Category Archives: reflection

Words in Service to Justice

Words wash over me. Pictures pierce my heart.

There is nothing I can say that has not already been said. I’m grateful to all who express their heartfelt thoughts about the cause and effects of this raging tragedy called RACISM.

Some of the words that I’ve heard or read tell a story that has been told too often and yet still needs to be told.

Finally a turning point

 Catalyst for change

 Voices of the unheard

 Mobilize, organize, vote

 Ignited a flame

 Same issues—different trajectory

 Nation we ought to be

 Acknowledge the anger and hostility

 Broken, chaotic, destructive reality

 Gaslit by reality

 Direct action—spiritual impulse

 Psychic toll

 Ambient racism

 Outrage

 Mixed emotions

 Reluctant sense of hope

 Little ray of hope

 More than isolated events

 Racism, white supremacy, police brutality

 Law and order

 “non-violence works in tandem with threats of potential violence” (Carvel Wallace)

 “Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible—even if you’re choking on it—until you let the sun in. Then you see it everywhere.” (Kareem Abdul-Jabar, op ed in the LA Times, May 30)

Whether we see the universal activism spawned by the image of a police officer with his knee on the neck of George Floyd until he dies as a reaction to the inhumanity of the act or an imperative for America’s reckoning about racism, the words written and spoken by those outraged are, indeed, in service to justice.

In the Here and Now

Waxing nostalgically or having flights of fancy are easier for me than being in the here and now. This is not a new phenomenon; I discovered this about myself when I first started meditating. As soon as I closed my eyes and began to breathe deeply, my mind would find a memory, devise something to plan, or flash in my mind someone or something about which to worry. Holding my mind in a steady state of the present without thinking for even a minute or so took tremendous effort, which decreased my level of relaxation, and thereby defeated the very purpose of my meditation.

I decided to do some Internet searching on meditation and came across an Everyday Health article about how more Americans are meditating. Results of a CDC survey about the overall health of Americans taken in 2012 and 2017 showed that there was an increase in alternative therapies like yoga, chiropractic care, and meditation by both children and adults. This caused me to reflect on why I adopted meditation as a practice. It was about a year after my 30th birthday. While some people have a hard time accepting their age around 40 or 50 years of age, I had my crisis when I turned 30 years old. I became hypersensitive about how I looked as if I were just getting acquainted with my face and body. I wanted to change everything.

I was working as a counselor at a predominantly White community college where, in addition to a workload similar to my colleagues, I was, by default, the resident problem-solver for all issues involving Black students. Personally, I was figuring out how to begin work on a doctorate degree while working fulltime and doing what a fulltime wife and mother who stayed home did for her family. At the same time, my husband and I had made a decision to go out on a thin and dangerously wobbly financial limb to buy a house.

In my mind, I could handle this and more, but my body evidently was not as strong-willed, My stomach ulcers got so severe that the doctors said no medicines would help –I was the only person who could cure them. At this point, I was willing to try anything. Alternative therapy was a last resort; I chose meditation.

I participated in the required rituals and sessions and was given a mantra to use in my daily meditations. From that time on, I’ve been faithful in my efforts. My family has always been supportive, giving me quiet time and space to practice. I have no excuse, then, for my inability to be in the here and now with my mind void of all thoughts for an extended period of time.

It is not being “mindful” that I have a problem with, as I go about doing things thoughtfully, paying attention to all the qualities and aspects of any given task. I relish the time to sit quietly and focus on my feelings, my surroundings, and what’s happening with my body sensations. But for 45 years, I’ve struggled to clear my mind of all thoughts for just a few minutes in order to meditate to my standards. While I’m meditating, I’m often thinking about how poorly I’m doing it because I’m not totally in the here and now.

I once told my grandfather I didn’t know how to spell something he wanted me to write for him. He responded, “Don’t worry about spelling it, just write it down.” Similarly, even as I’m writing this critique of my efforts to meditate, my thoughts are on a different frequency, urging me to stop judging and evaluating how well I’m meditating and just meditate.

Too often, we let the perfect be the enemy of the good, immobilizing us from simply doing what needs to be done. It is only in the doing – whether that be taking a first step or continuing in something – that we grow and hone our practices.

As Strange as it Seems: Dreams

Paintography, Photograph combined with watercolour paintingFrom time immemorial people have been fascinated by dreams. They want to know what they mean. Centuries ago, those who interpreted the dreams of monarchs were in high demand.  Decisions that had profound impact on history could have depended on the subjective interpretation of a single dream.

