I’m Not…

May 6, 2017

Whatever else is or is not right with the world, heavy snow and a high of 30F on the last days of April is most definitely not right. Maybe for Alaska, but not for New Mexico. Yes we get spring snows, even into May on rare occasions, but not wintry cold snow lasting more than two days and temperatures in the teens. Not later than March. But that is what we had last weekend, and now here it is looming again. Wind and damp and plummeting temperatures, icy rain on the way. Or maybe snow again? At least this weekend I did get a walk in the sun earlier this afternoon, before the weather turned.

I’m trying to put myself into a mood to be appreciative of the moisture which is always welcome in our high desert environment – but not succeeding very well, at least partly because we’ve had few pleasant weekend days to enjoy the outdoors. I feel stagnant, rusty, worn… I dare not say old, as several of my closest companions have forbidden me that word.

One benefit of living in a rural setting is ready access to the pleasures of nature, but the down side of living 15 miles from town is no easy access to indoor places for exercise. At least so I tell myself – that if I lived in town I’d get over to the indoor track and walk in winter as readily as I walk the rural lane near me in warmer weather. Maybe I delude myself? Would I really make the effort?

It’s regrettably easy to imagine how much differently – better – one would do things “if only”, rather than make the effort to do those things “despite”. Nothing prevents me from walking around and around in my house when I can’t get my walk outdoors – but I don’t do it. I don’t even give myself an excuse as to why I don’t do it. Nor do I question what it would take for me to develop a habit of in-the-house exercise. Obviously the activity just isn’t important enough to me at this time.

What is more important, but equally unresolved, is finding my way toward a change in how I relate to certain types of people. Specifically, how do I move past an emotionally based and negative attitude toward people whom I experience as dishonest, hypocritical users. They are what they are and that isn’t going to change. As often as possible, I have chosen to avoid engagement with such persons once it becomes apparent that no amount of tolerance and making allowances will produce a more honest and positive interaction. I know myself to be someone who leaves a good space for others to be as they choose to be but I do give myself permission to not engage with those whose conduct persistently offends me.

I also acknowledge that once they’ve crossed an ethical line, there’s no going back. I guess I embody the saying shared with me recently by my hairdresser. It’s something she found on line. “I’m not Jesus, and I don’t have Alzheimer’s, so don’t expect me to either forgive or forget.” My most common response is to avoid further contact, a tactic which has worked effectively until now.

For the first time in my life, I am faced with both a professional and a personal challenge to how I will deal with a person I cannot avoid but whom I also choose not to forgive. The work situation is the less difficult, in that I have relatively little direct contact with the upper level manager whose behavior is unacceptable. The personal situation is in-family and therefore much more difficult to avoid. Others whom I care about are involved so there’s not just my interaction with the person, but theirs also to consider.

So as I try to find some positives in the experience of winter on the last days of April, I find I must also reconsider what has felt like unforgivable behavior towards me. Needed moisture redeems the snow and cold. What might the equivalent be in regard to a relationship I have less than no desire to rekindle, after a long period of mutual avoidance?

My dilemma arises from the separate issues I have with this person’s behavior, above and beyond those that the others in my circle feel, and I feel on their behalf. How do I clear space for them to sort out their relationships with the problem person while I remain disengaged from the process?

“Won’t you accept an apology?” I was asked.

If I thought the person capable of offering a sincere one, and there was an accompanying change of actions, with a new and moderately respectful attitude toward me, then yes, I would accept the apology. Sadly, I know such a change is not forthcoming.

“If I’m shown a hypocritical face, I will show the same back” is the strategy to be used by one of the others involved. While that may in fact be an effective response, I know myself incapable of copying it. I’ve never been able to hide my emotions, to pretend something I don’t feel. As a good friend said to me recently, “When you are righteously angry, it is a powerful anger and everyone can feel it.”

So I will instead take myself out of the way, allowing those who choose to interact to do so, free of the added dimension of my presence. If it goes well, then maybe I’ll be willing to be present for the next interaction. If it does not go well, it will be clear that I did not have a role in the negative outcome.

And meanwhile, I will try to do what I know is right, but oh so hard – to let go of the entire issue, to “put it in the Master’s hands” and to accept whatever awaits. It is only ego, after all, that holds a grudge.

Out of the Depths

April 22, 2017

I’ve come to realize there’s a subtle dynamic at work behind my long absences from posting. I first thought it was just a function of the many other demands on my time: an often 50 hour a week job, keeping house in a still new marriage, guaranteeing my own needed “down” time, assuring enough together time with my husband, and looking after our growing collection of animals. I’d thought I was, as I put it once, “too busy living to reflect on that living.” That may be true, but it is now apparent to me that it is not the whole truth. And in this age of alternate facts, blatant lies, and outright perjury, it is vital to me to be unflinchingly and unfailingly truthful.

I follow, very much enjoy, and not coincidentally frequently agree with, the blog Musings From a Tangled Mind. But I cannot conceive of myself ever following that pattern, with daily posts (sometimes twice daily) about anything and everything that arises in the tangle. I have the thoughts, I just can’t imagine myself sharing them.

It’s not just a generational issue, although I’m aware that the age groups beginning, some 20 years younger than I, do have a different ethic around filtering – or rather not filtering – their thoughts. There’s another more subtle dynamic at work that has become clear to me as I live with and beside my husband, and observe both of us in social settings or on the phone. He talks easily, especially in groups of his country mates, and I sit silently except when I have something to offer that puts a different slant on the discussion. He chats freely by phone with friends across the globe, whereas I prefer to text hellos to those not near at hand.

