Category Archives: something to ponder

thoughts on various topics related to wellness and mental health

Living a multi-dimensional life

Living a multidimensional life

One dimension
One dimension is a line – a line connects 2 points. . This line does have movement – one step forward , 3 steps back… but it does not get you anywhere. We only recognize one dimensional living in others: ” why don’t you just go right? Or turn left? It’s easy and impossible at the same time. So much shame.

Are you living a one- dimensional life? Are other people loading you with seemingly simple solutions that you just cannot do? What would that look like? Being a point on a line is the ultimate in stuckness – you can only go back and forth – and things that are seemingly close are out of reach.

Two dimensions
You can move forward, backwards, sideways. If you’d been living a one dimensional life for a while this would probably feel fantastic. You can go pretty far on a flat plane – in all sorts of directions. Many things are no longer out of reach. There is work life, home life, vacations once a year. There may be a certain sense of emptiness, but there really is no such thing as flying or rising above the fray, so you make due. You console yourself by comparing your life with those in one dimension. You wonder how others dare to fly. Things could be worse.

Three dimensions
You are now in a three dimensional life – you rise to new heights; and sink to new lows. When the lows are prolonged – living in two dimensions seems appealing, but ultimately it does feel good to make attempts at a creative life; a spiritual life that helps you rise above the mundane. In a three dimensional life, you are trying to ‘do it all’, but the one thing you don’t have is time. There just plain isn’t enough time to do all the things you want to do. It’s impossible, isn’t it?

4 dimensions
to be continued…

Loyalty

Loyalty – I wrote this and posted it elsewhere, thought it should go here as well.

In Santería, Obba is the faithful wife of Changó. She is tricked into believing that if she cuts off her left ear and puts it in her husband’s soup, it will cast a magic spell on him and make her more attractive to him. More attractive than the women he philanders with. The woman that he is having the affair with, is in fact, the one that tricks Obba into cutting off her ear.
Morals of the story: don’t use magic to get your way; look more closely to see what the real problem is; don’t base your decisions on fear.

Obba is known as a warrior, an inventor, a fierce Orisha who also happens to be loyal. Children of this Orisha are also loyal and also have to watch out that they don’t make fear based decisions. They have to look closely at the situations that trouble them and not repeat the same non-working solutions. They have to remember that they are warriors. Fidelity is not a weakness; loyalty is not a character flaw. Remember and remind yourself of your strengths and your fierceness. Remember what is good in you, and if others do not see it, this does not diminish your value.

rewriting history


Rewriting history
We all come with baggage
Things that happened to us as children; as teenagers and as adults
Maybe a family member was insensitive to our needs; perhaps there was cruelty either accidental or intentional. There is remorse or regret over something we did: maybe we were the bully ; or we were the abuser. At times the victim becomes the victimizer.

You can gaze at the past but do not dwell on it.

We have learned – through self help books and therapy that we need to ‘work through’ our issues; which we dutifully do – we journal; talk about it; cry over it; confront the individuals that wronged us.

At some point though, we are just left with ourselves. We are left with the effects of the past and our perceived ruins in the present. What if we could just let it all go? When do we say enough with the processing? What if there is an escape hatch in our brain that we can open and get rid of all the pain we have been hoarding?

Ask, and it shall be.

how to save the world

Last Sunday, my spouse and I decided to go for a late afternoon walk in the park. It was our lazy way out of doing a 3 mile run. Instead, we decided to walk the 3+ mile loop of our park with our dogs, as a way of getting the miles in but not over-exerting ourselves. This of course, is not the point of this post, but I need to set up this scenario.

We walked around the park, but although it was already late afternoon, it was pretty hot, and our dogs are not used to the heat; and although they are fit, 3 miles was a big jump from their usual 1 mile max on a walk. So, we carried them, looked for water, sat in shady areas, got their bodies wet to cool their core. Eventually we sat in a cool shady area for a longer period of time, where the dogs (and us) could rest, and watch the people in the park.

While sitting there, watching kites fly, people playing frisbee, or paddle ball, sitting around, eating, reading to their child. I lay back and enjoyed it all. Though the park was full of people, it was peacefully quiet.

I turned my head, and looked at the curve of the hill that I was on, that flattened out to the path. Beyond that was a lamppost, a fence, and then more greenery beyond that. I thought about the earth, the dandelions all over, imagined the hundreds of people that walk through this area; imagined the iron worker that must have taken pride in the lamppost they made, or not. The people that installed it in that spot, and the others that repaint it a shiny black every so often. Were they proud of the work or indifferent? I went on to think how the fence must have been installed by someone – I wondered how they felt doing it – was it a hot, sticky day like today or the middle of winter?. I wondered about the stories that each person in the park had – why were they there, were they happy? serene? miserable? There were also the birds, bugs, and other animals that live in this park – all in a peaceful coexistence. We are all one.

