Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Sparrow and the Hawk

A couple of days ago Maggie and I were out walking and we encountered two hawks. The two of us must have spent an hour watching them dive, swoop, and otherwise go about their hawk-like business. What really captured my interest (a mixture of curiosity, horror, and awe) was when the hawk settled in high up on a telephone pole. 

First I noticed the chatter of other birds. Then I saw a sparrow. One lone sparrow came swooping in on the hawk, fluttering around, then flying away. This process repeated over and over for twenty minutes. Sometimes the bird would flutter in the air. Sometimes the bird would get so close I was fairly sure it was pecking the hawk. 

For the most part the hawk stood still. Finally the hawk caught a gust of rising warm air and soared away, high up into the air.

It got me thinking about a quote that I've posted on Facebook and tweeted about in recent weeks. When the Temple Grandin bio-pic first came out I stopped it at a particular point to write down a quote. At various times I've tweeted that quote and posted it on facebook. I got to thinking about this quote while I was watching the sparrow and the hawk
Nature is cruel, but we don't have to be. -- Temple Grandin
I like this quote. I like it because it serves as a reminder that we have choices about our actions. Watching the sparrow and hawk I realized Temple got this a little wrong (assuming it was Temple who said this and not a script writer).

We often imbue nature with person-like qualities. Nature as mother, for example--or nature as cruel sadist, as another example. Nature however isn't a person--it just is. Neither the sparrow or the hawk were engaged in the very human activity of cruelty. Neither were seeking to harm the other for pleasure, or engaged in behavior devoid of humane emotions. The hawk and sparrow were doing what hawks and sparrows do: the hawk was looking for food, the sparrow was trying to keep the flock from being food. I have no evidence to suggest that either animal has the capacity to make another choice.

We humans--well that's a different story. That's the part Temple got right. By the nature of our cognitive abilities we have been afforded a certain amount of choices. We can choose to be cruel. We can choose not to be. The choices we humans have available to us are seemingly endless. 

This choice can lead to such freedom. History is replete with examples of how easy it is for us to make choices that lead away from freedom.

What kind of choices are you making today?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Is Your Life Folding or Unfolding?

The other day I became fascinated by a comment that someone made in passing. They were talking about how a particular situation was unfolding. What fascinated me wasn't really about the content about what was unfolding (though, that was interesting too). I became transfixed by the image that appeared in my mind of a life unfolding and reveling itself from birth to death.

A nice image. Not anything particularly life-altering. This notion of a something unfolding is a pretty common figure of speech. A Google search of "unfolding experience" results in about 11,800 items. The first three search results:

  • A blog entitled "The Unfolding Experience" that opens with this Kahil Gibran quote: "The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed. The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals. 
  • A sample of the book "Becoming a Reflexive Practitioner" that says that "The narrative intends to capture the unfolding experience of working or journeying alongside a patient through their health-wellness experience. 
This still isn't what caught my interest. What really distracted me that hour--and for the last couple of weeks--is that generally we don't have lives that unfold. Overtime our lives become folded and compressed. Possibilities of what might be shrink. Our emotional ranges are limited. We become smaller rather than expansive. The world of opportunity that youth and innocence offer us becomes replaced by cynicism and regret.


This might not be the right direction to be moving in, no? I'm becoming much  more aware of how we use language that limits the possibility of what might be--and inviting those I work with to find ways to open their language up more and unfold into something larger. 

Try it out.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

365 Days of Mindfulness

This summer I've been thinking about travel. Vacations are a wonderful opportunity to travel together with family and friends, share an experience, create common experiences that can last a lifetime, and deepen and nourish relationships. Vacations can be about learning something new (traveling to historic spots, visiting museums, or learning a new hobby) or about play (getting away from it all at the beach, unplugging from the electronic devices and sleeping under the open sky, or sitting under in a comfortable chair reading a good book).

Vacations can be long or short. They can be far or close to home. Sometimes a vacation might even take the form of a mini-mental vacation. In DBT, one set of skills that are taught are those that IMPROVE the  moment. Improve is an acronym, and the v is for a mini vacation.

