Archive | May, 2013

Why A Neurotic Like Me Surfs

30 May

Surfing involves a degree of rigamarole. Unless you live right on the beach, you have to find a way to transport the equipment which typically involves expensive contraptions. You have to carry a tub for your wet suit, wax for your board, flip flops for your feet and shampoo for your hair. And it takes you a good couple of hours away from email, phone and responsibilities. Which is exactly why a neurotic like me needs to surf.

Time stops when you’re in the water. There is only one focus and that is on the present.

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Summer waves, which are typically mild and rolling rock you on the water. God reaches her hand down from heaven, tipping the basinet back and forth in a soothing fashion.

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The salt water has an incredibly healing quality. It can be bitingly cold in winter but soft and warm during the summer as it takes on the quality of glass.

A neurotic like me surfs because when I look up at the sky from the sea, I hear all creation sing.

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Yes, there is a fear factor when it comes to surfing. Never mind that one can get injured by a board or eaten by a shark. I worry about the key in my wet suit falling out or perhaps worse, not working once I set it back into its electronic device. Because I am a neurotic and worry about things like this.

But then a wave slowly moves towards me and I get myself in position. And if I’m so lucky to be in the right place at the right time and the wave takes me, I feel the effortlessness of being; the magic of letting something bigger than me support me. I walk on water and realize this is exactly how God intended living to be.

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Desiring Desire

26 May

In religious circles, desire often gets a bad rap. Thought to lure one into avarice or lust, desire is often represented as the devil incarnate or that wanton woman leading a man astray. In Buddhism, desire is thought to be the root of all suffering and thus craving is ideally eliminated.

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I’m a fan of desire nonetheless. Related to the affect states interest-excitement and enjoyment-joy, desire represents a primal evolutionary force propelling our species not just towards procreation but towards learning, expansion, creativity and growth. And desire is not exclusive to sexuality although it is often relegated as such. Case in point. Little kids feel desire. Desire to get up in the morning and to start the day. Desire to play, learn and explore and to go to places like Disneyland.

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Dogs too register desire. They wag their tails in anticipation of a walk, the beach and/or a bone.

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Desire is an impulse within us motivating us hopefully towards positive things. In its best form it is a spiritual catalyst igniting our hearts to burn for God as we understand her.

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Yet many of us adults lose touch with desire when we’re fatigued, worried, burnt out or depressed. When I’m on a complete overload the most I desire is quiet and my bed. But even that desire is good for it motivates me towards rest.

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And it is in the resting that replenishing occurs and then the slow flame of desire begins to grow again…

Managing Abundance

18 May

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Years ago in the Psychology 100 class I taught, the assigned text book had a chapter on stress. In it, they discussed how making choices can be stressful. They then gave examples about how we can have a choice between two bad things, a choice between a good thing and a bad thing and a choice between two good things. All are stress inducing but of course choosing between two good things would be the better problem to have. For instance, do I choose between banana cream pie or pumpkin? A vacation in Hawaii or Europe? Obviously, these are more pleasant choices to contemplate than which type of cancer treatment to have…

Lately I’ve been inundated with positive choices mostly related to vocation but choices nonetheless. Yet like a kid who has eaten too much candy, I am feeling a little sick on all the stimulating activity. So how do we make choices when our cup runneth over? And how do we come to terms with an abundant life when so much of the world lacks?

Years ago I read an article about an American visiting a country somewhere in Africa. Out to dinner with a native, the two decided to have ice cream for dessert. There was one choice of flavor on the menu. The American shared that in the US there is an ice cream shop that has 31 flavors. “That is too many choices,” the African said.

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We have an incredible amount of choice in this country. It is obscene and yet a privilege I don’t take for granted. Where some in the world are starving for a bowl of porridge, we have hundreds of varieties of cereal.

When you talk with immigrants one of the things they always say is how lucky we are in America to make our own way. We can at least partially decide what we want to do and can aspire to have dreams for ourselves. When some of these dreams actually materialize, it can be a little daunting and demands a certain degree of responsibility for true abundance centers on far more than money or goods.

The other day when I was trying to make some decisions regarding my time and work schedule, a friend asked, “What is your priority?” Such a simple yet profound question that needs constant asking. Another friend said, “I don’t think God ever wants us to be so busy that we don’t have time for him.” So, I cancelled something I very much wanted to do tomorrow because right now I simply don’t have time. And it’s a reminder to me to make time for what’s important and for the actual Creator.

All the Pretty Horses

15 May

Last night I dreamt of horses grazing in a meadow.

