Saturday, December 29, 2012

In the Name of Tolerance or I am Not a Wuss

It was like a bad bluegrass joke about what happens to a banjo player when…only it wasn't a joke. A banjo player I know got decked.  More than one person thought he had it coming and dismissed it until it happened again and there was property damage. Jack justified what he did by calling Dan a bully.  That’s the problem with violence, it’s easy to justify and it’s never the answer, never. I don’t think Dan is a bully, just not very bright about how to be part of a group. He says things that are insensitive, but rarely really mean, like I said, not very bright.  I've questioned how to deal with him over the years; mainly I've ignored him in the name of tolerance and let the group handle it.

But, when is enough enough?  How much bad behavior should we accept in the name of tolerance?  And is that even tolerance?   One definition of tolerance is the unconditional love and acceptance of another being. I don’t know about you but I would like to be loved and accepted unconditionally. Tolerance is an attitude of loving kindness.  When you are tolerant you allow people to be who they are, not who you think they are or who you want them to be, who they are.  You let them be who they are flaws and all. After all, being flawed isn't a crime, if it were we’d all be guilty of it to one degree or another.

That doesn't mean that you agree with what everyone is doing. It does, however mean that you do not resist it. And like forgiveness that’s something you do for yourself in service to your soul. It has nothing to do with anyone else. When a person is behaving badly they are showing us where they are wounded. It is where they need to be loved. It is not an invitation to change them especially not through force of any kind and that includes verbal assaults and sharp tongued retorts. Rather, it is an invitation to stay centered in peace and love them as much as we can.

 The gunslinger in me has problems with that.  I know for sure that the failure to set limits in the name of tolerance is just as detrimental to the well being of people as the lack of tolerance is.  I wonder if sometimes what we call tolerance isn't really a mask for our inability to know how and when to set limits. Let’s face it putting up with something can be easier then confrontation especially when you just want to have fun or it doesn't affect you directly.  I don’t think that’s being tolerant though.  I think that’s being a wuss.

It is an act of loving kindness to set limits when someone is doing something that is harmful to themselves, someone else or the group.  That’s where group norms come in, those agreed upon set of behaviors that we all agree to participate in for the greater good of the group and the individual. You set and respect boundaries regardless of the problems it may cause or how uncomfortable it may be as an act of love. You set boundaries and trust that in a healthy group your boundaries will be respected. 

That means you put on your big girl panties and you say something. You have a conversation even if you don’t know how and you would rather do anything else.  You trust that what you need to say and the way you need to say it will come to you. You are not in this alone, none of us are.  You seek the path of peace and trust that you will be guided.

Tolerance is not turning a blind eye or white knuckling it through a situation. It’s accepting that we all are flawed as part of the human condition and we are doing the best we can. The other part of tolerance is knowing when and how to say something. The key is doing it with compassion and respect because if tolerance is unconditional love then intolerance is using force to make others change.  The absolute bottom line is this; it’s either fear or love, baby.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Releasing the Ties that Bind: Judgment

I was in a that man done did me wrong state, and I do mean state.   The women in life urged restraint for my sake. “Throttle back, Deb before you say something you’ll regret.”  That advice came too late to do me any real good.  I was mad and that made me right. And I’m a woman, double right. Isn't that how we think? Come on, be honest. If you’re a woman don’t you secretly think you have the inside track on relationships and emotions? Because that’s how it works right, if you are a member of the select group you’re right and everyone else is wrong.

A friend and neighbor who embodies the soul of calm wisdom suggested a walk through the woods as a balm for my wound too tight mind.  We caught up on our lives and the news in the neighborhood then she gently suggested that my unhappiness was not the result of anything anyone said because that was done and did. My unhappiness was the result of the judgment I was knotted up in.  I came to an abrupt stop and pretended to look at the creek tumbling over the stones below while I tried to convince myself she was wrong.  That’s how judgments work. I’m right and you’re wrong and if I’m right then I win. Ok, that just sounds stupid, but there you have it, the crux of being human. We are occasionally stupid until someone snaps us out of it.

I am responsible for my inner life, my emotional well being is all me. I know that much so, I breathed, just that nothing more. I breathed into the moment and felt release and the freedom it brings.  In the space of breath was something I missed, compassion for someone I loved and love still.   My judgment robbed me of something precious to me, him just as he is, flaws and all. I had put him in a box called my story, forgetting that he had a story to tell too.  Releasing the judgment I was tangled up  in allowed me to hear a different version of the story, his.

 When I got home there was an eloquent and heartfelt apology waiting for me. We had a long talk and I listened with an open heart to his version of the story because as a friend of mine pointed out, wisdom is accepting that two opposing views may be right.   Henry David Thoreau said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” I am willing to see the world  differently, just for today, just for now because that’s all we've got. 

Love takes effort. It's not for the faint of heart, not for the lazy. Love is not for the shallow minded lovers who bask in the glow of their own light. Love, real love is for the warrior hearted being who looks unflinchingly at the ties that bind her to her fears and cuts herself free because she knows it's either fear of love baby.  


