Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sharing the energy

I don't have much energy of my own today ... been fighting off something since before Thanksgiving, so my goal this evening is basically to get to bed.

But I want to share a blog post that my friend Kiley wrote. He always gets to me with his descriptions of homeless meditation. I derive great meaning from reading the blogs of others as often as I can, especially Carol over at Sardines in a Can because she always makes me laugh.

Here is an excerpt from Kiley's post (He is a Buddhist, by the way):

“There is a suffering that leads to the end of suffering, and a suffering that leads to more suffering. If you are afraid to face the first kind of suffering, you will surely continue to the face the second.”

Another jewel:

"Buddhism teaches that the difference between Heaven and Hell is only point of view, our perception of things." Amen! I say. Heaven and Hell are states of mind and soul, not places.

So I have to wonder, in comparison, how I got stuck doing this church office treasurer stuff and what good it really is accomplishing in the world. I'm not sure that serving on the Finance Committee is helping anyone, really. However, I also know it is not good to measure ourselves according to others, because we are all meant to follow different paths.

Anyhow, here is a link to the full posting:

Thank you, Kiley, for sharing your abundant compassion with all us twerps out here! By the way, have you ever had the experience of a book picking you -- it finds you and latches on and refuses to let go? He describes that experience in his blog post. That's what happened with my physics book I am reading. I was browsing in an old, quaint bookstore in some small town around San Antonio, and discovered it, and it beckoned to me. Those are the best kind of books! My friend Karen has also recommended some truly life-altering books to me, mainly "The Road Less Traveled" by M. Scott Peck.

Or, have you ever had this experience -- started laughing uncontrollably, simply because someone else is? I just did, because Andrew was laughing and couldn't stop and it was contagious. I still don't know what we were laughing about, but it felt great. One good solid belly-laugh a day (or more), preferably at something really silly and mundane.

I think I'm getting giddy, or is this feeling delirium? I really need to head for bed.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Teenage boys

Is there a rule that says only one blog post a day? Oh well then.

I keep telling Andrew that if he were an elephant, the matriarch of the herd would be booting him out around now to go be himself out in the wild, like all young bull elephants. He responds to this by smiling and head-butting me. All forms of physical affection these days involve some degree of pain with him. It's worth it, though.

The male elephants roam alone, whereas the females form the herds and nurture the young. This is perhaps why I sometimes feel so alone in my home, surrounded by men (and two young men).

My husband needs me. It's the existential problem of the day. To clarify, he needs me now.

Inner peace, and physics

I would like to spend just a moment to extoll the virtues of physical labor. There is something deeply satisfying and peaceful about doing yardwork on a gorgeous day such as today. Gathering leaves and taking them to the compost. The only part of my self that was not enthralled with this task was my whole sinus cavity, which has been aggravated all week, so I just gave it a good nasal rinse afterwards and some more medication.

I say this as someone who does not do manual labor for a living. It might lose a touch of its sheen if it was a hours and hours-long daily grind, or if it was required for my personal survival. It wouldn't be so glamorous or such a nice break in that case. So, no, I don't wish to go back to the days when everyone had to put in a bunch of hard work from dawn till dusk. No thanks!

It is strange how, the more leisure time we have, the more we seem to lose our way spiritually, or get bored, or long for something .... else. I guess people have always been in the longing business. I can understand people longing for a relief to grinding labor, disease, violence, poverty, etc. But relief from the relative richness of the middle-class doldrums here? You can see it all around, in the types of diversions people create for themselves. I was surrounded by it in the Galleria. Who in the world has need of all that stuff? How does it enrich the world? I don't get it.

Just what do you people want that you don't already have?!! Bunch of greedy, unthankful, rotten Americans. That's the thought I admit I have. Ooh, I certainly don't mean YOU, my faithful reader. I'm talking about those other people out there. Look at them all. Bunch of whining losers.