A couple evenings ago I spent over an hour on the phone with an acquaintance, answering her questions about my employer and the way my job is done, to help her decide if she wanted to apply for a similar position in her corner of our large state. My husband was amazed that I was on the phone for so long, commenting that there is only one person, a special quasi-daughter, with whom he has known me to talk on the phone at length. “You must have really wanted her to join the company” was his observation. I do think she’d enjoy the work, but I also want her to have a realistic picture of what it entails.

Back to my point – I have only just begun to peel off layers in order to get to the nub (in the onion, the sweetest part) of why I fall into long blogging silences. Outermost layer is the obvious outer, daily life demands on my time. Next down is what I perceive to be a reluctance to air matters I’ve not thought/felt my way through completely. Below that is recognition of a personal style of reticence somewhat at odds with the “spill your guts and let it all hang out” expectations of social media.

But there are more layers, and I’m aware I have not yet identified them all.

I used to write – usually letters to one special friend – in order to clarify my mind on a topic, or to help me sort out my feelings. What would stay roiled internally could be perceived clearly in the act of explicating it to someone else. Not infrequently those essays were adapted into blog posts as well. I’ve not written, not needed to write, such clarifying documents since having the benefit of a caring and able listening partner in the house with me.

I also used to write to create a sense of connection with others – reaching out from my quiet sideline position to drop comments into the broader stream of national conversation. Now my job puts me into close, often highly personal, interaction with a wide range of other types of people, plus I’m still learning the ways of a spouse from a radically different cultural background. I have all the “connection” anyone could want, and then some.

But I do miss my exchanges with those distant readers who had become friends through our process of commenting on, and knowing something about each other’s lives through, our posts.

Back to the onion… Letters to clarify thinking or feelings meant using writing as a means to better understand my mental and emotional states of being. As I have proceeded deeper into my spiritual life, it has become less salient to me to give attention to those states. I do need to recognize their antics in order to let them go, but I don’t need to dwell on them, seeking understanding. Staying focused on a more purely spiritual state of being allows me to function effectively in my daily life without wasted energy. Insights arise, are recognized and usually shared with my spouse, and then let go rather than enlarged upon in a blog post.

So what has now changed? Perhaps a sort of “coming out the other side” of introspection, to feel at least occasionally like sharing the insights for no other purpose than just to put them “out there”. They may not be profound, nor necessarily of broad interest, certainly they won’t be “well thought out and reasoned”, but I suspect it is nonetheless important to share them. Because whatever arises from Soul and spirit to make its way through our mental and emotional barriers has a deeper meaning for someone, somewhere.

I seem to have a knack, dealing with my clients at work, for reframing or restating their issues in a way that helps them see themselves or their problems differently and more productively or positively. It seems to me to be time to use that same skill in this blog, reframing my occasional insights to have broader-than-just-my-life potential. I’m not sure how it will go – but rely on my readers to let me know. Thank you in advance for your comments.

And to start the new process… I just encouraged my husband to choose a topic for his “argumentative essay” assignment in his English Composition 2 class,  that is unique to his experience rather than one – like climate change – that has been widely discussed and reviewed. My reasons included that his proposed Africa-based topic would be more familiar to him and more easily argued, as well as having more accessible and concrete data points to use in constructing his argument. But I also admit to a mischievous interest in helping him demonstrate to his “new diploma clutched tightly in her hand” young teacher that there remains much in this world that she does not know. There is more to skilled writing than following a standard format, and there is vastly more to teaching than setting rigid standards and marking down for every small deviation from manuscript formatting.

Writing, whether an English class essay or a blog post, is communication and its import lies in communicating content: ideas, perspectives, insights, analyses or persuasive arguments.

So does that mean my long silences have indicated that I have nothing to communicate? No, I don’t think so. That I have not been willing to make the effort? Perhaps. That I’ve been resisting fulfilling my role as a channel for spirit? Probably.

If my resistence is the true core of the onion, I know just what to do now. Admit my stubbornness, give over the resistance and just get one with what’s expected from me. So be it. Amen. Baraka Bashad.

May these blessings be.

I Know What I Like

February 19, 2017

I sent an email to my (very understanding) supervisor recently, expressing my deep reservations about a proposed move to video visits being pushed by upper management. Not that I don’t know how to adapt my interviews to a video format, but I live in a region of limited Internet connectivity and the people with whom I am expected to conduct these visits have neither the technology nor the money to acquire the technology to participate. Most run out of minutes on flip phones before the end of each month.

More importantly, to my mind, is a concern for the disappearance of meaningful interpersonal connections. Too many of us now live in isolated bubbles, glued to smart phones and tablets, Googling for answers to test questions instead of reading and learning and thinking things through for ourselves. Too many of us can be seen sitting with others, everyone with his or her head down staring at a screen. Too many of us spend too much time “connected” only with those who visit the same websites, think the same thoughts, agree with whatever we say, and take righteous offense if anyone contradicts the group’s predetermined set of beliefs.

