Can You Say No To Good?

19 Nov

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When I was a little girl, I was so into sweets, I’d climb to the upper kitchen cabinets where my mom kept the sugar bowl hidden and help myself to “spoonfuls of sugar.” I suppose all kids like candy. I was no exception. What was exceptional was that no one monitored my sugar intake. My mom gave me a Twinkie or Ding Dong for breakfast, and my dad was known to have put Coca-Cola in my baby bottle. It’s a wonder I’m not obese and that I still have teeth.

What’s ironic is that as an adult, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. I like a little dark chocolate, and I enjoy pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving time, but when it comes to dessert, I can take it or leave it. It doesn’t interest me all that much. People think I’m practicing uber discipline, or that I’m trying to watch my weight. The fact of the matter is, I od’d on sugar and junk food when I was young and can’t do it anymore. I actually get sick from too much sugar.

It’s hard to say no to good things. When I was a kid, I wanted all that candy.

Where I struggle as an adult is turning down offers and opportunities that I see as wonderful. Given my druthers, I’d say, “Yes!” to every neat thing that came my way in the form of work, social engagements, and creativity. I don’t have a hard time saying, “No,” to things that I know are problematic. Yet when it comes to things that would be good for myself and others, it’s very hard to say, “No.” It feels counter-intuitive, and I second guess myself all the time.

That said, too much candy can make one sick. And too much of anything, becomes too much. As an adult, I look out on the smorgasbord of life, and realize I can’t have it all, all at the same time. I have to pace myself, and I have to finish what’s on my plate before I go back for seconds.

Too Busy To Be Grateful?

18 Nov

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The other day my friend/neighbor texted me, asking if I wanted to go for a walk when she got home from work. I was delighted to realize that yes, I could go for a walk. I didn’t have a commitment at the hour she suggested, nor did I have pressing work that needed to be finished.

Years ago, when my friend’s dog was alive, we used to walk at least a few times a week. Deb would call (texting hadn’t been invented yet) to tell me that she was leaving her house and that she’d meet me at mine. This routine kept us up on the details of each other’s lives. We knew all the strange cacti of the neighborhood, as well as all of the dogs and cats. It was a way to reflect on the beginning or the ending of the day.

Those walks set a precedent of neighborly connection not thought of as the norm in Southern California. Yet despite our nice friendship, weeks and even months can go by without Deb and I walking or even talking! The demands of work and personal lives interfere with spontaneity, spaciousness, and leisure.

I have been too busy. And when I’m too busy, gratitude is the first thing that goes out the window for me. I don’t notice the canyons, or the flowers, and I don’t hear the birds. Instead, I experience a chorus of worry and resentment unheard of in a third world country. Many people would be grateful for my life, as well as my problems. I have my health, food in my belly, and a roof over my head. I have meaningful work and people that love me. What’s not to be thankful for?

As we enter the pre-Thanksgiving period and start to reflect on all we have to be grateful for, I am reminded again and again how my sense of appreciation somehow rises exponentially when I have a little inner spaciousness. For me, if I’m too busy, I forget to be grateful. Instead, I’m exhausted and cranky like a child in need of a nap. Slowing down increases my awareness and causes me to give thanks. Time is a precious commodity and one of the things for which I’m grateful this season.

On Sabbatical

11 Nov

After 365 days of sunshine, it is finally cloudy today in Southern California, giving us a feeling of faux winter. Okay, I’m exaggerating that we’ve had 365 days of sunshine, but I’m not that far off base. Last winter, we were drenched in perpetual Santa Ana conditions, and by May, we experienced scorching hot temperatures and raging wild fires all over the city. With only a few scattered showers here and there, we found ourselves in a drought and endured habitual heat waves. Not only that, we didn’t have our usual May Gray or June Gloom, which would have at least cloaked the town in a marine layer each morning. Instead, by 6:00 a.m., the sun would taunt us to get outside and do something!

Today, I have stayed inside for a bulk of the day. I am on sabbatical – or at least what I am calling my sabbatical. I am not a professor, so I am not using the word in its true context. However, I am off for a considerable amount of time so that I can write and have a respite from nonstop travel teaching.

As I’ve puttered about the house, I keep thinking that every time I sit in my living room chair, Hafiz will jump into my lap. I imagine that when I pull turkey meat off the bone to put into my pot of soup, Rumi will turn the corner, look up at me, and meow. Where are they? Where did they go? How is possible that they are gone?

