Posts Tagged ‘MasterPath’

Uncertainty

January 2, 2023

I have been thinking about, and feeling my way through, this topic for a couple weeks with each day revealing a different aspect of it, or presenting me with a new challenge to consider. As I type, I am aware I may not be able to complete a full post. Not because I don’t know what I want to say, but because one of the constraints on my daily life (intermittent severe pain to my dominant shoulder, arm and wrist) may stop me from typing.

Covid, post-Covid uptick in flu and RSV, unpredictable weather, unstable economic conditions, and a general increase in threats of all sorts (Will Russia deploy a nuke in Ukraine? Who will next host mongers of hate and violence here at home?) all contribute to an overriding atmosphere of uncertainty. For most of us, uncertainty brings with it an uptick in fear, as we fight against loss of control and try to find ways to ward off the worst potential consequences of that loss.

I have been reading essays and opinion pieces about some of these social aspects of living with uncertainty, and have responded in letters to the writers, or to the editor, at the several news organizations that publish the journalists I choose to follow. None of them have taken on the sources of uncertainty that are the main concerns for me these days. The closest any have come is to mention the aging of our population and the lack of adequate support for the many more people who are both older and living alone. In that context there has also been discussion of burnout among health care workers, including doctors who are leaving their profession, worn out by overwhelming caseloads and corporate directorships that dictate quantity of visits and hence revenue, over quality of care.

I am grateful for personal circumstances which suggest I will not be left alone to face the increasing limitations of aging. Though I am alone 4-5 days each week now, I can call on my partner to be here within 2 hours, should the need arise – and we are talking about a change in home base that would permit him to be at home with me each evening.

Stopping due to pain – hoping it is temporary and I can resume later this morning.

Well, that break was not a few hours, not even a few days or weeks, but more than a month. Limited energy forced different priorities for my time and/or I have been still trying to do most of the activities that have given me satisfaction or pleasure and a sense of purpose in my retirement, leaving nothing for writing. I am hopeful that starting the new year with a post will set the tone for 2023 and help me implement my desire to once again be an engaged writer.

Help for achieving that goal comes from a friend who has included me in the group of “beta readers” for his manuscript on living with and managing pain, and from another dear friend who has been using self hypnosis to cope, for a number of years with a level of pain she describes as “screaming”. I have much to learn from them, and from my own inner wisdom, as I seek to continue being “of use” to others in ways that are effective but less demanding of my limited energy.

So the very personal aspect of uncertainty I am now examining in my spiritual practice is that of learning to be maximally focused in the immediate now. For a person raised by a German Virgo father to plan well ahead, with two or three backup alternatives as the means to manage uncertainty, becoming able to just be, in the now of time, is essentially to shed what has been part of my core identity for all of my adult life. As I write those words, I hear the inner voice of my spiritual teacher assuring me that the mentally formulated concept of a core identity of planner is a total illusion – my core identity is Soul or spirit, all knowing and able to manage whatever life brings to my attention, so long as I keep my attention where it needs to be – in the present moment, open to being shown each next step.

So that is what I am taking as my task for this new year. Not a resolution, with its associated sense of mental discipline in order to be implemented, but rather a suggestion for where – and to what – I give the nourishing food of my attention. 

Here. Now. For each set of circumstances that arise for me to navigate.

So be it.

Another Uncertainty

July 27, 2022

I’m puzzling over my current inability to generate an essay or post without something triggering me to respond to another’s thoughts. I have written quite a number of letters to columnists, or “to the editor” in response to articles (mostly in NYT or Atlantic) that, on rereading, I find to be thoughtful and probably appropriate to post, with some edits to clarify the content to which I have responded. What keeps me from creating posts on those same topics which I have been reflecting on for some time? Have I retreated so far into pandemic initiated solitude that I no longer feel a connection with any audience (a necessity, in my experience, for finding my voice) so that I am only able to respond to someone I’ve read?

