Monday, November 29
"You are the sky. Everything else - it's just the weather." Pema Chodron
"The Holidays", specifically Thanksgiving and Christmas, are filled with emotional landmines. I will remember challenges met and missed at this time, made more difficult by the unreasonable expectations of warm, fuzzy familyness. These memories are like loose threads in an old sweater, better left alone but irresistible. A memory thread that I always pull at Christmas time is my mother's illness and death from cancer. She died on December 21, 1999, just before the dawn of the new millennium.
I cope with this memory differently each year. Last year, I was a social butterfly - filling time with social events and my own, small family entertainments. The anniversary of my mother's death passed me by in a whirl of cooking, babysitting, baking, travelling and shopping. When I finally slowed down and realized that this dreaded date came and went unnoticed, I felt a twinge of guilt and a lot of relief that I did not have to "dwell" or reflect on my mother's life and how much I miss her. I now realize that instead of relieving my pain and loss, bypassing and avoiding the memory of her passing only adds other negative emotions to the mix. This year is different.
In the book, "The Places That Scare You" written by the Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, she explains that "..,flexibility and openness bring strength and that running from groundlessness weakens us and brings pain." She goes on to explain that being open requires us to find out about those tactics that cloak our fears. I avoid fear by locking onto externals such as compulsive overeating or excessive shopping. I avoid fear by immersing myself in solving the problems of "the world" and putting off dealing with sadness, loss, anxiety. I avoid fear by seeking only joyful, euphoric experiences and avoid the truth that life is hard and sometimes hurtful. There is relief in avoiding feeling sad about my mother's death. But, the relief is like walking alone in a dark alley without getting mugged or raped. I still have to walk through this alley again, and maybe next time, I'll suffer.
Chodron explains that one must examine each habitual tactic of avoidance, know it without attaching a goodness or badness to it, and by noticing what we think, feel and do, especially when fearful, we can allow the healing grace of openness to transform our crippling fears into courageous mindfulness. Maybe the next time I walk through the dark alley, I'll notice that there is light, there is a beginning and an end to it, and that I am connected to all creatures on this pathway. My irrational fears are still with me, but I am walking in the present, and noticing each moment as I experience it. I realize that noticing the present moment does not prevent unpleasant, uncomfortable things from happening. Being mindful of the now does allow me to be more creative, open and flexible in responding to others and finding the grace to survive.
So, on December 21, I will celebrate my mother's life and mourn her passing. No more running away. I will see her on the pathway and embrace her.
May all beings know comfort and joy!
Wednesday, October 27
Well, it's time. I welcome this Halloween as a possible end to the year long Meg Whitman attack ads, and hope to welcome another era of California strangeness vis a vis Gov. Jerry Brown. I have learned this year that money talks. It talks non stop about stupid and boring issues. It hires loudmouths and liars who could be entertaining, at least, if they focused on cooking or fashion instead of government and finance.
The money complains about a broken country, state, city (fill in the blank) that taxes moneymakers. It bellows about how bad things are for the big moneymakers and completely drowns out the very real complaints and needs of most of us who are scraping by. The talking money heads on Fox News push Bushrepublican corporate values as if more tax breaks for the wealthy and fewer breaks for the blue collar and poor are the only paths for saving civilization. Their evangelical zeal in condemning the unbelievers, liberals, Muslims, "others" for the sake of preserving Christian values is a smokescreen.
The money talkers conveniently overlook the fact that Christ was once poor. Christ was once a criminal and got the death penalty for crimes against the state. Christ never married and He hung out with men. Christ loved little children. Christ knew the meaning of persecution, slander, and betrayal. Christ turned the other cheek and demonstrated courageous love. He taught us how to manifest God's love through compassion and tolerance.
Money talkers preach fear, mistrust, intolerance, claiming that such weakness is patriotic and necessary to America's survival. If they only listened to themselves, they'd realize that they sound like the Stalin communists they abhor. They want to isolate the intellectuals, the Obama supporters, the activists, the gays, the protesters, the feminists, the environmentalists, the anti corporateestablismentarians, anyone that does not agree with their paranoia. The money talkers want to talk us to death.