So, if I am confessing all, I really think that of myself, too, at times. What more could I want than this amazing life that has been given to me, with all its possibilities? But still, I have desires and cravings. Caffeine! And other things, too.

I'm reading one of those books that has been waiting for me on the shelf, "The Dancing Wu Li Masters (An Overview of the New Physics)" by Gary Zukav. The premise of this book is to discuss physics while leaving out all the heavy math and technical terms that make it indecipherable to you and me. A nonphysicist wrote it.

It's not a particularly current book, published in the late '70s, I think, but many of the greatest advances in physics happened just after the turn of the last century, and some of Newton's theories (who goes back to the 1600s sometime) were not undone till still later than that. Science plods along at a pace that can seem quite ponderous.

What fascinates me about science is the whole idea that we can be objective and objectively measure anything, even while trapped in this human form and using only the evidence of our poor, limited, and even faulty senses. This book has not disappointed me in expounding on that very dilemma. The "new" quantum physics seems to conclude that there is no objective reality that is not altered by our perception of it.

That dovetails nicely with my own sensibilities. We can never be mere observers of this world around us. We are constantly participants, completely enmeshed in it, and our experiences are inseparable from our reality. It's common sense, really. We can't have the perspective of God, or a higher power, or a bystander. We are each stuck in these carbon-based lifeforms, and cannot separate ourselves from all the rest of creation. (Does that word, creation, strongly imply a creator? I guess it does.)

Another aspect of quantum physics, one of many I find fascinating, is what Einstein described as "spooky action at a distance." The idea that quanta react to far-flung phenomena instantaneously, that perhaps either space or time, or both, are illusory. Or how about this? -- the thought that we are all energy bundles, that mass and energy are essentially interchangeable, and we are all intimately connected by forces we may be unaware of. And how do you distinguish organic matter that lives from other energy forms, if we are all constructed of atoms? How do you assign a higher moral value to humanity than to any other thing in the universe, really? Lots to contemplate.

Quick, how many living things do you see in this picture? "Lots." Yeah.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The trip

Straight to the pictures today. Can you guess where we went?
 Missing from this pic is Andrew, who is taking it.
The famous -- that should say infamous -- Mud Show. We had never seen it before. Each muddy man had half the audience rooting for him to "win." Though I was expecting a brawl in the mud pit, and that never happened. This show was one of our favorites, especially when each muddy man ran into the audience to kiss an innocent bystander (sitter) from the opposing side. Sometimes a man, other times a woman. The actors made great use of improv.
 There's Andrew. Can't say what is dangling between his legs.
 Some of the miscellaneous strangely attired folks.You couldn't tell who the paid staff were and who was coming in dressed the part.
We finished the day by watching belly dancers. Gorgeous! The boys missed this one; their loss.

So that was none other than the Texas Renaissance Festival. I think the boys were finally old enough to understand, appreciate, enjoy, revel in, participate in, etc., the bawdy humor, which is rampant at the Ren. Fest. In past years, it really bothered me, but now that my kids are so far on the path to adulthood, it fit right in. It's right where they are just now, in fact! I remember being a teenager.

Preceding our daylong visit there, we went to the Galleria and its ice rink. Very nice shops, quite pricey. At a few, I wanted to ask if there was a charge to touch the merchandise. Other than food, I bought a face mask to wear at night for around $12.

Apparently, my boys have been living in a cave all these years and have never (NEVER) been ice skating before. (This could have something to do with living in South Texas, except there is/was an ice rink in San Antonio for many years. I'll have to see if it is still there.) They loved it, once they got the hang of it. I remember skating in a homemade ice rink in our back yard when we lived up north. I think it was a little bumpy, but I was a young kid and didn't mind.

Another experience we'd like to take the boys for, which has been out of the price range hitherto, is skiing. Perhaps next winter.

Friday, November 19, 2010

We're going somewhere! Sometime!