Monday, November 19, 2012

Standing In My Truth

The bluegrass jam I go to on Thursday night started the way it often starts, with  a bowl of chili and conversation with a couple of friends that brightened my day. Then the night took a dark turn. Out of nowhere, someone I called a friend unleashed a barrage of offensive and sexist remarks. During a break in the music Richard told a rude story about what he wanted from a woman.  I cringed inwardly and dismissed it as a good man being momentarily stupid. When he told me that my singing sounded like Willie Nelson I said something, and big surprise the remarks got worse. When the guy who was leading the jam asked me what I wanted to sing I barely got the words out when Richard yelled, “THAT’S NOT BLUEGRASS. IF YOU WANT TO SING THAT SONG FORM A BAND!” I’d had enough and packed up to leave, but Richard wasn't done yet. “I love you, but it’s tough love. You need to hear this.”  Before I could respond to that he said, “I’m tired of people not giving me respect. Some people need to put on their big girl panties.”  I asked him if he was talking about me, “No, but you need to talk less and listen more! I’m telling you this for your own good.”  He stormed out ahead of me leaving me wondering what the hell had just happened.  When I reached the door he was with a group of men talking about blow jobs.

I left shaking and peeling rubber.  When I calmed down I emailed Richard and told him that I had always respected and admired him and that I was both shocked and surprised by what he said. I told him that there were no circumstances that made what he said acceptable, none. It was rude, mean and offensive.  It didn't take long for him to respond, “Right, see you next week.”  Those 5 little words told me how exactly where I stood.  It ripped the mask off the ugly truth and I didn't like it, not one bit.  I went to work shaken, angry as much as sad.

A woman I work with said that if I didn't go back he would win and I considered that…for about half a minute.  Her logic was that if I didn't go back he wouldn't care. He would call me what men always call women in that situation and continue on his merry way while I would be depriving myself of a source of joy. "Go back," she advised, "teach him that he can't control you."  The value of being older is that I know  a few things she doesn't,  like the fact that Richard has no power in my life and never did.  The value of living a few decades past twenty is experience. I've  had experience with men like Richard and groups like TRL and unfortunately, with sexism. I know how sexism works   Once that viper is out, it’s out for good and it only gets worse.  If I went back it wouldn't matter what I said or did, I would be  giving him and the group permission to participate in behavior that was toxic and damaging to all of us, him most of all because what he said took nothing from me.

None the less, what I wanted most was for things to be the way they were before I knew the truth. I wanted to go back to when I looked at Richard with loving eyes. I wanted to go back to when I looked at that group with rose colored glasses and told myself candy coated lies. I called Florie and we had a long talk about what happened. I tried to make excuses and put a pretty label called understanding on what happened so that I could stay in the group.  Florie called it for what it was and told me to admit that I wrong about him.  “NOOOOOOO! Not that.”  We laughed and she added, “Admit that you were wrong, that you were holding on to a tarnished thing and calling it gold. Admit that you were wrong so you can create a space for something better.”
 Florie was right, as awful as it may be, the truth will set you free. I admitted the painful truth and cried. I admitted where I had been blind and cried. I admitted that as much as I didn't like it that TRL was no longer a group that I could be part of and I cried some more.  Then I stood my truth and named the behavior publicly because that’s what a woman does. 

A woman stands in her truth, not because it’s easy or she even particularly wants to, but because she knows that it takes the power of  truth to affect the change we need if we are to thrive. A woman stands in her truth and names what is crippling so that she and those she loves can heal. A woman stands in her truth because she has a moral obligation to and doing anything less will rob her soul of it's life force. Standing in your truth even when you don’t want to, that’s love. Staying in a situation that diminishes any person for any reason, well you know what that is, and it’s not love.  It’s either fear or love, baby. What are you standing for?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How a Man Who Hated Me Taught Me Respect

SFC Legend hated me and I don’t blame him, but his hate and how he handled it taught me a valuable lesson about differences, respect, and common goals. When I joined the Army women were still a separate branch, The Woman’s Army Corp, which was in the process of being dissolved.  More fields were being opened up to women and I ended up being one of a small group of women to go through the Quartermaster School. When I finished my course I was asked to stay on as an instructor because I was a woman and I had a background in education. Makes sense right? Except that most of the instructors were typically experienced NCOs with several years of experience in the field. It’s easy to understand why some members of my team were less than thrilled when I joined them. It was an interesting time.

The most interesting part of it was my relationship with a man who made no secret about how much he didn't like women in general and me specifically being in ‘his’ Army. When SFC Legend and I were assigned a project that required our working closely together for several weeks I wondered how that was going to work because he so obviously couldn't stand me.  It didn't take long to find out.

Just after we started working together I went up for Soldier of the Month. It involved study, interviews and writing. I knew nothing. SFC Legend did however, and he went out of his way to make sure I knew as much as he could teach me in a couple of weeks.  When I asked him why he was helping me he told me that we were a team and we would work as a team. He made it seem just that simple and I know that it wasn't.  He put aside his differences, his bias and prejudices and did everything he could to make sure I was successful. He taught me how wear jump boots and to blouse my fatigues, a better way to shine brass, all the little tricks I needed to learn.  He taught me everything I needed to know about the receipt, storage and issue of petroleum products so much so that I can still recite the lectures.  

Most of all he taught me what respect looked like on a daily basis.  When someone told an off color joke or made a sexist remark he poked at me to stand up for myself without lobbing emotional grenades.   He challenged me to take a stand and speak my mind in a way that left room for the other person to save face.  We argued a lot and when we played combat volley ball I suffered until I learned that it was okay to be tough and tough wasn't mean.

