Changing the Self-Talk

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I’m trying to work on the self-talk. You know, those things we tell ourselves that begin to loop around in our heads until they start to control our visions of ourselves. I’m not immune to the tendency to call myself an idiot when I do something I wish I hadn’t, or to look in the mirror and think mean thoughts about the body I see there, but these aren’t currently affecting my self awareness particularly negatively. The one that I find has become an almost verbal mantra in recent weeks (months? years?) is, “I’m so tired.” I AM tired.

How self-defeating is that, though? Isn’t that a deadly downward spiral? I’m tired, so I tell myself I’m tired, so I get more tired, and soon I am coasting into a pit. Hmm. Let’s add a touch of insomnia to that. Now anxiety feeds the spiral and I’m speeding faster down the hill. I’ll have a little sugary pick-me-up, and that helps for a moment or two, but then I crash further, faster, and it takes more to bring me up to baseline.

Perhaps I need to get more iron, more rest, more time for meditation. But none of those things will be long-term help, I think, unless I can change the way I talk to myself, unless I can start noting also the times when I feel energized and awake, noticing how it feels in my body to be alert and full of energy.

Gratitude List:
1. Venus. How she shines!
2. Broccoli and cheese.
3. Helpful self-talk.
4. Naomi Shihab Nye’s poetry.
5. The hot shower I am about to take.

May we walk in Beauty!

Leaving the Winter Malaise

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Love they Nieghbor–under the Route 30 bridge, and walking the trail toward the old lime kiln.
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One of the openings of the old lime kiln, and an Eastern Comma Butterfly on a poison ivy vine. Inside, the wings are as orange as a monarch. Outside, it looks like a leaf. February is a rather disconcerting moment of the year in which to observe a butterfly.
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Lamppost by the bridge, and the source of a trailside spring.

This winter hasn’t been particularly cold or cruel. Lots of warmish days, very few nights of uncontrollable shivering, very little troublesome travel-weather. Perhaps it’s the temperament of the times as much as the season itself that has gotten me feeling like I am in an endless tunnel with no way out.  I feel like we’ve cemented our routine of go to school, come home, snack, bicker, eat, sleep, and start again. I haven’t been pushing the kids outside, haven’t been pushing myself outside. I’ve been feeling trapped and claustrophobic. Like winter.

I guess I just have to feel that existential malaise every winter, no matter how mild the weather. Then there comes a day, shortly after Brigid’s Day, when a new breeze blows, the vanguard of spring flowers begin to appear, and suddenly I can breathe again. Today was that day.

Gratitude List:
1. This day. Warm sun.
2. Walking on the Susquehanna River Trail with my guys.
3. Skunk. I don’t like that smell–and this evening’s burst was an eye-watering reminder of why this hollow is called Skunk Hollow–but it’s a good reminder that the wild ones still hold sway here.  And a reminder to continue to resist in skunk’s fashion. Don’t bite–just make a big stink.
4. A butterfly in February! (I don’t suppose it will make it through the next cold spell, but it was a lovely visitor to see today.
5. Public shared spaces: parks and trails and visitor centers.

May we walk in Beauty!

Vanguard of Spring

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Gratitude List:
1. Kuub: My new favorite game. We played for a couple hours today. You set up blocks in your yard and then throw stuff at them to knock them down.
2. I don’t have to go to work tomorrow.
3. Beeeeeeeeees
4. Aconite, snowdrops, speedwell: the vanguard of spring
5. It really is all about love.

May we walk in Beauty!

Finding a Common Language

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Little Sister harvesting sunshine from the aconite.

This is a lightly edited version of something I wrote the other day (though it’s still a little raw and choppy), modified with the thoughtful ideas of friends who offered me wise feedback:

I want to keep open the doors to healthy communication with people who have vastly different opinions about things than I do. But how can we keep the doors open when we can’t even agree on what a door is, exactly? It’s like we speak the same language, but we use utterly opposite vocabularies. Truth and fact have become shifty, like sand, like smoke. When someone says “wall” and someone else says “door,” where do we find the space in which to begin our conversation?
Sometimes it’s easier just to say we don’t belong together, the ones who say “door” and the ones who say “wall.” But we do seem to have some of the same words for love, for hope, for puppies, for belonging. Can we at least begin to open some of those windows?

