thepathNY

half a tank is all you need…


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Back to Basics

I’ve been privileged enough to have had several interesting conversations in the past few days. Strangely, they all seemed to have common threads dealing with acceptance and happiness. I ended up with a couple of questions that feel very relevant.
1) Am I accepting of my place in the present moment? and 2) Am I happy or not?
The nuances in the answers to those questions CAN be vast…but for a second I put all of that aside and gave myself the old elementary-style quiz.

happy or not

Life is undeniably more complicated than this. I’m as guilty as anyone of getting wrapped up in the nuances, the expectations, and the anxieties. I know too well the feelings of confusion, frustration, and muddled sense of self that sneaks in even while sprinting down the “path to success”. The simplicity of those questions and boiling it down to the basics helped push aside all of the “should, could, musts” that come along with this existence and helped me tap into the most primary feelings and motivations. In asking myself these questions and allowing myself to sit with the answer without analysis or expectation, things became just a little bit clearer in the moment.

Isn’t that what most of us strive for anyway? A little slice of clarity and simplicity one moment at a time?

accept


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When the going gets tough…what can you do?

We’ve all experienced it. It’s that moment after the adrenaline of beginning your internship has worn off, the novelty of your coworkers and fellow interns is becoming rote, and your readings and papers for school are creeping up fast and furiously. Some of you may also hold a part-time or full-time job while juggling school and the internship. Your rose-colored glasses get darker and suddenly, you can’t remember the last time you smiled, laughed or ate something. Welcome to the Dark Days.

I only mildly exaggerate but there will come a point in time when things feel completely overwhelming. I wish there were a salve to rid us all of these days but this post exists to remind you that a) it’s normal and b) make time for self-care.

If you’re in the middle of it now, you may be rolling your eyes and thinking, what does she know? Trust me, I know! I was a full-time professional and student with a caseload of clients that demanded an immense amount of time and energy…I know what it feels like to not have the time to breathe. I also know that when you are experiencing exhaustion and the first signs of burnout, not only are you not doing any good for yourself but your work in the field may also suffer. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of self-care. It’s not just a concept in your textbook; it’s an important aspect of your development as a professional.

Self-care doesn’t always mean a two week stay at a beach resort with a Bahama-Mama at your side (though it sounds great!). It could mean taking 30 minutes in your day to do something for you. Stretch, journal, watch an episode of a funny show. Engage in anything that helps you reconnect to you and your interests outside of the counseling realm. (For more ideas, see this post featuring Shawn Achor)

Lastly, for those of us based in NY and surrounding states, Sandy has disrupted many of our lives. There are a number of resources available to help you and your clients address stress and trauma related to the storm.


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ICTJ: Transitional Justice and Displacement

Newly released from the ICTJ and I had to share.

Individuals and families are displaced from their homes at alarming rates.  Becoming a socially conscious counselor means a) knowing about the issues they face and b) doing our best to contribute to their mental well-being.  We can all learn more, do more, be more.

See, read, listen here:  

International Center for Transitional Justice.


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“Who are you?”

As a neophyte counselor there are still a slew of issues and topics that I’m getting used to.  I was lucky enough to continue my work with ex-offenders during which I’ve grown more comfortable dealing with issues of probation, prison experiences, blush-worthy sex topics, and a gamut of experiences that pull on the full range of emotions.  Still,  it’s the personal questions directed towards me that make me freeze up.

“Do you want kids?”

“Why aren’t you married?”

“Do you believe in God?”

While I have answers and explanations for each of those questions that I would normally be happy to spout over a drink at the bar, in the counseling chair I feel just like…

deer in headlights

While there are a number of reasons they might be asking those questions, I realize that sometimes it’s just a humanizing method.  These questions are just leading to the bigger question clients might have: “Who are you?”

Who Are You – Alice in Wonderland

How much of who I am is important in session and I still struggle with determining when it might be appropriate to answer any questions the client might have; disclosure isn’t always cut and dry.

I try to determine whether disclosure would have any therapeutic usefulness.  Does it matter if I pray to one God, pray to several gods, don’t pray at all?   What value does the answer have and if it does have value, what is the best way to express it and where do we go from there?   Is it unreasonable that some would want to know more?  To feel less like they’re coming in for therapy and more like they’re meeting with someone they know?  It’s tricky ground this therapeutic relationship stuff and the rules around disclosure do not seem to be “one size fits all.”

