Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Queen of Hearts

This is embarrassing. For those of you who have been reading along (and thank you by the way, for the lovely feedback), you’ll remember that I spent all last week at the beach. Everything about the trip was ideal. No, I take that back. The time careened so wildly, that to remain truthful, I’d swear I was only gone for a day. The morning after I returned, the vacation felt like a beautiful dream, sweet but brief.

That’s not the embarrassing part. Oh, I don’t really want to tell you. No, I shouldn’t have brought it up, never mind. Okay, fine, I will.

The trip was bliss. The sweeping view of the ocean afforded by the house, the expanse of blue skies, mouth-watering food, the weather warm enough to sit nake- oops, I mean sit outside without, oh, you know, hats and gloves and stuff. Anyway, never you mind. The point is every single detail about the vacation was perfect.

And yet…

I managed to find something to crab about. Oh, why did you make me say it?

I mean, for crying out loud, when a chill came, there was a beautifully built fire in the wood stove. First thing I saw in the morning was the moon taking a bath in the ocean. I have the best companion. We cozily sipped coffee, nibbled on pumpkin bread, read interesting books, combed the beach, didn’t have a care in the world, but I still invented something to grouse about.

About what, you ask? About freakin’ nothing, that’s what. Okay, it was about something, but nothing is by far the better answer.

I allowed my mellow mood to shift into stormy seas over a card game. Yes, a stupid, meaningless bad hand or two, or nineteen. And before you psychoanalyze the whole affair, there wasn’t anything underlying it. No hidden emotions or agenda. That’s what is so embarrassing. I’d love to give you all sorts of reasons why I allowed a few kings, queens and jokers to pin me to the floor and give me a good thrashing, but that’s just it, the card game was the reason.

No, I am not a gambler. I’ve been to Las Vegas and Monte Carlo and have had the opportunity to see if I am. I’m not. Neither am I particularly athletic. Okay, not at all, so sports don’t get me all crazy wound up, and I’m a semi-gracious board game player, so I don’t become all in-your-face competitive.

It’s the ding dang cards. Once in awhile, when I play, I feel like I’m inflicted with a fever, channeling some beastly intoxicated gunslinger from the west of yester-yore. Simply put, I’m a sorry sport when it comes to the pasteboards, they just don’t suit me. I’ve been known to throw a tanty, sprinkled with a few choice words, as I fling the Bicycles to the floor. Yes, I realize I am not painting a very flattering portrait of my card playing self, but it’s not my proudest moment.

I’m supposed to be enlightened, growing, self-actualizing. What’s the deal?

On my last day, when the week sped by in five minutes, I snapped out of my card-coma and asked myself why I didn’t choose to meditate on the beach, or acknowledge the wonderful God-given beauty and offer up gratitude, or tap into the revitalizing energy of the place and visualize a few dreams?

Why didn’t I play with the ideal conditions that I had immediate access to and build upon them, continuing the creative cycle? Instead, I lowered my vibrational offering by getting into a ridiculous snit over a game and had to see the disappointment on Companion’s face and feel the onslaught of nasty chemicals circling my heart.

As I continue to ask questions, I’m gifted with possible answers. The one that landed ker-plunk into my energy system, made my face feel warm. Again, kind of embarrassing. I was shown how my happiness is rather situationally dependent. If the outer conditions in my world are in order, then I tend to be much happier. Because my snarky emotions are convincing, demanding a perfect environment, I’m often in pursuit of external soothing.

The term “control freak” might have been tossed in my direction once or twice, but one person astutely observed, “You seem to be far more interested in controlling your environment than other people.” Yep, I’m always looking for the outer circumstances to be neat, tidy and calm.

And this week I had a taste of my dream. There was not one thing to complain about. A slice of heaven everywhere I turned. No problems at home, no problems brewing with Companion, a week of insular perfection. And I still managed to create one. Those stupid stupid cards.

The lesson for me was humbling. I was blessed with the experience of having everything in my outer world finally reflect perfection and yet, I still found something to whinge about. The issue was coming from me and only me. I had to face that I was the source of my unhappiness. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky to blame it on. Not a single blemish in my 7-day realm to accuse. The discord was all from me.

