Those of you in the path of Irene, be safe!
Hang in there! Lots going on in the last two weeks. I will be back very soon.
Those of you in the path of Irene, be safe!
It was a perfect last day in Sanibel. I will miss the ocean, the birds, and the sun. It has been a beautiful week - it restored my soul and cleared my mind - and I am looking forward to being back home with my loved ones and my friends at work.
Sanibel-Captiva is a whimsical place - with restaurant names right out of a children's storybook - The Bubble Room, The Island Cow, The Green Flash. The sunrises and sunsets have other-worldly hues. Seems like humans are the interlopers - the beach really belongs to the fish, dolphins, and birds. I wonder what it might be like were we not even here!
One of my favorite childhood poems keeps running through my mind - not sure why - maybe it is just a poem of whimsy and suits my mood! I love its rhythms, its nonsensical words, its silly yet romantic images.
The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat.
They took some honey,
and plenty of money
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
"O lovely Pussy, O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
What a beautiful Pussy you are!"
Pussy said to the Owl, "You elegant fowl,
How charmingly sweet you sing!
Oh! let us be married;
too long we have tarried.
But what shall we do for a ring?"
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the bong-tree grows;
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood,
With a ring at the end of his nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.
"Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?" Said the Piggy, "I will."
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand on the edge of the sand
They danced by the light of the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
~ Edward Lear, 1871
On the beach at 7:30 pm. Only five minutes. Standing in one place, looking all around in different directions. Hard to believe...
How beautiful is this? I am in Sanibel, FL for several days, sleeping, swimming, and soaking up the sun - taking a little time before classes start back. This morning I spotted this amazing work of nature next to the pool and, even though I am no botanist and don't ever remember learning this fact, I immediately knew that this plant is a "bird of paradise" flower. How could it have any other name?
Do you know what the bird of paradise flower is believed to symbolize? Among its meanings are a "good perspective," freedom, and faithfulness. Back in the day, in Victorian times, most people could tell you such things - the meanings of different flowers - at the drop of a hat. What a world that must have been - when one would just unconsciously soak up these romantic facts about flowers without even being aware of it. What a world that must have been - when even small children could easily identify most trees and flowers and birds, again with little awareness of having learned the names.
I love being near the ocean. This is my first time in Sanibel, which is famous for the shells on the beaches. I have seen a few, and have just let them be. What I am appreciating about Sanibel is its true beachiness (is that even a word?). The beaches are not clean-swept each morning, as beaches in some other places are - on your morning walk here, you are apt to find abandoned crab-legs or broken sand-dollars or stranded jelly-fish, mixed in with what seems like millions of different kinds of seaweed. Flotsam and jetsam - it is what is naturally deposited by the sea world each day.
I have seen lots and lots of birds here - huge brown pelicans with wing-spans of six or seven feet, dive-bombing for their lunch; dainty and dignified snowy egrets, delicately walking along the sand in their golden slippers; ospreys on their nests high in the trees. And I have seen other critters - most notably, lots and lots of geckos - who do not, by the way, sell insurance or speak with a British (or is it Australian?) accent as suggested on TV!
Speaking of TV and other "electronica" - I am obviously a little plugged in down here, as I am writing this blog, but I am minimizing my connections this week as much as possible - hard habits to break, I admit. I have my phone with me only when I want to take photos or when I am in the car, and am trying to refrain from checking email. It is really hard to completely unplug, however - driving in the car, I find myself automatically searching for NPR on the radio without even thinking consciously about it, and thus end up absorbing lots of news about the world beyond here. What I am absorbing is not names of flowers or birds - it is stories about the GOP bashing of EPA. Protests and hunger strikes in India, where citizens are fighting rampant corruption among those in power. Investigations of S & P's role in the mortgage fiasco of 2008 and the years leading up to it - side-by-side with analyses of what our drop in credit rating really means. Heavy sigh.
Alternative medicine guru Andrew Weil, MD, has advised taking periodic news fasts - he maintains that our 24/7 exposure to what we call "news" is one big source of negative stress - which, over time, can cause pretty significant health problems.
