I Lack Discipline? You Lack Compassion — My Zen Brain

Editorial note: Guest Post from a fellow writer and friend who nailed it on the head. Thanks Andy!

A friend of mine sent me a link to a Facebook post that everyone should read. I’ve provided a screenshot of it here so you can read her words of wisdom. Now, I get it. The motivation behind this phrase is painfully obvious: “If you don’t come out of this with a new skill, you […]

I Lack Discipline? You Lack Compassion — My Zen Brain

Now What ?

So fellow travelers, while I have considered this space as a kind of creative “thinking out loud,” there has always been an underlying hope that my writing has served some purpose beyond my own musings.

If an uplifting haiku, an eye catching photo or a bit of humor brings joy or even insight to some of my readers, I feel I have done my part in making a difference by helping others along on their journey. 
Adjusting to the massive changes brought about by the COVID19 pandemic has proven to be more demanding than any of us thought it would be. For me just the switch to online education created an overload of new information to master. There has been little time for myself to relax, let alone write; I had even stopped journaling.

Thankfully, two practices I have maintained are daily meditations and evening gratitudes. That and frequent walks with our dog have kept me sane in a very crazy time, a time which, in the words of therapist Barbara Young, “…is a much longer marathon than we could ever have imagined (becoming) a reality.”  I found her words in an article my friend and fellow writer Kate Rantilla shared. As I read it, I realized why I have felt so pressured: I am, as she describes, trying way too hard to “do isolation well.”

Her insights have helped me make sense of my emotions and allowed me to reorganize my intentions with less self-judgment. So, although I rarely share outside sources here, it felt like the best way, at the moment for me to make a bit of difference for you, my fellow travelers. 

Barbara Young’s article “What do we do now? can be found here: “https://tinyurl.com/sx2ke7n

Walk gently on the path my friends another time-
for now save lives, stay home and be well.

Rewriting History

So fellow travelers- strange dark and troubled waters we find ourselves navigating these days.

First, I pray you and those you love are safe and well. The time is coming when every one of us will know someone, perhaps even ourselves, who has been touched by this viral wave sweeping across our home planet. I see it as an unprecedented transformational experience. While humanity has survived numerous pandemics ( and will survive this one as well ) it has never been so intricately and immediately connected as we are right now. This wave hit fast, hard and will leave an impact we will feel long after the last case has been diagnosed. Hold tight fellow travelers, this journey has taken quite the sudden plot twist.  

someone shares my dark sense of humor

Normally I am pretty disciplined in my interactions on social media. Right now, with our schools transitioned to remote instruction, honestly I am so busy adjusting to new online platforms I don’t have time to keep up with my social media feed. It is however the best way for me to keep in touch with friends and family in this time of “stay home” protocols.

No surprise emotions are running pretty high everywhere, so I started getting drawn into responding a bit more to comments by adding my own perspective. (If you’ve followed this blog for a while you know me and my signature #spreadhopenotfear .) One response** on a friend’s post showing appreciation for NY Governor Andrew Cuomo’s leadership drew a surprisingly negative reaction from someone I respected. The gist of it was that the knowledge I shared in my comment (which contained facts backing up my comment) was not as valid because I am a teaching assistant not a teacher,  not a content expert in history and implied my support was driven by blindly accepting “sound bite” media.

OUCH- While being online many more hours a day than I am used to does create some eye-strain, the only blindness I’m experiencing is the blindside of being slapped down for being a lower ranked educator.  I may “just” be a TA ( teaching assistant ) however I do have a college degree in both media AND education. I may not be a content expert in every class I am assigned to but I am intelligent, well read and always seeking to learn more. I use my research skills to sort through information; I rely on science, facts and first hand accounts (aka “primary sources”) not hyperbolic media hype (left or right leaning.) I can spot a #fakenews story easier than dog hair (which is pretty much everywhere in my life) and I know how to read body language to discern when people are lying ( No, I am not a covert CIA agent- but I know people are- …kidding ….maybe.)

