Welcome to the middle path

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Sporadic photos and notes from a Psyche-midwife, cheerleader, anthropologist--aka clinical social worker in therapy practice. Photos are usually mine except for those of historical events/famous people. Music relevant to the daily topic is often included in a web video embedded below the blog. Click on highlighted links in the copy to get to source or supplemental material. For contact information, see my website @ janasvoboda.com or click on the button to the right below. Join in the conversation.

Friday, January 31, 2014

January 31st Challenge: Go Easy on Yourself Sometimes

a month of reflections
  OK, comrades, let's wind it up.
Today concludes the annual month of tiny challenges.  As you know, my big challenge was getting in a post a day for 31 days.  Thanks to those of you who played along and sent encouraging words when I was running out of steam.  Writing doesn't come that easy to me; I wait til late in the night to break through my reluctance and spit it out then hit "post" before ego wakes up.  After a bit of time off,  I'll go back and edit these.  Thanks for wading through the uncut versions.  Hope you found something useful.

Today's challenge was suggested by my first-born when I was expressing anxiety about that. 
"Go easy on yourself sometimes. Especially in hindsight. We have so many skills today that we could have used to more effectively handle yesterday. But that is such a trap!! A good one for the end of this blog month, where, because I know you, I will take a bet that you may be looking back with a few similar thoughts of what you woulda/coulda/shoulda."  --Hannah 

She knows me.  And I know people, or at least a lot of them, because I spend my days talking to them about just these sorts of narratives.  We look back at our life with hard-wrought experience and information, much of it is based on the outcomes we couldn't have known in advance.  But current self forgets what past self didn't know or understand at the time, and is very judgy. 

It's good to hold ourselves accountable, but it's also good to practice self-compassion.  There's a lot of room between self-condemnation and self-indulgence.  Walk that middle path some.  As author and therapist Tom Ruttledge says,  you're not an exception to the idea that no one is perfect.  He added that the mathematical formula for pain is the difference between our expectations and our performance, "which like gas milage, will vary".

If you didn't get as far as you liked on your resolutions this month, don't waste energy berating yourself.  If there are resolutions you wanted to do and failed, take a little time to figure out what the barriers were.  Where your expectations unreasonable given your resources? Where is your resistance?  Are there fears about the outcome if you are actually successful?  This is more common than you'd think.  What support do you need, and how can you obtain it?  Remember, every new day is a chance to begin.  Meanwhile, how about practicing loving yourself as you are, with all your foibles?  That's a great starting point.

I hope that 2014 brings you love and blessings, that you will walk a lot, stay curious,  and practice compassion to self and others.   

References for self-compassion:  Great videos to encourage your practice.
Tara Brach:  Surrender to the Monkeys
Brene Brown:   Listening to Shame
Kristen Neff:   The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self Compassion
Pema Chödrön:  Maitri (Unconditional Friendship with Self)

Quote of the day:  "When we start out on a spiritual path we often have ideals we think we're supposed to live up to. We feel we're supposed to be better than we are in some way. But with this practice you take yourself completely as you are. Then ironically, taking in pain - breathing it in for yourself and all others in the same boat as you are - heightens your awareness of exactly where you're stuck." 
--Pema Chodron

Song of the day:  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

January 30th Blog: Watch Your Narrative

look past the muddle

From Amazon writer Jim Emerson's description of the movie Blade Runner (Director's Cut):

"When Ridley Scott's cut of Blade Runner was finally released in 1993, one had to wonder why the studio hadn't done it right the first time--11 years earlier. This version is so much better, mostly because of what's been eliminated (the ludicrous and redundant voice-over narration and the phony happy ending) rather than what's been added (a bit more character development and a brief unicorn dream). Star Harrison Ford originally recorded the narration under duress at the insistence of Warner Bros. executives who thought the story needed further "explanation"; he later confessed that he thought if he did it badly they wouldn't use it. (Moral: Never overestimate the taste of movie executives.)"

don't suffer in advance
Guess what?  Today you are invited to be director of your own narrative.  Our brains are pretty much always running these ludicrous voice-overs. Sometimes we are clear which lousy executives are shouting the narrative-- childhood ghosts, advertising and pop culture, internalized 'ism's-- stinking thinking that binds us even as we claim to reject it. Other times we have drunk the poison ourselves and don't even question the difference between our judgments and the facts.

