Posts Tagged ‘Happiness’

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.

One of a Kind

April 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Later Years

In Later Years

 

Still Learning and Teaching

Still Learning and Teaching

Small Packages

February 3, 2015

Good things come in small packages could be the motto for the meals at Curious Kumquat restaurant in Silver City. Good things in small packages may also be the motto for my week of vacation, of which a meal at the Curious Kumquat was one experience.

Two J’s in Silver City

My friend and shared-birthday mate Jane treated us to the tasting menu at the small restaurant our first night out, at the start of our trek to California. The menu bade us choose our entree; the chef then served six various delights in small “taste” portions, all freshly made with local ingredients and served as beautiful works of art. We had a pumpkin-based soup, and my main course was rabbit, with dessert a chocolate flan bottom with white chocolate whip on top. I can’t repeat all the appetizers and side dishes; I should have written them down. There was a grain-based pudding-textured treat, with both berries and glazed vegetables as garnish. The service was flawless, elegant and yet comfortable. An absolutely perfect first night of vacation.

Sentinel in the Sun

Sentinel in the Sun

Good things in small packages continued, as we drove the long hours and miles across Arizona and California to San Diego. Saguaro let themselves be photographed. A rest stop at Gila Bend included colorful critters made of painted pottery from Mexico. The wind farms on the CA-AZ border are, to my mind, beautiful. Tall white towers stand out against their dull brown mountain background, sentinels of a future, protectors of the clear blue sky in that area. Quite a contrast to the layer of yellowish smog to be seen once we crossed over the mountains and began the descent back down to sea level.

Passing By

Passing By

With only one day to sight see, we mostly walked – through the old Chinese area and a museum recording the history of Chinese settlement in San Diego. Around the harbor and downtown area, enjoying views of boats and waves and gulls. We did also ride – on a combination open bus that becomes a flat-bottomed boat, to view the harbor from the water. Sea lions and a variety of birds made the whole trip memorable.

Standing Proudly

Standing Proudly

Aah, a Good Stretch

Aah, a Good Stretch

Keeping Company

Keeping Company

 

The primary purpose of the trip was to attend MasterPath seminar… a wonderful thing in a not-so-little package, if one counts the number of participants (well over 1000) in the room. The Path being a singularly individual experience, however, a better perspective is of a room full of one thousand small packages, each one specially tailored to the person receiving it.

A Petite Beauty

A Petite Beauty

As we do with our unique meal in Silver City, the recipient of each MasterPath package will savor and remember it, and re-experience it afresh with each remembering.

Two to Enjoy

Two to Enjoy

No two alike, each a gift from the Divine. We are blessed.

Lifting a Veil of Ice

January 25, 2015

Driving toward Taos to see clients living high in the hills, in tiny villages tucked against mountain sides, I am mindful of the curious contrasts around me. I pass Sipapu Ski Resort, packed with families enjoying a weekend outing together, an influx of people to a sparsely populated valley that, if there is no snow, remains virtually deserted for weeks at a time. We had a substantial snow a few days ago, although nothing like the severe ones pummeling the East Coast. Immediately after the snow stopped our sunny days resumed, so that much of the moisture has turned from lovely white fluff to sticky, gooey mud.

Along the route I drive regularly to Taos, I pass through a valley with steep rocky walls crowding one side of the road, a grassy verge and a stream skirting the other. In a few places the grassy area widens out sufficiently to provide pasture for cows and horses. In others, it narrows to a cascade rushing along beside the road, daring drivers to race it to the next corner. In a few places, the remnants of a small spring trickle down the rock face if we have a moist winter season, or some summer rains. At most times, of late, there is no sign of wetness on the rocks – our long years of drought have virtually exterminated the spring.

