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Months have passed since I last posted in this blog. Graduate studies are coming to an end soon (December), but the final months that include a full-time, unpaid internship (as well as academic requirements) are grueling. Sleep-deprived, physically exhausted, cranky and whining, I have been “too busy” for anything outside of academia and clients. I want to run away. And maybe I will . . . after graduation. This morning, early–like, real early–I dragged myself out of bed to head to the computer to continue writing case notes, updating care plans, and maybe even get a little studying in before I head off to the office. But as I descended the stairs, bone weary, it occurred to me that I have been lax in my morning meditations and prayers, that there is a world of beauty and wonder outside this small world in which I am ensconced. It also dawned on me (no pun intended) that I am damn fortunate to be able to pursue this dream. Above all the pressures, angst, late nights and early mornings that pursuing this dream entails, I am blessed with opportunity; opportunity to study, to see, to hear, to learn, to grow, to give, to be authentic and real. Opportunity. In that instant as I was descending the stairs to all that awaited my attention, I recognized that I also had the opportunity of choice, and so I chose to spend time in meditation and prayer, and to take time to acknowledge, with gratitude, the blessing of opportunity.

When working toward a goal it is not uncommon to experience discouragement along the way. Even though we know that achieving our dreams will take hard work and tedious attention, when the trip grows long and laborious we begin to doubt our path, or grow weary of the journey. We may even consider abandoning the trek in favor of the path of least resistance. I have been in such a place for the past four or five months. I’ve grown weary of the endless papers, academic writing, dry, heady readings, and never-ending deadlines. When one quarter ends, another begins, again and again and again. I have doubted my abilities and wondered if I even want to persist to the end. All that changed however, when I spent the past week in Arlington, VA, at a required colloquia with hundreds of other aspiring mental health counselors. Divided into cohorts of 10 to 12 students each, we worked intensely in a classroom setting from morning till night honing our skills, critiquing our shortcomings, strategizing plans to improve what we do and move into our fieldwork settings. AND we affirmed each other. I was privileged to be in a group with nine other amazing, strong, capable, compassionate and dedicated women. Our instructors were phenomenal experienced counselors and teachers. During the week I repeatedly received affirmation that I was indeed in the right profession, and the journey was worth continuing. I came away from the experience awed by the beauty of each person there. We came with our flaws, our torn wings (see photo), our less than perfect personhood, but when the light of affirmation shown on each of us, just like that butterfly, the beauty was dazzling. Affirmation of a job well done, or for being the persons we were meant to be, revitalizes and beautifies. The path doesn’t look so treacherous anymore because we have light to illuminate our way. I am ever so grateful for the power of affirmation. Hugs to my cohort. You are truly beautiful women.

Warbling birds in the mornings; scampering squirrels on the deck; chattering chipmunks playing chase; giggling children romping in the yard; rustling leaves on a windy day; distant drums of a marching school band at practice; neighbors greeting each other as they cross paths on the sidewalk; whistling tea kettle sounding the alert that the water is ready! There are so many sounds of life, sounds we take for granted. Sounds of love, sounds of warning, sounds of alarm, sounds of joy, sounds of busyness. Sounds! I’ve wanted to express gratitude for sounds in this medium for some time but was never quite sure how to do so. As I age, sounds gradually become more muted. During my last check up the doctor commented on the scar tissue growing on my ear drums which explains why sounds are not so clear to me anymore. Frustrating. Since that visit I find myself paying closer attention to the sounds around me, sounds I have taken for granted. I do not think that this will lead to the total loss of hearing, but it may lead to the use of hearing aids sometime down the line. So today I listen. I soak in the sounds around me. I pay attention to how different birds communicate with their various types of chirping and warbling. I listen to the wind in the trees, and the staccato sound of squirrels quarreling with each other. The sound of traffic on a nearby street offers rhythmic background music for the sounds emanating from my back yard. I soak up every sound my grandchildren make and relish the music they create in my heart. I watch and listen to the sparrows lined up on the fence as they chatter with each other every morning. I am perpetually grateful for sounds.