I’m not originating these thoughts – some of them I read in an analysis by Eric Francis, astrologer and writer and producer of PlanetWaves. Some I heard during an interview with a journalist scorned by his liberal peers for writing a biographical piece on Milo Yiannopoulos. The journalist’s original position was a sort of “know thine enemy” belief that one cannot effectively implement programs or persuade others who hold different views, if one hasn’t heard enough of those views to discover where there may be common ground upon which to build a successful compromise, or a persuasive argument for a different outcome.

I’m reminded of a speaker brought to my college campus in the early 1960s. Once a week the entire campus was gathered for Collection, to hear a presentation meant to give us food for reflection. Attendance was mandatory. One spring morning, the speaker was a South African government official who presented a defense of apartheid to an audience almost entirely composed of supporters of the civil rights movement then actively unfolding in the United States. Some students made an initial effort to block the speech, primarily because of the mandated attendance. The school administrators insisted that we hear the official’s viewpoint “in order to understand how best to argue against and counter it.” The speaker presented a closely reasoned and very persuasive argument in support of separation of races that could only be countered, I realized, by catching – and taking apart – his implicit assumption that people are more comfortable “with their own kind” and that race is a necessary and sufficient condition for dividing kinds of people. He only verbalized the comfortable with one’s own part of the premise; the racial implications corollary was never stated. In case you didn’t take logic in school, the speaker implied but never stated that in and of itself skin color creates an unbridgeable gap between people such that I as a Caucasian can never be the same kind of person as anyone with a Negroid complexion.

Had I not heard the South African speaker, I might never have been able to pinpoint the unstated assumptions on which so many people base their objections to the sort of social integration that has been experienced in the past 40 years in the US. And had I not heard that speaker, I probably would not have grown in my own ability to reach across very real differences, to find common ground with people whose views are significantly different from my own. I have friends, good and caring people, who support the newly elected Congress and President. I don’t agree with their political views, but I also cannot fault their day to day treatment of neighbors, nor their commitment to good education, appropriate care for the needy, and fair treatment for all.

The devil is in the details, as they say, and one of the details seems to be that we as a nation have lost the capacity to relate to anyone different from ourselves. How many people, now, would object to the statement that “people are more comfortable surrounded by those like themselves”? How many of us choose to go outside our “comfort zones” or our technologically reinforced personal bubbles to listen to, interact with, care about those whom we perceive as different from ourselves?

The journalist who was scorned for writing about Yiannopoulos had called himself a liberal, but reacted to their scorn by redefining himself as a “new conservative.” Not that he changed his own values, but that he perceives today’s “strident” liberals as unable to listen, unable to discuss, unable to tolerate different viewpoints from their own. They have become, he claims, just like the alt-right in that both sides are equally intolerant.

A Quaker friend (a Friend friend) of mine recently raised the question of how to reach out to those whose views differ from our own, in order to better understand steps to take to heal the growing divide which he sees as threatening to tear our democracy apart. I found myself wanting to answer “shut down the social media sites, turn off the Net, create an environment, at least for a week, that will force people to actually see and talk to and listen to one another. Don’t replace in person visits with video visits, don’t require doctors to focus on data entry into a computer when they should be listening to their patients. Don’t allow objectors to prevent a speech, however unpleasant the views of the speaker. And don’t let implicit assumptions about similarity and difference slip by unquestioned.

It may be true that we are generally most comfortable with those like ourselves. What matters is how we define the phrase, like ourselves. I remember that I used to say the only thing about which I am intolerant is intolerance. I suspect that is still true. Intolerance, to me, means lack of respect for the humanity of another. I need to ask myself whether I can respect the humanity of a bigot. Can I find that of God in a hater? I found it in killers who were my students when I taught in the NM Penitentiary. I have certainly found it in those friends referred to earlier, whose political views are so different from my own. If I can do so, it does NOT mean I accept anyone’s right to act on bigotry and hatred. But if I can do so, I think I’ll have a better chance of diverting the haters from implementing their bigoted agenda.

 

Detaching As Best I Can

February 5, 2017

I have been examining the fine line, the razor’s edge, upon which I am directed to balance – to be in the world but not of it. To watch what is happening and to manifest my grasp of the meaning of Divine Love, without becoming either for or against anything particular that I observe. One of my teachers on the MasterPath illustrated this directive with a story about walking by a lake, communing with spirit and happy in the moment. He hears a cry and sees a person splashing in the lake, shouting for help, apparently at risk of drowning. He knows that we are urged to stay detached, to not take on the karma (consequences) of others.

Does he walk by and ignore the plea? Of course not.

He assesses quickly that he is not a strong swimmer, and may make the situation worse if he plunges into the lake himself. He does have a good right arm and can be of assistance by throwing a rope out to the person. This he does, shouting instructions to grab the rope and hang on. He succeeds in towing the individual in to land, calls 911, and stays with his rescued person until the EMTs arrive. Then he continues his walk, resuming his contemplation and letting go completely of the incident. He does not know the person’s name, nor any of the circumstances of his past or future life. That is of no concern.

Another image used to instruct us is that of viewing life as a river, that we do not swim in but rather watch flow by as we sit on the bank. Not the easiest viewpoint to maintain when one is doing necessary daily chores or other aspects of just living one’s life – especially those one has allowed oneself to like or dislike – but it is through such daily routines that we are shown where ego, like/dislike, anger, greed, and various attachments “catch” us out and pull our focus back into negativity and the mundane.

