Posts Tagged ‘spiritual development’

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…

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.

Alone, in Silence

December 13, 2021

I started to put together a post incorporating some of the letters I’ve written in response to columns I have been reading, mostly from the New York Times opinion section – because I don’t seem able to write without a prompt these days. Not that I don’t still have thoughts, or reflections about the events in my life and the larger world – but I seem to have lost the habit of sharing them unless I read an opinion that I either disagree with and want to counter, or that I agree with but think would benefit from enlargement. So I write letters to the writers, knowing that it is unlikely I will get a response, and equally unlikely that my comments will be published and reach an audience.

What has changed? My degree of solitude, primarily. What I felt I never had enough of before retirement and Covid (quiet, alone downtime) I now have so much of that I feel as though I’ve forgotten how to initiate a conversation. My part time work gives me what amounts to a script that I follow when I make outreach calls to engage caregivers with the NM Caregiver Coalition programs. The teaching and care coordination I do with participants also largely follow an established script, and involve more listening and giving feedback than expressing opinions or leading the conversation.

I’ve always been more of an introvert than a socializer, probably because my childhood was nearly as solitary as my daily life now. An only child in a household of the old school, where children were to be seen and not heard, and in fact seen only when a parent wished to assign a chore. Otherwise I was best protected from parental anger by spending my non-school hours in my room, usually reading. Not the sort of conditioning that teaches how to initiate conversations, reach out to build relationships, or make friends easily. Over the many years since, I have acquired some of those skills, at a basic level most commonly yielding success when my circumstances foster frequent enough interaction to grant the opportunity to get to know others, and they to get to know me. 

Not, by any means, the circumstances I now function within. Working from home, living alone during the week, minimizing my time “out” in public in accord with the health and safety guidelines we are encouraged to embrace as our “normal” lifestyle for the foreseeable future… not circumstances that promote conversations and, for me at least, circumstances that instead push me back into being minimally seen and rarely heard. Easier to read, do crossword puzzles, play solitaire – the same activities that filled my childhood – than to figure out how to keep initiating conversations (via blog posts) that only rarely evolve into social interaction.

That is mind trying to sort out and understand its present state. The proper activity for me at this time, however, is not to understand, elucidate, converse or write so much as it is to accept the alone-ness of this period as right, proper, a gift to be cherished for its offering of the opportunity to simply Be. In gratitude. Moving towards enlightenment. Baraka bashad.

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.

I’m Not…

May 6, 2017

Whatever else is or is not right with the world, heavy snow and a high of 30F on the last days of April is most definitely not right. Maybe for Alaska, but not for New Mexico. Yes we get spring snows, even into May on rare occasions, but not wintry cold snow lasting more than two days and temperatures in the teens. Not later than March. But that is what we had last weekend, and now here it is looming again. Wind and damp and plummeting temperatures, icy rain on the way. Or maybe snow again? At least this weekend I did get a walk in the sun earlier this afternoon, before the weather turned.

I’m trying to put myself into a mood to be appreciative of the moisture which is always welcome in our high desert environment – but not succeeding very well, at least partly because we’ve had few pleasant weekend days to enjoy the outdoors. I feel stagnant, rusty, worn… I dare not say old, as several of my closest companions have forbidden me that word.

One benefit of living in a rural setting is ready access to the pleasures of nature, but the down side of living 15 miles from town is no easy access to indoor places for exercise. At least so I tell myself – that if I lived in town I’d get over to the indoor track and walk in winter as readily as I walk the rural lane near me in warmer weather. Maybe I delude myself? Would I really make the effort?

It’s regrettably easy to imagine how much differently – better – one would do things “if only”, rather than make the effort to do those things “despite”. Nothing prevents me from walking around and around in my house when I can’t get my walk outdoors – but I don’t do it. I don’t even give myself an excuse as to why I don’t do it. Nor do I question what it would take for me to develop a habit of in-the-house exercise. Obviously the activity just isn’t important enough to me at this time.

