Archive for the ‘humor’ Category

Shape

April 21, 2018

Something I read recently got me thinking about how deeply embedded early self-concepts can become, and how amazingly difficult they are to reverse. I entered my teens while living abroad, amid Asian women who were generally both shorter and more petite, thin, wiry of build than I. My mother, afraid of my developing sexuality, critiqued my figure and urged that I hide my curves under loose-fitting dresses. One exact statement was that if I cinched my waist in, as was the mid-fifties fashion, it made made my hips look “so big” that I should never wear slacks. I still can feel the discomfort and embarrassment of being out-sized that pursued me through my teens and into my 20’s, although when I look at pictures taken of me in those years I see a very shapely young woman with the hourglass figure that I have since learned men find very desirable. Exactly what my mother was panicked about, undoubtedly.

With an odd sense of shock I was struck earlier today by the realization that I weigh very close to what I did in the last years of high school and through most of my college years. I’ve been significantly heavier between then and now, and take pleasure in the accomplishment of being at present much as I was then. What I am finding difficult to reconcile is my lingering awareness of how unacceptably big and unattractive I felt then, compared to the compliments I receive now on my figure and how I look in my clothes – especially on those still rare occasions that I wear pants rather than a skirt.

An analysis of the challenges associated with keeping lost weight off includes the necessity of becoming comfortable with a new body image. Many women, apparently, continue to see themselves heavy even after they have reached a desired weight goal. Taken to extreme this becomes the illness anorexia. I don’t think it is just one’s own body image that is misperceived, but an amalgam of images from fashion and films that blend with one’s sense of oneself in  a hodge-podge of sticky discomfort. It did not help my teen self to have Twiggy be the height of British fashion. Nor the tall, pencil thin models of French fashion houses. Marilyn Monroe’s curves were presented to me as implicitly “not okay” because of their “blatant sexuality.”

I know that all cultures have standards of beauty against which women are evaluated. Sloping shoulders were highly desirable at one time in Japan. In many African countries it is still considered preferable to be of a warm, light brown color rather than deep black, although that is changing. Ample hips and buttocks are believed to indicate fertility and are therefore positive attributes in many cultures – though not in my adult lifetime in the U.S.

Whatever the norms, sadly and consistently the primary victims of them have always been and still are female. Progress has been made toward acceptance of a wider standard of attractiveness, but from my conversations with young women, the body shaming continues.

My concern in reflecting on this pattern is not particularly about progress – or lack thereof – in the images our society holds up as desirable for girls. Rather I am interested in how tenacious are the often illusory images we hold of ourselves. How can I look at pictures of my young self and see an attractive and shapely woman, while simultaneously still vividly inhabiting the fat and unacceptable body self I experienced at that time? Reason is insufficient to erase emotions.

Hmm, this is the second time in recent weeks that I’ve encountered a situation in which reason and feeling collide – and feeling dominates. Advice given to any professional working with people who are upset or more seriously emotionally disturbed is consistently to not argue with their faulty conclusions but rather to focus on creating an atmosphere of safety and trust. The first step to doing so generally involves acknowledging their feelings. Therapists working with couples usually set parameters for communication during sessions that begin with instructions to listen to the feelings being expressed and refrain from saying any of these are wrong. Feelings are what they are. They tend to gain in power by being denied. To change someone’s feelings about a situation (or past self image) it is useless to reason that the feeling is wrong.

What does seem to have power to alter feelings is new experience perceived from a new framework which can be related back to the earlier events. In my case, the first new experience I recall occurred when I was visiting with relatives of my then husband in Cincinnati. Mel was what is now called “a person of color” with Native American, black and white genetics, whose extended family lived within the culture of Black Americans. As I left the room where we had all been sitting I heard Mel’s aunt remark that I had “big old fine pretty legs” in a tone of appreciative praise. Those “big” legs were then the primary source of my negative body image, in conjunction with the hips to which they were attached. The emotional impact of that statement was so strong that I can, still now, feel myself sitting in the bathroom to which I had headed, trying to connect what I heard with what I felt and totally unable to see myself as Mel’s aunt evidently saw me.

Over the years, feedback from people whom I trust has helped me evolve a rather more positive self image though it is still a work in process, as evidenced by the latest realization – that I am now very much as I was 55 years ago when I felt so unacceptably large. Most days now I can look in the mirror and feel good about myself. That I am a size and shape admired by my husband certainly helps.

