May I have your attention please!

Awareness has come up for me several times in the past week, both others and my own. My daughter asked me to talk to both my grandchildren at separate times, and while the discussion was about a specific issue, they both came down to awareness.

As children, we begin to be conscious of ourselves as separate beings starting at about 18 months, and self-awareness needs to be nurtured throughout their lives. But that does not mean they are necessarily aware of their specific actions and definitely not aware of cause and effect; that comes much later.

One of the issues I have discovered that I did not do with my daughter and, therefore, she does not do with her children is to teach awareness. Children mostly live in the moment; if something looks, tastes, or feels good, children jump right in without any thought whatsoever.

My grandchildren are seven and four, so the older one is just at the age to begin to contemplate the results of her action, which includes increasing her awareness of the present moment. An example of this lack of awareness in children, teenagers, and adults are repetitive tasks.

As with everything in life, this works both to our advantage and disadvantage. For example, we rarely think about walking after two years old because we have mastered stepping forward. However, if we reach a step or steep hill, our awareness returns immediately.

Specific actions need our attention every minute, such as using a table saw; while walking is safer with time, table saws do not get safer with each cut! Two activities involving awareness jump out at me for children, crossing the street and closing a car door.

Both my grandchildren can now unbuckle their seat belts, open the car door, climb out, and shut the door. Most of us adults know this is normal learning behavior, but we do not remember how heavy a car door is for a child. Parents might say something like, “Be careful,” but we do not teach being aware.

We need to talk with our children about how they approach closing the door, get them to acknowledge how heavy it is, and ask what they think would happen if they closed the door on their thumb or finger. And then, as with all teaching, repeat the lesson several times a week when they begin to shut the car door, saying, “Be aware of shutting the door.”

Likewise, crossing the street requires constant repetition, starting when holding hands when they are too young to cross by themselves; repeating out loud, stop, look both ways, and when clear, we can cross. The originator of my style of yoga had a wonderful saying about yoga, which applies to everything in life, “1% theory, 99% practice.” This saying applies when teaching children anything; we need to use persistent repetition!

These two examples of awareness teaching are especially true when children (and ourselves!) are apt not to be living in the moment, such as getting out of the car or crossing the street to join friends, going to a game, or getting ice cream. In these moments, when our attention is diverted, we need to learn to stay in the moment and be aware of what we are doing.

Have not most of our accidents happened precisely in situations like this? So then, as if to bring this subject home for me, after writing several paragraphs, I went to make my evening protein shake, something I have done for years. After adding all the ingredients to the shaker, I went to put the protein powder canister up and knocked over the shaker; water and powder went everywhere!

Ahh, not paying attention to a repetitive task; the Universe has a wicked sense of humor. Obviously, I am still learning, and I had a great laugh! Thankfully, unlike not having awareness with a table saw where an accident can be damaging (I have three customized fingertips to prove this), the spill was a quick cleanup!

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Why do we like demeaning jokes and stories?

Several years ago, I wrote a blog on how most jokes are mean. I saw a meme on Facebook the other day that said:

Help Requested: A friend of mine has two tickets for the 2020 Super bowl.

A friend of mine has two tickets for the 2020 Super bowl. They are box seats plus airfares and hotel accommodations. He didn’t realize when he bought them that this is the same day as his wedding – so he can’t go. If you’re interested and want to go instead of him, it’s at St. Peter’s Church in New York City at 5 PM. Her name is Donna. She will be the one in the white dress.

The technical term for this kind of joke is a paraprosdokian, where the punch line is totally opposite from what is expected. And, I have to admit, I laughed because of the juxtaposition. And then, I had to ask why did I laugh? If we stop to give this any thought whatsoever, there is nothing remotely funny about this scenario, especially for a relationship therapist!

There is almost no one that would put another, someone we supposedly love, in this situation. And we certainly would not want this done to us by someone who supposedly loves us! So why would I laugh at this meme?

Typically, when another person is trying to be funny, we join in the laughter. This could be the amateur “class clown” or the professional comedian. As I wrote before, when they direct most of their “jokes” at themselves, we take this as witty self-deprecation. We also laugh when the subject of their “humor” is directed at someone; however, if that someone happens to be us, we tend not to like the resulting humiliation and do not find the joke to be funny in the least!