Maybe…

With plenty of time to start practicing piano, I have not done so – until now that I have committed to play duets with a friend who will be visiting, with his guitar, at the end of the year. A deadline and an audience in place, I have begun to sit down for at least a short session of music as close to daily as I can prod myself to undertake. Am I so undone by the loss of work deadline pressures that I can’t commit to something I want to do, without a target date?

Maybe… 

Or am I simply not yet adjusted to the transition to retirement after being multiply engaged with work, housework, family, social obligations, etc?

Maybe…

So how long does such a transition take? Is there a standard? If so, does the standard take into account Covid lockdown and a need, due to age, for continued precautionary limitations to activities?

I don’t know. Maybe…

Walking to the mailbox this morning, I recognized that my many letters of response to opinion pieces or other news feed items are an exercise of intellect, whereas my posts have most commonly been expressions of inner reflection, or insights gifted from spirit. So am I, of late, giving too much attention to mind and not enough to Soul?

Maybe…

A recent increased interaction with Quaker acquaintances and friends has challenged me to clarify how I perceive the relationship between inner spiritual unfolding and outer expression of spiritual beliefs. Both my Quaker (and far distant Jewish) values and my ongoing spiritual Path dictate being engaged in the world, though not focused on finding one’s worth there. Rather, one’s outer daily environment is both a source of lessons, and the outlet for manifesting one’s growing awareness of spiritual Truth.

Intellectual understanding (represented for me at the moment by reading and responding to well reasoned opinions on affairs to the day) has its place, but should not overshadow time spent in inward contemplation – “seeking that of God within” in Quaker parlance, “checking in” with the Master and Soul, as explicated by my Path.

So are my questions about motivation, reasons for writing, use of my now abundant free time a reflection of an as yet unresolved issue of self identity? Am I in the process of transforming my sense of identity, of Self, from being rooted in what I think and do to what I Am?

Maybe…

Alike – and Not

July 7, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if anything meaningfully sets me apart?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quiet the mind and let inner wisdom speak.

Stepping Ahead

January 1, 2021

Setting new priorities and looking forward to at least occasional good news in the year ahead, to replace the barrage of negativity that defined 2020 I want to set the tone by appreciating and thanking all those who follow this blog, and also those who occasionally stop to read it. May you all find opportunity for joy, growth, a sense of achievement and of community in 2021.

Baraka bashad – may these blessings be.

Fighting Back

December 10, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

The Power of Words

November 6, 2020

Back in high school, I started a project of comparing adages in French and English, which later expanded to include contrasts between British and American English. I remember that the first saying I analyzed was “Every man for himself and devil take the hindmost” or in French “Chaque’un pour soi et Dieu pour tous” which replaces the devil coming behind you to God helping us all. That profound difference in attitude seems to me now to not only show a cultural difference between the French and we Americans, but also to be particularly apt to the deep divisions that have been exposed within our society, and which the present election seems only to be worsening.

People I do not know, but who expressed themselves on an engaged Buddhism election night gathering, said what I was feeling – deep disappointment that the vote was not demonstrating a rejection of the ugly, toadying, violent, racist, often viciously retaliatory rhetoric and behavior we have been immersed in these past four years. People also expressed their commitment to continuing to pursue a loving, compassionate outflow in whatever ways their lives make possible. Being one of over 600 participants in the Upaya election night Zoom gathering helped me feel less overwhelmed, despondent and alone. The periods of silent contemplation interspersed through the evening gave me space to re-attend to the directives of my own Inner Master and to find the means to live beside, rather than be tossed about within, the vortex of social/political upheaval.

As horrific as is the loss of life from the pandemic, I suspect that the greater long term damage to all of us is the seeming loss of connection, of compassion, of respect, of willingness to try to understand and accept differences between families, cultures, religions, neighbors. The pandemic’s safety restrictions only seem to separate us. There have been enough inventive ways people have found to still show love and care on an individual basis, to demonstrate that the absence of these qualities is not a necessary byproduct of Covid-19. Other countries have suffered great loss of life and limitations of interactions without the citizens turning so virulently against one another.

