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Archive for the ‘self-care/love’ Category

I recently went to practice meditation for a weekend at Deer Park–a monastery in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. In this tradition, everything from eating to working to walking is a chance to connect with your breath and practice mindfulness. There are also teachings called “Dharma Talks.”

One of the talks consisted of a video of Thich Nhat Hanh teaching about different types of consciousness, specifically “mind consciousness” versus “store consciousness.” Mind consciousness is described as our conscious thoughts, those that occupy us as we’re thinking about the past, worrying, and planning. Store consciousness, on the other hand, is the body of information a person has taken in and stored away. One’s store consciousness is often accessed unconsciously. It’s the part of your consciousness that gets you home when you’re driving but distracted in your thinking instead of focusing on the road.

Later that night, I sat up rereading Hanh’s book “For a Future to Be Possible: Commentaries on the Five Mindfulness Trainings.” The mindfulness trainings are guidelines of sorts for living according to Buddhist principles. The fifth mindfulness training emphasizes the importance of mindful consumption–not just the things we put into our body, but also the things we put into our mind (our “store”), including the kinds of books we read, movies we watch, and conversations we engage in.

At one point in the book, Hanh begins talking about how to be with someone who is dying. He recalls visiting a friend who was dying and in a lot of pain. His friend’s pain eased when his visitors helped him recall happy memories. Hanh explained that he massaged his friend’s feet because often when people are dying they can’t feel parts of their bodies and that massage can be very comforting.

I had read this book in November of last year, the last time I spent a weekend at Deer Park. When I got the word that my Grandma Aimee was dying, I did not remember reading this passage. However, as soon as I heard she was dying, I felt compelled to get to her and–granting that I made it in time–massage her feet. On my way to airport, I stopped and bought a bottle of jojoba oil and a bottle of orange essential oil with the description “cheering” written on it. I did make it before she died and gave her a foot massage that night.

She lived for another day and a half and during this time visitors streamed in and out of her room and she received them all graciously. I saw that Grandma Aimee was consoled by the happy memories her loved ones shared with her and comforted by the traditional Catholic prayers said at her bedside. Several times I pulled out the orange essential oil and just let her smell it or rubbed some on her shoulders and she would light up, smiling at the familiar, happy scent.

As I reread Hanh’s words about comforting the dying after her death, I was struck by how I did not remember reading this and yet as soon as I heard that my grandma was dying, I knew what to do. I’m so grateful this information was in my “store.” xoxo

P.S. Here’s a link to the eulogy I wrote for Aimee.

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The name of this blog is taken from Dar Williams’ song “After All.” She sang:
“And when I chose to live
There was no joy
It’s just a line I crossed
It wasn’t worth the pain my death would cost
So I was not lost or found.”

But lately when I choose to live, joy is involved. This song in particular lifts my spirits, lulls me to sleep, gets me outta bed, gets me outta the house …

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My place in the world is right here.
On the back porch of a house in Detroit:
A breeze stirs from time to time, cutting through the June air.
It catches the wind chime. I close my eyes and hear: clinking glasses, the hum of a Tibetan singing bowl still carrying on after contact.
The sun lights up the leaves at the top of a young tree.
One of my feet touches the ground.
The other is suspended a few inches above, as I sit one leg crossed over the other.
My place in the world is right here.

The above is excerpted from a free write on the first day of the Allied Media Conference. I had just been at the UAW Constitutional Convention and was feeling a little disjointed from switching from one gathering to another and anticipating a third: the US Social Forum.

The AMC was a totally new experience for me. I’ve wanted to go for several years and finally got to.

I was immediately grateful to be in a space where “we spend more time building than attacking” is one of the core principles.

I moseyed through the AMC, pacing myself and resting. I started out by participating in make/shift’s collaborative editing workshop. Collaborative editing is one of the ways make/shift practices feminism(s).

