409. Sonoran October

Image result for sonoran desert picturesSonoran, not, snorin’.

(May be related to sonorous, “capable of giving out a deep resonant sound”, but what do I know? Wikipedia claims it comes from the early Spanish explorers who dedicated the area to Senora, Our Lady. Sort of like Maryland was named for Queen Mary. Not Maryland Monroe, knuckleheads!!  Our Lady’s Desert just doesn’t sound right, though, anymore than the Swamp of the Sacred Heart does. Again, what do I know? I’m just a little lost blogger with a bald spot.)

The desert spreads across part of California, a lot of Arizona, and parts of northwest Mexico. There are no leaves to change in the Sonoran Desert, just cactuses of all types plumping with August monsoon rain under the still intense autumn sun. 90 degrees each day of the past week that we spent basking in Tucson’s glorious light, visiting the grandkids and their mom and dad, as well as the sweetest dog ever, Kermit. Yes, there was pool time too. Fret not, blogaddios, rest and recreation were sampled while I painted their rambling house and drank Mexican beer at night. What might sound drudgerous was actually more of an extended meditation with me applying rich brown paint like eyeliner onto the overabundance of a ranch house’s butter cream face. Focus in on that for a moment.

“Define the relationship”, I told my daughter. “The butter cream face just blobs all over without definition. I’ll define it with this Ultra grade Native Soil exterior satin acrylic paint from Home Depot.” And so I did, cutting the edges of door and window trim, boxing, fascia and gutters. Finally the tapioca hippo house pudding magically jelled into a caramelized camel crème brulee.

The first night at my daughter’s house we went to bed at 7 or 8 p.m., which was 10 or 11 p.m. east coast time, where we had started our day. Inevitably we awoke at 5 a.m. on Sunday, rested and interested in the half moon and full complement of stars above. I sat by their pool in the dark and leaned my head back to watch the interstellar show above. Two shooting stars flared inside of five minutes. The longer I focused, the more stars and swirls of stars I witnessed. Down the hillside wash toward the city of Tucson I thought I heard an ambulance siren, and then realized it was a coyote when six or eight other coyotes joined in on the siren song. “Aiyeeeeeeeeeoooooooooooo”. Palm trees swayed ever so slightly as the air moved in Indian ghost whispers. Sara brought coffee out in the moonlight. I breathed in as much of that spirit as I could, hoping it would stain my heart forever, leaving Night’s footprints in a wiggly trail, as if a lizard had skittered over fresh wet mud.Image result for arizona night sky

“Oh, man!  This is just a taste of all the beauty in this world, the grandeur of God’s plans, the bliss of being still. Cosmic sparkling wine and delightful appetizers. The visual equivalent of  grilled shrimp wrapped in bacon. How awesome must the main course be!”

Even as I sat inside their brick-walled front yard with the wrought iron fence, I knew packs of near sighted javelinas and sharp eyed coyotes were out beyond, scavenging for their next meal. Bobcats and mountain lions too. Rattle snakes and owls I’d never see or hear were on the predatory prowl as well, gliding noiselessly through sand and sky. The potential danger was salt on my senses, making them more acute. As the eastern sky paled, the Catalinas stood up; the fan palm trees and feathery mesquites appeared against the phosphorous background that was forming. In the dark there had been little depth or shape perception; but as the light increased, all the fine details of the landscape emerged.Image result for sonoran desert wash in morning light

Each moment brought a deep breath of satisfaction from my contented abdomen. Weather I love; location I love; the people I love, all together. “My my, hey hey. The burrito man is here to stay. It’s better to burn out than to fade away….” Rust Never Sleeps was a classic Neil Young album out of which those lyrics trickled. And yet, here in the desert rust does seem to sleep or at least nap. Without water, the oxidization of iron slows down. Just one more reason to love this place. My personal body rust is slowed also by the constant divine light that suffuses this holy land. My joints push back against gravity’s grinding grip of six decades. “My, my, hey, hey, the burrito man is here to stay…”

What is this lovely attachment I suffer for this desert scape? Something like a loom in my mind where memories are woven horizontally through vertical heartstrings into a supernatural tapestry. Words and images fail, however, to capture the palpable spirit hovering all through it, but the spirit loom racks it all together into a tight weave. A Persian rug could not be a more perfect reflection of this dream.

