The Ending of a Friendship

My girlfriend doesn’t want to be friends anymore.   Despite the loss I feel, ending this relationship is a relief.

My friend is a complex woman. She is intelligent, bright, attractive, creative, multi-talented, soulful. I have found her advice and support valuable.  Her creative life has inspired me and delighted me.

And she is particular. Very particular. Princess and the pea particular. She is an introvert who weighs and measures the time she spends outside of her work. She won’t try something unless she is sure she will receive the greatest reward for the time she puts into it.  Even if you travel  to see her,  she is still brutally honest about what she wants to do and when she wants to do it . She might be in the mood. She might be tired and need to take a nap. She might not feel like going out right then. She is being true to herself in the moment.

If you love her, you accept that.

I thought I did. I know I tried to.

The quality of her insight and her limited calendar had made my friend more attractive and important to me.

Maybe she is more authentic than many,  and honest enough to say what she thinks. Or maybe she is manipulative. I don’t know what the truth is.  But I do know I spent time, waiting and wanting her to be available. I told myself that she was worth it.

In the last few years, this on-again off-again availability became frustrating.  Her unpredictability and my desire for her time conflicted.  I felt resentful that she didn’t venture out to visit me.  I spent more time talking to her husband than I did to her.  That ended up being a problem, too.

When my husband griped about her specialness, I saw a new viewpoint.  I noticed that I was not okay with her unavailability.  I pulled back.

Still, I still considered her a good and worthy friend. I still sought her support, and missed her if too much time went by.  I should have known that something was wrong, but I didn’t.  In my world we (I) just had to work harder to understand each other (her). Or just live with it the way it was.

Then, her father died.

I didn’t show up the way she wanted me to.  She was disappointed and angry. And punishing. In response to her feelings, and for my sense of honesty and authenticity,  I soul-searched. I noticed my emotional sloppiness. I questioned myself. I know I was guilty of some lapses of awareness. I agonized about losing her as a friend. I was abjectly disappointed in myself. How could I have not been less than 100% truthful? I compared myself to her and came up short.

I wanted things to heal between us.  I tried to make amends.  Even though there were wounds, I felt that we were “getting real” with one another, “working things out.” In reality,  it was the beginning of the end of the friendship.

Her point of view had some truth in it. But I magnified that truth until there was no truth… there  was only the unforgivable fact that I was a “bad “ person. I had been unconscious. I was filled with self-loathing and shame. I lost sight of myself and went deep into the hole with no cheese.

As long as I focussed on my inadequacies, ( imagined through her eyes,) I was in a hell-realm of my own making. I was bad, bad to the bone, and deserved to be punished. If I could have had eagles eating out my liver, it would not have been enough. Once the mechanics of unconscious self-flagellation went into play there was no longer a witness to say what was fair or not.  I crawled around on my belly and took my medicine like a woman.

Over time, we seemed to make-up.

And more important,  I was done punishing myself. Regardless of what I did, my actions were forgivable.  I made a mistake.  That’s all.

Not in the eyes of my friend. Things were damaged. She said she couldn’t trust me any longer.

I couldn’t change what she thought. I had no control over whether she would accept my humanness, my inadequacies, or want to move forward.

But I did have choice about how I treat myself. Right now my well-being is more important than my friend’s opinion of me. I have to live with myself.

It is possible to forgive my errors without having to pay penance for several lifetimes. Enough is enough.

I made a mistake thinking my friend as a different person than she is– that she was my champion. A bad choice, because that is not her job. It’s my responsibility to keep my positive opinion of myself, not to expect it or need it from her. If you get strokes it’s nice, but don’t get addicted to them.

It’s important to abandon the illusion that there is a perfect way to be, where no one will ever get pissed off at you; that you will never again make an unconscious and messy mistake. Or that everyone will love you all the time. Forget about it.

At the end of this difficult time I got a great reward: rediscovering, remembering this vital connection to myself.

So here’s what I learned:

It  isn’t about whether you are right or wrong, although it feels that way.

Apologize for your-less-than-perfect-ass.  Forgive her less-than-perfect ass.

Move to the center of your chest…that tender, soft, gooey place.

Say ‘thank you’, say ‘I love you’ to yourself.  Thank her for having been your friend. Send her love. Say goodbye.

And move on.

Advertisements

Silent Retreat of August 2014

Silent Retreat of August 2014

I have been attending a silent meditation retreat all this week. There is no outward speech, but by no means is it silent.

When Jesus got together with his disciples he said, “Whenever two or more are gathered in My name there is…”  The end of the sentence should have said , “there is disagreement,  doubt, fear, animosity, and lots of projection.”  I am right and you, (whoever you are,) are wrong.  And in retreat, not one of you says a word!

In silence with others you see the contents of your garbage-y mind. You begin by being unaware that you are commenting about everything and everyone.  The background mutterance (barely detected), contains all your continuing assessments and judgements.

