When Problems Persist

IMG_9619IMG_8131When I first moved to Boston – just after the Red Sox had won the pennant and lost the Series – I lived in a duplex underneath the landlord who was in her 80’s and worried. It felt safe every night to sleep with my two young children because Mrs. Felton paced room to room upstairs all night long looking for trouble.

We did enjoy each others company and often she would ask me for help with some household thing. One time she complained to me how hard it was to light her gas broiler. She had one of those inconvenient ones at the bottom of the oven, a separate place to open that had to be lit at its top.
Kneeling down and then bending her body up to see the little hole where the match had to go was a hardship for her and staying there to make sure it was lit was further insult. It was for me too but I was 22.
I quickly showed her that if she put tin foil on the bottom of the boiler she could see the reflection and would only have to stoop to light, not twist to check the flame.
I remind myself that I was 22 and perhaps too quick about the whole thing but I could see her not wanting it to get better. I could see her wanting the problem to go away and yet being unwilling to do anything about it.
Since then I have witnessed my own process and that of so many others and I have always remembered that moment when a solution was discarded. Could I have said it better? Could she have been eased? Would she?

IMG_8144

Grasping Your Reach

With no hope of ever catching a bird, let alone going outside, Precious is nimbleness itself following the birds’ every move.


Joined by her cadre of our “inside” cats, she, more than the rest avidly follows the birds’ movement. Pressing her nose so many times against the window she has to raise her head a bit to see through.
I am reminded of Robert Browning’s oft-quoted, “Ah, but a man’s [cat’s] reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for?”
She is indeed in heaven, in joy, in thrall. When I am about to take her off my lap – perhaps a dog has barked, doorbell rung, some “must” to get up – I pet her and hold her as I make my move to leave. There is never a moment she is not reeling in the enjoyment of my touch,  pushing into me for more, jumping from me when it’s over. She is never out of pleasure’s reach. Like the Zen story of the man chased off a cliff, sees a ripe strawberry, plucks it to his mouth as he plunges to his death. Each moment embraced. Each moment aware of possibility.
Every day I thank Precious and her cohorts for showing me – whether I’m paying attention or not – that the way to joy is joy.

Thank you.
Rest is joy and that abounds as well.

Pinpoint

This photograph of Paula in a now torn down mansion in Palenville, N.Y. evokes for me the mystery and loneliness of us in our human skin. How our awareness of our surroundings comes through the filter of our lens – our mood, our history, our physical placement on this earth. We are like pinpoints, each one of us, so committed to our own point of view, it is often hard for us to pull out and see the whole of where we are and who we are with.

We are not the fixed point of the compass. We are wanderers, peripatetic of nature and soul. Unaccountable, not counting, subject to myriad winds and influences, shifting our moods, our boundaries in microseconds.

A wonderfully illuminating book about our macro/micro life is Parasite Rex which shows how mutable we are, how subject to inhabitation. It’s an eye opener to anyone who thought we had free will!

There is a quality of stability to our life, a personality, a container to get used to. A shift can be so swift and sudden, or so long in coming we hardly know how we got where we are. Awareness is a good and helpful friend but it’s not everything. Sometimes it just How It Is and we are in the game whether we asked to play or not. It is not what we have, but what we do with what we have that defines us.

Freedom

Brene Brown

Freedom TO – live, grow, BE. Brene Brown is my hero of exposing the crusty, rugged, souls we inhabit despite our – my – attempts to hide in good deeds and great accomplishments. No matter how small is the deed, it shouldn’t go unpunished if it doesn’t include acknowledgement of how we got there – wherever “there” is.

I have loved hiding behind the Doer; the meditator, the Knower of All things, the Easy piece in the puzzle. It’s a hard won stance in that it came out of years of shame and struggle with my family of origin.

