Two Lives or Embracing Polarities

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Have you ever felt like you are living two different lives at once? Have you ever felt your head spinning because many conflicting emotions, questions and thoughts just flooded it completely? Have you ever been surprised by how oddly your preferences have changed since the last time you looked deeply inside yourself? I have. In fact, when I was a kid it happened to me every six months; particularly when, after spending a summer in the country, we went back to our apartment in the big industrial city of Omsk.

Our summerhouse, as I said, was built in a rural area. Mom and Dad bought a piece of land and built a house with their own hands. My mom was an engineer — she loved to plan projects and then build them. My father didn’t understand anything in this subject, but he was willing to learn and do the all dirty and heavy jobs. So, I can tell they mixed fifty-fifty cement with love. It was not a big house, because at that time in Russia, you couldn’t build a big house even on your own land. Nevertheless, when the
system changed with perestroika, my parents added on to the summerhouse and built a bathhouse with a sauna nearby. Everything in this house was very simple most of the furniture  brought from our flat in the city after we bought the new one. The extremely old leather couch was outside and despite the fact that it was too old, it was still in very good shape and very comfortable, especially for a four year old girl. All our neighbors knew each other, of course. There were about 40 houses around, each situated on over an acre of land and separated from the others by a low fence, trees or a river. Everywhere you could see there was lots of open space – the biggest difference from the City. Life in the country seemed to flow gracefully, slowly and peacefully. Time seemed to stop or became a very viscous substance — you don’t feel the necessity to move fast. Therefore, people’s movements are smooth even when working in the yard or garden. Their talk is very steady, conversation longer and more intimate. Basically, you live like a community and communicate on a different level.
The absence of technology will surprise you: caravans of kids would usually travel from house to house and instead of using the phone, they would just shout into the air, “Mo-o-o-m, I’m at Max’s house.” An echo didn’t mind to work as a postman, and somehow it always delivered the message to the right destination. There are fewer worries in the village and more simplicity. Nature preserves its origin: there are no landscaped parks. Wildly growing trees and flowers, fields covered with daisies and bachelor’s buttons, a little river that almost dried out every summer — all of it made you very close to the earth, nature and yourself, providing freedom for imagination and expression. Wearing a simple dress and hat, I used to run shoeless through fields of daisies and bring home huge bouquets of wild flowers.
I tended to be more silent in this environment, but if I wanted to scream, I could do it from the top of my lungs like Tarzan, without being judged or misunderstood. Unbelievable pictures of the sunrise and the sunset uninterrupted by silhouettes of tall buildings allow you to have a panoramic view of the sky that much more fulfilling than IMAX.
Villager’s language is more figurative and full of metaphors. When I was a kid, I thought they believed in fairy-tales. When I grew up, I realized that the absence of fear in the village made me feel that anything is possible. As an example: When I was born, my father planted a pine tree near the summerhouse. He had told me that I would be like this pine tree: healthy and wise. My spirit would be as strong as the tree’s trunk; and my soul would strive for freedom, love and light like the pine tree’s branches turning towards the sun. These words made me feel very strong and secure though I was just three years old.
I also noticed that my hearing was enhanced in the village. I could almost hear the sound of a flying butterfly. There were no amusement parks or theaters. All we usually had for entertainment was a swing. I adored swinging on the swing that my parents made for me. I still remember how much trouble it was to make a seat for this swing. My father wanted to make it as cozy as possible, so he had tried all kinds of chair seats; but every time the simple wood board was a winner.
My mom loved to grow all kinds of berries and vegetables, and they grew all over the place! When I was swinging, I could reach the raspberry bushes, pick a berry and eat it really quickly. It was fun!
I was surrounded by love and it has taught me how to love and be generous. I realized then that if I have love I have everything. It seems that the “rural life” energy was just pouring on me, and I didn’t have to make any effort to absorb it, I would just soak in it like in the hut tub.
