Weekly gratitude practice: if it’s not one thing it’s your mother

I started this post last week but never finished it. Which pretty much describes my mental state for the past seven days or so. Posting it now, almost in time for this week’s. Sigh. Time to stop trying to play catch-up with my past imperfections.
  1. Doing things differently. Mom is very sick right now, and she’s a two-hour drive away from me. In the past, I would have charged down there and tried to save the world, exhausting myself in the process, crashing, and actually not contributing much to her health or well-being. This time, I listened to some feedback from trusted friends and gave love and support through the miracle of telephony. I was also able to help with some practical matters, like finding a pharmacy that she can reach by bus. Her health has deteriorated to the point where it’s not necessarily a good idea for her to leave home without assistance, but — miracle of miracles! — there’s a little something called the Home Health Aid industry that was created to remedy exactly the situation she and I are both in. I would much rather be down there in person enjoying her company — or even being annoyed by it, because, really, if it’s not one thing it’s your mother — but I’m especially grateful for my ability to listen to suggestions and to break out of old patterns of behavior that have outlived their usefulness.
  2. Mom herself is a pretty wonderful gift. Like most folks, I have a complicated relationship with my Mom, but overall our relationship is a source of strength and support for both of us. When I was a fresh-faced little babydyke with a tiny hickey on my neck from Yoolia Lanina, the Russian vixen from the Bronx with the Sinead-O’Connor haircut, my Mom turned to me and said, “I love you and support you just as you are, and I will no matter who you bring home.” I spent the next 15 years or so bringing home folks with an assortment of gender expressions, skin tones, and native languages, and she never reneged on that promise. When I was suffering so badly from my chronic illness that I couldn’t safely care for myself in my one-bedroom apartment, she took a few weeks off of work to stay with me and be my Mom. And when I called her bright and early on Wednesday and discussed the situation with her, she was chipper and positive and grateful in spite of the debilitating physical symptoms she’s been suffering from. I love that woman to no end, and I want her to be well and healthy and a part of my life for as long as possible.
  3. Telephony. It allows me to do so much with my life.
  4. A steady job. Having lived without one, it makes me especially grateful to have one now.
  5. Decent health insurance coverage. Ditto above.

Weekly gratitude practice: office space, windows/kitty, space, Friday, not a teenager

  1. My fingertips have been cold from the chill for the past three days (my tiny cube is directly under a vent), but I’m still grateful that I have an employer that pays for my office space. When I was self-employed, I looked into renting a timeshared space in Harvard Square, and it was NOT CHEAP.
  2. Earlier this week, I was very happy to be able to work from home. Specifically, I was happy to have windows, and a kitty to look at while I worked. Kitties are very helpful for reminding you when it is quitting time, because it coincides with feed-the-kitty time.
  3. I’m making space in my life for new things. I’ve always been a crazy overachiever, loading my plate with more than I could possibly enjoy. Less things, more space between them, more enjoyment.
  4. It’s Friday. Hallelujah and thank you Jesus, it’s Friday.
  5. I am so very, very grateful that I am 20 years removed from the slings and arrows of adolescence. No desire whatsoever to go back. I’ll take a few grey hairs and a few wrinkles in exchange for that, any day of the week.

Weekly Gratitude Practice: Haiku, Lilacs, Sisters, Tai Chi, Melting Pot

  1. I still think of haiku from time to time. Am considering a weekly haiku post. If you like reading them, please tell me.
  2. The lilacs are in bloom. The cool, rainy weather means they’ll be in bloom that much longer.
  3. On Saturday our unnamed writing group (3 women, once a month, 2 hours, hijinx) invested time and money in a workshop with local writing teacher and all-around awesome person Toni Amato. He reminded us that we have something very lucky: a group that supports us in as writers. It’s funny that I didn’t really realize how rare and precious a thing it was until he pointed it out. It happened when I wasn’t looking — actually, it happened after I’d made more than one attempt to create that kind of community. Those connections are what led to the group forming, but what makes the group so wonderful is that it formed organically with equal energy and participation from each member. Bonus from the workshop: spreading poems all over the floor and making maps/chapbooks with them.
  4. The tai chi class I’ve been taking ended today. I can now do something called the sampler and three (well, 2.5) of the animal forms.  It’s the perfect form of exercise for me right now, especially because there tend NOT to be mirrors in martial arts classes. Last night, I found a place close to my office that’s affordable and with classes that fit in with my schedule.
  5. China will probably be running the world by the time I’m ready to retire, but American culture has always been about a melting pot. And I’m already a fan of tea, tai chi, and the Golden Mother of the Western Mountain. Maybe Chinese hegemony will make Daoist teachers more accessible in Massachusetts.

