Beauty and the Selfie

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“‘I could not take my eyes from her face which grew larger as she approached, like a sun which it was somehow possible to stare at and which was coming nearer and nearer, letting itself be seen at close quarters, dazzling you with its blaze of red and gold.’ Proust wishes her to remain forever in his perceptual field and will alter his own location to bring that about: ‘to go with her to the stream, to the cow, to the train, to be always at her side.’” –Marcel Proust from “On Beauty and Being Just” by Elaine Scarry

Observers of beauty desire begotten immortality.

This is a fascinating assertion made by Elaine Scarry, Professor of Aesthetics at Harvard. Her definition of beauty is currently lost in translation in pop culture, which is why reviewing the points made, including those on replication and contractual agreements, primes the pump for a revitalized conversation on this well-worn topic.

Why does a man stare at a beautiful woman? According to Scarry, he stares because of his ardent desire to take in the beauty he sees until it becomes immortal, forever imprinted in his mind with all of its original, immutable features. Scarry says this: “The first flash of the bird incites the desire to duplicate not by translating the glimpsed image into a drawing or a poem or a photograph but simply by continuing to see her five seconds, twenty-five seconds, forty-five seconds later—as long as the bird is there to be beheld. People follow the paths of migrating birds, moving strangers, and lost manuscripts, trying to keep the thing sensorily present to them.”

You’ll have to forgive me for writing in essay form today, but it helps communicate her perspective, and I think her perspective is one that’s readily applicable to everyone from Facebook moms to LinkedIN execs.

According to the above quote, when we try to capture beauty, we recognize our mortal limitations, and observers of beauty desire begotten immortality. Once gone, the object of our admiration loses some of its original qualities in the fading recesses of our visual memories. How do we combat this in our quest to immortalize beautiful things? We find tangible ways to copy them. If beauty cannot remain immortalized in visual memory, we strive for the next best thing, to replicate it. “Beauty brings copies of itself into being. It makes us draw it, take photographs of it, or describe it to other people.” Beauty, upon becoming conscious of its tragic mortality, demands replication.

What’s the favored cultural choice for replication? The selfie. This self snapshot is a personalized way to copy our favorite moments, in freeze frame (recognizing their transience), with the hope that others will see and appreciate the aesthetic value. There’s an added benefit that others get to enjoy those moments with us. The selfie is a fun and practical way to mark events when others aren’t around to play the role of photographer, but as an example of beauty it falls short.

In selfies, the observed and observer are one and the same. The subject that is emanating beauty must attempt to copy itself. This may seem innocuous at first glance, but it deceptively supports the cultural ethos that tarnishes beauty’s reputation. This ethos is based upon a one-dimensional view of beauty that is superficial and self-conscious. Let me explain. In photography, the photographer plays the role of narrator, editing with the frame, choosing just the right light, and electing the exact moment to snap, the one that will best capture the edges of the human spirit. With the selfie the defined narrator is also the protagonist in the story. Therefore, the narrator loses essential perspective.

The outcome is this. What we end up capturing is not a self-forgetful photo that replicates beauty, but a contrived and self-conscious interpretation of what we think others want to see. In our self-consciousness we end up masking the attributes that would enhance others’ enjoyment of the aesthetic, we lose the three-dimensional replication. In this sense, the selfie is flat and one-dimensional. It captures us from the physical angles we believe enhance beauty–the eyes and cheekbones and lips, and these traits can be very appealing–but in our preoccupation with being photographer and subject, simultaneously, we lose our ability to unconsciously express a soulful beauty. The contrived nature of the photo whittles away some of the genuine expressiveness that would enhance the emanating internal beauty.

The exception to the selfie rule is when there’s more than one person in a selfie, at which point you may see less self-consciousness from those who aren’t playing the role of narrator. This advances the argument that beauty is best captured by an observer who is other-than the object of beauty itself.

Have you ever seen the candor in a captured expression that enriches the picture because of its self-forgetfulness? For example, a surprised or wide-eyed look, an unabashed and wide grin? These are all vestiges of the internal beauty rising to the surface at just the right moment of replication. Often, this effect is due to the interaction between the photographer and subject, an interaction that advances the storyline. This robust and non-superficial snap of beauty is best captured when the subject is acutely unaware of what he or she is emanating.

When we replicate beauty through photography, the interaction between photographer and subject can enhance the emergence of beauty in ways that allow it to be photogenically captured. This interaction hints at the communal nature of aesthetic emergence.

