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It’s There (Even When You Can’t See It) June 27, 2020

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Making contact

I believe

The greatest gift

I can conceive of having

is

to be seen by them,

to be understood

and

touched by them.

The greatest gift

I can give

is

to see, hear, understand

and to touch

another person.

When this is done

I feel

contact has been made.

 

– from the poem “Making Contact” by Virginia Satir

For those of you who missed the memo: I am a huge fan of the work of therapist and author Virginia Satir. Born yesterday (June 26th) in 1916, she is known as the “Mother of Family Therapy” and placed her work in “family reconstruction” and “family sculpting” under the umbrella of “Becoming More Fully Human.” She developed the Virginia Satir Change Process Model, which was adopted by corporations in the 1990’s and 2000s as a change management model, and the Human Validation Process Model. Similar to other existential therapist (although I’m not sure she ever used such a label), Satir found that when people came into therapy the presenting, or “surface,” problem was seldom the real problem. Instead, her work revolved around the idea that the real issue was how they coped with situations in their lives. Additionally, she documented that people’s self-esteem played a part in how they coped with conflict and challenges. So, here again, the issue comes down to functional versus dysfunctional thought patterns and how those thought patterns manifest into words and deeds that alleviate suffering or cause suffering.

When Satir worked with patients she would utilize role playing as well as meditations. The role playing was to get family members to consider each other’s perspectives and, in doing so, cultivate empathy and better understanding. The guided meditations were a way for people to recognize that they already had (inside of themselves) the tools/toolkit – or abilities – needed to overcome challenges and obstacles within their relationships. They also empowered people to use the tools that were inside of them, and to cultivate those tools. However, Satir did not see her work as being limited to “traditional” families; she believed that if her work could heal a family unit, it could also heal the world. They key, again, was offering people that “greatest gift” and figuring out what people really wanted and/or needed.

“It is now clear to me that the family is a microcosm of the world. To understand the world, we can study the family: issues such as power, intimacy, autonomy, trust, and communication skills are vital parts underlying how we live in the world. To change the world is to change the family.”

 

– from The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir

Satir was born on the anniversary of the birth of the award winning novelist Pearl S. Buck, who was also known as Sai Zhenzhu. Born in Hillsboro, West Virginia in 1892, Buck spent most of her life in China. Her experiences in China, both as a young child of missionaries and as an adult, resulted in a plethora of novels, short stories, children’s books, and biographies that exposed Western readers to the people, culture, and landscape of China. She won the Nobel Prize in Literature and was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize.

Buck was a humanitarian who wrote about everything from women’s rights and immigration to Communism, war and the atomic bomb. Her work was a form of activism, but she didn’t regulate her actions to the page alone. When it came to Asian, mixed-race, special needs, and international adoptions, Buck was more than a writer – she was a parent. In addition to advocating against racial and religious matching in adoptions, Buck adopted six children of various ethnicities and nationalities. (Previously, she had given birth to one special needs daughter. So, she was a mother of seven.) She also co-founded Welcome House, Inc., the first international, inter-racial adoption agency (with author James Michener, lyricist and producer Oscar Hammerstein II, and interior designer and decorator Dorothy Hammerstein); established the Pearl S. Buck Foundation to support children who were not eligible for adoption, and opened Opportunity Center and Orphanage (aka Opportunity House) to advocate for the rights of orphans in South Korea, Thailand, Philippines, and Vietnam. Buck believed that families formed from love (as opposed to blood, race, religion, or nationality) and that they were living expressions of democracy – something she felt the United States could not unequivocally express during the Jim Crow era. In 1991, Welcome House and the foundation merged to form Pearl S. Buck International to continue Buck’s legacy.

“I was indignant, so I started my own damned agency!”

 

– Pearl S. Buck explaining why she started Welcome House in 1949 (after multiple agencies told she could not adopt Robbie, a mixed race 15-month old boy, because his skin was brown)

 

“What lingers from the parent’s individual past, unresolved or incomplete, often becomes part of her or his irrational parenting.”

 

– from Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir

Take another look at the poem at the top of this post. No, don’t read it… just look at it. What do you see? More specifically, who do you see? Granted, your device, your eyes, or even your brain may not see what I see. But, consider what you might see. What if you saw yourself? What if you saw someone you loved? What if you saw someone you didn’t like? Even if you don’t see what I see, the underlying meaning is the same: there is an individual, with open arms, wanting, needing, and waiting to be seen.

