Thursday, February 26, 2009


I just finished reading Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average by Joseph T. Hallinan. The book is a basic overview of the research from psychology, economics, and neuroscience to shed light on why it is we make errors, large and small. For example, why do we buy annual gym memberships when we end up going very little?

I had an ephiphanous moment this week, which, oddly enough, was then supported by something I read in this book two days after the ephiphany. (I can't tell you how often this happens to imitating life?) A few weeks ago, I taught my first infant development workshop in three years. I blogged about it here. Well, two days ago, I saw my first infant client in three years. It went very well. But that wasn't the triumph for me. Let me explain.

I had scheduled the client for the morning and would then go off to my bookstore job to work a full shift afterwards. This would mean taking the bus to the client, doing the client session, taking the bus from the client and then working an 8 hour shift, walking the bookstore floor serving customers. Now, this might not be a big deal for most people. For me, though, it was causing me a great deal of anxiety. I know my body. And I should have known when I booked the client that packing so much in one day, especially in the Winter, when the Fibromyalgia and fatigue are at their worst, would be ambitious and frankly, stupid.

The day before my client, I realized my error in over-scheduling myself and knew that I would fail to meet all the expectations of the day successfully if I didn't make some changes. I called my brother and arranged for him to drive me to and from the client. This took an enormous amount of stress off of me. It allowed me to see the client and still have time to get home and rest before heading off to the bookstore. By day's end, I had seen my first client, and made it through my full shift selling books. Success!!!

The real triumph though was two-fold:

1. I realized what I would later read about in the Why We Make Mistakes book: we generally tend to be overconfident about our abilities. For me, 20 years with a chronic pain condition has given me enough experience to know that packing more than one major activity into a day, especially in the Winter, is setting myself up for failure. Like the person who buys an annual gym membership rather than just doing pay-as-you-go I was expecting that somehow things would be different this time around, that somehow I would be able to muster the energy to do it all and do it all well. Nope. For 20 years, time and time again, I've set myself up for failure by being overconfident, by not accepting reality and by hoping for things to be different than they are, which leads me to my second light-bulb realization...

2. "Hope impedes adaptation." These are the words of George Loewenstein, Carnegie Mellon professor and researcher, quoted in the Why We Make Mistakes book; his conclusion after studying patients faced with colostomy surgery. The question was whether those with a permanent colostomy or those with a chance of later reversing it would be happier. The colostomies were performed with half of the group being given the possibility of reversing the procedure at some point in the future. For the other half, the surgery was permanent. After six months, the group with the permanent colostomies were happier. "Hope impedes adaptation." When you hope for a different future outcome, you delay adapting to things as they are right now. As Hallinan, the book's author, puts it: "If you're stuck with something, you learn to live with it. And the sooner you learn to live with it, the happier you will be."

This is what I've been doing since my diagnosis of Fibromyalgia/Chronic Fatigue 17 years ago. I've been hoping for a cure. And every moment I've spent hoping, I've delayed adapting and accepting what is really so.

When I left the Jehovah's Witnesses over three years ago, it was a complete mindfuck. You know this if you've read my blog. My whole world crumbled beneath me and I've spent the better part of the last three years attempting to adjust to the real world outside the cult. It was not just the loss of community or the shattering of a belief system, it was the loss of hope. As I've talked about before, giving up the Jehovah's Witness view of the future meant accepting that I had an illness that was not going away. There would be no Jehovah (the JW name for God) coming to rid the Earth of pain and suffering and usher me, pain-free, into eternal life.

This week, I became acutely aware that I am now here for the long haul, with this body, with this mind. And rather feel sad about it, I feel free. I can finally begin to adapt to what is, to accept, rather than rail against, that which isn't going to change. I remember so many days fighting with my body, trying to talk it into doing things it just couldn't do. I felt like I was yelling at an amputated limb to grow back. Futile, to say the least.

I see these epiphanous moments as allowing me to set myself up for success and not failure. I am confident I can do much in this life, be much in this life. It starts with accepting where I'm starting from and moving from there.

And so it is.

tall penguin

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Sacred and the Profane

To hold
That which makes me smile
And that which makes me cry
In a single breath

To see the face of God and the Devil
In every soul I meet
Knowing that the universe shines its neutral light
Or is it darkness?
Upon all and none.

To feel the wave of life pulse through me,
Earthquakes of the soul
Nature’s orgasm
Reminding me each moment
That I am here.

To smell the win in the defeat
The sweet in the savory
The rose in the thorns
And know
And know
That all is well
That it is what it is
And could not be otherwise.

tall penguin

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tee Hee...

