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Is The World On Fire? Fires, Floods, & DACA

6 Sep

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I came home from cool, rainy Alaska to witness a fire that looked like Armaggedon. Ensconced in work and the beauty of a rugged landscape, I had no idea that LA had become an inferno and that the hills of Burbank were engulfed in flame. My uber driver and I were stunned at the apocalyptic scene before us as we drove along the highway from the airport. I grew up in California so I’m familiar with wild fires consuming the state, but I’d never witnessed anything of this intensity so near. It seemed as if the whole town was on fire. All you have to do is google Burbank fire images to see the magnitude of Mother Nature’s Force. I’m not certain who took this photo and posted it on the Internet but this is indeed what it looked like.

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Three days later, through the incredible efforts of the Burbank, Glendale, and Los Angeles Fire Departments, the fire was contained. The LAPD also did an extraordinary job in the united stance, keeping people and most homes safe.

It was a reminder of how important our neighbors are. When tragedy hits, we need people around us. But even when there is no trauma, we need each other. The older I get the more I value basic human connection. It’s important to know our neighbors. Don’t just wave. Invite folks over for a drink or bake them cookies. Chat when you pick up the mail and bitch together about the ghastly heat and how your football team always loses.

Our relationships with those most geographically near are important. But that neighborly spirit should be applied in a national, international, and universal context as well. We are not meant to live in an isolated, nuclear-family bubble, or as an isolated being all on one’s own. We’re meant to care and connect with those beyond our immediate tribe and existence.

I was touched that while away for the last few weeks, my colleagues, students, and hotel staff were my family. I was equally moved that when I came home, I saw and heard from people who are like family. Family doesn’t have to be biological. Deep down, we’re all related and while we may feel more close to some over others, we’re all interconnected. Those little encounters in the grocery store, at the yoga class, and while out on a walk over time start to comprise one’s community and one’s life. Who is sick? Who just had a death in the family? Who needs a hand because a fixture in the house just broke? We need each other. We need company.

The Houston floods bring this all too close to awareness as well. In a deluge, suddenly your house, your pets, and your stability can be gone. The only stability comes from the connections we forge with one another even if brief and temporary. We are one spirit and body. Deep down there is no separation if we lift the veneer of superficiality.

This other picture circulated on the Internet. I don’t know the original source of the photo but who of us hasn’t felt like this cat? Cold, wet, exhausted and pissed! I commend this cat for his fighting spirit but no one should have to brave it alone forever. At some point, this cat deserves a safe landing. I hope he finds a good neighbor who can look out for him even though he obviously knows how to fend for himself. We need each other.

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Prison of Shame

12 Jul

When my mother was sentenced to a state penitentiary for a 5th felony DUI she was transferred from the local prison to Chowchilla, the women’s correctional facility in Central California. She was taken in a Sheriff’s bus. The vehicles are typically painted black and white like a zebra. It is rare to see one of these buses on the highway. When I do, I cringe. It is especially difficult if I notice prisoners’ faces at the windows. I have no idea whether my mom was handcuffed or if she talked to anyone during the ride.

My mother never talked about her experiences in jail. This was the one area of her life that was a closed book. Yet her silence spoke volumes.

When she was released from Chowchilla, she was given a Greyhound bus ticket to get from Central California to San Diego. She had asked me to take $200.00 from her accounts to purchase some items for her. Her instructions had been incredibly specific. Most important, she needed an outfit to wear on the bus so that she didn’t have to return home in orange prison attire. At the time, orange wasn’t the new black. She wanted a nice tracksuit and asked when I purchased this at Target that I try it on since we were the same size. She also wanted a bag of tortilla chips and a jar of bean dip. All of these items would have to pass inspection at the prison to ensure that drugs or weapons weren’t being smuggled in.