I tend to err on the side of caution, not giving too much, volunteering virtually nothing, and when I do answer, it may be the bare minimum.  Would it be so bad to share a real answer to any of their questions?  The answer for me is, “yes, sometimes.”   The balance of private and professional feels precarious at times, disingenuous at others.  I’ve seen the damage that it can do to have a hard-fast rule that removes the person from the experience.  The “It’s Not About Me, It’s About You,” approach.  I’ve also seen what happens to counselors that cannot seem to hold their tongue – their usefulness quickly comes into question.  From personal experience, I’ve enjoyed the bond that can take place when a therapist discloses; I know that it is a decision they made to do so and that when made correctly it can add something invaluable to the therapeutic experience.  Maintaining boundaries is important to me and in the profession.  Disclosure is part of that, but learning how to navigate the nuances is still a work in progress.

How to others navigate self-disclosures?

“Damn, and just when I was starting to get it.”  ~Edgar Degas

Visit my project page at http://bloggers.maker.good.is/projects/thePathNY and click “Vote for this Idea” to vote forme! 


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Transculturation and the art of spirit-snatching

A woman on a praia in Bahia spoke about her son’s  love of America and its culture before he even stepped foot on North American soil.  When he was old enough, he moved to the States. She laughed ruefully as she stated that when he finally arrived he wrote her and told her that he was home.  I don’t understand it, she said.  How can you feel at home in a place you’ve never known?

Good question.  It’s one that I have no answer to but the sentiment is a familiar one:   Sometimes it’s not the place you’re from that feels like the best fit.

If someone told me I’d been spirit-snatched – that somehow my spirit was from some other country and had placed in an American body – I’d hardly be surprised.  In fact, it would explain an awful lot.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy being an American but sometimes I don’t feel very American.  I was born here (1st gen) yet place me in some other culture in some other country and I often feel like more at home.  Other places I’ve felt more at home: Brazil, London, Jamaica (though this shouldn’t count considering my family is West Indian).  Though I’m still intrigued as to the “why” of this phenomenon, I’m coming more to an acceptance of the feeling on a whole and more interested in figuring out how to reunite my cultural spirit with it’s home.

Last week, Language Tutor commented on the work ethic norms of people in his home country.  “There is no work ethic,” he said. “Things are not rushed and often get pushed until later.”  We laughed over the inefficiency of such work practices but secretly it sounded marvelous. Check my email tomorrow? Sit down to drink my coffee rather than hastily swiping it from the Starbucks counter in a rush to get to the next person, place, thing?  Have face to face meetings that start out with every topic except work?  There’s a sense of a person-centric way of doing business, not just in his culture, but in other non-Western cultures.

The above might sound lazy.  I’ve wrestled with that idea – perhaps I like it more because it suggests less work, less urgency.   But, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m no slouch. I work 9-5, 5 days a week, see clients during the evenings, and provide academic tutoring on the weekend. In the few hours I have to myself, there’s a relationship, friendships,  language classes, and attempts to engage in the tricky work of self-care by way of movies, books, and the gym (the latter is the trickiest of them all). If my time feels more free now it’s only because I’ve just graduated from grad school. So no, it’s not that lazy is the issue, I just think maybe some cultural attitudes resonate more even though I’m from a place with very different norms.  No, I think Language Tutor’s people do have a work ethic and it’s one that I’d like to adopt.

“Just Right”

It’s not just work ethic.  I’ve experienced other cultural differences that revolve around relationships, language, gender & sex roles, spirituality.  Travels have become part vacation and part nest-seeking; vetting out what feels best, like Goldilocks, taste-testing for the “just right.”

It’s more than a “grass is greener” complex, but a real sense of fitting in better elsewhere.  Being that it’s not quite the time to fully entertain a complete upheaval of my life here, I’m working on navigating life with this transcultural feeling.  Certainly there are some things that can’t be changed and I’ll probably always filter things through an American cultural lens first (even when debating how much I want to adhere to it) but like many other things in life, culture is not fixed. It changes and shifts…so maybe it makes sense that there are certain cultures that “fit” with who we are, our values, and our way of being.  And maybe that shifts over time too.  I look forward to finding out.

