Archive for the ‘Living and Learning’ Category

Reflections on Motivation

May 20, 2022

For years, while working more than full time, I kept up a regular weekly posting to my blog, mostly reflections on circumstances encountered in my daily interactions. A friend just recently commented that I was so busy then, that I needed the blog posts to organize my thoughts. She was probably correct. I have experienced myself as someone who needs “an ear”, preferably a trusted friend or my spouse, so that I can hear myself working my way through whatever concern needs clarification, using the feedback to refine and define my perception. Lacking that in-person ear, writing things out has also served me well as a means to achieving clarity.

Enter retirement, and Covid isolation, and a spouse who lives away the 5 days of the work week, and one might think I would be that much more engaged with posting to this blog. Not so. With a great deal more free – and largely silent – time, I have instead seemingly become mute. I read steadily, back to my childhood sick bed years of a book every 2-3 days, and I play solitaire (current undefeated streak at Free Cell approaches 700 games), I follow an assortment of news and opinion newsletters, tend to my chickens, go for walks when the weather and my health permit, and do the basics of house chores necessary to keep things running here, and my husband’s second home at his work location stocked with his preferred meals. 

Yes, I talk to a few people each week – my acupuncturist and massage therapist, and a couple of dear friends with whom I have an established regular call. I also talk to a limited number of people with whom I am engaged as a part-time contracted worker, assisting the NM Caregiver Coalition and – just lately – those who participate in a weekly, via Zoom, Quaker Worship Sharing group. None of that answers my question to myself of why I have not, in the more than two years since retirement, not resumed posting regularly, particularly given the Covid imposed dearth of opportunity to talk out my concerns.

I had thought, pre-retirement, that I would be able to devote energy to small home improvements – planting flowers in the entry area, refurbishing my kitchen, clearing out years of accumulated stuff. I have made some inroads in all those areas, but not come anywhere near completing the tasks. Whatever I thought I would gain from doing so has not materialized. Instead, partially perhaps because of an unanticipated decline in energy and increase in daily pain, I have been avoiding the endeavors to not be confronted with my decreased capacities.

At first, it was easy to say I would get back to them when I recovered from the first health issues. By now, having experienced a seemingly endless cycle of two steps forward and one-and-a-half back, I am trying to accept that recovery is a myth akin to pre-pandemic normal. My new normal appears to require a degree of flexibility that goes counter to my lifelong mode of accomplishment – organized, planned, scheduled and with Plans B and C pre-mapped in case something (usually another person’s decisions) make the initial schedule unsustainable. With very little scheduled in any week, and no advance warning of better or worse energy/health/pain days, I seem to have lapsed into non-accomplishment of even something as seemingly easy as writing regular blog posts.

I am unclear what underlies not just my lack of writing, but my lack of overall motivation. I really want the kitchen refurbishment, but am defeated before I begin by the non-response of those workmen I manage to identify. Two plumbers have both said they will schedule me, but weeks go by without a call. I should be on the phone, badgering and pestering until one of them wants rid of me enough to come – but I don’t find myself with motivation to expend my limited energy being a nuisance. With the not-feeling-well days coming unpredictably, I am hesitant to enroll in a class, or schedule volunteer activities when I may not be up to keeping the commitments. I am still waiting for a day when both the unpredictable New Mexico spring weather and my energy will match, to set out bulbs and pansies in the pots I arranged last year.

None of which explains my disinterest in writing.

A friend with whom I am mostly linked by our common engagement as writers just recently asked me what I have been working on. She sets herself the challenge of a poem a day every April, has self-published quite a number of books, runs a LIterary Salon now and keeps a regular writing schedule despite her own health and energy issues and those of her husband. I had no real answer to give her, other than mentioning some thought of resurrecting a project sharing creative ways people have found to outwit the limitations of Parkinson’s. I did not recognize and hence could not admit to my problem with motivation.

The question did, thank you Sharon, prod me to examine what has been immobilizing me and, as I am grateful to acknowledge as a blessing, once the question was clearly posed, answers have begun to emerge. They lie in a need to completely redefine how I assess my sense of self, how I shed restricting core identities that have served me productively as a self-reliant and successful worker but which do not pertain to an older, semi-retired individual.

I may not yet be properly motivated, but I am interested to see what emerges.