I drove to the mailbox store and quickly found out that packages sent to a state penitentiary required special paperwork. I fidgeted as the clerk asked me various questions related to the forms she was filling out. I remembered that even sending books from Amazon to the prison had been a challenge. I worried what the woman at the mailbox store thought of me because I was sending something to an inmate. As I paid the fifty bucks to have the package mailed, I realized both my mom and I were doing time in one way, shape, or form.

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Incarceration is like a death in the family. The person leaves and then suddenly resurrects upon release. I went through this process with my mother five times, until she actually died for real.

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My T.V. Little Girl: On Motherhood and Mother’s Day

13 May

There is nothing more masochistic than going to church on Mother’s Day, yet I do it every year. I do it to remember that I had a mother and that we all came from the womb of a mother. I do it to pay tribute to holidays that celebrate family life and community. I do it so that my heart doesn’t calcify. I do it to stay connected to a mother who loved me despite the tragic way her life ended.

It’s never a fun day really. No matter how much I think that enough time has passed, the tears start halfway before I get to church. It’s one of the few days I think about my mom’s suicide yet it’s important to remember it. I go into the sancturay wearing sunglasses and sit at the back of the church by myself. Although I am alone, I know something Higher sits there with me, as it did the day the police called asking if I could identify a body. I had waited five days for that call after receiving a suicide note in the mail.

At church someone always puts a foot in the mounth. Someone always wishes me happy mother’s day and then retracts it when he or she discovers I’m not one.  And that’s okay. I’m used to it. I’m there anyway because I want the connection to humanity. I want to remember when I visited church with my mother on Mother’s Day and to focus on the fact that motherhood is a creative force vital within all of us. I also feel enormous gratitude to the myriad number of women who have mothered me over the years.

Recently I had the opportunity to play a mom in a t.v. commercial. Although I’ve “mothered”  many as a therapist, teacher and nanny, I’ve never played the role or had the title. Yet in the commercial, I am the MOMMY. How I love that word. All the real life mommies were off set, while this MOMMY was on camera. It was the most surreal moment because for a brief moment in time, I lived a dream I’d always had. For the morning, I hosted a birthday party complete with balloons, screaming kids, and a daughter certain her parents were aliens. It was wonderful.

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Life is wondrous. But the imagination even more so because it allows us to live many realities. I also had another little girl on screen recently who was equally delightful.

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I go to church on Mother’s Day to remember my mother and to remember that I am still a daughter who loved being a mommy when I played pretend.

 

 

Life, Death, and Creativity

30 Nov

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My family lost a member to suicide this week. For all involved, it has been a time to process this information while offering support. There is a legacy of loss here that can’t be negated. My mother’s death from seven years ago was on people’s minds as well.

Tragedy always strikes in the strong currents of life. There is a never an ideal time for loss. Often you’re already at max point with the demands of work and day to day, yet death insists that you stop. It insists that you keep going as well. When I received my mom’s suicide note, I was asked to come into work until I knew more because the hospital accredidation surveyors were there for their annual review. I thought this was the height of insensitivity, particularly from a mental health organization, but I went in and led groups and charted my notes. Three days later the police called me.

This is life. It will toss you about like a garment in the washing machine on spin cycle.

The day after news of the family death, I received confirmation that my male lead in the short film I wrote and am producing and starring in got cast on another film. He was already in Europe on a film and starts work immediately on a new feature.

Making a film doesn’t begin to weigh in comparison to the life and death of an individual. Yet in this chaotic swirl of the last few days, creativity affirms life in the face of death. We can collapse or create. Or collapse and then create. We film in a week in LA. Figuring out a new shooting schedule with a new lead who has the chops was like trying to solve a rubik’s puzzle but we did.

It is a constant honoring of loss while moving forward with life. After the film wraps, I see clients, finish up a course, and then get on a plane to see my grandmother one last time before she passes. She has held out beautifully on hospice living longer than we expected. Then it’s another plane ride and teaching for a week while we all continue to grieve for the recent death.

