Sunday, November 17, 2013

Riding the carousel of life

Pondering again how everything that lives now will die, and everything that lived before us, has died, and the constant flow of this process sweeps us all along relentlessly in this tide of life-to-death-to-life. Life springs from the fecund soil of dead things. If we are living, this is the bargain we all must keep -- we must die.

Why should I be able to keep this mortal life, this mixture of pain and pleasure, forever? Why should I be so cursed? Why should I be so lucky? Eons and ages of people and other creations of all types have had this same existence, for longer or shorter than I have, and all of them took their turn and bowed out. I suppose that the average lifecycle of all creation is so short, compared to the human lifespan. What an endless age we live, compared to a butterfly! The trees surpass us, what else? (My Google search says koi and turtles, and whales, too. Long-lived Antarctic sea sponges, anyone? Estimated maximum lifespan over 1,000 years)

I cannot linger or tarry when it is my time to go, nor could anyone else. And indeed there is a long line of humanity and all other forms of creation waiting to be born, waiting in an endless line that perhaps stretches over eternity. But to make room for all of them, each of us must take our turn and then leave. The earth cannot possibly support all of this abundant creation at the same time. It takes on a small fraction only. And with the flow of mortality, deaths breed births, breed deaths, cycling. We are here for a season only.

We have such a fleeting time to enjoy or to discover all the curses of life, and most of us find there is plenty of time to do both. Blessings and curses flow together, even seem to create one another.

So I ride round on this carousel of life, not knowing how many turns until the end. It seems I cannot appreciate the honey taste of my mortality on my tongue now. I must hope I will still have the lingering savor left over, after it is done.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

My favorite author of the moment

I am loving this murder mystery series I'm reading by Louise Penny. Not that I'm particularly a fan of that genre, it's just a framework for someone to write within. I started with "The Beautiful Mystery" which is actually Book 8 in a series, about a murder in a silent order of monks, listening on an audiobook, and fell in love.

Here is a link to the author: http://www.louisepenny.com/

The audio recording reminded me that the French pronunciation for one of the main characters, Jean Guy Beauvoir (these are French Canadians), is Jhongui Boh-vouah (soft J and rolled together). So hard to describe something phonetically in English from another language!

I am currently reading book #3, having backtracked to the beginning of the series and finished the first two. This one is called "The Cruelest Month." A reference to T.S. Eliot's line of verse that April is the cruelest month. I love the literary references!

But here is what I mainly love about the author: she is never afraid to speak of spiritual matters openly, be they ghosts or angels, or trees with souls, or haunted houses. She has unexplained encounters in each book that leave plenty of room for interpretation. Several of her characters have encountered angels, in the form of people, who tell them things the people couldn't possibly know. (So far, most of the characters have carried through all the books.) In Book 3, someone dies of fright (and is helped along) during a seance in a haunted house that is truly frightening.

This book features a Wiccan, and this character's religious beliefs and her "second sight," as well as her ostracism from the community, are treated with respect and sensitivity. The murders also have a spiritual dimension, both for the victim and the killer, that overshadows the earthly dimension. All this is in line with my own beliefs.

There are marvelous psychological insights into people, as well. The characteristics of the author's characters, so to speak, are so real. Here's yet another brilliant psychological concept she introduces in this book: The Near Enemy. As in two very similar looking emotional conditions that are actually opposites.

It takes a while to unpack this concept, but here goes. The examples she gives are these, spoken through Myrna, a huge black woman full of love and laughter who was a psychologist and now is a bookseller in a small village in Quebec province, Canada. Noble emotions to left, their near enemies to the right:

Compassion -- Pity
Love -- Attachment
Equanimity -- Indifference

I love all of these opposites, especially because how could anyone really know which emotion they are feeling?? You could be cleverly tricking yourself into thinking you were experiencing, and acting out, only the nobler emotions. But believe me, we carry the others as well. We all do. Everything goes in pairs. With the light, the shadow comes. If you can't see your shadow, then you are not ready to face the reality of who you are, and even your light is diminished.

Compassion and pity should be the easiest opposites to picture, and I believe they are nearly always paired. Pity is the near enemy because it ranks oneself higher in importance than the other, and objectifies the other. Compassion is a feeling of caring and concern among equals, a sense that the other person is in your place and you can also experience what they do (empathy). There but for the grace of God go I, says compassion. A truer statement was never said. I have experienced this truth in my own life a number of times, and every day I thank God for the grace that rescued me. Why others have not been rescued ----

Attachment is the near enemy of love because it is unhealthy clinging to a loved one, the refusal to really let that person be their own selves or to grow or change, the domination or bending of the other to meet one's own needs. Whereas love lets the other go and be, even if it results in suffering for the one who loves. Attachment also means you trap the other person in the box that is your opinion of them. Even with our closest loved ones, this happens. Ever have a, "There he/she goes again" moment with a loved one? How hard it is to allow others to change, and to see that change as a real part of them when you have your own preconceived ideas of who they are. Or as Myrna says, "Love wants the best for others. Attachment takes hostages."

In a murder case, the especially relevant twin emotions are equanimity and indifference. Equanimity, my Enneagram Type 4 virtue (what I should strive for), is the balancing of emotions and the resilience to rise above tragedy. Whereas indifference is demonstrated by psychopaths. On the surface, though, the emotional reaction is indistinguishable.

Pray for the people of the Philippines after the devastating super-typhoon.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Songs of innocence and experience

Despair tells me that the world is here to destroy innocence, youth, and finally life itself. Isn't that so? Look at what happens as you live. What's the end point to your life, to mine, for everyone?

Life is a ravenous beast that devours the young, the good, the innocent. Literally, oftentimes.

Faith tells me that's not the end. Faith had to be born to fight off despair and allow hope to remain, even against the odds. Even if it's not real.

Which is correct? How can they both be?

