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Today I am going with my yoga friends to celebrate the Chinese New Year—the Year of the Ox—by eating lunch at the Twin Dragon. (By the way, Twin Dragon has gluten-free offerings, too!)Chinese New Year reminds me of chi.

Years ago our business worked with a CPA—who wanted to be a healer. Talk about varying interests. Long before I knew anything about feng shui, he told me that clutter was bad chi.

I didn’t understand what chi was at the time, but I knew that clutter was no good for me. Too bad I have always been drowning in it, due to my lifelong difficulties with both knowing where to put things and when to let them go.

Chi is the life force—of the universe, people, even buildings and homes. T. Raphael Simons says, “When (Chi’s) flow (in the home) is obstructed due to clutter . . . your chi becomes obstructed, the elements in your body become unbalanced, and your health and affairs suffer.” (Feng Shui: Step by Step, Crown Trade Paperbacks: New York, 1996, p. 95.)

I keep a pile going for charity donations, but heaven knows the pile is always way too small! Last night when I received my reminder call from the charity’s pick-up service, I had two bags ready. Now seven very full bags sit on the porch.

Kids’ books. Clothes that no longer fit or never get worn. Boots. Hats. Towels from my mother’s place—like I need more towels falling out of my linen closet. But someone out there does need towels.

My bad chi may be someone else’s necessity for living through these tough times.

Sometimes the bad chi is inside us—not that I’m 100% convinced we can really blame the clutter. On the other hand, the clutter is leaving the house at the same time the story is being written down on paper and loosening its grip on a heart.

Coincidence—or not?

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Sometimes my biggest distraction (can I really make a hierarchy out of my distractions??!!) is my urge to fix things. And I mean things, not people. I have such a hard time turning off my inner operations person or inner editor.

Here, of course, I am applying this to other people’s documents or operations. I think they should change to do things my way. Snicker. Back to those control issues, right?

This is the same problem I had with Multiple Choice tests or True/False tests in school. What do the questions really mean? What is the intent? Please, give me an essay test where I can at least explain my answers in light of my understanding of the questions.

We have weekly homework with the DBT. The exercises vary in how challenging they are. I understand now how I didn’t quite use the techniques to my advantage this past week and what I need to do to be more effective in the future. What I don’t understand is how to fill out the homework form!

It’s not written well, at least for my mind. I really don’t think this just because I want to avoid the work or because I’m just a big complainer. I don’t “get” how to give them what they’re looking for—because it doesn’t seem to me that it’s what matters.

The assignment was to choose one distracting technique and one self-soothing technique to use to help deal with distress tolerance throughout the week. First of all, I approached this assignment from a general coping viewpoint for all distress, not in relation to the biggest challenges I have been facing lately. That meant I was looking for things that could help me with my overall mood.

Yet when I look at the recording sheet, it says to rate my distress tolerance both before and after using the strategy. You see, I am using the strategies proactively and these questions indicate, to me anyway, that maybe I should have been using strategies I could use reactively. In the end it’s how I react to big surprises or events that’s in big need of change, not how I’ve set up my life to deal with everyday stress in my life, such as driving, paying bills, and the minor conflicts over normal teenage issues.

I can hold ice in my hand if I have to. I can usually shake off the rude salesclerk. But how do I handle ongoing differences with my loved ones that I don’t know will ever resolve—at least the way I think they should?

So far, I don’t. I don’t think most people who know me would call me high-strung in general toward everyday life—it’s just in relation to the people and things that really matter to me.

This form wants me to rate how well the strategies served me for a whole day. Well, my days are filled with large stretches of coping well combined with a few incidents where my “grade” can only be recorded as “Needs Improvement” or even as “Needs IMPROVEMENT!!!” I use the strategies on and off throughout the day, both as needed and sometimes only when I remember to do so.

I get the intent of the exercise and I’ve definitely learned where I still need a lot of practice—I just don’t know how to fill out the form. I know I’ve already said that, but it’s a big roadblock for a fixer like I am.

