Posts Tagged ‘self-acceptance’

In Ones and Twos

May 25, 2015

I’m taking my time reading In the Shadow of the Banyon, by Vaddey Ratner. Each section of a chapter is a meditation, a vividly imaged reflection on an aspect of relationships, whether between father and daughter, human and landscape, chaos and sanity, or physical and spiritual realities. Set in the time of the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia, it is a marvelously sensitive and mature child’s view of life. The landscapes are familiar to me – Cambodia as described is much like the Vietnam of my childhood. The recounting of emotions stirred up by violence and turmoil, by loving relationships and by subtle but profound parental education of children is flawless, presenting – again – a familiar landscape. How can a story set in what I know to have been a devastating massacre of more than a third of the country’s population seem so quietly normal?

Maybe I’ll find an answer to that question by the time I finish the novel. Maybe I won’t, and the question will join others that I ponder about humans and our treatment of one another.

A discussion at the supper table recently explored a different aspect of the human condition, this one looking into interpersonal dynamics. The participants were, with the sole exception of me, young and not so young men from Cameroon studying here and trying to improve their lives and those of their families. Each of us has had a similar experience of a few people who are supportive of our efforts to advance, to learn, to become contributing partners in business or family – and each of us has been dismayed at some point by the negative response of a sibling, or cousin, or coworker.

What, we were asking, makes an older brother, working and well established in a good profession, refuse to help pay a school fee to enable his younger sibling to continue studies (and to remain in status vis a vis the US Immigration Service)? What makes an older sister complain to parents that the student struggling to survive in an unfamiliar culture has neglected to call her and inquire how she is doing? Why doesn’t she initiate the call? She is the elder, and yes one owes respect to one’s older siblings, but they in turn owe care and support to those coming behind them (at least in traditional Cameroonian village culture).

I have no siblings, so I can’t comment on how/whether there is a similar implicit set of obligations in western families. I can note that we acknowledge certain rights and corresponding obligations that go with seniority at work – and that there are usually one or more coworkers who object to this tradition. The Cameroonians commented that too often in their society, people fail to see the hard work, perseverance and sacrifice that goes into family advancement. They only look at the outcome and attribute the family’s change in status to graft, or black magic, or some similarly negatively acquired advantage which isn’t earned by merit.

Our discussion included the image of crabs in a barrel, reflecting the way some members of a group will not try to join the one climbing up and out but instead collect together and do their best to pull the leader back down to their failing level. I encountered the latter attitude locally, when I first started my role as director of a home health agency regional office. One of the nurses I hired for “as needed” visits had been employed as a clinic LPN for a number of years, attending school part-time to get her RN. When she did achieve it, the doctor heading her clinic gave her roses and I gave her a happy hug and a pay raise. Her several nurse co-workers scorned her achievement and excluded her from their circle.

At the dinner table, we didn’t talk about competition versus cooperation as a societal dynamic – but we could have done. Instead we stayed on a more individual level and came to the conclusion that people seem to fall into two main categories when it comes to achievement. The first group is of people who are motivated to achieve for the group of which they are members (family, clan, work team). They are generally open minded and flexible, enabling them to see and take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. They grab their chances, work hard and try to make the best of the gifts that come their way, gifts for which they easily express gratitude and thanks.

The second group is made up of those who single-mindedly think of and for themselves and their own advancement. They often seem to believe that the way forward is by finding an edge, an advantage, perhaps the softhearted person who can be persuaded or manipulated into giving them what they want. They work hard also – but their energy is devoted to manipulating others into giving them the preferment, the promotion, the degree or the job. And they disdain those who don’t cater to their sense of entitlement.

One thing we did all agree on, is that parenting and education play a role in which route a growing child decides to take – but neither parenting nor education explains why in a family of five or six siblings, there will always be at least one who falls into each of the two groups. In other words, nature plays a role, not just nurture. We did not digress into beliefs as to what makes for those inherent, nature-based differences. That is a topic for another dinner, or week of dinners, and another post.