Be Here Now
Today's challenge is to notice the running commentary that is the voice-over on your actual experience. Your job is first to catch it and simply observe it.  Pretend you have one of those old-fashioned metal "click-counters" and just note every time you catch yourself narrating your experience with a judgment or explanatory thought.  For most people, this will pretty much be "constantly", so you don't need to do this for long.

At some point of the day, take the time to investigate this
narrative by simply giving it a name. If it's a worry about something in the past-- a regret-- just name it "past thought". If it's a worry about something that hasn't yet happened, call it "future thought". If it's an evaluation of a current situation, decide whether it is a fact, or a judgment and call it one of those. This last part is harder than you think, because we tend to believe our judgments and see them as reality. 

Some simple examples:
 "That checker called me an idiot". Assuming that happened, it's a fact.
"That checker is so rude."= present thought, judgment. Possibly a very reasonable judgment, but still a judgment. 

"I shouldn't have come to this store". That's a judgment.  Put it in past thought.
"This is going to be a horrible day". That's a prediction, a worry-- a future thought.

room to breathe
There are several points to this exercise. The first is to be aware of our internal dialogue, so we can exercise more choice about it. We are probably paying at least hypnotic attention to it, so give it some real attention and decide how much of it you want to swallow whole. Being an observer rather than consumer of our thoughts gives us a little breathing room.

Figuring out the difference between judgments and facts allows the opportunity to look for alternate explanations. I remember the time I was frustrated during an all-night shift at an information reference center. This was back in the dinosaur pre-internet days, and we were usually busy enough providing information not easily available elsewhere, so my patience snapped with the fourth caller in a row who wanted me to be their free directory service.When I snottily told she could use her phone book, the caller explained she was losing her vision from a genetic disease and wasn't able to see it. We don't know other people's stories and cannot always be sure why they act in certain ways. When the stakes are low, assume benign intent. At least don't personalize it. 

Another good reason to try this is to see the benefits of being in the present when there is nothing to be done in this moment about worries or regrets. We avoid suffering in advance or suffering again. 

Try it for a few minutes today, and just notice what happens.

Quote of the day, from Guns N' Roses' Axl Rose (don't judge me): "We take it for granted we know the whole story – we judge a book by its cover and read what we want between selected lines."

Bonus song of the day:   Yardbirds: Mr. You're a Better Man
Video of the day: 

January 29th Challenge: Shhhhhh.

Today's challenge:  Hush up.

For a period of time this Wednesday, experience as much silence as you can.
Turn off the buzzing florescents, unplug or debattery the ticking clocks, shush the electronics and radio and Get Quiet.  Take a vow of silence, for 5 minutes or for the day. 

We live in a hyperstimulated world.  There's really no such thing as true silence in the natural and certainly the human-filled world, but cut the noise as much as you can.  See what happens.  Maybe that small still voice will show up.  If nothing else, you'll give your brain a rest.

Here are a couple of resources to get your attention on the benefits of quiet.  Take a few minutes to check them out:

think tank of the soul."

Quote of the day:   “Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven't the answer to a question you've been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you're alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.”
Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth 
Video of the day:

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

January 28th Challenge: Learn something new

the mother (ship) waits for action
Today I made my first batch of Kombucha tea.  Gifted with a vigorous and huge SCOBY (a rather frightening mass whose acronym means Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast), I went online to learn how to turn this monster into a hopefully healthful beverage.  I like kombucha; sometimes I really crave it.  I'd like to think this means my body needs a little of its bacterial action.  On the other hand, sometimes I crave a cinnamon pecan sticky roll.  I try to maintain a healthy bit of skepticism about my earthly desires.

Last night I heard Michael Pollan, my intellectual crush, talking about gut bacteria and promoting his latest book (http://michaelpollan.com/books/cooked/).  He vigorously endorsed my filthy lifestyle (lets-talk-dirty-hazards-of-clean-living).  That led me to a neglected New Yorker issue--who can keep up?-- and this great article on the sentience of plants:  The Intelligent Plant: Scientists debate a new way of understanding flora., where I learned plants are tricky mofos:  "Unable to run away, plants deploy a complex molecular vocabulary to signal distress, deter or poison enemies, and recruit animals to perform various services for them. A recent study in Science found that the caffeine produced by many plants may function not only as a defense chemical, as had previously been thought, but in some cases as a psychoactive drug in their nectar. The caffeine encourages bees to remember a particular plant and return to it, making them more faithful and effective pollinators."  I love falling down these rabbit holes. 

i am curious where this road goes
Today's challenge is to learn something new.  It can be anything: a new song, a simple piano piece,a recipe, a few foreign phrases.  The mind wants to learn.  I trust that more than its predilection for cinnamon rolls.

