Wednesday, May 31, 2006


An awful lot of people I know are either currently in some form of therapy, counseling or recovery group or else they have been in the past.

I don't know if it's a matter of what sort of people I tend to flock with or if it has merely become pervasive in our culture to hire specialists to deal with our emotional angst. That's got me to thinking, What constitutes being emotionally healthy? What does it mean to be "mentally ill"? How much emotional pain should a person try to cope with on his or her own and when is it appropriate to seek help? When is a behavior or manner of perceiving just a bit quirky or uncomfortable and when does it cross the line into being a symptom of something to get treatment for?

In my Principles of Sociology textbook (Sociology, a Down-to-Earth Approach by James M. Henslin, 7th edition) the author describes a South American tribe in which the skin condition you see on the child pictured here is so common that the few individuals who AREN'T spotted are defined as having something wrong with them. What might the impact on our society be if seeing a shrink is viewed as the "normal" thing to do and dealing with one's problems on your own is considered "unhealthy"? Would we be better off if MORE people sought support for coping with life issues or would that take us down a dangerous path?

Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications are currently the most prescribed of all pharmaceutical agents in this country. Are they helping? Are they harming?

I keep thinking of a line from that great song by Matchbox 20 - UNWELL:

When I was working in community mental health back in Michigan, I used to say only half jokingly that we needed a score card to keep track of who were the professionals with the keys and who were the clients there to receive treatment.

There were an awful lot of very strange people among the helping professionals that I met. Why do you suppose that is? Does working with mentally ill people cause the professionals who serve them to develop new quirks or does that sort of profession simply attract people with deep issues of their own? Some of both perhaps?

I really do believe it is a false division to think we can separate out who the "well" people are from those who are "emotionally unstable". Granted, someone with full blown psychosis is in a different category, but in general I think MOST people have problems and pains that trouble them, some very deeply. How we define what it is appropriate to do about that and what meaning we give to our distress is what I am really curious about.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Question of Tolerance

A while back I had a discussion with one of my Sociology classes about the degree to which tolerance does or does not dilute one’s own beliefs. The questions went something like this: If you have strong commitment to your own beliefs, does that mean you will automatically assume that any contradictory beliefs held by others are not just different; they are inaccurate, flawed, incomplete or otherwise WRONG? Is it possible to hold fast to ones own beliefs, values, faith, opinions or whatever without assuming superiority over others who are different? How can we be firm in our own values without becoming judgmental, condescending, or arrogant toward others? Where do we draw the line between “relative” truth – meaning what can be true for me may be different from what is “true” for you, or what is “true” for me right now may be different from what will be “true” for me at some other time or in some other circumstance…And ABSOLUTE truth – meaning principles that are intrinsic and real no matter what people believe or don’t believe about them?

I was trying to get the students to make clear distinctions between ethnocentrism and cultural relativity. I got lots of good comments and some very engaging discussion. It also prompted me to do some serious re-evaluating of my own beliefs and the way I view the beliefs of others. Regardless of how respectful I may be toward someone else in my outward behavior, if in my private attitudes I consider my beliefs / ideas / practices to be RIGHT and those of the other person to be WRONG, how will that flavor our interaction?

I’m doing some exploration to see which areas I am totally open to others, which ones I am open with reservations, and where I have my doors completely closed.

EXAMPLE: food choices – recently went for Pizza with Juliana. I tried a slice of pizza that had artichokes on it. I had never had artichoke pizza before and did not know if I would like it or not. But I was happy to give it a try, and as it turned out it was really YUMMY! Had she suggested I try pizza with crickets or grubs on it I would have been more reluctant. I know in some parts of the world theses things are generally considered to be food-worthy items and undoubtedly they provide valuable protein. But my cultural conditioning just makes me think YUCK! I do not think it is “bad” or “wrong” to eat bugs. I just think it is something I am not ready to try.

However, I also once read an article about “Placenta Stew”. Yep. People making stew from the afterbirth following the arrival of a child. It was supposed to be some bonding ritual for the whole family to partake of this. Now, this is beyond disgusting to me. I don't just have a personal aversion to the idea. I think it is totally horrible to consider ANYONE doing this. If someone I knew were engaging in this practice I would definitely judge them as rather nuts.

Still, that is not the most extreme. In the most extreme case would be something I viewed as so wrong that I felt compelled to speak out against it and would most likely choose not to associate with any person who did this. It's hard to come up with an example of that for food - but you get the idea.

That’s pretty straightforward when all I’m talking about is food. But what about when we get into other areas, like parenting practices, sexual behavior or religious beliefs?

At what point am I willing to say: "HMMM….I’m willing to consider that." At what point am I going to say, "Not for me, thanks, but you go right ahead." At what point do I say "That Is Just Plain WRONG! " What do I base my different responses on?

