Balancing the Elements

This month west coast skies have been gray, except near the fires, where they are lit with the hot colors of fire. Yesterday morning I laid in bed thinking how close the fire up the road was and the many houses in it’s path before it would have reached us, fortunately it was contained before nightfall. I had flashbacks of a wildfire that took off from a smoldering brush pile in a clear-cut behind our property 30 years ago, surrounding our property on two sides with lapping flames. I could see the fire through the trees as I tried to organize my thoughts and belongings for possible evacuation. No one had notified me of the fire, I just happened to notice before going to bed lights from police cars at the end of the driveway. Walking down the driveway I saw road barriers closing me in the fire area.

It was a different world then, management was not handled well on that fire. In the dark I walked up the road to the fire staging area and got a ride up to the fire line by a local volunteer in his truck so I could see if any of the tall firs on our boundary were on fire. It was a long, scary night, and I was angry.

What do these fires, does fire in general, have to teach us? Perhaps that is a personal question for individuals to ask, depending upon how wildfires have affected them. In Ayurveda, the ancient science of life, fire is the primary element of the Pitta dosha. Too much Pitta in an individual can cause rashes, fever and inflammation, people with an imbalance of Pitta, either constitutionally or due to dis-ease, can be ‘hot headed’, quick to anger and may express anger with aggressive words or behavior. (The secondary element of Pitta is water, as in ‘letting off steam”!)  When in balance, Pitta is the fire to “digest” food, thoughts and life experiences, it can be sharp, smart thinking, strong, have staying power and energy. When Pitta is strong people have endurance and can be “in their heads”. Like it’s element Fire, Pitta has both a negative, destructive side and a positive building side.

The other doshas, Kapha and Vata, are the elements water and earth (Kapha) and wind and ether (Vata). Kapha imbalance can be cold, immobile and needs fire to energize it, to give balance, drying up some of the sluggish dampness. For example hot spicy foods are good for Kapha, too much cool, heavy, oily Kapha foods can cause congestion and overweight, yet spicy foods can aggravate Pitta, giving it too much heat. Excess Vata, the wind dosha, can push Pitta, causing it to inflame, yet Vata is flexible and needed to balance too much Pitta or Kapha. Vata moves the fluids of our body as it moves the rivers and streams of the earth.

mandala entitled “Cooling the fires with the blues”

There are colors we associate with fire – red, orange, yellow, and these colors, while stimulating and balancing to Kapha, can be too intense for Vata and definitely raise the heat of Pitta. Pitta finds balance with cooling shades of blue and green. Vata, prone to fear and anxiety, finds balance with soft, warming shades of colors, such as soft golds. Vata needs nurturing, soothing and ‘grounding’ to calm its erratic, ‘windy’ nature.

Are we nurturing ourselves individually and in our communities during these challenging times? Or are we allowing ourselves to become too inflamed with heat and anger?

the seasons of life, the year and the times of day each are dominated by the characteristics of certain elements, making each period of time ideal for certain activities.

Summer is the hot Pitta time of year, now in late summer we are moving into autumn, the Vata time of year. There is heat, yet there is wind and transition. In the news we read of aggravation and anger in the behavior of people and often the events we read about bring up our own anger. Things seem to be moving quickly, for better or worse. There is fire, there is wind. There is imbalance. There doesn’t seem to be much groundedness. There is too much water in areas of North America and other places, not enough water in other areas. There are too many fires . The Earth, a living being, seems out of balance in so many ways. Does it start with how out of balance we humans living on the Earth are?

When there is serious illnesses, such as cancer, all the doshas are involved, they are all out of balance and a careful assessment of how to bring a person back into health and well being is needed.

