Saturday, December 26, 2015

Admit something . . . .

Admit something:
Everyone you see, you say to them, "Love me."

Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise
someone would call the authorities.

Still, think about this, this great pull in us to

Why not become the one who lives with a
full moon in each eye that is
always saying,

with that sweet moon language,
what every other eye in
 this world is
dying to

~ Hafiz, Ladinsky

The best thing about Christmas:  I had all day to lounge around and read Hafiz.  And since this is a Full Moon Christamas, each poem, and there are several of his, that had a moon reference reminded me of the fact that the last time the moon was full on Christmas I was twenty-one years old.  It occured two days before I met my future husband, the father of my beautiful children who are now adults.  That was thirty-eight years ago.

I did not realize until today that I have some expectation that this Full Moon Christmas will herald something amazing and wonderful coming into my life again, just like after the last Full Moon Christmas.

It's hard for me to comprehend why I have this expectation.  In the last thirty-eight years much has changed in how I see and understand the world and my life.  I don't believe that all things happen for a reason.  And because I don't believe in a God anymore, the old addage of God not giving us more than we can handle is meaningless.  I know there is no magical place where we all re-gather, recognizable as the people we are now, after we die.  

Yet, here I am, open to a new awakening in what has become a tedious life.  If this Full Moon Christmas is a portal, let something wondrous come through, with all concomitant props. We'll see how my fifty-nine year old science positive, justice seeking, and self loving person welcomes and makes room for amazig and wonderful.  

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Winter Solstice Metaphor.

There are no salmon in the river pictured above.  It's a creek that flows through Ames, Iowa.  No salmon ever.  Yet, somehow this Mary Oliver poem seems as if it was written specifically for me. Often I am confused about which is a better fit for me - power or powerlessness?  It is hard for me to know if I am the dark force swallowing the light, or the light that has been consumed.  Does it even matter?

Into the River
                    ~ Mary Oliver

I have seen the great fee
into the river

and I havev seen moonlight
along the long muzzle

and I have seen the body
of something
scaled and wonderful

slumped in the sudden fire of its mouth,
and I could not tell
which fit me

more comfortably, the power,
or the powerlessness;
neither would have me

entirely; I was divided,
by sympathy,

pity, admiration.
After a while
it was done,

the fish had vanished, the bear
lumped away
to the green shore

and into the trees.  And there there was only
this story.
It followed me home

and entered my house -
a difficult guest
with a single tune

which it hums all day and through the night -
slowly or briskly,
it doesn't matter,

it sounds like a river leaping and falling;
it sounds like a body
falling apart.

You're Not Helping . . .

BrenĂ© Brown on Empathy - Click for 2 minute video

A few years ago a brilliant young woman introduced me to the fabulous Brene Brown video on empathy.  This young woman, Julia, was working under my direction with a high school youth group. One day she came to me and asked, "Do you think they'll get this?"

I was surprised that she thought they needed this video.  I inquired if something had happened to one of the students or in their larger community.  She just said, "No.  But they use what they perceive as their peers' heavy experiences to deflect matters that are part of everyday life.  It's like they want to acknowledge that their friends have experienced sadness or disappointment or trauma, but they want to deflect the emotions because, I think, it triggers their own sad or heavy unprocessed emotions and experiences."

"Yeah," I said.  "Show it."  She bounded out of my office and I sat down to google the video and watch it again.  "This is great," I said to myself as I pressed play and then re-play.  I'm going to use this someday . . .

That day is here.

To all my friends and acquaintances who greet me with "You look exhausted."  Or who respond to me when I decline an invite because I have to work by telling me "Oh no.  You work so hard!  What a saint." To everyone who says, "I could never do what you do.  Or they do."  I would like to tell you, "You're not helping. . ." By talking about these problems like they have nothing to do with you disenfranchises those who have, either by choice or chance, opened themselves to let us know about their pain.

But, you are right, I do work hard.  I do become intimately involved in situations where people have suffered trauma and pain.  So do you.  We have all experienced brokenness, pain, sadness, and being treated badly.  Some experiences are delivered to us suddenly with a lot of physical pain and nameable trauma, causing us to fear for our life in that moment.  But for most of us, experiences that create hurt and brokenness are delivered in small, confusing doses over long periods of time,making us question our reality and the validity of our life and our very existence.

I work with those who can, without involving their perception or sanity, name the trauma that has happened to them. Their bruises, police reports, and major upset to their everyday life provides talking points for honest conversations about what they've experienced and how they might move forward.

Many can't name the exact date or time that the trauma they've experienced caused them to break and fear for their life.  It is difficult for some to even say for sure what their experience was.  This difficulty comes because the experiences imposed on them are calculated, vague, and repetitive, making them difficult to identify or describe as hurtful.  (Gaslighting - a future post?)  These experiences lead to survivors who are labeled the "dramatic" or "addicted" one in the family or group.  They are the ones who "always ruin holidays/birthdays/parties and other people's lives."  The ones who inflict the pain and damage are quick to point out that you "just never fit in" with the rest of us.

When engaging with people who have experienced an identifiable or public trauma, don't pity them.  Don't elevate or glorify those who choose to accompany those survivors on their path.  Instead, consider sharing a bit of your private struggle with those whose struggle has become more public.  You could say, "I don't know what to say to you.  I know when I've experienced pain and hurt, I just want people to be there for me, not asking questions or giving advice.  I can only imagine that you may be feeling that right now, too."  Then, shhhhhh.  Just be there.  You don't need to talk.

When the moment seems appropriate, if you can and if you want to, offer to help. Do not say, "Let me know if you need anything." Rather, throw out a concrete offer of help.  "I can bring you dinner in an hour," or "I'll take care of turning the project in for us next week," or "I can come after the kids are in bed tonight.  I'll just be with you for an hour."  Tell what you can do.  Then, and this is so important, do not take it personally when they decline your offer to help.  If you can't help, tell them that too.  "I have a lot of meetings and deadlines right now, but I'll check in with you on Tuesday."  Simple, concise, communication.  That is what people in pain need most.

