I wonder if Monday mornings and the end of summer will have the same meaning for me after I retire. There is a definite sense of something new attached to both, not in a purely happy/excited way but definitely as though something is starting. My hunch is that this feeling will be with me always. The childhood calendar with its divisions determined by school schedule seems to be hard-wired. There’s nothing terribly difficult about that but there are other things that can get hard-wired during childhood that present more of a challenge. It’s especially true of how we learn to think about ourselves at the particularly vulnerable stage of adolescence when identity is what it’s all about. So, if you thought you were a nerd in 7th grade or felt like you were not part of the in-crowd, that same feeling can persist long in to our adult lives. It’s worth unearthing those old constructs and maybe starting in on a re-wiring project, perhaps with the help of a good therapist because re-wiring is one way to talk about what we do.


The Stuff of Dreams

Last night I had a date with Al Pacino. Of course it was a dream, but still pretty exciting with the added benefit of not actually having to get the date nor figure out what to wear. All I had to do was figure out what the dream meant. Here is what I came up with.

First, prior to going to bed, there was an overabundance of yogurt (Wallaby, vanilla bean, really good) while watching a TCM war movie. Then, before lights out, I read a couple of chapters of Villa Triste, a novel set in Florence, WW2. Quite a long book, consisting mostly of street and Italian names with a little bit of story in between. The immediate environment, including what’s in your tummy, is often the material from which dream symbols are created.

All I recall about the beginning of my dream is that Al and I had just met and were briefly together. Then we were apart, then back together in an apartment that was pewter color, lit by high windows and scarcely furnished. It opened into a room with a brass bed. (Put Pacino and brass together and I think knuckles and jeepers creepers.)

Within this disturbing setting, Al and I have a conversation. He does most of the talking about serious things, He knows something about everything and none of it interest me. I show him several pairs of shoes I bought while we were apart. He dismisses them and goes on talking. Then, just like on a real date, I excuse myself and go into the bathroom, the kind of bathroom one finds in a restaurant or a club. I look in the mirror and see that Al Pacino is not the only one with a face. My thought exactly. When I return to the room I know I’m not getting into that brass bed but I don’t know how to get this across to him in a pleasant way. Then I wake up.

I think my dream is about choice vs. living up to expectations and also about self-acceptance. Al is an important person, which he demonstrates with his important conversation. I could be important too if I aligned myself with him by being clever and available. Instead, I choose to focus not on him but on something that appeals to me, shoes. Feeling overlooked, I head for the bathroom where a mirror reminds me that I count. Big shots, little shots, we all count.

Dreams speak in symbols. To get their message you look to the feelings they evoke before putting words to them. My feelings and the thoughts that followed them were: curiosity and excitement (hey look, here’s All Pacino) distaste for a show of self-importance (his conversation) affirmation of my own way of being (the mirror) and an unwillingness to sell myself (the brass bed).

I could actually come up with a different interpretation of this dream and you probably could also. But I know that for me this is a good interpretation because it matches the circumstances of my life and it feels true. The sense of truth is the proof of the pudding. No one can know the truth of a symbol the way the creator of it does. Someone may offer an interpretation but if you don’t receive it with an aha moment it doesn’t really serve.

PS Thank you Al Pacino for letting me use you as a symbol. I think you are a fine actor and I apologize for any misrepresentation. And if you are ever in town …

Your Inner Seal

Last  night I watched a Navy Seal interviewed about BUDS (basic underwater demolition). It’s the training they undergo at the start of their stints. One thing that was clear to me was that I would never, EVER be a Navy Seal. What is required physically and emotionally is flat outside my range—waaaaay outside. It’s hard not to be awed at such a test of mettle and to feel like quite a wimp in comparison. But then I got to thinking about strength and courage and how we all have many opportunities to confront fear and make choices that contribute to a strong and positive sense of ourselves. Next time something feels a little scary—even if it’s a small thing like sending back an incorrect order at a restaurant—-ask yourself this question: what would make me feel proud? I bet you will know the answer and that if you take that action you will contribute to building a stronger and stronger self-concept (your inner Seal??).

