Other Stuff

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

My Mother's Daughter

I am my mother’s daughter. I have her feet. They are a little long and skinny with the potential for bone spurs. Sometimes they ache after a long day of work. She never wore nail polish on her toes. I do. When it’s not there I don’t see my feet anymore. I see hers. Cracked skin in places and bones sticking out here and there. Even my body is shaped like hers. Our breasts are too big for our small frames. Our fair skin freckles in the sun and we have skinny little wrists that can’t hold a bracelet. I keep my extra weight in my belly, too, same as my mom. Hers has scars from bringing children into the world, first me, then my siblings.

I have her spirit, too. It resides in me as part of my DNA. Little clicks of proteins sticking together in just the right way like a plastic building block in a child’s playroom.  She gave me my name then she taught me who I was in her eyes. I was her baby girl and there was nothing in the world that could ever take that away from either of us. She was the first person to love me. When I got older and she told me she loved me with her whole heart I never doubted it. When my baby brother came into the world I worried that there wouldn't be enough love to go around. How silly. The bigger the need for love, the more love grows. I know that now.

Her wit was a force to be reckoned, let me tell you! She could make you laugh so hard your eyeballs bulged. Just hearing her unique laughter could send you spiraling toward a giggle fit. No one gets away with anything, no sir. She never missed a beat. If you zigged she would zag and unless you were sly enough to catch the twinkle in her bright blue eyes, you’d never know what was coming. She was loyal, too. She possessed a fierce, unbidden and non-negotiable loyalty. If you were part of her tribe by DNA or choice, you became a member for life. This is to say nothing of her unwavering acceptance and unconditional love for every person she ever met. If you were lucky enough to cross paths with my Mother, your life was forever changed. For one sparkling moment in time another human saw you, really saw you, and loved you anyway. That’s how it was to meet my mom.

I miss her so much. She is still here, in this world if not of it, but she doesn't want to be. She tries to kill herself a lot. She would deny this, but it’s true. I wish she would come back to the love and acceptance that she taught me. I wish she could see her own value. I wish she knew how wonderful she still is, no matter what choices she made in the past. It is true that love has the power to heal, but sometimes that love must come from with-in. I can give her my unconditional love. I can tell her over and over again that she is worthy and deserving of love. I can clean up her messes and keep her alive, until I can’t anymore.  There is always the chance that she is hearing me and one day she will wake up from this coma-like existence of her own creation and know that she is and always will be good enough. This is hope. I can’t have enough for both of us, but I have enough for me.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Rainy Day Meeting

I was babysitting my nephew, Orion, yesterday when sometime between a meal and a nap he became inconsolable. Thanks to my knowledge and application of the scientific method, and after a variety of failed attempts at vaudeville, to which he did not respond, my eyes beheld a magical contraption of wheeled machinery. After several moments of struggle and a few unsavory words a hidden button revealed itself which when pushed sprang open the device. Having never thought I would have to know such information as why babies are crying, when they need to eat or nap or even what games they like to play, you can imagine my surprise when a seat-like space opened before me. I intuited the baby went there, as there was a belting safety measure built-in to the contraption. It was by sheer force of will and a desperate attempt at entertaining Monsieur Orion that we soon found ourselves strolling along the promenade of Whispering Winds Apartments.

As it was raining we were obligated to stay within the covered walkways along the courtyard. I soon found myself in quiet meditation as the no-longer-crying baby cooed and oohed over the light rain and cool breeze, an unexpected delight for Texas summer. Ivy hanging from wrought-iron railings swayed and dripped with fresh rain. Fern leaves heavy with fat drops drooped down from pots along the narrow corridor, dripping on Orion's passing toes. For 45 minutes we strolled back and forth, to and fro, baby and Auntie content at last. When we reached areas with no overhead shelter, I ran and squealed thinking Orion would find it exciting. He registered his dismay by wiping at his wet face with a drool-covered hand.

Soon we met Marty. Marty was an older woman in her 70s with bright, pale green eyes. She had a little dog named Bubba whom she said is very good with babies. Bubba licked Orion's toes and Orion drooled on Bubba's ears. A fair trade, I thought. Marty and I talked and soon I learned about her life as a singer in a band. It was her husband’s band and they played back-up for the likes of George Jones, Conway Twitty and Willie Nelson. Her eyes lit up and she leaned in close when she whispered about how different Willie looked today than when he first started out. “That hair,” she said, and then louder, “He used to always wear a tie, too!”

Marty sang lead for the band and her husband played guitar. They traveled all over the United States, coast-to-coast, hitting every bar and honky tonk across the land. “Later on, when we became Christians, we took our music to the church and had a great time there!” Didn't make the same money, I reckoned. 

She told me about a woman she met at church who she recognized from a show 30 years ago in Houston. The woman was a child at the time and Marty recognized her face. I found that remarkable. Marty said, “Well it’s a face! How can you forget someone you see? I knew her father who had brought her to the show, but that was the first and last time I saw her. I just don’t understand why some people don’t remember faces.” 

