Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Is Michael McCain married? His wife is a lucky woman.

I was listening to yet another one of the endless round of year end programs reviewing the best and the worst of 2008. They get a little tiring after a while.

This one caught my ear. The interviewee labelled the "apology of 2008" as the one given by Michael McCain. The fellow said that Michael ignored the concerns of the lawyers and the accountants and gave a heartfelt apology that expresed regret and apologized for the error.

Wouldn't it be an interesting world if people were able to really be vulnerable and transparent with apologies? I heard the other day that Maple Leaf has settled with the families and they will likely have money by summer 09--an unheard of brief period before compensation is received.

The interviewee stated that research is finding out that apologizing thoroughly, accepting responsibility and expressing regret very clearly works. Imagine that.

Apparently, although it freaks out the lawyers, it is becoming apparent that the possibilities of litigation actually decrease when there is a heartfelt apology.

It is hard to apologize if you're not used to it. It takes vulnerability, and courage, and an inner strength that has one know that to admit fault does not diminish you as a person. Apologizing takes practice. At the practice, apologies can be a critical factor in successful couple therapy after infidelity, a broken promise, or hurting the spouse in some way. Witnessing these moments are powerful.

Did you mess up lately? Do something 'bout it!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Making Life Good

They came!! Just before Christmas, the flashlights arrived. They are cute, but powerfully bright--with the logo and the website printed on the side. I'm not really into gimmicks--I have no business pens and don't hand out calendars, but when I saw this flashlight, it was something I thought would be good for our practice to have.

These are owner-powered flashlights. The owner turns the crank vigorously for a minute or so, and the flashlight is then able to shine light. When the battery wears down, the owner cranks it again until the power in the battery is regenerated. As a therapist, I love the idea that the person is the one who provides the power for the light--and can so very clearly take very personal responsibility to remedy the situation if the light stops working.

It's got me to thinking about how it is so easy to blame circumstances or others for when we are sad or upset. There's no doubt that the actions of others or circumstances of nature impact on us in very clear and obvious ways. But then I look at the stories of Winnie the Pooh...Tigger and Eeyore were often in the same story and would perceive the circumstances in different ways... and respond out of that perception.

Now, Eeyore is a character in a nursery story, and so he is largely tolerated well...but I'm sure you've been around an "Eeyore" in life. You know how Eeyore types perceive the world, and then respond to that world like an Eeyore...and sure enough, their world responds to the gloominess with more gloominess...and now the Eeyore type can credibly state that the world is more unpleasant to them.

Jimmy James Barrie, who gave us Peter Pan said, “Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others, cannot keep it from themselves.” I read that this morning in a weekly newsletter I subscribe to.

I do believe in the power of Tiggerness. As 2008 ends, and as you contemplate what sort of 2009 you will experience, my hope is that you will create the sunshine in others' lives that will spill inevitably and powerfully into your own in healthy and lifegiving ways.

What a beautiful line

Sunday, December 21, 2008

So low that down is up

I don't remember where I heard this line, but I heard it a very loooong time ago, and it stuck with me. I'm thinking of it particularly today, being December 21st, the shortest day of the year. I am a sunshine lover, and crave the brightness and the warmth that the sun brings...so the fall months have a note of melancholy about them as everyday a few more moments of light is robbed from us. So today, the day with the least amount of light in the year, is one that is welcome to me...because this is as low as we go...after this the days get longer, bit by bit.

I remember when I was a young graduate and worked in a rehab unit...I was walking by a room when I saw a gentleman who had had a rather severe stroke on the floor. He had fallen while attempting to stand up long enough to pull up his pants. I was filled with alarm and shouted for the nurse to come. I raced in, ready to haul that fellow up. He was over six feet and built like a Mac truck, so I was just breathing deep ready to lift when the nurse (much more experienced than I at the time!) came in. And in a lilting, calm voice, she said something like, "Oh, Mr. ___, I see you've taken a bit of a tumble. That musta been quite a shock." She added to my cofusion when she grabbed a pillow, put it under his head, put a blanket on top of him, and sat down beside him on the floor.

