Terms of Debridement: Living into Grief

“To weep is to make less the depth of grief.”
(Henry VI, Part III, Act II, Scene I, Line 85)

I have learned something important about grief from wound care.

Last summer, before my days shifted into darkness and just before everything I have ever been sure of in my world dissolved, I wrote an essay about the curious medical language of wound care.

In May and June of 2018, I accompanied my then 94-year-old aunt Virginia on her weekly visits to the Presbyterian Hospital Dallas wound clinic to treat the stubborn, angry wound she suffered from somehow hitting the outside of right ankle on her wheelchair. It simply refused to heal. The folks at Presbyterian Village North, her assisted living home, had run out of options.

At that time, little did I know that in a matter of weeks, my precious son Elliot would soar over the miserably inadequate barrier on the LBJ TEXpress entrance ramp – while riding his beloved motorcycle.

Little did I know that my brilliant firstborn son, a truly astonishing human, would take his last shallow breath in just over a month at that same hospital – where he also took his first breath 26 years prior. It’s all too much to process and handle for this bereaved mom. To tell you the truth, it takes every ounce of my depleted energy to barely function every day – still, over a year later. Don’t know how I ever breathe at all? Some days, it takes too much effort, and in some ways, it’s getting more difficult with each passing moment.

One of the reasons is this peculiar and uncomfortable statute of limitations on grief we perpetuate in American culture. Our “get over it, because it makes me uncomfortable” vibe is like living every day with a sheet of Saran wrap on your face. And no one seems to notice you can’t breathe.

I know it’s unpleasant.

I know people mean well. But death sucks. It’s unavoidable. I know they don’t know what to say, but we all need to figure it out – and do a better job seeing each other and caring for each other emotionally. It’s not weakness. We need to stop ranting at each other about all the “big, bad -isms” – and start paying attention to ourselves as individuals with open hearts and tender souls. Being present for each other is what matters – life and death matters. The loss of a child is an emotional wound beyond measure – one you will never get over. You must learn a new way to live. My soul sister Patty says, “If the loss of child were a physical wound, we’d be in the ER.” I’m not saying we all need psychology degrees. It’s about intentional acknowledgement – recognizing the profound wounds of loss – physical and emotional – early and often.

The fact is that we need to talk about the loss to move ahead. I treasure the friends most who say Elliot’s name and ask me to talk about him. His friends Chase, Brian and Alec – they are angels on earth. Overwhelming loss is the deepest, the most insidious kind of wound.

Grief needs air to heal.

We can’t just let it scab over and ignore the tissues below. And, like my aunt’s deep, festering physical wound, an emotional wound often needs debridement. That’s one of the wound words that truly resonates. You may think talking about Elliot will upset me, but that’s exacting what I need. It triggers the pain, but the tears are a tonic. The pain never goes away, anyway. Not ever. And, pain plays a role – signaling that something is horribly wrong, rallying the body’s resources – calling in the Navy Seals of the heart!

Technically, debridement is the term for the medical procedure that deliberately aggravates the wound in order to help it heal. With grief, we must do that – revisit the pain that makes us physically wince. It’s a necessary cringe, but we must not linger there. Telling and retelling our stories – that is our task. Finding situations and people who will listen, allow and support us unconditionally is essential – people who give us the space to remember the losses in our past and foreshadow what they mean for our futures. These people are rare and cherished. Without their divine grace, we will never emerge from this murky miasma (one of Elliot’s favorite words).

With debridement, we remove the unhealthy tissue and promote the healing – exposing a new day. The body is designed to heal, but the muck is heavy. The wound can become senescent or old when the cells are still alive and metabolically active but not able to divide and thrive. They are merely surviving, not thriving . . . senescent.

We can’t let that state persist – with unattended wounds scabbing over, harboring our deepest traumas.

Meditations on Grief: Telltale Tears

Tears of grief. Tears of joy. Chemically, they are identical.

And yet, there are essentially three different types: basal, lubricating, protecting and hydrating the cornea; reflex, responding to dust, irritants and allergens, and psychic, triggered by our strongest strong emotions. They are designed to wash away profound sorrow, as well as overwhelming joy. I think this mystical dual chemistry of tears illuminates the journey of grief.

Just as I was sitting down to write a journal entry, Linda, one of my oldest and dearest friends (in length of time, not chronology), texted me a fascinating article about tears in the Smithsonian Magazine — and a wish for me more tears of joy today. Turns out, they are the exact same thing. Since I embrace synchronicity, I clicked.

The microscopic images of all three types of tears peppered the article – depicting an entire lifetime, a complex universe in a single droplet of liquid. Oh, the stories they tell. As the article suggests, all the images look like “aerial views of emotional terrain.” Distant, elegant and provocative. That is so Elliot. Immediately, a rush of memory saturates my heart and then trickles down my cheeks. He adored World War I aircraft from day one – mastering the Red Baron computer game as a toddler and scrutinizing ceiling fans as if they were propellers as an infant.