Caught in Time

Caught in Time

This trip, as I round a corner near the ski resort, I am greeted with a glorious white flow of ice rippling down the rocks. An earlier snow has obviously fed the spring, which put forth its lovely flow just in time to be captured and held by the deep cold of our latest storm. It got down to something like 12 degrees below zero (Farenheit) last night and now it is more than 60 degrees warm, and sunny. The ice curtain will not last long. I am most fortunate to have come along while it is still showing itself so beautifully. What a pleasant reward for my diligence in working on a Saturday!

The rocks, adorned

The rocks, adorned

After fifteen months of working mostly 50-60 hour weeks, I am taking a week of vacation, to drive to California for a MasterPath seminar. As much as I’m looking forward to the change, and to showing my husband parts of the U.S. quite different from where we live, I have had to pass through a period of regretting arranging for the time off, because of how much additional work I must cram into the days before and the month after, if I am to meet expected deadlines. Ergo, I work on the weekend.

I vividly recall one of my teachers on the Path suggesting to us that work should not be allowed to overwhelm our lives to the detriment of other aspects, such as maintaining a daily spiritual practice. Given that the present demands of my work take as many hours as they do, I have been trying to integrate the spiritual into the practical, as a means of accomplishing what otherwise would require the impossible task of stretching my effective-functioning hours in a day to something more than fifteen.

What I’m finding is that, to the extent I can truly follow the dictum of living fully in the moment, time ceases to be a rigid restricter. It becomes elastic, and somehow everything gets done. Indeed, I can judge the extent to which I am fully present in each moment by my simultaneous experience of time as flexible and malleable.

Icefall and Snow

Icefall and Snow

The frozen waterfall symbolizes, for me, a successful blending of opposites, such as I also achieve when I know time to be elastic. My Teacher encourages us to seek for what opposites have in common, for therein one will find Truth. Freed from the constraints of time, the Truth of the now becomes known. Captured within my photo of a frozen moment of time, waters flow from a renewed spring.

During Saturday busyness I found an image of beauty and peace. On vacation, what will I learn about busyness and work? Something of value, I’m certain. I’ll know when the time comes.

Now is not yet that time.

Now it is time to fix supper. Practical end to a reflective period.

All is in balance, and as it should be.

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.

Stepping Forward with a Different Foot

December 31, 2014

How does one go about finding motivation to continue working at an impossible job? What enabled Sisyphus to continue pushing that boulder up the mountain?

Now How Do I Do This?

Now How Do I Do This?

Vacations are meant to provide rest and relaxation, a break in routine which allows one to return to work refreshed and with new energy and purpose. So far, completing the middle of three days of work between two four-day weekends, I am only seeing a great reluctance to return to my too-full-time job in January.

Not because I don’t like most of the work. Not even because the computer data base we must use is so extremely user unfriendly. My reluctance comes from knowledge that the caseload is too large for me to meet my own expectations of performance. Working ten hours a day, seven days a week, I would not get all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed. Working an average of 55 hours a week I most certainly do not do so. More importantly, just keeping track of everything I should be doing is virtually impossible. The size of the job is beyond control.

I’ve tried telling myself that doing my best on the cases I reach is all that I should expect. I’ve attempted to focus on the successes I’ve achieved, the clients who are happy with what I’ve been able to do for and with them. Just today I had a call from one of these, a woman who wanted me to hear the latest challenge she faced and overcame. She wasn’t looking for validation or approval, just for a listening ear so she could hear for herself what she was accomplishing.

But now another day has passed without needed services for a client who lost them due to the mistake of a state agency. I’ve spent time every day for the past eight weeks, first trying to prevent the termination of services, then trying to push someone in authority to recognize and correct the error. I did hear, today, that steps are finally being taken to right the wrong – but I’m typing with crossed fingers. After two months of no one hearing or caring, I’ve moved to Missouri. I’ll believe the situation is corrected when I see it fixed and my client is once more getting services.

