Practice, Practice, In Search of a Practice….or, Changing Whose Life?

Yesterday I put myself on retreat for the day.  Why?  Well, I really wanted to go to the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center and meditate for 3 hours, but I knew I had to do the mindbody work, so I figured I’d do all my practices and some creative stuff in my own way.


I meditated for 45 minutes.

Then I went on email (compulsively, of course, but only for 10 minutes.)

Then I laid down.

Then I got up and did 45 minutes of reading, writing and crying about mindbody issues.

Then I ate lunch.

Then I wrote some more on the play version of Saint John the Divine in Iowa.

Then I took a nap.

Then I got up and answered a phone call from a friend.

Then I did an hour of yoga.


The problem, of course, is that the back pain has reappeared.  Here is the process–I went to the lovely Dr. Martinez, did my usual yoga/relaxation thing, started the mindbody work and PRESTO-CHANGO: 97% of the pain was gone.  It stayed gone at that level for at least ten days, though the emotional reality got a bit out of control (meaning painful and not enjoyable in the least).  Then, I got a really bad cold that laid me flat.  I suspected that the cold was a direct rebellion of my mind to the assault on its mindbody distractions.  The cold ended (I kept up the mindbody work all through it because no f-ing way I was giving in if my mind was trying to assert its right to keep back pain alive).  Of course, I was really kind of miserable, feeling I was in a pitched battle with my own mind and not liking myself so much.  (Sarno would say the battle had just become conscious.)  Then the pain started inching its way back in.  I had huge resistance to doing the writing/reading.  When I did the pain went away.  Then, I had 24 hours of it after I saw a picture of someone who, well, did me wrong in the past.  Then that went away.  And two days ago the pain came back.  Fully.  So I redoubled the mindbody efforts, but there’s still pain.


This morning I did the mindbody reading and I started wondering if I’d misunderstood some vital components of the program.  Somehow, I’d decided I had to grieve all my losses in order to keep my mind from doing its distraction trick.  And that is, well, impossible.

Also, I had stopped doing some back care yoga that I really love–not for what it does for my back alone, but because at the end of the routine I feel relaxation and peace.

Also, meditation and yoga, which are main components of my ongoing practice, facilitate being in touch with what is and being in touch with my body in a spiritual way.  They’re about reality and peace and acceptance.  Mindbody work is about facing the truth as well, but difficult truths about emotions and how we’re programmed to avoid them.  It’s just…not very peaceful.

Today I re-read the mindbody books, and I found these assertions:

  1. Mindbody disorders are an epidemic, caused by the current evolution of the brain.  Everybody has at least a little of this going on.
  2. Inner conflict between the adult self who wants to be responsible, successful and powerful and the child self who still wants to be nurtured and taken care of is universal and part of the human condition.
  3. The feelings of insecurity that give rise to perfectionism and people-pleasing are also universal.

Basically, we’re all f-ing nuts.

I also found these questions:

  1. What is in me that lets my problems create such pain?  (Answer:  I’m f-ing crazy.)
  2. What is in me that needs distraction?  (Answer: I have f-ing feelings.)
  3. What permits pain to develop and persist?  (Answer:  I’m f-ing f-ed up.)

Honestly, I did come up with much more elaborate answers.  Some of them were about being feeling-avoidant, some were about these unbelievable (read: crazy) unconscious beliefs I have and some were about inner conflict–like ambition vs. fear of exposure and perfectionism vs. the desire to piss off the status quo.

I decided two things: (can’t you tell I’m having a field day with numbered lists today?)

  1. I don’t have to heal every loss in order to heal mindbody syndrome.
  2. I might have to change my life to deal with some of these ridiculous inner conflicts.

Obviously, stepping down as Artistic Director of a company I started is, well, a change.  And so is meditating for 10 days straight and then continuing to practice every day.  And so is going to couples therapy, however reluctantly, and telling the truth in between making jokes.

I grew up in a family that looked perfect.  I grew up in the bourgeoisie, in suburbia, in the land of keeping up with the Joneses.  Because I’m queer, an artist, and not stupid, I questioned the values I saw, the emphasis on the material, the inappropriate flirtations among my father’s church singing group, the ass-pinching, the drinking, the competition.  I thought, as teenagers do, “Is this all there is?”  And I have kept asking that question.  I have wanted to learn the true nature of happiness.  Dukkha is.  Suffering is, the Buddha tells us.  We don’t meditate to avoid feelings, Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg tell us.  We find the truth of what is, we feel the feelings, we investigate them, we eventually liberate our minds, we find the feelings are not necessarily the truth.

In my mindbody search for unconscious emotions and internal conflict, I find that, of course, I have absorbed the ambitions I grew up with.  I am frustrated by not having as much success as I want, I am frustrated by the fear that keeps me from trying to publish my memoir, which I actually think is very good.  I keep thinking I’ll be happier when this happens, or this, or this.  More money, more success, more money, more success.

