Posts Tagged ‘adages’

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.

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.

Rooster Knows

June 12, 2016

You know you’re in the country when… your rooster lets you know not just when it’s morning, but when the hens are wandering farther afield then he thinks right, or the goats are butting each other away from their food, or the dark clouds of summer afternoon rain are looming and the flock should take cover. I’m told that chickens in Cameroon only get under cover when a serious rain is impending. For a few drops they will continue their foraging undeterred. I’m waiting to see if the same applies here in high desert northern NM.

Being able to differentiate mild from major disruptions may be an inherent skill for Cameroonian chickens. It does not seem to be so for humans. Rather, we can spend a lifetime learning to “not sweat the small stuff”. Finding one’s way to feeling happy with oneself and one’s life – a goal most of us strive toward – requires not only relaxing about those small irritants, but also accepting that it’s okay to be happy.

From several sources recently, I’ve been reminded of how much more readily we identify with loss, pain, difficulties and challenges then we do with being “temples of God”, the home of Soul, or inherently divine beings entitled to feel happy and fulfilled. Many years of spiritual practice can increase the ease and frequency of identifying with one’s highest Soul essence, but still we can (or at least I find that I can) be tripped into the pit of unworthiness by surprisingly small stuff.

Why is it so easy to identify with negatives, to point always to what’s missing, and so hard to embrace being loved, appreciated, fulfilled, happy?

Believers of some religions would say it’s because we are born in sin. I think rather that the concept of being born in sin originates in a mind’s effort to explain our propensity to see imperfection rather than perfection. Yes, this is a cart and horse debate, one that cannot be decisively resolved. But in my experience, looking for what’s right rather than poking around in what’s wrong makes for a much happier and more satisfying life. It does take persistent attention and regular refocusing, to not let past experience of lack distort present enjoyment of wealth. I’m including within wealth all the tangible and intangible benefits one can enjoy – supportive relationships, worthwhile employment, a sense of purpose, relaxed ease of emotions, meaningful spiritual practice… a comprehensive list would run many pages.

Research study after research study reveals that negative behaviors of adulthood originate in childhood – abusers were bullied and abused as children, jealous spouses never learned to feel worthy of love, rage-aholics had explosively angry parents, etc. We hear much less about how good childhood experiences with positive role models produce happy and successful adults. Just as news of disasters sells papers, it seems explanations of negative behavior result in academic publication. Would that it were otherwise!

My favorite feature in The Week is entitled “It Wasn’t All Bad” and cites (usually) three stories of generosity, (a fire fighter who bought a month’s groceries for a citizen whose kitchen fire he had been called to help extinguish); achievement (a 101 year old great-grandmother getting her high school diploma alongside her great-granddaughter); or heart-warming connection (a dog lost for over a year being found and returned to the developmentally disabled child who was its original owner). I wish that fully half the weekly magazine’s content could be similarly summarizing positive stories – but it’s a magazine devoted to reviewing the “top” stories in the world press, and most of those are less than heart-warming.

About our bodies, it is said that we are what we eat. About our minds and emotions, it is also true that we become what we give our attention to. Looking always to the negative, we cannot help but feel unworthy. I prefer to “count my blessings instead of sheep, and fall asleep counting my blessings” – at least until the rooster thinks I should be aware and alert to one of his small concerns.

Cock Calls

Cock Calls

Time to Look Back

May 15, 2016

“Work should not be given priority over relationships.”

Quite a challenge for perfectionist, Type A workaholics but a very pertinent statement made by Pastor Katie at Las Vegas’ First Presbyterian Church in the course of her first sermon as the new leader of this congregation. She spoke movingly about the spiritual lessons that come through mundane daily events, such as those surrounding her recent transplant from Colorado to New Mexico.

One of these lessons was about the need we all have, to have persons to whom we can vent our toxic thoughts, persons who will listen and help us clear our spirits without judgement. I recognize this to be my primary role with some of my clients at work. Not as part of my formal job description, which only talks about assisting them to access the services and supports necessary for them to achieve and maintain the maximum of health and quality of life. We include mental health in the range of services we Care Coordinators support, and many of my clients do have counseling or psychotropic medications included in their service plans. They manage the scheduling of their services and their overall health maintenance with little input from me beyond completion of the mandatory assessments which enable them to become eligible for those services.