I’ve always thought that the word “dream” is a misnomer for the images our subconscious creates during our sleeping hours. “Dreaming” seems to connote imagining something really wonderful that you wish would happen, whereas my dreams tend to be scary, nonsensical, and/or downright crazy. In fact, more often than not, I’m  happy to wake up and find that my real life is better than the story I experienced during my sleeping hours.

I’ve been in a number of discussions about what purpose dreams serve. No one has had the definitive answer, but I recall a time when dreams had a practical financial purpose if one had a dream book. Dream books were just as common in some homes in our neighborhood in Chicago as the Bible because they attached numbers to those parts of the dream that you remembered. These “lucky” numbers would then be used to place a bet as part of “the numbers game,” an illegal lottery played by people who needed a money miracle. It didn’t matter if four out of five times the numbers played didn’t win—there was always the possibility that the dream was prophetic and the people who published the dream book were modern-day prophets.

Sometimes when I’ve had a long, intense dream and clearly remember all the disjointed vignettes, I try to make the dream useful in working out something in my waking life. Between September 2010 and April 2015, I recorded some of the dreams I remembered. The stay-at-home directive gave me time to pull out the notebook and read what I wrote about these dreams. Here is the transcript of one of the helpful “dreams”:

I stepped onto the escalator with people in front and behind me. For some reason, I sat down on one of the steps of the escalator. I had a small shopping bag with me that seemed to contain food. The bag became caught in the escalator stairs behind me. As I turned to try to dislodge the bag, a loud, impatient voice shocked me with, “GET UP!”

I was doubly shocked when my alarm went off simultaneously for me to, in fact, get up.

Another dream in which I was at a NASPA conference planning committee with challenges that truly only could be dreamed up hardly needed an interpreter with special discerning powers to figure out what was causing me anxiety at the time.

Going to bed anticipating dreaming and planning to remember them may be a way to feel some sense of control. As strange as it seems, maybe dreaming during times when one’s sense of control is next to nil could be a way to relieve toxic stress and practice some psychological maintenance.

Up close and personal…

I’m remembering previous times when everyone around me was frightened, but the scary thing was not up close and personal.

  • During the first years of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, when we would hear the piercing siren sound, our teachers would direct us to quickly scramble under our tiny desks and to cover our head with our hands.
  • When the rain became an electrical storm, our teachers would urge us to move quickly and quietly into the cloak room where our little coats were hanging on low hooks. I remember covering my face with whatever coat I was near.
  • When I was at home and there was loud thunder and crackling lightning, my grandfather would turn out all of the lights, cover the mirrors, and tell us to be very quiet.

These were scary times, but they were not up close and personal.

It was the second month of my first semester in college and my roommate and I lay on our narrow beds facing one another listening to the radio and talking about what might happen because of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Would we die any moment because of what sounded like an impending nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union? We were frightened, but this was not up close and personal.

In October 2002, the “DC Sniper” randomly killed ten people and wounded four. Whether going to the grocery store, pumping gas, or walking on the sidewalk, there was fear that one could be gunned down any time without provocation or warning. I recall being so frightened that I actually did walk a zig zagging path down the sidewalk in DC in order to make it more difficult for the sniper to get a good shot. It looked crazy but it was a suggestion on how one might stay alive. Despite the generalized fear, this was not up close and personal.

Today, COVID-19 – or the Coronavirus – is up close and personal. The virus is likely the most impactful phenomenon that the people of the world have experienced, and its historic significance cannot be overstated. All of our lives are being touched in one way or another by the circumstances this pandemic has caused.

Because this pandemic is up close and personal, it is my hope that it will stimulate more compassion and selflessness when the first instinct might be something else.

 

 

What’s your personal motto?

On February 25, 2020, CBS hosted Democratic presidential candidates in South Carolina for the final debate before Super Tuesday. For the last question, the candidates were asked to share what they thought was the biggest misconception about them and their personal motto. I was most interested in their personal motto:

  • Tom Steyer writes a cross on his hand each day to remind himself to tell the truth and to do what’s right, no matter what.
  • Amy Klobuchar grounds herself by remembering that politics is about improving lives.
  • Joe Biden’s motto is, “When you get knocked down, get up, and everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity no matter what or who they are.”
  • Bernie Sanders referenced Nelson Mandela for his motto, “Everything is impossible until it happens.”
  • Elizabeth Warren looks to Matthew 25 for her motto—actions done for the “least of these” have been done unto Jesus.
  • Pete Buttigieg also used a biblical reference, seeking to “live by the teachings that say if you would be a leader, you must first be a servant.”

