Archive for the ‘environment’ Category

To Heal a Tummy

January 11, 2015

The weather has been on a crazy whirl this past week – sunny and a spring-like sixty-five one day, icy twelve degree fog the next coating everything in sheaths of white rime. Then another warm day melting it all, to be followed once more by ice rime and black-ice accidents on the highways. We’re projected to have several more of these mood swings in the next week, around which I am trying to plan my work-related travel.

I regularly go up over the mountain (part of the Rockies) from my home to Taos. I have to accommodate my planning not only to the fluctuations of weather as I experience them where I live, but also as they manifest quite differently on “the other side.” Just last week, I spent a warm and lovely day seeing clients in Taos, and did not know it had been a fogged-in and icy day at home until I came back over the ridge in the late afternoon, and looked down onto clouds.

Above the fog

Above the fog

Bodies react to these unpredictable changes in climate. Old injuries begin to ache, remnants of bronchitis flare, sinuses swell and congest, even tummies become sensitive and refuse to function properly. There is a very direct cause and effect for the bone and joint aches – heat soothes and cold aggravates these types of reminders of past incidents. To the extent that the warmth releases pollens, chest and sinus irritations can also be understood as directly related to weather. But tummies?

I’m one of those who are most sensitive to what affects tummies. Mine has been – my husband sweetly calls it fragile – since infancy. I’m more inclined to use harsher words, like irritable, aggravating, infuriating. It’s definitely where any and every stress lands. My mother complained to all who might sympathize, that the only formula I could tolerate as a baby was one which required a great deal of work – a complicated process involving twenty-four hours of advance preparation and multiple periods of cooking. I also had many food allergies, and did not outgrow them until I was well into my teens. Some I have retained all my life, in the form of sensitivities I’ve learned to recognize.

Some days I can eat eggs, other days they make me very sick. And I react horribly to the ‘flu vaccine, incubated in eggs. I love fresh tomatoes, but have to moderate my consumption, and must avoid most cooked tomato products, like spaghetti sauce. Thankfully, I can usually enjoy strawberries, and most thankfully I’ve never, as an adult, re-experienced hives from eating hard-shell seafood. I am gluten intolerant, have probably been so all my life but have only accepted and adjusted to that limitation in more recent years… hmm… nearly ten years now.

I’ve repeatedly questioned why, when I mind my diet and adhere to its restrictions, I can still suffer from severe and usually totally unanticipated abdominal distress. It’s too easy to blame the weather, claiming some as yet unrecognized link between storms and digestive upsets. My latest bout was with an actual bug that is going around.

Identified cause, commonly experienced effect.

I treated the episode partially with a special form of deep breathing I’ve learned in Ba Gua, something called empty breathing. The unpleasant symptoms of stomach ‘flu remained present. Empty breathing did not eliminate them, but it did seem to reduce the pain and cramping side effects. And I recovered quickly, for me. Instead of a week of subsequent hypersensitivity, I was able to eat my normal diet by the third day.

Which set me to reflecting further on breathing as a relaxation technique, and breathing helping my tummy recover, relaxation being related to quick recovery… maybe relaxation being related to not being so fragile, going forward?

I’ve begun 2015 focused on doing what arises for me, to the best of my ability, in a flexible way that does not allow for me to berate myself for what is not done – or what is not done as thoroughly as I might like. I’ve even incorporated that goal into the “work-related achievement objective” that I must create as part of my employee evaluation criteria for this new calendar year. My personal achievement objective (another requirement) dovetails, in that I’m committing to a certain number of blog posts, which means committing to a consistent pattern of taking time for myself in quiet reflection.

I’ve learned that if I don’t write, I don’t reflect – and conversely if I don’t take time to reflect, I can’t write. And I’ve also learned that my tummy is less fragile if I’ve reflected more. Because I breathe differently when I reflect? Maybe. Because I release tension when I reflect? Certainly.

Which brings me inexorably to the conclusion that my childhood must have been filled with tensions (gee, I had no idea) and was consequently one of frequent sickness. I learned a pattern then, related to my mother’s fierce dislike of “the sick room”, which was that if I was sick, I was left alone (not harassed, nor subjected to demands). No wonder, for years, when I began to feel overwhelmed, I’d fall ill. Even after I was on my own, and being ill only added to the pressures I was experiencing, rather than providing relief from them.

Then, finally, I recognized that pattern and the need to release it. I came to the realization that if I didn’t take time to care for my spiritual self, I’d get sick several times a year – brought to a halt, confined to bed, enabled to contemplate what had brought me there.

Lesson learned.

As noted above, now I mind my diet, I exercise, I pursue my daily spiritual practice, and I treat myself as respectfully as I treat others. But still there remains that fragile tummy, that I’d like to see be more durable and tolerant, especially when it comes time to travel with my husband to Cameroon.

So it seems I’m being asked to take a next step, to actively and consciously come to recognize the tensions I habitually tuck into my gut, and to stop doing this basically harmful practice.

We all store tension somewhere. If I see my husband stretching his neck, rolling and flexing his shoulders, or holding his head somewhat rigidly when turning to look to the side, I know to ask what family matters are bothering his mind. He quite literally “carries the weight of the world on his shoulders.” I, on the other hand, apparently absorb and “swallow” the cares of others.

People – especially my clients – are inclined to say that they feel better after talking to me. I’m very glad for that ability to help them, and do not want in any way to diminish that form of service to those in need of a listening ear. However, I do want to learn to recognize when I am taking their cares into my body and Being, and to stop doing so, on however subtle a level I internalize their issues.

My Master teaches us about the goal of being “a pure and open channel” for the Shabda, or Divine Soul Current, or Sound, or – to Christians – the Holy Spirit. When one is such a channel, others are enabled to clear their own karmic issues, while the channel remains free of the shadow of those issues. Putting the abstract into a very mundane image, one becomes able to clear the soot from a wood stove without getting that soot on one’s hands and clothes.