If beauty demands a separate observer (narrator) to interpret and replicate it, then beauty cannot be self-interpreted or solitary. “At the moment one comes into the presence of something beautiful, it greets you. It lifts away from the neutral background as though coming forward to welcome you—as though the object were designed to ‘fit’ your perception. In its etymology, ‘welcome’ means that one comes with the well-wishes or consent of the person or thing already standing on that ground. It is as though the welcoming thing has entered into, and consented to, your being in its midst. Your arrival seems contractual, not just something you want, but something the world you are now joining wants.”

The moral of the story? If we apply Scarry’s definition, then beauty is best interpreted, replicated, and celebrated not in the solitude of the selfie, but in engaged and receptive community.

I truly hope that you who are camera shy will reconsider allowing yourself to play the singular role of subject. I hope you will take the risk of being photographed at varied angles and with unfiltered expressions knowing that beauty may emerge in unexpected ways, and interpreted differently than you would interpret it yourself. Can you dare to allow your beauty to be interpreted by other narrators? Can you dare to believe your own attractive qualities, when replicated, may contribute to the well-being of your community?

Communal observers of beauty desire begotten immortality, because true beauty points to that which is life-giving.

Magic Ball

Magic BallIn the brick-lined inner sanctum of Camden Yards, magic was made Thursday night.  The magician’s hat descended after an unexpected sleight of hand by catcher Caleb Joseph.

Joseph is a recent addition who competed for backup catcher in spring training.  He was sent to the minors but got his big break when Wieters hit the disabled list.  Joseph was catching for Matusz, deadly against left-handers but currently facing right-hander Jose Reyes.

Picture this four-second trick.

Second 6: Reyes takes a full swing and tops the ball.

Second 7: It hugs the foul line as it bounces towards first base with Reyes running in tandem.  Joseph pops out from behind home plate.  Instead of running in a straight line to the ball (the natural path) he darts left towards the infield to get a proper angle on the ball and gain momentum to field it cleanly.  Halfway through second seven, Joseph, expertly positioned for momentum, has to make the decision to field the ball or leave it.  The instinctive response for a catcher in this position is to let the ball roll foul.  Joseph doesn’t do that.  He bypasses that inclination and fields it cleanly.

Now, there’s a first base rule that avid fans and Caleb Joseph alike are singularly focused on in the space between seconds 7 and 8.  This rule is known as interference.  Forty-five feet into the run towards first base, the single white line splits in two, and if there’s an infield, first base line play the runner has to stay between the two lines or the catcher can hit the runner for an out.  Usually, hitting a player running to a base doesn’t incur an out.  But in this case if his foot touches the infield he could obstruct the natural path of the ball and interfere with the defensive ability to throw it.

Second 8:  Reyes lands at the split.  He’s forty-five feet into the run and has reached a definitive boundary: the baseline.  This is the two, white lines he must live within until his foot lands on first base.  Since Joseph has the right angle on the ball, it won’t take long to throw.  But as Joseph scoops up the ball barehanded, Reyes passes that boundary and his right foot lands on the infield white line.  This means that Reyes’ left foot HAS to touch down in the infield.  Joseph anticipates the implications of Reyes’ right foot placement in a millisecond.   In that flash, he has to weigh four trajectory choices: 1. The natural choice: Go further inside, to the left, and throw to the first baseman 2. The long route: Go out to the right and throw to the first baseman, who is poorly positioned on the opposite side of the bag. 3. The prayer: A lob toss over the runner’s head to first base.  They don’t practice lob tosses in training, so the potential for error is high.  4. The Baseline Rule: The least instinctive option.  Hit the runner with the ball before he lands on first base.  The players’ jersey numbers are stamped in the middle of their backs.   The steadiest part of a player, while he’s running, is his back.  It’s also the widest part.   This creates the perfect target for a defensive bulls-eye.

Second 9:   Joseph opts for the Baseline Rule.  He flicks the ball and hits Reyes squarely in the back—squarely on the number 7.  The number seven is often used to symbolize perfection, completion, and fulfillment.  There was a sleight of hand Thursday.  That bulls-eye on 7 brought a sense of fulfillment, but not for Reyes.  Reyes had been duped.

__________

Reyes and Joseph both made split-second decisions.  The details of those decisions look like minutia: a quarter-inch foot placement, a 15 degree wrist flick, but they symbolize the difference between magic and mediocrity.