Why is it easier to slip into negative thinking, even in the midst of perfection? Of course, as soon as I formed the question, I read this paragraph in Shogun by James Clavell on page 98.

“As she waited patiently, she forced herself to think of pleasant things. ‘Always remember, child,’ her first teacher had impressed on her, ‘that to think bad thoughts is really the easiest thing in the world. If you leave your mind to itself it will spiral you down into ever-increasing unhappiness. To think good thoughts, however, requires effort. This is one of the things that discipline—training—is all about.’”

Yes, before you ask, I have tried meditation. In fact, I attempt it almost every morning. I sit in the lotus position, or maybe it’s the dandelion, and close my eyes, paying attention to my breath. Inhale, exhale, aaaah.

And then my mind starts wiggling and dancing and bouncing off the walls like a jumping bean. I’d say “Mexican,” but perhaps the brincador has no country of origin and that might be considered profiling or even racist. Yet is stripping the hopper of its identity any more dignified and acceptable? Okay, do you see where my mind races off to? Oh yeah, I was meditating.

Breathe in, breathe out. Uh-oh, my nose itches. Alrighty Almighty, how long have I been sitting here with my eyes closed? (One eye opens and sneaks a peek at the clock). Two minutes, that’s it? Back to breathing. This is torture. It feels like when I was four and made to take naps that I didn’t want. Worse than that, it feels like I’m being forced to sit in the corner for a time out.

At this point in my journey, meditation is simply an opportunity for my mind to take inventory of its grievances, to meander the hushed museum of grudge antiquities, to polish my trophies in the rejection Hall of Fame.

Do you suppose I could check my emails, fold some laundry and do a few other tasks I need to complete while meditating without Companion noticing?

I don’t really have an ending, and no, I still don’t know why I continued to play hand after hand of the cards. Okay, go on ahead, psychoanalyze away.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mirror, Mirror…

Whoo hoo, I’m at the beach! Arrived yesterday at dusk with the wind snapping the rain into a frenzy, but woke up this morning to the waning full moon directly over the water, conducting its orchestra of waves. Streaks of silver tipped the foam, a regal encore before the sun’s arrival.

My companion and I left Eugene, Oregon yesterday and traveled Highway 99 through Corvallis, continuing to Newport where we took a walk by the ocean and shopped in Nye Beach. At one store, where I knew I was going to make a purchase, I politely asked to use their loo.

I was in for a surprise. Hovering over the porcelain throne…okay, I must interrupt myself for a moment. As I’m sitting here at the private beach house where we stay every year, a gas truck just pulled up out front and a man dragging a hose is entering the premises.

Get the humorous timing? I’m about to tell you a bathroom story and a truck full of gas appears at this exact moment. Synchronicity? I’m a fan. Hmmm, I certainly hope he knows what he’s doing. If nothing gets posted this week, then I guess you’ll know what happened. Gulp.

Okay, back to the toidy. I’ve just created the proper paper barrier and have lowered myself into the hygienic position, when at eye level, I notice all kinds of post-it notes and handwritten signs instructing the current occupier of the throne what to do in case of a smelly emergency. “If you make a stink, please use two squirts of this (chemically engineered) Spring Breeze to clear the befouled air.” That proved grin worthy.

But then I saw the price sheet.

There, on the wall, was a menu for possible toilet options. The first itemized a “liquid deposit, with one toilet flush and one hand washing, $2.00.” But what if we want to wash both hands?

The second quote was for a “solid deposit, no odor, one toilet flush and one hand washing. $3.00.”

The last menu item was for a “solid deposit with odor, one toilet flush and one hand washing.” Current market value? $5.00.

At first, I thought this was a joke, but as I continued to read the many signs and notices, I began to suspect the proprietor was more anal than funny. When I later handed over my credit card for a merchandise purchase rather than a “deposit fee,” I wondered if their cash register had special buttons. My mind ran with it. When people approached the counter, did they ever negotiate?

“Hi there. I’ll take one solid deposit, but skip the hand washing?” Ooooh. Ick. Or what if a customer was equally fastidious and asked for a receipt? How would that pan out come tax time? “Yes, Auditor Smith, that was for a poo I took in Newport, Oregon.”

Okay, but the really big question for me was, what about the people - and we all have them in our lives - who don’t think their mierde stinks?? What would they do in that little shop on the Oregon Coast?

“I owe you for one solid deposit, no odor.”

“No odor? I beg to differ! You can smell it all the way down the hall.”

“Oh no, ma’am. Mine smells of roses. In fact, you should pay me for the perfume I leave behind.”

Holy cow, I’ve practically had this conversation. What do you do with those who have no grasp on their toxic vapor trails -- literal or energetic? I’m really asking, because I haven’t figured it out yet. If everything is energy and we receive into our lives what we put out into the world, what do you do when someone stinks up your palace?

Deepak Chopra said to me the other day, well, not so much to me as to the television camera, “If you live with the question, you will move into the answer.”

I spent the rest of the day, living with my question, playing on the beach and hiking to Cape Perpetua. [Note: The propaganda leaflets for the trail says it’s only a mile or so climb to the top. However, and this is key folks, it is much longer from the bottom to the top than it is from the top to the bottom. Somebody lied!]

Panting, wheezing and sore muscles aside, an answer came from an unlikely source. Making our way back to the Visitor’s Center, a woman working for the Forest Service told us a story about ravens. She said that on a regular basis, ravens, upon seeing their reflections in the great picture windows of the Center, dive bomb their own faces.

Apparently, some sort of messy secretion from their beaks accompanies the assault and the glass becomes filthy after a few violent pecks. The ravens believe, whether seeing themselves in rear view mirrors, picture windows or any reflective surface, their image to be that of an enemy and knock themselves out from attacking.

So my question, “What do we do when someone stinks up our palace?” looked different through the eyes of a raven. There are people we get along with and those we don’t. The reason we don’t get along with some of them is because THEY are difficult and annoying. They complain, criticize, pick, poke, assault.

Uh-oh, I don’t like where this is going…

Perhaps they attack because they see their reflection in our own actions and behaviors and believe their likeness belongs to an enemy, us. This theory could be carried even closer to home.

Maybe we interpret our own image as belonging to an enemy and launch an assault on ourselves. Why do humans often stay in a suffering place and throw blame (read sticky secretion from our beaks) all over the place?

What is it about ourselves that frightens us so? Oh great, another question to live with. I’m a little skeerd to find out.

Companion and I went walking in Yachats, a little seaside town south of Newport. We took the meandering path along the rocky beach, passing through second-home neighborhoods on our way to the beach. The first year I saw it, I almost had a heart attack. The second year, only minor apoplexy, the third, raw anger. On a wedge of beachfront property, some scurvy dog built a ridiculously, self-indulgent temple to himself, completely obliterating the view of the quaint cottage a few feet away. A view-pirate is what he is, stealing the most valuable thing from his neighbor.

I was incensed. Furious. It was unconscionable. I’d forget about it though, in between annual walks, but as soon as I rounded the bend, the criminal monstrosity rose from the mist and I’d feel my anger all over again. Rather spoiled my walk, my mood.

This year, when I saw the hideosity and felt the flames of wrath re-ignite, I stopped in my tracks and looked at both houses. I realized I knew nothing about the situation, except what I was making up in my head. If it was all fiction anyway, could I tell myself a story that created good feelings within myself instead of bad?

I pondered and continued walking. What’s a better-case scenario? I spun a yarn about the owner of the small cottage desiring the slice of property for years and finally obtaining it. Then he managed to build his dream house and kept the smaller cottage as a place for his many guests to stay. Phew, that felt so much better.

There’s something about fresh, salty sea air that clears my mind. From that spontaneous story I made the leap that whenever we don’t know something, we make it up -- about others and ourselves. We only exist in this moment. Not an hour ago, nor five minutes from now. Here, in this minute lives the real us. Everything else is memory, thought, imagination, or figment. Does that shock you as much as it does me?