I obviously have a way to go, down this new path of understanding. I’m still at a point equivalent to getting soot on my hands when I load wood into the stove for burning. But each time I load that stove, less soot transfers. Each time I notice my tummy being “unhappy with me” I can stop, breathe deeply, and tell it lovingly to release whatever emotional tension I’ve unthinkingly crammed into it. And above all, I can remind myself daily that my job, my busy days, my world are all too big for my puny mind to encompass, let alone control. As soon as I no longer try to control my days, they sort themselves out far more perfectly than I could ever have imagined.

Ice Dance at Sunrise

Ice Dance at Sunrise

THAT is the blessing of not being a human being, but rather “being a Spiritual Being, having a human experience.” (T. de Chardin).

Visitors

May 25, 2014

Why is human nature so perverse?

Praying for rain, hoping for rain, wishing for rain, deploring the drought, finally it rains.

Now on the third successive day of grey skies and autumn chilliness, instead of continued joy at the moisture, there’s a sliver of … what is it exactly?
Resentment?
Regret?
For the absence of sun, or for coolness when I’m ready to wear my light summer clothes?

I’m remembering the first summer I lived in Sapello, an historically wet period that hasn’t been matched in the quarter century since. I never did get into my light clothing that year. I wore long sleeves and often a cotton sweater the entire summer season. I have pictures – old fashioned print ones, not digital to be shared here – of the flooding sheets of water carving gullies in my driveway and turning the lower pasture into a lake.

It’s unlikely that this summer will prove to be anything like that one in 1990, which followed the coldest winter in decades and completed a most memorable weather year. My rational mind knows that several weeks of continued rainy weather will only just barely put a dent in our parched conditions. My spirit is delighted to see a return of the long-missing summer pattern of overcast nights, clearing mornings and afternoon thunderheads spilling precious rain. The little, irrational corner of being that feels chilly will just have to suck it up and put on a sweater.

I used to know that outdoor activities like riding my horse needed to be completed in the morning.
I used to ensure that rain boots rode in the trunk of my car (boots in the boot), and that I had an umbrella always on hand, from May to September.

Those days and those habits are long gone. Is it time to bring them out of the closet of memory, press them into freshness, and begin wearing them once more?

I’ve been seeing a different mid-sized bird at the feeder the past few weeks. Orange chest, tan belly, orange spot on the top of a head striped with deep brown and a bit of white, patterns of brown and white running head to tail on the back.

I am a ?

I am a ?

Can you tell I’m not a birder? I seem to remember having lent my bird identification book out and apparently not gotten it back. At least, it’s not on the shelf where I expected to find it.

Another view

Another view

I do wonder if these new visitors are indicative of a shift in weather (and wind) patterns that has broader meaning, perhaps an alert that we’re resuming the nearly forgotten routine of summer afternoon rains?

Cute, n'est-ce pas?

Cute, n’est-ce pas?

For now, I can only note that my day unfolded with repeated short downpours across a wide swath of northern and central New Mexico, perfectly timed. When I needed to load the car, it was clear. While I ate lunch in my favorite Chinese restaurant, it rained. Shopping in the big indoor mall in Albuquerque, it rained. During the two hour drive home, it drizzled, but when I needed to bring my purchases into the house, it was clear.
Who could ask for more?

Let It Rain

April 19, 2014

It’s the end of a long, productive but tiring day and I had no idea what to write about for this week’s post.
I opened email from a dear friend, to find a single word – “rain”.

Perhaps because my last email to him announced happily that it was raining outside? For all of five minutes, it actually did rain, hard enough to be heard from inside the house.

Rain – its long absence from our lives, the urgent need for it – is on many minds. An elderly client stated that damp weather – like cold – makes her bones ache but she’d welcome the ache if it brought water for our thirsty earth.

Driving into town (I live about 15 miles out) earlier this evening, I remarked on the dusty, silted, sadly brown fields and talked about the Depression Era dust bowl with my companion. In that area of our community, on a windy day, the air is almost unbreathable, thick with topsoil being scoured from the land. Ninety plus years along, and it seems we haven’t made any progress at all toward preventing another dust bowl.

Hmm… the saying is that you attract what you give your attention to. Perhaps the problem is that too many of us have been giving attention to the drought, when what we should be doing is meditating on rain, snow, lakes, springs, moisture in all its myriad and lively forms.

Like the pond I discovered beside the road back into the mountains, en route to do an assessment with a client who lives in a tiny camper trailer on a twelve acre parcel of wooded mountain land. Several ducks floated on its surface, undisturbed by a chorus of frogs loud enough to be heard over my car’s engine. More than twenty years of living not far away from the area, and I’d never heard that the pond existed. My client informed me that it’s not a year around water, that by June it will be dry.

So think about rain. Think about all the different types of rain I’ve experienced.

The first that comes to mind is in Saigon. My usual form of transport was a cyclo-pousse (French for the combination of bicycle and push, describing a bike with a seat in front, sitting on two wheels).

Cyclo Drivers, Saigon 1957

Cyclo Drivers, Saigon 1957

The faster, noisier variety were called cyclomoto, did not have a carriage cover, and so could not enclose the rider. They were better adapted to carrying large loads.

Motocyclo - Saigon 1957

Motocyclo – Saigon 1957

During the rainy season, the cyclo driver would deploy, from behind the seat, a sort of umbrella cover to which tarps could be attached, ostensibly to keep the rider dry. You can see the cover, minus its surrounding tarp, on the central cyclo. Being enclosed did help a bit, but one still got soaked from below, as furiously fast rains pounded the pavement and rebounded up to a height of two feet or more. There was really no way to be dry if one went outdoors during the downpour. Fortunately, the rains came on a predictable cycle, gradually working their way around the twenty-four hour clock as the season progressed. One could even safely plan to hold an outdoor party at night, during the part of the season when it rained in the morning.

Any wonder that I questioned a local station’s weatherman about his use of the term monsoon for the nearly non-existent rains of the  summer season in New Mexico? Turns out the term describes patterns of air movement which, in wet countries, produce rain and which – rarely – do the same here.

Think about rain.