Posted at Standing Loud: Loudness and Lovingkindness

A woman named Calliope invited me to join a group blog called “Standing Loud: A place where a loud, proud woman can speak her piece.” On Friday I published my first article on the topic of Loudness and Lovingkindness. Please take a look and comment if you like. Here’s an excerpt:

Which brings me to the subject of loudness — loudness and lovingkindness. Loudness versus silence, that’s something I think I’ve found a happy medium about. But lovingkindness is another alluring, foreign concept that I’m learning — through practice and more practice — to understand and incorporate.

Full article here

What I Learned During National Poetry Month 2011

  1. Haiku improves with practice.
  2. Poetry is real work.
  3. Sometimes work is gentle, easy, and takes hardly any time.
  4. Sometimes work is hard and grueling and difficult.
  5. Sometimes I forget to do things I said I was going to do
  6. Instead of hating on myself or giving up, I can just start doing them again.
  7. I am an imperfect poet.
  8. There is a difference between work and discipline.
  9. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.”
  10. Writing can be a form of spiritual practice.
  11. Once upon a time I bloomed words from the tips of my fingers like a… word-blooming goddess with flowering fingertips. Now, I am embryonic. I need to be patient with myself.
  12. I am unreasonably jealous anytime another writer gets attention and accolades.
  13. Someone inside of me thinks all the attention and accolades should be long to ME ONLY ME IT’S ALL ABOUT ME DAMMIT.
  14. Ahem.
  15. I am reminded of my gentle, loving, sweet-natured kitty. She gives teeny mews most of the time and has an endless supply of soft kitty hugs and purring cuddle sessions for me. Until another cat invades our household.
  16. Then, sweet Tara turns into a yowling, hissing fiend of a cat. She flips like a coin: one moment hissing and attacking the INVADER, and the next minute turning to me with a look of pure innocence, asking “Mew?”
  17. Sometimes Tara can learn to share space with other felines, but only after a long and persistent campaign of desentization.
  18. In matters of poetry and accolades, I am more like my cat than I would like to admit.
  19. I am an imperfect human being.
  20. There is nothing wrong with giving my embryonic, easily threatened Inner Poet all the time and safety and attention she needs.
  21. WordPress’s post-dating feature is the best thing ever for procrastinators.
  22. I would like to do NaPoWrMo next year.
  23. Other poets have blogs.
  24. Actually, I already knew this.
  25. There is a very large and very important difference between writing and marketing your writing.
  26. I tend to forget that every task in the universe — even those done online — takes time.
  27. I find the notion of making numbered lists of disparate elements strangely entertaining.
  28. I can scrawl a haiku in a notebook while stopped at a traffic light.
  29. Doing so is not illegal, but checking my email is.
  30. Does that seem right to you?
  31. Nobody said that life was fair.
  32. Encouragement and accolades come from unexpected places.
  33. I should take none of them for granted.
  34. Daily posting is good for me.
  35. I feel curious and optimistic about the future.
  36. If one is not careful, one may post a single haiku that still contains typos.
  37. I have been alive for 37 years and some months.

Eternity – by William Blake

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise

– William Blake

Blake was an early Romantic poet. Studying him at Vassar had a tremendous impact on me, although I’m sure Professor Beth Darlington had a lot to do with that as well. There’s an excellent biography of him at Poets.org. He was quite a radical for his days — among other things, he taught his wife to read and write and had her work side by side with him in his engraving shop. (Of course, he also used to wake her up in the middle of the night to sit with him when he wrote, so I doubt I would have found him an ideal mate). He created and perfected a style of printing that allowed him to reproduce the delicate watercolors he used to illuminate his own poetry. Vassar’s special collections contains one of the original editions printed using this method. I don’t believe it survived him.

Tricycle’s Daily Dharma quoted this poem recently. It’s an excellent illustration of the Buddhist principle of nonattachment and also a reminder that spiritual principles repeat themselves over and over again across cultures, races, and places.

Meditation Challenge: Day 8 of 28

Once a day and twice on Sundays. Yesterday I sat for 20 minutes in the morning and then 20 minutes after I got home from a visit with Mom. It was the first time I’ve done a meditation at night in this go-round. Very interesting to see the differences in the state of the mind between morning and evening. Took me longer to settle down — actually longer to sit. Part of the evening meditation was also about re-settling after a day that involved lots of driving. Re-settling myself into my home and re-sanctifying it.

