Sunday, April 29, 2012

GOOD HAIR DAY

When I made my way to the bathroom, in the early darkish-dawn this morning, I flipped on the light and glanced in the mirror.  My hair looked great!  I am blessed with good hair, I know.  It's thick and turning gray in a good way -- sort of streak-y and people will often say they like my "hair color" or my "highlights" -- as if a compliment to my stylists/colorist.   That makes me smile because I have never, ever colored my hair.

My hair was bright red when I was young. (Yes, everyone called me "Red" or "Carrot-Top" when I was a little girl, which I hated, since I was shy and just wished my hair was brown or yellow like everyone else's to avoid the unwanted attention my redness attracted).  As I got into adulthood, it seemed to darken a bit into a red-auburn, long and thick and quite pretty -- and I didn't mind the attention it attracted nearly so much!

Over the past 5 (OK, maybe more) years, it has "lightened" again.  So much so that people I have met within this time frame do not believe I was ever a redhead.  I was in a waiting room one afternoon and heard the receptionist refer to me as "the blonde woman waiting in reception".  I looked around and realized I was the only one there who could remotely be considered "blonde".  I was shocked!  And saddened.  My very identity has been tied to the unique genetic accident of being a redhead.  That recessive gene's unlikely emergence created a "me" that I had grown to love.  And now I seem to be the only one who still sees me as a redhead.   I look in the mirror and I see red.

Well, I see the gray too, but somehow that just seems like a mistake, like maybe it's temporary and will go away once it's had it's fun with me.  On the other hand, I try to pride myself on being a realist about certain things, and I know that my mother's hair went from tow-head blonde as a young girl to light brown, then darker, and then a slow and progressive graying until in her later years she had a headful of beautiful thick pure white hair.  If that is what is before me, I won't complain.

The women in my family really do have great hair; I see it on my niece and her daughters too.   This gift of good hair may seem trivial, but there is a multi-million dollar "hair industry" that caters mainly to women who's hair seems to betray them at every turn.  Some women spend an inordinate amount of time and money on it.  And I'm all for looking our best (can't beat a really good and face-flattering haircut!), but with all things we have to concern ourselves with in this crazy off-kilter world, I'm just glad my hair isn't one of them.
At least that's the view from here...©

Saturday, April 21, 2012

TIME IS ON MY SIDE

People often say time seems to speed up as they age.  Days, weeks, months, and years seem to fly by.  When asked about certain specific events, people often believe they happened much more recently than they really did: "Oh no...can it be that long ago already?"  It's a strange phenomenon.  It's a perception, since time itself is pretty reliable in its stability.

(OK, all you quantum physicists out there...you win, with whatever argument you want to throw at that statement, because while I find your analyses and theories utterly fascinating, they are beyond my ability to truly comprehend.  I love the Science Channel series "Through the Wormhole" mostly for the amazing topics that I always think I will understand, but ultimately don't.  It also has some great photography.  And the sound of Morgan Freeman's voice, who could convince me of anything, is so soothing.  Also I love the idea that there are so many people who have brains wired to sit around for their entire adult lives writing long and complicated math equations in note pads and find this a fun and rewarding career.  What????  I would like a TV series to explain that to me and tell me why I didn't get one of those brains.)

So, this perception about time has one theory that the younger we are the more novel our experiences (so many "firsts") and that we focus on them in ways that later we gloss over because so much has become familiar, mundane, routine.  The "big" moments are fewer and farther between, so they seem like they happened "only yesterday".  Naturally other theorists are now poking holes in that notion.

I don't know what the answer is.  I just know that the perception that "time flies" seems to be true for me.  And if it has to do with that novel experience idea, then I say do more of that!  Yet I realize that I have lately begun to want to do less.  In recent months I have become a seeker of comfort, ease, and familiarity.  So this does not bode well for  experiencing novelty.  Does that mean my days are flying by with nothing to hang on to and no memories to anchor me in time?

Or is there another way to experience "novelty", even in the mundane?