Tyger, did He who made the lamb make thee?

Something in me, wiser than the sum of my parts, knows that a complete truth embraces both the extremes, even if that's impossible to conceive of for our rational mind. There would not be a need for despair without all the abundance of hope, and love, even joy. Strange that it is so. One needs the other.

How can there be such great beauty in such a stern place as this world, a place that will obliterate your dreams? Either immediately, or slowly by force of erosion, your ideas of what you were here to do will all be washed away.

We were at the beach today and you can't deny the beauty there. It would make despair ache even worse, all that beauty just out of reach of the suffering mind. The vitality of the water, its soothing sound that almost can return us to the womb, it rocks us so with its endless energy. This is how eternity must sound. How it affects the landscape, which is so flat, worn down and worn smooth by the endless action of surf over years.

"Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth;" Luke 3:5

It was a perfect fall day, the second day after a cool front when the wind had died down and the high was in the mid-70s Fahrenheit.

There were many dead jellyfish and cabbage heads, we call them (unscientifically, I'm sure). Death, death, death ... in the middle of vibrant life! When we pulled up, just beside the spot we had chosen was a pile of trash spread across yards of beach that was breathtaking to see. Beer bottles and cans, liquor bottles, a dirty diaper (not perhaps from the same gathering), endless cigarette butts and food wrappers. It's disheartening that a small group of people can so defile the beach so quickly. I couldn't stand to leave it that way and carefully cleaned up most of it, though there was still broken glass strewn around.  Maybe we were drawn to that very spot so that the mess would not remain unchallenged.

If you spend your life trying to clean up the little messes around you and trying to love others, does that make the world any less of a murderous place for the body and soul, I wonder. Seems like not too many people are thinking of making the world less murderous. It's just its nature. There is no changing of nature.

Friday, October 25, 2013

In search of the Beloved

This feeling is so familiar. Searching for Chester ... though I know he is gone. Yet the mind cannot process that someone who was here, is now somewhere else. Where, exactly?

It was hardest when my Mom died. My mind endlessly wondered, where was Mom? Why can't I call her anymore? What about one last hug? Why is that one small request, even that, denied me? Maybe she was still here but somewhere I couldn't see, around the bend, the stranger who reminded me of her, just beyond my reach .... I remember looking out the window at our swing in the dark, cold evenings after she died, and hoping she wasn't somewhere out there, all alone. Was she in her garage at home (that home that used to be mine, too), smoking and reading, where she had been so often in life? I remember Dad joking that he always just thought of Mom as being "out in the garage" after she died. I'm sure it was a comfort to him.

Dad liked to find a convenient answer, to try to step aside from the suffering. All that suffering. I wish I had asked for more tips from him! I know he said, "Never look back, just keep moving forward." Very wise advice.

Whereas my approach is usually to dive in, till I am way over my head and drowning. Whenever I take on that load, again, it seems every time that it will kill me. How can I survive this much pain?

In the meantime, the mind seeks a rational answer. It never stops searching for the Beloved we have lost. It insists that someone who was alive could not now be dead. It's impossible!

In dreams, those who have died return to visit. Or maybe it is again our minds conjuring them up, bringing them back to that comforting physical form that we have so much trouble letting go of.

Buddhists speak of impermanence, constant change, the river flowing. But yet death seems like a big STOP sign. It seems to be simply the END. Could it be that our minds are missing something, that our perception is wrong? Where does my faith fit into this mystery?

So, when do I get to see Mom again and Dad, and Dwaine's parents, and my other relations who have died, and dear sweet Sandy, the best dog ever, and Honey, Backpack, Joy, Smokey, Bert the bird and Bert Jr., all those other pets from childhood, and the most recent, our young dearest kitten, Chester? When? Well, that's too long to bear. Says my rational mind. Thank God that it is often wrong.

Maybe this separation that seems so final, forever, is the actual illusion. Imagine if that is true, and our mind is deluded. The Kingdom of Heaven, here on earth! But how could that be? The mind is ever suspicious.

Funny, how laughter and crying are two halves of a whole and you cannot have one without the other. So I embrace this suffering, I rock it gently in my arms and let it flow out of me, so I can laugh again.

"The paths of the body are long, but the path of the spirit is short." I think this is an African quote from Nancy Farmer, "A Girl Named Disaster," a lovely book I need to re-read. But I couldn't dig up this quote from the Internet, so I am not sure. Here is a link to the author's website.

Thanks, this helped me and took away some of the pain.



Sunday, July 7, 2013

We all suffer together

Reading the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, better make sure I'm spelling her name right. Yes! There is another St. Thérèse of Lisieux, so I had to check to be sure.

She writes about being at her father's bedside during his final illness and that he suffered greatly from back pain at the end. She comforted him by saying that Our Lord, Christ, wanted him to share in some of the suffering that He experienced while carrying the cross. Later addition: I want to add the saint's words here directly, so I don't alter the meaning (translated from Spanish): "I said to him that, as he used to think so devoutly of the Lord carrying the Cross on His back, he must suppose His Majesty wished him to feel something of what He Himself had suffered under that trial. This comforted him so much that I do not think I ever heard him complain again."

 It could sound ludicrous, I suppose, to view this as a comfort; and yet it was of the greatest comfort and allowed him to bear his suffering. There is something about a burden shared that makes it so much more bearable.

And so I feel whenever I am afflicted with the pains of losing my children, and by the pain of seeing them not take care of themselves. I know that I am suffering alongside many others who have gone through this same time of trial. I'm not trying to be either a sadist, and wish on them the same pain as I have, nor a masochist, wanting to suffer as they have! It's simply the human condition to suffer at different times, and sometimes throughout life. Some people are given much greater suffering than others. There's plenty to go around, no doubt! There is no need to seek it out. It will be given to you in good measure, be assured.

