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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Cruelty and Disconnection

It never ceases to amaze me...the amount of cruelty in the world, the level to which we're willing (as human beings) to be vicious toward one another. It makes me want to scream, "HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN?" Have we forgotten that our actions run outward from us, like an echo? Every cruel behavior impacts the victim, the victim's beloveds, random strangers, and (eventually) the entire society. No, you say. It doesn't. If I cut someone off in traffic, it affects only me and them.

No, I say. It doesn't. When I witness an act of rudeness, I'M bothered by it. I'm indignant at the discourteous behavior of one person toward another. I KNOW the damage being done. When you've done mental health and social work for more than two decades, you begin to understand the way that actions filter through person after person until the ripples are so far beyond the original players that you can scarcely identify them.

How many of you have turned off a news story because the heinous nature of the act was so difficult to watch? Or, hid an item in your Facebook news feed because it was too graphic to take? Or, cried at a news article, or upon hearing the sad story of someone else's loss? That's called empathy. (More and more, its lacking in our society due to the nature of social media and impersonal communication, but that's a conversation for another day.) The true issue is that ALL human beings have the capacity for empathy. It CAN be taught. But, most of us already have it in spades. In fact, empathy is so terribly uncomfortable for most people that they build emotional and behavioral shields to prevent them from being impacted by the feelings of others.

I would argue that this is not only unnecessary, but encourages the existence of cruelty. When we become numb or ignorant of the hardship and emotional states of everyone around us, we become detached from our divine connection. Speak with any criminal psychologist and they'll talk to you about how a predator depersonalizes a victim, reducing them to an object rather than a person...a thing rather than a he/she. I would argue that we all do this, to some extent...people involved in horrible disasters on the other side of the world become an abstract concept. But, for many, people in the next neighborhood also become "far away." We have become a society who reserves our empathy only for our most bonded beloveds.

The situation is well described by sociologists in urban areas, where many people are close in space. They call it urban isolation, or depersonalization of human association. In other words, personal relationships are lacking. How well do you know your neighbors? Your local shopkeepers? The servers at your favorite restaurant? Chances are, you don't.

It is my opinion, that it is NORMAL for us to feel impacted by the moods and emotions of others. In fact, I would go so far to say that it is actually HEALTHY. We've become a world that fears and despises discomfort. As a result, we go to great lengths to avoid any unpleasant sensation -- including the use of substances, false affects, and dozens of other techniques. We, in fact, celebrate 'toughness.' I believe that this single perspective is destroying human civilization from the inside out. We are constantly combative, fighting over imagined scarcity. We don't help others because we fear not having enough for ourselves. We invent reasons to justify our poor behavior, like the Protestant Work Ethic -- the idea that poverty is punishment for lack of ambition. The bottom line, of course, is that the Protestant Work Ethic and other similar precepts are there to justify greed and separation. There are good reasons to have "idle hands," sometimes.

If we want to be well as a people, I believe that we must reconnect to each other. We must build our tolerance for discomfort, recognizing that discomfort SHOULD spur us to action. If I'm uncomfortable because of someone else's suffering, it generally causes me to act to alleviate said suffering. Is this not how compassionate people SHOULD behave? Is this not what every religion on the planet teaches -- love for fellow person?

A candle is not dimmed by lighting another candle. 

And, we are never diminished by acts of kindness and compassion.

Think on it.


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Revelations and Lack of Coffee

For as long as I can remember, I've been a hard-core, two-fisted coffee drinker. Huge tumblers of it in the morning, more in the afternoon, even more in the evening. When the weather was hot, I drank it iced. I really never wanted anything else to drink. Ever. And, then, the worst thing ever ... caffeine toxicity. O-M-G!

Apparently, it is not a good idea to drink large amounts of caffeine for long periods of time. I was so violently sick. So, I switched to green tea, thinking the lower amounts and gentler acidity would work. Um. NOPE.

