Category Archives: Shadow

State of the Kiki Address

It’s a rainy afternoon. I just put a skillet of corn bread in the oven while a ham hock boils on the stove in preparation for tonight’s mess of collard greens and pecan-crusted catfish.  Travelling through the South with a new southern cookbook on the back seat of the car left me hankering to try out some of the recipes on Chuck, a very willing test kitchen volunteer.

A group of House Sparrows is on the lower deck by the river pecking up one of last week’s corn muffins (from a mix) that I crumbled up for them this morning.

Chuck is off doing his thing over in Michigan–putting in a few hours at the Red Cross followed by some time at his house getting it cleaned up enough for me to start helping him clean it up.

There is a lot I would like to be able to blog about but feel I cannot do so without compromising the privacy of the parties involved. There’s my sweetie and his privacy, my ex and his, and that of a close friend.  I have one friend I can talk to about the situation, but she is far away. She did help me a lot during a recent visit. I couldn’t really talk to my mom about it because we didn’t get a whole lot of mother-daughter time this visit.  Maybe I’ll try emailing her about it.

So that’s why the posts here have become rather impersonal lately. I can tell you about my trip and the food we ate. I can blog about my daily routines.  BO-ring.

What I can tell you is that it’s difficult. I feel alone in this.

What is this “THIS” that I’m talking about?

A couple of relationships–one very close one and one that wasn’t as close but was still important to me–have suffered as the result of my getting together with Chuck.  Those relationships were strained by my break-up with Sylvain, but the union with Chuck seems to have derailed them completely.

I can’t tell you how wonderful it was when I arrived in Cedar Crest, NM and watched Chuck absolutely hit it off with one of my relatives. That felt so nice for me. Then my aunt took me aside after our dinner out on the night of our arrival and whispered to me, “He’s a keeper. Hold on to him!”

That felt validating, too.

I guess we bloggers can’t really use this forum to talk about our significant relationships at all. Sure, we can talk about the good stuff. The other party never takes issue with that. But then you, the blog reader, are never getting the full picture.  You didn’t have the full picture of my last relationship and you’ll not have a fair image of this one, either.  I might soon feel okay about sharing the fun parts, but I’ll never reveal our problems unless it can be done in a way where both parties agree to the message being shared.  Chuck and I have already agreed that if we are ever experiencing a rough patch, we’ll never show it in public.  We agree that it’s not appropriate to air one’s dirty laundry. It isn’t pleasant for the couple and it makes those who are exposed to the discord uncomfortable, too.

So I don’t really know what to do. I would love to be able to tell you about my new relationship, our bliss, our growth, our deepening love…but I don’t feel I can freely express myself here at this moment without risking being misunderstood and without risking hurting others.

I Used Gendlin’s Focusing Technique

One of our ACIM group leaders mentioned it in passing one night. Curious, I asked her for details as I reached for a pen and paper.  As soon as I read through the steps, I had to try it out.  Immediately (after only about ten minutes of following the steps), I got a big shift in a bad feeling that had been plaguing me for weeks, maybe months.

Actually that day I used the six steps outlined on this site. For me the big shift came when I got to the step where you put a handle on the felt sense…like come up with a metaphor or something.

After that day, other than mentioning it briefly to a friend or two, I pretty much forgot about it.  Then today something happened at work that left me feeling really crummy.  For the rest of the day I worried about this funny feeling. Olivia and I spoke recently about how you sometimes have to do the uncomfortable until it becomes comfortable. I thought my ego was just being an ego, that’s all. I thought, “there is nothing I can do about it. I just have to allow the icky feeling to be there.”

Still, I was a little perturbed. After all, I meditate. I practice mindfulness. I have a lot of tools! I should be able to avail myself of one of those tools in order to get that yucky feeling to leave me alone. But it wouldn’t go away.

Then I remembered that weird technique I’d used back in August and immediately wanted to try it out again to see if it would help me.  I couldn’t even remember the name of it anymore! Thank goodness I still had the email in my SENT items folder from when I’d asked Olivia if she’d ever heard about it. That’s it: Gendlin’s Focusing.

So I tried it again. Wow, what a neat tool! I was able to move from something that was nothing more than a vague, nagging sense of uneasiness (and squeezing pressure in my throat) to an image of someone holding me back by the neck, preventing me from helping someone else. The felt sense told me, “I feel squelched, silenced, disenfranchised, disempowered by proxy.”

I can see that this is an area of shenpa for me: when I see what I PERCEIVE to be an injustice of any sort and my attempts to right that injustice do not pan out exactly in accordance with my highest ideals, I am snagged on the thorns of a complex in my psyche.

I can’t say that I know where to go from here, but it feels A LOT better just knowing a bit more about what message my body was trying to send me. For now it is enough just to have acknowledged that message, sat with it and thanked my body for sending it to me.

We Broke the Seal

We both lamented that we were stuck, unable to deepen the relationship because of the risk of pain.  After the dream I had, we were both more consciously aware that my visit in June could be an opportunity to break new ground.

We’d been enjoying each other’s company. I’d brought a lot of Buddhist and mindfulness tools with me this trip, and I was applying them to the best of my (very human) ability.

My mother had been going on and on lately, beginning even before my arrival, about how much her life had been changing in unexpected ways. She had always thought old age would mean stagnation and decline, a closing, a wilting. But she was finding the opposite to be true. Every day was full of something new and fresh and surprising. Her life was opening, her world becoming larger. She was making new friends all the time, entering into interesting new relationships.

As I am her “best friend” and sole trustworthy confidante, she had been sharing special things with me.  With that energy in the air, it happened. We were sitting in the back room, the one that looks out on the backyard and bird bath. We sat there at a long project table in the evenings playing with our beads, findings and beading tools while robins, thrashers, sparrows and doves enjoyed the back and forth shower from the sprinkler, a much needed relief from the drought.

She started by talking about my anger.

“Sometimes it has felt as though you hate me,” she said.

I listened.

She explained in more detail.

When I realized she had a valid point–that there were times when I had lashed out at her or done and said certain things out of a very deep anger that had its source in my childhood, I began to talk to her about that.

Then she did what she always had done…the behaviour that had always shut us down before.  You know how it goes: the best defense is a good offense. My mother is thin-skinned, as I have also been for most of my life. (It’s something I am working on.) She is very good at attacking one’s Achilles heel, which ensures the other person will not continue to share whatever potentially hurtful information she or he was about to share.

So when she did that, I just said, “Your’re doing it now. You’re doing the thing that makes me back off every time.”

And she stopped dead in her tracks. Her eyes got big and she just fell silent, willing to let me continue.

And so over the next hour we explored it all. We both cried. When what was coming out of my mouth was too painful for her to hear, I reminded her that when I sounded like an angry child, that was just me slipping back into the memory of what it felt like to be the child I was. “I no longer feel any of that anger, Mom,” I said.  “I don’t blame you for not being perfect. Nobody is perfect.”

She was able, for the first time that I can remember, to admit that she had often put her needs ahead of mine when I was growing up. She told me of a time when a friend of hers offered to take me for the weekend.  My father was dead and my mom had my brother (and his disability) to deal with.  So this friend offered to give me a weekend away, a weekend of normalcy with another family.

My mother told me that she had said no. “I can’t do without her for two days,” my mother had told the friend.

“That was selfish of me,” she said to me on that sultry summer night in June of this year.

I felt grateful to her for this admission.  I felt my feelings finally being validated. I had not imagined my “adult child” syndrome, my becoming “parentified.”

My mother and I both remember all the things I have done that hurt her. Like the time I lost my virginity in the bed of a stranger at age 14, then rubbed it in her face when I asked for a ride to the VD clinic.  Like when I ran away from home at 16, pawning the saxophone that she had bought in instalments over a period of years, somehow finding money for the payments from the very small social assistance checks that we received because my late father had been a veteran.

