Posts Tagged ‘My Life’

STRESS !!!

August 11, 2018

I have been absent from writing for a couple months while negotiating a combination of work and health changes that, out this other side, I now see were causing me far more stress than I had recognized. I know that stress is insidious, subtle and pervasive. I know and employ a variety of stress management techniques as well as stress reduction practices. I thought I was dealing fairly well with the pressures, and feedback from others close to me suggests they also thought I was coping well.

The difference in my body, my energy, my viewpoint this morning when I woke from sleeping the clock round reveal just how much more severe and draining the stress was than I had realized. The physical health matter was the not uncommon need to undergo cataract surgery. In late May I determined that, although my vision was not yet seriously impaired, this summer would be a good time to get through the process. My eye doctor recommended completing the procedures before I became adapted to the grey and fuzzy results of thickening cataracts, and upcoming changes in my living conditions also suggested now would be a good time to get done with the necessary surgeries. I was able to schedule the two operations just two weeks apart, minimizing the time when I was faced with mismatched eyes that nonetheless had to function for daily reading and computer work in order for me to carry on with my employment.

As of today, both eyes are “set” for distance vision, with close to equal need for magnification for reading and to see the computer screen. Interestingly, my old trifocal prescription lenses are still serviceable at least temporarily. What was the distance adaptation works for the computer, what was the middle computer adjustment works for up close reading, and I look over the tops of the lenses for distance. I am told I must wait a month, until after I’m done with the complete and somewhat tedious regimen of drops, before being assessed for what should be the final prescription I will ever need. Or perhaps I won’t need one at all, and can simply use two strengths of readers, one for close and one for the computer screen.

My work during this period included not just my regular care coordination support for my caseload members, but also being trained on the new data management system that is being introduced this fall. Lots of learning and significant extra computer “face time” during the period when my vision was least reliable. In retrospect ,I see that I was struggling for a sense of control during a period of constant change in multiple areas of my life. And I see that I was less patient, more judgmental, and significantly more exhausted than I recognized at the time.

It bears repeating. Stress is subtle, insidious, draining and far more damaging than most of us credit. Managing stress is not the best answer, as my relatively successful effort to do so proves. Eliminating stresses is virtually impossible. Which leaves learning to minimize stress responses, the stated goal of a mindfulness training approach introduced during a recent gathering of my coworkers for our quarterly training at headquarters.

I did make an effort to take mindfulness breaks in my days. I know I kept away from worrying over possible problems and negative outcomes, focusing instead on what I could learn that would be of use to my clients (or helpful for mentoring my coworkers) as I adapted to the changes in vision and mastering the new and different data management system being implemented at work. While I believe I was moderately successful in this effort, I know I have a ways to go yet toward reducing (as opposed to managing) my stress levels.

I offer a general apology to those with whom I interacted over the past month when I was impatient and intolerant – particularly people in my employer’s IT department. Someone up their chain of command implemented a switch from software to cloud based email for all of us, without warning, without training, and without any allowance for the lack of adequate internet infrastructure in rural parts of the state such as where I live. Systems crashed, work could not be done to the tight required deadlines, and I had no leftover reserves to handle the additional stress. I especially want to – anonymously but in a most heartfelt way – acknowledge the IT tech I most recently dealt with, who showed me how to red flag an email as urgent and made me laugh at my own frustrations as he did so. Bless the man!

I don’t have anything substantive to add to the reams of online material (can a term for paper quantity be correctly applied to internet content?) on stress. Rather I feel impelled to document my renewed awareness of how deeply one can be affected by anything that brings one’s sense of identity, or one’s feeling of control over basics of daily life, into question. I did not consciously think about the changes I was going through. I coped with them and kept moving forward but that did not negate their manifestation as subtle stress that seriously drained my energy and sent my attitude “south” (Why south? What did south ever do to deserve so negative an association, other than be traditionally located downward on a map?)

Being present – with one’s Creator, Master, Higher Power, the Sound – being focused for however long or short a time on the immediate present and one’s vital essence and its supports, doesn’t just manage but eliminates stress for those moments. The more frequently one can remember the practice, and exercise it for even just  few moments, the less stress accumulates. The less accumulates, the less requires management, and the more one’s thoughts and energies can be directed to other more important endeavors. I know “these Truths to be self evident.” I apparently needed a reminder to put them more consistently into practice.

I have been reminded.

Baraka Bashad and Thanks Be.

Inner and Outer Cultures

June 1, 2018

No sooner do I comment that it would be nice if we could go a few months without major expenditure, to recoup the finances a bit, then the well pump quits. On a Saturday, with no possibility of knowing what is wrong or what it will cost in time and money to be repaired until Monday at the earliest. We lose electric power often enough that life without running water is familiar.  I lived two years of my early teens without running water also, and have that old knowledge to draw on. Making the transition from flowing taps to only water stored in large and heavy bottles nonetheless takes a bit of doing. Not exactly what I intended to spend my weekend energy engaged with. But then, we know what comes of intentions and plans.

Before learning of the pump failure I did enjoy a day of walking in Santa Fe, seeing creative new jewelry designs, unique treatments of photographs, and some very original free form pottery at an art fair adjacent to the Farmer’s Market where I purchased beautifully multi-colored heirloom tomatoes. In addition to completing routine errands (including refilling the aforementioned large water bottles) I savored the quiet reflection time of my hour drive each way.

