Monday, December 19, 2011

Roots, The Traditions of the Season

 Joe is a wise man and a nice guy who has the knack for saying just the right thing.   A few weeks ago he told me that to blossom we need roots.   I have always thought of myself as a little rootless and his comment made me ponder what that meant and if it was really true. When I took a look around I realized that I had actually put down very deep roots without knowing that’s what I was doing.  That’s a good thing because Joe's right. We need roots and traditions and rituals are roots that ground us to the deepest part of ourselves and give voice to our soul. When we participate in traditions we are reminded that we are loved and that we belong.  Traditions connect us to community and give our lives richness.  Traditions are also living things that need to change and evolve for them to continue to be meaningful. There are some traditions that are better left behind and new ones that need to be created depending on the season of your life.

Being single means I am free to create rituals and holiday traditions that reflect my spiritual life and its needs. It’s easier for me to find my emotional and spiritual balance because I’m not driven by the shoulds and musts of the world. Revel says it’s really because I’m spoiled and am living the life.  He has a point,but it’s my life and I want to make it glorious.  A few years ago I stopped putting up a tree because I don’t have kids, hate the process and don’t have a good place for it. I do, however like the tradition of putting evergreens in my home and create small altars around my home filled with evergreens and candles.  So, here I am, surrounded by altars dedicated to this, the most holy of seasons when we are reminded of the power of love in our lives and the world. This season of love in action is the time we give free reign to our souls. Our hearts soften and deepen with love, reminding us that we are spiritual beings first whose purpose is to love each other.

Because I don’t have kids or a family it would be easy to skip the whole Christmas experience. I would be missing something vital if I did that though. When I take the time to participate in traditions I open my heart and life up to something greater than myself.   I celebrate Christmas because I am a Christian. I participate in the traditions of the season because I am a human being, but that’s not all I am.  I am a deeply loved child of God whose birthright it is to love and be loved.  Dale Evans said, “Christmas is love in action, my child. Every time we love, every time we give its Christmas.”   Here’s to Christmas now and throughout the year to come. Merry Christmas everyone.






                                       
                                                     
                             

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Evil Among Us

None of us are perfect except for maybe cowboys, and I'm probably biased about them. It’s easy to forget that as much as we all want to be good and try to be good we occasionally fall short of the mark.  Then what happens? In a healthy community you don’t have to be perfect. You can be yourself, flaws and all. There is an out pouring of trust in the basic goodness and inherent loving kindness that is in all of us. People are supported and thrive and the community flourishes as a result. That’s easy to write sitting in the corner of the local coffee shop. There are times however, when knowing and doing the right thing is a moral conundrum with no easy answers.

I live in a neighborhood with tree lined streets and sidewalks that are used regularly by the young mothers with strollers and teenagers on skateboards.  Emory, CDC, and the VA hospital are nearby and the neighborhood reflects this. It is a nice mix of young professionals and original home owners from the time it was converted from farm land. My neighbor around the corner was raised here and raised her son here next door to her mother after a stint of knocking around Greece and Turkey. There is a park, a nature preserve, a pub and a Presbyterian Church with seventies style stained glass within walking distance.  The neighborhood Facebook page is active, filled with the energy of mainly young parents. One time I got mad at the tree man Revel lined up for me and asked for other recommendations. Within an hour I had three referrals and two hours later an appointment was lined up with a guy who is an absolute gem. It’s that kind of neighborhood.

A few weeks ago my email account was suddenly bombarded with posts from the FB page that started with an announcement that there was a registered sex offender living in the neighborhood. I was neck deep in end of term projects and tests, PTO, parent conferences and report cards and simply watched what unfolded until I could unchain myself from work long enough to sit down and really find out what was going on. It didn’t take long for the man’s mug shot to be posted and a lynch mob to form.  I understood the inclination; none the less my heart fell because lynch mobs of any kind for any reason serve no one. I’ve seen enough westerns to know that much.

In a dysfunctional community lashed together with fear, rigidity in all things becomes the norm. Mean spirited sniping is heralded as gospel and people become stingy with their love. Tolerance, forgiveness, trust, and compassion fly right out the window. At the very least you find yourself walking on egg shells because one wrong move will have you on an ice floe wondering what the hell happened. At the worst self righteous vigilantism stakes its icy claim on our lives to the determent of everyone concerned.

In healthy community people are allowed to be who they are warts and all without having to worry about being judged and found wanting. You are not rigidly pushed and prodded into a role someone creates for you.  It’s ok to be different. It’s ok to be yourself. We are allowed to have a bad day, a bad week, or heaven forbid a bad year and still be supported.  In a healthy community we are allowed to be what we all are to one degree or another, flawed. A healthy community reminds us of our responsibility to each other and keeps us tethered to our love. And if we ever needed love we need it now. That means treating each other with kindness and respect instead condemnation and self righteous judgments.  But, a registered sex offender Deb, seriously? 

Ok, I’ll admit it. This was one of those times when I struggled to find a balance between the hippie in me and the sergeant in me. I didn’t know what to think or what the right thing to do was. Reality, illusive at the best of times, was lost somewhere between a division test, PTO, and my own fears, mainly my own fears.  That’s why we need strong, healthy communities. They keep us sane. A healthy community allows questioning of the prevailing consensus that fear denies. A healthy community listens to the lone voice that says, “Hey, wait a minute here. Maybe we don’t have all the facts.  What else do we need to know?  Is there a different way of handling this?”

Evil exists. It has always existed and will always exist. The question is how to live with it without becoming evil ourselves. It’s reasonable to protect ourselves and our children, but at what cost?  That lynch mob I mentioned? My not so secret fear is that if they come for him what’s to stop them from coming for me or you at some point for a reason they believe in their heart is true.