Image result for persian carpet images of desert designsNaturally a large part of my self longs to stay and plant lettuce and roses; to weld odd pieces of metal into defiant, eccentric desert art; and yet still blend into this desert scape like a thick-walled adobe casita. I’d like to have my cake and just nibble at the edges, consuming the annual interest while admiring the precious principal. My rational mind knows it is impossible, but my irrational mind tires of the merely possible. Magic and miracle and mystery await the curious mind that is tenuously hinged by bungee cords to “reality”. Open that  gate…

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408. Delta/Change

Image result for pictures of waves

I’m in the change business, I say, because folks come to see me to change something– their anger, their grief, their loneliness, their self esteem, their fears, their obsessions, their addictions. They come like big waves every hour.  Truly, if you think of the cumulative effect of such a torrent of dysfunctional waves capped with needy foam splashing through your door five days a week, well, it’s overwhelming. It is. Let me pause  with a redundant comment and take a breath. Whew!! Many of my clients are so consumed in emotional deserts or feeling furnaces that they forget to breathe, so I feel compelled to take deep breaths for them. Inhale– one, two, three, four. Hold– two, three, four. Exhale–two, three, four. Nothing–two, three, four.  Ahhh!! A furious funnel of suction pulls like a rip current as one client is sucked away by life out yonder while another crashes onto my couch. How is it that I don’t also get sucked out into that ocean of pathology?

This is not a deep philosophical question. Rather, it’s about strategies or habits that allow a mental health provider not to become exhausted by the constant pounding of issue after issue, rolling above pain, fear, sadness, guilt, shame, abandonment, self loathing, and much more. No matter how much you sympathize with the client, you cannot jump in their quicksand or dive into their rip tide. You will no longer be of any help to him/her, nor will you be any help to yourself. Jackknifing into their frozen waters or their boiling cauldrons just creates a bigger mess for someone else to respond to later. First responders know this. Don’t become another victim in the rescue.

How does this process of counseling work? I don’t know; I just know that it works more often than it doesn’t. Researchers like to isolate factors that contribute to a good counseling outcome– relationship, empathy, firm boundaries, validation, guiding treatment plans, probing questions, etc. etc. I agree that there are many components, but the whole of counseling is not equal to the sum of its parts. No, something very special happens when two folks share in episodes of vulnerability, peeling back layers of social wallpaper to expose the cracked plaster underneath.  No one needs another layer of wallpaper, as fashionable as it may be. Get to the source, the cause of their sagging, crumbled soul, and the wall paper illusion will curl away. But how does the counselor not also come unglued?

I like to think I am grounded, deeply anchored below the beach sand, safely outside the quicksand, above the wallpaper. Not to sound arrogant or superior, no. Rather, I feel comfortable with others’ big emotions. Some folks have endless patience with jet engine noise or crying babies. That’s not me. However, I can sit with a person in deep pain and not feel an urgency to stop their flow or correct or educate them. Instead I act as the talking mirror and inform them of what I see or feel, trying to accurately reflect them to themselves. At other times I’m the cognitive crane operator lifting heavy loads out of their psyche that they have identified. I hoist up ugly beliefs and past episodes, and  then roll them out for inspection and processing. It’s the client’s call whether to lift or drop it or put it back in the dark waters of their psyche.Image result for building crane pictures

Nevertheless, the arrow of change goes both ways. You cannot be profoundly present with another human being for hours without changing in some way. You can’t be surrounded by the shifting sands of change without changing yourself. Water, wind and sand over time will smooth your rough edges, while invading fissures and crevices. By constantly dealing with disparate selves, your own self awareness mushrooms. If you played golf 8 hours a day, you’d get better, right? If you played chess for 7 hours a day, you’d see things the occasional player never experiences. The same learning and skill development takes place when you provide therapy 8 hours a day.

Image result for man in leather chair pictureThe therapist can give away skills and empathy and knowledge, but he cannot give himself away. The next hour’s client needs something entirely different, and so you must adjust accordingly.  This one needs hope, that one needs firm authority. The angry teenager needs to complain about his parents’ ineptitude. The perfectionist needs to learn that perfect does not exist. Grievers need comfort and faith in the future. The divorcing partner needs validation and objectivity and the name of a good hitman. And sure, they all need God.  Some go there; others don’t. I have to start with God or I’ll be swept away in meaningless pain.

I love this word origin for delta, a letter used as a symbol of change.Image result for images of letter delta

c.1200, Greek letter shaped like a triangle, equivalent to our “D,” the name from Phoenician daleth “tent door.” Herodotus used it of the mouth of the Nile, and it was so used in English from 1550s; applied to other river mouths from 1790.

An open tent door. How cool! Somehow in my associative mind, I think that going into the open tent is like going to counseling. It takes courage to enter this private space. There is an acknowledged boundary, i.e., the tent walls. The chief or leader or shaman operates in that space. Ideally one leaves something negative on the tent floor and takes something positive away in the exchange process, in and out of the delta, tent door. Image result for nomad tent door pictures

Insurance companies will never get this concept. Rarely do they ask the consumer if he/she benefitted from the counseling experience. That would be too obvious a question. Instead they have scales and expected time frames for disorders. If the client improves rapidly, that’s okay. Metroplaco United saves money. However, if anther client has complex issues or isn’t moving the measurement numbers, well, it must be time to discharge. I don’t worry too much what the bean counters want, though. I do my thing the way I believe it should be done. The human heart changes if and when its owner decides to change. You can take that truth to the bank, my blog dogs.