You never kow when you’ll wake up born into a scenario like the one in the novel you were just reading. I think we all have those revelations. It’s what we do after that that defines us. I love Paul Simon’s lyric – “breakdowns come and breakdowns go. It’s what you do with it, that’s what I want to know.” I’ve quoted that before, I will again. It’s important to know what you can do with “it.”

It’s important to know you don’t have to swallow it. That’s what I was good at. For a while I wore a button that said, “I don’t put up with put-downs.” I knew it wasn’t true. I did put up with them, I invited them. But I thought I had to look like I didn’t. Like I was cool.

When I was a teenager I did what I could to thumb my independence at any adult who was looking – not that many were. I managed to make myself pretty miserable to prove a point I didn’t know I wasn’t making.

I started writing. I studied with Kathleen Spivack. That was the beginning of freedom for me. Hearing her say, “milk it,” when someone in our writing group would come in sobbing over a hurt was the beginning of objectivity. The beginning of my own enjoyment of my pain – not in an S&M way, but the dawn of understanding. Slow dawn though it was, the light did keep coming and the experience allowed me to dive in to and explore my pain and passion, to relieve the “intolerable neural itch” that W.H. Auden talks about.

Some of my “scratches”(itchings) came out in photography when I met Paula – my muse, and subject beyond my imagination.

Don’t forget to thank your sense of shame and justice, it’s the root of all creation.

LOVE

 

Home To Rest


Here is Cho when he first came to us. He was returned to the shelter because he would not get along with other dogs, do anything his person wanted. She had gotten him into a therapy program, where he went with her to hospitals and helped patients. He was good at that. She made him pajamas, coats, had this photo taken – it’s the only formal portrait we have. She just couldn’t get him to get along with her other two greyhounds. She returned him after 1 1/2 years. Oddly enough we had seen him on his first day in this country. We were returning with our Gordie, the first Galgo Espanol to enter this country, to Greyhound Friends for their spring reunion. We got a glimpse of him rushing past.
Later, when we took him home, we had five other greyhounds and his “thing” about other dogs kind of got put aside. He definitely is not one to take on walks to the park – he tries to kill every other dog he sees. And, if you are bullish enough to bring your dog into our house – even when we say don’t – he will reliably try to kill it. But he will not touch his mates, or the cats.

Cho now, after his flight.

and Liam, resting in my studio

and Guinnie – resting

and Jules
All looking for adventure
Tomorrow!

Misery Loves Company, Companies Love Misery

A friend told me that she was helping someone who is lonely because she is lonely, “I am one lonely person helping another lonely person. Lonely people stick together.”

Maybe that’s true. It seemed a contradiction to me. There were two people who consider themselves lonely, they were together, helping one another. I only know how she felt and I know she was feeding and keeping her loneliness close to her. To the outside eye they were friends together helping each other. Would we have been able to tell who was helping whom? Can we ever?

Sometimes even when we have a chance it is hard for us to let go of what we might think of as a defining emotion – “I’m angry, I’m sad.” We name our dogs and our children “joy” but we rarely define ourselves as joyful.

Does happiness feel like a solo occupation when you know that misery loves company? It’s a real question for me, and one for which I don’t have an easy answer. For myself, when I find anger or sadness taking root I do find it hard to remember that my default emotion is joy.

I wonder if my lonely friend does not believe she can feel anything else. Looking around, I see stores filled with solutions for every aggravation. I would never have to find my own solutions if I believe what is on all the labels. It looks like I need to depend on everyone and everything apart from myself.

We’ve created a world of answers, but what are the real questions?

Who Are YOU

I just came across a file on my desktop I had completely forgotten about; it said, “Nobody is in a position to tell you who you are – except you.”

 

If my cat had seen that on the floor she would have shredded it. Rightly so. I wish she could get into my computer desktop and have at it.

 

My high school English teacher would have called that “jejune,” and looked at us all so smugly knowing we hadn’t a clue how to take it. He also knew we were listening at least a little because we didn’t have MP3 players anywhere near us – they would be decades away.