I am part of several communities that are healthy and one or two that need a booster shot of love, that or a kick in the ass. Some times a kick in the ass seems like a really good idea. We all play a role in each other’s lives.  We are either creating love or feeding fear by how we treat each other and that includes the person we don’t like or are afraid of.  I have always believed that Gandhi knew what he was talking about when he said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  I don’t always know what that looks like. I don’t think any of us do hundred percent of the time. That’s where community comes in to play.  There is always someone who can demonstrate love and a different way of being if we allow them to have a voice and we have the courage to listen for a half a second.  The problem is we don’t listen. Maybe it’s time we started. 

                                                                 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Who Could I Be?

 We human beings are interesting creatures. We look over our shoulders at what was and wonder what will be.   I don’t know about you but, when I leaned in that direction it because I was trying to figure out how I got where I was so I didn’t do it again.  In the immortal words of Captain Picard, “I’ve made some fine mistakes.” I have to be honest though; there are some mistakes that I would just as soon I’d skipped.  Drummers will seriously make you question God, yourself and the universe. And I am not exaggerating. Then there was a divorce and thinking that I could die a time or two.  Each incident brought me to my knees and made me take a hard look at who I was and how I got there. That seems to be an inevitable part of the human experience. I‘ll tell you something though, who am I is a lot more interesting a question than who was I especially as you get older. There’s a lot less angst involved for one thing. An even better question is who could I be? Who could I be if I weren’t afraid? Who could I be if I didn’t limit myself with convenient labels?  Who could I be if I released the past and let go of expectations of what I think my life should be at this point?

I’ve led a very interesting life. It’s more than a little tempting to point to the pictures on the wall and say that’s who I was and be content to declare that’s who I am. I could dance in the past the way so many of us do but, I’m curious about who I could be at this juncture of my life if I get out of the way. Don’t get me wrong now I’m still holding out for that blue eyed guitar playing cowboy from Montana who paddles a red Caption if only because it amuses me and heaven forbid that I’m not amused.  On the off chance that doesn't happen however, I’m doing my level best to keep an open mind and an untroubled spirit because while I may not know who I am let alone who I could be I think God does and I’m curious about that.  I don’t know who I am.  Do you reckon that’s what ignorance is bliss means?  Probably not.   

Revel says that I’m living the life. He means that I pretty much do what I want when I want and there’s some truth to that.  Then I remind him of the limitations of the life I’m living just to shut him up and get in the last word. I’m a woman, he’s man, do the math.  He’s right though. I am living the life, but it’s not because I do what I want when I want. There are draw backs to any life at any time. It’s all a matter of perspective. If I’m living the life it’s because I’m happy with who I am and what I have. I am enough and I have enough. That gives me confidence to be able to ask who could I be and trust that while I don’t know that answer yet I will.

                                                         

   
     




Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Us and Them

My generation asks, “Where were you when you heard about Kennedy or about King?” The generation before mine asks, “Where were you when you heard about Pearl Harbor?” This generation asks, “Where you on 9/11?”  Those events ripped apart the fabric of our lives. After each of them we had a choice to embrace the transforming power of love or to use them as an excuse to broker hate. 

Lately I’ve been given ample opportunity to be part of hate mongering and its wreaking havoc on my soul. There is a woman in my circle who has back stabbed and alienated most of us. None of us like Rachel much, but instead of forgiving her and moving on we talk about all the reasons we don’t like her. That would be fine and dandy if didn’t war on my soul. Every time I have an ugly thought or conversation about her it feels like someone has taken a fist full of nails and raked them on a chalk board.  That doesn’t stop me from shutting up though, go figure.   

I hate how I feel about her more than anything she has ever done. I could sit here and tell you all the reasons none of us like her and you would probably agree.  That’s the problem.  We bolster our dislike for her with stories about what awful thing she did or we think she will do. We feed our fear with endless tales of her evil intentions. We’ve made her a them and given ourselves permission to unkind and mean. Forgiveness doesn’t stand a chance. 

You don’t have to like everyone but you do have to be nice. Isn’t that what we teach our children? Weren’t we all taught that the greatest of these is love?   Except when it’s someone that we don’t like or who is not like us. Then it’s ok to hate them, right? They’re not us. They’re one of them and that justifies all the vitriolic labels we slap on them.   That’s always been the case in this country. There’s always a them; another wave of immigrants seeking a new life, women who don’t follow the rules, people who worship God in a different way. We don’t seem to need much reason to hate. All it takes is to be different, a different race, a different religion, a different sexual orientation, a different culture. Just point your finger and someone will haul out the Bible, history, science, and voodoo, whatever it takes to rationalize our loathing for another child of God.

I don’t want create anymore thems in my life for the sake of my weary soul if nothing else. Seriously, nails on a chalk board folks.  The only thing I can think of to do is hold Rachel in my heart and pray for her like her mother. To pray for her to know love, to have her heart’s desire, to be filled with abundance in all things, to know glory and happiness. All I know how to do is pray, so that’s what I’m doing.  I’m doing it for my sake because the one thing I know for sure is the power of love to transform our lives and our world. And I’m the one who needs to be transformed. 

                                              
                                                  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Are You Creating Love in Your World?

People tease me about my aversion to drummers. They think I’m joking, trust me I’m not. One was more than most women experience and three were just waay too many. All I can say for myself is that some of us have forgotten what love looks like. That’s part of the problem and in my case accounts for the drummers I’ve known. It took me a while to learn what love looked like. I will say this for the experiences; they turned me on to some really good music. It’s nobody’s fault that there wasn’t much love when I was growing up. Life happens that way sometimes. I knew the love was always there though and I just kept moving toward the light. There’s a lot of light in my world these days and I hope I’m creating more of it. That’s my intention.

