Posts Tagged ‘adages’

As Above

July 6, 2014

I took a short vacation last week, only three days. Enough to slow down, relax in a comfortable motel, watch World Cup matches and go for walks. Not enough to get the rest I need, but at least a taste of what it will be like soon, when the greatest press of work eases and I can once again have weekends.

It’s almost harder to resume intense work now than it would have been to just keep going. My body is telling me it likes being lazy but physically active. My mind informs me there are other things it wants to consider than the myriad aspects of my demanding job. My spirit…? It seeks constantly for the Source, drawing energy to support what my other components find it necessary to do.

As above, so below is a phrase used by my spiritual teacher, to help us channel our attention in the most beneficial direction. With the proper attitude, and the correct placement of attention, we are able to let Divine energy flow in, showing us our undue attachments and the ways that we divert and misuse that energy.

Attachments are essentially misplaced attention. Have you noticed that when you dislike something, it seems to keep popping up before you until you let go of the dislike, becoming neutral on the subject? Only then, with attention directed somewhere else, can the object/experience/attitude fade from prominence in your life.

On the flip side, I can say that I am now enjoying in my daily outer life a delightful reflection of the companionship, caring, fun, accomplishment, ease and peace that twenty years of patient spiritual pursuit has achieved for me with my Inner Beloved. Not looking for anything more than the gifts already given, I am astounded to find my mundane world such a perfect reflection of the promises of my spiritual one. Not that there aren’t challenges, large and small. How could there not be, since I am far from a perfected spiritual being.

What I understand, though, is that when issues do arise I need give these outer manifestations only passing analysis. The majority of my attention needs to go within, to determine what subtle (sometimes not so subtle) concern or attachment I have neglected to clear from my being.

Today, my reliable, hardworking, much appreciated and well-traveled (220,000 miles) VW gave out as I was driving into town. Rolling along just fine, then a popping sort of bang, a huge puff of smoke, and clearly something was very wrong. Coasting to a stop, calling AAA for a tow, figuring out where to have the car taken so a mechanic can assess the problem – these steps followed in a fairly routine way. I called a friend to take me home, where I collected my second car to return to town and continue with the day’s projects.

Now I am considering what I will do if the repair bill approaches the down payment for a new vehicle. And I’m asking myself what inner, reliable and established habit is also due for a revamp or upgrade? Am I due for a change in my attitude toward spending and debt? Have I been taking the presence of some skill or energy too much for granted? Or is my reliance on the care and attention of my Divine Teacher being put to the test?

My Internet service also failed today – with a 24-48 hour restoration time frame the best that can be promised me by the repair people. And just now, our electric power went off. So three basics of outer daily function have all quit on me at once. For sure, I will be looking to see what I’ve been taking for granted on the inner, and attending to repairs and maintenance of any areas where I find my attentiveness has been lacking!

Thank Thee, Beloved, for serving me up this fine example of “as above so below” – or perhaps I should say “as within, so without”. I deeply appreciate that the lesson is being offered on a weekend day, when nothing is so pressing as to prevent me from taking this matter into contemplation.

Baraka Bashad. May these Blessings Be.

Eyes on the Sparrow

Eyes on the Sparrow

Postscript
The car blew out at 10:00 AM. The Internet quit by 1:30 PM, the electricity died at 3:00 PM.
As of 8:00 PM both electricity and Internet have resumed function.
I await the morning, to see what happens with the car.

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…

Lemon Delight

June 1, 2014

Fixing myself a salad supper using Belgian endive and lemon flavored olive oil, I flashed back to the first time I was offered this salad by the housekeeper employed by my parents, in Paris. Francine had worked in a large hotel most of her life, and had quite a number of stories to tell about life under the German occupation. Some were funny, others distressing, like the one about her desperately hungry coworker who was whipped for eating two bites from the discarded remains of an apple she found on a supper tray set out into the hall.

Francine is also the person who first began to teach me patience, how to mask my reaction to a situation and to bide my time until I could find a safe and effective way to retaliate. In different terms, she taught me to convert reaction into response.