But lo and behold, the school season would start, the weather became colder and we were on our way to the city. We put some of our belongings in the car, locked the house and started the journey to another life, “city life.” For a while the scenery would be village-like, but very soon the trees became thinner and shaped by human hands, the flowers organized in flower-beds, the asphalt started to have marks of white and yellow paints ; red, yellow and green “eyes” regulated all movements together with the stop signs and honking cars. As soon as we got close to the city, my dad always turned on the radio. I felt like my ears were immediately plugged, but soon my energy changed. My body and mind adjusted to the rhythm of the music, the city lights, and different type of excitement.
The population of my city, Omsk, was 2.5 million at that time. Can you imagine all those people running around? They were almost literally running — their movements were fast and abrupt, as if time had suddenly shrunk, and they were desperately trying to fit all their routine into one short day. I learned to walk fast without noticing anything but my destination at the moment. I adapted to the city noise. I and found myself choosing roses for my bouquets instead of daisies. And if in the beginning I would smell them, later I discovered that I would be more concerned about their looks.
I think the city life is more visual in contrast to rural life that involves our feelings and all our senses. Village life develops our kinesthetic sensors — the city is a perfect place for a social life. It blooms there like a sunflower. I love to go to the theater and drive around the city at nighttime when the lights are on, especially during the Christmas season.
Relationships tend to be more complicated in the city for some reason. People seemed to mean something different than the words they used to express their feelings. Intrigues and mysteries, special “rules” to charm someone, silly, sometimes almost insane rituals, would drive me nuts in the beginning. But very soon, I would find them interesting and play my role without even realizing the change inside. An uncomfortable feeling like I am not quite myself would bother me from time to time, but the desire to fit in and to be a part of the new life will win.
The city life is more convenient: stores are very close and you have all kinds of variety in them; though the fruits are not as fresh as from your own yard, they are packed and even made into fruit salads. Any type of transportation is always available; any type of technology is always there for you. The business eats up time, age, serenity and freedom. We use more technology to free ourselves, but in reality grow more dependent on it. We use different vocabulary and tend to be more controlling. We select the types of flowers that are bigger and prettier, seedless watermelon and buying applesauce instead of an apple. All of a sudden, we have one more thing to worry about-nitrites and pesticides.
People live in apartments, in tall buildings; and strangely enough, it brings people close and separates them at the same time. Kids will be kids though. They still go from one apartment to another to play, but get more warnings from their parents about security
and strangers. It seems that people are more fearful in the city. Somehow, the city spirit has the ability to pull you out of the fairytale and drop you in a thriller, which is exciting but also can be more dangerous. I love some aspects of city life: the opportunity to meet new people, the merry-go-round of parties, holidays, theaters, lights, the need to dress up and even the fast rhythm of life. But as this fast pace keeps racing and asphalt keeps draining my energy, I feel all my body contracting and tense. I slip out of the city’s hands, and I rush to my summerhouse to give my soul a gulp of freedom and revive my body, to free my mind and create my fairytale, to amalgamate with the smell of wild herbs, flowers and fresh air. I feel the need to run in the corn flowered field to exhaustion screaming with all my might, meld with the surrounding feeling and, connected with myself feel my heart beating normally again.
Sometimes I think of the City as a brain and Rural Area as a heart. Generally, people want to be sophisticated, smart, but in order for the brain to survive the heart has to keep it’s normal pace, its beats have to be sufficient to nourish the body. We strive for balance, and it doesn’t have to be “either/ or” It might be that the ability to incorporate “two lives” without damaging the brain or the heart is an art that one-day will reveal a master. Embracing the polarities is one of the fine abilities that human beings are capable of enjoying.