We were talking to Dwaine's sister over July 4 and she spoke to us for the first time of how many times she cried her eyes out for her daughter, who had many problems when she was younger. I wasn't there to console her at that time, but she was able to console me by showing that she and her family made it through. They are certainly not a trouble-free family now, but at a happier place in their lives.

We never suffer alone. We don't live in a vacuum but are surrounded -- by what I can only describe, in religious terms, as "such a great cloud of witnesses" to help us through any struggle, be it great or small, or even of our own making (as so many of them are).

It's the opposite of "In space, no one can hear you scream!" That's just the feeling the small, lonely ego has, besides being great fodder for horror movies. Isn't it the greatest horror to imagine that you are, after all, completely alone and unloved?

The ego is damaged in this sense -- it has lost its connection to all of this divine creation surrounding us and must cling and grasp to various things, but the soul knows better than the ego does!

Why do I talk of suffering so often here? I guess I view our suffering as the foundation of our character and the way our spirits are refined.


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A deranged cardinal, and our deranged weather

We have a deranged cardinal that comes and spends most of the day, it seems, attacking its image in our bathroom window. I hear it in the mornings, the days that I sleep in past 7 (which is any day I don't have to get up for some reason!). Today it had its beak slightly open, ajar you could say. Not that it is a particularly hot day for South Texas in July; in fact, it was freakishly cool last night, and we had the windows open because it bottomed in the upper 60s. Never have we had the windows open overnight in July, ever before. The weather is something to behold; these mad changes coming from the Arctic circle, which seems to have lost its bearing and is spinning rather wildly out of control, shooting cool fronts down even to our place. What will happen next is anyone's guess. An article about the rapid weather changes and the Arctic's impact upon such, is here.

 The cardinal attacks the same window every day; I guess the light there makes its reflected image easier to see.

It is so obviously pointless, observing what this cardinal does. I wonder how much of our life is like the life of this cardinal, which seems so ludicrous? When we take up causes and take action to defend our points of view, are we a little like the cardinal, railing against its own image in the window?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Here for others

When I'm feeling down, when I'm feeling blue, it is a great consolation to remember that I am not here for myself! I am here to help others. Not just my family either, but all of creation.

That sounds so lofty, but helping is usually done in simple daily acts; how you live your life, even driving courteously on the road, sharing a laugh with the checkout person at HEB, and so on. It's easier and closer than it seems. (I tell myself)

I also believe that prayer and meditation bring positive energy to the world, as well. A world dearly in need of positive energy, love and compassion!

If this life were a selfish act and I was here for personal self-development or whatever, I'd be ready to trade in this rental body and go on to the next big thing. What I am experiencing should probably not be called pain or suffering, so much as the ennui of a modern American life. As busy as you want, but ultimately empty of deeper meaning; social isolation the norm. Our possessions cage us in and control our time. Enough whining about the good life! Life free from poverty, violence, disease, and natural disasters, in which there's plenty of room and time for me to ruminate about what is wrong with my blessed life.

I think I'm struggling with saying a sort of goodbye to my children (Austin moves into an apartment Aug. 15), and that my life has been too defined by them. Like a man who defines his life by his career and then retires, I'm drifting. I would love to plunge into more volunteer work (currently just helping with Funlympics a few hours a week, a great event you can read about here). However, I have a shortage of time, or more accurately, inconsistent amounts of time throughout the year. I've put out feelers to the Floresville hospital (no response) and other places for volunteer work, and nothing has come through yet. I met an amazing woman who does contemplative prayer as a prison ministry and invited me to do so, but it's not at a good time for me.

I'm sure God will put something in my path, and I will keep my eyes open and hopefully my heart, too.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Who do you say I am?

I want to thank everyone I work with and go to church with, and socialize with, because they help me behave like a normal human being even when I think I am experiencing devastating emotional turmoil!! They expect me to show up as a person completely in control and in command of my faculties, and I cannot disappoint them. Being around them, in person, works. What doesn't work is being on Facebook or any type of virtual connection, because people can't see the expression on your face or how puffy your eyes may be from crying, when you are online. They don't know if you never got dressed or out of bed this morning, etc.

This morning, I woke up after a particularly difficult night (Austin didn't come home, and I never sleep well when I'm not sure where he is or what he's doing). I remember being awake in the middle of the night in what felt like a full-blown anxiety attack, feeling on the verge of a heart attack or something, my blood pressure no doubt skyrocketing and my pulse racing. Everything feels that bad in the night; every night has the potential to be a dark night of the soul for me, though not all of them are. So, I wake up in no fit state to do anything, but I do drag myself to church with Dwaine and Andrew (the dragging being more literal in Andrew's case, lately), because that's what we do of a Sunday morning. Plus I am liturgist this morning, so I have to actually stand up and do a tiny piece of the service.

My family gets to hear zero out of me on the way to church, not one word, because I am cocooned in my own personal misery and heartache. I also rush my husband, who is habitually the last one out the door of a morning, which can cause us to run late. But thank God for all the people at church, because they all lovingly greet me and -- surprise! -- they want me, expect me, to be concerned and interested in them, in all their problems! It is hard to be concerned for someone else when you feel buried under the rubble of your own emotional wasteland.

Anyhow, I was definitely doing better by the end of the service (though periodically teary-eyed throughout), and by brunch, I felt actually human again. I had a good conversation with Lou R. about his ailing wife and his adolescent daughter; heard about poor Bill G. who has a severe infection (complications of diabetes) that has gone untreated too long, and now is facing a major surgery to amputate a toe; we said goodbye to our wonderful, semi-retired interim pastor; and are preparing to say hello to a new pastor next week. In the Methodist church, what that translates to is FOOD, and lots of it. We had a brunch today and will have a lunch next week.