The midterm elections are predicted to show America that money brays the loudest and gets the vote. I am sad that Americans may be so easily distracted by rude, loud talk and that we may elect incompetent charlatans instead of pragmatic problem solvers, but November 2, 2010 will be a watershed election regardless of the outcome. If democratic incumbents win instead of the big spending, loud talking republican challengers, citizens send a clear message that billions spent on idiotic attack ads won't cut it. If the big spenders win - we are doomed to nastier and longer political campaigns, not to mention more idiots on the Congressional payroll stripping away safety nets, safeguards, and quality of life for average Americans.
Over the past ten months, I've changed my political issues priority list. The economy was number one on that list, but now it is campaign finance reform and after the horrendous Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, reform may be derailed by Fox, Carl Rove, and their corporate sponsors for years to come.
God help and bless America.
Monday, September 6
He travels 120 miles, roundtrip, for a job on the night shift. Fuel costs eat up $100 to $150 of his weekly paycheck and he gets no health benefits until he's worked over three months on the job. He says he's lucky to have something, after being unemployed for six months, but he feels as though he's going backwards.
Today is Labor Day in America. Past holidays included a day off, maybe a small luncheon, celebrations of union solidarity, families relaxing together and enjoying the fruits of hard labor. Today, most retail, industrial and contract workers are on the job, fretting about day care for their children, wondering if they can stretch their paychecks to cover gas and rent increases, hoping for a little relief from somewhere. It is an employers' market and the mantra of "bad economy" continues to keep paychecks down while middle class workers must work harder just to run in place, let alone get anywhere.
A recent article written by Robert B. Reich, a secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, shines a light on the dangers of the rich getting richer and the middle class getting poorer.
"This crisis began decades ago when a new wave of technology — things like satellite communications, container ships, computers and eventually the Internet — made it cheaper for American employers to use low-wage labor abroad or labor-replacing software here at home than to continue paying the typical worker a middle-class wage. Even though the American economy kept growing, hourly wages flattened. The median male worker earns less today, adjusted for inflation, than he did 30 years ago." - NY Times oped, September 2, 2010
This article and others shed a dimming light on the source of America's wealth - middle class consumers. Declining paychecks, declining quality of work, declining availability of time, means declining standard of living for everyone, including the wall street wealthy. There is a good reason why economic security tops the list of problems that Americans want solved pronto. Even concerns about national security take a back seat when parents must sweat paying for their children's back-to-school clothes.
Congress needs to celebrate the American worker by passing the Obama administration's proposed infrastructure public works bill and we need to support America's industries with our cash. For a few dollars more, we can get good, American made products (e.g., Merle Norman, Corelle, LL Bean, Burt's Bees, New Balance, Nordstrom's) and keep our local workers employed.
Friday, September 3
Clarity is a state of mind that refreshes me. The struggle to "make sense" of an issue, to control a situation, to solve a problem is exhausting and often ridiculous. Silly games devised throughout my life to make me bigger, more powerful, more comfortable fall apart when the fear of failure dissipates. Like a wind-up doll, the spring inside, the agitation that moves the game forward, stops. Instead of turning my face away from the train wreck, I look at it. It really is a train wreck, not the fantasy of a bump in the road or Armageddon. It is what it is - clear, translucent, focused.
During my last visit to Sedona, I was packing and cleaning up the house so I could leave early the next morning. Part of my departure ritual is to empty all of the trash upstairs. I was checking on a bathroom trash can that I had not used during the visit and noticed it was empty except for something brown and moving in the bottom of the pristine, white plastic basket.
Even though my eyes are not that sharp anymore, I couldn't help but notice that the brown thing was a good sized tarantula.
"Eeeeep! Will it jump out? How the hell did it get in there in the first place? Does it have a family lurking nearby? Fricking hell! I've been practically sleeping on the floor in the bedroom right next door?"
My mind was a primordial soup of fear. Pictures of painful spider bites, childhood memories of tarantula migrations, and encounters in the dark with jumping tarantulas paralyzed me with dread as I back out slowly from the bathroom. I turned on all of the lights I could find while I put on my glasses. No spiders, except a dead garden spider in a corner of the living room. My heart was still racing and I was ready to run out the door, when clarity struck.
