Can a Place Change Us?

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It is all so clear to me, as I look at these three different places. Can you feel the energy of the cold, arid mountain range of Idaho, the fiery precision of Times Square in New York City or the sultry warmth of the Hawaiian Islands where the water hangs over the Pacific Ocean, not a rain cloud in sight? The energy of a place infiltrates all 75 trillion cells in our body. The energy of a place has the power to alter what we accomplish, how we sense the world, how we feel about ourselves, understand others; it has the power to change who we are.

My family has been living in Ketchum, Idaho at 5,853 feet above sea level for almost a year. The annual rain/snow fall of 18 inches compared to our hometown, Seattle, which has an average of 65 inches of rain, has had a bigger impact on our family of five than the daily vitamin D surge. The sun shines seventy percent of the time, but most months of the year it is either cold or icy cold without a droplet of water to spare – the pouring rain will bring the humidity to seventy-five percent on a relatively warm day. The winter months are dry and frigid, the air thin and constantly moving. The punishing climate causes people, plants and animals to draw inward to their core. We huddle together in our home with the fire radiating the warmth we crave, but it is never enough. Even writing is letting go of too much. Maybe that is why Ernest Hemingway fled to the Florida Keys when the temperatures and moisture in the air plummeted.

When I think of New York, my home for four years, it is the sultry, hot summers and the fire in those that thrive there that I envision. The people of the Northeast are not drawn into themselves; instead they seize the opportunity life presents with sharp focused achievement. There is no time for contemplation or second guesses.  Relationships are strong and loyal but there is an identified reason for the attachment – family, work, customer, neighbor, friend – and all others are suspect. The fire within you generates the warmth you feel. Of course, the danger is in the excess. The bright, strong, action-oriented leader thriving in NYC can step over the line into aggressive, critical, inflamed, and angry. The village they lead might get scorched. In balance, the energy of New York City is invigorating.

Kauai is the oldest of the Islands. Life moves slower and the warm air surrounds you like a whisper. Nothing is too important. You are surrounded by the waves lapping the smooth sand and the breeze lulls you with utter contentment. Mt. Waialeale in the center of the Kauai rainforest is the “wettest spot on Earth” with 450 inches of rainfall per year. My family explored Kauai for Spring Break this year. As we drove around the Island we passed one of the most beautiful beaches we had seen. Across the street was a dilapidated hotel with trees and weeds growing through the windows, the roof weathered and caved, and in complete disrepair to which a bulldozer is the only option. My husband remembered going to that hotel as a kid on vacation. It is the Coco Palms Resort, where Elvis Presley filmed the movie, Blue Hawaii and famous stars from Rita Hayworth and Frank Sinatra to the von Trapp Family Singers vacationed.

On September 11, 1992, Hurricane Iniki ravaged the beautiful hotel and it was closed with no plans to rebuild. This happened twenty-one years ago, on one of the most famous beaches in the State and everyone said, “Oh, well,” and walked away. There it sits, home to plants and critters, as well as a tour company that will walk you through the jungle that has grown inside this famous hotel. The picturesque cove, on one of the most beautiful islands in the Pacific Ocean, is as pristine as if it were deserted. Although, there is the possibility of an Elvis sighting on the tour.

The difference in place is striking – Idaho, New York, Hawaii. We feel different in each of these places; the people have a different collective energy. In our transient society we often find ourselves in places that are worlds apart from our origins. When on vacation we marvel at the differences and it feels good to balance out our own natural energies, but what happens when a person from Kauai moves to New York; a New Yorker moves to the Rockies?

I have experienced my own energy shift when I moved from Seattle to New York and back again. My Northeast life was fast and focused. I worked sixty-hour weeks, went to business school at night, traveled for work and pleasure and planned our wedding. When we moved back to the rain, it was with a baby and without a job.  That fire within, which kept life humming along in New York, began to smolder and build like a bonfire on a Northwest beach. The outlets that kept me balanced disappeared into the gray clouds and fog. It took awhile, but slowly I came back to steady, balanced contentment that I experienced growing up in the soggy Northwest.

Living in Idaho has caused another shift that seems more light and breezy. I don’t feel as rigid or stuck in situations that in Seattle felt like quicksand. Here, moods move with the wind, routines are not as important, and ideas – not actions – are fast and furious. The future is more interesting than analyzing the past or sticking to the schedule of the present. I hike in these gorgeous mountains and I am alive with energy.