In recent months I've also begun a meditation practice that is based on "mindfulness".  I am a novice and I fail more often than not, but the idea is to be "mindful"-- fully present, in each moment.  Washing dishes becomes an experience of feeling the water, the temperature of the water, the way it flows around the dishes, runs over my hands, noticing the suds light and airy floating across the water's surface, white and translucent, the heft of the bright red bowl in my hand....you get the idea.  It's a much different experience than just rushing through the task. I'm not standing there with a dreamy look on my face loving every dish-washing moment, but I'm trying to be "present" with the task, not a million miles away with thoughts racing in various directions while I mindlessly get through it to get on to the next thing.

Maybe mindfulness creates novelty, each experience "new", each day, week, month, and year anchored in meaningful experience.  Because it's every minute of every day that make up a life.  It's not all noticably different, but it can be all "new" if we are paying attention.  This is the only life I have right now; I want to savor it and not let it slip away to that time when I will awaken to the realization that it's already over...and went by so quickly.

At least that's the view from here....©

Monday, April 16, 2012

FROM AMEN TO OM

Many paths....one Truth.  That pretty much sums up my views on personal spirituality.  I have no patience with people who declare themselves keepers of the One True Way.

This is a long road away from the religion of my childhood, youth, and into "early-middle" adulthood.

I tried hard to be a good Protestant Christian girl.  I grew up in a "believing" but mostly "non-church-going" family.   When I was around 11 or 12 my mom decided we should all go to Sunday services, but my dad was a reluctant church-goer -- which made him really fun to sit next to in the pew.  He loved to sing, so I kept poking him awake between hymns at which point he'd come alive -- most loudly at the sung Amen at the end of the song, an exaggerated baritone booming forth to my stifled giggles.  I loved my Methodist Sunday School -- lots of fun songs, nice teachers, cookies and Kool-Aid.  Jesus was depicted as very smiley, hugging kids, and playing with lambs.  Nice man.

I married into a staunch Missouri Synod Lutheran family of preachers and teachers.  It was expected that I'd become Lutheran too, so without much thought of objection, I did.  It made my in-laws very happy.  It made me very confused.  These were some Bible-believin' folks and I had a lot of questions about what I saw as inconsistencies in their reasoning.  Later I realized "reason" was not a part of their belief system at all, so I had even more head-scratching to do about that since they were all bright college-educated people.  Their form of Christianity was dogmatic, punishing, and stern...not the cookies and Kool-Aid version I'd grown up with.  There were rules.  God seemed angry and Jesus seemed sad and doomed to die for me.  Sorry, Jesus.

So, after my husband and I moved away from family ties, we joined an ELCA Lutheran church.  It was less stern; but still, well, Lutheran.  We got involved in the social justice committee there and we were very active, but always fighting the "old guard" who saw us as too opinionated (standing up for the down-trodden!), radical (forming a Feminist branch of WomenChurch!) and political (writing letters to Congress about social justice issues!)  We thought Liberation Theology Jesus was on our side, but we couldn't always be sure.

So, we moved on to the Congregationalists.  The church was very politically active, politically liberal in outlook, and socially conscious.... and had a liberal, socially conscious, politically active, sort of self-righteous and rather exasperated Jesus at the center.  So much so that if social justice wasn't "Job-One" 24/7 in your life, well, maybe you just didn't really believe in "helping the poor" and "loving your neighbor" and "saving us all from evil" (our government, mostly) quite enough.  Do more! Do more! Do more! Never give up, give in, or give out!  Tired Jesus.  (Tired me).

What could have taken us so long to find the Unitarian Universalists???  Well, my husband's strong Christian upbringing kept us looking for a version of Jesus he/we could abide.  But finally, we realized that Jesus just might be more alive in a church that didn't trade on his name.

About 20 years ago we became Unitarian Universalists, where we happily remain and will stay.  We are encouraged to respect all, use democratic processes in our interactions, find our own path to a personal spirituality (learning about and understanding many wisdom traditions to do so).  Far from "you don't have to believe anything to be a UU", which is a commonly mistaken assumption...for me UU's have a STRONG  belief system -- in our inherent goodness, in the inter-dependent web of life in which we all live, in our ability to reason, discern, and decide for ourselves what we may or not "believe", in living ethically, lovingly, respectfully, with humility, and in the certainty that this life, right now, is precious and meaningful.  Because of all that, we are a caring, creative, socially conscious, politically active, and spiritual bunch of people.  Hello Jesus!


