You Are Not Confused!

 

Let’s be clear, here in America, the land of the “free”, nearly, or I dare say, every woman has experienced some degree of degradation because of her sex. According to the very adult, mature man, who I met at the dog beach, he claims that EVERY man has done some kind of sexual or other assault on a woman in his life.

So what is there to be confused about.  Certainly, not that it happens, rather, the confusion is rooted in the “when” it happened and the “how” it happens and our culture and our personal histories.

My teacher, Angeles Arrien, would say, “You are not confused.” and I would add, I just didn’t really want to know what I knew.  Angeles spoke a truth to me, bare, open and clear. There was the permission to know what I knew, what I had spent years pretending to not know or be confused about. And the most difficult thing was that I believed I was confused.  And, I was!  Because when you are asked to mask or hide a very important part of yourself, you become confused.  You can’t find your allies or anchors, you are not sure who will believe you, understand you, or hold you as an upstanding human being who only wants to speak her truth.

What happened over the years I was pretending? The years I sacrificed some part of myself or a lot of myself to get through a moment. The years I had a complete and utter inability to ask to go to the bathroom in elementary school. Which always led to a mad dash home when school got out, sometimes getting to the back of the tall bushes in front of my house on Oak Street, and against every struggle to hold it, peeing in my pants as I fumbled for my keys.

There were the boys that would chase me home every day, thinking it was fun to terrify me.  Oh, just “boys being boys”, right!? ( Isn’t that the same camp as “It’s just locker room talk”.)  I ended up with nightmares about figuring out where my mom’s friends were on my way home so I could stop just in case the “boys just being boys” were really going to catch and hurt me.  Their names sting in my memory like an allergic reaction to a bee bite, Tim R., T.and J. Sawyer.  I knew a few things about them, they weren’t Jewish and I was/am. In class, they seemed pretty nice except Tim. I think all 3 had military buzz cuts which frightened me though I didn’t know why. The Sawyer twins were a bit more finished than the Tim guy. The twins were less rough around the edges.  I was certain the Tim guy came from a house where there were guns. But what if I hadn’t been so afraid, so intimidated? Might I have turned and faced them, faced my fear, and yelled, “Leave me alone!”  Definitely risky, and it certainly would have taken some gumption which I had learned to pack away many years earlier.

There is more to this story; Like the guys in high school who I dated just because they wanted to date me, or the story about the train conductor who was about 20, and I was 15. He was black and he started to make out with me without asking and without me saying yes or no. It was 1965 and god forbid I would look like a racist, or mean girl, and reject him.  It was a long ride, a really long ride. The whole time, not know how or where to escape to and disliking him for intruding on me and hating myself for letting him.  And, after…well after… I didn’t tell anyone. The thought of reporting him didn’t even come to mind. That would be very scary. I thought I was responsible for this happening.  I mean I was the one with no words, no NO’s, no voice.  I never did say No, not even quietly, not once.

It amazes me that I wasn’t more hurt by my inability, my incapacitation to speak up, to form the word No in my mouth even though NO was shouting from every pour in my body.

To put a finale to my adolescent years, there was the very sweet, kind guy, I dated my senior year of high school. This put all the popular girls in a knot.  I wasn’t cool, I was Jewish, and I was dating the Varsity football captain and President of our class. A few of these “know it all” girls, in the gym locker room, said with a sneer, “Are you dating him?”  I quietly said, “Uh huh.”

Then, there was his mom who told him he shouldn’t go out with me because I was Jewish and would get fat after we married. It might be important to note that she was a complete alcoholic but I feared she could be right anyway.  Not because I was Jewish, but because I grew up with Barbie Dolls and was certain I was fat at the age of 7, especially when I learned that food had calories and my comfort food, Jay’s Potato Chips, had a lot.  And, oh, my dad’s very affectionate nickname for me was Tubby O’Neil.  I loved my dad and desperately wanted his attention, and learned that even a weird, really bad nickname could be a way to connect with him.

I married the first time at 19 and we stayed married for 7 years because I couldn’t utter the word No. I was afraid.  I was afraid of my life alone, my life ahead, MY life.  The couples therapist we went to told us about her problems living with an alcoholic, so we quit and then, I quit the marriage.

No wonder I thought I was confused and my head was swimming with confusion.  I couldn’t find my voice and I was certain I was alone in this.

 

FEAR. THE DARK ROOM WHERE NEGATIVES ARE DEVELOPED

 

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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 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.

 

Scared…Sacred

The fences we create bind us to the stories we tell about ourselves.  I am looking for the light in the fences.

I have learned something about scared and sacred.  Scared wakes me up. Sacred lets me steep in an experience of what I am feeling, what I am seeing and what I am doing.

4/17/2017

After a meeting with my two daughters in which they told me that I needed to change something and it needed to be big, I embarked on a very unexpected journey.  My girls spoke from their hearts to mine with love and a deep knowing.  It was January of this year 2017 when I actually let my mind and soul consider moving and returning to the land of my growing up, on the North Shore of Chicago.  I knew that was where I needed to start.  I didn’t know what would happen past April and then May came around.  Now I don’t know what will happen past May.

