Winter Meditation: A Challenge for a Grumpy Old Lady

So, I decided to challenge myself in the time between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. I don’t usually go in for personal challenges because they feel so pop culture-ish to me, like I’m channeling Oprah or something.  But I got a loud wakeup call at Thanksgiving. I was told my attitude had become a bit negative. Actually, my offspring very pointedly said to me, “Mom, you’re so negative!

At that point I wanted to line them up for a group slap. But instead, I took a walk among the falling leaves in my favorite nature preserve and thought about it. Damn it, they were right! I had become a glass half empty person! I’m not sure when it happened, I would suspect gradually over the period of the last couple of years. I know I’ve had periods of darkness before, usually brought on by depression, sometimes situational but my kids meant that I’d developed a general negative disposition that wasn’t part of my character before.  I thought about why it happened and I couldn’t help but notice that it seems to happen to a lot of women my age, especially women like me who don’t have partners. The kids are gone, there are no career goals left to reach and let’s face it, this culture emphasizes youth so every time I look in the mirror I’m reminded that I’m no longer the cultural ideal or the desired demographic. I think all that weighted me down and I think it weighs on my friends too. I realized that when talking with them it was about our health issues, who had died and who the most annoying people in our lives were at any given moment. And when I was out talking to strangers; clerks in stores, people in lines, etc. my remarks, although sometimes very witty, many times referred to things I wasn’t happy about.  That’s why I decided to challenge myself by taking the six weeks until the end of 2014 to make an effort to stay as positive as possible.

Now, I don’t believe in the adage “fake it til you make it” so the challenge for me is genuinely being positive. Don’t get me wrong, gratitude has never been my problem. I’m grateful all day long, but I’m also the kind of person who will say “I’m so grateful I’m not dead because I should be.” Yeah, I’m grateful, but not positive. So I reframed my gratitude. I believed and decided to find things in my life every day that could lead me to say “You know what, life is good. I looked for things I could hang on to and pass on to others as benefits of our time in this life.

I have to tell you that in the weeks since I made the conscious choice circumstances have changed along with my outlook and I’m surprised. (I guess skepticism was part of my negativity.) Some very nice things have happened to me since Thanksgiving. I have to believe that opening myself to positive energy has made a good difference. For one thing, it’s made a difference in the way I treat other people and therefore the way they treat me in return. I was in a package delivery store just before Christmas. I told the obviously stressed clerk to take his time and I joked with him that I wouldn’t watch how my box was being handled. He smiled and I noticed his body visibly relax. Then he wished me  happy holidays. I experienced the effect of being positive in that moment and at other times as well, so much so that I’ve decided to continue the challenge into 2015. I guess I’d forgotten again that we always have access to the absolute, big L Love from which all positivity comes. This challenge reminded me and I’m grateful!

Happy New Year!!!

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What Do You Do When a Person You Know Isn’t the Person You Knew?

The question concerns a woman I’ve known since college. (So it’s been longer than either of us would admit.) We were roommates in a dorm that was problematic for us as it was single gender and not very diverse. We became very close in the two years we lived there together. We shared similar backgrounds and a number of interests, especially literature. We felt safe enough with one another to reveal our ambitions concerning men and careers. We would lay in our twin beds at night describing our fantasies, born from youth and hope, about what our husbands would look like, where we’d live and which jobs on which magazines we’d get. And we both always assumed we’d remain friends. Back then, she was incredibly smart, strong, popular and a very talented writer. I admired her and I always felt enriched by being in her company.

Then bad stuff started happening to her. Really bad stuff. Tragic stuff. She suffered unimaginable losses that caused her to develop mental health issues. Among other problems, she became a hoarder. And her losses continued. Over the period of a few years, she lost a job, a house and her parents. She couldn’t tolerant the pain. I witnessed as her attitude changed so much she seemed to become a completely different person. A hard, not nice person. I understood why and how the transformation happened but she was no longer the person I had known and loved.

© Hallmark Cards
© Hallmark Cards

I wasn’t sure how to handle what was happening to her. In all honesty, I have put more than a little distance between us. I have discussed before on this blog that feeling compassion toward others is sometimes hard for me. I’ve learned from studying Buddhism and mystical Christianity that in order to be genuinely compassionate, one must put aside the sense of self, beyond empathy and beyond sympathy. That’s the hard part for me because I am seriously self-centered.

