Posts Tagged ‘spiritual development’

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.

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.”

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

 

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

Revisioning

May 29, 2016

A much needed break from my day job has just come to an end. Returning to work, I could feel the familiar skin of tension wrap itself around me, its confining pressure made up of having to be “on” at all times, a plethora of deadlines, and the need to adapt to constantly changing requirements. Knowing that the work is stressful and trying the usual tricks to reduce the impact of that stress – the vacation trip being one – still didn’t prepare me for the visceral reaction I experienced when I returned to work a few days ago.

Knowing about the stress, and intimately experiencing its descent upon me, are very different levels of awareness. The latter has motivated me to rededicate myself to living by my spiritual Master’s will, leaving control of how each day unfolds to wiser guidance than that of my own mind.

In practice this means I’m coming back to work intent on “redoing” my approach to my responsibilities so that I can use the awareness of the tense extra skin as a red flag – when I sense it, I know to stop, release the mental straightjacket into which I’ve wedged myself, and give control of my Self back to the Master. I already know that when I function from no-mind, all goes well, the work gets done, and I have energy left for the rest of my life interests.

As with any habit, I will need to implement this release repeatedly, until I no longer wear the tension sheath at all. My health will, I know, immediately improve, as it did during the short vacation break.

The second half of my vacation trip was also a redoing – or perhaps more correctly an undoing of a previous negative experience, replacing it with a positive one.

Some 15 years ago I made a similar trip across the Midwest to see a former getaway student – to Fargo rather than Rochester, my UWC student/temporary daughter then a Senegalese rather than an Asian. In the first instance my companion was, unknown to me, strung out on heroin and pretending not to be. As a result, when we were supposed to be enjoying a sightseeing return trip, he was too sick to do anything but insist we make it home as fast as possible. It was summer, so hot my Subaru’s AC couldn’t keep us any cooler than 90 and all I wanted was out of the heat and away from the anger and harsh attitude in my passenger seat. We drove within sight of the Crazy Horse monument, but did not see Mt. Rushmore, nor any of the other attractions of the Black Hills area.

This trip has been so different – relaxed conversation, enjoyment of the densely varied shades of green in Nebraska, Minnesota, and South Dakota with subtle differences between the three states noticeable to eyes attuned to grabbing whatever green can be found in New Mexico’s desert tans. We passed through areas of rolling hills which my husband said look like the area around Bamenda in his native Cameroon. We also passed a number of windfarms in Minnesota, the clean white towers with their sedately turning blades overlapping into the distance like a giant mobile decorating the sky. Farming continued between and below the strong white pillars, corn for biofuels being produced on the same lands as electricity from wind.

Following a warm family-feeling graduation/anniversary/birthday event in Minnesota, we drove back through South Dakota and down through the Black Hills, snapping pictures of the Mt. Rushmore faces and spending time in the museum at the Crazy Horse monument. The museum’s assembled collection of native crafts from all across the country provides visitors with an opportunity to appreciate differences in design, perhaps reflective of differences in perception and world view, between tribes. I particularly noticed a 150 year old beaded pouch from the Winnebago tribe with a floral design that put me immediately in mind of Georgia O’Keefe’s flower paintings. Distinctively different from the straight lined geometry I previously have associated with Native beadwork.

Recent astrology patterns suggest this spring to have been a period of review, with the opportunity to renew and revise one’s goals, as well as to set new patterns of social interaction. Eric Francis of PlanetWaves pointed out that each time of reconsideration (planets in retrograde) appears as an upheaval on the larger social scene, as we are collectively subjected to pressure to make changes. No surprise then, that we are looking at a political scene which has totally confounded the pollsters. And no surprise that I’ve been given the opportunity to make changes also, creating new memories and finding new and healthier ways to carry on with daily obligations.

Model of what is to be

Model of what is to be

 

The familiar that is

The familiar that is

 

En Famille

En Famille

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

What Am I?

April 10, 2016

Once one has lived a moderate number of years, a large variety of situations can lead to reflection on the nature of self, what it means to be K, or N, or Mrs. M. Retirement planning seminars stress the importance of developing a set of interests outside of one’s profession, to ease the transition to a new concept of self. Being abruptly laid off due to down-sizing prevents this sort of planning. So does the onset of physical illness, or an accident which seriously alters ones capabilities. Even a slowly progressing illness can reach a turning point, where activities previously manageable suddenly become impossible.

 

A common expression of the challenge faced in such a transition is who am I if I’m not … working as a plumber, teaching classes, acting in plays? At a still more sensitive level, who am I if I can no longer button my shirt, use the bathroom without assistance, or sit outside in the sun when I wish to do so?

 

In an ongoing conversation with a dear friend of long standing, this transition has been jokingly referred to as the Do Be Do Be Do discussion. My friend recently referred to an unnamed source whose contribution to the topic was the statement “God is a verb”. I took that into contemplation today, during our monthly Quaker Meeting for Worship, and found myself reflecting that both doing and being are verbs, i.e. action words. Shouting, dancing, running, doing are perhaps more noisy than sitting, dreaming, accepting, thinking, being – but all are verbs, all are forms of action.

