How Wise Are You?

Is wisdom reserved for the elders? Can anyone, at any age have wisdom worth sharing?

How does one measure wisdom anyway?

I define wisdom as learning from experience and applying it to how you live your life.

One dictionary definition is “the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.”

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Do we learn from our experiences? Are we able to coalesce all that we have learned into a body of wisdom from which we make future decisions? That would be ideal. Then, I surmise, we would be able to learn from history. Even though something hasn’t been part of our personal experience, every historical event is held in the collective memory. Somehow, deep within, we know that we don’t want to repeat what lead to World War II, for instance. We’ve seen enough films and read enough books about the atrocities, haven’t we? Some of us have had relatives or acquaintances who’ve lived through those years. We might have heard their stories.

Yet, one can only wonder how far we’ve come when we see egocentric leadership who fans fervor in his/her followers. When division and dissension are made to look appealing, necessary or as the only way to make change–any wisdom seems to go out the window.

So, we don’t really have wisdom then. We’re wishy-washy, easily lead and already traumatized. We’ve lost touch with a grounded sense of truth that comes from honoring oneself and the other with compassion and creativity at its basis. By a grounded sense of truth, I mean the ability to sit quietly, go inside and ask the questions that lead you to deep (perhaps universal) truth. Compassion because it really is true that until “you walk a mile in my shoes,” you won’t know what my life has been. And creativity because creativity says “let’s do this differently…let’s collaborate…let’s figure this out together.”

Wisdom, that elusive exotic bird, the prize of a lived life or occasionally recognized in the naivete of youth. We should be praying for this. For leaders who have this quality. For leaders who love life and all of its inhabitants. For those who love the earth, our home in the universe. And we need to cultivate it in ourselves. Daily.

One way is to get out in nature as often as you can. And sit there. Sit there until you feel a deeper and truer rhythm.

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Do you claim your learned lessons? Have you freed yourself from the pretense that you don’t know what you do know? As a woman, there have been times when I let myself be smaller and didn’t own the wisdom I have. Perhaps I didn’t want to make someone else, usually a man in my life, feel inferior. That, I now know, serves nothing and no one. We don’t have to pretend to be less wise than we are. I don’t have to be less wise than I am. You don’t have to be less wise than you are.

Enjoy your day!

Art in Your Life

How many times have you said (or heard someone say) “I don’t have an artistic bone in my body?”

My reply is “I don’t believe that.”

We are all artists in some sense as we imprint our life upon the blank canvas of each new day. The fact that the arts have not been stressed in a world of academia, resigns many of us to the theory that we are not creative. We see art as the territory of an elite group of eccentric individuals, not for “the common man.” And the number of these individuals who make it to the respectful ranks of successful artists, supported monetarily by their art, is even smaller. So if you can’t make a living at it, the competition is stiff, the chances of positive recognition are slim, then what’s the point of integrating it into an academic curriculum? What benefit could it possibly have? How could it improve the quality of life?

Big questions with lots of diverse theoretical answers. Some answers have been researched in a structured way; many have personal experience to back them up. What has been your experience with art? How has it influenced you? Have you discovered that ‘creative bone’ or allowed it to lay dormant? Time and money are often factors. Who has the time to take an art class or go to see the art show? And making art can certainly be an expensive hobby.

We are all artists to the degree that we choose to be. An artist and one who appreciates art become one in synchronistic moments. Practicing an art form or experiencing someone else’s art can be life enhancing. Who sets the table with a vase of arranged flowers and pretty place settings thereby elevating herself and her guests? Who stands in awe of a stunning sunset? Who becomes breathless over the blue sky brushed with wisps of white clouds? Who admires the evergreens and bare deciduous trees frosted with white snow? Who witnesses the burst of flowers in spring and laughs with birdsong? Who is revitalized by the last nectarine on the tree, untouched by bird or bug. If you are among any of these, you are a lover of the arts.

For what is art but a capturing of one moment in a photograph, on a canvas, on film, in a poem, a dance, a sculpture or acted in a play? How fortunate that some of us can take what nature has provided and transform it into our own individual expression. Why wouldn’t we want to experience this pleasure in as many ways as possible? Art viewed, participated in and discussed is a forum for communication with other viewers and/or fellow artists. Whatever emotions it might touch–love, anger, joy, grief or passion, it achieves the purpose of opening us and providing an opportunity to share with another.

