"He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living hand to mouth."
~ Goethe


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

"May I walk you home?"

"We're all just walking each other home." "
~ Ram Dass

Our relationships with one another are part of the quotidian landscape of our lives; we live, and thrive, only in the shelter of each other.  To cultivate a community, a tribe, of compassionate healers committed to each other, of people who accept and live into the responsibility of relationship is an enormous challenge--none of us can go it alone, we need each other, but this no light burden we take up when we enter into all the risks of relationship.  No matter what the nature of the relationship, whether that of mate or life partner, parent and child, intimate friendship--the responsibilities are the same.  We share not only in the daily joys and pleasures, work and play, but we stand, then, prepared for that last, long walk home whenever and however it may come.  We agree to be witnesses and companions to death, whether death comes, as it does to us all, at the end of our earthside sojourn, or the relationship itself dies--when we enter in to relationship with another person, we agree to walk each other home and that is a skill set, an endeavor of the heart and soul that we are not prepared for in a culture that fails not only to value and teach the skills we all need to sustain the relationships we create over a lifetime, but which fails even more profoundly to show us how to lay each other, and our relationships, to rest.  
A proper "good bye" is not only appropriate, but healing to everyone concerned. Whether at the bedside of a beloved companion when they are dying, or over a final cup of coffee with someone with whom we've realized we no longer feel able to remain in relationship; everyone deserves the dignity of an honest and heartfelt farewell.  We need to respect the magnitude of what it has meant, to both people, to have walked part of the journey together, realizing and standing in appropriate awe and wonder at the unique and unrepeatable beauty of that particular pairing for that stretch of precious time.  No matter what differences and contentions have arisen between two people, something essential, true and loving once passed between them, and it deserves to be held in proper esteem and gratitude; we can walk each other home without rancor, without pain, only when we've fully embraced what it means to give part of ourselves to another.   We live in a peopled place and our companions on the way shape us for everything else that is to come.  
Love is the end for which we are created and how we offer and invest ourselves in others, and they in us,  the truest measure of our worth. 
When we connect deeply with another human soul, recognizing in them yet another of our healing partners, our kindred spirits on our life journey, let us remember, then, that held in the heart of  each "hello" is always the question, "May I walk you home?"

Monday, May 2, 2011

Writing A Path From The Center by "Living the Questions"

"...have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answers. "
~ Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903, in "Letters to a Young Poet"

We are all familiar with this quote from the poet, Rilke, from a collection of letters he wrote to a young friend of his, an aspiring poet, who had gotten it into his head that he had to know what he was about in life, know what he was doing and who he was, before anything of value could be accomplished with his writing. Rilke was a loner, a social misfit and a wanderer; he found it difficult to stay in one place, to hold a job, to maintain a home, or a relationship. He lacked the ability to read social cues and had minimal tolerance for interpersonal machinations, yet his observations and insight on the human condition are precise, clear and evoke a sense of intense focus and devotion--he could read people and society, and his intellectual prowess made it imperative that he set his soul-readings to poetry. He offered, through his writing, a path from the Center of his being towards that of the reader and within the context of his art, crafted a profound "word medicine" that could heal people, give them guidance and shine light on the next step of their journey. It is a mistake to conclude that Rilke, who today probably would have been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, or placed somewhere on the ubiquitous "Autism Spectrum" lacked the capacity for intimacy when his poetry goes straight to the interior of the heart in ways that can only be accessed by intimacy. Rilke's long familiarity with solitude and silence conferred upon him a deep wisdom about the nature and needs of the human person; his self-awareness, consciousness and intimacy with his own interior world enabled him to write poetry stunning in its ability to speak to our various conditions and to offer healing and peace, but not by providing answers to our questions; he encourages us, instead, to "love the questions themselves" and to wait patiently for our lives to speak. We have to write a path from the Center of our lives if we are to find our answers.

