Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Careless Speech

Countless times in my life, I’ve put my foot in my mouth. I’ve said things I later needed to apologize for. I’ve accidentally destroyed friendships and gotten in trouble at work just for sending email without carefully thinking through the consequences. But labeling myself as careless or socially uncouth doesn’t help.

I know that my heart was in the right place when I said and did many of those things, even if the recipients didn’t agree. I thought I was helping, not realizing that sensitive individuals would take offense.

I’ve always been one to stick my neck out and look like a fool, for the sake of others. I’m that person in class who risks looking like an idiot for asking the question that everyone else is thinking but doesn’t dare to say. This is often my role in groups, but I’m not defined by it.

However, there’s a pattern here that needs to be examined.

When I was about eleven, I was shoe shopping with my father and ran into a schoolmate who had just recently gotten braces. Being socially awkward, I didn’t know what to say to her, though I knew I should say something besides, “Hi.” The only thing I could come up with was, “Now I can call you metal mouth!” which I said with a smile. I meant it as a joke, and didn’t mean to hurt her, but my father was horrified. When we left the store he reamed me out. The end result was that I was convinced this girl hated me for what I’d said, and I avoided her for the rest of our school days together.

Recently I realized that this situation has echoed through many of my relationships with friends and acquaintances. I’m quick to convince myself that because someone isn’t writing/calling/texting/emailing that they must hate me for some stupid thing I said or did. It’s tempting to ask people, “Did I say or do something to piss you off?” but I realize that knowing the answer ultimately is not going to help.

What will help is compassionately accepting myself despite my flaws. What will help is taking a cue from that song with the lyrics, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” I want to be present with the people I’m with—the barista, the grocer, my daughter and husband, and the handful of people who actually contact me more than once a year—and stop worrying about the past, because we all make mistakes. Forgive, and move on.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Poem: Raindrop on a Leaf

Glistening raindrop
on a leaf

the light
that surrounds and warms it

the illusion of solid.

The leaf underneath, so fragile.

droplet –
never even knowing
it was there at all.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Mindfulness and Multi-tasking

When eating with my family, I look around and what sight meets my eyes? Husband has his iPhone in hand and Daughter is reading a book. If I'm expecting conversation and "family togetherness," I get upset. For a moment I wonder if I need to be the manners police and try to enforce a no-phone/no-book rule at the table. But then I wonder if being ignored this way is actually a blessing in disguise. It gives me an opportunity to practice mindful eating. Apparently they practice mindful eating in China, too, because in China it is considered rude to converse at a meal -- all attention should be on the food and the enjoyment of it.

As long as my kid understands that she and her dad are being rude according to the standards of US table etiquette, and can accord herself correctly at important outings, who cares? As long as my husband understands that chronic screen addiction is giving him terrible posture and is willing to accept it, who cares? I can just sit there and enjoy my meal, think my own thoughts, and maybe every now and then some one will share some of what they are thinking or reading and we can have a real discussion, or a soundbite discussion…who cares? It's all good.

Speaking of mindfulness, this afternoon I had a pleasant time sitting in a comfy chair for an hour, doing nothing but poring over food magazines and catalogs. It was great to be immersed in nothing but that…no thoughts of the future or past, or anything else I should be doing. Then I thought about multi-tasking and how different an experience that is. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I don't. It all comes down to control. If I am in control of my own multi-tasking, I love it. Like I might be typing this, cat in my lap, monitoring my daughter, listening to music, while keeping background windows open to remind me of an article I want to read and some photos I need to resize. That's great, because I am immersed in what I'm doing and can keep all those things on my radar in a state of calm alertness. But introduce some factors I can't control: like the kid going apeshit, telemarketers calling, and the cat throwing up -- along with all those other things I was trying to do -- and I'm in hell. So there it is.

Have a splendid, mindful day!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Soup of Conversation

I thrive on deep, intimate conversation. I love it when I can have a one on one discussion with someone about our fears, hopes and histories, especially when we can tie those things in with some sort of philosophical concepts and ideas. These sorts of talks make me feel less alone in this world, knowing that every one of us has issues that have been shared by humans since the early days of recorded history.

Thriving on deep conversation often means I wilt in many social situations. Perhaps you can imagine it. At parties, everyone’s mingling, but not lingering; they’re trying to hook up but too nervous to actually connect. Going out and about and seeing the day’s ration of strangers – the grocer, the mail clerk, the barista – also leads to disappointing shot glasses of small talk rather than the deep fountain of wisdom and bonding one was hoping for. Parenthood is also tough for people like me, first because you can’t easily discuss Hegalian dialectic or Buddhism with most small children, and second because the time you have to talk with your spouse and friends often gets whittled down to brief conversations about what you did that day and planning for the future.

