when we hurt

when we are hurting it is hard work to make our way to comfort. such. hard. work. 

sometimes, when we hurt, our minds and bodies and hearts slow down. at times, to the point that we feel as though they are no longer capable of recovery. and sometimes they are not. there are just some hurts that are not recoverable from, so to speak. while we may move past them to other states of being, they leave scars. at other times our hurt speeds us up. adrenaline and the urge to defend ourselves against further pain cause us to lash out, hit back, or stew. at still other times our hurt seeks out more of itself because wejustcan’tlookaway. in these moments we “console” ourselves by heaping more hurt onto the pile. this is the state from which “misery loves company” was born. while the sentiment may not be completely accurate it is typically true that humans choose the familiar to the unknown. when we hurt, pain becomes our familiar.

hurt is complex and messy. we establish patterns, early on, of how we will deal with it, often moving through life either craving or avoiding it in one way or another. these patterns, unexamined, rarely serve us well. 

to that end, might i make a suggestion? if you are feeling hurt, take a few deep breaths. look up and around, out past the hurt, for just a moment or two. find something that is absolutely beautiful, simple, soothing, comforting and go to it. resist the voices that tell you that you don’t have time, that your hurt is too big/serious/important to look away from for a few moments, or that there is nothing that could possibly comfort you in this state. go to the thing of beauty, of simplicity, of soothing, or comfort and be with it fully. let it’s power seep into your core. let it relieve you. even for just a moment. these moments of comfort provide a pain holiday of sorts, allowing you to come back to your hurt with a new resilience and perspective. sometimes with resources to address the hurt in more healthy ways.

after a long series of pains and hurts and burdens, i met week old wesley today. for the bit of time i was honored to hold him, i let the peace, beauty, serenity, bold goodness, and newness of life that is wes seep deeply into me. as i returned him to his (amazing) parent’s arms and hopped into my car i was surprised by a deep rumbling in my soul. this was followed by unexpected and uncontrollable tears. i wept. and then i wept some more. finally, at my destination, i wept until my stomach hurt and my eyes were swollen and my hurt was lessened.  like rain after a drought, the tears softened the hard earth of my hurt. tonight none of the heavy situations around me are resolved but i am more ready to face them. 

finding that which is uniquely comforting or soothing to you may be hard work. it is, however, hard work worth doing. let your senses guide you...eat or smell or look at something beautiful. jump on a trampoline, run hard and fast, or take a lingering walk one slow step at a time. take a bath. put your feet in a fountain. get lost in a crowd. hole up in your room or your yard or the library. read something silly or mindless or completely other worldly. let a familiar and safe location “hold” you. wrap yourself in a blanket and pull it tight around you, picturing the gaze of a loving (truly loving...that’s all...loving) God who delights in you. find someone who does delight in you and ask them to gaze at you or hold your hand or toss the frisbee or whatever it is that would help. whatever that is...find it...engage it. let it comfort you until the tears or the yells or the laughter or whatever else needs to come out of you comes out to make space for newness, softness, and the receptivity for grace.

if your hurt or your patterns of response to hurt are such that you simply can’t find a comforting place, path, or action, reach out to someone who can help you find that which will sooth your soul. therapists, counselors, children, wise elders, pastors, your sponsor, possibly even your neighbor are all good sources. if none of those are available to you, email me at doreen@doreendm.com and let’s help you find your place of solace and rest.


what is easy (and what is not)

I recently spent several days in the company of an 11 year old. This capable, brilliant, big hearted human has many gifts. He is remarkably relational, uber responsible, and deeply curious. He can engage just about anyone in an enjoyable conversation and makes nearly everyone he interacts with smile. He has a passion for presidents, is gifted musically, and can explain the dynamics of a group with amazing clarity. Puzzles, however, are a totally different animal. This kiddo, blessed with a million and one gifts, struggles with all things mathematical.

Not thinking, I grabbed a hand held manipulative puzzle game to play with him while we waited for dusk at the drive in movie theater. Starting with the most basic level, he struggled to complete it. I immediately realized my mistake and sweated, trying to help him accomplish the task with his sense of independence and competency intact. This was no easy task. I am attached to this person and could see the absolute cluelessness in his eyes as he tried to figure out how the lizards should leap to get to their lily pads. I could sense how confused and untethered he felt as he faced down a task that was not suited to his strengths. I squirmed. He kept at it, all the while saying “This is easy!” Anyone near by would have thought it should be...an 11 year old playing a puzzle game. He finished that first mission declaring, one final time, that the task had been “so easy” but I knew better. There was nothing easy about what he had just done. Nothing.