With this thought of one-ness, I then started thinking about the world; caring for the world and how there are some people/organizations/countries that are not taking care of the earth/people/animals/vegetation, and are more focused on profit. How could we be one, and then do this to ourselves? What can I do to stop fracking, or to stop use of GMO’s or whatever other global or local issue that is affecting the world?

We are all one…hmm. The thought came back to me, like the speck in Horton Hears A Who!. Earlier that week, I had spoken to someone about how, within families, we cannot change others, we can only change ourselves. Even if the other person is the one that’s ‘wrong’, we can only control our own behavior – what we say and what we do. We have to focus on ourselves if we want to make progress, otherwise we can wait forever, unhappy, waiting for someone else to ‘see the light’. And then it hit me – well actually, the speck landed on my forehead: maybe this earlier line of thinking also applies to the world – that all I have to do is work on myself. Somehow, this is the key to saving the world – make myself the best person I can be. This new thought has been quite tentative – a thought that can float away on doubt. But it hasn’t, it has rested on the spot right above my nose. I did not swat it away, it was not bothering me, but was also surprised that it remained there, still.

What do you think? Change the world by becoming a better person yourself. Phooey! That can’t be possible, can it?

Where were you in 1965?

For any Dominican, who was living in DR during that year, this question is akin to ‘where were you on September 11th’. Lots happened in 1965 due to political instability and the American occupation of the Dominican Republic.

I first found out about the events of 1965 during the time immediately before ‘Operation Desert Storm’ in early 1991. The US had set a deadline of January 17th, after which they would bomb Iraq. I was working in a mental health clinic in Bushwick with predominantly Spanish speaking clients. Many of the clients started getting increasingly anxious during this countdown. I noticed the increase in anxiety but did not know exactly why until one person was aware enough to connect the dots between her current anxiety and her experience in 1965 where she, as well as many other Dominicans, witnessed and experienced many atrocities. She told me her experience. I looked for books on the subject but found none. This was the age before internet, so there was no Googling anything back then. I then started asking all my Dominican clients who were born before 1965 what their experience had been and each and every one of them had a story to tell. They told me of the fear they went through during the months of this occupation. Children did not go to school and when family members left the house, sometimes they didn’t come back.

The events of 1965 are complex politically. I have never felt satisfied in knowing what ‘really happened’ in the Dominican Republic in 1965 by looking at books or on the internet. I did find out though that the US Intrepid, was one of the ships that went to the Dominican Republic in 1965 and is now stationed a few miles away from the predominantly Dominican neighborhood of Upper Manhattan. What this means symbolically is up for discussion I suppose.

As far as mental health is concerned, there is always that one question that unlocks the memories and emotions that are otherwise hidden away in the recesses of the mind.

Earth Day

Today is Earth Day – a day for us to renew our awareness of our connection to the Earth.  As we go through our daily routines, especially those of us that live in urban areas, it is easy to forget about the ground we walk upon.   It is deeper than the sidewalk in front of our house, the road that leaves town; or the bicycle lane that takes us to work.  Even in more rural areas, we may still focus on the day to day troubles and fail to contemplate the gifts of the earth.

Along with the idea that we need to take care of ourselves – mentally, physically and spiritually comes the much bigger notion that the earth is what sustains us all on each of these planes.  Our gratitude for our life does not begin nor end with our ‘thank you for this day’; it begins with the simple actions that enhance or diminish our lives on a daily basis, that also enhance and diminish the quality of life on earth.  Think about it.  Think about the things you do to enhance your own personal well being.  There should be no incongruity between self-care and care of the earth.  The reverse holds true as well, if you know how to take care of the earth – you have the fundamental knowledge of how to take care of yourself.

doing the next right thing

Sometimes our thinking can get in the way of progress.  We complicate things beyond recognition and become immobilized.  The concept of ‘doing the next right thing’ is a way of removing the thinking clutter from our minds and focussing solely on the next step that will move you forward towards your desired goal.

Cognitive Distortion – Overgeneralization

Overgeneralization is a type of cognitive distortion where an individual generalizes a negative view based on one, or limited, experience. In this song, Billy Joel is singing to someone who has ‘over generalized’ – she has been hurt in and is unwilling to love again.