If I am distraught that apparently “the world still prefers a blustering and dishonest man to a hard-working and intelligent woman” it can only be that I am (yes I admit it) identifying with my own life experience of being treated in that manner, thinking of myself as a woman whose worth has often been ignored while the rewards and supports go to a less able man. It apparently cannot be otherwise in daily life. For if that imbalance were to right itself, another of equal force would pop up. It has ever been so in the world, from the beginning of recorded human history.

We are so deeply ingrained with patterns directing us to strive to “make the world a better place” that it’s difficult to recognize how doing good is as ensnaring as doing evil. The only ‘doing’ that we actually have the ability to achieve is within ourselves as individuals. I cannot change the world, I can only change myself. If, in so doing, there is an effect on the world, so be it. I’m not changing myself in order to change the world, not even in order to change those near and dear to me. I am changing myself solely for my own benefit, my own spiritual growth.

That can sound selfish – and from a lower viewpoint, it probably is. But if each of us were to stay focused only on being the most pure spirit possible, overall the amount of conflict around us would surely reduce. It’s the partisan “caring” about whose party is in power, which values are directing society, what religion is acceptable, that engenders conflict and anger and war.

The current political situation, primarily in the U.S. but more generally worldwide, is becoming the tool given me to identify the emotional and false identity hooks by which I am still sucked into the river. The past 4-5 months that I was floundering in darkness and near-panic are a potent reminder of how negative it is for me to be anywhere other than on the bank, watching the play of events flow past. Elsewhere, I will spell out for myself as many of the false identities as I can name, and carefully peel them away.

Which does not mean I will ignore the calls to petition or otherwise act in defense of values important to me and – in my opinion – important to sustaining my country according to its founding principles. I would never walk by and ignore that desperate, drowning person.

But I will strive to sign or not sign, call or not call, march or not march, finance or withhold my money strictly as I am able, with detachment towards the effectiveness of my actions. And I will remind myself of the statement I clipped from a Zen calendar that seems to best summarize my current goal:

“I am alive, I am present, I am trying, that is enough.”

Patience and Attention

January 31, 2017

The two new members of our family are Akirri, a now-four-month old Akita/German shepherd cross puppy and Miss Kitty, also about four months old and now to have her name enhanced to Miss Patience Kitty.

As the picture posted a few days ago clearly shows, she’s a fraction of Akirri’s size, but in little over a week she’s established ground rules for their interactions and is “on top” of the relationship.

Akirri, which means Christmas in my husband’s tribal language of Ngie, is smart and learning to sit, and stay down (not jump up on me with muddy paws) but has not yet made much progress with ‘come’. Particularly not when the chickens are clustered to be fed and it’s such fun to run through them and watch them scatter.

Miss Kitty, on the other hand has already successfully trained me to have her breakfast tin of food open and ready for her no later than 7:30 AM, and her evening dry ration on her plate by 5:30. Her added name of Patience does NOT come from her attitude toward being fed. Rather, it’s a reflection of the way in which she tolerates being turned into a play toy by Akirri, emerging often from the encounters wet from doggy kisses, and looking slightly chewed over. When she’s had enough, she freezes in one place, hunkered down beneath Akirri and no longer fun to play with. Indeed, it’s as though she’s recognized that being boring is a sure way to cause Akirri to turn elsewhere for amusement. Looked at from a slightly different point of view, Miss Patience Kitty clearly knows and implements the basic lesson of disciplining – ignore the misbehavior and reward the good behavior and you’ll fairly quickly have a well behaved… animal or… child… or person?

I’ve been considering whether there isn’t a parallel to be drawn between the training going on just outside my front door (on the enclosed porch and the larger yard and pastures), and what might be effective on the political scene. Not that unconstitutional edicts can be ignored exactly, but they can simply not be followed, as has already happened with the scientists who will not be gagged, thet acting attorney general who determined to follow the Constitution, and the federal judges who have countermanded the recent “barred from entry” immigration edict.

Patience Kitty has other means to dominate Akirri. She easily achieves heights that put her out of Akirri’s reach. And she’s able to fit into or thorough small places where Akirri cannot follow. When she’s ‘had enough’ she slips through a narrow opening into a large enclosed area under the porch, and clearly enjoys taunting Akirri from her impenetrable safety zone.

So far, neither of the two has used her “weapons of war” – sharp doggy teeth and strong jaws, or equally sharp and lightening quick claws. Hopefully, they’ve already formed enough of a bond that this ‘nuclear option’ will not be called upon.

A line in a book I just finished (Deborah Crombie’s “A Finer End”) resonated with my concerns for “the times we are facing”. The story is set against the sense of ancient powers that pervade Glastonbury England, and how that elemental energy can interact with human failings to produce violence. An historian and expert on paganism, Goddess worship, and their integration into very early Christianity was asked in the narrative, why anyone would want to upset the balance of the powers of light and darkness. The line that caught me was her answer, “I am a Jew my dear. During the war I lost every member of my family to the camps. If you ask me what I believe, I can tell you that those atrocities were an incontrovertible example of the power of chaos, magnifying and abetting a very human evil.”

Akirri charging at the chickens generates chaos. Their fluttering panic encourages her to charge and charge again. Patience Kitty sheltering in place quickly stops Akirri’s rough-housing.