My friend from Cameroon describes the French, who ruled his land for decades – as part of French West Africa – as duplicitous people who mask what they really mean behind polite phrases. He has gently scolded me for being “like the French” when I ask what he would prefer in a situation, rather than state what I think and then ask his opinion of my proposal. At first I was puzzled by this interpretation, since in my own mind I was genuinely neutral, and willing to do whatever he wished. Now, I’ve adapted my communication, to state that I have no preference among several options and would like him to choose for us both.

I’m still learning, in other situations, to feel comfortable openly asking him for what I would like. A lifetime ago, a mentally ill mother who took pleasure in denying me anything I wanted, set me on a path of masking my desires. Francine refined my skills of indirection. Time, experience, life as it happens all combined to instruct me to accept and be happy with what I could get, rather than to demand the fullness of what I wanted.

There is value in patience, in being tactful, in making lemonade from lemons.

Scent of Lemons   by Janet Triplett

Scent of Lemons
by Janet Triplett

But there is also a time for a serving of lemon meringue pie!

I’m savoring my slice just now – a demanding but satisfying job as the (gluten-free) crusty base, a delightfully sweet/tart lemony balance of romance and a social life for the filling, and a meringue topping of frothy happiness and spiritual delight.

There. I’ve said it. That I have what I want.

In the saying, I am confirming my right to this happiness, rather than daring fate to snatch it away from me in the way that, so long ago, my small pleasures were demeaned or destroyed.

How very long it sometimes takes to undo negative conditioning! Especially when that training wears the face of positive qualities like acceptance, patience, diplomacy, tact.

My spiritual teacher, from MasterPath, speaks of iron shackles and golden chains being equally binding. The shackles are clearly negative and therefore easier to identify and shed. The golden chains are so subtle and seemingly so benign. But oh, how constraining they can also be.

I feel blessed, to become able to perceive and free myself from them. I thank Thee, Master, for showing me the way.

Adapting

May 4, 2014

Today, I started my day before the sun came up, chatting with a friend in Lebanon via Facebook.

A simple statement about an activity that is far from extraordinary in today’s connected world.

But this is me – who remembers not having a telephone when I first moved to New Mexico, because there weren’t enough lines in Lamy to connect everyone.

I’m grateful for having experienced that sort of unconnected living; I learned patience and trust and self-reliance and a number of other qualities important to building and sustaining relationships.

None of which negates my current pleasure at connecting over huge distances, easily, now.

I’m equally glad the contact today was via written word; I would have had a hard time dealing with spoken conversation in the attenuated form likely to occur at such a distance. This past week I’ve been dealing with clogged ears – not sure if it’s allergies or an infection that has caused blockage, noticeably worse on the left side.

How limiting it is, to be obliged to hold a phone to my right ear and therefore not be free to use my right, dominant, hand during the conversation. Oh, I’ve tried holding the phone across my body, with my left hand, in order to write down information being given to me. It’s possible, but remarkably uncomfortable!

I’ve also had to alter my eating habits. Why, you ask? Because crunchy foods are now painfully loud inside my head. If my condition were to become permanent, would I adapt, learn to tune out the chewing noise? Probably, in the same way I learned, shortly after arrival in Saigon, to tune out the persistent noise of the cicada-like insects that created a permanent background concert in the trees. We kids enjoyed tormenting new arrivals (as I was tormented) by calling attention to the persistent chittering, just at the time that the newbie’s brain was beginning to accommodate, and thus cease to notice, the sounds.

In the Trees

In the Trees

We humans are marvels of accommodation. We live in the most diverse environments, we survive extremes of privation, we come in such a variety of sizes, colors and skill sets. . . No wonder accommodating to one another is considered to be such a virtue.

No wonder, either, that learning when to draw the line, when to limit adaptation, when to say enough, I want/need/seek to stand apart – no wonder learning how to express one’s integrity can be a challenge. Especially, it seems, for women. Even today’s emancipated, modern women. My Lebanese correspondent was writing me on her smart phone, waiting in the Beirut airport to fly to Dubai for a work day. And questioning her right to step away from a relationship because she’s not yet ready to “settle” for. . .

Accommodate, adapt, be flexible, accept what is.
Go for it, “be all you can be”, make the most of your time, your talents, your opportunities.
Conflicting imperatives, challenging us to know which one to apply in which situations.

