Death

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the process of death.

Last week Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of the Cranberries died suddenly at the age of 46. That shouldn’t happen. People shouldn’t die at the age of 46 yet they do. People die every day. Despite knowing this, many of us choose to navigate through life thinking it will never happen.

While I myself am not sick, I am still dying. We are always marching forward toward what I have accepted as inevitable. I know death is inevitable, but it amazes me so that so many people think they can cheat death.

My dog Jack, who has been a faithful companion over the last 15-years has seen a rapid decline in his health. He has lost weight, his eyes are cloudy with cataracts and his hearing is all but gone. His vision is so bad that food placed directly in front of him cannot be seen. I felt guilty a couple weeks earlier when I watched him walk directly off the top step of our back porch. He was unable to see that he was on that level. He has been an amazing companion. When I have experienced a difficult day at work, there is nothing better than experiencing his greeting at the door. There is no judgment, only unconditional love. I would rather spend time with Jack than I would with most humans. Now, he is unaware of the comings and goings of others.

Jack

My dad, who will turn 80 on March 31st of this year has continued his march toward the inevitability of death. I visit him and my mom every week and every week I hear about another medication or another test. When my dad is not present in the room, her worried look returns as she tells me of another new concern, of another test received and another test where results continue to be processed. When my dad returns to the room, her smile, forced has returned. Anyone who knows my mom knows this is not a true smile for there is much pain behind it. I find myself becoming frustrated when I hear others complain about her complain. My words to them would remind them they had asked her how she is doing and if they didn’t want to her response, then don’t ask.

dad1

If you look at my dad, he appears healthy with the exception of managing post-polio syndrome. He is one of the 25-40% of the people who will have to manage these symptoms after having had polio as a boy. Dad sits on his powered scooter, his back twisted forcing him to sit to one side. He never complains. I mean even when I was small, no matter what the issue, no matter what the stressor, I never heard him complain.

On a recent visit, my mom explained how “it’s getting really tough.” She told me how it took him over an hour to sit up and transition from the bed into his chair; the chair that has been his home for the last decade. His feet, swollen and useless as his legs no longer offer him any support. Instead, they are appendages which than likely cause him more stress today than they ever have in the past.

His chair is useless in even the smallest amount of snow. This forces my mom to leave him behind when she runs errands or attends church services. I know he enjoys the time spent away from her as much as she enjoys the time away. Despite their love for each other, the stress on my mom’s face when arriving for a visit reminds me of the reasons why we are often afraid to age and ultimately die.

My dad and I have spoken of death on many previous occasions. He shakes off the thought saying, “It is what it is. It’s going to happen to all of us. The good Lord will take me when he’s ready.” While appearing superficial, I know there is much truth, much acceptance of these statements.

It the time I spend with him now as I approach my 55th year on this planet that reminds me of the importance of living each day as it arrives. I have done much work to make this process easier for me and for the clients with whom I provide counseling. I have long ago adopted my dad’s phrase of “it is what it is.” It is this phrase which has helped me to shrug off much of the insanity with which I find myself throughout the day. This world I live in today is one far more complicated than the world in which I was raised in the 6o’s and 70’s. Many times I long for the simplicity of those days and those times. I long for the different stress with which we all lived during that time.

Despite what I know about death and growing older, I continue to find myself also occasionally struggling with priorities. I see approximately 35-40 clients every week often leaving myself emotionally drained by weeks end. I have to remind myself daily to find the joy, which despite being ever present is often difficult to see through the crowded forest of life events and stressors.

I too will die one day. I work hard every day to ensure I am not one of the individuals who die having regretted the life they have lived.

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I am a Therapist

I am a therapist.

I have worked more than three decades to get where I am today.

The work I have done has allowed me to remain on this path which has helped me to achieve success and happiness so I can help others find the same degree of success and happiness.

I have worked hard to overcome difficulties in my own life to achieve the happiness in my life which I have come to enjoy.

People come to me for therapy and have unrealistic expectations.

People expect me to make changes for them. This is NOT the way this process works.

Change in the lives of others is not my responsibility. It is the responsibility of the individual seeking change.

I am simply a guide. I am the person who you approach asking for direction and support.

I am that person who you want to be open and honest with you when you ask that I provide feedback and support.

I am not that person if you are not looking for honest feedback. If you are looking for someone to lie to you about the problems which you experience in life as a result of decisions which you make, I am not that person. What you need, what you want is a friend. Most of us have had friends who tell us what we want to hear. This is NOT a friend. A friend, a true friend will provide us with honest feedback. We are lucky to have walked a path in life with at least one true friend.