A week of silence is a whole week where you look at and own your inner crap you project onto others (and yourself) every minute of every day. All the time. Constantly.

You might be the kind of person who placates, ameliorates, ingratiates– a beta dog crawling around on your stomach. “Don’t reject me, don’t hurt me. Please,” with a winsome, winning, smiley whine. In silence, this behavior is more visible, and harder to bear.
Or, possibly, you are the kind of person who ‘judges unto others’.  You might implode instead. ’God, these people are so weird. Look, this guy is taking up all the cushion space! He breathes so loud when he meditates! Sheesh! Some people!’

If you are not rendering the verdict or punishing yourself, you are mentally flipping someone else the bird.

In silence, in a retreat, you get to see every one of these moment to moment judgements, thoughts and boy, oh, boy. mmm. Some are quite astounding. And with no speaking, they lay where they lay. In your mind, not on others.
For example, I see this woman and just by what she wears I type her in less than two seconds. Wealthy, divorced, conservative.Even though we are on retreat, she is wearing Eileen Fisher quality, beautiful haircut. I have her pegged. Marin, or San Francisco. Or Santa Fe.
Then just before she eats her food, she bows her head. A softening of her face, and a long moment passes before she picks up her fork to eat. The projection I have held of her is blown.

 I may have been right about all the externals. I might be right that she is privileged and monied. That simple act of grace and bowing before she ate made those judgements irrelevant.

But maybe that is a projection, too. It’s a hall of mirrors guys.

As someone new walks by, the radar says: Straight or gay? Married or single? Holy or holier than thou? If I like them, I smile. If I  don’t like them, I imagine that they don’t like me. I wonder if I did something wrong. I cringe.
And how would I know the meaning of any of these projections anyway? It’s a moment by moment play of how my mind sees, filters, imagines, and daydreams.
And this is going on all day, every day, as the cast of characters at the retreat walk about on the conference center grounds, in silence.
It is as Rinpoche says,  “See the monkey mind, doing what it does.”

There are also my inner projections: “This was smart, that was dumb,” cringing with self- loathing at the ineptitude of this being called me.
Or … congratulating myself for being brilliant, insightful, having special effects like kriyas, or bliss bombs showering all over me and up and down my spine.  This means I must be very highly evolved. Or it just may be that my kundalini is out of whack and needs reé´alignment and I have gas.  Who knows what it means? You sit and see all of it. The fantasies of how I can be noticed by the teacher, or the flaws of the teacher or the teaching. Pay your ticket and you too can go to the movies. What’s playing? “The Life of Me”, starring me and everyone I know.

I – you– the drama unfolding– can be funny, sad, nervous, death-defying, all of it. The circus is in town.

That is why you may go (even though you don’t want to) on a silent retreat.

My knees are killing me, and I am falling asleep in half the meditation sessions. And there is something so important about getting close enough to your own inner landfill that makes all the discomfort worth it.

But I am not going to sign up for another retreat next week. I will wait until my knees heal. It make take a few years.

Meanwhile, back at the mindfulness ranch, awareness is corralling random projections into a big pen. The monkeys have crawled out of the mind and are serving the projections as left-overs, and they are all as happy as pigs in shit.

 

 

I am not the center of the universe and it sucks.

When I entered this incarnation I was supposed to be celebrated. That’s what they told me would happen. I would be seen for my gifts and talents and encouraged to become a whole being. Instead, I found that if I wanted something, I had to work to make it happen. Including getting fed. No one else did it for me!?  I just want to say: I am angry and resentful that I arrived here unrecognized and unwelcome…sad, too. Disappointed in fact.

 

Yet I blame myself for expecting so much.

 

But…no one in my family ever mentioned their  welcome on the planet. It just wasn’t discussed. Maybe if their arrival sucked, they were a little bitter or cynical. Maybe they were  just as disappointed too.  Did they have to work for love and appreciation?

 

As I got older everything became more confusing. Not only wasn’t there celebration, but I was teased, and ”jokingly” criticized. Everyone thought it was funny. I didn’t. Should I?  Erroneously, I concluded that there was something wrong with me. Look, they had love and regard! They seemed to know the answers. They thought teasing was funny! They said I was oversensitive and a drama queen.
Maybe I needed to do something special to win their approval. If love and acknowledgment didn’t come with the package, maybe I was being too impatient, too selfish.

It’s hard to understand what you feel when you don’t know how to identify it. There is no language for “knowing” a feeling until there is. Sometimes you have to blow it up really big to know what an emotion ‘means’.

 

By the way, I didn’t “figure out” any of this as a child–it was simply the background reality. A fish doesn’t inquire about the water it swims in.

I wasn’t beaten or molested. I felt insecure and anxious, but what of it? Get over yourself!