I have a constant, questioning voice about my decisions or life choices. It makes me completely miserable.  I am working on a better relationship with that voice. Working on hearing it and reminding myself this is an experiment, not a done deal.  That all I can do is be where I am and when that makes me edgy, when I can, I turn towards it and look at it square in the eyes. When I have eyeballed it, I look at it from head to toe, I see the light of it and the dark of it, the shape of it.

This move was yet another life decision and I wanted to be sure it was the right choice. Embedded in my head was my father’s words just before his death, “Never regret anything, Ellen.”  It puzzled me then and puzzles me now. I regret most things at some point or another, except having my two girls and going to Del Art. Did my father really never have regrets?  Or was he saying that because he had so many regrets and regretted regretting?

My choice to move away from the Bay Area, my friends, my kids and what I have known for 30+ years felt risky, scary, and so crazy. I suffered the 10+ required days of thinking about how this would work and each day was filled with fear. I had no appetite, and a gazillion roiling thoughts going around and around in my head about how this would work, what would I do with all my stuff and all I really wanted to do was to discard everything. I was exhilarated, and exhausted, eating and sleep suffered a bit. All of that continued as I proceeded to get a renter for a year, empty my home, fix a few things in the house and leave by Sunday April 2nd.

I arrived in Evanston 4 weeks ago as of this rewrite, moved into an Airbnb with a wonderful hostess who also takes care of dogs, and the only things I know for sure are that I will be feeding and walking Henry twice a day, going to Lake Michigan and eating in or out. Other than that, I really do not know how my days will be filled when I get up in the morning and the quiet voice of doubt whips up and I am flattened by thoughts of what the hell have I done by moving here.  How will I bring in income? Maybe I will just get camping gear and stay on the road.

My days always get filled regardless of my chattering mind, some days are slower than others. Some days have been filled with what I must do. I have had to get dog permits for the Mr. to go to the beach. That alone took 3 visits and a very patient clerk at the City of Evanston who commented on my commitment to get this done. I told her that I would come back from time to time just to say hi, so we wouldn’t miss each other too much.  We both laughed and wondered if I actually would do that.  I have had to get my car tuned up, take a ring in to be fixed, get a button for a shirt and sew it on. I have gotten a library card, found art and needlework classes, continued my writing, working on my website and figuring out licensure here. I have met friendly strangers, explored cafes and restaurants. I have located sanghas that offer insight meditation, and most days I have gotten in my 10,000 steps while exploring the many villages on the North Shore.

Each errand I have gives me another opportunity to meet people, and the people I have met are really swell.  That 50’s word, swell takes me to when I was growing up here on the North Shore of Chicago. Swell reminds me of the harlequin print peddle pushers my mother made from altered hand-me-downs, of the ice cream truck with organ music that would arrive in front of our house at 1083 Oak Street on Saturdays.  Swell reminds me of the light pouring in through the glass shelves at the bottom of the long steps to the second floor of our house. It was the house where I would sit in puddles of sun which poured out on the carpeted floor. Swell takes me back to the wonderfully long summer days on Lake Michigan, and most of all it reminds me of my mother in her handmade batik moo moo dress busy in the kitchen or helping at my father’s store. I felt connected back then. Being here, in the land of “midwest, milk fed beauties” (thank you Max Greenstreet), connects me again to a place I feel I might belong.

The other day while waiting for my car to have a routine check at the recommended Duxler Auto Repair on Greenbay, I ate at Prarie Joe’s.  I sat outside with Mr. H. soaking in the sun and trying to remember the cold of winters here as if to prepare ahead. Good old Henry drew a visitor to us and she was the self-proclaimed mayor of Central Street, Tina. While chatting, sitting right there on Prairie Ave., Tina told me about the many different streets she lived on, all bearing the name Prairie. She reminded me of a time, before my time, when there were prairies around here, and of the time my family drove out to the so-called first McDonalds in our two-tone Ford, passing by prairies all around.

Those days of my youth could have been held as sacred if I had known what that meant. The only thing I knew was that I was alone a lot, and life at home gave me both comfort and fear. I knew where I belonged and that was a comfort and knowing where I belonged made me a little bored and antsy.  As a kid I seemed to have spent a lot of time waiting: waiting for a ride to come get me, waiting for a classmate to come over, waiting for my brother to play with me and make silly jokes, waiting for my dad to be home for dinner and waiting for him to be in a better mood.  I felt bored a lot like my mind was hungry for concepts to mull around. I needed something to think about to drown out my yearning for my dad to be okay, not grumpy, not depressed, and not angry.  I needed concepts like sacred as an antidote to being scared.

 

 

An Experiment

As an experiment, I can remember that everything has a purpose, a possibility or offers something to study, then I can keep it or discard it.  This includes people, interactions, experiences, and emotions.