Humans are said to be creatures of habit.  Our everyday decisions can become robotic and patterned.  I wonder how often those decisions affect the broader outcomes in our lives.  Those patterned, habitual responses make the difference between success and failure.

The decision to hit the snooze button for an extra 15 minutes may leave you tired and rushed, affecting your productivity for the rest of the day.  The decision to watch TV instead of studying for the exam may leave you anxious and defeated, and ill-prepared when the exam time comes.  The decision to yell at your spouse rather than biting your tongue may mean hours of escalating arguments.  The decision to work late and miss your daughter’s soccer game may mean her getting the message that she’s not all that important.

Our productivity and relationships would benefit from baseball’s lessons.  To be aware of routine decisions and how they impact our lives is to be aware of how we shape the world around us moment by moment.

How do we create this awareness?  Close your eyes and play through a video of your own.  Observe a video of your typical day from beginning to end.  Pay attention to the routine decisions you normally take for granted.  I wonder how many decisions you make in a given four-second period that you aren’t even aware of.  Now, consider how those decisions impact your life.  What would happen if you chose to change even one of them?  What would happen if you were aware of those decisions, moment by moment, and chose the options that honored the people you love and the goals that matter?

The great thing about baseball is that it levels the playing field.  No matter how many gold gloves a guy has or what his batting average is, in any given play the backup catcher can don his magician’s hat and trick the all-star into an out.  Our little decisions do matter.  They level the playing field.  And if they level the playing field, then it’s up to you to decide whether you’ll choose magic or mediocrity.

The Ant and the Flower

ant and flower

 

Aspiring gardeners everywhere converge on flower shops during Memorial Day weekend to populate yard and house with perennials, bushes, and baskets.  This tradition always reminds me of a lesson I learned growing up.  My mom is a fantastic gardener with a vast array of knowledge about the little known intricacies of plants.  When I was young she shared the story of an often overlooked symbiotic relationship: the ant and the flower.

The peony is a long-stemmed perennial with lush, green foliage and an oversized, fragrant blossom.  It’s the supernova of flowers with a tightly confined bud that bursts open to reveal free form, vibrant petals in full bloom.

I rarely see this flower featured in vases, centerpieces, or clipping gardens, and with good reason.  Its indoor unpopularity can be attributed to the transportation of an unwelcome house guest: the ant.

When the peony is in its constricted bud form, the ant is drawn to its sticky, sweet sap.  The ant will journey to the center of the bud, loosening the petals as it squeezes in between, pushing its way to the sweet nectar.  Over time, some believe it is the ant’s journey inward to the nectar that opens the petals, exposing them to the sunlight and completing the transformation from bud to bloom.  Once the flower blooms, the ant leaves.

Without the ant, full bloom is unlikely.  The internal petals are shrouded by the constricting outer ones, and sunlight is prevented, leading to browned and shriveled buds that drop from the stem.

Some say this is merely a tale–ants aren’t essential for the transformation to occur.  All agree, however, that if the ants weren’t there, other bugs would eat away at the plant, thereby killing it.


There’s a symbiotic relationship between our past and present.  If the bud to flower transformation is growth, the ant is the past nudging its way into the center of that bud, intrusively pushing until it opens.  Once the transformation is complete, it leaves.

Most of us dissect time into separate blocks.  We say, “It’s in the past,” meaning that what happened at a single point in our life story no longer affects the way we interact with our current reality.

We have a greater propensity to believe this when we’re in pain.  This is a protective mechanism.  If we tell ourselves an experience is in the past and no longer applies to our present, we can suppress the painful feelings and associations that go with it.

The past is the intrusive ant, imposing upon the present flower.  Without the present, the past remains untranslated; without the past, the present remains underdeveloped.

All of us have negative, patterned responses that insist on surfacing, episodically.  This can come in the form of hair trigger reactions to yelling, or compulsive nail biting when we’re under stress, or over indulging in our hobbies when we’re angry.

These responses are markers of our past bleeding into our present.  They represent the way we’ve learned to compensate.  Most of us blindly engage in these responses with little thought to how they originated until they become untenable.

If we choose to notice them, they are clues to understanding that symbiotic relationship, and how the translation of the past can transform the present.

This Memorial Day weekend, when you observe the blossoming spring foliage, consider the ant and the flower.  What are the responses in your world that are markers of the intruding past?  What is unfinished in the growth process that necessitates the symbiosis?

