Sometimes We Don’t Know

This past year has been one of surrendering to all I don’t know.

My heart can become muddled over this process of surrendering.  I carry hope and fear around with me as if they were mini-me’s swaddled and attached to my hip, crying for constant attention as to which will get fed first.  On a daily basis, I can feel my impatience, my need to know, and my hopes and fears. My busy mind wants to distract me with thinking that every thought and feeling I have is very real.

My work becomes something of a cliché of being with what is, right now, right here. It is no easy task, and the most difficult part is getting my brain to join me in this being with what is.  It wants to “do”, and fix and make things happen.  So, I resist answers, and solutions and wonder when and how I will know what is next. It is an untethered feeling but inside, I don’t feel untethered. Inside I know everything is working out.  Not by magic and not by force, but by letting possibilities unfold.

The home I stay in is in a low-income community of Evanston, Il. The children in the neighborhood have lives I know little about.  I only know what I see. From time to time a mom is yelling in a tone of frustration, for their kids to come home, or the kids show up at the park when it is snowing and 32 degrees and they are sockless with feet falling out of their gym shoes, no gloves on and I feel cold for them and send them home to get something warmer. Or, like the other day, I take them to Goodwill and buy them gloves, socks, and boots because they tell me they don’t have things warmer.

When I take my soulful dog, Henry, to the park, they come running, gleefully yelling his name and he greats them with a full body wag and jumps to meet them.  The kids are full of life and energy and adorable!  They seem hungry for a hug and signal me by leaning their head against me, and I ask, do you want a hug and each time, they say yes. So we hug and the sweetness of connection is good. It is one of those moments where I, and perhaps they, can forget our differences of color, age, background and just connect. We talk about Henry, school, life, and they take turns running or walking Henry around the park. I learn a lot from these kids and the innocence they still have. I love them and wonder how I will tell them I will be leaving when I know I will.

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In some cases, these are children, burdened with parenting children. Their side of life is a ways away from what I have known and my kids have known. They raise questions for me that I have always asked about the deep inequality of our society and more profoundly, the deep wounds inequality makes in young people’s souls.

Maybe it is my imagination but it seems there was a time when more of our society and government felt a responsibility and cared about all who did and did not have, who was safe and who had shelter.  There was certainly a feeling that it mattered if our kids were safe at school, which outrageously has become a question and challenged in these times.

I feel such a mix of hope, sadness and, fear for these kids on my block, and what lies in their future.  I know some will thrive no matter what, some will do okay and some will drown regardless of resources, programs, encouragement and plain humanitarian caring.

I want to gather all these kids up, give them 3 square meals a day, teach them about junk food and other things about living healthy, give a few hugs a day as needed, tell them that life works out, and hold them close. Connect them to their roots and offer them wings.  The best I can hope for is that our interactions are positive enough that something about our meetings will stick with them and be something they can use one day.

There is an old Chinese proverb that says parents must give their children two things, roots, and wings.

“I have the roots. Now I want wings…Off to Paris to follow my dreams. Be brave, Ida and Morris.  We will meet again in that starry-eyed city. You know I have always lived by my dreams.  And now they have come true.  Roots and wings, roots and wings.  I’ve got to go, Daddy-o.”

~Max, the dog, from Maira Kalman’s Max Makes a MillionMax Makes a Million

Celebrations, Endings, ​and Beginnings

After my divorce, I left behind a comfort I had relished in childhood in which I fully knew I would be with family for holidays and birthdays and there would be great food.  Life changes in unanticipated ways, pain shows up where you think you can avoid it, and celebrations happen anyway.  Healing happens, joy returns, holidays are filled with fun, awkwardness, conversations you wish you didn’t have to have, some you are happy to have, and jokes go round, making for laughter, grimacing, and oh no’s, he really didn’t say that or tell that one again.

The anticipation of my trip to Portland and the Bay Area was initially filled with excitement and also felt daunting with concerns of how long my visit would be.  I was looking at being with my youngest, Molly, for a week over my birthday and Thanksgiving and then with my eldest, Nina, for another week in the Bay Area.  I love my kids but sometimes the amount of time spent in each other company needs attention.  And, it is possible that this trip has been designed with too little attention to time.  But there is more to know, as the trip is not even halfway through.