After 15 minutes of chatting with Marty, Bubba and Orion grew bored with each other’s drool. We parted ways but not before Marty invited me over in a sing-song voice I could never say “no” to, “Well come on up and see me anytime, number 12. And bring the little one, Bubba will entertain him! I’m moving soon. I’m going to re-register for my Citizens on Patrol license and then I gotta get moving to Houston.” Her eyes were alive and dancing as she talked about her active and full life. “Marty,” I said, “If you promise to talk me about all the stuff you won’t talk about in church, I’ll be there.” She laughed with delight and said she’d pray about it. God, I hope you say yes.

Green Ribbon Auntie Lesson: Babies are a great way to meet new people.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Slowing Down Part II

The Tortoises and the Hare

Two friends went on a bicycle ride.  They rode through cobbled, brick streets in tree-lined neighborhoods and museums brimming with activity.  They meandered down to the river, pausing to watch the ducks and take a drink of water.  They talked about the river and the history of their city.  The setting sun reflected orange-red in the glass covered buildings downtown.  When it was time to head home, they put on their helmets and set off, this time climbing a big, steep hill.

One friend saw the hill and pushed forward with ease, never stopping to assess the hill or consider if she could reach the top.  One pedal in front of the other she climbed and climbed and talked while she did.  She never lost her breath.  She didn’t see the top of the hill.  She saw the next piece of road as her only obstacle.  Her strong legs carried her up and up until she felt she wasn’t working as hard.  She crested the hill without even realizing how steep or tall it was until she looked down at her friend.

Her friend chose a different path.  Upon seeing the big hill, she sighed and moaned and wondered aloud if there was a different way, maybe a less steep hill.  She decided the steep climb would be over more quickly than trying to circumvent the whole neighborhood.  This friend gathered her strength for the big push and sped ahead of her companion.  She pushed and pushed and panted and tried to reply to her friend’s conversation over her shoulder.  Her legs pumped the pedals and she tried to stand up into the climb.  (She was told this would help.) The hill was steep.  It was tall.  It seemed to go on forever.  Every time she looked up to the top it seemed farther and farther away.  She was almost at the very tip top, just a few more seconds of pushing and climbing and forcing her body to comply.  She was just about there when she gave up, exhausted from exerting so much energy in the beginning.  She hopped off the bike, knees buckling, and pushed it the rest of the way.

Both friends reached the top of the hill.  One friend took her time and enjoyed the view and relished in the exertion of her body.  The other friend was me. 

Over the years my friend Erika (whether she realizes it or not) has taught me so much about slowing down.  She is a beautiful, thoughtful, compassionate, kind and generous person.  She also takes her time about things.  She stops to smell the roses.  Or the coffee, or the perennials or the garden dirt or the onion and chive cheese she found at the market.  She takes her time about walking, talking, making decisions and giving advice.  Being the fast person that I am, sometimes my ego gets impatient.  I have been known to ask her out to a happy hour and get annoyed when I have to wait another 30 minutes.  (But I wanna go RIGHT NOW.)  She pushes the limits of restaurant closings, gym class starting times and just about any other appointment she makes.  While I’m standing around tapping my feet, she is enjoying each moment as it comes without fear of the future or what will happen if she’s late.  Nothing will happen.  Nothing ever happens.  How many times have I seen her show up late to a Pilates class only to get the best spot in the room?  Or arrive at a restaurant just as it closes forcing her to go somewhere else?  It seems the second place is always better anyway.  (Speaking of restaurants, she eats slowly, too.  I shovel it in at warp speed most of the time.  And not just because it takes so long to get to dinner like April would say.)  She goes to estate sales on the last day, half an hour before it ends and leaves with her car full of new stuff, all half-priced and perfect for her.  The rules I think exist don’t apply to her.  She chooses not to believe in them and that works.

Hiking with my slowing down guru.
Erika notices every beautiful thing.  We can be smack in the middle of the most exhausting hike over the biggest hills (I remember specifically Twin Knobs hill in the Ozarks on one blistery cold day in November) and she will stop us to point out a cobweb ten feet up the trunk of a tree behind some moss and under a squirrel.  How the hell..?  She will have to yell up to me, as I am already 30 feet away on the trail, going full steam ahead, forgetting that I am on a hike to enjoy nature, not just to finish a hike.  I will sigh, drop my shoulders and drag my feet over land I’ve already covered (I loathe going back.)  When I get there I will see the most wonderful spontaneous creation of nature shining in the sunlight, dewy and fragile, clinging to a tree through the gusts of winter. 

I am a stubborn, stubborn, dig-my-heels-in kind of person. I do not like this about myself.  I’m trying to let go of the need to hold on, which is all stubbornness is in reality.  It takes work.  It’s hard to slow down and let go.  Erika has been trying to teach me this for a while.  I don’t always get my messages as fast as I could (if I was paying better attention.)  No fear, the universe loves nothing more than helping us learn our lessons in any way it can.  After being friends with Erika for years and years and still struggling with slowing down, the universe cleverly decided to help me out some more. 