The British have a wonderful word – mizzle – for the thick, misty, almost-rain conditions associated with foggy London nights. I remember walking across my college campus (Swarthmore, in Eastern Pennsylvania) in a mizzle, bundled against a wet that somehow penetrated all my layers and left me dampened and chilled. There was a beauty to the campus on those wet nights, lamplight haloed by mist showing my way through the rose garden and along winding, tree lined paths. It took several cups of hot cocoa to thaw me, when I reached the warmth of the student center.

The first summer – 1990 – that I lived in my present home in Sapello, I wondered what I had done, buying a home in what felt like a flood zone. My previous residence, on eleven acres southeast of Santa Fe in the Galisteo basin, was almost 1000 feet lower in altitude, and definitely in a more desert-appearing landscape. We received the blessing of summer thunder storms during the years I lived in Galisteo. Great arcs of lightening would leap across the sky, crash into the Ortiz Mountains, and unleash water onto the prairie at a rate that could be absorbed. An occasional gully washer would plow a furrow down my drive, but was always sufficiently short-lived not to do damage.

The summer of 1990 in Sapello was different. It started raining in May and seemed not to stop, not to show the sun, not to warm enough to wear lightweight summer clothing. It rained and rained and rained. My uphill neighbor’s catch pond overflowed and sheets of water poured down across my property, overflowing the culvert and – twice – washing out my driveway completely. I had to have another neighbor come in with his backhoe to rebuild the drive, installing a larger culvert in the process. My horses’ hooves softened and began to rot, as they were unable to escape standing in sopping mud. I scrambled to create a cement pad and shelter for them, before they suffered serious harm. Try laying concrete in a persistent downpour!

Meteorologists tell us that the 90’s were an exceptionally wet period for this area, not a standard against which to rate our current situation. There certainly has not been a summer like 1990 in the past 15 years. I’m gently teased by a friend (native of a tropically wet climate) about my attention to our weather, to the condition of the prairie, to what I see on the distant skyline. He has yet to live through a wildfire summer. He tells me that a member of his church regularly petitions the congregation to pray for rain.

Please join me in a collective focus on wetness falling from the sky onto the lands of the Southwest.

In reciprocation, I will join you – if you live in the Midwest – in a collective focus on calm air and balmy days of recovery from the storms and ice of this past winter.

Together, may we find a better balance and harmony in all aspects of our lives.

**************

PS: Between writing yesterday and posting tonight it rained, intermittently, for several twenty minute periods. The air is cool and damp, the ground moist and there are a few puddles glistening on the highway. I see no stars nor moon tonight – rain clouds hover overhead.

Dieu nous benisse. 🙂

 

When Life Gives You Lemons

April 13, 2014

Ah, the wonders of modern reliance on connectivity!

I had set aside an important three hours on Friday morning, to enter client assessments into the data base system on which my job relies. Guess what? Not only could I not connect, the entire system is down. The only way I can complete any aspect of my work is by telephone – calling into the IT number from time to time, to learn whether the massive problems have been solved. With several thousand employees disbursed across the large state of New Mexico, there is no way – apparently – to alert all of us to a change in status.

Disaster preparedness lessons are certainly now being scheduled.

One of my duties as a Care Coordinator is to educate the clients on my caseload about disaster preparations – to help them think through where they will go if they must evacuate, what they need to have ready to take with them, how they will have their needs met in a new location, etc. The area where I live – and across which my clients are scattered – has been in severe drought for close to ten years, with this past winter being one of the driest on record. Spring is showing in town as forsythia flowering, but looking out my window I see only the dry brown of parched end-of-summer. Driving into the nearby mountains yesterday, there was no hint of green on bare branches of scrub oak, which should already be leafed out.

Like most of my neighbors, I watched TV news of feet of snow being repeatedly dumped on the Midwest, and wondered why the prevailing winds could not let some of that moisture drop on us here, rather than sailing by, overhead. Surely the scientists who can put a man on the moon can figure out how to redirect moisture flows here on earth and distribute needed water more evenly!

When will those individuals supposedly concerned with the nation’s welfare stop bickering about the reality of climate change in the abstract, and focus instead on solving the very real problems of weather extremes being experienced right now? These extremes are causing disasters of varying sorts, every season. That is a fact, not an abstract.

Does it matter whether one believes or not that there are major, impending climate alterations for which mankind is responsible? Not at all, if the priority is to address the very real drought – and the equally real polar vortex – being experienced in different regions of our country.

Stop bickering, and just fix it, already.

Meanwhile, it’s an interesting experience to observe a huge non-profit brought virtually to a standstill for an entire day, because somehow its computer networks have failed. I don’t know as of this writing whether it’s the servers themselves, or access to the Internet, or some other issue that prevents us from emailing one another, or using any of our data base systems. I only know that it is obviously dangerous to build a service delivery system around an expectation that all information one needs to perform ones job can be accessed via the computer.

I’ve ranted here before on the limited vision of techies who build their systems in the midst of large cities with good Net access, and who then expect those of us living in the mountains and “on the frontier” to be able to use those systems. I have to admit I’m perversely glad that serious problems have arisen today right in the center of New Mexico’s largest city. Maybe now, the voices of those of us who are frontier people will be heard!

Maybe now, as well, local stores will consider making the ability to do simple arithmetic and to give change a job requirement once again. They’ve had to shut down serving customers when we’ve had power outages that turn off the cash drawer calculators. Oh, that’s right, the store’s inventory tracking is based within those calculators, and heaven forbid they make a sale that isn’t tracked. After all, doing business is about making money, not about serving customers – right?

Inability to distribute food or other essential goods because the power is off, or the computer is down – now that is a recognizably man-made disaster! No need to get into the debate about man’s contribution to the current climate extremes being experienced – just look at the many local mini-disasters we most certainly cause by ignoring the fallibility of our mechanical creations. Millions of vehicles recalled, dams that crack and flood, power grids that rupture… Haven’t we collectively figured out that if it can be built, it can fail?

No, I guess not. So today I don’t work as expected. Or rather, I will schedule extra clients to visit, collecting information in an old-fashioned, hand-written file folder. Whenever the technical problem is fixed, I’ll have a backlog of data to enter – as will many of my co-workers. I do hope the upsurge in computer usage doesn’t cause a new crash! Is that potential disaster being planned for, as the current repairs are undertaken? We’ll see.

