Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goodbye 2016

Saturday, December 31, 2016

It's time to bid farewell to this year, 2016. 

This was an eventful year. It was filled with many disappointments. But it was also punctuated by the gift of an opportunity for a fresh start. I am grateful that I received such a gift. Gifts and opportunities do not necessarily come around very frequently. I think it's only natural that we come to appreciate this truth more and more as we mature and experience the inevitable ups and downs that life will bring all of us.

I am more optimistic about the possibilities of my own future than I am about the future direction of my own country. Perhaps some of my readers might think there is an inherent contradiction in maintaining optimism in the face of the dark cloud that I feel has gathered in this country. I feel it's positively laughable that someone like Donald Trump has managed to become the President elect of this country. I believe Trump is but one example of the drift of this country in the direction of authoritarianism and a toxic individualism that is rendering qualities like professionalism, kindness, integrity and generosity to others virtually counter-cultural.

Using public transportation today gave me some fodder for morbid reflections about what may be coming to this country. As I rode the Metro home today I found myself experiencing one of the textbook indicators of people who have been traumatized, namely hyper-vigilance. A man riding in the same car as me was continually muttering about a number of things. I couldn't make out all of his words. But I could most definitely *feel* the tone of what he was saying. The man was filled with a lot of rage. Being the only white guy in the car seemed to make me an easy target for this African American man. He made references to God, the world, white people, etc. (What will be the normative rules for speaking about our multicultural society once Trump assumes that position which I refuse to name?) I made sure not to make eye contact because I felt very real concern that this man might take it as some sort of provocation.

By the time I exited at my station I had heard this man for such a long time that I felt genuinely spooked by his behavior. As I walked home I repeatedly looked over my shoulder to make sure he wasn't behind me. Such are the actions of someone experiencing a spike in anxiety.

It never surprises me when I experience such moments of anxiety in the presence of someone who seems quite likely mentally ill. Such incidents remind me of the terrible harm I experienced as a kid when I was expected to be 'okay' while living with my mentally ill mother and my deeply dysfunctional dad. I am fortunate I survived what I did. It is unreasonable and highly toxic for adults to expect children to become healthy adults themselves when they are forced to live among the mentally ill.

I am sharing this story from my own life now because I am deeply concerned about what 2017 and beyond will bring us in the United States. I wonder how many people who voted for Trump (and for other Republicans in general) remember what their virtual saint Ronald Reagan did in the 1980s. Reagan deinstitutionalized countless mentally ill people in this country. And by doing so he helped sow the seeds for future serious issues in our country. There is plenty of coverage about the excessive number of mentally ill people who wind up in our jails and legal system where, due to the nature of how our systems work, they often do *not* find the type of help they need. Ronald Reagan, in his depraved "wisdom", help unleash this crisis.

Now let me ask you this: Given the comments Trump has made about people with disabilities (the reporter), women, African American people and we honestly think that the issue of the mentally ill population in this country is going to improve under the "leadership" (I'll always put words in quotes when I believe Trump is fundamentally incapable of what I am referring to) of Trump? How many encounters will people have like the one I had today? Despite the anxiety I felt being in a train car with this obviously distressed individual I also did feel empathy for the man. 

I can't imagine how this man's life circumstances could possibly improve in the next four years...not when the GOP is eagerly chomping at the bit to throw at least 20 MILLION Americans down the socioeconomic ladder by taking away their healthcare once Inauguration Day comes and goes. By taking away the healthcare of millions of Americans and ignoring this mental health crisis made possible by the stupidity and callousness of Ronald Reagan the GOP is DIRECTLY, TANGIBLY and SEVERELY undermining the quality of life and the future possibilities for all Americans. Do you want to take public transportation and fear for your safety? Do you want to see mentally ill people homeless and wandering the streets of small towns and big cities all across America? Do you want to see these people being an immense drag on the safety net of this nation? Do you want to see them so angry, demoralized, sick and despairing that they make additional poor choices like voting for people who have as little empathy and integrity as Trump? Do we really have so little empathy left for our fellow citizens that we're going to sit and watch the Trump steamroller of destruction lay waste to everything in its path???


Three and a half years ago I began documenting my journey out of a very dark time in my own life. I am grateful for the friends, family, gifts and, dare I say, grace that helped me move on with my life and seek out a new path.

In 2017 I intend to actively pursue this new direction. Life is too short to not follow a direction that we can each feel passionately about.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Planning A Departure

Friday, December 30, 2016

It has been over three months since I last wrote in this blog. My life has improved significantly. I am now doing something that interests me in my professional life. And I am also seeking out longer term opportunities as I make a significant professional transition.

The world at large has been a very sobering one. I never imagined so many Americans would be so gullible as to 'buy' the questionable character of on Donald Trump. None of us can be sure what the future will hold but I struggle to imagine the United States will be a better nation four years from now.

I'll be writing a few more entries in the coming weeks.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

A New Story

Thursday, September 8, 2016

My life has changed immensely since I last wrote an entry in my blog.

I feel myself quite full of a whole range of emotions these last several days. I have returned to my last "port of call" that I called home prior to moving to Minnesota. I am now back in Washington, DC. This was not *the* grand plan I had in mind earlier this year. Indeed, I tried to chart a path in a new direction that could have taken me to Hawaii or back to California. But every door of opportunity I knocked on (with the exception of the last one) did not open.

The process of finding a workable path back into my field of marine conservation and research was a demanding one. It is sometimes said that finding a job is a full time job. I tend to agree. I spent plenty of time this past summer looking at job opportunities, preparing applications and then, eventually, doing interviews. And as recently as one week ago I still had no opportunity offered to me to draw me out of Minnesota. Last Thursday I found myself wondering if I would ever be offered an opportunity elsewhere.

The last few days of August were indeed agonizing. I found myself recalling the movie Cast Away. I have shared my reflections related to the movie elsewhere in my blog. My own life felt much like that scene in the movie where Tom Hanks' character has given up ever successfully escaping his exile on a small island in the South Pacific. I felt so sad and so weary of trying to create a new beginning. And then it happened. Last Friday, September 2nd came and went. And my life changed forever on that day. Much like Hanks' character finally finding redemption through his rescue by a passing ship I finally was presented with a door of opportunity that actually opened to me.

In the mere six intervening days I successfully found my way back to Washington, DC. I can now set up a life that will be one I want. It's strange to be back. I am not the same man I was. I sit in the home of a friend (whom I first met four years ago) as I type and I cannot help but recall the man I was four years ago who stayed in this very same home...and who was so very different. That man I was four years ago thought he had done sufficient work to heal the harm he experienced as a child. But such was not the truth. I discovered the truth of my reality when I made a choice that changed my life. I explored the inner terrain of my psyche like never before while living in Minnesota. This was not something I had planned to do.

Now I am back to where I was before. I cannot imagine who I would be had I stayed living in DC this entire time. I do not want to imagine who I might be now. I am a much better man as a result of what I experienced these last four years.

I am opening a new chapter in my life now. And as I open a new chapter it is clear the founding primary purpose of my blog has now expired. What will happen next I cannot yet easily discern. This is a question that so many unlived tomorrows will gradually begin to answer. As for today I am happy. I am happy that I have survived. I am happy that I have grown and matured. I am happy that the dark suffering I experienced eventually served as a doorway to a much brighter tomorrow.

That tomorrow is

Monday, August 15, 2016

Why O Why?

Monday, August 15, 2016

I began my day quite early today. One of the first things I did was go to the Basilica of St. Mary in order to take some time to pray. You'd think I was going to join a religious order based on how much I have been praying in the last month. But I have already done that in the I can check that off my list!