Words have power. Interpreting the meaning of specific words and how those interpretations can affect communication has been a lifelong interest of mine. Just recently I engaged in a discussion that almost escalated into an argument about the word courage. I took strong exception to the other person’s statement that though there was much he disliked about our president, he admired the man’s courage. It was not easy to hold on to my temper long enough to find out that we two had very different interpretations of the word courage. Once I understood that the quality admired is the focused drive to be in charge and to achieve personal goals, I could accept that quality as one to be respected. It also allowed me to point out that courage usually means knowing the risks but taking an action despite them, which in turn means being aware of other viewpoints than one’s own. Narcissists (and we agreed this president is a narcissist) do not have the capacity to see or care outside their own viewpoint – therefore they cannot have courage. 

Because I was discussing with someone close to me, and we were both intent on not harming our relationship, we sought a way to reduce the divisiveness that a difference in terminology might have created. Because of the shortage of such cooperative intent in our larger society, words have become weapons further dividing and hurting us, and all sorts of neutral items or actions have become symbols of that division and thereby lost their neutrality.

I was struck this morning by an essay in one of the news roundups to which I subscribe, that laid out the conundrum facing many news organizations now – that our social environment has become so distorted that journalists can no longer simply state facts without that action being seen as taking a non-neutral, political position. 

If I repeat the fact that states where health safety practices are given priority have lower infection and death rates than those which do not, my “ought-to-be-seen-as-neutral” statement is taken as a political attack on individual freedom. If I report that New Mexico is the first state in the nation ever to have elected all women of color as its Representatives to Congress (all three – two Native American and one Latina, one of the three a Republican) my factual statement will be read as judgmental, or prideful, or proof I am a despised liberal, when it is simply a fact.

And to wear a mask – which I do always, everywhere out of my home, all the time, primarily to protect myself but also showing respect for those around me – that action is not a political statement but simply the implementation of a health standard that existed long before there was a pandemic. My former employer required that we use masks during flu season, for our own and our clients’ safety. No politics, just common sense.

(Now – referring back to my statement about New Mexico’s representatives to Congress, how did you attribute the political affiliations? Two Democrats and one Republican, in tandem with the Native/Latina division I specified? You would be wrong.)

I have long since stopped counting the times that I remind myself that to assume is to make an ass of u and me. It is also to abandon respect, patience, compassion, discernment, listening and caring as values to live by.  

Could the bridge to repairing our ruptured society be as simple as making a national mantra of “Never Assume”? Sadly, I do not believe something so straightforward would go uncorrupted.

Which will not stop me from doing my best to implement the qualities of respect and attention implicit in assuring neither I nor my interlocutors become asses.

To Be is Sufficient

October 27, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 8, 2018

Into the silence of my contemplation this morning, one hen crowed persistently for a full minute, announcing with great pride her performance of a natural body function – producing an egg. She seemed the epitome of egoistic mind, trying to claim credit for the creativity that flows out from Soul in what is essentially a natural function, if only we remove the veils that blind us to the true source of our being.

Mind seeks to be credited with accomplishments. Soul is happy being. My contemplation practice helps me stop trying to accomplish, and start living in the moment. Experience is teaching me that if I fully embrace the present the future will unfold exactly as it should. Memory nags at me (in my father’s voice) to plan ahead, prepare for what may happen so that it can be managed well when the anticipated future arrives – or if it does not because some unanticipated event intervenes. Ego wants to crow its skill at preparing for all possible events. Soul prefers to rest in the certainty that what is meant to be will be, and will be precisely what is needed for my continued growth and learning.

My balancing act as I try to reconcile the pull of these contrasting approaches to my days in turn brings my attention to the importance of finding a middle space, a meeting place in the current broader political environment. It seems truly dire, that only extremism is now acceptable. I see and hear no voice speaking of meeting social needs through compromise, cooperation, or (attention, dirty words coming) pragmatic horse-trading. If a bill in Congress does not cover all 10 demands of one party, then we are harangued to chastise our representatives who voted for the final bill that did include 7 of those demands. We are becoming a society of all or nothing, and the near certain result will be nothing, since a fundamental principle of democracy is compromise – something for everyone, rather than everything for only one group.