“We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”

 

– Virginia Satir

 

“We must not allow other people’s limited perceptions to define us.”

 

– from The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir

If you want to talk about people who did not let other people’s limited perceptions define them, let’s talk about Helen Keller and the people that surrounded her. Born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, today in 1880, Keller lost both her ability to see and her ability to hear when she was 19 months old. She fell ill with what might have been scarlet fever or meningitis and while she lost two of her senses, Keller was far from dumb. She figured out a way to use signs to communicate with Martha Washington (the Black six-year old daughter of her family’s cook, not to be confused with the 1st lady) and by the age of seven she had developed more than 60 signs – which her family also understood. Furthermore, she could identify people walking near her based on the vibrations and patterns of their steps – she could even identify people by sex and age.

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us… Happiness is a state of mind, and depends very little on outward circumstances.”

 

– from To Love This Life: Quotations by Helen Keller by Helen Keller (with Forward by Jimmy Carter)

 

Keller’s mother, Kate Adams Keller, learned about Laura Bridgman (who was a deaf and blind adult) from Charles Dickens’ travelogue American Notes for General Circulation. The Kellers were eventually referred to Alexander Graham Bell who, in turn, introduced them to Anne Sullivan (who was also visually impaired, due to a bacterial infection). Keller and Sullivan would form a 49-year relationship that evolved over time. Even when Sullivan got married, Keller (possibly) got engaged, and illness required additional assistance from Polly Thomson, the women worked and lived together. Keller would go on to learn to speak and became a lecturer, as well as an author and activist. Sullivan would be remembered as an extraordinary educator whose devotion and ability to adjust to her student’s needs is memorialized in school names and movies like The Miracle Worker and Monday After the Miracle. Keller (d. 06/01/1968), Sullivan (10/20/1936), and Thomson (03/20/1960) are interred together at the Washington National Cathedral.

“At that time the compliments he paid me were so generous that I blush to remember them. But now that I have come out for socialism he reminds me and the public that I am blind and deaf and especially liable to error. I must have shrunk in intelligence during the years since I met him.”

 

– from “How I Became a Socialist” by Helen Keller (published in The New York Call 11/03/1912)

Helen Keller, like Pearl S. Buck, is notable for many reasons, but both women were (and still can be) considered controversial when you think about their family histories and some of their views. Buck was described as “a thorn in the side of the welfare establishment” and her award-winning novel The Good Earth is considered by some to be literary propaganda. Keller’s father, and at least one of her grandfathers, served in the Confederate Army and she was a related to Robert E. Lee. She was a suffragist, a pacifist, a radical socialist, an advocate for people with disabilities, and a supporter of birth control – but/and she also believed in eugenics. Yes, history has shown us some pretty messed up examples of people believing in eugenics, the idea that we could genetically pre-select character traits in order to create a better society. Besides the basic humanitarian issues, one of the problems with eugenics is that at its core there is a lack of faith in humanity.

In referencing the coincidence that she was related to the first teacher of the deaf in Zurich, Keller wrote in her autobiography, “… it is true that there is no king who has not had a slave among his ancestors, and no slave who has not had a king among his.” There is clarity in knowing, deep inside, that you are connected to both sides of the coin. That clarity comes from going deep inside one’s self. If we pay attention to what’s going on inside of our own hearts we have a compass that steers us right – at least, that is the message of contemplatives.

“After long searches here and there, in temples and in churches, in earths and in heavens, at last you come back, completing the circle from where you started, to your own soul and find that He for whom you have been seeking all over the world, for whom you have been weeping and praying in churches and temples, on whom you were looking as the mystery of all mysteries shrouded in the clouds, is nearest of the near, is your own Self, the reality of your life, body, and soul. That is your own nature. Assert it, manifest it.”

 

– from “ The Real Nature of Man” speech, delivered in London and published in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Volume 2, Jnana-Yoga) by Swami Vivekananda

 

Yoga Sutra 2.26: vivekakhyātiraviplavā hānopāyah

 

– “The clear, unshakeable awareness of discerning knowledge (insight) is the means to nullifying sorrow (created by ignorance).”

Please join me for a little discernment in the form of a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, June 27th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This playlist is dated 06032020.)