I suspect Elliot was always meant to fly.

These maps are so dense, intricate and difficult to decipher. They all are a tangle of jagged paths, circuitous routes, and sharp corners . . . ins and outs, dead ends and drop-offs. Ah, this is the true journey of grief, and perhaps, maybe, of joy? That is why everything — even the so-called “happy” memories are as cloyingly bitter as they are sharply sweet — piercing my heart as they sometimes bring fleeting wisps of comfort to my weary soul. They are inextricably intertwined, like a strand of DNA. Is that the new definition of moving through grief — moving with grief? Finding a way to experience both love and excruciating pain at the very same time – as one? Still not so sure about the joy part.

No matter what, this is a brave new world, uncharted terrain and an unknown land. How can I possibly know what it would take to feel safe to live with this pain – when I barely know what I want for lunch? And then I question that decision. I think it’s about being being fully present and mindful. It requires relentless self-compassion and intentional awareness — moment to moment, second to second . . . and heartbeat to heartbeat.

It’s the only way.

For my dear son and my heart — Elliot Everett Wright (5/17/1992 – 8/5/2018)

“And Know the Place for the First Time.”

Memories of those we have lost are often complicated – a morphing mosaic of longing, loneliness, anger, pain, guilt, sadness, gratitude, forgiveness, love and, eventually, peace.

This Memorial Day, I feel I have come full circle in many ways. When my oldest son, Elliot, watched the “The Lion King” as a toddler, he called it “the circle guh-life.” Turns out that “guh” is profound, because the circle is rarely a smooth curve. There are bumps and turns – which reminds of another Eliot – T.S., whose words convey a similar theme:

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive  where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

I arrived there this week.

I began a new assignment – doing one of the things I love most but in a new context. I hope to shift out of the chaotic freelance writing world to work with an integrated marcom firm in Dallas for a while. Every change is an adjustment, every new adventure a realignment. Every experience, your teacher. I miss the energy of a creative cadre – a tribe of brilliant minds collaborating and concepting in real time. I guess I enjoy the process as much as the product. Believe you me, getting to know oneself after a half-century on the planet is both enlightening and confounding.

The Universe works in mysterious ways – most of them unconscious. Life coach Mary Morrissey teaches, “First, notice what you are noticing. It’s the first step to self-awareness.” So, here’s what I have noticed – though I am starting over, I find myself in stunningly familiar territory. I am working in Preston Center, just a few miles from where I grew up. It is like returning to the place “where I started” – probably holding more hidden nostalgia than any other place of my childhood.

And, I’m seeing it for the first time.

I have been flooded with memories of shopping at Sanger Harris and the Woolworth’s dime store with my mom and sister when I was just 10 or 12. This was our preferred recreational activity – a precious pocket of together time. An artist, somewhat reluctant teacher and sometime socialite, my mother’s presence filled every room she entered. On Saturdays, she adored shopping and visiting her flamboyant fashionista friend Mercedes, who ran the Elizabeth Arden counter at Sanger’s. They would chat and banter as Melissa and I played in the makeup, but her mission was to purchase her signature lipstick shade – Fuchsia Shock. It suited my mom’s mega-watt style, and it was the same shade she sported on her thick, one-inch nails.

Over the past few days, I have wandered the sidewalks of Sherry Lane and Westchester during my lunch breaks. A hip, trendy free-range hamburger boutique has replaced the greasy soda fountain at the Woolworth’s. And Wyatt’s cafeteria, with its wickedly sumptuous chocolate-icebox pie, is long gone —  as it the dusty, cramped little store where I purchased my very first record. It was the debut album by The Partridge Family. Though I have lived in Dallas for most of my life, I have never experienced the emotional impact of this place before – not like this. Until now, these glimpses of my past have felt like they belonged to someone else – distant and disconnected.

Perhaps, this is the beginning of my exploring.

On Wednesday, I left my 18th-floor office at noon, pausing for a startlingly raw moment. I noticed the high-rise across the street and recalled that faithful day 29 years ago when I hopped into the back of shiny, white limo after my wedding reception on the top floor. However, I struggled to step into the skin of that ostensibly happy married girl. She was like a character in a movie – unrelated and detached. I saw her in a crisp, purple size-10 linen suit she could wear only after losing 30 pounds on Weight Watchers. She was waving to the smiling people on sidewalk who were tossing fuchsia tissue-paper petals into the air.

I chose not to linger there.

Yet, I could not avoid more of the strangely familiar. Not sure why, but I turned right at the corner – away from the shopping center and toward St. Michael’s and All Angels Church. This destination held its own mixed, messy bag of memories, but it lured me with a gravitas I could not explain. The last time I was there was 2014, for my father’s funeral and before that, 2012, for my mother’s memorial following her protracted illness. I also was married there in the sanctuary and attended elementary school at St. Michael’s School, where I always dreaded that excruciating President’s Physical Fitness Test. Though my parents did not ever attend services there regularly or address spiritual matters much at all, it was our “church of record.”