What am I creating in the world? Am I creating what loves me back? Where do I create love for myself and the world? These are the questions I find myself asking these days. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. I create love by being in community with people who are compassionate and respectful with everyone more often then they aren’t. Hey, I get it. We’re human beings. We are flawed and messy and deeply, deeply loved. Let’s try and remember that once in a while, shall we? I create love by doing things that help me express the aspects of love like respect, compassion and loving kindness. I create love by doing things for the fun of it, like paddling and singing. I create love by being in nature in whatever form I can get it in and remembering my place it. Where are you creating love? What loves you back? I’m curious about it because there are lots of different ways that Loves shows her face. It’s interesting to look for the face of God in the world.

I like creating love because when I’m loved I can take risks and can be myself. Doesn't that sound like a nice way to live? That’s me with the red kayak mailbox dancing around the living room with the blinds wide open and the music blasting. What can I say, it loves me back. We are here for Love’s holy sake. We are here to love all of humanity because it is all a Holy creation. Look at what loves you back in your life. Look where your spirit feels safe, where you feel loved, uplifted and confident in the path your spirit is on. Do more of that, lots and lots more.
             

                                                               


                                                     

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What Loves You Back?

   I saw for myself that negativity wasn’t working and went on a 90 day challenge to eliminate it from my life. I learned a lot about what causes negativity and the adverse effect it has on our lives, our wellbeing and our world.  I write this blog because I need the reminder of that time. It’s a way of keeping the negativity that has become so pervasive in our world at bay.  And it’s everywhere.  Well, maybe not every where. There are pockets of light in the world. The Daily Good by Charmaine Coumbra  is one of them. The Daily Good is always worth reading but, occasionally one of them is real gem.   The last two sentences in this post from The Pacific Voyagers   is a particular jewel.
   
       “There's a theory that was developed for cultivating gardens, it's named after the old lady who used the idea. I can't remember it's name or hers, but the guts of it is that she had a garden overrun with invasive species and here and there were just a few of the natives that she really wanted. She didn't go for the usual method of trying to stamp out the things she didn't want, she simply made a little space around the things she did want and nurtured them so they would grow. Slowly the pockets expanded and moved the invasives out. We can apply this to social tendencies. If we decide that a particular way of being is what we want we can nurture it where ever we find it. Perhaps this works because we take the 'fight' out of the process. We're no longer 'fighting' to overcome the negative. We are nurturing to build what we want.  

 It’s funny how things work.  I’ve had similar conversations with a half a dozen different people this week.  Everyone seems to be saying the same thing that these guys said. What we’re doing isn’t working so isn’t it time we try what we know does work? I know, let’s create the kind of world we want to live in by nurturing what loves us back. That’s how Catharine put it.

When I was doing my 90 Day Challenge Catharine was of my biggest supporters. She witnessed my journey and offered wisdom when I faltered.  I have always found her to have some sense about things; partly because she has chosen to do some pretty heavy spiritual work.  We were discussing the Pacific Voyagers article  when she said that she has learned to, just STOP looking at what is, or what I see or perceive as negative influences, and START nurturing that which I do want, have wanted, desire to enlarge in my life, or want more of.”  Catharine said she did what loved her back. That’s a great way of putting it.  I see a lot of people doing they same thing. They’re taking back their lives and the world they live in.  They’re creating the world they want to live in.  They do what loves them back, what enhances their lives and is uplifting to their spirit and they drop what creates havoc and chaos. That would be all things negative in case you’re taking notes.

We’ve always known what to do and how to do it.  Now is the time to do it. That’s been the general consensus of people that I’ve talked to this week. We need to stop doing what doesn’t work. Stop blaming and finger pointing and pretending that it does any good. We have always known that love is The Way.  We’ve heard and been told that in every way imaginable by every sage and guide, prophet and saint sent to us.  The greatest of these is love. It’s not rocket science, guys. It’s really pretty simple.  When I was doing my challenge people kept asking if I was trying to be more positive.  I was very deliberate about not doing that. I decided early on in my challenge that I didn’t want to replace one kind of thinking with another because I was curious about what was in the space that negativity took up. It was love. All I had to do was give it space to grow. Now, how cool is that? Cultivating love in all its permutations; generosity, respect, kindness, compassion, tolerance, forgiveness, patience, is the essence of creation.  It doesn’t necessarily diminish our problems but does create more love and provides fertile ground for more inspired solutions to bloom forth.  What loves you back?  Nurture that instead of what you see or perceive is a negative, you would be surprised at what blossoms in your life. I know I was.  


                                                                    Part 2 Next Week












                                 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Clean Slate


Rodney was eight when he changed my life.  Eleven years ago I was hired to teach third grade at my current school in a smallish town outside of Atlanta. During back to school night I noticed a mother hovering in the corner by herself looking sorry eyed and mournful. I made my way across the room said, “You look distressed. How can I help you?” She took a breath and looked hard at me, taking my measure the way mothers do when they’re worried about their child.  “Miss,” she said, “I just want someone to love my boy.”  

Now, for the record, no parent should ever have to say that to a teacher. Loving the children who are entrusted to our care is the least that we should do for them and for ourselves for that matter. I promised her that I cared about her child, that he was important to me and I guaranteed her that he would be happy and successful. Then I promised myself that I didn’t care if he was Jeffery Dalhmer with blood dripping from his hands. I was, by God, going to love that boy. And I did. Mind you, it wasn’t without some challenges.  Rodney gave me a run for my money and so did the teachers. Everyone in the school seemed hell bent and determined to let me know just how awful they thought he was. I pitched several fits because I didn’t know how to put sugar on it.  When one of the teachers who had taken a dislike to Rodney and me went to the counselor to try and get something done about him Glenda told her bluntly, “You’re going to have to go through Debra to get to Rodney and I wouldn’t cross her on my best day.”  People left the two of us alone after that and somewhere along the line Rodney learned that I loved him and would do whatever it took for him to be successful. He stopped fighting me and started trusting me.  He blossomed and so did I.

