Archive for the ‘environment’ Category

Et Cetera

November 11, 2018

I haven’t heard if there’s a politically equivalent term for compassion fatigue but if there isn’t there should be one. Or maybe compassion fatigue can be extended to my present state of exhaustion with constant demands to “support this”, “sign if you…”, “tell your Congressman,,,”, “urge your Senators…”, “protest this”, “vote for…”, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

(Are you old enough to hear Yul Brenner’s voice pronouncing those words?)

I spent part of this cold snowy Sunday systematically removing myself from mailing lists of one group after another, clearing out my email inbox and hopefully leaving only a few daily news summary feeds, and requests from the single advocacy group that responded to my demand for assurance that if I sign something on their behalf, they will NOT share my information with any other organization. I actually received a personal response guaranteeing that Issue One does not share its mailing list with any other group, and I am therefore staying connected to that single advocacy site which has a bipartisan focus on restoring integrity to our governing system.

In the process of surviving these past months of ever increasing anger, outrage, brutality, fear-mongering, disgust, determination et cetera, et cetera, et cetera (Didn’t he have a mesmerizing voice?) I have also come to take even greater pride in my home state of New Mexico, felt most keenly on election day. While we too often come out near the bottom in national surveys of graduation rates, maternal health, pregnancy rates of high school students, and similar social measures, my state is decidedly in the very top tier for integrity (and verifiability of that integrity) of its elections, as well as for inclusiveness of all social groups, ethnicities, races, et cetera (et cetera, et cetera) in our state and its political process. We have an absence of gerrymandering accusations, all inclusive voter registration opportunities (driver’s license and public assistance applications both include an invitation to register to vote if eligible), and accessible voting sites with ample early voting and absentee voting options.

I felt deep pride as I marked my paper ballot, watched it being scanned into a reader, saw the recorded count indicator tick up one, and noted my individual voting number to use if I should wish to verify that my votes were recorded exactly as I cast them. No races in the state were close enough to require recounts, the gubernatorial transition has begun, and New Mexico is moving forward with its familiar absence of presence on the national news, other than noting that we elected one of the two “first” Native American women to the House. The fact that we were, as far as I know, the first state in the nation to have two women competing for governor (back in 2010) did not make the national news. And there has been, so far, no coverage on-line of the fact that the present transition is from one Hispanic woman governor to another Hispanic woman governor-to-be.

I rarely watch television – don’t have reception in my home – so I cannot confirm that the national news still omits New Mexico when reporting on weather events in the southwest. My father was the one who first commented to me that the announcers will talk about California, Arizona and Texas skipping New Mexico entirely. I reminded him of the cite in Milagro Beanfield War describing “poor New Mexico, so far from heaven, so close to Texas.” Then I remarked that the quote most probably did NOT originate with a New Mexican, as many of us feel we live pretty darn close to heaven in our beautiful state with its clear star filled skies, amazing sunsets, varied terrain and dramatic weather variations across a single day. I am happy to add to the heavenly aspects the warm reception given to Vietnamese refugees, to a growing Muslim population, to survivors of Katrina who chose to settle and stay after what they had thought would be a temporary evacuation, and even to Californians, New Yorkers and yes, Texans.

The look of the House of Representatives, come January, is being touted as the most diverse ever, and closer than ever to reflecting the diversity of our nation. Would that a little more positive notice might be taken of New Mexico’s diversity, and the extent to which a singularly poor state manages to balance the differing priorities of that diverse population.

Or maybe it is better that we continue to be overlooked, omitted, frequently thought to not even be part of the U.S.?

Left to ourselves we have been largely spared the uglier aspects of the current national scene, though we have had much more mud-slinging in recent political ads, a couple shooting rampages and quite a number of incidents of cronyism and corruption that have taken too long to be exposed. Left to ourselves, we do expose them – like the President and members of the Board of Directors of Luna Community College who have been ousted after nearly costing the school its accreditation. Or just this past week, the Fire Chief, his daughter a Payroll Officer, and his friend who is also an official in the fire department of Mora County who have all just been fired after an investigation into misuse of County funds.

That is the same Mora County, historically the poorest county in our poor state,  which became the first entity in the nation to attempt to pass a local ordinance banning fracking within its borders. They were ultimately unsuccessful at establishing legal precedent, but they did bring the oil and gas exploration effort to a halt for long enough to enact needed strict controls on the process.

I could identify other positive “firsts” New Mexico has achieved which have also gone largely unnoticed at the national level. But this post isn’t about bragging on my home state. Rather, I set out to write my way toward a less exhausted frame of mind, hoping to find inspiration to remain engaged enough to continue reading the daily news feeds that I will receive from those few sources that give me facts without a deluge of demands for money or petition signing, or other prodding to action that would once again put my email address onto countless lists.