We also laugh when something untoward happens to another person, such as stepping off a curb into a deep mud puddle. This type of occurrence is textbook schadenfreude; we feel both superior to the other since we are not the one humiliated, and also a bit guilty because we would not like to be in that situation. Again, the critical position is, we do not want to experience what we just found funny.

I know this can all be said to just being human, but why? Maybe I am obsessing over the topic of this mean joke, but why do our egos so desperately need to feel superior to another? Why are our egos so unloving that we take pleasure in someone else’s humiliation? Especially when we hate being humiliated, I have not done any research on this, just musing on the subject.

I give a communications talk were I list shaming and humiliation as a leftover negative tool to control first children, and then adults. Shame and embarrassment deeply hurt; unfortunately, their use can then lead some, especially teens, to commit suicide.

A half century later, we are still a long way from the plea in a 60’s song:

Come on people now
Smile on your bother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now.
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Do the best you can until you know better.

Several experiences lay behind this blog. The first was a coming across a Maya Angelou quote, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” All of us have memories of doing things that we wish we could change; this seems particularly true of learned behavior from our family of origin. When we are young (and for this blog, I am stating anyone under 25 years old), we have usually not had the opportunity to “know better.”

All life is about learning; even a single cell animal will learn and then shy away from something that, in the past, it has found to be toxic. For humans, most of our learning is first from our families, and then peers, schools, churches, and then finally our workplace. Further, there are two types of education, formal and observed. Formal can be our parents teaching us to not pick our noses due to societal norms or from an instructor in a class or a sport.

When children are trying to walk, they typically do so not because someone is actively teaching them to balance and put one foot in front of the other, the child is just imitating what she observes. Do not underestimate the power of observed behaviors, such as unspoken family rules, that are more implicitly learn as opposed to explicitly learned.

The most straightforward example is race; humans are not born racist. Place a white two-year old child into a room of two-year old Asian, Latino, and/or Black children, and they will all just start playing. The same is true for a child of another race placed into a room full of white children. Bigotry is learned, either formally or observed; this leads to the second experience.

The second recent experience was when I was asked to write an endorsement for a book, and in it, my friend talks about staying with his grandfather one summer; his grandfather was a sharecropper in Tennessee starting back in the 1930s. Along with all the familial bonding and great activities like camping and fishing, his grandfather schooled him on his racial prejudices. As he states, “He was my grandfather, and I trusted him, and I didn’t know any better.”

Luckily, my friend lived near San Franscico, and when he returned, he realized there were other opinions about race. He realized he could choose to love his grandfather, relishing being taught how to fish, etc. and also to choose to reject other ideas his grandfather held that he did not like. Wow, what a concept; we can love and respect someone for some parts and reject others.

This ability does not happen before about the age of seven; all younger children are black-white thinkers. That is why a child will tell his mon that he hates her when she does not give him the candy he wants. There is no, “I can love my mom for all the wonderful things she does for me and not like that she refused me candy!” What does this say about those adults that now tell us we must take all or nothing of people?

Why condemn those that did not have the blessing of a counter view when they were young and continued their learned behavior into adulthood before changing? Rejecting family norms is extremely hard, and those that do should be honored for improving, not shunned for repeating the mistakes of their elders before learning new behavior. That is genuinely becoming “Woke,” not this judgemental condemnation we hear today.

The third experience is my growing up in the south, albeit not the deep south, but still very racially prejudiced. I grew up where everyone I knew was biased, my grandparents, parents, neighborhood friends, and peers. Was I sometimes cruel with people who were different? Yes; this included not only those of other races, but homosexuals (not that I knew any back then, but I learned they were “bad”), those with mental and physical issues, even the socially inferior, the “white trash.”

I am not sure why, but at some point, I no longer bought into this pervasive groupthink. Partially, this might have been going to a Catholic elementary and high schools with blacks, Hispanics, rich, poor, and (oh my God) Jews (I still did not know any gays!). I found I did not think in those terms any longer. Interestingly, I would not call it acceptance, but more like irrelevance and that later became an issue in my psychology training, but more on that later.

So in 1971, I had a black roommate as a freshman at a Texas state university. Back then, this was unheard of, and I remember seeing another incoming student’s application where, under roommate preference, he had written “White.” When I had read my application, I thought that question meant if you had a friend going to school and wanted to room with them! While I do not remember my parents saying anything about my roommate, my grandmothers were appalled!