I don’t have any solutions here. I’m trying to convince myself that the soup of conversation can still be nourishing even if it is mostly broth, but I still hunger for more substantial talk.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Poem: Broken Wing Bud

Broken Wing Bud

for my left shoulder

Whether or not I ever had wings to start with
doesn’t matter.
It’s really about
the aching –
just behind my heart.

I first noticed it
in the crushing light of noon
when I tried to reach for the sun
but couldn’t feel its warmth.
Blocked by clouds I misconstrued as solid,
blinded by my ardent hope and expectations –
I shriveled.

Others would have kept trying
to fly toward the light
but I had no parachute to break my fall
and gave in to fear.
So cold, defeated, dead, denying,

What exactly I was trying to achieve
doesn’t matter.
It’s really about
the folly of expecting someone else to lift me higher,
and casting blame,
for the gnawing, yearning pain –
that won’t leave me alone.

Where no one can tell me
I’ll never fly through the stars,
or conversely
that I must try for the sky
when all I need is within me.

Monday, October 15, 2012

How Do You Do?

I'm slowly trying to make this blog into something that will be useful and inspiring to others. For better or worse, I'm not very snarky and my sense of humor is weird, so I can't sell you on those points. I probably come across as a self-indulgent teenager, when I'm actually a 44 year old mom. All I can say in my defense is that I'm one of those sensitive artist dweebs who can barely handle the steps required to shove my novels out the door, let alone bolster the spirits of all the miserable people around me. (It's especially challenging when people don't want to do the work needed to make themselves happy, preferring to lay blame on other people for their own misery, thereby relinquishing their own power and making themselves even unhappier. :) I know, because I've done that, too. But I digress.)

Well, anyway, I've got this poem I was going to put up here, but I keep changing it. It's a poem I wrote for my left shoulder. Yes, that's right. I'm writing to my body parts. And here's the thing about that: I want to fully resonate with the wholeness that channels through me. When I do that, either my pain will go away, or I will no longer care about it. Not sure which. Care to make guesses? Sometimes I think it is wanting something that makes me miserable. You know, like Wanting The Pain To Go Away. Or Wishing Someone Could Fix Me or I Could Fix Myself.  I suspect I just need to live with it and be content with living with it. Easier said than done for a novice like me.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Cure for Loneliness

I’ve been one of those sad, emo kids…for the past thirty years. I am well familiar with the gut-wrenching feeling that accompanies being ignored and excluded from outings, as well as the terrible sense of being alone in a crowd at a gathering of my fellow human beings. I know the torment of missing people to the point of tears, as well as the agony of realizing that I haven’t got much truly, deeply in common with anyone I know. You see the irony of both these statements, I am sure.

But then I realized I was thinking about it all wrong.

I can’t connect with anyone in this world on a personal level. I have to connect on a transpersonal level. This is the secret to contentment. (Easier said than done, perhaps, but there it is).

In other words, it’s not about “me,” or “you,” and it never was. Outside the myth of ourselves as separate selves, is an amorphous world, swimming with possibility. When you dwell inside this very moment, you are connected with everyone else’s present moment. We’re all alive at this point in time, together. We all feel pain and joy and the myriad feelings common to the thread of life that binds us. This sort of connection is the joy I’ve been seeking. In this, there is no need to worry over the superficial things that alienate us from each other. In the moment between the inhale and the exhale, we are together in spirit and time.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Let's get together

I consider everyone I’ve ever met to be a friend, so long as we’ve connected on some level or another, and they haven’t shown overt signs of disliking me. With most people, all it takes for me to connect with them is a discussion of things common to all humans: food, ailments, emotions. But I’m finding that’s not enough for many of the people I naively thought were my friends. I get excluded and ignored for things I can’t always fathom. Perhaps... 
  • I don’t watch the right TV shows. 
  • I remind them of their ex, because we all used to hang out together and now he’s not in the picture. 
  • I’m not the same religion (or anti-religion) as them. 
  • I have a child who I often need to bring along with me on social outings, and they would rather not have her around. 
  • I like to try to help people with their problems, rather than let them wallow in self-pity. 
  • They think I wouldn’t be interested in coming to their party, because I’m generally shy, and perhaps I bailed on them the last time they invited me.

