Artisan Clinical Associates http://artisanclinical.com Therapy you can trust, near the heart of downtown Naperville, IL Tue, 31 Oct 2017 06:00:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.3 A Shrink Analyzes His Own Nightmare http://artisanclinical.com/a-shrink-analyzes-his-own-nightmare/ http://artisanclinical.com/a-shrink-analyzes-his-own-nightmare/#comments Tue, 31 Oct 2017 06:00:47 +0000 http://artisanclinical.com/?p=1739 naperville therapists

Photo Credit: azur13 (Bigstock)

I haven’t had a recurring nightmare since childhood.

Until recently.

It begins with me standing in our kitchen, looking out upon our front yard. Then, suddenly, a large black-and-white conversion van comes barreling recklessly up our driveway toward the house. It narrowly misses the kitchen and passes out of sight, presumably to crash directly into the office next to the kitchen. I cringe and wait for the explosion.

But I hear only silence.

I peer around the corner into the study and, magically, the black-and-white van is sitting in the middle of our house. There is no one in it. It’s hazard lights are blinking ominously. Everything is dead silent. I approach the black-and-white van and, with trepidation, throw open its two rear doors. It is empty, with the exception of a large box. Somehow, I know there is an old VHS tape in the box.

Somehow, I know the contents of the tape will be terrifying.

The nightmare dissolves at this point, and then resumes with me watching the tape on an old television screen. The images on the tape are like the most horrifying horror movie ever made. Death. Destruction and pain. Tragedy to the nth degree. And intermingled with all of it, a terrifying foreboding.

I always wake up at this point.

I avoided thinking about the nightmare for months. However, like all recurring dreams, until you get the message being sent from your depths, it is unlikely to go away. So, I spent an hour fully immersing myself in the imagery of the nightmare. When I did so, the tragic images from the videotape receded and two other images from the nightmare became more prominent.

The first was the image of the tape itself, sitting in the black-and-white van.

As I meditated upon the image of the tape, a phrase kept coming to mind: “The tapes we play in our head.” Suddenly, I knew with relative certainty the tape represented my mental thought patterns—all the habitual narratives and stories I tell myself about myself, about other people, and about the world. My nightmare was telling me I’d been rehearsing some pretty crummy narratives about life. Then I realized: the images on that television screen weren’t of a horror movie; they were of the news channels.

My nightmare was telling me it’s time to turn off the news. 

My nightmare was telling me that the news is running only images of horror and destruction, death and tragedy, and that they are fomenting my—our—fear. Because the mental tapes we play over and over become our reality, regardless of what is really happening in the world. I’ve been watching too much news, and my mental world is being filled with the fear of it, while in the meantime, the good news is written all over the actual world, and I’m missing out.

The reality is, the world is also filled with beauty and wonder and joy and love and kindness and grace and charity and compassion.

The second prominent image was the black-and-white van barreling up the driveway. Black-and-white, I thought, black-and-white. Why were these words so important in the nightmare? Because horrifying mental tapes are usually delivered by black-and-white thinking.

Black-and-white thinking is a dualistic way of looking at the world. Either-or. This or that. Good or bad. Them or us. In times of fear, black-and-white thinking feels safe, because it is a mental shortcut—a quick and simple way of responding—and thus it feels more certain, more secure.

However, black-and-white thinking also produces many of the horrors that populate our mental tapes.

Dualistic thinking makes it easier to oversimplify, judge, condemn, attack, abuse, and annihilate anything or anyone. Black-and-white thinking makes our actions reactive. Thoughtless. Dangerous. In the end, rather than creating safety, it just creates more bad news—more judgment, more horror, more atrocities.

Fear is leading to black-and-white thinking is leading to more fear. And so on.

So, I decided to put an end to my nightmares by daydreaming instead. What I mean is, I decided the meditation of my waking hours will be upon catching myself when I slip into black-and-white thinking. I decided instead I’m going to look for gray. For complexity. For nuance. And for the truth, beauty, gentleness and compassion that can be found only there.

I haven’t had the nightmare since.

What fears trigger your black-and-white thinking? And what new horrors, either subtle or pronounced, result from your either-or way of seeing things? Are you ready to find a different tape to play, one filled with all of the beauty and redemption and grace that can only be found in the gray areas of life and people and existence?

Are you ready to dream a better dream with me?

_____

This post originally appeared at DrKellyFlanagan.com.

If you’re interested in receiving future Artisan blog posts by email, CLICK HERE to subscribe to the list. We publish new, free, and (hopefully) helpful content every other Friday, and we’ll never try to sell something to you. Therapy is the one space in the world you get to receive without feeling compelled to give in return. We want the Artisan blog to feel the same way.

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Lessons on Loss from a Reluctant Tooth Fairy http://artisanclinical.com/wisom-tooth-fairy-a-meditation-on-trading-our-gaps-for-growth/ http://artisanclinical.com/wisom-tooth-fairy-a-meditation-on-trading-our-gaps-for-growth/#respond Fri, 20 Oct 2017 16:15:50 +0000 http://artisanclinical.com/?p=1718

Photo credit: David Clinton

I have had the following conversation with my seven year old son approximately ten thousand times this week:

Wanna see my wiggly tooth, Dad?