So low that down is up.

He'd fallen as far as he was going to. He was safe. There was no rush.

She chatted with him for a few minutes, and while she did so, I could see her gently checking his arms and legs for potential injuries. After 5 or 10 minutes, she brought a sturdy chair over, and Mr. ____ was calm enough that he was able to get up with very little assistance.

I learned something important that day. I myself have felt the freeing feeling of being at the bottom...of realizing things really can't get any worse. There is a quirky sort of hope in that, and while there can certainly be fear and anxiety there, the terror of wondering how things can get worse is gone.

Tomorrow there will be a few minutes more of sunlight than there is today. And a few minutes more the day after that. YIPPPEEEEE!!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The beauty in little things

Yesterday evening I spent with an old friend...sushi by the fire, with the music of the season in the background, and candles and little sparkly lights around the window providing muted light. We caught up on each other's lives. We just enjoyed simply just "being". And after she left, I found myself wondering why I let the busy-ness of life get in the way of creating pockets of time where life stops and the simple pleasure of time with a friend is enjoyed.

I know part of it is that many of the regular routine things have taken pause for the season. I had a chance to not only clear and clean the counters, but to set out the candles, and clear away the clutter so as to genuinely be able to enjoy the simplicity of being with a friend.

I love the hustle and bustle of a thriving practice, of making a difference in the lives of clients and students, of mentoring people and so on, but I forgot how much I also love stepping off the treadmill of my life and enjoying the simplicity of connection with a friend. It's after evenings like yesterday that I resolve to do things differently, to be more intentional about creating time and space in my life to slow down and simply "be".

May this Christmas time be one where you spend time in ways that are meaningful and enriching.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The courage to try, to do what you can

"Nobody made a greater mistake
than he who did nothing
because he could do only a little."
– Edmund Burke

I was at a Christmas concert tonight...a junior high concert--early adolescence when awkwardness reigns, and voices are changing, feet outsize the rest of their body, and generally grace and poise are in short supply. But the kids sang heartily, and several sang solos. In front of hundreds of people...kids volunteered to offer their voices in song for the season. They all received the audiences hearty endorsement, with tone and pitch mattering little. For we admired their courage, and their enthusiasm. We honored their effort and their chutzpah...and we all left feeling a little braver and knowing just a little more, that the possibilities are greater than what we often believe them to be.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Anne Rice--A Christmas Catholic

It was COLD yesterday...and so off I went to run indoors in a warm humid environment giving me a chance to catch up on a podcast I had been looking forward to listening to. I try to capture "summer" in whatever way I can.

Anne Rice is an author that wrote about the dark world of vampires for decades. She was interviewed by Tapestry on CBC, describing her experience of being a devout athiest for almost 40 years, and then experiencing the call of God. She claims that it is hard to remain an athiest when so much of nature calls a person to admire the beauty created by God.

I was listening to her while still thinking about yesterday's blog post about finding warmth and hope in the midst of a winter in one's life, so I was quite struck by a brief quote that was read from her book as a preface to a question:

"And everywhere on December the 24th and 25th, the child is born again in the midst of inevitable winter darkness and reaches out with warm delicate and curling fingers."

The author then quote a part of the chorus of "Oh, Holy Night"-
"A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn."

It was fascinating to hear Anne Rice talk about her search to find hope in a world that she had previously seen as meaningless--she is transparent, knowledgeable, and candid about her journey. I don't think I had ever heard or understood "a weary world" in that chorus the way she invited me to hear it. Her internal "invincible summer" has the Divine as its source.

If you have a half an hour sometime this Christmas, give the interview "a listen".

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Winter-in lots of ways

"In the depth of winter,
I finally learned that
within me there lay an invincible summer."

