Stepping Ahead

January 1, 2021

Setting new priorities and looking forward to at least occasional good news in the year ahead, to replace the barrage of negativity that defined 2020 I want to set the tone by appreciating and thanking all those who follow this blog, and also those who occasionally stop to read it. May you all find opportunity for joy, growth, a sense of achievement and of community in 2021.

Baraka bashad – may these blessings be.

Fighting Back

December 10, 2020

The combination of retirement, a dip in overall health, and the isolation of self protection from Covid have combined to push me toward being what I have most disliked over my life until now – an old person talking constantly about health complaints. How else can I view myself, when the few calls or inquiries made of me begin with “How are you doing? Are you okay?” and while the overall answer is “Alright, just rather bored and tired” the more specific answer is “Aggravated by the sequence of health challenges that have arisen since I stopped work” which in turn rob my energy and focus, and when combined with all the pandemic-imposed restrictions, prevent me from engaging with anything that can stimulate my interest or give me the opportunity to discuss substantive issues with others.

Minus the pandemic, I know I would be enrolled in a sketching class, probably teaching workshops, and certainly driving out to visit friends or meeting them for a meal and conversation in a restaurant. I would still have the health issues that affect me (residual apparently from something toxic inhaled along with the smoke from the West Coast fires) but I would have distractions, and a schedule of activities to motivate me to do more than read my daily news feeds and the novels that I still enjoy.

Transitioning from very full time, demanding and people-interactive work to retirement is a challenge. Isolating at home to keep safe and relatively healthy is a challenge. Adapting from having one’s mate always present to his being away all week and only home on weekends is a considerable challenge. Combining all three at once and layering on a coating of decline in health seems to be enough to turn me into a stereotype of an old person. Only my hatred both of stereotypes and of whining, complaining people stands between me and overwhelmed defeat.

Thank heaven I live in a rural environment, can get out and walk freely around my property, and at times am treated, as this morning, to the delight of deer effortlessly completing a standing jump over the fence and onto my land. It is a gray day, with dropping temperature and possible rain predicted, after a week of warm, sunny autumn weather. Without the deer my mood would most likely not be great. Instead, as I see the picture of my spiritual teacher smiling at me, I understand His gift just provided to me.

For you, today and all days, may similar blessings be.

Who Knows? I Don’t!

November 25, 2020

Why is it so hard to do nothing?

And equally hard to use mandated “do nothing but rest” time for tediously aggravating projects like emptying Dropbox or deleting old email?

Shouldn’t the latter give some focus and purpose and sense of accomplishment to the former?

Sadly, I am not finding it so.

Doing nothing has come to mean relaxing on the couch either reading books or playing solitaire and word games on my phone. I did label and file some emails that I will want to reference in future. And I thought about scrolling through Coursera for any classes that might interest me – but didn’t even do that.

Is my current lack of energy so pervasive that sedentary mental activities are beyond me? Or does it take a particular type of motivation to tackle those ever-on-the ‘to do’ list organizing chores that so many of us keep postponing? I don’t know.

I do know that I don’t have the motivation to find out why I don’t know.

Enough of tangled sentences. 

What I do know is that I just read an essay by Bruno Maceas of the New York Times (How Trump Almost Broke the Bounds of Reality) that delightfully answers the tormenting question of how so many decent people can continue to support – and just now to vote for – our current president. It has given me much to think about and the realization that implementing any bridges over the deep divides in our country will require both sides to develop a common language, something we do not appear to possess at this time.

The essay explicates Trumpism as a cult, and to my mind effectively supports this hypothesis. Sadly, what immediately came to mind was 900 people committing suicide with poisoned Kool Aid, at the behest of their cult leader. It seems now that too many elected leaders in both houses of Congress are drinking political Kool Aid at the behest of a man who does not deserve that devotion. What cult leader ever does?

If people can continue – as they have done – to lie dying of Covid in ICUs while insisting the virus is a falsehood promulgated by left wing media, how can we possibly succeed in freeing their compatriots from the illusory cult world to which they have committed themselves.

Again, I don’t know.

