A Month of Reflection: Day 5 – Know

August 31, 2014

Elul blog list

Interesting that today’s theme is “Know.” 

Today my family and I took a trip to the Art Institute for the Magritte exhibit. What fascinated me about Magritte’s art was the way in which he tirelessly worked to take everything we know and turn it upside down. Words are arbitrary. It’s all abstract. “This is not a pipe,” and so forth. 

I found myself torn. On one hand, I marveled at the philosophical dissonance Magritte creates; the feeling of discomfort that comes when I’m asked to challenge my own way of thinking stirs up my excitement and curiosity. On the other, I found myself searching for truth within myself. What are the things that I know from deep in my bones, that no amount of surreal art or self-doubt could make me unlearn?

So here it is…my list of Some Things I Know (That Rene Magritte Can’t Mess With):

I know that there is always merit in looking at the sky.

I know I can seek comfort in the company of dogs.

I know that having children means that my heart will forever live outside of my body.

I know that I can never have too many wise women in my life.

I know that the law of currency of favors doesn’t require that I pay people back for their kindnesses, but pay them forward.

I know that people are infinite sources of love and strength.

Elul is that time of the year to reflect and prepare ourselves mentally for the High Holidays approaching. Each day of Elul, I’ll reflect on a theme and invite you to come along on that journey. Feel free to comment with your reflections on the theme, post your own blog or Facebook thoughts, or just quietly give yourself a bit of spiritual space.

 

A Month of Reflection: Day 4 – Accept

August 30, 2014

Elul is that time of the year to reflect and prepare ourselves mentally for the High Holidays approaching. Each day of Elul, I’ll reflect on a theme and invite yoElul blog listu to come along on that journey. Feel free to comment with your reflections on the theme, post your own blog or Facebook thoughts, or just quietly give yourself a bit of spiritual space.

Oh. Accept. It’s YOU.

You’re the one who’s whispering behind all my imperfections and mistakes, aren’t you? You’re the one who crowds for space in my mirror. You’re the one who taps my shoulder when my children display the sides of themselves that frustrate, sadden or anger me.

Really. Why must you be so pushy?

It’s much easier to poke around at the poor body image I’ve carted around ever since I can remember. It’s easier to be angry with myself for saying the wrong thing, for doing the wrong thing – it’s like the comfort you get from worrying a sore tooth with your tongue. Sure, it’s painful, but there’s something oddly comforting about going over that hurt, about memorizing each groove and crack.

Why do you have to mess that up, acceptance?

(Sigh)

Ok, ok. I know what you’re going to say already, so I’ll say it myself.

Acceptance comes from creating that space within, from listening to that still, small voice. Not shunning my negative thoughts; they are a part of me too. Recognizing that I am the product of my journey, both the joys and the sorrows. And understanding that I can be a blessing and a light to those around me.

And once I find you within myself, acceptance, I suppose you’ll want me to view others through the same lens as well – with love, with tenderness, with compassion. ‘Cause that’s how you roll, right?

I got it.

A Month of Reflection: Day 3 – Bless

August 29, 2014

Elul is that time of the year to reflect and prepare ourselves mentally for the High Holidays approaching. Each day of Elul, I’ll reflect on a theme and invite yoElul blog listu to come along on that journey. Feel free to comment with your reflections on the theme, post your own blog or Facebook thoughts, or just quietly give yourself a bit of spiritual space.

 

I think about today’s theme – “Bless,” and I can’t help but wonder.

Is that something I truly have within my power to do?

Sure, I may say a blessing over a meal. I might bless someone who sneezes. I might wish someone blessings and love. I acknowledge and feel grateful for the blessings in my life, both those obvious and those in disguise.

But the very act of blessing. Is that my power, or is it God’s?

Every other verb on this month’s list is something I can do. Something within my capacity. I’m not so sure this one is.

Of course, I could speak to “the Divine within;” because God is in each one of us, each one of us truly has the power to bless.

Do we really, though? If I have the power to bestow blessings, wouldn’t it naturally follow that it is within my power to curse? I don’t desire to be weighted with that task. A Divine choice, indeed – one I don’t wish to make.

Which leads me to wonder. What are the powers we bestow to God, and what are the powers we recognize and develop within ourselves?

Where does the Divine within us end, and the human begin?

