A Wonderful Documentary About Eleven Year Olds

Brandon Webber writes in Unworthy.com about a documentary entitled, I Am Eleven. The link is above.

elevenDo you remember what it was like to be eleven years old? I remember that at eleven, I was finally allowed to walk to school by myself. I was still a kid but I was given an exciting and new opportunity to be a big kid. I felt so proud and a little nervous. Would the cars stop for me? Would I be able to get to school on time? Would I get lost?

Even the type of school a child attends is different when s/he turns eleven. It’s no longer elementary school, it’s junior high school. There may be the word, “junior” in front of it, but high school is what type of school I was finally attending when I was able to walk to school by myself. Therefore, I was now mature.

elevenSomething special happens when a kid turns eleven. S/he is given more responsibilities. Some kids have more homework, others may be allowed to stay home alone, without a babysitter. Some prepare dinner for their families, others pick their younger siblings up after school.

One kid I spoke to said that when he turned eleven, he was excited to walk to school by himself but he still wanted his dad to wake him up in the morning and his mom to help him choose an outfit for school. He wasn’t ready to be that grown up.

Another kid said that she liked and didn’t like to be privy to adult conversations. She said that she wanted to know and didn’t want to know, for example, that so and so was getting a divorce or that her friend’s mother acted strangely because she drank too much.

elevenFor some, turning eleven offers a cautious glimpse into the grown up world. Sometimes it feels good to be be a part of adult conversations and other times kids prefer to remain unaware. There are many milestones in a child’s life and there’s something particularly transformative about turning eleven.

What Helps You Heal?

New York City is a strange, wild, exciting, beautiful, dirty, vast, crowded and wonderful place. To live and to work here can be challenging. What makes New York City so special is the people. There are so many of them and each person has his/her own story. When I look at their faces, I see sadness, happiness, joy, anger, rage, excitement, jealousy- every emotion. I often wonder, what helps each person heal. What helps you heal?

How do you heal?Is it listening to or playing music, connecting with a friend, going to a 12 step meeting, hugging, going for a walk, working out, doing yoga, being in nature, getting a massage, creating or seeing art? Is it reading? Is it going to the movies?

 

It’s ok to feel sad or angry or jealous or joyous or content. But sometimes the emotions are too great, too powerful or too intense. Here’s a link to an article that I wrote about the power of music. Music can take away from the intensity of emotions and sometimes even replace it with another.

I received an email this morning from Upworthy.com. How do you heal?Unworthy describes themselves like this: “Upworthy draws massive amounts of attention to things that matter. Every day, our curators scour the web to find compelling, meaningful media — stories, information, videos, graphics, and ideas that reward you deeply for the time you spend with them.

We share the best stuff with the Upworthy community, and they share it on to their friends and families, engaging a total of about 50 million people each month on some of society’s most important topics.”

What inspired me to write a post today is seeing this link in Upworthy. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will tell you that it has to do with New York and the many people who inhabit this great city. Someone chose to listen to music and that act changed her life- saved her life.  Someone helped herself heal.

How have you helped yourself heal? How do you help yourself heal?

Too Busy…. For What?

Too BusyWe live in a world that reveres those who are too busy. We work overtime and accrue vacation days but only use some of them. We have meetings, paperwork, appointments, errands, etc. When do we rest? When can we just be? We are too busy. But for what?

The other day I came down with an inner ear infection. I have no idea how it started but I suddenly became so dizzy that I was unable to keep appointments, run errands or even go into work. I was being forced to be still and even when I was still, the room was spinning. I often wonder when my body makes me slow down, if it does this because I am not consciously taking the time to do it for myself. It’s as if my body (or in this case my inner ear) says, “You don’t want to rest? Ok, I’ll make you!”

too busy for what?Five days in and I’m feeling much better but still not myself. I’m frustrated about not being able to do what I think that I must. At the same time, I’m trying to learn the lesson that I must be still in order to heal and to stay healthy.

Omid Safi is a columnist for On Being. He wrote a fabulous article about busyness called, The Disease of Being Busy.  Here is the link. Mr. Safi is the “Director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center. He is the past Chair for the Study of Islam, and the current Chair for Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion. In 2009, he was recognized by the University of North Carolina for mentoring minority students in 2009, and won the Sitterson Teaching Award for Professor of the Year in April of 2010.