I am Caucasian (Anglo in local parlance). I have lived in northern New Mexico for 45 years, more than 25 of those years married to a now deceased Hispanic native of the state. I cook many cuisines including New Mexico/Spanish dishes. I have thought at times that I would like to open a restaurant, offering an eclectic variety of dishes. Now I wonder if I would be “allowed” to do so in our current partisan society, after I read that an Anglo was attacked for “cultural appropriation” when he opened a Mexican restaurant in an East Coast city.

When did appreciation for cultures other than one’s own become a hostile act?

What new societal taboo am I violating, wearing the traditional African dress my  husband brought back for me from his recent trip home to Cameroon?

Where are the voices speaking up for cooperation, coordination, and that all but forgotten Quaker concept of consensus?

At times I feel like a lone voice crying in a wilderness of partisan rants, but I know that feeling comes from a mental assessment of the outer world around me. As soon as I return my attention inward, I hear the warm voice of Soul’s sharing and caring, and know this to be Truth.  My lesson brought from the contemplation is that while partisan egos may crow, I can ignore them as I did the hen, focusing instead on living Truth as fully as I am able.  What is meant to be will be. I just need to do my part here and now.

Changing Direction

April 7, 2018

With a frequency perhaps greater than experienced by some of my peers, I come to a point in whatever I am doing professionally that is not burnout, but close to boredom. When the challenge of mastering a line of work wears off, I find myself looking around for what to do next or differently. Over the years, that point has come in conjunction with other changes in my life circumstances, enabling me to shift from education research to paralegal, program manager in state government to college psychology teacher, home health manager to trainer to care coordinator with an MCO. Along the way i’ve had a private practice as a licensed mental health counselor, become a CPR instructor, written (but not published) three books, published 4 years of weekly columns in local newspapers and sold my jewelry designs at craft fairs. I’ve also plastered houses, laid flagstone floors, raised various animals for food, and at one point was making 40 loaves of bread a week by hand, for sale to an established list of customers.

The position I’ve held longest was as regional manager of a home health agency. I was simultaneously a case manager for one of the Medicaid programs the agency served. It still amazes me that I kept at it for more than 12 years, the second time around (I built the branch for 5 years, left for three, then accepted the urgent request to rejoin the agency.) That second twelve year period was a lesson in endurance, and set me a challenge of finding new ways to engage in order to keep my interest intact. It also exhausted my willingness to be “in charge” of anyone else’s performance.

My present employment meets virtually all my recognized requirements, enabling me to continue with full time work at an age where most of my peers have retired. I work from home, I am engaged one on one with clients, I am not subject to onerous supervision so long as I complete my work by the required deadlines, and I can set my own schedule within the broad guidelines of being “at work” the common Monday to Friday week. I’ve been able to participate in pilot studies of new technology and had my recommendations welcomed, for the new database support system being developed. I’ve been satisfied with the work for more than 4 years, and expect to continue with it for several more  – but I also recognize I’ve come to another of those “it’s getting to be same old same old” points.

I have read the many studies that stress the importance of pursuing a passion into one’s older years to support the retention of health and to encourage enjoyment of later life. From my early childhood, I have carried within me an awareness that I am fated to be long lived.  My relatively recent assumption of new family responsibilities gives added importance to being productive and engaged through those years.

Most of my choices of employment so far have been limited by my decision to respect requirements imposed by others in my life. When I would, for example, have sought work outside the U.S., I did not feel free to pick up and go. There are similar constraints now on my choices, though not anyone telling me I cannot do whatever it is I decide I want to pursue.

Instead, my challenge is to identify what might catch and keep my interest for a long enough period to see me through my remaining years. Several friends from whom I’ve solicited input have posed questions to help me.

a. “Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but the time wasn’t right?”

b. “What does your spiritual path tell you about how to move onward?”

c. “What floats your boat?”

I’ve also been gifted with observations from those who know me well.

d. “You come alive in the classroom, or any teaching setting.”

e. “For you I sense that the answer lies in one on one relationships.”

f. “You are uniquely skilled at channeling your spiritual awareness in ways that benefit others.”