Meanwhile, if the present computer problem isn’t fixed before Monday, I’ll actually have a whole weekend off, for the first time since January 1.
Make lemonade.
Drink lemonade.
Enjoy lemonade.
YES!

A Snowy Contemplation

February 9, 2014

Have you noticed the unique silence that accompanies a fall of snow? The white blanket covering the ground somehow muffles ordinary noises of a country stillness, so that the world is – for a short time – truly quiet. I see birds at the feeder, fluffing themselves to shake dampness off their feathers, but they are not noisily jostling as they were yesterday. Even my dogs lie in, enjoying their heated porch rather than running barking at the rising sun.

From my Window

From my Window

Not much snow fell, not much more than a promise of wetness to our parched land. But the sky is still grey, except where the rising sun has broken through a cloud bank to paint a few slashes of peach and gold. Perhaps a few more drops will bless the earth from the clouds in the west. That is the direction our winter wetness comes in from. In summer it is often the reverse – systems stretch up from the gulf off Texas to give us summer rains. This past year, Texas did not share, and after a good start in late fall, the weather gods have chosen to send all the moisture either north of us into Colorado, or farther east where the blizzards and cold have caused major havoc.

Have you noticed how people’s temperaments are affected by the climates in which they dwell? It is an almost universal truth that cultures in hot, wet environments become gregariously noisy, even in Asian regions that one tends to think of as possessing a pattern of restraint. The silence of traditional Japanese people passing each other in public (it snows in Japan you know) is vastly different from the voluble street harangues of Vietnamese pedestrians in a country where the difference between hottest and coldest weather is less one of temperature than of moisture – monsoon season, or “dry” season when the humidity is perhaps 60% rather than 85%.

I knitted my first sweater in Saigon, when I was fourteen, and wore it twice on “cold” dry season days. Not days really suited to wearing a sweater, but I did so want to show it off. By the time I arrived in a cold enough climate to need a sweater, I’d outgrown it. A pretty dark cherry red pullover, with cap sleeves and a mini-turtleneck, the sweater went with me on to college and to Boston and eventually here to the desert, where I finally gave it to the daughter of a friend to be worn during what used to be our very coldest weeks of January. Used to be – it got down to 30 below at night and not much more than 5 for a daily high over at least a couple of weeks each January, even as recently as 20 years ago when I moved to my present home. For the past ten years, the night time temperature here has not dropped below minus 10, and the sun has warmed us comfortably every day. Pleasanter living than the mid-west’s polar experiences, but dire for our drought.

A snowplow has been by, and the school bus’ flashing lights indicate it has picked up my neighbor’s boys. I see cars making their way down the road that curves toward town, heading into the start of another workday. But still it is silent here around me, in a way only snow produces. It won’t last, neither the silence nor the snow, so I cherish it.

Have you noticed how people’s expressions of temperament change with their circumstances? A man courting a woman asks cautiously will she do this, would she help him to do that. Having won her, he issues orders – we will do this now, you must do that. The woman still has choices. She can simply agree, or she can learn in what way to express her own preferences so that she is heard. It is not significantly different in non-traditional relationships – we learn each other’s ways of being and how to express ourselves to influence the nature of the relationship. We learn how to help one another grow, and sadly, we also often learn how to block or stifle one another in an expression of frustrated, never-outgrown teenage envy.

Have you noticed how, entering a new relationship, there is a tendency to ask oneself, “Should I trust this person? How far? With how much of the truth about myself?” Past personal history of support or betrayal, extent of confidence in one’s self, willingness to risk, curiosity about different life styles, what a friend of mine simply calls open-mindedness, can all blend together into a force that shapes how a relationship develops. That is the common way.

How differently the issues of trust, of exploration and communication and growth of understanding unfold, if one considers a new relationship from the perspective of why the Divine ( God, or Fate, one’s Master, one’s karma, one’s wise inner self, or a Higher Power) “has brought this person and this experience to me at this time.” All the ambiguities of trusting in another person are released to the trust that we are alive for a reason, and that we can understand that reason, learning and thriving in our understanding.

Like the rare silence of a snow-covered early morning landscape, achieving an understanding of ourselves in relationship is a blessing. The moments of silence are brief; I woke early to enjoy them. The opportunities to intuit “what we’re here for” are also brief. I wake early to contemplate them.

The line of cars I see driving to work has warmed the thin snow covering on the road, and it is already turning to splashing slush. My big dog is out and barking to let the world know he has started his new day alertly. His two little companions romp patterns into the snow of my long, curving driveway. Outside, and in, the world is no longer silent. A new day of life has begun. What will I learn? What will I hear? What will I come to understand? What will I teach? What will I give, and what will I receive? Soon enough, I’ll have answers. Soon enough, too, I’ll have another opportunity to practice trusting that what is, is so, for a reason I may or may not be able to fathom. In trusting, I live. To cease trusting would be death – and I’m a long way from ready to die!

Across the Pasture Gate

Across the Pasture Gate

Another wave of snow clouds is sweeping in, flecks of white are drifting across the window. I will delay, just briefly, starting my own work day. Because I can do so, I choose to savor for a few moments more the regained silence (dogs still, birds quiet, no cars passing on the road), the blessing of extra drops of precious water, and another opportunity to consider why I am where I am, and for what inner purpose my outer life has taken on its latest form. Thank Thee, Master, for these gifts!

Choosing an Attitude

December 14, 2013

One of the elements of my new job that was most appealing – working from home – is also revealing itself to be a challenge in ways I did not experience the last time I had a similar employment. Just a few changes in external circumstances are making a significant difference in how I relate to my obligations.

The first time I worked from home was more than 20 years ago, when I had just moved to Sapello. I lived alone, and was hired to manage and build up the clientele of a home health agency. I enjoyed being able to spread my work over the seven day week, scheduling my leisure activities intermittently with travel to clients’ homes and with the inevitable administrative work required. While I was never “off duty”, I did have a lot of choice about what I did when. I was flexibly able to fit my personal obligations and desires around work demands, rarely feeling pressured because there seemed to be enough time for everything.

