Posts Tagged ‘self-acceptance’

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…

Reflections on Motivation

May 20, 2022

For years, while working more than full time, I kept up a regular weekly posting to my blog, mostly reflections on circumstances encountered in my daily interactions. A friend just recently commented that I was so busy then, that I needed the blog posts to organize my thoughts. She was probably correct. I have experienced myself as someone who needs “an ear”, preferably a trusted friend or my spouse, so that I can hear myself working my way through whatever concern needs clarification, using the feedback to refine and define my perception. Lacking that in-person ear, writing things out has also served me well as a means to achieving clarity.

Enter retirement, and Covid isolation, and a spouse who lives away the 5 days of the work week, and one might think I would be that much more engaged with posting to this blog. Not so. With a great deal more free – and largely silent – time, I have instead seemingly become mute. I read steadily, back to my childhood sick bed years of a book every 2-3 days, and I play solitaire (current undefeated streak at Free Cell approaches 700 games), I follow an assortment of news and opinion newsletters, tend to my chickens, go for walks when the weather and my health permit, and do the basics of house chores necessary to keep things running here, and my husband’s second home at his work location stocked with his preferred meals. 

Yes, I talk to a few people each week – my acupuncturist and massage therapist, and a couple of dear friends with whom I have an established regular call. I also talk to a limited number of people with whom I am engaged as a part-time contracted worker, assisting the NM Caregiver Coalition and – just lately – those who participate in a weekly, via Zoom, Quaker Worship Sharing group. None of that answers my question to myself of why I have not, in the more than two years since retirement, not resumed posting regularly, particularly given the Covid imposed dearth of opportunity to talk out my concerns.

I had thought, pre-retirement, that I would be able to devote energy to small home improvements – planting flowers in the entry area, refurbishing my kitchen, clearing out years of accumulated stuff. I have made some inroads in all those areas, but not come anywhere near completing the tasks. Whatever I thought I would gain from doing so has not materialized. Instead, partially perhaps because of an unanticipated decline in energy and increase in daily pain, I have been avoiding the endeavors to not be confronted with my decreased capacities.

At first, it was easy to say I would get back to them when I recovered from the first health issues. By now, having experienced a seemingly endless cycle of two steps forward and one-and-a-half back, I am trying to accept that recovery is a myth akin to pre-pandemic normal. My new normal appears to require a degree of flexibility that goes counter to my lifelong mode of accomplishment – organized, planned, scheduled and with Plans B and C pre-mapped in case something (usually another person’s decisions) make the initial schedule unsustainable. With very little scheduled in any week, and no advance warning of better or worse energy/health/pain days, I seem to have lapsed into non-accomplishment of even something as seemingly easy as writing regular blog posts.

I am unclear what underlies not just my lack of writing, but my lack of overall motivation. I really want the kitchen refurbishment, but am defeated before I begin by the non-response of those workmen I manage to identify. Two plumbers have both said they will schedule me, but weeks go by without a call. I should be on the phone, badgering and pestering until one of them wants rid of me enough to come – but I don’t find myself with motivation to expend my limited energy being a nuisance. With the not-feeling-well days coming unpredictably, I am hesitant to enroll in a class, or schedule volunteer activities when I may not be up to keeping the commitments. I am still waiting for a day when both the unpredictable New Mexico spring weather and my energy will match, to set out bulbs and pansies in the pots I arranged last year.

None of which explains my disinterest in writing.

A friend with whom I am mostly linked by our common engagement as writers just recently asked me what I have been working on. She sets herself the challenge of a poem a day every April, has self-published quite a number of books, runs a LIterary Salon now and keeps a regular writing schedule despite her own health and energy issues and those of her husband. I had no real answer to give her, other than mentioning some thought of resurrecting a project sharing creative ways people have found to outwit the limitations of Parkinson’s. I did not recognize and hence could not admit to my problem with motivation.

The question did, thank you Sharon, prod me to examine what has been immobilizing me and, as I am grateful to acknowledge as a blessing, once the question was clearly posed, answers have begun to emerge. They lie in a need to completely redefine how I assess my sense of self, how I shed restricting core identities that have served me productively as a self-reliant and successful worker but which do not pertain to an older, semi-retired individual.

I may not yet be properly motivated, but I am interested to see what emerges.