 

So standing and waiting is being active, albeit in a passive-feeling way.

 

My friend’s dilemma arises partially from his career as an actor, radio personality, radio program director – highly satisfying activities which involve exchange with an audience, a cyclical/reciprocal engagement with contributing to the lives of others that has been a primary value throughout his life. Now that he can no longer participate in those roles, and must often measure achievement in successfully moving himself from point A to point B (because Parkinson has control of his body) he questions what he is contributing to the well-being of people around him. Is it sufficient, to accept gracefully the offers of help which others do feel good about extending? That is only half the cycle. What is traveling outward, to be received by the other, processed and returned?

 

If God is a verb, and Being is a verb, then in simply being, we are godly. If also God is Love – loving is a verb – then in loving we are being godly. Loving travels outward, to be received by others, processed and used – and hopefully also returned. Reciprocation need not be tangible to be complete.

 

Another participant in today’s Quaker Meeting contemplation shared her morning’s experience of “shedding” – elk on her property shedding antlers, a friend shedding light on a problem, and the value of shedding outdated concepts of oneself. Shedding is a verb. Perhaps the key to a smooth transition from active verbs like doing, to quieter ones like being, is to be ready to shed constricting definitions – of self, of what constitutes contributing, of what it means to love.

 

The challenge – in a positive, active sense – becomes one of accepting a new and refined sense of manifesting that of God within. Aging with grace, letting one’s love shine out in a smile, holding a state of being such that others walk away from one’s presence feeling enriched and glad to have been there… these are valuable contributions. In the noise and busy-ness of daily life, such sweet giving is too rare. We need more of such Being, more of God manifesting through us, to both strengthen and soften our human interactions. I can’t think of a more important purpose to incorporate into daily life.

Paying It Forward

December 19, 2015

The following is a true account of recent events. Initials are used instead of names, to respect the privacy of those involved.

S had been living with her service dog in her SUV for 8 months, in an effort to save money and pay off the loans that had allowed her to travel several states away, to spend time with her grandchildren. She used the resources in her Taos area effectively, staying at camp grounds, bathing every few days at the homes of friends, and using a small propane heater, arctic rated sleeping bag, and propane camp stove to manage her meals and sleep. As autumn approached she became concerned to find something more secure against high mountain winter cold.

V a friend and neighbor of this writer, called one morning to offer purchase of a Winnebago in excellent shape for use as a guest home, just in need of motor repair. The price was minimal – but I had no need for the extra sleeping space. I asked if the generous offer might be extended to S and was told “give her my number.” By the time S called V, the offer of the Winnebago had become “haul it away and it’s yours.”

S was overwhelmed. She had recently joined AAA and was able to arrange a tow. She and V met when the tow truck was scheduled, sharing their interest in dogs and dog training. S, who had trained her own service dog, guided V to web sites where she could connect to programs that need volunteers for this type of training. A positive exchange ensued. “I haven’t forgotten when I didn’t have a pot to piss in, and slept on people’s floors” V said by way of background. “We all need a hand up on occasion.”

At the grocery store a few weeks later, S and her dog noticed an older woman, also with a dog, who was struggling to load groceries in her truck. Despite a bad back and lifting limits, S followed her dog to the truck. While the canines made friends, the two women loaded groceries and started to talk. S had been seeking a place where she could safely park the Winnebago long term. She was already occupying it, but the tow had deposited it in a temporary location. The older woman, L – a former army nurse who served in Vietnam – offered a parking site and subsequently offered occupancy of a comfortable home on the same properly. S and L became friends, as well as tenant and landlord. S expressed the feeling that she’d found not one but three fairy godmothers, and felt incredibly blessed.

About a month later, a coworker of mine posted a request for information/resources for D, a homeless person in the Taos area who uses a wheel chair and has a service dog. I called S to ask her if she’d share her knowledge of supports with D. She immediately said she could check with L about possibly letting D use the Winnebago. Before a week had passed, S and L were on their way to meet D, who was living in a camper in an area that becomes impassable in rain or snow. The upshot of the visit was that D’s camper was winterized for her, and she was stocked with groceries and dog food so that she could shelter in place in bad weather, and drive out to town for supplies between winter storms. “I’ve always tried to help others, and pay my own way,” S said when she reported the outcome of her visit to D. “With all the help I’ve received from my three guardian angels (you, V and L) the least I can do is my part to pay it forward.”

Have you noticed that, often, it is the people who have the least who are the most open-hearted and open handed with that least – which somehow seems always to be not just enough but to multiply like the loaves and fishes?

I am so grateful that my work engages me almost daily with this sort of sharing, caring, generosity and warm-heartedness. Peace and joy to all in this reflective season.


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