I was writing an email to a friend today and found myself saying about our family, “We are all well and choose to not travel to support The Great Effort.” I like this phrase - The Great Effort. Yes, that’s what we are being asked to do and what will save us: The Great Effort.


Each word in this phrase is important. Whether we are working on our health, a home project, parenting, our primary relationship(s), or a community need, it usually takes “a great effort” to reach our goals.


“Effort” is not necessarily a state we run toward. When I explain to people that the changes they want to make for themselves will involve work, many are sorry to hear that. We want to believe that once we have learned something new, we can naturally put it to action with no looking back. Those of us in recovery from addictions know well that is not so. We know that “effort” means we will show up daily with our intentions, new skills, new knowledge, and practice the changes we are making. It is work to remember to do all of these things, and it is work to practice them when we easily can slip into our usual ways. Effort is needed.


“Great” speaks to both the extent to which I, as an individual, need to expend my energies toward the goal and to the extent to which collective movement toward the goal is imperative.  When an individual is in recovery from an addiction, consistent and clear support from family and friends as well as changes in their behaviors make a world of difference in fostering recovery for all. “Great” means that when I don’t want to do something that will make a positive difference for the larger world, I go ahead and do it. “Great” means that we are all in this together and what I choose has an effect that ripples out and out and out.


“The” highlights the importance of this Great Effort. It is “The Great Effort” needed to stop the spread of this pandemic and to give us safe spaces to restore ourselves, our communities, and our world. This is possible and quite likely with great effort on the part of each of us together.


Just days before the killing frost that took my COVID garden, I gathered this box of flowers, herbs, and vegetables to give to a friend.  Each of these varieties grew through the great, collective effort of the sun, soil, and water. They grew through my faithfulness in their care, through advice I was given from others about growing them, and through their natural ability to share their garden beds with each other so they all grew well and strong – and quite beautifully!


 


The ideas I have been suggesting for Living Closely Indefinitely are challenging. Celebrate Together, Honor Separate, and Expect Less - topics covered in my last three blogs – invite us to operate in ways that may not be our first-choice ways of being. Maybe we generally like to have our own space and are not happy about always being around others in our family. Maybe we have trouble leaving others in our household alone when they disappear into their rooms or go off on a walk and don’t invite us along. And certainly suggesting we lower the bar for what we can hope for or expect from our self and others is not the direction we often go.


Learning to Respect Different can be equally challenging both in understanding what this means and in living in this way.


Respect Different is acknowledging that we each have different thoughts, beliefs, emotional responses, choices we make, and actions we take. We are different people with different natures and nurtures interplaying within our self.

First we do well to be anchored in our self, to know what we are thinking and feeling and why we are choosing what we choose. This self-discerning process can be rich and calming. It helps us to be aware and intentional and to act in ways that are consistent with who we are.


Then, as we encounter Different in the next person we see, we want to listen to them and understand them. We do not have to agree with them. We are only seeking to hear them and for them to feel heard by us. Rather than interrupting and jumping in with our ideas and beliefs, we listen and make sure we have heard them accurately. We may find that we want to respond with some of our own thoughts and ideas, even our concerns for safety and justice. We can do this after we have heard and understand what they are saying.


The caution for us as we speak up is in knowing when to stop, to not go further, to agree to disagree perhaps. Our mental health is helped by not getting too entangled with trying to convince or change someone else.


I can only control my self, and I am grateful to know this reality.  I can speak my truth, explain my truth, and then the best thing I can do is go live out that truth in ways that are consistent with my beliefs. I may have to set boundaries as a result of these differences. That’s okay and important to do. Those boundaries further clarify where I stand, and they show respect for both my self and the other person by not having endless, unproductive, and self-eroding arguments over our differences.


Know what is true for me, live what is true for me, and respect the differences in others. That’s what these peppers from my Covid Garden did.  I took this picture long before frost, anticipating this blog. My little basket overflows with green peppers, red peppers, sweet peppers – large and small. Each pepper grew according to the interplay of its nature and nurture. They are all peppers, but each is different.