My ninety-two year old mother-in-law lives alone downstairs. She's enjoying the latest "America's Got Talent" extravaganza while I'm packing. She can't really help me and I don't want to scare her anyway. There is no one to help me with this situation, but me. I said the Serenity Prayer a few times, and found the courage to do something. At this point, once my fear took a break, I realized I had another trash basket the same size. Maybe I could put it inside Spidey's basket and smash him.
It worked. I was able to push the empty basket down and trap Spidey. At this point, I was having second thoughts about killing him and so I just scooped up both baskets and started down the stairs so I could toss them into the front yard to deal with in the morning. He'd either escape, be alive or dead and I hoped I would still have a clear mind at that time, too. During this epic struggle, my mother-in-law came up behind me and asked what was going on.
"I found a tarantula in the upstairs, hall bathroom, Betty," I gasped while struggling to open the door so I could toss the baskets outside. "He's trapped and maybe smashed inside of these two trash baskets. I'll deal with him before I go."
"I hope you didn't kill it," Betty said. "We'll see in the morning." We finished up and talked about the finalists in the talent show and I marvelled at Betty's lack of fear or drama. Just another day in the high desert.
The rest of the night was hellish - I slept with a flashlight, scanning the room for possible tarantula migrations, and in the morning I pulled apart the baskets and found Spidey shaken but alive and moving. I had forgotten how slow tarantulas are and as I watched him move toward the front door I scooped him up again and took him down the road to an empty field where he found some breakfast, I'm sure. As I walked back to the house, I realized that the terror of Spidey was gone and I felt happy that he was alive and hopefully well. I also felt good about how I handled the crisis. I had panicked briefly, which is progress for me, and used some prayer to focus and gain enough perspective to find a fairly creative and non toxic solution.
The time honored advice of "count to ten", "sleep on it", "let go and let god" works to remind me that clarity is important in life and although the mind is quick, our reflexes are quicker. It's easier to get mad, scared, unfocused, hateful than to delay the impulse or reaction. I feel grateful that through the various spiritual and self help programs I'm involved in, I have tools that I can rely on to "tame the wild mind" and find clarity.
May all beings know love and peace.
Saturday, August 28
I don't underestimate the depth of America's rage against the machine. If there is one common thread among all Americans it is mistrust of the government. During the 60s, hippies, disgusted with the Viet Nam war and the draft, turned away from the military industrial complex and turned back to simpler days, creating communes and self contained communities, many of which are no longer in existence. Fast forward to Bush I and II and disgust with outsourcing megacorporations and the S&L, banking bailouts, plus two Gulf Wars, Afghanistan, caused antiwar/anti government demonstrations on every street corner. Liberals railed against the takeover of America by the megacorporations and the weakening of consumer/environmental regulations.
The mistrust factor has been co opted by right wingers but this time the target is not megacorporations, reviled by liberals everywhere. The target is whatever restricts and harms megacorporations - primarily, vigilant government. Unemployed Joe-the-plumber, victim of union busting republican economic policies and outsourcing, is told that government regulation of energy companies have caused them to close plants and move elsewhere to compete globally. Meanwhile, CEO salaries, bonuses, perks just keep on sucking up a greater percentage of corporate profits. Somehow the teabaggers do not connect job losses/economic disaster to reckless and irresponsible corporate greed ala British Petroleum's Gulf Coast catastrophe. They want to make these vipers their friends and make officials elected by the majority of Americans their enemies. They are mad at a government that dares to allocate taxpayer funds to aggressive consumer protection rules, unemployment insurance, food stamps, medicaid for themselves and social security and medicare for their parents and grandparents. They are mad that the democrats have passed a jobs bill giving Joe a way to be independent and support his family without enlisting in the army and killing people for democracy.
So, as Joe, Sarah, Glen, Rush, Michele honor the US armed forces, a part of the federal government that sucks up 19% of the United States federal budgeted expenditures and 28% of estimated tax revenues, they might also take a moment to honor the government that employs the people that helped process the parade permit for today's rally.
Friday, May 28
Sometimes the prettiest flowers have the longest thorns. It may not sound romantic or even appealing, but roses have thorns, cactus blossoms mask spines of steel, and fragile water lilies float among spears of bull rushes and reeds. Maybe the thorns cause us to handle roses with the care they deserve. The spines and reeds screen the casual eye from getting closer and taking a good look at the harmonious details that beautify barren deserts and lush ponds. Flowers are food for some, and thorns deter the hungry predators from destroying not only beauty but life.
