Tracey Shipley
Youth, family and addictions counselor/creative therapist

Getting off the ladder

I was reading my daily thought for the morning book and stumbled upon a phrase that really spoke to me. “Get off the ladder.” In other words, stop looking at people as being above you or below you. We are naturally on the ladder with ourselves and that is how it should be. Are we climbing up toward the light, our inner guideline which helps us to determine where we want to go in life, how we want to get there and how we want to feel when this is accomplished? Or are we climbing down, backtracking to where we were before, less self confident, less self aware, less connected to our loved ones in a healthy way or less connected to the world around us in a way that brings us joy and fulfillment?

I once learned about the typical Yeminite synagogue.  I was told that the alter is placed in the center of the schule so that everyone is equally seated around this holy center.  If this is true, than that is how I see our relationship with those around us.  We are living circular lives. We have a natural need for communities.  One of the main attractions of belonging to a congregation is the community we feel when we attend services.  Joining a club gives us a community, maintaining a group of friends gives us a community, having a family gives us a community and the list goes on. That sense of belonging is imperative for us to live a happy life.

I used to live on Ted Talks.  One of them spoke of the biggest killer in the US. Cancer? No. It’s actually loneliness.  More people die of loneliness than of any other cause.  Can loneliness cause cancer? I think so.  I have known perfectly healthy people who have encountered unbearable circumstances and the next thing we know they have cancer.  Nothing is more unbearable than living our lives alone, without any witnesses with whom to share our story.  Being a part of a community allows us the opportunity to put things into perspective, to have the witnesses we need and to be a witness for others. When we live our lives on the ladder we are not a part, we are above or below.

So how can we fit into a community?  I believe it has a lot to do with how we fit in with ourselves. Groucho Marx had a joke “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member”.  Are we the kind of person that would be welcomed into a community of any kind?  Would we have what to contribute?  I heard another impactful Ted Talk given by a woman with three failed marriages who shared her belief of who we must truly love enough to be married to.  Thinking about it, the answer is obvious.  Ourselves.  If we would not be willing to be married to ourselves why would anyone else want to be married to us?

When we are on the ladder it is not easy to accept ourselves and even harder to appreciate other’s happiness. How often have we been on Facebook and seen our friends loving life, seeming so happy and fulfilled. There is an expression “Don’t judge your insides by someone else’s outsides” because you never know how they are truly feeling.  Maybe they only feel like sharing when things are going well.  Most of us don’t go on FB to share our misery and fears.  I have a brave friend that actually did this and was greeted with so much love and support that I am sure it tremendously lifted his spirits.  But I believe that this is an unusual case.  Again, if we are off of the ladder we can rejoice for others if they are truly happy and be there for them if we discover that they are not.

No matter what our communities are and how many we have, just the sense of belonging can help us to live longer happier lives.  I try my best to create as many communities as I can in my life. One of my favorites is the homeless hostel where I volunteer doing art every week.  We laugh and joke and relay our personal stories and feel closer to each other each time we meet.  In life we never know what community awaits us, there are so many to choose from. In my opinion, the more the merrier!

About the Author
Tracey Shipley is a youth and family counselor specializing in addictions and family communication. She was born in the US and moved to Israel in 1984 to continue her studies in Art Therapy. She moved back to the US in 1989 and began working in a drug rehab for teens where she was trained while she worked as a primary counselor. She moved back to Israel in 1996 and continued her work in addictions at the Jerusalem Methadone Clinic for a total of 9 years. She initiated projects for the children of the addicts at the Center, for Ethiopian Teens and a Sober Music Bar for teens and young adults: Sobar Jerusalem.
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