Quiet

When I was a little boy, one of my most comforting, secure moments in my life was when I was told it was time for bed AND then my parents and grandparents would sit around the kitchen table and play cards, usually pinochle.  I would lie in bed (it is lie not lay, right?) and listen to the most important adults in my life as they talked, laughed, and occassionally explained their unsuccessful card strategy to their partners.  There is something wonderful about resting knowing that people wiser, stronger were in charge of the night now. I could just close my eyes and listen and gently fall in sleep. I would surrender to the day’s anxieties and problems.

I am enrolled in a little online course through the Center for Action and Contemplation with what is really like a large book club and the book we are reading is The Immortal Diamond.  This is a nice fit as I continue to try to meditate for a few minutes everyday. Also, although based on the work of a Catholic priest, the book’s concepts are accessible to many faiths and at times for those without any religious belief.

With my meditation, of course, I can’t keep the squirrel quiet in my brain for very long, but I am learning to be more gentle with myself. (I have a theory that if I continue doing that… I will eventually end up being more gentle to those around me and I am certain they will declare, “Hallelujah” to the heavens for that!)

I do seem to have two minds, one which I call the squirrel (for now) and one that I am not totally familiar with but I experience it briefly, usually in a nature setting, and it is accompanied with a sense of awe. Beginning with meditation, and then slowing, quietly, simply, adding a reverent contemplation, I am hoping to add that sense of awe in other settings besides the Great Outdoors. Perhaps, there is also a Great Indoors?

During my brief mediation today, I tried to softy, gently, and lovingly tuck the “little boy” to sleep and let the wiser, deeper spirit have its time. But, as one of my favorite poets once wrote I have “miles to go before I sleep.” 

It Took Some Time

It has taken over 3 years of constant internal battles of self-judgement, but I might have finally found a peace about writing songs, singing, and recording them. My dragon was fierce and his fire has not been extinguished entirely, but I don’t need to have my sword drawn constantly right now.  The biggest reasons for my growth in this area has been the constant support of a very small group of friends on Soundcloud and my family’s willingness to allow me to take on a different role, singer-songwriter.  You know, it can be kind of embarrassing when our dearest ones try on radically different artistic clothing.  Thank you all very much.

I have written close to 50 songs, put 30 of them on two different cd’s, “Another Picture on the Wall” and “Songs from the Shed” and I am kicking around the idea of a 3rd cd, in which case I have recorded 4 songs already and it has the working title of “Squirrel Creek Road.”

This is the latest song that I’ve written and recorded with the help of some really good musicians from Chico, California, Nashville, and Brazil. It just amazes me how I can now work with people from all over this great big wonderful world.

This one is just me being a silly old romantic.

This one is based upon my father’s childhood as he was born at the start of the Great Depression. The family left Iowa in search of a better life in California. It was a struggle for many years. Poverty can leave scars.

Sometimes I like to write songs through other people’s eyes, even if I have to make those people up.

 

Meditating with the Squirrel

I have been trying, always trying, to improve my well-being, especially my health. Being overweight  doesn’t seem to bother my self esteem much anymore, but it does bother me in regards to nearly everything else. I kept most of the weight off that I lost in 2017, but didn’t lose anymore in 2018 … so far. As my physician told me once, “You aren’t going to win the swimming suit contest.”

I have been reading a book (always reading three books at a time) titled “The Healing Self” and just finished another book on meditation, “Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics: A 10% Happier How-to Book” and I thought maybe I would give the practice of meditation a go as part of a holistic approach to my eating-ism.

I have enjoyed the practice so far, first using guided meditations concentrating on the breath and now considering the possibility of adding a contemplative prayer to it as I also continue to seek a genuine faith.  At work (I work at a university), I try to take a break and sit by a little creek that runs through our campus. The trees and other vegatation provides semi-secluded areas to sit. I have worked on this campus for quite awhile now, so a lot of people know me, or of me, and I feel a little self conscious sometimes just closing my eyes while sitting by the creek.

Today, I decided to keep my eyes softly focused upon the running water as it ran over and by the rocks in the middle of the stream. It was really easy to just focus on the water as it passed by, a constant flow, and I found it to be  a good example of just letting the thoughts drift by without attaching anything to them and then returning to the quiet, calmer places in the stream. It was nice…and then I saw a squirel on the opposing bank.

The squirrel was doing what squirrels do. It was gathering, scurrying, darting, climbing, digging. I thought, “Wow, look at the other me.” My thoughts always in motion – ideas, fears, plans. Usually I would be a little negative on myself when I see such a gap in where I am and where I want to be, but not this time. The squirrel was actually fun to watch and I admired its dedication in preparing for a long winter.

