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Let's Not Figure It All Out At Once

"I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom." - Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Life is a beautifully complex, miraculous, bastard of a thing. It's funny. When I was in my early 20's it was my assumption that adults had things in order. After however many years on the planet, surely they had a grip on things. Right? I was mellowing into my well-adjusted 30's and discovered the truth: we are still learning the things. My 40-year-old friends insist that they are also still learning the things. They still experience episodes of cluelessness. Bouts of existential sadness and anxiety that wakes them in the darkness of the night. There are still chapters of their lives that are best titled, Beautiful Disaster. Well, that's hopeful. Just when you think "oh yeah, I got this" and laugh in life's silly face, you get reminded: adulting is hard. 

Many years ago, I was told by a master clinician of anxiety and depression to never ask a client to do anything I wouldn't be willing to do myself. I honestly don't know how hard he lived by that, but his words embedded themselves into the sternum of my ribcage. I have lived by them ever since. Therapists are people too. We Love, we hurt, we try, we fail, we f*ck up hard, we try again. As far as I'm concerned, it's part of my unwritten job description to live like hell so that it can best inform me how to attune to my clients' experiences in the world. I need to know life intimately if I'm going to do a lick of good. I need to bury my hands into my life and knead it into something I can be proud of. I need the self-awareness of a ninja. The kind of thing that can only be cultivated by life experience, intention, and an excellent therapist. 

I went to the Lumineers concert the other night. Kaleo opened up the show and they were absolutely epic. Knocked my socks off. I wasn't quite prepared for what the Lumineers brought. Like a surge, a flood of memories arose that I associated with particularly difficult times in my life. Times of loss. Times I've stumbled through my own mess. Times I've feared losing the things that mattered most in my life. Times I've suffered in the painful silence that high functioning people know all too well. They sang and I shivered in my seat as the words rang through my bones.

"don't hang your head, love should make you feel good"

A couple of girls danced in the pit; clearly having drank too much. They danced with a youthful freedom and clumsy innocence. I could recognize parts of myself in them. They looked like such happy little fools; suspended in their tiny world. My chest grew warm with compassion and sadness for the less wise parts of myself that had to learn some lessons the hard way. I looked at them with well wishes on their path as they danced in the dark like tonight was the only night that existed.

"Make your mothers proud"

I was sitting with someone close to my heart the other day as she sat in a pool of tears. She was in the middle of a time of growth - which is often cloaked in bad life choices and paired with things we didn't know. Things we couldn't have known until now. She ached for the clock to heal her heart. To get the learning over with already. Wisdom hurts and awareness isn't cheap. We've all paid the price. I thought of the liver spots on my therapist's hands. The way he adjusts his hearing aids in session as he leans his ear towards me. I wonder about the stories he's lived through. The wisdom he carries. The Life that he's lived in all its mystery and surprise. I wonder if his learning of the things has tempered now or if he still has moments when the tectonic plates of his mind shift in new perspective he never had.

"I was blind, now I see"

Dear reader, we come into this world blind. Life unfolds slowly. Be compassionate with yourself as you move through the world and learn the things. Listen intently to what your life is trying to tell you. Give yourself some time to reflect and choose your next step wisely. And for the Love of Pete, don't figure it out alone. If you're going to be a ninja at life, you're going to need a someone that knows the path well. Someone who has the skills and know-how to help you see. Someone who nods with an empathy of a life well lived.

Warmly, your fellow life traveler,

Dr. B

Let Your Darkness Speak

I bent over and leaned my elbows on the desk. I nibbled on the back of the pen in contemplation. It was a simple enough task. 1) Write your name on this name tag 2) Name one moment that drastically changed your life. I have such a hard time with this kind of thing. The answers that immediately came to mind didn't seem socially appropriate. Oh hey, I'm B. Nice to meet you. I was forever changed the day my mom died. It was slow and sudden and it split me in half. It's a beautiful day, right? So I picked something that was both true and safe instead: Hey, I'm B and my life was changed the day I kissed that boy. I pressed the little sticky tag to my shirt and went about my way.