 

But back to my cat. The requirement for knowing who you are can be stated so simply, as it was above. I take credit for my own facile responses to questions asking who I am – think “Alice In Wonderland,” smoking a hooka atop the mushroom – “Who are YOU?” I’ve said quite a few things to avoid the question.

 

But whose business is it anyway? It’s mine, and I’ve spent a lifetime answering it, but rarely to myself. The times when I thought I answered for myself I was often looking over my shoulder and answering to some past Someone who was important at the time.

 

But who’s here now? Me. Even now I’m not sure I’m the first person on my list of whose opinion matters.

 

Pretty sad, but back to my cat. That is not her problem. Nor is it my dog’s, though she’s more apt to try. But my horse’s, he’s there looking for my truth and if he doesn’t find it he bites me, he wants me to play my way to my true self.

 

That’s his idea – play will lead to self. Play breeds curiosity. Play strangles habit, give Chance a chance. Rigging Play is not a good idea, let it Be. The quote my cat is resting on right now is the one she lives by – “dance as if no one is watching.”

 

Don’t worry how to do it, just DO it. (that’s next to her ear)

 

 

above is my horse Sanne, one of Paula’s (best) dancers.

 

Fidelity/Perseverance

 

Sometimes people ask for fidelity when they want perseverance. It is after all the workhorse of fidelity. It is the truth behind the truth.

Perseverance does not take everything personally. It does measure worth while waiting to see what happens next. In my experience it takes the world and what is said with a grain of salt.

There is something wonderful implied in perseverance. It is faith. Starting at the top – the Me in all of us, is focussed on my own actions, my own goals and the expectation I throw out into the world passes through me first.

Often when we look at our partner’s actions and find they fall short – the question could be, “short of what?” Our expectations, of course, I know that. But I can forget it as well as anyone. I can forget that in a moment of frustration I expected more of someone than I ask of myself. I can forget that I was too fast with my thoughts and turned to words before I understood them myself.

Perseverance is seeing through that. Loving the self and the other no matter what. Letting go of the Count; you did this when, I do so much, I always, you never. That sort of thinking is faithful only to the pivot, the back turned. It’s what we see in the media, it’s what we believe is “cool.”

What’s really cool is being there, hanging in, taking the plunge, staying for the finish. I’m not talking just about two people in relationship. I’m talking about the honesty with which we live our lives. About the face you see in the mirror. Is it a face you can love? Has it been cared for?

Don’t give up (on) yourself – ever. Give yourself a break – always. Keep to your goals and expectations of yourself – always. Start with compassion, end with compassion. Ask yourself if this is what I want. Is this who I want to be, am I where I want to be.

When Do You Have Enough?

What do you really want?

If you don’t have a clear picture to answer the question “What do I really want?” you are not alone. We are bombarded with things to do, buy, play, and know. This is a complex time, this is always a complex time. There is nothing new – if you can take solace in that, or if you can’t. We are rarely not challenged by our lives.

Challenge leads to our meeting it (the challenge) or avoiding it. Our minds play a huge role because if you really tell yourself the truth, most stuff we spend time and money on doesn’t matter that much. Have you let something get by you – a game, a car, an attitude and then not missed it? When it comes to you over and over maybe that’s the time to give it a look. But most of us are pulled in the moment. We respond quickly. Isn’t that what our parents wanted? Quick responders. Isn’t that what we see in the movies? What we need in the Emergency Room – yes, there IS a time and a place for instant action. But most of us overplay our hands at “instant.”

Some questions to ponder; Do you put down your real goals in favor of what someone or something else wants? Is that what your “quickness” is about? Do you have enough time to take care of yourself or do you let that go? Do you have enough money to live the way you want or are you living someone else’s dream? Are you following your parents’ goals for you, living in a house they like, going to places they’ve been or want to go? Do you have enough love? Are you accepting what’s offered? Nothing wrong with that if you are pursuing your own goals. Do you have enough friends? Do you count all the people in your organizations as your friends but don’t have time (take time) to really connect with any one or three of them?