Empathic Excess

March 7, 2022

I know there is a condition (sometimes labeled compassion fatigue) of excess of empathy producing its opposite, over time, in the person who has generally been open, accepting, willing to see another’s viewpoint and vulnerable to feeling their pain. I know because I recognize that, contrary to my habitual way of being, I have been notably intolerant of late, managing not to express my disdain only by withdrawing from engagement, staying “out of people’s way” and trying to minimize my following of news and other online activities. I haven’t been very successful with that last, still reading many of the stories and opinions in my inbox daily news feeds. I have, unexpectedly, been far more successful at insulating myself from the cares and needs of characters in novels, by ceasing to read them. It has been a puzzlement (to use a term from a favorite story, “The King and I”) that I have become impatient with reading, when that activity has, throughout my life, been my preferred means of escape from my immediate circumstances. 

My childhood was not a happy one, an only child living with a rageaholic mother and an emotionally absent father, and prone to catching every illness passing around, so that I spent a good deal of time alone in bed, in my room, with the radio and books for company. The few activities I could engage in that my mother would not interrupt with a physical or verbal assault on me, were using the toilet or being ill, and reading. Not being a stupid child, I quickly learned to take a book with me into the bathroom, shut the door and sit on the toilet reading – for so long a time that when I finally stood up I had a deep red ring on my behind and my legs were numb. In retrospect I perceive that I probably also fell sick more easily and quickly because of the household stress, and the fact that the ensuing days alone (my mother had a deep fear of germs and would not enter my sickroom) bought me a break from my standard role as her scapegoat.

What I only realized a day or two ago, after weeks of shutting books abruptly after reading only a few pages, is that I can still enjoy reading – just not “serious” books. Lighthearted mysteries, with a touch of humor in the writing, still engage me even when I can see through the plot lines almost from the beginning. Knowing how it will all turn out does not diminish my interest in seeing how the author unfolds the story.The key word, I am sure, in the above sentence was “lighthearted”. Anything more realistic as to characters and their motivations, even mystery novels by some of my favorite authors like Louise Penny, bring on my sensation of being overwhelmed by unwanted emotions. Not just negative ones, any emotions stirred by the excellent writing and delineation of character. 

I have been replacing reading with very specific, limited conversations with a select few friends and acquaintances who are able and willing to discuss abstract ideas, philosophy, or spiritual processes without requiring of me that I solve any problems they may have in living their values. 

In the course of these exchanges, and participation in Quaker Worship Sharing, as well as attending to my daily spiritual exercises, I have come to see my detachment from emotions as a positive indicator of progress along my chosen Path. I seem to be functioning as required on the physical plane, doing my routine, no thought required homemaker chores and offering appropriate support to those around me who request my input. I have been enjoying dialog on the mental plane (reasoning, knowledge, intellect) including giving my analysis of issues or interpersonal concerns when they are requested.

With distracting tugs from the emotional plane effectively shut down, my attention can remain where I wish it to be, developing and maintaining  a spiritual perspective on my life. Aware of the frequency, in the past, of periods in which I felt as though I were teetering on the edge of a precipice, at high risk of plunging into irredeemable depression, and needing to use anger to fight my way back to safer ground, I find that I am now increasingly comfortable with this more disengaged way of negotiating my remaining days.

I do still care about people and broader societal challenges, but most days the caring is more detached. To borrow an image from one of the teachers on my spiritual Path, I am increasingly able to walk along a beach, hear the cries of a swimmer in trouble, throw out a life buoy and tow the swimmer to shore and then walk on, without attachment to how the rescued swimmer proceeds with the remainder of their life. Diametrically opposite to the alleged ancient Chinese belief that if you save a person’s life you are responsible for it forevermore.

Given that my professional career has had me in the role of helping others, and my current part time work still calls for that engagement, I find it an interesting challenge to not drift back into emotional attachment to “what is going on in the world” whether that world is the near one of my friends or the far one of international conflicts. I know from past experience that I am actually better able to assist, when asked, if my ego is not engaged with an outcome, and if I therefore merely offer a new perspective, or make a suggestion for next steps, leaving the implementation to whoever has asked for my input.

Is this new way of being an upside to chronological age? Given that I have also, lately, been rather forcefully confronted with the physical downside of aging, I have to hope that the benefits of detachment will also imbue a revision of self concept, as I figure out how to become comfortable with being an old person.

Wish me well – and success at this endeavor  – please.

Out of Silence

February 20, 2022

I had thought my part time job was taking the time meant for blog posts. But it is not so demanding as to leave me no writing time. I had thought pandemic isolation had stilled my ability to observe and comment. But my inner voice remained audible. I had thought there was no longer much point in posting reflections, year after year, that have mostly been one way communication from me out to ??? But I have no interest in engaging with “social media” type dialog that so frequently sinks into diatribe and vitriol. Perhaps a speck of my being wanted to see who, if anyone, would reach out to me via a comment posted to the blog site, to ask if I was okay, still alive? But I seem to have already known that was unlikely from outside my immediate circle of friends, as my life pattern has consistently been that, if there is to be a connection, I must initiate it. Very, very few people have checked in on me unless they wanted/needed something from me.

