God winking at us

About ten minutes ago, I was wandering around my apartment looking for something (I can’t even remember what anymore).  It’s a sign of how random are the workings of my mind that i also cannot anymore remember why I was trying to remember the name of the restaurant on Biltmore Ave. where I have had some lovely times hanging out with my laptop.

I remember now!  I was (for some reason I no longer remember) thinking about having tea (or juice) next Thursday with my friend Kelly McKibben at Nectar Cafe and Juice Bar on Merrimon in North Asheville.  My sweet friends Tim and Pippin Boissy (it’s her birthday today – Ha, Facebook started this whole thread) opened this restaurant a few months ago and I have not even made it there.  Wouldn’t it be nice if it were to become a fav new internet cafe for me?  I could rotate with Green Sage/Westgate and that other restaurant on Biltmore.  I felt a little wave of frustration at not being able to remember its name, but thought that probably it would eventually come to me.

Then I walked into my bedroom, still looking for that elusive something, and on the lower shelf of my nightstand, peering clearly out at me from a perch that I swear i have not looked at for months, was a brochure for the restaurant named 67 Biltmore!  I took that brochure to order side dishes for my Christmas feast at Johanna and Tom’s – which I sure didn’t do, I brought a sixpack of beer.  Why was that brochure still sitting there?  So it could tickle my funny bone today?

When my son was in his early teens, I used to point out these synchronicities to him and refer to them as “God winking at us”.  In spite of (or because of) his mom dragging him to church every Sunday, he was an early atheist.  He thought this was one of the stupidest things I ever said (amidst strong competition).  A few years ago (he’s now 40), he told me that now he says it sometimes to himself when he encounters this kind of uncanny coincidence.

Our atheist mind sees all these coincidences as random, the mindless careening of the billiard balls of life.  The mind/ego experiences itself as separate/alone and thinks that’s true of everything.  But we know better, right?

Tomorrow I’ll post a poem that a wrote a few years ago about all this.  It’s called “The Whale”.

 

 

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Heaven help us.

Heaven help us, I’m praying.

I am comfortably ensconced at my table at Green Sage Cafe, my current fav place to hang out with my laptop.  I have 2-4 hours of work ahead of me, which I will only relax if I accomplish this afternoon.  I have not made a blog post for weeks.  I have several topics floating around in my mind, in my little spiral notebook, dictated into my phone.  But there is this other work.  I know! I will write a short post – quick and dirty or, as my writing coach Nina Hart says, short and crappy.

I will write about what I am going to do next, still before launching into the dreaded “work”.  I am going to pray for my friends.

I am not a big prayer guy. My vision of a Great Spirit is not personal – I have no one to whom to pray.  But I have this little recent (or recently renewed) angle into prayer.  I don’t think that anybody thinks of me when I am not right in front of them – in spite of some people telling me they do, in spite of a variety of friends or even acquaintances describing to me incidents in which they were thinking of me or sending me positive energy or praying for me.

And I know why I don’t think that anybody thinks of me when I am not right in front of them: I don’t often think about the other people in my life, even very important other people like my son and my brother.  I am absorbed in survival.  In Steven Covey’s terms, I focus on what is or seems urgent, as opposed to what is genuinely important.  So I am going to take a page from people who regularly pray for their friends.  I’m going to do that too.

The other day I spent an hour or two creating three prayer lists, to use on three rotating days.  Each has the short list of my most intimate people, for whom I will pray every day:

  • my son
  • my brother
  • the woman I have been dating (or something, it’s not clear what, but I want to affirm her importance in my life)
  • my roommate Patti
  • the guys in my men’s group and their partners
  • my best friend Lynn
  • my 35-year best buddy Monty (one year deceased)
  • my dog Buddy (two years deceased but lately on my mind)
  • my parents (long deceased, but I am wanting to think of them more – to be grateful to them).

Each list also has a somewhat longer list of a whole variety of people I want to make important, to remember at a minimum every three days:

  • my seven housemates (who live in the other two apartments at our house, as opposed to Pattie who shares my  apartment with me)
  • people I work with
  • people I dance with
  • people i go to church with
  • people I practice Tae Kwon Do with
  • cashier-servers at my fav internet cafe (where I am now)
  • the man who molested me (very long deceased)
  • some living less-close relatives (one of whom I don’t like)
  • my old girlfriend

My goal is to spend at least a few minutes every day focusing on one of these three lists.  i want to make my friends – and other people in my life – important.  I want to remember that i am actually connected with others.  I want to make it easier for me to believe that others also actually think about me.  I want to open my heart.