After his 50th birthday party, I mentioned to him that another attendee had remarked how extraordinary our rooming was and had asked me what his family thought a “mixed” roommate situation? The good news is that, back then, I had not had any thought about him being black; the bad news is, in my racial irrelevance thinking, it never occurred to me his family would be concerned about him having a white roommate at a predominately white university. Jon told me that when he first called home, and they asked, he replied (and I am paraphrasing), “I am not sure he even has realized I am black!”

That is all fine and dandy, but according to today’s “Woke” culture, my black roommate should have condemned me for things I said before I met him, before I knew better. My best friend should have been outraged that I had told my share of derogatory Mexican jokes! And because I stupidly repeated gay jokes back when I was young, my gay cousins should shun me now.

If either my roommate, best friend, or cousins had asked me if I had ever been homophobic or racially insensitive, even cruel, in the past, I would have admitted it and apologized to them. They did not, because they accepted me as I was when I knew them, not who I was when I was an adolescent. However, I will never apologize to anyone else that wishes to judge and condemn me for my past actions; as a teenager and young adult, I did the best I could, and when I knew better, I did better.

I mentioned earlier about my irrelevant thinking about race, sexual orientation, etc. While this did serve me to be accepting of people for whom they are, it did not help me when I began practicing being a therapist. I remember being in a dyad with a fellow student, somewhat “swarthy” and having a “foreign” last name. While my therapy was excellent, and he remarked that I had helped, he also mentioned he was Armenian, and that I had not taken his ethenic background into consideration. So while my not seeing people with a racial, ethnic, sexual orientation lens leads to public acceptance of all, in a therapeutic relationship, it could be harmful! I now do better!

Humans are always learning; if we choose not to continue learning, we stagnate. And, for me, part of learning new behavior is to reject hurtful behavior in others. But only if they have not learned and choose to be hurtful now, not what they did back in their early years.

To those “Woke” revisionists, I will close with another Maya Angelou quote…
“Just do right. Right may not be expedient, it may not be profitable, but it will satisfy your soul. It brings you the kind of protection that bodyguards can’t give you. So try to live your life in a way that you will not regret years of useless virtue and inertia and timidity.
Take up the battle. Take it up.
It’s yours. This is your life.
This is your world.”

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Healthy Living II

To continue with this three-part series, let us take a minute to revisit my supposition from the last blog, humans in our “civilized” world are not living naturally. Again, it does not matter if you believe humans have been around a few hundred thousand years or God made us 6000 years ago, our human bodies were designed to live a certain way.

Also, for the sake of this discussion, we will look at the last 6K years in which humans lived. For 95% those years, humans lived the same when it came to our sleep habits; wake up at dawn and go to bed at dusk. Sure, there were full moons and then fire and candles to extend our being able to function after the sun went down, but those were limited.

Unfortunately, we tend to look at our past like Hollywood has shown us. Maybe kings had hundreds of candles available to party hearty late into the night, but no one else did. A fire allowed workers to ply their trade until dusk, and then be able to eat and visit for a while. Candles enabled us to have some “me” time in our corner or possibly our room.

But think more in-depth about this privilege. No one went down to the convenience store to get wood for a fire and for most of that time, people did not get candles at the store either; you chopped wood (and a couple of hundred others were competing with you for that wood if you lived in a town) and handmade the candles. If you are flipping a switch to turn on a light, or now, a fire, why not enjoy staying up late? Sure, we do have to pay for the electricity and gas, but even those are cheap by history’s standards.

If you were chopping wood for every fire you had and collecting oil or wax for every candle, we would, just like our ancestors, only use what we absolutely needed. When the wood or candles were gone, we would suffer as people did for most of antiquity. So what does this have to do with healthy living?

We need sleep! Like it or not, our bodies need about eight hours of sleep a night. Because we have read about or know folks that can get by on less, we tend to think we can too, when, in fact, we cannot. Bottom line, one relaxing weekend, sleep until you wake up refreshed! You now know how much rest you need each night, and whatever that amount is, work backward from when you need to get up; that is the time to go to bed.

I am not going to go into all the areas that are affected when we do not get enough sleep as it is an extensive list; we have all felt the early signs of too little sleep. Fatigue, listlessness, slow thinking, and being clumsy are only some lesser problems we will encounter. Heart disease, diabetes, psychosis, and bipolar disorder are the next readily observable issues of chronic sleep deprivation.

