This poem was written by the Light of My Life, Mat Westcott, when we were just beginning to reach out to each other. He sent it along with a note that said, “This was a dream I had not long ago, a hard one to forget. Thought you’d enjoy it.”
The man has a penchant and a love for lucid dreaming and for the Dream-time. One time, when the tribe got together to celebrate a milestone birthday with him, Mat asked everybody, friends and extended family, to sing his favorite song. We all agreed, of course, and he started it: “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream….”
We ended up doing it in roundelay. There were a lot of giggles because everybody knew that it really was his favorite song.
Here’s his poem….
LIFE IS BUT A DREAM
The party was going full blast and friends of many years were all sharing mutual affections.
Suddenly the room was filled with a strange amber-colored light that became viscous to the touch.
Confusion became paramount and we all started to seek a way out of what had become personal bubbles of separation.
We left the house, each in our own direction in absolute confusion and dismay.
I wandered through back yards, laundry lines and over fences, feeling as though all around me was a separate world I couldn’t touch.
I was moving a quarter of my regular speed and all else was moving normally.
Sometimes I crawled, trying to escape my separation from the world.
A group of young men came along the sidewalk and, seeing me in my condition, decided to take advantage of my helplessness.
They searched me for valuables and beat me a bit but got bored and moved away.
I crawled up the sidewalk looking for sanctuary.
I entered a wooded neighborhood of better homes and saw two people approaching on the other side of the street.
A woman was leading a man by the arm.
I wanted desperately to talk to them and forced my slow-motion body to cross the street and approach them.
I confronted the woman and she told me not to bother the man because he was completely at peace, but I insisted.
When he turned and looked up, I was looking into my own face.
My objective-subjective relationship with the universe was totally destroyed in that instant.
The world became a crust made completely of human illusions about thirty feet thick.
I saw a cut-away as a piece fell into nothing.
It was made of art and garbage, buildings, dreams and all things human.
It all began to crack and fall away.
Into the empty my world fell,
One giant piece after another until there was nothing but the empty that is full.
I dissipated and all became the warm consciousness of being…
Please note: If any of you would like to contribute a poem to this page, please let me know by leaving a comment below…. I’d be happy to hear from you.
I do ask three things of my guest poets:
a poem of your own making that has great meaning and mana for you,
the back-story for the poem — what inspired you or how you made it or whatever you want to tell about it, and
an image you own that I can use as the featured photo in the header. (The last is optional. I do ask that the image you share is one you own — either an image of yourself or something that relates to the poem. If you choose not to send an image, then I’ll go find something that works.)
WHAT DOES WEALTH MEAN TO ME: Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom)
Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): a tendency to appreciate the abundance in your life and to celebrate in the overflow. [It makes it a lot easier for other folks to relax around you….]
Alexander Green in his THE SECRET OF SHELTER ISLAND: Money and What Matters, says, “Money can buy freedom from want and from work that is drudgery. But beyond that, it begins losing its power….Most certainly it cannot buy contentment. The stark finding of recent studies is that beyond the safety net, more money adds little or nothing to your subjective well-being. Yet almost everywhere people imagine it will.”
Okay. So, money isn’t “wealth.” If not, then what is? As an exercise in mapping out my mind, I considered this question: What does “wealth” mean to me?
Over the course of some months, I’d write down another thought as it occurred to me. After a while I had a pile of them. And then I sat and looked at them some more. Finally I got interested in doing something else. By then, I had a pretty good list to think on.
I thought it might be a good thing to share some of my answers that came out of this exercise. Perhaps this will spark your own musings about a most important topic. In no particular order, here are my own thoughts:
Wealth means noticing the abundance all around me.
Wealth means being surrounded by people who operate from abundance.
Wealth means being surrounded by other people whose walks are congruent with values that match or are compatible with my own.
Wealth means being able to live my days well, with kindness and generosity and a lot of love mixed in there.
Wealth means having “Musashi” freedom – the ability to walk my own way in Beauty effortlessly.
Wealth means standing right with the people in my life, acknowledging and accepting the connections and obligations between us with gratitude and with a commitment to keeping the ball in play so we can go on dancing with each other.
Wealth means spending my days helping other people play and playing my own self.
Wealth means nourishing others and myself with the abundance that surrounds us.
Wealth means having the ability to be of benefit to the other people in my life.
Wealth means having the goodwill and trust of the people in my life.