Finally, when you hear of a person's sad or traumatic experience, never say, "Oh you poor thing." Follow the advice in Brene's video and what I've shared above. Then go and honestly explore what feelings came up for you as you engaged with the survivor.  Don't be afraid or too proud to reach out to be supported in your own processing and healing from hurts.

One day, when we can all say we've assessed our lives honestly and work continually to see the sameness rather than the differences between us, we will make a better world.  We will be a society of empaths, speaking a language that we now only comprehend in small bits and feelings.

Green is the color of love and empathy.  It is associated with your heart chakra.  It is from this chakra
that you reach beyond yourself, and then back again, to connect with something larger,
deeper, and greater than yourself.  It is from this chakra that we begin to heal ourselves and the world.  

Monday, November 23, 2015

Relationship with the Moon

Since my house burned down

I now own a better view

of the rising moon.  

                                             ~ Mizuta Mashahide

I feel like my house has burned so many times . . . relationships turned to smoldering ashes that refuse to burn out and scatter; trust in a bronze age myth that holds love and wisdom as well as misogyny, hate, and fear; life set on goals that turned out to be tinder for a large fire; societal norms that burden many and benefit few. . .

I will say, as my metaphorical houses have burned and smoldered, I learned that the heat from the flames and red hot coals warmed me with knowledge that I did not posses before the fire began. Always, at some point I looked up and saw the moon, view free of walls or roof.

I do still find myself hanging around  piles of ashes and blackened timbers, poking through the ruins to see if there is anything that survived the fire, anything that could be salvaged to build the next structure. For the strong elements that survive - jewels, hard metals, stone - I am grateful.   These items, tempered by the flames, will become corner stones for what comes next.

After each fire I try to take some time before I begin rebuilding.  I gather the things that survivied and lay them all out on the ground to see the patterns or possibilities for the next structure.

The moon laughs as I go through this uneven cycle - sometimes years between fires, sometimes only a few hours.  If she has taught me anything, it is that everything happens in cycles.  Her cycles turn in predicable phases, mine rebel and ignore pattern or plans.

As I've lived my life's cycle, I have learned to build my houses a bit differently, to not become too attached to them and to use more stone than wood.  I know the smaller the structure, the less maintenance is required; the more windows, the more I will see the sun and stars; the more people I invite in, the more help there will be if the fire comes again.

Tonight, unsheltered, I am watching the moon rise again.  As my soul and eyes grow heavy, I look around to see what I salvaged from the last fire.  As plans turn into dreams moon beams shower me with the light of healing and restoration, unemcumbered by roof or walls.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

I'm Like the Dead Sea, You'll Never Sink When You're With Me

Listening to my Spotify Channel Drowning in a Sea of Folk after a long day, I realize I might be like the Dead Sea when I am at my best and healthiest self, keeping people from sinking.  I flow with those who swim or struggle, I detoxify those who dare to ingest my support, or walk near enough my waves to feel the silky salt water wash over them.   Whether or not they were aware, here are people that waded my shores today -

H - celebrated 35 years on the planet today.  The salts that keep her buoyant in the sea are modern medicine, bliss, and occasional foot rubs.

E - celebrating 5 years of being a miracle. The salts that keep him afloat are modern medicine, a calm and clever mom, and the big world ahead for him to make his mark in.

W - birthday blessings to you.  You've probably forgotten that it even is your birthday.  And what could possibly keep you from sinking when it is also the day you lost your precious N?  For a parent to be present at their child's birth is required, to be present at their child's passing from this life is . . . there are no words.  The salts that will keep you from drowning today will be the Love that finds you and brings you the surface every time you need to take a deep breath.

E - turning 19 today, in the harsh reality that life does not operate like all those movies, television shows, and magazine ads.  The salt that brings you buoyancy is getting out of bed each day.  You can do it.

S - not your birthday, but taking a big step in caring for yourself and demanding to be heard.  The salt that is saving you today is that you are unaware of the tasks ahead.

I - not your birthday, either.  Just continually meeting life head on.  I hope you know that your salts will be your bravery, peaceful heart, continuing to share your story . . . and me.  Really me.

D - just another regular day for you.  Your salt is knowing that you are enough.

A - lonely times for you.  Your salt is your willingness to be so alone in order to reach the goal that is so important to you.

VAEM - seen or not, you imps are with me everyday.  Your salts are the dedication your families have to you; our unconditional love for you.

M - everyday I wish we were closer.  Your salts are your bravery in defining the world you see.  You are salt, yourself.

D - not a day goes by that I don't wonder what you would have to say about something.  Your salt is your ability to weave your experiences into a vision for a peaceful and equitable world.

M - every morning I check to see that you are still here, on the planet.  I feel so much of your life is entrusted to me.  Your salt is your inherent wisdom and . . . me.

EOE - I think of how crowded we all are, and that's okay.  I like sharing the planet with you.  Our salt could be each other if we just remember to see everyone of us in each of us.

Like the Dead Sea
You told me I was like the Dead Sea
You'll never sink when you are with me
Oh Lord, like the Dead Sea   (Chorus from Dead Sea ~ Lumineers)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

From the Common Cold to PTSD. Or, I am the Worst Patient Ever

I've been ill with a Fall Respiratory Syndrome (FRS) for several days.   Okay, it's a cold, but I get it every year so I've given it a more official sounding name.  I lie and tell myself and others that I suffer from seasonal allergies.  But, when I am sick enough, when I am oxygen deficient from respiratory failure and a high temp, I allow the truth to spill out.  FRS is my bodies attempts to make me deal with all the unresolved trauma (not drama) in my life.  This realization usually comes after my appointment at the clinic, but before the steroids and inhalers have had time to fully restore my oxygen levels to normal.  The predictability of my FRS is so annoying.  

