A week from Thursday, I leave for a three-week-long trip to Thailand and Cambodia! It is a two-year’s belated 25th wedding anniversary trip. I am so incredibly excited. My husband and I have been planning this trip for months. I typically pack too much and check a bag. However, for this trip, I will be paring down to the essentials so that I can to with just a carry-on suitcase and a personal bag.

It is winter here and we live about as far north as a U.S. citizen can live, at least ones who do not live in Alaska. We are traveling far east and considerably south, close to the equator. It will be very hot and humid. A certain level of modesty is requested when visiting temples, specifically that legs and the tops of shoulders be covered. Having lived in Florida and traveled in Egypt, I also know that there are advantages to being covered up in loose long clothing. It’s cooler and it provides sun protection. I have chosen my travel clothing carefully, for maximum versatility. We are also taking a short tour in Beijing, China on our way back home, and it will be considerably colder there. I have a lot of light clothes that can be layered.

One of the bigger challenges to packing a carry-on bag has been fitting all of my liquid toiletries into airline approved containers that all fit into an airline-approved-sized plastic bag. I have sensitive skin. I am picky about what kinds of cream I use as well as sun protection. Some of my skin creams are prescription and not something I could easily buy overseas, anyway. I am not the only one who is challenged by this because there now appears to be a whole industry devoted to providing liquid products in solid form, for travel. I have solid shampoo and solid conditioner. Did you know that there’s mosquito repellent available as a solid, in the form of a bracelet? There’s toothpaste that comes in pill form. Last, but not least, I have SPF 50 facial sunblock that’s  a tinted powder.

I have also found room for a few luxury items. I have not taken a really long flight since I was a 24 year-old newlywed, flying from Cairo to Seattle, in a series of many flights, including crossing the Atlantic. The flight from Seattle to Beijing will be 11 hours with no stops. That’s a long time to be sitting on a plane. We bought our tickets with frequent flyer miles but paid for an upgrade to business class, which means that our seats will fold down into a bed. I am bringing a memory foam neck pillow (I may want to drift off while in the airport), a sleep mask, and noise-cancelling headphones. I typically have a terrible time sleeping during travel. I hope this will help.

As I’ve spent the last few weeks, narrowing my choices, preparing for places I have never traveled, I think of how I’ve spent the last few months of my life. My country has scary people in charge of government. I am preparing for the times ahead by deciding what is most important in my life and where and how I will spend my resources.

Self-care is something that has been a challenge these days. I am committed to being an activist and to make enough time to do that. That is helpful but it can also be stressful. But I am doing my best and I see benefits from my efforts from the simplest actions such as no longer reading the news or engaging in social media while I am in bed. It really wasn’t a good idea before but now it makes the difference between a restful night and a stressful night.

My husband doesn’t know this but I actually thought we might have to cancel our trip when I learned who had been elected our 45th president. I felt a flash of shame at being a U.S. citizen, even though I know that I am not responsible for this mess. I can always be a better citizen of my country as well as the world, but this election result and the current administration are beyond the pale when it comes to bad choices on the part of many U.S. voters. More often than not, it is like living in two countries. Actually, that doesn’t really capture. It’s like trying to live my real life while stuck in a badly written James Bond movie.

We are going on this trip to celebrate 27 years of marriage. I am so fortunate to be able to travel and see the world.

As always, peace to you, my friends. (Also, stay tuned for travel photos!)

Breast cancer patients know a lot about trust. As humans, we can see the outside of our bodies rather than the inside. But inside, disease can be growing, imperceptibly. We know what it is like to lose trust of our wellness.

We have to trust other people, healthcare providers, with solving the problem of our disease. And if we do our homework, we know that they have limits to what they can see as well as to what they can fix. The fit of this trust varies. I had wonderful providers. It was scary but I felt well taken care of, oriented, and supported. For others, the trust can be one made of seeing no other options, an uneasy and tenuous alliance.

Most of the time, when people speak of trust, they speak of trusting others with whom they share intimate relationships, spouses, children, parents, etc. We speak less of trusting ourselves, which is incredibly important. The breast cancer community has another trust issue. It is the issue of trusting organizations and institutions who say they are here to help us but who may be here to market our disease, use pink ribbons and such, in order to make money, money that will fill corporate pockets. Add in societal sexism and the sexualization of a disease, it’s a wonder that we trust anybody.