Just then a bluejay flew by and landed in a bush close to me. It had an acorn in its beak and looked to be hiding it in the bush, kind of an acorn bank I guess. It kind of reinforced the actions of the squirrel. It is ok to be a squirrel, it is ok to act like a bluejay, just don’t forget about the lessons of the creek either.

With that I went ahead and closed my eyes and spent a few more minutes by the creek, not caring if anyone saw me or not… and I just breathed. When I opened my eyes, the squirrel was gone, the bird was gone, and the tightness in my shoulders was gone too.

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Golf Partners

At my job, there is a lot of conversations along with quite a few opinions about – well, about anything. It is a great place to work, but sometimes I don’t mind a little solitude during my day and that is why I enjoy playing golf by myself sometimes.

This afternoon I decided to go out and play 18 holes and also decided that I would walk and not rent a cart. Unfortunately, I didn’t pay attention to today’s weather forecast as  I found myself in 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.4444 Celsius) It was hot and I did question the wisdom of an overweight old guy walking in that heat.

However, at one point I stopped huffing and puffing and checking my pulse and just looked around me. What did I see? I saw geese, turkeys, and deer all around me and thought, “God, what a wonderful life I am living. Look at these creatures.”

Please ignore my heavy breathing on this short video, I was really warm. Oh, yeah, I quit after nine holes.

Song Explanation: Rochelle

I am going to tell where the ideas came from for my songs on Soundcloud. Actually, not all that interesting-but wanted to share them for a few friends in different parts of the world. To be honest with you, I can’t even recommend that you watch these videos-but what the heck, it is my blog, huh? I hope everyone is doing well!

Heartsickness

The other evening, as I often do, I picked up my guitar and started strumming some basic chords and began creating different melodies.  I hadn’t played my harmonica in awhile, so I pulled out a G major harp and then started playing over the chords I was strumming – which means every note will sound harmonically o.k. because I was strumming my guitar in a G major scale too.

Then, I picked up a C major harp and I blew some notes over the same G major scale I was strumming on the guitar. This is pretty common in folk music, playing C harp while strumming the guitar in G major scale. It does seem to create some harmonic tension, but it works – just ask Bob Dylan.

Soon I started adding some words.. and this is where I got in trouble. I had been reading about the child abuse cases and cover up in some of America’s Catholic churches. I thought to myself, “Didn’t this happen just a decade or two ago too???” It saddens me on so many different levels. First of all, the psychological, physical, and spiritual harm caused to the victims; It is beyond belief, comprehension. sadness.  Also, although I am not Catholic, there are some amazing teachers in that faith. They have shared a different way of looking at things that has helped me on my own quest. I am also impressed by their commitment to issues of social justice. So as I read about the years of administrative cover up, I felt sick. Hypocrisy galore. With this, combined with deep feelings, from the heart, for the victims, I developed a heartsickness, all while I continued to play the guitar and blow the harp… in the darkness.

My train of thought continued though as I considered the spectrum of child abuse. My generation knew very well, at least where I grew up, the uncontrolled rage of a parent. Many young children experienced corporal punishment with a leather belt or the fists of a grown man pounding on the child. Perhaps the crime was telling a lie, or talking “out of line” or even a poor mark or grade on a report card.   It often didn’t take much. (An old family story we have is about the beating my own father once endured for leaving the cap off of the toothpaste.) Other children, particularly young girls, but not always, have suffered from sexual abuse from inside their own home, where they were supposed to be safe.  I know about this on many levels, as I worked as a Child Protective Social Worker for a bit. The stories are too sick, too painful, too private, and too many to share. I also understand the consequences of abuse from a personal level, but I certainly am not alone there.

There are sick, sick people out there. Combined with a world that seems at times to be teetering out of balance, it is common to seek a deeper meaning and even a moment of peace by consulting our religious elders and leaders. I wonder how many of the victims of the most recent Catholic Church abuse case were already injured from previous harm done to them by adults outside of the church?

So what do you do with all of this? I don’t believe that one religious organization is the culprit. As a social worker, I once removed a child from a life threatening situation – he/she was left in a car in intense summer heat while their ‘caretaker’ was getting drunk in the bar, flies were sticking to his/her face – and I placed them in the safety of a licensed foster home. Guess what happened that night to him/her. You hear of child sexual abuse from all corners and by all people. Still the betrayal by the priests really makes me want to vomit. I hear phrases about forgiveness and seeking God’s grace and I find it revolting. It is like using the same line that opened the door to the abuse in the first place, the company line sort of. I don’t think you get to use those words and phrases if you were directly or indirectly involved in the act or the cover up. Only the victims get to talk in those terms, if they choose and who would blame them if they chose not to?

But, I am not comfortable either being the judge because for I have fallen short (not that short!) in my own life. So I end up just kind of sitting with the filth of it all, not knowing what to do, strumming my guitar, recording whatever words come my way. It is not a joyful way to write music. It is not an enjoyable way to write music. I could not go to sleep until I had recorded what came out of me in that dark and heartsick moment.

 

Why Do I Blog?

The other day I told this guy that I have a circus operating inside my head. He laughed, rather genuinely and vigorously. I took it that he does not have one.

Inside my head I have trapeze artists swinging dangerously through the air. I have a lion trainer. I have a Ringmaster. There are dogs that can ride tricycles and elephants that can dance. And, yes, clowns, lots of clowns are in there too. This circus is my never-ending story; It is my constant companions of thoughts, ideas, fears, even conversations.

When I write, this circus has to slow down. Multitasking is set aside as I focus on one idea, one thought at a time. It forces me to reflect, to think, to stroke my chin and ponder a bit. Sometimes I will go back and read something I wrote and think, “Yes, that is exactly how I felt or thought at that time.”  Writing  is a mental commitment to an idea, concept, theory or whatever you have in mind…literally in your mind. Often my thoughts act as sneaky little ghosts who live to disrupt my life, but refuse to be seen for what they are. It is often a revelation to me when they do make a public appearance.

Here is an example: The other day we took a drive up the Feather River Canyon, not far from our home. Of course we brought Gracie, our Goldendoodle. We packed a little lunch and went up to one of our favorite stretches of the river.

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As I was sitting along the river, I felt a bit of emotion rise up through my throat and settled in my eyes, as they became a bit moist. I remembered one Sunday morning a long time ago when I skipped going to church and went fishing in a canyon similar to the Feather River Canyon, but far more remote. It required a long hike down a canyon and as I paused to watch the sun rise above the evergreen forest with crystal clear water below, I thought to myself, “This is far prettier than church and touches me more deeply.” I was in awe. From that moment on, being outdoors in areas like that has always made me think, “Oh my God.”

I guess that is why my eyes teared up again on the North Fork of the Feather River. It all makes me think again, “Oh my God. How wonderful this world is. What a gift.”

All of this kind of gets tossed around in my circus mind along with a thousand other competing acts – all wanting center stage.. But, when I take the time to write about it, it becomes a personal revelation. I am indeed spiritually moved by the gifts of nature – a mountain, a path through a dense forest, a waterfall, the ocean waves, sunsets, hummingbirds and dragonflies and butterflies, a sliver of the moon against a deep, dark blue sky, wildflowers, and baby quail, an eagle, a salmon, canyons of red rocks, mountain springs, migrating geese and snowflakes.  All of it makes me think, “Oh my God.”

So why do I blog? I guess…for me. It helps me commit to what I think, what I believe. It is a revelation to me. It makes the circus grow quiet for a bit and I can breathe it all end.

 

 

The Weekend

So many things to get done on our days off, this weekend I took a detour from all that.

Saturday morning got up and headed down the hill to a favorite tomato stand out in front of the farmer’s house. Got some great tomatoes. Then just a minute further down the road we swung by a place that sells pluots (cross between plums and apricots, I think) on an honor system. Just weigh them and drop the money in the box.

Then went down some country road and dropped by an old market with a deli. The owner/clerk was out of bread, so he let us stay in the store while he locked the front door and ran down to his other store to get some bread. It was weird and funny to be trusted by a total stranger to be in his market alone. The sandwich was fantastic.

After that we drove to a little farm and picked grapes, apples, nectarines and peaches. There is something so wonderful about it all.

After all that, I decided that I wanted to try sewing something. I’ve never sewed anything before and I decided on trying to make shirt. I couldn’t stand the thought of buying another shirt and I wanted something unique. I quickly found out that it is less expensive to buy a shirt.

With lots of help, I got the pattern cut out. It was almost like meditation when concentrating on something like that. Instead of concentrating on my breath, I was solely focused on the cut lines.

I’ll let you know how it turns out. Even if it ends up being crap, I think it will still be worth it. Kind worried about those seams though.

Then finally, I went out for a round of golf, by myself, which is also very relaxing. No one to worry about as the cuss words fly out of my mouth. Here is the creek that runs through the golf course and occasionally is the final resting place of one of my many errant shots.

It was a good weekend.