Tuesday, October 31, 2006

What Mental Illness Does to a Family

I heard recently of a woman on her deathbed who even after ten
years did not want to see her daughter. Or at least that is what her family decided she wanted or needed. Her daughter had publicly struggled with mental illness for years and had come to terms with it. The woman had her own struggles but kept them locked away. The shame of mental illness has fractured this family so that they were all at odds to know how to relate to each other, much less how to support each other. Many years ago Erving Goffman wrote a book about stigma, a brand people carry reminding them and everyone else what this person should expect, how he or she should act and how everyone else should treat him or her. Isn't it time we look past the stigma and see the person whom it brands? Families might then be able to repair the cracks and fissures caused by mental illness.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Considering the Other Possibilities

I watched a movie recently called "Run, Lola, Run." It replayed the plot several times, leading to different outcomes if one or two things happened in a different way. We sometimes think of our lives as scripted and preordained. However, one step in a different direction could lead to a whole series of experiences we never would have had if we had taken another path. I think we sometimes forget that we have so many choices in life. We can't go back and redo our lives but we always have choices from wherever we stand at the moment.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Dancing on a Dreary Day

The weather has turned cold and blustery lately with rain most days. It could be depressing if I took my cues from the weather. However I have also discovered that I can create my own climate inside myself despite what is going on around me. It also helps to invite someone into my environment to share whatever we can create together.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

One Year Post Breast Cancer

One year ago today my life partner was diagnosed with breast cancer. Both of our lives ground to a halt, at least temporarily. We have both discovered that there is life after cancer and that such an ordeal has made us appreciate it more on a daily basis. We have also come to appreciate each other more fully. It is easy to take for granted a person who is there for you day after day. When that person's life is at stake, you have to stop to consider what that person means to you, what it would be without him or her and what you need to do to make each day together the best it can be.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Joy of Silence

I wrote a little about the monastery yesterday. One thing I remember well is frequent periods of silence when I was able to listen to God and to my own thoughts. There does not appear to be much room for silence in today's world. Radios, TV's, horns, traffic and other assorted noises crowd our awareness. I particularly noticed this in a recent TV car commercial where there was not even space for a pause. Each new claim was overlapped on the previous one, leaving me breathless just listening to it. Have you ever tried creating some silence in your life by turning everything off and being some place where noise does not intrude on your consciousness? It is a good way to find the core of yourself and get in touch with who you are without all the distractions. Try it some time.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Monastery

Last night I watched the first show of a new series called The Monastery, in this case Benedictine monks who took in five men for the show to help them reassess their lives. It reminded me of the three and a half years I spent in a Passionist Monastery in the 1960's. Although things are different now, some of the basics are the same. These monks appear to be in a stable community. I entered around the time of the Second Vatican Council when the church was itself in a period of self-assessment. The show made me stop to think what I brought with me from my years in the monastery.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Positive and Negative Reactions

What do you do when things don't go the way you would like them to? You can become upset, complaining to anything who will listen about what you don't like. You can also try to understand why things went the way they did. Then you can suggest another way and why you think it makes sense. It's your choice.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Sex and Responsibility

Mr. Foley admitted sending sexually explicit e-mails to a teenage page. However he was alcoholic and was sexually abused himself as a teen. The priest whom he named admitted being nude in a sauna with him and giving him nude massages but did not do anything inappropriate. It seems that it is easy to create excuses for inappropriate behavior blaming someone else or something else about yourself. It has always been amazing to me that two people with very similar experiences can react so differently. One can learn from what he experienced and live a responsible life as a consequence. Another continues to repeat what has happened to him (or her) contunuing to perpetrate the abuse experienced in earlier life. Regardless of escuses, it seems to me that people ultimately are responsible for their actions and must live with the consequences.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Living Simply