Many breast cancer patients, however, know that without trust there is no forward movement. And trust does not have to be blind. Trust is found in shades of gray just like the rest of life.

There are so many intersections between my breast cancer experience and my experience now in attempting to be an engaged and active citizen to work against the many rights and safeguards that are being threatened by our government. As you know, I was in one of the Women’s Marches on Saturday, one of over 600 internationally, targeting women’s rights and social causes. The groups represented were broad, not limited to women, and not limited to any particular race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identification. However, make no mistake, women led this march. As a member of the breast cancer community, I saw that aspect of my life represented in the support for affordable healthcare, for example.

George Lakoff, Ph.D., a cognitive linguistic and Director of the Center for Neural Mind and Society at U.C. Berkeley, wrote about the women’s marches as a perfect counterpoint to our new president’s inauguration. He called it “The Politics of Care” and referred to the implicit associations we have as a culture between women and care-taking

After a wonderful day of peaceful marches on a global scale, some have already become disheartened. Not everyone trusts the marches. Some criticize the marches because they are not sufficient. Of course they are not sufficient. Other actions must take place. This criticism, in my mind, comes from not trusting that anything else will happen.

Another branch of criticism is about inclusion. Some felt excluded by the march. Some felt overshadowed by the march. There has been some talk of “where have all you white women been before now?” Those criticisms come from a lack of trust.

At this point I could say, “Hey, the solution to this is for us to all trust each other! We want the same thing! Group hug!”

I’m not going to say that. People who have been treated badly for who they are, what they believe, how much money they have, who they love, what they look like, what language they speak, how smart or not smart they are, etc, are not necessarily going to trust easily. And people with privilege are not necessarily brimming with trust, either.

Trust is something we must earn by being reliable and by being truthful, not just once but lots of times. This means that we need to keep working and trying. Keep your eyes on the goal. If someone complains, try to see the truth in what they are saying. This is not the same as agreeing. It is validating their emotions, at a minimum. Agree with parts of the view, if you can.

Find common ground. We are all humans with feelings. Connect on an emotional level. All of us love our families (even if it doesn’t look like it). Connect with shared values. And most importantly, work on the more difficult connections in person, not on social media. Engaging in endless arguments with people online will only deplete everyone involved and more seriously, discourage you from the important work that needs to be done. Don’t drop out of the movement because you’ve stopped trusting yourself.

Show up again and again.

Be open to learning and learn. A lot of us are new at this.

You know your own heart. Others will know your heart through your strong and caring hands.

Peace, friends.

 

Today was the first day of the Trump presidency. It was also the day of Women’s marches on ALL SEVEN CONTINENTS OF THE WORLD! Today, I marched with an estimated 130,000 people in Seattle. My husband and daughter were both there as were two of my friends. The expected number of people in the march was 50,000. The population of Seattle is about 650,000. The march was peaceful and so uplifting.

I am still sorting through this experience and planning my next steps. Marches begin and end with steps. But the steps must continue for change to take hold.

I’m not sure what to write but I am pretty sure that today was a day that will live on. So I am writing something, even if it is not perfectly coherent.

Today I felt a connection with humanity. I felt like a citizen of humanity. This kind of connection is the foundation of compassion.

Today is a very encouraging day. What happened means something. It means a lot. What happens next means more.

As always, peace.

 

When I was a girl in the 70’s, kids played a game at recess. It was dodgeball but I knew it only by another name, “Smear the Queer”. I didn’t understand the word, “queer”, except that it was a bad thing to be because it inspired “smearing”. In time, I would learn what this very hateful term meant. In time, other kids, now older, would use this word understanding what it meant. Word like these and the actions behind them had kept and continue to keep human beings in a dark place, out of the light, for no good reason.

The 80’s brought the H.I.V. epidemic, which originally almost solely impacted gay men. A community, already under fire by our culture, was now under siege by a disease. It was a time of particular crisis. ACT UP, an AIDS/HIV advocacy group started and their slogan, “Silence = DEATH” was appropriately chilling. A few years later, Queer Nation, took to the streets chanting, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.”