I’ll let you know in time whether I’ve succeeded. For now, I can reiterate that I’m proud of how New Mexico handles its diversity, assures the integrity of its voting process, and quietly goes about achieving first in the nation status for choices I think important.

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

 

Lessons Learned

October 27, 2018

As vacation comes closer to the end, and we start the return trip by driving from NOLA back to Mobile where we catch the plane tomorrow, I am considering what I’ve learned over the week of vacation, travel, meeting new people, seeing very different country… and sleeping more, at the same time as being much more active.

  • Hmm… I can maintain my pattern of relatively limited food intake away from home while enjoying a much greater variety of foods.
  • I miss my daily ginger tea with lime juice.
  • I am able to be active without getting so tired, perhaps because at sea level there is so much more oxygen to be had with each in-breath?
  • Soft water, which I experienced for the first time, is really sweet to my skin, and well worth the feeling of needing to scrub extra long to get soap removed.
  • Seafood is as expensive on the ocean shore – at least in restaurants – as it is in my high desert home, which makes no sense to me.
  • Vegetation on the Gulf Coast of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana is both similar and subtly different from state to state, but replete with flowers and plants my husband recognizes from his home in Cameroon.
  • Graduating 500 students as occurred this year at Columbia Southern University takes about three hours even when the speeches are short and “the walk” is well organized and fairly quickly accomplished. Nearly half of that 500 were minorities, and many of the students had traveled in from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Such is the power and reach of a good online university.
  • Blacks and whites appear to function side by side without overt friction in this part of the Deep South, and we were treated everywhere with appropriately businesslike courtesy, but in the week here I saw only one mixed race couple such as we are.
  • Most of the French Quarter seems tacky, full of rip off bars and hokey tourist traps, but retaining the architecture for which it is famous. I hope I am not too biased when I say that the Santa Fe Plaza, or Old Town in Albuquerque retain a traditional look and draw tourists without becoming quite so “shlocky”.  We did have an excellent bowl of gumbo – duck and andouille for me – at Gumbo Ya-Ya by the Quarter area wharf where we took our Mississippi River jazz cruise to mark my birthday.
  • Motel beds vary enormously in quality, and are not consistent by company brand. Fortunately, the two places we stayed for several nights both had good ones.
  • Driving side roads is infinitely more pleasant that taking interstate highways, when time allows.
  • The Vietnamese population in NOLA is reduced by a third from per-Katrina; people moved away again, rather than start over a third time on the site of their second life disaster.
  • Baton Rouge got its name from a red pole that marked the boundary between two native tribal territories in the area where the first governor of the then Spanish territory decided to place his headquarters. It has a lovely Mississippi frontage with a bike and walking trail for pedestrian enjoyment of the river.
  • I was able to divert my thoughts from work on the few occasions that the enormity of what is awaiting me rose to awareness.
  • Google directions can be helpful but I still prefer using a detailed map to waiting for the voice to tell me what to do, too close to the last minute, especially in rush hour traffic. Orienting myself overall with the map, then getting the step by step for details worked out reasonably well.
  • I HATE being pursued everywhere by telemarketing calls and texts trying to influence my choice of Medicare insurance when I am not in the market for insurance at all because I have it through my work. Being on a do not call list doesn’t help, blocking unknown calls doesn’t stop them, NOTHING stops the ugly intrusion into my days. I would have just turned off the phone, but I did need to receive calls from the people repairing my car.
  • Mobile claims to be the original site of Mardi Gras, in the early 1800’s. Wonder how the festivities came to be so strongly identified with New Orleans (and Rio) and not so much with Mobile?
  • The historic downtown section of Mobile has the look of a cross between the French Quarter and Uptown (Garden District) of New Orleans, and is lovely.
  • Drivers in Mississippi and Alabama are FAR more courteous than those in Louisiana. I wonder why?
  • Excited children are as shrill with a southern accent as they are with a western one.
  • My hair still gets unmanageably curly in a humid climate, despite decades of adaptation to high plains desert dryness.
  • A full week on the road is enough to make me ready for a rest at home, although not enough to get me ready to return to work.
  • Most motels do NOT cater to tea drinkers. The little in-room machines are useless for heating water if they have ever been used to make coffee (plastic retains the coffee taste and passes it into the tea), and reservoirs of supposedly hot water in the lobby are not in fact hot enough to brew tea. The only places that actually “work” for a tea drinker are those that have a hot water spigot on their “breakfast bar” coffee brewer machines available 24/7.
  • Given  choice between New Orleans and Mobile, I would unhesitatingly take Mobile. Better meals at a reasonable price, less hectic ambiance, equally pretty historic areas, and access to the Gulf. Unknowns are the differences between Alabama and Louisiana overall as places of residence.
  • Driving in a hurricane’s edge rainstorm reminded me of a trip home from Taos in an equally blinding snow storm, only this time I was behind the wheel instead of the passenger providing a second set of eyes. Both journeys were made successfully, and will undoubtedly remain linked in my memory.