   Last week another mother came into my room on another back to school night with her daughter Latisha who was new to our school.  The mother looked fretful around the edges of her heart so, I asked her if there was anything she was concerned about.  “Yes, ma’am, my daughter has some problems with her behavior.”  I didn’t say anything for a moment and then I told Latisha that I had a present for her. It was the same thing I gave Rodney and the same thing someone gave me, a clean slate.

All too often we damn ourselves and everyone else to hell and back and hang on to our damnation like it’s a life line to shore instead a fraying line to a sinking ship.  We forget how many times someone has given us a clean slate. Heaven knows that I’ve had my share of them rather I deserved them or not. Trust me when I tell you that I have provoked more then one or two people past the point of sanity (I’m not counting the drummers who probably deserved it). Giving my students a clean slate is the least I can do. Rodney got as many as he needed sometimes several in one day. Like I said, learning to love Rodney was not without some challenges. It was worth it for my own sake as much as his.

 It’s easy to think of love like an old Coke commercial, you know, “I’d like to teach the world to sing….”  The truth is love is not for the faint of heart.  Love takes a whole lot of courage sometimes. There were days with Rodney that I wanted to beat my head up against a wall and poke my eye out with a stick.  When I reached that point I would remember Rodney’s mother and the promise I made to her. I promised her that I was going to love her child and I was going to love her child one way or another. Most of the time all it took for me to return to love was to remember my promise to her. The  minute I returned to love, which by the way is our natural state of being, I became forbearing, instantly patient and tolerant, then I was able to give Rodney what we both needed, a clean slate. 

           

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Gossip

  
My mom used to say, “It’s all fine and good until you get hurt.” She was usually referring to some hair brained scheme my brothers and I dreamed up.  She might just as well been talking about gossip though.  It’s all fine and good until someone gets hurt and someone always gets hurt.  If you’re saying something behind someone’s back it’s gossip. I don’t care what your intention is. It’s mean. It’s bitchy. It’s two faced. So, why do we do it?

For one thing gossip is what passes for entertainment these days. Just turn on any entertainment show and even a few news shows for that matter.  Gossip sells. That’s the bottom line.  It feels justifiable to talk about someone we don’t like and gossiping makes it easy to dislike people. There’s a vicious cycle for you.  We whisper innuendo about people we barely know to make ourselves look better. Snide half truths are exploited to take people down a peg when we think they’ve gotten too full of themselves.  And as odd as it sounds we feed the rumor mill to bond with people and feel connected. According to a famous study about negativity in 2006 people feel closer to people over a shared dislike about people than a shared like. If that’s not a sad truth I don’t know what is. We talk about people and tell ourselves that we’re just trying to understand them.  Come one, let’s be honest here. We do it to be mean. Gossiping is social bullying at its worst rather you’re nine, nineteen or ninety. The reasons for doing it are the same and so are the results. 

Gossip is especially tempting to me when I’m annoyed with someone or feel wronged. I want release from my ill feelings and gossiping feels like a quick fix. Too bad it never works. Gossiping about someone will lay waste to your self confidence quicker than a plague of locust in a West Texas wheat field. If you want a boost in self confidence stop gossiping. That’s something the self esteem gurus won’t tell you. The real damage for me is that gossip hardens my heart and creates a barrier between myself and the person I’m gossiping about. That’s reason enough to purge gossip from my life. Gossip is one of the more noxious ways negativity expresses itself. It is devastating to relationships and communities of all kinds because it destroys the glue that holds a group together, trust.  Without trust you got nothing, baby.  That’s the real bottom line.

 My friends and I made a pact this week, no gossiping period, end of discussion. Gossip not only damages the relationship with the person we’re gossiping about it damages our relationship with each other. If a dog will bring you a bone, he’ll carry one. That’s how gossip works.  It’s cheap currency. I want more for myself and for my life. I got the whole it’s either fear or love baby thing and gossip is not love for anyone.
                                            
              
  


 “I resolve to speak ill of no man whatever, not even in a matter of truth; but rather by some means excuse the faults I hear charged upon others, and upon proper occasions speak all the good I know of everybody. “ ~Benjamin Franklin







Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Releasing Expectations

 The first thing I did when I went on my 90 Day No Negativity Challenge was to stop complaining.   When I complain or am around people who complain I feel snarky and dissatisfied with everyone and everything.  I am not diggin’ myself and loving my life which is a complete and total bummer because I like diggin’ myself and loving my life.  Complaining puts a damper on happiness. That includes complaining about what someone didn't do that I think they should have because I had an expectation about how they should behave.  I got blindsided by that this week in a relatively minor way.

Andy plays the banjo at a jam I go to. He has made it pretty clear that he doesn’t like it when there is a lot of singing.  He likes to play fiddle songs, you know songs without words and I like to sing, that would be songs that do have words. The last few weeks Andy has been kind of nice to me and by nice I mean not rude. So, when I ran into him at a jam this week I expected him to be nice again and guess what? He wasn’t. I’ll spare you the long and completely irrelevant details of it because the problem wasn’t what Andy said or did. It was my reaction and I wouldn’t have had a reaction at all if I didn’t have an expectation, an expectation by the way that I neglected to share with him. I guess he didn’t get the memo that said it was Be Nice to Debra Day.

Expectations are one of the ways we try to control our fears about the future. Go ahead and think about that for a minute or two. I know I had to. We mistakenly believe that people have to behave a certain way in order for us to be happy. Our happiness is not determined by what other people do or don’t do. Occasionally we need to be reminded of that, I do anyway. How many times have you been disappointed and gotten your panties in a twist because someone didn’t do what you expected them to do? They didn’t follow your unspoken rules and you felt justified in your self righteous indignation about their imagined ill will towards you.  Trust me, most of the time it has nothing to do with you. There are no victims here. You’re getting that right? One of the greatest gifts we give someone is the freedom to be who they are. When we stop trying to manage the future by imposing rigid rules called expectations on it we are liberated from our fears if only for a moment.