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When The Trees Were Big

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This story is in celebration of my mom: 

” They say “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” but that’s not true for childhood. What happens in childhood doesn’t stay there — it follows us. My childhood has followed me through the years, sometimes unrecognized as it silently rules or asks for attention. From time to time, it reveals itself intensely with a deep feeling of familiarity, sweetness, or pain. Childhood wants to be healed or remembered or to simply be.
The long-awaited rain arrived in Santa Cruz today, mightily streaming down my window, cleaning the mirror of my past. In the twinkling of an eye, I saw my reflection in the life-mirror. I saw a five-year-old girl with two long, very thin braids, wearing a blue dress with small pink flowers on it. She looked ready to go to kindergarten.
Like many kids in Russia, from the age of two I went to kindergarten every weekday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. I called it “my second home,” and I loved this place. First, because my mom worked there, and we could see each other any time. Second, because great kindergarten teachers made us feel good, so we didn’t miss our parents too much. Third, because we performed the best holiday shows dressed as fairy-tale characters along with our teachers. The teachers borrowed from the original very popular folk-tales and then added to it stitching the story together from their own imaginations. Thus, we created new folk-tales and eagerly anticipated the shows.
Nevertheless, some “kindergarten rules” easily spoiled this idyllic kids’ life. For example, you couldn’t run in the puddles shoeless during the rain. In fact, we usually didn’t go for walks on rainy days. That was understandable in autumn, but made no sense in a child’s mind in the summer time. I. I spent my childhood in Russia, in the big industrial city of Omsk, where the weather is hot in the summer, freezing during the winter, blooming and fragrant in spring, and opulently golden and sunny in the fall.
Kindergartens used to be very popular in Russia. While parents were building “the bright future of socialism,” the upcoming generation socialized there. Every kindergarten had a number. Ours was #306. Later, on top of the door, appeared a sign reading Sunny Day, and we understood that now our kindergarten had a name instead of a number. The building seemed very big, not because we were small, but because it really was huge. It took up three blocks: one for infants up to one year, another for kids from two to five, and the last one for older kids from five to seven. Each block was divided into four sections, and each section contained an oversized bedroom, a bathroom, a hall with small closets for our clothes, an entertainment room, and the most important ingredient, about twenty kids. So, we had fun. In our building, the pink walls outside, children’s pictures inside, and beautiful lushes plants around aquariums with small orange and red fish created a friendly, homey feeling. But even the “Barbie” look didn’t draw me as much as the smell of baking rolls and buns. A huge kitchen with professional cooks yielded the most fascinating fragrance that roused our appetites, and prepared us to enjoy every meal — all four of them.
That day began like one of the typical “second home” days for me. My mom woke me up and we walked together, holding hands, to the kindergarten located only couple of blocks away. As my mom hurried to work, her movements were precise and quick. I on the other hand, reflected the walk of many kindergarten kids: sleepy and slow. I kind of threw out my legs making a flapping sound on the asphalt, and I walked listening and flapping, listening and flapping.
Several important questions swirled in my mind, such as “Why do people wake up so early? Why do my steps make such a hollow echo? Why trees are so high but still can’t reach the clouds? And, of course, what did our cooks prepare for breakfast today?” As we entered the building the last question found the answer while the rest of them settled down till the next morning. Evidently, the mind’s hunger calms down with a fresh baked roll successfully at the age of five; adults usually need heavier drugs for that.
Three lessons followed breakfast: math, painting, and language. Finally, we were released outside until lunchtime. That was when this usual day began to change. While most of the kids played actively and climbed up and down on the play structures, three “scientists” formed a group around the table.
“It looks like big smog from New York,” Misha said, pompously looking up at the big, black, fat cloud.
“No! It is my uncle smoking his cigar.. My aunt always says that you can’t see the sky when he smokes,” parried Max.
“It’s going to rain,” I almost whispered, enchanted. It meant that we were about to experience the extreme and rare summer event: a thunderstorm.
Many children’s voices took up the idea: “It’s going to rain!” Instantly, we all started jumping, waving hands running, and squealing, highly excited.
Five minutes later the wind strengthened, clouds partially covered the sun and the delighted kids enjoyed the scene. Blasts of wind tousled the green leaves and brought the smell of freshness and freedom. I spread my arms, breathing in the fresh rainy smell, then closed my eyes and imagined myself peacefully flying as a big white bird. The teacher interrupted my daydream by touching my shoulder to gather all of us inside the terrace. What a disappointment! Ten minutes later the teacher gently but surely pushed us inside for lunch and an afternoon nap.
After waking up refreshed we listened to stories, snacked away, played, drew, had dinner and entertained ourselves guessing whose parent would come first to pick up their kid. We stared through the huge windows outside and when we saw someone’s parents, we waved our hands to them and laughed. My mom always came from inside the building, so I never got to wave to her through the window, but I always played the game.
That unusual day the downpour dimmed the windows so we couldn’t see our parents arriving. My mom had come without an umbrella, so we decided to wait for the rain to stop or at least soften a little. We opened a door to the outside and watched the rain making big puddles. Big bubbles in the puddles looked exactly like bubbles in a pot of boiling water. It was mushroom rain because the sun was shining. In Russia, we believe that when this happens mushrooms grow very fast. I love mushroom rain. We waited for the playful rain to stop, but it wasn’t cooperating. Every time we tried to go, it started to rain harder and louder even with the sun shining.
Suddenly Mom said, “Come on, let’s run home!” I saw her remove her shoes and I couldn’t believe it.
Mom’s “Come on, let’s run home!” sounded like “Spread your wings, let’s fly!” I took my sandals off, and we ran in the rain. I felt so wonderfully excited and happy. I felt alive!
We ran in the puddles shoeless!
Mom was holding my hand and I could jump high, splatter the water, and scream. I felt warm water splashing all over me and sparkling in the sun. Clean, big, wet trees enjoyed the sunny shower and smelled like freshly cut grass. We laughed and ran. An overwhelming feeling of absolute happiness filled my little body completely.
This short run home happened to be long enough for me to realize that I didn’t know my mom very well. I thought,” How nice that Mom didn’t bring an umbrella.” Of course, by the time we got home the rain had almost stopped.  We stood outside, soaking wet and couldn’t stop laughing. I felt the little girl inside my mom and we understood each other without words. That day made my mom my best and dearest friend forever.
Years later, when I was in high school, I asked, “Mom, do you remember how we ran in the rain?”
“When?” she said.
“When the trees were big…” I answered.
My mom looked straight in my eyes with a warm smile on her face. Of course, she remembered. Some memories you never want to forget.”