Reaching the turning point of a vacation where one has begun the return trip engenders feelings a bit like reaching a point of age where one is aware that the end of life is fast approaching, and is now much closer than one’s beginning. From the long period of anticipation before a vacation through the trip itself until the return journey starts is rather like the many years of earlier life. While it is certainly true that a life may end at any point, that awareness is usually set aside until an accident, illness, or accumulation of years bring it into more immediate awareness.

Maybe it is only the juxtaposition of this long awaited vacation with a major milestone birthday that has me seeing a parallel? Will I be as accepting of experiencing whatever awaits me when I am called home at the end of life as I am of experiencing the comfort of returning now to familiar pillows, easily available tea, clear dry air and bright starry skies, and the many other elements that define my sense of being home?

Foxes and Owls

September 23, 2018

I spent the past week in training to learn a new data/case management system being implemented by my employer. We were a mixed group of current employees and newly added imports from a former quasi-competitor, all of us working in care coordination as either first level case managers or second level supervisors. To simplify my referents here while maintaining a degree of anonymity for the companies I will refer to my employer group as the Owls and the newly integrating staff as the Foxes. Both groups previously provided services to Medicaid recipients under contracts with our state government. The Foxes contract was not renewed and its clients needed to change providers effective January 1 2019. In a negotiated arrangement, the entire caseload and some 300 employees were transferred into Owl as of September 1. The Fox staff thus has had to learn not only the case management system new to all of us, but also to adapt to the Owl corporate culture which is notably different from their own.

That difference in corporate cultures seems to me to be reflective of somewhat divisive differences in our wider society these days. It also seems linked to my observation of a worldwide and concerning repetition of a trend from the early 1930’s. Following the world wide repercussions of the 1929 stock market crash, economic differences between classes of societies in many countries became exaggerated. The relatively small number of economic “haves” were resented by the large number of economic “have not’s” in a fashion similar to the current anger of a large portion of U.S. society against the “1%” – or the 10% depending on which metric you prefer. Now, as then, reaction is taking the form of both scapegoating on some defined “other”, and a movement toward more authoritarian leaders. Recent election results in several countries suggest the phenomenon is not limited to the U.S. Resentment of immigrants, a rise in nationalism and parochial views, and growing intolerance of difference seems to mirror that experienced in the years before the outbreak of World War II.

The voices advocating “going high” are increasingly drowned out even on the so-called liberal side by strident demands for forceful counter measures. I do not have TV reception in my home by intent. Spending a week in a motel while at the training, I did turn on the set in my room one evening to watch the 6 PM news. I did not see the program through because I was so appalled by the viciousness of all the political ads peppered throughout the show. Not one presented a candidate’s platform, views, aims. Every single ad – all funded by political pacs, rather than individual campaigns – was an ugly, twisted and negative attack exaggeration of some opponent’s purported position. As little as I care to imitate anything in the conduct of our current president, I did find myself scolding the TV for “fake news” as I turned off the set.

Our instructor for my training week is now an upper level Owl manager with whom I have worked for five years. We started together and while I have chosen to remain a front line worker, she has advanced in well merited fashion to my supervisor, then my manager, and now up yet another level to program management. (I have 20 plus years of management in health care behind me and have less than no interest in ever again being responsible for anyone’s work product other than my own.) Holly did an outstanding job of both teaching the Fox staff the procedures we Owls follow to manage our cases, and teaching all of us how to get the work done in the new computer record system. Inevitably, usually in the question sessions, differences came out between how the Foxes had handled some of the work and the way they would now be expected to handle it as Owls. Many of the differences were minor tweaks to procedure (we were after all both subject to the same mandates in our State contracts) but some revealed a deeper difference in corporate culture which may well have contributed to the Owl’s State contract being renewed while the Fox contract was not.

The Owl company originated locally early in the last century. It has grown steadily and is now one of the largest employers in the state. Throughout, it has espoused and manifested a culture of open communication and of caring both for its clients and its staff. It is not perfect – no large business will ever be flawless – but it does consistently get high satisfaction ratings both from its customers and its staff. The Fox company is a regional branch of a major national corporation. It is continuing to do business in our state, just not any longer providing Medicaid managed care here. I have interacted with current and former Fox staff over several years, and learned much more about their operating culture during this past week of training.