For the most immediate family members, they will not be moving on quickly. For them, they will need time to stand still. They will need to simply rest while remembering to eat and take out the trash. And then one day, the darkness will lift a bit. They will take a step out from the shadows and they will see a ray of light and life. During that time before and after, we will hold hands and make phone calls for this is God’s grace.

 

 

 

 

Broken Open By Love

7 Sep

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Sadly, it is often only in retrospect that we see our parents more clearly. It took my mom’s death to really understand the depths of her love for me, despite her deficiencies stemming mostly from alcoholism and depression.

My mom was not initially depressed. In my formative years she was vivacious, enthusiastic, hard working, and fun. But when her second marriage ended, my mother was never the same again. That was the beginning of the end for her emotionally.

I remember being frustrated at her never ending melancholy that would get amped up during the holidays. Who would carve the turkey, if there wasn’t a man to do it? Why cook a turkey if there wasn’t a man there to enjoy it? And who would help us put the Christmas tree on top of the car and who would get it in the stand? These were the jobs for men. Now, we women had to figure it out. I was a kid. I loved Thanksgiving and Christmas. I just wanted to enjoy the bloody holidays without her still crying over a husband who was no longer around.

What I didn’t realize was that in some ways, the train had left the station for my mom. Despite actively dating, she never again found a suitable partner. The whole process wore her down. When she did finally feel a connection with someone, he was married. Completely out of character with her morals, she had an affair, which of course was the worst thing ever for her self-esteem. The man never left his wife for her and once again, my mom felt she had no value. She couldn’t get a man to stick. She also had to make her way in the world financially all on her own, which she nobly did.

During the time I focused on her neurosis and fragility, I neglected to see her largesse of spirit. It took her years to get over the hurt of her second failed marriage and yet because of me, she learned to forgive. When I moved back to California as an adult, I initially stayed with the man she’d been married to and with his family. It must have torn at her heart that I was with them instead of her, but she didn’t have room for me in her tiny studio apartment. At the end of the day, she knew that her ex was helping me in ways she couldn’t. When he bought me a much needed used car, my mom was grateful despite the weirdness of it all. She was able to transcend her hurt of not getting the life she desired for the fact that he was helping me, her daughter, who needed father figures in her life. My mother also showed up at my biological father’s bedside when he was dying, once again to support me.

My mom always thought that her second ex-husband stopped loving her. I think he always cared for her, despite moving on to a new relationship, but that was too hard for her to see. After all, she never got another shot with someone. And she wanted the love that comes to a wife; not the love that feels more like that reserved for an acquaintance or neighbor. A “hello” here, a “hey, what’s up?” there… But once again, it’s the breaking of hearts that often opens them. When my mom died by suicide, it was her ex that was there with me identifying the body. It was her ex and his wife, that hosted my relatives at their house because with Comic-Con on that week in San Diego, all the hotels were booked. He and his wife hosted the reception after my mom’s service and took me under their wing during my grief.

One day while swimming and trying to work out an issue that had been troubling me, I felt my mother’s spirit so strongly that tears came to my eyes despite the fact that I was submerged in water. I heard her say in my head, “On the other side, it doesn’t matter. All the things humans worry about, it doesn’t matter either way. In the end, it doesn’t matter.” I realized then that she’d found the love she’d so long craved on earth. The love that here on this planet we often fail to perceive because we’re caught up in duality, caught up in lack, caught up in ego, and caught up in need. Living in a human body, in the human world, is painful.

It’s a long journey home. It takes active work to perceive that home is here and available to us all while still living in this dimension. My mother reminds me that love is all there is, if we reach out to Spirit and ask Spirit’s presence to be known. The rest of it just doesn’t really matter.

 

 

Why Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Isn’t Enough

14 Jul

I have never been a fan of cognitive behavioral therapy. Sorry. If insight was enough to change, most of us would have quit smoking, lost weight, and kept any other New Year’s resolutions by now. Most of us would know we are worthy despite maybe having been mistreated as a child and most of us would make choices for ourselves that are healthy.

