Friday, May 21, 2010

Stepping Stones: Getting from where we are to where we want to be.

Stepping stones: Getting from where we are to where we want to be.
Watching a friend select large heavy stones and fit them together like pieces of a giant puzzle as he constructs a path from my cottage down a steep slope to the lake is clarifying for me what is really required to accomplish our goals. He is reminding me of how critical a vision, commitment, patience and tenacity are to making things happen. For as long as I can remember, I’ve claimed that I wanted to write books---books that could help people feel good about life—specifically, books that could help me feel good about my life. However, for many years, my commitment to this goal was not strong and the isolation required to write a book was not a part of my agenda. I kept journals, struggled through a dissertation, and even wrote several articles that were published, but mostly I filled my life up with people-related activities.
I was getting old and had never even started what I’d said for over half a century was what I most wanted to accomplish. I had to face that I liked the idea of writing a book, but did not like what would be required to make it happen. I knew it would require isolation and essentially hollowing out large portions of time to sit behind a computer. I also knew that computer skills were not my forte. I was thinking myself into giving up a dream of ever becoming an author, which was playing havoc with my self-esteem. When, speaking of large stones, a few meteorites fell into my life, totally shattering my self-esteem and my marriage. All I could do was write out the pain—not by choice, but a necessity for my survival. My first published book, To Stand in Love, was the result. A year later, a well-known publisher saw some potential in that book, purchased publication rights and required me to re-work the manuscript. This demanded commitment and helped me develop some patience and tenacity. It also forced me to improve my writing and computer skills. Several months later, Are You Ready for Lasting Love? became a fairly successful book, and I began to think of myself as “a writer.”
During the next five years, my self-esteem improved, but I had stopped writing. The USA was fast becoming a failing empire. I was fast becoming a failing writer and fed-up with my country. I could feel depression nipping at my heels. I knew that I must start writing something of substance, rather than wasting time journaling about my anger over the war in Iraq and the stupidity of our government. To even think that war remains a way to solve problems between countries, who share a planet, already being destroyed by our lack of attention to population explosion, our sick need for power over others, our intolerance and fear of differences, and the nuclear weapons that could annihilate us and the planet in a few minutes is beyond sanity. I needed to build a reality-based vision of how sanity could at least be considered as an alternative to the impending destruction. Visions seem to eventuate as a combination of happenstance and circumstance—not always under our control, but they are powerful motivational triggers. When I could no longer tolerate my own anger, a vision of beginning a book that might have the power to change the way many think about war and present the alternative of creating more compassionate understanding among us as individuals, who compose countries, maybe (hopefully) could begin a shift in the consciousness of our planet. That thought was the beginning of Love and War: Human Nature in Crisis. I talked to friends and met a new friend on a cruise, who also wanted to write a book, but had not been triggered into the commitment required to take action. We combined our thoughts and efforts over the next four years to create Love and War. However, due to the economic crisis, my former publishing company had gone by the board, and we were struggling to find another willing to risk the investment of publishing our tome. After many rejections, discouragement set in, as it often does at some point before a goal is achieved.
This is when patience and tenacity have to take over or discouragement will usurp the goal. This is also when we have to refuse to give up and believe that miracles can happen. Call it happenstance, a miracle or the coming together of the stones that were selected and laid in place to complete the path—and the book. Whatever, I happened to be in a kayak on the lake at my cottage in Canada when I heard that Dr. Patch Adams, whom I had long admired for not giving up his dream of a revised health–care system, was to give a presentation that evening at Queens University in Kingston, Canada, about one hour from me. Out of the kayak, into the car, sweats thrown over wet bathing suit, driving as if my hair were on fire, parking illegally and acting deaf and dumb when a guard told me there was no more room in the auditorium, I squeezed into the stuffed room just in time to hear him ask, “How many of you believe that we are doomed before the end of this century unless we make some critical changes?”
Almost every hand went up. Then, he asked, “How many of you are actively committed to doing something to bring about the necessary changes?” Most of the hands came down. Several of us kept our hands up, and he said that he would like to talk to us after the presentation. When I saw the long lines of fans wanting his attention at the conclusion of his inspiring talk, I decided to come back to my cottage and write him a letter about our book. Not long afterwards, I received a personal call from him, giving me the name of one of his publishers, whom he thought might be interested. I wrote Bob Reed Publishers and another huge stone moved into place. The publication of Love and War: Human Nature in Crisis is set for 9/11/2010. The beautiful path from my cottage to the lake will be completed within the next few days.
Our dreams, visions and goals can become realities if we are willing to believe in them, commit to holding onto them and to taking the sometimes painful steps required to lift the heavy stones and place them carefully to construct the path that will get us from wherever we may be to where we would like to go. A special thanks to Dolf, Kae, Patch, Bob, Cleone and Brent—without whom the book or the path would not exist.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