As I write this, there’s a tiny, black ant dancing across my keyboard.  I feel a little surge of excitement, as if he’s a welcome herald, signaling that my life is about to change.

 

How We Remember

imageIf you were told to plan the ideal vacation with the caveat that you wouldn’t remember it afterwards, what would you plan?

This question was posed by behavioral economist and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman in his TED talk on memory vs. experience.  (For the TED talk, click here.)

His thoughts relate to a phenomenon that’s humanly impossible to escape. In short, the memory of an experience is different from the experience itself.

I’ve witnessed this many times, firsthand. As I help clients process difficult memories, I see distinctive changes in their recollection of those memories over the course of counseling. Key lesson: Our remembrance of events is dynamic, not static.

Kahneman explains it this way. We have two selves. First, the “experiencing self who lives in the present”, and, second, the “remembering self who keeps score”. He refers to the latter self as the storyteller.

What defines a story? “Changes, significant moments, and endings.”

According to his view, there is a continuously streaming sequence of events that comprises a lifetime. The experiencing brain registers that sequence moment by moment. How we translate that sequence is the job of the remembering self.

That translation, or narrative, of the storytelling self is impacted by how an event

  • begins
  • ends, and
  • holds value

Consider. Psychologists pose strong objections to the use of eyewitness accounts to determine key events in criminal court cases.

Why? The experiencing self, the one with an objective view, only registers for several seconds (the determined length of a “moment”). By the time an eyewitness testifies, there isn’t an objective report of the events; there’s a story instead. Eyewitness accounts can change dramatically from one day to another, based on a variety of environmental influences.

As Kahneman says,

We don’t choose between experiences, we choose between memories of experiences.

How we choose those memories comes from that storytelling self and its current narrative.

Why does this matter? It explains our blind spots.

Maybe the tally you’re keeping of your spouse’s emotional outbursts is exaggerated, and maybe your perspective that your teenage daughter is being disrespectful is skewed.

Does this mitigate objective truth? Not at all. The greater our humility about blind spots, the more we’ll implore our communities to help clarify truth with grace and love.

So what vacation would you choose sans memory scrapbooking? This summons a deeper question.  How differently would you experience a single moment if you weren’t concerned with remembering it at all?

 

On the Road with Jack Kerouac

Wednesday marked Jack Kerouac’s birthday.  The prolific American novelist would have been 92 this week.

An astute observer pointed out to me that this storytelling image, featured multiple places on my website, contains an excerpt from Kerouac’s novel, On the Road.  Impressive observation.

As that recognition converged with the celebration of his birthday, I found myself reading an article about his life.  This piece of his advice emerged as practical to writing and relationships:

“Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind.”  —Heaven and Other Poems

My interpretation of it?  Our end goal in written and verbal recitation is for the emergent offering to resemble the inner dialogue as closely as possible.

Isn’t his advice, then, referencing authenticity?

How often our humanity trips us up in pursuit of internal and external conformity.

What accounts for the breakdown?  Emotion.  Strong emotion can block our ability to communicate with clarity.  Our understanding of the emotional self predicts how well our intended meaning is translated to the audience–person or page.

There are times when the strength of that emotion creates clarity rather than diminishing it.  But for those of us who can be emotionally obtuse, it muddies the waters.

Psychiatrist Dan Siegel says “Emotions can thus be seen as an integrating process that links the internal and interpersonal worlds of the human mind” (The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are).

Whether or not those emotions accurately link the internal  to the interpersonal depends on our awareness of emotional motivations. Considering those motivations before writing or conversing has several advantages:

  • inclusion of logic/reason
  • perspective
  • attunement to the audience
  • adherence to an agenda

So how do you do that?  Simply reflect on what you want to say, before the conversation, with the audience and agenda in mind.  Write it down, or mull it over, and that space will diminish some emotional reactivity, and allow for perspective.  After perspective develops, clarity can emerge.

Try it out.  Notice if there’s a burgeoning alignment between thought and speech afterwards.  Does the audience get the intended meaning?

If so, in the spirit of Jack Kerouac, you could take up writing.  And as internal dialogue meets external prose, you’ll be one step closer to authenticity.

 

 

Parenting in the Dark Zone: Part 1

What Does Baseball Have to Do With Parenting?