Isn’t it interesting how we comfort and challenge ourselves with the words, “This is easy”? We use the phrase to push ourselves along and motivate. We also use it to criticize our slow progress or halting successes. “This is easy dummy! Why can’t you get it done?” In other situations we use the phrase to announce to others how simple things are for us. “Oh, that was easy!” affirms our giftedness, abilities, and smarts. Finally, we employ it to ward off compliments that are difficult to receive or to express a sort of false humility. “Oh that little(huge) thing I pulled off? It was easy.”  In the context of our relationships, we use it to compliment and criticize interchangeably. “You’re so lucky that that is so easy for you.” and “What’s up with that imbecile? Seriously, that should be so easy.” both roll off our tongues. We swap disregard for acknowledgement and judgement for empathy. We assume that which is easy is good and that which is easy for us should be easy for others. We are so often so wrong.

Basically, the phrase itself is rarely accurate. When something is actually simple for us to accomplish, it is uncommon for us to announce it. When an architect designs a building they don’t do so out of ease. Instead, they have developed a set of skills and practiced them, making it relatively easy to accomplish at a basic level. They don’t decry, at the end of the process, the ease with which they completed the task. That is because it is never that simple. It just isn’t. 

The same can be true of all sorts of skills and all variety of people. We say, “This is easy,” however, most commonly when we need comfort, attention, or, bizarrely, motivation to persevere. We are sweating at a task and don’t want anyone to notice so our words say “This is easy” to distract from our struggle. We feel unseen and as though our accomplishments don’t matter so we point them out by decrying the ease with which we accomplished them. Or, we feel incompetent to complete a task and spur ourselves on by telling ourselves that “This should be easy (idiot!). Keep going (stupid!). Even a moron could accomplish this silly little (absolutely impossible!) task.”

This phrase is so counterproductive. When we use it, we are often referring to something that could, in fact, contribute to our own feelings of competence, mastery, or satisfaction. In firing it off we shoot our own selves in the foot. If my dear 11 year old friend could have said, “This is totally and frustratingly hard! I am, however, keeping at it!” at the end, we could have celebrated his persistence and effort. Instead, since it was “so easy” there is nothing for which to collect affirmation or kudos. 

I believe that many of the most important actions required for living a healthy and engaged life are far from easy. I also believe that being honest about the challenges we take on has merit. “Personing up” to the things that are difficult for us has the potential of inviting entirely new levels of inspiration, connection, and support. When I am willing to express to a safe community that I am taking on a difficult (for me) challenge, I invite others to encourage me as well as to take on their own new pursuits. Yes, there is the risk that some might use this information against me, but the greater likelihood is that I will find partners for my journey and develop the internal ability to persist and be resilient. 

Persistence and resilience are twin traits that allow us to take on that which is not easy. When we are persistent we keep at the task, even when it is difficult, believing that there is a pay off for continued effort. Resilience determines our ability to handle difficulties and disappointments without experiencing undue levels of psychological distress (anxiety, depression, mania, etc). These two skills cannot be developed without struggle. They are not purchasable and can’t be “granted.” Without risking that which is not easy we simply don’t learn how to keep going in the face of obstacles. Neither do we magically inherit the ability to make sense of our successes or failures and all the states in between. This skill must be developed. We must “thicken our emotional skin” over time and repeated efforts to master things. We must find that which suits us and that which does not and discern those risks which will contribute to our being healthier humans with optimally complex lives.

Not only do we benefit from attempting the difficult, but there is much to be gained by acknowledging the “uneasy tasks” that those around us undertake. It may feel odd at first to speak into the life of another, but as a difficult task in it’s own rite this process can be a gift to both parties. “I imagine that this process/task might be very difficult. I think it’s amazing that you are undertaking it.” “I bet that this accomplishment was far from easy. Way to go persisting at it.” “I see how hard you are trying. Do you need help along the way?” are all ways of communicating that there is no need for false humility or unnecessary effort to make something look simple. They also acknowledge that the process is often as important as the outcome. 