It is only just recently that I have begun to recognize my public (and to a large extent also private) silence as due to the need for a serious reconsideration of who and what I am now that I am semi-retired, with less energy to cope with more physical limitations, less accepting of deadlines, more engaged with inner spiritual goals yet finding it challenging to let go of a life pattern of attending to others’ needs before seeking to address my own.

Into this examination came a just published column by Tish Harrison Warren in the New York Times speaking to periods in her past when reading, a primary love and satisfaction, became virtually impossible. I have been aware that, along with not writing, I have lately had unaccustomed difficulty staying engaged with reading. As for Tish, books have been my companions, my escape, my primary pleasure since I began to learn to read at age three, sitting on my Grandpa’s lap and following along as he read “I Went for a Walk in the Forest” aloud to me. Now I have found myself reading only a few pages, even of favorite authors, before setting the book aside to engage with a crossword puzzle, or to extend my undefeated streak of Free Cell. Thanks to Tish’s essay, I see the why of what I had observed but did not understand.

“Sitting with a book requires some level of compassion and energy. A reader sits with the thoughts, stories, insights or opinions of another. She opens herself empathetically to the work of another human being. And I didn’t feel I had the requisite compassion or energy to do so.”

The proximate cause of Tish Harrison Warren’s loss of ability to enjoy books is different from mine, but the experience is virtually identical, including in the way, step by step, she recovered by engaging first in reading short pieces before resuming books. I have begun following, and responding with letters of commentary, to several NYT columnists as a means to counter not just Covid imposed isolation, but my retirement triggered energy crash and loss of my sense of self.

As I responded to the Harrison Warren essay, “You hit the mark, for me, when you mentioned lacking the empathy, compassion, and the energy these take, to enjoy reading. Along with retirement and disconnect from interpersonal interaction, I confronted the difficult questions of retirement. Who am I without my professional role as a caregiver? Of what value has my life been? And what of value do I still have to offer now that my body is tired and resurrecting all the old, healed and forgotten but not gone injuries and pains of my nearly 80 years of living?

Escape from a difficult family life into books was my path since childhood, making it even more disconcerting now to find that escape denied me. I am mentally yelling at Elsa, in Kristin Hannah’s “The Four Winds” to open her stupid mouth and speak up for herself, then tossing the book aside. I think I would not pick it up again were it not for the fact that it is my book club’s choice for our next discussion meeting.

I had not considered, before reading your essay, that my own inner dis-ease was the source of my new inability to escape into books. I am relieved to learn my experience is in fact a common one, and that I can hope to not only find my way back to the pleasure of reading, but also to that of writing. I will not close down my blog site just yet.”

And so here is a post, after long silence. Step one, writing as well as reading short pieces. I may need to use other responses to recently read columns, in order to resurrect the habit of posting, as I am using the reading of those columns to resurrect my ability to find the compassion and empathy necessary to read books and engage once more with a wider world.

Or maybe not? Maybe I will find that engaging outwardly is no longer so important or rewarding as is withdrawing inward to “dip into the Divine spiritual current always flowing, if only we take time to seek it.”

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.

What Next?

June 22, 2021

How does one – how do I – regain a lost habit of writing regularly? I managed to keep to frequent posts through years of long working days, only to lose that pattern in the last couple years of pre-retirement exhaustion. I thought that being freed from my work routine last August would  lead directly to a renewed engagement with writing. Wrong.

And no, I do not blame Covid, which removed all the retirement-filling activities I thought I would enjoy, deepening my isolation and solitude and presumably increasing my free time for reflection and comment. Instead of which I went even more silent.

My only activity that increased is nonverbal – assembling jewelry both to send as gifts and to accumulate for whenever I find a market (or someone to do the marketing) and make it available for sale. 

Returned now from a four day venture out into the larger world (a road trip to visit friends near Durango) I have become aware of how much my world view has altered. Since retirement in late summer of 2020 I have not made more than 3 trips to Santa Fe, none to Albuquerque, and barely weekly from home to the nearest shopping in Las Vegas. My husband works away during the week, coming home on weekends and able to do the Santa Fe errands en route, removing pressures that would have existed on me to get out at least that far. The major energy crash and never-diagnosed health decline that followed after retirement (no not Covid) reinforced my “stay at home and do little” behavior, and subtly altered my mental state in ways I did not recognize until I experienced the difference brought on by being away and in company for several days.