Next, I tried decaf. NOPE. The acid tore my stomach up. SO, decaffeinated herbal teas it is. And, one more thing falls away. The funny thing was: I never got angry. Or sad. Or upset at all.

Its been a month of revelations.

I was promoted at work. And, I'm currently sitting in a position that I never, in a million years, imagined for myself. Yet, the fit is ideal. Other people have said that they envisioned me in this role. I never did.

After many years of spiritual study along a specific path, I finally conceded that it didn't fit at all. And, I let those tags fall away, as well as many of the people that went with them. There were some angry responses from some folks. And, I (once again) had to consider my definition of friend. While I adore and appreciate many friendships that are really confined to Facebook, I recognize that they are largely restricted to an online environment and unlikely to stand the test of loyalty in the real world. Everyone, clearly, doesn't agree with my opinion in that arena. That's OK.

I stopped responding to the PMs. I thought about whether I should give people the benefit of accepting their feelings for their closure. But, I concluded that I didn't have the extra emotional energy, and that its really not up to me to provide that. And, I stopped reading them. I've no ill will toward any one of those people, no matter what they said in the PM. They feel how they do. That's their right.

And, I'll go back to seeking the spiritual path that I belong to. I know my beliefs. I would just like a like-minded community. I haven't found it, yet, and have often wondered if it was because I was supposed to build it. But, that will be fodder for another wander.

In the meantime, I have noticed, time and again, that pieces keep falling away. Instead of new things being added, I seem to drop things instead. And, they are usually things that no longer serve me, but have instead become weights to carry....

..........false paths
..................acquaintance and ungenuine relationships
..............................responsibility for others' feelings and decisions
..........................................conformity to avoid loneliness
......................................................fear of risk
.................................................................old wounds
.............................................................................past patterns
.........................................................................................masks and misrepresentations

And, as each drops off, I become more me.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Penance ... NOT EVEN. Blessing, yes.

I had the most disturbing conversation the other day. And, because I'm an over thinking, ruminating sort of chick, the more I've thought about it, the angrier I've gotten.

The conversation went along the lines of this:
I was talking about the difficulties of adjusting my schedule to meet the needs of my two very young grandchildren of whom I have guardianship; as well as how my marriage has had to grow and change in order to accommodate the kids. And, I should mention that I was incredibly positive in my story...I talked about how it was difficult at first, but that we had a flow and schedule and things were much easier now that everyone has become accustomed to that.

All of this was in response to a direct question about how things were going with the kids...I did not randomly begin talking about my own life without invitation.

I should mention that the person with whom I was conversing was someone who knows me well and who has been in my life for many years.

Their response to my statements:
Well, you must have the grandchildren as penance for not doing it right the first time. Apparently, you're supposed to do it better, this time around.

I remember tilting my head at them and thinking, "No. That's not what they just said." Then, I spent some time in my head while I changed the conversation to their life, trying to find a reasonable explanation and to see it from their perspective.

Don't think I haven't had the guilt and shame associated with every parent of an adult child who is not able to raise their own children. I have. Don't think I haven't actually thought, myself, that the universe was providing me with a second opportunity to parent, thereby giving me the option to do things differently. Or, that the universe felt that I needed something positive to focus on and delivered unto me these precious lives.

Never, EVER for a single second, did I ever feel punished.

And, all I've felt toward this person since then was rage.

How DARE they liken my grandbabies to some form of punishment? How DARE this person liken ANY child to penance?

How DARE they insult my parenting with my own children? Have I made errors? Of course! What parent hasn't? Would I do things differently this time? Yes. There are many things I will do differently - I will not put my career in front of these children. I will not shirk off a vacation because I know I'll be bogged down at work when I return. I will not become triangulated in any relationship.

I do not share details of my son's circumstances publicly, because its not my story to tell. I've no right to put his business outside of family and trusted friends. I will NOT put it, here. I will say only that he and the kid's mother are not in a position to raise them. The rest, is no one else's concern. If you are my confidante, you already know some. I will not share all of it with anyone other than my husband and close family, who are well aware. Its not in my nature to do so. And, its not my right.