Empathic Excess

March 7, 2022

I know there is a condition (sometimes labeled compassion fatigue) of excess of empathy producing its opposite, over time, in the person who has generally been open, accepting, willing to see another’s viewpoint and vulnerable to feeling their pain. I know because I recognize that, contrary to my habitual way of being, I have been notably intolerant of late, managing not to express my disdain only by withdrawing from engagement, staying “out of people’s way” and trying to minimize my following of news and other online activities. I haven’t been very successful with that last, still reading many of the stories and opinions in my inbox daily news feeds. I have, unexpectedly, been far more successful at insulating myself from the cares and needs of characters in novels, by ceasing to read them. It has been a puzzlement (to use a term from a favorite story, “The King and I”) that I have become impatient with reading, when that activity has, throughout my life, been my preferred means of escape from my immediate circumstances. 

My childhood was not a happy one, an only child living with a rageaholic mother and an emotionally absent father, and prone to catching every illness passing around, so that I spent a good deal of time alone in bed, in my room, with the radio and books for company. The few activities I could engage in that my mother would not interrupt with a physical or verbal assault on me, were using the toilet or being ill, and reading. Not being a stupid child, I quickly learned to take a book with me into the bathroom, shut the door and sit on the toilet reading – for so long a time that when I finally stood up I had a deep red ring on my behind and my legs were numb. In retrospect I perceive that I probably also fell sick more easily and quickly because of the household stress, and the fact that the ensuing days alone (my mother had a deep fear of germs and would not enter my sickroom) bought me a break from my standard role as her scapegoat.

What I only realized a day or two ago, after weeks of shutting books abruptly after reading only a few pages, is that I can still enjoy reading – just not “serious” books. Lighthearted mysteries, with a touch of humor in the writing, still engage me even when I can see through the plot lines almost from the beginning. Knowing how it will all turn out does not diminish my interest in seeing how the author unfolds the story.The key word, I am sure, in the above sentence was “lighthearted”. Anything more realistic as to characters and their motivations, even mystery novels by some of my favorite authors like Louise Penny, bring on my sensation of being overwhelmed by unwanted emotions. Not just negative ones, any emotions stirred by the excellent writing and delineation of character. 

I have been replacing reading with very specific, limited conversations with a select few friends and acquaintances who are able and willing to discuss abstract ideas, philosophy, or spiritual processes without requiring of me that I solve any problems they may have in living their values. 

In the course of these exchanges, and participation in Quaker Worship Sharing, as well as attending to my daily spiritual exercises, I have come to see my detachment from emotions as a positive indicator of progress along my chosen Path. I seem to be functioning as required on the physical plane, doing my routine, no thought required homemaker chores and offering appropriate support to those around me who request my input. I have been enjoying dialog on the mental plane (reasoning, knowledge, intellect) including giving my analysis of issues or interpersonal concerns when they are requested.

With distracting tugs from the emotional plane effectively shut down, my attention can remain where I wish it to be, developing and maintaining  a spiritual perspective on my life. Aware of the frequency, in the past, of periods in which I felt as though I were teetering on the edge of a precipice, at high risk of plunging into irredeemable depression, and needing to use anger to fight my way back to safer ground, I find that I am now increasingly comfortable with this more disengaged way of negotiating my remaining days.

I do still care about people and broader societal challenges, but most days the caring is more detached. To borrow an image from one of the teachers on my spiritual Path, I am increasingly able to walk along a beach, hear the cries of a swimmer in trouble, throw out a life buoy and tow the swimmer to shore and then walk on, without attachment to how the rescued swimmer proceeds with the remainder of their life. Diametrically opposite to the alleged ancient Chinese belief that if you save a person’s life you are responsible for it forevermore.

Given that my professional career has had me in the role of helping others, and my current part time work still calls for that engagement, I find it an interesting challenge to not drift back into emotional attachment to “what is going on in the world” whether that world is the near one of my friends or the far one of international conflicts. I know from past experience that I am actually better able to assist, when asked, if my ego is not engaged with an outcome, and if I therefore merely offer a new perspective, or make a suggestion for next steps, leaving the implementation to whoever has asked for my input.

Is this new way of being an upside to chronological age? Given that I have also, lately, been rather forcefully confronted with the physical downside of aging, I have to hope that the benefits of detachment will also imbue a revision of self concept, as I figure out how to become comfortable with being an old person.