Albert Camus, a philosopher, came up with this line. I am quite certain he was never in Winnipeg--and on the surface, the above line is proof of that! ;)

Seriously, I love that line. I came across it as I was going through my file of quotes that I put on the bulletin board in our counselling office. We change the quote every week or so. We don't just put this one up in winter...many of our clients are experiencing a winter of sorts in their lives regardless what time of year they come to see us.

I love the hope in that line...that when things are dark and dreary and cold and stark, it is often possible to see the spark of life inside that even adversity doesn't extinguish. In fact, the tough times help illuminate it--rather like how a candle's light is much more prominent in the darkness.

I love the truth in that line. I have the privilege of walking with clients through the winters of their lives...and the honor of witnessing the discovery of the "invincible summer" deep within. The beauty and warmth that emerges as a person looks beyond the crap and the pain and realizes what they are truly made of, what the core of their being expresses.

It snowed yesterday...may you find summer today.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Look for the hidden

I was driving along yesterday listening to CBC when I heard an interview with Don Cherry...the outspoken commentator on Hockey Night in Canada. The guy says what he thinks, and isn't always very tactful about it. I suppose that's his shtick...he is so brazen in his comments that he really gets a reaction out of his listeners. It must work for him, and it certainly works for Hockey Night in Canada...they've had a few close calls over the years, when what he said was so "out there" that they've taken heat for not firing him. But overall, many tune in to see what crazy tie he is wearing the fabric of his suit (apparently made of curtain fabric on occasion).

What surprised me was the story he told of his efforts to be a Cadillac car salesman when he hockey career first ended at 36. He said that he was a lousy car salesman because he was too shy to approach people cold and start striking up a conversation as they came in to look at cars. He hated having to make himself begin conversations with total strangers, and looked forward to rainy days when no one would come to look at cars.

That struck me as interesting...and reminded me again that we are complex creatures with many sides to us. I wouldn't have used "shy" as a possible descriptor of Don Cherry. Who knew that there is a shy part to this man?

Reminds me of some clients I've had.
Successful, competent business people who are terrified of opening up to a spouse--and feel like they can't talk about it with anyone because they wouldn't be understood, and have no one they feel comfortable being that vulnerable with. They are the "go to" people, they don't show their vulnerable side to others.
Quiet, shy people who feel like no one notices them...and then they bring in poetry with passion that could make a person weep. The world misses the richness of their contribution to society
Calm, nurturing women who have spent their lives caring for others in remarkable ways--who love their families and communities but have a part that is seething with anger because of how they have not nurtured their own selves, and have passed up on their own dreams as they have actively helped others achieve theirs.

It challenges me, in my own life, to not put people into categories, or boxes that define them...if we allow, and look, and ask, we can discover previous unknown parts of people. Can you imagine what a remarkable gift that can be to someone this season--to allow a loved one to express a part of him or herself to you that they normally don't allow themselves to display? To extend the grace to someone that says, "Be who you are, not what I expect you to be". A remarkable gift of freedom.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic

Prorogue...did any of us know what that word meant 2 weeks ago?

The government will apparently spend the next several weeks in limbo, as all the politicians stick out their chests and proclaim themselves most capable of leading, and point their fingers at the opposition and criticize. Weeks of huff-puffery where politicians are all spending enormous amounts of energy trying to get into power, keep others out of power, and generally explain how they are misunderstood, and the opposition is unethical, inappropriate, and maybe even evil.

All of this while the latest economic news is quietly announced. The unemployment rate is going up faster than expected, manufacturing plants are closing down, people are out of work. We're heading into a period of financial stress as a country, and the politicians are so busy scrapping there is little energy or focus on "the big deal".

Kinda reminds me of something we see in family therapy. When I talk with a family about it, I will comment that rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic might be helpful, needed, or aesthetically pleasing, but completely inappropriate given the tragedy that was unfolding. Remember the movie where "the bad guys" create a fire in a garbage bin, and everyone rushes over to the emergency and looks to see what is happening and rush to put out the fire? And meanwhile, the crooks are on the other end of the town breaking into the bank?