So, I am going to try the news fast for my remaining days of vacation, and I am going to really try to be present to the true "news" all around me... the three scavenging sea gulls fighting over one fish, the two German kids playing with the gecko on the deck, the older couple kissing and canoodling out in the surf, the gorgeous tropical flowers that look like other-worldly creatures poised to take flight, the talents of the chef at Traders Restaurant - have you ever had "white gazpacho"? Stay tuned for the recipe - out of this world. And I am going to stay tuned in to my feelings of being part of a loving world - though I am down here on my own, I know that Steve and Michael and Julie and Leah and Paolo and all of my family and heart-friends are out in that big world beyond, making things better in their own corner of the world. A "good perspective," I think.
And what is the important "news" in your world?
Thomas Doherty, the editor of peer-reviewed Ecopsychology, practicing psychologist, and professor at Lewis and Clark in Portland, Oregon, talks a lot about "personal sustainability." Using his questionnaire, we can examine our own emotions and thoughts, our physical health, play and creative lives, relationships with other people, our communities, and the natural world, to assess our own health and well-being. How much in balance are we? Are we living our lives in ways that can be sustained in a healthy, thriving way over the long-term?
I have witnessed and experienced un-sustainable lives - ways of life that are not healthy and that cannot sustain one's being over time. My sweet and brave daughter, Julie, has experienced such a life herself, suffering with an eating disorder for seven years, and has offered to share her story with you - and to share information about how we can advocate for research that can help prevent and treat eating disorders. Here is Julie's story, in her own words - she has shared this with many young people in high school and college:
I want to begin by sharing a story with you all – a story about a shy little girl who spent her free time dreaming about all of life’s wonderful plans and possibilities – a little girl who was quite confident that these hopes and wishes would come true. She loved everything beautiful from silver sparkle jellies and bright pink nail polish to princess Halloween costumes and dress up clothes her mom had secretly bought at Goodwill. She built a pretend office in her walk-in closet to play secretary with her best friend Natalie and she set up three dollhouses on the dining room table, spending hours rearranging furniture and making up stories about the lives of her families. This little girl had an endless amount of creativity and motivation and never once questioned whether or not her dreams would come true. This little girl was me.
Flash forward to late middle school and early high school. The little girl I once was began to fade into the background as goals took on the form of straight A’s on a report card and dreams turned into becoming valedictorian and attending an Ivy League school. My days became filled with honors classes I rarely enjoyed but had to pretend I loved and hours upon hours of homework that continued far into the night. Sleep was of little importance or so I told myself and having fun was the last thing on my list. It didn’t matter whether or not I wanted to do what I was doing; I simply had to and I knew no way out.
During the fall and winter of my sophomore year, I found an outlet for some of my stress about academics and success – a new project focused on my outward appearance. I woke up at 5:30 in the morning to flat iron my hair, I was always running late as I threw clothes around my room until I had found the perfect outfit, and I began to eat as little as I could in hopes of getting to that magic number on the scale. Now this is in no way to say that school was the sole cause of what later became a full-blown eating disorder – there were the typical family issues, the obsession with images in the media, and an overall lack of positive self-esteem – but my focus on being the perfect student certainly added fuel to the fire.
As the year progressed, I became increasingly entrenched in my rigid eating and exercise habits and spent far too much time critiquing my body in front of the mirror. Family, friends, and doctors had begun to notice my behavior and were concerned with how thin I had become. They all told me I could not lose any more weight and suggested I get some help. Yet, at the time, I could not understand what they were so worried about; it was as though they were trying to tell me I needed to stop the one thing in life that made me feel calm, the one thing I was certain I could succeed at.
However, the high of feeling in-control and powerful could not last forever. By the end of the summer, I knew that something was wrong, that I wasn’t happy, that I was always anxious, and that I had fully lost that all that desire and creativity I once had as a little girl. But stubborn as I was, I would not change what I had become and so I waited until my parents took action and decided to sign their 16-year-old daughter into treatment.
