Posts Tagged ‘lessons’

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

Sleeping Beauty

September 5, 2015

Renovating my home of 25 years has brought out/up a host of subjects for reflection. How have I managed to accumulate so much stuff, when owning things, showing off things is of little importance to me?

Oh, I see… the items have mostly been given to me and the people who gave them are important so I keep the knickknacks, the pictures, the artwork, the books, the music – whether or not I still have use for or interest in them.
“Can’t donate that to the fire department fund raising yard sale – X gave it to me.”
“Can’t pass that book on, though I’ve read it twice and won’t read it again – Y gave it to me for my 50th birthday.”
Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera in Yul Brenner’s inimical voice as the King of Siam.

Well, most of those can’ts have become dones.

The memories of events with the people involved remain fresh, the items by and large past their use-by dates and no longer necessary as reminders. Does that mean I’ve entered the stage of life where more distant memories are much fresher and more real than what I had for lunch yesterday?

What did I have for lunch yesterday?

Oh, that’s right, I didn’t eat lunch yesterday. Phew…

The renewal project included sanding, staining and sealing all the floors, painting almost all the walls, moving some furniture out and several new pieces in, rearranging the use of space, and – still in process – rehanging in new and different arrangements much of the art work that has decorated the walls. The entire house – all 900 square feet of it – feels different. Appropriately so, for the new stage of my life being lived within its walls.

Much of the time since about 2000 I spent in a sort of trance, a marching in place, waiting for I knew not what. I wanted to make changes but every step I took toward a different life hit a wall. It finally became apparent that what was being asked of me, spiritually, was to be patient, to make the most of where I was and what I was doing while waiting for whatever karmic debt was keeping me seemingly stagnant to finally exhaust itself.

In retrospect, I had pricked my finger on the poisoned thorn, and like Sleeping Beauty, was locked into immobility while time passed. Only one prince – or power – knew the secret of what would waken me to the new, active, challenging, loving and amazing life I’m living now. While my Prince Charming came in outer form as an answer to my quest for someone with whom to speak French, the true charm lies in the perfection with which the Inner Spiritual Power knows exactly how and when to wake us up.

Sometimes the wake up is a kiss, at other times it is nothing short of the providential hit upside the head. However we are awakened, there is no going back to sleep. Or rather no going back to sleep without consequences sufficiently negative to preclude all but the most stubbornly self-destructive from ignoring what they are being freshly called toward.

Much easier to accept that the next stage of personal growth is here and now, so just get on with it. In a remarkably short time, one may discover that – while seemingly asleep – an inner cleansing has been done and now what has been accomplished in Soul can vividly reflect itself outwardly. Unnecessary stuff is cleared out, closets are emptied, walls and floors refinished, weight lost and life has a whole new shape.

Beauty’s story ends with that wakening kiss – oh, except for the living happily ever after bit.

Too bad, really – because if my own experience is anything to go by, the best, most vivid and interesting aspects of the tale lie in how the journey unfolds after one’s inner awakening in Soul. Awareness, illumination, enlightenment, realization… all the experiences and adventures to enjoy while traveling the True Path to Being, wherein one achieves the fairy tale ending of “happily ever after.”

May it be so for you, also.

 

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.

Downside, Upside

June 21, 2015

 

Nearly fifteen years of drought in my northeastern corner of NM have not come to an end – but this spring into summer we have had rain, almost daily, steady and hard at times, short and sharp at others. More days have been cloudy, foggy and cool than the dry, windy and sunny we’ve become accustomed to enduring since 2000. Forestry signs indicating level of fire danger are in the lower yellow – moderate – range instead of the screaming fire engine red of extreme.

Ranchers are running larger numbers of cattle, and those herds are lazing about in lush greenery up to their bellies. Horses are grazing fat, and antelope scattered among the domestic herds are too somnolent to come check out, as in their more normally inquisitive fashion, the curiosity of a person walking nearby and waving a hat. I give up waving, and continue my way, remembering the morning I woke from a sleep-out under the stars, a ring of antelope surrounding me. Not this bunch – too lazy.

The rainy dampness and chill have greatly delayed me in initiating my outdoor walking routine. A rural dirt lane a few miles from my house has become my normal exercise site – a mile and a half round trip the standard, easily extended to two miles or executed in every shorter times, according to my increasing stamina. By this time last year I was already well seasoned and doing two miles in half an hour. Today, it took me the half hour to just go a mile and a half.

The delay in getting up to speed is partly due to rain, and partly due to my own reluctance to switch to early morning walking. It’s been my habit to finish my work day and then walk – and that habit had years to become set, as the drought mandated waiting until the cooler temperatures of evening made walking a pleasure. I’ve become accustomed to the evening walk as a way to wind down from work, to quiet my mind and prepare for evening chores and rest.