Based on what thoughts, remarks, and experiences have caught my attention these past few weeks, I must conclude I am engaged in some part of the process of self-definition. Not the who I want to be if I ever grow up type of self definition, but rather the what am I and what values do I channel? What is important to share and what is best not just left unspoken but totally dismissed so that it vanishes completely from my awareness and thus from my life. My recent rant about cultural appreciation versus so-called cultural appropriation is some part of this larger question I am pondering, because as I wrote the lengthy but still far from comprehensive listing of identity elements in that rant, I was aware that I was merely listing external traits and experiences that have influenced me. That external listing may be the common means by which we share something of who we are – but even as I wrote the words I was aware I was not describing the essence of me.

During  a reported in-house meeting at The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates participated in a discussion of whether the publication can achieve diversity while maintaining its long-standing tradition of political neutrality. Given the magazine’s recent difficult encounter with trying to add Kevin Williamson to its staff, a move Coates initially supported despite how different the two men’s values are, the question is particularly salient. It touches on other closely related questions such as how much of a range of opinion is acceptable under the mantle of encouraging diversity, and at what point does tolerance of diversity slip over the edge into tolerance of unacceptable extremism? Isn’t diversity as a positive value already a political statement and therefore a step away from political neutrality? Is it possible ever to legislate values and still claim to be politically neutral? Isn’t our current deeply divisive political environment largely due not to disagreements about politics, but disagreements about which values should be enshrined in legislation by our politicians?

A few days break since I wrote those last lines. Well pump has been replaced, water is flowing once more – and an analysis in The Week concluded that what used to be the political reminder “it’s the economy, stupid” has now morphed into “it’s the cultural clash, stupid.” Seeing in my own life just how challenging it can be to adapt to new and different values, blend different cultures, integrate new attitudes, I can readily understand how a nation as diverse as the U.S. can end up as fractured into tribal units as we seem to have become. Each of those external traits I listed in my last post could be considered a distinct tribal identity, to any one of which I might choose to adhere closely, abandoning the others as “not really me,” By not doing so, I place myself in the “multicultural” tribe and take on various implicit values that I admit I wish to see implemented in “my” society.

A theme running through many of the essays published on PlanetWaves, in conjunction with some very fine-tuned astrology, is the persistent narrative of our times, that “the personal is political and the political is personal.” I take that as meaning everything I do has repercussions in the wider society within which I live, and how that society is functioning affects how I think and feel. I can easily remember how affected I was by the last presidential election – the sense of very personal affront that so unqualified a male would be chosen over a perhaps tainted but still intelligent, vibrant and capable woman. My whole life of being put down, overlooked, ignored, insulted and scorned simply because I am a female more competent than many of my male coworkers felt summed up in those election results.

It is less easy to see how my actions affect society, beyond the one-on-one of my work and friendships. I suppose the fact that I post these reflections must be counted as me affecting a larger world in ways of which I am mostly unaware. I do consciously consider what I am “putting out there” and try to may it positive.

Hmmm… might some of the contentiousness of current public discourse come simply from the fact that we are all more aware of how society affects us then we are of how we affect society? Isn’t much of the frustration being expressed lately a form of attestation that too many people feel that they are not able to alter what is going on around them? No one does well when he/she feels helpless to change circumstances.

Which brings me once more back to the recognition, central to my spiritual training, that too much focus on the outer, whether for self definition or sense of achievement, leads to fading  energy, loss of joy, mistaken thinking and a degraded quality of life. Without a daily, disciplined practice of turning inwards and upwards, to the spirit/ Soul /Divine/ Master/ God-self by whatever name through contemplation/ meditation/ prayer (to each according to his/her Path) we are all less than we could/should be and the world is less in consequence.

Baraka Bashad

Building a Better Habit

March 4, 2018

Both Musings from a Tangled Mind and Time Goes By writers occasionally start a post by announcing they are going to rant, the latter under the heading of Crabby Old Lady as the writer. I don’t recall having posted a rant before, and I don’t have an “alter” to credit as being the complainer. It’s just me, out of reflective mode and full force into objecting to conditions imposed by a combination of circumstances and thoughtless behavior.

I recognize that, in the larger view, what I find objectionable is minor, especially when compared to:

  • ongoing abuse by ICE
  • hideously frequent massacres of school children in the U.S.
  • kidnapping, rape  and enslavement of children and teenage girls in many locations around the world
  • dire poverty and lack of health care that is pervasive.

So many ills one cannot begin to encompass them all, let alone respond.

Maybe that’s why I feel able to post this rant – it is one that can be responded to by individuals, one here and one there, accumulating into a movement toward greater civility from which we will all benefit.

I already know that my feelings are shared by some of my age-mates, and I have read of the “expert” advice to parents to impose discipline on their children with regard to … banning cell phones at the dinner table, but that is only a small piece of the problem. Cell phones have, to my mind, magnified both positive and negative behaviors and are, mistakenly, made the target of praise and blame that belongs more properly to the users of those cell phones.