Regrettably, there is much more, much of it unseen until too late. Over those eight hours, the body repairs different areas to restore our systems. Just as you would not schedule three work activities at the same time, the body does not schedule significant repairs concurrently while we are asleep. When sleep is cut short, so is some repair; muscle repair, memory consolidation, cellular repair, and the release of hormones to regulate growth and appetite are just a few of the patches that can be disrupted by too little sleep.

We know children need eight to nine and a half hours of sleep, but teens almost as much. Perversely, their brain development also means they do not get sleepy until later! Any parent of a teen knows they can sleep until at least 10:00 AM if allowed! As usual, the school districts are still working on old information; elementary school needs to start at 7:30 as those children are awake earlier and high school should begin at 9:30 to accommodate a teen’s physiology!

And there is more! The quality of sleep is just as important as the quantity. Again, think about how humans have lived for thousands or millions of years. We worked during daylight, ate, relaxed and then went to bed. There was no television, computers, or other things competing for our attention. Worse, the blue light that is given off by TVs, iPads, etc. simulate daylight and makes the brain think it should still be active.

Do what our ancestors did and relax with a book, review the day, or actually talk with someone! Turn off all electronics, dim the lights, and give your body 30 – 60 minutes to adjust to going to bed. And while some folks can sleep with the television on, but they are a tiny minority. Finally, eat light at night to give your body one less thing it needs to do while you are asleep. If possible, grab a 20-minute nap after lunch, some call this a power nap. It will do wonders for your energy level! Oh, but you say, I don’t have any of those issues with my five hours of sleep and no nap!

Unfortunately, just like eating non-food items does not result in immediate obesity, losing an hour or two of sleep every night does not affect us significantly in the short term. The long-term effects are just as debilitating as poor eating. There is an old saying, “I’ll rest on the day I die.” Well, studies have shown that without adequate sleep, you will be “resting” much younger than those of us getting a full eight hours!

Just as eating sugar once in a while is “therapeutic” to a well-lived life, a night or two on the town until the early hours can be a reward for managing our work schedule. We need to live a mindful life that enhances our health overall!

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There’s a new sheriff in town!

When I was growing up in the 60’s, my best friend was in a blended family; a regular occurrence today but very rare back then. Further, his dad had converted to Catholicism to marry his first wife, and then his second wife and her child converted before their marriage! Their family was very Catholic, the oldest son eventually becoming a priest, and I remember my mother saying folks that convert to Catholicism usually are more devout than those of us raised Roman Catholic.

Since then, I have found this to be true of most people in most things. When my mother stopped smoking, she did her best to convert every smoker into quitting. When she began to smoke again, she may not have tried to convert anyone, but she was scathing with anyone that said something to her about her smoking. Most folks that make life-changing decisions, addicts, religious, political, etc., are passionate in their conversion; one of mine is the subconscious. I chuckle now when remembering in my late twenties/early thirties saying to my ex, “If you think my actions are controlled by some hidden part of my brain, you are crazy!” Now, I would postulate that there is very little we do every day that is NOT influenced by our subconscious. Studies show that when meeting someone for the first time, subconsciously our minds have already taken in their posture, shape of their body, and evaluated the position of each of the 43 muscles in their face to pre-judge how we think they will act!

Likewise, in every situation we find ourselves, the subconscious immediately references past circumstances that were similar, influencing how we will react today, including when most memories, both conscious and subconscious, are formed, before we are seven years old. One psychologist I know describes this as, “Every five year old knows the unspoken rules in a house, most of which deal with not pissing off their parents!” And the memories just keep on coming, by 21, we have stored more information than is in most encyclopedias; like an iceberg, the conscious memories are only the tip!

Those “unspoken rules” are implicit memories, those that are subconscious. Most all think of memories as held in the mind; conscious memories are called explicit, mental, or declarative with implicit memories being deemed unconscious. Somatic psychotherapists differentiate implicit memories as not only mentally subconscious but somatic, meaning held in the body; these implicit memories somatically reveal themselves in what we call “character structures” or an “adaptive self.” In her book, Body Psychotherapy, Tree Staunton stated, “We have to remember that character structure is a defense—a defense against contact and relationship now as much as a defense against experiencing a past injury.”