The

bottom

line

I have I OFTEN disagreed with Gov. Cuomo on his approach to issues in the past. That was then, this is now. And the bottom line is what we are dealing with NOW is an unprecedented global crisis. The opinion that the rapid spread in NY is due to poor leadership does not equate with well documented facts about what is happening almost everywhere around the world. Regardless of decades of warnings from the World Health Organization (WHO) almost no country or leader was prepared.The few exceptions have been a handful of countries with fewer personal freedoms and stronger government controls which instituted universal mandatory confinement within a relatively short time of the outbreak in their country- something that will not fly in America, land of the free and don’t tread on me (observe the push back from simple “stay home” protocols right here at home.)

 Why was everyone so unprepared?
 (trigger warning for my friends who deal with anxiety and/or trauma PTSD. This is a very sobering section, proceed slowly or head right down to the Looking Ahead piece)
Medical experts explain that COVID19 is different, even from other viruses in the same category.  It is stealthy ( most contagious before symptoms present) its efficient (reproduces rapidly right after exposure) its sinister (takes close to two weeks to run its course – thereby prolonging the transmission rate). We do not (yet) have a vaccine or an effective treatment (there isn’t a”tamiflu” equivalent “-yet) 

Most countries and leaders looked back at recent viral outbreaks SARS, MERS Ebola and expected to have a lot more time to “get head” of the infection rate. Experts in Washington State where the first case in the US was diagnosed alerted the CDC, looking for directives in how to proceed. Suffice to say (and this is well documented) there was no sense of urgency from the CDC or federal government, regardless of the rapidly rising infection rate and death toll China was starting to report. Fortunately, Washington state and local leadership paid more attention to what farsighted countries were doing and instituted precautionary closures of vulnerable locations in Seattle early on and when the outbreak spread, so did the precautionary measures. Unfortunately it was not until Italy’s crisis became world news that other countries, including the US, realized the potential severity of this pandemic. And as of the time of this post (March 27, 2020) there are regions in the US where the outbreak is just beginning to bloom, that continue to disregard the warning signs of growing numbers. They have not taken to heart the clear implications of taking a “wait and see” approach. Many of those regions are rural areas highly vulnerable to having smaller medical facilities quickly overwhelmed with tragic results.

Looking ahead

Looking Ahead #lookforthehelpers- Since my ethereal snow goose experience about three weeks ago I have struggled to write about this experience of living through a pandemic. I see now the hidden gift in that stinging slap down, because it pushed me to find truth in my emotions and here I am pounding out the words which were buried in those feelings.

And there is more to come. If nothing else, I have broken through the anger (which too often feels like a forbidden emotion- a habitual pattern from childhood) and found a way to voice my truth without undue rancor. I have neither the time nor the desire to fuel the critical, angry attitude which poisons social media. I want, I NEED to focus my energy on supporting my students, my friends and family, my creative tribe. My greatest hope is for humanity to come out of this shadow into a better world, one of global cooperation, compassion and connection.  Historically, that has not been the after effect of epidemics and pandemics.

Maybe it’s time we rewrote history.

Walk gently on the path my friends, safe distance apart and may you live to find adventure when this shadow has passed.

**Post edit note: I would like to make it clear the comment I referred to was NOT made by anyone I work with. My colleagues in our district have always treated me as an equal and respected my contributions. I appreciate them deeply for that.

Intention

So fellow travelers, January 1st rang in more than a new year, it’s brought us across the threshold of a whole new decade.

Bypassing references to the previous decade of 20’s ( in which the high point is clearly the creation of Mickey Mouse) for me the main significance of this new decade is it also marks the beginning of the holy grail known as

~ R * E * T * I * R *E * M * E * N * T ~

It will be a few more months (or 140 days, not that I am really keeping track) until I can declare myself free to adventure at will and I have many objectives to accomplish before then. This year, I approached my annual planning process from a different perspective by writing intentions rather than making resolutions.