This afternoon, just because the Lord does love to pile it on, I also attended our wrap-up session of Companions in Christ, where we got to share around the room just what we thought of every person there, and name each one's spiritual gifts. We quickly discovered that in this regard, it is much easier to give than to receive! I only broke down one time, when Shelley named prophecy as a gift of mine (i.e., speaking the words of God). This is a gift I claim, but it's not an easy one to have and it is completely beyond my power to control it.

Back to the panic attack for a moment. I know the description sounds perhaps almost clinical, i.e. needing medical attention of some sort, but seeing a doc would mean I'd have to give up my drug of choice, which is caffeine. No way! I need that hit like a heroin addict needs it, so I am willing to accept the side effects, which do not happen often enough to disrupt my life completely. Sounds like a rationalization, and it is. Which reminds me of a lovely Buddhist story that James Finley told us last week. The water buffalo (a favorite animal in Buddhist tales, apparently) is enlightened enough to pass through a lattice window. It is so enlightened that it passes through effortlessly, with not even the lattices blocking the path -- until it gets to its tail, and gets stuck. We all have that part, our tails, that most vulnerable and broken part, where we get stuck.

I get tired of being an emotionally overwrought Enneagram Type 4. Oh, and if you think I'm tired of it, you should talk to my family, especially my teenage boys! Ay-yih-yih. As this link describes,

Expressive, Dramatic, Self-Absorbed, and Temperamental


Yup, that's me! I thought I was so over that, back in my 20s ... or 30s ... now past the midway point and on the downhill slide from 40s, and that is still how I am, at the core. Way too many tempests in a teapot still happening here. What would ever happen if I had to face a real crisis?

What helps me now, and is a new revelation to me, is that I am a tool in God's hands, and I have important Godly work to do here on earth. I can't just dissolve in misery about my petty little problems (70% of which are self-created), because I have meaningful work to do that will be of real help to other people. I haven't always let my light, and my gifts, shine as brightly as they should. I still don't quite trust in God, that God really loves me and forgives me. But I'm getting closer. The tail may yet come unstuck, one day, and I can see the potential for Buddha-hood or being Christlike. Not just in myself, but in everyone else, too. Hallelujah!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Contemplative prayer

I attended three evening speeches given by James Finley at the Oblate School of Theology during their Summer Institute this past week. The topic of the institute was the currently trending theme, Mysticism. Finley was a novitiate (I believe that is the right term) under the Trappist monk and prolific writer (and defender of the contemplative spiritual path), Thomas Merton -- Merton, the great -- in the early 1960s. Merton, at the end of his life, was exploring Buddhism and Eastern spirituality, and finding much common ground with a certain, mystical flavor of Christianity. (By the way, yes, even people going to these great spiritual workshops were watching the Spurs Tuesday as soon as the talk ended at 8:30!)

I was deeply touched by the experience of attending these sessions (with more than 400 others present each night), particularly night 2, which reached deeply into suffering (an apropos topic for me, always). But also, night 3, when Finley's final words addressed the ongoing suffering of the world around us, and that we are called to end it. A monumental task, yet what's that saying? All things are possible with God.

I felt like I made a new best friend in a sense, this James Finley, and through him, was re-introduced to my great friend Merton, and we will meet again in some mysterious way that I cannot explain. Have met, are meeting, will meet; it's an eternal get-together in the ever present Kingdom, that amazing and mysterious Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus constantly speaks of. "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done," notice all present tense, happening even as I write this in the here and now.

A couple of weeks before these talks, a friend from my Companions in Christ group loaned me a book by Merton, "Contemplative Prayer." I love the synchronicity of it.

I am still plodding along with contemplative prayer. This is the stage I've reached: not sure which of the seven mansions of Theresa of Avila this would be, but I got to the stage where I could relax deeply enough to drowse off during the 15-20 minute session. That's great and doubtless a deep spiritual accomplishment, except that the point of contemplative prayer is NOT to be sleeping, but to be in a deep communion with God, which I couldn't necessarily attest to when my head was bobbing down and jerking back up in that state of pre-sleep. (My son Andrew asked if anyone else in my contemplative prayer group noticed I was falling asleep. I said, no! Everyone else has their eyes closed, too, or they should have their eyes closed; I personally have never peeked around to check. The only one we notice is Victor, down at the end of the table, who snores.)

So I have decided to keep my eyes open but cast downward and not particularly focused on anything, and see how that goes for a while. This is not in strictest conformity with the rules of Father Keating, but you know the trouble I have following all the rules about anything.

I cannot speak for how anyone else can deepen their relationship with God through contemplative prayer, but I can describe my own experiences and what has helped me. I do like to discuss the experience of this form of prayer, though it's rather flying in the face of the whole non-intellectual approach, the call to abandon mind, thoughts, analysis, etc. The minute you open your mouth to speak, you are once again squarely in your rational, thinking mind. True enough. But even the rational mind has some useful observations about the practice, blind as it may be to the actual great hookup with the Big Guy.

So, I speak. Making gentle and progressive changes seems to be more effective than trying to force anything with this prayer. Also, I am trying to become gradually more remote from my thought processes, so I can watch the mind at work without becoming that thought process. Quite a delicate dance it is, as I endlessly captivate myself with another "devout" insight, only to have to let it go and withdraw back to my silent communion with God. As Father Keating says, we are not to follow our thoughts, even our most splendid, holy and enlightened thoughts, during this period of time. That's what we do through most of our day, so it is what we need not do during contemplative prayer.

The core of mysticism, as I grasp it, is that God cannot be completely known through the intellect, great as it is for other things. In fact, it is the mind itself that prevents a full immersion in the divine spirit. The mind, and the ego, are terrified of being overcome. Where would the self be without them? Lost, in empty space and nothingness -- yet in that new beginning, a fertile ground for God's work.

I've been feeling the conviction that my loved ones, in particular Dad (the most recent to pass), are not "gone" in the way our body feels the loss. Yes, we can no longer perceive of them in any of the usual ways, cannot see them at work in the world anymore, cannot speak with them or give them a hug. (Losing these small habitual acts grieved me so much with my Mom's death.)