How I remembered trying to find a way to belong there. I offered to help Mrs. Dienes, our neighbor when I was about 16, teach kindergarten Sunday School. I borrowed my parents’ powder-blue Mercury Monarch with the white interior to get there by 9:00 a.m. I sang in the choir for Paul Thomas, who always scared me a little, and I attended the youth group led by Kyle Rote, Jr., the super-cute soccer star on the Dallas Tornado. Alas, despite all my valiant attempts, I never felt like I fit in there – as if I were missing that essential piece that made me worthy of the Episcopal whole.

Still, this is where my parents’ ashes are residing for all eternity. My stomach tumbled as I realized I was about to see them again. Serendipity – but no coincidence. I had not been back since my father’s interment. At once, I felt the weight of generations of secrets and shame enveloped in a warm wave of comfort. I stepped closer to the austere, yet elegant, monument. There they were, together for always and forever. I stared at the inscriptions and was suddenly overwhelmed. I grieved not for what we lost but what we never had. And in that moment, I made peace. It was all divine order. Then, I paused in pure awe as I considered the convoluted series of events that had brought me to this place. There I was – steeped in memories and standing with my parents once again as I prepared for a new future. Almost too much to process.

I closed my eyes and thanked Source and the Universe for this miraculous journey and others to come. These are the moments that amplify our being beyond all comprehension.

Then, I thought of sipping a cool, creamy root beer float at Woolworth’s . . . and I smiled.

The Power of Words: Senescence and Debridement

Words provide endless fascination for me, and I’ve encountered a couple of gems in the past month that seem to sizzle with relevance. So, here are my words of the week – and how they resonate:

Senescence and Debridement.

Both words I learned accompanying my 94-year-old Aunt Virginia to the Wound Clinic at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.  She is a warrior queen of remarkable grit and constitution, but a pesky wound on her outer ankle has refused to heal over the past few months. Since beginning our biweekly visits to see the perspicacious Dr. Moran and her choreographed coterie of clinicians, Virginia’s stubborn sore has much improved.

Debridement. It refers to the forced removal of unhealthy tissue from a wound to promote healing. Mon Dieu! It’s French – from débrider, to remove adhesions or to literally unbridle. Though the body possesses miraculous and mysterious organic self-healing capabilities, sometimes the process hits a snag. It stymies, and it needs a little help to progress. Debridement sends an urgent message to all the white blood cells and healing resources to galvanize the rescue mission – stat.  And, it hurts like hell!

Unfortunately, we don’t always know why we attract the excruciating circumstances we do or why healing pauses, but we do know why pain exists – to tell us something is terribly wrong. Pain  might be the most potent teacher. It’s just a matter of making the right connection.

Senescence. Debridement is a necessary protocol when a wound is senescent – another vocabulary word from the good doc. Senescent comes from the Latin senēscere, “to grow old.” In medicine or biology, it refers to cells that are still metabolically active – but are no longer capable of dividing.  Existing but not thriving. That’s why they need the jump-start.  Life is about living, not just surviving.

Thankfully, we have come to the right place. On our first visit to this chaotic clinic, I was overwhelmed by the number of “customers” – all seeking some sort of relief. There were not even enough chairs for everyone. There were babies, adolescents, grandfathers, society matrons and athletes. I saw one disturbingly gaunt man slouched in his wheelchair with his bandaged ankle plopped in the lap of a young man who looked like his son. He spoke with unconscious gusto. I think he must have been a teacher. “I believe in word economy,” he proclaimed. “I read that boy’s paper, and he used commas like he keeps them in a salt shaker.” I chuckled, but no one else in the room reacted.

“Ms. Thompson,” the out-of-breath nurse shouted as she cracked the door.

That’s Virginia’s married name. More accurately, her divorced name – an identity she’s maintained for more than fifty years. I grabbed the wheelchair she usually propels with her own two feet, and we were off down the hall.

“This is not uncommon,” said the chestnut-maned doc with an easy, warm smile. “But it’s a bear to heal. It’s a problem of pressure. I’ll bet you sleep on your right side, don’t you? We must offload the pressure. That’s all there is to it.”

Offload. There’s the lesson.

“This is gonna to hurt . . . a lot,” Dr. Moran warned as her nurse squirted the swollen, red ankle with lidocaine.

“This is what we call debridement,” Dr. Moran explained. “We have to remind the body how to heal. We need to remove the dead skin that gets in the way. This sends the body’s healing properties and enzymes to the wound.”

Virginia winced and closed her eyes tightly. Then, one glistening droplet ran down her wrinkled cheek.

“Are you OK?” I asked quietly. I have never seen her register pain, and she has endured much in her life.

“I know that hurt . . .  Uh, Ginny, more lidocaine here,” said Dr. Moran. “We need to rally all the resources we can to heal this bugger.”

Virginia began to breathe a little easier as the efficient tech team wrapped her puffy leg with focused precision. Moran gave us a list of instructions and pointed us to our next stop – radiology in the main hospital for an x-ray.