Hmm – I hear how that statement could be thought to echo ones by NRA supporters, about guns not being the problem when people are killed. I need to state clearly that my position is that, where human behavior is not well controlled, the tools for expressing that behavior – when it is harmful – MUST be controlled. Guns MUST NOT BE AVAILABLE to people who have not been proven to be able to handle them responsibly.

And cell phones should not be always available to people who misuse them. We then need to define what misuse means, which gets back to the underlying values and conduct which are the true target of my rant. Governments wishing to control and suppress freedom of citizens define misuse as any action that shows the government in an unflattering way. In those circumstances, using a phone to show the world pictures of torture and abuse makes the phone a tool supporting human rights. Uploading and posting a snuff video makes the phone a tool of pornography and human degradation. Cutting off ability to access the Internet and post pictures becomes either a step towards suppression of rights (as in Cameroon where the English-speaking regions are being systematically cut off from the world by a government in denial of the legitimacy of the regions’ grievances), or a step towards increased respect for human dignity (when sites regulate and bar degrading or abusive posts).

Hmm, I didn’t intend to get so much into a “big picture” analysis of the issue that is bothering me. But I guess it’s unavoidable, since my small issue is ultimately also a question of competing values, and what actions do or do not support dignity and respect for individuals.

Circumstances have forced me to tolerate a degree of uncertainty, of hanging around and waiting, and of being constantly interrupted that I am unable to experience as anything other than profound disrespect. Understanding the reasons for the experience has slightly mitigated my anger, and helped me to minimize directing it at an inappropriate target – but I remain angry. I suspect precisely because my little issue is not , as writing this essay is revealing to me, readily separated from the big picture abuses of individual, group and government actions that show  disdain for basic human rights.

If you say you will call me in an hour, call me in an hour. If you aren’t sure you’ll be able to call, tell me you aren’t sure you’ll be able to call. If you reach me, keep your attention on me, talk to me, listen to me – and if something comes up on your end of the call that requires your attention, either postpone it until we’re done, or take a moment to tell me you have to end the call and say goodbye. DO NOT just turn away and deal with the other issue without any explanation, leaving me talking to empty air, or hanging on the line not knowing what has occurred or how long you’ll be distracted. And if, as has been the case for me lately, making a connection is difficult then when one is finally achieved, give it priority. Otherwise you must want me to believe you really don’t much care whether we are in touch or not.

Okay, ego, you’ve had your say. Now recognize that you are not all that important. If I, the true I that is Soul, am in charge and living fully in the present moment, then whatever anyone else is or is not doing is irrelevant. You are not keeping me hanging, waiting – I am allowing you to do so. I can hang up the phone, keep the connection open and spend the time in contemplation, or choose to get angry at what feels like disrespect.

What I don’t have an answer for, is why that last emotional response is so powerful and hard to set aside in favor of one of the other more pleasant and healthful responses. Or more truthfully, I do know why – long habit and indoctrinated learning. I do not know as clearly why I continue to persist with a habit I don’t like, and wish to be rid of.

My spiritual teacher instructs that if you want a habit to fade, take your attention off it. Attention is food, and giving something attention encourages it to grow. I see that readily enough in others, and I recognize it in myself in this instance. I do hope that writing out the irritation will prove to be a means of separating myself from it and not a form of enhancing my attention to this grievance. The fact that I have already set it into the context of a broader values issue encourages me to think the separation is beneficial.

And in the way that shows me that I am graced, no sooner had I completed this analysis than a call I had been waiting for arrived.

Now, as to the troubles of the world filling that bigger picture with so much ugly news, it would seem a similar answer is available, and has been touted here and there but never adequately implemented. Give attention to the good, kind, caring things people do instead of the vicious and ugly ones. Find the Schindlers in today’s troubled world and broadcast their positive efforts. Do as one parent of a murdered school child requested – never again mention the name of the shooter. Instead speak often of those who rescued or saved their classmates and students, making those names known world wide.

Just as negative emotions grab my attention from a habit that has been hard for me to break, negative actions grab world attention in an equally rigid habit pattern. But as I, and others, one individual and one habit at a time, break the patterns by shifting our attention, so too we should be able to cumulatively shift attention on the broader issues, “accentuating the positive, eliminating the negative” and moving ourselves away from violence and hatred, towards mutual respect and greater harmony.

Baraka Bashad, may these blessings be.

 

In the Small Hours

February 18, 2018

What is it about the small hours of the night (somewhere between 2:30 and 4:30) that allows our deepest fears to surface and torment us? My acupuncturist has spoken of how energy patterns shift through the various body meridians at different times in the 24 hour cycle, identifying for me which pathways are activated around 3 AM. Certain emotions are associated with each of the organs for which these meridians are named, including the emotion of fear. I will not be surprised to learn that the meridian and organ linked to fear is energized in the wee small hours. A healing system that has been effective for many more centuries than Western medicine has existed is certain to continue to give good answers to silly but nonetheless life altering questions.

( A check after I wrote the bulk of this essay confirmed that the meridians engaged at that time are lungs, associated with grief and loss, and kidneys which are indeed associated with fear.)

Life altering, because the course of a life can be determined by the way in which one handles the sleeplessness, the stark terror, or the merely nagging discomfort of the fears that arise. Tough it out until it passes? Make Plans C through F for how to deal with what one fears may happen? Pray for escape from the threat? Or for understanding of how to transform the fear into acceptance? Look for the spiritual lesson hidden in the fear? Identify the origins of the fear and how one’s circumstances have changed such that the fear is no longer relevant?