Wealth means being able to let go of petty and to let go of chickenshit grabbing for stuff and more stuff.
Wealth means being able to expand letting right action flow through me.
Wealth means being able to support the people I care about as they do their own heart-dance.
Wealth means being able to say “yes” when people sincerely ask for help that they need.
Wealth means being able to see the consequences and the ramifications of saying that “yes” so I am able to do just enough to be a true help and not an obstacle or hindrance to their own dancing.
Wealth means being able to do everything that needs to be done in a timely way.
Wealth means flowing well with the Creative.
Wealth means being able to live my life walking lightly in the world.
Wealth means being able to change the way I move when the way I am dancing no longer works well.
Wealth means being able to act appropriately.
Wealth means having the time and the space to breathe and think and feel what I want to do next.
Wealth means being able to enjoy what I have already accomplished without compulsively reaching for more.
Wealth means being able to follow where my curiosity leads me.
Wealth means being able to stop and notice the Beauty around me.
Wealth means being able to savor my own accomplishments and those of others who are also dancing their own heart-dances.
Wealth means being able to share the stories I can tell with other people who also have their own stories to share.
For me, it seems, wealth is made up of a very few things:
time and room to move around and gawk at the world and giggle with friends who also like to laugh,
excellent relationships with the other people wandering around in this place, and
a proper way of walking in the world.
All of these things are supported and made possible by having money flowing through my life. (It’s a heck of a lot easier to do this stuff if you’re not caught up with worrying about getting the rent paid and food on the table.) But, I am noticing that none of them actually require a full Dragon-cave’s worth of glittery treasures all stacked up.
Over time, before I went off chasing after some butterfly or other, two thoughts percolated up from the simmering cauldron sitting in the quiet glade in the woods that is my center-place:
All the good things in my life come from the abundant Universe and it is my birthright to dance in that abundance. I am sincerely grateful for the abundance that surrounds me and I can keep on making room in my life for it.
I pay upfront for all the good things in my life by refining my walk in Beauty and by walking my own walk with as much sincerity as I can muster and with the authenticity that comes from my understanding of who and what I am.
You know, I still like this way of thinking….
Here’s another poem:
The wealth of this world’s in the stories
That people tell each other, one on one,
That enumerate the sorrows and the glories,
That capture hearts with images fine-spun.
The coin that can move mountains is not gold,
No matter what the miser-analysts might say.
It’s how that gold was won, and all the stories we spin
I am reading a most amazing book by a husband and wife team who began a small farm, La Ferme du Bec Hellouin, in 2004 in Normandy. This small farm was deliberately and mindfully built as an alternative to the big industrialized agricultural farming complexes that take lots of expensive equipment and chemical compounds to produce food for the masses.
The farmers, Perrine and Charles Hervé-Gruyers, wanted to make a real family farm, one that produced good food and nourished their family and their neighbors. They wanted the farm to be the work of their own hands and they wanted it to be a viable business model that would be self-sustaining.
Over the years they brought together in one comparatively small place a collection of sustainable, bio-intensive small-farming methods and techniques which produces a mountain of food in a small place over and over again. They’re still working on their last objective, turning the farm into a sustainable business, but it is starting to come together very well indeed.
The first, foundational bio-intensive gardening idea the Hervé-Gruyers incorporated into their own gardens was la culture maraîchère, market gardening. This form of gardening developed in the heart of Paris during the second half of the 19th century and was pretty much the direct descendant of the gardeners who provided the raw materials to the chefs and cooks who fed the kings and nobility of France.
The success of the market gardeners of France from the late 1600’s though the early 1900’s established urban gardening practices that have lasted well into the 21st century and have spawned other methods of growing that are also remarkable ways to produce a lot of good-quality food. The French urban gardeners evolved intensive soil-building techniques and developed extraordinary methods for extending the growing season.
Prince Peter Kropotkin, a Russian anarchist writer of the late 19th century, was very impressed by the Parisian market gardeners. He pointed to them as an example of how local communities could become thriving, self-sufficient communities and used them as working models that showed how his ideas of strong local economies and self-determination could work.
Eliot Coleman, author of THE WINTER HARVEST HANDBOOK: : Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep-Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses, tells us, “The cultivated land of the Parisian growers covered up to one-sixteenth (6 percent) of all the land within the city limits of Paris. And the produce selection was remarkable.” Coleman continues, “This system fed Paris all year round with the widest variety of both in-season and out-of-season fruits and vegetables. Hotbeds heated with decomposing horse manure and covered with glass frames allowed the growers to defy the cold and produce fresh salads in January and early cucumbers and melons in May and June.”