I recently read Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein. It's a hilarious journey through various philosophical schools of thought. A must-read.

From the chapter "Philosophy of Religion" comes this joke:

A man arrives at the gates of heaven. St. Peter asks, "Religion?"

The man says, "Methodist." St. Peter looks down his list, and says, "Go to room twenty-eight, but be very quiet as you pass room eight."

Another man arrives at the gates of heaven. "Religion?"


"Go to room eighteen, but be very quiet as you pass room eight."

A third man arrives at the gates. "Religion?"


"Go to room eleven, but be very quiet as you pass room eight."

The man says, "I can understand there being different rooms for different religions, but why must I be quiet when I pass room eight?"

St. Peter says, "The Jehovah's Witnesses are in room eight, and they think they're the only ones here."

tall penguin

Saturday, February 7, 2009


As I mentioned last post, I taught an infant development class this week, something I haven't done in three years. The anxiety built in the days leading up to the class. And the more I tried to prepare, the worse it got. At one point, I'd even attempted to write down anything I remembered about the subject and my pen froze on the page. So, I put it down, and waited.

Yesterday morning, workshop day, I awoke, and it was all there. Years of experience and information came flooding back into my conscious mind. It was as if it was in some cosmic storage locker awaiting my return. All I had to do was trust that it was there, wait and voila, it all came back to me. Lesson learned.

As I was packing up my things for the workshop, including my model baby doll affectionately named Abby (short for Abigail, the name I'd chosen as a girl for my future daughter), it struck me that all the time I was in business for myself, I had never really allowed myself to get close to my clients. Outwardly, it probably didn't seem that way. I cared for them, did the best I could to help them, but inwardly, there was always this battle. I kept people, all people outside my Jehovah's Witness belief system, at arm's length. I never fully committed to them nor allowed myself to fully engage with them. There are three reasons for this:

  1. Us versus Them. The reality was that no matter how amazing these people I was working with were, they were still "worldly" and a potential threat to my faith.
  2. Why get close to anyone my God was inevitably going to destroy in some near-future Armageddon?
  3. What I'm doing here is futile. My help is just a band-aid. These people really just need to convert and be saved. There was always this conflict in my soul as to whether I should be spending my time helping people directly with their most immediate needs, or instead proselytizing them to give them a more lasting, ail-free future.

Needless to say, with these quandaries floating around, added to the other anxieties I felt on a daily basis, I felt completely ineffective as a practitioner. There was this constant push-pull in every interaction. Until yesterday, I was aware of how the Jehovah's Witness mentality had affected other areas of my life, but not so acutely aware of how it even crept into how I did business. How could it not? It colored everything.

As I packed up Abby into my bag, I realized that I was going to speak to a group of women who already had babies of their own. There would be real, live Abbys there for me to use as models. I had kept myself so distant from everyone at my classes that I didn't realize that I could just use the babies that were already there as models, that it was okay for me to interact with them the way my heart really always wanted to.

I arrived at the Community Centre and was greeted by Cathy, the woman I've known for many years through my work with children and infants. I hugged her tightly as if I was seeing her for the first time. I caught up on the details of her family's well-being and felt a warmth in my heart for her I'd not allowed my heart to feel previously.

As the women arrived for the class, I welcomed them at the door, as if they were coming into my home. We assembled on the floor of the meeting room, the babies playing, laughing and studying me with smiles and coos. I interacted with each of them, playing, snuggling and staring into the eyes I'd failed to see so many times before. By the time I started the workshop, I felt like I knew these women and their babies and we were just a bunch of friends sitting in my living room discussing life and babyness.

The 90-minute workshop went over two hours. I had more than enough information to share with them and they were grateful for it all. Abby stayed in my bag most of the workshop. Whenever I needed a model to demo a movement or massage technique, one of the mothers was offering me her baby. "Here, use Karl." "Here, use Sarah." I didn't even have to ask.

For the first time in a long time, I felt truly useful. I felt as though I really have something to offer this world. Something that isn't tied to an illusory future. Something that can add to your quality of life right now. I can help you right now. I can love you right now. I can be with you right now. I don't have to wait until some god takes away your pain or makes everything right with the world. I can be here now and be here with you right now and let's see what we can do to make things a bit easier. What a thought.

I floated out of the workshop like I'd sprouted wings and could fly. Babies. This is what I'm meant to do with my life. Love babies and love their mothers and help them love each other through movement and play and presence. Sounds like a plan.

tall penguin