Every one of us lives with complications and complexities. I’ve written it here before and will do so again. “Be kind to everyone, for their’s is a difficult journey.” Mine. Yours. That person over there’s. All of ours. Our journeys are difficult. The requirements: not easy. Given this, I propose a set of new go-to phrases for use in place of “This is easy.” These statements will encourage persistence, resilience, effort, and authentic connection potential. Jot them down somewhere where you’ll see them and then give them a whirl, knowing that you are telling the truth in the service of a healthier life and encouraging the same in others. 

In place of “This is easy!” how about try:

“This is not easy.”

“I could use some help.”

“I began something that I wasn’t ready for. I need to decide to lay it down or to persist. Which is better for me?”

“I wonder if you began something that you weren’t ready for. What would it cost you to lay it down? What would it cost you to persist? Which seems healthier for you?”

“If persisting at this makes sense, where might I find help.”

“Things that are difficult may be worth working at.”

“This being difficult for me does not make me stupid/incapable/less than/not enough.”

“I have many gifts. This is not one of them. That is o.k.”

“I can handle trying this, even if it is not simple and even if I do not succeed. My value and worth is intact.”

“Ease is not a static measure. What is easy for me is not easy for others. There is value in diversity and beautify in complex communities.”


lament & cleaning old wounds

things i know and don’t know about lament:

what is clear about lament:
1 it is excruciating.
2 it isn’t chosen. i just comes out of you. from your core. your toes. your bones.
3 it feels out of control to be in a state of lament and even more out of control to witness someone else in that space.
4 westerners avoid it. at all costs. always.
5 it is the only way to healing. un-grieved losses/unfelt regrets fester. they infect the soul and body and take their toll on you and all those around you.
6 it cannot be “fixed,” coaxed, or prayed out of a person. it is a natural process. crisis (of all kinds) causes reactions. one of them is grief and regret. pretending that these don’t exist will not make them go away. it will, in fact, make them grow.

what is not clear about lament:
1 it cannot be objectively defined and/or quantified. for some, lament will include sorrow and tears, for others anger and yelling. for some, isolation and, for others, intense desire for enmeshed connection. because of this, it cannot be judged.
2 what may cause strong lamentation for one person may not for another. our personal experiences are just that, personal. there is no way any of us can know, unless we are privy to disclosures, how deeply a loss or regret might impact anyone other than ourselves. what we see on the surface (or show on the surface) is just that, on the surface. there is always a root sustaining a weed above the ground. always.

3 lament is different from disappointment. it isn’t complaining. it is bigger than simply blowing off steam and it is close to wanting to die. when one is in a state of lament they are in the messy process of closet cleaning. everything must be thrown out, surveyed, chosen or disgarded before any semblance of order can be found.

cleaning old wounds:

the act of lament (which i consider honest and authentic expressions of grief or regret) requires a lot of work. intentional and accidental. deliberate and passive. it is often accompanied by seemingly non-sensical desires for both isolation and connection, imbalanced cravings for both the bright lights of the city and the darkness of ones’ bedroom. it is rarely within one’s control and it is often accompanied by a proliferation of bodily fluids. especially sweat and snot.

lament is not pretty. neither is it safe. it resists easy answers, tidy appearances, and platitudes. it doesn’t mind its manners. it raises its voice (and sometimes its fist) and uses salty language. it makes us unpredictable and leads us to feel untethered, unraveled, and adrift. lament is complicated and most of us are looking for less, not more, complications (read messy, complex, unpredictable, and emotional) in our lives. and so, it stays locked up, under the surface. especially within the shared spaces of our communities. who wants to invite mess? welcome pain? to not know what to say?

in Truth and Love seeking communities, however, the act of lament is necessary. if we are to love each other authentically, how can we justify being unwilling to wipe the eyes (and noses) of those among us who face excruciating pain, unimaginable loss, and unrelenting regret. to bring about peace there must be space for lament. the remnants of loss breed complex emotional reactions similar to the infections caused at the site of an uncleaned wound. for the skin to heal peacefully there must be a cleansing and that process will almost always hurt. 

opening ourselves and our communities to the reality of pain takes courage and a letting go of control regarding how things “should” look. oh, and, kleenex doesn’t hurt and neither does the loving rich deep silence of simply being there.