Our conversation instead moved on to how we each (believing and being perceived by the rest as members of the first group) have chosen to deal with our relations who are part of the second group. Here, we parted ways. Some continue to try to engage the disdaining other by placating, by continuing to reach out despite the lack of reciprocity, and by “not sinking to their level”. Others have resolutely drawn a line, stating that “he has my number, when he chooses to call me I will talk to him but otherwise I’m functioning as if I don’t have a brother at all.” Neither route is satisfactory – nor were any of the several balancing acts falling between these two end points. However any of us decided to manage the situation, however comforted we felt that we are not alone in our quandary, however clearly we understood the nature of the differences between ourselves and those others, none of us was satisfied, not having a final answer to the question of “why” our opposites were the way they are. The closest we came was “C’est entre les mains de Dieu.” It’s in God’s hands.

As I write now, I’m aware that once again, as so often of late, I feel I have come up against a limit of rationality, a limit to mind’s ability to understand. Trying to reason my way to a course of action regarding the Group Twos in my life is futile. I need instead to let mind go still, and hear the inner voice of spirit directing me on what to do in this moment of this particular relationship. I need to remember that what is appropriate in this moment may be quite different in another moment of the same relationship.

Mind thinks in abstracts and wants answers that will be good for a period of time. Reality only exists in the moment, so there really are no answers to mind’s questions. It is enjoyable – and creates new and positive bonds – to talk things out with others, but the process does not, cannot lead to answers because the questions are by their nature unanswerable in the mental realm.

Which is undoubtedly why I am finding In the Shadow of the Banyon such a rewarding read – it invokes life as a constantly flowing series of moments of now, wherein questions are asked and answers have at least a possibility of arising. It speaks to the spirit within, more than to the mind. It covers births, and deaths, separations and new bonding. It beautifully reflects life. As does the newest member of our household, born just a week ago, on May 18th. Welcome to our world, Storm.

 

One Week Lively

One Week Lively

Winding Down

April 28, 2015

I seem, finally and despite much inner resistance, to be entering a phase of acceptance that my accumulated years have worn down my endurance to the point that I have to ration my energies.

In the near term this means giving up several of my enjoyable “sideline”’ activities like facilitating Alternatives to Violence Project workshops in the New Mexico prison system. My “day job” is so demanding of time, energy and attention that it exhausts my reserves by week’s end, and I need at least a full day of minimal responsibility to recuperate and regenerate the ability to work another week. Fortunately, I don’t have to remain totally idle for that day of rest; I do have to limit myself to relaxing activities – reading, walking, contemplation, lighthearted conversations – and occasionally also the composition of a blog essay. It’s heartening to realize that writing has become a relaxation exercise for me. I may no longer be able to teach an eight hour workshop after my week of work, but I can probably write for nearly that long if I choose to begin work on another book.

In a recent discussion, I tried to express how different it is, letting go of an activity – or reducing the intensity of one’s participation in it – when one is forty years of age versus when one is in one’s seventies. Somehow, at the younger point, at least for me, there remained a sense of vast opportunity and choice not unduly limited by a reduction in energy or ability. If I could no longer work all day plastering or laying a flagstone floor, without paying a stiff physical penalty – so be it. I would switch to painting or setting tile and carry on earning income in home construction, between professional positions that used my brain more than my back.

Now, however, accepting that I can’t both work full time and also lead workshops or teach, I don’t feel the same ease of adjustment to alternatives. I am being required to give up something, not just switch focus from one type of activity to another. This forced giving up might have come to my attention sooner, if I’d continued to be reliant on my physical strength for my livelihood. It is, after all, an ebbing of strength that is now curtailing my work weeks and reminding me that I can’t go thirteen days at a stretch without a break (two six- day work weeks and the Sunday in between).

Might I be able to continue the workshops and teaching if my work weeks were s more normal forty hours, instead of the fifty plus that they now run? Perhaps… I know for certain that I don’t have the energy to go looking for a different, less intense, job. And I acknowledge that I’m reluctant to give up a position that allows me to work from home several days a week, even though it also involves many miles of weekly travel to see clients, and many evening and weekend hours invested to meet deadlines.

When I consider the adjustments I’m facing, they are minor compared to those some of my clients – and friends – have had to face, due not so much to the wear and tear of life as to illness or accident. One friend who’s pride has been that, the only woman on the county crew, she is as strong and tough as the men, injured her back and is now unable to work, unable to stand for more than a short while, and equally unable to sit for long without severe pain. She has had to give up not only her job but all the housework, animal care and other activities that structured her days. Fortunately she likes to cook and bake, and can manage time in the kitchen by alternately sitting and standing, with breaks to lie down and ease her pain. She has no choice but to develop a new way of defining herself.