Back in the 1990s, when last we had wet summers, I practiced a different routine. Then my exercise was riding my horses and I knew the activity had to be completed before midday, if at all. Our then typical summer pattern was bright sun and light breeze until about noon, when huge white cumulus clouds would build up and move in from the west, to collect and darken and dump rain in the afternoon, often lasting into the night.

That pattern has, this year, established itself once more. For several months now, by the time my work day is done, the sky is totally overcast, the air is thick and wet, the ground is sodden and more rain threatens/promises to fill the night. No way to walk outside and unwind from the stresses of the day.

Ronni Bennett, who blogs on elder issues at Time Goes By, Time Goes By recently posted about habits – in her case the habit of ordering her coffee from New York because that is easier than going through the process of trial and error to find a blend, where she now lives in Seattle, that satisfies her as much as her long-enjoyed standard.Ronni makes the important distinction between habit and addiction and reminds readers that, while addiction is a serious problem, habit most certainly is not. Indeed, we cannot survive without habits. How exhausting to have to go through a day thinking out each step of all the cleanliness routines, the household chores, the mechanical skills on which we rely! Habit only becomes a problem (still not as serious as addiction) when we become locked into patterns and resist change.

Like my recognized delay in adapting to the changed weather by switching my walks from evening to morning. I’ve started the process (today was my second morning outing) and expect that by week’s end I will have a new habit pattern in place. I will not, however, have made up for the month’s delay in building my endurance and speed over my usual trekking path.

Even in drought, walking in the evening meant wearing long sleeves and lots of bug repellant. Now, in the wet, walking at night is truly not safe (West Nile Virus is here). Fortunately, I do not seem to need excessive protection in the early morning. Perhaps the mosquitos, so very much more prevalent at night than they were last year, have also not made a change of habit to morning activity?

Walking in the early morning feels self-indulgent, like I’m doing something purely pleasurable BEFORE meeting my obligations to my family or to my employer. Why is it that I feel I’m only entitled to do something for myself after other responsibilities have been met? I work from home, am supposed to put in a “normal” work day/week but the demands of the job do not allow me to take lunch hours, the day never ends before 6 or 7 P.M. and only rarely do I have an entire weekend off. Why, then, am I still pushing myself to start promptly at 8 A.M., as though I were clocking into an office assignment?

Tomorrow, a Monday, I intend to walk as the start to my day. Probably that means I won’t turn on my work computer until 8:30. Almost certainly I’ll feel a bit guilty, but I’m counting on that habit, also, being changed by the end of the week. Morning walks, better energy and also, almost certainly, better concentration are my new habit priorities. This older dog IS learning new tricks.

Right, Just and Good

June 16, 2015

A number of times lately I’ve set out to write a post and instead have spent my time playing solitaire. Forty Thieves occasionally but mostly Free Cell. I have no idea if I have set any sort of record on the latter – 4600 consecutive games without being stymied. I undo and start over when I see one not playing out – and a few times have had to repeat that process four or five times before I succeed. I think maybe that’s “cheating’’ when it comes to setting records, but since I’m not playing for a record I don’t suppose it matters.

What am I playing for? A sort of mindless zone out that lets my attention relax and float free, to be with my spiritual Master on the inner. Oddly, doing something seemingly profoundly mental (a card game) serves me as an avenue out of Mind and into a non-mind status.

Coming back to conscious awareness, I often have new insights, including ideas for posts – but too often have used up my free time that otherwise might have been spent writing. Alas, no matter how elastic time sometimes seems to be (long when I’m tired but obligated to keep working at my primary job, so short when I have a rare day to relax) it simply doesn’t stretch to encompass all that I want to accomplish in my “off work” hours.

Especially not now that I am coaching my husband through his demanding load of summer classes. He’s taking his first psychology course, being exposed to the discipline that was my major in college. I participated in a reunion (I won’t say which one) by Zoom conference last week, the first time I’ve ever attended any such activity. I enjoyed visiting with a few classmates, and seeing how differently we all look. But I realized, also, that I have very little interest in looking backwards to my years at Swarthmore. I greatly value the education I received, which has continuously served me well as I have taken up employment in a series of different fields. My appreciation of my teachers and the learning process is a present condition, however, with very little nostalgia attached.

Apparently one of the undertakings of my classmates on campus was to share personally significant memories about our years at school. I find that almost all of mine arise out of my own achievements, with relatively few memorable events, other than friendships made, involving other people. I was not “social”, although my senior year I captained the archery team, and I regularly performed with the modern dance troupe.

