Where’s the Dry Land?

I’ve always appreciated the work of the Jungian analyst, James Hollis. His books hold prominent places on my shelves.  In Swamplands of the Soul, he says we must learn to embrace life as it is, not as we wish it to be, or as we are working to make it be.

His words remind me of one of the last entries in Dag Hammarskjold’s journal, which later became the book, Markings. Shortly before his death in a plane crash in Zambia in 1961, the Secretary General of the United Nations wrote,  Night is drawing nigh. For all that has been, thanks. For all that shall be, yes.

I’ve always been both haunted by and drawn to Hammarskjold’s words. I would like to live with his sober recognition of both the blessings and responsibilities of life. He lived wholeheartedly. And by wholeheartedly, I do not mean he lived with gusto. I mean that he lived with an eye for joy.

Hammarskjold led the UN during the height of the Cold War, when the world was closer to nuclear disaster than it has ever been. His perspective allowed him to accept the heavy weight he carried as he steered the superpowers in the direction of peace. Khrushchev and Kennedy didn’t agree on much, but they agreed on Hammarskjold. They said he was the greatest diplomat of the 20th century. Dag Hammarskjold found a way to view life that allowed him to embrace its complexities from a place of hope and possibility. He really was an extraordinary leader. I am not Dag Hammarskjold.

I have always begun my day reading the Washington Post and New York Times. Until 2016, I always found it enjoyable. Over the past five years, it has rarely been enjoyable. Now, when my day begins with America’s two premiere newspapers, the emotion stirred within is fear, not life’s possibilities.  Dag Hammarskjold’s words rarely come to mind.

The past month has been overwhelming. Here in Colorado, we have been dealing with some of the poorest air quality in the world, all stemming from wildfires in California and Oregon.  The ongoing images of the insurrection of January 6, and the denial of its significance, are never far from my consciousness. And then there’s Afghanistan. What a humanitarian disaster. Beneath all of that, it’s been a difficult month personally. Doing over 40 interviews about a raw memoir is not necessarily good for the soul.

Last week I changed my morning routine. Instead of reading the newspaper first, I have been sitting on my back patio and writing in my journal – one page of gratitude – one page of stream of consciousness. I drink a cup of tea and write until I am done.

The job of a therapist is to bring insight into a client’s life. The insights come from helping the client remove obstacles stopping them from getting beneath their ego to their soul.  The soul is where the insights lie.  Then it is up to the client to act on those insights and endure through his or her actions.

In my own life and therapy, insights have been pouring from the heavens lately, overwhelming the gutters I have so carefully positioned around my ego. I am soaked to the bone. In more normal times, I can receive these insights and decide what action to take. For instance, you might realize that since childhood you have always felt like you were on your own, and therefore always had to scramble to protect yourself when you thought the sky was falling. Now that you have gained that insight, you act, learning to allow others to care for you, and practicing that new action over and over, until it becomes second nature. That’s what I mean when I say therapy brings insight, but you alone can act and endure.

But when you are soaked to the bone with new insights, it is hard to turn those insights into enduring actions. You just sit in the damp cold, shivering. When the world appears to be drowning, it is even harder. You want to do your part to get everyone to dry land, but right now I think, “Yeah, well, I’m a mess, so what good can I be?” It’s a little whiny, don’t you think? (By the way, the only review of my book that I happened to see – an accidental reading – said the book was the tiniest bit whiny.  That’s why I don’t read reviews.)

In the midst of my whiny-ness, I am brought back to the words of the Greek writer, Aeschylus, who said the gods have ordained that the pathway to wisdom is through suffering, which takes me again to the words of the aforementioned James Hollis, who said most of life is lived in the swamplands. Which brings me back to the words of Dag Hammarskjold, Night is drawing nigh. For all that has been, thanks. For all that shall be, yes.

Hammarskjold found dry land in the swamp. I’m tired of being soaked to the bone. I want dry land too. You know, the book reviewer might be right. For an entitled white man who now has a pretty comfortable life as a transgender woman, it all sounds kinda whiny.