Reading in the NYTimes about women who have made new opportunities of the pause Covid has imposed on their lives, the consistent message is to accept the need to slow down, recognize an opportunity to reset, refocus, redirect the course of one’s life and draw on historical strengths to find motivation to move forward. For some those strengths were the voices of older family members, or of cultural traditions. For others the strengths came more immediately from their own prior achievements. In all cases, the main thrust of their new efforts was toward some form of engagement with others. Isn’t that what women do? Nurture and care for others in whatever manner they are able to?

Filing or deleting old emails does not support caring for anyone at all, not even myself. No wonder I consider it an unnecessary chore. The emails, mostly newsletters from various groups in which I have some interest, have accumulated because somewhere in each is an item or two that, at first reading, I thought would be relevant to a future writing project. Only in that sense can they be conceived of as having anything to do with concern for others. Does that slanted view of the value of organizing them help motivate me?

I don’t know.

It looks as though 2020 will be recorded in my personal history as the Year of I Don’t Know. 

So be it.

RANT

November 19, 2020

For the first time in all my years of writing posts, I am not reviewing, editing or striving for a reflective balance in this essay. It is purely, as the title states, an expression of my fury at the thoughtless, selfishly ugly hordes of people who are collectively responsible for the new Covid surge. As one of those who has followed health safety practices consistently since last February, mostly staying home, avoiding indoor groups, minimizing my social interactions with close friends and doing all I can to protect both myself and my neighbors/community, I am now forced once more to do without acupuncture and massage which have been essential to maintaining my health over years, and are even more important to my well being in these times of severe stress and risk.

Because of you ugly, vicious, lying deniers I have less energy, a recurrence of bronchitis that had not troubled me for decades, increased frequency of headaches, and once again curtailed access to the treatments I have relied on to keep active and employed into my late seventies.

I blame you – and I do not think I will be forgiving you any time soon. With your blind cult devotion to the idiot who has misled you for four painfully long years, you are destroying my quality of life, you are dying in high numbers and still you are denying simple truth.

SHAME ON YOU ALL. (That is the mildest thing I can say without resort to “improper” * words.)

The Power of Words

November 6, 2020

Back in high school, I started a project of comparing adages in French and English, which later expanded to include contrasts between British and American English. I remember that the first saying I analyzed was “Every man for himself and devil take the hindmost” or in French “Chaque’un pour soi et Dieu pour tous” which replaces the devil coming behind you to God helping us all. That profound difference in attitude seems to me now to not only show a cultural difference between the French and we Americans, but also to be particularly apt to the deep divisions that have been exposed within our society, and which the present election seems only to be worsening.

People I do not know, but who expressed themselves on an engaged Buddhism election night gathering, said what I was feeling – deep disappointment that the vote was not demonstrating a rejection of the ugly, toadying, violent, racist, often viciously retaliatory rhetoric and behavior we have been immersed in these past four years. People also expressed their commitment to continuing to pursue a loving, compassionate outflow in whatever ways their lives make possible. Being one of over 600 participants in the Upaya election night Zoom gathering helped me feel less overwhelmed, despondent and alone. The periods of silent contemplation interspersed through the evening gave me space to re-attend to the directives of my own Inner Master and to find the means to live beside, rather than be tossed about within, the vortex of social/political upheaval.

As horrific as is the loss of life from the pandemic, I suspect that the greater long term damage to all of us is the seeming loss of connection, of compassion, of respect, of willingness to try to understand and accept differences between families, cultures, religions, neighbors. The pandemic’s safety restrictions only seem to separate us. There have been enough inventive ways people have found to still show love and care on an individual basis, to demonstrate that the absence of these qualities is not a necessary byproduct of Covid-19. Other countries have suffered great loss of life and limitations of interactions without the citizens turning so virulently against one another.

