Archive | November, 2014

Can You Say No To Good?

19 Nov

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When I was a little girl, I was so into sweets, I’d climb to the upper kitchen cabinets where my mom kept the sugar bowl hidden and help myself to “spoonfuls of sugar.” I suppose all kids like candy. I was no exception. What was exceptional was that no one monitored my sugar intake. My mom gave me a Twinkie or Ding Dong for breakfast, and my dad was known to have put Coca-Cola in my baby bottle. It’s a wonder I’m not obese and that I still have teeth.

What’s ironic is that as an adult, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. I like a little dark chocolate, and I enjoy pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving time, but when it comes to dessert, I can take it or leave it. It doesn’t interest me all that much. People think I’m practicing uber discipline, or that I’m trying to watch my weight. The fact of the matter is, I od’d on sugar and junk food when I was young and can’t do it anymore. I actually get sick from too much sugar.

It’s hard to say no to good things. When I was a kid, I wanted all that candy.

Where I struggle as an adult is turning down offers and opportunities that I see as wonderful. Given my druthers, I’d say, “Yes!” to every neat thing that came my way in the form of work, social engagements, and creativity. I don’t have a hard time saying, “No,” to things that I know are problematic. Yet when it comes to things that would be good for myself and others, it’s very hard to say, “No.” It feels counter-intuitive, and I second guess myself all the time.

That said, too much candy can make one sick. And too much of anything, becomes too much. As an adult, I look out on the smorgasbord of life, and realize I can’t have it all, all at the same time. I have to pace myself, and I have to finish what’s on my plate before I go back for seconds.

Too Busy To Be Grateful?

18 Nov

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The other day my friend/neighbor texted me, asking if I wanted to go for a walk when she got home from work. I was delighted to realize that yes, I could go for a walk. I didn’t have a commitment at the hour she suggested, nor did I have pressing work that needed to be finished.

Years ago, when my friend’s dog was alive, we used to walk at least a few times a week. Deb would call (texting hadn’t been invented yet) to tell me that she was leaving her house and that she’d meet me at mine. This routine kept us up on the details of each other’s lives. We knew all the strange cacti of the neighborhood, as well as all of the dogs and cats. It was a way to reflect on the beginning or the ending of the day.

Those walks set a precedent of neighborly connection not thought of as the norm in Southern California. Yet despite our nice friendship, weeks and even months can go by without Deb and I walking or even talking! The demands of work and personal lives interfere with spontaneity, spaciousness, and leisure.

I have been too busy. And when I’m too busy, gratitude is the first thing that goes out the window for me. I don’t notice the canyons, or the flowers, and I don’t hear the birds. Instead, I experience a chorus of worry and resentment unheard of in a third world country. Many people would be grateful for my life, as well as my problems. I have my health, food in my belly, and a roof over my head. I have meaningful work and people that love me. What’s not to be thankful for?

As we enter the pre-Thanksgiving period and start to reflect on all we have to be grateful for, I am reminded again and again how my sense of appreciation somehow rises exponentially when I have a little inner spaciousness. For me, if I’m too busy, I forget to be grateful. Instead, I’m exhausted and cranky like a child in need of a nap. Slowing down increases my awareness and causes me to give thanks. Time is a precious commodity and one of the things for which I’m grateful this season.

On Sabbatical

11 Nov

After 365 days of sunshine, it is finally cloudy today in Southern California, giving us a feeling of faux winter. Okay, I’m exaggerating that we’ve had 365 days of sunshine, but I’m not that far off base. Last winter, we were drenched in perpetual Santa Ana conditions, and by May, we experienced scorching hot temperatures and raging wild fires all over the city. With only a few scattered showers here and there, we found ourselves in a drought and endured habitual heat waves. Not only that, we didn’t have our usual May Gray or June Gloom, which would have at least cloaked the town in a marine layer each morning. Instead, by 6:00 a.m., the sun would taunt us to get outside and do something!

Today, I have stayed inside for a bulk of the day. I am on sabbatical – or at least what I am calling my sabbatical. I am not a professor, so I am not using the word in its true context. However, I am off for a considerable amount of time so that I can write and have a respite from nonstop travel teaching.

As I’ve puttered about the house, I keep thinking that every time I sit in my living room chair, Hafiz will jump into my lap. I imagine that when I pull turkey meat off the bone to put into my pot of soup, Rumi will turn the corner, look up at me, and meow. Where are they? Where did they go? How is possible that they are gone?

I remember the first night I had my two cats. The sound of their feet on my hard wood floor made my eyes pop open in fierce alarm. How in the world would I be able to sleep? When I told someone this story, he responded, “And then the sound became comforting.” He was right, but I wondered, “When and how did that happen?”

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Yes, it’s cliche to say, “For everything there is a season…” You know the words. What you might not realize is that the writer of that text was pretty down on life. It’s not a very upbeat read.

How do we stay afloat? How do we move from one season to the next, with or without those we love? How do we bear change, be it a drought in California, or a Polar Vortex just about everywhere else? And how do metabolize all the violence and injustice in the world that we see splayed out before us each day on the television and vis-a-vis the Internet, or the pain in our personal lives?

Last holiday season, to counter the loss of Rumi and Hafiz, I made certain I had a magnificent, live Christmas tree. Each night I fell asleep with it in the backdrop of my sensory awareness, and each morning, I awoke to its presence in my living room. I loved that tree. I dreaded taking it to the recycling lot on January 2nd. After taking it to the tree cemetery, I burst into tears when I returned to my empty house.

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For everything there is a season, and a first. I remember the first Christmas without parent figures, and the first Christmas without my mom. My grandmother is 95, so I know that in a few years, there will be a first Christmas without her as well. Yet not all firsts entail losses. Some firsts entail gains.

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For everything there is a season. To help us make sense of it all, it’s wonderful when we can get a sabbatical.

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