I was not here by accident. In addition to providing companionship and moral support for my only living senior relative, this experience held a lesson for me.  Sometimes the process of removing the dead tissue requires a seismic jolt – maybe two!  We can’t let unattended wounds just scab over – and pretend like everything is OK while the senescent tissue underneath remains.  Ignoring pain does not resolve it. And, the Universe keeps amplifying the intensity of our lessons until we finally get the message.

After all the turmoil, displacement and trauma in recent months (and even years), I know now it’s not my job to change or fix the mess and dysfunction all around me to feel better. That’s a no-win energy suck and likely leads to spiritual senescence. It’s about staying mindful, making higher-grade choices – and getting myself unstuck – not everyone else.

In medical terms, I guess the prescription is debridement – liquefying the icky eschar and slough. But, no more “liquefying” on my home front, please! I get the message! Thank goodness, Virginia’s choices are helping her heal, too. It’s been nice spending this time with her, too.

Let’s rally those inner resources . . . stat.

There’s No Place Like Home

Day 21: Home 2 by Hilton

This excursion is neither business nor pleasure. It’s in the gray area in between.

As a brand new extended-stay, pet friendly hotel, it’s adequate.  I enjoy the affable staff and free yogurt in the morning, but I assure you this sojourn was not on my agenda — particularly this 2.0 adventure. But the plumbing gods have spoken, and I am compelled to listen. Sometimes, that’s just how the Universe rolls, as my college-attending son, Ian, says. He’s very Zen that way. So, perhaps, that’s the lesson. We control nothing.

However, this scene is dramatic, because it’s the second plumbing expulsion I have endured since Dec. 31, 2017. Yes, unbelievable. I have insurance, but as it often turns out, that feels more like a curse than a blessing in the reality of it.  Wrangling a second water damage claim in the space of ninety days tends has made my adjuster quite testy.

Indeed, it’s complicated.  This time, my neighbor, with whom I share a wall in my deteriorating “Grey Gardens” town home community, recently discovered several slab leaks that summarily seeped downhill into my dining room and kitchen. I made the grim discovery when I hopped off the last step of my staircase into my dining room one morning about three weeks ago, and . . . it splashed. This was a red flag.

As the saga unfolded, my neighbors’ plumber dug a massive trench under their slab — only to discover they went in the wrong direction.  Then, absolute mayhem ensued when the befuddled plumber used the wrong material for the pressure-line repair and had to redo all the work to pass city inspection. It has been like a bad dream — one thing after another. They repaired one leak, and another pipe broke. They fixed that. Then, another one went. Even the monster jet-engine-style drying fans in my moist ground-floor rooms could not keep up.  Once again, I am in the thick of replacing brand new wood floors, boxing up my belongings, rebuilding kitchen cabinets and living on takeout. Disconnected appliances and the stench of raw mildew send me, Izzy and Patches to our modest hotel each eve on a wave of bittersweet gratitude.

But the most disconcerting part is the suspended animation — navigating an untethered existence between hotel and home, saturation and reconstruction, a rock and a hard place — the Scylla and Charybdis. It’s that disorienting purgatory that’s kind of like camping all the time in your regular life — except without the natural beauty and peace. This mode makes you a special kind of crazy. You must deliberately think about every basic task and issue — like what day is it? Or, where am I? You may remember you need those black pumps for a grownup client meeting, and all you have at the hotel is a pair of magenta Sketchers.

I’m herding contractors and my animals simultaneously — as I engage in a daily tango with my aloof, out-of-town adjuster. I’m trying to configure meal options that fit a mini frig and microwave oven — and also save all my receipts.  I’m asking myself deep, probing questions like, “Is there really any good place for the litter box in a hotel room?” And, “Lord, how did I forget my laptop charger?!”

Though there is a simplicity about the hotel life, my unrelenting obsession with logistics  eclipses it. How will I get all this crap fixed and still make a living? This is a time I miss a companion or partner — someone to take Izzy’s leash,  carry the bag of dirty laundry or just grab my hand and say, “Elaine, it’s going to be OK.”

Planning anything is a trick, too — enough time for social medianot having any idea how long I will be existing somewhere between the pit of my fears and summit of my knowledge.  Wait . . . isn’t that the Twilight Zone? But here’s the real epiphany – ironic for the Easter season, I know. I think this might be more than an annoying series of pipe repairs. It has to be.

Both plumbing leaks have been stealth offenders — obscured by walls and foundations. They required deep excavation to shine a light on the hidden damage. That’s what’s needed for effective repair and lasting healing. Like these projects, I am a work in progress — revealing more hidden damage with each passing day, repairing it and continuously evolving.

