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Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

-Neale Donald Walsch-

I thought it might be good to take stock in the past year before I start writing about 2012.  I can’t believe that wrote a total of 58 blog posts this past year; it is interesting, however, that I still have not written a background description for “About the blog” section. I hasn’t been the right time, I guess.  Still, it would have been nice to reach 60 posts, as the WordPress people were encouraging me to do, but it didn’t happen. I was not avoiding, though; I was just too busy living to write.  Yes, I have finally come out–remember the post with the Diana Ross song title?  It’s happening!  I am thrilled.  Elated.  I feel like Houdini after escaping the nailed and chained packing crate submerged under the East River in NYC.  Though I am still teaching two online courses, I am emotionally done with academia.  Over!  And, I have started a new life.

Meeting Judith Chusid on July 31 was transformational, professionally, spiritually, and socially.  As part of my training for Success is an Inside Job™ (SIIJ) workshops, I attended one myself, participated in an ongoing group working on blocks to success, and attended trainings on psychodrama. And although I felt lost at first, I shut down my Greek chorus when it started to berate me; and, pushing past the initial confusion, I see that psychodrama builds on my prior social work and spiritual knowledge and skill, and in the spring, I will be running workshops on my own.  Also, my academic way of thinking complements my collaborators’’ analytic training, which means that I am using all aspects of myself, as I had been longing to do.

So, after years of feeling professionally depleted and unappreciated, both Judith and Paul, from the Blanton-Peale Institute, sincerely value me.  As I write this, I am thinking that, I must be loving myself more, since our experiences and the people around us mirror our inner life. Oh, and wait, there is more.  I am meeting so many interesting people, both socially and professionally through Judith and SIIJ—fashion models, actors, writers, business people, and a recovering academic!  I am exploring the world beyond the Ivory Tower, and I am learning that no matter what we do for a living, or how successful we are, we all have the same fears and longings.

Before I go, I want to thank you for reading this past year and to wish you blessings beyond your wildest imaginations, like the ones I have received this past year. I will continue to write, though I am wondering about changing the format and the frequency.  We shall see.

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Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.

Lao Tzu

 

I am the past president of the Self-flagellation Society (SFS).  Although you may not be aware of it, you too may be a member.  For those of you foreign to this practice, it is extreme self-criticism; and as a Virgo, I am an expert, not to mention that I was born into an environment that reinforced my negative self-image.  As an obese, spectacled, Latina, working-class immigrant girl, I had plenty of critics.  My tops and elastic-wasted skirtsto accommodate for my expanding girth, were made by a mother that taught herself to sew, and with zigzagging bangs cut by the same hands and scissors used for sewing, made me a bully-magnet.  At home, I was told my left eye was smaller than my right (I squinted because I needed classes) and that my waistline was uneven.  If I got a A-, my father would question why didn’t I get an A; and, I think I mentioned that when I finished my Ph.D., he asked what I’d do next.

But I am not here to blame my parents, as I have been my fiercest critic.  In elementary school, since I could not forgive myself for needing “models” for my drawings, I stopped drawing altogether.   In junior high school, when I was in an accelerated (special progress) program, maintaining a passing average of 85, as anything below was failing, I compared myself to my friend Hilda, whom in my eyes got A’s without studying.  I, on the other hand, had to study and did not get “A’s”.  What was wrong with me?  Of course, looking back now, I have no idea how much she studied; I just assumed that she didn’t.

In graduate school, everybody had it together but me. And, when I began teaching, I had a traffic cop on my shoulder monitoring every word I said, shouting epithets, like “I can’t believe you said that!  That was so stupid.” Needless to say, my evaluations were horrific (e.g., “Dr. Z should not be allowed to teach” and “Clearly, she was hired because she is a minority”, since I spent most classes fighting assaults instead of teaching my students.  Today, the voice occasionally comes out of retirement to chide me with, “You should be tenured, not to mention full-professor.”  Or, “Look at you, all those years of education, and you can’t even get a full-time job.”  And the other part of me cries, “But tenure could not give me what I needed—-self-love and spiritual freedom!”  Then the sardonic voice strikes back, “Those lofty ideals don’t pay car repair and medical bills.”  I meekly reply that, that is true, but I would have died in the process of getting tenure.  Spiritually, and perhaps, physically, my heart would not have withstood the abusive tenure process, which mirrored the treatment I experienced living with a tyrannical old-world father.  Besides, why should I allow anyone else to abuse me, when I do a far better job, myself?