 

 

 

Crying behind the cash register

Last weekend I attended a grief workshop.  Sobonfu Some brings African traditions to the West to help us move past our collective and individual suppression of our grief.  She says, “There is a deep longing among people in the West to connect with something bigger — with community and spirit. People know there is something missing in their lives, and believe that the rituals and ancient ways of the village offer some answers.”

Her website says:

“Destined from birth to teach the ancient wisdom, ritual and practices of her ancestors to those in the West, Sobonfu, whose name means ‘keeper of the rituals’ travels the world on a healing mission – sharing the rich spiritual life and culture of her native land Burkina Faso, which ranks as one of the world’s poorest countries yet one of the richest in spiritual life and custom.

“Recognized by the village elders as possessing special gifts from birth, Sobonfu’s destiny was foretold before her birth, as is the custom of the Dagara Tribe of Burkina Faso, and was fostered by early education in ritual and initiation in preparation for her life’s work. ‘My work is really a journey in self discovery and in building community through rituals,’ says Sobonfu. Dagara rituals involve healing and preparing the mind, body, spirit and soul to receive the spirituality that is all around us. ‘It is always challenging to bring the spiritual into the material world, but it is one of the only ways we can put people back in touch with the earth and their inner values.'”

The weekend workshop consisted primarily of an extended ritual to support the 120 of us in releasing grief that perhaps was a reaction to a recent loss, but more typically had accumulated over years from a variety of losses and could be a reaction to international and global pain as well as personal.  The village that here came together to support us in this release was mostly strangers, but still very quickly came to offer a lot of genuine support.

grief hug

It takes a village to heal a grief.

 

When early in the workshop it was my turn to announce what losses I wanted to offer for healing, I said that it was the death of my best buddy Monty last January and the recurring loss every seven to ten days of all my good feelings – about myself , my life and life itself – when my depression comes rolling in.

I realized just a few minutes after my turn that the other loss I would offer for healing is the very loss of my ability to deeply feel and release my grief.  Once I was very good at surrendering to tears, having reclaimed this ability through personal growth experiences in my mid-twenties and on.  But depression itself has crushed some of this spontaneous and natural release.  And even my psychiatrists have acknowledged that the mood stabilizers that I take to even out my ups and downs also tend to dampen all my feelings.  It’s a tough call, but I continue to opt for the reduction in emotional pain that the meds afford me.

grief-counseling

I haven’t cried over Monty yet. I guess it will happen when it’s meant to – but I also believe that surrounding myself with support can help to get at it.

When I am manic, I am more able to connect with feelings and to release them  than when I am depressed. I was depressed at the workshop and predictably stayed fairly frozen right through from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon – though there were moments when it felt like something might be moving within me.  On and off, touched by someone else’s grief, I felt spontaneous shudders roll through my body.  When I would take my turns – with another ten to twenty people in various stages of deep breathing, wailing and screaming – to approach the grief altar (you chose whether to do this, how often and for how long), I progressively got more aggressive about also screaming and loudly crying, though my crying was without tears and my screaming felt hollow and without connection to genuine feeling.

On Monday, the day after the workshop, I was inclined to say that nothing  meaningful had gone on for me there.  But I noticed on and off through the day, in the middle of a kind of typical depression, waves of genuine sadness.  I felt like crying, for no reason that I could lay my hands on.  I was nowhere near actually crying, but I felt some of the feelings that might lead one to cry.  If I was not depressed and not behind the cash register, I might actually have cried.

This morning I learned in an email from my close friend Byron that his son-in-law Phil has been diagnosed as having “terminal cancer”.  I believe that I have never met this man.  His wife Sarah, my friend’s stepdaughter since her late teens, I have probably not seen for 20 years or more.  But I felt a genuine fondness towards her after just a couple of meetings back then – and certainly they and their three children, all still young, are an important part of Byron’s life.

grief, bench

My brother is still very much alive, but every day his cancer threatens him and his family with the spectre of his absence.

But, still depressed, I was unprepared to have such a visceral response to the news of Phil’s cancer.  I felt really sad for Phil, his wife Sarah, their three kids, Sarah’s mother Nancy, and Byron.  When I started to launch into an email back to Byron, I said to myself, “You just sit here and feel this for a minute.”  And so I did.

Then I decided, for whatever reason, that writing this post would keep me closer to the feelings. I could follow it by writing to Byron.  There’s a risk that writing would drive me up into my head and lose the visceral connection, but so far – as I go back to connect within – I still feel some shudders and seem to not have lost the thread of my genuine feelings. It’s feeling like writing is really helping me to process the feelings, is keeping them real for me.

Now I will let go of writing, will go back to just feeling the feelings – for as long as that feels alive for me – then probably write the email to Byron.  And I will bless myself and my grief, which now seems to include some people who I had not previously considered to be part of my family, but now do.

grief, swim

Did reading this stir in you any feelings for this family, whom you really do not know, or about any people closer to you (and including you) who are experiencing illness, loss or pain? It’s OK to feel it, to find somebody to talk to about it, to describe it in a comment here.  It’s all part of staying alive.

 

 

 

The deal goes down…

One of the posts I have been planning and writing notes towards is about how I Iike to compliment people on their clothing.  It’s maybe not the most personal kind of affirmation, but when you don’t have any deeper connection happening it’s better than not affirming them at all.  And you can’t tell in advance what meaningful connections they have with that item of clothing.  Complimenting it may be taken as an affirmation of their taste, or there may be all kinds of personal associations to this sweater, etc.

I was complimenting Joe on his shirt.  (I didn’t get his actual name – Joe, if you’re reading this, let me know your name.  Better still, leave a comment here on the blog so any readers can get more of a glimpse of you.)  It was some kind of faux-suede, a great warm earth tone, and hung on him like it was really comfortable.  From his response. it was clear that he liked it as much as I did.  I didn’t unearth where/how he got it (more that would be fun to hear from you, Joe), but I had the impression he had had it for a long time.

It was a total bluff on my part – part of a shtick I do sometimes – that I said, “I’ll give you 15 bucks for it.”  i was completely surprised when he immediately seemed to be weighing my offer.  His wife saw him doing this and jumped in herself: “Oh, not 15 – ten”, which made it all seem even more like a real possibility.  Moments later, Joe was peeling off the shirt, I was pulling out $10, and we had made a deal.

Joe gives me the shirt, I give him ten bucks - a steal for such a cool shirt. The woman waiting patiently next in line while Joe and I made our transaction was not just being a good sport.  The whole exchange turned her on as much as it did us.

Joe gives me the shirt, I give him ten bucks – a steal for such a cool shirt. The woman waiting patiently next in line while Joe and I made our transaction was not just being a good sport. The whole exchange turned her on as much as it did us.

All three of us – and the woman waiting patiently next in line – were completely turned on by the spontaneity of this connection.

There was another layer here that I may have been intuiting, but not consciously, which came out some minutes later when I was telling another customer about this exchange. (I ask her for a highlight of her day, she returns the favor by asking me the  same question – and out spills this story).  She said, “They really liked you!”  It’s pretty interesting that it took her prodding to get me to realize this.  And with this realization, another recognition popped out.

I had been thinking just earlier today how boring most of my clothes are.  Now I've got a really cool new shirt.

I had been thinking just earlier today how boring most of my clothes are. Now I’ve got a really cool new shirt.

Joe didn’t want to get rid of his shirt – he really liked it. He just wanted me to have it!  Underneath a fun, playful exchange there was really a kind of love.  Now I’m especially going to wear this shirt in good health.

Expanding in a grounded way

I am participating in Jessica Chilton’s brilliant Shine Expansive:  30 minutes a day for 30 days, to clarify our purpose and summon our courage to move past our fears and start to shine – to live out our true expanded selves.  For today’s lesson, she had us write out some of our fears on postits and then post them around a doorway in our house.  She then encouraged us to have a conversation with each of them and see what they might be telling us as we prepare to move into a more expanded life.  Here’s what happened for me as I did this exercise.

What makes me fear a bigger, more successful, more love-filled life? Can getting to know those fears help me be successful in my expanded life?

What makes me fear a bigger, more successful, more love-filled life? Can getting to know those fears help me be successful in my expanded life?

As I posted my fears around my doorway, preparing to confront them one by one and find the courage to move past them to a more expanded life on the other side, I made a realization that amazingly managed to elude me at last year’s Shine Expansive. I have bipolar disorder and for me expansion has become equivalent with mania. Expansion= mania, contraction=depression.

A little bit of mania works good for me. I do manifest many of the characteristics of expansion that we are talking about here. But several of the fears I wrote on my postits are really fears of my own mania: “I fear that if I trust my own judgment too much I will make bad decisions”, “I fear that I will leave my job and not physically survive”,   “I fear that if I have a romantic relationship I will never work.” All of these fears have some realistic basis regarding things I have done when I’m manic. So them asking me to stop at the doorway is not a bad thing. I can see them as benevolent gatekeepers, asking me to get my feet firmly rooted on the ground before I go out into my big life. If I do this, I can retrieve the word expand for a good meaning: “not held back by depression”, “expanding into my big self, with my feet firmly on the ground.”

I’m going to keep those postits on my doorway and practice checking in with them before I leave for my day. Perhaps as some deeper and wiser part of me takes over the role of keeping my feet on the ground, I will have less need for depression to keep me in balance.

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.