Half full, half empty. Worn and washed up on the beach.
“Land Ho!” “Pass me the glass! No, not that one, the telescope!”
Through a glass, darkly. Nose to the pane. The ceiling. Don’t throw stones.
Cool and transparent, insulating, sparkly…glass is all around. I look through it all day long, even when I’m outside and have for years. I remember leaving the optometrist’s showroom with my first pair of glasses on. I looked up to the foothills and saw leaves on the trees up there. Suddenly, there was depth and contrast in the distance. It was a miracle. The first time I looked through a microscope was a miracle, too. I imagine indigenous people finding obsidian and cutting their fingers on it, rejoicing. What stuff!
I feel my life getting dull. I’ve been working hard at the book-selling business, rather repetitively. I need to wake up to the scintillating delight of life. This is a perfect visual reminder!
My laptop perches on my warmly-wrapped lap. Sunshine covers the foot of the bed. Outside my window, sparrows twitter in the snow-dusted branches. Steve and I tap our separate keyboards, sending muffled punctuations from our two upstairs rooms into the tranquil space of our “treehouse” among the maples. It’s Monday morning, and we’re back at work, like so many others in this nation and unlike them at the same time.
Last night, in a nod toward the culture around us, we watched half of the Super Bowl – not on a TV because we don’t own one. Oddly enough, we were able to view it on this screen. It’s been a while since I looked through that window. I recognized a lot of faces from my past encounters with the media, decades aged. (Mary Lou Retton, is that you? Kevins – Bacon and Costner, still recognizable, but changed.) The atmosphere seemed a lot more frenetic, more violent, and more stressful.
Stress. It occurs quite naturally, of course, in physics, biology and chemistry as resistance and instability. Gravity and PMS are phenomena with which I’m quite familiar. They don’t surprise me much anymore, nor do my reactions to them. But stress occurs unnaturally in lifestyles as well, as Distress or Eustress. Philip Seymour Hoffman, found dead at 46 with a needle in his arm. Manufacturing stress, manufacturing responses – does this give us an edge? If we are “hardwired for struggle” (as Brene Brown says), can we maximize that adaptation and produce a super response? Will that response be healthy or unhealthy? Eustress, according to Wikipedia, “refers to a positive response one has to a stressor, which can depend on one’s current feelings of control, desirability, location, and timing of the stressor.” If it feels “good” to react with anger, aggression or violence to a stressor, is this healthy? If it feels “good” to respond to a stressor by self-medicating, numbing or repressing, is this healthy? If it feels “good” to elevate our molehills into mountains and complain about the weather, our weight and how busy we are, is this healthy? Are we doing ourselves a favor by pouring more stress into our system and developing collateral pathways that will make us more resilient? Or are we taxing our capacity to the point of rupture?
My husband died from coronary artery disease, brought on by undiagnosed diabetes. Stress did help him develop a collateral artery system in his heart that made it possible for him to survive a heart attack at age 31, but he only lived 16 more years. Beware, America. Look closely at your stress levels. Make your choices wisely.
That is all.
© 2014 essay by Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved.
Peace On Earth
It is Day #23 in the December countdown. Today’s gift is Peace. Ahh, peace. Take a deep breath. Relax the muscles around your skull; feel your ears and eyebrows pull backward; close your eyes and roll your head. Do you feel a sense of well-being? Julian of Norwich claims that God himself spoke these often quoted words to her, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Do you believe that’s true? Do you believe that’s possible? I do, although I don’t always act as though I do. I forget.
Wikipedia uses these phrases to define peace: “safety, welfare, prosperity, security, fortune, friendliness… a relationship between any people characterized by respect, justice and goodwill… calm, serenity, a meditative approach”. Where does peace come from? Buddha, the Dalai Lama and many others will tell you that peace comes from within, not without.
“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” – Black Elk
But perhaps, there are things outside of you that will remind you of the peace which dwells within you.
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” – John Muir
Do you feel peace in your mind and body and soul all at once? Do you descend into peace from your head down?
“I do not want the peace which passeth understanding, I want the understanding which bringeth peace.” – Helen Keller
I suppose each of us must find his/her own journey into peace. Anxieties and conflicts are particular and personal. Facing each one head on is not a passive task. Making peace is not for the weak of heart. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” Is God about making peace? Is making peace the work of the Universe? Is it perhaps that joyful effort that gives life meaning?
“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
If we can make peace between ourselves and God, ourselves and Nature, can we then make peace between ourselves and others?