As I have noted in other blogs, I attend a quarterly relational somatic workshop; initially, it included both somatic psychology instruction for a couple of days and then deep therapeutic sessions for each participant. After ten years, it has evolved into primarily the deep work, including the two facilitators, with the teaching piece coming from all of us after a therapeutic session. This past workshop, I started with my wanting to be more disciplined in my commitments, both physical like exercise and yoga, but also mental, like getting these blogs out more timely!

We found the cause behind the symptom of being undisciplined to be a very early implicit memory, which I will call, “What’s the use?” My early life until three years old was basically safe because we lived with my grandparents, but I did not feel safe around just my mother. As a raging co-dependent, I tried hard to please her, but nothing worked; so along with my consciously trying even harder, I subconsciously knew nothing would ever work, so why even try? In my deep process work, we found a dead area surrounding my heart.

Somatic memories are formed in a relationship, so it takes a relational somatic effort to access them and release them. Since the way out of an issue is through the issue, the other participants worked on my body while talking to me and then I had the inspiration to have one of my fellow somatic therapist pound on my chest, to the point of almost bruising it. Just as pushing on the chest can restart a physical heart, my emotional heart reawakened with his pounding!

The following morning, I had a dream where I saw someone dressed as law enforcement. When I asked him who he was, he replied, “I’m the new sheriff!” At first, I felt sad as I have had too many authoritarians in my life and told him I did not want another. He replied, he was “Sheriff Alive!” Wow, what a confirmation of the work I/we had done!

As in most deep therapeutic healing, the old personality has been fighting this new change; after all, it kept me safe for 60 years and has no frame of reference in how to live with this new aliveness. Slowly, however, my old defenses are succumbing to a new paradigm, and I am exploring the new freedom of living as I was meant to live, being fully alive. Indeed, there is a new sheriff in town!

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Asking Questions II

Or… Practice What I Preach!

One of the wonderful mysteries of life is how both synergistic and coincidental it is. Of course, I would find this so as I believe that the quantum physicists are correct, everything is energy and, on this plane, Newton’s law of motion also applies to how energy moves. Namely, what we put out in thoughts, words, and actions comes back.

I also believe that our innate nature is to constantly better ourselves, hence that energy, whether we are trying to or not, is generating opportunities to learn and grow each day; we simply have to become more aware, stay more in the moment to discover most of those opportunities. Sometimes we recognize a growth occurrence as it unfolds or, as happened in this case, a failure in staying aware or present.

My last post was on asking questions and, it seems, that blog was also directed to me! Even though I know this and teach it, sometimes I am a student all over again. A yoga instructor that taught me likes to say, “To teach is to learn all over again!” Well, the universe gave me that chance yesterday.

We are in Anaheim celebrating my sister-in-law’s and her daughter’s birthdays, and we were enjoying their Disneyland birthday present. I went to the men’s room and, when leaving, saw a gentleman enter that was blind that had paused just inside the entrance. I asked him if he needed help, he accepted, and if he needed a urinal or toilet, and it was the former.

I guided him to a stall, showed him the partitions and said my goodbye. So, how is this like the last post since I did ask if he needed help? Thinking about it later, I realize that I had used what I consider incorrect terminology and that the most important question had been left out, “Can I be of further assistance?”

First, he did not need help. For me, help is when someone cannot do something, like lifting something too heavy for one person or helping a child with schoolwork they do not yet understand. This fellow was perfectly capable of finding the urinals, even if doing so in a strange bathroom may not have been easy. I should have asked if he needed assistance. Yes, I know it is a minor distinction and that a definition for help is to assist, but words have energy and there is that part of helping that indicates inability. And then I made an assumption.

I now know that I reasoned that having gotten him to a urinal, that was all that was needed; how about asking him rather than me supplying an answer, albeit unspoken. That is the error on my part; he does not know if the urinal is a manual or automatic flush model or, now, one of the waterless ones. From sounds, he might know where the lavatories are, but not the location of the soap and towel dispensers, which can also be manual or automatic. And how about the trashcan or easily finding his way back to the door and ensuring no child come barreling through the door and runs into him?