I also know that this is complete bullshit, but it doesn’t let go easily, does it?  Everywhere I look I find America.

Everywhere I look I find myself.

Acceptance, acceptance of what is.  Happiness is not back pain.  Nor is it the battle to dominate the back pain, to dredge up every unresolved loss in the hope of curing it all, in one fell swoop, so I can be perfectly healed.  Perfectionism, again.

Everywhere I look I find myself.

So, in search of a practice, I go to the mat, to the cushion, to the chair on the back porch, to the notebook, to the computer, to the theatre, to the making of film.

Funny, I love each one of those things.  If they’re not work, if they’re not shoulds, they become joy.

It’s not the what.  It’s the how.  If I can let myself love all of it, if I can trust that the pain will go away again, that I will find the right path into freedom…or not, and have to accept that, there is peace.

I’m already on the path.  I already know the answer.

There is this one moment.  In which to be alive.

Let everything fall away.

And the singing of what is…makes its song.

Mindbody Syndrome Is Making Me…

crazy?  Mad as hell?

So, confession.  I just wrote a 1500 word blog that I then took down.  Why?  Because it pissed me off.  I just can’t write about my mother and mindbody syndrome and tell less than the full truth without making the mindbody syndrome worse.  (I’ve now put the blog back up with a little more of the anger in.  My back’s telling me that this version is much better.)

I would say that mindbody syndrome is killing me, but then all this New Age crap about the power of words starts to freak me out.  And the truth is, according to Sarno, it can kill you.  And it can certainly drain the quality of your life right down through the very nicely polished hardwood floors.

I’ve been finding that if I stop doing the writing about unconscious feelings, in about four days the hip pain comes back.  Maybe I’m a slow learner.  Maybe my brain is resistant to reprogramming.  Maybe, according to Sarno, I need psychotherapy.  NOT!  I think Sarno doesn’t realize that in therapy you talk about your feelings, you don’t experience them.  Your feelings come from thoughts, therapists seem to think, since they are always reframing your experience for you as if you didn’t have a mind of your own.

But, as I write about the feelings, suppressed, repressed, unconscious or just not experienced fully, I keep having to ask, what am I supposed to do with all this?  Take up a life of crime?  Paint murals featuring the color red?

I seem to be uncovering grief.  My partner said to me, “I don’t think I see you so well.  I don’t think I let myself see you.”

Did I mention on her good days she is a lesbian purveyor of harmony?  And really loving?  I mean, I am enduring couples therapy for a reason.

Today I’m going to go through my rage list and see if there are things I need to do to change my life.  I’m going to check and see if there’s anything I can do about the things that piss me off.  But I know already that many of the things on the list are things I can’t change.  All I can do is write about them.  Have a voice.  Expose the hurt beneath the rage, show, that as I always say, I may be obnoxious, but I always have a REASON.

So here I am.  Spending two hours on mindbody work to make up for slacking.  And yes, my back feels better.

Metta for all of us, with our powerful, uncontrolled and unconscious minds.  As we try to find peace in the storm.

PS-Yesterday I picked up Newsweek and read about the status of women all around the globe.  If you want to get really angry, read that article.  It will almost make you fall in love with Hillary Clinton.  (Except she’s just not that lovable.  I sometimes admire her, and I respect her commitment to empowering women and girls, but I just can’t fall in love with her.  I guess she’s not my type.)

Divided, Divided, Divided…the More Honest Version

Onto book 2 by John Sarno, The Divided Mind.

So, the most challenging part of Sarno’s work is his referencing of Freud.  Sarno objects to Freud being out of vogue, and champions Freud’s understanding of the unconscious.  He brings back the term hysterical and contrasts it with the term psychosomatic or mindbody.

I am a feminist.  Since I’ve been highly involved in multiculturalism and diversity, working to advocate for people of color and gays and lesbians for the past decade, my focus on feminist issues has fallen into the background.  Sure, SLAMBoston always has a play about women, usually older women (though I often end up arguing with the director, who often wants to cast young).  The fact is, the work of Freud is a feminist issue.  Why?  Not because he was wrong about the unconscious.  Not because women didn’t present with hysterical and psychosomatic issues.  Freud’s work was anti-feminist because he discovered fairly early on that the origin of the women’s pain was sexual abuse, that this abuse was very common; and, when he presented this idea, his prestige in Vienna and Europe looked to evaporate very quickly.  So, he recanted, announced that the women were imagining that they had been sexually abused, and then came up with the Electra and Oedipus complexes.

At the same time, Janet, in France, made the same findings.  He worked with women, believed the stories of abuse and guess what?  No one has ever heard of him.  Now we know that 1 in 3 women and and 1 in 6 men is sexually abused before the age of 18.  Freud was just wrong.

