I like to pretend

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Each day when I walk out my back door,

Taking the well-worn path to my garage, where my gray car sits

waiting to take me to my next destination,

Barely noticing the tender buds of the crocus

sprouting up around me,

I like to pretend

I like to pretend that I know what is going to happen that day,

I like to think that I am driving, rather than being driven

That I am accelerating, rather than being accelerated

Breathing, rather than being breathed

I like to pretend that I am working, rather than being worked

That I am choosing a path, rather than a path choosing me

I like to pretend that I am in the know,

Rather than the know being in me

I like to believe I am embracing life,

When in fact, life is embracing me.

Amy Jones

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Keeping our young girls safe

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Image retrieved from NPR.org

I heard a segment on NPR called Teen Girls and Social Media: A story of Secret Lives and Misogyny,  about some very disturbing activities that young girls are engaging in on  social media in an attempt to gain attention and fit in.  If you didn’t hear it, I would highly recommend clicking on the link, especially if you are raising a young daughter or son. If you think they aren’t being impacted by this new trend, I would encourage you to take the extra steps to find out. As parents, we have the right to know about and intervene in activities that may be jeopardizing our children’s safety and well-being.

I am somewhat fascinated lately to hear young women’s take on feminism and how they believe they are no longer faced with the same struggles as the females in my generation. When I was young, sexual harassment was a part of life that we were taught to live with. Even though our society supposedly now denounces these activities, I am not so sure it hasn’t come back with a vengeance, albeit packaged differently now.

It seems like the more powerful women become in our society, the more backlash there is to attempt to undermine that power.  The message that women are now free to express rather suppress their sexuality can be a positive thing, yet now more than ever, there is a tremendous backlash that is fooling our girls into believing certain types of misogyny are okay.

The types of misogyny that are being encouraged by the thousands of over-sexualized portrayals of women our young girls are exposed to each day can have a cumulative effect on their psyche.  Having to deal with too much too early can ultimately lead to feelings of insecurity, self-loathing, and low self-esteem in our young women. These feelings can follow them into adulthood and undermine their attempts to be taken seriously.

As I contemplate the world my 2-year-old granddaughter is being raised in, I am both excited at the prospect of so many more opportunities she will have and fearful of this new brand of hyper-sexuality that threatens to stand in the way of everything women have worked so hard to achieve.

I would like to see more focus on the women who are achieving positions of power through their accomplishments in science, public service, athletics, and academia, and less focus on the one-dimensional hyper-sexualized version of women that we are subjected to each day.

 

My Corner of the Universe – Writer’s Quote Wednesday

UnknownIt has been awhile since I have posted anything, as school is consuming most of my time. I couldn’t resist joining Writer’s Quote Wednesday today, as I have been pondering the concept captured in this quote a lot lately.

I am taking an Ethics class this semester which has turned out to be my favorite class for a variety of reasons, the least of which is that I am faced with ethical decisions on a regular basis in my job. The top reason, and most important, is that I am starting to realize how easy it is to judge others for their actions, while rationalizing and making excuses for my own.

I have become increasingly aware of an ongoing dialogue in my head that puts the people and situations I encounter in real life or in the news and media into two categories of either being right or wrong, good or bad.  This can be exhausting and  leaves me feeling quite disheartened by the end of the day.

I’ve always wondered how nurses  and doctors could have participated in activities that seemed so blatantly wrong like the deception that occurred in the Tuskegee Study,  or the T4 program and other major atrocities that happened during Hitler’s regime.  Upon closer examination of their reasons, it becomes clearer how we all walk a fine line when rationalizing our own choices. Whether we are afraid to stand up to someone for fear of reprisal, we are simply earning a living, or we think are supporting some noble cause, it is often easier to take the path of least resistance.

Last night in class we talked about the dangers of becoming so emotionally detached that we are numb and complacent to the ethical dilemmas we face each day. I really liked this quote that spurred our discussion:

“In our technological culture perhaps the greatest moral danger arises not from sentimentality, but from devaluing feeling and not attending to or nurturing moral emotions. Numbness, apathy, isolated dissociations between thinking and feeling are also moral warning signals…the absence of emotional responses of empathy and sympathy become critical bioethical issues.” Callahan, 1995

I can think of times in my life when I have shut off my emotions in order to go against my own morals, and I see examples of this phenomenon often in everyday life.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t change the actions of anyone else, but I can certainly become more aware of how I make my own choices and what I am putting out into the universe.  I will never be perfect, as that is an elusive term, but I can always strive to do better.