But there is some imprint, there is something, that I notice with a sense deeper than my mere body. It's a Dad-ness in certain moments, or knowing what Dad would say, or how he would feel about something, or being aware of the lightest touch of his presence. This could be a mental trick, much the way many people say that God is a mental trick! To ease the suffering, we delude ourselves. Perhaps. I don't think I could prove to you either way where God or my Dad are, or whether they are, anymore. But I know what I know, and thank God I know it, and I wish you could as well.

I don't think our loved ones (who have passed) want us to grieve so deeply, to give ourselves scars with the depths of our mourning. I think they send so much love to us, and they want to send comfort too, but it is hard to cross the divide between the living and the dead. Even the word "dead" sounds wrong to my ears, a human convention for something we don't understand and cannot describe. Dead is not the right description. As usual, this human word is a perversion of the underlying reality of the situation.  Instead, what we call death is a transition, from this realm, to another that I am convinced is more real in many ways.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Seeing Dad again, in a dream

I saw Dad last night, in a dream. A different dad than I knew in life. What I remember is a fragment, but I'll tell it to you.

There were two homemade videos he had made, that I discovered (this is the dream narrative). Each one was of him, around my age (I would say "young" but middle-aged is more technically accurate). He was with a different woman in each video, courting and flirting with her in a beautiful outdoor setting (one setting was a natural pool of water). This happened in a dimension where Mom was not around or in the picture, so to speak.

Dad was thin and good looking, and had a lot more hair than he would have in real life. I was able to get into one of the videos and meet him there. I went up to him and grasped both his hands, then he was leading me up some stairs, again outside. The first thing I told him was that Cynthia and I missed him so much, and I was crying as I said it. But the next minute, I was laughing as we reminisced about some funny thing Dad had said or done. He has such a great sense of humor.

Dad was vibrantly alive in this place, this Eden, so to speak. His Garden of Eden would have to involve having a beautiful woman beside him! And it wouldn't be Mom or Han either, I am sure.

Friday, June 14, 2013

How my blog was nearly stolen

This is a little embarrassing. I typed in the wrong domain name for my blog Website and came up with someone else's -- remarkably similar to mine, about spiritual journeys and such. For a moment I thought, someone's stolen my blog!! Then I remembered my website name was different and breathed a sigh of relief. That was a close one. If you never hear from me again, that means I've forgotten my blog location for good! Feel free to steal away at that point, but only if you're a decent writer on all things spiritual and can continue in the fine tradition I started.

I live in fear that all my well-thought-out and highly complex, strong passwords to log into all my web addresses (FB, LinkedIn, email, bank, 401K, insurance, etc.) will be wiped out in some disaster. You see, I have gotten so creative in the naming of passwords that I can't remember a thing about most of them. I rely on certain methods that I cannot disclose here (I don't want any government agencies getting hold of my methods and hacking into all my sites, after all) that are not entirely foolproof. At work, I am required to change my email password every 60 days, which I hate. After all, it requires the effort of thinking of a brand-new, strong (i.e. hard to commit to memory) password and then remembering it! The amount of creative effort in generating a new password so often is just daunting. Yes, there are websites that promise to generate and store passwords for you, but I don't trust them. Another NSA (or could it be IRS? SSA? etc.) trick to gain access to our private information!

I'm being tongue in cheek about the whole governmental spying thing. At this point in my life, I am much more concerned about finding terrorists than I am about bungled government spy programs. Maybe the fact patterns will change as new information emerges, and I will feel differently in the future, but that is where I am now. It's interesting to try to figure out where conservatives and liberals stand on the whole lack of privacy issue. My opinion is we surrendered our privacy when we equipped all our electronic devices with smart technology like GPS. To me, there's just not much difference between a private company having all that data and the U.S. government.

I also can't understand why conservatives think it is perfectly OK to legislate bedroom behavior or a woman's reproductive decisions, if they also believe it's not OK for the government to have access to phone and email activity of citizens.

But that's not what brought me here today. I have been in the throes of judging my adequacy as a parent, now that my children are nearly grown and it feels too late to fix any mistakes I have made! (Yeah, oh now I decide we should have been much stricter with the 19-year-old who will move out in August. How's that working out?)

I don't have many memories of my childhood, and I think partly that was a protective reaction. My parents fought often and loudly, and it was frightening and traumatic to me. It was almost like this was an old, bad habit they developed -- their only way to relate to each other was by fighting. Mom would find something to belittle Dad about, and would keep on and on, trying to get a reaction from him, until he would explode (though sometimes he would sit back and take the abuse, and that was perhaps worse.) My home rarely felt like a safe place to me. I know my parents loved me, and in some ways they even loved each other, but that is how I reacted, the particular sensitive soul that I am. Another child would have felt differently. Now my parents are both dead (my Dad since last November), and that is part of the processing that is also occurring in my life. They are gone now. I forgive them both, and love them both more than ever. So now I can say some things about my experiences living with them, speaking from my current adult perspective, without having the same level of emotional pain and blame that once existed.

Here's one little thing I remember. (Sister, this may be too hard for you to read, so skip this paragraph.) A few little details, but I think they say a lot about the nature of the home environment when I was a child. We had a dog who, I believe, was named Mitzi. I never was responsible for taking care of her, or if I was, no one particularly enforced it or made sure I did take care of her. I remember one time, discovering that her food (which was canned, at least that time) had maggots in it. That's how long it had been sitting out. The thought, now, makes me so very sad. My mom got rid of Mitzi -- either took her to the pound, or gave her away -- and it took me a few days (or longer) to notice and ask where she was. That makes me sad, too.