Some clients, however, cannot accomplish this self-management without an outsider to their daily lives to whom they can express their frustrations, fears, angers or constraints – and they have elected me to be the receptor of these toxic thoughts and feelings. I’m glad when I can provide this service, sometimes also having a suggestion or insight to offer that helps the client move past the blockage. In rare instances, I’ve been used as the means for two people, each with a need, to connect and jointly resolve their separate concerns. I know, when that happens, that I’ve been what I aspire always to be, a “clear channel” for the Divine to work through.

Why is it so much harder to be a similarly clear channel when the issues are not someone else’s but my own?

Why can I “speak truth to power” on behalf of a client but find it so difficult to speak up for myself appropriately in my own relationships and my daily interactions with the various manifestations of power, such as erroneous charges on a bill, or petty tyrants who take pleasure in making me wait unnecessarily before fulfilling their job duties providing service to me?

Is it because I’m female, of “a certain age” and therefore raised before feminism brought out the extent to which women have historically been taught to accept the denial of their right to dignity and respect?
Or is it just my own personality, resultant from an upbringing in a less-than-positive or supportive family?

Does the reason even matter?

I would like to be able to maintain a clarity and simplicity of day-to-day existence such that I can be aware of the spirit flowing through me in service of my own needs, in the same way that I’m able to let it flow through me to serve others. Instead, it seems that ego, or the rough edges of my personality, or both or neither but something else altogether, create blockages and I end up feeling drained and exhausted.

“Too much outflow without enough inflow” my MasterPath teacher would say. Or, as Pastor Katie also shared, not enough quiet time taken to process what is being left behind before new experiences are presented to be taken in. She recognized the need to grieve leaving behind a home where she’d raised her family, and planted iris given her by her mother-in-law.

We have in common that we have both worked in Hospice care, and understand the need to grieve losses, including ones less dire than loss of a loved one to death. A training program I attended for grief counselors emphasized that seemingly small losses can become the triggering event for previously unexpressed pain over the loss of a family member – the man who seems to handle the death of his wife but collapses a year later when the family pet dies, for example. One of the exercises in the workshop required that we attempt to catalogue all the losses we have experienced in our lifetime, to help us recognize things we should give ourselves permission to grieve. Also to help us hear what is implied but not clearly stated when a family member of a deceased client expresses extreme anger at a factually minor loss of respect or status on their job, six months after the death.

Moving from one community to another is a clear transition that will bring up for any sensitive soul – as it did for the pastor – the need to grieve what is being left behind. Other life changes should also be accompanied by time to grieve, but are less likely to be recognized as such. My own fairly extreme change in life pattern is one such, that I did not see as needing to include time for grief, until the pastor’s sermon brought it to my attention. I do appreciate that I am able to hear the suggestion and receive the input just when I need it. I think I’m not being unduly self-congratulatory when I accept that I must be in a fairly “clear” state to be gifted with just the right input at just the right time, even though I felt anything but clear. Indeed, before hearing the sermon, I was angry, feeling disrespected and as though there was no longer room for “me” in my daily life.

All because, as Pastor Katie instructed in her list of lessons learned during her move, work should not be given undue priority over relationships. Including one’s relationship with oneself. I have been so busy trying to meet, to a perfectionist’s standard, the many demands of my job, my clients, my marriage and my daily existence, that I’ve neglected my relationship with me and, more importantly, my relationship with the Divine.

I have been so engaged with my exciting, rewarding but very busy new life that I’ve also not left myself space to process the loss of the old (semi-retired, leisurely and thoughtful) life left behind two years ago. Nor have I been able to properly grieve the termination or the transformation of some relationships from that old life. Pastor Katie will always have the memory of her yard full of blooming iris, but she is no longer able to walk out of her house into that yard. I will always have my memories of frequent and satisfying visits with distant friends, but I can now see those friends only rarely and under different circumstances. The pastor and I each carry an aspect of the past with us into our new lives, but we each also know a sense of loss that deserves attention and time to be grieved.

So much emphasis is placed on the window that opens when a door closes, that people seem to feel guilty paying attention to what’s behind that closed door. We are urged to move on, look forward, appreciate what is being offered and let go of what is being left behind. Good advice, overall, but sometimes too hastily offered.

Moving forward without reviewing and properly saying goodbye to what is past can have the feeling of devaluing that past, and the consequence of leaving us feeling devalued ourselves.

Taking time to dig up a few flowers and bring them along to a new home helps assure that we give ourselves time to say good bye to the life behind that closing door. It is thus that we increase our ability to be clear, and present, with the new experiences coming in through the window, and – for me – it seems that taking time to properly grieve what has been lost is essential to clearing out the toxins that prevent me from achieving a level of clarity of spirit for myself that at least approaches the level which I try to offer to others.

