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The Journey of Transformation

Archive for the ‘Transformation’ Category

The Joy (and not-joy) of Relationship

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

We had a family gathering at my house on Friday evening, since my sister and brother-in-law were visiting from Florida. The thing that stands out in my mind about it is that everyone was so GLAD to see each other. There was tangible joy, just to be together.

It is one of the greatest blessings I know to feel that love and see the connections between people I love. It makes the hassles of planning, communicating, cleaning and cooking all worth it, in spades.

Hearing laughter and chatter, seeing the men holding babies that are not their own, and LOVING them, seeing nieces and brothers helping themselves in the kitchen and a sister-in-law stirring pots is pure contentment to me.

I missed those that weren’t here, also. Nieces and nephews busy elsewhere with their own lives, great-nieces and nephews involved with other parts of their family, a brother on a book tour, parents who are no longer with us, aunts and cousins who are far away, all are missed.

Not everyone is blessed with joyful relationships. There isn’t always joy in these relationships, either. There can be irritation, hurt feelings, disappointment and confusion, as well. In some families there is outright hostility and estrangement. It pains me when I see it in families I know and love. I see and hear about painful relationships daily in my work as a therapist. It is a primary source of anguish and bewilderment for my clients.

The Dalai Lama encourages compassion for others, and reminds us to see that we are the SAME as others, and not so different. Understanding that the other is experiencing the same feelings, challenges, desires and frustrations can equalize things and help us to find empathy for him/her.

Terence Real, who wrote The New Rules of Marriage (Ballantine Books, 2008) and other books explains that many of us get caught up on an “escalator of contempt” which shuttles us back and forth between grandiosity (better than) and shame (worse than).

Terry Real, escalator, contempt, grandiosity, shame, same as

Escalator of Contempt
Grandiosity —— Shame

When we think we have all the answers we look down on others with contempt and disdain. We pump ourselves up as more important than, smarter than, more talented than, etc. and grandiosity reigns. When we put ourselves down as stupid, unworthy, inadequate and unlovable we are in shame and are treating ourselves with contempt.

What gets missed is the experience of same as. We are fundamentally the same as everyone else, with inadequacies and amazing traits; quirks and gifts; bad behaviors and generosity; wisdom and foolishness; strengths and weaknesses. We are all human.

In recent years I have experienced some painful conflict in personal relationships. Some of it related to miscommunication and misunderstandings, some to unrestrained words of anger and judgment, some to differences that got translated into weaknesses and shortcomings. I was forced to see attitudes and behaviors in myself that were extremely hard to admit. The primary thing I must acknowledge is that I can be critical, shaming and grandiose. I also can feel rejected, ashamed, misunderstood, mistreated and unworthy.

Terry Real recommends stepping off the contempt escalator and remembering the other person is much like I am; not less than me and not better than me. It helps me manage my reactions and feelings when I remind myself, “same as.” The other person is struggling just like I am, feels similar feelings, and has many great qualities as well as shortcomings, just like me. The other is trying to be understood and get needs met just as I am; and is NOT out to get ME.

And I began to use a phrase in my head when I was feeling frustrated with someone and thinking, “they should have…” or “why don’t they…” The phrase I said to help me let go of judgment, anger and hurt feelings was “JUST LOVE ‘EM.”

It serves to remind me that the most important thing is that I DO love them, and that calms me down and allows me to accept them just as they are, which is, after all, what I want them to do with me. It takes me off the “contempt escalator” and allows me to change my thinking, which changes my feelings and actions.

I try to say this to myself, as well, when I get a case of the “I should have…”

Roll with it

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

This is the time of year that everyone (especially in northern climes like Minnesota, I think) starts to pack in a lot of summertime activities, knowing that fall is about to descend. And, it is prep time for students and teachers returning to school. I am one of those again; this time I’m teaching a class in the Social Work graduate program at SCSU; providing instruction in the fundamental skills needed to be a social worker.

I am eager to dig into this class and learn the process of teaching the theory and skills of my profession. Interestingly, the textbook to be used is the same one I had when I started my MSW program at Louisiana State University in 1987. That was Edition 2, and now I will use Edition 9. Wow! Has it really been that long? I love the synchronicity of this and can see that it is THE book, and has evolved appropriately to be current and cutting edge.

Social Work, classroom, students, university, class, learning

Classroom and students

I feel that I have evolved in a similar way–changing and adapting to stay up-to-date and fresh through the years of honing my craft and helping others who are in the beginning stages of their careers.

This is another aspect of resilience, I think; adapting and growing through challenges, upheavals, changes. Becoming stronger and remaining fit to perform necessary tasks and fulfill new roles.

It can be a very humbling process. Many times through the years I have seen a “new” technique or approach introduced and embraced, and realize I knew something very similar to that YEARS ago, and had not really incorporated it. I often have a sense of “I knew that once! Why haven’t I been doing it?” or “Damn, I could have written that book!” It is disconcerting but I have come to realize it is an outcome of living a lot of years and being in a career for 30+ years. I also know that I can’t do it all, nor does it make what I have done less valid.