Next was the workshop on radical m/othering, parenting, and childcare collectives. I appreciated the tips for how to be more inclusive of parents and children in meetings and community gatherings. These were simple things, including: saying up front that children (and the sounds they often make) are welcome, offering childcare is helpful to parents even if they opt not to use it, acknowledge children, and offer to hold them or play with them if their parenting is occupied.

Poor magazine schooled us all on “poverty scholarship” and the difference between research done by academics outside the community and the “we-search” that they do. The folks at poor magazine take media-making and research into their own hands.

Finally, in a workshop focused on responding to violence in our communities outside the formalized police state, we explored the “middle path” in responding to violence: community accountability. The Audre Lorde Project’s Safe OUTside the System uses a step team to raise awareness and do outreach. Always a Safe Space (ASS) hands out guides on how to pick people up in safe and respectful ways in the bathroom lines at queer clubs. And Community United Against Violence hosts a fun “safetyfest.” One thing that the person from CUAV said that stuck with me is that isolation is one of the major things that contributes to people both being harmful and being harmed.

At the USSF, a lot of the things I participated in were with UAW. At a discussion on labor, faith, and community activism, the new UAW president, Bob King, said that unions are strongest when we’re active participants in our community. He said that over the years we’ve done a good job building up great contracts for those we represent, but haven’t done enough to protect other workers in our community. He said that unions must fight for everyone in society. I couldn’t agree more.

The next day we marched to Chase bank in protest of Chase’s role in the foreclosure crisis that Michigan is experiencing and their bankrolling of JR Reynolds which is currently denying its workers decent wages and working conditions.

One of the evenings, I caught some of the art programming outside at the amphitheater. A poet talked about non-cooperation in two specific ways that resonated with me: 1. not believing the lie that you are not good enough and 2. challenging our over-consumption. Of course, these two things are very intertwined.

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At one of the intersections at the university I attend, there is a sign that says, “Think! Accidents are avoidable.”

***
A few weeks ago, I burned myself badly–a burn that resulted in a lot of pain, blisters, a trip to urgent care, and skin that has (thankfully) mostly healed, but is still red in the spot that got the worst of it. The accident happened while I sitting in the passenger seat of my aunt’s car. I was taking some time off, but thought it was important to be part of a conference call for work. So, my aunt drove me about 10 miles until my phone could get reception. The nearby coffee shop was packed, so I decided to take the call from the car. My aunt went inside and, after a few minutes, delivered a steaming hot cup to tea to me. The tea was on the dash of the car, the phone to my ear, and the laptop across my thighs. After about 5 minutes on the call, I lost reception, so after a few failed attempts to reconnect, I started an email to my colleagues to let them know what happened. I shifted in my seat a bit and the top of my laptop sent the cup full of tea flying–scalding hot water splashed across my wrist, seeping in and though the sleeves of my jacket, and finally landed on the side of my leg and across the keyboard of my laptop.

I frantically turned the laptop upside down, hoping the water would exit it as quickly as it entered, and made a dash for the restroom of the coffee shop to run my terribly burned wrist under cold water.

This was a painful lesson in mindfullness. I could have looked at the placement of the tea and anticipated that an accident may result. And so it goes with many things in life. In a hurry to meet a friend the other day, I had way too many things in my hands. I dropped my wallet and the contents scattered across the ground, slowing me down considerably.

***
In his recent LA Times review of books about slowing down writer Nick Owchar had this to say about Thich Naht Hahn’s You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment:

“This book, slender as a breviary, elegantly describes the very act of breathing as an art, and he shows us ways to apply our full concentration, our ‘mindfulness,’ to everything we do during the day–walking, sitting, driving your car (‘the red light is not your enemy,’ he assures), drinking a cup of tea. The point of all this, in the end, is to measure the depth of one’s commitment to that moment. ‘When you are holding a cup of tea in your hand, do it while being 100 percent there,’ he advises. Maybe if you did, you wouldn’t spill so often.”

***
I went to Deer Park Monastery for a weekend retreat in February. Along one of the paths was a sign that read, “Before you start, stop.

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Christmas 2009.

The card says:
“Wishing upon a star … that your holidays are bright with joy!”