I have stepped into an extraordinary experimental journey.  Some of this journey is too familiar, some of it is all new.  This is not the first time I have ventured out on my own. It is the first time doing it in my 60’s with my kids who are 2,000+miles away.  It is not the first time I have felt uncomfortable with my unfamiliar surroundings; it is the first time I am seeing it as part of a bigger picture, part of a journey of stepping more into myself, accepting more of who I am and what I need to just be me, what I need to feed my spiritual questing.

My journey to Evanston has been much longer than the 5 night car trip via I-40 with Mr. H.  It has been everything leading up to this: all the thinking about doing what was right, the packing of my whole house, now rented long-term, selling, throwing out, and giving away much of what I have owned, saying see you later, to friends and family and life as I have known itbecause goodbye just sounds like more than the truth.

As I packed up I found myself wondering where I would be when the boxes were opened again, feeling a bit scared and excited.  Mostly excited but sometimes it can be hard to feel excited about something in the future I know little about.

I know that I really don’t know anything. I work hard to fill in what I don’t know with judgments, either positive or negative and though the positive feels better, I still don’t know what it is I am doing. I know I am here in Evanston, I know my room is a room, my dog is happy to be with me, and I know that I am slowly trying on this move. I know I am back here in the land of my first 30 years of life to retrieve something or glean something.

I am trying to just let this journey learn me and work me. I am trying to just sit with and turn towards what is uncomfortable, what makes me squirm or makes me judge myself.

I am thinking about the phrase, “What if it Was Sacred”.  What about allowing the things that make me uncomfortable to deepen and change me. and so become sacred.  I want to be present, and be a warrior to old ideas and limiting beliefs and allow myself to be open and listen to new possibilities and ideas. I want to feel the influence of the new, and what directions it can take me.

 

Letting Go and Letting Go

4/2/17 Thoughts on weeding out, de-cluttering and letting go.

I have nothing new to say here, I just have my thoughts, my pain, and ultimately my freedom.  I want to make the letting go significant.  I want to know that what I let go of, makes someone happy or is useful to someone.

I held on to things and let go of many. I still have 40+ boxes of stuff stored in my garage!  It all needs another good combing, but not this time around. I held onto a bathroom rug that was my mother’s.  It seems silly, a bathroom rug, really? Not just because it was my mother’s but because it is good quality and big and I think of my parent’s house in La Jolla that offered such comfort to all of us, my kids, their dad and I. When I see that rug, I think of feeling well taken care of, having plenty…plenty of love, connection, and things, lots and lots of beautiful things..

I held onto the New Yorker cartoon of a zen monk meditating with all of his crap behind a beautiful screen, a cartoon my mother framed and had hung in the bathroom which is a tradition I have kept. It has been in a bathroom ever since she gave it to me. It will go in another bathroom one day again.  That is, if I can find it in all the well-marked boxes. Well, my intention was to “well mark” them.  I just won’t know how well marked until it is time to find something, like the framed cartoon for the next bathroom.

That cartoon represents a tradition in my family of emitting peace and holding the crap behind the screen. This is the tradition I keep trying to change with every move I make.  With each move I make a little headway and always wonder what I will do with all this stuff when I am a Buddhist nun somewhere in my future dreams. I am tired of the energy it takes to keep turning away from what is behind the screen.  And yet, the struggles of letting go are deep and ancestral.  I have gone through nearly every item I own in detail, making decision after decision, keep, don’t keep, keep, don’t. I am doing it, sometimes down to a spotted paperclip or gold pen, or the metal yardstick my mother felted the back of so she could use for sewing. 

Some of these decisions were choices my mother didn’t want to make. Or was it her way of leaving something of herself behind? I know I am holding on to things to leave something of me and my history behind. As I am packing I wonder if my kids will be the ones to go through these boxes and what will they think about or what unanswered questions will stir in their minds.

Many people have quoted the feng shui book to me, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. They tell me all I have to do is hold the object in my hand and ask if it makes me happy or do I love it.  But the questions are more simple and more complex than that. There are objects that hold memories, memories I want my children to learn about, memories my mother wanted me to learn about, memories that keep the lineage, and the familial connection to what is good, true and beautiful. And the memories have energy.  It is that energy I am trying to untie from and still hold onto the memories. And the whole time, the chatter in my head is saying you are letting go of the wrong things, the valuable things, or you are holding onto the wrong things, the things that don’t really matter.  The truth is, I am holding onto what I am not ready to let go of yet.

I let go of 8 car loads to the Good Will, 4 trips to the consignment store, I sold a few beds and furniture on OfferUp and Nextdoor. and took two trips to Clars Auction Gallery .  I brought Clars a coral necklace still with the Marshall Field’s box. It was my great aunt’s and then her daughter’s and then my mother’s and now mine. It now seemed easier to let go of.  For god’s sake,  no one has worn it for over 40 years or possibly longer. It sat in the box making me nervous that I would somehow lose it or it would get stolen. I knew it was time and it would have been so much easier to let go if nice the lady at Clar’s hadn’t explained to me how it was made and the details of each bead, the gold, the cameo.  But I stuck to my guns and it is up for auction in April. I may regret it, but I may feel a bit more free. I won’t know till I am somewhere in my future life, nun or no nun.