Let’s Talk–between a man and a woman

Last week, when the smoke in the mountains of northern California cleared sufficiently, I sat outside in the backyard with a male friend. I mentioned that I had recently watched the film, The Princess Bride. One of the antagonists was boasting that he had a brain that could outwit Socrates and Aristotle. My friend wondered how it would be to engage in a conversation with Socrates and Aristotle. If they were there with us today, in my backyard in conversation, what would that be like? I said “First of all, being a woman, I wouldn’t be included in the conversation.” It isn’t big news that in Greek society, women had a place; it was in the home and their occupation was within that domain. To this friend’s credit, he said that I’d be included in the conversation if he had anything to say about it!
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Let’s back up to 2009. For several years, I’d been considering the possibility of conversations with a man. I didn’t have a particular man in mind. One day, at the local health food store, a man who actually had done some yard maintenance for me, stood behind me in the checkout line. I turned to him, his name is Daniel, and I nearly blurted out “Would you be interested in having some poetic conversations with me about the way that men and women relate?” Without hesitation he replied, “Christine, I’m your man.” For twelve weeks, we met once a week for an hour. Many more questions arose.  I recorded our conversations, made a cd for both of us so that in between meetings, we could review what was said and witness how we listened, how we spoke, and any other observations.

Premise for conversations:  Having survived a highly abusive childhood within a dysfunctional patriarchal family paradigm, I married young.  I stayed in this abusive relationship for nearly thirty years.  I was a battered wife.  Out in the dating world, I encountered some very immature men.  I had questions about men; about how men and women relate, about expectations in a relationship, about why men think that they have permission to behave in an abusive way towards women, to dominate them.  These are questions that every woman should be asking, if not for herself and her daughters, then for her nieces, her sisters, for the women across the earth that are disrespected by men in a patriarchal culture that disfavors women.

Highlights of Conversation One: 

As pointed out by great thinkers and authors, it is unlikely that Mars and Venus, through all of their grand efforts over time, are ever going to achieve a perfect unity.  In the film, Jerry Maguire, the male character played by Tom Cruise, gives his “I need you” speech.  One phrase that has been repeated over the years is his line “You complete me.”  It’s weird because I seem to remember her saying the line.  Regardless, I do remember cringing when he said it and thinking “DON’T FALL FOR IT.”  Had I become a cynical middle-aged woman who had seen too much of things gone wrong?

When, in our first conversation, Daniel said that he was an incurable romantic and that line, that thought that someone else completes him, enraptured him.  As a woman who had been beaten down by immature men, I was all for my own sovereignty.  Screw that.  I complete myself!  And, if a man brings something to the equation that doesn’t smack of co-dependency, then I might let him get a foot in the door.  Otherwise, no thank you.  My sovereignty had been hard won. 

Back to the thought that on this earth plane, according to some spiritual teachers and philosophers, men and women can never truly unite.  Isn’t that good?  When, I wonder, are we each going to find the value in what the other brings to the table and appreciate what we can create together.  Why create an opposition when there can be a cooperative? Women do not need to try to define themselves using masculine terminology.  Women don’t have to aspire to excel in left brain logic…leave that to the men.  Bring in our right brain wisdom to balance the logic.  Bring in the intuitive. Bring in the imaginative, the mythic.
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Ten years after these conversations, I asked myself what prompted me to want to engage this dialogue with a man (and a man I hardly knew)!  Where did I find the courage to initiate these conversations after the history I’d had with abusive men?  Where did my silenced voice emerge from and why then?  And, discovering that in his earlier life, this man had been verbally abusive to women and had no conscience about his behavior, made this all the more daring on my part.  As he began to “wake up” and do his own inner work, he became more approachable.
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In these times, the women of Afghanistan are facing the degradation and removal of their rights as human beings. Their rights to safely walk the streets, their rights to education, their rights to be represented at the bargaining tables and more. Where does this hatred of women stem from? Complex, right? Yet, there it is insinuated throughout known history and across cultures.

What can you trace in your family system that reeks of misogyny? When do we outgrow this crap!?

Can You Help Me To Understand?

So there it is. In this time when we experience heightened awareness of our patterns of communication, we come up against a belief system in someone else that is so contrary to how we see things. It is their “white to our black”–an opposition, and we can’t get past the distinct differences. There are many opportunities to explore this over the course of one’s life. We’ve seen it in our politics a lot lately. And, sometimes up close and personal, within our own families.

While there may be some situations where I am able to put myself in someone else’s shoes and get an understanding of how they might feel, there are some beliefs or perceptions that I really don’t get.

So what am I to do when the divide between me and someone else seems high and wide? I don’t know exactly where I heard this line: “Can you help me to understand?” The rest of the question might be “Can you help me to understand why you see it that way?” or “Can you help me to understand why you believe as you do?” or “What experiences in your life have lead you to this perception?”

These questions don’t feel confrontational to me. Any one of them would cause me to pause and consider the formation of my perceptions. If we’re both clear that the questions are an effort towards better understanding, that might help too.

When such a question is posed, there can be no attachment to trying to change the other person’s view. It is asked with an honest curiosity to get to know someone a little better, without judgment. That’s easier said than done. With someone else, can we deeply listen without confrontation or judgment? Can we decide that we don’t have to defend against the expression of someone else’s perceptions?

Yesterday a friend said something about her own thoughts that go astray…the ones that she disapproves of in herself. She is trying a new tactic–to witness without judgment and allow the thought to come in and go out. It seems that the better we get at doing this for ourselves, there is hope that we can then practice this with another. We cannot tell our mind “Don’t ever have that thought again!”, voicing our disapproval. Rather, we notice it and see it as a cloud passing through.

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Humanity, on the whole, is young. We are finding our way, discovering what it is to be an evolving human being. We have a diversity within this being human. That diversity offers us an opportunity to explore and learn about the many aspects of what this means. Reviewing human history, I witness a less-than-genteel, coming of age as we move past the survival mechanics to a more tolerant and inclusive view of life on earth. However, we teeter between our evolution and the survival instincts–i.e., antiquated war as a means to handle conflict! We don’t seem to be very far along.

When I wonder how are we ever going to have a meeting of the minds, let alone the hearts, the words active compassion surface as power words. Perhaps, in any efforts at communication, we need to bring this quality into the center of the circle engaging active compassion as the basis for any discussion where there is a great variance.

Today, this is only me thinking on paper. Please take from these mind meanderings what you want and leave the rest. And, I’d like to hear what you think in response. Truly.

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?

The Frustrated Communicator

I’m tackling it…the two file cabinets, the plastic bins in the closet, the cluttered shelves in the dining room. I started with the least cumbersome–the wicker shelf unit in the living room–cluttered with art supplies, recycled papers to be used for my innumerable lists, roles of decorative art papers, art journals, writing journals. As I rearranged or tried to organize, I realized that the frustration I feel isn’t perhaps that I have all of these journals and loose-leaf writing. I realize that I am a frustrated communicator!

Over the course of my life, I wrote and explored my questions on any and everything in these journals! There were times when I had a special person in my life with whom I could discuss the deeper things of life. And these rare people were dearly valued. When they moved on or died, that avenue, that special connection was gone. Then my questions lay like kindling in a mishmash pile, unanswered. It seems as if the questions, thoughts and poetry hover in another universe, waiting to be met, hoping to meet other inquirers. In the meanwhile, they sit in space (or in my journals) struggling for air and witnessing.

Does that make any sense? It is obvious that when I look at these stacks of journals, there is a seeker inside of me. A frustrated one. Because a monologue is a lonely place…I at least crave a dialogue or a circle of seekers like me. It would be nice. It would be great!

I have a few questions for you…do you welcome your own questions? Do you judge them? Do you find ways to share them with someone who won’t judge you in any way, with whom you feel safe?

What are you feeling?

Things are scrambled.  There is disorientation.  My brother in San Francisco doesn’t drive.  He relies on buses.  The buses are running but it’s always a risk.  Who else is going to be on the bus?  What are their personal habits of cleanliness and responsibility towards others?  He can’t get to his usual places to shop for the food he usually eats.  He is eating more canned food.  His health is suffering.  He isn’t getting the exercise he normally gets.  He lives alone, is a social being and feels cut off from his connections.  His lifestyle has been severely curtailed.  He lives minimally with a small carbon footprint.  Even with that, this is rough.

After a recent conversation with him, I felt sad.  I told him that he needed to eat healthy.  That much he could do for himself.  The stores where he usually shops are over-crowded making him less likely to shop there.  I told him he could have fresh produce delivered.  Regardless, he is down-hearted by everything that is going on right now.  Living in San Francisco, he feels the impact more than I do where I live.  Less freedom of motion.  His is one story among many…one good reason for kindness towards one another.

Expressive.1

This face came about from what I was feeling in the moment.  The words that I wrote  were:

There is so much that is going on that is challenging for many at this time.  I wouldn’t know where to begin.  An ongoing sadness and simultaneously, an awareness of the extreme beauty that surrounds us.  Concern for self and family and community, the world–the earth.  Humans haven’t lived softly on this planet.  Why have we distanced from the earth who sustains us?  There are so many questions hovering in the air.  I like to think that where there’s a question, nearby is an answer.  We have to pay attention–become conscious of the feedback that we are receiving from the earth and her other creatures.  We aren’t alone in this.  Why do we forget?

Then, yesterday, sitting in my tiny garden in the backyard, leaning into the uncertainty, a little hummingbird settled nearby, framed in a wire rectangle of the fenced enclosure.  It visited for an indeterminate time and we studied one another.  The rarity of such an experience always feels like an honoring.

This painting is a reminder to not run away from your feelings.  As they arise, do acknowledge them, embrace them, sit with them, be patient with yourself through them.  It is in this state of acceptance and bringing comfort to them that they are recognized and eased.  Have you noticed that?

In the midst of uncertainty, some things feel right with the world.  We look for those things.

Take good care.

Where the Green Ants Dream

A few weeks ago, I watched this 1984 film directed by Werner Herzog.

 

It touched me deeply.  Afterwards, I had no one with whom to discuss the film and all that it brought up for me.

Sometimes, putting my thoughts and feelings into a poem helps.

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Some days a sad gloom
descends
and the cello sounds like
melancholy
the sky is gray and
cloudy
Then I remember
again
that I miss you.

Last night, I watched
a Werner Herzog film,
Where the Green Ants Dream.
Aboriginal Australians
in opposition to
the mining company
blasting explosives
searching for what?
The green ants of
this sacred part of the desert
would be forced to move
taking with them the dreamscape
where the future of the peoples
is dreamed into being.

And I thought where the heck are you?
I need to talk to you about this.
My own thoughts are noisy and circular.
They make me dizzy with their roundabout.
You would challenge or agree, but at least
it wouldn’t be only me in reaction
to the air.

I wanted to ask you if you think we have
a good purpose here…the white folks?
If we are orchestrating our own doom
or if there is hope for us
If the planet and all of
its inhabitants would be saved?
Or would we be the lemmings
we seem to be?

Would you agree with
what the tribal elder said–
that we are we asking the stupid questions?
The ones we formulate with our small minds
the minds that aren’t inclusive.
The it’s-all-about-me mind,
the consumption-oriented mind.
I’d like to talk to you about this
before it’s too late.

Do we consider ourselves to be more
advanced
because we crafted these complex
systems?  Identified, classified, named things?
The very systems that distance us
further from nature, the earth and our origins?

Why can’t we be satisfied with not knowing,
with the mystery?

Are you hiding now
within that same mystery?

Giving Your Creative Best

…this is the way I give praise.  It isn’t to be the best…it is to be my best.

Sometimes, I get into a fret wondering what is my purpose?  What is the body of work that I have to contribute either in writing or painting?  What is mine and  mine alone to share?  How am I making the world a better place for my being here?

Do you ever ask these questions?  Or wonder about your purpose?  Of course, if we get into comparison, we see people out there who seem to be driven with purpose from the beginning.  Those who make a positive impact.

Like Jane Goodall…

Watching this documentary over the past few nights, I’m struck by Jane Goodall’s sense of purpose.  Her early childhood knowing that she had a calling.  And, although she didn’t know how she was going to achieve that calling, she trusted in it and perhaps put herself in places of opportunity.  She had a supportive mother who let her believe that her dreams were possible (as outlandish as they might have appeared to others).  Jane didn’t know how it was going to unfold, but unfold it did.

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Most of the people in my circles don’t seem to have such a follow the breadcrumbs course to their purpose.   For me, it’s been more of an obstacle course.  And then an effort to decipher what was that all about?  I find myself looking for meaning in a life that has been turned upside down several times.

Is there a purpose to be derived from a life riddled with complexities–my own intricacies influenced by others?

Does my purpose center around what am I learning from this life of challenges?  Is this what I can share?  The hard won life lessons?  Is my “purpose” woven into these?

In our culture, do we make way too much of having a purpose?  Does even the option to consider your purpose depend on your economic status?  If you are in survival mode, your purpose is to survive.  The self-actualization hovering at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs…if the other needs on the ladder are met, then we might have time to consider purpose.  Then again, we’ve all heard the rags to riches stories.

What is that one magical thread that you seek to give meaning to your life?  Some people never ponder this…they live their lives.  Some with a greater degree of consciousness than others.  Is their life of any less value for not pondering these questions?

Is it as I said at the start of this blog?–
this is the way I give praise.  It isn’t to be the best…it is to be my best.  

A trip on a train…

A trip on a train with a group from my Spanish class.  I sit on a big chair that glides.  Someone I don’t know sits across the aisle.  She is asking me questions about what I’m going to see.

“Do you speak Spanish?” she asks.

Her inconsequential questions flood the air between us.  I can barely hear her over the clatter of the train and other chatter.

I don’t have adequate answers to her questions.

“I’m just taking a train ride with my classmates,” I answer.

She’s not happy with my answer.  The conversation lags.

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At some point, I’m in a car.  Cecelia is driving and two people are in the back seat.  I am talking, she is listening.  At times, she looks directly at me with with great interest.  She holds her intent gaze for a long moment.  She’s taken her eyes off of the road which makes me nervous.  Sometimes the road narrows, men are at work and we funnel down to one lane.  She seems oblivious to the road condition.  I am not oblivious.

The next thing that I know, I’m back on the train again wondering if Cecelia’s car is being transported by rail or if she continued to drive and if we’re going to meet at the next juncture.

Afterthought:  This all seems like a trip without a particular destination.  And it seems okay to just be traveling without having a terminus.

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For a period of time, I kept a dream journal.  Sometimes, I noted a question in the journal before bed.  When I woke in the morning, while the dream was fresh, I wrote it down and then looked within the surreal images and narrative to see if there was an answer.

Have you ever kept a dream journal?

Dreams can be a launching point for your writing.

The Babushkas of Chernobyl

A few days ago, in a local cafe, a friend posed a question about the environment and morality.  Do we have a moral responsibility to protect the environment, not only for humans but for the other species with whom we share the planet?

He also asked “How did we arrive at this place of direness on the planet?”  “What is the source of our disconnect from the earth?”  And, “Is it too late?”  Good questions.

I have no answers.  I also sit with these questions and wonder what we can do to alter a course that seems bent on its way facilitated by humans who don’t seem to realize that
earth is our host planet, home.  And, that we have a responsibility to live in a reciprocal relationship to the earth.  Sustainability.  Why aren’t we awake to the facts that we are doing irreparable damage by the way we live?

Within his questions, was a sense of helplessness.  However, he was proposing that we discuss these things and other topics relevant to survival on planet earth.  Not to depress everyone but to wake ourselves up to the facts.  We can’t know what might arise from such discussions.  Growing awareness, brainstorming and potential answers.  No one really lives in isolation.  Everything is affected by everything.

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I watched this documentary film, The Babushkas of Chernobyl, at another friend’s recommendation.  Afterwards, my initial feeling was that everyone should see this film.  I watched it through Amazon Prime.  It impacted me deeply for many reasons.

A Pang

Pang:  “A sudden sharp pain or emotion”

I was looking for a low rim dish to marinate the al dente asparagus.  I looked through a storage bin in the garage and then remembered a shallow plate my mother had given me a long time ago.  I knew where it was but had forgotten why I never used it.

I retrieved it from the top shelf in one of the kitchen cabinets.  I rinsed it off and read the name of the porcelain producer on the back.  Christineholm, it read.  Then, there it was the pang!  Urgh.  A sort of a bittersweet feeling accompanied by a wave of thoughts.  Did my mother buy this dish with me in mind?  Did she save it for me all those years?  Was she waiting for me to notice the name on the back of the quiche plate?  To bake her a quiche in it perhaps?

I won’t ever know her thoughts.  When she gave me the dish, we were barely connecting as Mother and Daughter.  We weren’t exactly estranged…we just didn’t seem to be on the same wavelength.  And, my father was the huge wedge in her relationship with any of her nine children.

As I lay the asparagus in the plate, poured the homemade marinade over the top, covered the dish with Glad wrap and put it in the refrigerator for later, the pang persisted.  And a sort of lump in my throat.neo1.jpg

Writing Prompt:
How do you hold these sudden emotions?  How do you respond to the questions that arise?  How do you navigate this rocky terrain?  How do you communicate with those who are gone?  Does writing help?