The Courage To Be

I’m taking an unanticipated few weeks off from writing.  I have some speaking engagements coming up that will require my full attention.

It dawned on me today that in order to do the necessary work, I need to carve out space for being. Before I can do, I first have to be. Like the plows carve out pathways through the snow, I have to forcibly create space for the stillness to emerge.

As I do that, I’m reflecting on a timely quote from Thomas Merton:

We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have – for their usefulness.

I hope you find this quote as meaningful as I do. And until next time, instead of looking for value in the product, may you just be, unmistakably, who you are and watch the awe-inspiring imagination that emerges from the undertaking to exist without acting.

 

With thoughts of stillness,

Amy

A Brief and Almost Encounter

Act I: The Almost Encounter

 

I almost met Kareem Abdul-Jabbar once.

Picture O’Hare airport’s gift shop, filled with trinkets that resemble every other tourist trap except with “Chicago” branded in nondescript, plastic letters.

The store was underpopulated and a 23-year-old version of myself was wasting time until my flight. My disinterest in the gimmicks left me wandering aimlessly around the shop, until I landed at the counter, head propped on one hand and spinning a rack of moniker key chains with the other.

I was daydreaming when I became subtly aware of a looming shadow next to me. I kept flipping the rack until I grasped the fact that the shadow wasn’t moving.

As I turned slightly, I found myself facing a man’s abdomen, startled by the proximity.  It was a long journey up to his face, which ended in a quizzical look on my part, and an amused look on his.

Now, I come from a family of tall men. And my brother-in-law measures in at 6’8″. But at 7’2″, this man was a full 6 inches taller than that.

As I tilted my head, he said “hi” and smiled, giving me a look that was hard to read at the time. I didn’t know if I responded.  I may have just stared at him, blankly, until he finally walked away.

As my brain slowly connected with my visual perspicuity, the most incurious internal dialogue ensued–a dialogue that would be both comical and offensive to NBA fans and Airplane! movie lovers alike: “I wonder if that guy ever played basketball.” I thought. “I should’ve asked him that…” At which point I experienced a milli-second of regret, shrugged, and went back to spinning keys in a methodical, clockwise motion.

Seconds later a wide-eyed cashier hurried towards me shrieking and gesturing with an absurdity that contrasted my understated thoughts. “That was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar standing next to you!” She shouted.”  He just bought something and I saw the name on his credit card! But I knew it was him right away!!!” She had an air of self-referential pride.

She then asked me a question, the answer to which left her crestfallen. “What did you say to him?!” I looked at her, knowing I was bound to disappoint, and shrugged, “Dunno…I don’t think I said anything…” My voice wistfully dropped off at the end. Her condemnation was evident. And the truth is, I don’t really know, but I think I was completely silent.

 

Act II: The Encounter

If it’s possible in an interaction between two people for one to have an encounter while the other doesn’t, that’s exactly what happened, here. Kareem had more of an attuned interaction with me than I did with him (not that it mattered to him, I’m sure, other than to pique his amusement).

For me, however, it was a bit haunting. Not just because I do know who he is, but also because I was unnerved by my ability to be so detached from the present moment. For someone who was studying attunement and practicing it in real time in the office, I had hit a major blind spot.

What to do? Engage mindful awareness.

 

Act III: The Questions

To be mindful is to be open to what’s going on around us with a receptivity that allows for curiosity, exploration, and assimilation, ultimately leading to growth. In my disconnection from the moment, I lost out on the possibility to do what I do so well (ask copious amounts of annoying questions). And I lost out on that with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

In this narrative, I celebrate Kareem as an example of  the raconteur. He was a storyteller who translated valuable truths from my office couch to my kitchen table (or, in this case, the gift shop counter) with one knowing look.

Version 2.0 of my website is now titled The Raconteer. Raconteer is a made up word meant to describe one who celebrates pioneers of storytelling (raconteurs) who bridge the gap between the office couch and the kitchen table. —click here for explanation

I’ll always remember that story as a lesson in mindfulness. Kareem, if I ever get a redo, I have two questions that I’ve often contemplated and are long overdue.  How do you deal with the forced mindfulness that accompanies your towering height? And what’s it like to have a birds eye view to a world of oblivious people?

Couch to Table

 

How do we bridge the gap between the therapist’s couch and the client’s kitchen table?

 

The farm to table movement is quickly becoming a cultural staple. It’s the current gold standard of dining where food is locally sourced, fresh, healthy, and simple.

As I understand the farm to table movement, the goal is to promote a relationship with food that encourages sustainability, accessibility, simplicity, and authenticity. All of these traits include a respectful partnership between the farm (local food source) and the table (eating establishment).

After listening to the many voices that echo from the office couch, it struck me that farm to table offers rich lessons for counseling. Clients want these same characteristics from the process.

The therapist’s couch represents the place where soul searching work happens. While the client’s kitchen table is the epicenter of the home. Not just the hub of eating, but the spot where the daily rhythms of life converge.