Wish me well – and success at this endeavor  – please.

Out of Silence

February 20, 2022

I had thought my part time job was taking the time meant for blog posts. But it is not so demanding as to leave me no writing time. I had thought pandemic isolation had stilled my ability to observe and comment. But my inner voice remained audible. I had thought there was no longer much point in posting reflections, year after year, that have mostly been one way communication from me out to ??? But I have no interest in engaging with “social media” type dialog that so frequently sinks into diatribe and vitriol. Perhaps a speck of my being wanted to see who, if anyone, would reach out to me via a comment posted to the blog site, to ask if I was okay, still alive? But I seem to have already known that was unlikely from outside my immediate circle of friends, as my life pattern has consistently been that, if there is to be a connection, I must initiate it. Very, very few people have checked in on me unless they wanted/needed something from me.

It is only just recently that I have begun to recognize my public (and to a large extent also private) silence as due to the need for a serious reconsideration of who and what I am now that I am semi-retired, with less energy to cope with more physical limitations, less accepting of deadlines, more engaged with inner spiritual goals yet finding it challenging to let go of a life pattern of attending to others’ needs before seeking to address my own.

Into this examination came a just published column by Tish Harrison Warren in the New York Times speaking to periods in her past when reading, a primary love and satisfaction, became virtually impossible. I have been aware that, along with not writing, I have lately had unaccustomed difficulty staying engaged with reading. As for Tish, books have been my companions, my escape, my primary pleasure since I began to learn to read at age three, sitting on my Grandpa’s lap and following along as he read “I Went for a Walk in the Forest” aloud to me. Now I have found myself reading only a few pages, even of favorite authors, before setting the book aside to engage with a crossword puzzle, or to extend my undefeated streak of Free Cell. Thanks to Tish’s essay, I see the why of what I had observed but did not understand.

“Sitting with a book requires some level of compassion and energy. A reader sits with the thoughts, stories, insights or opinions of another. She opens herself empathetically to the work of another human being. And I didn’t feel I had the requisite compassion or energy to do so.”

The proximate cause of Tish Harrison Warren’s loss of ability to enjoy books is different from mine, but the experience is virtually identical, including in the way, step by step, she recovered by engaging first in reading short pieces before resuming books. I have begun following, and responding with letters of commentary, to several NYT columnists as a means to counter not just Covid imposed isolation, but my retirement triggered energy crash and loss of my sense of self.

As I responded to the Harrison Warren essay, “You hit the mark, for me, when you mentioned lacking the empathy, compassion, and the energy these take, to enjoy reading. Along with retirement and disconnect from interpersonal interaction, I confronted the difficult questions of retirement. Who am I without my professional role as a caregiver? Of what value has my life been? And what of value do I still have to offer now that my body is tired and resurrecting all the old, healed and forgotten but not gone injuries and pains of my nearly 80 years of living?

Escape from a difficult family life into books was my path since childhood, making it even more disconcerting now to find that escape denied me. I am mentally yelling at Elsa, in Kristin Hannah’s “The Four Winds” to open her stupid mouth and speak up for herself, then tossing the book aside. I think I would not pick it up again were it not for the fact that it is my book club’s choice for our next discussion meeting.

I had not considered, before reading your essay, that my own inner dis-ease was the source of my new inability to escape into books. I am relieved to learn my experience is in fact a common one, and that I can hope to not only find my way back to the pleasure of reading, but also to that of writing. I will not close down my blog site just yet.”

And so here is a post, after long silence. Step one, writing as well as reading short pieces. I may need to use other responses to recently read columns, in order to resurrect the habit of posting, as I am using the reading of those columns to resurrect my ability to find the compassion and empathy necessary to read books and engage once more with a wider world.

Or maybe not? Maybe I will find that engaging outwardly is no longer so important or rewarding as is withdrawing inward to “dip into the Divine spiritual current always flowing, if only we take time to seek it.”

Alone, in Silence

December 13, 2021

I started to put together a post incorporating some of the letters I’ve written in response to columns I have been reading, mostly from the New York Times opinion section – because I don’t seem able to write without a prompt these days. Not that I don’t still have thoughts, or reflections about the events in my life and the larger world – but I seem to have lost the habit of sharing them unless I read an opinion that I either disagree with and want to counter, or that I agree with but think would benefit from enlargement. So I write letters to the writers, knowing that it is unlikely I will get a response, and equally unlikely that my comments will be published and reach an audience.