"The Body Keeps the Score"
by Bessel van der Kolk, MD

I wish I could stop looking for something beyond  leukotrines, bacteria, and viruses on which to blame FRS, but I've recently been doing a lot of reading and participating in workshops on trauma and it's effects on the body. Affirmation comes regularly that I am correct in my understanding that every malady of my body is traceable back to the trauma of my childhood. Right?  Right.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         But, so what?  Does anyone care if the cold I am transmitting is caused by my unaddressed trauma?   No. Everyone just wants you to stay home and not sit next to them in conference rooms when you have a nasty infection.  Do not, I repeat do not, expect the stranger sitting next to you to reach over and hug your wheezing, mucus expelling body when you share you are sorry to have to be here today, but the course is mandatory and the infection is all the fault of some creep back in 1963.  

In this same vein, do not expect to go to your primary care doc and plan to have an engaging conversation about you score of 8 on the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) test when they had you down for being seen for a respiratory infection.  They are too busy, too embarrassed,or too uninformed to share any sort of meaningful connection between your score and your distressed breathing.  And, FYI, sharing this information will not automatically get you weight loss drugs - even though it should -  because of all that extra cortisol you've been producing over a lifetime.  No, it will not.  You will get steroids that make you gain more weight for the respiratory infection called into the pharmacy of your choice and a "we can talk about your depression at your annual exam" as both doctor and nurse crowd out the door together so as not to be left alone with you in the exam room.  

Per the pattern of my life, I was not really expecting to have a long conversation about trauma with a doctor who double booked me into his schedule for a URI.  And no amount of insight into why I struggle with all the physical disorders I have will heal them.  To get through each day, and each episode of breached health, I will have to rely on the tools I've developed over the course of my life to keep me rebounding - resiliency, positivity, strategic problem solving, and the yearning for connectedness.  And meditation.  And yoga.   And sleep, restorative sleep.

All sarcasm aside, I do understand the connection between trauma and illness.  Trauma, no matter how much you do to resolve the incident or make sense of it, how much you try to divert your memories and your fears, it is a part of who you are.  This is not a hopeless thing - there is much to offer those who have the bravery to ask for help, to seek answers, and allow safe people into their lives to help them in the healing.  And, trauma teaches us much about ourselves and the world we live in.

There are many of us out here doing the work of healing and helping others heal.  We all owe a debt of gratitude to the Vietnam Vets who taught is a lot about trauma.  They were the first significant group of survivors to reach out and tell us that what they'd experienced would not allow them to live the kind of lives we expected then to live when they returned from war.  This led to the naming of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and all the ensuing research.  

The passing of research from veterans to the rest of us who have experienced trauma in our lives is a great gift.  This research is changing the lives of many who thought they'd be haunted by memories and nightmares forever.  Dr. van der Kolk estimates that for every 1 veteran who suffers from PTSD, there are 10 civilians who suffer from PTSD due to childhood or adult trauma.  We are a world of walking wounded.  

The prescription is not in a pill (well, some are), but rather in the compassion of those who walk with the wounded.  It is on all of us to create safe places for stories of trauma to be told.  People who suffer PTSD want to disconnect from the nightmares and fear that linger from their experiences, but they do not want to forget the significance of the story.   It is on all of us to believe the stories that are told, to allow ourselves to be uncomfortable as we listen.  Then we must all help hold the stories, sharing the collective or personal responsibility for our part in the story.  Yes, we all hold responsibility in the stories, but that is another post.  This is not an easy process, but it is well worth the amazing and beautiful souls we will unburden.

Many thanks to those who have heard my stories, believed them, and continue to hold them with me.  

Sunday, September 6, 2015

There's a Ribbon for It . . . .

Last week I attended the National Sexual Assault Conference (NSAC) in Los Angeles.  As with many conferences, there were vendors in the hallways hawking their materials that support sexual assault advocates and the programs we work in.  As reminders of the vendor's materials for sale, there were give-away prizes like pens and flashlights and, at one vendor, a ribbon lapel pin.

As a snapped up the "ribbon" pin and put it in the free bag handed to me by another vendor, my mind began to turn.  I am no stranger to the pink ribbon, having relatives and friends who are or have been in active treatment of their breast cancer.  I have even paid good money for the privilege of walking a few miles for breast cancer awareness, all the while making the Susan G. Komen organization a bit richer.  

I have worn the green ribbon for mental health awareness, the red ribbon for HIV awareness, the rainbow ribbon for LGBTQ rights, and the denim ribbon of peace.  I know ribbons!

As the two-tone blue pin with the red heart at the top hit the bottom of the bag, I imagined myself touching the pin on my chest as I explained to people that this particular color supported and honored survivors of childhood sexual assault.  Would they ask if I was the survivor or wonder if I knew someone who was a survivor?  When I told them who it was, would people stop and give me a hug?  Would they share a story of their friend, mother, sister, brother, neighbor, child going through the same thing?

I then started to imagine having this particular colored ribbon tattooed on my shoulder to honor some amazing people.  I imagined buying shoes or a t-shirt or a purse with this particular ribbon imprinted for all to see.  Or, what if I sent out an email inviting my family and friends to join me in a walk to raise awareness and funds to try to wipe out childhood sexual assault?  

If you're reading this, you know how you'd react to my wearing this ribbon and that invite to pay money to walk 2.5 miles.  Thanks to those who would give me a teary hug (asking first, of course) and say thanks for reminding us that many people walk with invisible scars.  And, even, thanks to those who would wonder why I can't just move on.  Thanks to those who just can't talk about it, who say they're fine.  You ALL bring me growth and clarity.

I have not posted on my blog for two months as I was in the process of applying for and beginning the work I will now do in the coming years.  This work, sexual assault advocacy, education, and prevention on our local campus, is rife with triggers for me.  I knew I needed to go inward to make certain I was in a place where I could be a true advocate, a strong voice of statistical reason and non-anxious emotional support.  I'm there.  And, I promise, I'm back here.

Now, be warned.  If you are going to google this ribbon, you will have many options for exploration, including Wikipedia, where you will find this ribbon:
The awareness ribbon used by Gloucestershire Against Badger ShootingBlack and white longitudinally-striped ribbon
  • Gloucestershire Against Badger Shooting (GABS) are standing up for badgers in the Gloucestershire pilot cull area

Since I did not bring back enough ribbons for all of you, may I suggest that you simply treat everyone you meet with kindness and respect, honoring the realities that made them into the amazing people that they are today.  