The market gardeners were the early forerunners of the post-modern idea of “eating as local as you can.” They made it real more than 150 years ago. “French intensive gardening,” as it was called in English, was designed to grow the maximum amount of vegetables on the minimum area possible. Urban plots used for this way of gardening were invariably small and noncontinuous, after all.
The average Parisian market garden was between one and two acres in size. The plants were grown on eighteen-inch beds of combined straw and horse manure from the stables. Crops were planted so close together that when the plants were mature, their leaves would barely touch. This close spacing provided a mini-climate and a living mulch that reduced weed growth and helped hold moisture in the soil.
Companion planting — growing certain plants together that enhance each other – was used. For example, strawberries and green beans produce better when grown together; whereas onions stunt the growth of green beans.
In addition to companion planting, gardeners developed an elaborate schedule of succession planting to get the most from the land throughout the growing season. Timing was key. An early spring hotbed would be sown with radish and carrot seed broadcast and then transplanted with lettuces at the same time.
First, the radishes would be harvested, making more room for the carrots growing between the lettuces. The carrot tops would stick out from around the lettuces until the lettuces were harvested, which gave the carrots enough light and space to complete their growth.
But, as soon as the lettuces were harvested, young cauliflower transplants would be set out among the carrots. Once the carrots were pulled the cauliflowers had the frame to themselves until they were harvested and the ground was prepared for the next crops. Gardeners grew up to nine crops each year and could even grow melon plants during the winter.
The goal of the market gardener was always to “tend the smallest amount of land possible, but tend it exceptionally well.” The work was non-stop. The care given to each individual plant was highly detailed-oriented and labor-intensive. Soil-building became almost a cult.
Among the garden marketers who rented land to make their gardens, it was a condition of the standard renting contract that the gardener could carry his soil away down to a certain depth when his tenancy ends. The reasoning went that because he made soil himself, it belonged to him and when he moved to another plot he could carry his soil away, together with his frames, water pipes and other belongings.
Pesticides and chemicals were avoided. (Kropotkin called them “pompously labelled and unworthy drugs.”) Large amounts of compost, crop rotation, diversity, companion planting and plant protection were enough to prevent most diseases and pest outbreaks. It was felt that pests attacked only sick and weak plants; healthy plants in healthy soil would not need extraordinary measures. Also, small plots with diverse plantings have a tendency to keep pests from multiplying as they do in monoculture plantings where one pest infestation can wipe out entire fields.
The techniques of season-extension for which the gardeners were especially celebrated began at the royal potager gardens at Versailles under the celebrated head gardener La Quintiie in the 1670s and 80s. These practices were extended and enhanced so much that the established urban gardens of the late 19th century could provide fresh vegetables for much of the year in Paris.
Even more impressive, one source says, “A great number of the Paris maraîchèrs, even of those who have their gardens within the walls of the city and whose main crop consists of vegetables in season, export the whole of their produce to England.”
Market gardening was introduced to England by C. M. McKay, a Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society, who led an expedition to Paris to see the techniques in 1905. A number of how-to books were published for English audiences, including a popular one by McKay himself. The techniques became quite popular, although they never quite achieved the level of sophistication seen in Paris.
In the 1920s and 1930s, English gardener and dramatist Alan Chadwick experimented extensively with the French intensive techniques, combining them with techniques from Austrian Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic method to form the “French Intensive-Biodynamic” method of gardening.
After the First World War, la culture maraîchère began to wane in France and England. Land values soared, and empty lots were developed or became too valuable for gardens. More importantly, cars replaced horses on city streets, and the straw and manure that had been so important disappeared.
In the 1960s, Alan Chadwickbrought his techniques to America on a 4-acre organic student garden at the University of California’s Santa Cruz campus. Starting with a hilly area of poor, clayey soil, Chadwick was able to eventually produce healthy topsoil and yields four times that of conventional agricultural methods. Chadwick grew his crops on rounded raised mounds and used the “double dig” method – removing the top soil layer, exposing the subsoil or hardpan beneath, breaking it up, adding organic matter, and replacing the topsoil that was initially removed. This provided greater drainage and aeration.