Strident panic, and flurries of media attention, in response to every new use/misuse of power would seem, similarly, to lend authority to their author. Calm counter measures akin to sheltering in place – standing witness, standing up for truth and our constitutional values, walking out of a hearing to prevent it going forward, would seem to be appropriate responses well worth pursuing.

My spiritual teacher tells us that “attention is food”. Give your attention to what you want to manifest in your life, and take your attention away from what you want to diminish and disappear. Our present national fearless (fearful? fearsome?) leader has made it plain how essential attention is to him. He must have his daily, even hourly doses of it.

So, in addition to taking steps to de-fund what we do not support (and pay for what we want – money=attention=food) should we not also be insisting that the news media, which most immediately direct our attention, give that attention to the actions, events, people and values we consider important? They contributed largely to the present chaos, giving undue attention to every showy bit of bluster in the name of reaching a wider audience and hence making more money. They surely have a responsibility now to introduce some balance, to try to undo some of the damage they were active participants in creating.

I can only imagine the tantrums that would be thrown if, for merely a day, there were a total media black-out on everything originating in the new presidential regime. I would love to imagine the tantrums being thrown because the press (and the social media) did indeed have the patience and courage to impose such a blackout!

Trump et al are doing their best to muzzle all opposition. How would they behave if given a taste of their own medicine? I’d love to find out.

A Way Forward

January 27, 2017

One of my followers, and fellow bloggers, recently inquired after my well-being, not having seen a post from me in quite some time. I appreciate the concern – am in general okay – but recognize that in subtle ways I have not been myself, or at least not the self who reflects and blogs.

Now that I’m coming out of the blank space, I can see that it was:
1) real (not an alternate fact),
2) somewhat akin to depression,
3) also at least partially rooted in a doctor-ordered change in thyroid treatment,
4) definitely influenced by political ugliness in both the U.S. and Cameroon,
5) full of flashbacks, or recognition of old patterns and feelings that no longer have a place in my current life, and
6) clearly an opportunity to process and release residual mental patterns that do me no good.

I know that some of the threads I pulled from the tangle included a deep anger that our society still values a sorry excuse for a man over an intelligent and accomplished woman – an anger that eased on January 21st.

Another thread was a profound fatigue, best reflected in one of the signs carried on January 21st by an older woman. “I can’t believe I’m still protesting this shit.” Really, do I have to do this all again, fifty years later?

Yet another thread was a vivid remembrance of my college years, in the infamous sixties, marching in protest against the war in Vietnam and in support of civil rights, dating an African fellow student and later marrying a Black American, living integration on a day to day basis at a time when that marriage was still considered illegal in several southern states. Today we have an Oscar nominee in a new movie about the legal case that ended miscegenation laws, but also an upsurge in attacks on mixed race couples and their children, legitimized by the new administration’s ugly rhetoric.

Yet another thread from the past woven into the present was my own feeling of limitation in what I could say or do to protest domination by values with which I profoundly disagreed. In my youth, that limitation resided in the fact that my father was an officer in the nation’s diplomatic corps and I was made to understand that my conduct could not undermine his position and responsibilities. He had written reports in the mid-1950s, warning of the quagmire into which the U.S. would fall if it followed the course of action then being dictated in southeast Asia. He was ignored, and then told to stick to economic reporting. He was back Stateside, and assigned to an academic setting, when I attended the very first march on Washington to protest the start of the Vietnam War. He warned me to be very careful where I went and what I said, just starting out on my working life, in order not to prematurely curtail my options – and also in order not to bring more censure down on him.

I was not then, and am still not now, a demonstrator in the public crowd sense. I tend rather to make my statement of values in the choices of how I live my daily life. I’ve become comfortable having friends from a variety of backgrounds, working in a helping profession (Care Coordinator for an MCO with Medicaid recipients as my caseload), married now to a Cameroonian studying here, and living in a “rural frontier” community in a state known for its multicultural heritage (Hispanic, Native America, Anglo and with a small but historically significant black population) that has also welcomed many Vietnamese and, lately, Tibetan and Middle Eastern immigrants.

I began to come out of my blank space when I read that my college Swarthmore, in Pennsylvania, has declared itself a sanctuary school. Santa Fe (NM), near my home, has declared itself committed to remaining a sanctuary city. I wear a safety pin on my outer garments ever since I learned of the act as a symbol that others, of whatever type, are safe with me. It seems that I’ve needed time to find my way into the acts that allow me to express my resistance to the present state of the nation. Because I am under constraints now, as I was all those decades ago. Again now, as then, people whom I care about can be harmed if I become too outspoken.

Am I truly having to go through this yet again? How could the nation have regressed so far, so fast?

I have not been writing, and therefore not posting, while I work through my response to what seems to be the undoing of everything I have cared about and supported my entire, many decades long, adult life. Living my values in my small corner of the state is necessary, but has not felt sufficient. I’m signing petitions, but ignoring the constant demand for cash contributions to fund more protests, because I don’t have the cash to donate (if I did, I wouldn’t still be working full time at long past retirement age). I’ve been seeking what would feel like an appropriate expression of my objections to the so-called swamp which, instead of being drained, has been broadened and deepened to cover the entire nation with greed and egotism and petulant childish tantrums and threats to our most fundamental Constitutional freedoms.

