anger · disconnection · equanimity · family · love · self-abandonment · self-care

There always had to be a fly…

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…in the ointment.
If things were going well, there was always the knowledge
that my father’s parents were shut-ins and deleterious hoarders. Or that my mom
was manic-depressive. Or that my brother had a horrible stutter.
There was always the reminder that my clothing was bought at
discount stores, that my father had an awful temper, or that my mom’s parents
had died under circumstances that ripped her family apart and isolated us against them.
If things were going well, there was always a skeleton or two
to whisper in your ear about not believing good things were for you, about
being dragged down, about not being allowed to be happy.
Today, those long-quieted skeletons, imagined they’ve been
exorcised for years, have begun their murmurous palaver again.
Yesterday, I had a phone call with my mother. She is sick.
Again. It’s the same or similar cold/sinus infection she’s been struggling
against for over a year. And when it came up last year, when she didn’t know
why she kept getting sick, when doctors didn’t immediately know why either, I
called my psychic.
Because at the time, all roads led to cancer. Did she have
it? What was going on? What can I do?
No, said the woman on the phone. It’s not cancer, but
whatever it is, if she doesn’t deal with this, with what’s underlying it, it could be the beginning of a long road to the
end. This could be the thing that takes her out.
Whatever your thoughts about intuitives aside, I’d worked
with her enough that she knew of what she spoke. And from all indications since
that phone call over a year ago, it’s proving pretty accurate. My mom is still
sick. Healthier, Sick, Healthier Sick.
And I’m dragged immediately back into a curtain-drawn
bedroom where she’d curled up against the light, fighting another one of her
chronic migraines. I’m dragged immediately back into being a child taking care
of her mother, telling her to get out of bed. Leaving her there, and getting my
brother and I out the door for school.
My mother is a woman of chronic ailments. And this newest
one, whatever its cause, reason, purpose, is dragging me down again with her.
What is love, comes the question? What is equanimity? What
is detachment, enlightenment? Fate? What is the caustic, oxidizing rust that
others’ baggage leaches onto you and your own path?
And what is my responsibility in helping them through their
pain?
Especially if they don’t recognize it as such.
So much has come up lately about codependence versus
interdependence. About leaving others to their experiences and feelings, and
letting that not affect what I’m doing and how I’m feeling. Even something as
simple as the play, and trying to not let the audiences’ reactions sway my
mood.
I feel angry. I feel angry this feels like it’s happening
again. I feel angry that I’m powerless about how she cares for and treats her
body, about how she schedules her work in the 12-hour days without lunch
breaks. About how she spends her off days flattened, recuperating from her over-working.
I’ve had to do so much work on letting her have her
experiences, despite my opinions, and
yet. And yet. I’m human. And I love her, and I don’t want her to be in pain.
And I don’t want her to deteriorate.
And moreso, I don’t want her life to affect mine.
When does a child grow up? What is the role of a loved one?
How can you, and can you, let someone crawl along the bottom of their own
experience, while you make strides in the direction of your own fulfillment?
Because that’s what’s at stake here. Callous as it may sound, it doesn’t matter,
ultimately, what happens with my mom. What matters is what I take on about it. How
I allow it to affect me. And mostly, can I continue to make my life what I want
it to be when there are still murmuring
skeletons?
My whole life, I’ve been distracted by the flies. I’ve
allowed my attention to be derailed in fishing them out, or I’ve simply allowed
them to decree that I cannot be happy because they exist. That I cannot find
success because there are flaws in the tapestry of my surroundings.
Obviously, I write about it today because I’m upset and I
don’t have the answer to these
questions. Because I don’t know
how
to move forward when there are tendrils threatening to draw you back.
So, for today, I’ll leave it both as an open question, and
as evidence of a success. Because, today, I get to tell you about it. And
darkness can’t live in the light. 

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equanimity · interdependence · life · literature · self-love

Shel.