We are all together in an overflowing basket, too, so to speak. Our mental health and our relationships with each other can be helped by the lessons from this beautiful assortment of peppers who grew together in my garden.


 

Frost ultimately came to my Covid Garden here in the Valley of Virginia. It was a sad day for me when I had to say “good-bye” to my lovely, fruitful companion. I had been watching the forecasted temperatures and was ready to cover the remains of my flowers and vegetables on a Sunday to protect them, but the frost moved in one night earlier than my plans and took the still colorful blooms and green tomatoes.


Life moves on. And so have I, but I have two more lessons to share from my Covid Garden. The photos in this remaining blog series were taken during the growing season. I knew then what I wanted to write about and how the produce from my small kitchen garden could help me share my thoughts.


This blog on Expect Less as a coping strategy during this pandemic poses some challenges for me. When I suggest that we expect less of self and others, this is not a usual thing we do. In fact, we are often focused on doing more, having high standards, and even perfection. For me to suggest that we Expect Less could sound weak and giving in to the pressures around us. It is not.


Expecting less is more about being realistic in what we can do and kind to our self and others as we accept what is realistically possible. Teachers at all levels of education have been particularly challenged by the demands on them to perform and simultaneously attend to their own needs to adjust their expectations to less despite what is asked of them. Working parents with children attending school from home are simply unable to do all that they have done in the past. Both the parents and the children do well to determine what is possible to accomplish in a day or week and focus on those reasonable, adjusted goals.


And now with the holidays upon us, Expect Less can be a useful reminder. Less gatherings, less food, less gifts; more time with our immediate family, more enjoying the taste of the food we have, more appreciation for what is already in our possession.


No one will be permanently harmed by less right now; in fact, we are helped by being realistic and accepting what is possible. Our minds can be clearer, our moods less agitated, our body less tense, and our spirit more accessible to us.


In the photo above is a yellow squash from my garden. It is one of the only two yellow squash my hill of four plants produced this year. I was excited about these four plants as they were heirloom plants. This particular variety is native to America. I was enchanted with that information and looked forward to a bumper crop of native squash. That was not to happen. I don’t know why, and my experienced gardening friends don’t either. What I do know is that I had to accept less. I had to accept the two squash given to me and not rail against what these plants simply could not produce this year. The squash was delicious. I appreciate the two I was given.


There will be another year. There will be another growing season.


 


We are lucky here in this part of the Shenandoah Valley - frost has not yet hit us. It has been around us, but not yet here at our home on the James River. I am glad, because the tomatoes and peppers keep producing along with the basil and the beautiful zinnias. In fact, it appears that the zinnias like these cooler temperatures. They are still growing and blooming, offering their beautiful colors and smiling faces.


We continue to live closely here at our country home. Our ages have my husband and I being particularly careful to not expose ourselves to the Covid virus. I know that I have been enjoying this time together as I wrote about in my previous blog. And we each are also honoring when we want to be away from each other. Our separateness usually is in the form of being in different places in the house or on the property.


Honoring the need for the other person to have time for themselves is very important to good mental health and balanced relationships, thus this second living-together suggestion: Honor Separate.


I teach relationship dynamics through the use of circles. In this case of two individuals, each person is a circle. In a healthy relationship, the two circles have a dynamic relationship where the circles can intersect each other as much as is agreeable to each individual. They can completely overlap. And when one person wants to separate and have time for self, that person is able to slide their circle away from the other person’s circle without an issue. Mutual respect for both the relationship and the individuality of each person makes this possible. Trust does, too.


So when my husband goes to work on his writing or is busy with notes he may be jotting down for his work, I respect his space. I try not to interrupt, not to insert myself in what he has going on. He has not left me. He is just doing things which are part of who he is and what builds him as a person. I leave him to his thoughts and work and trust that we will intersect again and again in natural ways as the day moves on.