Intellect can interpret, redirect, calm, reason away irrational emotions. It is not very effective at reasoning away rational feelings, like the fear experienced by a military spouse left behind when the partner goes into a war zone. It is eminently rational to fear the loved one will come to harm in a dangerous environment. No matter how well armed, trained, clever the spouse may be, there is always the chance of the proverbial “being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Reason also does not seem to work well, for me, against fears that are ultimately rooted in inner experiences, whether or not they express themselves as projections into our common outer reality. I have come to understand that my early conditioning by a mentally ill and abusive mother set me up to expect that good things would not be granted to me, and that happiness is not a state of being that I would be allowed to enjoy for more than snatched and brief moments in a life otherwise fated to be a harsh struggle against negative forces determined to block and overwhelm me.

Writing that last thought out, I recognize it as exactly what my mother believed and felt, and made into the truth of her own life. Sometime after she died, when I was already approaching my own middle age, I read a diary my mother had written at the age of fourteen, as she traveled to a boarding school in what was then Palestine, now Israel. It showed me a girl already lost to reality, living in a fantasy world filled with both a gallant Prince Charming and horrific ogres doing battle for her attention. She appeared to have been more convinced of the reality of the ogres than of the existence of the princes in those writings. She certainly manifested that orientation to the negative as I knew her. And she apparently instilled that expectation of the negative more deeply into me than I had realized until a very recent 4 AM awakening.

I have been reasoning away the discomfort of not receiving an expected call over the past 46 hours, with sufficient success that I was able to complete a productive day of work, relax and go to sleep at the usual time – but not to stay asleep through the meridian shift that occurred about 3:30. Awake in the dark, I allowed myself to feel the despair of loss in order to trace back its cause, and then started writing to externalize the feelings, a technique I’ve found most helpful in the past. And there, on the page, is the statement about my mother and the realization – not just an intellectual knowing but a deep-seated understanding – of how I have been affected/infected by that same expectation that the ogres will win.

Scant minutes after writing the lines about ogres and princes, the awaited phone call came in. And I learned that the sequence of events I had rationalized to explain its delay had indeed taken place. More importantly, I was shown yet again that realizing the truth of a situation is transformative. My spiritual Teacher frequently reminds us that we do not have to “fix” what we perceive to be out of balance. “Recognition is enough” he tells us. Once the elements of an issue have been recognized (re-cognized, seen from a different point of view) we are directed to take our attention off the subject matter and place it back where it belongs, on our spiritual purpose in this life. “Attention is food, what you give attention to grows, what you deprive of attention withers and vanishes.”

I was initially distraught at least partially because I couldn’t tell if my fear arose from a prescient foreboding of an impending calamity, or instead from a deeply ingrained and unconscious pattern of expectation (what on the MasterPath is called a sanskara). As indicated above, my experience of the emotions and subsequent contemplation of the experience put it squarely into the sanskara category. Releasing the sanskara’s hold on my attention and imagination came (is still coming) next. New insights arise daily, as I do my normal chores and also those that have fallen to me during my husband’s unexpected absence. I see that I am being gifted with opportunities to completely reassess my experience of being unsupported and, of necessity, totally self-reliant throughout virtually all of my life, until four years ago.

Knowing now what it feels like to be in a loving, mutually supportive and caring relationship, I begin to realize that – should my worst fear be realized – I would not be cast back into the unfulfilled void of my earlier years. I am not that same person, or perhaps more accurately I do not see that person through the same eyes as before.

For that change, as for so many other new insights connected to my initial 3 AM panic, I am most deeply grateful.

A Solitary Cat

January 24, 2018

In the small hours of the morning I lie awake, thoughts and feelings flooding through me in delayed response to the previous day’s news, which brought about a shift in my daily life patterns. A death, unexpected, the necessary response to which has once again made salient a frequent awareness that I have, in the past, repeatedly sought to ignore or overturn.

If required to pick a single word to describe my life experience, I would unquestioningly choose “solitary”. Seemingly odd, for someone who has spent nearly 40 years in the married state, but nonetheless accurate. With a few more words I would say my life experience has been that of an outsider, looking at others, families and couples, living normal lives of mutual engagement. Not necessarily happy engagement, because I clearly see the tensions, the jealousies that make relationships – especially sibling ones – difficult.

Difficult or easy, the relationship ties are strong, and the interactions engaging. And I am on the outside, looking on.

I was the only child of an only child mother, and a father who was so estranged from his two siblings that I did not know they were still alive until I was in my mid-teens. So no siblings, no cousins, virtually no family at all except my maternal grandfather. My mother was mentally ill, my father shy, distant, emotionally withdrawn. I vividly remember nights (rather like this one) when I would waken from a few hours sleep, and lie in bed feeling deep solitude. Then, my cry expressed itself as “why can’t we be a family like other families are?”. I would imagine that I had been adopted, and somewhere – out there – were sisters and a brother I could belong to, if only I could find out how to identify them.

