Friday, November 30, 2012

Grieving Over Welcome Changes

The sage chooses that and lets go of this.  –Tao Te Ching

Last night I was so sad.  What perplexed me is that I was sad about something that I’m also very happy about.  My last two still-at-home kids, one of them with a child of her own, are moving out in a few weeks.  After managing to get all five kids to some level of adulthood, having an empty nest is something I’ve been looking forward to.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love all my kids, and they are great kids, but I’m ready to make the transition to the next stage of my life, which, in my fantasy at least, involves having my house to myself.

Or does it?  My one year old grandson toddled into my room to see me yesterday, all grins, eager to babble at me about something amazing.  My daughter cooked a delicious dinner.  My other daughter sat down and watched a movie with me.  These are things I will miss when they move out.

I tell myself that they are only going to be five minutes away, but we all know that things will be different, very different.  And that, I think, is what I’m grieving.  The loss of things the way they are.  The loss of what I love about the way things are.  Change.

Even when faced with a change we ourselves have sought out and instigated, there is loss that sometimes makes us sad.  When I was approaching retirement last year, a choice that I voluntarily and enthusiastically made, I was sad.  I was leaving a job I had loved for twenty years, friends who were my daily companions, an identity I was enriched by and proud of.  I have never regretted my decision, and retirement has been glorious, but the choice I made meant leaving something behind, letting go of things that mattered to me.

And so it is now.  I have not lived without children in my home for over twenty-five years.  The daily rhythm of my life has included my children for a quarter of a century.  And while I’m not worried about what I will do – indeed, retired life has been so busy, I’m not sure how I ever found time to have a job – there will be an emptiness in the spot they now occupy.

I am ready for this change, and I do want it.  All the things I’m looking forward to fill me with curiosity and anticipation.  My daughters are excited, too.  And we’re all glad that we won’t be far away from each other.  We can hold our sadness, and maybe a bit of nervousness, in the same arms that embrace our joy and celebration of this major life transition.

Grieving over change, even desired change, is a part of releasing the familiarity and blessings of what we are leaving behind.  Acknowledging our feelings helps us move forward in freedom, welcoming a new day.

Have you ever found yourself sad about a change that you chose for yourself and eagerly looked forward to?

related posts: Cradling Our Feelings; Seasonal Yin Yang; The Joy of Sadness, the Sadness of Joy

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Wonderfully Made

I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  –Psalm 139:14

When I led a women’s retreat last year, we were talking about compassion for ourselves.  I was struck by how difficult it was for some women to use positive words to describe themselves.  When asked to describe themselves the way they would be described by the person who loved them more than anything in the universe (this could be a parent, dearest friend, God, their dog, anyone), there was a palpable discomfort in the room.  Describing themselves in glowing terms seemed not only unfamiliar, but even wrong, smacking of pride and arrogance.  Much better, they thought, to minimize their gifts, to deny their talents, to put themselves down.

But false modesty is just that – false.  Legendary martial artist Bruce Lee was once asked if he was really “that good.”  He replied, “If I say yes, you will think I am arrogant.  But if I say no, you will know I’m lying.”

The Bible says we are God’s masterpiece.  Far from feeling arrogant or prideful, I am brought to my knees in humility and gratitude when contemplating this precious gift of human life, a gift that is not mine alone, but is generously bestowed on each of us, binding us together in our shared magnificence.  Why is it so difficult to acknowledge the amazing wonderfulness of our existence?

At a conference with Western Buddhists, the Dalai Lama was asked about self hatred.  Even after repeated efforts by his interpreter, the Dalai Lama remained confused by this concept.  What was immediately understood by the Western attendees was so unfamiliar to His Holiness that he finally conceded,  "I thought I had a very good acquaintance with the mind, but now I feel quite ignorant. I find this very, very strange."  What this tells me is that self hatred is not a necessary aspect of the human condition, but rather is culture specific.

Where does self hatred as a cultural phenomenon come from?  I’ve been giving this a lot of thought since that women’s retreat last year.  Some might trace its roots back to the doctrine of original sin, a concept perhaps unique to Christian theology.  Seeing ourselves as inherently and inescapably flawed from birth is a heavy burden.  One might also consider gender issues, since the affliction seems more prevalent in women.