Respect seems to be in short supply these days.  People act like it’s a virtue be snide and disrespectful to anyone they don’t like or don’t understand starting with the gay couple across the street and ending with the president. After all they have God on their side. The only opinion that matters is theirs and the rest of us ‘drank the Kool Aid,’ as one friend recently put it.  Respect is only given if they think we deserve it and we don’t. And they know we don’t because the Bible told them so.

We can’t go backwards. We can only go forwards and we either go together or we will be destroyed.  That’s where respect comes in.  SFC Legend had every reason in the world not to like me and to resent me.  He also had every reason to demonstrate respect. We were a team. Our neighborhoods are a team, our communities and work places….teams. And our nation is a team. Isn't it time we started acting like one?


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Being Kind and Generous

Is it just me or do people seem starved for recognition and appreciation, hungry for simple acknowledgement of their existence? This is not the look at me, look at me, look at me self esteem thing. I think it's sincere.  We all want to feel like we matter in the lives of others. We want to belong and feel connected and we should all feel that way.

The problem is that an easy way to feel powerful and like we matter is to sling complaints and vitriolic diatribe like a short order cook slinging hash browns at Waffle House. We are generous with criticisms and stingy with praise.

A woman I work with gave me what I consider to be a high compliment when she told me that I see the best in people. It’s part of what makes me a good teacher. I try to be generous with praise and lavish encouragement and compliments on people. Hey, it’s free. A sincere thank you goes a very long way. As John Maxwell said, “encouragement is oxygen for the soul.”

I’ll be honest with you though, I am generous with praise and compliments for a very selfish reason. It makes me feel good. If I’m in a funk expressing sincere appreciation lifts my spirit. And you know it’s not that hard. I simply look for reasons to say thank you as often as I can, to celebrate the success of others the same way I celebrate my own.

When was the last time you left a generous tip, called customer service not with a complaint, but to praise the service you got? When was the last time that you treated your waitress, clerk or for that matter, your child’s teacher like you would want to be treated? When was the last time you noticed, just noticed beauty in someone or something else?

Criticism and complaints are cheap currency. We’re better than that. How about just for today we try and find five simple, little everyday things to praise and appreciate. I wonder if we all wouldn't feel more connected and part of the world we say we want.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Released From The Past by a Bitch Slap

Things were going really, really well. I received a glowing observation from my boss, I had a new red dress to wear and a fun evening planned. Then I walked into meeting and was verbally bitch slapped. The how and why doesn't matter. It never does. What does matter is my reaction, it left me reeling. After becoming thoroughly pissed off and hurt I did what we all do, I ‘vented,’ I blamed, I judged and lo and behold I didn’t feel any better. I felt worse. Imagine that, being negative didn’t help. I finally just shut up for half a second and heard myself say, "I don't want to feel like this.”

A Course in Miracles says, “I am willing to see this situation differently.” I did want to see things differently if only because if I continued foaming at the mouth like a woman possessed I was bound to do something someone would regret, probably me. And as a friend of mine likes to remind me, I wouldn't look good in an orange jump suit. I prayed that I might see what happened through the eyes of Christ and opened myself up to Divine intervention and healing.

When I got home I changed clothes then picked up Marianne Williamson’s The Gift of Change for something to read while my tea brewed. I opened it randomly and read, “Other people can think what they want about you. It’s only when you agree with them that you are bothered.” Ding, ding, just like that I was flooded with the calm knowledge that on some level I thought I deserved what she said because I believed it was true. And I knew why….a childhood hurt that I had carried into now. Just like that my snark was gone, carried away to where ever snarks go when they aren’t stirring up crap.

I know that you get what you give. What if it’s also true that you get what you unconsciously believe you deserve, then what? I wonder if bits and pieces of the past don’t haunt our lives to make themselves known so we can love them and let them go. I think that when we rub up against another person and get hurt it’s a reminder of where we are wounded, not necessarily where they are. I’m not letting anyone off the hook here. That woman was and is a first class bitch. I can’t do a dang thing about her though, or anyone else for that matter. Her inner life is not my business. Mine, however is. And that’s good news because when we can ask what’s going on with me instead of attacking the other person and defending ourselves we take back our power. Then real and lasting change is possible where it can do the most good, inside our own hearts and minds. It’s either fear or love, baby.



Saturday, September 8, 2012

Singing The Blues

Maybe it was because I had been singing a lot of bluesy songs, for whatever reason I had a bad case of the blues. The blues as in let’s have a pity party for one and sing a sad song. The blues as in life is terrible whoa is me. The blues, you know the mood that sneaks up on you to steal your joy.  Sometimes I like the blues, it’s an interesting mood to sing, sing not live.  I wasn’t in the mood for the blues though.  I had a busy week and just didn’t have time for it. Then it got worse, anxiety joined the party, pounding on the door demanding entrance into my life of bliss. What the fresh hell!

The anxiety was especially disconcerting because I believed, (for about a half a second), it’s omen of impending danger and doom.  Then in the pause of a breath Grace entered the fray and laid a calming hand on things.  Maybe something horrible was going to happen, sometimes it does, and like a lot of people I will occasionally get a sense of that before it happens. However, working my self into a state of frenzy was not going to help anyone or anything, least of all me.  The most useful thing I could do was get my inner life in order and rest in the calm center of my being where the real answers are.  If something horrible was coming, God forbid, I would handle it much better if I were calm and peaceful instead of having my knickers in a twist.  