A Month of Reflection: Day Two

August 28, 2014

Elul is that time of the year to reflect and prepare ourselves mentally for the High Holidays approaching. Each day of Elul, I’ll reflect on a theme and invite yoElul blog listu to come along on that journey. Feel free to comment with your reflections on the theme, post your own blog or Facebook thoughts, or just quietly give yourself a bit of spiritual space.

It seems strange to me that the yesterday’s theme was “DO,” and today’s theme is “ACT.” I’ve been thinking all day yesterday and today about the difference between the two. After all, don’t they both lead us to believe that we are making something – whatever it is – a reality?

It’s nice to DO. Getting things DONE fills me with a sense of responsibility and accomplishment. I enjoy crossing things off my “To Do” list. Even if I have to put dumb stuff on there to make me feel better, like brushing my teeth or taking a shower. A girl’s got to get her kicks somewhere.

But “acting,” for me, implies more than taking responsibility. There’s more to “ACT” than moving from intention. There are lots of things that I DO, but the way I ACT describes my way of being. What’s my general attitude toward the world? How do I treat people? Do I act with kindness, with respect, with compassion? I can only hope. There are some days I feel pretty good about the human being I’ve been. Other days, well…maybe I missed the mark.

And taking action. It speaks to me more strongly than doing. Taking action means there’s something I feel strongly about. I’m connecting myself with a strongly-held belief and I am trying to manifest that value in the world somewhere.

Do I have enough action in my life? Do I behave with intention, in a manner that shares with the world what I believe in, and what I find valuable? Sometimes, and in some ways – like who I am when I’m with my students – I find that action comes easily and naturally.

Other times, I see the news coverage from Ferguson, or read of the damage corporations do to our environment, or think on the the inequities of race and economics in public schooling. I confess I’m filled with deep-seated feelings of anger and frustration. Soon to follow, though, are the feelings of hopelessness that prevent me from taking action. I just feel so…small.

I’m always trying to think of how I can make things better. Sometimes I think I could. Other days, I’m not so sure. It’s difficult to see beyond the horizon of my limitations as I perceive them. I see people who make more global issues their life’s work, and I wish that could be me. I guess, however, they would tell me action starts with a single, manageable step.

What would I do?

What could I do?

Ah…(light bulb)…DO.

A Month of Reflection: Day One

August 27, 2014

Today marks the beginning of the month of Elul on the Jewish calendar. Elul is that time of the year to reflect and prepare ourselves mentally for the High Holidays approaching. Each day of Elul, I’ll reflect on a theme and invite yoElul blog listu to come along on that journey. Feel free to comment with your reflections on the theme, post your own blog or Facebook thoughts, or just quietly give yourself a bit of spiritual space.

Day 1: DO

I suppose it makes sense to start here. Seeing as I’ve been away from writing on this blog for too long. Time to get back in the DOING of writing. It’s an important outlet for me, and I’ve missed it.

I’ve always been a word person. I pride myself on being a person who can use words to make people feel better. It feels good to have words be my “DO.” Sometimes, a note or a phone call with the right words can help make the world a better place. Can help carry someone’s burden. Can help lessen grief.

Still, words sometimes don’t cut it. 

Sometimes, I say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Sometimes words are just…empty. Sometimes I try to say something helpful and make someone feel worse. I find it incredibly difficult to forgive myself when that happens. (It’s human, I know. Doesn’t help.)

And I know that words have their limits. Beyond reassurance and love, my words hold intention. I want to be better at knowing when to let words be my “DO,” and when more is needed.
Sure, a note to a colleague is nice.
          Showing up to help in her classroom goes a long way, too.
Telling an acquaintance I’m sorry for their loss is a good thing to do.
          Showing up to help him mourn speaks even more.
So…to have writing be a “DO?” I’ll admit, it feels strange. But that is why, I suppose, I’m glad tomorrow’s theme is “ACT.” 

Scenic Route

July 3, 2012

There was a reason I decided to go
Old school
Paper map, back roads
Down to Saint Louis
Because I knew by the time I hit Route 71
With the windows down
The radio off
The field of my thoughts could finally unfold,
Stretch, unfurl, squeeze out
Beyond its wire-wrapped borders,
Freeing me to think poetically:
On the proper technique for eating peaches without a napkin
Regarding probable consequences of passing up the sweet corn stand
About retraining myself to breathe deeply
Of towns and their names: Norway, Ottawa, El Paso
Every image I see becomes imagery.
I cultivate phrases in my mind,
Hearing my words as they might be read aloud
Still all the while unsure if
When I hit the interstate
When I close the car windows
When I later sit alone,
My words will return, ready for harvest
Or whether they remain
Blurs through the window
As I go whizzing by.

