My Life Journey Is To Question Everything

Rachel in Hawaii 1981We are all on a journey through our own experience of life. Lately I have been experiencing a great sense that an important part of my developmental path is to reveal how much I connect with questions of mind, body and soul. Call it spiritual, call it whatever you like, I am outing myself as someone who is woo-woo (if you haven’t already figured that out from my other blogs ☺).

Growing up I never felt comfortable with religious inquiries because I was never educated in it so it felt foreign and made up to me. From my limited exposure I though religion only meant that you believed in some humanoid male figure in the sky called god. As I understood, it was not grounded in human experience. That made no sense to me and so I never explored religion in any shape or form. However, as an adult I drifted towards awe and wonder of the natural world. And my academic interest included intuition and heart-focused thought. There is no doubt I was drawn to my career as a psychologist because of my interest in how and why we perceive and interact with the world the way we do. I always questioned. I have always been spiritual even if I didn’t identify it as such. It’s not religion. It’s my huge need to keep learning and exploring what it means to be human, what it means to think, feel and experience our conscious life.

My beloved tarot cardsAs part of my reflection and exploration of my spiritual life journey, I am seeking clues in my past. And there are many connections throughout the years. Early ones are fainter in my memory but it should not be a surprise that I wanted Tarot cards which my mom gave when I was about eight. I adored those cards and kept them safe all these years. I wish I still had my Ouija board. In terms of practices and beliefs it is clear that peace and equality were important to me from an early age. Children’s liberation, recycling, woman’s equality and peace marches are anchors in my childhood memories.

Marrying Susan and KevinMan’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl was an important book to me when I started college. And though I probably could articulate in my twenties that my personal search for meaning was through my academic and scientific psychology work, at its core, my search has always been deeply philosophical and spiritual. In my thirties I was so focused on my career that I have few memories of seeking spiritual knowledge. I did, however, have numerous moments of questioning the purpose of it all. I felt great dissatisfaction with work even though there was much to enjoy. I had existential crises often. That led me to life coaching—a way to connect my longing for personal life meaning with work to help others. As part of my training as a life coach I was exposed to Native American and Buddhist philosophies. My training as a celebrant more recently brought ceremony and ritual into focus for me and stretched me in new directions. All wonderful additions to my quest for more discoveries about my humanity.

Anubis and HorusThis past year my journey into veganism has reconnected me to my great love of animals. And I feel closer to all of nature through nourishing my body with plant foods of the earth. It is all connected and feels so grounded and on target for what I am looking for. Woo-woo implies a more frivolous and airy image and that is not it at all for me. Yes, I do love to go up into the clouds to get the big-picture view of things. I love to ponder and hypothesize and wander and explore in my head and my heart. And yet it is very grounded in the earth and in the natural world. I certainly did not choose Love Beauty Peace as my mantra without reason. Those three images are very clear aspects of how my spiritual view of the world manifests. Love connects me with everything including other beings and myself. Beauty is my awe as I energetically connect, often through gaze, at the wonders of the world. And peace is both my immense desire to see peace among all people as well as that inner calm that I feel when I experience gratitude for my life. Those concepts have not just been with me as an adult. They guided me every step of my life through my formal and personal education.

Rachel Peace GirlAs I see it now, I have always had a deep need to find personal meaning and that is in itself so very fulfilling to me. Even as I grasp that I may never fully understand and will always be looking, it is in that practice of my own growth that I am so deeply rewarded. There is absolutely no end goal in my mind. I don’t really care as much about the absolute truth as I do about the relative truth for me. The truth as I can make sense of it. The truth as it reveals itself to me. Even if I try to articulate what I believe, it doesn’t really matter whether others understand my perspective. Even if I could articulate it well enough for others to understand, it is my view alone, just as your view is yours alone. Sure it is possible that you were taught a particular worldview. We all were. But even if you followed a strict canon, it still is your interpretation and that brings in your own personal slant. I am getting greater comfort with the concept that it doesn’t really matter what it is that I believe specifically, but rather how I comport myself in this world, how I am, how I treat others, including animals and the natural world. Love, beauty, peace fits me well and I am realizing that I came out of my mom’s womb with those words scribed into my body, heart and soul.

xoxo Rachel

My Bouncing Mind

My AltarLately I can’t focus very well. I am constantly changing direction in my thoughts. My bouncing mind leaps from one thought to another and from one direction to another, barely taking any time to stop on any one topic. I don’t have ADHD so this isn’t a usual circumstance for me. It is true that I often think really quickly so the pace of my thoughts moves fast and can change direction. But that is usually a progression of thoughts that leads me to new ideas. Instead what I am experiencing now is the inability to stay in one place, thought wise.

