Monday, December 21, 2009

Volunteer Fire Santas!

I just experienced some true Christmas joy that made me light up from the inside out.  Unexpectedly, as I was getting my youngest son into his pajamas, we heard loud fire horns and sirens followed by "Ho! Ho! Ho! Me-r-r-r-r-y Christmas!" shouted over a megaphone.  As I scrambled to the windows with my toddlers, the sound intensified.  Sure enough, a convoy of the Dobbs Ferry Volunteer Fire Trucks turned the corner and slowly made their way down our street.  The trucks were covered in colorful lights and the center truck had a large, illuminated Santa Claus sitting on top waving to every house.  Needless to say, my boys were quite impressed. 

Living in this town, I get constant reminders of why I should stay here.  Today's reason is this display of selfless holiday cheer from a group of people who already go overboard giving their time and talents outside of their day-to-day jobs.  The merry fire truck noises went on for some time, so I imagine that the volunteers were sure to cover the town from pillar to post.  I thought about my son's nursery school classmates and the sudden excitement also playing out in their homes. 

We won't be in Dobbs Ferry for Christmas this year, but more and more it is this place that I think of when I hear that song, "Oh there's no place like Home for the Holidays..." 

Friday, December 18, 2009

Fruit Cake and Snow

When life gives you fruit, make some cake!  No--I am not channeling Marie Antoinette. Normally I don't follow the blogger trend of rambling on about the details of my life.  I have Facebook for that.  Tonight I feel like a little cathartic purge is in order. This has been a busy week.  I lack the energy to preach about health, peace or enlightenment. 

I have a teething 18 month old, a 3 year old that wakes up at 5:55 each morning, a husband who stays up until at least 11 p.m. nightly and a week that was filled with holiday events.  We started the week with a party thrown in the level of hell reserved for guilty Republican bankers, got the kids off to Good Morning America's studios bright and early on Monday, hosted an out of town guest this week, attended a late night party at the Plaza, made numerous preparations for our own party to be held this weekend... and now we are going to have the mother of all snowstorms hit us tomorrow.  Guess what?  I welcome the snowstorm.  Now we may end up with 0-5 guests at a party where we had expected 30 people.  I know... not much of a big difference for a Westchester party, right?  The party held in Dante's Inferno last weekend had at least 100 guests and numerous domestics and bartenders.  Many of the people we invited this weekend have at least 3 other parties to attend on the same night.  I honestly don't even know most of the invitees very well anyway.  With the impending storm, most of those social butterflies will have to de-ice their wings if they make it out at all tomorrow!  I wonder... will they be relieved?  I would imagine so.

The best part about our party getting severely scaled down is that the food we planned is perfectly good in the freezer or refrigerator for several weeks.  Our drink menu consisted of mulled wine and wassail.  Jamie and I will gladly consume every item we purchased over the next month, as we relax in front of our Christmas tree with Yoda on top.  I do so love my Yoda tree topper.  His light saber fills me with the childlike hope I experienced as a child, seated with my mother on the floor next to our tree, watching the flickering lights and daydreaming about Christmas morning.  I miss those days with my Mom.  Every year I looked forward to making candy and cookies with her for the holidays.  We would play her favorite Christmas music (which is now mine as well) and then prepare and box up the goodies for friends and family members.  My mother makes holiday treats for many people every year, to this day.

When I was a child I never hosted parties--that was Mommy's job.  I never cared about entertaining or trying to make friends.  My friends were automatic; from school, dance classes, orchestra, choir, newspaper, theater and church.  I never worried about friends or dates as I had them in spades.  I still have friends and I have a husband that makes most other women roll their eyes in disbelief.  He likes to cook.  He tucks me in every night.  He gets home for dinner most evenings.  He doesn't care that I'm not working right now even though that delays our plans for buying a house... and he still wants me to go on a yoga retreat in January to get a few days of peace by myself.  You just can't buy that kind of man.  Even if you wish for one, 9 out of 10 times, you won't find him.  As for friends, I don't have many, but the friends I do have are good ones.  They are talented, highly intelligent, empathetic, eccentric and generally entertaining.  I would rather have 5 deep friendships than 500 friends on Facebook.  My life is where I want it to be, so why shouldn't I blog about that? 

If a scaled down party means that Jamie and I will spend more quality time together before the holidays, then I am all for it.  I miss those days of marveling at the lights on the tree and the flickering holiday candles as soft music played on the stereo.  My fondest memories this season have been sitting with Rhys on my lap as he watched the Christmas tree and shouted, "Dee! Dee! Yoda!"  I like to sing to my boys.  At night, Rhys likes me to hold him while I sing and he watches the the twinkling tree lights.  When they move from the slow to the fast twinkle, he wiggles and smiles.  Rhys has his signature Christmas light dance moves.  This is the joy of the holidays. 

Because of my busy week, I attended only one yoga class.  I went this evening at 5:00 p.m.  As I settled into my mat, I let go of every expectation surrounding this little party.  As always, I left the class feeling like I had received a massage.  My mind was clear, my heart was light and my perspective was balanced.  I still stopped by two stores on the way home, so that all of the provisions would be ready... for what might be the most fun pre-Christmas weekend I have spent in many years.

When we finally kiss goodnight, no one has to go out in the storm.  I'll be holding my boys real tight, and all through the night we'll be warm!  My fire is never dying, and my dears, we're not goodbye-ing.  As long as they love me so... let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pete Seeger: Think Globally, Sing Locally!

Yesterday evening I saw Pete Seeger performing live with a chorus of gleeful children.  I will never forget the experience.  It was the most magical holiday gathering I have ever had the good fortune to attend.  The concert, aptly named, Think Globally, Sing Locally, was held in the sanctuary of the South Presbyterian Church in Dobbs Ferry, New York.  The backdrop of the stage featured a banjo and a peace sign made of LED lights, with a cross in the middle... of course!  My Iphone photo does not do it justice, but here is a peephole view of the scene:

In addition to Pete Seeger and The Take Me To The River Children's Community Chorus, the following performers appeared: The Westhab Ensemble, Leo Liebeskind, Jenny Murphy and Matt Turk.  The Westhab Ensemble, a group of talented African American children, sang an excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech.  Leo Liebeskind performed several of his original songs, singing, playing harmonica, guitar and piano.  Young Mr. Liebeskind displayed talent and poise beyond his age:  he is in the 11th grade at Hunter College High School in NYC.  Jenny Murphy is a local folk singer and song leader, and Matt Turk is "a veteran performer/eternal idealist who has engaged audiences around the world, both as a hard-rocking band leader and acoustic folk troubador" (quoting the program I received at the event; cover appears below). 

The predominant themes of the event were unity, freedom and perserverance.  I witnessed a group in that sanctuary that was diverse, yet unified.  Inside of a Protestant Church were gathered Caucasians, African Americans, Hispanics, Catholics, Protestants, Jews and people of every age.  My own beliefs lean very strongly toward Unitarian Universalism, so if I had to choose a crowd to hang with, I couldn't have landed in a better spot.  The audience was encouraged to sing along with the chorus in most of the pieces. 

Pete Seeger led us all in a musical lesson so that we could sing Alleluia, written by the 18th century English composer William Boyce.  By the end of our lesson, we were able to sing the chorus in a round! 

The children led us in singing, Tzena, Tzena, Tzena, a song written in Hebrew by Issachar Miron while he served in the Jewish Brigade of the British forces during World War II. 

Matt Turk led us in singing De Colores, in the original Spanish.  A translation of one line summarizes the heart of this song: "And so must all love be of many bright colors." 

For me, the three other most notable songs were Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Take It From Dr. King, and This Land Is Your Land.  Pete Seeger strongly invited the audience to sing harmony on This Land Is Your Land, and so I did!  Apparently some of my own childhood chorus lessons stuck after all these years. 