My spiritual Teacher instructs that, to implement a new direction, I should not get too specific. Better to create a framework and then be patient and let the Master fill in the details. That is essentially how I landed in my present employment, after 18 months of searching and applying for whatever became available. So I am now seeking to identify the elements of the new framework. I already know they include at least the following:

  1. Something I can prepare for while still employed in my present job
  2. Something that in one way or another involves teaching
  3. Something that gives me the opportunity to travel, though not necessarily requiring that I live for an extended time elsewhere – I really do like living in northern New Mexico!
  4. Something that stretches my mind, requires me to learn a new skill, or significantly deepen my understanding of a topic I’ve studied
  5. Something that lies within my current physical capacities and can be continued if/as these slowly diminish with age

More than a hobby, but not such a new career as to require years of study to make the switch.

I’m mostly pleased that the question “what have you always wanted to do but not been able to?” doesn’t seem to have an answer. Pleased because I recognize that I have in fact done most of the things I really wanted to, slightly dismayed because I am not helped now with any nudges towards my next steps.

Whatever emerges as my eventual new passion, the process of seeking it has already brought benefits. Where I had been thinking that most of my choices have been constrained and limited by others, I now recognize that at the important points I have pushed through obstacles and gone for what I wanted. Just a few examples include: finding a way to continue horseback riding while living in the heart of Paris, making my way to New Mexico despite strong parental opposition, committing to relationships that have enabled my growth despite societal pressure to avoid them, and not letting lack of formal training in an area keep me from taking on work in that discipline.

Asked in a survey of alumni from my college what was the greatest benefit of my Swarthmore education, I answered immediately that it taught me how to learn anything I wished to. It taught me to think. It gave me the opportunity to experience accomplishment and to know that I have a good mind I can use to master any subject I wish to learn.

That mind will have its role implementing the details of whatever new direction my life takes. Mind will have to wait, however, until my heart, spirit, Soul perceives the direction the Master will prepare for me. And the ego-I must wait patiently for the frame outlined above to have its details filled in by a Soul much wiser than the most highly trained mind.

In the meantime, today was a sunny spring day and perfect for a trip to Santa Fe to do errands and to take a walk up Canyon Road. To everything its appointed time.

Baraka Bashad, may the Blessings Be.

Stress-Hardening

March 10, 2018

I recently attended a two-day training on Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) which covered the processes for defusing and for debriefing groups of people who have been involved in or exposed to a traumatic event (school shooting, natural disaster, first responders to an accident). The majority of trainees were chaplains working for my employer, a large MCO with multiple hospital facilities and clinics around the state. Others of us were nurses employed in those hospitals, just a few like me “oddballs” from other employment roles. I had taken the two years ago, so this was a re-certification/refresher but it turned out to be a quite new experience nonetheless.

Not because the material has changed – it hasn’t. I am in a much different mental/emotional space than two years ago, partially because of the unexpected and somewhat stressful recent change in my personal circumstances. The instructor warned us at the start of the class that some of the exercises might bring up aspects of our past life experience. I did not anticipate that the training would take me back so far into my past – to 1980 and the New Mexico prison riot that occurred on February 2nd of that year.

For that trauma, I had no such thing as incident debriefing, no opportunity for defusing of the strong emotions generated by the events; whatever working through I accomplished was done on my own. The aspect of that experience which became salient during the training was my response of a strengthened commitment to speaking out on behalf of what I believe it is important to emphasize in our communal life. In my own case I think I settled on causes that show respect for all persons and implementation of fairness and justice in interpersonal and group interactions. I recognize, however, that a similar experience could push another individual to settle just as firmly into a commitment to a path of vengeance.

From the perspective of trauma-hardened reaction, might one better understand the deep divides within our society today? Is it possible that too many of us have experienced (possibly unrecognized) traumas, not had the benefit of any sort of defusing or debriefing, and moved on into strongly held positions regarding values and actions as a means of “getting past” the traumatic events?