I didn’t know in the beginning of my journey on earth that there is a source of love and approval within. All I did know is that I wanted attention, and that feeling was accompanied by a fear of loss. My inner critic was telling me how selfish and whiney I was.

 

What I do know is a habit of mind formed around this want: ‘I need attention. I will turn myself inside out to be acceptable.’  That didn’t work either. I was panicky trying to understand how to fit in!

 

I lost sight of the most precious object that I have—my own true heart. In fact, I really didn’t focus on myself at all. I over-focused on myself–but not the real me, the awkward child, me.  My senses turned outwardly  for love, I hadn’t yet discovered that there is love within, inherent.  How would I know that love was anywhere other than through my parents, siblings, and schoolmates approval?

When I began to sense that there was another way to feel, I tried to find a road map, a magic trick, to locate this place inside, the love within. It seemed elusive, like words from a self-help book. They point to something that rings true, but how to finding the path is confusing. The GPS gives bad directions. No such address exists.

 

Over time if you hit yourself in the hard enough with a claw hammer, you begin to see the light. The same spot hurts the same way each time. Nothing changed just because I blamed others or myself for not getting the love I want. It was subtler than that.

 

When I stop listening to the kvetching, sadness, the blaming, and the numbing, I quiet down. Somewhere inside me there is a strong, deep, thrumming, vibrating sound and a warm feeling. Somewhere inside, there is a big celebration that I was born, that I grew up the fucked up way that I did, and that I still feel neurotic and connected to my ‘stories’. There is awareness that all the tsuris was designed simply to bring me to this moment, right here and now.

 

Welcome to my life!

 

Dear Cynthia,

Dear Cynthia,

I am writing this to you–knowing you can’t read it, knowing I can’t reach you by phone or e-mail (not that you ever used email!).  I am writing this because I am thinking of you now—and have been thinking of you through weeks of rewriting this letter– trying to say the right words about our long years of friendship, knowing I will never see you again in bodily form.

I miss you. I missed you the moment I knew you were gone. I felt a sweet pang, with sharp tears. Just like that. Then I thought: you don’t have to struggle to breathe any more. You don’t have to cover your ass. Nothing. It’s all free for you, and I felt so happy.

When we last talked, ten days before you died, you said that you wanted to be remembered as having “passed away,” not “passed, for God’s sake!” People who said “passed” instead of “passed away’” were offensive to you.  And remember, you said: “ I don’t want that song, ‘Amazing Grace’ either.  Feh!”

Remember? We laughed!  “Feh” and “oy”, “whatever ”, “yeah, right” and “ugchh.”(spoken with a  long, dry, guttural throat chhh sound.)  Our communication is sounds and gestures– exchanging looks and rolling the eyes–multi-dimensional.

And you aren’t Jewish.  Okay, okay, you did convert. That gives you some kvetching rights.

We met in our twenties during the sixties. There’s a whole story in that one sentence. You knew me, my essence, and my neuroses before I was fully grown-up. You are a placeholder of my history.

 We were hippies. We lived together in a funky commune–kids, cats, and six ”grown-ups”. You were a different kind of hippie; you had a straight job. You were older by five years. You had two kids.

 We loved the psychodrama encounter groups held at the Forest Street commune down the street: Monday, Thursday, Friday nights and marathon weekends, led by Vic Lovell, the edgy psychologist.  Psychodrama was all about exploring emotions, repressions, aggressions, depressions. We “worked” on our issues by acting them out in the fishbowl. This was the most amazing thing I had ever experienced! I was from New York. You didn’t talk about feelings. You said, “Get outta here.”

You and I were a part of the Psychodrama Workshop, where we learned how to “act.” We “actors” would step into the circle and play the role of  parents, girlfriends, bosses, whoever the protagonist had a “situation” with. But really, what the hell were we doing? Experimental psychology? Guerilla theatre? Did any of us, including Vic, our fearless leader, have a clue?

I remember our meetings, sitting around the circle, smoking cigarettes, discussing someone’s ego, or id, or asshole.  In that day the heaviest trip that you would lay on someone was: “You’re copping out, man!”   And you and I, we were the “in” crowd–“the actors.” Of course, we never copped out!

I left the psychodrama practice before you did. The work didn’t fit me anymore, but it was hard to leave this group. You were my chosen tribe–my first homies away from home.

By that time, you married Ed and no longer lived in the commune. You had two more kids, boys– and our lives went in separate directions. While you were raising your boys and girls and I was going through something else. I went to college and other things.

Nonetheless we connected.

I remember a time you were smoking a cigarette in your VW, stopped at a light on the corner of University and Ramona.  I was on the street corner with my boyfriend Bob.  I saw you, impulsively jumped in your car, and we drove away. That’s the way it was with us. Big spaces of time with no connection, but our relationship was gold.