Added benefits – improved health and easier maintenance of desired weight. But that’s a topic for another day.

Autumn Color

Autumn Color

Theme and Variations

November 22, 2015

After several days of wood-stove heated cold weather, the temperature has soared to cotton shirtsleeve comfort, and an afternoon originally intended for housekeeping has turned into one spent on whatever could be completed outside in the sunlight. For my husband, that has meant washing cars. I, meanwhile, cooked some of his habanero pepper sauce on the outdoor grill (its bite sets everyone sneezing and crying if prepared inside) and re-potted houseplants. Or rather, transferred cuttings that had taken root in water into new pots, and repositioned one jade plant that, for reasons of its own, has chosen to grow so lopsidedly that its pot is highly prone to tip over. Reoriented, the main stem now angles sharply to one side, but seen from a distance the whole plant looks much more balanced.

straighter now beneath the window

straighter now
beneath the window

Why do some natures veer off crookedly? How do several children raised in the same supportive environment take such different attitudes forward into their adult life? Why are some people seemingly constitutionally unable to appreciate what is offered and available to them, while others build wondrous achievements out of little more than scraps and string?

My household greenery includes five different Christmas cactus plants, one of which has begun to bloom in anticipation of Advent. If previous years are any indicator, one or two more will flower before the holiday for which they are named, and one – the largest and oldest – will only flower around Easter time. Each is a different color, one white, one pink, and three distinct shades of red. They all get similar light, water and food, and are exposed to the same temperature variations, yet each takes its own turn to blossom.

If it’s true that no two snowflakes are alike (is it so?) then my examples of variation, where similarity might be expected, become rather insignificant and small. But more people seem to be affected by personality differences among siblings than are concerned with verifying the uniqueness of snowflakes or the reasons for oddities in the flowering cycle of plants.

Discussing one of my husband’s English writing assignments brought me up against the debate about how to treat addiction – as a disease that was not chosen any more than one chooses to have cancer, or as an intentional act with moral consequences. The former position is supported by medical evidence showing that when alcohol or drugs cause the release of endorphins in stressed individuals, their brains process this chemical change as life-saving. Future use/misuse of substances becomes, at a purely neurological level, a matter of survival. There is no longer any choice involved, just as a cancer patient does not have a choice about whether his untreated, abnormal cells replicate. Addicts need to seek treatment to recover from their addictions just as cancer patients need to seek treatment to (hopefully) recover from their malignancies.

Choice – and judgement – enter this scenario when the alcoholic refuses to admit he has a problem, or fails to seek treatment. Choice – and judgement – also enter the scenario when a person chooses not to undergo chemotherapy and/or radiation to treat cancer. The same variability that leads us to ask why two siblings should turn out so differently from one another can then lead us to wonder why two similarly situated alcoholics (married, with children, good jobs and reasonably effective support systems) should follow very different paths. Where one recognizes the harm being caused to family, and seeks treatment, the other dives into denial and eventually loses spouse, family and job without ever accepting the many offers of help being extended.

Is it that we need to believe we have free choice, no matter what? Is that why we insist there is a moral standard that is appropriately applied in all life situations? Two children have the benefit of the same loving parenting. One thrives and succeeds and gains our respect. The other struggles and turns to drink and becomes an object of scorn.

We do not scorn the cactus that fails to flower at Christmas. We are happy to welcome its flowering whenever it chooses to show its colors. I do not blame my goat Storm for persistently worming her way between the bars of the pasture gate; it is just her nature to want to get to that greener grass on the other side of the fence. I can’t imagine anyone blaming a snowflake for not looking identical to its neighbors on the patio. Why, then, are we so hard on ourselves and our fellow humans? Why can’t we simply accept that there is a wide range of individual variation in how people grow and respond and live, that our natures are as different, one from another, as are the many snowflakes that covered my yard four days ago? Then it was icy, snowy and cold while today it’s balmy and delightful outdoors. I don’t hear anyone saying “that’s wrong, that’s bad, Nature shouldn’t be so variable and inconsistent.”

Am I asking too much to wish that people could be as accepting of one another’s variability as we are of flowers, snowflakes, weather and stubbornly determined animals? To do so doesn’t mean abandoning standards of conduct, or being obliged to accept anything and everything as “cool, man” or “whatever.” If I meet someone who doesn’t seem to share my values, I am free to choose not to pursue the relationship. I don’t need to judge them, try to change them, or moralize about how and why they are as they are. And I can hope that they would, reciprocally, let me pass on without being subjected to attempts to change my vibrant red colors to muted pink ones.