Sounds like a plan right? The problem is that we have trained ourselves to give power to pain and celebrate emotional trash picking. We feel blue, anxious, worried, or just out of sorts and look for a hook to hang them on. I’m no different and added to that is the fact that sometimes I paddle the river of denial, so I did what works for me. I cleaned house, took a detox bath and carved out a long evening to sit in silence and check in with my life.  

In the space of calm I began to question how much power I give to my feelings and what their purpose was in my life.  It was an interesting conversation, a reminder of things I knew and forgotten, and would need to know in the weeks ahead.  The most important thing I learned (again) was that Spirit always speaks to us in a quiet voice without the strong emotional charge that our mind carries. The voice of God is calm and quiet. Negativity on the other hand is a raucous loudmouth. That’s the reason I stay away from it and its redheaded cousins, fear and doubt. They add nothing to my life. They’re like Chicken Little running though town screaming at the top of his lungs, “THE SKY IS FALLING! THE SKY IS FALLING!” Not only will it make you crazy it makes it impossible to hear anything else, love for example. I always benefit more from the wisdom of love than I do from fear. That’s a stone cold fact you can count on.

When I checked in with my life I could find nothing that was actually wrong right here, right now and that’s all I was concerned about. And it’s all I needed to be concerned about. Right now is all we really have. You get that, right? If there had been something wrong, really and truly wrong I would have dealt with it. I would have gotten the help I needed and did what I needed to do to fix it.  The only problem in my life was me, take a minute and consider just how true that might be for you. Since I was apparently the problem I did what I needed to do for me.  I cut out sugar and caffeine for a week and got lots of fresh air and exercise. I started taking healthy doses of Vitamin C and D and Relora.  I learned a long time ago that what you put in your mind comes out in your life, so I filled my mind up with everything holy and good and it didn’t take long before things were back to normal. It’s either fear or love, baby. I’m choosing love, how about you?


Friday, August 24, 2012

You Do Not See Him

He was a little too much of everything I didn’t want or need in my life and yet I found myself flooded with love every time I was around him. I’m talking about love now, not lust. I do know the difference. The first couple of times it happened I chalked it up to a round of steroids I was taking for a sinus infection.  They filled me with such euphoric good will for everyone that I had to stop myself from declaring my undying love to the mail carrier. My friends thought I was a nut. I thought I was in the middle of a spiritual transformation. No, just steroids.  Two months later my sinus infection was a thing of the past. The feelings were still there though and they were not feelings I wanted to act on for a whole slew of reasons and no small amount of common sense. Let’s face it, if we all acted on every feeling we have half of us would be in jail and the other half would be hanging from the rafters and dancing in the streets.

It’s awfully easy to justify doing whatever crazy assed thing you are inclined to do if it’s accompanied by a strong emotion, particularly one that seems to have dead bolted itself onto your heart.  I want my life to be passionate, but I’ve pretty much done crazy assed to death, thank you very much.  When time and cold showers didn’t help I decided to walk the labyrinth up the street for some guidance, so I could quit tripping over my tangled up heart strings. On the walk out I heard, “You do not see him.”  That was more than enough right there. I was instantly more centered and peaceful.  I don’t know what I do not see about this man and don’t need to. Problem solved as far as I was concerned and it helped that a dream that night clarified that understanding. I wasn’t done yet though.

The phrase stayed in my mind. It haunted my week. If I didn’t see him, why and what did I see instead?  What illusion had I created for myself?  Who else do I not see? (I’m thinking it might be everyone, to be perfectly honest.) I think I’m pretty open minded and fairly insightful about people, but this week really made me question that. I took a long hard look at how I see people and it wasn’t pretty. The worst part is that I know better, at least I thought I did.

One of my greatest heartbreaks came about when I realized that I was an accessory in someone’s life. Who I was didn’t matter one bit. He didn’t see me.  I was another something in his life that he could take or leave.  And as much as I hate to admit it, I’ve done the same thing. I used someone to scratch an itch with little if any regard for what they wanted or needed.  They were an object in my life, a what instead of a who.  No one deserves to be treated like that. The kicker is that I sometimes I called it love when it was anything but. Ask me how those relationships worked out.

 I don’t think I’m the only person on the planet who sees people as objects of fear and desire instead of fellow souls participating in the wilderness experience of being human. I know I’m not, that’s small comfort though.  I don’t want to treat people like an obstacle, or worse a path to salvation. I don’t want anyone to be a what in my life instead of a who. “You do not see him.”  I want to see people the same way I want to be seen, for who they instead of who I want them to be or am afraid they are. It’s all an illusion. People, all people deserve to be a who in our lives and that who is always a child of God having a human experience just like me and you.  We have a body. We are spirits, all of us, even drummers. Because let’s face it, it’s either fear or love, baby.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Gratitude and Water Wings

 I smile just thinking about her. She was a wisp of a thing, 4 years old at the most, decked out in bright red and yellow bathing suit with a ruffled bottom and a smile that was contagious. I watched her saunter to the diving board with all the confidence in the world, adjust her plastic water wings then leap sprawl legged off the diving board into the water with a satisfying splash. I loved her attitude and recognized a kindred spirit even though mine is occasionally MIA.  When she climbed out of the pool I went over and introduced myself. “My name is Debra. I just wanted to tell you that I love your attitude, you rock!” She tossed her blonde braid over her shoulder and gave me a big thumbs up before heading back to the diving board. I asked her heavily tattooed and pierced dad where she got her confidence.  He smiled, got quiet for a minute then looked down at his arm decorated with a green dragon and said, “I’m not very conventional.” 
 Is that what it takes to be joyously confident, being unconventional? Maybe. Being unconventional, as opposed to being different for the sake of defiance means that you are following your own spirit instead of the dictates of someone else, and that my friends requires unwavering trust. I know that much.  I think that Elise threw herself into the water with utter and enviable abandon because she trusted that her dad loved her and was there for her. What I witnessed was the outcome of trust and love, confidence.