Is it easier to accept change if one is confronted with a sudden and total decline of functional level, rather than to feel oneself slowly slipping into loss of abilities? I’m not sure. The question is rather like that discussed in training sessions with nursing staff – whether it’s easier on families to care for a loved one over an extended decline in health, or to lose the family member suddenly from an accident or rapid health crisis, like a fatal stroke or heart attack.

When loss or change comes suddenly and irreversibly, one has no choice but to deal with the consequences. When the loss or change is slow or incremental, it is easier to deny that any adaptation is needed, or at least to insist that it’s “not needed yet”. But it may ultimately become harder to adapt if the needed changes are postponed too long.

I have a good many goals yet to accomplish. If I’m to live long enough, and have the necessary energy to achieve them, I must begin making adjustments now. Fortunately, I now have a partner to help, encourage, nudge, remind and sometimes insist that I give myself down time. It’s easier for me to accede to the change, and not feel guilty about the activities I’m no longer supporting, when I can say I’m doing it a the behest of someone else. Which I recognize is an admission that I still haven’t gotten over the feeling that I must justify myself by my actions. But that’s another topic, for another reflection, on another day. For now, I need only begin the process of finding myself comfortable doing less. Or as a dear friend has said, when we talked about doing versus being, turn the challenge now facing me into the refrain of a song – do be do be do be do.

One of a Kind

April 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Later Years

In Later Years

 

Still Learning and Teaching

Still Learning and Teaching

New Habits

March 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life is so much easier, lived that way.

Impartial Light

Impartial Light

To Heal a Tummy

January 11, 2015

The weather has been on a crazy whirl this past week – sunny and a spring-like sixty-five one day, icy twelve degree fog the next coating everything in sheaths of white rime. Then another warm day melting it all, to be followed once more by ice rime and black-ice accidents on the highways. We’re projected to have several more of these mood swings in the next week, around which I am trying to plan my work-related travel.

I regularly go up over the mountain (part of the Rockies) from my home to Taos. I have to accommodate my planning not only to the fluctuations of weather as I experience them where I live, but also as they manifest quite differently on “the other side.” Just last week, I spent a warm and lovely day seeing clients in Taos, and did not know it had been a fogged-in and icy day at home until I came back over the ridge in the late afternoon, and looked down onto clouds.

Above the fog

Above the fog

Bodies react to these unpredictable changes in climate. Old injuries begin to ache, remnants of bronchitis flare, sinuses swell and congest, even tummies become sensitive and refuse to function properly. There is a very direct cause and effect for the bone and joint aches – heat soothes and cold aggravates these types of reminders of past incidents. To the extent that the warmth releases pollens, chest and sinus irritations can also be understood as directly related to weather. But tummies?

I’m one of those who are most sensitive to what affects tummies. Mine has been – my husband sweetly calls it fragile – since infancy. I’m more inclined to use harsher words, like irritable, aggravating, infuriating. It’s definitely where any and every stress lands. My mother complained to all who might sympathize, that the only formula I could tolerate as a baby was one which required a great deal of work – a complicated process involving twenty-four hours of advance preparation and multiple periods of cooking. I also had many food allergies, and did not outgrow them until I was well into my teens. Some I have retained all my life, in the form of sensitivities I’ve learned to recognize.

Some days I can eat eggs, other days they make me very sick. And I react horribly to the ‘flu vaccine, incubated in eggs. I love fresh tomatoes, but have to moderate my consumption, and must avoid most cooked tomato products, like spaghetti sauce. Thankfully, I can usually enjoy strawberries, and most thankfully I’ve never, as an adult, re-experienced hives from eating hard-shell seafood. I am gluten intolerant, have probably been so all my life but have only accepted and adjusted to that limitation in more recent years… hmm… nearly ten years now.

I’ve repeatedly questioned why, when I mind my diet and adhere to its restrictions, I can still suffer from severe and usually totally unanticipated abdominal distress. It’s too easy to blame the weather, claiming some as yet unrecognized link between storms and digestive upsets. My latest bout was with an actual bug that is going around.

Identified cause, commonly experienced effect.

I treated the episode partially with a special form of deep breathing I’ve learned in Ba Gua, something called empty breathing. The unpleasant symptoms of stomach ‘flu remained present. Empty breathing did not eliminate them, but it did seem to reduce the pain and cramping side effects. And I recovered quickly, for me. Instead of a week of subsequent hypersensitivity, I was able to eat my normal diet by the third day.

