Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Should You Trust Your True Emotions? October 5, 2012

Since writing my last post about my “white coat syndrome,” which has to do with hidden anxiety as manifested by high blood pressure, I’ve thought a lot more about the mind-body connection. And I have a theory:  our authentic emotions, whether we’re aware of them or not,  have as much to do with our health as any other factor.

We can eat healthy, low-calorie foods at every meal; yet, if while we eat we’re feeling anxious about something we’ve said or worried about something outside our control, or if we’re feeling sad, hurt, or angry, our emotional pain will have as much to do with our blood pressure, and therefore our physical health, as what we’re eating, our genetic inheritance, or how much exercise we get.

I know.  This is not a scientific study. I’m my only subject, and my blood pressure is the only objective measure. But I’m telling you this:  when I feel emotionally uncomfortable my blood pressure goes up.  When I’m in an emotionally good place, doing something I love and am good at, it goes down. This is simply the way it is with me.

For social reasons my parents taught me to repress emotions they considered negative:  self-pity, anger, frustration, impatience, criticism, judgment of others, pride in my accomplishments (“Don’t get a big head!”), enjoyment of my body’s skills (“Don’t show off!”), and so on.  My mother’s favorite saying was, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Apparently her thinking was that if I didn’t express or act on a negative emotion, it wasn’t real and couldn’t hurt me or anybody else.

My education taught me to trust left-brained objective and logical thinking, things like my knowledge and test scores, not what felt important and meaningful to me. To believe accepted theories, not inner realities. To conform with social norms and ignore the gut feeling when something felt wrong. I was convinced my parents and teachers knew better than me, so I duly de-valued and ignored my emotional self, believing that at worst it was evidence of a terrible flaw, and at the least, unimportant.

I was wrong. My blood pressure confirms it.  Emotions are the body’s natural expressions of our instinctual, archetypal selves. If we’re hungry we feel anxious or irritable. If we see blood we feel fear. If someone says something mean to us we feel hurt or angry. If an object of our affection rejects us for another we feel jealousy and pain. If someone thwarts our desire we resent them. When someone dies we feel sad. These are powerful physical realities that every human experiences and there’s nothing wrong with them.

The ugliest emotion we can feel is as worthy of our attention as the noblest. This doesn’t mean we need to express or act on it, but it does mean that knowing what we feel and where the feeling comes from is good for us. And it means that engaging in practices that reduce the strength of unhealthy emotions and replace them with healthy ones—like acceptance, gratitude, forgiveness, and compassion for ourselves and others—is essential to the healthy functioning of our bodies and souls and has everything to do with the quality of our lives. As Deepak Chopra says: “It is up to you to keep the messages that course through your body positive instead of negative.  No other duty in life is as important or vital to your health and well-being.”

The latest data: When I returned home today after the funeral of a friend, my pressure was 130/83.  After finishing this post two hours later it was 115/78.

First image credit:  Feeling sad and lonely by ppawelczak of deviantART

My new book, Healing the Sacred Divide, can be found at www.Amazon.com or www.larsonpublications.com.

 

Gaia’s Children October 18, 2011

My third-grade grandsons were given an assignment to write about the most beautiful place in nature they can imagine. Connor’s story, published in my last post, is about how he spent a summer day at the beach. His twin brother Jake has wonderful memories of a winter day in the Smoky Mountains. He drew the picture you see here. This is his story:

Snowing

“Once I went to North Carolina and I just could not wait to feel the snow at my feet. When I got there I found out that my grandpa bought me a sled for the snow! Would you like that to happen to you? I got all of my gear on and raced outside. I could feel the cool breeze in my face. Then I formed a ramp and slid down it. Then I fell off my sled and landed in the pearl-white snow. It was fun! Would you like that to happen to you? Next I went exploring in the woods. I hiked all the way up to my uncle’s house. It was a lot of work! When I came back down I got a little lost but then I passed a tree I recognized. That tree was close to the house! When I got to the house I was really tired. I jumped on the couch and drank hot chocolate. I wish you were there to enjoy the snow with me.”