No, I do not.

Look what I can do with it! *Presses tongue against a tooth dangling from a lone, fleshy thread and twists it like a Cirque du Soleil acrobat. 

Ew. Go show mom.

Okay! *Bolts out of the room

Typically this maneuver buys me five minutes of solitude, but this evening he returns with an eyebrow raised and a gap-toothed smirk on his face. Holding a small, questionably brushed tooth between his fingers, he asks, “Sois the Tooth Fairy going to come tonight?

It brings my son great pleasure to tease me about being the Tooth Fairy. He accuses me of having wings and wearing a tutu, and then doubles over in laughter at his own cleverness. I play along and insist I have no idea what he is talking about. But secretly, I agree with him. The Tooth Fairy is a dumb tradition and it’s ridiculous that I continue to go through the charade every time one of the kids loses a tooth. What’s the point? This Tooth Fairy is burned out.

Once my son is asleep, I reluctantly transform myself into a mythical being. I gather three essential tools of the Tooth Fairying trade:

Cash

I check my wallet. Empty. I check my wife’s purse. She has a twenty which, unless the Tooth Fairy is putting a deposit down on future incisors, won’t work. Other options? A Ziploc full of change from the car? An I.O.U.? A partially used Target gift card? Or…I could take a dollar out of my son’s piggy bank and give it to him. It’s a jerk move, but no one ever said the Tooth Fairy was a saint.

Stealth

I slink down the hallway and into his room, carefully evading two squeaky spots in the floor. I move in the shadows cast by moonlight peeking through his curtains and slip a dollar out of his piggy bank with the nimble touch of a ninja master.

Focus

My son’s room looks like a crime scene. Stuffed animals and overturned books are scattered across the floor. The day’s clothes lay feet from the hamper. There are many potential distractions. Is that a drawing of a dog peeing? Why does that exist? Why is there a half-eaten ring pop on his dresser? No wonder his teeth are falling out. Everything in me wants to throw it in the trash, but I am determined to finish what I came here to do.

At his bedside, my eyes narrow as I slip the dollar under his Spider Man pillowcase with precision. In the same motion, I find and gently extract the tooth. Evading rogue Legos sprinkled across the floor, I slip out of his room without a sound.

Tooth Fairy mission accomplished.

Ready for bed, I open the drawer in my nightstand and pull out a small glass jar. I remove the cork and drop the tooth inside.

Clink.

I look at my boy’s tooth in the jar with his other baby teeth. There are a lot of them now. Why do I keep them? Are they a record of the passage of time? No, I’ve got photos for that. Are they sentimental reminders of who my son was when he was little? I have journals and home movies for that. Then why do I hold onto his lost teeth? Staring down at the jar in my hand, I know why.

They are his first losses.

In his little boy world, a perfectly fine tooth that had always been there got wiggly and fell out. That is upsetting. I would freak out if that happened to me – and I’m an adult. So, I pretend to be the Tooth Fairy to help him face the loss. It’s a way of saying, “Your losses are valuable. More than that, they are treasures.”

Then it occurs to me, there’s loss in everything. Even the good. It starts with tiny teeth and doesn’t stop until our last breath. My chest tightens. I feel an intense desire to protect my son from a life filled with loss. I want to spare him the pain and unfairness of life, but I know I can’t.  There is no Job Loss Fairy. Or Your Girlfriend Dumped You Fairy. Or Bad News About Your Biopsy Fairy. Or Your Parent is in Hospice Fairy.  He will have to face the hard lessons of life as we all do.

But I can love him. I can grieve with him. I can try to help him see that sometimes the holes left by losses leave room for new growth. Like the gap in his smile.

I set the jar of teeth back in the drawer of my nightstand. As I drift to sleep, I think about my son laughing really hard earlier in the evening. This warms my heart and I feel a deep sense of gratitude for these years. And then I decide I will make him clean his room first thing in the morning. It’s a jerk move, but no one ever said the Tooth Fairy was a saint.

_____

If you’re interested in receiving future Artisan blog posts by email, CLICK HERE to subscribe to the list. We publish new, free, and (hopefully) helpful content every other Friday, and we’ll never try to sell something to you. Therapy is the one space in the world you get to receive without feeling compelled to give in return. We want the Artisan blog to feel the same way.

 

 

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Why Therapy Will Make a Mess of Your Life http://artisanclinical.com/why-therapy-will-make-a-mess-of-your-life/ http://artisanclinical.com/why-therapy-will-make-a-mess-of-your-life/#comments Fri, 06 Oct 2017 08:56:32 +0000 http://artisanclinical.com/?p=1700

Photo Credit: luanateutzi (Bigstock)

It’s 6 months after moving into my apartment.  I look around, seeing evidence of a lived in space.  There’s a throw blanket on the chair closest to a window with glass marked by the nose prints of a curious dog.  A small pile of books, a sketchbook, and pens are nearby. Further into the space sits my first dining room table… the very one that saw me through many years of graduate school (and was rarely used because of my perfectly good lap and cozy sofa), and the very one that my dog, much to my chagrin, finds pleasure in jumping on.