After reading Mr. Safi’s article and mine, do you think of yourself as too busy? I’d like to know. Contact me here. If you are too busy, I’d like to know, for what?

What Would You Say?

If you had the chance to tell someone how you feel about them, what would you say?

The people at Soulpancake.com did it again. What would you say?On a city street, they set up a microphone, in what look like a telephone booth and across from it, a listening device that look like huge earphones. Two people at a time participated. One person stood in the booth and the other stood by the earphones. The person in the booth told the person by the earphones how he/she felt about that person. Several couples participated. After one person shared his/her feelings, the two switched places.

The couples that participated were: a mother and daughter, a father and daughter, friends, partners and colleagues. The piece is entitled, “Street Compliments” but I think it should be called, What Would You Say? If you want to watch the 3.5 minute piece, click here. I was very moved and I wonder what it brings up for you.

What would you say?After watching the video, do you feel inspired to share your feelings with someone special?  If you had the opportunity, what would you say?

I’d love to know. Write to me here and tell me.

Is A Walk In The Park Really Going To Help Your Mood?

Yes. Most likely it is going to help. Walking in the park, really can help change your mood for the better.

Whatever you struggle with, parkgoing for a walk in an area that’s filled with trees and foliage, will generally make you feel better. This is particularly true for those of us who live in urban environments. There are studies that compare how the brain responds to a walk in the park and a walk in an industrial area.

One of these studies is featured in a New York Times article by Gretchen Reynolds, entitled, “How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain.”Reynolds writes, “Various studies have found that urban dwellers with little access to green spaces have a higher incidence of psychological problems than people living near parks and that city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.”

“Gregory Bratman, a graduate student at the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources at Stanford University, who has been studying the psychological effects of urban living”, conducted the study.

walk“As might have been expected, walking along the highway had not soothed people’s minds. Blood flow to their subgenual prefrontal cortex was still high and their broodiness scores were unchanged.

But the volunteers who had strolled along the quiet, tree-lined paths showed slight but meaningful improvements in their mental health, according to their scores on the questionnaire. They were not dwelling on the negative aspects of their lives as much as they had been before the walk.”

“These results ‘strongly suggest that getting out into natural environments” could be an easy and almost immediate way to improve moods for city dwellers, Mr. Bratman said.'”

Why not conduct your own experiment? bigstock-wood-textured-backgrounds-in-a-37191499Notice how you feel when you go for a walk in your city. What do you hear, smell and see? How do the people you pass seem? Do they look harried and anxious or content and focused?

Now, go to a park. Do you smell and feel that the air is a bit cleaner and clearer? How does the grass feel beneath your feet? What is the light like? What sounds do you hear?

I’d like to know. Tell me, how does a walk in the park change your mood?

First Families

Photo by Stefan Ruiz for The New York Times
Photo by Stefan Ruiz for The New York Times

First families are significant. So are current families. I was reminded of this when I read the cover story of a recent New York Times Magazine section. “The Mixed Up Brothers of Bogota,” by Susan Dominus is excellent. Have you read it? If you want to, click on this link. The article was fascinating and made me think about my work in the field of adoption.

Imagine that you have been trying to get pregnant for years. You try everything. You even see a medical specialist to try and determine why you can’t get pregnant. You try in-vitro fertilization. You inject yourself with hormones and spend thousands of dollars to try and get pregnant. But you can’t. You don’t. All that you ever wanted was to be a mom or a dad. You slowly give up on the idea of having a child biologically and you begin to explore adoption.

I have the privilege  of working with people who want to become parents and are trying to decide whether or not adoption works for them. Most people who choose to adopt do not think of it as a first option when starting their families. They usually explore adoption when they are unable to have a child biologically.

Again, imagine trying for years to become pregnant and not being first family
able. Imagine then deciding to adopt because you have so much love to give. You have the resources, the interest, the drive and the determination. You know that you could love a child to whom you did not give birth. You’ve come so far.

Then imagine being told that if you choose to adopt, you will have to at least be open to having a relationship with your child’s first family. Would you feel threatened, angry, resentful, fearful and guilty? Yes, probably. However, your child will feel more complete having the opportunity to at least meet his first family.

