Looking back and thinking forward

Month: April, 2012

Becoming a senior

Quote of the day:

A child's hand in yours — what tenderness it arouses, what power it conjures. You are instantly the very touchstone of power and wisdom. Marjorie Holmes from CCIE

Come to think of it, becoming a senior is not only about receiving those helpful discounts on trains, or at the movies. Nor is it about aches and pains, eating right, getting enough exercise, and being sure to take all those vitamins.

It is most certainly about a state of mind. Yes indeed. And I am not talking about that saying that I constantly hear lately – spoken like some kind of platitude or sympathy gesture: "You're only as old as you feel …"


No. I am writing here about something more philosophical that is connected to the human spirit, my psyche, and soul. For, as I was going about the morning-Ada rituals early today, I realized that life is no longer about the angst and urgency of feeling lovable or sexy enough, as I used to experience when I was younger. Now it is about close friendships, a beautiful spring morning, or witnessing the first yellow rose of the season in my back yard. In fact, there is something child-like about this different kind of life attitude. Because it is situated in the moment, here and now. Young children don't care about yesterday or tomorrow. They experience each moment as they live it. That's why they can never seem to remember what they did at school a few hours prior to their parents asking, "So what did you do in school today?" It is also why teaching them the calendar at ages three to five years is so senseless and ridiculous. Because, honestly, who cares what day it is unless it is today … right here … right now … ? 

Since growing into my sixties these past three years, each day, each moment, right here and now, is where I am happiest. Regrets about the past and wishing I could have done it better are becoming more fleeting, not as excruciating as before. Looking to the future seems futile because I have no idea what even today will bring lately. Am so thankful to wake up after a full night's sleep, and feel little Ada's paw on my face as she looks into my eyes telling me she needs her treats. I almost always feel a smile creep into into my lips.

Indeed, this morning as I squeezed grapefruit juice into the glass to help wash down that huge pile of vitamins waiting for me, I thought to myself, "Well, what on earth was all that angst about when I was young?" And then I sighed contentedly, walked up the three flights of stairs to my study thankful that the muscles did not ache when I reached the top, and sat at my computer to write this post. Ada nestled into her little bed next to me, and fell fast asleep … peacefully.

Seven years ago at Tamarika: I belong to it all, it belongs to me

Healing dimensions: Part IV

Quote of the day:

"I most often find that happiness is right where I planted it." Written on my favorite coffee mug by Curly Girl Design.


Of course, I cannot emphasize enough how much of an impact the kindness and support of people I have met along my life's journey has had on my healing. For, each experience that shakes up distorted realities I had confirmed and reconfirmed about me, starts a relearning and reorganizing of the emotional memory templates in my brain. Knowing when to reach out and hold onto those people, who helped me see a different version of myself was, and still is, critical to the restoration of my wounded psyche. 

I could not have taken this road alone, although, at the same time it has often felt like such a solitary process. As I read over these words, I realize that this sounds like some kind of introduction to an acknowledgement section of my memoir. But, quite honestly I am humbled by the kindness of strangers I have encountered so many times just when I thought I had reached the various seemingly dead ends in my life. Indeed, I think that one of my strengths is the ability to recognize these people when they arrive! 

They share some common qualities: the ability to listen – really listen; believe my story and validate my feelings; know how to be there with me without giving advice; even know how to sit together in silence if necessary; be genuinely glad to see me; and make an effort to see me as a priority from time to time. This is not stated as a judgement of how people should be. It is more like a way for me to clarify the characteristics that have been helpful for me to learn how to fill the hole in my soul.

Lately, just having it reinforced repeatedly that I am not crazy to have the feelings I have, has been the most healing of all. Here, could follow a detailed list of people I have met along the way describing moments in time, quotes, insights, or behaviors that have influenced me. I sense a stirring of memories of such things, and an itching to write it all down. That will have to be for another time, or perhaps a different venue.

Suffice it to say that this morning I am feeling grateful for those who have accompanied me, and others who still do. In their/your honor, I might even dedicate a celebratory planting in the already flourishing garden for this most welcomed rainy Earth Day. 