The internet and social networking culture seduces us with the idea that information and answers are synonymous. It further persuades us that asking questions, seeking answers, can be accomplished in whole, or at least in very large part, this afternoon...at the latest.
So many people spend hours and hours of precious, unrepeatable time scouring forums and polling their online friends for answers to the difficulties of life and those who spend the most time doing this seem to be the most unhappy and desperate in their desire for someone else to tell them what to do...how to be...where to go for more...answers. Our culture enables and encourages this kind of anxiety-provoking and superficial social discourse because planting seeds of doubt, fear and anxiety creates a market. People who are afraid that their lives won't hold up under the scrutiny of others, are easy prey to be marketed to in all kinds of ways. Those who live, not from their own Center, but through the eyes of others, become victims of their own projection that somewhere, someone "out there" has the answers to questions that can only be found "in here". Happy, satisfied people who are willing to live out the questions of their lives by seeing, in the quotidian mysteries, our daily life and work, that the answers unfold organically, in their own way, fail the "market test" every time.
When I first began writing here, I was in the midst of transition--I had lost two of my children in the previous 7 years and had another born with a serious disability. I was leaving my childbearing years, being then in my late 40's, had three teenage and young adult children going through their own growing pains, and I was leaving a way of working and being in the world that had defined and informed my life for many years. I was responding to a deep calling, a leading towards a very different life that was, at the same time, beckoning to me like a homecoming; I was being called inward and towards more depth and focus. I was intensely craving solitude, silence and contemplative action in the world, through my writing and new work involving sacred listening to others, giving them the space to tell their own stories and find their own path within the 'true self' that was intended for every person. And yes, dear Rilke, some answers have come through living out those questions but they can, of course, only be partial answers...I am still living, and loving, the questions. As another favorite writer, Isak Dineson, once said, "God made the world round so that we could not see too far down the road" in this, she echoes and reinforces Rilke--we can only live the questions, embrace them, love them, and with humility accept and live with the partial answers as they present themselves.
And now I am 51. My life has sorted itself out and I am living, imperfectly of course, the quiet, simple and creative life I had been trying to give an affirmative answer to for several years. I have lovingly let go of many people in my life over this time, knowing that I was simply not able, or no longer willing, to give them the time and energy they needed from me. I embraced fully a simple truth given me long ago by a very wise woman friend and mentor--"Compassion is mandatory, personal involvement isn't"-- I finally accepted the truth that being loving isn't measured by how willing I am to allow others personal dramas to invade my life and disturb my peace. I cannot give to others with the kind of spacious love I need to offer when I am being drained by relationships with people whose lives are chaotic and who are living out what Psychologist Carl Jung called "Shadow" in unconscious ways. These patterns are not always easy to see when they are taking up space in your life, but one of the many gifts of embracing solitude, quiet and simplicity is that those people and situations that are noisy and disruptive to our peace become very apparent indeed. I've cultivated some new friendships, blending them with deepened and rejuvenated long-term relationships into a community of loving, "learning partners" who are supportive, authentic, genuine and life-giving. I, like Rilke, am a solitary social misfit who prefers quiet and the "Peace of Wild Things" as in the poem by Farmer and Writer, Wendell Berry. I have more of myself to offer to the world; more love to give, more work to do, and a great and driving energy to do my part to leave a legacy of healing and wholeness behind when I take my leave of this world.
So, my writing going forward will not offer you any answers...but I will accompany you on the road of living the questions. My intention now is to "write a path from the Center" of my own life as I respond to the challenges and questions presented by a complex world mired in painful dilemmas and difficulties. I have also come to know other thinkers and writers who are my kin; those I've come to recognize as members of my extended "Tribe" and and as my soulmates and fellow sojourners and I will be introducing you to many of them.

Love and live the questions themselves. Pay attention to the "quotidian mysteries" of your own life. Trust and have faith that the answers will come and know that there will always be enough light shown to illuminate the next step. "God made the world round, so that we could not see too far down the road."

~ Peace and Courage.
Michelle

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Free Range Family ~ "...To Pay Attention, this is our endless and proper work." Mary Oliver

Yes!No!
by Mary Oliver

How necessary it is to have opinions! I think the spotted trout
lilies are satisfied, standing a few inches above the earth.
I think serenity is not something you just find in the world,
like a plum tree, holding up its white petals.

The violets, along the river, are opening their blue faces, like
small, dark, lanterns.

The green mosses, being so many, are as good as brawny.

How important it is to walk along, not in haste but slowly,
looking at everything and calling out

Yes!No!

The swan, for all his pomp, his robes of glass and petals, wants
only to be allowed to live on the nameless pond. The catbrier
is without fault. The water thrushes, down among the sloppy
rocks, are going crazy with happiness. Imagination is better
than a sharp instrument. To pay attention, this is our endless
and proper work.

Long before I ever got serious about having children, I made the decision not to send them to school.  I had never heard of 'Homeschooling' nor did I know anyone who had done it.   I was truly surprised, delightedly so, when I discovered, in the mid-1980's, that there were other people around who were also keeping their kids out of institutions, having a decided preference to hand-rear their own young and I recall being rather amused that doing so had become a rarity.  Between early day-care and school, most parents seemed destined to hardly ever see their kids, ending up relegated to the role of material provider while the dominant cultural paradigm (whatever it happened to be of a given year, or week)  took over and considering all I knew, as a midwife and woman, about what went into pregnancy and childbirth, it seemed like an awful lot of investment just to turn it all over to someone else but I admit, at this late date, that my point of view quite selfishly failed to take issues of social justice into consideration--were I to consider the question again, I would reach the same decision, I am sure, but I would also work far harder to ensure that every family could make the same choices--I'd be far less willing to unthinkingly embrace a lifestyle option that was far too easy for me to make within the context of being a white, middle class, relatively affluent woman.  And therein ends my disclaimer.