Thawing Out and Letting my Feelings In

IMG_1661I’m sitting on the couch in my pajamas this morning. The sun is shining through the shades next to me, reminding me of a warm summer day, while a cold draft from the large picture window behind me lets me know it is a mere six degrees outside.  This mixture of cold and warmth reminds me of how life can be  good and bad, sweet and salty, all at the same time.

Growing up in a household where uncertainty was the norm, I developed this interesting ability to wall myself off from the painful moments when my mom was having a psychotic episode. I taught myself how to go numb, like a body does when its been in the cold too long, in order to freeze out the terror that was a part of living with a parent who struggled to cope with a difficult to treat,  sometimes debilitating illness  called paranoid schizophrenia. It wasn’t so much her accusations that I was the devil, the shouting at me, or the pushing me out the door that hurt so bad. It was the pain of watching someone I loved descending into a living hell and not being able to do anything about it.

So I learned how to protect myself, first by living in a day-dream world, hidden in my room surrounded by books, colored pencils for sketching my dreams, and  a desk full of pens for writing stories about a better life. Later my body became the subject of my obsessions; restricting, bingeing, purging, all to numb myself from the world around me.

In parallel to this numbing, was the ever-present sunshine in my life, even when hidden behind thick misty clouds or blizzard conditions, it was always there. The people who loved me unconditionally, the music that kept me in touch with my soul, and the tiny glimpses of a peaceful being that I couldn’t quite understand. Most call this presence God. I have found no words yet to describe this divine source of tranquility.

As life went on, winters came and went, and so did warm summers. I learned how to navigate life without some of the vices that had become my shield. Yet, whenever something unthinkable would happen, the near loss of a child, divorce, or the death of someone I cherished, I would find myself going back to my old way of coping, this time without the help of an eating disorder. I found that I had mastered the ability to quickly go numb once the initial tears were shed.

I am certainly not the only one who anesthetizes their feelings in order to cope. I am finding that most adults do to a greater or lesser degree all of the time. It turns out, our emotions seem to be our greatest foe at times, and we will go to great lengths to drown out our inner voices. We use drugs, alcohol, work, relationships, avoidance, sex, religion, gambling, violence, and many other behavioral tactics to keep us from facing our true selves.

The problem with having this ability to numb oneself is that it is hard to go back to feeling anything once the cold has passed. I am working on being able to show up in the moment and open up my heart to whatever feelings come to me, no matter how scary, as that is my only hope of ever being fully alive.  It may take me the rest of my life to figure out how to live in a world that is bittersweet, but slowly I am thawing out and warming up enough to experience the beauty of life as well as the pain.

Judge not….(or Maybe Just a Little)

“When you think yours is the only true path you forever chain yourself to judging others and narrow the vision of God. ”  ― Shannon L. Alder

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Happy New Year! Here is my first Writer’s Quote Wednesday post of the year.

My friend and I were lamenting about how we set this great intention for the New Year to be less judgmental, quickly realizing that no sooner than we had set the intention, we were already breaking it. Much like going on a diet, the more we tried not to judge, the harder it was to stop.

So I’ve decided to take a different approach now, a softer, more compassionate approach, by recognizing that this activity must be serving some purpose in my life. If recognizing this part of myself is the first step to changing the behavior, then perhaps I can slowly replace it with something more kindhearted. Being more conscious of when I am engaging in this one-dimensional cerebration may lead to some greater insights into myself and can be a good indicator about how I am feeling about myself.  Being judgmental of others is often the result of feeling bad about myself and can ultimately make me feel worse.

If I examine my judgments more closely, I realize there is some momentary payback that is satisfying and possibly even comforting.  Lamenting about someone to my friend can be a way to blow off steam and work through my petty grievances without creating unnecessary conflicts with others. When I am dealing with more serious concerns, it can help me to put a little space between myself and the person I am judging in order to think things through more carefully. In the latter scenario, I can run the risk of increasing my frustrations, but most of the time it seems to have the opposite effect, allowing me time to examine my own part in the transaction more clearly.

I haven’t abandoned my quest to be less judgmental, but I am realizing it may be a life-long endeavor to figure out how to manage this part of my personality.  There are plenty of good reasons for me to keep on striving to improve. In its most innocent form, it can be entertaining, and in its worst form, it can be quite destructive and toxic.

We live in a society that seems to revel in being judgmental, and we are constantly seeing posts on social media as well as news and television programs that are all about tearing people down.  I don’t want to get caught up in that kind of negativity, so all I can do is to start on a personal level.