I studied psychology in college for a couple years before turning definitively to the arts, and I was as fascinated with Freud’s ideas as I was with Wilhelm Reich’s or Carl Rogers’.  But, I’ve pretty much hated Freud since learning about his betrayal of his almost exclusively female patients.  He set feminism and psychology back decades.

So, I have resistance to Sarno’s work when he gets into praising Freud.  It’s a challenge to accept that yes, Freud was a genius and some of his work was sound, even though he was a coward and cared deeply about recognition in favor of the truth.

I am ruthless about the truth, especially with myself.  (Hence the rewrite of this blog in which I admit I didn’t enjoy at all my mother’s unconscious rage.)

So, I find myself, over and over again, thinking about my German mother.  We used to joke that she couldn’t breathe without Dristan and couldn’t shit without Ex-Lax.  She had headaches.  She’d retreat to the bedroom, turn down the lights, and ask to have the washcloth on her head refreshed (run under a tap of cold water.)  I could feel the pain coming off her in waves when I entered the room, and her voice grew young, childlike.  “Please,” she’d say.  “Get me a chocolate soda.”  Or, “You don’t mind making dinner tonight, do you?”

If I’m honest, I have to say that I felt rage in the moment, at 10, at 12, at 16, at 22.  Finally, at 28, I said, “Here’s a cup of Lipton soup.  I hope you feel better.  I’m going out.”  (I came home to her vacuuming the house in a fury.  Which was probably the unconscious rage coming out.)

I also felt sick.  And scared.  When another person’s doing that kind of weird unconscious dance, you know it, especially if that person is your mother.

Sarno says that we judge psychosomatic illness as hypochondria, that we believe the motivation for the illness is the secondary gain of being taken care of, or not having to work or be responsible.  He refutes this strongly.  He says psychosomatic or mindbody illness has a primary gain, which is denial of unconscious feelings of pain and rage.

I think of my mother, married to a man she didn’t love, who, in fact, frightened her.  I think of my mother, with six children, money problems, nothing in her life secure.  I think of her rigid ideas of what life should be, her perfectionism, the pristine cleanliness of our house, how carefully she dressed us for church, for gatherings, how much she cared about how things looked.  I think of my grandmother, who I loved, drinking gin and laughing with complete abandon, then getting in her convertible and revving down the street.  I think of the look on my mother’s face as she watched my grandmother drive away.  “Call me when you get home,” she’d say.

My mother was angry.  I imagine looking from the inside of her mind outward, all the high standards, the need to be perfect, the need to feel safe, in control, and everything chaos around her–as it had been in her family growing up–I imagine her seeing no end to any of it, and the despair and rage of that, I imagine she knows she is more intelligent than her husband, but has no power to change any of his decisions, no power to have a life in the world that is as big as his.  And all she can do with the rage is demand things she can never get, because even children are uncontrollable.  So much of the pain of her life has to go underground–if she admits the pain of her situation, it will be too much.

And so my mother lies down, she turns the lights low, she sinks into headache, stomach ache, sinus problems, constipation.  She has fatigue, she can’t take it any more.  She must rest.

Of course, her children, including me, all inherited this way of coping.  We absorbed it through our skin.  “I don’t feel good,” we’d say, echoing both our mother’s words and tone.

No, Mom, you don’t.  Your life wouldn’t make anyone feel good.  You are not happy.

And, frankly, I’m pissed you didn’t do something to make it better, sooner.  That I had to talk you into leaving, changing, that I had to help you get your first two jobs.  I mean, really.  In the 70’s, women were grabbing life with both hands, going to college, coming out, deciding enough already.  Not everyone lay in bed asking for a damn soda.

I’m not supposed to say or feel this because I am spiritual, and a feminist, and I’m supposed to be over it.  But here’s the thing–when I pretend that I’m so spiritual and feminist and over it, I have to go lie down and ask for my partner to bring me things because my F&*^ing back starts to hurt.

New Age spirituality, along with the major religions, tells us to forgive, to let go, to have gratitude for our blessings.  My mother eventually left my father, she eventually fell in love, she found financial security and her children grew up, leaving her much less burdened.  But the illnesses continued–her brain had tracked to this one way, and if she had found John Sarno, I doubt very much she would have believed his findings.  In 1994, my mother was hospitalized for a heart attack that turned out to be indigestion.  By then she’d remarried.  By then she had all the security she could want.

The reality of our lives is held in our bodies and our emotions.  Without volition, we try not to feel or know the truth.  But perhaps if the back pain or sinus or whatever gets bad enough, we’ll be forced to pay attention.

So, here I am.  I have a bigger life than my mother had.  It has spanned four or five continents, the founding and running of businesses (however haphazardly I did this), activism, publication, performing, creating, creating, and more creating.  I have found a greater measure of financial security in the last ten years (I know what it is to REALLY be a starving artist).   And I have some of her frustration–no matter how much I have, I want more, I want bigger, I want impact.  I am, like her, a perfectionist.  I also need to change this legacy of focusing on physical pain so the unfaceable or unacceptable emotions don’t surface.  I can’t keep telling myself I’m more grateful or accepting or spiritual than I am.  Or, like her, I will end up in some hospital with an ailment no one can define or fix.