The difference runs deeper than mere semantics. To me an intention feels more internally driven. When we say “That’s exactly what I intended to happen!” we are referencing something we consciously chose. Intentions give our choices an internally sourced purpose. For example by saying I intend to nourish my body with healthy meals I am creating a more mindful way of making choices about what to eat. It also removes some of the judgement and sense of failure when I might fall short of the mark. When I say “I will eat healthy meals,” as soon as I have french fries and a bacon cheeseburger I have now failed to do what I said I would do, even though I did not say I will “always” eat healthy meals.

“Potayto, potahto, tomayto, tomahto” Ok, I hear you. Perhaps a seemingly insignificant change of wording, but it’s been my experience the shift in how words feel makes a meaningful difference in how consistent and persistent my follow through will be. Breaking our own word is the ultimate betrayal to ourselves and we are not likely to persist in pursuing a broken promise. But if I did something other than what I intended to do, that simply becomes an error I can strive to correct with a different choice next time. The potential for fulfilling my intention still feels possible and I do not waste any energy “shoulding” on myself. “I could’ve, would’ve or should’ve” is a cycle stuck in blame and judgement; “I can, I will and I shall” moves me forward beyond a misstep.

One important intention I set for myself is to write everyday, not all of which will end up as blog posts, but an element of that intention is to post here as close to once weekly as possible, even if it is a simple photo and haiku. So thank you for following along, I believe the path ahead looks quite promising.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

The Hole in the Sky

So fellow travelers, as so often is the way of this world a wave of busyness took over almost every spare moment of the past three weeks. 

accidental artistry

The irony of this following my last post was not lost on me. I was acutely aware, even a bit distressed, about not taking time to continue writing for the final four days of Michelle GD’s #GratitudeWeek2019 project. To be honest I hit a wall at the prompt about five things we consistently experienced every day which we were grateful for. Three came easily to mind but five ? 

I finally created an honest list:
*The first sip of coffee in the morning
*The welcome home yips and wiggles of our dog
*The light of golden hour
*Birds seen at my feeder or heard when walking
*Water as a cool drink at lunch or a warm comforting shower at day’s end

As I realized it contained nothing from work, I felt disappointed.
Then the next prompts connected more dots, as I was directed to find one “sliver” of  good in a difficult time and after that to be aware of our feelings at different times of the day and to find a bit of gratitude in each. The sum total of these exercises revealed how little enjoyment remains in what I do each day because my job has changed so much in the past three years. No small wonder I have felt disappointed; I do not want to become one of “those” people  “just” counting the days to retirement.

Then the final prompt offered a shift in the process; Michelle wrote:
“Maybe you don’t want to make a traditional list, so perhaps try one of these:
Draw a big circle (or a little circle) and write your gratitudes inside. Write your gratitudes in a spiraling circle, starting center and working out (or the reverse.) Draw a flower and write gratitudes in each of the petals. Make a star-filled sky of gratitudes by sketching out stars, then painting in a wash of color for the night sky, then filling each star with a gratitude.Have a little fun…just get your gratitudes down

The drawing I created brought such joy, my eyes stung with tears. So, in between the busyness of the weeks leading up to our annual Thanksgiving marathon of cooking and road trips to take in much cherished time with family, I began to reclaim my art studio space from the clutter of other projects.  More significant, I reclaimed my perspective at work.
Each day my only expectation of myself is that I show up ready to do the tasks required for that day with a positive attitude. Let all the systemic issues be taken care of by those more invested in the process going forward. I have my sights set on new goals and this shift leaves space for more moments of joy and laughter. Even as the weather turned greyer and darkness fell earlier each day, I began to reconnect with the little moments of beauty ~ 

and peace ~

 

and hope

The hole in the sky
where the Light comes shining through
is how Love finds us

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready

After the Storm

So fellow travelers, it has been a week of intense storms.

This afternoon a dark, violent outburst flung powerful cracks of lightning with thunder claps close enough to rattle windows throughout the house. Thankfully a quick survey of the yard revealed no damage other than a few large branches down here and there.

As sunlight breached a gap in the dispersing clouds, raindrops glistened everywhere in my garden while chirping goldfinches descended on a patch of diamond studded sunflowers.

Rain storms cease and now

Only soothing bird songs fall

From newly washed trees

There have been storms of a human nature around me as well, fall out from long standing issues with which I am not directly involved, but find myself deeply concerned for the emotional well being of people I care for as much as my own family.

Just like physical injuries, neglected emotional wounds fester and mar our ability to engage in healthy relationships. Unresolved trauma and grief give rise to fear which often explodes as anger. Anger blinds us to the consequences of words spoken in fury; trust shatters, hearts fracture, bonds break. Only the power of love can call us back from the brink and only if we stop raging long enough to hear and heed that call.

Someone has to dare raise a voice, perhaps more forcefully than expected, to be heard above the raging storm. Stop! Listen! Anger, like thunder, is a warning to disengage, seek refuge, find safe haven. Let the storm pass, let tears bring relief, so the wounds of the past can finally begin healing and love shine like diamonds of cleansing rain.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.


Through the Eyes of Love

So fellow travelers, some thoughts born from recent human interactions.

When I was a little girl I would see batches of Rudbeckia (commonly known as Black eyed-Susan) growing in empty lots along the side of the road. Growing up in the Bronx, you don’t get to see many fields of wildflowers, so these bright yellow flowers dancing in the breeze of passing cars, really caught my eye. When I asked if we could please stop and pick some I remember being told,  “Oh those are just weeds growing in dirty places.”

My gardening friends often post memes about weeds and two of my favorite quotes are:  “Weeds are just flowers growing where we don’t want them” and “God sees flowers where we see weeds.” The memes always have pretty images of  flowers like thistles and dandelions (which are actually healthy for lawns because their deeper tap roots bring minerals closer to the surface, replenishing what shallow rooted grass needs.)

Our judgements about other people bear similarities to our attitudes about weeds. 

We have expectations about how people should look, dress, behave and live their lives. Much of this is driven by culture and as the world has become increasingly connected through social media, those cultural boundaries are tested often to breaking points. Shifts in social norms also test generational boundaries and just as Alvin and Heidi Toffler’s 1970 book “Future Shock” predicted “too much change in too short a period of time” has created massive disorientation. Ironically, the more connected we are on-line, the less connected we feel individually.

True connection requires going beyond the quick “scroll, click thumbs up or down” patterns of social media feeds. The relative anonimity and illusion of safe distance makes it too easy to spout off a bit of vitriol, hit “comment” and move on without having to take responsibility for our words. Authentic connection requires us to take the time to understand the hows and whys of other people’s behaviors. Those behaviors are outward expressions of how humans feel about themselves. This is particularly true of children, whose ability to express themselves with raw, unfiltered honesty usually triggers a negative response in adults. Acceptance of differences is hindered by our fear of “otherness.” This is where bullying begins; bullies are terrifying because they are terrified. 

Working with differently-abled students and having transgender children within our own circle of family and friends has granted me the opportunity to become more aware of my own judgements (many of which, I will admit, focused more on the parents than the kids.) This in turn has allowed me to be more mindful of my judgements towards all other people. When I find myself  upset, disgusted, hurt or angry about someone’s words or actions it is a reminder to stop and ask myself what my feelings are telling me about myself. Those feelings alert me to something about myself I am either ashamed or afraid of. 

Fearful of our own imperfections, we are quick to point out the flaws in others. Our judgements are a diversion tactic, “Quick look over here at the terrible behavior of this other person lest you notice this other terrible flaw I carry inside me.” God knows I’m no saint, judgement comes to my mind just as quick as anyone’s. I am particularly adept at judging people who are judgemental.  There’s a poetic irony in that trait isn’t there? What I’ve learned is judgement of others is really about our own feelings of unworthiness. At the core of judgment is this fear our errors are unforgivable and our flaws make us unlovable. Judgement separates us from the grace of God and by this I do not reference the “God” of any particular religion. My experience of God is the Universal Power of Love which flows in, through and around all life here and beyond. 

Clover blossom

Our fear of being seen for who we are, in all our imperfection, with all our hidden secrets and shame, prevents us from seeing others as God-who-is-Love sees them.  If we allows ourselves, we too can learn to see flowers where we once saw weeds.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready

Relentless

So fellow travelers, the rain this Spring has been relentless.

I tell myself I can’t complain if I truly intend to move to the PNW, so, I take it as a kind of meteorological training program and I say things like, “At least we don’t have to shovel the driveway or brush off the car.”

Persistent optimism. It annoys people as I am frequently reminded by the eye rolling, snarkiness going around .  It rolls off my consciousness like the rain sliding down my driveway, washing the abundant maple and elm seeds into the roadside ditch. Away they sail in the rushing water to who knows where, perhaps some will take root and grow into their own little forest.

To dwell on the negativity thrown about too easily thanks to the sparsity of verbal moderation (perpetuated, I believe, by the anonymity of social media) is to allow oneself to become mired in the other peoples muck. 

No thank you! 

My own spiritual guidance pushes me to see this negativity as coming from the storms within these people. Their feelings become so uncomfortable, they project them outwards to rid themselves of the pain and anger.  I can see this compassionately without sinking into the same quagmire.

Restless storm clouds race

Dumping rain then dashing off

Leaving muck behind

Proceed mindfully

The Buddha may teach “No Mud No Lotus” but I prefer to choose what seeds bloom in my consciousness. Making mine an attitude of gratitude has over the past few years truly changed my perspective, which in turn has created changes in my life I would never have predicted.  So let rain, I’ll splash in the puddles to wash the mud off my boots.

 

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

 

Eggs-istential Hunt

So fellow travelers, it seems this morning’s little haiku has opened a gateway to a lot more words and an awareness of what was missing.