Aspiration Accomplished

One of a Kind

April 4, 2015

Standing at the kitchen counter, I lop off each end of a large green plantain, cut a slit down the spine of the fruit, the insert my thumb under the edge of the skin to peel it back. My goal is to undress the plantain without breaking the skin. As I succeed, I give thanks to Susan, the massage therapist who advised me, more than 30 years ago, to base as much as possible of my liquid intake on deionized water. At that time I was already experiencing some arthritis in my fingers and hands. In the decades since, not only has the arthritis not advanced, it seems to have reduced, leaving me with strong fingers and with thumbs able to peel plantains efficiently.

I’m led to reflect on the range of steps I’ve taken over the years to address health concerns in “old folk rather than “modern medicine” ways. Old folkways from many cultures and continents, in that I use acupuncture regularly, Asian herbs to calm an irritated colon and to treat the spring allergy symptoms which many of us are experiencing now. This morning I added a generous dose of new world herbs to my breakfast – notably parsley to be a diuretic since I’ve eaten a bit too much starchy food lately. In my body, starch functions to retain fluid. When I see a three pound weight gain from one day to the next I know I need both parsley and a change in diet.

My reflection moves on to the plethora of different, often conflicting, diets promoted in the popular press. Sober judges of “what is good for you” usually insist that all those that actually work do so because they reduce caloric intake, while they warn against lopsided programs which label certain types of food (carbohydrates for example) as bad. I begin to suspect that the multiplicity of possible diet regimens is an unconscious acknowledgement that we are all, individually, very different in how our metabolisms work. Although each of the diets still presents itself as a one-size-fits-all remedy, the existence of so many conflicting paths to the goal of a healthy weight indicates to me that there is no such thing as one size fits all. Indeed, over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that we each must learn enough about how our own bodies deal with what we put into them, to make reasoned choices and to each ultimately design our own “diet for life.”

An element of that culinary life pattern that is almost never mentioned, so far as I’ve seen, relates to the role of emotion in changing body metabolism. It’s not just that some emotions push us to eat (or to avoid food) in unhealthy ways we need to recognize. I’m recognizing that some emotions change the way in which bodies process different foods. For certain, the recent dramatic increase in my happiness with my life contributed substantially to my successful weight loss, a loss which occurred despite minimal change in my pattern of eating and exercise. I can’t prove, but feel certain, that being happy changed my metabolism from one of “hanging on for dear life” to every calorie, to a more relaxed “easy come easy go” burning off of unneeded fuel. Yes, I hear those of you who are now yelling “Cortisol levels, check your cortisol levels.” I suspect you may be right that stress produces cortisol which has the property of preparing the body for battle, including slowing metabolism to conserve calories and promote endurance. The processes may not be so simple, as I know it is possible to be both happy and stressed at the same time. Undoubtedly I have much to learn about the relationships between endorphins and cortisol and which one outweighs the effects of the other under differing circumstances.

I probably also need to read more deeply into the research on allergens such as that which has recently produced the suggestion that children be exposed to peanuts in order to build up a tolerance, instead of having all potential allergens removed from their diets. The development of drug-resistant infections indicates that too many of us have taken the “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” adage out of context, and thrown several pounds of cure at situations where just the one ounce would have been enough. Similarly, with each discovery of a cause and effect relationship between some aspect of living in this world and a health or sickness outcome, we tend to overreact and generalize and simplify to the point that the parameters of that cause and effect relationship are destroyed.

Desensitization is a technique sometimes used to treat phobias. A person excessively fearful of cats, for example, wanting to overcome this limitation, might use desensitization as a small step by small step process for learning to be calm in the presence of a picture of a cat, then while seeing a cat through a locked window, then in the same room with a cat that is tethered on a leash, etc. Each exposure involves allowing the fears to manifest and then experiencing the fact that none of the feared and fearful outcomes occur. Relaxation and calming follows this perception, and a new connection is made between cat and non-fearful status which can gradually be strengthened to the point that the subject is able to encounter an unrestrained cat with only minimal discomfort.