Today, when I heard that federal funds will be cut off to any entity that resists the government’s attack on immigrants, I remembered another piece of my past – tax resistance. As a Quaker, I refused to pay for war when I was young. Might I now refuse to pay for a wall, and a registry, and an immigration ban? Might I give my tax money directly to Santa Fe schools that will need it, instead of to the Federal government to spend on taking this country backward a century or more?

I don’t know how this idea will unfold, but it is clear to me that identifying a form of protest congruent with my life experience has been necessary to bring me the rest of the way out of my funk. Now let’s see if it also ends my silence.

Les Deux

January 27, 2017

This , is not my usual post. There is one of those coming in the next few days. This is just a picture, sharing a good thing in my daily life that is helping energize me to rejoin the blogging community.

Akirri is an Akita and German Shepherd mix, just 4 months old now and whip smart. Her name means Christmas in the Ngui language.

Miss Kitty is her new play toy, well able to defend herself and show a mere dog who’s boss.

They both came to us over the holidays.

Aw, come on down, please.

Aw, come on down, please.

Tea-tinted Memories

August 29, 2016

Filling time between a dermatology appointment (Neosporin aggravates rather than helps to heal wounds!) and a dharma talk at Upaya, the Zen center in Santa Fe, I took a walk up Canyon Road, famous for art galleries, a history of being the path to the source of water and wood for city residents, and site also of the Santa Fe Friend’s Meeting with which I have a long and pleasant history. Most of the galleries I knew from years past have gone; so too a few favorite restaurants.

Living 80 miles away for the past 25 years, I’ve obviously not kept up with the street’s evolution. I did walk past the house where longtime friends lived when I first visited Santa Fe, in the early spring of 1972. And the gallery where, during that visit, I purchased a small bear fetish made from serpentine is, amazingly, still in business. The Glory Hole is gone. I miss its lively presence, the roar of the furnace and the crowd of onlookers enjoying the vivid, skilled and energetic process of creating blown glass objects.

In that space there are now several galleries – and a tea shop. Very ready for some cool refreshment, I went into the store to order a freshly brewed glass of Assam, and looked around at the walls of tins of different types of tea for sale. Many familiar labels stood among the black, green, white and herbal teas offered. Old friends from Ceylon, Darjeeling, Kenya, and Russian, English, and Scottish blends. Smoky Lapsang Souchong, various Greys (all with the bergamot that I have an allergic reaction to and therefore do not ever consume) and also a variety of jasmine blends. Last in a row on the top shelf, with a plain white label, one canister caught my eye. Vietnam OP.

In a flash, I was thirteen, touring a tea plantation with my father, in the Vietnamese highlands. Seeing how the leaves were graded according to which plants they had been picked from, told that those plants higher on the sunny slope produced a better quality of tea. We walked through the drying sheds, saw the different ways leaves were handled, to make green versus black versus smoked final products. My father’s role was to verify that the packaged tea was totally produced in the “free” south of Vietnam, not in the Communist controlled north. His certification made it possible for the tea to be marketed in the United States (this was in 1957, when the U.S. was determinedly not dealing with any countries with socialistic or communist-style governments.) My presence was the result of my father arranging a treat for me, compensation for a missed birthday party that had to be cancelled due to a government imposed ban on gatherings of all sorts, after a series of bombings had occurred in Saigon. (No terrorism, bombing of innocent civilians is NOT new).

We had journeyed up the coast and first visited a salt producer – beds of ocean water walled off and allowed to evaporate, with the resultant salt raked up, rinsed, dried once more, and bagged for market. Then we traveled up into the hills to the tea plantation. Both business operations were being managed jointly by a French and a Vietnamese proprietor. Both had been solely French until 1954 and the ouster of France from Indochina. Many of the French living in Vietnam had gone “home” to France initially, but many had then returned to take up their former occupations, more at ease in the tropics than their native land in which they had not lived for as much as 20 years. These returnees negotiated with the Vietnamese government, trading their expertise for acceptance back into their former occupations and lifestyles, now with Vietnamese “partners” to participate in the production and profits of salt, tea, cinnamon, rice and other agricultural products.

After the tour of the tea plantation was complete, we were treated to a “tasting”. Tiny cups – one sip worth – of each of the teas produced on the plantation were offered for sampling, freshly brewed with bites of plain local rice taken between sips, so that the palate would be clear and ready to appreciate the new and different tea sample.

Much has been written, and incorporated into literature, about the rituals associated with wine tasting. I learned then that there is as elaborate a process in savoring tea, though it is much less well known in the West. I did know even then, from my father, how to make a “proper” cup of tea. He followed the Russian process of brewing a very strong essence, then serving a small portion of it into a cup and adding freshly boiled water to bring it to the proper strength for drinking. Although I admit to using tea bags (or make my own with bulk tea), I still follow my father’s process for special occasions.

I’ve made a series of such special occasions this past week, each time I brew myself a cup of the Vietnam OP which I purchased in Santa Fe.

Half a world and most of a lifetime separate my two experiences of tea from Vietnam.

Probably not coincidentally, the message in the sermon my husband heard in church this morning was about the importance of making memories – and of sharing them.

So won’t you join me for a rich, energizing yet soothing cup of tea?

Tea for Two

Tea for Two

 

I Went for a Walk

August 14, 2016

Cleaning out unneeded documents in my computer files, I came across an essay I wrote for myself about eight years ago. I don’t recall writing it. Rereading it now, I recognize that I’ve integrated the essence of it into my self, my life, my philosophy of living, my spiritual path. I choose now to share it with others, offering a bit of my beloved grandfather’s wisdom to those who honor us both by reading my words.