To my surprise and relief, she said that she KNEW that every time I had done something terribly hurtful like that, I had only been crying out for help.

Then she revealed something else.

She told me that when my brother was born, an unspoken division of parenting labor had fallen upon her and my father. She had started tending to all my brother’s needs while my father stepped into the role of my mother and my father. When he died just before my sixth birthday, my mother had confided in a friend that she knew she could not possibly resume being both parents to me. There wasn’t enough of her to go around, she had confessed.

We both sat clutching our tissues, blowing our noses and wondering at it.  It was what it was. It had been what it had been. And now it was over. Neither of us was defensive any longer. Neither was still harbouring any anger. Neither of us wished any more guilt upon the other. We just wanted to move on.

We hugged and kissed and told each other “I love you.”

I’m very glad we finally had the courage to go there, to finally clear the air and bring it all out into the open.  I don’t necessarily think all people should do this. Each relationship is different and we all process old pain differently. But for us, this was it. This was the beginning of a new and more comfortable stage in our love and friendship.

Mother and daughter, Morro Rock

Not the Whole Story

As we both know, the chatterings of monkey mind do not comprise the whole story.

The rest of the puzzle, however, can’t be put into words.  I’ll let Scott try. He does a pretty good job considering that what he is trying to describe is ineffable.

I have been working with my mind for decades now in one form or another. For the past four years, my practice has been focused on Tibetan Buddhist teachings, breathing and mindfulness. Detachment. Being here now. Observing the mind. Freeing myself from the suffering that comes with identifying with and taking seriously the content of that endless stream of thought.

The practice of taming one’s mind pays off after a while, and I felt I was doing pretty well. There are many moments through the day when I am able to observe the thoughts. I am able to smile at them.

I am sometimes able just to be, just to surf on the foam of naked reality. Sit with the uncomfortable knowledge that there’s nothing to hang on to. To look around me and laugh.  To laugh with joy at the unbelievable miracle of being. Laugh at the silliness of my human propensity to want safety. Laugh at small mind’s indefatigable attempts at creating something for me to hang onto.

When I remember that everything I hang onto is illusion, I vacillate between pangs of terror and lungfuls of bliss.

Yes, I thought I was doing pretty well and felt confident that this visit with my mother would be different. Better.

What I realized about halfway into the first full day of my visit is that much of my success at being calm and letting things go stems from the fact that I have constructed for myself a life relatively free of antagonists. Jack Kornfield is quick to point out that many of us can get our minds to behave well on a retreat; the real test comes opon re-entry to the real world with its grouchy spouses, whining children, nosy in-laws, traffic jams and micromanaging bosses.

For my visit with my mother, I had to remind myself again and again (about every five minutes, in fact) of the various teachings that have got me this far. I reminded myself of things like what Olivia and Suki and others have said in response to earlier posts on the topic of giving unsolicited advice.

I reminded myself that my mind was making judgments, but there was no absolute reality behind those judgments whatsoever.

I reminded myself that just being on earth in this moment, alive for now and able to reach out and touch my mother’s hand was a miracle to stop and breathe in and savour.

When a remark started to rise to my lips and I knew its origin was a judgment, I reminded myself that I did not fly 1000 miles to make my loved one feel bad, to hurt her feelings, to tell her how to keep house, to admonish, to nag, to be my old obnoxious self.

I reminded myself that I flew those 1000 miles just to be with her. To bask in her presence and let her drink up mine. To hold her hand while crossing the street. To sit next to her for hours in the back room whose bay of windows looks out onto the deep backyard and birdbath while stringing colourful glass beads on wire. Look, Mom, what do you think of this one? Are you about ready for some supper?

At first I was doing nothing more impressive than biting my tongue. The judgmental thoughts were there; I simply wasn’t giving them voice. After a day or two of observing these thoughts without acting on them, however, they began to rise with less seductive pull and less frequency.

A new energy danced between us, and it gave rise to something that had never happened for us before.

What My Poor Mother Has to Put Up With

I have this creature who lives inside of me. Sometimes even I can’t understand how she arose or from where.  She’s about one part Neat Freak and two parts Miss Fix-It.

When I look back on the kind of teenager and young adult I was, it’s hard to believe my psyche gave birth to her.  I used to go barefoot everywhere, the hides of my feet so tough that I could walk over broken glass, my soles stained black. My bed was perpetually piled high with books, magazines, dirty and clean clothes. Under the bed you might have found a hamburger wrapper or shriveled old banana peel.

I don’t even remember when I started being and feeling more like Martha Stewart and less like Pigpen.

Somewhere along the way I became obsessed with better ways of doing everything. By the time I was thirty, I was seriously considering a career in ergonomics consulting.  I honestly believed that there was a right way and a wrong way to do almost anything, and that everyone deserved the benefit of my insights on…well…everything.

“If you always put your keys in the same spot when you come through the door at the end of the day, you’ll never have to waste time searching for them the next morning.”

That’s the sort of advice my inner Miss Fix-It will dispense, unbidden.  She can be obnoxious.

I recently finished reading the non-fiction best-seller Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard.  The book teaches a set of steps for changing anything from your own exercise habits to your employer’s wastefulness. One of the steps in the formula is called “Shape the Path.”

Shape the Path is something I have been employing consciously for a very long time, though I never called it that.  Perhaps I discovered the technique intuitively.

You know those annoying people who are always running late for everything and much of the time don’t even get the day right…showing up a day or two too early or too late for what they had agreed to do for or with you?  A very long time ago, I was one of those.  Then I started employing strategies to cope with my space cadet tendencies.

I learned to use a calendar.  I wrote things on my hand. I learned how to shape my environment so as to make forgetting things impossible. For example, I have a place for everything. In the morning, as soon as I have packed my lunch, I set the lunch bag in front of the door so that I have to trip over it to get out.  If my life becomes too hectic for a period and I start being forgetful, I will tape a check-list on the inside of the door:  Do you have your lunch? The BlackBerry? Classroom keys?

For everything I have ever wanted to changed about myself, I have usually been able to find a way to tweak the environment to make that change much easier on myself.  For example, I have a bad habit of getting out of bed when the alarm goes off, but crawling back between the sheets for (just — ha!) five more minutes of blissful slumber.  So one day it occurred to me to MAKE THE BED as soon as I get up to pee.  With the bed all neatly made, I am much less tempted to crawl back in. I shaped the path, and it works.

One reason I think it is so hard for me not to try to convert others to my religion of finding the optimal method for any desired outcome is that when you are the solutions guru in a work setting, you are so very rewarded for it.  In every workplace, I’ve become a “go to” person for solutions.  This has been a huge boost to my self-esteem and has contributed to rave performance reviews and raises.

Outside of a work setting, however, my need to be needed and my compulsion to try to fix people and find solutions for every so-called problem under the sun isn’t cause for a raise or promotion. (Did I mention that I don’t have too many friends?)

Sylvain and my ACIM group have pointed out to me, as I’ve explored Miss Fix-It in the light of my mindfulness and Buddhist detachment practices, that in order for me to feel an impulse to offer advice or try to help fix something, it naturally follows that I have already JUDGED the situation (or person) as needing to be other than what it is.

Indeed.

And I knew that. Of course I knew that. But the urge to try to fix can be quite addictive.  So, like with any addiction that isn’t a lot of fun for those around me, I tended to relax and let it hang out more with my partner and close family. I THOUGHT I was doing a good job of not letting that part of me hang out with friends and acquaintances until C spoke up at our ACIM meeting the other day.  It was a wake up call for me, just in time for my upcoming visit with my mother–whose wabi sabi way of life pushes all my buttons.

