Posts Tagged ‘communication’

What Am I?

April 10, 2016

Once one has lived a moderate number of years, a large variety of situations can lead to reflection on the nature of self, what it means to be K, or N, or Mrs. M. Retirement planning seminars stress the importance of developing a set of interests outside of one’s profession, to ease the transition to a new concept of self. Being abruptly laid off due to down-sizing prevents this sort of planning. So does the onset of physical illness, or an accident which seriously alters ones capabilities. Even a slowly progressing illness can reach a turning point, where activities previously manageable suddenly become impossible.

 

A common expression of the challenge faced in such a transition is who am I if I’m not … working as a plumber, teaching classes, acting in plays? At a still more sensitive level, who am I if I can no longer button my shirt, use the bathroom without assistance, or sit outside in the sun when I wish to do so?

 

In an ongoing conversation with a dear friend of long standing, this transition has been jokingly referred to as the Do Be Do Be Do discussion. My friend recently referred to an unnamed source whose contribution to the topic was the statement “God is a verb”. I took that into contemplation today, during our monthly Quaker Meeting for Worship, and found myself reflecting that both doing and being are verbs, i.e. action words. Shouting, dancing, running, doing are perhaps more noisy than sitting, dreaming, accepting, thinking, being – but all are verbs, all are forms of action.

 

So standing and waiting is being active, albeit in a passive-feeling way.

 

My friend’s dilemma arises partially from his career as an actor, radio personality, radio program director – highly satisfying activities which involve exchange with an audience, a cyclical/reciprocal engagement with contributing to the lives of others that has been a primary value throughout his life. Now that he can no longer participate in those roles, and must often measure achievement in successfully moving himself from point A to point B (because Parkinson has control of his body) he questions what he is contributing to the well-being of people around him. Is it sufficient, to accept gracefully the offers of help which others do feel good about extending? That is only half the cycle. What is traveling outward, to be received by the other, processed and returned?

 

If God is a verb, and Being is a verb, then in simply being, we are godly. If also God is Love – loving is a verb – then in loving we are being godly. Loving travels outward, to be received by others, processed and used – and hopefully also returned. Reciprocation need not be tangible to be complete.

 

Another participant in today’s Quaker Meeting contemplation shared her morning’s experience of “shedding” – elk on her property shedding antlers, a friend shedding light on a problem, and the value of shedding outdated concepts of oneself. Shedding is a verb. Perhaps the key to a smooth transition from active verbs like doing, to quieter ones like being, is to be ready to shed constricting definitions – of self, of what constitutes contributing, of what it means to love.

 

The challenge – in a positive, active sense – becomes one of accepting a new and refined sense of manifesting that of God within. Aging with grace, letting one’s love shine out in a smile, holding a state of being such that others walk away from one’s presence feeling enriched and glad to have been there… these are valuable contributions. In the noise and busy-ness of daily life, such sweet giving is too rare. We need more of such Being, more of God manifesting through us, to both strengthen and soften our human interactions. I can’t think of a more important purpose to incorporate into daily life.

Returned

April 3, 2016

I’ve done the one thing I’ve been told is lethal to a blogger’s career – abandoned posting without an explanation. Do I have any followers left? I guess I’ll find out now – or maybe not, since I rarely received comments even when I was posting reliably, although Cheryl at Artzzle always responded and I greatly appreciate her for that.

When I started this blog, I thought I was embarking on a new phase of a sporadic writing career that has spanned decades. I finished a novel and was starting to look seriously at marketing it; a blog with followers was a step toward finding an avenue to get my novel published and read. Then I got a job – a really good job with most of the characteristics I desired: working with people, working from home, good pay and a modestly flexible schedule. The volume of work has, however, been rather overwhelming, stretching to 55 or more hours a week. My limited “free” time has been devoted to a new marriage and other changes in my personal life. As I said in one of the few posts to go out in the past year, I’ve been too busy living to reflect on or write about my experiences.

The demands of my job are finally reducing a bit, to something closer to 40-45 hours a week and the schedule within my personal life has settled as well, giving me two evenings a week, alone, which I can use for interests that have been shorted of late.

One of those interests is reading. Most of my life I’ve buried myself in a book whenever I had an unoccupied moment – even standing in the grocery checkout line, or on occasion when stuck in a traffic jam. I was fortunate to be encouraged to learn to read very young, sitting in my grandfather’s lap and following along as he read me “I Went for a Walk in the Forest”. Fictional worlds soon became my escape from an unpleasant family life. Long before the household was transferred to Asia and then Europe, for my father’s work, I had visited many countries – both real and imaginary – and had great adventures solving crime with Nancy Drew, or uncovering ancient tombs on archeological digs on the plains of Argolis.