I remember the first night I had my two cats. The sound of their feet on my hard wood floor made my eyes pop open in fierce alarm. How in the world would I be able to sleep? When I told someone this story, he responded, “And then the sound became comforting.” He was right, but I wondered, “When and how did that happen?”

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Yes, it’s cliche to say, “For everything there is a season…” You know the words. What you might not realize is that the writer of that text was pretty down on life. It’s not a very upbeat read.

How do we stay afloat? How do we move from one season to the next, with or without those we love? How do we bear change, be it a drought in California, or a Polar Vortex just about everywhere else? And how do metabolize all the violence and injustice in the world that we see splayed out before us each day on the television and vis-a-vis the Internet, or the pain in our personal lives?

Last holiday season, to counter the loss of Rumi and Hafiz, I made certain I had a magnificent, live Christmas tree. Each night I fell asleep with it in the backdrop of my sensory awareness, and each morning, I awoke to its presence in my living room. I loved that tree. I dreaded taking it to the recycling lot on January 2nd. After taking it to the tree cemetery, I burst into tears when I returned to my empty house.

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For everything there is a season, and a first. I remember the first Christmas without parent figures, and the first Christmas without my mom. My grandmother is 95, so I know that in a few years, there will be a first Christmas without her as well. Yet not all firsts entail losses. Some firsts entail gains.

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For everything there is a season. To help us make sense of it all, it’s wonderful when we can get a sabbatical.

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Is Technology Killing You?

31 Oct

There are days when if one more thing beeps at me, indicating that I have a text, email, or phone call, I want to pick up the phone and throw it against the wall. There are times when I want to smash the thing into a million pieces and scream, “Leave me the f— alone!” Can I get a witness, or am I the only person on the planet that feels this way?

Don’t get me wrong. My smart phone is a device of incredible convenience, and at times, pleasure. It allows me to work for myself, to stay connected to family and friends, and to be in a long distance relationship despite miles of geographical separation. But I think technology is slowly killing us.

The new normal is to be constantly beeped at like we’re Pavlov’s dog subjected to classical conditioning.

We are not entirely powerless here. We can have periods where we turn off the notifications and/or the phone. We can also elect to not have a phone, although in today’s business world, that isn’t really an option.

For someone who has had to work years on ironing out co-dependent behaviors, the phone presents a challenge. When it beeps at me I feel like it’s a person who IMMEDIATELY wants something from me. I have to pause and say to myself, “Your emergency is not my emergency,” or, “I’m in the middle of something. I can’t get to you right now. Whatever it is can wait.” If I’m driving in the middle of heinous traffic conditions, it’s best I focus on the road and tell the phone, “Go away! Later!” Or, if I’m in a deep intimate conversation with someone and the phone beeps or rings or vibrates or buzzes, I can pause and say, “Let me turn this thing off.”

The other day I took my car in for an oil change. My mechanic’s shop was a buzz with activity. Cars and people were lined up for his attention, the phone was ringing, and the office attendant had temporarily stepped out. Yet he didn’t seem harried or flustered. He just calmly did what he needed to do, one thing at a time. Not only that, he did it all with a smile, despite having thrown his back out. “What is his secret?” I thought. “What keeps him grounded and in the moment? Was it because there was no smart phone around?” I doubt he had one. However, I suspected his demeanor had more to do with something internal that allowed him to triage nonsense and to know the limits of what could and couldn’t be accomplished in one day.

After working at a cafe for an hour, I returned to pick up my car. It wasn’t quite ready, so I sat down on a bench to wait. Immediately, I pulled out my phone. Then I stopped myself. What the heck needed checking? I’d just caught up on all my email. At that moment, I felt a ray of warmth grace my cheek as the sun appeared from behind a cloud. I stopped. Could I just sit here for ten or fifteen minutes and do nothing? Could I just close my eyes and breathe?

I hate beeps and loud noises blasting from televisions, radios, and leaf blowers. I always have, even as a little girl. Instead, I love the sound of silence.

At the core, I gravitate to the most basic things in life: a flower; a bird; someone’s smile; a good book. As I sat there, I thought, “This is MY life. It’s up to me what I do with it.” I can make a choice. Technology can run me, or I can run technology.

At certain points in the day or night, I press the “off” button. Then I work on recharging my body, mind, and spirit. Otherwise, this device is going to crash.