What is more important, but equally unresolved, is finding my way toward a change in how I relate to certain types of people. Specifically, how do I move past an emotionally based and negative attitude toward people whom I experience as dishonest, hypocritical users. They are what they are and that isn’t going to change. As often as possible, I have chosen to avoid engagement with such persons once it becomes apparent that no amount of tolerance and making allowances will produce a more honest and positive interaction. I know myself to be someone who leaves a good space for others to be as they choose to be but I do give myself permission to not engage with those whose conduct persistently offends me.

I also acknowledge that once they’ve crossed an ethical line, there’s no going back. I guess I embody the saying shared with me recently by my hairdresser. It’s something she found on line. “I’m not Jesus, and I don’t have Alzheimer’s, so don’t expect me to either forgive or forget.” My most common response is to avoid further contact, a tactic which has worked effectively until now.

For the first time in my life, I am faced with both a professional and a personal challenge to how I will deal with a person I cannot avoid but whom I also choose not to forgive. The work situation is the less difficult, in that I have relatively little direct contact with the upper level manager whose behavior is unacceptable. The personal situation is in-family and therefore much more difficult to avoid. Others whom I care about are involved so there’s not just my interaction with the person, but theirs also to consider.

So as I try to find some positives in the experience of winter on the last days of April, I find I must also reconsider what has felt like unforgivable behavior towards me. Needed moisture redeems the snow and cold. What might the equivalent be in regard to a relationship I have less than no desire to rekindle, after a long period of mutual avoidance?

My dilemma arises from the separate issues I have with this person’s behavior, above and beyond those that the others in my circle feel, and I feel on their behalf. How do I clear space for them to sort out their relationships with the problem person while I remain disengaged from the process?

“Won’t you accept an apology?” I was asked.

If I thought the person capable of offering a sincere one, and there was an accompanying change of actions, with a new and moderately respectful attitude toward me, then yes, I would accept the apology. Sadly, I know such a change is not forthcoming.

“If I’m shown a hypocritical face, I will show the same back” is the strategy to be used by one of the others involved. While that may in fact be an effective response, I know myself incapable of copying it. I’ve never been able to hide my emotions, to pretend something I don’t feel. As a good friend said to me recently, “When you are righteously angry, it is a powerful anger and everyone can feel it.”

So I will instead take myself out of the way, allowing those who choose to interact to do so, free of the added dimension of my presence. If it goes well, then maybe I’ll be willing to be present for the next interaction. If it does not go well, it will be clear that I did not have a role in the negative outcome.

And meanwhile, I will try to do what I know is right, but oh so hard – to let go of the entire issue, to “put it in the Master’s hands” and to accept whatever awaits. It is only ego, after all, that holds a grudge.

Out of the Depths

April 22, 2017

I’ve come to realize there’s a subtle dynamic at work behind my long absences from posting. I first thought it was just a function of the many other demands on my time: an often 50 hour a week job, keeping house in a still new marriage, guaranteeing my own needed “down” time, assuring enough together time with my husband, and looking after our growing collection of animals. I’d thought I was, as I put it once, “too busy living to reflect on that living.” That may be true, but it is now apparent to me that it is not the whole truth. And in this age of alternate facts, blatant lies, and outright perjury, it is vital to me to be unflinchingly and unfailingly truthful.

I follow, very much enjoy, and not coincidentally frequently agree with, the blog Musings From a Tangled Mind. But I cannot conceive of myself ever following that pattern, with daily posts (sometimes twice daily) about anything and everything that arises in the tangle. I have the thoughts, I just can’t imagine myself sharing them.

It’s not just a generational issue, although I’m aware that the age groups beginning, some 20 years younger than I, do have a different ethic around filtering – or rather not filtering – their thoughts. There’s another more subtle dynamic at work that has become clear to me as I live with and beside my husband, and observe both of us in social settings or on the phone. He talks easily, especially in groups of his country mates, and I sit silently except when I have something to offer that puts a different slant on the discussion. He chats freely by phone with friends across the globe, whereas I prefer to text hellos to those not near at hand.

A couple evenings ago I spent over an hour on the phone with an acquaintance, answering her questions about my employer and the way my job is done, to help her decide if she wanted to apply for a similar position in her corner of our large state. My husband was amazed that I was on the phone for so long, commenting that there is only one person, a special quasi-daughter, with whom he has known me to talk on the phone at length. “You must have really wanted her to join the company” was his observation. I do think she’d enjoy the work, but I also want her to have a realistic picture of what it entails.

Back to my point – I have only just begun to peel off layers in order to get to the nub (in the onion, the sweetest part) of why I fall into long blogging silences. Outermost layer is the obvious outer, daily life demands on my time. Next down is what I perceive to be a reluctance to air matters I’ve not thought/felt my way through completely. Below that is recognition of a personal style of reticence somewhat at odds with the “spill your guts and let it all hang out” expectations of social media.

But there are more layers, and I’m aware I have not yet identified them all.

I used to write – usually letters to one special friend – in order to clarify my mind on a topic, or to help me sort out my feelings. What would stay roiled internally could be perceived clearly in the act of explicating it to someone else. Not infrequently those essays were adapted into blog posts as well. I’ve not written, not needed to write, such clarifying documents since having the benefit of a caring and able listening partner in the house with me.

I also used to write to create a sense of connection with others – reaching out from my quiet sideline position to drop comments into the broader stream of national conversation. Now my job puts me into close, often highly personal, interaction with a wide range of other types of people, plus I’m still learning the ways of a spouse from a radically different cultural background. I have all the “connection” anyone could want, and then some.

But I do miss my exchanges with those distant readers who had become friends through our process of commenting on, and knowing something about each other’s lives through, our posts.

Back to the onion… Letters to clarify thinking or feelings meant using writing as a means to better understand my mental and emotional states of being. As I have proceeded deeper into my spiritual life, it has become less salient to me to give attention to those states. I do need to recognize their antics in order to let them go, but I don’t need to dwell on them, seeking understanding. Staying focused on a more purely spiritual state of being allows me to function effectively in my daily life without wasted energy. Insights arise, are recognized and usually shared with my spouse, and then let go rather than enlarged upon in a blog post.

So what has now changed? Perhaps a sort of “coming out the other side” of introspection, to feel at least occasionally like sharing the insights for no other purpose than just to put them “out there”. They may not be profound, nor necessarily of broad interest, certainly they won’t be “well thought out and reasoned”, but I suspect it is nonetheless important to share them. Because whatever arises from Soul and spirit to make its way through our mental and emotional barriers has a deeper meaning for someone, somewhere.

I seem to have a knack, dealing with my clients at work, for reframing or restating their issues in a way that helps them see themselves or their problems differently and more productively or positively. It seems to me to be time to use that same skill in this blog, reframing my occasional insights to have broader-than-just-my-life potential. I’m not sure how it will go – but rely on my readers to let me know. Thank you in advance for your comments.

And to start the new process… I just encouraged my husband to choose a topic for his “argumentative essay” assignment in his English Composition 2 class,  that is unique to his experience rather than one – like climate change – that has been widely discussed and reviewed. My reasons included that his proposed Africa-based topic would be more familiar to him and more easily argued, as well as having more accessible and concrete data points to use in constructing his argument. But I also admit to a mischievous interest in helping him demonstrate to his “new diploma clutched tightly in her hand” young teacher that there remains much in this world that she does not know. There is more to skilled writing than following a standard format, and there is vastly more to teaching than setting rigid standards and marking down for every small deviation from manuscript formatting.

Writing, whether an English class essay or a blog post, is communication and its import lies in communicating content: ideas, perspectives, insights, analyses or persuasive arguments.

So does that mean my long silences have indicated that I have nothing to communicate? No, I don’t think so. That I have not been willing to make the effort? Perhaps. That I’ve been resisting fulfilling my role as a channel for spirit? Probably.

If my resistence is the true core of the onion, I know just what to do now. Admit my stubbornness, give over the resistance and just get one with what’s expected from me. So be it. Amen. Baraka Bashad.

May these blessings be.

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.