He may well have said that he could take it from that point, but I never gave him a chance. From the feel good I had of being of service, and I am not taking anything away from that, I could have been even more of service by asking a simple question. Even though I feel I do know this, I had a fabulous lesson and reminder that I need to be ever vigilant, ever aware. I used to think that being aware to that extent would be exhausting, but actually, it makes life both easier and more meaningful!

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Election Causation Error II

Or, “You Don’t Have To Believe Everything You Think.” I have this saying on a bumper sticker on the back of my truck. It is amazing what we can interpret from seeing, hearing, or feeling something, which may or may not have any basis in reality because we would be making a generalization from a snapshot. This concept came back to me the other morning listening to Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, on NPR. But first a little diversion…

Over the last several years I have found this radio program, while entertaining, has become more and more condescending to what I call the vast middle-class situated between the two coasts. I am not sure if indeed they are becoming more condescending or if I am simply more aware of what and how things are said. If you’ve never heard the program, they have several sections, played before a live audience, and having three guest entertainers, usually comedians.

I have already covered in an earlier blog my thoughts on how jokes really are not funny, but many comedians these days seem to delight in putting down their fellow humans, especially those they regard as beneath them. I have heard and read in the past about the ivory tower that “intellectuals” inhabit, mainly in the huge cities on both coasts, plus Chicago, but most especially New York City.

I know treating those we think below us with contempt is basic human nature, but it was brought home to me the other night watching a documentary on one of my favorite writer and director, Nora Ephron. Great film by one of her sons, but boy did it point out how those she associated with seem to consider themselves in a class above the rest of us. And this affliction really does seem to pertain to those in the visual, auditory, and written arts.

So back to the radio show in which they were yukking it up over Donald Trump’s “on the record” meeting with the New York Times in which he supposedly spoke over and over about the size of his hands. However, the dialog was not video or audio taped, with just a transcript released. I apologize, but one more aside. Back in the 90s, I had the unfortunate experience of participating in several lawsuits, but they were before it was standard procedure to videotape a deposition.

I became extremely adept at answering questions which, when reading in a transcript, seemed like the answer was succinct. Had you been present, you would’ve heard the sarcasm and contempt in my voice, which never made it to the printed page. Even better, when the attorney challenged me, I simply stated, “What do you mean?” making her or him look stupid.

So I can imagine, only knowing Trump from a few videos and quips, how he was (or thought he was!) probably being funny and self-deprecating. However, the joking inflection of his voice would not have made it to the printed page. And yet these comedians drew a conclusion over the sterile written words in the transcript, that Trump was actually serious and still obsessing over Rubio’s hand size correlation rather than trying to be funny.

Not only did they make the classic mistake of drawing a conclusion from a correlation (you may remember that since being raked over the coals in my dissertation process, I am attuned to and have encountered many such fallacious arguments!), but also they did not even recognize the context. Either that or they purposely chose to cast that meeting in the dimmest light possible. Or both! So much for the self-professed superiority of the performance intelligentsia!

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Another Milestone

Wow, out of the blue, another sucker punch. My daughter called me couple of weeks ago to tell me my cousin Ken had died; he was a year older and my closest relative both chronologically and relationally. Totally unexpected, what a shock, and it is still reverberating. I went to his funeral the next week and, while I was so grateful to be able to attend, being there was really tough. First, a little background, as mentioned, Ken was a first cousin and I’ve read that our cousins are our first friends; Ken was and I will miss him deeply.

Ken and I were together fairly often as youngsters because of my first father’s illness and then death when I was six. My sister and I spent a lot of time at their house, about an hour for our home and despite why we were there, along with his middle brother (just his younger brother back then) had great fun. Ken was interesting, a big type “A” growing up, the oldest in our four cousin cabal. His dad, like my mother, was an 800-pound gorilla and his mom, living the dutiful 50’s wife was subservient, but strong in her own way. We were typical 1950 kids, living in our imagination; enacting elaborate play situations that involved fighting Indians (Davy Crockett), going on adventures (Tarzan), saving the world (Superman), and also reenacting every day life playing bankers or Post Office.

