29 August 2010


Throughout my educational experiences – a bachelors in English/Political Science, a masters in Library Science, and finally (so far) a masters in Psychology – I’ve been fortunate to have teachers who referred to books, articles, plays, music, and art. I’d jot down titles, authors, ideas in my notes during class – telling myself that, when I had time, I’d get around to these works. Mostly I didn’t pursue them. Life and commitments would become more important. Or maybe I just got lazy.
But since completing the requirements of my most recent degree I made a point of going back through all my notes, making a list of every reference. It covered five pages. For the last year I’ve been trying to get to one or more of these suggestions each month.
I’ve been lucky, not working full-time, to have the time for this. Lucky too that I needed to try to maintain the connection to the school and the people – the totality of that experience that permitted me to grow in ways I’d never imagined before. In attempting to hold on to this growth and encourage it to continue, by reading the books and articles, by searching for the music and art, by journaling on my responses to it, by including the images in poetry and prose, I’ve been able to continue on this path that feels right for me.
I’ve started to understand lately that, although I began this project as a search for certainty, as a way to confirm the connection between myself and the school, the teachers, the folks in my cohort even though I am geographically distant; what I am receiving through my reading is a continuing connection to uncertainty. That’s appropriate, and really should come as no surprise – since the crux of the program and the process of learning and living in it was about opening to the uncertainty that lives in each of us.
The gift – one among many – I received from entering the fifteenth cohort at school [if you’re interested in exploring go to www.meridianuniversity.edu ] was of accepting the unacceptable – of appreciating and responding to the uncertain, the fearful, the dependent, the needing person that I am. In the acceptance and response I find, we each find, that all those aspects of self that we have been taught and acculturated to hide, to see as weak and undesirable are really the gifts we have to offer to the world.
Right now I’m reading two titles from my five page list that beautifully and elegantly address uncertainty. One is “The Field Guide to Getting Lost” by Rebecca Solnit. The second is “Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life” by Irwin Kula.
In “Yearnings” Kula refers to a story I’d never encountered, not having been raised in Judaism. It’s a Talmudic story of how God created and destroyed ten worlds before the one we have now. Why He destroyed them – because each was disappointing, not what He had envisioned, an utter failure. What a different vision of God! A God who was, Himself, uncertain – who desperately needed to get it “right.”
Even this world (in our times wouldn’t it be labeled World 11.0?) that He made, He nearly also destroyed. Yes, the one we have now didn’t seem up to snuff for its Creator – was nearly thrown on the trash heap. But the Talmud tells us, says Kula, that God paused. He thought about it, and realized that just because He had created it did not mean he could predict or control it. Even God had to live with the uncertainty that what He did was “good enough.”
God paused. And because of that we have everything from the Garden, through the apple, the flood, and all the way to where we are today. Hmmmm.

23 August 2010

Change of Venue

I don't trust epiphanies, sudden revelations, or even the so-called breakthroughs that seem to accompany peak experiences.
Certainly I've had my share of moments of insight that seemed to provide an answer I've been looking for, even if I didn't know I was looking for it. But upon reflection I've been able to see that I'd been preparing to receive the answer for some time, and that the universe's lessons had been giving me pieces of it all along.
And, really, it seems as if those flashes of insight, those moments that seem to give an answer to some cosmic $64,000 question, often aren't as satisfying as we always think they'll be anyway.
Maybe it's maturity, or maybe just letting go of some of the existential angst over the years, but it seems like the older I get the more I appreciate the experiences in life that bestow questions, rather than answers, upon me. It seems that it's in the times when I have no certainty, nothing that could remotely be described as an answer, the times that generate questions inside - those are the times and experiences from which I learn the most.
I'm in one of those times just now, one of those places I just hate being in.
The overwhelming and incessant heat of this summer has forced me to an acceptance of my own physical fragility, but, at the same time necessitated an enhanced self care from which this body I've often resented has gained great benefit. My dream journeys have shone a light on being lost, on the fear I've tried to keep a secret from all - including myself - that craziness is somehow a built-in component of my psyche. Yet those dreams have also helped me see that the daily, conscious, journey I'm on is right - for me, even if others don't get it.
Questions abound. Answers are in short supply. The choice between madness and insanity.
I've spent most of my life swimming against the current trying to push everything to get where, and what I wanted. At those times when I ran out of energy I would tread water awhile, still determined though to get where I firmly believed I was supposed to end up. A lot of water up my nose and gasping for air - but would I quit?
Now? Well, I think I'll try floating. Let the river take me where IT wants me to go.