Today was the day in the Catholic Church calendar dedicated especially to honoring Mary. It was the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. I won't go into all the theology and belief associated with this particular feast here in my blog. Not only do I not know much of that theology but the time involved to parse it and share it here would be quite consuming. I have done a lot of praying to Mary lately though. She embodies qualities of the mother I wish that I had had. But my motives to pray to her go beyond the appeal that a surrogate may have. I have been praying to her because I do genuinely believe it is helping me in some way.

Prayer has served me in many ways this last month. It helps me to distract myself from less savory thoughts that occasionally cross my mind. One strand of thought I would rather not have concerns the amount of time I spent here in Minnesota. I find myself wishing I had not spent over three years of my life sorting out my past life in preparation for what I hope and pray will be a truly powerful new beginning. I wish I could have done it faster than I did. But then again I can reframe how I view this time I lived in Minnesota. I can be thankful that it happened at all. Perhaps it was some sort of strange grace that led me here. I can be thankful that I discovered my life changing experience of EMDR therapy while living here in Minnesota. It's quite possible I would never have discovered it had I not made this "detour" to Minnesota.

When this particular line of thinking takes up residence in my conscious mind I find myself also wondering who I might have been if I had stayed in the Washington, DC area back in 2012. But I usually quickly turn away from that particular tangent because I have become convinced that I would ultimately be worse off if I had never made my way to Minnesota. It seems my life in Minnesota was preparatory work for something much bigger to come in my personal future.

I stand on the threshold of that much bigger something. I am excited to see what will come to be.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

A Fear To Overcome

Sunday, August 14, 2016

As the remaining days of August pass I find myself eager to have clarity regarding where I will be moving on to next. Today I found myself aware of a fear that I have previously spoken about with my therapist.

There was a time many years ago when my mother worked in an American city with essentially no family (of origin) to support her in her life. She worked as a nurse in El Paso, Texas for a period of time. What prompted her to choose that particular city as a place to work is something that remains a mystery to me to this day. Perhaps I can eventually learn more of the backstory from my uncle Bernhard.

It pains me to even imagine what life must have been like for my mother during the time she worked in El Paso. To move to a completely unfamiliar city for the sake of work is not something to be taken lightly. Yes, many people actually do this at some point in their lives but the fact that it's not an unpopular choice doesn't mean it's an easy choice to make or an easy choice to live with.

As I plan to take a huge step forward and get back into my own professional field of expertise I pray that I will choose wisely. Wherever I go next I plan to create a support system for myself so I can enjoy my life.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Smell of Chlorine...and Lavender

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Today was a beautiful day.

Today was a beautiful day...because I was (and am) alive. Today was wondrous because I spent time with friends. Today was amazing because I was in the company of friends whose open hearts are like a balm to my own. Today was beautiful because I spent time getting to know another person. Today was beautiful...because I could actually see today.

After returning home from spending some time in a pool I found myself noticing the subtle but very real scent of chlorine still on my skin hours after being in a swimming pool. I could smell the chlorine on my fingertips. I washed my hair and used lavender soap to purge this particular chemical odor I associate with the season of summer. As I prepared a good soapy lather I found myself appreciating my ability to live independently by showering with no assistance from another person.

The summer season here in Minnesota is rapidly moving towards its inevitable ending. I suppose I adjusted to this reality after living here nearly four years. The one word that accurately describes my first summer here in Minnesota was dissolution. The theme of my second summer was release and renewal. The theme of my third summer (last year) was growth. And finally the theme of this summer now nearly over was strength and preparation.

The time is coming for me to move on now. I am a new man. I cannot even conceive who I would be had I never found my way to Minnesota. The important work it appears I was meant to do here is now concluding. And so I must move on to the next chapter of my own life.

I am excited by what that chapter will be.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Still More Patience Needed

Saturday, August 6, 2016

I have written extensively about my grief throughout the time I have maintained my blog. Grief is a strange dance partner. The moment to moment movements of a dance with grief can be very disorienting.

I have been feeling a lot of sadness lately. Yet I feel thankful because I attribute much of my recent sadness to the more recent years of my life. I take comfort in this reality as I know in my very being that the unhealed sadness and grief I once carried around regarding the earliest years of my life is now largely resolved. In other words my current sadness is not connected to a distant time in my life. I find myself finally primarily living in the present now.

The death of my friend John has been omnipresent in my heart and mind since he passed away a mere eight days ago. I grieve the fact that I will never again see him in this life. I feel sadness for all the possibilities that will never be. His death, as well as the death of the father of another one of my friends, has left me feeling hyper-aware of my own mortality.

When I die I want my own life to have mattered to the world. I want to have done something with my life that I will be able to look back on with reverence and joy. I want to be able to leave this world in a joyful state of mind and spirit. I believe we all fundamentally prefer to die in such a way.

In order to live a life that I will feel ultimately mattered I need to move on and reenter my professional field. I want to bring forth the wisdom I have gained in many places to my future life. I have learned a lot through my formal education. I have learned a lot through my friends. The many disappointments I have experienced in my life journey have also been teachers of a sort. I have gained much wisdom through both joy and suffering.

I am finding it necessary to cultivate a patient attitude these days. Clarity regarding what direction I will ultimately take in the next thirty days remains elusive. Until yesterday I had expected to gain such clarity by the end of this coming week. It now appears the clarity I desire will likely not come to be until some time near the end of August.

The reward of patience is patience.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Veil Is Lifted

Saturday, July 30, 2016

“Our addiction was like a veil over our heads. We saw the world as an ugly place. We saw people as trouble. We thought our drinks and drugs were beautiful. But even they became ugly over time. Life became ugly because we had put distance between our Higher Power and ourselves.

Now we are blessed because the veil is lifted, and we are part of the healing process. We help others step into the beauty of recovery.

Our spirits are again free to seek a relationship with God and others. Through these relationships, we get our hope back. This hope helps us focus on the beauty of the world. Hope is the rain that helps our soul grow.”

~ July 30th entry from Keep It Simple: Daily Meditations for Twelve-Step Beginnings & Renewal

I feel fortunate to be a person who never dealt with my early life history of trauma by turning to the numbing power of excess use of drugs and alcohol. I can’t imagine (and don’t want to imagine) what my life would be like today if I had taken a journey down that road. And yet despite my fortune of not taking a turn down that particular path the above words taken from a beautiful little recovery guidebook spoke volumes to me this morning.

Prior to undergoing EMDR therapy I was unknowingly walking around with a veil over my own eyes. I saw the world through a cloud of unhealed grief. I often saw people as irresponsible, overly complicated and peculiar at best and scary, dysfunctional, untrustworthy and dangerous at worst. It took a tremendous amount of work for me to remove this distorting filter and actually see the world as it actually is.

With the veil of grief removed I now am free to seek healthy relationships with other human beings as well as whatever Higher Power exists in the Cosmos. EMDR therapy was the catalyst that led to my personal liberation. I will always feel grateful and fortunate that I found such deep healing.

When I woke this morning I felt profoundly different. The world is different too! This is true every morning. The world is always changing. A dear friend passed away yesterday. The world feels a bit more empty with him gone. But I have beautiful memories of him to hold in my heart. I cherish the time that I was able to know him.

I feel ready for a new beginning now. I need a new beginning. And I know a new beginning is on its way to me. I feel it rushing towards me like an immense wave.

Enjoy your Saturday!

The Seed Has Come Full Circle

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Yesterday a seed I (unknowingly) planted in November, 2003 came full circle. Yesterday, once again, I expressed my love and appreciation of Hawaii. I interviewed for two different jobs in Hawaii. And now, today, I must let go of the process and await a reply. That reply will likely come near the end of next week.

It has felt very strange to be me lately. I have done such an extraordinary amount of work on myself not just in this month of July, 2016 but in the last three years. I feel this immense emptiness inside me. But it’s not really an emptiness that I feel some sort of pain about. It’s an emptiness I have created by removing all sorts of psychic crud I was carrying around for far too much of my life. I have made space for something beautiful and new to enter my life. Now, like the farmer who plants seeds each year, I must wait for the outcome of recent efforts I have made. Now I must practice that not inconsequential art of trusting.