It was an unforgettable evening and I am beyond grateful to my friend Magda who suggested that I attend with her and her son Xavier.  Oddly enough, even though my own son's nursery school is adjacent to and affiliated with South Presbyterian Church, I hadn't heard about the concert until Magda e-mailed me a local announcement.  Even though I did not get to sit with Magda, it is meaningful to me that she invited me.  She is a deeply spiritual person who believes that Pete Seeger is a saint.  I have to agree with her.  He is a 90 year old man who has devoted his life to the service of peace, social justice and the protection of the environment.  His love for the Hudson River is one of the major reasons that it is clean and beautiful again today.  I am exceedingly thankful for his work since I live right next to the Hudson and am inspired daily by views of the river and the Palisades.  Most likely, I wouldn't be living where I do now with my sweet little family if it were not for the dedication of this man. 

I met Magda and Xavier for dinner before the concert, and as always, I enjoyed seeing them.  Magda's ancestry is Italian and her husband is South African.  Their lovely family is an excellent representation of the unity and diversity that bless so many of us living in this area and in other locations all around the United States.  I did not get to sit with them at the concert as we were separated in the crowd trying to enter the church.  Someone seated Magda and Xavier in the front of the church in the section reserved for families of the Children's Chorus.  I stood along the sides of the pews watching the performance, and I was filled with joy to see the two of them sitting there.  They do not live in the rivertowns and actually didn't know any children in the chorus, but as always, things happen for a reason.  I believe that they were supposed to be seated there because of Magda's respect and gratitude for Pete Seeger and because of her own dedication to the values embodied by the concert. 

As I looked around the crowd, I wanted so much to belong.  I felt humbled to be in that place.  Having only lived in this area for two years, and in New York since 1996, I haven't always experienced diversity.  I am from a relatively homogenous part of the country.  This is not to say that there is anything wrong with homogeneity.  I think that is what many of us have experienced growing up.  Fortunately, our world is moving in a more unified and diversified direction, and many of the youth at last night's concert will be leaders in that respect.  I strongly believe that the experience they had as temporary students of Pete Seeger will impact their beliefs and the way they relate to the rest of the world.  I also believe that growing up in this area will contribute to their openness and dedication to the service of higher values. 

I do believe, like Pete Seeger, that one day we will all fly over that colorful rainbow of God's promise.  I believe that we will and that we do all belong together.  I will teach my own children to respect every sincere spiritual path and to appreciate and learn from other cultures.  I do speak other languages and I will teach my children to speak them as well.  If I do nothing else in life, I hope that I can convince my children to be good citizens of the world, and not just of their own country.  I hope that they will have a broad view of spirituality and a great amount of hope in progress. 

I see how my friend is instructing her son and I will try to follow her example in the ways that I can.  I see how Pete Seeger dedicated his life to the highest causes, and although I am not presently able to work at that level, I will "try, try, try" to serve those purposes to the best of my ability. 

In closing, I will leave you with the lyrics of another song led by Matt Turk last night, and written by Jimmy Cliff:

You can get it if you really want

You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
But you must try,
Try and try, try and try
You'll succeed at last

Persecution, you must face
Win or lose, you got to take your share
Keep your mind set on your dream
You can get it, as hard as it seems
You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
But you must try,
Try and try, try and try
You'll succeed at last

Rome was not built in a day
Opposition will come your way
But the hotter the battle you see
It's the sweeter the victory

You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
But you must try,
Try and try, try and try
You'll succeed at last

You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
But you must try,
Try and try, try and try
You'll succeed at last

Monday, December 7, 2009

Is Religion Stopping You?

George Carlin was onto something when he said, "Religion is bullshit."  If you have never had the opportunity to view this classic performance, please watch the YouTube video below:

I say that George Carlin was onto something, but I won't entirely dismiss the validity of religion.  Here are two good definitions of religion from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary: (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural; (2) : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices. 

The key words for me in these definitions are "supernatural", "institutionalized" and "attitudes." 

Supernatural means, "of or relating to existence outside of the natural world", according to the Free Online Dictionary.  The last time I checked, we humans hadn't really achieved a perfect grasp of the nature of ourselves or the universe.  Do we have perfect knowledge of our bodies?  Where is that elusive cure for cancer?  Many diseases of the body are still categorized as idiopathic, meaning that they lack a clear cause.  How much do we know about black matter?  In China, people believed that the Earth was flat until the 17th century.  It was not until 330 BC that Aristotle unveiled observational evidence of a spherical Earth.  Since I am siding with the atheists on the issue of Creationism, I will cede the point that our planet has clearly existed for much longer than 6,000 some odd years.  Apparently since the dawn of man and continuing to this day, there are still open questions as to what constitutes Nature itself.  That being the case, how can we get a precise definition of "supernatural" in order to then destroy it?  The phrase "existence outside of the natural world" seems very slippery to me.  Do our dreams count as natural?  Seriously, are there a lot of people out there diligently drawing lines around what is natural?  If so... cool.  I hope they are jazzed. 

Obviously there are many problems with any system that is "institutionalized."  If something is institutionalized, that means that people have created a construct with sets of rules around it and then imposed the construct upon a wide group of individuals.  Our government is an institution.  The Roman Catholic Church...obviously an institution.  High schools are institutions.  I have to agree with George Carlin on the idiocy of worshiping an institution.  People are fallible and all.  I'm sure the Pope is a great guy, but...

We are all familiar with the problems caused by our "attitudes."  Again, it goes back to the fallibility of everyone.  Can you honestly approve 100% of anyone's attitude?  I for one do not want to serve or worship any attitudes.  I can see how George Carlin would have had a problem giving money to a guy who claims hold to the most powerful "attitude." 

My reason for holding onto the baby while I throw out the religion bathwater is this: the common definition of religion includes, wrongly or rightly, notions of spirituality.  Even Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, won't say that there is no such thing as spirit.  He equates this with denying the existence of fairies or unicorns.  Since he doesn't have definitive proof of the non-existence of spirit, he cannot logically deny its existence. 

How do we arrive at definitive proof of spirit?  Some people claim to have sensory proof of spirit.  They have seen visions, heard voices, and felt the touch of a non-human force on their bodies.  Not all of these people have been diagnosed as mentally ill.  Should they be?  Who knows?  How can we even prove the existence of our consciousness?  That has been a topic of philosophical debate since philosophers came into existence.  If we're not even sure how to draw a line around our conscious mind, how can we know with certainty that a spiritual realm does not exist?  No intelligent person claims this capability--not even Stephen Hawking or Richard Dawkins! 

Many people are afraid to ask questions about spirituality.  Many are afraid to venture outside of their given religion.  Many are so turned off by religion that their spirit doors are permanently locked, or so they believe. 

I have absolute confidence in my belief in spirit.  I also have an absolute faith in the Divine.  Faith in divinity crosses all generations and all cultures.  I believe that we can learn more about ourselves, the natural world, and all other phenomena through opening our minds to all of humanity and focusing on the common points.  I am thankful to have many highly educated friends who also believe this way.  Some of them are Christian, some are Jewish, some are Muslim, some are Buddhist and some are Hindu.  I can talk about concepts such as prayer with all of these people.  I have experienced visions and heard spoken phrases while meditating.  I have had prophetic dreams.  I have had psychic experiences.  I am not ashamed to admit these things, and why would I be? 

I respect atheism as a belief simply because I find no value in resisting it.  I find no value in negating any belief system unless such system results in harm.  It is not for me to say that atheists are harming themselves by closing off all spiritual avenues.  How am I to know what journey they are on?  I have not walked a mile in their moccasins. 

If I have one idea to offer here, it is this:  no one is alone in his or her dislike of religion, but that does not have to stop anyone from following a spiritual path.  This idea is far from original. 

If you are not on a spiritual path, good for you.  If you are, good for you.  If religion is blocking your spiritual path, I say... don't let it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Better All The Time!

Possibly the greatest gift we received from The Beatles was their ability to bridge gaps between all living generations.  My 1 year old dances to The Beatles.  I listened to The Beatles in high school and so did both of my younger sisters.  High schoolers today still listen to The White Album.  The Boomers are always gonna love The Beatles!  I think of John Lennon and Paul McCartney as philosopher poets who reached the masses. 

Yesterday was such a good day that I was humming the song, "It's Getting Better All The Time."  For most people, life is about transitions.  First you're a baby; then you're a kid; then you're a teenager; you start work or go to college; you decide how to live, or not, with another person; you may move to a faraway place; you let go of friends and loved ones with death and distance; sometimes you procreate; sometimes you stagnate; you get sick; you get better; you get rich; you lose money; you lose a limb; you gain some perspective...and on and on and on.  Don't get me started on "Changes" by David Bowie.  That's a song for another day. 

Transitions are tough for a lot of us, especially when they come in quick succession.  I seem to specialize in this arena.  Here's a little rundown since college: I got married.  I moved to Paris.  I got an M.A. I moved back to Missouri.  I moved to Manhattan.  I changed careers.  I got a J.D. I got divorced.  I moved to London. I moved back to Manhattan.  I changed from one law firm to another.  I moved to Brooklyn.  I bought an apartment.  I got remarried.  I got pregnant.  We sold the apartment.  I got sick.  I stopped working.  I had a baby.  We moved to the suburbs.  I got pregnant again.  I had another baby.  Most significantly, I experienced a spiritual awakening.  I changed my priorities.  I changed my goals.  I am changing the way I think. 

Now--I have dreams.  I have dreams that I believe in.  I have old and new friends that believe in me.  I believe that we are working together, and it really is getting better all the time. 

I want to be a writer.  I keep meeting other writers.  I'm not saying I will manifest a new career overnight, but I can see the new day dawning.  I am getting invaluable advice and support and it feels GOOD. 

My husband and I have found the town we love.  We believe we can stay here.  We believe we can buy a house here, and signs keep pointing us in that direction. 

I used to beat myself up for staying home with my kids instead of working.  Just yesterday, I spoke to the sweetest woman.  Of course, she works in this town that I love.  She just happened to be a lawyer who has had her own practice for 40 years.  I told her about my law firm past in the city and she cut right in: "I did the same thing.  Then I stayed home with my kids for ten years.  I wouldn't trade it for the world.  You'll never get these years back.  You can work as a lawyer again.  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise."  She gave me some good legal advice AND some good personal advice.  It made me feel BETTER. 

I want to be a writer.  I still may want to be a lawyer.  I want to learn Mandarin.  Who says I can't?  This is my new song, and I'd like you to sing it with me!

John Lennon and Paul McCartney, 1967

It's getting better all the time

I used to get mad at my school
The teachers who taught me weren't cool
You're holding me down, turning me round
Filling me up with your rules

I've got to admit it's getting better
A little better all the time
It can't get no worse
I have to admit it's getting better, it's getting better
Since you've been mine

Me used to be a angry young (wo)man
Me hiding me head in the sand
You gave me the word, I finally heard
I'm doing the best that I can

I've got to admit it's getting better
A little better all the time (It can't get no worse)
I have to admit its getting better, it's getting better
Since you've been mine (Getting so much better all the time)

It's getting better all the time
It's getting better all the time
Better Better Better


Friday, November 27, 2009

I'll Take the Alternative Health--Hold the Dogma

There's a lot going on in the health care cafeteria these days.  The usual lunch ladies are upping their game.  The school population is in an uproar over the same old dishes being served day in and day out, as the quality fails to improve with the soaring prices.  Sadly for us kids, the drug pushers are becoming increasingly obnoxious and intimidating.  It seems there are dealers peddling at least three new drugs at every table.  Not surprisingly, the antidepressants and anxiety meds are going fast over at the geek table.  "Anybody paranoid over here?  Step right up, kid!" 

Luckily for some of us, cool alternative health dudes and well-intentioned shaman are joining us after the lunch bell and setting up their own stands.  "Don't want the corn dogs and goulash today?  Wanna get those pushers off your back?  We've got better products at a price you might like!"  Lately I'm lining up at these guys' stands more often than not.  I'm sick of the typical lunch line, not thrilled with the snack bar or vending machine options, and I'm honestly a little scared of the shadier looking dealers.  Herbal teas and tinctures taste good and they seem to work.  Preventive medicine is indisputably yummy.  To top it all off, you can't beat a good massage on your lunch break.  No better way to show up in Spanish class with a smile on your face--"Estoy muuuuy bien, gracias!" 

Solamente... sometimes I get a little annoyed by some of the healthcare hipsters.  It's hard to say that they don't mean well.  Clearly they are out there working hard for the benefit of the public.  In a cartoon world, they are the superheroes fighting the real DR. EVIL.  In their shaman batcaves, they slave away preparing their herbal remedies and crystallizing pure energy, while M.D.s in white coats broker dirty deals with Big Pharma.  They're even brave enough for hand-to-hand combat with beasts such as logic, science and linear thinking!  I did say "beasts", and I meant it.  Generally, linear thinking is helpful.  Logic can certainly get you out of a pickle.  Science has moved homo sapiens pretty far up the evolutionary ladder, no doubt.  But--like anything else, these are human concepts that implode and disintegrate when taken to extremes.  People need to know when the horse is dead, already.  I'm pretty sure the dead horse philosophy applies to everything and everyone with the exception of The Big Man Upstairs. 

So now we're back to dogma.  The healthcare hipsters don't like medical dogma, yet they want to help sick people.  They offer us another way, which can often be a better way.  I'm pretty sure this group will always collect some money from me until I finally kick it.  I may even have a special hipster ceremony performed at my funeral, as a final homage and offering.  The one thing I dislike about these guys is their tendency to adhere to their new and improved dogma.  "Hey, kids!  Don't fall for that old malarkey.  Come over here and taste this crispy new ideology with flava crystals!"  Wait a minute!  Isn't it packaged ideology that I was trying to escape in the first place?  I said I didn't want a corn dog anymore.  A vegan corn dog with flava crystals isn't really going to appease me, guys. 

How about some examples?  Well, let's see.  Since I have suffered from an idiopathic illness in addition to the mysterious and illusive condition called Lyme Disease, the past three years have given me a plethora of concrete alternative dogma examples.  Couple these with the myriad comments I have heard as a mother of two boys born in the past three years, and I could fill 100 pages in 8 point font size.  A bullet point list is probably best for the sake of concision:

  • Hand sanitizer doesn't prevent illness
  • C-section babies suffer from lasting emotional trauma
  • Allergies don't really exist and no one should ever admit to having them (direct quote)
  • Every person is singularly responsible for his or her own illness
  • Illness enters the body through wind and can be burned out by smoldering sticks of incense
  • I'm a well-meaning person, but my aura is black (WTF?)
  • My mother is pure evil (this was seriously quoted to me)
  • Multiple Sclerosis is caused by hard-heartedness and iron will
  • The flu is caused by mass negativity and beliefs 
  • Sagging lines in the face come from sagging thoughts in the mind (don't get a face lift; blame yourself!)
  • Polio is caused by paralyzing jealousy or a desire to stop someone
  • Herpes is caused by a mass belief in sexual guilt
I truly do understand and agree that many diseases and conditions have spiritual, emotional and psychological causes.  I remember hearing my father say when I was growing up that unforgiveness and resentment can lead to cancer.  I don't doubt it.  However--and this is a big however--there are such things as microorganisms like bacteria and viruses.  We do have something called an immune response or an immune system.  Possibly some alternative health practitioners don't like the sound of the word "immune" or the idea of a bodily system that can only be properly observed with laboratory tools and implements such as a microscope.  Maybe petri dishes are considered to be bad luck according to several aboriginal belief systems.  OK.  Fine.  I'm still not going to concede that influenza, herpes and polio are caused by anything other than a pathogen.  No way, no how.  I'm not going to believe that elderly new age healers with shiny, taut skin got it through their positive thougths alone.  I don't think that every person who gets an MS diagnosis needs to get on their knees and soften their heart.  In fact, I think that the judgmental healers that look at MS victims in this way could use a few lessons in humility, as they collect cash from sad and desperate people who will do anything to heal and regain the life they once had.  I do think that using a hand sanitizer after handling a shopping cart can prevent passing the microscopic fecal matter from the cart handle to my mouth, thereby preventing me from catching an intestinal bug.  I do think that cleaning surfaces prevents the spread of illness more effectively in hospitals than speeches over the loudspeakers on the dangers of mass fears.  If I wipe my sick kid's nose, I'm gonna wash my hands.  If it's springtime and I'm sneezing, I may happen to mention that I have allergies.  When I do, I don't want a speech on the non-existence of allergies from a hypnotherapist I just met in the park (yes, this happened to me last spring). 

Do you see what I mean about the dogma?  Just in case a definition would be helpful, here you go (from Merriam-Webster):
Main Entry: dog·ma

1 a : something held as an established opinion; especially : a definite authoritative tenet
b : a code of such tenets
c : a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds
2 : a doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church

In short, I like what the health hipsters are dishing out.  I just don't need the extra side of dogma.  It weighs down the plate, and after all, isn't the goal to lighten our load a little?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Honoring the Matron of Thanksgiving

In a prior post on the spiritual practice of gratitude, I described my formative Thanksgiving holidays spent at the home of my paternal grandmother, Geneva Garrison, nicknamed "G.G."  She attended college and worked as a teacher.  At one point in her career, she taught in a one room school house.  She lived to the age of 101 before, as she would say, "going home to be with the Lord" this past winter.  I share two important qualities with G.G.:  1) I am very spiritual by nature, and 2) I love to write.  I would like to honor G.G. through sharing an excerpt from her personal journal.  If you would like to learn about making your own sorghum or riding in a covered wagon, this is for you.  Reading about the living conditions of our ancestors 100 years ago can make us thankful for what we have, and at the same time wistful for a more concrete experience with nature, the land, and even with God. 

Here is what G.G. had to say about the origins of her life:

"In the beginning:
On May 8, 1907, I was born to John Walter and Rose Ethabell Matteson at 26th and Bird St. Joplin, Missouri.  My parents and sister Lola, age five, gave me a warm welcome I am told.  When it was time for my arrival, Mom sent Lola to summon a neighbor to come and serve as my mid-wife.  She in turn notified Dr. Mays.  I was in a hurry to get here, so everyone had to get in action. 

When I was three months old we moved to a farm one and a half miles south of Anderson, Missouri.  Of course I can't recall any happenings there until I was two or three years of age.  I remember many fun times.  Lola told me later she was pushing me in a large baby buggy and turned it over on me.  She cried thinking she had killed me.  Lola was a good little girl.  She tried to assume duties to help Mom that she couldn't handle.  I remember quite vividly when we had the measles.  Mom put us in a dark room on a feather bed.  She brought our meals.  We didn't like the looks of our hands so we wore gloves. 

Mom raised chickens and geese.  One old goose enjoyed chasing us.  Lola was at the top of its list for victims.  She would run screaming bloody murder to reach the house. 

Mom had a dear Christian aunt who lived in Galesburg, IL.  Her name was Annie.  Mom wasn't saved, and she got much help and strength from Aunt Aunnie.  One day Mom decided to stay in a clothes closet until she had a know-so salvation.  I don't know how long she stayed there, but she came out shouting.  She told me later about the experience.  One day she started out to the smoke house when it was storming.  Lightning frightened her and she reacted to it.  She said her heard the Lord's voice saying, "Be not afraid, it is I."

My dad was a fine man.  I know of no one who disliked him.  He was saved in a Christian Church when he was a young man.  He was baptized.  He and mom later joined the Baptist Church at Anderson.  Dad was a finish carpenter and a farmer.  Lola and I enjoyed watching him make sorghum.  He raised his own cane.  He had his own mill.  Hitching a horse to it, the cane was ground.  A large vat held the juice which was boiled until sorghum was produced.  He then put it in tin pails to sell and for family use.  Before the mill could be cleaned the cats got in it, and had a hard time getting loose.  Lola and I had fun over that, especially when they lifted one foot at a time trying to shake off the sorghum. 

1911 - When I was about four, dad decided to go out in Kansas to work in the wheat harvest.  What was our mode of transportation?  A covered wagon pulled by Bess and Queen, two beautiful mares.  So we loaded our belongings and departed.  Sometimes we slept in hayfields, making our beds on piles of straw.  At one point we were in heavy rains.  Water came up in our wagon.  We couldn't see the edges of the road.  I imagine mom and dad did some praying.  We went to Turon, Kansas.  Mom cooked for the farm hands in a "cook shack."  Lola helped, and I probably got in the way.  The men bragged on mom's cooking.  They said the former cook majored on rice and prunes.  I don't recall any refrigeration or buying ice.  While we were there, dad traded the horses and wagon for a new Model T.  He had never driven one, but we started for home anyway.  He had problems staying on the road.  They were sandy ruts about 100%.  With his tenacious spirit and the Lord, we made it home.  When we came to a steep hill, we had to get out and push.  "Tin Lizzie" was like a balky mule.  So we had a different mode of traveling when we got home.  Of course, car heaters were unheard of then.  Mom heated rocks, irons and used lanterns to put under our lap robes."

To me, G.G's stories are fascinating.  I always loved hearing about my grandparents' earliest memories.  I am very thankful that G.G. kept a journal and gave a copy to all of her progeny.  I know that her spiritual path was 100% Christian.  I also know that she had Cherokee ancestors who believed quite differently than she did.  It was very important to her that all of her children and grandchildren follow Christianity as a spiritual path.  Here is what she wrote about me in her journal: "David has a daughter, Michelle, from a previous marriage.  She is dear girl too.  She is kind, warm, attracive and talented.  She has a nice disposition and best of all she is a Christian." 

Am I a Christian?  Am I on the path that she wanted for me?  The answer is not 100% clear.  I am certainly on a spiritual path.  I do read scripture from the following faiths: Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism.  I absolutely have faith in God.  I pray and meditate as often as I can.  Do I believe that we need "salvation?"  That answer depends on what it means to be saved.  I believe that we need to be saved from the worst part of our natures and from the hate and violence that we propagate against one another.  I believe that salvation comes from Love.  I am on a quest to love myself, love my family, and then to spread that love out as far as I can to the rest of the world.  I believe that Jesus will help me to do that, and so in that way, I am a Christian. 

My heart will be with G.G. this Thanksgiving as it has been every Thanksgiving that I can remember.  I will do my best to honor her legacy and I pray that her spirit can be a light unto my path. 

Sunday, November 22, 2009

That's When You Find Yourself

So I've seen the Disney Pixar Cars movie about 100 times.  I mean, not all the way through or anything!  I haven't actually sat in one place and watched Cars in its entirety more than twice.  Here is what usually happens: my son Alec wakes up at 5:45 a.m. and starts asking for Lightning McQueen.  That is when my husband will go and start up the Cars DVD for 20 more minutes in bed.  As our morning progresses, I hear bits and pieces of the film over breakfast, potty training, then washing and dressing everyone.  Once things have quieted down a bit the film ends and as the credits role, I hear the song "Find Yourself."  Here is the chorus:

When you go through life
So sure of where you're heading
And you wind up lost
And it's the best thing that could've happened
Cause sometimes when you lose your way
It's really just as well
Because you find yourself
Yeah, that's when you find yourself

You may find these lyrics to be any of the following: trite, sappy, schmaltzy, cheesy, pedantic, boring, or Oprah-esque. 

The first time I really listened, I liked those lyrics.  I said to myself, probably out loud, "that sounds like me." 

Anyone who has seen Cars will remember the little blue Porsche called Sally.  In case you can't remember, she is Lightning's girlfriend, OK?  Got it?  Anyway, Sally used to be an attorney working long hours in Los Angeles, California.  At one point, her engine started to give her problems and she decided to break out of the race.   She kept driving and driving until she hit a rundown little town in the desert called Radiator Springs.  When she broke down, Doc took Sally in and she decided to stay.  You'll have to watch the movie again to find out what happened after that. 