I really admired Elise. My confidence gets beat to crap sometimes. I could tell you that it gets done in by all the stuff that falls under the heading of being a grown up, bills that are due, a leaking roof, a neighbor who criticizes my kayak mailbox.  That’s true enough on the surface. There’s always a good reason to feel bad about myself and my life, and it seems so logical that it’s easy to call it truth, or worse wisdom.  The real truth of the matter is that my confidence gets bruised and battered by my own fears and doubts. You know, that whole it’s either fear or love baby thing. I doubt myself and question what I know is true. I care too much about what I think I can’t do instead of what I can.  I forget for a moment, a day, a kiss that I am deeply loved and retreat back into the shadows of fear and call it a life. That’s not how I want to live. I want to trust that I am loved, that I am safe.  I want to take bold risks and live with abandon because well, honestly it’s just fun. That’s as good a reason as any don’t you think?  

 The next night I was getting dressed for a jam at The Redlight.  I thought about that little girl in her bright red and yellow bathing suit and plastic water wings as I tugged on a pair of jeans. The thought of her stopped me in my tracks. I yanked off my jeans and tossed them in the corner.  Clothes may not make the woman, but they can’t hurt. I grabbed a pair of jean Capris that came to the knee, a cling in all the right places tee shirt and a pair of black wedge sandals and got dressed.

I don’t have a heavily tattooed and pierced dad, in fact I don’t have a family and that can leave me feeling vulnerable at times. However, I do have God and I have gratitude. If there is a secret to the universe it’s gratitude. Gratitude is the grown up version of plastic water wings.  It will shift you out of a negative mind set quicker than anything I know, so while I was putting on my make up I counted all the ways and all the people who love me. I listed the many blessings in my life, the innumerable ways God shows His love for me.  I filled myself up with gratitude for the way things are right now, just as they are until I was bursting with it and off I went.

We were the band that night, a rag tag group of regulars who just want to have fun and do. Normally, when I sing with the guys I hang back, cower is a good word.  I sing my song then step down and let them get on with the music. That night was different. I sang like it was my day job, flirted because I could, and had myself one hell of a good time. When I felt a flicker of doubt I remind myself how grateful I was to be there, for my friends, for being able to sing.  I lived in the moment and it was as good as it gets.  When the last song had been played and we were packing up Barry put his hand on my shoulder and smiled, “You had yourself a night, Deb.”  Yes, I did and what’s more, I intend to have myself more nights just like it. In fact, I intend to have a life just like it.  It’s either fear or love, baby.  I’m creating love, how about you?


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Just Say Yes

 Last week I went out to dinner with some friends to celebrate the beginning of summer.  What should have been an enjoyable evening wasn't.  I spent too much money on too much food that I didn't want and didn’t need. The worst was that I didn’t enjoy any of it very much.  It made me sick, literally.

Wallowing in misery led me to thinking about why I do what I do, not just with my time and who I spend it with, but with money and food. Why do I find saying no to myself so difficult?  I have a camping closet filled with stuff I use regularly and stuff that is just stuff and don’t even get me started on shoes.   I danced around with why unsuccessfully and finally decided that I didn’t really care why. I just wanted to create a different experience for myself. Now, there’s a powerful motive for you.

The next morning I felt better.  After a healthy breakfast I got dressed then went out to the mess I call a backyard and pulled up ivy, hauled dead wood, and cleared out brush.  It’s become a ridiculously therapeutic project that I look forward to several times a week. After getting hot and satisfyingly dirty for several hours I had a cup of tea and took a shower.  While I was in the shower it hit me, saying no is an act of love. That no is a yes in disguise. It’s a yes to something better.  

I was instantly aware of how many times I surrendered to a desire that stemmed from fear that I’m not enough as I am, with what I have. You know what I’m talking about. I pay for fly fishing gear to declare that I am adventuresome. I pay for a new pair of high heels that I wear once or twice to prove that I’m still youthful and stylish.  I pick up the tab for dinner to show off my generosity.  That’s just nuts.  I am enough as I am and so are you. We don’t need to prove it anymore.

People talk about loving yourself all the time. Apparently I’m a late bloomer because I’m just beginning to understand what that means. It does not mean buying another pair of stilettos that you can’t really afford and don’t need or ‘treating’ yourself to a date with Ben and Jerry. 
Loving yourself means saying no sometimes. No is a compete sentence. I got that much. A loving no is empowering. It stops you from bouncing back and forth from one desire to the next like an out of whack pinball machine.  And that’s important because it really is either fear or love, baby.  What are you saying yes to?


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Be Who You Are Now

I didn’t even know I was doing it until I wasn’t doing it anymore. A simple shift in perspective that came about because of a fiddle lesson I took with David Ellis.  My fiddle playing was a hot mess.  I always felt like I needed to apologize for being a poor fiddle player because in my mind a good fiddle player played a lot of notes really fast.  The fact that I couldn’t do that without scaring cats and young children didn’t stop me from going at it like I could.  