Let me make something absolutely clear:

I AM BLESSED to be in a position to take care of these precious souls.

I believe that the universe TRUSTED me and DELIVERED these babies unto me for care and nurturing.

I do not think that I will allow this person to remain in my life. There is something thoroughly certifiably twisted about their thought process. And, in no way, can I spin it to be understandable. How awful it must be for people who believe that caring for ANY other creature, let alone vulnerable people, is a chore.

I've never once felt resentful at caring for the kids. I've never once felt put upon. I've never once doubted for a second that I would do it for as long as they need me.

My one and only grief in the whole situation is that I can't spend as much time with my other two grandchildren as I would like, because having all four (ages 1, 2, 3, 4 years) by myself is too much for me to do anything meaningful. Instead, I spend most of my time corralling. That's not what I want. So long as I have another adult to help, I'm glad to have all four.

I know many people, right now, who are caring for others. I'm sure that its difficult and that they are tired, some days. I am, too. But, I don't know any of them who see it as amercement. Those are not the kind of people in my life. And, they are not the kind of people I WANT in my life.

If you are taking care of someone else, BLESS YOU. THANK YOU. You are gifted with the incredible opportunity to impact someone else. The universe has decided that you are worthy to care for others. It is a GIFT.

Many blessings...

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Squash or Celebrate?

This morning was a hot mess. We were late. My 3 year old granddaughter, who I call Pixie, decided to have a potty emergency five minutes AFTER we should have walked out the door. So, back into the house we went to change clothes, use the potty, wash everyone's hands, and try again.

Once all that was resolved, we were off (now 10 minutes late) to the Unitarian Universalist church that I've attended off and on for more than a decade. For those that aren't familiar with the idea of UU-ism, here's an oversimplified answer: UUs value everyone, regardless of any human characteristic. They welcome straight as well as LGBTQ+, atheists or any other religious (or lack of ) belief short, ALL people are welcomed. They believe that diversity improves the world. They also embody a social justice perspective of tolerance, acceptance, and social action. For obvious reasons, I appreciate the open community.

We arrived just after the service had begun, missing the announcements, prelude, and welcome, but making it for the bulk. The children are always in the service until after they have special time with the worship leader (may be the minister or a lay leader, depending). This happens just about 1/3 of the way through the service. So, the schedule is something like this:
Musical Prelude (Music for Gathering)
Chalice Lighting
Hymn of the Month

It was during the Hymn of the Month...the first participatory song in the service that I had a moment of epiphany.

My Pixie was, as is her custom, dancing around while the congregation sang.

We were all the way in the very back, (of course) being latecomers, but the church was pretty full, so we were joined by others in that section.

And, for the first time, my hands weren't full with her baby brother, so I noticed things...

People were looking.

Some were smiling and swaying.

Some were scowling, clearly displeased that my beautiful granddaughter was out of her seat or moved by music.

Oblivious, Pixie twirled around and around. In three year old fashion, she bumped into an empty chair with little effect. She wasn't daunted and kept right on twirling, her face a mask of concentration and flow....purely invested in her dance.

And, two things happened simultaneously in my brain:
1. I smiled and was in awe for a minute or two of her complete safe embrace in the moment. Her self-possession was both charming and powerful.
2. I was tempted to snatch her back, hiss at her to sit down and be still. It was, after all, what would have been done to me. It was, undoubtedly, what I did with my own (now grown) children. Children were to be still, silent, polite, "seen and not heard."

I was horrified on more than one plane:
1. I felt tremendous shame that I'd forced my own children into the quiet box where creativity and self-expression were not allowed.
2. I felt fear to not force Pixie in the same box ... what if she can't function in society? What if she can't make friends? What if? ...yes, I recognize the idiocy of this, but it is a real fear.

In my own life, some level of conforming was required in order for me to be successful in my career, in my neighborhood, and in my life at large.

Where's the balance?