To be a "Free Range Family"was most certainly motivated by a set of what turned out to be false beliefs about the nature of parenting, and of children. I wanted to be with my kids and I didn't want to have to allot any of the responsibility for "how they turned out" to anyone else.  I had a construct about parenting that I now understand to have been woefully inadequate but it remains almost universal in its continued belief and application:   I (and most parents)  believed that I would have an influence on my children and,  if done right, my perfect parenting would ensure that they would turn out to be remarkable and brilliant individuals.   They would escape any of the family dysfunction I had inherited. There would be no risk of serious problems as long as I birthed at home, breastfed them for several years, kept a family bed and homeschooled/unschooled them.  I believed this because I bought into most of the lies of the parenting literature available at the time--the same stuff is available now with different titles, but the storyline is as misleading as it ever was.  The pernicious untruth at the core of it is that our children are "products"--Of our parenting; of their environment; of the school system; of the peer group. They are a product of everything that goes into them and all that happens around them and like any product, you get what you pay for!  No one will tell you the deeper truth which is that there are hidden variables inherent to the individual soul of every child, every person, that might have more to do with manifesting a destiny than we can ever know and we interfere with those potentialities at their, and our, peril.  We cling, as parents, to the illusion of control and that illusion, as any parent of teenagers will tell you, shrinks to a very thin veneer as time goes on.  Eventually, if you, and your children, are very, very fortunate, it disappears altogether.   In any case, I went into my parenting believing all of this tommyrot and I was prepared, from conception to birth and on into their childhoods, to pay the price. Any price. Because the parallel track that runs alongside the idea that we can control how are kids turn out is that how they turn out means something about us, as parents; as people.   All of that is just peachy so long as the kids "turn out well".   Everyone knows, everyone believes, that there is nothing worse or more shameful than having kids that don't "turn out"--kids aren't like pie crust; you can't just crimp a little around the edges where the cracks are and fill in the gaps with a little extra dough and no one will be the wiser.  The expectation that people be, and have,   "Facebook Perfect" individuals, marriages and families is corrosive and lends itself to an interior sense of disconnect and confusion about just what really does matter and why.  Those who seek balance, sanity and a life centered on a more coherent, human-scale life of meaning and purpose will inevitably run up against these issues, as I did. As I began to question I found, to my delighted relief, the truth of what I hoped to express and live out with my children--the  answers living quietly, unheard, directly alongside the questions, as they always are. 

  I have always lived a "free range" life and at nearly 50 years old, I don't expect that to change ( I hope no one was holding their breath ) and I have no complaints about having done so.  I rarely, if ever, settle for anyone's status quo, even my own.  I never follow the pack, even within the communities with whom I am closely aligned, much to their understandable irritation.  Why? Because I am a rebel and a radical, believing in, drawing from, the essence of things  distilling everything into what is "Close To The Root"...
 More central to the question, though, is the fact that I am trusting of other people, including children.  It takes an awful lot for me to lose trust, or faith, in someone; I can count on one hand the number of times it has happened. I trust people. I believe in them. I believe that other people, including kids, mine and everyone else's, are perfectly capable of knowing themselves and of learning and growing and changing and struggling and falling down and getting up again.  I trust them to do all those things and so, when I had kids, I just decided to ignore all the books and advice, even all the stuff I learned from "alternative" and "crunchy" sources and live my life with my kids the way I wanted to. I wasn't going to send them to school. I believed then, and I believe now, in the "Curriculum of Family and Community Life" as former public school educator John Taylor Gatto calls it  (named New York State Teacher of the Year after 30 years of teaching, he is now a homeschooling/unschooling advocate and author) and I came to believe in a related idea offered up here by writer, farmer and teacher, Wendell Berry from his book 'The Art of the Commonplace':

"I know that I am in dangerous territory, and so I had better be plain: what I have to say about marriage and household I mean to apply to men as much as to women. I do not believe that there is anything better to do than to make one's marriage and household, whether one is a man or a woman. I do not believe that "employment outside the home" is as valuable or satisfying as employment at home, for either men or women. It is clear to me from my experience as a teacher, for example, that children need an ordinary daily association with both parents. They need to see their parents at work; they need, at first, to play at the work they see their parents doing, and then they need to work with their parents. It does not matter so much this working together should be what is called "quality time," but it matters a great deal that the work done should have the dignity of economic value."

So, I came to believe that what children needed most was to be at home and out in the world supported by parents who were doing real work that mattered to them and that contributed to the needs and values of the household and larger community. I wanted my children alongside me while I worked with the "quotidian mysteries" at hand and I wanted them to learn the discipline and rewards of work for its own sake. I wanted them to absorb the values of both parents not by being actively taught but by a kind of loving osmosis. We did not teach our children anything; we allowed them to learn through daily interaction with us, and with other loving and interested adults and children wherever we happened upon them; they learned by living real lives in community with others. We have been an active family, involved in many areas including a very liberal, urban spiritual community committed to social justice work and we have been, and continue to be, active volunteers for causes we believe in.  Our whole family has volunteered yearly at a homeless shelter, and at the Gleaners food bank. For many years, my oldest two children were weekly volunteers at a local Nature Center. We have lived in the same diverse "inner ring" neighborhood for more than 20 years; our kids have grown up in the same old house they were born into and we have avoided making changes in "place" because we value stability and wanted our kids to have real roots in a community and a commitment to a sense of home.