19 August 2010

Yeah, baby

What could I POSSIBLY add.

Having Tantrums

Yesterday Rosie threw herself on the floor, kicking her tiny feet against the carpet until one Velcro-fastened shoe flew off, bucking her short torso in waves and circles, moves that a break dancer works months to master. The biggest, loudest meltdown of her fifteen months seemed to pull the plug on her mother’s energy – and before breakfast.
If you’ve had a child, or been around one on a daily basis, and that child has been powerfully, absolutely loved, adored and wanted you might have seen such a tantrum. If that child has been in your care you might well have stood there – watching, thinking you ought to stop it. You may even have wondered if there’s something wrong with this kid – or wrong with yourself as a parent. Toddler tantrums are scary. Guilt is a mother’s constant companion – whether the child is easy or challenging.
The reality is that all children are challenging. Especially when they’re as young as Rosie, the life force manifests powerfully and primitively, taking over their tiny body that wants, wants wants – whether it is attention, control, or breakfast. I don’t know about Rosie, but for most of us, I think, the sudden explosion of anger is a way to lay down the gauntlet, a challenge. A tantrum is an overwhelming force against what we perceive as an immovable object in our path. The object can be outside of us – in the form of a parent who is saying “wait.” Or it can be inside – a need to find out what will happen if I scream and hold my breath.
The reality is that we’re all this challenging. The child, the keeper of the powerful and primitive life force , lives in us no matter what our age. We find this out at times when we receive one of “God’s kisses” – when we are cut off suddenly in traffic, when the stress and responsibility piles up at work, when we’re standing helpless watching our child have a tantrum.
As adults we have, hopefully, learned not to throw ourselves to the floor and kick and scream. But sometimes – tell the truth now – don’t you want to? I do. Sometimes I’ll settle for muttering “asshole” or flipping off the driver who cut me off. But equally will I fantasize, or dream, about laying waste to the landscape or the person. Even more – I’ll feel this need to just lie down on the floor and howl when it all piles up around me and I get tired of trying. I imagine just lying there, having my nervous breakdown until someone comes and rescues me.
Of course I don’t. Even when I permit myself to cry in frustration, when the stresses of life pile up, I do it in private, or in therapy, with a trusted other.
But I can imagine the relief, the pure visceral experience of letting loose - allowing my libido, my life force to erupt, getting back to the basics of human experience, testing the waters of life, to see if they will hold me.

17 August 2010

The Watery Essence of Soul

"We may worry about death but what hurts the soul most is to live without tasting the water of its own essence."
- Rumi
Today I sent off an essay - the topic: how growing up in an alcoholic home has "made me who I am today." Whether or not it gets published, and it looks as though it might be included in a book of other such essays, writing this was one of those learning experiences that we often look back on, and shake our heads, say "damn - what was that about!"
I had dream visits from my father -dead for nearly 25 years - and my mother - dead for 4 - in which their displeasure at my audacity in writing about this topic was clearly communicated. Odd thing was that - in the dreams at least - I kept my composure, and generally just felt sorry for them. Now THAT'S progress. I won't try to pretend there weren't tears during the writing or that it was easy. On the contrary, the gatekeepers - those voices/personas/presences that try to keep us safe by discouraging us from taking risks - were tuned up and pulling out all their tricks during the writing.
But, you know, once you get a bit of recovery from any emotionally traumatizing experience, at least a modicum of experience that reminds you that NOW ISN'T THEN, a bit of emotional padding around those places that have been so tender from wounding, then it does seem that the gatekeepers don't have so much power. Or it isn't so devastating as it used to be.
Once again, please don't think for a nano-second that I've got this figured out - or that I'm gonna start using words like: whole, healed, certain, or even fully loved. But it does seem that each experience builds on those gone before, that putting the focus on the only person I CAN understand and have ANY hope of helping - ME - actually does help things get less chaotic and make more sense.
My god, could all those therapists and people around 12-Step tables have been right! Who knew.