A good teacher will tell you that the key to learning is repetition. The more you do something the easier it gets. This week I got to practice releasing the expectations I have about Andy and everyone else in the process.  I can state a preference and make a choice but no one owes me anything. The world is a gift as it is, and Andy is part of my world.  When I released my expectations about him, both good and bad I was left with peace and greater compassion for both of us. There is a place of all of us in this world. We are each and everyone one of us a gift to each other and the world but only if we don’t let expectation get in the way. It’s either fear or love, baby.


                                                          



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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Power of Choice

Someone told me that angels envy humans because they get to choose to love God. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I do know that the act of choosing empowers that which is chosen. I always thought that was the point of the story of Job, but I could be wrong. I’m not wrong about the importance of making conscious choices about our attitudes and responses though.

The Law of Sacrifice by Brett and Kate Mckay tells the story of James Fredette and the choices he made. If you don’t read anything else today read his story and what the Brett and Kate Mckay have to say about choice and sacrifice. “If you are unhappy in your choice, it is because you chose something that you do not really believe to have higher value than that which you left behind.”

Some of you are reading this and saying, “Yeah, but I didn’t have a choice.” Your husband left you, your job got downsized or outsourced, your daughter ran off with the village idiot. You’re right; you didn’t have a choice about what happened to you. Bad things happen to us all though, each and every one of us. It’s all part of the wilderness experience of being human. Come on, you know that. You may not have a choice about what happens to you, but you do have a choice about how you respond. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl remains one of the most powerful books I’ve read to date. Dr. Frankl was a therapist in Nazi Germany when he was sent to a concentration camp during The Holocaust. While he was in Theresienstadt concentration camp he noticed that some people rose to the occasion and he wondered why. There’s a little more to it than that but, that’s the gist of it. His book is a life lesson in the power of choice. “Our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude.”

Make no mistake about it; negativity in all its innumerable forms is a choice that you make because you believe it has more value than love. Complaining makes us feel powerful in a world where we may feel powerless. Sniping and ridicule masquerade as insights. Shout your woe is me sad story loud enough and you might get to claim your ten minutes of fame on national T.V. We imprison ourselves with negativity and call it what it’s not, reality. Every moment of every day we choose. We choose to sit in love or we choose to sit in fear. It’s either fear or love, baby. It’s all up to you.
                                           
                                           

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Don't Bring Me Down

One of the hallmarks of people who are negative is the mistaken belief that things have to be a certain way in order for them to be happy.  The waitress should have refilled their coffee sooner, that person in front of them shouldn’t be on their cell phone, their husband should have bought roses instead of carnations.  It’s as if they are living their lives according to a script that no one else has. And they’re quick to come to a conclusion about it all means. Who needs Dr. Phil when they have all the answers.  The waitress didn’t fill their coffee sooner because she doesn’t care about her customers.  The person on the cell phone is selfish. Their husband doesn’t think about what he’s doing.  It is a vicious cycle of unhappiness that contaminates everything around them. 

One of the ways I’ve been able to avoid that particular type of thinking is to care less about stuff that I either can’t do anything about or that just isn’t that important to begin with.   Caring less doesn’t mean I don’t care at all. It simply means that I’ve stopped taking a stand when it doesn’t matter. You’ve heard the expression, don’t sweat the small stuff, it’s all small stuff. The older I get the more I know just how true that is even when the small stuff begins to feel a little like Chinese water torture, drip, drip, drip. 

I took my truck in for an oil change and it needed a new oil pan and casket, ca ching. My neighbors came by to tell me I have a dead tree in my hard, ca ching, ca ching. I got my hearing tested and yes, big surprise; it’s time for hearing aides, ca ching, ca ching, ca ching.  I didn’t like having to do any of it and I really didn’t like having to pay for any of it but it wasn’t something that changed my inner peace and well being.   It helps tremendously that I don’t have people in my life who interpret those experiences through a negative filter. There’s no one to put a negative spin on any of those experiences leaving me to let them come and go.

Most of the things that happen are just things that happen. Any meaning they have is meaning that we give them.  It’s just as easy to attribute a positive meaning to a situation as it is a negative meaning. It’s a choice. We can make that choice with a knee jerk reaction that perpetuates fear or we can stop, breath and make a different choice that comes from self compassion and faith in a loving universe. It’s either fear or love, baby. What’s it gonna be?

                                             

               


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Break Out the Chain Saws!


The last time Revel came over to do my yard he told me that he was cutting down the holly tree at the bottom of the deck.  I didn’t want it cut down. I have enjoyed many, many hours in a hammock that is strung between the back deck fence and that tree. That it’s dead and has been dead for quite some time hasn’t bothered me one whit. It does what I want it to do, hold up a pleasant place to read.  If Revel wants to cut stuff down I have a back yard full of stuff that needs cutting.  I suggested that to Revel. His response was, “It’s dead wood, it’s coming down. Find a new place for your hammock.”  I don’t have a new place for my hammock. I tried stringing it between two sections of the fence. That lasted all of ten minutes when the fence pulled loose and dumped me, iced tea and a collection of books in a wet mess on the ground. Thanks, Revel. Now I don’t have a place for my hammock and I have a fence that has to be fixed.

Cutting down dead wood in the yard and garden is pretty straight forward, albeit messy work. Identify what’s dead and get the chain saw out. Except that no one thinks I should have a chain saw and I don’t always know when something’s dead. I keep waiting for it to spring back to life. Only it won’t and it keeps anything new that could grow from taking root.  Cutting back dead wood is necessary at various times in our lives. I know that, it’s just that there are so many other things I would rather do with my time and money. Negativity is the least of what prevents new growth.  Outdated beliefs, hidden agendas, and personal myths we call truth all prevent growth.  Cutting back dead wood in your inner life takes a little bit of time and self reflection.