Unfortunately, this friend’s behavior was hurtful during a very difficult period in my life. I knew it was part of the change in her personality but truthfully, it broke my heart and I didn’t know if I could forgive her. I understood her but I needed space to re-evaluate the relationship because it was proving to be too difficult for me to get past the hurt she’d caused.  My rational mind conveniently told me I didn’t need to feel bad if I decided to let the friendship go because I didn’t know her anymore. I asked myself how I could really be a friend to a stranger.  Apparently, there were others who felt the same way because a couple of people who at one time orbited around her chose to leave her sphere.

Now she is seriously ill with cancer. This is not territory for my rational mind; this is the land of my heart. This is the time for me to reflect on the love I gave to this woman who was my friend but even more so on the love I received. I feel that although I don’t know this person anymore I’m required out of compassion to stay and give the appearance of a friend. But in my heart I know that isn’t real compassion. She is the same person with whom, for years, I thought I shared the unbreakable love bond of an authentic friendship. In her world and in her mind we are still connected, if in a way that only makes sense to her. I’m not sure I feel connected to her at all anymore so maybe I’ve changed more than she has. And I have to acknowledge that she still loves me in her own way. Yet the truth is I’ve let resentment of her fear and bitter neediness taint and diminish my love.

.Can I be a friend to this person I no longer know? She’s changed and maybe I’ve changed too. Maybe we need to have a different, changed kind of friendship. Maybe if I re-acquaint myself with her I’ll discover something new about love and compassion that will help us both. I’ll keep you posted.   

Schedule for A Journey of Fulfillment

I’m joining Susan on this journey. I’ll be using some quotes from Richard Rohr’s “The Naked Now” as guiding thoughts on some days. (See Center for Action and Contemplation link.) I feel the same as one of Susan’s other respondents; amazed at the perfect timing of this opportunity. Thank you, Susan! Stay tuned and I’ll let you know how it goes.

SusanWithPearls

A Journey of Fulfillment, a 40-day Consciousness Journey, begins at susanwithpearls.com on Monday June 16, 2014.

The schedule for the journey will be as follows:

Monday June 16, 2014: A brief overview of this journey– “Why a Journey of Fulfillment”. Find out if it sounds like something you’d like to do for yourself.

Tuesday June 17, 2014: The commitment statement will be posted. This is the statement that focuses and dedicates the journey.

June 18- July 27 : 40 days of guiding thoughts for consideration and contemplation; 40 days of sharing about the contemplation. 40 days of shifting my consciousness into a higher understanding and experience of Fulfillment–maybe yours too?

July 28-August 3: There will be one or two posts of an afterword, and some concluding thoughts. Processing myself, thinking about thinking about the thinking.

The structure of the Journey is:

Minimum:

  • Spend 5 minutes reading and thinking about the guiding…

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Wrap It Up

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NEW YEARS.  It’s the time we use to mark the passing of the old and the beginning of the new. I don’t go in much for traditional rituals so I do my year-end assessment a little differently. First, I don’t think of a year as being “gone”. I like to think I bring every precious, previous minute into the one I’m living right now. In that way time is never “lost”. Secondly, I don’t make resolutions. I feel that’s a sucker’s game and I try not to set myself up for failure. What I like to do instead is reflect on the best lessons I’ve learned in the past year. I have no doubt that the best lesson I learned in 2013 was disciplined anger.

Last August I wrote about a conversation we had in my church group about anger. We were considering whether as Christians we can ever accept anger as justified. It took place a few days before the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and I admit, I had righteous anger on my mind. I was loud and adamant in my opinion. I blogged about it and even made a video to bring home my point. In the post I said, “I think anger and a thirst for justice are at the forefront of movements for equality and non-violence is not so much a belief system as it is a political strategy.” Well, I was wrong. I made a mistake by framing the question in foot-stamping emotional terms. I was childish and churlish. I didn’t take the opportunity to reflect maturely in a deeper spiritual way. Then a wise friend of mine sent me a link (http://www.inc.com/hitendra-wadhwa/great-leadership-how-martin-luther-king-jr-wrestled-with-anger.html) to an article about Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. (Thanks Janie!) Here’s the quote from it that was the eye opener I needed, 

“…the words of another great leader, the one who taught Martin Luther King, Jr. his signature technique of peaceful struggle, Mahatma Gandhi. “I have learnt through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power that can move the world.”

Wow, “heat conserved, “peaceful struggle”. I guess that’s why Martin Luther King could admit he was angry that his home had been bombed and still move forward; he learned the lesson. How spiritually well grounded does a person have to be to transform anger into a positive power, including the power to understand “the other” and practice courtesy? And how mature does a person have to be to then use that energetic power as a tool for positive action? I had to sit with that and be honest enough to say I was lacking. And I’m still working on it because I realize the lesson doesn’t just apply to social justice. I had to look at the behavior in my personal life and admit I have a pattern of seeing my anger as justified. As we all know, it’s easy to be an ass when you feel righteous. I’m very good at rationalizing my opinion as fact in order to feel superior or feel I have “won”. Even knowing that, I have to remind myself of the power of disciplined anger constantly because I forget so often. (Sorry to the apartment management and the daughter who gave me the gift certificate for Christmas.)

