Who am I?

I presented this poem at Jubilee on Sunday.  Audio, with beautiful keyboard accompaniment by Chris Rosser, can be found at http://www.somethingrises.com/WhoamI.html.

Intro: About 15 years ago, I participated in a weekend workshop that was modestly called  the Enlightenment Intensive.  The primary activity in this three-day workshop is round after round after round of sitting opposite from another participant, who for five minutes asks you again and again, “Who are you?’ – and you give whatever comes to mind.  Then you return the question to them for five minutes.  Then you move on to another partner and repeat the same process.  For three days.  Two days after the workshop, this poem came through.

The title of the poem is,

Who Am I?

Who am I?
What the hell kind of question is that?
Do I not know who I am
After all these years of fumbling around?
I might as well give up the ghost….

….No, I don’t have an answer
I don’t know who I am.
Am I this bewildering array of thoughts, perceptions and sensations
Warring within my brain – pulling me this way and that?
Each grabs me and wants to own me –
I hope I am more than them.

You look at me so sincerely and ask me who I am….
Am I the reflection of me I see in your eyes?
I think I might like it better than my own view.
Am I the current I feel flowing between us
As we sit and look at each other?
I feel so connected to you – am I you?
And yet I feel separate somehow….

There are so many things and people that I want –
Am I them?
Am I the wanter?
Am I it that is observing the wanter?
Am I whatever is noticing the observer?
Or is that the same observer, observing itself?
How deep does this go, anyway?

….Am I the calm silence that
Has floated up in me since those questions exhausted themselves?
Or am I the “me” in which it has floated, the field in which it lies?
Or am I the thoughts and questions
Nibbling at the edges of this sweet silence?
Or the gentle mother voice shushing those thoughts
“Later, he’s resting now.”

Am I the sorrow I feel at being so many unharmonized voices
The sadness and shame at being a house so divided
A mind so mindless
A self so out of touch with itself…?

Yet there is still something else
I can’t see it or hear it, but I feel it…
A watcher of the watchers
Yet softer than watching
Not a voice, but a presence
Not words, but a warm radiance.
And now that I notice it, I realize
That it was present in every other level
Obscured by the noise, the action – but there.

I feel joy in its presence
And want only to sit here with it
To soak in the peace, the at-homeness I feel.
For truly, in the presence of this benign, tender something
Which I can only inadequately name “love”
I feel no distance,
No judging of it by me or me by it
No finger-pointing or name-calling – no identifying at all
No need to protect myself
Or to stay separate in any way.
And the question “Who am I?”
Slips easily into dust.
From here I can see nothing that I am not.
I am, I simply am
And will be, even when I forget.

And from here the only thing I want
Is not to forget.

Blessing their parenting

I have spent a lot of time in my life shopping in standard, big-chain grocery stores.  Now, with my health food proclivities and – let’s tell it straight – my 20% discount, I do most of my shopping in my store.  One of my bad memories of those big stores is the terrible parenting you got to see: the yelling, the threats, the slaps, the yanked arms.  We see actually very little of this in our grocery store.  Mostly the children are very well-behaved – and when they do act up the parents overall do a very good job of managing them.  I get to see enormous sweetness between parents and children.

And one of the blessings to me is the chance to bless their relationship – to hold up to parents and children just how well they are doing.  That happened for me with two particular families today.

Ira is a big, bruising guy who was so amazingly sweet with his five-year-old (I estimate) daughter – praising her in so many ways. For the way she put groceries on the belt from the cart in which she was standing: “I like the go-for-it way you stacked those boxes there” (5 high) – “they’re very even and balanced.”.  For the way she bagged the groceries: “I really like the way you put the heavy stuff on the bottom.”  (I bet he coached her on this on a previous trip.) “Hey, that was good thinking there – I like the way you did that.”  

When I said to him how much I admired his parenting, he said, “You know, sometimes I’m sleep deprived and not as good as this.  We have three-month old twins at home and it can all get kind of stressful.  But we regard each of them as a blessing and they come each of them with their own personality and we want to support it.”  He totally knocked me out – and I tried to get that across to him.  He seemed to get it, to receive my affirmation.  I think it made him feel good.

We get little snapshots of the parent--child relationship - but that picture can say a thousand words.

We get little snapshots of the parent–child relationship – but that picture can say a thousand words.

Later that same afternoon, a heavy mother came through with a likewise heavy daughter (maybe 10).  They were both really sweet – and there was such a sense of comfort between them. I said to the mom, “You’ve got a great relationship.”  She said, “Well, we like each other – we’re friends, in addition to being mom and daughter.”  It really showed that they were friends.  And they both lit up from having the light of affirmation shine on them.