It gave me another Erika.  New Erika (actually, Erica) is also a beautiful, compassionate, kind and loving person.  She also takes her time about things.  She’s smart and passionate and generous.  And slow, slow, slow.  Her movements are slow.  Her reactions to events are slow.  As a very fast, over-reactive person, I find myself being forced into slowness yet again. 

I was in the middle of relaying a series of unfortunate events with some customers and my co-worker, Erica, when I heard myself say, “I was just ready to be done and she still had to put on her coat, clock out and….”  Whoa, April was getting really, really bitchy.  Was I complaining about waiting for someone to put on her coat when it was 30 degrees outside and she had to take a bus home? Yes, yes I was.  (Or rather, April was.  You know I wouldn’t do that.)  It made me laugh.  I finally saw what the universe was trying to tell me for the last ten years.  I understood all at once that until I learned how to slow down and be patient and enjoy the damn roses, I would get more and more Ericas with varying degrees of slowness tossed into my existence. 

I don’t know how they will feel about this.  I hope they don’t decide I’m not worth teaching any more lessons.  Maybe they’re always complaining about how fast I am and how impatient I am.  I don’t think so.  They don’t tend to complain much either.  I guess there isn’t anything to complain about when you take time to listen to the river or touch the bark of an ancient tree or wonder at life’s little miracles.  Food tastes better, too, when you actually chew it.  

Erika appreciating the bamboo in my yard I routinely bitch about.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Slowing Down Part I

I’m fast.  Real fast.  I think fast, drive fast, walk fast, talk fast and act fast.  I’m always early for appointments and I never keep people waiting.  I tell myself it’s the polite thing to do.  It’s just right to be where you say you’ll be when you say you’ll be there.  The truth is, by the time I show up to my appointment, I’m already halfway through it in my head and on to the next thing.  This is not what a person does that knows how to live in the present moment.  It is a sign of a mind overwrought with busyness and thoughts.  There is no time to hear the quiet.  There is never a chance for a busy mind to sit consciously aware of the moment.  I have had moments of clarity and insight during meditation, but I’m no pro.  It’s a constant learning process.  We’re never really “done” learning anything.  I think that’s the part I struggle with the most.  I want to say, “I now know these things.  I now utilize my new knowledge to increase joy in my life.”  I can say that and it will be true. At least until the next time I feel anxiety growing.  The next time I might forget everything I know about calming an anxious heart and being aware of each moment’s perfection.  Then I start all over and try to relearn what I forgot.  My human mind is forgetful and easily trapped in the ramblings of my inner ego, April.  (I had to give her a name.  She’s such a bitch sometimes.)

I forget to be in the moment because I’m busy thinking about the next moment and what it will bring.  I am too fast for my own good. 

I know these things.  I also know the universe is always working to help me learn my lessons.  I have had a lot of chances to learn how to slow down.  Sometimes it feels like everyone I know is slow, slow, and slow.  Slower than Christmas.  Slower than slow.  They think slow, drive slow; walk slow, talk slow and act slow.  It drives me (April) bat shit insane.  It’s hard for me to see why they don’t just hurry up already.  There are things to do, places to go, people to see: experiences not to fully engage in because I’m rushing through at light speed.  Crap.

There aren’t too many people who can match my need for speed.  When I meet people faster than me, they make me crazy, too.  I wonder why they can’t give me feedback on what I said before they rush on to their boring thoughts.  (April again. I would never say that.)  I had a crazy epiphany one night.  My husband was frustrated with my anxiety and constant worry and told me my whole problem: I just need to slooooow doooooown.  It’s awesome when other people can tell you exactly what your problem is.  Most of us don’t listen because sometimes it’s painful to hear.  I do, but only when it’s true.  (And someone attractive is saying it.)

When he said that I flashed back to all the times I complained about waiting for someone else.  I saw every moment of impatience and boredom I have experienced with new vision.  I heard myself saying how some person or another is just “sooooo sloooww about everrrrrything…” I thought about the friends I have had over my life that have kept me waiting.  I remembered co-workers whose slow meanderings through the work day have caused me to exclaim, “Will you just hurry up?” more than once.  My eyes ever-trained on 5 o’clock and getting there, to the next thing: the next happy hour, the next lunch or the next five minutes.  And when I get there, I am ready to move on at once. 

I laughed like a madman at the absurdity of it all and went to bed calmer than I have been in weeks. 

I was in the center of the storm.  The calm and inner peace I felt in that moment of clarity allowed me to see outside myself for a change.  I could see how I sabotaged my peace every time I followed anxious thoughts or worried over what was said, what it meant or how my life would change because of it.  My fear of the future keeps me from enjoying the richness and vitality of the present moment.  It seems such a simple thing to do, slowing down to smell the roses like we’ve heard a thousand times.  It is simple, but it isn’t always easy.   