Seven years ago at Tamarika: It's like bird watching. You see what you know

Benevolent dictator


As the days become longer, brighter, and sweeter, I enjoy spending time outside in my garden, weeding, watering and digging. There are robins who hop, hop, hop next to me as I break up and move around the earth. I like to think they are enjoying being with me, even though I know they are hoping for me to uncover some worms or insects for their delight. When I come back into the house, often times Ada is sitting by the window mewing as she stares out waiting for my return. I feel a sharp twinge of pain in my stomach as I see her little eyes peeking through the window pane, her mouth propped slightly open in the call she is making. 

I cannot help but feel I am a dictator to Ada Mae, albeit benevolent. For it hurts me that she is not allowed out of the house to smell the spring blossoms, chase butterflies, and chirp away at the birds playing and drinking in the bird bath as she used to in our former apartment by the Wissahickon. Our house is situated right on the edge of one of the busiest streets in Philadelphia, and I fear for her life. And so, she has become an indoor cat. Now, with the mighty big house we live in, she has plenty of nooks and crannies, stairs to climb and multiple window seats to snuggle into to peer out of the windows. But what about the fresh sweet air of spring?


I think about this each time I enjoy my time playing out in our beautiful garden, and weep within for my darling cat. I am torn between keeping her safe from harm, versus allowing her freedom in the outdoors.

But then again, boundaries or setting limits … have always been a challenge for me …

… ah, and that I shall leave for a whole other blog post at another time …

Seven years ago at Tamarika: Hearts drawn backwards

Healing dimensions: Part III

Owning my power

Recently, the subject of power came up in a discussion with my therapist. At one point he suggested that I fear my personal power. In a way I related to what he said, because I have felt helpless about so many aspects of my life throughout my younger adulthood, and especially these past seven years or so since we moved to Philadelphia from Buffalo. I stumbled out to my car and reflected on our talk all the way to work. However, as it so often happens after an eventful and challenging therapy session, I soon lose myself into teaching, writing, and meetings, and I forgot all about his suggestion that I am afraid to feel my power. 

This morning as I was jogging slowly along in the brilliant morning sun, flowers bursting out of the trees and yards around, birds chirping and singing, and fellow walkers and joggers passing me by with welcoming smiles and warm greetings – I felt powerful. Sensing joy deep within and an affinity with everything around me, the feeling was palpable. It was right there, in that moment. Indeed, my feet seemed to barely touch the ground with the enormity of the sensation.

I wondered about the idea of personal power. I think I had interpreted it all these years as something aggressive: like being able to laud it over someone, beat them at something by being better than them, get "it" all right and never be wrong, convince others to think or behave like me, be thinner, more beautiful, smarter than everyone else, know it all and if I don't then at least pretend knowing it all. In short, power represented some kind of constant competition – a battle for acknowledgement that I am right, and being able to control to make it happen – that is – force everyone to know it too! Part of what I learned about power had to do with action and reaction. Indeed, it seemed that if I did not react or act immediately I was weak, or would show that someone else had won.

Throughout my reflections this morning during the cool down section of my work-out, I realized that I must have learned this interpretation of power in my early childhood from those nearest and dearest to me, as well as from participating in the competitive culture around me. This represented a way to survive within relationships and in ones professional life. As it became clearer to me I suddenly understood that if this had become my interpretation of power, then of course I would not want it!

Indeed, it was not so much that I feared it, as I had chosen to reject it.

I realized that during my healing process these past several years, I am learning and developing a different kind of strength that is connected to the idea of holding still. The more I learn to hold still the more I am able to let go of that which is not about me, and allow others to accept their own responsibility whether they want to or not. Learning to accept that other people are different from me and I from them, and not struggling to make them replicas of me, or on the other hand, not trying to be like them. Holding still in the moment is teaching me slowly, bit by bit, to recognize, understand and validate my feelings. That way I am sometimes able to plunge through the rage and hurt, and emerge on the other side where forgiveness awaits with open arms to comfort and soothe my wounds.

Even more importantly, I am realizing that holding still means I do not have to act or react in response to everything. Not knowing what to do, or not having all the answers does not have to scare or weaken me. Pain, anger, joy, fear … feelings … are all part of who I am as a human being … are all part of the human condition. If I stay still and work out what I am feeling, I will be able to find solutions later. 

Patience makes me stronger.