In that capacity, at the start of my senior year, I posted a notice seeking a musician to improvise in response to a dance I’d choreographed. The drummer who answered became one of my best, certainly most long-term and special friends, as we are still in communication close to a lifetime later. The experience of connection when I performed the dance for him to watch, with the next run-through a perfect match of music to movement, is a significant personal memory of Swarthmore.

Another is my feeling of floating over the ground as I left the oral exam for my philosophy courses. I’d spent over an hour with the visiting examiner, analyzing a statement I’d made in one of my written tests, to the effect that good, right and just are coextensive concepts, a core tenet and summary of my personal belief system. At the end of the session, the professor stepped back, looked over the blackboards that we’d filled with examples, and said “I think you have a coherent philosophical system laid out here.” It was not merely a validation of my intellect, but a deeply felt validation of my ethics and spiritual concepts of right conduct, or what I would now call Knowing, Being and Seeing.

Just as I now find value in what could seem to be mindless time wasting, moving cards around on a board, I guess I do also see value in occasionally looking back. If nothing else, when change is incremental and in such small steps as to be easily missed, looking back can provide a signpost marking the fact that change has in fact occurred – or perhaps it has not.

The important thing is not to get stuck with one’s sight turned to the past. Equally important, is to not be so focused on the future that the present is overlooked. I appreciate and value the reminder that “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” To be able to reach my end with as few regrets as my grandfather (who wished he’d learned to play the mandolin) I know I need, daily and here and now, to manifest the ethics that covered that classroom board and to Be in my life in each moment of it. When I succeed, I know such happiness 

New Habits

March 19, 2015

A friend from a very long time ago recently got in touch with me (plus side of online social networks) and we’ve begun to “catch up” on what our life paths have been. She has an advantage over me (or is it the other way around?) in that she’s been following this blog and therefore knows a bit about what causes me to reflect – and to write. She has already given me a different view of my early self – or perhaps more accurately, she has given me an added perspective on that earlier self.

When we knew each other, we were each married – marriages that, for different reasons, did not last. Each of us carried that married name forward, I suspect also for quite different reasons. In my case, I have always said that I became the person I think of myself as being while I was in that marriage, and thanks to the qualities of care and understanding provided me by that husband. I honored those qualities by keeping his surname as my own. My friend has just shared that she experienced some of those same qualities in her friendship with my husband – so strongly that he has remained in her mind over all these years. He is no longer alive, but I’m certain that, wherever it is now, his Soul hears and enjoys her appreciation of him.

My present husband just had a reading assignment which he asked me to review, dealing with the relationship between mothers and daughters. The essay addressed the widely experienced stress that arises between teenage girls and their mothers, as each finds fault with the other. A photo in the paper to announce winning of an important career prize does not produce admiration; instead the mother comments that her daughter should have gotten a haircut before the award ceremony – her bangs are too long. “She never has anything positive to say about me” is the daughter’s criticism of her mother.

Both are correct and both are in error. As the essay suggests, often the motivation for the criticism is loving concern. Unfortunately, only the criticism is heard, not the motivation behind it. Sensitive to being flawed ourselves, we want those we love to be perfect, but in our efforts to perfect them, we accentuate their flaws. It takes an extraordinary sensitivity to resist this urge to perfect, and instead to accept people as they are. But to do so is a lesson well worth learning, not just for improved mother-daughter relationships, but for more rewarding friendships, and happier marriages also.

Looking at how challenging I’m finding it to accept doing less than what I consider to be an adequate performance at my job, I can trace my tendency to self-criticism directly back to my early teens, and my own deeply inculcated negative judgments arising from my mother’s (loving?) intention to perfect me. The fact that my supervisor is more than pleased with my performance does not enter into my self-analysis. Rather, I recognize that accepting others as they are is easier than accepting myself as I am. There remains a deeply embedded need to improve to the point that I will finally hear from a parent that I’ve done well, succeeded, met expectations. Not possible, given that both of my parents are long gone from this world, neither of them having ever said those soothing or supportive words.

I do know, in other ways, that my father was proud of me. And I understand, with an adult’s hindsight, that my mother was not emotionally healthy enough to be other than she was – fear driven to the point of psychosis. Knowing these truths helps – but knowing does not immediately translate to feeling whole, nor healed. The habit of self-criticism is deeply embedded. The habit of self-acceptance must be acquired by diligent, persistent effort.

Fortunately, friends old and new bring their perceptions and appreciation into my process of converting from the old habit to the new one. I may never feel fully at ease with what I do not complete in my 50-60 hour work weeks, but I am learning to set the undone aside without guilt. What needs to be done is getting done, and what needs my attention outside of work is receiving that attention in a timely manner. I do not ask more than that of others – now I’m learning to not ask more than that of myself.