Ecclesiastes has always been a source of wisdom for me, “Say not thou, what is the cause that the former days were better than these? For thou doest not inquire wisely concerning this." Ecclesiastes 7:10. The danger with self reflection is that looking at can become an excuse for looking back and making a dangerous foray into a mythological past.  When we see what we thought something was we close our eyes and hearts to what is true about it now.  We look back at a past tainted by longing for what we thought it was and become blind to the effect that has on our lives.  It shouldn’t take landing on our butts in a wet mess for us to break out the chainsaws.

In The Sacred Journey Fredrick Buechner writes, “We cannot live out our lives constantly looking back, listening back, lest we be turned into pillars of longing and regret, but to live without listening at all is to live deaf to the fullness of the music.”  It is an act of self love to occasionally look back, not with longing and regret but clear sighted faith so that we can clear away the dead wood that we have hung our lives on.  Then and only then can we begin the task of recreating our lives and our world anew. 

                                        

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sinking into Stillness

 Most summers I set ridiculous goals for the sake of setting goals. The summer I finished graduate school and got divorced my goal was to see how much fun I could have without going broke or getting arrested. The answer to that, in case you’re wondering, is quite a lot.  The soul will have its way though. It took two summers of being sidelined, first by torn ligaments in my left ankle and then a broken right ankle, for me to listen to my soul’s cry for solitude.  It feels like a waste of a good life to not jump in with both feet, which is how I broke my ankle, come to think of it.

I discovered something the summer I broke my ankle and was house bound for six weeks.  It became very clear to me during those six weeks that I was not living my life alone, however much that may feel sometimes. I was always dancing to life with my soul and it leads. It leads and I try to keep up, sometimes not very well. I’ve tried to have it my way only to end up with broken ankles, heart aches and regretful liaisons with drummers. So, now I listen to my soul’s need for silence and allow myself to be embraced by its stillness. 

I’ve needed the solitude this summer has brought to my life to sink into a new way of being.  One of the gifts of being older is that you stop being a reflection of others and start being yourself.  This summer I’m giving that self time and space to grow deep roots. It’s not very exciting, at least not on the surface, but in my inner world some wonderful things are taking place and I’m grateful for the time to tend to that part of my life. It is a gift that few people get. There are days, however, when I can’t bear one more minute of it and succumb to whatever pretty bauble of distraction presents itself. I understand why people went into caves to seek wisdom, no distractions and I’m not even seeking wisdom, just myself.  I’m kind of wondering if that’s not a type of wisdom though. 

One of my favorite stories is about Rabbi Zusia. Rabbi Zusia was a famous and respected teacher who had a vision that told him that when he died the angels would ask about his life. He told his followers that it worried him. When they asked him what could possible worry a humble and scholarly man about that. Zusia said, “I’ve have learned that the angels will not ask why I wasn’t more like Moses. They will ask why I wasn’t more like Zusia.” What a gift the world would have if we were each fully ourselves, our best selves, the self we were born to be. That’s all I’m trying to do here, be my best self, the woman I was born to be.  I don’t always know what that is or what that looks like.  Maybe I’m not supposed to know. Maybe all I’m supposed to do is have a little faith, which I do because like the woman said, it’s either fear or love, baby. This week it was all about love.

                                   

                                                

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Waiting for a Miracle

Love comes to life in the most unlikely of places in the most unlikely of times. That has always been true and it’s still true.  I know, hard to believe when we are being bombarded by the fear mongering media with images and reports that sound an awful lot like we’re going to hell in a hand basket.  How many more salacious reports of politicians who can’t keep their pants zipped up are we going to have to hear about? Never mind the women who are old enough to know better, but who climb aboard the fame train with them. And let’s not forget the violence we participate in. Tell me again, how many wars are we fighting?  My friend, Revel said that if Caligula were around he’d feel right at home.  Listen, don’t get me wrong, I adore Revel but he can be just a little bit cynical and I know things are getting bad when I agree with him. Then it happens, just about the time I’m ready to put a down payment on a cozy hermitage somewhere love gets a hero, in this case in the guise of a photojournalist.

This photograph captivated my heart from the moment I saw it.  The young woman fell during the riots in Vancouver and her boyfriend bent down to help her. He kissed her and told her it was going to be ok. I loved everything it represented, passion, courage, love in the middle of chaos. I was just as awestruck by a different image taken in 2006. 

When I first saw this photograph taken by Andrew Cutraro I was stunned by the power of it. Keishia Thomas was student who was attending a protest against the KKK. An angry mob that included Keishia rushed the man who was wearing the symbols of the KKK. When he fell to the ground and was being attacked, Keishia, who was all of eighteen, threw herself over him as a shield. She said later, “He’s still somebody’s child.” 

Love has the power to transform our lives and the lives of everyone who witnesses it. That much I know for sure. Believing in the power of love even for a moment is all it takes to open our hearts and when we do miracles unfurl themselves into the world. They may not make the front page of the news, but you never know when what you say or do will be a miracle that someone has been waiting for. Love is a choice we make every moment of every day. We are all somebody’s child who needs a miracle. We can be that miracle. We don’t have to wait.


                                           

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"Encouragement is Oxygen for Your Soul" John Andrews

I can be hard on myself. Whatever I do I want to do well and whatever I do well I think I should do better. That’s at the best of times. At the worst of times nothing I do is good enough in my eyes.  And I think its virtue.  I’ve had to rethink that particular position this week.

 My understanding of a virtue is that it is a trait that helps us be our best self. I value the virtues of diligence, hard work and fortitude.  They have served me well. I’ve climbed mountains and swam deep rivers, traveled the world and lived a rich life that was, to a large extent, due to those virtues. But, when does a virtue become a vice?