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Author, Poet, Artist Shel Silverstein played a significant
role in the formative literary lives of myself and many people my age. 
Who didn’t
have a copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends
or
A Light in the Attic, with his
line drawings of a man who forgot his pants, or three children flying in a
shoe? Who doesn’t remember a few lines here and there of that one about being
sick but then, “What’s that you say, You say today is Saturday, Alright I’m
going out to play” or “Pamela Purse Yelled Ladies First” and then ends up
in a cannibal’s stew?
Shel’s poems are inventive, clever, imagination firing. And
yet. It’s his two “full-length” books that I’m considering today. Books whose
premise I simply don’t agree with, despite having heard others’ interpretations
and admiration: The Missing Piece
and
The Giving Tree.
In The Missing Piece,
we follow a Pac-Man-looking pie as he looks to find his own missing piece, the
piece to complete him. Like Goldilocks, some are too big, some are too small,
but in the end, he finds the one that’s just right.
In The Giving Tree,
we watch as a small boy enjoys the bounty of an apple tree, the tree offering
him fruit, a branch to swing from, its trunk, and then finally, simply a
stump on which to sit.
Both of these books, to me, reek of codependence. ! And, yes,
you might roll your eyes at me, analyzing a simple children’s book or reading
too much into a story. Many people have told me how lovely and generous it is
that the tree continues to give and give of itself until there’s barely anything
of itself left, and then finally the boy, now an old man, comes to appreciate
it.
Isn’t it a beautiful story of self-sacrifice and loyalty and
steadfastness?
Erm…
How about the Missing Piece? All Shel’s trying to say is
that we all walk around the world feeling slightly unwhole, slightly missing.
We are all trying to fill in a place within us that feels empty. Sometimes we
use things that we think will fit that place – sometimes we use people who we
think will fit that place. But we continue to go through our lives looking for
our missing piece, and when we find it, we are complete and we are happy.
Isn’t it a lovely metaphor for life, for our human striving for fulfillment and satisfaction?
Well…
As I said, I have a hard time appreciating
these messages as they’re written, if they’re written with those intentions at all. I
have a hard time integrating the message that we ought to divest ourselves of
our needs in order to satisfy others, as the tree did. Or the message that we
none of us are whole, and need someone to fulfill us, as the piece sought.
I recognize I may be being a little heavy-handed with my
interpretation of these stories, but as someone who’s loved so much of Shel’s
work, I bristle at the messages I glean
from them.
In fantasy land, yes, it would be nice to have someone
around who would give me everything I needed without asking anything in return
except my eventual appreciation. Yes, it would be lovely to find a human who
would complete me. But that’s not the way it works in reality land. And that’s
not the way I think it should work.
I think it’s a strange message to pass along to kids, and an
unrealistic vision of relationships that’s being set before us.
I was trying to explain “interdependence” to a friend of
mine recently, and I sort of failed. But in the world of these stories, I guess
the best I could say is if I am a piece rolling about the world, whether I feel whole or not, what I’d really want is another piece rolling alongside me,
looking to make themselves whole, just as I am. And, in the end, mostly it’s
about seeing that we already are, and discarding the skewed and broken glasses
we use to view the world and ourselves.
If I were the tree, I’d hope to get to say the to boy, you
know, I love you and all, but I could use some mutuality in this relationship,
if that’s something you’re available for. And if the boy really needs to row
a boat made out of my trunk, I’d hope for the strength to tell him … he’s
barking up the wrong tree.
That all said, I will continue to pull out my copy of Where
the Sidewalk Ends
and read a random poem. I
will hope to read it to a new generation of readers, and I will hope to be an
iota as creative and ingenious as he has been. But, I also hope to learn the lessons
I would have liked these books teach. 

adventure · authenticity · children · equanimity · laughter · love · shame · vulnerability

