Archives for Relationships

Mentoring

Are You a “Giving Tree?”

Once upon a time, I made a new friend. Over time, we became very close. When we first met, she mentored me. As we got to know each other better, we mentored each other. Then things shifted and I began supporting her through some of the toughest times a human being can endure. During those years, she gifted me with a book by Shel Silverstein called "The Giving Tree." This book talked about a relationship between a boy and a tree. The tree loved the boy, and the boy loved the tree back. But whereas the tree's love was unconditionally giving, the boy's love was focused on getting. At first, this was so innocent - after all, the boy was little. He needed a lot from the tree, and the tree gave it all willingly. But as the boy grew up, he continued to take. The tree continued to give. At last, the boy had grown old himself. He had taken so much from the tree that only a stump remained. Then the tree gave him even this. The book ends with these words, "And the tree was happy." 
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Inspirational

Faith is Faith

So it is now early into month 5 of "The Year of Having Faith." This morning I had a startling revelation. I was contemplating one of my all-time favorite films, "Contact." In the film, Jodie Foster's character, a brilliant agnostic scientist, challenges Matthew McConaughey's character, a brilliant author and man of faith, to prove God exists. He asks her, "Your father - did you love him? She replies, "Yes - very much!" He says, "Prove it."
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Emotions

I Hate You (You Hurt Me)

I learn a lot from Facebook. I mean, not from Facebook itself, but from the awesome folks I meet there. Recently, a sweet friend tagged me in a post featuring 17 slides. Each slide addressed an area of life where people commonly struggle. I scrolled through, and the slide that first caught my eye said this: Anger is a natural defense against pain. So when someone says "I hate you" it really means "you hurt me." This statement hit home like, well, (insert compelling sports metaphor featuring fastball + pro athlete here). And (just for clarification's sake) I don't mean to imply on any level that "I hate you" doesn't also mean "I hate you." But under that feeling of anger, rage or hate, more and more these days I am personally finding pain. Hurt. OUCH. To further complicate matters, I'm learning that sometimes, when I say "I hate you" to someone else, I really am talking to myself. Sometimes I am talking to both of us. Sometimes I am addressing the circumstances rather than any particular person, or I'm stomping my inner 2-year-old's frustrated little foot, because, after all, life isn't fair! Saying (or shouting, or even thinking) "I hate you" is sometimes the fastest, easiest, and most effective means of getting the e-motion OUT. So the hate-feeling often comes first. But then the pain hits. Then the grief process begins to unfold, with its denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and (if I'm lucky) whatever I needed to learn that can lead to an eventual acceptance and the ability to move along. Why is this realization so impactful for me? I would have to say it is because I used to hear myself thinking or speaking the words "I hate you" and I would immediately stop whatever I was feeling/thinking/doing to jump on myself with judgment and condemnation. 
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Inspirational

When We Surprise Ourselves

I'm not sure exactly when I began to believe I didn't have any surprises left in store for myself. After all, I still learn new things about other people and my pets each and every day. But at some point I guess I just stopped paying attention to myself in that way...like there wasn't going to be anything new left to learn about me. That ended last month. It has taken me a bit of time to wrap my mind around what I recently discovered about myself, but it has been time well spent. By that I mean, I've needed the in-between processing time to finish a big task I set for myself - constructing my growing baby tortoise's new habitat. My red-foot tortoise, Malti, is one and a half years old and nearly 4 inches long. She is growing fast, and her habitat must grow with her. This is more challenging than just buying a bigger enclosure for several reasons: 
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Good News

How to Get to Know the Real YOU

I have spent years searching for the "real me." Every so often I would catch this fleeting glimpse of someone - a free, funny, warm, spontaneous, creative, loving, laughter-filled being - as she moved through me. I would try to follow her, but she was very quick....so quick she often seemed to be formed out of sheer wishful thinking or my (always) overactive imagination. But I kept searching for her anyway. I kept searching because she was irresistible. She was marvelous. On the days she would spontaneously flit through me, the effect was not unlike finding out the FBI had just caught the real suspect and the handcuffs could finally come off. The jail cell door was opened and I could go home now. I was free. 
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Animal Mentors

Me as a Naked Ape

Recently I read a fascinating book called "The Naked Ape." Written by zoologist Desmond Morris in 1966 - four years before I was born - it nevertheless reads like "breaking news" in the ongoing human-animal consciousness debate. Morris states quite matter-of-factly in his introduction that he has always both liked and felt more comfortable with animals than with people. He discloses that his work on "The Naked Ape" book is in part an attempt to help remedy that. His literary premise is therefore fairly simple: by stripping humanity of its rather glamorous "top of the food chain" status and simply taking a look at lifestyle, behavior, breeding, feeding, fighting, even anatomy from an apples-to-apples, ape-to-ape perspective, perhaps it will then become possible to feel more connected to the vast variety of non-human life that exists all around us. Maybe, in this sense, Morris's goal is to finally discover some sense of normalcy - a feeling that he, that we, belong here on this planet we are so intent on dominating and (these days) over-populating. 
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Animal Mentors

Is Your Pet an Emotional Support Companion Animal?

