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.   

And Now There Are Two

SO… with the help of the 3 people who weighed (two via personal emails) on the questions I asked in my last post, I’ve figured out what I want to do, blogging wise. I want to reflect on spiritual and social questions and I want to tell stories. As the result of my conclusion, “Stop Along the Way” will continue as the place for my reflections, considerations and meditations. In addition, I’ve started a new blog, the name of which was inspired by my last post here. My second blog is called Busy. Writing. Life and it’s where I’ll tell my stories in the form of humor, fiction and poetry. I posted my first piece today. In honor of Halloween it’s a scary story called Mouth Brought Me Here. I hope you’ll click over and check it out.

Busy. Writing. Life.

I can’t believe it’s autumn again already. I was very busy over the summer and it passed by very quickly. I traveled quite a bit, I rooted around the area of the DMV for yet more insight into its history and I spent a lot of time outside. I’m in love with Rock Creek Park, Great Falls Park and Glen Carlyn Nature Preserve, having had the pleasure of hiking all three during the warm months.

Great Falls
Great Falls
Glen Carlyn
Glen Carlyn

 

 

 

 

 

 

I joined a second faith community to strengthen my practice and for service work. I’m also always trying to find work that PAYS. Oh, and I grew tomatoes!

Bumper Crop!
Bumper Crop!
I admit I had a lot going on last summer...
I admit I had a lot going on last summer…

 

But not as much as my neighbor did
But not as much as my neighbor did

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was especially busy writing. I spent more time writing during the summer than I ever have. I’m not sure what I’m going to do about this blog as a result. Most of my writing energy was spent on other forms rather than blogging. So now, I find myself knee-deep in work on my first novel as well as poetry and short stories. I have a couple of pieces out for submission to literary magazines and contests. Nothing has been published yet but I’m happy with the work, which feels great. I also increased my involvement with three writers groups (both physical and online). All of this has left me with little time for the amount and type of writing I was used to doing for Stop Along the Way.

So what do you think I should do? Here are my choices as I see them right now;

  • Close Stop Along the Way after a wonderful four year ride.
  • Change it to a creative writing space and post my workshopped pieces here.
  • Narrow the scope of this blog to pieces that focus on spirituality, create a new blog for humor pieces and keep everything else for the groups.
  • Leave it as is, post when I can and hope for the best.

I’d love some advice from my fellow bloggers about the situation. I’ve been thinking about it for a while and I don’t know which direction to go in. I try to write everyday but there’s also “life”. So, how do I blog, write the other stuff and still have time for things like family, health and paying the bills? Please weigh in!  

Summer Meditation: Notes From the Road

 

jeep-218956_640It’s sunrise and I’m on Route 95 headed toward Richmond. The early sunshine works its way through thick bands of pine and maple trees along the highway. Puffy clouds sit static behind the green backdrop. I’m glad to be on my way further down south from Virginia. This visit to my cousin in Raleigh means I get to explore what I’m told is the “real south” which is what I’ve been trying to do since I moved two years ago. Funny, when I lived in Boston I thought northern Virginia was the real south but apparently Richmond is a dividing line, it’s history as the Confederate capital still having significance.

I’ve been to Atlanta and Myrtle Beach but as I enter the city of Richmond it feels different. I can’t help wondering what this landscape looked like 150 years ago. Did the sun penetrate the foliage then as it does now when soldiers stood between the trees trying to detect the blue or the gray of the perceived enemy? Did any of my people run this route on their way from confederate North Carolina to the contraband camps in Alexandria where I live now? I see long swaths of grass between mighty trees. Were they part of battlefields? As I pass by I’m thinking about all those who might have been left lying out there. What a time that must have been! Were the issues of the Civil War clear-cut back then to the citizenry of both sides or did they seem as confused as the ones we wrestle with now; war, conflict, ideology?

I exit onto Route 85 and into North Carolina. The cops are less visible than on the Virginia roads. Are they waiting til they have a good breakfast of grits and eggs before starting their patrols? Old time asphalt reverberates and rattles my soul along with my wheels. I see a sign for Ace Hardware and Gun Store. Hills, valleys and pickup trucks. No helmets needed by the Harley riders here. Cigs three dollars a pack and a speed limit of whatever you can bear. Ghosts of tobacco plantations, dusty hills, slave-owning forefathers but license plates that only mention Kitty Hawk. Places like Creedmoor and Falls Lake; Ruin Creek, Nutbush Creek, and Bullsville inhabit this two lane stretch. I roll down the window a bit to smell the air. It’s hot and humid just the way I like and aromatic with bellflowers and jewelweed in full bloom. I know this place’s unsettling and violent history but like many folks, I still find the scenery beautiful and somehow peaceful.

I turn off the highway just outside Raleigh onto the Triangle Expressway. It’s a big, newly paved road dotted with the shiny office buildings of tech companies. I start looking for my cousin’s subdivision. There are so many of them here that have replaced old farms although, come to think of it, it’s the same in Virginia and Pennsylvania. I find the “Springwell” community and pull in. (All the subdivision around here are named.) I’m looking forward to the lilt in my cousin’s speech and his traditional southern hospitality. I hear there are only three Starbucks in these parts but that’s ok because I’m ready to try something else.