It’s a 60-foot journey from the pitcher’s mound to home plate.  Once the ball is released from the pitcher’s hand, a batter has 55 feet to anticipate what’s coming across the plate and adjust his stance accordingly.  Then, for those last 5 feet, the batter loses sight of the ball; he goes blind.  It’s in those last 5 feet that the pitcher wants the ball to break off its path: the curve ball hooks, the slider drops, or the fast ball flies by.  That last, 5-foot block of the ball’s trajectory has a nickname: the dark zone.  (Click here to read more.)

Baseball has more in common with parenting than you might think.  The preparation of parenting from birth through middle school is like the first 55 feet of the ball’s journey.  The parent is anticipating, recalibrating, and adjusting, with a good visual on target goals.  And then, just as the child hits adolescence, all that preparation and work flies out the window as parents go blind, finding themselves living with someone who is unpredictable and erratic.  None of their previous boundaries seem to work.  And it’s in those last 5 feet, as they’re swinging blindly, that they realize their teen has managed to throw a curve ball.  They’re in the dark zone.

Can you relate?

You’ve spent your child’s formative years laying the foundation, now all the measures of control seem to have whittled away.  How do you know when to say “yes” and when to say “no” in the teen years?

 

The Perfect Storm

Before you decide to set boundaries, you have to know what you’re up against: teen neurobiology.

According to cognitive developmental psychologist, Jean Piaget, teens have already developed adult-like cognitive reasoning (known as formal operational development), by age 11 or 12.  This development includes abstract thinking, rhetoric, logic, and rationalization.  Translated: by age 12 they have fine-tuned their debate skills.

In contrast, their emotional development (decision-making, impulse control, emotional control) is housed in the pre-frontal cortex and not fully operational/developed until their mid-twenties (some might argue not until age 30).  This leaves parents with the perfect storm of neurobiology where teens are emotionally dysregulated and intellectually over-compensating.  Translated: they are highly articulate rhetoricians who are emotionally stunted.

With the intellectual capabilities of teens, parents sometimes make the mistake of assuming their emotions should be on par with their intellects.  When this happens, boundary setting gets derailed by parents who try to set logical boundaries while teenager and parent alike are at the height of emotional reactivity.

 

Pushing Buttons   

Remember that last high school reunion you went to?  We often dread going to high school reunions because they resurrect the same insecurities, doubts, and heightened emotions we had when we were that age.  In a similar fashion, teens dredge up adolescent emotions in their parents.  And parents under stress end up acting in similar fashion to their teens.

What are some of the ways this translates?  Examples include full-blown yelling matches; the current Cold War (i.e. ignoring one another and punishing through silence); the gridlock where both parent and teen try to outdo the other’s rules, and many variations and combinations of the three.

In summary, the perfect storm of teen neurobiology leaves teens well-primed to push parents’ buttons, and parents often respond in kind.

There are many ways parents get derailed from their quest to set boundaries in the dark zone.  For more on that, stay tuned…

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Christmas Longing

It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are still alive.  There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger for them.   –George Eliot

There seems to be an automatic and existential longing in our hearts to experience the holidays as a magical time of warmth, comfort, and love–a desire for Christmas to fulfill our hopes and dreams.  The holidays have often been packaged as such, and tied with a lovely bow, beckoning us to believe (cue holiday melody) that everything will be okay and all our worries will melt away once Christmas is here.

The holidays have come to symbolize our yearning for the consummation of such transcendent wishes as world peace.  We hope upon hope that the fulfillment we’re promised during this season will carry over and magically revive us all year long.  We also hope that if enough of us embody the spirit of the holidays, that incarnation will permeate the world until every being experiences serenity.

I know I secretly desire that to be true.  I want the world to be at peace and each of us to know love, joy, and freedom.  While I long for that, my experience tells me that humanity doesn’t find peace simply by being in the holidays.  In fact, many of us emerge on the other side feeling upset, depressed, and exhausted by the entirety of the seasonal experience.  With that in mind, I’d like to introduce a little storyteller who truly personifies what we want the holidays to be about.

There’s a beautiful, little boy in my life with silky, jet-black hair and an olive complexion.  His name is Max.  If you look at his cherub cheeks—rosy and round, he’s the picture of health.  He loves to talk, relentlessly, with few words ever reaching recognizable form as they fly across his lips, rapid and ardent.  He’ll determinedly wobble around a room bringing one object from a bin to your hands and back to the bin again, for hours.  This is a hard day’s work for him.  He’s in the business of learning, and he’s doing it with all the gumption he can muster, while prattling away to the dog, the nearest couch pillow, and the air, indiscriminately.  He requires no response from his audience as he boldly and emphatically steps across the floor with a lego in hand, or a ball, or an infinitesimal piece of fuzz.  It’s essential, of course, to show you each piece of fuzz as artwork thrust across the canvass of his hand.