On Dreams

May 20, 2012

Word to the wise: don’t read on if you’re squeamish, and don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Last night I had a dream. Most of the time my dreams range from a replay of everyday life to other ordinary dream stuff: driving, flying, being places that are and yet are not real. And of course these dreams have some sorts of meaning to them. They all do.

But sometimes, my dreams are more than vivid. Sometimes, my dreams come at me with red flags waving and sirens blaring: PAY ATTENTION TO ME. THIS ONE IS IMPORTANT.

I was in my house (of course, it wasn’t my house, but it was – that’s how dreams go, right?). And I walked across the living room floor and it was infested with maggots. Everywhere. In my dream, I instantly began trying to think of my strategy for getting rid of the buggers. I went to another room and they were there, too. Again, everywhere. I brought the vacuum cleaner out to the first room. When I started it up, the maggots just dove down under the carpet so I couldn’t get them. My last thought before waking was wondering how deep I’d have to go before I got them all.

Now, you have to understand, I have a thing about maggots. Just even the word itself is enough to make my skin crawl. It probably has to do with the night I stepped barefoot into the garage only to find myself crunching down on those nasty creatures. Yes. Barefoot. For the next three hours, it was me, my old hiking boots, a flashlight, Clorox, Formula 409, a hose, and anything else I could get my hands on to try and eradicate every last one of them.

My initial, horrific revulsion of that first footstep was met with matching feelings of satisfaction as I sprayed, wiped and crunched. I was going to get every last one of them. At the same time, I couldn’t help but think that the whole process was a metaphor for finding what is disgusting and abhorrent, for rooting it out and seeking its end. I even considered possible poems on the theme. I knew it was a figurative struggle, even then.

And THAT’S why I knew I couldn’t ignore this dream. I already KNEW what it stood for, even before I woke up. And isn’t that the way it happens with our very most powerful dreams?

The hellishness was not just in some trash can somewhere. It wasn’t off in the garage. It was in my HOUSE. Literally. Figuratively. It had violated my borders and taken over. And I went to clear it away, only to discover the affliction had struck deep, deeper than I had imagined.

So in the way of dreams, I know, yet I don’t know. Is it a presence in my life that I need to examine? A problem I thought I’ve solved or moved past – but not really? An obstacle to my individual happiness?

Hopefully, some more time, thought and reflection will help shine the light. Maybe even another dream. Only maybe one not so gross this time.

How about you? What’s the last dream that you had where you woke up knowing it was brought to you with a message you needed to hear?

On Anger

January 15, 2012

I’m a Nice Person. Which means I stick with that “kinder than necessary” adage. Which means I see it as my job to see other people’s feelings when I consider my own. Before I consider my own. Instead of considering my own.

Niceness, one would think, is a good thing. But I will tell you, and I’d imagine other Nice People out there will tell you, that it isn’t always a good thing. You see, Nice People don’t act out of anger. But we still get upset. You just don’t know it, because we won’t tell you. And if (but hopefully WHEN), you sense you did something wrong and apologize to a Nice Person, we’ll say, “Oh, that’s okay.”

Because Nice People? We MAKE it okay for ourselves. We tell ourselves that you meant well when you accepted our invitation, then forgot about it. That you were just being snappy with us because things aren’t going well for you in your life. We tell ourselves that you cut us off in line at the supermarket because you just weren’t thinking.

Sometimes, Nice People get brave. Which means that we really are angry and frustrated, but we’ll try and let you know in our Nice way. We’ll communicate that we’re not totally happy about things, but we’ll try and make sure you feel okay about yourself too.

The problem is, Nice People expect that same treatment in return. And when we don’t get that same treatment, it surprises us. Shocks us. Saddens us. And yes, angers us.

The other day, I got angry. I mean really angry. I mean, I-can’t-believe-I’m-this-upset-and-are-my-hands-actually-shaking?-angry.

Well, I figured it was about time to really BE angry. I figured, I’ve borne the brunt of so many other people’s feelings, insecurities and misgivings. Isn’t it my turn to let somebody else carry that weight? Time to share the wealth.

So I responded in anger. To tell you the truth, if I read the transcript of what I said, it probably wasn’t all that venomous. It’s like the do-gooder who thinks she’s swearing when she says “underwear.” I used my “I-feel” statements. There was no profanity, no name-calling. And it was a sentiment whose time, truly, had come.

