Proverbs 23:7 For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.
“Be careful what you wish for.”
Such a simple concept – you are what you think – but not really evident in common practice in all areas of life in this 21st century, or I would venture to say, the last half (at least) of the 20th century; especially in the United States, especially in business, and especially in politics.
Really unfortunate, cuz it’s killing us. Personally, and as a species, and we’re taking the whole planet with us.
In exalting the individual, we have doomed community, in doing so, we have lost sight of all of those things that used to be more common in human interaction: truth, fairness, goodwill, friendship and equity. We’ve turned love into a Hallmark card, and concern for all beings? Hardly.
We are destroying the earth, the home of all life as we know it, and we are destroying ourselves, all the while thinking we’re doing great. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting more desperate and resentful and everyone is losing a little piece of their soul everyday, but Hey! Look at me on Instagram! See my Facebook? I’m doing great!
So everything’s fine. If you’re not fine, that’s your problem.
Meanwhile, our self-hatred is manifesting in the world. Our thoughts have power. There is a black river of ick and pain running underneath all of our shiny, happy wonderful lives. There are so many humans on the planet now that our dark thoughts have tipped the balance of nature, disrupted cycles of renewal, and brought us to the precipice of annihilation.
We are personally and globally unable to acknowledge our human shadow side; our thoughts fester away in our individual brains, mostly unacknowledged, certainly not exposed to the light for examination even if we know they’re there, but becoming part of the collective unconscious and getting stronger everyday just the same, with each new damaged spirit, each new disregarded soul and pervasive unacknowledged resentment.
Anxiety, depression, substance abuse, gambling, domestic violence, gun violence, child abuse, sexual violence…
Humans are not being treated fairly or properly by other humans and that is where it all begins. The resentment and frustration is palpable these days, running through every discourse, framing every encounter. Love and goodwill have been replaced by resentment, distrust, blame, and a general sense that something’s wrong.
Can’t be me, must be you. You’re wrong. I’m right. I’m getting mine. Screw you.
Fingers pointing everywhere, running from responsibility. Not me! It’s the Mexicans. It’s the Muslims. It used to be the Irish, the Germans, the French; anyone other than me. It’s women. It’s men. Too religious. Not religious enough. It’s not my fault. Look at me, I’m fabulous! Check me on Twitter! Find me on YouTube! 10,000 followers on Facebook – I must be doing it right!
I was impressed by Felicity Huffman’s apology for her part in the college admissions fiasco. She took responsibility for her actions. Her humility and remorse will save her from a withering heart over time, and beyond that, I hope it helps young people who look up to celebrities to know that everyone makes mistakes, and that sooner or later lying catches up with you. She is helping the whole community by standing tall in the face of her mistake.
Life is hard. It’s hard for everyone in some way. It’s hard to be a person of integrity, in our culture, in the world, but it’s the only path to survival. We have to start being honest with ourselves and with each other about who we are personally and collectively. Stop pretending, start getting real.
I read a lovely post this week on a wonderful blog – The Hummingbird’s Journal – about redwood trees and how their roots are actually quite shallow; surprising for such enormous trees. In order to survive and to remain standing, they intertwine their roots, so they are quite literally holding each other up.
Reading that almost made me cry. That’s exactly what we have to do, if we are going to survive. Get down to the roots. Get back to community. Civility, integrity, concern for others, and for ourselves.
Acknowledge the shadow. Step into the darkness, find what’s there and bring it into the light to be healed. Acknowledge your thoughts about yourself and understand that’s what you are offering the world – to your neighbors and your kids, to everyone you love – not just the happy smiley persona you think they see.
Your thoughts – your unwillingness to forgive yourself and others – manifests in the world whether you intend it or not. Your unkindness to yourself is felt by others and absorbed, especially if you have children. The guilt you feel is cast onto others as blame. That knot in your stomach is felt by all of us, all the time.
Help yourself and in doing so help us all be stronger, taller. Just like the trees. We’re all in this together.
