On Public Toilets and Mother Theresa

I have this recurring dream, probably for at least 2-3 years where I’m in need of a bathroom and the only ones available are in public restrooms with lots of toilets and no dividers. I will use it anyway. Often without fear, embarrassment or anything to the like; as everyone else in there seems comfortable doing their thing and that normalizes it enough for me. A few days ago I actually went into a restroom where I saw this to be a reality and literally pinched myself in wonder of whether or not I was dreaming.

I couldn’t help but then Google what this dream means, and I learned that it signifies (not surprisingly) a lack of privacy in one’s life.

For many years I did feel a lack of privacy – mostly in the way of being myself since I moved in with my husband and step children. That is coming up on almost 10 years ago. I often felt like I was on a stage and that every move of mine was being watched and judged by the critics in the audience. Likely because it was.

Something I would say with no malintent like brushing your teeth after eating before school makes more sense than before eating, or having a phone conversation with my ex husband about our children’s grades or something would come back to me or my husband a few days later in some form of judgement or ridicule.

The food I made or some ingredient that seemed foreign was meant to purposely exclude someone who didn’t like it. The norms or rules I lived by before (that most parents have in place) were now viewed as capricious regulations I set forth because I wanted to control the step kids.

I let the kids watch family shows for an hour after homework at night, I had bedtimes, I tried to limit screen and video game time, I made a variety of different dinners and insisted the kids try new things in order to eat dessert (with my own biological children long before meeting my husband) – and all of it was picked apart, criticized, or judged. Nothing I did was right. It was exhausting for me and my husband to constantly have to talk about or defend what seemed to me like normal behavior.

Going back home at the end of a long day and being in a new situation is tough enough. But then worrying about every ingredient I used, every conversation I had (even behind closed doors and on the phone), every song I listened to, everything I read, how my yoga was weird, EVERY move I took made it positively exhausting. I felt like I was unable to ever figuratively let my hair down and chill out in my own home. There was no where to go. No where to run to in order to just BE.

Then I really started to stress. I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder. Not too long after, the PTSD I had lived with my whole life came to life and went out of control. For the past 3 years or so I’ve been metaphorically purging my past. A lot of yoga, time off, and time in an outpatient mental facility will do that to you. I started blogging around 3-4 years ago and going very public with my struggles. No privacy – absolutely. Was I ok with that? Not really, but it was something I could live with.

But feeling like I can’t be myself, allow my natural feelings to flow out of me however they may, now that I truly had no control of the emotions I had locked up years ago and was working through in therapy… THAT was another story.

I like self discovery. I can’t say a lot of what I’ve gone through was pleasant, but I wouldn’t change it if a magic wand was handed to me and I was able to go back in time and do things another way.

Life is not supposed to always be pleasant. I believe we are here to learn and examine when we are in discomfort. Making connections between my feelings, my dreams, my values and why they all have a positive or negative connotation makes it all part of life’s beautiful and super messy journey. How boring it would be otherwise!

As I’m growing older I am not just going through the days of my life, but living the days and experiences while examining my role in it, however small. I’m looking to the sages and teachers before me who tried to instill the wisdom they’ve learned. They know what makes life worth living. They knew and tried to tell us that you have to take the good and the bad, and not resisting any of it makes it easier and, dare I say, more colorful! We get so many conflicting messages from society that it can be difficult to know what the best way to do anything is. One lesson I’ve learned but continue to struggle with is self care.

In a separate but very related story a few days ago my husband and I bought a Hygee card game. We sat down with a glass of wine and started to ask one another thought provoking questions. Some questions seemed silly at first and we started to skip some. But a few cards in we realized even the silly ones can be deep and there was no need to rush through them. The richness was in slowing down and really exploring why you would answer in a certain way.

A few hours later we pulled out the cards with my youngest step son. One of the questions asked was the type of person we most admire. The type… hmmmmm.

I had to think about that and spoke my mind’s reaction aloud to Devin and Daren. My immediate reaction was the Copernicus types. People before me who ultimately knew a truth and were not afraid to go against the grain of the masses to pass it along. My second reaction was the Mother Theresa types. People who give without any type of return expectations. Then strangely enough I said- “actually I don’t admire Mother Theresa.”

I thought about why. Now – don’t get me wrong, I cannot say I know very much about her and how she spent her days, but the impression I’ve received through the years is that she gave relentlessly. That’s wonderful right? But did she rest? Did she take time for herself? Get a massage, a mani/pedi, meditate and clear her mind from outside influences, eat food that would nourish he body and soul? I don’t know. Maybe. But my impression is no.

So my third answer was the Dali Lamas over the years. They do mediate and practice self care. They preach what we all know to be the truth inside. I can’t really argue with their messages. Maybe others can, I don’t know.

I grew up in a Catholic school and in the Catholic Church. It was ingrained into me to give ceaselessly. To be a Mother Theresa type. Now that I’m older and hopefully wiser, I’m not just reading the words of the sages and of the Bible quickly without thinking and making a checklist of ho hum, yeah got it. Like the Hygee cards stopping to think about what the words mean and how I may want to interpret them and live my own life.

