THINGS MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME

Not all learning takes place as a result of a loving proximity to the mother.  In a home where the mother-daughter bond is a bare thread, the things a mother teaches are by example and perhaps through her unconscious life renderings.

My mother was pioneer for woman’s rights in the 1950s without a picket sign or a protest march. She had five children and not much love for the career position of mother and housewife. Mother managed her happiness by working outside the house and she loved it. She was the first woman in our neighborhood to take a professional position in the corporate world and taught me it was possible.  Her passion for the dignity of her own paycheck taught me the value of creating my own income. I was fortunate to witness an intelligent, ambitious woman who took responsibility for her own happiness and taught me that it was possible.  I saw that she relished the privilege of partnering from an equal position of choice and responsibility. Without ever talking about the value of work, my mother taught in the way she lived her life.

In the kitchen, making pies one Saturday, I was given the blessing from top cook to amateur when my mother told me that my pie crust was better than hers. This was huge. This is something I hold to this day as an important moment when I went beyond my teacher. She let me know it could be done.

My mother also taught me how to put my creativity into everything from organizing a room to baking an apple pie and to observe the results through the experience of self- reaction. This was part of her love of education on every level, from classroom instruction to personal epiphanies.

My mother was born, baptized, married and eulogized in the First Baptist Church of Naseua, New Hampshire. Her religious life was one of duty to the beliefs of the church, yet her spiritual life was rich with imagination and awareness.  One morning we were sitting in the sewing room after a huge snow storm. We viewed the whiteness covering the back yard, making everything look still when my mother commented that winter was a death….of sorts.  And, from a pensive start she announced that she believed in reincarnation. She said, “I do believe reincarnation must be a reality if you follow the example of the seasons. In the winter all is dead, still or hibernating, yet in the spring everything comes back to life. It must be the same with us.” She shared this with me only and I carried the idea into adulthood, into my expansiveness of exploring a spiritual world greater than the one I was raised in, because my mother taught me to look at what nature and life have to give in the form of instruction.  She taught me to never stop looking, listening and learning.

THE MONSTER IN MY THOUGHT PROCESS

When I speak of the monster in my thought process, I am directly addressing the one that yammers on in my own head. The thought reactions to things in my life, I am beginning to believe , are much more dangerous than any external threat.

Yesterday, I caught myself looking for something to feel bad about. It started with a small stomach upset after eating some soup I had just made.

The soup was good but it was too spicy and it smelled sooooo delicious that I ate a huge serving. Then my stomach talked back to me.  As a result I watched myself border on this decision to feel bad. It was like a monster movie,  the monster in our head and expressing in our lives.

Anyway, it went from stomach ache, to a bad soup maker, to having a shit life and hating the world in an almost millisecond, and I watched it happened. Yes, it was happening to me yet I was also watching the process. No, I did not take any hallucinogens and was amazed at what was happening to me.

Perhaps all the self-care focus is beginning to pay off. The first thing I did was to remind myself that thoughts are not facts, even though they can create emotions that lead to a behavioral reality and poor habits, I have the ability to confront the monster before letting it settled in as reality.

The self-care showed up when I gently reminded myself I did not have to go down the street of feeling like crap and finding validations from my life to do it. I mean, REALLY- a bad soup recipe?

Recently, I saw this picture of myself with two other people. The thought that entered my head was “Look at how fat you are!”. It was not jovial or sarcastic,  it was mean and judgmental and it was coming from me. When I heard that judgment, it made me really sad until I heard myself saying, “Who would say a thing like that?” I believe that what I was trying to get at was what part of me felt this was important enough to formulate in my head and express it as a thought. As soon as I began to question where the thought came from, another voice in my head said something like, “Would you trade your very healthy chubby body for anyone else’s medical problems?” and the answer was a resounding, NO!

What helped me, I believe, was my willingness to confront my own thinking.

AND, to take ownership that I have a culturally conditioned bitchiness in me that says I am less than because I am too old or too wide or too loud or too whatever. You know what I mean?

Learning someone else’s emotional and mental language is impossible when you are still listening to your own thought process as a reality. It is just fascinating to me, as I believe I am only just now starting to learn how to listen to my thoughts as merely passing voices … not reality.

“You know you got it if it makes you feel good.”–Janis Joplin

LISTENING TO MYSELF

When my mother signed my 6th grade autograph book, she wrote “To thine own self be true” on the page. Although I had no idea what she was trying to say to me at the time, I carried that phrase around with me for years. In college, I discovered that it was a part of a speech written in Hamlet by Shakespeare. “To thine own self be true, and as the night follows the day, thou canst be false to any man.”  It appears that I have been attempting, most of my life, to determine who this self is that I need to be true to, how to listen to that self and how one knows if they are living out of that “authentic” self.

It boils down to self-discovery, I think. And part of the challenge involved in learning about oneself is being able to hear what one is saying, both to the world at large and to yourself.

The majority of my attempts to self-educate come directly from my writings. Here I am, a voracious writer of the world as I experience it and I am challenged to actually HEAR what I am saying about myself and I have to love that about me. It makes me feel more normal than not, as I believe we all do this to some extent. Now, I understand more about why I spend hours journal writing or writing emails to friends and family. It is my belief that I am attempting to hear more about myself than to just report my daily struggles.

Recently, I feel as though I have had a great insight into my need to write when I looked at seven totes holding some 40 years worth of journal writings about my life.  When I wrote something, I didn’t feel as though anyone was really listening to me. This morning I realized it is I who has not been listening.

When I write a huge email about my daily life, or things that I have seen and experienced and sometimes integrated, I have a feeling that there is someone on the other side listening. Often, after I send an email, I will go back and re-read it a number of times. It has been a mystery to me why I do this and now I am beginning to understand. I am making an attempt to hear what I have said or in the case of journal writing, what point I was trying to make. Am I able to hear what I have just written?

Last year I became immersed in an old HBO series called IN TREATMENT. It was translated from an Israeli program and focuses on the in office exchange between a therapist and his clients. The first thing that affected me was how much the therapist was able to learn about a person from listening to them. I mean, he listened to what they said about others, he listened to their demeanor, their anger, their judgments and their reactions. AND, he listened to what they said about themselves, whether in jest, in reporting or in upset. He would gently feed some of the things he witnessed back to the client, asking them how they felt about what he observed. Sometimes, the patient could hear him and assimilate the information and other times they lashed out at him saying he didn’t know shit about who they were. Now, he never put his ideas onto them, as much as offered his viewpoint from what he experienced in their conversations with him.

Also, in watching the series, I learned that if the client was not ready to hear what the therapist was pointing out to them, they were not able to see themselves as offered from the therapist point of view. This explained a lot to me about my own process of self-discovery. I remember when I was finally able to hear what my son was saying to me through my travel exhaustion. I knew it had something to do with being ready to have that experience where I could listen to him without discomfort, fear and overreactions. I was ready to stop resisting LISTENING to him because he expressed himself with such intensity.

NOW, the question I am asking myself is whether or not I am ready to listen to myself? Toastmasters was the perfect venue for me to start feeling that I was being heard. I think that idea excited me more than writing speeches or completing manuals. In order to have a speech evaluated, someone has to listen to the speech, so there was a good feeling in me that I was being heard. A speech evaluation form was completed and returned to the speaker after the speech was over.  So, I began to explore the experience of being heard, officially and then personally.

As I look back over emails written, I see I make a lot of references to over taxing folks with my chattiness and letting them know they have my permission to delete my writings. There is a belief in me that I might have “used up their listening”, so to speak. Although, I have been assured by friends and family that my emails are read, I have a hard time believing anyone could get through them, even with the biggest heart and the best intentions. Can I look at what I am saying about me? AM I saying that I am not worth listening to or that I just have too much to say which can be weighty and taxing on others?? Well, YES!

This kind of self-analyzing makes my family crazy. They are not interested in why one is triggered by something a person says or does and they think I am nuts to be so interested in it. I understand that and I love that about them. It makes me realize this is the path that I have chosen and not theirs. We each have a path of self-discovery and learning. Along the way, we do share similar experiences yet in the end we each have to come to a personal self-actualization, not one that someone gives to us, like being an only child or the baby of the family of five.

Perhaps, as I learn to listen to myself more, I will have less drive to talk so much to others. This insight about not listening to myself really fascinates me. For the past three years I have been wrestling with what to do with all the journals I have stored in totes. Initially, the plan was to read them and compile the information to form an auto-biography of sorts. I thought this would be a great activity for my retirement and it excited me. I envisioned it as a chronology of awakening, yet I had such great resistance to reading my own journals with so much judgment, I quit. Each time I would return to the journals, I was repelled for different reasons. Who wants to listen to this cesspool of complaints about my life? The self- hate and the desire to ignore what I said was so strong that I even threw out a number of the journals where I felt they were just parroting a belief system I was walking in at the time. It embarrassed me to see myself making my life fit into someone else’s belief system without an original thought of my own. It even made me physically ill and I am beginning to love that about me.

The insight of making a connection between the rejection of my journal writings and my inability to listen to myself is a gift.

Now, as I integrate this information, I realize I am about to become the person I have created in the imagination of others as a safe place to hear myself and honor what I am sharing with the world.

 

DESTINY

In watching a Netflix series called MERLIN, there is a scene in the first episode where a young Merlin meets up with a dragon that is imprisoned under the castle. The dragon informs Merlin he is in for a great destiny and Merlin tells the dragon that he has got that “all wrong”. The dragon responds to Merlin saying:  “There is no right or wrong, only what is and what is not. Then the dragon leans close to Merlin and whispers,  “None of us can choose our destiny, Merlin and none of us can escape it.”

This made realize how much I missed the opportunity to talk to my mother about fate and destiny as I have a feeling that she had some strong beliefs around these ideas.

However, something triggered a huge reaction in me this week, and I knew that there was some information here that I might want to investigate about myself, so here goes.

It is easy to be overwhelmed with all the beliefs, concepts, paradigms and mysteries surrounding the human experience about what we are doing here that I have often settled into a quasi-belief in personal destiny.

I get this feeling that in order to complete my life’s mission, I need to have a more direct and honest relationship with myself. Even as I write that I want to groan and articulate the question, “What in hell does that mean, anyway?”.

It’s a nice thought, “relationship with myself” and it’s easy to state, yet a bit more challenging to execute in a world where I have become habituated and conditioned to perform within a series of identities. That is partially why I am loving this whole retired person identity. It’s the first time I feel free enough to dance my way through the jungles of time and conditioning to locate who I am and what it is I need to accomplish before I leave this body and this planet.

I did something dramatic recently because I felt that my Universe was moving me toward a difficult decision.  Without getting into details, I made the unilateral decision to leave a friendship with someone I had come to love deeply because the concept of “working out our differences” felt scary and unsafe to me.  This is not the first time that I have shut toxic people out of my life. Just like the trauma of leaving my abusive husband, or ending a one-way pen-pal relationship, I decided to take care of my own interests and let the other person worry about theirs. In order to feel the light of self-love and self-care afterward, I convinced myself that our misunderstanding was a contest of figuring out what was right or wrong. I just cling to the simplicity of the phrase “what is and what is not,”  as Merlin’s dragon so precisely pointed out. What is happening to me is a whole new way of taking care of myself, just honoring my own truth, and not allowing anyone to influence me with theirs. To me, this is a new and scary path, but one of keeping a direct and honest relationship with whatever I want to believe about me. I have no idea what is happening to the other person but I can only hope it is just as important for them and I suspect, the action of separation is the very best thing for both of us on so many, many levels.

What is not is regret. I took my side and it was the road less traveled for this wanderer, yet in reflection there is no regret.

Perhaps, it was my destiny to share those two extraordinary years with this exceptional person in a friendship that was as unique as it was magical.  It changed me and I am hopeful it added to their experience as well and there is no debris.

AND, for that, I am grateful.

ENJOY THE GAME

During a conversation about playing computer games, I witnessed a friend of my son’s go into a vehement discourse about what a “time waster” game playing was with such self-judgment and hatred, I could feel the air change.
Since I have a totally opposite point of view, it felt like something I wanted to explore for myself to determine if I also carried the “waster” viewpoint unconsciously.

Until I retired, the only computer game I had ever played was Spider Solitaire. Once I left the corporate world, the majority of the games I played were designed by KING and were accessed on Facebook. Naturally, my first game was Candy Crush Saga yet that quickly expanded to other games. It wasn’t long before I flat out noticed how much I was learning about myself as a result of playing these games and I love that about me.

All these games have levels and each level has a somewhat new set of rules, yet there are still basic moves that apply to each level. I do not even know ALL the rules, so on each level there is a new period of learning. What I mean is I go into each level somewhat blind as to what are the best plays to reach my objective. I know the basic functions, which in most games has a lot to do with matching, yet there are new surprises. It took months of game playing to learn matching 4 or 5 of the same token is a huge win.