My birthday was the day before Thanksgiving, yesterday. I was feeling very happy to be with Molly.  Happy not to share the day with a Turkey as it is, about every 7 years.  Molly and I  seemed to figure out a way to be together without hardly a hint of annoyance and a sense of connection and love.  Our talks, shared desire for food, spas, movies and some political conversation were all good.  Molly treated us to a morning at the spa with a much needed sauna and foot bath, met my daughter’s boyfriend for lunch and a viewing of Pixar’s Coco where Nina, who works for Pixar, placed a picture of my mother in the end titles where there is a collage of many photos.  It was such a gift as if it was orchestrated by my mother from the other side and how appropriate that it is a movie about Dia De Los Muertos. Nina submitted the photo for the movie without any knowledge that the movie was to be released on my birthday.  So there I was with my youngest at Coco, seeing a picture of my mom, made by Pixar, the company my eldest works for. Love, love these women in my life.  And, well for Lasseter and sexual harassment, that is another blog entry, when I have figured out what the f___ to say.

I feel a relief from not being in Chicago. I am pretty sure my karmic healing there has had its time. That is both good to know and a bit scary as I have no idea where is next.

I have come to an end of an unspoken contract with a very long time, dear friend in Chicago. It was one of those all too familiar experiences where the lag time of what I knew needed to happen and when it happened felt way too long.  And the contrast of a warm welcome here in Portland from family and people I barely know feels so good, so healing, really so warming to my soul.

I can feel a lot, and sometimes it takes me a long time to get to why I feel what I do.  I have been told a few times now that the debilitating cold I had gotten 2+ weeks ago was about grief and the lingering cough, the same.  I feel less grieving now over a friendship lost and more sunshine, but the foggy shroud is still needing time to dissipate.  As usual, I want it to all happen faster and once again have to suffer with the fact that I have no control over that.

I am excited and edgy about what is next.  Right now, all I know is that I will be in the Chicago area until about April.

Family, Friends, Donald Evans and Things Part 1

Travels within the phases of life. I have no idea when Part 2 or 3 or anymore will arrive but it just seems like this is a Part 1. I find myself in a mix of darting thoughts about family, friends, possessions, my current role with my kids and others, my personality and everyone else’s.

6/18/17

The ritual of graduation was the subject of a short debate, to walk or not to walk. Nellie Evans didn’t make a lot of request of her kids to do things they weren’t keen on, but this ritual felt very important as there were so few in their lives. She felt it important for her youngest to claim her spot as a scholar as she had worked hard at being a student and it was important to Nellie for her youngest to be honored just as her eldest had been. The ceremony of honoring all the work done and an acknowledgment of a path that will curve and change, wind back and go forward was of consequence and not likely to be forgotten. Nellie felt it important to hold the significance of this ritual even when her daughter wasn’t so sure it was that “big of a deal” and even with the complaining about the dreaded and mandatory suffering of a 3.5 hour long ceremony.

The graduating daughter decided to walk, pleasing her father, Nellie and maybe herself. With this graduation came a celebratory backyard BBQ with cousins, and friends.  They were people known to Nellie and unknown.  Some socialized in ways that she wouldn’t and others she felt quite comfortable with.  All the while, having a propensity for seriousness, her mind kept being drawn to the nagging question of what really mattered?

Nellie’s perspective had shifted and changed about how she held people, places, and things. People who she held very close, she now felt the relief of distance from, others remained very close and she found great fulfillment in the connection. Things that had felt so very very important to her really didn’t matter now and that was strange. But not so strange that she would want to do anything about it other than watch it.

What really mattered? The move from the West Coast to the Midwest gave her pause to think about all the things that had transpired since April when she started the road trip East.  She thought about the relationships that were transforming without knowing how they would look, the artwork which she sorted through that was inherited and valuable, some she stored, some she sold.  There was the furniture which passed from one generation to the next and now outfitted her two daughter’s homes as well as a few friends’.  The jewelry was held safely in a family jewelry box waiting to be chosen by the daughters. And placed around the jewelry box for padding and protection were the wonderful sofa pillows that were made by Nellie’s mother.

Life as she had known it was now memories and the trip to the Midwest seemed something of a karmic sorting.  At least that was how she could make sense of it.  It brought to mind Harry Potter’s sorting hat and she wished she could just don it and know what group she belonged with whenever she doubted or feared.

The letting go of so much of this became Nellie’s job along with trying to figure out what matters? Who matters?  Which memories would get lost in the letting go, which would remain, how close would those memories be held by the upcoming generation and how close to the truth would they come and did that matter? What relationships would hold and what would drift away?