Prerequisites

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I’m still wading through Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly. I can only take mind-blowing awareness in small
chunks! The latest chunk being:
The important thing to know about
worthiness is that it doesn’t have prerequisites. Most of us, on the other
hand, have a long list of worthiness prerequisites [most of which] fall in the
categories of accomplishments, acquisitions, and external acceptance. It’s the if/when problem (“I’ll be worthy when…” or “I’ll be worthy
if…”)
Sound familiar?
To me it does. And yet. I have other quotes to help combat this if/when thought habit.
One of which is on my fridge, and comes from a book on
auditioning, actually: “There are no mistakes, only misinterpretations.”
Brene talks a lot about the difference between shame and
guilt. Shame = I am bad. Guilt = I did something bad. With guilt, your inherent
worth and worthiness is not called into question, and she encourages us to use
“guilt self-talk” instead of “shame self-talk,” if we have to use anything at
all.
Which, we usually do, because… we all make
misinterpretations!
It’s interesting. Yesterday, I got the chance to spend some
time with a coworker’s 10-year old daughter who was home for the summer, but
didn’t have anywhere to be this week. After way too many days watching t.v. on
her phone, I asked her if she wanted to go for a walk yesterday. And so we did.
We walked to the nearby park, and when we got to the water
and I encouraged her to touch the cool, lapping stream, she was surprised
and delighted, and asked if we could walk in it.
Well, I wasn’t expecting to do that, but SURE! Off come the
socks and shoes and into the shallows we go.
On our walk back to civilization (a whole block away), she
was reporting a story to me about something that had happened with her father
the day before. A story that would likely be categorized as one of Road Rage. As she told the story, I experienced many reactions and opinions. Aghast, sad,
worried, judgmental, superior.
But what I said was, “There are many different ways to handle
situations, and that was one way to handle it.”
I’m NOT the person to tell her her father was wrong,
inappropriate, endangering, or negligent. I am the person, in that little short
hour, to tell her, Yes, we can play in the water, and you are safe with me. I
am not going to pile my opinions onto you, because I know you’re making your
own.
You go ahead and love your dad. You observe him, and make
your own choices. You be influenced by who and how he is, and you’ll have the
chance to work through any of that if you need to.
But for right now… I didn’t even say, “That sounds scary,” because she wasn’t telling it that way. She was reporting, to see how I’d
react, I think. Was what he was doing appropriate? Wasn’t that funny or awful?
No. It was neither. It was human.
(As I write this, I realize that I can use this lesson and
aim it in a parental direction in my own life.)
It’s slow-going through Brene’s book, because there’s so
much meat to her observations and suggestions.
But her lamplight to guide us and offer hope on this journey of misinterpretations is as follows:
Those who feel lovable, who love,
and who experience belonging simply believe they are worthy of love and belonging. I often say that
Wholeheartedness is like the North Star: We never really arrive, but we
certainly know if we’re headed in the right direction.
By not attaching my own value or values to this little
girl’s experience, I get to let her have her own North Star and continue to
follow mine. No ifs, whens or buts. 

avoidance · community · connection · disconnection · equanimity · fear · isolation · love · relationships · synchronicity

Independence

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I was driving down to San Jose for the Queen concert the
other night by myself. I was meeting my friends who were coming from the city,
and we decided it was more time efficient if I drove from the East Bay myself.
I drove in traffic, behind, in front of, and next to other
people driving by themselves. No carpool lane for us. And I reflected on how in
this age of disconnection, where people seem to be lamenting the loss of
connection, community, and interdependence, we certainly do like to be alone a
lot.
Or, perhaps “like” is a strong word. We’re enabled in being alone a lot.
I live in a studio apartment alone with my cat. I drive
alone to work because public transportation to my job is not feasible. I can
spend entire days not connecting with another human being. Without hugging
another human being.
And then, like yesterday, I run into one of these human
beings at the farmer’s market, that I went to alone, and get a surprise hug and
get to share a moment of catch-up and a smile. A farmer’s market where I
finally know the bread vendor by name and he knows mine, so we can say hello
properly after a year of my buying the same whole wheat. Where I ran into one of
the families from my work and spoke with her and her son, who was running circles around a
tree again and again, asking me between breaths what I was doing there.
I was invited to go to dinner and the movies last night with two
girlfriends. I could have said, No, I have to pack for my camping trip, which
is so totally true, and imminent right now. And I literally asked myself which
was more important: going to the grocery store before it closed to get organic meat,
or spending time with a woman who’s moving to Nashville in two weeks.
I chose the friends. And I’ll be going to the store once it
opens before we hit the road.
Which is another one of these connection moves I made
recently. An awareness that I had recently: I miss hanging out with groups of
folks. I am great one-on-one with
people. I can talk and gab and get deep. But there’s something for me about
being with a few people that ignites a different side of my personality. I come
alive in a different way. A) it’s usually less intense and deep conversation
when it’s more than one person. But not always. I just like groups of folks.
I’m excellent at big and small talk, and I like people. –Well, some of them,
anyway!
So, I’m at the part in my healing work where I’m to make
amends in relationships that need mending. And this is one of them: recognizing
that I have a deficiency in my social life that affects my joy. And then doing
something about it.
Because of this awareness, I organized this camping trip.
Because of this desire to be with folks,
I am joining some of them to see
The Goonies for $5 movie night at the Paramount next week, and I
asked if we wanted to have dinner beforehand, and I made that reservation for us.
Because, independence is appropriate, as far as it goes. Not
needing people to do for me that which I can do for myself is independence. Not
needing someone to constantly bail me out financially is independence. Not depending on a substance to
make me feel normal or different or a version of “better” that is unattainable,
is independence.
But when it comes to human relationships, I like to strive
(these days, at least) for interdependence.
Not co-dependence, which is
not
the opposite of independence, by the way. But equanimity – a word I only
learned a few years ago, but has been a soft murmur in the back of my head
since then. To me, equanimity means not being emotionally tossed around by
others, and not tossing them around either. It means having boundaries for
myself and allowing others to have theirs. It means
creating, actively trying to build relationships with people
on a basis of trust, mutuality, empathy and shared values.
This is not always easy. In fact, it can get right messy,
and it has, for me in many of them, as we crawl our way out of strict
independence or co-dependence into interdependence. Relationships have
suffered; some have been lost, and others have been strengthened exponentially.
It takes work to give up independence, or, as I’m using it,
isolation.
For right now, I can claim independence from my need to
isolate. Because I am learning how to show up honestly, with boundaries and
without iron walls or punishing.
If I can do that, then there’s no reason not to be in community.
Happy Freedom from Bondage Day, Kids!! – Whatever that looks
like to you. 