Last week I went to the gym for a session with a trainer after taking a week off. On top of loafing off for a week I was not feeling well and instead of honoring my body and my decision to lay off a week I jumped right in. When I had trouble doing with the exercises Shanrika planned for me I beat myself up for it…loudly and frequently.  Then to make matters worse I squelched all of Shanrika’s sincere and well intentioned words of encouragement.  I didn’t want to hear it. Nothing I did was good enough because I, by dang, could do better. Too bad hair shirts have gone out of fashion. When I left Shanrika was sitting on a weight bench shaking her head.  I felt awful and Shanrika didn’t seem to be feeling too perky herself. Her job was to encourage and support me and I wasn’t having it.  It was not one of my finer moments and didn’t end there. 

The next day Priscilla and I got an early start on our annual hiking trip. I grumbled about my performance at the gym and berated myself about it for a good thirty minutes before Priscilla said something. “Stop it, Deb. You’re being too hard on yourself.”  She made it sound like a bad thing. I thought being hard on myself, being demanding was part of diligence and fortitude. I have been known to be wrong.  I continued to list all the ways I fell short of the mark at the gym trying to convince myself of what I do not know. Priscilla turned to me, “I’m your friend and you are not being very nice to my friend, so stop it.” The truth of what I was doing hit me.  She was right; I wasn’t being nice to myself. I wouldn’t have put up with that kind of negative tongue lashing from someone else for one hot minute, but it was ok when I was handing it out?  What kind of sense does that make?

Shanrika was waiting at the gym for me yesterday.  She told me that she and another trainer had talked about what happened last week because it bothered her.  She felt like she failed me.  The thing is….I felt like I failed her.  We had an honest conversation about what was getting in the way of my performance and it wasn’t what I had eaten that week or done or not done in the way of exercise. It was my inability to accept encouragement. I’m guessing that’s the point where a virtue becomes a vice.  Working hard is one thing, but no one looks good in a hair shirt.

My friend John posted a video about encouragement by John Maxell on Facebook last night.  My comment was to confess that I didn’t know how to accept encouragement.  I may not know how to accept encouragement just yet, but I do know how to be honest.  John was quick to respond, “Debra, I wish you could see what we see... you are so awesome!!! Breath in the encouragement which is the oxygen for your soul.”  This is me breathing in.


    
  Sass Jordon is on of my favorite singers. She has a great voice and always seems to express my  heart perfectly.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What You See Is What You Get

    Charmaine said she writes the Daily Prism so she doesn’t rip off her clothes and run screaming down the street.  I read it I don’t succumb to the occasional urge to poke out my eye with a stick. We need reminders of the good that is in our lives and the good that we are capable of, at least I do. The way I see the world shapes my life.  I don’t know why that’s true. I do know that the good in our world becomes more evident to me when I look for it.
     
When I don’t see the good in life it’s not because it’s M.I.A. or because my eye sight is suddenly worse. The good is always there because love is always there in one form or another. Love exists rather we see it or not.  If I don’t see the good in a situation it’s often as not because my expectations have gotten in the way.  You might know expectations as ‘shoulds’, what should happen, what she should say, what he shouldn’t say, what they should do.

I started keeping a mental tally of the expectations I saw in my life recently and was embarrassed at how self serving they were.  There wasn’t room for anyone else in my small minded mandates for the world. There also wasn’t any room for synchronicity which is a complete and total bummer because I love the grace note of it in my life. However, those were things I could put on the back burner. Having a good time isn’t, not when you are a teacher on vacation.  

When I noticed that my expectations were getting in the way of having a good time at a jam last week I was not happy.  Drastic measures were called for in my mind.  I gave it a half a minute of thought then did the first thing that popped into my head.   I lowered my expectations a bit and I kept lowering them until I was back in the moment where expectations can’t exist and I was having a good time again.  A wise woman knows her priorities. The only thing that changed was how I looked at the world I was living in at the moment and without expectations it was all good. It usually is.  

                 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Don't Believe Everything You Think

This week I was the target of misplaced gossip that was as untrue as it was unkind and completely understandable.  This is life after all.  People who don’t know me well assumed something about me and instead of coming to me they attacked me for it. How I dressed, how I looked, who my friends were, everything about me was fodder for innuendo and speculation, all of it negative of course.   

You may have read the story of the mother who stopped at a traffic light and got out and opened the back door of her car. It didn’t take long for the drivers behind her to assume the worst about her character and lay on their horns like they were getting paid for every note they added to the cacophony.  It wasn’t until later that they found out that the woman’s young daughter was in backseat choking. Each of those drivers made a choice to interpret what happened based on how it affected them when it in fact had nothing to do with them, most of the time it doesn’t.  We’re like that sometimes though, myself included.  We attribute malicious intent and attack where there are none.   We forget that a person’s actions can mean something other than what our fears would have us believe as gospel.

We always have a choice about how we evaluate and judge a person and their actions.  When the judgment is negative we create negativity. Can’t get much simpler than that now, can it?  Love is a choice. I think that the choice is what is important about it. It’s the choosing which gives love its power.  We need the power of love to carry us beyond ourselves and our collective fears. Only when we choose love will we be led to what we most need, peace and harmony for all beings especially those we think don’t deserve it. Now, that’s love.

 I’ve been rereading the  Bhagavad Gita and some bits and pieces of the New Testament. They both say similar things, love matters and it’s not love if you only love those who love you. Love is really only love when you can love those that you are afraid to love; you know the people you think don’t deserve it because you have judged them as unlovable. I was on the both ends of that this week, sad to say but I might as well be honest about it.  Once again I am reminded by the foolishness that is an inevitable part of being human that it really is fear or love.  Fear will never give us what we want.  Fear is an easy choice. Love? Love is not for the faint hearted.  Love takes guts. And remember, no guts, no glory. So, what’s it gonna be, fear or love? It’s your choice.