Last time I described how the teacher made this writing assignment so much more fun by sending a “top secret” note home asking the parents to respond to their children’s essays. The children knew something mysterious was going on and had to wait a few weeks to find out what it was. The mystery was solved when they opened the sealed envelopes their parents had sent back to school and found their special letters inside.

Connor and Jake’s mother, Robyn, has a master’s degree in education and is one of the best mothers I’ve ever known. I’ve learned so much from her about how to listen and respond to children with patience, kindness and respect that I honestly think she should make instructional videos for parents! You’ll see the kind of person she is when you read her response to Jake:

“Dear Jake,

“I remember last winter like it was yesterday and I couldn’t have described our experience as well as you. When did you become such a talented writer? Reading your essay actually made me feel cold! I now long for new sledding adventures and more treacherous hikes. Most of all, I’m now seriously craving a mug full of rich, steamy hot chocolate!

“I, too, find North Carolina the most beautiful place in nature. As magical as the snow-covered Smokies are in winter, I tend to prefer summers in the mountains. I love our drives there each July, counting down the hours until we arrive. It’s always thrilling to see the first mountain range, then eventually make our final turn onto Buck Creek Road. How I love to roll down the windows just to smell the forest! Can you imagine that woodsy scent right now?

“In North Carolina I feel as though we are one with nature. I am in awe of the animals we encounter, from the tiny hummingbirds that buzz around like giant bumblebees to the chubby chipmunks that scurry across our porch hoping not to be seen. How many slippery salamanders do you suppose we have caught over the years? Not to mention the fireflies — it’s incredible how they light up the night sky! What about the black bears we cautiously avoid on our long walks through the woods? I’d secretly love to catch sight of one — from afar, of course!

“I couldn’t write about the glory of North Carolina without mentioning the waterfalls! I’m amazed that some begin as tiny trickles from above. How do they then explode into raging bursts of water that dramatically plunge hundreds of feet downward?

“Of course I have to mention our rafting adventures! The rapids are exhilarating, but I think my favorite part is the very beginning when we paddle out early in the morning watching the mist float on the surface of the river, listening to the cheerful birds loudly chirping and squawking, greeting one another at the start of a new day.

“On our annual trips, hiking in the woods offers the most beauty. When we arrive at the end of each trail the sights are breathtaking! I could sit at the top of Whiteside Mountain all day, gazing down at the trees in the valley far below, feeling humbled and mesmerized and grateful all at once.

“I have traveled to North Carolina every year since I was a child, and I have forever cherished my time there. I am blessed to share my love of the mountains with you, Jake, and can’t wait for our next trip. What else do you think we might discover?

“All my love, Mom.”

I’ve published these stories and letters partly because I’m a proud grandmother who delights in celebrating my grandchildren’s accomplishments; partly because I’m an educator who wants to share a very special activity for other teachers and parents to use; and partly because I’m a nature lover who’s worried about the carelessness with which we’re treating our Earth Mother, Gaia. At this stage of my life one of my greatest fears is for Her welfare. Likewise, one of my greatest hopes is that my grandchildren’s grandchildren will inhabit a world of unspoiled beauty in which they too can experience the mystery and wonder of swimming in an unpolluted ocean and sledding over pristine white snow on a densely forested mountain.

If a crystal ball could show me my great-great-grandchildren’s world would I dare gaze into it? I’m not sure I want to know.

 

What Education Should Be About October 14, 2011

In my last post I wrote about the rewards of parenting and grandparenting and promised to share two essays written by my twin grandsons who are in the third grade this year. This is Connor’s. The assignment was to describe the most beautiful place in nature he could imagine. He also drew this picture. Enjoy.

An Amazing Day At The Beach!