So I presently feel good about the same outer physical condition (objective reality) that once made me feel uncomfortable and shamed. Nothing has changed, according to mind; everything has changed according to emotion.

Yet we wonder why, across a wide range of areas, belief based on feelings is so impossible to alter with rational argument!

Instead of “I think therefore I am”, we manifest “I feel therefore I know it to be true.”

So much for the illusion of rational humanity being – because we can reason – at the top of the evolutionary chain.

Practicing Patience

January 13, 2018

The winter storms keep missing us. We get the wind and the cold but not the moisture that is being dumped so plentifully to our north and across the midwest. I remember reading a projection that north would be exceptionally cold and we in the southwest would be noticeably warm across this winter. So far it’s been an accurate forecast.

In some previous similar years, the consequence of this weather pattern has been particularly heavy spring snows, the kind that leave us without power and snowed in for several days, but which then also melt off quickly so that once we can get out, we can drive without the hassles of icy roads. For now, it’s wait and see.

I wouldn’t be concerned at all one way or the other, but my job has me on the road for 50-90 mile one way trips with sufficient frequency that I have to be aware of weather risks – especially in February when the combination of an exceptionally short work month and a markedly heavy workload intersect and make scheduling my travel a critical component of meeting all the deadlines. A day or two unable to get out to my appointments may well mean I don’t get the month’s work completed. Reminding myself I’ll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, it’s cold enough (or the daylight hours are reduced enough, I’m not sure which is the determinant) that the hens have stopped laying, but not so cold that I have to wear my heavy winter coat. Concerns about renewed drought do not prevent me from enjoying the mild and sunny afternoons that entice me to go walking. For how much longer? Yes, you know the refrain now – we’ll have to wait and see.

Mini-mind

January 6, 2018

It’s another one of those evenings when I find myself playing solitaire, alternating with reading. One of those evenings I have identified as better spent writing (and reading) so that when I look back I will feel I’ve been productive rather than mind-numbed, zoned out, and wasting time.

When the book is particularly engaging, I just read. If I’m not reading steadily, why don’t I just put the book away and find another? Old habit, I suspect, and that internal voice lecturing about finishing what has been started. You’d think I’m old enough to disregard the habit and the voice, but apparently not. Hmm, another pattern to review and see why I am still controlled by it.

That is, in fact, what most of my reflection periods seem to be about these days – reviewing the whys and wherefores of any number of habits of behavior or thought, to consciously decide if they are worth maintaining or if it is time to be freed from them. In many cases, the final outcome is not really either option, but rather a choice to maintain the behavior or way of thinking as a tool to be used at times and ignored at others. In essence I transform the unconscious habit into a chosen action for those situations where it will be truly beneficial.

Follow this lovely road to freedom from the tyranny of mental constructs.

This way to freedom from the tyranny of mental constructs.

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

“Pantsing” as a Way of Life

October 22, 2015

A blog on elder issues that I follow, Time Goes By, Time Goes By recently discussed the idea of writing a ”final” post to be put up on a blog when the writer has passed away. Sort of an extension of making one’s funeral preferences known, completing a living will, etc. The stated intent, however is to have a way to say farewell to online followers/friends who may wonder what has happened, when posts cease to appear.

This is NOT my final blog, although my followers may indeed be wondering what has happened to me. I haven’t dared to check how long it’s been since my last post!

Not that I’ve stopped living, nor even stopped reflecting on all the living that is filling my days. I have, however, stopped making time to write out what I’ve been discovering during the rather brief reflective gaps in the hectic pace of my days. Perhaps now that the weather is changing, and more sedentary indoor days loom, I’ll be able to return to writing posts regularly.

Odd, that – I write regularly every day, just not “for pleasure” as is the case with this blog. I write summaries of the needs of my clients, I write persuasive letters to justify insurance coverage of exceptional procedures, I write recommendations to management for procedure changes to simplify my (and my 100 field co-worker) tasks. I even enjoy some of what I write for my “day job” but it is writing from the logical functions of my brain.

What tends to emerge in my essays that become blog posts is much more intuitive and – to me – more pleasurable. I don’t often know, when I start an essay, where it will end because I don’t “know” what it is that I know on the subject about which I have been cogitating. I wait for – and fortunately reliably receive – flashes of inspiration which mold themselves into coherence as I formulate the words to express the ideas and images which rise to awareness.