Also today I dealt with the case of a client who is having difficulty accessing services from the only provider in the state who can care for her – because my employer (an MCO) does not contract with the provider’s employer (a hospital complex). Procedures needed to get her services include access to levels of review in the MCO that I am not familiar with. I do know whom to ask, and have already been given suggestions on what steps to take next. Teamwork and support are positives in my workplace.

I’ve tried to set myself a standard of doing a complete and to-my-best-ability job for each client with whom I have contact, and not worrying about the ones I’m supposed to check in on, but do not reach. Whenever a client’s needs raise issues with which I’m unfamiliar, I require more hours to meet that standard. More time means more clients I don’t contact, more items on the not-done list, and another trip up the mountain, pushing my boulder.

I, like most people, need to feel some control over my work and some sense of completion. The size of the caseload and the imposed expectations of performance erase control and eliminate completion. Sisyphus and a restaurant dishwasher and I share an unending task that is never done. I can’t ask Sisyphus how he persuaded himself to keep on keeping on. Maybe I should inquire of a few local dishwashers?

Management is trying to hire more staff, to bring the caseloads down. They are also going to replace our nightmare software system – in another year (2016). I’m hardly the only person trudging endlessly up the hill. Too large a number of my coworkers have transferred, not out of the company because it is quite a good employer, but to different departments where the work expectations are achievable.

I don’t easily have that option. So I need to learn to love pushing my boulder endlessly up my hill – and I don’t know how to go about that challenge.

Wisdom of my Teacher

Wisdom of my Teacher

What I do know is that everything that comes into my life can be a source of learning. Maybe my question should therefore be, what will I gain from a stint as Sisyphus? Is this whole experience just about me learning to let go of the need for control, on yet another level of existence?

If the details of such an enormous load are too much for mind to manage, perhaps I need to learn how to set my priorities, move through my days, meet my clients and complete my work based on the dictates of some other part of my persona. I’ve had some of my most satisfying work days when my schedule is totally overturned, and I end up just doing what’s brought to my attention, item after item, into the evening. My more frustrating days usually involve trying persistently to accomplish something I’ve determined as a priority, despite computer glitches and multiple petty distractions.

Sounds like maybe the lesson is, once more as so often, Thy Will not mine, Lord.

In which case I don’t need to figure out how to push my boulder up the hill. I only need to be ready to put out whatever effort each day calls for, perhaps to find myself riding a roller coaster, or sliding downhill on skis, and only occasionally carrying a small pack up a mountain trail.

I can do that. Yes I can. Happy 2015.

Moving Ahead

Moving Ahead

Transitions Are a Challenge

December 28, 2014

Transitions are a challenge. Some folks make a career out of providing guidance and support to others going through the bigger life transitions – education choices, marriage planning, establishing a home, preparing for retirement, or using Hospice to gracefully end a life.

No one I’ve encountered makes much of a business of guiding others through the little transitions that can be just as disorienting. After months of 6-7 days a week of work, having 4 days “off” requires an adaptation in thinking, sleeping, rhythm of the day that is as much a transition as taking full retirement. But there are no books to tell one how to apply the brakes, slow the metabolism, shift one’s perspective in order to fully benefit from the change in activity.

I have a friend who teaches at the United World College, who has come to recognize a sort of mini-depression that accompanies the start of each eagerly awaited break in the school year. He is tired from the pace of teaching, very ready for a restful change in activities – yet the actual transition is not easy. He handles the vacations more smoothly when he has a trip of some sort planned; when finances prevent travel he says he finds it hard to switch from constantly busy to a relaxed and yet satisfying pattern of activity.

I’m having somewhat the same challenge, on a smaller scale, with my two back-to-back four day weekends. I was/am so very ready for a break from work, but actually slowing and relaxing and letting the days flow in their own form is not easy. My body wakes at its normal 6:30; I have to tell it to go back to sleep. My mind wants to review what is still waiting to be done on this month’s caseload; I have to firmly yank it away with a scolding “not today”. By my third day off, I do sleep in late (stayed up unusually late the previous night) and enjoy the fact that the only demands in the day pertain to cleaning and preparing fish to be roasted later, as part of supper being served for a small group of friends.