Heck, I don’t even have an idea how this notebook is supposed to be organized. It’s really that confusing to me. All this reminds me that one of the reasons I didn’t pursue further studies in psychology was because I didn’t like how the subject was taught or organized. The writing tends to be obtuse, saying simple things in an overly complex way. By the time I’ve made it through a sentence, I’ve lost my interest in the topic.

Before you say that all my resistance toward the systems and the literature is simply a psychological excuse for not wanting change, I’d like to point out that operations management is so often about making continual changes to improve the experience. It’s about setting up a system so energy isn’t wasted on side issues.

Some day when we’ve gotten through this, I’d like to help this helping profession figure out how to be more productive in helping people change. Sometimes it really is all about having understandable documents and logical systems so people are able to focus on the real task at hand: fixing themselves.

It’s so easy to tell others to stop trying to rescue other people—but it sure is difficult advice to take for myself.

How do you stop caring when people who have meant so much to you are making bad choices? I guess the answer is—you don’t. It’s just at some point you have to admit what you can and can’t control.

My book club will be discussing Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love Thursday night. I had no expectations for this book and was only reading it because I needed to. Frankly, most of Angie’s spiritual book choices leave me cold. No more Michael Crichton talking to a cactus plant, please!

But this book has been just what I have needed at this point of life. It has reminded me that I try to control things outside of my control too often. Just like Groceries (Gilbert), I have serious control issues. I think I know what would be the right way for things to turn out or how other people should act.

Guess what? People often don’t do what I think they should do. Situations often turn out far from my liking. I am so not in charge.

Thank God for that! I wanted another path than the one I was set upon. And my life turned out to be pretty good with the people who were destined to be in my life and despite those who were destined to not continue in my life.

Gilbert’s book reminds me that sometimes we have to let God—or the Universe if that’s more suitable to your brain—take care of things we have not been able to fix. I am a practical person who thinks I should live by logic, but the mystical has happened to me, too. At those times, I always want to say, “Are you talking to me, God?” Then I am tempted to jump on the first ship away from Nineveh.

That didn’t work too well for Jonah and it hasn’t worked for me.

Deep down I want to experience, again, the blue lights of mystical union. To feel the butterfly that lands on my arm or the squeeze on my shoulder when no one is there, like I did when my dad was dying. To absorb the healing presence again that came in the stairwell on September 14, 2001 when I was praying for the nation and Jamie and instead was relieved of the guilt of 16 years. To understand that  during savasana I have the power to send away people from long ago dreams so they bother my dreams no more—like I did with one particular person. Amazing how unfinished business can be finished, even without all the parties present.

I cannot heal the girl whose kindness has been replaced by those things that would destroy her and those around her. I can’t afford to have her taking down those whom I love. But, I can pray for her. I can send love for who she was, wherever she is, instead of just hating what she has become. I can let the someone who is in control know that I still want so much more for her.

Nothing is impossible.

As a child of the dark? I don’t think so. Not me.

For all my doubts, for all my crankiness, for all my moments of absolute unbelief, I keep searching for how to walk as a child of the light. Even on days when no one would believe that I am.

I am, I really am. When I was in high school and early in college, I kept asking, “What is the meaning of life?” Early on I found that it was too simple for me to say it was Jesus—or even to say it was nothing but the void.

One cloudy morning in a classroom in Valencia, Spain, I heard my own answer to the meaning of life—the search. The answer was both simple and complex.

Professor Villalba taught the Cervantes class. And thanks to Señor Villalba, I had fallen in love with the Don himself—good old Don Quijote—or as we spell it in English—Don Quixote, the character behind the word quixotic.

There are several definitions for quixotic. The definition that I think seems most true to his character comes from the American Heritage Dictionary: “the pursuit of unreachable goals.” The rational world calls that foolishness—or even madness.

Señor Villalba’s passionate teachings showed us that he believed D.Q. had the right philosophy toward life. He often asked us to question whether or not the Don really was mad. My Cervantes notes are sprinkled with examples of what Señor Villalba had learned from D.Q. Es preciso crear los ideales y creer en esos ideales. It is necessary to create ideals and to believe in those ideals. CREER es CREAR. To believe is to create. Una fe sin obras nace muerta. A faith without works is born dead. Ideales -> fe -> acción. Ideals -> faith -> action.