If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete. – Jack Kornfield
Spring made a brief appearance in my little corner of the world on Sunday and I welcomed it with open arms and much rejoicing! It’s cold again here this morning, with snow predicted, but Sunday’s taste of what’s to come will get me through for a while.
The first uplifting sign was little Clover, my resident bunny who lives under the big cedar tree in the backyard, was romping around and checking things out. I was so happy to see her again, and to know that she made it through the long winter. No grass or clover for her to munch on yet, but that will come. I hope to see babies soon.
After breakfast I went for a shortish bike ride. I had an errand to run on the other side of town, so I dusted off my reliable old errand bike, the lovely Betty, and we sped off into the warmth, enjoying the tiniest hint of sunshine. It was so fabulous to be outside and to smell the dirt and to hear the birds in every tree. It was 63°F! Cooler by the lake, though, so I was glad I had a hood and gloves.
The ice on the big lake is melting, finally. It’ll take a while, as Sunday was a fluke and temps here for the next couple of weeks are predicted to be in the 30s and low 40s still. It’s happening, though, and that’s enough for me right now. It rained last night and it was so wonderful to hear it on the roof and on the windows. Snow is so obnoxiously quiet and sneaky. I prefer rain; in fact, a good loud thunderstorm would do my heart good right now!
It’s hard to be patient, but I know winter doesn’t give up easily here, and I have to temper my excitement with reminders to self that it’s only April. We have a way to go yet before I’ll be liberating the other bikes and getting out for longer “real” rides. The pretty purple bike has a broken spoke from last season’s last ride, so she’ll have to go to the bike hospital for repairs and a tune-up before she and I hit the road for our first ride in 6 weeks or so.
We’re closer than we were, though. We’re heading in the right direction, and Spring and Summer fly by so quickly, I don’t want to rush any of it. Soon there will be leaves on the trees, and green grass and trillium and trout lilies in the woods, and I’ll be outside as much as possible gathering it all up, like the most scrumptious nourishing food, restoring my body, heart and mind.
I’m clear about who I am, where I’ve been, where I’m going, and what I’m doing. What I realized this week, though, is that isn’t the whole story, especially at work. What matters in that arena is how others perceive me – correctly or incorrectly – and to a large degree, that isn’t up to me. I suppose that’s true in all areas of life, but to me it matters less in those other areas. I can do without friends; I can’t do without a job. Not now, anyway.
Acme Health Services hired a new Public Relations person, or in our industry-speak, a Public Information Officer, a couple of months ago. She’s really fabulous and enthusiastic and young. She’s brimming with great ideas and on fire with the desire to succeed in this job and spread the great news about AHS. I’m excited to work with her. She is not my boss, but I take direction from her regarding many of my job responsibilities, as I do the website and social media and all the promotional publications.
We went to a class together on Thursday to learn about using Instagram for business. I’ve wanted to add an Instagram account for a long time, but couldn’t really wrap my head around how our business would translate to that platform, but our new PIO has a great idea about how to go about it and she got admin staff approval and so we’re full speed ahead! The class was in a town nearby, and lunch was provided. I was looking forward to learning something new, and also the chance to get to know my new co-worker a little better outside the office.
So, the first thing I noticed when I got there was that I was by far the oldest person in the room – by at least 20 years. Whatever, right? Being older doesn’t make a difference in my mind, except I’m more experienced in business than any of these other people. A positive, as I see it. Ultimately it doesn’t matter, I’m thinking, cuz were all just trying to navigate this new way of marketing, so what does age or experience have to do with any of it? We’re all beginners.
And the fact that my new co-worker is at least 20 years younger than me? Why should that matter? We’re just people working for the same company, wanting to do the best job we can. We want the same thing, so we’ll work together! It’ll be great! I’m great! She’s great! We’re going to be GREAT!
Yeah, so I can be pretty naive.
First, before the class started and we’re eating our lunches, the two young women at my table, my co-worker and someone who had taken the third chair, knew each other, and are talking, talking, talking, about their kids and all the people they know in common and blah blah blah blah blah. I smile and eat my lunch, pretending that I’m listening and that I care and that it doesn’t bother me at all that they are completely ignoring me.