We don't "start" homeschool every Fall. We don't "end" it in the late Spring or early Summer. We are always learning and growing. We are always reading, writing, working with numbers, planting something, watching changes in the seasons, traveling, spending time with our large extended "Tribe". We make art and music and we watch films and cable news. We all read the New York Times every day and we talk about what's going on in the world. Our kids have never been kept out of  so-called adult conversations and they've had the freedom to explore the neighborhood and our small downtown where they know, and are known by, every shopkeeper, coffeehouse college kid, baker and candlestick maker around. We've gone to the Farmer's Market every Saturday morning for over a decade, rarely missing the opportunity to chat with Peter, our favorite farmer, and with Jan, the antique lady, and all the other vendors, friends and neighbors we almost always run into while we're there.

If there is one thing I hoped to pass on to them it is the discipline of paying attention. I wanted to model, and encourage, the idea that paying close attention to what is happening at any given moment facilitates learning and growth. If I wanted my kids to learn how to behave appropriately in all situations, I had to first get their attention; I had to show them, by doing it myself, how to pay attention when someone else is talking and how to respond respectfully. I had to listen to them, and to other people, to model for  them how important it is to be attentive to others.   I had to help them stick with the projects they chose to do, even when bored, even when the project wasn't going well, so that they would know that it's important to pay attention to detail and to ignore impulsive actions based on the emotion of the moment while also teaching them that not everything is worth doing for a variety of reasons--and how to make that determination for themselves.  I couldn't "teach" them these things, I had to show them in my own life and behavior. And showing them how to pay attention, and ensuring that they understood that this was key to everything else, and this, then,  is the "endless and proper work" of parenting, and of living.

I trust myself and I trust my kids. When we are trusting and trusted, learning is unimpeded. We are able to stay out of our kids way and let them travel their own path to the "true self" or, even better, never lose it to begin with.  Living a 'Free Range' life requires self-discipline and a commitment to building relationships of integrity and wholeness.  I'm going to return to this topic of a "Free Range" life with children a couple more times and I hope my exploration of all the implications of making a choice for freedom will come into better focus for everyone, including me, for even as we live something out, being able to detach, from time to time, and reflect on what we're doing and why keeps everything balanced beneath our own "north star". Until next time then.

Peace and Courage ~
Michelle





Friday, June 19, 2009

~To Be of Use~ by Marge Piercy

    The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience, 
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
the pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Tomorrow morning I will be heading back to the U.P. with my family until next Saturday.  I am, as always, eagerly anticipating my time there, looking forward to interacting anew within that context of primal familiarity that nevertheless enables me to be "Surprised by Joy", as C. S. Lewis put it, by water, air, fire, starlight, open space and connection with people I know as well as I know myself and yet, still finding Mystery.  Every year, I arrive at the place, arrange our things in the same cottage, head down to the same beach and find the same chair and move it beneath the bluff.  As I set my overloaded bag down on the sand and look out at the water and sky, I always take a deep breath and release an almost inaudible sigh of tender and profound relaxation, not from any lingering tension in my life, but because the place is my touchstone. My arrival on the beach, ready to spend precious time looking, breathing, reading, thinking and writing and enjoying my family and friends, is not only the high-water mark of my year; it's where my year starts. The cycle of my life, my sense of time passing, is marked by this yearly pilgrimage back to center; my center.   On every square inch of the property, my family and childhood are mixed into the sand and air, the paint and varnish, the kitchen cupboards, the wood floors.  I walk barefoot through the same grass and sand where I once followed my father to our boat in the cool, early morning to go fishing with him.  I listen to the wooden docks creak beneath my feet as they always have, yet now, I can smile with the knowledge that my two boys' helped place these docks, participating in the yearly work that transforms a family home into a Resort for what are now several generations of families.   Work that is real...

 I learned long ago that in order for me to be complete; I have to do real work.  As predisposed as I am to doing not much more than sitting still, watching the world, lost in close observation of something, or someone; finding the questions, seeing the hidden beauty, or fear; the longing, or passion...nosing around in the dark corners and rooting through cluttered up closets...I am lost without putting my hands to something; I have to engage my senses; my body.  I have to knead bread, make soup, attend a laboring woman, love a person, sit with the dying, and the bereaved, plant and tend the garden, play my piano, sing, dance; mother my children.  Someone once said that "work is love made visible" and while I don't like the slightly oozy sentimentality of the phrase, there is a simple truth in it; work is our Art.  Finding our work is finding our peace and our joy! 

It seems odd, then, I suppose, to be talking about work when I am about to head off on holiday!  I'm officially "on vacation" as of 6 hours from now; why talk about work? Well, because part of my work is making this trip each year, and using it as I do; to fuel the fire, to tend my soul, to stay in touch with, and to build up, my interior reality; to stay real.  To stay "close to the root". 