To make a long story short, as I feel the details of my time in treatment are not necessary to who I am today, I will simply say that the seven years I spent going through the revolving door of relapse and recovery was the hardest thing I have done to date. I had to hit rock bottom time and again before I realized that I was sick of being sick, that I needed to change something, and that I couldn’t do this alone. Although I didn’t know what I wanted for myself, I knew what I did not want, and that was my life the way it was with an eating disorder.
Throughout my ups and downs in treatment, one thing remained consistent: I was becoming alive again. I began to feel all kinds of emotions that I had blocked for years – anger, sadness, happiness, love. I began to notice hunger cues and cravings for so-called forbidden foods that I had denied myself of for so long. I began to have hopes and dreams again – I wanted to go back to school and to have friends and a boyfriend and a job I loved someday. I began to let down my guard and to open myself up to the possibilities life had to offer. Now I will not lie, the path to recovery is not simple or neat or ordered or anything my once OCD self thrived upon. There were highs and lows and all kinds of in-betweens – which I later learned is how everyday life is even without an eating disorder. But in spite of any pain or struggling I had to experience, the work was worth the reward.
As I speak to all of you today, I have been out of treatment for a little over a year [now two] and I can honestly say I didn’t always believe that my life as it is today would be possible. I had fought and fought for so long that I sometimes didn’t even know what I was fighting for. Yet, here I am, twenty-four years old and finally living those dreams that the little girl in me always knew I could. No, my life is not perfect; not everything is sparkly jellies and princess costumes. I was not valedictorian of my high school nor did I go straight to a top-notch school. But I am happy. Day by day, I am learning to accept my flaws, to ask for help when I cannot do it alone, and to admit that sometimes I am scared and unsure. I do not always love how I look or the way my clothes fit on my healthy self. I have my moments, although they are becoming less frequent, where I want to restrict again or run just a little bit too far. But by the end of the day or week or however long it takes, it always seems to turn out okay.
If I can leave you all with one thing today, with the most valuable thing I have learned throughout my recovery process, I want you all to know that it is okay, in fact it is perfectly wonderful, to be you, in your purest form, to follow those dreams of the little girl or boy inside of you, to live in a way that makes you happy. I agree that academics, a career, finding your ideal city, and so on, are all important things in life. We would not move forward if we never had tangible goals. But when push comes to shove, it is being true to ourselves and surrounding ourselves with people who do the same that keeps us alive. Everything else just seems to fall in place.
So that is Julie's story - and her brother Michael, her dad Tony, and I each have our own stories about those seven years. I can tell you that the prayer at the front of my mind and heart each day when I woke up and each night when I went to sleep (or tried to sleep) was about Julie - and how we could help her become whole again. She traveled her path to recovery courageously, as we walked our paths alongside her, and she came out the other side whole. As a vibrant and wise young woman of 24, Julie is well aware of what is needed to live a life of personal sustainability, of joy and strength.
Julie has been active with the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), organizing campus activities to educate students and working with others to plan the annual St. Louis NEDA walk to raise funds for research. If you would like more information about how to help, please visit here. If you know others who have struggled with lives that cannot sustain health and well-being, you may share her story with them. There is hope.
Joyful Julie - Today and Long Ago
Check out CNN's documentary on Blair Mountain. CNN promises to "go behind both sides of the fight over mountaintop removal for coal. Is it creating jobs or poisoning communities?"
Whoa - check out this picture. This has been my life, and mind, over the last couple of weeks. In case you cannot tell what is going on in the photo, it is a picture my dad took of us dancing the hora at Leah and Michael's wedding. Around and around, weaving and circling, coming together and parting, with such happiness, chaos, and energy. The wedding was a feast of joy - we are all still floating on cloud nine, still basking in the love that was present.
Leah and Michael are very wealthy in the love that they share for one another, and in the love among them and their friends and their families. Yes, the wedding was festive and big and glorious, with music to die for, cakes and wine and more food and drink than you can imagine, beautiful dresses, beautiful-er men and women, flowers, sacred traditions and prayers - and the abundant joy would have still been experienced if the day had simply been families and friends coming together to witness Leah and Michael's vows of commitment to one another.