It is amazing to me how many things we think we need in order to live properly. There was a time when people lived more simply and were thankful to have the resources to manage each day. If we turn on a television, listen to the radio or read a newspaper we are constantly bombarded with things we can't possibly live without. How much of our time, energy and money are spent pursuing amenities rather than the basics? I remember studying history and reading that most civilizations collapse from within. I took this to mean that they lost sight of their basic purpose for existing in the first place. At one time the United States stood for freedom, respect of individual lives and diversity. I don't want to think that we are heading in the same direction as ancient civilizations, but sometimes I wonder.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Impulsive vs.Compulsive

Sometimes we act on impulse. We do what comes to mind, acting on how we feel at the moment. We give little or no thought to the implications of our actions. Sometimes we pore over the fine points of what we would like to do, trying to make sure every detail is in place. We are so careful that we might not take any action at all. Neither way is much fun in the long run and leaves us unsatisfied. Satisfaction lies somewhere in the middle. Having a creative idea does not mean we must rush to enact it. Nor does it mean we have to analyze it to death. Paying attention to random thoughts passing through our minds helps us see ways of acting we had not previously considered. Giving them a little thought before acting helps insure that we will not regret our actions later.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Problems Don't Have Any Power

This seems unreasonable at first. It seems like problems have the power to stop us in our tracks. It certainly seemed like Columbus had a problem half way across the Atlantic Ocean on his first voyage. Most of the problems we face we create ourselves or let them become problems. Things are the way they are, but are only problems when we let ourselves think of situations that way. What if we thought of a situation as having a series of choices for us to make rather than as a problem? We might find out we are not as stuck as we think and just need to use our options rather than wasting our time being frustrated.

Monday, October 16, 2006

It's Your Choice

We are all surrounded by opinions, actions and situations which can enhance or detract from our lives. We have a choice of what gets our attention. We can dwell on bad news, failures or criticism of others and become more bitter in the process. We can also ignore these, give people the benefit of the doubt and think about what positive motivation people might have for their actions. If we are not sure, we can always find a non-threatening way to ask them what they are about.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Getting Out of the Comfort Zone

In a recent newspaper article, there was an account of Sinnathamby Thevanesan being interviewed about why he would return to his homeland of Sri Lanka to offer his help. He replied, "A comfort zone is not everything. You've got to explore and see what you can do for humanity." I was gratified to see that he could look beyond his own personal comfort and wellbeing as well as his safety to provide something for others. It seems easier to play it safe. But, at the end of the day, what do we have to show for it?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Time to Dance

I was writing a column this morning about dancing at the suggestion of my friend Judy. I didn't realize I had so much to say about it. Have you thought about how dancing or even seeing someone else dance brings your senses to life and helps you think in a different way? I have. Somehow I am on another plane in the presence of dancing. Even though I write quite a bit, I realize there are times when words fail me and I need another channel of communication.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Violence Begets Violence

I have been wondering what accounts for the increase in random violence in our country which has no apparent explanation. I have long thought that violence in our personal lives contributes to violence on a national and international level. Lately I have been wondering whether a gunslinger mentality on the part of our national leadership might be contributing to increased violence on the personal level. What do you think?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Graveyard Pumpkin

On a somewhat more cheerful note than yesterday, not all visits to cemeteries are so somber. In the midst of my thoughts about death yesterday, I happened upon a headstone with a pumpkin next to it. In addition to missing people who have died, we also have good memories of the times with them which carry us through our own difficult days. Perhaps this pumpkin is to remind us the happy memories we carry with us.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Afternoon Walk

I decided on a fall walk rather than swimming today. I had not walked through the cemetery lately and decided to do so today. I am usually preoccupied with something or other as I walk. Not today. I noticed things as I passed them. I was surprised to see so many headstones of people I had known during the thirty years I have lived in this town. I realized that one day I would be there as well. As I left the cemetery, I was ready to think about something else. However I crunched through falling leaves and remembered their distinctive smell as it reached my nose, reminding me of the end of the growing season. I guess today was my day to think about mortality and appreciate the life I have left.