CBT is based on the idea that how we think influences our emotions and behaviors and without a doubt there is some truth here. If I wake up and see that it is raining, a thought such as “Oh, crap! It’s raining. Now the day is going to suck,” will definitely get the day off on the wrong foot. Yet if I wake up and think, “Oh, wonderful! I love the sound of rain on the roof and we need the rain,” then I’m going to be in a much better disposition. But what if you implement the positive thought and yet your mood doesn’t follow suit?

Herein lies the problem. Our thoughts aren’t enough. Here in Western society, we make cognition the King, the Supreme Being. Thinking (pun intended) reins over all systems. We negate the intelligence of our emotions, the secret knowledge of the heart, and the ridiculous accuracy of our guts.

In reality, behind every thought form is energy and energy vibrates at certain frequencies. Not only that, the energy that accompanies subconscious thought patterns often trumps any conscious work on “catch it, change it, change it” strategies.

How then do we break down old narratives?

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I’m a firm believer that some of the deconstruction has to start on the physical, cellular level. We do this using our breath, by having corrective, positive interpersonal interactions, and by creating new neural pathways vis-a-vis kinesthetic movement. In the process we begin to rearrange dimensions of our nervous system, which in turn influences mood, emotions, thoughts and behaviors. We embody new narratives when we create a new reality of presence.

Yet we also have to purge ourselves of the energy associated with the traumas that created the thought forms in the first place. What subconscious contracts did we make with our parents? What energy did we pick up in the household (or in the society at large)? What belief systems do we carry that aren’t even ours? Have we taken on one parent’s issues and energy in order to stay loyal to him or her? Are we subconsciously holding ourselves back because to live a different life would be to betray mom or emasculate dad? Do we dare to be happy if our ancestors weren’t?

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How come the third generation of Holocaust survivors sometimes relate to the terror of the Nazi occupation on a visceral level, when the family history was never discussed or even acknowledged? Why might a child in utero sense the mother’s fears and resentments about an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy? Why do various ethnicities carry historical trauma even when healing has occurred and why can you burst out in tears during a massage when a certain knot in a muscle is expunged? And why can the touch of one’s beloved make you cry out in relief and ecstasy?

Sometimes my clients look at me weird when I suggest a method of treatment that entails flushing out traumatic memories and patterns vis-a-vis the energy centers of the body, or chakras. Yet even skeptics can’t help but acknowledge that when they place their hands on their hearts or throats while declaring a specific statement or pattern unique to their experience, they sometimes experience intense images, feelings, insights, and sensations. The body doesn’t lie; the body keeps the score; the body is a wealth of knowledge. The subconscious, now made conscious loosens, as does the energy and resulting belief systems associated with traumas. Catharsis, as painful as it can be, clears and removes long held defense structures held within the body and cognitive schemas.

We can’t always think our way out of the the energetic ramifications of trauma. In fact, we never can. We feel, intuit, move, and then think our way out of intra-psychic prisons. Prayer too helps because it changes the energetic frequency when you invite in the presence of the Divine. Catharsis of repressed emotion and giving voice to long held anger can also liberate and energize.

Healing is a far more complex process than keeping thought records and dissecting behavior like diagramming sentences in grammar class. This can become mental masturbation and a Woody Allen monologue. Transformation comes when we dive into the energy of our traumas and into the joy of movement, breath, and sensate experience.

 

Shoot the Dying Animal

21 Jun

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Years ago a psychic told me that once I got over my longing for a traditional nuclear family complete with white picket fence, I would be truly content. I was recently thinking about her words.

The American obsession with romance and marriage paradoxically kills any beauty left in these institutions. I believe in both, yet the way our culture distorts and abuses these, makes me realize how hard it is to sustain love,  marriage, and happiness. How then do we embrace well-being and union, for these are deeply human needs.