Anything can be used to avoid the truth of what we feel.  And the truth is difficult, there is no doubt.  Buddhism teaches that attachment and aversion are the root of suffering, but I can’t lie and say I’m unattached when the truth is I’m attached as hell.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Peace, peace, the real thing, without lies about a gratitude that is only icing on the rage cake.  Peace and metta for those of us who struggle to know the truth.  May we find peace with what is.  Even if, today, we have absolutely no idea how that will come to pass.

PS–I am still meditating every day.  I’m about to do that now.  After I work on the rage list.  I’ll need to meditate after that.

Abandonment Is for Wusses

Last night, after couple’s therapy, my partner and I were lying on her bed and I went on a roll about abandonment.

It’s the word.

Well, kind of.  I like the word “abandon.”  Playing with abandon, throwing yourself at life with abandon, abandoning yourself to the moment, dancing with abandon.  All those things are really kind of cool.

BUT.  I can’t imagine saying anything less cool than, “I have abandonment issues.”  Frankly, I have to prevent a full-body cringe every time I hear it.

My partner has abandonment issues.  No, she has ABANDONMENT ISSUES.  I know this is normal, and the most common reason to go to therapy.  Still, last night I said:

“Abandonment is for wusses.  I don’t have abandonment issues.  I have issues of loss.  And loss is cool.  Everybody has loss and dealing with loss is cool.”

She started laughing and the laugh said, You are ridiculous beyond what words can describe.

Then I said:  “I also have issues around betrayal, exploitation and sudden death, which may not make me cool, but which do make me a heavy-hitter, and that’s kind of cool.”

She said, “I’m feeling near my limit with these comparisons.”

I don’t think I said that I was cooler than her, but that was definitely in the subtext.

She said, “Laughing about abandonment is only funny for so long.”

I said, “Okay.”

I mean, we had just been to couples therapy.  So I had to put a limit on my own obnoxiousness.  Then, because we had just been to couples therapy I had to say my feelings.  Gross.  Very close to cringe-worthy.  Embarrassing.  Because of course I was freaked out by the couples therapy going well.  Tipping my expectations right out of the bowl, so to speak.  I felt anxious.  I might even have felt scared.  Which is not cool, but at least isn’t self-pitying, although it may be on the verge, which would be cringe-worthy.


I still think abandonment issues are uncool.

Even the term…it’s cringe-worthy.  It’s psychobabble.

It just is.

The Sheepdog Takes Round 3! BING! BING! BING!

So, I may have to stay in couples therapy.

After last week’s visit with the Poodle, the Sheepdog admittedly looked pretty good.  Then, we come into her office and she holds up a timer (all proud of herself) and says, “I’m setting this for 50 minutes so it gives us a 5 minute warning.”

Running on time.  BING!

Then she says, “I’ve found out about your insurance and you’ve overpaid me by quite a bit.  I can either write you a check or you can just have it on credit for the copayments of the next four and half sessions.”


Then she says, “Lyralen, I’m noticing your chair is almost out the door.  Would you like me to sit further away?”


Then she laughed at three of my jokes.  No bing, but still.

Then I made a joke about my partner’s abandonment issues.  The Sheepdog noticed my partner laughing with this glee she gets sometimes and asked about why my jokes make my partner happy.  My partner’s kind of a sap, so she started crying.

And then, get this, the Sheepdog even laughed when I said, “My partner says you remind her of Mr. Rogers.”

She said, “Wait until you see my sweaters in the winter.”

(I could decide that’s a little creepy, because who knows if I’ll be able to stay past October, but I’m letting it go because making a joke at her own expense is definitely another almost bing.  Hell, it’s a BING.)

Of course, I had to apologize to my partner afterward for blowing her cover and embarrassing her.  BUT, I explained that what I really wanted to say was all about how we’d nicknamed the Sheepdog the Sheepdog and did she really change shapes in between appointments.  It was one of those times when you say something kind of inappropriate to keep yourself from saying something REALLY inappropriate.

Plus, we actually talked about a relationship dynamic that’s kind of knotty, and got some insight and felt closer.  It’s probably a bandaid, I tell myself, but I can’t deny the BING!s.

So, I am doomed to couples therapy for at least a few more sessions.  If not longer.  But if I think about that…well, I don’t want to think about that.

Metta for me, in denial about couples therapy for as long as I can make the denial last.

PS–Today was appointment day.  In the overwhelming amount of maintenance I seem to require is a thing called low lights–in other words, hairdressing appointments.  The stylist asks what I’m up to and for some reason I was inspired to talk about mindbody syndrome and then two of the women are writing down the name of the book and the doctor I see.  Sometimes when I get inspired to say things it’s weird like that.  Synchronous.  Like I know.

