What’s In a Name?

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Dorothy JeanIn August, during a lull in the activity at our local county fair, a firefighter I was volunteering with said, “Guess what? Another Rob Harrison is interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter. Guess which station?”

Really?

According to census data, there are 4,988,173 Roberts in the U.S., and over the decades I’ve often been one of four Roberts in a room. Some of us become Bobs, Robs, Bobbies and Robbies in an attempt to distinguish ourselves, and so far that’s worked. But two Robert Harrisons at the same fire station? On an island? With 206,068 Robert Harrisons in the U.S., I guess it was bound to happen sometime.

The last couple of years have been tough on me. My Holmes and Rahe score put me at serious risk of illness. I experienced major life events such as a marital separation, being laid off from my job, a change in my financial state, the death of a friend, beginning school, a change my living conditions, and a change in residence. I suppose it comes as no surprise that, just as Holmes and Rahe predicted, these stressful circumstances led to serious illness, which took two biopsies to correct.

But generation after generation in my family has experienced enormous change. My grandmother, Caroline Leckey, was born on a ship as it made its way to the U.S. from Ireland. How bad would life have to be to get on a ship pregnant and leave everything you know and love behind? Potato famine bad, apparently, and my great grandmother wasn’t the first to do heroic things for the sake of an unborn child.

My birth certificate cites Mr. and Mrs. Herbert V. Harrison as my parents. As was the custom at the time, Dorothy Jean Brown’s identity was completely eclipsed by my father’s, though she graduated from the University of Nebraska with a degree in accounting and served in the military with a security clearance—things women didn’t typically do at the time.

Mom wanted my middle name to be Leckey, but dad vetoed that, and I ended up Robert Edward. I find my name feeling foreign, lately, which is unsettling. It’s like it no longer fits. I’ve revisited the idea of ceremonial names, and I do have two Buddhist names, which represent what my teachers see in me. But neither is English and both are private, so I prefer not to use them.

Like a butterfly outgrowing its cocoon, I feel like I’ve outgrown my name. So I’ve decided to change my legal middle name to Leckey and go by it instead of Robert or Rob. A Scottish friend tells me the name means “stone,” usually in reference to a hearth or marker stone. That resonates with me, as one indicates a boundary, while the other marks the center of a home–the source of heat and the place where meals are cooked. I am experiencing both an inner and outer defining. The boundary marker represents what I’ve learned about my own personal space. Knowing where I end and others begin, knowing my own voice and using it, knowing what’s mine, defining it to myself and others, and “defending” it. The hearth represents warmth and nourishment, an element of expansion in my life experience, an enlarging of both my heart and my hearth.

As I adopt the name Leckey, I embrace both my mother and father, the feminine and masculine of my origin. I don’t need a castle, moat, armaments, or coat of arms to declare what is mine. Changing my name isn’t about running away from anything, like my ancestors before me, it represents a courageous setting forth into an unknown future.

I am Robert Leckey Harrison. Call me Leckey.

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The Dangers of Empathy

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I’m looking at empathy. What will it mean to be empathetic to those with narrow minds, and with whom I disagree? This is going to alter how I present myself. I am learning that people are usually made up of a variety of story chapters, some of which do not explain the title of their book. I have judged these books by their covers.

More later…

A Time For Joy

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The Point Pub

The Point Pub

The last week of June and I was in Boston, the home of the American Revolution. “One if by land, two if by sea….” Lexington and Concord. Bunker Hill. The Boston Massacre. The Boston Tea Party.

The reason I was there, with my life partner Petra Martin and the creator of the Mixed Emotions Cards,  was to help her present the cards to the conference attendees. The conference was the Nexus EQ Conference on emotional intelligence. During the first day, the last two and a half hours was a festival of sorts. Those of us with products related to developing EQ got to demonstrate their wares to the 260 attendees from 32 different countries. It was indeed exciting, and humbling. I got to meet people and discover that our English has difficulty translating into other languages when it comes to emotions. We learned from other cultures that we would need to make some changes in the cards as they move into translations, as well as a the developing phone app.