Clearly, I deceived myself when I purchased this place several years ago. There was so much to do to make it even remotely livable. That should have been a major warning sign, but it’s probably what hooked me. Fixing things can give us a superficial, yet fleeting, sense of worth and purpose — whether it’s about plumbing, people or projects.  Now, if I consider an opportunity or relationship and think, “Ugh, I can make this work,” I know to walk away — quickly. At least, I’m getting better at that. More and more, I am valuing myself enough to make better decisions — and set healthier boundaries.

I have learned from my study of the Law of Attraction and quantum truths that everything is energy and vibration. We manifest the realities that are in sync with our vibrations. I think it’s time for a radical vibe check, dahlink. Time to level up!

So, Dorothy, what have you learned?

  1. True stability is an inside job that starts with true self-worth
  2. Sometimes, a disaster is a potent teacher — it’s all about maintaining healthy boundaries
  3. Constantly attracting and fighting frustrating battles is exhausting and a no-win
  4. “No one can deny you anything. Only you deny it through your vibrational contradiction,” Abraham Hicks
  5.  It doesn’t have to be this hard — to be me

And of course, breathe.

Present Imperfect: 5 Intentions for 2018

Instead of resolutions, I am focusing on intentions this year. I like this nuance, because it conveys a sense of positive expectation and possibility, as opposed “revision”― or eliminating unsavory behavior, condition or circumstance. In fact, we have little control over conditions or circumstances ― such as the stealth leak I discovered in the wall of my home on Dec. 28, 2017. What I do have control over is how I think about this event and how I choose to respond to its unfolding impact.

Intention.

I learned about the power of intention from the late, remarkable Wayne Dyer. The concept has served as a strong springboard for my journey to my authentic self. However, today’s guru is Pema Chodron, the revered Buddhist teacher, author, nun and mother. She is a purveyor of peace in these turbulent times ― a soothing salve for troubled spirits.

This week, I bought her calendar to hang over my desk ― a constant visualization to support my path to presence and focus. January’s quote is profound:

“The more you practice not escaping into the fantasy world of your thoughts and instead practicing the felt sense of groundlessness, the more accustomed you’ll become to experiencing emotions as simply sensations ― free of concept, free of story line, free of fixed ideas of bad and good.”

I love this way of looking at emotions ― actively embracing and experiencing them in a healthy way as part of my ongoing practice to master my own thoughts and eliminate limiting beliefs. My work is to notice what I am feeling. For most of my life, I have avoided my emotions and masked them with doing ― rather than feeling. This year is different. I intend to:

  1. Become a student of my own emotions. Honor and value them ― learn from and use them as essential data to become more energetically aligned. As Esther Hicks suggests, I seek to dissolve the “wobble” between my intentions and what I unconsciously believe about myself.
  2. Consistently connect to my inner divine power to discover the Love and Light in every moment ― accessing the ability to lift, support and propel my greatest possibility. Daily meditation is a key component of this one.
  3. Use my gifts as a writer, coach, actor and producer to express authentically and create work that shifts hearts, feeds minds and awakens souls.
  4. Mindfully use more words in my daily communication that accurately describe my feelings. And, find enormous value in this exercise as a writer. Emotional neglect therapist Dr Jonice Webb recommends, “Using words like dismayed, despondent, incensed, blissful, elated, morose, bland, raw, depleted, wary, strained, deflated, perky, free, quiet, devoted or feisty adds dimension and realness to your life.” What simple and astonishing truth.
  5. Notice at least one moment of joy in every day. This is another dimension of cultivating gratitude, I think. Seeing and feeling joy trains my unconscious mind to create more if it. The more you notice, the more you have.

I definitely find joy in viewing my son Ian’s incredible talent in this drawing. And what a wonderful metaphor ― the gentle warrior. Here’s to an abundant, joyful, peaceful and expansive 2018.

Self-Actualization 101: Unravelling “The Four Agreements”

Humans hardly know what they want, how they want it, or when they want it.” 
― don Miguel Ruiz

I admit it. I am a personal development nerd. Perhaps, it’s because I am still searching for the best version of myself and my life ― as well as a way to heal from the experiences that have (gratefully) led me to this moment in time. But, with each new nuance of enlightenment comes another level of responsibility.

Lately, I have been thinking about the “The Four Agreements.” If you have not read don Miguel Ruiz’s multi-layered, yet elegantly simple work of modern philosophy, I urge you to grab your copy immediately. It’s more than “a great deal” on Amazon Prime Day. It will utterly transform the way you see your life ― and live it. This platform gives you a fresher, healthier way to engage in relationships, activities and even difficult encounters. It’s another installment in my continuing #InsideJob series.

The real challenge is practicing them in a disciplined away ― basting your brain in profound yet practical consciousness until it becomes second nature.  Perhaps, that’s why all Four Agreements are so appealing. In a way, they are a practical guide to peace. I am just going to take each one, summarize it and then, briefly provide an action item. Pretty sensible, right? Try them out, and let me know what happens. (We’ll start with the first two in this post.)

Agreement 1: Be impeccable with your word. 

Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using your word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

I think this means consciously aligning your words with your truth and heart. Your words are your power to create ― and they are an extension of your divine energy.  Choose them carefully, because they can manifest your reality before you know it. They can also deplete, diminish, discount and sabotage. So, be mindful in every moment ― “one mindfully in the moment,” as we say in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Yet, this is easier said than done ― especially when you consider Dr. Joe Dispenza’s observation in “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself”:

Even when we engage our conscious minds, they comprise only about 5% of who we are. The     other 95% is a composition of our subconscious minds ― our habits and behaviors that have been deeply programmed on our mental hard drives throughout our lives.

In other words, it takes work. We may all need to spend some quality time in #BrainBootcamp, but the glorious payoff is the confidence to take full responsibility for your actions. Release any element of judgment or blame by speaking from this authentic place of kindness, love and truth. Wow, wouldn’t that make a difference in our divided world?

ACTION ITEM: Pay attention to the actual words you use today ― and those other people say to you. They are potent messengers. For instance, what is your default when you respond to a compliment? What words do you say? Do you express a desire by planting yourself firmly and saying, “I need . . .”  How does that feel?  How comfortable do you feel asking a question in a meeting or open forum? Become aware of your own inner dialogue (or that pesky inner  critic) ― how you speak to yourself. I know I find myself saying things like, “Goofball, why did you do that?”  That’s not helpful. Rewiring, Will Robinson! Write them down, and then consider how you can turn them around to produce a more positive result.

Agreement 2: Don’t take anything personally. 

This one is the game changer for me, but then, as an over-functioner from way back, I tend to be far too focused on what other people are doing, saying or thinking.  It’s all about understanding how to set healthy boundaries.  But, here’s the deal ― nothing other people do is because of you. Period. What someone says and does is simply a projection of his or her own reality. Ruiz says, “All people live in their own dream, in their own mind.” It’s not your version of the world. What’s worse, taking things personally makes you ripe for abuse and pain. When you are impervious to the opinions and actions of others, you take back your power, escape needless suffering and find peace on your own terms. Love that.

ACTION ITEM: Make a list of people who seem to “push your buttons.” Notice where you end and where the other person begins in any given conversation. You do not need to take another person’s bad behavior personally. You may notice an emotional impact, but you are free to choose whether to continue engaging or not. Knowing it is not about you is incredibly freeing.

The trauma other folks express goes far deeper than the current interaction with you. However, even though the behavior is not about you, your reaction to it may have something to teach you about you. What is it triggering? What wounds are you activating in you subconsciously? Ruiz says, “You are never responsible for the actions of others; you are only responsible for you.”  What a productive way to contextualize difficult folks in your life.

The first two are magic. Love them so much.  Next post will look at the other two. Can’t wait! Stay tuned. 

Healing Trumps Trauma

“Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.” ― Pema Chodron

Appalled. I guess that word describes my current state. I keep trying to come to terms with the abhorrent behavior of our 45th president. Though I work daily to find a place of personal peace, the fear still creeps in. I know all is in “Divine Order,” but I am struggling to discern what kind of order that might be.  What could be the silver lining here? What is the gift in this, as great spiritual teachers might ask?

Well, I have a theory, and I guess I’ll go with it, because it’s really the only way I can contextualize the escalating chaos. I had a light-bulb moment when I saw Jeffrey Lord, a conservative pundit on CNN, attempting to defend 45’s alarming “Morning Joe” Twitter rant. Lord resolutely proclaimed, “You can’t call the president crazy.” Wow!  I had to put down my phone. That one sentence summed it up.

  1. Why can’t you?

There’s something distressingly potent in Lord’s protest. Why can’t you question a disturbing, unhealthy pattern of behavior that could endanger the lives of others ― in the leader of the free world? Lord’s claim shines a light on a pervasive mentality that strengthens the stigma of mental illness in the U.S.  Admittedly, this is not easy terrain to navigate, but mental illness is not a weakness. It is not an insult or a bad choice. It’s a disease ― a disease of the brain.  If you have a stroke, like President Eisenhower suffered in 1957, someone hopefully says, “Hey, something is not right with you. Are you OK? Let’s get some medical attention.” But with mental health issues, it’s much murkier. There is so much shame and embarrassment involved; we don’t speak up. We don’t get involved. The condition may not be as immediately life-threatening as a stroke, but it can certainly result in tragic consequences ― especially if you are president of the United States.

  1. “Crazy” perpetuates stigma.

On another level, I was shocked Lord said “crazy.” It seems to be the media catchall for all aberrant or irrational behavior, and its derogatory connotation helps propagate stigma and patient isolation, too. We are so uncomfortable talking about diseases of the brain that our default is “crazy” or now ― “cra-cra.” This language leaves no room for dignity, recovery or healing. And the shame prevents many from pursuing treatment (if their insurance will even cover it, that is) ― whether they are diagnosed or silently contemplating suicide. In a world where “the overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics . . . and the suicide rate for middle-aged women, ages 45 to 64, jumped by 63 percent over the same period,”  we cannot continue to humiliate or ignore those who exhibit signs of mental illness.