What seems most salient to me as a difference between the two companies emerged in a lunchtime conversation I had with a Fox supervisor who was stressed by what seemed to him to be a conflict between what he had been told at the general orientation he had attended just two weeks prior to our training, and what Holly explained as a step in the Owl case assignment process. At issue was whether staff preferences for types of cases could/would be respected. In the general orientation, a presenter had stated that Owl management strive to enable employees to work in the areas for which they feel a passion and commitment. The supervisor heard this statement as supportive of Fox structure which allowed case managers to choose to handle only adult clients, or specialize in children; take on long term care cases or work only with clients needing links to physical health providers. Holly explained that Owl new case assignments are given on a round robin basis, and the case manager is expected to work with a variety of types of clients, with assistance from subject matter experts.

The supervisor could not reconcile what he heard as directly contradictory statements. Either case managers could specialize according to their preferences or they could not. Which was it to be?

I am aware of Owl company efforts to encourage staff to find their niche even as I work a caseload that includes members whose needs are quite far afield from my areas of expertise. I have not felt this to be a conflict because I know if I feel strongly enough that I am unsuited to managing a particular case I can discuss the issues with my supervisor, and either receive the necessary outside support or have the case transferred because it is in the best interests of the client to have a more knowledgeable coordinator to work with. I am also aware that an underlying expectation of Owl employees is that we will stretch and grow rather than stay locked in predetermined boxes doing only the same things over and over. And I have experienced the spirit of cooperation, interaction and helpfulness to one another that is a basic performance expectation in the Owl world.

Trying to explain to the Fox supervisor why I do not hear the two statements he cited as being in conflict, I suggested that he has been functioning in a “black and white” culture, with defined guidelines coming down from the national level and little if any room for discussion or interpretation. “Do it this way” because that is how it has been decided at corporate headquarters, where the responsibility for maintaining standards is held.  He agreed that was the essence of Fox corporate culture. I described Owl culture, by contrast, as a “rosy” culture where guidelines are more fluid. Our standards are clear and expectations communicated, but individuals are encouraged to take more responsibility for their own performance as they contribute to the group’s overall achievements. Flexibility, adaptation, change and growth are the norm for Owls. If those changes start to feel like they are coming too fast, we can speak up, be heard, and know that we will be offered support to adjust.

I suggested to the Fox supervisor that the challenge facing him was not to resolve a seeming contradiction in case assignment guidelines, but rather to shift from hearing things from a black and white mindset to hearing them in a rosy mentality. He thought for a few minutes and agreed that making that shift, and helping his supervisees to do so, would be a big part of his new responsibilities.

What does this employment environment discussion have to do with the near century old cycle of political movements with which I began? For me, Fox culture mirrors the have/have not, missing middle ground rigidity and authoritarian patterns that relieve individuals of personal responsibility but which almost inevitably lead to conflict and war. Owl culture seems to embody a more interactive and democratic model that demands flexibility and willingness to change, as well as taking personal responsibility for one’s actions, but offers a road to negotiated settlement of disputes.

Not everyone is comfortable within Owl culture. Employees resign because they need a more clearly structured environment, with very specific duties that they know they can complete. Or because they are unwilling to put in the overtime sometimes required, or to keep adapting to procedure changes implemented in an effort to further enhance customer experience. I can relate to their frustrations with Owl culture. I understand their need for more control as an extension of my own unwillingness to be promoted to a supervisor or manager role because I want to “only be responsible for my own work product.”

Despite that preference of mine, I know I would not last in a Fox corporate culture. I don’t take well to a highly structured, “my way or the highway” environment. I value the give and take, openness-to-suggestions approach that I have experienced as an Owl. Which is why I labeled the environment a rosy one, rather than the traditional gray  contrast with Fox black and white.

What I don’t know is how to bridge the divide between the two cultures.

The Fox supervisor was oriented to changing his own view. “I’m grateful to have a job instead of being out of one at my age.” He said he has been encouraging that attitude of gratitude in his peers, many of whom were finding it hard to accept their sudden transfer of employer coming after 9 months of uncertainty about Fox renewing its State contract. Over the next months, we will see who can adapt and who decides to leave and seek different employment. Those who remain will obviously be those who can accept, perhaps even welcome, the change of culture. Those who leave will seek the culture they prefer, and for their sake I hope they find it.

Can a third generation coal miner adapt to building solar panels? How do we help a worker on an auto assembly line feel comfortable living in a different state and manufacturing wind turbines? What steps have not been taken as/when they should have, to facilitate maintaining a middle between the 10% and the rest of us? As some of us continue to push for environmental protections, more equitable sharing of resources and social supports, and genuine equality of opportunity, how do we facilitate transitions for those who see themselves losing out in the change?

We are not all Owls. Our societies need Foxes, and need to include them in determining how there can be a place for them to feel productive and important., working alongside Owls. Otherwise, I see more and more countries torn by internal strife, and society as a whole repeating the century cycle ending, God forbid, in a World War III.