Words have power. Interpreting the meaning of specific words and how those interpretations can affect communication has been a lifelong interest of mine. Just recently I engaged in a discussion that almost escalated into an argument about the word courage. I took strong exception to the other person’s statement that though there was much he disliked about our president, he admired the man’s courage. It was not easy to hold on to my temper long enough to find out that we two had very different interpretations of the word courage. Once I understood that the quality admired is the focused drive to be in charge and to achieve personal goals, I could accept that quality as one to be respected. It also allowed me to point out that courage usually means knowing the risks but taking an action despite them, which in turn means being aware of other viewpoints than one’s own. Narcissists (and we agreed this president is a narcissist) do not have the capacity to see or care outside their own viewpoint – therefore they cannot have courage. 

Because I was discussing with someone close to me, and we were both intent on not harming our relationship, we sought a way to reduce the divisiveness that a difference in terminology might have created. Because of the shortage of such cooperative intent in our larger society, words have become weapons further dividing and hurting us, and all sorts of neutral items or actions have become symbols of that division and thereby lost their neutrality.

I was struck this morning by an essay in one of the news roundups to which I subscribe, that laid out the conundrum facing many news organizations now – that our social environment has become so distorted that journalists can no longer simply state facts without that action being seen as taking a non-neutral, political position. 

If I repeat the fact that states where health safety practices are given priority have lower infection and death rates than those which do not, my “ought-to-be-seen-as-neutral” statement is taken as a political attack on individual freedom. If I report that New Mexico is the first state in the nation ever to have elected all women of color as its Representatives to Congress (all three – two Native American and one Latina, one of the three a Republican) my factual statement will be read as judgmental, or prideful, or proof I am a despised liberal, when it is simply a fact.

And to wear a mask – which I do always, everywhere out of my home, all the time, primarily to protect myself but also showing respect for those around me – that action is not a political statement but simply the implementation of a health standard that existed long before there was a pandemic. My former employer required that we use masks during flu season, for our own and our clients’ safety. No politics, just common sense.

(Now – referring back to my statement about New Mexico’s representatives to Congress, how did you attribute the political affiliations? Two Democrats and one Republican, in tandem with the Native/Latina division I specified? You would be wrong.)

I have long since stopped counting the times that I remind myself that to assume is to make an ass of u and me. It is also to abandon respect, patience, compassion, discernment, listening and caring as values to live by.  

Could the bridge to repairing our ruptured society be as simple as making a national mantra of “Never Assume”? Sadly, I do not believe something so straightforward would go uncorrupted.

Which will not stop me from doing my best to implement the qualities of respect and attention implicit in assuring neither I nor my interlocutors become asses.

To Be is Sufficient

October 27, 2020

First cold winter snow of the season, though not the first snow of the season. That one was back in mid-September, 80 degrees one day, snow the next, then warm again the day after. This one is taking its time spread over at least two days and with night time temperatures in the teens. Perfectly timed, from my point of view, to allow for a quiet day indoors resting from extra activity over the weekend. Apparently also allowing those government workers actually on site to come in late and go home early. No shortened hours for the majority, however, who are working from home. And it remains to be seen if our primary phone and Internet provider is ready for the season. Last winter when I was still working the more-than-full-time my job demanded, frequent outages seriously hampered meeting mandatory deadlines. One of the stresses I am happy to be liberated from, now that I have retired.

I am most grateful to the several friends who have themselves recently retired, for the heads up they unanimously gave me, that the transition is not an easy one, particularly for those of us whose work was in some aspect of the helping professions, engaged daily with a variety of others. All that interaction is suddenly gone at the same time that Covid has prevented taking a campus class, joining a gym, participating with a meditation and/or yoga group. And at the same time that my spouse was returned to work on site, after three months of being home based due to the pandemic. Texting to friends and an occasional phone call do not make up the difference. 

Not that I am unfamiliar with alone time. Not that I didn’t crave occasional alone time over the past years when work and home/marriage responsibilities took up all my waking hours. But so very much of it, all at once, definitely takes getting used to. 