Even at the height of market gardening, the people who were most impressed with the results did have some reservations. Kropotkin, for example, pointed out, “And yet the Paris gardener is not our ideal of an agriculturist…. He toils, with but a short interruption, from three in the morning till late in the night. He knows no leisure; he has no time to live the life of a human being; the commonwealth does not exist for him; his world is his garden, more than his family.”
On the other hand, there is all that beautiful, beautiful food…..
Ron Finley, in this TED talk, tells about his efforts to grow food for himself and his neighbors in his community in South Central Los Angeles. The poem continues….
Here’s an interesting concept: UN-SEEING. If you look at your habits of thought and what you expect to see when you look at a phenomena or situation, it’s quite likely that you will be able to see patterns of thinking that you just naturally fall into. They’re old familiar ways you always dance. Maybe they are ways you have been taught to look at things. Maybe they are ways you’ve developed on your own.
Often, if you can let go of these old thinking patterns, you can free yourself to see more clearly what is really there in front of you, without all the extra baggage that you tend to add.
Theoretically, if you can see what is in front of you clearly, then you are more likely to be able to use what is around you to effect the kinds of changes in your way of reacting to things that might be more effective for dealing with the world.
THE WORLD AS YOU DO NOT SEE IT
A lot of Un-Seeing is about developing a different way of seeing your world. One way to help yourself grow away from your habitual, same-old habits of thought is to expose yourself to the ridiculous, the radical, the unfamiliar and the surprising. Any of these can shake your set mind loose…you are more open to exploring when you are facing something for the first time.
In fact, this way of mind-bending has always been the classic argument for the value of traveling to new and different places. When you’re a stranger in a strange land and you are looking at things you have never seen before, it’s likely that the strangeness will trigger in you other ways of thinking.
What’s harder is approaching the familiar as if you are looking at it for the first time, seeing the strange in the ordinary and the everyday, or seeing connections that are currently obscured by the assumptions you’ve already made or the ways you’ve already been taught to see things.
GETTING TO YOUR OWN VALUES
Perhaps Un-Seeing could even lead to developing your own thoughts about what has value for you.
Here’s a YouTube video by Akshita Agarwal explaining the paradox of value, as illustrated by animator Qa’ed Mai and scripted by Alex Gendler. TED-Ed Original lessons are part of the TED youth and education initiative, an award-winning platform that presents ideas for teachers and young people. People with ideas are encouraged to use it to make their own lessons. (See the full lesson by clicking HERE.)
HUH? WAS THAT ME?
If you will stop and look at your reactions to the various situations you encounter, it’s likely you’ll be able to see the emotions and the assumptions you hold that cause such reactions to occur. Questions you might like to ponder are these:
Are these emotions and assumptions valid? Are they appropriate?
Are the reactions they produce helpful or not?
What other emotions and assumptions might be held instead?
What reactions would those emotions and assumptions engender?
Questioning your default settings is a valuable exercise that may produce other, new-to-you ways of seeing. In order to explore these new thoughts, however, you will have to let go of your old way of standing.
Challenging your habitual reactions to a situation can produce even more interesting ideas. Question assumptions…. challenge knowledge…. challenge power…. challenge authority…. challenge motivation. Deconstruct core beliefs and see what’s under there.
One great way to challenge the calcified old thought-patterns is to write out poems with your non-dominant hand. (If you’re right-handed, use your left hand to write a poem about some thought pattern you are challenging. If you’re left-handed, use your right hand. If you’re ambidextrous, maybe you have to try doing mirror-writing like Leonardo da Vinci.)
The poems that result from using your non-dominant hand to write them out by pencil or pen can be surprisingly different from your everyday regular way of thinking.
CHECK IT OUT WITH A FRIEND
Another way to expand your repertoire of thought patternings is to talk it over with a friend. Be curious. Empathize. Check out another person’s beliefs and viewpoints to see what’s under there. Perhaps there will be viewpoints that make more sense to you than the thinks you usually think.
If nothing else, you will at least get a good conversation going with someone and, perhaps, make some sort of connection between you.
RUBBING TOGETHER TWO TRUTHS
Sometimes rubbing together two truths could produce a whole other way of seeing that might lead to new ways of thinking. It’s sort of like rubbing two sticks together to make a fire.