Most of us have heard the Bible quote “To love thy neighbor as you love yourself”, but what does that mean? Do unto others… but what if you don’t love yourself? What if you don’t practice self care? You can do what I thought of as a “Christian” thing and love them and give them more than you give yourself, but that is exhausting! And if you loved yourself and made self care a priority- wouldn’t the world be a better place if then we took THAT person, attitude and energy to our neighbors. Without the self care the model is tiring and teaches the neighbor only to take. If we showed them what we do – like rest and give, they in turn can do the same. Otherwise shortly down this chain of relentless giving, we will experience burnout.

I didn’t go into this much detail with my husband and step son the other night. But it’s a combination of the Dali Lama and Copernicus types that I most admire and a small part Mother Theresa. A balance of love, self care, giving and teaching from the heart.

The day we played these cards was the same day I saw this public toilet. Granted- these two toilet bowls were in one stall with a door, likely for a mother and child. But it brought my awareness to my recurring dream and my curiosity was piqued just enough to google it.

Yes, I don’t have too much privacy- BUT I’m also not practicing the self care I know I so desperately need. I admire these people, but I’m too exhausted to do any more to be like them. Perhaps for all those years when my children and step children were younger if I did practice self care (mediated on what I’m mediating on now) I’d have realized earlier on that I shouldn’t be affected by what other people think, and should feel good about doing what I really knew to be the right things rather than worrying and living in constant fear of judgement.

If I practiced self care I may have been an example to teach them all the same. To go to a private space and just take care of yourself in any way that feels rejuvenating and fulfilling to you. To love thy neighbor as you love yourself means you have to love yourself first and foremost. Or the model just doesn’t work.

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On the Other Side of the Window

This first day of 2019 I sit in my dining room after a long run with a warm cup of tea in the sunshine, not far from our dog who has also found comfort & post holiday solace in a beam of sun.
Across the room are two potted plants I purchased this past spring. They are geraniums mixed with a few other plantings. They very happily lived on the front porch for the spring, summer, and early fall. As they began to die off when the weather cooled, I just happened to be reading a book where a woman in England talked about having her geranium plant for 13 years. She would bring it indoors each fall and back to the outside each spring. Instead of emptying the containers in the woods behind our home as I normally would have done with these plants, I decided to try my hand at keeping these two lovelies alive through the winter.
This morning when I opened the blinds to the new day and new year, I happened to see a little red bud on one of the plants! While I don’t believe the plant should be blooming, I was excited to see that my efforts are taking effect.
However, this afternoon while sitting in the same room I noticed the rose bush just on the other side of the window. It’s dead/hibernating in every way. There is also a little red bud on it that stopped growing mid-bloom during the first frost, and will never open to what would have been its full potential as a rose flower.
The difference is the warmth, care and attention I’m giving the geraniums. They get monthly plant food. They are shielded from the cold, just on the other side of the window. They have a fighting chance at survival. How is this not different from the way we treat others in the world?
Folks on the other side of the tracks. The homeless on the other side of the window from our homes, jobs and businesses we frequent. The children that do not have the same opportunities to thrive to their fullest potential as perhaps many of their other classmates due to their home environment and lack of warmth/nurturing.
Last Thursday I drove down to Branford during rush hour. There was an accident on I-95 North at the ramp, and the signs on the highway suggested finding an alternate route. I followed my GPS and a few turns later I didn’t recognize where I was or fathom how a few turns away things were SO different. Suddenly there were really really busted up houses, apartments and abandoned buildings. Check cashing stores, pawn shops, scary looking package stores, one too many convenience merchants advertising the sins of the world. Folks were walking around hunched over with old clothes and hardly any outerwear. Drunken people around my age just wandering the streets alone or with another drunk counterpart, barely sober or alive enough to pay attention to oncoming traffic.
Just on the other side of town… As the rose bush is just on the other side of the window.
If the rose bush was also potted and brought it, the flowers would continue to thrive as well through the winter as they continue to bloom non-stop in the warmer months.
I am fully aware that I’m not comparing apples to apples. The rose bush outside alone is a perennial and will resume its duties in the spring. The geranium would not be alive next year if it were left out all winter.
But people are not flowers. We are born the same, not with such different gene sets like these two flowering plants I speak of. However our circumstances decide if we thrive or not. It’s the warmth and caring of our environment, town, parents, and community which determine if we bloom to our fullest potential or flounder all of our lives just trying to stay alive.
It’s not fair. Just on the other side of the window the ones with are safe and warm have a duty to do something; simply because they have the power, energy, and stamina to do so. Because they can, I humbly believe that they should.

Peace ☮️

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How I’m Choosing Who to Vote For

This past weekend Daren & I went to Harvard for Freshman Family weekend and attended the Keynote address: “The Polarization of America: Can We Bridge the Divide?” with IOP Fellow and former Congressman from Nevada, The Hon. Joseph J. Heck.