There are a variety of mediums to choose from. We each have unique tastes and we begin with a curiosity to explore one of them. One person might enjoy molding clay, another plays with paints and yet another loves words. Experimenting and experiencing are the best teachers. When was the last time you attended an art exhibit? When was the last time you listened to classical music during dinner? Have you always wanted to take a photography class? On a sunny day, picture this–you, watercolors, a paint brush and canvas sitting in the backyard giving yourself permission to come out and play. For today, why not place a vase of your favorite flowers on the kitchen table? See what opens up for you and those who live with you. The artist in you is longing for recognition.

Enjoy!

This Journey

We are, each one of us, on a journey to ourselves. Many of us (I don’t know why it’s this way) are born into family systems that steer us further away from ourselves. This steering away is influenced by the cultural, political and religious systems that are in place when we are born. We then spend a lot of our life trying to release what isn’t true for us or that isn’t serving our wholeness. We want to serve the greater good by sharing our unique gifts, but there is all of this undoing that has to happen before we can access what we’re here to share. So it seems.

Several years ago, I crafted and presented creative writing workshops. These workshops arose from a place of my own individual self-exploration. However, the template I created could be applied to guiding other writers and seekers with processing and integrating their own experiences through creative writing. It was a wonderful, intuitive and healing experience for all participants. However, at some point, I decided that until I was more whole, more evolved or wiser, that I should stop sharing in this way.

I withdrew from presenting workshops. There were other more imperative things that I needed to tend such as my ailing parents. Then, there was a high maintenance relationship that diverted my attention. That was followed by a timidity and the thought that I didn’t have the energy to present in this way. So everything that I had created, crafted and cultivated laid in a heap in a file cabinet drawer waiting, waiting, waiting for some prince to come and kiss it awake, or not.

The truth is that you’re never going to have it all together. There is not going to be a perfect time when all conditions are right. And the stars won’t be perfectly aligned as a clue for you to begin. Besides, your wholeness involves all of your imperfections and that vulnerability is part of your charm. This is the place where people can connect with you authentically. It helps them recognize their own vulnerable places that need tender loving care.

“If I waited until I had all of my ducks in a row, I’d never cross the street. Sometimes you just have to gather up what you’ve got and make a run for it.”

A friend sent me this quote as I was writing my blog this morning. It fits perfectly with what I’m saying…that is take your beautiful, imperfect self, go out into the world and share your gifts. Wherever you are in your personal journey is good enough. Can you imagine a world where each and every being–with their unique perspective–creates a potpourri of diversity, the wondrous variety of life?

Enjoy the sharing and the human discovering that you are.

Nature, the Harmonizer

When I’m in harmony with the natural world, the ducks are drawn to me.

Mountain lakes are amazing year around. If the winter is cold enough, Castle Lake freezes over. You can walk and/or ice skate on it. I have walked across it–yes, walking on water! It takes a bit of daring. We’ve seen those movies where someone falls through the ice. I don’t walk on it unless there’s been a long and hard freeze.

Now, it is spring and the ice is floating on the water as it melts into this new cycle. The wild ducks are flying in and skittering to a halt upon the lake.

This particular day, I arrived, walked towards the shoreline to take a seat on a boulder. Coming from my busy day with the energy of busy-ness, the few ducks by the shore swam hurriedly away. I sat for awhile, being there in the quiet and dearth of bustle. The beauty takes my breath away. Such awesome beauty brings tears to my eyes and seems to settle into my being. There is the rising awareness, a renewed consciousness, that there is so much more than I perceive.

When there is no hurry, nowhere else to be, nothing that I need to do–when I’m fully present–a calming effect occurs. The quiet of the outer natural world envelops and penetrates until I’m one with it. When that happens, I am no longer perceived as separate.

In fly two wild ducks, landing in their ungracious-seeming awkwardness. It actually looks like fun, as their webbed feet make a splash landing. One of the ducks swims off in her exploratory way, grubbing for food. The other one swims closer, very close. I watch her for a few moments. I expect her to fly off when I rummage in my back pack for my camera. She doesn’t flutter a feather. When an animal stays within range, I figure they want to be photographed. They remind me, and through my photography, I remind others that we share this planet with such an array of amazing creatures. There is always the daily miraculous when we pause to be aware of it. And, that we remember we are part of it, not separate, is imperative in these times.

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Sitting in nature, taking quiet time, revives and resettles your whole body, mind, spirit system. From this space, this place you are able to harmonize with your natural surroundings. Then, there is the opportunity to carry that energy out into your daily encounters. The world sorely needs harmony with something higher than what the media offers.

Technology is Phasing Me Out

I wrote this post a few years ago although I didn’t publish it at the time. Today, I find the message to be as relevant as ever…

My DVD player went kaput the other night. I swear I heard it sigh twice before it succumbed. Unfortunately, it had swallowed a Netflix DVD, Secretariat. I was forced to resort first to tweezers and when that didn’t work, I used a can opener to pry it open.

The next day, I went up to Wal Mart and reviewed their inventory of DVD players. I chose a Sony DVD player with Blu-ray Disc capacity. An upgrade, I thought, pleased with my choice. I even brought the two-year warranty plan. I got home that night, too tired to set it up.

A friend told me “it’s easy.”

So the next evening, I decided to get it up and running before bed. I unplugged all the cords from the old DVD player. I read the instruction manual from front to back.

I realized that the HDMI cable wasn’t included in the deal. I also noticed that some of the hook-ups looked different than what was on the older model. There weren’t the same jacks and outlets and inlets and all of that. I don’t have Cable TV and wondered if that was a requirement. I plugged in the DVD player after I made one connection…but it wasn’t actually connected to the TV. I decided it could wait until the next day.

I went down to the local Radio Shack with both of the manuals–for the Sony Blu-Ray Disc DVD Player and for my SANYO LCD TV. I was told that these two pieces of equipment were incompatible and furthermore, they no longer made the same type of connectors as are on my less-than-five-year-old TV. In other words, I wouldn’t be able to find a DVD player that would be compatible with my LCD TV. What a disappointment!


“It’s old,” he said plainly.

“Not that old,” I replied.

I was told that I could bring my old DVD player to the transfer station and that there is no charge.

He said “Sometimes, they charge to dispose of them as there are lethal components.

I said “I can only hope that they find a way to recycle some of these parts. Otherwise, what a toxic heap we’re making.”

I thought, built-in obsolescence.

Where is all of this technology, the technology with the lethal components going to end up? In a heap and choking our environment? What the heck is going on?

Maybe I’ll return the DVD player. Maybe I won’t get a TV. Maybe (before Covid) I’ll just invite some friends over and chat around a cozy fire. I could start a knitting circle where we sit and share our stories. I might make ice-cream the old-fashioned way. Take up weaving, spinning wool. TV, after all, can make us anti-social and lazy.

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All of that said, with the advent of the virus in 2020, we’ve become more dependent on technology to stay connected. The good and the not-so-good of things.

What Money Can’t Buy

This morning, an exceptionally beautiful morning, while watering the plants in the front yard and on the back deck, it occurred to me that there isn’t anything that I could buy that could add to my appreciation of this moment.

The air is clear, the water is pristine, the sky is a brilliant blue, the plants are appreciating my attention. I am simmering oatmeal with the apples I dried last autumn. I add toasted almonds and a touch of honey with a dribble of half-and-half for the occasion. Perhaps a sprinkle of cinnamon.

“Happy. Thank You. More Please.”

This is actually the name of a movie from 2011. The premise being that noticing when you’re happy, give gratitude and let the universe hear that yes, you’d like more of that which makes you happy. Hmmm.

This morning, rather than battling the negatives…I notice the wonders and what makes me happy. Yes, it’s all fleeting…but we’re so quick to say what we don’t want and build defenses against that, whatever it is. When, in fact, we can say I want more of that which makes me happy. Please and thank you.

Realizing that buying and owning something else isn’t going to bring me any closer to happiness than I am right this second, I settle into this moment.

Part Two:–same day.

Didn’t I say that it is all fleeting?

Being in the flow, when things are going in your favor, that’s great. Isn’t it! I notice how I can get into trouble when I multi-task–which I have a tendency to do. I could attribute it to being a Leo with double Gemini in my astrological birth chart. During the childrearing years, I learned to multi-task quite well. I always envied the way my ex-husband could devote himself fully to one project at a time. He didn’t have to change diapers, supervise the children’s work and play, clean house, do the laundry, cook dinner, plan the next grocery shopping expedition…he could focus on painting a wall in the living room for eight hours straight without interruption–when he finally got around to it.

Today’s flow was interrupted when I began the multi-tasking. Watering the front and back gardens mixed with painting a portrait mixed with cleaning up the kitchen mixed with cooking and proceeding to burn the broccoli for the quiche I plan to make. So with the house smelling of burnt broccoli, having turned off the sprinkler in the backyard and laid aside the painting, I remember that flow is best when the focus is on one thing at a time. I remember, when I am present with that one thing at a time, I give attention to whatever the task at hand is. I feel more in balance.

What about you? This morning? Do you take note of the gift in the fleeting moment? The one that money can’t buy? The one when something beautiful strikes you and you pause to be with such beauty. Taking time to treasure that which makes you happy…I recommend it.

Writers, Rabbit Holes and Curiouser and Curiouser

My watercolor version of Sir John Tenniel’s Alice in Wonderland (in the attic)

Alice of Wonderland fame had a curious nature.  Falling down a rabbit hole probably wasn’t brilliant.  However, it lead her into a fictitious world, one that Lewis Carroll fabricated brilliantly.  Was it a political parody?  A not so subtle way to expose and mock the then current political climate in England?  Was it only a fantasy, a child’s tale?  To be taken at face value?

Regardless, writers are curious beings.  They pursue various white rabbits in their quest for a story.  They research and sniff things out.  They discover, uncover, unearth, expose and bring things to light to share with their readers.  Ha!  Curiosity, it has been said, keeps one young.  The exploration can lead you into all sorts of encounters.  However, if it’s a white rabbit that you meet, you might be careful about who you tell.

In my childhood, the oft repeated phrase was “Children are meant to be seen and not heard.”  What clever person invented that one?  Asking questions and having a questing nature is how we discover and learn about the world that we’re born into.  The autocratic family system in which I grew up disallowed individual thinking and discouraged asking questions.  You were served what you were served and it was for your own good–you best swallow it in its entirety.  Some of my siblings chafed under this rule and were given the strap.  Others went into denial… ‘everything is fine’.  And then, the belief that everyone lived like this seemed true.  There wasn’t a lot of connection with the outside world.  Isolation is important in this type of system.  

It takes awhile, after one leaves such a home, to feel safe enough to express yourself freely.  It takes awhile to even realize what your own thoughts are.  But when you begin to come out from under the veils of fear and trauma, you start to notice things around you that just aren’t right.  And  your questions rise to the surface.  If you feel safe enough, you pursue those questions with an avidness, a rising hunger, a quest for your own truth in the midst of a world in chaos.  So, your early childhood, in a sense has trained you to recognize the non-sense that much of the world is buying into.  You have insight into the fragmentation, the separation, the isolation, the not seeing what is really going on (i.e. the elephant in the living room).  When your experiences take you into situations where questions aren’t encouraged, you have a nose for something isn’t right here.  

What I’m noticing is that there are many people across the planet who don’t question the status quo.  I witness how we continue allowing atrocities, warmongering, class differences, economic stratification, ageism, sexism, racism–all those ism’s.  And then there are those who do question, thankfully.  Climate change is real…do we stick our heads in the sand and pretend otherwise or do we roll up our sleeves and head into the fray and see if we can learn from the wiser elders, the indigenous ones, those who love the earth?  

No one person can address all the inequities by themselves.  I wonder what might happen if you or I or anyone chooses one thing to be curious about, to study and learn about?  At some point, you might feel the desire to share what you’ve learned.  At times, you could feel inspired to speak with newfound authority on  your topic of choice.  You might be inclined to educate others from that place of passionate awareness

One thing!  One thing only to be curious about and to explore.  What would you choose?

What’s a Feminist?

Sorting through my many files of writing–with the intention of shredding some of it, I came across a questionnaire from my college-age granddaughter…she was writing a paper about my generation of women–the sixties and seventies.

The first question was “Do you consider yourself a feminist?” As I rewrite this question here, I wonder if the concept of feminist even exists in other cultures. I’d like to know. Or does it belong to a time and era, culture and country, localized?

Regardless, it’s food for thought. Once I answered, yes, I consider myself a feminist, her next question was… “How do you define feminism?”

One dictionary definition of feminism is: “The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities…” A second definition: ” Organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests.”

I think that it’s important to recognize that in 1787 when the US Constitution was ratified, where it says that “all men are created equal” it refers to educated white males. Though women in this country were granted the right to vote as of August 18, 1920, the mentality that classed women as property and inferior to men exists to this day. Within the mindsets of both women and men, women continue to have less status than men in this country–and throughout most of the civilized and third world countries. Is it changing?

We hear examples of this inequality and outright abuse around the world daily. Though it can be more subtle in this country, wherever women are objectified–popular men’s magazines (like Playboy), sitcoms and movies that portray women as “dumb,” and crimes against women that aren’t effectively addressed. The lack of educational opportunities across the economic strata that would enhance women’s opportunities and self-esteem .

There is a concurrent need for the re-educating of men to foster respect for the contributions of womankind, up close and personal and globally. What is at the very roots of resistance to this? What undermines and contributes to this inequality?

Truly, the personal is political. One thought that I would add in defining feminism is this: Women do have gender-specific abilities, responsibilities, qualities that men obviously don’t have. That said, a reframing of the intrinsic value of women’s work both to a household and its benefits to a society should not go unrecognized and under-appreciated. The tasks that are particular to her gender, specifically, childbearing, nurturing, intuiting, nourishing and any other innately feminine traits be elevated and deemed as worthy and equal to any work that a man does out in the world–this recognition boosts esteem. Different but equal was a phrase commonly used in the sixties when women were burning their bras. I don’t think that the intention of this statement is reflected in our policies yet today.

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Are you a feminist?

How do you define feminism?

A good discussion topic with your friends?

I genuflect

I came across this poem I wrote back in 2009…my dad was resisting allowing in-home-help for my mom.  When we were finally able to get someone in to help my parents, when my father finally acquiesced, I wrote a poem of gratitude for this corps of helpers.  Caregivers are underpaid and unsung heroines and heroes.  They do women’s work which, as we realize, is undervalued across the globe.

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I genuflect
before all life
and the caregiver who
washes a sink full of dirty dishes
and changes diapers
or empties bedpans
bathes my parents
–to those who wash urine-soaked mattress pads
with grace.

I revere the life
which enters in a bloody burst
catching its first breath in a cry
and releasing its final breath in a shudder
and everything in between
–especially women’s work
which great corporations
like hotels, restaurants,
the hospitality industry
model themselves after.
Women have always
prepared our food,
cared for the sick,
done the laundry,
and not been paid for
their necessary labor.
i.e., my mom
–now my dad has to pay wages
for her care after sixty-six years
of her unpaid service to him.

To pay for women’s work
is a tough pill for him to swallow
wash it down
wash it down
and cough up the money
for these worthy and necessary chores
from worthy givers of care
to my more than deserving mom.

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Ultimately, my parents moved to a care home.  Their needs were met by caregivers making minimum wage. There is a real humility in accepting help as we age.  And caregiving is a humble profession that deserves to be elevated.  Where does any one society place its value?  This becomes obvious in what they put their money towards.
My father passed away in 2010 and my mom died six months later.

How to work with the “Malaise”

Malaise: “…a general feeling of discomfort, illness, or uneasiness whose exact cause is difficult to identify.”

How are you coping with it? The long stretch of not being sure how to proceed? The risks, the frustrations, the doubts and uncertainties, the news, the misinformation, the truth that “no one really knows for sure.” What are the long-term consequences of getting the vaccine? How long does it last? What’s the best one for you? What’s the best one for me? Who can you go to for answers? What if you are one who chooses to wait and see before you get the vaccine, if ever? What is the underlying cause of this virus? Where did it actually originate? What’s the best preventative? Can we gather or not? How many feet apart? Wearing masks, indoors or outdoors? Double-masking? Whaaaaat?

And do we have to face more of this in the future? Is it a result of climate change and what we’ve been doing to our planet? The virus goes to the lungs…are the lungs of the earth sending us a message as we carry on with our deforestation…the trees, the lungs of the planet? A good question–is the earth giving us FEEDBACK? How are we interpreting this?

Some of my friends are trying to live their lives with business as usual. There are others who are working around the curtailments. There are others who go between the malaise and working on one or another projects. For them it’s like swimming against the currents. Progress is slow, if any. Sometimes they go sideways, detouring into a mindless distraction. Some have a new addiction to the news, their computers. And they are suffering for it. As for me, I’m trying to sort through a lifetime of writing. And to maintain the little cottage where I live better. A little garden. The goal is to bring some order to the world that immediately surrounds me. The one I think I have some control over. In incremental ways, daily. It doesn’t have to be dramatic or overnight.

What about you? How are you coping?

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I wrote this poem in March of 2012. I don’t remember what was going on in my life at the time. It was a year after my mom had died. A year and a half since my dad had died. I’m guessing I was rousing myself and redirecting my life after the challenges of their final years. The thing is…perhaps we’re always rebounding from something or other in our lives. Yes, it’s true, the magnitude of what has resulted from the virus is different because it’s global, not only us. Yet, we do know some of what it takes to rebound.

Betweenland
by Christine O’Brien

Footing is precarious
The old, familiar ledges
eroding beneath my feet
before I have something
solid in place
If trust were substance
I’d stand upon it
finding safe ground
in the midst of dissolution
From there,
I’d look out upon inner continents
–the old ones disappearing
as the new ones surface
The discontent and yearning
from which they’ve sprung
in my own sweet soul
calling more of me into being
The woman that I am
standing on this plot of land
looking across the horizon,
now so close,
to see the other one
stretching out his hand
towards me