Out on a Limb
A Monthly Newsletter from Martha Clark Scala
Invest in bringing joy back to your life.
November 2009
Welcome to Out on a Limb, a monthly newsletter from Martha Clark Scala. This free e-zine is meant to invite and inspire you to maximize the joy in your life.

Traditional Flexibility

Locker room behavior demonstrates our attachment to tradition. Some folks are adamant about using the same locker, sink, or hair dryer on each visit. Any threat to the established pattern, perhaps by an unknowing newcomer, is met with a minimum of disdain. It sometimes leads to arguments. It shows up elsewhere: I know someone who will only eat acorn squash with fowl. Grilled salmon and acorn squash? Heaven forbid! This reminds me of the big meal that gets prepared on Thanksgiving. I’ll admit that in my junior year of high school, I threw a hissy fit when I found out, the day before Thanksgiving, that Mom had forgotten to get the usual apple cider at Lawson’s farm stand on Route 2. She and my sister walked to Lawson’s on snowy un-plowed roads to soothe my snit.

Why IS it that we get so attached to how things are supposed to be? Why IS it that we get entrenched in patterns of behavior at the gym, over the holidays, or elsewhere? The folly of any insistence on things being the same is that everything in life is ever-changing. Perhaps therein lies at least a partial answer! Whether or not we are consciously aware of changes taking place, we must get solace from some things being predictable or reliable. The gym member may prefer a certain sink, hair dryer or locker because previous visits have worked out nicely when those preferred items were available. Who can be faulted for wanting things to work out nicely every time?

Maybe we honor certain traditions to preserve a deeply-held memory of an occasion, a person, or even a recipe. The back story on the “Apple Cider Thanksgiving” is that it was the family’s first November holiday without everyone present: my brother would be in Illinois eating turkey with his future in-laws. His little sister was upset, sick, and missed him terribly. She couldn’t control his absence, but what she could control was the menu. When life as we’ve known it starts to slip through our fingers, it’s pretty understandable that we’d try to grip a little bit harder.

So here is the paradox: if you observe a sacred tradition, it very likely will bring you joy. If you have an excessive attachment to things being done in a certain way, your joy could evaporate in seconds. There is no “fix” for this but perhaps a practice of traditional flexibility will help.


How about both using the same locker, and being willing to use any of the sinks that are available? How about both preferring to have acorn squash with fowl and being willing to try it as the entrée, or as a side dish with beef or pork another time? What dishes cannot be absent from your Thanksgiving meal, and is there room at the table and in your mind for something different? These questions may seem trivial but relinquishing control is not. It’s hard work.
  Death of a Dream

Last week, I heard about a grief group for new divorcees that is titled Death of a Dream. We have dreams and other pictures in our head about how a marriage should look, what the Thanksgiving menu should be, and how our next visit to the gym ought to go. If we instill some flexibility in those images, our opportunities for joy just might expand. At the same time, we may have grieving to do for the unmet or unfulfilled traditions we once sought that elude us.

Grief Counsel

The holidays are approaching fast. If you are grieving and having a hard time as you anticipate the usual gatherings, here are a few resources for you:

For grief therapist Bobbi Emel’s short article on grief during the holidays, click here
For my responses at the Caring.com website to FAQs on self-care while grieving, click here


Joy-Gram for November 2009

A Zen master apparently said: “A mind that is full cannot take in anything new.” A mind that is not open, or that is set, cannot take in anything new, either. If you identify areas where you’ve held a steadfast belief about how something should be done, ask yourself if any letting go is possible. Entertain the notion that something new might bring a joy that could mitigate grief over traditions that have disappeared for whatever reason. May you enjoy a traditional and flexible Thanksgiving!

If you’d like to read more about this month’s topic, click the link for archives below, and read the November 2007 issue of Out on a Limb.


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By no means do I have joy “figured out.” Please do not assume that I do! I write Out On a Limb as much as a meditation for myself in the ongoing pursuit of joy, as for you. I think this pursuit is a lifelong journey and that the full experience of joy is, at best, episodic. May we all have more episodes!


Martha Clark Scala, MFT 721 Colorado Ave., Suite 201, Palo Alto, CA 94303

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