Eventually the agency grew to the point that we established an office, and I became subject to a more consistent and common work schedule. I left briefly, for personal reasons, and spent eighteen months self-employed. I completed several contracts and saw clients privately for counselling sessions. When I returned to the agency, again as its branch manager, I was subject to the standard “8-5 in the office” schedule, to which I adhered for fourteen years. Eighteen months of semi-retirement and job search brought me to my present full time, salaried and home-based position.

I do not now live alone. I share my very small house with my disabled former husband, for whom I am guardian and with whom I remain friends. His health is slowly and steadily declining. A sequence of aides come to the house, to help him during the day and to see that he gets supper. The schedule is meant to assure his safety when I am away. In consequence, there are several different people added to our small space, to whom I must accommodate when I am at home. While I am, mostly, relieved of responsibility for my housemate’s care, I do have to step in, unpredictably, when an aide is unavailable. And I am responsible to assure that the schedule of services is established and maintained.

Over time, our home has become divided into “my” room, which is also the living room that contains the day bed where I sleep, and the rest of the space – sleeping area for my housemate, dining area with the table covered with items he uses for his craft projects, kitchen and bath which we share. While I was still employed at the agency, the aides were scheduled during my work hours. In the eighteen months since, I find my necessary privacy and quiet time at night, often writing (as at this moment) or reading. My housemate watches TV with earphones on, allowing me valued silence for contemplation and creation.

Embarked on my new job, I have been away from home for extended periods of orientation and training. Shortly, I expect to be scheduled for long, busy days traveling to clients’ homes, interspersed with long and demanding days at home entering information into the complex computer systems my employer has been training us to use. I’ve had just a few weeks at home, to set up my “office” and establish those systems as functional in my rural, no-cell-service area. The systems are only partially in place so far. I do not yet have a land-based work phone, and I continue to uncover wide areas from within which I have no connection to the Internet. For clients who live in those areas, I will have to take notes and then enter data later at night, after I get back home.

My office is now in a corner of the dining area where my housemate – and his aide – spend most of the day. I’m having to learn to shut out their conversation in order to concentrate on the tasks that come to me by computer. On a recent visit to a building in Albuquerque newly occupied by some of the staff of my company, I walked through a huge room of employees in cubicles, thinking how grateful I am not to be similarly situated. I only have to shut off two voices, not hundreds.

I’m realizing that one of the serious sources of stress over the last years of my former employment came from the lack of doors on offices in the various buildings that agency occupied. As a manager, I relied on knowing (hearing) what was going on throughout the office. As a person, my need for silence around me, for auditory privacy, was consistently challenged. Personal validation and social support, also important to well-being, came from co-workers and from those engaged in the various volunteer activities I’ve pursued. For recuperation, reflection, and privacy I could count on quiet at home.

Changes in my housemate’s health, including recent medical emergencies disrupting my work day plans, new aides requiring instruction that he does not provide, and the expectation from my present employer that I be available on an 8-5 Monday to Friday schedule, have combined to eliminate my control over how and when I do what needs to be done. As a result, work is not staying in balance. It is seeping into my sleep time, rousing me at 5 am to try yet another way to solve a computer problem that proves not to be solvable by me. I begin to feel encroached upon by lack of quiet personal time – and by the necessity of at least temporarily giving up almost all of my volunteer activities.

During a recent two nights alone at home, while my housemate was in hospital, I was jolted to realize that many years have elapsed since the last time I had this space to myself for more than two hours! There is already so much activity filling the house, can I actually bring work here too, without losing the last bits of “me” space?

+++++

Yes, I recognize my issue is a matter of mental attitude. My spiritual Path teaches that “the mind is an excellent servant but a terrible master.” Private, quiet, contemplative space for myself will exist wherever I am, if I make it a priority – and “set my mind”  (no, actually not my mind, but my attention) to assuring it occurs.

I may not be able to go strictly by the clock, dividing work time from private time, especially while I’m still learning how to accomplish work tasks in an efficient manner. I cannot force my work computer to move through its paces more quickly. I cannot fix my situation of intermittent Internet connectivity, which disrupts the intended work flow process and requires me to “do double work” entering data already recorded on paper.

On a Recent Misty Morning

On a Recent Misty Morning

I can teach myself not to be frustrated by the computer’s slowness, and I can line up tasks to do during the waits (like creating a  card file of important numbers and contacts). I can “take time to smell the roses” or, in this winter season watch the birds. I can revel in my ability to look up from my computer to see snow dappled fields inviting to deer, doves perched in a row on the fence beside the feeder, a squirrel gorging himself on seeds, and little birds on the ground waiting to collect what the doves and the squirrel shove over the side of the dish.

Yum!

Yum!

I may need to extend work hours into the evenings and weekends – but I can still define times when I turn off all electronics and soak up the natural sounds of wind, dogs chasing rabbits, birds arguing over priority at their feeder, and snow dripping from the eaves.

Serenity surrounds me. I need only put myself within it. I am blessed.

Warm Furries

November 30, 2013

Five doves are fluffily hunched on the gate to the long pasture, seeming to emit waves of discontent because their bird food plate is piled high with snow rather than seed. I will probably succumb to the pressure shortly, and wade around the house with a bowl of feed for them. I doubt that my steps will imitate my Shih Tzu’s curious snow shuffle, though. I’ve been watching Shian Shung coming toward me down the drive, each front paw’s forward motion initiating a wave of snow rippling slightly sideward. It is the strangest looking movement, suggesting he has suddenly acquired the widely feathered feet of a nun pigeon. Or as though he is swimming his front legs through the fluffy white stuff that is belly deep for him.

De-iced

De-iced

My Min-Pin, Doodles, being a short hair, seems able to bounce through the same drifts, almost as though he’s walking on top of the snow instead of wading through it. Not any taller than Shian Shung, he has more of his minimal height in his legs, and an overall springier step. When excited, he can easily bounce to shoulder height on my Lab/Collie cross. And does so frequently, trying to get Blackjack’s attention away from the food bowl, gnawed deer bones, or the treats in my hand.