Give it some juice.  Find something you're curious about, and follow it.  Go as deep as time allows.

I'd love to hear what you learn.


Quote of the day:  “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”  --WB Yeats.

Song of the day:  the sexiness of chemistry of love. the dopiness of dopamine.

Monday, January 27, 2014

January 27th Challenge: Persevere

Due to Mondays beyond my control, today's post is mostly a rerun from 2010.

The challenge?  Keep on keeping on...

Some things never change. In August, maybe even July, our neighbors gave us a bag of tomatoes from their garden.  Included was this gem, about the size of a slightly flattened softball.  There was some mention of it being an unusual variety that would turn greener as it ripened.   It's still sitting on my counter, six some months later, as the crocuses start to bloom around town.   Far as I can tell, it's the same color, heft and firmness it was last summer. I don't know what sort of tomato it is, besides a real genetic freak, and extremely persistent. To what end?At least it can serve as an example of hanging in there despite odds.  Seasons change, the news gets grimmer and yet we get up in the morning and do what needs to be done. Love wins out.  Or hope.  Or tomatoes.

Song of the day:  Hang On, Little Tomato:  Pink Martini
Book of the day:  The Botany of Desire, by Michael Pollen (a history of adaptation and the perseverance of genes)
Movie of the day:  Away We Go (2009)-- holding on to love in spite of evidence to the contrary
Quote of the day:  "Fall seven times, get up eight".  --Japanese proverb
Quote redux: "If you are facing the right direction, all you need do is keep walking."  --Buddhist proverb

Sunday, January 26, 2014

January 26th Challenge: Just Be Your Own Beautiful Self

What a full day:  a hike, a memorial, an evening of films by and about women raising funds for prevention of breast cancer.  I got to visit ALL the emotions.  So let's just take it easy Sunday, shall we?

Rosie's memorial was beautiful and quirky and full of her life and art in all of its manifestations.  There were elaborate pen and inks, her trademark archival sensual B&W photograp
hs, delicately crafted pysanky eggs, and just a tiny fraction of the boxes of natual materials (stones, leaves, branches, oak galls, silks and velvets) she collected for her photos.  We sang Cheryl Wheeler's Potato Potato Potato song, and that sweet kitty lullabye from Big Bang Theory.  Stories were told that captured her irrasibility and untenable kindness and the way she lasered in on every invididual as if they were the most important and fascinating person on earth, whether they were emptying her trash one day or she'd known them all her life.  There was nothing ordinary about her, and everything at the same time.  She'll be missed in the trenches but is now embedded in our DNA thanks to the visceral presentation of her essence in that service.  I saw her everywhere today-- in a luminous leaf dangling, left over from fall; in the marsh wren that kept following my hike and popping up to peep from the bushes, in the sun whose flare made a heart on my camera lense.

The closing words were strong, and I planned to pass them along as blog for the day, but no time to retrieve them so you get the very short version:

Honor those you love who have passed by bringing their and your love into the world.  Bring their curiosity, humor, desire and delight along with you for your ride.  BE NICE, BE INTERESTED, SEEK TO UNDERSTAND.  And shower love.

Quote of the day: “On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfill the promise of our friend's life also, in our own, to the world.” --Henry David Thoreau

So now I have flummoxed you.  Urged you to be fully yourself and to see through more and more sets of eyes over time, burdened you with a promise to carry out other's work.  See, I think we have the same work:  Be awake, be present, be brave, be kind.  Spread love.  Pay attention.  Be perfectly imperfect (be human).

It sounds like a lot and winds out where it started:  Just be your own beautiful self today.

And tell me stories about it.

Song of the day:

Friday, January 24, 2014

January 25th Challenge: Plant a seed of love

"Once in a lifetime, a gal like Rosie comes along: breezy warmth, wild humor, tack-sharp intelligence, all underpinned by a deep love of life and the people she met along her way."
So begins the obit of a woman whose life I will celebrate in community with her friends and family on Saturday afternoon.