So how did this former carpenter now nerd student handle all this? I’ve come to learn that the universal language is emotions. We all have them. The Mixed Emotions Cards are a great tool to develop emotional acuity, and I have been using them for just that purpose. I am learning to identify and name my emotions as they occur.

Mind you, I felt a bit like a fish out of water. I am new to this emotional IMG_0094intelligence reality, and there were many there with far more expertise in naming and navigating their own emotions in business and educational settings as well as being able to identify and navigate the emotions of others. I felt awkward. The rookie in a camp of veterans, as it were. So I shared from the limited experience I had, and was open to what others had to say.

Like Linda’s request for translating it into Spanish. Muhammad’s observation that in Bangladesh, some of the emotive words on the cards didn’t translate well, and that the shadings of emotions they have didn’t have English equivalents. Natalie’s offer to help translate into Chinese, yet with that same notion in mind: there are cultural differences in emotions and the expressions of them.

Needless to say, it was an exhilarating time. Not just because of the conference, which confirmed and fortified much of the work Petra and I have developed for Whidbey CareNet,  and opened our eyes to see even bigger opportunities for our product and presentations. Also because as a history buff, I was in the place it all began. Yes, I spent one day fighting off the 24 hour bug. That was nothing compared to being inside the Old North Church, making a Facebook friend a real friend, eating at Durgin Park, Seeing the Bell and Tavern and Point Pubs (two of the oldest operating in America), and meeting all kinds of new people with a similar interest in the spreading of emotional intelligence, and sharing all this with Petra.

The day I was sick? The Red Sox played at Fenway Park, just down Beacon Street from where I was. Ask me how I felt about that….

Who am I, anyway?

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Rob in uniformI’ve learned a few things about being vulnerable lately. As the title of this blog indicates, I view the beneficial form of vulnerability as an unfolding, a receptivity, an openness. Then there is the form of vulnerability that makes one feel defenseless, and helpless. I cherish the former version of vulnerability.

The other day I experienced an on-going identity crisis. Another step in the evolution I guess of my own vulnerability into that unfolding openness. I was about to end my shift in the Medical Emergency Response Vehicle,and I was washing the dishes. Suddenly I felt a bit of grasping, a tightness in my chest, and I realized there was something in me that didn’t want to end the shift.

I, as suddenly, realized that I was identifying myself by my service to the community as a volunteer firefighter/EMT. All the more so because I haven’t worked in almost two years. So I have had to begin sifting through these feelings of worth and value because as a male I have placed a lot of value and worth on what I do for a living, of being able to bring home the bacon as it were. Does that mean I have to identify myself that way?

Times are different, and for me in some ways, rather dramatically. I have for a while been the housekeeper where I live. My beloved brings home the paycheck. I am a full time student, which is another identity of “doing,” and housekeeper. But it raises the question again, who am I? How do I identify myself, and perhaps more importantly, how do I identify myself to myself?

This comes back to the notion of identifying on the basis of being rather than doing. In a day and age where it is widely recognized by many that there is an emphasis on do, do, do, being is secondary. Despite our high levels of unemployment, our productivity is the same if not up. People doing more. Sales of energy drinks, the levels of extreme sports being engaged in, the levels of TV being watched, all point to 1) people doing and 2) people identifying around what they are doing, and the perceived need to stay “energized” to accomplish all that is expected. And of course, a resume defines you by what you have done.

How would my resume sound if it was based on who I am? Not drummer, Buddhist, blogger, full time student, certified here, degreed there, firefighter/EMT, board member, nonprofit owner, business owner, blah blah blah. None of that, which I can hotlink (at least 7), but how would I hotlink who I am?

Rather a resume would say I’m kind, gentle, empathetic, accommodating, teachable, curious, communicative, fair, open, honest, defined (meaning I have and know my boundaries), and contemplative.

That’s the kind of bio I guess shows up on a dating site. Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social sites are filled with what we do. Mine is anyway. Even the website for my nonprofit has a list of activities. As I look at what I am, it calms that anxiety of not officially “doing” anything. No job title. It shifts the focus, and might I conjecture that a greater sense of who I am as a being can better inform what I could be doing, and will make me better at it?

