Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year Wishes for 2012

This time, between celebrating Jesus' birth at Christmas and the New Year - in this case 2012 AD, is a time of tender celebration and quiet reflection within my soul.

I am grateful that the chaotic mess that I call family showed up and celebrated Christmas Eve with food, conversation and simple gifts this year. A few friends came which added a richness to the mix. We had folks from age two years to eighty-four years. What a blessing.

And, how can I not be thrilled that my little grandson spent Christmas Eve with us and then woke up Christmas morning here? Nothing is better than a four- year old's wonder and joy!

As the New Year fast approaches, I am struck by the tension in the air - cultural, economic, political, down to family changes and unknown results of seeds being planted by decisions made where all that I can do is acknowledge the action and pray.

My own vantage point as a woman in a family, community of friends and neighbors, counselor - give me pause. No matter where I sit, I have to ask: What are we doing to our environment? our culture? our democracy? ourselves? our children and grandchildren?

This morning I took a walk. A different kind of walk. This one was about getting off the meditation cushion and doing a walking meditation outside. In the cold. Feeling winter. Listening to the birds. Seeing the naked trees with broken branches everywhere from recent winds blowing through the tops.

I tell my clients that there is consciousness that abounds in every living thing- that it doesn't just reside in the brain. Every cell has consciousness. Every cell resonates to create harmony or let us know when things are out of balance (hence, illness, disease, etc.). The heart is connected. The gut is a part of this. Our legs and arms also have their own consciousness and part to play in living out the great Mystery.

We are not alone. We are not separate from each other.

This consciousness is easier for me to imagine when I walk in the midst of the lush green during the moist heat of summertime. However, I'm standing outside on a winter morning wrapped in several layers.

As I walked, I wanted to melt into the frozen ground and fly with the birds. I wanted to sing out a beautiful song into the crisp air. I wanted to breath deeply and release myself to it all. I wanted the airplane above to be carried along on unseen clouds of love in the blue sky.

Mindfulness means holding these thoughts lightly in the heart.

For a brief moment, I connected with the word "embodied." Yes, consciousness embodied in me, in you, in the trees, the birds, the hills, the river. Just as the Buddhists talk about a tree's treeness or a frog's frog nature, I was feeling my heartgarden-ness and my heart was pierced with joy and sadness.

After a few moments, my consciousness was back to just walking, feeling my feet on the ground, my heart beating, the breath breathing. The birds were the ones singing. As much as my flight of fancy and consciousness was broadened just a few minutes before, I was now back to chronos time, ordinary time.

It's best this way. The expansive beauty and quiet joy from touching something bigger than one's physical experience isn't very practical. Back to the laundry, the dishes, writing notes, practicing the harp. But the heart is lighter for it.

My prayer is for sanity, beauty and grace - for you and your family, for the world. May it be so. May all be well with your soul this coming year and in the years to come.

Monday, December 12, 2011

In my field of pastoral counseling, there is a concept called counter trans ference. This is when the counselor's personal stuff gets activated and they am not emotionally present for the other client. This can cause big problems in the counseling relationship.

I am in the midst of one of those times.

I recently was working on returning to a part-time counseling center where the clients struggle with poverty, violence and addiction - in addition to their mental health issues.

It is a tough place to work at. The last time I worked there, ten days into the job, the office building was set on fire. It is believed that it was an act of arson from a client's family member. Thankfully, the fire took place in the middle of the night and no one was hurt. Needless to say, staff and clients carried on in cramped quarters nearby until new space could be found.

I often lost sleep worrying about whether a psychotic patient would act out on their delusions; or, I would go over the details of a case to sort out what was likely true and what might be drug-seeking behaviors. It was a pretty common pattern to come in on Monday morning to a voicemail message stating that a client had been hospitalized over the weekend.

Last week, I learned of a new and damaging piece of news in my family that reactivated deep grief and fear. I call this part of my family life, the gift that keeps on giving. Don't know when or how it will show up; but somehow, it never goes away. This traumatic aspect of family life sometimes seems dormant. Yet, I can never trust that it will be resolved. Because, it hasn't.