A friend who I met with yesterday also noticed that I am perhaps working too hard to try to figure it all out. I have read—and no exaggeration here—20 self-development books in the past two months. Although the books have overlapping topics, because each author has a different perspective I am receiving an overabundance of ideas. Time to put down all the different books and not push so hard. Time to get back to being here where I am and just be.

It’s just that I feel so untethered. And so I sought books as a way to find a path forward. I also began a new healthful way of eating on March 1st. Since the start of the month I have been eating a low fat, low sugar vegan diet. I have not had any trouble sticking to the “new way of eating” (I prefer that to calling it a “diet”). And yet I have noticed that I feel less grounded, even though I am eating plenty of root vegetables ☺. I can’t put my finger on it but I am definitely missing something. Sure I am obviously not eating meat and dairy but it is more than missing those foods. (I don’t seem to miss the dairy at all, but meat, yes.) I suspect that there is both a psychological and biological factor in this feeling of—I think I just put my finger on it—loss!

Well, no surprise there. I am clearly mourning the loss of my father so perhaps I have added to this feeling of loss by not eating pork, beef and chicken. Kind of sounds crazy. But I bet there is something to it. Not that I am going to use that as an excuse to revert to my old eating pattern. I feel really good physically and in general like this new way of eating. I just need to be kind to myself and let my body and soul go through the mourning process however it goes.

My mindfulness meditation practice is geared towards being present in the current moment. Focusing on my breath or sound or something that keeps me anchored, helps me to stay in the here and now. So given my more than usual bouncing mind my meditation practice has been more monkey-mind than usual. And yet, this practice is absolutely what I need most right now.  So I will continue to practice.  And I will continue to find magical moments and just be content in enjoying every moment as it unfolds.

xoxo Rachel

The Contours Of Time In My Mind Map

Time is a topic that I haven’t spent much time writing about, yet I have a different, I think, way of thinking about it. When I consider where I am in the calendar year I have a visual image that represents physically where I am in the year. The months are laid down in a very clear and concrete design. I go about my days each month in a year as if I am traveling across a contour of months physically located in time and space. I have a mental map of time.

If I were to literally walk through the months (which I do in my mind), I would be walking to the right during January, February and March. Then I would turn to my left then head forward and deep across dimension for April, May and June. Then I take another right and walk forward for July then August and keep going through September, October, November and December which then continues to the right with January again. I don’t circle back. I always walk towards the next month, which continues for perpetuity to the right and into the distance. A picture might help you to understand my way of thinking about time.My mental map calendarMe!

This is an ongoing contour of time. Wherever I am in the year is wider and bigger in my focus. Almost like when you flip though pictures or files on a mac in the Cover Flow view where the file in focus is the largest—though I had this way of thinking since I was a little girl and well before macs existed.

october-onlyI feel a kind of comfort when I locate myself along my physical time continuum. It is October now and I am headed to my right. I always face the direction I am going on this path. It is all relative to me. So although at the moment my right is to the north, if I were to turn to the right I would still see the future as to my right, which would actually be to the east. I am surprised that I don‘t keep this map of time associated with natural directions—I am very fond of directions and seem to be able to locate where I am relative to north, south, east, and west fairly easily and intuitively. Yet when I peer at my mental map of the months, it has clear direction that is not in anyway associated with the cardinal directions.

The layout of each year is the same, however, the past is diagonally behind my left shoulder and the future is diagonally in front of my right shoulder. It is almost, I just realized, like a line graph where the x and y axis meet represents the past and the 45° line that continues into the future is crossing through my body at the present moment. But, and this is very important, it is tilted flat on the ground so that I can traverse it.

Me!As a kid one of my favorite books was Flatland. It is a wonderful book that describes the existence one has living in a world with only two dimensions. Everything is flat. Navigating in that world isn’t easy but it reminds me that I live quite linearly against a flat calendar of time even if in reality I walk across it in 3-D space.