Aw, please...

Aw, please…

Doodles survived in his earliest life as a dumpster diver – he was about six months old when I collected him from a distant ranch and brought him to live with the rest of my motley crew. Eighteen months of ample and regular food has not yet broken him of the need to be in charge of any edible in the vicinity. Fortunately, Blackjack has a tolerant demeanor, only rarely exerting his considerable might to retain possession of a favored goodie.

Blackjack in Charge

Blackjack in Charge

The fourth member of my canine family is an elderly toy poodle – like Blackjack and Doodles also a rescue – with more serious personality issues. I know nothing about his earlier life, but it cannot have been easy. He was found at death’s door, totally dehydrated, his fur invisible beneath a matting of burrs, his belly distended and sagging to the ground. He growled and snapped at every attempt to care for him, requiring sedation by the vet before medical attention and a total body shave. Damaged intestines, causing the sagging belly, seems likely to be the result of being hit by a car; the injury continues to cause him intermittent constipation.

Warrior newly clipped

Warrior newly clipped

If left by himself, Warrior whimpers ceaselessly, or barks non-stop for an hour or more. Six months after arrival, he began to let me pet or groom him. Diametrically opposite to Doodles, he is reluctant to accept treats, which he requires be set down in front of him, to consider at length, before he will venture a nibble. Consequently, he loses them to Doodles unless they are offered when the other three dogs are off exploring. Which happens reliably enough that Warrior does get treats, but is also unhappily alone for periods of the day.

Blackjack shows remarkable patience with the littles. He lets Doodles and Shian Shung play out attack strategies, his legs and ears the more common targets. He makes sure Warrior has the warmest spot on the porch, and tolerates Doodles’ determination to be first at the food bowls. I remember to give him an extra rub around the head and muzzle, and to tell him he is the senior, and most essential, member of the pack. His calm demeanor, his defining of the boundaries outside which the others should not roam, his lessons about what is and is not fit to eat, and his manner of greeting – or guarding against – visitors to my acres all combine to transmit the expectations I have set about tolerance, respect, and appropriate behavior.

The Littles

The Littles

Over the 40 years I’ve lived in rural settings here in northern New Mexico, my one consistent rule for all pets has been that they must get along with one another. Not like, not necessarily interact, but tolerate and make space for all who wind up calling my home theirs. As a result, I’ve had a dog who let newborn kittens nurse on her while their mother took a break from the constant demands of parenting. I have photos of a cat cuddling with a Bouvier de Flandres large enough to squash her if he’d rolled over. That same Bouvier encircled an escaped rabbit and kept it safely between his paws until I got home and returned Mr. Bunny to his cage.

Guarding the rabbit cages

Guarding the rabbit cages

The coincidence of Thanksgiving with the first day of Hanukkah – an event apparently not to reoccur for an enormously long time – allows me to celebrate my two favorite holidays in one. Favorite because both encourage not just thankfulness, but also appreciation of freedom, joy in new beginnings, and the pleasure of connecting across boundaries.

In a heap

In a heap

I am grateful to have observed these same feelings played out amongst my four-legged family members.
I am grateful to be reminded by my furry friends, each time I hunker down to pet and play with them, that I don’t have to wait for Thanksgiving or Hanukkah to participate in a demonstration of tolerance, respect, and appreciation.
They keep me sane, they make me welcome, they direct me back to balance when I start to tilt off center, they define home.
For all this, a lower reflection of the inner beauty being shown me by my spiritual Master, I am thankful.

Chaplin and Me

November 9, 2013

As I headed toward the employee entrance to Presbyterian Tuesday morning, I flashed on an old movie – a Charlie Chaplin, I’m pretty sure but I don’t recall the title – of flocks of workers pouring into a plant, each showing an ID card and punching in before taking their places on an assembly line. In Albuquerque on Tuesday, we were a smaller clutch of workers, each wearing an ID badge which provides access via a scanned bar code, through multiple levels of security-locked doors, to our classroom, desks, and computers. How did I get to my seventh decade without ever working in such a large, regulated establishment? Even the government programs where I’ve been employed feel relatively small by comparison.

In orientation, we were told that Presbyterian hires about 2000 people per year, employs more than 8000, and receives over 100,000 applications for the annual openings created by turnover or – in the present case – by the expansion of its Medicaid program services. We were congratulated on being “special” because we were part of the select group chosen to be hired. I listened to the numbers in some awe, not in self-congratulation but rather in disbelief. What have I gotten myself into?

These past two days my subgroup (half the class of new Care Coordinators) received training on the still-being-completed-and-tested computer system which will be the primary support of our jobs. We will receive our assignments, create our case files, document our time and our activities, meet State and Federal mandates all within this one system. Given that there are quite a few bugs in the program, and pieces that have not yet been implemented, the training was likened to teaching us “to run the systems that fly the plane that the State still hasn’t finished building.” Take off is set for January 1st. Ready or not, off we go.

What fun!

Assigned to work within the Presbyterian computer system from my hotel room, I spent two hours in frustration at my inability to get through multiple layers of access in order to connect my highly secured work laptop to the hotel’s Internet. A classmate finally figured out the path, based on issues she’d had previously with her connectivity from home. I remember, back in the dark ages when they were new to the workplace, how we were assured that computers would make things easier.

Hah!

My homework included an opportunity to provide feedback on fixes the system needs to make it into a more effective tool of care management. The programmers have had barely seven months to design a system that normally is budgeted for a year or more of development and testing. I do appreciate being given a voice – I just wish there were fewer issues for me to speak up about! And that the changes and improvements could come sooner than the projected six months out from “going live”, which happens in less than two months.

Is any of this beginning to sound like Healthcare.gov?