Yet I had a pit in my stomach all day long. It felt completely out of character for me, and felt incredibly wrong. If bad behavior from others shocks me, bad behavior from myself shocks me even more.

Here’s the catch. Who’s to say I behaved badly? Who’s to say I was doing anything more than being honest? And who’s to say I’m better off absorbing all that anger and pretending things were still okay?

A Nice Person would apologize. And believe me, I thought about it. After all, I’m a Nice Person. I’m supposed to make things better. Problem is, I’ve BEEN making it better, and I’ve been making it better at a cost to my own well-being.

So guess what? This time, I won’t apologize for airing my feelings, even if things get messy. Even if, in this situation, I don’t feel Nice.

As scary as it sounds, maybe it’s time to redefine Nice.

Are there other Nice People out there always making things okay, but not really? Other Nice People who have found a balance between consideration for others and kindness to self? Any Not-So-Nice, or Mostly-Nice People who see things differently? Have you learned something today, as I have? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

Yeah…that would be Nice.

‘Tis the Season

December 11, 2011

This weekend, Thing 1 and I made two big batches of cookies – snickerdoodles and chocolate chip pumpkin cookies (OK, so I left out the pumpkin, but the cookies were surprisingly tasty). Most of them went towards a charity bake sale at school, and the others went to the kids’ Sunday school teachers this morning. As we were walking in, I thought to myself that I should have brought in more cookies: for the school administrator and office staff. For the crossing guard who braves the cold every week. For the custodial staff who really keep the place running. For the police officer who directs traffic on Tuesdays. For the clergy.

And then I thought, holy cow. I have a lot of people to bake cookies for:

-My neighbors, who make where we live a real, true NEIGHBORHOOD
-Our family doctors and dentists, who keep us healthy (yes, I do see the irony in sending them cookies, but c’mon – everybody loves cookies).
-The storytelling friends I have, who offer support, friendship, and the occasional kick in the pants to get creative.
-My kids’ school teachers.
-The art teacher. The music teacher. The computer lab specialist. The PE teacher (again, dripping with irony. I get it). The office staff. The amazing custodial staff. The before / after care staff.
-The kids’ instrumental music teachers (who, after listening to beginning players play with the patience they do, can skip the cookies and go for the rum balls).
-My colleagues: the neighbors who check on me in my hobbit-hole. The office staff. The custodial staff. (see a pattern here?)
-My students, who work so hard every day and make it worth getting out of bed each morning.
-The coaches who work with the kids in swimming and hockey.
-The team parents, who are so great to get along with and feel like extended family.
-My local friends and family, who could always benefit from a spare rum ball.
-My not-so-local friends and family, who continually offer kind words and a chuckle right when I’m needing them.

and and and and.

I’m realizing that’s a lot of cookies. Even if I were conservative and went 6 cookies a pop, that’s still more dozens of cookies than I care to count. I’m realizing that I’d be up a lot of nights with a lot of cookie dough and rum balls. I’m not so sure that I will make it. Even though the rum ball thing is tempting.

So, it will just have to suffice that I’ll bake what I can, and do what’s in my power to make sure all of you in my life know how grateful I am to have you, in whatever role or purpose you serve.

Thank you for supporting me.
Thank you for grounding me.
Thank you for inspiring me.
Thank you for keeping me healthy: physically, spiritually, emotionally.
Thank you for helping my children see their talents and strengths.
Thank you for asking me how I’m feeling and meaning it.
Thank you for giving my kids rides when I can’t clone myself.
Thank you for making the places I have to be, places I want to be.
Thank you for the unique gifts you bring, to me and to the world.

Coming Home

November 29, 2011

Today has been a surprisingly productive day.

I have NO papers in my “work to grade” pile.
I was an even better teacher than I expected to be, for the Monday after Thanksgiving.
I cleared my inbox from over 1,000 to 7. Yeah. S-e-v-e-n.
I caught up on my favorite mindless TV show.
I finished a book I was reading.

One would think I’d let myself go to bed satisfied.

That was until I started reading back over my blog entries. And you know what? I’m actually pretty proud of some of my writing. And you know what else? I’m scratching my head as to why I’m not doing it more.

I know I’ve blogged before about why baking is an easy creative outlet for myself. Still, I’d have to think that writing is a touch healthier, perhaps. So here goes. It’s time for me to dust off my keyboard and get back in there. Stay tuned.


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