PPS–I was not inspired to make the Mr. Rogers comment.  That was impulsive, clearly.  But funny.  Even my partner eventually laughed.

The Sad News Is…Grief.

Okay, so, the back pain started to return.

Now, I’ve been having major resistance to reading Sarno’s book, then writing about rage, and writing about rage and writing about rage.  I mean, it’s not exactly a happiness-inducing activity.  Sarno also suggests that when the pain twinges, you can yell at it and tell it you’re not fooled; you know it’s really emotion being covered up.  But that just made me feel like I was verbally abusing myself.

Frankly, I’ve been a bit grateful to my mind for protecting me from all this information.  I mean, it keeps coming.  Yesterday I realized that while there are solid intellectual reasons for not believing in God, my intense rage at the Catholic Church for its anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-body, original-sin-born-bad, shaming, guilt-inducing dogma probably had a role.

This is not rocket science.  But, since a nun saved my life, it does create internal conflict, and according to Sarno, that creates back pain.

But, but, but.  I don’t want the back pain to return!  And I do know that I always, always, always need to find my own way, even when a theory is fundamentally sound.

So, last night and this morning, I picked up When Children Grieve.  And immediately started to cry.  Both times.

I’ve written a lot about being reactive, but the most embarrassing fact is that therapy or no therapy (and there has been therapy, however unhelpful or mostly unhelpful), I have trouble moving on emotionally from the losses in my life.  Or maybe I just can’t keep up with them.  I’ve said that I’ve entered the unknown, and it was grief that always propelled me into that darkness.  But there are these sorrows, these losses, that, ten and twenty years later, still lance me when I talk about them, still make me cry.

I quoted When Children Grieve before, about the myths of healing from loss.  But this morning I read the chapters on grieving alone, being told not to feel bad, and having to be strong for others.  I read this:  “In all our years of working with grieving people, one of the most common and difficult-to-overcome problems is the child who was cast in or adopted the role of taking care of everyone else.”

I am the oldest of six children.  Case in point.

Oldest children are pains in the ass.  We think we’re right, we try to do everything ourselves, we are perfectionists, we take responsibility for things that we shouldn’t, we enable, we undermine, we try to control.  We want to be one-up, because our real needs have always been the least important, including to ourselves, and feeling more important in our opinions or in having control, will, we think, help compensate for the loneliness.  We have no idea how to grieve–not that many people do–how to stop, how to listen to our vulnerable, troubled hearts.

I wonder if we go to therapy to learn how to grieve.  I’m reading this book, about how children are told “don’t feel bad” or “it will get better” or even “if you have to cry, go to your room.”  I’m reading about hiding when we are sad, because being sad has been seen as embarrassing.  I’m reading that we isolate when we’re upset because we’re terrified of being judged or criticized for our feelings, for how things get to us.

It sort of brings everything together.  We go to therapy because it’s supposed to be a place where people are allowed to be upset.  We want to be rid of our painful feelings so we can be happy again, but we also want someone, anyone, to take us in when we’re not strong, or happy, or responsible.  We want a place in which to be fully human.  Only of course, paying an individual for permission to be human isn’t the same as allowing yourself to be human, all the time, and having people love you for it.

In the Meisner acting technique I teach, actors are taught to respond spontaneously to each other.  They give up the control of their emotions and let the other actor affect them as deeply as possible.  They drop the socially acceptable; they drop the mask of “I’m okay.”  And the connective energy grows so intense–the kind of intensity you can’t look away from on stage or screen.  But for the actor–and I know since I trained in this technique before I started to teach it–it is an education in opening to everything you didn’t know you felt, or exposing what you knew you might feel but would never show.  And most people LOVE it.  The only way to make a mistake is to hide who you are or to pretend you feel something you don’t.  So suddenly, in an acting class, it’s okay to be who you are and to create from that.  I fell in love with Fred Kareman the first time I understood that this was what he was teaching me.

How we need a place of freedom.  Meisner actors say terrible things to each other, things that in life would be a reason to end a relationship, but since the words don’t matter, since only the co-creative sharing of energy, of relating physically, emotionally, spiritually is the focus, since everyone agrees ahead of time not to take things personally, it becomes…the most connected experience some of us ever have.  We stop pretending that we don’t get angry, that we don’t hurt, that we aren’t attracted to each other (even though we’re married to other people)…and we can be this honest because we agree not to act out our feelings, only to use them in the creation of art, and as a secondary consequence of commitment to story.

I have never been taught how to grieve.  I stumbled into it and found my way out, but since I can’t quite articulate what happened both the times I went to that place, I struggle to say why I let go.  Was it because I was loved?  Was it because I faced everything about the relationship?  Was it because I found people who could listen?  Was it because I didn’t stop the emotions as they came?  Because I stopped pretending?