I was fascinated by how the Don lived by his ideals and kept searching, even when he didn’t find what he was looking for. I took it as a cautionary tale, that when he finally stopped searching and removed his rose-colored glasses, then he lost his will to live.

I’ve come to realize that the meaning of life is different for different people, but for me, the search is what brings meaning to my life. Although Jesus or God is at the center of my search, there are just too many layers within that answer for me to stop searching. I don’t think I’ll ever stop looking for the meanings within the meaning until I am faced with finally uncovering the absolute truths of who God is.

Most days I do want to walk as a child of the light, to continue my search toward those I believe are my creator and redeemer, to put my ideals into my faith and my faith into actions.

If that means that I have to keep wearing those rose-colored glasses to walk in the light, then that’s what I’m going to do. To do otherwise, for me, would mean that I might as well join D.Q. in his final sad chapter at the end of his life.

The summer before I went to college, I decided to buy a stereo, doing so the week my boyfriend went out of town. He couldn’t believe I made that major purchase without his sage advice. (OK—he really did know a lot about stereos and music.) He also wasn’t particularly impressed with the first cassette (a cassette—how could I?) I bought for it: Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind.”

I don’t know why I bought that particular cassette. I wasn’t a particularly big Bob Seger fan and I didn’t become one after that—even if I do play a mad air guitar on my leg—sober or drunk—to “Old Time Rock and Roll”—which isn’t even on that particular album.

Maybe it was because I was a runner living in western Nebraska where I was always running against the wind. Freezing winds, winds with blasts like a furnace, Chinooks, you name it, always winds. I forget how constant wind was until I encounter it here in metro Denver, even though the winds here can rarely compare with those from my youth.

Nonetheless, I can still find myself running against the wind. Just like Bob, “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.” And I’m definitely so much older now, even though I’m not alone or “surrounded by strangers I thought were my friends.” Thank God for small favors.

This morning when I looked at the weather forecast, I forgot that the high temperature listed was for just after midnight. That meant I didn’t bring a headband for the mid-day run I planned while I was out doing errands.

On a gray day in a landscape filled with colorless grass and barren trees, I ran into that wind, yesterday’s blue skies a distant memory. No matter how much I sought shelter, I couldn’t find it. As I approached the long tunnel that passed under I-25 that would protect me from the cold, wind, and the snow, my chest tightened and I felt fear.

I don’t know why, but that particular shelter seemed like a trap. So as fast as I could, I ran out toward that wind that by now feels familiar.

The question is, am I living to run or running to live?

See the not-so-young woman still running against the wind, wishing she had at least remembered her headband.

This week’s distress tolerance assignment is less stressful for me than the last one. We’re working on crises survival strategies. That’s definitely something I could use!

Although, like I said in DBT last night, you can get away with deep breathing exercises and such for a short period of time, but when you’re involved in a long-term crisis, it’s so much harder to access your strategies, even when you know what to do.

Sometimes you’re just sad, angry, or unable to cope in the moment. No matter how much I exercised, wrote in my journal, went to Bible study, met with friends, etc., I couldn’t change the facts that my dad was dying, my son was having school troubles, and my daughter was having health issues. Those were just the realities of my life back in 2001 and 2002.

Still how could I have survived without those coping strategies? How am I still standing now after 2008? God, family, friends, my dog, yoga, running, writing, nature’s beauty, music—times, places, people, and activities that give me joy in the moment.

And yet, I can always use more help. That’s why, for this week’s assignment, I am actively pursuing other techniques to add to what I already do. I’m going to work harder on incorporating music into my day—using it to help me focus, calm down, relax, or enjoy myself, whatever I need when I am alone with that monkey mind of mine that likes to take me away on its whims. I’m aiming to get that monkey swinging behind me on the vines more often instead of me just following it blindly.

Right now I am listening to a mix CD I made for Sherman for Valentine’s Day last year. It’s full of songs that remind me of him and our love, as well as of the times—both good and bad—we’ve shared together. That whole sickness and health concept, you know? The songs wrap their arms around me and help me remember how lucky I am to have his support throughout all my challenging days.