And yet, despite the initial signs of a homey apartment, further scrutiny (but not much further) reveals a pile resembling a haphazard cardboard castle.  Boxes are stacked high and labeled carelessly, each filled with the relics of my past that need a home within my present.

Frustrated with myself and the chaos both contained and created by the wall-to-wall brown cardboard, I act.  Instead of tackling the visible boxes out in the open as I have attempted to do time and time again, I move to the closets.  These tiny spaces are daunting and filled with piles of old clothes and boxes labeled “Bedroom” in permanent ink.

Hours pass. I fill three large garbage bags with clothes to donate, and I throw away several things that are unusable or simply trash.  I hang up clothes and fill drawers.  I open boxes and begin to sort.  I feel empowered and productive and accomplished…

Until I look around.

My bedroom is a MESS… my productivity unnoticeable. Discouragement threatens to take hold.  How could I have worked so hard for so long, and it looks WORSE?!  I am tempted to stop… or simply cram the mess back where it came from.  A part of me wonders if I’m flawed… and that part wants to run into the cardboard castle to hide for eternity.

But then I remember a truth I often remind my clients: lasting growth tends to look worse before it looks better.  Chaos must exist for it to be organized.

This is true of cleaning, and it is especially true of therapy.

In therapy…

 … you unpack the relics of your past, the things accumulated over time, some burdensome and some treasured.

 … you learn how to cope with your chaos instead of shoving it back into the closet.

 … you invite someone into your mess, and realize that you don’t have to be “clean” to be worthy of love.

 … you let go of the things that no longer fit, and organize what you want to keep.

 … you find that even when it’s chaotic and overwhelming and hard to see the growth, you’ll eventually start to see your true self in the midst of the mess.

 … and, perhaps most importantly, you don’t have to face any of your mess alone.

……….

It’s 7 months after moving into my apartment.  I look around, seeing the ruins of a cardboard castle.  There is more to do, and chaos is ever-present.  Yet, I’m beginning to see the bits and pieces of my true self showing up amid the mess.  Not many others would notice, but I can see it: the bedroom floor that is now visible… a closet of organized clothes, some new and some old, but all fitting me in the present… piles of my favorite books that are filling spots on a quirky bookshelf… There is even a newly assembled table that is tall (i.e. dog proof), with a vase of flowers in the shades of autumn at its center.

My apartment is beginning to feel like my home.

Perhaps by embracing your mess, you can feel at home, too.

______

If you’re interested in receiving future Artisan blog posts by email, CLICK HERE to subscribe to the list. We publish new, free, and (hopefully) helpful content every other Friday, and we’ll never try to sell something to you. Therapy is the one space in the world you get to receive without feeling compelled to give in return. We want the Artisan blog to feel the same way.

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Sailing West: The Hope Of Uncertainty http://artisanclinical.com/sailing-west-the-hope-of-uncertainty/ http://artisanclinical.com/sailing-west-the-hope-of-uncertainty/#comments Fri, 22 Sep 2017 07:00:14 +0000 http://artisanclinical.com/?p=1612 Our stories are marked by rhythms of life and death—or to put it simply: everything changes. Connecting to the rhythms of nature grounds us in a larger, collective story and empowers us to honor the more personal patterns of our individual lives. This post is the third of a four-part series in which Mandy reflects upon the pattern of nature and its relevance to our personal development. (If you missed part one or part two, you can find them both here.)

“You have set sail on another ocean
without star or compass
going where the argument leads
shattering the certainties of centuries.”

Janet Kalven, “Respectable Outlaw”

Naperville therapists

Photo Credit: Bigstock (SementsovaLesia)

Today, we welcome the autumnal equinox, one of two points during our year when the Earth’s axis tilts neither toward nor away from the sun. Soon, each night will outlast each day, until spring comes again.

If we liken our year to one day and one night, then today we’re approaching the sunset. This season, our sun fades into the west.

This season, we welcome the darkness.

I’m always both relieved and sorry to see the light of summer go. I love the way the earth cools down, and also the way we warm ourselves up—with sweaters and spices and cider and fires. I love the way sad music makes my longing get louder as life outside gets quiet. But I know that soon I’ll miss the light. Sometime soon, I’ll feel a little too cold and a little too sad. And my longing will get a little too loud.

Have you noticed how darkness and longing go together? While light allows us to focus on what is plainly in front of us, darkness invites us to imagine what might be. Darkness brings us face to face with the unknown; it asks us to pay attention to what is uncertain, to what is unseen, and to what we wish could be. If we’re willing to accept the invitation of darkness, to linger with our unknowing, then we’ll come to know well the ache that lives within us—our longing for a world we cannot (yet) see.

Many of us know and love stories about heroes who venture into dark places—forbidden forests, enchanted castles, and wild, tempestuous seas. We admire these brave men and women, and we want to be like them—or at least, we think we do. We want the treasure that heroes find, but we don’t want to face the dark wood or sail into the great unknown to find it. We’re afraid that if we leave the comfort of our well-lit homes, the storms out there might kill us. Monsters might eat us. Also, our friends will think we’re crazy.