My partner read one of last week’s blogs and said to me, “It’s so sad.  That you must have wanted therapy to work so badly, and it just didn’t.”

So, yes, when I was in my early twenties, confused about why I felt the way I felt about…my family, certainly, but also pretty much everything except travel and writing, I had a deep hope that there was an easy way to get clear.  And I still grieve for who I was, and how hard the road became as the therapists…well, you know.  Fell asleep, fired me for being too healthy, or told me I was so attractive.

I still grieve for moves my family made when I was in grade school, one school to the other, leaving behind the school where I’d been able to overcome being bullied to one where I might face those same issues again.

I grieve for Rick, who wanted one more summer, who wanted to be loved by a man who would see his gentleness and longing, his appreciation of beauty, and who died, as so many men in the 80’s and 90’s did, worn down to bones covered by skin and not much else.

I grieve for the funerals I was not allowed to attend, for the explanations I wasn’t given when my grandfather had a heart attack at our house, for the cousin I loved who disappeared.  And all the others.  I grieve.  I am not, at this moment, trying to be strong for anyone.

And so there is hope.

Because I know, absolutely, that each person I meet has his or her own list. That underneath whatever is being shown, is hurt, pain, hope, courage, truth.

I hope because as I write this the twinges of back pain start to disappear.

It’s not just rage that morphs into physical pain.  It is the emotional reality of my life.  And while just naming it, writing about it, helps but leaves me too raw, there are steps to grieving.  Learnable, requiring nothing but courage and honesty to attempt, these steps create the possibility of not just a pain free back, but of emotional resolution where it is most needed.

I must review what is unfinished.  I must look.  That is my first step.

I believe in healing.  I believe I must find my own way.  I believe I must not do it alone.

I believe this goes for all of us.

So.  Metta for all sentient beings, that we may be free from suffering, that we may find peace with what is, including all the losses we have known.

PS–Of course I’ll include quotes on the other steps to grief resolution once I review them all and decide I agree!  Once I try them and see if they all work as well as I think.  I’m just at the beginning!

Right Now, Today, It’s All about WRITING

I thought of doing a 7 day stint in which I did not allow myself to talk about therapy.  But we’re seeing the Sheepdog on Monday, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to stick to it.

But in the meantime…

I’ve spent some of the last few days writing and rewriting plays.  I wrote FEMALE GERIATRIC ZOMBIES UNITE and then played with it some, I revised THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD, PART 1, and I also did some work on VESSEL OF GLASS.

Of course this means nothing to you, dear reader, but to me…well, I wrote a comedy about an insane director and her equally insane assistant director as they cast a play for a demographic they don’t…well, enjoy.  Then I revised an expressionist movement piece about grief and awakening.  I know that the Buddha didn’t come to his awakening through grief–it was compassion that led him to explore his own mind to find an end to suffering.  But I have awoken through grief, as most of us do (if we awaken), so I wrote a Buddhist piece about grief.  In it, a child is tortured by her own mind, the equivalent, for us contemporary people, of Mara (who tortured the Buddha).  I always think that if you’re going to write about human suffering, you have to balance the content with form and language that is utterly beautiful.  Maybe I’m strange, but I think sorrow can be beautiful.  Think of the arias sung by Maria Callas, or the tragedies of Shakespeare.  Darkness is more about refusing to suffer when that is what life happens to serve up.  Refusal is addiction, is acting out, is sadism, is going unconscious about who we are and how we go about getting what we want.  So yes, accepting suffering without self-pity is beautiful.

Finally, I worked on a rewrite of Vessel of Glass.  I have more work to do since a couple years ago I had a staged reading at the Nora Theatre, and there were lots of suggestions (most of which I disagreed with, but not all) that I need to incorporate without ruining the poetry of the language.  Yes, perfectionism again.  I want every word in everything I write to be rhythmically correct.  No weird sounds, no odd repetitions–it’s like all writing is poetry and every word, every sound, every consonant and vowel…counts.  Or you lose the song in the language.

When I write, the world disappears and it isn’t that I’m all lost in story, it’s that I’m lost in the concentration of making meaning clearer and beauty…just making beauty.  It’s miraculous, to enter this place, to get to feel the expression of what is inside me.  In Vessel of Glass, three women try to love each other, and the obstacles to the love are difficult.  The first and youngest woman has been abused, the second is a closeted lesbian nun and the third is a menopausal mother superior who had no idea she could want a child or that this particular child would show up on her doorstep.

Writing about nuns forced me into dealing with the sacred.  I was at Brandeis University on a scholarship in playwriting, and my workshop leader said, “If you have a character who is a nun, you must deal with the question of faith and God.”  I was like, “Shit.  How did I get myself into this one?”

He was right.  I am so grateful, and I am glad to be in it.  Religion, which I often hate, is nevertheless always about people trying to be better and find meaning, no matter how misguided they are.  It’s to easy to create beauty when people are trying to be better, even when they fail–no, especially when they fail and realize it (remember, sorrow accepted is beauty).