I did my best to draw up a representation of my mental calendar though I haven’t done my vision justice. I have no doubt that years of exposure to calendars has had some influence on my visual representation. For instance, I see months as rectangles as they tend to appear in traditional calendars. It is a flat representation lifted directly from a standard calendar. They just happen to be rotated depending on where they are in the year and I live spatially in that location. I don’t see each day within a month any different I imagine from most people. I get my physical position based on where the day falls in the calendar.

I love calendars. I have my Google calendar laid out by week (starting on Monday, not Sunday). And I always have a small, what Google calls mini, calendar open to my left so I can identify where I am in a month. I don’t have an equivalent physical location in space for the days of the month like I have for the months of the year.

Living my life through the months of the year clearly has some incredibly huge significance to me. It is importance for me to know where I am in the year because—well I am not entirely sure why but I’ll give it a stab. As a huge planner and organizer, I like to have a visual representation of stuff—of all kinds. I love lists of things to do, I love lists of things to take with me on trips, I love lists of places I want to go—basically I love the feeling that chaos is ordered that lists create for me.

And I love schedules; in fact I am staring at a pool schedule for a health club that I am testing out. A schedule is an organized visual calendar of time. I would feel muddled if I didn’t have the organizing principles of my calendars in life. And though I use my Google calendar every day (and I have used physical calendars since schooldays) my mental map calendar of months is so organizing that I think perhaps I could get away without the other physical calendars and not have trouble existing. I might not get as much accomplished because I would have to remember all the things on the calendar, but I wouldn’t feel disconnected to the world.

My mental map of time gives my time in life a contour. I could live in my head just fine. You might say that I do that already all the time. I tend towards going up into the sky to peer back down on my existence (see Cloud Hopping). So perhaps my imaginary year of months calendar—which is very much located on earth—helps to keep me grounded in the here and now so I don’t feel adrift and I don’t float too much. Not that I mind floating. Writing this blog is like floating a bit while at the same time trying to explain how I float. I love to question and always search to understand—even if it is something seemingly insignificant like the calendar in my head. But this is one of the most significant aspects of my life. The contour of time that I mentally traverse is part of every single day of my existence. It is how I navigate my wondrous and magical life.

XOXO Rachel

Discovering My Passion For Writing

Some of my writing journals from over the yearsIt might seem obvious to anyone who reads any or all of my blogs that I love to write. But actually, I have been a bit slow to realize just how much writing means to me. A few weeks ago I went to a two-day meeting of my entrepreneur school. One of my favorite parts of the event is when we do a masterminding session where we break up into groups of eight to facilitate an exchange of ideas. Each person gets 20 minutes to discuss what their goals are for the next 120 days and where they could use some help. This masterminding is both a brainstorming session and a coaching session on steroids because you have the perspective and intuition of seven other people to help guide you.

It was my turn and we were discussing my new coaching book and how some others in our group who had also written a book were going on promotional book tours, when I suddenly burst into tears. I could hardly articulate what was going on. But the more I vocalized what was happening internally the more it was clear to me and to every other person at the table just how passionate I am about writing. But to be more precise, the tears revealed just how passionate I feel to be a writer.

A few days after the event, one of my mastermind team sent me an electronic invitation that she had received from her alma mater Manhattanville College. In just a few weeks they were having a Saturday MFA Writing Day event. I signed up even though I had butterflies that stayed with me all the way up to the day of the event this past weekend. And yet pushing myself into it and allowing the fear was, of course, worth it. My passion knew better than me that I would find something important that day. And I did indeed. Sitting with a group of about twenty-five—all but one were women—I found camaraderie and learning. We wrote given cues, like a single sentence to spark a short story, we shared and discussed our work and we talked about what it means to be a writer. The love and support was reassuring and empowering. We were encouraged to all embrace the label of writer, published or not.

The term writer holds a lot of weight in our society. And describing something as a passion is equally weighty. One of my current mentors, Fabienne Fredrickson uses the term unique brilliance to describe something that you do well and would do all day long for free. It is a passion. I have been writing blogs for years now even though I haven’t been paid for writing them. And writing has been in my life for years though I have used the term dabbling in the past to describe my involvement. There was the memoir-writing course at The Learning Annex, and there was the improv class at The Upright Citizens Brigade where I enjoyed creating monologues off the cuff. In my corporate roles I was always giving presentations that I wrote. And before that I published research articles in psychology journals when I was in academia. Most recently I was writing love-story weddings.

