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.

The Chicken Eulogy

Dear Friends,

My favorite hen died yesterday. She was by far the most social, the most curious of the flock.  If I was outside, say digging a hole, she’d run up and in impeccable chicken talk ask, “Whatcha doin’?”  I would reply in California English, “I am diggin’ a hole.” And, then she’d say something like, “Ok, I’ll just hang around you so I can get some easy-gettin’ worms.”  I would say, “Ok, but get your head out this hole or you’ll be sorry.”

She got sick a few days ago and started walking strangely around the chicken run and soon she couldn’t walk much at all. Not having gotten very far in Chicken School, I was slow to narrow down a diagnosis to osteoporosis which was due to a calcium deficiency, or so the book said.  I drove down to the local drugstore and bought an eye dropper and some Tums with the plan of crushing up the Tums for the calcium carbonate. When I got home though, she had passed on…to what or where I don’t know.  I actually got tears in my eyes and dug a final hole for her.  I guess it is the worms who are happy now.  I certainly am not.

I started raisng the chickens two and a half years ago because I love watching them be chickens. I love watching them run to get fed. I love watching them brag about laying an egg, every single time they lay an egg. I love watching them wander the yard constantly hunting and pecking…like the way I type!  In short, watching chickens brings a sense of peace to me. They bring a sense of order. They calm me down. It is part Zen. My breathing slows down. The tightness in my shoulders starts to loosen up. All seems right in my world as I watch the chickens be chickens. There is order and that feels good.

Yet, one thing I have learned in my sixties is that life is really anything but orderly. It is chaotic, disorderly. Now I don’t claim to know diddly squat about the Laws of Thermodynamics, but I think the 2nd Law basically says, “Whenever order increases, disorder increases somewhere else.” It is a physical fact of  life. Things happen in a day that you have no idea will happen when you wake up in the morning, enjoying that first sip of coffee. – or in the afternoon if you happen to be a Las Vegas entertainer. You think you’re healthy one minute and the next minute you get a serious health diagnosis. You think you have a few extra coins in your pocket and then the most expensive appliance you own craps out on you. You think you’re safe, and within minutes you might be running from an out of control wildfire. Don’t even get me started on earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, flash floods, tsunamis, and the flu viruses.  Hell, some people actually do get hit by lightning. The other day, while out by the chicken coop admiring the orderliness of the chicken life (before Laverne got sick), a small, but very dense, tree branch came down from high above at the speed of gravity and it just missed landing on my head. No warning, no sound, just me going, “What the hell?” and then realizing that thing could have killed me. Then last night, not knowing the electric current had been connected to the 4 strands of electric fence that surrounds my chicken run – it hadn’t been plugged in for a couple of months- I firmly grabbed a wire in each hand, at the same time, and got a jolt up to my elbows. My teeth felt funny afterwards. Disorder.

What do we do about all this disorder? Well, we create manicured lawns and very well maintained public parks for a couple of things. We obsess about Plan B’s, C’s, and D’s. We strategize. We analyze. We immunize. We clean house, especially the corners and the junk drawers. We focus on self-improvement. Jigsaw puzzles are pure disorder when they come out of the box and we rescue them from the chaos usually while other parts of our lives are getting more disorderly, but that is exactly what the 2nd Thermodynamic Law predicted would happen. Disorder is a real headline-maker. I live on the edge of a very steep canyon with thick vegetation. Yes, a wildfire is waiting to happen and when it does someone will describe it as “All Hell broke loose.”  Where I am employed, concrete paths spring up like the intricate patterns of freshly spun spider webs whenever a dirt path gets created informally by students walking from Point A to Point B. Students like the shortest route, but the disorder created is intolerable. A new concrete path is the go-to solution.