Is it yet another sign of our adaptability that we can implement both types of behaviors? Or is it a sign of our integrity that we manage to achieve a balance between seeming contradictions?

I have my own answer to that question. I’ll let you find yours.

In Process

April 27, 2014

It’s early Saturday morning, and with only one client to see en route (sort of) to a shopping trip in Santa Fe, it actually feels like a day off work. Perhaps because I have no intention of opening up my work computer?

Yesterday I learned that a fairly recently hired co-worker, whose presence took a load off me, has given her resignation notice. The demands of the job are too much for her “at her age”. She’s ten years younger than I am. Hmmmm…

I am significantly aware that I have not participated in any of the several opportunities to sit with others in contemplation, as I was accustomed to do before January 1st. Engaging in moving meditation has taken on a whole new meaning – no longer a structured, slowly measured walk but rather brief minutes of focused consciousness while driving from one place to another. I am trying to also achieve moments of stillness and non-thought before starting each new task of the day, and especially before opening the work computer. It does seem that the better I am centered, the more smoothly the computer operates.

May I hope, in time, to feel the same connection to that computer as I do to my VW? I’ve scheduled the car for a visit to a local mechanic, ostensibly for a check over before I take a long drive to Sedona in mid-May, but actually because something about the way the car starts in the morning has alerted me that all is not well with my trusted steed. Will I ever reach the point of being able to tell, before opening the first screen of my job-dedicated computer, that one of its many layers of security interface is experiencing a glitch and that my work session will not go well?

Have you noticed how pervasive is the tendency to think one is doing something wrong, if a project encounters obstacles? We seem to expect that once we’ve planned a course of action, and put it into motion, all should go easily. Problems that crop up are taken as criticism of our planning, or perhaps of our intentions. How unrealistic, and egocentric a view that is! Some of us who meet such obstacles simply drop the project, believing we are not meant to succeed. Others try to force their will upon the perpetrators of the obstacle, bulling their way to the desired goal. Neither process is enjoyable, neither brings much sense of achievement.

One of my teachers of MasterPath spoke of going for an outing on horseback, following a trickling water course up toward the mountains. She had to ride around large boulders, zigzagging from side to side of the stream and occasionally pushing her horse to scramble up onto one bank or the other to get around a fallen tree. Life is like that, she said – a path toward a distant goal but never smooth and straight. More than half way to the mountain, a thunderstorm erupted near the mountain top and wise woman that she is, she immediately pushed her horse up out of the arroyo and onto higher ground, heading back toward home at a brisk trot. Going to the mountains would be the project for another day. We need to be flexible, she said, and recognize when it is – and when it is not yet – time to undertake or complete projects. When it is right to push forward and when it is wise to step aside and wait.

Valentine, with Choices

Valentine, with Choices

A true measure of success is not, then, about achieving goals in one’s predetermined time frame, Rather, it is about how one behaves, feels, enjoys the process of moving toward the goal and how flexibly one adapts to the inevitable obstacles and delays that are encountered.

I’m not revealing anything new here. Only reminding myself of my best course of action in managing my demanding new schedule so as not to reach the point where I must, like my co-worker, resign in order to survive. My choices are to increase my awareness of “the flow” so as to be better able to go with it; improve my patience so as to be better able to accept God’s timetable instead of my own; and enlarge the scope of my adaptability so as to be best able to “enjoy the process rather than focus on the outcome.” Oh, and definitely to have fun along the way!

Whirlwind

March 30, 2014

My thoughts seem to be coming in song fragments. Some are personal. One asks to be shared.

“Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free, tis a gift to come down where you ought to be. To turn and to turn shall be my delight, and in turning, turning to come down right.”

My life is being turned upside down, and I’m simultaneously riding on the whirlwind and standing aside, watching the wind (up to 60mph outside my window at the moment) figuratively shred the golden chains that have held me trapped in patterns of thought, belief, behavior that appeared to be good but which were nonetheless ensnaring.

How subtle is our mental training to be “good”, to think in dichotomies, to turn away from what John Eldredge, in Wild at Heart, calls our God-given nature. In order to be “a good Christian” (Eldredge) or to be a responsible partner, or a good family man. Or so as not to be labeled “bossy” as a young girl, or called that other “b” word when, as a mature woman, I speak up, speak out, speak my truth.