Too much of the energy from this arid, mountainous region, however, causes some to have sleepless nights, get dehydrated and anxious about the future. They don’t thrive because the energy of place filters through our cells like the water fish swim. When we stay in one place we can no longer see that energy and might assume that our very happiness or unhappiness is either ‘just how we are’ or, worse that there is something wrong with the people in this particular place – depending on our own mixture of elements.

Only through living in three distinct places have the differences revealed the impact on myself, on my family. My oldest daughter and I share similar energies and have loved the dry climate of the Rockies. In Kauai, we felt like a ship stuck on the beach as the tide recedes, but my husband and middle daughter could not have been happier surrounded by the warm, thick air where the moisture hangs like a hummingbird lapping sugar water. In New York, I would get wrapped up in dramas, wore them like a cloak. The details and schedule seemed ever so important. The question was, “What am I doing right now?” In Seattle, damp like Kauai, the question was, “What happened in the past that causes me to feel like I do today?” And finally, in Sun Valley, Idaho, I ask, “What is my purpose in this life, how can I help?”

These questions are my questions, which have been revealed by immersion into a place. They also come because of my unique makeup of natural energies – comprised of ether, wind, fire, water and earth – and how that place stirs us in it’s own energy.

“Go where you are celebrated, not merely tolerated.” Letter to the Dean.

Dear Dean of Clinical Psychology,

Thank you for the thoughtful letter regarding my experience in the interview process. I am very happy to know that you and the admission committee in the Clinical Psychology Department reviewed my application and found my experience, academic qualifications and submissions at the standard for admission into the University. I do find it curious that a few Regional Professors could have a different philosophy on a successful applicant than the University.

One of the topics that have come into our collective consciousness through Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, is why women do not lean into promotions and more responsibility in their professional pursuits. Ms. Sandberg speculates that women do not lean into promotions, new careers, or assignments unless they are positive they have the wherewithal and all qualifications are fulfilled, whereas men just go for it and see what happens. When I walked into Judith’s office in Vancouver I was fully prepared to start the PhD program. My basis for this confidence was my career in the pharmaceutical industry and my MBA which I completed while working a minimum of sixty hours a week, traveling, sometimes internationally, and launching a program with a $30 million budget. I am in a position where I know what it takes to be successful and this knowledge is why I have waited until now. I did not take this decision lightly and, in fact, it has been a three-year process of deliberation considering the ages of my children, my husband’s career and my future aspirations.

I am sure that I have a very different background than most of the applicants into the Clinical Psychology program. When I submitted my application to the University, I was sure, beyond any doubt, that I was ready for the academic rigor of a PhD program, the hours that it would take as a volunteer, the struggle in pursuing a research project and a dissertation. I was ready to tackle six years of hard work to reach my professional goals. Maybe I was naïve to believe that my experiences are valid, that my academic and professional achievements would prove my perseverance, my intellectual capacity, and my dedication to excellence. As I think about the people that have made undeniable changes in our world, I can’t think of one that didn’t start with a sprinkle of innocence, of naiveté. Dr. Kill-Your-Passion has forgotten that there are many paths to making a difference in the world and just because someone doesn’t follow yours, it doesn’t mean they will fail to be successful.

In the interview I was asked why I want to pursue psychology. As I wrote in my eight-page Statement of Purpose, I am passionate about understanding how all of us make our way as individuals and as a collective humanity. I want to be a therapist to help women in their relationships with their selves, children, spouse or romantic relationships, family and friendships. This understanding of my purpose in life has been hard won by trials in my life and a deep understanding through analysis of my own heart.

I have been fully, unapologetically in life. I was a child of divorce and am a motherless mother. I have a wonderful husband but experienced a divorce of my own. I have been at the table in the boardroom in New York City and the lonely salesperson on the road to approval. I have been there for my own family grappling with the devastation of Alzheimer’s and the heartache of a dying child. Friends have suffered mental health diagnoses that changed the course of their life forever. Autism, bipolar, depression, OCD, head trauma, learning disabilities, ADD, anxiety, suicide, aging parents, cancer and it’s effects on mental health, are just some of the difficulties that happen in real life; the life that I am in. I do not have ‘formal’ mental health training that Judith could verify and easily pass along for admittance into practicum. What I do have is connections with real people whom are in my path. People who might not have anyone, but for me, to pull him or her out of the abyss they are in, right before it is too late. This is the ‘formal’ mental health training that I have now as a forty-three year old, married mother of three that I did not have when I was young and willing to do whatever someone told me to do, so that I could be worthy, good enough to wear the halo they set upon my head.

