Monthly Archives: January 2011

“To Suffer Is Not Enough”

I was taught by my mother and grandmother to be a martyr to the cause of the family.  They had to constantly worry, fuss, struggle and work to make sure everyone else was happy.  Their own happiness was just a shy smile to see others enjoying life, and then it was back to the grindstone.  They’ve been shining examples of selflessness, which is a difficult act to follow.

So when I read passages like the following by Thich Nhat Hanh in his book “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching,” it is like a total release of all the anguish built up over the years of believing that suffering is a sign that you are caring enough, doing enough, loving enough:

The ocean of  suffering is immense, but if you turn around, you can see the land.  The seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don’t wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy.

Being allowed and even encouraged to have happiness as one part of your reality is a dream come true.  Not just my own happiness, of course, but the happiness of all beings.

And we don’t have to get rid of suffering entirely to be happy!  What a concept.  How many of us are waiting until conditions are perfect before we can be happy, whether it’s getting the bathroom sink fixed or having our child cured of his cold, we feel we must not allow ourselves happiness while there is still something amiss.

Hanh continues:

When one tree in the garden is sick, you have to care for it.  But don’t overlook all the healthy trees.  Even while you have pain in your heart, you can enjoy the many wonders of life — the beautiful sunset, the smile of a child, the many flowers and trees.  To suffer is not enough.  Please don’t be imprisoned by your suffering.

“To suffer is not enough!”  I will suffer, and I will feel that pain, and things will be amiss, and I can work towards eliminating that suffering, but while I’m traveling that road — I am allowed to be happy!  I am allowed to appreciate what beauty and pleasure still exists!

I am reminded of the story of the man chased by a tiger.  He falls over a cliff, and realizes that he is hanging by a root which is slowly pulling out of the dirt, with a snarling tiger waiting on the cliff above, and sharp rocks far below ready to make pulp of his flesh.  In the midst of this, he sees a little plant growing right beside his cheek, smells the perfume of the plump, perfectly ripe strawberry, plucks it and savors its juicy sweetness.  Who among us has the courage to find and appreciate joy under such pressure?  How do we cultivate that kind of awareness and focus?

Do you suffer from a martyr complex?  Have you found any ways to overcome your tendency to color the whole world with the pain of the worst thing that’s happening in your life right now?  Can you care for the sick tree while drawing inspiration from the healthy ones?  Are you waiting for an end to all suffering before you experience joy?

Harmony, humility, compassion

Taoism offers three elements that can help one along the Way: harmony (balance, moderation, surrendered will), humility (open mind, open eyes), and compassion (open heart, empathy, love).

Three resonates as a powerful arrangement: body/mind/spirit.  The Blessed Trinity.

Similar to the way the Kabala is used as a system for organizing knowledge, I find myself organizing ideas I encounter into these three spheres.

Harmony: In surrendering to a Will greater than myself, I let go of my own desires and embrace What Is; striking a balance, I ride the wave of energy of the Here and Now; in tune with What Is, I respond to people and situations in the most loving way possible.

Humility: I relax into a quiet mind and clear awareness; letting go of thoughts, allowing them to pass; being open to What Is instead of coloring my perception with desires, wishes, fears, etc.

Compassion: Keeping an empty heart, I become continuously filled with Spirit; I let go of ego and emotions as they pass; I accept union with Oneness.

Emptiness, letting go, opening to the flowing wonder of the world.  Keeping the energy moving with grace, centering senses  and freely releasing love.

Whether I read a Buddhist text, the Tao Te Ching or the Bible, I hear a resonance of this wisdom and the meanings become brighter.

I want to share my inner work as a way to get a new perspective and thereby learn more, and also as a way to invite you to share yours.  In this sincere exchange, the seeds of our inner work can meet in a middle ground and grow amazing new flowers.

My Next Tattoo

I only have one right now.  The impetus to get it was to cover up a drunken lightning bolt I’d done myself so I could “match” my first husband.  The salamander is my totem animal, and the spiral is a powerful symbol for me, so this is kind of my signature.

My next tattoo will most likely be on the other wrist.  I want to do some kind of stylized form of “880,” which means many things to me.  Primarily, 880 is the number of the Nimitz Freeway in the East Bay Area, the road that led from my childhood home to my Grandma’s home, and the roughest, scariest freeway I’ve ever been on.  The last time I was on it (last year), the general traffic was going 75 in a 45 zone, bumper to bumper, cutting people off, swerving, huge potholes in the asphalt, just the most insane thing you can imagine.

