Category Archives: Humanities

Connection

on the road to somewhere

Being an introvert and ambivalent about interacting, I often keep myself folded up when I’m out in the world. This also increases my sense of disconnection and loneliness, and yet I persist. However, sometimes I relax, and life beautifully unfolds.

I was at the motor vehicle department to apply for a REAL ID, which is the federally-approved driver’s license that will permit me to fly without carrying a passport. For this I needed several types of paperwork to confirm my identity; to provide proof of address, I brought a life insurance bill. When my number was called, the associate who helped me was first struck by my purple hair and commented how much she liked it. I get this a lot. I’ve been purple for six years, and it seems to delight other people as much as it does me.

Then she began looking at my papers. She asked me what the life insurance paper was, and I replied it was a bill for my life insurance. She paused and said, “I told my husband the other day we really need to get life insurance.” Then she stopped her work entirely and began telling me about her life. She has two adult children who moved back home and who don’t get along. She told me about the stress it created, and how she couldn’t afford the fee to file evictions on them (they won’t move out). I listened and empathized. I mentioned how I’d had a fight with my 12 year old daughter the day before, and how she’d said something utterly disrespectful. The associate sympathized. We talked about how difficult it is to parent. She continued to tell me how her husband and son nearly came to blows in a recent argument and advised me to nip insolent behavior in the bud. Somewhere in the conversation she began working on my license application as she spoke. When our transaction ended, I thanked her for sharing with me and wished her well, and she returned the sentiment.

I stepped into the next line to get my photo taken, but when it was my turn, my file wasn’t accessible. The associate had forgotten to close it; the photographer couldn’t proceed. The associate had gone to lunch and left her station. So I stepped aside while they searched for her. The staff was apologetic, and I said it really wasn’t a problem. As I waited, several other staff members passed by, and one woman said I was “rockin’ the purple hair!” and high-fived me. It was altogether a congenial experience. What surprised me was the connection outside the business at hand. I marvel at this, at the serendipity that arises when I am relaxed and receptive while out in the world. It changed the tone of my entire day for the better.

The Challenge of the Season

The challenge with this season is that our culture decides to focus on bright and shiny and joy, but reality does not change. There is still suffering. Christmas lights; people are sleeping outdoors in the cold. Baking cookies; 25% of the population in Silicon Valley is food insecure. Christmas carols; there are people sobbing and wailing in grief. Spending and spending on presents; foster kids have nothing. The differences are unsettling. My body is tired. My joints ache. My mind races with to-do lists.

So I do this: I sit in silence. I settle into my breathing and notice each breath. I take off my glasses and gently lay my hands on my face. I rest this way a few moments, feel the warmth and tenderness of my hands, feel my face relax. I move my hands to my head and neck, massaging them. If thoughts come, I decline the invitation to follow them. If I catch myself in a thought, I recognize and let it go. I do this until I feel real again, whole and connected. Then I feel into what comes alive in my core. What can I do in this moment, to help, to love, to heal part of the world? When an idea arises, I follow.

That idea might be to write a note to someone. Or pick up the phone and call. It might be to divert money that would be used for family gifts and spend it on gifts for children in foster care. Or to write a check to Second Harvest Food Bank. It’s as simple as really looking at the person who rings up my purchases and saying hello, how is your day going? And meaning it, receiving the response, making a connection.

mom and aunt reta hands

I’m With Her

I don’t post about politics. But this election is critical.

Here is a list: Hillary Clinton’s Record of Accomplishments.

Another record of Hillary Clinton’s accomplishments.

Trump is: a narcissist, pathological liar, sexual predator, sexist, and a sociopath.

Characteristics of a sociopath:

  • Glibness and superficial charm
  • Shallow emotions
  • Grandiose sense of self
  • Pathological lying
  • Manipulative and conning
  • Lack of empathy/callousness
  • Impulsive nature
  • Promiscuous sexuality
  • Contemptuous of others
  • Authoritarian
  • Has an emotional need to justify their bad actions
  • Unable to feel remorse or guilt
  • Desire for despotic control

Hillary Clinton should be our next president.