I feel like Dick Cheney ... my family is travelling to an undisclosed location, sometime that I cannot disclose at the present moment with precision! And I am sooo excited and looking forward to it. Maybe I'll post some pictures at some later time. It's not going to be long, and not to any glamorous place like Maui (where my dad is) or Tanzania (where my boss went), but it's a change of pace anyway.

I'm just happy to have a little break from this full-time work stuff. I could use a different word at the end there, but I'm not generally the cursing type. How does everybody do this working 40+ hours a week, anyhow? I'm ready to move to France and the 32-hour workweek. My butt is aching from sitting for 8 hours at work and 1-1/2 hours on the daily commute!

Enough whining. Life is too short to spend any time whining about the choices I have made, especially given what other people elsewhere have to contend with!

Here is my lovely sis and hubby on our fabulous trip to Washington, D.C., in front of a garden on the mall.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Being loving and being cold

From reading my blog here, you might think that I am just the most drippingly loving, sentimental person, and I would just drape myself around you (or anyone else) and just radiate pure love if we ever met. That would be completely wrong.

First, I've never been a super huggy person. Though, with certain people, I'm glad to make an exception. I taught children's Sunday school for years, and I never really got around to hugging the kids very much. I remember an older lady who had taught children's Sunday school for, like, decades at St. Andrew's UMC. She actually did radiate love and compassion, and every child got a hug, every day, coming into her class (probably leaving, too). This would have been early elementary, the age my kids were back then. So maybe I have to wait until I'm of a certain age to soften up and mellow out? Nah. I'll still be prickly, just a prickly old lady instead of a middle-aged one.

I can be prickly if you step into my comfort zone out in public and I don't know you; if I am on the phone with you, and I don't find you are being particularly helpful when you should be, and I suspect you either don't know or don't care enough to solve my problem; and so on.

Today, I was eating my lunch at a public picnic table by one of the branch libraries in San Antonio, which happens to be right down the road from where I work. I was eating my lunch, enjoying the perfectly beautiful day, lounging in the sunshine like a kitty. Bothering no one, and no one was bothering me. ... Until ...

Along comes a perfect stranger, some guy, and plops down on the bench just across from me! There is just the one picnic table. However, this is a little too close for me to accommodate gracefully. I say doubtfully, "Hello." He replies in kind and then sorta does this weird little wave that does not endear me to him. Since he seemed to appear from out of nowhere, I asked where he came from. Then had to specify, I mean, did he drive or walk over? He walked. He has a backpack and a mug he drinks from, and wears sunglasses.

Several moments of awkward silence follow, where I attempt to eat my lunch nonchalantly. Just pretending this stranger is not two feet away from me, sharing a table. He goes on to say that he walks over to this library almost every day to use the computers there. I say something very brief along the lines of, "Oh." More silence. Then, thankfully, he gets up and goes to say hello to someone else who has just exited the library. Apparently he gets the message that his presence at MY picnic table has been less than welcome, and doesn't return. I guess I need to take a sign with me in the future: Sorry, this table is taken. Get your own table, sit in your car till I'm done, but don't try to sit down here.

So, I recall this in a lighthearted way, but part of me feels bad that I have to act so distant and cold. What horrible thing could happen if I were friendly to this person? So maybe he could try to overpower and kidnap me and do many unmentionables -- which he wouldn't attempt if I just acted cold enough? That doesn't make sense.

Somehow, I have been conditioned, as a lady who is physically attractive, that I have to be really careful not to send the wrong signals out to strange men. So instead, I make them feel really awkward and uncomfortable until they leave. That just doesn't seem like a compassionate way to act. Perhaps not even that logical. I don't even give someone a chance to act inappropriately before I throw the ice wall up. But, on the other side, this guy was strange. Yeah. So maybe it was my gut instinct telling me how to behave, and you don't want to ignore your gut feelings about any situation that crops up. We'll go with that conclusion.
Yikes! Look at that strange man standing with my son! (On the metro platform outside of D.C.)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My spiritual journey

I bow to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, who just wrote a book with the same title as my blog! Dare I say, "Great minds think alike!" I would love to read it some day. It is supposedly very readable, not too erudite, and talks about how he was identified as the Dalai Lama as a young child.

