On a Roll

November 6, 2009

My lovely partner has our dear little boy (nearly eight months old!) and I have a few precious minutes to work and rest, which, after caring for a flu-sick child the whole week, work and rest feel very similar because no one is nursing, crying, or sleeping on me while I try to sit very still so as not to wake him.

I do wish I would post here more, and I have drafts in the queue, but just can’t let myself publish things that are so unpolished.

I was reading the Interdependent Web and saw a quote from ministrare and went over to read the whole post. And I saw this quote:

I learned that when an issue with me/my ministry arises, I should listen more, explain less, apologize clearly and directly, and document my efforts to improve the situation. It does not help to explain my thinking in that moment.

I think I need to do this more in life. When there is a complaint, listen, don’t explain, apologize clearly and directly. My partner and I struggle with this a lot: one complaint causes the other to say, “Well you do that too!” and no one feels heard or addressed. I want to make a rule for myself (ha! and my partner, but it is harder to make rules for him…) that when there is a complaint, I will make sure that the person feels heard, try not to explain it away, and apologize. The apologizing part is hard sometimes, right, because what if you don’t feel like the complain is legit? We can at least apologize that the person feels hurt or upset. We can make sure the person feels heard even if we don’t affirm that it seems the same way to us. Isn’t that often the point of the apology – not to say, “Yes, you are right and I am wrong,” but to say, “I can understand why you feel that way and I am sorry you do and I’m sorry for my role in that.” This is a difficult balance – to affirm, to hear, to honor, but also to factor in our own perspective.

I have to remind myself over and over that I am never going to “get it” and it will be done. Life is an ongoing journey, struggle, joy, learning, growing, hurting, celebrating sort of thing. We aren’t going to figure it out. It is like the tide – in and out, in and out.

And so it goes.


Learning Things Again and Again

July 8, 2009

I have started this post five times, and it always feels cliched and obvious each time.

So I will just say it simply even if it is cliched and obvious.

I am amazed at how often we have to relearn the simplest things. Like appreciating what we have. Slowing down. Setting limits. Living simply.

It is in every self-help book and Unitarian Univeralist sermons across the country week in and week out.

On our deathbeds what will we wish we will have spent our time and energy on? Meeting our work deadline? Or soaking up another ten minute play session with our baby and Penelope the pig and Pablo the penguin and the singing bear?

We will be glad we got every last speck of dirt off the floor, or will we wish that that we took another walk and loved the trees and the chipmunk that lives under the stones on the front steps?

Yes, we know. We know. Slow down. Appreciate. Love. Breathe.

But we must relearn these things day in and day out. It is hard to practice the sort of life we long for.


New Year New Year: a bit of rambling/visioning/thinking and an annoucement of sorts

January 10, 2009

Hello 2009. We are 9 days into you. I wonder how this will go?

I tend not to be a big new year resolution person because I am not really good at keeping big promises and because I am always trying to improve things and I adding to that isn’t really so helpful. Really, I don’t know. I just don’t do them much. (As I write this, I realize I did it two years ago right here on this blog where I vowed not to buy new clothes for a year and I stuck with it very well for five months. But usually I don’t do resolutions, and maybe my failure five months into my 2007 resolution helped to solidify this.)

Anyway, so I guess I want to reflect a bit on the upcoming year and how I would hope that it might go for me and my family.

So I guess I am sort of private and this blog isn’t really a personal journal, but it I suppose I will want to write about this more at some point so:

drum roll

is about a month and a half until we welcome a little baby into our family. So that makes for a very different year. I have been reading about pregnancy since I was 15, and excited about having a baby since I was old enough to hold my baby cousins. I’ve always wanted a family and it has always been a big part of how I envision my life.

I would read about or talk to women who would say that they didn’t like being pregnant, and I would think, “They must not love it enough. They must not have read enough about all the natural remedies that can make it better. They must not have a midwife and a doula and a support system.”

Until I got pregnant and have been very very very sick ever since. I do not believe in a God that teaches us lessons, but if I did, I am sure this would be one of God’s humbling lessons to Elizabeth about how you can’t control everything in your life and you shouldn’t judge other people so harshly, especially until you have walked a mile or seven and half months in their shoes.