No parent does a good job every moment.  There is a real tendency for us to judge ourselves based on our weakest moments.  To be witnessed doing well – and to have an outside person hold up that good moment, to be told that we are doing a good job – this can be powerful.  To have the chance to do this witnessing and affirming, this can be very gratifying.  Cashiering may often not seem like a powerful job, but here is a chance to make people feel better about themselves – now that’s power.

“I need a supervisor!!”

Sophie (not her real name – I can’t remember her real name, but would not use it here anyway) is a piece of work – demanding, impatient, self-focused, disrespectful.  Sheri Lynn had come over from her quiet register to help me bag (and to hang out with me – we do like to do that, her and I). She jumped in to help Sophie when she said “This mayonnaise has canola oil” (or something like that) – “I want one without canola oil.”  Sheri went off in search.

When Sheri Lynn had been gone for a while and a line was accumulating in my lane, I said to Sophie, “I’m going to suspend your transaction and wait on some of these people – then I’ll put you first in line when Sheri gets back.”  “No you will not.  I’m in line – I’m the next in line.  I’ve been waiting – I’m not going to wait any more.”  I caved.  I gave sympathetic looks to the people in my line and waited for Sheri Lynn.

Not!  I bet this smiling, happy cashier guy would have been singing a different tune if he had to deal with Sophie.

Not! I bet this smiling, happy cashier guy would have been singing a different tune if he had to deal with Sophie.

Then I heard Sheri on the overhead speaker paging for a grocery team member.  I decided that was it – getting this help could still take her a while.

I looked at Sophie and said, “Sheri Lynn has paged for a grocery team member – I’m suspending your transaction” and I did that, as she was loudly protesting that I had better not.  By this time I was totally seeing red – and I did the very best thing I could have done, which rescued the situation, and which followed a playbook that I had learned on the job here: I hollered for help.  I said to Sophie – “I’m calling a supervisor to help with this.” I turned to face the office and with a volume that I have shaped to be just loud enough to be heard in the office, but not too startling to customers in between me and the office – though I can’t guarantee that this time it wasn’t a little extra-loud – said “I need a supervisor!!”  My blood pressure started to drop as soon as the words were out of my mouth.

Perhaps my voice did have an extra edge of urgency, because Tiffany came out of the office almost immediately.  As she approached my register, I met her part way (so as to be out of Sophie’s earshot) and said, “You’re going to have to take this over – I’m losing it with this woman.”

I grew up on the Lone Ranger.  He never lost his cool - and he always showed up just as the trouble was starting - fabulous! I've spent a lifetime trying to be the Lone Ranger.  Now my learning is to let others be that for me.

I grew up on the Lone Ranger. He never lost his cool – and he always showed up just as the trouble was starting – fabulous! I’ve spent a lifetime trying to be the Lone Ranger. Now my learning is to let others be that for me.

I gave her the suspend slip and she, with a voice that was equal parts reassuring and take-charge, told Sophie that she would take her over to the customer service desk and they would get everything straightened out.  I was still hyper-charged from the stress of being so angry with nowhere to put it, but I felt good about the way it had been resolved and my stress continued to reduce with the next few typically-nice customers.

I came away from this experience with two big insights.  The first one fell into place almost immediately.  It’s good to ask for help.  A lot of my conditioning would not lean this way – would say you’ve got be strong and self-reliant, handle your own problems, etc. – but I have learned better over the years.  Asking for help is good – and expecting that you will get that help is wonderful, and even better is believing that it will be competent help (even in the body of a 23 year old) and come without a price to pay for asking.

There’s another insight that didn’t come together for me until about 8:30 this evening, two hours after leaving work and right after Tae Kwon Do class had gotten me de-stressed, in my body and out of whatever useless strains of thinking had been still operating before the class.  I had been thinking that the worst outcome from my encounter with Sophie in the morning would have been for me to say or do something that got me fired.  And maybe I still think that would have been the worst outcome, but there’s another that’s at least a close second.

Perhaps the worst outcome would have been for Sophie to get further injured.  Nobody treats others as badly as Sophie does (and Sheri Lynn and Tiffany each shared with me their histories of run-ins with her) unless they are in pain.  A Course in Miracles says that people are always either offering love or asking for it.  Sophie is asking for it.  “Please love me even while I’m being mean to you.”  I didn’t have the presence of mind to love her in the middle of our negative encounter, but I did have the presence of mind to not say anything disrespectful or incendiary.  Holding the line with her – suspending the transaction, not making others wait unnecessarily – this was good.  Hurting her by mean language, loud tones or any kind of disrespect would not have been good.