In fact, the storms out there might kill us. Monsters might eat us. Our friends will probably think we’re crazy, and possibly disown us. But it’s equally true that the loss of all we think we know might lead us to deeper wisdom. Facing the great unknown might lead us to the treasure we most long for—the treasure our world most needs us to find.

So, when all you see is darkness, listen to your longing. And when your discontent begins to whisper, asking you to cross some unknown sea, sail away! You might be afraid, and you might be alone. Others might beg you to stay, or resent you for leaving. (In truth, they might envy your courage.) But leave you must, if you hope to find what your heart longs for. And one day, may you sail back home, bringing your treasure with you.

The following clip is from Disney’s Moana. Here, Moana wrestles with her longing to leave all she knows and embrace the call of the sea:


If you’re interested in receiving future Artisan blog posts by email, CLICK HERE to subscribe to the list. We publish new, free, and (hopefully) helpful content every other Friday, and we’ll never try to sell something to you. Therapy is the one space in the world you get to receive without feeling compelled to give in return. We want the Artisan blog to feel the same way.

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How Can You Trust Your Therapist’s Authority? http://artisanclinical.com/how-can-you-trust-your-therapists-authority/ http://artisanclinical.com/how-can-you-trust-your-therapists-authority/#respond Fri, 08 Sep 2017 06:00:17 +0000 http://artisanclinical.com/?p=1603 Confession: the first time I went to therapy, I’d been a therapist for more than five years.

I asked a friend for a recommendation. He gave me the name of a therapist. I conveniently lost the number. Several weeks later, I asked him for it again, and he gave it to me again. It collected dust for a few more weeks. Then, one day, when the suffering within me finally outweighed the resistance within me, I made the call.

No one likes to schedule a first therapy session.

therapist naperville

Photo Credit: stockasso (Bigstock)

It’s hard enough spill your mess in front of a perfect stranger. It’s hard enough to present your pain to someone you’ve never met. It’s hard enough to reveal your hidden parts to someone you have not yet begun to trust. But, ironically, it’s particularly hard in therapy, not because you don’t know anything about this therapist person, but because you think you know at least one thing:

You think they’re different than you.

They’re a therapist, so they’ve got it all together. They’ve figured it out. They’ve arrived. Whether by good fortune or good training or some combination of the two, they are on a whole different level of health and happiness. They may not be superhuman, but as you pick up the phone, you assume they are at least a little better human than you.

This, is baloney.

The authority of a therapist does not come from some big difference; it comes from just a little bit of distance.

A therapist with true authority is someone who’s gone on a journey into their own inner world. Into their own mess. Into their own pain. Into their own hiddenness. They’ve ventured all the way into their own humanity and, along the way, they’ve discovered a few essential things about what it means to heal:

It’s scary to unhide what we’ve hidden, even from ourselves. It hurts to dig through our mess and our brokenness and our disappointments and our sorrow. There are dark, dark stretches along the interior road that begins with a phone call and ends at the heart of who we are. But, at the heart of each of us, is a light—a flicker, perhaps, a guttering flame, an ember waiting on oxygen, but a light nonetheless. Rediscovering it, and fanning it back to life, doesn’t happen overnight. But it can be done. Patiently. Steadily. And eventually, joyously.

A therapist isn’t on a higher path; they are simply a stone’s throw ahead of you on your path—this human path we are all walking.

This is why therapists with true authority—those who aren’t interested in superiority and power—are constantly trying to give their authority away. Their deepest desire for their relationship with you is to close the gap. To call you forward, to where they stand. They want you to join them in the light. They want you to join them right in the middle of the very good news about why you are here.

You are here, simply, to be more fully human, to be more fully you, just like the rest of us.

Even those of us with a diploma hanging on the wall.

*This post originally appeared on DrKellyFlanagan.com

_____

By the way, this is the philosophy of Artisan Clinical Associates. CLICK HERE to read our mission statement, entitled “The Artisan Way.” Also, if you’re interested in receiving future Artisan blog posts by email, CLICK HERE to subscribe to the list. We publish new, free, and (hopefully) helpful content every other Friday, and we’ll never try to sell something to you. Therapy is the one space in the world you get to receive without feeling compelled to give in return. We want the Artisan blog to feel the same way.

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A Therapist’s Back-to-School Checklist for Parents http://artisanclinical.com/a-therapists-back-to-school-checklist-for-parents/ http://artisanclinical.com/a-therapists-back-to-school-checklist-for-parents/#respond Fri, 25 Aug 2017 11:25:12 +0000 http://artisanclinical.com/?p=1580

Photo credit: Monkeybusinessimages

The edge of autumn is in the air and kids are heading back to school. As a father of two school-aged children, I have found the new school year brings with it a part-time job’s worth of coordinating and decision making. From school supply lists, bus schedules and routine planning to trouble shooting morning melt-downs, last-minute summer homework assignments and vague parenting guilt (Did I encourage the kids to read enough this summer?), the return to school can be overwhelming for parents with the best of intentions.