I should probably clarify that there are women who have been more miserable than me in pregnancy and, as far as we know, nothing is really really wrong. I have not been hospitalized. Baby seems healthy. I seem healthy (enough). But every day is a day to get through. Which does not facilitate the pregnancy pre-baby, round belly, pregnancy joy that I had been envisioning.

Soooo, my point here is that in the New Year, I am going to try to let go a bit more and realize that I cannot read and plan my way out of the struggles and road bumps in life, and that sitting counting the hours and the days until something is over or better does not make for mindful, joyful living. In high school, it was “Oh, how I can’t wait until college.” In college, “Oh how I can’t wait to settle down with a partner and be done with college.” In my Masters studies, “Oh, how lovely that will be if I can get into a Ph.D. program.” Each semester: “Oh, how nice it will be to be done with papers.” And, as much as I have tried to not think it, it has often been, “Oh, how wonderful it will be for the baby to be born and not be pregnant anymore.”

And so goes our life.

My life has, far too often, been about achievement. I wanted to be the line leader in Kindergarten. The best reader. The best community service do-er. Get more scholarships. Seem more special. Write better papers. Be the best future minister.

In one way, of course, this is good. It is good to work hard, right? To do good. But, of course, we can do it too much.

And, at the end of the day month year, our wall is covered with diplomas and our drawers are stuffed with A+ papers and the congregation loves the sermon and we have missed What We Are Here For. Which, for me, is to love others. To be loved. To drink hot chocolate and hear others’ stories and be present to people and be present to myself. To cuddle the cats. To love the colors of the trees. To ease the suffering of others.

I have seen this so much in the last months as I tried to not collapse finishing my classes, waddling around like a sick hippopotamus on speed trying to read enough, write enough, do enough, and watch myself be perky and cheerful to others, as if I was watching some other person who could not turn off her fake cheer and show how tired she was.

I do not want to show this sort of life to our baby. I do not want to miss first coos, and the magic of a baby growing up while I scramble to Do It All. And I do not want him or her to learn that to live is to Do Good and Do Right and Achieve. I have not spent enough time playing. Or laughing. Or drinking hot chocolate. And I want my little one to do this more.

I know this is cliched and I almost don’t want to post it because it seems to me like it could be some sort of email spam story about treasuring our friends and our life and our children. All that is missing is a note at the end that if you don’t pass this on to 10 people you will be cursed.

It reminds me of a thousand sermons about being in the moment. A thousand books about Women Who Do Too Much and our rushed 21st Century World and how we need to Slow Down.

Perhaps there is a reason that there are so many damn books and sermons on this – because it is hard.

So, as we prepare to welcome a new little person into our lives, I have given myself a little new year nudge, realizing that it will never be a goal I will Achieve, but that it is an important path to be on and remind myself of.

Be present. Be gentle. Love. Let myself be loved. Slow down. Remember what will be important as I look back on my life.

Mess up.

Try again.

Be thankful.

Amen.


The Big Deal About Being Kind to People

July 14, 2008

I have written probably countless times about my struggles with the unfriendliness of Greater Boston. Sorry if you are sick of it. Skip if you like. But, today a very unfriendly sassy woman taught me a good lesson: even if people seem to be doing really dumb things, generally, it is probably even still a good idea not to be nasty to them.

I was driving to dinner in Cambridge. There are all these squiggly narrow back streets where they start off as two-way and turn into one way. I went a way I haven’t gone before and ended up going the wrong way down a street. I know. Not ideal. But it was a super-tiny street, and I was going about 12 miles an hour, so it wasn’t like there was going to be a head-on collision or something. Anyway, this woman looks at me with the meanest look and says some snappy comment about it being one way. Okay. Point taken. I start to turn around and she continues to stare at me with a “Could you be any more stupid?” look like I have just purposely tried to kill her cat or something. My windows were down and she was super-close and I said, “Sorry, these streets get confusing sometimes.” Which, as any Boston/Cambridge driver knows, is the case. Instead of an understanding nod, or maybe at least just ignoring me, she continues to give me the Look of Death and says, “Well, there are signs,” in a super-sassy, snarky, bitchy way. I’m already embarrassed about the mistake, okay? I wasn’t talking on my cell phone or doing something that distracted me. Clearly the signs are not that obvious. I said, “Well, thanks for being so nice and understanding about it.”