“Be a good girl and…” do whatever I’m being asked to do, whether or not that something is good for me.
“Good little boys don’t…” do whatever it is the adult is unhappy at seeing happen.

It’s called socialization, and it’s what good parents do when raising their children to fit into society – and what not such good parents do when projecting their own malformed views onto their children. In both cases – and all the variations in between the two extremes of positive and negative parenting – the resulting imprinting takes a lifetime to understand and clear away, if one is even capable of understanding and clearing it.

What my Master calls iron shackles and golden chains – the imprinted concepts from upbringing and karmic bonds – are what his students work to become aware of, and to release. The shackles are usually obvious – habits like addiction, that limit and restrict opportunity, or behaviors that can be labeled anger, greed, attachment, pride. The golden chains are much more difficult to recognize because they come disguised as positives like responsibility, or being a good ______ (fill in the blank).

Remember What You Are

Remember What You Are

I’m not suggesting one shouldn’t strive to be good at whatever one sets as a goal – developing and using skills is a satisfying and fulfilling effort. Being good at is not the same as being good. Active little boys, expressing their inborn nature, may be good at stirring things up, exploring and challenging and daring to try, all behaviors that can get them labeled as disruptive by a teacher who wants them to sit still for school lessons. A bright little girl with natural leadership skills will hear that she’s being unacceptably bossy when she tries to take over direction of a playground game.

Breaking golden chains, then, can be considered as learning to distinguish being good from being good at, and giving oneself permission to simply Be… good at certain things, not so good at others, but acceptable and accepted and loveable and loved, nonetheless.

Because you are Soul, perfect and beautiful, warts and all.

Dayenu

March 9, 2014

Have you noticed how subtly, but pervasively, some of us become conditioned to be happy with crumbs, accepting far less from the banquet of life than we may want, or even than may be available?

In my case, I recognize that this training began in my earliest childhood, as the result of my mother’s severe psychological problems. Anything I looked forward to, anything I really wanted, she found a way to make unpleasant or to turn into an unhappy experience. You think your birthday should be special, maybe a few playmates over for a small party? Think again. “I don’t choose to accept responsibility for anyone else’s children in my house.”

If I admired some small item in a shop window, wishing someone might think enough of me to buy it for a present, I might very well find it at home – on my mother’s dresser, after she bought it for herself and preened over her lovely new figurine. Primary school graduation, all the girls dressing up in pretty new clothes and patent leather party shoes? “It’s a school day. You wear your sturdy Oxfords, no buts and no arguments, do you hear me!”

I learned to be grateful for a day without being repeatedly slapped, for an hour alone with my grandfather, just going for a walk around the neighborhood (“You haven’t earned the right to go to the zoo with him this week, you’ve been far too much trouble to me”). I learned to accept that only grownups got new clothes from the store; mine were roughly sewn together from one of three basic patterns and handed to me with, “I worked hard to make this for you, don’t you dare complain that it looks like all your others. It’s a different color. That’s more than enough. The children in Africa are lucky if they have any clothes at all!” Those children in Africa were lucky if they had food, or a warm bed, or a place to get out of the rain, or…

I wanted to visit those children in Africa, to see if their lives were really so bad. Somehow, even at only five or six or seven years of age, I suspected that many of them had loving parents and enough to eat and maybe they even got presents sometimes, and hugs and kisses instead of punishments.

If we’re diligent about maturing, about taking responsibility for ourselves and who we become, we grow out of a variety of early conditions to become decent, engaged, thoughtful people. We stop blaming our bad decisions on our parents’ inadequacies, we learn from our mistakes, and we move forward. But underneath, all too often, we retain a fundamental attitude that we must feel satisfied with crumbs.

Don’t misunderstand – I fully support approaching each day with “an attitude of gratitude” for the many small positives to be found in it. I’m amused by the antics of the rabbits in the pasture. I smile at my confused (or misnamed?) Christmas cactus which stayed plain at that holiday, but is now flowering for Easter. I’m quietly, inwardly thankful for the opportunity to work once more at a job I enjoy, after years of toil in a less rewarding environment.