Another thing happens with all this disorder in our lives. Someone comes along with a message of hope for us. They have a solution. It is usually a fairly simple one, often a slogan goes with it, and we fall for it… every single time. We promote the problem solvers to a position of leadership, often on a national stage.  It doesn’t matter the political party affiliation. These people come from everywhere.  These promises of order also may come with terrible consequences. People can die because of them. “Things are chaotic. Let me help put order back in your life. I have the answers,” says the temporary hero.  They are like the travelling medicine shows of the American West that promised Hamlin’s Wizard Oil will solve your issues with constipation and liver cancer too.  The world is full of current examples of ‘Wizard Oil’ solutions to the the uncomfortable chaos in our lives.  In fact, lately it feels like we just run back and forth to the competing travelling medicine shows as we search for answers.

I have spent a lot of time over the past few years trying to understand what I believe and why I believe it. I have been in search of an authentic, personal faith. I lean heavily towards Christianity because that was the tradition I am most familiar with – not necessarily always comfortable with though. But, it still it works for me, if I discard some of the dogma. I am very suspicious now of religious traditions that attempt to provide a remedy for the chaos in our lives by following a certain set of strict rules. “Believe this and everything will fall into place.”   I don’t believe in that anymore. I am, however, still a Believer.

I believe that it is not in avoiding the disorder that we find peace. Perhaps that is exactly where we find anxiety. The trick, which is counter intuitive, is to acknowledge the disorder of life.  Fact is, we pretty much wouldn’t want it any other way. The orderly life is not a very interesting life. For me, the story of the Garden of Eden seems to be about humanity’s exit from the orderly to the disorderly. We indirectly chose to leave the garden through our rejection of the spiritual version of the Robert Rules of Order. And, yes, all Hell did break loose after that moment.  Maybe a better approach is to try dancing with the chaos. I think mountain climbers do it all the time along with many other risk takers. Artists do it. Creative teachers do it. Snowboarders do it. I even think, somehow, someway, my favorite chicken did it too. These dancers are usually younger in age. Us older folks, we think  it is too risky to dance with chaos. We know what might happen. And, the risks are very real. Yet, when I think about every older person I know who seemed young at heart, they all appeared to be the ones who didn’t avoid the chaos of life. They had learned to dance with chaos, even at times with their deepest grief.

What does all this have to do with my chicken’s eulogy? Uh,…I don’t know. Maybe there is some important message here about disorder and chaos – or maybe it is just another travelling medicine show passing through town. All I know is I miss that damn chicken that is buried here at my feet in the flower garden. I think the rest of us chickens in the barnyard could learn from her and she deserved some words to be spoken over her grave.

Thank you for coming to this service and the family asks you to join them now in a meal of fried chicken and potato salad.

 

Anger Management

(When I first started writng this particular piece on anger, I trashed it. I was afraid it was both too real and also not real enough. I became concerned about how I would be viewed. I also realized that I needed to think more deeply about this topic. I have done so.)

I don’t remember much what people have asked me or told me, certainly not word-for-word, and most certainly not after a year has gone by.  But, I remember, with absolute clarity, what one person asked me 20 years ago.

“You have a raging murderer inside of you, don’t you?”

I was shocked. Now to understand this question, here is some context. I was dealing with some depression, lots of it actually, and it was getting pretty bad…very bad, actually. So, with lots support and loving and firm prompting, I found a therapist that I could relate to and I spent about two years relating to him… once a week.  I had no problem in presenting myself as someone who needed some help, but I was careful not to present myself as anything but your normal, depressed person. I wasn’t crazy, for God’s sake.

One day during a session, I told him about a recent incident where I was rocking my grandson to sleep in our living room and 15 feet away someone was stealing the wheels off of my car, which was parked just beyond our front door. When my daughter came to pick up her baby and told me about my car being up on blocks, I got angry, very angry. Not only did someone steal from me, but they did it just a few feet away while I was rocking my grandson.

I had a number one suspect, or I think today they would say ‘a person of interest’ and he lived just down the street.  I marched off, in the dark, down the street, and surprised my suspect with a  direct confrontation. I was furious. This was the story that I shared with the therapist.  He listened carefully, and then asked the question I have never forgotten.

At first I tried to demonstrate how my anger was justified. I left his office still convinced that I was justified in my anger. Yet, his question continued to echo in my mind. Did I have a murderous rage inside of me? He said that he had one too. When he said that I thought, “Well, you’re screwed up. I am just depressed a little.”