Honor Separate works both ways. Not only do we want to be in a relationship which honors each person’s needs for time alone, we want to be able to offer this same opportunity to our self to take time away from others and activities. I know that when I step aside to write or play in my gardens, I become calmer and more centered. When I go for my walk, I prefer to go alone so I can be quiet and appreciate the sights and sounds of the world I am traveling through.


Allowing our self to have this separateness can be a challenge. We may feel selfish not inviting the rest of the family to walk with us. We may feel guilty taking time to look through catalogs or read a book when our child is waiting for us to review their homework. We may feel too pressed to get other things done to allow our self to stop and step away.


My experience is that I can always put these obstacles to Honor Separate– these thoughts and feelings - in my way. It’s not that someone else is stopping me from exercising, watching a show, or napping. It’s me. My recovery often has me noticing such self-imposed obstacles and making efforts to remove them. Things that help me to do this include creating a pause in my activities to notice if I would do well to be on my own for a bit, tuning into what I would really like to go do for me for these separate moments, and reminding myself of how restored I feel from time alone.


Looking at the photo of the zinnias still growing in my garden, we see beautiful color and form. Reaching to the sun on their strong stems, each zinnia has its own distinct life and character. The flowers are separate and yet they are all rooted together. Separate and rooted together. What a masterpiece!

 


Those of you who have worked with me know that I am visual. I like to draw diagrams and illustrate things I am teaching.  I still use a flip chart in my workshops and retreats. If you look inside of the 2nd edition of Disentangle: When You’ve Lost Your Self in Someone Else, you will see what has been described as “a visually appealing book.” It has my lists, illustrations, and diagrams interspersed throughout. They are there to help teach.


So it will be with this blogs series on “Living Closely – Indefinitely.” As I said in my previous blog about my COVID garden, that sweet kitchen garden has been productive as have some of my thoughts on how we do this living closely indefinitely. I have four suggestions: Celebrate Together, Honor Separate, Expect Less, and Respect Different.  As we look at each of these ideas, I will be using photos and metaphors from my COVID garden to explain how these ideas may be helpful to us.


Celebrate Together suggests that since we are in this situation of increased time together and more shared everything, we choose to appreciate this as an opportunity. Yes, I know we can have too much of a good thing, nevertheless, I suggest we choose to see this as a time to really see, listen to, and understand each other more fully. It is a time to enjoy meals together and various safe forms of entertainment. It is an opportunity to cultivate patience and calm within as we are with others. It is a time to practice compromising and limit setting.  It is a time to practice the Serenity Prayer – sorting what we can and cannot control and letting go of what we cannot control.


It is not likely to be a good time to discuss major issues with each other or make decisions about whether to leave an important relationship – unless we are in danger. In the same way that in early recovery, we are advised to not make any significant changes in our lives for the first year, so it is with learning to live with this pandemic. We are adjusting to many changes in our lives at this time, and Celebrate Together - learning to be with who we are and who we are with - can help bring needed stability and growth.


I know I have been glad to have more time at home with my husband. Our time together in this life is limited.  I was becoming more aware of that as I ran in and out of the house to work and activities, always on the go with a calendar full of things to do away from the house and away each other. This pandemic has me at home almost all of the time with him.  I am plenty busy still, and I am glad we are here together – not glad every moment – but most of the time. I am trying to Celebrate Together in the ways I write of above and consider this time together a blessing.


The photo above is from my garden. The cherry tomatoes are clustered together on the vine. Side-by-side they grow, sharing the nutrients of their vine. If that vine breaks, none of them can grow further and over time they will each rot. Day-in-and-out these little tomatoes hang out together allowing space for the growth of each other and sharing the benefits of the soil and sun on their  precious spot on this Earth.

             


By March 16th, 2020, I retreated to my home with my husband as we entered quarantine-for-all here in the US. We bought our groceries, I got what I needed from my counseling office, and we came home to stay for a good while. I cleared a space in our daughter’s former room to make my home office, and I began my new career in teletherapy.