If you are a parent gearing up for a new academic year, here is a checklist of items that will help you survive and thrive emotionally as your family transitions back into school mode:

  • A cup of coffee.
  • An organization plan. A tsunami of forms, emails, fundraiser brochures, usernames, passwords and deadlines is rushing toward your kitchen countertop, and a system to track and organize it all is your lifeboat. Ignore the voice in your head that says setting up routines and structure is more work than flying by the seat of your pants.
  • A Camera. Capture your kids in their bright new shoes, fresh haircuts and nervous smiles. This year’s “They are getting so big!” photo will be next year’s “Look how young they were!” photo.
  • Grace for yourself when you do it wrong. Given the amount of information schools expect you to juggle, it is likely you will drop a ball or five. Maybe it will be a deadline for an important form. Or a (peanut-free) snack. Or a hat for your child on Silly Hat Day. Remember: Formless/snackless/silly hatless life goes on. You are doing the best you can. Learn from your mistakes and choose to feel proud of the five hundred things you get right every day.
  • Smelling salts, in case you faint when you realize how much the world has changed since you were in school. The internet didn’t exist when you were a kid. Now you are getting weekly emails from your child’s nine teachers and have so many usernames and passwords to keep track of that you don’t know if you’re going to laugh or cry. (Laugh…as you move emails into folders).
  • Forgiveness for other parents who are more permissive than you. “But Caitlyn’s parents let her do ______.” Are Caitlyn’s parents trying to make your life more difficult? Probably not. They are doing the best they can, just like you. Every parent has blind spots and makes judgment calls that other parents wouldn’t make. And chances are Caitlyn’s parents rolled their eyes because you let your child watch ______.
  • A second cup of coffee.
  • The sentence “Tell me more.” Commit to listen to your kids with your full attention (and not the multitasking-Facebook-checking-because-I-just-need-a-minute-to-myself kind of listening). Parenting school-aged children is an unpaid project management position. It’s easy for conversations to focus on tasks to be done and miss connecting with your child’s heart. So ditch the lecture and look them in the eye, listen and empathize as often as you can.
  • Your intuition. You have highly sophisticated instincts developed to keep you and your children safe. If your gut says something is off, listen to it. If you’re wrong, you can apologize later. You know your child better than anyone else, so trust your gut.
  • The big picture. Remember: the goal of parenting is to help grow your children into high functioning adults with whom you have a great relationship. Allow these goals to inform your day to day school decisions.
  • Respect for your child’s unique spirit and path. Kids are not an extension of their parents. You are not responsible for every choice they make. Let them make mistakes. We want to protect our children from the pain and perils of life, but this prevents them from learning lessons they will need later in their lives.
  • A microwave, because your second cup of coffee got cold when you were trying to find the mechanical pencils you bought last week while reassuring your child you will fix the zipper on his backpack in a couple minutes.
  • A “We’re on the same team” attitude towards your partner. This is easy to forget during the day to day stress of the school year. Extend benefit of the doubt that your partner wants what is best for your child, even if he or she occasionally forgets certain details.
  • Your memories from school. Let them inform your wisdom and empathy for your child. Pull out your yearbook from when you were your child’s age and look at it together. Notice how young you were. And you found your way. So will your child.
  • Openness to the small enlightenments along the way. Your child is changing and growing more and more with each passing year – and so are you. The most important things in life happen little by little. Allow this year to deepen your understanding of your child and yourself.

All the best to you as you tackle the new school year. I’m rooting for you and your family (and your coffee pot).

_____

If you’re interested in receiving future Artisan blog posts by email, CLICK HERE to subscribe to the list. We publish new, free, and (hopefully) helpful content every other Friday, and we’ll never try to sell something to you. Therapy is the one space in the world you get to receive without feeling compelled to give in return. We want the Artisan blog to feel the same way.

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What a Dog Knows About Loving and Living Well http://artisanclinical.com/what-a-dog-knows-about-loving-and-living-well/ http://artisanclinical.com/what-a-dog-knows-about-loving-and-living-well/#comments Fri, 04 Aug 2017 07:30:03 +0000 http://artisanclinical.com/?p=1544

Photo credit: Miranda Meadows

I hop out of my car and into the morning sun, followed by an eager ball of fur whose name, Dash, matches his spirit.  He is thrilled to be back at the dog beach.  I am too, because this is where I am certain I will develop my idea for the perfect blog post… a post on how play makes us present.  As we take turns tugging each other excitedly towards the beach, I remember the joy of watching Dash live out his spunk, and I can’t wait to intentionally capture the moments for my post.  Kicking up sand as we close the distance to the fence, I think, We are going to have a blast. 

Immediately upon arrival, a large brown mutt with kind eyes greets us, her white-tipped tail furiously wagging an enthusiastic hello. As her owner yells for her to come back, she gives me one last lick on the leg before bounding across the beach to her human. Dash strains at the leash, ready to play, and I immediately tug him back, shaking my head impatiently. “No, Dash. Not yet.”

I lay out the blanket with our things, a bowl of water, a towel, and a brush, because heaven forbid his fur become a tangled, sandy mess.  Within moments, our blanket is  surrounded by the curious noses of new dog friends.  Dash spins in place, happy to have company. As the pack of furry bodies leaves to sniff elsewhere, Dash tries to leave with them.  I distractedly tighten my grip on the leash.  “WAIT a second, Dash,” I say through clenched teeth, readying my camera.