All best to you and yours for 2010

All best to you and yours for 2010

First, I want to thank those of you who sent cards during this holiday season. They were each appreciated and my not finding the time to respond is not a sign that you have been forgotten. It only means that I still have the tendency that has driven me most of my life—to bite off more than I can chew. Age and the feeling that time is fast running out seems to have increased the above negative tendency, so I find myself feeling guilty about not taking more time just to relate to precious friends and feeling equally guilty that I’m not working on the latest manuscript or exercising to assure myself that I can stay ahead of the inevitable creaks and leaks. Today, when Satellite radio started playing a Christmas Vespers, I was overcome with the poignant thought that I am facing the evening of my life, and above all else, I want you friends to know that you are cherished. I then began sorting through your cards promising myself I would answer them ---later, when one from a dear-junior high school friend fell open to the simple line: “I miss you.” I cried. (I miss you, too, Johnnie)
So, here I sit, wondering what is really worth sharing. The most important is probably that David is thriving and has maintained a drug-free life for over a year. If any of you have sons struggling through the nightmare of drug or alcohol addiction, get in touch and I can highly recommend a newly opened recovery –ranch in the hills of Kentucky. I came so close to giving up on him during the past several years and made many mistakes in trying to help him. What I have learned from him is that we parents cannot afford to give up our hope or love for them—even when our hearts are breaking.
As many of you know, my prime addiction has always been books. This summer, I read the most exquisitely written and psychologically brilliant one ever--Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It gave me a deeper understanding of the pain and grief we humans can survive and overcome --if we hold onto whatever inside us can stay open and respond to the opportunities to live with compassion for others. It is so much easier to settle into anger and negativity, but that only reduces our chances for sharing love and we forego many moments of happiness.
My buying a small cottage on a lake in Canada has definitely added to my happiness over the past 4 years, since I am a “water-bug,” and thrive close to bodies of water. The time there has allowed me to meet new friends who share “the water world,” and I’m not nearly as isolated there as I am here in Horseheads. Tim’s still addicted to planes and gliders which occupies most of his time. I used to resent this, but his preference to be with “flying things” allows me more time to be with “water- people.” Annie, his mom, is still alive –though most of her brain has deserted her. She requires quite a bit of time and attention and has inspired me to join every organization available to help me bid life adieu when I feel the time has come.
I continue to spend as much time as possible in NC as I’ve never been a good Yankee. My “heart home” has remained NC (Greensboro and the mt. house in Linville) —with the lake in Canada becoming another place my heart frequently dwells happily. Daughter Karla also loves Canada and often shares time there. We’ve gotten to know some wonderful Hutchins relatives in the area and discovered that we are directly descended from the Vikings. (Fits for me!) Karen’s daughter, Nina, graduated from Yale Un. 2 years ago and is now in medical school in Ecuador. Her brother, Matthew, is now a freshman at Loyola Un. New Orleans, while brother Michael is a high school junior in Ecuador—striving to enter Harvard in 2 years. Stephen and Evelyn continue to do well in Atlanta with Wayne. Tim, myself, my four kids, Evelyn, Wayne, Matthew, Edwin, Beth and Bud all had T’giving together at mt. house this year-- a wonderful catch-up time. (Similar to the cousin reunion last year—which I’d love to do again this year. Let me know if you are interested—and if about same time in Sept. is OK)