STRESS !!!

August 11, 2018

I have been absent from writing for a couple months while negotiating a combination of work and health changes that, out this other side, I now see were causing me far more stress than I had recognized. I know that stress is insidious, subtle and pervasive. I know and employ a variety of stress management techniques as well as stress reduction practices. I thought I was dealing fairly well with the pressures, and feedback from others close to me suggests they also thought I was coping well.

The difference in my body, my energy, my viewpoint this morning when I woke from sleeping the clock round reveal just how much more severe and draining the stress was than I had realized. The physical health matter was the not uncommon need to undergo cataract surgery. In late May I determined that, although my vision was not yet seriously impaired, this summer would be a good time to get through the process. My eye doctor recommended completing the procedures before I became adapted to the grey and fuzzy results of thickening cataracts, and upcoming changes in my living conditions also suggested now would be a good time to get done with the necessary surgeries. I was able to schedule the two operations just two weeks apart, minimizing the time when I was faced with mismatched eyes that nonetheless had to function for daily reading and computer work in order for me to carry on with my employment.

As of today, both eyes are “set” for distance vision, with close to equal need for magnification for reading and to see the computer screen. Interestingly, my old trifocal prescription lenses are still serviceable at least temporarily. What was the distance adaptation works for the computer, what was the middle computer adjustment works for up close reading, and I look over the tops of the lenses for distance. I am told I must wait a month, until after I’m done with the complete and somewhat tedious regimen of drops, before being assessed for what should be the final prescription I will ever need. Or perhaps I won’t need one at all, and can simply use two strengths of readers, one for close and one for the computer screen.

My work during this period included not just my regular care coordination support for my caseload members, but also being trained on the new data management system that is being introduced this fall. Lots of learning and significant extra computer “face time” during the period when my vision was least reliable. In retrospect ,I see that I was struggling for a sense of control during a period of constant change in multiple areas of my life. And I see that I was less patient, more judgmental, and significantly more exhausted than I recognized at the time.

It bears repeating. Stress is subtle, insidious, draining and far more damaging than most of us credit. Managing stress is not the best answer, as my relatively successful effort to do so proves. Eliminating stresses is virtually impossible. Which leaves learning to minimize stress responses, the stated goal of a mindfulness training approach introduced during a recent gathering of my coworkers for our quarterly training at headquarters.

I did make an effort to take mindfulness breaks in my days. I know I kept away from worrying over possible problems and negative outcomes, focusing instead on what I could learn that would be of use to my clients (or helpful for mentoring my coworkers) as I adapted to the changes in vision and mastering the new and different data management system being implemented at work. While I believe I was moderately successful in this effort, I know I have a ways to go yet toward reducing (as opposed to managing) my stress levels.

I offer a general apology to those with whom I interacted over the past month when I was impatient and intolerant – particularly people in my employer’s IT department. Someone up their chain of command implemented a switch from software to cloud based email for all of us, without warning, without training, and without any allowance for the lack of adequate internet infrastructure in rural parts of the state such as where I live. Systems crashed, work could not be done to the tight required deadlines, and I had no leftover reserves to handle the additional stress. I especially want to – anonymously but in a most heartfelt way – acknowledge the IT tech I most recently dealt with, who showed me how to red flag an email as urgent and made me laugh at my own frustrations as he did so. Bless the man!

I don’t have anything substantive to add to the reams of online material (can a term for paper quantity be correctly applied to internet content?) on stress. Rather I feel impelled to document my renewed awareness of how deeply one can be affected by anything that brings one’s sense of identity, or one’s feeling of control over basics of daily life, into question. I did not consciously think about the changes I was going through. I coped with them and kept moving forward but that did not negate their manifestation as subtle stress that seriously drained my energy and sent my attitude “south” (Why south? What did south ever do to deserve so negative an association, other than be traditionally located downward on a map?)

Being present – with one’s Creator, Master, Higher Power, the Sound – being focused for however long or short a time on the immediate present and one’s vital essence and its supports, doesn’t just manage but eliminates stress for those moments. The more frequently one can remember the practice, and exercise it for even just  few moments, the less stress accumulates. The less accumulates, the less requires management, and the more one’s thoughts and energies can be directed to other more important endeavors. I know “these Truths to be self evident.” I apparently needed a reminder to put them more consistently into practice.

I have been reminded.

Baraka Bashad and Thanks Be.

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

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

Downside, Upside

June 21, 2015

 

Nearly fifteen years of drought in my northeastern corner of NM have not come to an end – but this spring into summer we have had rain, almost daily, steady and hard at times, short and sharp at others. More days have been cloudy, foggy and cool than the dry, windy and sunny we’ve become accustomed to enduring since 2000. Forestry signs indicating level of fire danger are in the lower yellow – moderate – range instead of the screaming fire engine red of extreme.