Through the rest of the day, when staff (not customers) asked me about my day, I referred back to this encounter.  In its own funky, complex way, it definitely was a highlight of my day.

Coming off the bench and ready for love

I just posted this on Facebook, then thought “If you’re serious about this, post it on the blog too.” So here it is.

Friends –

After many years of clearly not being ready for a romantic relationship, then a couple of years of melting – and also getting more solid – I’m declaring myself ready and open for love.  My heart has been softening and opening in so many ways – including grief at the deaths of so many friends.  I have also been very touched by feelings of fondness for women friends who for one reason or another are not appropriate or available for romance.  Exploring what is and is not possible with them has been like aerobics for my heart.

What would it be like to be two fingers of the same hand?

What would it be like to be two fingers of the same hand?

You, my Facebook friends, know me to one extent or another.  (And you who have been reading my blog know me in some ways very well.)  I’m asking you for support and cheerleading, visualizing and holding the intention for success for me in this area. affirmation of how you see me as ready and as a good prospect for romance – and matchmaking!  I trust your judgment more than Match or e-Harmony.  Such a pool of cool people have got to know lots of really great single women. I can’t promise to keep you posted about the whole process on Facebook, (or on the blog) but I may message you about how it’s going with matches you send me – hell, when things get tricky I may look to you for coaching – and I may actually post here about some of the changes I go through.  Ready though I think I am, this may put me through some changes.

Thanks for your support.  (And thanks to Mark Medlin for suggesting this bold strategy.)

A missed opportunity

Bertha at Charter Communications – the cable company – missed a chance today to give me a good feeling about their company.  I was returning Monty’s computer router.  Whe she asked why I was returning it, I said that he had died.  That was the moment where she could have reached out for some genuine human contact – just a sincere “I’m sorry.”  I like to think that I do that consistently, even if someone is referring to their loved one passing a long time ago.  It pretty much always seems to create that human touch. But Bertha stayed buried in her computer screen, typing away.

It could have been a customer service slam dunk - anything like a human response has me leaving their office feeling better about the company.

It could have been a customer service slam dunk – anything like a human response has me leaving their office feeling better about the company.

I have heard a lot of criticisms of Charter.  This was a chance for Bertha, in this one instance, to soften that impression. Now why did Bertha not respond with human touch, in a situation where that would be so natural and appropriate – and where there was no apparent time pressure (no one behind me)?

  • She may actually be under some time pressure – lots of these computers can time a call – or, I’m sure, a face-to-face encounter.  I had a job as a call center operator where my supervisor consistently said, “You’re great with the customers – tops – but you’ve got to speed up your calls.”
  • She may have recently been told by a supervisor that she’s too chatty with customers, that she should keep it more to business.  This also happened to me on another job.
  • She may be having a migraine that is making it hard for her to even stand up.
  • She may have lost a loved one lately – or is on the verge of losing one – and my mention of a deceased loved one really triggered her.

I could go on and on – there are so many reasons that a customer server could be unresponsive to us.  And so many ways this could be helped.  It’s a truism that customer support people tend to treat customers as they themselves are treated. Give them respect and compassion and they tend to give it to their customers.  That’s not the whole story – there are some bad apples out there – but it’s a good place to start.  Helping your managers and supervisors treat others with more respect and compassion has got to be a win all around.

Life…and more life

The husband of one of my coworkers (let’s call her Sally) died a couple of weeks ago.  It was not exactly sudden, but greatly unexpected.  He just developed one medical complication after another for about three weeks, until finally the doctors told them he had a week to live.

Sally is much beloved in our department and throughout the store. One person used the term “angelic” to describe her.  It’s a word I would be slow to use to describe a mortal, but she is so consistently sweet and warm and positive that it really kind of fits.

I was greatly honored when she asked me if I had a poem about death that I could offer at her husband’s memorial – and told her that in fact I do have one.  I felt good about going to the memorial service last night.  There were several other workers from our store, a couple previous workers who have moved to jobs at another grocery store, and several customers who have over the years gotten fond of Sally.  These are the kinds of situations that poke through the distance that work roles may set up between us, between us coworkers and between staff and customer.  Mixing together in ways like this makes the relationship more personal, more meaningful.

Here is the poem.  Sally liked it.

What's after life?  Native Americans call it "the great mystery".

What’s after life? Native Americans call it “the great mystery”.

(Majo, 11/19/05)

We have been wandering around, you and I
By ourselves, with each other, never knowing
We bump against our different selves
We hold foreign who is our home
We see the dark because we know the light

What is this fog that holds us?
What in us would let be held?
Where are we going?  Where have we been?
What is “us”?  “You”?  “I”?  “Her”?  And “him”?