It took some time, but I reluctantly, finally had to admit, “Yes, I do.”  I continue to think about that question. I have thought about anger, rage and hatred. I know anger can be a very appropriate response and nothing to be ashamed of. Even Jesus got really pissed off at the money changers outside the Temple as he took a whip to them. (Actually I don’t know if he used a whip or just turned their tables upside down. I wasn’t there.) But, did he hate them? Was he near an uncontrollable rage?

I am not the only one who in a rage confronts other’s words or actions. I see it all the time. I saw it yesterday at Home Depot. I see it on social media platforms. I see it with mothers and fathers, and children. I see it in politics. I see it in religion.  I see it in sports. I see it on the road. There is an incredible amount of anger being shared, regardless of one’s opinion or perspective, that has morphed to a rage and a form of hatred. In a verbal or literary context, people are demonstrating a “murderous rage” exists within them too, even by those who present themselves as  enlightened, highly thoughtful, artistic, peaceful,and loving people. It is disturbing. When I lose my temper – and I don’t as often anymore, but when I do…oh boy – I can see the look on the faces of the people physically close to me. It disturbs them, even if I have a so-called right to be angry – you can see that I have deeply disturbed their spirits. Where does anger stop and rage begin? I don’t know, but the ones around me do.

This anger thing is really tricky to manage.  I’ve gotten so angry that it actually  used up all my energy to correct a situation before – well, honestly, many times before. Anger is really helpful in standing up for oneself, although on social media it seems like such a small response to complex issues that require so much more than an angry little emoji response… and many folks seem to be raging beyond anger.  I’ve wondered how Gandhi would have handled his independence movement in the age of Facebook? Would Martin Luther King have marched as much? Would his speeches even have been given? Would Jesus have still gone with the 12 disciples strategy or chosen the 200 million social media followers? Would Jesus have posted his Sermon on the Mount and then sat back and waited for those blue thumbs pointing upward to start coming in?

I don’t know much about anything. Shit, I don’t even know why I blog. I’m basically an idiot. Yet, I know if I can still remember my therapist’s question from 20 years ago, it was a damn good question. Do some of us have raging murderers inside of us?  Is that a good thing? That I don’t know, but I am certain it can be a very bad thing.  I have tried to remember one single situation where my anger has improved the situation. I can’t.

By the way, I came out the bushes and I surprised my number one suspect of stealing my wheels that long ago night. He had a history of distributing drugs throughout our town. He was a smart ass, a bully, and he was destroying young people’s lives simply because he was too fucking lazy to work at a legitimate job. He’d rather sell drugs. I had known him for a long time and he had crossed my line. I indeed was in a blind rage, saw him as nothing but a piece of shit and if things had gone differently, non-premeditated murder was a possibility, perhaps even my own.

I often wonder if I have been able to diminish the rage my therapist recognized in me? Will the right circumstances bring it out again?  I have worked at learning to breathe. I have sought to recognize God’s love in hope of transforming my thinking, to become more loving of myself and others.  I read. I think. I observe. Still, deep inside of me…what lives there? Is it better, safer, to acknowledge the possibility that I am a lunatic? Ever been around an aggressive dog that seems to hate your guts for some reason and the owner says, “Oh, don’t pay attention to him. He won’t bite.” But, both you and the dog know that just ain’t so. Given the right situation, that dog will indeed bite your ass off.  I think it might be better to recognize that than to trust in the potential saintly nature of the dog. I really do have to manage my anger. Maybe in doing so, I will have more emotional energy left to actually deal with what is pissing me off?

Oh yes, guess what? That punk didn’t steal my wheels. Someone else did. My anger was justified. My rage was not. My hatred overwhelmed me and I targeted the wrong person. Whoops, my bad.

Secrets

I had a few minutes with my 17 year old grandson and we decided to set up a couple of Iphones and see if we could make a quick little video. This is just for learning how to do things like this. We want to make video of both of us singing a song and this shows us what we need to learn – such as, sing with your eyes open! I just jotted down some filler lyrics, so we’d have something to work with…by the way the camera adds 50 pounds!