And who knows what else. I want to find the base level of connection with everyone. I can care about you even if all I know is that you’re hurting. Sure it would be nice if I could meet someone who liked the same entertainments as me, or who could keep up with my continually shifting spate of interests. But in today’s world, this is unlikely to happen, and I’ve mostly accepted that.

Over the past year I’ve begun helping more strangers through various volunteer groups. This is more healing for me than sitting at home, cultivating a Balkanized world of online presences to express the disparate sides of myself, or trying to keep alive friendships that no one else thinks are worth bothering with.

I hope I can merge the varied personas that have come to represent me -- mother, knitter, artist, novelist, tech writer, poet, animanga enthusiast, hula hooper, crafter, singer, songwriter, music lover, meditator, pansexual, spiritual anti-seeker, and more – the same way I hope to merge with the people and the world around me.

I just want to exist in this world, expressing myself in a compassionate way, helping in any way I can, and perhaps one of you might find some sense of the familiar in the web of connection I’m slowly weaving.  If you do, let’s get together for tea sometime.

In the meantime, smack me if I ever post about this topic again.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How I Fixed My Eyesight

When I was in my early twenties, I became nearsighted. I remember putting glasses on for the first time, and being able to see the horizon crisply for the first time in quite a while. A few years later, I no longer needed those glasses anymore: my vision is perfect, and I’ll tell you how it happened.

In 1995 I was seeing Dr. Jenefer Huntoon at her clinic in Wallingford (a neighborhood in Seattle, WA). I was complaining of chronic allergies and needing to blow my nose all the time. So she performed what she called “cranial release” therapy on me. It was a rather barbaric treatment that involved sticking a small balloon on the end of a blood pressure bulb, sticking that up each of my six sinus cavities in turn, and pumping them full of air to expand them. Each treatment (I went four or five times to these sessions) I’d finish up feeling like the roof of my mouth had been stretched. It was not comfortable or fun, but during the time I was getting this done, I stopped needing to wear my glasses.

Now the only time the horizon becomes blurry for me is when I have a nasty, nose-clogging cold. I look out the window, see the blurry trees, and remember how that used to be how things were for me.

Regretfully, Dr. Huntoon is now deceased and her clinic is shut down. But I wanted to put this out there, in case anyone wants to do studies on this treatment to see if it could cure others. Clearly, it is possible to cure nearsightedness. It worked for me!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

I Wish More Music Sounded Like This

There are some albums, some bands, where I think to myself, “please make more music! There isn’t enough music like this in the world.” Some of my favorite artists, like Natural Snow Buildings and TwinSistermoon prolifically produce at least one album a year and have a huge back catalog. Others have only a couple of albums, and I’m unable to even get news if there’s more in the works.

Here are a few songs I’m really digging at the moment.

“When Stars Glide Through Solid”
A shimmering wall of effervescent noise that slowly melds into a percussive field of beauty in the last two minutes. Can’t find the song online so I put it on this Fuzz station with a bunch of other cool stuff.

Orla Wren
“The Fish and the Doll”
Weaves a web of tremulous, soft musical magic. Perfect for bubble baths.

Here’s some proper music for Halloween. I haven’t been able to find much that comes close to sounding like this musical collective from Finland. I’ve tried Pandora, but the compared music just isn’t doing it for me.

This song is just weird, but I like it. It’s like fairies whispering to each other among the flowers.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Helping Others, Helping Yourself

"[I]f people keep asking you for help, then you must give it to them rather than thinking, 'No, I’d much rather be sitting in my study having that lovely warm glow.'" - Karen Armstrong, from Compassion Restored.

I haven't had a paying job since before my daughter was born in 2005. In her early years, I was too overwhelmed to even think about anything beyond getting myself and my kid through the day, alive and well. When she started school, I started volunteering. And I learned some interesting things during the course of it.

I think of myself as an inherently selfish person. If given the opportunity between spending an evening home alone listening to music, or spending the evening volunteering (even at an awesome event like SeaCompression), I tend to choose the former. It's easy, it's a known entity. Any fear I feel in my own company is easily abated with a warm bath and some glowing candles. But out in the world, doing things, can be rather frightening. I know this, and yet…I still find myself gravitating more and more toward helping out where I can, even if it means putting my own desires to the side for a while.

