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Articles: Sybil Magazine, 7-11

I am delighted to be writing for Sybil Magazine this year. Once a month, I will be contributing a new article and posting it here for the second half of the year.  This series is called “Embracing Your Heart’s Wisdom.”

Sybil Magazine is written by women in the helping professions who are located in several countries around the world. It is a mindful, inspiring, and uplifting publication.

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Table of Contents:

EMBRACING YOUR HEART’S WISDOM

July:  Do the Best You Can

August:  Caring Enough to Let Go

September:  Becoming Friends with Food

October:  Getting Beyond Fear

November:  Lessons from Bit Players

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EMBRACING YOUR HEART’S WISDOM

July 2017

Do the Best You Can

By Marcia Blau, LCSW

My seemingly perfect mother was a survivor of childhood polio. She was beautiful, smart, and always on the go. She also had one leg that was reddish and skinny, and she walked with a slight limp.  But that was just my mom.

I remember the first time she showed me her leg up close.  She explained the surgery she had at age 10, pointing out where bones and muscles were moved around.  Mom was still in awe of this “miracle” that had enabled her to walk.

She often talked about her gratitude towards her parents.  As a little girl on crutches, she was upset to not be able to jump rope with friends.  That’s when her mother assigned her “the most important role” of rope turner, proclaiming that, “They can’t jump rope without a rope turner!”  And so the girl with polio became the one who made things happen.

My mother was a force of nature.  She was an energetic, intelligent, curious being.  She was a wife, mother and teacher who had many interests including playing golf, traveling, and–perhaps most meaningful–taking long walks. Even long-time friends, upon noticing her limp might inquire if she had sprained her ankle.  She just didn’t seem to be someone who had ever been crippled by a disease.  Thus, Mom taught me that physical illness need not be an obstacle to living well.

My father taught me a similar life lesson in the last decade of his life.  At that point heredity and cigarette smoking had caught up with him.  He was in a battle with emphysema, heart problems, and macular degeneration.  Breathing, walking, and seeing had become difficult.  And he seemed to be living on borrowed time.

But living he was, and for Dad that meant pursuing a wide array of interests.  He was excitedly planning trips for his stamp collectors’ group, fiercely participating in bridge tournaments, and joyfully fishing with his buddies.  He did these activities with a portable oxygen tank, and much help from his friends.

Most touching was the night their town honored my mother for her lifelong work.  Close friends and family got up to speak.  By then my father was just weeks from death, and having considerable trouble breathing.  He knew he couldn’t talk.  Somehow he got hold of “The White Gardenia,” their song from the 1930s, and secured a gardenia corsage.  There was pure love in his eyes as he silently played the crackly recording, while holding a photo of Mom in her prom dress.  What a fitting match he was for the girl who turned the jump rope.

My parents taught me that the quality of one’s life, despite illness or any other hardship is dependent on one’s ability to reach for it.  This piece of my parents’ wisdom is something I utilize in my own life, and impart both as parent and therapist.  I love seeing my sons and clients thriving on Dad’s words…“Do the best you can with what you have.”

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EMBRACING YOUR HEART’S WISDOM

August, 2017

Caring Enough to Let Go

By Marcia Blau, LCSW

I felt stunned the first time my younger son wanted to leave home for most of the summer.His wish was to join his older brother on a vacation in Canada with their dad’s family.  My inner voice began screaming, “No, no, please don’t leave me!”  I felt caught between my personal interests and my love for him.  Which side would win?  I smiled and simply said, “Of course you can go there.”

One of the more challenging aspects of good parenting is learning how to let children go.  In fact, getting children on their feet and into their own lives is the underlying aim of parenthood.  With my older son, this separation process seemed an easier task. He had been born with medical issues.  As a result, his readiness to sprout wings became intertwined with my relief that he could.  Besides, I still had another child at home.

As an adolescent, I had given my own parents a hard time.  My sophomore year in college had left me significantly depressed. I came back from a summer trip sure that I needed to move cross-country.  It was the first time in my life that my parents’ protests didn’t matter.  I moved out West, far from family, where I could shed confusion, learn about myself, and return home a year later on firmer ground.  Having gone through that experience years ago, I now had to honor my children’s need to separate.  It was a painful moment, but one that ultimately made us closer.

In my own growing-up process, I can remember the exact moment I let go of being a child with my father.  I was in my 20s at the time.  I found myself in his neighborhood, so I called and asked if I could drop in.  He graciously stopped his work to have coffee with me, but shortly afterwards, he dismissed me to get back to business.  As I was leaving I noticed that I was feeling fine.  As a little girl, Dad’s dismissals would leave me feeling rejected.  This time I understood that I had interrupted him while he was working.  That’s easy enough for an adult to understand.

In relationships between parents and children, we move through different roles at various life stages.  In their elderly years, my brother and I became custodians for our parents, making life decisions for them.  Being flexible to the changing needs of family members is a crucial part of family harmony.  It is about being able to adjust to things as they are, rather than as they were, or as we wish they could be.

As I write this article, my son is again on his way to see his dad’s family in Canada.  Over the years, it became a place of much joy for him.  Looking back, I am so grateful that I was able to let him go.   Today, I happily look forward to his return, and getting that tasty jar of Canadian maple syrup!

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EMBRACING YOUR HEART’S WISDOM

September 2017

Becoming Friends with Food

By Marcia Blau

“How would you describe your relationship with food?” she asked, sending me into a frenzy. I was being interviewed for a therapist position at an eating disorder clinic. I had never really thought about how I relate to food. The truth was that my whole life it seemed I had either been on a diet or breaking a diet. Was that relevant?

Having now worked with people who struggle with eating disorders, I understand the complexity of this relationship. It is an association that begins with that first taste of milk, and it changes for each of us as we move through life. How we feel about eating has been colored by family relationships, health concerns, monetary limits; and in people with eating disorders it may be linked to emotional, physical and sexual abuse, among other traumas. Food is a life-sustaining substance that touches our lives in a myriad of ways. We can learn much about ourselves by understanding how we relate to it.

My own relationship to food was initially skewed by fearing the obesity on my dad’s side of the family. Several of his relatives struggled with heart attacks, diabetes, and other weight-related illnesses. Gaining even a few pounds felt physically threatening, and left me with a confused body image. Adding insult to injury, I was a young woman in New York City, where the culture’s motto was, “You can’t be too rich, too thin, or too young.” It amplified my already distorted reflection of myself, and left me feeling uneasy about every bite I took.

Our introduction to eating greatly affects how we feel about it. Did your family have meals together? Was there enough money for you to eat well? Was there any love, pleasure, or fun attached to eating?

Health issues can also be a major influence on how someone interacts with food. Conditions, like diabetes or Crohn’s disease, can create the need for a rigid diet. How well a person adheres to that regimen may be an expression of deep-seated feelings about his or her life. In this circumstance, food is medicinal for the body, as well as a measure of one’s emotional health.

Economics has its impact on this too. All of us fall somewhere between scrounging for our next meal, and dining at fancy restaurants. How much we consume, and the quality of our food is highly influenced by our financial situations. Understanding nutrition may be yet another factor. For some, a MacDonald’s hamburger is dinner, whereas others are careful to balance the five food groups.

At this stage of life, I enjoy cooking and eating healthy, nutritious meals, without much concern about weight gain. I can now allow myself an occasional rendezvous with something rich and chocolaty…and relish it! Over time, learning about myself helped me overcome my earlier fears about eating.

How is this for you? How do you relate to this essential aspect of living? How would you describe your relationship with food?

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EMBRACING YOUR HEART’S WISDOM

October 2017

Getting Beyond Fear

By Marcia Blau

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”  I had recently come out of a long-term marriage when I first read those words.  My life was at an impasse.  Attending to my children and going to work already took all I could muster.  The very notion of engaging with a man felt dangerously beyond possibility.

What would I do if I didn’t have fear?  The question eliminated the need for a strategy, and allowed me to simply fantasize about my wants.  I could actually begin to see myself having fun with a friend, or even a lover.  Removing the scary feelings left room for colorful options.

I began presenting this question to my psychotherapy clients and I was amazed by the response.  I found that most of the people I worked with had hopes and dreams they hadn’t dared to address.  Simply being able to voice them created new movement.  Suddenly, the words “what if” emerged.

Fear is an emotional response to real or imagined danger.  This haunting feeling is the biggest obstacle we encounter when courting our desires.  How often have you found yourself engaged in a negative dialogue with that doubting voice inside your head?  Big Mouth, as I call it, is the voice that gives you messages like “You can’t do that!”, “You will make a fool of yourself!”, and even “You’re going to lose everything!”  For many of us, overcoming fear is about learning to quiet Big Mouth.

But getting rid of fear is not always possible.  Sometimes, we simply need to push through it.  A friend of mine is a highly successful businessman.  He revealed that “every single day” he wakes terrified of what could happen at work.  Nevertheless, he goes to his office.  He is committed to not letting fear stop him from pursuing his life.  “Do not listen, just keep moving,” he prescribes.  Being afraid is a state of mind, not a closed gate.

Similarly, fear is not a measure of whether or not a person will succeed. Being scared can make it harder to do well, but it does not predict how you will actually do.  I was working with a fifty-year-old client who had returned to school.  Despite her intelligence and capabilities, she was terrified of failing.  She continually emerged from exams sure that an F grade awaited her, yet every time she came back with an A.

There is a costly price tag for allowing fear to control our lives.  It can rob us of personal relationships, professional challenges, and exciting adventures.  Ultimately, being afraid minimizes the chance for meaning and joy.  The good news is that leaping over fear allows us to enrich ourselves, and grow.  From that state of mind, we can move towards our most heartfelt desires.

So…what would you do if you weren’t afraid?  Take a moment to sit with that question.  Who would you be ready to contact?  Where would you want to go?  What goals would you dare to achieve?

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EMBRACING YOUR HEART’S WISDOM

November 2017

Lessons from Bit Players

By Marcia Blau

Sometimes it is the bit players in our lives who affect us most profoundly. They appear before us to teach, guide, or somehow change our destiny.  Then they quickly depart, leaving a valuable imprint on our lives.  Often we don’t even get to express our gratitude.  It is my intention in this article to honor a few of my own bit players…or were they simply angels?

One night, just after my marriage ended, I was by myself, driving on a highway in a heavy rainstorm.  I felt utterly lonely.   Suddenly my left front tire went up an ascending rail, flipping me over to the other side of the road.  Before I could register fear, an emergency truck appeared, and a young man was offering assistance to change my blown-out tire.  As he worked, a policeman arrived to ensure that I was getting help.  Next, a woman popped up and explained that she had seen the accident, called the police, and returned to see if I was all right.  I had been feeling completely alone before this team assembled. In our few shared minutes, they reconnected me to my sense of belonging to a human community.

Another bit player appeared years ago when I spent an afternoon as a grief counselor.  I was at a showing of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. It was a sacred, yet painful place to be. My job was to approach anyone who looked distraught, and offer a hug.  One man responded to my attention by collapsing in my arms.  Waves of awkwardness, intimacy, and sadness passed through me as he stayed there, sobbing for ten long minutes. Afterwards he lifted his head, searched my eyes, and gently moved away.  That soulful stranger taught me what it means to hold another’s pain.

And then there was one of my most joyful teachers.  It was early morning in Bath England, decades ago.  As I left my hotel, I stumbled upon a woman scrubbing the patio floor.  She looked up at me and beamed excitedly, “Cheerio!  And how are you this beautiful morning?”  I stood mesmerized.  This woman was absolutely blissful.  There she was on her hands and knees, scrubbing. Yet she was basking in the delicious joy of being alive.  The contrast was astounding.   As I stood there for a compact moment, I came to understand that one’s life is only as good as one’s willingness to enjoy it.

I have learned such potent lessons from these people who so briefly visited my life. Their impact inspires questions about how we influence each other.  We don’t really know much about the circumstances of strangers in our midst. Nor do we understand how deeply we may be affecting them with a few words or a simple action. We are mostly unaware of the lessons we teach each other.

There is a reason to practice kindness.  We are all bit players in this tapestry of life.  Let us be angels.

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