Have you ever noticed how the simple things in life are the real day-brighteners? The older I get, the more I eschew the material-hoarding lifestyle that seems rampant in today’s American culture. Rather, I (we~R and I talked about this just last night) prefer a walk in the woods, time with the children and grandchildren, settling down with a good book, a phone call from a friend, bird watching and a host of other activities, all of which lift my spirits and imbue me with a sense of wonder and awe . . . and hope. Yesterday I found myself in the doldrums; academic books, notes and such strewn everywhere. Late in the afternoon I defiantly pushed myself away from my desk, took up my camera and left the apartment. I was only gone for about 30 minutes, but in that thirty minutes I came upon a beautiful blooming tree. Sitting in its shade, I breathed in deeply, savoring every aroma tinged breath. I shot a few photos. Spirits¬†lifted,¬†¬†I returned to my studies with renewed vigor and peace of mind. I know what is really important . . . and what is not. I am grateful for a beautiful flower on an otherwise gloomy day.

 

2011 was a year filled with upheaval and stress. A move from Maryland to Virginia, and then another from Virginia to Ohio, each dwelling smaller than the one before, necessitated storing most of our belongings in a storage unit far from where we now live. As if that was not stress enough, unexpected losses and illnesses of loved ones contributed to the jumble of feelings. Things got out of whack. For this year I have resolved to get my life back into whack (whatever ‘whack’ means.) Part of the process involves getting out of the apartment everyday and increasing physical activity. This is more of a challenge in winter when grounds and road surfaces are coated in snow and ice. Living in an apartment complex however, does afford some¬†amenities¬†that make it a bit easier to work toward my goals. The gym is free to all residents, so this year I’ve begun to come here and use the treadmill. Thirty minutes on that and I feel like a new person. As I get more in shape, I will use some of the other equipment, too, but a daily treadmill workout is great for now. I am grateful for gyms that have the tools that help us shape up!

 

This may sound strange to many people, but I am grateful for tears. Tears represent the release of different emotions and show the outside world what is going on in our inside world. Tears express joy, sadness, anger, grief, confusion, hormones, you name it. There have been times in my life when I felt the need for a good cry but could not find that release. ¬†There is nothing wrong with tears despite society’s aversion to seeing them. Yes, there are times when it probably is not the appropriate response to a particular situation, but eventually we need to express and release our emotions, albeit in safe ways. Tears help us do that. When each of my three children were born I cried tears of joy. When each of my grandparents died I cried tears of sorrow. When verbally attacked, I would eventually have to cry to release the tension and fear I felt in my body. Tears have often been abused which is why I presume we are afraid of them. For instance, tears may be used to manipulate someone to get what we want. Think of a toddler’s temper tantrum and how often the parent capitulates to the two-year old in order to stop the child from crying. Or think of the adult who uses tears to garner sympathy and support for a cause. Even so, by-in-large tears are a healthy expression of an inner emotion. I have shed a lot of tears lately, tears of grief, tears of fear, and tears of joy. I am grateful for the gift of tears.

Last night the phone rang late ~ too late. I sensed something was wrong. I didn’t answer it right away, rather let the caller leave a message. After all, I was probably being melodramatic. About ten minutes later however, I couldn’t let it rest and anxiously checked the phone messages. David, my brother, with urgency in his voice told me to call back immediately, the it was imperative that I return the call. I found out that Dad had an abdominal aneurism¬†rupture. He was rushed to the hospital and was in surgery as David and I spoke. David’s parting words were “this does not look good.” I called the kids then I began praying. Prayer is a huge part of my life, not just in emergencies, but every day. When things like this happen however, there is an added fervency, one prays with intense kavannah. Around 1:30am I got the call that Dad had done well in surgery and had responded excellently to the skilled surgeons and other medical personnel as they repaired five ruptures. He is now in ICU at Jewish Hospital in Louisville, KY, and the prognosis looks good. But last night we didn’t know what the outcome would be. Today I find myself paying attention more, to life, to people, to voices, to family. Everyday we walk this earth is a gift. My dad has been given the gift of more days and we’ve been given the gift of more time with Dad. I love you Dad. I am beyond extremely grateful that Dad pulled through emergency surgery to repair a ruptured abdominal aneurism.