But somehow I discounted any of this as writing and somehow I never allowed myself to identify as a writer. In part because there was such a clear format and structure as defined by the APA (American Psychological Association), my journal articles didn’t feel like writing. Although I was a published author, I didn’t consider myself to be a writer. A psychologist yes, but not a writer. The purpose (presenting research results) outweighed the form (writing). But as I gaze back at what I did for so many years, I realize that I was writing, was a writer, and will always be a writer. Regardless of the structure, style, form or purpose, whether fiction or non-fiction, I write.

It occurs to me that my passion for writing was both something that grew over time and something that has always been a part of me. However, I felt great fear and vulnerability sharing my writing so I stayed clear of it for many years. As a girl I felt very inadequate as a reader and a writer. I am not sure where my uncertainty came from, but I presumed that I was good at math and science but no good at English, even if my grades were fine in both. It wasn’t until high school that I discovered my love of literature and then in college that I learned I loved writing essays. I still have some of my Berkeley cognitive psychology reports that in hindsight feel so similar to what I enjoy doing to this day: riffing on some topic.

I am to thank one of my coaches, Melanie Dewberry Jones, for pushing me out of my writing comfort zone after I brought up wanting to write when we spoke a few years ago. It felt more like a push off of the cliff when she challenged me to start a blog and publish my thoughts in two weeks’ time. I probably got silent in response but I took the challenge and created my first blog. I remember with great clarity how scared I was the very first time I hit the ”publish” button and it was for real. I physically felt the vulnerability of exposing myself, my thoughts and of course my writing. I felt like I was coming out of the writer’s closet.

To this day, I still get a tummy tumble when I am about to post a blog, and even as I just sit here and think about sharing this piece. And yet, the passion to express through writing overrules any fears. After the masterminding session I left processing everything but not really thinking about next steps for writing. Then ideas began to flow. I want to create more books and I want to attempt some poetry and fiction—not just the coaching/advice and memoir non-fiction that I tend towards. I realized this morning that my love for psychology and philosophy is intimately tied to my love of writing. I am curious about the world and people and the mind and my way to explore that fascination is through writing. Making sense out of life drives my writing. Reading and devouring ideas gives me ammunition for my own ideas and perspective. I can’t not write just like I can’t not think.

Deep in my heart I still feel like a fraud at times. How can I say I am a writer when I wasn’t born writing stories like so many writers? Does starting later in life invalidate it somehow, even though there are many authors who started writing later? Who do I need to prove to that I’ve been writing for years? And yet all that doubt won’t keep me from writing. It won’t prevent me from working harder, learning through writing and though courses and through reading and testing the process and pushing to write fiction and poetry and whatever pours out of me. I am a writer. It is a passion.

XOXO Rachel

Nostalgia For Being A Researcher Of The Mind

Rachel & Andy Near Santa Cruz 1986I have been reading the memoir called On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks for the past few days and it is bringing up lots of tears for me. I usually read just before bed so after I have read a few chapters, I find myself lying there in bed wondering what is going on for me. So today I decided to write free form and see what comes up. This is my stream of consciousness rambling to try to make sense of why my emotions are being rocked by this wonderful book.

I was first introduced to Oliver Sacks work when I was in college and working on my psychology degree at UC Berkeley. I had just discovered the field of cognitive psychology and I loved everything that I studied about mind and cognition and perception. Basically, I couldn’t get enough of anything having to do with how we perceive and understand the world. I was intrigued by case studies of people with different neurological issues and brain disorders because their behavior shed so much light on how the brain processes information and creates the reality we know as consciousness.  I cherished my audiotape of a patient with Korsokoff’s Syndrome that I got from a post-doctorate candidate while I was at Berkeley. I carried that tape with me through seven years of grad school at UC Santa Cruz then on to Oberlin College where I played it to students as part of my course on memory and cognition.

I hadn’t really thought about cognition in great depth much in the past few decades. I’ve been in such applied fields of market and media research for so long that intellectual conversations and thought experiments and simply reading research about the cognitive field hasn’t been my focus. Although I began in cognitive psychology, I became very specialized very quickly and went on for my PhD in the subfield of cognitive psychology called psycholinguistics.  And though I loved studying how we process and understand language and to this day I am still so enamored by language and words and meaning, as I am reading Oliver Sacks book, I am reminded that I am very drawn to deep intellectual and philosophical questions of how we process information and create our conscious experience of the world. Sure, language is part of that process so I am pretty sure that is what led me down the path of psycholinguistics. But now so many years later, I guess I miss the pondering and theorizing and discussion of mind, brain and consciousness more than I had realized.  Apparently I still love that stuff!

