Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Waiting for the light

Friday is Winter Solstice.  Hanukkah just ended.  Advent continues.  Christmas is coming.  We have not needed the light so desperately as we do now in a great while.  The darkness threatens to overtake us, and it feels futile to light a simple candle or sit in anticipation of the breaking dawn.  My heart is heavy and broken.  

All week I've read various pleas for multiple causes - gun control, education reform, restructuring of mental health care, a shift from our culture of masculine violence.  None of them without merit.  The President addressed the families weighed down by grief, and all of us, and said calmly and clearly that we must change.  But the change we need seems impossible.  It takes an enormous rudder and a significant amount of energy to change the direction of a large ship.  How will we ever manage to change a nation?

My faith and my training and my own personal journey teaches me, over and over again, two important lessons about change.  First, the change has to start with me.  The enemy isn't out there somewhere.  She's right here, staring me in the mirror.  I am capable, within myself, of callousness and violence.  I choose isolation over connection.  There are dark places I prefer not to look at within my own soul.  So pointing fingers of blame, standing on a soapbox and shouting for reform without making changes myself, arguing and lashing out publicly only serve to distract me from the work I really need to do.

The second lesson gets stated in many different ways, all carrying the same kernel of truth.  The only step that I can take now is the step right in front of me.  I am a planner.  I like to have things scheduled.  I want to know the exact order of the items on the checklist that will move me from here to there.  The challenge facing us doesn't conform to a schedule or a checklist.  Complexity requires flexibility, intuition, compassion and grace more than structure.  I can't create a plan to solve these problems in a few easy steps, they are not easy problems.  And a complicated blueprint isn't going to help either.

So what should my response be - as a parent, as a mental health professional, as a person of faith, as a human being?  The question is daunting.  But sitting here in the dark, waiting for the turn back toward the light, here are some of the steps for me.

I will hold my children in a warm embrace and tell them I love them, and then I will send them out into the world with support and courage instead of fear.

I will create spaces to hold stories of fear and pain and grief.  Telling our stories matters.

I will choose not to participate in the culture of violence with my time, my money, or my attention.  And I will encourage alternatives whenever possible.

 I will support gun control with my vote and my money and my voice without pointing fingers or shaming those who hold opinions different than mine.  I believe that easy access to assault weaponry contributes to the problem.

I will be an advocate for adequate mental health care.  This issue is complicated and far reaching. But I will look for ways to lend my voice and my expertise to the dialogue.  And I will continue to learn in order to be more effective.

I will advocate for my clients when they are frustrated in finding the help they need.  I will continue to build a network of resources and boldly speak up when and where boldness is needed.

I will actively participate in my children's education, work to prevent bullying, and work to provide alternative environments for students who don't function well in traditional environments. 

I will deepen my own faith and my spiritual practice, making time to spend regularly in prayer and meditation.  And I will look for and acknowledge the divine in every person I encounter.

I will work to heal my own wounds and step into my own power.  I will work through my own shame and guilt.  I will honor my feminine nature, my creativity and my intuition, because it's through those things I can bring my own gifts to the world.

I will make an effort connect with the human beings around me.  With my friends.  With my family.  With my neighbors.  Community serves as a buffer to the fear and outrage induced by isolation.  I will work to create that community, intentionally.

I will do my best not to look away because looking seems too hard.  We have to have the hard conversations.  We have to feel the grief.  We have to bear each other's burdens.  Because none of us can do this alone.

And, I will light a candle on Friday in honor of the Solstice and in memory of those lights who are no longer in this time or space.  I will light a candle on Christmas Eve from the candle next to me and I will pass that light to the person beside me, in remembrance of the divine light.  I will shine my light into the darkness around me with faith that the oil will not run out.  And with each small flicker of light, I will hold on to hope.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Turning Mountains into Molehills

National and Jr. High politics have me reeling this week, struggling to come to terms with how we as a social group or a culture or a nation, and how I as a human being, categorize and define values and issues and how I act on those categories and definitions.

My Jungian training teaches me, over and over again, that when I have a problem with someone or something, I need to turn my eyes inward and look at how what is eating at me from the outside is actually festering somewhere inside of me.

So this week I'm thinking about things like:

How I work to protect myself through accumulation of wealth instead of offering generous help?

Why I continue to be silent when I know I should speak, or hold on to a safety net when I know I should leap?

Where I get triggered into magnifying minor issues and minimizing important information I need to act on?

When I marginalize others with humor or unconscious insensitivity?

What defenses I hide behind to mask my vulnerability and my truth?

Who I find it the most difficult to love and where is that person in me?

It's easy to stay asleep, to operate unconsciously, habitually, following the comfortable patterns and processes I've always known.  It's easy to point fingers and place blame.  It's easy to jump to conclusions and bring down a hammer of swift and decisive action relying on my perceived strengths.  It's easy to distract and to hold things at a distance and pretend I'm somehow above the fray.  It's easy to size issues and injustices to fit my instinct to either fight or flee.