Do remember when you organized that psychodrama reunion?   You got me, Fred, Nick, Richard, and others to come for a salute of our past and to the continuance of Vic’s work. We all went out afterwards. You were still connected to Vic and the practice. I couldn’t understand it.

We lived near each other in the late eighties. I would see you in the morning at the liquor store on the corner, buying cigarettes. You had just gotten off your night shift working at the hospital. We said ‘hi,’ but there was very little connection in our lives.

Then, something changed.

Grace died. Grace, the red-headed loud-mouth, with her eagle-eyed squint, the mater suprema of the psychodrama tribe, died. We reconnected on the boat in Monterey dispersing Grace’s ashes. Remember? You said “It’s no accident that we were meeting again. We need to reconnect this friendship.”

I don’t know if you knew, but I was hesitant to get involved again. I was so busy. I had a business, a husband, and a young child.  I was drumming–taking classes all over the Bay Area, studying Hebrew at Stanford. I had a band, was writing a newsletter, and had a cable TV show. I had huge amounts of energy and excitement and involvement in all of my life, and didn’t know if I wanted to invest in someone else.   But you lived right down the block.  It was good to have a girlfriend to hang with, especially one that knew me.

I began to drop in and visit you. If your car was parked in front of the house I’d blast by for coffee and a cigarette in the back yard. We began sharing our current lives. Your husband, Larry, and my husband, Glenn, your kids from different marriages, and my son. Tantra classes with our spouses. My mother, who you adored.

Later, I fell in love with Terrance, and solving that problem–(Terrance wasn’t my husband yet, and Glenn still was) strengthened our bond. I lived in two worlds: in one I was ecstatically in love; in the other I was abjectly miserable, guilty, ashamed. But I was not willing to stop seeing my lover.  You knew about this struggle. You read it in me. You shared it with me. And you covered for me. You had nothing against Glenn. You just wanted to see me happy.

Remember when you got bossy? In fairness, I welcomed it–originally. I needed your advice. You were my big sister, my mother. Over time I depended on you too much. But I was dishonest with you. I didn’t tell you,”Stop being like my mother!” Instead, I crept away from our relationship. I put on my cloak of invisibility. Looked like someone was there, but it wasn’t me.

When you decided to get a facelift I wasn’t honest enough to tell you that I didn’t want you to change your precious face. I thought your desire was vain and silly and unjustifiably expensive. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy for your skin to heal after years of smoking.  I didn’t tell you that. I acted it out. I didn’t show up post surgery. And that broke an unwritten law in your world. You fired me as your friend.

I didn’t want to be excommunicated. I called you and wrote letters. I begged for forgiveness and you resisted. You were so stubborn that you were admirable–in a stupid way. For six or seven years you wouldn’t communicate with me. I called your kids and asked about you, hoping that would encourage you to call. You didn’t.

Then, your heart attack. Your daughter, Wendy, called. I hate hospitals but I came immediately. You,  intubated and unconscious. I came and went with the family, and I was there when you came out of your coma more than a week later. Do remember that?

In the beginning, you couldn’t speak. When you did, you told me to fuck myself. Then you thanked me for being there for your kids.

We had a good laugh.

Thank god, you stopped smoking.

As your heart healed, we’d talk on the phone or see one another again. Our friendship was in the eternal now.

Last year I noticed that you’d been wearing a wig. I asked Wendy about it. Wendy said, “Ask Mom.” I asked. You wouldn’t tell me. But, of course, I knew the answer. Wendy confirmed that you had been diagnosed with cancer– two kinds; brain and lung. I tried to talk with you about it, remember?  I said, “I think I know what the wig is about ,” and you said, “Well, don’t tell me.” End of subject. The elephant was standing in the middle of the living room with wig on its head and we couldn’t talk about it.

Finally, in our last conversation, over the phone, you opened up: you felt shame that people would judge your cancer because of all those years of smoking.  Do you remember what I told you? I said, “We do what we do to survive, even if we are killing ourselves by doing it.”

By the end I could hear you panting for breath. You didn’t let it stop you. You kept talking until everything was ironed out between us; everything was complete. You said that you wished you could see my face one more time and I would love to have granted that wish, but I was in Sequim, and you were in the Bay Area, and before I could make the time, you were gone.

So I miss you, my very dear friend.

I selfishly miss you as someone who knows me so well– who holds history with me–knew my mother, my son, my brothers, my teachers, my marriages, as well as our story. I am grateful for your kids and for all the gifts that you gave me– the support, the conditional and unconditional love. I want to ask you if I could have done or given anything more to make a difference in your life.

Sadly, the choice is taken from me once again. I can’t see you or call you. All I can do is write.

Luck? Gratitude.

 Because my habit of mind is looking at what is missing in my life, or what’s wrong, or what could be wrong, I sometimes don’t see what a great life I am actually having. Isn’t that odd?