Vincent Van Gogh once wrote to his brother, Theo, that "to know God, you must love many things".  And so it is for me.  To know God, and the True Self that is God-in-us, I have to love many things and in repeating this yearly ritual of recollection and renewal; I stay true to form; I come back home to the Garden...

And in the homestead garden, the corn is almost knee high; it will surely make it there by the 4th of July!  My tomatoes and green peppers are healthy and thriving.  The squash is threatening to take over, as it always does; I didn't plant any pumpkins this year; they're too greedy for space.   The Kale and Broccoli are gorgeous and I have more Romaine than I know what to do with; I over-planted lettuce!  If you're in the area and hankering for fresh salad greens, I have plenty!  We've taken down some mulberry trees and moved our raspberries from one side of the yard to another and transplanted some of our Rose of Sharon to my mother-in law's yard; we've been busy and having a great time!  

I hope those of you who read here regularly will come back and sit with this poem a couple of times this week; it's one I'll be working with in my own writing during this week away.  

Words connected to Place and Spirit...Work that is Real.

Traveling Mercies!

Michelle

 





Tuesday, June 16, 2009

All Will Be Well and All Will Be Well and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well...~ Age Brings Perspective and Peace

I've settled down with Facebook; I was enabled to reestablish ties with an old friend from High School to our mutual joy and benefit and while Facebook doesn't get all the credit, the timing was perfect!  Through a sad set of circumstances ( a family death ) my old friend had to come into town and we were able to spend a long evening getting caught up on 30 years of life and living.  It was a wonderful visit and I've spent not a little time thinking about both our conversation and it's intersection with several of my ongoing trains of thought of recent months.  At one point in the conversation, we were both commenting on the fact that we have a fair number of friends who are considerably younger than we are; most in their 30's but some in their mid-late 20's.  We made small talk about the more typical misalignments between our younger friends and ourselves in the form of popular culture; music, the embrace of and comfort level with technology, changes in communication style etc.  What we didn't discuss at length, but I thought about a lot, was evident only as a current that ran through our mutually guided tour through the landscape of one another's lives.  We spoke of death, divorce, losses large and small.  Horrible situations and tragic circumstances.  He has lost both parents' and a very close friend.  My father and two sons have died plus a few friends, most recently one I've known for 30 years and whose death was both a shock and a heartbreak to me personally on several levels.  I have a child with a disability and young adult kids, plus a teenager!  I have a few health problems that are growing steadily more apparent and require more planning in my day to day life.  We've both seen the ups and downs of marriage, family and parenting over many years.  To most people under 40, say, this sounds like a perfect storm of impossible losses; very few younger people have seen much of death, disability, or tragedy.  Some have, to be sure, and some have been through far worse than anything I've experienced, but on the average, most younger people have little aquaintance with real tragedy, loss or grief.  It just hasn't happened to them yet!  What they have experienced may seem overwhelming in the present moment, may seem insurmountable, even,  but I'm always surprised at how rapidly perspective is gained once a truly irrevocable tragedy occurs, or they finally come face to face with death and the thunderous quiet it brings in it's wake; the disruption that occurs when someone beloved and cared for is really gone...gone to the other side; vanished from sight; lost to us.  Our early losses are preparation for those more devastating manifestations that will surely come; we get some practice sessions with sorrow to be sure.  I can only smile ruefully as I  remember being absolutely out of my head when my cat was hit by a car when I was 22!  I cried for days and couldn't eat or sleep.  I had dark and frightening dreams and a very difficult time working, thinking or doing much of anything beyond sitting in my room, thinking about my poor little orange tabby and his sad fate!  It was a tragedy for me, at the time.  Someone I had been personally invested in, had cared for, fed, and watched grow from infancy, had died, but I responded with far more melodrama when that cat died than I did when either of my sons' died, for instance, by then, I had been through a few more passages with grief;  I knew the drill.  I knew what would help and what wouldn't but I was also just plain older; I was more accepting that life is like that; bad things happen and we go on the best we can.