This little boy represents everything we want the holidays to be about.  He revels in experiencing each new part of his world, filled with wonder and awe.  You spend five minutes with him and melt into a puddle of child-like giddiness, only to recover with the inspiration to dance around the room and swing him in your arms, as his infectious laughter fills every nearby corner.

There’s something unique about this particular, little guy.  Max is adopted.  This small, wondrous being represents the culmination of hopes and dreams to two people who deeply love him.  He is a true Christmas miracle.  He’s a gift of inestimable proportions.  Being with him reminds me of beauty, love, and grace, the essence of things that were once a shadow of hope for two, dear friends.  The fortunate parents of this little boy know just what it means to have deep longings.  And a year and a half ago they took him home, experiencing the fulfillment of their hopes.

Instead of looking to the holiday season to fulfill our yearnings for the deep and beautiful things in this world, we would do well to find those longings stirred to life in the world we already have—the world we live in, breathe in, and generously occupy every day of the year.  Coming in contact with someone like Max is a reminder of the truly beautiful in the midst of the truly mundane.

A predetermined holiday can’t give us what we’re searching for.  But connections with people, like this little man, can point us toward the source of those longings.  There are people in each of our lives who intersect with us in just the right way that they both unsettle and allure our hearts.  Unsettling may sound like a negative word, but it can be shapely and positive.  When we are unsettled, uprooted, disoriented, unnerved, and disturbed, we can come face to face with the longings that are intensely rooted in us, ones that would typically stay buried unless there was an evocative person to draw them out.  These desires won’t be satisfied by a superficial view of annual celebrations.  These desires point towards a dissatisfaction that calls out for resolution.  Will you listen to the longings this holiday season?  Where do you think you’ll find what you’re yearning for?

 

Art as Relationship

When art is done well, it mirrors the many facets of human connection. It whispers of relationship, beckoning beyond what is to what could be.

Woodberry Kitchen creates great art. It creates it in a common language that points us towards the already and not yet of relationships. The atmosphere, food, and drink inspire with warmth. The flavors are comfortable and familiar, yet intensely bright. When I’m there, it’s as if they know better than I do what I’m craving. The thoughtfulness that goes into their food stirs my longings for that same level of intention with friends and family. We all want relationships that are thoughtful, warm, and inviting.

Woodberry Kitchen tells a story through the common language of food. They tell that story so well, in fact, that my friend Brody decided to showcase the restaurant in his video.

Brody is a branding humanitarian. He creates the opportunity for companies to tell their stories by helping them connect with the humanity in others.

His company’s vision is based on the co-constructed narrative of relational value. He explains it this way: “We are all relational and finite creatures… We can’t do everything ourselves. We need the services of others to make our lives complete…We want to be with those who see the light we see, who value what we value, who are inspired by what inspires us.”

This recognition of interconnectedness in his company’s pursuit of branding draws many to their doors. They get the core of what we’re attracted to. We want to interact with other people who are inspired by what inspires us. We want to do life with those who create art–art that we can connect with personally.

Our humanity requires connection. We can not escape it, no matter how hard we try. For better or worse, we are in relationship with one another.

For the duration of 2013, I want to explore that interconnectedness. I want to look at it from different angles, inspecting each side with curiosity. I would like to invite you to explore with me. We’ll consider storytellers, themes, and contexts, that share a common journey.

This is purposefully done with the holidays in mind. As we approach a season that’s meant to celebrate those connections, we often find ourselves in conflict with others. There can be a clash of values, desires, and expectations, to name a few.

If we all long for those connections, why are they particularly hard to come by during the “most wonderful time of the year”?

The holidays can be a time of inspirational experiences. A time filled with the creation of art in its purest form. A time where thoughtfulness comes to life. Those opportunities are often hindered by a variety of conflicts that seem to intensify during this season.

As we reflect together on the anticipation and trepidation that comes with the holidays, I hope we can begin a conversation that adds value beyond the temporal season. I hope we can tell each other stories of the Woodberry Kitchens and the branding humanitarians, stories of connections awakened. It is my belief that those stories will reveal the artful longings behind our humanity.

Stay tuned…