So I’ve removed my head from my butt for just a few minutes to share (and maybe crow about) some of the highlights of this amazing life that I live.

  • One: I have awesome jobs!

Job 1: I teach drumming and rhythm to people who feel called to it.They might not know they are called, but if you show up for one of my classes, you’ve been called.

I am especially good at working with:

Beginners: I deeply enjoy teaching the BASICS of drumming–how to make sounds, explore rhythms, having fun making music. Learning the origins of rhythms in the oral tradition. Creating a village through playing together.

Explorers: Folks who want to explore rhythm as a means to mindfulness, health and vitality.  Get your strength and focus on with drumming!

Musicians: Anyone who wants to deepen their understanding and knowledge of rhythm, timing, and expression. This is the real deal. Learning about time and space is NOT for sissies. Rhythm can kick your ass

 If I am just in my own quiet bubble, not comparing myself to anyone else, or my approach to other system of learning, I feel good about my teaching and its contribution to the world. I  have had quite a few students progress and become teachers in their own right, and I count that as an indicator of “success.”I see that people feel happy when they are drumming. They smile and their body language expresses relaxation and joy. Drumming is magical, transformative AND fun! And I get to teach it!

I also guide people in TaKeTiNa, a different kind of rhythmic work. TaKeTiNa is a musical rhythmic process which engages people through their whole bodies–with stepping, clapping and singing. This modality connects to rhythmic intelligence by grounding it in the body–before playing an instrument. TaKeTiNa boggles the minds, delights the senses and cannot be explained easily– since it is not a linear process. I enjoy the evolution that people go through as they let go into a deeper sense of knowing.

Job 2: I read Tarot cards. I started to learn the Tarot in 1973, when I started exploring  spirituality and the occult. I am largely self-taught.  I settled in with the Crowley deck, and I read cards for the Spring and Summer Renaissance Faire  in Northern and Southern California from 1974 to 1977. There were also long periods of time where I didn’t want anything to do with the psychic world: it took too much energy for me to read. It was difficult for to confront the pain some people brought with them. They come looking for solutions. What if I can’t help?

Last year I began to read again “professionally”, at a metaphysical bookstore in Port Townsend, Washington, not far from where I live.  The world of the Tarot is a mystery for me, always fresh and new. I don’t know if I am “right “ according to Crowley or not, but my clients seem satisfied.  I intend the readings to be for the highest good for each individual.

Job 3: I marry people.  I do about two ceremonies a year and what I earn doesn’t even dent my cell phone bill! I love the process. I have developed a list of questions that I have the prospective bride and groom answer separately and independently. No, this is not the newlywed game; it’s the Zorina-is-going-to-get-you-to-think-about-being-married game. Each partner is asked to reflect on what they value in the other and also to identify the“ touchy spots” between them. When we read the answers together, there is opportunity to  discuss whatever is unclear. Then I write the ceremony for that couple based on their their answers,using their own words as often as I can, so the ceremony reflects their sentiments, their voice. What a great opportunity to be with people during an important step in their evolution.

  • Two: I have awesome people in my life.

I have family.

I am married to an interesting man who I love and feel deeply connected to. We are on a journey of relationship together that is mysterious and ever-unfolding.  Terrance is a meditation practitioner and lover of all things consciousness-related, primarily with a Buddhist slant. He is also a therapist.  Great chemistry between us. He is my supporter, and true partner. He spoils me and cooks for me, and reminds me to stay in the moment. He is an artist in many ways. He’s a great dancer. I sleep better when we are together. He remodels our houses and he built our studio. He is my life companion and we are evolving our co-creative abilities.We’re two very different people and there are sometime impasses. He would like me to go on more retreats, and I would like him to be more social or to like watching trivial movies. And there we are. The longer we have been together, the deeper the curiosity of our “other”-ness becomes. Respect, intimacy, love and affection, and learning and humor are mainstays.

I have kids.

I gave birth to a wonderful son with my first husband, Glenn. Terrance ( husband number two)   has brought a step-son, daughter-in-law and grandson into our lives . I am amazed at the close relationship that we share (or at least I feel that way). We are friends as well as family.  I  absolutely love Thanksgiving, because it is when we get to hang out. I realize the treasure of feeling close to our children.I also appreciate the evolution of these relationships as they changes from parent-children to equals and family.

I have two wonderful brothers.

Both of them are introverts, which means I sometimes don’t understand them, but I definitely love and appreciate them. Because of family dynamics and a wonderfully (note: sarcasm)  controlling mother, we spent many years away from each other, developing own lives and families.More recently, Queen Judith the Great and Dominant passed on, and contact seems easier. even though they are both older than I am, we’ve agreed that I’m the big sisters, and  am training them to be little brothers  It is important for our education and continued growth to shift the balance from time to time, and for them to to realize that there are other ways of looking at the dynamics of our relationship.