 

 

### STILL HUMAN ###

Here Be The Wild Things June 10, 2020

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“And so we have…this critical problem as human beings of seeing to it that the mythology—the constellation of sign signals, affect images, energy-releasing and -directing signs—that we are communicating to our young will deliver directive messages qualified to relate them richly and vitally to the environment that is to be theirs for life, and not to some period of man already past, some piously desiderated future, or—what is worst of all—some querulous, freakish sect or momentary fad. And I call this problem critical because, when it is badly resolved, the result for the miseducated individual is what is known, in mythological terms, as a Waste Land situation. The world does not talk to him; he does not talk to the world. When that is the case, there is a cut-off, the individual is thrown back on himself, and he is in prime shape for that psychotic break-away that will turn him into either an essential schizophrenic in a padded cell, or a paranoid screaming slogans at large, in a bughouse without walls.”

 

– from A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living by Joseph Campbell

 

How do we keep from becoming, to paraphrase Joseph Campbell, a screaming paranoid person? How do we face trauma, loss, and disability with a smile on our face, as Wayman Tisdale did? Maybe we have to go all the way back to the womb to figure out why some people survive the challenging circumstances they face in life. Maybe we have to go back even farther than that to see why some people just inherently know how to stay connected to their “inside stuff” even when life throws them one curve ball after another fast ball. Whatever the reason some people rebound and some people don’t (or don’t as easily as others), trying to figure out that reason has fascinated people since the beginning of time.

Children’s book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, born today in 1928, in Brooklyn, New York, once said, “I only have one subject. The question I am obsessed with is: How do children survive?” Like the poets mentioned during Sunday’s class (06/07/2020), Sendak wrote about what he saw – and what he saw was a family decimated by the Holocaust and trying to acclimate to a new country and a new culture. He saw kids being kids, being alive and full of so much life despite the overwhelming and pervasive feeling of perpetual mourning. The adults called the unruly children “vilde chaya,” which is Yiddish for “wild animal.” Sendak turned it into “wild things” and wrote a children’s book that become the center of a trilogy about (you guessed it) how children survive and thrive.

“I grew up in a house that was in a constant state of mourning.”

 

– Maurice Sendak in a 2002 interview with children’s book historian Leonard Marcus

 

 

“’And now,’ cried Max, ‘let the wild rumpus start!’”

 

– from Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

 

Where The Wild Things Are, published in 1963, tells the story of preschool-age Max who, as adults would have said during my childhood, gets a little too big for his britches. He is sent to his room without his dinner because he can’t behave and, as children do, he lets his imagination take over. His bedroom becomes a magical land full of wild animals, beasts, monsters….

My amazing friend Julie K just sent me a recent essay in The New Yorker about metaphorical monsters. I found it problematic because the identity of the monsters is too vague. Sendak, however, was always very clear; the monsters in his first book were the perpetually mourning and stern adults in his family. He just exaggerated them into something endearingly grotesque. As Max manages his emotions, becoming “king of all wild things” (a. k. a. the “most wild thing of all”), he finds his way back to the regular world. Managing one’s emotions, it turns out, is the secret to making one’s way back to the regular world.

“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again. You really don’t have a sacred space, a rescue land, until you find somewhere to be that’s not a wasteland, some field of action where there is a spring of ambrosia—a joy that comes from inside, not something external that puts joy into you—a place that lets you experience your own will and your own intention and your own wish so that, in small, the Kingdom is there. I think everybody, whether they know it or not, is in need of such a place.”

 

– from A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living by Joseph Campbell

 

“There should be a place where only the things you want to happen, happen.”

 

– from Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

 

As I mentioned before, Where The Wild Things Are was the first of a three-part series to be published, but it is actually the centerpiece to the trilogy. In The Night Kitchen (published in 1970) follows toddler-age Mickey as he falls, naked, into the Night Kitchen, where he has to avoid getting baked into the cake batter and eaten up. Max, again, is preschool-age. Outside Over There (published in 1981) features pre-adolescent Ida, who shirks her responsibility and then has to face the consequences of making things right. It is interesting to note that while there is always a symbol of a mother and evidence of a mother’s love in all three books, Ida is the only real-live human girl featured prominently in the books and she is given (in the book) the mother’s role of caregiver – a role she initially fails to take seriously.

“When Papa was away at sea and Mama in the arbor, Ida played her wonder horn to rock the baby still – but never watched.”