One of the interesting aspects of reading Mr. Sacks’ memoir is his description of meeting and or corresponding with others neurologists and psychologists and others related field specialists. So many of the names he mentions were so important to me in my earlier days. Francis Crick was one such name. At a young age, I was fascinated by human biology and Watson and Crick’s work unraveling the DNA strands. I still have my slim paperback The Double Helix by James Watson that my mom gave me in 1976. Dr. Sacks describes visiting Francis Crick while he was at the Salk Institute in San Diego. I cried buckets. I remember when I visited UC San Diego and The Salk Institute quite a few years after I had gone to grad school at UC Santa Cruz. I was in such awe of that location because I had read so many papers by people who had or were currently associated with those wonderful institutes. Had I gotten into UC San Diego, I am sure I would have gone there for grad school. But I didn’t and I did get into UC Santa Cruz and went down a different path. Don’t get me wrong—I have no regrets. I loved my psycholinguistics research and training and I am happy with all that I have done since then.

Nonetheless, there is still a yearning in me to—I am not certain what for—perhaps to have a long conversation with someone about the field, perhaps just read some more, perhaps walk the hallowed halls of the great institutions where this research has and is being conducted. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I am sure that a big part of this is simply nostalgia. Nostalgia for being a young researcher. Nostalgia for being at a university. A craving for thinking about and philosophizing about mind and consciousness. Whatever it is, I am profoundly impacted by it and can’t figure out how to discharge my deep need. My plan at this point is to just keep reading. Read whatever is calling to me and see where it goes. Frankly it needn’t go anywhere other than to fulfill whatever craving I have to ponder and wonder and be amazed by the complicated thing called brain and the strange and perplexing phenomenon called consciousness.

XOXO Rachel

I Forget What Serves Me Best

IMPORTANT NOTE: I actually forgot to post this blog when I wrote it on October 21, 2013—how funny!

One forgets. I am constantly reminded of that in life. Often it isn’t such a bad thing. Like those times when I have been in physical pain, for instance—I tend to forget what that felt like. Or I forget about arguments I had or some awful experiences I had while I was working in corporate America. I am not upset that I forget these things. Apparently my mind is smart and has done a beneficial thing by tending to forget these negative things. So I can say in these cases I am forgetting for my own good.

Unfortunately, I also forget the good stuff, the stuff that serves me so well—and I bet you do to. It is a natural tendency—it is so easy to forget. I forget that reading poems helps to get my own writing juices flowing. I forget that when things seem hard, I should stop and let something make it feel easy again. Really what I forget is that I need to fill myself up with fuel before I can run (and I’m not talking about going for a jog). And by fuel, I mean anything that gives me energy and excitement and re-lights my passion about my work or whatever I am pushing and wanting to do.

Remembering to have fun and play!One of the most unfortunate things I forget is to have fun. So I devised a method to stop during my workday to refuel and have some fun. I cut out hearts, peace signs and flowers out of good old-fashioned colorful construction paper (that was fun in and of itself). Then using a colored felt-tip pen I wrote a different fun activity on each piece (like read a poem, walk our labyrinth, write in my journal, play with my cat—I keep adding items when I think of them). I now have a grab bag of fun activities in a beautiful pottery bowl that I made. Now all I have to do is remember to pick one out of the bowl each day. But that’s the problem—I forget! I forget that doing something that makes me happier and saner is as easy as picking out a random fun activity from the bowl (which is really just picked from my head). It’s very simple if I would just not forget!

Under Wisteria at Stonecrop GardensI have lots of techniques to help me remember and they work pretty well—for a while anyway. For instance, I have reminders pop up on my computer to take my vitamins, keep track of work hours, and pick a grab bag fun activity. And yet I still often forget those tasks anyway. If I have set up the reminder to pop up at the same time of the day for too many day, weeks or months in a row, I click “dismiss” on the task without really thinking about it. Instead of automatically doing the task, I automatically ignore it! Yes, we humans are so excellent at doing things automatically and unconsciously. That’s a good thing if it’s exercising most mornings (which I am happy to report I have been doing now for years without much thought). But it’s not such a good thing when it’s automatically dismissing something good like putting something out of your mind that will benefit you and make you happy.