But it's hard to speak when it risks my safety.  And it's hard to consider my actions before reacting when my wounds get pricked.  It's painful to look at where I create injury to another in order to protect my own vulnerability.  And it takes real effort to engage instead of distance or distract.

I see, with a little attentional observation, how the election politics make mountains out of molehills.  And I see, with a bit more effort, how I do the same thing, usually because something has uncovered a tender place or festering sore in my own self.  But I also see how it works the other way, how as if looking through a telescope backwards, we distort mountains into molehills and convince ourselves to turn and walk away.  How I let my fear of upsetting someone or losing my position of privilege keep me silent about real harm and injustice.

Triggered by my own messy emotions this week, I created unintended injury by turning a molehill into a mountain.  And I watched silently as a boyscout leader said something to the effect of "let's not blow things out of proportion", trying to turn a mountain into a molehill.

I don't know how to sort through the mess.  I read a host of writers who are talking about a new paradigm, a feminine form of leadership.  Sometimes their writings stir me, sometimes they make me want to run away in fear.  I read news stories about repeated abuse and misuse of children, and those without standing in society.  And yet I resist a role as an advocate, because advocacy almost always offends.  I shy away from political statements and I feel like I'm hiding a part of myself that needs to stand and be heard.  And I point fingers and cast blame for repression and marginalization while I wait for my next fix of Jon Stewart or South Park because poking fun at someone for being different can make me roll in the floor with laughter.

Who, What, When, Where, Why, How?  How? Why? Where? What? Whom?

I'm not sure I'm getting any closer to the answers.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Consumers not Producers

I encounter the idea of scarcity and abundance regularly in the therapeutic and online communities I move within.  The main thrust of the idea suggests that there is enough - love, time, money, success, fame, support, community - for all of us to have as much as we want, need or desire.  But instead of operating as if we believe in enough, we often operate as if the resource in question is scarce and must be competed over, creating greed, jealousy, envy, self-doubt and a host of other negative side effects.  In general, I like the idea of operating from an abundance perspective.

But there is a hitch.  In order for abundance to be real, producers are required.  If all of us continually consume a resource, whether tangible or more abstract, and no one ever produces, then that resource will become more and more scarce.  If only a few producers exist, they will be unable to sustain the supply, and demand will eventually exceed their capacity, leaving the producers overworked.  In order for the theory to work, we all need to be both consumer and producer, giver and taker, supplier as well as demander.  And I don't think we are being taught the skills we need to accomplish both sides of this equation.

I have been continually frustrated with school and the kind of learning I see happening for my Jr. High aged daughter.  I've ranted and raved.  I've emailed teachers.  I've had conversations.  And I've learned facts that leave me baffled and sad.  But until today, I haven't been able to put my finger on what I think is wrong.  But here it is in a nutshell.  Our children are being taught to be consumers instead of producers.  They are taught to take apart a literary text and analyze it.  They are taught to manipulate variables to work an equation.  They are taught scientific theories and historical facts.  But they are not being taught to produce anything.  In order to produce, one has to understand intimately the components that go into making something.  And one has to know how to combine those components in ways that make sense.  It's the foundation of writing, of solving real problems with math, of taking scientific and historical concepts and formulating new ideas.  And my child is not being taught how to construct anything.  She can desconstruct all day.  But when she gets an idea broken down into it's basic parts, she has no clue how to begin to build something thoughtful or original, only how to follow a formula or a predefined plan.  Look at the legos we sell today, pre-packed into carefully counted boxes with instructions about how to build this ship or that castle.  What happened to original creation?

We consume information all day long.  But stop and take a look at the quality of most of the information being produced.  It's lacking, to put it nicely.  The political rhetoric highlights the problem.  We regurgitate ideas and put stakes in ideological ground without ever looking at ways to synthesize ideas and information into a new solution that really works.  As a country, we have stopped producing, and we have become a nation of consumers.  Psychologically, we consume treatment and medication to fix a problem, but very seldom spend the time or energy necessary to overcome a neurosis with creativity.  We operate from a reductionistic standpoint that takes things and breaks them down instead of a constructive standpoint that uses the new and recycled materials at hand to build something up.

And it starts, or ends, in our schools.  Our children are not being taught to write.  Grammar books have been banned from the classroom.  They are not being taught to solve problems with originality and creativity.  I've always protested against the outcry of "teaching to the test", suggesting that if the teachers are really teaching, passing the tests will come easily.  And I think that's true.  Except, I'm having to take a long hard look at that theory of mine, because standardized tests measure consumption instead of production.  A kid can make a perfect score, and still not be able to produce anything worth while.

And I'm guilty.  I consume.  I consume information and advice and support and community.  Sometimes, in small ways, I produce.  I am lucky in that I have the tools.  But it's easier to consume.  And when what I want to consume isn't readily available, I often bemoan my fate instead of getting busy creating.  Instead of falling into the scarcity perspective, I need to begin producing, because in that creative mode lies the abundance.  It's a challenge.  But it's not as big of a challenge as teaching my daughters how to be producers instead of simply consuming whatever they find in front of them.  I suspect that job will be the challenge of a lifetime.