Maybe one lesson of fire is our need to find our own balance – in ourselves, in our relationships, in our communities. Be patient and understanding, be kind, watch the temper. Try not to let the news ‘rile’ you up! If you are a Pitta inclined person, bring cooling calm into your life, surround yourself in cooling blues and greens, the colors of the earth and water. If you are Vata inclined, be especially nurturing, soothing and calming the winds of your anxieties and fears with meditation and walks in Nature. Maybe you are a Kapha person, grounded but immobile, lacking motivation and feeling there is nothing you can do. Taking positive action by helping others at this time could give you more energy. We can all bring calmness to our outer world by finding ways to balance our own nature. A world full of healthier, balanced, calm people will surely begin to heal this precious Earth-body. It is not easy to bring balance to such a large living being such as Earth, but starting with ourselves is a good place to start.

Are we not all calmed and find inner peace when in Nature, especially when she is dressed in blues and greens!

I’m going to imagine blue skies, blue water and coolness settling over the west coast, enveloping the fires til they smolder out, the balancing impact of Kapha on Pitta. And I will visualize everyone in the path of hurricane Lane being calm and safe as all that Vata energy moves through.

You can read more about Ayurveda and see a list of resources to learn about food and life style choices, etc. here: Mother of all Healing.

Just a little ring story

Wedding rings have been around a long time. Credit for the first ones goes to the Egyptians, but archeological evidence has shown Neanderthals and cave dwelling people wore rings made of plant material. Some say they were exchanged, as in a wedding ceremony, but I’m not sure how finding evidence of rings being worn would tell the story of why. Certainly the rings found among the remains of ancient people hold stories lost to time.

It has, however, been well documented ancient Egyptians exchanged wedding rings of woven reeds, bone, leather and ivory. The Romans were the first to make rings of metal. The tradition of wearing a wedding ring on the third finger also dates to the Egyptians who believed one of the energy meridians in the body ran from the third finger to the heart. Chinese medicine and other traditions also speak of that meridian.

It’s impressive a tradition can be traced back to antiquity and is still honored and meaningful today.

In the healing tradition of Ayurveda  certain metals and gemstones are worn to bring health and balance to a person. Different stones and metals are recommended for different people’s innate constitution (or dosha in Ayurveda) or what is needed to bring healing to a person. Being formed over long periods of time in the earth, metals and gemstones are thought to hold high energetic vibrations.

One guideline for healthy living in Ayurveda is to be cautious about wearing or using something another person has worn or used. This applies to clothes and other personal items, but especially to jewelry, which is often worn by the original owner all the time.  As the vitality of food can be affected by the health and emotional state of the person preparing it, a piece of jewelry can also contain the ‘energies’ of the person who made it as well as the vibrations of the original owner. This understanding goes back thousands of years, but recent science as shown that indeed we are all made of energy and the energy fields of one being can impact another, as shown through plant and animal studies.

Given all this information, as well as my intuition, I stopped wearing the wedding ring that was made for me when Mike and I got married (Mike lost his a few weeks after our wedding under a house, but that’s another story! It was replaced). It never really fit me, and felt too ‘clunky” to wear, and I no longer felt comfortable about the person who made it.

I went back to wearing a ring made for me before we were married that had deep significance to me. It felt like “the right” ring to wear, even as a wedding ring.

My mom gifted me several rings when she began to clear out her jewelry. I received several of her rings and a few that had belonged to my maternal grandmother. It was interesting how some of these rings felt comfortable to wear, and others not. Of course several of them did not fit me, either too tight on my ‘ring fingers’ or too loose on my little fingers. I knew the stories behind some of the rings, but not all. A little ring came into my possession that felt ‘just right’, like Goldilocks finding the right chair and bed! I began to wear it on my third finger as a wedding ring, but still had a desire for that special ring that represented our relationship, our marriage.