Finally, I turn to my bouncing pup, with a distracted smile that doesn’t quite reach my eyes, and I unclip his leash.  The moment of freedom comes with a rush of frantic energy, and Dash speeds away.  Too quick for me, I yell after him, but he’s halfway across the beach chasing another dog.  I run, finally catching up as he nears the water.  Quickly, I attach the leash to his harness, hoping I can hold him still long enough to take a few pictures of him in the waves.

This does not go as planned.

For the next hour, I alternate between holding Dash still and letting him go, only to chase him down and tether him to my side again.  Finally, in a fit of exasperation, I urge Dash back to our blanket so that I can examine these precious moments I’ve captured.  I skim the photos, zoning out until I realize that I haven’t felt the usual tug that signifies my dog is alive and ready to play.  The stillness is concerning.

When I look down, I see Dash sitting calmly, as if waiting for something, his eyes closed and beard blowing in the breeze.  He opens his eyes and scans the shore, watching quietly from the sidelines as the other dogs jump and run and play.  Contrary to his name, he is still and content.  I sit down next to him in the sand and lightly scratch the top of his head. He leans into my hand, gently licking whatever part of me he can reach.  His eyes turn toward mine, full of the unconditional love that only a dog can give, and I know what he is waiting for.

He is waiting for me.

And with one final scratch under his bearded chin, I unclip the leash.

Unlike his previous frenetic state, Dash begins a slow trot away from me before he pauses to look back.  I smile, and as if he senses my presence nudging him forward, he turns and begins to frolic through the sand.  Greeting other dogs as he passes, he eventually discovers the shore.  Immense love for this little creature bubbles up in my soul as I watch him gallop the whole length of the beach before finally diving head first into the water.  He sneezes as his head comes up, and he begins to learn the rhythm of the waves.

As I laugh at his antics, I discover the truth of why the dog beach is so special to me in the first place.  It isn’t play and the present moment that moves me deeply. It’s the love and presence.

It’s seeing this little being who I love experience the freedom to be completely himself, and it’s wanting to give him my presence because of that love.

It’s the love that embraces his distinct presence, and his love that embraces mine.

It’s remembering that those I love, human and animal alike, are only here for a time, and to experience the fullness of the unique presence of each loved one is the greatest gift to give and receive.

I began the morning convinced that I had a life lesson worth sharing… a lesson of becoming present in the moment through play.  Yet, once at the beach, I was so caught up in trying to be present that I didn’t give my presence.  In the end, Dash, with his wild hair and even wilder spirit, became my teacher.   His presence with me was a portrait of his love.  He waited patiently for me to become fully myself, wading through my control and irritation with the same spirit that embraced the waves.   And when I finally embraced my presence and love, he had the courage to live his presence, too.

That kind of deeply present love is full of tail-wagging joy.

Dash, soaking life in. (Photo credit: Miranda Meadows)

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Swimming South: The Wonder Of Wildness http://artisanclinical.com/swimming-south-the-wonder-of-wildness/ http://artisanclinical.com/swimming-south-the-wonder-of-wildness/#respond Fri, 21 Jul 2017 06:00:18 +0000 http://artisanclinical.com/?p=1492 Our stories are marked by rhythms of life and death—or to put it simply: everything changes. Connecting to the rhythms of nature grounds us in a larger, collective story and empowers us to honor the more personal patterns of our individual lives. This post is the second of a four-part series in which Mandy reflects upon the pattern of nature and its relevance to our personal development. (You can read part one here.)

“Anyone or anything that does not bring you alive is too small for you.”
David Whyte, “Sweet Darkness”

 

It’s summer, and I’m swimming in the sea.

I see no shoreline—just a wall of rock in front of me, a cliff face that reaches up to eternity. I float here, enjoying the calm of this cove filled with salt water. Then I see her: a giant humpback whale approaching to my right, swimming just below the surface of the water. While I sense no danger, I feel afraid; I am so small beside her. She moves directly under me. I’m lifted by her bulk, and for a moment I know she means to carry me. She wants to play.

Then I wake up.

My heart aches with longing. I wish my dream were real—but why?

What am I longing for?

There are stories I’ve read about selkies—sea creatures of Celtic and Nordic folklore, who look like seals in the water but can shed their sealskins on land, shifting to human form. In some of these stories, a lonely man hides a selkie’s coat in order to keep her with him, to keep her for his own. But the selkie longs for the sea; without her sealskin coat—without the freedom to return to the wild—she grows weary, and weakens, and fades. Her eyes become dull, and her skin becomes dry; she even loses her vision and voice. In order to come alive again, the selkie must recover her coat and return to the water.

Naperville therapists

Image Credit: Cartoon Saloon, “Song Of the Sea”

In a way, we’re all like selkies. When we fear the power of our animal nature, we make ourselves too small. When we suppress our wildness too long, we drift into sleep; we forget how to play. Our lives become parched and shadowy versions of the fullness and wonder they’re meant to be.

When was the last time you put on your sealskin and took to the sea? Your coat is not meant to be kept hidden; your life is not meant to be made small.

You are made for delight and wonder—to be fully alive, not tame.