....And Allah, and Buddha, and Krishna, and Cosmos, and Void, and Humanity.... there are probably as many seekers as there are UU's.  We are all on a journey of Many Paths to the One Truth...and it doesn't bother us too much not knowing where the path leads.

Lately I've been exploring Bhakti Yoga practices of chanting the names of the Divine in the Hindu tradition and sitting in a Buddhist-focused meditation Sangha.   Both are bringing me joy and great peace.

My UU friends are many, and most would be surprised to know I also have a personal Jesus-kinda guy presence within me most of the time....he's kind, gentle, peaceful, powerful, angry, righteous, and quite good looking (naturally).  He doesn't try to "save" me, but he gives me encouragement to save myself, and the quiet inner peace of knowing that the One Truth is out there... and it is good.

At least that's the view from here....Amen, Om, Namaste.©


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

SCHEDULING SANITY



I use "old school" month-at-a-glance calendars; have for years.  And I keep the old ones in a file drawer.  They are a "diary" of sorts of the "busyness" of my life.  (The only one I've lost track of in the 25 years I've kept them is the one which documented the milestones of Son-Two's first year of life...I was sleep-deprived, a bit depressed part of the time, and completely overwhelmed by a 2 year old and a newborn...so losing that calendar, while a little tragic in terms of documentation, is also understandable). 

What I notice, when I glance through them on occasion, is that for most of those years I scheduled myself crazy.  Literally, perhaps, since in 1996 there were weekly "therapist" entries for several months.  I remember the depression, the overwhelming feelings of worthlessness, the near constant crying. Well, not constant exactly, because I apparently still led workshops, volunteered in my kids' classrooms, sat on committees all over town, helped oversee a major remodel on our home, helped my mother move from Illinois to Washington after my dad died...little things interspersed between counseling sessions.

Just over a year ago, shortly after the new year of 2011,  I sat in front of the fireplace during a meeting of my women's group and burned a replica of my calendar.  I had just had a very significant "wake up call".

(**NOTE: My women's group meets twice a month to focus on "personal work" -- meaning we meet to offer support and challenge to each other on our life's paths.  What makes us think, feel, and do what we think, feel, and do?  Does it serve us to stay stuck in a certain pattern?  If not, how can we break free?  How can we help shift the paradigm that no longer serves us?)

I had just been facilitated by one of the Sue's in a process of looking at my absolutely crazy-making pattern of over-committing and over-scheduling my life.  At one point, I was challenged to let go of some of the things I was involved in.  I agreed wholeheartedly, then when further challenged to name which things would go, I  began to negotiate and rationalize why I had to hang onto most of the things on my "to do" list of commitments.   Suddenly it struck me....I was like an addict; powerless over my calendar and my inner need to be needed, feel important, feel productive, and like my life had meaning beyond just "being".  I was all about "doing" to be of worth.

Why?  Maybe because when I was a child, children were to be "seen and not heard".  I felt invisible and ignored when I was "good" and I was never "bad"...that was a job for my brothers, who were perhaps braver than I in rebelling at the age appropriate time.  So as an adult, I lived my "goodness" to the extreme -- maybe for the notice and recognition and respect I'd always craved.  (There...that's what "personal work" looks like -- although it takes longer and is much messier.)

I realized in a sudden flash of recognition that I had to "burn my calendar", clear the dates, and start over.  Nothing scheduled.  Blank space.  How did that feel?  Was I of less worth?  Did my life have less meaning?  Could I still be seen, accepted, and appreciated if I didn't fill my time with do-gooder duties?  Scary stuff.  

Since then, and now retired from my job, I've completely reorganized my time and how I "spend" it.  Instead of retirement freeing me up to do more, I've decided to do even less.  I have a handful of activities and commitments that are meaningful to me.  And I have a lot of blank dates on my calendar.   I occasionally have a concern that this new slower pace falls stereotypically into the "getting older", "less energy" category.  But it really doesn't feel that way to me at all.  It just feels like I am finally taking responsibility for pacing my life in a way that feels full, satisfying, and not crazy-making busy.  It feels like I'm living now how I wish I had ALWAYS lived, regardless of age.  I'm finally just happy being...even if I'm not always doing.

At least, that's the view from here...©


**Interested in more info on "personal work" and a life-changing experience?  Check this out: http://www.ww-wc.org/woman-within-weekend

Friday, April 6, 2012

PIONEERS OF THE HEART-LAND



We sat in my family room reminiscing about the "pioneer days"...those days nearly 30 years ago when we set out on an unknown journey of the heart, creating a new paradigm of family building.

Last night my Son-One's birthmother came for a visit.  She was in the area for a Spring Break vacation with her 12 year-old.  Son-One and his family spent the day with them at the zoo, then all came here for dinner.

Sound strange?  Not to us.  Not any more.  But there was a time...oh yes, there was a time when I would not have believed my own story.

After six years of infertility treatments (with no diagnosis, ever), Hub and I decided we were not really into re-creating ourselves in some DNA-induced duplication of genes.  We just wanted to be parents.  We looked into adoption and found a program called "Open Adoption Services".  Huh?  "Open"?  What the hell was that?

What it was, was a new idea in adoption circles where the woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy could make an adoption plan for her baby BY CHOOSING THE ADOPTIVE PARENTS!   Radical, empowering, liberating, and terrifying.

What it was, was a new idea in adoption circles where prospective adoptive parents were not just moving up the list of names in some social worker's desk file, but CREATING A BIOGRAPHICAL PORTFOLIO OF INFORMATION AND PHOTOS FOR THE BIRTHMOTHER TO REVIEW!  Radical, empowering, liberating, and terrifying.

Based on the portfolios presented her, "our" birthmother chose us.  The Social Worker arranged for us to meet her and her mom in a beautiful park in the city where she lived.  I was a total wreck of nerves, self-doubt, and dread.  Immediately all those feelings fell away.  We talked and laughed and felt like we'd known each other forever.  A cosmic connection of epic proportions, made in some other lifetime perhaps.

A little over a month later, our precious son was born.  He and his birthmom and her extended family spent 10 days together until she knew it was time for us to visit again...this time to take Son-One home. We drove to their city and pulled up in front of their house, and again I was a bit of a wreck.  I will never forget knocking on the door, and having her answer, newborn in her arms, holding him out to me saying, "Here is your son."  We all dissolved into a circle of hugs and tears.  And spent a few hours together sharing our collective awe and admiration for this tiny, perfect being who was born of love and would be raised in devotion and gratitude for all of his days.

Over the intervening years we've kept in touch, with letters, cards, photos, occasional visits, with Son-One always knowing the story of his birth and adoption and accepting it as a matter of fact, not so strange or scary or different from the way many families are formed.  There are no divided loyalties...everyone knows, accepts, and embraces our roles in this "extended family of the heart".

These days Open Adoption is the norm.   But not everyone retains a connection.  Not all families are compatible or comfortable together.  I feel like I have friends, not obligations, when we meet. I don't think this is luck.  I think this is Providence.

At least, that's the view from here...©.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

2 + 2 = FREE VERSE

It's National Poetry Month.

I thought about this last evening as I sat in a dinner presentation about investments with our financial advising group.  I should probably have been thinking about "return on investment", "percentage growth", "caps", "REITs", "leveraging ratios", "weighted average capitalization rates"....whatever.  I married a man who speaks "math".  I don't.

The Illinois Public School System lost me at long division in 4th grade and never bothered to make me learn much beyond that.  I believe, these days, I'd be diagnosed with a significant learning disability in math skills, but back then putting me in "general math" classes for the rest of my school life basically allowed me to meet the requirements for graduation with no fuss or muss on my part -- or the school's.

Anyway, I trust my husband and our advisors to keep us solvent into a ripe (riper?) old age (which really goes against my feminist grain, but I'm lazy about this and basically trusting....bad combo, I know).  And this disregard for taking responsibility for my financial well-being frees up significant day-dreaming time at these head-spinningly-confusing-money-talk meetings.