There are other lessons I learned in 2013 but that’s the best one. I’ll take it and the others, along with the cumulative moments of my life gratefully into the time to come. I hope you look at the days past, realize the good and go forward wishing for the best.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

My (Partial) Gratitude List

I just returned from an 18 hour stay in Boston. I was there for the beautiful funeral of a good friend who greatly enriched my life. It was a profound juxtaposition to the dinner the night before with my cherished family. I gave thanks for all of it which reminded me of my gratitude list. I obviously need to add to it (Nyla’s face!) but I’ll reblog it for now.

Stop Along The Way

GloryThe Divine One’s Love
The Divine One’s mercy
Love
The love in my heart 
My kids
Olivia
The memory of Bill
Memories in general
The roof over my head
Constant affirmation of my sensibility: it really is The One
Absurdist humor
Humor in general
Music, always and forever
The music of my roots
The big one: hot water on demand
London
Things that grow in the ground
I saw Barack Obama elected president
My health
My health insurance 
My safety
Each new day
I don’t go hungry
Good food, of course
The ability to say, “I don’t know”
My kids grew up safely
The sky
The ocean
Songbirds
Nature in general
My sibs
My friends
My cousins
Freedom from want
The human body heals itself 
The fact that thoughts are private
The human voice
The ability to read
The ability to write
I don’t have fertility issues anymore
I’m not…

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Ouch!

I had major dental surgery last week. And by major I mean 3 hours worth of work, gums split ear to ear and heavy sedation. And by sedation I mean out like a light, don’t remember a thing including how I got home. (Don’t judge, someone else drove me. Lol.)

I bring this up because the surgery caused me to reflect on pain, or more precisely, enduring pain. I was thinking that I’ve learned a lot over the years about what it takes to endure pain. It’s one of the life lessons that this blog is supposed to be about.

I’ve learned that although it seems counterintuitive, sometimes it’s better to accept pain than to fight it.

I was having a baby the first time someone tried to help me understand that. My nurse was wonderful when I had a C-section to deliver my youngest daughter. She came in the first night and told me not to fight the pain because I’d never win. She told me not to instinctively go into a defensive mode so I could stay aware of my body. She explained the need for pain as messages from the body pointing to the places that need attention. She said that pain is an ally not an adversary. She was very smart.

The next time I heard the lesson was from a therapist. She told me that what we perceive as the negative of pain is mostly fear. She told me to stay aware of my body tensing more at the memory of past hurt than the real pain itself.  She said the worst part of pain, the memory of it, has already happened so there’s no reason to be afraid of it. She taught me to relax, breathe and that if I tried to focus on the center of the pain, I’d find it was much smaller than I’d feared. She was very wise.

My yoga teacher is young but she’s good at guiding a bunch of us Boomers gently through our poses. She tells us to breathe through our pain. (In our hips, knees and backs.) Breathe in to the center of it, breathe out and release it. It really does help when I’m trying to creakily hold a pose. She is very sweet.

So, when I went to a Buddhist dharma talk last year and the presenter discussed  “being the pain”  it resonated with me. He was saying the same thing as the other women were saying. And the lesson can be applied to emotional and spiritual pain as well as the physical.  Staying with it and giving our “self” over to it is the only way we really know what pain is and what it means. And if we know that we can bear it, use it and won’t waste precious energy trying to beat it.

Time That Neither Marches Nor Flies

Welcome little one.
Welcome little one.

Ok, Let me get this out of the way at the onset. Here is the main reason I’ve been away from my blog for a while. We met on March 16th in a NY hospital. But I don’t want to talk about her. (Even though she’s adorable.)

I wrote about my view of western medical facilities a year ago in a post called “I Steal From Hospitals”. (https://stopalongtheway.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/i-steal-from-hospitals) My experience on March 16th with the place that’s’ name sounds like a Caribbean island did nothing to change my opinion. The only difference was at this hospital there was nothing to steal. But I don’t want to talk about hospitals either. I want to talk about time.