Exposing children to minimal doses of allergens in order to build up tolerance is an identical desensitization process, carried out on the physical rather than the emotional body. Just as some phobias or compulsive reactions are too strong for desensitization to work, I’m sure some allergies are too immediately life-threatening to try a dietary desensitization process. On the other hand, because a few situations are not appropriate to the technique does not mean parents should avoid trying the process with their children. Again, the fallacy lies in a “one size fits all” assumption that is no more appropriate to eating patterns than it is to latex gloves.

Which brings me back to the challenge facing each of us, to learn the unique and individual ways our bodies and minds function, in order to adjust our diets and our lifestyles to what gives us each the best odds of achieving our goals. I know I can’t hope to succeed in this on-going, lifetime study, without a healthy dose of introspection and an equally strong commitment to listening to the wisdom coming through me from my Divine Teacher. For me, that means slowing down both body and mind with periods of stillness and contemplation every day. Without that sort of reflective space in my life, I am certain I would not have truly heard Susan’s suggestion all those years ago, and would not now be able to peel plantains with ease.

I’m curious what my next contemplation may reveal to me that will show its relevance thirty years hence. And oh, in case you’re wondering, yes I’m making porridge plantains again, and I’m pleased to know that – per the assessment of the six Cameroonians who ate my cooking last weekend – I’ve graduated from neophyte to proficient at doing so.

Which means you can teach an old dog new tricks, as was ably illustrated by scientific research cited in the sermon given recently by Reverend Frank Yates at Las Vegas’ First United Presbyterian Church. But that’s a blog topic for another day.

In Later Years

In Later Years

 

Still Learning and Teaching

Still Learning and Teaching

Stepping Forward with a Different Foot

December 31, 2014

How does one go about finding motivation to continue working at an impossible job? What enabled Sisyphus to continue pushing that boulder up the mountain?

Now How Do I Do This?

Now How Do I Do This?

Vacations are meant to provide rest and relaxation, a break in routine which allows one to return to work refreshed and with new energy and purpose. So far, completing the middle of three days of work between two four-day weekends, I am only seeing a great reluctance to return to my too-full-time job in January.

Not because I don’t like most of the work. Not even because the computer data base we must use is so extremely user unfriendly. My reluctance comes from knowledge that the caseload is too large for me to meet my own expectations of performance. Working ten hours a day, seven days a week, I would not get all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed. Working an average of 55 hours a week I most certainly do not do so. More importantly, just keeping track of everything I should be doing is virtually impossible. The size of the job is beyond control.

I’ve tried telling myself that doing my best on the cases I reach is all that I should expect. I’ve attempted to focus on the successes I’ve achieved, the clients who are happy with what I’ve been able to do for and with them. Just today I had a call from one of these, a woman who wanted me to hear the latest challenge she faced and overcame. She wasn’t looking for validation or approval, just for a listening ear so she could hear for herself what she was accomplishing.

But now another day has passed without needed services for a client who lost them due to the mistake of a state agency. I’ve spent time every day for the past eight weeks, first trying to prevent the termination of services, then trying to push someone in authority to recognize and correct the error. I did hear, today, that steps are finally being taken to right the wrong – but I’m typing with crossed fingers. After two months of no one hearing or caring, I’ve moved to Missouri. I’ll believe the situation is corrected when I see it fixed and my client is once more getting services.

Also today I dealt with the case of a client who is having difficulty accessing services from the only provider in the state who can care for her – because my employer (an MCO) does not contract with the provider’s employer (a hospital complex). Procedures needed to get her services include access to levels of review in the MCO that I am not familiar with. I do know whom to ask, and have already been given suggestions on what steps to take next. Teamwork and support are positives in my workplace.

I’ve tried to set myself a standard of doing a complete and to-my-best-ability job for each client with whom I have contact, and not worrying about the ones I’m supposed to check in on, but do not reach. Whenever a client’s needs raise issues with which I’m unfamiliar, I require more hours to meet that standard. More time means more clients I don’t contact, more items on the not-done list, and another trip up the mountain, pushing my boulder.

I, like most people, need to feel some control over my work and some sense of completion. The size of the caseload and the imposed expectations of performance erase control and eliminate completion. Sisyphus and a restaurant dishwasher and I share an unending task that is never done. I can’t ask Sisyphus how he persuaded himself to keep on keeping on. Maybe I should inquire of a few local dishwashers?

Management is trying to hire more staff, to bring the caseloads down. They are also going to replace our nightmare software system – in another year (2016). I’m hardly the only person trudging endlessly up the hill. Too large a number of my coworkers have transferred, not out of the company because it is quite a good employer, but to different departments where the work expectations are achievable.