Ultimately, however, the cultural origin of self hatred is less important than the fact that, because it is not an inevitable part of who we are, we can choose differently.  That’s tremendously liberating.

Jesus said that we are the light of the world.  “People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others....”  I want my thoughts and words and actions to reflect that light of glory.  I do no service to others by pretending to be less than what I am, a masterpiece of the universe, as are you.  That doesn’t make us special.  It makes us part of everything that lives.

So I invite you to try the exercise I mentioned above.  You can do it privately if you don’t want to share publicly – that’s fine.  How would the person who loves you more than anyone describe you?  Can you accept that description without apology or denial?  If you don’t want to share the description in a comment, would you share what the exercise was like for you?  Is it hard to let your light shine?  No judgment.  Just be curious.

You could search the whole world over and never find anyone as deserving of your love as yourself.  –Buddha

related posts: From Victim to Victor; The Perfection of Imperfection; Guided Tour

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Who's the Turkey?

This post about my first Thanksgiving in Thailand is becoming its own tradition.  I love this story because it reminds me how grateful I am that I got to spend three years living and working in this fascinating country.  So here it is again.

I had the good fortune to live and work in Bangkok many years ago.  I was the only American in my office, and of course Thanksgiving is not a Thai holiday, so when Thanksgiving came, I took the afternoon off to go have dinner with other Americans.

That morning at the office, I was chatting with some colleagues.  In an attempt to bridge cultures, I joked, “Even though this is an American holiday, we can all take a moment to think about all the things we have to be grateful for.  For example, you can be thankful that the pilgrims didn’t land in Thailand!”

Everyone laughed politely and I was congratulating myself on the success of my cross-cultural humor, when several people asked at once, “What’s a pilgrim?”

I knew then I had a lot to learn!

No matter where you are in the world, count your blessings and Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Shining Moment in the Darkness

This time of year, the weather in Portland is often dark and rainy, like today.  The clouds hang low, drivers turn on their headlights in the middle of the day, people buy full spectrum light boxes to chase away winter doldrums.

This morning I was driving in the inside lane of a four lane street.  A big red commercial van was slightly ahead on my right in the curb lane.  The light was green as we approached an intersection.  A pickup truck suddenly turned right from the other street just in front of the van.  (Right turns on red are permitted here when safe.)  I hit my brakes as the van swerved into my lane and around the truck to avoid plowing into the truck.  The accident was averted, and the van and I proceeded with the truck falling in behind me.

As we approached the next intersection, I pulled alongside the van.  The driver was waving at me.  The light turned yellow and we both stopped.  I rolled down my window, and thinking he had mistaken me for the careless driver, I smiled and called out, “It wasn’t me!”

He replied, “I know.  I just wanted to thank you for slowing down so that I could go into your lane.”  I told him he had done a good job of avoiding the accident and I was glad he was all right.  As we conversed, I noticed for the first time the company information on his van.  It was a lighting company, advertising various types of lighting they installed. We both cautioned each other to drive safely and went on with our mornings.

As I headed on home, I thought about how he brings light into the darkness for a living.  How interesting.  And also, he brought light into my dark morning.  When I rolled down my window, he could have gone off about crazy drivers and so on.  We were both rattled by the incident.  But instead, he took the opportunity to thank me for helping him avoid the accident, and we wished each other safe travels.  I know I was more alert as I drove home.  And also happier because of our brief connection.

My word for the year this year is Shine.  As the days shorten and the gray settles in, it seems to me that this is an excellent word for me to focus on in the remaining weeks of this year.  I hope that, like this driver, I can bring light into the darkness, of my own life and the lives of others.  I hope that my light shines brightly, reminding me that the light is always present and that we all enter the light together. 

Has someone brought light into a dark place for you lately?

related posts:  What Are You Writing in Your Book?; The Kindness of Strangers

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Please Help Me Help

As some of you know, I released a book October 2, with the same title as my blog.  (You can find out more about the book by clicking on the book in the right margin.)  All the proceeds of the book are donated to Edwards Center, an organization which provides a wide range of services to adults with developmental disabilities, including my two sons with autism.

Some of you have posted lovely and very gracious reviews and interviews for which I am humbly grateful.  I thought that one way I could show my thanks is to list your blogs here with links to the reviews.  My hope is that readers who aren’t already familiar with your wonderful blogs will stop by for a visit.

Yes, there is a selfish aspect to this way of expressing thanks.  I also hope that you, my dear blog friends, will help me spread the word about the book through sharing links and tweets of the reviews.

And if you have read the book and enjoyed it, would you consider posting a review on Amazon?

I so appreciate everyone’s help.  Adults with developmental disabilities are such a vulnerable population.  Edwards Center is a lifeline for them and their families, like my sons and me.  Click here to visit their website and find out more about this amazing organization.

You can help me support Edwards Center by helping me get the word out about the book as we head into the holidays.  It makes a perfect gift!

Here is the list of blogs on which reviews and interviews have been posted.  These are all blogs that I read and enjoy.  They represent a wide range of topics, so I’m sure you will find some new blogs to add to your reading list.

Thank you!!

Sources of Insight
A Clear Sign
The Bold Life
Satisfying Retirement
Invisible Mikey
Life as We Live It
Thoughts from a Bag Lady in Waiting
Everyday Gyaan
Retire in Style
Powered by Intuition
B Here Today
Vishnu’s Virtues
Evolving Beings
Going A-Musing
Always Well Within
The BridgeMaker
The Disconnected Writer
The Happiness Series
Facets of Joy

Please note that I will be away from my computer Friday and will return on Saturday, so please excuse any delay in posting your comments due to comment moderation.  Your comments are important and will be published immediately when I return.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Mercy Seat

I opened a Bible the other day to a random page and found myself near the end of 1 Chronicles in the Old Testament.  David is giving instructions to Solomon about building the temple.  The plans include “the room for the mercy seat.”  The phrase awakened a joy in my soul that there was such a place called a room for the mercy seat, and there arose in my spirit a longing to be in that room.

I am no Bible scholar, and my reaction was uncomplicated by specific knowledge of the meaning of this phrase.  The image in my mind was of a seat bathed in light.  If I sat on it, I would receive the mercy of God.  I would be filled with the basic goodness of the universe.  My spirit would be purified and mercy would spill over like a golden fountain, flowing wherever I had held judgment and condemnation, washing away everything that was born of fear, imbuing what had been dark with a light so brilliant that nothing was left in shadow.

My curiosity led me to an earlier description of the mercy seat in Exodus.  There, God is speaking to Moses, telling him to build the mercy seat of pure gold and to place it above the ark of the covenant, in the most sacred, inner room in the temple.  “There I will meet with you,” promises God.

Ah, just as I thought.  The mercy seat is the thin place where we encounter the divine (by whatever name we choose).  God does not meet with us on the seat of judgment, or the seat of vengeance.  There is no separation here, no hatred, no fear.  Only mercy, only love, only light.

I have held this image in my heart the last few days as I have struggled to forgive and release a situation that continues to churn in my spirit.  When I feel myself sucked back towards that whirlpool of anger and blame and fear, I picture myself on the mercy seat, opening my soul to God, asking for mercy for myself and for those against whom I harbor thoughts of separation and judgment.

The true gift of grace is that the line between giving and receiving it immediately disappears as soon as mercy is asked for or offered.  Mercy never flows only one direction, but washes over both the giver and the recipient.

Imagining myself on the golden seat of mercy is humbling.  God’s grace is so exquisite, the basic goodness of the universe so sublime, that my grievances simply melt away.  I am bewildered that I ever thought them important, worthy of my attention and energy.  What are they compared to the glorious freedom of forgiveness?

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.  –Lewis B. Smedes

related posts:  Righteous Unforgiveness; Forgiveness, the Final Frontier

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

It Was the Best of Times. It Was the Worst of Times.

Which is it?  Depends on who’s talking.  Half the U.S. is jubilant today.  The other half is devastated.  Some of the disappointed voters even threaten to move to Canada, where, ironically, they will find same sex marriage, a single payer national healthcare system, and abortion on demand.  I’m just sayin’....

Our planet is in great trouble and if we keep carrying old grudges and do not work together, we will all die.  –Chief Seattle

The truth is that it doesn’t really matter who won the presidential election yesterday, unless we can quit demonizing those who don’t agree with us and work together.

Picture two enemies in a canoe arguing about the best technique for paddling, or even trying to knock the paddles out of each other’s hands, as the canoe is swept downstream towards a waterfall.  That’s what our polarized partisanship reminds me of.