anxiety · courage · disappointment · equanimity · family · love · relationships · resentment · trying

Not the Buddha.

Yesterday was Father’s Day. As evidenced by the insane photobombing bonanza that was Facebook yesterday. (Yes, I’m modifying the meaning of photo-bomb in this context.)

I was unsurprised to notice an amalgam of feelings arise as I scrolled down, and down… and down, through the newsfeed. Yes. Everyone has a dad. Yes. I get it. Yes. I even have my own. Do I have to see yours, too?

In the end. I posted my own photo of myself with my dad. I must be about 5 years old, climbing over the guard rail into the brush. We’re probably on vacation in Cape Cod, the ocean visible in the background. He’s looking out through binoculars, the front fender of his red 1970 Cutlass in the corner of the image. The majority of the photos I have of us together when I’m little are from the Brownies/Girl Scouts Father/Daughter dances — staged photos on cubes of packed hay. I’m sitting on my dad’s lap, looking highly uncomfortable.

This annual awkwardness was the closest my dad and I ever got, and the call to look normal at it was a difficult one to answer.

But, still. Yesterday, I too wanted to feel a shred of familial nostalgia, true or un. I wanted to add to our communal photobook my own pixelated, sugar-coated memory.

In the afternoon, I attended a seminar being hosted at my work. I was on hand as a staff member but got to participate too. The subject under discussion was “Having Difficult Conversations.” … It was the most requested topic, and the least attended. We all want to know how to do this, but we’re also hesitant to do so.

With about a dozen other folks, I was asked to turn to my neighbor and share “the story” of a conversation I’d been avoiding having. It was about 3pm on Father’s Day, and I’d already mailed my dad a generic, but nice enough card. I’d emailed him yesterday with that photo attached. And the conversation I was anxious to have or not have was whether or not to also call him.

Had I done my due diligence as a daughter? Was a card and an email enough?

One of the questions asked of us was: What is their side of the story?

I thought about this, wrote about it. Thought about my dad wondering what he’d done to be punished with silence. Thought about him getting angry with me for disappointing him again. Thought about him contemplating his martrydom, that all he’d done was love me, and I can’t show up for him.

But. True or not, these are only what I think he’s thinking.

In reality, what he’s probably thinking is that he loves me and misses me and would like to hear from me.

Period.

Because as time and experience have proved, he has little ability to contemplate much below the surface.

Once the workshop was over, I’d concluded that I’d probably done enough. That I didn’t need to call him, to subject myself to being open to attack or discomfort, as previous conversations have only proved to be. That’s what the story is, too: If I call, I open myself up to disappointment. Again.

But, once I arrived to my friend’s house for dinner, I’d had a few more minutes to think, and as I parked, what occurred to me was a phrase a friend told me long ago: “The Buddha says hello first.”

I thought as I put it into reverse, What kind of person do I want to be in this world?

Surely, I don’t want to be someone who allows themselves to be whipped over and over, but I forget that I’m also someone these days who when I see that coming or happening, I have the esteem and wherewithall to stop them or to end the conversation.