You know, all my life I have wanted to be a bird.  I wanted to grow wings, I wanted to soar like Icarus, I wanted the lift and heave in my muscles, in my body–when I do yoga, I love half moon, or handstand…any asana that takes me up and away from gravity.  Writing lifts me like that.  Not just any writing.  It has to be creative, it has to be art, it has to have poetry.

There’s a Pablo Neruda poem called POETRY that talks about this.  Here’s a part of it:

I wrote the first faint line,

faint, without substance, pure


pure wisdom

of someone who knows nothing,

and suddenly I saw

the heavens


and open,


palpitating plantations,

shadow perforated,


with arrows, fire and flowers,

the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,

drunk with the great starry


likeness, image of


felt myself a pure part

of the abyss,

I wheeled with the stars,

my heart broke loose on the wind.

This is why we write, late at night, early in the morning, whenever we can.  Nevermind the bill collectors, the houses we could have owned earlier, the trips we might have taken, children we might have had.  Nevermind the food we couldn’t buy in one year or another.  Nevermind the relationship troubles as we try to serve this god of beauty, of terrible truth.   Nevermind.  I am soaring, falling, I am lifted up, I am a bird, I have escaped the cage of daily life and nothing can ever be the same; I will never go back to being grounded in any permanent way, I will never forget, never give this up…I will stay in the wind, alive, awake and so….

I write.  I lift a pen.  I say a word.

Let there be Light.


And we are one.

Metta for everyone who loves beauty, who picks up a pen, who says a word, who dances, sings…whether in public or private.  The one extending gesture…I do this because I believe in the world still, in spite of every darkness, in spite of every flaw.

I believe.  That our beauty may save us.  One of these days.


Yesterday one of the company members who reads this blog was over and we had a very satisfying therapy-bashing session, in between watching youtube and talking art.  We got very in sync talking about therapy as rent-a-friend.  It made me think about this past company member who is an adult child of an alcoholic, and she said when she first went to therapy and the therapist told her about being an ACOA, and the shame, the feeling of needing to be in control, the low self-esteem, she felt so understood.  Then she read one of the classic ACOA books and realized the therapist probably said that stuff to every ACOA and every ACOA would feel that understood.  Suddenly it didn’t seem the therapist was so wise.  It just seemed like she’d read the right books…books anyone could read.

BUT, this is not going to be just another sounding off on therapy.  I’m not interested in the arguments about what make therapy works.  Scientifically, no one can prove that it works at all.  Anecdotally, some people swear by their therapists and give credit to their therapists for saving their lives.  And then there’s me, who wanted it to be good, only it wasn’t.  The therapists kept falling asleep, or telling me I was sexy, or telling me they loved me, or firing me for not having problems, or getting overinvolved.  And there’s my partner, who fades out of therapy with straight people, feeling as invisible as when she walked in the door.

Here’s the thing.  I once had a therapist I liked.  She was not a rent-a-friend.  Why?  Because she didn’t listen and make sympathetic noises and ask me how I felt.  She drilled me, over and over again, to figure out what my intuition told me about my life.  I’d tell her what was going on, and she’d ask questions that forced me to do the work, getting me to realize I knew what I knew.  If I really couldn’t find my way, we did guided visualizations to locate my intuition.  I’d been really intuitive since, well, birth, but had been talked out of knowing what I knew as all women (maybe all people) are.  She trained me back to listening to my very own self.  I was 28 years old.

Not rent-a-friend.

I know I’ve mentioned the therapist I pretty much tortured, which was very fun for me.  (God I miss that!)  She’d disagree with me and I’d say, “Who do you think you are, God?”  or “You could be wrong.  Is that something you even consider?”  When she asked me why I needed her to laugh at my jokes, I said, “Because they’re funny.  Maybe you should consider getting a sense of humor.”  With her, I crossed the line from provocative in an extremely irritating way to be insulting and even mildly abusive.  She’d say, “That’s over the line.”  I’d be like, “Really?  I didn’t know that.”  (I was very young.)  She’d be like, “Yeah, you have to stop that behavior.”  I was like, “Oh. Okay.”

Not rent-a-friend.  I mean, what friend would have put up with me?  AND, I didn’t even like that therapist for most of the years I saw her: I still don’t think we were very compatible.  But she taught me boundaries.  It was education.

Therapy has no standards.  Some therapists are licensed, some are not.  If a therapist loses his or her license, s/he can continue to practice.  Those that are not licensed can pretty much do what they want–they are only in danger of civil action, not criminal.  The practice of therapy is so wildly diverse, and therapists often describe themselves as eclectic, so you can’t really tell what they do when you try to interview them over the phone.  They’re like, “Come in and pay me $175/hour to see if we mesh.”

