Happy or normal?

IMG_0920I know now, after fifty years, that the finding/losing, forgetting/remembering, leaving/returning never stops.  The whole of life is about another chance, and while we are alive, till the very end, there is always another chance.

That’s Jeannette Winterson, in Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? She is talking about her long-time fascination with the Grail stories and Perceval’s “twenty years wandering in the woods, looking for the thing that he found, that was given to him, that seemed so easy, that was not.”

Winterson’s book is a memoir.  Adopted at the age of six weeks, she has explored issues of identity through reading and writing, an endeavor I identify with strongly.  Her book elicits thoughts and memories for me related to my worklife, and this message in the grail stories reassures me as it did Winterson.  I remember that the same message comes through in The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong, another favorite of mine whose title is a reference to this process of departing and returning.

At one point in my life I worked for a magazine on a staff of creative writers as well as with people revisioning psychology, looking at the field’s intersection with spirituality.  Already a reader of Carl Jung, an observer of my dreams, and a student of Taoism, I couldn’t believe my fortune in landing this job.  The staff, which was young and inquisitive, attended plays and concerts after work, had stimulating conversations over lunch.  I was living my dream life.  Then the magazine folded, and most of us were faced with the prospect of reentering a more utilitarian, mechanistic work world.  Like Perceval, I’ve been trying to find my way back for a long time, and I haven’t made it, though I’ve found sure found some nuts and berries along the way.

Like teaching yoga and studying ayurveda.  Exposure to some incredible teachers and experiences through yoga.  Writing articles on Feldenkrais, Continuum, and qigong.  Studying Hakomi, or body-oriented psychotherapy.  Working for an herbalist and making tinctures from freshly harvested herbs.

Like living in a small town in Colorado and hiking in the mountains.  Working at a bookstore, meeting folks in the disability world.

Finding berries in the form of books and ideas from novels of all kinds to Kerouac to American history, to Buddhist psychology to yoga to Jung, Wendell Berry to David Orr and Terry Tempest Williams.

Work has been spotty, but I have grown, and I’ve had an incredible education.  I am ready to plug into a community, a project, an organization working for change in healthcare and education.  Think Parker Palmer, founder of the Center for Courage and Renewal.  The Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota, Positive Futures Network, the Center for Mind-body Medicine.

Where do I come out?  Winterson writes that the “stories of loss, of loyalty, of failure, of recognition of second chances” related to the Grail continue to inform her life.  Right now they inspire me, for I have experienced loss of good and connected jobs.  I have remained true to my mission in many ways, but I have also failed by becoming lost in fear or alienation, but I am still here, and I recognize the second chance.  I come back to writing, yoga, and integrative medicine.  My “Perceval” question to the Parker Palmers, the James Gordons, the editors of Yes! magazine, is, can I work with you?

A new point of view

I have tried for many years to find jobs that fit me and I them, to varying degrees of success.  Two jobs in particular fit me like gloves:  They were very different, but the common theme was they both fit my world view while at the same time providing vehicles for exploration.  One was at a magazine on psychology, spirituality, and creativity.  It explored transpersonal psychology, Jungian thought, and somatic awareness.  The other position was in a holistic center within an established hospital.  Working there gave me an opportunity to observe the benefits and challenges of integrating two healthcare practices.

Another job, my current one, is not quite a fit, but it provides a wonderful opportunity to observe the “independent living” model of care up close.  This model provides tools and resources, such as computer software that speaks or wheelchairs, or white canes, to people with disabilities.  It provides opportunities to learn skills and connect with others, and it ‘s proponents advocate so folks can work and participate in other activities.  I work with dedicated and eccentric people, from 23 to 70, who define their own model or find solutions to meet the need.  From procuring a pet dog to helping someone obtain a free computer, to gathering volunteers for a fundraiser, we talk with folks throughout the community, pulling strings to make way for more meaning or greater well being.

The reason I bring all this up is that I am a stalwart supporter of exploring these new models of care.  I grew up in a medical family, and I’m not averse to medicine, but I seek ways to empower myself when I am ill, or struggling, ways to connect with others, yes, but also to be less dependent on doctors or therapists.  Less dependent on medications.  In my mind it is fine to see these professionals, many of whom are gifted and generous and good hearted, yes, but it is also important to learn to listen to one’s own body, one’s own inner world, one’s intuition, one’s dreams.  There is another dimension of wisdom and information to tap.

The jobs that have excited me have been those that promoted new models and ways of helping individuals listen to their own wisdom.  The organizations that have inspired me have gone beyond the established, the linear, the analytic, the material, to considering another dimension of life, be it in the form of the mystical, the unconscious, or community to explore new ways of thinking.   These are amazing places:  They provide vital markers in a confused and materialistic age, in a time which is experiencing the demise of a worldview.  I have been lucky to participate in these organizations, and I feel compelled to keep exploring, participating, redefining.

Who are we really?  And how are we to live?  Do the existing models have a claim on truth?  Is the society you were socialized into right about how you ought to live?  These are freeing questions, and they inspired me to start this blog, to find conversation, to learn.  Thanks for reading and thinking with me; Let me know your thoughts.

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