Seven years ago at Tamarika: Born again; & Don't worry

Healing dimensions: Part II

The next stage of healing for me is the continuous patterned, repetitive situations and interactions that are different to what I experienced growing up as a child. These are helpful in discarding self destructive realities my brain stored away in its earliest, emotional memory templates. Positive, supportive experiences began soon after I arrived in America 24 years ago. This is not to say they did not happen throughout my young adult life. Indeed, slowly and subtly, people have always had an impact on the way I feel about myself ever since I can remember. However, it all became more vibrant, urgent, and frequent soon after I gave myself a second chance, and consciously made the choice to better my life.

I am not sure if it was my anonymity, or perhaps my British colonial accent that made people support, acknowledge and encourage me since I arrived in the United States. Or maybe they genuinely liked me. This is a concept I am starting to enjoy believing only very recently. I am not sure about the whys or wherefores, but I do know that continuous positive experiences throughout the past twenty four years have had an effect on drowning out the negative messages in my brain, bit by bit, and healing me deeply as I begin to believe a different reality about my Self. With each constructive, positive interaction or situation, I relearn and re-experience who I am. Since I came here, the warm reception of my work and what I have to offer, has spurred me on, and inspired me to achievements I did not know I was capable of before. 

Bruce Perry talks about patterned, repetitive experiences of nurturing, and compassionate caring of children as especially critical for attachment and the development of early memory templates in the brain. Each time I hear him speak about this (and I have heard him many times), I am struck by how he says it. As he speaks, his body sways back and forth as if rocking an infant in his arms, while one hand seems to be patting and stroking her gently with a rhythmic motion like the heart beat the baby has heard repetitively in her mother's womb. It is a mesmerizing and powerful demonstration of what young children need for their brain development.

Lately, I imagine patterned, repetitive experiences nurturing me with compassionate caring, swayed with a rhythmic motion as if from the heart beat of the center of earth's core, or the waving back and forth of the tops of trees blown by a gentle, comforting breeze. This enables me to allow myself to become more trusting than before, when I used to feel victimized, marginalized, and a sense of low self worth. Healing in this way supports me in making a conscious choice to open my heart and let others in.

Healing dimensions

Part I: The journey begins.

Twenty four years ago, I packed up a few bags, grabbed my son by his hand and fled to a distant land, leaving behind almost everything I materially possessed, family, and friends. I had known it was coming. The need to fly away had been building up for sometime – at least about two years prior, or so.

I was unaware that in a way I was trying to escape my past, and more specifically, my childhood. I was unaware that I was about to embark on a healing journey, and that in order to heal I would have to do the very thing I was running from: confront the emotional memories I had stored from the earliest years of my life. Indeed, I would have to re-experience the ancient pains and wounds that I had so skillfully learned to defend myself from. In fact, in order to heal, I would need to allow myself to validate the feelings I had worked so hard to deny.

The process of healing really began in October, 1987 when I visited America for a month to check out the feasibility of studying at the University at Buffalo. I was staying at the house of a professor who was recruiting me, and introducing me to the university as well as the area of Western New York. One morning I was sitting in his back yard holding a mug of coffee in my hand and swaddled in a new coat I had bought as soon after my plane had landed, because I had not anticipated the crisp, brisk cold of fall that greeted me when I arrived in Buffalo, New York! As I sat on a lawn chair staring out at a little grove of trees lining the edge of the yard, I marvelled at the silence and peace, interrupted only by the sound of birds here and there. All at once I felt a rush of emotion, and thought to myself, "I can make anything I want of myself in this country if I just put my mind to it. I can have a second chance." In point of fact, I am not sure that I was aware of what type of second chance I would have. Whether it was about acquiring a higher education, or making a change in my personal relationships. Perhaps it was a bit of both. I thought, too, of my teenage son. I could keep him out of the army, and give him more opportunity than I would ever be able to as a single parent back home. 

Indeed, I had just entered the first dimension of healing by simply experiencing the feeling that I deserved a chance (second or first – it did not matter which number it was) at opportunity and fulfillment: I had a choice - I could make my life – our lives – better.

One year ago at Mining Nuggets: Fill 'er up …

Seven years ago at Tamarika: And know the place for the first time; & Moise David Israel