 

– from Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak’s trilogy is recognized as a series which traces the psychological development of children. Each protagonist has age appropriate responsibilities, feelings, thoughts, and emotions. Each protagonist also has to navigate and find balance between the (age appropriate) expectations of the simultaneously present yet absent parent(s) and their feelings, thoughts, and emotions. One of the emotions that figures prominently, especially in Where The Wild Things Are, is rage and one of the themes that figures prominently in the books is how to manage emotions like rage. Because, as I sated before, managing one’s emotions is the secret to making one’s way back to the regular world. It is the boon, as it were, of this particular hero’s journey/cycle.

“But it is more than mere survival that Sendak aspires to, for his children and for himself. He asks the question of resilience: How do children surmount and transform in order to prosper and create? It is tempting to imagine that Sendak conceives of the trajectory of his own life and art as a model for the way he has handled these questions in his works.”

 

– from a 2009 The Psychologist article by psychoanalyst Richard Gottlieb

 

When Where The Wild Things Are was turned into a movie, therapists like Richard Gottlieb offered their clinical take on the book and the movie. Psychoanalyst and attorney Stanton Peele noted in a 2009 article for Psychology Today that Dr. G. Alan Marlatt, a psychologist who focused on addiction, “specifically developed mindfulness as a relapse prevention technique, one that assists addicted people to combat cravings. In brief, a user may imagine the urge to use again as a physical challenge – like a wave – that he or she rides out.” Then, Peele called Sendak’s work “a model of mindfulness.” For his part, Gottlieb did not think it was an accident that Sendaks’ work was so psychologically applicable. In fact, he specifically highlights various “psychological proddings and teachings” which influenced Sendak’s life – including the fact that his partner (for over 50 years) was psychoanalyst Eugene Glenn – and shares bits of conversations with colleagues who also see the value in the book.

“I’m not the milk and the milk’s not me. I’m Mickey!”

 

– Mickey in In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

 

Call it a coincidence, a coinkydink, God winking, or serendipity, but it is interesting to note that Maurice Sendak, whose seminal book has been hailed and praised by addiction experts, was born on the anniversary of Dr. Bob Smith’s last drink, which is also the anniversary of Alcoholics Anonymous. Today in 1935, Bill Wilson and Smith’s wife Anne gave a severely hung-over Smith (a. k. a. “Dr. Bob”) a beer so that he would be “steady enough” to go into surgery. Hours beyond when the surgery should have ended, Smith announced that yes, the surgery was successful and that he had spent the remaining time reaching out to creditors and others he had hurt when he was drinking. Founded by Smith and Wilson, with support from Smith’s wife Anne, Alcoholics Anonymous is a 12-step rehabilitation program that has helped some people cope with alcoholism. It is also the model for other 12-step programs. While I have not counted the steps as they apply to Maurice Sendak’s work, there are very definite parallels in the way the main characters acknowledge their problems, turn inward, and offer restitution and express remorse. There are also, in the books and in recovery, humongous amounts of love and forgiveness (in particular, self-love and self-forgiveness).

“Quiet down there!”

 

– Mickey In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

 

“If Ida backwards in the rain would only turn around again and catch those goblins with a tune, she’d spoil their kidnap honeymoon!”

 

– Papa’s song in Outside Over There

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, June 10th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a practice inspired by the inner workings of a child’s heart and mind. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Since music soothes the wild beasts, the goblins, and the cooks, Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (NOTE: YouTube is the original playlist and includes the video below.)

 

My all time favorite rendition!

 

### “I’LL EAT YOU UP!”• “I LOVE YOU!” ###

Not So De-Lovely Circumstance(s)? June 9, 2020

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“You can never give up because quitting is not an option. No matter how dark it is or how weak you get, until you take that last breath, you must fight.”

 

– Wayman Tisdale, professional musician and basketball player

 

“Sad times, may follow your tracks
Bad times, may bar you from Sak’s
At times, when Satan in slacks
Breaks down your self control

Maybe, as often it goes
Your Abe-y, may tire of his rose
So baby, this rule I propose
Always have an ace in the hole.”

 

– from “Ace in the Hole” by Cole Porter

 

Here’s a question: Have you ever experienced trauma, loss, and disability? We all have, on some level, and we all will before we leave this earth.

So, here’s a better question: Have you ever experienced trauma, loss, and disability that changed the way you viewed yourself and the world? Many who would have answered “no” to that question a month or two ago (or even a year ago), might answer “yes” now.