“When I’m at the beach I always wake up to the beautiful sound of birds and the tide rolling in and out. Then I chomp down my breakfast, throw on my bathing suit and run down to the beach. I can always feel the sand sifting through my feet like an hour glass. Then when I finally get there I go out to the beautiful aquamarine and white sea. I can hear the seagulls flying overhead. Then I go boogie boarding and feel the cool breeze in the air and the foam in the water falling around my neck and I feel like I’m flying. Can you imagine that? Then I go up to the sand and try to collect shells. Once I even found a crab shell. It had specks of bright red but most of it was a beautiful tangerine orange color. Then I eat a wonderful dinner and sometimes go for a walk on the beach. I saw an amazing sunset that was purple like a grape and red like a cherry. Have you ever experienced something as amazing as that? When we were walking back it started to rain but I still had an awesome time! And I thought to myself what an awesome day! I hope some day you can have such an amazing day as I.”

Connor copied his story in his best handwriting and handed it in. As far as he and his classmates knew, this was the end of it. But their teacher had a surprise for them. She thought this activity would be much more fun if the parents wrote letters in response; so she put each child’s essay in a large envelope, added a page of instructions, sealed the envelope, put the name of the family on the front, and at the bottom wrote the warning “Adults Only” in red ink!

When she handed out the envelopes a few days later, the children had no idea they had anything to do with their essays. She simply told them something top secret was going on, and only the adults could know about it for now. But, she assured them, it wouldn’t be long before they would be let in on the secret. So on the back of their envelopes the children wrote in large letters, “Please Don’t Show Me! Top Secret!” and took them home to their parents.

Our son, Matt, wrote back to Connor;  our daughter-in-law wrote to his brother, Jake. (I’ll be sharing their stories next  time.)  Both responses were returned to the teacher in sealed envelopes. What happened next is the coolest thing ever. Along with his job as an economist Matt is a gifted screenwriter, (he even has a Hollywood manager), so instead of a regular letter, he wrote a script! At the age of three Connor had carried a stack of stapled papers around for weeks, adding scribbles from time to time to his “script.” Can you imagine how he must have felt when he opened his envelope and saw a script from his father, written just for him, inside? I’ve included it below.

I love everything about this assignment. Is there a third grader in the world who doesn’t love mysteries, secrets, and surprises? Who wouldn’t be thrilled to receive a warm and personal letter from a parent praising a job well done? Who wouldn’t think writing is so much fun they’d want to keep doing it? Providing exciting and personally meaningful learning experiences is what education should be about.

 

Matt’s Script:

 

                              AN AMAZING DAY IN ST. THOMAS!  

                                                                                          FADE IN:

                INT. OFFICE – MORNING

               A rectangular black desk sits on a floor of white marble
               tile.  The surrounding walls abound with smiling faces,
               moments in time captured and preserved in frames of wood. 

               With warm hearts and innocent eyes, the smiling faces (three
               brothers at various ages) look down on a MAN who sits at his
               desk, reading a piece of paper.

               The man is slender and in his late 30’s.  He has coal black
               hair with flecks of gray.  His eyes are big and brown, just
               like the boys in the pictures.  

               On his desk is an opened envelope that reads…

               PLEASE DON’T SHOW ME!  TOP SECRET!

               With a big smile, the man places the paper on his desk.  We
               see the title of the paper.  It reads…

               AN AMAZING DAY AT THE BEACH!

               The man turns to his computer and begins to type.

                                   MAN (V.O.)
                         Connor, I am so very proud of you.
                         Your writing, like the day you
                         described, is truly “amazing”.
                         When I read your essay, I felt as
                         though I was actually at the beach.
                         I could hear the seagulls and feel
                         the sand between my toes.  What a
                         special day that was.  And, what a
                         truly astounding job you did of
                         capturing that day forever in
                         words.
                             (Beat)
                         If it’s alright, I’d like to share
                         a special day in nature with you.
                         I’m certain that I will not be able
                         to express myself as beautifully as
                         you did, but I will try.
                             (Beat)
                         Here goes.  My day begins like
                         this…

               EXT. ST. THOMAS – U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS – MORNING

               SUPER:  JULY 1, 2000

               The crystal clear turquoise water washes in and out over the
               soft, cotton-white sand.  Seagulls dance in the cool breeze.
               An iguana slumbers on a nearby cropping of palm trees.