I've finished reading "Time and Chance," a historical novel by Sharon Kay Penman, about the early lives of King Henry II and his famous queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Both people were far ahead of their times, remarkable and fabulous characters. Henry was a courageous, intelligent king as well as a tireless and brilliant empire builder/warrior. Because of his brilliance, he seldom consulted with anyone about his decisions and some of them were disastrous. His catastrophic battle with St. Thomas Becket could have been avoided if he'd listened to his wife's warnings, but he ignored her and underestimated her. He saw only her beauty and did not acknowledge her thorns until he was wounded in his most vulnerable place, his heart.
The book presents the warrior king viewpoint of this dynastic marriage and his future plans for his sons, Hal, Richard, Geoffrey. His plans for his daughters were also dynastic and even though his queen conceived and birthed these children, he betrothed them as he saw fit and told Eleanor later, always assuming that she would agree and support him in his empire building plans. Henry II accomplished so much, so quickly, it was refreshing to hear the Queen's voice as a counter balance. Throughout the Becket controversy and despite his thoughtless plans for his children, she sheathed her claws, stiffened her spine and sought to view King Henry's ruthless ambitions as beneficial to her and her children. She was beautiful Eleanor, a royal brood mare and an able administrator and surrogate for his majesty, as needed.
All of that changed while she was pregnant with her eighth child, John. Her sister, Petronilla, told her about Rosamund Clifford, Henry's high born concubine, residing in one of Eleanor's favorite English castles, Woodstock. Although she was in France, at least eight months pregnant at the age of forty, and it was mid winter, she sailed across the English Channel and arrived at Woodstock in time to see the nineteen year old, Rosamund playing with a puppy in Eleanor's garden at Woodstock. She asked only one question, "How old are you." Received her answer, went to the next available castle, Oxford, and gave birth to John - almost dying in the process.
Henry's betrayal killed her love and her loyalty. She had trimmed her thorns, allowed another to love and be loved, and learned that women, especially married women, were powerless despite beauty, wealth and status. Her pride, the biggest and most deadly thorn, was mauled and because Henry never admitted his betrayal, the wound festered, becoming the scar that allowed her to join her sons in insurrection.
I'm just starting the second book in this series, "Devil's Brood." The actions of this amazing family are so far fetched and outrageous, I am still surprised that I'm reading accurate accounts of history. No soap opera or movie fantasy can match the beginnings of the House of Plantagenet.
Thursday, May 6
Thursday, April 29
Monday, April 26
I watched the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie last night. It was "When Love is Not Enought - the Lois Wilson Story." This story was almost too painful to watch, so much so, that I was relieved when the commercials came on.
Lois Wilson is one of the most important founders of the Twelve Step movement. She focused on the damage to family and friends affected by the drinking of another person by simply modifying and applying the principles of the program to fit the obsessive, controlling and warped minds, bodies and spirits of those affected by the alcoholic. Her tenacity, kindness and common sense started the Alanon program, a companion to Alcoholic Anonymous that ensures healing and spiritual progress for everyone.
What was most striking about this story is the crushing reality that love does not conquer all and that addiction is not only devestating but also contagious. This program and it's companion piece, "Bill W," should be required watching for all families. These pioneers of the "self help" movement sacrificed their lives to pave the way for the rest of us. Through this brilliant program and by their actions, they showed us that redemption is not in being a missionary but in being of service with a hand out and a hand up when there is no where else to go.
It works if you work it.
Thursday, April 22
"It means that once the soap goes down the sink, it dissolves and does not gum up the septic tank or sewer system. It's better for the earth and water." She explained.
My parents seemed to be aware of the benefits of taking care of the environment many years ago, particularly when an item "gummed up" the pipes or septic tank and caused problems and expensive repairs. I would guess that my parent's generation were practical first and altruistic second. Times have not change.
Our family has a hybrid car, we use biodegradable soaps, compact fluorescent lights, and try to remember to turn off power/lights when not in use. I'd like to say my first motivation is to save the earth, but honesty compels me to admit that the cost of gasoline, heating and cooling our home, and minimizing repairs is what really drives our desire to look for eco friendly solutions. Using cold water to wash clothes saves money and uses less fuel. Using less water, saves money and protects our water supply. Using a hybrid car, while expensive initially, saves money in the long run and uses less fossil fuels - reducing air pollution. So these actions are not only altruistic but self serving, in a good way.