In my experience with my children, I find I want them to have certain experiences and not others. I don’t think I’m too unusual. I don’t want them to have any strife or struggle. No bad grades, unrequited love, bullying, or nasty falls. At the same time I pride myself on how I’ve handled occasions where challenges were met. I’d rather they didn’t express themselves with hair dye or piercings but I value my radical difference from my parents – and most of my peers even now.

This comes back to what we really want. Is there a way to know? Yes, of course there is, and it’s one of the areas in which we are most challenged. It’s focus. I should write “FOCUS.” It’s that big. That important. We do what we are focused on, we become what our focus brings us to. If we can say “birds of a feather flock together,” then you know how important it is to put yourself where you can be your best self. Where you can meet and exceed yourself, where you can start low and end up with loftier ideas and ideals. Are you more aware with whom your children hang out than you are for yourself? Do you challenge them and their attitudes to study, work, play. I doubt you think it’s cool when they hang out with friends who are driving aimlessly, drinking and drugging? Do you say, “sure, take the keys, go do nothing?”

Look in the mirror. What are you doing? What are you aware of? Where are you going?
Take a good look. Get your goals in sight. Write them down , talk about them to the loving supportive people around you. Be the winner you want your kids to hang with. Take the leap. One step at a time. One minute at a time. One turn at a time. Don’t get lost in the whole picture – be a GPS, take the turns to the next frame once you’ve set your ultimate goal.

When Will You Know?

Are you on the right track? Will you ever get what you want? Will your dreams come true? Will your boss/spouse/child/friend ever get it? Will people ever get how great/cool/smart/hard-working you are? Will you ever be known for who you are? Your best self? Will people ever see the real you? The caring, helpful, smart you?

Are you trying to control everything? If any of the above referenced thoughts have ever come into your head or passed your lips, you are. Maybe you are not controlling everything – maybe you think you can’t. Which is a good thought because you can’t anyway and the sooner you get used to that the better.

Do you think I’m saying “give up?” Not at all. If you think about it, you will know that you only seek to control others when you feel out of control yourself. If you are feeling good with who you are, if you look at yourself with compassion and feel at ease, you will do the same with everyone else. If you feel you have done something wrong, or didn’t do something right, you will want to control others. And if you are shaking your head and saying, “not me,” I would never do that, I only help others then you should know the flip side of being helpful and in charge is control.

There’s a lot of talk about goals and focus because if we are looking to someone else for our goals, if we are following another’s plan, we are doomed to create a nightmare of misaligned focus for ourselves. The only one we can control is ourselves and the only control that is really effective is that of our mind. With our mind at ease we are the person we want to be, the person we want to be with, the person others want to be with.

Our happiness is not affected by those around us. It is the thoughts in our head that lead to happiness or unhappiness. It sure looks like our surroundings are the culprit sometimes, maybe all the time, but it’s what we make of it that counts. Otherwise we would all have the same reaction to the same things and agree more of the time.

You can be happy without things, people, events or places. You need nothing to be happy. Beliefs are thoughts you’ve had over and over, they are trained conventions in your head. You can’t trust them because they were either put there by someone else or you formed them out of fear or a need for security. They perpetuate whatever state you are in; if you are thinking compassionate thoughts, compassion will be your now, ruminating over what’s happened against you, you will feel bad in the now. What the mind thinks about grows stronger. “Use it or lose it” is a good saying here – you can actually lose your anxiety, your fear if you don’t feed it with your thoughts. If you are living in the moment, you don’t need a script because your emotions direct you minute by minute. If now is the only time for you, you are not telling yourself stories. My meditation teacher always said, “the mind is constantly explaining itself to itself.” This is a distraction, a defense, an aversive reaction to keep the now under control. But we only feel the need for the now to be in control when we are out of control, and we are only out of control when we are not in the now.

We will know when in every moment we can feel our intuition and respond.