When David listened to me play he said, “That was interesting.”  I guess he forgot that I was a teacher because in teacher language that means, man have we got some undoing to do. His first stab at undoing my mistaken belief about what made a good fiddle player was to tell me a story about Alison Krauss. In one ear and out the other. Then he tried a story about a bass player I know and respect. Didn’t care. 

In my mind a good fiddler played a lot of notes really fast and that’s what I was going to do. Then he said something that had the ring of wisdom. “You know, Deb, you don’t play the way you did and you can’t play the way you will. Why don’t you play the way you play now?” That’s what he said. What I heard was, “Why don’t you be who you are now?”  That was kind of a liberating idea. I loved it.

My fiddle playing improved instantly simply by playing the way I play now to the best of my ability. Not only did I stop scaring cats and young children I started to enjoy playing my fiddle again.  I became more confident and took more musical risks.  I started taking fiddle breaks and asking for fiddle songs. The guys at The Redlight didn’t know what to think. Neither did I, for that matter.  I liked the feeling of being who I was now, and I carried it into my work and a few of my relationships.  I stopped being concerned about what I couldn’t do and who I wasn’t and enjoyed what I could do and who I was now.  

That would have been more than enough. However, yesterday I realized that there was an additional benefit to being who I was now. I was rummaging through an old footlocker during a cleaning binge. It was filled with journals and photographs, and love letters that I could have sworn I burned.  In the past when I revisited my teens and early twenties I cringed a little for the girl I thought I was. Yesterday I laughed out loud.  It was so much fun to revisit that part of my life in a way that it had never been before.  I found myself liking who I had been very much. I felt myself letting go of old ideas about who I was and who I should have been.  It was as if scales dropped from my eyes and I could see clearly again.

When I paused to consider the change I realized it was because I had stopped apologizing for being who I was. I was unaware that I lived my life doing that until I stopped.  It might not have been all the time, but it was often enough and often enough is too often.  For the first time I saw the young woman I had been with loving eyes. I saw myself the way I was instead of the very flawed way my family and ex-husband told me I was. It was a  delightful way to spend the afternoon.   It’s either fear or love, baby.  This is love, being who you are now.



Sunday, April 29, 2012

My 90 Day No Negativity Challenge Two Years Later

They say that gratitude is the highest form of prayer. I think enjoying your life is a form of gratitude. I want to enjoy my life and treasure its moments even when it’s hard. The easiest way for me to be able to do that is to keep my life free of negativity. Negativity is a complete soul suck. Nothing good ever comes of it.

Two years ago I went on a 90 Day No Negativity Challenge. I simply needed would  a little break from all the negativity that seemed to be swirling around me. I was eventually nudged into what Thomas Merton calls the wilderness of my own interior journey. If we are lucky we take that journey several times in our life time. The challenge was a defining time in my life and I’m still experiencing its impact. On the surface not very much has changed. I still teach school, drive an old truck with music cranked up too loud and sing better than I fiddle. I paddle when there’s water and time and try to keep the house from falling down around my ears. I still think I’m going to meet a blue eyed, guitar playing cowboy who paddles a red Caption.

There are two subtle differences in my life since my challenge. One is how happy I am even when things are not going well. And things don’t always go well. I get sick, a tree falls on a neighbor’s fence, I lose money that I can’t afford, you know all those things that fall under the heading of being a grown up. The other difference is the quality of people who are in my life. At the end of the challenge some people simply no longer fit my life and while I mourned their passing I trusted the unfolding of my life and let them go. The majority of people in my life now are people like I want to be and hope I am. They are souls who embrace the fullness of life with confidence and joy that is contagious.

Here are my top ten tips for keeping free of negativity. If you are anything like me, you know, human, you need the reminder.

1. Stop complaining, criticizing, or blaming.
It is the worst thing we do to ourselves and each other. It is not reality. It doesn’t mean you are wise or have any answers. It simply means that you aren’t happy and only you can change that. Stop complaining for one day or one moment and see you aren’t happier. The things you complain about will still be there, but you will either change them or let them go.

2. Stay silent.
This is a big one for me because I like words and I like to talk. A woman I knew as OldBlonde supported me on the challenge and said, “The person who stays silent has all the power,” and “If it’s not a question, it doesn’t need an answer.” Rebecca bounced into my classroom during our planning period with this quote, “Don’t talk unless you can improve the silence.” Words to live by for sure.

3. Joe Friday is an angel.
Do you remember Dragnet? “The facts ma’am, just the facts.” This should be simple, but listen to how often you embellish the facts with your fears that you justify and take a gospel. Your perceptions about why someone does something are not facts, they are your perceptions and more often than not they are wrong.

4. Stay in the moment.
Where’s your attention? It should be on right now, not what was or could be. Notice how often you live in the future you are afraid of or the past that still haunts you and return to the joy of the present moment.

5. Know what your triggers are and prepare for them.
Mine is first thing in the morning. I’m least prepared for the onslaught of my own thoughts before I’ve had a pot of tea. I’ve learned to chant or pray the minute I’m awake. When I am chanting or praying there is no room for negative thoughts. I align myself with something more powerful and much more positive. That’s important because what you put in your mind comes out in your life.