I want to be the kind of person who sends love, even to those who are unable to receive it. Not as “The Giving Tree” would do, but with conscious decision. I know I’m taking a risk reaching out to you, but I care … not really about you, sorry, but about how I feel — and how I feel is that I want to send you a … not an olive branch, but perhaps just a message of peace, not truce.

In the end, I just wanted to act toward my father how I would want him to behave toward me, with awareness, with boundaries, and with empathy toward us both.

So, I called. And mercifully, I got his voicemail. I left one, short and sweet. Which he reciprocated while I was out to dinner and left me one.

He just wants to know what’s going on in my life. He has lost this right. He has proved himself untrustworthy to know more than the most sweeping generalizations about my life. And I will have to decide once again if this is a conversation I want to have.

The Buddha may say hello first, but how many times do you say hello to someone you don’t trust?

abundance · addiction · alcoholism · balance · community · compassion · deprivation · equanimity · finances · humility · recovery · scarcity · the middle way

The B Word.

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Balance. Without it, I tend to become the other B word.
Someone asked me how the whole, “I need friends who don’t live hand-to-mouth,” blog
went over, if there was any push-back from it. I said, not that I know of, but
that I’d spoken to some other folks over the weekend, and was reminded of
something very important in life: Things are not black and white.
When I stopped drinking, it was because I was an alcoholic.
I put the bottle down, looked around, and declared everyone close to me
alcoholic, too. Whether they were or not, I was on a crusade of reform, and
they all were alcoholics who needed to
stop as I did.
Well… two things: a) yes, most of the people I was
associated with “at the end” were in fact drinking alcoholically, but b) that
didn’t mean they or anyone who drank were alcoholics. In the beginning, I
needed that kind of black and white thinking, because being close-ish to people
who were drinking was too difficult a gray line when my line had to be
crystal clear.
But, just because that was the way for me, I came to realize
that wasn’t the way for everyone. And after some time passed, and indeed the
folks who were hopeless sops like me faded from the foreground of my life, I got to see that some people (god bless them) can drink normally.
There’s one friend who stuck through my own transition. She described this “normal” drinking to me: she
literally says to herself, “Hmm, I’m beginning to feel buzzed, I should switch
to water.” Uh… I didn’t get that memo. “I’m beginning to feel buzzed,” was always followed by, “A few more will get it done right,” or if I was feeling temperate, “I should switch to beer.”
So, my friend does not react to alcohol how I do. And I have to come to see that there is a world between sauced and tight-ass.
In the same way, I recognize that as I begin to assess my
behavior and extremism around money, scarcity, and deprivation, I am being
called to allow others their own experience, even as I diagnose and address my
own.
Just because a friend opened a new credit card, doesn’t mean I have
to stop hanging out with them. Just because a friend is earning less than I
think they deserve in the world, doesn’t mean they’re addicted to deprivation.
Just because other people behave differently than me, doesn’t mean my way is
the right way, and most importantly, doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to learn from them. 
As with getting sober, I do have to admit that some
of the folks around me may indeed have trouble in this area – water seeks its
own level, after all. But, that doesn’t mean I have to be an asshole about it.
And, that’s what I’ve gotten to see these past few days I’ve
been declaring myself needing to “move on” from friends and communities who have
what I’d declared a “faulty, diseased, and only rectifiable by a spiritual
solution” relationship to money, and thereby the world.
It’s a good thing people don’t take me that seriously!
And it’s a good thing I can remember to not take myself too
seriously, too. If I’d stuck to every declaration about myself… by this point I
would have been:
Vegetarian
Israeli
A prostitute
A suicide victim
A daily exerciser
T.V.-less
Caffeine-less
An organic farmer
and a truck driver.
The thing is, I can’t make blanket declarations for myself
or anyone else. I have no idea what my
path contains or eliminates, thereby
no idea what others’ do.
There is some truth to wanting to learn from and be around
people whose relationship to money can model my own. But that’s because I have
a problem with it. Not everyone does, and if they do, it’s really none of my
business.
It comes to equanimity, and allowing others and myself our
experience without judgment. It means having openness, compassion, and respect toward all people on all paths. It does certainly include me getting help for a
pattern of beliefs and behaviors that have led me to despair and insanity, but
it also includes me being more generous in my assessments of life. Allowing for
the gray, for the middle-ground, for difference, for balance.
Because, solvent or not, nobody likes
a bitch.