Ever Vigilant

The week before I was to leave for Little Rock, my eyes were opened to a part of my psyche that had heretofore been hidden from me. It’s amazing to me how long we are sometimes capable of remaining in denial about our own behaviour. This something had been pointed out to me many times by my partner and family members, but somehow that hadn’t broken the seal of denial.

It was when a member of my weekly ACIM group brought it to my attention that I finally heard.

“I knew you would say that,” he said to me after my comment.

Ouch. Am I that predictable? I had thought.

“Don’t fix me,” had been his next words, said with enough humour to soften but not so much as to negate the seriousness of his intention.

Perhaps I am wrong in thinking that this was the first time anyone had pierced my thick shell of denial. It’s possible that others outside my family have managed to get through to me in the past, but after a brief and painful period of self-awareness, I had retreated back into the shadows of denial and covered over the event with a layer of convenient amnesia.

In any case, my friend’s words hurt. And so I sat with that hurt and investigated it in the days leading up to my flight to Arkansas. If my mother and I were to enjoy each other’s company instead of driving each other crazy all week, I would have to be very vigilant.  My friend had had the courage to shine a light on an unhelpful and unhealthy behaviour in me, and I had to keep that personality trait from slipping back into the shadows of my psyche.

As my shaman used to say, quoting Sun Tzu via Jung: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Mirror, Mirror

Sunday night is when my ACIM group meets here.  As our facilitator has said more than once, The Course is not for the faint of heart. We try to take a brutally honest look at our egos, for one.

Mine made an appearance late Sunday that I did not even know about. After our hour and a half of reading and discussion, the group left. Did they leave a bit earlier and more briskly than expected, or did I just imagine that?

Once we were alone, Sylvain sat me down to tell me something important. “Your ego is not going to like it,” he warned me.  I wanted to know. I took a deep breath.

He proceeded to tell me that something I did/said had hurt somebody’s feelings pretty badly.

My initial reaction is exactly what you would expect from someone with a huge (read fragile) ego.  I said, “I am not perfect. If someone is upset with me, I can live with that.”  And, “how someone reacts to my ego is her responsibility.”

Wow, eh?  Yeah, ouch.

As Sylvain was getting ready to leave, he noticed that I was absentmindedly washing cups when he had just asked for his coat and I had nodded but then not reached into the closet for it.

“What’s wrong?” He asked me.

I realized then that I was upset, but the upset was still unconscious, was just barely starting to bubble to the surface in the form of nervous and distracted fussing about.

“Whatever I say right away is not my real response,” I said. “The real response will come later,” I said.

Once Sylvain left, I allowed myself to replay the event of the evening in my mind’s eye. I saw myself being rough with another’s feelings just because my ego wanted what it wanted when it wanted it. Whereas the Kelly who did that had not looked over at the wounded person to see how she was nor made eye contact, Kelly the observer took a peek in her direction.

It hurt.  I realized I had behaved badly and owed my friends apologies. What I want more than anything is to create a safe space in which we can all open up and be vulnerable.  Yet right here in my own home, I had shut someone down while they were doing just that.

A feeling welled up inside me. A nasty one.  This is the feeling I run from. This is the feeling I will do anything to escape.  This is the feeling that once upon a time could send me to the liquor store in the middle of the night. I hate this feeling.  It’s the feeling of knowing that you have hurt someone else and need to say, “I’m sorry.”

I don’t do “sorry.”  I never have done it. I’m not an “I’m sorry” kind of gal.

Can you believe it? That’s how damaged I am.  All my life, whenever I’ve done something hurtful toward another…accidentally or impulsively… I have resolved it in one of a number of ways, none of them easy to admit to here on this public forum.

1) remained in denial about my transgression

2) let the friendship die…who needed them anyway?

3) ignore it, pretend it never happened, hope the other person forgives/forgets in time

As my group facilitator keeps saying, “Once you know this stuff, you can’t un-know it. Your ego can’t get away with the same crap anymore. The gig is up.”

I knew I couldn’t take any of the same old routes as before.  Sylvain had even been concerned enough to ask if I had booze in the house.  Yes, I said. There’s vodka in the freezer.

“Why?” He asked.

“Because alcohol has a higher freezing point… ” I began.

“No, not why is it in the freezer, why do you have any in the house?”

“Oh, remember, you gave me some for that pie crust experiment?”

“Right.  Are you okay?”

“Oh, heavens. I’m not going to drink the vodka.  This is an opportunity. This is material for practice. I have to sit with this feeling.”

I sat with the feeling and I cried a bit. It was too late to call my friend and deliver the inevitable apology; that would have to wait till tomorrow.  After sitting for a while with the nasty feeling in my chest and stomach, I brushed my teeth and went into the bedroom.  There, beside the bed, was the current issue of the Shambhala Sun opened to this article by Pema Chodron. In it she recounts the story of a time when she was stuck for several days at a retreat with someone who would not speak to her, who was holding a grudge against her for something that had happened between them in the past. Nothing Pema did or said could bring this person around.  Pema was so troubled by this that she was unable to sleep that night and so she went to the meditation hall and sat on the cushion all night. She just sat with that awful feeling until dawn.  She had a breakthrough, but that’s another story.

The next night, last night, I called my friend to apologize. First, though, I had to dig down until I found my tender heart. Since I am someone who doesn’t apologize, who has absolutely no experience or practice in apologizing and feels completely awkward trying to do it and would rather be doing anything else on earth but that… I knew I could not dial the phone until I was really there, all of me.  It couldn’t be one of those, “Hey, sorry about that” apologies.  It had to be really felt.  You know, there is a big difference between, “Oh yeah, hey, sorry!” and “I am sorry to have hurt you.”

I got her answering machine and left a message.

I called another group member and apologized to her. We spoke briefly on the phone, then today she emailed me these words:

This is such a wonderful path we have embarked on for this year and I hope you can join with me in agreeing that it took no time at all for you to realize your ego was doing something that’s just not working for you any more. We will all have such breakthroughs this year ….  Let’s agree to celebrate these breakthroughs and reaffirm our commitment to see it through to the end.  To see what kind of folks we can be without all this other ‘stuff’.’

All the best to you and wonderful Sylvain, our companions on this journey.  C, J and I are off tomorrow to corral our egos for 10 days and watch the nonsense present itself to our awareness.  I imagine there will be some tears and anger and relief but in the end I hope I come out of it a kinder, gentler ego , I only hope I can be as quick as you were in seeing through it!  Love S

This morning my eyes fell on the daily meditation for February 15th, which included these words:

Not one of us feels loving every minute. Even when we have been student of the Course for a long time, we are prone to behavior that embarrasses us at times. Why can’t we change, once and for all? Actually, we can. That’s the path we are on. We simply haven’t arrived at the destination yet. In the meantime, we can take every chance we get to change our thoughts of attack to thoughts of love or forgiveness.

How blessed I am to have the three treasures.

…but I AM a child of God

This blog post is a continuation of a conversation begun here.

Hi, Carlene,

Thank you for explaining the traditional Christian perspective on sin.

I am not sure how long ago you were a student of A Course in Miracles, but I would like to address two things you have said here about ACIM.

1) In your comment on the last post, you said: “In contrast to what the ACIM teaching spirits have to say, I find that the things I find most offensive in others are generally the things I find offensive in myself.”

To me, this is exactly what the Course is teaching us: that perception comes from projection, the Course’s term “projection” being very like Jung’s. When we see evil in another, the evil is a perception springing from our own minds. When I no longer have evil in my mind, I can no longer see it in my brother, so there is no sin to forgive.

Anyone reading this who is interested in more Jung-ACIM parallels can check out two blog posts called Carl Jung and The Course by Frank Dobner, Part I and Part II.

2) “If you’re not a Christian, you have to do it on your own.”