Beginning with college, we began a slow drift apart, devolving to seeing each other quarterly after we both got married and had children, and then when I moved west, maybe yearly. Even though we didn’t see each other as often, when we did I felt the relationship pick back up immediately, as though we had last gotten together no more than a month before. Interestingly, as I am writing this, my adult brain was thinking relationship, however it came out we were still playing together! Thinking back on my time spent with Ken through college he was always the leader whether it was the four of us playing or just the two of us. Then, Ken left the small pond of his hometown and went to Texas A&M University, a really BIG pond, and I never saw him take command between us again, for me it was like maturing from friendship into a brother. Since he had two brothers of his own, he may not have seen it this way; funny how something like a death gets us reflecting and now I can’t ask.

And then in college, my closeness to another best friend morphed over about eight years. Michael and I met as a freshman in college and, while we did things together, did not become friends until after graduation. He and I were two of the earliest in our group to get married and have children; interesting that marriage and children began a growing apart with Ken and coalesced a friendship with Michael. While the frequency that Michael and were able to see each other diminished when I moved away to Taos, unlike with Ken we remained very close. You could say that these two gentlemen were brothers that I never had; one up through college and beyond, the other after college.

In my adult life I have lost two grandmothers, a grandfather, several aunts and uncles, a few acquaintances, and two good friends. It has been interesting to think back on my feelings and emotions surrounding all these funerals. My grandparents passed away when I was still in my former life as an engineer and business owner. Basically I had no emotions; oh that’s quite not true, I cried, and was down, remorseful that I hadn’t spent as much time as I could with them, but didn’t really feel it with the depth that I have felt the more recent losses. Since changing professions to psychology my awareness of my emotions and how they land in my body is off the charts from back then, as is the introspection of memories, they are so much more vivid and present than when I lost my grandparents. However, since grandparents and aunts and uncles are from a different generation, the hole they left in my heart, while deep, wasn’t quite as big as losing Michael and Ken.

When Michael died eight years ago, even though it was the culmination of a long battle with cancer, I was extremely devastated. Having spent 50 years of my life suppressing emotions and choosing to sit in the middle of the emotional road, call it neutral, call it denial; I made a vowel to bring awareness to all my emotions. I wanted to get out of the middle the road, and to experience life’s highs and lows to the fullest extent possible, Michael then died, seemingly to test my resolve. This was probably the lowest of lows I could possibly have experienced, so low that I ended up getting physically sick.

The low was so new and so deep that, while I experienced all my emotions, they were almost on the periphery due to numbness. That said, as the numbness wore off and as I got physically well, I was able to truly sit with my experience and feel all the emotions. I also learned how large my heart was because I quite simply could not imagine it was so large as to enclose the hole left by Michael’s passing. Life does go on, and while I only think of him a couple of times a week, every few months one of those remembrances can still reduce me to tears, as is happening now. Luckily that commitment to really experience the highs and lows of life’s emotional roller coaster ride has also resulted in not only experiencing numerous highs but to raise the mean level of happiness and joy in my life!

Conversely, with Ken’s passing, I don’t know if it’s due to our having grown apart slightly, my emotional maturity, or the experience that I had with Michael, but the hole is not quite as large and the depth not quite as deep; however my presence or awareness surrounding his death was much greater. His was the first funeral that I have been to in a while, as I was unable to make a couple of funerals and the last two to die, interestingly Ken’s parents, only had life celebrations several weeks after the their death.

The one thing that I did notice at the funeral, being able to sit with my emotions to a much greater degree, was my wanting to truly experience all that came up. This is not a judgment on others that needed to vent their anger over Ken’s lifestyle habits that may have contributed to his early passing or to the laughter that accompanied memories of happier times with Ken. I remember doing this around Michael’s funeral, mainly feeling so angry that he died when there was so many, that I judged as not being worthy, still living. This time I found myself not really joining with others in experiencing any other emotion besides sadness. In some ways it’s like being in the desert and appreciating it, really being one with it, and not remembering majestic mountains or other scenery that would take away from the seemingly monotonous desert, which is full of life and variety within its own outwardly monotonous landscape.

Truly experiencing my life in the present moment, it was really interesting these last few weeks to see how much further I have actually come since Michael’s death. I explored being comfortable enough with my emotions to simply experience them, as they are with no cognitive, meaning making narrative. Memories of Ken’s and my childhood together, family parties, the crappy mandate from my former in-laws that kept Ken from being my best man, our children playing together, the dinners and parties we experienced as adults, especially the wonderful fireworks parties they had on the 4th of July, and now his passing. One difference between writing on paper and typing, typing doesn’t show tear stains.

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