  1. An inside job.

And finally, there is the reality to face that if we elected a man suffering from mental illness, he is our mirror. It is time to take responsibility for healing our own inner wounds. It’s time to choose authenticity, conscious communication, mindfulness and healthy boundaries.   

But Trump’s coterie of codependent enablers (flying monkeys) is not helping matters. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trump’s tweets, saying he “fights fire with fire.” And Homeland Security Advisor Thomas Bossert minimized the threat of violence associated with the president’s hostile CNN-assault tweet ― actually saying he was “proud of the president” for creating a social media platform that connects with the people.

The 25th amendment offers some guidelines, but the act of defining “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” instantly becomes political and complicated in the realm of behavior.  In addition, the psychiatric profession is still hamstrung by the 1973 Goldwater Rule ― enacted after Sen. Barry Goldwater, the GOP nominee in the 1964 election, was declared psychologically unfit for the presidency by psychiatrists surveyed in Fact magazine.  Goldwater won a defamation suit against Fact, and the resulting rule still prevents psychiatrists from voicing a caveat publicly without conducting an examination. Unfortunately, this further perpetuates stigma, as well― muffling open discussion of mental illness concerns under a cloak of disgrace.  There is probably a middle ground we can explore somehow.

So perhaps, from a quantum perspective, Trump is here to open our eyes (that have been “wide shut”). Maybe it’s time to end the silence, as the National Alliance on Mental Illness  (NAMI) is trying to do in our schools nationwide ― freeing our voices to tackle taboos that keep mental illness under the radar and under-treated. We are only as sick as our secrets, as they say, and questioning the mental health of the president in a constructive, supportive way might help lift the veil.

I am not sure of the answer, but at least we can start asking the questions about the very real behavioral concerns of this unconsciously virulent and externally triggered man leading our nation. It’s about his health ― and ours.

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From NAMI: If there is NOT AN IMMEDIATE THREAT OF DANGER but someone is acting irrationally due to his/her mental state, contact your local mobile crisis team. In the Dallas area, individuals may contact ADAPT Mobile Crisis at 1 (866) 260-8000.  If someone is acting irrationally due to their mental state and there IS AN IMMEDIATE THREAT OF DANGER to themselves or someone else, call 911. 

Cultivating Your Native Garden

“Let us cultivate our garden.”
― VoltaireCandide

I attended a provocative and refreshingly relevant production of “Native Gardens” by Karen Zacarias on Sunday at WaterTower Theatre in Addison, Texas. It was a modern take on the classic drawing-room comedy ― with a backyard twist. “Native Gardens” is a tightly orchestrated play about escalating conflict between two suburban couples who consider themselves “good neighbors.” However, their well-intentioned façades crumble when they begin to excavate the prickly, gnarly roots of ageism, racism, sexism and elitism ― all revealed in an emotionally charged explosion of their largely unconscious prejudices.

Zacarias and director David Lozano deftly capture the awkward challenges associated with communicating authentically and mindfully in an increasingly complex world.  The crisp, pointed banter shines a bright light on the cultural and racial tensions people have such difficulty discussing. Ostensibly polite conversations turn instantly into arguments ― and hilarity, though uncomfortable, ensues.

The drama builds over a festering boundary violation (love the irony there).  Tania, a young, pregnant New Mexico native pursuing her doctorate, attempts to “settle things” with Virginia, her stately new neighbor, who is an old-school Anglo feminist. Succumbing to her swelling rage as the plot thickens, Tania erupts, “You pushed all my buttons!” How accurate is that? But the truth is ― our buttons can only be pushed if we allow it.

And, that’s the message here. This high-def snapshot of suburban America reminded me of the conflict brewing in my own neighborhood association ― so often disintegrating into defensiveness and obstinate silence (without the guffaws).

The notion of “cultivating your garden” does apply here on several levels ― in this case, your native garden. In fact, way back in the olden days when I applied to college, I used that Voltaire quote, “Let us cultivate our garden” as a springboard for my essay. I can’t remember what I wrote back then in the last century ― painstakingly typing my cogent prose on a powder-blue Smith-Corona with Liquid Paper by my side. But I feel certain I was looking outside myself for the answers.

Now, I think the real garden to tend is inside.  It’s the one we discover in those moments of solitude in the peace and quiet. And, it’s up to us to clear out all the weeds, roots and debris cluttering our inner landscapes, strangling our opportunities to bloom ― as individuals and communities. 

So, take moment to listen to that still, soft inner voice ― the voice of compassion and kindness. It’s there. Mindfulness takes practice, but it’s the road to oneness and peace. Ask yourself, “Why am I feeling triggered?” “What is this about?” And the next time you go looking for the answer “out there” somewhere, you might try looking no further than your own backyard.

Finding Peace in Community: When Your HOA is an SOS

“All politics is local.”  ―Tip O’Neill

I attended the monthly meeting of my Home Owners Association (HOA) this week. As I entered the room on the humid summer evening, the atmosphere was heavy with expectation and simmering with skepticism.