We are storytellers, fiction makers and we create all kinds of crazy business in our heads about who we are. That’s reason enough to believe enemies are lurking within every shiny surface.

If we’re going to make it up anyway, why not embellish life with thoughts that make us feel better, thoughts that create a bondship with our funny, loveable, adorable selves?

I’m going to blow a kiss to the next reflective surface I see, because as Oscar Wilde advises, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Let Your Fingers do the Talking...

Have I mentioned the pattern that has emerged since writing The Everyday Anthropologist? I begin writing on Monday, save Tuesday for the cooling period, and then edit and post on Wednesday. Bam! Something new arrives on Wednesday evening or Thursday morning and I’m given several days to process the new, usually painful experience by Monday, when the whole process starts again.

Phew! This can be exhausting. Perhaps if I stop writing about energy and healing I can stop inviting it in and having to learn these lessons firsthand. The idea was to write about healing and forgiving, not have to live it and discover how it works on a personal level. Sheesh.

Oh, so you want an example? Fine, I’ll tell you. I woke up Thursday morning and the middle finger on my right hand was covered in red, angry bumps. Hmmm, you’ve heard the expression, “a little bird told me?” Well, what is my little birdy finger trying to tell me? Let’s see if we can suss this one out. Skin, the largest organ in the body, is expressing itself with inflamed, red, swollen bumps.

The right side of the body is said to represent the giving, masculine side compared to the receptive, feminine left side. We hold onto things with our hands, we pick them up, let them go, grasp, clutch, caress. We count with our digits, focusing on details. We gesture, sign, point fingers, make a fist; there’s all kinds of things to do with our hands.

Apparently I’m holding onto something in my energy field that needs releasing. If I had paid closer attention to my feelings, I would have had the opportunity to preview coming attractions, because what goes on inside our heads and hearts is a precursor to what we’ll soon see in the physical realm. I might have been able to express the energy in a healthy manner instead of having it stuck at my fingertips. Well, I suppose that is for me to figure out, but I did learn of a treatment that might fall under the category of “old wives tale.”

Rumor has it if you get a potato (and no, I don’t think it matters if it is a russet, a Yukon gold or a shiny new one), and cut it in half, you can rub what ails you and then bury it in the backyard under a full moon. I told this to somebody on Saturday and she asked if it would work on her mother-in-law? Ha, very funny. It’s a full moon right now, I wonder if she’ll try it!

If she does decide to approach her “loved one” with a half-potato and rub it on her, I hope she has a good excuse handy for her experimental behavior. I was simply mentioning the use of this organic method of healing for something irritating on one’s own body, but as a friend says, who has her own share of charming relatives, “Family, you can’t live with them, you can’t kill ‘em.”

Red is the color of anger, of passion, of the first chakra, otherwise known as the root or Tribal chakra. This is where our family-of-origin stuff hides, I mean resides.

Last night, as the full moon appeared on the night stage, I washed a potato, offered thanks for the situation, gestured fully with my red, bumpy, inflamed middle finger, then rubbed the freshly sliced potato all over it and buried it in the back yard. Uh, the potato, not my finger.

Speaking of red, February is all about red and pink and hearts and candy. Love is in the air. I know this to be true because the Greeting Card Guild and the Chocolate Factory tells us so. But the love I’m interested in riffing about is the much neglected topic of self-love. Group think tells us it’s selfish. But, to quote a local fishwife, “What’s so wrong with being Ish about one’s self?”

When I broached this subject with someone recently, they immediately told me I was vain enough. Wow, ouch. Okay, let’s get that elephant out of the room… Considering how awesome I am and how much I have to work with, I’m actually pretty humble. Wait, that was funny. C’mon, I was joking (was not).

Kidding aside, having genuine love for one’s self is NOT vanity. It occurred to me awhile back, if what the everlasting forecast says is true, then no matter where we go, there we are. According to spiritual traditions, whether you believe in reincarnation, the eternal barbeque or the sweet hereafter, we are the only ones we’re guaranteed to be with for all time. Shiver.