Ranchers are running larger numbers of cattle, and those herds are lazing about in lush greenery up to their bellies. Horses are grazing fat, and antelope scattered among the domestic herds are too somnolent to come check out, as in their more normally inquisitive fashion, the curiosity of a person walking nearby and waving a hat. I give up waving, and continue my way, remembering the morning I woke from a sleep-out under the stars, a ring of antelope surrounding me. Not this bunch – too lazy.

The rainy dampness and chill have greatly delayed me in initiating my outdoor walking routine. A rural dirt lane a few miles from my house has become my normal exercise site – a mile and a half round trip the standard, easily extended to two miles or executed in every shorter times, according to my increasing stamina. By this time last year I was already well seasoned and doing two miles in half an hour. Today, it took me the half hour to just go a mile and a half.

The delay in getting up to speed is partly due to rain, and partly due to my own reluctance to switch to early morning walking. It’s been my habit to finish my work day and then walk – and that habit had years to become set, as the drought mandated waiting until the cooler temperatures of evening made walking a pleasure. I’ve become accustomed to the evening walk as a way to wind down from work, to quiet my mind and prepare for evening chores and rest.

Back in the 1990s, when last we had wet summers, I practiced a different routine. Then my exercise was riding my horses and I knew the activity had to be completed before midday, if at all. Our then typical summer pattern was bright sun and light breeze until about noon, when huge white cumulus clouds would build up and move in from the west, to collect and darken and dump rain in the afternoon, often lasting into the night.

That pattern has, this year, established itself once more. For several months now, by the time my work day is done, the sky is totally overcast, the air is thick and wet, the ground is sodden and more rain threatens/promises to fill the night. No way to walk outside and unwind from the stresses of the day.

Ronni Bennett, who blogs on elder issues at Time Goes By, Time Goes By recently posted about habits – in her case the habit of ordering her coffee from New York because that is easier than going through the process of trial and error to find a blend, where she now lives in Seattle, that satisfies her as much as her long-enjoyed standard.Ronni makes the important distinction between habit and addiction and reminds readers that, while addiction is a serious problem, habit most certainly is not. Indeed, we cannot survive without habits. How exhausting to have to go through a day thinking out each step of all the cleanliness routines, the household chores, the mechanical skills on which we rely! Habit only becomes a problem (still not as serious as addiction) when we become locked into patterns and resist change.

Like my recognized delay in adapting to the changed weather by switching my walks from evening to morning. I’ve started the process (today was my second morning outing) and expect that by week’s end I will have a new habit pattern in place. I will not, however, have made up for the month’s delay in building my endurance and speed over my usual trekking path.

Even in drought, walking in the evening meant wearing long sleeves and lots of bug repellant. Now, in the wet, walking at night is truly not safe (West Nile Virus is here). Fortunately, I do not seem to need excessive protection in the early morning. Perhaps the mosquitos, so very much more prevalent at night than they were last year, have also not made a change of habit to morning activity?

Walking in the early morning feels self-indulgent, like I’m doing something purely pleasurable BEFORE meeting my obligations to my family or to my employer. Why is it that I feel I’m only entitled to do something for myself after other responsibilities have been met? I work from home, am supposed to put in a “normal” work day/week but the demands of the job do not allow me to take lunch hours, the day never ends before 6 or 7 P.M. and only rarely do I have an entire weekend off. Why, then, am I still pushing myself to start promptly at 8 A.M., as though I were clocking into an office assignment?

Tomorrow, a Monday, I intend to walk as the start to my day. Probably that means I won’t turn on my work computer until 8:30. Almost certainly I’ll feel a bit guilty, but I’m counting on that habit, also, being changed by the end of the week. Morning walks, better energy and also, almost certainly, better concentration are my new habit priorities. This older dog IS learning new tricks.

Small Packages

February 3, 2015

Good things come in small packages could be the motto for the meals at Curious Kumquat restaurant in Silver City. Good things in small packages may also be the motto for my week of vacation, of which a meal at the Curious Kumquat was one experience.

Two J’s in Silver City

My friend and shared-birthday mate Jane treated us to the tasting menu at the small restaurant our first night out, at the start of our trek to California. The menu bade us choose our entree; the chef then served six various delights in small “taste” portions, all freshly made with local ingredients and served as beautiful works of art. We had a pumpkin-based soup, and my main course was rabbit, with dessert a chocolate flan bottom with white chocolate whip on top. I can’t repeat all the appetizers and side dishes; I should have written them down. There was a grain-based pudding-textured treat, with both berries and glazed vegetables as garnish. The service was flawless, elegant and yet comfortable. An absolutely perfect first night of vacation.