 What I noticed most about my conversation with my friend from long ago was the sense of peace we both have with life--with the good and bad, horrific and beautiful, tragic and sublime--by 50, you know that life is going to do with you what it will so it's best to just point yourself into the wind and cruise along with it; the dark days will come, and they will go and the sun will shine before the darkness settles in once again...by 50, you know that "all will be well" and you can relax;  you can smile into the tragedies and difficult days with some equanimity because you know the transience of it; "this too shall pass".  So often, when I am confronted with the dark days of younger friends, I want so much to be able to convince them that it will get better; that time does heal and that sometimes, there is meaning in what we're going through that can only be viewed from down the pike a bit.  So often, I get the sense that my seeming unwillingness to get my own knickers in a twist about someone's present situation is viewed as not caring, or not "getting it" as I've so often heard.  No...I do get it.  I get it far more deeply than they could ever realize but I also "get" something they don't~~It will pass.   Whether you do anything "about it", whether you put your whole heart, soul and all the family finances into fixing it, whether you decide to "suffer" with it, or just ride it out~~it will pass.  There is no good way to give that gift of peace and contentment in the moment to another person unless they are very, very open to receiving it, unless they want it, until they know themselves that life is not just some absurd endurance test, something to "get through"; it's all something to embrace, it's all gift, even, perhaps especially, the really hard stuff.  The gift is in our willingness to embrace the Mystery.  I've been rebuffed, more than once, for telling people that peace and contentment, yes, even a happy and functional family life, are an inside job; it's from deep within that the external reality takes it's shape.  We can't force it to happen from outside ourselves. The urge to flee, to escape, to not notice, to have someone "fix" it, or us, is powerful, especially in our culture.  We don't accept the notion that most of what is wrong in our lives and with our families or marriages or any of the myriad areas of endeavor we find ourselves in is a lack of simple patience and a willingness to learn from what's happening, to accept ourselves and our circumstances as something to learn about, and from....then, only then, does changing what we find needs changing become possible and in my experience, it becomes easy, fairly effortless. We have to learn to sit still....sit in the dark, live with the pain, persevere and be patient with ourselves and others.  

My friend and I have now raised children to young adulthood; we are happy with our children and the lives they're creating for themselves but I think we both see how little we had to do with it all, in the end.  People are born with the ability to forge their own path, make their own way; children need love, freedom, privacy, respect and parents' who trust themselves, and life.  As so many parents' are discovering, too much worry, anxiety and effort towards organizing and managing kids' lives is hurting the children, destroying marriages neglected by over-focus on parenting and creating a generation of kids who view themselves as their parents' "projects" and not as people in their own right.  I've been very, very happy to read all the new articles and book reviews about this backlash against "over parenting" or "helicopter parenting" as it's sometimes called.  In the world of childbirth that I inhabited for so long, I can only hope that the moment is now ripe to challenge the culture of "competitive childbirth" that has set so many women up for perceived failure when they aren't able to have, or don't care about, a particular type of childbirth experience so that women and families can truly take back childbirth, reminding the larger culture that all birth is sacred and that creating a market on the backs of vulnerable pregnant and new mothers that tells them that there is a "right way" and a "wrong way" to grow, birth and raise a child is what will truly allow "choice" to be a meaningful word for the the majority of women; I can't wait.

So, to all my young friends, even though I know you don't believe me, won't listen, and think I'm daft:  We who are entering the second half of our hoped for century of living can tell you that whatever it is that is shaking you now, whatever it is that is causing you pain and suffering right now, whatever you've read, or been told is the new panacea for all your ills and problems~~ here's the Truth:  Everything will be O.K.  Everything will be fine; just wait.  Just live it out.  One step at a time.  One day at a time.  As the medieval mystic, Julian of Norwich said after her one nights' showing of spiritual reality~~"All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

I'll have a short post by Friday before heading up to the UP for vacation; my books and journals are packed and I am very ready to go sit on my beach.  In the meantime, the garden is thriving, we're eating lettuce and I have tiny green peppers and little tomatoes coming along.  My friend and I had a marvelous visit and have remained in regular contact on...yup...Facebook ( ha! ) and I'm having a very, very good, fruitful and peace-filled summer so far; a few speed bumps, some things having to be permanently laid to rest but all of that goes towards a larger sense of that deep and abiding peace that is truly our hearts' desire.

Later in the week then...

Michelle.



Friday, June 12, 2009

Aristotle once said, "He who is friend to all, is friend to none"...thoughts on Facebook and what Friendship means.

Earlier this week, I fell prey to exactly the kind of foolishness I ordinarily eschew, that being increased interaction with technology.  I signed up for Facebook....yeah, I know.

I did it for one simple and indefensible reason:  people I love asked me to.  Friends and family members have been encouraging me for some months to sign on so that I could better "keep in touch" and see their pictures ( I almost never show any of mine, I don't know how to put them up and I have too little interest in learning ) and share the day to day happenings and all that.  The problem is, I absolutely never do "all that".  I share almost nothing of my day to day life and I'm very happy with the privacy such self-imposed obscurity allows me.  I don't like to talk about myself with strangers; I have a hard time writing blog posts that contain any personal content because I am suspicious of the notion that anyone can write "the truth" about themselves.  The "truth" that most people write is actually only their immediate, emotional reaction or response to something; how they "feel" about it in the present moment.  My understanding of "truth" is that it's something that requires a lot of reflection, a lot of thought and time and even then, I'm not sure it can be called "truth" in any objective way.  I find myself cringing inwardly when someone says, or writes, "I'm just speaking my truth; sorry if it bothers you" primarily because I don't believe anyone who tells me that; what truth might be in that statement is found somewhere in it's secondary clause: they aren't actually "sorry" if it bothers you; they hope it does.  They're counting on it.  And therein we have the "lie" of telling the "truth".  So....so.