When I think about the best moments in my life they have always come when I have surrendered any attachment to outcomes. Instead, happiness has come from stepping out of my comfort zone and simply connecting with life, no matter how it is presenting itself to me. These moments are subtle. They don’t include the contrived glamour of being handed a rose. They don’t always include passionate love either. More often than not, happiness results from connection with friends, neighbors, strangers, pets, and work.

These moments come like waves rolling into shore. They are the ones unfolding in the here and now. These are the moments to nurture, not the fairy tale notions of happily ever after.

This is the happily ever after. Right here. Right now.

We Can’t All Go to Disneyland

17 Jun

A little boy told a schoolmate that he was going to Disneyland for his birthday. The other little boy, distressed and jealous that he wasn’t going to the “happiest kingdom on earth” punched the other kid in the face.

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We can’t all go to Disneyland. Some kids never get there while others have annual passes and go all the time.

Can the deepest desires of our hearts be fulfilled and if not, how do we watch other people’s good fortune without growing bitter and resentful? Why do some people get to go to Disneyland and others have to stay home?

I remember when my friends started to marry and have babies. It was such a joyous happy time for them. I was a bridesmaid many times. Despite my longing to be the princess for the day, spiritually, I was asked to be a queen. It was necessary to grow up and bless those around me even though the desires of my heart went unfulfilled. When the babies started arriving it was a little harder. Perhaps I always wanted to be a mother even more than a wife. I remember one baby shower where every woman there was pregnant but me. They all talked about their pregnancies and basically ignored me, as if being single and childless was a disease they might catch if they got too close to me. I remember making small talk about Sesame Street and children’s developmental stages because I actually knew of these things, but because I hadn’t given birth myself, somehow my comments were irrelevant.

They say the first cut is the deepest but it isn’t. The more accumulation of hurt and disappointment in our lives, the deeper the gouge gets. The wound doesn’t necessarily scar over. Instead, a knife drives the cut in more profoundly and the spiritual tests get greater. Observing the happiness of others when your own was eclipsed can knock the wind out of you. Yet you have to stand up, put on that crown, and with head held high, embrace the dignity of the queen.

Disneyland is filled with fairy princesses. And not many nice queens. But in real life, we have to step into the role of Good Queen, if we are to do the real Kingdom work. We must bless the blessings of others in order to experience our own. We also start to question why the attraction to Disneyland in the first place? Is not the Kingdom right here, filled with magic no matter what the situation? And are there not lots of kids who need more than Mickey Mouse in their lives? Maybe it’s time to stop sitting around waiting for the kingdom to come but to start reaching out to those in need in the kingdom.

 

Pools of Forgiveness

10 Jun

Ever since I was a little girl and visited Yellowstone National Park with my father, I have been fascinated by hot springs. I remember looking at the strange colors and spewings of the Morning Glory Geyser intrigued. I also recall my first experiences sitting in hot springs. I was a kid, soaking in the hot water in my tiny bikini while looking at all the adults around me also bathing. Some were naked while some wore bathing suits.

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Naked is an interesting way to perceive the experience of sitting in hot, natural spring water that is dense in minerals. When we sit under the stars, soaking in sulfur and other minerals, we start to peel away layers of toxins sitting underneath our skin. We also start to loosen the debris lodged deep in our hearts. Heat and water and minerals create a unique form of purification.

In a way, we become psychologically and energetically naked.

When I think about forgiveness, these hot springs come to mind. We don’t forgive without first feeling anger, which is its own form of hot water. Anger is a sign of self-protection, heightened vulnerability, a need to set boundaries, and a reflection of how deeply we cared about the situation or person that caused us such enormous pain. Anger is not fun to feel but if channeled effectively, over time, it produces its own type of potent healing minerals.

The person who says we need to immediately forgive a profound blow to the heart is a fool. Forgiveness is impossible without first feeling the hurt of the transgression.

Anger creates an interesting dynamic between human beings. I’ve known people who have insisted that anger is essential, yet when expressing this emotion, they were actually emotionally abusive. I’ve also known people who have insisted that anger is the opposite of kindness and therefore should be avoided. Yet these same proponents of “kindness”, were also capable of saying and doing cruel things, all while speaking in a gentle tone of voice. That is the opposite of kindness.