I am that person when you search for honesty. I am that person who will hold a mirror to you and help you see the flaws in the process.

I am that person you hire when you realize you need more than a friend.

I am that person when you search for honesty. I am that person who will help you search for honesty. I am that person who will help you identify and find the path which you desire to make the changes which you decide need to be made to achieve the happiness for which you have been searching.

Our life, your life is one in which we have the opportunity to either stop reading or to make the changes we desire to make to come to a happier ending.

I am that person.

In the Shadow of the Mountains

Roadway in autumn forest

I rose this morning, the floor cold to my bare feet.
Golden daylight falls through the barren branches of the stand of white birch trees.
As I stare through the stand of trees, I see the silhouette of one of the Adirondack ranges standing majestically.

Hot black coffee.
Alone with my thoughts,
As I stare out the window.

Things are simpler here.
I can just be…
There is no judgment, no expectations, no goals,
No fears.

There is no one to please, no one to help.
The quiet solitude of leaves as they dance on the breeze.

Thoughts of a Thinker

I greet you with arms outstretched in gratitude on this beautiful morning.

I completed my first post surgical walk today. That’s not to say That I haven’t been walking, but there’s a huge difference between “going for a walk” with purpose and getting up from my desk or my couch. It is good to be back in this space. I know and have long ago accepted the fact that my running may not ever be what it once was. I have also accepted there will be a great deal of effort and time devoted to my progress.

I think when I walk. I think when I run. I do my best problem solving when I am by myself with the world relatively shut off. Thinking is one of the attributes of exercise which I enjoy. In his book “Walden”, Thoreau wrote, “A man thinking or working will always be alone, let him be where he will.”

This time alone with the birds is an opportunity for me to problem solve, long before the rest of the world becomes awake. The noise at this early hour is acceptable. I can hear the birds calling to each other. Time passes and I am allowed this brief interlude of solitude before the pace of the day begins to quicken and the time for thinking, at least for me, has gone. Now my thoughts are on autopilot. Being on autopilot is also a dangerous place for me to reside. It is necessary for me to check in frequently throughout the day and ensure I do not lose my way. When I need that time, I close the door to my office and take a few minutes before the next client enters to reflect. I also use my lunch hour to ensure I have even more time to remove the metaphorical batteries, place them back on the charger and ensure I have the emotional energy to traverse the remainder of the day.

Thoughts from this morning’s walk; which planet is visible in the southern sky? It’s Saturn by the way. Why do my healed incisions itch, especially the one on the inside of my knee? Why are my ears ringing this morning yet they didn’t ring at all yesterday? Why did the driver of that car feel it was important to run the red light? Where are they going this morning? Why do they believe they are more important than the rest of us who obey the laws? Why is Dunkin Donuts Closed at 5 AM? Why do they not open and allow their customers to travel 50 yards down the street to visit one of their competitors?  Surely Thoreau did not have to worry or think even in a more mild fashion about some of these topics. but think he did.

Thoreau was born in 1817. I believe that his thoughts today would not be to different from those he might have today. Thoreau, when he wrote his essay “Civil Disobedience” spoke of the importance of individualism. Thoreau expressed a belief in the power and what he referred to as an “obligation” of the individual to determine right from wrong independent of the dictates of society. Thoreau said, “any man more right than his neighbors, constitutes a majority of one.”

It is this belief which I share with Thoreau and reinforces my need for solitude.

Namaste

April 1, 2017

I stand before you with arms outstretched in gratitude.

It’s Saturday, April 1st. Well, that’s when I first began to write this article.

The first quarter of the new year has come to an end. I enjoy looking back over the last quarter to see what I’ve accomplished during this time frame. As a social worker the regulations which I must follow necessitate that a clients treatment plan be assessed every 90-days. I usually reassess a client’s progress at least once more during that time frame. This is also a practice I have adopted within my own life.

Goals are fairly simple things to identify if we allow ourselves that courtesy.  Whether it’s writing a treatment plan with a client or writing my own in my journal, I use the acronym SMART. SMART stands for Specific (simple, sensible & significant), Measurable (meaningful, motivating), Achievement (agreeable, attainable), & Relevant (reasonable, realistic, & results based). If goals aren’t written in a similar fashion, it’s questionable if they’re really goals. If they’re not goals, they’re probably dreams and if they’re dreams, it’s not likely we’ll achieve them. Dreams make us feel good and help us get through some difficult periods of time. Dreams are great things to have but if they stay dreams and re never converted to goals, they become useless. When this happens we can begin to feel that we have not been successful in our attempts to achieve whatever we have set out to achieve. Dreams can become goals, successful goals with the right planning.