B, Me, M - a few ACCESS SA Team Members

Sunday, July 5, 2015

How to Tame a Wild Horse . . .

Being a grandparent has been one of the wonderful benefits of growing older, hopefully a bit more wise as well.  I hope everyone has a chance to see glimpses of themselves, through their grandchildren, as young children.

When I was little I spent a lot of time in front of mirrors doing instructional "commercials" on everything from cleaning products to personal care tips.  I would have loved to have taken my talents outside the big mirror in the bathroom, to have broadened my topics, when I was five.

My granddaughter, Mica, has the same relationship with my laptop video maker as I did with my mirror.  Here is one of her cutest efforts.

Nina Pada, my favorite cowgirl, shows us how to tame a horse . . . . or wild animal.  May we all be so brave and share our talents without abandon.  Click on this link to see Nina Pada.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Yoga . . .

 Begin as often as necessary.



This was the advice given to me by Marni, a cancer patient in our clinic who introduced me to yoga in 1977.   I first met Marni as she lay on the wide table in Exam Room 3.  She came in every Wednesday for 10 weeks for a chemotherapy infusion.  Everyone in the small clinic - office staff, nurses, lab techs, and even drug reps - made a point of stopping in to say hello to her each week.  We did this because she always asked us how we were, and remembered to ask about details from our previous week's conversation. Our clinic received much more healing from her than she from us.

She was all we talked about during our shared coffee breaks each day.  "I hope Marni's doing okay," we'd say as we drank salty coffee and nibbled on pastries.  "Did you see her scarf?" we'd ask.  "I know," someone else would reply.  "She spun the wool and wove it herself!" I took up weaving, for a short while, to be more like Marni.

One day when I was checking in on her, she was sitting on the table in Sukhasana (a term I'd soon learn) using the Warrior Breath (another term I'd soon learn) to control nausea.  I just stood by her and matched her breathing for a minute or two.  When she took a cleansing breath I asked, "You okay now?" to which she nodded yes.  I continued, "that's the same thing I do when I'm nauseated." I was going to tell  her that as a child I discovered, on my own, how to avoid throwing up.  Long, deep, slow breaths.  In through the nose, out through the mouth, but I did not get the chance.

"You do Yoga?" she interrupted in a surprised shriek-ish voice that brought her assigned nurse rushing into the room.

"Ah......., no," I said to her.  Then I turned to her nurse and said, "we were just talking about deep breathing to control nausea."  Jan, her nurse smiled and nodded knowingly.  We two began to lecture Marni on the benefits of slow deep breathing to control nausea and pain.

"Yoga!" Marni insisted as loud as her weakened voice allowed.  "It's called Yoga!"  She then proceeded to tell us all about her experiences in her travels to India years earlier and her struggles to bring Yoga instruction to her students at a nearby college.  She distracted herself, while intriguing us, through the rest of her chemo session.  She left that day with Jan and I agreeing to attend her Yoga class five days later in the library of the small liberal arts college where she taught.

Jan went with me to Yoga class only twice, but I was an eager and faithful student.  Even when Marni's chemo was finished, I traveled every week to St. Peter for her class.  My daily poses became easier and my understanding of the ancient practice grew.  I filled in as a guest instructor when Marni was too ill to lead, or I was her voice when she could not speak loud enough to be heard by everyone in the room.

Our relationship continued this way until I got married and the busy-ness of that life pulled me away from Marni's classes.  Two years and a baby later, I sought out Marni to ask for her help, and honestly for her forgiveness.  When I told her I wanted to come back, if I was worthy to try Yoga again, she laughed and hugged me as she said, "You begin as often as necessary."

Because it was hard for me to travel 30 miles each week for class, Marni and I pitched the idea to the local YWCA to offer Yoga classes near my house.  We were billed as co-instructors, but she was also my mentor and guru until cancer could not be controlled by either Yoga or chemotherapy.

Moves, pregnancies, life, and distractions bought me to an on again, off again relationship with Yoga over the years. Always, though, Yoga has been a patient presence in my life.  Just like prayer, meditation, walking, and riding a bike - my muscles and mind never forget how it is done - it is a part of my DNA.  Yoga does not hold a grudge for the lapses of practice, nor does it demand that I suffer through a re-learning process when I bring out my mat or try to match my body position to the one on the Wii Fit screen.  Bidden or not, Yoga flows through and within me - in my breath, flexible muscles, strong skeleton, deep breath, and tranquil mind.

Last month I pulled out the journal I made as Marni began teaching me.  In my mind I heard her say, "Let's begin again."  I found the pages with the stick people she taught me to draw in Yoga poses and started with Lesson One.

Om and Namaste.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Well I Dreamed I Saw a Silver Spaceship . . . .

My Replacements

Top Row:  Ian Allen, Victor Allen, Azalea Allen  Middle Row:  Doc (William) Stodden, Molly Allen, Heather Allen, Eleanor Allen  Front Row:  Lori Allen, Mica Allen, Mallary Allen   - Photo by Sam Wormley

I am a headline reader.  One headline has led me to ponder my children as my replacements when I am gone.  This, in turn, has led me to wonder if my ancestors looked at their children and imagined them as their replacements?  I can't help but believe that in recent generations, this may not have been a comforting thought.   I felt my parents and grandparents (and probably generations before) were judged not only by their parents and grandparents, but by a society that called for repression of feelings and conforming to expectations set out in laws and norms. Maybe the world is still that way and I am living in my own idea of how the world works. . . . which is another topic for another day.

If there is a stream of consciousness that extends from my ancestors through my grandparents, parents, and now me - how do the departed ones regard me?  Did feel sorrow at the darkness that I tried to mask with being funny as a child?  Did they cringe at my sexual profligacy as a teen and young adult? (It was the 70s you know.)  Was it their voices, disguised as my own, who kept asking "what are you doing?" before each marriage?  Or was it them silencing my questioning by feeding me mantras of "You can change, You can change him.  Then love will grow"? Now, do they recognize my aspirations of becoming an artist and writer as the beginnings of a delusional old age?