They decided to change the meaning of the word to a powerful one. Taking ownership of hateful names is one strategy used by some activist groups. I find myself bristling to this, given earlier connotations. It takes time to “get used to” a hateful word transformation.

Nearly 30 years later, I have an 18 year old daughter who identifies as “queer” and sings in a youth choir that is labeled as “queer” on their website. The word has a totally different meaning to these youth, who by the way, are very much out in the world, out of dark, and doing their best to deal with the hate that comes from the outside by being truthful about who they are.

The LGBTQ movement intersects with so many more activist movements, including the Women’s Movement. I am old enough to remember the changes that occured in the 60’s and 70’s. I have also observed the increasing backlash against women from a sizable portion of our culture, not to mention institutional sexism, which is pervasive.

Clearly, women in the U.S. have made gains. Clearly, we are threatened, along with so many other unrepresented groups. These are challenging times. We are less than one week from Donald Trump’s inauguration, and the threat is palpable.

The Women’s March was originally conceived by an ordinary woman who, shocked by the election, formed a Facebook event. By the time she woke up the next day, it had over 10,000 participants. Professional women’s protest organizers took the reins and an expected 150,000 to 200,000 are expected to attend the march next week in Washington, DC. There are sister marches planned for the same day, all over the U.S., and even in other countries.

I am attending the march in my city of Seattle. Like the DC March, we are knitting “pussy hats” to wear to the march. They are pink hats with cat ears. Pussy is a reference to President-Elect Trump’s characterization of women, which comes from our culture. Many male legislators also have an obsessive need to control women’s reproduction.

The pink part, well, pink has been associated with femininity for some time now. The word, “pussy”, with it’s crude and aggressive connotations, bothers people. (It bothers me, but I have decided that it is a good thing for me to “get used to”.) Pink, however, has controversial connotations among those of us in the breast cancer community. Komen co-opted the color to market our disease to make corporations rich. Pink has also been used to sexualize and trivialize our disease.

Women are constantly being put in the dark, in the shade. It was not that long ago that it was considered a bad thing to identify as feminist. We are in crisis. We know it.

We can choose to march.

We can choose to wear “pussy hats” or not.

We can choose to unify to use the power we have as a group that comprises over half of the voting population.

We can choose to recognize our chooses and attempt to take back the meaning of words to define ourselves for ourselves.

As always,

Peace

I have a confession to make. I am afraid of a number.  The number is 2017.

Actually it’s not only fear. I also feel an upswell of action. An eagerness to serve and fight the fight of righteousness.

A man, who would be a cartoon villain in an alternate universe, is going to be the President of the United States of America, in just under three weeks.

He is one man. He has his uniquely unqualified staff with him. He has his ridiculously ridiculous fingers that Tweet ridiculously ridiculous sequences of characters.

He is one person. We are many.

This is not a fight I wanted to fight but fight I will.

The pen is mightier than the sword.

The vote is mightier than the Tweet.

See you at the marches.

The path to peace often makes more than a ripple.

Sometimes we need a splash of peace.

Other times, a tsunami of peace is what is needed.

 

My daughter and husband are out tonight. I decided to watch something on television that might only appeal to me. I used to occasionally watch, The Gilmore Girls, a mother/daughter drama-comedy with very fast-paced dialogue. They brought the show back after many years for another season. I decided to watch the first episode.

The Gilmore Girls is a smartly written show with appealing lead actors. In other words, it is not a bad show. That’s not the point of this post. The opening scene of the show took place outside, in the town square. The first thing I noticed is that everyone in this town is white. The mother and daughter characters were drinking coffee from paper cups that were obviously empty. I realize that this is a common use of props in television and film. Without fail, I notice that the coffee cup is empty. I can tell by the way they handle it! There’s no weight in the cup! Why can’t they just fill it with water or something?

The all white town, then the empty cup. Next, they pass the sign for the town, “Stars Hollow”. Really? That’s hollow, too? It’s not a bad show but really, the first 10 minutes were too symbolic for me.