Sometimes a dose of righteous anger, even if delivered in a loud tone, can actually be an act of kindness for ourselves, the relationship, and the other person.

What I find interesting about hot springs is that from heat, they generate healing properties. This is such a perfect analogy for transformation. In order to transform our anger and hurt into forgiveness, we must first heat up our internal lives. As uncomfortable as this process might initially be, it’s what allows us to move through rage.

When my father was dying of pancreatic cancer, I never expressed my anger at him for exploiting and abandoning me. Toyed with as an object of his affection, I was eventually discarded. For fourteen years, he didn’t call me, write me, or reach out to me. This rejection came when I was eighteen and went to college. It came as a shock because for the first eighteen years of my life he told me that he loved me more than anything in the world and would never do anything in the world to hurt me. When I walked into his hospital room after this fourteen year hiatus, he casually said hello and then asked me what type of car I drove. He didn’t ask if I was married, whether or not I had kids, nor what I did for a living. He didn’t tell me how wonderful it was to see me or that he missed me all these years. He didn’t tell me I looked wonderful, nor did he apologize. Ever the good girl, I swallowed any anger, if I was even in touch with it. Instead I felt sorry for him. He looked like a shrunken, shriveled old man who was in pain and was suffering. I showed him nothing but kindness and compassion. I played the role I always played. I forgave him.

But I hadn’t. My rage had never really been expressed.

You can’t really forgive or let go until you feel the rage. Only then, in the heat of it all, can you soak in the pools of forgiveness. Only then can you emerge, shimmering in the light, with beads of water and a smile on your face.

 

 

 

Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

5 Jun

When I was ten, I wrote these words in my diary:

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Growing up in a home with alcoholism, I became the consummate observer. I learned how to track the behaviors and moods of others because my survival depended on it. Has she been drinking? Is she slurring her words? What level is the vodka in the bottle at? I learned how to mind everyone else’s business but my own.

Despite all my best intentions, I couldn’t get my mom to stop drinking. I couldn’t prevent her from going to jail for five felony DUIs related to driving while under the influence and I couldn’t convince her to pursue recovery. While I never stopped loving her, I learned that focusing on myself was the only chance I had at serenity.

Focusing on myself is one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn in my life and it is a daily practice. Whenever I have put the focus too much on others, I take a trip to hell and back while sucking the breathing space out of my primary relationships and my relationship with myself.

Watch any pack of siblings fighting and you’ll hear mom or dad say, “Focus on yourself!” when Sally or John whines, “Mom, he’s doing a, b, c ….” or “Dad, she’s doing x, y, z….” We’re taught this lesson early on in childhood but society also tries to drill it out of us. If I put the focus on myself, I’m often perceived as selfish and self-centered because we are taught to care for and serve others. Yet often, the best way to care for others is to put the focus on ME. Focusing on myself is minding my side of the street and taking responsibility for my thoughts, behaviors, and actions. Anything else quickly turns into meddling, blaming, controlling, nagging, and manipulating. Period.

Focusing on others can bring an enormous amount of suffering, particularly when people don’t behave the way we desire. We can express our disappointment and state what we need but beyond that, we have no control. We can’t make others love us, commit to us, or change for us. Nor can we make people be something that they’re not, unless they themselves want to change.

Each day, I try to place my focus on myself and God. I ask myself, “What do I need to do today? What is my work for the moment? How am I feeling? And what do I need to do to take care of myself? (because no one is going to do that job for me).” Obsessing over what others are doing, or why my life isn’t a certain way because of what others are or aren’t doing, is the height of dis-ease. It’s best to mind my own circus and my own monkeys because that is all I have jurisdiction over and quite frankly, it’s all I can handle. Each of us, even in union with others, has to live our own lives and are responsible for our happiness.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference….