Tag Archives: meaning

Prayer Beads

I become obsessed with projects. Not to the point of losing the farm obsessed, but just that the idea will sit and simmer, sometimes boil, on a backburner of my brain until I finally do it. Then, it’s gone, and I’m left with a calm contentment.

My name was one of those things. Wanted to change it for as long as I could remember. Informally changed my first name at age 21, then at age 25 I adopted a new last name and legally changed my name. Ahhhh. That’s the ticket.

One of my smaller project obsessions is prayer beads. I’ve gone so far as to take a red cord and sew on 16 assorted beads, rocks and shells (with holes through them), buttons and pendants. Each with a particular meaning. I meant to assign to each “bead” one of the prayers I’ve memorized or meant to memorize, but that never happened. It didn’t feel organic. And the prayer beads look so random and chaotic. I don’t feel it.

But I think about this project, and how I shall tend to it, all the time, as though it were a small child I’d left out in the yard and need to go check on.

Why do I want this? I say prayers all day. I just use pauses in the daily insanity to say some prayer or other in my head, or something will remind me. I don’t see how having a physical reminder or representation would make me more prayerful.

But somehow the idea of having something physical in my hands to hold onto is appealing, like a crutch, like a precious photograph, like a hand to squeeze.

Maybe it’s just that being raised Catholic and then choosing to walk away from that religion leaves a little rosary-shaped hole in my life that I keep trying to fill.

Maybe that’s what is unappealing to me about the one I’ve created; it isn’t official, it’s a wannabe.

Or maybe the thing I walked away from was the official externalization of interior spirituality, and I’m afraid that if I get too deep into these prayer beads I will become superstitious, overly attached, or just plain goofy about them.

In any case, it provides me with a fascinating, ongoing meditation with regards to my own internal mess.

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Another Artist in the Family

I don’t know what it is about kids’ drawings. There are times I feel like I’ve been shown the answer to something terribly important, and I just have to remember the question.

Drawing by Gwen, 2.5 years old

My eyes try to make out the image, like a distant shape through the fog of my muddled brain. Like a muffled call through the chaos of my preconceptions. There’s definitely something there.

Live For This

A Kiss Amidst the Chaos

Two Beauties, No Beast

Cooler Than Thou, But Still My Baby

Dark Days of the Soul

I’m passing through the shadows. It’s really damn dark and lonely in here.

This isn’t how my life was supposed to be. If I’d known, when I decided to throw myself body and soul into mothering five children, that I would fail so often and so profoundly to help them find joy in life, that they would all be so frequently miserable, full of conflict, anger, disgust, resistance to any good thing, would I have carried on?

Nothing else I’ve ever done has even come close to being as rewarding as being a Mama. So if that vocation is such a pit of misery for everyone involved, then nothing else would be worth it either.

The only logical alternative is oblivion.

I open the book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh. In it he writes:

Even if we are in pain, if we can see meaning in our life, we will have energy and joy. Energy is not the result of good health alone or the wish to achieve some goal — material or spiritual. It is a result of feeling some meaning to our life.

But what does it all mean?

I’ve always identified too well with the existentialists. I’ve always been able to see much too clearly how none of this has any rhyme or reason. All the explanations of some jealous, angry higher power torturing us into being so afraid that we will do anything to avoid even more torment in hell’s eternity… I’m certainly not going with that brilliant philosophy.

What does it mean?

Does it mean we prove how tough we are to just plod along, even when everyone around us hates everything and wishes we were dead, out loud, several times a day?

Is it worth all the misery for those couple of minutes a day when the kids get along and share a giggle?

Cuz here’s what it seems to boil down to: It sucks being alive. It’s hard, frustrating, at times agonizing, frightening, a constant, relentless struggle with someone or something. Even the richest, most spoiled brats in the world are still heavy with misery over some kind of drama, lacking, addiction, pain, sorrow. None of us escapes it.

What does that mean? What significance could it possibly have for people to carry on, slashing and smashing as best they can through the jungle of every day life?

I feel like if I could just get the point, I could be a better person, and relieve the suffering of those around me just a bit.

But instead of relieving suffering, I have actually created five new people with the infinite capacity to experience horrific misery.

I remember when my first was born, the thought occurred to me, I’ve given birth, and I’ve given death. I’ve just condemned an innocent soul to death. Hopefully not soon, hopefully not painful, hopefully in her sleep after many years of blissful existence. But nevertheless, however it happens, it was because of my choices.

No wonder people want to put off the responsibility on some higher power, who has the “Plan,” and they are just hopeless pawns in “his” game, trying desperately to follow “his” rules in order to escape punishment for the terrible shortcomings that “he” bestowed upon them.

Is that what it means? I have demonstrated my awesome ability to confer life and death, and now what? I’ve tried to be an example of enjoying good food, nature, books, ideas, enjoying the company of loving, creative people, and it works for a little while. But then they get bigger and their attitude becomes, screw you old lady, and the horse you rode in on. Get your lameness and cluelessness the hell away from me!

Ah, good times.

I want to be a beacon of light. My name, “Elena,” is a form of “Helen,” which means “torch.” The whole purpose of a torch is to be a tool to light the way. You don’t lead someone, and I don’t feel like a leader, you just keep burning and allow them to use you to lead themselves, shining your light as best you can.

But in this dark time, when all the air has been sucked out of my atmosphere, my little flame struggles and flickers and gasps for some kind of fuel to consume. Some kind of meaning to allow me to burn on.

Occupy Your Life

I haven’t been to an Occupy protest or gathering yet, but I’ve been to a few demonstrations in the past. The first was in January of 1991 when the first Gulf War broke out. There was a gathering in downtown Santa Cruz: peaceful, passionate and very inspiring. I felt like the slogan “No blood for oil” was so incredibly obvious that surely once the world heard it, that mistake would never be made again.

History would prove me unforgivably naive.

I also rode in a Critical Mass bicycle ride in Santa Cruz. That was wonderfully intense as well. The feeling of being part of a united group is amazing. Like being at a concert or sporting event, except that you are convinced that what brings you together is not just the pleasure of spectacle (although that has its value too) but a deeper, more meaningful purpose. A gathering based on love, freedom, justice, true solidarity.

Watching the live stream of Occupy Oakland and Occupy Seattle last night, I could feel a bit of that togetherness through the screen. I could easily imagine the communal high that the participants must be feeling.

When I then took a break and went outside, the chilly air and blue sky grabbed my senses, as though I were remembering what is real.

Turning away from the screen, accepting that I am thousands of miles away from these hot spots, I began to see everything I did as part of a greater whole: feeding my children and their friends, inviting the kids to come out to see the half-moon in the sky, doing a load of laundry, tidying up the living room. Every action would ripple out, with a bigger or smaller wave, into the wider world.

And every *thing* became a link in a chain: from which store had I bought the food? Who manufactured the detergent I used? I could see that every object surrounding me came with a history and had the potential to slightly alter the path ahead, not just for me but for the planet in general.

Of course I’d thought these thoughts before. Of course we’ve all meant to change some part of our lives and the world. We’ve all wanted to revolt against something at some time or other. We’ve all questioned, what could possibly be the meaning of it all, or more importantly, what do I BELIEVE is the meaning?

I begin with these words, anew. I begin in this moment, again.

As I watch Occupiers making great leaps for mankind, I will take the next small step in front of me. It could lead to something big and powerful, but even if my life is only a series of small, purposeful, loving movements, those ripples will join the waves moving in the same direction, unite with the common good for the benefit of all beings.

Occupy your own life and begin to live today.

Equality in Cuteness

This perspective is difficult to admit, even to myself. But maybe I’m just getting old and that’s the way my point of view naturally shifts. Maybe I’ve studied and contemplated the Buddhist approach to reality long enough that my world view must inevitably shift to see things in a whole new light. Maybe my husband’s tendency toward the curmudgeonly has rubbed off.

The latest leap came yesterday as I was surfing blogs. I ran across page after page of mommies cooing about their kids in the sweetest way. These parents are so excited about their new little bundle and they want to chronicle every tiny moment, share every second with the entire world. Up until yesterday it warmed my heart to see other people appreciating the magic that is parenthood.

But yesterday, as I scrolled past the umpteenth photo of edible baby toes, the epiphany came: All Baby Toes Are Equally Cute.

This is an innocuous enough admission, until we begin to examine where this observation will lead: Your Child’s Adorable Toes are Not a New Revelation.

Can a person get bored with baby toes? Has my heart grizzled to the point where I am no longer wooed by such an amazing manifestation of life’s gloriousness?

I know that for the rest of my life, whenever baby toes are in my immediate vicinity, I will always take advantage of the opportunity to appreciate them, whether they are attached to my own child’s foot or the foot of a stranger’s baby.

But is this what I am wasting so much time in front of a monitor for, to witness the minutiae of another parent’s trip? Is this why we enter the online universe, to obsessively chronicle each step of the journey? Are we not trying to get to a different place, a “What Does It All Mean” Big Picture?

I know — harsh, dude. Not trying to be a buzz kill. Like I say, maybe it’s age. I remember wanting to freeze every second in an immortal record, to share the awe-inspiring experience of a new being. I remember being so deeply inside the connection with a newborn that the whole rest of the world became fuzzy and pointless.

And as a new parent, that’s exactly where you’re supposed to be.

But after having many, many of those experiences, and observing that others register a similar experience, I feel done with the newbie exclamations of intensely personal awestruck amazement.

Maybe I am just ready to take this fact of, yes, we as parents are incredibly lucky to be part of such a wonderful thing, and see what’s up around the bend. To witness the larger implications of the extreme adorableness of baby toes such as these:

I guess where I’m going with this new perspective is to remind these parents, enamored with the bits of flesh and bone that grip the plush carpet in their nice home (because aren’t most of us bloggers the privileged people who can afford to have a digital camera, computer, internet connection, and the time and energy to use them?) that they need to do more than swoon and take pictures.

When they encounter a rude teenage boy, they need to remember that his toes were once as cute as their own little tyke’s. When they are stuck in line with a cashier who is having such a hard day she can’t keep it together enough to be friendly or helpful, they must keep in mind that her child’s toes are just as edible as their own child’s. When they must deal with an old person driving too slowly down the road, they must appreciate that this person’s DNA is likely the blueprint for an entire clan’s worth of adorable digits.

Go beyond the rules, social guidelines, habitual rage and narrow perspective that we all get caught in and base your worldly participation in baby-toe-cuteness, because you as an aware parent know personally, on a visceral level, that it leads you to a new place beyond labels and the limiting pettiness of social conformity.

Take your awestruck gooeyness and make it count.

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!