Life is full. If I take a drink of life, the weigh of the cup registers in my hand. It has flavors, colors, aromas, and sounds galore.

The fullness of life is a big part of what makes life so amazing.

A hollow cup is easy to understand. It is easy to master. There are no surprises.

But what, precisely is the point?

Yes, I am a bit agitated today but as always,

Peace, friends.

I attended a sitting meditation two weeks ago. The instructor read a poem at the beginning. There was a phrase in the poem that has stuck with me, “bearing reality.” Mindfulness is about bearing reality, bearing the way things are right at this moment. Daily, there are difficult realities, especially at this time. I keep reminding myself that today’s reality is not necessarily tomorrow’s reality.

But this is when it gets even more difficult. The joy of today can give way to heartache tomorrow. The fears of today can give rise to positive action. This is the bearing of possibility, the what could’s. As a psychologist and as someone who practices mindfulness, I know that living in the future is tricky business. It is important to visit future possibilities in order to plan. However, the future, though a good place to visit, is no where to live.

The challenge, in our country, in our world right now is to bear it all. We must bear reality and possibility in balance. As with “baring it all”, “bearing it all” leaves us vulnerable. Right now I am considering my options for formal activism. I have done individual acts but I have not become a member of a group effort. I have been hanging out on the edges observing possible groups. There are a lot of them, by the way. Some of you may belong to one or more of what must be one of hundreds of resistance groups across the country. Since many of these groups cropped up after the election, there is an understandable amount of disorganization and flux. I am a practical person. I don’t want a “feel good” group. I want to be part of a “do good” group. I want to be effective. There’s a gamble no matter what I choose.

Today, I am bearing reality. I am weighing my options. I am bearing possibility. These are scary and exciting times, these times of bearing it all.

Part of my mindfulness practice is to live my life with intention. I have a strong intention right now to be more of a social activist because 1) this is no time in the U.S. to feel helpless and 2) I might be able to offer something positive, however small, to the world. Also, following up on my last post, I have made a point of being more conspicuous. I have been a pretty outspoken person since about 5th grade when I first remember my teacher commenting (not negatively) about my feminism.

I find myself now, however, not just being outspoken about my beliefs but also being outspoken about my behavior and linking it explicitly to my political activism. Honestly, the U.S. presidential election initially left me feeling betrayed by a substantial proportion of my fellow citizens.  When I left my house the morning after the election, I made a concerted effort to count every act of kindness that was directed toward me. It helped me feel safer.

I have continued to do this but I have also tried hard to do positive works. And since I am putting this within the context of social activism, I have let people on social media know about what I am doing and why. I include charitable contributions, phone calls to congress, and small acts of kindness that I do with intention of creating loving social connection. Announcing my actions is my version of carrying a sign in a protest march. What if I decided to protest in the park, by myself, without a sign and without saying anything? How would anyone know what I was trying to do.  I am labeling my action. Others might feel inspired to do similar things. I know that I have felt inspired by others. I also know that when I announce my intentions in public, I am more likely to follow through.

Objective labeling is a big part of observing and being mindful. I have learned the practice of labeling my mental behaviors during meditation. When my thoughts are judgmental, I can label it by saying, “That’s my judgmental mind making judgements”. I have been taught that this is a way to stop the brain puzzles that keep me out of the moment and I have found it to be an effective technique. To be aware of myself makes it easier for me to act with intention and to respond to life instead of simply reacting to it. Sometimes I have to make a sign to myself to understand myself better.

I think of this as a practice of using signs, some turned out to the world and others directed inwardly. Both are extremely useful to me.

What’s your sign?

Peace to you, friends

Between 2012 and 2014, I had 9 surgeries; three of them were to remove cancer and the other six were to patch up the damage. Not all of my surgeries were major, but nonetheless, I spent a lot of time in a hospital gown, with my ass hanging out. I am outgoing in many ways and have been for the most of my life. However, I also spent the first 46 years of my life being fairly modest when it came to revealing my body. For example, I did not wear a swimsuit for years, because I was very self-conscious. Medical visits were another thing. I didn’t mind that so much. But when it comes to surgery, it’s different. My body was on display to a parade of people whom I did not know. Even worse, you know how I am a child psychologist and see patients and their parents for a living? Some parents work at hospitals. My hospital. To see people I knew from the community, in my role as an expert and a leader, with my ass hanging out, could have been mortifying.