Ah, yes, trusting…that amazingly vital aspect of a human life that does not always come very easily. Being human seems like a recipe for learning the pain of broken trust as well as the joy of restored trust. I am still learning to trust more deeply. It can be a lifelong journey to learn how to trust again.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Being Held In A Beautiful Way

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Today was an incredibly beautiful day. I think I will easily remember an element of what happened on this day for the rest of my life.

Earlier today I heard my name vocalized during the 11:30 am mass at the Basilica of St. Mary. I wasn't expecting this. I had contacted the Basilica this past week in the hope of finding some additional support during a time in which I am not only confronted with some deep needs but also a period of deep transformation. I didn't necessarily think the support I requested would include my name being mentioned during a mass. What I would call the ripple effect of my retreat last weekend at the Demontreville Jesuit retreat house in Lake Elmo, Minnesota is still at work.

My name was mentioned first during that portion of the mass when prayers are offered for particular individuals. I nearly burst into tears when I heard my name. Instead of sobbing I focused on consciously breathing so I could lessen my feelings of being overwhelmed. There was something about hearing my name vocalized in the presence of hundreds of worshippers in the interior of such an incredibly beautiful church that left me feeling something I still struggle to fully express in words. More words will probably come to me later.

I am grateful for all the generosity of all the people who have touched my life since the day I was born.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Dear Minnesota

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Dear Minnesota,

I am writing to you to let you know the time is drawing near for me to take my leave of you. It's been an interesting journey living within your borders. Had I known what I was going to experience when I came to you in October, 2012 I might never have moved here. My life here has certainly been eventful. I expect to leave you later this year. That is my plan. And when I do venture to move on I will be leaving with a most unexpected gift. I expect to leave with the gift of my own wholeness.

I still don't quite know what to make of you dear Minnesota. You can be a stern teacher. Never did I appreciate the gift of spring as much as I came to do once I lived through your winters. Spring does not come easily to you. Winters take up their residence here and do not cede their occupancy easily. Indeed, spring and winter do a delicate dance here within your borders. Spring here is like a prayer whose wisdom grows within us day after day until one day, finally, the fruit of that wisdom bursts forth to reveal a landscape awake...and green. I came to appreciate the beautiful color green in a new way while living within your borders.

I make a prayer to you today that you release me from your borders with a gentleness very much not characteristic of the dark, cold season that finds such strength here within you. I ask you to release me so that I may go on my way and, using the wisdom and strength I have cultivated while living within you, find my way once again to the path that leads me to my best possible future life.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Why Trump Should NEVER Become President

Thursday, July 21, 2016

It's a broiling day (by local standards) here in Minnesota. My life here the last several years seems to have so thickened my blood that the heat associated with a typical summer day in Texas (where I grew up) now leaves me feeling positively wilted. Heat is a good analogue when talking about the human experience of anger. And this nation, the United States of America, appears to be virtually marinating in anger these days. Who serves as a good example of a lightning rod for American anger? Why Donald Trump of course.

I have watched the Trump phenomenon with growing horror over the last several months. Like many Americans I thought it was a big stretch for him to realistically compete in the 2016 American presidential election. But I suppose I underestimated the seething anger filling so many people in the American populace. I believe it correct to say that Trump has made it possible for racists, homophobes, misogynists and simply deeply hateful people to feel very safe exposing their darkness for all the world to see. It isn't a pretty sight. Parallels have been made in many media regarding the similarities between Trump and Adolf Hitler of Nazi era Germany. And though the parallels aren't exact I do find some of them very compelling. The United States seems to be going through its collective version of a dark night of the soul.

Some of my closest friends know that I took part in a leadership training within the last twelve months. This training was known as the Neighborhood Leadership Program. This program is offered by the very respected Wilder Foundation based in St. Paul, Minnesota. I have been reflecting on leadership these last many months. Among other things I have been reflecting on how much it appears we need genuine leadership throughout our government here in the United States. To me the ascendancy of one Donald Trump speaks volumes about the appalling leadership vacuum that exists here in this country. How else can you explain how someone so obviously unfit for the Office of the President has become the nominee of the Republican Party? There are naturally many people seeking to explain the Trump phenomenon to themselves and the American public. I won't enumerate all those explanations here. I want to focus on just one attribute that I believe is the litmus test for good leadership. That quality is humility. And I honestly cannot detect that Donald Trump has a shred of humility in his person.

As I browsed online sources of definitions of humility I noticed that the definitions provided do not quite encompass what I believe humility genuinely is. I believe that a person described as truly humble is, among other things, aware of the finiteness of human knowledge. A humble person is willing to admit that he (or she) doesn't possess complete knowledge of any one subject in particular or of the world in general. Though many people are aptly described as experts in their professional fields it is nonetheless correct (and wise I think) to acknowledge that we humans can always learn more - because there is always more to learn! If you want to appreciate how much knowledge has been developed by the human race you need only go to some of the largest libraries of the world. Or spend an entire day surfing the Internet and googling different terms. In my opinion humans can and never will have total knowledge...of anything.

When I see Donald Trump on stage I cannot detect a shred of humility in the man. Instead I see a prodigious quantity of what I understand is the antithesis of humility, namely arrogance. So why are so many Americans drawn to such a boorish, arrogant man? I believe it has to be the immense fear that is consuming so many Americans in this day and age. People want reassurances that their lives are going to improve or at least remain viable. And so they buy into a slogan as hollow as "Make America Great Again".

This blog entry is not meant to serve as an exhaustive review of the literature on the topic of leadership and the quality of humility. I will reference just one source here. Consider a 2014 article in the Harvard Business Review. I encourage you to read this article and then contemplate your own observations regarding Donald Trump. How do you think we as a nation will be able to survive let alone thrive if a man as belligerent, deceitful and arrogant as Donald Trump becomes President?

From what I have seen arrogance never ends well. Can you seriously identify a single person in your life whose arrogance didn't eventually cost that person something significant? Consider the example of George W. Bush. Do you recall his arrogance? Do you recall when he virtually encouraged an inflammation of terrorism in the world by saying "Bring it on!"? Consider the cost the United States is still burdened with by Bush's unwise choice to lead the nation into an unnecessary war in the Middle East. Consider all the dead and wounded soldiers. Consider the medical costs, their suffering and the suffering of their families in your own assessment of the wisdom of Bush's choice. Consider also how the war contributed to the destabilization of the Middle East.

It's my impression that arrogance often serves as the mask for a terrible wound. Arrogance, it seems, often masks a feeling of inadequacy...a feeling of being less than. People who first bully others when they themselves are children are, it seems, not uncommonly arrogant. When a person goes looking for a fight you have to wonder what is going on inside that person. A person determined to prove himself to the world through incessant displays of bravado as well as voluminous threats and so on is, I would wager, likely carrying some deep darkness inside.

So no, dear reader, I wouldn't vote for Trump to become President. I wouldn't vote for do anything. Make your own list as to why you might not vote for him. But I clearly know what is at the top of my list.

It's the lack of humility!!!!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

What the Jesuits Meant (and Mean) To Me, Part II

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

On May 18, 1999 I left behind the life I had been living the prior nine months in Chicago, Illinois. I had been living as a Jesuit scholastic and attending Loyola University Chicago.  I had taken courses in philosophy and theology. I had worked with Vietnamese youth in an after school enrichment program as my active ministry assignment. I grew a lot as a person during those nine months. Looking back I wish I had been able to grow more as a person though. I still wish I had discovered EMDR therapy in 1999 rather than in 2013. Perhaps I would have stayed in the Jesuit order. It is difficult to conceive of how my life would be today if EMDR treatment had found its way into my life many years earlier than it ultimately did. Maybe my life would be so much better today if I had.