Of the many things that had changed, was Nellie’s need for an aesthetically pleasing environment. She had been a person who couldn’t be too long in surroundings that didn’t suit her aesthetic or around people very different from herself.  She liked things and relationships to be copacetic, and beautiful to be around. She had been known to talk about things in her surroundings that didn’t look right and how those things made her mind work too hard or hurt her eyes.  Her home had been of great pride, making it warm, inviting, and easy on the eyes.  She grew up with that and felt it the quality of being a good enough mother to help her kids carry it forward into their homes wishing them a comfortable life.

She currently resided in a wonderfully roomy room in a house and though the aesthetic was not what she might have picked, it had grown on Nellie.  It gave her comfort in that she did not have to start accumulating things to decorate her living space by purchasing again all the things she had just let go of. The dark maroon of the 4 walls at first looked just dark, but now she saw it as Buddhist maroon and took comfort in that. The color fed her spiritual need for a partial monastic life.  She found she was opening to things and people she would have judged and not come very close to in her past, though those who knew her would say she was always a very open person.  This move had shown her how much more open she could be.

“Give up your homeland— this is the practice of Bodhisattvas.” This is because the moment you leave the circumstances you’ve grown accustomed to, you are in foreign territory, and it’s easier to realize how much narrow-mindedness you are carrying around, including all your opinions, judgments, habits, and so on. Get yourself out of your comfort zone. By Dawa Tarchin Phillips, the resident teacher of the Santa Barbara Bodhi Path Buddhist Center and the Director of Education for the Center for Mindfulness and Human Potential at UCSB.

All in all, she continued to ask if any of the aesthetics or “right” people to be around really mattered?  If it did, what part mattered? And, why? Sometimes she could see her life and what matters fitting so nicely in a room like the one she had stayed in at Spirit Rock Silent retreats.  The rooms were simple, some might say barren.  The 125 square foot room contained a sink, a few towels, a large window, a small place for clothes, a single bed, a small table with a lamp and a clock on it,  That was it and it seemed to Nellie that it was complete. Upon arriving for a retreat, she would position the small table by her bed, and make the bed so she could look out the window and see the greenery.  She went to the retreats for the silence and so she only got to know people and be in relationship to them in a very particular and peculiar way.  At the end of a 7 or 9 night retreat, and silence was broken, she was always wondering who of the 90 or so people she would want to know more about.  She paid careful attention to the instruction given at the end about how to break silence, who to speak to while being mindful, questions she could expect from friends outside the retreat, and how to drive home safely. Sometimes, the awkwardness of starting to talk just gave her more permission to be quiet.

Towards the end of a Fall retreat, the final silent meal, she broke into hysterics with a dining companion over a silly hat a participant had chosen to wear.  The hat had eyes that peered at her and a top knot of sorts, that ordinarily might have only made her smile. But these circumstances put the three of them in fits of gaiety which they attempted to make into silent laughter with little success. Finally, they left the dining hall to arrive outside and let blow the laughter barely contained inside each of them.  All the while she thought about the laughing Buddha, just to give herself permission to fully feel the hysterics bursting in her.

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Finding herself in a new phase of life, Nellie’s questions about importance got bigger and bigger.  All the things that had meant so much to her seemed to not be all that important. All the judgments of others was still somewhat there, but less so. She found herself quieter in her thoughts, quieter in her interactions, and she thought more accepting of what is, at least some of the time.

In a tongue in cheek way, she actually wondered if she was dying.  She would exclaim, shouting in her head, “Well of course I am! We all are dying, just some of us seem a bit closer by way of age than others.”  She wondered if she was psychic and in fact, her life was coming to an end.  Or maybe she was just in a new phase of letting go by way of looking at what really, truly matters?

She grew up with people who held onto everything and all of it seemed to matter a lot. Even as they approached the end of their lives and left lots for the upcoming generation, it all mattered. She felt a bit different from that. In fact, she was different from that but carried the collector DNA which she constantly fought.

She was very curious about how all of this would land, what her life would look like in 5 years.  What country would she find herself in? What language would she speak?  When would she arrive there? And who would she be in relationship with? She found herself thinking of Donald Evans, an incredibly creative artist who made up countries and postage stamps for the countries. She always wanted to travel to his countries, she always wanted to know him and hear how he thought.

 

 

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The Land of Many Weathers

6/12/17

Now in Evanston three months, she bought more clothes hangers and then unpacked the box of clothes she shlepped from Tewksbury Heights, CA. Unsure of what the unpacking and hanging of clothes meant, she just began to hang the clothes piece by piece, examining them and wondering about her choices of what she had decided to bring and what she left stored back in California. She wasn’t sure if it meant anything or everything. She wasn’t sure if unpacking meant she was staying for longer than the next month or not.  She did begin to know how long she was staying by the next trip she was taking or when family or friends were coming to visit.  She definitely knew she was not settling in. The idea of being settled was not right, it was wrong timing, and she wasn’t going to get settled until it felt right.  All she knew was that something had changed.

She lived with a family who were most welcoming and what stood out most was the sweet “Good Morning”, she heard every day from her hostess. She said it as if every morning was a wonderful new day and a delight to see her.  It was those little things that seemed to catch her attention just as the tougher things caught her in an entirely different way.

The tougher things that changed had to do with her move near an old friend who she had not lived around for years, very very many years.  They had been friends longer than any other friendship and it was coming to an end as they had known it.  The contrast of the relationship then and now, assured her that she had changed.  At times, the relationship now made life very awkward.  Loss of this relationship as it had been, was very sad, deeply disappointing, and had an effect on her she knew she would not fully apprehend until sometime later. This friendship had defined her in some way and was something she had leaned on for many years even over the many miles between Evanston and the Bay Area. Over the 35+ years, she had carried the idea of the friend around in her psyche, ignoring the parts of the relationship that were difficult and focusing on the parts that were supportive.

With her move across the country, she learned to awaken to her present life, becoming less interested in drama and crisis in her life.  She could find herself deeply focused on Buddhist studies raising thoughts of shaving her head and joining a monastery as a Bikkhuni, all the while thinking a shaved head could be wonderful and wondering if she could ever let go of all her possessions.

She was drawn to being of service as it took her out of the mindless critique that could plague her.  She had heard so many people talk about having the same critic in their heads that she began to envision it as a mass mind, a gigantic critic lurking around corners, everywhere, always on the watch with vigilance, and would just jump in to add its commentary anytime someone felt the slightest bit off guard or vulnerable.

Somehow being here on Lake Michigan and the land of many weathers, she found her body relaxing in a way she had forgotten she could do.  The critic took up less airtime though she didn’t really understand why.  Was it just the magic of Lake Michigan, the way it could be smooth and calm one minute and roiling with waves the next? Was it the sound of water lapping up onto the beach? Or was it just how friendly strangers were, truly friendly sharing dog stories, or telling her that the dress she tried on at the consignment shop looked great. Possibly, it was just her and the fact she felt truly at home here, at least for now, and so energetically more open to people? When she thought like this, about energy, she knew she had been in California a very long time.

Another thing she knew was the comfort she took in the light and shadows along the park shores, lake and the streets of Evanston, and how the weather changed bringing her right to the present. It moved her out of thinking about the old tired relationship she was disappointed by and took her out of other thoughts about being crazy for making this move.  The changeable weather was like moments of waking up to right now, with each shift; heat at 90 degrees, gusts of wind at 20 mph, drop in temp to 70 in a second, full sun and then overcast in a minute which was always a relief from the heat. Though she could wonder how winter would be, so far it was all just fine with her. It was more than fine, it was good, very good.

 

 

The Rocky Road of Listening Within

I always thought that listening within would be simple if I would just do it. Now I know doing it is hard, really hard, but as a good friend once said, “What else is there to do?”

5/7/17

The journey of listening deeply which started back in January,  moved me away from family and friends in California, back to the Midwest, back to the North Shore of Chicago. My purpose was to heal and reclaim something I may have left behind. It certainly was to re-feel life that I once new on the North Shore and see how it fit with me now.

The journey of listening deeply takes me to the nooks and crannies that lurk around the corners of my thoughts, where pockets of solitude lie. Sometimes I can think that I am doing nothing and feeling everything and forget there are pockets of solitude.

Just before I turn to listen deeply, and turn towards the whispering voice, I can experience nausea that makes me want to change channels or go do something else.  I am sure that the whispers I am hearing cannot possibly be directing me onto the right path, and it definitely must be wrong because I feel so riddled with a disquiet. But over and over, when I listen and just allow the discomfort, the nausea of anxiety goes away and I am happier and comforted by the direction I have turned.

Listening deeply has been a nagging desire inside me for too many years.