Sentinel in the Sun

Sentinel in the Sun

Good things in small packages continued, as we drove the long hours and miles across Arizona and California to San Diego. Saguaro let themselves be photographed. A rest stop at Gila Bend included colorful critters made of painted pottery from Mexico. The wind farms on the CA-AZ border are, to my mind, beautiful. Tall white towers stand out against their dull brown mountain background, sentinels of a future, protectors of the clear blue sky in that area. Quite a contrast to the layer of yellowish smog to be seen once we crossed over the mountains and began the descent back down to sea level.

Passing By

Passing By

With only one day to sight see, we mostly walked – through the old Chinese area and a museum recording the history of Chinese settlement in San Diego. Around the harbor and downtown area, enjoying views of boats and waves and gulls. We did also ride – on a combination open bus that becomes a flat-bottomed boat, to view the harbor from the water. Sea lions and a variety of birds made the whole trip memorable.

Standing Proudly

Standing Proudly

Aah, a Good Stretch

Aah, a Good Stretch

Keeping Company

Keeping Company

 

The primary purpose of the trip was to attend MasterPath seminar… a wonderful thing in a not-so-little package, if one counts the number of participants (well over 1000) in the room. The Path being a singularly individual experience, however, a better perspective is of a room full of one thousand small packages, each one specially tailored to the person receiving it.

A Petite Beauty

A Petite Beauty

As we do with our unique meal in Silver City, the recipient of each MasterPath package will savor and remember it, and re-experience it afresh with each remembering.

Two to Enjoy

Two to Enjoy

No two alike, each a gift from the Divine. We are blessed.

Lifting a Veil of Ice

January 25, 2015

Driving toward Taos to see clients living high in the hills, in tiny villages tucked against mountain sides, I am mindful of the curious contrasts around me. I pass Sipapu Ski Resort, packed with families enjoying a weekend outing together, an influx of people to a sparsely populated valley that, if there is no snow, remains virtually deserted for weeks at a time. We had a substantial snow a few days ago, although nothing like the severe ones pummeling the East Coast. Immediately after the snow stopped our sunny days resumed, so that much of the moisture has turned from lovely white fluff to sticky, gooey mud.

Along the route I drive regularly to Taos, I pass through a valley with steep rocky walls crowding one side of the road, a grassy verge and a stream skirting the other. In a few places the grassy area widens out sufficiently to provide pasture for cows and horses. In others, it narrows to a cascade rushing along beside the road, daring drivers to race it to the next corner. In a few places, the remnants of a small spring trickle down the rock face if we have a moist winter season, or some summer rains. At most times, of late, there is no sign of wetness on the rocks – our long years of drought have virtually exterminated the spring.

Caught in Time

Caught in Time

This trip, as I round a corner near the ski resort, I am greeted with a glorious white flow of ice rippling down the rocks. An earlier snow has obviously fed the spring, which put forth its lovely flow just in time to be captured and held by the deep cold of our latest storm. It got down to something like 12 degrees below zero (Farenheit) last night and now it is more than 60 degrees warm, and sunny. The ice curtain will not last long. I am most fortunate to have come along while it is still showing itself so beautifully. What a pleasant reward for my diligence in working on a Saturday!

The rocks, adorned

The rocks, adorned

After fifteen months of working mostly 50-60 hour weeks, I am taking a week of vacation, to drive to California for a MasterPath seminar. As much as I’m looking forward to the change, and to showing my husband parts of the U.S. quite different from where we live, I have had to pass through a period of regretting arranging for the time off, because of how much additional work I must cram into the days before and the month after, if I am to meet expected deadlines. Ergo, I work on the weekend.

I vividly recall one of my teachers on the Path suggesting to us that work should not be allowed to overwhelm our lives to the detriment of other aspects, such as maintaining a daily spiritual practice. Given that the present demands of my work take as many hours as they do, I have been trying to integrate the spiritual into the practical, as a means of accomplishing what otherwise would require the impossible task of stretching my effective-functioning hours in a day to something more than fifteen.

What I’m finding is that, to the extent I can truly follow the dictum of living fully in the moment, time ceases to be a rigid restricter. It becomes elastic, and somehow everything gets done. Indeed, I can judge the extent to which I am fully present in each moment by my simultaneous experience of time as flexible and malleable.

Icefall and Snow

Icefall and Snow

The frozen waterfall symbolizes, for me, a successful blending of opposites, such as I also achieve when I know time to be elastic. My Teacher encourages us to seek for what opposites have in common, for therein one will find Truth. Freed from the constraints of time, the Truth of the now becomes known. Captured within my photo of a frozen moment of time, waters flow from a renewed spring.