Does life stop after one is hurt or betrayed? Are there some things that are just too devastating that one simply just does not recover?

We look to people to inspire us, like the guy that cut off his hand in order to live while mountain climbing; or Elizabeth Smart who was held hostage for over 18 years; the triathlon guy who does triathlons with his son, who has cerebral palsy, in tow.

We look to these people and wonder whether we’d be able to face the challenge they faced. Meanwhile, we all face our own particular challenges that we see as ‘different’. Symbolically, are you willing to cut away an important part of you in order to survive? Are you willing to go to any lengths to accomplish something, even if it is harder for you than it is for most? Are you able to face down other people’s possible criticism or judgment? It is safer to fantasize about what would we do if we were mountain climbing and our hand got stuck under a rock; than it is to think about cutting away the dead end job or the unfulfilling relationship. We face similar questions in each situation – what will happen then? What if I don’t succeed? What if I regret my decision?

Overgeneralization can be a distortion that leads us to remain stuck.   It gives us the illusion of safety by avoiding taking any risks. Can we instead, learn from our errors, from the things that go wrong? Surely we can; we must, in fact, learn – even when or especially when the solution is more painful, at least in the short run, than the problem itself.

 

For more information on the above references:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aron_Ralston

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Smart_kidnapping

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Team_Hoyt

 

 

 

secondary gain

One thing to look at when thinking about unremitting problems is what is the secondary gain from staying stuck?  Just as an alcoholic who gets sober suddenly finds themselves with a whole lot of time on their hands, so do others who make significant changes in their life.   What would you be doing if you didn’t have your situation?  Do you know?

Looking at this a little more concretely, we can look at alcoholism.  With the elimination of alcoholic drinking, an individual will then have a whole lot of time, and probably extra money, on their hands.  There is no more time spent hungover, recovering from the night before; and no more time spent ruminating about the all too vague semi- recollections of what was done while drinking; no more time spent regretting or in remorse, apologizing, for something done while ‘tight’.  An important part of the recovery process is finding healthy ways to fill that void, otherwise, there is a greater risk of relapse.

When other types of changes are made, the same thing happens : you are left with a whole lot of time that you don’t know what to do with.  There are life-cycle changes that are (more or less) out of your direct control, such as all the children  growing up and leaving the house;  or the death of someone you have been caregiving for years.  You are then suddenly faced with what are you now going to do with yourself.

There are some problems, though, that are more under our direct control – possibly more than we see right now.  Sometimes, on some semi-conscious or unconscious level, we keep our problem in play.  We become an actor in the play of our life, new people come into the picture, but they are all signing up for a repeat performance of our same script; we think we are starting new relationships, but we quickly find ourselves repeating the same old tired lines.  Always getting into the same type of relationship; the sense of feeling betrayed or hurt in the same manner, by different people.  It’s not so much that we find exactly the same type of person, but that we have the same types of reactions/fears/expectations.  What is the secondary gain in repeating this same type of scenario?  What are you missing, or avoiding, by not changing or moving on?

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving syndrome

Thanksgiving is long gone right now, but it’s a good a time as any to discuss this ‘syndrome’.  Basically, Thanksgiving Syndrome is the idea that no matter how enlightened you’ve become or you feel, you have this tendency to revert back to your former self when back with family.  If you can relate to this, you’ve probably resolved to not let Uncle Harry irritate you as he usually does or your cousin Lucy to get under your skin.  You play out in your mind the booby traps that you usually fall into every reunion and imagine how this time, you will not fall in.  Some people focus on how the family members should not behave in their usual ways.  Others focus on how they will ‘rise above’ others’ behaviors.  Yet time after time, you come out of this get-together beaten down, relapsed back to old behavior, and really depressed.  Somehow, you end up being the one that acts like the ass with others looking at you with this apparently perturbed look that you are still doing the same old thing…

Family dynamics.  Our family members press our buttons because they installed them.  Even if you ‘ve had surgery to excise them, there still is that darned scar – so sensitive to the touch.

One thing to keep in mind, is that although you may have spent a lot of time in self-reflection, with self-help books; in therapy, your family most likely has not.  The issue is not that your family members have particular quirks, behaviors, or personality flaws that are enraging.  The real issue is how it affects you, and why it affects you.

Lack of acceptance is one cornerstone on issues that keep repeating.  Acceptance of things as they are – good and bad – is a very important part helping to step out of the dynamic that occurs between family members and you.

One tool to address this is to practice the art of mindfulness.  Mindfulness meditation is essentially focusing on what is happening to you right at the moment it is happening without judgement or criticism.  More on that in another post.