I may be delusional about how the rest of my life will unfold, but I hold no delusions that, like me, my ancestors were no examples of perfect mental health themselves.  I would like to think that if there is some kind of residual self that continues after death, that the post-earth selves, the ancestors, have opportunities for emotional and spiritual growth - just like those of us who are still earth bound. I hope the chuckles I sometimes hear in my self-talk are part of a chorus of the ancestors, I hope they have all developed a sense of humor.

Though I laugh at myself from time to time, I do not think I am now, or ever will be, irrelevant. I just think my role is shifting from accomplishing and doing to mentoring and being.   I am so much less judgmental of my children and their partners than I was of myself as a young parent.  My admiration for them comes from watching them navigate parenting, challenges, missteps, dreams, embarassment, and accomplishments like the bosses they are.  I celebrate their joy mostly from afar,  I try to respond to the hard parts with "you've got this" a thousand times more than with "let me give you a different way to look at this."   If I have ever said, "here's what you need to do . . ." I am sorry, so sorry that I am blocking it from my memory.

I also  ponder the lives of the children who will be replacing my children, that is, my grandchildren. It is easy for me to let go of any anxiety about their futures.   I feel confident that these young children will grow to enhance, cast off, or integrate the gifts of their DNA - from all the various families of  ancestors who are watching them.

I do not know if anyone in my direct ancestry line has or will set anything in motion to save the world.  Or even a small part of it.  That would be nice.  But in lieu of reversing global warming, curing diseases, or negotiating a lasting global peace - I hope that those people who come into our circles will be compelled by our love for one another, our service to our fellow travelers, and our joy in creating as much beauty as we can.

Now get out there!  You're replacing someone, too, you know.  When you are very silent and still, you can feel their gaze upon you.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Arc of the Universe . . . .


I've tried for DAYS to write a post about my feelings about the state of our country.  Everything ended up sounding preachy and self-serving.  So - I will let these pictures and the websites below, speak for me.   Peace to all who seek it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


The past, present, and
future, bonded at mid night, form
Kryptonite for sleep.

I have heard it said that if you are awake in the middle of the night, it is because you are awake in another's dreams.  Once upon a time, I thought this a romantic or loving gesture on the part of the dreamer.  As episodes of insomnia visit me with increasing frequency, I now think of those waking me with their dreams as slumber thieves who need to let go of their grudges, regrets, and plans of revenge against me.

Or, perhaps it is me who is keeping myself awake these nights.  In the late night garden of imagining my past, present, and future, the seeds of my insomnia grow and flourish in the mid night moonbeams.  Do not fear that I will keep you awake in my insomniac dreaming with me.  No, all grudges and regrets in these waking dreams are inflicted upon myself, all revenge is a non-violent dream of casually "showing them" my future successes.

Now please, someone begin dreaming of me, your friend and poet, in restful slumber.  If only I could, dear ones, I would dream the same for you.

Thursday, June 11, 2015


"I believe in the intuitive or artistic comprehension of truth, even beyond reason." ~ Maryanna Shorba Manfred

It was never my
intention to become you,
but I had no choice.

One of my most inspirational mentors and friends was Maryanna.  She was the editor of the church newsletter where I worked as the religious education coordinator and office administrator. Each month I would bring her the copy for the newsletter, wait in her living room as she bloodied the papers with her red ink editing marks, and then hope for a few words of praise about the parts I contributed to the newsletter.  When I told her I had some poems and a few short stories, she graciously invited me to bring them to her.  

One day, sans children, I brought over some of my writings.  Just as when I brought the newsletter, she took my copy and motioned for me to wait in her living room.  Her usual complaints of writers not knowing basic rules of grammar were absent.  The "Jesus Christ what's this?" comments were not offered.  I even imagined the pen was scratching with less frequency than what was usually used on the newsletter.  There was an eerie silence as she read my work - compared to the newsletter.

After what seemed like an eternity, I heard soft footsteps coming to the living room.  She appeared in the door, moved some papers from a chair and sat down across from me.  "These are, well, hmm, pretty terrible, " she finally blurted, her hands thrown into the air for extra emphasis.  As her hands returned to her lap, atop papers, she just stared at me from behind her oversize glasses.  I was fighting back tears.

"I don't know what to say," I finally coughed out.

"I know," she said.  "Jesus Christ, I know."  She looked back down to the papers and started shuffling them.  "Do you like writing?  I mean is it something you want to do.  Because your ideas are good.  Your ideas are real."

A ray of hope.  I perked up a bit.  "So you do like it?  I mean, it's good?  or okay?"

"No, no," she shook her head empahtically.  "It's pretty terrible.  You tie everything up so neat and tidy," she offered.  "It's sort of sickening to read this - it's like you have access to some universal brilliance that the rest of us don't.  It always ends well for you."  Our eyes met as she looked at me and said, "you're not fooling anyone, well maybe yourself, but those of us who know you know that you haven't had an honest thought about your life in a long time."

I was not expecting an assessment of my life, just some advice about how to pace things, where to place commas, that sort of thing.  I closed my eyes and held my eyelids gently, worried my tears would wash out my contacts.  After what seemed like an eternity, Maryanna came and sat next to me on the couch.  She didn't touch me.  Or look at me.  She just sat there.  When I stopped crying she asked, "you done?"  I nodded that I was, trying to contain the clear snot with my sleeve as it ran from my nose to upper lip.  "Okay," she said as she moved back to the other chair.  "Let's talk about turning your great thoughts and ideas into good writing."

That was the first of maybe a dozen meetings we had that encompassed writing and exchanging the stories of the realities of our lives.  She was thirty-six years my senior, but we had shared experiences on our path.  Too soon I moved a state away, but offered promises to continue our exchanges via mail.  I never sent her anything to edit.  She sent me birthday cards, inquiring if I was still writing.  I was not.  

Our relationship dwindled down to the annual hug and hello when I visited Sioux Falls, but so much of her stayed with me.  She had some helpful suggestions for writing, but most of all she encouraged me to claim time and space for me, to claim importance for the things I was doing in life.  "No one will give you more than you think you deserve," is her mantra that has stuck with me all these years.

A few days ago when on a road trip,  I stopped in Sauk Center, Minnesota for fuel.  Maryanna's voice popped into my mind as I waited for the gas to fill my tank, "go see it."  I could not help but chuckle as I thought of a story she told me about her irreverance during a famous author's memorial service in Sauk Center when she was a young woman.  

"I can't," I laughed in response.  It would be fun to find the cemetary and grave, but I was in a hurry to see my family just an hour away.  I pushed the thought away, got into my car and headed back to the freeway.  Then, with intention, I drove past the entrance for the west bound lanes.  I didn't get on the freeway.  Instead, I  pulled into the parking lot of an abandoned building.  I googled Greenwood Cemetary, Sauk Center, Minnesota.  It was just a mile or two away.

I turned back into town and followed the directions of the voice on google maps.  I drove slowly around until I saw the tall marker.  I got out and walked over to it.  "Was this so hard?" came Maryanna's unamused gravley voice.  I answered with deep breath, a touch of his tombstone, and a quick retreat back to the car.   "Thats not how it works," she admonished.  "Sit down.  Read his books.  Channel him, not me."

Just like twenty-three years ago, I quit paying attention to her.  I headed the car back to I94, toward the lives I was eager to join.  I tuned in the local rock station to distract me, and in an hour I arrived to squeals of delight that made me feel like, well, a long anticipated grandma.  It's good to be a hero, no matter how small the tribute.  

But, I can not stop thinking of Maryanna.  Which is why I am sitting here, in giant glasses that could be hers, at a local coffee shop in Moorhead, fixing chapters six and seven of my book.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Consort Parvati

Like every Mother 
on Earth, you can't be contained
in one single Name.

     con sort [noun]  1. conjunction, association; 2. group assembly
     con sort [verb]   1. to keep company; 2. accord, harmonize

One thing I will say about the Hindu religion, I love how they frame relationships.  I loved reading the story of Ganesha to the children of Unitarian Universalist churches, introducing them to the elephant god's parents, god Shiva and his consort, goddess Parvati.  Just as in any religion or myth that has lived through the centuries, there are subtle differences in the tellings, but always I found Parvati referred to as Shiva's consort.

This would sometimes raise questions from the young ones, "What's a consort?" or "She was a concert?"  even "Was the mom, like all, able to, sort of, fold up?"  I would then tell them the definition based on the Merriam Webster dictionary listing.  Interestingly, I think, no child ever equated the relationship to marriage, never asked if she was his wife.

I am a person who has found the title, role, and expectation of being a wife difficult.  So difficult, in fact, that once I was willingly, and once not so willing, removed of the title.  Maybe I would have been a better consort than wife.  By the time of my first marriage I had a well-defined idea of what a wife was based on some pretty unhealthy models that surrounded me in childhood.

I tried to reject the misogyny that was present in many marriages in my families of origin, while trying to embrace the media marriages that played out through weekly television dramas and sit coms.  Those media moms, if inept whiners, did have nice houses and husbands who adored them after the week's debacle was resolved.  Sometimes the wives were wise and sly, manipulating their spouses into feeling smarter, braver, and stronger than they really were.  None of these models served me well as I sought to create my own definition of wife.

What I am saying is the title wife, and husband for that matter, can be limiting,  The word has a lot of baggage.  It is said that the Goddess Parvati, because of her many attributes and talents, has more than one hundred names in local Hindu mythologies and theologies.  How expansive for her to be known in so many ways rather than defined by her intimate relationship with one other.

So cheers to Parvati - gentle and nurturing Hindu goddess of love, devotion, and fertility; and to her consort Shiva - destroyer, recycler, and generator of the Universe, of all life.  Only a power couple like this, with knowledge and ownership of their individual mastery, could combine their resources, control their egos, and express their love for one another in the creation of a being such as Ganesha.

I am not saying I am looking for a long-term relationship again in my life, but if I find one . . .  it will be a commitment and honoring of one consort and another.  And, this relationship will definitely bring forth a dog.  Most likely, the creature will come from the local humane society rather than by complicated surgeries and species-combining, but there will be a dog.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Trust Your Heaviness

This is what the things can teach us:  to fall, patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that before he can fly.          ~ Rainer Maria Rilke 

I leap - heaviness
grabs my back.  My sole defense?
My strong beating wings.

Trust your heaviness.  That is hard for me to do.  My entire life I have felt heaviness. As a child, even before I started school, I knew I was heavy.  Well, fat, was the word that was used.  I was confused as to why girls were compared negatively to other girls who weighed less than they did, while boys were lauded for being heavy.  For boys, heavy equaled strength and growth and presence.  For girls, at least for me, heavy equaled fat.  My heaviness seemed only related to my body, while boys' heaviness related to positive traits as well.

I tried early to manipulate how I spoke to others about my heaviness.  As a ten-year old, saying aloud that I weighed sixty-three pounds felt so much lighter than the real sixty-seven pounds the PE teacher whispered to me as I  stepped off the scale.  And so my personal relationship with body dysmorphia began.

My dysmorphia did not just involve my body.  I also had the sense that I was not a very good person. My adults were constantly pointing out my shortcomings and telling me how I affected them.  I felt I was this fatty lump of disappointment to many.  

Looking back, literally - looking at pictures of myself as a child - I was not fat.  I was not thin.  If we were measured in percentiles back then as children are now, I would have been in the 50th - 60th percentile for weight and height.  I was that way as a teen, a young adult, even a young middle age adult.  Looking back in pictures, I was fine.  Just fine.  But that is not how I felt or saw myself during those time.