My middle little brother and I hang out in Florida, where he lives. I remember when we were kids we were reading these Peanuts comic strips. One of the “themes” was Linus imagining himself as a simple yet rich country doctor with a red sports car. That is my middle brother. Mark is a very successful doctor and surgeon who created a thriving practice. He is in partial retirement now. He occasionally assists in surgeries and her raises bees. I love hanging out in the South, eating oysters, walking his four (or sometimes five) dogs, and giving him foot rubs.

Mike, my oldest little brother, and I meet three times a week on-line to write together–if we both remember. He is my first mentor in this life. He turned me on to everything: from Odetta to Joan Baez, how to play guitar, e.e. cummings and jazz. He is very, very bright. Unnecessarily, and without invitation, I used to compare myself to him and always came up short. In our maturity, I see the gifts and talents that I bring to his life.  I appreciate the time that we share, building a new relationship .

Then there are my brothers’ kids, too! Yeah!  and their kids!

I am lucky to have surrogate “children”. These are people who pick me to be part of their family.I have a “spirit” child, who I have known since she was four. One woman calls me her ‘soul‘ mother. I have been connected to her since she was fourteen.  “Nems” – the third woman is a dear, dear friend. I am so fortunate to be chosen to be close to these women. There are others too–soul sons.  When we are together our relationship is beyond the category of “friend”. We have adopted each other.

I have friends.I am  a social being, an extrovert’s extrovert, although as I get older, I need more time to retreat into my own world. However, by any introvert’s standards, I am way out there! I will admit that I am super, super lucky. I  have a few friends that go back as far as high school, but I have even more friends that are part of my first family of choice. No matter how much time and distance there is between us, there is an ageless quality of interaction. My first tribe (outside of my family of origin) was in California:  my psychodrama family. We were part of a group of psychodramatic “actors” lead by Vic Lovell, exploring alternate ways of working on dreams, relationships, problems. We led groups or participated in groups and marathons every week. We lived together in communes, explored the counter culture in every way there was to explore it: sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Also meditation, the occult, bodywork, and alternative healing.

Most of us ended up thriving as professionals: therapists, writers, restaurateurs, computer scientists, deadheads with jobs, entrepreneurs, rolfers, nurses. A few suffered collateral damage and passed on. There is this sense of connection that lasts to this day. Each and every one of them is dear to me. I have a history that cheers me and awes me. We had so much fun, and it was so crazy! I can imagine why Burning Man is so great for so many people… but I feel like I had my Burning Man every day for years. Doesn’t mean that I won’t go to Burning Man someday, but boy oh boy, the sixties was a wild ride.

And I have continued to develop my network of connections, expanding relationships with those I have worked with, taught, and have encountered as like-minded individuals . Sometimes I am better at spending time developing community than one -to-one, but it is because of my tunnel-y visioned propensity. But even given that, mine is a rich, rich  life!

I have had powerful teachers. Give credit where it is due. Starting with my brother Mike, Vic Lovell, Jim Price, Baba Olatunji, Ma Boukaka, Fritz Smith,  Reinhard Flatischler- I have had a series of remarkable teachers and guides. Despite the tough times– the difficulties of learning and the differing of agendas, the wanting and desire to be recognized and accredited by my mentors–I feel enormous gratitude for all that I have learned. With some, there’s unfinished business. With others, our time together on this earthly plane is over. I say it now even if I am no longer being mentored by you: thank you. I am glad our paths crossed.

  •  THREE:I have health.

Despite my tendency to be a drama queen, and the internal crises that I occasionally suffer, I am grateful and fortunate to have a healthy body. I am strong from drumming, walking, yoga, and when not lazy, swimming. I have the embodied ability to dance, sing, express myself in a thousand joyous ways.  Thanks to my genes, my jeans fit year after year. One lucky duck! People say that wealth is not as important as health. As one ‘ages?’ ‘matures?’, you really begin to get it. Things sometimes ache for no apparent reason. There are visits to eye doctors, dentists and the like which are necessary evils. Colonoscopy, pap smears, or mammograms, anyone? Good health is an amazing gift.

In summation:

You might see that I have designed an interesting life for myself. I would even say without fear of jinxing myself that it is rich — filled with interactions that  encourage expansion, growth and positive change . From time to time I lose focus on the map, or forget the friends or family that give meaning to the shape of my days.

But when I do, I just need to open my eyes, look up and out, and remember.

So count your own gifts, the parts of your own lives that flow in the background because they operate so well. Appreciate all the the people that contribute to making your life work, feel supported. Notice the invisible support that life gives you each and every day, the breath that you inhale and exhale. Remember that your life is a journey, not a destination. Nothing is cut and dried. And it ain’t over till the Fat Lady sings.