You see, we are in the midst of launching an extensive and costly community-wide renovation project addressing years of deferred maintenance. But the project we are all funding is more than six months behind schedule. It has not even begun. Now, the board and residents are at loggerheads ― embroiled in a major kerfuffle over the financing and management of our seriously delayed initiative. With tensions festering, tempers flaring, and barbs flying, I felt very uncomfortable in the middle of this murky morass.

About 15 neighbors and I were attending the “working board meeting” to inquire about project status and related decisions impacting our finances and homes. But some of the board members were not amused. They responded to our questions with escalating hostility and defensiveness. One fellow resident even left in tears.  Such drama. The whole event was profoundly disturbing.

Days later, I am still feeling unsettled ― but I recognize this small community meeting in Lake Highlands, Texas  was truly a microcosm of our nation’s broader, brooding dysfunction. I do not understand this behavior, this lack of tolerance. When some folks encounter differences of opinion, they tend to lose all ability to relate as mature adults. In this unconscious breakdown mode, listening, respect and compassion cease. Polarization sets in.

Why is this happening? Why do opposing opinions make us all enemies? It reminds me what happened in the 2016 election as we hunkered down in our separate psychic silos. But, here’s the rub ― don’t we all want to live in happy, healthy, pleasant environments? So, what is getting in the way? Why are thoughtful, honest questions interpreted as personal attacks ― lambasted and dismissed? Evan McKenzie, University of Illinois political science professor and author of the book Beyond Privatopia: Rethinking Residential Private Government, explains that a complicating aspect of HOA disputes is that they often become personalized, “so you can’t even resolve them.”

One thought is this. The road to resolution is an inside job. It requires that we all commit to building authentic, aware relationships with ourselves, first. What I witnessed Monday evening ― and afterward, in harassing texts from a participant who took issue with my right to ask questions, was unconscious reactivity. And it spilled out all over the patio after we were dismissed as the “closed session” continued. There is no changing other people. Ever. But we can shift our own realities.

So, there is hope. There is mindfulness.

Essentially, I’m talking about the discipline of staying present, awake and aware in the moment. A great Forbes article states:

When you are mindful . . . you become keenly aware of yourself and your surroundings, but you simply observe these things as they are. You are aware of your own thoughts and feelings, but you do not react to them in the way that you would if you were on ‘autopilot.’”

I love this definition, because it’s about aspiring to a higher level of consciousness. Yes, it takes practice, but it is a practice that improves mental health ― as well as relationships. This means building mastery over your emotions and impulses — allowing you to adjust your behaviors.

According to a 2014 study from Carnegie Mellon University, self-soothing skills, mediation, and relaxation techniques that are part of mindfulness training have been proven to decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and meditating for just 25 minutes a day for three days in a row is an effective way to alleviate psychological stress. There is a great, new app I’m using to keep me on track with my meditation called Headspace. It’s been proven that meditation can actually enhance empathy, creativity and focus ― all core elements of a joyful, peaceful, centered existence.

SOS: Small Organization Stress

HOA board meetings can be tough rooms. Stress levels for the board members can be high, because the job is voluntary with very little appreciation involved. Resources and time are limited. The organizational structure is likely insufficient, and there is usually no official training for positions that carry significant responsibility. Boundary function is probably not optimal regarding task assignments, and these unexamined resentments can easily manifest as contentious and unsavory behavior. Not exactly a recipe for a good time!

An insightful Entrepreneur article reminds us of the importance of process ― not mistaking impulsive action for productivity. This is something I have been tackling in my own life for the past couple of years. It involves becoming aware of my own emotions, taking a breath and a beat ― and retraining my brain to intentionally consider the pros and cons possible options. It’s called “wise mind.” Start your day with a contemplative practice ― breathing, mediation, journaling, etc. Or, spend 15-20 minutes a day walking outside in nature. Gain perspective. Space. When you feel yourself reacting emotionally, take a moment ― and ask yourself what the reaction is about. Is it an unconscious response?

Make Mindfulness Matter

Mindfulness is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence — and a way to help you create a more fulfilling life. Here are a few tools to make that journey more manageable for leaders in organizations:
• Delegate
• Listen
• Empathize
• Resist making snap judgments
• Ask for guidance and opinions ― know that asking for help is not a sign of weakness
• Evaluate your operating structure and responsibilities
• Realize that you are completely biased ― love that one!
• Get clear about what you really want out of a relationship, transaction or activity
• Prioritize — you won’t get everything. Clarify for yourself what is most important
• Recognize that folks have other opinions, and they have nothing to do with you.

Above all, get real! And find a way to enjoy the process. Courageously assess your strengths and weaknesses, continuously. We are all spiritual beings having physical experiences, so let’s try to make the best of it.

Do you have suggestions or questions regarding nurturing healthy communities ― from the inside out? Please share.