(originally published in the "making peace through lament 2015 peace reader" published by the northwest yearly meeting of friends)


ideas for long weekends (excitement, ambivalence, & dread)

we are on the eve of a holiday weekend and i can feel it...the excitement, the ambivalence, the exhaustion, the dread.” weekends such as this are such a mixed bag for so many people and we would be wise to enter them with intention. to that end, i offer the following thoughts and ideas on celebrating a day off and considering your neighbor.

some basic considerations:

1 it’s o.k. to ask for what you would like. even if you have children or partners or friends to whom you are committed, it’s important that you have a clear understanding of your hopes and that you take steps to communicate and achieve them in some measure. if you need some alone time, it is your responsibility to get it. if you need some community connection, it is yours to seek out. no one can read your mind and expecting them to will only lead to resentment and disappointment. it might not be the easy path to add your needs into the mix but it is the only one that will lead to healthy relationships and a successful long weekend. 

2 it’s important to be flexible. if you take the above consideration seriously and make efforts to get what you would prefer and it doesn’t happen, a gracious and flexible response is important. if you wanted some connection, invited it, and were turned down do not dismay. similarly, if you wanted alone time, sought it out, and it proved elusive, take a breath. you can celebrate having tried. it may not be your first choice to do the next hours in the way that they are evolving, but there is likely still meaning and fun to be gleaned.

3 a party of one can still be a party. as a person who could easily err on the side of too much independence i am always shocked by the fear that many people have of doing things alone. i am not referring here to the sadness that results from wishing that one had a more meaningful relationship, a deeper community, or the like. i know that, for those who would prefer to move through life with a partner as opposed to without one, the ache is profound and real. i also know that western culture can behave toward these individuals as though they simply haven’t tried hard enough or been willing enough or whatever other message leads them to feel marginalized and even more lonely.  these realities stink. hugely! (this post might get somewhat near addressing the coming days for these folks) what i am talking about here, however, is the hesitance that some people feel to try things if they cannot find someone to try them with. if you feel hesitant/fearful/resistant to trying something or having an experience because you will have to do it alone, you leave your experience collection in the hands of others. this is not fair to them or to you. if you want to have an experience and cannot find anyone to join you in it, why not try it with your self?

it is important to me to practice what i preach. to that end i have done the following activities alone. i have gone bowling, danced up at the front of a concert, gone to movies, plays, meals, and events, had picnics, hiked, vacationed, attended a meet up, done a road trip, volunteered at civic events, and more totally by myself. even in crowds of connected others. when people ask me, “aren’t you afraid of what others will think?” i smile and say, “who cares?” i know the mind of others. even if they think, for a fleating second, “she’s alone” the next moment their mind will be elsewhere and i’ll still be there getting the experience i wanted or needed and feeling a deep sense of satisfaction for doing so.

4 being productive is one way of being in the world. while a strong work ethic is a helpful thing, it is important to learn to be idle. rest, refreshment, and changes of pace are important for overall health. for some, this ability is largely underdeveloped. for these individuals, exploring ways of tolerating a slower pace and the art of being, can be important and empowering. it can also feel foreign and scary. be patient and open, there are plenty of ways of developing the skill of being.

5 even the smallest of communities and barest of cupboards can provide all that is needed for a meaningful day. if you are a person of creative pursuit you already know this. if not, you may lack ideas for how to spend the long weekend ahead of you. to that end, i humbly offer the following list of ideas for how to make fun from something or from next to nothing and for simply making the most of the days ahead. 

ideas for a long weekend:

1 see the movie “inside out.” don’t ask questions, don’t read reviews, don’t think it’s only for kids. just go. now. if you are fortunate enough to live in an area where a drive in theater is showing it, try that. 

2 try a kind of food you’ve never eaten. go out, get take out, or try a recipe at home. if you don’t want to make that much effort, open your fridge and mix two things you haven’t ever mixed before. if even that feels like too big a stretch make some pasta or rice then mix equal measures of peanut butter (or any nut butter) and salsa to put on top. trust me...

3 people watch. find a park or a table at a cafe or just sit on the sidewalk somewhere. watch people. make up stories about where they’ve been and where they’re going. don’t judge, just make up stories. do this for at least an hour. push past the time where you feel uncomfortable and self conscious.

4 if your town hosts a 4th of july parade, make a stationary float. this was one of my family traditions growing up. sit (either by yourself or with others) on a parade route with poster boards and a sharpie with which you make signs to hold up for the people in the parade. some ideas: “we love the parks department” “nice wheels” “marching bands make my day” “thank you” “throw candy this way”  you get the idea.