And so it goes.

14 thoughts on “Where’s the Dry Land?

  1. Nice that you have people in your life that care about you and in turn will care for you. Many don’t, sometimes for thru no fault of their own, outliving all your friends being a prime example. Your example of acceptance is nice, but accepted from a place of privilege.
    Whitney creeps in some times, like this comment. I like reading your missives and have a positive view of them and you.

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  2. Paula, I am ever impressed with your honesty of self. This is one reason your writing and sermons have a deep impact on me, and on my daily life. I am savoring this writing with my morning coffee. It was a good way to start the day. This day is going to be a tough one mentally. There are a couple of people I need to speak really honestly to, and I am searching for words that will be both honest and effective. This writing speaks rather directly to that, and I am grateful. No pressure, but would you mind writing something daily I can enjoy with my morning coffee? Thanks.

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      • I read your book, Paula, and the concept of “whiny” never entered my mind. I want to say I loved the book, but that doesn’t feel quite right because I don’t love what you had to (and still) go through and how you have been treated, but I do love how deeply it touched my heart, and how clearly and openly you shared your experiences. I am grateful for the perspective you have given me about things I have no experience with, and along with that, grateful, too, for the perspective you’ve given me on what I DO have experience with – being an intelligent, successful woman who still struggles with feelings of incompetence.

        You have clearly touched so many people’s lives and hearts in a positive way – and what else are we really all here on this earth for? Thank you for that.

        I hope that you find a bit of dry ground.

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  3. I just finished your book and did not find it whiny. In fact, I wanted it to be MORE whiny. You were incredibly restrained when you could have blasted some folks to the rooftop and back. Whine away!

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  4. I’ve also had to change my routine. I now read the news at lunchtime. About a year ago I was introduced to Richard Rohr’s meditations from the Center for Action and Contemplation. I start the day with those, now.

    Re: the individual who called your book whiny, I didn’t hear whine, I heard pain. And calling out the impacts of male privilege on women is just speaking the truth. Calling it whiny is dismissive and I’d guess spoken by someone who carries a lot of male privilege around with them. So sad. Anyhow, you didn’t want to belabor the point, so I’ll stop there. 😉

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  5. Paula, I want to rescind my previous comment. It wasn’t until this morning around 7 am that I realized I failed to comment on the very thing that you wrote that got me thinking in the first place.

    In the opening of this piece, you said, James Hollis says “… we must learn to embrace life as it is, not as we wish it to be, or as we are working to make it be.” So profound and came at the exact moment when I needed to hear this.

    We here in Southeast Louisiana have been devastated by yet another catastrophic hurricane. As I was shopping for groceries this morning in my attempt to begin to replenish what was 100% lost in my refrigerator and freezer, I saw the ransacked shelves and saw that there wasn’t a can or bottle of Coke Zero to be found in the store. I miss my Coke Zero. I was disappointed but quickly thought to myself, ‘we will soon move forward and these shelves will be stocked and we can get back to normal….’ Then I remembered what you said in this blog about what James Hollis said and I had to remind myself that this is what life is right now. I need to embrace it. Easier said than done.

    Since you’re a fan of Jungian psychology, I know you’re familiar with the MBTI. I’m an ENFP and thus I spend much of my time in the future. It’s something I’ve had to be cognizant of and work on since I was an undergrad and took the MBTI for the first time. It’s so natural for me to think about what I’m going to be doing later on rather than appreciating what is. It’s hardwired in me and it’s an ongoing effort to try to shift my focus.

    Your blog’s message came at the exact moment when I needed to hear it. I went searching for your words of wisdom once I evacuated to the hotel. I needed something to cling to and, as usual, you didn’t disappoint.

    You are filled with wisdom and leadership and are a great teacher, Paula. Thank you for writing these blogs. It means more to me than you’ll ever know. I sure hope you’ll be breathing cleaner air soon. Hang in there ♥

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  6. Thank you Paula for introducing me to Rohr. Also, I’d love to hear what you think about TX, evangelicals and the latest USSC ruling…

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