"Maybe my life would be so much better today if I had."

This thought conveys regret. It expresses my mournful regret over actions never taken and paths never discovered. Now, years later, I am still purging myself of the excessive grief I carried for so very long. What does a life look like when it is suddenly deeply shaken up and redirected long after a person has become an adult? Perhaps it looks a little bit like my own life. Have you ever felt like much of your life is a quest to rediscover a person inside you who never really had a good chance to develop? That has been my life experience.

I had not recently really appreciated how much the Jesuits meant to my own personal development until I went away on a retreat at the Demontreville Jesuit retreat house in Lake Elmo, Minnesota this past weekend. On more than one occasion I felt myself nearly burst into tears while eating. It was such a gift to eat as well as I did. And it was such a gift to eat as well as I did in the company of other men. And this was true even though the retreat was held in silence!

This past weekend revived my memories of the nearly three years I spent in the Society of Jesus. That time I spent living in such a stimulating environment suddenly was in the forefront of my conscious awareness. I found myself deeply grateful for all the gifts I was given in that time of my life. It's no wonder I cried as much as I did this past weekend.

I reached out to a Jesuit friend shortly after arriving back home on Sunday night. Today he provided me the names of two Jesuits who were my novice colleagues during my time in the Society. They both began one year ahead of me. I felt bad that I wasn't a better friend and a better man at that time in my life. So I wrote to them today (email) in the hope of healing any rough edges that may be in their hearts.

I want a life defined by wholeness and vibrant health. I believe I can have such a life.

Monday, July 18, 2016

What The Jesuits Meant (and Mean) To Me, Part I

Monday, July 18, 2016

If your life has been touched by the life of a Jesuit your life will almost certainly never be the same.

It's a Monday in July and I find myself wondering where my life will take me next. I currently have job applications under consideration in a number of places in the world. Some of those places include the Pacific Basin, the West Coast and Washington, D.C. I actually interviewed for an opportunity last week which I did not even intend to be considered for. I believe it's important to be open to a variety of possibilities in life. I believe such openness is both a healthy inclination as well as an indication of trusting that our lives will ultimately unfold as they are meant to.

Almost exactly twenty years ago at this time I was about to embark on an adventure. In August, 1996 I joined the Society of Jesus, known more informally as the Jesuits. The Jesuits are a well known religious order of the Catholic Church; they have existed since the sixteenth century. My decision to apply to and later join the order was an immense act of faith. I was such a young man at the time. I turned twenty-three years old a few weeks after beginning my journey in the order on August 25, 1996.

Less than three years later, in May, 1999, I left the Jesuits. My time in the order had been profoundly formative and transformative. I completed the thirty day Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola in January, 1997. I was then sent on what the Jesuits call an 'experiment'. This rather clinical and medical sounding term is used to describe an experience a Jesuit novice undertakes to learn more about the Society, himself and, ideally, God. I was sent to live and work among the Lakota Sioux Native American people of South Dakota. I cannot imagine who I would be today if I had not made the journey to South Dakota.

Even now, twenty years later, certain aspects of my trip to reach South Dakota stand out in my mind. I recall having to virtually run across the Minneapolis, Minnesota airport to make my connecting flight. And I recall that connecting flight well. I made my way to the vast plains of South Dakota aboard a twin engine plane. All the while I marveled that something could take flight with such little power. I never imagined we would crash but I recall repeatedly being fascinated that we reached the altitude we did.

When I departed South Dakota approximately fourteen weeks later I departed as a very changed individual. It was my first opportunity to see much of American culture from outside of it while, seemingly ironically, living within the borders of the United States. I saw but one example of the countless realities of poverty that people live in each day. I lived and worked among a people whose ancestors had experienced an immense destruction of both their lives as well as their way of life. It was a learning experience I would never forget.

I later went on to collaborate in other ministries. In the autumn of 1997 I worked in what I would call a "ministry of presence". I visited women who were incarcerated in the Massachusetts Correctional Institute in Framingham, Massachusetts. The following spring I worked in education at Fairfield Preparatory School in Fairfield, Connecticut. After taking first vows in the Society in August, 1998 I departed New England to study at Loyola University Chicago. Less than a year would pass before I would find myself departing the Jesuit order to embark on a whole new life.

Though many years have passed since that formative period of my life I find I can still recall some details of it quite vividly. My memories of this powerful time in my life returned to me these last several days while making a retreat at the Demontreville Jesuit retreat house in Lake Elmo, Minnesota. When I arrived at the retreat center last Thursday I had a strong feeling that I might leave feeling quite differently by the time the retreat concluded on Sunday (yesterday). And I did feel quite differently indeed.

More details on that tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

One Way We Can Heal America

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

I feel immensely grateful for this day that is now ending. It certainly ended in a way I was not expecting. I appreciate the power of friendship, open hearted men and people willing to show up to their occupations day in and day out no matter what the stress they experience in their work.

As I noted in a recent posting there was a tragic shooting not far from where I live just last week. A small child died in the incident. That child was only two years old. Gun violence is our great scourge here in America. That is my opinion. But I think it is also verifiable fact. If only our Congress would listen to a vast majority of the American people who want a workable solution to the ridiculous levels of gun violence that occur in our nation. But many members of Congress are in the pockets of the NRA. What will it take to change this perversion of power? It seems more unnecessary bloodshed will unfortunately actually be necessary. I feel so sad about the state of affairs in our nation.

I did something today that was an act of faith and gratitude. As I reached my stop on one of the buses that serves my neighborhood I made a point to briefly speak with the bus driver. I thanked her for being willing to work as a bus driver and drive through a neighborhood that was the backdrop to a recent act of tragic violence. The driver was an African American woman. I am a gay man of Germanic and Dutch heritage. I grew up in Texas. I have no idea where she grew up. Her profession is public transportation. My professional background is ocean policy and conservation. I can't know more about her based on our brief interaction today.

The point I wish to make is that the United States of America is virtually possessed by an Us versus Them mentality. Rather than see our common humanity we are divided in factions. Many Americans appear to have lost the ability to see what we have in common. We are all human beings. We all need and deserve to have the same things in life. We all need love. We all need companionship. We all need food, shelter, clothing and a reason to wake up each day. We have more in common than we do not. And yet this nation is rending itself apart due to our perceived differences.

If we want to heal our nation we need to seek common ground. We need to see our common humanity. We must look beyond our differences (age, gender, socioeconomic status, education, race, etc). If we cannot or will not do that our nation will surely eventually die.

Focus on all the good in your life. Be grateful for that good. And find a person to thank for the simple reason that they are who they are and are contributing to the world in their own unique way.

Monday, July 11, 2016

My Bus Ride Home

Monday, July 11, 2016

Yesterday I recounted some of my day this past Saturday. Here is the conclusion of that day's story:

The last leg of my journey home featured me riding the 19 Bus. And ever since I heard of this small child dying in gunfire I have felt heightened anxiety about taking certain buses.

I boarded the bus to discover a police officer in the very back. And then came the thoughts of what happened in Dallas, of police being murdered, of the issues we have with police-community relations in this nation, of our history of racism and so on. My very first thought when I saw the police officer was "Oh good, there's a police officer on the bus. Now I feel more safe." I am sure others on the bus didn't necessarily feel the same way. And for the record the officer appeared to be African American.

I sat and pondered my initial thought. And I appreciated how I really do try to give people the benefit of the doubt as much as possible - I *want* to trust people but sometimes it is very difficult for me.

The bus had a more subdued quality about it than I expect it would have had if there had been no police officer on the bus. At least that was the case until a woman boarded who, after sitting down in the back, began to say "F--- you, f--- your momma" and so on. I could feel my eyes rolling and some anger building inside me as all of us in the bus were a captive audience to this woman's use of foul language. I managed to distract myself by breathing deeply and thinking thoughts of gratitude for my safety.