I have a new right knee, which has been one of the best things that could have happened for my body! I am swimming and kayaking more and have stopped trying to keep up with Tim and his buddies mt. biking (basic reason for past accidents that destroyed poor old knee-and my face!) All in all, this has been a good year. Wishing each of you good health and special times of happiness through this new one—hoping we can share some of it—with love, Paddy (Sue)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Bitter-sweet: Love’s anxiety
The anxiety caused by our craving for love plays havoc with our emotions from the cradle to the grave. It causes us to behave in strange and contradictory ways. Beginning in primary school, it is often expressed in notes, carefully printed—“I love you. Do you love me? Check yes or no in one of these boxes.”
After writing such a note, I would print carefully on the front of the folded piece of paper, “Please pass to Billy Harris, and then hold my breath until I received a signal from him. If he turned to look at me with his cute grin, I could relax. If he did not look, or looked as if he were angry, I would be certain that some essential part of me was dying from his cruelty—or from my embarrassment. During the interim of the passing, there was not only the anxiety of wondering how he would react, but also the fear that the teacher may intercept the note and commit the crime of reading it to the class. Maybe, there was some denied hope that she might, and then “the whole world” would know that I loved Billy Harris. The immaturity of this experience is easily forgiven in the young. The truth is that the underlying emotions and the anxiety of wanting to be assured that we are loved remain with us throughout our lives, and we will do almost anything to gain that assurance.
With age, the simple love notes often become long letters confessing our feelings to the beloved. We try to find out what the beloved likes and dislikes, and then set about using that knowledge as bait to capture him. Most of us tend to believe that these behaviors apply only to romantic love, but over the years, I’ve come to realize that we will do almost anything to try to obtain whatever kind of love our hearts are hungry for---be it parental love, platonic or erotic love. When there is a hole in our hearts, as there nearly always is at some level by the time we reach young adulthood, or earlier, we seek the type of love most apt to heal the hole. The deep inner-conflict, the cause of the anxiety, is that from the time we are wounded by feeling rejected by someone we love, we fear that the chances of another rejection are higher than the chances of being healed. Therefore, we begin to deny our need and even behave negatively toward the other person to avoid the pain we convince ourselves will be forthcoming. This pattern of reject before being rejected allows us to feel some sense of control over our lives, which is preferable to validating that we might be unable to love, and therefore unable to be loved. To escape this painful knowledge, we close down emotionally, isolate or become addicts to anything that will keep us from living with the anxiety that is a natural part of love.
Aye, there’s the rub. We want love to feel good all the time. It doesn’t. It can’t. It won’t. Why? Because it encompasses all that we each are and that includes our doubts, our fears, our many imperfections—and our deep, dark secrets—those things we know about ourselves that separate us not only from others, but from our own souls. Secrets chisel gaping holes in our minds and hearts, where fear and anxiety grow into demons---killers of love. Dr. “Patch” Adams, whom I recently had the pleasure of hearing give one of his outrageous and thought-provoking lectures, is one of the world’s most effective healers. He believes, and I agree, that we cannot feel totally loved until we are willing to share our secrets, to share our fears and to express our anxieties. When we are able to do this and discover our beloved does not turn away, but begins to share his own dark side, we discover that the light of sharing enables love to grow. We are able to love and be loved with more confidence and less anxiety. With no love, there is no real joy in life.
If you question the validity of anything I have just written, I highly recommend that you read Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts, or any of the books by Patch Adams---then expand your love-life by sharing more of yourself—even your secrets.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Memories, Books--and Hopes for 2009