Should I be admitting in a public forum that I often don’t know what I’m going to say when I start to write? Will an editor at some future point read my manuscript submission and say that it’s obvious I have no idea what I’m writing about and that I’ve admitted as much already?

I hope not, since I do rework, rewrite and thoroughly edit the books and stories I send out (far too rarely now – my submission listing is sparse indeed). And I reread and edit my posts although not with the same degree of critical assessment as I give to works of fiction. It is part of the pleasure, for me, of posting, that I feel free to share what comes to me, rather in the way one speaks freely in a conversation with friends. Having to “watch one’s words” in fact describes a stilted and tense relationship between people, or at best a formal and careful one such as is the case for my day job writing which I mentioned above.

An interview I read recently asked a writer whether he was a “planner or a pantser” in the production of his novels. Like many of us would, I think, he replied that it depended on the circumstances. Some works require planning, others seem to take on life all on their own and – for me at least – write themselves through me. Those are the most fun and happily they quite commonly occur when I’m in the process of completing a post.

Pantsing this essay, I’ve come to a stop without feeling, in the logical part of my brain, that I’ve come to a coherent conclusion. Perhaps I have, however, accurately reflected the incoherent way my days are unfolding, full of unexpected events, and flashes of insight that bear little relationship to what I think of as the pattern of my days. I guess I’m pantsing my life at the moment, when I’ve always been something of a planner in that arena. Hmm… I should expect interesting new insights to accompany the very novel way my days are being filled.

Not a bad gift to self for the birthday in honor of which I’m putting up this post.
Best wishes to all – and thank you to my readers – for my new year ahead.

 

Autumn Color

Autumn Color

Not One Ding-a-ling

July 26, 2015

One of the blogs I follow, Musings from a Tangled Mind, is occasionally a rant against some stupidity of daily life – usually on a subject I agree deserves a tongue lashing. I’ve not seen, there, my target today.

I am rarely able to nap during the day, no matter how tired I feel. This afternoon, I succeeded to drop off – and scarcely half an hour later my phone rang with an automated call from Walgreen’s Pharmacy, a reminder about refilling a prescription that:
1) doesn’t have refills on it, and
2) I never signed up to have reminders about.

I grew up in an environment which functioned largely without telephones at all. My recollection is that we were on a multi-party line in Washington DC, before my father entered the Foreign Service and we decamped to Vietnam in 1956. There – and later in Paris – there was a phone in our home, but it was solely for my parents and for official use only. I did occasionally use the Paris phone to arrange to meet a friend, but tying up the line to chat was forbidden, the cost considered prohibitive.

Returned to the U.S. for college, I lived in a dorm with one phone for the entire floor, or pay phones in the lobby for calling home. Again no habit of phone conversation developed. By the time I was out of school, married and living in my own space, the telephone had become a tool for necessary contact and nothing more. Thus, when I moved to New Mexico and into an area with no phone lines available, I was not disconcerted. In the one instance when my parents urgently needed to get hold of me, they had me located by the State Police, who came out to my house to deliver the message that I needed to call back East.

With time, I moved to a more developed area and met phone lines in place. I was still on a system that was small enough for us to give out our numbers with only 5 digits (Santa Fe was either 982 or 983 prefix, so my phone number was 33474, although one had to dial the initial 98). By the time I moved to the Las Vegas area, Santa Fe had 988 and 471 also in place, but Las Vegas had only 425 or 454. Five digit numbers remained the norm until the late 1990s.

Over the past 15 years the entire state has “upgraded” its land lines and sprouted a plethora of different cell company connections. In order to have service in my “second” house (the land line only goes to the main dwelling) I’ve signed up for T-Mobile, upgraded to a “smart” phone and now get calls via WiFi.

None of which justifies Walgreen’s disrupting my nap with an automated call to alert me it is time to refill a prescription!

Especially when I did NOT ask for that service. In fact, I’ve opted out of it twice already. Apparently, each time I fill a new prescription, the refill reminder is set for thirty days out, no matter what the content of the prescription says – and each new prescription requires a new opt out.

Lesson learned – no new prescriptions will be filled at Walgreen’s unless/until their system allows me to put a block on unwanted calls.