Here's the point of that one little sad story in a sea of much worse stories that play out all around us, every day. If I have taught my children nothing else, I have taught them how to take care of a pet properly. I drilled it into them that our dog and cat, as well as parakeet, must be fed and given fresh water every single day, that our pets can't do this for themselves, and their very lives depend on it. They are helpless and at our mercy. (The dog and parakeet, anyhow; Cassius just pretends to rely on the food we give him.)

This one thing, I did well. (Of course, it's not the only thing.) I think by extension, I taught my children something about love in action. Love, without action, is no love at all. It's such a small and seemingly insignificant act, to teach the proper care of pets. And yet, and yet ... if everyone had been taught the proper care of all creation, how much better a place the world could be. It starts at home, though it certainly should not end there.

The painful places in my life need to come up and be expressed, or they corrode my soul. I hope that my writings can help others, even one other person, as well.

Should I share the story idea I had? Or is it so good that someone trolling through blogs will snatch it up and make it their own? (I should be so lucky that someone would save me the hard work of actually writing a decent story) Here's the story line. It's actually about you. Say your life has been wonderful, productive, and you are a caring and compassionate person, working on self-improvement and helping others. Except ... for that one terrible thing you did. You know what I'm talking about. It sometimes keeps you up at night. It happened years ago, yet it stays with you, a drag on all your subsequent efforts. It actually is haunting you, a ghost that you cannot purge. During the day, it's fine and you can keep yourself together. There's a gloss of normalcy over your life, but underneath there is this area that seems to be rotting you away, from the inside out. Can you ever really consider yourself a good person, after all, or does that one event define you, forever? Does it create so much bad karma that no subsequent efforts on your part can ever make up for it, and the world would have been better off without you? How do you ever know?

I am speaking of something similar to Paul's "thorn" which is endlessly fascinating, because we don't know what it was. It is also universal. We all have that thorn, that place of sin and regret. Some have a larger one (or more noticeable) than others, for sure. But examine your life, and you will find a tender place where it hurts when you poke around, where you feel that you've been an utter failure, or worse, done something that was actually evil. It's not hard to do something really bad, in the heat of the moment. I am one who believes for sure, "There but for the grace of God go I." I believe that as human beings, we are all capable of atrocities under the right circumstances. The world is full of examples of decent, upright people who did unspeakable things to others, because of the moment they found themselves in. What happens to these people after that, for the rest of their lives? Do they continue to justify that horrendous act or acts? Is there any way to actually atone for a wicked action?

There it is. Send me the full story as soon as you finish it! You can put my name in the acknowledgements, or maybe dedicate it to me.

Monday, May 20, 2013

That's a Fail

I think this was an expression of Austin's favorite high school teacher. He was a big UT Austin fan, and when  (my son) Austin said he wanted to go to A&M, that was his reply!

"That's a Fail" as it applies to my life: Struggling with feelings of failure that come and go, as I watch my children veer off in strange directions that I swear I never sent them. Not sure if they have any moral character to speak of, not sure what they will do in their lives. They spend far too much time on video games and computers. They are teenage boys, taking too many risks for my comfort. Austin withdrew from two classes last semester and wasn't even classified a full-time student. (Still pulled out B's in intermediate science classes, could have done better but was more interested in having a full social life)

The only label I have completely embraced in life is that of "mother." Not that I was ever a particularly good one! If I could only have one official title, besides sentient being, I guess it would be that one. That was my most important task in life. In my mind, anyhow. It was my starring role in this drama, my life.

I still try to love my children, first and foremost, no matter what I may think of them at any given moment; to love, before judgment, before discipline, before anything else gets in the way.

This breath prayer has become my favorite these days: "Holy Mary, Mother of God." The mercy, grace and compassion, and the beauty and lyrical quality of these few words, are soothing to me.

I must let go of preconceived notions or pre-judgments of my children. They are growing into and becoming, all the time. We all are growing into ourselves and becoming, and it's easy to forget that and stick people into boxes instead. Particularly children and adolescents do not remain the same.

Odd, how my own identity is so tied up in that of my children. That is why I feel my universe shifting, scattering, shattering. It's not a pleasant sensation. Maybe it would have been better to have more children! Less appalling if one was a dud, could focus on the rest of them.

My "Companions in Christ" group met again after what seemed like a long hiatus (the last time was end of tax season, when I couldn't go anyhow). We discussed vocation, which has always been a cursed word to me, and wound up with a meditation on the burning bush. (The idea being that Moses was introduced to his Godly calling, saving God's people in Egypt, via that encounter.)

What burning bushes had we encountered in our lives, we were asked. I'm still sorting out the answers to that one. Maybe most of us don't ever see any -- this would be due to our own blindness, not to the absence of miracles or the absence of the divine presence!

The burning bushes that sprang to my mind from my life were of a different sort entirely than Moses's. They even surprised me because they seemed completely banal, yet they changed the direction of my life forever. The two I wrote were, first, the birth and raising of my children; and, second, taking care of my father for roughly a year and a half. Of course, other events were also of great significance -- marrying Dwaine -- maybe they did not transform me as completely, and that's why they did not make the list.

These experiences are near-universal, but hardly the stuff of epic Biblical narratives, or at least it seems that way. Also, they don't extend beyond my own personal family to larger human concerns.

Because I first took care of my children, I could care for the children of others. Because I first helped my father, I have so much more understanding of helping someone who is older and living with a chronic illness. Other experiences paved the way to these. My mother-in-law lived with us for a short time when she had terminal cancer.

Once again, in my Companions class I felt inadequate, and that feeling of failure loomed large. To think that my grand "burning bushes" did not even extend outside my immediate family! In our class, we have amazing people who have done great things in their lives and are examples of lives of service. The pastor and his wife. Several teachers, one of whom went off to a wilderness camp with troubled boys and helped them at great personal sacrifice (and was beat up while there). A woman who has been a pillar of the church and has served in every way imaginable there. Then there's me. (Can't even raise my own children right, yadda yadda)

Another depressing item in my life is that I am still processing the death of my father. Tax season was so busy that grief had to wait, it seems. The sadness kind of all swirls together till I can't remember what I am crying about anymore. It comes and goes.