Like a seal in the sea, you are wondrously wild.

It’s summer, but now I’m not sleeping.

All around me life is blooming, sensual and wild. I’ve watched the world journey from rebirth to abundance, growing warmer like the sun does as it joins the southern sky.

I wonder at the audacity of summer: she floods the earth with color and light, insisting I notice her beauty. She sings, “Wake up! Wake up! Let’s play!”

I wonder, is she singing to me?

My family is walking on the beach. As we dip our toes in sea foam, my niece breaks into a run. She kicks her legs up high and brings them down hard in the water. She dances and splashes wildly, not minding how wet or sandy she gets. I see her play, and I wonder:

Why should any of us wish to be tame?

I remember the whale in my dream, and now I understand: I long to play with abandon, to be fully alive and audaciously wild. Then it hits me:

I am the whale—and you are, too—wild, and wondrous, and free.

The following clip from Tomm Moore’s Song Of the Sea shows how Saoirse, the daughter of a selkie, discovers her own sealskin coat (you can watch the entire film here):

—–

To read part three of this series, click here.

If you’re interested in receiving future Artisan blog posts by email, CLICK HERE to subscribe to the list. We publish new, free, and (hopefully) helpful content every other Friday, and we’ll never try to sell something to you. Therapy is the one space in the world you get to receive without feeling compelled to give in return. We want the Artisan blog to feel the same way.

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This Is What Therapy Cannot Do For You (Says the Therapist) http://artisanclinical.com/this-is-what-therapy-cannot-do-for-you-says-the-therapist/ http://artisanclinical.com/this-is-what-therapy-cannot-do-for-you-says-the-therapist/#comments Fri, 07 Jul 2017 06:00:40 +0000 http://artisanclinical.com/?p=1476 “How does this work?”

It’s the first question many therapy clients ask. Those who don’t are probably just being polite. And it should be the first question. When I go to a medical doctor, I want to know what they’re doing and how it will heal my body. It’s totally reasonable to wonder the same thing about how therapy will heal your mind and your heart. So, I’m always happy to answer the question. But before I do, I have to ask another question of my own:

What does “work” mean?

naperville therapists

Photo Credit: Yastremska (Bigstock)

In other words, what do you expect healing to look like? What will it feel like to “get better?” Because if we haven’t clarified what therapy can and cannot do for you, we can’t be clear about how it works. So, most therapy begins in an unexpected way.

Most good therapy begins by dashing some of our good hopes.

For instance…

Therapy cannot eliminate sadness from your life.

Nothing can. Because sorrow is an integral part of being human. Sadness is a sign we’ve cherished something or someone—that we’ve longed for something unattained and been disappointed, or attained something for which we’ve longed and been grieved by the loss of it. It comes and it goes—this is normal—so therapy cannot make it go away for good. But therapy can help us to stop fighting our sadness, to start feeling our sadness, and to discover that true freedom is not the absence of darkness but the confidence that we can walk through our darkness and into the light. Even if, one day, we have to walk through our darkness again.

Therapy cannot eliminate fear from your life, either.

Indeed, therapy will probably create more fear in your life. Because as a sense of safety grows in the therapy space, your true self will begin to emerge, and it will be rich with pent-up passions and unlived longings, and you will begin to set your sights on untrodden trails. The unknown is scary. Therapy beckons us into the fearful unknown. Yet, this is what therapy can do: it can help us to release our shame about being afraid. Life is scary. In therapy, we begin to discover that courage is not the absence of fear; courage is the choice to truly live, in spite of our fear.

Therapy cannot give you a sense of certainty.

In fact, once again, it will do the opposite. As you begin to question the narratives you’ve always believed about your past, your present, your future, and your self, you will feel increasingly uncertain. This will be a relief. Whereas you once thought the goal of life was to become certain, you will begin to see certainty for the prison it has always been, keeping your life small, defensive, judgmental, and lonely. Therapy cannot answer all of your questions, but therapy can help you feel at peace with not having all the answers. And peace is a pretty good thing to feel.

Therapy cannot help you maintain the life you have.

Ironically, many of us go to therapy because it seems like life is changing—for example, an old job is feeling like prison, a relationship is feeling toxic, or a faith is feeling flimsy—and we want to figure out how to hold onto the status quo. But therapy doesn’t usually hold you where you are; it’s more often a gentle letting go. It’s not life support. It’s death and resurrection.

Therapy is not a magic pill; it is a magical participation.

It is not a passive ingestion of advice and wisdom; it is an active conversation between two people, comparing notes on what it means to be human, and deciding on a better way. You don’t go to therapy to be saved by someone else; you go to therapy to be seen by someone else, and, once seen, to join in the process of healing. In therapy, wisdom isn’t bestowed; it is co-created.

Therapy does not cultivate perfection of the self; it cultivates compassion for yourself.

It helps us to embrace our story, our pain, and our mess. It helps us to realize the way we’ve been acting is the natural reaction to the way we’ve been acted upon. Then, once you have practiced being compassionate on the inside of you, you will be skilled enough at love to practice compassion toward everyone outside of you.

How does therapy “work?”