One of counseling’s great obstacles is translating what clients learn in the office to everyday life. It can feel like you’re taking a giant leap to get from the office couch to the kitchen table.

But these same traits of the farm to table movement give valuable cues for how to accommodate that transition in our lives.

Sustainability: Just as we want our food to be sourced in a way that has a positive impact on the surrounding environment, we want sustainability from counseling. We desire an enduring imprint, one that’s impressionable, persistent, replicable. Ultimately, we want our acquired insights to nourish rather than deplete the people and places in our locus of influence.

Accessibility: Farm to table food is accessible. It’s readily available due to the proximity of the local farm to our dining rooms. We want counseling to be the same. We value the couch “aha” moments and want them to translate to the kitchen table conversations with a natural flow, comprehensibility, and appealing narrative.

Simplicity: Just as many value food with no fillers, we want counseling that’s natural and focuses on crafting the essentials in a way that’s respectful. Fillers may mean years of unnecessary talk time where we spin our wheels. In contrast, we want to get to the real issues right away–whittled down to the essential, explained with clarity, and applicable to the here and now.

Authenticity: With farm to table, what you see is what you get, no hidden ingredients–just genuine, locally grown food. With couch to table counseling, it’s about a similar transparency that encourages organic relationships and genuine change.

I desire to see my field of work move in this direction. I want counselors, myself included, to care well for those who cross the threshold of each office door and ease weary bodies on to that emblematic couch.

I hope we can reflect on these traits, together, through the shared stories and experiences on this site. As part of version 2.0, you can now find me on twitter as TheRaconteer or visit my website through theraconteer.com. More on that soon…

In the meantime, may you find the rhythms of life uniquely enriched around your kitchen table. Here’s to a new year and new adventures in couch to table storytelling.

 

 

11:59 PM

I burned my pizza to the stubborn consistency of a hockey puck the other night.

I was so absorbed in an essay on writing (or, rather, absorbed in emerging self-exploration through writing) that I left it in the oven for 9 1/2 minutes too long. Whatever charms may be possessed of frozen pizza are lost on the gluten free variety, and leaving a naturally parched crust in the oven 9 1/2 minutes too long is akin to 20 minutes too long for regular pizza.

I ate it anyway–reflecting on its original shape, form, and substance, now obscured by layers of charred cheese and disintegrating sauce. It was a pale reflection of whatever former glory it possessed.

As I glibly chewed, I pondered what else meets obscure ends. The minute 11:59 pm on December 31st of each year. It is, inevitably, obfuscated by the anticipation of the coming minute, pregnant with hope for renewal, transformation, change.

Nearly every beginning arises out of an ending; it struts out unabashed sometimes with little regard for how the ending preceded its existence and even less regard for how it overshadows that predecessor.

Not all endings are created equal, either. Some are stodgy and unkempt, others dressed with panache, still others modestly attired. But all endings have one thing in common–they meet the same fate. And since endings have to, well, end, in order to become the harbingers of future beginnings, we’d do well to pay a bit more attention to them.

Along with their mutual fate, all endings share an extremely important feature: relinquishment. Experiencing an ending means we are letting go of the possibility of sameness.

This is no small feat in a culture that avoids closing the door on possibility. Take evolution, for example. Culturally, we want to believe that what’s inherent in evolution is a perpetually growing greatness that layers on more and grander development while losing no essence of the former self.

We are a culture that wants to gain without losing. True gain only comes after relinquishment–sacrifice. Our beginnings have deeply painful, personal predecessors known as endings.

How many of you have wrestled with the pain and grief that accompanies endings? Your grief implies there’s a loss associated with that end. Parents grieve the transition of a child into kindergarten, or middle school, or graduation from high school. They know there are changes associated with those transitions that involve giving up their former experience of connection for a new relationship. A child going to Kindergarten may mean she is no longer at home with mom every day. A high school student graduating may be the precursor to moving away for college. Often we fight the relinquishment that accompanies endings. We deny or avoid or rage against the changes, only to be overcome by them anyway.

This week marks an important ending for me. It marks the end of my website, as is. It’s about to go through a bit of restructuring, which I will talk about next week. As I made the decision to embrace that change, I knew it meant giving up aspects of the former branding. Whether it’s nostalgia, naïveté, or resistance to giving up something that feels like a bit of my self, I wrestled to relinquish version 1.0.

Like that charred and partially disintegrated pizza, this website is only a parched translation of what I really want to say (much is lost in the space between my mind and the open page). Version 2.0 may or may not represent a closer approximation of what I would hope to share with you.

For better or worse, I’ve made the decision to move forward, and in that transition I accept the necessity of the end as a harbinger for a beginning, not the start of an ultimate and metaphysical reality but one small beginning in a world of rippling changes heralding the further emergence of self and community, forever altered by the uncomfortable finitude that preceded it.

What is your 11:59 PM? What will it take for you to end well as you transition to the new beginning?