In developing goals, we also need to have a clear understanding of the difference between needs and wants. Needs are the things we must have in order to live while wants are dreams. “I want a Ferrari” is a great goal but not a realistic one if I am employed as a social worker and have a mortgage and family to support. Goals such as these can spell disaster in other ways. I often hear people say how “depressed” they are because they cannot afford to make a purchase. That’s not depression. Sure there may be some small amount of sadness connected to this goal, this desire; but this is why it becomes so important to make sure the goals we define are in fact realistic goals.

Do you have the tools?

In developing goals, we also need to ask ourselves if we have the support and the tools we need to achieve our goals. Support comes in many forms such as financial and emotional. Emotional support can be found in the people in our lives with whom we have entrusted some support and within ourselves in the form of resilience. Support also comes in the form of financial. Do we have the financial means to achieve our goals?

It’s like this; I want to purchase a car. Is it a new car or a used car? What type of car? What is the cost of the car? What are the payments for the car? Do I have/make enough money to pay for the car, gas, maintenance, insurance, etc.? Through this assessment we go back to the drawing board and make the necessary adjustments so we have a better chance at success or sit back and complain about how bad your life is. How nothing ever works out for you. How the entire world is against you. Maintain this level of negativity and you are assured to continue to be unsuccessful in whatever you set out to achieve.

Goals are useless things if they’re not realistic if we don’t accept ownership for our part in their success. Conversely, we need to stop and assess our progress from time to time. If we don’t stop every once in a while to assess their completion, well then, we’re more than likely to fail. If you’re like most people you’ll blame others for your failure. This is a pretty common concept in society. I look at my schedule and my to-do list every morning. I ask a quick question. “Is this goal realistic to be completed today? Do I have the time and the resources necessary to complete the goal? If those answers are all “yes”, it remains in my schedule. At the end of the day, I assess what was completed. If a goal was not completed I ask the same set of questions plus “Was it a realistic goal? Is it still a relevant goal and if so when can I reschedule it for completion?” I look at my to-do list several other times throughout the day and do “mini-assessments” which include the above questions. On a larger note, I look at my week’s schedule every Sunday night and then assess my weekly to-do list. I ask the same set of questions and make the necessary adjustments. In my day-to-day journaling, I use Stephen Covey’s Decision Making Matrix which basically encompasses all of the above questions and provides a remarkably simple visual tool to help use ensure success in our goal setting. Remember, like any other tool, if we don’t use it regularly and make adjustments along the way, it won’t be successful.

Image result for covey decision making matrix

Lastly, you need to ask yourself what your investment is in any goals which you set. They’re your goals. Set them, monitor them and don’t allow other people to stand in your way of achieving them. There is a commitment to this process, to accepting we may not like certain things in our life and acceptance of the fact that we don’t like in which direction our life is going. Accept those things and make the necessary changes/adjustments and move on. You’ll find your life improving.

Namaste

 

 

Are you Living or just Surviving?

What follows is a letter written in 1958 by a then 22-year-old Hunter S. Thompson. Hunter wrote this letter to his friend Hume logan after Hume had asked him how one can find meaning and purpose in life.

I hear complaints frequently in my work as a therapist. People come to me complaining they feel ‘burned out’, stressed; that they cannot ‘find the time” to do the things they want to do, that their time is taken up by the things they ‘need to do.’

The majority of my clients do not want to hear my response. They want medication or another ‘quick fix.’ As Hunter says in his letter to Hume, there is no quick fix. Hunter talks about the importance of identifying a goal. This is another issue that the majority of my clients struggle to understand. They come to therapy with a vague goal of ‘wanting to feel better.’ Trying to ferret out a more in-depth response is often a difficult proposition which is precisely why so many of us struggle to find our way. We remain adrift throughout life like a sailboat lacking a rudder. Wind can fill our sails but lacking a rudder to ensure we are traveling in the right direction will get us nowhere.

I am going to let Hunter take it from here and share his thoughts on this question.

April 22, 1958
57 Perry Street
New York City

Dear Hume,

You ask advice: ah, what a very human and very dangerous thing to do! For to give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania. To presume to point a man to the right and ultimate goal — to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.

I am not a fool, but I respect your sincerity in asking my advice. I ask you though, in listening to what I say, to remember that all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it. What is truth to one may be disaster to another. I do not see life through your eyes, nor you through mine. If I were to attempt to give you specific advice, it would be too much like the blind leading the blind.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles …” (Shakespeare)

And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect — between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.