I didn’t know the name, but found the talk to be something I can really chew on. Before anyone starts to look Heck up, and bash or celebrate any move he ever made; Heck is Republican and obviously putting his neck on the line by speaking in a highly liberal environment – not only for the parents last weekend, but through many lectures for students during the year.

I don’t like to discuss politics and often do not speak freely as to which party I’m more aligned with, but I’m not a Republican. Most of the audience was not either. However, the talk was wonderful and touched on many reasons why the political divide is kind of inevitable but not impossible to overcome.

One part of it really hit home for me and is something I plan to always consider as well as one can. That is the gumption of a candidate. Heck didn’t even use the word gumption, but at times and once during the Q&A he said something to the affect of considering individuals who can stick to their morals well enough to say No to power.

We need to generally hear an individual’s viewpoint on important issues whether it’s equal rights, gun control, the right to choose, immigration, etc. However, even more so it is important to consider whether or not the individual has the ability to work with others (even others on the other side) to come up with solutions that find common ground, andto have the gumption not to flip in order to please power, keep friends, take money, or even just to wrap up a session and go home.

Candidates need to have an answer on hot topics, but it doesn’t mean they are so ridiculous about it that they will no longer adhere to common sense. Party lines and rigid yes/no answers on issues make it nearly impossible to be seen or understood as something in between. Additionally, few topics are so black or white. The topics and national problems that are on the table took years to get to. They just cannot disappear overnight. It’s tricky stuff.

Take gun rights for example. Me personally – I don’t “believe” in guns. When I hear a candidate is a ‘gun person’ I look to their opponent. But in reality a candidate has to answer yes or no if they believe in ‘gun rights’, and that doesn’t answer a whole lot unless you really hear from them or look into their background.

But what does gun rights really mean? A part of me understands the other side. Just because I mightnot have one, I’m not sure I should or even want to have the right to tell someone else what they can or cannot have. If we outlawed them tomorrow what would that solve? People will still have and use them, likely often as much as they do now. We don’t have the money or man power to go into everyone’s homes to remove them. People are not going to turn them in because they are illegal. Drugs, prostitution, child porn and human trafficking are illegal but that doesn’t stop those who want to do these things from doing them. How can anyone tell a 19-year old minority single mother living in a shady neighborhood that she needs to give up her legally owned gun that makes her feel safe so she can shiver and be anxious walking down the block when she had previously felt safe, secure and that she had some power over her life? She wouldn’t be voting on my side even though she has a very rational point.

What I would love for our politicians to do is look for common ground and not give in to nonsense that power & bullying will try to instill. They need gumption to do that.

I have not a single statistic in front of me but would be willing to bet that most people in either party do not want to see one more mass shooting- like EVER. Guns are a part of the issue – of course. But does any majority really, really believe in the right to have a semi-automatic gun or weapons of mass destruction as part of no constitutional restrictions? Are any liberals really trying to take away any and all power to bear arms? Maybe some people fall into these categories, but again – I’d be willing to bet it’s a small percentage. Those persons in that small percent are not the individuals I would like to elect to pass our laws. The individuals I would like to represent my vote would have common sense and not give in to power or bullying of a smaller percent.

How can a healthy minded, willing Democrat work with a healthy minded, willing Republican to come up with potential solutions about how to prevent what we all want to prevent? We have to be willing to compromise, understand one another’s view and create a solution with them that works for all. There are many issues I don’t agree with 100% but understand the other side. It’s not easy and/or black and white.

This is where we the people come in. We do our due diligence and look for the truth in the people we have the power to elect. We understand and look past silly time limits during debates, simple colors to show which party the candidate is aligned with, and the one-liners on all these hundreds (and I mean HUNDREDS) of political signs all over the place.

My first reaction to what I just wrote if I wasn’t writing it would be some defense about “Who has time for this?” But I need to even question my own silly gut reaction. Because if not this, then what actually matters? Isn’t this our right? Our ancestors fought hard for this power and we take it for granted, bemoaning that we don’t have time and just hope, wish and pray that the right people will be elected. Or we just vote down the party line and ignore the alarm signal that someone might not be looking out for the majority or have common sense.

So get involved! Even if it’s too late – at least do a quick google search before voting tomorrow. But do vote. And vote for someone with GUMPTION and common sense. We have the power. Only when you believe you don’t you actually don’t.

 

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On the Fluctuating Gunas (The What???)

Today I woke up anxious. Physically I had a slight tightness in my chest. My heart felt like it was a little heavy, but the worst was my breath. I couldn’t help but sigh every few moments. Obviously releasing some kind of tension. I felt slightly lost. Not sure where my life is going. Not but an hour later I was laughing and feeling like wherever my life is going it doesn’t matter and I’ll get there as I need to.

These are the “Gunas”. Fluctuations that are normal in the universe. They are everywhere. In the weather, in our moods. It’s a universal law. What goes up must come down. What swings one way will swing the other.