At Easter

At Easter

At the same time, I recognize that I spent many more years in that previous, stressful workplace than perhaps I “should have” done, because I was (am still?) conditioned to accept a small salad plate from life’s banquet rather than grabbing a big dinner plate and seeing that it is filled. The latter behavior is so often called greedy, selfish, and thoughtless of the needs of others.

If what one is going after falls in the material world – money, possessions, power – then yes, trying to get as much as possible for oneself may well be greedy and selfish. Lord knows I can’t comprehend how people already making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year can think they are also entitled to bonuses! Some, like Bill Gates or Michael J Fox, turn around and give back a generous portion of what they acquire, and thereby help the rest of us. I am thankful for them, and their charitable foundations. Too many others grab for, demand, and keep outrageous salaries, even insisting they be paid after they’ve been asked to resign. The public face of this activity is labeled “buying out a contract.” I think it is purely obscene. We working folks who don’t perform to standard get fired, not paid to leave. Why should it be any different just because one has an exalted position with an already very generous pay rate?

But I’m not talking about the material world, when I say we’re conditioned to settle for less. I’m not even talking about the emotional world, or the necessity of accepting that very few relationships are perfect, that we cannot count on another to “make me happy.”

I’m reflecting instead on the extent to which we cut ourselves off from fulfilled happiness by telling ourselves we do not need, are not entitled to, don’t have the right to, should not want or expect that fulfillment. In a portion of the Seder, the Jewish celebration of Passover (and the ritual being observed by Jesus at the Last Supper) a litany of blessings is recited, and after each step in the path to freedom the sentiment is expressed “Dayenu = It would have been enough.” If God had done just X, it would have been enough. If God had done just X+Y it would have been enough. If God had done just X+Y+Z it would have been enough.

I learn from this ritual that being grateful for what I have need not prevent me from welcoming more into my life. That I want more does not say I don’t value what I have. Only the subtle, pervasive, underlying conditioning of unworthiness so many of us have absorbed dictates that I should not try for gold, now that I have silver in hand.

I have silver, and rubies, and ambrosia, a wealth of gifts of the spirit. Dayenu. I appreciate how much that means to, is sought after by, people who have less. I happily share my blessings as best I can. And I’m going for more.

Reaching for a full platter does not mean I appreciate my present plate any the less. It does mean I’ve decided not to hang back, not to duck and cover, not to “settle” before I must do so. Maybe I’ll trip. Maybe I’ll fail. Maybe I will, in the end, have neither gold nor silver. But as a former prisoner and student of mine once wrote, “Mighty Casey, he struck out. What does it feel like to get into the game?”

I’m going to find out! And whatever the outcome, it will be enough. Dayenu.

Being Present

February 23, 2014

As I woke this morning, three little puffs of cloud – the only ones in the sky – were framed in the window at the foot of my bed. I lay watching them through the leaves of a night-blooming cereus plant, waiting for the sun to come up above the eastern hill and finish lighting the sky. The clouds seemed immovable, virtually unchanging in what is obviously a windless day. Then, just as the sun began to shine directly into the east window, the puffs merged into one larger pillow, rising up and out of my sight. When I got up to look for what remained of them, the white fluff had thinned and was disappearing against the lighted blue background of a clear morning sky.

I’ve reflected on snow, and last week on the howling wind. This morning of remarkable stillness seems to be a special invitation to stop and consider the hectic pace of my recent weeks, not only of work but in my private and inner life as well. Never one to rush into new situations, new relationships, I have been meeting three to five people (clients) a week, and getting to know them and their family members quite intimately. Drawn into helping them access services which will resolve serious problems they are facing, I am exposed to the challenges and rewards of life in a very personal way that reveals how nothing stands still, even when we feel as though nothing is changing.

First gifts

First gifts

Several small birds have appeared in my long picture widow, flitting around one juniper tree, and two neighbor dogs have just trotted into the pasture, sure to initiate a barking greeting from my ever-vigilant min-pin Doodles and his woolly poodle companion, Warrior. The sun now slants directly into the window at my side, forcing me to lower the shade in order not to be blinded. Small changes – an inch of rise of the sun, a flutter of birds – and the day has shifted. A contrast to the experience of focusing on a single issue – such as finding a job, or getting a driving license – when it can seem as though nothing changes day after day because the single object of focus and desire is not obtained.