I will leave you with that question my friends. I appreciate you for who you are, and would love to hear from your “being” bio, and how you feel when you identify yourself to yourself.

The Mind of Body

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Warrior Pose

Warrior Pose

The last couple months have been filled with research and discussions and discoveries about stress and trauma, centered around the work of the non-profit I help direct.

One of the things we have discovered is the heavily body oriented nature of stress. It starts in the brain, but within seconds the whole body is activated. We all know what the flight/fight reaction is. It’s our eons old hard wired way of functioning. The stressors have changed, but not the response yet.

I was in yoga class, and the teacher chose to use a student as a teaching moment. This woman’s shoulder was frozen. At a certain height of raising her arm, her shoulder and arm froze and when pushed upon, moved as a single unit. When the teacher eased it down and pushed, the joint flexed.

Added to the flight/fight response is a third component we rarely hear about: freeze. That’s what trauma is. When danger escalates to fear, and an added ingredient of immobilization occurs, be it physical or otherwise, the human system begins to shut down. Withdrawal, disassociation, and actual paralysis can occur. I have experienced it in my own life.

While we were watching this rather generous woman be our example, I reflected on my own lack of shoulder freedom. Consult the image attached to this post. See the straight line of the shoulders? Mine didn’t use to do that. For the most part they still don’t. I remembered that morning my own sexual abuse, and how my shoulders were during that experience. I made a point to thank the woman, as I wondered if her shoulder triggered anything similar. That’s how trauma can work.

I went back to my mat. I wasn’t freaked out, or embarrassed. I have processed those events of my past enough where talking about them is far easier, I know they weren’t my fault, and it doesn’t mean I’m less than. What I did discover was that my body has been remembering that event for all this time. Now it’s time to loosen it up, and shake it all out, and re-wire the memories of mind/body connection with new pathways.

I felt a sense of joy, and it was because I felt a sense of freedom. There in that yoga class, with no intention, just an aspiration to awareness, I was liberated. I took another step into integration of my being.

I invite you to move your body more. Walk it, exercise it, make it fit in such a way that you develop connection. Connection to others who are safe, connection to outside, and connection between your body and mind.

The Human Condition

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Human Condtion

Our vulnerable human condition

Last week, after the bombing at the Boston Marathon, we lost a 10-year-old girl (to what turned out to be natural causes) here on Whidbey Island. An islander in his twenties stabbed a friend, and then in West, Texas, a fertilizer plant blew up. The second explosion killed four volunteer firefighters who were already on scene after the first explosion. The community of West lost four responders, ten civilians, three of its five firetrucks, the fertilizer plant (and the jobs that went with it), several homes, and an apartment complex. Two hundred others were injured.

It could have been worse. They all could have. But they were bad enough.

At Whidbey CareNet, my partner and I have been researching and poring over materials on stress and trauma for several weeks, developing a presentation and tools to equip emergency responders to relieve stress, and then last week it started to manifest itself in me.

It came to a head when I had a dream in which I yelled angrily at my partner, “Don’t talk to me about stress until you’ve held a dead body in your arms!” I was losing ground to the stress, which creeps up insidiously. It doesn’t knock loudly, at least not for me.

So this week, I will make some appointments with Whidbey CareNet providers to deal with even deeper issues of stress and trauma in my own life. And I’m going to listen to music–a little jazz in fact. (Thank you Molly Cook!)

Last week was about the human condition. In Boston, where others ran away from explosions, emergency responders ran toward them. In Texas, responders did the same thing and died because of it. Here on Whidbey Island, we responded to two calls; one tragic, the other violent.

It takes courage to get up, keep doing this, and keep my heart open and empathetic. It takes courage to call a practitioner and say, “I need help.”

Today, I encourage you to remain vulnerable, be grateful, move your body, breathe the air outside. Feel the sunshine on your face. By all means, cry if you want to. I have. As Forrest Gump’s mother said, “Oh Forrest, death is just a part of life.” Feel it, process it, listen to your emotions, and see where we disconnect from mercy, compassion, and justice.

We saw the uglier side of the human condition this last week. Let’s manifest some of the more positive side this week.

Absence makes the heart….