We eventually passed the intersection where that two year old child died just this past Friday. And there was a collection of people gathered in solidarity regarding the violent death of this small child. I couldn't clearly see the people gathered through the tinting of the bus windows. But as we passed through the intersection my tears were rising again. What planet is this again?

As my bus neared my destination I thought about thanking the police officer in the back of the bus. I thought about saying something I felt would be innocuous like "Thank you for your service". I hesitated and ultimately said nothing. Why? Because other thoughts crowded my mind. Would the other passengers on the bus, a vast majority of whom were African American, feel I was effectively saying "Thank you for giving me a feeling of safety among these people whom I think are violent and untrustworthy"? I could feel the stain of what racism has done to our nation both in the past and in the present moment. I wanted to express gratitude and feared it would be misconstrued. So I said nothing.

After getting off the bus I noticed a Metro Transit police vehicle was directly behind the bus I had just disembarked from. More thoughts passed through my mind such as "Was the vehicle an escort for the bus I was on?" I felt the crushing weight of what I imagine it feels like to be an African American in certain neighborhoods in this country. If you can't expect your two year old child to survive when you are raising that child what are you to do? What can impoverished, disenfranchised people do when they are caught in the crossfire of people whose apparent first resort is the harm that so often comes with the use of a gun?

And that, my dear friends, is life in America. That, my friends, is but one story of how our failure to understand and love one another diminishes US ALL.

Let's come together rather than tear each other apart. Please for the sake of future generations let's become the best version of ourselves we can be.

I am devastated. I want to go to sleep and sleep a whole day.

Be Real

Monday, July 11, 2016

I woke up this morning with a heaviness in my chest. Lately it has felt like something is seated on top of my chest when I wake up each morning. This has been going on for a few weeks now. In fact, it seems to have started on June 17th. That was a stressful day due to a dispute I am currently having with an individual I once considered a friend. It's always unfortunate when friendships sour to such a degree that those same individuals become people you never wish to see again.

I did all I could today to practice healthy living habits. I spent time with a very wonderful friend. I ate a healthy lunch. I completed paperwork necessary to keep my life running as smoothly as possible. I got a haircut so I will look sharp in the coming weeks. And then I went to the downtown YMCA.

Because my heart has been feeling quite stressed lately I decided to give myself some cardiovascular exercise. I both walked and ran on the walking/jogging path on the fifth floor of the gym. I then decided to do something more demanding. I ran as fast as I could over the distance of a single lap - twice. The second time around I could feel myself rapidly tiring as I reached my self imposed finish line. I now feel pleasantly exhausted. I believe I will sleep well tonight.

While exercising at the Y a slogan came to me that I want to make my personal life slogan from now on. The slogan is "Be Real. Be Powerful. Be *yourself*. Show Up."

The people I want to have in my life from this day forward are people who have similar values. I want people who are real...and by 'real' I mean authentic and forthright. I want people who are unafraid of being themselves. I also want people unafraid to express themselves and the power they have by virtue of being alive. And finally I want people who show up in the world. Apathy is never sexy. And apathy is something that kills individuals as well as communities and entire societies. We need people living according to what they are passionate about. I personally believe part of the reason American society appears to be rotting lately is because there is an epidemic of apathy at play.

We need to care about ourselves and our communities. End of story.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Trauma Trauma Everywhere

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Yesterday was a day that featured both pleasure as well as intense sadness. Below is the content of a posting I shared on social media:

My. Heart. Feels. Broken.

I was first inclined to write my heart is broken...but if that were literally true I would be dead right now. But sometimes I feel like I am dying. Sometimes I feel like I want to leave this planet. I don't understand human beings sometimes. Our ignorance, our self-destructive rage, our carelessness - some days it is all too much to bear.

Today was not the day I had been hoping for. There was some beauty in my day. But there were so many rough edges too. And those rough edges left me repeatedly crying. I learned today that a two year old child, yes a TWO YEAR OLD died not far from where I live. You can read the story here. That child wasn't even old enough to know what was happening as it died. And why did it die? Gun violence of course. It's an American addiction. We "solve" our problems with weaponry rather than with contemplation and open hearts. But of course we don't actually solve our problems that way - we just compound the trauma in our collective history - over and over and over again - until despair can steal easily into our hearts and make us never want to emerge from bed again.

I am so tired of living in the United States lately. The violence, the stupidity, the misplaced priorities, the hubris, the corruption, the anger, the racism - all of it put together is like a funeral pyre constantly lit - consuming everything it touches. I opened up my Facebook page just now and one of the first stories I see in the trending column is the latest news about how Wayne LaPierre is helping to destroy the world.

Yes, Wayne, that is what I see you as...a destroyer. You and the liars within the NRA deserve to be called to account for your deceit. In my opinion true justice would require you to attend the funeral of every child in America who dies due to gun violence. It would only be fair if you were compelled to attend such funerals and all the while be required to KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT. Whenever you speak, Wayne, it's like a torrent of filth filling the world. I can't comprehend that someone like you actually could have a soul. How can you sleep at night given what you contribute to the world? I'd like you to come to Minneapolis and dare to promote the NRA's warped agenda to the mother of this two year old child who needlessly died! Oh, I get it, I suppose there weren't enough good guys with guns who just happened to be in the neighborhood when a two year old child was inadvertently murdered. But wait, Wayne, aren't the guns supposed to be making us safer? I consider you a fool and a liar. Every time I see a picture of you I want to vomit.

This was my day:

I went to a pool party in the hope of having fun. And I did have some fun. But I also had the great displeasure of seeing a man who treated me with such incredible cruelty three years ago. He somehow feels comfortable showing his face in society even after all the callousness he showed me three years ago. If cruelty were the only prerequisite necessary to incarcerate someone he would certainly have a place in jail.

I left the party earlier than I had planned - and in tears. I couldn't not remember that time three years ago - all the pain, all the fear, all the confusion I was feeling. I got on the train and began to make my way home - only to be required to get off the train after a sudden announcement that construction was requiring the train to go out of service. And I wasn't even warned of it! I had to board a shuttle to keep moving towards home. A few stops later a man boarded who appeared to be so inebriated that it seemed miraculous he could walk in a line. And I felt sad for him. The bus eventually dropped me downtown. And there I encountered the following:

  • A man who unzipped and engaged in a little public urination in a bus shelter. My obvious look of revulsion caught his attention and he began apologizing. I felt bad that he apparently felt I was judging him; I told him I was having a hard time and walked onward.
  • A homeless family on Hennepin Avenue - which included, it seemed, a small child.
  • The heat of the day felt positively overwhelming when mixed with the sadness I was feeling - my own personal sadness and sadness for this country and what we seem to be becoming more each day - a collection of self-absorbed people not interested in the plight of our closest neighbors.

As I felt more tears welling up I decided to change plans and go to the Basilica of St. Mary. I found my way into its interior coolness. I began crying again - these were wracking sobs that left me feeling I was almost exorcising something. My tears were tears for myself, for my community, for the world, for this two year old child who will never live to see another day.

After finding some relief I made my way to the downtown YMCA. I swam fifteen laps in the pool; the coolness of the water refreshed me.

Tomorrow: The ride home...

Monday, July 4, 2016

Three Years Later

Monday, July 4, 2016

I celebrated the three year anniversary of the beginning of my blog writing over this past weekend. I was fortunate to have the beautiful backdrop of a friend's home in Stacy, Minnesota to mark the occasion.

With each day that passes I feel a growing urgency to move on with my life. I will be leaving Minnesota before the snows of the next cold season begin. Where I will ultimately go I do not yet know. I am making efforts to explore a variety of options.

This past weekend was a beautiful gift for me. I feel amazed that it has been three entire years since I began my writing journey. I hope that my work has helped people who are also making journeys to heal from trauma. That was one of the main reasons I was inspired to begin this long running documentary.

I welcome you to continue to follow me as my journey unfolds.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Next Thing

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"I would rather take my chance out there on the ocean than to stay here and die."

Lately my life seems to be an ongoing marathon of practicing an immense amount of patience. My distant past life is, well, quite distant from me in time and space now. What my future will be is not yet at all clear. I feel myself to be in this state of limbo where there is nothing more I can really do but wait. I have to wait for my current efforts to come to fruition. I must find a way to accept the reality that some amount of time must pass before what the next phase of my life will be becomes clear.

I am reminded of this one movie called Cast Away. The movie featured Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt. Hanks played a FedEx engineer, Chuck Noland, whose life is irrevocably changed when he boarded a plane to attend to a work matter and then found himself instead crashing into the South Pacific and somehow miraculously surviving the plane crash. He washes ashore on an uninhabited island. No search and rescue operations ultimately find him. So he is assumed to have died. His circumstances are so disempowering that he doesn't even have the "proper" means to end his own life as he feels compelled to do at one point. And so he...exists. He lives completely cut off from human civilization for over four years. He prevents himself from going insane due to his isolation by talking to a volleyball named Wilson.

The movie flashes forward over that four year time span to show Hanks' character continuing to live an existence rather than a life. The look of resignation on his face in one particular scene conveys all the viewer needs to know about his state of mind. He could not kill himself but he cannot live the life he was intent on living either. He exists in a state of limbo foisted upon him by circumstances so much larger than himself.

One day something extraordinary happens. And yet interestingly enough it appears to be very mundane. A piece of trash washes ashore. The trash happens to be a piece of a port-a-potty. It seems fairly clear at that point in the movie that Chuck was a fairly intelligent engineer. So Chuck creates a sail out of this piece of garbage. He fashions a "boat" of his own and is finally able to escape...into the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. He is finally able to escape the island that has been both his home and prison for over four years. But his escape is into something that makes no promise of rewarding him with being ultimately found.

For a time the viewer is left wondering what will become of him. His "boat" is badly damaged by storms he encounters out on the ocean. He loses his friend Wilson at another point. In a still later scene Noland is portrayed as giving up; he resigns himself to never being found. He expects to die at sea. And then he is found. Life grabs him out of his unintended exile and he is rescued.

But the life he finds when he returns home to Memphis is gone. His life could never be the same again because time did not wait for him. His girlfriend Kelly (Helen Hunt) moved on with her life and is now married and has a child. They are unable to reunite because a chasm of time inserted itself between them and cast them in separate directions. I found it so painful to watch their reunion as they both struggled to reconcile themselves to the reality that what once was between them could never be again. Time had moved them both onwards...separately.

There are so many scenes in this movie that strike a deep chord in my heart. But one in particular rises above the rest. After his return to Memphis Noland is shown on the floor of his hotel room illuminating a watch that Kelly gave him before his fateful plane crash. He clung to his memory of Kelly as a way to inspire him to survive in complete isolation. But that picture of her was a snapshot in time. Time didn't wait for either of them. The memory he had of her helped him survive. But the beauty and nourishment he found in that relationship as symbolized in the photo ultimately perished. Their memories of each other were not enough to bridge the gap that time had placed between them.

I did a ritual this last weekend to honor the fact that my own life is at a crossroads. Like Noland at the very end of Cast Away I find myself not yet knowing where I am going next. I have been applying to a number of opportunities in very different places. I want to set roots down in a good place. I likely will not know where I will go next until approximately August 1st. What I do know now is that I have a bone deep feeling that I do not belong in Minnesota any more. This phase of my life has served its purpose. I have done what I was meant to do here. I feel I simply must move on - I just don't yet know where to.

I so identify with that portion of the movie between when Noland discovers what would be his sail washing ashore and when he is ultimately found drifting in the Pacific Ocean. He did everything he could to escape. Something outside of himself had to reach towards him and meet him. He was compelled to wait for something. Was it grace? Was it God? Was it luck? Whatever you call what ultimately happened the bottom line is he was compelled to wait and allow himself to be found and brought back into the fold of humanity.


I have some advantages over the character of Chuck Noland. I am not trapped on a deserted island. I have friends who love me and can help me with my transition. I can choose to leave Minnesota in search of what is next even if everything I am applying to produces no results to get me to move on. I have that relative freedom. But I will not stay here to witness another winter come to grip the state of Minnesota. My own growth necessitates I move on.

What I appreciate now is the limits of my own power. I can do everything in my power to produce a certain result and I still might not get what I want. This is the reality of life. I believe part of the process of developing what my therapist has called a "mature adult self" is learning to appreciate the truth that we have power and yet we have limits. We sometimes must wait for the next step of our lives to clearly unfold. And sometimes that waiting period can feel excruciating.

I pray for patience and good things to come to me. I pray that my efforts to create a new life be rewarded. I pray that I be led to live the life that will be my best possible life.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

That Life Changing Moment

Saturday, June 25, 2016

My life profoundly changed on this day three years ago. I was diagnosed with PTSD on June 25, 2013. It came as quite a shock. I have written about that time in my life extensively elsewhere in my blog. I am going to take some time today to remember the impact of that day on my life.

I have profoundly changed in the last three years. In some ways I have experienced the adolescence I never really felt I could have when I was a teenager. This is not an uncommon journey for those who had difficult journeys in their own childhoods. It can be very important, even essential, to revisit other developmental stages of our lives at a later point in life if we could not live as we would have preferred to at the time. This would explain why people who come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and so on sometimes exhibit behaviors typical of a teenager.

I now feel myself to be the healthiest version of myself I have ever been. And I think my capacity to weather some events in the last two weeks is compelling evidence that I am not only a very resilient person but know how to effectively reach out to find the resources and support I need when I need them. Adversity can be an amazing teacher - if we will let it be.

Perhaps it's fitting to have the anniversary of this dark day from my personal history fall on the weekend in which gay pride is celebrated here in the Twin Cities in Minnesota.  The LGBT community has historically experienced extensive trauma in how the broader societies we are members of have treated us. The United States is certainly not a unique country in that regard!

Though the United States of the year 2016 is indeed different than the day of the Stonewall riots (June 28, 1969) it's also quite clear that much work remains to be done to ensure people (not just the LGBT community) have equal access to opportunity. One need only follow current events in this country to appreciate this reality. For example, we are currently faced with "candidate" Trump (I have to use quotation marks because I personally cannot take this individual seriously) who is vying for the highest office of this country and who openly speaks of banning an entire group of people from our country based on their religion. We members of the LGBT community may have marriage equality but individual states continue to introduce a variety of measures to undermine the quality of life possible for the LGBT community. (And my apologies to anyone who finds the acronym LGBT not sufficiently inclusive enough; I did not google to see what the 'accepted' current string of letters is!)

I want to take this moment to honor all the people from the LGBT community whom I consider my family. Thank you for your strength and courage. Thank you for not giving up. Thank you for being there for me. Thank you for transmitting your wisdom and knowledge. Thank you for your love. Thank you for being resilient!

I finally want to say that I feel as if I am ready to fully let go of my own sense of victimhood. When we are victimized we can feel deeply hurt, enraged, disgusted and demoralized by what we have experienced. We may develop a desire for revenge. Some may take a completely different approach and shut themselves off from society in the hope that such behavior will prevent more pain from finding them. But closing ourselves off ultimately makes our lives smaller rather than larger. We can be bigger and better together than we often are by ourselves.

Celebrate who you are by living the life you dare to dream of having!

I will finish this post by sharing a word that I have long associated with California:


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Rudderless America: The American Value of Being Able to Easily Murder Each Other

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

I became a supporter of thoughtful regulation of guns when I was an eight year old boy and my father was nearly deliberately a teenager.

The brightest and longest day of the year of 2016 just came and went here in the Northern Hemisphere. And yet here in the United States it is very dark. It is very dark indeed.

Here in the United States Americans still cannot muster sufficient resources (energy, rage and money...among others) to enact some common sense gun control regulations that would stop this country from being an international laughingstock. Seriously, our citizenry throw more of a fit over transgendered people's access to certain bathrooms than it does over the fact that we continually set records for more and more deadly mass shootings. How is that for priorities?

It is easy for me to feel incensed by the callousness and cowardice of my fellow Americans as well as so many of our members of Congress. I haven't seen any hard data to substantiate the feeling I am about to share but I will divulge it anyway. I feel as if Americans' capacity to give a s*** about their fellow Americans is at a terrible nadir. The murder of little children in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012 was apparently not sufficiently gruesome to galvanize this nation to pass some common sense reforms of our laws pertaining to the issue of gun violence. The slaughter of nearly fifty people in Orlando nine days ago was also apparently not enough to break Congress from its NRA induced waking dead trance.

Bearing unwitting witness to such horror leaves me wondering if something even more sinister is going on. Perhaps the NRA has secretly threatened members of our Congress. Maybe there is a deeper web of corruption and deceit that has not yet come to light here in America. It would be so nice if such corruption, if it does indeed exist, were exposed in the scorching light of our summer days. I think the United States may be one of the most short-sighted, self-absorbed nations in modern history. A hyperbolic assertion? Perhaps. But seriously, when the nation can move on and make no substantive change after innocent children are murdered you have to wonder what in the world is wrong with people??? 

As is not unusual for me to do I first wrote some of my sentiments on Facebook. Then, once my writing reached a certain length, I realized I needed to move on over to my blog. As I sit and ponder what happened in Orlando as well as reflect on all the gun related deaths of people across this nation I find myself mulling over these thoughts:

  • What exactly will it take for our nation to collectively decide that all Americans should have a certain measure of safety and security?
  • How many adult American citizens in this present day of June 21, 2016 were victimized by gun violence when they were children? How many of them developed PTSD? How many of them still have PTSD? What is the true cost of the public health crisis that is our nation's saga of gun violence?
  • What do people like Wayne LaPierre and Mitch McConnell eat for breakfast? Radon?
  • If you have no compassion in your heart can you still be correctly described as human?
  • What responsibility should we ascribe to "media" sources such as Fox News for the current state of affairs?
  • Would reforming the FCC (through reinstating the Fairness Doctrine for example) such that propaganda masquerading as news is eliminated or at least diminished help us step back from the brink?

These days I feel queasy at being an American.

Friday, June 17, 2016


Friday, June 17, 2016

Today was an eventful day.

I had a court hearing this morning. I learned that someone I had invested a significant amount of trust in betrayed my trust. A certain man lied to me. And in lying to me he helped set in motion a series of events that were entirely preventable had he not lied to me. I have no idea if he feels any remorse for his actions. At this moment, some eleven hours after the hearing, I am primarily aware of my feelings of disgust, anger and shock.

One of the unfortunate aspects of the legacy of the trauma I experienced as a child was my development of unhealthy boundaries. The way I learned to allow people to enter my life was distorted by unhealthy modeling of boundaries by those closest to me during the earliest years of my life. When children grow up in an environment with inappropriate boundaries it can be very difficult for them to learn how to create and live with healthy boundaries as adults. The healing journey I have undertaken these last three years has led me to develop some rich wisdom. One tidbit from that store of hard fought wisdom is my conviction that unhealthy boundaries are often (but not necessarily always) a sign of early abuse, neglect or some other dysfunction.

I am sitting at home as I compose my reflections for the day. It's going to take me a bit of time to process what I learned today. Despite my feelings of disgust and betrayal I will not allow how I feel now to stop me from going out and enjoying the world around me.

I will do more than survive. I will thrive. It is a vow I make to myself.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

It's The Fear Stupid!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The media is quite lit up these days with all the horror of what happened in Orlando, Florida this past weekend. And then there is ISIS. And we also have the issue of Syrian refugees overwhelming the hospitality of European nations. We have ocean acidification occurring as we continue to pump more greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. We have a real estate mogul running to become President of the United States. And somehow part of his appeal for some people is his practice of insulting basically everyone that can be insulted. There is also dandruff, litter in the streets (and strewn on our coastlines) and the lives of Hollywood celebrities to breathlessly follow. No wonder we are such a worried society. We have a 24 hour news cycle culture and somehow do not uniformly think it's unhealthy to constantly be barraging ourselves with the fearful shadowy forms of the latest thing the media tells us will kill us.

I am being a bit hyperbolic. But as I have read some of the coverage of the worst things happening in the world lately I can't help but feel that the media, well at least the American media, is something akin to a vast echo chamber where horrifying stories get repeatedly recycled for consumption. We hear a story and then we hear it retold by numerous commentators, talking heads, pundits and others. We have people as patently creepy as Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter telling us what to think about any number of issues. And I always wonder to myself "Who are these people?" Who are these people whose sense of morality is so adrift or completely absent that they will whore themselves out and spread all manner of disinformation with the intent of misleading the American public. They are like those creepy flying monkeys the wicked witch had at her beck and call. Those monkeys essentially had no minds - they served without thought or reflection.

Put more concisely - it's the fear, stupid! Fear is such a big seller in America. We fear growing old. We fear disability. We fear isolation and alienation. We fear any number of things. And we have a whole complex network of industries in this nation designed to fill us up and assuage those fears. And I certainly think this pervasive fear is part of what drives the immense machine of the gun culture in this nation. People want to be and feel safe. They watch upsetting news and decide to gird themselves against the possibility of being harmed by arming themselves as much as possible. Combine this paranoia with deeply warped conceptions of manhood and you see all manner of bizarre spectacles in this country. You see a culture like what is found in Texas: paranoia, mindless worship of weaponry, a deep need to provide evidence of prowess through public display of said weaponry (even if doing so leads children who witness such 'manly' men to wet their pants in fear!) and immense fear of that evil Other.

Wow, I am so grateful I escaped that state when I finished college.

The basic point I am trying to make in what might be construed to be a stream of rambling thoughts is that victimization, and the fear of being victimized, seems to drive so much of human behavior...and especially American behavior. And I cannot help but wonder what all the roots of this deep seated feeling of victimization are.

I have reflected elsewhere in my blog on issues such as gun violence and victimization. It's a topic that provides a lot of material for consideration in this nation.

I'll leave you with these thoughtful questions tonight:

  • Who would you be without a personal victim story? 
  • What could our nation be without buying into Donald Trump's contention that America is in decay (as evidenced by his slogan of "Make America Great Again")? 
  • What could we as a society be if we didn't look to others to be our own personal messiahs?

Monday, June 13, 2016

Some Thoughts After Orlando

Monday, June 13, 2016

So you would have to be living under a rock here in the United States to not have heard about what happened in Orlando, Florida this past weekend. We Americans just set a new record for the worst mass shooting in United States history. You can find details about our sorry history of mass shootings here at NPR. We exceeded the body count of what was previously the worst mass shooting ever (the Virginia Tech massacre of 2007) by approximately 150%. Grisly, huh? And no, I am not trying to be flippant by using phrases such as 'body count'. People are very sensitive about gun violence...and rightly so. I certainly fit in such a category. But then again I think anyone traumatized by gun violence will, even if that person fully heals, never be able to fully erase the memory from his or her mind.

I have a few thoughts I want to share about this issue. And whoever happens to read this I will start by saying thank you for taking the time to do so. Not everyone cares as much as you do. When we educate ourselves we show passion for something...we show that we care. So here we go...

1) What does America wish to be known for in the world?