5 invite your neighbors to join you for sparklers after dark. it can be as simple as that. leave a little note at a few neighbor’s doors saying sparklers and lighters at 9 p.m. out front...join me for a ten minute neighborly celebration. 

6 read. maybe even a paper book. put your clock or phone away and let yourself get lost in the story. don’t pay attention to the time.

7 doodle. if you have crayons or colored pencils, get them out and go crazy. if not, any old paper and pen will work.

8 do a puzzle. if you don’t have one, most stores have a cheap option for you. put it out on thursday night in a place where you can work on it a little bit at a time over the weekend.

9 if you are hosting others try something new in the way of letting go of expectations. be intentional about dropping some detail or letting yourself off the hook for the celebration being perfect. try to do the event in a new way that allows a new or different level of engagement for you.

10 doorbell ditch or sidewalk chalk surprise someone. make a plate of goodies (they don’t need to be fancy) or draw someone a picture and write an encouraging note then leave it at their door, ring the bell, and run away or write affirmations all over their driveway with sidewalk chalk and leave before they catch you.

11 go iceblocking. grab an ice block or two from a convenience store and a towel from home. go to a park with hills. go to the top of the hill, put the towel on the top of the ice block, sit on it, slide down the hill. over time, as the ice block begins to melt, your slides will be faster.

12 blow bubbles. you don’t even need to go get anything. you have everything you need at home. empty a can of it’s goods, remove the top and bottom of the can and dip one end in the following mixture then blow through the other end. bubble “juice” recipe: 1/2 c dishwashing liquid (joy brand works especially well) 2 c water 2 tsp sugar

13 make (and play with) play dough. even if you have no kids. seriously. this is fun. a good recipe can be found here.

14 write a thank you note. you don’t need a card or fancy stationery. simply think of someone who has made an impact on your life and type or write them a note to spell out how their importance to you.

15 find a store in your area that you’ve never visited and check it out. if there is any kind of international market near you, that is a great place to start. just go explore.

16 put your feet in cold water. find a public fountain in which to dip your toes. if one doesn’t exist, get a kiddie pool or a large plastic tub and fill it with cold water then sit with your feet in it in your yard. invite others if you’d like or just enjoy the cool quiet by yourself.

17 if all else fails and you decide to turn to netflix or hulu, make your entertainment choices matter by choosing thought provoking and “smart” media. for my top picks you can go here.


sprains of the soul

I recently went on vacation. It was an amazing adventure involving lots of hiking on slippery and uneven terrain, miles of walking, and many, many stairs. Given my bizarre obsession with packing light, I accomplished all of this footwork while wearing the one pair of shoes that I brought. These were decidedly not hiking boots and offered little traction and no stabilization. On more than one occasion I regretted my choice. While my family scurried over steep hills I had to choose my path carefully and move slowly. Even still, as the trip came to a close, I joked about becoming a spokesperson for the shoe brand given my expert skill in navigating the unexpected in their totally inappropriate-for-the-fjords-of-Finland kicks. Then, two days before our two week vacation was to end, came the completely flat sidewalk upon which I rolled my ankle. One minute I was up, in the midst of an interesting and lively conversation, and the next I was down. I looked over my shoulder to find the uneven ground, the lifted pavement, the huge hole that had, most certainly, tripped me up and saw only pristinely flat pavement. The swelling began immediately and, by the evening, my right shoe no longer fit. Not necessarily a wise sage when it comes to listening to my body, I iced and elevated only between long bouts of walking in that same pair of shoes.

Several weeks later my ankle was still swollen and painful. I was anxious to return to dance class so I headed off to see my favorite sport’s medicine physician. With a foot in each hand he wisely asked about prior injuries to the affected joint. His years of practice and expertise allowed him to quickly discern the difference in “play” between my two ankles. While I had long forgotten the ligaments I tore as a gymnast in high school, my body belied their existence.  This got me thinking about how pre-existing injuries impact present capabilities. 