I’m recognizing that a lot of the areas I make these distinctions in are not values I ever carefully thought out and DECIDED to adopt – rather they are attitudes or beliefs I incorporated from my collective life experiences and social influence. Some fit. Some really don't. So now I am examining some of those beliefs and trying to decide which ones serve me well and which ones could stand a little adjustment, if not to be discarded completely.

Who knows, maybe I’ll give anchovies a new try. Or not. But what it means for the things I oppose I still have to figure out.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Kite Day

Today I went kite flying with my friends, Tansy and Becket. We had a blast. We went out to the field by Walla Walla Community College where we had plenty of room with no threatening trees or wires. Granted, we had a few string & tail tangle adventures. But we got several different kites up, some clear to the very end of their strings. Afterwards we went for ice cream and conversation and just generally enjoyed the mellow afternoon. It was a fun day.


The other night I watched the movie "What the Bleep Do We Know?", a quirky little hybrid piece, part drama, part documentary, part special effects wonder. It has me thinking some on just what it is I believe is "true" and what is "real" and what I base that on. Quantum Physics certainly opens up more possibilities for questions that giving any concrete answers.

What is the role of human existence in the universe? Does anything we do, think or feel really matter in the grand scheme of things or are we just a temporary blip of inconsequential protoplasm on the evolutionary map?

How much is life random and beyond our control? How much is it shaped by my choices and intentions?

What is the relationship of past/present/future to what I experience? I can REMEMBER the past, I can ANTICIPATE the future. In many ways, I allow those realities I am creating in my mind/awareness to become more vivid and real than what is going on around me in the present. In what ways does that habit serve me and in what ways does it limit me?

In what way can my INTENTION influence the outcome of events?

How does what I notice and focus on shift what I will manifest / experience?

One of the people interviewed in the movie is "Ramtha" a 35,000 year-old spirit-warrior from Atlantis who is supposedly "channeled" through the person of J.Z. Knight. My cynical mind rejects that immediately. What other things do I reject out of hand, just like people who KNEW the world was flat rejected the outlandish idea that is was a sphere or that the earth revolved around the sun. Perposterous! How do my assumptions about what is true or what is possible shape what I allow myself to learn?

How does my understanding of what is "credible" cause me to turn away from or fail to notice things that might be of value?

What ships on the horizon do I fail to see because they are so beyond my understanding and experience?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Cheesesaurus Rex

I just had to share Jim Victor's website of amazing food sculptures. Yep. Sculptures from edibles - things like cheese, chocolate, butter, pizza dough, you name it.

The example here is VERY "cheesy" in more ways than one, but to see some really fine artistry check out THIS website.

Apparently when he was told to stop playing with his food, this guy didn't listen. He's even done a LIFE SIZE sculpture of Mr. Milton Hershey (in chocolate, of course). There are motorcycles, buildings, all sorts of stuff. Now, I don't know about you, but when I look at a block of butter I just don't think things like "Zowie, I could carve a cow outta that!"

Saturday, May 06, 2006

All in a Day's Work...

As a counter point to my passion for teaching, I’ve also been giving some thought to some of the dumb jobs I have had.

For example, I once was paid to stand outside a health spa with a sign that said “Free Month Pass” on a busy road in Phoenix, AZ and wave at all the cars that went by.

I was one of those annoying phone solicitors for a photography studio.

I washed beakers, separatory funnels and other scientific type glassware in a laboratory and kept inventory of all their chemical reagents.

I de-veined shrimp for a restaurant. (Ok, I was actually the dishwasher, but the grossest part of that job were the hours upon hours I spent with my hands in the shrimp bucket).

I sold jewelry to spoiled brats with visa cards in West Palm Beach.

I worked in a factory that made CB antennas….that was perhaps the worst. (Yes, even worse than the shrimp bucket!) Can you imagine sitting at your work station repetitively counting out four nuts, four bolts and four screws to put into their little compartments of packaging for eight hours a day? I almost cried with gratitude when I was finally fired from that job for constantly perusing the Help Wanted ads during my shift.

Of course – all those less than inspiring positions were the things I did before I got the magic ticket of a college degree. POST education jobs included things like Crisis Intervention Specialist in a mental health facility, Prevention Coordinator for an agency doing HIV/AIDS intervention, Research Assistant at a university survey facility, Consultant in a women’s prison running groups with the incarcerated moms and their kids, Caregiver Training Coordinator for an Area Agency on Aging, Marketing Director at a retirement community, and Chief Cook & Bottle Washer for a Walla Walla based charity (yeah, the “official title” of executive director sounded impressive. But, in reality, in addition to managing the food bank and doing homeless case management, I did everything from writing the grants to cleaning the toilets.)

There were things I liked about almost every job (EXCEPT the CB antennae factory.) There were things that I despised about almost every job. Even my first love of teaching has its ups and downs.

What I am most curious about these days is WHY we work in the areas we work in, and what meaning we give to our jobs. Some people I known do not take their jobs seriously at all, while others sacrifice everything to be “successful” in their chosen fields. I’ve met a few people who truly love their jobs. But those tend to be the exception more than the rule. Why is that?