I can answer this question on my own behalf - YES. and YES. My 15-year-old parrot, Pearl, and my nearly-2-year-old tortoise, Malti, are two members of my closest support circle. I work from home, and guess who shares my tiny office with me (it is actually more "their" office that I share with them!). They come with me to most family events and all Sunday brunches at my folks' house (where they are pampered and spoiled while I occupy myself by doing the brunch dishes and documenting each occasion with multiple cute photos). In fact, in pondering this question further, I can honestly say Pearl and Malti are vital - essential - in terms of their ability to keep me on an even keel in what often feels like a very uneven-feeling world. Recently my brother and sister-in-law launched a crowdfunding effort to assist with training a service dog for my three-year-old nephew, FuMing. As it turns out, this is not an easy or cheap undertaking, especially if the child in question is under the age of 12. So here (and as my perhaps all-time favorite article on the topic clearly details) there is a different between a trained service animal (usually a dog) and a registered emotional support animal, or ESA. There are many differences. I think the most critical difference is the training aspect. Service animals are formally trained and certified, and many who go through the process don't make the final cut (I found this out when a friend of mine volunteered to train a candidate dog for a year, then was able to adopt him when he didn't qualify in the final round). Emotional support animals, on the other hand, go through no formal training process at the moment. The process to register an animal as an ESA basically involves two parts: a) stating you have an emotional issue or need, and b) forking over some cash. 
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Relationships

A Possible Definition for “Normal”

As I've continued reading Dr. Emily Nagoski's "Come As You Are the surprising new science that will transform your sex life," I've happened across all kinds of very surprising new insights indeed. But very few have been about actual s.e.x. For example, an eye-popper that crossed my mind right before lights out last night: Why is normal the goal? What do people really want when they want to be normal? I think that to feel normal is to belong." What if our continual ruminations (individually and as a society) on the word "normal" have far more to do with our early clan and tribe days than with today's oh-so-independent and largely low-risk lifestyle? What if, to our ancient limbic/reptilian brain that just wants to help us survive, this is what "not normal" translates to mean: I'm not normal. = I am an outcast. = I must live alone with no one else to rely on. = I will likely be lunch for a hungry predator very soon. 
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Animal Mentors

How Parrots Can Help People with PTSD

Out in California, something special is taking place. At a sanctuary called Serenity Park, traumatized parrots and traumatized people are connecting for mutual healing. What is interesting about this is, well, pretty much everything (of course, as a lifelong parrot lover, I may be just a touch biased here). The people participants are formerly homeless veterans (both men and women) victimized by the many and varying traumas associated with wartime military service. The parrot participants have been victimized by a different kind of war - mainly abuse by or loss of their human owners. On both sides, there are emotional and mobility issues to contend with. But in all cases, it is clear that the interspecies participants' minds are still sharp and eager to heal. Speaking of minds, there is no doubt in mine that the pioneering work of Dr. Irene Pepperberg and her now-passed African Grey parrot, Alex, (two of my own most cherished mentors) are responsible for laying the foundation for what is going on at Serenity Park right now. Thanks to Alex & Dr. Pepperberg, we know that parrots can display emotional and cognitive abilities to rival young humans. We know they feel deeply, form intense social bonds, understand abstract reasoning and have the capacity to develop complex and extensive vocabularies. This means that, in some capacity, parrots may be even better suited than dogs to participate in animal-assisted therapy as service and support partners. Perhaps this is what veteran volunteer Lilly Love meant when she told New York Times reporter Charles Siebert, You can look in their eyes....any of these parrots’ eyes, and I myself see a soul. I see a light in there. And when they look at you, they see right into your soul. Look around. They’re all watching. They notice everything. It’s intense. 
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Mentoring

Healing Stress by Completing the Cycle

Although it is a very important topic, I seldom write about intimacy (aka s.e.x.) here...or anywhere. It is a very personal thing to write about, or talk about, or even think about. But I read about it more these days, in the sense of trying to figure out answers to questions I have and to find a barometer for where I "fit" in the spectrum of intimate interests and needs. I mention this because recently I checked out a book from the local library called "Come As You Are: the Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life," by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. Now I should preface this by saying that books with titles like this one often make me feel irritable. This is because they make me uncomfortable. And the last thing I want to do late at night (which is usually when I have time for "free reading" that is not related to required work) is read something that makes me feel uncomfortable. But since John Grisham isn't likely to have the answers to the questions I have in this particular area, I typically try to soldier on and get through whatever the book of the week happens to be. In this particular book's case, I'm glad I chose to stick with it, because I may have finally discovered one of the biggest missing pieces that continues to hold me back in certain areas of my ongoing recovery journey. This is called "completing the cycle." To illustrate how it works, Dr. Nagoski gives an example from the animal world (see why I'm glad I stuck with it?). To summarize - Suppose you are a deer. You are placidly enjoying your lunch when suddenly a hungry lion decides you look like its lunch. You sound the alarm and start running very, very fast. Here, there are two potential outcomes. Outcome A: you don't escape and the lion enjoys its lunch very much. Outcome B: you do escape. Let's say you do escape. Whew. This is great news, of course. But it is what you do next that can determine how that close call affects your life in the future. Most human beings tend to move right away to take care of the issue causing the stress (this is called "dealing with the stressor" - in this particular scenario it would be outrunning the lion). When we are done with that task, we tell ourselves very grown-up-sounding unhelpful things like, "well, that is dealt with now so you can just get over it and move on." And then we wonder why we can't sleep for nights or weeks or we turn to alcohol or food or other numbing behaviors to help us rest. Animals, on the other hand, do things very differently. And what they do usually tends to work much better. 
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