What better indicator of just how demanding my job has been, than the realization that over a period of 18 months I read at most 6 books – the number I normally devour in a month. In the past half year, I’m pleased to see, by the size of the pile of books ready to go to the exchange, that I’ve been able to resume reading at something closer to my habitual rate.

And with reading comes reflection, ideas, and the urge to resume writing.

So here I am, probably not with any consistency yet, but back from the deep silence of the past … oh my goodness, nearly a year!

My apologies for the abandonment.

Theme and Variations

November 22, 2015

After several days of wood-stove heated cold weather, the temperature has soared to cotton shirtsleeve comfort, and an afternoon originally intended for housekeeping has turned into one spent on whatever could be completed outside in the sunlight. For my husband, that has meant washing cars. I, meanwhile, cooked some of his habanero pepper sauce on the outdoor grill (its bite sets everyone sneezing and crying if prepared inside) and re-potted houseplants. Or rather, transferred cuttings that had taken root in water into new pots, and repositioned one jade plant that, for reasons of its own, has chosen to grow so lopsidedly that its pot is highly prone to tip over. Reoriented, the main stem now angles sharply to one side, but seen from a distance the whole plant looks much more balanced.

straighter now beneath the window

straighter now
beneath the window

Why do some natures veer off crookedly? How do several children raised in the same supportive environment take such different attitudes forward into their adult life? Why are some people seemingly constitutionally unable to appreciate what is offered and available to them, while others build wondrous achievements out of little more than scraps and string?

My household greenery includes five different Christmas cactus plants, one of which has begun to bloom in anticipation of Advent. If previous years are any indicator, one or two more will flower before the holiday for which they are named, and one – the largest and oldest – will only flower around Easter time. Each is a different color, one white, one pink, and three distinct shades of red. They all get similar light, water and food, and are exposed to the same temperature variations, yet each takes its own turn to blossom.

If it’s true that no two snowflakes are alike (is it so?) then my examples of variation, where similarity might be expected, become rather insignificant and small. But more people seem to be affected by personality differences among siblings than are concerned with verifying the uniqueness of snowflakes or the reasons for oddities in the flowering cycle of plants.

Discussing one of my husband’s English writing assignments brought me up against the debate about how to treat addiction – as a disease that was not chosen any more than one chooses to have cancer, or as an intentional act with moral consequences. The former position is supported by medical evidence showing that when alcohol or drugs cause the release of endorphins in stressed individuals, their brains process this chemical change as life-saving. Future use/misuse of substances becomes, at a purely neurological level, a matter of survival. There is no longer any choice involved, just as a cancer patient does not have a choice about whether his untreated, abnormal cells replicate. Addicts need to seek treatment to recover from their addictions just as cancer patients need to seek treatment to (hopefully) recover from their malignancies.

Choice – and judgement – enter this scenario when the alcoholic refuses to admit he has a problem, or fails to seek treatment. Choice – and judgement – also enter the scenario when a person chooses not to undergo chemotherapy and/or radiation to treat cancer. The same variability that leads us to ask why two siblings should turn out so differently from one another can then lead us to wonder why two similarly situated alcoholics (married, with children, good jobs and reasonably effective support systems) should follow very different paths. Where one recognizes the harm being caused to family, and seeks treatment, the other dives into denial and eventually loses spouse, family and job without ever accepting the many offers of help being extended.

Is it that we need to believe we have free choice, no matter what? Is that why we insist there is a moral standard that is appropriately applied in all life situations? Two children have the benefit of the same loving parenting. One thrives and succeeds and gains our respect. The other struggles and turns to drink and becomes an object of scorn.

We do not scorn the cactus that fails to flower at Christmas. We are happy to welcome its flowering whenever it chooses to show its colors. I do not blame my goat Storm for persistently worming her way between the bars of the pasture gate; it is just her nature to want to get to that greener grass on the other side of the fence. I can’t imagine anyone blaming a snowflake for not looking identical to its neighbors on the patio. Why, then, are we so hard on ourselves and our fellow humans? Why can’t we simply accept that there is a wide range of individual variation in how people grow and respond and live, that our natures are as different, one from another, as are the many snowflakes that covered my yard four days ago? Then it was icy, snowy and cold while today it’s balmy and delightful outdoors. I don’t hear anyone saying “that’s wrong, that’s bad, Nature shouldn’t be so variable and inconsistent.”

