March 10, 2018

I recently attended a two-day training on Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) which covered the processes for defusing and for debriefing groups of people who have been involved in or exposed to a traumatic event (school shooting, natural disaster, first responders to an accident). The majority of trainees were chaplains working for my employer, a large MCO with multiple hospital facilities and clinics around the state. Others of us were nurses employed in those hospitals, just a few like me “oddballs” from other employment roles. I had taken the two years ago, so this was a re-certification/refresher but it turned out to be a quite new experience nonetheless.

Not because the material has changed – it hasn’t. I am in a much different mental/emotional space than two years ago, partially because of the unexpected and somewhat stressful recent change in my personal circumstances. The instructor warned us at the start of the class that some of the exercises might bring up aspects of our past life experience. I did not anticipate that the training would take me back so far into my past – to 1980 and the New Mexico prison riot that occurred on February 2nd of that year.

For that trauma, I had no such thing as incident debriefing, no opportunity for defusing of the strong emotions generated by the events; whatever working through I accomplished was done on my own. The aspect of that experience which became salient during the training was my response of a strengthened commitment to speaking out on behalf of what I believe it is important to emphasize in our communal life. In my own case I think I settled on causes that show respect for all persons and implementation of fairness and justice in interpersonal and group interactions. I recognize, however, that a similar experience could push another individual to settle just as firmly into a commitment to a path of vengeance.

From the perspective of trauma-hardened reaction, might one better understand the deep divides within our society today? Is it possible that too many of us have experienced (possibly unrecognized) traumas, not had the benefit of any sort of defusing or debriefing, and moved on into strongly held positions regarding values and actions as a means of “getting past” the traumatic events?

Putting things behind us without examining them and understanding their effects is a common reaction, but evidence proves it is not a particularly healthy one. The unexamined or un-dealt-with issues have a way of recurring. Classic example being the person who gets through the death of a parent seemingly without problems and then falls apart a year later when a pet dies.

A number of my friends have chosen, of late, to try to understand people who hold opposing views on the social issues creating so much conflict in our society these days. They are attempting to reach across the divides, to find common ground, to offer understanding, to create a cognitive (thought) framework for how divergent belief systems can be reconciled. While I applaud the motivation behind the effort, I have reservations about their likelihood of success. Not success at grasping a divergent view, but serious question as to whether any reconciliation can be achieved.

Reconciliation requires not just a cognitive but also an emotional shift, and one strong lesson from the critical incident stress management training was that the cognitive and emotional realms are two very different levels of response to trauma. In counseling, one technique often used to help troubled individuals is a cognitive re-framing, which can lead to a shift in emotional response. If I have experienced non-communication as disrespect, but learn that the lack of communication was the result of a technical failure (Internet shut off by a controlling government), the expectation is that I will then be able to free myself from the hurt and anger associated with feeling disrespected.

That kind of framework shift does seem to work in a broad-brush way. Indeed, I just read an article today about the importance of words as framing perspective. An example was asking if you would rather be in a relationship that ends, or that breaks up? Another question pertained to how many people would gamble with $50 if they would lose $30, versus would gamble the money if they knew they could keep $20. Although the end result, a minimum of $20 in hand, was the same, far more people would gamble to “avoid losing $30” than would gamble when they knew they could keep $20.

What the CISM training brought out by contrast is that when dealing with traumatic events, there is frequently a very deep divide between cognitive and emotional domains. While the defusing and debriefing techniques do initiate a cognitive re-framing of the experiences, it is a given that processing reactions to trauma will take time, and may include a variety of feelings and behaviors that are totally unfamiliar to the individual experiencing them.

When the traumatized individual has the benefit of a debriefing or subsequent mental health counseling, the outcome can be both reassurance that the unfamiliar reactions are not abnormal, and a healthy resolution of the anger, fear and other harsh emotions the trauma has brought up. Too often though, we experience trauma without any, or adequate, support. Is it any wonder, then, that we end up locked into tightly held beliefs or behavior patterns that do not allow us to understand, let alone accept, others different from ourselves?

The timing of the CISM training has served me well, to expose within me the residue of an unresolved divide between cognitive understanding and emotional response to multiple earlier traumas that have cumulatively established me in a pattern of somewhat set beliefs. My spiritual path would label these sanskaras, lifelong patterns of thought, values, beliefs that are rarely if ever recognized or examined – the stuff of which self-concepts are made. To reach the goal of self and God-self realization one must recognize and detach oneself from the illusion that the Self is the same as that mental self-concept. Not an easy process. Who and what am I, if I am not the collection of values and beliefs that have directed my behavior throughout my life?

I don’t at this point have any answer to that question; I do know that the answer is not something of which I can have any idea. Ideas are mental elements, and the Self is not knowable through mentation.

Which refers me back to my recognition during the CISM training that the divide between cognition and emotion can be huge, sometimes unbridgeable, and a metaphor for the divide between a mental concept of self and our true Soul self. Just as we benefit from a facilitator to help us bring the two parts of our response to trauma into perspective and balance, we need a qualified teacher to help us clarify what we are  – and are not – as spiritual beings. Without the facilitator we risk getting trapped into rigid belief and behavior patterns that move us past, but do not resolve, trauma. Without a spiritual teacher we risk getting stuck on the karmic wheel of life , repeating the same lessons over and over because we do not learn from them.