6. Keep some of yourself to yourself.
Don’t throw yourself out to everyone full tilt. Hold back some. You are not mangy dog that is begging to be scratched with a stick as the Sweet Potato Queens would say. I’ve become much more discerning about who I bring into my life since my challenge. I want to be around people who are positive, enthusiastic, and encouraging because they make it easier to be creative and take risks.

7. If you wouldn’t say it, don’t think it.
When I had trouble controlling my negative thoughts I hit on the idea of thinking about how I would feel if my thoughts were projected on a giant screen on the interstate for the whole world to see. It stopped me in my tracks because, (one more time), what you think matters. What you put in your mind comes out in your life.

8. Take care of yourself.
You are the only you the world has and we need your gifts. Whatever that means to you do it. Taking care of yourself and your inner flame is the most selfless thing you can do. I eat better; make sure I get enough sleep, and exercise, and spend as little time with toxic or negative people as I can.

9. Life is an adventure and what happens is all part of the wilderness experience of being human.
Treat it like a trip to a far away land that you paid big bucks for and enjoy it. The trip is paid for. All you gotta do is enjoy it. No one has a monopoly on sorrow or suffering. If you are a human being you will suffer. It’s your response to that suffering that determines your experience. Stop complaining, stop feeling sorry for yourself and get on with what you need to do to change things. Being negative doesn’t help. It just keeps you stuck and the only person who can change that is you.

10. Choose.
The best thing about being human besides cowboys, sex, and chocolate is that every moment of everyday we get to choose. So choose, it’s either fear or love baby. I’m choosing love. What about you?


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Emotional Ballast

Every woman needs a good mechanic, a good hairdresser and a good bar and The Redlight is my good bar. That’s what I told Bill who owns my favorite bar a few weeks ago.  When he handed me my beer he said, “I’d think a woman like you would need a good lawyer too.”  I told Cheryl that I didn’t know what he was talking about and she laughed.  We both know that left to my own devices I would probably dance with the devil come what may and to heck with the consequences.  Actually, there’s no probably about it if the not so distant past is any indication.  And I’ve noticed that not much about that seems to be changing with age.   Why not and what the hell are still two of my favorite attitudes that  just seem to slide on naturally with a pair of cowboy boots, a bright scarf and  eyeliner that I’m partial to. I know myself and because I know myself and my propensity to gravitate towards trouble disguised as a good time I know that I need emotional ballast in my life.

When I was younger ballast took the form of very generous older women who helped me see who I could be.  They uncovered an aspect of being human in me I didn’t know existed and made me want more for myself.  They were teachers, mentors, friends, and bosses who gave me stability without changing who I was. They poured themselves into me and were more of a gift than I deserved.

Alana Shepherd of the Shepherd Spinal Center said, “It’s not where you go, it’s who you go with.” I have found that to be true, and choose the people I bring into my life with more care than I did when I was being guided by a reckless heart and devil may care grin.  My life is filled with people who demonstrate kindness on a daily basis. They are generous with their talents and look for the goodness in others.   I still have generous older women in my life who remind me who I am and want to be.  There’s a group that meets on line and two groups in the neighborhood.  They are a mirror of my heart and soul.  They are ballast, providing firmness and stability where I’m tend to be a little bit wobbly. They remind me that just because I can doesn’t mean I should and that sometimes what I think is wisdom is really a bad brain fart. 

I need ballast, not just because left to my own devices I would dance naked in the streets and have a good time doing it. I need it because I believe we are here to raise the level of humanity and make the world a better place.  I need reminders from poets and musicians and teachers like me that a better world is within our reach.  Fredrick Buechner wrote, “You can grow strong on your own. You can prevail on your own. But you cannot become human on your own.”   We need each other. That’s the simple truth of it. We are all on a sacred journey to become human. It is an experience filled with ambiguity and paradoxes.  That’s what make it interesting, and why we need ballast.  

Saturday, March 3, 2012

I'm Not Patsy Cline

I was playing  in a bluegrass circle and had already sung all the bluegrass songs I wanted to sing and called out Walking After Midnight, one of my favorite songs to sing. “Are you going to sing that song the way it’s supposed to be sung?”   Evidently Bruce didn’t approve of my interpretation of it and that’s all it could ever be, my interpretation because in case you haven’t noticed I’m not Pasty Cline.  And that’s pretty much what I told Bruce before a guitar war broke out over how to play the song.  It’s kind of hard to sing when the guitars are having a war.

I decided a very long time ago that the best thing I could do was just be the best me I could be even when I’m not sure what that is.  That’s not always a popular approach to take.  There’s always someone who wants to tell me how I should sing, dress, act, teach, or be. And they act like their perception of reality has more value than mine.  It doesn’t.  It took me awhile to embrace that little nugget of wisdom.

If you base your self worth on the shifting perceptions of others you will always be at the mercy of their emotional state and standing on shaky ground.  I’m not standing on shaky ground. This is who I am and I am digging myself and loving my life.  There will always be a Bruce who thinks I should sing, do or be a particular way.  The problem with that is it makes it impossible for something new to be created and to unfold.  God didn’t put me down here to be Pasty Cline, he put me down here to be me and that’s just what I’m going to do, be me.  Who are you going to be, yourself in all your authentic glory or a pale imitation of someone else?  It’s your choice. It’s either fear or love baby, what’s it gonna be?