I just want to respectfully say that this is your truth, one you have arrived at through your experience. Nobody can touch that. It is yours. But it is not the only experience.

After my year of fervent prayer to God for Him to reveal Himself to me, I had what many would call a “mystical” or “religious” experience. I call it an awakening.  Before that day, I sometimes wondered if life was worth living. Since that day, God has walked with me and I am head over heels in love with life.

Before that day, the Holy Bible was gibberish to me. After the revelation, I raced back to it to see if that book would still sound like nonsense. It didn’t! I found profound, comforting truths on every page. I read ravenously for hours on end.

Still curious to see if all holy scriptures would spring to life, I picked up the Holy Qur’an, the Upanishads, the Tao Te Ching. I sat reading these texts for hours under the towering conifers, my feet tucked beneath me on a bed of pine needles, tears streaming down my face.

Beforehand, evangelists’ messages (I lived in the Bible Belt) had been cryptic and frustrating to me; now I could spend whole afternoons talking with prosceletizers about the glory of God.

I worshiped with Pentecostals for a time, spoke in tongues and was baptized in the name of Jesus. My fellow congregants were happy to have me in their midst. I never once mentioned that I was not exclusively Christian, that all faiths swept me away with equal ease. Had anyone asked, I would have told them; but nobody did.

For a year I practiced Buddhism in Japan where I experienced miracles and healings through chanting the Lotus Sutra.

As Gandhi said, “I am a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim and a Jew.”

This is how I feel.  I know that Jews do not have to “do it on their own.” They are not alone! I know that Muslims and Hindus do not have to, either.  HaShem is available to us all when we seek a holy relationship with It/Him/Her.

When I turn to God through Jesus, God is with me.  When I turn to the Great Silence of my Mind in meditation, a holy peace comes over me. When I read a poem by the sufi mystic Hafez, my heart overflows with love.

I am so happy and grateful that Jesus offers himself as a path to forgiveness for you and many others.  But I know…not from any dogma or scripture or the Course or any other teaching… but from my own personal experience, that there are many paths up the mountain.

A Course in Miracles urges me to cultivate a daily relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit.  We arrive together at a place of pure forgiveness.

=====

P.S. I take off my hat to my wonderful readers who, in my entire five years of blogging, have never once engaged in any intolerance or ungracious behaviour with one another. You always make every commenter feel…well, if not warmly welcome then at least safely ignored.  And I thank you for that from the bottom of my heart. You are all one hell of a class act.

Transcendent Experience with ACIM Lesson 68

Some days the ACIM workbook lesson of the day doesn’t really grab me, but I do it anyway knowing it is working on me at a subconscious level. Other days… shazam!   Here is the text of today’s lesson. My reflections follow it.

Lesson 68

Love holds no grievances.

You who were created by love like itself can hold no grievances and know your Self. To hold a grievance is to forget who you are. To hold a grievance is to see yourself as a body. To hold a grievance is to let the ego rule your mind and to condemn the body to death. Perhaps you do not yet fully realize just what holding grievances does to your mind. It seems to split you off from your Source and make you unlike Him. It makes you believe that He is like what you think you have become, for no one can conceive of his Creator as unlike himself.

Shut off from your Self, which remains aware of Its likeness to Its Creator, your Self seems to sleep, while the part of your mind that weaves illusions in its sleep appears to be awake. Can all this arise from holding grievances? Oh, yes! For he who holds grievances denies he was created by love, and his Creator has become fearful to him in his dream of hate. Who can dream of hatred and not fear God?

It is as sure that those who hold grievances will redefine God in their own image, as it is certain that God created them like Himself, and defined them as part of Him. It is as sure that those who hold grievances will suffer guilt, as it is certain that those who forgive will find peace. It is as sure that those who hold grievances will forget who they are, as it is certain that those who forgive will remember.

Would you not be willing to relinquish your grievances if you believed all this were so? Perhaps you do not think you can let your grievances go. That, however, is simply a matter of motivation. Today we will try to find out how you would feel without them. If you succeed even by ever so little, there will never be a problem in motivation ever again.

Begin today’s extended practice period by searching your mind for those against whom you hold what you regard as major grievances. Some of these will be quite easy to find. Then think of the seemingly minor grievances you hold against those you like and even think you love. It will quickly become apparent that there is no one against whom you do not cherish grievances of some sort. This has left you alone in all the universe in your perception of yourself.

Determine now to see all these people as friends. Say to them all, thinking of each one in turn as you do so:

I would see you as my friend, that I may remember you are part of me and come to know myself.

Spend the remainder of the practice period trying to think of yourself as completely at peace with everyone and everything, safe in a world that protects you and loves you, and that you love in return. Try to feel safety surrounding you, hovering over you and holding you up. Try to believe, however briefly, that nothing can harm you in any way. At the end of the practice period tell yourself:

Love holds no grievances. When I let all my grievances go I will know I am perfectly safe.

The short practice periods should include a quick application of today’s idea in this form, whenever any thought of grievance arises against anyone, physically present or not:

Love holds no grievances. Let me not betray my Self.

In addition, repeat the idea several times an hour in this form:

Love holds no grievances. I would wake to my Self by
laying all my grievances aside and wakening in Him.

===================

Now I know that the text and the lessons are written in a language that strikes many as unnecessarily cumbersome.  I don’t let the style of writing stand in my way.  As I said, some days the lessons are hard for me to penetrate. But today? Holy Hannah.

I started, as I always do, the minute I woke up. I keep the book in the bathroom open to the right page. This way I can’t forget to start my lesson first thing. It goes with brushing my teeth and peeing.  So the first thing I did was grab a piece of paper and pen from the kitchen so I could jot down names of people against whom I am harbouring grievances of any kind. Before doing this lesson, I thought of myself as someone who holds no grudges or hard feelings against anyone. I have let go of the business of what my step-father did to me. I can convince myself that George W. is just a sociopathic idiot and not worthy of my hate energy. And so on. But as I looked with great honesty inside myself, I found that I have lots of people for whom complete feelings of love and acceptance do not flow easily from me.  I started with a couple of names, but soon my pen was flying. I had ten names in no time, including that of a man who lives in this building but whom I do not know. I realized I harbour ill feelings about him because of the smells that emanate from his apartment, necessitating my holding my nose every time I have to pass down that hall. Because he reminds me of my brother, every time I smell the noxious smell from his apartment, it reminds me of when my brother would allow urine-soaked laundry to sit for days on end without doing his washing. Shenpa.

Rather than trying to remember every part of this lesson, I allowed myself to be carried by the passage that seized me: “I would see you as a friend, that I may remember you are part of me and come to know myself.”

My years spent in Jungian analysis influenced how and how deeply this passage worked on me.  It’s never been hard for me to understand the concept of projection. When something in someone else irritates me, I know that there is an aspect of myself I have suppressed in my subconscious.  The first step for me is to acknowledge that this person simply serves as a mirror for me.  He is helping me see a part of myself I have relegated to the shadowy corner of my psyche.  As I bring those rejected parts of myself into the Light, I feel freed to love others more completely. I stop projecting my shit onto them.

So yeah, I have had a few years of practice with the concept of projecting. But for some reason today’s lesson took me to a whole new level.  It wasn’t just about psychology.  I realized that there was another level on which this idea could be understood and experienced.

We are all one.  I am not a separate entity from my neighbour. We are embodiments of the godhead.

I used that long and seemingly convoluted sentence as my mantra all day long. I divided it into three sections:

  1. I would see you as my friend… (I said this part slowly and let it soften my heart.)
  2. that I may remember you are part of me (we are not separate; and also, you are mirroring back to me a part of myself)
  3. and come to know myself  (thank you for being such a mirror, because I want to know myself and come to love and accept every part of me)

I drove to work and continued to use this phrase to see everyone around me differently… including the person who tailgated me, the one who cut me off, and the one who threw a cigarette butt on the ground.