I don’t know exactly how to start stopping.  I just know my happiness depends on it.  Great change always starts with the small realization of the need for change.  Just knowing change is needed isn’t enough.  There is no future.  There is no past.  There is only now.  Now is the time to grow and evolve.  Now is the time to stop for a second and know that each moment is perfect and eternal.  Walk with me a while and let’s see if we can learn how to stop, look, listen and breathe.  Walk with me as I leave the eye of the storm and dip my toes back into the human drama of evolution, where lessons get lost and we forget what we were doing and why.  (It’s easy to be peaceful and calm when nothing is testing us.)  Hold my hand and don’t let go, even when I’m trying to shake you because you’re slowing me down.  That something shiny I think I see in the future is just another mirage, a trap to hurry me up and give April the satisfaction of keeping me too busy to notice what a bitch she really is. 

We might as well do this together.  Unless you have something better to do. 

You just gotta. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Say No to Say Yes

My phone rang at midnight one night.  This is completely inappropriate for so many reasons, the least of which being it’s midnight.  What’s more, the person on the other end was calling to ask me for a favor.  A favor.  At midnight.  Me!  This person did not yet know me very well.  My husband shook his head and said, “Please don’t take on another project.”

Project?  Oh no.  Does he think that I think I can… fix people? Since it was already midnight, I decided to think about it the next day.  That night I dreamed of a horrible time in a horrible place where everyone always asked me to do things for them and I could never say “no.”  They called, they begged, they gave me sad stories and I wept for their suffering, their ineptitude at life.  I ran myself ragged helping people.  At one point in the dream I had a toddler on each hip and an angry mother yelling at me about goat milk.  (Was I babysitting?!)  It was quite terrifying.  When I woke up I realized that horrible time and place was no dream. It was a potential reality.  A reality I would do well to avoid.

I don’t believe anyone can be fixed because I don’t believe any of us are broken.  I agree with my husband in this: I have a history of “helping” people longer or more than I should.    By “should” I mean “able to.”  At a certain point you have to let go and say, “This person is no longer benefitting from my help.  I am wasting my energy.”  Sometimes it takes me a while to see that because I truly and profoundly believe in every person’s ability to adapt, evolve and overcome the inherited human conditions which cause all of our suffering.  That doesn’t mean I go up to strangers at the mall and tell them how miserable I know they are and how I could help.  I don’t seek out people that need more than I have to give or lead others to believe I can repair their broken lives.  I try to live my life as fully as I can in each moment.  I try to listen to what my spirit tells me.  I know if I follow my spirit (that little voice inside, a burning blue flame of existence) I will be happy.  And guess what?  I am happy.  This is what people see in me.  This inner acceptance and peace is what we all want.  I fight for mine.  It doesn’t always come easily, but I know I deserve it and I will have it.

Leading by example is the only real way to lead.  If people want to learn from me, who am I to tell them they’re incapable or not ready for what I have to say?  That’s up to each individual to decide.  I decide when I’m ready to learn from others in the same way.  It happens sometimes that a new person in my existence will be excited by my methods of achieving harmony and peace (even in temporary installments!) and we will both get something out of our relationship.  Other times a person may feel intrigued by my ideas (which I learn from others when I am ready) but not yet be willing or able to accept the changes.  That is okay with me.  Take what you want and leave the rest.  I remember feeling annoyed in the past when someone would ask me for advice then do the exact opposite of what I suggested (because I’m right, after all.)  I wondered why they would bother asking if they weren’t going to take my infallible words as gospel.  It was liberating when I realized it didn’t matter one bit if they listened or not.  My role is not to force their hand or chastise them with I-told-you-so.  My role is to be a kind ear and heart when another human needs it.  My only role as a human is to lend support, uplift and empower as many people as I can every day.  If what I say helps them in the end, great.  If not, at least I tried. 

Many years ago I was drowning in obligation.  My job was demanding, my family needed my help, my friends were high maintenance and took every ounce of energy I had, which I gave away freely because I didn’t know how not to.  It was overwhelming.  At some point I made the decision to stop everything.  “NO” became my very favorite sentence.  I had to step back and evaluate why I couldn’t stop trying to help even when it was obvious my help was not needed or wanted.  (Sometimes people say they want your help.  They don’t know they don’t mean it.)

Before I could learn to say “no” I had to figure out why I had such a hard time saying it.  Was I afraid Person A wouldn’t like me anymore if I didn’t dog sit for them for eight days?  Or was it that my family would suddenly disown me if I didn’t show up at Thanksgiving Dinner?  It sounds ludicrous now.  Maybe I thought it would make me a bad person because I did have the time and the means to help and had no reason to say no.  When I saw I had no reason to say no, I realized that was my problem.