The Gunas are a term I learned in yoga teacher training and were often discussed. It’s now a part of my regular vocabulary and thought process. We don’t stay in one mood forever. Nothing stays in its state forever. We are supposed to feel good and bad. It should be expected that good things as well as bad things will happen. Fighting it is what leads to suffering. In Buddhism a key tenant is that any attachment causes suffering. Even attachment to feeling one way (like happy), being attached to an outcome you want, or any objects/feelings/desires/etc. The Hindu tradition (yoga’s roots) describes the same concept but in a different way.

From Yogapedia: https://www.yogapedia.com

A guna is an attribute of nature, according to Hindu philosophy. In Hinduism, there are three gunas that have always existed in the world in both all living and non-living things:

• Tamas (darkness, destructive, death)

• Rajas (energy, passion, birth)

• Sattva (goodness, purity, light)

Here in our Western world we are not taught to think in this way. We seem to feel that if something goes wrong or we don’t feel well (mentally, physically or spiritually), that something is wrong with us. Imagine we were taught that both elation and depression are normal and to be expected? Neither will stay. Both are an experience of being alive. The more we attach to any experience (the good or the bad ones), the more we will ‘suffer’. Suffering really meaning anything from disappointment to despair.

I’m signed up for daily emails from Richard Rohr. He is a Franciscan priest that wrote many books on spirituality. I recently finished “Falling Upward” which was amazing! Much of it was about how we need to fall in order to learn and grow. How opposite things are complementary and part of life. I will paste a quote from the Tuesday mediation.

“If we are going to talk about light, then we must also talk about darkness, because they only have meaning in relation to one another. All things on earth are a mixture of darkness and light, and it is not good to pretend that they are totally separate!”

Understanding the Gunas is one of the many ways I am learning to accept life as it is. When I remember them when I’m feeling down I almost embrace it as the full experience of life. Not always, but more & more often.

They have helped me- and if you have read this and are willing to try, perhaps that can help you or a loved one too!

Peace & Namste

 

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On “Her Story”

Last Thursday I was at our second home in Branford turning it over for our Friday renters, and doing some well needed yard work on the one non-rainy day in the forecast. I craved a short lunch break from the hot sun, so I decided to head down to the local watering hole for a hearty sandwich. While I was waiting, the news was on every TV. Something about a case and the name Kavanaugh. 

I am one of those people that does not watch or listen to the news. When something important happens I always seem to find out in some other form as I did last Thursday. Not knowing what everyone was glued to, I whipped out my phone to google the latest news. In about 2 minutes I was caught up to the current moment after Ford testified. 

Today I am in Hollywood, FL where my mom lived before she passed 12 years ago. I’m visiting with my aunt, her friend Patty, and my cousin Camille. Four absolutely beautiful women with different life stories. I hadn’t seen my cousin in over 26 years following a tragic event that rocked our family. This is a reunion I cherish. 

When I picked up my phone this morning, I saw that on old high school Facebook friend commented on a picture that I posted from the latest U2 tour this past summer. The picture “HerStory”.

Women over the centuries have their own beautiful, good, bad, heroic and tragic stories. Women have been oppressed and in many parts of the world still are. They still don’t have the same rights men have. Not but a century ago voting was in question, even in the developed world. Much has changed, but not enough yet. There is plenty of history and little ‘herstory’. None of us are equal until all of us are equal. This not only includes women, but all skin colors, gender preferences, sexual preferences, handicaps, spiritual practices… everything and anything that imaginarily divides us and seems to lead some to believe that they have rights and power over another human being.  

As for Ford… I believe her. I don’t believe this has political motivation. Anyone who has been abused in someway should really understand this. She moved on with her life and kept quiet as most victims do. She was successful at ‘moving on’. But the trauma of an attack usually stays with you. It comes back at random times when the body is triggered by something that the conscious awareness didn’t pick up, and pieces of the memory come back. We are now learning that it is how the brain works. The brain is wired to protect you by blocking out pieces of the event(s). She shouldn’t be written off if she can’t remember how she got home after an attack. Allowing that to happen takes away the believability of so many victims and only gives perpetrators more power. Aren’t we civilized and sophisticated enough to understand science and the brain? 

I believe her. I don’t believe she would have ever said anything if Kavanaugh wasn’t nominated for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. I think this was her own trigger. Whether or not he was 17 or 70; he hurt her, took away her power, and a part of her innocence. Most victims would have a hard time watching someone who hurt them be promoted, praised and raised to any position of power. I don’t believe it matters if he was a Republican, Democrat, Communist or member of the Rastafarian tribe. 

I believe her story. As a victim of abuse myself, I can almost sense when someone else has been traumatized in similar ways. It doesn’t matter how it started out or if anyone was drinking, or what age anyone was. For me, it’s about how it ended up, how someone’s life was affected by it, and the example we might set for other young men and women. 

