To know and be known

Reflecting on my week, there is a natural pause, a quiet honoring of the stories I heard and the people I sat with. The aches, pains and longings, the hurt, confusion and loss… The joys, the celebrations, the gratitude, the tears. There are moments I am overcome with my own emotions and questions around how to be present in a way that encompasses compassion, respect, and gratitude that I am privy to these stories and wisdom that would allow me to provide insight.

There are honest and raw moments of grief. As my heart aches on others behalf, and honestly, how could it not? The human experience is one of struggle. There is beauty of course, amidst the chaos and rubble, there is sheer joy and moments of happiness… yet alongside that, there is often a counterpart of fear, worry, sadness, anger, doubt- and at times, we can become weighed down, weary and even frozen.

As I walk into and alongside more and more stories, I become more fully aware of our connectedness as human beings. How powerfully similar we all are in our need for connection, to be known, to know, to share our story with another person who cares- unconditionally and without judgement. We are so desperate for it, we lose our mind without it. We spiral into anxiety, worry, fear. We plummet into doubt, even despair. We seek fillers, sometimes in desperation we are willing to fill that gaping hole with literally anything.

We grapple. We are uncertain of many things and constantly seek insight, validation, confirmation, signs that we are not alone, that someone else feels like this too, and that someone else gets it. I believe that we really come to know ourselves in the presence of others. We see ourselves, we explore who we are in our multi-faceted parts, in the company of others who are doing the same. Sometimes we like what we see, other times we do not and are forced to dig deep and explore our own strengths and weaknesses. There is inherent need for time to ones self, to pause, to be still, to reflect, to check in, to listen to our own voice and not get caught up in all the other voices. However that does not change the reality that we grow, and learn and explore and even heal in community. But we really struggle to accept this.

We both love and hate the need to connect with someone else. When we feel a deep sense of connection and things are going well in relationships, we crave them, we rest in them, we believe in their significance. However when a connection has been broken, lost, destroyed, we become aggressively defensive of our own self and our desire to be alone and not allow anyone else in or near. It is primal to protect ones self. It is how we survive. However I also believe that is can be how we die. We can isolate so well, insulating ourselves from hurt and others, that we can suffocate in silence.

We grieve. Individually. Collectively. Sometimes alone and sometimes in pairs or families or even communities. And eventually it passes, the acute grief that is. But there is residual grief and questions and longings… that we do not know what to do with, so we set aside, and we move on. We keep getting up, going to work, doing our thing, all the while, there is a nagging sense of desire. A desire to share our journey with someone who cares enough to listen, to notice and hold a space for us, to love us.

Over the past couple of weeks I made it a point to slow down, to notice the people around me, to make eye contact and not be so hurried and focused on my task or my multi-tasks, that I don’t see others. It has been a powerful experiment for me, as I look into the eyes of gas attendants, waitresses and waiters, baristas, receptionists, even those I walk past. I have seen people who are hungry for interaction, for connection. I have exchanged more smiles, more conversations and a more genuine sense of presence for the world around me, and I have been amazed.  I have seen peoples faces light up with surprise. I have heard a snippet of their day or their job duties and gotten a sense of their world, and I have had respect for them. What I have seen is people who long to be seen and who shine when they are.

We are so distracted, busy, hurried and absent minded so much of the time, we are missing out! We are missing out on seeing people around us and realizing we’re not alone. We are missing out on opportunities to share in our journeys. We are missing out on brightening someones day by looking into their eyes, by seeing them! We are missing out on a chance to show another person value, by validating their presence next to us or right in front of us. And we are missing out on giving ourselves the gift of being present where we are. Which is a powerful gift, in a world where we are often pulled in multiple directions by multiple needs/responsibilities and are often overstimulated with noise and to dos… We need to pause, slow down, see and be seen. Its not really optional. We need each other.



Why I listen

I have often filtered blank or confused stares along with comments of either confusion or bewilderment when I share what it is that I have chosen to do as my life’s work. Having wanted to be a therapist since early on in grade school, I never even doubted for a moment that I would find meaning, intrigue and joy in the work.

I have felt for a long time that many do not understand what it is that I do, let alone why it is that I continue to choose each and every week, to engage in the very personal art of talk therapy. Today I sat down at my desk hours before my first client would arrive, after doing some house keeping, finishing a cup of coffee and steeping a cup of tea for warmth and comfort, I wanted to write a little piece about why I choose to listen.

I am fairly certain that in my younger years as I dreamt of becoming a psychologist that I had no clear picture of what that would actually be like. Sure, I had an idea of what it would look like “me in a chair and my client in another or better yet a couch…” But with regards to what it would feel like, what the work would actually entail and the emotion that would be involved, I’m certain I had no clue. I loved to listen to my friends, I loved to hear their life stories and for some reason I cared deeply about their homes, their families, their relationships, their stressors. My heart would ache when there was pain or heartache. My soul would dance when there was success or accomplishment or joy. My mind would swirl when there was confusion or loss or unknown chaos. I was naturally curious. I was naturally right there, in the thick of it. Heart and soul.

By the time I had made it to my undergrad and declared my major in psychology, I was deeply rooted in relationships of all kind and my own study of people and human interaction was alive and well. In all honesty, I felt my degree had very little to do with that, if anything it discouraged me from wanting to follow through with getting the degree. It was heavy. It was dark. It was unpacking the nature of well-being and disintegrating it into sickness and dysfunction and it was disillusioning. It became all too easy for me to focus on the disease and the lack of health and absence of well-being and become consumed by diagnosis and how to treat each and every one and what ones could not be treated (according to the research at that time). I needed something more hope filled. I needed something to hold onto and not let go of, I needed to know that health and wholeness was possible, even for the most dysfunctional and diseased individuals. I had no desire to discuss those who could not get better; I simply did not adhere to this belief.

I could share many years worth of my own data on relationships and communication, both the formal and informal education that I received and I could tell of my own ups and downs along the way as I moved toward my career goal. Sparing the unnecessary details, I will share that I made it through grad-school, not without bruising and scars that still remain, but I survived and lived to tell about it. All I mean to say about that is that becoming a therapist is somewhat akin to participating in therapy. You get to become all too familiar with your own story, where you came from, what you learned, and how you carry all of those experiences and realities along with you today. It is an arduous journey. It is not for the faint of heart. It is emotional, it is taxing, it is messy and it is absolutely beautiful.

I became a talk therapist because I believed that people needed to have someone to share their life’s story with. Someone who was unbiased, unattached and unconditionally accepting of the process which one goes through to find one’s self, one’s purpose, one’s individual journey and the meaning within it.

I want to simply blast the stereotypes out of the water. I want to smother the noxious fumes that remain of misunderstood psychobabble. I want to instill a hope and a strong belief, backed up by scientific research, that people can and do change. Everyday. Through hard and meaningful work. The act of diving into psychotherapy, of being willing to look back in order to understand present and decide about the future, is stunningly beautiful and it is not to be ashamed of.

Each and every one of us, healthy, unhealthy, functional, dysfunctional… we all need to understand where we came from in order to figure out where we’re going. Somehow we need to start having the conversation about psychotherapy as preventative medicine, as holistic balance in a world that is out of balance and confused about priorities and health. There is no shame in doing the work of telling your story and integrating your past, present and future. It is powerful and life altering work and it is a privilege for me to guide in such a journey. I will go on choosing to do this work of listening, this art of living and loving and sharing in the beautiful stories of others. I am proud to participate in such a gifted kind of work.