Depression and Hysteria

I am a hysteric-in-recovery, and I live with an insidious enemy: anxiety/depression, the foundation for an emotional valence that comes and goes.

This morning I am writing. I don’t really care what comes out of the keyboard. That’s not the point. I am in the activity of writing. That’s what matters.

Writing is not as satisfying as getting high and working with Sculpey (polyform clay). At the end of writing there is still more work that needs to be done. It is called rewriting. It goes on and on. There’s always more to do. Kind of like life.

I am in a good place right now. These days I wake up, and tired or not, there is no ambient, overhanging mood. There’s just a map of what I have to do, and a basic sense of well-being that accompanies it .

I do the things that nurture me: go for a walk with my dog, make my morning coffee. Three days a week I meet my brother Mike on-line and we write together in a virtual room 3,000 miles away from each other.

The day has started and the rest of it purrs along– one minor miracle after another. It is amazing how simple, basic, and ordinary life is.

I still have an often-accompanying sense of “I haven’t done enough yet,” but it seems separate from me. Maybe it’s a family trait, or a social convention, and not a personal flaw. I’ve had that same sense of urgency since I was eighteen, so it is nothing new.

In my non-depressive/ anxious state I feel good about life. We are buddies, life and me. We go along together. Nothing bothers me that much or that long. I forget where my keys or cell phone are, but it’s no big. I get annoyed, I get over it quickly. I make a mistake and cringe, but I find my balance again.

But when I am anxious or off-balance it’s different.

I live in a scary place. I don’t breathe. I feel compressed. The fact that I am not breathing increases my anxiety, of course, but there is no use pointing that out to my body. I’m caught in an endless, downward spiral.

I know that I need to change something, but knowing that doesn’t change anything or suggest what I might change. I feel I am being self-indulgent, as if I could simply say “knock it off- won’t you?” and I would, and that would snap me out of it. But I can’t, and that admonition lands on top of all the other negativity that is coloring my perceptions.

When I am in an anxious/depressive cycle, the basic operating mood is dread, and my ambient mood is high alert. It is red on the inner terrorism scale. There is no escape until it ends.

I can’t believe that I am stuck. I rail against myself, as if I could choose to get out of  this state immediately.

I am amazed at people who don’t have the inner emotionality that keeps them frozen in place, waiting for some other being to solve the problem of living and breathing.

I have a name for this phenomenon; I call it “waiting at the train station.” Waiting at the station means someone else has the power to decide what to do with my life… even if they didn’t ask for that power.  I’m waiting at the station because I have unconsciously given up control.

HOW could I do that?

Years of practice.

Believing that what someone else thinks is more important than what I choose. Imagining that choosing to do what I wanted or needed would threaten the source of love I imagined I was dependant on; so tied to. Choosing meant loss, abandonment.

When I was young, my Mom was the Beneficent Goddess of Love, Light, Charm, and FUN. Really quite a powerhouse of a woman. But she could also be the Wicked Witch of the East. When she was ”on the warpath”, (which could happen at any time, for any reason,) she was scary. No wonder, I felt the threat of nuclear invasion as a reality. I needed a bomb shelter to protect me from my own mother. At the same time,  I was completely emotionally dependant on her. I was fleeing her. And I needed her with me. Duck and cover and take the bomb with you.

I am still working on growing that part of myself up.

It comes down to this: tolerating how I feel on red alert. Not pushing it away or trying to explain it. “Knowing” doesn’t help when I’m dread-filled. I have given myself to the Dark Side of the Force and I have fight to keep myself from disappearing into THE DEPRESSIVE PANIC-FILLED UNIVERSE. (Ominous music plays in the background.)

For a long time, I have used my friends to help me tolerate these awful feelings, to make the emptiness more bearable. Sorry guys! I am consciously working on not doing that now. I am sixty-five. I am looking down the road to life’s inevitable conclusion. I want to grow these parts of myself up, to the best of my ability, and be able to navigate the dark forest of my mind, pleasant or unpleasant as it might be. I want to think less negatively and feel more love toward the being that is me.

I have a new plan.

I will develop an avatar–RavenLight Ganesha– the clearer of all obstacles, real or imagined.

The next time I hear the sirens that signal red alert I will ask RavenLight Ganesha for a map to help me out of the Miasma Swamp. It will involve looking for buried treasure or finding hidden trails rather than feeling helpless, overwhelmed and immobilized. RavenLight will carry a flashlight and bring some snacks.  In the middle of moving through the underbrush and those dark, shadowy areas, the lighted terrain will feel more familiar and friendly and the path will appear.

When Is enough enough? Or not enough good enough?

This post tackles the conundrum: can a creative being–say, just for example, me–express themself–say, just for example, myself–without the super-ego (commonly known as the boogie-man critic)–say, just for example, mine–interfering?