Which brings me to the true topic of this rant – the presumption that we all want/need to be connected all the time, that if we miss a call we are expected to return it immediately, that it is okay to repeatedly troll for business even after being told not to call again and even when the number dialed is on a national do not call list. We have to opt out of everything we don’t want, rather than being invited in and allowed to not participate unless we request inclusion.

A similar presumption underlies online tracking of preferences, of sites visited, etc. so that “ads can be tailored to meet your needs.” Except that no ad ever meets my needs, because I’ve learned to ignore them. They are an intrusion into my time and space, or into my spam folder. I do not have TV reception and, though I do miss the occasional drama series and a few PBS programs, the amount of advertising I thus avoid more than balances the small amount of worthwhile content that I forgo.

At what point did we cease of be people with brains, worthy of respect and entitled to be asked our preferences? How did I miss the turning point where personal space, rights to solitude and to privacy disappeared from everyday interactions?

I am not so “old fashioned” as to devalue the benefits of having a cell phone. I do appreciate being able to text and to email and reach out to people more quickly and easily than when I had to walk from my home in Lamy to the train depot to make that call to my parents, using the only pay phone in the village. I am so old fashioned as to mind that, with the advent of easy connection, has come a culture of disregard of – nay disrespect for – those who are on the other end of the connection.

Yes I realize there were people, shortly after Mr. Bell made his revolutionary invention, who said then what I’m saying now. They had it right, to some extent. Cultural norms do need to be adapted to changes in technology but not to the point of eliminating basic respect for individuals’ privacy and control of their home environments.

Just because you want to contact me does not mean I am obliged to be available to you!

There is a time and a place for communication. During church service in the morning, and again when I am napping on a Sunday afternoon is neither the time nor the place for Walgreen’s to pester me about a prescription refill for which I am not even eligible!

What’s that old parting line after a job interview? Don’t call us, we’ll call you?

If I want information I’ll seek it out. If I need a refill I’ll ask for it. If I intend to purchase an item, I’ll find the stores or the online sites with the items I’m interested in. I know my own mind, what I want and when I want it.

If you want my business, show me the simple respect of allowing me to initiate the contact, and to choose what reminders or new information I desire.

One of a Kind

April 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Later Years

In Later Years

 

Still Learning and Teaching

Still Learning and Teaching

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).

Porridge Plantains

October 18, 2014

Today I had a lesson in Cameroonian cooking.

I’ve been following a blog (Immaculate Bites) posted by a young Cameroonian woman who puts out recipes from a variety of cuisines – African, Caribbean, some middle eastern, some from the southern areas of the USA. I’ve made several of her dishes and enjoyed them.

Today’s preparation was not one of her recipes, but rather one taught to me by my husband. It is a traditional dish, called Porridge Plantains, that we could not prepare until now because we needed some ingredients brought to us from Cameroon, by a friend who visited home over the summer. Specifically, a dried vegetable called bitter leaf, and a particular bullion cube that I have not so far seen in the USA.

The preparation is quite easy – provided one has the few ingredients to hand. We had plantains, but they were too ripe! So we made a quick trip into town to Wal-Mart. With the assistance of a store employee, who brought out a new box of plantains, we acquired a supply that were green and firm and perfect for boiling. Home again, the plantains went into a pot with soaked bitter leaf, the bullion cubes, a little salt, some smoked meat, and red palm oil, to be cooked down until the broth had soaked thoroughly into the plantains and they were soft in the middle. Out of respect for my limited tolerance for HOT spice, my husband only added habanero pepper at the end, to his portion of the meal. See below for the challenges of preparing that pepper!

Porridge plantain is served at every special event in Cameroon. We had not yet prepared it, not having the special ingredients. So today was our very own “special event”, as I tried for the first time – and my husband enjoyed after too long a gap – a taste of his home.

Porridge plantain has – for me – an interesting and enjoyable flavor, complex, slightly bitter but not excessively so. I think it helps that I love spinach and am one of those people who like anchovies. I’m sure it also helps that I was raised with a rule that I must take a taste of every food prepared. I did not have to eat a whole portion, but I could not skip tasting the – mostly middle-eastern style – foods my mother prepared. By the time I reached Vietnam (at age 13, way back before anyone in the USA had even heard of the country) I was prepared to try the radically different foods I encountered there.