A Walk with My Grampa

I Went For a Walk in the Forest was the book title and first phrase I learned to read, precociously at age three, sitting on my Grampa’s lap as he read the story over and over to me. The book was paper bound, about 6 inches high and 10 inches long, with a black and white cover sketch of the forest surrounded by a pumpkin-orange border. If you opened the book out flat, so that the back and front covers made one whole picture, all the animals met on that forest walk could be seen hidden among the trees. In the delightful manner of children’s fantasy, the animals collected in that forest ignored the habitat restrictions which would normally prevent them meeting, except perhaps in a zoo.

From the safety of Grampa’s lap I learned about lions and horses, a giraffe, an elephant, deer and antelope, and a monkey. When the reading walk was done we rested. He smoked, and I trapped the smoke rings he blew into a wide mouth bottle, where they magically retained shape until the genie who also lived in the bottle stirred them into a fog to give himself shelter.

I went for a walk at the zoo, with my Grampa, most Sundays from when I was seven until I was twelve. He would come down on the train from Baltimore to spend the day with us, and would take me for ‘our’ time. Not always to the zoo, sometimes to the park or just for a walk around the neighborhood. He would ask me about my week in school, what I had learned and what I was reading, and he would tell me about the poem he was working on, or the article he was writing (in Hebrew, or Yiddish) for The Forward (which he pronounced as though a “v” began the second syllable). It was important to him to pick just the right Hebrew word from among several choices for his poems, to convey mood and spirit, as well as meaning.

I went for a walk on the beach – alone now, a world away from my Grampa, he still in Baltimore and I on the sand at Nha Trang, picking up tiny pink and black and pearl-colored shells which elderly Vietnamese refugees from the north collected to string into elaborate necklaces. I wore a small gold pendant my Grampa gave me, with the Tree of Life etched into it. A link, he said, that would stretch from Vietnam back to Maryland, to keep us sharing our walks. Those were harder years, without his immediate presence and gentle wisdom to balance the emotional stresses of my early teens.

I missed him still, when I went for a walk in the Bois de Boulogne during my high school years. I wrote to him, sitting on a sarcophagus in Pierre La Chaise cemetery, one of the few places in bustling Paris that I could find solitude and quiet. Those were very hard years, for both of us. He was no longer working in his dental practice and had fewer places to publish his essays and poems. He was no longer as able to care for himself, and not very aware of time, so his replies to me were intermittent, and rarely responsive to the questions I asked.

I went for a walk in the Crum Woods on Swarthmore’s campus, during my college years, and felt his presence through the guitar in my room, a fine instrument I’d found in a pawn shop, which he gave me the seventy-five dollars to purchase. I’d asked my parents for the money, but my mother had responded in her usual fashion. “Why don’t you prove your interest in playing guitar by learning on a borrowed one before you ask me to spend my money on something you may not pursue?” Fifty years later, that guitar stays easily in tune and its tone is admired by everyone who plays it.

I went for walks by the Chicago shore of Lake Michigan, and along the Charles River in Boston, after helping my mother to settle Grampa in Miami, where the better weather and the presence of a few close friends made it easier for him to manage. We talked on the phone since his eyes had failed to the point that he could not write, nor easily read. With a metal-bound, rectangular, hand-held magnifying glass left from his collection of dental tools, he would slowly read the daily Yiddish press, sharing his opinions with me on the events which he didn’t trust TV news to present fairly. He worried, after the Six Days War, that while its outcome improved Israel’s security at the time, there would come from it a negative turn in world opinion toward the Jewish state. He would, I know, be distraught over the actions and decisions taken recently – the wall, and the West Bank settlements which have become symbols of oppression rather than statements of freedom.

I went for one last walk with my Grampa, along the path beside the railroad tracks in Lamy, here in New Mexico, after he could no longer live on his own. My mother and I moved him into a nursing home outside Santa Fe, where I visited with him several times a month, and brought him to my little converted boxcar house for an outing, the one weekend he was strong enough to come. I told him the story of looking out the train window, age twelve and on my way to Vietnam, seeing Lamy as a strange, wild and western place – missing him desperately and never imagining that we two would walk together there. He answered that it was good to walk with me, though he didn’t really grasp where we were, and complained to me that there were people in his nursing home whom he could hear speaking Yiddish from a distance but who, when he came close and spoke to them, would not answer. I tried to explain that they were speaking Spanish, not Yiddish. He was by then seriously deafened, hearing just enough scraps of language to know when it wasn’t English being spoken. Like most speakers of more than one tongue, with advanced age Grampa’s communication abilities lasted longest in his first language, or in his case his first two, Yiddish for everyday and his beloved Hebrew for poetry and praise.

My grampa died within days of his official 91st birthday. Official, rather than real, because he had to transfer a birthdate from the Jewish (lunar) calendar used in what he called the “dot on the map village outside the dot on a map town” where he was born in Russia, to the western calendar he encountered when he entered the US as a twenty year old man in 1907. Knowing Shvat to be a spring month, he arbitrarily called it March. He equally firmly rejected the proposed Americanizing of his name to Hill, insisting that “no, my name is Domnitz, Aaron Domnitz.”

