Archives for Relationships

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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Mentoring

Meditation in Times of Distress

I used to think meditation was something you would only want to do when times got tough. Like - "I'm feeling sad and lonely. I should meditate." Or - "I didn't get what I want and I'm bummed out. I should meditate." And I actually used to feel slightly embarrassed, or ashamed, or some combination thereof, when I would make time to meditate. As if - if I had "a life," I wouldn't even have time to pursue a solitary practice like meditation in the first place. Of course, these beliefs arose in me during the early 90's, when "meditation" wasn't a word you heard spoken in public very often (or at all). Today, the level of public openness to talking about and practicing meditation in its many wonderful forms has greatly expanded. Happily, my ability to meditate has also improved since those first awkward attempts back in 1990. More importantly, so has my perspective on where, how, when and why meditation fits so well into my daily life. Looking back now, I can see how there have been so many moments when my willingness and discipline to meditate in times of peace has come to my rescue in times of distress. 
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Emotions

The Bully in the Schoolyard

I love my neighborhood. Packed full of vintage charm, some of the houses (including the one I live in) have been in existence far longer than I have! My neighbors are friendly and we have a thriving online neighborhood message board to share news about safe and not-so-safe local happenings. One street over, there is a quiet little house with a yard sign posted out front. The sign reads: War is not the answer. I see it several times each week when I'm out walking, and I always find myself nodding as I read those words. And then I start to feel sad. And confused. And irked. 
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Mentoring

Can’t We All Just Get Along (on Mars)?

Over the last year or two I've become most intrigued by news of NASA's plans for an upcoming mission to Mars. I still remember the first time I ever saw a reference to visiting Mars in the news. At first I thought it was the review of a new movie....or maybe a joke op ed piece. In fact, I even remember thinking, "Oh yah, right - sure we're planning to go to Mars." Then I kept reading and it slowly dawned on me that the writer was serious. And their intel appeared to be good. Since then, here and there I've continued to keep an ear to the ground for new news, which lately has been popping up everywhere. The latest? NASA just got a budgetary bonus along with some fairly unambiguous marching orders about producing a prototype habitation device for human deep space travel. Fabulous. But I've certainly never entertained the thought of vying for a spot on the team roster. To be honest, I get queasy unless I ride in the front seat of the car. And I really like my personal space. Plus if my parrot and my baby tortoise can't come with me, I'm not going either. So this week I've been asking myself, "Just what is it about this Mars thing that's got you so riveted?" Then a Facebook friend shared this article. As I read the four astronauts' comments on why they want to be astronauts and why they hope to be included in the initial Mars manned mission, it hit me. 
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