Little did this woman know I was having an already hard day. I am super-emotional. Things are a bit raw, even. And, even though I did feel a bad from such random unkindness and lack of understanding, it was a good little lesson to me to be really nice to people even when I don’t feel like it. Because you don’t know if their mom died that day, or if they are getting divorced, or if they just lost their job. (These things are not happening to me, but you get the point. Maybe they already feel really bad.)  Maybe they just need someone to show a little extra understanding. For whatever reason, it seems always better to be nice to people. It doesn’t take that much but can be the difference between tears, or a more stressful day, or a brighter day, a little more hope about the goodness of humanity.

So, mean woman on Sacramento Street, I will be being extra nice to people just to make sure I don’t make anyone feel like you made me feel today.*

*Lest you think I am over-reacting to her nasty little comments, well, I know I am. But the point was, I was already feeling bad. And she just made it worse for no good reason at all. I know I know. I shouldn’t take it personally. But when you are already feeling a little bad, it is hard not to take it personally. Which is the whole point. We never know what people are going through. Why risk making an already-difficult world more difficult for others if you can help it?


House or Buddha?

June 7, 2008

I’ve spent a lot of the last three or five years of my life trying to be more compassionate, more understanding, more mindful, calmer, kinder, more loving, and really pressuring encouraging my partner to do all of this too. I was sort of an obnoxious know-it-all teenager (yes, more so than your average teen) and this started declining after, one morning at church in college, I had an epiphany that I didn’t have to be this intense, that it actually was not good for me, and that the world did not need my intense drama, debate, provoking and proclamations in order to keep moving along and that I might be happier and make more progress toward my goals in life (liberal political stuff, justice, and all that) if I was nice to people instead of lecturing them. (Not that it is terribly relevant here, but my 180 turn toward gentleness and avoidance of conflict probably also had something to do with rejecting a conflict-ridden household growing up, but that is another post). So, I got all into unconditional love, forgiveness, and this ended up morphing into more Buddhist-ish formulations once I finally decided (I think) that I really can’t be a Christian even if I really really want to.

And now enter Gregory House M.D., mean doctor who is cynical, jaded, rude, super-smart, and probably pretty sad, and lonely. I LOVE THIS SHOW. Unreasonably. At first, I thought I loved it like I liked E.R. Interesting relationships, medical drama. And there are things to solve (sort of like Law & Order only medical and less predicable). Or maybe I just liked it because I don’t have a T.V. and it was a show I had seen a few times and sort of got hooked because I really wasn’t watching much else.

But this is not the case. I am drawn to this show. My spirit is drawn to it. I cannot tell if I want to be more like House (more confident, strong, uncaring about what others think about me, super-insightful, more selfish). Or if I want to rescue House (just like I wanted to rescue Will in Good Will Hunting or Joey in fourth grade, or Levi in ninth grade, etc.). Or both. Maybe it is just fun to live vicariously through someone who is pretty much never wrong, and is cold and calculating, but really soft on the inside.

Why post this on my blog, you say? Because it raises actual questions for me about how we might live our lives. I have started but not finished two other posts on this topic that have something to do with how nice is too nice and how mindful and meditative can you be before you are just dull? The Dalai Lama and Thich Naht Hahn are great, but how Buddha-ish do I want to be or should/can I (we) be and how House-ish should we (I) be, just calling people out on things, and not entertaining their mush and drama? Is part of being a good minister (or just human) sometimes not saying, “Oh, and how does that feel to you?” and instead just being like, “Seriously, you need to just get over that.” How much is all my compassion and love and la la la so others will like me and feel cared for by me, and how much of it is really that that is what they truly need?

I will continue to do more research on this by watching as many House episodes as I possibly can. I will report back.


a prayer

April 8, 2008

I have posted a few other prayers here before and hope to do so more regularly. Please feel free to use without attribution in a religious service. If you reproduce online, please link to this blog and include attribution.