Therapy works to make you more fully human, and more fully accepting of your humanity. Therapy doesn’t take away your pain; it takes you into the depths of your pain, until you discover there in that abyss, the core of who you are. Your truest, most loveable self. Your heart. Your soul. In other words, your worthiness. Your beauty. Your love. Your reason for being here.

That’s how this works.

*This post previously appeared on DrKellyFlanagan.com

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If you’re interested in receiving future Artisan blog posts by email, CLICK HERE to subscribe to the list. If you’re interested in reading reviews of Kelly’s new book, Loveable: Embracing What Is Truest About You So You Can Truly Embrace Your Life, you can CLICK HERE to go to Amazon. You can also purchase it at Barnes & Noble by CLICKING HERE, or by going to your favorite bookseller. 

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How to Crush Your Child’s Spirit in Six Easy Mistakes http://artisanclinical.com/how-to-crush-your-childs-spirit-in-six-easy-mistakes/ http://artisanclinical.com/how-to-crush-your-childs-spirit-in-six-easy-mistakes/#comments Fri, 16 Jun 2017 06:00:35 +0000 http://artisanclinical.com/?p=1457

Photo credit: David Clinton

It’s Friday night and I am on a mission. My seven year old son needs something to wear for a wedding we will attend in the morning. Despite my wife’s insistence that his old khakis do not look like capri pants and that what he wore at Easter will be fine, I stand my ground and insist this is in fact a real problem that needs to be solved.

This was my first mistake.

Walking toward Kohl’s, I review the plan-of-action with my son:

  1. Find a dress shirt, pants and a tie (preferably clip-on).
  2. Stay focused, because the store closes in thirty minutes.

I ask, “Got it?”

“Got it.” He pauses. “Can I eat these Smarties I found in the car?” Not wanting to spend time on an argument, I reply, “Sure.”

This was my second mistake.

We are greeted by Summer Sale! signs and fluorescent lighting. Focused on the task at hand, I set off with a confident stride toward the Children’s Department, only to notice a moment later that my son is not with me. Looking back, I see him hopping from floor tile to floor tile, carefully avoiding each crack.

“What are you doing? We have a plan, remember?”

With a goofy grin he replies, “You’re breaking mom’s back!” I feel my jaw tighten as I respond, “We need to stay on track. Mom can go see a chiropractor. And technically, I’m breaking Grandma’s back.” The hopping stops as he asks, “Really?”

This was my third mistake.

A giant photo of beautiful, well-groomed children looking happy and compliant overlooks a tranquil sea of neatly folded shirts in the boys’ formal wear section.

Dress shirt #1 is too tight. Dress shirt #2 is enormous. Dress shirt #3 takes off in a giggling blur as pure sugar hits its bloodstream.

Blood pressure rising and clip-on tie in hand, I pursue the laughing button-down and attempt to reason with it, failing to recognize the shirt is no longer concerned with The Plan, but now has an agenda of its own.

This was my fourth mistake.

Good evening Kohl’s shoppers. This is a friendly reminder that our store will be closing in fifteen minutes.

Crap. I need a new strategy. I grab multiple sizes and…notice a small wiggling rear-end peeking out from behind a stand of t-shirts.  A silly voice says, “Look at my shiny butt!”

That’s it. I take off after him.

This was my fifth mistake.

In hot pursuit, I dart through Women’s Athletic Wear and past Home Décor, where he has a near miss with a Yankee Candle Display. He’s fast and agile, so I need to outwit him. I decide to head him off at Bedding. He arrives at the ambush just in time to see me accidentally knock a duvet off the shelf. He bursts into laughter. A wave of heat pulses through my body and I yell louder than I have ever yelled at him, “STOP IT!”

He freezes. His shoulders hunch as he looks at the ground and offers a quick and shameful, “I’m sorry, Dad.” A moment passes and his lip begins to quiver. He asks, “Why do I need to be fancy anyway?”

My stomach sinks. What am I doing? Why am I yelling at my child in the Bedding Department of Kohl’s on a Friday night? I drug him here past his bedtime and he is trying to play with me – and he is doing it with imagination and humor, my two favorite things about him. I look at my son, now with tears in his eyes, and it hits me; this isn’t about him. Or the wedding. Or ill-timed Smarties. It’s about my need to look like a put-together dad. We are here because of my insecurity.

This was my sixth mistake.

Why does my favorite seven year old on earth need to be fancy?

The answer is that he doesn’t. And I tell him this. I apologize for yelling. I thank him for being more patient with me than I have been with him. I tell him that I love his imagination, his playfulness and his humor. I ask him if he would like to buy any of the fancy clothes he quasi-tried on. He answers, “Yes. And the Pokémon t-shirt on a stand that we passed.”

“You mean the shiny butt stand?” He laughs and we check out, with two minutes to spare – just enough time to hop from tile to tile. (You’re welcome Mom and Grandma).

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If you’re interested in receiving future Artisan blog posts by email, CLICK HERE to subscribe to the list. We publish new, free, and (hopefully) helpful content every other Friday, and we’ll never try to sell something to you. Therapy is the one space in the world you get to receive without feeling compelled to give in return. We want the Artisan blog to feel the same way.

 

 

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