I also settled deeply into gardening. Now don’t think big; think sweet kitchen garden with 4-6 tomato, pepper, squash, and broccoli plants mixed with basil, zinnias, and marigolds.  Just the previous fall, we had some trees taken down that were threatening our house; they also had become so large that they shaded what had been our backyard garden many years ago. So as March and April presented themselves, I took to preparing these raised garden beds for their new life. My time hoeing the soil, learning more about fertilizing and mulching, and planting these beautiful green seedlings was centering and soothing.


Now in mid-September, my garden is full of restored sweetness. My plants grew well, producing color and vegetables. And I am repeatedly amazed at how the desolation of taking down the trees last fall – a very upsetting day for me – has turned into this beautiful little garden that calls to me each day to come out and enjoy!


Covid Gardens. Many of us have Covid Gardens. People who sell garden supplies and plants have told us how popular gardening has been during this pandemic - and for very good reasons.  In my story, my garden has been a great revival project. I never expected to ever again have enough sun in my yard to grow things. I was clearly wrong. The distress of the tree removal and the tremendous piles of dying brush that lay in our backyard, has – through our efforts – become a welcoming spot on this Earth.


And as my garden has grown, so have I. During this planting and growing season, I have also been busy with the release of the 2nd edition of Disentangle: When You’ve Lost Your Self in Someone Else.  Offering radio interviews and on-line articles, I have often been asked to discuss how the tools in Disentangle can be applied to these pandemic times – which they easily can. Entanglements are often about trying to control what we cannot control. These pandemic times offer us daily opportunities to sort in this way: what I can and what I cannot control.


“Living Closely - Indefinitely” has become both an assignment and essay for me. In the same way that I have been tending to my garden, I have also been tending to our simple life here together and learning what helps in these restricted times. As of today, I have four suggestions for “Living Closely - Indefinitely”:

                            

                                                Celebrate Together

                                                Honor Separate

                                                Expect Less

                                                Respect Different


I hope you will join me over the next several weeks as I offer a blog on each of these ideas for “Living Closely – Indefinitely.” My Covid Garden has taught me many practical and spiritual things. Living closely has, too.


Now, out I go to those bright pink zinnias and green peppers shining in the sun waiting to be picked.


In performance: Colin Roberson
In performance: Chris Knowlton and Judd Morrissey
In performance: Justin Deschamps



Photos by Grace DuVal: graceduval.com

 Saturday, April 7, 2018

"ATOM-r is a provisional collective exploring forensics, anatomy, and 21st century embodiment through performance, language, and emerging technologies. The work is interdisciplinary and evolves through large-scale projects . . . across a range of platforms . . ." Thus read the program notes for ATOM-r's performance of Kjell Theory at Chisenhale Dance Space in London.

The performance was spell-binding with color, movement, sounds - both human and digital, images, lighting, and detailed use of simple materials to impart stories and meaning. It's effect on me was not so much a story line which I followed but rather it stirred various feelings and reactions within me which invited thought and some of my own interpretation of what was presented to me. So when I was speaking with others after the performance, I heard myself describe it as "a visual and emotional spectacle."

I was struck by this phrase: visual and emotional spectacle. It offered comment on what I had experienced through the show. I believe it also offers comment on the ways we may be living our lives.

We have heard the expression: Don't make a spectacle of your self. This can go a couple of ways. If we are in a restaurant and get upset and turn our table over and leave without paying, that certainly is making a spectacle of our self in a negative way. It draws the attention of others and may well invoke feelings of fear or anger or disturbance from others who experience what we did. A chaotic expression of emotion and behaviors is a problem for both others and for self. It can result in deep feelings of shame, regret, and guilt and damage our self.

On the other hand, a centered, well-considered presentation of what we believe and want and feel can be very effective. A visual and emotional spectacle that comes from "long durations of research and practice" (program notes for ATOM-r) can capture the attention of others and invite healthy conversations and new understandings. And so it can be with self. If we stop and think what it is that we truly mean and wish to say and consider the ways we want to convey those things - perhaps with some under-control drama and illustrations - our audience of even one person is much more likely to be ready to hear us and to engage in healthy dialogues.

Next:"Nothing has a place."