Don’t fight a battle if you won’t gain anything by winning.  –General Patton

Yesterday’s win will be a hollow victory if the real danger to America is not addressed.  The real danger is not the deficit or terrorists.  The real danger is our refusal to see that we rise or fall together.  When Hurricane Sandy laid waste to the East Coast, first responders did not ask a victim’s party affiliation before offering help, and victims did not vet their saviors for political correctness.

Years ago, when two of my daughters were gridlocked in bitter hostility, I, in desperation, offered to pay them each a dollar a day to get along.  I didn’t care anymore if they liked each other, or if their overtures were sincere.  I cared that the fighting stop.  Here was the catch: they would have to earn the dollars as a team.  They either both got the dollars or neither did.  I was the decider, and there was no appeal.

The amazing thing was that although their initial efforts were only superficially civil, the pattern was broken, and it wasn’t long before they really were working together toward a common goal.  Did disagreements still arise?  Of course.  But they quickly shifted to cooperative solution mode rather than getting all churned up in their previous blame/attack mode.

Again, I’m just sayin’....

We have seen the enemy and he is us.  –Pogo

There is nothing like watching the election returns with a friend who comes from a communist country to put things in perspective.  As I spent the evening trying to explain what was happening to someone for whom the whole concept of voting is unfamiliar, I could see the process from an outside perspective.

True, in her country there are not billions of dollars spent on campaigns, and government policies can change without endless debate and years of court challenges.  But as I listened to her amazement that people could voice their opinions so freely, and her disbelief that those numbers on the screen represented individual votes that were actually being counted, I felt blessed.

People with clenched fists cannot shake hands.  –Indira Gandhi

Maybe you feel blessed, too.  So I invite us all to consider how we participate in and how respond to our electoral process.  Although our system is based on a win/lose model, no one really wins unless we all win.  Instead of all the vitriol and gloating, I invite us all to find someone who voted for “the other guy” and extend an open hand.  More important, I invite us all to extend an open mind.

From this house, to the world, we will go, hand in hand.  The way of peace, the way of freedom, the way of hope, from this house, to the world we will go, hand in hand.  –Ben Allaway

[Note to my friends from other countries: I try to write about things that will be of universal appeal.  This post is clearly about the U.S. presidential election, but I hope that there is something here that you might find relevant on a broader scale.  Thanks for reading.]

related posts: Righteous Unforgiveness; There Is No Them

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Legacy of a Name

I often get questioned about my pen name, Galen Pearl.  Galen was my dad’s middle name, and he was called by the shorter version, Gale.  Galen comes from a Greek word meaning calm or tranquil.  I like that.  My mother’s middle name was not Pearl, but it was another gemstone.  However, she was not fond of her middle name, so I chose another precious gem.

Before I became a parent, I fantasized about having a daughter and naming her Galen Pearl.  However, three daughters later, the name, which wasn’t suitable for any of them for various reasons, remained unused.  My youngest daughter, who came the closest to bearing this name, is grateful.  When she would express her huge relief at not being named Galen Pearl, I would tease her by saying, “It’s not too late.  We can go down to the courthouse and change it.”  “Nooooo!” she would wail.

When I started this blog over two years ago, I was concerned about privacy, especially for my kids.  I did not have much experience online (I’m still woefully behind in tech knowledge), so I decided to use a pen name.  I thought and thought.  And then like a flash, I remembered the name I had loved for so long.  It was never meant to be my daughter’s name.  It was meant to be mine.  And so Galen Pearl was finally born.

As time went on and I unexpectedly gained some name recognition, I wondered if I had done the right thing.  When I published some stories, I had to decide whether to stick with the pen name or switch to my real name, which I also love.  By then, however, the pen name had taken root in my own psyche as well as in cyberspace, and so I stuck with it.

I’m glad I did.  Today would have been my dad’s 100th birthday.  I miss him.  He died thirty years ago, before any of us ever heard of a blog, before I fantasized about a daughter named Galen Pearl.  He never met any of my children, never saw the house I raised them in, never read anything I wrote.  Using his name connects me to his memory, to him.

So, thanks, Dad.  I hope I do your name proud.

 There be of them, that have left a name behind them.... –Apocrypha, Ecclesiasticus 44:8-9