One natural progression brought on by rubbing together two equal and opposite truths is this:
CONFLICT > PARADOX > REVELATION
Think about it. It’s how new hypotheses are formed and how new business deals (and art and poetry and all kinds of gadgetry) are made when you can make a new construct that’s built on the tension between two or more very different ideas.
ANOTHER WAY OF MAKING
One iteration of this “Un-seeing” concept is a mindset that Dr. Simone Ahuja, the founder of Blood Orange, a marketing and strategy advisory consulting company with partners all over the world, developed. In her YouTube video: Scarcity Reframed is Abundance, Ahuja explains about jugaad, a Hindi –Punjab word that basically translates as “hack” — a cheap and flexible approach to innovation that has been used to good effect in developing countries like India, China, Russia, and Brazil where there’s a lack of funding and research-and-development resources and scarcity is the norm.
Willa Cather once wrote, “Artistic growth is, more than it is anything else, a refining of the sense of truthfulness. The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy; only the artist, the great artist, knows how difficult it is.”
This is a thing I’ve been trying to do in my poetry, I think. Refining that “sense of truthfulness” is really all about asking whether I’m dancing around blathering bullshit or actually standing there, flat-footed, talking true.
Talking true gets harder, I am finding, as I unpack the layers of meaning surrounding any event or experience. And what was true yesterday turns to bullshit very easily when you are good at playing with words. Truth shifts, deepens or gets shallow, as you do.
This YouTube video by Inspire Others shows one way of talking true….
There are many others.
My own take on all this is that “true” changes. And maybe that’s why there are so many truths – some of them directly contradicting others. It’s all incredibly dizzy-making.
What’s even more confusing is that it does, finally, come down to a choice. You choose your truths and what you choose refines and defines you and the way you walk. Here’s a poem about that one….
Yeah, I know.
I have an “overly optimistic view” about the nature of humans,
And that makes me “unrealistic” – quote, unquote.
It’s a deliberate choice, you know.
I choose light.
I choose warm.
I choose together.
‘Cause lemme tell ya,
I’ve known cold.
I’ve known dark.
I’ve known apart.
I choose not to go there.
I have seen the lips of a stone-cold killer warrior
Warm into a quiet smile.
I have seen the eyes of a corporate predator
Turn gentle in the sun.
And I have seen the face of a lost one
Brighten in the belonging as we walk each other home,
In these notes, I’ve been puzzling on Creativity – what it is, why it is, and how we invoke and use it. Economist Harry Dent Jr. tells us, “At its basic level the creative process is simply the solving of problems that stand in the way of attaining a dream.”
CREATIVITY = PROBLEM + ?
Psychologist Donald MacKinnon, in his book, IN SEARCH OF HUMAN EFFECTIVENESS: Identifying and Developing Creativity, agrees. He wrote, “The creative process starts always with the seeing or sensing of a problem. The roots of creativeness lie in one’s becoming aware that something is wrong, or lacking, or mysterious….” Basically the guy is saying that if we don’t see any sort of problem in the world around us, then we wouldn’t need to be creative.
This makes sense, actually. If you cannot see a problem there is no way you are going to make the effort to gear up and go searching for some answer. Quests start for a reason…usually the end-of-everything-as-we-know-it. The quester sorts either want to stop the end from happening or they want to bring it on.
(This sort of makes me wonder whether all the creative types in the world are not just a bunch of troublemakers…but that’s probably another story.)
The deal is, though, when you’re an Artful Dodger it’s a given that you’re probably going to be a noticing sort. What you notice will depend on your particular sensitivity of perception.
YOUR SENSITIVITY OF PERCEPTION
Most people have the same ways of sensing things, more or less. Some people are more adept at using a particular sense than others. In order to figure out what’s what in the world, you take in sensory information (seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, or smell or any combination thereof) and give meaning to that information in your head.
You may notice and remember a taste or a smell or the feel of some texture or other. You may respond to the sound and feel of words or musical notes. You may be sensitive to the way your body moves in the world. You may be keenly aware of human behavior or emotional byplays or other human phenomena.
Most people have one or more areas of perception that are really, really strong and a whole bunch of other ones that are sort of “meh.” Each of us sees the world in our own peculiar way since we all have varying degrees of sensitivity to all the stimulating whatevers out there that keep happening all the time in the world.
Guys who study this stuff pretty much tell you that whatever you perceive or sense keenly is the arena within which you will be most likely drawn to play. (Your perceptions build your stadiums, it seems.) Within this arena you are most likely to find things that are a puzzlement to you, things that need to be resolved in your own mind.