Other goals that I will fulfill in my life are to do research, probably more qualitative, and to write a book or maybe several. I want to be an advocate for women, for mothers. Our country needs people who are grounded in understanding and compassion; to be in communities, at the ready to both make things happen for them and to help them understand they need to make things happen for themselves. My passion, my understanding of humanity is what will help others believe that they are capable and are whole just as they are. These goals have nothing to do with a PhD in Human Development. That would never be a viable option for me.

My first choice in fulfilling this vision was to go to your University. However, your professor’s demeanor and condescending discouragement of my application was arrogant and insulting, not to mention a waste of my time and money. She did not know anything about me, nor did she have any intention of learning. There are many paths and I have options with my time and with my resources.

I do appreciate the offer to interview with another faculty member of the school. However, sometimes a bad first impression can taint an entire endeavor and I think that is what has happened. Judith has tainted the entire school and when I consider the number of hours that I would spend to fulfill a PhD, not to mention upwards of $150,000, I don’t have the time to prove my worth to someone who will never see it. It wouldn’t make sense for me to be in a Cluster in another area, as one critical piece in my decision to go back to school is to be among like-minded, passionate people that I would have lifelong connections with. When people do things that don’t make sense, it automatically makes that person suspect. I want to study with others from the Northwest and I don’t want to have to explain myself, especially when there is negativity attached. Staying in the NW, while Judith is the main link to the school would not work out based on how she treated me in the interview. I used to accept this kind of behavior when I was in the corporate world, when I was much younger, but I am wiser now that I am a mother; instead of breaking down walls to be regarded as an equal, I will look for an environment that is accepting of different paths and views in the world.

This year I will work on the requirements for admission for several programs to apply for the fall of 2014. If there happens to be changes at the University, then I will consider applying again.

Thank you again for your letter and offer to move forward in the interviews. This process has succeeded in doubling my conviction that I am working toward the right goals and purpose in my life.

Best regards,

Janna Bushaw Crist

Look for the Good and the Beautiful. A New Era of Parenting

Look for the Good, the Beautiful. A New Era of Parenting

Sunday afternoon my husband and I went out our front door with our dog, Sage, into the wild for a hike on a well-worn trail near our house in Central Idaho. The sun was peaking in and out, snow still seen under the trees where the warmth of springtime had not thawed the chill of winter.

Sage, thrilled to be outside, bounds up and down the hills scanning for sensory experiences that were covered by snow for so many months. As my husband watches her, his eyes come upon two gray wolves watching from a very close distance. We immediately call our forty-pound, happy-go-lucky Springer Spaniel to our side as we weigh the option of turning back. Ultimately we decide to modify our hike and to go in the other direction from these two majestic, wild animals which are still watching with their heads held high and ears perked at the ready.

As we continued up the dirt path that I have come to know so well, I felt the grace of having seen these beautiful animals in their own habitat, as well as the fear of being only a couple hundred yards from them. Hiking on this same trail this last month, I have seen animal bones that I needed to shoo my dog away from, antlers and clumps of hair shed from the herds of elk that make these hills home during the winter months, as well as herds of mule deer who wait until Sage and I pass before prancing like gazelles through the sagebrush to the other side of the trail. Even watching my beloved companion take off towards a herculean male elk with an immense rack was no match for this pair of wolves that were now, seemingly, watching my dog like a succulent snack. We reminded ourselves that wolves have never attacked a person, however we had our ‘puppy’ whose favorite thing in the world is to bound up the very hill this wolf pair has now occupied.