How do we decide what to encourage and what to correct?

Why do we need these norms and rules, anyway?

No, I will not allow my grandchildren to be wild, rude, and inconsiderate. I draw clear lines there. I believe in being polite and kind. I believe in cooperation and humility. Compassion is one of my core values and will be largely celebrated.

But, isn't the sweeping insecurity and epidemic of low self-esteem largely due to our forced rules, desperate and counterproductive socialization techniques, and desire to control children? Even our laws require that caregivers exercise "care, custody, and control" over children.

And, not expecting it, I am now a middle-aged woman grappling with the big questions of child-rearing, again. And, I expect I'll answer them quite differently than I did the first time.


Teach kindness.

Demonstrate compassion.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

keep it moving

For much of my adult life, I maintained an ecofeminist perspective. Half of you are probably baffled by what that means. In short (and this is the most rudimentary explanation), it means that I had a girl god and I believed in the power and importance of nature. I also believed that nature is somewhat feminine in characteristic and that women are responsible for protecting the earth's resources, as a result. Before other ecofeminists jump down my throat for that somewhat skewed and incredibly simplistic explanation... JUST STOP. Its not the point, anyway, so doesn't need to be beleaguered.

I found myself quite entrenched in a somewhat comparable religious community, where I never quite fit. Ever. I kept the feminist perspective and was introduced to the Red Tent Temple Movement, the Goddess Spirituality Movement, and dozens of others. And, still, I never quite fit. I had some shared understanding, but mostly was disappointed by the lack of ethical codes, morality, and a proliferation of infighting and ego battles.

My core beliefs are these:
1. All things are made of energy -- the SAME energy. Therefore, all things are connected and impact upon one another.
2. Kindness, compassion, and humility are absolutely necessary for each person to strive toward.
3. There is no one truth. There is only my truth.
4. Self-fulfilling prophecies are real.
5. Each person creates their own reality through their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
6. Everyone is responsible for their own choices, and the consequences of those choices.
7. There is a plan. We can mess up that plan via stubbornness and failure to follow our intended path. (No, I don't think the path is paved...more ambiguous than that.)
8. People enter our lives because they are supposed to. We have lessons to learn and teach in this life.
9. Every single thing has a purpose and meaning.
10. The universe is intelligent.
11. There are no gender roles (they are culturally created and enforced concepts that don't really exist in the natural world). There's no girl god or boy god. There's only GOD. Its bigger than gender. Its bigger and more mysterious than some reflection of human characteristics.

Yes, I'm comfortably in the new age, metaphysical perspective. And, yes, my American Indian and northern Euro mystic heritages play a part in my thoughts. Yes, I'm totally fine with that. No, I didn't fit well in my previous community. Yes, I left it. Yes, I'm a little sad about it. Yes, I let go of everyone who I don't have a real relationship with, or with whom I wouldn't spend time with aside from religious interaction.

I imagine this is very much like someone who left one worship home and went to another for whatever irreconcilable differences they experienced at their previous house of worship. Its sad. There are people you will miss. But, its usually a reflection of deeper self awareness and understanding. I don't like labels. I don't want to be a part of any religious community that requires me to use a variety of monikers to identify myself, or to smash myself into any belief system.

But, the real, bottom-line issue is: I don't want to be a part of any religious community where I cannot, will not share common values (or lack of) with the larger segment. I will carve out my own world where I find commonality, I guess. For now, I'll call myself a 'seeker.'

And, on the travels go. Because, I needn't worry about spiritual growth, as long as I keep it moving....

Thursday, August 4, 2016

why i make art to abandon...

I'm controlling. Its true. I know that my desire to control comes from a place of anxiety...deep fear that came about in times when my life was unmanageable, uncertain, and unwieldy.

Those are nice words. I've a tendency to minimize and use tact when truth is hard.

There were times in my life that I actually feared for my existence because a larger, stronger person threatened to take it away in a manner that assured me that they had both the capacity and the intent to do so, should they get tired of me.