That’s when I found Stephanie Selle. Stephanie, with her husband Brandt, is in the business of love. She is a local jeweler who offers couples the opportunity to make rings for each other with her there to guide and teach them. Her business is called “With These Rings”.  People of all ages, sizes, colors and lifestyles come from all over the country, from other countries, and from the local community, to have the special experience of making each other’s wedding rings.  What they all have in common is the love they share with their partner and the desire to have rings to symbolize that love. Stephanie is dedicated and passionate about what she does and has a deep appreciation for the unique experience and rings made by each couple. She teaches them about the metals they can use in their rings (this information is also on her web site) and helps them make choices for creating their own designs. Written comments indicate making rings with her is often as important to a couple as the wedding itself.

I read everything she wrote on her web site and called her. Would she make me a ring?

At first she said I could find a ready made ring elsewhere, but I knew this was the person I wanted to make that special ring. She also suggested I take a workshop with her and make my own ring. Mike and I talked about him making the ring. He was concerned about this arthritic thumbs and I was concerned about how my challenged body, with pain and stiffness, could sit through the process. No, we really wanted Stephanie to make the ring, especially after meeting her and talking with her for several hours!

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photo by Stephanie

So she did. A simple yellow gold band with a tiny accent band of rose gold (you have to look close to see it). It may look like any other gold ring, but to me it is the ‘right’ ring, the wedding ring I’ve waited 29 years (this October) to wear, made by the right person!

Of course I had to honor it, and the person who made it, with a mandala!

Thank you Stephanie!

Stephanie’s web site is fun to explore, even if you aren’t in the market for a ring: With These Rings

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To see other recently made mandala’s check out my second page of mandalas: Mandalas II or my mandala home page at: Floral Mandalas

 

 

 

 

July 4

Questioning the recent misuse of the word patriot – for July 4th I share words from a few Americans who loved their country and made a difference, and who might not be so happy with current events.

Mark Twain “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time and your government when it deserves it.” .

Theodore Roosevelt “This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed; We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (in her 1845 Declaration of Rights and Sentiments) revised Thomas Jefferson’s words to read “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.” She also wrote “A government is just only when the whole people share equally in its protection and advantages.

Happy 242th birthday United States, a work in progress, needing revisions, updates, and lots of fine tuning, but still viable with many good traits and good people. 🇺🇸

Have a Happy 4th!

Finding Hope

31 years ago I visited a German friend who lives in Nurnberg, a beautiful medieval town heavily bombed by allied forces in WWII. It had been targeted because Hitler had made it the home of his Nazi Party. The bombing had been called a “near perfect bombing”. The casualties were over 6,000 dead, 90% of the ancient city destroyed, the few historic buildings that remained heavily damaged.

After seeing evidence of the damage even decades later, and attending a Good Friday service in a famous church where art had been hurriedly stored away before the church was bombed (it was later rebuilt, as was most the city), I asked an older couple, friends of my friend, who were young folks during the war, if they were angry at Americans and others for the bombing and damage done to the city. Surprised by the question they answered no, they were embarrassed, and felt a sense of responsibility for what happened in their country, that Hitler came to power. They thought many, if not most, Germans felt that embarrassment.

Will there be a collective sense of responsibility in the United States by any group of citizens, or all of us, if our country continues on the racist, white supremacy, isolationist agenda of the current administration and those who support it? Those were my thoughts following recent Supreme Court rulings; the latest news on the detention camps; and so much more that is in the headlines.

Then I scrolled through my Facebook & Instagram feeds and saw photos of and read stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary and kind actions to help those who are impacted by government actions and the values that are currently sanctioned by the administration. I read of organizations whose activities and goals represent the values I have of honoring all who want to live their lives in safety, raise their children where they can grow, thrive, have meaningful lives and contribute to wherever they call home.

I have hope we will not be embarrassed, we will each say we did the best we could in resisting the destruction of those values. And I hope we do so in positive ways, with positive actions that do not mirror or in any way ‘feed’ the hatred.