If we are our own perpetual companion, then why all the internal conflict? As much as you might love your sister, sweetheart or Uncle Floyd, there’s no promise that you’ll end up in the same place at the same time. It might happen, but when it all shakes down, we’re stuck with ourselves, so we might as well deal with it and come to terms with ourselves.

We can divorce, fire, ignore, or move away from people who bug us, but what happens when we tire of ourselves? I’m going out on a limb here, but is it possible that the number one cause of health-risking obesity, addictions, illness and other forms of misery is self-abuse? Yes, people have caused other people mountains of hurt, but once that pain stick has been dropped, do we pick it up and continue to beat ourselves? I’ve heard it said that we do not allow anyone to treat us worse than we treat ourselves. Shocking.

In this light, perhaps that bottle of liquid courage, chocolate overdose or layer of belly fat isn’t a barrier protecting us from other people as much as they’re a barrier from ourselves. What do we whisper to ourselves in the dead of night? And what about our pathetic quest for the approval of others? Why do we even need approval from others if we’re cool with who we are? Since we have access to ourselves 24/7, we have the most influence. What’s our self-talk? How do we really treat ourselves when no one is looking? With contempt, disappointment, abuse? It’s written all over us, our secret is out.

Our bodies belong to Mother Earth. When we die, she gets them. But in the meantime, they are the only possession we have that’s guaranteed for a lifetime.

We’re told that our bodies are “temples” for our spirit. What if we substituted the word sanctuary for “temple?” Our bodies were designed to be a safe refuge for our spirits, not a mound of flesh we’re ashamed of and abuse.

Wisdom tells us to love God and others as we love OURSELVES. We are the vessel, the channel through which love flows. If Love is a drug, then what are we cutting ours with? When we are blocked by guilt, fears of not being “good enough,” general disregard, then how genuine will our love be toward the Creator or how good will our love feel to others?

Well, I’ve been on my soapbox long enough. My legs are tired from standing and my voice is going hoarse from trying to convince me. We all know by now, that whatever I’m preaching about, I get to live and experience for myself.

As this week contains Valentine’s Day, how about joining me in a moment of vanity, oops, I mean self-appreciation? Yep, I think that’s what my little birdy is trying to say.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Follow Your Knows...

What do you make of this? The whole thing began last summer. A vacant-ish lot in the neighborhood has become a yard of iniquity with teenagers getting high, whooping and hollering, coughing and spitting, shouting into their cell phones, playing obnoxious tunes on their hand-held security blankets and yelling fluently in Obsenities, their native tongue.

As I write and work from home, I remind myself to view this daily interruption as my “spiritual practice,” meaning I try to convince myself that I don’t need them to be different for me to be at peace.

I had another opportunity to hone my mad Zen skills while passing through the City of Trees, otherwise known as Boise. Driving through the desert in summer from Park City, Utah, I wanted an air-conditioned break. A movie was just the ticket and the elegant Egyptian Theater was hosting a cool matinee. Walking in the grand foyer and even more glorious auditorium, the place was entirely mine. Empty, I had the choice of any seat. Aah, the darkened theater, the smell of freshly popped corn, the dramatic raising of the curtain provided just what I was looking for.

Until they came in.

A group of unruly teenagers. Yep, a gaggle of hypernoids, whispering in loud voices, roamed the aisles in search of seats. Can you guess? With every seat in the theater unoccupied save two, this murder of crows decided to sit directly behind me. They squawked and laughed and pecked the back of my seat. When I turned around and asked them to be quiet, one girl jumped up and came back a few minutes later with more teenage spawn. Their obnoxious behavior increased.

I could think of only three options as I sat fuming, engaged in a battle of wills, while the movie I came to see played on without me. One, I could move, but I was here first, so why should I have to find a different seat?

Two, I could snitch to the management, but if the person in charge was the pimply faced boy who took my money and serviced the concession stand, then he was not going to be of any assistance, and besides, tattling grates my sensibilities. Three, I could get up and sit right behind them and kick their seats and make rude and loud comments, but that fantasy rated zero on the satisfaction scale.

