He who Kisses the Joy as it Flies

I just came across a beautiful poem by William Blake. In his poem called “Eternity,” he writes:

 

“He who binds to himself a joy 

Does the winged life destroy; 

He who kisses the joy as it flies 

Lives in eternity's sun rise.”

“He who kisses the joy as it flies” implies to me that when we cathect to something or someone, when we glom on and hold tight, we can’t let them fly. We hold them back, and even more, we hold ourselves back. Being stagnant, not growing is moving backward. We become encased in fear and anxiety. We feel the only way to be happy is this way, or with this person. Such a mindset shrinks us, it makes us small, it feels claustrophobic.

 

When we kiss the joy as it flies, we embrace mindfulness, we catch the moment and seize it. We love it for being in our lives even for just a moment. I feel it when the sun shines, or a beautiful view. Today I relate it to my father. He is ill and in much pain. I try and hold on to the moment he is lucid, I cling to just a smile, an “I love you.” Notice I used the words “cling” and “hold on,” because our nature is to have that joy, hold on tight and never let go. I don’t know what the next minute will hold, but in that minute, Ahhhhh, I kiss my father and the joy that is flying.

El Condor Pasa, Flying, and New Years

It’s that time again. Time for resolutions, new beginnings. Hope, infinite possibilities. Time to fly.

 I don’t know how to fly, and I am afraid of heights. Up and down, this is how I feel when approaching the possibility of growth and change. I can do it, I can’t do it. It’s too much, it’s not enough…enough to make my head spin. I don’t want to set myself up to fail, I mean, that is what New Years resolutions are anyway, right?

There are so many things I want to change in my life, where do I start? and now here’s where my evil eye, doubting Thomas, doomsayer chimes in and says “I will never succeed, I shouldn’t even try, it never works.” So the big question, why should I try?

On the other hand, I want to be a growing person, I want to do more, I want to be more, I want to accomplish more. This can’t possibly be it, I know there is more. Static is not an option, static is the equivalent to stuck. And I know what stuck means, it does NOT mean staying still, it means regressing, going backwards, that is not in my DNA.

I just heard El Condor Pasa by Simon and Garfinkel on Spotify and I had an epiphany, read the lyrics:

I'd rather be a sparrow than a snail

Yes I would, if I could, I surely would

I'd rather be a hammer than a nail

Yes I would, if I only could, I surely would

Away, I'd rather sail away

Like a swan that's here and gone

A man gets tied up to the ground

He gives the world it's saddest sound

Its saddest sound

I'd rather be a forest than a street

Yes I would, if I could, I surely would

I'd rather feel the earth beneath my feet

Yes I would, if I only could, I surely would

Wow! brilliant! I want to fly like that sparrow, I want to be the master of my destiny, I want to be that hammer. I also want to be grounded and feel the earth beneath my feet. I think this is my answer, for today. I know life is dynamic and I will change and grow, and with that have new questions and challenges.

So here it is. A sparrow starts from somewhere, the ground, a tree, and it ascends, it takes time, it is a trip. The hammer uses fortitude and patience banging away. Sailing, that is a trip not a destination. I will take this new years and start my trip. I will not trip myself up and only think of the end results as the late great Harry Chapin says:” it’s got to be the going not the getting there that’s good.”  I will start, and I will take it slowly and I will be in the moment and try to enjoy the flight.

So this is the takeaway. Have dreams and resolutions, work towards a goal, be excited. Do it one foot in front of the other and enjoy your trip because every step counts.

How to feel better in winter months - here's what you do

The leaves that turned from luscious green to red, orange, yellow, and finally brown are now meeting their death on grass that was once verdant with the promise of renewal and life itself.

It never fails that year after year when Autumn pushes its’ way in, negating summer, I am faced with patients who are depressed in my practice.

Who can blame them?

 The good news is that most of the time it is not clinical depression, but it is what is often referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly known as SAD.

How to feel better in winter months - here’s what you do:

According to Christiane Northrup M.D., a noted physician and disseminator of women's health information, exposing yourself to a full spectrum light bulb helps; indeed, and that using a full spectrum light for about six hours a day is the equivalent to 30 minutes of sunlight. The absence of sunlight is the problem, it is what brings on those awful feelings of sadness, lethargy, and that overall bleak mood that makes you not want to get out of bed all day.

1. To that end, open the blinds, turn all the lights on when you get home, make your room bright and cheerful. Treat yourself like you are a magnet to the sun and attach yourself any which way you can.

2. Take walks during the day. Exercise, after all,  is always good, as it helps to increase your exposure to light, it gets that adrenaline going, and last of course, exercise helps you feel good about yourself, which is a wonderful goal in and of itself.

3. Take care of yourself. Your instincts might tell you to hibernate, and while I love a little hibernation, it is not good on a regular basis. Force yourself to get out of the house. Seeing people, and feeling alive while nature is dormant is a wonderful antidote.

4. Turn on music when you get home and sing at the top of your lungs or, try a quieter route. Meditation is a wonderful tool to get you in that mindful place where things are not ALL good or ALL bad.