May the activists “in the field” have strength and stamina in the elections and courts of law. May the angels volunteering and working to help families on the borders and in the detention camps be blessed. May we all help, however we can, those in communities impacted by economic devastation as government policies attempting to isolate and alienate us from the rest of the world through economic channels hurt those in this country. Also needing help are those whose health care, education, and jobs are taken from them due to funds being cut and channeled elsewhere. Those in our elected government who are resisting this agenda need our support and our votes. To those whose offering is prayers….may those prayers have power.

Where to you find hope? What actions can you take?

A mother’s love – Mother’s Day musings

Happy Mother’s Day to all mamas! 💜 Including mamas to be, grandmas & all women who offer nurturing and mama love to those who may not be their children. 💕

I know many remarkable moms of all ages and I am in awe of them all, especially those of my peers who I’ve watched go from young, often bewildered, overwhelmed (and tired!) moms with babes, facing the endless challenges of self-growth while growing children. Whose mothering has been driven by tender hearts and fierce determination to protect, nurture and steer their “kids” down their own unique paths of growth & independence. I’ve watched these women discover who they are as women and mothers as they mastered the most challenging and rewarding calling.

As a social worker I’ve also seen so called “bad” moms, women who could not find in themselves the strength or spirit to fulfill the job. As a counselor, I’ve heard many stories of women whose mothering fell short of what their children, now grown, needed. I’ve heard these stories from their grown children.

Motherhood is not all or nothing, it has many gradients. Some women’s lives take a turn down a different path after they become mothers and they are not able to be the moms they wanted to be.

There are all sorts of studies made and books written about what mothering is, defining motherhood, attempting to answer questions such as: is it learned or instinctual? I recently read some touching articles about women who, due to the circumstances of their lives, gave their new born, or yet to be born, babies up for adoption. In these stories it is clear their decision to do so was a decision of the heart, a decision guided by love.

When I listen to a woman talk with concern about her children, now old enough to make their own life choices, and wonder, as their mother, if she guided them right and taught them all they needed to know, the worry I hear is coming from the heart.

An older friend who has three children, all rather eccentric, with physical or emotional challenges, has said to me “at least none of my kids are in jail or doing drugs.” She had many challenges in her life while trying to be a mom, and wasn’t always “there” for them, but she always cared about them, loved them, and though their lives now are not easy, and this brings her sorrow, they are all good people. No one failed. Love was present.

With his permission I share my husband Mike’s story, at least a summary of it. When he was 9, the oldest of three kids, Mike’s mother was hospitalized for psychiatric reasons. (Given the time period this happened, it is unclear whether her hospitalization was appropriate).  Mike and his younger siblings were simply told was she was sick and in the hospital. During this time his father divorced his mom, eventually remarrying. When, after three years, his mom was released from the hospital, she was allowed to spend Sundays with Mike, his brother and sister.  These days together often involved time in Nature, perhaps on picnics together.  Later, as a young man, Mike lived with his Mom for 6 months when she moved to the east coast for a few years. They talked a lot about that time in her life, her thoughts about motherhood, her concerns for her children during and after her hospitalization. She felt guilt and had concerns about how her children were raised. Mike assured her they were all good people. (I can vouch for that!) As adults, and in time, they each established their own relationship with her. She was a woman whose life took her down an unexpected path, she was not the mother she, or others, expected her to be, but she never stopped caring about, and loving, in her own way, her children.  Mike attributes much of his own sensitivities, love and appreciation for Nature to his mom. He remembers the picnics with her and her love of the ocean.  Like all moms, she influenced who he became, in spite of her own struggles, of not ‘being there’ for her kids, and perhaps being seen by others as an unfit mother.  She loved her children, they all loved her in return. That is motherhood.
I’ve come to believe that unless there is deep mental pathology making mothering impossible due to disconnection and cruelty, most women who become mothers do the best they can, in whatever way they can, to care for their children. For some that may be sacrificing being in their children’s lives, but continuing to love them. Maybe the mind, or the body, does not fully sign up for the job, but the heart is always present.

Love to all mom’s for loving.