“If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.” – Thich Nhat Hahn
“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” – Mother Theresa
Steve constantly reminds me that in every situation, especially in those that cause anxiety and conflict to arise, I have 3 choices. I can hide/run away. I can try to change the situation. I can change myself. The first option doesn’t exactly make peace; it simply avoids confrontation. You can hide away all day long and still feel the fear of whatever it is that scared you. So, why do I often employ that choice? Because I lack courage and I’m lazy. I sometimes pick that choice first to give me time to screw up my will and motivation. I don’t want to get stuck there, though.
Trying to change the situation requires engagement. Making peace with hunger, poverty, sickness, and distress this way requires an understanding of causes and effects on all different levels. It requires negotiation, and it requires cooperation. You don’t always get all that is required to change a situation. Not all situations can be changed. Death is the big one that comes to mind here. You can’t hide or run away from it, and you can’t change the situation so that you don’t have to experience it. Now what?
Change yourself. Sometimes the only way to make peace with something is to change your thinking, your belief, your approach, your attachment, your aversion, your ignorance or some other aspect of yourself. “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” is the simplistic way to say it. If you’d “rather fight than switch” (old cigarette commercial – pop philosophy at its finest), then you have chosen to fight, not to make peace. Our egos make it really tough to change ourselves. Sometimes we’d rather fight, sometimes we’d rather die, sometimes we’d rather do anything than change ourselves. You have to ask yourself very seriously what your ultimate goal is to get past this one. Is your goal to keep your ego intact or is your goal to make peace? I’ve come across a lot of phrases that address this ego dilemma: “take up your cross”, “turn the other cheek”, “deny yourself”, “die to self”. I think that dogma is probably more an ego thing than a peace thing. If you can’t let go of your religious beliefs in the interest of peace, then your religion is more about yourself than it is about God, in my humble opinion. I love the part of the movie “Gandhi” where he counsels a Hindu man who is distraught at having murdered a Muslim child. “Raise a Muslim child and make sure you raise him as a Muslim, not as a Hindu. This is the only way you can purge your sins.” This is true wisdom about peace.
Give peace a chance. It requires your will, it requires your strength, and it requires you to lay aside will & strength. I am looking forward to enjoying the peace that my family and I have created. We are still creating it, and will be our whole lives long.
Joy to the World
Gift of the Universe #22: JOY!
I truly believe that joy is available to everyone. No one is denied the opportunity to be joyful. Many people on this planet will never have a full stomach or adequate shelter or enough material wealth to climb out of poverty, but believe it or not, some of those very people know joy.
“Joy is not in things; it is in us.” – Richard Wagner
“Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.” – Joseph Campbell
My late husband was ill for many years. He went under the knife for open heart surgery when he was just 31. He suffered a host of medical problems stemming from diabetes, always believing that he would get the disease under control. When he realized that was not going to happen, he said, “Okay, I’m sick. I can be sick and miserable, or I can be sick and happy. I choose happy. Pain is inevitable, misery is optional.” I really admire him for coming up with that maxim, and for embodying it. The night before he died, he called me at work and asked if I’d like to go out to dinner. Our daughters were out for the evening, and he took the opportunity to enjoy a ‘date’ with me. We went to a local sports bar & grill and enjoyed veggie appetizers and sandwiches. Our youngest called from rehearsal to say she was not feeling well and was coming home early, so we went home to be with her. Jim was tired, so he took his medications, hooked up to his dialysis machine and CPAP and watched some TV. When I came up to bed, he turned off the TV and the light. We fell asleep holding hands. He never woke up. And he never complained. Some people claim that “if you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything”. I don’t buy that. Jim didn’t have health, but he had joy and love and he knew it.
Many people would foreswear food, health, housing, and money in order to find joy in an ascetic lifestyle. Mendicants, yogis, monks, and priests of different faiths have adopted austere practices in order to experience the bliss of enlightenment.
“Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
“The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything.” – Julian of Norwich
This is a deep and serious topic, and much too heavy for me to write about today. My brain is circling closer to Dr. Seuss and The Grinch who puzzles how the Whos could be singing without “ribbons and tags, packages, boxes and bags”. Perhaps joy means a little bit more than the glee we feel when we get a shiny, new present. Happiness is fleeting. Joy is deeply felt.
“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” – George Bernard Shaw
I’ve got to say that the way I have most felt this joy of being used for a mighty purpose and force of Nature is through mothering. I know what it is to be thoroughly worn out and joyful. I know what it is to feel like nobody is devoting himself to my happiness and not to complain because I am finding so much joy in devoting myself to someone else’s well-being. Not that I didn’t complain occasionally (hey! I’m human!). I always felt that mothering mattered. That I was truly making a difference, a big one, to at least four people in the world. I smiled at my babies even when I was not feeling joyful, and joy emerged. Never underestimate the effect of a smile. Check out this Still Face Experiment by Dr. Tronick on youtube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apzXGEbZht0
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” – Thich Nhat Hahn
My joyful (and crazy!) kids
Are you smiling every day? I’m sure I am. I even busted a belly laugh today as Steve was describing a Giotto fresco…of Mary and Joseph… kissing at the gates of Bethlehem…with Snoopy in the background. He speaks like a nerd who knows everything, and then I realize he’s bullshitting me. I fall for it all the time and then get to laugh at him and at myself. Steve’s identity motto, which he came up with at a psychology school retreat, is “I am the joy in change and movement”. I am really benefiting from his perspective because I am often afraid of change and movement. I so don’t need to be. There is freedom in allowing joy into your life.
Let Heaven and Nature sing…and see if you don’t find yourself singing along. Rejoice, my friends.
Reblogging my list of free gifts from the Universe:
To Sleep, Perchance To Dream
And if tonight my soul may find her peace
in sleep, and sink in good oblivion,
and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower
then I have been dipped again in God, and new-created.
Now, blessings light on him that first invented sleep! It covers a man all over, thoughts and all, like a cloak; it is meat for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, heat for the cold, and cold for the hot. It is the current coin that purchases all the pleasures of the world cheap, and the balance that sets the king and the shepherd, the fool and the wise man, even. ~Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, 1605
All men whilst they are awake are in one common world: but each of them, when he is asleep, is in a world of his own. ~Plutarch
I imagine that sleep is a gift for all, but some may disagree. They might attribute sleep to the just, the innocent and the carefree and argue that it is refused to many who would try to attain it. I propose, then, that it is meant for all, for health, rest, and restoration. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “New evidence shows that sleep is essential to helping maintain mood, memory, and cognitive performance. It also plays a pivotal role in the normal function of the endocrine and immune systems. In fact, studies show a growing link between sleep duration and a variety of serious health problems, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and depression.” Two of my family members were diagnosed with sleep apnea, one with the addition of Periodic Limb Movement Disorder. For each of them, a CPAP machine was prescribed. That’s a Constant Positive Air Pressure mask which blows air into their nose and mouth all night long to keep their airways open. How anyone could sleep with that thing on is a mystery to me.
The CPAP seems like a very scientific approach to something that may be more of a spiritual process. Sleep, relaxation, the natural cycle of repair and regeneration can be picked apart and studied, but will chasing it down and corralling its components help us to enter into its presence? If we approach it calmly and reverently, will we be more likely to be invited into its sanctuary? It seems like such a gentle grace, a benevolent angel of mercy. I’d be afraid to scare it off.
Many people contend with sleep. I do a bit. I gave up my super-comfy, air-controlled, king-sized bed to my daughter, and now I sleep on a futon mattress with a sleeping bag and a suede comforter tucked under the sheet to make it a bit more yielding. It’s not really the same, but I could do worse. I’ve always been a light sleeper, a result of having 4 children, but I’ve always gone to bed pretty early. I’m not good at sleeping late, and I do enjoy napping. Sleep is not elusive for me, simply delicious. And I dream.
I was thinking this morning that I live in two alternate universes, something like Plutarch mentions in the quote above. In the world of my sleeping dreams, my dead husband keeps popping up. He very calmly occupies a place beside me, and eventually in the course of the dream, I will mention that he’s supposed to be dead. Last night, he was driving when I mentioned it, and then suggested that I take the wheel. I have the feeling that he’s supposed to vanish when I say that word, but he didn’t. He just slid into the passenger side and kept talking. This is my brain working on “what’s right” and “what’s real” about death. I still don’t have it figured out. I have a lot of anxiety dreams that also have to do with this preoccupation of mine about “doing things right”. Performance anxiety is a big theme. I’m often onstage, backstage, in front of a classroom, or trying to get to a class. When I was married to Jim, the worst nightmares I had were about the two of us being angry or false with each other. I feared anything that would threaten our togetherness, and it was manifested in some social context. I never had a big monster carrying me off or something adventurous like that. I suppose you could call that a “girlie” nightmare. My son has huge, plot-driven adventures in his dreams. He’s got to fight, to battle and overcome in his dreams. I just get upset and wake up.
I did have a nightmare two nights ago. I had indigestion when I went to sleep, and I dreamed a horrible dream that ended in watching someone eat their own limbs. “Someone” in that weird way where you are everyone in your dream. So I was eating myself. It was unsettling for my brain. My stomach was already unsettled. Peculiar how the sleeping mind works. I do have a favorite phrase to throw in when someone is describing a dream. The disjointed narrative goes on and on, and then I interject, “Oh, I know that dream! Yeah, that all happens, and the next thing you know, the pope comes in with a tray of enchiladas and…” Yup. Absurdity. It’s pretty entertaining, really, this alternate universe.
I feel lucky to be able to sleep when I am tired, to dream when I am perplexed, to regenerate every night and wake to a new day each morning. Wagner describes it musically when Brunhilde wakes to Siegfried’s kiss. Listening to it is like going through the resurrection, weeping tears of joy and wonder. Once again, music gives voice to life’s mysteries.
Well, the sun is shining through the west window making puddles of warmth on my bed. Think I’ll take a catnap.
It’s About Time
Marching on in the parade of days is today’s icon: time. Ever seen George Carlin’s stand-up routine “Does the time bother you?” from 1978? He goes into his typical absurdity rant about time, and as usual he asks a pertinent question in an impertinent manner. We get obsessed with time, we humans. It’s a construct we invented to cause ourselves anxiety, it would seem. Animals have no sense of time. They have seasonal behavior, but they’re not checking their calendars or pocket watches to know when to do something. We have this ability to conceptualize past, present, and future and make decisions about what to do when. What are we doing with this ability? How are we spending our time?
Coincidentally, Steve woke this morning to say that he had been dreaming that we were having a fight. “About what?” I asked. “Small fires,” he replied. To Steve, “small fires” are the things that take up our time or distract us from the important things in life. We have spent a lot of time discussing what we consider valuable and how we want to use the time we have. I consider it a big part of a working relationship to have those conversations that clarify how you will spend time. The trick is to have them in a way that doesn’t waste time. “Where are we going to spend Christmas Eve?” could cause you to fall into a vortex of possibilities and consequences. “What do I want to be doing at this time?” is a bit more specific.
For what do I make time? On what am I willing to spend a lot of time? When you ask yourself these questions, does a sense of obligation begin to settle on you? Are there a lot of things you spend time on because you feel you have to, even though you don’t want to? How much of that have you accepted unwillingly because it’s easier than making changes?
Years ago, I went to a workshop that focused on a book called “Unplug the Christmas Machine”. My church sponsored this event because there were a lot of women in that affluent community that took on an incredible burden of expectations and effort around the holiday. I would often be asked, “So, have you got everything ready for Christmas?” This was a conversation opener that often segued into a litany of tasks and obligations that they hadn’t completed and a lament of how stressed they were and how little time there was. It was a victim’s complaint. It’s taken me years to realize that victimization is often a choice. There is a way to live that includes deciding what you will and will not spend your life’s time doing.
Some things I will not spend time doing: watching TV. (I don’t own one, I don’t want one. I have plenty of things to look at and listen to that entertain me.) Networking on Facebook. (I already have e-mail and a blog, so this seems completely superfluous. Apparently, I am now in the minority in this country. Hurrah!) Working in a cubicle 8 hours a day. (Been there, done that, then lived without any employment for 11 months so far. I prefer being unemployed.) Showering and putting on make-up every day. (I shower a few times a week. I wear make-up to the opera. I still feel hygienic and pretty.)
I might spend time taking a TV apart. The insides are cool!
Some things I will spend time doing: cooking and dining. (The worst part about feeding a family of 6 when everyone is employed or a student full time is that no one has time to enjoy this necessary and basic part of being human.) Washing dishes by hand. (It’s reminds me of camping.) Doing laundry. (Going to the laundromat for 2 hours every 3 weeks actually takes less time than owning the machines and doing a load whenever I felt like it.) Sleeping. (I have always been a napper and a morning person. I go to bed by 10pm most nights. Did that even in college.)
What I really want to spend time doing: being outside, hiking, camping, traveling. Reading books and listening to music. Writing. Being aware. Being present, especially when I’m face to face with another living being. Learning and loving and being happy.
We don’t any of us know how much time we will have to be alive. We all have the responsibility and the opportunity to decide how we will live in whatever time we have. That’s an awesome gift. Jim’s sister quoted Abe Lincoln at the memorial service we held: “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, but the life in your years.” So maybe there’s no such thing as ‘time’, only ‘life’.