Here is what I learned from computer games when I played without judging myself to be wasting time.

First thing I learned is that I am a lover of a good game. I like the challenge of a game, the activity of a game and I am learning how to enjoy the entire process of learning a new game. I enjoy the competition and I enjoy letting a game teach me how to win. Although there is appears to be an optimal standard of moves within each game to help you win, I have also seen, at times, how none of my skills matters.  I often feel like I get to play until it is time for me to go to the next step. I can feel myself emotionally when I win and when I loose, yet I noticed how happy I am sometimes when I get close to winning. The games are designed to sell you additional moves for a price and one of my game rules is to never spend cash on a game. They have rules and so do I and it makes playing the games even more fun. Getting into a game brings me so much joy and I so love knowing this about myself.

I tend to move fast in game making decisions. What I am learning is how this simply does not work for certain game levels. Moving fast, especially on a computer is how I spent a great deal of my working career, so learning to slow down is on my list, yet I love to play fast. I do know that when I open up my viewpoint before I make a move, I do better. It’s like looking at the layout of the garden while you are wandering through it. This might be translated into the BIG GAME of life as taking a moment before I act on a negative thought or open my mouth without editing the same kind of thinking.

Lack of game information is okay and not knowing is something I look forward to when I advance a level. These games are teaching me that most of us dive into many aspects of life without really understanding all the moves and the consequences, until we experience them. For example, there is a game where I remember being warned about the spiders in the bubbles and when you hit them they can wipe out the good spiders, I guess. You know, the truth of it is I never understood the role the hanging spiders had in this game so losing them didn’t concern me all that much. When applied to the BIG GAME, sometimes our lack of information keeps us from spending our mental time in being afraid and paranoid when we really have no idea that it’s just another facet of the game.

Ah, the old winning and losing thingy. We have been conditioned to win and I am no different. Through the activity of playing computer games I learned some interesting and important information about me. I love to win, enjoy seeing the score rise and the pins fall, yet the more I play the more I am learning that winning is relative. At first, I thought winning was about skill until I got honest and had to admit I won too many times on a fluke to make that a reality. Also, I learned that if I went back and played a game over and over, even when I was stuck on a certain level I would eventually win. On days of manic game playing and the sense of leaving my reality, it felt like the winning or moving forward on the game trail was something that just happened. I show up for the game then development, movement and change happens. It happens in spite of my ability, choices and game strategy. This relates to my life as I began to experience it in the change from my busy corporate world to my retired life. I have to get up, show up and allow myself to transition in a new way of being and games have been an excellent vehicle for my process.

Yes, yes…I admit to exercising busyness in my game playing. Thomas Carlyle wrote that “Nothing is more terrible than activity without insight.” so with respect to games, it was important to me to know there is good and bad results of game playing. Where do I want to put my attention? I enjoy using the good results to learn and the bad results as boundaries. Research shows that game playing can exercise both mental and physical development, building eye- hand coordination, pattern recognition and opening up a whole new world of self insight. It is a perfect way to have an enjoyable activity, if this is in your make-up. There is not one shred of doubt that this is exactly what I am suppose to be doing at the moment in time I am engaged in the activity. When I worked in my corporate position, I would never a play computer games during the work day, yet I would find other things to do to keep busy that were centered around my job position. Out of that need to create came so many wonderful tools and insights. I believe that computer games are teaching me in the same way.

One of my favorite insights came when I actually completed a game, yet I did not score enough points to complete the level. This is such an interesting situation, as you have used your skill to navigate the game, completed the challenge of the game, yet simply did not score enough points. At first this was very frustrating to me, until I learned that this particular game required something more than metaphorically knocking over pins or matching a row of similar colored squares. This game was asking me to look at how points are assimilated. So, the message is clear that I need to slow down and make sure that I know how to score all available points in the game or not.

One of my favorite game mantras is “ENJOY THE PLAY”. There is a long list of negative aspects that one can choose to hang attention on, therefore causing great disruption and disharmony in one’s life. Certainly, if game playing disturbs your peace, then gently make a change without judgment. Choose your game and choose your play, then enjoy the entire process.

And the last thing I have learned about myself is that when it is obvious I am losing, I often decide to end the game. As my playing progresses I am learning very early in a game whether winning is without boosters is a possibility or not. When this happens and when I determine that (game piece count, wrong color, stiff challenge) I make a decision about mindless matching or quitting the game. There does not seem to be as much fun for me to go through the motions of playing the game, when it is clear I cannot compete successfully.

AND, if I try another game session there is a new opportunity to complete the level, I am generally more excited, more involved and a better player. When I look around me I see this is often how folks approach the game of life. If you are not having fun and you are losing all the time, there is a good indication it might be time to change the way you play or change the game you are playing and I am loving that about me.

IMPROVISATIONAL PRESIDENT

On the morning of August 17, 2017 I was getting my political news from talk show host, Stephen Colbert on YouTube. That probably says a whole lot about my attitude towards politics and news in general, yet it’s a belief of mine that there is truth in humor. Plus, I like the events the Trump presidency gives to all these comedians. I sometimes watch Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah and John Oliver as well. They all have good writers and there is just so much material to use. Yet, frankly, I am getting tired of it. That is to say how much Trump bashing can a person take?

However on that morning, I was listening to Stephen Colbert interview John Dickerson on a segment of The Late Show from last night. Dickerson really got my attention when he referred to Trump as an improvisational president.

Isn’t that a creative way to describe Trump and his reactions to situations and events? Doesn’t it create much wider picture than just focusing on material where you can make Trump look laughable or idiotic? The truth is that I am learning a lot through the Trump presidency. Yes, the man is not articulate and cannot express himself well and he sees things differently and speaks without filters and the press just goes after him without mercy. I think that is why we see so many angry outbursts from Trump at the press. Yet, when I think back to the way Obama spoke in carefully measured pauses of slick articulation, I have to feel a certain amount of compassion for Trump.

When you compare presentation skills of Trump and Obama, Trump comes across as being really limited, yet I am beginning to suspect he is smarter than he sounds. He hates talking to the press and blames them for making him look bad, without being to able to see how he contributes to this image. Most of us don’t look beyond our image presentation anyway.

Now, I feel Trump has a “translator” of sorts in Dickerson and to be honest, it lifts my heart. Look, we all know that government still represents a class hierarchy in America, no matter who gets elected. The position of the President reeks celebrity as well as power, whether we like it or not. And, we want our celebrities to be beautiful and articulate, kind and compassionate and live in the fairy tale we believe really exits.  Yes, there are specific viewpoints from both the conservative and liberal camps and we stand in line behind one or the other belief system, while just under the surface we can still feel similarities even if we cannot admit them to ourselves or anyone else.

The major theme of P.D. Ouespensky’s book, THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MAN’S POSSIBLE EVOLUTION is that we are all asleep. When I first found this thin paperback in a used book store in Long Beach, California – some fifty years ago, I brought it home because I loved the title. When I read that we were all sleep walkers, I was unable to wrap my head around that concept and stopped reading. Some thirty years later, I found a copy of this exact same book behind the Xerox machine at work. It was ragged and wrap in dust bunnies and I felt like it was synchronicity. It showed up in my life again, when I was ready.

After asking around the department if anyone lost the book, I took it home and I read it. This time I understood what Ouespensky meant by being asleep. And, I understood that I was still asleep on so many levels of operating in my life. I often felt like a conditioned industrialized human version of a worker bee. The one that literally works themselves to death because they are coded for that behavior. It wasn’t until I retired that I was genuinely able to see how that affected me. I don’t mean to be simplistic here, yet without that conditioning to be a good worker I probably would not have had as much success in the corporate world, collecting a paycheck, paying the bills and raising my son as in a single mother. Although I had these ideas, I often was unable to articulate them directly and often found myself over-thinking, over-analyzing and then over-talking.

I cannot guarantee that you will hear new ideas, that is, ideas you never heard before, from the start; but if you are patient you will very soon begin to notice them. And then I wish you not to miss them, and to try not to interpret them in the old way.” – P.D. Ouespensky

It occurred to me that being awake, at least partially, means being able to see a larger picture of events. Can I take Trump’s unfiltered, inarticulate and limited image to another level? Perhaps, a level where I can notice that those differences do not make him crazy. He might, after all, just be a sleeping god.

It also means, to me, to take responsibility for how I view my world, myself and how I react to it. This is where the informational opportunities for self-discovery and self-development wait to be surfaced, acknowledged and adored.