Once again, I remind myself that my spiritual Master instructs his students that “recognition is enough”. We do not have to ‘fix’ what we see is wrong, indeed we cannot do so. We do need to see an issue clearly, recognize it as another of the mental illusions we wish to shed, and then detach, leaving the work of removal to be done on us, for us, through us but not by us.

Now why does something so easy so often seem so hard?

Building a Better Habit

March 4, 2018

Both Musings from a Tangled Mind and Time Goes By writers occasionally start a post by announcing they are going to rant, the latter under the heading of Crabby Old Lady as the writer. I don’t recall having posted a rant before, and I don’t have an “alter” to credit as being the complainer. It’s just me, out of reflective mode and full force into objecting to conditions imposed by a combination of circumstances and thoughtless behavior.

I recognize that, in the larger view, what I find objectionable is minor, especially when compared to:

  • ongoing abuse by ICE
  • hideously frequent massacres of school children in the U.S.
  • kidnapping, rape  and enslavement of children and teenage girls in many locations around the world
  • dire poverty and lack of health care that is pervasive.

So many ills one cannot begin to encompass them all, let alone respond.

Maybe that’s why I feel able to post this rant – it is one that can be responded to by individuals, one here and one there, accumulating into a movement toward greater civility from which we will all benefit.

I already know that my feelings are shared by some of my age-mates, and I have read of the “expert” advice to parents to impose discipline on their children with regard to … banning cell phones at the dinner table, but that is only a small piece of the problem. Cell phones have, to my mind, magnified both positive and negative behaviors and are, mistakenly, made the target of praise and blame that belongs more properly to the users of those cell phones.

Hmm – I hear how that statement could be thought to echo ones by NRA supporters, about guns not being the problem when people are killed. I need to state clearly that my position is that, where human behavior is not well controlled, the tools for expressing that behavior – when it is harmful – MUST be controlled. Guns MUST NOT BE AVAILABLE to people who have not been proven to be able to handle them responsibly.

And cell phones should not be always available to people who misuse them. We then need to define what misuse means, which gets back to the underlying values and conduct which are the true target of my rant. Governments wishing to control and suppress freedom of citizens define misuse as any action that shows the government in an unflattering way. In those circumstances, using a phone to show the world pictures of torture and abuse makes the phone a tool supporting human rights. Uploading and posting a snuff video makes the phone a tool of pornography and human degradation. Cutting off ability to access the Internet and post pictures becomes either a step towards suppression of rights (as in Cameroon where the English-speaking regions are being systematically cut off from the world by a government in denial of the legitimacy of the regions’ grievances), or a step towards increased respect for human dignity (when sites regulate and bar degrading or abusive posts).

Hmm, I didn’t intend to get so much into a “big picture” analysis of the issue that is bothering me. But I guess it’s unavoidable, since my small issue is ultimately also a question of competing values, and what actions do or do not support dignity and respect for individuals.

Circumstances have forced me to tolerate a degree of uncertainty, of hanging around and waiting, and of being constantly interrupted that I am unable to experience as anything other than profound disrespect. Understanding the reasons for the experience has slightly mitigated my anger, and helped me to minimize directing it at an inappropriate target – but I remain angry. I suspect precisely because my little issue is not , as writing this essay is revealing to me, readily separated from the big picture abuses of individual, group and government actions that show  disdain for basic human rights.

If you say you will call me in an hour, call me in an hour. If you aren’t sure you’ll be able to call, tell me you aren’t sure you’ll be able to call. If you reach me, keep your attention on me, talk to me, listen to me – and if something comes up on your end of the call that requires your attention, either postpone it until we’re done, or take a moment to tell me you have to end the call and say goodbye. DO NOT just turn away and deal with the other issue without any explanation, leaving me talking to empty air, or hanging on the line not knowing what has occurred or how long you’ll be distracted. And if, as has been the case for me lately, making a connection is difficult then when one is finally achieved, give it priority. Otherwise you must want me to believe you really don’t much care whether we are in touch or not.

Okay, ego, you’ve had your say. Now recognize that you are not all that important. If I, the true I that is Soul, am in charge and living fully in the present moment, then whatever anyone else is or is not doing is irrelevant. You are not keeping me hanging, waiting – I am allowing you to do so. I can hang up the phone, keep the connection open and spend the time in contemplation, or choose to get angry at what feels like disrespect.

What I don’t have an answer for, is why that last emotional response is so powerful and hard to set aside in favor of one of the other more pleasant and healthful responses. Or more truthfully, I do know why – long habit and indoctrinated learning. I do not know as clearly why I continue to persist with a habit I don’t like, and wish to be rid of.

My spiritual teacher instructs that if you want a habit to fade, take your attention off it. Attention is food, and giving something attention encourages it to grow. I see that readily enough in others, and I recognize it in myself in this instance. I do hope that writing out the irritation will prove to be a means of separating myself from it and not a form of enhancing my attention to this grievance. The fact that I have already set it into the context of a broader values issue encourages me to think the separation is beneficial.

And in the way that shows me that I am graced, no sooner had I completed this analysis than a call I had been waiting for arrived.

