Aha’s: Part Two–You’re Not Alone

We got married at age 19! We had been married for seven years. Our daughter was five years old. My immature husband had tugs towards freedom. He didn’t want to be married anymore. He never discussed his unhappiness or yearnings–one day, he just announced that he was leaving. In shock, I begged him not to go. Couldn’t we possibly work things out? Why didn’t he talk to me about his longings? But then, he talked so little. He was after all, a macho man who heroically kept his feelings and thoughts to himself. I remember dramatically falling to the ground and grabbing his leg as he tugged me across the kitchen floor. That was it! He was gone! And there was nothing I could do about it. I had no idea where he was going. He left no way to contact him.

That night, I cried into my pillow as my daughter slept in the room next to mine. The next day, one of my brothers came to stay with me, sleeping on the living room sofa. I had to get my bearings, figure out what I was going to do. We had bought our little fixer-upper house at a “steal” so our mortgage was reasonable. I could manage the payments with support from him. But I couldn’t think straight. My mind was going in a roundabout–what had I done wrong? Why did he leave us, me? Was I really on my own? How could I be a single mom? I wasn’t prepared for this. My mom had stayed with my dad through every sort of hell. Aren’t we bred to stay in a marriage no matter what?

After a week or so, I told my brother to go home. “I’m going to have to make it on my own sooner or later,” I said. “I might as well start now.” That first night, I got my daughter to bed at the usual time. The long evening was ahead of me. I was emotionally exhausted. I thought I might as well call it a day also. The bed faced the doorway to the kitchen–it was an old house probably built in a hurry, without a hallway. I remember lying there, crying. I said in a muffled voice, “I’m alone, I’m so alone.”

In that precise moment, I felt the most calming presence. It seemed to be present in the doorway, although invisible. It spoke clearly, yet without a voice: “You’re not alone.” The sense of calm deepened. I felt no fear. I fell into a deep and restful sleep. When I awoke in the morning, I knew what I needed to do and I proceeded in that direction.

A week or so later, my ex-husband came back. My intuition said, “Don’t take him back. He needs to grow up.” My upbringing said “You need a husband, a man. You can’t be a woman on her own.” I let him return and life got very difficult after that. He became a raging alcoholic and I stayed through it all until our two daughters were grown and left home. You can be married and feel the loneliest when there isn’t open communication…or love.
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The message “You’re not alone,” held my hand through many a lonely time after I finally left my marriage. Sometimes, I try to recreate the experience and that calm feeling that accompanied it. At the beginning of winter, lessening of light and shorter days, I can slip into an existential loneliness. Sensing into this existential feeling, I began to realize that loneliness is a human condition and it’s also not true.

On one such wintry evening, I was working on a painting of a polar bear. I couldn’t quite capture something as I painted. I stopped and sat down with my pen and paper.

“It’s cold and I’m alone again at night
the stars so far away, no comfort there
Is the polar bear aware of its plight?
Ice floes are melting does anyone care?”

In that poetic moment, my own loneliness joined with a polar bear out there in the frozen wilds, alone on an ice floe watching his world melt. What was to become of him? My loneliness met with what I perceived as his loneliness. I was immediately less lonely. I was part of something larger than my small self in my little cottage. I was part of this earthly home, connected to that polar bear, to all of life.

When I can fully grasp that I’m not alone, I invoke that deep calm.
“You’re not alone.” Those words resonated with me then, and they do today.

What are your life Aha’s? Part One

I’ve had several that I recognized as such. The first one was when I was very young. It’s only in retrospect that I named it as an “aha moment.” I was five-years old, in kindergarten. For some reason, the kindergarten classroom wasn’t placed very strategically. We had to walk across a bustling, chaotic and dangerous schoolyard to get to our classroom. There were boisterous boys bouncing balls, squealing girls scrambling and tagging, nuns towering and trying to maintain a semblance of order. To get to that classroom in the far corner of the schoolyard, a little person as I was, I had to brace myself in preparation for running the gauntlet. I took a deep breath and began my journey. Halfway through, I had a sudden awareness that there was a ways to go yet and I froze between the classroom and the place that I had started.

I didn’t panic, but I stood there for a good long moment to catch my breath and observe the length of yard I had left to traverse. After a few breaths, I suddenly felt that I was strongly in my body. It was as if I had roots, strong roots that went up my sturdy legs. I felt this deepened sense of connection to the earth below the asphalt of the schoolyard. I was one with something greater. My young mind couldn’t explain what I was feeling, only that the feeling was strong and deep. I was connected to something deeper and greater and that felt powerful! Feeling low to the ground, I continued across the schoolyard without instance.

Throughout my life, recalling this one moment in time, I have held on to the belief that I am part of a whole. That wholeness claims me daily. When I feel like I’m out there, a leaf in the wind, I can call back the sense of what it felt like to be so grounded. When I face challenges that send me reeling. I can remember that felt sense in my body that gave me stability, strength and courage to lean into the challenge.

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What about you? Can you recall an instance in your life where you felt a connection to something greater? How does this serve you today?

List-making

I am an inveterate list-maker. There are times that I have scraps and notes floating around the house. This can be disorienting and annoying. A daily list consolidates the people I need to call, the business I need to tend, the gift I need to pack and mail, the cards I have to purchase, the storage locker I need to visit, the art I am currently working on, the classes I’m enrolled in and the groceries I need to buy. There’s always more. A daily list helps me to navigate through the day. A compelling guide that, if I follow it, I’m assured that by the end of the day, I’ll feel accomplished!
Ta dum!

Last week, I took an hour to create a list, a consolidation of other lists and notes that had been piling up on the kitchen counter. It wasn’t only for groceries, but other reminders, desires and necessities–like setting a date with the mechanic to add Freon to the car before the weather gets too hot. The list was designed with noted priorities and was quite detailed–a mini work-of-art in and of itself. My first stop that day was Grocery Outlet in a neighboring town. I drove the ten miles. It was a blustery, wet and cold spring day reminding me that winter wasn’t finished with us yet. I parked the car, wrapped my wool jacket tightly around me as I stepped from the car. My trusty list was in my left hand. As I shut the car door, a very strong and mischievous wind kicked up and snatched the list from me! I watched with my mouth slightly open as the wind carried that brilliant list across the wide street, through another very large parking lot, up and down, over and around. Like a kite in the wind, it flailed, never landing as my neck craned to follow it. The rain and the wind combined would make that list a soggy piece of paper with smeared ink before very long. I thought of getting in the car, driving across the wide street into the neighboring parking lot which is also a truck stop. However, I lost track of where the list was off to–parts unknown.

I felt helpless and like I’d been played with by a conspiring universe. Ha, you thought you had a day mapped out. You thought you had a strategy…a way to approach your shopping and what it was you were going to do next. And now, in a gust of wind, it’s lost. The perfect plan. The perfect unfolding. The accomplishment. The pat on the back at the end of the day for following your list like a religion, unerring. There I was, in the wet and cold and staring into the hinterlands–my list gone, as if it were a recently lost lover. I went into the grocery store and tried to remember what was on the list as best as I could. I mourned the loss of my perfect list as I went up and down the aisles.

Somehow, I got through the day and I remembered, how the best laid plans can go awry. I was also reminded that I do have my own inner north star and what needs to get done asserts itself regardless of a written list. I continue to make a list, but I don’t need be so rigid about following it to the letter.

Within any list, there are prayers woven in for myself, my family, my friends, neighbors and community. And for the world which has a very roundabout way of showing that PEACE is a priority. Is there a list that can take us there? I wonder.

What do Women Want?

My ex-boyfriend and I occasionally discussed the age-old question “What do women want?” He believed (as did my ex-husband) that women want to have power over men. Freud thought that women wanted to be men! And others have said that women want to be desired by men. For more years than I can remember, I have wanted to have sovereignty over my own life–even within the establishment of a marriage. I didn’t care to compete with men in the marketplace. Although, I would expect equal pay for equal work. My time is valuable, my job qualifications and experience have spoken for themselves when I worked in the fields of business or education. What I really want is to be able to freely choose and direct the course of my own life. That with respect towards all men, women, beings and subservient to nothing but my woman’s soul.

Within a marriage, I wanted an equal partnership. I wanted both my husband and myself to feel free to express our love for one another. I didn’t want to have to earn love and affection. My ex-husband was stifled in the way he expressed love and care. Although those were his limitations, I took it personally and tried harder for too many years. He was from a culture steeped in machismo. Therefore, he had to dominate in some way. His anger was an accessible emotion (along with his physical strength) to keep the woman (me) in her place!

This is one of those microcosm-macrocosm models. My relationship patterns are reflected in the larger world. The insecure male ego has to dominate the female. That power-over inequality is built into our cultures, religions, politics, the governing laws, etc.

My ex-husband used to believe that I wanted to control him. He brought this perception from his childhood forward into our marriage without examining it. He acted as if it were true. His behaviors towards me from the start proved his belief…I don’t think he understood this until many years later–after we’d been divorced for awhile. I think he got it before he died in 2019. However, those early embedded beliefs are so difficult to release.

In the world today, the opinions and input of approximately 50% of the world’s population, women, goes unheard, unappreciated and not included in decisions that are affecting the whole. That’s astonishing to me! Fifty per-cent of the population isn’t weighing in on how we use the world, whether or not we go to war, decisions about growing and distributing food, healthcare, economics, and every other element of living in this human-made world.

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The third month of every year is Women’s History Month, celebrated in America. International Women’s Day is March 8th this year. As I retrace the scant history that we have of women heroines as compared to men, I recover part of my ancestry. Revaluing women’s contributions throughout history is a powerful exercise for women in present time. As women, it’s important that we reclaim our roots and remember that they go deeper than our immediate family. Studying these roots, we also reclaim our self-esteem and our personal power.

We can’t wait for men to elevate our status. Individually, we have to claim it daily in how we lead our lives. We have to decide what is acceptable in our relationships, in our jobs, in how we show up in the world. We have to value the work that we do, not just the jobs we hold. We have to value ourselves.

I came across this three-minute animated film and thought that it was worth sharing.


Wasteful War

Wasteful War
© by Christine O’Brien

Allow the earth to drown you in her beauty.
Then there’ll be less desire for wasteful war.
Without restraint, succumb to her bounty
Such a complete surrender, do not abhor.

Why do we march to the battlefield still
Inventing disagreements to stoke the fire
What inside of us do we try to quell
If we win, are we right and they the liar?

What, pray tell, is the point of any war?
What victory so sweet that sheds blood?
Are we being true to some ancient lore?
Can we decide midstream to change this plot?

Please drown me earth in your beautiful flood
This cause of death I’d deem worthy, I would.

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Yesterday, I took a walk in nature. I walk daily, weather permitting. I walked beside a lake, Lake Siskiyou in Mount Shasta, CA. Along this trail, they have placed one picnic table with benches. I stopped to sit and gaze at the sparkling water, a few ducks, the trees. I had a little book with me, Sanditon by Jane Austen. Apparently, this is her last work and incomplete. I’d been watching the series on PBS and wanted to see how close they stayed to her book, at least the beginning of it.

Sitting there, having this momentary leisure of time and the beauty of place, I felt fortunate. I could feel what it is to have an experience of peace in beauty. I desired this, something like this, for everyone. I guess I was imagining then a world without war. A world where we are satisfied with caring for what we have and we don’t have the need for conquest and acquiring more.

Today, I walked by the lake again, a different trail. I met a man walking his dog…a stranger. We had a casual conversation and before long, I could see he appreciated nature and longed for peace. I said something to him like “We need leaders who love the earth and value all of life,” and I added, “like you.” He laughed and said that could be his campaign slogan. And then he said that someone who favored burning coal would say “We’re not voting for you because you’re going to undermine our industry.” And I said that his response could be “Let me offer you an alternative.” Isn’t life strange?

My brother, Bob, is a musician and poet and has worked for the Oceanographic Society. For most of his adult life, Bob has protested against war, fought for nuclear disarmament and has been an animal rights advocate. All of these combine to show a man who lives his values. He was out there this past weekend joining with others to protest war.

It’s sad to witness how there are a few men at the top who hold the world hostage.


The Inferior Sex

Women are often portrayed as the weaker sex, the dependents, the victims. Generally, women unconsciously, and consciously, assent to these designated classifications. While I have come to realize that the ascribed descriptives are false, it is the framework within which we live our lives. We thereby, allow our partners, the presumed-to-be stronger or wiser ones, to get away with things they should be called on. We allow them to remain immature and therefore irresponsible or not responsible for their actions. Women have a huge part to play in the maturation of human life on this planet. One way that we can do this is by holding men accountable for their behaviors. We must stop being the sweepers and fixers–sweeping it under the carpet and trying to make it all better. I want this to be a better world for our daughters and our sons than it was for me or my mother.

As women who are the awakeners of men, we need to begin to conduct ourselves as the goddesses that we are. I use this word to elevate us to our own authentic stature. Within this awareness is total equality. What does a goddess look like? How does she behave? How does she walk in the world when she has been disrespected for eons? This woman has unerring values and speaks her non-negotiable truth. She serves no man–she serves wisdom’s truth acquired through her lived experience. Within a relationship, she can choose to make a compromise without compromising her truth or values. For example, if you are with a partner who does not value monogamy and you do, and he isn’t ready to re-evaluate his position, you don’t belong together. What you value is not negotiable.

There is a sacredness in the womanly arts. Women’s work, while portrayed as mundane, is an art. I know about the womanly arts. Throughout history, women who were oppressed found ways to express through craft, cooking, gardening, quilting, embroidery, weaving textiles, dressing their family and more. Some things were done out of necessity, others were done from a deeper place–the need to express her own experience in some unique-to-her way. There was never a problem with women’s work aside from the fact that it is constant. That very constancy allows a woman to deepen her innate wisdom. The problem is that a dysfunctional patriarchal paradigm minimizes and devalues her work. Yet, it is the very backbone that consistently supports all of life. I don’t want to be a woman doing a man’s job. I don’t want to compete with men in a male-constructed market place. I want what I do to be properly respected, valued, elevated…and compensated. HA!

I believe that women should be included at any political bargaining table where war is being discussed. Women who are mothers and grandmothers should be adequately represented. Traditionally, there is and has been an imbalance in their representation. In some indigenous cultures, it is the women who determine whether or not their tribe is to go to battle.

Last evening, I viewed a film celebrating Women’s History Month. It’s called Barbara Lee: Speaking Truth to Power. Congresswoman Barbara Lee is a model of a woman staying true to her values even under duress.

Said Eleanor…

I was considering writing an essay addressed to women based on Eleanor Roosevelt’s oft-stated observation “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Then, I waivered for a few reasons. The main one being, I personally know how hard it is to rise above the belief of one’s own inferior status when you are surrounded by a culture, religion or family system that operates from a built-in gender inequality model. And, when your finances are tied in with your male counterpart this compounds the situation.

How does a woman activate within herself the powerful being that has been in dormancy for eons? How does she, despite everything that is pushing against this, rise into her own (uncomfortable) power? How does she source her power in a male-dominated world where “might makes right” and she is hostage to her fears? And as a woman, how does she safely proclaim her feminine prowess when what she brings to the table is unappreciated, minimized and even ridiculed?

At the time that I wrote the following, my mother was eighty-two years old, born in 1920. She married my father in 1941. He won the grand prize, her. She quit her secretarial job, as was expected, bore nine children and lived a life of absolute servitude to him. I heard from one of my sister’s a few days ago. She said that our mom was sitting in a chair in our parents’ house. She just keeled over, fell to the floor and laid their conscious but shocked. Somehow, she got herself up. Shortly thereafter, she went outside to tell my father. He wanted to take her to the hospital. She declined.

My mother runs a household for my father the same as she has since 1941, except that she no longer has her children to help with all of the household tasks. My father does not lift a finger. In his letter to me, he said they eat two meals a day. This preparation is hard on my mom. She doesn’t just throw a porkchop in the broiler. He requires labor-intensive meals and my mom complies. They have two refrigerators stocked with food that she has prepared and other staple ingredients. This is her job, her role–I once asked her “Mom, when do you get to retire?” She answered sheepishly, “I never thought of that.” In questioning her daily routine, I asked her “Do you ever stop, take a bath with bath salts or essential oils and just relax.” She said “I don’t have time for that.” When the facts of his physical and other abuses came to light, I asked her, “Mom, didn’t you get angry?” Her response was “I can’t be bothered with that.”

Where did her anger go? Years later, I realized that part of her anger went into guilt and shame because she didn’t protect her children or herself so well.

Contrary to an enduring belief–men are not intended to be the kings in their castles with women serfs out in the field doing the labor, birthing the children and caring for all things that revolve around home. And in this model, she is also excluded from the decision-making even with things that directly affect her.

So, while I agree in theory with Eleanor’s quote…in practice, after years of ongoing spousal abuse and mental manipulations, my mom had lost the power to make healthy choices for herself when it came to this long-endured relationship. She had been made to feel inferior, probably from birth. And this sense of inferiority carried on right through her marriage to a narcistic man.

Looking at the world at large, I do think that there are some narcistic male leaders making decisions for all of us. As a woman, how does my voice even get heard to affect change in a system that is intent with keeping her in her place? Until a woman can break the ties that bind her to a false sense of herself and comes to realize her personal power, the same games are going to play out. Men continue to dominate. Women continue to take a back seat. We’ve seen a few models of powerful women, but not enough. A surge of woman’s power has to happen en masse to affect real change for the better.

Paying Attention

How come we elect leaders who don’t know how to effectively lead? How come we don’t elect leaders who embody the higher values of humanity? Why do these men (as they are mostly men making these big decisions for the whole planet) have the idea that to over-power is real power? Where did the notion that conquest equals power originate? What has lead them to believe that war, a show of physical bravado and military invasion, somehow lends them an air of superiority? As they force the submission of others with less defenses, they assume that they gain respect.

Why we vote for leaders who don’t value human life, planetary health and who disrespect the rights of all is beyond my way of thinking.

I wrote this poem on September 7, 2020 when the world was facing into the unknown of the Covid virus. So much has happened since then. Sometimes, poetry is a way to manage the confusion and emotions that we experience.

Paying Attention
by Christine O’Brien

One daughter thinks that the world
might be coming to an end
The other daughter focuses on
getting her daughter to her 8th grade Zoom classes
I paint a painting of a clouded leopard
indigenous to Southeast Asia
He was believed to be extinct
not yet, not quite, but they’re rapidly
taking away his hardwood forests
Before that, I painted the Spirit Bear
who lives in sector five of the
coastal rainforests on the islands of
British Columbia
His forests were designated to be decimated
by lumber companies
It was proven that this bear is a unique species
neither albino nor mutation
For now the forests are saved
What havoc humans have wrought
who can forgive this?
How are we communicating with one another,
as human beings?
When one says one thing
and the other hears something else
what hope is there?
And then, there’s the debate about wearing a mask
Meeting friends, one wears a mask that slips
below her nose frequently
the other doesn’t wear a mask at all
I wear a mask, pulling it away from my face
occasionally
so my words aren’t muffled
What are we doing?
In 1918, there was no vaccine research
People either died of the virus then or
they developed an immunity
The man who came to sand and stain the deck
has a crush on who he thinks I am
He says that he doesn’t want another woman friend
he wants a girlfriend and his blue eyes pierce my own
Slow down, way down
The lizard I photographed
the one that posed on the boulder beside the lake
I read that their pushups are meant to show
prowess
or to claim territory
the little studs
Native Americans perspective is that life goes
in circles
not linear
I like to think as my sister-in-law suggested
that we are in the continuum
Forget numbering your years
Be in it, this life, this continuum, this unknown
risky place

My Next House

I found my next house and have moved! it’s not far from where I lived before, but in a more forested area. This little house used to be an art studio. It is distant enough from the main house on the property to be private. In fact, it’s on two acres! The house is a sweet space, two stories and truly in the trees…that’s all I see when I look out the windows–pines and cedars and manzanita. Yet, there is plenty of opportunity for a successful garden. I dug up the herbs from the planter that Philip built and transported the wood sculpture and the herbs here. That’s a good place to begin the new garden.

I’m going to take gardening seriously regardless of how long I stay. Yes, the garden supersedes everything else for now! It is my shaman, my teacher, my mentor. A rock garden, an herb garden, flowers along the pathway to the front door, flowers in a barrel. Perhaps build a shrine to the losses I’ve experienced over the course of my life. What else? Vegetables? Hmmm, maybe not. We do have a good farmer’s market nearly year around.

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Thank Goddess for the garden. I can be a heady person, thinking and pondering life. And politics! I wonder how we can finally learn to cooperate? What can we agree upon? What are our similarities? Where do we connect? Perhaps we have to ask ourselves new questions to get different, hopefully better answers. How do we define peace? Does it need to be redefined? Can we celebrate our differences rather than let them divide us? I read the mission statement of the United Nations:

United Nations mission statement is “the maintenance of international peace and security.” Eradicating conflicts across the globe is the pivotal duty of this organization. Its focus on this area is because it seeks to: 1. Improve Lives and 2. Transform Communities

While the mission of the United States Department of Defense is “… to provide the military forces needed to deter war and ensure our nation’s security.” A contradiction within itself it would seem–deter war by engaging in war. My sister and I were talking last night. She said that she would have thought that by this century, leaders around the world would have found a better way to deal with conflict. Me too!

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The tulip is a different religion than the carnation. The daffodil is a whole different race than the forget-me-not. The rose does not reign as queen over the daisy. The yellow goldenrod is companionable to its neighbor, the purple aster. They all appreciate a soft spring rain, playful warm breezes and are lulled by the songs of nature. They all welcome the bumble bee. They each want to be the most that they can be. They each have something wonderful to offer. They’d hope the same for us–freedom to be and share our gifts.

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Competition has been “the word” for a long time. The world grows smaller and it seems right that cooperation becomes the word of now.

The Roots of Story

A garden cannot be hurried. It needs watering–daily, in hot, wilting weather like we’re having. Again, the desire to move is surfacing. There aren’t any likely places available at this time. So, I worked in the garden most of the day, planting herbs in the redwood planter that Philip built for me. It is full and beautiful! It is three square tiers angled one above the other giving me thirteen little plots for herbs. It’s a lovely sculpture for the garden. Now that it’s planted, it’s immoveable.

When I work in the garden, my mind meanders. Today I thought about stories. Have you noticed how stories have a way of sticking with us even after they have outworn their usefulness? Stories upon stories, layered, so sticky thick and that we’ve made seamless through the retelling. We think they are necessary, even the ones that are redundant, like the necessity of war in order to keep peace. Such a multitude of stories all woven in upon the other. Throughout time, we’ve created a whole logjam of stories. Was it because we couldn’t stand the wondrous, bare bones truth of a mysterious existence? Is story intended to protect our vulnerable selves? We do seem to crave complexity. We’ve taken a perfectly fine planet earth and twisted and contorted it into a Disneyland of another sort showing how very difficult we can make things given little or no incentive!

Roger Housden, author of Ten Poems to Change Your Life and many other books, tells a story about visiting Iran to gather information for a book he was writing. As he was about to board a plane at the airport in Iran, he was detained by security. Up until that time, Roger had believed a story that as an Englishman in these times, he had an inherent superiority of sorts…that he lead a charmed life and was exempt from harm. Upon being detained by security, that belief was shed as they took his passport, tossed it in the garbage and told him that it was worthless there. He could die and no one would ever know what happened to him. They offered him two choices–he could work with them or spend the next five years in prison. His long-held story fell away and was replaced by the awareness of his own real vulnerability, creating in him a humility and compassion that has remained with him.

In my own life, there has been an ongoing quest. I try to figure life out or, when I can’t, I might latch onto a story that satisfies me momentarily. Someone once called earth “the planet of story.” Stories in flesh and bone, is that what we are? Drop the stories and then, are we flattened like a steam-rolled cartoon character?

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I’m alone tonight, although I called Timothy at the last minute to invite him to watch a movie–a story to escape from thinking about my story. I was about to say that I’m glad he’s not coming over when he called to say, “Yeah, I’d like to watch a movie with you.” No longer lovers, we both state clearly (with a little longing and then definitely not on my part). I guess, I wish he was a platonic friend, a playmate. Can we transform our relationship into a mild flirtation short of temptation?

While outside, the garden stands, persisting through my naivete or ignorance. The garden. Tomorrow I’ll plant some flowers along a fence.

Goddess of the earth, help me to let go of the stories that aren’t helpful so that I can see the path forward clearly.