Tuesday, November 16, 2010


I went on vacation. For me vacations are not about the places we go but the people we see.  I think I get this from my mother.  Although we went to a lot of places as kids, it was almost always on the way to see family and it was about our family spending time together away from the everyday life that pulled us apart.  As a child I did not always appreciate being separated form my friends for extended periods during the summer but now, I wouldn't trade the memories for anything in the world.

So on my vacation, I drove to Kansas City, Springfield, MO, Bentonville AK, and St. Louis to see daughters, sisters, nieces, brother-in-law and a couple of long time friends.  Because I don't own a car and drive much it is always fun to rent a car and get on the road.  For two weeks I could pretend I owned the red Jeep I've always wanted.  I find driving for the most part to be relaxing though Judy and Rachel might now agree riding as passengers.

But what I have noticed over the years when I go on vacation and then return to my normal everyday life is that I am ready for change.  I think the relaxation spurs me to reexamine my life and I find things I need to improve.  I have made a lot of changes over the last year and coming back to real life I began to feel overwhelmed by all the things I was trying to do:  make new friends, date, work more, and of coarse the usual, write, lose weight, and keep my house clean.  I felt I was needing a new way to keep it all in perspective.  I have also over the years complained that although I feel I have made enormous internal changes, my behavior really hasn't changed much.

The Buddha said "When the student is ready, the teacher will come."  I have found this to be absolutely true over my life.  And I believe it is true now.

A prevalent movement in psychology has been Cognitive Therapy.  When I started as a psychiatric nurse over 30 years ago I studied it and I am still teaching it to my patients today.  Cognitive therapy is the idea that our thoughts control our emotions and not the other way around.  If you can change your thinking then you can change your emotions.  For instance if you are in school and you flunk a test, how you feel about that is dependent on how you think about it.  If you say to your self, "I knew I was never going to make it in college.  I knew I was dumb and stupid," you are going to feel much different than if you say to yourself "this is just one test.  Now I know what the instructor is looking for and I will buckle down and work really hard for the next test."  I have used this technique frequently over the years and it has helped me dismiss much depressive thinking.

A newer model to western psychology comes from eastern philosophy:  Mindfulness.  In a nut shell, this idea says that thoughts are not good or bad.  They are just thoughts.  You don't need to change them, you just need to observe them, and then let them float away with out letting them effect you.  I find Mindfulness to be a much more difficult practice.  The idea is to live in the moment and not the past or the future.  In both models the important thing is to be aware of your thoughts.  Cognitive focuses on them, Mindfulness wants you not to focus on them.  Mindfulness would really like to to think less and just enjoy the moment.  Hard, hard to do.

But as I was doing research into mindfulness on Sunday when the unit was very quiet and I had down time, I came across a link to another idea that I think falls somewhere in between and makes sense to me.

A woman named Byron Katie had been depressed for a long time, sometimes to the extent of not being able to get out of bed for long periods of time.  One day she had a thought that changed her life.  "The only time we suffer is when we believe a thought that argues with what is."  Its not that the thought is bad it is just that we hang on to them and believe them to be true.  As usual I am way behind.  Her book was published in 2002.  She says that there are only 3 kinds of business.  Your business, other people's business and God's business which she defines as reality.  And we only need to deal with our business and at some point we don't have to deal with that either because it takes care of itself.  At work on Sunday, I had printed out an excerpt from her book and read it on my train ride home. 

While I was on vacation, my roommate, Kim, was kind enough to take care of the cats.  I wanted to get her something for her efforts and I remembered that she likes hard cider.   So on Sunday I got off the train at a stop after mine to go to the liquor store to get the cider.  When I walked in, there were two men standing and talking to each other.  They appeared to work there but ignored me when I walked in.  I wanted someone to come up to me and ask to help me.  It didn't happen.  It is a large store. I looked around but started to become frustrated and angry because I didn't have a clue where to start.  What were the thoughts going through my head?  Maybe that I am stupid because I can't find what I'm looking for.  I'm not important enough for someone to help me.  If those guys were at all helpful they would sell more stuff, what dummies.  Probably something along those lines.  But then I stopped and remembered what I had just been reading.  The reality was that I was in a liquor store looking for some hard cider.  Nothing more nothing less.  My mind cleared and I simply went over to the gentlemen asked them if they worked there and if they had hard cider.  They did and they did, and one of them took me over to where it was.  My suffering was ended and I accomplished my goal.  Very simple. 

I don't know yet how this is going to translate to all areas of my life.  I am going to buy her book today.  My belief is that if I can get away from all the distorted thinking that I have and embrace reality maybe the behavior changes I want to make (writing more, eating less, cleaning my house, enjoying my new friends, managing my money better will all fall into place.   I will keep you posted.