This is what has been on my mind since I've had time to think of these things. If you read all the way, thanks for "listening."

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Lance Armstrong and our heroes

Did we really all believe, once the facts came to light, that everyone else was doping -- but not Lance Armstrong? Do we demand that level of inhumanity of our heroes?

Apparently, we do. Maybe the culture of doping that has pervaded a number of sports will have trouble surviving, now that it has come to light. But let's not pretend to be shocked about it. I'm not sure why it is front-page news. Like the extramarital affairs of our statesmen (and mostly they are men), these failures are indications that no one has yet attained perfection on this planet. Not even our most treasured heroes.

In my book, Lance Armstrong is still a great man.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Prayer, and the rest of life

Reading "Open Mind, Open Heart" by Thomas Keating about centering prayer. As a joke (but also because they knew I'd enjoy it), my family also got me a book called "Open Heart, Open Mind" by a Tibetan Buddhist lama, a Rinpoche. Now I can't keep the titles of the two straight!

To foster my relationship with Dwaine, I am going to try to give him a backrub/massage more often. They say that touch is an important way for couples to stay intimate, and he does love massages. I love exercise, and now that I am entering the busy tax season, I won't have much time to go to the gym, so I have to get creative about such things. Giving a massage can be a good upper-body workout. (In the interest of modesty, I won't mention the other things couples can do together that involve touch and a good workout.)

I love the grand gestures, the big achievements that some people make in life. I just haven't had any such things happening in my little mundane corner of the world. I am trying to take to heart Mother Theresa's famous saying, "We can do no great things, only small things with great love."

I do think that attitude and belief are more important than I've suspected. A good attitude is the cornerstone of a life well lived.

Can you tell I'm tired? I wanted to come here anyway, but I'm dragging.

I am finding centering prayer to be more important in my life now, as much as exercise. I do believe that we are all part of a large super-organism, and I can extend my feelings somewhat and reach out into the universe while in this prayer. The prayer is meant to go deeper than our thoughts, as mystics believe that God cannot be directly accessed simply with the thinking mind, and is impossible to fully comprehend except in glimmers during our lifetime.

We had a family crisis earlier this week -- a fight, involving our college-age son, resulting in his being away from home (he still lives at home) overnight.

Fortunately for all of us, Austin came back home the next evening. He walked in, hugged me and his dad, and apologized to us both in a very sincere and touching way. I can never decide if Austin is becoming a fine young man, or if he's a really great politician (a bit of both, I suspect). He really has a flair for arranging circumstances in the most self-flattering of ways. I admit, it will take him far in life! It's a great combination of native talent, intelligence, some hard work (enough to get him all A's his first college semester!! Yay!), humor, and BS, all cleverly worked in the mix. You almost don't mind the fabrications, because there's so much else there to admire. Reminds me of Bill Clinton! (Lance Armstrong, anyone?)

Recently, we discovered that Austin's trombone was missing (the one he stopped playing midway through his senior year of high school, so in December 2011). I suspected right away what might have happened, but texted him to see if my hunch was correct. Here's how that went:

"Where's your trombone?"

"What trombone?"

(I explain, THE trombone, the only one we have, that he played throughout middle school and high school, etc. etc. The trombone, as a musical instrument, is no wallflower. It sticks out, literally. It takes up a noticeable amount of space. Yet Austin is implying a trombone could just -- I don't know, wander off? Get lost?)

His next text after this interchange is, "It was sold."
Notice the succinct, third-person approach here. Austin is reporting this in the most impersonal way possible,  as an immutable, long-ago fact, hoping I don't pick up on the fact that neither my husband or I were involved in or knew anything about this sale.

Turns out Austin, ever the entrepreneur (and then some), sold the trombone we purchased for him for some quick cash, which like all other cash once in his possession, was quickly spent. I do wonder if he has some other business enterprises on the side of which we are not aware; it's quite possible. Always, I carry a little nightmare image of a day the authorities come calling ...

On the whole, I think both my boys will turn into fine young men (THINK POSITIVE). Andrew was completely unfazed by the huge family drama, which by the way, hardly ever happens here. He said, Oh Mom, that happens in every family. In fact, Andrew happened to be at a friend's house not long ago and witnessed a huge fight between his friend and his friend's dad, likely along the same lines as our fight. Luckily, no one warned me that the teenage years would be so rough! Kind of like childbirth -- don't tell me, there's nothing I can do to avoid it anyway, so I don't want to know until I have to experience it myself.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Going under

I was under a brief anesthesia this morning to undergo an upper endoscopy (sure enough, I have esophagitis and really should be taking those PPI medicines I love to hate; and, yes, I will start taking them again).

When I came up out of it, I was crying about losing Dad. The nurse explained that going under brings out whatever emotions are there and they rise to the surface. I think it was therapeutic to have free -- unrestrained -- access to that part of me that is grieving and allow it to express itself. It's hard to do that in the midst of ordinary life.

I had a sad dream last night that also came to mind when I woke up from the anesthesia. We had another funeral for Mom. She was in some kind of public accident that attracted a lot of attention, so there were all these people wandering around and at her funeral, which made it harder. Almost like we had to have the funeral for them, because it was expected. I was trying to get a glimpse of her in the casket, from a distance -- it had been so long since I'd seen her. Later, she was on display wearing a wedding gown and lying, as if unconscious, arms splayed, upon some propped-up, satin-covered area near the altar. This was sort of a symbolic representation of Mom, fuzzy on the details except for what she was wearing. She was much younger, pretty, I guess she would have looked more like me and my sister than her older self.