Guess what? It was not mortifying. It was merely embarrassing and not gravely so. This is because, I used my mindfulness practices to stay in the present and to try to keep those thoughts that make a stressful circumstance into a mortifying one, at bay. For example, instead of focusing on how embarrassed I was and what must a person from the community think of me, I focused on her kind treatment of me. Further, the more times I was “exposed” both literally and figuratively, the less difficult it became. It was less and less embarrassing.

I feel grateful for the way I was able to cope with this. It may have been quite different earlier in my life. One of the things this coping taught me is an appreciation for my body and far less embarrassment about it. Any embarrassment I have now about wearing a swimsuit in public is really manageable. It doesn’t keep me from enjoying myself. I don’t worry about my appearance when I encounter people in the community on the days I am not in the office. I am comfortable going around town with no make-up and wearing work-out clothes. If it is raining, you will see me in a rain hat with ear flaps. It’s not cute. It’s functional. It keeps me doing the things I love to do, like taking long walks during every season of the year, which also benefit my physical and mental health. Those things are more important than being cute. I am free to be who I am, even the facets that are not cute, without embarrassment.

I have also noticed a significant decrease in my embarrassment, more generally. I used to get so embarrassed when people sang “Happy Birthday” to me. I felt very self-conscious even though on some level, I enjoyed it. Last Thursday was my 51st birthday. It was also Thanksgiving. Seventeen of my loved ones sang, “Happy Birthday” to me. For the first time in my life, the only feelings I had were purely positive. I felt happy and joyful. I thoroughly enjoyed it, smiling the whole time and being able to make eye contact with my well wishers. What a marvelous power to be able to absorb and appreciate love from my friends and family!

I have been thinking a lot lately about the power of acting in spite of embarrassment or fear. We are in times when this power is of utmost importance. Our country and culture are divided. Oppression and hatred were a problem before and now are more so. I was reading an excellent article, Eight Ways to Stand Up to Hate, published by the University of California-Berkeley’s Greater Good Action. One of the recommended strategies is “practice being conspicuous”. For example, walk around the neighborhood in a funny hat. The goal is to learn to tolerate the discomfort of being conspicuous so when we are in the presence of a stranger in need of help due to hateful acts by others, it will be easier to act and not freeze, the latter of which is a natural response for many.

These are times when it is natural for many of us to try to be careful about everything. To worry. To look for problems in everything. To accept only the perfect solution when none exists. “I don’t want to support x cause because it does not solve every problem.” We need lots of efforts and strategies to make this world a better place. Some of our efforts will only help the tiniest bits. Others will fail.

To fail by not trying is not a way I choose to be.

As always, peace to you friends.

As you can imagine, I am still reeling from the U.S. election results.  Like many have written in other blogs, my reaction was much like being told my positive breast cancer biopsy results in May 2012. A major difference is that in the case of my cancer treatment, I felt very well taken care of by competent healthcare providers. I also had relatively clear choices to make.

No, I am not saying that the election was worse than cancer. I actually don’t know.  I don’t know what will happen to my country and the world. I don’t know what my health will be like in the future. We just don’t know the future.

A lot of people has commented that the election “woke people up”. I would say that it woke some people up the way hearing a bomb blast would. Others have their eyes open, their sleeves rolled up, and are following a clear purpose and direction.

I am in neither of those groups. I am, however, trying to follow a process in mindfulness, to be awake but at ease. This means observing pain, emotions, and even thoughts in as much of a grounded way as possible.  I have had moments of being mindful and at ease since the election. That is not most moments. But I continue to practice my meditation to cultivate compassion, to be aware in the moment, and to be as active and constructive as I can be.

It is tremendously difficult but even in those moments of balance, the results have been tremendous. Those moments provide me with hope.

May I be awake. May I be free from suffering. May I be at ease.

My you be awake. May you be free from suffering. May you be at ease.

Peace.

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George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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