Why do we need a reason?  The best thing we got from the War on Drugs is the phrase, “Just say no.”  (And you thought it was cheaper weed.) Saying no or no, thank you is so much easier than racking your brain for an excuse.  “I don’t want to,” is also a great reason. 

“Are you going to happy hour with us tonight?”

“No, I really don’t want to.”

Beautiful!  No excuses!  Just the truth.  I simply do not want to go to happy hour tonight.  (I cannot imagine ever needing to actually use this example.)  It lets the other person know, in certain terms, what you are thinking.  It’s such a relief to me when people speak plainly.  Life is crazy and mysterious enough without us confusing each other all the time by doing weird things.  Weird things like, going to a happy hour even when you don’t want to go then sitting there resentful the whole time that you’re not home in velour drawstring pants watching the latest “Law and Order” marathon. Or agreeing to work that extra shift when you are tired or just plain don’t want to.  It’s madness.

I had to go through the extreme of saying “no” to everything for a while before I found my balance.  The more I practiced and the harder I listened to my little voice (which is actually quite big) the more I did what was right for me.  And doing what is right for us is always going to benefit everyone else involved.  When we can give fully to ourselves without fearing judgment (our own or other’s) we are able to live with abandon and joy.  We’re no longer afraid of being defined by what we are doing.  We can then focus our divine attention on simply being

A curious thing started to happen when I began to say “no.”  I found myself suddenly saying, “YES” with a lot more enthusiasm.  Every time I said “no” it allowed me more opportunities to say “yes.”  I started to feel light and happy when I said, “yes” instead of regretful or dreadful.  I enjoyed doing things for people again, as long as I truly wanted to and not out of obligation.  If I felt obligated in the slightest, I would check in and see if I truly wanted to do the favor or if I was reverting to old habits.  My whole attitude towards little things (like answering the phone) changed.  I was no longer afraid of answering the phone because if it was someone asking me for a favor, I knew I had the ability to say “no,” which is exactly what I said when my phone rang at midnight one night. 

I am not afraid of you.

Monday, July 4, 2011

May All Our Dreams Come True

You know this person very well.  He may be a friend of yours.  She might be a co-worker.  They are everywhere, these people, always waiting for the perfect opportunity to test your ability to love unconditionally.  They are insulting and passive aggressive, and good at it.  If you confront them on their childish, petty behavior they are shocked, “What?  Oh sweetheart, I would never imply such a dastardly thing of you!  I can’t believe you thought I was mad about something so silly!  It’s just an imported rug.” They’re good alright.  They make it impossible to communicate with on any kind of important level.  They love to say what is on their minds in the pretense of a joke:  “You mean you thought I was serious when I said your meatloaf tasted like a baby’s diaper?  I was kidding!  I’ve never even tasted a baby’s diaper!” 

I think these people are delusional.  A decent level of self-awareness is a priority of mine when choosing friends, followed closely by compassion, tolerance and looks.  (See how I admit I’m shallow?  That’s self-awareness.)  Of course, I love all people unconditionally in my humanist world-view, but that doesn’t mean I want to hang out with all people.  Let us examine, for instance, my ex step-father.  Oh my, where to begin?  Beginnings matter less in this case.  The beginning was pretty good.  I liked the idea of having a father figure around.  He was teaching me how to play guitar.  And he was a silly goober that liked to laugh.  Everything changed one day when he came home to find a piece of Beatles memorabilia he ordered arrived in the mail.  He opened it, I am guessing with some degree of excitement, and all his hopes and dreams (one would think) were dashed in an instant when he found a tiny chip in the hideous ceramic song-box. 

As a matter of course, he blamed his newly acquired step-children.  He raged, he insulted, he regretted (I imagined) having ever bought me that “Ole Miss” t-shirt when he was working in Mississippi rebuilding a Wal-Mart.   My mother calmed and cajoled as best she could (her account) but to no avail.  Our relationship soured that day, never to be reconciled.  I should mention that between the time of my mother’s marriage to my step-father and that day, they found out they were having a baby.  I can’t help but wonder if maybe he just freaked out about being a first-time father and never recovered.  Whatever the case, he turned into an egomaniacal, controlling, narcissistic and in all other ways completely awful asshole.  I am not afraid at all to say that or resort to name-calling.  I will testify to the previous statement in a court of law without perjury.

Okay, I admit the name-calling is mean.  (All that other stuff is not opinion though.  Facts.)  When I was able, after many years and much self-therapy, to allow myself genuine feelings of compassion for this person who so shaped my existence, I saw pain.  Pain and suffering and misery topped with self-loathing and covered in sadness.  It emanated from his very soul.  I felt sorry for him.  I remembered his face when he yelled at my brother, “Eat your greens, boy!” and what I saw was not the obvious anger he spat.  It was his paralyzing, debilitating fear of being alone, of being unloved.  I felt sad knowing how terrible his early life was and how much he craved approval and love.  And how little he knew how to get it. 

This kind of awareness comes at a price.  As my friend Lynn says, “You can’t put shit back in a donkey!”  Once you know something, you are responsible for that information.  What this means is simple: knowing what I know about my ex-step-father should make me impervious to his insults.  I do alright.  Every once in a while my mother will tell me something completely stupid and ridiculous that he said or did and my mind will misfire into a string of slanderous one-liners and a litany of loathsome moments involving him.  What can I do?  My knee-jerk reaction to him is one of anger and contempt.  It’s easy to be loving and kind to a person who isn’t challenging you.  I almost never do things the easy way.

What is easy for some is not so easy for others.  To me, it is easier to face the ugly truths and bitter emotions as soon as possible in order to expel them forever (or at least a little while.)  It is much harder to allow myself, time and time again to be frustrated by the behavior of others.  Passive-aggressive people unable to be honest with me or their inner selves frustrate me no end.  So do controlling people and people who are always right (thus my issue with the “rightness” of religions.)  It’s not important for me to be right.  It’s only important that I am “right” for me.  It used to be right for me to have anger and resentment for people.  I held on to it out of “rightness,” telling myself the way they treat me is wrong.  I wanted to continue being the victim.  I wasn’t ready to let go of those base emotions. Even now I find myself retracing my steps from time to time when I start allowing negative thoughts about a person to creep into my mind.  It takes constant vigilance, people!

I didn’t wake up one day and decide I was too hard on the ex-ol’ man.  I woke up one day and saw his humanity, but the work didn’t end there.  If only it was that easy!  I still faced the same trouble of allowing his behavior to affect me.  He’s not the only one I allow that freedom.  Many times I have found myself hurt or insulted or upset by something someone said, some inaccurate portrayal of me or an obvious dig in the disguise of playfulness.  So what?  Why should I care what anyone thinks of me?  I should only care what I think of me.  And yet, what you think others believe about you, whether it is perceived or actual, is almost always what you think of yourself.  I care about what other people think of me because it reflects some portion of truth I have about myself.  If I feel resentment or envy coming from another person (and I do, a lot, I think because I have less life responsibilities due to my life choices) I know that they are showing me something I feel on the inside.  So if a person makes a “joke” about how much free time I have, I might automatically assume they are calling me lazy.  That is because I believe I am lazy on some level. 

It is hard to be reminded constantly to love yourself and be kind to yourself.  But that is what happens every time I let my guard down.  Every time I feed into or react to what I think is a slight, I am saying, “You have power over me.  I’m not good enough to wield my own power.”  I hate being a slow learner!  I am tired of being knocked off-kilter by someone else’s suffering. What can we do to stifle this cycle? 

Pray for a miracle!  You could do that.  Or you can create a miracle.  I am calling this a miracle solution because it felt like it when I tried it.  It works.  It is a simple, easy visualization device I use every time I need to heal resentment or contempt for any person.  Anytime some unaware jerk decides to teach me about self-acceptance, I take five minutes for this exercise.  Anytime I need to forgive.  It could be someone I know, or someone in traffic.  It could be this guy Jeremy in junior high who called me Pork Chop.  (I thought it was a fat joke.  I wasn’t fat.)  This technique works for absolutely any situation and any person.  You may have to do it for multiple people.  You may even have to do it more than once for the same person.  I have. 

If you find it difficult to visualize, just practice.  It gets easier.  You can start small by visualizing your breakfast before you get out of bed and work up to big stuff like visualizing your next new car.  In this meditation, try to focus on the feelings associated with the visualization if you have trouble calling up specific images. 

Get into a comfortable position, sitting or lying down, but try not to fall asleep.  Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to relax your mind and body.  Now imagine yourself sitting in the middle row of a darkened auditorium.  I always see my old high school auditorium with deep red theater seats and a big stage with a lush velvet curtain surrounded by bright footlights.  (Go Rams!)  The footlights are on and you see someone walk onto the stage.  This may be a person you have a lot of trouble forgiving.  It might be someone you struggle to understand.  It might be someone you absolutely loathe.  See them standing there in the footlights.  Feel the feelings this person evokes in you, whether it is anger, bitterness, hatred, jealousy, envy or contempt.  Feel the feelings, and then release them.  Say to yourself, “I release these negative emotions and they release me.”  If you still feel them, it is okay.  Just saying you release them starts the process.

Now imagine the person on the stage smiling.  They have just received the best news they can possibly get.  See them getting any and every thing they ever wanted.  Celebrate with them their new speed boat, job promotion or lottery winnings.  If you cannot visualize or do not know what this person wants, just try to feel their happiness at getting whatever it is.  Tune in to your own previous moments of joy and happiness and having something go your way.  Feel their happiness coming from the stage.  For one person I know, I imagined her winning the Miss Universe contest, arms full of flowers and a shiny crown twinkling.  I imagined her adoring fans weeping at her beauty.  I imagined a fortune teller revealing to her she was Helen of Troy in a previous life.  It made me feel really happy to see how happy that made her.