One of the greatest gifts from my MasterPath instruction has been an increasing ability to notice the small differences and changes occurring during periods of waiting for some larger event. My Teacher speaks of the need for certain karmas (external situations) to exhaust themselves in our lives, stressing that spiritual growth need not be delayed until after XXX (I get sober, I am able to retire, I find a job). How one views one’s days and the way one approaches the occurrences of each day are both the means and the opportunity for growth. In that light, the AA injunction of “one day at a time” is an important reminder that life is lived, and changes evolve, not in some distant future, but here and now, day by day.

Wisdom of my Teacher

Wisdom of my Teacher

It seems as though my recent spiritual lessons have emphasized not just one day at a time, but one hour, sometimes one minute – bringing out how malleable time, or one’s perception of time – can be. I began with a comment about the hectic pace of my recent weeks, yet that pace only seems hectic when I look at how few days I’ve spent entirely at home, compared to pre-job weeks of days when I didn’t leave the house. If I count how many trips I’ve taken to different communities, how many new clients I’ve met, how much driving around the countryside has filled my recent weeks, I can feel as though there has been no time for me, no time to reflect, to write, to evolve. On the other hand, I remember that I noticed snow geese amongst the Canadians by the pond near town; watched a hawk catch a rabbit on the prairie outside Roy; learned more about Cameroon from stories shared during some of the longer drives; observed the relaxation of a tense body as a harried son who gave up his job last fall, to care full-time for his disabled mother, learned from me that he could have income within a month, being paid to provide that care. I remember these small moments, and time stretches.

Hectic, for me, is when I feel as though events have been rushing at me with no time to consider them, to notice details, to organize and structure experiences or – related to my new work – to prioritize what must be done. From that perspective, my commitment to myself to continue to post weekly is a commitment to limit the hectic pace the job could demand. At least once a week I must stop and reflect, and in this moment’s case, realize that I also stop and reflect frequently throughout each busy day. Noticing the geese, the hawk, the easing of tension are moments of reflection, of being present rather than reaching forward to an as yet non-existent future.

Only Canadians, no Snows

Only Canadians, no Snows

My mind has challenged the idea of being present with the moment when that moment is perceived as difficult, painful, scary or otherwise negative.

Why would one want to be fully present in a recent day of flu-induced aching and nausea? The lesson mind needed to learn was that during that day, other things were also occurring worth noticing, worth being present with. During that day, my one large dog, a retriever-cross named Blackjack, stayed on the porch and insistently close to me rather than spending his time as he usually does, out in the pastures. During that day, cotton tails appeared three separate times in the pasture. During that day one Christmas cactus put forth a single white flower, though the plant had never bloomed before.

On a recent day when I was physically exhausted but nonetheless had to drive 80 miles of winding roads on an urgent visit to a client, I was gifted to have a companion for the drive, and to receive the encouragement of expressed appreciation for my effort, from both the companion and from the client. I also saw multiple frozen waterfalls glued to rocks in the canyon through which I drove, and remembered and shared the story of a triple rainbow that had filled one field when I traveled that road in the past.

Little things to be present with. Little things which, accumulated, become large, become the frame and the tone and the import of each day. Again, my Teacher instructs that we are always free to choose what we give our attention to. Attention is food – what is fed grows. I choose to feed appreciation, present moments, what is. In such small steps, with present moments of attention, what can be is also fed, given form, and enabled to appear.

Baraka bashad.
Amen.
May the Blessings Be.

Letting the Wind Blow Through

February 15, 2014

A friend just mentioned he’d enjoyed my reflection on snow, bringing to mind the gorgeous silence of that recent morning, a stillness in dire contrast with the roaring, shaking, blustering, hollering wind blasting my home tonight. Gusts over sixty miles an hour have been hammering at us for five hours now; fortunately the general temperatures were warm enough today that the blasts are not unduly chilling. At least not chilling in temperature. But those who are made uncomfortable by wind can find our New Mexico spring weather intimidating. Tonight’s blasts are not unusual. A little early in the year perhaps, and lasting later into the night than normal, but very familiar nonetheless.