What has changed? My degree of solitude, primarily. What I felt I never had enough of before retirement and Covid (quiet, alone downtime) I now have so much of that I feel as though I’ve forgotten how to initiate a conversation. My part time work gives me what amounts to a script that I follow when I make outreach calls to engage caregivers with the NM Caregiver Coalition programs. The teaching and care coordination I do with participants also largely follow an established script, and involve more listening and giving feedback than expressing opinions or leading the conversation.

I’ve always been more of an introvert than a socializer, probably because my childhood was nearly as solitary as my daily life now. An only child in a household of the old school, where children were to be seen and not heard, and in fact seen only when a parent wished to assign a chore. Otherwise I was best protected from parental anger by spending my non-school hours in my room, usually reading. Not the sort of conditioning that teaches how to initiate conversations, reach out to build relationships, or make friends easily. Over the many years since, I have acquired some of those skills, at a basic level most commonly yielding success when my circumstances foster frequent enough interaction to grant the opportunity to get to know others, and they to get to know me. 

Not, by any means, the circumstances I now function within. Working from home, living alone during the week, minimizing my time “out” in public in accord with the health and safety guidelines we are encouraged to embrace as our “normal” lifestyle for the foreseeable future… not circumstances that promote conversations and, for me at least, circumstances that instead push me back into being minimally seen and rarely heard. Easier to read, do crossword puzzles, play solitaire – the same activities that filled my childhood – than to figure out how to keep initiating conversations (via blog posts) that only rarely evolve into social interaction.

That is mind trying to sort out and understand its present state. The proper activity for me at this time, however, is not to understand, elucidate, converse or write so much as it is to accept the alone-ness of this period as right, proper, a gift to be cherished for its offering of the opportunity to simply Be. In gratitude. Moving towards enlightenment. Baraka bashad.

Ambiguities of Aging

July 26, 2021

One of the blessings – and curses – of my life has been my engaged, analytical mind also capable of synthesis and of so-called right brain activities like artistic design. Blessing in that it enabled me to attend Swarthmore College where, for four years, I was surrounded by people of comparable “smarts” and thus where I fit in. The experience was a soothing balm after the social exclusion and general disregard previously afforded me in school, where I was dismissed as a mere nerd. Blessing also in that I found myself, over the course of my life, able to work effectively in a wide range of fields – law, education, government, health care – and to engage with all sorts of people, across cultures, races and economic and educational levels.

The curse began with that nerd label and has carried forward in what people express (those who make the effort to express themselves) as being intimidated by my intellectual ability. In too many work environments I encountered co-workers – mostly male – who could not accept that I was as able as they were at planning, writing, envisioning, managing. I very consciously, in one totally male dominated position, chose to emphasize my femininity in dress at the same time that I showed the full extent of my mental skills. The two other women classified as professionals, in that workplace of 100 or more where I found myself in my early thirties, were both already mature (late 50’s) and treated as invisible by the men, in the way so many older women have been disregarded for generations, in U.S. society.

The blessing extends into the present as an interest in reading and responding to essays and op-ed pieces in the various outlets that send their email newsletters to my inbox. The curse extends to having so few face to face opportunities to discuss and debate those topics. During my long work career, I rarely had time for non-work-related discussions, but I did have access to people with whom to debate. Since retirement just a year ago, I have had too much free time, and extremely limited options for interesting discussions. One extreme to the other, in the midst of pandemic lockdowns, has not been an easy transition.

In the blessing column I need to list the fact that my mental skills continue undiminished so far, except for a curious, recent tendency to come up short on names. Once I stop trying to recall the place or person’s name, it rises up into awareness, fortunately often while I am still involved in the conversation that requires it. In the curse column I probably should list a propensity, now that I have so much “spare” time, to do what my spouse calls “overthinking” situations, rather than relaxing and just letting them unfold.

