Balanced Life

/Balanced Life

I Choose Peace

A client shared the following story during session last week and I want to share it with you. It’s about a friend of hers–let’s name him George.

George was recently divorced, living alone in an apartment in downtown Indianapolis. He awakened on Christmas morning feeling unloved and lonely.  True to tradition, however, he spent Christmas morning with his kids at his parents’ home engaging in the routines they had enjoyed for years.

Tradition abandoned him that afternoon when he customarily would have accompanied his family to his in-laws’ home. This year, his kids would leave to go with their mother while he traveled back to his apartment–alone.

Rejected, he made the decision to bundle up and face the frigid Indiana wind. He walked toward Massachusetts Avenue peering around each corner, normally alive with cars and people. Empty streets. Gray sky. He thought to himself, what a pathetic reject I am. Alone on Christmas Day while everyone else is with their family and friends. He walked, allowing himself to acknowledge the sadness. The eerie stillness of the usually bustling street was unnerving.

As he walked, snow began to fall and he was gently awakened by a sense of peace. A sudden awareness that the silence–the lack of cars and people–was actually a gift. He was able to smile, to pull his hood around him and experience the shelter against the gust. He saw the Christmas lights and neon signs in juxtaposition to the gray sky. I have a choice, he thought. I can wallow in my sadness and rejection, or I can claim this peace.

He walked another few blocks, energized, and toward a red neon sign, OPEN and walked into the neighborhood bar. He ordered an enormous plate of nachos and his favorite beer.

“So, what are you up to this afternoon?” the bartender asked as he set the feast on the bar in front of his lone patron.

“Well, after I enjoy these nachos and beer, I’m walking back to my apartment and I’m going to watch my favorite movies for the rest of the afternoon. Treat myself to a movie day. I’m going to  choose Peace.”

So many of my clients face special challenges during the Holiday Season. Recently, I’ve spent hours with clients processing the emotional onslaught brought on by loss and change. Or, for some, the added stress of extra time spent with family. Each of us faces his or her own set of challenges that the holidays magnify.

This year, I send for you a wish for the will to let go of perfection and any expectations thereof. The ability to accept others as they are. The gift of kindness to yourself. The gift of Inner Peace.

 May there be Peace on Earth.
“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.” ~Dalai Lama

Go Play!

When was the last time you gave yourself permission to play? It’s spring. Let’s go out and play!

Often, I ask my clients to recall an activity from childhood where they lost track of time and the world around them. Play provides a mental, emotional retreat from stress or indecisiveness, an opportunity to connect with our inner child.

I was a child explorer. With my sidekick and dog, Lassie, (original, I know) and sometimes playmates Terry and Kenny, the fields, woods, and streams surrounding our rural home in Eastern Ohio, were our frontier. We ran through the woods armed with “guns” (sticks,) built forts, climbed trees and turned rocks over in the creek unleashing crawdads and lizards. We fashioned a make-shift baseball diamond for our World Series. Timmy was their pony. We were delighted to watch through the fence when he was released from the barn in early spring. Timmy ran, kicking his heels and bucking into the pasture. The total image of release and freedom. It made us laugh.

Lost in play, in my sandbox under the apple tree, building and creating order were among my favorite pastimes. Roads for my trucks, bridges, factories, towns, and lakes with dams, all of my own creation.

When we release our creativity through play, we experience connection with our true selves, living in the moment. Spontaneity. Delight. Relieved of stress and distraction, we regain the balance that enables us to live harmoniously.

Sadly, I see many adults who, in the midst of responsibility, forget how to play.  The happiest people I know are those who “play” within their careers, chores, and tasks of all sorts.

Joseph Campbell writes in Reflections on the Art of Living, “What you have to do, you do with play” (16).

This week, we have homework: go outside and play! Seize the opportunity to amuse, live in the moment, just as I once did in the sandbox!


From My Chair

Often I am asked the question, “How do you listen to the painful stories of so many people and not feel overwhelmed and sad, bringing their sadness home with you?”

There are many days when I do return home physically, mentally, spiritually exhausted. Truly, I empathize with the grief and challenges of every client I see. However, I have learned through years of training and experience, that for my own survival as a human being and as a therapist, I cannot own the pain of others. Each person is on his or her journey and the best I can do is bring hope, encouragement, understanding, or sometimes reality.

This is what I know to be true. Our challenges are an integral part of our human experience. I tell my clients, “We are all human and need to accept the challenge of being human.” In turn, I must accept that each of my clients is exactly where they need to be and the current challenge is an important component of their journey.

Also, I understand that at a particular junction in time, a particular client’s pathway crosses with mine. Typically, at a time of difficulty. We partner together to work through a troublesome period. Some clients come to me ready to go to work–get things “fixed,” change repeated dysfunctional patterns. Others are seeking relief from a present pain. And yet others arrive in my office because a partner or court judge insists; they have no personal desire for therapy. But even in those cases, usually, something positive happens. I have learned to trust the timing of the Universe. Clients may terminate therapy only to return months, or even years later, ready to go back to work.

Del, my former supervisor used to say, “You can’t help everyone. Some are window shoppers who may someday be ready to buy the process of therapy.” I accept, knowing that my most effective sessions are those when the client is open to the process, pulling to the forefront my knowledge and expertise.

Why am I sharing this with you? Because I know how difficult it is for all of us–as partners, parents, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, and friends–not to “help” those for whom we care to the point where we attempt to remove their suffering. Take it on as our own. I hear it in my practice daily. I teach my clients that allowing loved ones to experience pain can lead to wonderful life lessons and growth. Just as I don’t “fix” my clients, cheating them out of the process of discovery and learning, we must allow loved ones the same opportunity. We can support and love while releasing control of the process and outcomes.

Just as I do with my clients, it is healthy for all of us to invest in the farming metaphor in reference to helping others. We may provide encouragement and truth (as we perceive it) along the way, releasing control of the “harvest.” We may:

  • Till the soil
  • Plant the seed
  • Water
  • Cultivate and weed
  • And when the time is right, celebrate the harvest

So, when people ask me how I can listen to, and care about, my clients and not adopt their problems, I must answer:

  1. By not attempting to own their problems or take away their intended life lesson.
  2. Practicing what I preach by living a balanced life.

Is this easy for any of us? No!

Necessary? Yes!

“In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.” ~Tom Bodett