I am an ARTIST.  A REACTIVE artist.  I don’t have $175 to throw at therapists to find out if I hate them as much as I think I do.

The therapist who commented on this blog talked about the value of the therapeutic relationship, of “clicking.”  It’s who you work with, not what school of therapy they practice.  It’s the relationship that heals.  I have heard this over and over again.

Boy does it sound like rent-a-friend.

I had a life crisis when I was 30, when I was grieving and my two best friends stayed overnight at my house, they called me every day, they helped with meals, they told me they loved me.  No therapist, ever, could bring that level of closeness into a life.  I have known commitment; I have been held in my deepest suffering by people who truly loved me.  That is what I think of when I think of healing.  Or friendship.  Or love.  And my friends were flawed, as I am–we let each other down, we hurt each other, sometimes badly, but that’s part of the game, that’s part of the learning, that’s how we find out who we are.

I question whether turning to a therapist removes the necessity of healing with each other.  I think our society has grown so mechanistic and disconnected that rent-a-friend is what we know of intimacy.  It’s true; there are very few people I would grieve with, I would hold, I would set aside the demands of my life to show up for, to commit to, but there are some.  The times I have given or received this kind of love have been so meaningful…and no, you don’t want to live at that level of intensity, but it’s a gift when it comes to you and you know it’s a path you are meant to walk.  How we duck it.  How we want to pretend there is another way.  But knowing each other, deeply…how else can healing happen in our lives?  Paying someone to listen to our problems…it’s not the same.  It can’t be.  And thank whatever/whoever for that.

I believe in healing.  I do find paying for attention humiliating, so if I go to therapy–any therapy, couples therapy included–I am not seduced by compassion or chemistry or “click.”  I want education.  I don’t want to be told how dysfunctional I am and that I don’t know what I know.  I want to learn more, I want to grow, I want someone who can teach me something I haven’t yet been able to learn any other way.  I mean, I know what it feels like to be a twenty-one year old woman sitting in a room talking about her pain while the fifty-year-old therapist snores in her chair.  The thought of rent-a-friend, after that, just makes me nauseated.

I fantasize about creating a way of healing that will be as community-based as shamans in a tribe–people who are grown up to serve.  I listen to my partner do Internal Family Systems co-counseling on the phone, I watch the way she and her long-term partner in IFS heal each other, though they have never met in person.  I think, there must be a way.  To stop all the pretending–that we’re okay, that success is all that matters, that we don’t need each other as much as we do, that we don’t need a spiritual life with each other as well as on our own, that we don’t need, perhaps, to grow our own food, or find some way of getting closer to the earth and her rhythms.  I dream there is a way to be closer than church community, and I come back to art, to the communion of two actors in a co-creative story, and I know that even this isn’t enough, though it’s part of it.  I am looking for a way to take my turn in holding what is broken, and to take my turn in being held.  I am looking to be able to share joy and levity in between the broken times.  Not just in my marriage, not just with my closest friends. But in the world…a remade world that isn’t so lonely.

There’s always Silenceville.  There’s always poetry.  There’s always the trust that if I let go, it will simply appear.

But not in therapy.  I just don’t believe that the real healing happens inside those office doors.


PS–Yes, to my therapist friends, I have been holding back on telling you that this is what I really think.  Because I LOVE you and I did have that therapist who told me that holding my tongue might be a skill to consider.  (She’s the one who needed the sense of humor.)  BUT, the whole thing about the blog is it can either get us talking in new ways, or you can just pretend you didn’t read it and then we can go on as we are.  I’m not going to bring it up.  At least, I think I’m not.

My Rage List from the Mindbody Work

…has 77 items on it.  I just typed them up from the handwritten notebook where I’ve been downloading them.

I should say, 77 and counting.

This is not a joke.  I expect to get to 777 before I’m done, though that may take a while.

Having to be perfect is #9.  Then there were a lot about therapists.

A therapist responded to my blog about therapy today.  That made the list, too.

And the fact that the Red Sox are the roller coaster baseball team so the emotions are too intense.  And I happen to be in love with David Ortiz.

It turns out I am enraged that I am leaving the theatre company and also enraged I ever started it in the first place.

This is all about making what’s unconscious, conscious.  Or, stop making sense.  The Talking Heads really were, always, so smart.

So.  I have decided to go item by item and get really specific about what exactly pisses me off and what exactly I would do if I had no moral center and wouldn’t go to jail.

I’ve already done this with one item, and I have to say, my mind has good reason to be afraid that I could turn into a serial killer.  Of course, most people would probably already be serial killers if they knew what the item was, but I’m not telling.

Hiding who I am is also on the rage list, but this a public forum, and I’m already right on the edge of what I can get away with.  So I guess I’ll have to stay mad about that one for a while.

Rage, rage, rage.  I dare you to open your door into this vast uncharted country and see what you find there.  It may not be pretty, but it will change your life.

I guarantee it.