Years ago, sorting through household trash to find recycle items was a royal pain. Finding things that biodegrade or have a low carbon footprint used to be difficult at best. And, advertising promoted disposing of anything old whether it still worked or not. Times have changed, and we can all thank environmental activists for not giving up.
Most cities now provide easy ways to sort and recycle glass, metal, paper and some plastics. Reducing waste, Reusing and/or re purposing items, and recycling has become second nature to us. Our children do not even think twice about this concept. Many of them bring their own cups to Starbucks and swap books, magazines, software, almost anything through such organizations as Freecycle. I have gotten so used to bringing my own reusable bags shopping, that I feel weird when I leave home without my own bag(s).
There are many more things we can do to improve our environment and save ourselves money. I just googled "ecofriendly" and there are hundreds of ways to love our mother earth and ourselves - can't have one without the other!
May all beings know health and peace.
Thursday, April 15
Joe Bailey wrote a good book. I recommend it to anyone interested in identifying fears and finding the courage to face them. I believe that America is obsessed with hurt. Everything hurts us. Our waters, skies, air, food, mothers, fathers, children, pets, priests, thoughts, ad naseum are sources of dire pain. We not only fear death, we fear life as well. Fear thrills us. Defiance is our outlet, but most of us are defiance-voyeurs, not really wanting to "fight the dragon" ourselves. For those that fight dragons, I applaud their energy. There is a lot wrong in this world and sometimes one must fight to make corrections or create a better world.
When the teabaggers first entered the political fray, I was intrigued and interested in their "dragon slayer" ranting. What bigger dragon is there than a greed-based banking system. The bank bailouts instituted by Bush II and executed by former Goldman Sachs CEO Paulson, then Treasury Secretary, were so sickening and mind boggling that everyone looked at the baggers and said, "Hell Yeah!" Americans are fed up with the rich getting richer on the backs of the peasant/workers and the arrogance of the wall street banks with their private jets, multi million dollar CEO bonuses harken back to pre-French Revolutionary days when the clueless aristocracy suggested eating cake if bread is not available. All the tri cornered hats, costumes, catchy phrases made for good street theater. The only problem with these performances is that the teabagger movement does not offer any viable solutions or alternatives.
To make matters worse, around the time of the Obama election, the sore losers in the Republican Party infiltrated the movement with quitter Palin spearheading the takeover and presto-chango, every Republican hypocrite and their media mogul pimps jumped on the bandwagon. The teabaggers became a big tent for birthers, birchers and other mega-right-wingnuts, and anyone who doesn't like Obama. Repugnatan mouthpieces roused the rabble by lying about health care reform, by spouting half truths about the extent of our tax burden, and by needlessly fear mongering to get an extra buck, or extra vote . What do all of these players have in common - fear. Just like the televangelists they emulate, hell fire, brimstone, conspiracy, self hatred (erm, hatred period) is the foundation upon which the church-of-the- almighty-dollar-saves-your-ass is built.
They fear "big government" but only when it helps the "lower" classes, apparently. It was okay for GWB to create the third largest federal government department, Homeland Security, while pushing through two tax cuts for the richest in the land, and funding two costly, needless wars. Did the "baggies" do the math back then? Thimk peeple - two wars at a billion dollars a week, two tax cuts that ".., cover less than ten percent of their long term costs.." and increases in federal government spending on "security" = Deficits. Oh, and before good ol GWB left office, he left a fiery pile of financial poo on Obama's doorstep - the collapse of the financial system and resulting bail out. Like father like son - two financial industry bail outs at taxpayer expense in one family - must be genetic. The baggers don't demonize Bush I and II - just Obama.
The cause of this economic disaster is the 1999 passage of the Gramm-Leach-Billey Act .