The Facebook thing is very strange, I think.  I signed up and within the hour, people I don't know personally were arriving in my email in-box asking to be my "friends".  Now, my 50 year old sense of propriety and etiquette doesn't allow me to do what I guess everyone else does; just say "no".  That would be rude, wouldn't it?  That would be artless and cold and very definately not "friendly".   I don't know how to do that.  So I said "yes"....to everyone.  I also suffered through the embarassed confusion of misunderstanding what it means when you get the "suggestion" of someone to be your friend; I thought that meant that they wanted me to be their friend, so I sent out "invitations" to folks' I am dead sure do NOT want to be my friend, on Facebook or anywhere else.   My long-suffering husband and children have taken mercy on my abject ignorance and have now given me sufficient tutorial to avoid the worst faux pas' but I really have grave reservations about the whole thing.

Friendship as I have known, practiced and desired it means deep connection and a certain emotional, spiritual and yes, whenever possible, physical proximity; I like to see my friends, actually sit in a room looking at them, taking them in, listening to all that they're saying through words, yes, and through their eyes and body language.  I like to share a meal and a bottle of wine, or a few dark and wonderful beers, and really be "with" them.  The idea of someone on a computer being my "friend" in any way I can inhabit the word is on some other order of existence for me.  I can appreciate email and Facebook and blogs as mechanisms to share oneself, or one's thoughts, ideas and interests with others, even those unknown, and to keep in touch with true friends who are far away but there is something wrong, something isolating and very false about the whole "Facebook" world.  I don't think I've ever felt more lonely, or set apart, or lost then I did yesterday evening as I sat down and looked at my Facebook page and all the people and comments and "wall" writing and so forth and realized that I knew almost none of the people involved.  I haven't yet had a chance to let most of my own friends and family know that I'm on Facebook; just one friend from High School, to whom I am very grateful because he responded to my request so quickly and with such welcoming warmth and hospitality; I felt a little more at home on my own Facebook page seeing him there!

I'm just too old for this stuff.  I also take it too seriously, I know.  I really get that most people just do this and have whatever fun they have with it but I don't do that about almost anything.  Another friend of mine told me that he really likes that he can look up old friends from school, even Grammar School, and know where they are and what they're doing.  How strange is it, though, and how perhaps again, false, that we would know more about someone 30 years on, about the fact that they are traveling away on vacation tonight, or having steak for dinner, when we didn't, and wouldn't, know either of those things, necessarily, when we lived up the street from them as children?  There's something voyeuristic about it that makes me vaguely dizzy and squirmy and it begs the question I've asked often in my writing here: what is happening to our sense of privacy and mystery?  From birth videos on YouTube ( an interesting article on that topic in the NYT's yesterday ) to people sharing the most intimate personal, even bodily, details and telling things about their children, or spouses or parents or friends, often by name...what does that mean to us?  What do we lose, as a culture, as people, when we no longer maintain our local ties and relationships to the extent that we share more of ourselves with strangers in a virtual reality while increasingly avoiding the real risks, pleasures and depth of true, one-on-one connection and friendship?  How many people imprison themselves in their homes, sitting at the computer for hours and hours and losing the very human skills of conversation and loving and devoted friendship?  There is a lot of peace and security that comes of sticking it out with people, a real sense of accomplishment that comes from staying in the conversation and the relationship and working together to resolve the inevitable quarrels and conflicts of relationship in real time and face to face.  Just as people so often never know the satisfaction of living in one community for a lifetime, becoming truly local to a place, culture and time, so too, many people never experience genuine, life long friendship and lose the perspective that historicity gives to anyone; staying connected to real people is important work.  

So I don't think I like all this "virtual" stuff.  I most certainly don't trust it.

I don't know what I'm going to do about Facebook.  I'm hoping the current flurry of activity dies down some and that perhaps once I actually get people I know showing up I'll develop a better comfort level with it but I don't know; it may not be for me.  I try to keep up, I really do.  But that feeling of isolation and disconnection that I experienced while staring at my Facebook page cannot be my reaction alone; I think a lot of people feel this way, experience it in similar fashion.  I know only that I want the term "friendship" to mean something far more valuable and hard won than simply signing on to a computerized social network that, from my scant observation, seems to take up an enormous amount of time and energy for the people most involved in it and that time, then, is not going to real relationships and connection with real people and I'm not sure we need more of that in the world....

Facebook......funny term isn't it?  Facebook.

So...there.   A little something extra from me this week!

Enjoy the weekend everyone.

Michelle.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Weekly Round: Commentary on Lisa Belkin's Article in the New York Times Magazine, "The Collapse of the Perfect Parent."