It’s her story. The one that she experienced. I feel she did the right thing. Dragging up a 30+ year old traumatic event would be a difficult decision for anyone to make, not to mention making it into a nationally televised revelation. Knowing every moment you lived, skirt (or bikini) you wore, every tipsy laughter or wink… everything you ever did would be dragged up, scrutinized and questioned like a criminal when you know you are the victim. That takes guts and I feel Ford should be praised as an example for other women and victims to start talking.

In my humble opinion, the more women and victims talk and share their stories, and the more the perpetrators are called out publicly; the less likely current and potential perpetrators will be to take advantage of others. It has been overlooked and gone on for too long. Stand up, fight for human rights and let’s put an end to any type of human abuse. 

I believe her. I believe he is shocked and tearful and truthfully… even that he wouldn’t do or condone such a thing now. I’m on the fence about whether it should or should not allow him to serve in such a position. It’s not political for me. It’s human. We need to set some kind of example for the younger generation. I don’t have an answer about what the right thing is to do from here. All I know is that I believe her and that HerStory is the story of so many. Like the beautiful women in my own family, we all have stories and I think it’s time in general to hear “HERS”. 

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My aunt Fran (left) and mom (right) as little girls
My cousin Anthony who left us all way too soon

Me, aunt Fran and Camille last night

Don’t go back to sleep 


The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.

 

You must ask for what you really want.

Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the door sill

Where the two worlds touch.

 

The door is round and open.

Don’t go back to sleep.

~Rumi
This is one of my favorite Sufi poems by Rumi. The first line sits with me. It’s said the veil between worlds is the lightest just before dawn. I’ve felt that when I’ve been up early. There is just something light and magical in the air. At early dawn it feels as if the world is vibrant with possibilities. Shhh… listen to the breezes and enjoy this time. But the poem means so much more.

In 2012; through a mix of rediscovering religion, turning off the radio, listening only to uplifting music, and discovering a myriad of podcasts on spiritual living – I proverbially “woke up”. Waking up means different things to different people. For the purposes of this blog, I am writing about spiritual awakening.

I didn’t do this on purpose, and it wasn’t something that happened over night. It noticeably started when I went to a two-day work training on the Seven Habits of Highly people. It was on March 1st that year. Something seemed to deeply resonate in my soul from that training. There were quotes I may have otherwise looked past which the instructor stopped to explain. Those quotes seemed to make so much simple sense.

After the first day of training when I got in the car, I made the rare decision to keep the radio off. We had just completed a journaling exercise, and I felt like I could have kept writing all evening. I really wanted to keep that sense of peace and pondering I was experiencing. I wanted to continue writing, and to contemplate the simple truths I leaned that day. I decided to keep the radio off the next morning too. Then I set a goal to keep it off for a week and avoid all media during that time. That week turned into two, then three. When I opted to listen to music again, I decided to first listen only to things I loved and made me feel good. I started with U2. I haven’t really watched the news or listened to the radio since.

At first I wasn’t sure what happened. I just felt different and more subdued. Noises, people, work, media; they all started to really bother me. Not annoy me, but get under my skin and really eat away at me. I was more irritated than ever. During a period of a few months I only listened to U2 if I listened to any music at all. I was doing more thinking than I ever had. Thinking about why I felt so irritated by the world. Why billboards and convenience stores would turn my stomach. What was wrong with me?

I started really hearing U2’s lyrics and began to understand the deeper meaning behind the words. Bono actually sings about waking up, being born again. Popular songs like ‘One’ and ‘Mysterious Ways’ took on a whole new meaning. Less popular songs screamed of rebirth – off hand ‘Unknown Caller’, ‘Moment of Surrender’, ‘Elevation’, & ‘Walk On’ to name a few.

Waking up is about noticing what you hadn’t before. Discerning what is good for you, your soul, mankind and all living creatures. It’s about realizing that what we consume (through all senses) becomes our thoughts, cultural norms and even our physical body. How could it not? How hadn’t I thought about this before? And why is the predominance in the world toward things that aren’t good for us? Am I the only person who is noticing this?
These questions lead to others. I’m sure it’s different for everyone. For me it raised questions about social injustice, the environment, consciousness, the power of the mind, animal rights, the products we put in our bodies… the chemicals in them. Questions I googled, questions I spoke to people about, questions I found; others before me have asked through art, poetry and song.
“I’m waking up!” Imagine Dragons screams into our radios. Breaking out of the prison bus we all live in. Conditioned by the world to just follow unquestioning through life helping to possibly benefit the selfish and “privileged” that just hope the masses stay asleep. I started journaling again, drawing pictures of cogs in the wheel… wheeling us off to places that I didn’t want to contribute going to anymore. How to get off the bus? My whole world and life as I knew it before was on the other side of the fence I just crossed, pulling me over. I was happier on that side, blissfully unaware of what I didn’t know.