When I am having a particularly difficult time, I utilize an excellent tool from the Work by Byron Katie, called the Judge Your Neighbor work sheet. The goal is not to self-censor but to put my judgmental thoughts down on paper and then examine them more closely. I have found this tool to be extremely helpful in identifying how to make peace with my most troubling thoughts.

I would love to hear how others deal with this aspect of their personality. Do you find yourself judging  frequently? Any good tips?

The Gift

IMG_1009As 2015 comes to a close, I am tempted to compose my usual list of ways in which I can improve next year. The list is often based on my perceived shortcomings, all of which are ultimately based on my tendency towards being a perfectionist. Being a perfectionist has nothing to do with perfection and is really more about trying to make things fit into what I think they should be. In other words, it is all about trying to control everything around me.

So….this year I am going to give myself the gift that I often want from others. Whenever I think someone should be more thoughtful, considerate, caring, patient, loving, understanding, attentive, etc, etc., etc., I will remind myself that I don’t need to wait around for anyone to act that way towards me. I can give myself those gifts any time I want, unconditionally. I don’t need to wait for the perfect circumstances and I don’t need to wait for anyone’s permission.  I can remind myself that I am always at my best, even when I am making mistakes and learning from them.

I wish all of my loved ones, family members, acquaintances, fellow bloggers and friends, the gift of self-acceptance this year.

May you have safe travels and celebrations this evening.

See you in the New Year!

 

Remembering

IMG_2746Today I didn’t make it to work. After two months of taking care of my dad after his surgery, trying to keep up with work, classes, the holidays, and surviving a four-day audit that overlapped with the holidays, (went well – yay!),  I needed one day to wind down.

In the midst of all of these minor aggravations, the unthinkable happened. My friend lost her teenage son in a car crash the day after Christmas. She is one of the sweet, incredible women I have been meeting with for almost a decade now (we call ourselves the Sisters of the Sofa – SOS), having come together through our journey to deal with our anxiety and depression. Our stories are similar yet all slightly different and we are all on paths of spirituality and seeking. These are the ladies whom I might not see for an entire year and yet still know they are always rooting for me and will be there if I need anything. These are the women whom I know will be praying for me, even though I may not be the most spiritual of the group and don’t always turn to prayer myself.

Many times we have sat in our tight knit circle sharing our stories, often about our children. When my daughter was in the hospital after her suicide attempt, these women were there for me, and one even watched her cat for a few weeks until she was able to care for him again. When our children have gone through hard times, we have provided each other with the comfort and support needed to go on. Our tears have been interspersed with laughter, and whenever any of us have had an episode of panic or depression, we know there will be someone there who understands.

My whole being aches for my friend right now.  As my SOS are in the process of preparing for the visitation and services that are coming up, we will do our best to support our wounded sister.  We will be there with our plates of food, tear-stained faces, hugs, and heavy hearts, and leave the rest up to God.

The Sofa

We sat on the U-shaped, tan suede sofa, peeling our skin back like cellophane
Convinced we could save each other from life’s next affront
Just by the right combination of quotations, passages, and prayers.
Who did we think we were? This group of women munching on peanut M&Ms,
Sipping from our bottles of Mike’s Hard Lemonade and chardonnay?
Were we God’s messengers and warriors, or just another gathering of fools?
Always aware of this lethal game of chance we had entered into
Never quite mindful of the fact that even if the cartridge came up empty
We would still feel the bullet’s sting, as it unloaded on the next person in the circle.
Ever conscious of the ancient shadows of all the others who had played before us
We gazed ahead at the delicate angels etched in the snow, side by side, covered in frost
Awaiting the next scintilla of sunshine to melt away the remnants of our crystallized tears.

by Amy Jones

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When the Heart Breaks

There are the small disappointments in life,
Like not getting the presents you wanted for Christmas, or
The sting of an unintentionally thoughtless remark, or
The futility of trying to maintain an orderly house.
There are the bigger disappointments in life,
Like figuring out that our loved ones are only human, or
That after all this time on earth,
We still don’t know how to co-exist in peace.
And then there are the most unbearable, inexplicable,
Heart-wrenching and devastating disappointments.
Beyond one’s imagination or comprehension,
Inconsolable by any combination of words or gestures.

So immense is the pain my friend now bears, and
So great is this mother’s loss, that all I can do is weep for her
And save room on the couch when she is ready to join
Her Sisters of the Sofa once more.

In loving memory of Mark

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