A current client uses the terms Harvard mind and Stanford mind to identify two different styles of communication. He feels able to deal with either, but finds it challenging to switch quickly from one to the other. He says he admires that I can work with both simultaneously. If I understand him, he is referring to tightly reasoned “intellectual” discourse (Harvard) contrasted with a more emotionally directed interpersonal connection (Stanford). A dichotomy kin to the traditionally perceived left brain/right brain dichotomies of thinking that have increasingly been relegated to the status of outdated, inadequate explanations of mental differences between people. For my easily distracted client, having both capacities with neither under good control is decidedly more curse than blessing. For myself, having both and knowing when to use each is clearly a blessing,

About those ambiguities of aging – I am attempting to decipher whether my mental skills are blessing or curse or still a mixture of both, as my opportunities and situations change with advancing age. Having skills without much occasion to use them is frustrating and contributes to feeling old and past one’s “sell by” date. Recognizing that mental skills are of limited value for advancement in spiritual endeavors, it is a blessing to be able – at least at times – to just stop thinking and allow myself to be guided minute by minute throughout days that in retrospect show themselves full of accomplishment that “I” don’t claim credit for. What has been achieved has been done through rather than by me. The ambiguity lies, perhaps, in my hesitance to accept that I have reached the age when what I “should”, per societal dictates, be focusing on is a less engaged, more abstract appreciation of the simple acts of daily life, with perhaps a bit of legacy wisdom dispensed. The trouble comes from the fact that I have never easily done what society expects I should do.

Others have written extensively about the disconnect between chronological age, with its more or less decreased physical function, and their self perceptions as still vital and engaged persons frustrated by the limits to engagement that they keep running up against. In all that writing I have not come across any useful guides to follow, to be less frustrated. I have not so far found much comment on how the recommended activities with which one is urged to fill retirement – to ease the transition from work life to a more measured pace – when pandemic isolation, and now because I live in the West also wildfire smoke, force me indoors and into increased isolation. 

Yes I can email, I can and do talk on the phone, I read, I write essays and letters to the editor in response to opinion columns that catch my interest. I run my home, filling my time with a variety of tasks and I rarely encounter my blessedly few physical limitations. These are all Harvard brain activities.

What I miss is the interaction, the human to human contact necessary for my Stanford brain to feel itself heard and engaged. That bit of self feels like the small girl, the unsiblinged and sadly overlooked nerd child still crying softly “see me, look at me, hear me, I have something to say and to contribute, if only someone would take the time to notice and listen.”

How too many of us feel like that these mid (I regretfully do not feel we are yet at post) pandemic days!

Alike – and Not

July 7, 2021

Emerging from my lockdown solitude, I have recently interacted with two couples with whom I have a number of things in common, and some significant differences. All five of us attended the same college at approximately the same time. Three of us graduated together, the others a year and two years behind the three. The two couples each married upon graduation, becoming additional statistics in what has been affectionately labeled “the Quaker matchbox.” They are still married, roughly 50 years later. I too married just after graduation, and I too have been married just short of 50 years – but my total is accumulated across several relationships instead of a single long-lasting one.

All of us live in the fire threatened, drought stricken Southwest, within a day’s drive of one another. All of us do our part to care for the environment, and we have all had careers that emphasize making life better for others – in medical care, teaching and the arts. We are all retired and, to the extent that circumstances permit, either working part time or otherwise engaged with activities generally labelled “contributing to society.”  

One couple, my classmates, live in an intentional community, or what they refer to as co-housing. Some twenty four families have their homes clustered along two graveled walkways radiating from a Community Building which has a kitchen and expansive meeting/dining/activity area all centered within some 340 acres of ranchland, with animals, gardens, greenhouse and necessary support buildings and infrastructure maintained communally. The housing area is, courtesy of a good, carefully protected and rationed well, a riot of trees, flowering and native plants, an emphatic green thumb imprint on the adjacent dried grass fields. 

The second couple live in a shaded urban residential area within the largest city in our state. They too have a landscaped and flowering front yard and a small vegetable garden behind their home. Their street is a block long dead end, creating a sense of community among the neighbors who perforce coordinate to care for plantings dividing the block into a U, one side in and one out, rather like a circular drive moving past and uniting the several homes.

By contrast, I live in rural solitude in a small home on four acres, my neighbors barely in view. I have no landscaping, only wildflowers, assorted grasses and a persistent army of encroaching mullein stalks that I do my best to weed out. I have started a small, one vegetable garden, to grow my husband’s favorite greens.

All of us have dogs. I am the only one to also have a cat.

All of us have maintained a positive attitude toward our health and longevity, focused on what we can do rather than what now limits us.