Another year has flown by, taking another year of our lives with it and leaving us with more memories- some precious, some sad, some sweet and some bitter-sweet. Although we age over time, there are aspects of us that defy time. A dear friend, who died a few years ago at the age of 101, often said that as she aged, she grew more and more thankful for her memories. One could see the glow of a 17 year old girl as she described dancing with Arthur Murray, king of the ballroom in the early years of the past century, as if it had happened the night before. I could feel her love for her first husband when she spoke of him and her grief over his death which had happened 20 years before I knew her. We are creatures of accumulated memories, and we are survivors, filled with hope that the future will hold positive changes.
Barack Obama, the soon to be President of the United States has recorded an audio-book, The Audacity of Hope, and today, he probably hopes harder than most of us that the future will hold positive changes. He dares to hope that what bonds us together is stronger than what drives us apart. Love bonds us together. Fear, that feeds violence, drives us apart. In other words, if we focus on developing our compassion for all other human beings, we could overcome our fear of differences, work together to conserve resources and make the necessary sacrifices for our species to survive far into the future.
This week, on New Year’s Day, my husband, Tim, and I climbed a 6,200 ft. mountain on the NC/TN border. There was a biting wind, which felt as if it were trying to remove the skin from our faces, but there were moments in the sun when the wind calmed and the beauty of the surroundings made it all worthwhile. I was struck by how similar this past year resembled the climb. Then quickly had the thought that perhaps every year—or even every day—resembles the climb at some level. Regardless of all the horrendous things we endure, we have no positive option except to put one foot in front of the other—with the hope that there will be moments in the sun. What composes our moments in the sun varies and can change over the span of our lives, and yet, it is hope itself that keeps us going through adversary. We can survive pain—both physical and emotional. We survive losses that rip our hearts to shreds, but as Mark Twain said upon the death of his daughter: It is amazing how much pain the human heart can endure and continue to beat.
We hope for pain to end, but it hangs tenaciously close by--until death. Therefore, we hope to learn whatever we can from the pain, for it is a master teacher. We hope for our loved ones to survive with as little pain as possible. And yet, pain seems to be an aspect of love and life that is inescapable. Above all, we must not allow hope to end. We hope to know deep and abiding love, to feel passion and the kind of joy that comes when we are able to bring joy to another. This deep gratification of sharing joy is what allows sex to be called “making love.” We hope for the kind of immortality that comes when we are remembered by those who loved us during our time on the planet. These thoughts have dominated my mind over the past few weeks as I’ve been re-reading Immortality by Milan Kundera, a Franco-Czech novelist. His novel deeply explores our desire to be immortalized—when we each want to shout to those we will leave behind at our deaths, “forget-me-not,” our final hope.
Perhaps this is why writers write--and why we love. My hope for each of you, and for myself, during this year, is that we can discover the love and compassion that binds us together is the only force that can ultimately perpetuate our survival.
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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Untangling the Twisted Threads

It hardly seems fair that it is far easier and less painful to create a tangle than to untangle it. I should have learned this early-on when my mother was brushing my tangled curls before allowing me to appear in public with messy hair. When I became old enough brush my own hair, getting rid of the tangles became such a chore, I had most of it cut off. It feels as if it would be nice if we were so easily able to cut off or cut out the tangles and twisted threads we have woven throughout our minds and our relationships--including our relationship to our planetary home.

Or would it? I have to seriously question under what circumstancs I have learned the most important lessons of my life. What situations have forced me to change some of my negative thoughts and behaviors? There is no doubt that when I am willing to take a serious look at the mistakes (tangles) I have made, often due to faulty thinking (sometimes based on a faulty belief system) or due to a selfish motive that I have rationalized to be acceptable, I am forced to admit it is only then that I begin to take responsibility for untangling the twisted threads of the tapestry I am weaving. My wise father reminded me frequently not to berate myself for mistakes, but learn from them and be sure to make a new one each time. He also chastized me when I tried to blame my mistakes on others--or on groups of others. It is easy to blame our parents, our friends, our enemies and even the leaders of our country for the things that go wrong in our lives. However, bottom line, I've had to accept that I cannot change anyone else. influence some--maybe, but real change only takes place in our individual minds. Possibly the most remarkable trait we share as members of the human family is that we have the ability to change--to change our minds and our behavior when we are willing to acknowledge that the consequences of our actions are destructive. For this trait, I remain eternally grateful. Without it, Obama would not be our President-elect. Yet, he cannot change this country or influence the world without the support of individuals, who are willing to make sacrifices for positive change.