               EXT. OUTDOOR CAFE – MORNING

               The man (late 20’s, no gray hair yet) sits across a small,
               cloth-covered table from a beautiful WOMAN (late 20’s, green
               eyes, the prettiest girl you’ve ever seen).  The two sit
               eating breakfast with big, eager smiles on their faces.

               EXT. BEACH – MORNING

               The man and woman relax on chairs as they gaze out at the
               endless blue sea.  Islands once inhabited by pirates dot
               the tropical landscape.  Sail boats with sheets of white
               flapping in the wind float across the tranquil horizon. 

               EXT. OCEAN – AFTERNOON

               Beneath the sea the man and woman swim with masks and
               snorkels.  The man points out a delicate reef of white
               speckled coral.  Urchins, anemones and sea fans in shades of
               lilac and crimson cling to the reef and wave to and fro.  A
               school of blue and yellow fish swims past.  It is amazing. 

               INT. HOTEL ROOM – AFTERNOON

               The man stands before his FATHER (late 50’s, black hair and a
               mustache).  Both men are wearing black tuxedoes.  The FATHER
               helps the man straighten his silver tie.

                                   MAN
                         Thanks, Dad.

               The father smiles, holding back his tears.

                                   MAN (CONT’D)
                         Hopefully, one day I’ll be doing
                         this with my son.

               EXT. OCEAN BALCONY – SUNSET

               The woman stands next to a PRIEST, before a crowd of FAMILY
               and FRIENDS.  She is wearing an elegant white gown and
               holding a bouquet of white lilies.  She is the prettiest
               thing on Earth.  The sun sinks slowly behind her into the
               ocean.  Shades of tangerine shimmer across the bay.

               The man sees the woman for the first time and cannot help but
               cry.  Wiping tears from his eyes, he walks toward her.

               EXT. OCEAN BALCONY – SUNSET – MOMENTS LATER

               The man and woman hold hands and stare into each others’ eyes.
               Seagulls float overhead.  Palm trees rustle with the breeze.
               An acoustic guitar plays in the background.  Just then…

               SPLAT!!!

               A seagull poops on the woman’s dress.  The two cannot help
               but laugh.

               EXT. OCEAN BALCONY – SUNSET – MOMENTS LATER

               The man and the woman share a kiss.  The crowd cheers.  They
               are now husband and wife.

               EXT. OCEAN BALCONY – EVENING

               The night sky is alive with the twinkle of a million bright
               stars.  Music plays from a nearby ballroom.  Everyone is
               singing and dancing.

               EXT. OCEAN BALCONY – EVENING – LATER

               With glowing sparklers in hand, family and friends make a
               tunnel for the man and woman to run through.  Everyone
               cheers. 

               EXT. BEACH – EVENING

               The man and woman walk hand in hand on the peaceful, moon-lit
               beach. 

                                   WOMAN
                         This was the best day ever.

                                   MAN
                         I agree.

                                   WOMAN
                         Maybe one day when we have kids
                         we can come back here.

                                   MAN
                         That would be great.

                                   WOMAN
                         By the way, how many kids do you
                         think we’ll have?

                                   MAN
                         One maybe two.

                                   WOMAN
                         Wouldn’t it be cool if we had
                         twins?

                                   MAN
                         I don’t know about that.

               The two laugh and smile as they walk on.  Holding hands, they
               disappear into the darkness.

               INT. OFFICE – MORNING

               The man takes the essay and lovingly places it back into the
               envelope.  He returns to his keyboard and types…

                                         THE END

 

Investing in Our Grandchildren’s Future October 11, 2011

Many people probably feel as I did when I had my first child: How can I possibly be a mother? I’m still my mother’s child! But my baby was born and there I was, hugging as I wanted to be hugged, loving as I wanted to be loved. I felt the same when I became a grandmother for the first time. Sure, I’d been a parent, but I was still my grandmothers’ granddaughter. The babies came, first twin boys, two weeks later a granddaughter, then another girl and another boy, and I kept hugging them as I wanted my grandparents to hug me, loving them as I wanted to be loved.