What is the deal with my super-ego? Is there a part of my personality so starved for work that the minute I start on something new it feels that it’s job is to tear the hell out of it?
Even as I write these words my boogie-man is busy reminding me that this is a dumb subject, and no one will read it anyway. What a bummer even before I’m two paragraphs in.

OK, boogie man, three.

Lately I have been “producing” re-cycled art with polyform clay. See photo.

A friend who owns an Etsy store turned me onto this. So first, the boogie-man points out, it is not a form that I invented. I “borrowed” it.  Second, it adds, my lines are not even and I run out colors before I finish, therefore the pieces are artistically unbalanced. My critic could go on and on….

And does.

This is a lightweight version of the critic. When she really gets going she wakes me in the middle of the night and broadcasts, in my brain only, a documentary that reviews everything I said or did wrong in my project, featuring how I forgot this and that or I said that and should have said this. It wouldn’t be so bad if the criticism was the least bit constructive, or was broadcast at an hour when I could distract myself with something useful. It isn’t and it isn’t. Whatever I did was not good enough; will never be enough; and that’s because I’m not good enough. And I will never be.

You could call it a habit of mind. Time and time again I remember that it is my responsibility to curb this meanie, and sometimes I do a good job. But I have to be vigilant. Sometimes she changes her voice, or hacks into the mainframe with a new set of passwords. And sometimes she runs a documentary about what a shit job I do handling her.

In my early 40’s I was a young mother.  I was working through mothering issues with my child, and mothering issues with my mother. I was having powerful dreams. I started painting my dreams to understand them better. I painted big canvases for a couple of years–producing about twenty of them. They were non-painterly, meaning I didn’t care about brush control or medium manipulation but just about getting my images onto the canvas.  I thought they were brilliant.  I managed to capture the feeling of the dreams, unafraid and directly.

But then–I am an extrovert, after all–I wanted others to see them too.  I wanted others to think they were amazing, too; and I wanted them to want get to know me because I created the art. So my “art” was not only an opportunity for me to work through my confusing relationship to mothering; it was an opportunity to be seen by others.

It  is one thing to create your work and it is another thing to share it. Sharing it puts you into the world of Art. Capital A, Art.

In the world of Capital A Art, the fact that the shade of green you chose is the perfect color to convey the feeling in a dream does not matter. The world of Capital A Art cares about media, skills, techniques, perspective, line, practice–based on standards that have evolved during the whole history of Capital A Art.

Years ago, my brothers and I went to the Museum of Modern Art–MOMA–in New York. A man named Cy Twombley (Dave Barry, I am not making this up) was one of the featured artists. Here is one of his pieces.

At the time I couldn’t, and even today I can’t, find anything that makes the smallest amount of sense to me. But…oooh, ahhh, there it is in the MOMA so he’s gotta be good, right? There must be something I didn’t understand.

But I wonder: did Cy Twombley wake up in the middle of the night and say, “oops, I did one curlique too many?”  Did his evaluation make his creativity a double-edged sword-  one where he enjoyed the process of creating, but hated the process of evaluating?

So is a painting a painting if no one is there to see it?

I recently lead a two-and-a-half day music workshop. It’s one of the things  I do for a living. The workshop, something called TaKeTiNa, demands many skills–among them an understanding of rhythmic structures, competence in playing an instrument–the berimbau, a difficult-to-play single stringed instrument from Brazil–and most  important, the ability to gauge the group and move them through the material at the right pace, and with the right rhythmic calls.

I was happy with the workshop except for one part. That one part wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t up to a standard that I held. This one part influenced my feeling about the entire workshop. The participants reported meaningful, transformational experiences. I saw the progress that they had made. Yet, I was left with the sour feeling of having failed to deliver what I had wanted to deliver. And even if I had been 100 percent spot-on in every moment, and felt good about what I’d done, I’m sure that I would have been criticizing myself for feeling better about my work than I had the right to feel. Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t .

How do I live with this super-critic? I’m not against criticism. In every art there are reasonable criteria, whether fully articulated or not, that reflect standards of competence. But then there is my super-critic who ignores or dismisses everything that turns out well and who turns anything that might be constructive into punishing annihilation. That is not playing fair!

And then, there is also the drive to create, and through the creation, to exist. There is the ego who like a small child says, “Mom! Hey Mom! Look at me! Look at what I did!” Beneath my occasional childish desires for adulation, fame, and riches, is a deep yearning to create something of lasting value for it’s own sake. And here is the gift: in my most brilliant moments of creation, while teaching or performing, the ”I”  disappears and only the teaching is left in the room, instructing me as well as everyone else.

I will continue to balance on this tightrope between creativity and criticism.
No matter how much Monday morning quarterbacking might ensue, and no matter how much I want to be seen and witnessed, the moments of grace/presence allow for the possibility of something beyond praise or blame. The moment is the moment is the moment. It is enough.

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries