Undone

“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.”    –Lin Yutang

Life is full this summer.

  • The garden is bursting with kale, tomatoes, herbs and green beans; it needs weeding. 
  • I’m working full-time.  So is my spouse.
  • With our college-aged daughter home, we’re cooking for four adults most nights and making enough extra to pack lunches.  With vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free diets, food planning and preparation is labor intensive.
  • It’s time to shop –  for supplies my daughter needs for her college townhouse and school supplies, and clothes for our high school-aged son.
  • Neighbors stop to visit and we love getting together with friends.
  • Laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping, car maintenance, etc. are ongoing tasks.

All of what makes summer so ripe with good things also means that I’ve not blogged like I planned.  For awhile guilt nagged at me, a sense of not meeting my own expectations.

Then I remembered this quote by Lin Yutang and what I often tell harried, overworked, over-busy clients:  You gotta learn to slow down, say no to some things, prioritize and find ways to sit with the unease of not doing everything you previously thought or assumed was so important.

Bere, the owner of Work You Love Coach, has a five-minute meditation for stress relief. She gently reminds listeners to let things be undone, and to ask, “Who do I need to say ‘no’ to?”  Here’s the link: https://www.workyoulovecoach.com/meditation1

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So, if your season of life is full, let it be, take a few minutes to sit quietly and ask yourself:  What is really important?  And what needs to be left undone for now?  See how that resonates with you.   If it’s hard, what makes it hard?   What beliefs might you have about being productive, crossing items off your to-do list or not disappointing others?  See if you can find some ease and energy to enjoy how you do choose to fill your time.

Until I have time for the next post…..

Brenda Hartman-Souder, August 2018

photo credit:  Gemma Evans

Demolition Has Its Day, and Place, in Life

“Don’t despair if your heart has been through a lot of trauma. Sometimes, that’s how beautiful hearts are remade: they are shattered first.”  Yasmin Mogahed

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Last fall I saw a house being demolished. The equipment necessary to bring it down was parked on the road and slowed my journey up Oak Street to my office, so every day I’d glance quickly to see more of the house being knocked to pieces.

I don’t remember what it looked like –  it was probably a modest two-story like other simple colonials that line the street.  And I don’t know anything about the lives of the families that lived there, the story of that particular house or why it was razed.  It might be a sad or tragic story to tell.  I love the old homes in our city and am always disappointed when one has to go.

But I was also curious to see what happens next.

Our family owns an empty lot where a two-family home stood.  Information about what happened is sparse but one short article I found on microfiche reported the house was destroyed in a fire in the 1970’s.  No one was injured and there was speculation about insurance fraud, but by the time we bought our home, it was an empty expanse of crabgrass, languishing perennials (but some very fine peonies), a concrete driveway slab at the curb, and bits of the garage foundation at the back.  It was pretty ugly.

That empty lot played a big factor in our decision to buy this house. We had it graded, fenced and finished out with topsoil and grass seed.  Then we dug a garden and developed, over the next 17 years, perennial and vegetable beds that have provided beauty and sustenance.  Our children played in the yard when they were little, it’s a great space for hosting potlucks and also gives us extra space on a street where homes were sometimes constructed too close together to let the sun in.

My point?  Destruction can lead to something good both in property and in personal experience.  Emptiness can be a fertile space for something new to grow.

In therapy, persons often come knowing that something isn’t working, that reactive or addictive patterns in themselves or relationships are causing stalemate and damage. Or that a relationship or job or stage of life or dream is ending.

Something is being demolished….and this is part of life – it’s predictable.  And waiting alongside sorrow, shock, resistance, and anger is also the possibility of what might be born after an ending.  But the ending has to come first.

People can move from what’s empty, unusable or just plain over to welcome something new, hopeful, meaningful, useful.  It’s not easy, it’s not pretty or elegant – all that demolition and mess and hauling away of what was; but it’s doable, necessary and important all the same.

Therapy should be a safe place for clients:

  • to be listened to and understood,
  • to know, as a foundation under their feet, their strengths, values, connections, and resilience  – what’s going to help them make it through
  • and then to understand what has to change in order for growth to occur; what needs to be deconstructed or demolished or finished so that something healthier and more workable can emerge.

It’s possible to both grieve painful endings AND hold onto the belief that something lovely, strong or meaningful might be built in the space left by ending old habits, surrendering a dream, facing sorrow, or releasing faulty beliefs. 

In just the last week, I noticed that the empty lot I drive by has been leveled, topsoil and straw spread.  I’m waiting to see shoots of grass poke up through. 

You will know a respectful home once stood there, that it’s not there anymore and you will also appreciate the little rectangle of green possibility.

Brenda Hartman-Souder, June 2018

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Some good reading on endings, grief transitions, etc.: 

Transitions:  Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges

Healing Through the Dark Emotions:  The Wisdom of Grief, Fear and Despair by Miriam Greenspan

Kelly Brogan, MD’s website:  https://kellybroganmd.com/   I don’t necessarily agree with all of Dr. Brogan’s expressed views and beliefs, but her writing on facing pain, the transformation possible when leaning into one’s suffering instead of running from it, are powerful.

Grief Recovery Handbook by Russell Friedman & John W. James

The Wild Edge of Sorrow, by Frances Weller

Wearing Woodchucks

The new diamond I’m wearing is a woodchuck. 

Wait, let me explain!

Last weekend we planted beans, cucumbers, zucchini, tomato seedlings, and small starts of kale, zinnias, and nasturtium I’d started in pots from seed. 

It took a woodchuck one day to discover the place under the fence he/she could easily dig. The kale was devoured and this woodchuck had a fetish for something under the tomato plants, digging vigorous holes.

I was bummed.  First, we’d built an 8-foot high fence to keep out urban deer.  Then I learned to protect snow peas with mesh to prevent birds from plucking them to pieces.  There’s not much to do about the energetic squirrels. And now I’ve got to figure out how to outsmart woodchucks.

Part of me feels sorry for myself when snags happen.  I think about quitting, not sure all this gardening effort is worth it. And yet, and yet, we’re already eating sweet new lettuce and the promise of tender beans and plump tomatoes, grown here instead of a farmer’s field, compels me to stay with gardening, woodchucks and all.

Life is like this – we chug along, living our lives.  Then it rains too hard, or not enough, or a woodchuck lays waste to the tomatoes and we have to decide – is this worth it?  And every time, if want to keep moving along life’s path and live a wholehearted life, we have to say yes. 

My spouse reminds me when I’m complaining vigorously, that challenges are diamonds.  He gets this from Charlotte Joko Beck who wrote “Nothing Special, Living Zen.” 

“The path of life seems to be mostly difficulties, things that give trouble. Yet the longer we practice, the more we begin to understand that those sharp rocks on the road are in fact like precious jewels; they help us to prepare the proper conditions for our lives. […] There are sharp rocks everywhere. What changes from years of practice is coming to know something you didn’t know before: that there are no sharp rocks – the road is covered with diamonds.

[…] Increasingly, problems do not rule out practice, but support it. Instead of finding that practice is too difficult, that we have too many problems, we see that the problems themselves are the jewels, and we devote ourselves to being with them in a way we never dreamt of before. […] It’s not that problems disappear or that life “improves”, but that life slowly transforms – and the sharp rocks that we hated become welcome jewels. We may not delight to see them when they appear, but we appreciate the opportunity that they give, and so we embrace them rather than running away from them. This is the end of complaints about our life. Even that difficult person, the one who criticizes you, the one who doesn’t respect your opinion, or whatever – everybody has somebody or something, some sharp rock. Such a rock is precious; it is an opportunity, a jewel to embrace.” *

While Joko Beck is writing of a meditation practice, her words can be enlarged for anyone serious about following a path of growth.

I know a woodchuck ruining the garden is a trivial example of a dilemma life deals us. Illness, injury, a colleague that drives us crazy, loss, divorce, death or a painful family drama that keeps repeating are true life challenges. Unexpected, painful things are happening, have happened, will happen to every human. 

Our knee-jerk reaction is to push those things away, run from them, distract ourselves from them, criticize ourselves (or others) for the way they affect us, etc.

And still, if we are to grow, our work involves turning and meeting life – whatever it brings –  being with it and allowing it to teach us strength, courage, resilience, a sense of humor, and increased appreciation for the journey itself, strewn with all those lovely woodchucks….I mean diamonds!

So, out goes the trap, hoping I can outsmart wily woodchuck. And keeping a vigilant watch over the growing garden.   And hoping still for tender beans and crisp cucumbers.

Brenda Hartman-Souder, June 2018

* Joko, Beck Charlotte. Nothing Special:  Living Zen. New York:  HarperSanFrancisco, 1993

May 2018

 

Vinca 2018
Vinca May 2018

 

Astonished
is the best word I can find
for spring
after our northern winter.

Just last week
I wore a winter coat
and snow swirled
in cloudy skies.

But now
the maple’s reddish buds are
flecked with green,
limes and pale golds the dominant hues,
at last.

And five days after
tossing s
eeds,
the arugula has sprouted.

Lovers walk down the sidewalk
arm in arm
and dogs I didn’t know existed
pull at leashes
following the scent of squirrels.

What astonishes you?

Brenda Hartman-Souder, 2018

Why Those Quilt Squares?

Why These Quilt Squares?

PurpleSquare

My son painted the key image for this website, capturing the essence of quilt squares sewn in Jos, Nigeria by women who have been affected by HIV/AIDS. 

Many of the squares are made into greeting cards, but some are not quite perfect enough for that function.  Mary Beth Oyobade, the co-founder of Women of Hope at Bezer Home, where the women sew, saw another beautiful use:  squares pieced together with black borders to make exquisite wall hangings and quilts. In Jos, they are called Redemption Quilts because of “what was lost has been redeemed.”

I lived in Jos, Nigeria many years and have several of these wall hangings.   They remind me what I miss about that country – its colors, textures and variety.   I admire the mix of solid, dyed and printed fabrics, the way every piece adds vibrancy, balance or depth.

And that describes us as humans and the systems we live in pretty well, I think.

The quilt squares:

are unique

are imperfect and also are just fine

are made of pieces that create a whole

have predictable and necessary boundaries and borders

contain a vast array of variety with each piece playing an important part

can stand alone but function better together

I teach and refer to these realities as I work with clients looking to accept themselves more deeply and also experiment with changes that can make their part in the quilt of life a better fit with their priorities and values.

Something about these squares captured my imagination and I’m so glad to have permission to use them here on these pages.