There were times when my life was so chaotic and discombobulated that I didn't know what might happen from minute to minute. Then, being the good masochist that I am, I worked in a career that provided me with the opportunity to experience the trauma and fear of other people, particularly vulnerable people, in a close and immediate way. This sometimes also endangered my own physical well-being.

Is it any surprise to anyone that I like predictability? Serenity? Or, that I struggle with flexibility and release? I don't let go well. I don't like it when things don't go as I expect. I'm sure there are some people out there, right now, saying, "Oh! I LOVE surprises!" Well, bully for you. Really. I hate them.

For as long as I can remember, I've made art -- paintings and sketches, drawings and doodles, poetry and prose, stories, clothing, embroidery, shoes, furniture, and countless other things that employed creativity. I've sold some and gifted some, lost some, trashed some, donated, and redone.

But, now, I abandon them. Yep. I leave them in public places with a tag that says free art. (It says more than that, but the point is the same.) Its not my original thought. I bumbled onto a Facebook page called Art Abandonment...check it out, if you like....and, there was this concept...this worldwide movement based on a book...where artists (professional and rudimentary) just leave their art laying around in an attempt to spread a little good will. Some of the pieces are so simple, some are so, line drawings, colored pictures, painted rocks...the idea is all the same -- people trying to offer something good to the world, trying to lift the vibration of love by being generous and kind, by sharing a small part of themselves (this is what art IS, after all, don't you think?).

I fell in love with the concept, and began abandoning immediately. I sign only my first name and give no way to find me. I do include the info on the Facebook page and the email they maintain in case people want to report their finds or join in the leaving.

And, guess what happened?

The first time, I abandoned in another town that I don't frequent, drove away, and was OK. I wondered if someone found the piece, but was content that the universe would see it got to the right person. The second time, I got nervous...The art wasn't picked up right away. My insecurities flared crazily...

Its not good enough even to be free. I'm unwanted. Why am I creating trash that someone has to clean up?

Oh, yes. I went there. Then, I got distracted (thank goodness for my busy brain) for a while, and when my thoughts wandered back, I said a little prayer that whoever wanted it would find it, and I had to accept that maybe they'd find it in the landfill if that was what was in the plan. That got my head back in the right place.

I made the mistake, once, of abandoning in my own town. I drove back three times to see if it was still there. (It was.) And, I finally had to repeat my little prayer and make a deal with myself to not drive back there for a week. (I did bribe myself with ice cream. Hey! We all need a little motivation. Don't judge.)

I've abandoned several, since. I don't drop in my town anymore. The temptation to go look is too much. I do post most drops to the Facebook group, because I love it. I've got five pieces in various stages of process that will be abandoned.

No, I don't keep it or sell it if it turns out great. Yes, there are some pieces that I'm reluctant to abandon. I do it, anyway. This is really about learning release for me, you know, in the process of being kind to the world. Its also about faith -- faith that this has a purpose (as do I), faith that it matters (to them and to me), faith that the universe works things out without my insane attempts to control everything.

So, I'll keep doing my thing, learning to let go and let guidance of spirit run things.

Blessed be.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sex, Gender, Gender Identity...Oh My!

The older I get, the more I become aware of constructs that are so insidious, so pervasive in our society, that we accept them as fact without investigation or even contemplation...

One such construct is the idea of gender. Sex and gender are frequently used interchangeably, but they're not at all the same. Sex is biological. I am female because I have the reproductive organs of a woman...vagina, uterus, ova, etc. I was born female. I'm not upset about that. In fact, I quite enjoy it.

But, the only thing that my biological sex determines is the role I may play in the procreation process. That's it. And, that is (of course) contingent upon my being born with a complete, functional set of sex organs AND finding a partner of the opposite sex with a complete, functional set of male sex organs while both of us are in appropriate condition for reproduction. I'm not more or less superior because my sex organs work optimally.