Weather Metaphor

August 10, 2016

We’re having a heat wave, a tropical heat wave…
Higher temperatures than I remember since the early 1990s, harder to handle for being unexpected in our high mountain area where few people have air conditioning. My house is situated to benefit from any breeze, and we are grateful for clear skies that allow the nights to cool to a level where sleeping is comfortable. Early morning brings closed shades, and closing windows to keep the night’s coolness inside, only opening windows and shades again after the sun has moved in its course. The system works moderately well, with the most difficult period being from 3 until 8 when the afternoon heat builds and there is no corner of shade to provide relief.
I am reminded, in these heated hours, of my early years first in D.C. summers, then in Vietnam, where the heat was unremitting and – more daunting than my present circumstances – also humid. What amazes me in retrospect is that I played tennis in that weather. And rode horseback in that weather. My parents’ bedroom had an air conditioner unit, but I refused one for my own room, knowing that going out into the heat of my school room Quonset hut would be intolerable by contrast with the comfort of the cooled air. My reasoning was that I needed to adapt to the heat, and could best do so by being consistently in it. I was successful at the time – but seem to have burned out my ability to adjust to heat in the years since.
Are we given only a limited physical tolerance for extremes, and should be careful how we use that quality, if it must last a lifetime? Or am I just discovering another aspect of getting older – decline in physical adaptability? I’ve been told that older people are more sensitive to changes in temperature, but the intolerance is usually expressed as related to cold rather than heat. All the U.S. retirement communities are in the southern, warm weather states.
Living near one of the main migration routes between Arizona and the mid-west, I’m aware of the numbers of people – usually retired and referred to as snow birds – who transit between the two regions each spring and autumn, spending winter months in the moderate temperatures of the Arizona desert, and summer months in cooler northern communities. I could see myself as one of them, but don’t need to join the migration so long as the winters at my home remain as they have been. At their extremes, only every 4-5 years, we have a couple weeks of 30F below cold on starlit January nights. The clarity of the air allows daytime temperatures to rise, even in those coldest periods, to a tolerable 15-25F degrees. Yes, that’s a 50 degree difference, a common occurrence here in any season. Only on the rare occasions that we have cloud cover for several days at a time, do we have a lesser contrast between day and night temperatures.
Did you want to know all this about the weather? What am I doing prattling on about it?
Seeing the extremes of temperature as a metaphor for the political extremes we’re also facing now. And as a metaphor for much of what we encounter daily, just living our lives – overly burdensome workload for months on end, then suddenly not enough to keep from being bored, while still unable to be out of phone and email contact. No communication from friends until the day that the phone seems to ring non-stop and the invitations pour in. So many story or post ideas there’s no way to get them all written – followed by a dearth of ideas that suggests my brain has up and died.
In other words, the weather extremes are just one more example of the constant ebb and flow of every aspect of life experienced here in the mundane world. Enter the benefits of a contemplative spiritual practice, which teaches me how to stay focused on inner Truth, finding balance and constancy amid the yin/yang of the outer reality. Don’t like the weather? Or the politics? Escape to your inner realms for stability, cooling breezes and total freedom.

Photo Courtesy of Leaf and Twig

Photo Courtesy of Leaf and Twig

 

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


Leaf And Twig

Where observation and imagination meet nature in poetry.

Alien Resort

A Terrestrial Romance

MICHAEL GRAY

Original work with a spiritual connection.

Megha Bose

A peek into Megha's mind

Neurodivergent Rebel

Rebelling against a culture that values assimilation over individuality.

The Beauty Along the Road

Discovering Beauty in the small details of our lives

KURT★BRINDLEY

novels. poetry. screenplays. endless musings...

Flowerwatch Journal

Notes on Traveling with Flowers

1eclecticwriter

Wide-Ranging Commentary

Spirituality Exploration Today

Delving into the cross roads of rationality and intuition

O' Canada

Reflections on Canadian Culture From Below the Border

smilecalm

Life through Mindful Media

San'in Monogatari

Legends, folktales, and anecdotes from Japan's San'in region

A Good Blog is Hard to Find

I will shatter a word and scatter the contents into the wind to share it with the world.

Ray Ferrer - Emotion on Canvas

** OFFICIAL Site of Artist Ray Ferrer **