I don’t easily have that option. So I need to learn to love pushing my boulder endlessly up my hill – and I don’t know how to go about that challenge.

Wisdom of my Teacher

Wisdom of my Teacher

What I do know is that everything that comes into my life can be a source of learning. Maybe my question should therefore be, what will I gain from a stint as Sisyphus? Is this whole experience just about me learning to let go of the need for control, on yet another level of existence?

If the details of such an enormous load are too much for mind to manage, perhaps I need to learn how to set my priorities, move through my days, meet my clients and complete my work based on the dictates of some other part of my persona. I’ve had some of my most satisfying work days when my schedule is totally overturned, and I end up just doing what’s brought to my attention, item after item, into the evening. My more frustrating days usually involve trying persistently to accomplish something I’ve determined as a priority, despite computer glitches and multiple petty distractions.

Sounds like maybe the lesson is, once more as so often, Thy Will not mine, Lord.

In which case I don’t need to figure out how to push my boulder up the hill. I only need to be ready to put out whatever effort each day calls for, perhaps to find myself riding a roller coaster, or sliding downhill on skis, and only occasionally carrying a small pack up a mountain trail.

I can do that. Yes I can. Happy 2015.

Moving Ahead

Moving Ahead

Accomplishments

December 21, 2014

In high school, I was required to complete English to French translations on a weekly basis. In college, minoring in French, the translation obligation continued. I became quite adept at it, even thought about a career as a translator but life took me in a different direction. Over the many long years I’ve lived in New Mexico with minimal occasion to use French, I gradually lost my fluency.

A year ago, I felt that if I did not do something – urgently – to begin using French again, I would cease to be able to express myself in the language. I sought out someone with whom to speak and not only regained fluency but totally transformed my life. Now, a year later, I was called upon last night to translate English into French once more. The task was only a short prayer for Advent, but I found myself able to complete the project easily and rapidly. Few recent accomplishments have given me as great a sense of satisfaction as that paragraph of translation, flowing readily from my pen.

Over the course of a day, I reflected on why I value the resurrection of bilingual skill so much more highly than I do the talents that let me do my daily work effectively. I have been complimented on what others perceive as my unique work skills which they value and appreciate. I don’t exactly take my talents for granted, but – like my ability to cook – they come so naturally as to be simply a part of me.

Is it the perceived effort involved, that affects what I feel to be an accomplishment?

Once upon a time, I suppose, cooking took effort. That was so very long ago that I truly don’t remember not being easy in the kitchen, as I was when recently called up to create a satisfying Asian/African meal for 3 hungry men with only an hour’s notice. It did please me that the meal satisfied my guests. I expected nothing less of myself.

My mother had a part-time job, when I was small, that took her out of the house just before I arrived home from school. She would leave me notes listing my chores for the day, often including the beginning preparations for that night’s supper. I apparently absorbed the basics of cooking and seasoning so completely that, years later, I “created” a chicken dish for company that was a big hit. I later served it to my parents when they came to visit. My mother took a bite, then said, “When did I give you this recipe?”
“You didn’t. I made up the meal when I wanted to do something different with chicken.”
“But I used to cook this same dish,” she insisted.
We compared notes on spices and preparation and she said I had copied her exactly. I was 24 then. The last time my mother could have cooked the meal for me, I was eight.

I cannot so easily point to the origins of my skill with people, and with words, that contribute to the appreciation I have lately experienced in my work. Living in different cultures certainly played a part. So did my parents’ emphasis on speaking correctly. I remember my father walking around the house practicing “around the rough and rugged rock the ragged rascal ran” in order to soften his Germanic r’s. In recent years, I’ve had to consciously undo some of that early language training. It comes across to some people as arrogance or snobbishness, qualities that interfere with establishing the rapport essential to my job in health care.

It still surprises me, that people perceive me as having a unique talent for connecting “with all sorts” in many different environments. People interest me. Understanding them is necessary to assisting them. I’m just “doing what comes naturally.” Which brings me back to the idea that there must be some effort involved in an activity, for me to feel that it is an accomplishment. I had to work, this past year, to restore my comfort with French, so completing the translation feels like an achievement.

There is a caution offered, that one should beware of what comes easily. “Easy come, easy go.” I wonder if it is meant to warn against not taking one’s own easy talents for granted? If one disregards the talents, will one lose them? Certainly, not practicing and using French almost led to that sort of loss. But I cannot conceive of not knowing how to cook, and am now daily making meals pleasing to someone other than myself, using recipes I have not prepared in more than ten years.