I've heard some say that volunteering is addicting and I've wondered why. Supposedly there is some kind of "feel good" thing that is supposed to be going on in the minds and hearts of those who give to others. But I don't think that's really what's happening to me. It's more like the work I do for others -- especially if I do a lot of it -- distracts me from my own sad storyline and burns some new, more positive, neural pathways. And I view writing and sharing what I've written as a kind of charity also, if even one person is able to use what I've written to feel better, get inspired, or learn something.

I know others who struggle with just how much to give of themselves and their time. It's a common notion that people, especially women and mothers, practically martyr themselves to help raise their families and care for aging relatives. But imagine all this in a new light. Imagine you are one of these martyrs. You are annoyed because it's been so long since you've actually managed to read a book all the way through or engage in a favorite hobby, because you've got a little screamer clinging to your leg, and/or an older relative constantly calling for help. And now take that annoyance and throw it out the the window. Because it is time to reframe your situation in a more positive light. 

Your thoughts are the only thing that are making you annoyed. It isn't other people. They are just trying to get by in the world as best as they know how. Have some compassion for yourself for a moment. You have it rough! Cry for yourself. Now think of those people who need you. They have it rough too. There are things they wish they could do for themselves, but can't. If you take your time to help them, you aren't actually losing anything. You aren't. Honestly. When you look back on your life from the perspective of your deathbed, you aren't going to think "gosh if only I had managed to watch that whole TV series I really wanted to see" or "I wasted too much of my time taking old Grandma to her doctor's appointments." No. You won't think that. (And I suspect if you do, you are going to experience the leave-taking of your soul at the moment of death as a kind of chainsaw ripping through your body.) 

Souls are connected to one another. They care for one another. That's what they are here for. By helping others, we can better recognize the web that weaves us together in the fabric of life.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Back to Poetry

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I wrote a lot of poetry. I sold my chapbooks in stores, self-published a literary zine, recited my work on the college radio station, and even got paid a couple of times for reading my work at venues. But then a couple of things happened --- Poetry was used as a weapon against me by certain people. (That’s a long story that will likely never get written about in a public setting.) Then I got distracted by a cross-country move to Seattle in 1994 --- and I stopped writing poetry. For a while there I was writing song lyrics, but those don’t hardly count, you see. Bad poetry can pass for song lyrics. Mediocre poetry can be excellent song lyrics. Lyrics are awesome, but I’m not into songwriting at the moment.

I am entering a new phase in my life, one that cannot fully be conveyed in photography, paint on canvas, or standard blog posts. So I’m writing poetry again. I’ll publish it here if I think it’s worth sharing. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Beyond Oneness

So a few days ago I posted about non-duality. That night I was reading from Shunryu Suzuki's Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, and had the opportunity to take a step back even further from the concept I discussed before. Here's what he had to say:

"Strictly speaking, there are no separate individual existences. There are just many names for one existence. Sometimes people put stress on oneness, but this is not our understanding. We do not emphasize any point in particular, even oneness. Oneness is valuable, but variety is also wonderful. Ignoring variety, people emphasize the one absolute existence, but this is a one-sided understanding. In this understanding there is a gap between variety and oneness. But oneness and variety are the same thing, so oneness should be appreciated in each existence. That is why we emphasize everyday life rather than some particular state of mind. We should find the reality in each moment, and in each phenomenon. This is a very important point."

If I'm going to get a slap down from anyone, I'm happy to take it from the venerable Zen master.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Duality of breathing

"[T]he desire for nonduality arises in wise people to save them from great fear." -from the Avadhuta Gita

I follow the basic meditation instructions: breathe in and out, while being conscious of breathing. That's great. But then one day I started imagining it backwards. What if I'm actually the air itself, being breathed out of the atmosphere into this body, and visa versa? So I tried to do that for a while…to be the air moving out from itself and into "me," and then out of "me" and back into the air. 

But then I woke up to a broader understanding: what if I could get out of this dualistic thinking entirely? I would not be "me" or "the air" but both at the same time. Aha. There's that idea of "all things being connected" again. 

All things are one. I've believed that for a long, long time. It's tough to stay in the mind state of believing that all the time, of course. The English language makes it so that I cannot avoid talking about "I" and "you" as separate people, and the language we use shapes our thinking.

It saddens me when I talk about people as being connected as if they were one big person, and others' respond with something like "Aw, but you have to appreciate all the unique individual differences! You don't want everyone to be the same, do you?" But that response misses the point. Sure we are all different, to the degree that we exist at all. But like a quarry full of rocks, we may all look different, but we all come from the same source. Our differences are meant to serve the larger whole. 

We all play a part in this imaginary universe we create together with our own minds.