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Beautiful red, black and brown animals standing in Steinbeck’s pastures of heaven.

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And I was on a quest to join them…

I had the afternoon free so in my dream I jumped into a vehicle and headed to find a ranch or venue where I could ride.

The first person I ran into said, “We have horses you can ride,” and then led me to a little ring where I was to ride a saddled pony in a circle. “No! No!” I said in dismay. “I want to be with the horses in the meadow over there,” and pointed to the rolling green hills and ascending mountains. “I want to gallop – not walk around a ring inside a barn.”

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And so I left and resumed my quest to find all the pretty horses under the blue skies.

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When my eyes opened in the middle of the night I remembered the beautiful animals and went back to sleep, eager to return to them and the wide open plains.

On horses Rilke wrote:

Tell me, Orpheus, what offering can I make
to you, who taught the creatures how to listen?
I remember a spring day in Russia;
it was evening, and a horse …

He came up from the village, a gray horse, alone.
With a hobble attached to one leg
he headed to the fields for the night.
How the thick mane beat against his neck

in rhythm with his high spirits
and his impeded, lurching gallop.
How all that was horse in him quickened.

He embraced the distances as if he could sing them,
as if your songs were completed in him.
His image is my offering.

Sonnets to Orpheus I, 20

Are You a Mother?

12 May

In one of my worst church experiences ever, on Mother’s Day people were stationed at the doors and as women walked in they were asked, “Are you a mother?” If you were, you received a carnation. If you weren’t, well you were denied one.

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In the Catholic church I grew up in, all females were given flowers on Mother’s Day – even little girls.

I’m not certain which is more painful. People assuming you are a mother or not.

As I walked into the hotel dining room this morning, the waitress wished me a happy Mother’s Day. I smiled and said, “Thank you.” I’d temporarily forgotten it was Mother’s Day only to be reminded by all the carnations on the tables. I blinked back tears as the hotel staff scrambled around setting things up for a special brunch complete with balloons. I resigned to eat quickly and get out of there.

There are certain times of the year where you can’t by-pass reality. Instead it just smacks you in the face: My mother is dead and in less than two weeks, I’ll be 44 years old and will probably never bear a child. Likewise, as a single woman, I most likely will choose not to adopt.

In a culture that fixates on “baby bumps,” motherhood is treated like a sorority. Yet not all of us belong. It makes no difference if you work with children or own pets. It’s not the same. It’s an elite membership, if you’re on the outside – even if the club isn’t all its cracked up to be.

Released from Prison

11 May

When my mother was sentenced to a state penitentiary, she eventually had to be transferred from the local prison to Chowchilla, the women’s correctional facility in Central California. She was transported in a Sheriff’s bus that you sometimes see on the highway. The buses are painted black and white like a zebra that announce to the world that prisoners are on board. I can literarily feel the humiliation my mother must have experienced while riding that bus. I wonder if she ever talked to the other prisoners, or if she slunk down from the window so that no one on the highway could look up and see her. I pray she wasn’t handcuffed. My mother was so far from having a criminal nature this is as far as I will let my imagination take me.

She never talked about her experiences in jail. This was the one area of her life that was a closed book. I was always relieved that she didn’t disclose much about those experiences and yet her silence spoke volumes. Shame serves an evolutionary function but I don’t think it is meant to imprison us. Yet many of us do time in one way, shape or form.

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When I saw the above photo the other day on FB, I couldn’t help but be struck. I recognized the profound love of the officer throwing a life line to the young man. To witness someone in the throes of excruciating pain takes both tremendous energy and courage. And I’m also reminded that when my mom hit this point, there was no one there and she couldn’t hang on. She slipped through the cracks and overdosed. She was literarily imprisoned in her own pain and through death sought release.

Most days I don’t think about my mom’s suicide or the note she wrote me. But when Mother’s Day comes around and you see messages about moms all over FB, how can I not? How can I not think of Chowchilla and the fate that befell my gentle mother all because she suffered from anxiety and depression and turned to alcohol to help her cope?

I am also reminded that I somehow got lucky. Despite my own emotional struggles, I have always been able to cope. I have also had incredible people who have sat with me during those dark nights of the soul so that I never was hanging from a bridge. I also know that I was lucky to have the mother that I did for despite her emotional fragility, I never once doubted that she loved me. I was always very much wanted and looked after.

I stumbled across this photograph this morning and remember all those times mom wanted me to have my picture taken. How she adored my very image… When I look at this photo, I feel my mother’s eyes gazing down on me from heaven. To her, I will always be that little girl.

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