I will continue to be alarmed at the actions of the current president. You will continue to wonder if the previous president was a communist. I cannot understand how you could support him and still be a good person. I want to ask you: Can’t you see the hatred and greed at the core of everything this administration is putting out? If you care about Life, if you care about children, if you care about people, if you care about the Earth–how can you support this man and his cronies? My hardest questions are for Christians: How can a follower of Jesus support the separation of families, the turning away of people fleeing for their lives? How can a follower of Jesus accept an administration that is gutting all protections for the Earth, opening pathways to destroy God’s creation? How can you support the brutality against the First Nations people in Standing Rock who are simply trying to keep their land and water safe and clean? How can a follower of Jesus support the bigotry and racism and misogyny that are unapologetically spoken from this man and his representatives?  I need to hear how you reconcile this.

Still, you love your children, and I love mine. We both love fudge and knitting and really strong coffee. You tell great jokes that make me laugh. We can probably both recite the first three lines of “Hiawatha” together, if we think really hard (okay, maybe only two, but I bet you’re going to look it up now, eh?). Neither of us can resist a cute kitten video or the awe-inspiring sight of starlings flying as one creature. Neither one of us is a monster.

(The “you” in that paragraph is an aggregate person, my imagination of someone who is unlike me and yet like me, someone with whom I might probably share a specialized vocabulary for our particular interests although our political vocabularies do not intersect.)

Can we find language that we both can understand? I hope so.

Gratitude List:
1. The Little Sisters are out and about today, buzzing among the aconite, gathering pollen in their golden saddle bags. Welcome, Bright Ones! May you thrive and flourish! (You can see one on the attached image, if you search.)
2. Warm sun
3. I received my first issue of Rattle poetry journal in the mail today! This is the best submissions fee ever! I submitted a chapbook to a contest a few months ago, and the submission fee includes a subscription to the journal!
4. Nuthatches. How can you not just love people who seem to prefer to live their lives upside-down?
5. Playing Tabu with the kids this morning. I would give the clues and they would guess them, with Jon chiming in every once in a while when the answer words got too obscure for the kids.

May we walk in Beauty!

Wise Folk

barntreeGratitude List
1.
Today when I got home from school, Joss and I spent some time outside. We played tag: I don’t really run–I just wait around until he can’t stand it and comes in close enough for me to pounce on him. Then he played in the sandbox while I lay down on the driveway and looked up into the trees. I tried some odd-angle panoramas to try to get a sense of the vast feeling of trees and sky above. I like the way this one turned out, with the barn below and that shine above.

2.
Today we had an all-school assembly, a further discussion of race and racism, this one based on students’ (and some teachers’) experiences of racism, both personal and what they’ve observed. Some students and teachers told their own stories, and others read stories written by others. Some teachers reflected on the construct of race and the history of racism in the US. More than anything, I was struck by the deep love and tenderness and vulnerability of the speakers. I am proud of these folks, proud of these students who took the lead and worked together to craft this fine program, proud of my colleagues who created the space for student voices to shine, proud of the polite and thoughtful listeners in the space. May we continue to learn and grow together, to listen, to speak up and out.

3.
Jon made the most amazing re-fried beans tonight. Re-fried beans can sometimes be a tasteless mush, but these are really delicious.

4.
This is the beginning of a three-day weekend.

5.
I have such incredibly wise and compassionate and thoughtful and activist friends. Last night I posted some thoughts on Facebook, wondering whether it’s possible to find common vocabularies across political lines. After school today, when I went to check my page, there were dozens of incredibly thoughtful and wise responses. I am blessed in friends. Many of my friends are people I have never met, but people who have enriched my life deeply through these discussions, who have helped me to keep my mind open and my thinking fluid.

So much Love. May we walk in Beauty!