Others wrote, sang and painted about this too. The Dark Night of the Soul. Again, this looks different for everyone. For me it was about the fear of changing things. My family, friends, hobbies, job, life style- I couldn’t just walk away from it all. And even if I could, where would I go? What on this giant green and blue earth would I do? While I had some deep conversations with people that seemed to understand what I’m saying, they were living in the world in a way I no longer wanted to. The people and answers online wouldn’t provide that sense of community I craved. However, continuing to do what I did every day and being a cog to a world I don’t want to see seemed impossibly depressing. Just thinking about it made me want to absolutely crawl right out of my own skin. Although many of these same blogs I read about this topic promised that after living through the ‘Dark Night’ it becomes very possible to live in the world again with a new perspective. Live in it? I just wanted to run away!

As I write this blog I’m on a two plus week trip with Daren to Africa. It’s one of the most exciting trips of my life, but I was truly nervous about being so close to wild animals, being with people who get some kind of high from getting closer and closer to more and more dangerous animals in hopes of getting a ‘like’ worthy picture on Facebook. Lots of people I know have done similar excursions and had the time of their lives. They reassured me I’d love it.

Three days ago we went from the city of Maun in Botswana to the Okavango Delta for a two night camping excursion with no facilities or electricity. We were in the middle of the Delta with little to no cell reception, no toilets, no lights, no electronic devices and no showers. The only way off the island was an hour & a half makora (sort of like a canoe) ride that is done by a poler through reeds of the Okavango river. A poler is a native of the delta area who moves the makora with a long pole. We lived right on the land that the animals do. In the middle of the night I awoke to the loud sound of hippos mating. Zebras roamed the open grass. Birds sang loudly and landed on branches. Impalas roamed and hopped around.

Yesterday when we left Okavango, we took a plane ride with the majority of our travel group over the Delta. Had I not been there, I wouldn’t have appreciated what I was looking at. I wouldn’t have know that those large grey objects were termite mounds, that the green land was actually reeds that spread apart pretty easily and provided life to frogs, hippos, crocodiles, lily pads and beautiful water flowers; or that the bushes spread nicely apart were perfect little private bathroom areas. We flew over a massive heard of water buffalos, tons of elephant herds, zebras, impalas, hippos, and even two prides of lions.

It was a unbelievable experience that I’m still glowing from. We slept just outside the delta last night in the city of Maun again. While showering this morning I felt like I didn’t want to leave. Next week when I’m back home in the concrete, fabricated world; those lions will still be here. The polers will be poling their makoras through the reeds, and the natives will be singing and dancing their traditional customs in the evening. This world is more real. I feel connected to nature, the environmental balances and myself. I was also thinking about all the other people I know in the states that have done similar excursions and wondered why they didn’t come back changed. They seemed to know how it felt and told me how I’d feel. They were right!

As I thought about it further, it seems like for a temporary period some activities “wake you up”. They wake you up to what is actually real. About what feeling connected really is. To our inner selves. To feeling truly and deeply present and alive. Lots of activities do this and it varies [again] for everyone. For me, I sometimes gain this deep understanding through hiking, writing, yoga, or having deep connected conversations. But why don’t we hold onto it? Why does it disappear? And then it hit me, because we go back to sleep.
Most people probably wake up for short bursts in their life many times. Whether it’s through sailing, running, sky diving, or even through every day mundane activities like driving or putting a baby to sleep. Others wake up more harshly for longer periods like I did in 2012. Where the sense of inner peace clashed against the known world. At first it’s wonderful. It’s like you’ve gotten a taste of this delicious sub-world living right below the surface of the known world. Everyone has access it to, only most people are stuck in what they believe is reality. Sometimes because I don’t know how to handle going back and forth; I’ve gotten agitated, judgmental, sad or anxious. I’ve gotten through it by going back to sleep dozens of times and getting re-absorbed into the drama and superficial world I’m used to. It feels safer there. The community is larger and it’s fun to not care, close your eyes and go on. But the period on which I am comfortable staying there is getting shorter and shorter. I feel more off, and sooner and sooner I feel as if I’m not following my inner compass. It always feels right when I open my eyes, willingly wake up and go to the other side. I know deep down it’s the right side of the fence to be on.
Humans have struggled with this very thing through the ages. A few hundred years ago Rumi wrote

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.

Don’t go back to sleep.

Take advantage of that light veil. Stay there, explore. Question things.
You must ask for what you really want.

Don’t go back to sleep.

You will be and experience what you consume. Be careful about what that is…. what you think, eat, listen to and surround yourself with. Take in what you actually want to experience.
People are going back and forth across the door sill

Where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.

Don’t go back to sleep.

We have the power with our minds to make decisions about which side of the door we would like to be on. The openness and roundness of makes it easy to cross back and forth. But if we stay awake we will stay on the right side.

Don’t go back to sleep.

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On the Tangled web we weave 




Where to begin?

Daren and I have been in Africa for the past week. We started out in South Africa and are currently in Zimbabwe. The economic disparity between the first world and third world is almost inconceivable. The modern day effects of corruption and apartheid are prevalent with just a glance out the window. How can such an atrocity be in the year 2017?