Life – what is that?
This mystery in which we are lost
The light that leads us
And where does it end?
Where is there that life is not?

Our minds want to separate
Thrive on boundaries
Do not see how dark connects the light
Make you and I imagine
A gulf between the isness that we are

Each moment arises from nowhere
Then slips silent from our grasp
Our grasping punctuates the moments
Makes them seem separate, which they never are

Letting go is our nature, who we’ve always been
And how we got here
Our parents surrendered to the moment
Life has been conceiving us anew ever since

Every birth requires a death
Call it what we will, life changes
Stays not one moment the same
We are not who we were, who we will be

Where we think we see a wall, a cliff, an end
Life continues, in forms we never imagined
We emerge, again and again
New beings of light we never knew

Light is held and framed by dark
As dark is surrounded by light
Our minds see difference
Life does its dance of many forms

Where will we go?  Where have they gone?
Our human eyes, limited as they are
See a river where there is a sea
This connection in which we swim
Has no beginning and no end

If we but shift our gaze
Oh so gently, no effort, no looking for
See the light under the dark and light
The We that always holds you and me
We will not go, they have not gone
We are all right here, one unending now

Drop into this breath of life
Do not try to make this or that
Nothing goes away, while all must die
Life is us, we are Life
We feel the good under “Goodbye”.



The “I can’t do it” voice

On Saturday, I spent six hours at belt testing at our local Sun Soo Tae Kwan Do martial arts school.  After three weeks of taking classes at the school and never having experienced anything like this testing, I was stunned – blown away – by all I saw: so much support and love, so much go-for-it energy, so many people going out of their comfort zones, stretching themselves, doing things they had not thought they could do.  So much excellence, so much mastery, so much beauty.

I have spent the last two days integrating what I experienced.  I expect to continue doing so for a while, but I want to capture some of it now.  First I want to write about how all this confronted me with the “I can’t do this” voice in myself.  I hear this voice on and off the mat.

On the mat (and, by extension, on my imaginary mat when I practice my forms at home), I don’t think I can do it.  I am a total spas, my body just doesn’t work this way.  I am too in my head and can’t get out of it.  I can’t get myself to class enough.  I can’t learn my white belt forms.  I can’t bear the humiliation of being so terrible at movements that everybody else knows – and that 12-year olds are learning faster than me.  I can’t bear the stress of testing on this stuff that I cannot learn.

I do know for sure that my legs will never stretch like this, but how much is possible?

I do know for sure that my legs will never stretch like this, but how much is possible?

Off the mat, I don’t think I can do it.  As I have reflected about this today, I have come up with a long list of things I think I can’t do – and for now will mention two of them.

  • I can’t stay off of sugar.  Sugar is not a harmless indulgence for me.  So much of my life goes out of whack when I am in the clutches of that addiction.  And now I am getting fat from it – and feeling unattractive, less eligible for a romantic relationship, which is an aspiration for me. Each of the black belt candidates read a two-page essay about their Tae Kwon do journey to that point.  One of them related that he stopped smoking the day he started practicing – five years earlier.  I got inspired, but that went away for much of today.  I do intend to get off of sugar tomorrow, but I’ve fallen off that wagon so many times that I don’t believe I can succeed this time.
  • I’ll mention just one more thing (out of that long list) that I feel sure I can’t do.  I can’t keep my room from being a chaotic mess.  I have struggled with this for a lot of years, have had periods of some progress – but mostly not for long.  One of the people testing for a black belt said of her life progress related to her martial arts practice, “I clean my room now.”  This spoke to me.
    Google pulled this up when I searched for photos of clutter, so I shall call this clutter - and it's much less painful to look at than an actual photo of my room.

    Google pulled this up when I searched for photos of clutter, so I shall call this clutter – and it’s much less painful to look at than an actual photo of my room.

    I intend to spend 15 minutes organizing my stuff tomorrow, and I know that if I did 15″ on most days I would eventually have things in order, and some days I will not be able to hold myself back from going longer than 15″ – in love with my momentum.

In Tae Kwon Do, you are continually being confronted with tasks that take you out of your comfort zone – tasks that get more and more complex and physically challenging.  As soon as you master one belt level, you move on to the next.  And, at this school at least, you are also flooded with encouragement  and cheerleading and instruction and connection with your peers who are being similarly challenged.

It starts tomorrow.  I continue to do my Tae Kwon Do practice every day – at home on days, like tomorrow, when I can’t get to the school at the time of a class.  I stay off of sugar.  I spend 15 minutes organizing my room.  A voice in me says I can’t do it.  Another voice says “Maybe I can.”  This already seems like progress.  Another voice says, “We’ll see”.  This is not terribly positive, but better than “I can’t do it.”