I have read essays in the online newspapers to which I subscribe, about both those who can’t wait to emerge from home and resume social life, as well as those who find themselves reluctant to do so. The latter seem to mostly be described as fearful, untrusting, having lost their sense of community. 

I find I am somewhat reluctant to be out and about much, but I deny that I am fearful and untrusting, and I know I have not lost my sense of community.

Instead, I think I have found a pleasure in my own company that I had rarely had the ease to explore, until now. All my life I have had to be a financial support for myself and others, to organize the household, to be engaged and outwardly focused. One very brief exception was a month when I (and my then husband) first moved to Boston. I was in my mid-twenties. He got a job immediately, and told me I should take my time before starting one myself. I explored the city and did enjoy a type of vacation, but felt the pressing financial limitations of only one income in a two-incomes-needed city. I started work so that we could afford an apartment in a newly restored brownstone. 

Last week’s trip took me to a co-housing community of 24 families that has been functioning effectively for over twenty years. My friends there are college classmates. The atmosphere on the ranch (they live in a cluster of individual houses around a Community Building on 340 acres of farmland) is open, inviting, trusting (no locked doors), thoughtful and as self sustaining as possible. Maintenance duties and gardening are shared responsibilities, as are preparation and clean up from weekly communal meals, but each family also pursues its own interests individually. Looking at all the landscaped homes I asked if one had to be a gardener to join the community. My hosts laughed and said “not necessarily, but you have to be willing to pay someone to do the gardening for you if you don’t do it yourself.” Caring for nature and the land is a priority of the community.

Given how easily I fit into that group, I know my remaining reluctance to get out and about is not due to loss of a sense of community. Rather I have become aware of how challenging it is to achieve connection with like minded souls in the broader strident, divisive environment that is “today’s world.” Even in my relatively quiet corner of the country, the tensions and disagreements and deep divisions troubling our society (not just in the US) cannot be avoided except by isolating. So it is not that I am fearful of re-engagement, but that I desire the original meaning of retirement – withdrawal, absence of tension and pressure, an opportunity to live quietly and reflectively. Wherein I have discovered pleasure in my own company. Less need to communicate. And apparently also less motivation to write.

The first two are definitely pluses. Not sure yet about the third. What next? We shall see.

Detaching As Best I Can

February 5, 2017

I have been examining the fine line, the razor’s edge, upon which I am directed to balance – to be in the world but not of it. To watch what is happening and to manifest my grasp of the meaning of Divine Love, without becoming either for or against anything particular that I observe. One of my teachers on the MasterPath illustrated this directive with a story about walking by a lake, communing with spirit and happy in the moment. He hears a cry and sees a person splashing in the lake, shouting for help, apparently at risk of drowning. He knows that we are urged to stay detached, to not take on the karma (consequences) of others.

Does he walk by and ignore the plea? Of course not.

He assesses quickly that he is not a strong swimmer, and may make the situation worse if he plunges into the lake himself. He does have a good right arm and can be of assistance by throwing a rope out to the person. This he does, shouting instructions to grab the rope and hang on. He succeeds in towing the individual in to land, calls 911, and stays with his rescued person until the EMTs arrive. Then he continues his walk, resuming his contemplation and letting go completely of the incident. He does not know the person’s name, nor any of the circumstances of his past or future life. That is of no concern.

Another image used to instruct us is that of viewing life as a river, that we do not swim in but rather watch flow by as we sit on the bank. Not the easiest viewpoint to maintain when one is doing necessary daily chores or other aspects of just living one’s life – especially those one has allowed oneself to like or dislike – but it is through such daily routines that we are shown where ego, like/dislike, anger, greed, and various attachments “catch” us out and pull our focus back into negativity and the mundane.

If I am distraught that apparently “the world still prefers a blustering and dishonest man to a hard-working and intelligent woman” it can only be that I am (yes I admit it) identifying with my own life experience of being treated in that manner, thinking of myself as a woman whose worth has often been ignored while the rewards and supports go to a less able man. It apparently cannot be otherwise in daily life. For if that imbalance were to right itself, another of equal force would pop up. It has ever been so in the world, from the beginning of recorded human history.

We are so deeply ingrained with patterns directing us to strive to “make the world a better place” that it’s difficult to recognize how doing good is as ensnaring as doing evil. The only ‘doing’ that we actually have the ability to achieve is within ourselves as individuals. I cannot change the world, I can only change myself. If, in so doing, there is an effect on the world, so be it. I’m not changing myself in order to change the world, not even in order to change those near and dear to me. I am changing myself solely for my own benefit, my own spiritual growth.