Beloved Community

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A couple years ago, I had a girl in my freshman class who entered every classroom on high alert, ready to attack at the slightest provocation. She didn’t wait to be bullied or insulted–she was ready to lash out at the least hint of a slight, the least whiff of aggression. Within days, most of her classmates were steering a wide path around her, terrified that they might accidentally look at her the wrong way and find themselves on the receiving end of her wrath.

One of the things I love about my school is the restorative way that teachers and administrators work with students. Teachers kept reminding her to keep her language school-appropriate, to speak more gently with her classmates. Students who felt harmed by her sharpness were cared for and comforted, and she was held accountable for the harm she caused. Still, she was treated like a person herself, not like a perpetrator, not like a problem. The adults understood that she was experiencing an extreme sense of vulnerability, that her social anxiety and the pain she was dealing with in her personal life made her push people away before she could be hurt.

Gradually, she began letting other students and adults near her. She discovered that people liked her for who she was, that we appreciated her quick wit, that she could make us laugh and smile. She began to talk and write about deeper things, too. When she lost someone she loved, instead of retreating to her cave and biting anyone who came near, she wrote it out. She talked about it. She let her friends hold her and care for her.

Now she’s a junior.  She’s finding her voice, catching her stride. She can still make you cringe when she gets into a temper. She’ll always be good at speaking her mind. But the aggressiveness is tempered with gentleness. Instead of masking her vulnerability, she uses her tender heart to find connections with others who hurt. She’s beginning to speak out about issues and causes that matter to her, using both reason and passion. She’s becoming a leader. I am proud of her, and grateful for this community that helped her find her way to her best self. She’s going to be one of the ones who changes the world.

Gratitude List:
1. Beloved community that provides a place for us to fail and try and fail and try and learn and become.
2. The way the sunlight spilled across the fields as dawn arrived.
3. Magenta, Indigo, Aquamarine, which is to say: The clouds at sunrise.
4. The way those five crows flying in a perfect line laced up the clouds they flew between.
5. The members of the Silhouette Magazine staff. They’re witty, earnest, playful, and thoughtful. I’m proud of the assembly they presented this morning.

May we walk in Beauty!

The Fire Has Always Been Burning

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On the original collage of this, there was a little strip of text that reads, “The fire has always been burning.” It was lost in the filtering process, but the feeling has been preserved.

Gratitude List:
1. Moment of Surprise: An enormous raccoon scrambled across the road to the creek and up into the bosque just before twilight this evening.
2. William Carlos Williams Moment: So much depends on the way the sun backlights a cloud against an aquamarine sky laced with crows.
3. Dream Moment: I carried with me all day the dream of my little cat. It was so real, I could feel her soft fur again, like angel feathers.
4. Satisfaction Moment: Jon’s delicious everything stew. With habanero sauce and smoked sea salt.
5. Anticipation Moment: I just have a sense that I am going to break the insomnia cycle tonight.

May we walk in Beauty!

Tender Little Dragon

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Here is something I wrote four years ago today. I found it really helpful to the me of today:

“This morning when we were playing with our gnomes, Joss decided that the gnome house was on fire, and he raced to get a group of gnomes to put it out. “Red! We need all the red gnomes!” Exactly–to put out a fire, it takes lots of red gnomes. Ellis chimed in, “And Minus! We need the Minus Gnome! Because a house with fire Minus the fire is just a house!”

Sometimes I sure would like to use some of Minus Gnome’s magic on me. An anxious Beth Minus anxiety is just Beth. Angst-ridden, anger-struck Beth Minus angst and anger? Beth. So that’s a nice little thing to do with meditation. Of course as soon as I began to work with the idea, it hit me again that the angers and angsts are so often born of compassion and caring, and for those I have been seeking the services of Multiplication Gnome. I need to untangle the compassion from its attendant anger at injustice, its partner anxiety at losses to those I love.

Wow. Look at those words that I wanted to get rid of: Angst, Anxiety, Anger. . .I looked them up, along with their sister Anguish. There at their root is angh-, which comes from the Indo-European language tree, and generally refers to distress of some sort. That lovely vowel–ah–cut short in the back of the throat, closed up along with all hope of breath: Angh!

