Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Who Am I? Psychology #101

Back in my mid-twenties a friend of mine played a Psych #101 game with me that had been introduced in his class. The game or experiment, as it was most likely billed, was that one person asked another the question, “Who are you?” 

Each time the individual being questioned needed to answer that same question, "Who are you?" rapidly, 20 times in succession. 

Being his guinea pig, I played the game. I have never forgotten, that I had only one answer, each time – twenty times! “I am Elisa’s mother.” That was the sum total of who I knew myself to be then! At twenty-five. 

When I began to expand that inventory of myself, I don’t quite recall. It must have been a gradual thing to get to where I am now. Today, as I walked uphill and downhill on my morning mountain road walk -- that clears my mind so much -- I played this little game with myself, once again. Still, twenty different answers did not come easily. I came up with six in rapid succession, as follows (Thank goodness, I've grown some. Not so boring as I used to be.):
  1. Elisa’s mother
  2. Eric’s mother
  3. A woman
  4. An American
  5. An American woman of Russian Jewish heritage
  6. A healer
  7. Now I am adding two more that occur spontaenously to me.
  8. A country/mountain woman
  9. A woman who "sees" -- everyday I thank G-d for that! (FYI, the "-" between the letters, G-d, is me honoring and proud of my Jewish heritage!)
I will ponder my other twelve answers and get back to you. In the meantime maybe you can "play" along with me. "Who am I?' And, "Who are you?" -- is, after all, a very long conversation. However, perhaps we can truly build global village if we could get down to the real!

Anastasia From the mountain where the weather is almost ideal today -- gorgeous! P.S. The name of my new friend from Bangladesh -- who is, by the way Muslim -- is "Zerrin Afza." 

You can read her posting that inspired me at:

Monday, June 28, 2010

Who Am I? And, Who Are You? Part 1

A discussion on “identity,” culture and conflict.

I came across an interesting essay today, posted on the peace forum I mentioned in my last posting. It prompted a bit of cogitation on my part.

Written by a young student, Zerrin Afra, from Bangladesh who had apparently become fascinated by a topic, “Identity and Conflict in South East Asia,” she had chosen the subject as a term paper theme.

Discovering her posting, an almost totally out of character encounter for me -- before internet fever infected me, I am properly embarrassed. Especially after I swore I would never be corrupted by this evil spirit! Nonetheless, infected as I have become, however, I was swiftly drawn into a cyberspace conversation with my new friend on her particular point of interest.

Below are a few of Zerrin's key thoughts copied (“trimmed” and jazzed up a bit); the ones that struck me most deeply -- “… the term 'identity' reflects our every thing. Like our self, our culture, our kinship or about our education. And, when we can answer the question 'who am I', it means I know, by what I would be happy to be known by others. I want to establish my self in what way, or in how I am comfortable.

What was happening here that I should willingly delve into this conversation, especially on the internet? the therapist, observer-mind in me wondered.

Without doubt, once again, unexpected comments had conscripted the unsettled feelings and related perspectives our local Jewish/Muslim controversy had originally called forth in me. Four years ago!

And, still I do not yet understand fully what lies behind the rather persistent pondering of mine on the subject.

Nonetheless, just when I thought I had settled down from my last round on this issue, my new friend from Bangladesh – someone I may never know more fully in ‘real time’ -- has focused my attention on it again.

This time, however, I believe I know what has been behind my distress all along.

The issue of my personal “identity” and how it aligns with the surrounding culture. Particularly the Jewish culture of my heritage and the American culture into which I was born.

Now, however, thanks to my far away, internet friend from Bangladesh, I am looking, again, at this issue, the Middle East crisis in my backyard, as I see it.

This time with renewed clarity, pursuing an opportunity to learn and sort out who I am in the world -- without the thousand masks I’ve worn!

More to come as my new friend and I – while worlds apart – discuss "identity," culture and conflict.

Anastasia, the storyteller

Who Am I? And, Who Are You?

