Looking back and thinking forward

Month: June, 2014

Writing again

It's time to get writing again. New book contract signed, and thoughts are swirling. Indeed, I feel as if I am already writing the book in my head. Thoughts and observations, memories and ideas are coming at me faster than I can handle. So, I suspect that very soon I will sit right to it and let the words flow out onto the page. Recently I read a quote by Geneen Roth, that stirred the writing juices even more, for it brought up my personal story so dramatically that I knew I would be using pieces of it in my new book. For, in the telling of my own story, I encourage others to reflect on theirs.

To the extent that we go into survival mode—I can’t feel this, I won’t feel this, it hurts too much, it will kill me—we are slipping into baby skins, old forms, familiar selves. Young children, especially infants, mediate the pain of loss or abandonment or abuse through the body; there is no difference between physical and emotional pain. If the pain is too intense and the defenses are too weak, a child will become psychotic and/or die. It is life-saving for a child to develop defenses that allow her to leave a situation she can’t physically leave by shutting down her feelings or turning to something that soothes her. But if, as adults, we still believe that pain will kill us, we are seeing through the eyes of the fragile selves we once were and relying on the exquisite defense we once developed: bolting. Obsessions are a way we leave before we are left because we believe that the pain of staying would kill usGeneen Roth.

Roth sums up pretty much everything I have been working on in therapy so intensively these past four years or so. While, her work deals with people's obsessions with food, my internal ethnography has helped me understand how, as an adult, I still believe pain will kill me. It is this realization that is helping me hold still with discomfort, and observe quietly and slowly so that I can make a connection with it, and let go of the fear. I understand that developing defense mechanisms saved me when I was growing up.

But giving up ancient survival skills that are now irrelevant or obsolete is a tough thing to do. For they were developed to help me survive! 

The secrets of my success

Today, as I drove into work, I found myself wondering what I would say if I was ever asked in an interview about what I considered the secrets of my success. 

"First," I thought, "I had the courage to face myself with self reflection through therapy and in-depth, internal ethnography."

Second: I learned to hold still with painful feelings of anger and regret – not suppress or deny them – especially in the face of hurtful behaviors from others. When I validate my feelings, I find space to understand that other people's behaviors are not about me – rather they are manifestations of their own insecurities, stuck in old, irrelevant paradigms, or seeking blame outside of themselves.

Third – and this has been key for me: Allowing myself to experience my feelings opens me up to send love and light out to those who hurt me, and, then just let them go.

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Spirituality

The “International Women Walkers of Corfu.”


 The final trail

It has been a couple of weeks since my return from Corfu, where I joined 7 other women for what turned out to be a 50 mile hike around the southern part of the island. The past two days as I have been out for my morning 4-mile walk around my neighborhood, I discovered that the week spent in Corfu is still very much with me. For starters, it became a way of celebrating my sixty fifth birthday, so just by virtue of that fact, it was an important adventure. Second, it was a way to bridge two important relationship worlds in my life – my dear, good friend, and a very important (for me) in-law from America, meeting with my sisters and great niece from Israel. Indeed, I had not realized how important it was for me that one group get to know the other. In a way it helped me feel less anonymous in my new found American life, as well as showing a different side of me to my Israeli family. Third, it was just a good time to walk through olive groves, a wide variety of brightly colored wild flowers, and along spectacular coast lines of the Greek island of Corfu, not to mention the food: daily eggs, salads, feta cheeses, assortment of fish, wholesome bread with local wines and olive oils, and even roasted chicken!


 Brightly-colored wild flowers.

I enjoyed spending time with every person, each one contributing their personality, idiosyncrasies, knowledge, and emotion to the group as a whole. Whatever transpired, we all got along well, solving problems and accepting one another with friendship, and even love. There just wasn't one moment of mean spiritedness. 


 The Women Walkers!

My two older sisters are truly devoted to each other. Sue, the oldest, would rise out of bed every morning early enough to make a special cup of coffee for Elise, our hiking leader. If I stayed over with Elise the night before, I would wait to hear the "tap-tap" on the door, and then Sue would walk in laying out her coffee-making equipment she had lovingly brought all the way from Israel. She would chat about this and that as Elise and I would slowly open our eyes, sit up in bed to receive the desperately needed morning elixir. On the trail, Elise would take great care to know how her sisters were doing and feeling every step of the way. 

At times during the hike I would burst into song – usually an Israeli song because the flora and heat would remind me of my old homeland. Ruhama, who loves her country with a passion, would immediately join in very spiritedly if she hadn't already started up a song of her own. It was always spontaneous and joyous helping us with the long, sometimes challenging, trails. 

My two American companions had open minds and hearts to allow in three different cultures all at once: Greek, Israeli, and my family! They listened to stories and shared their own, and as they walked they also took care of anyone who needed their help. My heart swelled with love and pride for them both. And we laughed a lot. 

Youngest among us was Jasmine, my great niece, Sue's granddaughter. She had put up with quite a lot of teasing from her friends about joining a group of older women for a hike around a Greek Island, but she came along nevertheless. At every moment there she was with her camera, photographing her story, her view of the walk with the women. I urged her to write about her impressions, but in the end I think her photographs told an even better tale. I am sure she learned a lot about her family members, about aging in general, and who knows what else … 

Endurance is the key to a long and challenging hike up and down mountain paths, in and out of terraced olive groves, and especially along miles of sandy beaches in the hot sun. Just when I felt that I could not walk one other step, suddenly from somewhere within me I mustered up new strength and on I went. The energy came from a small, bright yellow butterfly fluttering alongside us as we walked, or a spectacular view of the Ionian Sea. I realized again and again just how resilient the human spirit is. 

It was a special week for me, and I think I came home stronger than ever, with an open heart full of love for family and friends.  

In short …

Turning sixty-five seems to have brought with it sadness, and a feeling of farewell to a younger me. There is regret that I wasted so much time feeling unworthy and undeserving. Regret about choices I made, or decisions that I could have made. Necessary losses.

It feels like a milestone. Certainly society views it that way, by awarding me with benefits like discounts on trains and planes, or retirement plans. So many people either assume I have retired already, or ask me when I will – as if there is no other way for me at this point. And they are right. I am heading into retirement. These are changes that seem formidable to me. No turning back from them. A new era.

A time that feels out of my control because the end of this journey is terminal. On the other hand, it has the potential to be peaceful, once I can come to terms with the new reality of my life. I am now, officially, a senior.

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Sifting through faded papers