Whenever our physical bodies experience strains, tears, breaks, infection, and the like, the entirety of our being responds. Muscles compensate, others atrophy, tissues accumulate. We build up antibodies or our systems become more vulnerable. Regardless of the specific disruption, our cells remember what has happened and, often, are impacted in long term ways. An injury accomplished 30 years ago creates a proclivity to re-injury today. Our bodies, in their wisdom and humanity, work to maintain health and stability and yet, can only do so much. If my right ankle is weak, I am more prone to rolling it, especially if I have lost conscious awareness of the need to be mindful of not doing so.

It hits me that our souls (or psyches, or spirits, or selves, or hearts...whatever word you choose to refer to as the seat of your being) are much the same. We have all suffered emotional injuries, dark nights of the soul, relational losses, and more. We do our best, after such injuries, to remedy them and/or to protect ourselves from further pain. Our efforts are most often based upon either deeply automatic or intentionally chosen coping strategies. Some people stuff the pain, ignoring it and hoping it will go away and others process it in any number of verbal or behavioral ways. Some create rituals to avoid further harm and others apply a “rehabilitation” strategy of sorts, working to understand what created the injury in an effort to curtail a repeat of it. Innumerable alternatives along this spectrum provide people with options for moving forward after suffering emotional pain. 

As with physical injuries, these soul wounds leave us vulnerable in deeply personal and specific ways. Just as previously torn ligaments leave my right ankle overly flexible and prone to sprains, pre-existing emotional injuries cause similar proclivities. Further, the manner in which we addressed the initial wounds profoundly impacts the pattern by which we deal with our present day ones. 

We’ve all witnessed (or been a player in) situations where a person’s reaction seems out of place in relation to the trigger. We’ve over- or under- reacted. We’ve been left before so we avoid emotional entanglements or cling to those who connect to us. We’ve been taken advantage of so we keep people at arm’s length, fear the motives of others, and are overly stingy with our resources. We’ve experienced failure so we stop taking risks or stop caring about our passions. A seemingly benign part of our daily routine stops us short and redirects our emotions; a stimulus that “should” make us feel happy prompts sadness; a smell triggers pangs of loneliness; or more. We are complex beings whose bodies and souls have created intricate systems that are stopped and started by all manner or experiences. When these patterns have gone on unexamined, when we have lost site of how our original injuries have left us vulnerable, we are particularly prone to sprains and swelling and pain of all sorts.

When I sprained my ankle it would have been best for me to stop walking, to elevate and ice it, and to stay down for a couple of days. Having done this, I could have made an intentional plan for how to strengthen the injured area and avoided the long term frustration I am experiencing today. The same is true of our emotional/relational/soul injuries. Exploring their etiology, understanding their impact, learning about the patterns they initiate within us could be like physical therapy for the soul. Rather than pushing through, acting like “it doesn’t hurt,” or developing a limp to compensate for the lack of strength, doing this difficult excavation might allow us to resolve the injury and improve our internal strength and our lives. If we don’t do this resolution work, we simply compensate.

Mister Rogers frequently reminded us that “whatever is mentionable is manageable.” This seems like a fitting mantra for the process of examining possible sprains to our souls. Rarely are these types of wounds easy or “fun” to explore. They can, however, be made manageable. The first step would be to tell yourself the truth about disruptions or experiences in your life that may have caused a pre-existing propensity for reactivity or pain. Finding a trusted person to wonder about these with might be a good next step. Not a person who is happy to tell you what you should do or think or feel but, rather, someone who has dealt with their own internal injuries or has proven to be sensitive to and qualified in responding to those of others. Writing or journaling which allows for honest exploration might be helpful and finding some good literature/resources around your particular kind of injury might help. A google search does not qualify here unless you use it as a jumping off point for finding content that is rich, grounded, and balanced. Ideas and interventions that at first make you squirm might be especially important to consider. Attending to interventions/messages that make you feel shamed or seem to “increase swelling” is probably a bad idea. For example, it was unwise for me to “intervene” by keeping walking in unstable shoes because if I didn’t I was “admitting defeat.” 