Posted by Yelena Joy, MD at 5:09 PM

Underneath It All

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I drove my dad to school this morning. He is learning English in the senior center. He was dressed up as a good Russian student would and eager to socialize. When he was getting out of the car, our eyes met and I felt overflowing, all-encompassing, beyond-my-body love for my dad. I have had splashes of this feeling from time to time and it seems like new possibilities open up with each wave of love.
My dad and I haven’t had an easy history together. I grew up torn between my parents and confused, not knowing how to love them both at those times when they hated each other. If I loved them both, did that mean I was betraying the other? Did I need to choose sides?
Even when there are hard questions and deep sorrow in childhood, there is always a particular beauty. Certain freshness, genuine curiosity, and a sense of adventure are the greatest gifts childhood has to offer, and I appreciate that I still feel a strong connection to that part of me.
In our family dynamic I was often the savior and peacemaker, assessing situations with the precision of a laser micrometer and acting to smooth family tensions.
I remember two episodes that were particularly hard for me to forgive my dad for. One time my dad hit my mom and she fell on the bed like grass cut down in a field.   I was afraid she was dead, and sat on the bed, crying and shaking her, shouting “MOM!” over and over and over.  I don’t remember how long she was down (it seemed like an eternity) before she stood up, took her basket, and went to the garden to pick up berries and sing. Another time after a party at our home Dad got drunk and Mom and I went to spend the night at the neighbor’s place. My home became unsafe for me that day.
I was so angry with my mom that she continued to live with my dad and enable his behavior. I didn’t understand how they could get along for a while and then more drama would unfold again, and yet they still stayed together.
When my mom died at 63, I blamed my dad for quite some time, believing that if they had had a better relationship she would have chosen to live longer.
I have spent more time with my dad since my mom’s death, and I’ve heard more of his side of the story. And the more I revealed to my dad how I felt and the more I listened the messier our relationship got for a while until it resolved.
Somehow, somewhere underneath it all I discovered there is an eternal pool of love. When I with curiosity attempting to find the word to describe the love pool, I drop in between words and just sink deeper into the feeling of love. I sort of forget for a while what I was looking for, and instead just feel it deeply and become the love that flows out of me, through me and my lips smile, as this is all they can say.
The good news is I’m not the first or only person who has experienced this pool of love beneath a world of hurt.  And if individually we can get to this point of healing and embrace everything in love, can we do it collectively?
I imagine that underneath all of humanity’s major wounds, discrimination and wars there must be an even larger pool of love. Can we be brave enough to enter that pool? Can we be brave enough even to conceive that it is possible to step into love and create out of love– regardless of the pain that has been experienced?
I realize it takes time — and I believe as more people open up to the possibility it will become easier.
How easily can I create delightful change by loving What Is right now?
How easily can we create delightful change by loving What Is right now?