Normally, I am prone to freak out over stupid little stuff, like my 3 year old spilling juice or getting a particularly large electric bill in the mail.  But as soon as I merge onto this freeway (or any road, for that matter) I get excited and intense and I think, “Alright, here we go!”  It occurred to me after my last trip on 880 that if I could just adopt that attitude of confidence and enthusiasm to every challenge I encountered along my life path, how much funner my life would be!  The tattoo is supposed to remind me to see rough scary things like they were the Nimitz, and to go for it with a mad smile!

Other secondary reasons: 8 is my favorite number.  Turned sideways it is the symbol for infinity, which is mind-blowing.  I graduated in ’88 and I plan to die when I’m 88.  “0” is also a circle, wholeness, forever, lots of good meanings there.  It is also nothing, which is a very important reminder as well.

When I originally came up with the idea (thanks to Helene Cote for the sketch you see above), I wanted to get it before my 40th birthday, but that has come and gone with no funds.  Now I want to do it while I’m 40, but just yesterday I thought, okay, if it’s primary function is to remind me, and I think of it all the time, then there’s no hurry.  Just chill.  (Just hang on to the wheel and enjoy the ride.)

Thoughts?  Opinions?  Or… Tell me about your tattoos and what they mean!

Journey to Home Ownership

One thing I’ll be sharing with the tribe here is my family’s journey from renters to homeowners, a transition which should take place in the next couple of months.  Our story is a little bit unique because we are partnering through Habitat for Humanity, which has always been a program that I’ve heard about but never knew the nitty-gritty of, nor have I ever known anyone who’s actually gone through it.  Now you can say that you do!

To fill you in a bit on our back story, here’s an introductory essay I wrote when we were first accepted into the Habitat Homebuyer program back in September of last year:

The Dream of a Home

In the last two years of her life my Grandma suffered a lung embolism and a broken hip, wrist and foot.  My parents repeated, as they had for years, their offer for her to move into their spacious home, which they’d bought in that size specifically for such an eventuality.  My Grandma politely but adamantly refused.  They then offered to help her move into a retirement community of her choice.  She again declined.  As absurd as it seemed for a frail, ailing 90 year-old to intend on living alone, and as worried as I was for her, I did understand; she lived in the house she and my Grandpa had bought over 50 years ago, where she’d raised her son, entertained her bridge group, spoiled her grandkids and comforted her dying husband.  In addition, she lived a few blocks from her church, her friends, her hairdresser and all her favorite shops, her “village” as she always referred to it, and she wasn’t leaving it for anything.  And she never did.

My Grandma’s attachment to home and community lives on in my own heart, though it has yet to be fulfilled.  I’ve lived my adult life below the poverty line, moving from town to town in search of a stable situation, unable to sink the roots that ache to make a lasting connection.  It seemed the world had changed since my Grandma’s day and that home ownership was an impossibility in the economy of my day. I never allowed myself to dream that I, too, could have my own home in my own “village” until I met my husband six years ago.

He is unlike anyone else I’ve ever met in that he talks big, and then he lives it.  I’ve heard lots of people dream and then I’ve watched them languish in their ambitionless lives as their dreams withered.  When I met Richard he planned to get a Master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon, but he hadn’t even been accepted to the program yet.  Within two years he had graduated with achievements under his belt which proved he was not only going to do what he said, he was going to completely rock it.

So when he talked of his own dream of owning a home, I let a little hope in.  Then began the systematic dashing of those hopes against the rocks of numbers on paper — Richard and I owed too much money and he was being paid too little in the career for which he’d earned his Master’s.  Apparently the future of our little family having a home in which to nurture five wonderful children to happy, healthy, productive adulthood was not a risk any financial institution would consider taking.

And then he told me about the possibility of home ownership through Habitat for Humanity.  Not only was there a renewed glimmer of hope that we could work towards owning our own home, but there was also a community already established in which I might earn a place to be useful, where my children, my husband and I would finally belong.  I was suddenly grateful that we’d been denied entrance into an impersonal, money-oriented bank loan arrangement so that we could have the chance to participate in something much more meaningful and people-oriented.  To think that our mortgage payments will help to perpetuate such an amazing program makes home ownership an even greater blessing.

When I told my Mom the news that we’d been accepted into the Habitat program, I mentioned how sad it made me that I couldn’t call Grandma and tell her my good news the way I did with everything else before she passed away this last Christmas.  My mother paused, then said, “You know she knows.”  Even though I can no longer hear the joy in her voice or her words of pride in receiving the news, I do know that my Grandma knows and shares in this happy opportunity for her granddaughter and great-grandchildren to live her same dream of home and community.