Step by Step

We need to remember that an appreciation for challenge, and a belief that we can find a way to change, learn and grow, can’t itself be fixed in place. Instead, we all struggle with fear and discouragement at times. Sometimes we run toward new experiences. Sometimes we have to find a way to learn something we really did not want to learn. Sometimes, some part of us is always on the floor, sobbing: “I can’t. I’m bad at this. I’ll never get it.”

So how do you raise a child with a growth mind-set, along with a nice healthy appreciation for where it came from and the will to keep it strong? By applying the encouraging messages of the growth mind-set to yourself. I’ll borrow, out of context, another phrase from Dr. Dweck: “The point isn’t to get it all right away. The point is to grow your understanding step by step. What can you try next?”

-K.J. Dell’antonia, ‘Nice Try!’ is Not Enough

Avoidance

Here is my self-talk: “I’m done. I’m done with so many books on my shelves that I’ve owned for decades and not read yet. Done with books I’ve read once and have no intention of reading again.”

I’ve purged two grocery bags of books from my shelves. I engage in a little dance with the books that remain, telling myself that some of them I will probably use sometime (they number in hundreds). It’s an interesting experience to look at a book and decide whether it departs, and why.

Books represent security to me — the idea that if I read enough, learn enough, I can control life. I can create safety. The idea that I don’t know enough, and that words and ideas will impart wisdom. I’m not judging myself for having spent the money on the books. They will find their homes. Yet it is time — Life is telling me — to interrupt this impulse and learn to BE with whatever arises that makes me uncomfortable.

Sometimes I tell myself I need to purchase a book because I cannot borrow it from the public library even via interlibrary loan (I like to read somewhat uncommon titles). At the root of this story, however, is again, the reflexive movement toward the familiar role of student. I delay action and avoid discomfort by returning to a role I know so intimately.

When I moved from Syracuse to Austin, I owned a personal library of 800 books. I couldn’t afford to move them all. I culled them severely and shipped only the books that generated the strongest connection within me, about 100. Over the years I’ve had the space and means to accrue more books. I want to engage with life differently. I own 1,311 books. It’s time to unburden myself.

Enlightenment Through a Cat

God has come into my life. Now, don’t click away. Don’t let that word shut you down. I might not mean what you think I mean. It’s not a word I’ve used in my life for years. Stay with me while I meander through my story.

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This is Smokey. He’s been around a long time. He was in the neighborhood when we moved into the house five years ago. He belongs to no one and everyone. For years, I would scratch behind his ears and say hello, and then I’d go on with my life. Someone fed him. Someone gave him shelter in bad weather. But he was just around, and I did not seek him, nor did he seek me. (Of course, my Stella cat was still with us until January 2014.)

In January, Smokey began hanging out in our back yard. He would sleep in our garden. He liked to pop bubbles with Claire. He starting sitting on my lap. He allows me to trim his nails. Even though we didn’t feed him, he stuck around. Last month, I began feeding him. I did this after he brought me a live bird he’d caught and delivered to my feet. So now he gets two meals a day.

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I made him a little shelter when rainstorms came. But mostly, he likes to sleep on me or the mulch.

He was injured in early April, so I took him to a vet. He didn’t want to go, but once there he chilled in the exam room waiting for the doctor. I’ve never seen a cat so mellow at a vet’s office.

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My husband is not open to having another pet, so for now, Smokey is not permitted in the house. He strides right in the front door some mornings, though, clearly telling us he wants to be ours. I usher him out.

The other day as I sat on my patio with Smokey on my lap, this thought arose: “Every afternoon, God takes a nap on my lap.”

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Where did that come from? I don’t know, but it felt true and real. Last Saturday morning after I fed him, I reflected on the morning. And one sentence that came was, “I fed God breakfast, and now he has gone to stroll the neighborhood, looking after all the world.”