But why not float if you have no goal? That is another question. It is unquestionably better to enjoy the floating than to swim in uncertainty. So how does a man find a goal? Not a castle in the stars, but a real and tangible thing. How can a man be sure he’s not after the “big rock candy mountain,” the enticing sugar-candy goal that has little taste and no substance?

The answer — and, in a sense, the tragedy of life — is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.

So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?

The answer, then, must not deal with goals at all, or not with tangible goals, anyway. It would take reams of paper to develop this subject to fulfillment. God only knows how many books have been written on “the meaning of man” and that sort of thing, and god only knows how many people have pondered the subject. (I use the term “god only knows” purely as an expression.) There’s very little sense in my trying to give it up to you in the proverbial nutshell, because I’m the first to admit my absolute lack of qualifications for reducing the meaning of life to one or two paragraphs.

I’m going to steer clear of the word “existentialism,” but you might keep it in mind as a key of sorts. You might also try something called “Being and Nothingness” by Jean-Paul Sartre, and another little thing called “Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre.” These are merely suggestions. If you’re genuinely satisfied with what you are and what you’re doing, then give those books a wide berth. (Let sleeping dogs lie.) But back to the answer. As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors.WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors — but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires — including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.

As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).

In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life — the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.

Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN — and here is the essence of all I’ve said — you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.

Naturally, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ve lived a relatively narrow life, a vertical rather than a horizontal existence. So it isn’t any too difficult to understand why you seem to feel the way you do. But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.

So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”

And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know — is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.

If I don’t call this to a halt, I’m going to find myself writing a book. I hope it’s not as confusing as it looks at first glance. Keep in mind, of course, that this is MY WAY of looking at things. I happen to think that it’s pretty generally applicable, but you may not. Each of us has to create our own credo — this merely happens to be mine.

If any part of it doesn’t seem to make sense, by all means call it to my attention. I’m not trying to send you out “on the road” in search of Valhalla, but merely pointing out that it is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it. There is more to it than that — no one HAS to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life. But then again, if that’s what you wind up doing, by all means convince yourself that you HAD to do it. You’ll have lots of company.

And that’s it for now. Until I hear from you again, I remain,

Your friend,
Hunter

I hope Hunter’s advice helps you find your way..

Namaste

Shinrin yoku

This post is reblogged from Scott Dunlap’s blog, “A Trail Runner’s Blog.”

Ever since I started trail running on a daily basis, I have felt a noticeable improvement in my well-being. I feel less stressed, I get sick less often, and I’ve found a spiritual calm that keeps my optimism brimming through the seasons. Many of you have shared similar experiences, and one has to look no farther than the smiles at the finish of a trail race (and growth of the sport) to know it is pervasive. That magical combo of exercise and the great outdoors creates a meditative synergy that works wonders for the soul, and we just can’t get enough.

We aren’t the only ones tapping into the healing powers of the outdoors, it appears. Japanese doctors, long time proponents of meditation and exercise, have been taking a closer look at the power of forests. The Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku, or “forest bathing”, involves contemplative walks through the woods to reconnect with nature, and has proven to lead to decreased stress, natural mood elevation, and even a stronger immune system. Take a luxurious walk, engage all five senses, inhale the “phytoncides” emitted by plants, and your body and soul get stronger.

The Japanese government continues to investigate and promote the healing properties of nature. One study conducted across 24 forests in Japan found that when people strolled in a wooded area, their levels of the stress hormone cortisol plummeted almost 16 percent more than when they walked in an urban environment. Even after just 15 minutes of walking, subjects’ blood pressure showed improvement. But one of the biggest benefits may come from breathing in those chemicals called phytoncides, emitted by trees and plants. Women who logged two to four hours in a forest on two consecutive days saw a dramatic reduction of stress hormones and a nearly 40 percent surge in the activity of cancer-fighting white blood cells.

In one of my favorite parts of the studies, research has shown that the emotions of pleasure and happiness are elevated with an increase in tree density within specific settings, even in urban settings. The bigger and denser the trees, the higher the scenic beauty scores. Yup, that sounds about right! I suspect this also contributes to the sense of awe that we feel when immersed in the grandiosity of Mother Nature.

Perhaps this is just confirming what we all intuitively know. Get outside, engage with nature, and you will feel healthier and more connected. As silly as it sounds to say “forest bathing”, it feels accurate! It’s also a good reminder we don’t always need to always be running, and that a 15-minute stroll is more than enough to improve your day. I’ll be taking a few pauses on my runs this week to make sure all five senses are fully engaged. Smell the pines, taste the pollen in the air, feel the ferns, hear the creeks, watch the butterflies….you know, take a forest bath.