This most recent news created a crater of grief, a death of sorts. Something I had hoped had been put to bed turns out to have regrouped in a more disturbing form. I had a gut feeling that this might be perculating, so it wasn't a total surprise. It is just that it continues to ravage any sense of normalcy I keep wishing for in my family.

After deep reflection at my Quaker meeting for worship yesterday, I knew that I needed to call this job and ask them to find someone else to take the position that I was to start this week. There was no way I could responsibly serve these clients who have had so much trauma already in their lives and be any good to them or me.

I called the director and explained as best I could that I had a countertransference issue that had been activated. I couldn't see my way past this at the moment. She was very understanding and encouraged me to call back when I was in a better place.

My voice was trembling by the end of the brief conversation. I need the work; I need the clinical hours. How am I ever going to complete my licensure requirements?

After several years of dancing around the path that has lead down the pastoral counseling track, I am seeing more clearly that this work has been largely about coping with my own family. Now the question becomes: can I do this work; and if so, under what conditions? Or, do I need to find something less raw?

Is this even possible? I don't know.

During this Advent season, I am having a hard time connecting to the message of hope from my own personal story to the big mess our world is in.

Somehow Mary was able to muster a YES to God and accepted the responsibility of bringing the miracle of Jesus into the world. Did she know what she was saying yes to?

In the Book of Luke, Simeon recognized the baby Jesus at the temple and then told Mary that her heart would be pierced. Is this the lot of all mothers?

Now what, God?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Holiday Stress

It happened again: I stayed around for the Thanksgiving holidays and got sick. As it turns out, I made it through the dinners before coming down with a virus. That's progress.

The good news is that this time it wasn't as debilitating as I have had in the past.

Therapists and healers in the past have helped me connect the dots between stress and the body.

What's the deal this time? We had one meal with my partner's people and another meal with our kids/grandson two days later. (There was a time when we did three meals in a day for major holidays.)

This year I had told my mom that I wasn't planning on going to my maternal grandmother's place for the dinner that mom prepares. But mom called the eve of Thanksgiving to make sure that my youngest daughter knew that she was invited (which she did) and then added that my foster brother was going to be bored with just old people at the dinner. (Sorry bro.)

The guilt flooded me for hours afterwards. I didn't want to let them down.

But here is the thing, the form of celebration with my parents isn't anything to look forward to. In fact, it feels like a dead form of something that no longer works.

Mom seems to be trying to revive memories of when my grandmother had 40-50 people from the family and neighborhood over for dinner. For this Depression Era set of grandparents, Thanksgiving was a big deal.

My grandparents ran a general store that was open 363 days a year - with Thanksgiving and Christmas being the only days the store was closed. They were hard workers and enjoyed celebrating the abundance they did not have in their earlier years.

Grandma had a stroke 10 years ago, which has severely limited her abilities. She's been in decline for so long that she's been in hospice for the past year. She has not been moved from the bed because of bedsore problems for the last six months, except when my mother comes over for Sunday or holidays meals. Then she is propped up at the table and fed - even if she is asleep.

None of my mother's siblings come nor their kids to these "celebrations." And, my two sisters don't participate either. This is not to say that my mom and her siblings are not heavily involved in her care - they are.

We are now at the point where eating at Grandma's is like trying to relive a past that no longer exists. I feel for my mom.

A few years ago, I couldn't take it anymore and found people to visit over the holidays. No illnesses those winters.

Two years ago, I thought I needed to support my mom and attend. I got sick for the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Maybe I was just exposed to particularly virulent germs when this happens. Just bad luck.

In talking with women whose families are grown and whose elders are dying or dead, we are all grappling with how to create celebrations or be with celebrations that serve us and our families.

I'm getting sick and tired of trying to get this right. As a beloved friend has been reminding me for the past year, each moment is precious. Let's find the joy and celebrate that.