12 August 2010


Recently I’ve been spending time with the mother of a friend who is dying of cancer, sitting with her to give her husband and son a break from constant caregiving. I’ve also been training to work with the Center for Women and Families, an organization that supports and provides services for those who have lived with domestic violence, and those who’ve undergone sexual abuse or rape.
Certainly I’m subject to feelings of sadness in both experiences, of anger, fear, and even, at times, a sense of despair. But it’s not all these so-called negative emotions. Laughter often arises as I sit at the bedside of the dying woman, as we speak of her son and his dog. And through sharing with others at the training sessions I find validation of my own experiences and recovery. I’m reminded that it’s all grist for the mill of living, that lessons most often come in the form of ‘kisses’ from the universe that feel like getting smacked upside the head by a two-by-four.
When I was still working in colleges, the kids used to say, “it’s all good.”
The intensity of these experiences has resulted in some powerfully interesting dreams, as well as rebellions in my body. You can imagine. Although I knew, going in, that I’d need to take excellent care of myself during these experiences; I hadn’t fully understood the necessity for creating a container for the experiences themselves.
I’m not speaking here of a way to separate myself from the experience. I don’t mean walling off the emotions that arise at the dying woman’s bedside, or distracting myself from the anger I feel when, during the training, we watch a film about children who’ve lived with violence.
What I’m talking about, in creating a container, is creating a way to hold the experience within me, to be affected by it naturally yet without surrendering to emotionality. A safe space in which I can feel what I feel, in which the others within the experience can understand their feelings as valid and worthy of expression, and in which all concerned have the opportunity to receive the ‘kisses’ from the universe that are so necessary to being fully human without feeling overwhelmed by them or alone in them. That’s the sort of container I’m talking about.
Ultimately it’s about community.
Yet I’m not talking about what passes for community in our culture currently. There is no container for experience when most are weak and powerless and the few are in charge – deciding what the majority are to do, even telling them what to feel.
Within the container where each person has safety to let an emotion arise naturally because they understand it will not be dismissed or negated; each is equal. If I distance myself from the dying woman’s fear of letting go, try to assuage her fear or even distract her from it, I set myself up as powerful, because I am not, currently, in her shoes. If I do that I make her into a sort of child to be taken care of. Yet, if I can enter fully into the experience of being with her, of allowing her presence and her emotions to affect me, trusting my own emotional reflexes – not reactions, but responses – we become a community.
Container creation requires risk. In our culture we are encouraged toward strength, or the pretense of it, rather than vulnerability. Trusting our emotions is, for many of us, both unfamiliar and negatively charged.
For most of my life I believed that letting myself feel even the tiniest bit sad was going to result in falling apart completely, until someone would have to call the men with the straightjackets, to haul me off to a padded room in some mental hospital. It’s only been relatively recently I began, with much loving help. and by being open to the lessons life kept offering me, to risk opening and expressing. None of us does this alone, even if we do it in private.
Again I return to the need for witnessing.
I arrived home last night from a training session in which we had explored the question of “why don’t women just leave” when they’re being abused. I opened myself to remembering, cried into my solitary pillow about the years I stayed, the years I wasted. But this private grief does not heal without allowing it a place in my experience, just as the actions I’m grieving have their place. It must be shared, has been at times, will be again when I begin the work of serving others who have inhabited a life of violence. Not that I will, or should, tell them of my experience. Rather, I must try continually to risk trusting the multi-layered and multi-faceted person I am always becoming, risk believing in the safety and holding of the container that gets created whenever and with whomever we share our authentic selves.