As I sat drinking my coffee on the porch Sunday afternoon, working my way through the New York Times, I finally picked up the weekly Magazine section, noted the cover photo/story of former President, Bill Clinton, promising to get back to it as I still love Bill, and began flipping through the pages.  On page 19,  my eyes landed on the title: "Let the Kid Be--could the era of overparenting be over?" by Lisa Belkin in which she also riffs on a new book being published currently in the UK called 'The Idle Parent: Why Less Means More When Raising Kids'.  I almost wept with gratitude at the very existance of both; it's so heartening when the truth is finally revealed!  The article goes on to discuss a fairly recent trend away from the "helicopter" or "hovering" parenting style that has been, in my view, the undoing of sane and good people who happen to have kids for most of the last 20 years!  I couldn't help smiling inwardly as I recalled my own writing on this topic, and the confusion mixed with a blend of skeptical desire expressed to me as folks' have tried to make sense of my forthright declaration of myself as the quintessential "lazy parent" ~ an unschooling, relaxed, free, happy and eccentric mum who often didn't exactly know what my children were doing at any given moment because they were outside somewhere being kids.  A few resolutely questioned the depth of my maternal commitment given that I confess to having prioritized my own needs, desires and even a few whims because I truly believe that self-care is the only honest way to care deeply and passionately for others; I cannot give from a depleted sense of my own life and living.  I also truly believed that my job as a parent was not to ensure that my children had a "perfect"childhood, and every possible advantage in life, but to give them a safe and loving space in which to explore themselves and the world around them in freedom; to embrace their liberty and find their own truth.  They weren't allowed to do "anything they wanted", in fact, we kept a pretty tight ship, organizationally speaking, and we have a quite strict code of discipline in terms of behavior but it was organized around our definition of "loving" behavior and peacemaking.   I have always felt that children needed to assimilate fairly communitarian values so that they could understand,  from a very early age, as soon as it's developmentally appropriate, that all behavior and decisions impact others, for good or ill, and that no one in a family--parent or child--has a right to behave in any way that negatively impacts other family members.  Behavior or decisions that are hurtful, destructive or selfish require apology, amends and a genuine attempt to restore equity, and peace, to the relationships and thus, to the "community".  Once that basic understanding is internalized--and that process takes time, patience and unrelenting repetition to become a truly interior value--creating an atmosphere of peace, cooperation and loving care and attention within the family, becomes fairly automatic. 

Reading this article was interesting to me on several levels, not the least of which was the sense of relief I had that someone out there was actually thinking sensibly about these issues, and, of course, reaching conclusions in line with my own thinking ( and who doesn't like that? ) but more than that, I honestly believe that the emotional, physical, spiritual and financial cartwheels and torture that I have watched in utter bemusement over the last decade is wholly dysfunctional and unhealthy, as well as unsustainable.  As women and parents devote enormous life energy into worrying about everything from how and where they give birth, breast or bottle, demand feeding or schedule, to day-care or not,  homeschooling or not, or how to homeschool, or which private or public school, or how to ensure that their kid(s) makes the Ivy Leagues',  they erode those precious years of parenting--of loving and living with the children of their hearts--waking up one day finally realizing that the time, and the children, have gone on. They're too often left with the sad realization that after pouring everything they've had into doing all of it "right", with being so over-focused on "outcome", they are left empty, sad, depressed and with a lot of life left to live and having to recreate something 'whole' out of a "self" that has no personal meaning to them.  It's a very hard, uphill climb at that point and too often, it results in attempts to continue being over-involved with young adult children to everyone's dismay and unhappiness.

Children need to be children and adults need to be adults!  There is nothing novel about that concept and it has, in fact, been the organizing principle of family life through most of human history.  It's only been in the very recent past that the very term "parenting" has become a subject distinct from the idea of having a family; it has become an endeavor, and something that too many women, in particular, are building an entire identity and life around and then struggling with much the same question posed by women in the late 1950's-- "What is the problem that has no name?"  Anyone out there ever read "The Feminine Mystique" back in the day?  The problem is one of submerging all one's energies into one's reproductive and parenting roles and then not knowing how to reclaim a solid sense of self apart from that.  Children suffer, as they always have, when parents use their children as their sole source of self-esteem and worth.  Children then lack sufficient freedom and privacy to develop their own sense of these same, very necessary attributes of being whole and complete persons.  It becomes a silent, but disabling, disorder or dysfunction that becomes a multi-generational reality.

So, yeah....Let the kids Be.  Send them outside to play.  Make yourself a cup of coffee and go sit and read for awhile.  Spend time on your marriage/partnership and friendships.  Be an example to your children of interdependence, community-building and peacemaking out in the world.  Allow your children the freedom to become who they are; who they were created to be.  

Beyond my musings about the State of Parenting in the Post-Modern World...nothing much.  I had dinner last night with a friend I haven't seen in more than 13 years and had a wonderful time.  The garden is growing although my lettuce is looking a bit brownish here and there.  The weather continues to be a bit on the cold side for June but the intermittent rain is good for growing things.  My interior world is experiencing the renewed inner healing I've needed and I'm having a great time overall.

Have a good week.

Michelle.