A basically unscheduled day.
What a rarity.
What a joy.

So why is it difficult to make the transition, and relax into this open-ended time? Why do I find myself starting to sort through accumulated magazines as I tidy my living space for tonight’s company? The reading material has accumulated over several months, unattended, while I worked. Surely it can remain so during my little space of rest.

The particular transition I and my UWC friend confront is from doing to relaxing (or being, doobee, doobee, do).

Shifting from vacation back to work mode is no less easy, I know. Maybe that’s why, when the vacation is as short as at present, I’m not inclined to fall into resting mode to the depth I might wish to do.

An extreme of resisting transitions or change can be seen in obsessive-compulsive behavior, where a dish out of place on the table can set off a panicked repetitive response. Fear of some sort of loss underlies most compulsive behavior. Hmm… yes I see that I do, at some minor level, fear that if I fully relax I may not be able to bring myself back to the high level of energy required to do my job well.

An extreme opposite to compulsive sameness is found in the principle of impermanence which is fundamental to Buddhism. Meditation, stilling the mind, is the practice of becoming free from the illusion of time and therefore the illusion of permanence (something enduring over time). The contemplative practices of MasterPath also encourage development of an inner realization that the only things which endure are Soul, the Eternal Divine Master, and the emanation of Its energy, experienced as Shabda, a Sanskrit word loosely translated as Love. Happiness is found in acceptance of the transitory nature of what we normally call reality. Pain and suffering are mental constructs which arise from comparison – what is versus what was, what is versus what may be in the future, what is versus what one wishes were true, etc.

Which brings my reflection to another level – why are we constructed such that our mental limits, need for a sense of permanence, resistance to even small changes is so solidly implanted? Why does it take so much concentration to move into a different form of awareness, where each moment is pure and precious and enjoyed for itself, as it is, without comparison?

I will not even begin to probe in that direction. Theologians have argued the point for millennia. I have nothing to add to their dialogue.

I choose instead to focus my attention on becoming fully aware of the small ways I still cling to the illusion of permanence. I choose to continue my effort to let go of the need to hold that illusion. As my Teacher instructs, I choose to put my attention on that which is not just permanent but eternal, for therein lies my happiness.

I could not have maintained the pace of work this past year, nor found the new love delighting me, nor been enabled to assist those who now say I have done so, had I been focused on finding permanence. Indeed, my life for many years before 2013/14 had seemed stuck in one place and one pattern. I was learning the lesson of seeing small positive changes in what appeared to be sameness. I was learning to be patient while karmic issues exhausted themselves. I was learning to be happy and feel free within what could be perceived and felt as a prison.

Now I must learn to be as patient, as free and as happy within the context of constant change. My Master, in His inner form, brought me through the illusion of being stuck. He will see me through what I am now experiencing as a whirlwind of impermanence.

So be it.

Eyes on the Sparrow

Eyes on the Sparrow

What Is…

December 14, 2014

I just spent some time last night and this afternoon checking out and replying to various posts on Facebook – a place I have not visited in weeks. Finding out there’s still a world out there where people have time to watch clips, post pictures, and generally interact for something other than work. Wow.

I hit some sort of end point yesterday shortly after noon. In retrospect I recognize how much I had been counting on having the entire weekend to use on personal interests. Instead, I had to work for much of Saturday to meet demands imposed by an impending state government audit of my employer. It was after 3:00 P.M. before I was able to head into Las Vegas for a walk along Bridge Street and a bit of shopping for the few items I needed to complete my Christmas gift package to a good friend and her family. By that time I’d fallen into a snit – one of those unpleasant moods somewhere between anger and self-pity, feeling unappreciated and generally out of sorts.

Walking and window shopping and finding items for the gift box was not in itself important. Doing something I wanted to do, rather than something expected or required of me, was what mattered. Another friend called, we met for a coffee and talk, and my mood improved. Today I am “back to myself” and readying for another long and demanding week of work.