Chris Parma escorted me in and was talking with me, and had his arm around me, and at some point it dawned on me how odd it was that I wasn't sitting with Dwaine. So we went together over to Dwaine, and he and Chris started chatting and laughing, making small talk, and I was wondering how they could do that in the middle of a funeral! (How do people keep on living normal lives even in the midst of all this grief and loss?)

I went into the audience, where my sister was sitting, wearing some orange-ish dredlocks and a hippie-ish outfit. (I didn't see my kids or her husband in this dream.) We embraced, crying together, and she was still sick, because this had just happened, and she is right now recovering from the flu! When I touched her, she was hot with fever. Yet she had to fly down, just 7 weeks or so after Dad had died, to do it all over again for this funeral. I felt so bad for her.

Certainly, Dad's death has brought up everything from the time of Mom's passing away in 1999. It's fresh again, as well. Like we are saying goodbye to both parents at once. That is what grief does. It's timeless.

My spiritual guide says that our grief accumulates if it hasn't been expressed well, and gets worse or more difficult to cope with if it hasn't been handled from past losses. However, I feel like I was so much better prepared for Dad's death, in a spiritual sense, than for Mom's. With Dad, I saw it coming long ago. I guess that is the gift that a chronic illness brings, is a little bit of perspective on mortality. You can never really be prepared for the death of a loved one, but you can see the signs when they have been so sick and you can start to take it into your reality, a little bit, that they won't be around forever.

For me, Mom's passing was so terrible. It rocked my world for about a year, and I think I suffered PTSD because of seeing her dying in an awful way in the ICU. But all that trouble and pain made it so much more bearable, the second time. I could almost see this as a natural process, this human lifecycle, though it is really hard to bring that kind of awareness to the deathbed. Just as Dad, Cynthia, and I were there when Mom passed, even more of us were there for Dad's passing -- Cynthia and I, both our husbands, and Han, Dad's wife. Even the pastor from their Chinese Methodist Church came in, just after the nurse had removed the ventilator, at a crucial moment to pray with us all. I received that as a great blessing in a time of crisis.

My husband just came in and told me that I shouldn't be blogging the same day I was under anesthesia! Beforehand, the nurses and anesthesiologist and I were joking about where the cutoff lies for acceptable and unacceptable activities. No driving or operating heavy machinery -- one nurse interjected that she always tells patients, no horseback or motorcycle riding, either! I asked if I could go work out afterwards (in jest, believe me), and one nurse said it would be OK, whereupon the other nurse started arguing -- why wouldn't working out be just as hazardous as the banned activities? Just to be safe, I went home and took a long nap, instead.

Obviously, no legal decisions right after anesthesia ("don't sign any paperwork") and according to my husband, no ranting and raving on my blog! Oh, well. It's better than the patient who ordered vast quantities of Chinese food to be delivered to his house, when left alone by his unsuspecting wife! Or the nurse who told me he was doing some online transactions while on some "good" meds, and you know the screen where it says, only hit this button once to complete the transaction? Well, it really means that! He had so many duplicate charges that he had to cancel later. So, we're good here. Signing off as just a little loopy today --

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Life, as I know it

It would be easier, I think, if I came here more often and posted just a small amount. But prepare for another brain dump! Or would it be more accurate to say soul dump?

My view of life, and death, was again confirmed by a new NDE (Near-Death Experience) book I read called "Proof of Heaven" by a neurosurgeon, Dr. Eben Alexander. By the way, Austin got this book for me for Christmas. I had requested "The Life of Pi," and he forgot which book and got this one instead. (A coincidence, in which God chooses to remain anonymous, as my friend Karen says. Or as Carl Jung would say, there are no coincidences, after all.)

Alexander's experience follows the quantum physics line that we are all interconnected with the entire universe, and are not separate beings at all. Our lives, as we perceive them, are illusory. Like a really gripping movie, we forget that this life is not "reality." Founders of great religions and philosophers have struggled to put this concept into human language and stuff it into the constrictions of human biology-based thought.

One of my newer practices is centering prayer, which involves no intentional thinking at all, but simply being in the presence of the creator. It seems that thoughts, after all, do get in the way of deeper understanding.

Alexander spoke of coming back and having to don his mortal frame once again, and realizing just how confining it is -- the 5 senses, the dull brain, obscuring the brilliance, the love, and simultaneous awareness he experienced outside of those boundaries.

And yet, I have trouble letting go of the dual nature of reality, or binding it together. Having seen my father drawing his last breaths, it's so hard to reconcile physical death with this greater spiritual realm. It is a struggle. I believe, help my unbelief!

Alexander struggled with reconciling his scientific skepticism with this newfound vision of reality. Unfortunately, science has become so self-important that it seems to have forgotten that it is limited -- crippled, really -- by the fact that every observation must be filtered through the perceptions of the scientists. As quantum physics shows, the observer cannot be disentangled from the observed phenomenon, and influences its outcome. Science has become the new religion in western society, the new dogma that everyone must believe or be wrong.

By the way, Alexander eschews all religious dogma. God ("Om" is the sound he recalls for God, a suspiciously Buddhist-sounding intonation!) is so far beyond the human boundaries of religion. And it's silly, isn't it, to try to appropriate God as the special savior of just one type of human being -- the Jews, or those who claim Jesus as their savior, etc. What about all the rest of creation?

I relate to Alexander's worldview, as someone who was skeptical of those things that could not be empirically explained and who was not a practitioner of any religion.

Here's another philosophical issue to ponder: belief vs. reality. It doesn't matter what I, or anyone else, believes, does it? What matters is reality. Do our beliefs influence our reality, then? In that case, our beliefs could matter -- a lot. Today, Austin showed me an article on the holographic nature of our perceived reality. It hypothesized (I think) that our attitudes influence our reality, which isn't so "real" as we would think. Our thoughts weave into our reality and become our outcomes, according to this little mind-blowing bit of pseudo-science. Possible.

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