Because you can pinpoint these things using your own ways of sensing, because you notice them and are likely to be bothered by anything that’s “off” in that arena, you are particularly equipped to effect changes or resolve issues in them if you choose. And that’s why creativity starts with perception, with being aware of some problem or other.
So, according to scientific, philosophic and all the other ‘-ic’s, it is the problems you perceive and the things that confuse you which actually are the impetus for getting off your tush and looking for some kind of answer that makes sense to you.
“THE TRULY ORIGINAL MIND”
Paul Souriau, a 19th-century French philosopher who studied human inventiveness and formulated theories about aesthetics, pointed out, “It is said that a question well-posed is half-answered. If so, then true invention consists in the posing of questions.” Souriau goes on to say, “There is something mechanical, as it were, in the art of finding solutions. The truly original mind is that which finds problems.”
Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): a tendency to notice and appreciate many joys. [Obsessing on and holding tightly to one kind of joy kills it. If you notice and appreciate many joys, then your days just fill up with them.]
I think I have to agree with Henri Matisse, who said, “Ever since there have been men, man has given himself over to too little joy. That alone, my brothers, is our original sin. I should believe only a God who understands how to dance.”
I want my art and my poetry to evoke joyousness. I want it to stand there sparkling at you, inviting you to come join the dance. The world is so very heavy with sorrow and grief. So many people stand around shaking their heads and bending their necks. Their mouths frown and their tears are enough to drown your heart.
Can’t we just hold hands and tell each other warm and funny things and laugh and laugh and laugh? Can’t we jump around and do a jig and spin until we get all dizzy and fall down to the ground all pleased with each other?
Sad is always with us, that’s true. But, really, there is also so much joy.
On to the poem….sometimes when I am not able to come up with any kind of theme for a poem, I’ll start “journal-diving,” reviewing notes I’ve made in old journals from years past and see what I was thinking on back in the day. This poem is a result of one of those journal-diving sessions:
MY PROMISE TO ME
This is my promise to me: I WILL get back to the laughter (I do like it best of all) – The only balm that really works To ease the ouch of another fall.
I’ve always kept my promises; This one’s got guarantees… Laughter is the key that unfetters All the joyous energies.
I will get back to the laughter Despite despond and despair. (I’ve done this one before. I know ’bout treading air.)
That brightness is waiting dormant, Just waiting for the shout. Ghastly shadows turn and flee When I can send laughter spiraling out and out.
Laughter – big and wild and full – Shields me from the slings-and-arrows, Punches through the doom-and-gloom, Navigates the narrows.
Laughter grows me wings And launches me high. I can swoop and dip and spiral Into the deepest sky.
I WILL get back to the laughter And when I do – don’tcha know – I’ll look around at all the Is, Get myself past all the Was, Beat my wings right on through into What Can Be….
When I was growing up on the Hawaiian island of Molokai in the early 1950’s, there were two pineapple plantations still going strong: Del Monte (California Packing Corporation) at Kualapu’u and Libby McNeill at Maunaloa – small isolated communities in the western hills of the island.
World War II had recently ended. Hawaii was still a territory of the United States of America. The “plantation camps” – collections of aging, ticky-tacky worker housing – were owned by these corporations. The workers lived surrounded by the fields where they worked.
The mindset among the people in that place was even smaller and more limited than “small-town” or even “village.” It was like growing up in a large extended family with all the same rivalries, alliances and hierarchies.
Interactions between people in the camps were multi-layered and sometimes intense. Often there were insurmountable inequities. For many people life was hard. Despite it all, however, almost everybody agreed that life was good.
” ‘As how,” (that’s the way it is), they would tell each other when bad luck struck. It was a given that this neighbor would help and that one would turn away (or maybe even snicker.) The faults and flaws of individuals were recognized, acknowledged and mostly accepted. When everybody’s busy trying to make ends meet, little time can be spared for trying to improve how other people walk.
“Enduring” what could not be changed in life, in others, and in yourself was a life-stance. People got along – or not – as best they could.
Many of the people in the camp were from my grandparents’ generation. They remembered coming from places where life was much harsher. They had already made the Big Change: they had given up everything they knew to come to a foreign place where all the rules were different and “culture” became a thing they made up for themselves along with all the folks around them who were also mostly from other places.