That can sound selfish – and from a lower viewpoint, it probably is. But if each of us were to stay focused only on being the most pure spirit possible, overall the amount of conflict around us would surely reduce. It’s the partisan “caring” about whose party is in power, which values are directing society, what religion is acceptable, that engenders conflict and anger and war.

The current political situation, primarily in the U.S. but more generally worldwide, is becoming the tool given me to identify the emotional and false identity hooks by which I am still sucked into the river. The past 4-5 months that I was floundering in darkness and near-panic are a potent reminder of how negative it is for me to be anywhere other than on the bank, watching the play of events flow past. Elsewhere, I will spell out for myself as many of the false identities as I can name, and carefully peel them away.

Which does not mean I will ignore the calls to petition or otherwise act in defense of values important to me and – in my opinion – important to sustaining my country according to its founding principles. I would never walk by and ignore that desperate, drowning person.

But I will strive to sign or not sign, call or not call, march or not march, finance or withhold my money strictly as I am able, with detachment towards the effectiveness of my actions. And I will remind myself of the statement I clipped from a Zen calendar that seems to best summarize my current goal:

“I am alive, I am present, I am trying, that is enough.”

I Went for a Walk

August 14, 2016

Cleaning out unneeded documents in my computer files, I came across an essay I wrote for myself about eight years ago. I don’t recall writing it. Rereading it now, I recognize that I’ve integrated the essence of it into my self, my life, my philosophy of living, my spiritual path. I choose now to share it with others, offering a bit of my beloved grandfather’s wisdom to those who honor us both by reading my words.

A Walk with My Grampa

I Went For a Walk in the Forest was the book title and first phrase I learned to read, precociously at age three, sitting on my Grampa’s lap as he read the story over and over to me. The book was paper bound, about 6 inches high and 10 inches long, with a black and white cover sketch of the forest surrounded by a pumpkin-orange border. If you opened the book out flat, so that the back and front covers made one whole picture, all the animals met on that forest walk could be seen hidden among the trees. In the delightful manner of children’s fantasy, the animals collected in that forest ignored the habitat restrictions which would normally prevent them meeting, except perhaps in a zoo.

From the safety of Grampa’s lap I learned about lions and horses, a giraffe, an elephant, deer and antelope, and a monkey. When the reading walk was done we rested. He smoked, and I trapped the smoke rings he blew into a wide mouth bottle, where they magically retained shape until the genie who also lived in the bottle stirred them into a fog to give himself shelter.

I went for a walk at the zoo, with my Grampa, most Sundays from when I was seven until I was twelve. He would come down on the train from Baltimore to spend the day with us, and would take me for ‘our’ time. Not always to the zoo, sometimes to the park or just for a walk around the neighborhood. He would ask me about my week in school, what I had learned and what I was reading, and he would tell me about the poem he was working on, or the article he was writing (in Hebrew, or Yiddish) for The Forward (which he pronounced as though a “v” began the second syllable). It was important to him to pick just the right Hebrew word from among several choices for his poems, to convey mood and spirit, as well as meaning.

I went for a walk on the beach – alone now, a world away from my Grampa, he still in Baltimore and I on the sand at Nha Trang, picking up tiny pink and black and pearl-colored shells which elderly Vietnamese refugees from the north collected to string into elaborate necklaces. I wore a small gold pendant my Grampa gave me, with the Tree of Life etched into it. A link, he said, that would stretch from Vietnam back to Maryland, to keep us sharing our walks. Those were harder years, without his immediate presence and gentle wisdom to balance the emotional stresses of my early teens.

I missed him still, when I went for a walk in the Bois de Boulogne during my high school years. I wrote to him, sitting on a sarcophagus in Pierre La Chaise cemetery, one of the few places in bustling Paris that I could find solitude and quiet. Those were very hard years, for both of us. He was no longer working in his dental practice and had fewer places to publish his essays and poems. He was no longer as able to care for himself, and not very aware of time, so his replies to me were intermittent, and rarely responsive to the questions I asked.

I went for a walk in the Crum Woods on Swarthmore’s campus, during my college years, and felt his presence through the guitar in my room, a fine instrument I’d found in a pawn shop, which he gave me the seventy-five dollars to purchase. I’d asked my parents for the money, but my mother had responded in her usual fashion. “Why don’t you prove your interest in playing guitar by learning on a borrowed one before you ask me to spend my money on something you may not pursue?” Fifty years later, that guitar stays easily in tune and its tone is admired by everyone who plays it.