All of us follow, to some extent, current politics and express our similar views in the voting booth.

They have children, I do not – except now in my later years, by step-parent status.

Using my driving time during recent visits to both couples, I have been reflecting on my life overall, undoubtedly part of the process of emerging from pandemic isolation. Also part of the ongoing process of considering who I am as a retiree, and what I wish to do now that the focus of my life is more my own to discern.

The one clear direction I am following is to be guided more by inner prompting (listening to that of God within, as Quakers would express it; Hearing, and Being the Sound Current as MasterPath reveals it) than by outer demands. 

What does that have to do with the comparisons with which I began this reflection? 

As a child, I expected that the course of my life would be more like that of the two couples – finding a compatible mate and living our lives out together. It still surprises me to see that instead I learned and grew through a sequence of relationships, mostly to partners of different races and ethnicities from my own. Yet I have evolved in a quite similar pattern to my college mates as regards values, professional roles and lifestyles.

What if anything meaningfully sets me apart?

My marital relationships have been cross race/ethnicity/culture whereas theirs are not.

I have had longish periods of functioning as a single person; they have not.

They have articulated their goals for the next several years; I do not know mine.

Or rather, I only know that it is time for me to have goals of my own, and to make them as much of a priority as I have, over my lifetime, made it a priority to help my mate(s) meet his/theirs.

Now the work begins – first to define my goals and then to teach myself to keep them front and center. 

Fortunately I know that the only place to seek my new goals is within myself, as I complete my daily spiritual practice. Which means that defining the goals is not work, merely an extension of what I already do.

As with so many questions in life, the answer is simple once “overthinking” is curtailed.

Quiet the mind and let inner wisdom speak.

Sounds and Silence

May 24, 2021

A good friend, who is a multi-talented musician, just told me about a project he completed in a week of intense collaboration with a former student – she wrote a play, he wrote the music and she submitted the ten minute musical comedy score to a competition. It was so well received that it will be performed at the awards presentation. My friend described the hectic back and forth of the week, as the script was modified and his music had therefore to be adjusted as well – all under the pressure of the immediate deadline. “Sometimes that is what it takes to get me composing” he concluded.

Apparently it takes something similar to get me writing these days. I have been posting my reflections on the events of my life with regularity, despite a demanding work schedule, for many years – until sometime last autumn. Retirement was supposed to expand my time to write, but instead it seems to have shut me up. While Covid prevented my engagement with many of the activities I anticipated would fill my days, it cannot be held responsible for the silencing of my written voice.

Or can it? Whereas I have mostly felt that I needed time away from interactions with people to reflect and write, is it in fact the case that I need interaction with people to stimulate the reflection that produces writing? Is the reality that I and most of those around me have been vaccinated and can begin to meet in person, out least in outdoor venues, enlarging not only my physical boundaries but also my verbal ones?

Is the persistent urging of a writer friend, that I submit an essay or story for a project she has undertaken, also a  necessary condition (and perhaps a sufficient one) for me to haul out the laptop and start putting words together? It would seem so, as here I am, writing. The criterion for inclusion in the pending project is a connection with northern New Mexico, one I easily meet as I have lived in this beautiful high mountain community for more than forty years. In newspaper columns, blog posts, short stories and even an unpublished novel, I have written about the foibles of local culture, weather anomalies, the healing tranquility of vast open sky, highly talented local performers and, in the words of Anna’s Siamese king, et cetera et cetera et cetera.

Called on now, under almost as tight a time constraint as that faced by my musician friend, to produce an essay worthy of inclusion in a book focusing on my home region, what new do I want to say? 

That on May 17 it is spitting snow? The weather in this area is absolutely uncertain, changing from summer back to winter and then summer again, not just day to day but often hour to hour. The only aspect of weather that is certain is wind. Enough sunny days, most years, for solar power to be an effective alternative to carbon-based energy and what feels like enough wind to power the world. Two benefits of living with permanent weather uncertainty.

That yesterday I watched antelope running free across a neighbor’s pasture? We have quite a variety of wildlife sharing our space. Deer, wild turkey and the antelope are seen frequently. A herd of elk also ranges over the open pasture beside the county road where I go for my walks. Covid shutdowns have limited dining out, and prevented me from attending classes at the nearby NM Highlands University but have not otherwise hampered my routines. I walk (weather permitting) amid pastures occupied by cows and the elk and antelope. I raise my chickens, eat and sell their eggs, and have ample space for a garden. The unpredictable weather means mostly growing only hardy vegetables until I can place a roof over the beds. When that will happen is another uncertainty, on a par with when the university will reopen campus classes. 