When Smart Teenagers Tank at School

My 14 year old son was homeschooled until the 5th grade.  At first they wanted to put him in remedial classes because his spelling and handwriting were atrocious, but then I got the teachers to look at the content of his writing (what an original idea!) and they agreed to let him catch up on his own.  Within a year he was being recommended for the AIG program.

He’d gotten almost exclusively A’s until the first semester of his freshman year in high school (this past semester.)  His grades included a couple of F’s, and the rest weren’t much better.  I feel like there could be so many reasons for him to have done a reversal, not the least of which are normal teenage hormones and adjustments.  Other possibilities:

  • His only friend being a kid prone to getting into trouble with the law as well as repeating his freshman year in high school
  • Playing football and trying to adjust to that schedule while being new to the reality of high school academics
  • Taking honors classes when he specifically asked to be allowed to take college prep instead (which I verified later with a teacher at the school was not due to academic concerns on his part, but rather social, so now I have to wonder if I made the right choice pushing him into them)
  • The fact that we live in a tiny  house where three young children run around screaming with high energy, which does not give me much time to give him attention nor does it make for a good study atmosphere, even in his room
  • Receiving a Playstation 3 for his birthday last summer and becoming completely addicted to it
  • Receiving texting ability on his phone in the middle of the semester (on last month’s bill the total texts sent/received for just his phone was over 17,000!!!)

I’m sure if I sat here long enough I could make more excuses.

Here are some things I plan to do to help him more next semester:

  • email all his teachers to let them know I’m involved and want to be notified at the first sign of slipping and told how I can help
  • ask him about his homework and classes every day, even though it will annoy him, and ask to help
  • I’ve posted a copy of his previous academic excellence award on the family bulletin board to remind us all of how high he’s set the bar for himself
  • Severely limit video game play
  • Hopefully (fingers crossed) we will be in a new house soon with enough space (including one room that will be an office/library for studying and quiet activity) that calm concentration becomes more than a pipe dream

I’m hoping for another reversal so that this past semester is just an anomaly, a bad blip on the radar.

Thoughts, advice, experience to share?  Any strategies for this new semester that I’m overlooking?

Finding a Spiritual Community

Should you join a church in which you like the congregation (a lot) but feel completely uninspired by the leadership?

I very much resonate with the principles, the vibe and the people at the UU church I have been visiting, but the regular minister as well as the visiting minister are not at all impressive, in my opinion.  How much should that matter?

The regular minister’s method of speaking is to ask questions he already knows the answers to and elicit all kinds of incorrect responses from the congregation before he finally tells us the right answer.  That annoys me when teachers do it and it annoys me when preachers do it.

The visiting minister’s style is to drone on and on until I want to fall asleep (ironically her sermon was about listening).  Her mechanical sing-song rhythm combined with her tired, cliché messages (I’m pretty sure we know already that we have to keep quiet with an open heart to actually hear someone) are the opposite of inspiring.  If you’re going to remind people of something they already know, for heaven’s sake throw in some new, fresh angle or compelling characters or amazing story, or at least deliver it with passion.

I thought I’d finally found a church home, but now I feel I’m back to square one.

Do you have a church home or other spiritual community?  How much do you like the leader?  How much should your like or dislike of the leader impact your attachment to the congregation?

Commitment to an Online Community

I’m currently part of two different online communities which coincidentally both declared that things had slowed too far down and they were interested in boosting participation.  After the leaders declared this, there hasn’t been any show of renewed commitment from them and the posts that I’ve written in response to their call for assistance have gone unanswered, even by them.

Is online community some pie in the sky vision that lots of people imagine would be cool but no one likes the reality of?

To me the advantages, while not outweighing actual real-time community, are many:

  1. The chance to meet and interact with an infinitely broad range of people
  2. The chance to communicate at any time of day, even when it would be rude to call someone, and your words can be accessed when it is convenient for the reader
  3. Developing a network of people who can help each other, offer advice based on their individual expertise and/or experience, so that whatever issue someone is having, someone will know someone who might be able to help
  4. Permanent community that won’t be affected by any kind of relocation in the real world – so that if change your job or move to another town or whatever, the online community will be in the same place and easily accessible, whereas with coworkers, neighbors and such, it is usually “out of sight, out of mind”

There are surely other positive aspects that I just can’t bring to mind yet.  I myself have tried to start Wise Way Tribe in a couple of different forums, but just could not get anyone to give enough of a crap.  Sometimes it would hurt my feelings but other times it just seemed like that was the way life was.  You can lead a horse to water, kind of thing.  You can’t make anyone share your vision.