All day I felt a degree of peace and love toward all beings that I have never felt before.  Okay, wait. That’s not true. It wasn’t the depth that was different. It was the breadth. I’ve felt that depth of love and acceptance before…toward Mahatma Gandhi and the Dalai Lama, for example. But today it was easy for me to feel the same way toward all sorts of people… the irritating ones, the egotistical ones, the ones who blabber on about inane topics.  Every encounter was an opportunity to practice.

Where Did My Filter Go?

Strange things start happening when I delve deeply into the work I’m doing now. ACIM and other material with which I’m working shakes up ego, helps me function more in my right brain, and so forth.  But the process is not linear or orderly.  Some days I feel wobbly, sometimes I feel like I’m on drugs.  Sometimes I start saying everything that comes to my mind before I think about whether saying it out loud is such a good idea.  Today was like that, only I wasn’t just with Sylvain this time.  I was at a workshop for teachers.

So that’s one thing that was different: I was blurting out my thoughts without vetting them.

The second thing that was happening was that my ego was on a rampage.  I was having very judgmental thoughts about some of the people in the room with me.  Not all, mind you.  I was my usual patient, helpful, loving and kind self with most of my workshop mates.  But at the same time, I had absolutely no willingness to indulge people who just wanted to hear themselves talk.  I’m not sure if I really came across as rude or nasty or impatient with them or if that’s just how it felt from behind my eyeballs.

Afterward I talked to Sylvain about it.  He said maybe my ego was feeling very threatened and needed to re-assert itself. It spotted an opportunity, a weakness of mine, and went crazy.

Later that evening I was reading Choosing Easy World,  which I had put down when we went on holidays. I picked back up where I’d left off, which was the chapter called “Finding Easy World in the Dark.”  There Julia talks about allowing your ego to express whatever it needs to instead of stuffing it. This is not the same as allowing the ego to take over. You remain in the capacity of manager, allowing ego to express what he needs to. You are still in control, though.

Perhaps what happened with me at the workshop is an indication that I had been repressing some ego stuff that needs to be acknowledged and expressed under conscious management when I’m alone.

That’s something for me to think about. I’m glad my ACIM group meets tomorrow.

My Dreams Are Changing

My dreams have begun to shift away from old, repetitive motifs and themes.  My subconscious has proven to be pretty reliable when it comes to harping on a handful of themes over and over and over through my dreams. For a while I had the evil step-father dreams, the nomad dreams and runaway car dreams.  As I worked through the issues presented by those dreams, they began to change and eventually disappear.  Well, I still have the odd nomad dream, but the other two have all but completely dissipated.  I spent 3.5 years working with a Jungian analyst (one of the best decisions of my life; I am eternally grateful to my mother for paying for the first year using an inheritance from my grandparents). When I would ask this gifted shaman–whom I was blessed enough to find in Waterloo–what the deal was with the car dreams and mother’s house dreams, she would tell me that we were working to get my into the driver’s seat of my own car and into my own house. Individuation.  The dreams in which my mother was driving and I was a passenger said that I was giving an inappropriate amount of control to my mother complex in guiding my life’s path and decisions.  Getting me into the driver’s seat has proven to be no easy task.  I continue to work month after month and year after year to knead out these knots in my psyche.

My recent work with Robert Scheinfeld’s book, Julia Rogers Hamrick’s new book and Richard Bartlett’s “The Physics of Miracles” seems to be jogging something loose!  Sylvain says, “You’re a lot of fun these days. You’re somehow lighter.”  And my dreams are undergoing drastic changes.

My analyst taught me that unless it’s someone you really did just hear from or bump into lately, when you dream about someone, you are really dreaming about a part of yourself.  That person represents a particular part of you, so if you want to decipher the helpful message from your Self to your self, figure out what the dream character symbolizes.  Sylvain and I have a good time reporting our dreams to one another and deciphering which parts of ourselves are represented by the various characters who show up on the dream scene. Before I get into the biggish dream I had the other night, I’ll add that Anna told me that capital/money/buying power that you have in a dream represents energy that you have (for something, etc.)

The first dream that signaled a shift was about a week to 10 days ago.  I dreamt I was standing on a residential street after dark.  There were cars parked along the curb on the right; one was behind me and one a little way in front of me.  Off to the left and slightly behind me a tall, thin, black man in his 20s or early 30s emerged from my blind spot.  He was well dressed in the way that those higher up in organized crime are sometimes well dressed.  In front of me was Elspeth, who is no stranger to my dream scape.  I know what she represents for me. She is my repressed better self, the self I aspire to: enlightened, wise, calm, collected, very confident and very brave. You could call her my Bright Shadow.

The man walking past on my left accidentally dropped a large envelope of cash. A LOT of cash. Thousands and thousands of dollars.  He kept walking, not realizing he had dropped the money.  Elspeth picked it up and smoothly handed me half.  She went off in the forward direction with one half and I went off to the right to hide the other half in case the negative animus figure came back to get it. I went onto a college campus, into a building and into a dressing room with lockers. I put the stack of cash in a locker and closed it. I went back onto the street.

A large Caucasian police officer in plain clothes came on the scene, also from the same area of my field of vision from which the first man had come: the back left outside of my view. He was tall and robust. He was investigating the criminal activity on the block. I told him about the money, and he asked me if he could see it. I went back into the building and to the locker. When I got there, the locker door was cracked open.  Some young people /students had gotten into the locker and had taken out some of the bills. They had used a few of them for pretty origami things.

Last night Sylvain and I had a lot of fun trying to uncover the meaning of this dream.  Clearly a Shadow part of me has recently turned over a big chunk of energy to my Self and to my Bright Shadow.  I parked my half in an institution of higher learning, and some off it got siphoned off and used for creative/artistic pursuits.  Sylvain and I commented that these days, I spend at least half my energy on learning/teaching and a little bit on the side I spend painting dragonflies.

I am very glad that the very old patterns are giving way now to something else. I am tired of the dreams where I try to catch a bus but the driver keeps going, or I don’t have bus fare, or I end up in a neighbourhood where I don’t know my way and have no place to sleep for the night.  I’m tired of the dreams of my mother’s decaying old house with cobwebs (those have not yet abated) where she makes all the rules and I feel like a tenant with no say in anything.

dollar store canvases, acrylic craft paints

playing with glazes; should i stop here or keep adding?

Dream: Don’t Put the Toads in a Pocket or Entrust them to…

In one of my dreams this morning close to the time I woke, I was carrying two toads–one very large and one smaller. There were people around me, and I was going through a sort of obstacle course on my way to another part of a large complex of buildings and structures. I was outside.  The ground was damp, packed dirt with no grass. There was more undeveloped area in this compound than there was indoor area. To make it easier for me to grab onto the rungs of jungle-gym-like structures on this trip from one end of the grounds to the other, I put the toads in my large smock pockets.  But at some point I realized that the toads could come to harm or escape if I did that. So I held them in my hands.  Then I came to a point near the end of the short trip across the grounds of this institution-like place (monastery? nursing home? college campus?) where I needed my hands to keep my balance. My friend (a combination of two females I know in real life, both of them very big-boned, sort of Amazon women) was there by the ladder, so I asked her please to hold the big toad for me.  I started to climb down the ladder as the last part of this obstacle course and looked over to see that my friend had put the toad in her pocket.  SIGH. I had asked her to HOLD the toad. I had pockets of my own. I could have put the big toad in my own pocket. I didn’t want the toad in a pocket, which is why I had said, “Can you please HOLD this toad for me for a second while I climb down?”

