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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: March 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

Facing the Problem

"We cannot solve a problem that we won't face." ~ Mary Pipher, Ph.D

I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Pipher, who everyone seems to call Mary, speak this past weekend. It was a real treat. Though she focused her message on the importance of us all collectively waking up to the environmental issues that surround us, primarily the need to create and assure safe and clean air and drinking water for our whole planet, there were so many other messages in her talk. I hope to bring you some of the highlights here and there over the next couple of posts.

Of all the things that she talked about, the above quote stood out to me first. One of her messages was that conversations are so very important. I could not agree more.

We humans universally tend to get overwhelmed if we have a problem, or even a vague sense that something is just not right or right enough in our lives, in our relationships, in our immediate world. Especially when we are suffering, or we have bad feelings, but just cannot exactly pin point what the issues are. Sometimes of course we can pin point them, but often, when we cannot see our way clear to different ways of functioning, to things getting or being different and better, we shut down. We can slip into a sense or state of rote, believing that nothing really can or will change, or if it would, it would take too much time, effort, money, resources to make it happen. So we continue on doing what we are doing and vaguely thinking something will have to give someday, but there is nothing really we can do about it.

But Mary's message included this: that we cannot solve problems we won't face. That there are many ways to solve problems, and that having conversations about the problems is a beginning. That there is so much to be gained from the actions of participating in the solutions, even if we are not exactly sure what the solution is. The effort to be actively aware is a solid, countable beginning, that has much merit. There is so much hope in this message. Mary said that "after years of being a therapist and a mother, I've learned that shouting 'WAKE UP' doesn't work.' So what does? Perhaps the willingness to know that while agreeing to take a more attentive, focused look at yourself, your life, your relationships and your feelings can be frightening, that it does take courage to have faith, you can start down the right and good path of being awake. It may not be easy, or as fast as we might like, but the journey has its own merits along the way and better things will most likely follow.

btw: the picture of the sky is here because Mary said that she has never seen an ugly sky, and shared with us (all 3000 of us who were there) that one day when she was feeling particularly stressed and overwhelmed she went out into the tall grass near her Nebraska home and lay down and just looked up at the sky for a long peaceful while.

Monday, March 12, 2012

More Than the Pain, More than the Problem

Recently someone asked me about how it is that I can listen to the stories of people's lives, their suffering, their mistakes, their frustrations, and most of all, their emotional pain and not see things as messed up, as hopeless, useless or utterly overwhelming. I thought it was good question, packed with lots of assumptions on the part of the asker, and I've been thinking about it.

Here's what I've come up with so far, in addition, of course, to the truth of my own professional training, personal and professional experience and my love of and belief in this work. I think that sometimes, things do seem messed up beyond repair. Sometimes, lots of times, feelings are so very big, or seem that way. And we do feel hopeless, overwhelmed and messed up. Or we think that some person or situation in our life is way too difficult. But I can listen because I am a fan of talking about things, obviously, and a believer that not necessarily are things only as they appear. I am really okay being with folks no matter what or how intense their feelings are or how crazy they think their problem is, or how vague. Feelings while so important are not always facts or at least not permanent ones, so that helps. I can listen to people and hear and understand because I believe that we are not the sum total of our pain or our problem or uncertainty though it can certainly feel like it when we are in it.

I do believe also that moving forward sometimes requires looking backward. That there is relief and progress not just from the talking and listening, but from a good discussion of what is, what was and what could be because we are more than the problem, more than the pain, more than we think we are when we are in the thick of it. And because I have seen and I have experienced that there is movement. We are able to expand, to grow and to be and feel better.