 

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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“One Of These Mornings You’re Gonna Rise Up Singing”*

 

WE ARE RACING TOWARD SUMMER, AREN’T WE?

It’s feels to me, after such a long and difficult winter, that spring lasted no time at all. April seemed to go by in the blink of an eye and incredibly, we will celebrate the unofficial start to summer this weekend with Memorial Day.

When I realized we were quickly coming to summer’s front door, I initially had an anxiety attack thinking of all the springtime activities and chores I haven’t yet gotten done. (As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a list maker.) But then I relaxed and allowed myself to think about the things I have enjoyed this spring, which is a more prudent exercise.

I was fortunate enough to watch the progression of buds to blooms to leaves on the trees and the pushing up of flowering plants

Goldenrod Wikipedia Commons

from inside the ground to up  toward the sun.  I put the first of this year’s tomato plants and herbs into the garden. While planting the herbs, I held some aside to make some air fresheners, teas and lotions. I naturally have more energy come spring so I’ve been walking in the nature preserve to bird watch and I got to see goslings make their initial appearance at the pond’s edge.  Also, after talking about it ALL winter, I finally got to take that little person to the playground for a rousing game of Hide ‘n Peek Seek. I engaged in each of those activities and enjoyed them completely in the moment as they happened. So if it seems that the springtime flew by, it is only in retrospect.

I hope you enjoyed your spring and that summer will be an equally wonderful set of precious moments for you. I hope you’ll find the recipes below useful. And lastly, I hope you have a great Memorial Day!

*Lyric from “Summertime” by DuBose Heyward from Porgy and Bess

IMG_2642

Baking Soda Air Fresheners

Mason jars
Baking soda
Essential oils, I use lavender, rosemary or lemon
Dried herbs (optional)
Fill the jars to 3/4 with baking soda, leaving a little room on top. Add about 5 or more drops essential oils and stir. Sprinkle on top about a tablespoon of matching herbs to whichever oil you’ve used. (Some people punch holes in the jar lids and screw them on. I never bother, preferring to leave the jars topless.) Shake gently occasionally to reactivate the oils. The lingering aroma will be subtle but fabulously fragrant.

 

DIY Lotion

2 oz Shea Butter
2 oz Vitamin E oil
1 oz Jojoba oil
1 oz Lanolin
1/2 tsp essential oil
All of these measurements are approximate. I find its good to play with the proportions so you get just the right mixture for your skin type. Also, I cut the amount of Lanolin from the original recipe because I don’t care for the smell.

Hey Cliven Bundy, Freedom Beats Picking Cotton

Very well said Michael Twitty.

Afroculinaria

Sooo…I heard about this rancher who was angry about not being able to graze on “his land,” (Let’s ask the Shoshone, Ute and Paiute and other First Nations about that claim…)  and I was really disturbed that someone with some sort of ancestral or historical connection might lose their land or ties or livelihood–you know I kinda get passionate about that kinda stuff.  I actually felt sorry for him–or at least based on first impressions I felt some sort of kinship or empathy.  More details, came, I felt less sorry, but still intrigued by what this story meant for what American democracy means to different types of people and why they get passionate about the nature of being an American and their idea of freedom.  After all, it was just Passover…I’ve had eight days to think about what freedom means and how glad I am not to be enslaved. (Wait–I do that…

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Subtitle: Seasonal Affect Disorder in March

Today’s break in this year’s unending winter weather prompted me to take a nature walk.  I wanted to take advantage of this: 

Glenn Carlyn Park today
Glenn Carlyn Park today

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before the weather once again turns to this:

My yard last week
My yard last week

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t a beautiful day, the sky was milky but it was warm which brought out all manner of creatures;  squirrels, joyriders, walking widows and kids. Lots and lots of kids. There were also lots and lots of birds, mostly robins.  I didn’t need my binoculars to watch them as they were confident enough to hop and peck around the mish-mash of natural material on the ground. Apparently they gathered, discussed and decided we walkers were no threat. I  thought I was there in the park to bird watch but it turned out I was actually there to contemplate, write and look for signs of spring. It appears, we’re not the only creatures sticking our “necks” out on hope and optimism:

IMG_2570

Anyhoo….Today’s weather reminded me of a poem I wrote a few years ago titled:

Spring’s Deception

Do you feel the sun waking warmer in the morning?
It’s gentler when rising every day.
It spends time a little longer now
Chasing the winter blues away.

Did you notice the air has changed its’ smell?
It’s including a trace of the earth.
It’s teasing with that aroma of promise
Suggesting of green and rebirth.

There are days when the chill is obstinate
Then spring’s certainty seems a cold deception.
But March winds will blow the clouds from here
In time for the sun’s scheduled reception.