In the years since, I’ve not only enjoyed eating a variety of cuisines, but have also enjoyed learning to prepare them. Preparing pepper sauce for my husband, now, is a challenge of a different sort. He likes the small, orange, extremely hot habanero peppers, cooked down and turned into a sauce that he adds to just about everything. I’ve started preparing the sauce for him – and just about been run out of the house as the cooking peppers put so much “bite” into the air that everyone starts coughing. In warmer weather, with the windows and doors open, it wasn’t a problem, but now that temperatures have dropped, we have become shut in with any irritants in the air. We’ve found a solution – cooking the peppers on a propane-fueled outdoor grill set up in the shelter of the portal attached to the house.

To everything there is a season. For everything there is a seasoning. Some like it hot, some like it sweet, some like it sour (that’s me). How dull it would be if we all liked only the same tastes, activities, hobbies. I wish, for everyone, an openness to experimentation and learning, and the pleasures that come from new experiences. Who knows, I may yet learn to not just prepare but actually to eat habanero sauce!

A habanero chili

Illusory Time

June 9, 2014

We’ve all heard that time and space are illusions, that love can bridge both and eradicate them. But how many of us have actually experienced the collapse of space or time?

I’ve had inklings of what it is like to deny space, most notably when I’ve been conducting multiple chats on Facebook with friends scattered around the world – connected simultaneously to Singapore and Norway, for example. But time has, until recently, remained rather solidly real. Oh, I’ve lost myself in contemplation, or in an activity, and – as we say – lost track of time. That experience has always ended with a solid thump back into awareness of time as a sequence, a flow that inexorably carries on while I’ve been doing other things. You know – “life is what happens while your attention is elsewhere.”

Lately, I’ve been gifted to experience a different sense of escaping the constraints of time – or rather, to begin to understand in a very profound way that time is indeed an illusion, a habit of mind that one can shed. My spiritual practice has triggered recognition of a number of mental lies, beliefs conditioned into me from various sources – parents, society, misinterpreted experience, self-doubt. One by one these falsities have shown their color, and I’ve been freed of their constraints. Several have to do with my perception of myself, and possibly do not have general application. The most recent, however, has to do with time and is certainly widely relevant.

I follow a couple of blogs which focus on aging – Time Goes By Time Goes By, and Aging Abundantly. It is important that there be a voice for older people, and even though I don’t always agree with these two, nor do they agree with one another, both writers present the experience of growing older and both confront and counter stereotypes that we all meet daily. They are rooted, however, in an acceptance that time passes and that we are necessarily caught within time’s reality.

I am learning to exist in a different reality. Focused on what I am doing in the present moment, time does not exist. Only when I choose to give my attention to something that happened in an earlier phase of my life – and only if I choose to consider the event in the context of “its” time – does time exist once more. If I instead immerse myself in the event as though it is a present happening, time vanishes.

As children we have all certainly been admonished to “act your age”. As adults, we mark milestones of age (legal drinking age, “the big five-oh”) and measure our accomplishments against some yardstick of what we should have achieved by this or that age. Retirement looms, eligibility for “senior” discounts, a host of societal norms that impose on us the supposed reality of time.

I remember my first encounter with a different concept of time. It was an effort to explain a Pueblo Indian concept that time is not a sequence, but a set of different present moments. The teacher described sausages tied together into a circle. The tribe lives within one sausage/season/period at a time. It is planting season until the circle rotates, and then they are living within the season of summer rain. Another rotation places them within the season of maturing corn. During each season, attention is fully devoted to the activities of that manner of being.

Since plunging into my new job, and a new relationship, I am interacting with various people in very vivid and engaging ways. I find myself so intensely focused on each present demand for my attention that my only awareness is of the activities I’m completing, and the people for whom I am completing them.

It was a shock, yesterday, to realize that 2014 is almost one half done!

I write dates daily, but their only meaning has been a set of numbers that identify a document which I may need to retrieve from my hard drive. My days are defined by who I will see, where I will find them, whether my computer will cooperate with the necessary data entry, and how I relax from work.

My interactions are an exchange between equals, whether co-workers or members of my social network. If I take a conscious step back into the time continuum, I recognize that all these people are chronologically younger – often much younger – than I am. Little about my days allows or enables me to take that conscious step back. Quite the contrary. As a result, I go days, weeks – lately months – living in a continuing present tense, being whatever age matches those with whom I engage, feeling essentially ageless and outside of time altogether.

What a marvelous sense of freedom results from this existence outside time!

Now if I can just figure out how to similarly collapse space, in order to be at once in the several different countries I still want to visit…


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