I have been thinking about abundance - I think that I have talked about this a bit before. I am amazed at what riches I find when I look, when I listen and wait. In June, I sent the photo below to Sheila Rodgers, the photographer for Nancy Gift's book Good Weed, Bad Weed. Sheila is my dear friend, secretary, and "queen of f***ing everything." I asked Sheila if this plant that was growing like, well, like a weed, was indeed a weed. There were several of these plants, growing taller and taller in the beds in front of my house and looking like a mess. Sheila's response - "Depends on whether or not you like it and want it."
So I - who am not a very patient person - decided to wait to see what would happen. Here are some photos of the same plants from the last few weeks. They speak the language of sunshine, greeting me each evening as I return home from work.
I have been a weed before in my life - offering what I felt like were gifts to folks who did not want what I had to give. And, without much change at all on my part - same old genes, same old personality and looks, I have so not been a weed in other worlds, among people who treasured and valued what I can give. And I have seen places that have been viewed as eyesores, as weeds to be eradicated, to some, and as jewels in the making to others. I have told you about Chris Condello of Wilkinsburg and the Whitney Avenue garden, and about Juliette and Michelle of Pittsburgh Permaculture and the Hazelwood Food Forest, who have taken abandoned vacant lots and transformed them into life-giving spaces providing food for their communities. Looks like this is catching on elsewhere, based on this recent NY Times article. Weeds and vacant lots, or food and communities. Our choice.
My summer class, Psychology and the Environment, is coming to an end. What a motley crew we are - counseling students (some of whom admittedly took the class only because they needed an elective and all of the other classes were either full or didn't fit their schedule), landscape architecture students (who must have been thinking throughout much of the course - "what in the world have we gotten into here?") and me - a late bloomer who has become enthralled with all things ecological - with the beauty of this world, and how it all works together, and how we can nurture and protect it. I have so treasured our class time together, learning alongside these people and experiencing each person, including myself, wake up just a little bit more each night.
Last night was an amazing class. Chris Condello did his first public speaking about the Whitney Avenue garden, telling the story of his own life and the community that is growing, thanks to his efforts, tomato by tomato, pumpkin by pumpkin. Please, please, please check out his blog and think about what you might also have to offer to your own corner of the world. Heather Smith, one of our own counseling students, also spoke. She had just returned from her annual trip to Oregon where she spends time in the wilderness with friends who are passionate about being with and learning from the natural world - she spoke about "deep ecology" and about the advocacy and activist roles that counselors and other ordinary citizens can take on.
Both Chris and Heather spoke the truth from their hearts. They bring spirit and light to their work and to their lives that touch so many others. Their work is not simple or clean. Neither one's story fits into a nice, neat box with square corners and straight lines - no box that might suggest lives of rules, predictability, and control. Their lives are messy. And wonderful. And abundantly rich. Just like ours. Particularly if we are willing, like them, to really see and listen, to get our hands dirty as we muck around in the soil with the bugs, worms, basil leaves, grape vines, and the occasional wild raccoon.
Finally got my rain barrels hooked up, thanks to friends from the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association - just in time for some good showers. How goes it in your world?
It was a magical time - Leah and Michael's wedding. So much love and celebration.
The weather was beautiful, as was the ceremony. Hearing the vows of these two loved ones filled my soul.
I have more to write soon - lots stirring around in my mind. In the meantime, check out this video about a preschool or kindergarten in Norway. How would this fly in the US? What do you think about this approach to education? What do you think the outcomes of this approach might be?
Here is a link to the youtube site - Outdoor Preschool. The video is about 21 minutes long - but any amount that you can watch would be beneficial. If this link doesn't work, and you are interested in the site, let me know and I will email it to you!
Mary Beth Mannarino is a licensed psychologist who provides coaching in the areas of leadership, career, life, and parenting. She is also an environmental and climate educator and activist. Dr. Mannarino is professor emeritus at Chatham University where she continues to teach courses to students in health professions related to environment and well-being.
My Bloggy Rules...
I write about my own experiences, opinions, dreams, and ideas. I invite you to share your ideas, and to be part of a dialogue. I will make mistakes! But it is great to take the risk to put this out there and, more importantly, to hear from you.