We look and laugh at how dumb the townspeople are to not see the ruse. And then we do it in our families...we spend time arguing with our kid about how clean his room is or what color her hair is while we don't know how lonely and confused they are. Or we fight with our spouses about the bills or the laundry, and don't really connect to hear how terrified s/he is about the latest medical bills. Or a child receives lots of attention for an eating disorder which successfully detracts attention from her parents' miserable marriage--and when they are both worried about her, she can relax just a little 'cuz at least they aren't fighting for the moment. They unite in battling the disease. Everyone is locked into looking after the issue of the moment rather than dealing with the real issue--the issue of the moment may be a important, but pales in comparison to what is really going on.

Dealing with the "real issue" is important...if the townspeople can figure out the pattern, not allow themselves to get distracted, they arrest the bad guys, and the town is safe from the distracting fires and from the bank robberies.

Make no mistake--finding and dealing with the real issue is challenging--requires courage, and sometimes requires enormous discipline as the issue of the moment can seem to be so compelling. Look around--dig a little, and see if the problem really is "the" problem, or a necessary/helpful/tricky distraction. Find the guts to notice the real deal in your own family and deal with it--gently but bravely.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Stressful surprise

A few weeks ago, I went out to the car in the backlane to discover that my rear windshield was in about a million little pieces. My plans for the next hour (preparing dinner!) were put on hold as I called the police, called MPI, started sweeping up the little pieces of debris and sorted things out. Then I had to figure out how I was going to get to work, and figure out carpooling and so forth for the next day. Next morning, I was on the phone to figure out where to take it, and inbetween clients raced home to get my car and drive it, in all it's air conditioned glory to the auto glass place to get fixed. Long story short: my schedule was considerably disrupted with this whole event, and the hours I had been savoring to get caught up on a few things vanished while I scrambled to get things sorted out.

This is but a small scale stress compared to the sudden turn of events in the Canadian politcal scene. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaƫlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, comes home today with all eyes in the country on her. Seems she has to choose between
1. granting the Prime Minister's request to prorogue the government, which is criticized for postponing dealing with a situation in an economic time where limbo isn't helpful.
2. accepting a coalition government, criticized, among other things, for having a group of people lead the country who were not voted into power by the people
3. calling another election, just a few months after the last one. An expensive venture in a recession.

To read the news, it is clear that everybody has an opinion. Seems there are no "good options" here. All eyes are on the Governor General, waiting and wondering about what she will do. A CBC report says: "As representatives of the Queen in Canada, the vast majority of Canadian governors general have lived mostly uneventful constitutional lives." What an unexpected stressful situation she finds herself in--how different than what she would have expected. She essentially has to make the "least worst" decision in this mess. (Knowing that no matter what she does, she will be soundly criticised for the outcome).

Can't help it...I'm a therapist...and where my mind goes is: "What is she thinking? How does she handle it? With whom does she process this with? Can/does she trust them? How does she make a decision with surely many people advocating for their own preference".

I'm often struck by clients who will say, "Thank you for letting me talk, and letting me hear my own thoughts. I wasn't sure what I was thinking because so many people have been helping me by telling me what to do." Therapy is not "advice giving"...in fact quite the opposite...it's allowing people to process and explore their own thoughts in a safe and supportive environment, so that they can discover their own voice (or even more often, the various voices inside that speak out of different parts of themselves).

It is important during a time of unexpected crisis to find a place to take a deep breath, calm oneself and explore true thoughts of the soul...to remind yourself of what's important, what is real, what your core values and beliefs are. Somehow then, moving into the future, though still not easy, is more "do-able" with the clarity and perspective that comes from being in firmly grounded.

Excuse me, I've got to go pick up some more little pieces of glass from between the seats.