It’s so complicated. We have been having conversations with one another, friends, and locals about this very topic for the past week. I think we were both surprised how much the lower paid locals know about the US political system and have critically considered how to remedy an ugly situation created by our ancestors and governments. There isn’t an easy answer.
What has also surprised me is seeing first hand what South Africa looks like today and reading older media materials about their apartheid. From a brief glance, the population of mixed race was not enraged or agitated about one another; it seemed to be something the government was enforcing. Many citizens were recorded to have said even though apartheid laws were on the table, they didn’t think they would be passed. Then when they were, they thought in this modern day there is no way that can be enforced. Until people of non-white descent were suddenly removed from their homes. That was not but 50-70 years ago. AFTER WWII and all we learned as a human race. The same thing happened here in Zimbabwe but on this end the whites were forced off the land.

Then interestingly enough, I heard an entirely different perspective from the “white” side. We have some friends from the states that have been living out this way for the past 9 months who have met all types of locals. They have friends of Dutch descent that presented a point I had not considered. In essence the passed along viewpoint is that if we are forced to live together with two different viewpoints for living, it can make for an ugly situation. For example- if one party doesn’t believe in taxes, schooling, and maintaining the land and the other does; the party that doesn’t only makes it more difficult for the party that does. From their Northern European perspective, apartheid was meant to separate folks by their beliefs. They say when their ancestors arrived no one was on the land, they didn’t push anyone out (disclaimer, I don’t know the specific facts of the Dutch settlers particularly in SA, and we all know that it did happen in many other places). A few hundred years later, the cultural beliefs were still clashing. For instance, the Dutch wanted their schools one way, and other groups wanted it another way. So instead of trying to mix and mash when one party won’t have a conversation with the other about it, they felt it might be best to live apart and do what each party would both like in separate camps. So apartheid laws appeared. Since it was the European settlers who built the infrastructure and cities, they felt they had the right to keep that part and the others could have the land the way they found it when their ancestors were there.

Wow… on the smallest scale within my own home, having a blended family I completely understand how trying to mix two backgrounds in a living situation is practically impossible. And in my family we are almost completely similar in color, believes, religion, education; not to mention a really small group of people. How can you mix communities, countries and cultures that have hundreds of years of history ingrained into their being and ask people to get along and work together? I do know apartheid wasn’t the answer. As I know Daren and I setting up separate homes or rules within our family wasn’t the answer either.

The answer is that there is no easy answer. Some might point to education, but education doesn’t make you smarter or right about how living in the world should look like. What is wrong with living in a hut and dancing around in the bush? Is the ultimate goal to keep building and making things to make human kind’s life easier? What is wrong with just loving life, living with the land and passing away when and how the universe decides? Is spending your life looking for a cure to make someone else’s life better someday so noble that you don’t appreciate what is around you in your own life? Does that make you a better or more important person? If you believe that, does it give that person the authority to make decisions for others that don’t believe that?

Let’s not forget about the people that were enslaved, killed, and removed from their land. This is still happening in 2017. What about those who were freed? How can their groups catch up and make a living and have the basics like food shelter and clothing when the commonly accepted mechanism to get a job is education. You need money for the basics. You need even more money for an education. You need a job for these. No job = no basics and education. No education = no job. A rather circular problem that one can’t escape. Their culture before enslavement didn’t require this, but they are forced to live in it now with little opportunity for a way out. In some ways they are still enslaved. Should those folks just get back some raw land to live as they did before enslavement now that we have introduced them to medicine and technology and act like there is no other civilized way to live but this way? That is what I believe apartheid tried to do. No one has even taught them to farm the land. And forbid they were given any where useful minerals and resources were abundant.

Affirmative action is one solution with lots of complications in and of itself. It could be a whole other blog. It’s a conversation we have included alongside this one in the past several days.

These are complicated questions. Questions we don’t consider often in our day to day lives. It’s so much easier to proverbially close our eyes to get on with the day, tending to our own small lives. That is important too. We need to keep our own house in order for any chance of success in happiness and being an asset to our communities.

The scariest thing I believe I heard in the past week was the trust in government that all the free people in South Africa had when apartheid was announced. No one was scared because they didn’t think anything unfair could happen in such an advanced society. I shudder at how the US could easily fall apart if we allowed the differences in skin color, gender, sexual orientation, culture, country of origin, etc to influence any kind of law when any human can lose any human right(s). I know our government deals with absolutely nearly impossible dilemmas with limited resources and has to make decisions for the greater good. I wouldn’t want to be in higher office with the pointed fingers when most people have never considered how incredibly complex and tangled the web we have woven is.

It’s almost too much for anyone to contemplate. But is it too complicated and messed up for an individual to make a difference? I don’t know. What I do know is that we have domain on how we show up in the world. Perhaps we should consider the following recipe for living:

– Be kind to others.

– Don’t take more than you need.

– Treat everyone equally.

– Learn to think critically.

– Become informed about potential laws and take action as a voting citizen.

– Make decisions for the greater good in your own life.

– Take care of yourself and your family (sleep, nutrition and movement) so you can be healthy and gain the respect of your community.