We have reached a point in our history that there is no denying that we each must commit to changing aspects of our thinking and our behavior if we are to survive as a species. It is total folly to believe that we can survive if we continue to increase population expansion, to squander resources or to have another world war, when many countries possess weapons that could (and will) kill most of us within minutes. Funny, how prone most of us are to remove ourselves from the destructive equation. We like to think destruction is caused by "the other--or others." They are the ones twisting the threads in the grand tapestry of our times. We are all in this together--every single adult alive on this planet has a responsibility to do our share to help create a sustainable planet. I have to carefully examine whom and why I hate because I know that hate hurts me more than them and hate (usually based on fears of differences ) is the underlying basis for war. The only way through this is to practice understanding and forgiving. I must even eventually forgive G. W. and his cronies for this atrocious and unnecessary war, based on greed. I cannot help but judge them harshly, however I have to force myself to realize that every ounce of hate I harbor towards others will come back to me in some form. Most of us try to do what we perceive to be right, but too often our idea of right is misguided or based on false premises. The reality is that war has become so destructive, no one wins. The outcome is more fear and hate, which leads to more war.

Each time I leave my re-useable grocery bags in the trunk of my car, I am shirking my duty as a consumer, each time I carelessly leave lights buring and appliances plugged in when they are not being used, I could be participating in depriving others of life-saving technology. Extreme?? Perhaps, but we are living in a critical time when we must take some extreme measures to untangle the twisted threads within our minds that show up in our relationships and spread farther than we can imagine. During these holidays, I hope we can each be thankful for an opportunity to change what we can about our perceptions and actions in order to help create a more peaceful and compassionate world, which can only happen when we are willing to become less self-involved and more compassionate individuals.

And if you have young daughters with curls, brush out the tangles gently. If you (as we each will) make a mistake today, learn what you can from it--then forgive yourself and make amends to others affected by it.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Tapestry becomes a Book

My earliest memories center around the air raid drills of WWII when our family would huddle under a tent constructed of blankets on the tiny back porch of our home in Sanford, NC. My father, a minister, would hold a small, lighted candle and try to explain “war.” My immature mind just could not grasp why people would kill each other just because they couldn’t agree on something. Today my more mature mind is still haunted by the same question, especially when I catch myself in anger wishing the source of my anger (usually a person I love, or they would not have had the power to hurt me) would just drop dead. At some early age, these concepts of love and war began to weave a mysterious tapestry that has hung in the shadows of my thinking for years.

From time to time, I would be made aware of how love and war each elicited our most intense passions and fears. They both possess the power to tap into our deepest fears and our highest hopes. Fear is the basis for war. Hope is the basis for love. Both states place our very souls on trial. One could destroy us and the other could save us. For most of my life, I've focused mainly on the love threads in my mental tapestry. My first two published books explore why and whom we love and how to resolve relationship problems. However, during this past decade, I have become critically and painfully aware that the threads of fear, greed and control have the power to destroy love, our planet--and therefore, ourselves. When we deny them within our psyches, they grow, like mushrooms in the dark, and can dominate our thoughts and behaviors. It then becomes easier for us to follow leaders, who are ruled by these darker aspects of human nature, into unjust wars.

I began to realize that to fully understand human nature I must expand my psychological perspective to include our evolutionary biological history. If I were going to make a serious effort to control my own "demons'--always lurking in the shadows of my mind, ready to sabatoge me and my relationships, I needed to get help. I guess when the author is ready to stretch, a co-author apprears. In this case, it was Rudolf Harmsen, a biologist, retired from Queens University (Kingston, Canada) who shared my interest, my curiosity and my love for writing. We formed a team over five years ago to unravel the mysteries of the human tapestry and from those threads produce a book that could help us understand why we have turned so easily to destructive wars to resolve conflicts and why we must be willing to make alternative choices and some sacrifices. Our choices must be based on cooperation and compassion rather than deadly competitions, involving weapons of mass destruction, if we are to survive as a species beyond this century. We have recently completed the first draft of our book, Love and War: the Dueling Shadows of Our Minds. It has been written as a prescription to educate our minds and hearts as to how we could end war and create more enduring love. The purpose of my blog is to interest you in joining us so that we can live more peacefully while sharing our planetary home.