How much of my “regular life” does it make sense to sacrifice to do well at my job? To what degree do I define myself by whatever it is I may do for a living? Would I prefer a job that paid well but was boring or one that paid less, yet challenged me and seemed the right fit? How much of my best efforts will I bring to the workplace and how much do I do just whatever is necessary to get by? What do I expect in return?

Yeah, these are some of the places my brain rambles at 2:00 AM when I’m up with insomnia….

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Chasing My Passion

Tonight I held my final session with my GED class. The five weeks went by so fast!

I learned many things from this experience. Perhaps most important of all, I reawakened to how much teaching is my passion.

I've held a lot of different kinds of jobs over the years and have developed varied skill sets that have proven useful. I know I am capable of doing many different sorts of things. But when I am in the groove with a classroom of students, it really does feel like all the planets have lined up and I am doing what I was born to do.

I had an amazing group of students. Oh sure, some were more serious about it than others. There was one who was quiet and surly. There was one who was cocky and rude. There were a few who never came back after the first session when they realized I was going to expect them to work rather than just show up to take up space. But all that aside, I had a core group of students who consistently showed up ready to learn. They were willing to work hard, ask questions, be actively engaged, and for the most part followed through on assignments. Isn't that kind of class every teacher dreams of?

We all worked hard together to get through the material at hand, but I also got to share lots of stories about the power of education in general. I encouraged them not to stop at the GED level, but to commit themselves to being life long learners - whether it be in formal academic settings or merely by engaging their curiosity and newly strengthened literacy. I watched some of them truly blossom with increased confidence as they began to recognize that all sorts of options would be open to them once they got past this hurdle of no diploma. Being part of their process was very rewarding.

On the last night some of my students brought me the beautiful bouquet of flowers you see pictured here, along with cards expressing appreciation for all I had given them. Another student brought me an apple along with a note describing how the class had impacted her...some very powerful stuff!

Yeah, the gratitude from these students was very reaffirming. Reading the notes they had written I got so choked up I had to leave the room for a bit to go compose myself. But that's not why I do it. It's less about the kudos and more about the "aha!" moments when I can see the light bulb go off over their heads when they finally understand an important point I am trying to get across. It's about all the different ways that I witness them learning to appreciate LEARNING, regardless of what the content is I am teaching. It's about helping give students confidence in themselves and their own power to take charge of their lives...THAT is what knocks my socks of about the role.

When I am teaching is when I am most AWAKE and present to my own nature and where I feel the most connection of anything I've ever done.

I never planned on being a teacher as I was growing up, or even when I went to college. I fell into it almost by mistake. But the universe knew what it was doing when I was led in that direction. This is my calling, my dream, my passion. Now, more than ever, I am certain that I want to find other teaching opportunities...whether it be in formal education settings, private workshops or some other venue. I'm not sure what the next phase will bring. But I'm ready, whatever it is.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

My Hero

This year Larry and I will have been married for 25 years. What an adventure it has been! I’ve had my share of bumps, bruises and disappointments in life – but without question one of the greatest blessings I have had has been the sweet comfort of a strong, healthy marriage to a man I honor and respect. He makes me laugh. He helps me feel safe. He gives me a reason to want to be better than I am. He is the one person on this planet who I know without reservation will always have my best interest at heart and who will love me no matter what. What a gift!

Sock in the Nose

I once had a wise teacher who told me about making balsa wood airplanes as a child. While flying them out in a field on a windy day, one of his favorite planes crashed and broke. He was sad to see the crumpled, shattered body lying in a heap. It appeared to be utterly ruined. However, after the initial disappointment, he picked up the pieces and carefully, painstakingly, glued them back together. Then he left it for a while to sit and dry. Finally, when he was confident it was ready, he took it back out to fly again.

Amazingly, that repaired plane became one of his best flyers. Although scarred and perhaps less beautiful that the unbroken planes, that one was so sturdy that even when it took an occasional tumble, it didn't break again. It had become stronger at the broken places because of the glue.

Our lives are often like that. We have heartaches and disappointments. We have circumstances that make us feel as if we have crashed into the ground. But if we can pick ourselves up and glue those crumpled pieces of our heart back together, we too can become stronger at the broken places, with newfound resiliencey to face the storms the world may bring.

During a particularly difficult time in my life, I received the card you see pictured here. As it says: "Sometimes when you least expect it, life gives you a big ol' sock in the nose." Then, on the inside it reads:

"Not to worry.
With time the pain will pass,
and from it
you will have gained experience,
which gives you information,
which gives you objectivity,
which gives you wisdom,
which gives you truth,
which gives you freedom
from having to get a sock
in the nose again."

Every now and then, when I am facing struggles in navigating the current of my world, it helps to pull out the card and to remember the story of that broken airplane.