So why do we forget? There are a ton of theories but all I can say is that forgetting isn’t such a bad thing. It’s part of life.  So why not do things in life that make me the best me I can be? The answer for me is simply that I forget what serves me best…until I remember and I am off and running again with positive energy.

XOXO Rachel

Relating to “Relationship”

Dad and MeThis past weekend I went to a 2-day intensive course on coaching people in relationships and my first words are “Wow!”  Now, it is certainly the case that every coaching and leadership course that I have taken from The Coaches Training Institute (CTI) or related group elicited the “Wow!” response from me. But I think this one was a different type of “Wow!”  The course was held by ORSC, an offshoot of CTI so there is some overlap in the style of training.  Lots of experiential learning, lots of immediate connection and closeness to the others in the course and lots of emotion and introspection!  But what I hadn’t really thought about so much before going to the class was that relationship is most of what life is about.  We are in relationship to our parents, children, spouse, friends, and any and all business colleagues.  And guess what, we are even in relationship to ourselves and—this might seem to be pushing it—we are in relationship with things like money, food or you name it.  So the “wow!” factor is that this course applies to all of my life and everyone’s life.

I signed up for the class because as I have been working with couples designing their wedding ceremonies, it became obvious to me that I had a wonderful opportunity to coach them about their relationship.  For over a decade I have been coaching individuals in business and life coaching.  Being a celebrant is in so many ways just an extension of my coaching work.  I already ask the couples to explore their relationship so that I can capture their connection in the written words of the ceremony.  How fortunate that I get to work with couples when they are just beginning their married life together.  My hope is that I’ll get them thinking about their relationship in a way that leads to them creating a more fulfilling life together.

My FamilyWe take for granted so much in relationship and I find that rarely in life do we step back and actually discuss the relationship.  Sure we talk all the time with whoever we are in relationship with.  Yet for most people it is a rarity that they set aside time to talk “about their relationship”.  Some couples do that naturally but most often the only ones who take a step back and look at the big picture are those who are having troubles in the relationship and seek council.  I suppose it is not a startling concept to consider talking about the relationship before there is great conflict.  Perhaps what is startling is how few couples (and I use the term couples to refer to ANY relationship) do that.

So I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that everyone have a look at the relationships they have.  Make time to have conversations with whoever you are in relationship and you will be greatly rewarded with understanding and connection (and love depending on the affiliation).  If you are having big conflict, consider having a coach or therapist facilitate.  I certainly plan to have those conversations now that I have some relationship coaching training under my belt.  At the very least, I plan to have a heartfelt conversation with myself about what I want and need in my relationship with life.

XOXO Rachel

Tales of the City—Tales of Community

Kidd Hall community 1984While I was in College at UC Berkeley in the early 80s, we read the San Francisco Chronicle in our cooperative house in North Berkeley. My friend at the time (now my sweet husband) Andy read the column, Tales of the City, a fictionalized serial by Armistead Maupin without fail. I read it from time to time but I really got into it when in 1993 the TV mini-series of the same name appeared. Andy and I were married by then and living in New York City. I was glued to the show and could hardly wait for each installment. I was bereft when it was over if I can use such a strong word to describe the relationship I felt for the characters in the program. Even thinking about it I get a strange almost queasy feeling in my stomach and as I try to uncover why, I think the key is “loss” and probably as in “loss of community”. I have had the same unsettled feeling in my gut several—only several—other times.

One of the most remarkable memories of that feeling was when I was in jury duty in Manhattan in the early 90s.  Like clockwork (before the NY Jury Reform of 1996 jury duty was indeed clockwork every two years because the jury pool was so small due to a long list of exempt professionals) I would receive my notice to show up for jury duty at the courthouse in lower Manhattan. Going to jury duty turned out to be an amazing experience for me in a number of ways. Fairly new to living in New York City at the time, it was a wonderful opportunity to get to know a different part of the city from where I worked (Midtown) and lived (Upper West Side). Lunchtime, I used every second possible to explore neighboring Chinatown and Little Italy. Food was a big draw and I had wonderful soups and noodles and cannoli and yummy ice cream in flavors that were new to me at the time like red bean and green tea.