But I was not adopted, I was born into a loveless marriage that had been founded on illusion and was sustained by obligation. I benefited from the circumstances in that I was made to learn quickly how to be flexible and self reliant. I set myself a goal in those early years, to make for myself a home, which I then defined from a poem studied in school as “the place, where when you come there, they have to take you in, a place you don’t have to deserve.”

I achieved that goal in the early 1970s when I bought my first “house” – a 150 year old railroad boxcar, on property rented from the railroad, with only cold running water, and two out houses in lieu of a bathroom. An adobe addition had been added to the boxcar in the past, but the roof had fallen in and the walls partially eroded. I paid $500 for the place, then invested a few thousand more, and a lot of hard labor, to install a toilet, hot water heater and tub, run propane in for the water heater and a cook stove, clean out the debris and re-roof the addition, and lay down a flagstone floor in what became the living room, with a sleeping loft above part of it. I had my home.

Over the years, I moved on – started afresh with 11 acres and a mobile home onto which I added rooms and a workshop, then sold that to move to my present, smaller but more efficient home on four acres, with solar heating supplemented by wood and propane, relatively easy to maintain and to keep me comfortable in both heat and cold.

I’ve shared these homes with others – obviously, since I’ve been married much of the time. But the marriages were not “traditional” and included 8 years of being alone while my then husband was imprisoned. More years were functionally alone, for various reasons – ill health, poor choices, incompatibility. The reasons don’t matter, the effect is what I now recognize as my life’s path, to be consistently and solely responsible for all that occurs in my life without recourse to anyone to depend on, no partner or – I love the old fashioned word – helpmate.

Until about four years ago, that is.

Whether from the lessons of early childhood, from innate nature, or from Divine intent, I am in essence “the cat who walks by itself.” I have long recognized that I am uncomfortable in larger social groups, unless I have a role to fulfill – teacher or hostess being the two most frequent. In small dinner parties of 3-4 people, I can relax and talk, enjoying an exchange of ideas with my companions. As soon as the group gets larger, I am inclined to stay quiet, sit slightly apart, observe and rarely speak – once again taking on the position of an outsider looking in to family/group life going on beside me, including when my husband’s country-mates gather for a meal, discussion of soccer, and of the troublesome politics at home.

I am comfortable with silence. Living alone I may talk to my pets, and put on the radio to listen to the news (though rarely these days, there being nothing I care to hear). I equally rarely play music, or feel any need for sound to fill a void I do not experience. It has, you may conclude, therefore been an interesting adaptation to live with my current husband, who grew amidst the constant uproar of a large family in a culture that non-Africans perceive as “noisy”. He plays music even when studying. I’ve learned to enjoy most of his selections, only occasionally asking him to turn the sound down so I can think.

For the four years now that we have been together, I have experienced more of the meaning of family life than in all my years before. I thought I might get to enjoy having a sister but that has not proven true. I have come to deeply appreciate my husband’s unique character, his depth of understanding of his siblings, his learned skill at managing his responsibilities as designated successor to his father and head of the family. I am offering what I can by way of experience and supervision to his/our children with whom we are able to talk daily, thanks to the wonders of a technology that did not exist when I was, at age 12, taken halfway around the world and away from the emotional anchor of weekly visits with my grandfather. Blessings be for What’sApp.

Now, suddenly, I am faced with renewed solitude. Not for long, only about six weeks, but sufficient to make me vividly aware of the way in which I have, over so many years, persistently sought and not found a permanent sense of belonging. What first came to mind, at 3:30 AM, was a story told by my spiritual teacher, of the wealthy ruler who had all the riches of a full and engaged life, but instructed that when he died he should be buried with one open hand left extended above the earth, to show to his people that no matter how much we have in life, no matter how close we are with family and friends, we leave this world empty-handed. Elsewhere, we are reminded that we come into life alone, and leave it alone. Not exactly ashes to ashes and dust to dust, but echoed in the song refrain “all we are is dust in the wind”.

I have no doubt that I will manage my work, my health, my home responsibilities alone while my husband is in his home country attending to the family needs which have just arisen. Political unrest there precludes me accompanying him, as I might otherwise have done. “You will be a target, it is too unsafe.” The U.S, and British embassies have already instructed their citizens in the country not to venture outside the capital city, and we would be traveling to a small village in the heart of the “rebel” region. I am aware that managing life here on my own is not the challenge facing me. I can do that easily enough. Instead, my basic concern is for my husband’s safety and the stress of living day to day with an underlying current of uneasiness, waiting for the next phone call to update me on how he is managing, and to reassure me that he is safe and not, as a recent returnee from the West, targeted to be a hostage in the political upheaval.

I did not find it easy, four years ago, to learn to accept help, a partner, support, suggestions, redirection. But I realize now that I have done that adapting, have relaxed into it, and deeply enjoy it. In consequence, returning to self-reliance, while quite doable is not particularly desirable. I find myself wondering, in the small hours of the night, whether this experience is meant to remind me not to become too dependent on another person? Or simply to give me the opportunity to reflect back on my life overall? Or perhaps both of these, plus the most important reason which is to reinforce the teachings of my Master that the first and only place to look for guidance and support is “in and up” to one’s own Divine essence , as revealed through the grace and the training of the Master. With my attention where it needs to be placed, all else will be as it should be.