That’s where “roll with it” comes in. Here’s a definition:

“to adjust to difficult events as they happen–roll with it.”

Etymology: based on boxing, from the literal meaning roll with the punches (step back or to one side as you are being hit), so that you do not receive the full force of the attack.
Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2003. Reproduced with permission.

We need to adjust, be flexible, accomodate and sometimes, in order not to get knocked down, we need to take the punch and move with it.

roll with it, punch, resilience, bounce back, adapt, flexibility

The ability to bend and be tough are essential skills in this world. Seeing our imperfections, errors, shortcomings, and misses is part of rolling with it. Understanding our fallibility but not letting it undermine our self-confidence and sense of purpose can be difficult, but when we do it we can successfully move forward and attain more wisdom. Owning those truths about ourselves improves our resilience and enhances our ability to accept things, people, events, that we cannot change, and helps us gain tolerance of others, as well.

Resilience, bend or break, tree

 

Along the Way Workshop, March 31, 2012

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

Along the Way: Transformation through difficult times…

Relationship, Resilience, Respite, Renewal (the 4 Rs)

March 31, 2012

Unity Spiritual Center

Sartell, MN

Susan Holmen, LICSW, ICADC

 

Using music, meditation, journaling and sharing, Susan explored the journey of transformation. The group looked at the 4 Rs and discussed their personal experiences and challenges.

 

 

 

“The workshop provided a nice balance of quiet introspection and interaction with others. The insights Susan shared awakened several ‘aha!’ moments of consciousness in me. It’s an experience that could be repeated over and over and would likely uncover something new each time.”  Sara M.

 

 

The pain of alcoholism – Part 1

Monday, March 26th, 2012

In my work as a counselor, sometimes I see and hear “themes” for the week; common threads woven through the tapestry of stories I’m hearing. Although I am a generalist and work with many types of mental health issues, this week the theme is alcoholism and its effects. It is synchronistic, in that I celebrated 34 years sobriety on Monday, so my awareness of how different my life would have been had I continued to drink (if I were still here at all) is heightened.

I happened to see four clients who are sober, and work a “program,” and are back in counseling working on other issues. They all feel the same gratitude and humility I feel, to be part of the lucky group that are surviving alcoholism and drug addiction, and have a shot at living a full, rich life.

Others are struggling still, and facing many of the consequences which accompany the poor choices made as a result of chemical use. This includes loss of driving privileges, conflict with family, legal problems, health troubles. One is dealing with chronic relapse coupled with long-standing mental disorders and going to treatment yet again. One is beginning to look at the role alcohol plays in his life. Another is starting treatment at an early age, rather reluctantly, in the hope of avoiding worse consequences and losses.

treatment, recovery, group therapy

Group Therapy

I saw a number of people whose lives are or have been deeply and frustratingly affected by someone else’s chemical abuse. The lies, inconsistencies, and cycles of problems they experience and the abandonment and confusion they feel is tangible. Those that grew up with alcoholic parents are trying to figure out exactly what happened and understand the lasting effects they experience, with difficulty trusting, believing in themselves, and coping with their emotions effectively. They are angry, confused, feeling guilty and grieving.

It is unspeakably painful to watch lives disintegrate due to chemical use.

It is incredibly rewarding to see lives saved, knit back together, and hope renewed, when a person grabs hold of the lifeline and does the work to get sober. It is inspiring to see a person work through ACOA (adult child of an alcoholic) issues and live a meaningful and balanced life.

It is terribly frustrating to see how casually our world treats chemical use, and encourages it.

Soul Retrieval

Saturday, November 5th, 2011
Story-telling, group, fire, unity

Story-telling around a fire

Shamanic societies, building on age-old wisdom, believe that the world and its challenges can drain our energy. The experiences of discouragement, pain, loss, disappointment, loss of meaning and feeling stuck all drain us. The shamans taught that if we “stop singing, stop dancing, are no longer enchanted by stories, or become uncomfortable with silence, we experience soul loss, which opens the door to discomfort and disease (Arrien).”

 

In  The Four-Fold Way, Angeles Arrien describes the shamans’ remedy for soul loss:

The Four Universal Healing Salves:

storytelling, singing, dancing and silence

Becoming open, again, to the Healing Salves can bring about “soul retrieval” and we can reconnect to joy, optimism, hope, acceptance, motivation and love. Arrien also says the goal of managing a difficult time is acceptance, not resignation; detachment, not holding on; to be “open to outcome, not attached to outcome.”

 

Whenever there is CHANGE there is LOSS; whenever there is loss we GRIEVE. Therefore, whenever there is change, we grieve. Ritual is a human tradition that helps deal with loss, grief and change. The losses may be related to losing a person we love, losing a life style, health, financial security, safety, faith or meaning.

 

Arrien says,

“Ritual is the conscious act of recognizing a life change, and doing something to honor and support the change through the presence of such elements as witnesses, gift giving, ceremony, and sacred intention. In this way human beings support the changes they are experiencing and create a way ‘to fit things together again.’”

 

 Singing, storytelling, silence and dancing help us cope with grief and are part of the ritual of soul retrieval.

 

Silence, meditation

Meditation and silence