Remember, Niki, you were hired for your “adaptability, independence, ability to think on your feet” and your implied tolerance for a very unstable and changing work environment. I do have those skills in person, and person to person. I’m not so sure I have them when it’s a matter of interacting with “technology”. I still complete the cards my students earn in their CPR certification classes on a (gasp) typewriter because that is easier for me than trying to create a computer template that will instruct my printer to produce them with all the right info in the correct small spaces.

Call me a Luddite – I’ll wear that badge proudly!

Until now, even the “field” workers for Presbyterian have been based in offices in towns and cities. They speak of those of us who will be working from our homes scattered in rural areas as working on the “frontier” – but still plan for us to use systems that rely on urban technology. I’ve only been able to access DSL at my home within the past year. If I lived a mile farther up the road I would not have it at all, would be dependent on satellite (or dial-up) and couldn’t get my work computer even to boot up due to timing out from the connection. As it is, the DSL flickers enough to pause my work on my fast and lightly loaded personal laptop – it repeatedly froze me out on the work computer which is slow and cumbersome, weighted down with multiple very complicated programs. Yet the concept is that I will take the laptop with me to client homes, to complete interviews and assessments.

I don’t think so.

Not when most of those homes don’t have connectivity at all – isn’t that what’s meant by the frontier? Out where people are living simply, often in the same way as their parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc.?

We’re told we’ll be given paper copies of all the documents we have to fill in – and that we can then scan and send them to an assistant in the central office who will code them into the computer. That procedure will allow me to get my work done within the established time frames. It is offered as a support strategy – so why do I feel as though it means I will be dumping chunks of my work off onto someone else?

Because in my 20 plus years as regional manager for a home health agency serving that same rural frontier, I had no administrative support? If I needed copies, I made the copies. I typed my own letters, entered all my own work into the computer systems, and was the support for my staff when they got behind, or needed help tracking certification due dates, etc. We were a branch office of 5 with a case load around 300 clients and a field staff of close to 350, for whom I was the top-of-the-chain-of-authority supervisor.

(Now you know why, as I went job-hunting this past year, I determined I wanted a position in which I would only be responsible for my own work product!)

Had all those employees come into the office every day, we would have looked like my experience of this past Tuesday, or the Chaplin film, minus the time clock and swipe cards.  But my field staff were dispersed across a quarter of the large state of New Mexico. I went to them (as I will be doing to member homes in my current position) rather than bringing them to me. In between visits, I communicated with them by phone – either directly, or via their supervisors.

My new supervisor expects me to communicate primarily be email – with phone calls when email isn’t available. The company does recognize that even cell service is spotty “on the frontier” so they are acquiring a few satellite phones to be checked out to staff when they may be needed. I suspect, if I end up covering the same area now as I did for the home health agency, I will have one of those phones permanently in my car. Along with my emergency survival kit, including an extra book (paper, not Nook) to keep me entertained if I’m stranded.

Along the Open Road

Along the Open Road

My new job will definitely be an adventure! I’m curious to see how the blending of futuristic programming and frontier life plays out. I look forward to working in an environment that stresses being part of a team, offering clerical and administrative support I’ve not been used to receiving. I’ll do my best to not be a burden on my support staff, which means I’m committing to becoming as proficient with the computer systems as my connectivity will allow. I’ll need encouragement to resist being tempted by my paper “backup” procedures.

Will you come along on this adventure with me?     

One of a Kind

November 2, 2013

It’s a gorgeous, sunny, crisp yet warm autumn afternoon. I’m driving down from my home at 7500 feet towards Albuquerque. Down as in south, down as in descending to the city’s 5000 foot altitude. I pass from full-color glory of cottonwoods in deep gold, dotted here and there along arroyos which occasionally run but are now dry, to clusters of trees beside small streams which show a mixed blend of yellow tones. Here and there on hillsides I see an occasional, rare in the desert, sprinkling of red leaves where scrub oak is doing its part to show off. Wishing I had time to stop and take pictures at each of the scattered sites, I slow down and drink in the brilliant color enhanced as it is by a bright sun and a postcard-perfect clear blue sky.

An Arc of Gold

An Arc of Gold

Much of the land is once again brown, grasses dried and earth showing little sign of the week of heavy rain that caused flooding in New Mexico as well as Colorado. Oh, you didn’t know that we had floods? Not surprising. When it comes to national reporting, New Mexico doesn’t exist. Our flooding was not mentioned; our drought is equally overlooked, although we have officially been the driest state in the nation. Only when Los Alamos lay in the path of wildfire, and last year when the biggest wildfire raging in the country ate tens of thousands of acres southwest of Santa Fe, did New Mexico make the news. “Listen my children, and you will hear…” stories like those handed out to tourists in a booklet entitled “One of Our Fifty is Missing”  –  but that is the subject of another posting.

On the Prairie

On the Prairie

The rain is gone. One week in August, then a torrential week in September that dumped more than the land could absorb – now we’re once again living with drought, seeing long stretches of dun and tan prairie grasses, and encountering bears on the edges of our communities, some even making their way into the center of large cities in search of food. Acres of monochrome are suddenly interrupted by a line of golden cottonwoods. Looking out across the prairie, those trees beckon with the promise of a water course. Many of these small rivulets are dry, their banks eroded by the flash floods which accompanied that week of September rain, sometimes to the point that tree roots are exposed. Tree roots reaching down deeply, to what little is left of moisture; tree roots anchored in brown to give life to riotous gold.

A Survivor

A Survivor

I pass yet another cluster of trees about ten miles south of Santa Fe, and see cars pulled off the side of the road. Looking more closely, I spy a group of artists, easels lined up, some standing, others on camp stools, each of them trying to capture autumn glory. I wish I could stop and join them! Instead I continue down the highway, across dry flat lands, then down one last hill. Spread out before me is the bosque of the Rio Grande, a wide and many-miles-long swath of cottonwoods, in every possible shade of yellow. It is almost too much to take in – acres of dancing golden tones sating the eye to the point that I must look away, watch the highway and the traffic, overfull.

As I enter Albuquerque, I find myself searching out the occasional red of an intentionally-planted maple (they are not native here) and wonder if the householder responsible for the tree is, like me, originally from the East Coast. I delight in the rare splashes of red in equal measure as I responded to the occasional golden cottonwoods earlier in my trip.