Fear, shame, anger, distress: what sound emerges when you truly feel them? Angh! Choke.

But still, that lovely vowel–ah–the first we say in so many languages: Mama, Abba, Baba, Dada, Nana, Papa. The opposite of the choke, our family names, our names for the Ineffable Mystery: they release the breath in a tender sigh. Ah. There we go.

When I get really stuck in the Angh, I can dislodge that choke with a little Hahaha, a great belly laugh to force the air back through, a little spiritual CPR, so to speak. Or skip down the street with a Tra-la-la, a little song to start up the rhythm of breathing again. Or a little eureka, a bright discovery with a great Aha!

So the next time I wake up at three in the morning, suddenly filled with the dread of what is happening to this world that I have brought these light-filled children into, or choked with shame for some harshness I have spoken to their tender hearts, I think I will apply the Ah!, the Mama, the Ha! and see if that breath can be a lullaby to take my spirit back to sleep.”

Gratitude List:
1. Love Songs for chapel this morning, and serenaders wandering the halls all day.
2. Tender little dragons
3. The kinds of questions this kid comes up with: “Mom, what if we were to be reincarnated as a planet or other celestial body?”
4. The ones who are leading us into the next levels of consciousness–a lot of them are teenagers.
5. The people rise up, ask questions, hold the powerful accountable, and tiny little changes begin to happen.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gnosis

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These days when I am in the car by myself, I switch over the audio book CD from The Mark of Athena, which we listen to as a carpool on the way to and from school, to Tucker Malarkey’s Resurrection, an audio mystery book I got from the library book sale last summer. It’s an interesting slow-unraveling story about a young woman (post-WWII) who goes to settle the affairs of her archaeologist father in Egypt after his suspicious death. She discovers that he was working on finding and translating fragments of text from papyri found at Oxyrhynchus, and that someone is trying to stop the texts from becoming public. It’s entirely fiction, of course, except that it’s loosely based on some of the hype surrounding the mid-1940s discoveries of papyri fragments at Oxyrhynchus.

It makes me want to start looking again at some of the Gnostic texts and other gospels that were not included in the canon by the councils and church leaders by the time of the Synod of Hippo Regius in 393.  The novel I am reading contends that the non-canonical gospels were actively suppressed, often violently, by church leaders who were threatened by the gnosticism of many of the texts. We have Elaine Pagels’ book on Thomas: Beyond Belief, and perhaps I will start there, as well as searching through the fascinating online Nag Hammadi Library.

Gnosis has always been one of my favorite words. It rings something inside me when I hear it. I remember that even before I really knew what it meant, I was drawn to its mystery. What are the layers beneath the stories I’ve heard all my life? What are the patterns and secrets that were kept so fiercely out of the text that we read today? Who were these early followers of Jesus? I think of gnosis as gut knowledge, bones knowledge, the kind of thing you know within yourself to be right and true.

Early gnostics believed that the physical world was to be transcended in favor of spiritual realities, a primary sticking point for me. Perhaps this is how some people reach their gnosis. I think the physical world is to be entered fully, experienced profoundly, relished deeply. For me, it’s about settling into the gut, the bones, the blood, seeking the way Spirit imbues matter, not the way it transcends it.

Gratitude List:
1. William Carlos Williams Moment: so much depends on a tangerine sun rising through blue into a violet magenta cloud. Suddenly all is cerulean and indigo and golden.
2. Heart Moment: Receiving an email from one of our graduates, asking several of us to pray for him as he prepares to deploy as a medic to the Syrian border. We have a bridge between us, despite my pacifism, and I am honored to be among those praying for his safety, praying that he may be a blessing to those he serves.
3. Comfort Moment: Sitting under a feather bed, reading a fantasy novel to my boy.
4. Moment of Depth: This quotation, by Alice Walker–“Poetry is the lifeblood of rebellion, revolution, and the raising of consciousness.”
5. Pleasure Moment: Shells with spinach and peas in a creamy cheesy sauce.

May we walk in Beauty!