There was an incident in real life that happened shortly before I retired for the night that ties into this dream.  I won’t recount the event, but I do know that had I caught myself mumbling, “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” This is how I felt in the dream when my friend put the toad in her pocket.  Why had I entrusted her with the toad?

When I looked up toad as symbol, I found a wonderful blog article  that explores the frog/toad in world mythologies. This is exactly what my Jungian analyst used to do when we needed a little help interpreting a dream. She called it “amplifying.” She would go through this huge tome that contained information about every item and animal and food and …well…everything you can think of followed by what that thing represents in various cultures and mythologies over the world through recorded history.  One or more of the meanings would always jump out at me, resonate with me. Then we were onto what my subconscious was trying to talk to me about via my dreams.

Animus integration. Transformation. Inattentiveness.

Inattentiveness?  On Thursday I hit “REPLY TO ALL” and composed an email to my coworkers very quickly (because I had to be in a class in 15 minutes) without taking extra care with my wording…to ensure I wasn’t stepping on toes. See my previous post.

Toads, toads, what do you want to say to me?

Anna would ask me about the essence of this friend in the dream…the one to whom I pass off the big toad.  She is 80% my friend X and 20% my friend Y.  X is a compulsive talker and not very mindful, in spite of wanting to be.

Shadow Work 2 – Spiritual Snobbery, External Validation

We were enjoying a night of socializing with a large group of people, something we almost never do.  The food at the Spanglish club summer barbecue had been wonderful, the hosts gracious; many people had come over to the corner of the backyard where we were camped out in order to make our acquaintance and chat a while.

When it came time to pack up, I had an encounter with a rather loud fellow who had had a few beers.  I had drunk one at 6:00 before we went to the party and had drunk another over the course of three hours while there.

After overhearing an exchange between me and someone else regarding a spiritual practice, this guy started pontificating, giving me advice.  Before I even knew what had hit me, I was complexed. Unconscious. Not vigilant. Not like a cat at the mouse hole. More like a napping cat.

My ego went to town.

Afterward I felt so gross, so yucky.

What was bothering me wasn’t so much that I had tried to put Mr. Know-it-All in his place, but that I had done so right in front of my acquaintance who’d shown an interest in ACIM.

Great, Kel! Great job being an ambassador for meditation. A lot of good it’s done you, apparently!

Grrrr.

After we left the party, we went and sat in the dark at the marina. We talked softly while water slapped the side of the pier. A delicious breeze was blowing, welcome relief after a warm and humid day.

Sylvain pointed something out to me: while it was good that I had recognized my ego’s getting the best of me in situation #1, my ego had then slipped around and come in again through the back door.  There was the ego activity I could see, but the little monkey was taking me for another ride I couldn’t see: caring so much what my colleague thought of me.

These eggs are popping open faster than I can keep up.  On the mat this morning I’d ended up in tears when a realization had bubbled to the surface that I’d been judgmental and hurtful with a friend recently. Now this.

Sylvain sat close while I cried.  I took a deep breath and applied The Process to the uncomfortable feelings.  Then I calmed down and we talked a bit more before he walked me home.

GiST 80 and More Busting Loose Stuff

  • Sylvain and I went on a fun shopping trip this morning.
  • I spent part of the day cleaning, purging and organizing because I’ve been nominated to host the ACIM class. I’m not the teacher, but I’ll provide the place to meet because the teacher’s house is not wheelchair accessible. She wanted to be able to invite Sylvain.
  • More nasty stuff bubbled up from the depths of my psyche, but I applied The Process each time.
  • We went to a party, something we almost never do. It was a lot of fun, but Sylvain and I are early birds and left at 10:00. I danced!
  • At the party, my ego got tweaked and I let it get the better of me. My sweetie helped me talk it out later and be compassionate with myself about it.

Phase 2 Eggs

Oh, my. It’s not all fun and games.  My Expanded Self, as Scheinfeld calls it, is leading me to lots of “eggs.”  I think I can safely say that this is the same as sources of shenpa in the Tibetan Buddhist model and complexes in the Jungian model.

Scheinfeld offers a tool for dissolving these knots, these tangles that are keeping us from our full potential as limitless, omnipotent beings.

As I invest in doing this process, lots of ugly stuff is coming to the surface for me to work out.  It’s not a lot of fun to look these gremlins in the eye.

Do the Uncomfortable until it Becomes Comfortable

For the past twenty years I’ve been risk-averse, always finding a way to wriggle into a small pond where I could be a big fish. All through university I only remember two times when I was not single-handedly setting the curve for the whole class.  Those two times did not feel good to me.  I glared at the other A+ student behind his or her back, hoping that if I concentrated hard enough, I could make laser beams shoot from my eyes and incinerate the competition.  Sure, there was a fleeting thought that having someone in the class who inspired me to work a little harder was healthy, but mostly I just wanted them to get some awful illness and have to withdraw from the term.

My mom encouraged me to apply for scholarships so I could leave my home state and go to a better school, but I had little interest in being with fish my own size.  I was frightened by the idea of stretching and finding out where the limits of my capabilities lay and then pushing against them. No, I was perfectly happy staying in the small pond and being admired for my large fishiness.

I fell into a series of administrative jobs that were way below my potential, but paid the bills. Many times I reflected on how I was spending my one precious life in light of how I could have chosen to spend it.  One former high school classmate of mine recently got in touch via my blog and sent a copy of his family’s annual holiday letter, complete with photos.  He is a pediatrician who volunteers some of his time each year in underdeveloped countries giving small children their palates back, mending faces.  I looked at the pictures of his smart looking wife and brilliant children on enrichment trips to places like Stonehenge and could not help but wonder: out of what material had I constructed my cage?

In my spare time as a young adult I devoured books on neurology, but didn’t dare dream of medical school. I tutored my classmates in every subject from astronomy to trig, Latin to statistics, then watched as they pursued the academic and career paths of their dreams while I did not.

It took me until the age of 45 to realize that if I didn’t act soon, I would be at the end of a road looking back at my life with a small pain in my heart, thinking, “I wish I’d had the courage to….”

Were it not for that abandoned copy of The Power of Now, I’m not sure I ever could have taken the leap from secure cubicle job to answering my calling.  Before I could take such a risk, I had to first learn about the sources and triggers of my anxiety.  I had to spend hours with Pema Chodron’s CDs, which taught me that the voice in my head was just a tape, one I could choose to observe the way a parent can calmly observe a child throwing a tantrum in an attempt to manipulate.

I had to learn to dissect my perfectionism. I had to gain tools for calming myself when someone gives me feedback on a mistake and I feel as if my chest is exploding, I cannot breathe, start to feel as if I might cry or vomit or both.

My first week of teaching has been one of the least comfortable weeks of my life.  Every night as I struggled to put together the next day’s lesson I muttered, “what was I thinking?” and “this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”  Then another voice would come out and say, “But that’s what you WANTED.  You didn’t want to leave this planet without finding out what happens when you push yourself into the virgin territory on the outer edges of your potential.”

Ani Pema has a great anecdote in one of her books about a young man who came to a retreat. He had his ball cap on backward and was all about being cool, about being perceived as having it all together.  They were assembled one day for a ceremony of some sort and this very venerated old monk came up to the front to sing the anthem.  He had the worst singing voice Juan had ever heard, never staying on key, his old voice cracking left and right; but he sang with gusto.  Pema saw that Juan was visibly moved.  When he was asked, he said, “That guy isn’t afraid to make a fool of himself!”  Young Juan was never the same after that day.  He started letting his vulnerabilities show.

That’s where I am now. I’m trying to get my body and brain and panting lungs and racing heart to stop listening to the tape and believe that it’s okay. It’s uncomfortable, yes.  But we still have to forge ahead and do it.  Do the uncomfortable until it becomes comfortable.  It’s like crossing a wobbly footbridge.

It’s scary, yes. But don’t you want to see what’s on the other side?

Being the Watcher

I continue to observe myself and notice how very many times a day I get hung up on what isn’t. That is to say, I become attached to a reality that exists only in my mind and has little to do with what really is. There are little stretches of tension all through my day where I resist what is and cling to what I wish were so.

This happened a lot tonight in the hospice kitchen.

It happened again when I got an email from my supervisor, his answer to one I’d sent him.

It is all about wanting to control other people, their motives, their ways of doing things, their perceptions, their energy, their attitudes, their level of spiritual consciousness.  It gets worse when I am stressed and also when my hormones are all over the place.

This tendency lessens when I meditate, exercise and in general take better care of myself. Oh, and it helps when I just acknowledge that I’m doing it.

Dreams: The Silenced Animus

I was in a house or building with a woman. There may have been others around in that building, but not in the same room with us. A short, slight man came up an elevator no more than one floor. That is to say, the house or studio we were in was two stories and he had come up from the ground floor. He told me something, which was a message for the woman I was with. He stood in the elevator while I turned my head to the right to convey the message to her. I don’t remember all the details of the dream very clearly, but it seems to me now that it was some sort of attempt at blackmail. He was threatening to reveal some secret and wanted some money…maybe $2 million. I ducked my body very subtly just slightly to the right so that he couldn’t see my next gesture / facial expression toward her, which was a subtle shaking of the head “no.”

She then came over from where she’d been…I sense it was a kitchen. She came around the other side of me, the left side, and walked straight into him, forcing him to back up against the wall of the elevator. She then raised her hand and there was an oyster shucking knife it it. Before either of us–the man or I–knew what was happening, she was sliding that knife into his mouth, up through the roof of his mouth and into his brain cavity. I held his body while she gave the knife a couple of good twists to ensure the injury would be fatal.

He never made a sound and he didn’t bleed all over the place. I let his body drop and I stepped back out of the elevator. Just one little drop of his bodily fluid had leapt onto my sleeve or hand, so I said to her, “I’m going to wash up.”

That’s all I remember.

I awoke feeling this was a dream worthy of some thought because I almost never have dreams in which I am violent, or in which there is any violence at all.

Sylvain and I talked about it a little while before getting up. Clearly this dream is about two parts of me. The man is one part of me…animus…and the woman is a part of me. Is she positive anima or negative? Is he positive animus or negative. On first waking, I assumed he was negative animus and she was positive anima. I colluded with her, in any case.

“How did you feel about her?” Sylvain asked.

“I was surprised that she took care of him so efficiently, quickly and quietly. She really knew what to do and didn’t flinch, she just did it.”

But then again… she sure didn’t stop and talk it over with me. Maybe a shadow part of me decided to take matters into her own hands without enough consultation with Higher Self.

Hmmmm…

A few days ago I had a dream about some prisoners. I was in the prison courtyard with them; they were seated. My blouse was open, revealing my breasts. In the dream, I was aware that a man or more than one man wanted to reach out and touch, but of course they could not.

I’m not sure if this was the main point of the dream, but when I woke up, I said, “My animus feels imprisoned.” And no, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that my imprisoned ex has recently resumed contact. Often the lines between real life and the symbolic life of our dreams overlaps.

Sylvain asked me what I meant by that.

“The men in the dream want to do what men do. But they can’t because someone in the watch tower might shoot them. They might get reprimanded and thrown in the hole for thirty days. They are not free to be men. That’s how I feel when I’m in a situation where I need to be assertive. I know what I should say. The sentence forms in my head, but I don’t say it. It feels as if there is a force field in front of me; I can’t cross it. My healthy animus with the things he would like to do/say on my behalf …he feels trapped, imprisoned, silenced.”

Oh! The man in last night’s dream was also silenced.

By a woman in a kitchen.

Maybe right now my psyche is trying to strike a balance between healthy anima and healthy animus. I need the assertiveness of healthy animus but not the inner critic voice that goes overboard and fills me with anxiety and fear. I need the ability to act when action is called for. From my anima I need healthy compassion, care of myself and others but not co-dependence and martyrdom.

Truth or Fiction Game – Answers

I experimented with many illicit substances as a teenager.  TRUE. Nothing very interesting to tell here except that I did a bit more than merely experiment with weed. I was rather fond of it for a while there. I never did anything with a needle, and I did not enjoy my one or two tastes of coke. Nasty stuff. My mother’s many admonitions that dropping acid would make me think I could fly off a building did not stop me from trying it, but did make me cautious about size of dosage. Congratulations, Mom. My absinthe parties were a lot of fun, complete with home-distilled absinthe made with real wormwood (not the legal version without wormwood).

I have chewed coca leaves purchased on the streets of Santa Cruz, Bolivia. TRUE. That was in the mid to late eighties. My Spanish prof (turned common law husband) was a member of Partners of the Americas. He brought me along as his assistant and together we presented a workshop to Bolivian English teachers on the language teaching method Total Physical Response (TPR). Along the streets, especially in the market district, you could see women in their traditional dress sitting on blankets that they had spread out in the shade of a building. They laid out the little bundles and bowls of what they had for sale. A few of them had coca leaves up for offer, and I wanted to try using them the same way the Bolivian pickers use them to ward off fatigue and cold. So I bought a bunch, assembled a small wad and stuffed it in my cheek. I don’t remember the effects, if any, and only vaguely remember not liking the taste.

The largest age gap between me and someone I dated was forty years. TRUE. I have blogged about Dr. Jones once or twice. He is the one whom I accompanied to Bolivia, and he is the one to whom we were all indebted for the authentic absinthe. He and I were an item for about seven years and lived together for four or five of those years. It was a lovely time in my life, and we remain friends. He now lives with a lady friend his own age.

When I was 15, I was caught by a priest playing naked Frisbee on the grounds of a seminary. TRUE. I was quite the little exhibitionist when I was a teenager. Plus I was completely taken with the 60s and everything to do with the era of peace, love and free anything. I memorized all the lyrics to the rock musical HAIR and imagined myself getting nude in the mud at Woodstock. Since getting naked was no big deal to me, I loved any dare to do so. My little friends and I would throw toga parties and I would run around with a bed sheet draped over ONE shoulder.

Close to my house in the Heights in Little Rock was the headquarters of the Catholic Diocese. It was housed in a group of ancient buildings that had once hosted seminarians. The gates of the mysteriously beautiful brick, ivy-covered complex were left open all the time, and folks who lived nearby made a habit of going there to walk, skate, exercise their dogs or toss a ball with their kids on the baseball diamond. In back was a wooded area that hid a steep ravine where generations of children had at some point in their coming-of-age sneaked off to explore and earn spankings or groundings from worried parents. Down there were slippery, moss-covered rock walls to be scaled by nimble 11-year olds, a waterfall, and a statue of the Virgin who was almost always holding a small bouquet of freshly picked wild flowers.  I think a nearby plaque identified her as Our Lady of the Ravine.

One sunny summer day, an older boy proposed naked Frisbee to me and two of my girlfriends. I was jazzed by the idea and suggested we bring a camera. We had to be very furtive because people were walking their dogs around the loop, so we chose a spot off to one side, partially hidden by trees. We tossed the Frisbee only a few times, mostly busying ourselves with capturing our daring act on film. I was posing against a large oak tree with my nude back to the camera when we were spied by a white-haired woman walking her little white-haired poodle. We quickly put our clothes back on, having noticed her scowl. About three minutes later, a middle aged man in black clothes and a white collar approached us and asked to speak to us. As I remember it, I was the one brave enough to go up to him and allow him to interrogate me while my friends hung back a few yards to eavesdrop. He calmly and politely explained to me that the seminary was private property, but that they welcomed the public to come there for their picnics and walks and ball games. My friends and I were welcome there, as well, he said. However, he said, we were expected to keep our clothes on.  “Yes sir,” I said. And that was that.