"Identity," culture and conflict.

Inspired by a blog posting, "When We Are Talking About Our Identity" by Zerrin Afra on "identity" for the Peace And Collaborative Development Network

For discussion see Anastasia, The Storyteller history and -- 

"The Middle East Crisis In My Backyard"
Baltimore Jewish Times by Anastasia

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Telling My Story

When I began to get comfortable with the internet – a few weeks ago – I started exploring it as most people do. After awhile I took a few risks, plunging myself into a forum or two.

One I liked was an online writers’ forum. My goodness they were a rowdy bunch! Particularly on their politics track. I was, however, somewhat tantalized by their straightforward, "tell it like it is," written combat.

As long as I watched from the sidelines I even found it rather entertaining at times. I needed something a bit more sedate however. Or, I thought, at least a forum more oriented toward deliberate peace-building. So next I visited one of the links I had discovered, using Google. One of almost 2,000,000 blogs having the keywords – small “zones of peace.”

This one gave me a temporary feeling of “fitting in” and an enhanced sense of participating in internet endeavors of a more worthy nature. Discovering this venue, I even went so far as to offer up my article, “The Middle East Crisis In My Backyard.” This brought me some new connections as I spread my own particular point of view further.

At some point, I promise, it will become clear to you, my blog visitors, why this subject and its related incidents have become so much a part of me. (In the process, I may even come to understand it more fully myself.)

Nonetheless, my newfound yearning for internet connection was not yet sated so I explored further. This time landing myself on a website related to my eye disease, keratoconus, offering posting opportunities as did my writers’ forum. Now, having been both initiated as well as cautioned by my experiences on the writers’ forum, I observed what appeared to be proper conduct in this new domain, eventually taking a few risks of self-disclosure there.

Soon I had gone so far as to publicly acknowledge (I shudder to imagine what “worldwide web” means) that I had, indeed, experienced the worst case scenario from my eye disease, which, of course, would mean to be blind. And, that not only had I physically recovered from the ordeal but in surmounting the challenge I had transformed my life. Thanks, beyond words, to medical science and the skill of my opthomologist. “Sounds like an amazing story,” one response message had noted. “Would you be willing to tell us your story?”

Oops. I had invited that hadn't I? The answer had to be “yes" but (an upsurge from my Beloved, but resistant "Dark Side Warrior" spoke up. "Oh dear," he/she said, "Now we are really in for it!” (Murat and other wise Elders, strongly oppose the “but” word. But, arguably I hold a somewhat different view, believing that my Dark Side can be my friend, if I allow it. Thus his/her words should not be taken too lightly. Subject for another time.)

"I am ready," but -- this is scary -- as well as liberating. And fun, so far. The sky has not yet fallen in as Chicken Little fears. But -- "I’m going to do it anyway.” I am going to tell my story bit by bit -- as completely as seems appropriate for the internet in ways that do not overwhelm you and definitely not me. Take off the 1,000 masks that shield me from genuine connection -- and -- my Wholeness.

Tell my story. That's what "storytellers" do!

From the mountains where I am presently being successful at building a small "zone of peace" with the ants who have been attacking my hummingbird feeder.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I Wear a 1,000 Masks -- And -- All of Them Are Me

“Author unknown” wrote a poem I discovered many years ago when I was doing psychotherapy, It was so painfully profound I often read it to my clients at workshops or retreats. It set a tone that invited genuine, heartfelt sharing, one of the major goals for these events, geared toward healing the “Inner Child” and relationships.

I used to explain what I did, professionally, by describing myself as an “Inner Child” therapist. That wasn’t precisely, 100% accurate. It was close enough; a way of using common-use language to build a bridge from me to another person. In actuality, I was a practicing psychotherapist trained, primarily, in the mode of psychology from which the theoretical concept of the “Inner Child” came.