None of this is likely a surprise to anyone. Here's the part where people get confused. Gender is not biological. Gender is internal and intangible. Gender is the sense of being male or female, largely in respect to cultural expectations, but not exclusively so.

And, in case the water wasn't muddy enough...Let's introduce the third construct of gender roles. Gender roles are those aspects deemed feminine or masculine by any society. It is extremely important to remember that these outward expressions are variable according to each individual culture -- most American women would balk at the clothing restrictions placed upon many women in the Middle East. But, even more confusing is the understanding that the expectations can vary even within one culture. For instance, the expression of feminine clothing in the outlaw biker community would be quite different than that of the Amish community. These countercultures both have their own rules about feminine expression, and while they both exist within the larger American culture, they are opposed to most of the larger culture's beliefs and norms.

Overwhelmingly and regardless of society, gender roles are manipulations of socialization and social control. Failure to abide by the norms, or standards, or any society is met with disdain and resultant sanctions (exclusion, punishment, etc.) by the larger group. An example would be the fact that an adult male openly and loudly weeping in a public movie theater because he was touched emotionally by the movie would be met with stage whispered comments about his sexuality, shaking heads, and possibly with outright and directed aggression at his lack of manly behavior. Of course, the norm in American society is that men are emotionally controlled and not weak enough to allow their emotions full expression, and certainly not public display.

As were most women of my age, I was repeatedly told to act like a "young lady" during my childhood. This meant to sit with your knees together, to pull your dress down before you sit, to be quiet when others were talking, to be nurturing and loving, to play with dolls, and many more things. As a consequence, the socialized messages were that I was to be diminutive in all things. I was disciplined harshly when I failed to do what was expected. I learned to sew and cook and clean things. It was not OK for me to be angry, to be physically aggressive, or to do any other thing that was considered masculine in the blue collar world where I lived.

I'm not faulting my parents, at all. In fact, they were more liberal than most. I played sports, although the girls teams still wore shorts and were expected to slide in softball (I have the scars to prove it). I was quick to get into physical altercations and, while I think it drove my father crazy, I really think my mother was secretly tickled by it. I was not one to let others dictate things to me, but like every other person in our society, I had to conform to some extent or suffer...dress right or no job, act right or be punished at school and be rejected by peers, etc. And, my parents were only a small part of that process...peers, extended family, neighbors, teachers, religious leaders, doctors, and every other person in my sphere had input and influence.

And, today, I clearly see the limiting influence of these ill-thought-out attempts at forcing us to squeeze ourselves into a tiny, suffocating box. In fact, the entire rationale behind these dictated gender roles are baffling to me -- yes, I understand from a sociological perspective that the norms likely originated in religious values that are now considered puritanical by most, but their influence remains. They've become so ingrained that we either accept them unconditionally and reinforce them with cruel joy as we demean and belittle those who don't comply; or, we blissfully and ignorantly delude ourselves into believing that societal gender oles don't exist, or that they are charming and functional.

I assert that they are not. They are minimizing. They seek to separate us, or at least to interfere with connection while simultaneously lowering our sense of self, stunting our creativity, and ensuring a lack of genuineness. They prevent us from honest self exploration and expression, and force us into the box or into the role of outlier, rebel, troublemaker.

So, here is my vow:

I REJECT gender roles. Empirical research has clearly shown that there are not ascribed behaviors given to either sex. Instead, behaviors are achieved after social learning and observation.

I will not limit myself to behavior, characteristics, or activities that are deemed acceptable for my sex. I'll do what makes me happy and what feels real and genuine to me, according to my skill and interest. I will express these things unashamedly, regardless of response by others.

I will NEVER criticize any other person for demonstrating any genuine emotion, action, or opinion that is traditionally OK for only one gender. I will accept people for who they are, and who they strive to be, according to their own desires and self-determination. Short of causing danger/damage to another person, I will respect every person's own assertion of self.

I WILL stand in support of others who wish to be genuine in their own lives. I will openly and vocally support all persons in this pursuit, regardless of our differences.