When I was fifteen I wrote a poem about standing up to wind, not a very good poem though the underlying thought was worth the effort. It had been triggered by standing on the edge of a precipice, at Les Baux in southern France. The town sits atop what here in the southwest we’d call a mesa, overlooking a broad plain called the Val D’Enfer. Reputedly the Dark Ages lords of Le Baux forced trader traveling through the valley to pay tribute – often exorbitant tribute – for safe passage, making the traversing of the plain a veritable descent into hell. My poetic effort attempted to recognize the strength it takes to stand up against a powerful wind, and the strength it took for travelers to risk passing near Les Baux.

I’d prefer more quiet tonight, to assure a better night’s sleep. It’s been a very long, productive but tiring day. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride… so says the adage that echoes in my mind wherever I let myself dwell on what isn’t. So instead, I’m using the blasting wind as a motivator to write this week’s post. We’ll have to see how the essay turns out! Smooth and slick, or choppy and irritating? The wind is both at once – will my essay mimic the wind, or express its essence?

“Love me, love me, say you do.
“Let me fly away with you.
“For our love is like the wind,
“And wild is the wind, the wind,
“Wild is my love for you.”

The most recent theory, from a study in Germany, of why older people take longer to respond to memory tasks, is not that ability fades with age but rather that there is so much more stored in an older person’s brain, it takes longer to sort through everything to find the relevant bit of information. I like that explanation, not just because it is more flattering. I like that explanation because it takes into account all the bits and pieces of song lyrics, like the one above, that pop out of the storage cabinet at mostly – but not always – appropriate times.

Say the word English, and I’m apt to begin quoting, “Her English is too good,” he said, “which clearly indicates that she is foreign. Whereas other people are instructed in their native language, English people aren’t.” And on and on, in Rex Harrison’s voice. I learned the entire performance of My Fair Lady when I was eight. Don’t ask me why, and don’t ask me why it’s still all there in the lumber yard storage of my brain.

That’s the term that was used, disparagingly, by the wave of neurologists who discarded “old” brain storage theories in favor of computer-link images that propose an entirely different set of rules for how our brains perform our thinking and memory functions. That new set of rules is the one that posited an eroding of capacity with age. One more reason I stand in opposition to all the supposedly “better” connectivity and computer-based emphasis of our “modern” world.

Inventors create a new toy and suddenly scientists see everything through the lens of that new technology. Wisdom of centuries is derided, practiced ways of relating to the world and to one another are treated as out-of-date. All theories, all explanations must fit the new paradigm.

Until a brave soul stands up and says “no” to forced conformity to what is new. Until a study from Germany says older brains are just as efficient as younger ones, but they have more data to process, more varied possibilities to consider, and so take longer to come up with answers. Until I suggest to a friend, who has been angered by a phone call wakening him at 3AM, that he can, in fact, turn his cell phone off when he wants to sleep.

What a novel idea to the ethos of today – to be disconnected!

In the midst of the wind storm, I am barraged with sound. Fortunately, I know the storm will pass and it will become quiet again. I really can’t conceive of living in the middle of a non-stop gale, any more than I can relate to those people who live constantly connected – mobile phone always on, always at hand, computer permanently turned on with multiple pages open, Youtube, Facebook, LinkedIn and Skype all demanding attention.

There are reasons to be available to others. If one is living far from home and family, computer connections bridge time zones and allow relatively inexpensive contact. The nature of my present job is such that I must be reachable in emergencies. That doesn’t mean all clients can call me twenty-four hours a day, however. They call a central, toll free number for triage. Only the true emergencies are put through to me in the late, or early, hours of a day.

Connectivity, like the wind, has its season. I do hope that before the passing of all those of us who have lived when (or where) there was not a phone in every home, those born to the age of connectivity will have tired of disrupted sleep and life in a fishbowl. I do hope for an opportunity to teach the continuing values of concentration, of solitude, of silence, of windless days and of attention to one thought, one person, one experience at a time.

*****

Awakening this morning, I first register the silence. The storm has passed, the wind abated. A new day, and new environment surround me. I appreciate the renewed quiet, the ability to focus inward before joining the network of souls who will make up my work day. And I’m happy to think that, now that a research study has been published which respects older brains, perhaps some of the thoughts and beliefs dwelling in those older brains will also be given new respect.

Wouldn’t that be a novel and pleasant experience!