There was no real scale to measure my emotional heaviness.  The only measurement on my emotional scale was that I was fine.  And funny.  To distract myself from my real emotions I provided comic relief whenever possible, making myself a joke. Underneath, I was sad, and mad, and scared.  Until, as an adult, I discovered falling.  Falling saved me.  Less dramatically stated, falling helped me see choices.

I have identified that there are three choices when beginning to fall. The first choice is what I tend to do most often - quickly, reach out and grab onto what ever I am falling from.  I grab on to that relationship, that job, booze, eating, spending money - whatever ledge I was sitting on before the fall.  It will probably hold me until the next storm pushes me off the edge.

The second choice when falling is to, well, fall.  To crash to the ground.  I have been fortunate that my crashes have not been fatal.  Some people I know crashed and that was the end.  

The third choice is, of course, to fly.  As Rilke says even birds have to trust, for as they launch, their heaviness will bring them down until they flap their wings, catch the updrafts - and fly.  It's not easy. There are random moments of gliding, but flying requires near-constant beating of the wings, navigating tall buildings and mountains, and finding safe shelter in the storms.  

May all your falls end in flight.  Okay, realistically - may many of your falls end in flight.  May the rest end safely with you in a better nest.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Kwan Yin's Quest

Deepening self-love
is not for the squeamish or
shallow of spirit. 

Kwan Yin (or Quan Yin, Kuan Yin) is the compassionate Bodhisattva whose quest is to bring a deepening of self-love to the world. This is one scary thought for many of us.  To deepen our self-love, we must fully know, accept, and honor who we have been, who we are now, and who we hope to become.  

Kwan Yin's quest reminds me of something I read of our "true self" in Parker Palmer's book A Hidden Wholeness.  Parker likens one's true self to a wild animal.  We know that they are lurking somewhere in the darkness of our fear-filled forest.  Occasionally we'll glimpse the creature darting behind a tree.  The possibility of coming face to face with it makes us stop and draw a quick breath. Our heartbeat races.  We are as equally terrified of coming face to face with the elusive creature as we are by missing an opportunity to see it up close.

It is only when we go slowly and quietly, when we still our heart, that we will be able to find our true self and coax it to stay with us.  Sudden movements, shouting, chasing, or wailing will only drive it back deeper into the woods.  

I like to imagine that one day my true self and I will have met and that we will have come to terms with each other.  We will decide it does not make sense to have one of us living a feral life, not known to family or friends, while the other has to put up with bank accounts, laundry, weight loss plans, and re-writing by-laws for every organization she belongs to.  

My real-self and I will make an agreement.  She will remind me that all I really need in life is sunshine, rain, air, a bit of shelter, and food that the earth gives up freely.  I will occasionally treat her to ice cream, binge-watching made for TV series, and driving in cars rather than walking everywhere.  

Because I learned from my last two relationships that all my expectations may not be met, that maybe some of those expectations were even a bit unreasonable, I will not expect her to totally move in and take care of me. Although, that is the loveliest thought I can imagine right now.  I wonder what her hopes are for me?

Friday, May 29, 2015

Ours Is A Family That Can Never See The Stars Come Out At Night . . .


Our yearning for what
we can not see is soothed by
our remembering.

The musings from the booster seat in back on the passenger side came out as words far beyond her usual language or understanding.  As she looked out the car window on the ride home from softball she said softly, "Ours is a family that can never see the stars come out at night."  This was followed by a sigh that was audible over NPR's low drone on the radio.  

She, her sister, and I rode in silence after her profound statement.  It seemed like such a large statement for such a small person.  The words were so sad, like a foreshadowing first line in a novel.  What would we learn about this family that would never see the stars come out.  I reached over and turned the radio off, eager to hear the words that she might utter next.  

I glanced at her in the rear view mirror.  She was gazing out her window, looking at the sky through the filter of the small town scenery that we were driving through.  A gas station, the bank, a box store, and some fast food places.  Her usual comments about letters and words and wondering if we could "go there" were absent.   There was a look of melancholic resignation in her gaze.  Then another loud sigh.  

My first reactions were to throw out some fix-its to her.  I wanted to ask her why her family could never see the stars come out.  Or worse yet, I wanted to alter her reality and tell her all the ways her family probably had and could continue to see the stars come out at night.  But her tiny body was emitting the most amazing acceptance of this sadness.  There was a sacredness in simply being in her presence.  It was too sacred to correct with adult interference.  Another loud sigh.  

Suddenly, her older sister who'd been a silent holder of the statement as well, piped up,  "That's right! We go too bed too early to see the stars come out in summer.  But next winter, we'll see 'em again when we're eating supper!"

My laughter became the tenor for their chorus of high pitched cheers for the cycle of the seasons.  As calm and order settled back into the car I said, "Isn't it amazing how the Universe works?"  More cheers rose from the backseat, intermingled with each of us calling out our favorite planets, and constellations, and seasons.  

"Let's celebrate," suggested the older, more sage sibling, "with frozen yogurt!"  There was no pause for approval of the plan. Instead, more cheers followed, this time intermingled with calling out our favorite toppings and our hopes for the day's flavors.

As we walked across the parking lot of the local frozen yogurt shop, I did a quick scan of the turquoise sky for a star.  I came up empty.  No matter, I carry all the brilliance of the Universe in small seats in the back of my car.

(My early years in rural South Dakota gave me many opportunities to view the stars.  I love the time-lapse photography of Randy Halverson, a farmer from Kennebec, South Dakota.  His video at the top of this log reminds me of those times.)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Golden Boats

Karma's golden boat 
will carry you through cycles
of rebirth to peace.

Jesus looks as mystified to hear this truth as I am.  Ever since I've known of the concept of Karma, I've had an idea that it was not necessarily something to love and embrace, but rather something that would come up and bite you in the butt.  More succinctly, Karma's a bitch, right?  I'm familiar with Karmic backlash as a tired plot in every movie.  Is there a time when the antagonist does not get their come-uppance in any story?

When previously pondering Karma, I'd think of the robber who leaves her wallet at the scene; the bully who falls off the slide and breaks his arm as he's taunting little kids; the anti-drug motivational speaker who is arrested for dealing drugs.  I will also admit I've had my own dysfunctional relationship with Karma when I bargain with myself - just one more game of Candy Crush  . . . . I'll be plenty rested with four hours of sleep.  Right? 

Now, my own interpretation of Karma has been replaced by the Buddha's teachings on Karma.  He said  Karma will be the Golden Boat that will carry you over all the cycles of rebirth, all the way to the highest heaven, to Nirvana.  There's a metaphor we can all embrace.  Karma is a boat.  It keeps you from sinking into a dark, cold abyss.  It carries you through all your choices, through all your lives and deaths and rebirths, through every storm, eventually to  a place of eternal light and peace.  Say "Om" to that.

This is a transformative idea, for me.  It feels so right.  It is comforting to know that Karma is not the dude in the back alley waiting to beat you up for your mistakes.  Instead, she is the golden boat that is docked at the nearest port, waiting for you to stagger on board and take respite from all the nasty and unwise choices that follow you back to the wharf.  Like any sea-worthy vessel she holds and protects you, without judgment of the sea you've stirred.  She floats you over light waves or through lashing storms.

Any day you can find Karma, floating on your sea of all that will one day be resolved, ready to hold you.  Whether your choices and mistakes are resolved in a few lifetimes or a million, will depend on how you choose to pilot your Golden Boat.  Will you roll around the bilge, cursing the ocean's currents, or will you put a steady hand on the rudder and steer for the edge of the world?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Jumping Jesus!

Joy lastly comes when
we jump high enough to clear
others' noxious schemes.

Contemplation of how the world engages with religions and religious entities, of course, had to include Jesus.  A metal cut-away sculpture of Jesus, depicted in my watercolor above, jumping up out of the cemetery at St, Peter's Lutheran Church at Orland, Madison, SD, is the closest interpretation to my understanding of Jesus that I have encountered.  The sculpture can be seen from about a mile away, and as you approach the church via the gravel roads, he seems to be coming right up out of the earth itself.

Since I was old enough to understand duplicity, I have felt that the stories of Jesus' teachings on love and compassion were manipulated to benefit those who sought to have power over others.  Perhaps those people were only propagating what they'd been taught, but even then, at some point they made a choice to use the stories to benefit them in ways that a teacher like Jesus would not have approved.

I have grown to view Jesus with the compassion and acceptance that he professed for the misunderstood and outcasts of his time.  This art piece of Jesus jumping up reminds me that sometimes holy beings need to jump up from the false narratives and burdensome expectations that are put upon them.  Rather than an ascent in to heaven, I see Jesus finally facing the sun, which he really does in this piece,being a strong warrior, and making himself a cup of tea.  

Thanks to the, unknown by me, artist of the metal installation at St. Peter's, and to Pema Chodron for inspiring me to paint and put words to these thoughts.

" Hold the sadness and pain of *samsara in your heart and at the same time the power and vision of the *Great Eastern Sun.  Then the *warrior can make a *proper cup of tea."  ~ Pema Chodron

*samsara:  confusion, suffering
*Great Eastern Sun:  fundamental, awake human nature
*warrior:  brave enough to look at and work in reality
*proper cup of tea:  self-awareness and clarity

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Sri Ganesha

Obstacles, placed in
 the path or moved aside, are
analogous gifts.

Ga-nesh-a (also Gan-esh) - Hindu - the God of Wisdom; placer or remover of obstacles, especially at the beginning of a journey or new endeavor; son of Parvati and Shiva; human body with elephant head.

Ganesha has been journeying with me in three different vehicles for nine years . . . . as an air freshener.  He was a gift from a friend who knew I had obstacles in my life that needed moving.  My friend had a confidence in the scented square that I did not.  "Trust me," she said.  "He's never let me down."

That neon yellow elephant was seen as silly by some, irreverent by others.  I told people that he had to be working because I'd never hit an obstacle in any of the vehicles he was in.  I told them that until August 2010 when my Outback hit a branch that was hidden under the rushing water of a late summer flash flood.  Since then, no more obstacles.  One obstacle in nine years seems like a good average.

A few months ago I got back to a regular practice of zazen (seated meditation).  During a recent meditation I thought of my faded Ganesha still hanging from my rear view mirror.  While I try to not have any thoughts while meditating, I decided this random thought was inviting me to send out some gratitude to Ganesha for his continued obstacle removal.  "Thank you," I said to the faded square in my mind's eye.  "I am so thankful that you have kept me and my car safe during our journeys with you."

I was expecting the image in my mind to float out, to be left again in thoughtless meditation.  Instead, the Ganeha in my mind stared more intensely at me.  The square he sits in seemed to get closer to me, Ganesha's peaceful expression  had changed to repugnance.  "That's it?" he scoffed.  It took all my effort to stay with the image, to not abandon my meditation right then and there.  It was too weird.

"Really?" he continued.  "You have a life filled with uncertainty, illnesses, crumbling relationships, overdue bills, and who knows what else - and I just get to remove the obstacles from in front of your car when you drive to HyVee?"  I felt like I was no longer alone in my physical space, no longer deep in meditation.

"What are you saying?" I asked the faded piece of cardboard, breaking all my meditation rules of silence and letting go.

" You're whole life is a journey, not just your car rides."  

I quickly scanned my brain for information.  "Had I been drinking?  Any new medications?" I allowed myself to ask.  No. No. Nothing to hint at the origins of this surreal experience. 

"I'm here.  Ask me for help with anything.  Ask anyone for help with anything!"  His arms, all four of them, thrust out toward me, as if offering me something I could not see.  I could not look away.  "I mean it," he said in a softer, almost compassionate voice.  "Obstacles can not always be seen, are not always physical," he whispered as he crumbled into a million tiny pieces.

I wish I had some amazing ending to this story, but that is it.  However, I do spend time each day thinking of this mediation encounter.  I guess that is an obstacle placed in my path.  So much so that I painted his portrait as I pondered.