draw near one of whom is my mother.

So, it came upon a midnight clear, that I heard that glorious song of old…

And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world:
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.

And herein lies the present and future.