The modality is known as Transactional Analysis (TA). And, my application of it was integrated with Gestalt therapy. The marriage of TA and Gestalt created a clinical treatment approach that seeks to heal psychological wounds by helping clients integrate the disenfranchised parts of the Self into a healthy Whole. It is a modality, however, that is also so much more than that – subjects for another time. The poem was an impactful piece that underscores the former intent.

I've had some insights about myself, over the years, prompted by this poem. They came to me, especially, in the past few years as I struggled to find my place in the mainstream world after my “trial by fire” (being blind).

It began –

"Don't be fooled by me. Don't be fooled by the face I wear. For I wear a mask. I wear a 1,000 masks that I am afraid to take off and none of them are me...."

For me being blind was very much a shamanic death and rebirth experience. That was how I chose to hold what I was going through. My return to the mainstream world from that endurance test brought me to realize that in significant ways – all of the 1,000 I wear are ME; parts of me that make up my Whole Self.

This blog is -- in many ways my best attempt to date to weave these masks together to present my Whole Self in the world. My wish is that my effort would invite others to join me on this blog in the celebration, the dance under the full moon, that emerges simply by “naming” what we think and feel. Naming, at least, shines a light on the masking that is a doorway to our Whole Selves.

If you -- as a reader of this blog – don’t yet, however, understand how my postings are all parts of me that make up the one Whole that I yearn to share more fully, I hope you will make comments and ask questions about what I am posting here. I am believing that the effort on your part can lead us on a shared journey. In other words, please don’t just be a spectator of my adventure. Come along and travel with me.

From the mountain where it is hot and muggy today.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

“Trying” To Take Off The Mask: The One About Being Jewish

I am still contemplating the question of why I have been afraid to own up to being Jewish. I don’t believe I have ever been discriminated against because of it. Only once have I even been the victim of name calling. When I was about seven or eight a little neighbor girl called me a “dirty Jew.” My mother’s response was to not allow me to play with her older sister who was my best friend for about a week. That was the end of it – on both sides of the issue -- as far as I know.

Yet I have for decades been adamant that “I am not a Jew!” End of subject. Of course, I knew I was being defiant in the face of reality. (Obviously there was something I was trying "not to see.") Still I refused to acknowledge what, even the simplest logic, held to be true. If your mother was Jewish (and both my parents decidedly were), you are Jewish. Another – end of subject. I am rarely of such a strong mindset as to defy reality. Thus, my refusal to accept the obvious became a subject for jokes among my non-Jewish friends.

Among the few who are Jewish, I skimmed over the issue to avoid discourse. I simply had no way to legitimately account for my stance. To myself, let alone to them. In fact, until I rather "accidentally" became the local president of a national Jewish women's organization -- and -- found myself right in the center of a local Jewish/Muslim controversy, I really hadn't given much thought, at all, to why I had for decades avoided owning my Jewish identity.

Yesterday, however, Sue, a New Horizons board member and my “right arm,” and I visited a friend of her’s. In the course of conversation I mentioned the local Jewish/Muslim controversy that the New Horizons’ Small “Zones Of Peace” Project had guided into reconciliation. Of course, the subject of my position on various issues related to all things Jewish couldn’t help but come into the conversation, particularly where I stand on Israel and the “real” Middle East crisis. For me, that part of our conversation was a challenging one. Of course, I fessed up to my Jewish heritage.

But I left the discussion pondering why I had felt uncomfortable about owning this part of my identity. And, why I felt so challenged on the subject of whether or not I am a zionist. The conversation, also, brought me to wonder, again, why I have so carefully guarded this part of who I am.

Today I still don’t know. Maybe I am in some ways still working out my identity in the world. It didn't have much chance to grow while I was blind. So maybe I'm a little bit behind. And, being Jewish can be a particularly volatile identity to have, especially around well-informed non-Jews these days.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

To See Or Not To See

I was blind for eight years (1998 -- 2006, including recovery from the trauma), a fact not frequently acknowledged in my day-to-day life.