It’s so hard to explain why open adoption is important to someone who is unfamiliar with adoption. Over time prospective adoptive parents get it. They may still feel insecure about their child’s first family but sometimes after meeting them, those feelings change and become more positive. Sometimes they don’t. However, a child’s first family is a part of who they are. They have a right to know from where they came.

When I read the Dominus article, the word adoption isn’t mentioned but it was in the back of my mind throughout. Her (true) story isn’t about adoption. Adoption (ideally) is a conscious decision made by a first family. However this is the true story of what it’s like to be raised in a families in which two of four children weren’t born and are raised as fraternal twins.

The piece is about two sets of identical twins were born on the same day, in the same hospital in Colombia, South America. Somehow, the twins were separated in the hospital and eventually raised as fraternal twins. They grew up living very different lives. One set was raised in Bogotá (the largest city in the country of Colombia and the capital), while the other was raised in La Paz (a small, very rural town).

Eventually the brothers meet when they’re adults. familyThen they decide to meet their biological parents but one mother has died. One of the twins will never be able to meet her. He meets other relatives but he feels the loss of never  knowing the woman who gave birth to him and to the life he could have had if he stayed with her. The loss is what connects this piece to the complexity of adoption the loss of one family and the gaining of another.

After reading the article, do you have a different view? I’d love to hear from you. Contact me here and tell me what you think.What are your thoughts about first families?

Wanting to Belong

We all just want to belong. Recently, a woman by the name of Rachel Dolezal has been in the news for being a “white woman, posing as a black woman.” Richard Pérez-Peña of The New York Times wrote, “In 2002, Ms. Dolezal received a master of fine arts degree from Howard University, the historically black school in Washington, D.C. She has been an instructor in Africana Studies Program at Eastern Washington University and she was, until recently, the president of her local NAACP in Spokane, Washington.”

I have a professional background in transracial adoption and was told that is why I was contacted by a reporter, Narmeen Choudhury, from News Channel 11 in New York City. Narmeen asked to interview me so that I could share my thoughts about Rachel’s interest in “posing as a black woman.” Narmeen came to my office at 3pm and the program aired at 6pm. One thing that I want to point out is that I am NOT an expert in transracial identity, as the interviewer states. I am an expert in transracial adoption.

I gave Narmeen examples of what (some) adopted children of color experience living with white families and in white communities but that is different from Rachel’s experience. A similarity is that frequently children who are a different race from their parents, don’t feel that they belong because the look different. Rachel seems to feel as though she doesn’t belong to her parents either. She has denied their existence, particularly her father’s in several interviews by identifying a black man as her father.

I told Narmeen that Rachel’s news story reminded me of a book that I read in high school called, Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin. The author, a white man, took tanning pills which darkened his skin. He wanted to know what it was like to be a black man in the southern part of the U.S. during the 1960’s. He knew he would face discrimination but he was unaware of just how difficult his life would be. Rachel Dolezal is a white woman (who identifies as black) and lives in the Northwest part of the U.S.. This is typically a very liberal part of the country but in 2015, there is still racism everywhere in this country.

In another New York Times piece, Allyson Hobbs wrote, “As a historian who has spent the last 12 years studying “passing,” I am disheartened that there is so little sympathy for Ms. Dolezal or understanding of her life circumstances.

The harsh criticism of her sounds frighteningly similar to the way African-Americans were treated when it was discovered that they had passed as white. They were vilified, accused of deception and condemned for trying to gain membership to a group to which they did not and could never belong.”

I’m curious to know what you think about the interview and about Rachel’s experience.  Let me know here. When have you wanted to belong?

How Mindfulness Can Help With Anxiety

Neil Hughes wrote a piece for Elephant Journal entitled, The Way I Handle My Anxiety.  This article will focus on how mindfulness helps with anxiety. Mindfulness is being aware of the present moment.

Hughes is a computer programmer and part-time standup comic from England. He has dealt with anxiety since he was a child. “As a child, I lay awake worrying about death, and while, in later years, I squished these thoughts into the back of my mind, at times the repressed terror exploded out and crippled me for months at a time.”

When Hughes was an adult, he learned about mindfulness and found that, “What makes it (mindfulness) so powerful is its ability to help me to regain control in any situation, no matter how lost in anxious thoughts I am.”