In memory of Rosie,  today's challenge is to put a little love and warmth into the world in any way you like that is strings-free.

Leave a tiny present in a public natural space.  Make a temporary art piece a la Andy Goldsworthy or maybe just a fairy house in a tree root.  Press a poem into a library book or a menu.  Put a dollar in an envelope near a bakery with a note saying "Have a cookie".  Donate some jigsaw puzzles to a nursing home. 
natural art piece-- something grand ala

If you're stumped for ideas, click the sites below for more.

Quote of the day:
 "What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?"--Jean Jacques Rousseau

Video of the day:

January 24 Challenge: Foodie Friday

owl is at top.  trust me.
Finally it's Friday, after a week that seemed to stretch a month. Then only one week left of the January challenges. I'm looking forward to a web sabbatical.  Meanwhile in the real world, we saw an amazing sight today:  full on blazing blue skies, and that mysterious glare-y thing we Oregonians believe to be a myth. Tonight the stars blazed in plenitude and my neighborhood owl continued to establish audible territory. I tried to take you a picture but my night photo equipment and skill are lacking.

For Friday, we'll continue with the ban on gravitas by focusing on forage. Take some time today to play with your food. You can meet the challenge in one of the following ways, or figure your own.

mindful blood orange eating
1) Get sensual.  Do a mindful eating.  Eat in silence, skip reading or TV or other distractions, and focus fully on the feel, taste, chew and swallow.  And if you're more olfactory-abled than I, the fragrance and flavor.  Take your time.  Put your utensil down between bites.  Or maybe don't bother with them, and really get in touch with your food.

2) Try something new.  Eat something you've never tried.  See if you can identify your judgments about it, then intentionally put them aside and explore the unknown taste.  You can do this big and fancy or little.  Go to a local ethnic foods store and select something exotic, or order a dish you normally wouldn't at a restaurant.  Bonus for engaging with it a la #1.

3)  Support a local independent restaurant.  In Corvallis, it's Culinary Week, and the local chefs are strutting their stuff with small plates at special prices.  If you want your town to keep its cachet and not be a nightmare of Panda Delights and McD's, put your money where your mouth is.
oregon cheese <3 i="">
4) Alternately, buy some local goods at a local market or from a farmer, and cook them up.  Think These people are contributing to your cellular structure.  Isn't that fantastic?  Say a blessing.  Write them a love note.
about who was involved in bringing this nourishment to your body. 

Bon Appetit, chitlins.

Song of the day. a Dadist delight and cautionary tale:

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

January 23 Challenge: Laugh it out

today, rise above the darkness
OK, OK, we're going to lighten up.  Wednesday's blog was WAY too heavy, heady, amorphous and so forth according to the readers who contacted me.  Several also agreed the article it referenced was chock full of necessary and important information to consider.  But after carrying on King's work, shedding skins, and then being asked to fight the Corporate Machine, I guess it's time to relax a little.

Today's job is to laugh.  A lot, if possible.
get your luna on

Watch a ridiculously funny movie.  Zoolander, anyone? 
Write parody lyrics to a favorite song.
Write silly haikus on bananas and pass them out to strangers that smile back at you.
Read some Calvin and Hobbes; watch some Portlandia.

What cracks you up? Pass it on.  Life's nasty, brutish and short and we need a laugh.

There's health giving reasons.  Find out more by clicking the links:  
Have a Good Belly Laugh
Your Brain on Grins
Make a Joyful Noise

Quote of the day:  The human race has one really important weapon, and that is laughter.  --Mark Twain
Videos of the day: 

January 22 Challenge-- Stand Up to The Man

apropos of nothing
Remind me never to advertise for suggestions on January challenges again.

My own sorry butt was kicked by Tuesday's challenge of doing my future self a favor by resisting present self's idiotic/indulgent habits.  I did great (well, I did OK) the first three hours of the day.  I noticed my choices and made them intentional and resonant with my values.  The rest of the day future self spent shaming me while present self made a mess of every free hour.  Will try that one again tomorrow.

I had a few ideas for Wednesday but was uninspired.  So I put out a quick plea on Facebook for a topic at 11 pm Tuesday evening.  At 11:01, the sadistic Tristan C posted:
Tristan chilling

"Topic idea - the efficacy of personal change. Point - the scale of our world's problems outstrip the capacity of individuals (or even collective individuals) from dealing with them. Counterpoint - our lack of agency on a personal level does not imply agency on a political level. A medieval peasant might kill a king, but only the nobility could end monarchy. Courtesy of my lovely and thoughtful friends Michaela and Inspire: http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.../articles/article/4801/"

The article, which I firmly suggest you read, talks about how we think we are solving problems with little individual gestures, when in fact we are merely placating our dis-ease and enabling the Larger Problem.

Just in case you are lazy and don't bother clicking to read the fine article by Derrick Jensen, here's an outtake to illustrate what I'm talking about:  

"Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide."

drone "casualties":  real people

I know--This is a little heady for what is supposed to be a month of tiny daily resolutions.  But I asked, and this came, and I will listen to Providence and grit my teeth.

We take the shorter showers, and bring our bag to the grocery, because doing something, ANYTHING, feels better than doing nothing.  But we probably are (Texas-ism #2 of this blog-- hey, I lived there 9 years and can appropriate the culture) pissing in the ocean with these tiny acts.  Yes, it's something, but it isn't going to change much.

Even though I found the article extremely depressing, it resonated.  There was a great piece in Sunday's New York Times about money as an addiction, and I've been thinking about it all week.  (Read it here).  And today, former VA governor Robert McDonnell and his wife were indicted for using his office for their personal financial gain (Rolexes, vacations, designer clothes, etc) and political favors.  Later, I spent my fourth hour trying to collect 50% of my fee from an insurance agency that sent me a "credit facsimile" requiring me to pay them a percentage to collect my own payment.  Yesterday, I read a horrific article about a man who received a personalized advert from Office Max which referenced his daughter had killed in a car crash-- somehow this data was harvested by a company that sold this info to Office Max as relevant for selling him something.  
thank you to people who take time to resist

This all connects, and the connection/Larger Problem is greed.  And the illusion that we are not connected-- that our "I" isn't part of our "We".  

Say what you will about the sometimes annoying antics of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  But they truly are advocating for the vast majority of people on the planet.  I'm not sure exactly how I will address this Not So Tiny Challenge.  Maybe call my senator, write a corporation, barter a copay, send money to a politician that doesn't seem corrupted.  I'm going to do some reading and thinking.  Hope you will do the same.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:  "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."   --Dr. Martin Luther King

Monday, January 20, 2014

January 21st Challenge--Do your future self a favor

so many choices
I don't really want to be writing this blog right now.  That is, my current self doesn't want to write it.  My future self would be very pleased I did, because I said I would, and it would prove that there are at least a few exceptions to my narrative that I have zero self-discipline.

I pretty much write these in the last moments of my day, when as one Real Writer said, ego is too tired to protest and flip out.   I wait as long as I possibly can.  To avoid it tonight, in the last hour and a half I have surfed the web to read travel warnings for countries I will never visit and check out the weather in places I know no one.  I have dealt with dust bunnies that were weeks in the making and shuffled small items from one abused lateral space to another.  But I really, really want to go to bed soon.  And meet my commitment to have the blog out early.  This got me thinking about that constant struggle we humans have between what we say we want and what we do.

maybe just a couple small pieces...
Psychologist Daniel Gilbert talks about this in his book "Stumbling on Happiness".   He says we are actually pretty lousy at predicting what in the future will make us happy (he calls this "affective forecasting").  But we are probably even worse at acting on future desires in the present.  It's a dilemma:  I want to run that 5K in May, we tell ourselves.  And then "It's so cold outside and I don't know where my rain gear is-- maybe I'll watch a few episodes of that new HBO series".  Future self wants to be thin, and current self would like to try those other three French pastries.  Future self wants to climb mountains, and current self would like another cigarette. 

This is partly why New Year's Resolutions are so lousy, and why most get dropped in the first couple weeks.  We KNOW how we want things to be, and we FORGET how we are-- adverse to discomfort, set in our habits, short on discipline, bad at thinking about the details and the barriers.

don't chicken out now-- 10 days left.
Every day we make thousands of choices.  Most of us choose what to eat, how big of a portion, whether to have seconds.  We choose to turn on the TV/computer/device, or not.  We don't necessarily choose how much executive function we have (impulse control, future forecasting and task switching ability, etc).  But if we think it through, we can become pretty aware of the patterns of our past behaviors, which are the best predictors of today's unless we do something really different.

Today, hold an awareness about your choices.  Not every single one, but try to attend to some within a particular block of time, from a few minutes over or after a meal, to an hour or so.  Notice and own where you have choice with a mental note to self.  And ask:  is this what future self would want?  Pay attention to the talk-back (I have a mean internal dialogue that is very argumentative with future self). And at least one time, do something for future self.

Quote of the day:  "The best way to predict your future is to create it".  (Variously attributed)
Video of the day: 

January 20th Challenge: Carry on the work of Dr. King

We come, we go from this planet, this life.  What can we leave behind?  Less mess, less trouble, more love if we're lucky.  And maybe, like Dr. King, we encourage others to pick up our work, in order the good work never dies.

As we contemplate the good work of a brave man in a short life, as we see how he lives today
through his earlier hard work, may we be inspired to follow in his call to social justice taught, encouraged and delivered by non-violent perseverance and deep respectful love and belief in the inherent dignity of all peoples.  Here is some food for thought.  I hope you take it in and turn it into action.  There are several public and private opportunities to do that today in his honor, and I hope you will find a way, public or otherwise, to get your heart in the world, do brave and good things, wide your circle of care in whatever way makes best use of your skills.   Look on line for "Make a Difference" day opportunities, or contact the senior center, red cross, youth or homeless shelter or other agencies serving the needy and see you can do to lighten the load.

If nothing else, today's a great day to look people in the eye and smile, to show concern to someone suffering, to offer aid to those who are cold, or hungry or discouraged.  If you need suggestions, there's ton on the web, but you can also e me for other details.
Quotes from King to get you thinking and hopefully moving:

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
”I am convinced that love is the most durable power in the world. It is not an expression of impractical idealism, but of practical realism. Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, love is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. To return hate for hate does nothing but intensify the existence of evil in the universe. Someone must have sense enough and religion enough to cut off the chain of hate and evil, and this can only be done through love.”

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.
Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a better person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.
March for Integrated Schools, April 18, 1959.

“If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”
Christmas sermon, Atlanta, Georgia, 1967. 

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”Letter from Birmingham, Alabama jail, April 16, 1963.

“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.”
Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Oslo, Norway, 1964

It is not enough to say ‘We must not wage war.’ It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but the positive affirmation of peace.”
Anti-War Conference, Los Angeles, California, February 25, 1967.

Sit thoughtfully with your readings, or discuss with a friend.  Find where the call is striking your heart to move into action.  Maybe it won't happen on the holiday-- maybe today's the day you plan how to make this call to love and struggle for justice an ongoing part of your life. 

We may make our traditional mulitiracial cookies to take to the firefighters, nurse and other community helpers that won't be available for other community actions.  And I signed up for the climate summit at OSU occurring in a couple weeks.  My big goal tomorrow is to practice unconditional love and practical realism the best I can.  It's my way of keeping Dr. King's work a living, breathing presence in the world.  
What will you do to carry your part of the load? Quotes of the day ^.
Song of the day: 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

January 19th Challenge: Connect

It's getting late in the day; I'll keep this short.

We need each other.  Even introverts, maybe especially introverts because they have less practice at connecting because it can have an energy cost.  But keeping connected provides resources from listening ears to opportunities to engage with aspects of self we only bump into by having them reflected or supported by others. Having community increases the possibilities of novel enriching experiences, and the chances that Big Important Things can get done, such as addressing civic concerns.

I'll add later.  Go connect. From smiling at strangers to meeting up with friends, there's a million ways to create community.

Related readings:

Saturday, January 18, 2014

January 18th Challenge: Build a New Model

one model:  oxytocin (connect the dots)
I've been easy on you.  Weekday expectations and all that.  But now it's the weekend, and perhaps entire unscheduled days are stretched before you.  Look out. Now that you've sloughed off that old tight skin, you're freshly hatched for a more challenging challenge.