Rosy red

Rosy red

I remember autumn in New England, red upon orange upon grape upon wine, each color seeming to stand out and be enhanced by its subtle differences from its neighbors. I never tired of those shades of red in the way that today I ceased to be drawn to the yellows in the bosque.

Neighbors

Neighbors

I perceive that, because there were so many different types of trees producing multi-hued woodlands, autumn in the East, with its continuous experience of changing colors, did not become “too much” in the way that miles of yellow upon yellow have exhausted my ability to be inspired. I ask myself how much variety is enough to keep me from becoming sated? Is it actually variety that is important, or uniqueness? A clump of cottonwoods in a landscape of tan grasses is unique. A brilliant red maple stands out against an orange-toned oak whereas, in an acre of similarly colored trees, each cottonwood loses its distinction.

Do we not all strive to find our own unique color, to stand out from those around us?

Some of us are more strident, others quite subtle, but all of us seem internally driven to find a way to express individuality. Undoubtedly one of you readers will have objected that the acres of yellow in the bosque, the totality of which I found to be ‘too much’, would have delighted you with its abundance. The open, empty plains that I find soothing were frightening to my mother. On her one visit to New Mexico she felt unpleasantly vulnerable, as though naked and exposed. I, by contrast, feel invaded, almost assaulted, by the intensity of human activity in urban areas.

Standing Out

Standing Out

Going out for a walk after orientation class has ended, I find a patch of grass littered with slim, deep red leaves. I don’t know what sort of tree they have dropped from – I’m not an educated botanist. I do know that I’ll keep the handful I collected on my desk in the training room, until they turn brown and brittle. And to have them longer, I’ll photograph them to upload to my screen saver, along with pictures of cottonwood and of maple branches lit by late afternoon sun.

Red Delight

Red Delight

I may feel sated in the bosque; I will delight in retaining reminders of this colorful day, replete with images that speak to my soul while teaching lessons about the value of individual differences.

An Appreciation of Habits

October 6, 2013

Interesting how many unthinking habits are revealed when the pressure tank in the well fails, and a household is without water! Over the years, we’ve been waterless several times, for different reasons. The most difficult was the winter it got down to 30F below and someone forgot to leave faucets dripping, resulting in a frozen water line. That time it took 4 days to restore water flow, fortunately without associated broken pipes. Four days of not being able to flush toilets, or easily wash hands. Of hauling water in three gallon bottles, doling it out in dribbles for washing with a cloth in the sink, “birding off” as a friend used to call it (another acquaintance used to refer to the same process, I know not why, as a whore bath).

This latest episode of being without running water lasted only a little over 24 hours, in warm enough weather to need to shower, not just dab and dry. I gained experience at showering without access to running water back in my early teens, when we lived in Saigon.

Our House, a Very Very Very Fine House - Saigon, 1956

Our House, a Very Very Very Fine House – Saigon, 1956

Water only flowed in our housing compound for about two hours a day. The live-in maid would fill large vats with a hose from a standpipe, then carry buckets up to the bathroom whenever someone needed to bathe. Showering became a matter of pouring a bucket over oneself, soaping, pouring another bucket to rinse, and drying off. In the steamy heat, two or even three showers a day were necessary. A five person household used a vat of water just for bathing. The second vat supplied water for cooking and mopping and hand washing.

In those days, I also learned how to throw a bucket of water (the third vat’s supply) with just the right force, at just the right angle, into a toilet to force it to flush. In recent days, I learned I am still able to shower by the bucket, but have lost the knack of the toilet flush. Or maybe modern toilets are less amenable to alternative flushing procedures? In any case, the knowledge of how to manage without running water rose up from depths, at the same time as I caught myself automatically reaching behind to flush the toilet that had no water in its tank. Knowing there was no water did not stop the unthinking hand gesture.

How many other actions of daily life, including much less mundane ones, do we unthinkingly perform? How many aspects of our routine do we take for granted? And what about people… how often do we take them for granted? Or respond to them out of habit? Or respond to a present situation with an inappropriate habit learned in childhood?

Regrettably, my mother was only able to experience disappointment with life. She had a unique knack for projecting that disappointment, ensuring by her actions that anything I looked forward to with happy anticipation would fit her world view, and therefore not materialize positively in my life. My childhood was one of fearing to express what I wanted, since to do so was to assure it would not happen. Put differently, I became ingrained with the behavior of waiting for the other shoe to drop. As I matured, left home and began living my own values, I gradually freed myself from maternal negativity, and experienced lots of positives. Life brings mostly what one looks to receive from it – and I look with curiosity for new opportunities, good friends, and spiritual growth. I’ve been blessed to receive an abundance of all these.

So – how surprising to discover, in recent days, that a corner of my being is busy defending itself against a shoe dropping, in relation to my upcoming new employment! Why am I suddenly hearing myself reason that I should delay certain purchases because one should never “count chickens before they are hatched?” In ten weeks of living and working on the Maine coast at a home without electricity, I ‘forgot’ the habit of reaching for a wall switch when I entered a dark room. So why do I, after 50 years of living away from my mother’s fearful negativity still subconsciously duck and cover in response to upcoming positive and desired changes?

The Habit of Following Along

The Habit of Following Along

Well, at least I recognize the old emotional habit and can now practice setting it aside. I hope I have more success breaking that pattern than I’ve had with the one that leads me to look up to the right as I leave my living room. For nearly 20 years I had a clock on that right-hand wall – it’s been gone for 2 years now but I still glance there to see the time. And then laugh at myself. I suspect that being able to laugh at practicing an outdated habit is a step in the direction of letting it go, so I will chuckle to myself if I fall back into emotional duck and cover. What better way to switch over to a positive attitude?

And I do intend to retain the habit of washing with minimal water, although not the bucket method needed so recently. Collecting the water that accumulates until a suitable temperature is reached, and turning off the shower while soaping up, have become common sense habits in our continuing drought-plagued environment. Hmmm… I wonder, if someday I move to a place where water is abundant, will my water-saving habits endure?


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