Thoughts, experiences, comments?  Do share!


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Hiking, Climbing, Getting Lost (and why I’m a little like Frodo)

Breakneck Ridge
Beacon, NY

This past weekend, I manged to kill two birds with one stone.  I got the best sleep I’ve had in months and  made good on my goal of reconnecting with nature and getting fit .   The stone: Breakneck Ridge .

My partner and I decided that the 94 degree weather on Sunday was the perfect weather for what he termed a “vigorous” hike.  Vigorous indeed.  The scramble up the first set of rocks confirmed three things.

Courtesy of Josh Giunta


  1. I am out of shape.
  2. I’d like to learn how to rock climb.
  3. No, rock climbing is not one of my “hidden” talents (I believe I have some…I just have to figure out what they are, ergo the “hidden” part)
The hike lasted almost 5 hours and was mostly fun — except for the getting lost part.  Sometime after lunch, just past the last rock scramble, we found ourselves off the trail, surrounded by tons of kamikaze bugs (one of which successfully landed in my eye), and kicking ourselves for not bringing the extra bottle of water.  Luckily, “there’s an app for that” and we were able to get back on track before the sun went down.
The 40 minute detour provided a golden opportunity to reflect on what type of person I am in a hiking bind.  I think there are four main types:  Screamers, Frodos, Guides, and The Eaten.  Humor me on this…
The Scream - Edvard Munch

The Scream – Edvard Munch

The Screamer – 10-20 minutes of being lost, this is usually the person that starts to shiver before erupting into an oxygen-deprived wail that may last anywhere from a few seconds to hours.  Their shouts may include a mix of both optimistic cries (“Somebody, help us!) and pessimistic sentiments (“We are all going to die!).  You can count on the Screamer to relay the obvious (“This riverbed is completely dry!”) and alert the group to unknown dangers (“I heard a growl from over there!”)  As frustrating as Screamers might seem, I think they serve a crucial purpose as they are able to both inform anyone in the area of a) the situation and b) the status of the group.  This comes in particularly handy if you have the next type in the group.

The Frodo – For those of you familiar with Lord of the Rings, you may recall Frodo as being the brave Hobbit who carries the burden of The Precious with little more than the occasional yelp of pain or sigh of discontent.  While hiking, Frodos will not complain much as they plow through uncharted territory and their lack of speaking up may add some sense of calm to an otherwise stressful situation but, you often won’t notice the Frodo until s/he has collapsed 50 yards behind the group.  They’re generally not a pretty sight at the end of the ordeal.

The Guide – This type is pretty self-explanatory.  Guides will often take command of the situation with varying degrees of success.  I think there are a number of sub-types within Guides, ranging from the Democratic Guide who attempts to utilize a voting system within the hiking party, the Cheerleader Guide who provides frequent check-ins and updates on progress to the group, to the Vigilante Guide who will make quick decisions and spit bark and anyone who stands in the way.  Of course, there are always the Directionless Guides who have no sense of what to do but continue to move the group – possibly in circles – just for the sake of doing something.  In general, Guides tend to be quite useful…until they’re not.

The Eaten – (I’m using the term tongue-in-cheek here.)  This is less of a type and speaks more to the outcome of what happens when any one type takes it too far.  There are probably some other contributing factors including but not limited to: BMI score, fighting skill, and general likability but, overall I think the types that fall into this category can be decided upon by the following formula:

Usefulness – Ineffectiveness/ Group Survival Rate = Eat, Abandon or Keep

Overall, my experience in the mountains allowed for some interesting insights.  I recognized that I’m more of a Frodo-type and that speaking up sooner rather than later might be a good trick to learn (silently trying to conquer a fear of falling while on a hot rock only leads to burnt palms).  Partnered with a Cheerleader Guide, the experience was far less stressful than it could have been were I lost in the woods with any of the other types.  While it takes “all kinds” there are some folks I would prefer not be lost in the woods with.  I plan to hike it again and will remember the following:

  • always bring the extra bottle of water
  • gym sneakers are not appropriate for settings that are not in a gym
  • bring a bottle of eye wash for bugs that hit their mark
  • wear pants not prone to rip on rocks
  • take a before and after photo for humor and/ or blackmail purposes