Now, as to the troubles of the world filling that bigger picture with so much ugly news, it would seem a similar answer is available, and has been touted here and there but never adequately implemented. Give attention to the good, kind, caring things people do instead of the vicious and ugly ones. Find the Schindlers in today’s troubled world and broadcast their positive efforts. Do as one parent of a murdered school child requested – never again mention the name of the shooter. Instead speak often of those who rescued or saved their classmates and students, making those names known world wide.

Just as negative emotions grab my attention from a habit that has been hard for me to break, negative actions grab world attention in an equally rigid habit pattern. But as I, and others, one individual and one habit at a time, break the patterns by shifting our attention, so too we should be able to cumulatively shift attention on the broader issues, “accentuating the positive, eliminating the negative” and moving ourselves away from violence and hatred, towards mutual respect and greater harmony.

Baraka Bashad, may these blessings be.


Quiet Blessings

February 25, 2018

Exhausted, coming home from several hours spent on a family intervention, being a mediator for parents, their older-teen daughter, and the couple who have taken the daughter in since she ran away from home and reported her parents to youth services. So much anger, so much pain, so much misunderstanding, a microcosm of the macrocosm of mistrust, fear and hatred reflected in the barrage of daily news thrown at us.

I couldn’t decide what would best restore me. Were my husband at home, talking with him would rapidly help re regain balance. But he is not only not at home, he is not in the country and not in a place where the “wonders of modern technology” are sufficient to ensure communication. Had I an “inside dog” companion, I know from past experience a Scottie or Shih Tzu cuddle would also restore me. But I only have an assertive excellent outside guard Akita who does not do cuddle. Jump up on me, demand treats, fiercely protect me and our herd from predators, horses, neighbors working in their fields – all those she barks away with determination. I appreciate her for her skills. They do not easily restore me to a place of rightness in my world.

It as become apparent that one of the best benefits I derive from my marriage is the easy, quiet togetherness of evenings spent with my husband, he studying and me reading or writing. Not many words exchanged, just a restful companionship. With most everyone else in my vicinity, whether clients or acquaintances, I have to be “on” in some fashion, engaged, accommodating to their level of energy, finding topics of conversation when I would prefer to not have to think.

Why do we make it so hard on each other, to just “be”?

What finally brought me ease was an Andrew Wyeth painting posted on Facebook by Leslie Mason. Copied from I Require Art, the picture entitled Off at Sea is of an empty bench before a window with a view of distant clouds, mostly shades of white. I saw in it the welcoming silence of a Quaker Meeting about to begin, and immediately settled into an inner contemplation focused on all the quiet blessings in my personal life.

No, I’m not going to enumerate them here. Instead I encourage you to seek out your own. They are often tucked into corners, small and easily overlooked. Many different prescriptions have been offered in recent days for the ugly violence that permeates not just our culture in the US, but too many others in the world. My background is Jewish and members of my extended family perished in the Holocaust. I do not think it right to criticize an Olympic  skater for using the Schindler’s List score to perform to, just because she is German. Did anyone inquire if perhaps she is also Jewish? Or wanted to honor those who did what they could to oppose the horror unleashed by Nazism? Have we become so conditioned to intolerance and rejection that we are unable to allow a dancer to interpret a beautiful piece of music, only because of her nationality?

None of the prescriptions for preventing recurrence of types of violence featured idaily n the headlines seem to me to be directed toward reducing tensions. Instead they fall  mostly in the “meet violence with violence” category, or they cast blame on all adherents of a differing viewpoint regardless of the moderated, mediated, seeking to meet in the middle tone with which those viewpoints are offered.

Which brings me back to the unhappy family mediation effort I engaged in today. No one wanted to, seemed willing to, consider finding common ground. Each participant was totally vested in being right, and justifying their every outrageous action by some equally outrageous behavior on “the other side.” I was only able to suggest a mild disengagement, a cooling off period, with severely limited interaction, in hopes that the high emotion level could thus be brought down to a more manageable level.

Scientists are discovering that our brains are permanently altered by extensive amounts of “screen time”, most of that spent on social media. I haven’t yet read through the details of the studies, but I will not be surprised to learn that the alteration pushes us toward requiring ever greater levels of drama and stimulation, in order to feel engaged. The unavoidable result is that what was once outrageous is now commonplace, catching our attention for a few days, at most a week, and then fading away, needing to be replaced by something yet more fear or anger inducing. We seem to have forgotten, as a species, how to value calmness, serenity, satisfaction, balance, centeredness, peace.

I am very aware that, were I younger, living in only slightly different circumstances, more engaged with social media, I might well have gone from the mediation to a bar, seeking noise and loud music, alcohol and high energy to replenish the depletion I felt. I can envision how that sort of ‘cranking it up’ could seem appealing. But I do not see how that response can be beneficial in a larger sense, since it seems only to tilt the emotional turmoil meter ever farther to an extreme.

I know I am not the only one to feel that pushing to the extreme in so many dimensions of life is dangerous, threatening an entire spectrum from individual well-being to the functioning of our national democracy. I am also not the only voice speaking out for moderation, balance, a cooling off period, some healthy silence. A recent post by Neodivergent Rebel discusses several aspects of modern office space/work conditions that are difficult for those with unique neurological functioning to manage. All these “innovations” strike me as quite intolerable. Open office space – i.e. cubbies in a huge tank of a room – super bright neons instead of natural light, frequent reassignment of desk space, pop meetings rather than scheduled ones… A la Snoopy, my response is Arrrrrgh!