Putting things behind us without examining them and understanding their effects is a common reaction, but evidence proves it is not a particularly healthy one. The unexamined or un-dealt-with issues have a way of recurring. Classic example being the person who gets through the death of a parent seemingly without problems and then falls apart a year later when a pet dies.

A number of my friends have chosen, of late, to try to understand people who hold opposing views on the social issues creating so much conflict in our society these days. They are attempting to reach across the divides, to find common ground, to offer understanding, to create a cognitive (thought) framework for how divergent belief systems can be reconciled. While I applaud the motivation behind the effort, I have reservations about their likelihood of success. Not success at grasping a divergent view, but serious question as to whether any reconciliation can be achieved.

Reconciliation requires not just a cognitive but also an emotional shift, and one strong lesson from the critical incident stress management training was that the cognitive and emotional realms are two very different levels of response to trauma. In counseling, one technique often used to help troubled individuals is a cognitive re-framing, which can lead to a shift in emotional response. If I have experienced non-communication as disrespect, but learn that the lack of communication was the result of a technical failure (Internet shut off by a controlling government), the expectation is that I will then be able to free myself from the hurt and anger associated with feeling disrespected.

That kind of framework shift does seem to work in a broad-brush way. Indeed, I just read an article today about the importance of words as framing perspective. An example was asking if you would rather be in a relationship that ends, or that breaks up? Another question pertained to how many people would gamble with $50 if they would lose $30, versus would gamble the money if they knew they could keep $20. Although the end result, a minimum of $20 in hand, was the same, far more people would gamble to “avoid losing $30” than would gamble when they knew they could keep $20.

What the CISM training brought out by contrast is that when dealing with traumatic events, there is frequently a very deep divide between cognitive and emotional domains. While the defusing and debriefing techniques do initiate a cognitive re-framing of the experiences, it is a given that processing reactions to trauma will take time, and may include a variety of feelings and behaviors that are totally unfamiliar to the individual experiencing them.

When the traumatized individual has the benefit of a debriefing or subsequent mental health counseling, the outcome can be both reassurance that the unfamiliar reactions are not abnormal, and a healthy resolution of the anger, fear and other harsh emotions the trauma has brought up. Too often though, we experience trauma without any, or adequate, support. Is it any wonder, then, that we end up locked into tightly held beliefs or behavior patterns that do not allow us to understand, let alone accept, others different from ourselves?

The timing of the CISM training has served me well, to expose within me the residue of an unresolved divide between cognitive understanding and emotional response to multiple earlier traumas that have cumulatively established me in a pattern of somewhat set beliefs. My spiritual path would label these sanskaras, lifelong patterns of thought, values, beliefs that are rarely if ever recognized or examined – the stuff of which self-concepts are made. To reach the goal of self and God-self realization one must recognize and detach oneself from the illusion that the Self is the same as that mental self-concept. Not an easy process. Who and what am I, if I am not the collection of values and beliefs that have directed my behavior throughout my life?

I don’t at this point have any answer to that question; I do know that the answer is not something of which I can have any idea. Ideas are mental elements, and the Self is not knowable through mentation.

Which refers me back to my recognition during the CISM training that the divide between cognition and emotion can be huge, sometimes unbridgeable, and a metaphor for the divide between a mental concept of self and our true Soul self. Just as we benefit from a facilitator to help us bring the two parts of our response to trauma into perspective and balance, we need a qualified teacher to help us clarify what we are  – and are not – as spiritual beings. Without the facilitator we risk getting trapped into rigid belief and behavior patterns that move us past, but do not resolve, trauma. Without a spiritual teacher we risk getting stuck on the karmic wheel of life , repeating the same lessons over and over because we do not learn from them.

Once again, I remind myself that my spiritual Master instructs his students that “recognition is enough”. We do not have to ‘fix’ what we see is wrong, indeed we cannot do so. We do need to see an issue clearly, recognize it as another of the mental illusions we wish to shed, and then detach, leaving the work of removal to be done on us, for us, through us but not by us.

Now why does something so easy so often seem so hard?


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