For those of us that still have our original wiring that says “Wild animals are WILD and can hurt you,” a sensation of fear feels like a pang in the depth of our being. I say this only because there are so many of us that have only seen animals, such as the gray wolf, behind bars in city zoos. We have shed those connections of fear, replaced by the fear of our fellow human beings. Ourselves. However, there is no longer a way to differentiate who might be dangerous, as much as we try. How do you discern between a person who is normal, who only wants to create a life for themselves and family versus the person who uses a gun to shoot innocent children or who sets off bombs in the middle of a celebrated city marathon? Should we be fearful of everyone unless proven otherwise? Should we go merrily about our life without regard to the danger that is lurking? This new danger is unknown. We can’t study its habitat, its predators or even its characteristics. We can’t arm ourselves when stepping into the wild anymore.

Our cities have become the wild places where danger or even death could be just around the corner. What do we teach our children about the world they live in and how to protect themselves? In these new wild places we can no longer show them what to look for — large furry animals, long slithering snakes, eight-legged insects…

If we teach our children to be fearful of wild places they would grow up with constant anxiety about all that could happen but probably won’t. Instead, we have to teach them about the things that could be dangerous, but most importantly we have to teach them to look for the GOOD and the BEAUTIFUL people, places and things. We have to teach them to differentiate and be discerning about the people they let into their life and to constantly be aware of their environment. This is the opposite of staring at a mind-numbing screen for hours at a time. This new education requires our children to be in nature, in the cities, a part of their communities, and in relationships.

Life is dangerous and it is beautiful. We must show them how to look for the good, the lovely people in life so they will not grow up fearful to leave their homes or to look beyond the many types of screens vying for their attention. They are learning everyday and the requirement bar for adulthood has been forever raised. Life is no longer simple no matter what we choose to teach our children or how we choose to live. We cannot teach our children to live in fear of their world, just as we cannot shield them from horrific circumstances that seem to be happening far more frequently then the dangers of the wild not too long ago. The dangers that are in nature are no match for what we have found in the suburbs and cities where we live. We have to teach our children to look for the good amid the chaos, to look for what is beautiful about the people they come upon, to see the helpers in untenable situations. We have to teach them to live life fully with presence and awareness. Our world is far more beautiful than it sometimes seems and it is much easier to see the ugliness than it was fifty years ago.

The Power of Nature. The Power of Us

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The absolute power of the ocean waves takes me by surprise as soon as I reach the end of the trail. The waves crashed on the hard surface of the lava rock at the same time as the soft, malleable sand beneath my feet. Every breath of the salty air, heavy with moisture grounds me a little more. The sound of the waves so loud that I have to get closer to hear the voices of my children. You can feel the sheer power of nature standing on an island beach in the Pacific Ocean. The waves collide with the earth, while the aftermath trickles in covering and taking anything left behind.

In the Rocky Mountains of the West, there is another example of nature that appears more delicately but equally powerful. Springtime brings new life into the hills, only a few weeks ago covered in snow and ice. On a recent hike I was struck by the familiar scents of summertime. Sage plants have new growth to which I pluck a small piece and rub between my hands to release the vibrant, invigorating smell that I have come to love so much. At the top of the mountain, smooth silken grass has muscled its way through the dense, rocky earth to bask in the rays of the afternoon sunshine just as I am. This power is slow and steady. A person cannot witness the formidableness of these tiny plants coming to life from a meer seed but instead we can imagine the potential of what is to come. A seed was planted and had to wait in the frozen, rocky ground through the unrelenting winter months until the temperatures rose and moisture was able to penetrate the earth. Only now can we witness it’s sheer potency.

I have recently been learning about Ayurvedic Medicine and went to a conference led by Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. Andrew Weil. “Ayurveda is the most ancient natural healing system of India . The word Ayurveda means the science of life. It is to do with healing through herbs and natural means. This system is a part of Vedic science and goes back to more than 4000 years B.C.” (http://www.ishwarcenter.org/) We, as in all of us on earth, are a part of the natural ecosystem, we are powerful in our own right. Although sometimes (or quite often) our inner voice gets drowned by past scripts playing through our minds, marketing campaigns aimed at convincing you that you need something to be who you already are, and even our friends and acquaintances at the ready to recommend what worked for them. We have forgotten that we already have all that we need, that our grandmother’s wisdom and remedies are our most important methods of healing, that we are whole. But we have to pay attention because rarely is our power as obvious as the crashing ocean waves but instead it is the potentiality that exists within us and that requires patience, strength and fortitude, just as the mountain grasses coming to life in the springtime.

To be continued…