Instead…

January 5, 2014

The adage that misery loves company bothers me. I’m all too aware of its accuracy, seeing it manifest in my recent work days as an easing of tension when I discovered that others are having the same problems with computer malfunctions that I have been experiencing. I’m glad for the reduced anxiety that accompanies not being the only one facing this problem, but embarrassed, nay ashamed of feeling relief that the problem is widespread. There is nothing appealing to me about knowing other people are facing challenges!

In my defense, I can also attest to feeling elated when a co-worker “got” a concept she’d been struggling with, thereby joining the company of those of us who were trying to help her understand and apply it. She was happy with her success, but she admitted some of her happiness was relief at no longer being alone in her lack of understanding.

One of the pleasures of my new employment is that the company ethos is very positive and supportive, the antithesis of “misery loves company.” Carping, impatience, brusqueness are not acceptable despite highly stressful work circumstances that have had some of my managers putting in 65 hour weeks for the past six months. The consequence is that all of us slightly befuddled, confused, easily overwhelmed “newbies” are quickly learning to express our uncertainties in the form of positive questions. By seeking guidance it turns out that we have also been identifying glitches in the data systems with which we are expected to work, becoming part of the solution and, in the process, feeling better about ourselves.

I come from a prior work environment which was very different. Above me (fortunately in another office in another city) the ethos was one of jealous attention to any perk awarded to someone else; a pervasive fear of being randomly called on the carpet for perceived faults never previously identified; a daily manifestation of what I recall being told is a military belief that the way to deal with recruits is to keep them complaining. “If they’re distracted with complaints, they won’t notice how miserable they are.”

Within my own domain, I tried to set a different tone, one of teamwork and all of us pulling together to meet the expectations of my out-of-town supervisors. For the most part I was successful, less so in my last few years when tensions associated with the many changes in health care translated to increasingly frequent “audit” visits by staff from the main office. They rarely found problems. They did leave behind the unpleasant taste of their “gotcha” approach to our work.

Sadly, when a serious problem was uncovered and I took responsibility for not having detected it myself, those who initiated it chose to deny culpability and were resentful of being expected to pitch in and make the necessary corrections. Our office did get things put right, but the atmosphere had become one of misery, loving company, dragging everyone down to the lowest unhappy level. Finding myself not strong enough to boost the prevailing mood up again, I resigned.

My new employer is advertising supervisory vacancies, and several people have encouraged me to apply. I have no intention of doing so. If possible, I never again want to be responsible for anyone’s work product other than my own. Twenty years of ‘growing’ employees, helping workers uncover and develop their potential, seeing them move out and up to better paying positions – I’ve served my time as an administrator. I do not believe, now, that just because I have a skill I must use it. Instead, I think I’ve earned the right to only do work I enjoy, which translates to only being responsible for my own work outcomes.

Yes, I mentioned helping teach a co-worker; I’m still oriented to bringing everyone’s skill and success levels up and doing all that I can to reverse misery loving company. I choose to do so voluntarily, not as part of the responsibilities of a defined supervisory position.

What is it about having a responsibility that converts a satisfying “want to” into a burdensome “have to” activity? Is the mechanism the same, when an acquaintance expects you to provide a form of support that you might willingly offer, but which you mind – maybe even resent – having to provide in response to the imposed expectation? What causes the same action to be, in one case a gift, in another an onerous duty?

Perception, a label, a naming of the action, an attachment to the idea of freedom of choice – any or all of these can and do change how we feel about what we are doing. Seeing others “similarly situated” changes an experience of vulnerability to one of “I’m not alone” and we feel better.

The challenge, as I see it, is to shift one’s perception away from “alone with this problem” without needing to find others who are similarly unhappy. I expect of myself that I will minimize occasions where I am manifesting the true – but very negative – “misery loves company” adage. I expect, instead, that I will remain sufficiently focused on the inner spiritual joy I know to be my true Self, that I will not feel alone with any problem. I expect to practice my daily contemplation, to stop and “check in” many times during the demanding and busy days ahead, so that I function in a space of shared pleasure, shared accomplishment, shared cooperation, banishing misery not just from my own space, but from the space and lives of those around me.

Joy loves company. Joy expands. The Soul is a joyful entity. I am Soul. Therefore I AM – joy.


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