I have to say that as some aspects of my life unfold, I look around and say, how did I get here, anyhow? When did the path turn in this direction? I must have been daydreaming again! I am treasurer again for next year at church, not sure what that entails (because I have said I won't have time to do all the bookkeeping), and I accepted the position without being officially invited or told! This is a natural fit for me, but it's quite a change of direction from teaching children's Sunday school for many years.

Here is my secret dream, but I don't see how it will ever happen in this lifetime. I want to go to someplace beautiful and temperate in Africa and help teach the children. I don't mean as a missionary, but as a teacher. Maybe Rwanda. It would be a big change in my life, I know. Part of me longs to leave behind this false prosperity of being a rich American and go where people are living right on the edge of poverty and loss all the time, and experience the plain joy of living alongside them in that risky way. Every accomplishment would be so meaningful in such a context. I am surely glamorizing the idea of living "the simple life," I know. But I have at least become disabused of the idea that I could go over and "help" these people. I think I would be the one to benefit most of all.

This vision of a what-if life gelled quite recently, when I was reading several articles in the Heifer Project magazine, and looking online to learn more about Tanzania (where my boss is going on vacation to watch the wild animal migration, around Kilimanjaro). I read about the Maasai people of northern Tanzania and the desperate straits they have found themselves in after years of drought, and how the Heifer Project helped them transition from raising cattle to camels, which produce nutritious milk and are much more suited to a desert climate. This desert climate is something new, as older Maasai people remember eating a very meat-based diet in their youth. Now, they survive on watered-down camel milk and porridge, about 800 calories a day. Changing the basis of their culture from raising livestock to camels was radical and very brave, and necessary for their survival.

I don't think I could go live with people who are surviving on 800 calories a day. (For one thing, I'd be consuming some of their tiny allotment of food.) I need someplace where food is more abundant. How's that for priorities!

One of the great revelations I have had is that of all the issues facing people, access to education is the keystone. If young people and particularly women have access to a nonreligious-based education, then they can help solve the problems of the part of the world where they have grown up. I say "nonreligious" because it must be education, not indoctrination. Reading "Three Cups of Tea" was transformative.

Also, a podcast I listened to and an article I read both were describing a movement to start small entrepreneurial efforts in third-world areas with very limited resources, similar to the micro-loan idea that won a Nobel prize recently. The idea is that it's better to give poor people choices in a marketplace, rather than a handout, because they can then have input into what they actually need and find useful. There are companies popping up that offer low-cost sources of clean air and energy, for example, in places like India.

Here are my own bushmen at a Missions baseball game earlier this fall. Why do they always make faces like this when I'm snapping their pic? Because they love me soooo much.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The miracle of our lives

Share with me in this miraculous moment, dear reader. Here you are, sitting someplace on Earth (I presume), having the time, the interest, the technological wherewithal, and the literacy level to read this blog post. Do you know just how lucky you are? You and I are both human (again, I presume!), sharing an advanced level of awareness and intense interest about our surroundings. And here we are together, sharing something in common, at least for this blink of time -- that unique communion of thought that the written word enables.

How blessed we are, living as humans in this modern age of amazing changes and invention! How fortunate we are to live in these times, when there is so much potential for human creativity to solve global problems. The life expectancy keeps going up; immunizations have vanquished many terrible illnesses; technology and its capabilities are exploding, as are scientific discoveries; and the world has become much more globally aware than ever before. There is potential for greatness here. I am choosing to emphasize the positive, the possibility for human accomplishment. Surely there are terrible problems to conquer, many of them created by humans, but not all. Tragedies will never end, because we will never be able to control or stop everything that causes human misery. But we can always control our attitude, so long as our mental faculties are intact.