– Make time to relax and play so you are the best version of your creative self.

– Find just one to two things you really believe in and feel passionate would make the world a better place. Direct your working energy toward that. You can make a difference.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

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On a Disjointed Life

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This blog is mostly in response to one my husband Daren wrote a few weeks back https://darenamd.wordpress.com/2016/07/23/on-the-value-of-rituals/

We did chat that day in the coffee shop, and I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks now. One of the reasons rituals are so awesome is because it traces something back to it’s roots and honors something in it’s entirety. Well, there is nothing alone in its entirety. Anyone who is Facebook friends with me (IF they paid any attention to my page) would know that for the past 7+ years the main quote sitting on my profile is: When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. – John Muir

I love that quote. I’ve used it in many conversations and presentations in a variety of formats. We can trace everything almost continuously including ourselves back to the stars. We and everything around us is made of star stuff (thank you kindly Carl Sagan for coining that term in my head forever). If we do actually think about this & how we are all nothing but star stuff; it’s easy to see nothing at all or just outright chaos. But if we ignore everything else and only focus on one piece of the universal pie we miss understanding and appreciating the beauty of the tie in. And feel very much alone.

Our human brains need to draw natural lines to understand something so it’s not all chaos or nothing at all. We also need to stop those lines in a place that we as humans can understand something and make sense of it. What I would argue is happening in the world today is that those lines we draw around something to make sense of it are becoming smaller and smaller.

Take for instance a shoemaker 150 years ago. He had a little shop in the heart of a town. People who lived in that town acquired their shoes there. The shoemaker knew his customers well. Everyone had a role in the town’s functioning and everyone supported everyone else to keep that town running through trade, bartering or monetary exchange. They were all they had and likely felt a sense of community and oneness. Mr. Shoemaker made the shoes from start to finish. He knew where the material came from, how they were put together. He literally created every stitch and hammered every sole. When he walked through town and saw others, he saw his creations on their feet. He felt connected to the product he made and the people who benefited from it. He appreciated the art of his work, which helped him to inherently understand and appreciate the products and services of his fellow townsfolk. Making shoes was a ritual and the universal lines were drawn around the whole shoe and the tie into the community and other humans.

At some point in history, machines and the assembly line were developed and broke up shoe making and nearly every other previous manual whole process that we could as humans possibly get our hands on. The universal lines broke down even smaller. Instead of making shoes; one stood on a line and mechanically made just a sole, or hammered in the same piece of stinking shoe over and over. The pride and ritual of the shoe in it’s entirely was lost. It became harder to connect with the final product. Supply chains were built up and one would no longer see the product they created on the feet of habitants of their town. In fact today, no one really knows any longer where things were created or how they were put together. People started working outside of their towns and traveling alone to jobs on long commutes to do things they don’t feel a part of. While our world is becoming more and more connected, humans are becoming more and more disjointed from the origin of their being; and their own worlds are becoming smaller and smaller.

I love Daren’s example of the record player. It was a ritual to play a song or album. The anticipation of hearing a song would build up as you went through the process of getting all set up. Manually making that happen while we wished it were faster felt very satisfying. Now that I have every song I have ever heard or could want to hear in my life at my fingertips, I just don’t enjoy music like I used to. Daren’s example of the coffee making process is simply beautiful. Making a cup of coffee in the morning was a means to true enjoyment. Manual effort was put in. The waiting made it all the more special. Do we really enjoy the k-cup, drive through, or 7/11 versions of coffee in disposable containers as much? As we gulp them down without thought? …several times a day for most.

Our on the go life style has started to suck the pleasure out of life. We aren’t connected to the things we do, the food we put into our body, or the people we run into during the day. We see ourselves as separate, and not part of the whole. Unless you own your own business, most of us who work have little to no connection to the mission of our jobs. We feel like a part in a machine with no connection to the outcome or even our own humanness. I march through the VA facility where I work and see the patients hobbling down the main corridor as road blocks to the next place I’m heading and already late to. Every so often when the bathroom on my floor is being cleaned and I need to walk down to the floor below, I see patients in the waiting room and checking in. It’s only then I remember that I even work in a hospital. That is sad and a symptom of something gone terribly, terribly wrong.

I wasn’t around back in the shoemaker days, but based on my experience with record players (and cassettes and CDs), and when my mom ground the beans at the end of the line at A&P and then percolated the coffee; I much more enjoyed the older, more manual versions of these and many, many other products and services. We don’t have time to do things in a way that are truly enjoyable any longer. How uncool is that? Why are we trying to do more and more faster and faster? It necessitates a quicker, faster, and smaller means to an end. It’s harder to appreciate the whole when you and everything you take part of is such a small cog in a larger wheel. What’s the rush? What are we accomplishing? Are we happier as a human race? I’m not. Am I alone in this feeling? Even if I am, I want to step out & slow down. I want to know the bigger whole. I’m a bit tired of the disjointed feeling of my being. I miss manual processes and rituals. I want off the treadmill. Anyone care to join me?

 

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