I am feeling particularly cocky tonight after schooling the Millennials at the local pub in both pool and pinball.  Such was the brilliance of  my old-school ways that not one but three strangers hugged or high-fived my efforts.  I am happy with my small-town pub fame.  And I thoroughly enjoyed my non-virtual conversations with strangers, something that seems only to happen at older places that welcome lingering. 

showing the youngsters how it's done
One such Minnennial, a Portland non-profit web designer named Melissa, suggested tonight's blog"Build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."  By this, she said, he meant create the right environment so that everyone can flourish-- one of true inclusion. 
based on a quote by Buckminster Fuller she'd heard earlier in the day. 

Seems right in line with where we're headed-- shedding skins, we've readied for something new, something that has room for us to grow into.

Her suggestion felt rich to me, even in the tiny ways I experienced it tonight.  There are times when we can feel locked in to a role (serious listening therapist, middle aged mom, what have you).  It's not that there isn't room or a place for those roles, it's when those roles lock out other aspects of ourselves that we get into restrictive trouble. Tonight I enjoyed busting out some of my other aspects, and it was great fun to have them welcomed. 

"Be yourself.  Everybody else is already taken."
Some years ago entering private practice, I made a conscious decision to be pretty much who I was in the office and out-- curious, human, three dimensional.  There's something to be said for the blank-slate therapist upon whom we can cast our projections, and that model works especially well for long term psychotherapy.  But I practice a more pragmatic Midwestern model, and I have to live in this small town.  I had a crystallizing moment shortly after opening my practice, while listening to a great Nigerian jam band playing at a public park.  I could keep my public persona pristine, or I could kick off my shoes and flail around happily like the Sufi-ish soul I am.  I decided right there that if people were uncomfortable with the real me and wanted to go elsewhere for counseling, there were plenty of others in the book, but I really wanted to be able to dance.

I am drawn to this idea of building new inclusive models, of breaking free of self or societal imposed restrictions of who we are expected to be and letting all our parts shine.   What exactly will this challenge mean for you this weekend?  I have no idea.  You tell me. I look forward to hearing about it. 

Quotes of the Day:  “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”  --Ralph Waldo Emerson

Song of the day: 

Friday, January 17, 2014

January 17th Challenge: Shed Some Skin

"Loves Me", prayer flags, Renee Zangara
Slogging on through a month of challenges--oh, that feels heavy.  Today, let's get rid of some excess weight.  

Way back in early 2014, those of you who accepted the month of tiny resolutions challenge wrote down a few things you want to leave behind this year.  Please refresh your memory.  Weren't here for that part?  Go write them now.

Today's challenge is to make manifest this desire through a real or symbolic letting go.  Take care of some unfinished business.  Resolve, at least for today, to do that thing that is the opposite action of the one you want to leave behind.  Letting go of an old resentment?  Do a splendid ritual and bury it with ceremony.  Getting rid of psychological Samsonites?  Make yourself a whole new bag, baby, and fill it with reminders of what it is you want.

For tips on rituals and creative play for bringing in and purging, try Rob Brezny's book "Pronoia", the antidote to paranoia.  You can get a preview:  "A Spell to Re-Genius Yourself".

Some things are best left behind:  tonight at Goodwill store
If that's too much, just take a trip to Goodwill and divest some of life's detritus in a more concrete fashion.  But to up the ante, try to find at least one item to discard that no longer fits the life you want to be in.

"Thoughts and Longings" , porcelain casts by Amanda Salov
Thanks to Susan Peck for suggesting today's post and quote.  from Arcadia, spoken by Septimus, tutor to Thomasina: “We shed as we pick up, like travelers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it."

Song of the day: 
 Photos of prayer flags and slip-cast sweetgums are of two of three artists whose works are on exhibit just two more days at the Arts Center of Corvallis in the "Thoughts and Longings" show.  Hurry up and see them if you're able.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