Today i took hold of time and hung on tight. I had to. I had to in order to get this post written. There has been so much packed in what seems to be each moment that I decided to just stop and create a few more minutes devoted to WordPress. I’ve been  disoriented in time recently. Back before I was a mother of adult children, a widow and a grandmother, I used to use the Gregorian calendar to keep track of the passage of time like a lot of western folks. I put particular emphasis on the seasons and my clan’s traditional holidays as transition markers. And of course I used clocks. I watched the clock like it was my job and patted myself on the back for being an up to the minute type of person. Years, months, days, hours, those distinctions we call units of time made sense to me.

We miss you Dad.
We miss you Dad.

Now it seems I blink my eyes and the seasons have changed, yet at other times I blink again and again and it’s the same moment. Sometimes it feels like something happened a very long time ago and something else will feel as though it happened in the last five minutes.Then I realize they both happened yesterday.  How to explain the change? What has happened to make my sense of time so different? I think part of it has to do with getter older.The other day an actor who I thought was attractive when I was in my twenties died. He was 95. According to my sense of time he should have been 65. I had to update how I see aging. And life events like the deaths and births that have occurred in quick succession in my family have also caused me to develop a more fluid delineation of the flow,the pace, the time of life.

Nature Walk Through Heritage Park

Green
Cascading down to
Still water 
Red
Reaching up to 
Moving Sky 
Stream
Trees
Cemetery
Coming into
Moving out

I guess I’m learning that it’s all one big minute. One long second. The one big, long nanosecond that’s really the nature of existence. As Boethius called it “the abiding instant”. Or as George Clinton says “Everything is on the one…”

The Power of Love

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In my post “The Love in Loss” I talked about the power of Love. Because of the time of year, because of the death of my stepdad and because of the shooting in Connecticut last week I’m going to continue to speak to that power.

I actually used the term power of Love because of a great song that’s been one of my favorites for a long time. “I Have Learned to Respect the Power of Love” was a modest hit by Stephanie Mills back in the 1980s.  I think it’s about romantic love but to me, it’s about all Love. From the first time I heard it my heart was touched in a “feeling the Holy Ghost” kind of way. I missed my highway exit once while I was sing along to it.  Every time I listen to it I want to testify.  These are the lyrics to the first part of the song:

I was a victim of my foolish thinking
Carelessly I’ve risked my love and my life
There’s no self-pity I admit I obliged
Overpowered by love I pretended to be blind

Faith has survived all the doubts I’ve summoned
My heart has stood all the failure and loss
Helpless I cannot further be driven

I’ve learned to respect
The power love…….

How beautiful is that? Say Amen?  I absolutely relate to the foolish thinking that leads to careless risk part. That could be the title of the first half of my life. But then I was thinking about the idea of being overpowered by Love. I feel like the Love we need to pay attention to and live by can be overwhelming. I’ve talked in this blog about how I can’t show as much compassion as I’d like. I think it’s because there’s too much negativity inside of me to get over in order to be that compassionate. I guess I feel like my love can’t outmatch my negativity. But I’ve come to realize that my love with a little “l” can’t. It’s only when I participate in the larger Love with the big “L” that it’ll work. And that participation takes getting over the petty sense of myself. That’s the part that’s overwhelming.

I thought about that this week in terms of the shooting of those babies at the elementary school. Like everyone else I was blindsided by how terrible an act it was. How do the parents, the community and the nation get over that much horror? Then I saw the footage of the prayer services held that night. The collective prayers sent up demonstrate the power of Love. They provide the pathway to the Love that can overpower that kind of hate.  Witnessing all those people earnestly praying for the comforting of others (for a lot of them, others they don’t know) was so encouraging to me.  Those people in that moment put themselves aside to give Love through prayer. I know the effect that kind of positive energy can have because I’ve felt it in my own life.

Just as the lyrics say, our hearts can stand all the failure and loss if we have faith in Love, even when we feel as helpless as we did this week. It can survive all the doubts we have about ourselves, about others and about the condition of the world we live in. It’s hard to hold on to though, when it feels like our daily lives are filled with nothing but failure and loss. But there have been so many good and spiritually blessed folks who have come along to remind us of the truth of the power of Love. Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama come to my mind immediately. Who just came to yours? And for those of us who celebrate Christmas, Jesus of Nazareth is supposed to be the number one bearer of that exact message.

So since it’s the season we’re supposed to be thinking about it and because we really need it at this challenging time, let’s sing along with Stephanie; “I’ve learned to respect the power of Love, (Yes I did!)”

You can read all the lyrics to the song at this web address. http://lyrics.wikia.com/Stephanie_Mills:I’ve_Learned_To_Respect_The_Power_Of_Love I couldn’t find a video of Stephanie Mills singing it but here’s a YouTube link of the recording. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDkCSf6cRRY.