Which set me to reflecting further on breathing as a relaxation technique, and breathing helping my tummy recover, relaxation being related to quick recovery… maybe relaxation being related to not being so fragile, going forward?

I’ve begun 2015 focused on doing what arises for me, to the best of my ability, in a flexible way that does not allow for me to berate myself for what is not done – or what is not done as thoroughly as I might like. I’ve even incorporated that goal into the “work-related achievement objective” that I must create as part of my employee evaluation criteria for this new calendar year. My personal achievement objective (another requirement) dovetails, in that I’m committing to a certain number of blog posts, which means committing to a consistent pattern of taking time for myself in quiet reflection.

I’ve learned that if I don’t write, I don’t reflect – and conversely if I don’t take time to reflect, I can’t write. And I’ve also learned that my tummy is less fragile if I’ve reflected more. Because I breathe differently when I reflect? Maybe. Because I release tension when I reflect? Certainly.

Which brings me inexorably to the conclusion that my childhood must have been filled with tensions (gee, I had no idea) and was consequently one of frequent sickness. I learned a pattern then, related to my mother’s fierce dislike of “the sick room”, which was that if I was sick, I was left alone (not harassed, nor subjected to demands). No wonder, for years, when I began to feel overwhelmed, I’d fall ill. Even after I was on my own, and being ill only added to the pressures I was experiencing, rather than providing relief from them.

Then, finally, I recognized that pattern and the need to release it. I came to the realization that if I didn’t take time to care for my spiritual self, I’d get sick several times a year – brought to a halt, confined to bed, enabled to contemplate what had brought me there.

Lesson learned.

As noted above, now I mind my diet, I exercise, I pursue my daily spiritual practice, and I treat myself as respectfully as I treat others. But still there remains that fragile tummy, that I’d like to see be more durable and tolerant, especially when it comes time to travel with my husband to Cameroon.

So it seems I’m being asked to take a next step, to actively and consciously come to recognize the tensions I habitually tuck into my gut, and to stop doing this basically harmful practice.

We all store tension somewhere. If I see my husband stretching his neck, rolling and flexing his shoulders, or holding his head somewhat rigidly when turning to look to the side, I know to ask what family matters are bothering his mind. He quite literally “carries the weight of the world on his shoulders.” I, on the other hand, apparently absorb and “swallow” the cares of others.

People – especially my clients – are inclined to say that they feel better after talking to me. I’m very glad for that ability to help them, and do not want in any way to diminish that form of service to those in need of a listening ear. However, I do want to learn to recognize when I am taking their cares into my body and Being, and to stop doing so, on however subtle a level I internalize their issues.

My Master teaches us about the goal of being “a pure and open channel” for the Shabda, or Divine Soul Current, or Sound, or – to Christians – the Holy Spirit. When one is such a channel, others are enabled to clear their own karmic issues, while the channel remains free of the shadow of those issues. Putting the abstract into a very mundane image, one becomes able to clear the soot from a wood stove without getting that soot on one’s hands and clothes.

I obviously have a way to go, down this new path of understanding. I’m still at a point equivalent to getting soot on my hands when I load wood into the stove for burning. But each time I load that stove, less soot transfers. Each time I notice my tummy being “unhappy with me” I can stop, breathe deeply, and tell it lovingly to release whatever emotional tension I’ve unthinkingly crammed into it. And above all, I can remind myself daily that my job, my busy days, my world are all too big for my puny mind to encompass, let alone control. As soon as I no longer try to control my days, they sort themselves out far more perfectly than I could ever have imagined.

Ice Dance at Sunrise

Ice Dance at Sunrise

THAT is the blessing of not being a human being, but rather “being a Spiritual Being, having a human experience.” (T. de Chardin).

Stepping Forward with a Different Foot

December 31, 2014

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

Now How Do I Do This?

Now How Do I Do This?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wisdom of my Teacher

Wisdom of my Teacher

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

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

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

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

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

Moving Ahead

Moving Ahead

Transitions Are a Challenge

December 28, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So be it.

Eyes on the Sparrow

Eyes on the Sparrow

Accomplishments

December 21, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aspiration Accomplished

Aspiration Accomplished

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

What Is…

December 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

In the spirit of...

In the spirit of…

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

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

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

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

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

Open Acceptance of Beauty

Open Acceptance of Beauty

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

++++++

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

Unmixed Blessings

October 11, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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