I went for walks by the Chicago shore of Lake Michigan, and along the Charles River in Boston, after helping my mother to settle Grampa in Miami, where the better weather and the presence of a few close friends made it easier for him to manage. We talked on the phone since his eyes had failed to the point that he could not write, nor easily read. With a metal-bound, rectangular, hand-held magnifying glass left from his collection of dental tools, he would slowly read the daily Yiddish press, sharing his opinions with me on the events which he didn’t trust TV news to present fairly. He worried, after the Six Days War, that while its outcome improved Israel’s security at the time, there would come from it a negative turn in world opinion toward the Jewish state. He would, I know, be distraught over the actions and decisions taken recently – the wall, and the West Bank settlements which have become symbols of oppression rather than statements of freedom.

I went for one last walk with my Grampa, along the path beside the railroad tracks in Lamy, here in New Mexico, after he could no longer live on his own. My mother and I moved him into a nursing home outside Santa Fe, where I visited with him several times a month, and brought him to my little converted boxcar house for an outing, the one weekend he was strong enough to come. I told him the story of looking out the train window, age twelve and on my way to Vietnam, seeing Lamy as a strange, wild and western place – missing him desperately and never imagining that we two would walk together there. He answered that it was good to walk with me, though he didn’t really grasp where we were, and complained to me that there were people in his nursing home whom he could hear speaking Yiddish from a distance but who, when he came close and spoke to them, would not answer. I tried to explain that they were speaking Spanish, not Yiddish. He was by then seriously deafened, hearing just enough scraps of language to know when it wasn’t English being spoken. Like most speakers of more than one tongue, with advanced age Grampa’s communication abilities lasted longest in his first language, or in his case his first two, Yiddish for everyday and his beloved Hebrew for poetry and praise.

My grampa died within days of his official 91st birthday. Official, rather than real, because he had to transfer a birthdate from the Jewish (lunar) calendar used in what he called the “dot on the map village outside the dot on a map town” where he was born in Russia, to the western calendar he encountered when he entered the US as a twenty year old man in 1907. Knowing Shvat to be a spring month, he arbitrarily called it March. He equally firmly rejected the proposed Americanizing of his name to Hill, insisting that “no, my name is Domnitz, Aaron Domnitz.”

I go for walks now, often a brisk measured mile by Storrie Lake, or a leisurely stroll along Bridge Street, and realize I am just the age my Grampa was as my parents prepared to take us (his only close family) across the world to Vietnam. After 14 or more years of weekly trips from Baltimore to DC (he began them when my mother became pregnant with me), how great a change – and loss – that must have been for him!

I wonder – but obviously have no one to ask – why my parents didn’t bring him with us? Perhaps it was discussed and he refused? More likely, I’m afraid, my mother determined that she ‘didn’t want the responsibility’. That was her standard reply with which to block everything from my having friends for a sleep over, to helping host visiting dignitaries whom it was my father’s job to entertain. Blessedly it was also her response when Grampa needed nursing home care, so that I got to have him close to me for those precious last 18 months of his life. We went for so many lovely walks, in our talks, during my on-my-way-home-from-work visits with him!

Because life in his natal village had gone virtually unchanged for centuries before he left it, his awareness bridged nearly 300 years. Thus, we talk-walked streets of the 1700s in Russia as readily as those of Santa Fe in 1975. He shared the concern of many, that our technological skills so far exceed our ethical advances. “Will we now bring war to the moon?” was his question after that ‘one giant step’ for mankind.

Grampa’s dental cabinet, filled with a fragile, gaily decorated porcelain tea service from Vietnam, sits in my dining room. I use his magnifying glass when I need stronger eyes. The guitar provides music from many cultures, when I entertain students from the United World College. I pick my written words with care, respecting the importance he gave to nuances of meaning.

My Grampa started me reading about a walk through a forest to meet different animals. He continues to guide me on my walk through life, meeting its varied challenges. Some of that guidance arises from one of the last things Grampa said to me, shortly before he died. I’d asked if he had his life to live over, what he might have done differently. His answer was that he had only two regrets. The first was that he thought perhaps my mother might have been a happier person if he had remarried (he raised her on his own), but he’d never found the right woman. The second was that he wished he’d learned to play the mandolin. No wonder he supported my learning the guitar!

However long my own life walk turns out to be, I hope that when it ends, I will have as few regrets as my Grampa did. With his gifts surrounding me, and his ethics a part of me, I have every reason to succeed.