Right now the United States continues to set the sort of records that nobody should find compelling in a positive way. We now have a higher watershed mark regarding gun violence in this nation. Are we simply going to become a more and more progressively desensitized culture? What is the endpoint of that road? I will tell you what I imagine is at the end of that road. It's a road to oblivion. It's a road to darkness, pain, alienation, rage and separation. It's the antithesis of love, kindness, charity, patience, generosity and all the qualities of humanity that I believe make us an incredible species...rather than a base one.

2) The familiar trope about "guns don't kill people, people kill people"

I personally am bone tired of this silly saying. Excuse me but who invented guns? Humans did. And what can humans do with guns? Well, they can do many things. One thing they can do is kill other humans. Could humans kill other humans without guns. Of course....there are many ways people can do that. But what is the advantage of using a gun? It's efficient. It can be quick. And the person shooting others has a distinct strategic advantage. Tell me again, Geraldo, how are people supposed to fight back against someone standing some distance away who is spraying a room with an assault rifle? Shall they use plastic knives? Or would plastic forks be better? Or maybe if they simply run really fast and in a coordinated way a barroom full of people can take out such a person with minimal damage to their own persons. Pray tell, how realistic is it to expect that to happen?

Ask the parents of children who found their guns and then accidentally shot themselves to death if the guns magically animated themselves and then acted to slaughter their children. Does that make sense? Are you living in a fantasyland?

3) Fear is killing us.

Fear is a great adaptation of the human species...except when it isn't. Our capacity to feel fear and then heed the warning signals when we feel something fundamentally off in our gut allows us to survive any number of potentially life threatening events. But fear can also choke the very life force out of our bodies. When we live in a fearful state of mind everything can take on a menacing quality. Having not seen deep data on the demographic backgrounds of people like those who virulently support the NRA I cannot help but wonder about their histories. I suspect there must be some deep trauma in the histories of such individuals. It would explain the phenomena of grown men parading around with a gun in most any public setting for the purpose of demonstrating their manhood.

If we want to stop being such a paranoid society we need to change our diets. And I don't mean what we eat. I mean the media we consume. Turn off the portrayals of people plotting and scheming to hurt one another (also known as soap operas). Do not watch scenes of tragedies over and over again. I can still remember how the mental health community in this country advised parents against allowing their children to repeatedly watch the collapse of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. It's not healthy to repeatedly relive a tragic event.

4) We all have a responsibility 

I always liked the idea of the United Nations. I liked the idea of an organization committed to improving the lives of the people throughout the world. Am I a secular humanist? I am not sure what the proper term is to describe someone with my philosophical and spiritual beliefs.

What I do believe is that if you are walking around on the planet and depending on this Earth for your very sustenance then you have a responsibility to think about how your actions impact not just yourself but others as well. Isn't that part of being human - actually caring about others outside of yourself?

5) Oh, but it couldn't be me!

I think it can be easy to abdicate any sense of being responsible for the world we are co-creating when we ourselves have been deeply victimized. I get that. I know the feeling of victimization from very personal, scary experience. By all measure of statistical odds I myself probably should not be alive today.

And I can empathize with those who are apathetic. Afterall, it's easier to give up and succumb than it is to get up every morning and confront the dark recesses of our own lives as well as the world beyond our homes. But I think abdication doesn't fit us as a species. I want to believe we are grander than that. I do believe we are grander than that.

I believe we are here to love one another - nothing more and nothing less.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Compassion For My Father

Sunday, June 12, 2016

I was away in Washington, DC this past week. I made the trip to attend Capitol Hill Ocean Week. I am glad I went. I made some meaningful connections and have since decided to think in a more broad-minded way about the possibilities of my own professional future. I returned Friday afternoon.

Yesterday, before going to work, I went to the gym. And there I experienced something that melted my heart a bit in regards to my father. I saw a man speaking gently and encouragingly to a little boy. I assume it was a father and son pair.

This beautiful image of a man being nurturing to a boy seemed to trigger a memory from my own childhood. I remember this short sequence of German words my father would say to me when I was a boy. They evoked the image of riding on a horse. Of all the good memories I have of my father this one is particularly warm and playful. Despite my father's immense personal shadow he could also be kind and loving. The stark contrast between the light and darkness within him occasionally made for a very scary childhood though. The chaos in the lives of those closest to me was difficult to bear witness to. And this was especially true because I was a child as I witnessed these difficulties.

I wrote to my father earlier this year and expressed the truth that I have loved him in the past. To this day my feelings about him are still quite complex. And I feel very convinced it may remain as such for the duration of his life...and my own.

This beautiful memory came to me yesterday without me even realizing that Father's Day is just next Sunday. I might take the risk of reaching out to him again.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Moving Onward To A New Stage Of Life

Sunday, May 29, 2016

In the summer of 2014, approximately a year after I began working with my therapist, I was introduced to the idea of Complex PTSD by a separate therapist who was also based here in Minnesota. Dr. Judith Herman of Harvard University has put forth the idea of Complex PTSD as a new diagnosis as a means of describing the symptoms of long-term trauma.

As I learned about the idea of Complex PTSD I felt quite saddened to note that I could identify with all six major difficulties noted below. Now, two years since that time, I am pleased to note I have essentially healed. I still experience some lingering sadness and grief but I feel quite good most of the time now. My comments on these difficulties appear in italics below.

Emotional Regulation. I resolved my longstanding anger a few years ago. It is no longer a burden that I carry. I do still experience some residual sadness now. It has significantly improved as well. When I feel sadness well up within me now I find it is often connected to how often I was left alone as a child.

Consciousness. My deeply learned coping skill of dissociation is not something I regularly engage in any more. I have learned to listen to my intuition and maintain healthy boundaries when I first meet people.

Self-Perception. My issues with my own self-perception have essentially completely disappeared. If I feel guilt now it's only related to my own self-care. I wish I had taken better care of myself earlier in my own life.

Distorted Perceptions of the Perpetrator. This was a particular problem for me earlier in my history of healing. But I no longer engage in disempowering thoughts in which I give away my power to past perpetrators. I know it is my responsibility to live a healthy life for myself now. I cannot change what happened in my own past but I can choose to make healthy choices and cultivate healthy relationships now.

Relations with Others. I no longer get caught up in the delusional idea that someone else has the right, responsibility or ability to rescue me.

One's System of Meanings. I am still struggling with my sense of what the possibilities for my future are. I have more clarity than I ever have had regarding what I wish to focus on doing in my own future.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

I have been conversing with a friend I still have never met. I suppose you could call him my electronic pen pal. We first met online seven years 2009. It seems a little surreal that it's been seven years. It also seems surreal that I appreciate him as much as I do considering I still have not met him in person. He disappeared from my life instead of coming to visit me one June weekend. I later discovered he had apparently been in a horrific car accident on the very trip he was making to come meet me. I didn't learn about this until the next year.

It's a sad reality that all too many people lose those they love. We all will eventually. And I don't just mean people lose their loved ones to illness, to drug addiction, to suicide and to war. Those endings are horrible enough in and of themselves. Some people lose people because they simply...vanish. Some people lose their beloved children, spouses, siblings and even parents when those individuals...disappear.

For those whose hearts are shattered by such traumatic loss trusting the world to be a safe place where people will consistently show up and be there for you over the long haul can be a rather Herculean proposition. Imagine, for a moment, if you lived just one day of your life with the overriding conviction that every single person you encounter during that day might very well never appear in your life again. How would you live that day if you truly held that possibility in your conscious awareness throughout the day? Would you treat both those you know as well as complete strangers any differently.
Life is precious. And life can be very short. I think people who lost entire social circles in the AIDS epidemic may resonate with what I share above. Parents who have lost children and children whose parents have disappeared may also appreciate the harsh brevity of life that sometimes impacts us in blunt and subtle ways.
When you walk out the door tomorrow morning consider pondering the very real possibility that you might never again encounter some people...both the familiar and the unknown.
Everything changes.
Tell the people whom you love how you feel about them.