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Breaking the Rules to be Kind

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Earlier this week at work I was struck with sorrow for a co-worker who had experienced a traumatic death in her family, someone very close to her. Her world was falling apart, yet she showed up to work because that is what she had to do. Did we embrace her with gentle, loving kindness? We who work with children who have experienced trauma, did we embrace this co-worker who was in our midst drowning trying to stay afloat and manage the details of her life while showing up for work? No. We didn’t. We failed to support her through the chaos of her life. Sure we signed a card for her and said, “we’re sorry for your loss.” But we expected her to follow all the rules the next day. Act normal. We thought to ourselves, “what do you mean you have to take care of personal things during work hours? What do you mean you can’t keep it together and not cry?” I wonder, if we can’t break the rules sometimes to be kind, we who experience trauma everyday through the eyes of our clients, who can? And where will there be kindness in the world if we who are helpers can’t even muster the ability to do it? And then I heard this poem on an  OnBeing podcast by Naomi Shihab Nye and found hope again. Because kindness begins with you and me.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
by Naomi Shihab Nye

 

 

 


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Blackberry Pie Take 2

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Remember that blackberry pie I made last year when I omitted the sugar because I thought the berries were sweet enough on their own? Well, we went blackberry picking on our ranch this morning, and I thought I’d redeem myself by making a sweet blackberry pie today. The verdict? Zoey and Stephen liked it. Zane spit it out. If you know anything about the Cowan family, know that if a dessert is not sweet enough, they would be able to tell. So I count this as a success because my dear husband said it was sweet. And in case you’re wondering, I used Marilyn Batali’s Blackberry Pie recipe from Food & Wine. I didn’t have shortening so I used butter, but otherwise I didn’t make any other substitutions. Too bad I couldn’t eat any of it (gluten, dairy, white sugar!).

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Memories to Sustain You

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We took a mini-vacation over the weekend to go camping on the coast. We escaped the 100+ degree weather to experience the coastal mid-50 degree weather that chilled us. I love the beauty that surrounds us here on our land, but I am drawn again and again to the coast.

I think a lot these days about the work I’ve chosen to do. I was listening to Dr. Aviva Romm’s latest podcast Natural MD Radio and heard this quotation I wanted to share because it sums up my desire to change my attitude towards work.

“What if the word work was changed to dance with life? And instead of being viewed as an alternative to fishing or a way of paying our dues, it was seen as our own chance to meet creative new friends, discover your own untested potentials and unpolished gifts and open avenues for abundance to come pouring into your life.”

What if work was no longer a burden but a gift waiting to be unwrapped? Each day a surprise waiting to be discovered? I’m not sure I’m there yet. Meanwhile, I hold on to memories of our camping trip hoping one day I can feel that same sense of buoyancy at work that I feel when I’m sleeping under the trees.

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Holding and Letting Go

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I heard someone say the other day that they felt they were becoming more cynical and negative about humanity. As I do this work as a therapist facing the pain of my clients, I am reminded again, this time around, of the importance of letting go of the story of suffering that is not my own. I come home and I smudge myself with sage–symbolic perhaps, but a necessary ritual nonetheless, to acknowledge that the pain of my clients cannot become my own. I let go of the day’s work. And I say a prayer of healing. On many levels throughout the day, I carry my clients suffering with me. My clients past and present, whether I like it or not, have influenced my own story. And while for a time, I carry their story with me, there comes a time when I have to let them go or the burden becomes too heavy.

In talking to my coworkers, it was fascinating to hear how many of us do not watch the news. The news about the world that we do take in is very selective. It’s not so difficult to understand why that is. For me, there is only so much negative news I can take in. It’s not that we don’t care about world events, but the work we do requires us to also take care of ourselves and to nurture our own spirits so that we have space enough to contain the suffering of our clients–until it is time to let it go. The work we do requires that we make a point of seeking out the beauty in life and that we seek out the good in people. Otherwise it is too easy to drown in the sorrows of the world. There are many people–babies, children, teens, adults, the elderly who are suffering in this world. None of us are exempt. We all hold the light and dark within us, and we all are called to do our part in making the world more beautiful.

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How would our lives change if we filtered our lives through the lens of beauty? How would we see each other if we sought out the beauty in each other? What words would we speak to friend or foe if we spoke that which was beautiful? May we be wise enough to know what we need to hold on to and what we need to let go of.