Hmmm… What will I do with the freed-up energy that I have been throwing away on self-judgment?

I do not know the answer to that question, but I do know that I have learned the patience to wait and see what the Divine has planned. I’m delighted that we do not have to have answers, only be open to asking questions which allow answers to present themselves.

Life is so much easier, lived that way.

Impartial Light

Impartial Light

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.

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

Accomplishments

December 21, 2014

In high school, I was required to complete English to French translations on a weekly basis. In college, minoring in French, the translation obligation continued. I became quite adept at it, even thought about a career as a translator but life took me in a different direction. Over the many long years I’ve lived in New Mexico with minimal occasion to use French, I gradually lost my fluency.

A year ago, I felt that if I did not do something – urgently – to begin using French again, I would cease to be able to express myself in the language. I sought out someone with whom to speak and not only regained fluency but totally transformed my life. Now, a year later, I was called upon last night to translate English into French once more. The task was only a short prayer for Advent, but I found myself able to complete the project easily and rapidly. Few recent accomplishments have given me as great a sense of satisfaction as that paragraph of translation, flowing readily from my pen.

Over the course of a day, I reflected on why I value the resurrection of bilingual skill so much more highly than I do the talents that let me do my daily work effectively. I have been complimented on what others perceive as my unique work skills which they value and appreciate. I don’t exactly take my talents for granted, but – like my ability to cook – they come so naturally as to be simply a part of me.

Is it the perceived effort involved, that affects what I feel to be an accomplishment?

Once upon a time, I suppose, cooking took effort. That was so very long ago that I truly don’t remember not being easy in the kitchen, as I was when recently called up to create a satisfying Asian/African meal for 3 hungry men with only an hour’s notice. It did please me that the meal satisfied my guests. I expected nothing less of myself.

My mother had a part-time job, when I was small, that took her out of the house just before I arrived home from school. She would leave me notes listing my chores for the day, often including the beginning preparations for that night’s supper. I apparently absorbed the basics of cooking and seasoning so completely that, years later, I “created” a chicken dish for company that was a big hit. I later served it to my parents when they came to visit. My mother took a bite, then said, “When did I give you this recipe?”
“You didn’t. I made up the meal when I wanted to do something different with chicken.”
“But I used to cook this same dish,” she insisted.
We compared notes on spices and preparation and she said I had copied her exactly. I was 24 then. The last time my mother could have cooked the meal for me, I was eight.

I cannot so easily point to the origins of my skill with people, and with words, that contribute to the appreciation I have lately experienced in my work. Living in different cultures certainly played a part. So did my parents’ emphasis on speaking correctly. I remember my father walking around the house practicing “around the rough and rugged rock the ragged rascal ran” in order to soften his Germanic r’s. In recent years, I’ve had to consciously undo some of that early language training. It comes across to some people as arrogance or snobbishness, qualities that interfere with establishing the rapport essential to my job in health care.

It still surprises me, that people perceive me as having a unique talent for connecting “with all sorts” in many different environments. People interest me. Understanding them is necessary to assisting them. I’m just “doing what comes naturally.” Which brings me back to the idea that there must be some effort involved in an activity, for me to feel that it is an accomplishment. I had to work, this past year, to restore my comfort with French, so completing the translation feels like an achievement.

There is a caution offered, that one should beware of what comes easily. “Easy come, easy go.” I wonder if it is meant to warn against not taking one’s own easy talents for granted? If one disregards the talents, will one lose them? Certainly, not practicing and using French almost led to that sort of loss. But I cannot conceive of not knowing how to cook, and am now daily making meals pleasing to someone other than myself, using recipes I have not prepared in more than ten years.

My people skills and cooking seem to fall into the realm of habit – like riding a bike, swimming, or driving a car. I no longer need to think about them, I just do them. Habitual skills do not fade (except maybe with dementia or other brain malfunctions) for lack of practice. In fact, it took close to forty years of non-use for my ability to speak French to fade from fluent to almost erased. I’ve been told that my French was not at risk of extinction, only dormant and waiting for the proper environment to cause it to rise once more to a serviceable level. Maybe. It didn’t feel that way last year at this time.

Am I alone in not taking much credit for habitual skills? Is it common to only value that which one has worked to achieve? If skills and talents already developed are sufficiently satisfying, does one then “rest on one’s laurels” and perhaps cease to learn and grow?

Aspiration Accomplished

Aspiration Accomplished

I don’t have answers today, only questions… seulement des questions, pas de reponses.
Merci de me lire et de me repondre.


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