*

all of all

love of all love, peace of all peace, depth of depth

so often, in the midst of all we do, as we are washing dishes… sending email… going to work… and doing all the things we do day in and day out,

we can forget that our time here on this earth is both a gift and a miracle.

do not let us forget.

because sooner than we think, a tomorrow will come and it will be our last tomorrow and we will have missed the miracle. we will have emailed, and worked, and complained, and watched tv through the miracle.

we will have let the sunrises, the fresh air, the warmth of a bed, the taste of our orange juice, the first snows, and the cricket chirping slip by as we go about doing all of our so important things.

we will have let our pain and struggles and our tasks and achievements and our accumulation of things obscure the enchantment and richness that can be life.

love of all love, peace of peace, depth of depth –

let us find the holy in all that makes up our life.

let us slow down. stop doing. and learn to simply be.

may we find the holy in our coffee, in the spider whose lovely eight legs carry her effortlessly over her web, in the kiss goodnight, in the hot meal, fuzzy blanket, and in the chill of the dark night air. may we be seekers and makers of the holy.

amen and blessed be.


On Kindness, Mindfulness, and Coping With Difficult Situations

January 4, 2008

It is no secret to my friends and family that living in the Northeast has been difficult for me. The weather doesn’t help, but the most difficult thing has been dealing with people being unkind, difficult, impatient, rude, and just downright mean. Let me be clear: I have met MANY wonderful, kind, generous, loving, selfless people here. I am not talking about the absence of amazing people. Rather, the culture of politeness, gentleness, kindness, and patience in everyday situations is just very different from what I have experienced in the Midwest and South, the areas of the country where I am from. I am talking about the general level of kindness, politeness, and respect that I encounter on a daily basis – professional situations, landlords, neighbors, random people I encounter at the store, etc.* Some people think that the kindness and friendliness people find in places like the South is fake or somehow inauthentic. Not me. Give me “fake” friendliness any day over “authentic” rudeness.

But this is not a lament about the culture of everyday politeness and warmth in the Northeast. It is about how we learn to cope with situations that we are not used to and that make us feel bad. Clearly, lots of people find the Northeast/Boston to have a perfectly fine culture of politeness and everyday friendliness and patience (my mom being one of them who is always telling me, “Gosh, I just don’t know what you are talking about, Elizabeth,”when she visits). While it is very hard, I have been trying to practice mindfulness and non-attachment related to these sorts of situations, but in the last few days, they have been accumulating. I find that all my thinking and reminding myself of how want to react to these situations and how I want to feel about these situations doesn’t quite work. My stomach still feels queasy, and it is all I can do not to burst into tears when I think about difficult situation x, y, and z involving unkindness, gruffness, lack of empathy, and selfishness. Like I told my partner today, my zen is being sapped.

What are we to do when we know how we should feel and act about a particular situation, yet we just can’t bring ourselves to feel that way? I tell myself to be mindful, non-attached, calm, to be in the moment, to realize that I cannot control how others treat me, rather only how I react to them. And, I tell myself that all I can do is show the kindness that I seek in my own life, hoping that the anger, or lack of patience, or resentment that people show me, might be gently eased by the understanding and patience I show to them. I work to practice non-attachment – letting go of my need to be treated a certain way, or letting go of my own desire to have others validate or be understanding of me (my driving habits, my work habits, my shopping habits, my mere presence, etc.).

Yet, the last few days have been a good lesson about the ongoing nature of becoming who we want to be. We must also be gentle with ourselves, understanding that we have developed structures of understanding and life-practice that have taken many years to form and, likewise, take many years to un-form. This helps me remember that just as my structures of sensitivity, desire for kindness and gentleness and understanding have developed over many years, so have the structures of impatience, anger, gruffness, and unkindness that cause people to, for instance, yell at me because they think I am putting snow on their sidewalk when shoveling out my car. Perhaps their anger and screaming is okay with them and doesn’t represent any sort of underlying pain or struggle. Or perhaps it does, but they do not yet know where that anger comes from or how to ease it. Either way, learning how to detach from these things that hurt us, and show the sort of understanding and kindness that we would like shown toward us, is a process that cannot take place overnight. It is a journey, something that we must continually be attentive to, understanding that suffering due to attachment to our desires and wants is not something we can or should totally avoid, rather something we can seek to ease with our mindfullness practices, and with time.

May we be gentle on ourselves and gentle with others as we all try to make our way in a very difficult world.

*Please understand that I know that there are plenty of problems with the Midwest and South. I am talking about one particular area that I struggle with and deal with. Of course there are mean, rude, impolite people in the South and Midwest. I am just talking about overall culture here. Also, the difficult professional situations I refer to do not, to this point, include my ministerial ones. In that area, I have been very blessed.