09 August 2010

People Count

Every ten years the United States conducts a census of population and housing. The year I graduated high school, 1970, my first job was as a census coder – filling the small dots on census forms, boxes and boxes of them, at a warehouse frigid in winter and sticky in summer.
In 2010 I worked as a census Enumerator – walking door to door, attempting to learn the number of people, if any, who lived at particular addresses. These were addresses from which no census form had been received, so finding people presented difficulty, meant going again and again to the same houses, to neighboring houses if necessary. Often, when someone finally answered the door, I was told, “We’re not participating.”
Enumerators were instructed to tell everyone that complying with the census is the law. With those who refused to participate I saw no point in bringing up law, in attempting to coerce their participation. My reasons were mostly those of respect – as Americans we are raised on our right to refuse – as adults we have a right to refuse attempts at intrusion into our business, into our lives. I figured that, if there was to be a punishment or penalty for non-participation, I was not empowered or authorized to threaten people with it. I was simply to count those who cooperated.
Most did cooperate, but of those who didn’t I began - after weeks of ‘walking the streets,’ as my sister called it – to understand something of their reasons. These people, it seemed to me, didn’t want to be counted because they didn’t believe THAT they counted.
Perhaps I saw in those people something that wasn’t there. After all this is a time of Tea Party emergence, of town hall meetings where rage erupts at what is seen as too much government, when people seem more angry and fearful than empowered. Yet I kept returning to a sense, each time I encountered refusals, that people didn’t want to be included because they didn’t think it mattered if they were. A short-sighted view, but, to me, this seeing oneself as if they do not matter was all too comprehensible, and way too familiar.
You may think I took this all too personally. In one sense you would be correct. But, as the early feminist movement reminded us, “the personal is political.” We see the world from inside a psycho-spiritual, an imaginal, structure we have each built, based on our personal experiences of safety, of individual importance, of our right to exist in that world. From the inside of our structures we look out at the world as we imagine it to be – based on our experiences – and act or react according to what we imagine will keep us safe, help us feel important, show us there is a place for us.
Those who were loved and valued as children, who knew home as a safe place from which to go out in the world, as a place where, when the world hurt or confused them, they could get answers and their hurts would be comforted – those people have a flexible structure. They can go with the flow of events, learn from later experiences, and all the while hold to a belief in the pursuits of the life, liberty and happiness they understand as their right. They embody the song, “I get knocked down, but I get up again. Nobody’s gonna keep me down.” They have learned to use their experience, to understand that life can, and will, ask them to do things they don’t like or want to do, but they don’t have to cower in fear inside a rigid defensive structure against it.
Not all of us learned that. I sometimes think that damn few people got that sort of start in life. I know better than to believe that anyone’s life has been perfect, though I’ve met people who’ve told me their childhood was just that. Well, they get the perfect childhood medal.
For those of us who lived in the chaos of alcohol or substance addiction as children, who were taught early on that our needs and desires took a back seat to those of the adults who were supposed to be in charge, the lesson was that we didn’t count. We constructed our imaginal structure of rigid defensive material that varies from person to person. Some look out and say, “it’s dangerous out there, so I will just stay where I am.” Some see the world as a battleground, where the biggest and strongest win. We must be the strongest, even though we don’t, really, know how. Some maintain an arsenal of weapons, horded against the certainty that we’ll have to protect ourselves.
For almost all of us the overpowering belief is that we don’t matter. We don’t count – we didn’t count then and that’s not gonna change now.
We of the fortress-like structures are no more correct in our assessment of reality than are those who insist that their childhood was perfect. Everybody perceives their experience through filters in our minds, bodies, and psyches – most of which never even, it seems, become conscious.
If it sounds like I’ve got this all figured out, as if I see the world from within the safety of my imaginal structure as composed of those who had it good and those who didn’t – well, to be honest, sometimes I do. But more often, as I add to my wealth of experience, as I ‘walk the streets’ of what comprises my life, and take time to consider what I can learn from what I see, who I interact with, I find that I see myself in others, even others who don’t seem, at first glance, to be like me at all.
This helps me step outside of my own imaginal structure, to let down the walls just a bit so that I show up in the world with all my fears and foibles and strengths. It lets others in as well. I don’t know, but I’ve been told, by people I trust, that taking the risk of showing who you are allows you to see yourself more clearly. Like I said in the first posting, we all need to be seen, to have our lives and our experiences validated by witnesses. We all need to know that we count – especially to ourselves.