The other less pleasurable thing I am pursuing I have attempted in small bursts over the past several years. I’ve chosen pushing away or containment for working through the unpleasant tasks I put off. As Dr. Shapiro says, if you eat the frog at the beginning of your day, the rest of the day seems so much better in comparison. So now that I’ve done those things, I am freer to do the things I want to do.

Frogs? Monkeys? Yikes, forgive me, Dawn M., for straying from your very sage maxim: Respect the Metaphor. Apparently today is my day for dis-respecting the metaphor. But, even with the mixed metaphors, I am not dis-respecting myself. No, I am busy practicing, mindfully, the skills of distracting and self-soothing, thank you very much.

I am lulled by this out-of-season sun and warmth. Wow. I can’t believe how gorgeous it’s been the last two days.

Life itself has been pretty good, too, for the past few days. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt relaxed at all and I’ve noticed that it feels a bit odd to me—I mean, should I be waiting for the other shoe to drop or what? I often say that being reactive is a good trait when you’re dealing with crises, but it’s not so helpful for maintenance activities and normal days.

But aren’t normal days what I’ve been wanting for my family and myself? So why am I so unsure what to do with a regular day?

Nonetheless, I’m not going to be too harsh on myself for my casual attitude. For so long the calendar and others have been driving my days. I’m going to need some time to figure out how much time I really do have in my day again.

Besides, I did come up with a loose schedule for myself. I realized that part of my trouble with scheduling is that I seem to believe a schedule has to be perfectly accurate . . . and set in granite. This time I allowed myself to write in generalities for the “free” times. What a concept!

I’ve enjoyed these blue skies and the chance to hang laundry on the clothesline and to go running in my summer clothes. A chance to breathe, really.

Besides, who says the other shoe has to drop?

Maybe it’s right where it belongs, even though in our house that would be quite a unique situation! Still, on a blue-skied day, anything is possible.

My daughter has been using Sharpie markers and ballpoint pens in order to embellish canvas shoes with words and pictures. One of her signatures is to write a word or two on the toe area of each shoe. For his shoes, a friend of hers chose after and before—in that order.

Last night my son was musing about what that phrase means, reversed as it is. His insight? After Before is now.

Our nation’s After Before began at noon EST in the capitol when Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. The old typewriting exercise read, “Now is the time for all good men to come to aid of their party.” Better still, now is the time for all in the U.S.—men, women, and children—to come to the aid of this country.

Although the U stands for United, we haven’t been that for a long time. As President Obama spoke, he mentioned the concept of binding. In my mind, I heard the words from Bob Gillman’s 1977 hymn:

Bind us together, Lord, bind us together with cords that cannot be broken.
Bind us together, Lord, bind us together, Lord; bind us together in love.

With a president who is of both African and American heritage, it is hard not to see the irony of how the word binding can stir up both the positive, as in the joining of purpose and hearts, as well as the negative, as in the past we share in the binding of our nation’s slaves.

After Before is a time to move beyond the failures of our long ago past, as well as of our not too distant past. We have a chance to reclaim the best of who we have been in order to be something even better. Now, in this “winter of our hardship,” as the president called these times, we can rise up, like the mythical phoenix.

America has had to recreate itself several times since its early baptism by fire. Let us remember what Barack Obama said today to the leaders of other nations: “Your people will judge you on what you can build, not destroy.”

After Before is our time for building.

Bind us together in love.

How often can I be called that??!!

But today I’ve earned the title and it’s only 10:00 in the morning. This is my iced tea and York mint break before I get back to business. My brother Scott and his family are coming around dinnertime today. Woo,hoo—a deadline to drive my activities and schedule my day.

To say our life has been chaos for years is no lie, but this last year has topped the list for life changes and challenges.

We started off with my mom’s fall on Christmas Eve 2007 that led to her living with us—and needing physical therapy three times a week and some help from us as she worked through mobility difficulties until her fracture healed. Add to that volumes of her financial papers and various items from her home and our house got really cramped.

This would have been much easier if we weren’t drowning in our own clutter, but, as I said before, the chaos has been ongoing for years.