I used to be an attorney working in NYC, Paris and London.  I didn't really like those jobs.  I felt like I was in a race where I didn't belong.  A high school teacher once said this to me: "Michelle, I know you are smart but for some reason you don't try to compete.  You are like a souped-up race car parked on the side of the road and getting passed by old pick-up trucks."  Her name was Anne-Marie Correggia.  I will never forget smoking Gitanes with her in my attic after a French class party.  When I went to college, I decided it was time to compete.  I studied a little bit and graduated magna cum laude, winning a scholarship to graduate school in Paris.  Then I decided that I needed to go to a top 5 law school.  Once I got into law school, I studied a fair amount but I wanted to stop competing.  I didn't try to write onto a journal.  I enjoyed life for a while and spent another semester in Paris.  I got a C in Constitutional Law because I skipped the class regularly and spent as little time as possible on my take-home final.  I still got a job at a "magic circle" firm in London the semester before graduation.  Life seemed pretty good.  It seemed good because I was running from place to place and taking in the sights.  Running around felt good. 

Eventually, five years of faking it in the law firm world caught up to me and sure enough, my engine started to backfire.  I quit my job.  I developed Bells Palsy.  I had a baby.  I moved to a little town called Dobbs Ferry and I'm still here.  I feel like Doc has taken me in and I don't want to move back to the race.  I did get my engine fixed.  We've got good mechanics up here on the river. 

I'm not competitive.  I never was.  I don't care if I get passed by an old Chevy truck.  I am on my own road again, and that's better than racing. 

I'm not saying I don't love cars, or Cars.  I can be a racing fan, just like anyone else.  I enjoy going for a ride, and more than anything, I love the open road.  Now that I've found myself, there's no telling where I'll end up. 

Best of luck on your trip.  Don't fall! ;)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Finding Presents in the Past

Keeping our focus on the here and the now is an excellent spiritual practice that improves our relationships with loved ones.  If we can be fully present with our children, our spouses, our friends... that is the greatest gift.  However, I find my thoughts drifting to my grandparents lately.  None of them are "with us" in the physical sense.  Can I still be with them in the present moment? 

I also think of how quickly time is passing, as we all cannot help but do at least occasionally.  We are all aging.  In the spirit of my former post on gratitude, I am feeling like I need to spend more time speaking with my parents and collecting their memories of their own parents. 

Whenever I look at old photographs of my grandparents and my Mom and Dad, I try to appreciate the unique qualities that they possessed at that moment in time.  For some reason, I particularly like to see photos of all of them at my current age.  As an inspiration for connecting with older family members, wherever they may be now, I am sharing some of these images below. 

Stay in the present moment, but never forget to love each day as you live it because life is beautiful and time IS fleeting.

My paternal grandparents, Geneva and Wayne Garrison:

My maternal grandfather, James Finley, pictured with my mother and his cousin in uniform (he is the handsome one on the right):

An even younger James Finley in the 1920's, posing with my grandmother Mildred and some very early American cars:

My parents at their wedding, with both sets of my grandparents:

And finally, my favorite picture of my mother, Donna, when she was my current age:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Expressing Gratitude

Last week I received a letter from a church proclaiming that miracles can only happen in an atmosphere of gratitude. 

I belong to a group on Facebook called Thanks a Million!- A Daily Gratitude Group.  The purpose of the group is to provide a public forum for each of us to state our gratitude for the blessings we receive.  The group administrator believes that everyone should have a daily gratitude practice for spiritual health. 

In my Meditation Handbook, beginners are encouraged to commence practice through contemplation of "our precious human life."  In Buddhist meditation, practitioners begin with gratitude as a cornerstone. 

Gratitude supposedly has its own unique holiday: Thanksgiving!  When I was growing up, I spent Thanksgiving at my paternal grandmother's home.  She had four children, eleven grandchildren, and a number of great-grandchildren that I am unable to count with accuracy.  She instituted a tradition of standing in a family circle while holding hands as each family member stated to the others the blessings for which we were thankful.  She always cried when she spoke of her gratitude.  As a child, I was unable to fully comprehend the importance of gratitude and humility and as an adult, I have still not mastered these lessons.  I feel in my heart that my grandmother mastered gratitude and humility during her lifetime.  I didn't get to know her as well as I would have liked, but I know that she was a deeply spiritual person.  I hope that she is somewhere now that allows her to guide the rest of us on our quest to attain these high qualities. 

Meditating on gratitude and expressing it through prayer are very powerful practices.  Recognizing the blessings in our lives and letting them sink into our consciousness can transform us from within.  We will know that we have been transformed when we begin to display that gratitude to the other people in our lives.  I make an effort to do this, but I know that I do not always succeed. 

I do express my gratitude through spoken words, and sometimes through written notes.  My mother and matnernal grandmother applied consistent and diligent effort in training me to write notes of thanks, so my occasional failure to do so as an adult is certainly no fault of theirs. 

I express gratitude through tipping 20% at restaurants, salons and spas (whenever I am blessed enough to go into such heavenly places!)  When I used to take cabs, I would normally tip at least 10% of the fare. 

I try as much as I can to express my gratitude to our childcare provider by thanking her at every opportunity and through accomodating her needs.  Sometimes I know that I am thoughtless and I arrive later than I promised so that she can go home.  I hope that she knows how grateful I am for the love that she gives to my children, and I can see how much they love her back. 

There are certain categories of professionals where I am uncertain as to the proper expression of thanks.  How do we thank our doctors?  I thank them verbally and I try to be respectful and understanding of their time.  How do we thank alternative health practitoners?  Rather than tipping, which in my mind is somewhat insulting to a healer, I have tried to show genuine respect for their unique talents.  What about nurses?  I know that when my two sons were born, my nurses were the most crucial care providers and the greatest source of support to me in those first few hours and days.  We sent food to their floor after leaving the hospital, but I think that nurses in particular can never be thanked enough.  How do we thank lawyers?  I used to work as a lawyer and I often felt that I was supposed to be grateful for the opportunity to work with a client, and not the other way around.  I think that is generally the way that the legal profession is supposed to work.  It is designed to be a helping profession, even if it does not always work that way.  How do we thank teachers?  Students and parents give holiday gifts to teachers and this is a wonderful way to express our thanks for selfless and essential work, but like nurses, teachers are some of the hardest working and least appreciated members of our society. 

When I sit and think of every person who deserves my gratitude, the list is endless.  I have a favorite checkout man at the grocery store who consistently brightens my day.  Our mail carrier is always prompt, reliable and friendly.  Several business owners in our town make a point of speaking to my children and giving them gifts on a regular basis.  I am helped by an individual who is completely new to me at least weekly.  I don't know if it's possible for me to outwardly thank each person who helps me or my family. 

Lately I am trying to remember everyone who touches my life in prayer and meditation.  For me, this is the most powerful means of sending love and gratitude.  I was taught as a child to "remember others in prayer", but it is only now that I am coming to an experience of what that means and how such a practice can change me for the better.  In focusing on gratitude in meditation, I am slowly becoming more aware of others and less fixated on my own needs.  Perhaps this is one available path in learning to "love thy neighbor as thyself." 

Since I am still learning the practice of gratitude, I will continue to contemplate new ways to show my thanks. 

Here is one new capacity that makes me feel grateful, and if I can I'll recite it at the table this Thanksgiving:  I am grateful for the ability to continually correct myself and adjust my views to get closer to Love.  As long as these adjustments stem from spirit rather than ego, I believe that they are valuable. 

I am very interested to learn how others show gratitude and how I can improve upon this practice in the future.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Experiencing Setbacks and Frustration

Intention is important and sometimes given short shrift.  Actions frequently fall short of good intentions.  This is especially true when we are reacting, rather than acting from a pure motivation.  I find that my best behaviors and actions result from a good intention carried through to completion.  In opposition, I find that my worst behaviors result from reacting to a situation or the actions of another person. 

I write what I wish to learn.  I wish to learn the art of acting from pure motivation.  I do not mean this in a theatrical sense, though I was a thespian in high school.  If I could rub the belly of a genie and be granted three wishes, here is what I would request: 1) pure thoughts, 2) pure speech, 3) pure actions.  According to the Christ, the Buddha, and undoubtedly countless rabbis, these three can flow only from a pure heart.  Here are some universally wise words from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 6, verse 45: "The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks."  Many of us dislike black and white terms such as "good" and "evil", and I am notorious for getting tripped up by semantics.  Let's put the concept of evil aside for another day, and simply accept that it is an adjective used for lack of a better term.  The concept of a pure heart is found throughout Buddhist, Jewish and Christian teachings.  In Hebrew, pure heart is Lev Tahor.  In Hinduism, the concept is no less important: "The man who is pure of heart is bound to fulfill himself in whatever way he is taught" (Ashtavakra Gita, 15:1-2). 

I intend to purify my heart.  I intend to produce good out of the treasure of my good heart.  I intend to speak love and not spite or hate.  I intend to fulfill myself in the ways in which I am being taught. 

I do not possess a pure heart.  I do not possess a pacified mind at all times.  I produce evil actions out of my partly evil treasure.  I speak hateful and spiteful words sometimes.  I am often unfulfilled in the ways in which I am being taught. 

I set good intentions to open my heart to all of my family, yet I find myself succumbing to frustration and speaking hasty words to my parents, my spouse, my siblings and children.  I set good intetions to remain loving and calm while driving, yet I succumb to anger when confronted with other drivers.  Does this sound familiar?  Of course it does.  This is OK.  This is good news.

Assume for a moment that your personal faith is simply a ray of light shining forth from the universal sun of Love, so you are allowed to listen to all enlightened teachers.  One of them said this: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied."  I think that's a statement that could comfort us all if we choose to believe it.  My level of present dissatisfaction does not determine my future contentment. 

I experience setbacks and frustrations on most days.  Some days seem to flow smoothly and I feel surrounded by peace.  Unfortunately, these days are fewer than the average of my days.  Many days I experience small or forgettable setbacks and by evening I am reconnected with peace.  On certain days, I experience setbacks that make me crawl under my covers at night in an attempt to slow my heartbeat.  I really do lie in bed some nights, consciously attempting to lower my blood pressure.  Obviously, those are the worst days.  Today was one of those days.  I know that YOU have those days as well.  Perhaps it's once a year for you.  Perhaps it's once per decade.  If you are here in human form, then I know you have experienced this. 

How do we handle setbacks and frustration?  Acceptance.  Today my son said to me, "It's OK, Mommy." Me: "No, it's not.  I'm sorry."  My son: "It is OK, Mom."  Understood.  He said it and he meant it.  No need for elaboration.  He accepted my setback, even though it affected him directly.  He immediately accepted it and moved on.  He is not quite three years old.  I thank God for him each day. 

Here is a short list of things that frustrate me or set me back: smashed food scattered around the floors of my home, multiple intentional spills of beverage, incessant high pitched screaming after repeated requests to use the inside voice, drivers who honk their horns when someone in front of me won't turn fast enough, drivers who tailgate, LEFT LANE DRIVERS ON THE HIGHWAY, exclusionary tribal and racial loyalties, family members who knowingly abuse their bodies through diet and alcohol, people who complain to me about their health and then criticize the lack of sugary treats in my pantry... really, the list is nearly endless.  Honestly, it is a random list.  It is true what the Buddhists say:  these frustrations are delusions.  It's a fun fact that we all suffer from such a wide variety of delusions.  The seeds of our anger are like snowflakes!  Poetry gone awry...

Smokers don't bother me.  How odd. 

Today, right now, I am accepting my unsavory reactions to the stimuli enumerated above.  My reactions are OK.  They are simply another part of my existence that I must learn to embrace with love and compassion.  It is damned hard to do that.  It's a long hard road, but I'm gonna get there.  "My yoke is easy and my burden is light."  Keep talkin'!  "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." 

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The School of Family

As the final quarter of the year progresses, many of us are planning holiday gatherings with family.  In our household, these reunions are occurring slightly ahead of schedule.  I feel very lucky to be spending long stretches with all four of my boys' grandparents this year, before and during the holidays.  I am also getting to see my sisters more often and I can't underestimate the gift of their presence in our family life.  For me, 2009 has been a year to contemplate each of my family relationships and to evaluate the lessons we can all take from each other.  Some conflicts have occurred as I have tested the strength of some family relationships.  I am grateful that the loose ends have come nicely together to round out the end of the year. 

We have just returned from a week spent with my inlaws in Pittsburgh, PA, which also happens to be the home city of one of my sisters.  I was sad to return home.  Seeing my children interact with their grandparents and aunts is a great source of joy.  Simply enjoying a week of extra family members at the table brought such warmth into our routines. 

My own mother is arriving in New York this evening and will stay with us for a week to celebrate her 70th birthday.  One day after her departure, my father and his wife will be coming to visit for five days.  During this time, both of my sisters will join us and for the first time in several years, we will have all of the Garrison girls together with their Dad.  At Thanksgiving, we will celebrate with my sister and brother-in-law and then at Christmas we'll be back in Pittsburgh with Nona and Papa as well as my husband's sister, her husband and our twin nephews. 

I am opening my heart to each of these extended family gatherings and my hope is that this year, more than any in my past, will raise my awareness of the way my life is enhanced by every family relationship. 

It is said by some that in a spiritual sense, we choose the families into which we are born.  I rejected this idea the first time I encountered it.  With more experience, reading and further reflection, I am coming to my own realization of the spiritual significance of family roles.  Every relationship presents unique challenges.  The individual qualities of our family members comfort and uplift us in every stage of life.  Our own personalities are greatly influenced by the behaviors of our parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.  If we believe that a higher power is guiding, or at least present in our lives, is our place in a particular family coincidental?  If it is, then I am greatly benefiting from coincidence. 

Many people dread long visits with family at the holidays.  I don't think that I have ever felt 100% enthusiastic about an impending family get-together.  There is at least a small degree of resistance, discomfort or trepidation.  Some of this is simply to due to changing my norm and adapting to the company of people I don't see often enough.  A bit of the discomfort also stems from prior encounters and known challenges.  I am learning that the challenges are often the most valuable aspects of my relationships.  In a spiritual, and also an intellectual sense, I will always have so much to learn.  I find it difficult to grow if I am completely comfortable.  One of my extended family members has this e-mail signature: "Life is change.  Growth is optional.  Choose wisely."  In spite of the ways that I am being stretched, I am opting for growth.  What I would like to change going forward is my handling of the challenges.  In this endeavor, acceptance is my friend and resistance is my enemy. 

In meditation, I have recently been focusing on sending love to my family members and friends.  I have specifically been honing in on my more challenging relationships to experience more peace and love in my life.  After entering a meditative state, I envision the person with whom I experience tension or conflict on some level.  I then send that person love and a message of forgiveness.  I also ask to be forgiven.  As I do this, I can feel myself becoming less rigid and more accepting of differences.  Additionally, I find it freeing to focus on the easier relationships, savoring in a meditative state my most favorite qualities about each individual.  It is a joyful and healing practice that I would recommend to everyone, especially at this time of the year. 

As our schedules become more packed and we are asked to interact with larger groups of contacts, familial or otherwise, we would be wise to prepare ourselves to gain power from these interactions.  So often we feel drained around the holidays, but this doesn't have to be the reality we experience. 

I am finding more peace in my life simply through the practice of acceptance.  I acknowledge that I have not been accepting in the past.  I attempt to be accepting in the present.  I embrace the opportunity to fully accept each of my contacts and relations in the future.  I am thankful for all of the teachers in my life. 

May you never graduate from The School of Family. 

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Meditation, Country Style

Breathing in and breathing out gets us to our happy place in chaotic moments.  The breath brings us home in meditation, prayer and yoga.  At this time of the year we are all breathing in the fall air, inhaling the scents of wood burning fires, smoldering leaves and a crisp autumn breeze.  A country girl at heart, I'm going back to my roots for some country style meditation.  Come along with me while you take in this themed photo journal from right here at home in the Lower Hudson Valley.  The photos are followed by a guided country meditation, courtesy of Craig Morgan--the chorus is very apt-- I Breathe In, I Breathe Out.  Enjoy!

A little bit of guitar,

A little bit of truck,
A little bit of hound dog,
And a little bit of luck,
A little bit of bacon,
A little bit of beans,
A little bit of you lovin’ up on me,
And a little bit of how it's supposed to be,
A little bit of life,



Yes sleepin' all night with the windows down,
Up in the mornin’ stirin' around,
Drink a pot of coffee and I head off to town.
Work, Work, Work
All day long, crank it up, back it up, bring it on home,
Supper on the table and I eat me a bite,
Then we snuggle on the porch by the pale moon light.

A little bit of me and you doin' alright...
A little bit of life.

A little bit of backseat,
A little bit of moon,
A little bit of radio, a goin’ boom boom boom,
A little bit of sugar,
A little bit of spice,
A little bit of nasty, A little bit of nice,
A little bit of how it's supposed to be...
A little bit of life.



Yes sleepin' all night with the windows down,
Up in the mornin’ stirin' around,
Drink a pot of coffee and I head off to town,
Work, Work, Work,
All day long, crank it up, back it up, bring it on home,
Supper on the table and I eat me a bite,
Then we snuggle on the porch by the pale moon light...

A little bit of me and you doin' alright--

A little bit of life.

A little bit of tractor,
A little bit of farm,
A little bit of cornfield,
A little bit of barn,
A little bit of come on,
A little bit of play,
A little bit of yee haw in the hay,
A Dixie cup,
A homemade wine,
A little bit of life.
A little bit of back porch,
A little bit of swing,
A little bit of wind chimes goin' ding-a-ling,
A little bit of TV,
A little bit of couch,
Popcorn smellin' up the house,
A la mode on a little slice of homemade pie,
A little bit of Life.



Yes sleepin' all night with the windows down,
Up in the mornin’ stirin' around,
Drink a pot of coffee and I head off to town.
Work, Work, Work,
All day long, crank it up, back it up, bring it on home,
Supper on the table and I eat me a bite,
Then we snuggle on the porch by the pale moon light.

A little bit of me and you doin' alright...

A little bit of life.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Thich Nhat Hanh Dharma Talk

My husband and I attended a Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on October 9 at Beacon Theater.  I received tickets for the event as a birthday present. 

Quoting from the printed program we received, "Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the most respected and recognized Zen masters in the world.  A poet, peace activist, and human rights advocate, Thich Nhat Hanh was born in Vietnam in 1926.  A Buddhist monk since the age of 16, he was one of the founders of the "engaged Buddhism" movement, choosing to live a contemplative life while working outside the monastery helping villagers suffering from the devastation of the Vietnam War.  In the early 1960's, he founded the School of Youth Social Service, a relief organization for survivors of the war.  Thich Nhat Hanh has been an expatriate since 1966, when he was banned from reentering Vietnam after a peace mission to the United States and Europe.  In 1982, he founded Plum Village, a Buddhist community in France, where he lives and teaches today.  A prolific author, Thich Nhat Hanh has written more than 85 books, including more than 40 in English."

Thay, as he is known by his close followers, is a gift to all who read or listen to his teachings.  His birthday is today, October 11.  Monks and Nuns from his monastery accompanied him on his visit to New York, singing and giving prayers and lessons before and after his appearance. 

For my husband and myself, the most penetrating lessons of the evening were centered around a better definition of the Kingdom of God and of the role that suffering plays in building a loving and compassionate society.  Thich Nhat Hanh said that he does not envision the Kingdom of God as a place with no suffering.  As a Buddhist, he does not hold a dualistic view of the world.  On the other hand, he did quote from the Gospel in his talk and he has written in his books that he has both Jesus Christ and Buddha at his personal altar in his place of meditation.  He wrote the book, Living Buddha, Living Christ.  He explained his personal view of the Kingdom of God in this way; suffering is necessary to produce the seeds of compassion.  He said, "No mud, no lotus.  One cannot grow a lotus flower from marble."  Suffering is the mud that produces the beautiful lotus flower.  He said that he would not want his own children to grow up in place where there is no suffering and no affliction, because it would be impossible for them to learn how to love unconditionally and to develop compassion. 

Thay often evokes the image of a new flower in his teachings.  In his talk, he likened babies and children to flowers, saying, "His face is like a flower.  Even his hands are like flowers."  These simple words touched my heart as I envisioned the faces and hands of my very small boys--even their little feet are precious objects to me.  We can learn so much about love from our children.  He spoke of how our love for one another is also like a flower, and if we do not care for it well, the flower quickly turns into garbage.  However, we should not despair when we have lost our love and have only garbage, because, "as a flower can turn into garbage, garbage can also be used to build a flower."  He spoke about gardening compost, and then invited us to think of our capacity to love and our human errors in this way.  The co-existence of war and peace, of sickness and health, and of love and hate do not have to be part of a dualistic, Good vs. Evil, Heaven vs. Hell perspective of the world.  I personally believe that as humans we do not have the capacity to fully understand the complexity of our existence.  So often we live in anger, fear and resistance to the phenomena that surround us, rather than cultivating peace within ourselves.  Peace can come from an acceptance of all experience.  This is the teaching that enlightens my mind and brings peace to my soul. 

During this visit to the US, Thich Nhat Hanh spent two hours speaking with Oprah Winfrey.  There should be an upcoming audio or visual presentation of their encounter.  Additionally, his Flower Fresh Meditation can be found on Oprah's website:

I would like to close with a prayer which was sung by the monks and nuns on Friday night.  It is called, Breathing In, Breathing Out:
Breathing in, breathing out
Breathing in, breathing out
I am blooming as a flower
I am fresh as the dew
I am solid as mountain
I am firm as the earth
I am free
Breathing in, breathing out
Breathing in, breathing out
I am water, reflecting
What is real, what is true
And I feel there is space
Deep inside of me
I am free, I am free, I am free

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Stay-At-Home Parenting--The Glamorous Side

I am a SAHM.  That is the acronym for my job.  I have been doing this for three years.  In previous posts, I expressed my desire to start working again, and I am sure that will happen...eventually.  However, I now completely accept my current gig without reservation.  I no longer feel the need to talk to others about future career plans.  I no longer fear stigmatization or stereotyping.  It has been a long time coming and I am pretty excited about it.  After all, whenever I do eventually start working for money again, I want to be able to look back on this moment and know that I enjoyed it 100%. 

What is life like for a stay-at-home parent?  It differs in each individual case.  It varies based on the number of children and their respective ages.  It varies widely based on what the spouse is like, if indeed there is a spouse at all.  Admittedly, it varies dramatically based on income level.  Uniformity is no fun.  As the French say, vive la difference!  The key is to like what you are doing and take ownership of it. 

My SAHM job goes a little something like this: I have two boys 19 months apart in age.  The oldest is just shy of three years and the youngest is nearly sixteen months old.  Both boys are active and healthy.  They are now fully capable of moving most of our furniture.  They are both able to open the fridge and pull out its contents.  My husband and I have decided not to gate them in.  I do a lot of running around.  I chase them to feed them.  I chase them to stop the floor lamp from breaking.  Occasionally I clean up broken glass at warp speed.  I change a lot of diapers.  These are the unglamorous aspects of the job. 

Now for the glamorous parts:  my boys nap each afternoon for 2-3 hours.  I have roughly 15 hours per week of childcare.  I personally manage my own household.  My husband gets home at 6:30 p.m. each night and we all have dinner together.  My husband is a very involved father who is constantly supportive of me and the boys.  I give a lot of love to my family and receive so much love in return.  These gifts are incredibly luxurious and I do not take them for granted. 

The naptime is hugely glamorous, allowing me a chance to read, write, meditate and catch up on whatever needs to be done.  I never had a 2-3 hour break during my former jobs.  Then again, I wasn't on duty from 6:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m.  I still count it as a luxury. 

My childcare provider is an enormous help and is now like a member of our family.  She has known my youngest from birth and she calls us when she is not with us to check on our boys.  I can trust her completely and she is a good friend.  My children get to benefit from a third caregiver and all of the variety that she can bring to their upbringing.  I don't know if I think "it takes a village", as Hillary Clinton says, but I am of the philosophy of "the more the merrier!"  Sometimes I am able to spend time with one or another of my children while she takes the other one to do something fun.  Other times I clean the entire house, or go to a doctor's appointment without two toddlers.  It is a luxury that makes me a calmer, more centered mother.  Additionally, my husband and I get a date night twice per month.  I feel like someone in the MasterCard commercials: "Childcare? Priceless."

How is it glamorous to personally manage one's household?  Well, let's see: I get to choose what we eat, how it is cooked, what we wear, our standard of cleanliness and the routine of our days.  I feel like that is a treat, but that's my perspective.  I would rather pay for childcare than for a housekeeper, because I am picky about housework.  I like to be able to walk barefoot on my floors and not feel any sand from the sandbox.  I don't like dust on the ceiling fan blades.  That is luxurious.  I can't get that from a bi-weekly housekeeper, and probably not even from a weekly one.  I also find cleaning to be an exercise in mindfulness.  Buddhist and Catholic monks and nuns garden, clean and cook to gain a clearer mind and a better spiritual perspective.  Mindfulness is a beautiful practice and housework, if done mindfully, can be quite therapeutic. 

Having dinner together as a family on a regular basis is becoming old-fashioned, it would seem.  I can't praise this practice enough.  I look forward to dinner all afternoon.  Our oldest tells Mom and Dad what happened at pre-school, Dad tells us about work, and the one year old squeals to drown us out.  Food gets thrown all over the floor and the mood is generally festive.  The happiness of the boys is measurable as they have the attention of both parents.  It is a wonderful ritual, and in our society, it is glamorous due to rarity. 

The icing on the cake is the support that I receive from my husband.  He does not resent the fact that I stay home with the children.  He never belittles me.  I don't see how he could have the time to be unfaithful, like the fictional fathers in "Mad Men."  He does exceptional professional work and is fully engaged with us at home.  He respects my intelligence and my goals and we are full partners in all that we do.  I feel more liberated now than I have ever felt as a woman. 

What is it like to lack a respected career?  Honestly, my opinion on this aspect of stay-at-home parenting continually evolves.  I have forgotten how to use attorney timekeeping software and I couldn't tell you about the latest and greatest regulations from the SEC.  I don't wear suits and heels and blow-dry my hair every day.  No one calls me on my cell phone to yell at me at 9:00 p.m. when I am with my husband.  Just this week, a doctor said to me, "It is a shame for you to waste your education.  You must have worked your ass off in school."  Actually, I didn't work my ass off.  I love school.  I could be an eternal student.  Staying at home with my kids allows me to pursue a lot of interests that I never had time for previously.  Do I care what others think about my life choices?  I used to care.  I used to care too much.  Formerly, I lived my life in pursuit of approval.  Now, I live my life in pursuit of survival, love, enjoyment and stability for my family.  The best part is this:  right now is perfectly acceptable, and anything can happen in the future.  You might say I can't put these years on my resume?  I will always be so much more than a resume could ever represent.  This is true of every stay-at-home parent and I believe that opinions are turning in our favor, irrespective of the importance we place on opinions!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Stop Writing from the Ego

“Stop writing from your ego.” During a recent meditation session, this was the phrase that cut through the silence. I heard a female voice repeat it several times. Since then I have contemplated what it means to write from one’s ego and how ego impedes not only honest writing, but spiritual progress.

Riddance of ego is a current struggle for me as I attempt to reach a higher spiritual plane and a healthier mental state. In addition to authors whom I do not know personally, the following people have brought this issue to my attention in 2009: Kadam Morten, a local Buddhist teacher, Sean Rachlin, a local acupuncturist and Cindi Sansone-Braff, a local psychic and medium. At each occurrence, my warning to back off of ego was remarkably similar in the words that were said as well as the chosen tone. Kadam Morten repeatedly teaches on recognizing and learning to master the ego in his classes. I heard the more personally directed advice from Sean and Cindi, as one of their many clients.

Since people naturally make decisions from the ego center, it can be remarkably difficult to identify and refrain from this habit. I am well aware of the difficulty in defining the term with precision and I wish to emphasize the importance of context.

Because I am by no means an expert, I am going to quote from Beyond the Frontier of the Mind, by Osho. “This is how a child grows. First he becomes aware of you, thou, other, and then by and by, in contrast to you, thou, he becomes aware of himself. This awareness is a reflected awareness. He is not aware of who he is. He is simply aware of the mother and what she thinks about him. If she smiles, if she appreciates the child, if she says, "You are beautiful," if she hugs and kisses him, the child feels good about himself. Now an ego is born. Through appreciation, love, care, he feels he is good, he feels he is valuable, he feels he has some significance. A center is born. But this center is a reflected center. It is not his real being. He does not know who he is; he simply knows what others think about him. And this is the ego: the reflection, what others think. If nobody thinks that he is of any use, nobody appreciates him, nobody smiles, then too an ego is born: an ill ego; sad, rejected, like a wound; feeling inferior, worthless. This too is the ego. This too is a reflection.” The ego center is that part of us formed by our perception of interactions with others. The self that we perceive is a delusion unless we learn to understand this truth. The ego produces a need to portray and to pretend, to attack and to defend. It is a faulty basis for living. It is a trap. Jean-Paul Sartre said, “L’enfer, c’est les autres,” meaning Hell is other people. This is a true statement only if we are living from our ego center.

How often do we get fired up by the viewpoints, comments and actions of other people? How many times do we get sidetracked or delayed from our purpose by something that originates outside of us? How many hours do we spend fuming, ruminating or scheming when we could be working, relaxing or relating? What do you think about while driving or riding public transportation? The next time you are aware of your thoughts, stop and call them out to yourself. Are they helping you or hurting you? Your intuition will give you the answer.

Lately I have found myself writing in response to an event that has upset me or a person with whom I disagree. I have felt the need to make my own views known in opposition or in contrast to other views. While I do get a dark enjoyment out of this practice, it is not something that feels good. It feels like going for a drive at night to clear your head, when all of a sudden you find yourself on a curvy stretch of road and AC/DC plays on the radio. You speed up and discover just how well your car handles corners, knowing all the while that there is risk involved. It might be fun for a moment, but it’s not the way you really want to live. I don’t think it’s possible to experience peace and adrenaline fueled speed simultaneously. Someone please tell me if I’m wrong, because it’s something I would try at least once!

With respect to writing from ego, the answer came to me today in a Rob Brezsny quote that I read on

“Your drive to produce hard-edged opinions stoked by hostility is likely a sign that you've been brainwashed by the pedestrian influences of pop nihilism”. Awesome. I get it! I then read the follow up testimony from the site editor, Julia Melges-Brenner:

“When I first began to awaken spiritually, I was attending a prestigious university where I was surrounded by intellectuals determined to prove their acumen by endlessly attacking and debating other people's opinions. While I kept my spiritual beliefs to myself for the most part, I found these hard-core skeptics to be utterly brain-washed by the cult of intellectualism. They also struck me as the most angry, depressed group of people I'd ever met, which naturally made me doubt the wisdom of their views.” I don’t know Julia but I would love to meet her. Her statement echoes countless feelings I experienced during my graduate and law school years. I was thinking similar thoughts while riding the subway home from Greenwich Village to the Upper West Side. Damned 1/9 train! Damned intellectuals! Now I’m not proud of those thoughts, but without them I may never have started down this road leading me away from ego.

This essay contains a fair amount of quoted and paraphrased material. Many people quote from scripture to communicate a spiritual lesson. I like to do that too, but for me, sacred scripture is newly spoken every day. So thank you Kadam Morten, Sean, Cindi, Osho, Rob and Julia. If I am lucky enough to continue learning from people such as you, I may eventually be able to stop writing from my ego.