As more experiences in my daily life connect to my inner journey, it has become impossible to filter Spirit out of my writing. Close friends and fellow creatives tell me my writing has always been infused with spiritual perspectives yet I have often been hesitant to write about my direct relationship with Spirit, lest it be mistaken for religious sermonizing. Reflecting on my recent drought of creativity I’m aware this essential aspect of my experience has to be expressed if I am to write from my heart. Going forward I will tread carefully as if navigating a path through newly sprouted wildflowers. Light and Love are gentle, patient energies found in quiet spaces and I wish to be respectful of the beliefs others hold close.

~~~~~

I have a muddled relationship with religious observations.


Sacred altar in Luzerne Vally CA

Bear in mind I am that little girl in Sunday School who wanted to know why; for example, if Jesus had risen from death, why was he still dead on the cross in church. Fortunately Lutherans do not ex-communicate, but I did obey the directive to stop asking questions. One can say the most important lesson I learned in Sunday school was to keep my spiritual inquisitiveness in check at least until I was old enough to seek answers in my own. Meanwhile the Lutheran church has graciously adopted the Cross of Resurrection as its focal point in their churches.

Even as a very young child, the Christianity I was taught made no sense to me. How on earth could one put faith in a Father who would sacrifice his “only son” to save people who seemed bound and determined to keep acting in ways which required such an extreme measure in the first place. There was also quite a bit of conflict between what I was taught and what the Voice I heard in church told me. Yes, you read that right- in moments when focused on the beautiful music, mesmerized by the colors of the stained glass windows** there would sometimes be a Voice which spoke in my head.

Before we call for a psych eval know that this Voice did not “speak” in words so much as impressions or thoughts and always spoke of the importance of love and kindness. It was a Voice which, even at a very young age, I knew did not originate from my own mind. It is the Voice which, when I choose to listen, guides me to live from my heart, to choose compassion over judgment and continues to lead me to profound, if fleeting, experiences of the Presence of Light and permanence of Spirit.

Yeah, I know

Pretty wHeird.

And trust me, as an adult, for many years, I did everything I could to disprove the existence of this Voice. Except the more I did, the more the things this Voice told me proved to be true. Things like~

~ forgiveness releases you from the prison of holding others guilty

~ hatred is toxic and accomplishes nothing; it can and will kill you

~ most anger is self directed; letting it go brings healing

~ gratitude increases joy

~ peace is possible, see all of the above

So, in this season where tradition would have us reflect on the meaning of sacrifice and the concept of resurrection, I came back to those unanswered questions from my Sunday school days. The celebration of Easter itself has a complicated history, interlaced with pagan traditions of decorated eggs and an 18th century mystical egg laying “Osterhaus.” Much like the secular garb of Christmas, these are glittering distractions which we must go beyond to find deeper meaning.

In the spring season we grapple with resurrection and rebirth, two significantly different concepts. Rebirth is a new form of life, generated from something other than itself. Resurrection on the other hand is raising what was once dead to live again as itself. Easter, which always occurs after the Spring Equinox, is a time to be mindful of what we might resurrect in the annual cycle of rebirth. Awakening lost memories, buried wounds or guilt entombed long ago can create shock waves which unnerve our resolution to move forward. Yet, much like the contemporary “Easter eggs” of digital media and video games, these hidden elements can reveal new levels of awareness which help us live more fully in the present. To live our dreams, we must emerge from the shadows of the past and embrace the person we have become. In essence, while the past has shaped us it need not continue to define us. We can resurrect lost dreams infused with the energy of who we have become.

So fellow travelers, whatever beliefs you hold as truth, I wish blessings of this holy day to you . May the Easter eggs you find on the path bring gifts of joy as sweet as jelly beans .


Favorite Younger Daughter circa 2005

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready

**Photo Note: WordPress new block format randomly refuses to place some of my photo captions where I want them, so here is the caption for the window photo: The beautiful stained glass windows at Rupert United Methodist church. Several times a year I have the blessing of visiting this wonderful faith community where my friend Tom is minister. You can find his blog Two Tiny Churches at this link.

Easter Blossoms

So fellow travelers, today is Easter Sunday and it dawned appropriately shrouded in mist.

Being in a bit of a fog myself lately, this mood of ponderous mystery felt somewhat comforting, as if the gods and goddesses of earth and air had gently acknowledged my dispassionate sentiments. Unable to voice the emotions eddying within and around me, my writing has trickled into silence. So, Delilah and I have spent as much time on the trails as seasonal rains permitted. We’ve been blessed with relatively warm weather which has cleared most of the snow from our favorite trails. Although spring migration is in its earliest stage, we’ve had some excellent waterbird sightings and yesterday evening a small gathering of white throated sparrows singing close by our yard spoke of the promise of more warbling visitors soon to come.

Those dots are various water birds like mergansers and scaups visiting Onondaga Lake

When I cannot write, I seek solace in the wild. Often my experiences on the trails open up the block and words begin to resonate, but even my usually reliable haiku companions seem to have gone on hiatus. I have a dozen or so incongruous attempts and several narrative blog pieces which read flat and worse still, miss the mark of my intended reflection.

This morning I sat in deep meditation by my pond; finally, overnight temps are consistently above freezing so we can safely run the waterfall filter. As far back as I can remember, that sound of gently flowing water has always created joy in my heart. A handful of juncos and chickadees trilled their thank you’s for the fresh seed  just placed in the feeders. One perched on the branches of a quince bush full of newly emerged pinkish buds. Among them, at last, were words which sang true.

Peace waits silently

Seeking but an open heart

Joy ready to bloom

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.