Life was “better.” Whatever challenges and obstacles they encountered in the camps were still “not bad” when compared to the trouble they had left behind. They knew the odds were good that the lives of their children and their grandchildren would be better than theirs had been in the old place.
In all the hard there was time enough and space to laugh and sing, to notice and appreciate beauty, and to dream. There was room to cherish each other, to honor the ones who helped smooth the rough places and to forgive the ones who could not.
I grew up in that mindset. Maybe that’s why I’ve always been fascinated (and confused) by the world according to people who write self-actualization and self-help books. In their worlds, any problem or challenge or obstacle can be and should be resolved. “Closure” can be achieved.
All you have to do is build up your willpower and determination and attack the thing with all your might until it falls down in abject surrender to you, the Master Blaster. If you put enough effort into this exercise or that method or the other technique and pass on through every obstacle and challenge, then WHAMMO! you can win through to happiness and all good things.
They assure you that it is imperative that you “fix” this issue or that one so you can find “closure” and then you can get ON with your life. Uh-huh….
I have slogged through acres of bookshelves full of those books. Finally there comes one that tells you that Life is really a LOT bigger than you. There are many problems you will never fix. There are many issues for which “closure” is impossible. And it only matters if you choose to believe that it does.
It seems to me that this witty and practical book, F*CK FEELINGS, can help you make useful and sustainable life choices that make sense to you. It was written with great warmth and humor by a Harvard-educated, medically trained practicing psychiatrist with over 40 years of clinical experience together with his daughter who spent years writing sketch comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York.
In the introduction, the authors say they aim at helping their readers accept that (a) life is hard, and (b) the reader’s frustrated efforts in trying to deal with assorted serious life problems are a valuable guide to identifying what cannot be changed. Once the reader has that one down, the authors detail sensible, positive and possibly effective suggestions for managing this stuff that can’t be changed.
The authors do this by breaking down their advice for dealing with each major self-help issue (self-improvement, self-esteem, fairness, helpfulness, serenity, communication, parenthood, and the assholes in your life) into three parts:
What you wish for and can’t have (all the unrealistic wishes and hopes people have about “fixing” an issue),
What you can aim for and actually achieve,
How you can do it.
There are examples and scenarios of each of the major issues and explanations of how and why what you wish for probably won’t happen. There are reality-check moments and stories about how the more practical suggestions may play out (or glitch up). All of it is very down-to-earth and the commentary feels real.
There’s also a bonus chapter about when and how to find appropriate medical treatment for a problem and how to decide when it’s time to stop.
This book has been like a breath of fresh air to me. It is a good reminder that there’s no such thing as “fair,” that feelings are mostly stupid, and that life is hard on everybody.
Still, as the authors point out, you can be relatively “okay,” no matter what, if your goals and how you reach for them are appropriate for the problem you are facing. The good doctor’s suggestions, more likely than not, have a good chance at helping you decide which moves are effective. He tells you that if you can manage to stay human despite your own inner demons, that is good enough.
I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to read the thoughts of someone who apparently does not believe that he is God’s gift to the wretched. I think you will too.
Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): A disinclination to keep looking for evidence of all the ways your life is hard. [There really is no point in counting all the ways you suffer because they are endless and the list will turn you into a bitter thing filled to the brim with resentment. Counting your blessings on the other hand….]
Here’s another poem:
YOU GO, GIRL!
She’s found compassion.
It was lying there among
The instruments of pain
And torturous circumstance,
Amid the detritus she has uncovered in
The excavation she is making of her ancestral past.
She’s found compassion for
The bits of humanity that beget her,
And it’s made her face and body human-soft and warm.
The heavy-hard no longer presses now.
She’s lost the strain of pulling such a heavy load –
A wagon train of recrimination and regret.
The why-me has evaporated
Leaving an evanescent residue.
She’s even put up that brilliant sword she wields so handily.
Now the light shines in her
And it’s the beauty of Kwan Yin
Glowing through her.
Gone the marks of a mortal soul
Battered by the exigencies and
Actions of other mortals
Slogging through this world of dust,
As she climbs back on her immortal steed
And takes off, into the endless sky.
She’s made it back into the Infinite Game,
The one that pulses underneath
The boundaries of Time.
She’s flying back to the Real now,
And it’s a glorious thing to see.