Taking Myself Too Seriously

So far I've written posts from a chair at my neighborhood coffee shop where, at certain hours it's difficult to find a chair close to the outlet or power strip. But I love this place, even the name - Sunergos. When I first moved to the neighborhood a barrista told me it means "we work together." Always, an interesting variety of college students (we're really close to U of L here), neighborhood quirky characters (might I be considered one?), and people with kids can be found in this old storefront given over to the pursuit of the perfect cup of coffee.
But - I digress.
My thinking when I clicked on the Create a Post button was to talk about my recent efforts to scale back my impact on resources - natural and otherwise - and how these efforts have thrown me in social and other groups of people that I've previously avoided - among other effects. The coffee shop is a good example though. In turning off internet access at home and using it here, or in other public places (I swear, every McDonalds has WiFi now), I'm saving my own scarce resources and interacting, of necessity, with others doing the same thing. I've lost track of the conversations begun with people leaning over to plug their computer into the power strip at my feet. But now - well, even if we don't smile at each other when we're both here, we at least acknowledge each other's presence.
Big deal - you might be saying. But over the years I've become a believer in the possibility that we truly do impact each other - in ways we may never know, and with an importance that we often downplay to ourselves. While standing in wait for my large half caff I made what a friend used to call "cheap conversation" with the barrista, discovered he was in massage school and looking for people to work on for practice. I've become a regular, and grateful for his passion and desire to explore new techniques and methods. He's learning and I'm getting the healing my body desires.
Changing other habits of using up scarce resources requires some work and a lot of intention. The air conditioning in my car died earlier this summer. Either bravely or stupidly - only at the end of this, one of the hottest summers in memory, will I know which - I decided not to have the compressor replaced. This has made me very conscious of whether or not I really NEED to get in the car, and quite vigilant about planning grocery runs and other errands so that everything is the shortest route possible. Though, sometimes I choose the shadiest route instead, for the change, and to feel the coolness overhead from fully leaved trees. Either way, I'm making conscious what my actions are, what I'm motivated by, and how often I think casually about driving and shopping.
And I suppose that's - mostly - the point of all of this. Sure, I am living somewhat 'greener' by making an effort to eat from one of the many, daily, farmer's markets in this town, but the larger impact is that I'm making an effort to wake up to what I do, how I do it, and who I do it with. I run into friends sometimes at the one or the other market. Just last week I met my friend Marilyn when we were both admiring the purple tomatoes of a farmer from Richmond, and she told me about a workshop on Finding the Myth in Your Life that she and her partner are hosting on 9/11. I mean - come on - how synchronistic is that! And on how many levels! And a perfect example of how one change, one risk, may actually make a signpost appear at that fork in the road we often dread to reach.

08 August 2010

What Does This Mean - Why Does It Matter

For the past several years I've wondered what I'm supposed to DO with the lessons I've been receiving.

What's with the damn near miraculous fact that I am still here, that I have an amazing abundance of love in my life, that, with all that nearly sixty years has shown me, I get glimpses that it's all what, and how, it's supposed to be.

If lessons are 'God's kisses' then Spirit surely has loved me, nearly to death. But somehow I keep coming out on the other side of it all. So, aren't I supposed to do something with it all? Share it with others? Do SOMETHING?

Not sure - but I keep getting opportunities to share experiences - mine and others. Writing is part of that. But sometimes it feels like navel gazing.

The thing is that we all need witnesses to our lives, our experiences, our selves. We need mirrors, to be able to see who we are. We need someone(s) to listen, to look, to reach out from a place inside themselves, so we can hear, see, or reach out to ourselves. Like the song says "these stories don't mean anything, if you've got no one to tell them to."

So maybe that's what this will become, maybe it already is that - the place of companioning - the place of witnessing - of opening - the place from which the journey continues.

Let's see what happens.