But, I am turning a corner, now, and I have applied for membership to the Self-Compassion Society.  Self-compassion means treating yourself with kindness, love, and acceptance.  What a novel idea!  Actually, it isn’t, Buddhists have been teaching this practice for thousands of years, but the West is only now beginning to see its value.  Research by Dr. Kristin Neff shows that, people who accept their imperfections are less depressed and anxious, more optimistic, and happier. And, if that weren’t enough, self-compassion may even help you to lose weight.  The reasoning is that, if you care about yourself, you will do what is right for you, which makes sense.

But, according to Dr. Neff, people fear that by being self-compassionate they are being self-indulgent.  And, I have asked myself the same question.  Have my life choices been motivated by self-compassion, even self-preservation?  Or, have I been a slacker?  In my heart of hearts, I know that I made the right choices for me, and that they came from a place of compassion, but there is always that lingering question.  According to my Self-Compassion Scale, which you can take on the Self-compassion website, I am on the higher end of self-compassion, globally; but, individually, my self-judgment scores are also high, and lowering them is my life’s work, as it is for Dr. Neff.  I am grateful that she is working on self-compassion, for me, for you, and for her, since her child, Rowan, has autism, and parents in this society tend to blame themselves for their children’s “imperfections.”  Instead of beating herself up, she and her husband found a way to help him connect with the world—his world.

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Storytelling is healing. As we reveal ourselves in story, we become aware of the continuing core of our lives under the fragmented surface of our experience. We become aware of the multifaceted, multi-chaptered ‘ I ‘ who is the storyteller.

–Susan Wittig Albert

 

A friend recently asked me what inspired me to blog, and I decided to explore my reasons in a blog.  I can’t pinpoint whether this was something I wanted to do before the surgery, or whether it was one of those gifts of the surgery.  But, regardless of when the dream surfaced in me, my Caring Bridge blog definitely crystallized the idea in my heart and mind.  As I mentioned in my first blog (On living), to my amazement, my friends and acquaintances continued reading my blog long after my six-week recovery period, and a few shared that they looked forward to reading my posts after long, stressful days, before going to bed.  One of these friends, a Palestinian dynamo fueled by the tenure clock and by an inextinguishable passion to help her people.  That she took the time out to read my blog and found solace in my writing was inspirational and gratifying both personally and professionally.  Another friend, also a social worker, commented that she and, she believed, others were healing along with me.  Then, as I am doing now, I was sharing my psychological and spiritual process.

So, what drives or inspires me to write about my process though, then, and now, I hear whispers of self-centeredness from my personal Greek choir?  I have two primary reasons; I am a healer and a writer, two identities I have seldom claimed publicly or privately.  Indeed, I have consciously and vigorously avoided being a therapist and writing for publication.  I dreaded having responsible for others’ lives feeling entrapped by the commitment inherent in a private practice, remnants of my childhood parentification (It’s all about me:  Relationship as mirrors). And, as much as I see now that I love to write, academic writing is not only formulaic and sterile, but the peer review process required for publication felt like those Roman games where the early Christians were thrown to the lions.  For years, teaching was similarly terrifying.  What was I, an academically trained social worker, who resisted agency and private-practice work and academia, to do, when I didn’t want to move because by then, I had developed life-long friendships in Ann Arbor.  For three years, I stood between not one, but two Swords of Damocles, each sword hanging by a horsehair, waiting,  my impasse, broken by a chance meeting with a spiritual reader and teacher, Chetana Cathy Florida, whom I will write about in future blogs.  Despite six years of psychoanalysis, she birthed me through unimaginable healing, and brought me to this point, continuing to teach me even though she died in 2004.  Her teachings and nurturance transformed my life, gradually releasing the Me that had spent a lifetime shackled and entrapped in a trunk strapped with steel chains.   And, like Houdini, I have escaped, though it’s taken me much longer, and I am now wiggling my fingers as I write.

There are many reasons why I write, but mostly, I write because I want to share the good news– hope that no matter how trapped and dead you may feel, resurrection, a central doctrine of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, is possible.  Although with each passing day, my body’s shelf life is gradually expires, my spirit feels brighter and more alive than ever.  And, as I write, I continue to heal, as research shows that self-disclosure through writing has remarkable physical and emotional salutary effects (Neiderfhoffer & Pennebaker, 2002).  The evidence is, as they say in research, robust.  So, what are you waiting for?  Take out your pen and paper, or take out your computer, and start writing.  You can warm-up by leaving a comment, here.

 

P.S.  Did I tell you that I am preparing for my clinical license exam?  Yes, after thirty years, I am officially claiming my role as a not-as-wounded- healer.

 

Neiderfhoffer, K. G. & Pennebaker, J. W. (2002).  Sharing one’s story:  On the benefits of writing and sharing about emotional experiences.  In C.R. Snyder & Shane J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 573-583). New York: Oxford University Press.

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