                              

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Let's Get Physical

  The quiet calm of inner peace energizes and revitalizes me the way nothing else can.  I cultivate peace and build time for it into my day. I’m a better person when I live in peace. Mercy and compassion and their acts of personal redemption rise like spring from a deep well. It just feels gooooood.  Peace doesn’t just happen.   It takes determination, discipline, focus and desire for love above all else. Peace matters and it’s worth the effort.

 It’s nice when peace flows easily but that isn’t always the case. When it's not  I hold my tongue, which is not the same thing as holding my peace, thank you very much, but it’s a place to start. I take a break, go for a walk, listen to music, pray, eat a good meal.  I walk away from situations and people who vex my spirit and torment my soul.  The problem is I can’t walk away from myself and the wild thing my mind becomes when I’m feeling stressed. This week peace seemed a fleeting memory dreamed of on a sunny day.
   
I wanted to be peaceful, really I did,  but Monday I was kick the dog cranky and in a mood to beat the crap out of someone. I hated it. I was not diggin’ myself and I was not lovin’ my life.  I was bad-tempered company for everyone, myself included.  It’s tempting and mildly entertaining to ramble around the why and how of a mood like that. That’s rarely as helpful as we want to believe it is.  It was a mood, mind weather that I didn't want to make worse. Hitting the gym usually makes me feel better and having a regular time with a trainer gets me there when I would rather drag myself home and crawl into a book and a cup of tea.  Off to the gym I went, foul mood and all.

When Shanrika, the trainer I’ve been working with, asked me how I was I told her.  “I’m cranky. I want to beat the crap out of someone.”  Shanrika must have the soul of  a rainbow. She is always smiling and not just on the outside either. She is a truly radiant woman. She laughed and picked up a large red punching bag and said, “Go to it, give it all you got.”  Huh? Hitting? Really? Me? It seemed so….I don’t know violent, the opposite of the peace I was seeking.  She laughed and said, “Come on, it’s a full body work out, trust me.” 

I gave the bag a tentative jab, then another. It took a minute or two before I found my rhythm. When I did I began bouncing back and forth on the balls of my feet, hitting hard enough to make Shanrika laugh. Yeah, I don’t understand that either. I was beginning to have a new found respect for boxers when a woman I know casually at the gym stopped by to watch, turns out that she took up boxing to work out some aggression. (Me, aggressive? Say it’s not so.) She showed me how to jab and punch and then taught me a round house kick which felt really good.  One by one the other women who train with Shanrika stopped by and encouraged me, maybe goaded would be a better word. “Come on, Deb, you can hit harder than that. Make her pay for those squats!”  I started hitting as hard as I could, chin down, shoulder up, pivot on my back foot.  Every time I connected with power Shanrika would laugh and soon we were all laughing.

 Thirty minutes later I dropped to the floor in a puddle of sweat, depleted, empty of everything that never mattered very much anyway.  And there it was, in the space that was left, peace.  I priced free standing punching bags the next day.  
    
                                                  

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Taking the Back Roads

      I jumped out of bed a few Saturdays back to head up to North Georgia for a bluegrass festival. Jump out of bed might be stretching the truth some because it was after ten before I got out the door. I knew where I was going. Sort of. I’d been there before and it’s near a couple of rivers I paddle. There is, however, a difference between knowing and sort of knowing. You know you’re lost when you are headed to North Georgia and see signs for Traveler’s Rest, South Carolina.  I doubled back to Toccoa and hit the back roads.  It made sense at the time or maybe I just needed a break from the peddle to the metal urgency I’d been feeling.
     
   You can get really lost on the back roads. That’s why I like them. I like what I discover along the way.  It helps that I know that I will eventually get where I need to be.  First you must surrender any idea that you actually know where you are going, just drop all resistance and enjoy the ride. Roll down the windows and take it all in.  Turn up the radio and sing along to the country songs you pretend you don’t know and secretly love.
   
    I saw all the things I love about small southern towns and mountain towns in particular.  When I stopped up around Blairsville for gas the woman behind the counter was singing softly and when she saw me she stopped and smiled, “Would you like to see something pretty?”  I expected to see a quilt piece or some knitting.  When she turned around she handed me an infant girl. “This is my first grandbaby. Isn’t she a pretty thing?”  She was just that and as sweet as she could be.   There were potters and quilters and old men selling sourwood honey and blackberry jam.  I stopped for boiled peanuts and the view near Ellijay and told the older woman counting out my change that I thought I might be lost. She patted me on the back and said, “You better take that up with the man upstairs honey."   I just laughed because the one thing I know for sure is that I’m not lost and have never been lost.  It doesn’t mean I always know where I’m going or how I’m getting there. That’s where faith comes in. A GPS is also good.
    
     The weather turned blustery when I pulled into the festival.  I found a jam, (bluegrass not blackberry), with some people I know and took out my fiddle and sat in a couple of fiddle songs then asked if I could sing a song.  One of the songs I sing is I Am a Pilgrim  Leah Calvert who was my fiddle teacher with a great voice suggested that it would be a good song for me to sing and she was right.    

I am a pilgrim and a stranger
                                    Traveling through this worrisome land
                                    I’ve got a home in that yonder city
                                    And it’s not, not made by hand.

  
     There’s a lot faith in those lyrics and I like singing them. I’ve liked living them too. And the worrisome part of life? It’s all part of the wilderness experience of being human. I sang a couple of more songs then the wind picked up and it got a little hard trying to fiddle and hold down the hem of my new spring dress so I headed home. A wise woman always pays attention and knows when it’s time to go home.  I met wonderful people, saw beauty everywhere I looked and experienced love in the most unlikely places. The journey was great but it was time to go home and home is just where I went.  It’s either fear or love baby and in case you forgot, home is where the love is. Pretty simple when you come right down to it isn’t it?