The not-so-fine print.
Before I open the card, Tony comments that by the handwriting it would seem that my mother was in a good mood when she wrote it.
Manic, I think (not fully trusting/knowing what to make of her bipolar “diagnosis”), but not necessarily happy.
I have learned to distinguish the tenor of her letters by how big and bubbly her handwriting is. The bigger and bubblier, the worse.

I don’t even get to open the envelope before she begins.
“I have already waited 2 long 4 u—I forgive the behavior but I don’t have to like it.”

Behavior? We have not talked for over a year. And I was the one who last initiated contact.

Inside:
“Christine,
This is the last communication I will attempt with u so far as I’m concerned you are rude, insensitive to others, unethical, etc. etc. etc. I wish 2 make amends 4 my (50%) part of whatever I may have done as I possess no short-term memory at all—only long-term
Get over yourself & your Southern California attitude—I have washed my hands of u—have one of your yuppie friends advise me of your death as I disown u & will only leave you one cent.”

Reading her words ripped me open. The cruelty threw me. I talked back to her:
What?! Are you kidding? Fifty percent of “whatever” it was that you did—I was a child, you were my parent, you were the adult, you were supposed to take care of me. Fifty percent?! And I’m not even letting the past get in the way of our relationship. It’s the way you continue to abuse me in the present that keeps me from being close to you.
My yuppie friends? My Southern California attitude? You don’t even know me. You don’t know me because you have no boundaries. Because you’re a narcissist. Because you would rather put me on a pedestal or, alternatively, imagine me a “bitch from hell,” as you once called me. (Do you remember that? It was a long-time ago.)
You’ll leave me a cent? That’s more than I imagined you would leave me. Last I knew you had no money.
(Not a judgment; just a fact.)
When did you ever own me?

My reply (also via Christmas card):
“Mom—
Funny, I had planned to send you a card with the following message: ‘I am appreciative of all I have learned from you.’ That remains true, but I thought I’d also enclose your latest communication since, as you say, you have no short-term memory. Perhaps reading it you will remember why I keep my distance and boundaries. Perhaps not. Either way, I wish you all the best.”

I responded within minutes of reading her letter. Put my response in the mailbox the next day. Mailed it off to her in care of some guy I’ve never heard of.

It’s been a week and my heart is still broken. It’s been thirty years and my heart is still broken. Not everyday. Not all the time. But right now, it is.

Part of me is ashamed to even put this out into the world. To acknowledge that this is my mom. That this is me. For so long I worried that I was “crazy, like her” or just like her, period. The rational part of me, the part that kicks in most of the time, remembers that what I really think is:
She did her best. (Do I really believe this anymore? I’ve been telling myself this for the last several years.)
There are lots of good things that I learned from her and from being her daughter; and those are the things to dwell on.
And I am not her. I might be like her in some ways, after all, I am her daughter. But I am not her. Not even close.

Sure, but tonight my heart is still a little worse for the wear.

Oh, and Jess wrote this amazing, thought-provoking-for-me-in-so-many-ways post a while ago and I finally read it today. In it (among so many other things) she discusses her relationship with her mom who, she writes, “I’m trying to stay connected with on some level, who I forgive for many things and appreciate for many things even as I keep deciding not to trust her, not to let go or get open with her.”

For most of the last decade, I have tried to stay connected with my mom on some level after not talking to her for about three years right after I graduated high school. But for now I am tired of doing the how-close-is-too-close dance. My calves are aching from “taking the high road,” as Babs put it. I may be stronger for it, but I am not a saint or a martyr. And I don’t aspire to be either of these things.

Luckily, I do have many much healthier relationships with people I love, including the other people I’ve mentioned in this blog—Tony, Jess, Babs. These are just some of the people I would vow to be there for through the good and the bad, through sickness and health (etc. etc. etc.!).

So, here’s to love and commitment.
And to telling the truth about our relationships.

Almost the new year 2010.

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i don’t have much of a memory from before 1st or 2nd grade really (6-7 years old). many of the details i know of my life before that come in the form of stories from various sources, who tend to offer unreliable and sometimes contradictory accounts. prior to my dad getting custody of me when i was about 6, i lived with my mom in the st. johns neighborhood of portland for about a year. my aunt has lived in st. johns for a few years now and i visit her fairly frequently. until recently, nothing really looked familiar to me, but i always sort of felt like something familiar could be right around the corner. and there it was, last february.

walkway

my partner and i were visiting and took a walk. on the way back, i tensed up as we approached and walked through these vines. the tension wasn’t attached to a specific memory, just the fact that i remembered anything at all.

things that i had previously remembered about the place/time:
1. watching cartoons at my neighbor’s house while my mom was away. the same neighbors my (step-)grandma said that my mom intended to give me away to. he-man and she-ra were often (once?) on in the morning.
2. one of my stuffed animals getting ruined in a bucket of oil.
3. a spider biting me between the eyes one night, which made my eyes swell up for a few days.
4. sleeping behind the couch on the floor in the living room when my mom got a boyfriend and i no longer slept in her bed.
5. my mom using the money from my piggy–actually, i think it was a multicolored froggy–bank to get us 4th of july fireworks.
6. and then the talk–my mom expressing regret but saying that she thought it would be best if i lived with my dad. i remember thinking she was right, no disagreement there. she acted real sorry and i probably acted real sorry too, but i was not. i was very well behaved in those days.
like that time she commented on how sweet i was behaving after church. we had stopped at the grocery store and i held my hands together pointer finger to pointer finger, thumbs rolled under, and fingers around, a stolen roll of lifesavers.

when i came back in august i decided that i wanted to remember more. to come up with my own, reliable, stories. at least i would locate what i knew in its proper place.

so, between my dad and i, we figured out the address of the shack my mother and i lived in that year. except the address and the shack no longer exist. instead, if this is right, the shack was torn down and this was built in its place:

notashack

and if that’s right. this is where i ate cereal and watched he-man in the morning while my mom was out (working?):

superhero house

and this house was next door, facing our cross street:
neighbor

and this was at the end of our street:
water tower

but how could i not remember such a landmark? i can’t say for sure that this was my street. but the address fits.

and then there is school. i was told that i was kicked out of catholic kindergarten. or i made it up. i really don’t know. but in my(?) version i accidentally flipped off a nun while doing sign language to “silent night.” sounds sort of plausible. and then i went somewhere else. was this one of my schools?

school 1

or this?

school 2

i don’t know. though during this (october) visit it occurs to me that it is most likely that this is one of them:

school 3

this park seems familiar.

park 1

especially the teeter totters.

park 2

oddly, this is the one thing i remember for certain. i can say without a doubt in my mind that this is where we bought fireworks that year:

firework stand

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it’s time to get back to it: my life as the *head of an organization* that needs my leader/stewardship; my life as someone who wants to write more and talk less about her dissertation. (well, i actually love talking about it, but i feel anxious to actually write the dang thing.) today i finally got the desk that i found on craigslist up to my 2nd floor apartment with the help of the “2 strong guys” i hired off of craigslist. this desk was last home to 1 snail and somewhere between 1-2 dozen spiders … eeek! i am hoping my dissertation will move in in their place. today i’ve been reflecting on what the day-to-day goals for myself involve. over and over again they have to do with getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising–in other words, taking care of myself on a really basic level. over and over i am back to this spot of contemplating self-care and -love and just love and care period. and sometimes i get down on myself for not having something more important to say–missing the fact that these things are all important. don’t get me wrong, i don’t put primacy in the self–the individual. but these things are the very basic, the first steps, of progressive/radical change. i am reminded of my introductory psych classes and maslow’s hierarchy of needs. although it is couched in terms of the self and self-actualization, i am interested in societal actualization. first step: having our basic needs–physiological, safety, love–fulfilled. and so i keep coming back here. i have to in order to keep doing the work i am/we are doing. oh, and i must write more poetry.

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