I wrote – I think in my last, rather distantly past blog post – that I’m so busy living I don’t have time to reflect on, nor write about, what I’m experiencing. I didn’t realize until now that I was actually identifying a problem that needs a solution. I’ve gone from an excess of “me” time to virtually none at all. Neither extreme is healthy.

My Teacher instructs that one cannot outflow effectively if one does not first fill one’s cup, to have something worth pouring out to others. I know this to be true of spiritual matters. My Teacher also reminds us “as above so below”, meaning what one contemplates and envisions manifests eventually in one’s outer life, though perhaps not in the ways the mind and ego imagine or expect. Filling my Soul above with Divine Love, Power and Wisdom through my daily contemplation exercises, I am equipped to pass along encouragement and support to those whom I meet in need.

In the spirit of...

In the spirit of…

Knowing and practicing this Truth, why is it still so hard for me to apply a similar practice below, in my daily allocation of time and energy? How ingrained is the habit of acceding always to the needs of others, rather than speaking up for “me” time!

My new husband is such a loving and generous soul – telling me often that if I want or need something from him, just ask. On those occasions when I’ve broken a lifelong pattern, and asked for what I want, he has responded promptly in the affirmative. But, nonetheless, yesterday happened. I apparently still cannot give myself permission to take what I need, when I need it!

I suspect that this is another manifestation of an uncertainty as to “worthiness”. Have I earned the right to self-care? Have I earned my way into grace?

Grace isn’t earned, it is gifted. Isn’t it about time I left myself open to accept the gift in every moment, so that I automatically provide self-care and don’t reach the stressed out point of needing to demand “me” time? Why is this such a hard lesson to learn?

Yes, I know that each time this lesson of self-acceptance has arisen, it has taken a more subtle form. Each time I get “bent out of shape”, I recognize it sooner and do less harm before calling myself out for my conduct. But that sounds like a mental justification for continuing the behavior, not like an indicator of progress toward eliminating it.

Open Acceptance of Beauty

Open Acceptance of Beauty

In this season of annual review, of winding up things and making new beginnings, I wish for myself the humility and openness to finally release whatever underlying sense of unworthiness causes me still to push myself to prove… I know not what.

++++++

The last few paragraphs were written after what was in their place “erased” with an unintentional sweep of the mouse. Do I get upset at losing my words – or accept that something expressed more effectively was meant to be in their place? The latter, if I am to implement in my lower, outer life the same acceptance of grace that I claim in the higher, inner places of my spirit
What is, is meant to be.
What is, is enough.
What is, is.
Enough.

Unmixed Blessings

October 11, 2014

We talk easily about mixed blessings – recognition that desired events are not necessarily without their down sides. But if you are one of those who believes that what happens, happens for a reason, then everything that happens is perfect, and an unmixed blessing.

Thistles bloom in my pasture – lovely purple flowers that turn to face the sun in the mornings. Cows eat the prickly leaves and stems with impunity. Two of my horses dined on these maligned plants with evident pleasure. Blessings clearly are a matter of perspective.

Some people who know me only slightly are now having to deal with their own reactions to my recent marriage to a man of a different race and religious background from my own, from a culture quite alien to theirs, and who is enough younger than I am that I’m told I can now call myself a cougar. I don’t choose to do so, as I suspect that – like almost all terms for women when compared to similarly situated men – there is a negative implication to the word. The mere fact that we do not have a term for older men with younger women tells me cougar is not offered with respect or admiration.

Others may label me as they wish. I choose not to identify with their terms. There is nothing of the negative in my present circumstances. They are, rather, an absolutely pure blessing, offering me new opportunities to learn tangible things like a different cooking style, the pleasure of manifesting what I’ve been taught regarding living in the moment, and the experience of the simple joys that come from doing so.