Just as generations of younger people require ever louder volume at the movies to compensate for their hearing lost to blasting music, apparently generations of over-stimulated brains require more and more arousal to  feel at ease, and hyper-emotionalism is the new norm.

World wide? Or just in the West, and in those countries (so many of them now) subjected to the constant stress of warring factions, religious persecution, ethnic cleansing? Why is the trend toward agitation, unrest, dis-ease, noise and disruption spreading so widely?

What will it take for Bhutan to lead the way to more places monitoring gross national happiness?

I have no answers for anyone but myself. For me, now, it is to sit in contemplation of Off at Sea, while I review the quiet blessings of my life.

(I tried to get a copy of the picture uploaded here but can’t seem to manage it, due to my unfamiliarity with the functioning of the Chromebook I’m still learning to use. You’ll have to Google it. Sorry!)


In the Small Hours

February 18, 2018

What is it about the small hours of the night (somewhere between 2:30 and 4:30) that allows our deepest fears to surface and torment us? My acupuncturist has spoken of how energy patterns shift through the various body meridians at different times in the 24 hour cycle, identifying for me which pathways are activated around 3 AM. Certain emotions are associated with each of the organs for which these meridians are named, including the emotion of fear. I will not be surprised to learn that the meridian and organ linked to fear is energized in the wee small hours. A healing system that has been effective for many more centuries than Western medicine has existed is certain to continue to give good answers to silly but nonetheless life altering questions.

( A check after I wrote the bulk of this essay confirmed that the meridians engaged at that time are lungs, associated with grief and loss, and kidneys which are indeed associated with fear.)

Life altering, because the course of a life can be determined by the way in which one handles the sleeplessness, the stark terror, or the merely nagging discomfort of the fears that arise. Tough it out until it passes? Make Plans C through F for how to deal with what one fears may happen? Pray for escape from the threat? Or for understanding of how to transform the fear into acceptance? Look for the spiritual lesson hidden in the fear? Identify the origins of the fear and how one’s circumstances have changed such that the fear is no longer relevant?

Intellect can interpret, redirect, calm, reason away irrational emotions. It is not very effective at reasoning away rational feelings, like the fear experienced by a military spouse left behind when the partner goes into a war zone. It is eminently rational to fear the loved one will come to harm in a dangerous environment. No matter how well armed, trained, clever the spouse may be, there is always the chance of the proverbial “being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Reason also does not seem to work well, for me, against fears that are ultimately rooted in inner experiences, whether or not they express themselves as projections into our common outer reality. I have come to understand that my early conditioning by a mentally ill and abusive mother set me up to expect that good things would not be granted to me, and that happiness is not a state of being that I would be allowed to enjoy for more than snatched and brief moments in a life otherwise fated to be a harsh struggle against negative forces determined to block and overwhelm me.

Writing that last thought out, I recognize it as exactly what my mother believed and felt, and made into the truth of her own life. Sometime after she died, when I was already approaching my own middle age, I read a diary my mother had written at the age of fourteen, as she traveled to a boarding school in what was then Palestine, now Israel. It showed me a girl already lost to reality, living in a fantasy world filled with both a gallant Prince Charming and horrific ogres doing battle for her attention. She appeared to have been more convinced of the reality of the ogres than of the existence of the princes in those writings. She certainly manifested that orientation to the negative as I knew her. And she apparently instilled that expectation of the negative more deeply into me than I had realized until a very recent 4 AM awakening.

I have been reasoning away the discomfort of not receiving an expected call over the past 46 hours, with sufficient success that I was able to complete a productive day of work, relax and go to sleep at the usual time – but not to stay asleep through the meridian shift that occurred about 3:30. Awake in the dark, I allowed myself to feel the despair of loss in order to trace back its cause, and then started writing to externalize the feelings, a technique I’ve found most helpful in the past. And there, on the page, is the statement about my mother and the realization – not just an intellectual knowing but a deep-seated understanding – of how I have been affected/infected by that same expectation that the ogres will win.

Scant minutes after writing the lines about ogres and princes, the awaited phone call came in. And I learned that the sequence of events I had rationalized to explain its delay had indeed taken place. More importantly, I was shown yet again that realizing the truth of a situation is transformative. My spiritual Teacher frequently reminds us that we do not have to “fix” what we perceive to be out of balance. “Recognition is enough” he tells us. Once the elements of an issue have been recognized (re-cognized, seen from a different point of view) we are directed to take our attention off the subject matter and place it back where it belongs, on our spiritual purpose in this life. “Attention is food, what you give attention to grows, what you deprive of attention withers and vanishes.”

I was initially distraught at least partially because I couldn’t tell if my fear arose from a prescient foreboding of an impending calamity, or instead from a deeply ingrained and unconscious pattern of expectation (what on the MasterPath is called a sanskara). As indicated above, my experience of the emotions and subsequent contemplation of the experience put it squarely into the sanskara category. Releasing the sanskara’s hold on my attention and imagination came (is still coming) next. New insights arise daily, as I do my normal chores and also those that have fallen to me during my husband’s unexpected absence. I see that I am being gifted with opportunities to completely reassess my experience of being unsupported and, of necessity, totally self-reliant throughout virtually all of my life, until four years ago.