It took awhile for Mom to decide what she wanted to do next, but she eventually realized she wanted to move to Denver for good. That meant she needed to find a new home and we needed to help her pack up much of her place for the move. Thankfully, Scott and his wife Lori spent several days on that task because they are not as severely challenged in dealing with “stuff” as we are!

Mom moved at the end of April, but we still had to return to her place in the mountains a few times to find more of her items and do additional moving. Plus, I had permanently begun managing her financial and medical affairs, so we needed to keep space in our home for papers and medications and I needed to schedule time for the related activities.

Well, into this time/space crunch we added some new living room furniture because Mom’s long visit to our very old, but comfortable couch had been the last straw for that couch’s back. We tried hard to stimulate the economy (sorry that it didn’t work!) and figure out how to squeeze larger pieces (that barely made it through the non-code doorway) into our 1940s living room.

After a couple summer road trips, we thought we could finally get around to turning our attention to practical matters. Unfortunately, we had another health crisis in the family and this one has required the addition of weekly “road trips” of the suburban kind to our routine. We’ve just been taking life one day at a time—not a good time to make permanent organizational changes.

The truth is eventually you learn how to handle a little better the tasks you didn’t have to do previously. You incorporate them into your routines and do your best not to let them dominate your life.

That’s where we are now. We are clearing out both items and activities that don’t suit our lifestyle anymore. We’re looking for a little calm in our own home—a refuge from the bigger battles in our lives.

It’s time to clean up, from top to bottom. Time to shake the dust off our shoes from where we’ve been and head out again to discover different paths. Yes, this is the time for beginnings and new directions.

Even for the dog. With all the paring down and moving around of the front room, we finally found a way to put Fordham’s pillow back in front of the heater vent. Just maybe that will make up for the fact that this morning he had to take a bath and “clean up” himself!

Mrs. Clean can’t have a dirty dog, can she?

P.S. Happy 22nd anniversary of meeting Sherman and 21st anniversary of getting engaged to him!

I knew that group family therapy wasn’t going to be a picnic, but I didn’t expect the very first assignment to be the one thing I haven’t been able to do, despite over two and a half years of therapy. So, even though we’re not there specifically because of me, my weakness is exposed.

I don’t even think my family members realized that, all of a sudden, I felt very distressed. I do think one of the facilitators read my body language, but time was out for the session. I’m betting I get to talk about my experience next time!

We’re attending DBT or Dialectical Behavior Therapy, which is designed to help a person recognize the extremes in his or her thinking or reactions—or whatever—and learn to find a middle ground. In addition to the standard Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, there is a mindfulness component.

I have been working pretty hard on controlling my monkey mind, using techniques I’ve learned in yoga, as well as the treatments I’m getting for ADD. I am definitely getting somewhere because I no longer feel compelled to “amuse myself” frantically if I’m forced to wait somewhere. Last year I even managed to practice deep breathing techniques while waiting at least twenty minutes, on an exam table and half-dressed, of course, for the doctor. For once, I didn’t grab a magazine or my journal, but gave in to the rhythm of my breath.

At the beginning of yesterday’s session, we got to do one of those exercises where you close your eyes and hold out your hands to receive whatever the person wants to put in them. Did I mention that we were practicing distress tolerance? Well, we got to practice tolerating holding ice in our hands.

Just like Dr. Dennie says to do on difficult yoga poses, I focused on deep breathing techniques. I managed to “hold the pose” without much movement because of that. I was amazed at how well the years of training my mind are starting to pay off.

These days I can often access mindfulness to help calm physical distress. But when the facilitator read the assignment about scheduling our days, my heart started racing and I immediately began shifting from side to side.

Mindfulness seems just as elusive now, whenever I try to use it to compartmentalize time without specific boundaries, as it has my entire life. I can follow chronos for events and activities that are scheduled by others, but so far I cannot make myself be aware of Time’s passing when my options are open.

And that is essential to my being able to work for myself. This assignment points at the crux of who I can be professionally and, so far, I haven’t liked the answers I’ve found.

Somehow I know my therapist is going to think “Yes!” when she’s hears what I’m supposed to do this week. Now to stop the “No!!!” in my mind and see if I can deep-breathe enough to tolerate this distress—and finally see some progress.

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