"Blind" is a hard issue for people to discuss. There are few journeyers who have entered that world, fewer still who have been and returned. Discussions on the subject of what it is like to be blind threaten the most hardy of the still sighted and belie adequate discription by those who are not.

I was, however, not "black blind," but "like seeing through waxed paper" blind which was quite blind enough!

In terms of acknowledging the situation, no doubt I am as much a part of the lack of dialogue on the topic as anyone else. The problem for me is that a lengthy period of my life was lived, by me, in a place to which others could seldom relate. Nor would they choose to as an option. There are few comparable experiences. Yet there are some; being in psychological or spiritual denial sharing some similarity and then awakening from it.

Often it seems as if that whole period of my life did not exist. Other times it seems as if the mainstream world had not existed during that time. Yet both most certainly did, as did I. I am still trying to piece it all together with the whole of my life and who and what I am. For myself this is an incredibly challenging endeavor. To describe it to others and bridge the gap expands the difficulty many times over.

I did not drop off the face of the earth during this time period as some people appear to believe. And, when I returned it was with Rip Van Winkle that I could most identify. I had no idea how to relate to the world I had left behind. Especially as I left before "911" and returned after. Our world was a dramatically changed one;  a change I seemed to observe almost as an alien from another planet. I was of this world but had, in many ways, notably not been in it.

Today, seven years after my return to the seeing world, it is still difficult to translate into words where I went and what I saw while there. In many ways, it is even more complex to explain the oblique perspective I hold on what I saw around me as I made my re-entry.

On occasion people ask what it was like for me to be blind. I am hard pressed to explain while the interviewer is challenged to understand what I say. A quote from Helen Keller, who was both blind and unable to hear, sometimes offers a starting point for discussion (thank goodness I was only blind).

"The spiritual world offers no difficulty to one who is deaf and blind. Nearly everything in the natural world is as vague, as remote from my senses, as spiritual things seem to the minds of most people."  Helen Keller

Particularly, since "911" people seem more available than before to acknowledge a spiritual perspective as having relevance for day-to-day living. Did "911" make spirituality more of a day-to-day imperative?

It seems as if it did have that effect. Perhaps, then, that is the place where we will all be better able to relate to one another someday; the place where the spiritual meets the physical. For me, that would bring such a welcome coming together.

A critical part of my recovering from being blind was that I was able to start writing again. I wanted to write, again, with the hopes of publishing, almost more than anything else when I was blind. In fact, initially, I thought that would be it! Write it and heal it. All done! I would write about my experience of being blind as a way to recover from the ordeal. But I was wrong. It would not be that easy or simple.

Over the next few years, I discovered I had seriously minimized the impact of vision loss and the inordinate adjustments that would be required of me to recover from it. So today that story in progress, entitled "To See Or Not To See And The Art Of Transcendent Living: A True Story About Clarity," is still awaiting completion and publication, like the three books I wrote for Random House. The process in motion, the product yet to be revealed.

Today -- as I contemplate taking off one more of those 1,000 masks I wear, I offer a bit of my story about my being -- and -- recovering from being blind, through a brief online excerpt from my work in progress.

Visit the linked connection on  "To See Or Not To See and The Art Of Transcendent Living: A True Story About Clarity" with Marge Hulburt and Shaun N. Mahshie. (FYI -- The eye disease that resulted in my blindness is keratoconus.)  More to come.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Commenting on Commenting

I've been pondering the past few days several heated issues -- Israeli/Jewish related. I was considering whether or not I might want to make some kind of comment on these for my next contribution to building conversation on this blog. Two items kept surfacing related to an article I read online at Tablet Magazine, "Never, Never Land: I Can't Talk To My Children About Israel" by Marjorie Ingall -- and -- Israel's attack on the flotilla.

The essence of these were so closely entwined they could almost be one as far as the conversation in my head goes. Ingall's article and how it somehow aligned in my head with the Gaza Coast tragedy prompted me to make my first ever online blog post other than my own. I wondered if blog fever wasn't now infecting me that I should commit such an act.