We are doing very well here on the Covid front, and are national leaders in vaccination rates. More activities are now permitted at the same time that people remain vigilant, masked in indoor  spaces and mostly caring for the health and safety of our neighbors and communities. I am told by those living in more urban areas that the noises of social activity have increased. I would not know – where I dwell the predominant theme, Covid or no Covid, is the semi-silence of the natural world.

Another friend, a music lover, actor and writer who lives 140 miles away in Albuquerque mentioned recently that he appreciates silence at home in ways he did not used to do – choosing to play music only when he intends to sit down and listen to it with focus, whereas he used to have music playing almost all the time. We talked, without reaching a conclusion, about whether this change is a function of aging, or is another curious adaptation to life with Covid.

I consciously avoid any created background sound when I am alone at home, preferring the silence that is not silent. I hear my rooster crow, and the several hens who lay each day warbling their productivity. Occasionally a woodpecker is attracted to one corner of my house. After an hour of his intermittent drumming I squirt him with a water pistol, to regain some semblance of peace. Winds vibrate metal trim on the house, creating a whistling that cannot be terminated with a well aimed shot from the water pistol. Those I have learned to ignore, knowing the wind is both intermittent and perpetual, one of the factors that must be accepted as central to life in this area.

On warmer, less windy days, I hear the zoom of hummingbirds, and always there are the rowdy crows and less rowdy but equally insistent doves making their presence known audibly as they compete with the chickens for daily grain rations. My active guard dog barks away most four-legged intruders, keeping me aware of what is going on around the edges of my acreage. 

Some years ago I had house guests for the summer, two African girls who had graduated from the United World College nearby, but were stranded waiting for arrangements to travel to their next destinations. Both were urban-raised and admitted to being afraid of the quiet. While I was away during the day at work, they would play their music loudly, covering over the sounds that to me are evidence that this country is not silent. They managed to hear my car engine pulling into the driveway despite the music and would turn the volume down to what I consider a “listenable” level as I entered the house. In the three months they spent with me, I did not succeed in my efforts to help them hear the natural sounds within what they thought of as intolerable silence. I try to keep that failure in mind, when I talk with others about the pleasures of my home environment, reminding myself that not everyone has the same preferences.

It has been many years since I recognized that I was unlikely to ever have the kind of income that would permit much travel. I have been grateful to live where I do, in the high mountain desert where I would choose to come on vacation, if I lived elsewhere. And of late I have been especially grateful to live where, despite the pandemic, I have been able to enjoy the outdoors, continue my walks, work safely and comfortably from home, and appreciate the noisy silence of an airy, uncontaminated natural environment.

For those who seek the same, welcome to my world.

Fighting Back

December 10, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Who Knows? I Don’t!

November 25, 2020

Why is it so hard to do nothing?

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

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

Sadly, I am not finding it so.

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

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

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

Enough of tangled sentences. 

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

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

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

Again, I don’t know.

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

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

I don’t know.

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

So be it.

To Be is Sufficient

October 27, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Leaf And Twig

Where observation and imagination meet nature in poetry.

Alien Resort

A Terrestrial Romance

MICHAEL GRAY

Original work with a spiritual connection.

Megha Bose

A peek into Megha's mind

Neurodivergent Rebel

Rebelling against a culture that values assimilation over individuality.

The Beauty Along the Road

Discovering Beauty in the small details of our lives

KURT★BRINDLEY

novels. poetry. screenplays. endless musings...

Flowerwatch Journal

Notes on Traveling with Flowers

1eclecticwriter

Wide-Ranging Commentary

Spirituality Exploration Today

Delving into the cross roads of rationality and intuition

O' Canada

Reflections on Canadian Culture From Below the Border

smilecalm

Life through Mindful Media

San'in Monogatari

Legends, folktales, and anecdotes from Japan's San'in region

A Good Blog is Hard to Find

I will shatter a word and scatter the contents into the wind to share it with the world.

Ray Ferrer - Emotion on Canvas

** OFFICIAL Site of Artist Ray Ferrer **