Overwhelmed by feelings? At the end of your rope? Try taking a mini-vacation. Close your eyes, use your imagination to fantasize what an ideal peaceful place would be. Perhaps it's a beach, a mountain top, or your favorite comfortable chair. Whatever the case is, a few moments spent on a mini-vacation there helps us slow down and think before we react rather than reacting without thinking.

There is a place near where I live which is an ideal place for me to think about when I take a mini-mental vacation. The local reservoir is a generally peaceful place. Neighbors walk their dogs there. A group of dedicated men and women tend to an ever-growing butterfly garden. Despite being in the middle of an urban environment, birds flock, deer roam, and I can let the natural environment nourish and recharge me when I'm tired, crabby, or down.

I've decided a few days ago that I'm going to start a little project for myself. It's a cross between a mini-vacation, a mindfulness practice, and a photography project. Maggie and I generally go for a walk every morning. Rain or shine, cold or hot, we'll start our day with a few trips around the local reservoir. We've done this for a year now. It's been enjoyable for both of us. I've met lots of neighbors, learned all the local gossip, watched flowers blossom and wither, and seen the seasons change.

I got to thinking that it would be interesting to spend a moment in the same spot every day for a year. What would it be to stand and watch the seasons change? What would I learn from taking a moment to observe every day?

Off to the right I'm adding a slide show widget where I'll upload the pictures as I go along. It's apparently going to take awhile for the slideshow to work: I'm having a few technical difficulties here on Blogger. The images will all be as I see them: no photoshopping, cropping, or editing. In the meantime, while we are waiting for my difficulties to be solved, here is day one of the 365 Days of Mindfulness project. I took the image on July 12, 2010.

What do you notice as the images change? Perhaps you are inspired to do something similar. If you are, make a comment here or send me an e-mail and share what you discover.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The View From Here: About Last Night Edition

I was inspecting my rooftop garden last night. There is a small overhang above my front door with a wrought iron fence around it. When I moved here it was the beginning of my gardening. Since then, I've taken over the whole yard. This remains my favorite place to garden. This year I have three different types of basil, three different kinds of coleus for color, rosemary, nasturtium, a stray pumpkin (I think!) that self seeded from an Autumn scene that I created last year, and a single morning glory plant that self seeded from last summer's window boxes.

Anyway, I was greeted by this glorious cloud. As I stood there watching it grew an arm as if to wave at me. Apparently I wasn't the only one looking up into the sky yesterday: Last Night's Sky.

Cloud watching makes for a useful activity. I frequently use it as a metaphor for mindfulness. In mindfulness, I explain, our thoughts become like clouds. We certainly wouldn't try to control a cloud or fashion it into a particular shape. We can learn to watch our thoughts in the same way: not trying to control or direct them at any way but let them pass in and out of our  mind like a cloud passes through the sky.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Grover Always Gets it Right

I still have my Grover from when I was young. I believe him to be hiding in a box somewhere in storage. He remains as wise now as he was when I was young.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

New Views

I've greatly enjoyed the last five years I have spent practicing in my current office. Over the last several months it has become more and more apparent that some change was needed. I've long disliked the lack of a real waiting room: patients have had to contend with a hallway that I've called a waiting room. As my colleague and office mate have expanded our practices, time has become a precious commodity for both of us: often times one of us is walking out with a patient while the other is walking in with one. Perhaps most of all, Maggie the therapy dog has discovered an enjoyable new pastime: standing in the second floor window barking at the ever changing spectacle along Massachusetts Avenue.

I will miss the familiar surroundings of the office. The old office however will never be too far away. The move Dr. Bledsoe and I are making isn't very far: our offices are moving from the second floor to the third. We each will have our own space. While I am sacrificing my beloved view of Massachusetts Avenue, I'm gaining a light drenched office nestled in the quieter back of the building. I'm also gaining an actual waiting room: patients now have a private and quiet place to wait.

Here are some images of the new waiting room and my office. Dr. Bledsoe is arranging putting the finishing touches on her office as I write this: I'll post some images of her new space in the near future.