Rooster Knows

June 12, 2016

You know you’re in the country when… your rooster lets you know not just when it’s morning, but when the hens are wandering farther afield then he thinks right, or the goats are butting each other away from their food, or the dark clouds of summer afternoon rain are looming and the flock should take cover. I’m told that chickens in Cameroon only get under cover when a serious rain is impending. For a few drops they will continue their foraging undeterred. I’m waiting to see if the same applies here in high desert northern NM.

Being able to differentiate mild from major disruptions may be an inherent skill for Cameroonian chickens. It does not seem to be so for humans. Rather, we can spend a lifetime learning to “not sweat the small stuff”. Finding one’s way to feeling happy with oneself and one’s life – a goal most of us strive toward – requires not only relaxing about those small irritants, but also accepting that it’s okay to be happy.

From several sources recently, I’ve been reminded of how much more readily we identify with loss, pain, difficulties and challenges then we do with being “temples of God”, the home of Soul, or inherently divine beings entitled to feel happy and fulfilled. Many years of spiritual practice can increase the ease and frequency of identifying with one’s highest Soul essence, but still we can (or at least I find that I can) be tripped into the pit of unworthiness by surprisingly small stuff.

Why is it so easy to identify with negatives, to point always to what’s missing, and so hard to embrace being loved, appreciated, fulfilled, happy?

Believers of some religions would say it’s because we are born in sin. I think rather that the concept of being born in sin originates in a mind’s effort to explain our propensity to see imperfection rather than perfection. Yes, this is a cart and horse debate, one that cannot be decisively resolved. But in my experience, looking for what’s right rather than poking around in what’s wrong makes for a much happier and more satisfying life. It does take persistent attention and regular refocusing, to not let past experience of lack distort present enjoyment of wealth. I’m including within wealth all the tangible and intangible benefits one can enjoy – supportive relationships, worthwhile employment, a sense of purpose, relaxed ease of emotions, meaningful spiritual practice… a comprehensive list would run many pages.

Research study after research study reveals that negative behaviors of adulthood originate in childhood – abusers were bullied and abused as children, jealous spouses never learned to feel worthy of love, rage-aholics had explosively angry parents, etc. We hear much less about how good childhood experiences with positive role models produce happy and successful adults. Just as news of disasters sells papers, it seems explanations of negative behavior result in academic publication. Would that it were otherwise!

My favorite feature in The Week is entitled “It Wasn’t All Bad” and cites (usually) three stories of generosity, (a fire fighter who bought a month’s groceries for a citizen whose kitchen fire he had been called to help extinguish); achievement (a 101 year old great-grandmother getting her high school diploma alongside her great-granddaughter); or heart-warming connection (a dog lost for over a year being found and returned to the developmentally disabled child who was its original owner). I wish that fully half the weekly magazine’s content could be similarly summarizing positive stories – but it’s a magazine devoted to reviewing the “top” stories in the world press, and most of those are less than heart-warming.

About our bodies, it is said that we are what we eat. About our minds and emotions, it is also true that we become what we give our attention to. Looking always to the negative, we cannot help but feel unworthy. I prefer to “count my blessings instead of sheep, and fall asleep counting my blessings” – at least until the rooster thinks I should be aware and alert to one of his small concerns.

Cock Calls

Cock Calls

Time to Look Back

May 15, 2016

“Work should not be given priority over relationships.”

Quite a challenge for perfectionist, Type A workaholics but a very pertinent statement made by Pastor Katie at Las Vegas’ First Presbyterian Church in the course of her first sermon as the new leader of this congregation. She spoke movingly about the spiritual lessons that come through mundane daily events, such as those surrounding her recent transplant from Colorado to New Mexico.

One of these lessons was about the need we all have, to have persons to whom we can vent our toxic thoughts, persons who will listen and help us clear our spirits without judgement. I recognize this to be my primary role with some of my clients at work. Not as part of my formal job description, which only talks about assisting them to access the services and supports necessary for them to achieve and maintain the maximum of health and quality of life. We include mental health in the range of services we Care Coordinators support, and many of my clients do have counseling or psychotropic medications included in their service plans. They manage the scheduling of their services and their overall health maintenance with little input from me beyond completion of the mandatory assessments which enable them to become eligible for those services.

Some clients, however, cannot accomplish this self-management without an outsider to their daily lives to whom they can express their frustrations, fears, angers or constraints – and they have elected me to be the receptor of these toxic thoughts and feelings. I’m glad when I can provide this service, sometimes also having a suggestion or insight to offer that helps the client move past the blockage. In rare instances, I’ve been used as the means for two people, each with a need, to connect and jointly resolve their separate concerns. I know, when that happens, that I’ve been what I aspire always to be, a “clear channel” for the Divine to work through.