Private Enemy

You may have heard the rule of thumb that if you say it more than twice, it’s a complaint. Well, we all complain, some of us more than others. When someone is annoyed or has been treated unfairly, telling a sympathetic listener can take away some of the sting and offer some second hand justice. Up to a point. If the story is told too often, it can reinforce the hurt…or the enjoyment of exposing the bad guy. Think of the divorced person who five or ten years or forever is telling the tale of the “Horrible Spouse”. Or the guy in the office who cannot resist demonizing the boss, over and over again. And then there is the friend whose company is enjoyable until the friend starts in on another friend or a relative, listing faults and flaws, betrayals, ingratitude and advantages taken.

Bad bosses and obnoxious people and flawed friends are plentiful so, of course, it’s understandable that one needs to vent. But when venting is intensely focused on one person, when it’s so repetitious that it is a staple in someone’s conversation, there is something deeper going on. This is especially obvious if the person focused on, for one reason or another, disappears and a new person takes the place of target.

A lot of people can own some of this kind of behavior. But, more often than not, if they try to explain it to themselves, rather than gaining insight they start listing even more awful things about their target and conclude that no one could help but feel as they do.

To get out of this tangled mess, two questions are helpful. The first is: “What purpose does this behavior of mine serve in my life?” Asking this question places the problem with the complainer not the target.The second question is:”Do I need an enemy?”

That is, do I need a nail on which to hang my anger, frustrations and disappointments? Do I need someone to belittle in order to feel superior? Do I feel threatened by someone whose power I try to diminish with ridicule? Do I need an enemy who takes up so much of my emotional energy that I cannot (don’t have to) get on with my life?

Playing Backgammon With My Mother

Playing backgammon with my mother was, shall we say, interesting. If she won, she was adamant that backgammon is a game of skill; if she lost, she was equally insistent that it is a game of luck. It wouldn’t have been so challenging if she did not have such a strong need for others to agree with her conclusions. That’s what made me a little batty.
What I see more clearly now some years after her death is that she needed to construct that house of cards (to carry on with the metaphor) in order to protect what was indeed a very fragile self concept. Even something as meaningless as a board game was a threat that she needed to guard herself against. It’s a natural and valuable instinct to protect ourselves from perceived threat and exposing what could be viewed as weakness can make us feel very vulnerable. Without thinking, our defenses can go up. The challenge is to make distinctions between what are real threats and what are simply encounters with our humanity.
How hard it must have been for my mother to feel threat at every turn. How much easier her life would have been had she been able to accept her very human limitations.

The Quote I Love Today

“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
— Siddhārtha Gautama

Ho Hum

If I could put a tattoo on the hands of my clients, friends and self, it would be one word. A word undervalued, misinterpreted and underused. And it’s not love. This word is not the least bit exciting, doesn’t call up images of adventure, joy or expansion. Doesn’t intrigue, doesn’t speak to a higher or lower self and doesn’t fuel creativity. It’s definitely not sexy.

I’m being a bit coy for as soon as I write the word you may stop reading. I hope you don’t because the word, for all it lacks luster, can bring goodness into your life (and no, it’s not money).

“Moderation” is the word. Leaving now, are you?

Moderation is that place between extremes. Between high and low, loving and hating, gorging and starving, flaunting and hiding, ecstasy and despair, freedom and confinement and, you get my point.

You don’t live any length of time without experiencing some extremes in life and who would have it any other way. But moderation has its place. The middle ground brings stability, improves health, reduces stress and keeps families together.

Moderation means you can have some but not all. Try applying this idea for a day. It means you will have one doughnut, not six (reach with your tattooed hand). You will speak your mind and get your point across without demolishing the other. You will have fun without losing the next day to a hangover.

There are people who seek to live life at extremes, in fact, they disdain any other way. But most of us find our well being in the middle ground, the happy medium. To practice moderation is to live a balanced life. It doesn’t mean that feelings aren’t intense but actions that follow are considered and restrained with the desire to not hurt others, our selves included.