 

This is a sad day in our country’s history. ¬†Most of us remember 9/11 and can replay the events of the day in slow motion. ¬†At times we still shake our heads in disbelief at the enormity of the happenings of that day, and how it shattered our world. ¬†Today, ten years later, we still pause and remember. ¬†Our hearts still ache for those we lost and the world that no longer is. ¬†We grieve again. Grief is a part of all of our lives. We don’t like the dull ache that seems to go on for a very long time after the acute anguish passes, but grief is also a harbinger of healing. ¬†People are drawn together in community; creative minds begin to figure out ways to be better and do better; we acknowledge the loss and those we lose and their importance to us in our everyday lives. Life is not the same after a worldwide catastrophe such as 9/11, nor is it the same for those who suffer losses on a smaller scale in more personal ways. ¬†Loss is loss for whoever experiences it. Today we pause and remember 9/11 and grieve again but not as acutely as on that day. Now we have stories of survival, inspiration, heroism, new beginnings and new directions that were all spawned from that horrific event. Today there are also people~family, friends,¬†acquaintances~who suffer personal losses of which the world is oblivious, but for which those experiencing the loss grieve. ¬†Grief has a purpose. Grief allows us to express our deepest love, regrets, pain and sorrow so that we can move on. ¬†At its best, grief has the power to inspire us and motivate us to be better than what we have been, to pursue that for which we hope, and to make a spiritual space for what we have lost. Today I am grateful for grief expressed and healing begun.

Today I woke up feeling anxious. ¬†Coursework from last week (the week I was in residence) has to be completed and an assignment written. ¬†This week’s coursework, too, must be done. ¬†I am not as far along as I expected with the packing but this week is it! ¬†I must pack everything that is not nailed in place. ¬†Richard is far away and I miss him. ¬†The list goes on and on. ¬†Yet, as I look at my “chaotic” list, I think of how fortunate that this is my chaos. ¬†Richard has been gone for a matter of weeks. ¬†I have friends whose husbands, wives, and significant others are gone for months or years, to places like Afghanistan and Iraq. ¬†I have to pack up all my things to move to another place where there will be space for us with a roof over our heads. ¬†I know folks who worked hard, paid their bills, but because of shady banking practices they lost their home and their possessions and must now rely on friends and family to sustain them as they try to get back on their feet. ¬†I complain of the aches and pains of aging, but I’ve lost friends and family to cancer, heart disease, and AIDS. ¬†All of them would have welcomed the signs of aging and growing older. ¬†Instead their lives were cut short. ¬†Even though I have friends who have endured the worst kinds of chaos and loss, each seemed to find a place of quiet calm in the midst of their storms. I learn from my friends. ¬†I’ve learned that regardless of the “mess” we are in, there are places of retreat that calm our nerves, sustain our spirits, and¬†rejuvenate¬†our bodies and souls. ¬†This is a spiritual thing. This is a place where we connect with the Divine and all that is holy. ¬†This is a place deep within us where we discover our true priorities. ¬†This is a place of peace and assurance that regardless of what is happening around us or what is happening to us, all is ultimately for the good. ¬†We must trust that, put one foot in front of the other, and choose life and holiness as best we know it. ¬†My chaos at the moment is not as drastic as all that, but it is chaos none-the-less. ¬†And when I pause for a few minutes to center myself, I realize that I am grateful for the calm amidst the storm.

 

This week I had the privilege of learning with a group of fellow students, all of us preparing to become mental health counselors. ¬†I don’t know about you, but most groups I have worked with in the past usually have one or two people who are hard to get along with, or the group break into small cliques. ¬†I have been in groups where group members bicker with each other, or tensions are evident just “beneath the surface.” ¬†This week however, I must say that our ¬†“cohort” ¬†had none of that. ¬†I found mutual support and honest sharing, giving and receiving feedback, and an overall camaraderie. We came together as strangers and left as colleagues and friends. ¬†This cohort will continue learning together through our Facebook group, online course room discussions, and in the near future we’ll be adding Skype (or Adobe something). ¬†It is such a pleasure to work with the people pictured above. ¬†I am grateful for the Arlington Colloquia Fairfax Cohort (a.k.a. fellow learners!)

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