I go for walks now, often a brisk measured mile by Storrie Lake, or a leisurely stroll along Bridge Street, and realize I am just the age my Grampa was as my parents prepared to take us (his only close family) across the world to Vietnam. After 14 or more years of weekly trips from Baltimore to DC (he began them when my mother became pregnant with me), how great a change – and loss – that must have been for him!

I wonder – but obviously have no one to ask – why my parents didn’t bring him with us? Perhaps it was discussed and he refused? More likely, I’m afraid, my mother determined that she ‘didn’t want the responsibility’. That was her standard reply with which to block everything from my having friends for a sleep over, to helping host visiting dignitaries whom it was my father’s job to entertain. Blessedly it was also her response when Grampa needed nursing home care, so that I got to have him close to me for those precious last 18 months of his life. We went for so many lovely walks, in our talks, during my on-my-way-home-from-work visits with him!

Because life in his natal village had gone virtually unchanged for centuries before he left it, his awareness bridged nearly 300 years. Thus, we talk-walked streets of the 1700s in Russia as readily as those of Santa Fe in 1975. He shared the concern of many, that our technological skills so far exceed our ethical advances. “Will we now bring war to the moon?” was his question after that ‘one giant step’ for mankind.

Grampa’s dental cabinet, filled with a fragile, gaily decorated porcelain tea service from Vietnam, sits in my dining room. I use his magnifying glass when I need stronger eyes. The guitar provides music from many cultures, when I entertain students from the United World College. I pick my written words with care, respecting the importance he gave to nuances of meaning.

My Grampa started me reading about a walk through a forest to meet different animals. He continues to guide me on my walk through life, meeting its varied challenges. Some of that guidance arises from one of the last things Grampa said to me, shortly before he died. I’d asked if he had his life to live over, what he might have done differently. His answer was that he had only two regrets. The first was that he thought perhaps my mother might have been a happier person if he had remarried (he raised her on his own), but he’d never found the right woman. The second was that he wished he’d learned to play the mandolin. No wonder he supported my learning the guitar!

However long my own life walk turns out to be, I hope that when it ends, I will have as few regrets as my Grampa did. With his gifts surrounding me, and his ethics a part of me, I have every reason to succeed.

Weather Metaphor

August 10, 2016

We’re having a heat wave, a tropical heat wave…
Higher temperatures than I remember since the early 1990s, harder to handle for being unexpected in our high mountain area where few people have air conditioning. My house is situated to benefit from any breeze, and we are grateful for clear skies that allow the nights to cool to a level where sleeping is comfortable. Early morning brings closed shades, and closing windows to keep the night’s coolness inside, only opening windows and shades again after the sun has moved in its course. The system works moderately well, with the most difficult period being from 3 until 8 when the afternoon heat builds and there is no corner of shade to provide relief.
I am reminded, in these heated hours, of my early years first in D.C. summers, then in Vietnam, where the heat was unremitting and – more daunting than my present circumstances – also humid. What amazes me in retrospect is that I played tennis in that weather. And rode horseback in that weather. My parents’ bedroom had an air conditioner unit, but I refused one for my own room, knowing that going out into the heat of my school room Quonset hut would be intolerable by contrast with the comfort of the cooled air. My reasoning was that I needed to adapt to the heat, and could best do so by being consistently in it. I was successful at the time – but seem to have burned out my ability to adjust to heat in the years since.
Are we given only a limited physical tolerance for extremes, and should be careful how we use that quality, if it must last a lifetime? Or am I just discovering another aspect of getting older – decline in physical adaptability? I’ve been told that older people are more sensitive to changes in temperature, but the intolerance is usually expressed as related to cold rather than heat. All the U.S. retirement communities are in the southern, warm weather states.
Living near one of the main migration routes between Arizona and the mid-west, I’m aware of the numbers of people – usually retired and referred to as snow birds – who transit between the two regions each spring and autumn, spending winter months in the moderate temperatures of the Arizona desert, and summer months in cooler northern communities. I could see myself as one of them, but don’t need to join the migration so long as the winters at my home remain as they have been. At their extremes, only every 4-5 years, we have a couple weeks of 30F below cold on starlit January nights. The clarity of the air allows daytime temperatures to rise, even in those coldest periods, to a tolerable 15-25F degrees. Yes, that’s a 50 degree difference, a common occurrence here in any season. Only on the rare occasions that we have cloud cover for several days at a time, do we have a lesser contrast between day and night temperatures.
Did you want to know all this about the weather? What am I doing prattling on about it?
Seeing the extremes of temperature as a metaphor for the political extremes we’re also facing now. And as a metaphor for much of what we encounter daily, just living our lives – overly burdensome workload for months on end, then suddenly not enough to keep from being bored, while still unable to be out of phone and email contact. No communication from friends until the day that the phone seems to ring non-stop and the invitations pour in. So many story or post ideas there’s no way to get them all written – followed by a dearth of ideas that suggests my brain has up and died.
In other words, the weather extremes are just one more example of the constant ebb and flow of every aspect of life experienced here in the mundane world. Enter the benefits of a contemplative spiritual practice, which teaches me how to stay focused on inner Truth, finding balance and constancy amid the yin/yang of the outer reality. Don’t like the weather? Or the politics? Escape to your inner realms for stability, cooling breezes and total freedom.

Photo Courtesy of Leaf and Twig

Photo Courtesy of Leaf and Twig

 


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