Friday, April 30, 2010

No Regrets

I skipped a week on writing in my blog for a pause to reflect on my intent for creating this . I was pondering on the question to myself of "how honest do I want my little online web log to be?" I have started to realize that writing is a clarifying process. It brings issues to the surface, that I wasn't even aware I buried which leads me to the topic of "regret". Believe me, I have plenty of it. Is it useful to dwell in the realm of "regret"? No, not particularly.

The only usefulness of regret is that it points to an area of growth that I need to embrace. When I find myself hanging out in the purgatory of regret I notice it points to several things. First of all, I'm not living in the present moment. Choosing sanity means doing the yoga of attention which means taking a deep breath, looking around, and seeing what is possible to be done in the "here and now." One of the definitions of the word yoga is to yoke oneself to God (aka; pure consciousness). There are many forms of yoga. Hatha is the one we are more familiar with. Usually a series of physical poses we put ourselves in to restore us to equanimity, and a sense of well-being. In Jainism yoga they consider the total of all activities—mental, verbal and physical.

The best I can offer to this blog, is uniting my words with the present moment. It's not my intention to be a "poser". I won't pretend to have any advanced yogic skills, but I can practice telling the truth to the best of my ability. Life has persuaded me that nothing can come from denying the truth, about myself or anyone else for that matter. It is liberating for me to consider this. Even in criticizing someone, I cannot find separation, for the only way I can come to any insight about anyone else is that I have come to see these same qualities in myself. This doesn't give permission for me to hammer others, or myself with these perceptions.

Recently, and old acquaintance contacted me just to say hi. I didn't have particular fond personal memories of our "relationship". As a child they had tormented and scorned me, but I did have other memories of them. The person was a particularly talented vocalist. I remember attending school performances and being completely awestruck by their tremendous gift. It put me in a bit of a quandary. How could these two experiences of the same person coincide. I tended to think as a child it was because I was inherently un-lovable, or they were just being hateful, and not understand that this was just someone who I needed to learn from. My old school chum was a child like myself, just learning how to negotiate in a less than safe world. After all, it's not as if I had never been unkind. I think as children we experiment with all kinds of behaviors. Experiencing pain and regret are ways that show us actions that aren't working for us. Unfortunately, I have often continued this conduct in spite of these signals. I have a strong feeling that this is at the crux of addictive, and self-defeating ways of life. Many of us want life to bend to our whims and not "accept life on life's terms." My point is that I had a lot of regrets about my childhood. Taking teasing too much to heart, and then lashing out with my own cruelties. my relationship with my former school friend was not a comforting one, but one that helped me see that I can not depend on the understanding of others. Finding peace with myself is an inside job.

I have a favorite Jazz song I often listen to: "No Regrets" by Roy Ingraham and Harry Tobias. There have been many singers that have done this song. Billie Holliday being the most famous for it. The tone of the song is so upbeat and lyrical that I always feel my spirit fly when I listen to it. The lyrics go as follows:
No regrets!
Although our love affair has gone astray,
No regrets!
I know I'll always care though you're away;
Somehow our happy romance ended suddenly,
Still in my heart you'll be,
Forever mine!
No regrets!
Because somebody new looks good to you,
No regrets!
Sweetheart, no matter what you say or do,
I know our love will linger when the other love forgets,
So I say good-bye with no regrets!
No regrets!
Because somebody new looks good to you,
No regrets!
Sweetheart, no matter what you say or do,
I know our love will linger when the other love forgets,
So I say good-bye with no regrets!

Now while this is a song about romantic love, there is a sentiment in it that is just astounding. Love without jealousy, without holding on in the face of departure. The lack of taking that departure personally or as an act of un-love is just a beautiful response to the challenge of clear loss. This song has become very iconic to me. At 56 years old, romantic love doesn't hold the appeal it once had. I wasn't one of the ones who found a life partner. I used to think I was unlucky, but now, I'm at peace with what I have been given (and what I have created)". I am looking at an opportunity to take these autumnal years to prepare for the last days of winter, and make them a journey of learning more about authentic love. There are so many kinds of love, so many kinds of relationships that are equally deserving of my attention. Even though the body ages the heart is eternally young. Who knows I may find someone to share the journey with, but I'm no longer looking. I'm not without love, just without marriage. I could regret not learning to let go, be kinder, and more tolerant with those around me sooner than I have but that would be missing the point. If I assumed love in all moments I would have no sense of betrayal, and none of the torture of regret. I could just as easily sing this song to my old schoolmate to open my heart in the midst of experiencing the painful memory of a difficult childhood. Learning this lesson is an ongoing process.