Being aware that your life is a miracle, a great gift, is wonderfully motivating. It makes even the dullest-seeming moment just sparkle with energy. The ordinary problems of daily life are so unimportant when viewed from the perspective of the big scheme of things. The enormous energy of life-force is coursing through everything that lives.

So celebrate with me! A toast, to you, to me, to every person and every sentient being across the universe.
May the force be with you! Me and hubby at a Star Wars concert, before I cut off and donated my hair. Before I got a fair trade purse from Nepal, too. Let me know what small, wonderful miracles you have pulled off in your life.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Called to write

Sorry I've been gone so long! Working full-time is a lot of work, ha ha. 

I feel that part of my daily ministry is supposed to be to write. I don't know when I am supposed to do this in my life (perhaps in lieu of sleeping, such as now). But acknowledging the call is the first step, right?

I was talking with some "church" ladies tonight, and we were able to have a meaningful spiritual discussion, not always a sure thing when dealing with people who are Christian with a capital "C," if you know what I mean. I was able to share my witness to a couple of these women, that you can't distinguish between people based on what brand of faith they appear to have, if any. Jesus went out in search of people who were lost and needed help. He met them where they were, and his ministry was not to aid Christians. If anything, it was the opposite of that.He wasn't saving people for heaven, he was saving them from everything that was holding them back -- the life situations preventing them from living a full life and sharing that vitality with others. We shouldn't save ourselves for heaven, either.

Here are a few things I brought up for discussion once our ladies' group had dwindled to an intimate threesome tonight. Following God's direction seems to call for sacrifice. How much? Of what? To continue with this thought, does this mean we are supposed to sacrifice our own personal happiness, or simply selfishness -- and how do you let go of selfish desires but remain happy? What is a selfish desire, anyhow? Is my need to exercise daily a selfish desire? I feel the need to call on my friend Buddha to help here.

God seemingly demands so much, but perhaps it's not that hard. Maybe doing God's will means the attempt to have a daily walk side-by-side with God, present in the midst of every moment of life. How amazing it would be, for example, to go through an entire day and show every person compassion!

And now, for something completely different. If you have not seen "Dead Man Walking," I think it was a profoundly spiritual movie about the essence of humanity and deeply moving. It is about a young man who has participated in the brutal murder of a young couple, and who is on death row. Seemingly by chance, he writes to a nun begging for help in his appeals process, and she (Sister Helen Prejean) eventually becomes his spiritual adviser. This role eventually leads her to become one of the foremost advocates to abolish the death penalty, which she continues to this day.

The spiritual aspect of the movie was its resounding message that no act committed by a person bars them from the possibility for redemption, nor can it cast them out from the fellowship of humanity. Put another way, grace remains accessible to everyone, in all circumstances. It is never denied, not even to a person who has committed particularly heinous crimes.

One thing I appreciated about the movie was its relentless attempt to keep all perspectives in view and never to minimize the horror of the crime that this person on death row committed. It often returned to play out the crime in all its horror and inhumanity, so that terrible night was in full view throughout the movie, never to be forgotten. Just as the people who were murdered were dead, forevermore, never to be brought back, and also never to be forgotten.

Time for some pictures to break the monotony. Above, my new 'do and Andrew's cute picture of it! He wasn't standing on a chair, either. He did have the camera somewhat above his head, but also, he's getting tall!

 This is Austin and the youth praise band of our church, currently with the obscure name, "Being There." Don't ask, I don't know the story behind that name. There was a movie by that name featuring Peter Sellers as a mentally challenged individual who became president of the U.S. and fit right in. Not sure if there's a connection there.

Here's the band, with my other son front and center just below the stand, playing the marimba. (Austin is somewhere in the background, marching.) I am concerned that I am spelling the name of Andrew's instrument wrong. If so, mea culpa and forgive me.

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