Am I asking too much to wish that people could be as accepting of one another’s variability as we are of flowers, snowflakes, weather and stubbornly determined animals? To do so doesn’t mean abandoning standards of conduct, or being obliged to accept anything and everything as “cool, man” or “whatever.” If I meet someone who doesn’t seem to share my values, I am free to choose not to pursue the relationship. I don’t need to judge them, try to change them, or moralize about how and why they are as they are. And I can hope that they would, reciprocally, let me pass on without being subjected to attempts to change my vibrant red colors to muted pink ones.

Aspiration Accomplished

Returning to Reading

November 15, 2015

I’ve started reading again.
Or, more accurately, I’ve resumed reading for pleasure at what used to be my normal rate of 2-3 books a week. For most of the past two years, until a couple weeks ago, I haven’t achieved more than two books a month. Knowing the why of the drop off did not make the dearth of reading any more acceptable to my impatient mind. It’s certainly mind that is now celebrating evenings spent on the couch with a book as a return to “normal”.

Mind had best not get too comfortable with this normal, as it’s a new one, with frequent interruptions to discuss medical terminology questions with my husband and sister-in-law as they work on their respective anatomy and pharmacology studies. I had better not get too comfortable with this new normal either, since it derives primarily from a lessening of my work caseload, and I don’t trust that this easing will endure. It should – my client list is now, after two years of numbers circling ninety, reduced to where it is “supposed” to be, around sixty-five. That’s a full third reduction, bringing my work week down from 60 hours to 45 and freeing time to read for relaxation.

In this past week I’ve been with Rei Shimura back to Japan, and accompanying an itinerant weaver to solve a string of murders in a Shaker community. It’s pleasant to go traveling again, without the stress of packing, driving (I do so much of that for my daily work) and sleeping away from loved ones, in seldom fully comfortable and always unfamiliar beds.

Being markedly less engaged with books these past eighteen months has made me noticeably more sensitive to them now that I’ve returned my attention to reading. In particular, I’m aware of the too frequent typos, words missed out of sentences and similar flaws of production which seem to be a different type of new normal for print publications. Or is this perhaps the new normal for the comparatively inexpensive, remaindered reprints available from discount supply houses, where I frequently shop?

I wish I could afford the $25-30 per book of a bookstore hard cover, but I can’t. I feed my … I started to say addiction to reading, but maybe it’s no longer an addiction?… pleasant habit of reading with acquisitions from second hand stores, and from remaindered and discount house catalogs. Books from these catalogs, in particular, seem to contain frequent composition errors. Sloppy workmanship? Or the results of computer-based typesetting that doesn’t recognize when a word is missing, or a cognate replaces the word that should be in the sentence.

I don’t read e-books. I spend too much time already in front of a computer screen. So I don’t know if e-books are similarly flawed in composition and construction. And I’m not sure whether to hope they are, or that they are not. If they are, then an entire profession that once prided itself on accuracy has fallen into slackness and error. If e-books are error free, then it would seem that a serious disregard for paper books is being made manifest by compositors who used to be in competition for the most perfect, flawless output.

Is my cranky complainer side showing? Am I sounding like a stereotypical older person ranting that standards are falling and are so far from what they were in my younger days? That complaint has been with us at least as long as the works of Homer and Cicero, and probably longer. I choose not to generalize, merely to observe that in my resumption of reading I am encountering more proof-reader errors than I have noticed before.

I will try not to make my own such errors. Now that reading for pleasure is once again part of my days, perhaps writing posts will also pick up a former pace? Please do call my attention to any proof-reading errors you find. I want to keep my own standards high.

“Pantsing” as a Way of Life

October 22, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Autumn Color

Autumn Color

Not One Ding-a-ling

July 26, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Ones and Twos

May 25, 2015

I’m taking my time reading In the Shadow of the Banyon, by Vaddey Ratner. Each section of a chapter is a meditation, a vividly imaged reflection on an aspect of relationships, whether between father and daughter, human and landscape, chaos and sanity, or physical and spiritual realities. Set in the time of the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia, it is a marvelously sensitive and mature child’s view of life. The landscapes are familiar to me – Cambodia as described is much like the Vietnam of my childhood. The recounting of emotions stirred up by violence and turmoil, by loving relationships and by subtle but profound parental education of children is flawless, presenting – again – a familiar landscape. How can a story set in what I know to have been a devastating massacre of more than a third of the country’s population seem so quietly normal?

Maybe I’ll find an answer to that question by the time I finish the novel. Maybe I won’t, and the question will join others that I ponder about humans and our treatment of one another.

A discussion at the supper table recently explored a different aspect of the human condition, this one looking into interpersonal dynamics. The participants were, with the sole exception of me, young and not so young men from Cameroon studying here and trying to improve their lives and those of their families. Each of us has had a similar experience of a few people who are supportive of our efforts to advance, to learn, to become contributing partners in business or family – and each of us has been dismayed at some point by the negative response of a sibling, or cousin, or coworker.

What, we were asking, makes an older brother, working and well established in a good profession, refuse to help pay a school fee to enable his younger sibling to continue studies (and to remain in status vis a vis the US Immigration Service)? What makes an older sister complain to parents that the student struggling to survive in an unfamiliar culture has neglected to call her and inquire how she is doing? Why doesn’t she initiate the call? She is the elder, and yes one owes respect to one’s older siblings, but they in turn owe care and support to those coming behind them (at least in traditional Cameroonian village culture).

I have no siblings, so I can’t comment on how/whether there is a similar implicit set of obligations in western families. I can note that we acknowledge certain rights and corresponding obligations that go with seniority at work – and that there are usually one or more coworkers who object to this tradition. The Cameroonians commented that too often in their society, people fail to see the hard work, perseverance and sacrifice that goes into family advancement. They only look at the outcome and attribute the family’s change in status to graft, or black magic, or some similarly negatively acquired advantage which isn’t earned by merit.

Our discussion included the image of crabs in a barrel, reflecting the way some members of a group will not try to join the one climbing up and out but instead collect together and do their best to pull the leader back down to their failing level. I encountered the latter attitude locally, when I first started my role as director of a home health agency regional office. One of the nurses I hired for “as needed” visits had been employed as a clinic LPN for a number of years, attending school part-time to get her RN. When she did achieve it, the doctor heading her clinic gave her roses and I gave her a happy hug and a pay raise. Her several nurse co-workers scorned her achievement and excluded her from their circle.

At the dinner table, we didn’t talk about competition versus cooperation as a societal dynamic – but we could have done. Instead we stayed on a more individual level and came to the conclusion that people seem to fall into two main categories when it comes to achievement. The first group is of people who are motivated to achieve for the group of which they are members (family, clan, work team). They are generally open minded and flexible, enabling them to see and take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. They grab their chances, work hard and try to make the best of the gifts that come their way, gifts for which they easily express gratitude and thanks.

The second group is made up of those who single-mindedly think of and for themselves and their own advancement. They often seem to believe that the way forward is by finding an edge, an advantage, perhaps the softhearted person who can be persuaded or manipulated into giving them what they want. They work hard also – but their energy is devoted to manipulating others into giving them the preferment, the promotion, the degree or the job. And they disdain those who don’t cater to their sense of entitlement.

One thing we did all agree on, is that parenting and education play a role in which route a growing child decides to take – but neither parenting nor education explains why in a family of five or six siblings, there will always be at least one who falls into each of the two groups. In other words, nature plays a role, not just nurture. We did not digress into beliefs as to what makes for those inherent, nature-based differences. That is a topic for another dinner, or week of dinners, and another post.

Our conversation instead moved on to how we each (believing and being perceived by the rest as members of the first group) have chosen to deal with our relations who are part of the second group. Here, we parted ways. Some continue to try to engage the disdaining other by placating, by continuing to reach out despite the lack of reciprocity, and by “not sinking to their level”. Others have resolutely drawn a line, stating that “he has my number, when he chooses to call me I will talk to him but otherwise I’m functioning as if I don’t have a brother at all.” Neither route is satisfactory – nor were any of the several balancing acts falling between these two end points. However any of us decided to manage the situation, however comforted we felt that we are not alone in our quandary, however clearly we understood the nature of the differences between ourselves and those others, none of us was satisfied, not having a final answer to the question of “why” our opposites were the way they are. The closest we came was “C’est entre les mains de Dieu.” It’s in God’s hands.

As I write now, I’m aware that once again, as so often of late, I feel I have come up against a limit of rationality, a limit to mind’s ability to understand. Trying to reason my way to a course of action regarding the Group Twos in my life is futile. I need instead to let mind go still, and hear the inner voice of spirit directing me on what to do in this moment of this particular relationship. I need to remember that what is appropriate in this moment may be quite different in another moment of the same relationship.

Mind thinks in abstracts and wants answers that will be good for a period of time. Reality only exists in the moment, so there really are no answers to mind’s questions. It is enjoyable – and creates new and positive bonds – to talk things out with others, but the process does not, cannot lead to answers because the questions are by their nature unanswerable in the mental realm.

Which is undoubtedly why I am finding In the Shadow of the Banyon such a rewarding read – it invokes life as a constantly flowing series of moments of now, wherein questions are asked and answers have at least a possibility of arising. It speaks to the spirit within, more than to the mind. It covers births, and deaths, separations and new bonding. It beautifully reflects life. As does the newest member of our household, born just a week ago, on May 18th. Welcome to our world, Storm.