Love Bits from the Past in your Present

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I am transitioning, moving from this fabulous house where I have been living for the past seventeen months. Any moving experience, as you probably know, involves packing and sorting out. That’s what I was doing when I found my 18 year-old journal. Generally speaking, I am good at creating and destroying, so this colorful journal had to have some importance to survive several relocations. As I was browsing through the pages, I stumbled upon the intriguing title “My Son’s Pearls.”
I knew I saved it for a reason!
He was two years old at the time, and as I read each of his sayings I remembered those joyful realizations of how brilliant kids are. So, I want to share some of my notes here to evoke and spread love.
“Mom, I loved being in your belly. Do you remember how you were in your mom’s belly?”
“No, I don’t, son.”
Artem (my son’s name) hesitantly…“Mom, when I grow up will I be that stupid, too? ”
A few pages later, probably six months after this conversation, another note:
“Mom, remember I asked you if you remembered how you were in your mom’s belly?”
“Yes”
“I am beginning to forget. I remember that when I asked you then I remembered, and now I don’t remember that feeling so well.”
I don’t know what sparked the following conversation:
“Artem, do you believe in God?”
“Of course, Mom. Everybody believes in God, only some people believe he exists and the others believe he doesn’t, but the word God is present in both conversations anyway.”
The next one is “Mom, I loved you even before I was born, and now I love you too.”
Here is the last one for tonight. This happened when I was concentrated on reading a book “How to love your child.” We were in the kitchen.  Artem was playing with his little cars on the kitchen table, imitating the full range of sounds of driving. My whole attention was in the book as I watched something cooking on the stove with one eye. “Mom, talk to me.” I was frantically thinking what I could ask him so he would quiet down, so I could read my “important book!”
So I said “Artem, what do you think love is?” “Love is…” he started and then got busy with imitating cars again. I was just beginning to settle back into the book, when he concluded, “Mom, love is a celebration of life.”
I remember looking at the two-year old maneuvering his toys around the table, making his funny sounds. He seemed to be so involved in his simple child life, and yet I realized he could teach me how to love him way better than any book ever could.
And he did.
And he does — now as a 20 year old.
To be present as another human grows and unfolds is one of the greatest gifts there is. Enjoy.

Practical Love

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The word “love” might seem illusive and not something that can be applied to practical matters. I want to share the real story about one of my clients that shows the practicality of loving magic.

For 11 years I worked with kids and teens with drug abuse issues. One winter morning a woman (I will call her Kate.) whose child was inhaling solvents came to the clinic.
She and her son hadn’t spoken for two years. Every time she attempted to talk with him, he left the apartment. Kate knew that as long as her son was at home he was not with his friends huffing, so she would walk around her apartment building (-40 F outside) until the lights went out. That meant that her son was in bed and she could come home without fearing he’d leave to be with his dangerous friends.
She shared her thoughts about how she had created this lack of relationship with her son. She spoke of her pain, her disappointment, and of what she wanted.

I asked her to recall the first time when she held her newly born child, breastfed him, when the “newcomer” was so gentle, lovable, and perfect, when imagining a great life for him was so easy. (I often invite wonder and deep inquiry. I believe the power of a good question is priceless).
The hour session flew by and as Kate was leaving she asked: “Well, I feel it, I get it now, but how do I tell what I feel to my son? How do I make sure he listens?”

I didn’t know.

“I don’t know,” I said. “All I can say is that you look like a different person now than you were an hour ago. Let’s see what happens; keep me updated.” (I often wish I had before and after pictures — “before” I remembered love and “after”.)

Next morning I had a paperwork day with no appointments scheduled. I walked to the clinic early in the morning, enjoying the snowflakes piling themselves on all the surfaces, including my coat. Kate was sitting on the bench by the clinic — even before business hours. “I hope she didn’t spend the night here,” I thought. I had not expected her back so quickly. We nodded to each other and I gestured her to follow me.

“Ok, what’s happening?” I asked after we settled into the office chairs.

“I just came to say thank you,” she said. “Yesterday when I walked home, something had shifted in me. I realized that I love my child no matter what and I really felt love so present in my body. I decided to walk straight home as pure love and not worry about what happens. All I knew was that I love my kid and I want to see him. When I walked in, he was in the kitchen. He looked at me for a second and said ‘Mom, I’m about to eat. Do you want to join me?’ I almost fell down as he said this. After two years of silence, all of a sudden, he invited me for dinner – and I didn’t have to do anything, just open my heart. So I came to say thank you.”

I don’t know if you have tears in your eyes; I did at the time and I feel a sweet vulnerability now — after twelve years of telling the story and experiencing the miracle.

“Thank You!” I said. “Thank you for your bravery, for your openness to loving without holding back, for loving regardless and without guarantee. Thank you for gifting me with this example.”

This was the beginning of the path for them; the beginning of facing and moving through rough and sweet into what they want. The difference was they were doing it together now and from a whole new place. Last time I heard from Kate, her son had been accepted to college to study sociology.

Here’s to practical magic!

For tips on how to evoke a deep feeling of love to transform your life/relationship/health, follow the next blog.
Till then …many episodes of practical loving magic to you.