So with these two communities, supposedly in renewal, it is someone else’s vision, which I am taking seriously and trying to throw my energy behind, and not even the admins are taking it seriously.  On one I even applied to be a moderator of a forum and it’s been almost 72 hours with not a word.  Shouldn’t an admin strike while the iron is hot?  Get that person on board before they lose interest?  (Of course, it’s entirely possible that they are not accepting my application, but that seems even more ridiculous.)

It makes me feel like a  naive little girl, thinking that a tea party would be fun so she gets the table set and her party dress on, but no one shows up.  Now I’m here with the tea getting cold and the cucumber sandwiches curling up at the edges, and it’s not even my party.

The Last Puzzle Piece

My 8 year old daughter and I recently did a 300 piece puzzle together.  It’s a really cool one with animals doing all kinds of silly things, the kind of puzzle where you grow attached to the various little characters and scenes within the whole picture.

So when we got to the end and we were missing a piece, I was quite disappointed.  “Great, we lost one!” I said (probably too loud) and proceeded to spend the next two minutes looking all around, even in other rooms, since the baby is notorious for taking off with little important bits and eating/losing them.

Just as I was giving up in despair, my 8 year old giggled and produced the piece from under her seat.  Grrr.

Now, she comes by this joke honestly, as it’s a tradition for my Dad to pull this trick on my Mom and I, but when he does it, he is standing at the ready as we put the last couple pieces in.  He doesn’t let us look around for it, he just swoops in and takes the glory of putting in the last puzzle piece.

My daughter and I discussed how this trick might be more fun for all in the future, and causing Mama extra stress is not part of the equation, but the whole experience made me realize that though there are 300 pieces in the puzzle, the most important and special one is the LAST one.

And how, don’t we all want to feel like the last puzzle piece?  There are billions of people in this world, many, many individuals in our communities and families and schools, but don’t we each want to feel like the one who will be missed if we aren’t there?  Don’t we each want someone to panic and search desperately for us?  Don’t we want to feel so precious that the whole project of life will be incomplete without us?

How often do we intend to make someone else feel like the last puzzle piece?  Our child, our partner, a dear friend?  And is it something we can do for a stranger in the grocery store, to look into their eyes and smile like they are the small bit we’d thought was lost but then we found it?  What joy!

I hope when you are here at Wise Way Tribe, you feel me reaching out across the time and space that separates my typing from your eyes moving across the screen, and that we can meet with a true connection.  I hope you know that your presence makes my puzzle complete.

No More Whining

I think all my whiny self-talk (as well as whiny other-talk!) needs to stop once and for all.  Troubleshooting a problem is fine, as it is a step toward something constructive, but just hating what’s going on is like opening an emotional sinkhole in my reality.

The thing that has inspired this latest resolution prohibiting negativity is the weather.  Where we live, it gets yucky hot in the summer and yucky cold in the winter.  I wait as long as I can in the season to start hating it, but it’s only mid-January and I am already despising the cold.

I used to know a wise woman who said she had made friends with winter.  I want to do that.  All the energy I pour into hating something could just as easily be spent in making friends, finding the good, opening to the joy.

Here goes, as a first step:

Hello, winter.  Thank you for not making me sweat.  Thank you for eliminating all those awful bugs, especially the mosquitos.  Thank you for giving me a little break from mowing the lawn.  Thank you for making it fun to snuggle with the kids and not making me want to push them away because it’s too sticky hot to be close to someone.

There.  We’ll see if I can maintain this relationship!  Help me out by leaving a comment with more ways winter doesn’t suck!

Letting Go

In his book “Writing in the Sand,” Thomas Moore talks about the difference between being possessed by “demonic forces,” which essentially means being overwhelmed by anti-life energy such as alcohol addiction, anger, jealousy, etc., and being self-possessed.

“Self-possession is not the same as self-control.  You possess yourself when you are able to allow life to flow through you.  You are not threatened, and you do not resist.  You are a conduit for the uncertainties that life offers you.  You possess yourself because you are not fighting the life that wants to be in you.” (page 82)

Letting go of one’s will and yet continuing to function on planet earth relates to the Taoist idea of “non-action,” where one does what is obviously required by the situation without trying to be clever and overthink things.

But this runs counter to what we are taught is responsible behavior.  A caring adult will do what is required, but then keep doing, or at least worrying, pacing, fretting, talking, anything to demonstrate concern and to cover one’s bases, to be able to say, “I did everything humanly possible.”  I guess this is being possessed by the demon of fear.

A self-possessed person, by Moore’s definition, would allow the life force to work through them to do what needed to be done, then presumably would allow the life force to move on to other things.  There would be no clinging or wailing and gnashing of teeth.

And presumably the self-possessed person would not worry that anyone would think they hadn’t done enough.  The judgment of others would not be part of the equation.

I’m not quite there yet.