Baraka bashad.

Practicing Patience

January 13, 2018

The winter storms keep missing us. We get the wind and the cold but not the moisture that is being dumped so plentifully to our north and across the midwest. I remember reading a projection that north would be exceptionally cold and we in the southwest would be noticeably warm across this winter. So far it’s been an accurate forecast.

In some previous similar years, the consequence of this weather pattern has been particularly heavy spring snows, the kind that leave us without power and snowed in for several days, but which then also melt off quickly so that once we can get out, we can drive without the hassles of icy roads. For now, it’s wait and see.

I wouldn’t be concerned at all one way or the other, but my job has me on the road for 50-90 mile one way trips with sufficient frequency that I have to be aware of weather risks – especially in February when the combination of an exceptionally short work month and a markedly heavy workload intersect and make scheduling my travel a critical component of meeting all the deadlines. A day or two unable to get out to my appointments may well mean I don’t get the month’s work completed. Reminding myself I’ll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, it’s cold enough (or the daylight hours are reduced enough, I’m not sure which is the determinant) that the hens have stopped laying, but not so cold that I have to wear my heavy winter coat. Concerns about renewed drought do not prevent me from enjoying the mild and sunny afternoons that entice me to go walking. For how much longer? Yes, you know the refrain now – we’ll have to wait and see.

Mini-mind

January 6, 2018

It’s another one of those evenings when I find myself playing solitaire, alternating with reading. One of those evenings I have identified as better spent writing (and reading) so that when I look back I will feel I’ve been productive rather than mind-numbed, zoned out, and wasting time.

When the book is particularly engaging, I just read. If I’m not reading steadily, why don’t I just put the book away and find another? Old habit, I suspect, and that internal voice lecturing about finishing what has been started. You’d think I’m old enough to disregard the habit and the voice, but apparently not. Hmm, another pattern to review and see why I am still controlled by it.

That is, in fact, what most of my reflection periods seem to be about these days – reviewing the whys and wherefores of any number of habits of behavior or thought, to consciously decide if they are worth maintaining or if it is time to be freed from them. In many cases, the final outcome is not really either option, but rather a choice to maintain the behavior or way of thinking as a tool to be used at times and ignored at others. In essence I transform the unconscious habit into a chosen action for those situations where it will be truly beneficial.

Follow this lovely road to freedom from the tyranny of mental constructs.

This way to freedom from the tyranny of mental constructs.

Looking Ahead to Blessings

December 17, 2017

Having stressed repeatedly to different clients the importance of a personal goal, apart from improved health which most of them seek, and having heard my husband reiterate this same objective to his parents as an key contributor to continued energy and engagement despite the various pains and slowly of age, I am guilty of failing to keep my own personal goals updated. The result is that lately I’ve been feeling weighed down by all the “have to’s” of my daily life, and also as though so much of my core energy is being expended on those requirements that I am simply depleted and have “nothing left” to expend on enjoyment.

To some extent, the energy drain is unavoidable – there’s only so much reserve left in this aging body, and so very much that it is being required to get through by way of work, housekeeping, support of mate and extended family, and the myriad chores of daily living. But what I recognize I’ve shorted myself on – and also recognize as a frequently encountered shortcoming in all those people whose work or life roles fall under the heading of care-giving – is making sure our activities that refill the reserves get as much priority as do our daily duties.

So my personal goal that is being re-established as I write, is to assure that I do refill the cup with activities that give me pleasure in and of themselves. My daily spiritual practice is one of those that has not been neglected; it is absolutely necessary (but apparently not sufficient yet) for me to maintain at least a semblance of balance, and a comfortable engagement with my outer life. I’ve cut way back on attention to the broader political and social scene, the hysterical reactivity of which is totally exhausting and debilitating. I continue to distance myself from whatever will trigger the “been there, done that, didn’t think I’d have to do it again in my lifetime” discouragement of seeing so much hard work, and advances toward a kinder and more caring society, erased and replaced with unfettered greed.

My work as a Medicaid-program Care Coordinator is rewarding, and as jobs go, just about ideal. I get to work from home (no daily commute), see my clients in their homes, support people toward improved health and management of their lives, experience directly their appreciation and pleasure as their circumstances improve, and know that I am functioning as part of the solution rather than being part of the problem. My home life is all that anyone could ask for, and more sustaining than I ever imagined I would enjoy. Overall, my health is apparently still fine, with only this irritating decline in energy and will that I need to sort out.

I don’t have the answer(s) yet. Only some hints as to where to look. For the physical depletion, I’ve resumed taking an adrenal supplement recommended to me some years ago, and it does seem to be helping. For the psychological, I’m looking to specific activities that I’ve enjoyed in the past and have not been participating in lately, notable among those being more regular blog posts.

I’m also taking seriously the increasing evidence that substantive ‘screen time’ alters mental functioning. My work requires a good deal of computer data input. Keeping up with news summaries on my phone (we don’t have TV) adds to the screen time. Writing will do so also, but more productively than the hours I have lately been spending in somewhat mindless Solitaire or Scrabble. I am undefeated in Free Cell and win better than 97% of hard level games against the computer in Scrabble. So what. Neither accomplishment is nourishing me. At best they have provided a sort of ‘zone out’ from thought, akin to ‘stopping the mind’ in meditation. I can do better, focusing my attention where the inflow of energy will be beneficial, not merely neutral.