Well, I miss posting here. It’s been too long, and a lot is going on. I’ll spare you the details for the most part, except to highlight two different things.

One is the emerging mission and work of the nonprofit I help run, Whidbey CareNet. The interconnective net of emerging relationships is bringing forth a new way of approaching the very thing our organization exists for: relieving the stress of emergency responders. Our filing for the 503(c)1 status is done and will be in the mail this week. Our new presentation on stress relief, complete with applicable tools, is nearing rough draft status. New trainings are coming into focus to help our mission along. It is painstaking work at this time, with most f the research being done by Petra Martin, the founder of Whidbey CareNet, and fact checked by a local PhD in neuroscience. This is getting very exciting, not for us so much as it will be for responders.

Today three bombs went off Boston today. A lot of people experienced trauma, and given that 3300 people have been killed by guns since the Newtown shootings, it’s evident that trauma is impacting the lives of a lot of people. That trauma induces stress, and responders, as can be seen running at the scene of the explosion as others ran away, then face the aftermath of the traumatic event and live with what they see, hear, and smell. It is not just traumatic stress we are after. Add to the duty induced stress the every day stress of life, and you get the picture. We don’t want to manage it either.

We want it to go away. Stay tuned….

Asking for Help

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This is a fascinating story that Amanda Palmer tells in this video, as many Ted Talks are. I find a lot of valuable ideas here if one is interested in getting in touch with and retaining a sense of vulnerability.

First, notice her desire for eye contact. I know that before I discovered living vulnerably and shame free that I avoided it, and I notice it with others when they don’t talk to my eyes. I think we all do it to some extent. Try eye contact consciously over the next couple days. If, like me, you are hearing impaired and have taken a bit to reading lips, still, try moving your eyes between the lips and eyes. It is a wonderfull way to connect with people.

Second, Amanda has given herself to asking. In the video, she shares about the one band member who was hesitant to walk among the crowd and ask for donations. It reminded me of the first time I did it as a member of Island Shakespeare Fest. I felt the same way her band member did, but realized that there was a huge difference. If I’m begging, there is no exchange. A beggar gives nothing in return. As for our Shakespeare troupe, we had rehearsed for months, outside, in the rain and cold, to be able to present the best free, outdoor Shakespeare show possible. So it was fair to ask. Can you see the vulnerability in asking? When you have hat in hand, you make contact, you open yourself to the possibility of the shaming “Get a job” experience Amanda explains in the video.

One other benefit of this eye contact and asking is it creates community. ‘Asking is connecting, connecting is opening the heart.’

Those with egos and a sense of celebrity will find this difficult to do.  As Amanda demonstrated though, it creates a community that wants to give. The community brings the food, they provide shelter, and the musicians Amanda invited are out front playing for donations, they play later on stage, and everyone gets what they want/need. A small economy develops.

One thing that will stop me from doing this asking, this connecting, is shame. I liked how Amanda used the word “fearlessly” in this video. I think I develop into that place of fearlessness, as I take timid baby steps and see that being vulnerable and open and asking works. People want to give. When Petra Martin started Whidbey CareNet she went out and asked local health care providers if they wanted to contribute their services. They replied with a resounding “Yes!” They wanted to give freely to others who gave of themselves. What Petra and I have seen as Co-Directors of Whidbey CareNet is the difficulty that emergency responders have in receiving free care. I suspect part of the reason is shame. That part of me that believes I’m not worth this free gift of someone’s service. I want you to know that toxic shame of that sort is a lie.

So today, can you look someone in the eyes while you talk with them? Can you ask for something you need? Are you willing to be open and vulnerable and fearless in that way? Are you willing to begin dismantling the shame that binds you?

Let me know. I have a comment section I moderate, and I’d love to see a community discussion about vulnerability, and living shame free. If you have resources to suggest, by all means do do.

The Ways of a Peaceful Warrior

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Unfo3_17_13

Image courtesy of Six Seconds

Here is a link to an article that is a good story, and here is the model mentioned in the first article. I want to bring your attention to a couple pieces of this model. On the blue third you’ll see that one of the aspects of knowing yourself is recognizing patterns. When it comes to recognizing emotional patterns, I’ve learned to pay attention to what the imperative is that drives the pattern. The questions to ask myself are, “What emotional need am I filling behaving this way,” and, “Why am I reacting the way I am?” This requires real openness. I might encounter parts of my life I would rather not deal with. This takes courage.