During Saturday busyness I found an image of beauty and peace. On vacation, what will I learn about busyness and work? Something of value, I’m certain. I’ll know when the time comes.

Now is not yet that time.

Now it is time to fix supper. Practical end to a reflective period.

All is in balance, and as it should be.

Breadth or Depth?

January 17, 2015

Saturday mornings are the only day in the week that I can be a bit lazy, get up an hour or more later, and not have to rush into preparation for activities. I’ve begun to guard this quiet A.M. time carefully, assuring myself of a few hours with no “have to” obligations. I’m learning that without at least some part of each week available as unscheduled “down time” I get out of balance.

My week used to include two hour Interstate drives and that time served me well for mental rest, but now my 250 or so miles per week of driving is over mountain roads and between client visits, with a cell phone that often rings with work demands. It definitely does not support a meditative state.

I do see lovely scenery. Just Wednesday, coming back from Taos, I came around a bend and was presented with three small frozen waterfalls glimmering in the darkness of early evening. The moon was up and reflecting off the rippling ice curtains, reminding me vividly of stalactite formations I first saw in Lurray Caverns when I was eight years old. Trekking through Carlsbad Caverns many years later, knowing that what was on public display is only a tiny part of the glories existing there, I reflected on how much that is wondrous we live in ignorance of.

(Yes, I hear the editor in my head reminding me not to end a sentence with a preposition. That is a dictum up with which I will not put.)

“You’ve only scratched the surface” is a phrase one of my teachers used often, in a survey course of world literature. He meant us to be challenged to read more widely than even the syllabus demanded. Archeologists genuinely do get to dig ever deeper, quite literally, into their subject matter. My acres, when I lived in Galisteo NM, were littered with pot shards and arrow head flakes. Digging out a pit for a septic tank, I came across layers of ancient litter, several different styles of painting on pottery and even one hand coiled pot, still intact. What might I have found if I’d been able to go down twenty feet, instead of only ten?

Layers of History

Layers of History

I’ve been complimented on the breadth of my knowledge – “Is there anything you don’t know something about?” I feel like a dilettante, knowing a little about many subjects, but without much depth in most of them. I greatly admire people whose careers enable them to master much, if not most, of a field – for example, musicians who know the work of centuries of obscure as well as famous composers, or the full range of indigenous songs in multiple cultures.

A mystery series I’m reading now (the Dr. Ruth Galloway novels by Elly Griffiths) feature a forensic anthropologist who knows everything there is to know about the dating of bones. Ruth admits to being narrowly focused, and to finding it a drawback not to have depth of knowledge outside her field. She admires people who are at ease at parties, able to make small talk because they know, as I seemingly do, a little about many different topics.

So why, then, am I just like Ruth and not at all comfortable at parties? I’ve always preferred conversation in small groups, like over dinner with a few friends. When I get to a larger gathering, I become tongue-tied, stand on the side lines and mostly just watch, quickly becoming bored. I want to connect meaningfully with other attendees, but seem unable to find the way to do so.

Oh, you’re telling me the problem is that I want some meaning from connections at an event where people are focused on the superficial. They come to cocktail parties to see and be seen, not to talk philosophy. I should lighten up, learn to relax and just float along at these events. Maybe that’s what’s needed, but no can do.

I’ve had friends who readily find solitude living in crowded cities. “It’s easy to be anonymous” in the heart of Boston, they tell me. I, on the other hand, feel invaded, overwhelmed and lost in busy and noisy environments.

To find solitude, I need silence. That has translated to needing a great deal more income to sustain me, living in a city. I can be poorer living where I do now, in rural northern New Mexico. Money can buy thick walls and enough surrounding land to provide me some sense of peace in an urban space. In sparsely populated areas, I am at ease in a small space, even a thinly-walled one.

On a Recent Misty Morning

On a Recent Misty Morning

Looking up from my writing just now, I see nine deer crossing my pasture, evergreen trees waving in a strong breeze, the sun reflecting brightly off a few remaining patches of snow. A scene of energetic tranquility, perfectly suited to my cherished morning of contemplation and reflection. I suspect that, over a lifetime, I’ve given up hundreds of thousands of dollars in income, by living “in the boonies.” But as was said to me just this morning, life isn’t about money. It’s about what you learn, and what you are inside.

From My Window

From My Window

I’ve learned many things. Perhaps the most important is that what I am inside is Soul. All the rest is just accreted layers obscuring my core. My most important skill is that of an archeologist, carefully scooping away mental and emotional grit, to reveal the core gifted to me by my Divine Master. If my breadth of experience and smattering of wide knowledge serves any purpose, it may be that I have thereby acquired a means to connect with diverse people and perhaps assist them with their own excavations. To the extent this is so, I am extremely blessed.


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