Hope: Two Women, Robin Williams, and Living NOW


Two Women and Living in the NOW

The truth about psychology and psychologists:  We long to be scientific—to prove our medications, our talk therapy works.  We long to assist ourselves and other humans to find more joy and make more sense of their lives. We mostly fail on both counts.narrow drowning arm

With psychologist websites mostly billboards and all the information any civilization could want in 234 languages at your fingertips– what’s a psychologist on the loose to do to try and make a difference?

It seems to me, that along with encouraging you guys to laugh at me and yourselves, I can be most useful by focusing on what works and what doesn’t work in psychology.

Thus, I’m going to focus on what I might provide that Wikipedia and the thousands of other psychologists’ don’t. Some kind of switch flipped for me with Robin Williams.  His suicide was not the first in my world.  No more Psychobabble Wall of Shame for me.

Three Thoughts to Last a Lifetime

freaked out monkey1.  “If you don’t take life seriously, it’s not worth living.  If you only take life seriously, it’s not worth living.”  So lighten up there, buddy.

2.  “The more I can use facts over anxiety to make decisions, the more likely I’ll repeat self-destructive behavior.” http://www.dreamstime.com/-image5573962
MORE ON FACTS OVER EMOTIONS NEXT TIME.  It’s Not What Happens, It’s What Happens Next.  The Emotional Guidance System.  emotions to make 2.

3.  “Live now.  We all have the same amount of time.  The 97 year-old nursing home patient and that kid excited about graduating from high school, the two-year-old with the duck-quack laugh.  They all have only now.  Only today.  Only NOW.

In other words, “Lighten up.”

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-excited-couple-home-image10634543These three thoughts about life do not fit well in our envy-based consumer culture.  More on this. I’ve been holding back so I didn’t scare anyone.  But, hey, I through auditioning. Time to admit it’s dang tough to enjoy being alive when we’re taught that life is good when we achieve something called the American Dream– which apparently involves buying a bunch of stuff that other people wish they had.  And living a life of servitude and debt.

This ‘living in the now’ is close to impossible for me.  Since I became a conscious being, most of my actions and choices have been the result of carefully rationalized emotion pressures and most of my time, energy, and money has gone into creating an enviable and financially secure place in the world.  But I have been gifted moments of living in the now.

I want to thank a couple of women who let me catch a moment.  Maybe you will catch a moment for yourself.

Martína Elana of Mexico City

woman in mexico oldThe Mexico City Hilton is across the street from the Alameda, a huge park where romance abounds along with plenty of chaperons.  I strolled through just before closing time at ten.  In each tent a woman sat behind a table of goods they’d spent hours unwrapping and arranging at dawn.  I was on a ‘living in the NOW’ high already thanks to a young woman on third floor balcony of the House of Tiles singing opera into the night as if the whole world was listening.

Martína Elana is 92.  She makes deep and bright colored art because she loves it and her great-great granddaughter hopes to go to college. I peered into her dark tent. She smiled, best no-teeth smile ever and so tiny.  Her eyes glowed.  Martína Elana offered the tiny chair beside her and I was ‘in the now’ for an hour while she told me about her work.  donkeydreamstime_846443How she first draws the story of each scene–the history of the pyramid or why she chose that particular ornery burro–then how she cuts hundreds of self dyed straws each the thickness of angel hair pasta. A 10 x 8—four days and costs about four dollars.  I drank in her words, absorbed and grateful and full of hope.

Robin Williams had killed himself the day before.  I was thirsty for hope.

dancing woman in mx12.02.14Augustina of Guadalajara

La Libertad (Freedom) 

On one end of the La Libertad Market in Guadalajara are rows of men at card tables where men and women clack out letters  and documents on non-electric typewriters for customers who do read or write.  I ambled past the letter workers and turned the corner.  And there she was. 

I pray the shock didn’t show on my face, though I’m sure Augustina was accustomed to rude expressions from strangers.  The fluid and beautiful dancer in the photo is not the woman I found when I turned that corner.  Augustina does not dance, walk, swim, wave, hold hands, clap, or point.  She never crawled.

Augustina is somewhere between 50 and 60 years old. She is perched on top of a barrel. My guess is around 50 pounds.  She knits dish towels and scarves to sell. She does not accept charity.  Doesn’t explain, just waves off my money and smiles. Then she uses the first and second toes of her left foot to scoop up a green and red scarf.

chickensdreamstime_4781154“For you, Miss?” she asks, as if her offer was the most normal in the world. As if there was nothing ‘wrong’ with her.

Augustina has no legs and no arms. She has tiny brown-skinned flaps with toenails and the remnants of fingernails.  She knits with her toes– her finger nubs are too far apart to coordinate any movement.

An hour later back at the Hilton, I slugged back a clump of pills that have allowed me the ability to walk way past the time lupus would take down a woman in a poor country or, just maybe, a poor woman in any country.  I check my meds in the mini-bar–the bottles for the five hour infusion tomorrow.

Thank you, Maria Elena. Thank you, Augustina.  I am privileged but you were smiling. I am complaining but you were smiling. You are the glow that inspires me to get up one more time and face the day. To try one more time in my fumbling way to give something back. 





I'm a psychologist who goes to way too many movies, for the same reason I chose this profession. I love stories. I use movies and novels working with people in my office and during speaking engagements. "You should write some of this down," I kept being told. So, this is it, folks.

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