Knowing now what it feels like to be in a loving, mutually supportive and caring relationship, I begin to realize that – should my worst fear be realized – I would not be cast back into the unfulfilled void of my earlier years. I am not that same person, or perhaps more accurately I do not see that person through the same eyes as before.

For that change, as for so many other new insights connected to my initial 3 AM panic, I am most deeply grateful.

A Solitary Cat

January 24, 2018

In the small hours of the morning I lie awake, thoughts and feelings flooding through me in delayed response to the previous day’s news, which brought about a shift in my daily life patterns. A death, unexpected, the necessary response to which has once again made salient a frequent awareness that I have, in the past, repeatedly sought to ignore or overturn.

If required to pick a single word to describe my life experience, I would unquestioningly choose “solitary”. Seemingly odd, for someone who has spent nearly 40 years in the married state, but nonetheless accurate. With a few more words I would say my life experience has been that of an outsider, looking at others, families and couples, living normal lives of mutual engagement. Not necessarily happy engagement, because I clearly see the tensions, the jealousies that make relationships – especially sibling ones – difficult.

Difficult or easy, the relationship ties are strong, and the interactions engaging. And I am on the outside, looking on.

I was the only child of an only child mother, and a father who was so estranged from his two siblings that I did not know they were still alive until I was in my mid-teens. So no siblings, no cousins, virtually no family at all except my maternal grandfather. My mother was mentally ill, my father shy, distant, emotionally withdrawn. I vividly remember nights (rather like this one) when I would waken from a few hours sleep, and lie in bed feeling deep solitude. Then, my cry expressed itself as “why can’t we be a family like other families are?”. I would imagine that I had been adopted, and somewhere – out there – were sisters and a brother I could belong to, if only I could find out how to identify them.

But I was not adopted, I was born into a loveless marriage that had been founded on illusion and was sustained by obligation. I benefited from the circumstances in that I was made to learn quickly how to be flexible and self reliant. I set myself a goal in those early years, to make for myself a home, which I then defined from a poem studied in school as “the place, where when you come there, they have to take you in, a place you don’t have to deserve.”

I achieved that goal in the early 1970s when I bought my first “house” – a 150 year old railroad boxcar, on property rented from the railroad, with only cold running water, and two out houses in lieu of a bathroom. An adobe addition had been added to the boxcar in the past, but the roof had fallen in and the walls partially eroded. I paid $500 for the place, then invested a few thousand more, and a lot of hard labor, to install a toilet, hot water heater and tub, run propane in for the water heater and a cook stove, clean out the debris and re-roof the addition, and lay down a flagstone floor in what became the living room, with a sleeping loft above part of it. I had my home.

Over the years, I moved on – started afresh with 11 acres and a mobile home onto which I added rooms and a workshop, then sold that to move to my present, smaller but more efficient home on four acres, with solar heating supplemented by wood and propane, relatively easy to maintain and to keep me comfortable in both heat and cold.

I’ve shared these homes with others – obviously, since I’ve been married much of the time. But the marriages were not “traditional” and included 8 years of being alone while my then husband was imprisoned. More years were functionally alone, for various reasons – ill health, poor choices, incompatibility. The reasons don’t matter, the effect is what I now recognize as my life’s path, to be consistently and solely responsible for all that occurs in my life without recourse to anyone to depend on, no partner or – I love the old fashioned word – helpmate.

Until about four years ago, that is.

Whether from the lessons of early childhood, from innate nature, or from Divine intent, I am in essence “the cat who walks by itself.” I have long recognized that I am uncomfortable in larger social groups, unless I have a role to fulfill – teacher or hostess being the two most frequent. In small dinner parties of 3-4 people, I can relax and talk, enjoying an exchange of ideas with my companions. As soon as the group gets larger, I am inclined to stay quiet, sit slightly apart, observe and rarely speak – once again taking on the position of an outsider looking in to family/group life going on beside me, including when my husband’s country-mates gather for a meal, discussion of soccer, and of the troublesome politics at home.

I am comfortable with silence. Living alone I may talk to my pets, and put on the radio to listen to the news (though rarely these days, there being nothing I care to hear). I equally rarely play music, or feel any need for sound to fill a void I do not experience. It has, you may conclude, therefore been an interesting adaptation to live with my current husband, who grew amidst the constant uproar of a large family in a culture that non-Africans perceive as “noisy”. He plays music even when studying. I’ve learned to enjoy most of his selections, only occasionally asking him to turn the sound down so I can think.

For the four years now that we have been together, I have experienced more of the meaning of family life than in all my years before. I thought I might get to enjoy having a sister but that has not proven true. I have come to deeply appreciate my husband’s unique character, his depth of understanding of his siblings, his learned skill at managing his responsibilities as designated successor to his father and head of the family. I am offering what I can by way of experience and supervision to his/our children with whom we are able to talk daily, thanks to the wonders of a technology that did not exist when I was, at age 12, taken halfway around the world and away from the emotional anchor of weekly visits with my grandfather. Blessings be for What’sApp.

Now, suddenly, I am faced with renewed solitude. Not for long, only about six weeks, but sufficient to make me vividly aware of the way in which I have, over so many years, persistently sought and not found a permanent sense of belonging. What first came to mind, at 3:30 AM, was a story told by my spiritual teacher, of the wealthy ruler who had all the riches of a full and engaged life, but instructed that when he died he should be buried with one open hand left extended above the earth, to show to his people that no matter how much we have in life, no matter how close we are with family and friends, we leave this world empty-handed. Elsewhere, we are reminded that we come into life alone, and leave it alone. Not exactly ashes to ashes and dust to dust, but echoed in the song refrain “all we are is dust in the wind”.

I have no doubt that I will manage my work, my health, my home responsibilities alone while my husband is in his home country attending to the family needs which have just arisen. Political unrest there precludes me accompanying him, as I might otherwise have done. “You will be a target, it is too unsafe.” The U.S, and British embassies have already instructed their citizens in the country not to venture outside the capital city, and we would be traveling to a small village in the heart of the “rebel” region. I am aware that managing life here on my own is not the challenge facing me. I can do that easily enough. Instead, my basic concern is for my husband’s safety and the stress of living day to day with an underlying current of uneasiness, waiting for the next phone call to update me on how he is managing, and to reassure me that he is safe and not, as a recent returnee from the West, targeted to be a hostage in the political upheaval.

I did not find it easy, four years ago, to learn to accept help, a partner, support, suggestions, redirection. But I realize now that I have done that adapting, have relaxed into it, and deeply enjoy it. In consequence, returning to self-reliance, while quite doable is not particularly desirable. I find myself wondering, in the small hours of the night, whether this experience is meant to remind me not to become too dependent on another person? Or simply to give me the opportunity to reflect back on my life overall? Or perhaps both of these, plus the most important reason which is to reinforce the teachings of my Master that the first and only place to look for guidance and support is “in and up” to one’s own Divine essence , as revealed through the grace and the training of the Master. With my attention where it needs to be placed, all else will be as it should be.

Baraka bashad.

Practicing Patience

January 13, 2018

The winter storms keep missing us. We get the wind and the cold but not the moisture that is being dumped so plentifully to our north and across the midwest. I remember reading a projection that north would be exceptionally cold and we in the southwest would be noticeably warm across this winter. So far it’s been an accurate forecast.

In some previous similar years, the consequence of this weather pattern has been particularly heavy spring snows, the kind that leave us without power and snowed in for several days, but which then also melt off quickly so that once we can get out, we can drive without the hassles of icy roads. For now, it’s wait and see.

I wouldn’t be concerned at all one way or the other, but my job has me on the road for 50-90 mile one way trips with sufficient frequency that I have to be aware of weather risks – especially in February when the combination of an exceptionally short work month and a markedly heavy workload intersect and make scheduling my travel a critical component of meeting all the deadlines. A day or two unable to get out to my appointments may well mean I don’t get the month’s work completed. Reminding myself I’ll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, it’s cold enough (or the daylight hours are reduced enough, I’m not sure which is the determinant) that the hens have stopped laying, but not so cold that I have to wear my heavy winter coat. Concerns about renewed drought do not prevent me from enjoying the mild and sunny afternoons that entice me to go walking. For how much longer? Yes, you know the refrain now – we’ll have to wait and see.


January 6, 2018

It’s another one of those evenings when I find myself playing solitaire, alternating with reading. One of those evenings I have identified as better spent writing (and reading) so that when I look back I will feel I’ve been productive rather than mind-numbed, zoned out, and wasting time.

When the book is particularly engaging, I just read. If I’m not reading steadily, why don’t I just put the book away and find another? Old habit, I suspect, and that internal voice lecturing about finishing what has been started. You’d think I’m old enough to disregard the habit and the voice, but apparently not. Hmm, another pattern to review and see why I am still controlled by it.

That is, in fact, what most of my reflection periods seem to be about these days – reviewing the whys and wherefores of any number of habits of behavior or thought, to consciously decide if they are worth maintaining or if it is time to be freed from them. In many cases, the final outcome is not really either option, but rather a choice to maintain the behavior or way of thinking as a tool to be used at times and ignored at others. In essence I transform the unconscious habit into a chosen action for those situations where it will be truly beneficial.

Follow this lovely road to freedom from the tyranny of mental constructs.

This way to freedom from the tyranny of mental constructs.

No Drama Please

December 28, 2017

Of the many adjustments required as we age, one I did not anticipate has emerged as a result of coworkers taking time off for the seasonal holidays. In particular, a behavioral health care coordinator (BHCC) with whom I work closely has been on vacation since before Christmas, and won’t return until after New Year’s Day. Meanwhile, one of the clients we coordinate to assist has been in crisis, suicidal and starting to misuse drugs. I have done what I can to support his immediate family members who are the ones actively intervening to divert his self harm. He seems to be headed for inpatient assistance, and I did find another contact person for his family to call if they need further help while I in my turn take the next few days off.

In years past I have had a counseling license, and supported myself at times with a private clientele about evenly divided between couples unable to communicate about their incompatibilities, and men with anger issues. From the feedback I received, I was an effective practitioner, and I found the work rewarding. I learned much that has been useful to me in my subsequent years working in home health, and now as a care coordinator for a managed care organization. I even thought about applying to work for the behavioral health component of the organization. Something held me back – and now I think I know what that something is.


Not that I’m too old to do the job, which is no more demanding than my own. In fact the  BHCCs have smaller caseloads, more paid vacation, and the same working hours as I do, so the capacity of my older body to see the work week through might well be less stressed by a BH caseload. That’s not the issue.

While I don’t agree that getting older means getting more conservative, I do see in myself a subtle shift in values that can perhaps best be described as less engaged with the drama of others’ lives. For those who seek help, I am ready to provide supports, encouragement, instruction, empowerment and accompaniment if that is needed. I don’t expect immediate success nor do I limit the number of repeats necessary or the amount of time allowed to achieve progress, however minimal, toward the client’s stated goals. What I used to also offer was intervention when misunderstandings escalated into high drama, persistent redirection when drug use became a burden, and a generally more receptive involvement with the ups and downs of my clients.

No more.

In one of several descriptions of the stages of life, the later years are said to be dominated by contemplation. Whether reviewing one’s own life, or reflecting on the state of society, older people are perceived to be thinkers more than doers. Pragmatically, we’ve learned the often negative consequences of impulsive, reactive behavior. We see benefit in giving reasoned responses and we know that few important decisions need to be made “right here, right now.” Which is not to say that we procrastinate (though some of us may do so), nor that we resist acting promptly, in a timely manner, to take advantage of unexpected opportunities. But we do so with forethought, and at least in my case, with a degree of detachment from the decision.

Perhaps what I’m trying to express is simply that few things that arise strike me as dire and in need of immediate action. Few things, equally, are apt to cause my world to collapse around me, if my decision turns out to be faulty. As a consequence, I apparently also prefer not to be unduly engaged , at this point in my life, with people for whom every decision is fraught with high drama. I care about, but do not fear, outcomes. I am confident that if things don’t work out as I hoped, I will not only survive but appreciate the different direction my life goes as a result of the unexpected outcome.

This preference definitely carries over into my work; I don’t wish to engage much with people in the midst of high drama, panicking over decisions that may seem, but seldom are, life threatening. Ergo, I would not do well with a caseload of clients with such mental instability that they need care coordination to get through the basics of their daily lives. My own clients need care coordination as well, but primarily to help them access supports for their physical shortcomings. I am occasionally called on for counseling on how to accept new physical limitations, plan for end of life, or adapt to new and frightening diagnoses. That is a type of mental/emotional support I still feel easily able to provide.

Without this past week’s experience, I might not have recognized my shift in perspective. I do know that I don’t want emotional tension in my life now. I used to live with a degree of dramatic stress which I would now find totally exhausting. Loss of energy with age? Loss of patience with false intensity of feeling? Or gain in understanding and perspective, with an accompanying gain in ability to express and manifest my preferences?

Whatever the underlying reason for my shift in preferences, I’m glad to recognize them and know that I have the capacity to implement them in both my personal and my work life.

Now, I wonder what previously unconscious inclinations, habits, tendencies and preferences will be revealed to me in the new year? I look forward to finding out.


Standing Proudly

Giving Oneself Permission

December 23, 2017

Today was nothing out of the ordinary by way of work demands, but somehow the juxtaposition of those demands and the expectation of three days off for the Christmas holiday made the emotional drain of the day salient in a way I have not previously recognized. Yes I know that my work pulls hard on my energy. It also gives energy rewards in the form of appreciation and thanks for the help I am at least occasionally able to offer. I’ve not sat down to try to put the outflow and the inflow onto any sort of balance scale. I rather doubt I am capable of such an assessment, and not sure that there is any real benefit to be had from the effort. I won’t be changing my employment any time soon and I have no control over, and no way to predict the arrival of, expressions of appreciation for what I do. Those are simply givens of my daily life.

What I do have some control over is my ability to recognize when an energy drain is more severe than usual. I can also, usually, identify what makes the drain more severe or more noticeable. And I can, if I practice what I know to be effective, consistently make an effort to re-balance myself. The “catch” lies in those seemingly simple few words, “consistently making the effort.”

Nothing seems harder, when I feel drained, than making an effort of any sort. Sporadic, halfhearted, minimal are as much a challenge as consistent or purposeful.

Moment of clarity! This problem needs redefinition. Activities to recharge my energies must not be categorized as achieved through effort, but rather as the result of desire. I must not be telling myself I should do what I know I will find refreshing. Instead I wish to hear the voice in my head saying “go on and enjoy … “ (whatever the activity may be), “you need and deserve this time for yourself.”

How is it that we so easily slip into making have to’s of what began as want to’s? I enjoy stringing beads into jewelry, yet I seem to only sit down to create when I have a gift to give someone, and a limited timeline for completion of the project. I equally rather enjoy writing these blog essays, but rarely do so simply to relax and focus my attention. For awhile now, I’ve thought that I’d like to return to piano lessons, and see how much I’ve retained from my childhood instruction. What stops me is the voice in my head saying that I will then “have to” make time to practice, and I already drown in too many have to’s. Why isn’t that voice saying “If you think you’ll enjoy the activity, try it” since, if it doesn’t provide me a pleasurable relaxation, I can always stop?

Some twenty years ago I wrote a long letter to my spiritual teacher that included a discussion of my understanding of responsibility and how that quality developed in me, as well as how deeply embedded it had become. I identified how limited, by contrast, was my experience with spontaneity, with love and with simple pleasure. Over the decades since I have learned to be much more present in the moment, and to enjoy many of those moments purely for what they are: this morning’s colorful sunrise, for example. I’ve been blessed with opportunities to love and be loved, and have become overall a much happier person. I apparently have not, however, yet freed myself from that deeply ingrained orientation of being responsible, as though to do so would turn me into someone less worthy.

The most loving people I know are also the most responsible to others in their lives. The most responsible people I know are (were) among the most difficult to live with, for others in their lives. As frequently as we are exhorted to think more of others than of ourselves, one could believe that selfishness rules the world and sadly, seeing the actions of government in the U.S of late, one would be correct. But I do not think the appropriate response to the sort of greed dominating political life is to be angrily, stridently demanding change. Yes I am concerned for the loss of integrity being manifested, for the furtherance of what to me are ugly values best buried in history. And yes I will do my part in speaking up in protest, but mostly I need to do my part by living my day to day life as best I can from an expansive place of happiness rather than from within the restrictive atmosphere of responsibility and “must do” that drains energy and leaves me snappish and deeply dissatisfied.

In the language of my Teacher, I am saying simply that I will continue to move toward living my life as pure Soul, unclouded by dualist mental considerations of right/wrong, selfish/generous, open/closed, responsible/careless, etc. Since Soul is a happy entity and happiness spreads naturally and effortlessly from one to another, there is no more effective way to re-balance both my own energy and that of everyone/thing in quite a wide sphere, than for me to keep my attention firmly focused on Being. That focus is both necessary and sufficient for responsibilities to be met, energy to be in balance, joy to replace exhaustion, and all that is meant to occur taking place as it is meant to do.

Baraka Bashad – May these Blessings Be.


Looking Ahead to Blessings

December 17, 2017

Having stressed repeatedly to different clients the importance of a personal goal, apart from improved health which most of them seek, and having heard my husband reiterate this same objective to his parents as an key contributor to continued energy and engagement despite the various pains and slowly of age, I am guilty of failing to keep my own personal goals updated. The result is that lately I’ve been feeling weighed down by all the “have to’s” of my daily life, and also as though so much of my core energy is being expended on those requirements that I am simply depleted and have “nothing left” to expend on enjoyment.

To some extent, the energy drain is unavoidable – there’s only so much reserve left in this aging body, and so very much that it is being required to get through by way of work, housekeeping, support of mate and extended family, and the myriad chores of daily living. But what I recognize I’ve shorted myself on – and also recognize as a frequently encountered shortcoming in all those people whose work or life roles fall under the heading of care-giving – is making sure our activities that refill the reserves get as much priority as do our daily duties.

So my personal goal that is being re-established as I write, is to assure that I do refill the cup with activities that give me pleasure in and of themselves. My daily spiritual practice is one of those that has not been neglected; it is absolutely necessary (but apparently not sufficient yet) for me to maintain at least a semblance of balance, and a comfortable engagement with my outer life. I’ve cut way back on attention to the broader political and social scene, the hysterical reactivity of which is totally exhausting and debilitating. I continue to distance myself from whatever will trigger the “been there, done that, didn’t think I’d have to do it again in my lifetime” discouragement of seeing so much hard work, and advances toward a kinder and more caring society, erased and replaced with unfettered greed.

My work as a Medicaid-program Care Coordinator is rewarding, and as jobs go, just about ideal. I get to work from home (no daily commute), see my clients in their homes, support people toward improved health and management of their lives, experience directly their appreciation and pleasure as their circumstances improve, and know that I am functioning as part of the solution rather than being part of the problem. My home life is all that anyone could ask for, and more sustaining than I ever imagined I would enjoy. Overall, my health is apparently still fine, with only this irritating decline in energy and will that I need to sort out.

I don’t have the answer(s) yet. Only some hints as to where to look. For the physical depletion, I’ve resumed taking an adrenal supplement recommended to me some years ago, and it does seem to be helping. For the psychological, I’m looking to specific activities that I’ve enjoyed in the past and have not been participating in lately, notable among those being more regular blog posts.

I’m also taking seriously the increasing evidence that substantive ‘screen time’ alters mental functioning. My work requires a good deal of computer data input. Keeping up with news summaries on my phone (we don’t have TV) adds to the screen time. Writing will do so also, but more productively than the hours I have lately been spending in somewhat mindless Solitaire or Scrabble. I am undefeated in Free Cell and win better than 97% of hard level games against the computer in Scrabble. So what. Neither accomplishment is nourishing me. At best they have provided a sort of ‘zone out’ from thought, akin to ‘stopping the mind’ in meditation. I can do better, focusing my attention where the inflow of energy will be beneficial, not merely neutral.

I have yet to understand what those targets of focus will be, other than a continued extending of my attention to spirit. But now, the goats have escaped their fence and need to be corralled, and dinner needs to be put into the oven. I am reassured by the knowledge that when I  pose a question in my daily spiritual practice, I will receive needed answers, including on how to refresh my psychological energy.  I am so very grateful to have that guarantee in hand!

May these blessings be, for all who seek them.


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