I wanted to see the movie more than stay connected to that juvenile scene, so I went with option number one and moved. The new location was a vast improvement. I didn’t realize I’d been sitting in a funky acoustical pocket and the balcony railing had been partially blocking my view until I had this new seat. The movie reabsorbed my attention and the puerile dysfunction faded from memory.

Until Half Moon Bay.…

With the sun barely up, I took a walk on the crescent shaped beach, enjoying the crash of waves and the expanse before me. Desiring to write, I chose a picnic table overlooking the bluff, a peaceful office in nature. A few sentences in, I heard them.

You have got to be freakin’ kidding me.

I wasn’t going to look. Head down, pen to paper, I continued to write. I whispered to myself, “Spiritual practice, spiritual practice.” But there were too many of them. I glanced up and to my dismay, a troop of mustachioed monkeys and lip glossed beavers were slamming car doors, beeping their alarms off and on, yelling into their cell phones, lighting up cigarettes, playing cacophonous ring tones and swearing their customary greetings to one another.

What the…? It was a Friday morning, shouldn’t they be in school? Out of the entire empty beach, why did they have to descend upon the adjoining picnic table and congregate next to me? I turned to my faithful companion and said, “This is too much to be a coincidence. This makes three States now — next door in Oregon, a movie theater in Idaho, and a beach in California. Wherever we go, there they are. What’s going on?”

Just as I asked that, the wind shifted. Words cannot describe the putrid odor that gutted my nostrils and boxed my gag reflex. I could not grab my writing utensils and move quickly enough. While in flight, we saw the offending culprit, a bloated sea lion baking in the morning sun.

Prior to the nasal felony, I was in a defensive mental posture. Why should we have to move to gain our peace? We were here first, why do I always have to give in? Why should a lounge of lizards be able to have the run of the place, huh?

The scent of decaying flesh, wafting on the generous air, served as an excellent motivator. I didn’t think twice about moving when the vomitous smell invaded our space. There was no pride or stubbornness, no arrogance or contest, just a speedy relocation.

Catching my breath, I asked Companion what was being reflected back to us with all the teenage energy? What images/symbols were popping up in our immediate vicinity, waiting to be interpreted? Something was definitely trying to get our attention.

I know you know what happened next. Yes, I called Chakra Girl. She’s one of my Go-To, energy-interpreting friends. I needed her help reading the smelly, obnoxious energy field. What was the message?

She had no difficulty piecing our puzzle together. “Teenagers, groups of them. Hmmm, represents 3rd chakra fire energy. Rebellion, power, trying to figure out where they fit into the world, but still needing the safety of home and their own private room for retreat. Experimentation, expansion, taking over a space with their energy (noise, laughter, smoking, drugs, music, cell phones, text messaging, posturing, attitude, etc.).

“With the sudden onslaught of odor, you are being encouraged to step fully into your power, to MOVE to a better place. Your stubbornness is keeping you stuck. What you’ve known, what’s worked before, all that familiar stuff will decay and rot if you ignore the energetic message and refuse to move forward, clinging to the old way. You may not know what the new looks like yet, but apparently you’re about to find out.”

She went on to say that I was engaged in a bit of teenage energy myself, which was being reflected back to me. I was trying to figure out where I fit into the world and it was time to quit clinging to the past and open my heart.

Faithful companion wisely noted that when uncomfortable or toxic energy takes over a space, we waffle in our decisions, unsure if we should move, yet when an icky smell comes a knocking, we know exactly what to do. If we accidentally tasted something nasty, we wouldn’t hesitate to spit it out. Why is it then, if we are suddenly exposed to a blast of energy that is counter-productive, we act inconvenienced in the midst of being directed to a better place? Why do we obey our bodily senses immediately, yet hesitate to listen to our intuitive senses?

I shouldn’t have to – I don’t want to – sometimes we get stuck in old patterns and refuse to accept the new and improved situation that reading the reflected energy would gift us. The kids have their text messaging, but we have our energetic messaging if we’d just monitor our guidance system and stay as connected to Spirit as they do their phones.

Beep, gotta go, incoming message.


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