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Stop In The Name of Love

  Watching The Mystery of Love video was just what I wanted after a hectic week, something I could half pay attention to while I finished a knitting project. When Frieda called I put the sound on mute.  She cut right to the chase.  Her father, never a nice man to begin with, had delivered an emotional hit and run severing all ties with her over a dispute about an inheritance, a pittance of one at that. Go figure.  The fact that Frieda is over fifty and was not the least bit surprised by her father’s most recent diatribe did not lessen the sting of his words.  Frieda’s other friends all urged her to strike back and let him have it.  She wanted to know what I thought.

 I said the first thing that came to me.  “I think you should let it go. Nothing will be gained by lashing out and if you do your soul will suffer for it. Let it be.”  I’m not entirely sure I knew what I meant by that when I said it.  It had a ring of truth to it though, so I chalked it up to one of those may my ears hear what my mouth just said moments.   Frieda and I talked about what that might mean a bit longer then hung up.  When I turned my attention back to the video this quote was on the screen, “If you really loved yourself you would not harm another.” Buddha.  Now, I have probably seen that particular quote a hundred times over the years and always dismissed it as an unrealistic ideal or just plain didn’t get it.  Then I got it even though I didn’t know it at the time and I still can’t completely put my understanding of it into words.    

We are never more destructive to ourselves then when we hurt someone else.  That’s what I was trying to tell Frieda. Letting her father have it would hurt her and I didn’t want to see her do that to herself. There was nothing to be gained by dumping on her father.  After all, isn’t that what he did? He let her have it, let her have all his negative energy like she was an emotional dumping ground.  He didn’t really expect anything positive to come from what he said or he wouldn’t have said what he did.  When we lash out we just want to unload and to hell with whoever gets in our way. If we really cared about ourselves and each other we would do many things and none of them would be done in anger.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to lash out in the heat of the moment and justify our wrath. We have become masters of that particular brand of destructive self deception. We have all the answers. We know everything; therefore we can do and say whatever we want because we are right. Self restraint in the name of love, that takes effort, and sometimes a lot of it.  If I have learned nothing else I’ve learned this much, it’s either fear or love, baby.  We always have a choice.  It might not seem like much, but every time I choose love over fear it gets a little easier to choose it the next time. Practicing self restraint is an act of love that I do for me, no one else. Maybe they do deserve it, but I deserve love and inner peace more.  I do not have to say or do the first thing that pops into my head.  Waiting is a verb too. When I  choose to stay silent first in the face of conflict, it’s not because I’ve lost my edge or don’t care, it’s because I have come to trust that the right action will present itself if I get out of the way.  We are not in this alone. We are all connected. What we do to them we do to ourselves first.  I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time for us to value self restraint at least as much as we value our right to speak out. Aren't we all worth at least that much?

Saturday, January 14, 2012


 I hadn't seen Laura in years and I can’t say that I was all that thrilled when I ran into her in front of Trader Joe’s over the holidays.  When I first met Laura we were both teachers…. with a difference. I liked teaching even if I wasn’t overly fond of the state of education at the moment. Laura, on the other hand, was one of those teachers who acted like being a classroom teacher was the booby prize in education and I was the biggest booby of all. One of the first things she said to me last month was, “You’re still teaching? I left teaching years ago. I guess some of us just need more from life.”   Some things never change. 

The hard truth of the matter is that Laura reveled in her discontent and it contaminated everything she did. No matter what she did or where she was it was never enough.  She was like a whole bunch of people who treat the work they’re doing like they’ve stepped in something nasty. They make it very clear by how they do their job and treat the people they work with that they were gypped by the universe and denied their rightful place in the sun.  That’s a crime because no job is too small when you know your real worth.  My dad knew that and so did Eugene.

Eugene and my dad were both men who knew the true meaning of work.  The work they did and they way the did it reflected the value they had for themselves and the people in their lives. My dad was a heavy equipment operator, short order cook, and jack of all trades when the need arose. He liked having a good time and could make the most mundane task entertaining.  My dad would have liked Eugene who was a janitor in the small town,elementary school where I teach. Eugene knew every child’s name and every teacher’s heart. He was the touch stone of our school, a reminder of what is possible in a human being. 

Some people believe that they are only important if their job is important. (I still haven’t figured out who makes that call.)  It is painfully obvious that the meaning of work for them is to serve their ego, proving with their job title if nothing else that they are important at last.  And heaven help the people they work with when the job doesn’t measure up to the task.  That’s when it becomes really painful, especially if you happen to get in the way.

 What I’m doing may not be the most important job in the grand scheme of things, but it’s important to me for a whole bunch of reasons. I want to do a good job and I want to enjoy doing it. I come by that honest. I realize however, that it’s not a particularly popular sentiment.  Laura is not alone in thinking that there must be something deeply wrong with someone who likes their job.   If Eugene were still around I’d go talk to him and he’d make me see the absurd in the situation until I could laugh about it. My dad would simply remind me that they call it work for a reason and don’t expect people to be who they’re not.  Unfortunately they’re both gone. Dad passed some years back and Eugene joined him a few weeks ago. They will both be missed, not for the work they did, but for how and why they did it.  No job is too small for a great man and no job can make a small man great. It’s not what you do that makes you important. It’s how you do it. Eugene knew that and so did my dad. Thanks, guys. May you rest in peace, you earned it.

" We can't all do great things, but we can do small things with great love." Mother Teresa