5. Of course it must be said that going to therapy is a good idea. Your therapist can help identify when your mood changes, for example, and give you specific ideas as well as identify anxieties that may occur, help change negative thought patterns, manage stress, and help you cope with whatever is making you feel worse.

For me, there is always John Denver and Brahms.

 

 

It Is What It Is

 

 

October 14, 2015

 

 

It is what it is, acceptance or giving up

 

I love saying “it is what it is.”  It is shorthand for acceptance, their is nothing more you can do and so, learn to give up, gracefully of course. Then I heard someone say, “I hate the saying, what does it mean ? ’it is what it is, that is not the way it is supposed to be.” What does she mean?

 

When do we give up? When is it OK to say enough? Does giving up mean you are a loser? a negative person? one with no hope? I find myself thinking about that sayingwhen a patient might be hitting their head against a wall. What scenario might that be? 

 

I have a middle aged patient, well read, articulate, good relationships with friends but, very stagnant in areas regarding her mother. Her mother, at 85 still has the power to knock my patient out, igniting anger that can last for weeks. It makes no difference that the lady is old, that she is cruel, that anyone can objectively see that this mother is self centered and uncaring. When the mother says something, it borders on the absurd, one can’t take her seriously because she is so blatantly living in her own made up world where she alone exists. I see this, my patient sees this yet, she spends a lot of time fabricating all sorts of things she can say in retaliation to her mother. Can I be so heartless as to say, it is what it is?

 

This mother will never change, nor does she want to. The world revolves around her and she has little capacity for empathy towards her daughter. Yet, the daughter goes over figuratively, bends down and tells her mother to give her a smack in her behind. How can this stop? It is what it is the mother isn’t changing but the daughter can. The daughter is working towards understanding that if she wants to zing her with the perfect quip it will not make a difference whatsoever towards the mother. What will be accomplished? maybe some relief that she can finally talk back to her mother. I don’t know. What I do know is that my patient is not rendered hopeless in this relationship, their is hope.

 

In the book The Power of Hope (full disclosure, it is written by my father Maurice Lamm), the author writes when someone is dyinghope does not have to be distinguished, it is repurposed and redirected. One may not have hope that the dying person will live but, one can hope their pain is under control. One can hope their loved one has a good day, hour, minute. One can put effort into easing the dying persons last days. It is what it is, with a caveat.

 

My patient can throw up her hands, perfectly understandable, she can also work it through and take back some of that power her mother has and by doing that say, “it is what it is.”

 

 

Empathy

Empathy

It is propitious that I begin my blog about empathy. Empathy, often synonymous with sympathy , though untrue, is a catchword for feeling someone’s pain. Empathy is popularly defined as,  the ability to understandand share the feelings of another. Sympathy is defined as feelings of pity and sorrow for someone’s misfortune. The first being in the proverbial “shoes of another,” and the other, seeing the shoes, and feeling sad.

Therapists learn about empathy upon entering the building on the first day of graduate school. it would be hard to be an effective therapist without understanding and feeling someone’s pain. I believe that is correct. When I sit acrossfrom a patient, they need to know that I get it, not just in my head but in my heart, as much as I can. It helps me to understand and helps them to feel that they are “gotten.”

 

When I first started being a therapist I might be on line at Starbucks and if I overheard a conversation about someone's children who were going through some difficulty, or a tough relationship breakup, or any kind of distress, anxiety, and the list goes on, I became sad.I wanted to fix it. It consumed me , all of a sudden I heard sorrow and distress wherever I went. Of course it existed before, but my empathy radar was on and fast becoming raw.  Colleagues, professors, professionals all toldl me I would get used to it. 

Should I? Is that good? is that what I want? Does that mean I will become cold and callous? Can I still be a good therapist if I get used to it?

A man named Paul Bloom has been in the news lately. He is a professor of psychology and cognitive science at Yale University. According to Bloom, empathy is, “narrow -minded, parochial, and innumerate.”

“… Instead of assuming that we can know what it is like to be them, we should focus more on listening to what they have to say. This isn’t perfect — people sometimes lie, or are confused, or deluded — but it’s by far the best method of figuring out the needs, desires and histories of people who are different from us. It also shows more respect than a clumsy attempt to get into their skins; I agree with the essayist Leslie Jamison, who describes empathy as “perched precariously between gift and invasion.”

He touches on something for me. When a patient is in pain and crying, do they want me to cry with them? and then who comforts whom? I’m not saying that sometimes a therapist has to throw caution to the wind and be in the moment but, how can I engage with you if you are worried about me? if I am worried about me? It is the patients session, not mine.

That “therapeutic distance,” enables me to see you, in that moment, and while I see you to experience you with a modicum of neutrality and distance otherwise, I am your mother.

So, can I say I can stand in a line and shrug off someones’ pain when overheard? not so much. Sometimes I can intercede, sometimes I can put some perspective on it, after all I don’t know the whole narrative, only the story the person is presenting. And sometimes, I can just walk away, sad.

 

What do you think?