When you feel the resentment or anger starting to dissolve, you have made progress.  Stay in this feeling state with the person receiving more and more wonderful things for as long as you need.  When you are ready to stop, mentally thank the person for being in your existence and helping you evolve.  Open your eyes and know that you have made steps toward healing a contentious relationship.

Don’t you feel better now?  Do you know what the best part is?  This is a totally selfish move since what you imagine for others, you also imagine for yourself.  Remember all those times you wished doom and gloom upon thine enemies?  Not smart.  You were in turn wishing that upon yourself.  Oops.  Imagining happiness, abundance and joy for other people is the best way to cancel out any resentment or unwillingness to forgive.  And if anyone needs to know, I would love a fulfilling career as a writer, inner peace and the ability to love all sentient beings without condition.  And a sports car.  Red.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Thou Shalt Not Kill

             (Unless you want to)

I do a lot of things on whims and urges.  Tattoos, piercings, major lifestyle changes and buying really cute shirts that look mangled on me.  (The shirts, I return.  The piercings and tattoos, I keep.)  One of my whims was giving up red meat.  After a year of no red meat, a man-boy I was dating decided to take me on a “surprise” date.  Our destination was an adorable vegan restaurant called Spiral Diner. 

I was surprised.  I did not know how he could equate me not eating red meat with me eating vegan food.  Vegans do not eat any animal or animal by-products including: eggs, cheese, milk, honey or beer filtered through animal bone marrow or gelatin.  (Yes, that happens.  It’s disgusting.)  I live and die by the cheese industry so I was very uneasy at first.  After I confirmed they served booze, I was more relaxed.  At this point, I was still eating every other kind of flesh except cows.  I did not fancy myself a vegetarian or even a possible convert.  I didn’t think of myself as the kind of person to have such reverence for life, especially the lives of lower creatures. I didn't think myself strong enough or courageous enough to do something so different from the social norm.

I perused the huge menu with silly word phrases like “I-Scream” (non-dairy ice cream) and “Chik’n Less Salad San’ich.”  I was overwhelmed at the amount of vegan dishes.  I finally opted for the Ate-Layer Burrito which included taco meat, Mexican quinoa, black beans, tomato, diced red onion, avocado, corn, black olives, sour cream, and chipotle mayo (the mayo was made with grape seed oil!)  It sounded like a regular burrito and I had eaten meat substitutes before so I wasn’t afraid of the “taco meat.”

After the first bite of my burrito, I knew I would come back to the Spiral Diner.  After my second bite, I thought maybe I could get used to eating like that a few times a week.  By the end of my burrito, I was a vegetarian.  (At least in theory.)  It was so delicious and fresh and I had zero food hangover!  I thought maybe I would marry this man-boy who introduced me to the wide, strange world of veganism.  It felt so right and so wonderful.  I began to see the restaurant for the first time.  The smiling pigs and cows in sleek photos on the walls reminded me of a farm play set I had as a child.  There were funky light fixtures and skinny guys in skinny jeans serving up steaming hot plates of spaghetti and “meat”balls.  Smiling faces surrounded me.  (They aren’t threatening at all!  Why, I bet even I could be a vegetarian!)

The next day I had two pigs in a blanket and a donut for breakfast.  Oh, and a chocolate milk.  My body rejected this last meaty meal and I was soon on my way to “thinking” about becoming a vegetarian.  Then I met my love, Lamb Chop.  I told him I was thinking about becoming a vegetarian (sometimes my whims take longer to incubate.)  The very next time I saw him, he showed up with four or five vegetarian cookbooks.  He thought I said I was already a vegetarian.  He knows now to listen for the phrase “thinking about.”  No matter, from that moment, I decided I would try the diet to see if I liked it.  I loved it.  It’s one of the best decisions I have ever made for myself. 

I have been vegetarian for about three and half years now.  When people ask me why I became a vegetarian, my honest answer is that I wanted to see what it was like and if I could do it.  No one ever asks me why I stay a vegetarian, though.  That is another story completely.  It has to do with inner cleansing and shifting priorities.  It has to do with what feels best to me. 

Some people are offended by my choice.  (No matter what choices you make in life, someone somewhere is going to be offended by it.)  I invited a friend of a friend of a friend to a vegetarian chili-cook-off one year and he showed up wearing a t-shirt he made that read, “I eat vegetarians.”  Pretty cute.  He was trying to get a rise out of the vegheads.  He didn’t know how lazy we are.  People like this fellow are offended that I choose not to eat meat.  They quote Bible scriptures and scientific data found in the ancient teeth of our Neanderthal relatives.  I find this amusing.  It is always fun when someone uses the Bible to condone their own behavior and condemn yours. 

For instance, it does say in the Bible that “every living thing that moveth shall be meat for you.”  It also says somewhere (I’m almost certain) that “thou shalt not kill.”

Whoa!  A contradiction?  In the Bible?  The most holy of scriptures?! 

“No, no,” the zealots assure us, “killing another human is wrong.  Not killing animals.”  (They fail to add, “Unless another human does something we find morally reprehensible.  Then murder the heck out of them.”) I agree it is non-compassionate to kill another human.  But I also believe humans are animals.  Ergo….I think it is non-compassionate to kill.  No exceptions.    

We humans, like our dog and cloven-hoofed brethren, eat, sleep, poop, procreate and defend ourselves against attack in almost all the same ways.  (We look just as ridiculous in the throes of passion, too.)  If we are to believe the Scriptures, we humans are valued among all creatures and are made in the image of God.  Very well.  What makes us any different than our animalian

Well it’s our mighty big brains, of course!  Our big ol’ human brains are much bigger than the fruit fly or the antelope.  We have something special the other animals don’t have.  We have the ability to look around and outside of ourselves and ask questions.  We ask, “Why are we here?” and “Where did I come from?”  There is no sense of ego or “I” in the tiger’s narrow scope of consciousness.  Show me a horse that asks why he is who he is and I’ll show you a horse that lies.  He doesn’t ask those questions.  He is incapable of wondering why.

Our big brains give us something else.  They give us the knowledge we need to make decisions bigger than our mammalian instincts.  Sure we are animals and as such we are subject to animalistic tendencies.  But we are human animals.  We are not driven by hunger and shelter alone, like the wild boar or the lion that must eat meat because it is what nature demands.  The lion can’t live on fresh fruit and soy curd.  It is not his path.  He is incapable of choosing something else.

Me? I’m a human. I am capable of choosing not to harm another creature if I can avoid it.  (I admit I have killed as recently as yesterday.  Mosquitoes are the very last creature I must come to terms with in my existence.  I know they are a food source for many other critters and have a place in our ecosystem, but that place is not the back of my leg.)  Unlike our Neanderthal relatives, I have knowledge about the cosmos, the universe and the food pyramid that they did not have.  Meat-pushing scientists studied the fossilized teeth of our ancient brothers and found a diet almost exclusively made of meat.  (This is just a distractionary tactic, probably funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make another dollar selling meat.  Do you remember how much trouble Oprah was in for dissing meat?  They take this shit seriously.)  What we fail to realize is we have no more Neanderthals.  Dead.  All of them.  Maybe a diet made exclusively of meat isn’t such a great idea!

The point is humans have evolved past those early stages of survival.  We’re bigger than that now.  We can make different choices.  I choose to be healthy in body and spirit as much as possible.  Part of that process for me is not eating meat.  I feel happier and more alive than I ever felt shoveling dead, rotting carcasses into my mouth.  Don’t be fooled: any meat you eat is a dead, rotting carcass.  No matter how fresh it is, it is in the process of rotting.  Yuck. 

I am glad I live in a place that allows you to choose your diet. I am happy that freedom of choice is still celebrated.  I cannot say what is right for others and others cannot say what is right for me.  It’s not my place to get involved in anyone else’s karmic debt.  As always, this is just a re-telling of my way.  Not the way.  There are people who will tell you it’s the healthiest diet.  Or the most ecological or economical.  And in many aspects, they are right. 

It takes about 25 gallons of water to yield one pound of wheat and around 2,500 gallons of water to yield one pound of beef.  (According to the beef industry, that number is as low as 441 gallons per pound of beef.  Pick a number in the middle and you have something close.)  Heart disease is the number one killer of all people in America.  No matter what race, age or creed, heart disease will kill you.  A diet heavy in meat (especially, but not limited to, red meat) increases your risk of getting heart disease by 30%.  That is huge.  And, finally, to produce the amount of red meat our society demands, American ranchers buy grazing land right from under the bare feet of native tribes in third world countries to raise their cattle, thus eliminating the nomadic farmers' ability to sustain their own lives by grazing and/or farming, resulting in gigantic swaths of useless, barren soil and starving populations.  In short, people all over the world are starving so we may dine on a medium rare slab of steak in a dimly lit restaurant that serves $15 baked potatoes on $2 plates.  So, yes, in many ways a vegetarian diet is a more healthy, ecological and economical choice.  But it is not the only choice.

We can do all sorts of mental gymnastics to prove or disprove any old theory.  It’s just as easy to argue for something as against it.  Before I chose to be a vegetarian, I would eat big, juicy cheeseburgers in front of my veghead friend, Sherrie.  She would make a crack about me going to hell or eating an animal’s soul and I would show her the chewed up food in my mouth.  She didn’t pressure me to join her.  She didn’t think I was a bad person for my choice.  She let me live and in living I learned, I am the kind of person that reveres life.  I am the kind of person that can do something other people won't do and be happy with my choice. I learned that there are many roads to Rome and Rome ended in many different places.  It is nowhere and everywhere.  Just like God.  Just like us.  The key is finding your personal balance in a place where you feel content with your choices.  That is your picture perfect world.  And no one knows what that picture looks like except you.