My mother used to assuage my worries over being so hairy by telling me I could be in the circus when I grew up. TRUE. At some point when we were still living in California I accompanied my mother to a school where she was either teaching or volunteering, I’m not sure which. One of the kids came up to me and asked me why I was so hairy. Do you remember those moments in your childhood when some difference about you was pointed out to you by another child? I remember all of them. I remember the day my freckles were brought to my attention. Adults would fawn over my hair colour (it was flaming red when I was born and had changed to strawberry blond by the time I was five). On this particular day, I was made aware that other children did not have a lot of arm hair. I had so much corn-silk coloured hair on my arms that I really looked like a bird ready for flight.  In spite of the fact that I morphed into some sort of extroverted, psychotic demon during my adolescence, I was a VERY shy child and wanted desperately for the spotlight NEVER to land on me.  And so I begged my mother to cut the hair on my arms. She wouldn’t do it, but she tells me that one of my babysitters–an older friend–often took it upon herself to groom me in this way when I was in her care.  For some reason, I’m no longer that hirsute. I guess it was like the down of a pre-adult stage. At some point I molted.

My navel is pierced. TRUE. My second husband, Pete, asked me to have my navel pierced and I did so. I wore jewelry there for a few years. Later I realized I had done that for him, not for me, and had never myself really wanted it. So I took out the jewelry, but the piercing remains.

In university, I audited trigonometry just for the fun of it. TRUE. Although I had barely scraped by with low Ds in algebra in junior high–in spite of many hours of one-on-one tutoring (I was granted the D by Mrs. Cann out of pity and to recognize my effort), in university, it all finally clicked. I got it. And I enjoyed it! Astronomy was so fun. I was drawn to physics, too. Someone must have mentioned to me that the astronomy questions would be easier if I had trig, so I audited it. The prof was absolutely fantastic. Soon I was grooving through the homework for both astronomy and trig, and enjoying the tie-ins between them.

My first husband is  serving 50 years in the Arkansas correctional system and has a book coming out next year in which I play a major role. TRUE. The book part I only learned of the other day, through my blog, no less. Take a look at the very last comment on this post.  Pretty wild, eh? The publishers have given his book a new title, which he doesn’t like but has no say over. You can see a marketing blurb for the upcoming book here. It’s pretty cool because on the book blurb it says, “William W. Allen is an exemplary inmate….”

In response to that blog comment, I sent Bill my new address on the back of a post card to the jail where he is serving out the remainder of his sentence. (He was moved from the prison population to a small county jail on what is called an Act 309 to ease prison overcrowding. Only highly trusted inmates are eligible for that move.) A few weeks later, I received a letter from him in which he says, “I hold you personally responsible for me [sic] being the person that I am today.”

I have a small yin-yang tattoo on my right buttock. FALSE. Congratulations to Tom for winning the contest. You might think that was too sneaky since you would have no way of knowing, but actually had you used the SEARCH window on my blog and put in the word “tattoo,” you could have found my Things I Have Never Done post, in which I mentioned never having been tattooed. Also, Sylvain reminded me that in my post about visiting the nudist park two summers ago, complete with photos, there is proof positive that my ample, very white, right buttock is unmarred.

Thank you, everyone, for participating! :)  Tom is also doing the game now, so check it out. Oh, and Sylvain plans to do it in the next day or two.

Grace in Small Things – 184 (In Context)

Today, instead of just listing the items of Grace, I’m going to interlace them with a regular blog post.

It’s not rosy all the time. Sometimes I don’t take time for a regular blog post and only post the Graces list, but that doesn’t mean that the stuff on the list is the only stuff going on. Sometimes there are things I choose not to report because I don’t want to dwell on the negativity and contribute my energy to its momentum.

At the same time I don’t want you to get the idea that counting the Graces daily means sugar-coating everything.

Last night I had an exchange with my sweetheart that I’m not proud of.

Sometimes I slip–legacy of my purple bracelet notwithstanding–and complain about something. Or start down that slippery slope toward gossip. Toward criticizing. At times my mood tanks, my patience wears thin, or I indulge in old habits that are on their way out but not completely extinguished.

I’m glad, though, that I catch myself and redirect my focus from head trips to mindfully inhabiting the moment so much more often than before.

  • After I’d finished my lunch, there was still a good 30 minutes of break left, so I decided to wash the dirty coffee mugs in the sink. Normally people wash their own, but during our morning break the water supply had been cut off, so I knew those cups had not been left there out of laziness. R, my new friend from Iran, came up to me and said, “You’re so kind.”
  • R went on to report a conversation she’d had with her husband the night before about me, of all things. I listened to her description of me and reflected: I really am becoming the person I always wanted to be.

And that brings me to a not so rosy point. The blind spot is a mother____. On an intellectual level, I know full well that when something someone else does really peeves me, the chances are very high that I have a small corner of my psyche where that very trait or behaviour is hiding from me.

And I’ve been using this knowledge to identify the things lurking in my blind spots and–one by one–work on them. So it was painful and extremely unsettling when a friend shined a light on a really nasty behaviour of mine recently. She didn’t say anything, so it took thick-headed me a pretty long time to notice her pattern of silence that eventually got my attention and told me that I was being a jerk.

It was so ironic, like having a mirror held up to me for the first time. I DO THAT? Oh, God. That’s the one thing that disgusts me the most when I see it in others.

Argh.

I had the tool at my disposal all along, had I cared to note the pattern. It had the potential to alert me to this awful tendency, this shameful behaviour. I only had to look at what drove me craziest in others, the one thing I was least able to tolerate and be accepting of in friends or acquaintances. But I guess the psyche can be pretty clever when it comes to protecting us from our own areas of ugliness.

Yikes.

It’s been several weeks now. At first I felt so raw and disoriented, I could not possibly have blogged about it at that time. I felt shame. I felt like I’d been walking around for years with this slimy, grey creature writhing out of a hole in the middle of my forehead–one that instantly ducked back inside a split second before I turned to glance in a mirror. Everyone could see it but me. And nobody had ever before had the decency to point it out to me.

Okay, that’s not true. It HAD been pointed out to me by another friend a few years ago, so I started trying to keep it better under wraps. I’d like to think I did some work in that area, didn’t just get better at masking my true colours. But in a way, I let it slink back into the shadows. When this side of me would emerge, I would often manage to twist things in my mind so that I didn’t have to look with honesty at what I was really doing.

YUCK.

Yuck, yuck…YUCK!

  • Tonight one of the young men staying here took all 8 of us out for an amazing meal. We gasped and sputtered and tried handing him our $25 each after he paid the whole bill, but he wouldn’t hear of it. As I’ve gotten to know him, he has single-handedly opened my mind in an area where I was, I’m sorry to say, quite bigoted. In my university days, after only a few experiences with some of his countrymen, I made up my mind about people from his nation.  Whoa, do I ever have a long way to go. Good thing my teacher training includes an anti-discrimination workshop. I’m looking forward to it.
  • Usually as soon as I have finished eating, I get fidgety and want to stand up. But tonight I was enjoying myself so much with the students that I sat there for over two hours. Much of the night was spent on English. (New vocabulary: tongs, crème brûlée, clear the table.) We tossed around new idioms (“my eyes were bigger than my stomach”) and talked about where each vowel is formed in the mouth. In the street and on the subway, we were still drilling the z sound, “bed” versus “bad,” and animatedly chattering about differences between British, Canadian and American English.
  • Sylvain accepted my apology.

I guess all this is just to say that becoming more conscious is hard work. It’s a long row to hoe, and you never really reach the end.