Finally, forward thrust got to me. I took the plunge, posting a comment in response to Ingall's essay. Was I ready, next, I asked myself to dare to post on the "Anastasia Storyteller" blog what I had commented on for Tablet. This was getting really intense. The heat inside of me was to the boiling point.

Meditator that I am, however, before I took that actual leap, I slowed down and contemplated again, asking myself why my speaking up was such a big deal for me anyway. I'm not sure about the many facets that will satisfy that inner exploration of mine just yet. However, I thought I might first "comment on my commenting" (which is what I am doing here).

That resulted in my coming up with more than a dozen "stories" I might be inclined to share, one-by-one, sooner rather than later on this blog. First -- I would offer the questions I asked myself. Then the "stories" I thought I might tell to answer my own query. Finally, my comment on Ingall's essay. All of this is offered below, hoping to invite your comments. (Please try to be a bit nice. I am really new at this.)

Questions I asked myself --

Why was I afraid to say what I really think, believe, perceive – the truth of my heart as it pertains to the piece, “Never, Never Land: I Can’t Talk to My Kids About Israel”?

Why was I afraid to make a posted comment, at all, when doing so is more or less the “in” thing to do these days?

Why was I afraid to take off one of more than 1,000 masks I wear; the ones that have to do with my Jewish heritage? Why has this one been so closely guarded?

There are at least a dozen or more stories I can share here that answer those questions.

Coming soon, one by one, If I dare. Here is a sampling of topics and titles from my taking off my masks at least one, leaving at least 999 more to go.

There is the one about --

1. Selling trees for Israel

2. Bridey Murphy – and -- me

3. The Christmas Tree

4. Assimilating, the 60s into the 21st Century

5. Being blind, meeting Murat (see posting -- "Storyteller, par exellence") – tough love is not right for me, diplomatic strategy is

6. Making amends to my Jewish heritage

7. President of the Jewish women’s group

8. Our local Jewish/.Muslim Controversy

9. Rabbi Kosman, “I love you”

10. Meeting with the imam

11. Hadj and Chanukah

12. Meeting again with the imam

13. Holocaust Memorial celebration

14. The ban on my speaking out -- "zip it, Anastasia."

15. Centennial Memorial United Methodist Church

16. Two Pastors, two ministries, one church -- and an experience of awe

17. My mazuzeh and Michael, the drive-by rebbe

18. I’m home and I light Shabbos candles, after a bazillion decades not

19. How not speaking and not seeing are twins in me

My posted comment for Ingall's article below. (She now has a follow-up, courageous woman that she is -- "Return To Never, Never Land." Check it out on Tablet.)

May 31, 2010 on Tablet Magazine online

I didn’t want to comment on this article. Frankly, I was afraid — chicken — to acknowledge how much it reflected views similar to my own though my children are full-grown. I watched from the sidelines. I read the comments. Then I kept choosing not to make my own. I didn’t want to get the flack that Marjorie was getting. I had made my own waves — on a much smaller scale — in the midst of Jewish controversy, among Jews and non-Jews.

I had seen — and — experienced, personally, how challenging and painfully Jews can so disrespectfully treat one another for simply giving voice to views with which they disagree. I have contributed a great deal (on a local level) to Jewish dialogue within the “tribe” as well as with non-Jews. It didn’t succeed. And I got judged and ostracized for the effort. Though that’s not the only way that Jews treat one another.

It is, unfortunately, very much a part of generic traditional Jewish culture to have rational debate that ignores the heart in the service of righteousness. I applaud Marjorie’s ability to articulate her heartfelt views and perspectives. And, her courage in being able to put herself so much on the front line and take the heat from it. I thank her for it.

Today I can no longer be silent. Israel’s attack on the boat delivering aid to Palestinians is just too much! In my worldview there is no excuse for taking the first steps toward another round of violence. (No matter who does it.)

rising again and again.