Oh my goodness. Yes. God sought me out. God has chosen me. God loves me, and I love God. This word — God — is loaded with so much history for me. It evokes vastly different meanings for people, and so I avoid using it. But this is what IS in my life. This cat. His arrival, his presence, is a call to sit and be quiet. An invitation to intimacy. I recognize God in my life. THIS is what it means to have a relationship with God!

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Extending that metaphor, I experience God everywhere. In every person, animal, plant, and rock. God is everything and everywhere. God is found in acts of care, and God is found in simple being. My goodness! Now I get what namaste means! Yeah, yeah, I’d always known what it meant, but now I experience it in my being.

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I have used many words to suggest what is divine in my life: Presence, the Mystery, Buddhamind, Spirit, Being, Ground of Being, Life, Chi, Love. They allude to what I mean; they can only suggest. Just as the a photo of the moon is not the moon, a word is not the thing it references. Something as multi-faceted as the Universe can be explored through science, math, literature, and art, but it cannot be totally integrated by the human mind. So we need shorthand, a word or a number, like X, to represent the holy mystery of All That Exists and our relationship with it. Lately, that “something” is the word God. So, God it is.

The Unseen Ground of All Existence

blue mist

Analysis has its peculiar scientific value, but the Spirit which passes from one person to another as a flame leaps from one coal to another grasps truth in its wholeness as a living thing united within itself. …Spiritual truth cannot be sharply defined like scientific truth. It exists on the dim edge of the unexplored region beyond the horizon of self-conscious thought. The language of the Spirit is symbolic and its suggestions are not so much facts as signs which point beyond themselves to the unseen ground of all existence. So inarticulate sometimes is the voice of the Spirit that it can be expressed only by a sigh, or even by complete silence.

-Howard Brinton

No Ordinary Life

No Ordinary Life

Drink some coffee
light a candle
Rain patters
light a candle
Cat purrs
light a candle
A child’s party
light a candle
Eat cake
light a candle
Buy groceries
light a candle
Fold laundry
light a candle
Clean the bathroom
light a candle
Pay bills
light a candle
Read books
light a candle
Sing carols
light a candle
Cuddle and tickle
light a candle
Wrap presents
light a candle
Color and draw
light a candle
Bake cookies
light a candle
Cook dinner
light a candle
Wash dishes
light a candle
Bathe the child
light a candle
Rock and cuddle
light a candle
Sing lullabyes
light a candle

light a candle
light a candle
light a candle
light a candle
light a candle
light a candle
light a candle

light a candle

–Kathryn Harper

In memory of those who died at Sandy Hook.

Candles at Bongeunsa Temple

Photo courtesy of VancityAllie and Creative Commons

The Most Beautiful Thing

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed. This insight into the mystery of life, coupled though it be with fear, has also given rise to religion. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms— this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong in the ranks of devoutly religious men.

I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own—a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotism.

It is enough for me to contemplate the mystery of conscious life perpetuating itself through all eternity, to reflect upon the marvelous structure of the universe which we can dimly perceive, and to try humbly to comprehend even an infinitesimal part of the intelligence manifested in nature.

Albert Einstein

Afterthought

In asserting: God* exists, we merely bring down overpowering reality to the level of thought. Our belief is but an afterthought.

The transition from obliviousness to an awareness of God, is not a leap over a missing link in a syllogism but a retreat, giving up premises rather than adding one.

–Abraham Joshua Heschel

*or Brahman, Nirvana, Ground of Being, Absolute, whatever word stands for you

Minimum Standards of Well Being

One ought to enter old age the way one enters the senior year at a university, in exciting anticipation of consummation. Rich in perspective, experienced in failure, the person advanced in years is capable of shedding prejudices and the fever of vested interests. He does not see anymore in every fellow man a person who stands in his way, and competitiveness may cease to be we his way of thinking.

At every home for the aged there is a director of recreation in charge of physical activities; there ought to be also a director of learning in charge of intellectual activities. We insist upon minimum standards for physical well being, what about minimum standards for intellectual well being?

–Abraham Joshua Heschel