I’m grateful there are words in the form of lyrics, poems, and psalms, et al that can express what I feel in my heart. Amen.

The Love In Loss

FlowersTHE FATHER WHO RAISED ME FROM THE AGE OF 12, MY STEPDAD, PASSED AWAY TODAY. I’ve experienced the loss of several loved ones in the last few years, my husband, my mother, my biological dad, a cousin, an aunt and now “Gramps”. I didn’t have this blog when the others transitioned. This post is for all of them.

Loss through death is the big one, isn’t it? It affects us more than any other type of loss. It’s accompanied with so many complicated feelings besides pain and sadness. I have also felt guilt, confusion and anger with each passing. When my husband died I was blessed to have the insight of two very wise people (a friend and a therapist) who taught me about the Love in loss.  They showed me that all those feelings were/are really products of the power of the most important feeling and of course, that’s Love. It’s the power of Love that keeps our loved ones with us in a very real way. The pain in our hearts when we think of those who have transitioned is where we are blessed to keep them through the power of Love.

My stepdad wasn’t a perfect man but he had a quiet strength of character (He had to be quiet and have strength to be married to my mother!) He was also a man of immense faith. He taught me to have faith in that power of Love. That’s why at this time of his passing I’m sitting in gratitude instead of grief.

Back To The Bow

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Now that my move is complete and I’m officially a permanent resident of Virginia, I can return to my spiritual practice. I’d like to say that I was practicing all along but that would be a lie. I was intermittently distracted during the move from the main components, which are:

Prayer/meditation– Prayer is never an issue for me but if conditions are right I can go from a gratitude prayer to swearing in a heartbeat. (That’s the reason I stopped praying while driving.) And I wasn’t in a place to quiet my mind enough for meditation while negotiating the issues around moving.

Living in the moment- Impossible for me while moving because I’m an obsessive planner which requires thinking ahead.

Community- I’ve only been here a little while but I’ve made progress by joining meet-up groups.

Yoga- Let’s just say it petered out mid-summer.

Compassion- This is the one that’s the hardest but it’s the most important to me. You see, compassion isn’t so much a component to my practice as it is the goal. I’d like to come to and stay in a place of love and compassion because I feel it’s the state that’s closest to the divine. Unfortunately, as I’ve pointed out in previous posts, when dealing with people in challenging situations it is not my go-to position. (My posts that deal with this are; “Stumbling on Pebbles” and “Bowing at Easter”.) So, I’m going back to “The Bow”.

For those readers who don’t know, “The Long Journey To The Bow” is an article that was the subject of my very first blog post. (December 2010) It deals with a Buddhist take on love and compassion. Basically it says that the sense of self contains the,

worlds of comparing, evaluating and judging.…the cessation of conceit (of self) allows the fruition of empathy, kindness, compassion and awakening.

I re-read the article as many times as I can to remind myself of what compassion looks like. As I said then “I have to be willing to bow to my fellow beings without the intellectual exercise of judging one way or the other.” Fortunately for me I also discovered a Catholic priest by the name of Richard Rohr of the Center for Action and Contemplation, who, curiously, shares that definition of compassion and speaks eloquently to it.  Reading his daily meditations also helps me bow.  He has said,

The enormous breakthrough is that when you honor and accept the divine image within yourself, you cannot help but see it in everybody else, too, and you know it is just as undeserved and unmerited as it is in you. That is why you stop judging, and that is how you start loving unconditionally and without asking whether someone is worthy or not.

When I first read “The Bow” I was living a “greater than, less than” life in my own home and in my larger circle. I’m blessed to have been able to re-orient myself. Obviously, this blog bears witness to that process. What I didn’t realize until recently is how many others there are that embrace and try to live with that mindset. Now I understand that if it weren’t for the fact that there are so many folks “bowing” to our fellow beings, this world couldn’t possibly continue. Stevie Wonder expressed it best as the song “Love’s In Need of Love Today”.  He begs us all to take our love and compassion and “send it in right away” so hate won’t take us out.

So as I attempt to return my practice to the forefront of my everyday life, I’d like to ask you if you have a spiritual practice. If being compassionate is an important part of it, how do you demonstrate it? Does your life allow you to be as loving and compassionate as you’d like to be? Do you find it as hard as I do to “send it in”? Thanks and I bow to you.

(The article “Long Journey To The Bow”: appeared in Tricycle Magazine. It’s on my blog roll.  Fr. Richard Rohr’s quote is from his book “The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See”. I’ve added his website to my blog roll. “Love’s in Need of Love Today” is from Stevie Wonder’s album “Songs in the Key of Life”. I’m grateful for all three.)