Over on the red bar, the part of choosing yourself, one of the aspects is navigating emotions. It is difficult to successfully navigate emotions when I can’t recognize them, and the reactive patterns they have fallen into. One of the tools that is excellent for developing emotional literacy are the Mixed Emotion cards. They are designed simply to help a person develop emotional literacy, so I can identify what at times are myriad feelings, with some clarity, which better help me see the patterns and their imperatives, and also then to be able to navigate my emotions.

This can be challenging work. It might take some time to come to that place on the green portion where I am empathetic because that means I can actively be involved in someones emotions and clearly know mine and navigate mine without becoming identified with emotions that aren’t mine. This was a counseling tool we were taught back in school, and doing it on the fly when someone lays out a tragedy of abuse is hard to do. But it can be done. Because that part of the circle is about giving myself: my love, my compassion, my wisdom, and my silence. Sometimes what someone needs are just two arms.

Read the article, and leave a comment there, and/or here. I’d like to hear what you have to say about it. Thanks to 6Seconds.org for posting it.

The Interpedence of Trust

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trustmixed_emHaving been through a life that was emotional void, traumatic, dysfunctional, and challenging (and I existed in a fairly “normal” family), trust is not something that has come easily to me. Trust is something that is developed, built. It doesn’t happen in a snap decision.

Take the illustration for example. By the time you and I sit down in our seats to see this trapeze act, they have practiced time and time again. Used to be they practiced with a net, and then for the shows, went without. Which meant that, you had to absolutely trust that the other person was going to be spot on time when you both reached the middle.

Not all of life is so high risk. If you cannot be trusted to do your job, then you get fired. You don’t necessarily hit the ground in a fatal or permanently injurious way. Yes, getting fired feels that way, but the fact you’re feeling it is one very positive sign.

So what does it take to build trust? Since I would want to feel trusted and counted on as trustworthy, it seems to me there is a certain level of self-knowledge in knowing I am trustworthy. I know my limits, what I am and am not willing to do, not just because of consequences, but because of my own values. Knowing what those are takes looking in and asking questions, which is not a common practice anymore. I t means I know I can get out on that trapeze, by myself, swinging back and forth, and eventually, hanging by my knees.

The second part of that is doing what I’m asked, told, or expected to do. I’ll do this, you do that. Like taking out the garbage, doing the recycling, cleaning the cat box, all that sort of stuff, and then adding to it. Doing extra. This is called practicing. I like it when I can look and say, “Oh! Cat box needs emptying.” I don’t empty it because I get anything out of it other than the fact it makes the cats happy and that my level of awareness is such that I noticed it. It becomes a priority.

“I see that look on your face, and it’s not about us. It’s about work.” That’s a different aspect, but when you are aware of what those around you are going through, it develops that trust that makes relationships work. This is a practice too. It’s that practice of swinging upside down, and swinging far enough where when I look up, I see you doing the same.

All this practice is what makes it possible to make that connection in mid air, that place where we are completely vulnerable and counting on someone else to be there. That place where, when my arms are outstretched and I straighten my legs and let go of that trapeze; me in mid air. Are you there? as I crane my neck to see you.

Just when I have no more motion to keep me in the air, our hands meet. Maybe I’ll never get over those butterflies of that moment. But I know that repeatedly, time after time, that assurance of contact, of trust fulfilled, gives me assurance that we can complete together the act we have set out on.

It’s easier to trust now. I know people fail, because I do. I can accept that. I also know that those who like being trustworthy work to repair those breaches. The functionality and fullness of being in a trustworthy relationship make the work worth it. Despite how scary it is making myself vulnerable, learning to trust is a great act to be in. It’s the foundation of my sudden urge to do a 360 somersault in the air before you show up!

Trust is an affirmation of myself, you, and us. That’s a strong foundation for any act. What say we make this act the best we can?

Image from deck of Mixed Emotions