Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

I love Halloween - it's a day of fun and fantasy, when anyone can be anything, and everyone from the littlest kid to the most mature grownup can try on an alternate identity... just for fun (and candy). Somehow when we put on a costume or a mask, it gives us permission to cast aside that other, invisible mask we wear every day. We get to cut loose and let out some hidden side of ourselves - from the playful pirate to the slutty nurse.

This is the first year in a while that I haven't dressed up for Halloween (too much going on, sadly), but I'm looking forward to resuming the fun next year! In the meantime, have a safe, happy and SPOOKY one!

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Tough Homework Assignment

In my Advanced Counseling Theories class, our homework assignment for this week was to answer this question: "Has the movement of your life so far been consistent with your values as you understand them?"

Whew. It would be way easier to answer a question about Freud or Adler... something I could look up in a book, cite references, and move on with my merry little life. Even something mildly introspective that would ask me about my opinions or feelings, here and now, would be pretty easy to crank out in a couple of hours.

But this question is extra hard, not just because it implies that I need to be able to articulate my values in some way, but because it asks me about my behavior up to this point. The temptation, of course, is just to say "yes," and move on. Sure, I've been basically a good person (mostly) -- and I'm not lying awake at night, racked with guilt over my countless transgressions. So that must mean that my life basically aligns with some internal set of values, right?

Maybe. But maybe not. How often in my life have I stopped to ask myself whether my behavior, desires, and reactions fit in with my values? For that matter, how often have I stopped to consider what my values really are?

I think we often tend to qualify our values in terms of social norms, particularly within a certain group. We identify with our home culture or religion in an assumptive way, and probably only notice our values when they come into conflict with those around us. In fact, it's easiest to talk about values in the negative - as in, the things we don't agree with or wouldn't do.

You hear a lot of this during election season, when advocates of all positions are quick to point out the evils of the other side. We love to talk about what is wrong during election season - whether it's big corporations or big government, war or abortion, campaign procedures or the lifestyle of the candidates. But we so seldom talk about what is right. And even less often do we focus on how each of us, individually, can do right in the world.

It seems that it's much harder to talk about our values in the positive -- what we actually believe and do each day. I would say that one of my core values is loving-kindness toward others, and that sounds lovely, but how am I living that out? I'm generally nice to people, particularly those I like, and I'm lucky enough to work in a field that allows me to show kindness and compassion as a daily part of my profession. Okay, good.

But what else am I doing? Do I hold back and bite my tongue when I have a juicy piece of gossip about someone? Heck, no! Am I giving my time to help those in need as often as I could? Not so much. And I have some great rationalizations -- irresistible temptation, my crazy schedule, hectic life, my own challenges...

Of course, there's no way to live out any one value or conviction perfectly, but how do I know if I am even coming close? And if I never stop to list my values "as I understand them," how can I even check myself against it? Is it just a gut feeling? Do I assume that I am consistent with values unless that sinking feeling of conscience tells me otherwise? Or am I required to be more proactive with the way I live my life?

It seems as though my main answer to the homework question has only been more questions. Can't I just write about Freud instead???

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Time to Heal

In the Jewish tradition, we are currently in the middle of the Days of Awe, the ten days between Rosh Hashanah (the new year) and Yom Kippur (the day of atonement). By Wednesday night, we'll be fasting, afflicting our bodies and souls to allow space for reflection and repentance.

Yom Kippur has always been one of my favorite holidays. Not because it's fun to go hungry and thirsty for 24 hours or to sway with dizziness while standing in synagogue near the end of the holiday... but because I love the idea of taking time out of our busy lives to try to right some of the wrongs we've caused throughout the previous year. It's a time not just to acknowledge our imperfections, but to really own them, and do our best to make amends for those who've been hurt by our stumblings and missteps.

Yom Kippur is a day of taking stock within ourselves, and taking time to make amends when possible. We have to fight off our impulse to view ourselves in the best possible light, to sweep errors and flaws under the rug. Instead, we have to get in touch with our humanity at its most broken and imperfect, and through this process allow ourselves the opportunity for redemption.

So, I apologize.

For all the hurt and inconvenience that my vanity, self-centeredness, scatter-brained behavior, crazy schedule, need to control, gossip and all my other flaws have caused, I am truly sorry.

To those that I hurt either knowingly or by accident, in big ways and small - I apologize. Sometimes my intentions have been good and my errors careless, and other times I have operated from vanity, laziness, jealousy and pettiness. I am sorry.

I am responsible for my impact on those that I love and those I do not know; and while I can never perfectly control that impact, I must always try to be aware of it and improve.

I invite those I have hurt or slighted in the past year to please let me know how I can make amends now or in the future. If I owe you an apology, a hug or a change in our relationship, please speak up and help me take responsibility.

To be honest, it's scary to open myself up and look at all the unpleasantness inside. But learning from mistakes and healing old wounds are the best ways to grow.

Besides, it's only once a year, right?