This morning I began Week Two of the program, which focuses on the body. Specifically, the teaching suggests that I focus on areas of discomfort or pain within my body. Relating how I approach discomfort, pain, not getting what I what, to how I relate to my own body’s pain. It’s a very powerful association but definitely a more challenging kind of meditation. Luckily, the teaching — and my own mind and experience — remind me to continue to be gentle and open. I move back and forth between focusing on my breath and returning to the area of discomfort. First the general area, then gradually honing in on the spot that has the most intensity of pain. Or sensation. This kind of meditation can be exhausting. So I begin, again and again. Return to the breath. Return to the sensation. The teaching even suggests focusing on pleasurable sensations as well — but warns that it is easier to get lost in pleasurable sensations.

I do not think that attempting this challenge by myself would be a good idea if I did not already have some experience practicing meditation with others. It is so easy to become overwhelmed and lost in the mind. But also wonderfully rewarding to peel away the layers and find, finally, the Centered Self. The End of Desire. The bottom of the tackle box.

(Re)Commit to Sit

Right around the equinox I started the Tricycle 28-day meditation challenge. Other friends of mine might do weight-loss challenges, but this is definitely more my speed. So to speak.

As the word “challenge” might imply, the course set out by the hard-core Buddhists over at Tricycle magazine was a little too rigorous for me. But I figured it was a good opportunity to deepen my on-again off-again sort-of daily practice of mindful movement and seated meditation into something a little, um, deeper. I may not be able to commit to 20 minutes a day of sitting still for the rest of my life, but at least I could commit to 28 days.

Tricycle’s staff wanted me to sit for TWO 20-minute periods, morning and evening, and then dedicate two hours over the weekend to more sitting. Maybe that makes sense for a farmer or a delivery person, but I ALREADY spend far too much time with my butt planted in a chair. 20 minutes of doing it mindfully sounded possible, though, especially since seated meditation always inspires me to a more frequent yoga and/or tai chi practice too.

The first few days went pretty well. Then, on day 3, I started feeling like crap. Some passing physical symptoms kicked up the chronic illness and before I knew it a week had passed.

I got back to it last night. I was pretty emotionally raw and noticed that the practiced helped calm me — but not just because of the practice itself but because of all the little bits and pieces I’ve learned about mindfulness practice over the years. This morning I sat again, and for the first time I saw the sitting as a gift I was giving myself rather than something I was taking away from more meaningful pursuits.

There is a difference, after all, between focusing all of my consciousness into the screen whilst typing madly with my fingers and hunching my shoulders… and sitting quietly listening to my body.

In terms of how to count the days, I decided to consider myself pretty much at the same place I left off last week. The 28 days are divided into four weeks of practice, with a focus that shifts from breath to body to mind to etc — I’m trying not to peek ahead. So I’m still on the breath week.

We’ll see whether I want to give myself the gift of 20 minutes of seated meditation tonight, or some other gift instead. Like a hot bath. Or another form of relaxation.

For right now, at least, I’m glad to be back on the beam.

The Practice of Receiving

Receiving is a powerful—-and intimate-—practice, for we are actually inviting another person into ourselves. Rather than focusing on our own practice, or on our own virtue, we can focus on providing an opportunity for someone else to develop generosity. In spite of its complexities and entanglements, the moment of exchange is one of simple connection and opening. That moment itself is unsullied. For that reason it is said that generosity is the discipline that produces peace.

From “The Practice of Giving” by Judy Lief, Summer 2003
Tricycle’s Daily Dharma

I finally got what this was about while learning qi gong. Receiving is always going to be difficult for a trauma survivor. The important thing is recognizing that and honoring that.

My natural tendency is to try to control situations by giving — by pushing energy out. What I’m learning is how to protect my boundaries without overextending myself. And I’ve even learned how to discern situations where it is safe to receive. Army Guy’s quiet generosity, the love and support of my friends, my mother’s visits in times of need — these are all things I’ve learned how to let into my life.

The notion that receiving gives someone else an opportunity to practice generosity is a powerful revelation. Relationships are a complex dance of giving and receiving. I can’t always control the movements of my partner, or it ceases to be a dance.

Mother Lil’s Jesus

“Try my Jesus,” she said. “My Jesus is your Jesus.”

She had the warm, rounded curves of a mature Jamaican woman. She wore white — white tunic, white pants, a white head wrap. Her name was Mother Lil.

When I arrived at the store, the woman at the counter gave me a slim, hardcover book bound in green. “Have her read Psalm 23,” I heard Mother Lil tell the woman.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want

I’d been raised on Bible verses. The Franciscans sang the entire mass, in a chapel suffused with Sunday morning sunshine. But what I remembered was Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians. What I remembered was the dingy gray Cathedral where a fat Archbishop in a gaudy dress rubbed oil on my forehead and told me to go forth and be a soldier of the Lord.

Continue reading “Mother Lil’s Jesus”