I don’t know whether having a personal motto or a theme one uses to remain personally grounded is a “thing” or not, but the question to the presidential candidates made me think about what my personal motto might be.

Some years ago, when I was up in the mountains of Colorado, I had an epiphany that there was a pattern to my thinking and behavior that could be codified into an anagram that I could easily recall when I needed something to hold on to in order to keep from falling off the tightrope that I often found myself on.

I easily recall my personal motto with the anagram FIRE. While I have changed some of the descriptors to the anagram on occasion, two ideas represented by each letter of the anagram remain constant:

F is for fate and faith

Whether the situation is positive or negative, fate is hard for me to reckon with because my first reaction is to use logic to understand the why and the what of the unexpected circumstances in which I find myself. When I can’t make the connection between cause and effect, I think about life as a crap shoot – sometimes we win and sometimes we don’t. On the occasions when fate appears to be negative, I go to the other concept for the “F” in my anagram.

I rely heavily on faith. Because I have so much evidence to support my belief that it has been faith that has kept me in the game, this is not an empty promise or self-righteous bromide for me. Recalling that I have successfully come through other situations that I thought were impossible, and knowing that I will eventually be whole again, is what faith is to me.

I is for initiative and integrity

Initiative has two interconnected meanings for me: it both spurs me to get up and do something and pushes me to make something different, to innovate. Initiative keeps me thinking and creating. While I’ve sometimes thought life and work would be so much easier if I could just leave things as they are and go with the flow, I’ve always wanted to make something better or add something more. More often than not, my initiative / innovation has been on target and helpful. On the occasions when the vision of what could be was not realized, the disappointment never stopped me from having the desire to invent another way to move forward.

In my anagram, the letter “I” also reminds me that integrity is an important value that I want to include in all that I do. I live this value by doing my very best to do what I say I’m going to do, even if it might be as insignificant as being on time for an appointment. My goal is to always “walk the talk.”

R is for reflection and respect

As the theme song from the 1980s and 1990s sitcom “The Golden Girls” goes, reflection is “a pal and confidant.” If anyone is with me for any period of time, that person knows that I get a lot out of reflecting on what has happened and what I might learn from experience. What I write in my blogs are products of my reflections.

The other thought that “R” helps me recall is respect. Reflection and respect are often connected because my reflections are usually about interactions with people and what my role was in the experience. Did I say or do all I could to demonstrate that I had respect for the other person? Was I able to think of our communicative relationship as “I-thou”?

E is for empathy and energy

Empathy comes naturally to some people. I can recall crying as a child just because another child cried. My folks said that when I did this, I was just too sensitive. In addition to a predisposition to feel with others, as a professional counselor, I have a lot of practice in expressing empathy as a team member in work situations. I learned that it was not okay to restrict my empathy for peers and a chosen few. In order to accomplish the goals of the workplace, empathy and understanding had to be a commodity everyone could share.

I call on energy to fuel my initiatives because they are usually a reaction to inertia and resistance to change. In order to get results, one has to be able to press on. I call upon energy, then, when I don’t want to continue in the fight, when I don’t care about the brass ring and just want to settle. I call on energy when I fall down literally and figuratively and have to tell myself as Hercules Mulligan says in the play Hamilton, “When you knock me down, I get the f*** up again!”

Having been encouraged to share my personal motto, I’m changing the title of my blog to “The FIRE This Time” – an adaptation of James Baldwin’s title “The Fire Next Time” – to allow me to expand the breadth of my subject matter and to connect to my personal motto anagram when appropriate.

Writing satisfies a personal yearning, and I’m grateful for the outlet this blog provides. I share my thoughts and experiences because I’ve learned so much about myself from reading about the experiences of others in memoirs, essays, and personal stories.

The last thing I want to do is to come across as if I think I have the answers, or that my experiences give me the wisdom to know how others should be or what others should do with their life. I only know that thinking about the meaning of the words that make up my FIRE anagram helps me go through the dark tunnel that leads to the next checkpoint on my journey, and I am grateful for each of you who joins me on this journey of Faith, Initiative, Reflection, and Empathy.