January 16th Challenge: Prevent a Regret

the hiding moon
You know I write most of these to myself, right?
Although I'm glad to hear some of you benefit as well.  And I try to write in a way that is pretty universal.  But I'm also preaching to and encouraging myself, and in doing so hoping to set a positive example of being human, vulnerable, brave and growing.  For you, and for myself.
rosie, the moon:  both there, both hidden tonight
On Wednesday, in the wee hours, dreamer and artist Rosie Saraga's spirit left her broken down body and headed for her next adventure.  Rosie was a delightful weirdo, bright and rascally and with an insatiable curiosity for just about everything, but especially for the beauty in the teeny details.  Trained as an archival photographer at that apex of weird/curious/sciencey museums for like minded obsessives, she learned to laser in on the patterns of fallen silks, decaying bones and leaves, grains of broken sand. Long after leaving the museum she continued her own archival assemblies of leaves, ferns, fried parts of critters, old scraps of linen and velvet which she lovingly catalogues in her mysterious algorithm for latter photoshoots. She had nothing to add when you looked a her mostly abstract details of details that could be animal, mineral, vegetable, shot as found or artfully positioned-- most presented so out of context there were at best a sort of a Rorschach. She didn't care what she thought she wanted them to be, and wouldn't tell you her analysis either. She wanted there to be room for all to project a story into her abstracts.  She was deeply interested in knowing others and their responses to her art and world.

Rosie was a story-teller and collector, and she liked to ask surprising questions out of the blue, which kept visitors unbalanced and then led through hobbit holes to surreal conversations on philosophical exploration interspersed with her trademark wise-cracks and guffaws.  Despite being basically bed-bound the last year of her life, she was a big presence in her shrinking world.

We loved her; you couldn't get to far from her dozens of piles of boxes of archived treasures "props for a latter photo shoot",  There were mysterious bits of her life in every nook and cranny of that apartment, including a box of jeans from 1986 labeled as such with end note "someday these may fit again--- stranger things have happened."  There were photos everywhere-- of her art, of her family, of her with her spiritual teacher.  Tiny alters around them of small pretty rocks she'd found, or a glowing chestnut, a dried fern, a piece of driftwood.  There were dog hairs, abundant, decorating the bed where she spent 97 % of her time since even laughing would send her into fits of coughing and grasping for another breath.  She was bossy often, because she knew her time was short she would ask for what she wanted without pretense.  But she was kind, so kind and wise.  She really loved everyone.  She knew the personal stories of the man that brought her oxygen bottles, the people who helped clear a path through her collections so she could navigate to her toilet.  She had an entourage, a man who loved her and saw she had fresh distilled water available and friends who brought her alternating health foods and comfort foods and dogs to visit.  No matter how sick she was, she was always asking about YOU, how YOU were doing and what was new in your life.  She came to all my sermons, which is akin to you asking me to do a triathlon to see you.  Rosie SHOWED UP, sick as she was.

Rosie let me use her pride and joy camera to shoot these beauties on her wildowsill
I am grateful I had time to spend with her asking about her family life, her love of books, her time with the Ranjeese, her spiritual practices, and her work at the Mutter (my icon museum of medical oddities in Philly).  And she pulled out a lot of my stories, even when I thought I wasn't going to share them.  She was so very very interested in people and in connection.
  regret I hadn't seen her in the weeks before her passing.  I consciously chose to pull back because we were close in the way that soul-sisters can be but our history was limited.  I explained my reluctance to her and she responded in typical Rosie equanimity, all about love and expansiveness and other ways of being in relationship.  We connected over the moon; I'd send her pictures and she'd ooh and ahh, and she'd find some on the Internet she thought I'd love and we have short little virtual lovefests in the net.  But.


My way to carry the Rosie torch is to bring her mindfulness and wild, sassy curious heart into my walks in the world.  To pay attention and borrow her eyes if she's willing to look at things with the amazing degree of delight of which she was so capable.  To take in the love she threw at me like a full laundry basket and find some way to fold it in and then make use of it in the world.

So:  Today's challenge is to take a lesson from this and see where you can prevent a regret, at least one, maybe a little one.  Maybe that means you'll connect with someone you love, and tell them thanks and why.  Maybe it means you'll visit a shut-in, or mail those presents, or write that letter, or sneak over a love token.  You're clever, you'll think of something.

I am am going to make a little Rosie alter and meditate on all she offered and taught and remember how she lives in me in these new ways she showed me to love others and the world.   And I'm going to call a couple of people I love to make sure they remember that.

So get out there-- identify a future regret and nip its little bud, with deep tenderness and respect.  Call an old friend, tell someone what they mean to you, visit someone you miss, send a present to someone far away.

Notice what you feel/think.  And look for signs (internally and in the world) that your message is received.

Quote of the day 
 I got this from my wise niece Hattie, but not sure if she's who to attribute it to.  Very applicable:
 "According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of her is gone; she is just less orderly. Amen" 
Song of the Day