  

Winter Meditation: Tribes-Trying to Feel Connected

IMG_2285I wrote in my last post about how we cling to the tendency to divide into tribes and what I image a world wide tribe would look like. It was an optimistic post bordering on naive.  It’s a subject that’s important to me because I was brought up without a sense of being part of a specific population so I think a lot about who and how people form social groups.

I want to begin by talking about the positive aspects of the way I grew up. I never felt I was forced to have an alliance to any group, clan, or other homogeneous body and there’s a certain freedom in that. I always felt removed from the bubble of ethnocentricity. That can be beneficial. As Fr. Richard Rohr of the Center for Action and Contemplation explains in the discussion of his  Second Stage of Spiritual Development,

“At Stage Two, your concern is to look good outside. Your concern with pleasing the neighborhood, the village, your religion, or your kind of folks becomes such a way of life that you get very practiced at hiding or disguising any contrary evidence. That’s why it is so dangerous… Your whole identity becomes defending your external behavior as more moral than other people, and defending your family, your community, your race, your church or temple or mosque, your nation as superior to others.”

So I was spared that kind of “tribal thinking” and that’s a good thing. I’m more apt to interpret the clan affiliation of individuals in a global context. It also allowed me to be more objective about human behavior. I could observe it without feeling too invested to be objective. I think the reason I studied journalism was to learn how to write social commentary that was as unbiased as possible. I’m glad and grateful for that.

The downside was that kind of “otherness” made for a sometimes lonely, always complicated  upbringing and personhood. It’s taken me up to this, the third trimester of my life, to internalize that humans are social beings and I’ve come to truly believe that we’re all connected in The One. But I was brought up divorced from the cultural group that I would naturally have been a part of, the African American community, so my socialization within it was cut off. I was disconnected and because of the way American society was when I was growing up, I couldn’t feel part of any white social group. Those groups saw me as part of the separate black world. On the other hand, I had a parent who told me that I wasn’t part of that community so it was hard for me to know where my place actually was. Eventually, I came to feel that my place was totally “outside”. My saving grace was that I’m naturally an introvert and need a lot of solitude anyway so isolation wasn’t completely intolerable to me. But still we all have an intrinsic need to feel connected to others. My feeling of being an outsider is also why its been hard for me to practice compassion (I posted about this in Back To The Bow) and conversely seeking connection is what’s made it so important to me.

My mother, may her soul rest in peace, I understand her rationale, I absolutely do. She grew up in a time when institutional racism wasn’t even questioned and she had the desire and the intelligence to do so much. She wanted to break out of the confines that were dictated by racism but felt as if she couldn’t in the life she was born to, so she ran. She ran from the south, from the memory of slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation, Reconstruction and the Great Migration. She had to reinvent herself down to the cellular level to excise all those memories. She was wasn’t unique. In his book How To Be Black, Baratunde Thurston chronicled the phenomenon in other African Americans and even said at one point,  “..lots of black people have had the desire to escape their blackness.” But my mother went so much further than that. She was an African American Jake Gatsby. She reinvented where she was born. She reinvented her spirituality. She changed whatever she felt she needed to in order to mitigate the consequences of being black. I’ve written here before about the distance that put between my nuclear family and my traditional culture. (Conflict In Commemoration) There was an absence of things like a black church and trips down south for me to see ancestral homes or visit gravesites. My mother was trying to live up to her potential and by the sixties when things started to change she had hope that her children would not have to be afflicted with the limitations that she felt had hemmed her in. That’s why she didn’t want us to be defined by African American culture, which to her reflected those limitations.

There were of course, a lot of flaws in her thinking. One was that she assumed we would want the life she wanted.  I’ve come to understand as a parent that you can’t assume that about your kids.  The biggest flaw however was that she didn’t realize we might feel alienated in the larger society by not being able to relate to a specific culture. She grew up in an all African American community so I don’t think she ever understood what it was like not have that relationship. She could always relate because try as she might, she was never fully unyoked  from the culture. But she needed to see it as an intellectual exercise and not feel it as an emotional condition.

My mother did the best she could and she thought she was doing right by us. Unfortunately, it was a life fraught with challenges to our identities that the three of us found hard to get through to varying degrees. So that’s another one of the reason I had to come south.  I’ve been fortunate enough to form a strong sense of self that includes but is not exclusive to my African American heritage. Yet I still want to embrace the missing and difficult parts of our past that my mother felt she had to escape. Every time I walk around in Old Town Alexandria on ground where “contraband” slaves once lived during the Civil war, my history is finally personal. I can plot the place at Arlington National Cemetery that was once the Freeman’s Village. I drive around the VA countryside contemplating what my ancestors thought of the weather, the soil and the work. In those ways I create a link to people, place and time; a sense of sharing in a legacy. I didn’t experience the kind of intimacy with my familial history in New England the way I do here. I have a richer perception of my identity now that includes pain and sorrow. It leads me to feel sympathy for other people who are facing similar struggles and compassion for those of us, not just black folks, who live with the challenging aspects of our shared American story.  It allows me to feel part of something larger than myself.