This legislation ".., repealed part of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, opening up the market among banking companies, securities companies and insurance companies. The Glass-Steagall Act prohibited any one institution from acting as any combination of an investment bank, a commercial bank, and an insurance company." (thanks Wikipedia)
You know what? Most mature people in this country took a look at the brink of disaster, saw that there were two choices: 1) do nothing and let the banks fail ala the Great Depression; or 2) bail their asses out and repair the shredded safety net. Anyone that thinks this mess could and would be cleaned up without an even messier solution has lost touch with the concept of "consequences." You elect a Bush, just like the last Bush, bought and paid for by corporate lobbyists and you get screwed. So, baggers, man up and suck it up. If you think Obama, Democrats, unwed mothers, abortion providers, immigrants, peaceniks, public option sympathizers are out to get you, then you have more to fear than fear itself. Remember, insanity is doing the same thing over again, expecting a different result. Allowing your repugnatan corporate sponsors to obstruct, water down, gut legislation to reform and regulate these wall street aristocrats and their shady network of bad loans and bad investments is propagating insanity: your teapots are cracked and don't hold water .
"Lonesome Rhodes: This whole country's just like my flock of sheep!
Marcia Jeffries: Sheep?
Lonesome Rhodes: Rednecks, crackers, hillbillies, hausfraus, shut-ins, pea-pickers - everybody that's got to jump when somebody else blows the whistle. They don't know it yet, but they're all gonna be 'Fighters for Fuller'. They're mine! I own 'em! They think like I do. Only they're even more stupid than I am, so I gotta think for 'em. Marcia, you just wait and see. I'm gonna be the power behind the president - and you'll be the power behind me!"
Tuesday, April 6
"Too bad we have to kill it. A black widow is the best insecticide there is," said my brother.
We were getting ready for a backyard BBQ and fortunately decided to clean the plastic chairs and tables. The dark corners hid a couple of black widow spiders and my first thought was for the little ones who would be roaming our unmanicured back yard.
We keep the grass/weeds mowed, the vines trimmed, and that's about it. Through our "green neglect" (i.e., water saving) we've let the yard revert back to a semi natural state. The ivy fence, and our proximity to an undeveloped hillside attract all kinds of birds and animals, year round.
Right now, we're hosting a mother skunk and her four babies. These babies grow fast and are almost as big as she is after just a couple of weeks. We checked with animal control and they told us that skunks were beneficial animals, not easily provoked, and they'd leave in a month or less with their offspring. They asked us to be tolerant and patient rather than trapping them at this most vulnerable time. Apparently, coyotes will eat the young - I should have guessed since they eat almost anything.
So... We're enjoying the daylight hours in the yard and at night, make way for our skunk friends.
Thursday, April 1
It was the middle of a hot, Arizona summer and despite the sprinklers and irrigation, almost everything was brown or a lighter version of brown. Green seemed juicy, moist, refreshing and something almost unattainable in this arid landscape. I was very young and looking forward to leaving Phoenix for some part of the summer. Taking a trip to somewhere greener had become a family ritual and a welcome relief.
Thursday, March 4
Today is a beautiful day. The clouds in the LA basin are fantastic, huge, billowing masses of freshness with lots of white fluffiness. I remember spending childhood hours daydreaming and watching these kinds of clouds on Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York state.
One strange but memorable day, I lay on my back with my little brothers and a ward of my grandmother named, Larry. It was summertime and the lake was choked with sea weeds so we couldn't swim. We had a television, but no reception. My older brothers had a boat, but we were too young to take it out by ourselves. It seemed that there was no where to go and nothing to do, so we looked at bugs and finally looked at the sky.
For a short time, we rose above the earth and floated on big, puffy ships, or rode rapidly disintegrating dragons, or found friendly angels flitting from one small cloud to another. I felt very close to the boys. We all shared a transcendent hour or so before flopping back to earth and giving in to our hunger pangs, itches and crankiness.
Clouds and lakes bring that magic back and I feel closeness, even when I'm alone.
Sunday, February 28
Palm Springs Brachiosaurus - Palm Springs, California
Asking for It - Elephant Seal Preserve, Ragged Point, California
"Be Willing to Stick Your Neck Out — put yourself out there and find the support to make sure you follow through." - Sticking Your Neck Out: Discover the Top 7 Ways to Reach Your Peak Performance by Nikki Stone
Friday, February 26
I don't know about anyone else, but it's time for a break and a wet weekend seems perfect right now. I'm breakin out the blankets and stocking up on DVDs. Warm, cozy, burrow, chill - good words to contemplate.
May all beings know comfort and peace.