Living without regret, without resentment is a choice we make everyday. This doesn't require me to live a life being a doormat or expecting that I am going to live up to some lofty ideal of perfection. I just need to be willing to take the time to connect with the bigger picture whether it be through meditation, or embracing an art form. I think there are many ways to connect with reality. For now, the practice of writing and art, and remembering to carry the beautiful simple song "No regrets" in my heart.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Freedom from Anger

This weekend, I had a breakthrough with my anger at my workplace. I have been praying a lot relative to my anger, because several months ago, I encountered a situation that revealed some darkness that still had a hold on me. It was a big wake up call, and showed me the consequences of settling for being comfortable rather than investing time into my spiritual and emotional well being.

My story starts, at my storage place in a neighboring town. I go there periodically to pay on my storage unit, and also to continue my process of down-sizing. Ever since an accident I had a few years back, I've had to learn how to live simply. It's been a continuing process of letting go of all kinds of excess baggage on both the material and emotional level. I had decided to move all my things to a smaller and cheaper storage area. I had done all the preliminary work of throwing away, and sorting, the day earlier. Being that I was dependent on my daughter giving me a ride, I wanted to make the transporting as efficient as possible. I didn’t want to impede on her time anymore than necessary. Finishing my work, I noticed out of the corner of my eye, a young man moving quickly towards us. Something in the way he was moving signaled danger (full of swagger, and energy that seemed more than the usual caffeine lift), but I figured I'll just keep working and get out of his way quickly. Suddenly the young man was right in front of us. "Can you make room on that elevator?" It was actually more of an accusation than a question own. At first I didn't react, thinking maybe he worked there, and was assuming some authority over the situation to finish some work for the building. I tried to make room, but finally said " no, it won't work, I'll quickly unload it upstairs, and send the elevator back down." He was very agitated, and barked, "Well hurry up then." I turned a little red at then. I almost walked away, but I asked: "Do you work here?" He said "No I don't." It was then the force of my anger slipped out with this next remark: “Then don't tell me what to do!" This was mistake number one on my part. The appropriate response to someone telling you what to do, is not telling them what to do back, but hell, I was really at a loss for words here, in my enraged condition. "Fuck you, lady!" he yelled. By this time, I was livid, but the sight of my little grandson, waiting in the car next to me curbed my tongue. I said to myself “just walk away." When I got upstairs and unloaded, the temptation to make him walk upstairs and push the down button for the elevator himself was very strong...but I continued to "try" to take the high road here. I emphasize the word try, because when my emotions take over, I'm like a loaded gun just waiting to go off. My daughter confessed to me after the "gentleman" said "Fuck you, lady!" she knew all too well my pistols were cocked. So, I walked on quickly, determined to put my boxes in my unit as quickly as possible. I heard this man loading his stuff onto the cart quickly while I rushed to put everything of mine away in an orderly fashion as possible without being frantic. I didn't want to give him the satisfaction. I also thought the likelihood of him coming in my direction was somewhat slight, but of course that was an incorrect assumption on my part. This part of the storage building was like a maze of several hallways, but of course my adversary bee-lined for the last possible hallway (the one I was in) to make his turn. Perhaps this was accidental, but it just seemed the collision course was already in motion. In order to not make a short story longer and cut to the chase (we don't need to get into the "he said, she said" of it) things escalated, push led to shove, curse words were exchanged, and I did not go lightly. I will say that my parting words were not kind, and my daughter had to come to my rescue. You may think that I gained some satisfaction for calling him, a "wimp" and a "worm", but I felt horrible.

Although my anger felt justified, I saw my failure to keep myself safe, and to keep my family safe. I had no idea what this man was capable of; it very well could have escalated into, an even more out of control situation. I saw that in my anger, I mirrored this angry self righteous young man. I wasn't behaving in a way that represented the wise older woman I wanted to become. I really felt embarrassed, but at the same time, I felt determined to really understand what had transpired. It wasn't the first time I had found myself in this kind of conflict. I wanted to see what my part was. I wanted to stop being part of the equation of violent communication.

Over the next several weeks to follow, I did a lot of reflection on my behavior. I began to see that it was really fear that was at the bottom of my anger. I felt disrespect-ed, and cornered and as usual, I was letting my emotions rule me. I took this young man's behavior personally. I wasn't able to stay in equanimity and diffuse the situation. I saw that I was letting my un-healed self meet his un-healed self rather than teach him something about real strength. Recently, I heard somewhere, that anger is the hot truth. Feeling anger is one thing, but to act on in a way that compromises happiness or understanding is another. One of the central teachings of the Buddha was:

Hatred never ceases by hatred.
But by love alone is healed.
This is an ancient and eternal law.

I carried on with this kind of thought over the next few weeks. I became more and more aware of the way I responded in situations I could not control. I saw that while my anger was not always overt, it was always right there below the surface.
I work in a small shop in my town. It's an even paced store, but still I have plenty of interaction with others, and plenty of opportunity to see how my anger works, or more accurately put, doesn't work. I began to pray each time before I went to work, that I would treat everyone in the store with utmost respect, and to see them as allies in my becoming a more self-aware human being. It wasn't that I acted out on my anger in the store, but I turned it inward. I simply endured it rather than really understand my reactions to others. Over the weeks, I started to notice, that I wasn't so thrown off by people being rude or thoughtless, and often times, I was more readily able to respond with real humor and kindness, I noticed I didn't react so much to people just being people, and saw myself in them more. I had more energy to give, because I wasn't simply suppressing myself, but breathing more understanding into the present moment. 

The real test came this weekend. I was feeling very creative and balanced (another discipline I took on to help me with my anger was regular evening walks to help me with feeling stronger). I prepared myself for the day, even remembering the aforementioned prayer ( you could just call it my statement of better intent). I was busy in the store, and I felt relaxed at the same time. The store was full of customers. Suddenly, a regular customer came in the door, and walked right up to me at the counter. She's a very challenging woman, because she has some kind of mental illness. Many times I have wished I could run out the back door when I saw her coming, but I found if I just listen without much response she usually goes on her merry way. But on this day, she was particularly animated. She was complaining that another store clerk accused her of stealing and actually tried to lock the door before she came in. She got very animated. I simply said, "I don't know why he did that. I'm sorry you got hurt." She started to hem and haw, saying that she wasn't hurt...but I just continued to stay calm. "I'm sorry that happened." She left and then again re-entered the store, saying she was going to sue that “motherfucker" for his rudeness. She was loud and animated. All the while I'm thinking "I know very well why this man locked the door, and how can I get you out of this store", but I didn't say it out loud. I simply said, "I am sorry this happened. I'm sorry that you are hurt. I wish I could help you process this, but I have to work right now." I was calm, kind and strong in the face of her emotional reactions. I knew it was grace, and that in spite of myself, I had something to thank that young man I met several months ago in the Storage establishment. He showed me where I was stuck, and in spite of his unkindness, I could move on, and let go of my resentment, learning to behave differently in the midst of an unruly situation.

I apologized for the disturbance afterward to the other customers. One man said; "Yeah that was intense. Obviously the woman is not well. Oh, and by the way, you handled it beautifully." I thanked him, and then added: "I know she is a broken-hearted person. I don't want to do anything to add to that." I have to confess I was a little proud of myself for managing to artfully get this woman out of the store without any unkindness or blame, but really I am humbled, because I very well know how that woman felt, and it's only through being willing to do the hard work of looking at myself, that I was able to offer kindness, and find freedom from my own anger. Just as I cannot afford to invest in a large storage area for my material things of the past, I can no longer afford hanging on to the emotional baggage either.

"A human being is a part of a whole, called by us "the universe," a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest... a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

-Albert Einstein
Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Kind Heart

Zane, my first grandchild, has a way of leaving me chagrined. Several months ago, he wanted me to get up early to make him waffles. I pretended I was snoring, and then we would both giggle. Later, when we were at the kiddie park, he started throwing a rock around, and there were other toddlers nearby. Whenever he does stuff like this at the park. I make a point of being very direct with him, asking him to look at me. Of course he doesn't want to. Throwing rocks is fun. So I got down on my knees, to be level with him, said his name, and then said, "look at me, please." He turned away closed his eyes, and started snoring. My playful behavior with him, had just backfired, but I couldn't help but feel a proud of my little perceptive mockingbird. Zane has always had a little trouble finding his words, but not his humor.

Just a few weeks ago, this kind of shadowing happened again. At first it started with him repeating things that I said. He would even have my intonations down to a tee. But then he took it to a new level, and started imitating behaviors. One night, after coming home from work, I was a little stiff from being on my feet all day. Slowly moving around, doing my usual evening routine, I suddenly noticed something out of the corner of my eye. My grandson was mirroring me. I had to laugh, thinking perhaps he will actually learn tai chi from imitating his arthritic grandmother.

Observing this kind of behavior in both of my grandchildren has made me very aware of my presentation. It's not about what I say; it's about what I do. I see that they are watching the adults around them very closely to see how they negotiate in the world. After all, like the old adage says, "actions do speak louder than words." I'm not saying that words don't have power, but it is the understanding behind them that informs the wisdom, or lack thereof.

Loving my dear grandchildren makes me want to be a more thoughtful person, a more awake person. After all, the quality of their lives will be greatly influenced by the lessons they learn from the adults around them. I want my grandchildren to see me joyful, and to see me, behaving with clarity and compassion. I found a quote today in a book written by Pema Chodron. She was quoting a prominent teacher and author of Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism named Patrul Rinpoche:

"To make things as easy as possible to understand, we can summarize the four boundless qualities* in a single phrase "a kind heart". Just train yourself to have a kind heart always in all situations."

I realize that I will not do this perfectly. Having a kind heart is a lifetime vocation. I will still come across people that will be difficult to practice this with. When I see my grandchildren mirroring my behaviors I become more sensitive to the reality of my influence. I can choose to be a light out suffering for them by demonstrating, to the best of my ability, equanimity, and tolerance in all situations. Humor, as my dear grandchild so brightly showed me with his gentle mocking is key. Yes, he is my light too. I'm obliged to return the favor.

* Four Boundless Qualities
May all sentient beings enjoy happiness
and the root of happiness.

May we be free from suffering
and the root of suffering.

May we not be separated from
the great happiness devoid of suffering.

May we dwell in the great equanimity
free from passion, aggression, and prejudice.

Monday, April 5, 2010

My Elephant Friend

On April Fool's Day of this year, I did something daring. It was something of a rights of passage for me. I wore a piece of jewelry that I had been gifted over 15 years ago. It was a birthday present from my daughter, and while I had chosen the gift, I could not bring myself to wear it until recently. It is a hard piece to wear because it has such power. It's a huge pewter piece of an elephant. It is not a profile view, and it is hinged so it has a very puppet like quality which makes it almost like a hologram of it's real life counterpart.

I remember when I first encountered this special item. I knew it was more than a trinket for me. Everything about it felt magical to my eye, but I wasn't one to make bold pieces like this part of my wardrobe. The salesperson said I could put it on the wall, but still I wasn't sure. I couldn't seem to justify it, but I left it there thinking if it's meant to be it'll still be there when I come back. I mentioned it to my daughter, and she decided to get it for me for my 41st birthday. I was so pleased, but still it was merely hung on the wall in my home.

For years, I would go to hang this piece around my neck, but I felt self conscious, almost as if I wasn't worthy of this kind of adornment, or maybe it was that I felt a little funny about any humorous associations that might be made between myself and the elephant (always been insecure about my weight issues). But suddenly I found myself picking out clothing to showcase this piece. I chose a beautiful tan, and brown print shirt with a charcoal gray cardigan. I put on a comfortable pair of jeans, with my Merrell slip-ons. It was a humble outfit, but it carried the piece well. It wasn't too flamboyant, but had just enough humph to let the piece sing a little on my chest. For some reason, I knew this elephant was a teacher. I got so many compliments, so many stares, and they were sincere, respectful and thoughtful responses. I told the story of the piece to a young woman on the street who inquired about my necklace as I passed by, and she congratulated me. She too recognized the significance of my finally being able to wear this beautiful object.

I was always compelled to wear it, but on this day, I was finally up for it. When I came home I looked up what the elephant stood for as a totem: "An Elephant totem gives you ancient wisdom and power to draw upon. It embodies strength and power". I needed a dose of this kind of talisman. I think as we get older, it is wise to look to this kind of help. Beautiful objects that don't just adorn, but connect us to the natural world, and to the world of spirit. On this day, I felt like a grandmother, who was learning to own her age, to command respect for the wisdom gained, and let go of the girl, who has long disappeared.


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