In my youth I had no experience with babies, never babysat or wanted to. By pure luck I got an education scholarship which I paid back by teaching in the public school system. My studies, followed by five years of teaching and a master’s in Early Childhood Education, taught me the enormous responsibility of preparing a new soul for life.  But they didn’t automatically prepare me for parenthood.

This past July I posted a piece titled “Conscious Parenting” about how the way we were parented unconsciously influences our own parenting (and grandparenting). For example, some people habitually copy dysfunctional parental behaviors without realizing it. Others see their parents’ flaws and try to make amends by raising their children differently without seeing how they sometimes err in the opposite direction. Still others treat their children as possessions whose reason for being is to satisfy their parents’ needs.

I believe, no, I know, that no job is more important, no role more vital to the future of our world, than parenting. When I became a mother at 27 I took this job very seriously indeed. My high standards and constant awareness of the disconnect between my ideals and the day-to-day reality of my inner thoughts and outer behavior made this the most difficult, gut-wrenching job I’d ever had, and I often despaired at my maternal limitations. Fortunately, my education and teaching experience coupled with my determination to do my best enabled me to be a good enough mother. Now I can honestly say being a parent is also the most satisfying job I’ve ever had.

I’m convinced that the combination of 1) raising and educating our children with conscious, loving intention, 2) working to protect their and their children’s future, and 3) knowing how our own shadows get in the way is the solution to global problems. I just wish I knew how to show our legislators their shadows. The majority of our Florida politicians seem unable to hug our educational system as they wanted to be hugged, love  and protect our children and planet as they wanted to be loved and protected. Their voting records say it all:  their personal biases and religious agendas take precedence over the welfare of future generations.

Like most parents, we began investing in our grandchildren’s futures long before they were born. Now they attend a school which likewise prioritizes children’s well-being, parental involvement, intergenerational communication and shared responsibility for each other and our Mother Earth. For instance, every fall the third-graders write a journal entry describing the most beautiful place in nature they can imagine and the parents respond to them in warmly affirming letters.

Since I forgot to mention or celebrate Grandparent’s Day this year (it fell on Sept.11th), I’d like to devote my next two posts to the stories our twin grandsons wrote and the responses of their parents. I suspect their words will demonstrate the benefits of investing in the future of our children and planet far better than anything I could write.

 

Conscious Parenting July 15, 2011

I’ve just spent two weeks with my five grandchildren and their parents. I am so proud of my children: how they turned out, who they married, how well they are raising their children.  Their parenting styles are different in many ways, yet both sets of children are delightful: sweet, funny, bright, good-natured, well mannered….(I could go on, of course, but I’ll spare you more grandparental gushing!) Our time together reminds me that no matter how well-prepared we may be for the role of parenting, much of how we approach this most difficult of all jobs is the result of unconscious factors over which we have no control.

Many of these factors result from the way our parents raised us. For example, I thought of my mother as an intelligent, well-meaning, independent kind of person with an unemotional and trusting parenting style. Having a full-time job, she was never involved with our education or social lives, trusting us to get along fine without her participation or advice. I took this for granted as a child, but as an adult I realized how much I had longed for her to attend my plays and concerts, how good it would have felt if she had been a room mother or a member of the PTA, how nice it would have been to come home to a warm, clean house and find her always waiting for me, perhaps with a tray of cookies or freshly baked bread. So these were things I vowed to do for my children. As it happened, my conscious choices, combined with a lot of good luck, an education in child development, help from a good husband, and a strong desire to be a good parent made me a good-enough mother.

But beneath the conscious aspects of my upbringing was an emotional undercurrent of which I was utterly unaware. For instance, I never heard or saw my parents argue or fight. (Of course, that could have had something to do with the fact that Daddy was rarely home!)  Moreover, I can think of only two instances in which my mother and I ever exchanged heated words. And when she used the word “damn,” I was shocked into silence. Intuiting her deeply repressed anxiety and emotional fragility and wanting to spare her more pain after my parents’ divorce, I by-passed the normal adolescent period of rebellion and unconsciously developed a deep-seated fear of anger and conflict.

When I became a parent, these factors had a powerful influence on the way I treated my children.  I had no idea I had inherited my mother’s anxiety and emotional fragility. But the reality was that agitation and conflict made me so anxious that too often when my children argued with me or each other my intervention was based more on appeasing my anxiety than on patiently seeking the most fair and just resolution.  It took years of inner work before I could see my anxiety and  understand the part it played in the unhealthy aspects of our family interactions.

The unresolved issues of our parents are handed down to us through underground passageways that connect their emotional flow to ours, and we pass them on to our children the same way. With every step forward I’ve made toward seeing and resolving my anxiety, my attitudes and behavior have changed for the better. Best of all, my family no longer has to bear the burden of my unconscious “stuff” of which I’ve become aware. I’ll never be a perfect wife, mother, or grandmother, whatever these elusive creatures might be, but sparing my family the worst of myself has been more than enough reward.

 

Being Self-Conscious May 21, 2011

A few months before my father died, he was working in another town and we went to visit him. I was outside with several other girls and boys having a carefree time diving, racing, and showing off in the motel pool when my parents called me inside. They had been watching and talking about me, and now they had something to say. Receiving personal attention from either of my parents was rare enough, but to be called into their joint presence was like being summoned to an unexpected audience with the Queen and King. I knew the matter must be of utmost importance, and I listened intently.

I was a natural leader with gifts and talents many children lacked, my father said. I should be careful, he warned, about not showing off, being bossy, or dominating situations. A little girl out there by the pool was having trouble keeping up with the rest of us. She seemed to feel insecure, perhaps inferior. I should notice her, think about her feelings, try not to call attention to myself by outshining the others, try to include her and make her feel better about herself.

This was a crucial moment in my development. My eyes were instantly opened to an entirely new way of looking at myself and others. Suddenly I knew people were watching me, perhaps even feeling bad about themselves because of me. I should think about their feelings and ignore my own. I should hide my own strengths so as not to intimidate them. I was strong enough to make these kinds of sacrifices for others. Believing I had received a valuable piece of wisdom, I left the motel room a very different little girl from the one who had innocently pranced in. For a moment I deliberated carefully, then casually walked up to the little girl in the faded brown bathing suit and tentatively lied, “I like your bathing suit.”

She grinned widely and said something like, “Really? This old thing?” Then she bounced off happily to the diving board while I sat quietly in the nearest chair to avoid notice. I was stunned by my new awareness and uncomfortable about what I had just done. I had said something that wasn’t true, but apparently with very good effect. The things I said and did could make a difference to others! I could help people or I could harm them. What if in my ignorance I had spent the whole day out here playing with these children, innocently enjoying the competition, being such a good swimmer and diver that I made some of them feel terrible about themselves?

My God! The mistakes I could have made. As I sat musing, my self-consciousness inflated to encompass the universe. Suddenly the world was filled with eyes, and I knew that all of them, including God’s eyes, were watching me. I felt as if I were being dissected, cell by cell, beneath a critical, cosmic microscope.

Everyone grows self-conscious during the pre-teen years, and like all psychological potential, self-consciousness can be positive or negative. I saw myself through the eyes of others for the first time on this day and that was a good thing; seeing the consequences of our behavior is crucial to developing a social conscience. However, after my father died my self-consciousness morphed into self-torment. Yet, that too was redeemable. Painful as it was, my adolescent turmoil uniquely predisposed me for my future passion for self-knowledge, and this has brought not only great relief, but great joy. Yes, evolving into a more conscious being hurts, but it is well worth the suffering.

My books are at Amazon and Larson Publications.

 

 
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