My people skills and cooking seem to fall into the realm of habit – like riding a bike, swimming, or driving a car. I no longer need to think about them, I just do them. Habitual skills do not fade (except maybe with dementia or other brain malfunctions) for lack of practice. In fact, it took close to forty years of non-use for my ability to speak French to fade from fluent to almost erased. I’ve been told that my French was not at risk of extinction, only dormant and waiting for the proper environment to cause it to rise once more to a serviceable level. Maybe. It didn’t feel that way last year at this time.

Am I alone in not taking much credit for habitual skills? Is it common to only value that which one has worked to achieve? If skills and talents already developed are sufficiently satisfying, does one then “rest on one’s laurels” and perhaps cease to learn and grow?

Aspiration Accomplished

Aspiration Accomplished

I don’t have answers today, only questions… seulement des questions, pas de reponses.
Merci de me lire et de me repondre.

Forward, or Back?

November 9, 2014

A younger friend is in the planning stages of a surprise event for her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. She asked me, since I am of an age with those parents, to mention some of the significant events of “the sixties.” Her intention is to link her parents’ years of marriage to marker events they would have lived through.

I’ve met her parents, and know them to be of a different world view than mine, more conservative and less traveled, but teachers and caring, engaged individuals. I tried to name events that might have personal meaning to them, not just the by-now-made-trite-by-media images of hippies, Woodstock, anti-war protests, long hair and drugs. Together, my friend and I came up with a list of singers, TV shows, commercial logos and slogans, hair and clothing trends, popular movie stars, and also specific political events of the sixties that have shaped the succeeding years.

One of the personal experiences I shared was of being made to turn in my credit cards, acquired as a single woman, when I married a man who did not have a credit record. I was not considered, legally, enough of a person in my own right to have a credit rating separate from that of my husband of the time. To this day, I have never again shopped in the stores that so denigrated me, nor held a credit card from the company that made me turn mine in. Looking back to that event, I would say society has progressed somewhat as regards the status of women.

Looking forward, since the election, to probable legislation and legal decisions affecting woman, I regretfully believe that we are a very short step away from a return to the non-person-hood of women reflected in my credit experience.

Eric Francis, of PlanetWaves, has just posted an amusing and pointed essay about laws requiring men to have permission from two doctors, attesting to the man’s intent to create life because he has access to a fertile egg, before that man may ejaculate (see his essay through Facebook or at http://members.planetwaves.net/arizona-legislature-passes-anti-onanism-law-requiring-medical-approval-for-ejacluation-men-outraged).

I did not begin this essay with the intent to rant on how close we have come to full circle, from the constraints on women in the early sixties, to those being imposed again now. I intended to write about the differences between people who tend to look forward to what comes next in their lives, and those who tend to look back at what used to exist in those lives. The forward lookers generally seem happier, more open, more accepting people. The backward lookers strike me most often as sad, missing what has passed, finding little or no pleasure in their daily experience – and urgently trying to drag everyone else down into their own depression and regret.

I work with people who are in pain, who are sick, who have lost much of their independence and freedom to choose to walk down the driveway to the mailbox, or to dress themselves without help, or to cook a meal. One woman has been on dialysis for ten years, and recently spent nine months in a nursing home after she fell and broke a hip. She is a forward looker: an artist, a grandmother teaching her granddaughter to carry on the family tradition of pottery-making, while she herself explores new forms in clay.

A few days ago, I met with a couple who are split – the husband is totally focused backward on all that, due to severe pain, he can no longer do. He won’t have someone come to build an entrance ramp to his house because “people will see that he, who worked construction all his life, is no longer capable of this project.” His wife also speaks mostly of how she raised six children and ran a household while holding down a job, of how limited she is now, and dependent on her youngest son to cook meals and clean the house.

Until her husband leaves the room.

Then she shares how much she enjoyed a five day visit to a grown daughter’s home, even though she had the same mobility limitations on vacation as she does at home. She would be a forward looker, were she not being dragged inexorably down into negativity and backward-looking regret by her husband.

It would be easy, just now, for me to lament the direction our government seems to be taking, and to look backward to even ten years ago, when we were celebrating new accomplishments by women and expecting ever more equity in the workplace. But looking backward means, to me, having little hope, few aspirations, no sense of adventure and no courage. It may not be pleasant looking toward what I expect to emerge from Congress and the Supreme Court over the next few years. It is nonetheless necessary to do so, and to do so with determination not to be overwhelmed.