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Summer Ennui and A Few Favorite Things

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Yesterday morning I suddenly remembered this feeling of lethargy that hit me last summer. Perhaps it’s the heat that drains me, but my desire to keep busy through the summer months wanes, and all I want to do is relax and kickback. Yesterday instead of doing the breakfast dishes, I went with Stephen and the kids on Big Red around the ranch to water the redwood, cedar, and silver linden trees we planted last fall. So far they all seem to be surviving.

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The grass is growing so tall, we are eager for the sheep to come and graze, but we’ve been waiting since April for their arrival and so far no sheep. Thankfully we had no surprise rattle snakes waiting for us in the tall grass.

 

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Zoey took this photo of Zane and me yesterday. The first shot she cut off our heads, but she managed to get us in the frame for the second. I’m all dried up and at a loss for words, so I might as well end this post with my favorite things for June. I found this new blog called Cooking With Toddlers. She has beautiful photographs and some recipes I’d like to try that look yummy. Check it out. And I’ve been listening to Brandi Carlile on Spotify, which has been giving me a little pep during these hot, summer days. May you all find ways to stay cool.


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Falling into Place

Today was one of those days where everything I fretted about in the morning as I began my work day seemed to fall into place. I didn’t have to drive a client home after our session, her mother picked her up, the session I thought I was going to be late for, the mother called and asked for a later time. All day it went–things falling into place making what might have been a stressful day turn into a day that flowed smoothly.

I am remembering as I work as a therapist that there are many times that I have to do things I dread and really don’t want to do, but I have to because it is part of my job. A metaphor for my life right now. I’d rather not change poopy diapers. I’d rather not have to bathe little ones at the end of the day when I’m bone tired and just want to take care of myself. But we all do what we must do, and if we don’t, well, I’ll see you in therapy. Perhaps it’s the Catholic in me, lessons learned through many Lents observed, that one’s character is strengthened by the trials we endure. Sometimes life hurts, but we come out the other side with our wounds and know we can do it again if we have to. I want my children to look at Stephen and me and know that we’ve tried hard, and we keep moving forward.

If life is a struggle for you today, my blessing for you is that your life will fall into place.

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The Butterfly

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Zoey found this butterfly yesterday off our  back patio in the grass. It was resting on a stick. She picked up the stick and brought it over to show me. It dropped onto the concrete patio, and I took this photograph. It was still alive, but hardly moving. My life has felt a bit delicate this month of May. Delicate and fragile. Stephen’s aunt passed away on Mother’s Day. He flew to Texas for the funeral, while the kids and I stayed here. We’ve been dancing the whirlwind of trying to keep a stable home for the kids while working out the messiness of our lives.

I am reminded again and again to treat others with gentleness and kindness because you never really know what a person is experiencing. All may seem outwardly okay, but inwardly or in one’s private life, there may be rupture and chaos ensuing. I leave you with a poem–not my own. A poem as reminder that you, too need gentleness and kindness as do I for myself. When we make mistakes and act foolishly, as we all do at some point in our life–remember this:

Encounter

I stirred in the small hours of the morning. Sensing a presence, I did not return to sleep, but ventured into the living room, apprehensively.
There, by the balcony, sat a familiar figure — cross-legged and reading in the semi-dark, with just the milky moonlight for company.
I do not know how I knew, but I did. I recognized the intruder, at once, with a mixture of dread and affection.
“I’m sorry,” were the only words to leave my lips. “I’m sorry, too,” replied my longed-for-self, with a sigh of infinite kindness and pity.
He did not rise to greet me and, somehow, spoke without words, transmitting what was needed.

Catching his glistening eye, the caring made me cry. “You’ve taken every detour to avoid me,” he gently reproached. “For every step I’ve taken towards you, you’ve taken back two”.
I did not know what to say in my defense (how could I protest against myself?) “I missed you,” he said, and feared you’d forgotten me.”
His admonishment was tender as a kiss. “I visit from time to time, and hope you’ll ask me to stay.” I knew what he said was true, and felt that way, too.
“I worried,” he continued, “if I postponed this visit, we might never meet, in this life… and so I came to sharpen your appetite.”
He rose and moved towards me. “There’s no need to speak, return to sleep. But when you rise, try to remember me. And to keep awake.”

–Yahia Lababidi, taken from http://www.onbeing.org

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