I began by tackling the very long list of “clean up and clear out” tasks that have accumulated in 30 years of living in one place (moving is not easy, but it does precipitate a useful trimming down). I would say I’ve gotten maybe a third of the way through, then stalled out because the other primary aspect of retiring, about which I had also been warned, caught up with me. My energy level has tanked. Yes I was sickened by something, seemingly a toxin that both my husband and I inhaled while sleeping. Possibly something in the smoke from the West Coast fires? We both work up at the same time, choking and unable to breathe. Temperatures rose immediately thereafter, sending us to Public Health for Covid tests which thankfully came back negative. We both recovered in a few days, he more completely than I did, in that he returned to his normal pace of work and school while I remain far too easily tired, and prone to repeat, relapse, recovery cycles more than a month later. I am now awaiting an appointment with a specialist to find out either what attacked us, or what I still need to do to help my system properly recover. Meanwhile, the house decluttering process has pretty much halted.

What has not stopped is my rearrangement of my inner house. It was a bit of a shock to realize that despite my range of interests, and the many things I had thought I would enjoy “if only I had the time” I had nonetheless become someone whose sense of worth was defined by the work I did, and how much of my time was given to being of service to others. The people who care for me kept saying I had “earned” the right to relax, to “only do what makes you happy”, to sleep all day if I wished to, or to take care of myself first, and only attend to others if I have the energy to do so.

My spiritual Path teaches the goal of manifesting Soul, rather than following the dictates of mind. One way that this can be translated is to focus on finding one’s worth within, then funnelling that wisdom outward, instead of seeking worth through one’s outward actions. I rather thought I had a grasp of the inner to outward directive, until retirement and exhaustion brought me to a stop and I felt adrift, without any meaningful sense of self. I am a devoted enough student that I have been following my teacher’s instructions regarding spiritual practice, and am seeing myself transitioning from an uncomfortable void to a pleasant certainty that Being is sufficient. A am confident that appropriately focused doing will be forthcoming without my having to plot and plan for it to take place.

Just as this snow storm has come perfectly timed to “allow” me to relax and rest from my weekend’s endeavors, so too has retirement apparently come perfectly timed to allow me to transition from outer to inner imperatives directing my activity. My only obligation now is to practice the patience I learned in the period of 2000-2012 when I was held in place, seeming not to make progress or to be permitted to change employment, change residence, change anything whatsoever. 

I think we humans tend to fall into two patterns – one often self described as a “control freak” needing to regulate and direct and charge forward, the other more laid back and reliant on “what will be will be.” A fair amount of life learning seems to involve each group recognizing their status, seeing the opposite, and hopefully seeking a closer approximation to a balance of the two ways of being. 

I can now identify the ten year period referenced above as the time for me to learn patient acceptance of the fact that nothing would change despite my efforts to make change happen. I was being asked to master that lesson so that, in maintaining balance, I could take wing. Again, from my spiritual teaching, the image is of a bird needing both wings flapping in harmony in order to fly. Just personal effort, or just awaiting some outside determinant, do not get anything off the ground. 

Until the snow stops, until my energy is restored, until the pandemic restrictions are lifted, until what I am next called to do, I will do what I can. If what I can is simply to rest, stay put, and Be, let it be so. It is sufficient.

Patience – again

September 19, 2020

Quite some time ago, when I was educating myself on Twelve Step programs in the course of learning about addictions, I was told about a phenomenon noted among participants that was too often a contributor to relapse – the emergence of serious health challenges in the months after sobriety was achieved.
“I was never sick when I was using, except for withdrawals when I couldn’t get a new supply.”
“I didn’t have any health problems until after I got sober.”

It never occurred to me that there might be a similar response to retirement and its accompanying cessation of the adrenalin rush which faded with the end of deadline pressures.

Feeling somewhat at sea, unsure how to structure one’s days, seeking a new balance of tasks and relaxation – those were feelings I anticipated or had been alerted to expect, and ones that seemed reasonable. A marked decrease in interpersonal contacts would also be inevitable, given the necessary isolation already in place due to the pandemic. Loss of energy would naturally follow from a drop in adrenalin. I was prepared to avert a parallel mental/emotional sag that could seem misleadingly like depression.

I was not prepared to experience the above referenced upsurge in health issues.