Then class started and it’s okay, though I actually knew most of the information the “social media expert” was giving us. Still nice to be out of the office for a while and to have lunch out, not something I get to do very often anymore. And then two things happened simultaneously:
And so began one of the worst panic attacks I’ve had in my life, and I had to get out of there FAST. Fortunately, the class had run over the scheduled time at this point, so other people were leaving, too, and I scurried out of the room and straight to the bathroom. I was in there for about 20 minutes, trying to get my breath and waiting for the dizziness to pass, and when it did finally, I slunk out of the restaurant and out to my car, which was not very far away, fortunately, and collapsed in the driver’s seat. I sat there for another 20 minutes or so, and when I felt like I could drive, I headed out toward my town. As I passed a hospital on the way, though, I started to feel dizzy again, so I pulled into the ER parking lot and contemplated going in.
Not my first panic attack though, fortunately, so I knew I probably wasn’t dying, and I sat in the car for another 10 minutes or so. Finally the pain in my chest, the tingling in my limbs, the sweating and the dizziness passed and I put the car in gear and headed back out again.
One of my favorite old songs came on the radio and I was singing along, trying to feel better, until all of a sudden I was overcome with memories of when that song was popular, when I was young, and pretty quickly I was sobbing so hard I couldn’t breathe and I had to pull over again, and wait until the worst of it passed. I started out again finally, cried all the way to my office parking lot, pulled myself together, walked in and continued my day.
Exhausted. Bone weary. But I was there. Damn it. Because that’s who I am. That’s age and experience. I’m committed and loyal and I see things through. I had work to do and even though I felt like crap, I went back and did what needed to be done.
As the afternoon went on, I kept thinking of all I wanted to say to that super fantastic clever and bright young woman:
I WAS YOU.
25 years ago, I was you. I was the super fantastic clever and bright young woman ready to set the world on fire and LIVE A FABULOUS LIFE! Despite years of depression, despite utter fall-on-my-face disasters in other areas of my life, I was always good at my work and for the 5 years I had my business, I was golden. I was smart and innovative and creative and soaked up information like a sponge and turned it into Wonderful! Brilliant! Amazing! projects for my clients. And when I came to Acme Health Services 20 years ago they were thrilled to have me, and I was amazing, and wonderful, and brilliant then, too, until…well, I don’t know.
When did I get old? When did I become irrelevant?
I didn’t imagine it. It was there. It was in her eyes and in the eyes of all the other 15 year-olds in the class. I said something I felt was relevant to what was being discussed, and they all turned around and looked at me like they were amazed I could speak, including the teeny-bopper conducting the class.
So, I’m comfortable in my skin, and I’m confident in my abilities and ready to go everyday. What worries me, is that it may not be enough. As someone pointed out to me the other day, I’m almost 60 (sounds so much older than 57, doesn’t it – gave me chills) and I guess there is probably a lot I don’t know about the generations behind me and how they think.
They’re running the show now, and that is as it should be, I guess, but they don’t appear to be interested AT ALL in what went on before they came along, or how much experience someone older has; in fact, I think most of them think there must be something wrong with someone who stayed in a job for 20 years. An eternity! My god, how could you stand it?
So there were other factors in the panic attack (one being the never-ending plumbing issue we’ve been dealing with at home that FINALLY was resolved yesterday after much stress and aggravation all week), and I’m going to address the 24/7 care-giving stress issue with my doctor in May. I’m thinking some good drugs, but I’m open to whatever she suggests. I’ve had my fill of ill-timed panic attacks and almost constant anxiety.
I have no idea what to do about work, though, and I’m really afraid at some point the bean counters are going to look at me and look at her and think, why do we need both of them? This is not the first time I’ve experienced the age handicap at work, and I know a lot of people have gone through the same thing. I get that my experience is not unique.
Somehow, I just never thought it would happen to me. Naive, I know. But that’s who I am – ever the optimist, ever the idealist, wanting always to believe the best about people and hoping that things will work out if I just work hard enough and try as hard as I can.