Related posts: Moms & herbs, Mother’s Garden, Mother’s Day & Cowbirds

Because my mom was a lover of flowers I chose some quintessential May flowers to post with this. Below is the Japanese Garden in Seattle.  Mom loved everything Japanese, the food, the art, and especially the gardens.

Arbor Day Giants

spring flowers

It’s a day to celebrate the trees.  If you plan to hug a tree, you might choose the majestic Big Leaf Maple, a native to the west coast. You would, however, have a challenge getting your arms around these gentle giants.  They are pollinating this week, covering everything in a fine yellow dust. The pollen settles on every surface and outlines the leaves of all the plants below its canopy as it settles into the thin lines caused by the veins of leaves. It is making me miserable with itchy nose and eyes, but it does not alter my love affair with them. I’ve never seen such heavy pollination from these grand trees as is going on this year. I pick up a lawn chair to sit in the warm sun and a yellow cloud rises from it!

Mature Maples can grow to 100 feet tall with a canopy spread to 50 feet. Their protecting branches are umbrellas in a spring rain and shade shelter on a hot summer day. I have measured leaves 12″ across. They are the largest North American maple tree.

Everyone loves Big Leaf Maples. The sapsucker is back for another year of nesting in the ones on the driveway near the house. All our resident woodpeckers dine on Maples regularly. Squirrels make them their homes and use them as their highway system. Covered with thick mosses of various colors and species, there are micro worlds on each tree, bugs living busy lives who never leave the tree. These mossy worlds are the 24 hour diners that attract all manner of birds and critters.

People too can dine on these big Maples. The blossoms of Big Leaf Maple are edible, you can add them to spring salads, and those whirly seed pods, called samaras, can be eaten, usually with the ‘wings’ removed and often cooked. Though dried they can provide winter nutrition, they are better and less bitter when greener. Native people would peel young maple shoots in the spring and eat the tender flesh.

Though the sugar content is low, you can make syrup from Big Leaf Maples. The US Forest Service has a 1972 brochure on how to do this. https://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/rn181.pdf

fall color

Coastal tribes used Big Leaf Maple wood to make many functional items from boxes to dishes and pipes and paddles. The inner bark can be made into baskets and rope.  Maple wood is used commercially for furniture, interior trim wood, and musical instruments. Sadly, here locally, poachers have cut giant Maples off private land to sell for the prized wood.

Big Leaf Maples  die slowly, occasionally letting go of an old rotting branch. The giant limbs fall to the ground in wind storms or when their weight is too much for the tree to bear, where they continue to be a home and a food supply for many critters.

In the fall, if the weather is right, the huge leaves of this gentle giant of a tree turn bright yellow (if a wet fall, they turn more brown before falling) and carpet the ground, eventually rotting into the soil around its base, providing nutrients for the baby Maples that will grow from the those whirly, rotating seed pods as they too make their autumn descent.

These giant yellow trees are a beautiful contrast to the evergreen trees who are their neighbors throughout their coastal homelands.

Other tree posts:

Oak Lady of San Juan Island

For the Love of Trees

Jody and the Cottonwoods

Flutter Tree

 

“High Priest of Spring”

A poem for April, National Poetry month.

My dad was a man of business, but he had a romantic, poetic, creative side to himself which he didn’t really begin to nurture until his last years when he began to sketch, etc.

IMG_2366Every spring, as the wild bleeding hearts begin to bloom, turning the woods here into a fairyland, I think of this poem by him, found after his death. I posted it 6 years ago, but I still love to share it.

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Is it a good poem? I don’t know, but it shows his sensitive attention to and appreciation of the details of life unfolding on this shared land. It expresses his observation of life around him. Is that not what many poets write of?

It’s a delight to see this side of him, and sad we never walked the land together in the spring. He was all about business and “projects” when he was here. But he must have had his private moments with “the High Priest of Spring.”

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Dad was a Nature lover, very active in Sierra Club & supporter of Nature Conservancy. I call this his “On Golden Pond” picture.

Happy Birthday Mom

Picking a bouquet of wintered over pansies yesterday, I thought of my mom, whose birthday is today. She was born 4/3/21, a date easy to remember!  Pansies were the first of many shared favorites. With her encouragement, I planted them as my first childhood gardening experience. I’ve written of mom and her love of growing flowers before, it’s a memory that makes me smile. It was a part of her that lasted until almost the end of her life, as other parts of her fell away.

I got out these favorite photos of her. One, which I never saw until I cleaned out my folks house, is her as a young, confident woman in 1942, post engagement, but two years before marrying my dad.

The other is us at Rialto Beach just after her 90th birthday. When I realized Alzheimer’s was going to take away her enjoyment of things she loved, I asked where she’d like to take a trip. She loved to travel, and traveled both internationally and throughout the U.S. with my dad and on her own after his death. Without hesitation she said “the seashore”. We made two trips to the ocean, one to Mt Rainer, and one to Anacortes.

The first trip was so much fun, she had not been to the ocean in years. She sat pointing to rocks on the beach with her cane for Mike to pick up. The three of us watched the most spectacular sunset I’ve ever seen at the coast.

I’ve written several times about my mom lately. After she died I was so worn out from the challenges of her care the last years of her life, and I had to immediately face my own challenges with breast cancer, a mastectomy, and so on. I felt little grief, just a sadness and relief.  Over the years I occasionally sort through remaining photos and memorabilia from her life and, as I mentioned in my last post, it has both brought alive a woman I did not know, pre-motherhood, as well as reminding me of who she was pre-dementia. These are not sad memories. On the contrary, they give me back my mom, the fullness of her life, the multi-faceted person she was.

My heart goes out to anyone witnessing a loved one going through any form of dementia. Keep alive memories of who they were/are regardless of how the disease is changing them. Remember always the person you’ve loved and shared life with as you adjust to this new person they are becoming, the changes that are happening, too often too fast.  I felt I was constantly establishing a relationship with someone new, yet I’d see my mom’s spirit shine through in little glimmers.

Here’s some pansies for you mom.

(header photo: Mom at LaPush, ocean trip #2, waving to us on the beach. She was soooo happy sitting and watching the ocean.)

 

International Women’s Day

A powerful experience for me of shifting perspective has been reading my mother’s letters and diaries as well as going through piles of old photos. Old photos are not just pictures of old people, old photos are, for the most part, pictures of young, vibrant people who were our parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, great grandparents, other relatives, and their friends. Though I might have known them (some I didn’t) and/or heard their stories, when I see the stories the pictures tell, or read my mother’s writings, I meet young people, especially young women, who I did not know because who they were then is not necessarily who they were during my time with them. In other words, before our parents became parents, they had lives! And even after they became parents, how many of us, as young children, were that observant of our parents and other “older” relatives to see who they truly were…complex, amazing people who had more going on than their relationship with us.  My parents told us stories of their lives when they were younger, but to read those stories not from the perspective of a parent recalling and telling a story, but in the present, in the first person, is a very different perspective.

Two of the ‘next generations’ of women in my family, my niece Kira & her daughter Natalia. They are as awesome as their foremothers!

On this International Women’s Day I think of all the amazing women in my life, my heart is especially touched by the young women I know – raising families, farming, teaching, going to school, following their dreams in a world that too often feels hostile and unsupportive. And I am reminded of the generations that came before my own, the young women a century ago, more or less, who were also following dreams, or perhaps NOT following their dreams because there was no support for them to do so in a crazy world where women’s status was much different than today. (yes, I know women’s status in so many places and in so many ways has not changed). They too were living in a world that seemed to be falling apart with economic decline and war, whether WWI or WWII.  There was racism, bigotry, drugs, the whole package, the same though different.

The economic depression and her parents eventual divorce was hard on my mom and her family, there were days food was scarce. She would tell us these stories, but the letters and diaries, written at the time, never mention it, they are the writings of a young woman, they sound like a teenager of any era, (except perhaps for the phrases and expressions used!) and later, like a woman in love and planning her future with her best friend and husband.

mom on the beach with her 3 ‘kids’.

Women in their 20s and 30s today are not likely thinking about their great grandparents stories, for my peers and I are the grandparents, great Aunts, ‘older’ women of their world, and we have our own stories! I hope we will also share the stories of those who came before us not as stories of ‘old people’ but stories of young women who thrived, worked hard, grew strong and laid the trails that became the roads, that still need to be made into super highways for women going forward. My mother worked full time while raising three children, and in spite of the term “latch-key” kid that was used at the time for children of working moms, I never felt neglected or alone because of her work life.  Her mother had worked, especially when left to be a single mom during the depression.  I did not have a concept of women not working and always knew life was about finding meaning work (mom, who told me stories of them, liked her jobs, most of which were office jobs). Looking back I think she was quite the super woman!  But of course I didn’t think in those terms at the time.  Her work paid for the ‘extras’ in our lives – music lessons, dance lessons, scout camps, and for me, her income and my own paid for my college education. (I was not daddy’s little girl!).

Happy International Women’s Day to all women and the men who love, honor, cherish and respect them.

To those who don’t…….be scared, be very scared! There is a league of women backed by the spirits of those who walked before them just ready to change the world as you think it is!

(just had to add that!)

 

The troubled waters we are in

The troubled waters of hate and violence we are collectively in are deep and the long-term answers to our own safety, as well as our evolution as a caring culture, are complex. This is my humble attempt to discuss how mental health services as a solution to violent shootings is a myth.

My introduction to mental illness was as a teenager. A boyfriend had spent time, before coming to the school where I met him, at a school for young people with emotional problems. He eventually left the school where we met, returning the year after I graduated. That year he tried to commit suicide. He was a nice guy. In my teens I didn’t really understand what his emotional problems were, though he talked with me a bit about them. Another boyfriend saw a psychiatrist once a week. Another classmate, an unattractive, geeky chess prodigy with few social skills, committed suicide over an “older” women he met at a chess match. I’m sure she never knew of his infatuation or reason for taking his own life.

While in college in Washington D.C. I had more experiences being around people with mental health challenges, people I met from the D.C. community (no, they weren’t politicians).   Wanting to be a historian, I primarily studied Asian countries. Courses in the history, anthropology, art and philosophy of Asian cultures filled my two years at American University before I transferred to the University of Oregon and graduated with a degree in social sciences. I did not know these early experiences around people with mental health troubles foreshadowed my eventual work as a social worker, including working in mental health services with people diagnosed with schizophrenia and bi-polar disorders.

I was never afraid of my teen-age boyfriend, not then nor years later when he visited me on the west coast. In retrospect, what I did learn about him (some of it from his mother, including his putting cigarettes out on his arm when he was in the school for emotionally challenged children) indicated he likely had schizophrenia. There were few medications available at the time. Though he had an intensity that could be scary, I never thought he’d harm me, he had a kind heart. Other troubled people I knew never seemed dangerous, not only at the time, but also in retrospect after years of working with people struggling with mental illness. When studying for a Master’s degree in psychiatric rehabilitation I read pages of case histories, none were about people dangerous to others. In the years I worked one-on-one with people whose hallucinations, voices, delusions, mood swings and other serious symptoms were very debilitating for them, causing them to be isolated and often behave in bizarre ways, I met with them in their apartments or community settings, where I might have been considered vulnerable compared to those who saw them in clinic settings, yet there was only one person I felt uncomfortable with. I learned people with serious psychiatric disabilities were more likely to harm themselves than others. Statistics back this up. It may happen, but that is not the norm.

If you add personality disorders, and/or drug induced symptoms, you change the picture, and the person.

“there are no reliable cures for insecurity, resentment, entitlement and hatred.”

This quote, from an excellent editorial in the New York Times, “The Mental Health System Can’t Stop Mass Shooters”, could be describing characteristics and attitudes of many people, including some successful politicians who think of their own financial gains over the needs of those they are supposed to be serving; corporate heads who show little concern for the welfare of their employees or the communities where they dump toxic wastes; professionals who take advanced of vulnerable, trusting clients; coaches, teachers, actors or anyone who sexually abuses those they have authority over. The list goes on. These people have personality disorders*, often narcissistic personality disorder, sometimes borderline personality disorder, and they live and work in all areas of our society. Some, not able to be successful within socially acceptable means or the acceptable definition of success, or unable to get the attention they need*, may commit heinous crimes such as rape or murder. They feel entitled to have what they want and someone got in the way of their gratification, someone pissed them off. The difference between the former list and the later example is a matter of opportunity or degrees on the continuum of personality disorders, or both.

People who have narcissistic personality disorder, or borderline personality disorder, are the “mentally ill” who do the most damage to others, and they are the least likely to seek help, or benefit from it if they do. It’s everyone else who has a problem, not them. They are rarely diagnosed.

The issue of mass shootings is not a mental health issue solvable by offering mental health services to individuals (though better mental health service are always needed). It is a societal issue where many people have become desensitized to others, where narcissism is becoming a “norm”, replacing empathy and compassion for, and cooperation with, others. Where those most in the limelight are setting a standard of “I’m right, and anyone who disagrees with me, or doesn’t give me what I want, is wrong and doesn’t deserve ______. ” Fill in the blank – food stamps, a job, health care, social security benefits, the right to live in the country of their choice, or maybe to live at all.

If you do not believe this has become a “norm” take time to read the comments written under many on-line articles or Facebook posts. See how people respond to those they disagree with, or whom they do not share the same values or perspective. (You can also read the articles listed  below addressing this societal problem.)

People with personality disorders are often liken to 2 year olds in their emotional development. They, like 2 year olds, should not have access to guns, nuclear weapons, shouldn’t be politicians, shouldn’t be playing with dangerous chemicals, or the rights of other people.

Mass shootings occur because people who are, or at least pass as, mentally healthy can buy weapons designed for mass killings, weapons designed ONLY for killing people, not for hunting deer, not for target shooting, designed to kill as many people as possible.

As long as this new “norm” of narcissism, of “entitlement”, is sanctioned by the role modeling of public figures there will be killings. Making the weapons unavailable for mass shootings is only a first but crucial step to ensure better safety for others. The other steps are complex and require honest reflection how, as a society, we got to this place of narcissistic entitlement. This place of “me first”, others be damn. Of hate, not love.

*Definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder: grandiosity, lack of empathy for others, need for admiration and attention, described by others as arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, demanding.  A person with NPD may concentrate on grandiose fantasies (e.g. their success, brilliance), be convinced they deserve special treatment, believe they are superior or special, have difficulty tolerating criticism or defeat. They frequently take advantage of others to reach their own goals, can be charming to achieve to those goals, disregard the feelings of others, need constant attention and often go to extreme behavior to get it.

Borderline Personality Disorder has many of the same characteristics, with the addition of lack of impulse control, often engaging in risky behavior and in self-destructive behaviors. People with BPD usually do not feel a strong sense of importance, but more of being misunderstood. Those with NPD feel others lives revolve around them, those with BPD will become obsessed with and feel their life revolves around another person, becoming intolerant of that person not giving them the attention they need.

Related internet articles:

Me, me, me! America’s ‘Narcissism Epidemic’

Research says young people today are more narcissistic than ever

Is Social Media to Blame For the Rise In Narcissism?

Narcissism: The science behind the rise of a modern ‘epidemic’

6 Signs of Narcissism