Sometimes trying to analyze where the anxiety is coming from or why it is occurring when it is occurring is not helpful. “Put simply, attempting to explain anxiety makes me more anxious; suddenly I’m multiplying all the things I have to worry about! Is it my diet? My habits? Is it my work, my relationships, my social life, my hobbies? What if it’s some buried trauma? Or a hidden disease?!”

Once anxiety is under control then it can be helpful to explore with a trusted individual, it’s origins or what makes it more or less acute. When one is experiencing acute anxiety, it’s generally not the best time to explore why it’s happening.

mindfulness“This is where the power of mindfulness comes in. No matter how tangled I am in these thoughts, if I resist the urge to seek the why, and focus instead on the what I can reduce the anxious feelings.”

The way that Hughes accesses his mindfulness when he’s feeling anxious is to ask himself a few questions. “What is real, right now? What is true? What is actually happening in reality?” Doing this brings one back to the present moment. By being present (mindful) one cannot be anxious. Being here, now, is all that is. There is nothing else. Eckhart Tolle reminds us…, “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have.”

I’d like to hear from you. Contact me here and let me know what you do you in order to deal with your anxiety. Do you incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine?

What Is Mindfulness Anyway?

Sharon Salzberg wrote a piece for the On Being blog entitled, “What Does Mindfulness Really Mean Anyway?” UnknownFrom her websiteSharon Salzberg is described as “a meditation teacher and author. She is the cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts, and has played a crucial role in bringing Asian meditation practices to the West. The practices of mindfulness and lovingkindness are the foundations of her work.”

In my work, I frequently ask my clients to do a Mindfulness Meditation with me. It helps to ground us, to center us and allows us to more wholly get into our work together. When we are not working together, I recommend that my clients do the exercise on their own.

mindfulness meditationThe specific Mindfulness Mediation exercise that I do is called, Lovingkindness, which I learned from Elaine Retholz. It goes like this: “May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be safe, may I live with ease.” I recommend that my clients practice saying those phrases several times a day, while paying attention to their breath. I suggest that they do it on a regular basis and particularly when they’re feeling anxious or ungrounded.

In the blog post, Salzburg says that “…the difference between suffering and happiness all depends on what we do with our attention. Mindfulness is what can permit us to no longer feel like victims of our negative emotions. Instead, it allows us to understand our intentions and gain awareness of our emotions as they arise. As they arise, we pivot, we continue to pay attention, and our world continues to open up.”

“Science agrees, which is undoubtedly part of the popularization. mindfulnessA 2011 study conducted at Mass General Hospital, with the headline ‘Mindfulness meditation training changes brain structure in eight weeks,’ examined the brain structure of 16 participants for two weeks before and after they took an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Progress text at the UMass Center for Mindfulness (MBSR). Results showed measurable changes in participants’ brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress. Meditation actually produced actual changes in the brain’s grey matter.'”

I’m curious what you think. Feel free to contact me here. What has your experience been with meditation? What does mindfulness mean to you?

You Exist

I see youPeople come to therapy for a number of different reasons. Frequently they are struggling with something and they want support or guidance. I feel honored to do the work that I do and grateful to my clients for allowing me to accompany them on their journeys. For some reason, there is still shame around not being able to get through a struggle on one’s own or even struggling. One of the most important things that I try to convey to my clients is that they are not alone and that they exist.

When we feel unheard, unsupported and unloved and we all struggle with these feelings at some point in our lives, it’s important to know that to someone else, anyone else, that we matter, we exist. During times when all is well, it’s also important to know that we exist. David Isay of NPR’s Story Corp, agrees. Here is a link to his amazing talk at TED.

Isay said, “In 1998, I made a documentary about the last flophouse hotels on the Bowery in Manhattan. Guys stayed up in these cheap I existhotels for decades. They lived in cubicles the size of prison cells covered with chicken wire so you couldn’t jump from one room into the next. Later, I wrote a book on the men with the photographer Harvey Wang. I remember walking into a flophouse with an early version of the book and showing one of the guys his page. He stood there staring at it in silence, then he grabbed the book out of my hand and started running down the long, narrow hallway holding it over his head shouting, “I exist! I exist.””

Isay’s TED talk is 21 minutes short. It’s filled with so many terrific pieces of wisdom. I want to listen to it over and over again. I hope that you get as much from it as I did and I hope that you know that you too, exist.

Contact me here and let me know if you could tell someone that they exist, who would it be and what would you say?