As luck would have it, our table-mates at last night's gig included a woman about my age (they are ALL "about my age" at these things..) who is also a poet!!! This has certainly never happened to me before, and I would guess was a rare occurrence for her as well.  We were sitting too far apart to whisper to each other throughout the presentation (ahhh....just like Sue and me in 7th grade!), but we were able to exchange a few words about our respective writing groups, fun writing exercises, what other poets we like, etc., etc.  It was a brief, but delightful, exchange -- all the more so for being so totally unexpected.

So, next time "Hub" insists we go to one of these events, I will be much more open to it.  The sneaky muse of the poet is always lurking...even when math is involved.

At least, that's the view from here....©
*************
My new poet friend from last night told me about this terrific TED Talk with one of my favorite poets, Billy Collins, in which he featured 5 of his poems accompanied by animated shorts.  It is a delight!

http://www.ted.com/talks/billy_collins_everyday_moments_caught_in_time.html




Tuesday, April 3, 2012

I'M WITH YOU...IN SPIRIT

I don't like feeling like a slacker.  I attended a Community Skills Fair on Saturday where amazing people are doing amazing things to address the sorry state of the Union as pertains to using up all of our natural resources, polluting our environment, concentrating most of our money with the fewest of our citizens, and selfishly consuming far beyond our means, or fairness, compared to the rest of the world.  It was sort of a bummer, but also hopeful because there are smart and creative folks doing what they can to address all of these woes.

I am a philosophical supporter of those who are working to improve our lot and I vote religiously for those who are trying to effect change from within, but lately I've not been very vocal, visible, or "activist".  By not very, let's say, really not at all.

So on Saturday, listening to keynote speaker David Korten (Yes! Magazine and books you can find on Amazon), touring the booths, and sitting in on workshops, I met up with a number of people I hadn't seen in years.  Sue, who I knew well when I was VP of the local National Organization for Women; Jim, who's living room hosted our monthly Physician's for Social Responsibility anti-nuclear weapons meetings; Jim and Sue who were tireless protestors with me, when I was chairperson of the group that petitioned for a citizen's advisory vote concerning building a Navy base in our town (and with it an aircraft carrier, powered by a nuclear reactor and chock full of nuclear weapons docked 1/2 mile from our neighborhood); even a couple of teachers who I knew from my many years trying to improve public education by serving as a parent representative on numerous school district committees.  I didn't see anyone from my 10 years working in the foster care system...but they were probably working themselves on Saturday since that is a 24/7 job oftentimes.

It was great to see everyone still doing the good work of earnest and focused activism.  And I felt a little guilty.  And I felt the stirrings of a little Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  In 1973 I started working for the Equal Rights Amendment, my first foray into activism.  Since then, until about 18 months ago, I've been in leadership roles for a variety of "causes" and realized on Saturday that NOT doing that right now feels pretty damn good.  When I thought of some of my most activist years, I felt the familiar "doom and gloom" overwhelmed-ness and stress of trying so damn hard to change a sometimes unchangeable system doomed to recycle it's mistakes in a one step forward, two back pattern of discouragement.

Since I retired from social services in 2010 I've devoted myself to facilitating personal growth groups, leading dance movement experiences, writing and performing poetry, dabbling in collage art, attending to long-neglected household projects, traveling a bit, meditating, practicing Yoga, sleeping the whole night through, reading a book in the middle of the day, playing with my "grand", meeting friends for coffee....feeling like my life has meaning in many small and important ways that constantly surprise me.  I have time to think, breathe, be....not rushing, stressing, being overwhelmed, frustrated, and angry.

Is this selfish?  Gosh, I hope not.   What I hope, and some of my friends will read this as a "cop out", I'm sure, is that the slower pace of my life, the avenue I'm taking to help people grow in self-knowledge and self-care, will contribute to supporting in some way those who are called to  the front lines of activism.  Perhaps I can be an example of moderation, respite, and renewal.  I believe there are "seasons" of life and my "activist season" lasted for over 35 years.  I may not be finished yet; I may again join those on the picket line or in the Senate hearing room, but for now I am in the "season" of creative rest and renewal.  And I think that, too, is one way we can save ourselves.

At least, that's the view from here...©