I have yet to understand what those targets of focus will be, other than a continued extending of my attention to spirit. But now, the goats have escaped their fence and need to be corralled, and dinner needs to be put into the oven. I am reassured by the knowledge that when I  pose a question in my daily spiritual practice, I will receive needed answers, including on how to refresh my psychological energy.  I am so very grateful to have that guarantee in hand!

May these blessings be, for all who seek them.

Hope Less, Be More

November 12, 2017

I’ve been trying to decide if I can write this reflection meaningfully, without first including the whole of Leslie S. King’s latest post, “Give up Hope” on The Inner Adventure. Finally I’m just going to start writing, refer to the lines that are most relevant to me at the moment, and encourage you to read her poem/post in its entirety for the images that may be more salient for you.

I have felt, of late, like the proverbial round peg in a square hole. Inundated with unpleasant, incessant, noisy and noisome news, arrogant attitudes, and pestering financial demands to support every cause that is under attack, every candidate promising to make things different/better for someone, somewhere. Trying vainly to balance quiet reflection and inward focus with the persistent shaming of “we have to resist”, “we have to fight back”, “we cannot afford to be cynical, or tired, or detached” from what is happening in politics and society, on TV and in sports, in all the venues that take place out there in time and space.  

How does one not react to outrageous public events? How achieve living fully in the present, when that present is perceived to be so ugly that one’s only wish is to escape it, shut it out, be other-where?

Enter Leslie’s poem, and the line that has echoed in my mind as the key to reestablishing balance, “When you quit hoping the rain will stop, you pull out your umbrella.” 

Hope entraps the attention into the time track, pushing us into living for a future that, one hopes, will be different and better than the present one is experiencing. Hope immobilizes. When I hope the weather will be fine tomorrow so I can exercise outdoors, I do not seek means to exercise on this damp and windy day, indoors.

Sitting and reading, instead of exercising, I come across another line, this one in the novel The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny, an extraordinarily skilled writer I’ve only recently discovered. “I just sit where I’m put, composed of stone, and wishful thinking.” Two very different sources giving me the same message – wishing and hoping are not the positives they are so often presented as being.

A pessimist, expecting the worst, does not escape the immobilizing effect of seeming to live in an as yet unrealized future. An optimist can appear by contrast to be in a better space – but that is an illusion. Our minds may expect the best, or the worst, but in either case they are ignoring the present, the only moment where Being exists. In Being is freedom, wisdom, love, infinite capacity for anything and everything to manifest, and also an open umbrella, sheltering and protecting from adversity.

Knowing this Truth does not mean I am able to make it my everyday reality. I get caught, distracted, tugged into the noisy flow of mental concepts, wound tight and held fast by hope, anticipation, expectation – choose a word, they all essentially mean being dissatisfied with the present moment. Moment after moment of dissatisfaction turns into a life of regret, broken only rarely by flashes of contentment. Not how I want to perceive my life, whenever the end of it looms imminent and it becomes time to make final assessments.

The standard advice for countering discontent it to count blessings. Quite a fine thing to do, certainly, but still a mental exercise often accompanied by trips into the past and renewed hopes for the future. Back on the time track, no longer present with the moment that is here, now, pure essence without any overlay of mental constructs.

And they are so subtle, those mental constructs! What can be wrong with aspiring to______? (Fill in the blank with any achievement you choose). How conditioned we are, from earliest childhood, to think in future tense. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” we ask of even the smallest of nursery schoolers. Rarely do we say to them, “Are you enjoying what you are doing in this moment, right now, right here?”

The Brutal Telling also quotes Pascal, “Most unhappiness comes from not being able to sit quietly in a room.” Sitting quietly, mind still or focused closely on what is immediately present, is a surprisingly rare skill, at least in the busy West where “doing” is given so much more respect than “being” (Yes, I hear you singing dear friend, doo be doo be doo). Despite the spread of various forms of meditation and Buddhist practice, despite the growing number of participants practicing contemplation on my spiritual program MasterPath, despite the Quakers who do sit silently in a room seeking “that of God within”, the predominant direction of attention in our culture is outward, looking back to learn lessons, forward to aspire for a better life.

I can’t help but feel that we are, collectively, rushing directly toward unhappiness and away from the only place where lasting joy can be found – right here, right now, in this moment. I know what it is to feel the joy of now, I have learned to expand now into what the clock measures as periods of time, but I recognize how limited my skills are, how much I still have to learn if I wish – and I do wish it – to remain permanently in that joy, permanently in now.

The first new skill clearly involves learning to revel in, instead of fear, the instruction to “abandon hope all ye who enter here”. Abandon hope, not because I am doomed but for the positive goal of knowing my Self as divine in this moment, complete and splendid right here, right now. Safe and sheltered whether I am in glowing sun, or serenely under an open, shining, divine umbrella.

Forgiveness?

August 6, 2017

This post may cost me followers, maybe even friends, but nonetheless I feel compelled to speak my mind on the subject of so-called Christian forgiveness.