Too often our own internal messages about our weaknesses and pains, and those external ones that support them, are based in all sorts of wild inaccuracies. With sprains of all sorts, recovery will be slow and will happen best if approached with wisdom. Acknowledging the real injury, receiving some wise external assessment, intervening in appropriate ways, and being patient and intentional in regaining strength will help this process along. Ignoring the incident, pushing past the pain, and clenching our teeth, on the other hand, leave us vulnerable for future injuries and compensatory behaviors of all sorts. While much more involved than simply getting by and much more complicated than holding on to our rigid pain-induced proclivities, in life, as in walking, who wants to limp when they could soar?


christmas in june (thinking ahead about our tech use)

My niece turns 7 this week and is celebrating with a Christmas party. It’s June. She chose this theme for many reasons,including the generous inclusion of hot chocolate that the holiday invites. As the E3 (game developers) conference kicked off yesterday, it seems that Ella is not the only person thinking about Christmas. In keeping with retailers of all kinds, the gaming industry is whetting it’s loyal customer’s appetites about what they can look forward to this December. Live streams, constantly updating blogs, and never ending tweets emanating from the conference are bombarding me as I type.

I am particularly interested in this years’ conference because of my curiosity around how  virtual reality, 360 degree, fully immersive gaming/digital capabilities will impact our embodied lives. This is important to me because, while gaming often leads the way in digital content and product development, other entertainment enterprises are typically close behind. Following this second tier are the research, educational, and, sometimes, assistive/therapeutic applications. This is, of course, the case with virtual reality hard ware and software. While we’ll purchase the virtual reality head set for our gaming friends and family, new ways of using it will not be far behind. Porn developers, with pockets possibly even deeper than those of game developers, will offer their wares en masse as will all sorts of time sucking platforms dressed as entertainment enterprises. While these applications will create monetary windfalls, the assistive and therapeutic applications, will remain secondary, expensive, and out of reach of the mainstream. But I digress...

Digital spaces offer opportunity for escape in exceedingly powerful ways ranging from fully immersive experiences (think of the gamer who is playing with a head set and microphone) to singularly visual or auditory distraction (your partner in bed scrolling through youtube clip/news article/pandora station or playing trivia crack on their phone/tablet). When the images/sounds on the screen were square edged, pixelated images (and their auditory counterparts), it was easier to limit one’s time. When games had fewer story lines and less actions within the player’s control, there was only so long that one’s attention could be held.

Watching the trailers from Day 1 of the E3 conference, however, leads me to a place of deep empathic understanding of how compelling today’s games (and other digital forms of entertainment) are. Take the trailer for the much anticipated upcoming December release of The Last Guardian. In development for 10 plus years, the game includes a visually beautiful story line involving a massive cat/eagle creature and a young man moving fluidly through obstacles and challenges enhanced by a complex and compelling musical score.  I am not a gamer. I am deathly allergic to cats and not particularly drawn to animals. I don’t tend toward animated Japanese films. Even still, I thought the trailer was beautiful. This makes no sense. If I, who am prone to dislike both the media and the message, am drawn to it’s relational themes (between beast and boy) and sensual beauty (lush landscapes, subtle falling feathers, beautiful music), how much more so will those who want (and know how to) face into the strategic challenges of the game be drawn in? For anyone who finds embodied relationships difficult, costly, hard to find, or few and far between, the relationships available in digital spaces (with the characters we play or with the people we play with) are especially appealing.

The time to determine how we want to parse our personal and interpersonal resources is now. As individuals we are benefitted by honestly assessing the way in which we engage our embodied spaces and how our digital lives enhance or limit this. As the holiday season approaches we will be bombarded by press releases, news stories, and trailers (beautiful, stunning, interesting trailers) touting the latest and greatest of all relationships digital. Technologies will promise us opportunities to engage digital landscapes (head sets that allow you to turn your head in the game/digital environment and actually see what is behind you, etc) in never before ways. They will suggest that enhanced game play options will deepen your connection to the clans with which you (or your child, office mate, barista, etc) engage. Some games will promise to help you relax and some will offer intimate relationships with characters you yourself can fully shape. Very likely, all of these will be fun/effective/compelling/engaging. Almost certainly, they will be habit forming. 

Before we make the impulse buy, what about asking our selves the following questions:

How much of my life and energy is spent in digital spaces versus embodied ones?

Am I able to tolerate boredom? Do I ever allow idle time? Can I make and sustain eye contact? Do awkward social moments cause me undue stress? Am I personally and socially resilient?

Am I preoccupied with game strategy, social network sites, or other digital content even when I am engaging with things or people I have enjoyed in the past? Do my spoken conversation or internal dialogue center on stories or examples from digital platforms exclusively?

Do I defer to digital forms of entertainment above all others most, or all, of the time?