No Prison Party

27 Oct

I was twenty-four years old the first time I visited my mom in prison. I can’t remember what kind of car I drove to the facility, what I had for breakfast that morning, or what I wore. I don’t remember what I did afterwards – whether I was alone or with a friend. The details blur as in a dream one can’t recall, yet I will never forget my mother’s expression as she peered at me through the glass divider.

She looked stressed, disoriented and haggard. Always immaculately preserved, her hair showed grey roots I had never seen. Without make-up, her face seemed to have aged five or ten years, yet the body underneath the orange scrubs seemed fragile and childlike. Her gentle, Bambi like eyes darted back and forth, frightened. Depression was plastered on her face.

“Isn’t it terrible?” she kept repeating on the phone. I twisted the cord on my end of the receiver.

She was an apparition before me. I wanted to run as far away as possible. What the hell was I supposed to say? I stared back, willing compassion to be reflected in my eyes, yet my body was numb. I couldn’t feel any sensation in my heart. It too was in prison, locked behind bars.

Somehow the car made it back to my mom’s ex-husband’s house. I was staying with him for a few days, even though he and my mom divorced when I was eight. As a graduate student, I didn’t have the money to stay in a hotel or to rent a car. I had barely been able to afford the plane ticket for the visit, but the prison social worker had urged me to come. She said my mom was suicidal. They thought my presence would help. My mom was supposed to discharge two days after Christmas and they didn’t want her to make an attempt.

My love had never been enough to keep her from drinking. I had never been enough. How was my visit going to save her life?

Are You Daring To Bloom?

25 Oct

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The other day, while out on a walk, I passed by this flower. It seemed to be saying, “Here I am in all my glory, and I am not ashamed of how magnificent I am!”

There was nothing pretentious or narcissistic about this flower’s attitude because unlike humans, it had none. It was simply fulfilling its genetic encoding. Given the right soil conditions, and enough water and sun, the plant was doing what it was designed to do: It was blooming.

I am fascinated by nature. I love that there are a gillion varieties of plants and flowers and that none of them compete with one another about who is better. The rose doesn’t try to act like the daisy, and the orchid doesn’t wish it was a lily.

I believe that like this flower, we are here to boldly live out our true nature. We are all here to actualize and to express the Glory of our Maker. Each of us is unique and has something special to do, according to our personality, loves, and talents.

Not all flowers bloom on the same time table. Their blossoms unfold when they are ready . The conditions also have to be right, and we, like good gardeners need to be aware of the environment. Is there enough fertilizer in the soil and is there enough light? Is the garden too crowded, and if so, how can we gently make more room, so that roots aren’t tangled? How can we work with the entire garden to ensure its overall beauty?

We bloom when the time is right. The poet Hafiz wrote: “How did the rose ever open its heart and give to this world all its beauty? It felt the encouragement of light against its Being. Otherwise, we all remain too frightened.”

Yes, we most definitely need love and light for our essence to unfold. Yet we must also dare to bloom. It’s not all about the outside environment. We also need to express our personal DNA.

There is no shame in taking space. In fact, we have an obligation to share our beauty with the world.

Are You White Knuckling Life?

19 Oct

My significant other-person golfs. He is wild for it. I have only tried hitting golf balls twice in my life. Both times were with him. During our little lesson at the driving range, he told me not to grip the club. Instead I was to hold the club like a bird in my hands. Whatever. Even when I got a blister thirty minutes later, I didn’t think I was holding the club that hard. Later that night when I looked at this photo of me, I saw “it.” I wasn’t just gripping the club. I was strangling it. For further proof, the veins in my neck and arms were about to bulge.

I don’t know what it is about humans that makes us susceptible to over-extertion. We try too hard to control outcomes. Instead of easing into things and allowing a certain degree of flow, we push with our will.

Occasionally, we see the light and lighten up. The next day when I tried hitting golf balls, I loosened the grip. Surprisingly, I hit a few well.

When we grip too hard on things, we don’t allow for any type of organic evolution, whether this be in our relationships, work, or creative endeavors. There is a tension that needs to be struck between surrender and action. What helps negotiate this dynamic is our breath. The more we can let oxygen flow through in and out of systems, the better we navigate our life force.

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This seems to be the lesson someone wants me to learn of late. The other day I received a card in the mail from a friend. Written on the card, in large letters, was the word, “Breathe.” I burst out laughing. If my friend only knew that her card had come like an omen.

It’s time to stop white knuckling through this year. Instead, it’s time to breathe a little…

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