The explanation generally accepted in the Twelve Step situation is that the addict/alcoholic/codependent has been too engaged with the focus of their addiction to care for themselves. Not so different a situation as that of health caregivers who ignore their own needs in the process of tending to their parent or partner ill with cancer, Alzheimer’s or other care-demanding conditions. Once attention returns to the individual, previously ignored symptoms become salient and require attention.

I did not need a day of sick leave in the last 4 years of my employment. I maintained – still do – a regular weekly schedule of health support treatments. I am an appropriate weight, have never smoked, drink very sparingly, and exercise daily. I do not have any “underlying conditions” to make me vulnerable, other than being somewhat up there in years (late 70’s) and having lived through a 5 year period, some 35 years ago, of a bad time with bronchitis. It has not been an issue since, beyond a bit of congestion if I become seriously overtired.

So why, 6 weeks into retirement, free of stress and sleeping well, am I experiencing an upsurge in frequency of ocular migraine headaches and an aggravating bout of bronchitis?

The more rest I get, the less energy I seem to have. Breathing in an unknown contaminant last week apparently triggered the bronchitis (Covid test negative) that now refuses to subside. Yes our air in New Mexico is seriously smoky, downwind from the West Coast fires and that undoubtedly is exacerbating the bronchitis flare up. But why is this lung irritation stubbornly persistent while I am relaxed and rested, when it never did so while I was highly stressed and working 50 plus hour weeks?

Probably the question I should be asking is “what, that I have not yet identified, needs my attention just now?” such that I am being slowed down, held in place, prevented from moving into new activities until I recognize the missing element. At least, that seems to be how illness has played out in my life so far.

Sometimes, when I frame the question, I get the answer promptly. Other times, I get to practice the difficult lesson of patience. This seems to be one of those latter occasions.

I’ll let you know when the insight arrives.

Waking Up

September 14, 2020

The best part of waking up is … was it Folger’s in your cup? Another coffee brand? Don’t remember that detail, only the tune and the ad line, as I wake to another silent morning, alone without anyone present to greet me as I greet the day.
I think that is, for me, the hardest aspect of days alone. Once I am up and going, with tasks to be done and responding to messages and emails, or checking news feeds, I no longer feel so isolated. I have never been one to have music playing in the background and I don’t have TV (hate the blah blah blah background in spaces where the TV is never turned off though not being attended to) but maybe the former will need to change? Might having a musical greeting alter my sense of aloneness?
Guess that is one more “you won’t know until you try it” item on a long list.

I enjoy music, but recognize that my greatest pleasure comes from words – a cleverly written sentence, a challenging crossword puzzle, a lively discussion with a compatible partner, whether over coffee or – as now required – distanced and by text.
There is a qualitative difference between written and spoken words, and I am finding in this enforced aloneness a fatigue with reading that I never thought I’d encounter. I put down my book and play hands of solitaire to “zone out” and let my inner self refocus.
Would it be different with music in the background?

I won’t know until I try it (smiley face).

The Meaning of Alone

September 10, 2020

Alone but not lonely
Lonely even though not alone
Sleeping single in a double bed
No one to talk to
No one who cares
No one trusted enough to share with
No one who will (or can) listen

Free to make one’s one decisions
Empowered to act without waiting for approval or agreement
Challenged to be creative

Look Ma, no hands
Wheeeeee
Crash

I want to hold your hand
I want you to hold me, please
Babies with adequate hygiene and food but not held do suffer and die from the lack of touch
A variant of marasmus

Touch deprived adults may fall into depression, poor health
A may die prematurely

Alone can be content
Lonely cannot

What makes the difference?
Attitude
Faith
Upbringing
Insight
Learning
Choice

All challenges to the Self
That enhance growth

But mostly, I think, that last one
Choice
Think about it.

Frustration

September 10, 2020

Please be advised, I have essays to post

but am unable to use the new format

to my liking and am therefore

not putting up anything until

someone

comes to my rescue.

Specifically I do not like the enforced

double spacing, but find NO guidance

on how to change it.

Consider this my declaration of WAR

against thoughtless, mindless computer

nerds who ignore the needs of older

more traditional writers.


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