Medicine Wheels community in Sebastopol, CABut what jury duty in New York City really left me with was an astonishing group experience. Because I was so interested in the jury process and also such a “goodie two shoes” that I would never have even considered trying to say something during “voire dire” to be excused, I was always selected for a case (and I still am to this day). One such case was a drug possession and sales trial. As the juror was selected, I didn’t really take too much in about each potential juror. But when we were then whisked away to the jury room to prepare to hear the testimony, I began an intense and speedy induction into a community of jurors.

As we went around the table and formally introduced ourselves, the interesting and creative people in the group amazed me. We had an opera singer, a professor, a music producer, and a number of business people from different disciplines including myself—to name a few. I felt an instant rapport with almost everyone and we had what turned out to be a week-long intense relationship. We went to lunch together, we talked of life (but not the case until deliberation) and we became so close that when I said goodbye, I felt such a painful loss I had rarely felt before and infrequently since. I am pretty certain that feeling was a visceral emotion of loss of connection. As awful as it can be, I think it is also wonderful because it means that I was so closely connected to a group of individuals that its loss was almost overwhelming.

Community of family circa 1960sIn today’s New York Times Book Review I receive word that Armistead Maupin’s concluding series of books comes to a close with his final novel, The Days of Anna Madrigal. Though I have never read the book series (perhaps it is time) just reading the review brought all these thoughts of community and connection flooding to me. It brought back memories of the amazing community of dear friends I lived with at Kidd Hall at Berkeley.  And it reminds me that it is time to foster and create more community in my life, even if the ache of loss is a possibility.

XOXO Rachel

What's at the rainbow's end?

The perfection of human variation

What's at the rainbow's end?I am always searching for a way to classify who I am.  If there is a category to put myself into, I have attempted to do so.  Over the years, in part because I am a psychologist but mostly because I am a person who is constantly doing self-searching, I have taken countless quizzes and assessments about my personality.  In the journey to make sense of who I am, I have discovered that I am sensitive, I am bold, I am beauty, I am a visionary, I am a perfectionist… and I am both an introvert and an extrovert.   I find this duality most perplexing – how is it that I am either an introvert or extrovert depending on the assessment?  Can I be both or am I really one or the other and there is a problem with the measurement?

Alone and yet on top of the world! Haleakala VolcanoAccording to the Quiet quiz by Susan Cain, I am an introvert.  However, she includes a description of an ambivert as someone who is able to tap into either pole as needed.  If you answer half of the questions as an introvert and half as an extrovert, she explains, you are counted as an ambivert.  Being the perfectionist I am (according to many assessments), I could not help but count how many questions in her quiz I answered as an introvert and an extrovert.  The number was the same!  I suspect that there must be some questions that when answered a certain way, swing the scale in one direction.  Given the variation I have seen across other assessments of my style, I am clearly hovering between introversion and extroversion.   I behave differently depending on the situational context.

So does the introvert-extrovert scale help me understand myself?  Well, yes and no.  One thing that it really does help me with is with how I treat myself when I make a decision.  For instance, I tend to give myself a hard time for not wanting to go out and socialize.  Apparently, that is not uncommon in introverts because society generally has a bias towards extroversion.  In other words, we are made to feel wrong if we choose not to socialize or prefer a few one-on-one interactions.

Maui labyrinth for introspectionWhat I also find puzzling is that I want to come out on the scale as an introvert!  Why would that be the case given the cultural bias towards extroversion?  Well, for one thing, great thinkers and scholars are frequently introverts and I want to believe that I could be in their category.  Shouldn’t I be happy that I can be so flexible?  Instead I am a bit uncomfortable that I do not fit neatly into one category.  Oh, it’s that perfectionist characteristic again telling me I am not quite normal if I don’t fit in.  But as I think about this some more, I realize that I don’t really want to fit too neatly into anything.  I am a complex individual as is everyone.

I do believe that we have certain traits or characteristics that seem pretty fixed, but I am coming to the opinion that no one can be truly classified into any category.  That’s the wonder of our human capacity.  We are an amalgamation of genetics and life experience and there are no two people who share that down to the exact details.

Hibiscus smileTake assessments as a tool to help appreciate who you are.   Used wisely, they can reveal some aspects of yourself and provide reassurance that you are not alone.  But don’t treat them as a judge of who you are.  And don’t look to them to explain how you will react in any given future situation.  For we are as imperfect as the tools are.  And that is just perfectly human.