The room was filled with visitors within moments. We were hosting an event held by Creative Mornings. It was this past Friday at HumanHQ, my other work home. If you aren't familiar with this organization, you need to change that on the immediate. I have attended CM talks at every opportunity. This dedicated group hosts speakers from various fields (generally creative) to share their story with the aim to bring insight into their process and inspire. I will never forget my first talk. It was from a recognized, award winning cinematographer by the name of Ryan Booth. The advertised photos of him were spectacular. He looked like such a badass and was clearly rocking it out in a way I could only dream of. He walked up to the crowd and adjusted his mic, surrounded in eager gazes. I can't recall what he said word-for-word but it was something along the lines of, "Hai. So.... I don't know what I'm doing most of the time." What followed was an incredibly honest story of vulnerability and the willingness to transcend the ego for the sake of empathy: the place we create our most honest work. People. I fell in Love. I left that talk feeling warm with humanity. 

This time, the talk was a little bit different. We cozied up on couches and chairs. The candles flickered in intimate anticipation. Our speaker was Linda Geffin, a lawyer who spent a lifetime fighting against human trafficking and advocating for survivors. She shared her story about being silenced on a quiet and unsuspecting afternoon. At least they tried to silence her. She was beaten and left for dead on her kitchen floor. The room was still in collective breath for her. She shared about her struggle to feel safe in the world again. She read Victor Frankl's Mans Search For Meaning, one of my favorite books. It taught her about her own power. It taught her that no could take away her capacity to choose how she reacts. She had the ability to choose her attitude in any circumstance. It was something her attackers couldn't strip from her. So slowly, painfully... one step at a time, she entered into the world again. She left us with the wisdom she gained: At some point in your life, you're going to experience something that challenges you to the core and shakes you alive. You don't have to wait until something drastic happens to you. Start now. Be in the present moment. Make room for gratitude. This one moment is the moment we have.

I met up with her afterward and we shared a hug. I am always so taken by people's stories. I can't tell you how many times I've heard people name their darkness as their primary source of life fuel. We don't talk about it very much in the open. Hell, I felt it just hours earlier with my name tag. The hesitation. The flinch of my pen that said: you shouldn't go there. I'm not going to lie to you. When we talk about our darkness, it takes people to another place. It's deeper, and yes, heavier. But it's also because it's so rich with truth. It made me think about our relationship to the shadowy end of the emotional spectrum.

I was reading an article from New York Magazine this morning that proposed an interesting perspective on the darkness that is depressed mood. There is so much left to be discovered about the human condition in regards to depression. I'm a humanistic psychologist, so while I do believe clinical depression is a very real disease, I also believe that for the vast majority of us, we experience bouts of normative sadness that comes with living. I think it's in our best interest to use this as an opportunity to listen to what our emotions are telling us about our life. The article brought about the idea that evolution may have a part to do with depression (more scientific insight here). I'm not sure if you know this or not, but when you go into a period of darkness, it tends to lift naturally on its own with time. The idea is that maybe we're designed to experience moments of darkness so that we can enter into that state of introspection and gain renewed insight on our way out. The article quotes Iron John in this beautiful excerpt: one must "go through the door... immerse himself in the wound, and exit from his old life through it." I shared with Linda about my loss and how it's shaped my desire to create authentic spaces for people to feel something real. I'm a firm believer that the unexamined life is tragedy. Getting in touch with our internal world is the greatest gift we can give ourselves. It's where all the knowledge lies. It's where we come alive.

I took my time this Saturday morning. It was a warm day that begged to be experienced. I stepped onto my deck, feeling the warmth of the wood and its rough grain beneath my bare feet. I laid down on my back and watched the trees bend in the wind. I had gotten off the phone with my dad a few minutes prior. He reminded me that in a few weeks it will be 5 years since my mom's passing. I have this moment. This one moment. I could feel grief flush through my body with a gentle heat. My eyes welled with its brief, tearful visit. A bird soared high above me. And I smiled.