Once we’ve taken honest stock we can make healthy choices from the inside out rather than relying on cultural norms or marketing efforts to tell us what is best for us. For health, we need a balance. We need friends in embodied spaces in addition to those we play with (or im-personate) online.  Just like limiting Christmas to hot chocolate would be silly, so would settling for life online when so much is to be had off of it. 

If you, or someone you know, is having a hard time breaking a gaming habit that is hurting the ability to live in/tolerate their embodied life, email me. I’d be happy to help you find resources to help.


how (not) to spend a painful day

mother’s day. here we are again. rarely do days, in and of themselves, carry with them the ability to disappoint, pick at sore spots, and lay folks low as this one. perhaps your mother has caused pain or has left you prematurely, died long before she should have or by means too painful to mention. perhaps the mothers in your life wish for more recognition than feels possible or you feel inadequate to honor them appropriately. perhaps, as a mother, you secretly long for some certain kind of day and feel powerless to receive (or ask for) it. or maybe things are much more complex. perhaps you’ve lost a child, never gotten to love the child you wished for, or more. perhaps the whole day just makes you angry or sad or lonely or confusingly cranky.

it’s o.k. i get it. and so do others. they just might not know how to communicate that they do or how to get the message out to others.

on days like this there are easy things to do and there are more difficult ones. the easy things often feel like sitting and licking ones wounds. this can be important, for a season. at some point, however, this only makes the wounds larger and harder to treat. at that juncture the worst thing to do is to keep licking.

today, if you hurt, might you try a new way? not to encourage denial or to discount your pain but, rather, to nurture, to “mother” (to give the word it’s truest honor as a word that, i believe, is intended to be associated with all things loving, deeply accepting, comforting, and soothing), to care for your self. in case you need a few helpful ideas of how to apply this maternal salve and move through the day with less reactivity and discomfort, here are my best tips for “parenting your self” to a better way through a painful day.

1 acknowledge what hurts. ask a friend if you can talk for ten minutes, unleashing everything painful and negative around “mother” or “parent” without them judging or responding. if you prefer, do a brain dump and write it all out for ten straight minutes. (this might also look like you releasing the resentment or hurt of not being recognized as you wish you were. this is the other primary cause of pain today.) at the end of the ten minutes of writing or talking, imagine all the pain and difficulty outside of yourself. the words and the emotions are all released. see them there and simply let them be. there’s nothing to be done about them right now other than to let them be heard or seen and then left. focus on a sense of relief in having them expressed and determine to live as many minutes or hours as you can with the weight of them outside of you. decide this. firmly. leave them there. 

2 from the place of freedom that clearing out clutter (even if only for a short period of time...because if the clutter is intense it’s not realistic to imagine that this freedom will last forever) look up and around. what new possibility might exist for you in the next bit of time that didn’t exist when you felt weighted down and focused upon your pain, disappointment, loss, or more? getting it outside of you for a bit might allow you to see the world or other people with less “biased” glasses.

3 ask yourself what might be light hearted or meaningful to engage in from this freer place. does a nap sound good/possible? would a walk feed your soul? would reaching out to someone (for them, not you) allow your pain to recede even further (this won’t be applicable to those of you who tend to meet your own needs by making yourselves indespensable to others)? could you leave a hand picked bouquet on someone’s door step, deliver coffee to a friend who is working, hand a power bar to someone who needs one on the street, write a letter to an old friend or to the self that will one day pick those pains and hurts back up? movie theaters, favorite restaurants, parks, and music venues are all great places to take your self (even alone...sometimes especially alone). doodling, listening to your favorite music while lying between the speakers, baking your favorite treat for yourself, applying lotion...all these and more are ways of caring for yourself like the ideal mother would.

4 follow through. don’t lose this opportunity to “mother/parent” your most needful and honest self. the worst thing to do is to sit in the pain, to hang out where it hurts, until pity sets in and robs you of opportunity. yes, denial is unhealthy. repression doesn’t help. “mothering,” in it’s truest form, however, is neither of these and is most potent when applied to a hurting other. sometimes that “other” is our self.

the “easiest” thing is often the most problematic for your health and healing in the long run. trust that release is o.k. (even if only to the paper in front of you). look up and around, get creative and get moving. let the “mother” that is you love you well and imperfectly. in doing so it just might pour out to others as well. as a mother’s love ideally does...