You go, girl….
by Netta Kanoho
Picture credit: via Amazon.com
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At the beginning of 2014, a colleague and a friend was going through some rough. He had developed throat cancer, and after months of struggling with it, he made the decision not to continue the treatment . He was a humble, private man, quiet and self-sufficient, and he did not want a lot of hoo-hah about it. He chose to go quietly into the long night.
I made this poem for him as a gift, to let him know I did understand. A month or two later he was dead. I honor him still….
So he told me:
The Big C has him by the throat
And he’s working on his exit strategy.
He doesn’t want it spread around,
Can’t put up with the wails and trembling tears
Those awkward heart-moves
Of the other ones around the peripheries of his life.
He says he tried the torture they call “treatment.”
Spent his days with a blowtorch raging down his throat
And blisters blooming all over his face
As his body rebelled against
The indignities inflicted upon it.
So, he stopped…fuggetaboudit,
Not going there any more, he says.
(Not walking ’round with no hole in his neck neither.)
Not going to stand toe-to-toe with Old Man Grim,
Squaring off and fighting for
Every inch of space,
I did not give him speech number 647,
The one about life’s beauty and the virtues of never-say-die.
I did not offer up any of the cliché sweetness-and-light hope-candy thoughts,
All dipped in Nutella-flavored comfort.
He did not want that.
He was just standing there,
Shining in his acceptance,
A knight all suited up in his armor,
Ready to mount his snorting steed.
Clear and bright he was in that moment
As I stumbled around looking for words gone into hiding.
This was his gift to me,
That look into a mind blasted by the Dark.
I was breathless with the wonder of it.
And I thanked him.
Auwe, my braddah, auwe.
All respect to you…
As much as you can stand
As you face that Void and look into the deep places.
I don’t remember where he originated. He was a character in one of the potato-chip (you can’t just eat one) books that I like to read. In the book, Frank-the-Mechanic was a retired assassin who gets sucked back up in leftovers from his previous life. He was a super-casual sort of businessman who had a number of interests that he kept up, all of them suitable as a single career. He did each one – a little bit every day to move each project forward. And he was most excellent at everything he did.
It was a good story, but it was Frank I fell in love with. I keep him in my head as a role model. “What would Frank-the-Mechanic do?” It helps me stay on top of the myriad details of my life and, when I get it right, the day ends well for me.
I do a little of each thing I do as well as I can every day. Some days I can do it well; some days, not so much. But the weight of all those itty-bitty little things done on all of those days does add up to a whole pile of something, a lot of which I like.
On my good days it feels like I am working with the Creative to help my Millenium Falcon fly….and that is a good thing.
And then there are the days when the one thing I’m doing eats the whole day and a lot of the night as well. One time I told myself I was just going to work on a little blog post – a small story that was part of an epic tale of traveling between Nepal and China to Lhasa when the border was just being opened. (It was one of the Light of My Life’s stories.)
I had other things to do, after all. The palm leaves that passing tropical storms dropped needed to be hauled off to the compost heap. The bamboo and the false ‘awa, two rapacious patches of wild and free plants, were encroaching again. I needed to get a bunch of little nit-noy stuff set up for my property management gig. ARGH!
I got so caught up in the tale I just kept going and going and going. I ended up with four long blog posts with pictures and so on and so forth. I also blew off work in the yard and work on a number of other projects, none of which was particularly pressing. So it goes sometimes.
I got on the other stuff the following day and in the next days after and it all eventually got done.
One of my favorite, pertinent quotes about all this is from English comedian Russell Brand: “One day at a time. It sounds so simple. It actually is simple but it isn’t easy. It requires incredible support and fastidious structuring.”
Here’s a poem….
THE ONE ABOUT TRYING
Universe always gives you what you want
It usually comes one day after you can’t stand the waiting any more.
What are you grumbling for? Ambiguity is good for you and balancing on cliff edges is
Exhilarating…if you can stand the height.
Listen to the grass blade underneath that rock
Pushing, twisting, bending, finding the light…and making the concrete crack.
And watch the baby wobbling on unstable legs,
One step, fall, up again; two steps, fall, up again; three steps….well, you get the picture.
Pay attention to water weaving through a stream bed,
Seeking ways over, around, under, past, and through…and through.
Think about the wind gently, gently pushing against stone,
And think about mountains twisted into eerie spires and fantastic gyres.
Old truths repeated one too many times become clichés,
And very often “trite” means “old” and “trite” means “true”….