I specifically mention two months ago, rather than two weeks ago, because two months ago I was participating in the seventh annual Kiss My Asana yogathon, which benefited Mind Body Solutions. Known for their adaptive yoga program, which includes teacher training, and training for care givers Mind Body Solutions “helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body.” Founding teacher Matthew Sanford is constantly reminding us that at some point we are all going to experience trauma, loss, and disability. Even if we do not become physically disabled, we can experience trauma and loss that disables us and makes it impossible to do things the way we did them before. The practice of yoga, especially as it is applied by the teachers at MBS, is both simple and complex – because the way we deal with trauma, loss, and disability is simultaneously simple and complex… because humans are both simple and complex. Ultimately, it’s not the if/when/how we experience the trauma, loss, and disability that’s important. Ultimately, what’s important is how we deal with it.

“I am only half a man now.”

 

– Cole Porter to his friends in 1958

 

“Cancer might’ve taken my leg, but it can’t take my smile.”

 

– Wayman Tisdale in an ESPN interview released in 2008, five months before he died (The reporter noted that he followed the words with “that famous, ear-splitting grin.”)

 

Depending on how you look at them, Cole Porter (who was born today in 1891, in Peru, Indiana) and Wayman Tisdale (who was born today in 1964, in Fort Worth, Texas) don’t have a lot in common. Except for the whole birthday thing… and the fact that they were both professional musicians whose parents started their musical training at early ages. (Porter’s mother started him on violin lessons at 6 and piano lessons at 8. Tisdale’s father bought him his first bass guitar at age 8.) Tisdale said music was his “first love” and, undoubtedly, Porter would have shared the sentiment. They both ended up being known for jazz – although slightly different kinds of jazz. Oh, then there is the fact that they both engaged in highly physical activities (outside of music); Porter as an equestrian, Tisdale as a professional basketball player who was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame (2009), the Oklahoma Hall of Fame (2009), and played in both the Olympics (1984) and Pan American (1983) Games. Both men were extremely well-liked and remarked upon because of their sunny dispositions.

Oh, and they were both (right leg) amputees.

Weird coincidence, huh? But, that’s not really the point today. The point today is how they dealt with their trauma, loss, and disability.

“The doctor had never given anyone chemo that was my size. They just calculated how much chemo to give me and said, ‘We hope it doesn’t mess up your kidneys. If it does, sorry.’”

 

– Wayman Tisdale in an ESPN interview released in 2008, five months before his death

In 1937, a horseback riding accident resulted in the horse crushing both of Cole Porter’s legs. In 2007, Wayman Tisdale fell down a flight of stairs and broke his leg – an accident that revealed he had osteosarcoma in his knee. Both men were bound and determined to live, despite their situations – which involved immense amounts of pain and uncertainty. By all accounts, including his own words, Wayman Tisdale accepted the amputation and focused on using the support around him to help him heal and move forward. He even appreciated the attitude of one of his master teachers/precious jewels, who he didn’t think wanted him to get better, stating in a 2008 ESPN interview, “At the time, I frowned on that. I look at it today that had I not persevered through a lot of the stuff [USA Team coach Bobby Knight] put me through, I probably wouldn’t be here today. I thank God for that dude because he pushed me.” Cole Porter, on the other hand, seems to have given up. He fought the amputation until he was given no other choice and, while he wrote an immense amount of music after the accident that ultimately cost him his leg, he wrote (so far as we know) not a lick after the amputation.

“The lines of ceaseless pain have been wiped from his face…I am convinced that his whole life will cheer up and that his work will profit accordingly.”

 

– Noel Coward writing in his diary about his friend Cole Porter, after Porter’s leg was amputated in 1958

 

“But when we first talked on the phone, he [Wayman] made me feel better. Ninety-five percent of us would’ve gone into a deep depression, but he didn’t.”

 

– Arthur Thompson, drummer and friend of Wayman Tisdale, in a 2008 ESPN interview, after Tisdale’s diagnosis and amputation

 

Please join me today (Tuesday, June 9th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom, where you can check in with your attitude. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Links will be available on Zoom and I have updated this page, with links, shortly before the Noon class. NOTE: Spotify users may have 2 Eartha Kitt songs. Enjoy.)

 

“For a man who lives by schedules to not know the next day because of being so fatigued, that puts things in perspective.”

 

– Dolphin Davis, Sr., Wayman Tisdale’s friend and personal trainer

 

 

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