Why is it so much harder to be a similarly clear channel when the issues are not someone else’s but my own?

Why can I “speak truth to power” on behalf of a client but find it so difficult to speak up for myself appropriately in my own relationships and my daily interactions with the various manifestations of power, such as erroneous charges on a bill, or petty tyrants who take pleasure in making me wait unnecessarily before fulfilling their job duties providing service to me?

Is it because I’m female, of “a certain age” and therefore raised before feminism brought out the extent to which women have historically been taught to accept the denial of their right to dignity and respect?
Or is it just my own personality, resultant from an upbringing in a less-than-positive or supportive family?

Does the reason even matter?

I would like to be able to maintain a clarity and simplicity of day-to-day existence such that I can be aware of the spirit flowing through me in service of my own needs, in the same way that I’m able to let it flow through me to serve others. Instead, it seems that ego, or the rough edges of my personality, or both or neither but something else altogether, create blockages and I end up feeling drained and exhausted.

“Too much outflow without enough inflow” my MasterPath teacher would say. Or, as Pastor Katie also shared, not enough quiet time taken to process what is being left behind before new experiences are presented to be taken in. She recognized the need to grieve leaving behind a home where she’d raised her family, and planted iris given her by her mother-in-law.

We have in common that we have both worked in Hospice care, and understand the need to grieve losses, including ones less dire than loss of a loved one to death. A training program I attended for grief counselors emphasized that seemingly small losses can become the triggering event for previously unexpressed pain over the loss of a family member – the man who seems to handle the death of his wife but collapses a year later when the family pet dies, for example. One of the exercises in the workshop required that we attempt to catalogue all the losses we have experienced in our lifetime, to help us recognize things we should give ourselves permission to grieve. Also to help us hear what is implied but not clearly stated when a family member of a deceased client expresses extreme anger at a factually minor loss of respect or status on their job, six months after the death.

Moving from one community to another is a clear transition that will bring up for any sensitive soul – as it did for the pastor – the need to grieve what is being left behind. Other life changes should also be accompanied by time to grieve, but are less likely to be recognized as such. My own fairly extreme change in life pattern is one such, that I did not see as needing to include time for grief, until the pastor’s sermon brought it to my attention. I do appreciate that I am able to hear the suggestion and receive the input just when I need it. I think I’m not being unduly self-congratulatory when I accept that I must be in a fairly “clear” state to be gifted with just the right input at just the right time, even though I felt anything but clear. Indeed, before hearing the sermon, I was angry, feeling disrespected and as though there was no longer room for “me” in my daily life.

All because, as Pastor Katie instructed in her list of lessons learned during her move, work should not be given undue priority over relationships. Including one’s relationship with oneself. I have been so busy trying to meet, to a perfectionist’s standard, the many demands of my job, my clients, my marriage and my daily existence, that I’ve neglected my relationship with me and, more importantly, my relationship with the Divine.

I have been so engaged with my exciting, rewarding but very busy new life that I’ve also not left myself space to process the loss of the old (semi-retired, leisurely and thoughtful) life left behind two years ago. Nor have I been able to properly grieve the termination or the transformation of some relationships from that old life. Pastor Katie will always have the memory of her yard full of blooming iris, but she is no longer able to walk out of her house into that yard. I will always have my memories of frequent and satisfying visits with distant friends, but I can now see those friends only rarely and under different circumstances. The pastor and I each carry an aspect of the past with us into our new lives, but we each also know a sense of loss that deserves attention and time to be grieved.

So much emphasis is placed on the window that opens when a door closes, that people seem to feel guilty paying attention to what’s behind that closed door. We are urged to move on, look forward, appreciate what is being offered and let go of what is being left behind. Good advice, overall, but sometimes too hastily offered.

Moving forward without reviewing and properly saying goodbye to what is past can have the feeling of devaluing that past, and the consequence of leaving us feeling devalued ourselves.

Taking time to dig up a few flowers and bring them along to a new home helps assure that we give ourselves time to say good bye to the life behind that closing door. It is thus that we increase our ability to be clear, and present, with the new experiences coming in through the window, and – for me – it seems that taking time to properly grieve what has been lost is essential to clearing out the toxins that prevent me from achieving a level of clarity of spirit for myself that at least approaches the level which I try to offer to others.

Added benefits – improved health and easier maintenance of desired weight. But that’s a topic for another day.

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