 

One Week Lively

One Week Lively

Winding Down

April 28, 2015

I seem, finally and despite much inner resistance, to be entering a phase of acceptance that my accumulated years have worn down my endurance to the point that I have to ration my energies.

In the near term this means giving up several of my enjoyable “sideline”’ activities like facilitating Alternatives to Violence Project workshops in the New Mexico prison system. My “day job” is so demanding of time, energy and attention that it exhausts my reserves by week’s end, and I need at least a full day of minimal responsibility to recuperate and regenerate the ability to work another week. Fortunately, I don’t have to remain totally idle for that day of rest; I do have to limit myself to relaxing activities – reading, walking, contemplation, lighthearted conversations – and occasionally also the composition of a blog essay. It’s heartening to realize that writing has become a relaxation exercise for me. I may no longer be able to teach an eight hour workshop after my week of work, but I can probably write for nearly that long if I choose to begin work on another book.

In a recent discussion, I tried to express how different it is, letting go of an activity – or reducing the intensity of one’s participation in it – when one is forty years of age versus when one is in one’s seventies. Somehow, at the younger point, at least for me, there remained a sense of vast opportunity and choice not unduly limited by a reduction in energy or ability. If I could no longer work all day plastering or laying a flagstone floor, without paying a stiff physical penalty – so be it. I would switch to painting or setting tile and carry on earning income in home construction, between professional positions that used my brain more than my back.

Now, however, accepting that I can’t both work full time and also lead workshops or teach, I don’t feel the same ease of adjustment to alternatives. I am being required to give up something, not just switch focus from one type of activity to another. This forced giving up might have come to my attention sooner, if I’d continued to be reliant on my physical strength for my livelihood. It is, after all, an ebbing of strength that is now curtailing my work weeks and reminding me that I can’t go thirteen days at a stretch without a break (two six- day work weeks and the Sunday in between).

Might I be able to continue the workshops and teaching if my work weeks were s more normal forty hours, instead of the fifty plus that they now run? Perhaps… I know for certain that I don’t have the energy to go looking for a different, less intense, job. And I acknowledge that I’m reluctant to give up a position that allows me to work from home several days a week, even though it also involves many miles of weekly travel to see clients, and many evening and weekend hours invested to meet deadlines.

When I consider the adjustments I’m facing, they are minor compared to those some of my clients – and friends – have had to face, due not so much to the wear and tear of life as to illness or accident. One friend who’s pride has been that, the only woman on the county crew, she is as strong and tough as the men, injured her back and is now unable to work, unable to stand for more than a short while, and equally unable to sit for long without severe pain. She has had to give up not only her job but all the housework, animal care and other activities that structured her days. Fortunately she likes to cook and bake, and can manage time in the kitchen by alternately sitting and standing, with breaks to lie down and ease her pain. She has no choice but to develop a new way of defining herself.

Is it easier to accept change if one is confronted with a sudden and total decline of functional level, rather than to feel oneself slowly slipping into loss of abilities? I’m not sure. The question is rather like that discussed in training sessions with nursing staff – whether it’s easier on families to care for a loved one over an extended decline in health, or to lose the family member suddenly from an accident or rapid health crisis, like a fatal stroke or heart attack.

When loss or change comes suddenly and irreversibly, one has no choice but to deal with the consequences. When the loss or change is slow or incremental, it is easier to deny that any adaptation is needed, or at least to insist that it’s “not needed yet”. But it may ultimately become harder to adapt if the needed changes are postponed too long.

I have a good many goals yet to accomplish. If I’m to live long enough, and have the necessary energy to achieve them, I must begin making adjustments now. Fortunately, I now have a partner to help, encourage, nudge, remind and sometimes insist that I give myself down time. It’s easier for me to accede to the change, and not feel guilty about the activities I’m no longer supporting, when I can say I’m doing it a the behest of someone else. Which I recognize is an admission that I still haven’t gotten over the feeling that I must justify myself by my actions. But that’s another topic, for another reflection, on another day. For now, I need only begin the process of finding myself comfortable doing less. Or as a dear friend has said, when we talked about doing versus being, turn the challenge now facing me into the refrain of a song – do be do be do be do.

Breadth or Depth?

January 17, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Layers of History

Layers of History

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

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

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

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

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

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

On a Recent Misty Morning

On a Recent Misty Morning

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

From My Window

From My Window

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

To Heal a Tummy

January 11, 2015

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

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

Above the fog

Above the fog

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

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

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

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

Identified cause, commonly experienced effect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson learned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ice Dance at Sunrise

Ice Dance at Sunrise

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


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