Intellectually I’ve known that Being in the here and now is a possibility not in conflict with making long term plans. Recently I’ve had the joy of experiencing this lack of conflict in an intimate way, as each day fills itself with a blend of work and relaxation within the framework of slowly forming long term goals.

As is evidenced by the scarcity of my posts in the past several months, I’m not as easily able to blend Being with mental reflection on the meaning or form of that Being. More simply stated, I’m too busy Being to think about it. I’m also realizing that I’ve been so busy Being that I’ve not made time to read. A lifetime of reading at least one, often two books a week and here I am not having completed one I started two months ago!

My work requires a sufficient mental acuity that I know my mind is still fully active (no senility here, yet), despite my not using it for accustomed habits. It is a profound change, however, to live so much more immediately and not – as of old – through my mind. Interestingly, the less my mind is “in control’ of my days, the more smoothly they flow. Which, blessedly, demonstrates what my spiritual teacher has been attempting to instill for the many years I’ve been his student – that mind/ego is the enemy of spiritual understanding and true happiness.

Mind is subtle. It diverted me for a time into the illusion that my present happiness was somehow a “reward” for my attention to acting as purely as possible (in the words of my dear grandfather, doing right solely because it is the right thing to do). Fortunately, my spiritual teacher recently reminded me (and others of his long-time students) that happy consequences are just as ensnaring as negative ones.

We are more ready to recognize and try to release ourselves from iron shackles (addictions, self-defeating thoughts and behaviors) than from golden chains (involvement with loved ones, social causes, “doing good”). Indeed, the golden chains are presented as so positive that it is very hard to recognize the way they entrap one. Hard, that is, until one sees that it is one’s mind and ego that take pride in behaving in positive ways, and one’s mind and ego that feel rewarded by positive outcomes.

My present happy situation is… my present happy situation. I did not earn it, I did not create it, any more than I earned or created hardships I lived through in earlier years. Both the negative and the positive are opportunities to detach, to choose not to identify (as I choose not to be a cougar), to simply Be. And to not over-think that being!

When it is time for me to resume reading, I will do so. If it is now time for me to post more often, I will do so. If, instead, both of these activities are to continue to be rare, so be it. The only imperative I recognize now is to be focused in the moment, so that my days unfold as the divine within (or flowing through) me directs.

Such is the new me. Or, more accurately, such is the me I’ve always been, but did not know how to manifest.

Down But Not Out

October 5, 2014

If I continue to wait until I have something important to share, I suspect I’ll never post again! Or if I continue to wait until I feel I have time to write, I certainly will never post again. So I’m here this morning to share the pleasure of sitting in my cottage, autumn sun and crispness flowing in through the screen door as I look out at an unfamiliar view. My property, but seen from an entirely different angle than the one I’m familiar with. A much curtailed view, that lets me concentrate on such small details as a moth fluttering around my dying tomato plants in their giant tubs.

My days, these days, are similarly curtailed – and seem focused on minutia of work, of a much-to-slow recovery from illness, of preparation of this cottage for what may be a rather harsh winter.

Were it not for being so weak, I wouldn’t mind the forced slow-down. When strength is limited, one must become much more selective about where one’s energies are directed.

I do wish I were better able to maintain this careful attention to what matters most when my energies are at their best!

Each time I’m brought to a near standstill by a health “crash”, I promise myself I’ll be a better steward of my attention going forward. Can I say I’m getting more competent because the gaps between crashes have lengthened significantly? The last one was three or more years ago. And the last one as severe as the present one was at least eight years ago.

Hmmm. I think I just acknowledged that I have, in the past nine months, became so forgetful of being in the present that I had to be brought way back to basics. OK, I get it. What felt like being so busy living that there wasn’t time to reflect, was really being too caught up with transitory events to pay attention to the things that matter most.

So here I am, grateful that I’ve been forced to slow down drastically, grateful that I’m not totally immobilized, grateful for the beautiful day and the silence and the moth.


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