So, back to be here now, and one day at a time, and just doing the best I can. Whatever is going to happen will happen and I’ll deal with whatever it is.
Ultimately that’s all there is, isn’t it? Dealing with whatever is. Doing the best we can. Hoping for the best.
Life goes on.
Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.
Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.
Stevie Smith, “Not Waving but Drowning” from Collected Poems of Stevie Smith. Copyright © 1972
This weekend we had another house-falling-down-around-us event. I kept my cool and did what needed to be done and mom and I got through the day just fine. The plumber is coming on Wednesday and I’ll hemorrhage some more money and then we’ll keep going on as before until the next house event or health event or whatever.
I feel like something deep within me changed, though. Something shifted, and the death grip I’ve had on the future and my belief that I will survive this experience with my mother and go on has loosened. I think in order to keep going now I have to let go of any idea of a positive outcome, including emerging at the end with my health intact – mental, physical, emotional and financial – or even of surviving at all.
Hope has gotten me this far – the hope that this too shall pass and I’ll go on – but I have to let go of that hope and just do what needs to be done, with no thought beyond today and today’s needs. This has been a long journey, but the end is no where in sight, and I have to marshal my remaining resources, few though I feel they are, and just keep going, one foot in front of the other. It’s a waste of energy to keep looking ahead, to hope that things will change, that I’ll be free to go on with my life.
I may never get there and thinking about it, hoping for it, and planning for it is simply counter-productive now. It saps vital resources from the limited supply available, and compromises my ability to take care of my mother’s needs. Also, my near constant pre-occupation and exhaustion puts us both in danger.
Before the water event Sunday I had a go at trying to burn the house down completely. I boiled water in the tea kettle for breakfast and after I poured the water, I put the kettle back on the (electric) burner and forgot to turn it off. I went upstairs to eat my breakfast and answer an email and it wasn’t long before the smell of something burning wafted up the stairs and into my awareness. I ran downstairs, plucked the kettle off the burner and turned it off.
The kettle was ruined and the kitchen smelled horrible, but beyond that, everything was okay. A bullet dodged. When my mother got up I debated whether to even tell her about it, but I did finally, and she razzed me a bit, and we went on with the day, both feeling grateful that it hadn’t been worse. Then the water thing happened and that was not so easily remedied and that’s when I could feel something in me shift.
Fire and water.
Elemental forces are working against me now, and this whole thing is starting to take on a fateful tone. I was already stressed to the max from a really crappy week, and had hoped the weekend would provide a chance to recover a bit, but nothing less than FIRE and WATER said no. No rest for you.
Okay, so I’m not really so paranoid as to think that anything is out to get me. But I do believe in karma and I do believe in fate – in the role it plays in karma. For the last seven years I’ve seen myself as the hero on this journey and assumed that I would complete the quest and go on. Karma would be exhausted and I would live out my (many) remaining days enjoying life. Tra la la.
In seven years, I have never even entertained the idea of any other outcome.
Sunday night I realized that other outcomes are not only possible, but as time goes on, they become more likely. There is no guarantee that I will complete the quest or go on, and so my only recourse is to just let go and let whatever is going to happen, happen. It is the need to believe in a certain outcome that is sapping my strength, making me constantly stressed and on alert for trouble, and so completely pre-occupied all the time.
This change doesn’t make me sad or happy, or anything. I feel nothing about it in particular, I’ve just noted that it happened, and I’m not really sure what it’s going to mean going forward. I hope it makes me feel less desperate and stressed and I hope it makes me feel clearer and present in each moment. My mother deserves that and so do I.
Whatever happens it’ll just be what it is. I’m done papering over things to make them prettier or more comfortable. Whatever happens happens. I don’t know if what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, but I suppose that’s as likely to happen as anything else. We’ll see, won’t we?
All of us, trying to navigate our difficult lives and just trying to figure out a way to be okay; to not feel so bad and unwelcome and unworthy when we’re not at our best.
Somehow, we go on.