A number of different situations have cropped up for me recently, to bring my attention to the topic of forgiveness, what it entails, and what preconditions may be necessary for it to occur.  As background, let me say that I was raised in an ethical Jewish tradition, but outside of a Jewish community, such that my classmates and friends were all Christian. This was back in the days when public school classes began not just with a Pledge of Allegiance, but also with prayers, which the teacher usually closed with “In Jesus’ Name” and I silently said “Cross that last line out, God.”

My maternal grandfather was an immigrant from Russia in the early 1900’s who became one of the founders of the Labor Zionist party in the U.S., friends with Golda Meir and Chaim Weizmann and other early supporters and leaders of what became the Israeli state. He sent my mother to school in what was then still called Palestine, and she was also an active voice for the creation of a Jewish homeland. During my elementary school years, she taught Hebrew in an after school program at a Jewish center, leaving me to come home from school to practice my piano lesson, do housework and prepare supper. My present skill with, and enjoyment of, cooking surely dates back to those meals.

My mother was highly and expressively critical of all religious extremism, Orthodox Jewish as much as Christian or Muslim. She saw the Jewish Orthodox community as actively harming the goals and functioning of secular Israel, as readily as she pointed to the hypocrisy of “Bible thumping Christians” who preached forgiveness but still unforgivingly blamed Jews as “Christ killers.”

From that early conditioning, I moved on to exposure to different Eastern religions, became comfortable with Quaker values and silent worship, and also with Zen Buddhism, finding myself finally, in 1993, a student of MasterPath and happily centered in an unfolding, ever expanding understanding of basic spiritual Truth. As my inner education has proceeded, layer after layer of mental conditioning has been peeled away, sometimes quickly and easily, at other times only after considerable turmoil.

My consideration of the meaning of forgiveness falls in the latter category. I have thought that I’d come to terms with where I stand in relation to “letting go and letting God” as the Quakers express it, but after some months or even years, a situation would crop up to show me I am not yet free of anger and resentment over the way some people have behaved toward me. One friend recently forwarded me one of those picture quotes that make their way around the Internet, this one stating “I’m not Jesus, so I don’t easily forgive, and I don’t have Alzheimer’s, so I don’t forget.” It struck a chord in me, and started me once more into an on-going contemplation of the meaning of forgiveness.

I’m far from conversant with the New Testament, although one cannot live in a nominally Christian country without coming to know bits and pieces of the Bible which get quoted in all sorts of context. I also had an English literature teacher in college who insisted one could not understand most American and European literature without having a familiarity with both Old and New Testament, and who therefore required that we all read substantial chunks of the Bible in order to pass his class. What stays in my memory, in the context of forgiveness, is the blessing (or is it an injunction?) to “go forth and sin no more.” I hear this as specifying that to be forgiven one must change.

“I’ve apologized so you must forgive me” doesn’t cut it. An apology, unaccompanied by meaningful change in conduct, is nothing more than empty words from an arrogant and demanding ego. That is probably why Twelve Step programs include making amends as a crucial step – not just apologizing but doing what one can to set things right – i.e. demonstrating changed behavior. If I am sorry for something I’ve done that hurt another I make certain not to repeat the hurtful behavior. I expect the same from others – and I dismiss as inappropriate, even offensive, those “good Christians” who preach that I “should” forgive just because someone apologizes.

There are profoundly good, caring and sensitive people of all faiths. Most of these, in my experience, have no need to promote themselves by their religious affiliation. Their quiet daily actions speak loudly on their behalf. The more forcefully a person insists that they are acting from Christian, or Muslim, or Zoroastrian or Hindu or any other religious teaching, the more certain I am that the speaker is likely to be disrespectful of others, unforgiving and self-righteous while demanding that their own actions be forgiven “in the name of” whichever form of God they worship.

I suspect this topic of forgiveness remains pertinent to me just now, not only because of a personal, family-related situation, but because of the recent exacerbation of offensive, intolerant, “my way or the highway” conduct by self proclaimed good Christians on the national political scene who mistakenly insist that they are merely returning the nation to its origins. Yes the founders of the United States were almost exclusively Christian men, but they were adamantly opposed to having any form of religion imposed by civil authority. The Puritans fled dictates of the Church of England. William Penn established a Quaker colony. Jewish immigrants created a center in earliest New York city. The Constitution clearly established the separation of church and state, giving everyone the right to worship as he (or she) pleases. Too many current politicians seem to have conveniently forgotten our founders’ emphasis on a secular state. They are instead critical, judgmental, demanding that law follow their particular interpretation of Christian values, and in the process totally betraying those values.

I readily admit that I shut down as soon as someone says “the Christian thing to do”, when they mean the caring thing, or the thoughtful thing, or the right thing to do is X, Y or Z. I make a sharp distinction between someone explaining a teaching of their religion and then showing how they implement it, and another person who says this or that is a religious requirement that everyone MUST be made to obey, often without manifesting the appropriate associated behavior.

Which brings me back to forgiveness, and my inescapable conclusion that it you want me to forgive you, change your conduct before you approach me, and when you approach me, ASK,  don’t demand or otherwise make it my responsibility to bring about a change in our relationship. You caused the rupture, you need to figure out how to repair the wounds. My role is to be open to be approached, and willing to engage in a cooperative effort to heal the relationship.

Not bad advice for the national political scene as well.


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