I recommend the use of inner resources, inner resolve, and a conviction that there is merit to the saying that “it is always darkest before the dawn.” Given how unexpectedly a new love relationship, a new purpose and a new energy arrived in my own life, I must attest to a certainty that “anything is possible” if one remains focused on looking forward, open to possibilities, and expecting the best.

Expecting the best is one of the attitudes listed on the Alternatives to Violence Project mandala – a circle with Transforming Power at its center; caring for self and others, respect for self and others, seeking a peaceful solution and expecting the best in a surrounding ring; and an assortment of techniques to be used in an outer ring – techniques like humor, patience, courtesy, surprise and caring. That ring of techniques keeps expanding, as workshops held in prisons across the country, and in tension-filled countries around the world, teach people how to find non-violent solutions to conflicts. The techniques are equally effective for maintaining a positive focus in one’s own life, and for bringing one back into awareness of the strength of spirit we all possess.

The backward-lookers may have won some recent political elections – they will NOT run my life. Please don’t let them run yours!

As Above

July 6, 2014

I took a short vacation last week, only three days. Enough to slow down, relax in a comfortable motel, watch World Cup matches and go for walks. Not enough to get the rest I need, but at least a taste of what it will be like soon, when the greatest press of work eases and I can once again have weekends.

It’s almost harder to resume intense work now than it would have been to just keep going. My body is telling me it likes being lazy but physically active. My mind informs me there are other things it wants to consider than the myriad aspects of my demanding job. My spirit…? It seeks constantly for the Source, drawing energy to support what my other components find it necessary to do.

As above, so below is a phrase used by my spiritual teacher, to help us channel our attention in the most beneficial direction. With the proper attitude, and the correct placement of attention, we are able to let Divine energy flow in, showing us our undue attachments and the ways that we divert and misuse that energy.

Attachments are essentially misplaced attention. Have you noticed that when you dislike something, it seems to keep popping up before you until you let go of the dislike, becoming neutral on the subject? Only then, with attention directed somewhere else, can the object/experience/attitude fade from prominence in your life.

On the flip side, I can say that I am now enjoying in my daily outer life a delightful reflection of the companionship, caring, fun, accomplishment, ease and peace that twenty years of patient spiritual pursuit has achieved for me with my Inner Beloved. Not looking for anything more than the gifts already given, I am astounded to find my mundane world such a perfect reflection of the promises of my spiritual one. Not that there aren’t challenges, large and small. How could there not be, since I am far from a perfected spiritual being.

What I understand, though, is that when issues do arise I need give these outer manifestations only passing analysis. The majority of my attention needs to go within, to determine what subtle (sometimes not so subtle) concern or attachment I have neglected to clear from my being.

Today, my reliable, hardworking, much appreciated and well-traveled (220,000 miles) VW gave out as I was driving into town. Rolling along just fine, then a popping sort of bang, a huge puff of smoke, and clearly something was very wrong. Coasting to a stop, calling AAA for a tow, figuring out where to have the car taken so a mechanic can assess the problem – these steps followed in a fairly routine way. I called a friend to take me home, where I collected my second car to return to town and continue with the day’s projects.

Now I am considering what I will do if the repair bill approaches the down payment for a new vehicle. And I’m asking myself what inner, reliable and established habit is also due for a revamp or upgrade? Am I due for a change in my attitude toward spending and debt? Have I been taking the presence of some skill or energy too much for granted? Or is my reliance on the care and attention of my Divine Teacher being put to the test?

My Internet service also failed today – with a 24-48 hour restoration time frame the best that can be promised me by the repair people. And just now, our electric power went off. So three basics of outer daily function have all quit on me at once. For sure, I will be looking to see what I’ve been taking for granted on the inner, and attending to repairs and maintenance of any areas where I find my attentiveness has been lacking!

Thank Thee, Beloved, for serving me up this fine example of “as above so below” – or perhaps I should say “as within, so without”. I deeply appreciate that the lesson is being offered on a weekend day, when nothing is so pressing as to prevent me from taking this matter into contemplation.

Baraka Bashad. May these Blessings Be.

Eyes on the Sparrow

Eyes on the Sparrow

Postscript
The car blew out at 10:00 AM. The Internet quit by 1:30 PM, the electricity died at 3:00 PM.
As of 8:00 PM both electricity and Internet have resumed function.
I await the morning, to see what happens with the car.


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